Mommed Out! — Learning Self-Care

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Here’s the core of what I know when it comes to self-care.  It’s something a Christian psychologist told me —

“If you don’t change your oil, your engine will freeze.”

Do you know what I’m talking about here?  Your car needs to have regular oil changes, or the metal parts in your engine will grate against one another, wear down, and eventually quit working.

We can experience a similar kind of grating.  Life gets crazy.  Our children need constant attention.  We’re overworked.  And we start having jagged edges in our inner workings.   We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from getting so worn down that something goes wrong.

When my psychologist told me I needed to “change my oil,” it was huge.  I had permission to get off the “MUST, MUST, MUST” treadmill.  In fact, I realized my mental health depended on giving myself breaks from all of the things I thought I SHOULD do.

Sister moms, the same is true for you.  You can’t just keep gutting it out.  It’s going to lead to depression, anxiety, health issues, anger problems. . . the list goes on.

We all need self-care.  We need refreshment and recharging.  But what is effective?  I’m gonna tell you, it’s not binging on ice cream and buying out Target!

Here’s the best place to start with self-care: nourish your soul with regular infusions of life from God.  Your time with your loving Father can be so restorative.  Find the cool refreshment of rest in him.  Bask in the sunlight of his goodness.  Cozy up to the warmth of his love and comfort.   Take nature walks.  Write gratitude lists. Listen to spiritual music and sing along.  Practice trust.

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You know, God describes to a tee what it looks like when we rely on our own strength, instead of going to him, “That person will be like a bush in the wastelands.”   (Jer. 17:6)  We’re like a dried up stalk, like our kids and life have sucked everything right out of us!

But Psalms 1 tells us a better way:  “Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” (Ps 1:1-3)

Come on, admit it.  You absolutely NEED this time in your routine.  Start your day with it.  One mom came to this conclusion: “This is going to sound a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot), but I wake up earlier than my children. If I commit to doing this, I actually have more energy and approach my day much more grounded. Instead of being reactive, I have my plans and peace and am ready to give for what comes.”

The next thing you need for self-care is spiritual friendships.

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One of the best things I ever did when I was bringing up my kids was have a regularly scheduled hour each week for coffee with a friend.  It gave me a way to process, unload, and heal.

  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)
  • “Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

You may need to work at making this happen.  I totally remember my children asking me, as I was taking them to yet another play date, “When do you get with your friends?”  Yeah, right.  But I was always intentional about squeezing in a little time with someone who was a lifeline to me.  Sometimes I was able to have more interactions.  Phone conversations often saved my sanity.

You may need to work at finding this friend.  Over the years, I reached out to many women who didn’t have the time or desire for a committed spiritual relationship.  But I kept trying, and eventually found sisters who were looking for the same thing I was.

Don’t think that this friend has to be a peer.  At one point I started getting with a widow who was retired.  It was so much what both of us needed.

And then you need to practice self-care by taking care of your whole self.

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That mom voice in you is always sabotaging your plans for self-care.  It tells you that your children need you with a capital “N.”  It says it’s too much trouble to make “me time.”  It screams that your floors need mopping.

The result is that you lose sight of yourself and anything you are outside of motherhood.

You’re like, “I need ‘me time,’ but I don’t even know who ‘me’ is anymore!”

The thing is, it’s not really about “me time,” it’s about God time.  You’re not wrestling to find a few moments when you can finally do what you want.  You’re walking with God, and seeing if there is an opportunity to shine for him.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  (Col 3:17)

God gave you a body, and it can feel great to work out.  He gave you talents, and it can be wonderful to use them to accomplish something. Whatever you do, make it about praising God though your actions, and you’ll find it’s invigorating.

Plus, looking at it this way gives guilt and discouragement a karate chop.  Some days you will feel like you’re failing as a mom.  Fight with faith!  Believe that you were created as you were for a reason.  You have abilities, things you can do, so don’t shrink back. Step out and do them!

When I was a young mom, I taught an art appreciation class through parks and rec.  I had craft parties with my friends and their children.

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I met an elderly woman at the grocery store and the kids and I started visiting her.  I shared with other moms when I went to the park, and studied the Bible with them.

I’ll admit, sometimes it didn’t go smoothly.  In fact, it could get uber crazy!  But I’m so glad I did those things.  I could feel myself growing wings and celebrating God.

Here are some recommendations from my mom advisers:

  • “Hobbies are great! You need something outside of the family life to keep your identity as an individual intact. I love blogging and photography.”
  • “I’m terrible at this part of “balance,” but my one thing is exercise. It gets my blood flowing and changes my mood right away.”

Finally, here is the statement you’ve been waiting for: Self-care is also taking a break and resting!”

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God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10)  And here’s another good one, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  (Ex 14:14)

God wants you to learn to stop.   He wants you to lie down in green pastures. (Ps. 23:2)  He wants you to take notice of the lilies of the field. (Matt 6:28)

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He wants you to quit trying to do everything (including his job) so you can realize who he is, what he does and what he will do.  All of this is so restorative.

Sister moms, oh, how you need this rest!!  When you have a job, you need time off.  Why shouldn’t this apply to you as a mother?

There’s just one thing.  You’re going to have to make a deliberate decision to let something else go in order to have time off.  You’ll have to be totally intentional, and schedule it.

This is how some moms are intentional about resting:

  • “Me and several other sisters switch out keeping each other’s kiddos so we all get a break. It’s so needed.”
  • “My husband has a little daddy son time every Saturday, so I get a couple of hours to myself.  Also, during my son’s nap time, I try to do one or two things, but leave myself at least an hour of down time while he’s sleeping to recharge.”
  • “My baby goes to bed at 8 pm, so I have up to two hours for reading, praying and playing a game or two in my phone. I also go walking with her.”

But wait, there’s more! Check out these ideas on other ways to practice self care: 

  • Get out of the house, especially if you are an extrovert.  “I like to get out during the day, to get us moving and experiencing new things, and to give me an opportunity to chat with other moms.”
  • Stay in and unplug (occasionally) if you’re an introvert.
  • Join a mom’s group. “I’ve found that mommy groups are great for social interaction for me and my kids.”
  • Engage in family leisure activities.  “Weekends, we try to do family things, a hike, or a beach trip.”
  • Do the little things that make a difference.  “Self-care is taking a shower each day, doing your hair or even putting on some lip gloss.  I play uplifting music while I clean.”
  • Unwind with your honey. “I go on dates with the hubby.”
  • Choose wholesome activities.  “I try to watch shows and read books that make me feel good, instead of those that leave me feeling kind of yucky, like I ate too much junk food.”
  • Be engaged in church. Don’t let it get crowded out.  It feeds your soul.  It helps you stay focused on what is most important.  It provides relationships
  • Live out your purpose.  It’s fulfilling.  Let motherhood be your ministry.  In raising your children, you are doing something supremely meaningful.  In reaching out to help other mom friends, you change lives and futures.  There will never be an easier time in your life to reach out.  And you will go to bed at night feeling deeply satisfied.

 In summary, self-care means learning how to pace yourself.

You can’t do everything.  Even if it seems like others are.  Even if your heart longs to do so.

Find your groove, as God created you.

