Why do you consider your role as mother as that of a servant, and how does that change the way you parent your kids?
By definition, a servant does the menial, excruciating, exhausting, behind-the-scenes work no one else has the energy for. Hello, motherhood. Something about being covered in the urine and vomit of little people while scrubbing toilets and singing “The Wheels on the Bus” for the seventeenth time that day reminds me that yes, indeed, I am a servant.
But Jesus transformed my concept of servanthood after a lovely season of young motherhood when, ahem, I didn’t feel like I was getting enough credit for running the marathon of parenting babies and toddlers everyday (hold your response, please and thank you). I wrote this in Out of the Spin Cycle:
I am one parenting stage ahead of most of you, dear hearts. I’m past naptimes, Boudreaux’s Butt Paste, and preschool waiting lists (“Please, please, please, please…someone get kicked out for biting!”) But the constant need meeting, the incessant talking, the relentless managing all comes back to me…every summer.
Here’s a slice of my life yesterday (add to the Kid Equation my three plus four or five extra neighbor kids at all times, everyday, starting at 8:30 a.m.):
“Can you tie my bow? Will you make me a smoothie? Caleb keeps pressing pause! I have nothing to do. I’m bleeding! Can I watch Weird Al on YouTube? Gavin locked me in the bathroom! I’m starving, Mom! We’re all starving, Mrs. Hatmaker! Will you change these batteries? Sydney won’t get out of my room! Where’s the flashlight? How old do I have to be to legally change my name? No other kids have to do chores! I don’t like to read anymore. When’s lunch? Watch, Mom! Are you watching?”
I have not had an uninterrupted thought in twelve straight days. I am in the kitchen morning, noon, and night feeding all the children of Garlic Creek. By 9:45 a.m., I’d already broken up three fights. When I refused to make a third round of smoothies, Caleb replied, “This is the worst day of my life.” So when hubs got home at 5:30 and said, “You seem a little tense,” I seriously considered getting in his car (because it doesn’t appear an army of filthy badgers live in it) and driving to Canada.
If there is a more thankless, unglamorous job than motherhood, I haven’t seen it. I know you get it, girls. Something about being covered in other people’s urine and vomit while scrubbing toilets and hearing your precious cherub say “NO!” to you twelve hundred times a day makes moms bat-poop crazy sometimes. On super bad days, you might even say, “Is this really my life?” Some of you were in a boardroom or office just a couple of years ago, talking grown-up talk and wearing clean clothes. Motherhood comes with no status, no paycheck, no recognition, and very little credit.
“When Jesus was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (Busted.) “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be the first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” (Mark 9: 33-35).
When I became a mom, “servant-hood” took on a whole new meaning. In our home, we decided I would be the one to change my daily life and stay at home with the babies. But when I took that as my identity
I developed a sense of entitlement and did a lot of waiting around for credit. I held the emotional position that I was doing everyone a favor. This top-down perspective tainted everything, because if I wasn’t perfectly appreciated, adequately recognized, or verbally praised (and what mom is??), then I became the wounded martyr who was always disgruntled.
Jesus transformed my idea of “being the greatest.” It’s not about receiving credit or being popular. It has nothing to do with position or power or getting our just due. Greatness does not come from recognition or the praises of others.
True greatness comes to us through the back door of servant-hood.
As mothers, this requires an emotional shift. We are not doing our husbands and children a favor. We are intentional servants; consciously deferring to the needs of those God entrusted to us. We make the near constant decision to cast off selfishness and resist entitlement. We deliberately choose ‘servant’ with all our faculties in place, exactly as Jesus did in all His strength and glory.
With His knack for perfect illustrations, Jesus elaborated like this:
“He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me’” (Vs. 36-37).
When I choose servant instead of martyr, my children enjoy the security that they are welcomed in our home. They are not a thorn in my flesh, cutting into my personal time. They aren’t a nuisance, making me sigh with irritation all day. They are welcomed members of this family, loved and purposed. And when my children are welcomed, I have opened the very doors of heaven and invited God Himself into the laughter, chaos, and life of our home.
