IntroductionThe Myths of Motherhood
Real is something we become gradually, as we
face life vulnerably, returning to God over and over
and finding ourselves loved, even when life hurts, when it does not make sense, when we are angry
Once upon a time, a mother was born.
Though she'd dreamed about becoming a mom for years, her
dream became a reality the instant she held her baby in her arms
for the first time. Ohhh, she'd been imagining how that tender
moment would feel. She'd heard descriptions and seen new
moms on television shows crying and making utterances of great
joy as they gazed adoringly at their precious little babies.
Obviously they felt overwhelmed by waves of intoxicating, pure
maternal love. After all, good moms instantly feel a powerful bonding
love for their babies.
Yet reality surprised her. She eagerly took her baby into her
arms-this stranger she had longed to meet-and put her face
close to his. She touched his perfect little ears and ran her fingers
over his petal-soft skin. His head, misshapen a bit from the
birthing process, was topped by a mass of dark curly hair. (Where
did that come from? she wondered.) As she looked into his
murky grey eyes, she felt a stirring of unfamiliar, tangled emotions
deep inside her. Love, yes, but also an odd kind of fear and
self doubt. Who are you, my child? Will I know how to love you for a
whole lifetime? Will I be a good mom?
"Isn't he beautiful?" her own mother cooed, peering at this
new grandchild she'd traveled halfway across the continent to
"He is ." the new mother agreed. (Of course he looked
beautiful to someone who'd traveled so far on so little sleep.)
In her first night at home with her newborn, the new mom
faced other surprises.
The baby cried at 2 A.M., and she lovingly fed him. Then she
changed him. Then she burped him. Then she patiently rocked
him and tried to feed him some more. But an hour later, he was
still fussing, and she felt fatigued and frustrated. Good moms
instinctively know what their babies need, so moms who don't must
A few minutes later, her mother appeared at the bedroom
door. "Let me take him into my room for the rest of the night so
you can get some sleep, honey," she offered.
"Thanks, but I'm doing okay," the new mom said, because
she knew that good moms sacrifice themselves for their children, joyfully
and selflessly, and don't ask for help from others.
A few days later, her mom packed up to go home. Before
leaving, she loaded the refrigerator with groceries, vacuumed and
cleaned the living room, and changed all the sheets. The new
mom sat in a chair in the living room, feeding the baby, while her
husband loaded grandma's luggage in the car for the trip to the
airport. Her mom hugged and kissed the two of them goodbye,
wiping away a tear as she told them she loved them. And then
she was gone. As the car pulled out of the driveway, the new mom
started crying. Why was she feeling so sad and alone? After all,
good moms are totally fulfilled and satisfied with their lives as mothers,
and they don't complain.
This new mom had been a mom for only a few days, but
already she was beginning to realize that the real world she'd
entered was not exactly the picture-perfect world she'd expected.
Her real-life experiences kept bumping into her good-mom
assumptions and expectations. Suddenly there was a disconnect
between reality and the image she thought she should live up to.
What kind of mother would she be in this bumpy place?
On the one hand, living within the myths of mothering
looked attractive. She longed for the apparently simple happiness
assumed in those mythical expectations. Reality seemed so disappointing,
and well . real. On the other hand, the myths, while
appearing more appealing on the surface, created exhausting
standards to live up to all the time. Wouldn't she feel more honest
and relieved to be real?
What was the answer? Myth or reality? Which would be the
way to "happily ever after?"
Welcome to the reality of motherhood-a bumpy, wonderful,
self-revealing, growing place where a woman faces the constant
tension between expectations and reality. Between good-mom
myths and real-mom truths.
Okay . now we're talking. Every one of us trips over the new-mom
realities as we enter motherhood. It's not always the pink-and-blue-edged
dream we imagined. Ever been peed in the face by
a newborn baby boy? You know what we mean. Okay, so you had
a girl; how about mustard-filled diapers?
Sure there are great moments of utter wonder. But not every
moment fits our mythical expectations, and neither do our
responses; we're way more human than we thought we'd be.
Relax. This is normal. The tension between myth and reality
has been going on for eons. The word myth comes from mythology,
used by the ancient Greeks to describe why things happened
when they didn't have a clue. Like what caused lightning or sunrises
and sunsets. People believed these myths-explanations-simply
because everyone around them repeated them. People did
not question whether they were true; they became accepted as
truth out of habit. In fact, social scientists today still study how
myths shape human behavior.
The same is true with good-mom myths, which are passed
down from experienced moms to wanna-be moms or new moms.
