Harvest House Publishers
Why Is Mommy Splashing Around?
Part 1: You, Too, Can Sail!
Part 3: Lifesavers: Actions and Attitudes to Keep You Afloat
Making the simple complicated is commonplace;
making the complicated simple, awesomely
simple, that’s creativity.
As the mother of young children, I struggled. There, I said it. God had given me these remarkable creatures, perfectly formed, to love and nurture. And frankly, some days I didn’t want to do it. Please don’t misunderstand me. I loved my children. I simply found mothering to be the most difficult thing I had ever done—and I thought I had weathered a lot!
I left the work-for-pay world shortly after my daughter, Madison, was born. Having had my first child a little later than other mothers, I was already deeply committed to a career, and my husband and I were deeply entrenched in the lifestyle that two incomes afforded us. My job at the time of Madison’s birth was a fairly intense position in a large metropolitan church. Working combined with motherhood was simply more than I wanted to do. Thinking we could easily make the necessary shifts, my husband and I decided to try the stay-at-home mom adventure.
Wow, was that a shock! Not only did we change homes to accommodate our new income level, I was thoroughly unprepared to face the nonstop world of laundry land. I was also completely uninformed about everything from the best place to get bargains to running an efficient and effective household. I had never done this before! Adding to my bewilderment, I had a perfect little baby girl whom I honestly believed was a gift from God—but I wasn’t throwing myself wholeheartedly into motherhood like I had everything else I had ever done. And eventually there were two childen!
To compound my confusion and frustration, all around me seemed to be mothers who thought motherhood was the greatest thing in the world. I only had thoughts of what I would do the first day both kids were in school all day. My motto was, “I’m a great stay-at-home mom—as long as my kids are somewhere else!” I knew in my head that everything was in divine order, but emotionally and spiritually I seemed so out of whack. What was wrong with me? How did I get here? Why was I splashing around in inadequacy, guilt, and frustration?
Today’s mother is trying to stay on board the sanity ship in the midst of three choppy Cs—choice, comparison, and competition. The crashing waves of culture and society are pounding our boats. Many of us are in an exhausting place of constantly wondering if we are doing enough for our kids, if we are doing motherhood right, if we are providing the experiences our children need, if they are dressed properly, or if we ourselves are making the grade when stacked up against all the other families, especially the mothers, in our lives.
The result? We feel intimidated, grasp for more stuff or activity, and push our kids into situations in which they are overscheduled and overwhelmed. Our children are then pressured and confused. Some are demanding and manipulative. They know we’re out of control, and it breeds a sense of helplessness in them.
How did the three Cs become so storm-tossed?
The first “C” is choice. Choice itself is not necessarily bad. We base our lives around choice. It’s our right, we believe, to have options. But we can also suffer from “choiceitis.” With this malady, we find “each choice sprouts with its own questions. Might we? Could we? Should we? Will we? Won’t we? What if we had? What if we hadn’t? The forest of questions leads deeper and deeper into the dark freedom, then to the ever darker anxiety of seemingly infinite possibilities.” I, like many other mothers, found the array of choices baffling. On any given day, I would receive up to a dozen catalogs in the mail offering beautiful clothes, the latest in educational toys, must-have home products, and an assortment of stimulating decorations for Junior’s room. Some days I could toss them all into the trash; some days I let them drag me under by wondering if I were making the best choices for my kids, my husband, and me.
We have choices in schools. We have choices in juice. We have choices in activities, daycare, breakfast cereal, fast food, denim, and churches. While it seems funny when we read the list in a book, it can be overwhelming to sort out the options and feel confident in our decisions. For instance, one of my friends described the frantic chaos of choosing the right clothing for a family portrait. She shopped in multiple stores, purchased multiple outfits for each person, had everyone try on every outfit, then returned all of the unused clothing to the stores of original purchase. She was drowning in choices.
With these infinite possibilities come the ever-present opportunities to see how our lives and choices are stacking up against others. We can drown in the continuous onslaught of society giving us options and then encouraging us to compare our decisions to the decisions other people are making.
