With motherhood comes pure delight as well as deep discouragement. It brings excitement and frustration. How can something so incredible, something that brings new levels of joy also bring anxiety? When I was first beginning this adventure, I think that on some level I believed that I was the only one experiencing this vast sea of emotions that came with a new bundle of joy. I now know better.
Over the past four years, since having David Lee (my oldest), my eyes have been opened to something that I never knew existed until having children of my own. While I have been fortunate to experience the loving encouragement given by those closest to me, my eyes were also opened to the judgement and criticism that often exists within the community of mothers. Strong opinions are shared, whether solicited or not, and many don’t see their views as opinions at all, but as facts. Instead of offering much needed support and encouragement, these comments can put a new mom on the defense and begin feeding the lie that being a good mother means measuring up to everyone else’s expectations; an impossible task.
When David Lee was just a few weeks old, I was sharing with another new mom about the struggle and frustration that came with not being able to continue breastfeeding as long as I had hoped. I longed for reassurance and acceptance. She responded by explaining that for her, her child is top priority, which involved doing whatever it took to breastfeed her child. I internalized the implication that my child was not my top priority. Exhausted and emotional, I barely made it home before I began to cry, guilt creeping over me. I should have done more. I had failed my child.
After that, there were countless other times when I allowed outside voices to confirm my failure at motherhood. “He’s only 6 weeks and you’re already back at work? I couldn’t do it!,” “Homemade, organic food would be better for him,” “Vaccinations could give him autism,” “You already have him sleeping in his own room?,” and so on and so forth. Out of my insecurities came a desire to defend myself, but even as I defended the decisions I made for our family, I was always left wondering if I would ever measure up?
Taking care of that sweet baby boy was a special gift. His Daddy and I loved on him and laughed with him. We sang songs and danced together. We read books and counted his tiny toes. We tried hard to memorize the sound of his sweet giggles. In the midst of the giggles and singing, however, there was still that tiny voice that would creep in and whisper that I wasn’t enough.
And then came baby number 2. Ella came along when David Lee was almost 16 months old. She brought with her even more love and laughter, as well as the challenges that come with a new baby. The self-doubt continued to creep in. With two kids under two, I already had moments when I was completely overwhelmed and sleep deprived, so why not add a third?
Annie came along almost 16 months later. At that time, I had a newborn, a one year old, and a two year old. Yes, there were moments of utter chaos, but with those moments came something wonderfully unexpected. I was so focused on trying to SURVIVE that I began tuning out the negative voices around me. Between teaching full time and raising three children under age three there was little time to think about myself. It wasn’t helpful to spend my time defending my parenting choices, and with that realization a weight was lifted off of me. It occurred to me that I’m not the only one trying to get everything right. How much good could I do if I replaced my defenses with encouragement.
There was a time when I felt like I had to be perfect. Not only did I want to be a perfect mother, but I wanted to have the validation of those around me. And I wondered why I was exhausted?! Then came the realization that there is no other “me” in the world. There is no one else who is like my husband or my children. Our family is unique. We, as a family, are one of a kind. We were brought together for a specific purpose, and that purpose is to serve the Lord our God using each of our unique gifts, abilities, and even our quirks. My goal as a mother shouldn’t be to do things the “right way” or to prove to others that we’ve got it all together. My goal is to live out God’s love, and trust Him to take care of us when we mess up.
When I hear people defend the choices they’ve made as a parent in a way that is arrogant and judgmental, I no longer feel defensive or resentful, but rather sympathetic. I feel sympathy because I know how draining it is to constantly defend “your way” and demand everyone’s approval. I know how emotionally tedious it is to interpret everything that is said as a direct attack. It’s remarkable how liberating it is to discover that it’s my job to love my family the best way I know how to love them, and then just trust God with the rest.
I know that there are some “hot buttons” that really get people fired up, and I do have opinions about those issues, but the only thing worth dying for is Jesus Christ. If I’m going to try to get on my soapbox about something, shouldn’t it be something that lines up with His teachings? 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”
Romans 14:19 says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
I’m saddened to see how many moms are already too hard on themselves. Shouldn’t we be the ones to encourage one another in love, and even celebrate our differences?
- To the mom who works outside of the home, your kids are so fortunate to have a mom who loves them enough to make the sacrifices necessary to take care of them and go to work each day. You set an example of hard work and dedication, and as you take them to daycare or school you are helping them learn how to be confident and independent individuals. You are working hard to provide every possible opportunity because you love them.
- To the stay at home mom and homeschool mom, your kids are so fortunate to have a mom who loves them enough to make the sacrifices necessary to stay at home with them and spend more time with them during these formative years. You work hard to provide opportunities for them to excel in every area you can because you love them.
- To the organized mom who has everything on a schedule, how fortunate your kids are to have a mother who puts intentional thought into everything you do because you love them.
- To the free spirited mom, your kids are so fortunate to have a mother who loves them enough to jump on one adventure after another with them.
- To the moms who are extremely health conscious or feed your kids ice cream for dinner, sleep with a child’s foot in your face or let him cry it out in his own bed, let your kids roll in the mud or carry wipes with you just in case your little one encounters a bit of dirt…
You are beautifully unique, and God gave you the matchless ability of raising your children in the unique way that only you can. No other mother will mother like you. Embrace it, and choose love.
1 CORINTHIANS 13:1-3 SAYS, “IF I SPEAK IN THE TONGUES OF MEN OR OF ANGELS, BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I AM ONLY A RESOUNDING GONG OR A CLANGING CYMBAL. IF I HAVE THE GIFT OF PROPHECY AND CAN FATHOM ALL MYSTERIES AND ALL KNOWLEDGE, AND IF I HAVE A FAITH THAT CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS, BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I AM NOTHING. IF I GIVE ALL I POSSESS TO THE POOR AND GIVE OVER MY BODY TO HARDSHIP THAT I MAY BOAST, BUT DO NOT HAVE LOVE, I GAIN NOTHING.”