“Here’s your sweet baby girl!” the beaming nurse said as she bent down toward the operating table, so I could see my newborn daughter.
When I first laid eyes on her tiny face, tears of joy spilled down my cheeks. Then a wave of panic set in.
What did I know about being a mother? What if I . . . failed her?
As I looked into her big, melt-you-in-a-moment eyes, I knew I’d spend the rest of my life trying to be the best mother I could be. And I have.
A few years later, when she was a bumble bee in her dance recital—why, I was the proudest one there.
When she won the game-ball in softball, I gasped for air, not realizing I’d been holding my breath during the coach’s remarks.
I jumped for joy (literally) when she made the high school cheerleading squad.
And on her wedding day, I cut the rug on the dance floor with the best of them, celebrating with pure joy, loving her with all my heart.
But I’m not going to sugar coat it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, too.
Sometimes I fell apart, when I should’ve been strong. When she faced difficulties, I often blamed myself (I’m working on not doing that). Sometimes, I was way too hard on her and sometimes, way too easy.
Not long after my daughter was born, my twin boys came along (have mercy), and although I tried, I wound up being a less-than-perfect mom for them, too.
Maybe you can relate.
Now, my children are all grown up and—praise the Lord—they’re doing great. And in spite of my imperfect mothering, I share a deep, loving bond with each child.
But sometimes, I catch myself wishing I could go back to when I first became a mom, and give myself a good talking to. There are so many things I know now, that I wish I’d known then. And If I could go back in time, this is what I’d say . . .
What I wish I’d known when I was a new mom:
1. You need God much more than you know.
There is an aching, empty space in your heart that only the Lord can fill. Don’t try to fill it with kid’s activities or being the “best” mom in the neighborhood. Excessive busyness won’t fill it. Buying more stuff won’t, either.
Only this will: spending time with the Lord each day. Reading His word. Praying. Worshiping from the heart. When you’re “too busy” to spend time with God, you starve your soul. Make sure to fill it with His love every day. (My book, Seeking a Familiar Face can help you.) Knowing that you are well-loved, enables you to love your children well.
2. Your children are not you; they’re separate people.
Your children aren’t billboards to display who you are (your talents, preferences and opinions). No, they display who they are. So when they think or do things differently—and believe me, they will—don’t try to force them into your mold.
Each child must live according to God’s plan, but not necessarily yours. Give them the space they need to thrive as separate individuals. Encourage them to be followers of God, but not clones of you.
3. Don’t beat yourself up.
Sometimes, you will not make the right decision. There will be times when you lack good judgement. And you will say things you wish you hadn’t said. Own up to your mistakes, instead of trying to cover them up. Apologize to your kids often, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. This will relieve you from carrying a heavy load of mom-guilt. Expecting perfection (even in small ways) is unrealistic, so give yourself a break. If you mess up—and you will—forgive yourself and move on, knowing that God forgives you, too (Rom. 8:34-38).
4. Remember the goal of parenting is love, not job performance.
Stop trying to measure your performance as a mom. Just. Stop. It. Refuse to compare yourself to the wise, more experienced moms you look up to at church. Don’t compete with the “supermom” down the street, who homeschools and grows organic vegetables. Don’t try to act like some fictional, got-it-all-together Instagram mom, either—be real. Focusing on your “job performance,” keeps you thinking about yourself, instead of your kids. Strive to love your children well and you’ll do just fine.
5. Respond more, react less.
Make it your goal to be a responsive parent, instead of a reactive one. A response is deliberate and careful; a reaction is simply a reflex. A well-thought-out response reflects your knowledge and beliefs; a reaction reflects your anxieties and fears. As much as you can, decide beforehand how you will respond when your children don’t do their homework, or when they “must” have cell phones, or when they can “go steady” (or whatever the current lingo is). These situations are coming. Anticipate and meet them with a thoughtful response, instead of a knee-jerk reaction.
6. Don’t panic. It’s probably a just a stage.
When your darling twins scream and hit you in the checkout line, don’t think it’s because you’re a bad mother. It’s merely a stage. (Thankfully, the “terrible 2’s” turn into the “terrific 3’s”) When your ten-year-old daughter peppers you with a million questions, be patient and appreciative. Her mind is growing and developing. When your teens suddenly pull away, don’t guilt them or take it personally. It’s just a natural part of maturity, not your failure as a mom.
Childhood is a series of passing stages. Some stages are fun and some are tough and a few are downright painful. Try to understand what your children are going through, so that you will not overreact. Pray them through each stage, helping them work through it as you rely on the Lord.
7. Promote independence, instead of dependence.
Promoting independence is crucial because one day, you will not be around. Your job is to get your children ready to stand on their own—to not need you, so much—even though this may feel strange, sometimes. Try not to hover; hovering makes children needy. It prevents them from reaching their full potential. Love your kids enough NOT to do things they are capable of doing themselves. This helps them develop problem solving skills and builds their sense of self-esteem.
8. Go to God as a first response, not a last resort.
When trouble strikes and you feel overwhelmed, it may be hard to pray. Do it anyway. When you’re angry, give God a little time to work, instead of flying off the handle. When you’re hurt, go spend some time with God, as soon as possible. If you don’t, kid drama can suck you in and drag you down with it. This verse will help you during parenting emergencies:
“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns,” Phil. 4:6 MSG.
9. Find some other mom-friends, ASAP.
Don’t go it alone! Reach out to other moms of like faith. Seek out their wise counsel. Pray with them. Go to Bible study with them. You need Godly mom-friends to walk alongside you as you manage cheerleading tryouts, baseball games and piano recitals. You need friends who text you Scriptures and pray for you and support you in a million little ways. And remember, your mom-friends and their kids need you, too. Be sure to support and love them back.
10. You can do it!
Believe in God. Believe in yourself. Disbelief only drags you down. You see, a lack self-confidence can really damage your parenting, causing you to second-guess yourself and to baby your kids. So when you feel like you just don’t have what it takes to be a good mom, focus on your faith (strangely, faith and self-confidence are linked). First, choose to believe in God’s power and then choose to believe that you can do great things, not because you’re great, but because you have a great God.
If you are a new mom, or just a less-than-perfect one, I understand how you feel. Although I can’t go back in time to share what I’ve learned with myself, I hope my experience will help you.
Parenting is wonderful, but it can also be a tough job, so lighten up on yourself. Enjoy the precious opportunity you have to love. Be thankful for your children, daily. And as you rely on the Lord, let this become your mantra: “I’ll do my best, and trust God with the rest.”
This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.