(nope, nothing on the job search or church and all that. i still need to think and process it further. but i find it easier to take my mind off my own problems if i focus instead on other people’s problems instead. so i’m going to blog about something totally unrelated to my current situation, just to give my mind a break.)
a good deal of how i understand children and parenting is as a father, and as a male. but i also have spent a lot of time observing moms, both as a husband and a pastor. and so i know i am going to get myself in a lot of hot water by doing this, but after talking to a few moms recently, and reading a few heartbreaking articles by mothers online, i have a few pieces of advice for all the moms out there, from the perspective of a husband, father and pastor. this is supposed to be helpful and encouraging, so…
please don’t kill me.
#1. YOUR KIDS WILL PROBABLY BE OKAY.
allow me to say it again – your kids will be okay. i have seen women work themselves into a nervous wreck about their children, worrying incessantly about their health, their intelligence, their happiness, how to facilitate the growth of all positive aspects while completely eliminating the chance for the negative. it’s true that your children are precious, and deserve a great deal of care. and it’s a dangerous world out there, i know. but let me point out a few things:
first, there are innumerable fads when it comes to parenting, some surely are better and more effective than others. but for the most part, the developments of child rearing are cyclical, and there is no steady progression to some ideal state of parenting. if there were, children would be getting smarter, better adjusted, and more polite with every generation, right? instead, i think the opposite is true, those young whippersnappers. so realize that the opinion of experts is just that…an opinion. it may be stated with the utmost authority, but it does not mean that it actually is authoritative. it will most likely be replaced and by some new school of thought, only for that to be replaced in turn. so when you read those blogs and articles, don’t go nuts. read them with a grain of salt.
also, remember how you yourself grew up: was everything perfectly set up for you growing up? were your parents perfect, your food perfect, your lunch box perfect? no, probably not. in fact, some of us had to persevere through great adversity. like me, my mom never separated the lettuce out of my sandwiches, and so when lunch time came, the bread was all wet and disgusting – who does this to a child?? and yet, despite this, i ended up as a fully functioning adult with a family of my own, with more than a few happy memories of my childhood. so obviously, even without perfectly antiseptic environments (physically and emotionally), children manage to survive and even thrive. YOU did. I did. and your kids will too. they bounce back.
and in fact, it is often the moments of hardship that forge the most positive aspects of our character, isn’t that right? some of the imperfections of our childhood experiences made us hard workers, or compassionate adults, or skilled piano players. so don’t worry excessively about giving your kids a perfect life, because to some extent, we all need imperfect childhoods in order to be okay, to forge our character, and to help us understand what life is truly like. isn’t that part of motherhood, to prepare your child for real life?
now of course, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t protect our kids from the worst that life has to offer, the moments that scarred us deeply, and maybe still do pain us. we should do all that we can to steer our children away from such pitfalls. but it would be going too far to allow those moments to dominate our family life, where worry becomes the dominant and constant dynamic of how you raise your children, rather than a dynamic that is periodic and situational, as it should be. i can name quite a few mothers whose parenting style i can only describe as “constantly worried”. but no one’s idea of a perfect childhood includes “mothers who worry about us incessantly”, not even yours. a perfect childhood is created by moms who do their best, care for their children, and ooze a sense of love and well-being…not a sense of constant fretting.
also, if you are a Christian, realize that you, in fact, are not the person who loves your child the most, or knows them the best, or wants the best for them. that’s God. i know it’s hard, but you should understand that excessively worrying about your child in some way belays a lack of trust that God will care for them, in the same way that worrying excessively about money betrays a lack of trust that God will provide for you. faith is not simply a religious concept, but one that should inform our parenting style as well. isn’t that part of what you want to teach your children, that you trust God in ALL things? sure it is!
#2. YOU ARE NOT IN COMPETITION WITH OTHER MOTHERS.
i love women. haha, that sounds weird. i love women platonically, except one woman, whom i love romantically. that sounds weird as well. no, but i think women are great. the fact that over 90% of homicides are perpetrated by men goes to show how great my gender is. i think if the world’s leaders were all women, we would be far less prone to going to war and slaughtering each other. for you guys who are scoffing at me right now for being mamby-pamby, all i have to say is that after siring three children and butchering a goat with a rusty knife, i care very little about your opinion of my masculinity.
but despite my deep respect for the gender, i will say this – mothers need to stop being jealous of each other.
mothers are deeply affected by how other mothers raise their children. at best, mothers can be challenged by one another to do more, or try something different, which is a means of self-improvement. that is not bad at all, except that it rarely stays at that level. many moms, despite themselves, become competitive with other parents, raising their children in order to keep up with those families, or else as a means to show their ideological differences with them. they feel bad that their children are not as smart as others, and so push their children to be smarter. they feel bad that their children are not as well-behaved, and so begin to despise themselves for not being better moms. and in turn, they despise these other mothers for making them feel so negatively about themselves and their children. if that rivalry is strong enough, mothers sometimes raise their children in ideological opposition of others, just to prove other people wrong. and this creates a climate of competitiveness and jealousy among moms that is nothing less than… disgusting.