The second stormy “C” is comparisons. Comparisons start right from the beginning. How were your baby’s Apgar scores? Do you have Junior registered yet for the latest developmental program that will ensure he’s ahead of others when he enters preschool? Did your child make the cut for the advanced placement kindergarten or the peewee all-star soccer team? And this is all before your child is five years old!
Then the church social/neighborhood party/soccer field conversation revolves around which child has made what musical/ sports/academic achievement. How are Susie and Johnny’s PSAT scores? How are their SAT scores? Did they get better or did they get worse? What are they going to do about getting into college? How is their litany of involvements and accomplishments measuring up against the competition?
The comparisons are not limited to what our children are doing. I would stand in grocery store lines and check out the clothing of the people around me. Hmmm, she’s wearing this or that—my husband must be making more (or less) money than hers. Oh, she got her figure back so quickly after she gave birth. Not fair. Wow, her house is much prettier/bigger/cleaner than mine. Ha! My whites are whiter than hers!
I acted like one of Dr. Seuss’ most famous characters, the Sneetch. As the story goes, “Half of the Sneetches have bellies with stars, and half of the Sneetches have no stars on thars.” The half that doesn’t have stars wants stars and the half with stars wants them off when they realize the other half is getting them. In an endless quest to have what the other half has or doesn’t have, the Sneetches spend all of their money paying attention to and trying to remedy comparisons. They become obsessed with the outward appearance of things instead of focusing on the internal significance of each creature. They wind up broke and very confused. I was a Sneetch— comparison driven, confused, and going broke. No wonder I felt like I was drowning!
And the challenges of comparisons is not just a phenomenon of the secular world, where we might expect people to be focused on the apparent success a person enjoys by weighing material possessions, social status, or achievements. Comparison is alive and thriving in the Christian community as well. We compare ourselves to other mothers by how much Bible we know, how much Bible our kids know, how many times a week we’re at the church, and how we are adhering to the latest standards of what a “good” Christian wife and mother looks and acts like. The religious are just as good at comparing and drawing success conclusions as the nonreligious. An insightful little story into Christ’s view of religious comparisons is told in Luke 18:9-14:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ’God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ’God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The only people Jesus openly criticized in the Gospels were the religious leaders of the day who set up bogus comparisons between themselves and the rest of the community who they believed didn’t live up to their expectations and rules. Perhaps the distaste Christ expressed for the religious man in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is a disdain for setting up false and arrogant comparisons that cause rifts between people and chasms in our ability to truly care for one another.
Money Magazine (March 19, 2002) noted the comparison epidemic. The title of the article asked, “Are You Raising a Brat?” Brats are formed as they observe what other people have and insist that they have the same thing. Today’s kids are media and advertising savvy. They know how to spot knockoffs from the original brand, and they won’t settle for the knockoff. Why? Because parents have taught them, or at least have not challenged the notion, that in the comparison game, only the best is noteworthy. Parents look around at what other families are providing for their children, and in an effort to protect their offspring from feeling inferior, they do whatever is necessary to ensure there will be no deficits in their education, their wardrobe, their electronics, or their opportunities. This is driven by the biggest comparison of all—we want to provide them with a “better” life than we had as children. In a recent adult education class I taught in a church, one wise mother responded, “And what was so bad about the life we had?”
In an article in the Indianapolis Star (March 25, 2002), entitled “Fewer Refs Still Game for the Job” by Steve Hanlon, a survey from the National Federation of High School Associations revealed that 45 percent of referees and officials for kids’ athletic programs decided not to reregister because of “poor sportsmanship from coaches, spectators and/or players.” The poor sportsmanship stems from people not getting what they want or feel they deserve—to win. When someone wins, someone else loses. That’s the essence of competition, the third unruly “C.”
Athletics have ceased to be about character building and have turned into the quest for winning titles, scholarships, and headlines. The referees, who have borne the brunt of the foul attitudes this produces, are deciding they simply won’t take it anymore.