Now that is greatness.
However, to be fair, I did tell my kids yesterday that the reason we had children was so that we’d never have to pick up dog poop or unload the dishwasher again. So I’m still technically working on that servant thingy.
What are some examples of little ways moms disciple their children?
Contrary to popular belief, ALL the ways we disciple our kids are little. Discipleship takes place in the smallest moments over days, months, and years. It is a process, and it involves one million tiny conversations, moments, and demonstrations. Here is how I put it in Out of the Spin Cycle:
My husband and I are determined to raise children who aren’t a drain on society or a thorn in Jesus’ flesh. I don’t want to sit across from my future daughters- and son-in-law and say, “I’m sorry.”
My only chance at this pipe dream is to raise kids who love Jesus and are passionate about His kingdom. Only he can ensure no one is sleeping on my couch at age twenty-nine because “things just don’t work out for him.” Any sense of purpose or mission is going to come from their relationship with God.
Jesus delivered some profound teaching in Matthew 13 on “the kingdom of heaven” – good news for every mom trying to instill that kingdom into her children:
· “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” (Vs. 24)
· “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and plated in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree…” (Vs. 31-32)
· “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Vs. 33)
· “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.” (Vs. 44)
· “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.” (Vs. 45)
· “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.” (Vs. 47)
The kingdom is like a tiny seed, yeast, a hidden treasure, pearls shut up in a shell, fish under the water.
Implanting the kingdom of heaven is a series of infinitesimal teaching moments and modeling opportunities. It’s the littlest instant when you show your child how to share (again), lacing kingdom words into your instruction. It’s in the twenty seconds you and your little one pray for the kid who hurt her feelings; a living demonstration of the kingdom principle, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” It’s the small kernel of kindness your children learn when they watch you love your neighbor or serve the forgotten.
Discipleship is never encapsulated in a moment, a weekend, a workbook. It isn’t one huge event when everything locks down into place and salvation is sealed. It’s contained in the smallest increments, instilled over minutes, days, years. The kingdom is like a tiny seed, yeast, a hidden treasure, pearls shut up in a shell, fish under the water.
All hidden…at first.
Who can see a seed under the soil or invisible yeast in dough? The hidden treasure is indiscernible and the pearl is locked in its casing; the fish swim invisibly under the water. Is this not also true of the kingdom we’re tucking away into our children? When we know godliness has been deposited but can’t see it surface? Despite my obsession with raising kingdom-minded children, our spiritual mentorship has been met with statements including, but not limited to, the following:
· “I don’t to want to give my money to God! I want to be richer than God!” (Gavin, age 5, on tithing)
· “I love God on Sundays and Tuesdays.” (Sydney, age 4, on selective devotion)
· “Dear God, please stop making barbeque sauce. It burns my tongue.” (Caleb, age 4, on praying)
· “Instead of being in a family that has to ‘learn to make good choices’ (finger quotes included), I wish I was homeless!” (Caleb, age 6, on morals and career choices)
If I didn’t have Jesus’ teachings, these results would be quite discouraging. So many hours spent teaching, modeling, discipling my kids with invisible results or hidden effects. Motherhood is often an exercise in delayed gratification. The kingdom is like a tiny seed, yeast, a hidden treasure, pearls shut up in a shell, fish under the water.
Each involved surprise.
A surprising variety of harvests, a surprising potential for growth, a surprising transformation of dough, a surprising treasure discovered. This is something like picking my son up from a sleepover and hearing, “We love Gavin! He has the best manners!” (Seriously?) It’s the lovely surprise of tucking my daughter in and hearing, “Mama? I think we should adopt an orphan. We have so much love to share.” It is the sweet startle of hearing from my youngest son’s teacher, “Caleb is so kind to the little loner in our class.”