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Recognize your capabilities, and plan accordingly.  Do what’s most important first.  Make space for replenishment.  Acknowledge that the more demanding life gets, the more you need to recharge. (I know, it’s so counter intuitive!)

Watch for opportunities to grow.  Watch for signs you need to scale back.

Be your best self, nothing more or less.

Work out a rhythm between you and God where you find balance and peace.

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“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecc 3:1)

Sister moms, you are wonderfully made! (Ps 139:14) Take care of what you have been given, the whole self, the physical and the spiritual.

Seek well being.

As you do, it will radiate and bring well being to those around you.

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Do you recognize this mom from the craft party picture earlier in the blog (third from the left)? Her mother was one of those I studied the Bible with many years ago.  What a beautiful young woman she has become, with a beautiful family!

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“Momfuddled” — What Works in Parenting (II)

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I have this picture in my mind of those days when my children were little.  My mom friends and I were so full of optimism.  Our generation was going to be different.  We were going to bring up our kids right!  We were excited because our young ones were awesome, and we could see awesome futures for them.

But over the years, we watched many of our beloved children make wrong turns and land in tough places.  It was heart breaking.  Big sigh.

Now don’t get me wrong. We’re proud of who and where our children are today.  God has been writing good endings to their stories and we are faithful that more prayers will be answered.

But my friends, you have to know that the stakes are high.  It’s vastly important that you teach your children clear standards of righteousness.  

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Here’s the coolest thing.  We think it’s a drag that the Bible tells us all this stuff not to do, as if God doesn’t want us to have any fun.  But it’s actually the best blessing ever that God clues us in on what is right and wrong. (Acts 3:26) It helps us avoid the pitfalls.

You see, sins are harmful.  Committing them either hurts us, hurts someone else, or hurts our relationship with God.  God just wants what is best for us.  He’s steering us clear of a train wreck.

So we need his word.  Our children need his word.

But this is where the “momfuddled” part comes in. There’s so much in the Bible, and it makes our head spin to decide what to do with it.

And, sure, we believe in the Bible, but what about all this current research on raising kids?  Sure, we want to apply the scriptures, but doesn’t it depend on the situation?

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So how do we teach clear standards of righteousness?  I’m going to try and keep it simple.

Start by compiling a list of what is right and wrong according to the scriptures.

Begin an investigation of what the New Testament says.  When you find something that is a directive for behavior, write it down.  It may be helpful to ask others what they’ve found.

Here is my advice on what should be on this list:

  • Disobedience (Ephesians 6:1)
  • Disrespect (Ephesians 6:2, Proverbs 6:17)
  • Lying  (John 8:44)
  • Unkindness (Matt 7:12, Ephesians 4:29)
  • Fits of rage (Galatians 5:20, James 1:19-20)
  • Arguing and complaining (Philippians 2:14)

Once you’ve established your list, make it the backbone of your parenting.  Stick to it like glue.  When they’re old enough to read, show your children the scriptures.  Let them know that your rules come from God, and not from your opinion.  You can even have them memorize key verses, so God’s standards will be impressed on their heart.

Then set clear boundaries.

Now that your children know what is right and wrong, it is tremendously important that you spell out to your them exactly where the boundary is.  The Bible tells fathers to not exasperate their children.  (Eph. 6:4)  I believe that setting unclear boundaries exasperates our children.  Sure, they know what they’re doing is wrong.  But they also know that they can get away with it because you’re just giving them a series of warnings. The thing is, at some point you explode.  You feel justified, because you’ve told them over and over.  But they’re frustrated, because they didn’t know when they were expected to start behaving.

One mom told me the key to effective parenting is, “Consistent discipline and expectations- with both parents unified.”

Another said what is most important is, “Laying out your expectations and then following through every time, even when you are tired, sick or when they are sick. It is hard but if done correctly it creates and teaches boundaries, helps your children feel secure and expresses love.”

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Let your children know that they have a choice.

In general, you don’t want to force your child to do what is right.  You want to help them make the right choice.  This is how God operates with us.

So in each situation, explain your child’s choices to them, and the consequences of making the wrong choice.  Then ask them what they choose.  Even a toddler can be told, “You can play nicely with the toy, or you can throw it again and I will take it away.   Which do you choose?”

You’ll find this alleviates so much of your frustration!!

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My mom advisers were a big fan of this approach.  “We talk a lot about how they have a choice just like we as parents and adults have choices,” one mom related to me. “And that the choices we make determine the path that we go on. I even say things to them like, ‘That really stinks and I’m so sad you made that choice.’”

This mom also tries to make sure that there are appropriate consequences.  “If they miss the bus repeatedly we tell them they have to pay gas money for us to take them to school. If they are getting lower grades at school we tell them they have no screen time until they bring the grades up.”

Which brings me to our next point.

Set consequences It is vital that there are consequences for your child if they make a bad choice.   This is the way the world works.  You wouldn’t expect to kill or steal, for instance, without there being repercussions.

Look at these scriptures:

  • “A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.” Prov 19:19
  • “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Gal 6:7
  • “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” Prov. 13:24

Make sure the consequence is effective. God knows that discipline needs to be painful.  “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  (Hebrews 12:11)

The consequence doesn’t have to be physically painful. (Although I believe spanking can be an option if it is done correctly.) Timeouts can feel miserable.  Losing a toy or privilege can seem like it’s the end of the world. My point is that you can’t expect your child’s behavior to change if you just mete out a token consequence.  Yes, there are a few sensitive children for whom this will work.  But for the majority of them, you will have to find something that gets their attention.

Here is the best way to discipline a child.

  1. Tell them that they made the wrong choice. Read the scripture that describes the transgression.
  2. Tell them that because of that choice, they will face a consequence. Assure them that you love them and don’t think that they are bad, but this is the result of their choice.
  3. Mete out the punishment.
  4. Afterwards, hug your child and talk with them about what happened, and why it was wrong. Help them to think through why they made the choice they did, and what they can do in the future.
  5. Have your child pray, and ask God for forgiveness and help with not doing the wrong thing again.

As you see, disciplining should be an event.

Whew!  I know.  It takes a lot of time and energy.  One mom who is addressing a pattern of misbehavior in her child told me, “I realized that it means that I’m going to be late a lot, and the house is going to be messy.”

But doing it right is so worth it.  And that leads into my final point.  The goal is not just that your children do the right thing, but that they desire to do the right thing.  That’s why we take the extra time.

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Make it your life’s work to disciple your child’s heart.  Help them see why something is wrong.  For instance, if they lie, talk about what happens when you lose trust.  Tell them the story of the boy who cried wolf.  Talk about how Satan is the father of lies.  Ask them how they would feel if someone lied to them.

Help them look at their sin in the context of a relationship with God.  “God loves you so much.  It makes him sad when you do this.”

Use everything in life as an opportunity to have a spiritual teaching time. As they got older, my children would tease me, “Here we go, life lesson #101.”

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut 6:7)

There’s so much more I could say!  But I’ll leave you with three quick suggestions:

  1. Everything in parenting starts with prayer.  We need God’s help and guidance more than anything else.  (II Chronicles 20:12, Phil. 4:5, Prov. 3:6)
  2. Get advice. We need one another’s help too!  (Proverbs 24:6)
  3. Enable your children to get advice from an adult they feel comfortable with.  As they become teens, if they have a problem with you, be willing to allow them to practice Matthew 18 and bring in someone you both trust to help work it out.

