motherhood,  Parenting

I’m going to mess up my kids

Well, we’re back.

Luke and I survived – nay, enjoyed – a fast trip to the East Coast involving 1 cancelled flight, 2 rounds of projectile vomiting, and 1 diaper situation best consigned to the dark recesses of my memory and my best friend’s rental car.

The good news is I Kon Mari’d my little militant minimalist (<— that’s my official personal style, I know it now) heart out  helping my girlfriend get her house ready to hit the market. The bad news is we took very few pictures and real life DIY/home renovations are less like something magical in Waco Texas and more like something horrible at midnight during final’s week.

I can’t wait to buy a house.

While we were out, Luke was sleeping in random snatches and in even more random places: my lap, the airplane seat beside me, some dark corner in another baby’s room, etc. etc., and it made me realize how adaptable he really is (and how beautifully phlegmatic) and also how much of motherhood still – still, even 4 kids in – is a total crapshoot.

Yesterday morning as I was catching puke in my hands mere miles from the airport, the first thought that popped into my head was not “crap, the day is doomed” but “I’m so so happy we’re not on the plane yet!!!! What great timing!!!!

Something has fundamentally shifted in my brain. And the way I used to mother is gradually being replaced by something much more free.

There used to be a lot more fear.

Fear of the unknown, of the unexpected, and of making huge mistakes.

Now that I’ve walked through infancy and toddlerhood multiple times, I can say with complete confidence that I’ve made huge mistakes. And medium and small ones, too. I’ve seen and done the unexpected, and there are still years and years of the unknown stretching ahead.

But for the first time in my life as a mom, I don’t feel like I’m parenting from a place of reflexive fear and insecurity.

I never cared much what anyone else thought of my parenting or my kids, and I think that’s just a temperament and personality thing. But I’ve always struggled internally with second guessing myself and our parenting choices in light of the possible outcomes for our kids.

As I’ve grown (literally, cough, cough) as a mother, I’ve become less anxious and less fearful that I’m going to screw something up, that I’m going to ruin my kids if I don’t do x or y.

And here’s the punchline, which maybe you’ve already figured out for yourself and so you’re chuckling at this still relatively new mom’s ramblings:

I am going to mess up. And I’m going to hurt them.

Despite my best intentions and best practices, I am going to screw something up – probably a lot of somethings – with my kids.

Because I’m a sinner, and a flawed and frail human being. And just as I need God’s grace over and over again, poured out in reckless abundance into my broken and fickle heart, I need to forgive myself – and instruct my children in the essential art of forgiveness – for all the ways I am going to fail them.

This began to really click for me a couple of months ago when I was chatting about drinking and gestating with Jen Fulwiler on her radio show. She recalled her early experiences parenting while still an atheist, and the all-consuming fear and almost obsessive level of micromanagement it requires to raise children under the crushing weight of being their literal everything.

She said (and I’m paraphrasing poorly, I’m sure) that the stakes are so high, that so much of your self is invested into the process, it’s almost unbearable. You’re literally the entire sum of how they turn out, plus the random effects of genetics and environment.

In other words, it’s all on you.

As I let her words roll around in my brain over the next few days and weeks, I started to see all the places that I was actually parenting very much as an atheist myself.

Believing, quite dogmatically, as it turns out, that I could control and cajole and make sure that certain outcomes were achieved. I mean, I was still praying for my kids and praying about being a good mom, but I was definitely acting and thinking like it all depended on me.

And that’s a crushing way to live.

No wonder so many people don’t feel like they can have more than a couple kids. My God, even a singleton is a commitment of titanic proportions. The stakes are so high.

While riding the airport tram to my gate, I shared a hand grip with a friendly guy who smiled at Luke and asked his stats. He told me about his own kids, two boys and a girl, and asked if Luke was my first. When I told him he was number four, another business man standing across the train car gasped and yelped out “my God, 4 kids, you need a lot of wine!”

I smiled at him and nodded, “you’re not wrong.”

(And he’s not. Wine is an effective parenting tool.)

 But I know the weight he felt, because I feel it in my own heart when I’m not careful to ask the Lord to come in and hold the other end of the yoke with me. It’s almost unbearable, until I remember to plead for assistance and grace and so much forgiveness. And even then, it’s a daily struggle to release the outcome, the unknowns, and the entire future into His hands.

