I became a mom in a season where most of my friends were still in college, much less thinking about marriage or starting families.
I was twenty-one when I got pregnant, had been married for eight months, and honestly, I didn’t even slightly mind being the one in my group of friends to go first. My oldest child is now rounding the corner to twelve years old, and half my friends still don’t have kids.
But I love that we share our lives with people in diverse stages of life and always have. Our kiddos have grown up with the best spiritual aunts and uncles—single or newly married friends who have the margin and passion to invest in them—but what they don’t have is a plethora of playdates, since we don’t spend time exclusively with other families who have kids our age.
My first child was born into a community where we were literally the only people our age having children, but we made a move (across the country) to Seattle just before our second was born. Then we had our third baby just a year after the second. So we were twenty-four and twenty-five with three children under three, living literally as far as we could be (while staying in America) from our families. God provided abundant community quickly—friends who are still some of our closest to date, and to top it off, they were all our age and having kids quickly, like us.
You know what happens when you go from being the only mom in her young twenties to being one in a crowd? Or, moreover, when the crowd you’re in is filled with women who’ve always dreamed of being mothers?
They all made their own baby food, talked about homeschooling, and wore their babies in slings.
These were essentially professional moms. They knew so much more about the whole enterprise than I ever could.
And the kids?! The kids were like baby geniuses. How could they not be, with wildly intentional mothers speaking life and hope and learning into them all day?
My motherhood plan was essentially this: wing it.
We did a lot of baby food in plastic containers and PBS up until that point. Not being around other mothers had allowed me to live in the dark, oblivious to the horrible phenomenon termed the “Mommy Wars,” but suddenly my eyes were opened.
There was a competition, and I was incredibly behind.
Not sure what I mean?
Think about this in your community: Who is the cute mom? You know, the one who always looks good and whose kids always look good. You’ve mentioned it to her, or maybe you only say it when she’s not there.
Which one is the healthy mom? Her kids have the most nutritious snacks, and you won’t catch an ounce of plastic anywhere near them.
Who’s the mom with the vibrant marriage? Everyone is so impressed because they still make it on regular date nights or anniversary getaways. They’re so in love! Motherhood hasn’t fazed her!
For whatever reason, motherhood brings the race to be the best to the surface like no other. And we unknowingly partner with it when we label and even laud one another.
In all three books I’ve written, I’ve talked about my friend Karen in some way, shape, or form because she really is one of the wisest and most pure-hearted friends I have. And she is an incredible mom, mostly because she somehow constantly rises above what is expected of her.
But one day I was with a crew of women, most of whom don’t have children, who were privately praising Karen and her motherhood in a way that made me uncomfortable.
It wasn’t jealousy; I took myself out of the running to be the best mom years ago. What messed with me was that I was hearing their acclaim with fresh ears—I was hearing how much pressure we put on one another to be perfect.
“She’s so calm!”
“She literally never yells.”
“She’s so creative!”
“She’s read so many books, and she’s always reading to her girls.”
I loved Karen enough to want these women to see the best in her, even if she did yell, even if she lost her chill, even if she ran out of things to do with her kids and stuck them in front of a Disney movie for an afternoon. I wanted them to see that Karen was an incredible mom, the absolute best mom for the job, because she was the one God had given to those girls on purpose.
And what made her motherhood so life-giving to watch was this one thing: she believed she was the girl for the job. It wasn’t because she was spinning her wheels trying to be her best; it was because she was resting on His strength and just shining where He placed her.
As I said, I had to take myself out of the running for the contest of best mom years ago. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, I only know that I don’t ever want to be back in the race. When I am trying to be the best mom in the eyes of everyone else, the people who lose are the ones I’m trying to mother.
There’s a choice to pursue the prize for the best (through likes on social media, the approval of my peers, or meeting some arbitrary standard of perfection) or to be present, and I often choose incorrectly.
When I love my kids—specifically, how they need to be loved, to the glory of God and for the praise of no one else—it might not look all that sparkly to the outside world. But that’s okay, because I’m the person for the unique job of mothering my own children, not the winner of the best mom race.
I’ve taken myself out of the running.
And I’ve never known so much freedom.