Ah, sister moms, my heart is with you in your days.  Are you feeling what I felt?  Full of hope, but somewhat momfuddled? 

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Let me leave you with a verse that is balm to our souls. It’s also a song.  We used to sing it at every family devotional, and my youngest daughter would always jump up and dance.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.  His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning.  The Lord is my portion says my soul. Therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 4:22-24

The last effective ingredient in parenting is grace! God’s mercies are new every morning!  Every day, you can take a deep breath and start over again.  Every day, you can renew hope in your children.

Yes, a lot is at stake.  Yes, it will take so much work you will never feel like you do enough.

But don’t live your life weighed down.

Pray.  Know God’s grace is sufficient.  And then delight yourself in the Lord and the blessings he’s given you.

As a couple of my mom friends shared —

  • “All this comes with lots of love, fun, and making wonderful memories!”
  • “You have to laugh a lot.”

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“Momfuddled” — What Works in Parenting?

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Parenting is one of the hardest things ever.

Before you had children you pictured being swept away in the bliss of motherhood.  Aaaaah.

Well, sometimes you find that.

But now you also find that bringing up children is exhausting, confusing, demanding, gut wrenching, unending, and frightening.  You expend yourself until you’re worn to the nub.  You agonize, and worry, and feel inadequate.

I am a far from perfect parent.  When I was bringing up my children, I struggled. Sometimes I felt like I was the worst mom.

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But that’s why I want to write this blog.  I want all of the mothers out there who are struggling to have something to hold to that is true and solid.  In this world of a thousand different messages on how to raise your children, I want to give you the confidence of a few things that work.

In short, what works is reflecting the characteristics of God in your parenting.   God is loving and gracious.  He is also righteous. When you make these things the foundation of how you raise your children, you will feel like you have done the best you could do.

But what does this look like in practical terms?

Let’s start with the good stuff — LOVE.  Effective parenting involves loving your children the way that God loves you.  It’s the daily battle to remember that you are incredibly valued, and then pass this onto your kids.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  John 13:34

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What is the biggest expression of God’s love?  It’s that Jesus laid down his life.  Our love for our children must also be sacrificial.

Yay!  This is something we moms are good at!  It feels natural to sacrifice for our kids.

But there’s easy sacrifice, and there’s hard sacrifice.  Love is sacrificing for your children in ways that are uncomfortable, and take extra effort.   It’s getting on the floor and playing baby dolls, racecars, Barbies, Legos, Peppa Pig, etc. with them.  It’s doing that thing with them that they love, even though you’ve done it a thousand times before.

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It’s carving out time to read Bible stories with them and have family devotionals.  It’s praying with them at bedtime, and then listening to them talk about their day, even though you’re bone weary.  It’s swimming with them when it’s freezing cold because they love it so much.  It’s singing with them in the car.  It’s taking them on “dates.”   It’s having the talks with them that take forethought and intentionality.

I do want to mention that the goal of this is not to teach your children that the world revolves around them.  You can still set boundaries, so that they are considerate, and so you have some time for yourself.

But here’s the thing, moms.  You’re exhausted, and yet you’re also brimming over with all kinds of plans and dreams.  You want to do something cool, make a difference, change the world, be successful.  You want to fix up your house.  You want to involve your children in all kinds of activities.

It’s going to take a conscious, determined effort to make the important sacrifices, and not let everything else sap away all of your available energy.

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God’s love is also incredibly appreciative of our individual worth.  Jesus saw the leper, the sinful woman, the Samaritan woman, the tax collector.  Each of these was an important person in his eyes.  To him, the whole sum of the law and the prophets was, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”  (Matt 7:12)

Jesus was consideration personified.  He calls us to be the same.

This can be a challenge for us.  We just need our children to behave!

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And obedience is important.  I’ll talk about that in the next blog.  But if we’re going to love like God, we have to seek to listen and understand.  “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”  (James 1:19b)

When I surveyed my mom friends, they were vocal that respect is a crucial element of parenting.

  • “Instead of ignoring my daughter because her behavior is undesirable to me, I try to empathize with how she must feel in those moments.”
  • “Take the time to listen. When they are in preschool years ask them to tell you about the picture they brought home.  Talk to them like you’d want to be talked to!  When my son was an older teen he would come in to my side of the bed and talk to me every night when he’d get home.  I can’t help but believe that it’s because I always tried to listen to him.”
  • One empty nester friend told me how she expected her daughter to obey without discussion. She had a “just do it” approach, and didn’t allow her daughter to express what she was feeling. This led to a lot of conflict, and pushed her daughter away.
  • Another friend related how she and her husband treated their youngest child as they did their older ones, without realizing that he was different and needed a different approach. This proved to be very detrimental.

I will caution you, though, that even at 3 or 4 years old, your kid can do a better sales job on you than a used car dealer! Don’t let your child talk you out of what you know is right.  Be sure they know you are listening and that you care.  And then be firm.

The last thing I want to mention about God’s love is that it is positive.  It is so encouraging to me that Jesus named Peter the “Rock.”  He called Nathaniel a “true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.”  Jesus saw the best in people and believed in them.  He reflected the truth that, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor 13:7)

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We reflect God’s love for our children by believing in them and having hope for them.  We see the good in them and praise it.

If I could do it over again, I would work harder at being positive with my children.  As moms, we feel the burden of making sure our children turn out right.  We see the terrible consequences of a character flaw. The thing they need to change can become bigger to us than all of the things that are wonderful about them.  That was my tendency.

So we have to be intentional about praising our children.  We have to look for the things we can commend.  Moms, praise your children often! More than you correct them.  It will be as good for your heart as it will for theirs.

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In conclusion, the goal of love is that they will love. 

We love because he first loved us.”  I John 4:19

If there is one thing we can instill in our children, let it be a crazy love for God!  We do want our children to do the right thing.  But even more, we want them to do the right thing because their heart is so filled with inspiration that the obedience comes out of the overflow.

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Crazy love has to be caught as much as it is taught.  They have to see it in you.

But this is good news, because this is something you can do.  You can have a great time falling more in love with God!  Start a gratitude journal. Find the love stories in the Bible.  Work on the doubt, bitterness and fear that hold you back.  Pray to know how much you are adored.

I pray that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is.” (Eph 3:18)

And then tell your children often how awesome you think the Lord is, and how amazing it is that he loves us.  Help them see him, and his faithfulness.

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As our children grow up, they will find that life is hard.  There will be so many assaults to their self-esteem.  There will be so many times when something goes wrong and they will wonder if God cares.

Teach him that God DOES care, and cares deeply.  Teach them to pray and reach out to the Lord when they are hurting.  Teach them the magical scriptures that are salve to the heart.  Teach them the ways that God has worked in their lives already.

Sister moms, I know, I know.  Parenting is intense.  And everyone keeps telling you something different to do.

But hold to this truth through the craziness: If you’re seeking to love as God loves, you are on the right track.

Love never fails.” (I Cor 13:8a)

Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  (I Peter 4:8)

(Stay tuned for Part II of “Momfuddled,” coming soon!)

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Mom Stress — Don’t Be Overwhelmed!

Being a mother is overwhelming .  You’re constantly busy, and it frequently seems like you don’t have anything to show for it at the end of the day.

