I was listening to my pastor preach this morning on the power of the tongue and it reminded me that I had this blog in a half-finished state – in the too hard basket. Why the too hard basket? Because I want to be careful what I say…
We are hard on ourselves and each other. Why?
Being a mum is hard work. There are so many things that accumulate in a mother’s every day that can cause an overwhelming takeover of our minds and bodies, and ultimately making us wonder why we wanted motherhood. The precious lives that shape the reason why we are called “mum” can draw from us the reason to breathe every day, and yet can have break us to the point of helplessness and hopelessness, initiating a final breakdown and tears. In this journey called motherhood, we will either find supportive allies or fierce critics. The hardest part, I personally found, in being a mother, was the way people treated me as I tried my best to survive without a Instruction Manual. My children did not come with an instruction manual, they came crying, needy and fully relying on me that I knew exactly what I was doing.
Over the years, I have seen some awful ways in the way women treat each other. It seems that the way some women speak, they wrote the manual for every living child on the planet, and if you have any question or look in any way needing assistance, they will tell you exactly what you are to do.
We live in a society that rarely has the support of those closest – including our own mothers, grandmothers, aunts and older siblings – family who would have once surrounded our lives and helped us parent, and cope with the demands of life. Motherhood seems to be a place of disconnection from others, and even within Christian circles it is about who is the “best” rather than who need support.
It seems that the smaller the community whether it be Christian of otherwise, the more people think they have the “right” to advise you… mostly with dripping condescension or “holier-than-thou” attitudes.
Living with Criticism
When I was first arrived, in the little country town I live, I worked in one of the local eateries. One day a barmaid, that I had not seen before, came from the other section of the restaurant and approached me. The conversation went like this.
Her: “Well hallo there (big beamy smile) I haven’t seen you around this town, are you new here?”
Me: (“wow,” I thought, “a local”) “yes, we have only been here a year.”
Her: “Ooooohhhhh, so where do you live?”
Me: (feeling like I was a bug under the microscope) “(named the street and number)… across the road from Mrs _____”
Her (gleefully): “Oh, you are the lady who is always yelling at her kids!”
Me: (stunned silence)
Her: (smiling smugly while she waited for her words to sink in)
Me: “Well, I suppose that is what comes with living on the edge of town and only having elderly neighbours. (Edge coming to my voice)
Her: (tittering) yes, anyway, I am M______, I am besties with your neighbour across the road… see you around.” (Walks away swinging her hips)
Me (under my breath): “So my neighbour is friends with the town gossip. That is something to remember.”
If I can help paint a picture…
At the time I was a mum of a 6 and 4 year old, who lived life full on. It was always full volume, full speed, full movement and zero….ZERO stopping. There were many times I wanted to put myself in timeout, just to see if they would leave me alone. Our house was noisy with “boy noises” and tv…. and just the busyness of life. I didn’t have a quiet spot, anywhere. Even in the toilet, I was found and needed for one thing or another.
I rarely yelled at my children. Rarely. But often when I did it, and still do it, was/is probably late afternoon and evening when the sound of my voice carries well. I only have neighbors across the road from me. Behind and beside me is rural countryside. I often forget that I have neighbors across the road… as did my rambunctious and boisterous young lads – at that time. Up until then, I thought that my neighbors were ok with their new neighborhood family. Maybe not??
Oh, and I should tell you the time my youngsters (about 7 and 9 years old, then) decided to play “bad guys” out the front of our house at 6am. I woke to hear shouting out the front of my house–
“bang, bang, you’re dead.”
“I am not dead for long, I am alive and I am going to kill you!!”
“you can’t get me, I am going to kill you first.”
Mmmmm…you know… out the front of the house, in the middle of our once quiet neighbourhood. At 6AM!!. Yep!
Then, there was the time we went camping with some friends. At 11pm, I got the boys to leave us and go to their tents. My eldest, then about 11yeas old, decided to sneak into his brothers tent to scare him. My youngest, caught him in the act and yelled at the top of his voice (at 11pm!!) –
“Get out of my tent!!!”
And then before I could move to speak to them, he shouted for the whole campsite to hear – “AND DO UP THE TENT, OR SOMEONE WILL KILL ME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT!!!!”
Yes, my darling son, right at that moment there are about 100 campers who have just sat bolt upright in their beds. They will be coming after you, very soon!