I recently heard a story about a mother who called one of her friends about cheerleading tryouts. The mother was very concerned that if their girls didn’t try out for and make this particular competition squad, they wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance in making the high school cheer team. The girls in question were seven years old. To make matters more intense, the mother was highly anxious because a competition squad that her first grader was already on had a cheerleading meet coming up. The cause of the anxiety? The seven-year-old wasn’t able to “stick” the round off back handspring that her squad was counting on her to do to win the competition. Seven years old…
The sports field is not the only turbulent water that fosters competition. We worry if another child walks before ours does. And we gloat if our child reads before the others. If we as parents have our own unmet competition needs, we may push our uninterested children into beauty pageants or art lessons. We challenge test results that have kept our child from a particular program. While there is nothing wrong with being our child’s advocate, motivation and manner can say a great deal as to whether unhealthy competition is brewing or we are simply finding the best learning style and environment for the student.
Competition is most often characterized by someone winning and someone losing. I must be right, and you must be wrong. While comparisons may be somewhat depersonalized, competition is personal. We have at stake either coming out decidedly on top or being in the wrong. Having many options or choices, coupled with our natural tendency to always be comparing ourselves to others, can naturally lead to competition. The choice I make, if threatened by someone else’s opposite choice such as working outside the home for pay or staying at home and working for no pay, can lead me to feel hostile to the other “side“ while adamantly protecting or defending my own choice. Sometimes, the more threatened I feel, the more adamant I become. We can drown in the choppy “C” of competition.
In Reuters Limited (March 15, 2003), findings of a study of 402 Australian children indicate “children who equate happiness with money, fame, and beauty are more likely to suffer from depression than youngsters who do not place as much value on being rich and attractive.” Who says it only applies to children?
There are two ways a mother can find herself thrown into the choppy Cs. The first and most jarring way is to be thrown overboard, to feel like you have lost touch with your special essence, your identity. Your mother ship, the S.S. Sanity, has not only tossed you over the side, the vessel itself is nowhere to be found. You are splashing around in the three choppy Cs and have no idea how you got there, who you are, and how you’re going to survive.
You may feel like Gail, who was part of a planning team for a women’s retreat I led. Our central passage involved Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Gail said, “That would be fine if I had any clue about the desires of my heart. The other night my two children and husband were out for the evening. I could decide what I wanted to have for dinner without any input from anyone else. When I asked myself, ‘What do I really want for dinner?’ I had no idea. I have no idea what I want anymore.”
This type of overboard experience often begins in a transition. You have your first child, and you are now a mother. You have your second child, and you are now a mother of multiple children. You may have changed your career status as you added children. Your spouse may need to increase work hours and decrease home hours to accommodate the increased financial needs. Your relationship with your spouse has most certainly changed. Transitions, even happy transitions like birth and marriage, necessitate a change in identity. When you’re drowning, you simply don’t know who you are, what you want, or what you stand for anymore—and with children to care for and a household to run, there isn’t much time to figure it out.
We flounder in the choppy Cs when we don’t have a strong sense of our God-given identity. Without the internal strength of our own purpose, we get swept under by the purposes of others and by the norms of our culture. We need a significant rescue vessel—a good and sturdy lifeboat—to stabilize us and help us reboard the mother ship.
The second way to get thrown overboard is when we find that we simply have too much going on in life. We’re frazzled. One car is on the blink, the kids have practice at two separate ends of town, the schedule is just too full, and our personal tank is just too empty. We haven’t lost sight of the ship, but we’re definitely in the water.
In this second type of overboard experience, we just need a few good pieces of rescue equipment and skills to help us get back on deck of the sanity ship, where we can gain perspective on how to navigate the choppy Cs instead of being tossed about by them.
Do any of these examples hit home? You may be in need of rescue!
Forgetfulness. Brenda ran her typical Monday routine with her small son. Having spent the morning running errands, she came into the house hauling her final load out of the car and proceeded with her in-house chores. Three hours later her husband came in and inquired, “Why is the car engine running?” So preoccupied with all she had to accomplish, Brenda had left the engine on after she had brought in her son and the groceries.
The constant feeling that you have to get on to the next task or that you have a hundred things to do can lead to forgetfulness in the moment. You may forget things like the PIN code at the ATM, where you put a certain object, or where you were going as you are driving down the street to appointments. This forgetfulness compounds frustration as you leave in your wake a string of half-finished tasks, then mentally condemn yourself because you just can’t get anything done.
