Why I’m the Worst Mom You’ll Meet at the Playground

Motherhood

If we ever meet at a playground, beware.

According to an article I read that identified nine types of moms who are “the worst you’ll meet at the playground,” I am the lowest of the low. In fact, during my eleven years as a mother I have behaved like every. single. mom on the author’s list.

I hovered.
When my baby girl straddled the seat of a harness swing at a park for the first time, my pushes contained all the strength of a weak whisper. She barely moved and the chains never escaped my grip. Also, I kissed her head. A lot. I couldn’t stop myself. I melted into her giggles and coos. My heart danced to the rhythm of her squirmy, happy legs.  When she could walk, I held her hand as she climbed the stairs to the top of the slide. I coaxed her down because my encouragement–along with my promise of being right there–made her brave. She was new and she was mine and I was in love with her and scared of her all at once so I stayed close. I hovered.

I was clueless.
When my husband called and told me he lost his job, I lost track of my kids. I knew they were somewhere on the play scape, but I couldn’t tell you if they were climbing, sliding, swinging, or stealing a swig from another kid’s juice box. Tears blurred my vision and fear tripped my resolve. I sat on a bench focused on the person on the other end of the phone and trusted that another parent would rescue my child if needed because at that moment I couldn’t move. I was clueless.

I judged. I talked loudly.
It happened the same day I hovered. A sweet and seemingly frazzled mom brought her two kids to the playground. Her preschooler sat at the picnic table eating Cheetos and playing on his LeapFrog while her barefooted toddler climbed up the slide. I lifted my baby girl from the swing and asked her if she wanted a healthy snack. She gummed down a few cold peas and blueberries while I asked her if she wanted to slide. I’m not sure if the other mom picked up on my passive-aggressive-know-it-all demeanor, but she probably did. And I’m ashamed. I wish I could take back that moment. I wish I would had offered friendship instead of condemnation. I wish I hadn’t allowed my insecurities to overtake my mercy. The truth is I was so terrified that I was messing up the whole mommy schtick that I gave myself an imaginary gold star for every little thing I thought I got right that another mom may have missed. I judged. I talked loudly … and I’m so sorry I did those things.

I ignored the rules.
Once I sat on a bench breastfeeding my infant son while watching my three-year-old daughter monopolize the wheel of a wooden pirate ship. She demonstrated bad manners at the moment, but sleep deprivation and temper tantrums owned me. I knew the battles that faced me later and adding one more to my slate wasn’t going to happen. Spent. Defeated. Done. Those adjectives described me perfectly the day I let my toddler win. It wasn’t fair to the other kids who wanted a turn playing captain, but that boat afforded my weary spirit a much-needed respite. I ignored the rules.

I brought junk food.
We celebrated the last day of pre-K with a trip to Sonic and the playground. The hovering mama who fed her baby girl cold peas as a snack wasn’t around the day I brought milkshakes, burgers, french fries and brownies to the park. We gobbled up the grub and played hard. I didn’t realize that it was such a bad thing to do until I read the article about the worst moms. I brought junk food. Lots of it … and I’m not sorry.

I came empty handed.
More than once I committed the cardinal sin of motherhood: I accidentally left my diaper bag at home. And let me tell you something … coming to a playground without as much as a wet wipe is frightening … but scarier than telling a toddler that “oops, we can’t play now”? Nope. So while I tried to keep those trips short, they happened. And to all the moms out there who handed me an extra diaper, a handful of wipes, or a band-aide, thank you. I came empty handed … your grace kept me together.

I pretended to be the perfect Queen Bee.
When my kids were younger, we moved at least once every two years. Saying goodbye and starting over hurt every time. Making new friends quickly eased the agony. So oftentimes I’d hit a new playground with the intent of cultivating friendships. Wanting to make a good impression, I didn’t come empty-handed those days. I made sure I packed enough snacks and water bottles to share with five families. I also selected my outfit with great care … not too dressy … not too casual. I wasn’t trying to show off, I was lonely and just wanted someone to like me. So I pretended to be the perfect Queen Bee until I felt safe enough to be me.

I share these stories because although parenting styles and stages vary, most of us are just trying to be the best we can be for our children. Motherhood is messy and frenzied and littered with the beautiful unexpected.Our kids challenge us and change us and wear us out.

We clean dirty floors and soiled bottoms. We kiss bruises and bandage scrapes. We teach and we play and we love with every morsel of energy we can muster. We celebrate milestones with the enthusiasm of an Olympic champion and we grip grace and choke out soul cries when we make mistakes that hurt tender hearts.

No one should accept the myth of “worst type of mom,” because that type of thinking wounds the community of motherhood. Labels pit mom against mom and kid against kid. Comparison divides, conquers, and builds barricades that leave us all insecure and empty.

Instead of singling out the “worst moms,” let’s look for the best in each mom. Because it’s there and if you find it in someone else, chances are you’ll also give yourself the same grace.

The Not-So-Pretty Side of People Pleasing

I’m a recovering people pleaser. My penchant for people pleasing stems from rejection.  Some of my desires to please are genuinely steeped in service. Extending mercy and exuding empathy toward the suffering felt as natural to me as my green-gold eyes. But I also remember times when my actions sprung from fear, so I decided that in order to live a happy life, I must keep those around me happy.

