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Competitive Mothering

We are quite the competitive bunch, we humans, and really, given the opportunity, there isn’t much that we won’t or can’t turn into some kind of a competition. I don’t know if this is innate in our humanity or something bequeathed to us in the Fall into sin, but what is certain is its certainty—we just plain love to compete with one another. Or maybe it’s better to say that we hate to compete, but we do it anyway.

One of the greatest, most common, and most bloodthirsty contemporary competitions is motherhood. Yes, motherhood. It may be that motherhood has always been competitive, but the Internet in general, and social media in particular, have widened the field. You are no longer competing against only neighbors and sisters-in-law and fellow church members, but the professional moms, the ones who are reinventing motherhood. It’s always a losing battle.

Today you open up Facebook or blogs and you see daily updates from the moms who lead the way, who set the standards. They keep the house spotless every day, even while homeschooling six kids. They never miss a day of devotions and love every minute of working their way through Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. They go thrifting and put together a magazine-worthy home on a budget of very nearly nothing. They dress beautifully or eclectically or whatever their style is, without spending any money. Their husbands are that perfect combination of handsome and harmless, good-looking but not demanding. Their children are mischievous but not rebellious, they make funny messes in the home, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a hug and a few homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Of course these moms also chart and photograph every one of their triumphs. Julian says it well:

And whatever you do, if you are a good mom, you must make sure you get it all on camera so you can post the pictures on Facebook and the ideas on Pinterest to let everyone know you’re keeping up. Plus, you should probably earn some income (at the very least, open an Etsy shop) to prove you’re not inferior to the women around you who hold down jobs.

Most moms consider themselves to be in the little leagues, just barely learning the rules of the game, but through the Internet they’re now directly comparing themselves to the big leaguers. Not surprisingly, they find themselves falling woefully short.

The fact is, mother is more competitive than it has ever been. No longer do you just need to raise your children and care for your home and help your husband, but you also need to do it publicly, to display your triumphs for all the world to see. Perhaps worst of all, you need to watch others do it better than you. Every day you will see evidence of your own shortcomings.

As if that isn’t already bad enough, so many women appear to have a near-infinite capacity for carrying guilt. I don’t know of any challenge or opportunity or responsibility—however you want to classify motherhood—that lends itself more readily to guilt. Many mothers live in guilt from the day they first become pregnant (“I can’t believe I drank coffee! I need to take more vitamins!”) to the day they die (“So many opportunities missed!”). Husbands feel great freedom to chip away at a wife’s confidence and so, too, do children. “Why don’t you spend more time with the kids? If you really loved me, you’d let me…”

Is there a solution? Is there a way out? Of course there is. Instead of boasting in your strengths as a mother, or wanting to be able to boast in your strengths as a mother, why not boast in your weakness? Only when you accept your weakness, your insufficiency, will that competition and guilt begin to melt away. Gloria Furman says it well:

You and I may never be nominated for the fictitious Mother of the Year award. The proverbial trophy case will remain dusty and empty. But nonetheless we should boast all the more gladly of our weaknesses and need for God’s grace so that Christ’s power will rest on us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Glorying in God is a truer and better award than the adulation of others. Considering God’s potential to deliver all the grace he promises us in Christ is a truer and better estimation of the potential of 2012. So let’s start a new year rejoicing in God’s work of making us a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Grounded in the objective truth of the gospel, of what Christ has done for guilt-laden, competition-losing mothers, this provides true hope and freedom. It comes not by a mother’s own accomplishments but by what Christ has already accomplished. It levels the field, it destroys the competition, it brings glory to the ultimate Victor.