You are a good mother.
This is a phrase my trusted circle of women repeat to me often. If you are anything like me, it can be hard to believe as it’s usually on the heels of telling them about one of my most recent failures. As moms, our minds are often filled with a constant replay of our worst mothering moments. On days like Mother’s Day, it can feel like we are imperfect mothers masquerading on Instagram as perfect ones—the kind of mothers who inspire those cards about saintly women we know, for a fact, we aren’t. But despite all my own imperfections, I am learning to believe it is true that I am a good mother, and chances are that you are one, too.
One of the reasons I struggle to believe my friends is that I think they don’t know the real me. Unlike my children (two beautiful daughters, just eighteen months apart, the youngest born as a sweet gift on Mother’s Day, ten years ago) they never talk back to me or challenge me about bedtime or argue with me about what is an appropriate amount of screen time or fight with their siblings. They are kind and respectful, so they get the best of me—the wise, rational version. You know who gets the worst? My 11-year-old when she straight up disobeys and defies my authority. Here is a phrase that has literally left her mouth:
“No, I don’t agree with this, because I know better than you. One day, I will do a much better job as a mother with my children than you are doing.”
Now, tell me that wouldn’t make your head spin around at least once. I don’t think the version of me that my amazing and deeply beloved daughter gets in those moments of outright rebellion could never be categorized as “good mothering.” Although I am embarrassed to admit it, ”shrieking banshee” seems more fitting. I know I should react calmly and be unfazed, hold my ground, and lead by example to show her what self-control looks like. But I don’t. I get triggered.
I struggle with (what I am hoping are relatable) failings in myself—losing my cool, negotiating punishments, caving on screen time—because I have a wonderful mother who I adore and deeply respect and who, in many ways, is nothing like me. I work full-time, and her calling was to be a stay-at-home-mom, and I benefited BIG time. She was strong and also incredibly soft and nurturing. She birthed all three of us at home like a warrior with no complaints and then sewed me a sundress out of the sheet I was born on. I, on the other hand, gratefully went to a hospital and, with no guilt whatsoever, had an epidural. She had the safest arms to envelop me every morning but never smothered me. This mother of mine let me get on a country bus on my own at five years old and navigate the world so I could visit my best friend who lived 3 hours away. She did not instill fear in me of anything. Not travel or strangers or poverty or hardship or hard work or adventure. I remember my mother saying, “When I had you, I knew you weren’t really mine. I knew God had just given you to me to care for, but HE was your real parent. So I did not worry because if you belonged to God, there was no way I could love you more than he already did.” Now, as a mother myself, I find that kind of trust in the goodness and protection of God for your children to be ninja-level faith.
So, here is a celebration of stay-at-home-moms:
From experience, I can tell you that what you are doing is a holy calling. Your work will unleash deep giftings in your kids, birth beauty and give flight to your children. I believe the promise of the reward for your hard work is outlined in the Bible in Proverbs 31:
“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:”
Proverbs 31: 28
This was true for me. I bless my mother for how she invested in me. This is the mother I knew, and I grew into a confident, strong, adventurous leader. If you stay at home and raise your kids, it could be true for you too.
I want the gifts my mom gave me for my children, but this is not the mother I am. Here is a seeming contradiction: I loved having a stay-at-home-mom. I am not a stay-at-home-mom. I am passionate about my calling and the work that I do. I feel like I was created and designed to do it, and it helps provide for my family. And I am equally passionate about being a mother and raising children that benefit from the kind of intentional mothering I received. This creates some serious tension in my perception of my parenting, which is a daily struggle with the voices that tell me I am failing, that I am selfish, that I am not doing enough for my kids.
And here is a celebration for moms who also work outside the home:
My daughters will never wonder if women can explore their own limitless potential. They’ll never wonder if they can be bosses. Or if they can lead men and women alike. Or if they can run after their dreams. Get equal pay for equal work. Contribute their own gifts to the wider world and make it a better place because of their presence in it. Your work is also a holy calling. Psalm 31 also says this:
“She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings, she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” Psalm 31: 16-18
So if it is true that both staying at home and working outside the home are equally beautiful ways to be a mother, how do we define for ourselves what a good mother is?
Here is a short (and by no means comprehensive) list of some non-negotiables and some things I’ve learned from my own experience that actually turn out not to be necessary to be a good mother.
The Good Mother Non-Negotiables:
- You would lay down your life for your child—step in front of a bullet, shove them out of the way of an oncoming car.
- You provide for their physical and emotional needs. You tell them you love them. Put a roof over their heads, comfort, and protect them.
- You delight in them—who God created them to be. You call out the unique miracle that they are on this earth. You see them for who they are and not who you want them to be.
- You are honest enough to repent of your own sin and bad behavior and ask their forgiveness—as many times a day as is necessary.
The Good Mother Negotiables (half of which are not even humanly possible):
- You stay at home, or you work. There is no wrong choice here.
- You gave birth naturally or with the aid of drugs. You breastfed or bottle-fed your babies. There are no winners except healthy babies.
- You never lose your cool with the precious babies you would die for—especially after the 5th time you have had to put them to bed. Or you forced them to brush their hair or teeth. Or eat something good for them. Or stop hitting their siblings.
- You are able to stay stone cold and infinitely patient when surrounded by insane levels of mayhem. You have to be perfect, look perfect, have perfect kids, or keep a perfect house.
What I believe now is that how we parent is exactly connected to our individual callings from God. Some women are called to the home and lead their children as their full-time job. Some mothers are called to lead outside the home and still mother their children well. I believe that both have equal value in the eyes of God.
But it is so hard not to compare. I do it all the time. Social media does not make this any easier on us. So maybe that should be our Mother’s Day gift to ourselves. What if we just stopped comparing?
I have had to stop following lovely, creative mothers whose posts (no fault of their own) made me feel wretched that instead of baking and crafting with my kids I let them watch way too much screen time just so I could get some work done. I know a mom who has both adopted, biological, and special needs children. She homeschools, works part-time, mentors other young women, and opens up her home to her community constantly. To me, she is a legend.
If I spend too much time comparing myself to her, I fall painfully short. I can learn from her. She has taught me so much (like the fact that she is imperfect too), but I cannot run her race, and guess what? No matter how amazing she is, she is not the right woman to mother the children God gave to ME.
I am—with all my failings.
The only proof I need that I am a good mother is that I am a mother who is actively participating with God in my parenting. God entrusted me with HIS kids. These dynamic, brilliant, creative souls. He saw something in me that made him believe in my ability to parent children who are forces of nature and will make a mighty impact on the world. He’s entrusted you with yours because He believes in you too.
God sees us for who we really are, and he STILL calls us into the sacred work of mothering. So while it may be true that the women in my small group may never see the “real me,” God does. He always has. He is not surprised or freaked out by my shortcomings or sin. I didn’t trick him into thinking I was mature enough to be a “good mother.” He knows who I am, and still He believes I can do this impossible task with his help and power. You can too. I believe this part of Psalm 31 can be true for all of us Mothers:
“She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future” Psalm 31: 25-26
Happy Mother’s Day to all of us imperfectly-perfect mothers. Your work is sacred, seen, and even on your worst days, you are loved.