Author Lysa TerKeurst offers hope and encouragement to moms who struggle with feelings of failure and guilt over their parenting mistakes. (Part 2 of 2)
Jim Daly: Lysa, describe that good mom, bad mom trap that you talked about in your book?
Lysa TerKeurst: Well, good mom, bad mom is when something goes good with your parenting, then all of a sudden, you're like "Ah! I'm a good mom." And then all of a sudden, something goes bad in your parenting and you're like, "Uh! I'm a bad mom." Like buy your child a pet goldfish. Good mom! Pet goldfish dies, bad mom. Connect with your child; good mom. Miss a permission slip, bad mom. Handle stress well, good mom. Lose control, bad mom.
And so, the trap is always defining who we are and how we are as a mom, based on the circumstances, rather than just stating, "I'm a good mom who sometimes has bad moments."
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, there's a lot there and I hope that intrigues you enough to stay with us for the next half hour or so, as we have Lysa TerKeurst back on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller. We're looking at motherhood and some of the common challenges and ways to avoid the traps of being good mom, bad mom and how to experience some grace in your parenting journey.
Jim: John, you know, last time there were so many nuggets that Lysa expressed for moms. And I hope, if you didn't listen to the broadcast last time, you can download it, go to the Focus on the Family website. Get the CD, whatever it takes, because she touched on the idea that, as a mom, you don't need to focus on your weaknesses. Focus on your strengths.
And I thought one of the great nuggets, John, was she talked about your children are in your home for a purpose, not just an earthly purpose, but God chose them to be your children and chose you to be their parent. I love that idea, that they're unique, not just in their fingerprints, but in the fact that they're your children. God has a purpose in that. I really enjoyed that and I'm looking forward to talking further about those things that not only help moms, but we dads need to lean into this conversation, as well, to better understand what our wives are dealing with and how to help them and be there for them. So, Lysa, welcome back to "Focus on the Family."
Lysa: Thank you. It's always so fun to be here. I appreciate the opportunity.
Jim: (Laughing) It's always good. And like I said last time, you're talkin' to about 2.3 million women every day in the social media space, hearing from them where their hearts are aching, where they are finding victory. And when you look at that landscape today, what do you think is the No. 1 issue, the No. 1 problem that moms are facing today?
Lysa: Well, I asked that question on Facebook, because I wanted to kinda take a finger and put it on the pulse of where are moms now? And moms are struggling. There were responses like, "I'm a failure. I'm the worst mom ever. I constantly feel totally spent. My emptions are out of control."
So, there are a lot of moms who desperately need encouragement and who need tools to rise above the circumstances that face us, that are so unpredictable as moms. I mean, most moms don't wake up and go, "Okay, I'm gonna totally lose it with my kids today. That's what I'm gonna do." You know, no; most moms wake up and it's like, you know, "La, la, la, it's gonna be a great day."
And then all of a sudden, wham! We walk into the kitchen and someone let … they were supposed to clean up the kitchen, like one of the kids was to clean the kitchen up last night and put the leftovers in the frig and we're gonna have that for dinner tonight. Well, they left 'em on the counter. And now I gotta throw all the leftovers away. Man! This is terrible. This is like wasted money, wasted time. I don't have the white space for this.
And then, boom! Walk into the laundry room. Someone washed all the whites with a red towel. Now everything's pink. Wasted time, wasted money. Oh, my stars! My home is falling apart. You know, and it can so easily happen and it just takes the tiniest little thing to make us so hyper aware of our weaknesses, our frailties, just the fragile place that most moms live constantly. It's hard.
Jim: Okay, I gotta confess. I did wash the white stuff (Laughter) with the red stuff. So, I'm in this. I added to the day.
John: It was one of the kids! (Laughter)
Jim: Jean will always tell me, "You don't do laundry very well."
Lysa: Oh, but at least you were trying to help (Laughter), even though—
Jim: Yeah, well, that's nice.
Lysa: --maybe now you're banned from the laundry room.
Jim: I think I know now not to throw the red thing in with the white thing, but uh …
Lysa: Yes, but life is unpredictable and that's what makes this complicated. You know, just when you start to feel like, okay, I think I'm figuring this out. If I do this the night before and I set up this system in my home and I have this little chore chart and I do all these things that I've heard other moms do, then things will calm down.
And then we do all those things and things still don't calm down and so, there is a part of motherhood that's so unpredictable and so ever-changing, that this process is complicated. And I think moms can just flat get worn out. And I know that's where I lived so many times as a mom. I just was so tired and I wanted desperately to do this right, but constantly questioning, am I really? I don't know.
