Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mommy Guilt

I read this post a couple of days ago and it really struck home with me. My comments are in italics.

Calling All Mommies - Serving more than our kids by Bonnie McMaken

Every Easter my in-laws make the trip from Michigan to Chicago to spend Holy Week with us. They enjoy spending time with us and our church as we journey from the palms to the cross to the empty tomb. And they especially revel in the chance to snuggle our little toddler for a whole weekend while my husband and I serve. Their sacrifice means I am free to give my worship leading gifts to the church. I think we all need time that we spend not worrying about our kids and knowing they're in good hands.

When I had my daughter last winter, I briefly considered taking a “Holy Week break.” I didn’t think this was necessary—for me or for her. She would be with her grandparents for a few hours each day. Not the worst thing for a kid. Or the grandparents.

I think my compulsion to step back was primarily guilt-driven: I saw a lot of moms giving up most of their own needs and gifts for the sake of their kids. A noble calling. But what if God didn’t wire me that way? Oh, but He did! He created us in His image and He is our Great Provider. It just so happens that many of us aren't sensitive to this calling.

Parenthood requires deep sacrifices—some of which our children will never even realize. Those sacrifices are still fresh for me as a new mom. I make them in small ways every day: not getting that nap I so desperately want because she won’t sleep, forsaking that second glass of wine while I’m breastfeeding, declining a party invitation because we can’t find a babysitter. I can deal with these. And so we all should. Just look at the sacrifice our Heavenly Father made for us! He gave His very life for us! I'm willing to bet that the majority of parents would say "yes" if asked, "would you give your life to save that of your child?" I know I would. Yet, the simple everyday sacrifices, we make into huge deals and ourselves into martyrs. I'm guilty of this.

But the big ones hurt, if I’m being honest. Waiting on grad school. Watching someone else fulfill something I’ve always longed to do. Even “selfish” ones like watching my body expand and shrink—but not as much as I’d hoped. Again, would you give your life...? Also, unless totally surprised by becoming a parent, you can decide where your priorities are. If you decide starting a family is more important than grad school (or a promotion or achieving your ideal weight) then don't resent your child or your role as a parent when someone else gets what you want. School will always be there, jobs will always be there...struggle with weight? For most of us, that will always be there as well. (Gosh, we like to bellyache don't we?) And as a commenter below put it: we only get one chance to raise our children.

Are these hits worth it for this beautiful little life full of possibility? I’m eternally convinced. Absolutely And does it ache to let dreams go, even if for a season? Usually. "Ache" wouldn't be the word I'd use, besides you don't have to let dreams go, just put them on hold. But what about those gifts that are so integral to our sense of self? Is not becoming a parent even more integral? Do we strip ourselves of these in exchange for the new garments of motherhood? What if we feel naked without them? No, we add to our repertoire of talents, not exchange an old one for our new motherhood role!

Author of Gifted to Lead, Nancy Beach says “God didn’t make a mistake” when he designed women—when he designed you—with unique gifts to give to the church and the world. And those don’t just disappear when we become mothers. I’m still trying to figure out what the balance looks like, but I’ve watched gifted women interweave these two callings into a beautiful offering to the Lord. God never makes a mistake. Ever. Each and every child, planned or unplanned (by us) is part of God's eternal plan. Scripture says that even before we were even conceived in the womb, God had a plan for us. The anatomy of a woman's body is so uniquely designed to grow and nurture a baby from conception to birth and beyond. How breast milk is tailored to our child's specific need...full of nutrients and antibodies for the first few days of life, then sweet to help a baby latch and finally creamy to fill their little bellies. A mom of a preemie will even have richer breast milk to give their littlest one every advantage they can. But I digress, balance is near impossible to achieve, even for non-parents. We always strive for more than we can achieve. When our "to-do" list is all crossed off at the end of the day, we often feel like under-achievers rather than complete. Boasting that "I achieved everything I set out to do today" is anti-climatic.

What about you other moms out there, new and seasoned? Is it a struggle for you too? How do you balance your “mommy gifts” with your ministry gifts? Which gifts have you had to let go? Which ones are vital to your personhood and ministry? I am a song leader and I have a 3 year old son. When we started going to our current church he was just a year old, shy and weary of people he doesn't know well. My husband is out of town quite a bit so when he wasn't at church with us I would sit with the congregation to keep my son happy. It was more important to instill in him that church is safe and to not make it a scary place for him to be left alone on the pew or with someone he's not comfortable with. I believe what matters is that I would still worship God and give Him praise, whether from the pew or the platform. After a few months I tried letting him sit on the first row, as close to me as possible without being on the platform with me, and it worked well and still does. Now he'll either do that or play with a friend. I haven't had to let go but I do step aside from time to time. When/if God blesses me with another child, I will step down from my "church" position as required to fulfill the most Godly position of motherhood.

