A few weeks ago, I attended a mom’s group at a nonprofit for refugees in Atlanta. I sat Grant down on the blanket in the center of the room, and immediately a two-year-old girl began trying to play tea with him. (He was much more interested in trying to reach the Batman toy — much to his Daddy’s delight when I relayed the story that evening since Batman was John’s favorite super hero!)
As Grant played with babies and toddlers from countries like Burma, Bhutan, and Burundi, the moms chatted about standard mom-things — How old is your child? What’s his name? Does she have any teeth yet? When did he learn to crawl? How’s she sleeping? At one point, one of the nonprofit’s interns asked, “What is different about having a baby in the U.S. than it is from where you’re from?”
As the only American mom in the room, the women turned to me and giggled. I promised them that I wouldn’t be offended and was interested to hear their experiences. The two moms who knew the most English discussed the question with their friends before remarking that in the U.S. there are so many more doctor’s appointments when you’re pregnant and then after you have the baby. Interestingly, this was an annoyance to them since they were accustomed to only going to the doctor if there was a problem.
They then commented on the difference between breastfeeding versus formula. For many of the women, formula was so expensive and inaccessible in their home countries that women would at most supplement with one bottle per day if needed, which was a struggle for mom’s who weren’t able to nurse their babies or didn’t produce enough milk. A mother from Iran explained that many refugee moms that she knows in the U.S. use formula because they now have that choice.
The next week I went to a mom’s group in my neighborhood. Many of the conversations were the same as with the refugee women — baby’s name? age? sleep habits? However, as opposed to the refugee women who now felt empowered to use formula, at this group, there was an unspoken assumption that breastfeeding is THE way.
I bring this up not as a way to discuss the merits of bottle or breastfeeding but to highlight that,
“If we are going to live appropriately, we must be aware that we are living in the middle of a story…” -Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses
The refugee women approach their choices in mothering with an entirely different context than the story into which Grant was born.
“The story into which life fits is already well on its way when we walk into the room. It is an exciting, brilliant, multivoiced conversation. The smart thing is to find out the identity behind the voices and become familiar with the context in which the words are being used.
Then, gradually, we venture a statement, make a reflection, ask a question or two, even dare to register an objection. It is not long before we are regular participants in the conversation in which, as it unfolds, we get to know ourselves even as we are known.” -Peterson
Not only is this a helpful reminder for extending grace to others, but also for giving ourselves grace. I feel the most inadequacy as a mom when I create a false story about “The Perfect Mom,” who’s a composite of the best parts of all the moms in my social spheres. This composite image is obviously unattainable – and often contradictory. And yet how often do we measure ourselves against an imaginary standard that we’ve created in our heads… and then try to control our situations to meet this standard?
So much of what I’ve learned as a mom is about comparison and control versus community and contentment.
I am learning to replace comparison of others with a community of women who speak truth and grace. I desire to replace my need for control with a contentment in all things. This peace can only come from believing that I was created and equipped to be Grant’s mom – and this doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s version of motherhood.
“My identity does not begin when I begin to understand myself. There is something previous to what I think about myself, and it is what God thinks of me… We are known before we know.” -Peterson
When I remember that I’m in the middle of a story that’s already underway, it takes the pressure off because my story is a part of a much larger one.
Wherever you are in your story right now, take comfort in these words…
“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you.” -Jeremiah 1:5 (The Message)
…and then live out of that grace and promise.