catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 11 :: 2011.06.10 — 2011.06.23


Mom guilt

All wallowers welcome

In the 26 years I’ve been married, I have not only seen the faithfulness of God, as He has rescued me from the folly of my sin and difficult circumstances, but also has given me a very loving and supportive husband and five children, who bring me joy.  My story can be broken up into four parts, each one with its own theme.


1985-1994: Learning to parent

The first time period is from 1985 to 1994. We were married on May 18, 1985, a week after I graduated from Bloomsburg University. Tom and I had met there and dated most of my junior year, at the end of which he proposed to me.  We looked forward to our marriage, serving college students at Bucknell, Bloomsburg and Susquehanna Universities through a campus ministry. I also started graduate school full time immediately at Bloomsburg, making a daily commute starting the month after our wedding.

We knew we wanted children. I think four was the number we had agreed upon. I really had no idea how to be a mother, nor him a father, but we knew we wanted children to complete our family.

We trundled along the rest of 1985, enjoying that summer together in our tiny, bug-infested apartment. We were so happy to be married and have our own place, that in my recollections, little things like a plague of pill bugs and a tiny bathroom did not seem to matter. We lived close to Tom’s parents and enjoyed going there weekly to wash our clothes. That was a wonderful summer.

In January of 1986, we were surprised and happy to discover that I was expecting a baby — not in our plans. I had wanted to begin teaching after my graduate studies ended so we could save some money and so I could get some experience teaching in my field of working with deaf students. Thanks to financial help from my parents, I was able to graduate in August 1986, walking across the stage as big as a blown-up balloon. I was thankful to have completed that degree before we welcomed Katie.

Katie was not anxious to enter the world on her due date of September 30, so she stuck around for nine more days. After much cajoling, she finally submitted to the inevitable and was born on October 9, a Thursday evening. Because I had to have a caesarean, we stayed in the hospital for six days.  It was when we arrived home from the hospital that reality struck. I was sitting on my bed, hearing her strong cries in the next room when I thought, “Oh, I want to send her back!” I had virtually no experience with newborns. Coupled with a selfish desire for life to be just me and Tom, I couldn’t believe that I was stuck with this baby. One day home from the hospital, and already I felt guilty about not loving this baby as I should, about not embracing motherhood like I thought I would. But I was bucking against what I was called to do — a first step in learning to die to myself and submitting to a new thing that God was doing in us and for us. Because of my immaturity, I was not able to see it. But that’s what He was doing. Building a little family for His Great Big Family.

I had decided not to pursue teaching, as I felt strongly I needed to be home with my baby. 1986 to 1988 were very formative years in my mothering skills. As I said before, I had had very little experience with newborns. In addition, Tom and I had done little in our premarital days to discuss what we wanted our family culture to be like. We didn’t even know that was something we probably should have discussed, so we were quite impressionable during those years and I was grasping at anything to help me figure out this new chapter in our lives.

We read a lot. One book that I read in 1987 was called The Way Home by Mary Pride. This book was being read by “radical” parents. She advocated homeschooling, home births, large families, no contraception. In many ways, that book struck a chord in me. It was so countercultural and didn’t resemble anything I grew up with. It seemed to give meaning to marriage and family, a bigger view than just ourselves. I loved that book. It had how-tos. It was radical. Her tone was often caustic and abrasive, but I tried to ignore that and glean what I could.

Looking back, I realize that I was more influenced by that book than I knew. For many years I mistakenly tried to live up to what Mrs. Pride had proposed. And that was because I wanted, on the outside, to show people I had it all together as a mom, as if they would care what Mary Pride had to say. My vanity and pride pushed me to do all of the “right” things, only to fail many times and feel guilty about it. I often was feeling guilty over the surface things, while neglecting the important things going on inside my family.  God says that humans looks at the outward appearance, but He looks at the heart. I often forgot that in my quest for the perfect household. Jesus said in Matthew chapter 23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” I often fell into the category of the Pharisees, feeling guilty over things that God didn’t really attach any importance to, while neglecting the inside.

In 1988, Eliza was added to our family. As the chief caretaker, I was now outnumbered. I was surprised how angry and frustrated I got. Me, angry? Me, yell? That wasn’t me. Oh yes, it was — just a part of me I hadn’t seen yet. Put another notch in the guilt belt. It wasn’t until Hannah was born in 1990 that, by God’s grace, I was finally comfortable being a mother. I now had what I call “Mother Love” and my mothering role felt right. We began homeschooling the following year in 1991. I was happy and content in my role, but still was striving for that elusive prize, the perfect family. I continued to be hard on myself, feeling guilty about how neither I nor the girls were measuring up to “The Standard,” feeling frustrated when the girls didn’t behave the way I thought they should. As I look back, I was busy all the time, feeling guilty if I sat down to rest, or read a book, or even play a game with the girls. What was I striving for? Perfection? Accolades? Praise from my husband? Yes, all of that, to feed my pride. But I have to tell you how Jesus began to rescue me from this pit.

