Lessons from Mary

Christmas is my absolute, most favorite season of the year. But, I have to be honest with you; this year is hard. I find myself in the midst of a season that is meant to be joyful, yet, I’ve had many moments when I’ve felt anything but joyful. These past few weeks have been filled with heartache as I’ve watched some people that I love dearly walk through some very difficult circumstances. Circumstances that have left my heart aching for them, and my soul asking God why. Why this? Why now? Why must life take us down difficult paths?

Have you ever had questions like that? As I’ve struggled with these questions, I’ve felt God leading me to one particular story in the Bible. A story of a woman who did not lead an easy life by any means. A story of a woman who we all might agree had the right to question God. A woman who sets a beautiful example for us when we find ourselves in the midst of difficult circumstances, filled with uncertainty, and maybe even questioning what God is doing. That woman . . . is Mary.

Mary lived in Nazareth, in the village of Galilee, which was part of the nation of Israel. She was engaged to a man named Joseph, a Jew just like herself, and a man from the family line of King David. Now, engagements, or betrothals as they were called then, were a bit different then than they are now. It was a several step process that began with the arrangement of marriage by the families of the bride and groom to be. These arrangements were often made when the children were young, and it was common for arrangements to be made within one’s own tribe or family. The arrangement of a marriage was often seen as more of a business transaction between two families rather than a love match.

Once the marriage was arranged, there was the signing of the wedding contract. This was a legal document that could not be broken except through divorce. Once a contract was signed, the couple was considered married. However, the bride remained with her family until the dowry was paid. A dowry was a payment in the form of money, animals, or service for the bride. It was not viewed as the husband was paying for his wife, It was seen as given compensation to the bride’s family since they would be losing a working member of their household. Once, the dowry was paid and the bride and groom were at a suitable age to marry, there was a celebratory wedding feast followed by the moving of the bride to the groom’s home and the consummation of the marriage. Mary is in the first stage of this betrothal process when she receives a special visitor

We find Mary’s story in the book of Luke.

“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’  ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.’” 

Luke 1:26-37 (NIV)

God sends an angel to Mary to tell her several things. First, he tells her that she’s found favor with God. He then goes on to tell her that she will conceive and give birth to a son, and she is to name him Jesus. Have you ever stopped and wondered what thoughts might have been racing through her mind in those moments? Here she is, a young woman soon to be married. She is going to become pregnant, but not from the one she’s betrothed to. And she’s not just going to have a son. She’s going to have God’s Son! Can you imagine what she must have been thinking?

It’s important to remember that in those times, conceiving out of wedlock was more than just frowned upon. It would have caused a scandal in the village, and she could have faced the possibility of divorce, being banished from her father’s household, or even face death. If I were Mary, I think I would have been extremely fearful: fearful of what Joseph would think, what my father would think, and what the others in the village would think. I might have even been angry towards God for wanting to place me in those circumstances. Circumstances that would prove to be hard. Circumstances that would be painful. Circumstances that if I were Mary might have me questioning why. Why me? Yet, how does Mary respond?

“‘I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.”

Luke 1:38 (NIV)

“May your word to me be fulfilled”. How does Mary respond? She responds by saying, “Yes.” Mary says yes and in saying yes she chooses to believe what God says and trust Him completely with His plan for her life. She also chooses to look for His goodness in her circumstances. 

First, Mary believed God. God promises many things to us throughout Scripture, and they are promises that He will always keep. Joshua tells us, 

“Not a single one of all the good promises the Lord had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true.”

 Joshua 21:45 (NLT)

The name of God we find in this Scripture is translated as Yahweh. In the Hebrew, this name means that He is the eternal, unchanging one, who is faithful in keeping His Word. If He promises us something, that promise will be fulfilled. Mary knew this and believed it. If God promised something to her, He would fulfill that promise. What are some of the promises He gives us?

First, He will always love us. Jeremiah reminds us, 

“Long ago the Lord said to Israel: ‘I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.’”

Jeremiah 31:3 (NLT)

God loves us. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you any more, and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you any less. Do you believe that you are loved?

Secondly, He will never leave us. In the Old Testament we read, 

“He will be leading you. He’ll be with you, and He’ll never fail you or abandon you. So don’t be afraid!”

Deuteronomy 31:8 (VOICE)

“Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”

 Isaiah 41:10 (MSG)

Do you believe that He will never leave you and that He will always be there when you need Him?

Another promise, God has for us is that He has a plan for us and it is good.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Eternal, ‘plans for peace, not evil, to give you a future and hope—never forget that. At that time, you will call out for Me, and I will hear. You will pray, and I will listen. You will look for Me intently, and you will find Me.’”

 Jeremiah 29:11-13 (VOICE)

“Never forget that.” Verses 12 and 13 are often left out when people quote this Scripture, but I feel that they are most important. God has a plan for our lives, but what must we do to understand it? We need to be in communication with Him. He says, “Call out to me and I will hear.  Pray and I will listen. Look for me and you will find me.” To be able to understand His plan and trust Him, we need to be in communication with Him. 

Mary believed in God’s promises. She believed she was loved, she knew God would never leave her, and she trusted that He had a plan for her and that it was good. When we find ourselves walking a difficult path, do we believe that God is everything He says He is? Mary believed so.

Mary also trusted God. Proverbs encourages us to, 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB)

To trust in someone is to believe in their reliability, truth, ability, or strength. To trust God is to believe that He is reliable, believe what He says is true, believe that He is able, and believe that He is strong enough. Mary trusted knowing the road ahead might be difficult. She trusted because she knew that God was reliable. She trusted because she knew that what He said was true. She trusted because she knew He was able. She trusted because she knew He was strong enough. When it comes down to it, do we do the same? Do we trust God? Do we really trust God?

And, lastly, Mary chose to say yes and in doing so she chose to see God’s goodness. 

“At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’ And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful   of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him,  from generation to generation.” 

Luke 1:39-50 (NIV)

We don’t find Mary complaining to her cousin Elizabeth about what God has asked her to do. We don’t find Mary expressing worry or anxiety about what is to come. We find Mary giving thanks for being chosen to be the mother of God’s son. We find Mary choosing to see the good in her circumstances. When life gets difficult, are we still looking for God’s goodness? Are we still looking for evidence of His hand working in our lives?

Mary’s life was likely very different from what she imagined it might be. Her life was likely more difficult from what  she imagined it might be. But, she chose to believe what God had promised to her, to trust Him, and to see the good within her circumstances. 

Do we do the same? When we face difficult circumstances, uncertainty, or immeasurable pain, do we respond as Mary did? Do we believe that God is good and that we can trust the plan He has for us, or do we focus on the pain, the fear, and trying to understand why? Do we look for the good He is doing around us or do we focus only on the negative? How different would our lives look if our first response was to reach for Him when life gets hard? Reach for Him instead of your anxiety, your fear, or your anger towards the difficulty of your circumstances. I don’t understand why God allows us to walk through difficult seasons. But, I do know this; in those times of difficulty, God never leaves us, God’s hand is always moving, and He is always working to bring some good even out of the most difficult of circumstances. But, we need to believe Him. We need to trust Him. We need to see the good that He is doing in our lives.

