As the sensitive, youngest child in a loving, but dysfunctional Christian home, I quickly slipped into the role of peacemaker and people pleaser.
My mother suffered from an untreated mental illness. On top of that, extended family issues were complicated and nightmarish at times.
More than anything else, I longed for validation and stability. I stuffed my own opinions and feelings. I worked hard to earn my worth. The most “rebellious” thing I ever did was get my ears double pierced. Crazy times.
But my “good girl” persona came at a high cost. I looked to imperfect people — including my precious children — to fill me up. That always ended badly and left me feeling even more worthless. Over the years, being a “good girl” has also taken a heavy toll on my children. Here’s how:
I had underground resentment and anger.
Motherhood severely tested my image. I wanted my children to behave. I wanted them to make me feel good about myself.
When they didn’t, after I had tried so hard to please them, it made me angry. They disturbed the outer and inner peace I fought so hard to construct … and I resented it.
All those thoughts, opinions and desires I had stuffed for years came bubbling up like volcanic lava. And, often it spewed all over my kids.
I was trying to be a “good” mom. Why weren’t they cooperating?!
It took lots of counseling to understand these things about myself. I’ve slowly learned to look to God for my value. Everyday, I have to consciously remember that what He says about me is all that counts. Because what He says and thinks about me and my worth never changes — no matter what I do or don’t do.
I’ve had to work hard with both of my kids to repair the damage. I’ve asked their forgiveness and still do when I fall into old patterns and attitudes. I give them — and myself — a lot more grace. I don’t look to them for my worth anymore, which frees them to voice their opinions and make mistakes.
I was incredibly naive.
I assumed my kids would be “good” like I was. I thought this parenting gig would be a snap.
Don’t get me wrong. I have two incredible kids. They both have so much more of a sense of their opinions and who they are than I ever did at their age.
They are not people pleasers. Thank God. But that means they do push boundaries. They question the status quo. Plus, they live in a world with so much more temptation and wickedness than the one I grew up in. My kids face challenges I never had to face.
Through painful experience, I now know how badly I need God’s guidance and wisdom to handle today’s battles. I also need Him to help me prepare for and anticipate the challenges that lay ahead. I need His help to act instead of react. I ask Him everyday for this.
I didn’t know how to set boundaries.
Because I wanted so much to please — to be worth something — I usually gave in. Did what others expected of me. Never rocked the boat. I was able to get away with that for years — until I had kids. People pleasing does not work well as a parenting philosophy. “Giving in” to toddlers and teenagers always ends badly.
This came into full bloom in the middle school years. All that “pleasing” blew up in my face. It was those years that God used to wake me up.
I realized parenting couldn’t be about me — my worth, my image. I had to do what was right for my children. As difficult and frightening as it seemed, I had to be the “bad girl” and set clear boundaries and stick to them. Even if my kids didn’t like me and thought I was a “mean mom.”
I focused on behavior and image instead of relationship and “heart” issues.
As long as my kids were well behaved, my halo stayed firmly in place. I could feel good about myself and my mothering. So, I spent the early years of my mothering working very hard to get my kids to “do the right thing.”
They felt my love was conditional. And to some degree it was.
As God has worked on my heart, I’ve realized that I have to concentrate more on theirs. Jesus doesn’t want “perfect” kids. He wants relationship with them. They need a mom who gives grace freely to help them understand their heavenly Parent does, too.
The Pharisees did all the “right” things, but their heart was far from Him. I would rather my children wrestle with their faith and live messy, transparent lives that ultimately lead them closer to Him.
I’m not perfect. I will never be. Some people won’t recognize my value. Nothing I do will ever be enough.
Thankfully, for my kids’ sake, as well as my own, I know my worth doesn’t depend on it.
Finally, I can put the halo away.