I didn’t realize how easy it would be to place my worth in my mothering skills, essentially handing this small child control of how I feel about myself based on her behavior that day. It snuck up on me, this assigning of my own value to my ability to “make” this child do what I wanted her to do.
And so it began. It seems that many moms are given a compliant firstborn child, one who lives to please Mom and follow the rules. This was not my experience, and so it became easy to compare my firstborn to those of my friends around me, other kids at church, the kids at the park and the store. As they sat sweetly in the shopping cart at Target, my child screamed, protesting the forced confinement to a seatbelt and crying as though I had done the most awful thing she could imagine.
It was a hard switch for me, spending my days as a children’s pastor, beloved by kids and parents alike, to spending my days as mom with no accolades and lots of frustration. A couple of years later when my son was born, there was an easier stretch of time because he was such a great baby and toddler. I finally realized that the behavior of my oldest wasn’t completely due to parenting, but also included the influence of her own personality and choices. The experience of having a second child with a very different personality was very eye-opening for me. I honestly don’t think I knew how much my own self-worth was based upon what I perceived to be my success or failure as a mother until my second was born.
My third child was born a few years after the second. Three weeks after she was born, my oldest went to kindergarten. This was when the full weight of finding my self-worth in my “performance” as a mom came to bear on my soul. I was looking forward to sending her to school, to having time with the baby and having someone else take care of her for a few hours. Unfortunately, it was not the blissful experience I was expecting. I quickly discovered that my phone would ring with each misbehavior. I came to dread my phone ringing. Anxiety would fill my heart when I saw the school on my caller ID. They were so kind and gracious with her and with us, but it could not negate the fact that I felt like the worst mother on the planet who could not figure out how to get her child to behave.
The stress and depression was intense, and coupled with post-partum depression, it was a very sad and hard season for me. I found that it was hard work to untangle my value and worth from my identity as a mom. God was using these challenging times to shine a spotlight on my soul.
I was so frustrated that I couldn’t just read a book and fix it or follow a three step plan to make everything better. I am honestly still in this battle to find my value in who God has made me, who God says I am. It is hard work, but I know it is worth the effort. When I live out of my value in Christ, I am less likely to ride the roller coaster of finding my worth in my kids and their behavior or choices that day.
I find myself jumping into the conversation when I hear a mom say something like, “I can’t believe their kid did that. They must not care at all about his behavior.” I am so quick to remind them that a child is his own person, and he often makes choices against what his parents have taught him. Toddlers, teenagers, and everything in between are testing boundaries and seeking independence. Let’s offer grace to parents who are struggling with a challenging season of parenting. Let us remind the mom next door of her worth and value because she is made in the image of God.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
Psalm 139:13-14 ESV