As we move through this Christmas season, I would encourage you to keep your eyes focused on Him. Keep your eyes focused on the gift we were given through His birth.

 

References:

Biblegateway. https://www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.

Howard, Kathy. “Mary Believed.” Kathy Howard. https://www.kathyhoward.org/mary-believed/. 2 Dec. 2019.

Schauss, Hayyim. “Ancient Jewish Marriage.” My Jewish Learning. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ancient-jewish-marriage/. Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.

“The God I Know”. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDvmBqHqZHQ. Accessed 3 Dec. 2019.

“What Was Betrothal in Biblical Times?” GotQuestions.  https://www.gotquestions.org/betrothal.html. Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.

Loving Our People Well

  If I were to ask you to define love, what would you say? The dictionary defines love as a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection for another. I think however, that love is much more than simply an attachment or a deep affection. Scripture tells us the following about love:

“Love is patient; love is kind. Love isn’t envious, doesn’t boast, brag, or strut about. There’s no arrogance in love; it’s never rude, crude, or indecent—it’s not self-absorbed. Love isn’t easily upset. Love doesn’t tally wrongs or celebrate injustice; but truth—yes, truth—is love’s delight! Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes, and endures no matter what.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (VOICE)

Love is an action. Love is a way of life. Love is unconditional with no strings attached. Love is the most important thing our kids need from us, and is at the forefront of mothering with purpose. Love accepts and affirms our kids for who they are, not what they do. It’s love that will bring out the best in them, and it’s love that will help them grow into the people who God created them to be. 

In their book, The 5 Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, say, “In raising children, everything depends on the love relationship between the parent and child. Nothing works well if a child’s love needs are not met. Only the child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do her best.You may truly love your child, but unless she feels it – unless you speak the love language that communicates to her your love – she will not feel loved.” 

Love language. Every person has one. It’s the way in which we understand and perceive love. As a parent, it’s important to identify your child’s love language and communicate your love for him in a way that he understands. By speaking in your child’s love language, you fill up his “emotional tank” with love. As your child moves through challenges in life, it is this tank filled with love, that will help him to persevere.

Now it’s important to note a few things. First, it’s important that the love we speak to our child is unconditional. Unconditional love accepts and affirms a child for who he is not what he does. Unconditional love is not based on performance. Secondly, it is difficult to identify a child’s love language much before the age of five. It is important to speak in all of the languages until the language that speaks most directly to the heart of your child is made clear. And even when it is made clear, it is still beneficial for your child to see love expressed in the other languages. Some kids respond well to more than one language, and as they grow up, they will learn to love people well by the example you set. 

And, lastly, speaking in your child’s love language is not a guarantee that you will not face trials or challenges as you raise him. There will be hard days. But those hard days your child experiences will be filtered through the deep down knowing that he is loved. 

The first of the five love languages is physical touch. Physical touch is the easiest language to use, and for some children, it communicates love more deeply than words. Physical touch is defined as any physical contact used to communicate love. 

You can express love through physical touch in many ways. For your infant, holding, cuddling, kissing, feeding, and rocking are all ways to communicate love through physical touch. Your toddler will feel loved through hugs and kisses, wrestling on the floor, or reading a story as you hold him on your lap. As your child enters school, there is still a strong need for physical touch. This need can be met through a touch on the head, a pat on the shoulder, sitting closely together on the couch or through playing physical games with one another. As your child moves through adolescence, physical touch continues to be a strong need. However, it is important to respect the timing and space for this communication to occur. Children at this age are filled with emotions, thoughts, and desires and are in the process of discovering their identity. In addition, peers are becoming more important and the opinions of those peers matter a great deal. Your child likely does not want you to hug and kiss him in front of others. At home however, your child may welcome a hug, a neck massage after studying for hours on end, or a back scratch. Look for ways that you can love your child through physical touch, but be sensitive to the timing and the place. 

The next love language is words of affirmation. Words of affection, endearment, praise, encouragement, and words that give positive guidance are all powerful when we are communicating love to our kids. 

When speaking words of affirmation over your child, it is important to remember a few things. First, choose your words carefully. Angry words are damaging for any child, but more so for a child whose love language is words of affirmation. Remember that your words are extremely powerful and have the ability to build your child up or tear him down. Proverbs tells us,

“Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.”

Proverbs 15:4 (MSG)

Use care in the words you speak. Once a word is spoken, it cannot be taken back. 

Secondly, take care not to overpraise your child. Two things can happen when a child receives too much praise. First, if our kids are used to hearing praise from us all of the time, it becomes less meaningful to them. Secondly, our children may become accustomed to praise and expect it from everyone. When it is not given, a child my become anxious and feel that there may be something wrong with him. Give praise when it is due, but use caution about overusing it. 

Words of affirmation can be expressed in several ways. With infants, it’s important to remember that they cannot understand spoken words. They can however, understand the look on your face and the affectionate sounds you make. Hold your baby physically close and speak lovingly to them. 

With toddlers, it’s important to remember that they think very concretely at this age. Love is a very abstract concept. Hold your child physically close to you as you speak to them. Children will begin to associate the loving feeling of being with you to the words you are saying. 

For school age children and those moving through adolescence, words of affirmation are extremely important. Encouraging words and notes can go a long way in helping a child feel loved. Praise your child for his accomplishments and be very specific with that praise. Rather than saying, “Good job” say, “I appreciate how thoroughly you dusted the living room today” or “I loved how you were encouraging your teammates out on the court”.  Give encourage and specific praise to communicate your love to your child. 

Our next love language is quality time. This love language is communicated by the giving of our focused, undivided attention to our child. It’s giving the gift of our presence and assuring our kids that they are important and that we enjoy spending time with them. Quality time is what many kids crave and most of the misbehavior we see from them is simply their way of expressing that they need our presence. They need our focused and undivided attention. 

Now, quality time can be difficult to give, especially as a child grows older and life gets busier. Many of us struggle with accomplishing the tasks we need to in a given day let alone taking extra time to spend with our kids. However, for the child whose love language is quality time, taking that time is so important. A child who needs this time and does not receive it, can quickly begin to doubt that he is loved. 

For your child who needs this time, start by giving your child time first. Spend time with your child first, then move on to the task at hand. This might mean that you set a timer for ten minutes and play a game. Once the timer goes off, you return to the work you were doing. Your child gets some of your time and you still have time to work. You could also try including your child in your work. For example, if you are washing dishes, maybe your child could help dry and put them away. It may take longer to complete the task, but that time with your child will be worth your investment. 

