I wonder if there are any moms out there who have never struggled with the expectation, placed there by herself or by someone else, to be SuperMom. Somehow I doubt it. I think it’s common to moms for some reason, and possibly most acute among Christian moms. We think we have to measure up to some elusive standard that is defined by some vague “They.” Have perfect, well-behaved kids and a perfect, well-maintained home. Cook perfect, well-balanced meals from scratch and keep a perfect, well-landscaped yard. Create perfect, well-embellished scrapbooks of every childhood milestone and have a perfect, well-sculpted body. Be married to a perfect, well-satisfied man and be a perfect, well-versed Bible scholar. We’re sometimes not even sure exactly what the standard is, we’re just fairly positive that we don’t meet it, and in trying to meet it, we run ourselves ragged and often drive our families insane. Any of this striking a chord? I know I’m not the only one.
There was actually a time, to my shame, that I didn’t struggle with the pressure to be SuperMom because I foolishly thought I already was. Then I had children. When I only had one, I realized that, okay, maybe everything wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought or go exactly according to the plot I had pre-arranged, but for the most part I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I could do this. Kid #2 came along during some stressful circumstances and the image I had of myself cracked a little bit but after being shaken I stood back up and reclaimed, in my own mind at least, my SuperMom status. I shudder to remember some of the instances that my arrogance was on glaring display around family or friends. Baby #3 also picked a stressful time to be born and for a few months I kind of fell apart. But even then, after the initial new baby stage calmed down, even though things weren’t perfect, I still had the attitude of “We got this. We are good enough parents that we don’t need any help from anyone else.” Honestly, living so far from home and having very few friends, not much help was available for the day-to-day stuff of life. Because of this, and because of the circumstances of Clay’s job having him out of the home so much, I pretty much had to make do on my own, and looking back I can see how this just reinforced the belief that making do on my own was exactly what I should be doing. After all, these were our kids. We made the choice to have them, we could take care of this family we had created, and we could do it on our own. So if one kid had a doctor’s appointment, I just took all the kids. On the rare occasion that I needed to be somewhere during the day, Clay scheduled his work around it so that he could be home, or I took all the kids with me. We made do. This way of thinking continued through the arrival of Child #4 and into the first few months after our move to Salem.
Then a couple of things happened.
One, we began to learn about small-town life. I grew up in Somerset, and Clay lived there long enough to claim it, and we used to say we lived in a small town. I still constantly hear Somerset referred to as a small town. Somerset people, you do not live in a small town. Most of you have not been to Salem. Let me tell you a few things about it: there are no stop lights here. There are only two banks and two gas stations. There are no used car lots (I know that one will sound shocking to anyone who is used to Highway 27). There is not a school in Salem. As a matter of fact, there are only four public schools for all of Livingston County, preschool through high school. And Salem is not a small town surrounded by a big town like Ferguson, or even a small town right outside a big town like Burnside, Nancy, Shopville, or Science Hill. We are a 45 minute drive from the closest Walmart. (That one always finally opens people’s eyes to the smallness of our town.) This was our first introduction to authentic small town life and authentic small town people. Here’s one of the first things we learned about small town people: they help you. Most of the time they don’t even ask if you want them to help you. I would go to the nursery to get my kids after church and someone would have already brought the older girls there to meet me while someone else was gathering up my Bible and diaper bag. I couldn’t figure out for a few weeks why people were following me to the van after every service; I thought they were still just amazed that we had four kids and were trying to see how they all fit. Then I realized, they were just making sure we made it okay and waiting to see if I needed help. At fellowship meals, drinks would magically appear on our table and arms would be reaching for my baby before I even realized whose arms they were as I heard, “I’ll hold him, you go get food for your family.” They helped.
Now, here’s another shameful confession, and knowing how many of my helpful friends will be reading this post, this is very humiliating to publish: Because I was so caught up in the thinking that these were my kids and I needed to do everything for them by myself, I resented this help. There were some days that it drove me crazy. I would get in the van, and immediately begin complaining about the people who didn’t think I could take care of my own kids. Clay would say, “They’re just trying to be helpful.” My response: “I don’t need help.” My attitude: “I’m SuperMom.” Oh, how arrogant. We’ve been here 2 1/2 years now and that attitude has slowly changed. Why? Mainly because of the other “thing” that happened.
I had Silas. Our family of six became a family of seven. Four kids became five. Silas proved wrong what people had always told me about big families: that once you get past two or three, it’s not that big a deal to keep adding kids. This is not always true. I thought it was until last year. Our first two babies were pretty easy. Our second two babies were super easy. Silas is not easy. The past nine months with Silas, it has seemed like I have been holding my breath wondering if we finally have him figured out only to realize that nope, he’s still a mystery. Nine months of waking up two and three times a night will wear any mom out. Add that to four other kids, two of whom I am homeschooling, and the image I had of myself in my SuperMom cape started to become a little more shattered every day. Suddenly, small tasks became huge. Getting the children from their classrooms to the van after church really was something I could no longer do singlehandedly. Fellowship meals are almost not worth the effort anymore. I learned to multi-task even more–homeschooling while nursing, solving arguments from inside the shower, moving all the dressers into one “dressing room” to make dressing and laundry more functional. But I was starting to realize with an irrational sense of shame that I couldn’t do it all by myself anymore. I actually needed the help that I had resented all along.
