Hettie Brittz: Why is this not enough for me? Why—am I selfish that I have these other dreams? Am I—you know, didn’t I hear the Lord correctly? Why can’t I just make peace with the fact that kids are now my life and this is what God has for me?
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Sharing from her heart about some of those internal struggles and questions that she had to wrestle with once she became a mom, that’s Hettie Brittz. And she’s with us today. You’ll hear about her internal struggles and how you can discover and maximize your personality as a mom on today’s “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Focus President, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we’re two dads who are going to try to involve ourselves today in a discussion about motherhood.
John: We are married to moms.
Jim: We are married to moms, but motherhood, as you look at it from a husband’s perspective, it’s an amazing journey, you know–
John: I couldn’t do it.
Jim: –yeah, in so many ways. And the same is true for me. But God has uniquely designed, you, Mom, to be the exact mom that your kids need, and there is no accident there. I often think about that with Jean and the boys, you know, that the Lord knew exactly how He was going to orchestrate this, and unfortunately, so many moms feel inadequate in every way. One of the things I love about moms—and women in general—is they’re quick to look at themselves, I think much quicker than men do. They’ll look at the log in their eyes. Men, we typically look at the log in the other guy’s eye, but for women, they look inside their own hearts, and I think for moms they do that all the time: am I being the mom I need to be? Am I doing the things I need to do? We’re going to talk about your mom style today and how to maximize those strengths and hopefully understand and know those weaknesses and how to manage them.
John: And Hettie Brittz is a speaker and author and really one of the foremost voices in offering parenting advices from a biblical perspective in South Africa. In fact, she speaks for our Focus on the Family South Africa office. And she and her husband, Louis, have three children, and she’s the author of (un)Natural Mom: Why You Are The Perfect Mom For Your Kids.
Jim: Hettie, it is great to have you here at Focus on the Family.
Hettie: Thank you, Jim and John. It’s great to be here.
Jim: Well, in the title [of your book], un, and you put that in parenthesis, (Un)Natural Mom, you didn’t see yourself as a good mom.
Hettie: No, I didn’t, for a long time. And I made mistakes right at the outset. I always wanted to be a mom. I come from a very happy family. I have three brothers. Always wanted a big family. Got married young, wanted kids right away. I had to have a really serious negotiation with my husband to reach an agreement that after five years we’ll start a family. And then I sat him down when the five years were up and I said, “Honey, it’s time.” So I was ready, but then nothing came naturally for me. I didn’t think of bathing my own baby. I didn’t enjoy getting up in the middle of the night. I struggled with breast feeding. Nothing felt right about it–
Jim: Nothing felt natural.
Hettie: –or easy. No. It just didn’t fit. It felt like it didn’t fit my design as a mom.
Jim: Hettie, what were some of those early struggles? You went through a couple quickly there, struggling with bathing your child. I mean that’s pretty natural, isn’t it?
Hettie: Not if you did all of the classes up front. I went to the classes, which is the responsible thing to do. I did all the preparation. And I thought child care and nurturing would just flow from that readiness because of all the information that I had downloaded. I knew everything about childhood development; it was part of my studies as speech pathology, so I expected parenting to just be easy.
Jim: That it would come to you naturally.
Hettie: Yes. But it stopped me in my tracks. My daughter didn’t respond to me the way I thought she would. I couldn’t comfort her.
Jim: As a newborn.
Hettie: Yes. And I couldn’t read the signs. I never knew—is she tired? Is she hungry? What is going on? Is she in pain?
Jim: And that made you feel like a failure. That made you feel like a failure.
Hettie: Absolutely. When we had this puppy in the house—or actually not a puppy at that time. We got the puppy when I struggled to fall pregnant as a sort of replacement for the baby I was struggling to have. And that little dog would run to the crib when our baby cried at night. Before I could even get there, she was there, jumping up against the crib. And a few weeks later she started lactating and we took her to the vet and we asked, “Why is this dog lactating? She can’t be expecting little pups. It’s not possible. She’s too young.” And the vet said, “No, they tend to do that where there is an animal that cannot feed their own young, then they step in there.” And I took it so personally because I absolutely felt that the dog was more natural than I was.
Jim: That’s amazing.
Hettie: She was lactating because I wasn’t doing well. She wanted to take over the mommy role in my house, and she’s a dog.
Jim: Wow. That’s phenomenal.
