What comes to mind when you think of Mother’s Day?
From my experience - thoughts on Mother’s Day fall somewhere along an extremely wide spectrum. You have those who consider their moms’ their best friends, and you have those who don’t even know who their mom is. You have those who have felt rejected by their moms and have an extremely rocky - or no relationship, and those who couldn’t go a day without talking to their moms.
For those of us who are moms, we might think of our own mothering experiences. Some might reflect lovingly on the joy their children bring them, while others feel overwhelmed by regret, or feelings of betrayal from their kids. Some moms grieve the loss of expectations they had for their child because of disability, life choices, illness, or even death.
So today in honor of Mother’s Day, I want to talk to the moms, regardless of where you are on that spectrum. I’m not going to try to convince you that motherhood should feel like a sunny picnic in a field of daisies. Because the pain and struggle is real. But I’m also not going to shy away from sharing my perspective that motherhood holds some of life’s greatest beauty, power and joy.
When my husband and I first got married we were so excited for the adventures that awaited us. We were thrilled at the opportunity to be parents, but also apprehensive. For various reasons my husband was especially cautious about entering that phase of life. We had gotten married young so I didn’t feel any rush, but by five years in, I was wondering if it would ever happen! Motherhood had always been a high priority for me. I longed for those blissful moments of rocking my precious babies to sleep and celebrating with them when they took their first steps. I couldn’t wait to share my love with babies of my own.
Finally, one week after our sixth anniversary, our first child was born. I wanted nothing more than to completely devote myself to her so I quit my job in San Francisco’s busy financial district and became a full-time stay at home mom. It was my dream come true, something I had longed for for as long as I could remember. But, even though pinterest wasn’t around yet to inflate my expectations, I soon found out that there was plenty to be discouraged about and overwhelmed by. Turns out, motherhood is pretty hard.
So how do you feel when you hear quotes like this? “All that I ever am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” - Abraham Lincoln
Sometimes it’s hard to hear words like those because I know full well all of my faults and weaknesses, and my struggle to keep up with everything my kids need. I feel pangs of guilt when I yell at my kids or prioritize social media over them. When my kids criticize or blame each other I think back to my moments of weakness and realize where they learned that from. Those guilty moments are bad enough, but even worse are the times when I am too angry to feel guilty; when my heart feels momentarily cold and withdrawn.
Of course motherhood is going to come with tremendous challenges and opposition, because there is so much riding on it! Back in the 1800s, William Ross Wallace wrote a poem about how the “hand that rocks the cradle is the hand the rules the world.” I believe that. I also believe that nothing I ever accomplish in my life will be as profoundly influential as the role I play in the lives of my children.
Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “Women are the real architects of society.”
Neal A. Maxwell said, “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”
I believe it will.
Someone who spends time on the development of a child’s character influences generations… Every person in the world has a mother who who had an effect on their character.
So how are you influencing your child’s character? Are you the kind of mom you want to be? I believe that whether we find beauty and joy in our role as mothers depends on the expectations we create for ourselves. So think about that. If you want to be a great mom, what are your expectations of yourself?
When I asked myself that question one of the things that came to mind is that a great mom sacrifices for her kids.
What sacrifices have you made for your children? Did you put up with morning sickness and heartburn and exhaustion while simultaneously nourishing them with every breath and heartbeat for the first nine months of their lives? That’s a big sacrifice. Or did you endure the vulnerability of marketing yourself as an ideal adoptive family while risking the heartbreak every time a birth mom changed her mind? Did you suffer through the emotional roller coaster of fertility treatments? or find your home the answer to “where will these children go?” after a trauma or some other emergency? No matter how your child ended up in your arms, there was sacrifice involved.
But the initial sacrifice to welcome a child into your family isn’t enough to make a great mom, right? I’ll never forget the heartbreak I saw in the eyes of a woman who signed away her parental rights after years of addiction and instability. She had seen her kids thrive in their foster home while she floundered with her court-ordered treatment plan and eventually let her kids go because she couldn’t make the ongoing sacrifices they needed.
So we do what we can to provide food, safety, and shelter. Those items are at the very bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and provide an essential foundation for higher needs to be accessed. But beyond sacrificing for the physical needs of our kids, for me to feel like a great mom, I need to continually create a nurturing environment that allows my kids to develop emotional, mental, social, intellectual, and spiritual health.
