If you know me, you know that I am a disgustingly motivated person. I can’t trace the roots of this; all I know is that from as far back as I can remember I have always been high-achieving, driven, and required very few external incentives. These traits culminated in obvious expressions – keeping a crazy-busy schedule in high school, finding less challenge from balancing my college courses, sleep and a social life, always managing to get what I needed and wanted to done each day, and developing strong, consistent habits. While I know some covet these abilities, I admit that I took them for granted as purely part of my personality. But as I have become a mother and shifted into a parenting role, I’m discovering caveats to this “gift”.
My work style hasn’t changed much. I am somehow able to accomplish hours of study and a variety of chores each day in addition to the basic functions of keeping my child alive and (usually) happy. I even find myself spending a significant portion of my day on things that I want to do, be it reading a novel, working out or watching a favorite tv series.
I can hear a lot of moms rolling their eyes or sharpening their kitchen knives. I know. What do I have to complain about?
There are a variety of “Mom” complexes out there, but they all come from essentially the same place. We want to be good parents. We want to provide for our children and our families the best that we can, because they deserve the best. At the same time we have needs and hopes and dreams and a myriad of other reasons that we need time and energy devoted to ourselves. These two often come head-to-head in our daily lives and more often than not our personal well-being is sacrificed on the alter of bill paying, diaper changing and dinner making. And while we do that, there always seems to be some Super-Mom with fancily dressed and groomed children and a swimsuit-ready body gliding by the kitchen window, seeming to effortlessly be juggling her children, her day job, her spirituality, her physical health, her higher education and a perfect marriage.
I know that, for some people, I am that mom. And I am here to tell you that although my complex is different – backwards, even -, it is every bit as real and as poignant as yours. My unspoken worry is “I must be doing something wrong”. Because I’m not flustered and frazzled like so many moms are. I’m not struggling to keep up with a busy school life, a growing toddler and the typical housewife roles and responsibilities. So clearly my priorities must be wrong, right? Am I overemphasizing myself and my needs over my child? I don’t think so…but the best mothers I know are also some of the most selfless. Is there something wrong in my approach? There has to be…
Every mother and father around us struggles with their own internal battles, fought on the fields of their minds and hearts – often unheralded, under-emphasized and ignored by others. Why do we fall casualty to our perceptions of other parents so quickly? Why is there a lack of acceptance for our own styles and mistakes in the face of doing our best? I think the roots can be traced directly to how darn hard parenting is and how we are more prone to compare ourselves to others silently rather than offer and accept the validation and support we are each so desperately in need of.
Think about it. Parenting can be one of the most invalidating roles there are. There may be very little gratification from your work received until your child is an adult and even then that child has their agency to make their own choices. I can imagine that there will always be a part of me that questions if the choices my children make in the future can somehow be tied back to me and my parenting, for worse or for better.
Heavenly Father and Mother are perfect parents. They know each child individually, inside and out. They can cater their parenting style precisely to what each child needs in every particular instance. They have raised billions of children spiritually to perfection before sending them to Earth. And what do they find? That billions of their children are rebellious, unhappy, selfish, prideful and otherwise uninclined to do good. How do they do it? Their flawless parenting is underrepresented significantly. What hope do I have as a flawed parent?
Despite our struggles, we know that parenthood is the essence of Godhood and Godhood is the pinnacle of joy, knowledge, wisdom, righteousness, and everlasting happiness. So we struggle through our imperfections, finding moments of happiness on the way that we cling to with the enduring hope that we aren’t screwing up our children too much and when the doubts set in we fight back our individual mental complexes, hoping that others don’t see the mistakes we make. But is that enough? Can we receive all the help we require through our own willpower?
Since it’s hard to feel validated through our children directly at times, the least we can do is offer that security and encouragement to each other. Too often we critique others and compare ourselves in a role where almost no commonalities exist, other than the fact that we all have children. How much better would our energy be spent if we were forgiving of ourselves and others, and refused to draw comparisons and assumptions where they just shouldn’t be made? We will not be ranked against each other in the eternal courts of Heaven, so why bother filling out our earthy brackets now?
The most important thing is that we keep perspective on the work we are doing – a work of
eternal importance -, that we give our best efforts in supporting and raising our family, and that we are kind to others who may be in similar situations. There is much joy to be had as we raise these spirit children of God, and all the more if we celebrate each other as parents who are all doing their best. As we do so, we may all find our mental weapons of warfare buried, and our minds and hearts more clear and capable of cherishing the things that matter most. That alone is a cause worth fighting for.