Focus on the Family

Motherhood

by Tosha Lamdin Williams

I had had it.

All day long I had given and given and given until I had nothing left to give. A frustrated, angry spirit was quickly replacing my "good mommy" attitude.

So I put my baby in his crib then sent my girls to their room with instructions to play Barbie and leave me alone. Truthfully, this wasn't one of those "Now precious girls, let Mommy be by herself for a while" days. Right or wrong, it was more along the irritable lines of "I have got to have some time by myself so go to your room."

As I fell exhausted into my chair, I mentally calculated all that I had done for my children that day. I had nursed the baby and attended to his every need. I had taken my daughters to the library and craft camp. I had stopped at the grocery store to get ingredients for a healthy dinner. I had washed loads of laundry and cleaned the house. Without reservation I had given my family my best effort all day long. Everything within me had been poured out for them; every last reservoir of strength was gone, save one.

Now all I could do was cry out, "God help me!" and wearily pick up my Bible.

Not expecting anything particularly applicable from the Old Testament, I nevertheless started reading where I had left off in 1 Samuel. Within moments, a verse almost leaped off the page at me. "Why do you honor your sons more than Me?" God asked a parent in 1 Samuel 2:29. It was as if God was asking me the very same question. The thought gripped my heart as I continued reading.

First Samuel tells the story of Eli, who served as the high priest of Israel during the time of the judges. Scripture shows that while Eli seemed to serve God wholeheartedly, he had a weakness that eventually led to his family's downfall. His problem? Eli was more partial to his sons Hophni and Phinehas than to God. When they pursued sex outside marriage, indulged in wicked behavior and even blasphemed God, Eli honored his sons so much that he scarcely disciplined them for their behavior.

God warned Eli of the judgment looming over his family and asked the piercing question of honor. If only Eli had listened to God's warnings, if only he had allowed the question to penetrate his heart, if only he had put God first in his life, he might have repented and avoided the resulting tragedy.

But he didn't. Eli continued honoring his sons more than God, so God brought judgment on the family. Hophni and Phinehas were killed, Eli died in shock, and his family forever lost its honored position as the high priests of Israel. As all this was happening, his widowed daughter-in-law gave birth to a son and named him "Ichabod," meaning "the glory of God has departed." This tragic sequence of events all started when Eli allowed his children to have first place in his heart.

As I sat there that afternoon, I almost dismissed Eli's story as not applicable to my life. After all, my 4-year-old does not blaspheme God, my 2-year-old is hardly sexually promiscuous, and the dirtiest thing my baby does is fill his diapers.

However, I couldn't get past the deeper message that the text has for every parent. Though the original question has a historical context, the thought it conveys is timeless: Why do you give all your best to your children and give Me second place?

There I was, desperately needing a break from serving my children, when God took the opportunity to tell me how much I needed to be with Him. He wants my relationship with Him to supersede every other relationship in my life, including my children.

I really wrestle with this, though. And, as I've informally surveyed other mothers, I have found that it is truly a common struggle. We "good" mothers tend to give all our best to our children, seldom leaving time for ourselves, much less God.

However, regardless of our children's ages or stages, God always demands first place in our hearts. He wants you and me to honor Him more than we honor anyone else.

This is a fine line, because mothering our children well is a way we honor God. Taking care of our children, even going beyond the call of duty for them, is not the issue, though. The heart of the matter is that nobody, not even our kids, should have a higher place in our hearts than God, lest they become our idols.

My children — idols? Your children — idols? It seems almost ludicrous to refer to them that way, yet that is exactly what they become when we honor them more than God. Consider these questions:

Please don't read me wrong. I am not suggesting that we become such spiritual legalists that we ignore the realities of motherhood. Teaching the alphabet, cooking healthfully and involving our kids in sports are excellent things to do. Figuring out how to be the best mom possible is good and admirable.

However, we cannot — indeed, we must not — allow these pursuits for our children to minimize our pursuit for God. We cannot be fooled into thinking that all the great things we do as moms are more important than being intimate with God. The stakes are too high, for we risk our families becoming like Eli's if we put our children before God. He must have the highest place of honor in our hearts.

It took that day of absolute frustration and exhaustion for me to be reminded of this. Since that hallmark day, I've begun asking God this question each morning: "Lord, how can I put You first today?"

When you and I ask God that question, we must obey whatever He tells us, whether it's to home school our kids, take them to the library, minister to a neighbor or even spend time alone. It is amazing the strength that He will give us when we carry out His plans for our lives. By seeking God first, all the many aspects of our lives will fall into place, for our good and His glory.

Nothing will make our homes radiate more than His presence. Nothing will enhance our children's development more than having mothers who really know God. And nothing will make us better mothers than giving our Lord first place in our lives. It all comes down to a question of honor.

Whom are you honoring most today?


Mistress of the Universe: Learning to Let Go of Control

Releasing your grip on the circumstances in your life and the lives of others is healthy for everyone.

by Karen Marchant

Oops. I did it again. The words shot out of my mouth before I could stop them. My need to micromanage my 15-year-old son took over the rational part of me that knows trying to control him doesn't work.

