What Makes a Good Mom?

One of a mother’s most difficult tasks — nay impossible, apart from God’s help — is weaning her children and transferring their source of life, comfort, and home to Another. In all her loving and comforting and making home, she is simply a pointer to a better one, a lasting one — a home where she already has one foot in the door, a home she testifies to by her own goodness.

But are we good mothers? Does even the question cause some chafing?

Christian mothers are supposed to be good mothers — happy in God, while loving and disciplining our children — because of Jesus. Yet often we’d rather celebrate our failures as a need for more grace than to rehearse, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3).

That goodness is a fruit of the Spirit seems forgotten among jokes about our mom fails and laments about how impossible it all is (Galatians 5:22). The pursuit of goodness is often quickly rebuffed as works-righteousness. But is it? Not if our goodness is the result of Another’s goodness. This imputed goodness is Christ’s, and through faith he increasingly imparts it to us, where it grows to decontaminate and purify our mothering hearts. His grace makes mothers good.

Questions for Moms

When God gives us children, he answers a lot of questions in our lives — even ones we may not have thought to ask. Questions like:

  • What should I do with my life?
  • What’s it like to give my body up for someone?
  • How attached am I to privacy?
  • How selfish am I when giving feels forced upon me?
  • Does my faith hold on during the third night or third week or third year of sleep deprivation, or is it a product of my ability to string together rational thoughts?
  • Do I trust my husband as a father?
  • How weird am I about food?
  • What strong opinions do I have about clothing? Sleepovers? Education? Extracurricular activities?

Being a mom brings it all to the surface. It reveals a more truthful version of ourselves, not because we were previously being untruthful, but because we now are shaping a life for someone else, not simply ourselves.

Mothers are making decisions every day that can and often will impact another person’s entire existence. This pressure to make sure we don’t mess up our child’s life is pretty intense. It creates some heat that tends to wear us down to the core of what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world.

Single You Versus Mom You

To take the pressure off, some turn to a stream of constant uplifting messages about motherhood. All encouragement, all the time. In this endless propping up, there are no bad moms. Every mom is imbued with sainthood the moment her motherly state is attained. In this maternal mirage, moms are the sole proprietors of hard work and sacrifice.

I once heard a pastor say that it was impossible for a mom of littles to be lazy, because of the constancy of the young one’s needs. Perhaps it was true of all the women in his life; I don’t question his sincerity. But it always stuck with me because I knew it wasn’t really true. It is possible for moms of littles to be lazy. It is possible for moms to be bad moms. I need not look any further than myself for supporting data.

We may be doing more work as a lazy mom than we did as an A-student, but that’s like comparing riding a bike on the sidewalk to driving a mini-van down the interstate. Our standard isn’t student life anymore; it’s mom life. The small humans under our wings require care twenty-four hours a day. So when we slack off, it matters, even if our slacking off seems small compared to the way we used to be able to sleep for eight hours in a row, or stop for coffee, or hang out with friends.

I don’t mean that we should devote every waking moment to our children and disregard all else. I’m talking about true selfishness: the choice to ignore the fight in the playroom in favor of five or ten or a hundred more minutes of social media, or phone time, or a book, or Netflix binge, or a workout. The choice to treat our children like a group or a herd rather than as individuals with unique needs, including a need to have a day-in, day-out, one-on-one relationship with their mom. The choice to see their chores and contributions as something we’re entitled to have them do — to make it about us instead of their well-being and growth.

The Curse of Shame and Guilt

Yes, bad mothering is real, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the forms it can take. But it is one of those things that creates so much shame and guilt in mothers that it is rarely talked about except humorously or as a confessional of self-pity.

Why so much shame? Why are mothers the most guilt-ridden creatures on the planet? I’m not completely sure, but I think the pressure of daily sustaining tiny people’s lives may have something to do with it. The acknowledgement that we’re messing up seems like the worst thing we could say about ourselves in light of the weightiness of our soul-shaping, life-preserving occupation. We know that our actions or inactions could set a course for another human that is marked by pain or sorrow or self-loathing or failure, and what if it lasts longer than not just a lifetime, but into eternal torment?

So we tend toward these false choices: either acknowledge the serious nature of our job and potentially be crushed under the weight of it, shrug it off as no big deal so our failures don’t really matter, or lie about the great job we’re not doing.

Where Good Mothers Are Made

At this point, Christian moms are used to hearing, “You can’t ruin your children! God can save them despite you!” And that is true, and I am so glad that God can and does see fit to save the most unlikely of sons and daughters. I am so grateful that he did it for me, and that none of us or our children are beyond his reach.

But rather than soothing our fears by minimizing our God-given calling to be good mothers who bring our kids up in the Lord, we can only truly be free of fear, guilt, and perfectionism at the foot of the cross. It’s at the cross that we lay down our indifference to the work set before us in shepherding eternal souls in favor of full investment and commitment to the job. And it’s at the cross where we share the yoke of the burden that work creates with the strongest Person in the universe, so that we are not crushed under its weight.

At the cross — where we go to die, and live — we can actually die to bad mothering and be raised a good mom in Christ. Our job as a Christian mom is huge and serious, but that doesn’t mean we’re meant to carry the heaviness of it alone. We bring it to Jesus, whose yoke is easy and burden is light (Matthew 11:30).

You Can Be a Good Mother

Can God save your children despite you? Of course. But if you’re a Christian mother, he means for you to play a part, a good and integral part, in the story.

Does being a Christian mother ensure your child’s salvation? By no means. But rest assured that if he saves your children, he intends to use you as one of the pointers to his glorious saving face.

Christ’s goodness transforms our hearts and actions, and makes them good. It is not because we’re better or because we’ve earned it, not because we’re no longer sinful. We aren’t the Savior; we’re his ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20). We know the goodness of Another. We can be good mothers because we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good and now we give tastes of him to our children as the goodness pours out of us (Psalm 34:8).

We can be good mothers because Christ has laid down his life for us so that we can lay down our lives for them. We can be good mothers because we have been forgiven our sins and can forgive our children their sins (Matthew 6:14–15). We can be good mothers because at the foot of the cross, we can get the grace to repent and turn from every sinful thing we do and be filled with his Spirit. And the fruit of that Spirit is goodness.

We can be good mothers only and always because of Christ.

(@abigaildodds) is a wife and mother of five. She’s a homemaker seeking to know and love God through the study of his word. She’s a regular contributor to Desiring God and blogs at hopeandstay.com.