This morning I am sharing at a local MOPS gathering. I wrote of this in a previous post and promised to share some of my own thoughts…once I collected them. The subject of “valuing motherhood” caused me to seriously pause and think. But friends, I surprised myself. :) When I sat down to pen my thoughts I found several themes leaping from the paper. I decided to share just one of them today or else I would leave you with a novel. (Many of you are mothers, you barely have time to sit and pee–alone.) I also found that the words you all shared with me in the comments section, or via email, wove in and out of my own. You will find a couple sprinkled here today. I will share more of my thoughts, and yours, in later posts.
So, are you ready?
Here I go…
I value motherhood because it revealed the stories that I lived by and challenged me to accept God’s invitation to wholeness.
I have always thought that being married was sort of like standing in front of a mirror, challenging me to take a good look at myself–beauty, flaws, and all. If you are in a relationship, you know what I mean by this. Your loved ones bring out the best and the worst in you. It is pretty difficult to hide your “stuff” (though some are fairly adept at doing so).
But having a child?
Friends, it’s like standing in front of a dressing room three-way mirror. The kind you see on What Not to Wear. (Though wasn’t that more like a mirrored box?)
That lovely back side? Ugh. Do I really want to see what my toosh looks like in those jeans? Yes! Well, not really. Denial is much more easier, right? I would rather work hard at fluffing up the front side. I mean, that’s the side most people see…unless you enter every room backwards.
Something Michelle wrote rang true for me. She wrote, ”….I realize how much motherhood is an extension of learning. I also value that God made sure I got these two specific kids to teach me some very specific things I needed to learn.”
And oh how I need to learn!
So it is not a surprise that when my first born son grew out of his cute baby stage and entered into the toddler realm and began to exhibit a will and personality, with all of the emotions attached to them, I found myself standing in front of that three-way mirror. I watched myself reacting to his behavior in a manner that reflected the narratives that I believed. In other words, my reactions and consequent behavior revealed an inner dialogue of mine that, like that three-way mirror, forced me to acknowledge my back side. It wasn’t pretty.
What were the stories I told myself?
Emotions are super roller coaster-like scary and should be tightly controlled, lest you come undone. Coming undone is unattractive and shows that you are imperfect. This makes you vulnerable, and vulnerability is uncomfortable.
Who I am is dependent on what others think and feel towards me. I don’t have a beginning and an end.
These revelations completely shredded my pride. I had all the training from my Child Development degree, countless hours in classrooms, summer camps, and other child related jobs, and yet all of my “training” in how to “work” with children could not prepare me for raising my own and the work it would do in flushing out the truth of my warped beliefs. You can sort of pretend with other people’s kids, but you cannot pretend with your own.
Recently I had the honor of attending a seminar on “imperfect parenting” by the amazing Brene Brown. Her research findings in the area of shame and vulnerability is profound. (You can watch her TED talk here.) Needless to say, I wrote volumes of notes in the hour and half I sat and listened to her speak. But the one thing she wanted to make clear over and over to us in the audience was that–
You cannot give to your children what you do not have. Your “stuff” always seeps out the cracks.
I know this is not necessarily a novel idea, nor was it for me at the time, but for some reason it rang that much more truer after twelve years of parenting. We can continue to live in the unawareness of our back sides by avoiding the three-way mirror. We can pretend that the stories we live by do not really influence our own children’s development, or our other relationships, for that matter. We can even attempt, with all our might, to bring up our children in a shame-free environment without having to attend to our own shame. But the truth (and research) says that our stories will always seep through the cracks. They are the filters by which we see and react. And they especially find their way out of our hearts when we are put in the pressure cooker.
Thought it has been difficult, I have valued motherhood because it showed me that my stories were flawed (deeply) and that if I wanted to raise healthy, whole children who live by truthful, whole-hearted stories, then I needed to take a good long look in that three way mirror.
Healing, for me, centered around my personal faith. I could not get around those narratives any other way.
When I began to see the stories I lived by, I took them to God. (Well, and a great therapist who helped point me in that direction.) At times I definitely felt uncomfortable and confused. I often lived in what I called an emotional black hole: the universe of my emotions swirled in one big undefined mass towards a exit point–which usually consisted of a melt down. How could I swim out?
In going to God I initially thought that my growth and change would come about by “doing” more, adding more to make up for what I lacked. Instead I found that wholeness came from eradicating the roots, like a cancer. And as you know, a cancer patient is never fully well until all traces of the disease are destroyed. Yes, a cancer patient might add changes to her life to help shrink the cancer (like taking mega does of vitamins and herbs, changing a diet, trying acupuncture) but nothing will make her completely well until that cancer is plucked clean from the place it hides.
So God met (and still meets me) at my stories and instead of asking me to “be better” or “do more” he gently surgically removes them and replaces them with the truth…not in a magical one day transformation, but in a daily exchange of coming to him with the old story and replacing it with the new.
Here are my new stories that I daily cling to….
I am an emotional being. I was created this way by a very intentional God. Feelings are not the truth–they simply reveal what I believe to be true at the time. They make me human. Vulnerability is the opening of my heart so that I may connect with another, thus creating intimacy.
Others are emotional beings. You cannot change their feelings. Many of my arguments with my kids and husband used to center around my anger at their feelings–because feelings are scary–and therefore I would try to defend myself in the hope that their emotions would move to a place where I liked them. Futile! It has been freeing to let others have their emotions, rather than entering the drama by taking ownership of them. It is a daily effort to own my stuff and let others have theirs.
I am loved deeply, AS IS by a good and gracious God, regardless of what others feel and say about me at any given time. Christ defines who I am (loved and forgiven). Nobody else has the authority to define me–so I have the choice to stop giving out permission.
I really loved what Rebekah said….”One of the hardest parts has been realizing that I don’t need to make my motherhood a “do-over” of how my mother was with me. That’s also been a blessing because I am free to be the mother my sons and daughter need for THEM not for MYSELF. And I am trying to remember to tell them they are loved – not BECAUSE they are beautiful, smart and talented but simply BECAUSE they are MINE. I want them to be secure in my love and in God’s - knowing that no matter what they do or don’t do, how they look or don’t look that my love for them never changes. The thing I treasure most about motherhood? - Learning these things for myself about how God loves me.”
When I stop to think about this all, I am moved by the gracious hand of God to lovingly use my children to bring about healing by rewriting my stories. Even though it has not been easy, I am grateful for the work of wholeness because ultimately it means my children (and their children) will inherit stories that are life-giving, freer, healthier. This is what I value above all else.
It is my single hope that by sharing my back side that you will be encouraged to bravely stand and look at your own. I know it ain’t a pretty process. Honestly, the path to wholeness is tough and grueling work. I know that for some, just writing your stories down might be the biggest, bravest, thing you do…because it makes them real. You cannot deny real.
I value motherhood for revealing my stories, not because it was enjoyable or fun, but because it gave my children a mother who is healthier today than when they first arrived on this planet.