Jim: Yeah, well, John's smilin' there. I know you left the leftovers out. I'm callin' Dena (Laughter) later.
John: Why is it the small things?
Jim: She's gonna confirm it. (Laughing)
John: It's the small things that just make you feel like nobody around here gets all the trouble I have to go to and they just pile it on, don't they?
Lysa: Yes and it only takes a few small things to suddenly make us get this overwhelming sense, everything about my family is out of control. We are that family.
Jim: Well, and that's a great point, John and Lysa, I'd like to hear a bit more on that, because I think moms particularly can feel really undervalued and underappreciated at the core because they don't feel like we're getting help, maybe not from their husband, not from their kids. What does a woman do who is in that place, where it's not so much she's messin' up. She's not getting any kind of response from the family and she feels like she's carrying the entire burden. How can she begin to address that with her husband and with her kids?
Lysa: Absolutely. Well, I think having some honest conversations, depending on the age of your kids. You know, that's definitely important to consider. But having an honest conversation with your husband and just saying, "Hey, hon, I am really struggling here and I want to know, do you see some things that I'm doing right as a mom? 'Cause it would really help me if you would just list out some things that you see from your vantage point that I'm doing right as a mom." And if you don't have a husband, you know, maybe you're a single mom, then ask some friends. Just say, "Hey, I am really drowning here and I'm so hyper-aware of all the mistakes that I'm making. I need someone who has an outside perspective to look from a different vantage point, do you see some things I'm doing right as a mom? I need someone to tell me?
And it's amazing when you ask that question and certainly, if your kids are old enough, ask them that question. And it's really, really interesting to see the answers. Now if your kids are in a bad mood, don't ask them, because then they'll flip the question on you and maybe it'll flop. (Laugher)
Lysa: But asking a friend, ask your husband, ask someone who has a different vantage point, who can say, "This is what I see you doing right as a mom."
John: Well, as you were mentioning the kitchen stuff and the chores and Jim, as you talked about that, I thought, okay, so there are some women and my mom is one of them, who don't want their kids helping them. I just had a conversation with my mom the other day and she said, "Well, I didn't make you do much around the house." And I said, "Is that because I couldn't do it right?" And she smiled. And so, how much of this is kinda brought on by moms themselves?
Lysa: Well, I wasn't that kind of mom. Honestly. (Laughter) I was just so desperate for some help, I was like, okay, look. As long as you don't overflow the dishwasher, you know, I don't really care how you load it. But there are some moms and so, being sensitive that [that's] how you're wired, how you're created, what your capacity is to have your kids be involved and to help. But I think there is some sense of, as moms, we've gotta let go of this sense of perfection. Recognize there are going to be gaps.
Jim: Lysa, let me ask you that, because in your book, Am I Messing Up My Kids? you talk about this experience where your kitchen counter top had cracks in it. And we could talk to Art about that, your husband. But it showed you something about those gaps. Tell us that story.
Lysa: Well, for years I had white linoleum countertops.
Jim: You got rid of those.
Lysa: I got rid of them, but it took many, many years. We saved and saved and saved. I wanted granite counter tops and they're expensive. So, we saved and saved and saved. Finally, we got granite counter-tops and when they were installed I was so excited. I thought, this is gonna be amazing. Except when I walked out and had the big reveal, like, "Ah! The granite countertops are in," I looked and there were these big veins that ran all the way across the granite. And it looked like the granite was cracked. It wasn't cracked. It's just a natural flaw in the way that granite forms. So it was, I mean, that's very normal. It's just, it was not what I expected.
Jim: It's not what you wanted.
Lysa: It's not what I wanted. In my brain, this was a terrible flaw or a gap, if you will, between what my expectations were and how reality turned out.
And as I sat there and I stared, I had saved for years for these countertops and now I couldn't see the beautiful granite. All I could see was the vein that across that looked like a crack. It was a gap in my expectation. And as I stared at it, I thought, you know what? This is what I so often do as a parent. I look at the spectrum of my parenting and there's so much that's beautiful and wonderful and right about our family, but I get so hyper-focused on that vein running across of that perceived gap that I have. And I need to get better with dealing with the gaps because they're gonna be there, so how do I deal with them?
Jim: Well, let me ask you this. Why, A, why do we and let me speak to moms, a mom's heart, why do moms gravitate toward the crack? And how do we train ourselves to look beyond the crack? I mean, that's really important. It's [a] simple idea but extremely difficult.
