Twenty-four years ago, on August 29th, I underwent the single most life-altering event I would ever experience. In a matter of minutes, I transitioned from girl to mother. Looking back — I was the furthest thing from an adult at 21. All the aspects of my life that I thought made me an adult at that time proved to be nothing more than the equivalent of playing dress up in my mom’s closet. I had a full time job, I had lived on my own (although I moved back in with my parents during my pregnancy), I had saved a decent amount of money, I had graduated high school and gone to college, I paid my own bills, and I certainly looked like a young adult, but in terms of maturity — I was still a child. I was a child having a baby. A lonely, scared child. My life was full of love, support, and help from my family and my closest friends, but at the end of the day, I knew that this baby was mine.
Mine to love.
Mine to care for.
Mine to provide for.
Mine to mess up.
I wish I could say that in nearly 24 years of parenting experience, with a total of 5 children who call me mom, that I was no longer scared — but I can’t. 24 years later — and on a daily basis I’m still battling the fear of failure that’s tethered to motherhood.
That August night in 1994, in our first quiet moments alone in the recovery room, I held my 8lb. 11oz. newborn son in my arms — but I carried the 8-ton weight of single motherhood on my shoulders. It was just me, him, and Jesus in that room — and I was so very aware of my aloneness. I just held him and cried for a good long time in a deliberate, but vain effort to purge myself of all my lonely fear.
I’m Still learning how to be a mother
I knew I had a lot to learn. 24 years later and I’m still learning. Every single day. But this 24-year long journey of wearing the weight of motherhood has taught me some precious things about myself, about pride, and about Jesus that I could never have learned apart from raising my children.
When I was a young mom, I devoured every Christian parenting book I could get my hands on. If reading makes you an expert, I was surely an expert. The number of parenting books I’ve read has got to be well into the hundreds…and that’s no exaggeration. I was sure that acquiring knowledge from the parenting ‘experts’ would make me a great mom — and I wanted so badly to be a great mom. I took in such a wealth of head knowledge about parenting that I knew all the right answers; according to and approved by the experts. For several years I even taught parenting classes. But all the while, in my zealous acquisition of head knowledge, I was oblivious to the fact that I was distancing myself further and further from the true heart and soul of parenting — and the hearts and souls of my children.
When my oldest children were very young they generally presented themselves as model examples of my parenting efforts, in public anyway. They would sit quietly with us in church. They would hold the sides of the grocery cart and walk along the aisles peacefully and in sync. They said please, thank you, and nice to meet you as they looked directly in the eyes of adults while shaking their hands. They played their parts very well. They knew, by my repetitive training, what they were supposed to do to present themselves as little reflections of God’s grace and to ‘appear good’. But as my children grew, they cared less and less about ‘appearing good’ for a watching world and I repeatedly found myself angry and confused that my expert parenting techniques were no longer ‘working’. About 7 years and 3 boys into motherhood, most days ended with me bitter, confused, crying and feeling like an absolute failure.
The truth about prideful mothering
As moms we shackle ourselves with so much responsibility for the behavior, choices and heart attitudes of our children. It’s such a temptation to feel proud of ourselves when they obey or make good choices — especially when their obedience or good choices are visible to others. It gives us such a prideful sense of accomplishment when we see the fruits of our efforts manifesting in their choices. No parent is immune to this ugly truth — we all do it. We tell ourselves we’re proud of our children, but if we’re brutally honest, it’s not firstly our children we’re proud of — it’s ourselves.
The other side to that hideous truth is that when our children make poor, wrong, or sinful choices it is so easy for us to fall on the sword of pride yet again. We wear their sinful choices as a reflection of our parenting and we grow bitter toward them when the reflection doesn’t look as pretty as we’d like it to. This creates such an imbalanced atmosphere of feeding our pride by the behavior of our children.
Pride is a vicious sin. It fills us with such a false security about who we are and it has us believing the lie that we’ve accomplished anything in our own strength, apart from God. God’s Word tells us that pride comes before the fall, but I believe pride often lingers long after we fall as well. Pride is a double-edged sword. It stokes the embers of our arrogance and our ego when we believe we have it all together, but it relentlessly drives its dagger into our broken spirit every time we fail.
Failure is inevitable in parenting — and the seeds of regret, anger, and humiliation are often sown in those fragile failure moments. Most often, our natural inclination is to sit idly by allowing pride to continue raining down on the soil — reaping a bitter harvest we never intended to reap. I wish I could say that humility had been my initial response in moments of fear or failure, but it wasn’t then and it often is not now. In my battle against the flesh, it’s still pride I run to first and it’s often a very slow crawl back to humility.
Fortunately for me, and I imagine for you as well, we can rest in the glorious promise that God gives grace to the humble! He pours out grace in response to humility — whether our humility comes immediately or whether it is delayed. I am the one who makes the choice as to how long I will allow the seeds of fear and failure to grow under pride’s lingering rainfall. I can choose to water my failures with pride — or I can choose to water them with humility. I can choose a harvest of bitterness — or I can choose a harvest of grace. And so can you, sweet friend.
I’m still learning how to choose humility and how to embrace God’s grace in the midst of my many parenting failures. Motherhood has shone a floodlight on my failures and my sinful pride, despite what any head knowledge offered me as a pat on the back in the early years. Truth be told, I still don’t know what I’m doing — but I trust the God who does! God knows the hearts and souls of my children far better than I ever will.
Successful parenting requires humility and it requires grace, and the only time you are genuinely failing as a parent is when those two characteristics are absent in your life. Humility chases hard after God and His wisdom. So today, nearly 24 years into this journey, I’m committing yet again to the intentional work of deep watering the soil of my relationships with my children with humility. Then I am going to sit back and wait in eager anticipation to enjoy the great harvest that God is reaping in my children’s lives — by grace alone.
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