Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Unattainable

I loved being a student. I was a good learner; I was responsible, and I did well. Oh yes, I was one of those girls.  But I think what I liked best about it was the clarity I received as to how I was doing. The results of my labor were given neat little grades that to me didn’t really represent how much I had learned, they represented my identity. I was an ‘A’ student. Instant feedback on what kind of person I was. I lived for those little letters. And I gave myself permission to feel good or bad about myself based on them. And if I wasn’t sure how good I really was, there were those helpful teachers who posted the class standings. That was even better. Perfection was attainable. And it was all represented by a little “#1” next to my name.

Teaching was almost as good. We got evaluated twice a year, and there was a list of things we had to achieve. Those little checkmarks became the basis of whether or not I considered myself a good teacher. It was harder than being a student, not nearly so cut and dry, and there were a lot of things about teaching I was not naturally good at. But at least I knew what I had to attain to, and therefore I had a basis to determine whether I was a “good” or “bad” teacher.

I think this is why parenting is so hard for me. There are no grades, no report cards, no checklists. No standard by which to measure myself. What’s that you say? The Bible? Well, yes, that. But that’s so general. Love your children; discipline them; bring them up to know the Lord. Teach them Scripture. That’s not good enough, my heart says. How do I know what is enough?

My kids themselves don’t even help, really. At least in marriage, you know whether or not you are doing a good job being a wife, because your spouse makes it abundantly clear. But in parenting? Not with small children. Never has my child said to me, “Mommy, you’re spending too much time on the computer today.” “Mommy, I’m feeling neglected.” “Mommy, you need to be more creative.” They just accept. They tell you, “You’re my best Mommy.” And your heart melts. But then I think, Am I really the best Mommy? He doesn’t know any better.

So for lack of a checklist, I compare myself with others. Constantly evaluating. Are my children as obedient as hers? Am I as creative as that mom? Do I spend the same amount of time with my children as she does? The internet only makes it worse. Because now, instead of just comparing myself to the dozen or so moms in my circle, I now have the entire world with which to compare myself. The internet is full of perfect moms. Moms that do all kinds of things that I don’t do. Moms that create amazing art projects out of toilet paper and lint. Moms that make birthday cakes to look like a dollhouse with real working faucets. Moms that teach their kids French at age 2. Moms that have their kids butchering chickens and milking cows. Moms that make sensational scrapbooks for each and every year of their children’s lives. Moms that are better cooks than me. Better disciplinarians than me. Far more creative, with lots more energy. Moms that enjoy parenting more than I do. Even moms with better blogs than mine… Imagine that.

And what am I left with? Guilt. Constantly. Feeling like my kids deserve more.

I struggled with whether to write about this because I’m still in the middle of it. Usually I want to write about something I have struggled with, not with something I am struggling with. So that then I can delightfully end with a marvelous conclusion of how we all lived Happily Ever After and everyone can learn from my Great Example.

First of all, please don’t comment about what a great mother I am. That’s not what I am looking for. And truly, unless you have spent a day at my house as a fly on the wall, and I don’t know you are watching, you really don’t know what kind of mother I am. Only God and my children really know, and they won’t start talking about it until they are teenagers on instant messenger with their best friend. Or their therapist.

But I’m trying to find some kind of balance here. Guilt can be good. It can show me where I am being selfish and lazy and impatient. So I can’t totally ignore it. Because I am not anywhere near a perfect mother, by anyone's standards--let alone God's. But somehow I must come to peace with the fact that there never will be any grades or checklists or class standings. Even my own kids will not necessarily be an indication of the kind of mother I was. I could be a fabulous mother and still they could make bad choices. Or I could be a selfish mother and by God’s grace, they could turn out great. We’ve all witnessed both.

But I think that the most important thing God wants me to learn in this season of my life, is to get away from the checklist mentality. God doesn’t work by checklists. I could be satisfied with myself in school and as a teacher by those letters and checkmarks, but did I even consider God’s standards? Man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart. But it’s so easy to look on the outside when evaluating ourselves. But what about my heart?

And I know that is what matters. Is my heart unselfish with my children? Am I putting their needs above my own? Am I making choices that will please God and bring Him glory? Oh, but that’s so much harder to measure. And no one can measure it, except for God and how the Holy Spirit convicts me. And in all honesty, it forces me to be harder on myself than I really want to be. Can’t I just do these three things every day and be a good mom? Nope. Doesn’t work that way. God expects more than a checklist. His grace is always there, and my salvation is not based on my performance, but He will never be satisfied with sinful mediocrity in my heart.
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