I have been a mother a really long time now. Not yet half my life but almost. I often say being a mother is my favorite thing I have ever done. And it is, but not because it makes me happy. It does sometimes, but that’s not why it’s my favorite. And it’s not because it is so fulfilling, although it is in many ways. No, the reason it is my favorite is because it is the best gift God has ever given me. Before I became a mother I was smart, prideful, fearful, loving, people pleasing, independent and organized. I realize some of those are contradictory, but that is how women trend to be- a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses, talents and failures, beauty and scars. I generally liked myself a lot and thought I was very likable as well. After all, I was 15 lbs smaller and less wrinkled too. I knew I had some weaknesses but felt that my strengths balanced them out pretty well, and basically I could earn approval in spite of them.
19 years later, I am quite different than that younger woman who began the journey. My children, loving and caring for them, has radically changed me. It has truly been a gift to be a mom, not just because it feels good to love another person so much and with such intensity, but because it is like a fire God has used to refine me. Certainly there have been moments of great joy and hilarious fun, but the real blessing, when I look back, has come through the daily regular grind of caring for three little selves and learning to quit being one big selfish self.
So in no particular order, here are a few of the refinements my children have been catalysts for in my life:
Learning to quit caring so much about my looks. This one did not happen over night, but slowly I came to see that my external self is not really as significant as my younger self believed. Maybe it was changes from three c-sections, maybe it happened after being spit up on 7 million times, maybe the way my children have always thought I was beautiful, wrinkles and all; I think primarily it comes from realizing I cannot tell my children beauty is only skin deep, while they watch me panic over my reflection. If I wanted them to know their inner self was most valuable, I had to wrestle that truth for myself. It’s not that I don’t still desire to be beautiful, but motherhood has taught me to define beauty in a new way.
Humility. This one was painful. Unfortunately in my case, the path to humility came through moments of humiliation. I was shockingly sure of so many things before I gave birth. It took about 5 years into motherhood to begin to see my pride and judgement, and it was not comfortable. In fact, I still cringe occasionally when I remember some of my opinionated and arrogant statements. God used my children’s will and free choices to show me how little control I had, how often my great solutions would fail and how desperately I needed Him to do my job. Bumping into my own limits like lack of knowledge, tiredness, sinfulness and fear was surprisingly freeing. I began to realize it was okay to admit I do not have it all together and I could surrender to the One who holds me together.
Become a global thinker. Before children, these were my true thoughts about being an American and the rest of the world: So glad I was born here. Whew! Glad I get to enjoy life, liberty and happiness. That was it. It never occurred to me that I had any responsibility at all to really care about the rest of the world. But becoming a mother caused me to see poverty, slavery, war and even the environment anew. What if my babies lived in the poorest country instead of the wealthiest? What if we lived in a place ravaged by genocide or disease or mass air pollution? These are still hard questions for me, but I have learned to not get paralyzed by the overwhelming nature of these issues and do something, anything rather than turn a blind eye.
Quit fearing making a mistake. Children do not come with instruction manuals, as the cliche goes, and so I have made thousands of mistakes along the way. Some have been little, but some have been big enough to feel regret and pain over. My oldest and I were talking a year ago about how my people pleasing in his younger years impacted him negatively. I can look back and see how my over scheduled days made me cranky and irritable when he was moving slow or being childish. It taught him to feel guilty or fearful about having needs. If I could go back and reparent at that time, I surely would. But I have also learned a very freeing truth: children don’t need perfect parents. They need parents to point them to a perfect God who will never fail them. I certainly do my best to love my children well and in a way that shows them who God is, but I know I can’t do it perfectly and that’s really okay.