06 Nov DEAR MAMA: KNOW THYSELF
I am six months pregnant and the mother of a precocious 2 ½ year old daughter. I am also a lawyer (sometimes), a writer (occasionally), a speaker (when invited), a wife, a daughter, and a friend. Like you, I’m certain, I wear a lot of hats.
As people, as women, particularly as mothers, we are complex beings. We fill many roles, juggle competing priorities, and most of the time, bear the burden and reap the blessing of being primary caregivers to our little ones. Almost always, I revel in the diversity of the work God has given me to do both inside and outside my family.
Yet a few weeks ago, I stood at my corner desk poring over my speaking notes, as my spine stiffened and I prepared to take offense. My mom was launching into another sentence beginning with, “You know, Natalie, you’re just like Grandma in that…” and I was fixing to get mad.
However, the conversation took a different direction than I was anticipating, or more likely, a direction I was finally ready to hear. She continued on with, “You’re just like Grandma in that you love women and women’s ministry, writing, speaking, and studying, and you will be tempted to be outwardly focused and commit too much of yourself to other worthy endeavors besides your family. You’re going to have to work to keep your focus on raising your kids, even when you’re in a difficult season of parenting.”
Instead of feeling defensive and angry, I felt a sense of calm acceptance as I said, “You know what? You’re absolutely right. That is my temptation and knowing about it is half the battle. I love to study, read, write, and speak, all lovely, God-given gifts. But I’m not in a season of life right now where those passions can be fully pursued. I’m raising my babies and they need almost all of me.”
Privately, I was thinking, “Wow, how am I not mad right now? When she broached this subject a few months ago, I was furious! The Lord must have been doing some good work in me that I didn’t even realize was happening.”
You want to know something? She is right. My heart is for women to know and love God’s Word. I often fall asleep at night thinking about which of the many writing and speaking ideas rolling around in my head to pursue next, and how I can find more time to create opportunities for women to wrestle together with God’s Word. I’m pretty positive that these types of endeavors represent the spiritual work that God has given me to do in my lifetime, and I want to pursue it with a tenacity I find both terrifying and exhilarating. Moreover, my contributions to the outside of my family will hopefully improve the world in which my children will be raised. More specifically, the women I love to serve are mothering my daughter’s generation. They are the women who are raising her friends, and maybe even her husband, should she one day choose to marry.
AND YET, in addition to whatever other work God has given me, paid or unpaid, I am the only mother my children will ever have. As Luke 12:48 implies, with great privilege comes great responsibility.
Ladies, if you, like me, wrestle with this tension, here are a few ideas that have helped me gain perspective in this area:
Before time began, God handpicked you to be the mother of each of your very unique children. Your family is literally a match made in heaven. You are equipped by your Heavenly Father for the task of mothering these tiny people, but it is a task that cannot be taken lightly. I’m beginning to believe that we have to apply every ounce of fortitude, determination, willpower, and self-control to our parenting if we’re going to do this thing right, and this realization is extremely sobering.
This doesn’t mean I’m advocating for child-centered homes or losing our sense of selves serving our kids, or declining all ministry work outside the home until our kids are in college, or any other sort of weird extrapolation.
I simply mean that we cannot indulge distractions (even holy ones) that derail us from the primary task of shepherding our children to know the Lord.
It is precisely because these distractions are often lucrative, easier, or more naturally suited to our giftings and interests that you must know thyself.
Just like you need to know your kids’ “currency” in order to devise truly painful consequences for discipline, you need to know yourself, know your temptations, and work on discovering your blind spots. For instance, am I relying too heavily on screens to distract my child just so I can catch my breath (we’re moving this week so the answer to this one is YES)? Do I let bad behavior slide because I’m tuckered out and the path of least resistance is easier than meting out consequences for the twenty-seventh time in a day? This one really strikes a chord because I’m tempted to laziness sometimes (OK, often), and super consistent follow-through is not my best strength in life or in parenting.
My friend recently explained balance and competing priorities as a series of “boxes.” Each area of our life has a “box” and instead of trying to balance them all equally at the same time, in each new season, different “boxes” will come to the forefront and require more focus and attention to the exclusion of other boxes.
Because the privilege of mothering our children is so eternally significant, whichever “boxes” we have shifted to the forefront must always be positioned adjacent to but not in front of the primary box labeled “parenting.”
Whatever else I feel called to do must always be evaluated through the lens of raising my children. For instance, if I say yes to an opportunity, I have to ask myself, “Can I pursue this and still serve my family well?”
Even though studying, speaking, and writing for women about the goodness of God’s Word is indeed a worthy undertaking, it cannot compare to the utterly irreplaceable task of cultivating one child’s heart to serve God.
The Lord is beginning this process of self-examination in my heart and though it will take time, a baseline awareness of my weaknesses and blind spots represents a very important first step.
Knowing ourselves is half the battle.
What about you? Have you wrestled with these kinds of questions? Have you identified the weaknesses, temptations, and vulnerabilities in your parenting? Do you have someone who can help you discover those areas in a loving way?