True Confession: Mommy Guilt
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Maggie CombsMAGGIE COMBS is the author of Motherhood Without All the Rules: Trading Stressful Standards for Gospel Truths. When motherhood overwhelmed her, God drew her closer to Himself through the writing of her first book, Unsupermommy. She loves playing games with her husband and three sons, herding goats on their family farm, and reading young adult literature and mysteries in her free time. It is her joy to disciple women in her local church, through her writing, and as content director for Well-Wate...more
Suffocating under the weight of mom guilt? Author Maggie Combs gives her true confessions of motherhood and the “rules” moms struggle beneath — and how to seize their freedom.
True Confession: Mommy Guilt
Ann: I’m wondering if any of you moms can relate to this: “I have a confession; I wish that I was a better mom, a better wife, a better friend, a better Christian. I wish I was better at reading my Bible, disciplining my kids with grace, and keeping my house clean. I don’t have to be perfect, but I always wish I was a little bit better.” I think every single mom relates to that.
Dave: I hate to tell you; dads do too.
Ann: Do they?!
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
“I don’t have to be perfect, but I always wish I was a little bit better.”
Dave: You know, hearing you say that, I’m like, “I’ve felt all of those things, probably in a different way, but a similar way.”
I know I’m sitting in the studio with two moms, and I’m guessing that you feel that all the time.
Ann: Yes; and these words were written by Maggie Combs.
Dave: —who’s sitting in the studio.
Ann: Yay, Maggie!
Maggie: I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a better introduction.
Ann: Ohhh! [Laughter]
Dave: You say that to all your hosts. [Laughter] I’ve heard that one before.
Ann: Maggie’s written a book called Motherhood Without All the Rules: Trading Stressful Standards for Gospel Truths. Oh, isn’t that what we all need too?
Maggie is the mom of three sons. Maggie, how old are your boys?
Maggie: They are 10, 8, and 7.
Ann: Married to your husband how many years?
Ann: Okay; so you’ve lived this life, and you wrote these words.
Dave: I mean, those are the opening words of your book. I read them as well; and I’m like, “Okay, I’ve heard my wife say almost identical [words].”
Ann: I think all moms feel like they’re failing at times or they’re messing up. We live under this suffocating blanket of mom guilt. So let me ask you, Maggie; like, “Help us with that. Did you ever experience that?”
Maggie: Every day. [Laughter] Actually, I have a statistic in the book; and I think it’s something like—
Dave: —“90 percent of moms feel judged, and 46 percent feel like they’re being judged all the time.”
Maggie: —all the time. I think I’m part of the 46 percent. [Laughter] I had three boys in three years, and it was just chaos. I mean, full-time survival mode; it was just: “If I can keep them alive, we have made it through the day good.”
Ann: Did you think it would be like that?
Maggie: Oh, no. [Laughter] I think I was never one of those people that was like: “I’ve always wanted to be a mom.” When I pictured motherhood, it was more like: “Well, maybe when my kids went to school, I’ll go and get coffee with friends”; [Laughter] or like, “Well, at playdates, you get to sit and talk to your friends”; right?—not when you have three boys in a row—[Laughter]—you just have to keep them alive.
I just was so overwhelmed by motherhood; it just kind of swept me away, because I was a person, who was just like generally good at doing things; but also, I avoided anything I wasn’t good at doing. [Laughter] You know, how they’re like: “Mothering is just really natural, and you’re just like instinctual”; that was not how it was for me. It was the first thing I had to do in my life that I couldn’t quit, but I wasn’t good at. [Laughter] I was forced to face my own weakness in motherhood, and I wanted so badly to be a good mom. I just had to survive this season by God’s power alone.
Then I got to the other side of this season, and it did start to get like a little bit easier. I took a deep breath; and I felt like, “Now, I can be the good mom.” I had written this book that was all about embracing your weakness; and I’d sort of be like, “Well, no; I’m going to do this by my own strength,” and just strapping those rules back on that would help me be a good mom; and just paying attention: “What makes other women good moms?” and “How could I be more like that?”
