Working mums who are now staying home with your kids, how are you doing?
Mums prone to depression or anxiety, I am talking especially to you. When coronavirus has prompted governments to ask you to keep your children at home, how did that news hit you? Are you rejoicing over more time with your kids or having panic attacks because of . . . more time with your kids?
A few months ago, knowing I was headed for this weird situation, I probably would have panicked. See, after a rough semester (I’m a uni lecturer), I had five weeks off work for Christmas break. But instead of enjoying the time, I found myself in need of critical emotional care. I crash landed into the hard reality that whether working or not, I was in no way equipped to fulfil all my kids’ needs.
This sounds really dismal if I stay here. I have battled either depression or anxiety for much of my adult life (mostly just anxiety now), and when I am smack-dab inside those realities, I have a choice: I can focus on the small, suffocating spaces around me and the huge gaping emptiness inside me, or I can look up and focus on the “glorious, unlimited resources” of my heavenly Father as promised in the Bible (Ephesians 3:16).
Shortly after my “crash landing”, I asked God for some resources to help me manage my anxiety. In answer, one day while I was writing in my journal, He helped me understand two critical points:
- No mother, whether she stays home full-time or not, can fulfil all her kids’ needs.
- Some of us mums struggle a bit more to meet our kids’ emotional needs, for various legitimate reasons, and that’s no tragedy . . . as long as we can own our struggles and ask for help.
Along with these revelations came memories of my own mum and a sense of compassion from my heavenly Father. I felt seen and understood by Him—He saw my history of depression and anxiety, my history of emotional needs going unmet—and reassured me that I was not “less than” as a mum because I might struggle a bit more than most.
My own mother struggled with her mental health throughout my growing up years. She set aside an English degree and teaching path to raise my brother and me. I think she really did want to stay home with us. But it turned out she didn’t have the emotional resources to be home with us all the time.
She came from a single-parent family in which she believes her mum self-medicated depression with alcohol—but behind closed doors, so neither my mum nor her five siblings really knew what was going on. The family didn’t talk about mental illness and they still don’t, except when they have to . . . meaning when a family member goes to the psychiatric hospital.
So it was, I experienced periods without my mum at home, sometimes a month or more. Mum’s periodic absences punctuated, and punctured, my childhood. They have turned into extended absences from Mum in my adulthood.
Mum missed the births of my two children because she was trying to manage her mental health challenges four states away. I am still trying to accept that huge gaps like these pattern our mother-daughter story. I have also had to admit that, sometimes, it is healthy not to be around my mum.
As of this writing, I have not seen Mum for almost two years. During a tough semester, just months before the coronavirus hit, I raged against these realities: I cried on my commute at the empty spaces, at the punctures in my relationship with her, at the punctures in my relationships with my own kids.
And then God gave me that revelation: Like my mum, I love my children, but my mental health and other external factors have disallowed me from being the mum I hoped I could be. He understands. And it’s okay. It’s not okay to give up trying to do my best, but it’s okay to let go of my illusions of “doing all” and “being all” for my kids—as long as I own up to my issues and then ask for help to fill in my gaps.
Are you currently colliding head-on with your limited parental resources (emotional? financial? physical)? Good news. God offers us His “glorious, unlimited resources” to make up for what we lack.
It’s still hard for me to accept that I can’t meet all my kids’ needs. On my bad days, I let this get me down and I live in that false identity Satan has for me: Failure.
But on my good days, I remember that God never intended me to fulfil all my kids’ needs. I look around and see that He is filling their needs with His endless resources. Their dad is there. Their doting grandma lives next door and is a huge part of their lives. So I exhale, wipe away the tears and put on my game face. Although I may not be with my kids constantly, I will do my best to be there for them consistently.
Working mums, stay-at-home mums and work-at-home mums, if you feel like a failure because you’re not meeting all your kids’ needs, please remember this: You were not meant to meet all their needs. If you could, you would be God.
But you are not God. You are His child, as are your children, and it’s His job to meet their needs. Let Him. One of their critical needs is a mentally healthy mum. During this time of quarantine, let’s work on getting mentally healthy so we can all be consistently present with our kids, in whatever ways God calls us to be.
A prayer for all struggling mums
“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Ephesians 3:16–18, New Living Translation).
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