The Intentional Mom
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Kara-Kae James, a mother of four, knows what it feels like to be in the throes of motherhood and barely holding on. James offers words of wisdom and tells young moms how they can live above the chaos.
The Intentional Mom
Bob: Being a mom can feel overwhelming; you’re facing a mountain of tasks. But Kara-Kae James says, beyond the tasks, there’s something more important—that’s building a relationship with your kids.
Kara-Kae: I want to connect with my kids on their level, with who they are as a human being. I had to see my kids as people/as little humans and not as a box to check off on a list or as a job to get done. When I started actually seeing them and understanding them on a heart level, I was able to be more intentional with them.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 31st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. In the midst of all the other things you have to do, as a mom, do you have somewhere on your to-do list building a relationship with your kids? We’re going to talk more about that today with Kara-Kae James. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you feel like there’s a difference between the moms today, who are raising—I’m talking about the ones who have little ones at home, and they’re with them pretty regularly. There’s some group of moms that are thriving and going, “This is going good,” and “Sure, it’s hard and it’s challenging,” but at the end of the day they go, “I think we’re in a good place.” There are other moms, who are going to bed, going, “I just never want to wake up”; right? Is it a temperamental difference between the two, or is there something the thriving moms are doing that the other moms aren’t?
Ann: I think there are so many variables in that situation. If you have a colicky baby, you can feel like a terrible mom and feel like, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with my child?” If you have a really easy baby that’s sleeping through the night at four weeks, you think, “I’m an amazing mother! Look at what I’ve done!” [Laughter] That’s why it always helps to have more than one child, because then the truth comes out.
Bob: It also helps to have a network of other moms who are in your life.
Bob: In fact, that’s one of the principles that we want to talk about. We have Kara-Kae James joining us this week on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Kara-Kae.
Kara-Kae: Thank you! Thank you so much.
Bob: Kara-Kae is a blogger, she writes the Thrive Moms blog and has written a book called Mom Up: Thriving with Grace in the Chaos of Motherhood. In your journey, as a mom of four, with your oldest nine—you have nine, eight, seven, and then—
Bob: —a three-year-old.
Bob: With your kids in that stage, there are some things you’ve identified that you would say the moms, who have some wind in their sails—and I hate to say the moms that are really nailing it; because every mom is like, “I don’t know that I’m nailing it,”—but the mom, who goes, “Okay, I think I’m making progress. I have some wind in my sails,”—some things you’d say, “They have these things in common…” What are some of those things?
Kara-Kae: I think a lot of it is a mindset.
Kara-Kae: Because when you have a constant mindset of “I’m failing,” or a negative—just this inner dialogue of “I’m doing a bad job,” or “I did that wrong,”—or you just are constantly telling yourself that you are doing terrible things—
Ann: I would say, Kara-Kae, that a lot of women live there.
Ann: Would you agree with that?
Kara-Kae: I would agree so much. I feel this for myself. When I was able to train my mind to wake up every day and say, “You know what? I can wake up today and I can choose to walk in abundance as a mom,” Jesus came and said, “I came to give you abundance.” He wants abundant life for us, and I felt like that was offered to me as a mom.
I feel like, if we can wake up every day and say, “I choose this,” then we’re excited to get out of bed; because I’ve had those seasons that I didn’t want to get up; I didn’t want to parent; I didn’t even want to look at my kids. But if we can train our minds to get out of that slump of inner dialogue, that’s so negative and beating ourselves up all the time, and just look to God every day and choose abundance, then we can—
Dave: Alright, you have to help me.
Dave: How did you make that switch?
Kara-Kae: It wasn’t easy, for sure; and it’s not something that I am great at. It’s not that I get up every day and it’s easy, or I have it all figured out. It’s just that I have walked through it for years, and I’m not even close to being done yet; and I’ve just chosen to take that road of abundance over surviving every day.
Ann: The verse that comes to mind is John 10:10.
Ann: A lot of times we’ll quote the second part of it, where Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and have it to the full,” but the first part is just as important. I think, as a mom, we really understand this, when it says, “The thief”—or the enemy or Satan—“comes to steal, kill, and destroy.”
Ann: As a mom, I felt that; because I felt like I woke up in the morning, sometimes, with that battle in my mind, of thinking, “My life isn’t as easy…” “My kids aren’t as easy…” Then I would have this thought, “And Dave’s”—my husband—“Dave’s life is way easier than mine.”
Kara-Kae: Right; “Why can’t I have his life?” [Laughter]
Ann: Exactly! It’s easy to live in that instead of: “Today, Jesus, You’ve given me this day; You’ve given me these kids. Help me; help me,” [Laughter] “and let me live it for You/with You on purpose.”
