She leaned forward, looked right into my eyes, and said, “You’re a good mother, aren’t you?”
Yes, she really did. My jaw dropped a little, and I said nothing but “Ummm.” Then I watched those inarticulate sounds hang there in the air between us.
Fortunately, she was a talker, and she barreled right ahead, “Well, of course you are, but my own mother now . . .” and she was off, telling me her life story. We were strangers making small talk in a Starbucks, though our talk (or hers, at least) quickly ballooned.
At least a decade older than me, she was beautiful. Like a model for hip, expensive yoga-wear. She was also honest. I heard all about her many failed relationships, failures for which she was quick to accept responsibility (though not without some wickedly funny anecdotes about her exes). And when it came to her children, she was confident. She had always, she was sure, been an excellent mother. Nothing like the alcoholic who had raised her.
Our conversation took place more than a year ago, but I still marvel at the certainty with which she announced: “I am a good mother.” Not “good enough” (to use the psychoanalytic catchphrase I learned in graduate school) but truly, thoroughly good.
In the radiance cast by her lovely, shiny blonde hair, my own self-doubt emerged as if spotlighted. For that’s exactly what her bold question had done: shined a light on my weakness.
I don’t think that I will ever say with confidence or certainty that I am a good mother. I love my kids. I love being a mother (though I don’t always like it). And I’ll even admit that if you lined up a cross section of the world’s mothers, I might show up somewhere near the top, at least according to superficial, measurable factors (I kiss them, I say “I love you,” I feed them organic as much as possible, I make them brush their teeth).
For whatever reason, I tend not to focus on the things I do well. Instead, I see the failures: from lost tempers and angry threats to my consistent refusal to play Legos with my son (I’m just not good at that. Why don’t you wait till Daddy’s home?).
Over the years (well, eight years, to be exact), I’ve made peace with my weakness. I cannot stand up boldly to claim the title “good mother,” but today I’m okay with that.
Mothering is now so much less about me and so much more about Grace. The more impossible I find this role, the more room there is for God (and for His presence, His love, His power, His many good gifts).
As my friend Courtenay recently told me, all that hard, cannot-possibly-get-it-done, certainly cannot-do-it-well stuff on your horizon? Well, that’s what grace is for.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
(2 Corinthians 12:8-10)