So here’s my recommendation today. Make a list of what you think makes a great mom, and then take note of the things you do that match that list. If you don’t match it, consider, do you need to alter your expectations of a great mom, or do you need to alter your choices?
If your list is exactly the same as mine or someone else’s, you might be doing it wrong. Because you are a unique, individual mom. Within your experience, there are distinct challenges that cannot be compared to anyone else’s. Also, your expectations should change as you change and your kids change.
Here’s MY non-comprehensive list of what makes a great mom:
A great mom is available. (mental health)
Do I put down my laptop when my kids get home from school and focus on them?
Do I tuck them in at night?
Do I listen when they try to share something with me?
A great mom helps her kids feel special. (Emotional health)
Do I tell them I love them?
Do I tell them I am proud of them?
Do I express gratitude to them?
Do I create one on one conversations with my kids?
A great mom facilitates the development of strong minds. (Intellectual health)
Do I encourage them to develop talents?
Do I help or encourage them to finish homework?
Do I help them be on time to school?
Am I giving them opportunities to learn the value of hard work?
A great mom facilitates development of strong bodies. (Physical health)
Do I provide vegetables and whole grains and water to drink?
Do I encourage them to be physically active?
A great mom facilitates development of strong relationships. (Social Health)
Do I surround them with positive role models?
Do I limit screentime?
A great mom creates a peaceful environment. (Spiritual health)
Do I attempt to create order in our home?
Do I stay patient or apologize when I lose my patience?
Do I teach them to pray? Do I pray specifically for each family member?
A great mom worries…
Do I worry about challenges they’re experiencing? Am I brainstorming, googling, praying, or asking mentors for guidance to help with this problem? I think that’s a sign of a REALLY GREAT MOM!
But remember - this is my list, not yours!
We do the best we can with what we have! So that means there have been days when I only did two things on that list - like say a prayer and say I love you!
I remember one day several years ago when, after being up all night, I accidentally slept in. My daughter, who I think was in kindergarten, did not. She woke up and was fully aware that I should have been up by then. But she didn’t want to go to school that day so she just played quietly hoping not to wake me. When I finally did get up, all peace was out the window. She was late for school; she probably ate a garbage breakfast; I blamed her for my mistake as if all the responsibility was on her shoulders; and I certainly didn’t give her the impression that she was important to me.
I probably only had a couple checks on my list that day, but every single thing we do on our list is a step in the right direction! Give yourself credit for what you did today, then try again tomorrow.
Give yourself compassion. When you are kind and understanding with yourself you will feel confident and hopeful. When you are hard on yourself you will feel anxious and be discouraged, limiting your potential for growth.
Can we do better? Of course we can! There is always room for improvement! But we need to give ourselves space to improve. It’s so important to acknowledge what we’re doing right! That’s where growth comes from. Seeing our successes helps us reach for more.
What are you doing right? Think of all the things you did right today, and then pick something you want to improve on. Then continue to give yourself compassion as you work on that thing.
I’m also a big believer in giving others’ compassion. How do we view the mothers in our midst?
I have to admit, I have a low opinion of the mothers who sell their children for drug money. I’m heartbroken to hear of moms who stand back and allow their children to be abused in any way. But I’m still not their judge. I’m also not the judge of the woman who feeds her kids a candy bar for breakfast, or gives her kindergartner a smart phone, or who makes any choices that I personally wouldn’t make. Because I know I have enough of my own issues to sort through. And when I make a conscious effort to give other moms the benefit of the doubt, I am giving myself room to make mistakes and learn from them.
When we do see other moms or kids struggling, it is a great opportunity to extend our influence for good even more.
So this Mother’s Day, pause to assess your own mothering. Recognize the power you have to shape the next generation. Your influence will never be lost. Just like the influence of previous generations will go on through you. And take it from me that you are doing an amazing job. If you were anything less than an incredible mom, you wouldn’t be listening to a parenting podcast! But here you are, because you see the unlimited potential of your child, and you are taking your responsibility to mother them seriously. That means you are doing great!
So keep it up, keep putting one foot in front of the other. As you do God will fill in the gaps and you will see the beauty, joy, and power of your motherhood.