"Mom, I can handle it!" John shot back at me. My reminder to put his lunch in his backpack, meet with his teacher after school, and take a coat was met with annoyance.

I've attempted many times to remind, nudge, suggest, motivate, direct … okay, control my husband and three kids. I've tried to affect the outcome of nearly every circumstance, and secretly wanted to control the entire universe. I know that some of you reading this article are "Mistresses of the Universe" just like me.

While I think my crown fits quite nicely most of the time, when I try to dominate the people I love or work with, arranging their schedules and managing everything, I wind up exhausted. I usually feel frustrated and resentful too, because I'm working harder than everyone else.

For you nearly perfect women who don't struggle with control issues, I want to give you a glimpse into the inner life of a Mistress of the Universe. It might help you to understand us and extricate yourselves from our clutches should you happen to run into one of us. For those of you who are Mistresses of the Universe, I'm going to share some things you can do to diminish your fundamental need to manage others.

Mistresses of the Universe (you know who you are) feel compelled to be in charge of everyone and everything. You take responsibility for making sure things go smoothly and are done properly. When you see a job that needs to be done, you usually do it yourself rather than risk it being done less perfectly by someone else.

Mistresses of the Universe say things like "I feel so stressed out all the time. Everyone expects me to do everything. If I don't take care of things, they don't get done." Or "I'm just trying to help." "Let me show you how to do that." "How many times have I told you…?" "Why are you wearing that tie with those pants?" "Don't you think it would be better if you…?" "I just want you to be happy!"

A Mistress of the Universe feels stressed out when her toddler is wearing mismatched socks. She feels enormous concern when she comes home at night to discover that the father of her children has put them to bed in their clothes without a bath. She gets very nervous when she assigns a project to an employee because she wonders if it will be completed on time and done well.

Why do we feel so responsible for everything? Why do we want to control everyone?

In general, women tend to feel more pain associated with their relationships, so some of us use control as a means of avoiding that pain. We try to manage other people and circumstances so we won't feel hurt, nervous, stressed, disappointed or worried.

Dr. Michael Kragt, a licensed psychologist at Grace Counseling in Denver, says that women who were abused as children or who grew up in repressed homes may try to control in order to protect themselves from being hurt again. It's a means of overcompensating for the lack of control they experienced as kids.

Sometimes women mistakenly believe they can get more of what they want by controlling. They believe that no one else will take care of them the way they need to be cared for if they aren't in control of everything. Some perfectionists just want others to comply with their high standards, usually to avoid feeling pain.

"We all want control in some areas, Dr. Kragt says. "But control creates problems when we can't separate what is trivial from what is truly important," he warns. "If control issues and structure take precedence over relationships, then they become problems."

Kragt adds that men feel emasculated when women try to control them. When we try to guilt them with criticism and correction, manipulate them with our hurt feelings, or use our children in power plays to get something we need from them, men feel like failures. When they feel like failures they either lash out in anger or withdraw. Women feel ignored, rejected and disconnected when their men withdraw, but men won't attempt emotional intimacy when they're made to feel incompetent. It's just too risky.

Even our kids can feel hurt by our control, says Kragt. "The difference between controlling and setting appropriate boundaries for kids lies in the answers to two questions: Do your kids get to have unstructured time to be goofy, playful kids? Do you allow them to have their own likes and dislikes?"

Not allowing someone else to make decisions they're perfectly capable of making is controlling. Expecting others to like what you like and do things the same way you do is controlling. Criticizing with the intent of provoking shame in others in order to get what you want is controlling.

If you are a Mistress of the Universe who wants to take off your crown, try the following suggestions:

When I took off my crown and gave up my title of Mistress of the Universe, I didn't lose power. I gained it. And I gained more self-respect and dignity. My ability to positively influence my husband and others has increased, while my level of frustration has decreased. God has done some amazing things in my life. He has met needs that I thought would never be taken care of when I gave Him control, and I know He will do the same for you.


Sssh... I Need Quiet!

Are you feeling frazzled and overwhelmed? Spend a few minutes being quiet.

by Karen Marchant

I remember those seemingly endless "diaper days." The ones that began and ended in a blur of noise and activity as I kept my children fed, safe and clean. By 8 a.m., I was already looking forward to naptime, when I could have some much-needed time for myself.

Yet when naptime finally arrived, I rarely gave myself permission to rest. The laundry, dusty tabletops and dirty bathrooms screamed for my attention.

In Come to the Quiet, author Denise George encourages women to seek solitude and time with the Lord every day, because noise and busyness are the greatest enemies of our souls. Women expend a great amount of energy caring for their families, and we need time to be replenished and refreshed.

With so many women complaining of fatigue, why do we choose to be exhausted rather than allow God to refresh us? In our society, George says, women are often judged, admired and celebrated according to what they are able to accomplish.