What you accomplish is more like a work in progress.

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Don’t get fooled by social media.  Your mom friends may look like they blissfully have it all together.  But in real life, they’re running around like they’re battening down the hatches in a hurricane.

“I get overwhelmed when there’s a lot going on or a million things on my to-do list,” said one of my mom friends.  “I don’t know where to start, and I start to shut down.  I could work 24/7 and still not feel caught up.  This makes me anxious and causes me to lose sleep.”

What makes it harder is that you’re actually the manager of your house and family.  You bear the mental load, as well as the physical one.   You’re the one who’s always planning how to meet all of your children’s needs for food, clothing, education, medical attention, and character growth.  You’re the one organizing the family schedules and the chores and errands that need to be done.

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Plus, of course, you’re actively doing all those things.  Ahhhhhh!  Big scream.  Most of us we walk around feeling like we’re holding things together with baling wire, like we’re always putting out the latest fire or averting the next crisis. It seems impossible to get everything done, and the burden of that weighs on us.

So the theme of this blog is how to not get overwhelmed.

And to address this, I’m going to do more than talk about time management.  What I really want to help you do is learn to live a life of beauty amidst the stress.  My inspirational verse here is Ephesians 5:15-16, “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” 

Sister moms, it is our privilege to redeem the time. We take the jumbled collection of moments in our day and bring value to them.  We look at our rowdy children and love them and believe in them.  We take the shell of our home and turn it into a warm and nurturing place.  We stand against evil and teach our offspring what is good and right.  We take the raw material of youth and develop talent and build faith.  We sit amidst the chaos and find treasures – the first smile, the humorous antics, the joy of interaction, the view of the world through their eyes, the wonder of watching them become what they were created to be.

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It may feel sometimes like we’re fighting a losing battle,, but we’re not.  We’re walking in the light! (I John 1:17) We’re marching in triumphant procession! (II Cor 2:14) We’re reflecting God’s glory, and being transformed into his likeness. (II Cor 3:18) Let the warmth of this envelop you, and the confidence of this empower you.  Let your heart swell.  Hold your head high.

And then create the moments of your life like you are creating art with God.

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When seen in this light, time management is something entirely different.  It’s taking the messy pieces of what you want to do, and putting them together to create the place you want to go.  It’s living out what you believe most deeply.  It’s knowing there is a sacred purpose.   It’s finding ways to do the things you feel are most important to be done.

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With this in mind, I’m offering some suggestions on how to not get overwhelmed.  My mom friends gave me great input for this part, and I’ve included their advice – – which is good, because I think they are way better at this than I am!  They also gave me permission to use some of their pictures, which you see scattered through this blog.

  1. Start with God. Jesus didn’t give us much direction on time management, but we do know that he made time to be with God. He rose early and went to a quiet place to pray. (Mark 1:35) He had a habit of going off at night to pray.  (Luke 22:39) We can learn from him that spending time with God really does give you strength and grounding for your day.
  2. The busier you are, the more you need to pray. I remember when my third child was born, and I had just become a more committed to God. I asked for advice, “How in the world do you do everything?” I was flabbergasted at the answer: “Pray more.” What?  I was expecting a great hack, not something requiring more time. But it’s true that we need God’s help to make our busy day work.  As Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”  (Well, maybe don’t pray that long!)
  3. Schedule a time to schedule. Several moms I surveyed said doing this is a life saver.  One new mom told me, “I realized that if I didn’t become a planner we would literally never do or eat anything!!”   Another friend with older kids said, “Scheduling everything in my phone calendar with alerts/reminders really helps me.  It also helps that every Sunday evening we all sit down with our calendars – even the kids.”  Going along with this is the next point.
  4. Make a list of what you need to get done, and schedule that. I know for me, what makes me overwhelmed is having all of this stuff I need to do bouncing around in my head.  It really does help to write it down, and assign times to it.  “Scheduling and lists have helped me the most,” said one mom.  “My week/activities are generally planned out in my calendar.  So I know what to do when I wake up in the morning.  Then I have a cleaning schedule for nap time. For instance, Monday is kitchen, Tuesday is mop and vacuum, etc … We meal plan for the week so I know exactly what to buy at the grocery store and what I’m cooking that night. I have lists on top of lists for everything, or else I’ll forget.”
  5. Prioritize – When you write your schedule, start by scheduling in the most important things. This goes so much against the grain! A mom who has two little ones told me, “It seems like the most automatic way for me to prioritize is to do what needs immediate attention — cooking, caring for the kids, cleaning up messes, etc.  And then I put self-care and time with God on the back burner, even though in the long run it is what is most important.”  My advice is to schedule from a spiritual and relational perspective.  First, schedule in devotional times and church.  Next, make time for your husband by scheduling date night, intimacy, times to communicate, and/or doing that thing that he wants you to do that you keep putting off. And then, for those of you with older children, I’m going to recommend that you schedule in some one-on-one time with them.  Take them out somewhere.  Holding your family together through relationships is far more vital than getting a lot of the other things done.
  6. Be honest with yourself about what you can do. When I had a newborn and two other little wigglers, I had all of this stuff on my “to do” list.  And I couldn’t get any of it crossed off.  Finally, I put “get dressed” and “brush teeth” on my list.  I felt such a sense of accomplishment!  Of course, later I was able to schedule more things in.  But it’s a good illustration of thinking realistically.  Do set goals for yourself.  But don’t get too ambitious.  One friend told me how she’s working on being level headed.  “I’m trying to get better at not overdoing and over committing,” she said.
  7. Consider limiting your children’s activities. Yikes!  How could I suggest this?  But I know how it goes.  Sometimes we parents have a hard time having boundaries. We want our children to do everything.  Remember that your family needs balance.  Don’t let the activities dominate the family schedule. And watch out that you don’t get over involved. I remember a time when my daughter was in cross country.  Things were going great until she got an injury.  Somehow I found myself taking her to doctors and endless physical therapy appointments so she could get back to running.  It really got out of proportion.  I think it became as much about me as it did about her.
  8. Don’t procrastinate. This is one of our biggest problems. A friend shared, “I have tried to stop dreading things and wasting time, and just start doing them instead.  Eventually, I get on a roll.” She also gave this suggestion, “One time management thing that I do now is handle things right away as they come along. For example, when I check the mail, I sort it, throw away the junk, and try to handle anything that needs a attention, like a bill.  That helps me not to get overwhelmed by small tasks that really don’t take that much time in the moment, but would carry a heavy burden if I left them for later.” Here are a couple of other suggestions for fighting procrastination: start with the least enjoyable job, and divide intimidating tasks into smaller ones that you can handle.
  9. Beware of time vampires. Do you do have something that sneakily sucks up your schedule? You think you’ll only do it for a few minutes, and suddenly, it’s much later!  It could be social media, Netflix, a DIY project, Pinterest, online shopping, or even something you need to research on the Internet.  It’s not that it’s wrong to do these things.  But you can’t let them sabotage your good intentions for the day, and make you feel defeated.  See the next point.
  10. Develop self-discipline. A lot of time management is learning to say “No” to the things that aren’t what you’ve decided are best to do. Titus 2:11 tells us that the grace of God, “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.”  Are you learning to say, “No?”  It can be tough to do, because we’ve hardwired ourselves to indulge in time fritterers when we’re stressed, bored or tired.  Admit it.  Your fingers are itching for the phone!  So you may need to set specific rules for yourself.  As one friend said, “I’m limiting social media.  It’s a real time killer.”
  11. Be flexible, and schedule for flexibility. For some of us, what’s hard isn’t the self-discipline.  It’s being patient when things don’t go according to our plans.  “My biggest struggle is trying to be flexible with when I’m dealing with other people,” one mom admitted. The good thing is that we can look to the example of Jesus here.  There were numerous times when he would let people interrupt his schedule. (Mark 5:21-24 is one example) I would be like, “Uh, no.  You’re not on my agenda.” So my advice is to trust in God, and make up your mind that you’re going to be flexible.  You can even make sure your schedule isn’t too tight, so you have time to deal with unexpected situations, communicate with friends when they need you, and have those talks with your children about the issues that come up.
  12. Take shortcuts. Years ago, I got myself tied in knots, and I saw a professional counselor for a while. I’ll never forget what he said: “You don’t get brownie points for doing things the hard way.”    I had been feeling like I had to do my best at everything or I was failing.  But I learned that sometimes it’s good enough to be good enough.  So give yourself a break.  One friend told me, “I try to cut corners wherever I can.  I love the grocery pickups that Walmart and Kroger are doing.”  Another said, “We finally gave in and hired someone to come in monthly to clean our house. It was so emotionally and physically draining on all of us and it has made all the difference in the world.”
  13. It’s okay to recharge! Another thing my psychologist told me was, “If you don’t change your oil, your engine will freeze.”  We need to take care of ourselves, and not just keep going and giving.  I tell you from personal experience, if you don’t pace yourself, you will hit a wall!  It was wonderful for me to give myself permission to take a little time for myself.  I began to realize that I was a better person for it, and my family was happier.
  14. Have fun! As Mary Poppins said, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  Don’t think of your life as a grind.  Reframe, and realize you can have a good time.  Play music while you do housework.  Plan meals that make you happy to cook and serve.  Be silly with your family.  By yourself some flowers.  I know that many times I was too serious with the burden of motherhood.   It’s good to remember to enjoy life with God.

