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Regret Free Parenting
Raise Good Kids and Know You're Doing It Right
By Catherine Hickem
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Catherine Hickem
All rights reserved.
Why Well-Meaning Moms Raise Insecure Kids
Principle 1:Be Intentional About Understanding Your Purpose
During my early years as a pastor's wife, I often volunteered in the church nursery. I saw every possible type of new mom walk through those nursery doors, and I learned a few things.
New moms don't realize it, but they can set up their little ones for later anxiety issues simply by how they leave their young ones in the nursery—or the day care, or with a friend or family member. Let me explain.
Every child initially experiences separation anxiety. It's a natural transition with babies. When infants are separated from Mom, they may be unhappy about being left with someone they don't know well. They will cling, cry, and scream. But the truth is, they won't be damaged, traumatized, or permanently scarred. Nine times out of ten, they calm down once they're distracted or comforted. The lessons they learn are:
that they're safe,
that Mommy will come back, and
that they can trust Mommy to leave them with someone who will take care of them.
If a mother's own anxiety surfaces about leaving her child, I can assure you that the child senses it. Children are born sensors, so they know when Mom is upset. This inadvertently sends a message to the little one: If Mommy is nervous, maybe I'm not safe.
Nothing is wrong with moms keeping an eye on their children's adjustment to change or new environments. However, the real issue isn't the child's ability to adjust but the mom's own discomfort, fear, and anxiety, which her child senses.
Are these well-meaning moms? Absolutely! Are they wonderful, terrific people? No doubt! Will they contribute to making their children insecure or anxious about trying new things in the future? Yes! Is that their heart? Not at all.
Mom, that's why this first principle—purpose—is more about you than your children. So I have to get personal. And because nothing is more personal than being a mother, let's hit the issue head-on so you can be the mom your children deserve.
Now, no pressure, but you are the single most significant female your child will ever know. Regardless of how you feel about your importance, you must begin immediately to recognize your value in your child's eyes. Failure to grasp this has a cost: It will cost your child his or her self-worth. It will cost you peace of mind and heart. It will cost the Kingdom the opportunity to be as blessed as God intended. That's a high price to pay simply because we wander through motherhood instead of moving with purpose.
Over the years, a mother's importance has become obscured. I've often compared the awareness of motherhood to the roof on a house—no one thinks about it being there until there's a leak or until it's gone altogether. Yet as the significance of motherhood fell into obscurity, our role became more complex, with greater demands. Every mother at one time or another feels the burden that comes with those expectations. Often mothers give so much with so little regard.
Cultural assumptions add to the stress. It seems society equates our biological ability to give birth with the ability to be a good mother. The truth is, thousands of women successfully bring children into the world every day. But it takes a special woman with focus and intention to successfully raise her children.
Unfortunately for our children, we mothers have bought into our culture's diminished view of our role because we underestimate our importance to our children. If we were truly conscious of our influence, many of the critical issues in the lives of today's kids would not exist, and I wouldn't be writing this book.
What Is a Mom's Purpose?
I want you to stop reading for a moment and go get a sheet of paper and a pencil. Now take a few minutes to write down what you believe your purpose is in being a mother. Give yourself some time to reflect. Make it a sentence or two, and remember: this isn't a test. When you're done, lay it aside. I'll see you in a few minutes.
* * *
That was difficult, wasn't it?
Asking you to state your purpose as a mother is like asking you to give the history of the world in thirty words or less. Motherhood is a concept everyone believes in but few can articulate. One of the reasons we struggle with its description is that the list of roles within the title never ends. A mom is a nurse, teacher, protector, and chauffeur. She is comfort in times of distress, disciplinarian in times of disobedience, and a cheerleader in the moments her children are stretched. And she's always a walking Walgreens with a purse full of snacks, Band-Aids, and toys.
The other problem is that while we can describe the tasks of our position, we struggle to articulate the intangible heart of mothering. And if we can't express our purpose, even to ourselves, the likelihood of living it out is slim.
A 2005 study on motherhood surveyed 2,009 moms across all demographic lines, with surprisingly similar responses in many areas. When asked if being a mother was "the most important thing I do," 81 percent said it was, and the remaining 19 percent said it was "one of several important things I do." These moms also universally found satisfaction in being a mom (81 percent were very satisfied, and 16 percent were somewhat satisfied), despite variance in their socioeconomic circumstances.