When spending quality time together, just focus on being together. That is what your child desires most. Going somewhere special or spending money is not required when spending quality time together. Making eye contact, talking together, and giving your undivided attention is what matters most. 

To spend quality time with your baby, hold him, cuddle him, and play with him. For your toddler, play together. Join him on the playground, get down and help him build the sandcastle, build a blanket fort and read a book together under it. For your school aged child, play together, throw a football back and forth, do nails together, or plan date nights that give your child some one-on-one time. For your adolescent, setting aside time to talk one-on-one is really important. Those times that are set aside for the two of you can not only help you to understand your child better, but also give you an opportunity to discuss some deeper issues that would not otherwise come up in conversation. I’ve had many deep and important conversations with my oldest in the times we’ve spent with just the two of us. Giving our kids quality time is so important. 

Gifts is another love language. This love is communicated through the giving and receiving of gifts. A true gift for a child is just that. It’s a gift. It’s freely given as an expression of love, not payment for services rendered. Giving your child a gift as a reward for cleaning his room is not a true gift. It’s payment for cleaning his room. A child with this primary love language feels love upon receiving a gift and will make a huge deal about receiving the gift. The gift will be placed in a special place, and every time he sees the gift (even if a number of years have passed) he will feel loved.

For this love language to be effective, however, the gift must be given while communicating in another love language. Give words of affirmation or a hug with the gift. Give the gift as you spend quality time together. A child whose love language is gifts needs not just the physical gift. They need to feel the love behind the gift.

It’s important to note that gifts should not be used as a substitute for your presence. Our kids need our presence in their lives. It’s also important to remember not to over give. Just as we talked about with praise, if we overwhelm our child with gifts, the gifts may very well lose their specialness. Choose gifts carefully, size or cost doesn’t matter. What matters is the love behind it.

This language is easier to express as your child gets older. The love language of gifts can be expressed through a special treats given when you are out running errands or traveling. It could be snack served on a special plate or eating by candlelight. Love can be expressed through a special box or drawer for their treasures or by making up a song just for your child. You can wrap up new shoes and present them at dinner or bring your child something home from a trip. Remember that it isn’t necessarily the gift that matters most. What matters most is the love behind it. 

Our last love language is acts of service. This is a language as moms that we speak every day. This love is communicated by doing things for your child. 

There are two important things to note about acts of service for this language to be effective. First, doing what is best for your child, not what pleases him, should be your primary motivation. Acts of service can be both physically and emotionally demanding. It can be easy to run ourselves ragged trying to please everyone, especially our children. Identify what is best for your family and focus your efforts there. 

Secondly, it’s important that that your acts of service are age appropriate. What do I mean by that? Only do things for your child that he is unable to do for himself. For example, your infant is unable to feed himself. You must feed him. Your toddler is unable to do his laundry by himself. You must wash his clothes for him. Love is expressed to your children when you do those things for them that they are unable to do for themselves. 

Love is also expressed however, when you DON’T do things for your children that they are quite capable of doing themselves. For example, my twelve year old is completely capable of doing his own laundry. My nine year old can certainly unload the dishwasher. As your child gets older, it is important to give him additional responsibilities. This not only encourages independence, but teaches your child the value of hard work and responsibility. 

How do we express love through our acts of service?  For your infant, anything you do to care for him is an act of service. Feeding, changing diapers, and dressing him each day are all examples of act of service. The many things you do for your infant you will also do for your toddler. Dress him or help him pick out appropriate clothing. Feed him, wash his clothes, and take him to preschool. These are all examples of acts of service. For older children, it’s important to continue to meet their basic needs. But, it is also important at this age to begin giving them age appropriate chores. This not only fosters their independence, but teaches responsibility. It also shows trust on your part. Sometimes as moms, it can be hard for us to let go of some of our household responsibilities and put them in the hands of our children. They likely won’t load the dishwasher like you do, and it may take them forever to wash that sink full of dishes. But, it is so important that you place some trust in them and hand over some of those responsibilities. 

Now, there will be times that you do things for your kids that you know they can do on their own. For example, one day, we had stripped the sheets off of the beds so I could wash them. Later that evening, I went upstairs and made my oldest son’s bed. Can he make his own bed? Yes, but, I knew he was going to be getting home late that night. I made his bed out of love. There have been times that I’ve packed my kids’s backpacks on extremely chaotic mornings. Can my kids pack their own bags? Yes, they can, but I did it out of love for them. These acts of service were done purely out of love and was my way of loving my kids well in that moment. Though we don’t want to baby our kids, and they need to be held responsible in some areas, there are times when they need us to extend grace. They need us to love them well in the moment. 

How do we know which love language speaks directly to the heart of our child? First, observe how your child expresses love to others. Children will express love in the way that they would most like to receive it. For example: my youngest is always encouraging those around him and loves to give hugs. The love languages that speak to his heart are Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch. 

Secondly, listen to what your  child requests most often. If you hear, “Look at me”, that translates into “Spend time with me.” If your child asks, “Is this coloring ok”, that translates into “I need words of affirmation.” Listen to what your child is telling you.

Lastly, pay attention to what your child complains about most frequently. Frequency is the key here. If your child frequently says, “You’re always busy”, that child is likely trying to ask you to spend some quality time with him. If your child begs to be held, he needs some physical touch. Take notice of the complaints of your child. He simply could be asking for your love.

Take a moment and watch the following video.https://skitguys.com/videos/a-very-special-mommy. 

Did you notice the many different ways these kids felt loved? Learning to speak in the love languages that touch the hearts of those we love is so important. I encourage you to use them all not only to love your people well, but to show them what it looks like to love others. 

Most Important Work

 

References:

Campbell, Ross and Gary Chapman. The 5 Love Languages of Children. Northfield. 2012.

“A Very Special Mommy”. Skit Guys. https://skitguys.com/videos/a-very-special-mommy. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.

“Most Important Work”. Joyfully Thriving. https://www.joyfullythriving.com/most-important-work. Accessed 21 Nov. 2019.

Lean In

100519_Keife_SometimesInTheFlailing.jpg

Motherhood can feel really lonely sometimes, and some days are just really hard.  The following post by Becky Keife spoke to my heart. I pray that it encourages you as it did me.

“In the early days, worn-out running shoes and a rickety double stroller held my sanity. Daily I tied up those laces like I was girding my flailing ability to mother. I knew no other way. I strapped the three-year-old in the front stroller seat, the two-year-old in the rear, and doled out an abundance of snacks and sippy cups. I prayed their wiggly bodies would calm under the security of the Houdini-like harnesses. If not, at least they were contained.

Then I hoisted the baby into the strappy apparatus attached to my chest. Tiny sun hat and pacifier, check. Burp cloth tucked in my back pocket in case the morning’s projectile spit-up wasn’t quite finished, check. We were ready to go. Me and my boys.