I can laugh about it now, but at the time I had a hard time looking my fellow campers the next morning. With out fail I had one lady confront me in the public toilets and tell me that I needed to discipline my children better. (groan)
I have had to learn to handle criticism about my parenting abilities. I have been criticised about lack of discipline, too little discipline, too dirty, too clean, too controlling, not controlling enough….and the list goes on. One day when my eldest was about 3 months old, I cried in the arms of my local midwife about something my parents-in-law said about me. It was one of many things that people felt that they could come and speak to me about. Shocked, she gave me a little shake and said (half-jokingly), “Ruth you need to carry a brick in your handbag. Give that thing a swing and deal with them!!” I smile at the thought, because this midwife was the one who encouraged me to know my own heart as a mum and to trust that “God had given me good sense.”
Over the years I have a particular person who has felt the need to call every form of authority on me to have me investigated in regards to my children. He has criticised everything that I have done and tried to get others, by lying, to say the same. I have had police and child safety in my home and asking me questions. I have been investigated in every form and in every way. I have had police walk up to my house and request to speak to my children, alone, and then not knowing the complaint or problem, stand outside my own house feeling helpless and heartbroken.
Before my youngest was born I learnt, from a mutual friend, that this person was after me and warned me to be very careful how I disciplined my children. I had to bring my children up without any form of physical punishment. This took energy that I often didn’t have, experience that I was beyond how I was brought up and required forethought, ingenuity and often emotionally exhausting. I was criticised because I was “making a rod for my back” and “spare the rod-spoil the child”. One time I took the time to explain to one mother that it was either the way I did it or face losing my children – they told me that they would go to jail before bowing to anyone’s control. Often it was just useless to explain and easier to just accept the criticism.
This same person has spoken to medical personnel in my little country town, to sow seeds of doubt as to who I really was as a mother. I lived like this for about 8 years, under close scrutiny of others, while bringing young boys up through some to the most difficult years of boyhood to being young men. There were many times I fell on my knees and begged God to have it stop. He did not, but He made me so aware of need to rely on Him for wisdom, trust him when I fail, and show me how much this eventually strengthened me.
There was not a single investigation that went everywhere, because it was built on someone’s desire for revenge, the person’s hatred of me, lies, false allegations and vexatious litigation. It was during this time that the Lord’s promise to me in 2006 – “Ruth, your boys are in My hands.” – came to reality. Yes, God had my boys in his hands and the person was actually fighting against God’s hand. God sees injustice, and many of us would do well in remembering that when you do wrong to someone with your mouth, God sees this.
I learnt that, as a parent, I had to be sure of what I did and why I did it.
I had to be sure of the way I had decided to parent my children.
I have spent a lot of time on my knees. I have asked God for wisdom and knowledge.
I have asked God to bring up my children in the areas where I fail.
This strengthened me in my resolve as a parent.
I learnt that people could be very hurtful and mean to me as a mum. That as a woman, I was under the microscope and examined regularly. It seemed that every action of my child or children were a direct consequence of my abilities in being a mum.
This taught me to forgive.
I have learnt that some days in being a mum can bring you to your knees, weeping and wondering whether you can ever survive another day. It is those day where we doubt our ourselves and wonder if “they” were right.
There is nothing wrong with being brought to your knees – you will find God lifts you up. It also bring a certain amount of humility in reach others. Nothing like being presented with the fact that you are not all you think you are. Hmmm??
One of those days…
Recently, I had one of those days…
It was a Monday. I had started at 4am to go to work, arrived home just in time to get my young men off to school. A series of things happened that left me overloaded. The internet went down. I had phone call after phone call. People dropping in unexpectantly and I needed to clean my house from the weekend’s activities and get a pile of washing done. A visitor was staying that night and I needed to change the sheets etc. That night I was Chairing a meeting and I couldn’t even print off the agenda or print off documents for the meeting. By 1pm I thought I was on top of it all, but I was exhausted…
Then I got another phone call, while yet another visitor sat at my table. This phone call informed me that one of my children was getting into some mischief with a friend, and the mum rang to tell me. Not only was “it” mischief – it was blatant disobedience and total disregard for personal safety…and he was sneaking behind my back to do it. In fact, he could have been killed doing what he did.
So, after the meeting which finished at 9 pm I went to talk to him in his room. Needless to say, he was grounded and lost a lot of privileges…but he was repentant and did not show one ounce of defiance. He did not argue with me and accepted his punishment without anger. This to me was important and I still thank God for this.
