Ever since I heard the song from years back called Audience of One, it’s hit me that ultimately we are accountable to God and God alone. That’s not to say we don’t have earthly responsibilities, obligations and duties towards those around and those we love. However, why we do what we do and how we do what we do isn’t really anyone else’s business. I guess what I’m trying to say is… we care way too much about what others think of us.
I’ve recently been challenged to question why I find it hard to shrug off the comments, criticisms and opinions of others. A few of my friends are going through a similar time of questioning, and it has me thinking. Of course our reputation is important. Of course our integrity and honor are things we guard and value, but ultimately, we aim to be the women we aim to be to please God, not man.
In parenting, looking to others for validation can have devastating effects on our self-esteem and confidence in our abilities to mother. We won’t always do things like other people. We may do things very differently than other people. Some toddlers may go to bed at 9:30pm so they have two hours with their father who works late. We may put our kids into childcare even if we don’t need to work financially. We may see other mothers crying buckets of tears as they leave their child in Kindergarten on the first day of school and feel guilty that we are feeling freedom instead of sorrow. All mothers are different and the burden of comparison is crushing. Let’s think of how we, as mothers, can try to avoid this trap of caring too much what others think.
(1) Validation should come from the Lord. Needless to say, this is easier said than done. I mention it because, quite simply, the reason we care so much what others think is that it validates us if they are impressed. The pinterest, facebook pictures, status, big vacations, babies who can name all the States in alphabetic order by their 4th birthday have us thinking we need to impress. There is just so much “trying to impress everyone else” mumbo jumbo out there we often feel we are lame by being normal. If we feel that we need some encouragement and that we need someone to tell us we are doing a good job (and for pete’s sake, we all need this) then I think we should go to the Lord in prayer. After we’ve gone to Him and feel assured He is pleased with us, we should approach our spouse, loved ones and dear friends and share a bit of our heart. Say we are in need of encouragement, ask for some prayer, ask for some kind words (Hebrews 10:24-25). It is far better to ask a loving, healthy, caring friend to spur you on than to spend time and energy trying to impress strangers, your Facebook friends, or the people at Publix who may not notice how perfectly color coordinated your children are dressed. It’s okay to ask for help, people.
(2) Others never know the whole story, nor should they. It is so easy to look to others and find perfection where we feel lacking. The grass is always greener, as they say. I have a friend or two who simply seem to have their entire lives completely together and wrapped up in perfect bows. And, to make it even worse, they are gentle, humble and godly. Oh the injustice of it all. However, these friends are not in my current stage of life either. Their children are all in school during the day and their husbands are not at college full-time and working in the evenings. After I step back and say, hey Rachel, get a grip, I come back down to reality and realize that I can’t do everything. So what if I end up at the grocery store in my running clothes that I don’t even run in (I like to exercise but hate to run). So what if it is 1pm and my kids are only wearing diapers and have no clothes on yet. I can’t worry what the mailman, the cashier or my next door neighbor will think. There are enough pressures of life without adding to it by worrying about what others must “be thinking.” I’d wager that most of the time they aren’t thinking about us anyway.
(3) Eat the meat and throw out the bones. Sometimes it happens that people lovingly (or perhaps unlovingly) want to offer constructive criticism. Or simply criticism. At various times in my life I’ve felt that I was being criticized for something when in reality, the person doing the “encouraging”, simply didn’t know the whole story. And, they weren’t going to know the whole story either. This left me in the position to do one thing: listen, smile, accept the true parts, ignore the wrong parts. Well, that was obviously 4 things. But you get my point. When people go out of their way to be “helpful” then evaluate what they said and accept the truth even if it is hard. If there is no truth and they are just talking about things they know not of, ignore it. I can’t ignore it!, you say. Well, that’s where we have to learn. It is far easier to learn to ignore people who are saying unhelpful things than it is to sit around and stew in their opinion feeling bad about ourselves.
