“I’m a terrible mother. I feel like I can’t do any of this right and if I were just doing a better job then they would all appreciate things so much more. I just feel like I’m failing.”
My husband sat on our bed listening to me as I cried out to him about my feelings and frustrations. Is this homeschooling thing really working? Would they all just be better off in school? I know I would get a mental break…that would be nice.
Is it somehow a sin or admission of failure if we did put them into school?
Will that even actually solve the problem?
My heart was in my throat and the feelings of doom and brokenness felt like they were going to swallow me up. I hate those feelings, and I don’t ever want to feel them…ever.
But, here I was…feeling them all over again. Feeling ALL the feels….
I just didn’t want to adult anymore. Do I have to, really?
My daughter came into the room, and she had been the one whose words spun my heart into this latest tornado of emotions. My aversion to her presence made it crystal clear that I needed to speak to her…openly…vulnerably…and I knew the tears would come as they always do.
“I need to talk to you. You really hurt my feelings yesterday,” and I went on to explain how her sarcastic criticisms of my husband and me “on our devices” felt unloving and belittling, since both of us are working so tirelessly to bring in some income to help care for our family, even if the work is on “devices.” I told her that her words stung, because they wreaked of judgment and idealism. They carelessly threw away any attempt at gratitude for all that we do for our family. And, it was so frustrating to feel like she truly thinks I am a terrible mother.
I felt like a school girl sitting in the lunch room telling the local bully to stop “making fun of me.” I felt small and petty…but I also knew that my emotions were real, and important, and needed to be shared honestly.
I might be an adult, and a mom…but I’m a person, too, little one.
Her eyes widened. “I’m so sorry!”
Amazingly enough, after that conversation, I no longer felt like a terrible mother. I no longer felt like our family was imploding, and I no longer felt like I couldn’t do anything right.
I just felt relief, and love, and acceptance…Life.
When you think you’re a terrible mother…
God’s been teaching me a lot lately. I mean, He’s ALWAYS teaching me tons, but these last few years have felt like my spiritual journey has been in a pressure cooker of intensity.
Maybe it’s just because we now have 9 lives (plus a dog) living in about 250 square feet, so things tend to heat up fast when the emotional sparks fly (“Iron sharpens iron,” so, yep, there are sparks). Maybe it’s because both my husband and I struggle with expectations, perfectionism, idealism, legalism…basically all the elements of control freak behavior one could imagine.
And then God blessed us with several children who do NOT fit the molds that we prepared in our minds for them.
Maybe it’s because several of our children also struggle with these things, and then, of course, also don’t like to be told what to do or told “no” to things, because, well, that goes against whatever the idea is in their heads about what life “should” be like.
Whatever the reason, or all of them combined, I have been in a perpetual season that challenges my preconceptions about motherhood and what my responsibilities truly are in God’s eyes. Is there a method or proven formula for churning out the “perfect” child? Is there really a way to protect them from ever hurting, or to drill some wisdom into their minds? And, is that really good for them? Are they always supposed to like me? If I can’t do these things am I a terrible mother?
I mean, I don’t know about you, but I have so many different perspectives swirling around in my mind ALL the time, no matter what or how I am doing with the kids. They can’t be too loud, too quiet, too shy, too outgoing, too disheveled, too put together, too articulate/verbose, too scattered, too confused, too smart, etc. or it apparently says something about my motherhood skills and how well I am raising them.
Well, there are 7 of them, and I’m the same mother to all…and they are ALL different.
Mind. Blown. Preconceptions officially challenged.
Turning the “terrible mother” idea on its head…
This is where the Lord really started to get to me. He gave me a load of kids to help me to unstrap the burden laid upon my shoulders that it is somehow my responsibility to make them who they are. Eeehhhhhh, wrong. That’s HIS load to carry.
He gave me kids to show me that I can control very little about them, their choices, their personalities, their struggles, their strengths, and what they will and will not naturally be drawn to based on their design.
I cannot control ANY of that! I WANT to, but I can’t.
I can’t control the fact that my daughter, at 5 years old looked up at me after seeing a Victoria’s Secret image one day when we took a stroll through the mall, and asked me, “Mommy, is that beautiful?”
“Wha-what?! How are body image ideas even possibly taking root already?! And, I didn’t even plant those seeds!” Yet, here she was, susceptible, because that’s her design, not because I am a terrible mother.
It wasn’t my fault that she has a weakness towards body image, looks, and beauty…but it was/is my job to help her navigate it lovingly, gently, compassionately, and openly, so that she learns over time that her beauty is beyond the external layers.
Each of my children have nuances like this. Some are naturally quiet and gentle, spunky and joyful, irritable and rough-edged, bouncy and lively. I can take no responsibility for these personality quirks within them, and they are neither right nor wrong…even though our culture has promoted a single mode of “right” for a LONG time.
Each of them need loving guidance and support to hear what the lies are, to be encouraged to see the Truth through the lies, and to be shown by love that they are worthy just as they are, because God made them and He makes good things.
Whether or not they internalize my words and teaching is not up to me. That’s their responsibility. I cannot punish it into their brains.
I can only plant the seeds of Truth, water them with my actions, and then pray to the One who makes things grow, patiently waiting for the hopeful harvest season.
Truly, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Parenting comes with no guarantees. But, God knows all too well the emotional roller coaster that we are on while raising them, because that’s the whole story of the world.
Am I a terrible mother? Of course not, even though I don’t always get it right, want to quit sometimes, and feel like I’m falling headlong on most days.
If the quality of motherhood is judged by the results of our efforts, then God is also a terrible Abba…but, of course He isn’t.
As parents following in His footsteps, we are here to learn how to love like He loves us. It’s a hard lesson! He is not a puppeteer, and neither are we. He does not control our choices and actions, so neither should we attempt to control everything about theirs. He gives boundaries and allows consequences, so these are healthy and necessary. His arms are always open to a repentant heart, and ours must be too.
This video captures the heart of parenting from God’s eyes, and it rings true for me over and over again:
Are you learning these things? It’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight, or at the snap of the fingers because you had an awesome snapshot moment of clarity. Living out in action is SO much more difficult than simply having an idea. So, be merciful to yourself. You’re going to get it wrong while you’re learning…a lot.
That’s the whole point of the Cross. That’s the whole point of sanctification. Basically, it’s the point of parenting…so that we learn to love like Him and just HOW MUCH He loves us, too.