The kingdom of heaven embedded in our children is small, hidden early, surprisingly revealed later. All the little moments count, Mama. Every small piece of wisdom offered matters, even if results are invisible for a while. Each tiny lesson implants a treasure in your child, exposed in time.
It might feel like small work.
You might not see a darn thing working.
But you’ll be surprised.
Don’t be discouraged, Mamas! Hang in there and keep planting that kingdom; my son just received the Sixth Grade Good Citizenship Award chosen by the teachers for helping without being asked and acting kindly toward his classmates. I know. I’m as shocked as you are. I always thought I’d be the mother of the kid “Most Likely to End Up on Jerry Springer.”
Why is it important for mothers to instill independence in their children, and what does that look like in your home?
This question comes to me at an excellent time: At the beginning of every summer, we reevaluate just exactly what our kids 1.) can, and 2.) should be doing on their own. They’ve had a whole year perfecting their current tasks and chores. (By using the word ‘perfecting’ I’m demonstrating my improvement on control issues and anal retentiveness. But if I may just confide this? My kids’ drawers and clothes used to look like a Gap display, so neat and perfect were the subcategorized stacks. Now? A total cluster.)
An excerpt from Spin Cycle:
It’s a confusing journey God puts moms on. We can barely be apart from our babies for twenty minutes at first. Eighteen years later, we’re supposed to send them into the world responsible and independent. The timeline between those two is about eight hundred bottles of Advil, fifty books on parenting, and eight seasons of Dr. Phil DVDs.
Putting our kids’ best interests first means accepting this fact: They’ll live most of their lives outside our homes. We are either equipping them for success or stunting their growth, sometimes irreparably. Keeping our kids glued to our side cripples their ability to become independent.
Here’s the trick: Those muscles of responsibility must be exercised all along, otherwise they atrophy and our kids can’t stand on their own two feet when it’s time. When we do everything for them, they never learn to do anything on their own. The real tragedy is they don’t even know they can.
Expect this to go over like a sack of dead kittens.
Co-dependence is the bent of the immature heart. Kids push back when we push them toward responsibility. Most don’t go willingly. In my house, it sounds like this: I can’t do that. I’m too little. Will you do it? I don’t know how. This is too hard. My arms are going to fall off. I don’t like growing up. I wish I was a baby again.
Have older kids? It might sound more like: I don’t feel like doing that. I’m not a slave. We do all the work. This house sucks. I’m never making my kids do all this! My friends’ parents pay for everything. (Or later: Can I move back in?)
This should look different depending on where you are on the timeline. Your two-year old cannot make her own dinner, but if you’re doing laundry for a sixteen-year-old, it’s time for a Come To Jesus Meeting. In our house, we live by two rules:
1. What can you and should you be doing on your own? I remember when my three kids (ages 3, 5, and 7 then) brought their dirty clothes downstairs to the laundry room, turned their clothes right side out, and separated them into colored piles. Their heads barely reached the top of the washing machine. My husband said, “It’s like our own little sweatshop.” Your kids can do more than both of you think. Regularly ask this question and reevaluate.
2. Everyone is in charge of his or her own stuff. This includes everything. Your shoes, backpacks, dirty clothes, clutter, bedroom, bathroom stuff, papers, towels, dirty dishes, trash, clean clothes . . . it’s not Mama’s problem. This includes my sweet husband. I was losing untold hours picking up things that didn’t belong to me. We have fifteen minutes of house recovery every night now. If it belongs to you, take care of it.
These two rules have changed my life.
The day to start pushing your kids toward independence is today, Mama. A one-year-old baby has things he should be doing on his own (beyond pooping and pulling out all your Tupperware). My kids are 8, 10, and 12, and they do all their own laundry, put away dishes, vacuum, clean bathrooms, scoop poop, windex, and dust. This summer, we’re adding mowing, menu planning and cooking, and gardening. Every year they can do more. Hopefully this means that by the time they leave us, they’ll know how to clean a house and won’t feed their new father-in-law canned ham when he comes to visit (guilty).
