About a year ago, I decided I wanted a mom shirt. You know the kind - gray, casual fit with a catchy mom motto, ready to be paired with cut-off jeans and white Converse. I don't know what prompted my desire for a mom shirt. Maybe it's part of my continuing quest to fully embrace my mom role. Maybe it's my way of telling the world to ignore the frazzled look on my face and just read my shirt because I really do love this mom gig.
My dear friend, Lindsay, who was expecting her first baby, flew into town to meet my newest little guy over Mother's Day weekend. I decided this was the perfect excuse to buy that mom shirt - one for her, one for me. Lindsay is definitely the kind of friend who would wear matching mom shirts with me. After hours on Etsy clicking through Mama Bear and #momlife shirts, I opted for one that proudly declared "Strong As A Mother."
I like the sentiment that mothers are strong, and therefore, I am strong - strong enough to handle motherhood.
I am strong.
I am capable.
I am a mother.
I can do hard things.
Except for all the times I can't.
I had a phone call scheduled for 4:00, so I gathered the two older darlings and explained I would need privacy. I told them to play in the basement while I talked on the phone upstairs. Hindsight is 20/20, so now I know turning on Netflix would have been the wiser option. But I didn't.
At 4:10 I ended my call early, tears burning the back of my eyes, anger consuming my body. My children did not stay in the basement during the call. Instead, they ran around the house screaming. They jumped on my back, chased me upstairs, and completely disregarded my request for privacy. They burst through a closed door and flung toys against a locked door. My death look, hand gestures, and body language were useless. I was livid.
I don't remember everything I said to them as I stepped into the hallway, but I remember swallowing the screams that were shaking my body. Instead, I spoke slowly and quietly, with harsh statements and glaring eyes.
"The way you just acted was disappointing and disgusting. I do not want to see you or hear from you until dad comes home. If you dare to come out of your room before he gets home, you will have no dinner, no playtime, no books. You will go to bed, and I will not see you until tomorrow."
These were not empty threats. I was prepared to follow through. I closed the door to their rooms and sat at the top of the stairs.
Strong as a mother? I didn't feel so strong in that moment.
And then it happened.
My five-year-old daughter said - no - screamed, "I hate you!" There were a bunch of other words, too. Something about not being fair and wanting to get out of this house. She accused her brother of lying and apparently she wants a new family. Her frustration and anger flooded down the hallway as I sat at the top of the stairs, unsure of my next move.
My mind knew the truth, but my heart squeezed a steady stream of tears down my face. I knew she didn't hate me. I knew she would want to come with me in an hour to run errands. I knew she would cuddle with me that night to read Fancy Nancy, and she would crawl into my bed the next morning at 7:15. I knew she didn't like being sent to her room until dinner and her five-year-old emotions have a limited ability to express frustration. My mind knew, but her words still felt awful.
Part of being a mom is taking the heat of emotions our children cannot express. They try out words and phrases to release those intense feelings, and we are left to absorb the heavy blow. She was frustrated with the situation, with the consequence, and she didn't know what to say or do. So she started yelling, probably unsure what would come out next. She was going for dramatic, extreme, anything to get my attention.
Part of being a kid is taking the heat of emotions moms cannot express. We try out words and phrases to release those intense feelings, and our children are left to absorb the heavy blow. I was frustrated with the situation, with dishing out an extreme consequence, and I didn't know what to say or do. So I started talking, unsure what would would come out next. I was going for dramatic, extreme, anything to get her attention.
This day, these 15 minutes, are engraved in my memory. I can close my eyes and feel the anger and pain, immediately followed by guilt and shame. My words, her words, they cannot be undone.
Strong as a mother? I didn't feel so strong in that moment.
I want to be strong; I want to be capable. I want to gracefully handle busy days and crabby children. Mostly, I want to be strong enough to control my emotions, quiet my anger, and give a gentle answer when a harsh one is bubbling.
But I keep messing up.
It is so easy to get sucked into a downward spiral when I get angry. A wave of condemnation knocks my over, and before I can even regain my footing, my patience runs out again, and I am hit with more guilt. Recently, I have found myself believing the lie that I cannot change, the lie that anger is just a part of motherhood.
Never before has the gospel of God's grace been more real to me than in my life as a mom. Sin is constantly surfacing, and I am reminded on a daily basis of my inability to do this job well. I might be able to fake it to the world, but I cannot fake it in front of my children. They see, probably more than anyone, the ugliness of my sin.
When I think about my weaknesses, I think about 2 Corinthians 12:9 which tells me there is power in my weakness.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
That is such an ideal response to my feebleness, but also one that prompts me to roll my eyes. It seems a bit too trite when my weakness is spilling out into our entire home, even bringing out the weaknesses of my children. Where is the power in that?
In the next verse, Paul really goes for it and tells me to delight in my weakness. Good grief.
"That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Oh, Paul. You're killing me.
Apologizing to your children is such a beautiful idea. The image of a mother, coming humbly before her children to admit wrong and seek forgiveness sounds so saintly. But when I'm that mom, the one knocking on a door covered with My Little Pony drawings and entering a room painted Fizzleberry Pink, it doesn't feel beautiful; it feels humiliating.
"Hey, girl. I really blew it tonight, and I am sorry for my part in that mess. I got angry too quickly. My words and tone were not loving, and I'm sorry."
She forgives me quickly. No drawn-out discussion. No rehashing the ugly.
"It's ok, mom. Sorry I was loud during your phone call."
The world tells me that my children's behavior depends on my behavior, their successes rest on my success, and their failures reflect my failure. Oh, please Jesus, don't let that be true. I am clinging to the hope that this world knows nothing of God's ability to use my weakness and failures to bless my children. I am believing in the absurdity that my God is in the business of turning weakness into blessing.
In a world that idolizes perfection, maybe one of the best things I can do for my children is to acknowledge my weakness in front of them. When they hear me say that my anger and impatience are wrong - when they hear me apologize and ask for forgiveness - when they hear me pray for the Holy Spirit to change my heart and my words - this is when the Gospel starts to make its way into our home in practical ways. They are pounded with lessons in obedience, constantly taught to do what is right in order to please me, or teachers, babysitters, coaches, and even friends. Yes, I want to raise obedient, self-sufficient children, but not children who are so confident in their own strength and abilities that they can hardly see their need for grace. Allowing my children to see me fail might be a gift, freeing them from the grip of perfection and awakening them to our desperate need for Jesus.
I often thought 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 was a bit patronizing - a Christian cliche quoted in the midst of troubled times to comfort you with a vague sense of hope. But today, God is showing me how these words can bring real freedom on the messy days of motherhood.
When you are weak, you stop depending on your own ability. My strength is magnified.
When you are weak, you readily accept the grace I'm always offering. My strength is magnified.
When you are weak, you see me be strong. My strength is magnified.
Strong as a mother?
Weak as a mother.
That probably wouldn't sell as many shirts.