A few months ago, I overheard my daughter Kristen talking over the phone with her friend. She beamed as she relayed how I had accepted her not-so-good grades with calm and composure. She explained that she was expected to work hard and give it her best shot, but that it was okay if things didn’t turn out the way she’d hoped for.
That felt good. But it wasn’t always this way!
When Kristen began pre-school, I felt compelled to see her succeed. The impulsive perfectionist within me believed success in school meant success in life. But all through kindergarten, Kristen couldn't hold a pen nor read or color as a child her age should. I panicked. I worried. And I beat myself up.
Why isn’t she like the other kids? What’s wrong with me?
Am I Enough?
A recent survey revealed that 60% of 13,000 moms interviewed experienced deep guilt in the first year of parenthood. The pungent idea of "not enough" in our earn-your-way-up culture has a well-intentioned way of saying, "Life is hard, but you’ve got this because you’re a strong independent woman."
While that may seem uplifting to women, it is not the full truth.
We were made to be flawless crowns of creation. We were meant for higher things than just “enough.” We were meant to live in perfect harmony with God. But sin encroached creation and we became distorted versions of ourselves.
We are not enough—not in ourselves.
When we’ve tucked the kids in bed and still have laundry to do, when we’re lying awake at night but have that report to complete, when we’re toggling between the manic and mess of motherhood, it’s okay to recognize our "not-enoughness" before a God who desires to pour out nothing but endless reserves of His grace.
Illusions of Control
Over the years, I began to understand how my unrealistic expectations were, in fact, false illusions of control. I began to recognize dysfunctional patterns resulting from the way I was parented. As I came to grips with this humbling reality, I encountered a freedom to profess a larger truth: it is okay that I am not enough.
Creating expectations of how life should turn out can open our hearts for disappointment. This is where Satan would want us to entertain that dangerous thought: Where is God in all this?
We can end up justifying and distancing ourselves from God, reducing our relationship with Him merely to items on a checklist. I prayed, I served, I cooked, I cleaned.
But do I want a life that is safe, predictable, and goes by the book? Or do I want a story that pushes me to rely on Him?
As a mom, I am not always discerning enough to know what is the highest good of my children. But I can rest knowing that God does. My children know how to push my buttons, but God isn’t fazed by pushed buttons. When I mess up, I don’t have to brush away my sin with self-glorifying platitudes. I can run, I can turn to Him in my not-enoughness to find more-than-enough grace and mercy to carry on.
Mothering a Prodigal
A few years ago, parents of a young man visited our home. The mother sketched years of heartbreak recounting her oldest son’s waywardness. My heart broke as she lamented over her prodigal’s wasted years. Guilt loomed large as she remembered how fervently she had prayed for him and how she had doubled all her efforts to see him return to the heart of God.
But the truth is: our protecting, trusting, hoping, and persevering don’t exempt us from living with grief and concern. There is pain this side of eternity, a result of the Fall and not necessarily our failure. The oft-quoted words of Proverbs 22:6, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray,” is not an exemption but an exhortation to be consistent with our plea before Heaven, an invitation to go deeper as intercessors.
The addictive lifestyles, moral abandonment and anaemic faith are reasons for worry. I know, as a mother, how tempting it is to fix everything. I want to protect. I want my children to encounter Christ and radically change the world. But as noble as those thoughts are, I also know that faith is a personal journey. I cannot protect at all times, but I can pray.
As we prayed that evening, the fog lifted and this grieving mother was able to see past the immediacy of her pain and capture instead a glimpse of her son as a searching and wandering soul whom Jesus loved dearly. She resolved to stop focusing on her son's choices and start focusing on God's compassion for Him instead. And she (and I) recognized that she needed to subsume her role as tormented mother under that of being a trusting daughter—waiting, leaning, surrendering—before a God in whose presence there is extravagant love.
A Mother Who Understands
Mary’s traditional title Theotokos or “God-bearer” underscores what Scripture tells us: Jesus is both Divine and human. The Holy One had her DNA and blood running through His veins. This great mystery invites us to ponder deeply on what it means for a woman to bear God—a task not just reserved for mothers but anyone who desires to carry Jesus, to become a vessel of God’s goodness to the world.
When Mary said yes, she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and brought to the deepest levels of her poverty.
Mary understands unmet expectations.
In Mary, we see a woman braving the harshness of pregnancy, taking the arduous trip to Bethlehem and battling the terrifying flight to Egypt. In Mary, we see a mother light up as she watches Jesus grow in wisdom, heal the sick, and raise the dead all the while knowing that the "sword" she has treasured in her heart all these years will soon be cast out: the Cross will come.
Mary’s choice to “bear God” is not without suffering. And neither is ours.
Every day, children with the best sort of spiritual and moral instruction run away from home, become alcoholics, get addicted to drugs, break windows, and commit suicide. Every day the stones within our walls cry out with stories of losses and longing, for healing and for deliverance.
The suffering we bear is real, but so is our glorious responsibility as mothers.
We are part of a reality beyond the borders of our homes and the peripheries of our desires. We bear the suffering of others. We suffer with mothers estranged at refugee camps, we unite with those grieving beside frail sick bodies and we join with those on the margins—the vulnerable, the elderly, the homeless, the broken-hearted—bearing God, bringing Hope, living in trusting expectancy.
The Sum of the Father's Love
There is pain on this side of eternity. There is hope, too. We don’t have to wait until eternity to see with eternal eyes. Our King stands before us now, holding our drooping hands, strengthening our feeble knees, comforting our broken hearts. He is for us. He is with us carrying us through all the mysteries of motherhood even when we cannot see.
Kristen is now several inches taller than me. I quake with gratitude seeing how loving and strong she’s turned out—a work of Grace, not my doing. She is not the sum of her "grades," she is the sum of the Heavenly Father’s love for her. I can rest in this truth. And I can find comfort knowing that in embracing my daily, cumbersome, inefficient crosses, I only join Him, whose burial culminates in glorious Resurrection. It is He who does exceedingly abundantly more than I could ever hope or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
How have you faced unmet expectations in motherhood?