The mothers surveyed obviously feel a strong sense of purpose in their role. So if we find such satisfaction and significance as moms, shouldn't we be confident in what our purpose is? Let's start by defining purpose.
A purpose is a reason, principle, or rationale for accomplishing something with meaning or value. It indicates that something has significance and depth and will require thought and attention to fulfill. A mother's purpose is influenced by background, history, and personality. It's also impacted by a woman's own personal journey with her mother. Therefore our definition of "normal motherhood" is based on how we were raised, because our mothers are our individual definitions of "normal." (I'm not saying every mother is healthy and worthy of modeling. What I am saying is that how we're raised as children defines "normal" for us until we learn what behaviors might not be normal after all.) Even later, as mothers themselves, women look to their own mothers for emotional support. The study on motherhood just mentioned also found that while "mothers most often named their spouse as their primary source of emotional support [48 percent] ... 20 percent named their own mother."
Think about this: You represent what "normal" is to your children. Your daughters likely will mother as you mother. Your sons likely will expect their wives to mother the way you did.
In addition to the gratification and challenge of motherhood is a multigenerational responsibility. If you are a mother, you are impacting untold generations.
A mother's purpose is to give all of herself to uniquely impart values, faith, beliefs, and love into the children with whom she's been entrusted. Embrace the journey of motherhood with the belief that you will empower your children to fulfill the purpose for their creation. Mothering with purpose is recognizing that your very existence defines love, gives life, protects innocence, believes in the impossible, and views life's struggles as opportunities to enrich your children's lives.
The motherhood study confirms that mothers sense the significance of this support and nurture in the lives of their children: "Many women talked about mothers as the foundation of a child's sense of security and trust." A mother knows she is the emotional floor her children will build their lives on until they can transfer that foundation onto God. This definition is overwhelming.
Some of you may think, I may as well give up now because there's no way I can be this kind of purposeful mom. Guess what? You're right. There's absolutely no way any woman can possibly meet this definition of a purposeful mother.
The good news is that God doesn't expect you to pull this off alone. He knows you're in over your head from the start. After all, He created you for this purpose. He wants you to understand the significance of your journey and not take it for granted. He wants you to catch a glimmer of the importance of this job you have undertaken; after all, you will symbolize God to your children. Their lives depend on your getting clued in so you can see the awesome responsibility, honor, and significance of your place in their lives.
When a mother knows her purpose, her children will know theirs. They will develop an inner sense that gives them internal and external confidence. They will be comfortable in their own skin and free to walk to the drummer's beat inside their hearts; and hopefully that beat will come from God. They won't be so vulnerable to the demands of our culture because they will be less likely to view their peers as the definition of success. They will be grounded by the foundation of a mother's purposeful love and not pounded by the world's ruthless expectations.
Isn't this what you want for your children? Having a purpose in your mothering will achieve this kind of life for them.
So what does a purposeful mother look like? How do you become a mother who knows where she is going?
Trust Your Intuition
When we begin the journey of motherhood, we're often anxious. Do you remember how it felt the first time you became a mother? I do.
We were adopting our first child and had been waiting for our son to be born. Our attorney was concerned the birth mother might not go through with the adoption. Until the papers were signed, we knew that at any moment we might be left with empty arms and broken hearts.
Can you say, "nerve-racking"?
Finally we took home our new adopted son, Taylor. I was both scared and excited. My husband, Neil, and I had waited a long time for a child, and I wanted to do things right. I look back now and see how overly protective I was for the first several weeks, especially since it appeared we might have a few medical concerns.
As time went on, I felt normal again. (I know. Normal has a broad definition.)
You can probably relate. The normal experience of being initially anxious as a new mom quickly disappears as we become increasingly familiar with our children. In those early years, we seem to manage pretty well as long as our offspring are strolling along normal paths of development. We hold on to our influence and position with relative ease. The only time we typically relinquish it is to a pediatrician or close family member.
However, as our child enters formal education in kindergarten or first grade, we increasingly relinquish our instincts, observations, and knowledge. The process begins slowly, but by the time our child has reached middle school, our exasperation with them at this age fans the flames of inadequacy, further causing us to check our brains at the door of anyone who appears to know more than we do. By the time this has occurred, our confidence is shaken, and we are vulnerable to doubt and criticism.
