Sometimes it seems like you just can’t win…
…Last week our family went to the beach. We stocked up on sunblock before we left and I was feeling good about how successful we were at keeping my grandchildren covered in the stuff. Until my daughter told me that sunblock might actually cause cancer.
…My husband grows organic vegetables—I can definitely feel good about that. Except for some tenacious worms that are the exact color of broccoli. We found they hang on even through the cooking process and are detected only after everyone at the table is alerted to look for them by a vegetarian family member who almost passed out after finding a half-eaten one on her plate.
…Last summer, I took my grandchildren for a paddleboat ride in the pond on the back of our property. I was feeling really good about having an adventure with them in the great outdoors. They quickly became bored with paddling and wanted to jump in. I told them to go for it. My grandson forgot to remove his flip-flops and lost one near the water’s edge. He sat down in the murky mud, spending several minutes there as he groped to find it. He did not find the flip-flop but he did find that if you sit long enough in the mud at the bottom of the pond, leeches will get on your legs. Leeches! I thought they were extinct.
We all deal with no-win situations such as these on a regular basis, but there is one group of people who seem to be hit harder than any other—moms. I just googled “advice for raising kids” and began reading one of the first posts that popped up. In no time, I’d found a perfect example to illustrate my point. The article noted that playgrounds provide great benefits for children but went on to warn against a host of possible hazards that could be found there. Swings were included on the danger list…
But don’t be a helicopter parent, warns another post. Let your kids get hurt. They’ll learn that way.
No wonder mamas tend to second guess themselves. We read advice, we observe other mothers and we begin to worry that we’re doing it all wrong. Writing about this brings to mind two mothers I know. You may know them too. They live in the pages of a couple of my favorite children’s books, Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey and The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman. (I went ahead and googled “dangers of reading picture books” and came up with nothing. What a relief!) The mamas in these books parent very differently from one another, yet they’re both clearly wonderful mothers with lots to offer their families. I believe they have something to offer us, too, in our quest to be good mothers (and grandmothers). If you’re not familiar with the books because you basically never set foot in a library, there’s no judgement here. I’ll bet you do lots of other fabulous things like get up in the morning and go running while most of us are still asleep. Or maybe you just get up in the morning. That’s an accomplishment in itself because a bed can be a dangerous place. According to answers.com, which I’m sure is a reliable source, one in eight Americans dies in his or her sleep. In any case, whether or not you’ve read the books is irrelevant because, as I describe the mothers, you’ll recognize them as your friends and neighbors. You may even spot one gazing at you from your very own mirror.
Make Way for Ducklings tells the tale of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard. As the story begins, the couple is searching for the perfect place to settle down and raise a family. They travel far and wide, determined to find just the right spot. They experience a few close calls along the way, such as almost being run over on a busy highway, but whatever happens, Mrs. Mallard is confident she knows exactly what to do. When Mr. Mallard heads out of town on business, leaving her alone with the ducklings, she says, “Don’t you worry. I know all about bringing up children.” She sets about teaching them everything they need to learn. And then, we’re told, “when at last she felt perfectly satisfied with them, she said one morning: ‘Come along, children. Follow me.’ Before you could wink an eyelash Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack fell into line, just as they had been taught.”
Oh, how often as a young mother I wanted to be like Mrs. Mallard. Confident and skilled at getting things done. Not to mention able to make my children mind “before you could wink an eyelash.”
Of course, Mrs. Mallard isn’t perfect. Some of her ways tend toward OCD. For instance, while sitting on her eggs, she repeatedly gets up to count them, and she requires her eight children to always travel single file. She can also be bossy—the first page of the book says that every time Mr. Mallard saw what looked like a nice place to live, Mrs. Mallard said it was no good—and a bit prideful, “tipping her nose in the air and walking along with an extra swing in her waddle.”
The Seven Silly Eaters is the story of Mrs. Peters, mother of seven. She is a mama who values individuality in her offspring and her goal in life is to make sure everyone has what they need to be happy. She works hard to accomplish this, but she also takes time to enjoy life herself, sometimes opting to play her cello, for example, instead of straightening her disorderly home.
I wanted to be like this mother, too. Creative, patient, laid back.
But, Mrs. Peters isn’t perfect either. We see the result of her people-pleasing personality on one particular page which shows her racing around her cluttered kitchen, trying to fix supper with laundry on the table and a dog and cat (which we somehow just know everyone wanted but no one takes responsibility for) at her feet. The text on the page says bluntly “Mrs. Peters was a wreck.”
The reason I love these fictional mamas is that they resonate so much with their real life counterparts. They have strengths. They have weaknesses. They’re not perfect, but their faults just show us they’re human (except, of course, that one is a duck.) You’ll be glad to know that, in spite of their imperfections, each of these mother’s tales has a happy ending, as all good stories do.
There is something else all stories have though. Before you can get to the happy ending, every story must have problems. Like Mrs. Mallard and Mrs. Peters, we’re in a story—an eternal one— and our Perfect Parent promises a happily-ever-after for each of His children. But we’re not there yet. As our sagas unfold, problems come along that simply can’t be avoided no matter how hard we try to make wise decisions. Experience shows that our well-intentioned plans may end with us eating worms or pulling leeches off a loved one, causing us to feel that we just can’t win. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57) Our happy ending is guaranteed.
As the pages of our lives turn, let’s encourage one another with God’s Word. For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. Romans 15:3 NIV
I pray that, today, the Lord will impress on each of our hearts the comforting truth of the following verses:
For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV
They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, and their descendants with them. Isaiah 65:23 NIV
What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem. Psalm 84:5-7 NLT
I’d love to hear about some of the no-win situations you’ve experienced or some scriptures that are especially encouraging to you. Please share them with us all in the comments section.