The other day, I zipped out for what I thought would be a quick trip to the grocery store. It happened right there in the dairy aisle in front of the yogurt. A toddler lost it, maybe, because his mother refused to buy the yogurt with the neon sprinkles. Whatever the reason for the melt down, the little guy ramped up the octaves full tilt. The young mother employed diplomacy to try to get her tyke to relent. This young mother’s other two children chimed in with whining complaints of being bored and hating the grocery store. I live in a small, rural farming community and the grocery store often serves a dual purpose: visiting with neighbors while grabbing the goods on my list. I recognized the young mom from around town, which probably packed on another layer of humiliation for her.
The young mother and I made eye contact. Her eyes expressed a fear that every mother on earth has felt, “I am really not sure I know what I am doing; I am not even sure I am any good at this mothering bit.“ Just before the first tear trickled down her cheek, I told her that I’ve been there. I assured her that after decades of mothering, there are days when I am transported back to that place of motherhood insecurity.
After a few minutes, I watched her wheel the car-shaped cart, with two of her kids jutting out of the windows and one still screaming, down the aisle, and out of sight.
There are no perfect mothers. But how are we to grasp that reality living in a culture where such a high premium is placed on perfection? Perfect job, perfect weight, perfect marriage, perfect teeth, perfect, perfect, perfect… Women easily transfer that benchmark of perfection to motherhood. There isn’t a surgery that exists to create a perfect mother. A woman might possess a chiseled nose thanks to cosmetic surgery or maintain the physique sculpted by a personal trainer yet remain at a loss as to how to fix perfect mother syndrome (PMS).
Most of us arrive at motherhood clueless. We inhale the top-rated books on how to survive motherhood or how to avoid the temptation of unleashing the tiger mom within us. What happens when real life steps outside of the pages of the book and mothers are dealing with temper tantrums in the library, kids with learning challenges, sibling spats, or teens that make wrong choices? Yes, motherhood requires sacrificial love without any guarantees that all will have a storybook ending. If we think it is anything less than sacrificial love, we are fooling ourselves.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, entered motherhood in less than ideal circumstances. Mary, a poor, village peasant girl is chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world. She willingly accepted the challenges that motherhood brought her way. God chose Mary, an imperfect girl, to be the mother to history’s only perfect child. From the human side, Jesus lived in a home managed by an imperfect couple.
Like many of us, Mary arrived to motherhood inexperienced and apprehensive. If the Son of God can be born to a flawed mother and reared in an imperfect home, why do women subject themselves to a standard of perfectionism in motherhood? Mary serves as the blue print to the grace bestowed upon mothers.
The cure for perfect mother syndrome is to spend more time strengthening our character which will influence the way we mother our children. Motherhood is a calling not a choice or preference: Regardless of how some of us came to be a mother, God through divine sovereignty chose and selected us to be a mother. Celebrate that fact. There isn’t another mother who arrived to motherhood in a more unusual and shocking way than Mary. After her shocking news from an angel (again shocking), she then embraced the gift and even endured social chastisement from her community because of the pregnancy.
Pray for a meek and quiet spirit: Daily, I need to acknowledge my need and dependence on God for the task of motherhood which I’ve been called. Seek to create a humble and nurturing environment, not a perfect one: Clay Trumbull, Christian author and spokesmen and dedicated to the evangelism of children offers a suggestion for parents in his 1890 classic book, Hints on Child Training, the atmosphere of the home must be full of pure oxygen of love to God and love to man. It must be neither too hot in its intensity of social activities, nor too cold in its expression of family affection, but balmy and refreshing in its uniform temperature of household living and being. It must be gentle and peaceful in its manner and movement of sympathetic interaction.
Along with Joseph, Mary gave Jesus a home, which although it was most unpretentious, was yet the only home He knew in the days of His flesh. Because of the character of Mary, we feel that her home was permeated with mutual trust and love and sympathetic understanding.
Saturate yourself and your children with the promises of God, true perfection: The instruction manual for imperfect mothers is already written, the Bible. Mary used the scriptures of the Old Testament as she brought Jesus up in their simple, village home. We aren’t called to be perfect mothers, just like we aren’t expected to have the perfect house or perfect body. We are expected to listen for the voice of God so that we hear Him when he calls us to do really difficult jobs like being a mother.