I didn’t realize I was practicing a form of idolatry, I mean . . . what harm is there in being nice?

Ironically, I wasn’t always nice. Please join me at (in)courage for the rest of the story.

When There’s A Great Big, Sticky, Smelly Mess That Can’t Be Wished Away

There is

As I headed out of the kitchen, trash bag in hand, my load suddenly felt lighter and a wet, sticky sensation swept across my feet. Jabs of pain radiated down my thigh.

Earlier that day I had hastily tossed a broken wire hanger into the trash can. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but apparently the metal stick landed in just the right spot to tear open the bag and simultaneously gash my leg.

I stood surveying the stinky mess that blanketed the floor I had scrubbed two hours prior. What was once pristine was covered in filth.

In that moment I did a lot of futile wishing.

I wished that I had never thrown that hanger away.

I wished that my leg wasn’t throbbing.

I even wished that my name was Carol Brady and that my trusty housekeeper named Alice would clean up the mess for me.

But none of my wishing altered my reality. There was a big ugly mess on my kitchen floor and I was responsible for cleaning it up.

As I examine my life, I can recall many messes made in the corridors of my heart, spirit, and mind. Like the gunky monstrosity caused by the broken trash bag, some of my messes were created by my negligence, sins, and mistakes.

The mirror of my past reflects broken relationships damaged by insecurities, debt resulting from overspending, and angry tirades as I pursued perfection. Instead of cleaning up the messes as I made them, I spent years hiding my self-wreckage in a dark closet of blame and excuses.

There also have been times when I stood in a pile of garbage not of my own making. Verbal attacks, betrayal, and deception pummeled me just like the bag of trash splattered on my kitchen floor.

For years I felt that the messes I didn’t create on my own were not my responsibility. Moreover, I put those into a box labeled “victim,” hid them, and hoped that somehow they would disappear.

Several years ago I discovered a life-changing fact regarding the messes of life: the trash’s origin makes little difference at clean up time.

Refusing to clean a mess that someone else made or started to make doesn’t hide the smell. Stamping my feet and wailing, “It’s not fair,” may garner sympathy but it won’t rid the stain.

There are lots of things I can do with a mess. I can analyze it, call an expert to examine it, investigate its inception, and give it a fancy name like “dysfunctional matter.” I can even cleverly arrange a few pieces into abstract art.

But unless I take action to remove the trash collected during the business of living life, I’ll never be free from it’s stench. The junk will multiply and the dirt will either overwhelm me or numb me. Despair, desensitize or climb out are the only three choices when living in an emotional garbage heap.

I’m glad I don’t have to go about my cleaning by myself; because when I do take that approach I just end up making a bigger mess. In Joshua 1:5 God promises “I will never leave you or forsake you.” When I call out to my savior for help, he comes and often he sends others  as well, because human beings are not designed to go it alone. We need one another for respite … for solidarity … for accountability … for growth … for sanity.

Cleaning up with God isn’t always easy. He is thorough and the labor is exhausting. Sometimes he uncovers dirt behind the dirt that I never knew existed. He asks me to handle hard chores: taking responsibility, repenting, forgiving. He won’t let me hide the clutter in a drawer or sweep dust under a rug. He stays at it until the job is done right.

My Jesus remains beside me each step of the way, brushing back my hair, holding the trash bag, and whispering

Draw closer sweet one, you can do this. I know it’s hard. I know it’s painful, but with me it’s possible. You will see  beauty underneath this garbage. I promise.

Regardless the heap’s depth, stickiness, or odor, it is cleanable. There is no cleaning agent more powerful than the blood of Jesus. And there is no scent more fragrant than the distilling love of Christ.


A similar version of my story above was published at (in)courage in 2009.


Why We Need to Relish the Little Things

Delight

Great happiness often blossoms from life’s littlest pleasures.

Flour dusted on button noses. Teaspoons of batter filling a mini-donut maker. Tiny tongues licking frosting-covered fingertips. Nibbles. Smiles. Sticky kisses.

My creative girl planning a party complete with homemade games and prizes to honor her favorite animal … the platypus.
Heart tugs. Applause. High-fives.

Wandering down twisty paths to get a peek at spring buds before they disappear.
Awe. Witty observations. Spontaneous conversation.

FullSizeRender(2)

Stolen moments of fun and sweetness hold my heart  and turn the corners of my mouth upward.

They aren’t milestones or “big deals,” so to speak … but they are moments that matter. Moments that add beauty and perspective and second chances.

If I’m not careful to relish the significance of the small, I’m too easily distracted by big, in-your-face demands that end up being meaningless in the long term. These distractions often remind me of what I don’t have. They tell me that something is missing. You deserve more, they whisper.

When I delight in simple pleasures and give thanks for the seemingly ordinary, my life blooms radiance.

Annoyances don’t have space to root and grow.

Bitterness has no breathing room.

Shame is smothered by  the grace I inhale.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:1-5

What about you? What are some little things that have happened to you recently that brought big-time happiness?


A version of this post, which was titled “Little Things” and was about 100 words shorter, was first published several years ago on (in)Courage.