Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Good Mom

This article was originally posted in Do South Magazine. 

I am a good mom.
Ten years ago, in the middle of the night on a Wednesday in November, my first son was born. I was nineteen years old. The next day, I changed a dirty diaper for the first time and prayed that there wouldn’t be some sort of baby test in order for me to take him home. Because I just knew I would have failed it.
This spring, I gave birth to my fifth son. I can now change a diaper one-handed in the dark without waking the baby. The contrast
between my capabilities now and then are as stark as day and night. But it has taken the last ten years of trial and error for me to be able to say that I am a good mom.
When Eve was cursed in Genesis, she was told that her pain in bringing forth children would be greatly multiplied. I’ve given birth without pain medication. I’ll be the first person to tell you it hurts. Badly. But I’ve kind of always felt like Eve’s curse went further than the labor and delivery room. Physical pain is a breeze compared to the hurt of failing our kids. The crushing weight of mom guilt is known by all mothers. Feeling like we aren’t enough is, hands down, one of the universal struggles all moms deal with. It’s suffocating sometimes. It never fully goes away. And it is ingrained in us all.
So what do we do? We carry around this insecurity like a stone. We worry constantly and then turn to our magic mirror, the Internet. Here we can post the moments we are proud of, pleading to be told that we are doing well. We can smooth over and romanticize our lives. We are all guilty. But at the end of the day, if we cannot say “I am a good mom,” and believe it, it isn’t enough. I want you to be able to say it. But first you absolutely have to believe it.
How? Well, this is what has worked for me:
Stop Comparing
Comparison is the thief of joy. You cannot take your reality and compare it to someone else’s highlight reel. It is unrealistic and destructive.
Understand that the lives you see on your favorite blog or on
Instagram of that girl you went to high school with have the ugly omitted. You know what I’m talking about. They aren’t snapping a picture while their toddler has a meltdown at the grocery store. They don’t post about how much they love their hubby even though he chose to go fishing on their anniversary, or how their fat jeans won’t button anymore. Even when people share everything from their dinner to the book they’re reading, they aren’t generally as forthcoming with their ugliness.
This rule goes both ways though. Do you catch yourself noticing other mothers and thinking, Well at least I’m doing better than her? Do you find yourself bolstered when you DO catch a glimpse of someone’s weakness? Stop. You cannot find your affirmation in the shortcomings of others. It may feel good for the moment, but in the end, it will only damage your confidence. Build other mothers up. If you see a shortcoming, offer to help. And pray.
Get Real
Last year I challenged myself to a photo project where I took photos of my kids every day. It was so rewarding and really made me realize how guilty I was of only posting the things online that made me look good. I decided I didn’t want to be that mom anymore. So I started sharing photos that would have otherwise been unworthy. I posted photos with dirty floors, food-caked faces and the kitchen table littered with convenience food packages. I started to share my real life. And people were moved by it. They found my life beautiful, and I felt so encouraged by the compliments I received because they were genuine. They were based on the truth, not just some pretty picture I’d composed to hide the real mess.
Watch Your Words
What you say matters. The things you say to your kids and about your kids have long reaching fingers. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Obviously, this means we should be lifting up and encouraging our kids. But it also means we should be saying positive things about them even when they can’t hear. How we feel and choose to act is greatly affected by what we choose to speak. Praise your kids at every chance you get.
Kids’ Faults are an Overflow of Their Strengths
For years I prayed for patience. Every single day. I’d beg God to give me the patience to love my boys better, to not lose my temper with them. I’d end the day feeling defeated and then I’d pray some more and just hope the day would come when it would stick.
My oldest son, Jackson, is obsessive about details. I am your typical right-brained creative person. I’m unorganized, unscheduled and ok with that. But Jackson likes everything in order, everything planned. For the longest time, his need to have things a certain way completely wore me out. I’d get frustrated with him. He’d get frustrated at me. Then one day, God showed me something life changing. I realized that I can always count on Jackson to do a job well. He follows directions. I trust him to do what I ask of him.
Generally, a person’s weaknesses are an overflow of their best traits. A passionate person can move mountains but can be painfully bullheaded once he has his mind set on something. Creative people can make incredible art, but are often completely incapable of order. A thorough and dependable worker often struggles with being a perfectionist.
Somehow, realizing this about each of my sons has helped me cope with their faults. It has given me patience that I never had before. Because when I start to get frustrated, I just think, If he didn’t have this struggle, he wouldn’t be the amazing boy he is.
Be Yielding When it Matters
A few nights ago, I was lying in bed reading and I heard what promised to be a Nerf gun war of epic proportions being plotted in the basement. It was bedtime. I got up and started to go call for lights out and send them to their bedrooms. But I didn’t. I lay back down and listened to their laughter. The mess was huge. Bedtime was late. And it was worth it. They will remember that night. They will remember enjoying each other and their dad. Sometimes memories are worth bending the rules.
Invest in the Eternal
Psalms 127: 4 – 5 says, “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
Right now, I cannot know who my sons will be. I don’t know where they will go or what they will do or even what they will choose to stand for. But if they are truly arrows in my quiver, I know what kind of archer I have been. I know that I have trained my eye on the target of eternity.
Last summer, we couldn’t afford to go on a big vacation. We spent a lot of time together at home, doing fun things locally, but as friends posted photos of white, sandy beaches and Mickey Mouse, I started to get that creeping feeling of letting the boys down.
My second son, Asher, accepted Christ a couple of months before and had been begging to declare it by baptism. At the end of the summer, we obliged.
The moment he came up out of the water, his face lifted up in a beaming smile, his little fists triumphantly aloft, nothing else mattered. It was payment for our investment. And though I don’t have a lot of money and they will miss out on some things, they’ll have Jesus. It’s more than enough.
Forgive Yourself
Please do not mistake my advice for something that it isn’t. This isn’t a declaration of being perfect. I still mess up more than I like to admit. I had a hormonal breakdown less than forty-eight hours ago in which I actually said to my husband, “I hate everything. Everything sucks and I am the world’s worst.” Dramatic, I know. I can laugh about it now, but the truth is no one is perfect. Be assured that you will fail. If we strive for perfection, we might as well hang up our hats now. The standard of motherhood cannot be perfection. It has to be love.
Love gives grace for mistakes. Love embraces faults because they go hand in hand with strengths. Love recognizes that memories are more important than rules. Love wants what is best, even when it isn’t easy. Love doesn’t care about material things. Love is fierce, forgiving. Love is always, always enough.
Remember, while we love our kids immeasurably, they love us too. Even when you do not feel like you are a good mom, I bet if you asked your babies, they would say that you are not only good, I bet they would say that you are the best mom in the world.
And I am sure of one thing. They believe it.