| from Melissa Hannigan |
The day started as any other. I woke up late and rushed out of the house to get the older kids to Vacation Bible School where they were volunteers.
Before I was even out the door, I had already thought of all of the ways I had failed that morning. Barely out of bed, it occurred to me that I should have set an alarm to wake up earlier. I should have set breakfast stuff out the night before.
Charlotte couldn’t find a sock, so we searched in her very messy bedroom until we found a pair that actually fit. Another way I didn’t measure up; I chastised myself. I should do a better job of keeping things tidy.
Ella, another daughter, decided at that moment she just had to have a cup of hot tea, to go, with honey. After my instinctive reaction of snapping back that there was just no time, I quickly apologized and offered to help make her tea wishes come true.
It took digging in my very unorganized cabinets to finally find a lid that actually fit a clean cup she could take to church. I should be more patient, I again mentally lectured myself. I really should keep things where we could find them easier, I determined to do better, to be better.
Disorder. Disorganization. That’s pretty typical in our house! And as the head manager of it all, I feel the weight of all of it, all day, every day. I feel crushed by it. At some point, I started believing the lie I was not good enough unless I hit some unrealistic standard. It was a standard I placed on myself. And while I know the truth — that perfection is unrealistic at best and destructive at worst — I fall for that lie every time! I slip back into believing that my worth is wrapped up in how “good” I am, and how good I am is determined by some unrealistic expectation I place on myself.
That particular morning everything pointed squarely to the fact that I was not measuring up, not even close!
It was Thursday of VBS week, so by this time we had drop off down to a science. I headed into our church sanctuary, relieved this hectic morning was almost complete. A few hours of sweet solitude, a fresh cup of hot coffee, and productive writing was just within my grasp. I could already taste the hot coffee. All I had to do was to sign the girls into their classes and head out to the parking lot with the rest of the kid-less parents. I was looking forward to just a few hours of quiet, bliss. I smiled, signing away the first child. One down, one to go. I went to the next child’s teacher, smiled, made small talk, signed my name; and that’s when I felt the second child’s little arms death gripping my leg. Now child number two was turning seven in just a week. She had been to VBS with absolutely zero issues all week. She was past all of this, right? But evidently, on that day she was not. This of course struck a tender spot that was already bruised that morning. I was not a good enough mom. I was incapable of raising an independent child.
I stood there feeling the weight of my failures, my mind reeling with all of the ways I didn’t measure up all once again. The sweet VBS teacher tried to coax Charlotte off of my leg. The youth volunteer bent down to her eye level and offered to sit with her, promising to let her text me if she needed anything at all. But none of these kind gestures made one bit of difference. I could feel my blood pressure rising, my face getting red. It suddenly felt really warm in that sanctuary. Why did I decide to throw on a sweatshirt, in the middle of summer, in Florida? I was sweating while also frantically trying to figure out what to do next. I continued rehearsing all the ways I just wasn’t measuring up.
My mind raced with what to do next. Do I peel her off and make a run for it, I pondered? The last thing I wanted to do was to bring more attention to this moment. Do I stay and sit with her until she feels comfortable and then quietly sneak out? Do I firmly tell her to stop acting like a baby and do as I say, or else, with a very firm tone? I didn’t know what to do. My mind spun and my heart raced. I’m sure my face was bright red.
Maybe it was the exhaustion of the morning; maybe it was the fact that I was already feeling like a bad mom that morning; maybe it was hormones; or all three perhaps; but whatever the reason, I started to choke up. Charlotte’s baby tears had nothing on mine as they began to fall. I was overwhelmed with certainty that I was failing at this whole mom thing. I couldn’t stop crying.
It was at this point I was resigned to the reality that my plans for that morning vanished along with any pride I had left. So, we walked back to the SUV, heads down, not speaking to each other or anyone else. Certainly not making eye contact with the other parents who were also heading toward their cars — without kids — I thought with jealousy. I was embarrassed and angry. My mascara from the day before was probably a mess, and my red faced six-year-old was clearly unhappy. We were quite the sight, of that I am sure.
Thankfully the day didn’t end on that note. Later, when I sat still for a few minutes, something important became crystal clear. That whole morning, that whole week really, I had been placing my identity in how I measured up as a mom. I was weighing how close to ideal I could be and using that imaginary “perfect mom” as the measuring stick of how “good” I was. This idea of perfection, this works-based value, is something I have struggled with for most of my life. This lie tells us that our worth, our value is found in what we do, and how well we perform. We are deluded to believe the better we do, the more worthy we are of love and admiration. This lie is dangerous and destructive, and it is most certainly not from the Lord.
Once I sat down, opened my Bible and allowed the Lord to speak to my heart, He made it clear that His love is not dependent on anything I could do or didn’t do right. He reminded me that my value, my identity is only in how He sees me. I knew all of this to be true but somehow, I forgot. I wasn’t living as if I believed it were true deep down in my heart. He reminded me that He had already proved my worth, my value when He sent Jesus to die in my place, in all of our place. Nothing I can do, nothing any of us can do will ever earn His love and nothing we can ever do will diminish His love. This is the truth where we must firmly place our identity.
This truth frees us from the weight of carrying the need to perform. It releases us to serve God out of love and devotion, instead of as a means to earn His favor. And that kind of service is lightweight and full of joy. So, rest in that truth today. Open His Word and let it remind you of who you are in God’s eyes, because you are a cherished child.
Oh, if you’re wondering about what happened with Charlotte; about five minutes after we made it home, she changed her mind and wanted to go back to VBS. After talking about how choices have consequences, and her choice of a chore – cleaning the toilet — I dropped a happy, smiling little girl back at VBS. And while I was relieved she was going to have a better morning, I was much less satisfied in my success as a mom or how well I recovered, but in the truth that God loves me no matter how great or terrible I am at being the “perfect mom.”
As a homeschool mom of four kids, Melissa Hannigan uses her background in child development and counseling to keep her family from going completely off the rails. Melissa discovered her passion for helping kids meet their fullest potential over 15 years ago. As a therapist, she has worked with children in head start, foster care, and in detention facilities to provide them the tools they need for success. Melissa has also served hundreds of young people through her local church. Her unique sense of humor, paired with a desire to make tough topics easy to talk about, makes her relatable to most parents struggling to keep their head above water in today’s cultural climate. Whether she’s serving the “Happy Hannigan’s” or the “Hot Mess Hannigan’s” (it depends on the day!) she does it alongside her best friend and partner in life, John. Melissa is an Associate with Celebrate Kids where she writes and speaks about a variety of topics.