Imperfect Mothering

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mothers Day has me thinking…

I sometimes wonder how I might have mothered differently if we had waited to have children.

I was young.

On my twenty-first birthday, barely a month after my wedding, I stared down at two pink positive lines.  Elated and overwhelmed tears mingled.

It was no surprise to anyone else….everyone knew I wanted babies.  But I hadn’t even figured out the being-a-wife thing.  The “honeymoon” phase was short lived.  By our first anniversary, we had 2 month old twins!  I began the year “playing house” as the young blushing bride, and soon felt the gravity of this new life when the cumulative sleep depravation set in from all night cluster-feedings with our double-trouble first borns.  What followed were foggy consecutive years of pregnancy, breastfeeding, baby wearing, trans-Atlantic moves, and sleepless nights for two naively happy but tired parents.  Having babies may be the most selfless thing any of us choose to do.  It rattles your sanity, shakes out your selfishness and annihilates your independence.  When Evie arrived, we knew the blessing and burden of 5 children 5-years-old and under.  Thats a cumulative 3 years of pregnancy and many months of breastfeeding!!  Hormones took a toll and tears were often unexplainable.  Our marriage struggled under the weight of responsibility and I found that some unresolved hurt in my heart came percolating to the top with the pressure of parenting.

I have many happy memories of the early years, but I was young and emotionally ill-equipped.  I look back at times with waves of regret over not doing things perfectly and introspective refection of how Id do it differently all over.  I know the things Id change.  I think Id slow down and be a more fun mom for my kids.  Its easy to convince myself Id do it better if I was starting now.  Part of me wishes Id “gotten my act together” before bringing babies into my mess.  Would I have done it all right, made fewer mistakes, been a healthier individual and shepherded their hearts more intentionally if Id been older, wiser, more mature?  It strikes me tho that having kids is much like the decision to marry….you’re never really “ready”.  Waiting for that mark of distinction and certainty of preparedness can be a dangerous dabbling and would likely result in none of us ever procreating.  12 years into parenting I realize yes, there are things I could have done better, but you never actually arrive.  Motherhood is not a position we are qualified for, but a calling He equips us for as we go.

As is so often true of the biblical examples we have of those God calls for a special purpose, we don’t have a blueprint for where we are going and what is expected.  Those He calls He often doesn’t tell where they are going or for what He is going to use them.  He simply asks them to follow.  The bible has a rich history of women and men who are used for special purposes for which they have precious little training and ability for.  Motherhood is that; a calling!  A high calling.  A rewarding calling.  Being called doesn’t necessarily equate to preparedness, but willing, imperfect instruments who acknowledge their reliance on Him are those He chooses to use.  I tell myself that maybe if Id read more books or attended a different seminar, then I could have avoided imperfect mothering.

But my heart knows better.

My heart tells me that Im coming at this all the wrong way.  God doesn’t need me to produce perfect children. Im not even guaranteed that if I do everything right, the result will be healthy, happy, wise, independent, selfless, contributing, godly kids.  If only it were as simple as a vending machine  – put in a quarter, push a button, get what you paid for.    Perhaps my perspective on what God intends to accomplish through mothering is all backwards…….What if God is using my kids to refine in me that which needs the grace of Christ to pervade in my heart because I can’t muster up the strength on my own to “do it right”.  God is using this high calling of motherhood to graciously reveal my need for his saving grace….daily!

And in regards to qualification…..pfft…..who of us are actually really “qualified”?  Do you know any mothers with degrees in nursing, entertainment, nutrition, psychology and culinary arts?  Waiting for the right credentials to be a mom would mean putting off parenting for a long time.

Talking to a couple whom I attended a birth for recently gave me some perspective.  They were a month out from delivery, and dealing with the same insecurities and emotions I vividly remember from our early days as parents.  The difference was, they had waited until they were “ready”.  They’d meticulously calculated when a baby would fit into their lives and plans and moves and careers.  And they emphasized the added strain of reacquainting themselves with each other.  Even after several years of marriage, their relationship had changed so drastically with the arrival of a baby.  The dynamics in their relationship they found was having to change.  They were working hard….and loved each other dearly….but growing pains hurt!  It was validating to know that even the best laid plans still produce the same result….moms who need a lot of grace and a lot of coffee.

And for that Im grateful….C and I never had the luxury of leisure to overcome.  Having babies while we were young meant we never did get set in a routine of sleeping in on the weekends and personal time wasn’t something we’d developed a huge appetite for.  The pressure of parenting and the strain it puts on any marriage gave us the opportunity to deal with a lot that could have lied dormant if we’d waited until we were “ready” to have kids.


So Im grateful.  Even as I try to suppress the doubts that crop up at times about how I could have been a better mom and made fewer mistakes, Im so thankful for the 12 blessedly-imperfect years Ive been honored to have them call me mommy.  I wouldn’t want it any other way.  My kids haven’t read any parenting books so they don’t know (yet) what a “perfect” mom is supposed to look like.  They graciously forgive my shortcoming, cut me more slack than I cut myself, and love me unconditionally.  Grateful for this messy, taxing, beautiful, rewarding, grace-led calling of imperfect mothering.


  • Laurie O'Connor says:

    Made me cry, my dear. All true. You know the truth. God picked the timing of each little one. Each of them was His decision for you…and them. I comfort myself with the truth that His sovereignty is also sovereign over my learning curve. If one of my children truly needed me to have learned something at a particular time, then God would have made sure I learned it by then. Meanwhile, as God uses struggle to grow each of us, sometimes I am the struggle He uses in my kids. (How can we learn forgiveness without someone to forgive? Alas, sometimes the offender is me. I hate that.)

    I love you, Mandy. Love you. And I love the large, messy, lovely, imperfect, perfect brood called your family. 🙂

    • cmsmity says:

      Thank you sweet Laurie! These are deep trenches somedays. Thanks for the reminders that the hard lessons I still need to learn, he is sovereign over and will be sufficient for my kids even in my insufficiency!

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