Lysa: It is. Well, it's the same thing, you know, as a speaker, if I give a message and hand out 100 evaluations, there could be 99 positive things said, but there's one negative thing. So, where does my mom constantly gravitate to? The one negative thing, right?
Jim: (Chuckling) Yeah, right.
Lysa: And that's the way it kinda is for me as a mom. There could be 99 things that I do right, but this one thing I do wrong, I feel like it's so in my face. And I'm sure of it is spiritual attack and I'm sure some of it is, that I want to fix that thing and so, I become hyper-focused on it. But it can really become a very exhausting thing, to only see the gaps in our parenting. So, here's what I've learned.
No. 1, I wrote in Am I Messing Up My Kids? let this gap be a reminder to draw closer to God. And I don't want to say that answer just as like this hyper-spiritual answer. It really is. It's like every time this gap or this nagging sensation of guilt or even this sense of, like, well, I am not goin' good as a mom in this area, every time I feel that, instead of letting that train of thought run me down a course of negativity, I say, okay, that's a trigger to pray.
So, I let that gap draw me closer to God, because I see it as a trigger to go to God and say, "God, without suggestion, I'm coming to You and I'm saying, 'I recognize this is a gap in my parenting and I need You to tenderly give me grace for his area. I ask for forgiveness in whatever part I need to ask for forgiveness for. And God, show me, show me, what's just the next that I need to take? Maybe God's not gonna reveal the whole fix-it plan, but Lord, will You just infuse in my brain just one thing I need to do to start turning this gap around? So, let it draw me close to God.
The second thing is having God's perspective for the gap will give me hope. So, I gotta hold onto some hope here and not let this gap in my parenting be this defining thing that I'm a bad mom. Like I said before, I am a good mom that may have some bad moments. And there's a big difference there. And I've gotta hold onto to that hope. So, bringing this perspective, bringing this gap before the Lord can infuse my heart with hope. And the third thing, recognize the gap won't be there forever--
Jim: Unlike granite.
Lysa:--you know? Unlike granite, the gap will be there forever in my granite, but the gap will not always be there in my parenting. Seasons will change. Stresses will change.
Jim: Maturity in your children.
Lysa: Maturity will happen in my kids. Maturity will happen in me, you know. And so, this gap won't be there forever. So, walk in grace. Walk in forgiveness. Ask for God's perspective. Hold onto God's hope and look for ways to improve in this gap. But don't stay focused on it. Intentionally make yourself see the other things that you really are doing right as a mom.
Jim: Hey, in fact, one of the things that I loved in your book, you talked about the theme where we have to, as parents, and moms particularly, come to the realization that we lack control for the environment. And I think moms really want to try, you know, for good reasons, to try to control that environment for their kids. And Jean and I, one of the things is safety. I mean, it's so funny, 'cause we just have different perspectives—a dad's perspective and a mom's perspective. She is bubble wrap all the way. (Laughter)
Jim: You know, put the kids in bubble wrap and then they can go outside and climb a tree. I'm like, you know what? Put 'em in a shorts and a T-shirt and let 'em go. But that is kinda that perspective. It's a natural thing. It's a God-given thing, I'm sure, where a mom is ultrasensitive usually, not every mom, but ultrasensitive to those issues, to keep their kids safe. It's a mama bear kind of thing.
Lysa: It is.
Jim: But the reality is, in the end, we really don't control much of anything in this life. Talk to the person who has cancer. Talk to the person who lost a spouse. Talk to the person who's lost a child. They know they don't control much. For those of us that may not have gone through that kind of devastation, we're not so aware of that. We think we can control a lot more. Speak to that theme that you talked about.
Lysa: Well, I remember very distinctly the day that my oldest son got his driver's license. He was so excited and we made him wait six months past when the state said that he could drive alone. We made him drive extra with us.
Jim: Good for you. I think that's a great decision, by the way!
Lysa: And then we had a teen driving contract. So, we laid out all the rules and I am a rule follower, so I'm more of the bubble wrap kind of person in our relationship. My husband's more like, he'll be fine; it'll be fine, you know. So, we did everything that we could to set up safe parameters. But I'll never forget the day when my son said, "Hey, everybody. Let's go out for ice cream." And I was like, "Great! Let me grab my keys." And he's like, "No, mom, I want to drive my siblings. The five of us want to go get ice cream."
Jim: Without you.
Lysa: Without me.
