Comparison: Comparing Ourselves to Others, Expectations, Mothering

Mothering: When All We See is Failure

Two boys sitting on a swing together

@JeanneTakenaka

I read the post with a lump in my throat. This writer shared about how amazing her sons have turned out. Oh, not that there weren’t struggles, and pulling out of hair, but as they grew from boys into men, they have become good men.

And images of our own sons came to mind. 

It’s so easy to see the character traits that seem like weaknesses rather than the potential that is still taking root in their hearts.

Two eggs in a shallow nest

It’s so easy to think I haven’t done enough. That I’ve failed our sons by not making them work harder, by not pushing them to be in God’s word more. By not giving them more opportunities to make mistakes. 

Comparison for a mother is like poison. I have the nasty, unhealthy habit of taking what I see as failure in my mothering and holding it up against another mom’s successes.

My husband reminded me that those amazing, beautiful stories we read on the internet are incomplete. 

I can never know what made that mama slump in a private place and cry her eyes out. What made that mama pull out her hair.

Meme on a photo of mother deer and their fawns with the words: "Mothering is an opportunity to give grace to our children, but also to receive grace from our Heavenly Father."

Mothering is an opportunity to give grace to our children, but also to receive grace from our heavenly Father. 

We’re going to mess up. Sometimes epically. We’re going to say things we wish we could swallow back in. We’re going to hurt our children because our own insecurity. At times, impatience trumps the good sense we know we have somewhere inside us.

There are no perfect parents. Well, there was One. And even He had unruly children in the garden. He had to discipline them.

Two teen boys, one giving the other a piggy back ride

So, who am I to think that I am going to be “that” parent? Why would I place unrealistic expectations on myself when God never has?

Sometimes, I’m scared about how our sons will turn out as adults. But, I must remember this:

They are still in training.

They’re teenagers who think they’ve got life all figured out (do I hear anyone else snickering behind fingers?). But the thing is? It’s in discovering what we don’t know that enables us to learn life skills, habits, and integrity. 

Our sons are still figuring this out. Hubs and I have been imperfect parents. God reminds us He never expected us to be perfect parents. We have a role as Mom and Dad, but He has a role in raising them too. 

A pasture with colts and mama horses

Before our two precious boy-men were ours, they were His. And even though I call these two boys my sons, they are God’s even more. He knows the character lessons our sons need. He sees the hidden things in their hearts and what they hold there. He knows the gaps we’ve unintentionally left in our parenting. 

But our heavenly Father also knows how to fill in those gaps. 

A woman with her two sons in a silly moment

So, I need to stop holding myself to a standard I will never ever achieve and lean into Him.

Mothering is as much about me learning how to walk more closely with God as it is about me pouring my love, my heart, my wisdom into two growing up sons.

Mothering was never about achieving perfection so much as it is about growing in humility and grace and learning how to love large, choosing to put my heart out there to be hurt. 

Because that happens, doesn’t it? 

Two teenaged boys standing on a balcony

As I read the post by that other mama, my heart warmed for her. And it latched on to some hope that, even though we’re not seeing certain things in the hearts and lives of our boys yet, the story isn’t over. 

God’s still working in their hearts, shaping our boy-men into the good men He has created them to become

What about you? What lessons have you learned in parenting your own children? What helps you not to compare yourself with others in your life?

Click to Tweet: There are no perfect parents. Well, there was One. And even He had unruly children in the garden. He had to discipline them.

I’m linking up with #TellHisStory and #RaRaLinkup

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36 thoughts on “Mothering: When All We See is Failure”

  1. Looking back on marriage
    and all that it entailed,
    I must wind up my courage
    to admit that I have failed.
    It’s not that I was wayward,
    and I think I wasn’t cruel;
    I tried to keep her favoured,
    but was in fact a fool
    in thinking that my service
    too often in silence
    could somehow preserve us,
    but she needed more my presence
    to just sit and hold her hand
    when I could not understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew . . . they say hindsight is 20/20, but I think it can still be skewed by the lens of our perspective. And I don’t know one perfect husband. It is really hard for men to understand the importance of just being with their wives. And sometimes, for wives to just be with their husbands. I’m praying for your heart and for the rest of you today, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jeanne, thank you for these kind and thoughtful words! One of the things I am learning is to face the relities (and ironies) ofmy life, without sadness. We all, I think, tend to do our best by our own lights, but it’s the second part of the statement that’s operative; our ‘lights’ may blind us to what’s really needed.