My feet pounded the pavement as I strained to propel the precious cargo forward. I pushed harder trying to relieve the pressure that pressed from the inside. I was out of breath before I made it to the end of the block. The boys babbled to one another about kitties perched in picture windows and earthworms squished flat on driveways.

I battled my thoughts.

Just go home! You’re sleep-deprived and out of shape. Why torture yourself this way? Turn on the TV for them and go back to bed. But then I’d hear, No, you need this. Stay the course. You’ll find your rhythm. It will get easier. Just breathe. Just breathe.

As much as my legs hurt and lungs burned, I had to keep going. Sanity is a good thing. I turned toward the foothills aglow with morning light and made my way to the quaint main street just coming alive. Shop owners turned on lights, hot coffee pots steamed as waitresses in maroon aprons filled mugs for customers huddled around small sidewalk tables.

The wobbly left stroller wheel clunked hard over another concrete bulge. The baby kicked his legs and a tiny sock fell off again. I paused to pick it up, sip some water, kiss each toddler.

I kept pushing north until shops and crowds fell behind us. Historic bungalows and craftsman homes now lined the wide street. Ample sidewalks flanked each side. A tree overloaded with bright yellow blossoms popped glory against the blue sky.

Fresh air like soul medicine. The most peace I’d feel all week.

Motherhood comes to everyone differently. Some women dream of wrapping babies in pastel blankets from the time they were little girls. Some feel awkward just thinking about kids. Some stumble upon motherhood in pink-line terror. Some moms never have a swollen womb but their hearts swell for children who need a home. C-section to homebirth to courtroom declaration, though our roads to becoming a mom may vary, I believe one thing is the same: the journey of being a mother is never quite what we expected.

I never expected to have three boys in three and a half years. I never expected to go from a thriving career woman, who felt sure in her capabilities and solid in her contributions, to a woman who felt ill-equipped to mother — a squishy, sleep-deprived shadow of my former self drowning in diapers whose felt-purpose moved little beyond milk machine and butt wiper.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved my babies.

I loved Noah my firstborn, Elias who came nineteen months later, and Jude who crashed onto the scene twenty-two short months after that. I loved their satin skin and bald baby heads. I loved cuddling them in footie pajamas and singing more refrains of Jesus Loves Me than the world has ever heard. I loved the way all their tiny fingers curled around just one of mine.

I loved each wobbly first step and wonky first word. I loved bearing witness to little big personalities emerge. I cherished every belly giggle, silly cackle, quirk, smirk, and eye-shining smile.

I loved being a mama. I still do.

But I never expected when people said motherhood was hard that the description would fall shockingly short. The beauty and blessing of motherhood also exceeded my expectations! But the struggle — oh, the struggle — was so much greater than finding the right bedtime routine or getting a kid to eat green beans. My hunch is I’m not the only one who feels this way.

If you’ve ever whispered to yourself, Motherhood is too hard. If you’ve ever locked yourself in the bathroom crying tears for reasons you could not name. If you’ve ever loved your life deeply yet desperately wanted an escape. If you’ve ever felt achingly alone though touched a thousand times by tiny hands every waking hour, you are not alone.

If you’ve ever longed for just one friend who gets it, gets you, who nods in a mom-only-knows kind of knowing. If you’ve ever felt so not cut out for the job, if you’ve ever been convinced someone else would do it all better, hold it all together, you are not alone.

If you’ve ever questioned, Where is God in this? How do I not fail my kids in this? How do I define myself, re-find myself in this land of motherhood, where I feel both at home and like a stranger? You are not alone.

Sometimes in the flailing, we just need to hear that someone else has been there too.

Seven years have passed, and I have a different pair of worn-out sneakers. My kids are all in elementary school and sleeping through the night (praise the Lord!). Instead of pushing a stroller, I wake up early and hike with a friend.

But I’ll never forget the days when fresh air in my lungs and feet pounding pavement was the rhythm God used to calm my frantic soul and awaken my sleep-deprived mind to His whisper:

I see you, daughter. You feel alone, but you never truly are. I am with you — right here, right beside you, blessing you with wild littles to hug and hold and wrestle and love. I’m here giving you more than you can handle so you reach your hand out to Me. Won’t you invite Me into your joys and struggles? Let Me teach you how to parent your children by understanding how I father you with gentleness, discipline, wisdom, grace, and sacrificial love. Dear one, lean into My love.

Maybe this is His whisper to you today too.”

 

https://www.incourage.me/2019/10/if-motherhood-is-hard-you-are-not-alone.html?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=%28in%29courage%20Daily%20Devotion%202019-10-09&utm_term=%28in%29courage%20daily%20devotion 

Birth Order – Does It Make a Difference?

  If you were to write down a few words that best describe your personality, what would they be? Would any of the personality traits listed below go on your list? Is there one of the four sets below that you feel describes you better than the others?

  1. perfectionist, reliable, conscientious, a list maker, well organized, hard driving, a natural leader, critical, serious, scholarly, logical, doesn’t like surprises, a techie
  2. mediator, compromising, diplomatic, avoids conflict, independent, loyal to peers, has many friends, a maverick, secretive, used to not having attention
  3. manipulative, charming, blames others, attention seeker, tenacious, people person, natural salesperson, precocious, engaging, affectionate, loves surprises
  4. little adult by age seven, very thorough, deliberate, high achiever, self-motivated, fearful, cautions, voracious reader, black-and-white thinker, talks in extremes, can’t bear to fail, has very high expectations for self, more comfortable with people who are older or younger

Dr. Kevin Leman, an internationally known psychologist and author, believes that each of us generally fit into one of the above categories, and the order of our birth can influence which personality traits we lean towards. Those who fall into category A are typically firstborns. Those in category B are middleborns, those in category C are lastborns, and those in category D are only children. But what exactly is this idea of birth order, and what does that have to do with mothering with purpose?

Dr. Leman describes birth order as the secret to understanding the personality differences among those who make up our family. These differences affect how we relate to others, how we handle problem solving, and even the way in which we parent. Understanding birth order can help us better understand our kids and what makes them tick. Having a better understanding of how God created our kids is key as we strive to mother with purpose.

Now, before we dig into this, I want to remind you that birth order is a theory. Scripture does not come out and specifically say that the order in which we are born determines our personalities. It does tells us:

 “For You shaped me, inside and out. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath. I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe. You have approached even the smallest details with excellence; Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.”  Psalms 139:13-14 (VOICE)

Each of us was created with great care and detail by our God who loves us deeply. We are each unique in our looks, how we think and feel, and in our personalities. We were created for His purposes and His glory. As we talk about birth order, remember that God created you with intention and with a purpose in mind and that He created you exactly how He wanted you to be. 