Hettie: There were a lot of painful things right there, because just about two years later when we had our son and he was crawling about the house, my daughter went after him. She tried to hurt him and harm him, and I thought there was something wrong with her and I took her to a therapist for an evaluation. And the therapist spent some time with her and then brought her back and said, “You know what? There’s nothing wrong with your daughter, but you haven’t bonded with her, because she doesn’t know who you want to be in her life.”
And it felt like a finger in my eye when she said, “She wants to know if you really want to be her mom. Do you?” And then I had to take stock, because at that point I had a babysitter who loved doing all of the stuff I didn’t enjoy doing who could comfort her, who could sit for hours on the carpet and just–
Jim: This was your nanny.
Hettie: Yes. And I had delegated my role as a mom to who I perceived to be a more natural mom than I was, not understanding that I am God’s Plan A mom for this particular child, and I had to figure it out.
Jim: How did you come around to figuring it out? How long did it take?
Hettie: That confrontation, it was immediate because that therapist, when she said, “Do you want to be her mom,” I had a moment where I cried out to the Lord and I said, “Lord, I will figure out this journey back into relationship with my daughter if it kills me—and it probably will. But you need to tell me what to do,” because everything that therapist told me to do with my daughter was stuff I knew was going to be a stretch for me.
She said, “Get into the bath with your daughter for half an hour at least.” That was skin to skin time.
Jim: And how old was your daughter?
Hettie: Two and a half.
Jim: Two and a half years old.
Hettie: And I thought, “No, I can bath and dress her in five minutes flat. I don’t need half an hour for this. I don’t have time for this.” But those investments in that skin-to-skin time was perfect, because my daughter’s personality needed that. And my personality didn’t have any concept of why somebody would need that, because I don’t need that. And that journey of figuring out how to love my child authentically from who I am but meeting her very valid needs where she is, that became my mothering journey, and the journey that I like to support moms on, because I’m not the only one.
Jim: Why do women particularly do that comparison game? I think men do it, too. We do it on job title; we do it on physique, you know. You look at a guy who’s been lifting weights. You’re going, ah, it’d take me a year.
John: Yeah, right.
Jim: In the old days.
John: We don’t express—I think we’re not expressive about it, though, Jim.
Jim: No, we don’t, but we notice. We’ll see—I mean, I think. But women, you’re right, there’s more layers to it. It’s action, it’s activity. What were those attributes of the supernatural mom that were intimidating you, so the women listening can connect to that?
Hettie: To me, the supermom had it easy throughout her pregnancies, she breast-fed easily and for I think two years I felt was more or less the average. She looked completely content whenever she was with her kids, never frustrated with them, never wanting anything outside of family, always feeling completely fulfilled by being busy with the kids. And she naturally could discipline and nurture and fulfill all of these roles and still had that spare energy and capacity to be an awesome wife, to be involved in the church, to bake, to cook, to sew. You know, it’s more or less the Proverbs 31 woman that we’re confronted with every Mother’s Day.
Jim: Well, in your—you’re a professional woman. You’re out speaking and writing. You’re an author. So you have that other side. You know here in the States, a lot of Christian women now are not only doing those responsibilities and hopefully sharing them with their husband, but they are also vocationally engaged, maybe both have work, etc. We recognize—and like my wife, Jean, she did Biochemistry as her degree, but she, when we got pregnant, when Trent was forming in her womb, we made the decision that she would be at home, and she was good with that. Talk about that tear, that you want to be a professional, you want to achieve something, yet you have this call to be a mom, to be a wife.
Hettie: Yeah, and that brings us to a place where you need to ask, “Is it a spiritual flaw in me that makes this journey uncomfortable–”
Jim: Huh. How would you–?
Hettie: –or is it a design?” Because I thought it was a spiritual flaw, and because you can’t think why–
Jim: What would be the flaw?
Hettie: — am I just not content? Why is this not enough for me? Why am I selfish that I have these other dreams? Didn’t I hear the Lord correctly? Why can’t I just make peace with the fact that kids are now my life and this is what God has for me?But when I can understand what in me wants to run out quickly and do something outside of the house, and how can I manage that part of me? And I think the core issue, the reason why we compare, the reason why we feel inferior is because we forget that in everything God does, there is a divine design. In the church, not everybody is the shepherd, not everybody’s the teacher, not everybody’s a prophet. And in a community, not everybody is the mother hen. Not everybody is the queen of the bake sale. Not everybody is the teacher deluxe.
Jim: The home room mom.
