After I had my third baby, I needed hernia surgery. Which is the BEST. (Insert eye-roll). During my rocky recovery, before my husband left for work, he fed the other two breakfast and set them up to watch the Disney movie Mulan. He did this every single day. For several weeks in a row. I refer to this as "The Mulan Period." I owe my life to that warrior princess. If it wasn’t for Mulan, I’d be in a gutter. I wasn't supposed to pick up anything over a gallon of milk, but I had an eight-month-old nursing, chunky baby. The simplest morning tasks were difficult and taxing. Having "I'll make a man out of you" on repeat in your brain all day? Worth it.
Was “The Mulan Period” part of God's grace or was it part of my mom guilt? Guilt or grace? It was guilt then. But I see grace now.
Mom Guilt. Woman Guilt. All the guilt. It’s real. But so is Mom Grace. Woman Grace. All the grace. And it's worth discussing.
So much good work has gone into countering Mom Guilt, thank goodness. And over the last several years as a woman and a mother, I find myself asking three questions on Mom Guilt:
1. Could Guilt Be Coaching Me?
One of my brilliant counselor-friends says guilt is like a coach. It can show you something that needs to change, it can be a productive teacher, and it can cheer you on to remedy a situation. But if we find guilt coaching us in a way that tears us down, makes us feel insignificant, and puts us under the pile, then we need to listen to a different coach.
Sometimes the nagging feeling we have about not playing with our children is real and good. Something does need to change. Our children certainly need periods of our undivided attention. Guilt can be a good, instructive coach. We can make a change and learn from Coach Guilt, get on with our day, and be thankful for the lesson. Amazingly, our guilt gives way to grace.
But when guilt beats us up and tells us we are doing a horrific job, (when, indeed, our kids are safe and loved) we need a grace coach. Coach Grace tells us: "Yep, you are not enough. You fall short. You cannot possibly meet all these standards and expectations. But you do what you can and do it well, and leave the undone in God's hands." God's grace is favor on us that we don't deserve. His grace fills in all the gaps in all our deficiencies. Grace can look like Mulan every morning. His grace lets us rest and trust God with what we could not do. Or what we did wrong. Grace coaches our souls to find our identity in who God has made us to be. Which brings us to our second question.
2. Where Is My Identity?
Do we find our significance in what we do, what we accomplish, and how we balance everything perfectly (which is never)? If so, we are like a recovering mom without Mulan. Doomed. We are never doing enough according to the mile-high standards for women and moms.
But what if our identity is in something that cannot change? No matter what we do or not? What if we are significant, accepted, and loved SIMPLY because we are created with dignity, value, and worth by a loving God? If my worth is in my to-do list and my balancing act, I will live a defeated life. Or a life of pretend perfection. Either way, it's exhausting. Perfectionism and defeat drain us.
What fills our cup is actively embracing God's grace for who we are, the situation we find ourself, and our family dynamic. I have mom friends who have to work; they are single mothers and that is the only option. I have friends who want to work. I have friends that work some and are home some. And some that are home all day, every day. Anyway you slice it, we have room for not being enough. We can compare, beat ourselves up, and live under a heavy handed weight of expectations.
We weren't created to live defeated lives. We were created to have our soul at rest with God. To be at ease with God, even if nothing is easy around us. He made us. We are fiercely loved. We can rest secure. But if I place my value on what I accomplish, I will ride a rollercoaster of pride and defeat. Up and down. Jerked around. Sick and spinning.
My identity is an accepted, loved, and delighted-in daughter of the King. Period. God says He delights in me (Ps 18) and I take that to the bank every morning. And at the end of the day, this is my truth.
3. What Are All These Expectations?
Society has told us we need to be everything. We need to be on all the committees. We need to be great at all the things. We need to work and be at home and be sexy and be modest and be a fantastic cook and a great decorator and athletic but dainty and organized but free-spirited.
Let's get serious. We have taken a FEW great qualities from a TON of great women, added them all together, and fabricated ONE amazing woman to live up to. Who does NOT exist. Every woman is limited, finite, and in need of God's grace to cover our weaknesses so His power is made perfect in us.
We have some places where we kill it, and some places where we need some serious help. Which is the human condition: we need God and we need a helpful village. Let's shed the unattainable ideal and cut each other some slack. Our own souls included. Let's cheer each other on, offer our strengths, cover others' weaknesses, rest in the King.
Chin Up, sisters. May we learn from guilt, may our identity be at rest in God, may we lose the expectations. This is Mom Grace at its finest.