In a discussion based on their book, Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, Sally Clarkson and Sarah Mae talk to new moms and young women about the importance of finding good friendships, a supportive community and older, wiser mentors.
Jim Daly: Sarah, have you ever woken up some morning and said, "I can't be a mom today?"
Sarah Clarkson: Yes (Laughing), definitely. I can actually remember really specifically the first time I ever thought that and I sat up in my bed and I looked at the wall and I thought, "Lord, I cannot be a mother today." And I lied [sic] back down and I put the covers over my head, but of course, somebody needed fed and a diaper changed. But yes, that is how I … I have felt and said.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, maybe you've felt that way and if so, please hang on. We have some great encouragement for you on today's "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, being a mom, I'm gonna tell you, I've watched Jean. It is hard work.
John: It's easier—
Jim: So …
John: --to come to work, I think, for you and me.
Jim: Well, definitely and I think it's rightly an offense when we talk about stay-at-home moms. Just get that out of your dictionary, 'cause it's a work-at-home mom.
Jim: And Jean is definitely the CEO of the house and she's runnin' the ship and all those kinds of things. I just kind of fall into line, kinda behind Trent and Troy. (Laughing)
John: I have a hard time picturing that.
Jim: (Laughing) Oh, no, it's true. (Laughter)
John: I haven't really thought about that.
Jim: Mom is in charge at home, let me tell you. Don't you get lists from Dena?
John: I get kind of an evil eye sometimes if I don't—
John: --fall into line as you just described it there. (Laughter)
Jim: Well, we don't want to go there. But it is exhausting and we just want you to know we're here for you.
Jim: There are so many moms. I mean, you are the core listener to "Focus on the Family" and we want to talk today about some things that I think will help you I don't know, feel more comfortable about bein' a mom.
John: Yeah, we have two ladies who are mommy experts and they've really got a special bond. I've seen that just in our short time together before coming on the air, Jim. Sally Clarkson has written a number of books over the years and she's been a frequent conference speaker. And Sarah Mae is a blogger and conference host and together they've co-authored a book called Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe. And that's a great title.
Jim: Welcome to "Focus" ladies.
Sally and Sarah: Thank you.
Sally: Great to be here.
Jim: Okay, let's start there. Jean this morning, I told her what we were taping today and she said, "That's a great title, Desperate. I have often felt that way." What kind of response have you gotten from the title of the book?
Sally: I know, I was a missionary. I was doing all these great things and I thought I was very spiritual. And then I had three children (Laughter), three children under 5 and I'd never changed a diaper and I remember thinking one day, "Oh, my goodness. They are never gonna go away on the weekends." (Laughter) And that may seem funny to you, but I had never had children on the weekends. And I just thought, oh, my goodness (Laughter).
Jim: Never had children on the weekends. (Laughter)
Sally: Yeah, I never …
Jim: You sound like a great aunt. I mean—
Sally: I know, well …
Jim: --you're an aunt, a wonderful aunt and had your nephews and nieces over occasionally—
Jim: --but not on Saturday.
Sally: No, but I had worked and I had done all these things. And then I thought, I deserve my time on the weekend. And I just remember thinking, is it possible for a person who thought they were spiritual to have this many negative thoughts and to be lonely and to think, what have these children done to me? And so, I remember motherhood was so hard for me--I had no support systems, no help-- that I promised myself, if I ever made it through all these kids, that I would someday spend my life encouraging all these sweet young moms. And then Sarah Mae and I met and why do you think we needed that book?
Sarah: Well, I can remember saying that word. I remember praying and just saying and feeling like I feel desperate. I don't know another word to describe it. I just felt really, really alone and really overwhelmed with three little ones who I love, you know, so much. But it's like Sally said, it's so constant and it can be so overwhelming.
And I felt desperate and I remember approaching our publisher, and they were wonderful, but they didn't like the title because it was negative. And I remember they went to the board four separate times and they kept coming back. And I said, "Listen," I said, "I'm trying to put a word out there that moms are thinking and feeling. And if we continue to cover it up—
Sarah: --then moms are going to continue to stay feeling in shame, like I'm not allowed to think these things."
