December 6, 2013
How to Make a Mom Fall Over
I can just picture her. She’s dirty and sweaty from working all day, and hungry because she’s barely had time to sit down and eat. Her clothes are ratty and out of style because she can’t afford to buy new ones. And she’s working a low-class, thankless job that proclaims to the whole world “I’m poor.” And then, here strides up this handsome, wealthy, single man, who just happens to own the field where she’s working, and he looks straight at her. I bet she thought, Fantastic! Could the ground just swallow me up? Because I would like to die. Right. Now.
He must have blown her over when he tells her, “Don’t go anywhere else to work—I want you to stay here in my fields. I’ve told my men to look out for you, and you can stop and drink from my water whenever you need to.” Actually, he did literally blow her over, because it says she “fell on her face, bowing to the ground” for Boaz (Ruth 2:10). Now, to my modern sensibilities, this is just a TAD over-the-top dramatic. I mean, I consider myself fairly dramatic, but I’ve never fallen face down in front of someone. (Well, at least not on purpose. Ahem.)
I read this passage today for the first time since I became a mom, and suddenly Ruth falling on her face when Boaz encouraged her didn’t seem too overly dramatic. I have a lot of moments as a mom where I don’t feel put together. When I’m working hard but don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything, when the only thing hiding my post-baby flab rolls are pajamas I have’t had a chance to change out of, when the ingredients for that gourmet dinner I planned to cook are spoiling in the fridge because I haven’t been able to put the baby down long enough to make anything but spaghetti, when I’m sacrificing for my kids and just HOPE they can sense my love for them.
Instead of pointing out everything Ruth probably thought was wrong about her at that moment, the next thing Boaz says to her is that he’s heard of everything she’s done to take care of her mother-in-law. He basically tells her, “I can see everything you’ve sacrificed and how hard you’re working, and I admire you for it! Let me do what I can to make your life a little bit easier.” I think if someone came up to me and said something similar to me about my life right now, I’d probably have an emotional reaction akin to falling on my face at their feet and weeping. “I can see everything you’re sacrificing and how much you love your kids and husband. I really admire you for it! If there is anything I can do to make your life a bit easier, let me know.”
I’ve read some great articles lately about the “Mommy Wars,” and how easy it is to get hostile towards moms who are parenting differently than we choose to. I get the hostility. I confess I’ve felt it myself. But I recognize that it’s not really hostility, it’s a fear/guilt/self-consciousness mix. Fear: “Oi, that sounds really hard. Do I need to do that?” Guilt: “Would my kids be better off if I did it, too? Am I failing my kids?” Self-consciousness: “Does she think I’m a terrible mom for not doing ____, too?” And this can apply to ANYTHING another mom is doing differently than I am: food, diapers, sleep methods, working out, vaccines, schooling etc, etc. And because we care SO MUCH about making the right decision for our kids, when someone else’s choice makes us slightly doubt our own choices, our natural response is “Defend!” which sometimes turns into “Attack!”
Pick your poison, but basically any different decision can fling me off on a sling-shot roller coaster ride of fear/guilt/self-consciousness. Another mom brilliantly (and hilariously) described this as feeling like other moms are “Parenting AT her.” (“Quit Pointing Your Avocado at Me“)
But I’ve been really challenged lately to allow myself to step off that roller coaster, and do what I can to help my other mom friends get off it, too. I’ve seen what a huge difference just hearing one person say “You’re a great mom” can make. The fact is that, at the heart of our differing decisions lies the same thing: a passionate, self-sacrificing love for our kids and a desire to do what’s best for them.
Interestingly, Boaz didn’t just encourage Ruth, he changed Naomi’s whole outlook, too. She went from being bitterly convinced that God had forsaken her, to blessing God and Boaz for showing them kindness and not abandoning them (Ruth 2:10). Encouraging words are powerful things. You never know how on-the-brink another mom may feel, about life in general or even her faith. One loving, encouraging sentence may be all it takes to give her the strength to not only make it through the day, but feel a sense of joy and fulfillment at the end of it. And a related benefit is that when my brain is focused on encouraging another mom, it’s usually too busy to beat me up for anything.
So, the next time you see a mom who looks gorgeous and put together, instead of beating yourself up for the spit up on your shirt and mascara on only one eye, consider that this might be the first time all week she’s been able to shower, let alone be nicely dressed, and tell her how lovely she looks.
When you hear of a gluten-free mama, instead of beating yourself up over the PB&J your two year old is eating, consider that she might desperately wish her allergic son could eat easy meals like that, and tell her you admire how hard she works to keep him healthy with his unique needs.
When you talk to someone who’s made different vaccine decisions than you, instead of telling her she’s a horrible mom for putting her kids in danger (whether by vaccinating or not), tell her that you admire that she cares enough to do her own research and do what she thinks is best for her child.
When you see the mom in the grocery store whose kid is throwing a tantrum, instead of glaring at her, tell her she’s doing a great job at staying calm and she’s a great mom.
When you stop by your friend’s house unexpectedly and she’s sitting in a disastrous living room holding a fussy baby, tell her good job for putting her baby above her desperate desire to have a vacuumed floor and that she’s obviously got her priorities right.
She may not fall at your feet, but I guarantee she’ll love you for it.
Note: This is hardly a perfect post (a symptom of having 10 minutes to type while the baby sleeps and the toddler eats, yes, PB&J ), but if you know another mom you think would be encouraged by this, feel free to share!