I appreciate this movement I’ve seen, mainly in social media, of no mom shaming. No judging; no looking down our noses at the moms we see out in the world doing their best. Yes! As the mom who has dripped sweat dragging screaming toddlers out of the store, as the mom who has lost a child in the pig barn at the county fair, the mom who has chaperoned a field trip and cringed when realizing, “My child is the loudest child in this class. Eesh.”, as the mom who once went to the ER twice in one week (each time with a different son), I say, “Yes! Don’t judge me! Celebrate my efforts! Understand that I’m doing the best I know to do with the tools I have and the kids I’ve been given!”
Simultaneously, I want to guard against another attitude that occasionally comes on the heels of, “I accept where you’re at!” That attitude is, “You deserve to slack. The fact that you are a mom is enough. Putting forth minimal effort is enough.” Pretty soon I give myself permission to say, “Eh. I tried. I survived and my kids survived. Pour me a drink!” The bar lowers. "I’m not the only mom surfing instagram instead of engaging my family. It's not like this parenting thing is a paying gig." The attitude grows until I find it funny to make fun of high achieving moms who get their kids to school on time with shoes tied. “If you’re succeeding, you aren’t my people!” I have my own snarky pride in being marginally "good enough”. I'm not alone if I've given up and let video games take over by the end of summer break. In fact, other moms commiserate and I'm validated! My efforts slow. No big deal.
I’ve put a lot of thought and prayer into my attitude as a mom. Can I have tremendous grace with myself? I’m raising souls, not churning out a product. It’s messy. It’s dependent on God’s forgiveness and His direction. It reveals my own sin and weaknesses. It’s hard. I want the freedom to be honest that this is difficult, often dirty, exhausting work!
But can I also set the bar high? Can I come at mothering with intention, sober judgment, on my knees in prayer? Can my friends push, encourage and convict me instead of giving me a free pass?
During my first pregnancy, a friend of mine was talking about her ambition in her role as mother. “I need to learn about medicine and health so I’m prepared for my own kids. I’m reading on education because ultimately my child’s education is my responsibility-not the school alone.” She continued on about child development, disciplines, vaccinations and safety practices. My head was spinning. “We need to be experts in every field!” She declared.
It was a little intense, but it impacted me (partly because pregnancy hormones were running high and I was a sponge for any thoughts on the life I was walking into). I wasn’t delusional that I would somehow “master” parenting or discover a no-fail approach to raising souls. I knew I would fail and I knew I would have victories. I wasn’t terribly worried about either.
However, it did make me examine how intentional I was in this sacred vocation. When I wanted to be a teacher I spent four years paying a ridiculous amount of money so I would be equipped to teach. I read books, wrote essays, examined theories, put together endless lesson plans. I added to my vocabulary, throwing around terms like “reading readiness”, “IEP” and “integrated curriculum.” The level of preparation and education was extensive so that I would be successful as an educator. Teaching is important work and the preparation reflects it.
I looked back on all it took to prepare me to teach, and then looked forward at my new role as a mom…no education required.
G.K. Chesterton said, “How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the rule of three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No. A woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.”
If this is true-that parenting is the gigantic work-then what shall I put into this gigantic work?
I had an advantage that many don’t have. I was raised around great, intentional mothers and my own superb mother led the pack (no bias here). It propelled me into being intentional. I surrounded myself with a few friends ahead of me on the parenting journey and a few who were in the same stage with the same desire to be intentional–the kinds of moms I want to bump up against in hopes that they'll rub off on me. I began reading books on parenting, even books and articles that contradicted each other. I forced myself to think critically. I contemplated parenting philosophies, practical application, and how it related to teaching my kids about God and the world.
Entering into the world of foster and adoption along with working with many kids who had endured childhood trauma, caused a new level of intensity in learning. Conferences, trainings, more books, so much trial and error (thank God for gracious kids!). I put a lot of information into my head.
Education isn’t the only piece. I have a God who knows my kids better than I ever will. I pray my way through parenting. Not in a “throw a prayer up as I’m doing my thing” kind of way, but in a conversational, “expecting answers please, Jesus” way. Just last week I was in the shower, forehead pressed against the fiberglass. “God. What do you want to tell me about (child’s name here)? I’m at a loss.” I was literally hitting my head up against a wall until the hot water ran cold. Fifteen minutes of prayer and listening and God reminded me that this child is dealing with shame and fear. My reprimand is not as effective as addressing the fear and equipping them to replace it with truth. Bingo.
When my kids were babies, I read and researched everything on sleep (because we all needed it desperately). I talked to experienced moms about potty training. I asked our doctor fifty questions about nutrition. I taught my kids the “redo”. “Redo” is when we do something wrong and we reenact it until we get it right (so time consuming but so effective). I then realized I needed some redos. Turns out I’m not as patient of a mom as I thought I would be. I found myself using anger and impatience to discipline my kids. I yelled and then turned my anger at myself for failing. Instead of continuing on, I refused to settle into the bad pattern. I did redos, apologies, and prayed until God showed me my desire to control that I needed to replace with His work and control.
Now, instead of wiping butts and scheduling naps, I have four kids in school. I have two middle schoolers navigating friendships, school, and discovering passions. My kids don't have phones and have minimal screen time. Guess who wants to succumb to screens for the sake of peace and quiet? Me. I'm over here fighting my own complacency for what's best for my kids. It’s a different kind of intense. I’m reading about healing trauma in the brain. I’m talking to teachers about instilling confidence in an insecure reader. I’m praying constantly with my kids so they learn to hear God’s voice as they work through conflicts and decisions. I’m still doing redos. I’m wishing my kids’ problems could still be solved in 20 minutes (channeling my inner Danny Tanner doesn’t work. Sadly).
The moms I surround myself with are key to my success. Scratch that. They’re key to my survival. Some of them are working moms and some are home full time. Some of them are local and some aren’t. All of the other women in my prayer group have at least one adult child venturing to college and the workforce. They’re the ones I’ll call crying when my kids move out. My mom friends accept me where I’m at without judgment, but they also spur me on. Occasionally they tell me what I don’t want to hear, but what I need to hear. They offer perspective I often miss when I’m immersed in my own situation. Thank you to the moms who pray with me and for my kids instead of saying, “Good enough. Pour yourself some wine.” If I’m not pushed, I’ll settle for the lowest common denominator. If I have company when I start whining, guaranteed I’ll turn it into a full fledged pity party.
Mothers, join me. Refuse to settle when there are ample resources, wise people, an all-knowing God we can turn to in order to step it up. Let’s set the bar high and do the hard work to reach it. When we take a flying leap only to face plant, let’s pick each other up. I have your back regardless of where you're at, and I encourage you to take your calling up a notch, with God's help. I don't expect we'll do it without wipeouts. No shame; just a dusting off and a hearty boost up for round two. Cheers to another redo in the books!
Just throwing myself out there a bit...