there, i said it.
but more to the point, this type of competitiveness is silly, like comparing apples and oranges. so one mother raises a kid who can read at age three, great! maybe that kid had genes that made that possible, and regardless of how the mother raised him or her, was going to learn how to read at an early age. maybe they did it by being mean to their kids, berating them. maybe they have a nanny, giving the mother more time to focus on such pursuits. maybe teaching a child to read is higher on that family’s list of priorities than giving them time to play and explore. perhaps they were raised in a very specific way, one that they are imitating, or running away from, who knows? the point is that every family’s context is so, so unique and cannot appropriately be compared to your own, not accurately at least. and the point of parenting is not learning how other unique mothers raised their unique children in their unique contexts in line with their own unique values…it is figuring out how YOU, as a unique person, can raise your unique children in your own unique context, consistent with what YOU find important! so focus on being the best mother you can be to your children, in your situation, not comparing yourself to that other mother, with her children, and her situation. otherwise you may find out that you are parenting the wrong children, the wrong way.
also, realize that your children will pick up on this dynamic of competition, even if you don’t want them to, and it will tinge how they live their life. we always think that kids learn exactly what lesson we teach them, but that’s totally not true. they are clever little buggers. if you are motivated by jealousy and competitiveness, they will perceive it – they may imitate it, or else be repulsed by it, maybe even resentful. but know that jealousy is not simply an emotion we feel, because it can become a dynamic that our children imbibe and imitate in turn. i was raised in that manner, ultimately became a jealous and competitive jerk, and really didn’t appreciate it. do you want that for your son? do you???
now, what about those moms who make everyone else feel bad with their pictures and status updates about homeschooling and their precocious readers and whatnot. that’s a hard one, and even as a largely ignorant male, those posts kind of annoy me. but at the same time, i realize this: i cannot control what these people share, and how they share it. they are sharing about their lives and what makes them happy, and you cannot fault them for that. yes, perhaps they could do it with more empathy and less smugness, but you can’t stop a parent from talking about their children, any more than you can stop me from eating chocolate cake.
and so, the only thing you can change is your attitude, and the way in which you read those updates, and see those photos. you can remind yourself how many people envy you and your children, the fact that you have any – many people do not have kids, do not have husbands. remind yourself that that mother is different from you, and her children are different, and her situation as well. remind yourself that she is your friend, and her joy is your joy, and vice versa. remind yourself that people on facebook only tend to share the good shiny things in their lives, and perhaps there is a lot of hardship and pain that you do not know of.
this topic is really a post unto itself, so…here you go.
#3. WHATEVER ADVICE YOU GIVE TO YOUR FRIENDS, GIVE YOURSELF AS WELL.
women are great at giving advice. they know how to listen, are naturally empathetic, and don’t see everything as a problem that needs a quick and easy solution. i’ve heard my wife give incredible advice to friends that i can tell really give them a lift when they need it, words about giving themselves grace. but then i see her hang up the phone and beat herself up about something, about her attitude, about being tired, about her lack of productivity.
simply put, i think women should not just give advice to one another, but listen to their own advice as well. if a friend tells you they are stressed about their kids, and you tell them to get out of the house for a breath of fresh air, or grab a cup of coffee with their friend, there’s a good chance that that’s what you need as well. if you tell a friend to give herself a little grace and not beat herself up too much…then you should probably give yourself some grace too in that situation.
this principle sounds really basic, but there is an underlying truth to it that many people ignore, and that is you probably already know what you should be doing. i think a lot of women despair because they feel like they don’t know how to deal with stress and have no tools to give them perspective on their lives, and so they turn to books and blogs and oprah for insight. but that feeling isn’t really true, and the great insights that they provide for their friends is proof of this. mothers naturally know what people should do when they are stressed and put out and far from God, they just don’t it themselves. the issue is not with knowledge, but with application, the fact that many moms fail to realize that their incredible advice also applies to them as well.
a good rule of thumb is this: what would you tell a friend who is in your exact same situation? then tell it to yourself.
#4. YOU CANNOT DO/HAVE IT ALL.
as a father, very little is expected of me. if someone sees me with my kids at the mall, they actually come up to me and remark what a good dad i am. too bad they never see me at home. but if someone sees a mom with her kids at the mall, no one thinks that is out of the ordinary at all. that’s a mom’s obligation, her duty, nothing worthy of outstanding recognition. that’s pretty harsh.
but it doesn’t just end there, does it, the expectations upon mothers? many mothers were not always moms, but were graduate students, workers, employees, people doing fulfilling work in difficult fields. and there is this sense that they should not let their education and experience go to waste, but should continue to progress in their careers as well, and even be best in their field. take a look at magazines and billboards and movies and TV, and see what physical models women are supposed to live up to. not only are you expected to raise your kids perfectly, have careers, but also be attractive and have perfect bodies that require 2 hours of yoga and pilates, daily. add on to that the pressure that pastors give you, to be generous to your neighbors, to keep up your own life with Christ, not let the world consume you and your family.