In the fall of 1993, we moved to St. Louis to that Tom could take one semester of Master of Divinity Studies at Covenant Theological Seminary. One class we were required to take together, a class called “The Doctrines of Grace.” In that class, through the teaching of Dr. Phil Douglass, I first began to understand what it meant that Jesus had sacrificed Himself for me.  With no regard for what I have done or not done, no regard for the life I had led since I was a child, Jesus had called me to be His very own. Jesus taught me, through the Bible and through an understanding of His covenant promises to His people and through His Holy Spirit, that I belonged to Him; that He was thinking of me when He died on the cross; that he was thinking of me when He was resurrected from the dead. He is thinking of me today, constantly, praying to God the Father on my behalf, rescuing me from my foolishness, my selfishness, my wrong turns. I am completely His, never to be snatched from His Hand.

But back in the late eighties, when I started this mothering journey, I didn’t understand that. I knew in my head that Jesus forgave my sins, but I didn’t realize what that meant. I wasn’t living truly free. I was setting up standards, often arbitrary ones, that had little relation to the gospel of Christ, that I couldn’t even follow. And instead of recognizing my folly, I would just get back on my horse again and vainly try to reach my own lofty and unrealistic goals.  Essentially that was my life until 1996, but I must go back and include my youngest two children in the story.


1995-1998: Grace

This next segment of my life spans 1995 to 1998. After about four years of infertility and miscarriage woes, God gave us William in December 1995. We were very happy to have a son after three little girls. The girls delighted in him and he added so much to our family circle.  But this baby unnecessarily burdened me. After he was born, I pitched everything I knew about taking care of babies out the window and succumbed, heart and soul, to the advice given in the book Babywise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Buckman. Still striving for that elusive perfect household where everything ran like clockwork, I submitted William to a feeding schedule that, looking back, was somewhat abusive. I won’t dwell on this except to say that it was my folly and sin that caused me to make such a bad mothering choice. But God did redeem it by providing a lactation consultant out of nowhere, just in time and he grew into an adorable, chubby, little baby. But that was a time I still look back on in horror and feelings of guilt still try to wrap their tentacles around my heart. I have to keep reminding myself that I am free and clear of that woeful mistake.

Between July 1995 and December 1998, we returned to live in St. Louis, where Tom was now a full-time graduate student at Covenant Theological Seminary. We didn’t have many friends for the first ten years of our marriage, mainly because of our vocation and location. But moving to seminary where I was surrounded by women in my stage of life, and living in such close community only fed my sinful heart with a new sport: to compare and contrast myself with other moms and their mothering. My new sin was either to feel smugly superior, or to feel guilty about our household when I didn’t think we were as cool as the neighbors.

But God was rescuing me. By vicariously learning what Tom was learning in class, through the thrice weekly chapel services and especially through sermons preached by George Robertson at our church, Covenant Presbyterian, I slowly began to realize that all aspects of my life — mothering, being a wife, running a household — were all up to God’s scrutiny, and He was the one I needed to please. When I remembered to look to Him as the standard, a lot of the slough started coming off.

No longer did I need to worry about how I was parenting my children. No longer did I need to compare myself with other mothers. By 1997, we felt ready to add to our family, someone who could be Willam’s pal. God gave us Maggie in August 1998. She was a very busy little girl, always on the go, into everything and attached to her pacifier. Or maybe I was attached to her pacifier.


1999-2007: Dark days

Moving on to 1999 to 2007, having five kids and being more than ten years older than when I started parenting often left me often depleted. Also, prompted by genetics, I slowly started to spiral downward into a pattern of anxiety and depression that at first I did not recognize. In the spring of 2002, I was in very bad shape, with crazy thoughts and hypochondriacal worries. By June of 2003, I hit rock bottom. On the twenty-first of that month, I had a nervous breakdown. I was immediately put on medication and found some relief, but for the next four years, my family had to deal with a depressed, unmotivated, tired, sad mom and wife. I felt, and still feel much guilt about my lack of involvement in my older girls’ lives then and how hard it was for Tom. I know that their high school years would have been a bit easier if I had been able to be engaged with them. Tom keeps reminding me that I was sick, and that was that. I was just as sick as if I had been bedridden with a disease.

How did I get through this period? I think one thing that helped, in addition to my loving husband, was that I knew that God had not let me go. Even though I was so tired that I couldn’t even turn to him except for weak cries of help, He never left me. Paul says in Romans 8, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Moreover, God provided for the girls; thankfully they had other adults in their lives to help them along and take care of them.


2007-2011: Looking back, looking forward

Since 2007, God has been slowly restoring my strength. He gave me the opportunity to teach two years at a local church pre-school. And after having Maggie and William at Veritas Academy for two years, Maggie came back home to be homeschooled. This last year God has given me the incredible privilege of teaching four kindergartners in our little Poiema School.

Christ has slowly been transforming me since 1985. He has been replacing my ideas with His far superior ones. I have learned and am still learning that He is my Advocate, and not my accuser. I am guilty, yes, before God’s law. Anything right I do is so small compared to how glorious He is. But Christ has condemned sin and the law through His death and resurrection.  If you are not a follower of Jesus, I urge you to consider His claims and His place in the history of the human race. If you are already a follower of Jesus, be encouraged that you are free through grace — free to make good choices, free to serve your children with love without expecting anything back, free to seek God’s Kingdom first, which ultimately brings joy.

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