Sometimes you think the waters are calm and still and then you blink and the storm clouds have rolled in and you find yourself trapped by your own anchor, hanging heavy and forgotten in the deep.
Have you ever been so close to hitting your child that you had to call someone for help?
And I’m fighting shame by being open about it.
Because the truth is, I feel like a failure of a mother when I even think about how close I’ve been to inflicting physical harm on one of my kids on purpose.
I used to wonder about “child abusers” who beat their children – how could they? What could possess them to harm someone so small and innocent and vulnerable? (I had no personal concept of rage.) How is it even possible? How could they do that and then turn around and be remorseful in the same moment?
But I know the answer to those questions now:
Anger. Frustration. Despair. Hopelessness. Inadequacy. Rejection. Any number of those things fueled and impassioned by sleep deprivation or work stress or relational breakdown or family history or addiction or imbalanced hormones or countless other factors stacked against them.
I can only identify with a small fraction of those things and yet I’ve felt rage toward my own flesh and blood – the ones I love so fiercely that I claim I’d give my life for theirs.
Yes, toward them I’ve felt rage.
I’m so much less judgmental than I used to be.
When I was 19 and heart-broken from a failed relationship, I remember thinking that if I could just get angry and physical and let it all out somehow then maybe I would feel better. I thought perhaps I could break something, throw something, destroy something, like I saw in the movies. That would provide release of all the big emotions I harbored. Surely.
I ventured into the tiny kitchen area of my studio apartment and opened up the cupboard, wondering what I could break that would make me feel better. Reaching for a mug, I paused before putting it back. (I like that one.) I reached for another and then put it back. (I actually like that one, too.) My eyes continued to scan the two shelves of the little cupboard for something that I wouldn’t regret breaking and—the truth is—I realized I didn’t actually want to break anything.
Closing the cupboard I gave up on the throwing-something-angry-outburst-fit-of-justified-rage idea and sat on my front steps and cried instead.
After a while I felt better.
Years later my emotion boils and I have to muster every ounce of self control I have to keep myself from not turning the whole damn mug cupboard inside out. With a sledge hammer.
How could a person who never yelled, never slammed doors, never even felt violent suddenly be having thoughts of hitting my own child? Or kicking him? (Yes, I’ve seriously had kicking thoughts – juvenile right? I know. *hangs head in shame*)
How could a person who has never in my entire life hit anyone or even had explosive fights or angry outbursts or yelling matches now want to shout, “JUST SHUT THE HELL UP” (or worse) to a tiny, harmless child from my own womb?
And maybe I’ve never actually slammed either of them up against a wall or verbalized profanity or called them the names that have sometimes darted through my head… But isn’t the fact that I’ve imagined those things terrifying enough? And perhaps they’ve not heard the wrath or contempt with their ears or seen it with their eyes but surely they have felt it with their spirits.
(Oh, the knot in my stomach as I confess.)
It horrifies me to think that this sort of violence lives in my heart. I mean, shouldn’t I be a grown-up now? Surely I needn’t be dealing with tendencies toward these sorts of absolute tantrums, right?
(Because that’s what they are: tantrums, a thousand times worse than I’ve ever seen coming from a child.)
Friends, I am so frail and so needy and so not who I want to be on some days.
And even though I can take a step back and see a bigger picture and realize that my own limitations are being toyed with and amplified by an almost lethal concoction of sleep deprivation and hormones and parenting growing pains and personal weaknesses and an ungodly amount of stress coming from multiple directions, it doesn’t prevent me from feeling hopelessly inadequate when I fail.
It’s those days when I label myself a colossal let down and a threat to the welfare of the ones I love most and a big, giant loser.
It’s those days that I feel like a hypocrite and a fraud.
It’s those days when I need not only the grace of God but the grace of myself as I wince at my own reflection in the mirror.
It’s those days that are hard for me to understand how I could possibly be God’s best girl for the job of mothering those perfect little children… Those perfect little children that I would never, ever want to see harmed from my own hand or mouth or eye, much less anyone else’s.
And what worries me the most is that I know when we are pressed it’s the inside that comes seeping out through our pores and words and actions. And really? This bile is inside me? Inside of me – the Christian mother who claims a new nature and a holy identity and a connection to the Source Of All Goodness?
But it is. It’s there.
And knowing that hurts.
I’m struggling with that knowledge – struggling with what’s being unearthed from the recesses of my heart.
And so I’m looking for that quiet pasture. Those still waters that the Psalmist wrote about a long time ago. Can I find them when I’m in the dark valley? Where the shadow of death feels so real?
I’m counting to ten and then back again and to a thousand and a million and sometimes the anger is still there.
My wishing and counting and breathing and hoping and willing falters in the face of its ugly, ugly head.
But under it all there isn’t really anger, it’s fear – fear that I’m not good enough. Fear that I’m incapable of being be the mother I want to be. Fear that I’ll blow my own values or destroy all of the foundations I’ve already labored to set in place. Fear that I’m going to screw up my kids for good through a single epic failure. Fear that because I know better than all of that, it somehow makes my grappling and wrestling with the lies even more pathetic.
So I offer my confession today:
I confess that I struggle as a mother – not every day, but often enough for some shame to have built up.
I confess that without Jesus I might be beating my kids like those I once freely judged and scorned (even if only under my breath).
I confess that I’m bankrupt without love, and that—in those moments of bankruptcy—I sometimes fly off the handle and then flounder to get grounded again.
I confess that the aggressive part of my (unhealthy) passive aggressive default has taken more than three decades to finally bubble to the surface… and—wow—is it hot inside that once-dormant volcano.
I confess that I’m allowing the light to shine and reveal the dark places, and that my kids are worth it and I’m worth it too.
I confess that even despite all of my weaknesses and failures I still believe that I’ve come a long way and I’m growing and I’m on the best path.
I confess that my feelings of inadequacy and insecurity are just feelings not concrete or tangible outcomes and that they don’t have to scare me if I don’t lend them any staying power or let them fuel my actions.
I confess that these terrible moments are extremely few and far between and they absolutely don’t define who I am as a mother or even the tone of my home or heart.
I confess that hormones are powerful and grief sometimes crashes and sleep deprivation really can make a grown woman lose her mind. (Oh, goodness yesitcan.)
I confess that I need help and support, cheerleaders and coaches.
I confess that I need friendship and community and solidarity way down here in the muddy trenches of motherhood during these tumultuous, exhausting, exhilarating, beautiful, unforgettable years with littles.
I confess that I’m doing far more right than I am wrong and that my amazing kids are living, breathing proof of my ability to mother well.
I confess that I am an imperfect mother, but—despite the whole ugly lot of it—I am absolutely the perfect mother for my kids. I am mom enough.
I confess that my sunken anchor is not stuck, and that–with practice–those clouds can be pushed back just as quickly as they rolled in.
Dear friends, you’ve heard my confession. I hit “publish” with trembling fingers and a very real fear of being judged… but I wonder, might you need to make confession too?