Editor’s note: Today we have another installment of our Moms’ Night Out: A Real Life Look series, where our writers share how this movie resonated with them, how it touched them where they are right now, how they found a glimpse of the priorities and beauty they sometimes overlook in the midst of the daily grind. Enjoy!
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I grew up with a plan. Don’t we all? And my plan went something like this:
I needed to be important. I needed to do something awesome. Something people would really notice. Something worthy. Something unforgettable. Something I could have total control over, that would make me a success.
And then I became a mom.
It is amazing how fast you can go from that hospital room, with your husband by your side, and this perfect, tiny miracle in your arms, knowing that there is nothing more important on earth than this creation of love …to feeling completely and utterly incapable.
One minute, I was glowing in a hospital bed, surrounded by flowers, listening to the quiet breathing of a sleeping newborn on my chest, with nothing but gratitude on my lips. And in the very next minute, I was leaking breast milk in my one bedroom apartment, surrounded by nipple cream, listening to the screaming of a hungry baby refusing to latch on, with nothing but “Holy crap, what have I done?”, on my lips.
THIS was not in my plan.
It wasn’t that being a mother made me feel like I was incapable. It was that I bought into the world’s definition of mothering success.
Have you seen the Kay Jewelers commercial for Mother’s Day? The beautiful mother who wakes up in her muted pastel pajamas, hair long and luxurious, skin flawless, and sunlight streaming through her bedroom window. She is rested. She is a goddess. She looks around for her newborn baby…gracefully gets out of bed, puts on her matching robe, walks into her spotless and well-furnished living room, where she finds her model handsome husband, also in fashionable pajamas, holding their new baby, smiling, eyes filled with love, having the most awesome moment ever. She looks at him, she smiles, and with baby in one strong arm, he reaches out his other…and hands her a diamond necklace. Remember when that same thing happened to you???
Yeah. Exactly. It didn’t! And it never will. But that is what I saw as the picture of good mothering. In magazines. On TV. Everywhere.
Clean house. Model husband. Good hair. And everyone in matching pj’s.
And I wanted that. And so I formed these expectations. I replaced God’s involvement in my mothering with the Barnes and Noble Parenting section and picture perfect images in Child Magazine. I focused more on how this picture of motherhood should look to others, rather than how it should feel to me. To my babies. To my husband. God’s ways went out, and the world’s ways went in, and I worshiped these expectations of mine. Expectations that ultimately, in the end, kill all relationships.
I saw the other moms, you know. The ones who looked so put together. So good. The ones in their SoHo apartments with their Kate Spade diaper bags. How did they manage motherhood and appear so in control? With their Starbucks coffee in their Peg Perego cup holder, and their hair so…washed. What was their secret?
I read the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue like it was the Bible. I wanted my kid to have every single thing in that darn magazine, and felt ashamed that we didn’t even have a spare room to serve as a nursery. I made sure I could fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans in record time, and wore a leather belt around my waist like a badge of honor. We had no money, but I signed my kids up for Gymboree and music classes, because that’s what all the other moms were doing, and at least it gave me some place to go. Some place to be seen. Because that happens to mothers, doesn’t it? I felt I could go days and never be seen.
I made sure we got to the park and the zoo and story time and swim lessons, even if it meant awkward subway rides with heavy strollers, and babies too small to even care if they were at the zoo or not. I filled my calendar with play dates and parties that would rival my best friend’s Bar Mitzvah. Our credit cards maxed out at Baby Gap and Old Navy, as “dressing my children well” was a direct indication of how good a mother I was. I made homemade baby food that I froze in ice cube trays, because Martha Stewart suggested this as a good thing, and I always listened to Martha.
I never slept, and never stopped, because I believed that a good mother didn’t rest. Or take time out for herself. Ever. That kind of mom was lazy, and clearly didn’t love her babies as much I loved mine. And I was pretty sure that my kids needed me more than other kids needed their moms. Not because my kids were not independent, but just because I was that good.
My husband would encourage my going out, buying me certificates for manicures, and making appointments for facials, and I would drag my feet getting out the door, and rush home fast, because what good mother leaves her baby to get a facial??? Plus, I never believed my husband could take care of our children as good as I could.
Never mind that my kid cried through the night for ten months straight, and refused to nurse, and wouldn’t take a bottle, and I was miserable and exhausted and really bitter towards my husband who got to leave and go to work and didn’t have nearly the physical reaction I would have to the sound of a crying baby. I did everything I thought a good mother was supposed to do. I did everything that I could to ensure I was enough. I went above and beyond. I was fulfilling my plan.
So why was I so unhappy? Why was I never enough?
Fifteen years later, after four beautiful kids, and by the grace of God, still married, I so clearly see what my problem was. I was so busy trying to be something I was not. Trying so hard to have control, and look as if I had it all together. So convinced that I needed to keep up with the trends, and the world’s idea of what a successful mother looked like. I was running so fast and working so hard at appearing important, and trying to do it all on my own, because I thought that being “Super Mom” was something I had to earn. I thought that once I had control over this mommy stuff, I would be enough. That finally, I would be seen.
The truth I now know is this. Whether or not my house is clean, my hair washed, or my kids dressed cute, or even dressed at all…my job is important. And God is in control. And He sees me. Always has. Always will.
You see, when I took God out of the picture and tried to mother on my own, that is the moment I failed. When I consulted everything and everybody about how I should raise my children, but didn’t ask God, that is when I became unhappy. But when I gave up trying to be enough, and surrendered to the truth that His grace is enough, a blanket of peace covered and comforted me like never before.
We think we can plan our lives…get married, have children, live happily ever after. We think we have control. Well, I have learned and lived enough life to know how false that is. The only one who holds our true plan, is Jesus Christ.
If I never decorate the perfect child’s bedroom…
If I never get the toys picked up, or the birthday invites out, or make homemade valentines…
If I never get to the park or the zoo…
If I never fit into my jeans again…
It is okay. Being enough for my children and feeling important is not about any of these things. It is about being present to them, and allowing God to use me for what He made me for; not for what I think I need to be.
If I want to be a good mother, I need to keep God close by my side, and the Pottery Barn Kids catalogue far away. I need to take myself out of the Kay Jeweler’s commercial, and place myself in God’s hands. I don’t need to prove I am Super Mom. Not to myself. Not to anyone. Because if God chose me to parent these four beautiful children, then He must think I am pretty super to begin with. I just need to be me. Fully present. Always trusting. Me.
And when the thoughts of failure and unworthiness start to creep back into my mind, I need to go back to that hospital, in New York City, on January 12, 1999. And I need to feel my husband beside me, and I need to see that tiny miracle placed in my arms for the very first time. And I need to remember that there is nothing more important on earth than this.
I am a mom. And these babies of mine are not mine; they belong to God. And I have no control at all. I have no idea how long I will have them for. I have no control over how long I will be here for them. And so I need to slow down, put perfection aside, throw out my plan, open my heart and arms wide, and never forget:
My job is important.
I will do what I can, I will just be me, and God will take care of the rest.
Tune in tomorrow for another installment of our Moms’ Night Out: A Real Life Look series!
Copyright 2014, Laura Phelps