Sarah: But if you can pull the, like veil back and say, this is true. This is reality. We could use some help and encouragement, I just wanted to be honest.
Jim: Let me mention that, because Jean, in addition to loving the title Desperate, she said to me today, the one thing she would've done differently and more of—she did it, but she didn't realize what a vacuum there was when our first, Trent was born and she was so desperate to the title of your book, that she would go to the mall and hang out at the play kid area, just to have mommy conversation with other moms. And she didn't recognize it at the time even that, that's what she was doing. She thought she was helping Trent by taking him to go play, but actually, it was a deeper need that she had to connect.
Sally: Sarah Mae had invited me to speak at one of her conferences, 'cause I also blog and I didn't have any idea about these women. And I saw her facilitating these great mommy bloggers and I met all these great women and I watched 'em when they left and she her three children ran in. And I saw some disconnect and I said, "Oh, my goodness, no one's helping you, are they? Has anybody ever mothered you?" And I never asked that question in my life?
But I thought, here is this great, exciting, vibrant woman and when she goes home at the end of this conference, she's gonna be exhausted and she's gonna have these children. I wonder if she has any support system.
Sally: And I've always said that a mom alone in her own home becomes a target.
Jim: A target for what?
Sally: Well, I think a target for discouragement, a target for feeling incompetent. Every mom yells at their kids, but no one talks about yelling. And I know I had a lot of guilt and a lot of insecurity, because no one helped me. And I was very idealistic, kind of living a pioneer life. And so, I just thought, I don't Sarah to feel that way. We had just met. And I said, "Sarah," I said, "I don't know why I'm saying this, but I know that I'm supposed to disciple you and mentor you and love you and you need to come to Colorado." Because I didn't want women to feel what I felt, but I felt guilty. I thought somehow I was inept, because I had so many needs.
Jim: I … that's very forthright. I appreciate that vulnerability. Sarah Mae, (Chuckling) how did you respond to this woman you don't know—
Sarah: Well, I was …
Jim: --saying I want to become a part of your life and you're going, uh-oh.
Sarah: Well, no, it wasn't an "uh-oh." It was strange at first, because she said something that nobody had ever asked me. And she said, "Have you ever been mothered?" And who asks that upon meeting you?
Sarah: And I said, "Well, actually, no, I really haven't." And so, she said, "Well, God put you on my heart and I really want to get to know you." So, she didn't just come right in with, "I want to disciple you." She said, "I really want to get to know you."
And then she called me. I went back home. She called and I thought, she's just being nice. I mean, this is Sally Clarkson. She's being sweet, polite. She'll never call me again. And she proceeded to call me once or twice a week and now it's been four years. She really listened to the Lord and invested in my life.
Jim: Sarah, let me ask you. We talk so much in the male circles about the father figure and the hole in a lot of boys' hearts--
Sally and Sarah: Uh-hm.
Jim: --because of that. I mean, we do talk a lot about that in the culture, rightfully so, because there's big wounds [sic] that come from the dad for both daughters and sons.
Jim: Is it all right for me to ask you in that regard in terms of—
Jim: --your childhood and did you lack a good motherly role model?
Sarah: Uh-hm, yes, I would say so and it was getting older and realizing that I will never have a mom really. And I remember going into counseling in college and my counselor said to me, "You need to mourn the loss of a mother." And it was one of the most painful things, but it was one of the most freeing things that ever happened to me, because then I was able to look at my real mom, who she was an alcoholic. And I was able to look at her and release her from being that in my life.
So instead, now this is being older, seeing her as a person who was wounded and I can love her and I can see her differently. But I do not expect her to treat me as a mother would. So, yeah, I mean, I would say that I've had a lot of hurt and lot of wounds from not having that mother love. I think it's so important. I mean, I love moms. You guys are so, so important.
And so, when Sally came into my life and said that, it was sort of this unmet need in my heart that only the Lord knew about. I mean, He was the one who I cried out to about it. And He really did hear me and He brought an amazing mother-in-law into my life. I mean, I prayed for a Christian mother-in-law and she is wonderful. And then He brought Sally, who has just invested in my life so deeply and so lovingly.
