As a student in college, I always underestimated how well I was doing. I was sure I had flunked a test only to find out I got a "B+." This objective feedback helped me realize I was doing better than I thought I was.
As a mother, I do not get this reassuring feedback. There are piano books scattered on the floor next to dirty bath towels, dirty dishes, pillows on the kitchen table and pizza left out last night that my daughter is now eating for breakfast. We go to our doctor's appointment at 12:45, proud that we're on time, only to find out the appointment was at 11:45. My kids fight with each other and, when I correct them, they tell me, "You don't know anything."
True. Why did I even bother going to college?
It's easy for me to feel I'm flunking motherhood. Who knows? Maybe I am, but nobody has expelled me from this house yet. What I do know is that when some friend or stranger says something kind, I'm always taken aback.
A few days ago the cashier in the store said to me, "You're such a good mom."
"Why do you think that?" I asked incredulously.
"Well, you're so patient with your kids, and you're listening to them about which game table they want."
"Well, thank you," I said.
Never mind that, 30 minutes later, I was back in the store, panicked, looking for one of those children with the rest of the mall's security staff. But hey, she didn't take the compliment back!
Before motherhood, I was used to getting pats on the back. I would do well in a tennis tournament, get encouragement from a professor or win an award, and these experiences helped me feel good about myself. But now I've had to search deeper to feel that sense of worth. I have had to turn more to the Lord who continually reminds me that I am His. When I feel closer to God, I'm gentler on myself and those around me. He helps me see the good I'm doing, and He comforts me when things go wrong. He helps me remember to tell my children that I love them and point out when one of them did a good job cleaning the kitchen or helping their brother with piano. I tell them how blessed I am to be their mother.
Turning to the Lord also makes it easier for me to reach out to other moms. This provides even more revelation because I learn that others are also struggling with challenges and dealing with feelings of inadequacy. In encouraging them, I feel strengthened, realizing that I also am doing better than I think I am.
I was recently riding my bike, worrying about something, and then the thought came very clearly to me, "You bear no fault in this problem. Yes, you still have to work through the situation, but there was nothing you did wrong. Don't be so hard on yourself." A feeling of peace and sweetness came over me, and I knew it was true.
Sometimes, while saying my prayers at night and thinking about all of the things I didn't get done, I think about the things I did get done. I called a friend. I read a story to my children. I made a good breakfast for the family. Again, that reassurance comes to me that the Lord is pleased. I'm not perfect, and there is always more to do, but the Lord recognizes that my efforts are sincere.
And when others give gentle forms of encouragement, it means the world to me. A few years ago, my family attended a big church event. My husband couldn't get work off and wasn't going to be able to go, so I decided to go with the kids. It was a struggle to get my children ready and get them loaded in the van. They fought on the way. When they got out of the van, their hair wasn't combed, their pants looked too short, and their shirts looked wrinkled. I struggled to keep my kids reverent and felt frustrated that we looked disheveled.
I felt the tears coming when an older gentleman approached me. "Look at you bringing all of your children with you!" he said. "And they look so nice in their white shirts and ties! What a good mother you are!" I wanted to both argue with him and hug him at the same time but managed a quiet "thank you."
He was an angel sent to me. He beamed like he was proud of me even though he hardly knew me. I left feeling like the Lord was pleased with me. While the execution of our outing hadn't been perfect, my heart was in the right place and that was enough.
So can I ask you a favor? Pray for all those mothers out there that you know. Especially the ones that you think are probably flunking motherhood. And next time you see a mom, tell her that her daughter's hair looks darling or that her boy has such good manners. Chances are you'll make her day.