That’s the only real choice I have. I’d be crazy to assume responsibility for 4 other human beings if I believed that their eternal destinies depended solely on Dave and me. And I know, because I’ve had seasons where I utterly forget this and I do live that way. And it’s exhausting and it’s impossible, and quite frankly, there isn’t enough wine in Napa to make the numbers work.

But when I remember that it’s not all on me, and that while I’m the expert at being their mom,  I’m not an expert at motherhood, period, it releases a whole lot of the pressure.

And it makes life a lot more fun.




  • Lindsey

    Thanks for this. I am a first time mom, due any day now. I grew up in a large family and want a large family of my own, but have been feeling a lot of anxiety the last couple weeks about getting everything prepared and just right for our first little boy; praying desperately that I don’t make a birthing decision or any other decision in his early days that may screw him up. It’s a lot of pressure! Good reminder that it’s not all on me and that our parenting team, like our marriage, is meant to include God as well.

  • Therese

    What a thoughtful post! Not going to start a family any time soon, or get married, or anything, but I hope I remember this blog post when I do.

  • Esther

    This was so me when I started homeschooling a decade ago. It was a crushing feeling. So thankful for God bringing me through & showing me His Love. I wonder, too, if personality type plays into it too, because I have friends who don’t experience this…

  • Denise

    When I had my daughter, I actually used a timer to make sure she was nursing enough/equally on each side. A literal timer. I would switch sides, press the start button, and mentally plan how I would transition her to her crib. Well, the crib didn’t quite work out but she definitely got enough milk, and now her baby brother sleeps in a crib (while she is still curled up next to me every night). I wanted so badly to do everything.just.right. Regardless of her personality, my personality, or our circumstances. So I laughed out loud at your, “I’m so glad we’re not on the plane! Great timing!” because TRUE.

    • Jenny Uebbing

      yaaaaaaaas, I’ve used the timer. I actually had a nursing app that I would painstakingly update with side nursed, minutes duration, number of diapers, etc… L to the O L, that was … something.

  • Ashley

    This is simply brilliant. I’ve never thought about this in terms of what an atheist parents like. Because you’re right – that would be absolutely terrifying. God’s plan is just so amazing. He gives us these little people who we love fiercely, and who make us completely crazy and are the “sandpaper” we need to work off our rough edges here on earth and become closer to the person God intends us to be. And the end goal is that hopefully we all help each other to get to heaven eventually. But without God? It’s just me being selfish, resenting my kids and none of us becoming better people for it. Um … Yeah. I’ll take God’s plan, thanks.

    • Terry

      I really needed to read your comment today. Pregnant with #4, husband away with work, CRAZY hormonal, trying to clean the house – and thinking I could do it all myself. What a waste of a day! That’s a day of my kids’ lives I’ll never get back, and all they want is their Mum. I really need to learn to leave it in His hands, and focus on the important things.

  • Lauren C.

    Hi Jenny! I love this post! My daughter is 9 months old. If I’m honest with myself I live like “it’s all on me” a lot of the time. The days I remember that’s not true and that God is in control are our best days, regardless of what craziness goes down! Thank you for this! also- I recently started my own Catholic momma blog, would love for you to check it out and share! It’s called “Mercy in the Mess” at God bless!

  • Maureen

    I have 5 children,(and now 10 grandchildren) and I think I only really began to enjoy motherhood with the arrival of the 4th. Suddenly I had the confidence to do things the way that suited me, and mine, without having to follow the so-called advice of others.

    What I have noticed over the years is
    1) Generally, it is difficult to permanently damage a child. If I got it wrong, I apologised, and we made up. And they learnt a valuable lesson is saying ‘sorry’.
    2) Individualism is OK – in small doses. Large families produce team players, but with hidden depths of idiosyncrasy:-)
    3) The African saying ‘It takes a village to rear a child’ is true. Accept all the help you can get, give help when you can, and you will have well-socialised people for children. They will understand that different households have different ways of doing things, and so learn to discern what is good, and what is not. Add God into that, and of course, his Mother, and the end result is quite wonderful. And you will not be quite so stressed.
    4) This is the really difficult one……….as they all grow up, their relationship with God is just that – their relationship with Him. So if they wander from practicing the faith, have faith that HE knows what He is doing. It is not a reflection on your parenting! Nor on your faith teaching. He is preparing them to be HIS people in the 21st century. And we can’t know what He needs of them.

    I remember saying to my own mother (who only had me) that her years as a school teacher did not really give her the experience to comment on how to run a family of 5! I hope she understood:-)

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