Bob: Part of that mindset shift happened when you embraced intentionality. Explain what intentional motherhood looks like versus just responding to life.
Kara-Kae: For me—and I think intentionality can look different for every mom—because I have four kids, so intentionality has to look different for me, because I want to connect with my kids on their level with who they are as a human being. I had to see my kids as people/as little humans and not as a box to check off on a list or as a job to get done. When I started actually seeing them for who they are as people, and learning to connect with them for the things that they love, and understanding them on a heart level, I was able to be more intentional with them.
One of my kids loves to just go shopping, and she just wants to roam around the store—not my favorite thing to do—but she loves when I will just take her to the store so she can roam around and look at the earrings. She’s very girly-girl; so doing those things, and me going alongside her and doing that, shows her that I’m here, and I see her, and I want to be a part of the things that she enjoys.
My three-year-old son—he wants to sit on the floor and play with his Matchbox® cars, and that is his favorite thing; and he wants to play superheroes, and he is all about the Avengers; and he can name them all, as a three-year-old; so I play with him and all those things. That shows him that I love him, and that I see him, and that I know what matters to him.
Being able to really connect with my kids on things that are important to them can make them so much more special.
Bob: There are days when it feels like: “The goal for today is just survival”; and I understand that.
Kara-Kae: Yes; yes.
Bob: Some days, if you have survived and everybody got fed and everybody gets to bed at a decent hour, it’s like, “That was a good day”; right?
Bob: But if that’s every day, then now you’ve missed the bigger picture, which is we’re not just here to help our kids survive. We’re here to help them develop; we’re here to help them mature; we’re here to help them grow. I go back to Luke 2:52. It’s really the verse that we have that summarizes 12 years of Jesus’ life, because we see him at age 12 in the temple, and then we see him as he starts his ministry at around age 30. Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”
Now, your kids are going to grow in stature, whether you do anything to help them or not; they’re going to get bigger! But wisdom, favor with God, favor with man—you can help; purposefully say: “We’re not just going to try to survive and hope you grow an inch today. We’re going to help you learn how to grow in wisdom, how to grow in favor with others, how to grow in favor with God,” and have the mindset that says, “I have a job to do today; and that is, to help advance this process.”
On those days—again, I want to go back—those days when you go, “All we could do is survive,” that’s okay. It’s not like every day you have to have this checklist you have to do; but I do think that moms can have intentionality about, “I have some goals of what I want to try to accomplish with my kids.”
Ann: Absolutely. I think it’s good for us, as moms, too; because I struggled with this myself. I was in this comparison world of thinking: “Oh, look at that mom. She’s so gentle and quiet, and they read books all day,” and “Oh, look at this mom…”; you know?
I remember this older mom coming up to me and saying, “Stop looking to everyone else, because God made you a unique and certain way; and He wants you—you to parent your kids.” That was a revolutionary time in my life, of thinking, “Who am I?” Instead of comparing myself, I thought: “What are my passions? Who am I?” and “What do I want to produce in these children?”
I realized: “I’m a mom of adventure,” “I’m a mom that’s crazy,” “I want to do these fun, crazy things.” So I would take my kids’ identity/who they are, and I would kind of combine it with who I am in order to produce; because God put them under my roof so He has a plan for all of us.
I thought that was interesting for me, because I don’t think women always do that; because especially today, with women comparing themselves, now, in another whole realm of social media: “Who are you?” I feel like you’ve done that. You’ve discovered: “This is who I am, and this is who my kids are…”
What would you hope moms would do in this phase, as Bob’s talking about being intentional: “How can they be intentional?”
Kara-Kae: Yes, I think it’s really important. The first thing I encourage moms to do with being intentional is figuring out who you are—who God says you are, first of all—because that is number one. I encourage moms to figure out what your personality type is; “What are the things that you enjoy?” “What do you love to do?”
We put so much into our kids; everything we do revolves around our kids. We forget that—you know, we were just talking about how our kids are humans—we’re human beings, too; and we don’t take care of ourselves, and we don’t do anything to pour back into ourselves.
I love what you said about bringing your kids into that, too. That’s something I love doing, because I’ve brought my kids along in the journey of what my passions are in the last couple of years. I have always loved reading and writing; it’s been the passion of my life. So in the last couple of years, I’ve started bringing my kids into that. When my book came out this past year, my kids were my biggest cheerleaders.
It was so incredible to watch them, especially my middle girl. She’s such a cheerleader for people, and she has a very challenging personality; she’s very stubborn. I always say she’s very much like her dad [Laughter], but I always say she is going to do huge things some day because she will not budge; she’s so stubborn. But she is your biggest fan, and I love that.
