When Good is Better than Perfect
By Janna Barber
This is the latest post in a series where guest bloggers share how God has shown up in the stories they never expected to live. May these stories stir you toward hope and give you a glimpse of God’s goodness. Read previously published stories here.
I was twenty-one years old when I got married. Eighteen months later, I became a mother. I hadn’t been one of those teenage girls who babysits a lot, and both my siblings were close to my age, so I didn’t have much experience taking care of little ones. The first night in the hospital my baby woke me with the loudest cry I’d ever heard. And the crying continued for many months afterward. Sam was a high energy baby, a vigorous eater, and a hard sleeper–once sleep actually came.
My husband and I spent countless hours gently bouncing our baby while walking endless circles around the coffee table, trying to get Sam calm enough to settle into slumber. Sam was about five months old when I began to admit Motherhood was not the bliss I’d been promised in the shiny magazines adorning my doctor’s office during pregnancy. I found myself sleep-deprived and angry, nearly all the time. One day I worried I was becoming someone who might uncontrollably shake her baby and end up hurting it, so I called my best friend and asked for help. She told me she’d been seeing a lady in our church for counseling and thought maybe I should try meeting with her as well.
This is one of the best decisions I’ve made as a mom, but twenty years later, I can also see how it’s a way that God met me in the middle of some difficult circumstances. In therapy I discovered a couple of sources for some of my anger:
+ I’d not forgiven my own mother for the things I thought of as her shortcomings in caring for me and my siblings.
+ I’d been taking better care of my baby than myself, and while that was necessary at times, it wasn’t sustainable long term. Not if I wanted to enjoy the rest of my life as a mother, and not resent my baby.
It took several months and moving away from my own mother for a time for all those feelings to change, but eventually, I got to the place where I realized Mom had done the best she could–which is all anyone is really capable of anyhow. In forgiving my mom, I found the freedom I needed to lower the unrealistic expectations I’d placed on myself, and I began to give myself the break I needed to become a good mother instead of a perfect one.
Good is Better than Perfect
Over the years I’ve found that in those moments when it feels like everything is falling apart if I can stop and take a deep breath before responding with more crazy, I end up acting more like my true self than some angry, sleep-deprived ball of neediness. Often, taking the time to simply ask myself, “Am I doing the best I can at this moment?” makes me less likely to say or do something I’ll regret in anger, in order to gain the fearful obedience of my kids. When I can honestly answer, “yes, I’m doing my best,” it lets me off the hook and I’m no longer responsible for every single atom in the universe. This is the best practice I’ve found in life as a mom, along with taking a few daily medications, in order to sort out the chemical imbalances my hormone-addled brain has suffered over the years.
Because, let’s be honest, even that mom you think is the best Mom you know cannot control all the things her child will face in his or her life. And it’s not her job to control them all either. In fact, let me say that a little more clearly, so everyone out there understands.
As mothers, it’s not our job to protect our children from all of life’s hurts. That’s an impossible job in this broken world, and when we take it on, we only end up frustrated and exhausted and usually isolated from those same kids we’re trying to shelter. Our real job is to help them learn how to cope with the hurt they will inevitably encounter.
Of course, we wisely keep our children as safe as we can from danger, but we’re not in charge of everything that happens to them. We are in charge of loving them the best we can, as well as doing our best to be present with them in their trials, just like God is for us. But we will still fall short of perfection as parents, and that’s okay. We’re human after all, and we aren’t meant for perfection in this life.
But when our best love for our kids is not enough, that’s when Love himself can show up and heal the wounds we inadvertently give. In fact, I often pray for Christ to come and shine his light on the dark holes in my kids’ hearts–the ones created by myself, other people, life, and this beat-down, broken-up world. May Jesus dig deep into the dirt of their lives, and sow his love seeds into their souls. For he’s the only One capable of perfect love, the one who dreamed up our redemption in the first place.
May God’s holy and blameless love drive out your fear of failing as a mother today. May it free you up to become a good mom, instead of a perfect one.
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