"Christian women are 'do-ers,' and we feel guilty if we stop and rest," she says. "We have many responsibilities as single women, wives and mothers. But if we look at Jesus' own work/rest example, we find that Jesus kept a balanced life. He spent time with people yet often trekked to the wilderness to enjoy solitude in His prayer time. He worked, yet rested when He was tired."

Sometimes we don't realize just how exhausted we've become, or how many days have passed since we've spent time with God. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if you're overdue for quiet time:

If you're like millions of women who feel physically and emotionally exhausted as well as spiritually depleted, there is hope. Jesus wants an intimate relationship with you and promises to carry your burdens so you'll feel recharged and ready to face each new day.

When we take a break from our daily chores to spend time with Him, we're able to accomplish more, not less. I invite you to turn off the noise, drop everything for a little while and simply be with Him. Jesus is waiting to hold you, soothe your frazzled nerves and talk to you like a close friend.


The Mom You're Meant to Be

It's important for moms to have the confidence and support they need to connect with their kids.

by Cheri Fuller

All moms experience moments when they feel unequal to the responsibility of motherhood and think: I just can't do this! I don't have the strength and wisdom for raising this child.

Cheri Fuller wants moms to have the confidence and support they need to connect with their kids. The process starts when parents begin to understand their children and value them for who they are. Discover how you can start the connection today.

Understand Your Child's Temperament

From birth onward, people behave and respond in different ways to their surroundings and life experiences. The way we react is largely influenced by our temperaments. You will probably find your child in one or more of the following characteristics of varying temperaments.

Activity level: Does your child like to climb and run? Or does he prefer to read and draw?

Predictability and consistency: How predictable is your child's biological functions, like waking and sleeping, hunger, etc.?

Response to new situations: What is his first response to unfamiliar situations? Does he act anxious until he has tried it a few times or does he jump in enthusiastically?

Flexibility: Does he adapt if you're out together and he has to nap later?

Sensitivity to sudden sounds and textures: Does he startle easily, awaken to small sounds or complain about clothes irritating his skin? Or does it take more noise and discomfort before he reacts?

Positive or negative mood: When he was a baby, did he wake up in a happy mood or cry and fuss?

High- or low-intensity emotions: Is your child easygoing or does he protest and cry when frustrated?

Easily distracted or highly focused: Does your baby want his bottle (or older, want to finish his game) and can't be distracted from that desire? If so, he's probably a more focused child.

Attention span and persistence level: Does your child have a long attention span and keep persevering when working on a puzzle until it's completed. Or does he give up when frustrated?

Discover Your Child's Learning Style

Imagine you're reading from a book with the repeated refrain "and the rabbit went hop, hop, hop." Does you're child:

Pass on a Love of Learning

A child catches a love of learning from a parent who likes to find things out and enjoys learning. It's not that hard to be a good example in this way. Try these suggestions:

Continue to learn. If you don't know something, head for the library with your child. Let her see you check out the computerized card catalog, ask the library staff for help and find resources.

Write and read. When you write a letter, explain to your kids what you're doing. If you're an avid reader, let your kids hear you laugh when you read the Sunday comics.

Admit when you're wrong. Even in your shortcomings, you can be a good role model. When your kids see you learn from your weaknesses, they learn how to handle their own failures. They will be more likely to risk making mistakes so they can grow, knowing they have their parents' support.


Delighting in Your Children

When prayer is part of your daily routine, your kids learn the value of going to God with the little and the big things.

by Cheri Fuller

Teach Your Child to Pray

When prayer is a natural part of your day-to-day routine, your kids learn the value of going to God with little things as well as the big things.

"Lord, thank You that I can do all things (even my math homework) because You give me strength."

Listen to Your Child

A mom was preparing dinner when her little boy, Matt, asked, "Are you listening, Mommy?"

"Sure," his mom said as she turned off the mixer and started setting the table.

Matt stopped her. He put his hands on her cheeks and said, "But Mommy, would you listen with your face?"

Many of us are like that mother. When I realized how deficient I was in this area, I made listening one of my goals. I haven't arrived, but I have discovered some ways to improve:

Make eye contact and pay attention to your child's words, feelings and body language.

Start small. Instead of aiming to listen to your child or husband for an hour, start with a goal of five minutes a day.

Be available to talk at odd times, day and night.

Be willing to talk about sensitive subjects without overreacting. When you overreact to what your kids share, they tend to clam up and not tell you anything significant.

Ask open-ended questions. They encourage thought and communication, and they don't have a right or wrong answer.

Practice active listening. Active listening doesn't judge everything that comes out of your child's mouth. Instead of saying, "I don't know why you feel so angry," say, "It sounds like you're mad and hurt. I understand that." Let your child know he's heard before you offer a solution.

Silently pray for your child while she's talking about a problematic situation or conflict. Ask God to give you wisdom and show you how to respond.

Delight in Your Child's Wonder

Have you ever responded with "later" to one of your kid's discoveries? Has your sense of wonder faded between the pages of your planner or been replaced by practicality and busyness? Here are some ways to stir up your wonder:


Next Steps and Related Information

Additional resources for mothers

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