Aha – gotcha. The very fact that you clicked on this title affirms the fact that as moms, as parents, as humans, we’re all trying to be better.
But I think we’ve gotten into a pretty scary cycle.
Not that striving towards excellence and doing-something-different-next-time-so-we-don’t-repeat-yesterday’s-mistakes are wrong. I’m not talking about that stuff. I’m talking about “mom pressure“. I’m talking about the push we all feel to do more and be more, because at the end of the day, we just don’t feel like we’re enough.
I think you know what I’m talking about. All you have to do is read the articles that pop up on your Facebook newsfeed or check out popular pins on Pinterest.
We should be home. But we should work.
We should breastfeed, but not too long.
We should bake healthy, home-cooked meals everyday (watch out for GMOs while you’re at it!), but we shouldn’t spend too much time in the kitchen.
We shouldn’t be fat, but we shouldn’t be too skinny.
We should potty-train our kids by 3, but don’t try too soon or you’re pushing your kids.
We should do crafts with our children, but also have clean, organized houses.
We should spend time with our kids. But we should make sure they’re okay without us.
We should wear our babies, make sure we keep them in rear-facing carseats until they’re 12, take off their winter coats to put them in those carseats, not feed them nitrates or pesticides or GMOs, teach them the alphabet by the time they’re 3, make sure they wash their hands before eating, keep a clean house, stay on top of laundry, keep the kids’ screen time to a minimum, keep our own screen time to a minimum, exercise, attempt to keep up friendships… and all the while look refreshed, poised, rested, well-groomed, and have sex every night with our husbands if we want to have a good marriage.
Here’s the thing:
Crafts aren’t bad. But they don’t matter if you’re dying inside.
Potty-training is good. But it doesn’t matter if you’re exhausted.
Healthy meals are good. But they don’t matter if you’re not healthy on the inside.
Breastfeeding is good. But it doesn’t matter if you have no more to give anyone.
Time with your husband matters. But not if you’re running on fumes.
And those things really don’t matter if you are turning to them to feel good about yourself as a mother. And if you are using those things to feel good about yourself, I can guarantee you two things: 1) It’s not working; and 2) You’re exhausted. I know. Oh, I know.
The real problem here is that we’ve used those things as a counterfeit for worth. If I do x amount of crafts with my children, then I’m a good mom. If I feed them organic food, then I’m a good mom. If I keep an immaculate home, then I’m a good mom.
(What’s your “if”? If I _________, then I feel like a good mom.)
We are wearing ourselves out chasing after an ideal that doesn’t exist. No mother upholds all of those things. (And if I were to meet one, I’d hug her, tell her to sit down, and I’d be getting her a nap and a therapist!)
The first danger here is that looking to our “doing” for our sense of worth and feeling like we’re enough is a Bermuda triangle that will always suck us in deeper and deeper. Doing will never fill our tank. We have to know and believe we are enough, independent of those things.
Another danger lies here – if you are evaluating ourselves based on what you do or don’t do as a mother, you can bet you’re doing that to the mothers around you as well. I think that’s why moms are so darn hard on each other. You can’t be judging yourself harshly and by an unrealistic measuring stick without doing the same to others.
The only time we are prone to judge is when we ourselves are feeling insecure. When we feel like we’re drowning in insecurity and unworthiness, it’s human instinct to flail around and drown the person beside us so we can get our own head above the water again. I know for myself, when I am feeling bad about myself for how I’m stacking up as a mom (and as a human in general), I look to those around me to find ways and places that I am better. If I can feel better about myself because I have a clean home and so-and-so doesn’t, it’s a quick and easy (but counterfeit and fleeting) way to feel okay again. Wow, that’s ugly. It’s ugly to be on either end of that cycle. And we are doing no-one a favour by perpetuating those behaviours. In fact, we end up pushing away and disconnecting from the very people that we need beside us in this journey of motherhood – other moms.
The last danger is this: we can’t give our kids what we don’t have ourselves. This was a concept I learned years ago, and as a parent am constantly using it to remind myself that most parenting skills are really just a matter of me fixing my own crap. If we don’t feel like you’re enough, and we look to our performance to stack up, how can ever expect to teach our children that they are enough? How can we teach them not to put down another person when we ourselves are putting down others daily with our critical eye? How can we teach our kids that they matter, no matter whether they got an A in spelling or spent the day in the principal’s office? The simple (but hard) answer is that we can’t. We really cannot give what we don’t have.
So what’s the solution? How do we really become the perfect mom? By realizing we never can be. But by also realizing we are enough. Without the crafts, without the homemade-organic-vegan-sugar-free baking, without the storybook marriage, without the lickable toilets. Go ahead and have those things, but don’t do them to be good enough. Those things are much more enjoyable when you already know you are enough.
The other solution, for me, is Jesus. Everyday, Jesus. He tells me I’m enough. He loves me when I’ve yelled at my kids instead of using the 6 steps to stop whining. He loves me when my floors are disgusting and we eat cereal for supper. He loves me when my hair is bad and I put off my husband and I haven’t had coffee with friends for weeks. He loves me when I’m tired and spend the day on Facebook instead of doing math activity books with the kids. Humans (including and especially myself) aren’t nearly so forgiving. He always is. He never focused on people’s behaviour; He never defined people by what they did or didn’t do. Whether it was sleeping with multiple men or being a thieving tax collector. Even when it was his own friend betraying Him. He loved, and whispered in His own way to each of them, “you’re enough. You matter.”
It’s not about what you do. Take a newborn, for example. When you’re holding that baby, and love is welling up inside of you like you’ve never felt before, let me ask you – what did that baby do to deserve your love? We know that the answer is nothing. That’s the same as Jesus’ love for us. He loved us before we did one good thing or one bad thing. None of that matters to Him. Your heart matters.
The reason this is such good news to us as moms is because it gives us permission to just be. It gives us the freedom to be real and stop pretending. It gives us the freedom to exercise and do crafts, but not while being driven from a sense of insecurity and worthlessness. It gives us the freedom to do those things from a place of knowing our worth and value and doing it just because we want to. It gives us the freedom to connect with another mom without facades which damage and tear down. It gives us the freedom to have grace for ourselves and others.
The other great part, is that when we stop trying to be a perfect mom, we actually become the great mother we always were. We can teach our children the lessons that matter – about authenticity, vulnerability to be ourselves, how to make mistakes and not have it connected to our identity, and that they matter apart from what they do, just like we do. We can teach them to be real, because we are okay to be real. We can teach them that they are enough, because we know that we are.
That is how to be the perfect mom.