- It happens in the grocery store aisle, when someone else’s children are behaving better or worse than your own.
- Or in the church nursery, when your child bites another mom’s toddler, or vice versa.
- Or at the park, when, after being called, your child (or hers) runs in the opposite direction.
But where it’s really happening is in your head.
That’s where the question is being answered, again and again, sometimes with one answer, and sometimes with another:
AM I A BETTER MOM THAN SHE IS?
I remember the feelings clear as day. 13 years ago, my college best friend, sister-in-law, and I all had our first babies within 6 months of each other. Back and forth the issues would be volleyed:
- labor— what came first? how long did it go? how long did you hold out before you got pain meds? did the doctor do this procedure? or that one? what was your recovery like?
- breastfeeding— how often? how long? on both sides each time, or just one side at a time? on a schedule or on demand? any problems nursing? did you ever supplement with formula?
- weight/height/length— how big at birth? did baby have a conehead? how much did they lose before gaining again? how fast did they gain? did baby have problems gaining weight?
- and on the comparisons went.
Some of it was normal; we were all learning the ropes of motherhood. But some was unhealthy, as we each compared and judged ourselves to be better or worse mothers in one area or another.
When we have our identity wrapped up in this job of mothering, we self-glorify or self-loathe.
When we wrap up other women’s value with the job of mothering, we idolize or disdain.
If we’re not careful to fight them, these attitudes will follow us through motherhood.
I recently listened to Tim Keller’s sermon, Blessed Self-Forgetfulness, and want to share with you some of the highlights from it. Below, I’m taking his points and bringing them to the place where his thoughts meet us here in our real lives as mothers.
Here’s the whole thing, and if you have time to watch it (40 minutes), I highly recommend it!
THE PROBLEM OF SELF-ESTEEM
As moms, we are continually tempted to control our lives in such a way that we achieve “self-worth” and find our identity in our motherhood, rather than in God’s assessment of us. We are often tempted to do this through pride that comes from comparison.
“Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature – while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.” ~C.S. Lewis
When we give in to this temptation to compare ourselves as mothers, we are tempted to have contempt for those who do things both less and more “successfully” than us.
- When I’m more organized than HER, I feel good.
- When she’s a better cook than me, I feel bad.
- When I use more organic foods than her, I feel good.
- When her child gains weight easier than mine, I feel bad.
- When my child is the one throwing a tantrum, I feel humiliated.
- When her child is the one throwing the tantrum, I feel puffed up.
Comparison never leaves us sober and measured in our estimate of self and others. Comparison as the source of worth always leads us to pride or humiliation… a critical spirit, or an idolatrous spirit.
SELF-FORGETFULNESS… FOR MOMS
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Keller finds these basic ideas in Paul’s attitude:
- I don’t care what you think of me.
- I don’t care what I think of me.
- My clear conscience doesn’t make me innocent/right.
- Your judgments don’t make me guilty/wrong.
- God alone is my judge.
The remedy of low self-opinion is not high self-opinion.
The remedy of high self-opinion is not low self-opinion.
The remedy for both is looking to God’s opinion.
My identity is not tied in any way to your verdict and your evaluation of me, and it’s not tied in any way to MY verdict and MY evaluation of me.
These form the basic idea of self-forgetfulness. Only God is our standard.
This is a critical point for us moms to grasp.
When we operate in blessed self-forgetfulness, God is the one who:
- encourages and strengthens you. (not my own good opinion, and not hers)
- chastens and convicts you. (not my humiliation, or her bad opinion)
- bolsters you. (not a need to prove myself or one-up someone else)
- brings you low. (not my own mistakes or her judgment of me)
Self-forgetful mothering is:
- not self-hating for all the mistakes you’re making
- not self-loving for all the things you’re doing well
- not hurt that bad by criticism, and yet still listens to it and submits to it when it is accurate and something that needs to be changed. (“Here’s an opportunity to change!”)
- excited for the “gold medal” mom, even when you’re the “silver medal” winner.
You can enjoy things that aren’t about you. Instead of filtering everything in the world through its effect on you, Keller says:
“you can actually enjoy things for what they are.”
The self-forgetful mom:
- can celebrate when another mom breastfeeds successfully, even when her own milk runs dry.
- can enjoy her own natural home birth and yet enter into another mom’s experience of an emergency c-section with empathy and concern, and without judgment or oneupsmanship.
- can see another kid losing it in the checkout line and not reflect it back on herself (either as “I understand; I had one just like that…” or “wow I’m so glad I don’t have a child like that”)
- can feed her child with the best food she can afford (financially and time-wise) to make, without comparing herself to those who are able to do better, or who do worse in this area
Can you be this kind of mom?
WHO IS YOUR JUDGE?
How do we get to this point? How do we throw others, and ourselves, out of the judgment seat?
“We’re looking for an ultimate verdict that we’re important, and that we’re valuable. Every single day, we go to trial. We’re in a courtroom every day.
“The problem with self-esteem… is that every single day, you’re in the courtroom, and you’re on trial. And there’s prosecution, and there’s defense. And every single thing that you do, you’re stamping ‘evidence for the prosecution,’ ‘evidence for the defense.’
“And some days, you feel like you’re winning the trial, and some days, you feel like you’re losing the trial. And Paul says– ‘I have found the secret; the trial’s over for me.’ I’m out of the courtroom… because the ultimate verdict is in.”
“It is the Lord who judges me.”
“In Jesus Christ, and only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ do you get the verdict BEFORE the performance.”
As a Christian mom, you can have blessed self-forgetfulness when you live in the knowledge that God is your judge.
If you are in Christ, the verdict is already in.
- you are accepted in the beloved
- you are dearly loved
- you are precious and ransomed
- God has given you all you need in Christ Jesus
In Christianity, the verdict can lead to the performance.
“Court is adjourned! He has said ‘you are my beloved child, in whom I am well-pleased.’ ”