Recently a friend sent me an article entitled ‘A tribute to all the wonderful ‘Invisible Moms’ in the world!’ and I, in turn, sent it to many of my friends, especially (but not uniquely) to those who are young moms. I have been really amazed at the responses. First, let me share the article:
It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’
Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I’m invisible. The Invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this??
Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30 – don’t forget!’
I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated ‘with honours’ – but now, they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going, she’s gone!?
One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England . Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe . I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: ‘To my dear friend, Cathy, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’
In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fuelled by their faith that the eyes of GOD saw everything.
A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof, No one will ever see it. And the workman replied, ‘Because GOD sees.’
I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard GOD whispering to me, ‘I see you, My Child. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.’
At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.
When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand-bastes a turkey for 3 hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, ‘You’re gonna love it there.’
As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of all the Invisible Women who ever lived.
The Will of GOD will never take you where the Grace of GOD will not protect you.
Now, here are some of the responses I received:
- HOW timely!!!
- just what I needed to read today.
- Really spoke to me in a week when I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself because of the monotony of my life.
- That was a very timely word for me!
- It was inspirational and feeling rather invisible lately, rather timely.
- This came at such a timely moment.
- The analogy of building cathedrals was a helpful reminder when I needed it!
- That’s exactly how I feel at the moment.
- I am sitting here weeping after just reading about “cathedrals.” How timely your kind reminder.
So why such a response? I’m sure it’s because we Moms can all identify with what’s expressed in the article – we all feel invisible, taken for granted, unappreciated, from time to time (and let me acknowledge here and now that it is, of course, not only moms who can feel like that).
All of us moms were thankful for the encouragement of the article, the reminder of the importance of what we are doing, the analogy of the building of a cathedral, the significance of which is so often lost in the fogginess of the everyday routines of nappy-changing and meals-making and taxi-driving and cleaning and shopping and….so on.
At the same time as this article was going the rounds of my friends – and producing such an overwhelming response – I was asked this question from another friend who is herself a young mom: ‘Any tips from a veteran mother to one who is still a relatively new one?’
I’ve been thinking about that question. My immediate response is ‘Who am I to give tips to anyone?’ I am painfully aware of all of the mistakes I have made in my own parenting journey – and I am also aware that I am not done yet. My girls are 19 and 22 but I’ll be a Mom till the day I die – and there’s a lot could happen between now and then.
But I’m also aware of the frustration I felt as a young Mom looking for tips when all I got was such a reply.
So, having made it clear that I’m no expert but simply a Mom a little further down the road from some of my younger friends, I’m sharing these few thoughts as I look back up the road and wish someone had perhaps shared them with me. Here goes. If anything here helps you, great. If not, don’t worry. I’ll enjoy reminiscing.
- Savour each day. I know young moms get tired of hearing their kids will grow up too soon – but they really do! All too soon the days of having them round your feet will be gone forever, so make the most of each day.
- Make memories for them and have fun with them. Forget about the housework sometimes, don’t worry if the floors aren’t clean – take them out and have fun!
- Let yourself off the hook. OK so you’re not the perfect mom, you blew it, you failed, you lost your temper, whatever. Don’t be afraid to say sorry to your child and to ask for forgiveness – that in itself is a powerful thing – and move on. Failure is never final. Our kids have short memories. We can move on and move beyond the failure. Tomorrow is a new day and, by God’s grace, we are forgiven, the slate is wiped clean and we can begin again.
- Affirm your child, encourage her, affirm her and encourage her – again and again. Contrary to some parental advice, you can never praise your child too much. It will not give her a big head. She will get plenty of knocks elsewhere – make sure she doesn’t get them from you.
- But when discipline is needed, be consistent. She will know if you don’t really mean it so don’t threaten anything you don’t mean to carry out. Love is tough and tender. Be loving but be firm. Carry out discipline in such a way as she is left in no doubt that you love her and what you are doing is for her good in the long run. Express your love for her after the discipline. And never discipline in anger. Deal with your own heart before going after hers.