Next summer, I plan to teach my kids how to write my books and correspond with event planners while I read novels and sit on the porch with my girlfriends drinking sweet tea.
Why do mothers need to make it an effort to keep up their friendships?
Because you’ll die without girlfriends.
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a season of life where I needed other women more than young motherhood. Lord have mercy! Mamas, get very close to your computer screen and listen to me right this second: FRIENDSHIP IS NOT OPTIONAL RIGHT NOW. I don’t care what you have to do, but you get around your girls. If you don’t have any girls, go find you some. (Hint: just look for other crazy-eyed, sleep-deprived, manic looking women with toddlers and babies hanging off their limbs asking for juice and screaming in the middle of Target.)
Advice from Out of the Spin Cycle:
I’m a terrible driver when I’m alone. It always seems like a great idea at first. I relish the notion of being in the car without the following verbal barrage assaulting me like tiny, individual daggers stabbing away at the thin flesh of my sanity:
“Mommy? Do you know how to teleport?”
“Mommy? How many seconds have you been alive?”
“Mommy? What’s five billion times ten million?”
“Mommy? When I go to college, will you be dead?”
But the reality of driving alone is much different than in beautiful, peaceful theory. I get bored. I get tired. With my arm on the steering wheel, I start noticing how loose the flesh is under my arm as it hangs like a slab of beef. I obsess about this slab by pinching it with my free hand repeatedly. I promise the slab I will take it to the gym and attempt to eradicate it. I drift off the shoulder of the road scaring me into attentiveness for at least four minutes. I flip through the radio stations and discover I don’t know who is popular anymore and I was just cool a few years ago. Land sakes! Am I there yet?
I should have brought a friend.
Traveling alone just doesn’t compare to traveling with friends. Friends help you uphold the heavy responsibility of motherhood and remind you you’re not crazy. They don’t complain when your kids interrupt your phone conversation every twelve seconds. They gladly enter the parenting discussions our husbands lose patience for after the fourth time. Friends don’t even bat an eye when you burst out crying for no good reason.
Never was I more susceptible to isolation than during young motherhood. It can be such lonely work. Because my personality required a scheduled routine, for years I fed and dressed babies® cleaned up®put someone down for a morning nap®engineered lunch chaos®put kids down for afternoon naps®cooked dinner®bath time®story time®bedtime. I’d sit down for the first time at 8pm.
It was hard to make room for my friends. But I did it. We had play-dates down to a science. We put babies to sleep at each other’s houses, bathed them together, fed them together, ate at Chick-Fil-A so often the manager knew us by name, and picnicked at every park in the greater Austin area. I changed their babies’ diapers as often as mine. We put each other’s kids in time out. I administered first aid to their children and they pulled mine out of the swimming pool. We’ve traded kids, taken kids, borrowed kids, and dumped kids.
My friends are the reason I survived young motherhood.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 34-35).
If we are to love each other like Jesus loved us, then it makes practical sense to band together during young motherhood. Because – like Jesus does – we’ll end up loving each other when we’re crazy, burned out, hysterical, and exhausted. We’ll stand by one another during the most neurotic phase of parenting there is. We won’t let a member of our tribe slip under the radar or get swallowed by isolation. We share the burden of parenting, making it lighter for everyone to carry. We’ll remind our friends to laugh and call forward the best in each other.
Motherhood is the task that brings us together, but love is the glue that binds us together. If we’re too busy to love each like this, then we’re too busy. We need our friends. We need their counsel and companionship; they need our compassion and comic relief.
“You must love one another,” said Jesus.
We really must.
Don’t forget to engineer some Girls Night Outs. Just tell your hubby what I tell mine: “Honey, you have no idea how many conversations those girls take off your plate.” And bam, just like that, I’m out the door with his blessing…