This week, my friend and I were visiting and taking advantage of the beautiful sunny weather with a total of eight children between the two of us. Two of the older boys were playing on a playground within sight of my house. As we finished up our visit, I ran out to collect them, and another mom stopped me,
“Do you know that young man?” She indicated my son, Benjamin.
“Because he is cutting the trees with a knife.” She said this in a very injured tone, as if she was telling me that he had been cutting her own child. Immediately, I felt the sting of shame because I hadn’t been out there with Ben. I walked the boys back to the house, directing Ben to put the butter knife back in my silverware drawer and explaining to him why I didn’t want any of my silverware traveling outside. (I didn’t say anything about the trees because I’m pretty sure they can defend themselves against a butter knife.)
Mom-judging is inevitable. It will always happen, even in the best of scenarios and the best of friends and the best of hearts. But it doesn’t mean we need to get stuck in a quagmire of doubt over the question, “Am I doing it right?”
Every mother wonders this. Am I doing it right? But the problem with this question is that at all times and all places and all seasons, the answer is both yes and no. At any given time, I am choosing both sacrificially in one place and selfishly in another. Every day is filled with too many choices for them to all be checked “Best.”
That’s when we need to realize that we’re asking the wrong question. Am I doing it right? will only ever torment because it can never be fully and finally answered. What we should ask instead is this:
Am I doing the best I can with what I have and what I know?
This is a better question because it does not reduce the art of mothering into an equation with one possible answer. This question still allows us to grow. It allows us to receive new information without guilt over the past. I didn’t know better then, but now I do. Now I can change.
Cultures across the world display the endlessly creative ways to be a mom. Am I doing the best I can with what I have and what I know? opens up space for all the vast differences between us: single, divorced, working, homeschooled, public schooling, wealthy, poor, educated, and every demographic of life. It’s the only question that saves us from harshly judging both ourselves and other moms.
We can answer this question with Yes! Yes I am. or No, I can do better than this! This is not who I want to be.
And if we find within ourselves a gap between what we’re doing and what we know, we make adjustments: small, purposeful. Maybe big and radical. We do our best to learn and grow. We focus on the journey rather than arrival. And maybe we say, “This is the best I can do right now, even though I want to grow. This is my season just to hold steady. Next season, I’ll plant abundantly, but I need to lie fallow for a spell.”
And here’s why I believe we can ask this better question: Because I believe grace fills the cracks.
We have a good-sized crack in the stones surrounding our front door. I don’t know how the crack happened; I could not have prevented it. But my dad came yesterday and used some caulk and the right tools to fill and seal the crack.
We all have cracks in our parenting. All of us. And most likely, we could not have known how to prevent these cracks. Perhaps they came from our parents before us or their parents before them. We can’t know what we need to know before we know it. But we have a Father like my father who has the right tools (the substitutionary atonement of Christ) and the right substance (grace) to fill and seal our cracks.
I believe this 100% and that’s why I am asking myself a better question.
Maybe you will join me?