There are a few things that we need to take note of as we take a look at birth order. First, birth order and personality are typically ingrained by age five or six. It’s also important to note that birth order isn’t a one size fits all. Different factors or forces can have an impact on a person no matter what his birth order is. Some people find that they don’t take on all of the characteristics of their birth order, and some may even take on the characteristics of another.  There are also times when you may observe actual role reversals between two children. There are several reasons for these exceptions. 

First, is spacing. If there are five or more years between children, this essentially creates a “second” family. For example, there are 11 1/2 years between my husband and his younger sister.  As a result, they both grew up essentially as only children.  

Another exception is gender. The first male and the first female of a family can both take on the characteristics of a firstborn. My two older kids are a perfect example of this. My son was born first and clearly fits into the description of a firstborn. My daughter on the other hand, was born second, but has characteristics that fall into both the middleborn and the firstborn categories. 

Physical, mental, or emotional differences can also impact which birth order characteristics a child will assume. Multiple births, adoption, death of a child, or the blending of two families may play a role as well.

The final variable that can impact a person regardless of their birth order is you, the parent. Your own birth order will affect how you identify with each of your kids and how you parent them. It is common for a parent to over identify with a child in the same birth order position as themselves. This can lead to one of two things. Either the parent places too much pressure on that child, or the parent tends to spoil or favor that child. 

Now that we have a better understanding of what variables can affect birth order, let’s take a look at the characteristics we tend to find in each one. We’ll start with the firstborns. 

Firstborns are natural leaders. They are reliable, conscientious, well organized, goal oriented, achieving, perfectionists, and often don’t like surprises.

Firstborns often fall into one of two categories. The first is the compliant, nurturing, caregiver. These firstborns are model children that grow up seeking the approval from anyone who is in charge of them. They are good students, hard workers, and always aim to please. Because of this need to please, compliant firstborns often find themselves being taken advantage of by others. They internalize these hurts and typically reach a point where they need to explosively vent to another. 

The other category that firstborns can fall into is that of the aggressive mover and shaker. These firstborns are assertive, strong-willed, and high achieving. They set high goals and have a strong need to feel that they are essential to any success that is happening around them. Aggressive firstborns often develop badger-like qualities and will scratch, claw, or bite to reach their goals. 

Now, before we talk about how to parent our firstborns, it’s important to talk about the characteristics we find in those who are only children for they share many similarities with firstborns. Only children tend to be mature for their age. They are thorough, deliberate, high achievers, and self-motivated. They are cautious, black-and-white thinkers, hold high expectations for themselves and others, are perfectionists, and have a fear of failure. Only children never have to compete with other siblings for parental attention, favor, or resources. This lack of competition means that only children have not only their parents full attention, but they carry all of their parent’s expectations as. well. All of a parent’s hopes and dreams are focused on this one child, and that can be a lot of pressure for a kid to handle.

When it comes to parenting firstborns and onlies, they are our guinea pigs in this adventure of motherhood, and everything they do is important. We read all the books on how to be a great mom, record every new milestone, take thousands of pictures, and complete the baby book in its entirely.  Our firstborns get our undivided attention and we strive to follow all of the rules about how to raise a great kid. This includes sanitizing the pacifier as soon as it hits the floor. This attention we give encourages our firstborns to achieve and helps them develop a greater confidence. Yet, it can also set them up to demand perfection of themselves and they struggle under the pressure of meeting the standards they have set. 

As you parent your firstborn or only child, remember a few things. First, let your child make some of his own decisions. As first time parents, we want to ensure that our child gets everything we feel he needs or deserves and often will push our kids into things that honestly aren’t meant for them. Remember that your firstborn will do anything to please you. Give him the opportunity to make some of his own decisions. Let him decide what his interests are and move forward from there.

Next, resist the urge to improve everything your firstborn or only child says or does. Our kids view us as perfect and are constantly observing us and striving to be just like us. Accept his slightly wrinkled bed that he’s just made, do not refold his clothes that he just put away, and resist the urge to wipe the counter again that he has just cleaned. To step in and redo things your child says or does reinforces to your child that you feel his efforts are not good enough and he is not measuring up.

It’s also important to exercise patience with your firstborn or only child. Remember that your firstborn or only child has a need to understand what the rules are and doesn’t like to be surprised. Take the time to clearly lay out things for him.

Next, think carefully about the responsibilities and privileges you give your child. I admit that my oldest is the one I will typically turn to when I need help. Make sure responsibilities are age appropriate and if there are younger siblings who are old enough to take on some of those responsibilities, pass them down the line. Your oldest should not always be the one to take out the trash. Also think carefully about always using your firstborn as your babysitter. Though it can be helpful, it is a lot of responsibility for a child who already demands perfection of himself.

In addition to the added responsibilities you give your child, there should also be additional privileges. For example, as the oldest, my son chooses what time he goes to bed; his younger siblings do not. My oldest also now has a cell phone, and though my daughter pleads for one of her own, she will not receive one until she is older. With age should come additional privileges

And lastly, it’s important to spend two-on-one time with your child especially if he is a firstborn. Once a younger child is added to the mix, firstborns often struggle with the reality that this new intrusion to the family demands a lot of attention that was previously focused on him. Make it a priority to spend some time just with your firstborn. Dr. Leman says,

“Firstborns respond better to adult company than children of any other birth order. Firstborns often feel that parents don’t pay much attention to them because they’re always concentrating on the younger ones in the family.”

Make an effort to spend some quality time with just your child. Maybe take him out for a special treat or let him come with you to run a special errand. This quality time together can help alleviate any resentment your firstborn might have towards his younger siblings. 

Next are the middleborns. These are the kids who fall somewhere between the firstborn child of the family and the lastborn. It is more difficult to define middleborns because they often will pattern their life based off how they perceive their older sibling. In general, middleborns tend to be peacemakers, independent, somewhat rebellious, thrive on friendships, have large social circles, and are generally unspoiled. To truly understand the heart of a middleborn though, it’s important to look at the entire family and the roles each person plays. In some families, the middleborn is quiet and shy while in another family the middleborn is very social and outgoing. Some middleborns are very laid-back and go with the flow while others are impatient and easily frustrated. Middleborns may be extremely competitive with others or easy going. They may take on the role of rebel of the family or be the family peacemaker. Dr. Leman says,

“More than any other birth order, you must look at the entire family to understand a particular middle child. How he or she finally turns out is about as predictable as a Chicago weather report.”

Besides being hard to define, middleborns also struggle with feeling that they don’t have a special place in the family. They feel that the majority of a parent’s attention falls to either the beloved firstborn or the baby. Middleborns will constantly negotiate and compromise in order to try and “fit in” with everyone else. However, they still often feel left out and will seek friendships outside of the family. Friends offer that feeling of being valued that a middleborn may not always experience to a sufficient degree at home. 

