Warning: Mom Fail

Heaven knows I have laughed until I’ve cried at texts from my friends that start out this way and proceed to explain how they forcefully restrained their child from eating a stick of butter in front of an entire formal dining room of judgy-onlookers.

Sometimes you just need someone to commiserate with (strength in numbers, sisters!) and know that your kids won’t be the only ones with embarrassing stories someday. I’m afraid sometimes, though, that our quippy stories are actually hiding something much deeper. They can be more like putting on a Barbie band-aid and handing a kid a sucker when they actually have broken a bone.

What’s really needed is an x-ray and some reconstructive surgery.

We toss around the phrase Mommy Guilt — desperately needing permission to fail once in awhile. But that permission never really helps because many of us are actually fighting Mommy Shame.

Guilt has everything to do with something we’ve done, but shame has everything to do with who we are. Mommy shame is that deep down nagging feeling that no matter what we do, we still somehow aren’t enough.

That’s why all those lovely stories giving us the permission to fail help for a while. They can be comic relief in the midst of monotony and a chance for us to hear “me too.” But CS Lewis in Till We Have Faces, makes the point that we often feel the deepest shame about the things we cannot help.

And that’s the deal with motherhood, isn’t it? That no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we read, ask for advice, make charts, resolve to do better, try harder, we know that we will still have those days when it all comes unraveled.

And that’s the rub. If we were just talking about a little guilt then we probably could get over it by sharing our funny stories and letting time pass. But we’re just doing surface work if we stop here. The real issue is much deeper. Why does missing out on something, disappointing our kids, failing them, undo us?

The truth is that mommy shame flows from misplaced identity. When we place our identity in what we do, we leave ourselves open for pride at its highest heights and shame at its deepest levels. We work hard and reap the spoils of our labor we feel a sense of pride but when we’ve given our all to something and cannot change it, shame comes rolling in. When we fail at something despite our best effort the weight of shame takes over if our identity is staked in our “doings”. Because I failed, there must be something wrong with me — and a huge weight is tied to our hearts.

God’s solution to mommy shame might not be what you expect. He tells us that when we trust in the Lord we will never be put to shame. Nice in theory, right? But how does trusting in the Lord actually help?

Trust really does have everything to do with identity. What are you looking for to secure yourself, make a name for yourself, give your life meaning and purpose? It is nearly impossible to disassociate our identity from what we do. It’s how we’re wired and it’s low hanging fruit for happy feelings when we find something we’re good at. But it’s entirely destructive when we build our identity around our effort.

Identity placed in who God says we are frees us from the effects of shame. God takes who you are, what you’ve done (good or bad) and lifts the weight. He replaces an identity found in what you do with Jesus’ identity. Jesus’ perfect work replaces your imperfect work.

What if we were able to take these parts of our lives that we guard so dearly, that we fear so deeply and actually walk into those areas trusting that Jesus would meet us there?

I used to have this crazy thought back when I was knee deep in diapers and hadn’t had a good night of sleep in six years that because I had chosen to be a stay-at-home that I must be a domestic goddess. For someone who doesn’t particularly enjoying cleaning, or cooking, or grocery shopping, or baking, or laundry, or tidying, or throwing things away, goddess status was a manufactured front and a self-condemning standard.

One of the smallest and most ridiculous expressions of this came out every time I was asked to bring food to a potluck or small group. I literally would not allow myself to buy something store-made to take with me (I know it’s crazy-town but she without similar ridiculous self-imposed standards cast the first home-made baked good). I had to invent something creative and delicious and entirely home-made. Anything short of Martha Stewart would be proof of my inability to be who I thought a stay-at-home mom should be (let the shame clouds roll).

And I kept up this charade for a long time …

Until one day I showed up with a package of chips-ahoy (I’m not sure why — it was probably just a circus-style day and I finally waved the white flag). And nothing happened. No one yelled across the room “You lazy woman! Why did you not bake us cookies from scratch with all the time you spend at home?!?” Really, nothing happened. Well, not really. Deep inside a little piece of me became a little bit free from my self-imposed standard (and Kroger’s baked goods suddenly became a regular addition to my grocery cart).

In an area that I felt not enough I left the gap open instead of desperately trying to fill it — a step away from defining myself and a space to deliberately lean into Jesus. This is how we fight shame and begin embracing who Jesus says we are: by making space for Him.

Do you feel like you have to do everything yourself? Start asking for help.

Do you feel like your house needs to be clean for someone to see it? Invite a friend over while it’s dirty.

Do you feel like your kids need to have perfect behavior? Tell a friend about a time that they didn’t.

Do you thrive on busyness? Clear a day in your schedule and do nothing.

Are you a people-pleaser? Say no to something.

These are small steps to leaning into an identity in Christ alone: but Jesus always, always, always fills in the places where we don’t feel enough.

Mommy Shame. Don’t cover it. Make space and let Jesus be enough.