A New Perspective on Motherhood Shortcomings
By LESLIE LUDY
About year ago, a major television network approach Eric and me about the possibility of being involved in a documentary series about Christian relationships. As we talked with them about their target audience, we were told, “Moms between the ages of twenty eight and forty-five are our best market. They watch the most T.V., listen to the most radio, and buy the most stuff!”
That answer wasn’t much of a surprise to Eric and me. Having been connected with the publishing industry for many years, we have often heard from business professionals that “young moms” are almost always the best audience to target no matter what product you are selling. When it comes to items such as books, art, food, clothes, vitamins, housewares, or entertainment, advertisers know that if they can grab the attention of moms with young children, their product is almost certain to succeed.
We moms are quick to plunk down our money or invest our time and attention into something we believe will help improve our lives or, even more so, the lives of our families. As a result, the various industries in our culture have strategically targeted our demographic, attempting to convince us that if we listen to their advice and buy their wares, we will finally become the “good moms” that we desire to be.
As moms, we are constantly hearing about all the groundbreaking new programs, products, and opportunities that we should be offering our children. It’s easy to let the pressure get to us and buy the lie that if we don’t make all the right decisions, buy all the right products, and provide our kids with all the right opportunities, they will never be happy or well adjusted. Underneath all the hype and mom-targeted advertising, there is a subtle, underlying message that whispers, “Your child’s happiness and success depends entirely upon you, so you better get it right!”
For me, this erroneous message crept in during my first few days as a new mother. When Hudson was born, he refused to nurse, despite all our best efforts. The homebirth midwives that we worked with were staunch breast-feeding-only advocates. They were adamant that unless we figured out how to get our son to nurse, he would have various physical and emotional problems for the rest of his life. “Don’t give him a bottle, whatever you do,” said one of the midwives gravely. “He will never breastfeed once he has that bottle in his mouth, and his health will suffer for the rest of his life if you put him on formula. Plus, he won’t bond with you correctly unless he learns how to breastfeed.”
As a new mother, I desperately wanted to make the right decisions for my baby. I was horrified at the thought that if I couldn’t get the nursing thing down, it would negatively impact my son for the rest of his life. So for two miserable days, I struggled to get him to breastfeed, carrying an enormous pressure on my shoulders and believing that my son’s health and future somehow all depended upon me. Finally, I reached my wit’s end. Hudson wasn’t eating and he was growing more and more lethargic. He became severely dehydrated and we had to take him to the hospital and put him on intravenous fluids. Thankfully, after twenty four hours in the hospital he was healthy again. But that awful experience helped me realize that I needed to get things clear about who needed to be in control of my child’s future and well-being … God, not me.
I was only a few days into my parenting journey, and already the culture had tried to convince me that unless I made every decision perfectly, my child would never reach his full potential. I realized that God did not intend me to live under that kind of pressure. Certainly I should do my best to make right decisions in caring for my son. But I should never believe that I was the one ultimately responsible to give my son a hope and a future — that was God’s job, not mine.
Giving Him the Pen
Throughout the past ten years in mothering, I have often had to remind myself that I should never usurp God’s position as the ultimate Sustainer and Provider for my children. I am often tempted to think that if I am not expertly cultivating each of my child’s talents, feeding him with impeccable nutrition at each meal, and providing him with world-class opportunities to develop his academic potential, I am somehow falling short as a mother. This can be an unbearable weight to carry, especially when a mom has more than one child to tend to.
Yes, I want the very best for my children. But I must always remember that my children’s happiness, security, and hope does not depend upon my perfection, but His. There is one story in Scripture that I frequently call to mind when I am struggling to maintain this perspective.
Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat.
Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
And they reasoned among themselves saying, “It is because we have no bread.”
But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”
They said to Him, “Twelve.”
“Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?”
And they said, “Seven.”
