Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

Rethinking the Spirituality of Motherhood

Rethinking the Spirituality of Motherhood

Motherhood is a great blessing ... but it also can be a heavy burden to bear. It's an important ministry ... but it's not the only way women can serve God well. All too often, the evangelical culture makes women feel as if they're failures if they can't be "perfect mothers." But that standard is a cultural one, not a biblical one.

God doesn't want unrealistic cultural expectations to leave you in bondage to fear or guilt. His desire is for you to grow in all aspects of your life. Doing so will make you a better mom - and even more importantly, a better person.

Here's how you can escape the "cult of the family" and practice motherhood in a biblical way:

Find your worth in the right place. Don't base your sense of personal value on your role as a mother. Instead, realize that your ultimate worth comes from your relationship with God. Know that God loves you deeply and unconditionally because you're one of His children. Take heart: God's love for you isn't based on your success as a mother. He will always love you, no matter what.

Ditch the 1950s cultural model of family life and embrace timeless biblical values. Recognize that the model of a family where the father earns the sole source of income and the mother stays home cheerfully with several well-behaved children and a family pet in an immaculate suburban home is based on the cultural standard of one small period in American history - the 1950s - and not on any biblical mandate. Don't let this "cult of the family" pressure you to conform your life to it if God has a different plan for your particular family.

Look beyond your home to the broader community. Realize that God has more for you to do in life than just focus on your own children. Understand that, while raising your children is an important ministry, it's just a part of how God wants you to use your talents to contribute to the world.

The "cult of the family" often pressures mothers to focus all their energies on their own families. But the Bible encourages all people - no matter what their circumstances in life - to bring God's love into the wider community around them. Ask God how He would like you to serve Him in specific ways that don't relate to parenting. Then make time on a regular basis to do so.

Make following the call of the gospel your top priority, rather than automatically doing only what's best for your own family. Be willing to put God first in your life - and your family second. Let your children see that they are part of something bigger than your family; let them see your faith in action as you follow where God leads.

Don't try to fit yourself into a cookie cutter. Understand that the Bible doesn't require a certain style of parenting or a certain set of behaviors for all mothers everywhere. Resist pressure to make certain parenting decisions (homeschooling or not, spanking or not, etc.) just because other Christian women you know do so. Know that God wants you to respect the unique way He has wired you and trust Him for guidance that fits your individual life and family situation.

Accept that what works for one family may not work for yours. Focus on following God's will for each of your unique children (according to his or her personality) rather than just whatever parenting methods are popular. Focus on building close relationships with your children rather than any particular outward expression of parenting.

Be honest about your feelings. Know that it's okay to admit that sometimes motherhood isn't bliss. It's natural to feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities sometimes. It's also natural to experience a wide range of emotions, including fear, loneliness, anger, and guilt. Realize that some mothers go through depression as well.

Be honest about your real thoughts and feelings. If you're depressed, don't be ashamed about seeking the help you need, from a counselor, a pastor, a medical doctor, a support group, and trusted friends. Support and encourage your fellow mothers whenever they share their true thoughts and feelings with you. Serve others to take your focus off yourself.

Don't confuse servanthood with servitude. Understand that you need to take care of yourself well before you can take care of others. Realize that your own needs are just as important as those of your children and husband. Get help with chores around the house, and take regular breaks from housework so you can build a close relationship with God through prayer. Make time on a regular basis to get adequate sleep, exercise, and recreation. Invest in meaningful friendships; understand that they are vital, no matter how busy you are.

Trust your children's lives to God. Stop striving to be a perfect mother; realize that it's impossible to do so. Recognize the arrogance of believing that your own human actions are necessary for God to act in your children's lives.

Know that God doesn't hold you responsible for the choices your children make of their own free will. Simply do the very best you can raising them while relying on God for strength and wisdom. But don't blame yourself for their mistakes or take undue credit for their successes. Entrust them to the God who made them.

Encourage your church to develop a multifaceted women's ministry. Let your church leaders know that you'd like to be treated as a Christian rather than simply as a mother. Ask them to schedule Bible studies, activities, events, and meetings in a way that makes it possible for all women to participate (including working mothers and single women). Ask them to provide childcare at all church functions, no matter how small or what time of day they're held. Help your church understand and appreciate the perspective of women who work outside the home, and to minister to their spiritual and emotional needs rather than just focusing on stay-at-home moms.

Don't be afraid of childcare. Understand that caring childcare can be a tremendous blessing to parents and children alike. Look for loving, responsible adults who will enrich your children's life as caretakers so you can have the breaks you need.

Discern true guilt versus false guilt. If you work outside the home, you likely struggle with working mother's guilt. But if that guilt is just a vague feeling that somehow you're letting your children down, it's likely false guilt that comes from cultural pressure to stay home. If the guilt is coming from God, it will be targeted toward something specific. You'll know exactly why you're feeling guilty, and what you're supposed to do about it to be obedient to God. If God leads you to work outside the home, do so, knowing that you're contributing in valuable ways to His work in the world.

Learn from motherhood. Stop thinking of motherhood as something you do or something you are. Instead, view it as a practice through which you're shaped more and more into the person God wants you to become. Understand that motherhood isn't just about forming your children's character; it's about God forming your character so you can become more like Him. Trust that God will use your mistakes to help you grow. Realize that your family isn't an end in itself; It's a tool God uses to fulfill His greater purposes.

Enjoy motherhood! Use your experiences as a mother to build closer relationships with God and each of your children. Enjoy the time you spend together, trusting that God will work to accomplish what's best for you and your family.

Adapted from The Myth of the Perfect Mother: Rethinking the Spirituality of Women, copyright 2004 by Carla Barnhill. Published by Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Mich.,

Carla Barnhill (M.A., University of Edinburgh) has served as an editor for Campus Life, the Teen Devotional Bible, and Raising Your Teen Without Losing Your Mind. She has been published in Books and Culture and Christianity Today and received a Gold Medallion Award for Blessings Every Day. She is currently the editor of Christian Parenting Today and the mother of two children.