- Don’t be afraid of your child. I know parents who fear their kids – they are afraid they will throw a tantrum in a public place, they’re afraid they will not like them if they don’t get their own way, they feel they have to keep them happy at all costs. You don’t – and you shouldn’t. You are the parent and your child is the child. Inevitably she will not always know what is good, nor will she always want what is good. So don’t be afraid of that. Little battles won when she is young will save a lot of bigger battles later on.
- Choose your battles – it really isn’t worth fighting about what colour she wears or what hairstyle she prefers – there are much more important battles to fight.
- When someone remarks how big your child is getting, never say ‘Big and bad!’ – that is not – ever – funny!
- Remember that some things you say to your child will remain etched in her memory forever, with the power to steer her course for the rest of her life – for better or for worse. So try to determine her gifts, her strengths, her ‘bent’ – and encourage her in that direction. I believe that this is what is meant by the biblical verse ‘Train up a child in the way (s)he should go and when (s)he is old (s)he shall not depart from it’. You have the power to breathe life-giving words into her which will make her into the woman God has created her to be!
- Remember that your child is not the only one learning – you are learning as much as she is. God has made you her parent but HE is your Father – and He is teaching you as much about Him and as much about you as you are teaching your child. Be constantly on the look out for what He is trying to teach you through your child and be willing to learn from Him. I remember on one occasion I almost blew it with one of my girls. I was on the verge of ‘reading the riot act’ over what I perceived as a rebellious attitude towards me. The script was already written in my head, it was ready to roll off my tongue, and it would have demolished her. Just in time, God whispered in my ear: ‘This isn’t about you – it’s about her – so don’t make it about you.’ And instead of the premeditated speech, I simply asked her ‘Are you alright?’ which diffused the situation and led into a beautifully honest time of sharing the pain that was in her heart. I was very humbled to realise how God had rescued me from me myself.
- Don’t fear the teenage years. I did – and I remember asking someone further down the road ‘What will I do when my girls are teens?’ She very wisely told me: ‘Don’t worry Pauline – you’ll grow with your girls’. I did – and by the time they were teens I loved it – it is, as Paul Tripp says, an ‘Age of Opportunity’ – opportunity to discuss, to debate, to grow and learn together. (One of my biggest tips is to buy and devour that book – and for parents of younger kids – ‘Shepherding a Child’s Heart’.) Of course there are challenges and struggles along the way – but God is greater than them all.
- If you are a Christian mom, don’t leave all the biblical teaching up to the church or to Sunday School. What is learned in the home is so important – and although many things are learned by example, we have to intentionally teach our children too. One resource I found helpful was to go through the book ‘A Woman after God’s own Heart’ with my girls – but of course there are many others as well. Navigator Press do a whole series of age-appropriate sex education books from a Christian viewpoint – I found those particularly helpful as my girls were learning sex education in school.
- You will want to be aware of what they are being taught in school generally, what movies they are watching, what books they are reading, so that you can discuss their content and teach them to think critically and analytically. One well known Christian speaker who visited our home advised us not to prevent the girls from watching movies we might not have agreed with – but to watch them with them so that we could discuss them together.
- Enjoy the ride! Parenting is a roller coaster and I, for one, would choose a merry-go-round over a roller coaster any day! But we don’t have a choice here – once that little baby is born, we become a Mom with all of the joys and sorrows, the highs and lows, that parenting brings. So embrace it, remember God is your Guide, and that most of all what you are called to do is to LOVE your child! You will find – like me – that you actually enjoy the ride! I am so thankful for the journey of motherhood – to God for giving me the map and patiently guiding me along the way; to Alan for being such a constant and faithful co-pilot with me; and to my girls for making the trip such an exciting one! I have learned more from each of you than I could ever have hoped to have taught you.