Hettie: Yes. There are certain roles assigned, and if I can make peace with that, then I can say, “You know what, honey? Hang in there. It’s just another 18 years.” Or I can say to myself, “You know what? I can make this work because what I will do is I will figure out a way to have the fulfillment of the needs that I have without harming my family. And I will be open about it and I will not be shamed about it, but I will sit with my husband and I will sit with my support system and I will figure out a way.
And I don’t believe we can have it all. I believe the feminists lie to us a little bit there. We can’t have it all at once. But we can, through timing and planning, structure a life in a way where our kids’ needs are met, our husband is supported and we are his helper, and we also flourish in a way.
Jim: Well, and it’s that pendulum effect in life that so often we’re looking for that perfect spot to be following God’s heart specifically, but there’s different seasons in life, and God will take you through those seasons.
You’ve done something I think really interesting here. You take the personalities, and many of us have done personality profile tests—the DISC test, Meyers-Briggs, these are familiar to some people—but these kind of put you in a bucket to say this is your personality type. It’s not to cast you in only one direction, but you have certain probably God-breathed designs. And it’s interesting to me that humanity can be put into those broader buckets, right? But you’ve now done this with trees and labeling our behavioral side with associating them with trees. Tell me about about those styles so people can understand what we’re talking about. You talk about boxwood. That’s not a common name here in the States, so what is the boxwood tree, and then how does it apply to our personality type?
Hettie: In South Africa we call them lollipops, and I hear that’s a name you don’t use here either.
Jim: We eat lollipops.
Hettie: Exactly. We do a little bit, too, but the boxwood trees are a shrub that you can shape into a tree with a little ball on top or three balls that are on one another. Or you can shape it into hedges. And that is a key characteristic of these moms. They will let you shape them into whatever you need them to be. So they read the books, they listen to this broadcast, they took the courses and they copy/paste from that into their lives and they believe these directions are, in fact, the 11th and the 12th and the 13th commandment. This is how thou shalt be.
Jim: So they follow the rules.
Hettie: They do, and they raise kids accordingly. And so they are moldable. They like boundaries. They like the perfectionism of this perfectly round shape. And then we have the pine tree mom. She is a peacemaker. You know, if you walk into a pine tree forest, you inhale the lovely, calming fragrance that hangs in the woods there and you want to spread out the blanket and have a picnic with your family. You want everybody to be there. There is this cool calm around this type of mom. She is the one I envy the most. She is the one I looked up to growing up as the natural mom.
John: Because she seems to have it all together?
Hettie: Yes, and she’s content and she has the patience that I had to work hard on—God had to work hard on in me, but this pine tree mom, clearly because of this love of harmony, would be challenged with tasks such as setting a strict routine, doling out consequences when they are required. That’s going to be tough for a peacemaker, one can imagine.
And then the rose bush moms have the flowers and the thorns, and that’s always the dichotomy here, because this is the go-getter mom, and this is the mom who sometimes feels as though parenting is an interruption of her life. She was on full speed and now she’s, you know, all brakes are on.
Hettie: Everything takes twice as long, and at the end of the day she has nothing to show for a whole day–
Jim: And that upsets her.
Hettie: –of washing diapers. Yes, it’s frustrating for this mom, but this mom, on the bright side, has this justice and this striving to make a difference, this confidence, this fearlessness that she puts into her kids.
Jim: Yeah. Now you, okay, so the palm tree?
Hettie: You want us to get to the palm tree for a particular reason, I suspect, because we have some palm trees in this office and we have palm trees are the moms everyone wants to be, because they are the happy-go-lucky mom. They enjoy the kids. They don’t sweat the small stuff. They forget, you know, to pack the things for the camp and they just, upon arrival, go, “I’m sure somebody will have something extra for you, honey. It’s not a problem. Just smile and—”
Jim: So just take life as it comes.
Hettie: Yes, absolutely. And this mom seems to raise happy kids, even though she doesn’t follow the rules, and it seems unfair to some of us boxwood moms that somebody could not play by the rules and have fun doing it and have great kids.
Jim: For the boxwood mom, yeah, I love the analogies here. We’ve got to really make sure that people are grabbing that boxwood mom who’s a rule-follower, who thinks to herself, If I do all these things, A, B, C, then I get D, what are some of the strengths of the boxwood mom?
Hettie: Oh, there are beautiful things. The boxwood mom has that detail-minded approach, so she teaches manners. She helps her kids understand boundaries. And boundaries are the basis for all relationships, for all respect. They also hold up the standard of the law, which on first glance could be a negative thing.