Jim: And that isolation can be so hard--
Sarah: Oh, yeah.
Jim: --as I was describing Jean, that feeling just, "I gotta get out."
Jim: The question though is, in past times perhaps, when culture was different, it wasn't high tech. It wasn't isolationist in practice. You know, we put up the garage door. We go in and we live our lives pretty much without knowing much about our neighbors. And you can live life that way—
Jim: --quite comfortably.
Sally and Sarah: Uh-hm.
Jim: And I think the greatest impact is in the area of motherhood, because moms traditionally and I use that in the most positive sense of the word, would learn from each other, would get together—
Jim: --would spend time together.
Sally: Help each other.
Jim: Would mother each other's—
Sally: Yeah, take—
Sally: --each other's burdens. Give 'em a break.
Jim: And for all the reasons of modernity, it just isn't there today. Is that one of the big gaps that exists for moms today, one of the big needs?
Sarah: Oh, Sally called me out on it and I'll let you talk, but I had said to her, "Sally, I think I'm just a loner." And she said, "No, you're not a loner. God made people for relationships. And if you choose to be alone," then that's when she said, "like you're gonna be a target for Satan essentially.
Sarah: So, you can speak to that, and it really helped me to get out. She goes, "You need to get out. You've got to get around other moms."
Jim and John: Hm.
Sally: Well, I told Sarah, I said, "I want you to picture in your mind two or three women in your church." She's in Pennsylvania. And I said, "Kind of look for some women who are friendly, who are loving, you kind of feel like they are spiritually encouraging. You take them out to coffee one at a time and surely say, 'Would you mentor me or spend time with me? I need a friend who's older who can advise me." I said, "Surely one of those three people will meet with you." But I said, you know, "It's not about performance."
Sally: It's about making pathways, a bridge into the lives of other women who are feeling the same exact need as you.
Jim: Let's talk about that, because I think what I see often and here at Focus on the Family with the mail etcetera, women, unlike men, there's a different perfection orientation for women. To me, it's more susceptible to outside input. I think men in their perfection, it's a drivenness—
Jim: --it's I want to be the best; it's the scoreboard. It's, I'm known for how good I am at something.
Jim: I think for women it's about how other people perceive I'm doing. It's a difference. Is that fair?
Sarah: For me, I wouldn't say it's what other people think. It is that I want to do an excellent job because I want my children to walk with the Lord and know love and grace and truth. And so, I put that on myself. I'm with them all day. I don't want to fail. I don't want to mess up. And then the failure and the guilt and that comes in when I do mess up. And then it's like, oh, I didn't do enough or I didn't do a good enough job. And so, with the perfection thing, learning how to put that aside and like Sally said to me this morning, you have to give all control to the Lord for your family.
Jim: Let me ask this question. When you were becoming a mom—
Jim: --what did you envision that life being like compared to what it actually is?
Sarah: Okay, I envisioned everything minus sin. So (Laughter), it was …
John: Say that again.
Sarah: I envisioned everything minus the sin. I like totally forgot—
Jim: So, you're gonna become perfect.
Sarah: --right, like I forgot that I have a sin nature and my children would have a sin nature. So, I envisioned going to pumpkin patches in their little pigtails bouncing around and we're doing crafts all day and we're laughing and smiling and everything is going beautifully.
And all of that's true, except for the fact that when I actually had children, I forgot who I was, my own personality, that I couldn't make myself something else, that oh, I was a sinner and I'm gonna be tired and I'm gonna get mad and maybe I don't feel like going to the pumpkin patch today, because I'm … you know, I didn't get any sleep last night.
And that my child would say, "Maybe I don't want to go pick pumpkins, mommy. I would rather go color." So, I just totally forgot about individual personality and sin nature.
Sally: I remember one time my son, he's 6;5" now and he threw his arm around me and I had tears. I was saying, "We need to clean up the house again." And he went, "Mom, it's just gonna get messy again, but when you feel guilty, we feel guilty." And so, he said—
Sally: --"Mama, just chill, because we'll get it cleaned up again and again and again, but we want you to be a happy mom."