In closing, I want to leave you with one of my favorite verses: “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”  Ps 27:4

In the flurry of a million schedule demands, let this one thing be your motivating factor: God is awesome!  Dwell with him, be close to him.  Gaze upon his beauty through the moments of your day.

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Love him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Strive to give him your best and bring out the best in your children.

It won’t be perfect.  You’ll often feel inadequate.  But you can either focus on what still needs to be done and how your children aren’t there yet, or you can focus on uncovering the blessings you have.

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Sister moms, take a deep breath.  You are walking in grace.  Your times are in his hands.  (Ps 31:15)  You can be at peace.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isa 43:2

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Mom Quandaries — How to Make Confident Choices

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I tell you, from the moment you become a mom, your head starts to spin.  All of a sudden you are faced with all of these critical choices.  Do you breastfeed?  For how long?  What if it doesn’t work?  Do you have your baby sleep in the same room or bed as you?  Do you let them cry?  Do you use cloth or disposable diapers?  Do you spend the extra money to go organic?  What do you do when your child gets older and hits, throws a tantrum, bites or screams?  How and when do you discipline them?

The thing is, you’re so caught up in a whirlwind of chores, childcare and exhaustion that you can’t even think straight to know how to make these choices!

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You think that it will get better when they get older, but then your mind is reeling from trying to keep up with all of the activities, and the clutter, and the piles of paper that accumulate every time you turn your back.  You’re trying to decide what kind of schooling your children should have, and how to keep them from fighting, and how to get them to do chores, and what to do when other kids are mean to them.

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img_00101-e1519397025274.jpgAnd you’re sure you will get relief when they’re teenagers, but somehow there’s even less time.  And there are even more difficult decisions.  When can they start dating?  How do you prepare them for college?  What do you do about bad influences?  How much do you control where they go?  When should their curfew be?  When can they drive?  Who can be in the car with them?  Will you be the world’s strictest mom, or the person they can talk to?

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As moms, our life is a quagmire of Mom Quandaries.  It’s up to us to make the right choices so our children will grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted, responsible, successful and have faith.  It’s too much!  In fact, each choice feels like too much because we feel the weight of our child’s future on our shoulders.

So moms, I giving you the advice that I would give to my 20 something self as I picture her sitting in a disheveled house, surrounded by rowdy kids, and feeling completely inadequate to determine what to do.

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I would give her these verses:

“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Prov. 16:3)

“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  (Prov. 3:6)

Sister moms, God has our back!  I can’t state it strongly enough. If we will continue to commit our lives to him, HE will work with the choices we make and help things go well.

Our stress comes because we can’t believe this.  It’s too scary.  There’s too much at stake.  So our decisions become too much about us, and not enough about God.  We put enormous pressure on ourselves to make the right choice.  We act like it’s all up to us.  Because when it comes to our children, we have to stay in control.  We can’t leave things up to chance.

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.”  Jeremiah 17:5

We really, really need God to be a big part of raising our children.  And because it’s so hard for us moms to let go, my next piece of advice is to pray, pray, pray!

“But I don’t have any time,” you say.  “My children get up at the crack of dawn.”

I remember one time when I was at the end of my rope.  My youngest daughter was a baby, and she wasn’t gaining weight.  I was so worried and afraid.  She cried all day, and my days were this crazy blur of trying to take care of her and trying to stay on top of my other two toddlers.  I finally got up one morning at 4 AM, and just prayed, and kept praying until I could finally trust God.  Yes, I was exhausted for the rest of the day, but I had a peace that was worth it.

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And that is what we need, as moms.  I know, this blog is supposed to be about making decisions, and Mom Quandaries.  What I am saying is that you can’t make good decisions unless you find a way to truly give it to God.

Next, you need to seek wisdom from the scriptures.  When I had that third baby, I remember how I would finally get all of the children to sleep at night, and then, instead of just collapsing, I would read the Bible like a starving person, looking for that thing that would click and give me some kind of hope or strength to keep me going.  I always found it.

And then I wrote it down.  I kept a list of “life-saving” scriptures.  I would read them whenever I needed to keep my sanity.

Moms, this is so vital.  We need truths that will ground us, so we can make decisions from a good foundation.  “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” (II Tim 3:16 NLT)

These truths tell us the core principles of a life that really works, not a treadmill kind of existence.   They remind us that if we do all kinds of great things, but forget to love, it is worthless (I Cor 13); that we actually need to lose our life to save our life (Luke 9); that we have to guard against putting our children ahead of God.  (Luke 14:26)

These truths also keep us from giving way to fear.

Fear plays such a huge part in decision making for moms.  You know, we didn’t used to be Nervous Nellies.  We were willing to try all kinds of stuff without thinking of the consequences.

But now, as moms, we see the peril in every situation.   We see the accidents waiting to happen.  We see the health concerns.  We see the bad influences.   We see the potential for our children to go in the wrong direction and ruin their whole lives!  (Yes, we are drama queens.)

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Fear is why we have a hard time making decisions.  So here is the sum of my advice to moms about decision making:  you have to make a decision out of faith, not fear.

