Thursday, June 28, 2012

On being the perfect mother.


I have an image I manufactured of what I would look like if I was the ideal mom. She's a combination of the favorite women in my life, the heroines of the Bible, and my own thoughts of what it means to be the perfect mom. You have your own mental list, I'm sure, and it would look completely different than mine. It would be based on the exposures you've had in your life to moms you respected and so on.

The other day I started writing this post and I decided to make a list of things that my concept of the "perfect mom" does. As I was thinking about it, it hit me, "Wow, no wonder I feel stressed out if I'm trying to do all these things as a lifestyle." I couldn't even finish writing my list, because it was just silly. I expect really ridiculous and impossible things from myself. Examples: I shouldn't drive a lot of places when I have the option because I'm using gas and polluting the earth. Plus, if I got in a wreck and broke the car that would ruin our livelihood. I also shouldn't isolate myself at home because that takes a mental toll on me and I need to be a happy mama. (Can you see how those things basically contradict each other and make for a lot of internalized frustration?) I should only feed my children things that grow from the earth in a natural, pesticide-free environment. I should be content with whatever amount of money we earn and stay thankful. (Oh yeah, when you don't have money to buy a house and land you have no way of growing food to feed it to your children. Another frustration.) The list could go on and on and on. Some of my desires are moral and ethical, some of them just feel that way enough to take away my peace and make me feel anxious. I'm telling you, the mom-guilt voices accused me of failing at motherhood from the moment I let my firstborn be cut out of me and whisked off to the NICU for three weeks and continues until now when I want to scream at his two-year-old self for repeating everything he says 15 times and headbutting me in the face when I'm trying to read him a book.

I have all these condemning voices in my head. Really good moms don't scream at their children. They stay calm and kind. They're happy even when life is hard and dull because they have eternity to look forward to with all it's pleasures. They appreciate help from other people, but they certainly don't need it because all they need is food (any kind), shelter, and God. From the minute they give birth they're able to take full responsibility for the physical, mental, and spiritual health and vibrance of their children. They are able to stay happy and positive even if they can't get a good night's rest in 2.5 decades, because sleep deprivation is no excuse to back down from your God-given responsibilities.

Seriously...?

I've been processing through these things I feel. I long to be an excellent mother to my children, but I really can't carry the burden of all these pressures for the rest of my life. It's excruciatingly hard, and I feel like I'm going to break under them. I've been subjecting myself to the pressures of these expectations and others for the past few years, often failing, but still laboring under their weight. Surely this couldn't have been what Jesus meant when he said, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

And so, I'm re-examining my list and embarking upon the process of trashing the stupid things I thought were so great, and adopting their counterparts. I'm looking deeper than the surface of what seems good, to the underlying truths. Is the Proverbs 31 woman paralyzed by fear of failure? Does she squash her dreams in the name of spirituality? Does she feel guilty about wearing a pretty dress because not everyone in the world can afford such things and fashion is meaningless in the grand scheme of eternity? What about David with all his emotional Psalms -- was he alright with believing that God didn't care if he was sad and distraught? Was he disqualified before God because he didn't raise all of his children to love God and be righteous? Were there other Biblical heroes that didn't have everything together but insisted on drawing near to God and taking hold of his grace and kindness?

So for me, giving up on my expectations in this situation means surrendering my idea of what it looks like to be the perfect mom. I wasn't born with the wisdom to know how to raise my children well, or with the self-discipline and consistency to carry it out when I do know. I need to seek regular wisdom and direction from God and any other solid sources I can get my hands on. I have to drown out the voices that tear me down and make me feel hopeless, and cling to the truth of who God is and what exactly he wants from me. Needing growth and learning from trial and error doesn't disqualiy me. On the contrary, surrendering myself to the refining fires of motherhood and allowing them to be a platform for growth puts me in the best place to become excellent, even under pressure. And lastly, if I'm breaking under the pressure of all my self-imposed expectations... I need to extend grace to myself just like I would to anyone else, pick my battles wisely, and allow myself to feel God's love and acceptance in the midst of my humanity. Instead of living in fear and anxiety every day, I will carry the little bit of weight that I can and let God shoulder the rest. He holds my future, he holds my children's future, he holds the weight of the world that's eventually going to burn whether or not I try to conserve water by not taking long showers and giving my kids baths every day or not.

That means I don't have to carry everything by myself anymore. I give up, happily. I can be human, I can ask for help, I can feed my kids cheerios if that's what I have, I can freak out when I'm sleep deprived and not feel like a horrible person...... oh, this list goes on and on in a good way. A happy, surrendering way. I'm not throwing my hands up on excellence, but I am throwing my hands up on unrealistic, perfectionistic, idealistic, impossiblistic(!), unnecessarily strict expectations. Where the line lies, only God knows.. but I plan on staying in touch with him so I think I'm going to be ok.

3 comments:

  1. I think you ARE the perfect mom for your two darling boys.
    I so understand what you describe in your post...the ever-present sense of not living up to the impossible standard we set for ourselves.
    Chuck it.
    We're accepted in the Beloved. Hurray!

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  2. I love this so much! This is honest, opening and encouraging!

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