Sarah: Yeah, my kids do the same thing.
Sally: And so, I thought, wow, that's pretty profound for him to know that.
John: So is the response to, "It's not going the way I envisioned it because of messes or how long it takes or the sin factor that you mentioned, Sarah Mae, is the response different from woman to woman? Or is it overall, I just feel unqualified?
Sally: Well, we can both answer this question. We talked about it in the car this morning, but I think that the key component and this seems obvious, but if Christ is in your home, Sarah Mae and I wanted to say to people, God sees you. You are not invisible. He loves you. He made you with that quirky personality. And He will never leave you.
And I think that for me, I would just be about to blow and then I'd think, I've gotta go to bed. Then I'd get up the next morning and I'd have one more quiet time all by myself, sipping my own cup of tea with a candle. And then, that God would give me the grace to say, "God, what do You have for me at this juncture?" But I think that unless you understand that it's not you alone, it's God and you and you're just His hands. You aren't God to your children. He's God.
Sally: But you're doing a glory for Him by loving your children for His glory.
Jim: In fact, you talk about being a Titus 2 woman. So, this morning in my quiet time, I looked it up and read it and I was kind of howling actually.
Jim: Well, it just shows you how relevant Scripture is.
Jim: You think about this being written how many centuries ago, right?
Jim: And listen to what it says. It's Titus 2:3. It says, "Likewise teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to slanderers or addicted to too much wine, but to teach what is good." I mean, that could apply to any person today that—
Jim: --is leaning into harmful behavior, addictive behavior, ungodly behavior. And you know, the Scripture's warning us that it goes on to day, "Then they can urge the younger woman to love their husbands and children—
Sally and Sarah: Uh-hm.
Jim: --to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind and to be subject to their husband." Now that raises a lot of "Aah!" What!? But it's not understood in a loving context, not a hard-fisted husband, but a loving relationship. And it ends there by saying, "So that no one will malign the Word of God."
Jim: It's a beautiful Scripture in terms of the relationship, what a woman should be striving for. Is it too much to expect from today's modern woman?
Sarah: No. I think that all the young women are going, where are the older moms? And the older moms are going, interestingly enough, I'm inadequate. I don't feel like I have the wisdom to teach. I made so many mistakes.
Sarah: Because that's what I hear. I've been asking these moms. And isn't that funny that the younger moms are feeling inadequate in raising their children and the older moms are feeling inadequate in teaching the younger women. What's going on? And I think we're listening to so many voices--
Sarah: --and reading so many blogs. I mean, I'm a blogger, but what I mean by that is, the main voice we should be listening to is the one in the Scriptures. And I feel like if we're getting our voices from the Scripture, that's gonna help us to know how … to know that God hears us, that we're not alone, how to raise our own children and then being able to reach out to other moms who need us, because our guide, our voice, our main voice that we're hearing is from the Word of God, instead of all the voices out there telling us what we should look like. You can only wear skirts. How should you act? How should you behave?
Sally: Again, a formula.
Sarah: A formula and we get—
Sally: And a list—
Sally: --of rules.
Sarah: And now we're all feeling inadequate from the young mom to the older mom. Or the other sad sort of thing that I hear from older moms when I ask is, I've done my time.
Sally: Oh, I hear—
Sally: --that all the time.
Sarah: I hear that a lot. I've done my time. I didn't have help, like just deal with it. And I feel like I'm so sorry you didn't have help and that is really sad, but now you have an opportunity and I have an opportunity to reach out for the next generation, because if moms aren't persevering, they're gonna fall away. They're gonna be depressed. They're gonna be burnt out. What's gonna happen to their kids, the kid who wants to just see a mom who's happy?
Sally: Well, and I know it was simple for me. I thought, if somebody would just take the kids for three hours. I wasn't even asking for them to clean my house, though that would've been great. (Laughing) But you know, I just thought, if I could just get a little break. And I think that one of our passions together is that we want to say, if you are an older mom, even if you didn't do it perfectly, there are women out there. They just want a friend. They just—
Sally: --need a little break. They need some spiritual encouragement. Maybe nobody ever taught them.