Jim: So they’re the law-givers.
Hettie: They are the law-givers, like Moses, but we all need to look in the mirror of the law before we can realize that we need a Savior.
Jim: What’s the downside for the boxwood mom?
Hettie: Just that it’s hard for her to lighten up and to focus on the heart of her child and the bigger picture. She gets bogged down by all the details, and she sees the mistakes. She’s the quality controller, so it’s hard for her to miss what the kids don’t yet do right and and she remembers her own mistakes by date and time and what she was wearing and which words she wishes she could take back.
Jim: Which mom were you, and are you still in that spot and managing those things better or what?
Hettie: I’m a combination of rose bush and boxwood, so I’m very work and task minded, so I constantly need a new revelation of grace which I can pass on to my kids. But I couldn’t embrace that until I made peace with who I am and celebrated the strengths in my make-up. And my make-up matches my kids. I shared earlier with Jim that we have every type of ADHD and ADD and the dreamy kind and the run around the house so fast you look like a fence kind. We have it all in our home. And my propensity for structure and rules and routine is something that saved my kids and is still saving them. So I had to embrace that before I could say, “Okay, Lord, there are some things I do well because of what you’ve put in me, but there are things where I hurt my kids. What can I do better?”
But you cannot confront a mom and just tell her to change; it’s like uprooting a tree and putting it somewhere else. You first have to give the fertilizer, yes.
Jim: So husbands need to hear what you’re saying.
Hettie: You need to fertilize, and that’s where the message comes in, how to love these moms, how to acknowledge them, how to encourage them all.
John: Hettie Brittz is our guest on today’s “Focus on the Family,” and she’s talking about some of the content in her book, (un)Natural Mom: Why You Are The Perfect Mom For Your Kids. We’ve got details about the book and a CD or download of today’s broadcast at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call. Our number is 1-800, A-FAMILY.
Jim: Hettie,you have three kids now and one is 17, your daughter; a son 15, another daughter who’s 10, so you’re in the middle of it all. In fact, they’re traveling with you. I hope to meet them later. But in that context, as the boxwood mom—and we’re zeroing in on that one for now; we’ll cover the others in a moment—what is the damage that can be done?
When you talk about being highly structured, my wife is much like that, the boxwood mom. She’s a science-thinking type of person, which I think you are as well. One of my sons does not like structure; he’s just not a guy that leans into structure. My other son loves structure. You give me structure, I get straight A’s, I know what I’ve got to do and I’ll do it before you even want it done. The other son, not so much. Talk about that tension that can be created I guess in the broader personality scope that would be the boxwood mom with a palm tree son or daughter. That can create some conflict.
Hettie: It absolutely can, because the boxwood mom believes there is one right way to do something, so that inflexibility in how she approaches raising the kids is tricky, because sometimes the first-born child loves that structure, and it’s the proof to this mom that she’s doing it all correctly. And then the second child comes and doesn’t like the structure, and the whole system breaks down. And we get more aggressive when things are not orderly, so the boxwood mom tends to become a little insulting, a little critical when things don’t go her way.
Jim: Yeah. How have you learned to pull back from that tendency? How do you ratchet down that intensity toward your children when they are not going it God’s way—oh, I mean your way. (Laughter)
Hettie: Yeah, there’s a difference between the two sometimes. Yes. That was a very sensitive point you just [made]. I have to pray every single day that the Lord would help me hold my tongue with my kids. Every single day I bite back. I had to do it this morning, because I stepped into the adjacent hotel room and clothes were strewn on the floor and they had another half an hour before checkout. And I had to remind myself, this is your palm rose daughter. She can pack it up in 30 seconds.
Hettie: But if you’re going to tell her to do it, it’s likely it is going to be an issue, so just bite your tongue.
Jim: Just don’t say anything. You know it’ll get done in the last 30 seconds.
Hettie: Yes. The only thing I did, as we passed them in the lobby (they were doing homework there) I just passed and I said, “Okay, so Dad will pick up the suitcases at 11:00,” and I saw her flinching a little, calculating that she may need to get over there and get going. But she needs less direction.
My oldest daughter, is a very laid pine tree. She is almost entirely pine, and I have zero percent pine, so I have to be intentional about every single thing. I need to sit down when I speak to her; otherwise, I seem like a school principal. I need to sit down, I need to slow down my speech, I need to physically touch her and be a safe person; otherwise, she can’t hear me. She puts up a wall.