We wonder if we know what we're doing. We have trouble discerning between normal middle-school behavior and problem behavior. We think, Maybe my child has a bigger issue than I'm equipped to handle. We quietly question our own judgment about our children and think others might be able to do for them what we can't. As a result, our children respond with increased insecurity.
Sound familiar? Do you see how easily the transition from confident to shaky can take place? Do you see how our children's confidence is also affected? This happens because moms get caught up in what others think instead of what they know. This is one of the first major traps to avoid. We don't want to unknowingly slip into insecurity. And we won't if we are purposeful.
A purposeful mother understands that she doesn't possess all wisdom and knowledge about motherhood, children, and parenting.
However, what you do possess is the heart knowledge about your children, which will help you do what needs to be done when the time comes. As a purposeful mother, you know you are truly the expert on your children, and no one can replace you.
Do you get that? You are the expert on your child!
When you seek outside counsel, it should be with the intent of seeking other options, answers, and possibilities to supplement, not replace, your own understanding. Listen to the wisdom of others with an intuitive heart and discerning mind. Trust that you will have peace when you have found the answer to your question. Then you will live with a quiet confidence that says you and God will get through the challenge of motherhood together. Trust your instincts as God's way of whispering in your ear His wisdom for your child.
Let me be clear about something here. Though we listen to and apply God's wisdom for our children, they still might make mistakes from time to time. Our children make choices that may go against our hearts' desire for them, but that doesn't diminish our motherhood. And it doesn't mean that we're not listening to God or that He's not listening to us. God is bigger than our children's choices.
I recently counseled a Christian mother I had met years before when working part-time as an elementary school guidance counselor. I had observed her oldest daughter in the third grade, and she seemed a little unique. Yet I kept these thoughts to myself because the girl was performing well in class and behaved well. Her mother never mentioned anything to me, so I didn't feel it was appropriate to point out her child's differences when there didn't seem to be a problem.
Fast-forward five years to this mother sitting in my office. Her daughter is about to enter high school, but the remainder of her eighth-grade year bodes disaster. The mother is a wreck. The daughter is disconnected. No one is happy!
"I've had this kid in therapy for years, and she's been on medication for five years," Jean began. "Something is wrong, but I can't put my finger on it. No one seems to hear me when I say that something is missing. Am I nuts, or do you see what I mean?"
This was a mother in full-blown crisis mode. I proceeded to tell Jean my observations about her daughter years before, and I assured Jean I did not think she was crazy. I didn't have a diagnosis for her daughter at the time, but I absolutely knew this mother's instincts for her child were right on target.
Jean knew her daughter. She also knew something wasn't right.
Jean had experienced a difficult relationship with her own mother, having been abandoned during her prepubescent years. She worked diligently not to repeat her mom's mistakes and was doing many wonderful things as a mother with her children. Most important, Jean lived in integrity as a mother. She was engaged, paid attention, and responded appropriately to her children's needs. She was a tender, spiritually minded woman who sought God's heart throughout her journey. Jean's problem is similar to that of many mothers. She sought help but didn't listen to the right voice. She believed God wanted the best for her daughter, but she didn't always trust the wisdom she received from Him. She had an unavoidable sense known as "mother's intuition" that she should have heeded. Had Jean listened to God's Spirit within her, she would have found the help her daughter needed earlier.
After Jean and I talked, she went on to have her daughter evaluated by a professional I respected. The results validated Jean's gnawing instincts. Something was indeed abnormal about her daughter. If it had been properly diagnosed years earlier, the treatment intervention would have been less intense and the damage to her daughter less severe. Yet in the midst of this difficult news, Jean felt restored and relieved. "I'm so grateful to know the truth," she said. "All these years I didn't have the answers I needed to meet my daughter's issues, so I thought it was just me. Now that I know, I can throw my heart and soul into giving my daughter what she needs."
Jean could be the poster child for mothers who don't trust their intuition to the point of action. She would be the first to tell you that one of the side effects of her journey is the insecurity resulting from all the lost time.
Excerpted from Regret Free Parenting by Catherine Hickem. Copyright © 2011 Catherine Hickem. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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