Sally: And we would love for women to do what we did, to start a relationship, to enjoy each other. We don't even get to be together much.
Sarah: You don't need a 10-step Bible study program to mentor somebody. That's the fear out there. Younger women don't want to approach older women and say, "Will you mentor me?" because I mean, how like--
Jim: Sounds like a job.
Sarah: --pressure is that, right?
Sarah: And an older woman feels like, oh, my word. I'm supposed to have all these discipleship materials and I need to have like a 10-step plan and no. It's just a friendship.
Sarah: And then out of that organic friendship will come questions and answers and life. And Sally, while she has done some intentional discipleship with me, 90 percent of our friendship and mentoring is us having just this friendship where we talk.
Sarah: And I'll say, oh, what did you do about that? And she'll say, oh, well, you know, I did this or this is what I learned; it's just very simple.
Jim: How does a woman start though? Let's say, you know, you, where you're sitting right now in the car, listening on your SmartPhone, your iPhone, however you're hearing this—
Jim: --I'm desperate for that. I don't have that friend, that older mom friend that can help me understand am I doing it well? Am I not doing it well? Why do I have these feelings? I feel so desperate to the title of your book. Where does a woman get started? How does she …
Sally: You know, approach the Lord knowing that He hears you and you can say, you know, God, I feel really alone. Can you bring some women? Can you show me some women? Can you open my eyes to maybe women I'm not seeing maybe in my church or in the library where I go or whatever it is. Secondly, when you ask somebody, it's not a contract that from here on out—
Sarah: --you're gonna be mentored with them for the next 10 years, because …
John: It's not binding for life if you do that.
Sarah: Right, it might turn out that your personalities don't go together. That is fine. This isn't a contract. You know, just ask the Lord and then maybe look around for some women in the church that you feel you know what? I really like how their kids act or how their kids have turned out. I really seem to like some things that she said. Or just watch and observe. And then you could just say, "Hey, you want to grab coffee?" You don't even have to bring the word "mentorship" up, Bible study. Just "Hey, can we get together and get to know each other?
Sarah: And just see what the Lord does. And to older women, I would encourage you to remember what it felt like when you were a young mom and to consider reaching out to a younger mom.
Sally: So true.
Sarah: And again, not saying, now Sally, that was really unique case, saying basically, "I'm to … God told me to invest in your life." You might not do that. You might just approach a young mom and say, sit next to her in church and say, "Can I hold you baby for you? Would you like to—
Sarah: --go grab coffee?" You know, something real, real simple. And I would say, start there.
Sally: But I think a part of this is very important. We moved 17 times, six times internationally. And what I want the moms to know is, no matter what your circumstances, even if you're lonely, even if you think it's hard, you can do it. I look back at my kids now and I think, what a gracious God that we have, because they're wonderful and I made so many mistakes. But He'll be faithful to whatever your puzzle is. Your puzzle will be very different than anybody else's, but God isn't asking you to live somebody else's life. Try to every day bring Him in, enjoy life, celebrate, but know that whether you can find a mentor or not, you are enough. And you will be fine and make your home enjoyable for you.
Sarah: And that goes back to comparison. Know who you are. God made you. He made your personality. He wove you together. He knows all the parts of you, so when you're you and not trying to be like somebody else, then God is fully glorified, because when you try to be like somebody else, you're saying, God, You didn't do a good enough job. You didn't make me like her.
Sarah: And instead of going, God, I'm just gonna be who You made me to be and it's okay if I'm not like this other mom who does 25 crafts a day. Listen, I hate crafts. You don't have to like Pinterest.
Sally: But you know, I think another thing is, I like to have fun. And I realized if my home wasn't fun for me—
Sally: --it wasn't gonna be fun for my kids. So—
Sally: --I got crazy. I'm not a natural organizer, but if the house is a wreck, shoot me now. And so, I set components in my life. You know, like after the breakfast dishes, we always cleaned up the house, so that when we would do our homeschooling or sometimes my kids would do other things, so I would put on, you know, heavy music, like (Sound of snapping of fingers) beat music and we would wash those dishes and sing, you know, to the music.