Ann: And don’t you think so many moms are doing that? Because you’re plagued/we are all plagued with social media today, so we’re comparing ourselves to millions of moms. We strap that guilt on and wear it.
Maggie: Yes, it’s just social media; and even, because it’s permeated so much of our thinking, even our friends—we’re so quick to give each other these little hopes/these little ideas—we think like, “You’re struggling with motherhood right now; that’s okay. You’re a good mom.” Then moms put their hope in that, and they wear that. Suddenly, that becomes a burden; because we can’t all be good moms all the time.
What happens is we pick up these things from society that are supposed to give us freedom as moms: “Just go be your best self and pursue your dreams.” Really, they become burdens that we have to bear; because they are not the gospel. And what moms need, in this really hard day-to-day life, isn’t those nice platitudes online; it is the gospel itself. And the gospel is always countercultural; you can almost depend upon it. If it’s popular/if someone will put it on a wooden plaque and sell it at TJ Maxx®, it’s probably not the gospel. [Laughter]
We have to start paying attention to: “What are these stressors that we have taken on?”; because when we don’t live up to those things, that leads to shame. Not living up to all the standards of the world is not sin, but we wear it like it is. We wear it like it’s shame upon ourselves that we couldn’t live up to that.
When our standard is God’s truth and His way—and the best news is that we don’t have to be perfect at it—because He made a way where there was no way. God knows that we aren’t going to be perfect moms; that’s why He sent a perfect Savior. And living in the truth of that, we can grow to be—not perfect moms—but better moms, transformed by the power of the gospel.
Ann: It’s funny that you say that; because I remember this one day, getting in our car/our minivan with all three boys, because Dave’s the pastor of the church—
Dave: Minivans were awesome.
Ann: Yes; so they’re all—I think two of them were in car seats—they were all probably five and under. I mean, I was yelling, because they’re dropping their stuff; they forgot things. Honestly, I was just frustrated with myself—I looked terrible—I felt terrible about myself.
Dave: She was actually probably frustrated with her husband; that’s where it all stems from.
Ann: But I remember I’m yelling, looking at myself in the rear-view mirror as I’m looking at them behind me; and I’m thinking “I am the worst mom.” If someone said, “You’re such a good mom,” I would think, “No, I’m really not that great.” And if you saw me in these conditions, you would think like, “She’s crazy!”
Maggie: It means like you can never be honest with your friends,—
Maggie: —because you want them to think you’re a good mom. [Laughter] So you don’t want to tell them: “If I share this with them, then they will know the secret.”
Guess what, everyone?—the secret is out. You’re probably not a good mom, day to day, by your own power; but by God’s power, you can be a holy mom; and you can be a gospel-fueled mom, who is saying to her kids, “I messed up today, but that’s why God is good. Come along with me; let’s see the God who saves us when we mess up.”
Ann: Did you live in that condemnation and guilt? Did you carry that?
Maggie: I think I carry it anytime where I’m not fighting not to carry it. It’s just so easy to pick it up again. I think Paul Tripp says, “No one speaks to yourself more than you do.” I’m watching the world go by; and I am just thinking, thinking, thinking. When I’m not renewing my mind with the truth, I’m always headed back to those other things and to what the world has told me. It’s like when Paul is like: “I don’t do the things I do want to do; and then, I do the things I don’t want to do.” I just feel like, “Oh yes, that’s motherhood right there.” That’s Romans 7, but the good news is we get to move to Romans 8.
Dave: “There is no condemnation…”
Maggie: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
It’s a battle; it’s a daily battle, and you can’t expect to just win it and be done. There are some things that we can have that—God really frees us from—but I think that battle to choose grace instead of shame that you are heaping on yourselves. We talk a lot about mom shame in our culture—we talk about it coming from other places; right?—“Oh, they’re mom shaming on the internet,” “They’re mom shaming that celebrity over there.” I got mom shamed at a mom’s group that I met with. But the biggest amount of shame comes from inside of us—it’s the voice inside of us—talking about what we see about ourselves. The scariest thing about that is that so often we can start to think, “Maybe that’s God’s voice,”—
Ann: Exactly; and that God’s condemning us.