John: Oh! (Laughter)
Lysa: And I'm telling you, I will never forget that feeling of seeing all five of my kids get in the car and my oldest son is the driver and they're driving out of my driveway and that sense of, "I have no control to keep him safe." It was such a definite moment, where I'll never forget it, standing at the window, watching them drive away, thinking to myself, "Absolutely not." Every fiber in my being wanted to get in my car, chase them down and say, "Turn around! Come home! We're eating ice cream at home. You will never all five be in the same car, ever, ever, ever! Absolutely not!"
And just as I was about to absolutely panic over my lack of control in that situation, I remembered this verse. I think it's Psalm 139 and it's very, very clear that God has assigned my children a certain number of days. When God knit my kids together, He really has assigned them a certain number of days. And there's nothing ultimately that I can do to add to that number of days with my kids.
And this sense of releasing that control back over to the Lord and saying, "Lord, I have done everything I know to do to make a wise decision here. We have trained my son to drive safely. We went through driver's-ed courses. We waited six months extra. We have set up a teen driving contract. We've done everything we can do. So, now Lord, I take each of my kids and I place them in Your hand and I recognize that this is scary, but ultimately God, You're the One that has to protect my kids and give me peace in this process because it's so hard."
Jim: Well, and Lysa, what you're describing there is so appropriate. What you're saying in that sense is, faith and trust have got to be lifted up above control. And that's—
Lysa: It does.
Jim: --in every area of our life.
Lysa: Yes and I'm telling you though, even as these words are comin' out of my mouth, I'm just like, oh! This is so hard as a mom. It's so hard.
Jim: I would think some moms may have jumped in their car to follow.
Lysa: Yeah and I –
John: And you almost did—
Lysa: --I may have—
John: --you said, yeah.
Lysa: --at times jumped in my car to follow. (Laughter) And you know what? That's okay. Give yourself some grace as a mom and just recognize this is a process. It's a slow process, but just the fact, even if you follow them all the way to the ice cream shop, just the fact that you left them go, that's such a positive step of letting that trust happen and say, you know, "Lord, I trust You."
Because what I finally had to recognize is, if today's the day that the Lord assigned to take my child home to be with Him, whether they're driving to the coffee shop or whether they're sitting in my living room, today's the day. And so, I have to exercise that trust, that God ultimately, You're the One in control and made peace that I'm not gonna be a person who walks in fear. I'm gonna walk in faith and say, "God, You're good and I'm gonna trust you."
Jim: And again, these are deep waters and many, many people aren't going to be impacted in that devastating way, but there are some people who are.
Jim: And so, I appreciate the wisdom that you bring to that. Talk to me for a moment about that mommy guilt. I think so many moms live in that place. I see it in my wife and it breaks my heart sometimes 'cause she's carrying such a heavy burden. It's natural. You could, you know, be at the top of the world and still feel a mommy guilt because something's gone wrong. How do you shove that aside and press ahead?
Lysa: Well, it's hard. I think talking to other moms who have healthy perspectives. There are some mommy friends who are gonna feed your mommy guilt. And you've gotta get really discerning about the mommy friends that will feed your guilt and the mommy friends that will help lift you out and have a perspective, a healthier perspective. So, No. 1, I would say, definitely discern those mommy friends that are healthy in this and that can help lift your perspective.
But I'll also share secondly, recognize that so many of the things that I've laid in bed feeling so guilty of as a mom, my kids don't remember.
Jim: Isn't that amazing? I hear that often from moms, that—
Lysa: Yeah, I—
Jim: --the things that they—
Lysa: --think it's some kind of—
Jim: --worry …
Lysa: --yes, I think it's some kind of a special gift that God has given. It's like, I remember one time I was so, just feeling so guilty over a decision that I'd made with one of my kids. I really, really, really wanted them to do this sport and I was just so determined that I wanted my kids to have every experience and everything.
And so, I really wanted my second daughter, I wanted her to play soccer. I just thought this is gonna be fantastic. And I bought her the uniform and you know, my husband and I coached her. And we took her out and in the middle of her first game, she sat down. She reached in the waistband of her shorts. She had a baggie of Goldfish that she had tucked in there without me knowing. She reached out, sat down in the middle of the game, while everyone's kicking the soccer ball and running around and parents are cheering and there's my child, sitting in the middle of the soccer field, eating Goldfish. I didn't--
Jim: Perfect place for a picnic.
Lysa: --I could not believe it! And I just remember thinking, what's wrong? Why do all these other parents have kids that enjoy playing soccer? Like, what's wrong? And I would lay in bed and fret and fret and fret. And I asked my daughter recently about that incident. She had no clue. She's like, "I didn't know I played soccer." I'm like, "Well, technically, actually—
Jim: You didn't.