(4) Know that God made us mothers all different so we will mother differently. Psalm 139 is a great chapter to express God’s heart for individuals. If I felt insecure every time I saw another mother doing something differently than I do, I would cease to function. I hear people talk about cooking casseroles, homemade cinnamon rolls, and all sorts of nonsense for breakfast. BREAKFAST! Who has time to get up two kids 2 and under and actually bake? That is like unheard of… am I talking to myself here? Does that even happen? Some mothers are able to do arts and crafts for hours on end and find it so easy to engage with their young ones in imagination games. Not every mother finds this easy. There are attachment parents, scheduling parents, formula feeders, breastfeeders, and on and on. We are all different and – for the most part – are all doing what we think is best. Sometimes I make choices and realize they aren’t best, but they are the best for the shape I’m in. For example, occasionally (particularly while pregnant) I simply do not have the energy to cook a large healthy dinner. Some nights it is enough for me to order pizza or heat up chicken nuggets. Pizza and chicken nuggets are not better than vegetables. But sometimes – just sometimes – pizza and chicken nuggets are better than a nervous breakdown or emotional collapse on the kitchen floor.
(5) Surround yourself by those who build you up. If your group of friends are always trying to outdo one another, I feel for you, sister. This type of atmosphere is crushing and burdensome and it will be impossible for you not to make even the smallest decisions based on what others will think or say (Galatians 1:10). If your friends and support network are loving and caring towards you, not about your clothes, shoes, choices, kids’ schools, etc. then they won’t put you under this pressure. They’ll compliment your successes, be there to listen to your failures without judgment, and will help you feel accepted. If you find you are in a toxic circle of friends or mothers then run.for.the.hills. Life is too short to be beat down by those pretending to care. If you feel that your relationships aren’t edifying and that they draw your eyes away from God and His commands and towards materialism and worldliness, know that there are others out there who will help you to be the mother you want to be and the person you want to be and yet not make you feel as though you never measure up.
In short, or long since I can’t seem to make anything short, we cannot go through life caring what others think. If we are acting kindly, generously, and with love and affection towards others then we need to let go the weight of the opinions of the masses. We are ultimately accountable to God, not our neighbor. It is our families we should worry about pleasing, not people on Facebook we haven’t heard tell of since college.
Great post and always relevant to any mother or woman out there. There’s this saying that goes something along the lines of “Comparison is the thief of Joy” and I couldn’t agree more. There are things that I don’t agree with when I see other parents parent – but guess what: usually I don’t understand what’s going on, I am not them, and my kids are not their kids – so it doesn’t matter what I think (why are people so arrogant that they think their opinion and approval should be sought anyways?!) and I find myself praying to God to help me have a more open and compassionate heart, be slow to judge and quick to hide reactions that I possibly can’t help – but that aren’t helpful to others (it’s funny how many facial expressions you don’t even know you’re making!).
Finding worth and your identity in Christ is such a freeing thing that I am only beginning to experience. I’ve come to recognise just how much I have tried to seek approval, love and validation from others only to ALWAYS (literally: without fail) walk away feeling disappointed. Now that I recognise those behaviours and mind-sets in myself, I am more mindful at making changes and have already seen the change in the way I feel about my social life, the way that I parent and in turn the way my kids respond to me, and the way my husband admires my new found confidence.
Praise God that He is a giver of life (vitality), joy and mercy; that we only have to answer to the One who loves us unconditionally!
Very true, Kylie, that we often don’t agree with what others think but it’s a good point that there are others who probably don’t agree with us. And our facial expressions – GREAT POINT – I have often gone away thinking “what did that face mean that she made?” haha! So glad to hear that you are (as we all are) going on the journey of finding and seeking approval from the Lord and not others :)
Bonita Barham says
So good to read, hear from u – Matthew’s wife. I taught Matt at school n its such a blessing to witness the holy spirit in his lovely wife. Go Rachel, b blessed n continue to bless others…
Bonita, that is such a sweet and truly encouraging thing to hear :) Thank you!