When it comes to parenting middleborns, it’s important to do several things. First, take extra care to make sure your middleborn feels like he is valued and a special part of your family. Ask for his opinion on things, and allow him to make his own decisions or decisions for your family whenever possible. For a middleborn who often feels overshadowed by older and younger siblings, doing so can help him feel as though his thoughts and ideas matter. 

It’s also important to recognize and celebrate your middleborn’s achievements. It’s easy to celebrate the achievements of the firstborn because it is a new experience for the family. By the time you get to the second or third child however, these achievements can feel rather routine. It’s important though to recognize and celebrate those things your middleborn does well. 

One-on-one time is crucial for a middleborn who may feel lost in the mix. Middleborns often won’t share how they really feel so it’s important to take the time to ask questions and listen carefully to his thoughts on certain situations as you spend that time together. 

Another area that is important when it comes to parenting your middleborn is to make a special effort to cut back on the number of hand-me-downs. With two boys in our family, I routinely take the younger one to the basement to “go shopping”. Though hand-me-downs are helpful and even sometimes necessary economically, it’s important to give your middleborn a new item of clothing sometimes. A brand new pair of shoes or a new coat will be extremely appreciated by your middleborn.

Lastly, update your family pictures. Though it sounds silly, this is very important to a middleborn. Dr. Leman says,

“There tend to be a billion photos of the firstborn and about six of the next child. To a child flipping through the family album, this is a sure sign that he’s not loved as much.”

Take the time to update your family pictures and make sure there are pictures of your middleborn alone, as well as with his siblings. 

The last birth order we will look at are our lastborns. The youngest child in the family tends to be the most free-spirited. They are naturally charming, outgoing, and affectionate. They tend to seek attention and will manipulate others to get their own way. They are tenacious, are more likely to take risks, love being around other people, and love surprises. Lastborns also typically are the entertainers of the family. 

As much as they make us laugh however, lastborns often struggle with feeling as though they are not important and nothing they do is important. A lastborn will quickly realize that in his family there will always be someone who is older, bigger, stronger, and more equipped to compete in life. He will also realize that every new milestone he reaches, his parents have seen before. Dr. Leman says,

“None of their accomplishments seem original. Their siblings have already learned to talk, read, and ride a bike. So parents react with less spontaneous joy at their accomplishments and may even wonder, ‘Why can’t he catch on faster?’”

To make up for these feelings, lastborns will often become rebellious, temperamental, manipulative, impatient, and try and grab the attention of everyone in the room any moment that they can. 

So, what can we do as we parent our lastborn? First, give your lastborn his fair share of responsibility around the house. Though it is very tempting to coddle the baby of the family, it is important that he is given age appropriate responsibilities. Responsibilities teach independence, team work, and also protect the youngest from older siblings who may feel resentful that he’s getting the easy way out. It is common for older children to look down on their younger siblings and bully or tease them. There may be times as the parent that you need to step in and stand up for your youngest child. 

It’s also important to be consistent with discipline. Everyone says that the youngest of the family gets away with murder in regard to family rules and regulations. Dr. Leman says, 

“Statistics show the lastborn is least likely to be disciplined and the least likely to toe the mark the way the older children did.”

Take note of the rules in place and the consequences used for your older children and implement them with your youngest. If there is a family rule that everyone helps clean up the kitchen after dinner, then that rule should also apply to the youngest of the family.

Next, recognize and celebrate the achievements of your lastborn. Though it’s important not to coddle your lastborn, it’s also important to make sure he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of doing life. Recognize when he has done something well and celebrate those things he accomplishes. This will go a long way into helping him feel as though he too is an important member of the family. 

Finally, try to complete his baby book before he turns 21. Life gets busy when you have multiple children. It’s important though that your lastborn knows that they are loved and they are valued as much as the firstborn. Spend time with him, take pictures of him, and let him know how thankful you are that he is part of the family. 

I’ll close with a few words from Dr. Leman. He says,

“It isn’t always what you know that’s important. Everything doesn’t ride on knowledge, skill, and technique. You could read all the books, use all the techniques, and say all the right words (you hope), and there is still only one thing that remains absolutely necessary. This one things is every parent’s secret weapon, and it work equally well with very birth order. The irreplaceable secret weapon that no parent can do without: unconditional, go-for-broke, no-holds-barred, sacrificial love for your kids.”

Love for your kids. The greatest thing you can do when it comes to mothering with purpose is to love your kids. 

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References:

Good, Jason. “Raising Your First Vs Your Second Child”. Parents. https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/raising-your-first-vs-your-second-child/. 14 Oct. 2019. 

“How Birth Order Affects Personality. Dr. Kevin Leman. http://birthorderguy.com/parenting/how-birth-order-affects-personality/. Accessed 10 Oct. 2019. 

“The Importance of Spending Time Together. ParentingNI. https://www.parentingni.org/blog/time-together-importance/. Accessed 30. Sept. 2019.

Leman, Dr. Kevin. The Birth Order Book, Why You Are the Way You Are. Revell, 2009. 

Voo, Jocelyn. “10 Tips for Parenting Firstborns”. Parents. https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/10-tips-for-parenting-firstborns/.  Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.

Voo, Joceyln. “10 Tips for Parenting Lastborns.” Parents. https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/10-tips-for-parenting-lastborn-children/. Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.

Voo, Jocelyn. “Birth Order Traits: Your Guide to Sibling Personality Differences.” Parents. https://www.parents.com/baby/development/social/birth-order-and-personality/. Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.

What Does Your Schedule Say About You?

“Our schedules reflect our priorities.” – Dr. Kevin Leman

Think about that for a moment. Would you agree with that statement? I have to admit that when I first read that statement, I wanted to disagree. The priorities I have for my family don’t always match up with what is written on our calendar. But, maybe that is exactly what the problem is. Maybe I’ve been filling my schedule with things that don’t really matter in the long haul. Maybe I’ve been too busy doing things that I feel others expect of me. Maybe I’m not setting boundaries when it comes to my time and how I spend it. What about you? What does your schedule say about you?

Maybe it’s not your schedule that is too full. Maybe, just maybe, it’s your kid’s schedule. How many extracurricular activities is your child involved in at this moment, and why are they involved in those activities?  I’m all for extracurricular activities, don’t get me wrong. I love watching my oldest perform with the marching band, my daughter race her pony, and my youngest play floor hockey but, I think it is important to ask yourself if participating in a particular activity is moving your family in the direction God has for you. Is the time spent away from home worth the trade? 

Many feel that extracurricular activities give kids new and varied experiences, extend their social network, and give them a jump start over other kids so they’ll be more successful in life. They may very well do that, but Dr. Leman cautions us. He says that, “Stacking up activity after activity won’t guarantee your kid success in life. Don’t hand your child’s heart, time, and talents over to other people, programs, or institutions who don’t know nearly as much about your child as you do.” Instead he suggests choosing one activity at a time. One activity that your child shows interest in, not one in which you are interested in your child participating. There’s a difference. 

