A ‘Mother Letter’ for the Mamas

Dearest Mamas,

When I was pregnant with my first child, my friend Emily (one year ahead of me in the baby-making) gave me a piece of advice: Have grace with yourself, she said.

She was talking about those first moments when I’d hold his tiny squirming flesh to my breast: When I expected fireworks of passionate mother-love and instead felt afraid, overwhelmed and happy, exhausted and adrenaline-rushed. She said, “Don’t expect the love you feel in that moment to be enough. You love your kid as you learn them.”

Have grace with yourself.

I carried her words over into those first weeks and months of exhaustion. The long nights, the moments of fury at this little thing whom I loved desperately but who was wreaking havoc on my brain and my body. I learned to have grace on myself when my friends were reading their 4-month-olds books for 30 minutes a day and helping them progress in their development and I still felt like it was all I could do to get my baby to sleep and eat and stare at me every day, much less be faithful to my calling and career.

Grace: Such a word for such an act. It’s love, yes. But it’s love that offers free kindness, freedom, acceptance. Jesus gives me that kind of reality. It’s not an act that allows me free reign to ruin myself. It’s an act that draws me in with loving kindness, that sets me up to use my gifts and my heart and offer to the world what’s good that’s already been placed into my hands.

Have grace with yourself, my friend said to me. She knew what I would feel some days: The temptation during your baby’s first year to long for her success, to judge yourself in light of her advancement, to value her in light of what the world values: appearance, physical impressiveness, signs of intellect. How often did I compare my kid with another? How often was I the one bragging of some sign of my child’s superiority?

Have grace with yourself.

When it’s your kid who is screaming on the airplane. When every person around you seems to think they know the answer. When you determine to trust your instinct despite his rage, despite your tears and the bite marks and the passengers who are tweeting about the horrible child and his incapable mother they were stuck with on the flight.

Have grace with yourself.

When every one at the park is obsessed with getting their almost-two-year-olds into language-immersion classes, when your friend’s three-year-old already knows how to read, when your strong-willed child is achingly sweet at home but yelling at the Sunday School teacher at church. When you’re afraid no one but you understands him.

Have grace with yourself.

There may be a day when someone you love questions your parenting choices. There may be a day when you stare at your tear-soaked face in the mirror and ask, “When my kids grow up, how will they remember my failures?”

But motherhood is not a series of situations that have a wrong and right answer. It is a relationship. How many times have I described Jesus that way to one of the high school or college students I’ve ministered to? Jesus is not religion. He is relationship. Engaging with him requires our hearts and our minds and souls and our strength because it involves living, not simply rule-adherring.

Have grace with yourself, Mama. This thing is complicated. You will hold that newborn and you won’t know how to love him but you will and you will wonder is this enough? and it may never be but he needs you any way.

See that’s the secret: You are his only mother. The only mother he will ever know. He loves you desperately. He needs you to love him back, to gather him when he crumples, to jump in the pool when he sinks, to snatch him up when the other kids are picking on him, to trust yourself to know when to protect and when to let him find his way.

So gather her and love her. Laugh and cuddle and read and make choices. And trust that in spite of your imperfections, God is making all things new: even you, even your child.

There is refreshment in that grace: the chance to begin every day, the chance to learn and change, to stick by convictions and let some of them float away on yesterday’s balloon. You don’t have to be the same mother you were last year. You are being refined.

Once, another friend said: Stop being so ferocious with yourself.

I’ll say the same to you, friend. God has given you to your child and your child to you. And every gift you own combined with the strength of God’s Spirit is enough to do this beautifully.

You may not be the mom who speaks two languages in the home. You may not perfectly balance work and mothering. You may not feel secure in the complexities of discipline and correction. You may receive every kind of judgment over the way you sleep-train your baby.

When it’s all too much, promise me this: Walk your stressed little (okay, let’s be honest, probably not-so-little) hinny to the bathroom, look in the mirror. Breathe deep. Look in the mirror again. Imagine Christ’s hand on your head, let his peace wiggle in to those brain wrinkles. And say: “I am loved. I am loved. I am loved.”

Because sometimes, Christ’s love is the only thing that gives us strength to love completely the little ones who have been given to our care.

Linking up with The Mother Letters ProjectRead about it then join your “Mother Letter” to the conversation. And get your copy of the Mother Letters ebook here.
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