Identify the harmful lies that threaten your contentment in the Lord.
I can still picture myself several years ago, lying on the couch taking a break while my toddler and preschooler napped. We were living in Australia at the time. I was pregnant with our third child and had spent all day with our little ones in our small townhome while my husband was at school. Did I nap? Read a good book? Do a handiwork project? No, it was too easy to pick up my phone and start scrolling through seemingly endless social media photos showing smiling families traveling the world. They always seemed to be swimming with dolphins or taking African safaris. I kept scrolling, and the more photos I saw, the less satisfied with my own life I became.
So what are some common messages that can actually push us into anxiety, stress, and unhappiness? No doubt there are more than I have listed here, but I’ve chosen these particular messages because they seem to make a big difference in whether a mother is happy or not. And her contentment makes a huge difference in the entire family’s well-being.
Luckily, once we recognize them, we can begin to counteract them and make real changes that lead to freedom.
Message #1: If our children aren’t happy, we are bad parents.
Of course we don’t set out to make our children unhappy. We love them more than life itself and never want them to feel unnecessarily rejected, upset, or down. The problem comes when we avoid enforcing beneficial boundaries that ensure our kids get enough sleep, proper food, and limits around their behavior because we don’t want them to be unhappy.
Our brains say, I want to enforce this, but our emotions tell us, Do whatever it takes to make this child stop crying! When a generation of moms get in the habit of giving their kids all the privileges and ease that actually come in adulthood without any of the responsibilities, we end up with a generation of kids who don’t want to grow up.
Message #2: We must give our kids every opportunity we can.
The idea that we should give our children every possible opportunity comes from a desire to set our kids up for lifelong success and happiness. If we can offer them these good experiences while they are under our roofs, then by jove we will do so.
If you and your children are naturally stress-free people with low sleep needs and no tendency toward overstimulation, this approach may work well for your family. But for most families, this strategy will lead to trouble.
In fact, an overfilled life usually makes our children stressed and tired, with little time to relax. We’re now taxi drivers with no time to cook nourishing meals at home or even rest. The pace of life is so fast that it can lead to burnout. For us and the kids.
The best way to set up our kids for future life success is to love them enough to hold our ground and make them do their chores.
Message #3: Being anxious all the time is normal.
Anxiety used to be something people were ashamed about. They would quietly suffer without knowing who to reach out to for help. There is now a widespread cultural discussion normalizing anxiety. On the one hand, this is desperately needed. It is encouraging and validating to women who are suffering. On the other hand, discussions around anxiety often imply that there’s nothing we can do about it. Which just isn’t true.
Anxieties related strictly to chemical imbalances and hormones aside, the real problem is that we can’t turn a blind eye to many of the people and activities that cause us stress—like our children and our chores. Many areas of our lives can seem out of control, and making meaningful, permanent changes sometimes feels like too much.
Often we wait to address this problem until we are so anxious that we feel paralyzed and as if we’re on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Those of us prone to anxiety and worry may still see it rear its ugly head from time to time, but we absolutely can organize our lives so they are more peaceful and happy.
Message #4: Life will be better when . . .
Since our culture is so oriented toward the future, we attach our happiness to attaining those goals we are slaving toward. We’ll be happy when our home is bigger. When our baby sleeps through the night. When we pay off our student loans. When the kids are in school. When we get that lake house. When our business gets off the ground. And on and on and on.
True, if we want to get somewhere in our future, we must start purposefully moving in that direction. What’s also true is that a fixation on the future sacrifices our present.
Instead of learning to appreciate what is today and still work toward what we want for our family’s future, we become future-obsessed as we sacrifice the now.
Sure, plan and be wise for the future. Be a good steward of your resources. Make prudent steps in the direction you want to go. But not at the expense of the present. Not from a place of obsession or fear.
Life will not improve if you continually live in a cycle of looking to a future that isn’t guaranteed. In fact, this mindset only makes you unhappy and resentful in the present.
Message #5: We are in full control of our lives.
No Christian woman would actually agree that joy comes from our circumstances, but without realizing it, we think and live as if this were true. We put responsibility for our happiness on a bunch of factors that may or may not happen. Many of which are outside of our control.
We can save faithfully and lose our money in a stock market crash one month before retirement. We can work diligently for a company and lose our job. Spouses can be unfaithful, teenagers can make self-destructive choices, and tragedies can happen.
As God told Job, we did not hang the moon and the stars in the sky or set the seas in place; nor do we control the rain or snow (see Job 38). We intuitively know we are not in control, but we live in such fear of what’s to come that we try to control everything to prevent disaster.
The way forward is not easy, but it is simple. We do our best to care for our families, but we accept that we cannot guarantee a trouble-free future for them. Trying to control more and more in an attempt to prevent anything bad from happening will not actually stop bad things; it will bring bad things upon us.
The solution is to place our trust in the God of the Universe who can bring good out of any situation (Romans 8:28); to accept that fear and anxiety sometimes come without warning, but that we can decide whether we want to remain rooted in them; and to choose to believe we will be okay, no matter what.
It’s true that a lot of things may go wrong in our lives. We get sideswiped, sidelined, and sidetracked by all kinds of things.
But you can make decisions that will lead to more peace and harmony in your home. Some of them are recognizing and rejecting the pie-in-the-sky idea that good parenting leads to kids who are always happy, that anxiety is inevitable and there’s nothing you can do about it, and that the future matters more than the present.
Adapted from If Mama Ain’t Happy: Why Minding Your Own Boundaries Is Good for the Whole Family by Rachel Norman. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Rachel Norman is a mother, Language of ListeningⓇ parent coach, and certified baby and toddler sleep consultant. She is also the founder of A Mother Far From Home, an online community dedicated to helping young mothers create peaceful and enjoyable lives for their families, reaching more than a million readers per year. Rachel resides in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, with her husband, Matthew, and their five young children.