Why you don’t have to win “Mother of the Year”

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It’s a Saturday morning. We are still in our pajamas, as is our wont, starting the day real slow. I glance over at The Cub, a cozy cat in his own PJs and robe, and I see that he’s munching a cookie. Huh? What? And, more specifically, who?

As The Cub’s father, Mr. Schrock, is the only other one stirring, I know exactly “who.” And so I say it. “We are running a loose ship here when a child can eat a chocolate chip cookie. Before breakfast.”

He grins, sheepish, looking for all the world like a schoolboy himself. Then, in a move so swift that I nearly miss it, he whips his own left cookie-swiping hand behind his back. All of this, you’ll recall, before breakfast.

Girl that I am, I took it to my friends. “…and so that Mother of the Year trophy will be traveling right on past my house,” I wailed. “You can’t win like that. You can’t!”

Sensing a need, they hopped right in. With things like, “If it has oatmeal in it, it counts as breakfast,” and, “We do that here, too,” I was back up and running in no time. Though I did (I’ll confess) hide the cookies.

Having been a mother for over 24 years, I’ve learned this; that if there was one thing that could cause a woman to doubt herself, it was her mothering skills. For if there was one thing a woman wanted to be perfect at, it was mothering. That, at least, is how this one felt.

A mother’s love for her children was primal; was eternal. It was innate, really, to her character and nature as given to her by God. The terrible stories of maternal abuse and neglect were aberrations, perversions of what the Creator of families had intended. They did not, thank God, represent what most mothers were.

The women I knew sincerely wanted to be good moms. They loved their children. They devoted themselves to their nurture and care, often working to a point beyond exhaustion. There was nothing they would not do for these, their flesh and blood. And yet, in spite of the greatest effort and self-sacrifice, many women carried pernicious insecurity, a deep-seated doubt that it—any of it—was enough.

One of the things that got a woman in trouble was the age-old game of comparison. It was a deadly trap, this habit was, and could throw a mom straight to defeat. When a woman measured herself against another, she usually came up short. Then inferiority and failure swept in, a godless, cruel pair. Other times, comparison brought pride and feelings of superiority, and this was godless, too.

Nothing good ever came of comparing, for the yardstick, the unit of measurement, was all wrong. It came down, I thought, to one’s focus.

If our focus as mothers was perfection, we were destined to failure and disappointment. There would always be another mom who was better. Better at patience. Better at teaching. Better at birthday parties. Better at…you fill in the blank.

If our focus was raising perfect kids, we were certain to fail here, too. Our children, like us, were merely human with all the flaws, weaknesses and tendencies to sin that we ourselves possessed. Demanding perfection, whether in sports or grades or overall achievements, only set them up to fail and guaranteed frustration.

What, then, is a mother to do? For there will come a time when the reality of her own imperfections (and those of her children) sets in. It is here, when the voices of defeat, discouragement and failure begin their horrid chants, that a mother has a choice.

Instead of striving for perfection, a mother can choose grace. She can choose it for herself, remembering that having a failure doesn’t mean she is one. Then she can extend such grace to her children when they’re imperfect, too.

A mother can choose forgiveness. When she blows it, she can accept the forgiveness freely given by God, seeking it next from her kids. When they, too, mess up and they blow it, she can grant it to them, and they will know how it looks.

A mother can choose relationship over perfection just as God does with us. In pursuing and nurturing the hearts of her children, she can be a beautiful example of the Father’s pursuit of mankind. Her children will see and will know what it is to grow up in Heaven’s clear light.

A mother can pray. She can choose that, too. She can pray boldly, asking for the wisdom, discernment and grace all sufficient that’s needed for raising her children. In that way, she co-parents with God Himself who knows something about imperfect kids.

No, a woman will never be a perfect mother. But she can be a good one. She can receive, then give grace, and the same with forgiveness. She can care for young hearts. She will love, always love. And she’ll cover it all with her prayers.

“And God saw that it was good.”

This “Grounds for Insanity” column was originally published in the February 27, 2014, edition of The Goshen News. People here are still eating cookies at all hours of the day, and that Mother of the Year trophy remains elusive.

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