you put all of those things together, and you see a fraction of the immense pressures that are placed upon women, expectations that no person can fulfill in a single lifetime, and frankly, are not placed upon men. now, some guys might disagree, that there are a lot of expectations on men, and i might concur to some degree. but more likely, i would say this:
“dude, man up and stop complaining.”
if all of this sounds like too much for a woman to accomplish, there’s a good reason for that – because it is. there’s no way a person can be completely fulfilled in a career, have a perfect home life, look like a supermodel, and live a life faithfully in Christ. sure, perhaps there are some women that manage to pull that off, but they are the exception, not the norm or the paradigm to which all should aspire. the reality is that you cannot have it all, and you may have make a sacrifice in your life, based on your priorities and what is most important to you. there are not enough years in life to do all the things you want to do, nor the things that are expected from you, so you must make a choice – excel in your career, or spend generous amounts of time with your children? you cannot do both, most likely. exercise or sleep – take your pick. whatever is most important, choose. but know that choices and sacrifices must be made in life.
but more than this, the main person who need to be okay with the choice you make is YOU. it’s no good to make a choice and then beat yourself up for the next decade about it. once you make a choice to sacrifice or postpone part of your life, know that you do so so that other parts of your life may flourish, because no one can do it all. don’t worry what other people think, that your ol’ college roommates may look at you funny because you threw away your degree from yale for kids – what’s important is how YOU feel, and what is important to YOU. it’s your life, after all.
i know, it is only natural to regret what we have to let go of and put behind us – i have a very hard time letting go of my dream of being a rock star, to be frank. i wish i was being sarcastic, but i’m not. but the truth is that i have other things i am called to accomplish, at least right now, and so i need to let that dream go. because often, i have found that it is my desire to do it all that prevents me from doing well in what i am supposed to be doing right now. i want to be good at everything, and as a result, i’m not good at anything, and that’s no good at all.
#5. YOU CANNOT BE A GOOD MOTHER UNTIL YOU ARE A GOOD DAUGHTER.
this final piece of advice affects all the previous ones, and is the most “christian” of them all. but the fact of the matter is that when you are far from God, you are the worst mother you can be. sure, you may be productive, but you might be crabby too. you might be getting a lot done, but not with the spirit that you want to accomplish such goals. you may be the envy of all your friends….but only on the surface. because when you scratch that surface, there is a lot of pain and tiredness and stress just waiting to pour out. your house might be clean, but not your heart, not your mind. you are, like Jesus describes, a whitewashed tomb.
realize this – that you are the best mother you can be when you know you most aware of God’s love, and that you are his daughter. it is easy for those who are beloved to love others in turn, isn’t it? it’s easy to forgive your children or your lazy, call of duty playing husband, if you remember clearly that you have been forgiven of deep transgressions first. it is easy to prioritize your life and time when the Word is close to your heart. it’s easy to let go of stress when you remember that God is in control, and that Christ takes care of those who seek after him and his kingdom. in other words, it’s easy to be the mother that you have always wanted to be…as long as you are able to remember the daughter that you already are.
and that is why the number one priority of any mother should be cultivating a close relationship with God, because a close relationship with God enables a mother to be at her very best – caring, forgiving, loving, gracious, focused. i know it sounds very pastory of me, but your closeness to God, facilitated through spiritual disciplines and community and the Word, are not extracurriculars in your life as a mother. they are the very core of it, the absolute center. in ephesians 3, the apostle paul writes this:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
this is a great verse that we have often heard, but verse 15 usually gets overlooked, “from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” our parenthood is not ex nihilo, but an imitation, an imitation of how God parents us. we do not muster up the ability to be good mothers and fathers, we inherit it, we receive it. when we accept and drink deeply of the Father’s love for us, we are better equipped prepared to share that love with others, especially our families. and when are far from that love, we are cut off from the source, and are nothing but a dry well, or a cast-off branch.
here’s some questions you may want to ask yourself: do you know that God loves you like a daughter, even when you are at your very worst? do you know that being God’s daughter makes you a better mother? what are you doing to foster and strengthen that part of your identity? how has being a beloved daughter made you a more loving mother? these are questions that parents should ask themselves every day because they allow us to reconnect with the true source of parental love, and make us better at our calling.
okay. i know that this is an extremely sensitive topic, and one where everyone and their mother has an opinion, but i had to get these things off my chest. this is just my point of view, the point of view of a knuckle walking male, and you can take what i say with a huge chunk of salt. plus, i ain’t winning any “father of the year” awards over here (case in point: i played at least 20 hours of Skyrim this week alone).
but that being said, i’d love to hear your opinion as well…well, your politely stated opinions, if possible.