Friday, August 04, 2006

Good Mom, Bad Mom, by Lydia Bower

Have you ever had someone say to you, “You're such a good mom,” and while you smile and say, “Thanks,” inside you think, but, if she really knew me, she wouldn't think so? If she had seen me this evening when I petered out, or yesterday when I didn't plan dinner, or last week when we didn't do school because everyone was sick, or the mess my house was in this morning. If she knew I wasn't perfect, she wouldn't say that.

Well, of course we know that nobody is perfect, but why do we so often measure ourselves against a perfect standard? And why, so many times do we feel like “bad moms?”

I think there are several reasons, which often begin with this line of reasoning:

* Good moms put their kids to bed at the same time every night.
* Good moms do devotions every day.
* Good moms have weekly/monthly menu plans, a regular shopping day, a stocked pantry, and family style, on-time meals.
* Good moms give their children baths every day, or at the very least every-other day.
* Good moms read out loud to their children.
* Good moms don't let their children eat sweets.
* Good moms wear their baby in a sling.

Now, each mom's mental list is different, depending on how she was raised or what books she has read. However the next logical step is that if she feels she has failed in anything on her list of what “good moms” do, than she must, of course, be a “bad mom.”

A second reason is that she may remember times when she “had it all together.” Life was flowing smoothly, she was sticking to her routines, the kitchen was clean before her bedtime (which took place right at ten), she was getting some daily exercise (as soon as she got up at six), and homeschooling was on a steady rhythm. Then she hit a rough patch—kids were sick, first trimester exhaustion, husband switched his work schedule, post-partum recovery, a big move, whatever. What's the first thing that pops into most moms' minds? What happened? What am I doing wrong that things aren't working like they did before?

Or perhaps she just knows, somewhere deep inside, that she could be doing things better. She knows that she should and could be doing better at planning meals. She knows that she'd be so much better off if she went to bed a little earlier. She has the best of intentions of cutting out the sugar in the house but it keeps creeping back in.

I think there are several antidotes to the “bad mom” syndrome. When I have these types of thoughts, I try to remember how much I have improved over the years. I now do more work in a day, and with much less angst, than I did in a month when I was first married. I no longer cringe if someone shows up at the door unannounced. I do my laundry without thinking and I'm usually only a couple of loads behind. My toilets get wiped down frequently, which is a big improvement on my first years of marriage. I could easily go a month without cleaning the toilet bowl. Housework used to be an incredibly daunting task, and I couldn't imagine it ever being effortless, but in many ways it now is. Sure, it will probably never be my mother's house, but it's looking pretty good for me.

Next question. Whose standards am I trying to live up to? It would be different if my husband demanded regular mealtimes and a spotless house, but those are not on the top of his list. Yes, I would like my home to function better, but it's generally a standard I set for myself. Why am I so disappointed at failure, when it's usually only me that is being let down?

As I drove my daughter to her music lessons at 5:30 p.m., I thought, if I were a good mom, I would have prepared dinner ahead of time. My husband and children are probably digging through the fridge right now for leftovers. A good mom would have put something in the crock-pot this morning. When I arrived home, my son had made fettucine for the family and had made sure everyone was served. I do wish I had planned better, but I was more bothered than anyone else at my failure.

Another thing we must consider is our temperament. There are many types of men and many types of vocations. There are many types of women, but for the married woman there is one vocation—wife and mom. How can our vastly different personalities all do the same job? I know women who only ever wanted to be a wife and mother. The jobs that accompany motherhood are delightful to these ladies. I think of these women as Mrs. Steadies. (My mom is one of these.) She loves the security of routines and the rhythm of a repetitive life. I am probably a Mrs. Visionary. I am constantly having to pull my head out of the clouds or away from the rabbit-trail I'm exploring and remind myself of my responsibilities. I think the Mrs. Visionaries are also more prone to perfectionism.

Yes, in my heart, I know I could be doing a better job at being mom, but when I'm honest with myself, many times I would rather attempt to play my daughter's violin or practice my penny whistle, write big, long blogs that people stop reading somewhere in the middle (oh, you're still here?), dream about the book I want to write (of course, I've got the dedication planned out), write elaborate lists and schedules that end up being so impractical the first day I try them. . . Is this really that wrong? Does being me, with my many imperfections and missteps put me on the “bad mom” list? I would say, “Of course not!” to anyone else. Is “good enough” acceptable as a mom? There are times I would say, yes. For some moms (like me), success is measured with each faltering step and each moment that they are able to see the holy in the mundane.

So is there a way for me to acknowledge where I've been (good and bad) and strive for regular improvement without the constant self-doubts? I think part of the answer is to learn to walk by grace and not by the law.

These verses come to mind:

Gal 3:23-25 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (teacher for the immature).”
I know this is speaking of the new covenant, but I often think of this passage in terms of my life as a wife and mom. Many times the newly-married woman is clueless as to how to run a home, manage her time, cook, clean, parent. The law can be helpful in the beginning. The house-cleaning books I've read, the Flylady e-list I joined, the strict schedules I tried to keep, were beneficial to a certain point. I learned so many things through these wonderful resources. They were sort of like a “tutor” or teacher for the immature me. Because of my immaturity, I needed these helps. Have you noticed your born-organized friends don't use these things? My mother has never read a chapter on how to clean a toilet. I could give you the ten, proper steps.

However, like the law, the “perfect way” can be hard to stick to—especially as it is usually someone else's “perfect way”—and as we mature in our role it is natural to need these aids less and less. The longer I am married, the more I notice that I am beginning to function better with a more open approach. I am actually seeing what needs to be done and doing it with little thought! Amazing! I wake up and say, what needs to be done today? And then I do it. O.k, the living room is messy. . . C'mon kids, let's see how fast we can get things whipped into shape! And grace doesn't stop there. It also allows me to be imperfect, to have a “bad day” without being a “bad mom.”

As I've gotten to know Molly, it has been fun to see our many similarities. One thing we have in common is that we are both deeply committed to loving our husband and children and raising them to serve and honor the Lord. However, Molly also struggles in some of the same areas that I do. Yet, I look at Molly, and I think, What a good mom! As I thought about this, it was as if the Lord said, Yes, and you are a good mom, too. The same way that you view Molly is the way that I view you. I finally believed it. I am a good mom. My children are fortunate to live in this home. God sees my heart. He doesn't expect perfection, why should I?


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Lydia is a 31 year old mother of 5 children (age 13 and under) and the wife of an Alaskan police officer. She strives to be authentic in her relationship with God, her husband, and her children, and doesn't want to settle for anything less than the "real" thing.

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