So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?” (Mark 8:14-21)
In any area of life, when we buy the lie that success depends upon us making all the right decisions, we disregard the power and faithfulness of our God. When it comes to motherhood, instead of succumbing to the “perfect mom pressure” of our culture, it is far better to remember that our Lord cares about each detail of our children’s lives far more than we ever could. We will never be able to protect them, nurture them, train them, and guide them the way that He can. So instead of grabbing the pen out of His hand, let’s trust Him to write our children’s stories. He can do a much better job with our children than we ever could!
Again, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t put our very best effort into helping our kids reach their full potential. But our motto should be: “Do your best, and leave the rest up to Him.” Even in those times that we “forget to bring bread” and fall short in our efforts just like the disciples did, let us never forget that His grace and power is more than sufficient to make up for all our shortcomings. Just as the disciples could never feed the multitudes with their own strength and resources, we can never be excellent mothers with our own strength and resources. Only He can give us the power and provision we need to help our children become all that He desires them to be.
Here are some principles that help me put this into to practice in everyday life:
Turn to Jesus First
In previous articles, I’ve written about our tendency as mothers to turn to human solutions far quicker than turning to God for challenges we may be facing with our children, and I believe it’s worth mentioning again. When one of my children seems to be exhibiting a physical or behavior concern, my first instinct is often “I wonder which expert I should get advice from?” or “Maybe I need to get him on a special dietary program? I should do some research online.” While God may lead me to expert advice or dietary changes in order to resolve the issue, He asks me to turn to Him first instead of rushing out to find a human solution in my own strength. When I surrender my concern to Him and wait on Him for wisdom and direction, I am declaring that my trust is in Him, rather than in the wisdom and solutions of this world. As it says in Psalm 118:8, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in men.”
What would have happened in the situation with breastfeeding Hudson if I had simply abided by that principle? Instead of spending two miserable days stressing over getting my son to nurse and then ending up rushing him to the hospital, I could have simply given him a bottle and trusted that God would work everything out with his health and bonding needs.
When my daughter was born and had similar breastfeeding issues to Hudson, this was exactly what I did. What a difference it made to put my trust in God instead of worrying about the pressure the world was trying to put on my shoulders! And how faithful He was to meet each of my children’s physical and emotional needs — even though they were not able to breastfeed.
Take Expert Advice with a Grain of Salt
Only a couple of years into my motherhood journey I came to the realization that if I tried to stay fully informed on every new study on health, nutrition, and child development, I would go “stark raving mad” as the saying goes. We live in a culture that is constantly yelling at us, “Look here! Look there! Do this! Do that! Try this! Try that! Hurry, before it’s too late!” While there are some great resources for moms out there, there is also a lot of pure noise. If we try to learn and apply every piece of “expert advice” targeted toward moms, we will end up exhausted and discouraged, because it simply can’t be done.
Besides, expert advice is constantly changing. What is considered wise and healthy today will be replaced by something totally different tomorrow. It is far better to submit our decisions to God and ask Him to lead and guide us, rather than get into a frenzy trying to stay up with all the latest studies and fads. Whenever I hear about some new “breakthrough” that catches my attention, I have learned to first pause and pray about it rather than immediately jump in with both feet. For example, a while back I was considering putting my six-year-old son onto a rigid diet and supplement program to help him deal with his tendency toward hyper-activity. But it would have been time-consuming and expensive. Instead, Eric and I chose to spend time praying about it first. We felt led to try simplifying his daily schedule, reducing his media stimulus, and planning more structured quiet times into his days. It was an easy and affordable (free, actually) solution that yielded big results.
It’s not that God will never direct a mom to take the advice of an expert or apply a specific program or strategy for a child’s unique issues. However, God’s solutions are often far simpler than the world’s. As you navigate your motherhood journey, I encourage you to turn down the volume of the culture’s noise, and tune in to His still, small voice. Remember, He is the ultimate Expert for every area of life!
If you struggle to trust that He truly is the ultimate solution for every need we may have, take some time to study the names of God in Scripture. As you learn more and more about all the specific ways in which He reveals Himself to His children, you will begin to trust Him more and more with each detail of your life instead of rushing after the solutions and allurements of the culture. What a mighty God we serve!