These five words have begun changing everything for me.
Maybe for many mothers those words are not that big of a deal. But for me, they are darn-right revolutionary. They literally declare war on a set of beliefs, fears and insecurities at the very center of my soul.
Last year, I noticed how hard it is for me to receive a compliment about my mothering. People would try to encourage me by telling me that I am a patient, tender mom but my eyes would well up with tears as my heart welled up with suspicion of their sincerity and I would think, “if they only knew…”
If they only knew the hours I spent literally wrestling my toddler into time out. If they only heard the terrifying decibels of frustrated yells. If only they could see the times I layed down next to my tantruming toddler to throw one of my own.
The honest truth is, I have had some very ugly moments as a mother. Moments that I have been out of control, using anger and fear to seek to control my child when nothing else seemed to work.
I started to tell a sweet counselor friend recently that one reason motherhood has been so much harder than I thought was that J just feels so different from me (she’s my extraverted, rambunctious, strong-willed sweetpea). But suddenly, the ugly cries broke through along with the epiphany that what was actually the hardest thing were the ways I do see myself in her. I saw my own struggles with reactivity in every tantrum she had — and we had a season of many, many tantrums for a while there — and that terrified me.
Her words to me set the scene for the five words to finally begin to take root in my heart. After trying to convey the heights and depths of some of our lowest moments together, she encouraged me to grieve for how my sin has affected J, but reminded me that shame and guilt do not help anyone. I can receive grace, repair my relationship with her, and then keep choosing love and the better things.
So basically, you know, THE GOSPEL. Applied to my mothering.
With regard to mothering, I struggle to live as a slave to shame and fear and it’s stealing much of the joy out it. In Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning shares,
[Thomas Merton responds,] “Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.”
God calls us to stop hiding and come openly to Him. God is the father who ran to His prodigal son when he came limping home. God weeps over us when shame and self-hatred immobilize us.
So when I was listening to a podcast in which the guest felt God ask her to say the words “I am a good mother” outloud, I burst into tears. I knew that God was asking me to try it, too.
Not only that, I knew that God wanted me to believe it. To leave the shame and self-hatred behind and to walk, by faith, as one who is completely forgiven, completely accepted, comprehensively loved.
This is changing things, y’all. Here’s a few ways I’ve noticed so far:
I enjoy motherhood so much more. I mean, think about it: who honestly enjoys something they believe they are terrible at? When I believe that at the core, the truth about me is that I am a good mom (yes, even with sin/weaknesses/failures), I am freed up to just enjoy the ride! I am not dreading the next time I sin against my children, contemplating all the ways I am going to screw them up, I am just being a mom.
I actually become a better mother. A remarkable thing happens when you believe the best about yourself: you often live up to it! If I believe I’m terrible at motherhood and I’m going to screw my kids up then I’m more likely to continue reacting out of fear. It’s like if you stare at a pothole while driving a motorcycle you’re more likely to drive right into it. Or how you do a better job at staying in your lane on the highway if you don’t fixate on the lines so much but just keep looking ahead.
There have been a few days recently that started just a bit too early, and I could feel that dread begin to take over…oh great, I’m tired which means I’m likely to be grumpy which means my mood will overflow to the girls which means the whole day is going to be one giant battle. Instead, the Holy Spirit reminded me who I truly am: loved, free, called and equipped for this task of loving these children…a good mom. I am up for the task! And I know there is grace, even when I fall short.
Even in the more difficult moments. Instead of being so threatened by my child’s behavior and what it says about me (or her) I can just stay present with her and help her as someone who empathizes with big feelings. And when I give myself enough grace to become humble, I can model repentance and repairing the relationship when I fail.
I enjoy my children more. Another funny thing about believing the best in myself? It helps me believe the best in others. The better we get at applying the Good News to our own lives, the better we can apply it to others. When we can accept our own sin/weaknesses/failures but not be defined by them, we can see and accept the weaknesses in others without defining them by theirs. My sweet preschooler, at her core, is such a beautiful person designed in God’s image. When she begins acting like a rabid animal (no joke, we had a lot of foaming at the mouth in the past year), I don’t need to let fear convince me that I have already screwed her up or that something is wrong with her…she is just a little person learning how to handle herself in the world. And I’m her ally in that: teaching, admonishing, encouraging.
And if I had to guess, I think children can sense whether we believe the best in them or not. I’m finding that when I believe the best in her, she is more likely to live up to that as well.
One last note for those of you in the foaming at the mouth trenches with me: this is truly just a season. Our house is so different than it was several months ago and I know a big part of all is what the Lord’s been changing in my heart, but another big part of is that she has grown and matured, too. So take heart. You and your kiddo will both grow through this season, it will end and then a new season of growth will begin. But it probably won’t include foaming at the mouth. So that’s something!
I’d love to hear from you. Do you believe you are a good mom? What, if anything, makes it hard for you to believe it? How does it feel to receive compliments about your mothering? Do you notice a change in your mothering based on whether you believe this or not?
You are loved, dear momma friend! As a person, as a woman and in this holy role of motherhood. Whether it makes sense to you or not, that is the beautiful Gospel. You are fully seen and known, and fully and completely loved. Let’s live out of that love instead of fear.