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  2. Oh, heavens, I have sat in that same uncomfortable space, Jeanne, certain that God had made a clerical error and sent my kids the wrong mother. It’s so easy to slide into comparison, self-condemnation, and despair. I’m grateful that you are moored to gospel based hope. Yes, we fail, but God is sovereign EVEN IN THIS!

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    1. Michele, you’re so right. It is such an uncomfortable space to sit in. And yes, there have been times when I’ve questioned if God gave these kids the right mother. He always reminds me though, that He never makes mistakes. I’m thankful He guards our hearts and minds from the lies, when we let Him. Thank goodness for His sovereignty!

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  3. One thing I’ve learned with parenting is to just show up, be present in their lives (whether they like it or not) and love them no matter what. My biggest lesson with my kids was when they made a poor choice to make sure I said I’m disappointed with your decision, not saying I was disappointed with them. They fight our boundaries but need our boundaries which are there for security and love. Most of the time, we complicate things, and the simple answer is love and time. — Also your husband is very wise in saying what we see on the internet is the incomplete story. If we keep that in mind, then the comparison game is easier to fight off. Great post!

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    1. Becky, you’re right. Showing up and being present in their lives makes a dynamic difference. I’ve told the boys since they were small that there was nothing they could do that would make me stop loving them. Believe me when I say they have put that to the test, but it still stands true. I love your “simple answer.” I’m finding that to be true too. Thanks for sharing. your wisdom!

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  4. Immediately after coming by your place this morning and reading, I knew I had to post the blog I had put on my “post maybe later pile”. Isn’t it crazy how we lived in the grace most of our adult lives, felt God pour it over our mistakes, let Him whisper encouragement to us when we knew we were not perfect … yet we have such “hope” our children never walk the road of disappointments and searching. Aren’t the pages of Scriptures filled to the brim with “failures”? How sweet God’s grace was to me, when He found me in my deepest pain … “Father, make me strong, so I can ask for this understanding for my children … no matter what it takes!”
    Jeanne, THANK YOU for this … one of my favorite (and timely) post ❤️

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    1. Yay, Heidi. I can’t wait to stop by your place and read your post. I so appreciate your thoughts here. I was thinking this morning about how some people I knew when I was young turned out. Some live in hard spots today, in part because of choices made when they were younger. We can do our best to guide our children, but in the end, they will live the lives they choose, and there will be failure in their futures. You’re right. As a mom, it’s so hard to watch when they fail. But, my hope is if our boys fail while at home, we can still help them make different choices before those failures carve life-defining paths for them. But, even more, when I fail in my mothering, God can still redeem that, right? I love your prayer, my friend.

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  5. A blessing to read your message today. I have learned over the years that a key to parenting is to “pick your battles”. Not every situation needs an instant remedy. Going to God and asking for His help and guidance brings me comfort. 🙂

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    1. Melissa, this is such wise counsel . . . and so hard for this mama to follow sometimes. God has stretched me a lot in this, but I still fall back into picking every battle. I love your wisdom, my friend. Going to God for His help and guidance is the best thing we can do. Thank you for sharing here!

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  6. There is little doubt that the most sanctifying activity I have ever engaged in – is parenting. It is challenging to raise children and to stay patience, kind, gentle, forgiving when they push and stretch the boundaries and try to find their voice. And as you mention, we will not always succeed in the ways we aspire. So discouragement can often weave itself into our days. But we must just keeping stepping forward, leaning into God’s provision when we are struggling to find our patience and hope and grace.

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    1. I love your words, Anne. Parenting is sanctifying! You’re so right. We must choose to keep stepping forward into God’s provision when we’re faltering and coming up short on hope and grace. Thanks for your words here!

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  7. You are right, there is a threesom raising your boy-men, and God’s input is not small!!
    So do not beat yourself up, because God fixes and completes anything that needs doing. He gave these boyos to you and Hubs as the very best choice as parents. He does not make mistakes!

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    1. You’re right, Mom. There is a threesome raising these two boy-men. I’m getting a lot better about not beating myself up, but there are days when this is tough. Thanks so much for your encouragement!

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  8. You have so much encouragement and truth here, Jeanne. We can not compare ourselves to other mothers, our children to other children, or think the story is done before it is done. Parenting changes both them and us. Loving, listening, looking for the good in them and pointing it out to them, and trying to keep short accounts (being humble and saying I am sorry) have been some things that have helped my parenting. And saying “I love you,” multiple times a day.

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    1. Theresa, I really liked what you said about not thinking the story is done before God says it is done. And, I don’t know about yours, but my sons need to be reminded of what’s good in them, and what they’re doing right. I’m trying to be more intentional about sharing my observations. And yes, short accounts! Whew, that’s a hard one some days. And yes, I say “I love you” many times daily as well. Thanks for sharing your lessons learned!