Mind/body split. Linda put it beautifully: “No matter where I am, I always think I should be at the other place.” When we’re volunteering at one school, we think we should be at another place or at home doing the housework. When we’re at work, we think we should be volunteering in the community. When we’re at home tending to house and family, we think we should be bettering ourselves by exercising or taking an adult education course. When we’re volunteering for a worthy cause, we wonder if we ought to do something for pay to help with the family finances.
Inability to enjoy anything. You are drowning if you can’t enjoy simple pleasures that once brought you contentment. If you have lost the ability to see the humor in situations or you are not as engaged with your senses as you once were, you may be overwhelmed with details and comparisons, shoulds and oughts.
Overwhelming need to get away. Many were the afternoons when my husband got home from work that I wanted to brush past him to get in the car to go for a drive by myself. I didn’t actually do it very often, but it was a recurring thought, especially when the children were small. I felt trapped. This sense of drowning is often expressed in the exasperated statement, “I wish I could just go to the bathroom by myself !”
Feeling isolated. Even though you have lovely friends in your life, you truly feel nobody really understands what you’re experiencing. Comparisons are driving a wedge between you and others, making real connections impossible. As Laurie Cowen said, “Friendship is not possible between two women, one of whom is very well dressed.” Even though you have a remarkable husband who loves to co-parent, you can’t quite get him to comprehend what a day is like for you. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of drowning with no one there to pull you out.
Dissatisfaction with life. If you have the feeling that nothing is quite right when it seems so right for everyone else, you may be drowning. Why can’t your kids act a certain way? Why can’t you find a job that will make you happy and allow you to be a terrific wife and mother, too? Why can’t you just get on with your life? Why don’t you have all the things the other women in your peer group have? Or you may simply have a vague feeling that motherhood is holding you back from something more important.
Inability to be quiet. One mom said, “I have the most beautiful backyard. I would love to sit and look out the window at my flowers and the birds. But every time I sit down to look, my mind kicks into ‘there are so many mothers who are doing so many things right now. What am I not doing that they are doing that would help my children get ahead, or make my house cleaner, or make my community a better place? I better get up and get to work or they’ll think I’m lazy and ineffective.’ ”
You go against your better judgment. Your child comes home from school and says, “Why don’t we have…? Why don’t we go to…? How come she gets a _______ in her room and I don’t?” Rather than explain your set of values, you feel you’re swimming against the tide and your children are paying the price by being deprived and feeling second-rate. Since we don’t want our children to think poorly of themselves, or have others look down on them, we give in and provide the missing item or experience, even though it may actually violate our own sense of propriety or necessity.
You spend more than you make. Symptom 8 often leads to Symptom 9. None of us needs to look far or deep into our society to realize that the three Cs of choice, comparison, and competition are causing havoc in family finances. Adding to the powerful undertow of accumulation is the wave-crashing force of indebtedness to keep up with what we believe everyone else has debt free. In other words, we are comparing our life to what we only see of another person’s life.
Spending more than we make is like being the emperor who paraded around without his clothes. We have a sinking feeling that our lack is obvious, so we rush in to fill the “need.” We’re not willing to admit the lack, feel the discomfort, and yet take steps to be real.
You feel inferior. Comparisons always produce someone who wins and someone who loses. You may feel you are the loser. Unless, of course, you’re the winner. In either case, a caring and respectful relationship with your competitor is almost impossible.
You are angry. You are angry with your children for being born. You are angry with God because he won’t make your children go to sleep so you can get some, too. You are angry with your husband because he’s clue free. You are angry with the woman in the next van because hers is clean. You are angry with yourself because of a hundred different lacks or excesses. You are, as Julie Ann Barnhill describes in She’s Gonna Blow, Mount Momma, a volcano ready to erupt.
As mothers, we are the central nervous system of our homes. As children of God, we are beautiful and necessary parts of Creation. Most importantly, as people we need and deserve to feel peaceful, poised, and confident about who we are and how we live life to the fullest. How do we go from soggy and disoriented to dry and sane?
Search and Rescue
Excerpted from Mom OverBoard By Robin Chaddock. Copyright © 2004 by Harvest House Publishers. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.