From mothers-in-law to daughters-in-law. From sappy Mother's
Day cards and Mother's Day sermons to the world of mothers at
large. These myths stay mysteriously hidden in our hearts and
souls until . wham! Reality hits, and we face choices. What will
we believe-myth or reality?
What if we choose to believe the myth?
Certainly that's an easy and tempting choice, because good-mom
myths are natural extensions of the many good-girl myths
we've grown up pretending to believe. Good girls should act like
good girls. Good girls are not overly assertive or aggressive. Good girls
don't say bad words. Good girls are nice to everyone. Good girls don't
get out-loud angry.
No wonder we little girls have grown into women who have
learned to hide our feelings from ourselves and others. We learn
to pretend. "How are you?" someone asks. "Fine," we respond
automatically, not willing to honestly say that we feel lonely or
depressed or afraid at the moment. Most of us pretend that we
don't hurt as much as we really do. Or that what we have satisfies
more than it really does. We often hide behind carefully constructed
masks such as these:
Mask of Happiness: like the mom who puts on a happy face
and smiles on the outside, even while she's churning on
the inside, because she doesn't always like being a
mother, and she doesn't even always like her children. Yet
admitting her unhappiness might make her look like a
failure or a bad mom. After all, good moms are happy moms.
Mask of Busyness: like the mom who takes on more activities
and signs up for more school projects and heads up more
committees because busyness makes her feel valuable and
keeps her from facing the reality of her self-esteem issues.
After all, good moms do it all.
Mask of Silence: like the mom who decides to say nothing to
her family about her need for their help, because she
doesn't want to run the risk of irritating them. After all, good moms keep everyone happy.
Mask of Denial: like the mom who denies that her child is
having a serious problem in school because good moms
have good children, and she doesn't want to admit her fears
about her child's possible deep needs.
Hiding behind a mask doesn't make the feelings or the realities
go away. A mask is a mask. It only covers up the feelings-and
the realities. They're still there. There's a better way. Replace
the masks and myths with truth. Truth frees us to be real.
That's a promise, passed down by Jesus in a single sentence,
that not only appears in the Bible but also has been inscribed on
the doors of a zillion institutions of higher learning: "You will
know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
Free to quit trying to be so good all the time.
Free to acknowledge that there are no perfect families in this
world, and no perfect children and no perfect mothers.
Free to admit where we fall short of our own expectations
or someone else's.
Free not to feel guilty about not being good enough or home
enough or fun enough or patient enough.
Free to become all God created us to be.
But (and this is an important "but!") the truth does not set us
free to be rotten moms. Or give us license to be rude or selfish.
Or insensitive and uncaring. Or to stay stuck where we are rather
than to grow and stretch toward what we can be.
So where does that leave us in the effort to replace myths with
truth and to be more real?
Here's a summary.
Good-mom myths pressure us to be something we can't be and
don't need to be, something beyond what we were intended to be.
The truth sets us free to be honest and growing and vulnerable.
Good-mom myths fill us with impossible "I shoulds." Truth
allows us to focus on the "I ams."
Good-mom myths give us idealistic formulas and unrealistic
expectations from a "once upon a time" and "happily ever
after" perfect world of make-believe. But we don't live there. We
are imperfect people living in the midst of imperfect relationships,
trying to do our best, while juggling busy schedules on PMS and
bad hair days. In the midst of this reality, we can discover personal
growth and contentment as we seek to know the truth and
to act like we believe the truth. That takes hard work and sometimes
feels risky, but the results are worth the effort.
It's time to explode the myths of motherhood with truth that
will set you free to be the best mom you can be. This book will
show you the way.
What Is a Real Mom? (And What Isn't)
Being real is .
discovering who you are and being who
knowing what matters most in mothering.
determining what's most important in your season
trying to do what is most important and right, not just what feels the best at the moment.
recognizing the difference between good shoulds and bad shoulds. (Good should: "I
should try to stop yelling at my children." Bad
should: "I should be able to keep my children
Being real is not .
giving up on growing and changing as a person.
being selfish or self-centered.
thinking your way is the right and only way.
being rude or rotten or inconsiderate of others'
feelings or needs.
Being real is risky. It is hard work. It is a life-long process.
Real Moms .
A real mom feels an enormous gulf between the mother
she would like to be and the mother she perceives herself
A real mom picks her kids' noses.
A real mom sometimes takes showers for the sole purpose
of being able to cry-very hard-if need be.
A real mom puts dirty socks on her kids when the clean
ones run out.
A real mom has moments when she wishes she wasn't a