She would ask me before the book came out, “Mom, how many days till the book comes out?” “We’re getting closer; we’re getting closer.” She tells everybody about it; and then the day the book came out, it was just a party; and she was my biggest cheerleader. She’s telling everybody. She’s telling all her teachers at school, and she’s trying to take copies to school to the teachers.
Ann: That’s amazing.
Kara-Kae: I love that—that I was able to bring them into the process, because kids don’t really understand writing a book and publishing—you know, they don’t really understand what that world looks like. But I thought, “I’m going to bring them into this.”
I journal with my kids, back and forth, to bring them into writing; because it’s something that I love. I’ve been able to show them what my passions are, and that has been huge for our relationship—to be able to connect the things that I love with them and really show them that I’m not just the mom: “I’m not just the person that makes your meals, and takes you to school, and washes your clothes. I have passions; I have things that I love and things that I care about.”
Ann: And you’re a stay-at-home mom and yet you’re still using your gifts and your passions.
Kara-Kae: Yes, absolutely.
Dave: Another part that I read about the intentionality, which was so beautiful—you have the understanding of my identity, “Who am I as a mom?” Same thing for us, as dads—for Bob and me—really no different.
Bob: Right; “Who does God say I am as His child?”
Dave: That’s a huge part of it; and then you add this other side that I didn’t see coming, which was unpacking the bags, which is trying to identify: “What are the negative things?” You said, “I’ve started to see the worst version of myself in my children, and it makes you go, ‘Whoa!’” Talk about that a little bit. How does a mom be intentional about that?
Kara-Kae: I think a lot of times women—and dads, too—we will bring this baggage into—whether it’s our marriages or our parenting. I didn’t really notice mine until I had kids. I had brought all this baggage in, because I wanted to mold my kids to be what I wanted them to be. I realized that I was such a perfectionist and I was so worried about them being what I wanted them to be that I had all this baggage that was piling up. I needed to kind of unpack this baggage before I let that overtake my relationship with my kids, because I noticed that one of my daughters was acting like me in that aspect of—she was struggling so much with perfectionism, and she was five at this point. It was really burdening me that she was struggling so much with this, so I talked to some other moms about this and what that looks like.
There was one story that really stood out to me that was a mom that had older kids. They were—her oldest was about to graduate from high school; and she [mom], through her whole life, had had all this baggage. She’d put all these expectations on her kids—just unattainable expectations—and expected them to do so many things that it was tearing down the relationship between her and her kids/her and her spouse. The kids never felt like they could measure up to be what she expected them to be.
She didn’t see it until it was almost too late. She finally realized, “I have to do something here.” She realized all this baggage that she had of bringing these unrealistic expectations and putting those on her kids. She apologized to them, asked for their forgiveness, and was able to restore relationships with them. That story was so impactful for me. I’m so grateful that she was able to walk into that new phase of life with them, of them becoming adults and restoring some friendships and relationships with her children.
It helped me see that I needed to start, now, of unpacking some of my baggage and the burdens that I put on my children; because I could see myself putting some of these expectations on my kids. I didn’t want to start putting those on my kids when they were in kindergarten and expecting them to have everything done perfectly and everything done to my level. My husband will tell me a lot, “Now, did they clean their room to Mom’s level or to their level?” [Laughter] because they always know that Mom’s level is a little different than their level of clean.
Bob: You know—as we think about baggage, and we think about the past experiences that have shaped our lives—I’m remembering a conversation we had a number of years ago with a guy that, Dave—you and Ann will recognize his name—Josh McDowell. I don’t know if you know that name, but Josh is an author and apologist. He was working on a book at one point, and he was wrestling with the fact that he grew up in a very dysfunctional family situation.
His dad was an alcoholic; his mother was very overweight, embarrassingly so. Josh said, “I didn’t want her to show up places, because I didn’t want people to see my mom.” He said one time he knew where his dad hid his liquor bottle, and Josh went and urinated in the liquor bottle. So this was the family structure.
He was wrestling as he was writing this book—this is as an adult—he’s wrestling with some of these past experiences and going, “This was horrible—what I had to grow up with.” He said it was like God tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Josh, do you like who you are today?” Josh was like, “Well, you know, yes. I mean, I like the way life has turned out for me, I’m happy with my life. There are still issues; but yes. I’m content with how life has come for me.”
God said, “So, do you know that it took this path to get you to where you are?” He said, “I was able to look back on these things, and not say they were right, but look back and say, in the midst of it, God took what the enemy meant for evil and used it for good.”
