I saw a funny little quote online today about parenting. It was a mom holding a baby saying, “I promise to give you love, nurturing, and just enough dysfunction to make you funny.” I thought to myself, “Well, I must not be the only mom who fears she’s doing it all wrong.”
I’ve noticed that when I’m not being intentional about my mothering or more accurately, intentional in praying about my mothering, one of two things can happen:
1. My mama brain runs ramped, with all sorts of scenarios playing out…. if I don’t “nip this in the bud” or “fix this right away”, etc. I can just visualize the kids as dysfunctional adults with all kinds of problems because I couldn’t correct what needed to be corrected. Or
2. I begin to let too many outside influences affect me, my mothering, and my decision making and subsequently……my mama brain again runs ramped with all sorts of scenarios playing out, picturing the kids as dysfunctional adults.
You mamas know what I’m talking about. The Mom’s Guilt-O-Meter. Allow me to introduce the gauges of the guilt-o-meter along with the typical thought processes that accompany each zone.
LEVEL 3/RED ALERT:
I’ve scarred them for life.
It’s official – I’m a terrible mom.
LEVEL 2/CRITICAL ZONE:
That mom makes it look so easy.
If I’m doing this right, shouldn’t his behavior always show it?
(May be better deemed ‘the critic zone’)
LEVEL 1/BATTLE MODE:
I need to discipline her, but…. she might feel bad about herself…..it’s the 3rd time today. If I don’t, that might become a habit.
So many battles, which one do I pick?
All knowing, with all the answers, all the time.
Expecting her nomination for ‘Mom of the Year’ anytime now.
**Disclaimer: Though many moms may visit this level, duration times may vary greatly……typical time in MOMNISCIENT mode is < 5 minutes.**
Here’s a few examples:Moms of newborns that are breastfeeding, it’s, “Did I eat something I shouldn’t have that has made him cry like this?? I can’t even tell when he’s had enough. I don’t know what I’m doing….I’m terrible at this!” Or, for the mom who decided not to breastfeed that’s listening to another mom talk about the joy of breastfeeding and the health benefits for the baby, it’s, “I should have tried to breastfeed….I feel like a horrible mom!”
For the moms of toddlers trying to potty train: “She’s old enough that she should be able to do this…..right?? What am I doing wrong??” or “What if she’s not ready and I’m being way too hard on her? I feel like such a terrible mom.”For the moms trying to teach a kid the beauty of sleep: “It seems cruel to let my one year old cry himself to sleep. He’ll think I’ve abandoned him. But, shouldn’t he be sleeping all night by now? I mean, my friend’s baby has slept through the night since he was 6 months. Plus, I need a good night’s sleep. Maybe he should sleep with us. But, will my husband like that? I have no idea what I’m doing!!”
I should forewarn any new moms, the dilemmas get even more complicated as they get older.To spank or not to spank?
Insist that they go to church or let them go to the ballgame?Let them hang out with the kid who gets in trouble in hopes that they’ll be a good influence on him or keep them guarded in case they are the ones who are influenced?
Encourage her to turn the other cheek when the other girls are mean or tell her how to set them straight?
Should I check the text messages or respect her privacy?Should I give them one more warning or am I just delaying the inevitable?
And on and on and on....and that's just the inner dialogue…. our critiques of ourselves. Then there's the outside influences. The parenting magazines, the critical nature of fellow moms, the horror stories on the news, and of course, there are the ever plentiful "latest research findings"....complete with a list of do's and don't’s and possible outcomes. As if we didn't doubt ourselves enough already, we always have the very vocal activists that have taken "parenting style" and turned it into a sort of religion upon which all other things hang. I mean, guilt within, guilt without...hence...the caution zone. That's what happens when I don't intentionally seek the Lord each day. I end up feeling like I’m winging it or just making stuff up as I go along. When I wing it - Those little doubts and criticisms can quickly become gripping fears when I contemplate my children's future.
Bents and Breakthroughs
See....I've been nearing the red zone lately myself. I've been more than a little worried and stressed over my son's tendency to be so hard on himself. To complicate his...shall we say...."bent", his preteen self has hit the phase where he wants to put forth as little effort as possible...whether homework, sports, chores, whatever. You can see where the problem is, right? He doesn't want to do what's necessary to achieve the results he wants. Therefore, he is very disappointed. Then comes his not so mature responses that cause me further concern and complicates the battle for me as his mom.
Of course, my mom brain has played the whole movie with multiple endings. "If I'm on him all the time, will that make him feel worse about himself? But, I know he's not doing his best and shouldn't I stress his potential and teach "hard work"?" Then there's the whole bad attitude thing that just really concerns me on many levels. We've had so many talks over the years about effort, attitude, etc. that I've found it especially hard to believe we are once again addressing those issues.
So, my inner dialogue starts off like this:"When is he going to learn? I can't believe he acted like that again! He's in for it now!!"
5 minutes later......
"Well....he's just 12. He's made a lot of adjustments. If I lay in to him, it may compound his problem. He won't always act that way...he'll look back on this in disbelief one day. (Won't he??)”