Maggie: —that God is condemning us.
Dave: What is it about—and maybe I’m wrong, because men do this as well—but I often hear my wife, and now you Maggie, and other women—they carry so much. When you’re on stage, and you’re speaking to women—and you put on bags; and you start walking around, “This is what I carry,”—they’re cheering; they’re like, “That’s my life.” Again, I’m not saying men don’t do that; but often, I’m like, “Oh, the kids are fine; they’re good.” And you’re [Ann] like, “No, they’re not! I feel this; I carry this.” Talk about that, because I think that’s universal for moms.
Ann: Maggie, it was interesting; I gave a talk to moms, where at one time, I was saying, like, “You can see me; and I look like you, and I look like any other person on the street.” Then I turned around, and I had taken these—I don’t/I can’t remember how I got them to attach; but I think I had taped these dolls/these little miniature dolls—
Dave: Actually, I taped them.
Ann: Did you do it?
Dave: She had me tape them. It was—
Maggie: He remembers. [Laughter]
Ann: —on the back of my jacket; I had all of these little dolls on the back. I said, “Every single mom has her children attached to her at all times of the day. So at night, when we put our kids to bed, they’re in bed; and Dave’s laying in the bed free, and he’s asleep. I have my children attached to me.”
I’m going to add this, too—this happens with adult children, as well—because we think like, “Oh, they’re little; of course, they’re attached.” But when they’re grown, I’m still worrying about them, thinking about them, mulling over the things they’re going through, praying for them. I think that’s a difference between some men and women, not all.
Maggie: I’m thinking about my children right now. [Laughter] My husband texted me about something going on at home; and I’m like, “What’s happening there?”
I think, actually, one of the first rules that the world gives us/these stressful standards is: “Everything depends upon you.” I know my first night in the hospital with my first baby—they gave me that baby—and I thought to myself, “I’m responsible for this?” I never had this with any of my other children, but he spit up amniotic fluid the entire night. I called the nurse; and she’s like, “That’s fine. Take one of these blue”—you know those blue—
Maggie: —yes, like squeezer things—“and just like suction it out every time he does it.” I was like, “Okay.” He did that for the entire night long, so I did not sleep. I sat there with my baby, and I’m working the suction; because I’m thinking, “I have to keep him alive!”
Then from that day forward, I’ve worn that; and sometimes I’ve worn it like a badge; like, “See these children; I keep them alive. Give me the praise; I am awesome.” Sometimes it’s such a burden; because when you have been told that everything depends upon you, you have to be in control at all times. Any circumstances, where you feel you are out of control of the future of your child, makes you an utter failure. I think a lot of the feelings of failure come from that.
Dave: Explain the stressful standard, because you have those throughout your book. At first glance, I’m like, “Okay, what do you mean by that?”
Maggie: So a stressful standard is anything that the world tells us we should do as moms. Moms are given a whole list of shoulds that range from like how to choose their preschool, what kind of food they should be eating, how much screen time they should be doing,—
Ann: —what kind of sunscreen to put on them.
Maggie: Yes; and it’s like you get to fall kind of on this continuum of how good of a mom you’re going to be by how many shoulds you can live up to.
Dave: Here’s another one I just want to make sure you hear: “And you make sure your husband is your priority in front of your kids”; okay, keep going. [Laughter]
Maggie: Absolutely; there are plenty of marriage shoulds as well. [Laughter]
The world tells us, like: “Well, you should also take care of yourself first. [Laughter] You should probably do something outside of motherhood.” It’s like I’m just drowning in the ones about motherhood; and now, I also have to do ones that are taking care of me?