Lysa: --you didn't." (Laughter)
Jim: She watched it. That's so funny.
Lysa: But I also later on in the teen years, there was a lot of guilt there, too, because our kids' decisions have bigger implications for pointing their lives in certain directions. So, no longer is it them sitting in the middle of the soccer field eating Goldfish. Now it's like, wow, they could make a decision today that could radically alter the course of their whole life.
And so, the feelings of almost panic and guilt kinda combined made this tsunami of feelings that I would lay in bed and wrestle and wrestle and wrestlewith at night. And I remember one day, I told my daughter that I was really, really struggling and I was honest with her and I just said, "Sweetheart, I want the best for you so much, but I lay in bed at night sometimes and I start off praying, but then I slip into this almost fretting over wanting so much for you to have this amazing life."
And shortly after that she wrote me this letter and she said, "Mom, here's the reality. I am going to make mistakes, but I want you to come back to this letter and I want you to see, I'm stating, you have done a great job as a mom. And any mistake I make, it's not your fault."
Lysa: And that letter was a treasure to me. And I'm not saying wait for it, Mom, that letter will come. That letter may never come, but hear the words of my teenage daughter and recognize, I bet those same words are tucked within the hearts of your children, as well.
Jim: Well, and I love that vulnerability with your children. I think they learn so much from that, to hear your heart, to hear that you're laying [sic] in bed at night, thinking about them, praying about them. It needs to be age appropriate and all those things, but for them to grow up with that kind of understanding, that that's what mommy's doing behind closed doors. It gives that child a sense of someone cares.
Jim: Someone loves me.
Lysa: And I've even had honest conversations with my kids before, where as they were older and able to really verbalize and process things with me, I have had the conversation where I say, "Okay, I have this list of about 100 things that I need to do to be a great mom every day. And the reality is, I can't do 100 great things every day. So, will you tell me, what are three things that I could do for you or with you that would give you this sense, 'Wow, I have a really great mom?' What are those top three things for you?"
And asking my child that question, hearing their answer, so instead of just wearing myself out trying to do everything, hoping that I hit the mark, just ask your kids. Like, what are those things, you know. we also do this –
Lysa: --at the holidays, too. You know, different holidays or birthdays, you know. There are so many things. I mean, one visit of Pinterest and it's like, whoa! There's like a million opportunities to make this birthday great for your child or this holiday great for your child. So, instead, just go to your child and say, "Hey, we can't do everything, but what are like three things? Like if we do these three things within reason, you know, what are those? And having those kind of conversations and open up and I bet you'll be very, very surprised how simple your child is. And if they throw out unrealistic answers, explain why that's not realistic and tell 'em to pick another one. (Laughing)
Jim: Man, Lysa, this has been so good. You've talked about that good mom, bad mom trap and just so many good things today. I think I've coined maybe a phrase for you. You may have already heard it. You're like the "mom whisperer."
Lysa: Oh! (Laughter)
Jim: And I love that and you've really done a great job in your book, Am I Messing Up My Kids? You know what? Every mom should have a copy of this book and every husband should make sure that happens. So, John, let's make it available for any support. Cover the postage; we'll get it to you. And I think that would be a good thing. Lysa, thank you so much for being with us these last couple of days.
Lysa: Oh, you are welcome and if I could give one parting word, I would say this. Mom, you are amazing.
Jim: Good place to end.
John: Yeah, some great encouragement during these past couple of days from Lysa. And we'll provide you with a complimentary copy of that book for your donation of any amount today when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459. Or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And you know, this is really a great resource for any mom at any stage of the parenting journey. We've been at this some time. My wife still needs encouragement. She still battles those feelings of inadequacy as a mom. Even when kids have moved out and kinda made it on their own, there's always that little niggling self-doubt. So, get a copy of this helpful, practical advice that Lysa provides in the book.
And let me mention that we're here for you. Focus on the Family is listener supported. The reason we can make radio programs like this and offer resources like Lysa's good is because of your financial gifts. You're helping us reach out and support moms and dads who really want to raise good, thriving, godly kids. And when you join our support team, you're a part of that family-building effort. So please be generous and make a contribution to the work of Focus on the Family today at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back on Monday. We'll have an amazing adoption story, a woman rescued an abused boy from a Mexican prison. It's full of ups and downs and it's an inspirational story. That's next time on Monday, when it'll help your family thrive.
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