Now, why the shame? That’s what I’ve been working on for the past several months. Because shame is exactly what I’ve been feeling. I started gratefully accepting the help–help out to the van, help getting kids to the separate places they needed to be, help at church functions when Clay was busy, much more frequent baby-sitting than we’ve ever needed before. But even as I realized that I needed help and was thankful for the people that were graciously helping me, I felt ashamed over the fact that I wasn’t able to do it alone. Even asking Clay to do more of what I considered “my jobs” made me feel ashamed. My shame played out in various ways. I would think of all the criticism and negative views toward large families and think that by not being able to do everything alone, I was just solidifying the perception that we had too many kids. I was convinced that I was a poor testimony to large families everywhere. I would also play the comparison game. My house wasn’t as clean as her house, or my kids weren’t as calm as her kids, or I didn’t serve as much in the church as she did, or I didn’t spend as much time listening to sermons or reading good books as she did. I failed to see, at that time, that her kids were at school all day and she was alone and able to actually clean her house, whereas the bulk of my day is taken up by homeschool and childcare. Or that her kids had personalities that were the complete opposite of mine and they were just quiet all the time by nature. Or that her kids were much older than mine, freeing her up to pursue more avenues of service. Or again, that her kids were in school and she actually had an hour or two to listen to a sermon or read a couple chapters. I am beginning to let myself see those things now, but comparing for so long just convinced me that I was a failure. Funny, in a few short months my image of SuperMom turned into an image of FailureMom and I didn’t even notice the transition.
But that, I think, is the root source of the shame. Because I thought I had to be SuperMom. I thought I was supposed to do it all alone. I thought that to accept help was to admit defeat. If I couldn’t do it by myself, I had failed. Oh, how foolish. Oh, how arrogant and prideful. FailureMom is just as arrogant as SuperMom. To be so convinced that I needed to do everything by myself that I felt ashamed to ask for help was just as prideful as thinking I was doing great on my own. We moms get caught up in thinking we have to do it all, and do it all well. I can spend all day just loving on my kids and talking with them and playing with them, and feel guilty at the end of the day because my house isn’t clean. The next day I will spend all day getting the house in shape and then feel guilty for not spending enough time with the kids. And on the days that I actually have the house picked up and everything put away, and do great with school and actually play with them a little–I’m still not satsfied because I didn’t get to the dusting or scrubbing. Or because we went out for supper instead of me cooking. Or because I didn’t have a quiet time. Or this. Or that. When I’m in FailureMom mode I can always ignore what got done and focus on the ever-present list of what didn’t get done. Because I think I have to do it all. Anything short of all is failure. Hence, the shame.
So what’s the answer? How do I toss both my SuperMom cape and my FailureMom rags and just enjoy life? I think there is a practical answer, as well as a theological answer. First, practically speaking, I am coming to the realization that I need help sometimes, and that’s okay. Hillary might have meant the government when she said, “It takes a village,” but take the government out of it and she’s right. It does take a community of support to raise a family. Grandparents, relatives, friends, church family–they’ve all been crucial in the raising of my children. The people here in our community who have gone out of their way to help us out are the ones that my kids love like family. They beg to have these people over and greet them with running tackle-hugs whenever they see them. My acceptance of their help not only helps me accomplish some specific task, but has the broader result of expanding the circle of adults that my kids can love and trust. I am not a failure because I need help. No mom is. We all need help on this journey of child-rearing. Letting people help me may indeed mean that I’m not SuperMom, but it doesn’t make me FailureMom.
Finally, and addressing the real heart of the issue, I am learning to preach to myself the truth of who I am in Christ, and what Christ has done for me. I am learning to live the gospel. I’ve danced around this topic a few times in recent months, and I keep dancing around it because the Holy Spirit keeps opening my eyes to the gospel a little bit more. Christ died for me. It is finished. We often proclaim one side of the “It is finished” coin when we tell people that there is nothing they could do to take away Christ’s love for them, no sin they could commit that would take away His forgiveness. I had that side down. But I have been neglecting the other side of the coin, and I think deep down all aspiring SuperMoms are neglecting it as well. The flip side of “It is finished” is that there is nothing I can do to add to what Christ has done for me. All my SuperMom scrambling was, deep down, an attempt to measure up. On one level I was trying to measure up to the perceived expectations of others and that’s a whole other fish to fry. But on a deeper level I was trying to measure up to what I thought God wanted from me. Perfection. How silly to forget that I already have perfection. Christ not only took away my sin on the cross but He gave me His perfect righteousness. For me to run myself ragged trying to be perfect on my own is to say that He didn’t do enough. Of course I should strive for holiness, but I was making my own list of what that should look like. I’m pretty sure that as long as I’m walking in the Spirit, walking in righteousness, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, then God doesn’t mind if my mirrors are streaked or my cabinets are dusty or if Pizza Hut cooks my dinner tonight.
So here’s where I am these days. I’m still going to shoot for the moon, but quit crawling in the dust when I miss. And I’m going to let other people help me on my way to the moon. I’m not SuperMom. Not even close. But I’m not FailureMom either. I’m just Mom. And that’s all I want to be.