When my oldest was younger, he loved to play summer soccer. I saw what I thought was real potential and pushed him to play travel soccer for a season. The result? My son hasn’t played on a soccer team again. He loved soccer, but he loved playing it just for fun. He wasn’t interested in improving his skills a great deal. He didn’t enjoy competing against other teams. He didn’t enjoy playing soccer in the snow. The dream to play soccer was mine, not his. Now, this year, he’s joined the marching band. Marching band is a huge time commitment for our family, but you know what? My kid loves it! He looks forward to rehearsals, he loves to perform on the field, and he is making some amazing friends. This is his niche. This is the only activity he is participating in outside of school. And it’s more than enough. 

What does your schedule say about your priorities? If you feel that sharing your faith with your kids is important, are you intentionally spending time doing that each week? If education is important to you, are you devoting time to that each week? Are you devoting your time to those areas that are important to you, or are you placing other things or other people above your own family? Are you filling your schedule with numerous activities that take you or your kids away from your family? If so, perhaps it is time to reevaluate and make some changes. Those things that are dearest to your heart, those are the things that need to be your top priority.

Anne-Renee Gumley said, “Tomorrow can’t be rushed, and today will never come again, so let’s make each moment count. This one life is our one life. We don’t get a second chance. “ 

Remember that God has entrusted you to raise the kids He gave you. Be purposeful in how you raise them.  Spend your time on those things that matter most. 

too-much-time-with-kids

Bacon, Amanda and Gumley, Anne-Renee. Shiny Things. Harvest House, 2019.

Leman, Dr. Kevin. Have a Happy Family by Friday. Revell, 2014.

https://www.parentsplace.ca/looking-back-on-life-time-with-your-kids/

 

 

 

 

 

Making the Most of Our Moments

I can still remember the feeling of his small hand in mine, his hesitancy at stepping into the room, and his large hazel eyes that looked up into mine. It was his first day of kindergarten. I reassured him that it was going to be ok, and, it was. Seven years later, we found ourselves in a similar situation, yet now, his hand didn’t reach for mine, and with his height, he looked me straight in the eye. I saw his hesitancy in his gaze, and I reassured him once again that it was going to be ok. With a deep breath, he turned and joined the mass of students heading into the middle school. As I watched him walk away, I couldn’t help but wonder how we were at this point in life already and why must kids grow up so fast? As I slipped into my car, I thought about the twelve plus years I’ve been blessed to be his mom, and I thought about how much I’ve poured into his life. 

We do that as mamas, don’t we? We spend countless hours feeding, bathing, snuggling, reading, cleaning, nursing, managing, encouraging, transporting, and disciplining; the list could go on and on. We want our kids to grow up to be adults who are responsible, independent, and who do something wonderful with their lives. To ensure that this happens, we throw ourselves completely into the raising of them. Would you not agree? But, let me ask you something. When it comes to raising our families, are we focusing our time and energy on the things that really matter? Are we spending our days intentionally pouring into our kids in ways that will make a positive, lasting and eternal impact? Are we mothering with purpose?

To do something with purpose means to do it with clear intent. It’s identifying an end goal and developing a plan to achieve that goal. When it comes to raising our kids, it’s taking steps that are going to bring the best out of our kids and help them grow into the people that God created them to be.

Take a moment and think about your own family. What is most important to you when it comes to raising your family? What hopes and dreams do you have for your kids? What do you want your kids to learn from you? What type of life do you want them to have? What type of people do you want them to be? What is most important to you as you raise your family, and how can you be purposeful as you do it?

I think we have to start by taking a look at how we spend our time.  Do you spend the majority of your day checking things off of your to-do-list, rushing everyone from one activity to the next, or scrolling through social media? Or, do you approach each day with the goal of making the most of each moment with your kids?  

Spending time with our kids is extremely important. It helps our kids feel valued, builds positive self-esteem, and strengthens the emotional bond we have with them. Spending time together also encourages communication, can positively impact academic performance and behavior, and can teach our kids how to positively interact with others. As we spend time together as a family, our kids are learning that they are important to us and that family is to be treasured. 

Now, sometimes moms, especially working moms, feel guilty about not spending a significant amount of time with their children throughout the week. Research suggests however, that it isn’t necessarily the quantity of time you give your child, but the quality of time. That quality time does not have to be a big, elaborate, expensive activity that you plan. The study suggests that real family bonding was often found in the quiet, in-between moments of family life, and that everyday activities (like household chores or running errands) could give families quality moments and unplanned, unstructured times of social interaction that are important in building relationships. Our kids value those ordinary moments found in each day often more than the scheduled “fun” events we plan. My oldest will tell you that one thing he really enjoys is simply sitting down and talking together at the end of the day. Quality time is important. 

It’s also important to remember that quality time also means giving each of our kids some one-one-one, undivided attention. Our kids need time when they have our complete attention. This means that we remove all distractions that would keep us from completely focusing on our child. No tv running in the background, no cell phone reminding you that you have a text message, no laundry folding . . .  no distractions. In her book, Purposeful Parenting, Jean Barnes shares that one-one-one time with your child gives you an opportunity to really listen to one another, to connect, and to simply delight in one another. Too often, we allow the distractions that come with living life keep us from simply delighting in our children. I have to admit that I feel like it was so much easier to delight in my kids when they were small. Not that I can’t do that now, but life moved at a slower pace and seemed a bit simpler in some ways. I took great delight in watching them meet different milestones, hearing the funny things they would say, and watching them slowly fall asleep in my arms. Have you had moments like that? Do you take the time to take great delight in your children? Are you making the most of the time you have with your kids right now?

Dr. Kevin Leman, a well known psychologist poses this question: “Why not spend your hours where they can make the most difference in the long haul?” Is scrolling through Facebook going to make the most difference in the long haul? Is finishing the sink full of dishes right now going to make the most difference in the long haul? Is keeping a clean house going to make the most difference in the long haul? What about going for a walk with your child, reading one more book, playing a game, or just sitting down to talk? What will make the most difference in the long haul? Think carefully about how are you choosing to spend your time, and ask yourself if your choices are moving your family in the direction that you feel God has for you.

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It Takes a Little Dirt

My heart sunk as I pulled the laundry from the washer. I had stuck a pen in my back pocket the day before and completely forgotten about it. Now, there it sat in the bottom of the washer, taunting me, making me wonder how many pieces of clothing had been affected. I looked quickly through the clothing, and much to my relief found no proof that the pen had leaked. Later however, as I folded the laundry, I pulled out one of my husband’s favorite shirts. One of his favorite shirts that now had a large purple ink stain on the very front. I had ruined his shirt. I felt horrible.

