Motherhood. Sometimes I wish there was a manual. However, no manual exists, and often times I find myself looking for guidance from other mothers—which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, more than I’d like to admit I find myself not only looking to them for guidance, but looking at them with envy in my heart for how their seemingly perfect families function and how these other mothers seem to have a never-ending amount of grace and wisdom toward their children. Just this Sunday I sat in Bible study at our church and heard a mother talk about how she strives daily to teach her sons about honor and what it means to honor one another. My thoughts in that moment were, “Why don’t I teach my kids about honor? Why don’t I homeschool my kids and spend my days teaching them about Jesus in every circumstance? Why do I yell at my kids for tiny, stupid reasons? And while I’m at it, why don’t I bathe my kids more often? They smell so bad on Saturdays.”
This comparison game is played by all, and ladies, I’m here to tell you it needs to stop. I (hopefully) speak for all mothers when I say that I’m tired of feeling guilty that my family life looks different from other families. Not only am I tired of feeling guilty, but I’m also tired of being prideful when I think I’m doing a “better” (what does that even mean?!) job at mothering than someone else. As mothers we are completely full of ourselves and completely insecure at the same time. It’s a never-ending merry-go-round of comparison.
I surveyed a handful of women (mostly seminary-affiliated) about ways in which they experience guilt. Not only did I ask them about guilt, but I also wanted to know if they are married, if they work in or outside the home, how many kids they have, etc. The answers I received about how they each experience guilt revealed one underlying truth: We don’t feel we are enough, and envy is the root of our guilt.
The working-outside-the-home mothers typically felt they weren’t spending enough time with their children/husbands, and they felt they neglected their homes because of their jobs. The working-from-home mothers felt they weren’t present enough with their children because their online jobs prevented them from being engaged. The work-in-the-home mothers felt they weren’t organized or scheduled enough, and felt they were neglecting their husbands because they spend their days tending to children and driving to and from schools. Many women, with or without paying jobs, felt they weren’t contributing enough financially.
I’ve spent a few months thinking through why we as mothers don’t feel we are enough for our families, and that is because Satan constantly tempts us to compare ourselves to others. It may start out as a pat on your own back: “Hey, look how much better you are at _____.” But it always ends with, “Why can’t you be more _____?”
I’ve struggled with this my entire life, but the comparison game took on a frighteningly fierce face when I became a mother. At the time of my firstborn’s arrival, I was working full-time because our family needed that money to stay afloat. By the time my second arrived I was in a part-time position and spent my afternoons playing with my kids, tending to my home, and running errands. And once my third child turned a year old I was once again back in the workforce full-time because the educational journey the Lord has set us on required me to become the breadwinner.
When I work full-time I constantly compare myself to the stay-at-home moms. In my brain they wake up, make large breakfasts, magically clean their kitchens, sit down to read the Bible with their children, laugh and giggle and play, soak up all of the toddler snuggles they can, play at the park, go to the grocery store with everyone on their best behavior, snap their fingers and have a gourmet dinner prepared, bathe and put the kids to bed, and then spend a relaxing evening enjoying time with their husbands. (I know all of you stay-at-home moms just spit out your drinks laughing.) In a nutshell, when I’m working full-time I envy the stay-at-home mom and don’t feel I am enough for my family.
When I worked part-time and when I was staying at home for maternity leave I compared myself to women who work full-time and make names for themselves in the publishing world. Again, in my brain, they defy the odds and earn PhDs with fully-satisfied families and make enough money to give their children a 2,000-square-foot house with an acre back yard filled with toys and chickens and dogs and a fire pit. Everyone wants to be like them because they are superwomen. (I don’t even know how I come up with this unrealistic fantasies.) In a nutshell, I envy the full-time working mother and don’t feel I am enough for my family.
This is one vicious cycle.
No matter which stage of life we are in, my sinful heart desires to be someone else because I don’t feel I am enough in my current situation.
However, we don’t have to keep comparing ourselves to one another, nor do we have to continue to guilt-trip ourselves into thinking we aren’t enough with the gifts and placement the Lord has given us. He is good, He is holy, He is sovereign, and He has uniquely crafted each of us to be who we are. Our families have been given to us because God desires to use each of us to minister to our specific husband and children. God puts us in the workforce if He wants us in the workforce, and He puts us at home if He wants us at home.
I think we as a community of mothers (near and far) can benefit from knowing we are not alone in our struggles. We should strive to love one another (which, according to 1 Cor. 13:4 does not envy) and encourage one another in our unique gifts, talents, and placement as mothers.
Let us live lives of peace and love, and celebrate our differences instead of comparing ourselves to one another. We are all in this together.
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30
Breathe life and peach into another mother’s life this week, and rest in the truth of our good God’s Word that covers us in love, grace, peace, and joy. You are enough, and you are exactly where He wants you to be.
Brittany Alley is wife to Nic and mom to three under five. She has lived and/or worked in the seminary community for seven years, and enjoys reading, writing, and playing outside with her people.