“You are [Sarah’s]  daughters if you do what is right and refuse to quiver in fear.”  (I Peter 3:6)

You have to make a decision out of faith that God is with you, and he is good, and you can rely on that goodness.  And then you need to hold tightly to your faith.  Because there will be times when it will seem like it’s all falling apart and your child is hurdling towards a chasm of danger.  At that point, everything in you will scream that you need to take matters into your own hands.

And maybe there is something you need to do.  But don’t ever let go of God’s hand.  Don’t ever stop having faith that he is with you, working on your child’s behalf.  Don’t be tempted to think that if you can just make the right decisions, you’ll keep your children safe.  Because our faith isn’t in our decisions, it is in God.

When I was raising my children, I thought I could figure it all out, and do everything right, and my kids would turn out great.  So I gave my life to God, taught my kids all about him, got them involved in the church, and helped them have good friends and activities.

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But they still had some majorly scary bumps.  It was a very low time.

Here is the verse that sustained me,  “My grace is sufficient for you.”  (II Cor 12:9)  I realized that I couldn’t figure everything out, but that his grace was enough to get me through, one day at a time.

The best decision you can make is to trust God, each day, that he will give you exactly what you need to raise your children for that day.  He may not show you how to fix everything for the rest of their lives.  But he will provide the direction, wisdom and intervention you need for the day.  Just like he gave the Israelites manna in the desert, which was only enough for the day, he will give you your daily bread.

In conclusion, the goal of this blog is to help you look to God in decision making, and not get stuck in all of the pressures and fears.  But I do want to offer you some practical nuts and bolts as well.  Let me leave you with a few things that may help as you face your maternal dilemmas.

  1. Articulate clearly what your options are. Write down the pros and cons.
  2. Articulate your core values. It’s easier to make a decision when you’re clear on what is important to you.  Weigh your pros and cons accordingly.
  3. Determine your long term goals. It’s helpful to see where you are aiming.  Then you can determine which steps would best get you there.
  4. Count the cost. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”  (Luke 14:8) This verse has to do with following Jesus, but it’s still a good principle.  Look at what your decision will require of you, and decide if you can realistically give what is needed.  When you do this, be honest with yourself about your weaknesses.  Our emotions have us wanting to do all kinds of wonderful sounding things, but when we act on them, we’re like, “What was I thinking?” For instance, when I had my first child, I loved having a baby so much I thought it would be great to get pregnant again right away.  Boy, did I not count the cost!  It was very hard.
  5. Ask, “What would I regret the most?” Often, what helps me make a decision is asking myself which path I would wish I would have taken.
  6. Ask for advice.Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  (Proverbs 15:22.) There’s such pressure these days to figure it out on your own.  But God says it’s good to get all kinds of input.   I don’t know how I would have raised my children without the wisdom of older, godly women.  But here’s what’s funny to me.  I just watched this documentary on new moms in China.  They go stay at a mom hotel for a month and pay someone to come help them with the baby.  The tradition is to have their mother in law help, but, as one mom explained, “times are different.”  They don’t want the old school voice of experience.  They want the current “expert.”  Are you like that?  Will you listen to the voice of experience, or are you only interested in the current experts?  We tend to mistrust authority and the old ways.  But God decreed that the older women are to teach the younger ones.  (Titus 2:3-4)
  7. Determine the spiritual impact. How will this choice affect your walk with God?  Will it make it harder for you to have time for personal devotionals or church attendance?  Resolve to act on your belief that if you seek the kingdom first, everything else will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:33)
  8. Keep it in perspective. Is it really so important?  Is it the hill you want to die on?  I know one woman who was determined to breast feed her baby.  Nursing didn’t work for her, but she could pump.  Yet the pumping took so much of her time, and she kept with it for so many weeks, that it really did a number on her sanity and her marriage.  We get in that kind of crazy zone when we’re moms.    We need perspective to get out of it.
  9. Make your best decision and move forwardDon’t obsess. Don’t dither.  We keep trying to make the perfect decision.  So we make no decision.  We don’t need to be rash, but we do need to push through and act, and then trust God that he will make our path straight.
  10. Fast. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) Fasting can give you spiritual clarity and move your heart to trust more.

As I look back at my mind-muddled self of 30 years ago, I want to tell her the same thing that I want to tell you:  be more at peace.  Love God, and trust him, and teach your children to do the same.  That is the really important choice, not the stuff you’re stressing over.   

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I think of King Solomon, who was said to be the wisest man.  He went after wealth, knowledge and accomplishments and gained them all.  His conclusion about them was, “Everything is meaningless,”  and that whole duty of man is to “fear God and keep his commandments.” (Ecc 1:2)  The sad thing was that Solomon didn’t hold to this wisdom.  “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.”  (I Kings 11:4a)  The really sad thing was that his offspring paid the price.  As a consequence, God took the kingdom away from his son, Rehoboam.  (II Kings 11:11-12)

Sister moms, let us resolve to never stop looking to God.  That is what our children really need.

Yes, fight for your children every day.  But then take a deep breath, put your hand in Jesus’s hand, and walk forward with assurance.  Our days of mothering may seem crazy, and the Mom Quandaries may seem impossible, but His grace will always be sufficient.

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”  (II Chronicles 20:12)

“Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” ( Ps 143:8b)

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Mom Guilt, and What Will Help

Mom Guilt.  I had my struggles with it when I raised my kids,

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But it seems to have hit today’s generation especially hard.

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When I surveyed my friends on Facebook about their Mom Guilt, the answers poured in.

“Oh man what do I not feel guilty about? There is so much contradicting advice to new mothers.  No matter how I do something it is easy to feel as if it is the wrong way.”

“I feel guilty during sleep training, when my baby cries for more than 5 min. I also feel guilty that I seem to struggle with finding a balance between taking care of her, meeting my family’s needs and school work/career.”

“I feel guilty about talents or strengths that I saw in my children that I did not nurture enough, or weaknesses that I did not discipline and help them overcome.”

“I feel guilty for overreacting, and for not playing with them every time they ask me to.”

Can you identify?  But what to do?  Dealing with Mom Guilt is like trying to get chewing gum off of the bottom of your shoe.  The more you try, the stickier it gets.

Our Mom Guilt is complicated.  But I’ve learned some things that will help, and I want to share them.

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LEGITIMATE GUILT V.S. ILLEGITIMATE GUILT

First of all, we need to figure out is whether our guilt is legitimate guilt or illegitimate guilt.  We’re plagued with remorse, but a lot of times we don’t need to be. I’m telling you, Satan has a field day with moms!  Just like the Bible says in John 8:44, lies are the devil’s native language.  Just like the Hebrew translation of his name, Satan is “the accuser.”  He whispers to us that we’re messing up, that we should do more, that other moms are better moms, that we’re damaging our children.

So how do we tell if our guilt is illegitimate?   We start by being honest with ourselves that we’re feeling guilty, and specify exactly what we’re feeling guilty about.  We have to see clearly what we’re dealing with.

That’s the easy part.  The hard part is seeing clearly whether the thing we did was wrong or not.

To address that, I’m going to recommend that you start praying about your guilt, “Father God, show me if it is true that I should have done better in this situation.” I’m also going to recommend that you ask for input from a trusted friend or family member.  Sometimes they can see more clearly than we can.  Plus, it feels good to talk about it with someone!