That night I was exhausted and after getting to bed at midnight, I knew I had to get up for work in 4 hours. But I could not sleep. I berated myself. I condemned myself. Finally, I wept.
I was frightened, and scared that as a mum I was failing. I was scared for my son and the fact that he could been very badly hurt by his choices. The night was dark and I allowed everything that had ever been spoken to me as a mom to fill my head. In in the wee hours of the morning a quiet voice whispered to me that I had “better get out of ministry”. I cried to God. He spoke directly to my heart. I felt Satan’s lie slip away… and I fell asleep.
My God is always good and waits until I see the lies, before he brings me back to some sense.
No mum wants to see their child hurt by the consequences of wrong decision-making and rebellion. What makes it worse is that we blame ourselves and speak poisonous words to our ourselves.
Then others come around and speak words that add to that disapproval and the poison sinks deep. I have seen it time and time again. A group of women talking about another’s wayward child and pointing their finger at her parenting or at her as a person. The whispered “oh-and-did-you-know’s” added to the juicy mix of tender juicy gossip and censure.
Satan is the master of lies and he likes to condemn and poke at our frailties. What is worse Satan loves others tearing us apart. He hopes we will give up and run away.
Women are not always kind to each other, and your struggle as a mum seems signal to others that they have the right to give fragile mothers lots of “helpful advice” and “instruction”.
Yet among the women I know, I have found women who are kind, supportive, caring and a safe place to cry and be myself. These are women who care about me enough to sometimes speak the truth (even if it hurts) and encourage me to be all I can be. God has sent me some beautiful women to be part of my life, I am so grateful for these women. I am blessed with women that will hold me and lift me up. God has sent into my life a large group of mighty warrior women, who are an incredible blessing. I love soaking in time with them, being in their presence and blessing them with mine.
The God factor.
I read some verses in my bible reading this morning –
“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT
“O [God] my strength, I will watch for You; For God is my stronghold [my refuge, my protector, my high tower]. My God in His [steadfast] lovingkindness will meet me; God will let me look triumphantly on my enemies [who lie in wait for me].” Psalm 59:9-10 AMP
It was an interesting read since I was to finish this blog today.
Let us think to what we say others of their building up and encouragement. Meet together, talk and speak words that will motivate us in our lives to be everything…we…are…meant…to…be… AND MORE.
Then there is the “God factor”. God is the one I run to. He ultimately is the one I listen to. I can pour out my heart to Him and He hears what I don’t say. Last night He heard me talk to Him about some things that I had never spoken to Him about (did I think that He did not know?). My testimony of God is that He is my stronghold, my Protector. God does not need me to say that to make it so, He needs me to say that because others need to hear what God can do.
Has God been the faithful and loving part of my life? He has often heard me tell Him what others are saying. He has stood in the gap when I have been accused falsely. He knows that I let things bother me. He knows I struggle trusting Him, and He seeks in all this to make me strong.
Yet He is the strong place, the fortress, the place of safety I can run to. Although…sometimes He is awfully slow to answer and He doesn’t come running when I throw a tantrum. Yet He is God, and my life is only a small part of what He is doing in the lives of His kingdom on earth.
Our mouth and our judgments are from the tiny place in the tiny world we see, yet He sees all and everything. Our world, with our own personal view, is a very small world indeed, and I often wonder if this is not the root of all our judgments.
I am not there yet, and neither are my beautiful friends. My world is a small place, and so are my opinions, what I see and what I think. The more I realise that I – that is me- am not perfect, then I suppose this is a good place to start.
May I also say this – during the struggle with myself, my failings and hearing criticism, I have found that no matter what comes my way… He knows what to do and I can trust Him.
Finally, to answer my question at the start – why are we hard on ourselves and each other? I believe it is because of that very reason – we are hard on ourselves.
We are more critical of ourselves than anyone else. I have heard over the years some talk from the mouths of women, that would make you wonder. Yet the biggest thing that I have found when you dig deeper is, that they are far harder on themselves.
Are you aware that it does say in the bible to love our neighbour? Now, read this –
“The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” “
Many people will quote the “Love your neighbour.”, but it says to love your neighbour as yourself. As yourself? Soooo, if we don’t like ourselves, what are we going to do with others?
Are we speaking words that we speak to ourselves?
Are we treating others as we treat ourselves?
I will leave that will you and ask you to think about it. I will be praying for those that need to hear this. I will be praying for those of us that have a long way to go yet. I am thanking God for His loving faithfulness and His mercy. And I am grateful for His arms to go to.