Ever read a parenting book? I’ve read a few myself… I don’t know, maybe 60 since the first line appeared on the pregnancy stick in 2005. And I’m a big fan, research-geek that I am; I’ve learned scads from parenting books. Here’s something I notice though: they tend to give a lot of press to understanding your kids and figuring out what makes them tick. But not a lot is given to understanding ourselves as moms.
Don’t get me wrong; understanding your child is hugely important to parenting well. But having a good handle on yourself and your own tendencies as a mother is just as important – possibly even more so. Ever since I read Art and Laraine Bennett’s The Temperament God Gave You, I’ve been thinking about the unique ways that God made each of us.We know on paper that we’re unique, and we can describe ourselves to others – “I’m an extrovert” or “I’m pretty laid back.” But often we ignore these realities when it comes to how we parent and charge ahead, implementing methods and strategies, without taking our own personalities into consideration.
Take me. I’m a classic Type A with tendencies toward problem-solving and productivity. I’m strategic, intentional, and fast-paced. When I read a parenting book and absorb the input being offered, these character traits naturally surface. If I read and apply a particular set of parenting strategies with my kids, and a phlegmatic mom with a spontaneous streak reads and implements the same parenting strategies, the results would probably look quite different.
And it turns out this kind of thing matters an awful lot. First, I need to know my own nature, style, and shortcomings up front so I can temper my practices and goals in mothering with these realities. The likelihood of my being overly intense and thorough-going with my kids on the training/correction side is pretty high, whereas the likelihood of my overdoing it on the timeful,nurture-heavy, spend-the-afternoon-playing-Legos-with-my-kids side of things is very low. The good news is that my kids have a decent chance of behaving passably well by the time they’re adults; the bad news is they might say, “My mom spent a lot of time rushing around and not so much playing with me.” In fact, if I don’t do a good job of taking my own tendencies into account, they probably will.
God gave my kids to me specifically and purposely, and I’m the right mother for each of my children. But part of mothering them well is having a good handle on who I am and how I generally operate in the realm of mothering. For me, this means knowing up-front that prioritizing timefulness and enjoyment with my kids is critical, and that I can’t let behavior-assessment and training efforts upstage them. (It means other things too, but this is a prime one.)
Second, I need to know myself as I mother so I can be real about my limitations and ensure I’m getting the support I need. Mothering is an insanely intense and taxing job, being the primary need-meeter for a rowdy gang of little people. And losing purpose or joy in mothering often boils down to losing the sense of self (the self God gave us) as we navigate the ocean of meeting others’ continual needs. This is true for all moms, regardless of temperament – though perhaps for some more than others. As I see it, two key truths must be held in tension here. On one hand, we signed up for serving others well and putting them first when we become moms; we can’t begrudge that. On the other hand, we must know and value our own souls, ensuring we keep them healthy and fed, as we give ourselves to our kids and families. Failing to do this isn’t just detrimental, it can actually end up harming ourselves and those we most love.
And when it all starts to feel like an unending slog, the answer – sometimes surprisingly – isn’t always to just suck it up and count your blessings. Sometimes God is calling for some form of change in household life and/or routine that will relieve a bit of pressure and allow some refreshment to flow in from the Refresher of our souls. After all, His call to us is one of freedom and joy – the real deal too, not just theoretical.
Some initial questions related to knowing ourselves as we mother:
- What do I enjoy most and least about mothering?
- How do my strengths come through in my day-to-day life as a mom; how might I build on them?
- What are my primary weaknesses in mothering, and do I consciously seek to mitigate against them? (If so, how?)
- Have I prayed – do I regularly pray – for God to give me wisdom and understanding about my tendencies and needs as I mother my kids? Am I actively listening for his input on this?
- How burned-out do I feel right now? Where on the spectrum from joyful mom to overwhelmed mom do I currently fall?
- What resources do I have in my life (or could I add) that I could lean on, now or in the future, to relieve pressure when necessary to maintain a God-ful and joyful sense of self?