It was supposed to be a simple trip to Target.
But as I pushed the cart down the main aisle toward the drinks, I saw it.
Suddenly I was transported back in time and could recall the old familiar feelings of anxiety like they were yesterday.
What did I see? The school supply display.
The entire back corner of the store … transported into a wonderland of backpacks, composition books, and expo markers. Normally, an exhibition such as this would evoke feelings of excitement. I mean, who wouldn’t want a leopard print pencil pouch or be mesmerized by an.entire.display of sharpies!
But for years, that was NOT the reaction I had at this mid-point in the summer break.
When these colorful gizmos showed up en masse, it meant that time had marched on and the sweet days of summer were closing in on me.
And summer was supposed to be my season of redemption ~ when I would make up for things undone and memories not made during the other nine months.
Never enough time
You see, I spent years oscillating between stressing that I wasn’t doing enough to train my children and obsessing over not having enjoyed them sufficiently.
I was always doing the math.
When they turned nine, I thought about how half of my time with them at home was over. When their sixth grade year came to a close, I mulled over the end of the first half of their school years.
I feared that I’d never get the mother thing right and they would leave my home remembering all the times I yelled or magnified a molehill into a mountain. There were days when they were little that I’d put them in bed at night and fall into the arms of my husband in tears, sobbing over all the ways I failed that day.
I was a planner but that often worked against me, as I always had in writing the evidence of what I had NOT accomplished. My youngest published a post just today where she said:
“And here’s what I’ve discovered about plans.
They breed anxiety and discontentment as fast as two bunnies.”
I get that. Maybe you do too. Being intentional is good. But stuffing the list full of unrealistic goals and plans almost paralyzed me as a mom.
Standing there in Target this week, I thought about how much I would have loved to hear words from a mom who remembered what it felt like, but had gotten far enough down the path to assure me it would get better.
So just in case there are other moms out there who identify with this struggle, here’s a little of what I would have wanted to hear.
1. You are not alone
You may resist the anxiety better than I did in my younger years, but I would be surprised to hear you say, “I am always at peace, never overwhelmed, and rarely undone.”
More likely …
- Time feels like your worst enemy. Every time you turn around, it seems your child is celebrating another birthday.
- You rebuke yourself for losing control at times, recommit to less technology and more snuggles, and yet still feel like you just can’t “get it right.”
- You may even fear that disappointment and your downfalls will be their only takeaway when they reflect on their childhood.
The majority of moms wrestle with some measure of these feelings.
But here’s the secret of the sisterhood: You don’t have to get it perfect and it’s not all up to you.
God uses imperfect people, failed attempts, and outright disobedience
to develop character in His people.
You’ve seen this in your children.
Remember it applies to your parenting.
2. How you feel today is not how you’ll feel in a decade
I messed up a lot as a mom. But when my kids recount stories of their childhood, they remember moments when I got it right. Praise Jesus.
And they make me feel like a much better mom than I ever imagined possible or believe is actually true.
The hard stuff faded into the background.
This includes the memories of:
… apprehension about the major decisions that affected their future,
… doubt about the minor decisions that affected their social status,
… heartache over their sins and uncertainty about our responses,
… anguish over my failures and the lies the enemy held over my heart, and
… fears that a decade of chronic illness would be the only thing they remembered.
I still “know” the hard happened,
but I don’t “feel” about it like I did when I was experiencing it.
And what’s more, the sweet parts emerged in the foreground, highlighted and emphasized.
In hindsight, the precious times really DID outweigh the difficult moments and by God’s mercy, that’s the majority of what I remember.
3. You don’t yet have tomorrow’s grace
You may sometimes wonder how you are going to deal with high school graduation or sending them on to college or marrying them off to someone else when you still cry at movies of their childhood.
I feared I might continually regret that I didn’t savor enough or document enough or be there enough or remember and reflect enough.
(And don’t even get me started on the guilt trips those evil unfinished scrapbooks caused.)
But then the milestones happened. Two graduated high school and then college. One got married.
There were tears. Sweet memories were resurrected. And I realized the regrets had dissolved and the fears disappeared.
And now we talk and strategize together. They ask our advice, come to us with their pain, and seek us out to share in their joy.
And I don’t mind that they aren’t still cuddly and cute.
Something I’ve learned along the way is this:
I can’t imagine how I’ll handle tomorrow because I don’t yet have tomorrow’s grace and perspective.
I only have enough for today.
The same is true for you — whatever stage of parenting you are in.
4. Perfection is not the goal
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Those who are concerned about doing it right are the ones who probably are most of the time.
Yes. If there’s something you need to lay before God, then do it.
Take it to Him daily and ask Him to help you improve in that area or resist the temptation. He.Is.Faithful to answer those prayers.
But remember that perfection is not the goal — progressive sanctification is. And most progress is imperfect.
And while you’re at it…
Let summer off the hook if you hung huge hopes on it like I always did.
Identify what MOST matters to you. Focus on that one thing and let the rest happen or not happen, but don’t let it define you as a mom or this season as a success.
5. This is hard
This I know: When you think it’s not supposed to be hard, it gets harder. And if you think you’re alone in the harder, that’s when it’s the hardest.
So take heart. The fact that you know it’s hard indicates you’re taking it seriously.
Mothering is kingdom work, so you are up against the kingdom’s enemies.
If it feels like you are always fighting a battle, it’s because you are.
Recognize that the most strategic battlefield is in your own mind. The enemy knows that if he can undermine your confidence, he will thwart your efforts.
You must remember that you are never alone in this fight. With God on your side, you are never outnumbered. Those children are His and so are you. He will empower you to hold your ground and when you’ve done all else, to stand.
And one last thing. Those of us on the other side are rooting for you and standing with you.
You mothers of littles and middles are on my heart this week. As you can read, my Target experience propelled me back a decade and God used it to resurrect sincere feelings of empathy. If I can pray for you personally, please contact me through the message feature on the Facebook page.
Embracing the journey,