We can also tell if our guilt is illegitimate by looking at our motivations.  Does it stem from trying to please others?  From trying to live up to what they do?  Does it stem from trying to please ourselves?    You know, I think some of us are harder on ourselves than God is!

Here’s a verse that has helped me many a time, “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” (John 7:18)

If we seek anything other than the glory of God, it’s going to trip us up.  But seeking to please God is an absolutely pure motivation.  It feels so good to say, “God, you are completely awesome.  I want my life to be praise for you, and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.  It’s not so others will think I’m a great mom.  It’s not so I can pat myself on the back.   It’s so you will smile at me.  It’s so I can live out my love for you.”

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A huge source of illegitimate guilt is having unrealistic expectations.  One mom told me that she feels guilty anytime she goes against the “norm” of what motherhood says is acceptable, like when she chose formula over breastfeeding.  There are so many norms these days. We’re besieged by images of a mom should be.  In my day, we thought we needed to be supermom.  Now it’s like moms are supposed to have evolved through the increase in information to be the best moms in history!  There’s this constant message, “You should do this.  You should do that.  Should, should, should, should, should….”

Ack!  Here’s the verse that has saved my sanity,  “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3)

We have to quit thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought!  We need to have sober judgement and realize that we don’t have the ability, or the capability, to do everything we think we should do.

Let’s look at this a little more.  First of all, let’s look at our abilities.  Each of us has unique strengths and weaknesses.  Why is it, then, that when we become a mom we think we’re supposed to be good at everything?  I love the reminder of I Corinthians 12, “If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. . . In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.”  This passage makes it plain that we each have something that we’re good at, and that is vitally important.  It also reminds us to not feel shame for not being able to excel at what someone else can do well.

Here’s an example.  I have a friend who suffers from mega guilt because she is often late.  Now I’m not saying that she shouldn’t work on being on time.  But I love that she is one of the few people I know who is good at being present.  She’s not always anxious about the next thing she needs to do.  She gives each person her full attention.  You feel important when you’re with her.  This is an awesome strength!

You have awesome strengths too, but they may come with a weakness you don’t like.

But speaking of time management, let’s talk about our capabilities.  We all have our schedule demands, so even if we do have the ability to do something, we may not have the time to do it.  In addition, we each have differing energy levels and health situations.  Some of us do better with nine hours of sleep, and some of us are wide awake after six hours.  Some of us can keep going all day and through the evening, and others of us are completely pooped by lunch time.  Be honest with yourself.  What can you realistically expect out of yourself?  I’m not giving you a license to be lazy.  But don’t allow yourself to feel guilty if you’re not wired to be Miss Energizer Bunny.  Don’t tell God that you should have been created differently, or be in a different situation.

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LEGITIMATE GUILT

Now that we’ve dispelled some of our illegitimate guilt, let’s talk about legitimate guilt.  Legitimate guilt comes from not doing the important things that you have the ability and capability to do.  But what is important?  We can think of twenty things that seem vital and necessary. I mean, this is our children we’re talking about.  How can it not be super important to see to their health, their education, their character development, and their need to be loved?

We have to make time periodically to reevaluate.  We have to prioritize. 

And God has to come first.

Here is one of my favorite verses, because it’s such a good reminder for me,  “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Ps 127:1-2)

Moms, if you’re not putting God first, all of the efforts you are putting into parenting can be in vain.  Putting God first means making time for personal devotion and church attendance.  It means obeying the Bible and teaching your children to do the same.

It’s the same principle as Matthew 6:33.  Seeking the kingdom first helps everything else to work out.  If you feel guilty because you’re letting other things in life crowd out God, this is legitimate.  It’s the important thing you need to address over the urgent demands.

The next priority is your marriage.   You made a covenant with him that is holy in God’s eyes.  You vowed to cherish him.

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So how is it that your husband got moved to the back burner?

I’m going to pass on to you what was stressed over and over to me: your husband comes before your children.  Yes, I know that your children’s needs are more immediate.  But God designated you to be your husband’s helper. (Genesis 2:18) That doesn’t mean to be his little wife slave.  It means you are in a singular position to support him, believe in him and build him up. What you say and do affects him more than the words and actions of anyone else on earth.

That is why God commands us to respect our husbands.  (Eph 5:33) They need our positive reinforcement, even if they don’t ask for it.  They need to feel like they are important to us.  And they’re not going to feel this if we don’t treat them like they are worthy of our time.

So if you feel guilty because you’re not making time for your husband, or not meeting his needs, you have legitimate guilt.  Be intentional.  Schedule them in.  Try to drop what you’re doing when they desire your attention.  I’m telling you, with the strongest conviction of 37 years of marriage, that it’s worth it.

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And THEN, you can decide what you can do for your children.  Top the list with spending time with your them.  In almost every statement about Mom Guilt, women wrote that they wished they spent more time with their children.  One mom lamented, “I think the biggest thing I feel guilty about is lost opportunities. When I realize that the day has slipped away and I didn’t spend my time the way I intended to, or when the months and years slip away and I don’t have as much to show for the time (in terms of relationship building with my children, character training, homeschooling, etc.) as I had hoped.”

So this is something we want to consciously work on.  Again, we need to have realistic expectations.  We often can’t spend as much time as we’d like to.  But knowing that we are making this a priority will go a long way towards assuaging Mom Guilt.

Make a list, in order of priority, of the other things you would like to do for your children (and for your life, that’s a whole other subject).  Decide what you can do, and resist the temptation to try to do more than that.

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ONE MORE THING — IMPATIENCE

The second highest source of guilt for the moms I surveyed was their loss of patience.  One mom shared, “I feel guilty constantly but what makes me feel the most guilty is when I sin in front of my kids (for example yell at them).”

On one hand this is legitimate guilt.  It’s our responsibility to work on our self-control. We can’t place the blame for the lack of it on the behavior of others.  We can’t excuse it by saying we’ve had a bad day, or that our PMS is making us crazy.  Jesus said,  “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come.”  (Mark 7:21)  Maybe we don’t have evil thoughts, but we do need to work on our heart.

On the other hand, we need to remember that God is gentle and kind with us, so we need to be gentle and kind with ourselves.  I love that the fruits of the Spirit include goodness, gentleness and kindness. (Gal. 5:20-21) That means those are characteristics of God.  And it’s comforting that Isaiah 40:11 says, “He gently leads those that have young.”

So if you do or say something you regret, apologize (even to your child).  And then let it go.  Don’t let Satan use the guilt to open your ears to his lies. It might be true that you lost your temper.  But it’s probably not true that you are a terrible mother and you are ruining your child.

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CONCLUSION — LEARNING TO BE CONTENT

In conclusion, all of this is easy to say, and sooooo hard to do!  Because Mom Guilt is complicated.

Do you know what one of the biggest things is that I still can struggle with Mom Guilt about?  It’s that I didn’t give my youngest daughter better opportunities in extracurricular activities.

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I had two older children, and their sports travel teams took up most of our time.  So I sometimes put my youngest daughter in activities that were easy on the schedule.  I wish I had put her in the harp lessons across town, like she wanted at one time, or more advanced dance lessons.