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  9. My children are grown…but, even now, when they make a poor choice or decision I question…I am prone to wonder what was my part? how did I fail them? what part of mothering did I totally miss? It is what mothers do, I think:) Parenting is one of our greatest gifts and toughest challenges! Cute photos of your two guys!

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    1. Jennifer, you’re right. Parenting is both a wonderful gift and a humbling challenge. I’ve heard from other friends whose children are grown that mothering isn’t ever really over, it just changes shape. I, like you, will have to guard my heart about questioning what I could have done differently when they were under my roof, if that makes sense. Thank you so much for sharing your words here!

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  10. I think we parents (especially mothers) always feel as though there is something else we should have done to help build a strong foundation for our children. We are human, and therefore fallible. Leading by example to show your boys a strong faith is the best thing you ever could have done. At some point, we just have to hope! Those 2 brothers are so handsome!

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    1. Thanks for your encouragements, Laurie. Goodness knows I’ve had to lay down my striving for perfection and yield to being fallible. Mothering is humbling. But that also leaves room for God to work in me and in our sons. My guys are about at the point where I’ll just have to hope that the seeds Hubs and I have planted take root and help them grow into men of integrity.

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  11. I save your blog posts to read as a treat for myself! They are thought-provoking and inspirational! A wise woman at my church told me this story: She knew of a young woman struggling to raise money for a missions trip. A worthy enterprise, right? The young woman had a deadline closing in on her to turn in the funds, or she would not be able to make the trip. My friend had the means to pay off the remaining amount and relieve the young woman of all that pressure, but it would have taken a substantial hit on her own finances. As she prayed, she felt God told her no. Do not pay off the final amount. My friend argued with God and said “Why not?” God said clearly, “Because I want to provide for her and if you step in, you will take away her joy of seeing Me provide.” It was a wonderful lesson to me, that though we see our children struggling, sometimes the struggle is what makes their faith stronger in the end. Just as the butterfly has to struggle out of the chrysalis. If you take scissors and cut the butterfly loose, it will never fly. The struggle is what pumps fluid through the new wings and gives them the ability to fly. And by the way, others came through and the young woman went on her missions trip! Thank you for another great blog post. Your posts are always filled with wisdom.

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    1. Suzy, you don’t know what an encouragement your words are! I love the perspective you shared of the story about the young woman trying to raise money. It can be hard to see when we are stepping in God’s way. And it’s so true, He has ways of working in ours—and our childrens’, friends’, spouses’—lives that will be so much more powerful and will point them to Him. This is a good reminder for me as my boy-men grow more independent and need to learn some life lessons. Thank you so much for sharing your insights, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Yes! Your realization — “And even though I call these two boys my sons, they are God’s even more” — was similar to one I had, too, and it was a game changer for me. Now I see being a mom as a service to God, not a measure of my worth or a reflection of ME. It’s for His glory. I love my kids, but they are God’s before they are mine.

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    1. Jessica, this has been a truth I’ve held onto through most of my mothering years. When I begin to cling too hard to them or to my plans for what I think will be best for them, I have to step back and remember that they belong to God first and foremost. I loved what you said about how motherhood is a service to God and not a measure of my worth or reflection of me. This is a great perspective!

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  13. Jeanne, another powerful and vulnerable article with fresh insight. Love this line so much, “Mothering is an opportunity to give grace to our children, but also to receive grace from our heavenly Father.” I agree with your husband, stories online are incomplete. And there are other chapters we are unaware of and waiting to be written…even in our lives as parents with our kids. God was the only perfect Father/parent. So it’s senseless and damaging to compare ourselves to anyone else.

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  14. Being a mom is the greatest honor and the hardest thing I have ever done. I am grateful that God continues to equip me as I walk by my sons’ sides into the next season of their lives. I am praying for you as you continue this journey with your own sons.

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    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Mary. It’s the greatest honor and by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. God reminds me, when I need it, that He’s preparing me in the now for the things coming. I’m grateful for that. Thank you for your prayers, friend.

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  15. Aw, Jeanne … yet another post that had me nodding the whole way through. Especially as I think about dropping Lilly off at college in a few short weeks, relinquishing my daily guidance in her life … she’s got a good head on her shoulders, for sure, but she most definitely is, as you say, “still in training.” But then again, so am I, right? Your boys are blessed to have you as their mom, my friend.

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    1. Wow, Lois, dropping Lilly off at college . . . it sounds like it’s coming up so fast!! I’ll be praying for your heart in these days leading up to that day and beyond. I had to grin…yes, we’re still in training, aren’t we?

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