Every single one of those stressful standards—the problem with it is that it puts us at the center of the universe—and God needs to be the center of the universe. When we are at the center of the universe, guess what? We’re not very good at being in control of the universe, but we have Someone who is.
Ann: So Maggie, talk about that; because I’m thinking about you with these three little boys under four. That’s the stage of parenting and life, where you can barely catch a breath, let alone study your Bible. You’re talking about bringing the gospel—and Jesus and the gospel is enough/more than enough for us—what does that look like? How did you learn how to do that in the midst of drowning in diapers?
Maggie: I think that, first of all, I’m still not perfect at it by any means.
Ann: Yes; and none of us are.
Maggie: Right; but I think that I learned to do it, because I needed the gospel so badly myself. What I found was that godly motherhood that I longed for so much only came as a result of spending time with God. I couldn’t exhibit the fruit of the Spirit to my children by my own willpower. I can only do that by being in the Spirit, by connecting with God every day—and no, it doesn’t have to look like 40 minutes of inductive study at the beginning of your day; okay?—there are lots of ways we can meet with God.
It does look like getting in your Bible and in God’s Word, but that looks different in every season. Spiritual disciplines look different in every season, but the point is never to check those things off the list. The point is an intimate relationship with our Savior; because when we are experiencing His grace and forgiveness every day, it is so much easier to give grace and forgiveness to our children. When we are preaching the gospel to ourselves, it’s so much easier/it’s on the tip of our tongue when we’re preaching to our children; right? Then we’re not preaching moralism to our children; we are preaching the way of the gospel, which is: “I am weak; I am a sinner, but God is strong. God is holy and He has made a way.”
Ann: Is that what you mean by motherhood without all the rules?
Maggie: Yes; absolutely. God actually gave us good rules in the Bible, but those rules/the purpose of them is that we can grow to be more like our holy Savior. The purpose isn’t, again, to just check them off the list or earn our salvation for ourselves. The purpose of those rules is that we can live a godly life to honor and glorify Him and, also, to be in unbroken relationship with Him.
Dave: So you talk about saturating—or marinating is the word that came to mind—with the gospel every day. You’ve got three little boys; how do you do it? Because your life is crazy.
Ann: Like walk us through it; what does it look like?
Ann: And it will look different for every person.
Maggie: —it depends upon the season, of course. So right now, for me, it’s like first thing I do is I read a Psalm every morning; because I know I can get that in.
Dave: So you’re up before the boys?
Maggie: Right now, I have been; but I’m not one of those people that’s like, “I get up at five am every day.” That is like/I love sleep; okay? [Laughter] During the summer, I’m able to get up before them more often; but during the school year, I usually can’t. So it is like reading a Psalm in the morning—that just takes a minute—because I wake up every day with a really hard heart; like, “I don’t want to do this! [Laughter] I don’t want to do this following God thing; I want to do my thing, and I’ve got my list of stuff that I want to get done today. I don’t want to hear that God is changing my circumstances; because I was going to go meet with a friend, and now one of my kids is sick”; you know?
I have to connect with Him right away in the morning or the whole family feels it. I do that right now through getting in the Psalms right away. Then, when I have time, Lord willing, later in the day, I’ll go back and do some more deeper study somewhere else. But it’s also through memorizing Scripture by putting it at the kitchen sink. I mean, how many times a day do I go to the kitchen sink? It can be listening—if I don’t have time to get to the Psalm in the morning—just listening to the Bible. And guess what?—then your kids are hearing the Bible, too; and that’s so good for them.
And just building in routines in your day—like when I take a shower—I’m just going to pray for my kids. Like you’re having trouble praying for your kids?—just connect it to something you already do during the day—or while you’re brushing your teeth. What can you do to build those spiritual disciplines into your daily routine?
I just think moms are really smart people. We can figure out how to run this whole family and keep everything afloat—and then we get to our quiet time—we feel like, “Oh, I can’t make that happen.” I think we’re discounting moms. Moms can—if they take the time, if they want to—they can make the space to be in relationship with God. Now, if they’re struggling to want to, they still need to do it; because it’s only by spending time in God’s Word that you develop that desire to be in God’s Word.
