No peaceful moment
It’s dinnertime and I am nursing my brand-new baby. I have two other children, aged 6 and 4, eating dinner with their dad in the other room. I am enjoying the peace and quiet for a moment, breathing in the silence while I gently stroke my son’s head. All should be right with the world. But my mind breaks this peaceful moment with guilt and shame.
I start thinking about how I didn’t prepare dinner for my children from scratch. I shame myself for not being superwoman and thinking through meal plans. I chastise myself for not discovering a miraculous way to force my son into eating a fruit… any fruit. I feel guilty for not being in the same room as them and not having family dinnertime. I am discouraged that my husband is the one who tells them Bible stories every night and not me. Guilt. Shame. They are eating me alive.
Mum guilt defined
Mum guilt comes from how I perceive my limits and my failings. Instead of acknowledging my limits and accepting I am not God – instead of just feeling conviction and confessing my sin to my Saviour – mum guilt goes into the future. Mum guilt seeps into what-ifs. “What if my child doesn’t eat healthy foods and develops obesity or health problems? What if I don’t discipline my child enough and he gets into constant trouble? What if I discipline my child too much and they end up resenting me and feel unloved?” And I allow that guilt to drive me. I strive to be better and better. But what I experience is exhaustion. My children see a parent motivated by guilt not grace. It pushes me down, always thinking “I am not enough”.
Where identity comes from
The hard news is: we are NOT enough. We will never be a superwoman mother who can accomplish all of the tasks of the day, feed their children perfectly, have the house cleaned, and our own work accomplished. I will never be able to keep up with the school work my children are assigned. If I try, I will burn myself out and resent motherhood. Or I will grow to be bitter because of it.
But there is great news: Christ IS enough and he allows that weight and burden to be stripped off of me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Allowing my identity not to be placed in the tasks I am doing for my kids allows me to sit peacefully in the knowledge that I am Christ’s and what he did for me defines me. Allowing my identity to be in what Christ has done for me reminds me that I will never be perfect. Therefore, I can stop striving and instead can sit at his feet and become more like him. I am allowed to be weak. I am allowed to not be enough. It means that I am honest with my children about my shortcomings and I point them to a better way. Instead of being their saviour I point them to the true Saviour.
Freedom in Christ
Christ wants us to focus on him. Those tasks we have are important and often need to get done. But when we can’t get it all done today, grace allows us to defer many things to another day.
My righteousness comes from Christ and not from my to-do list. My worth comes from being a daughter of the King and not from getting my children to eat their vegetables. Should we keep aiming to do right by our kids? Yes. Should we allow it to define who we are when we can’t do it all? No! And, as we allow ourselves to become more like Christ, in turn we actually do more right by our kids than our striving ever did. When my kid won’t eat his vegetables, I will respond in the love and grace given to me by Christ rather than in anger and frustration.
The simple truth is this: only in Christ can we be free of mum guilt, can we trust that he forgives us of our sins, that he has our children in his hands and allow him to become our joy. Only then can we truly enjoy motherhood. We find freedom to not just drudge through these days but instead to nourish, cherish and love them. There is freedom in Christ being enough for us. And as I humble myself and become more like him, I let go of my pride. I let go of the picture of the perfect family. I let go of forcing myself to do it all. I allow other people to help. I confess my fears and failures and let my church step in and fill in some of the gaps. Those gaps need to be filled by others because my children need the influence of others. I allow my children to see the role of the body and be influenced by other godly men and women.
When we let Christ transform us, we become better parents. When we focus on our relationship with Christ, we become better parents. When you go on an airplane they teach you in case of an emergency to put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on others…this is exactly what we need to do in our parenting. Christ is our oxygen mask and if we want to teach our kids how to put on theirs, we have to have ours on first. We need to remember that without oxygen, without Christ, we will become exhausted, suffocated, and eventually die. Our children learn by watching, so what better lesson than to let them see Christ grow us; to see our weaknesses becoming strengths by his transformative grace. We are forgiven when we make mistakes, we can rest in his presence, and we do not have to be enough.