I remember when I was in the fourth grade our teacher had us draw mountains. Most of my classmates colored their mountains brown. A few colored theirs purple. I wanted my mountains to look different from anyone else’s so I peeked at their drawings and chose colors they hadn’t used. My turquoise mountains were pretty but looked nothing like the real thing.
When you became a mother, dear one, you vowed to do things differently than the adults in your childhood. Maybe your dad was never home for dinner or went missing for days. Maybe you left for school in the morning with no breakfast and no prospects for lunch. So as an adult running your own home, you threaten your husband if he’s not home by 6:00 pm and you pack a lunch box for your child big enough to feed the entire fifth grade class.
While deciding not to repeat dysfunction from our childhoods, we can go so overboard that our homes take on a Stepford Wives feel rather than an authentic one with natural imperfections. Striving so hard to do things differently can take on obsessive tones that drive the family nuts. Certainly improve upon the past dear one. This is an admirable goal. But leave room for spontaneity and the sweet surprises that result. Your children won’t be damaged if dad arrives home after dinner or if little Ashley eats lunch in the cafeteria. Relax.
Scripture: To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless. Psalm 119:96
Do you feel you have to do everything yourself? I used to feel that way until I found myself in an exhausted heap. That’s about the time I discovered that some of history’s most accomplished people learned the secret of smart work.
Do you remember the story about Moses appointing judges (Exodus 18)? Moses had led thousands of Israelites out of Egypt. He served as their only judge, hearing and resolving all of their disputes. (Mediating our children’s disputes is a tiring job. Can you imagine breaking up spats between thousands?)
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law saw that Moses was going to wear himself out and wind up in a loony bin (my description). When Jethro asked Moses why he was doing all the work by himself, Moses said, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.” (Exodus 18:14-15)
I can relate to Moses’ response—doing things because they need doing. But sometimes I need to stop and ask myself about the “why” and “how” of my work. Jethro told Moses that there were other well-qualified men standing around doing nothing and that Moses needed to delegate. (Sounds like Moses was working hard but not smart.)
Some of us need a Jethro—someone to shake us out of the belief that we have to do everything ourselves. Can I be that person for you today? YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALL YOURSELF. Hire a babysitter periodically or swap babysitting with a friend. If you are able, get someone to help you with housework. They may not do it exactly as you would. But, so what? When our kids were toddlers, my friend and I joined forces and cleaned our houses together while our kids played. We finished a lot quicker than when we cleaned our houses separately. When either of us did shopping at the big warehouse store, we’d pick up things for one another. Figure out your own way to delegate and share duties. You’ll be happier and so will your family.
Nubby raw silk, unevenly woven linen, mahogany tables marred with decades of nicks and scratches: it’s the nubs, kinks and dents—the imperfections—that make ordinary things interesting and authentic.
Authentic? To be authentic means to reveal who we really are—the real us with all of our flaws and imperfections. Authentic: an uncomfortable word for some adult children of addicts who work hard to cover the shame of growing up in an addicted or dysfunctional home. However, it is through the total of our experiences, good and bad, that God can mold us into something beautiful. If you give your life to him, he can take all of the snags and tangles and weave them into the beautiful tapestry he pre-designed for you. God takes all our imperfections, all of our experiences and shapes them into something beautiful.
If you grew up in a home where one or both of your parents were alcoholics or addicts, you developed ways to cope in order to survive. Some of you did everything you could to please your addicted parent. By making them happy, maybe you could get them to love you more or at least stop them from using.
Perhaps there were times when you had to parent your parent even though you were just a child. Of course, there is no way you could have filled this impossible role. You were just a child. As a result, you naturally developed coping mechanisms that became a part of how you function in the world as an adult.
These coping skills have a good side. You became self-sufficient, hardworking, high achieving—an employer’s dream. However, while these traits work well on the job, they don’t translate well to parenting. Our skills are often hyper-developed as the adult children of addicts. Therefore, what is successful project management on the job could look more like dictatorship in the home.
For you it may be a tendency to over protect your children, a lingering habit from a time when you had to parent your addicted parent. For another mother it is perfectionism–trying to make up for the shame of the past–never a dirty window or snotty nose in her house!
I imagine many mothers struggle with control and perfectionist tendencies. But adult children of addicts magnify and stretch these traits out of proportion.
But what I’ve learned over these years of mothering is that God is a God of renewal. He can take all the old weapons that you formed out of the metal of dysfunction and turn them into tools for joyful mothering. He can start a new generation with you and your children. Ask Him. Trust Him. It is possible. Read Matthew 19:26