The baby’s crying and the tot needs to go potty, and someone asks that question again. The same question I already answered four times, that we are waiting to have dessert when daddy gets home. She hadn’t heard me those first four times, and she’s distracted, and chewing with her mouth open, and just got up on top of the table to grab food off of her brother’s plate while he was in the bathroom, and she thought I wasn’t looking.
You know the moments…when it feels like you have a big red button on you and everyone is pushing it. Something in me snapped.
I launch into lectures about how she needs to use her table manners and, by the way, I’m not answering the same question a fifth time and, by the way, she can’t have dessert anymore because she refuses to listen to me and, by the way, her chewing is driving me crazy. That line that I held onto all (or most of the) day – I lose my grip on it and come tumbling down with a terrible crash. I grab at everything in my path to take down with me.
Ugly harshness spews. I’m disgusted by the sound of my own voice, but can’t seem to harness it.
Failure and self-loathing blow in like a hurricane, and my mind swirls with the therapy it will take for my daughter to recover from my verbal battering, and how her self-esteem is shot and her identity will be all wrapped up with never being enough for her short-fused mother. And while the torrent of shame sweeps me up and away from reality, another sweet one innocently prances back into the room and asks for dessert.
Does it make you feel crazy just thinking about it? Me too.
Baby is still crying and toddler is still holding herself saying she’s about to pee, and rather than responding to the question, I react and spout more ruthlessness about how no one is getting dessert anymore because it’s all anyone can talk about all day. I’m swept away. The more ashamed I am of myself, the more I can’t say anything nice.
Friend, have you felt that shame that takes you over, when the sound of your own voice makes your stomach twist up in knots?
The shame says this moment provides overwhelming evidence that I am officially and hopelessly a “bad mom.”
As the stormy moment settles in silence, I look at my little flock and feel this crushing inadequacy and utter failure.
By grace, I manage a long enough breath to jump off the lecture track, and I ask the kids if I can pray. I murmur this feeble prayer about needing God to come in and bring peace and joy and hope and redemption… How we need him to rewrite the story of our night. They all sweetly say “Amen” and look to me for what’s next.
I sigh deeply and say that I’m sorry for losing my cool and I assure them that I’m not angry with them, that they deserve to be honored with my tone, that even if they disobey, I am on their side. I remind them that they are accountable for following rules and listening, but that I know they had long days too, and my heart’s desire is for all of us to speak to one another with kindness and gentleness. I ask if they will forgive me for my harshness.
They do so, quickly and easily.
Oh, if only, I could be more like them. I try to let their tender grace wash over me, but it only makes me feel more undeserving of being called their mama.
Then it hits me that when they fail… all I want in the world is for them to recover quickly. I want them to not be discouraged or let the mistake stick to their identity. I want them to know that they remain a son or daughter of the King of kings, and that being unable to do it all right is the reason Jesus came. I want them to know they are simply loved, to grab hold of grace.
Suddenly, it’s painfully obvious that beating myself up is setting the opposite example. What my children need most…in this moment, and in life, is to see me need Jesus. They need to know how to make peace with brokenness and let Jesus rescue them.
They need to see me forgive myself as I accept God’s grace and forgiveness for my mistakes.
If my children are to cast off shame and walk in broken freedom to be nothing except a child of God saved only by grace… then the best I could do is to show them what it looks like to not be surprised that I’m a sinner, to not be surprised that I need a Savior every day.
Frankly, I need to get over myself.
I was never meant to be the perfect example or the perfect mom. I was simply meant to be a big arrow pointing to the perfect Savior. And the same is true for you, Mama.
I’ve done this wrong so many times. I’ve stayed so often in the cycle of shame, and I’ve beat myself up for all the things. Rather than accepting that my debt was paid by Jesus, I have brought my own punishment by lecturing myself about all the things I should have said and done better.
And let’s be honest, my failures are not exclusive to raising my voice or having a snippy tone. My children need to see me forgive myself for locking my keys in the car, for missing my exit on the highway, or for forgetting my wallet in my other purse. They need to see me laugh at myself and order pizza when I drop dinner on the floor, so that they believe me when I tell them I’m not angry that they spilled their water again. They need to see me apologize to their daddy for not greeting him warmly after work. My children need to see me be radically human in order to learn about authentic grace for authentic life.
I’ve often refused to receive the grace of God, leaving me empty of grace to extend to my children.
But God is tenderly leading me to a place that’s more shattered and more liberated, more empty of me and more full of God’s mercy. He is teaching me to receive grace to give it. He is gently bringing me face-to-face with my grand and sweeping weakness every day, so that I never forget to need Jesus’ rescue.
I pause and let my children’s easy forgiveness wash over me, right along with the blood of Jesus. And I’m clean. Perhaps they see that their humanness is okay too.
The tone of our homes can be set by the mostly lighthearted apologies and the way we reset the course. Most of the time, a quick “Oops!” or “So, sorry, let me fix my tone” is enough. We accept forgiveness quickly, and walk right out of the cycle of shame and anger and criticism.
Of course, there are mistakes we make that are not at all light-hearted…that leave deep, soul-crushing wounds, and require the sincerest and most heartfelt apologies, and a journey of rebuilding trust. But most of our weak moments don’t have to be world shattering.
If I insulate my children from their humanness and mine, I lock chains around their ankles, and teach them that we should all be perfect. But when my children see me fail, admit, be washed in grace, they learn that it’s right and good and not-so-scary to take ownership of their own mistakes. They learn to apologize and walk forward in a new freedom and dependence on Jesus.
There’s a truth we get to walk in: that we mess up and our children do too. It’s so simple but so profound in our performance‐based, perfection-worshipping culture, to NOT be perfect. I think being a mama is perhaps the fastest way to a crushing sense of inadequacy, but there’s a sweetness in being beyond ourselves, unable to maintain the perception of perfection.
Freedom comes in owning our humanness and teaching our children to own theirs. Freedom is being weak and then strong with only the salvation Jesus offers. Freedom is bringing nothing to the table, and gathering the gift of God’s grace each morning (or each moment), like manna, without fear that we have enough for tomorrow. Freedom is acknowledging the dirt and letting Jesus’ blood wash us anew each day.
I’m trying to teach my children to get used to making mistakes, and to get used to accepting grace…
So when you feel like the dreaded Bad Mom, take hold of raw mercy and amazing grace. Take hold of another opportunity to show your kids what it means to be God’s broken beloved child, who needed a rescue, and got one in Jesus.