As I reflect on this, I realize that it’s kind of an irrational guilt.  On one hand, I know I was trying really hard to juggle a lot of things.  But on the other hand, my daughter means the world to me, and I wanted to give her the best.

And that is why I think we have so much Mom Guilt.  We want to give our children the best, and we feel bad when we don’t, no matter what our abilities or our capabilities are.

When is all said and done, we have to realize that we’re never going to parent perfectly.  Yes, we need to strive to do what is most important.  But if we’re making an effort to do that, we also need to give ourselves a break.  We’re good moms!   We’re loving our children.  We’re making a lot of good parenting choices.

One of the hardest thing about being a mom is having the ability to be content.  This passage speaks to our struggle so well, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  Phil 4:12-13

We always hear the last part of this verse about being able to do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But do we remember that it is referring to contentment?

It takes a lot of strength to be able to be content, and we have to fight for it.  Just like we need learn to be content with what we have, instead of wishing for what we can’t have, we need to learn to be content with what we can do, instead of wishing to do more.

In material things, the Bible says that food and drink are all we need to be content.  “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”  (I Timothy 6:8)

In parenting, I’m going to say that putting God first and actively loving our children are all we need to do to be content and free from guilt.  When I started raising my children, I had loads of Mom Guilt.  But over the years, I learned to make these two things a priority.  I came to have much more peace.  I didn’t do them perfectly.  But having the confidence that I was doing what was most important made a huge difference in my sense of well being.

Mom Guilt. We all struggle with it.  But it doesn’t have to dominate, or dictate our lives.  Let’s fight for the joy of motherhood, with which we have been blessed!

Let’s put these into practice:

  1. Ask yourself, “What specifically am I feeling guilty about?”
  2. Pray, “God, should I feel guilty about this?”
  3. Ask someone you trust, “Should I feel guilty about this?”
  4. Look at your motivations. Who are you trying to please?  Seek only to please God.
  5. Ask yourself if you have realistic expectations, according to your abilities and capabilities.
  6. Determine what is most important, and make sure you are taking steps to do it.
  7. Reevaluate and prioritize on a periodic basis.
  8. Be kind and gentle with yourself.
  9. Pray to have the strength to be content with what you can do.

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“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42

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Wrestling with Religious Division

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When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.  Mark 9:14

I have to admit, the political climate right now is driving me crazy.  I cringe when I look at the headlines, like I’m opening a container of moldy leftovers.

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Yeech!  But the main thing that is driving me crazy is the rabid discord.  It makes my heart sad to see people hating on each other.

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And then I think, “Surely, we as Christians should be different.”

Yet often we are not.  That’s why I wanted to explore this verse, which is a part of the story that I discussed in my last blog.  It concerns something that is much on my heart — our tendency to be contentious about religious matters.

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Whenever I read how the teachers of the law opposed Jesus, I want to shake them and say, “Don’t you get it?  This is the Messiah that you’ve been waiting for!”  I have such a strong desire for people to overcome their biases and LISTEN, for them to live in harmony and be unified, just like Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one.” (John 17:21)

But it is the nature of man to dispute.  And just like this wrangling broke out when Jesus was away, the tendency to dispute is amplified when people get in a place where they don’t see Jesus and his power and wisdom.

I wrestle so much with the religious division I see today.

I could go on and on about it, but one of the main things I want to say is that we need to have convictions, but we also need to be humble.  We need to remain open, listen to others, and not think we have it all figured out.

I’ve been reading a totally mind blowing book about people throughout history who were martyred for holding to what they believed the Bible said.  I can’t help but be inspired by them.

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martyrs mirror

Yet at the same time I get turned off when I see churches split because one group thinks they need to follow the Bible more stringently.

What to do? Should we be more rigid or more tolerant?

I believe the answer is to be like Jesus, to be  “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Like Jesus, we need to have strong commitment to live by the truth.  When Jesus faced temptation, he answered it with scripture, and said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4)  All of his actions were righteous.  He maintained, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.  The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”  (John 8:28b-29)

But we also need to remember that Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'”  (Matt 9:13) 

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We need to remember that Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  He didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery.  He told his disciples to accept those who were not part of their group and yet performed miracles in his name, “For the one who is not against us is for us.”  (Mark 9:40)

Again, we need to make it our top priority to fulfill the most important commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'”  (Mark 12:30)  A top priority should also be to help others do the same, “teaching them to obey everything.”   (Matt 28:20)

Yet we can never be self righteous.  Jesus related that the tax collector who stood at a distance and prayed, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” was justified, not the Pharisee who was proud of how he kept the law.  (Luke 18:13)  We so badly want to feel superior and tell someone that they aren’t committed enough if their commitment doesn’t look like ours.  But we need to be careful.  There is always someone more committed — someone who has given away all their material possessions, someone who is devoted to service, someone who is saving souls right and left.

Instead, we need to practice Romans 14:1, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.”  There is a place for the sister who is committed, but weak.  Encourage her, and give space for her to grow and for God to work. (Phil 1:6, Romans 14:4)

Timothy summed this all up so well.  He started by saying in II Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” and then went on to pronounce:

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Going back to today’s reading, what did Jesus do when he was faced with religious disputing?   You know, you would think that when Jesus appeared, he would have waded in the argument and set the teachers of the law straight.  Instead, it seems like he got onto the apostles for not being able to heal the boy, “You unbelieving generation. How long must I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19)

I think this shows us that Jesus expects that our focus should be solely on God.  He was looking for faith, the vertical relationship.  But his apostles ended up getting tangled in horizontal interactions.   How would it have been different if they had looked to God when things didn’t go as planned?  What if they had said, “Hmmm, this didn’t work, so let’s pray more and seek the Lord about this?”

I say this because I can relate.  I’m trying to remember to look to God.  But often, when things are challenging, I start reaching for any safety strap I can find.  I get bent out of shape.  It goes better when I think, “Wow, this is tough.  What’s going on, God?  What do I need to learn?  What do I need to do differently?  How can I trust?”

So let’s sum this all up.  What can you do if you are faced with a difference of opinion regarding a religious matter?

  1. Take time to take the matter before the Lord in careful prayer.
  2. Be humble.  Listen and try to understand the other person’s position.  Don’t be self righteous.
  3. Look to your own righteousness before God.  Do you have a log in your eye that you need to remove before you address the speck from someone else’s eye?
  4. Decide if the scriptures are clear cut on the issue.  It is a disputable matter or a salvation issue?  Does it regard a sin a person needs to repent of immediately, or is it an area in which they need to grow?
  5. If you do have a clear scriptural principle to defend, stand up for it!  But do so without quarreling.  Be respectful.  Treat others as you would want to be treated.

May our dream be, as Christ’s was, that we all may be unified!!  “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”  (Ps 133:1)

I think it is totally good and pleasant in our church!  I love that we are like family.  Here are a few recent pictures.

Singles at church

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Me with Elena and Edie

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Alicia and Travis

But we’ve had to work for our unity.

Some say that unity will only happen when everyone lives by the scriptures.

But I say that unity will only happen when we obey the scriptures, pray for wisdom, and have open honest discussions in respect and humility.

Discussion is vital.  And that means that Satan would like to cut off all discussion, or make it unproductive.

The great tragedy is that he often succeeds.

The great victory is that we can vanquish him by living in truth and grace.

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