"Newsweek" recently published an article on "Mommy Madness." (Feb. 21, 2005) Judith Warner writes of "the push to be perfect," that the type of hands-on mothering society expects of women today is "utterly incompatible with any kind of outside work, or friendship, or life." Jeff Opdyke, who writes the "Love & Money" column in the Wall Street Journal recently moved with his family from New Jersey to Louisiana so that his wife Amy could take a new full-time managerial position (she had previously worked part-time). Over the course of three columns, he wrote of the difficult toll the move and the change in roles had taken on him, his wife, and their eight-year-old son. When it was Amy's turn to speak, she told of feeling overwhelmed and struggling to balance her high-pressure job with a busy family. Life just wasn?t working as she had pictured it would.
Yes, motherhood is hard, but mothers are not the only women who suffer from a chronic case of dissatisfaction. Society is somehow always telling women that we should be doing something or being someone other than who we are right now. If we are single, people ask when we are going to get married. If we are married, people ask when we are going to have children. If we have children and go to work, we should be at home. If we have children and stay home, people wonder why we are "wasting" our education. If we are young, we should look older. If we are getting along in years, we should frantically chase that fountain of youth, whether it comes in a bottle, a pill, or the operating room. We should be thinner, prettier, and more successful. We have internalized these messages to such a degree that our loudest critic just may be the voice inside our own heads! We try so hard to measure up to some ideal vision of whom we should be and feel defeated when we don't meet that perfected version of ourselves.
So, then, how do we stop the cycle? How do we stop defining ourselves by what the world expects us to be, and instead focus on the life God intended for us? First, we must embrace the idea that our worth comes from God, not from our personal achievements or our possessions. God shaped us in our mother's womb. He knows us and loves us for who we are and where we are right now. Yes, we may be a little rough around the edges, but as long as we keep trying to live each day according to God's will, we are working at making those edges smooth. The old adage that "God isn't finished with me yet" has a great deal of truth to it. We are all works in progress.
Second, we must pray for God's guidance in our lives. God has a plan for us. If we pray to live out that plan and approach God with an open heart and a willing spirit, we must believe that we are right where God wants us to be at this moment. God's plan for us will reveal itself in His time, not ours. To view where we are now as our final destination is short-sighted. To believe that things will never change is to limit God's power and influence in our lives.
Third, we need to enjoy the journey. We tend to always look ahead, waiting for something to happen. In the process, we miss out in the beauty of the moment at hand. Life may not be exactly as we had hoped it might be, but where we are has lessons to teach us and memories to be made, if only we stop and pay attention. In "Mommy Madness," Judith Warner instructs us to "throw out the schedules, turn off the cell phone, cancel the tutors. . . . Let's spend some real quality time with our families, just talking, hanging out, not doing anything for a while. And let ourselves be." I think that she has the right idea. We need to take a good look around us and be thankful for what we have. Our life may be different from the woman sitting next to us, but our task is to make the most out of what we have been given. By savoring the moment, we may be able to be a great deal more satisfied with who and where we are right now.
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur has a Master of Arts Degree in Applied Theology, is editor of the "Spiritual Woman Newsletter" (http://www.spiritualwoman.net) and author of "Letters to Mary from a Young Mother" (iUniverse, 2004).