When you were talking—that cuts pretty close to home, doesn’t it, when you talk about the hotel room and clothes strewn all over. I think I had about 14 arguments in the last 3 weeks on that one. But how do we, after years of parenting, when do we learn to actually back off with the right child, engage the other child? I mean it gets complicated.
Hettie: Yes, but when we understand that kids have a design and we have a design and our assignment was never to break this design, we are to prune it gently into a work of art. But God has put the basics in there. Once we accept that and we stop trying to change them into us, which is cloning, not parenting, then the joy starts happening.And also when I can look at my pine tree daughter and say she gives me peace. She gives me that reminder to stop and smell the flowers. What do I like about my rose bush kid? What do I like about my palm tree? And when I can truly embrace the greatness that is in the design of my kids and in my husband, then it becomes an adventure.
Jim: Hettie, I want to touch before we end today, I want to touch on the palm tree mom. You mentioned her briefly. She sounds like the life of the party.
Jim: I think my mom was that way. I think my mom was the palm tree mom. But describe that once again and talk about strengths and weaknesses.
Hettie: There’s a child mom that doesn’t ever really grow up, so the beauty is that child keeps playing with the kids, because it wants to play. That mom still knows how to play. This is a mom who will never kill a dream. She stirs dreams in her children’s hearts because she doesn’t have the checklist that the boxwood mom has of the seven reasons why this can’t possibly work out for you.
So the palm tree mom embraces the potential in her children. She usually doesn’t see their mistakes. She usually sees what’s great about them, and when other people complain about their kids, she goes, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and we have to bite our tongue because we want to point it out to her because we see the mistakes in her kids, but she does not.
This mom has the joy of the Lord. She has a beautiful encouragement. It is so easy for her to forgive and move on and show her children God’s grace. I think that’s the thing I envy the most about the palm tree mom is that ability to just forget and say, “You know, sweetie, that’s in the past.”
Jim: It sounds, in that description of the palm tree mom, a lot like God’s character. I mean I’m sure He’s in all of these, but the palm tree mom seems to have the best of that fruit.
Hettie: Yeah, I think that palm tree behavior of Christ with these disciples—eating, having friends that were a bit questionable, not washing their hands, just diving into the meal—it seems like palm tree behavior to me, like the joy of life that He was criticized for the most, isn’t it?
Jim: It’s so true.
Hettie: And we look at these palm tree moms and we say, “Yeah, she should try harder. She should discipline better. She should be stricter.”
Jim: Her house is so messy.
Hettie: Yes. She should sort out these kids. But there’s something of that wide-open space of grace that kids can play in that she gives, like palm trees everywhere.
Jim: That is so good. There is more to cover on this topic. Hettie, you have really opened up many people’s eyes in terms of who am I as a mom and what do need to be aware of and where do I need to go? We’re going to have to cover some more territory next time.
John: And in the meantime we’ll invite you to stop by our website and to look for Hettie’s book, (un)Natural Mom, get the CD or download, our mobile app so you can listen to this again on the go. All of that at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call us, 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: You know John, I was really impressed. We did research not long ago. We asked people how we are impacting them. Seven hundred forty thousand moms and dads said in the last 12 months we have helped them to build stronger, healthier, more God-honoring families, and Hettie, you’re a part of this, coming on the broadcast, helping moms with the tools they need to think through how they are parenting right now and am I in a healthy place? Or maybe you’re feeling a little conviction right now and you’re not in that healthy place. We are here for you at Focus on the Family. That’s why we exist. So we want you to contact us. And I think, John, for a gift of any amount, if you can just send a gift to help us, we want to send you a copy of Hettie’s book, (Un)Natural Mom, to put that tool in your hands. And I would encourage you to do it. It’s going to help you. And Hettie, we’re going to come back next time and continue this discussion. If I’m that boxwood mom, the rules-following mom, and my kids are driving me nuts, what’s one thing I could do tonight to change the course?
Hettie: I can thank the Lord that not any of my mistakes or my child’s mistakes will nullify the promises God made for them and their future.
John: That’s a great way to end our program and I’ll encourage you to make a generous donation and share the joy and hope and peace of Christ with families in need this holiday at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or when you call 1-800 the letter A and the word FAMILY.
And make a generous donation today and we’ll send a complimentary copy of Hettie’s book, (UN)natural Mom as our way of saying thanks and putting this great resource into your hands.
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And do plan to be with us next time as we hear more from Hettie Brittz on “Focus on the Family” and once again help you and your family thrive.