At the chiropractor recently, another mother in the waiting room caught my eye. She had a baby girl strapped to her chest in a carrier and a toddler boy playing at her feet who seemed to be having a rough morning and wasn’t getting along with the other kids waiting. To give the little guy credit, the wait was long, and it was 11:30am, otherwise known as “meltdown-thirty” to us whose children still nap. I’ve been in her position many times; I just wasn’t today.
The little boy was resisting obedience, so his patient mama removed him from the play area and took him to the back of the waiting room where there was a door to another empty room. From my place on the floor next to my own children, I saw her meet her son’s eyes, calmly but firmly talk to him, and then lead him to sit by himself inside the door to the other room while he wailed and wailed. This mama didn’t show anger, yet she was steadfast.
With her baby still strapped to her chest, she took a few steps back into the main room and leaned against the wall to wait for him to calm down, and that’s when I saw her eyes. If the expression in her eyes could write an entire book, I was reading it. “When is he going to stop crying? Is this going to work? Am I doing the right thing?” And maybe even, “What do these other people think of me?” Unbeknownst to her, I connected with that mama in that moment all the way across the room. I saw the essence of motherhood so clearly in her eyes and actions – her obvious love for her children, her tenacity, her kindness. She finally retrieved her son, and both of them seemed weary but eager to be returned to peace.
It’s been said, “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” (Jill Churchill) Almost seven years into mothering, I’m far from being a veteran, but I feel deeply in my bones that this is true. Of all the mothers I know, not a single one doesn’t want the best for her children and doesn’t try to love them with every fiber of her being. We’re all just taking it one day at a time, walking this long road the best we can. Perhaps some of you are intentionally mothering children you didn’t birth but who are now yours through remarriage, adoption, or fostering. Friends or trusted caregivers “mother” our children when we’re away running errands, on a date with our spouse, or at work. Some of you are bravely mothering on your own without a spouse and bearing the full burden of providing for your family while also figuring out solo parenthood. However we became mothers, we know it’s a job that requests more strength and patience and love than we ever thought possible, and we’ll never be able to do it all “perfectly.”
Yet, perfectionism is a real struggle, and mothering in the age of social media can add extra pressure if we let it (oh, the ups and downs of Instagram!). However, perfection looks very different to God than to us.
“It is true that the Bible calls us to be “perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word for “perfect” here is telios. It means “brought to its end, completed, or perfect.” So, to be “perfect” in this sense is not how perfectionists so often imagine it. Rather, it is to be completed in Christ.” (Source)
There’s so much freedom in knowing there’s no way to be a perfect mother and that we can instead focus on loving our children intentionally.
We may not be able to get up before our children every morning and present them with a beautiful breakfast spread, classical music playing, and the entire day’s activities laid out before them. But we can grab them and cuddle and kiss them first thing in the morning whether we wake up before them or not. We can look into their eyes and tell them we love them, that Jesus loves them and that they’re special.
We may not be able to hold our tongues, have never-ending patience, and talk kindly to our children 100% of the time, giving them our full attention. But we can lay down our phones and distractions, engage with our children and be quick to reconcile when we get it wrong.
Perfectionism has always been one of my big struggles, but never have I felt such a need for grace until I became a mother, and even more so as a mother of two. I feel so inadequate. But what my children don’t need is a mother who thinks she’s perfect. They need a mother who is imperfect but who is present with them and leads them to the Lord.
In her book, Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist says, “[Present over perfect is] about rejecting the myth that every day is a new opportunity to prove our worth, and about the truth that our worth is inherent, given by God, not earned by our hustling.”
Our children simply want us – our presence and love – not some perfectly curated life.
When my oldest daughter was three-and-a-half and her baby sister was born, I treasured story time with my bigger girl while the baby hung out with Daddy. I’ll never forget the night when, in the middle of our story, she flashed the grin that takes up her entire face, wrapped her arms around my neck and said, “You’re the sweetest, bravest Mommy in the whole entire world!” Tears came to my eyes because how I had parented her that day was far from perfect, but to her it had meant the world.
How can we be imperfect but good mothers? Love our little ones well. Point them to Jesus and walk beside them to His feet. Admit our failings and try better tomorrow. Know that every day is grace.
As for the mama at the chiropractor, if I could turn back time, I would go over to her, look into her eyes and say, “It’s gonna be okay. I’ve been there, and you’re doing a great job. Your children are blessed to have a mother like you.” This mothering thing isn’t easy. Couldn’t we all use some encouragement on this beautifully imperfect journey?