Have you ever done something that made you feel horrible or had a day when it seemed everything was going wrong and you couldn’t do anything right? Have you ever had a day when you wished you were a better mom, a better wife, or perhaps better at checking the pockets of your jeans before tossing them in the wash? I think we all have days when we feel like we fall short. We feel we fall short not only of meeting the expectations of others, but the expectations we have for ourselves as well. Expectations that we often allow to define us as moms, wives, coworkers, or friends. If the expectations are not met, we then label ourselves as a failure. Have you ever done that? 

I read a blogpost the other day that had a list of what the author called “universal truths of motherhood”. “Universal truths” that she feels are true for every single mom on the planet. Now, as I first read over them, I was anxiously checking off those truths that I felt were true for me as a mom because I wanted to see how I measured up to the rest of the world. As you read over them, I’d like you to do the same. Ask yourself if these “universal truths” apply to you as well. *Please note that I’ve only included only a portion of those truths listed in her post. 

  1. No matter how much you love your kids, there will be times when they annoy you.
  2. By the time you get everyone settled for dinner, yours will be cold, and they will be done.
  3. Any quiet time you get will only occur during screen time, which you will spend feeling guilty about letting them have screen time.
  4. If you choose to use glitter in your home, you have made a lifetime commitment. There will now almost certainly be glitter either on you or your dependents at any given time.
  5. There will never be a time where there is no laundry left to wash.
  6. This also holds true for your home. There will never be a time when every room is clean at the same time.
  7. Any extra money you have will go straight to your children. I hope you like your clothing. I am still wearing underwear from college.
  8. Sleeping in is a phenomenon left behind in your 20s. Welcome to 6 a.m., ladies.
  9. Just because you managed to potty train your children does not mean you’re done wiping (butts). That will likely last until age 5, maybe 6. 
  10. You will grow to hate the sound of your own name, and the word “why,” and “no,” and “snack.”
  11. You will scream. As much as you like to think you’re a good parent and you got it all figured out, you will scream. And then you will cry about it.
  12. You will feel like a success. You will feel like a failure. You’ll feel like running away. And you’ll feel like never letting them go. Probably all on same day.
  13. You will learn to answer questions that have no answers, like, “Why is that a truck?” or “When did the air start?”
  14. You will love more than you knew you could. You will also develop anxieties you never knew existed.
  15. You will have to address topics you dread with no advance warning, like when your kids ask when you’re going to die. My older one asked this for the first time while I was going from entrance ramp to highway. Seriously.
  16. You’ll lecture them on the dangers of too much sugar, then eat all their Halloween candy after they go to bed. Don’t feel bad — I’m pretty sure your parents did it to you.
  17. You will find boogers in places where boogers should not be.
  18. At some point, you’re gonna have to catch some vomit in your bare hands. Spoiler alert: It won’t be yours

Other “truths” that I’ve heard that could be added to this list are: moms who have all boys have their hands full, every mom bonds instantly with her baby, once a mom has a baby she can’t remember anything, and moms can’t function without coffee. I’ve also heard that moms do nothing but worry all of the time, moms are always running late, and moms are usually a hot mess. And then there is one that I hear most often and have believed from time to time. The only way moms can get a break is to hide from their children in the bathroom (preferably with chocolate). What would you add to the list?

Some of these “truths” we can laugh at. There are others though that we probably more true about us than we’d like to admit. However, when it comes down to it, are all of these so called “truths” true for every mom? Are all of them true for you?

It seems like everywhere we turn someone or something is defining what motherhood should look like. It’s in the theaters, on Netflix, and in our latest podcast. It’s found on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. It even comes from family members, friends, and well-meaning little old ladies in the grocery store. Every day we are bombarded by ideas of what mothering should look like. For example: a good mom breast feeds, a good mom prepares nutritious, organic food for her family each day, a good mom stays home to raise her babies, a good mom keeps a tidy house, a good mom has kids that never throw a temper tantrum in public. A good mom . . . you fill in the blank. Everywhere we turn, we find the world attempting to define what motherhood should look like. And, if we are not careful, it can become  the dominant voice we hear. The dominant voice that can determine our thoughts, our actions, and how we see ourselves as a mom. The world sets a high standard for us as moms, a standard that is often unrealistic, unattainable, and leaves those who strive for it feeling discouraged or defeated. Would you not agree?

In the book of Romans, Paul writes:

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” 

Romans 12:2 (MSG)

Don’t become so well-adjust to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking . . . In her book, Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday, Valerie Woerners says, “That’s exactly the danger – that we accept the world’s subpar cliched version of motherhood without even realizing we could be living something better. It becomes second nature for us to stay in the pigeonhole the world puts us in. We think we have no choice but to live up to the stereotype of moms as worriers and hot messes. The life we live is often far below what God has graciously gifted to us.” “The life we live . . . is often far below what God has graciously gifted to us.” Think about that for a moment. Have you ever wondered if there was more to life than what you are currently living? Has your heart ever yearned to do more or to be more than you currently are?

Valerie goes on to say, “The cliche of motherhood is that we are either perfect or an absolute mess – there is nothing in between. But, maybe the reality looks more like this: we’re sometimes messy-mommas who are being refined into God’s image.” We all want to be that perfect mom, don’t we? But, is that really what our kids need? Do our kids need perfect moms? Think about your own mom. If she had been perfect, what lessons would you have learned from her life? I think in reality, our kids need to see messy-mommas in the process of being refined. Our kids need to see that we make mistakes and what to do when you’ve wronged someone else. Our kids need to see that we have bad days and how we handle ourselves when things aren’t going our way. Our kids need to learn that bad decisions and hard circumstances don’t define who we are. That’s what our kids need. They need a real life example. A real life example in you. 

Lara Casey, author of the book Cultivate says this: “We dismiss the dirt and the mess as bad, trying to keep it off our hands and out of our homes. But dirt holds a certain magic, cradling new life. Your past mistakes, your heartache, your circumstances, and the tension you feel right now in your season- every bit of it is part of your growing ground” Your growing ground . . . You need a little dirt for something beautiful to grow. Philippians says,

 “I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you, will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, returns to redeem the world.”

Philippians 1:6  (VOICE)

If you are frustrated that you yell at your kids every day, that you’ve served peanut butter and jelly for dinner for the fourth time this week, that you spend way more time on your phone than you should, that you spend more time cleaning your house than playing with your kids, or that you don’t measure up as a mom, take courage. God is still working in your growing ground. 

It’s time to let go of the idea that there is a perfect mom. It’s time to let go of the idea that someone besides you could do a better job raising your kids. It’s time to remember that God is always working. He’s given you a beautiful life, and He wants to you to live it to the full. 

 

Mothering to the Full Lesson

References:

Casey, Lara. Cultivate. Harper Collins, 2017.

https://www.scarymommy.com/truths-of-motherhood/ 

https://twitter.com/hashtag/dontfitinstandout?src=hash

Woerner, Valerie. Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday, Say Goodbye to Stressed, Tired, and Anxious and Say Hello to Renewed Joy in  Motherhood. Tyndale, 2019.