And I would light candles and then we would read great books. And I would always give 'em something to eat. And I mean, like you know, either eat or draw, because (Laughter) I like to eat and draw. And I would say that, you know, you have a choice to make. If you don't fuss, like he touched my toe, then you get to keep the food or the fun or whatever. If you choose to fuss with your brother or sister, then we will do this all over again. I mean, it was a balance of training, but I decided that I needed by home to be the best place in the world to be.
Sally: So, I created life and art and beauty and books and music, because when I thought about I wanted them to know the God who threw the stars into place. And I wanted them to know the God who made chocolate and chili peppers. And so, the more I realized that this was an art of my life to make the kind of home that when people came in, they're not just gonna hear about the rule of Scripture, they're gonna see the living God. I think my kids eventually thought, this is really a fun place to be.
Sally: And so, it wasn't just about the mundane. That's I think what we talked a lot about--
Sally: --bringing beauty into the mundane. You can turn on music or you can just scrub the dishes and lecture. (Laughter) You know what I mean?
Sally: We had rhythms. We had training, but I would always try to make it a place that I enjoyed and so, I think even Sarah Mae coming in, she would go, "Do you really light candles every morning?" I thought, yeah, it quiets down the kids. So, I would always meet 'em with a hot drink and we would sit with the candles and have music on and then would worship God. I mean, I would say, "Look what I read in Matthew today." But I feel like there is an art of life that I needed. I couldn't just sit home and (Sound of Aah!) You know, so I would make it the most fun place in the world. And she's such a fun person. I adore Sarah Mae. And so, she's been making this beautiful fun for her kids and bringing components in life and they're just darling. But I think you have to know that if it's God's will, He made it also to be a celebration. God's will isn't always negative. God's will can be a celebration, but you might have to be the artist.
Jim: Well, that's a great summary for what we've talked about today, you know, being able to get yourself up out of the doldrums and out of the mundane to see that God has purpose for you—
Jim: --as mom. And moms are great and wonderful.
Sally: They are great.
Jim: I loved my mom. Your book, Desperate, if you're feeling desperate, this is a resource for you. It's Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe. And so, thank you so much for being with us.
Sarah: Thank you. This is great.
Sally: Thank you all for having us.
John: Well, we hear from so many moms who say this very thing; they've been really desperate and they need the encouragement that our guests have offered. And if you've resonated with what Sally Clarkson and Sarah Mae have shared today, get a copy of their book, Desperate, which talks about ways you can invest in friendships, how to tame that beast of housework and it'll give you loads of practical tips on approaching your mothering journey with purpose and with a plan.
Get a copy and either a CD or a download of this conversation. Those have an additional 20 minutes or so on them with our guests, delving deeper into some of the issues that we've talked about today and how you can create your home to be a more peaceful environment. You'll find those resources at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And when you make a donation today to Focus on the Family or any amount, we'll send this book to you. It's our way of saying thank you for supporting our work and encouraging you in the parenting journey.
Now let me share a comment we received from a mother named Beth, with some kinds words about this ministry. "They exist to assist, to come alongside me. I feel like many of us are working hard at this marriage and parenting thing and we don't really know what we're doing. We're just figuring it out as we go along and it's so comforting and reassuring to have an organization behind us who is trying their best to help us succeed." (Applause)
John: We do appreciate those words and we do want to come alongside and give you the tools and resources you need to find success as a mom or as a dad. And if you believe in our mission to encourage and equip moms, please consider making a donation to this ministry. We do need your partnership. Donate online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And don't forget to ask for your copy of that book, Desperate.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, thanking you for listening and inviting you back tomorrow, when we'll hear from Gary Thomas about how you can strengthen your marriage by centering it on God and have more encouragement to help you and your family thrive.
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Sally ClarksonView Bio
Sarah MaeView Bio
Sarah Mae is a writer who encourages women to keep on and begin again. She is a wife, mom, homeschool teacher, blogger, speaker and author. She makes her home in the beautiful Amish countryside of Pennsylvania where she often ponders what life would be like if she actually finished all the laundry. You can find her and her books at www.sarahmae.com.