Ann: I think the longer we’re away from God’s Word, the less we desire Him.
I put into practice a lot of those same things. I think it’s one of the sweetest parts of—I call it, sometimes, “the desert years for moms”; because it can feel so dry; it can feel alone; you can feel like you’re in this parched land—I’ve often said I saw it as like: “Oh, this is awful!” I also learned how to relate, and talk to, and be with God in the midst of the desert, like: “Oh, He’s with me in this,” “He sees me in this,” “He loves me in this.”
I feel like women, when they can figure out how to bring God into it, it’s almost like Daniel being in Babylon. Like he would go to God to pray three times a day, because he’s in this place that they’re worshiping false idols. We’re there, too, in a land today where we’re not worshiping God. I would wake up in the morning and the first thing—because as you said, your heart can be hard right away—is: “God, I give You my life today. I give You the kids today. Help me to see the way You do, say what You would say, and hear the way You do.”
Just that offering of ourselves, as in Romans 12: 1-2, I offer myself as a living sacrifice, praying all day long, like at the dishes—and I’m praying out loud, because our kids are learning how to pray—and not just perfect prayers—like: “Lord, I’m so frustrated right now. Help me to have patience”; so that our kids are seeing a living gospel.
Then, also, I did the same thing—we’re listening—like in the car, we’re listening to Scripture—the boys are fighting in the back, or doing whatever—but I’m like I don’t mind. Every time we got in the car to go somewhere, I would just pray; and it became this beautiful lifestyle of worship. I did miss my 45 minutes to an hour of just sitting in God’s presence and God’s Word—but there was a beauty in it—like this phase, that can be so difficult, that God meets us right where we are.
Maggie: And what you’re doing there is you are taking the focus off yourself,—
Maggie: —no longer building your own kingdom, and focusing back on God’s kingdom.
Ann: And Maggie, I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, but I had to replace all the negativity with the positives of God’s truth.
Ann: Because when I wasn’t doing God’s truth, I was like: “My life is horrible,” “I have no life!” “Look at their life compared…”—you know, you get into the comparison mode—
Dave: Oh, I’ve heard that.
Ann: —the negativity. You just feel overwhelmed with your life and, then, I would feel guilty about it, like, “I have this gift of these three kids.” I think that’s how the gospel plays out—is exactly as you said—we just meet with Him where we are, in our brokenness; and God fills us and allows us to live out the beauty of the gospel.
Bob: I know I can have a tendency to want to compartmentalize aspects of my life and to think that there are certain parts of my life where I need to really focus on walking by the Spirit; and other parts of my life, I can just do that on my own—you know, like being a mom or being a dad—that’s what I do every day; I don’t need to think about walking by the Spirit in those common activities. But the Bible’s pretty clear we are to walk by the Spirit in all that we do. We have to keep that as a functional mindset for how we live out our faith as dads and as moms.
Maggie Combs has been talking today with Dave and Ann Wilson about what’s at the heart of being a mom without trying to live up to a whole bunch of rules. In fact, her book is called Motherhood Without All the Rules: Trading Stressful Standards for Gospel Truths. It’s a book we want to make available to you this week as a way of saying, “Thank you for your ongoing faithful support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.”
We are so grateful for those of you, who don’t just listen to FamilyLife Today, but you help expand the mission of FamilyLife Today to effectively develop godly marriages and families. You help us reach out to more people, more often, with practical biblical help and hope for their marriage/for their family. When you do that by making a donation today, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” and send you a copy of the book, Motherhood Without All the Rules, by Maggie Combs. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make your donation online; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The number to call is 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Have you ever, as a mom, found yourself being hyper-vigilant when it comes to the safety and security of your kids?—like you’re almost obsessive about that? That can become a pitfall for moms as we’ll hear, tomorrow, from Maggie Combs. She joins Dave and Ann Wilson again; we hope you can be here as well.
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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