I think when we look back into our past, we can have a tendency to become angry, or have a tendency to become bitter, or for our hearts to be hardened toward people or events. Yet I think we have to have a perspective, where we look at these things and we say: “You know, this is how God has been molding and shaping me. Thank You, Lord, for taking me through hard times to make me more into the image of Christ.”
Ann: I remember the first time I read Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage. In the book, he talks about marriage being like a bridge. He said cars would go over that bridge every day; but then you take a ten-ton truck and put it on that bridge, and all these cracks are exposed. He said that’s what marriage does—the pressure of marriage or the pressure of kids just exposes the weakness in the structure.
I remember putting that book down—because for years, I had said, when our kids were little, “Look what our kids are doing to me! They’re making me crazy,” when, in fact, God was saying, “I’m just exposing some of the things I’d like to work on; I’d like to have you work on with Me.” That was an eye-opening fact, like, “Oh, it’s me,” and “It’s always been there.”
It’s the beauty of having kids; it’s the beauty of marriage—of God saying, “I’m going to work on this with you. I’m going to be right beside you, and I’ll help you.”
Dave: Yes. The thing I would add is—and this is not popular—and I don’t even want to say it out loud, because I don’t actually want to do this; but I know I must, and we all must—is I don’t want to miss those moments of pain. I don’t want to avoid them; I don’t want to pray, “God, I don’t want pain in my life,” even though I want to pray that and I do pray that.
But when it comes and when there’s adversity, I want to get everything out of it; because I’m looking at two moms that have gone through it, and you’re better because of it. And your kids are better because of it. God didn’t let you avoid it; He actually gave you maturity through it.
I think there are listeners, thinking, “I don’t want pain; I don’t want anything to do with it.” I think our perspective needs to step back and go, “Okay; there is a God right in the middle of this pain and this valley with me, and I want to get everything out of this pain that He wants me to get. I don’t want to be bitter; I want to be better, so I’m going to go through it with Him.”
Bob: As you look back on your baggage that God’s had you unpacking in the midst of this, are you grateful for the adversity?
Kara-Kae: Oh, absolutely. Walking through hard seasons, especially in motherhood—walking through post-partum anxiety/depression—through those hard seasons, I think everyone can agree those difficult seasons were the seasons that I felt the closest to the Lord; those were the seasons that I grew deeper, that I learned the most, and that I grew the most.
They’re never fun. There’s a quote that says, “New life grows in the dark.” I always love that; because sometimes we have to walk through the darkness to grow, and I would never change it.
Bob: Well, I hope that your encouragement for moms to seize the day, to be intentional, to be focused—
Ann: —to mom up? [Laughter]
Bob: Yes, to do more than just survive it; but to say, “Let’s have some focus and some intentionality here, and let’s recognize we’re about something pretty big as we invest in the next generation.”
Ann: Kara-Kae, thank you for your honesty.
Kara-Kae: Oh, absolutely.
Ann: Thank you for sharing your journey, because I think it helps to set people free.
Bob: Yes. We have copies of Kara-Kae’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s called Mom Up: Thriving with Grace in the Chaos of Motherhood. If you know somebody who just had a baby, this would be a great book to give them as a baby gift. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; and you can order the book from us online, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. The website, again, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order the book, Mom Up, at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
David Robbins is in the studio with us; and you’re not a mom, but you’re married to one.
David: A good one, indeed!
Bob: This is something that you have to remind Meg of regularly—the value of what she’s doing; right?
David: Yes. I mean, especially as we had a gap; and then we had a kid six years later, and she re-entered the whole process—.
The verse that was coming to my mind, as I was listening in, was Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Moms can so often get caught in the crossfire of wondering if who they are and what they do is valuable. They have to sort out vocation and calling and all these things in different phases of life, but I know this certainly: only moms can be moms. It looks different ways, but that role is a calling that takes a backseat to none other in terms of significance and impact. Every mom is exerting a profound impact on the future by virtue of being a mom.
Sometimes, in our world, it can be so easy to forget that; but I want to remind every mom of this fact today, and thank you. Thank you for all you do and the unique ways you reflect Jesus to your kids.
Bob: Just ask yourself this question today: “Is what I’m doing today going to matter
50 years from now?” If you’re pouring into the lives of your kids, it’s going to matter
50 years from now. The business thing may not be as significant 50 years from now as how you poured into your kids. So keep that focus; keep those priorities straight.
Thank you, David.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear a conversation between Ron Deal and Laura Petherbridge about the challenges that a stepmom can face if she’s never been a mom before and, all of a sudden, she has stepkids. Laura talks about that tomorrow with Ron Deal. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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