Imagine you are going to hang out with some friends. You plan to meet at a coffee shop and just spend time together, laughing, chatting, catching up. You look forward to it all week. You walk into the coffee shop, grab your favorite latte and find an open seat. You start talking to the woman next to you about the book you’re reading, the workout you’ve been doing, the cool shop you just discovered down the street. But then something pricks your ear and your head turns slightly toward the conversation. Your name was mentioned. You start paying attention. Your closest friends are talking about you. What are they saying? Your heart rate rises just a bit as you focus in on what is being discussed.
As you hear nothing but complaints and frustration about you and your weaknesses and failures, your face turns red. You swallow hard, trying to choke back the tears. You realize these women, your supposed best friends, got together to simply complain about you. You leave, broken hearted, unable to trust the women you considered friends any longer.
Now take a deep breath. Remember we were imagining that scenario. But now, think back to the last play date you had with your friends and your children. You brought your 3-year-old with you to a friend’s house, got some coffee and settled in to catch up and share the burden of mothering young children together. Only, the conversation quickly turned to complaining and venting, assuming the little ears weren’t paying attention, or couldn’t understand what was being said.
One of the best pieces of marriage advice I was given was to never complain about your husband to others. Speak encouraging words and praise him as much as possible, especially in conversations with others. This helps protect your marriage from lies and deception seeping in as you complain to others what should either be brought directly to your husband or prayed about and your own expectations adjusted.
However, upon becoming a mother, no such advice was given in regards to my children. In fact, it seemed as moms gathered for play dates, the topic usually made its way very quickly to the challenges and frustrations so prevalent in motherhood, especially during these young years. As I’ve participated in these conversations over the years, I’ve begun to take notice that the eyes of my incredibly bright eldest daughter started to direct themselves toward our conversation and away from whatever toy she had been occupying herself with. Even at a young age, I started to notice she was listening. And I began to feel guilty. Motherhood is hard, but so is being a child and knowing your mom complains about you when she gets together with her friends.
As a mother, I want my children to know how much I love and care for them, yet in groups of friends enduring this same life stage, my children often hear me speak words of frustration, exhaustion, and complaint about them to others. How can they possibly reconcile the words I speak to them (I love you, I care for you, you can do this, etc) and the words I speak about them (She’s always whining, they’re always fighting, she’s never going to learn how to do that, etc.)?
How can they possibly know how thankful I am for them when they hear me complain about having to fix their meals and fetch them water and tie their shoes? (Things they can’t possibly manage on their own!) They might not keep a tally, but they see my eye rolls and hear my sighs as I tend to the things they need.
I think we often (myself included) forget that Jesus’s commands to love our neighbors need to start with our closest and littlest of neighbors. My children are listening and learning, and need to know how much I love them, both privately and publicly.
One of the best ways to fight discontentment is to remind yourself of everything you are thankful for, and this includes your children. What if we decided to only speak encouraging and helpful words not only to our children, but about them as well? Let’s fight the frustrations of motherhood by affirming to one another all the wonderful and beautiful things about being a mother to our specific little neighbors. I can assure you, it will only do good things for our children and our relationships with them.