I have a health professional degree that took 8 years of college to attain. I worked for a few years, then married, and ended up having 3 children. My middle daughter was very difficult; she was very colicky and didn't even smile during her first year. I gave up my career to raise my children, and it's something that I never ever regret. My middle daughter was difficult, but has turned into the most wonderful, beautiful, devoted to God young woman that you could ever imagine. Believe me, she was rough at times, my family and friends never saw a baby as rough as she was (well, it lasted until she was about 5 lol). But even if they are not as "tough" to raise, I can't tell you how important I think our role is to raise our children to love God and put Him first, and to become good, Christian human beings, now pursuing their own goals. That has been a far more difficult, but loving "job" than the career I was prepared for after college. You only get one chance to raise your children, and believe me, the time just flies. It seems they go from being like 6 months, then soon they are entering kindergarten, and before you know it, they are applying to colleges. You don't want to ever regret putting your children after your career. Raising children right is usually a full-time job that will, believe me, use a lot of the knowledge you gained in college. You don't want to regret how your children turn out in this very difficult, world. That daughter that now seems so tough, will fill your heart with so much love, that you never imagined you could love someone as much. In today's world, with it's temptations, it requires your full-time attention to raise a child of God. I understand that a lot of people have to work while raising their children, but I honestly think it's better, if possible, to stay home with them. It's just something you don't want to regret. You're talking about your child, and that will far outweigh your career when you look back in time.

Posted by Leslie

I have to say I agree with Leslie. Due to the nature of my husband's work, it's not feasible for me to stay at home. But oh how I wish I could. I enjoy my work outside the home (most days), but rarely does a day pass that I don't feel a pang of guilt about not spending these precious days with my son. He will only be this age once in his life. And he's so much fun to be with! We recently had a 3 day weekend for which my husband was away the whole time. Three whole "Mommy & Malachi" days! What fun we had! We didn't do anything exciting or grand but we thoroughly enjoyed our days together.

I also have and continue to struggle with these questions. I have a 3 year old and a 3 month old and couldn't be more thankful for these little blessings. My oldest has been difficult from day 1, strong willed, yet very attached and will not stay with people she does not know well (like nursery workers!). It has been a long time since my husband and I have been able to attend service together (easily at least) unless we don't bring her to church and have her stay with an extended family member. Fortunately, we are making improvement in this area. Like you, Laurie, I too have an undergraduate and graduate degree for ministry. My husband and I always planned to have me focus on raising our children until they were of school aged before returning to a formal ministry position like I had. (I was able to work part time in the ministry until my first child was 2 since I was able to work from home and was at a child friendly church that allowed me to bring her to work with me. I had to stop when it became too much for me and I felt both jobs were suffering.) That said, that doesn't mean that there are not days I miss being more active in ministry since I am sure of my calling and gifting to do so. I continually bring this to the Lord, as well as my mentors (also women in ministry who have raised children) for support and encouragement. For me, this is an important season in my children's lives, where I (my husband as well of course) am attempting to lay a strong foundation and I want to give it my all. In my case that means not pursuing my dream ministry position. However, the Lord continues to provide me with ministry opportunities that are more manageable in this season of life that energize me and allow me to use my gifts. I don't have it all figured out, but I trust the Lord will honor my obedience to what I feel he is calling me to at this time (focus on mothering) and grant me the desires of my heart (desires he has placed) in the right season. May the Lord give us all the grace we need to be the wives and mothers he desires us to be and servants he has gifted us to be in his timing!

Posted by Alison

I can identify with Alison as well. I think we think as women that we CAN do it ALL...everything and anything. Serve as usher before service? Sure. Lead songs? Why not? Do home Bible study with so-and-so? Yeppers! Attend our new mid-week ladies service? Yes! Oh and can you bring some muffins or a fruit tray too? Oh yes, every week if you like!

And then I'll just work 40 hours a week, take care of my spouse, children, house and garden, visit family, in-laws, out-laws, friends, all of the above church activities and you know if I get bored I can always take up a hobby or three...scrapbook all my children's precious photos and keepsakes, knit socks for my working-man husband AND take a weekend course in photography so I'll have nice pictures for said scrapbooks. We're short on money these days so maybe I need a part-time job as well.

Why can't we say "NO!!!" to anything? We're afraid to, that's why! All we see is that (on the surface anyway) every other woman has it together. A perfect marriage, perfect kids, perfect job, perfect bank account, perfect home. Maybe so-and-so's husband does the gardening and takes out the garbage (without being reminded!) and makes pancakes for breakfast and takes the kids to piano, soccer and ballet but maybe, just maybe, he leaves his socks lying around, a pile of dishes in the sink or constantly forgets to put gas in the car. Stuff that looking from the outside in, you may not see.

Learn to say “no”. such a small, but powerful, word.

I’ve gone on quite the rant and this post has actually taken me a few days to put together. Bonnie’s original post I’m sure wasn’t meant to get my ire up in the way that it has, but it pains me to no end that so many women, educated and professional women, still think they have to give up so much for their family. Really, if it hurts so much, don’t have children. If you’re going to resent them, don’t have them. If you don’t have time, don’t have them. Our guilt should not be that we're missing out on extracurricular activities but that because of our activities we're missing out on our kids! Once our kids reach a certain age they won't need, or especially want, their moms' constant attention. Then is the time to do all the stuff we think we're missing out on now. God has called us to be mothers. That was the job He gave Eve - to be a help meet for Adam and a mother to his children.

Perhaps I feel so strongly about this because of my guilt for being a working mom and that I want another child so badly that the thought of people having children they don’t want or resent boils me so. But that’s a topic for another post.

Bonnie's original post can be found here:

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