Too many Christian mothers turn motherhood into an idol. Motherhood is one of the highest callings in the world, but it can be corrupted by becoming the core of a woman’s identity. At the Tower of Babel, the workers said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4). It is easy for a mother to begin to think that disciplined, successful, and well-mannered children are how she can make a name for herself.
When motherhood becomes the center of a woman’s life and identity, rather than Christ, a blessing easily turns into a burden. A path of joy turns into a path of despair. The attempt to quantify why your life matters by your performance as a mother will produce frustration and inevitable discontentment. To put it another way, motherhood is a glorious mission but a horrible idol.
When I was younger and interviewing for my first pastorate it was very common for small churches say to me, “Your wife plays the piano and sing solos doesn’t she?” That was an expectation that they had about pastor’s wives because of past experience. They were hoping to hire me and get a pianist and soloist thrown in as well. I always politely told them “No, but even if she did that was not an appropriate expectation for her.” If my wife would’ve felt obligated to meet those arbitrary congregational expectations for a pastor’s wife it would’ve been disastrous because she would have probably been resentful and always wondering if she was measuring up.
The cultural expectations regarding what it means to be regarded a good mother today are mind-boggling. There is pressure on stay-at-home moms to have a job so they will be considered a real woman who is competing in the world. In other contexts, there’s pressure on working mothers to be a stay-at-home moms at-all-cost with little or no consideration of life context. If you pay attention it seems that a good mother should have a house that’s always clean, be an excellent cook, and she also needs to volunteer here-and-there in the community. Moms are told that she should have her kids involved in all kinds of activities and provide many diverse life experiences to be a really good mom. Others suggest that every child should learn to play a musical instrument and sing, learn a foreign language, and also be involved in a variety of sports as well.
A good mom is expected to be up-to-date in style, always fit, and the kids should eat only super healthy foods based on the latest diet advice. I recently heard a mom talking to a group of mothers saying, “I cannot believe there are mothers who let their kids eat at McDonald’s,” (read that sentence with an appropriate snobbish accent). I could not help but to lean over and say this dad of eight kids took his to McDonald’s last week. And, of course, you must have your kids in the right schools or if you homeschool you must have the right homeschool philosophy and curriculum. This list could certainly go on, but you get the point. And no matter how lengthy I make this list there will always be new things that “you just have to do” that will surface.
This never ending treadmill of cultural motherly expectations is all the more difficult in a social media saturated society where moms are capable of seeing what every other mom is doing around the clock with a click of the mouse. Many mothers fall into the trap of evaluating their daily grind and realities against the highlight reel of other people’s lives they see posted in pictures on Facebook. Any or all of the things on the list in the previous two paragraphs are fine, but as a job description to evaluate whether or not you are a good mom, they are a curse, an ungodly burden, and a path toward discontentment and misery. In fact, when embraced as a means of motherly self-justification they are Satanic.
Satan is the accuser (Rev 12:9). One of his primary weapons is guilt, especially false guilt. As the father of lies, he does not care about truth, as long as he can make you feel worthless and hopeless. As a friend of mine once said, “No one is more pro-choice on the drive to the abortion clinic and more pro-life on the drive home than Satan.” He deals in unmitigated, uncompromising, and unceasing accusation. A mother normally possesses a deep and intimate love and concern for her children. If a mom falls into the trap of cultural expectations she will be easy prey for the attacks of the evil one. What mother ever thinks they do enough? The only way out of this temptation for Christian moms is to stop trying to be good moms, whatever that means, and simply commit to being gospel moms.
When a mother is focused on the gospel as the center and goal of her life, she knows that she’s going to fail in mothering her children in many ways. But her failure reminds her of how much she needs Christ and must rest daily in her identity in Christ. A gospel mom has to have the courage not to fear and bow before the culture’s expectations and mothering idols because she believes there is someone more important and those fears—Jesus Christ. Any attempt to keep up with cultural mothering expectations would constitute going AWOL on the gospel mission of motherhood.
Mothering in the kingdom of Christ is a gospel mission, and the home is the primary field of training. Mothering as gospel mission is not one-size-fits-all and it does not comport to a depersonalized parenting to-do list. Satan delights in self-righteous supermoms, but he trembles at humble gospel-moms who just keep joyfully plodding along, imperfectly but persistently, trying to walk in line with the gospel and call her kids to do the same.