Naturally, my fear is that he would grow up into a man who doesn't work hard, who can't control his temper and lives a life full of disappointment.....all because of my dysfunctional mothering. Talk about overwhelming. That red zone was getting closer and closer while momniscience seemed like it was......well... Far fetched! Obviously.... it was made up. I was just thinking how we moms wish we could be like God in our parenting...omniscient....having all the answers. "Momniscience" is what came out.
Long story short, in this particular breakthrough, my son got upset again over his batting during baseball practice and "showed out". Then was mad at himself because he got mad at himself. I was pretty ticked over the whole scene myself. Very tired of the scene, really. Fortunately, I had time to pray and brace myself before practice was over. Then it dawned on me…..the answer for BOTH of us was prayer.
I've always encouraged him to pray about these things that come up. So, I was explaining to him that I knew he was sincere in wanting to change those tendencies this time, but little short prayers once in a while probably wouldn't be all he needed to get such long term issues under control. I told him that God could just "fix him" but that he usually prefers to work with us and in us so we can experience Him and get to know Him better. I told him that he shouldn't expect to handle it all on his own.... It's too overwhelming. He doesn’t have that kind of power anyway. None of us do.
So, this is what I told Him about the issues he wanted to work on and just couldn't seem to do on his own:
"Pray at night about it, sure. But also.... pray when you get up, pray as you study, pray before a test, pray before practice, pray when you get up to bat, pray when you strike out, pray when you hit a home run.....pray that you'd have a new desire to work hard and do your best, pray that you'd learn to really enjoy the gifts you've been given...like athletic ability, pray that you can relax and have fun, pray that you can master your temper and be a good example for others, pray for Him to come beside you and give you what you need....and before you know it....you are changed.”
I felt like I had fallen short on showing him how to pray those real, sincere prayers. So, I stopped rattling on and just prayed aloud over him so he'd get what I meant about being open and specific with God. Funny what a calming effect prayer has. Something else that was funny is the impression I had on my own heart:
"You could be the best mom you know how to be at all times....but....you still don't have the power to get it right all on your own and you certainly can't control everything about your kids and every possible outcome of their lives. Mothering can be overwhelming…but, you are never alone. Pray at night. Pray in the morning. Pray when you think about them, pray before you pick them up before school. A few prayers here and there about your children or your parenting skills aren't going to give you the understanding that you need to reign in the fear and confusion of your mama brain and make those tough decisions with confidence."
Talk about practicing what you preach. I was giving him advice on what to do when he was overwhelmed, all while I was overwhelmed and feeling very out of sorts myself. As I tried to teach my son that the Lord will be with him, that He will not deny him anything he asks for that would bring him good, and that He can and will help him when he's overwhelmed.....the Lord gently reminded me that the same was true for me as his mom. He also reminded me that what was important was not my son's athletic ability, his grades, or even his outlook on life.....that what would help him more than anything is to experience God at work in and around him at a young age.
The Lord has brought one thing to my mind over and over again lately about parenting. I think it's because of all the wavering I was doing in my own. This is the thing: He only gave one specific direction to children, "Obey your parents." Its not just a message for kids as that scripture tells me that regardless of how I feel about it, how overwhelmed I am, what the latest study says, what the latest parenting guru dictates.....I have the God-given responsibility to teach them to obey. To obey me. To respect my authority. To respect His authority. To seek the Lord and His will. If my decisions are based around that, there is no room for guilt.
Now, why is that? Its fairly simple. If they think its ok to disobey me on a lot of little things as children.....what might they disobey me on as they grow up? What is the likelihood that they'll obey the Lord if they haven't been supported at home in the one thing he asked of them as children. Obedience. See, by design, the only thing we have that can ward off the fears of our mama brains is the peace and knowledge that they will grow into adults who will seek to obey and follow hard after God.
So, listen mamas. Maybe momniscience is made up. But, it's doesn't seem quite so far fetched anymore. Maybe you’ve had good intentions but, just haven’t been intentional with them. Maybe you’ve been swayed or confused by too many outside opinions. Either way, you know you can quickly end up like me, feeling like you’re making it up as you go along. I know we can't get it right all the time. But... If we will just include Him everyday and throughout the day....He will equip us to raise these little sugar boogers into some mighty fine men and women who will make a real, lasting difference in the lives of others because they got a foretaste of eternity early on in life in their own relationship with the Lord.
At the root of our mommy fears….we need to remember our primary goal.…to cultivate in them a love and respect for the Lord and His Word. He doesn't just want our kids to have good manners, feed the hungry, and save the trees. Though, those are all worthy causes. He doesn’t just want me to ensure that our boys will play baseball, go to college, work hard, etc. What good does it do them to love the planet and everything and everyone in it if they don’t love Him? Or what benefit is there for them to have great attitudes and be extremely hard workers if they never bear any fruit? If we abide in Him as we pursue that goal, we could throw away the guilt-o-meter…..even if they did eventually go their own way. We may always have some degree of dysfunction and may never spend more than 5 minutes in the momniscient zone….but, we can fight a good fight in the battle zone! And by the Lord’s grace, our fruit may just be the next generation of warriors.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.