A Loaded Question
“Mommy, do you like being a mom?” A host of thoughts flooded my brain as my eight-year-old daughter stood waiting, looking up at me with wide eyes. I wanted—I needed—to get this answer right.
When a child asks whether a parent enjoys his or her employment, there’s a wide range of acceptable responses. We can offer a simple “Yes” or say, “Honestly, it’s hard, but it’s the work God’s given me to do right now.” If there’s time, we might give an extended explanation about the aspects of a job that we love, the parts that aren’t the best, and how we’re so grateful it provides for our family.
But when a daughter wants to know if you like being a parent—a role that deeply connects the two of you, one that you’re responsible to God for, something that outlasts a 9:00 to 5:00, clock-in and clock-out situation—so much is at stake.
In that moment, I wanted to affirm biblical femininity and the value of motherhood to a young girl growing up in 21st Century culture that often doesn’t. To communicate the joys and privileges of being a mom—feeling those first kicks in the womb, kissing a newborn’s peach fuzz, getting to hear an infant’s first words and see first steps, and over the years, so much more. To assure her of my deep and abiding love not just for children in general but for her in particular.
Yet motherhood is hard. Labor and delivery, or the adoption process, are only the beginning of the pain a mom experiences in a fallen world. Along with deep love, the motherhood journey often brings deep heartache. Could I tell my daughter that?
To complicate things further, my daughter’s seen me overwhelmed by the tasks of motherhood. She’s heard my complaining words and felt my impatience. And she wanted to know, even when I’m weak and tempted and even when mom life doesn’t always go the way I plan or look how I expect, do I still like being a mom?
This is a loaded question for many of us. Without patronizing our children, nuanced to their maturity levels, how should we answer? How much do we let our children see and know about not only the joys but also the sorrows of parenting, the aspects we like and those we don’t? Should we talk to our kids about the harder parts of our parenting journey, especially as it involves them?
Principles to Guide Us
As a parent, there’s no playbook for this. Each parent-child relationship is unique, and so are our parenting experiences. But as we wrestle to answer these questions, here are some biblical principles to guide us:
1. Love your child.
Whether or not we like a particular aspect or task of parenting doesn’t change the clear instruction in Scripture to love our children. We see this in Scripture when Jesus sums up the Law and the Prophets by saying we should love the Lord and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Not only are our children considered our “neighbors” and included in this command, but Paul gives specific direction that women should be trained to love their children (Titus 2:4). What’s more, each son or daughter, with his or her personality and make up, is a blessing from God to cherish (Ps. 127:3–5).
Love for our children should characterize how we engage our children in conversation and respond to their deepest questions. Even if and when we talk about some of the harder parts of parenting, we want to do so in a way that affirms our love for our children and how much we value them. We should distinguish between the more challenging elements of the parenting role and the blessing of our relationship with our children. Ultimately, we want everything we do and say to point our children to the gospel where God displayed his love for us in Christ (Rom. 5:8 and 1 John 4:10).
With these things in mind, just as in other contexts and relationships, we should ask ourselves, What would be loving to share with my child? How much information is helpful and kind?
2. Teach them diligently.
When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses told them to teach God’s commands to love him and their neighbor on their hearts and to “teach them diligently to your children, and . . . talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7). This culture of conversation about God’s commands, character, and ways is something to pursue for our families.
Whether we’re making breakfast together or walking to the park, picking them up from school or tucking them under covers for the night, we want God-saturated talk to fill our minutes with our children. When talking about what really matters is habitual, our children feel safe asking their questions and may even expect us to point to Scripture in our answers.
Teaching our children diligently means not shying away from talking about sin and its consequences, including its impacts on family life. But when we do, do we lead our children to see how the gospel offers hope to parent and child alike?
3. Tell the stories.
Shortly after birth, doctors informed my parents that I had kyphoscoliosis, a congenital back condition. They didn’t know what this meant for my future. Would I ever walk?
Learning to crawl in a back brace, I looked like a turtle lugging its shell. But like the twelve stones that Joshua set up at Gilgal (Josh. 4:20), as I grew out of one back brace and into another, and as I progressed from crawling to walking and even to running, my mom saved about a dozen of those braces as a testimony of God’s work in my life. Just as the Israelite parents were supposed to point to those stones and tell their children how God dried up the waters for his people to pass over them, my mom pointed to those braces and told me how God answered prayer and was merciful to my body.
Love for our children should characterize how we engage our children in conversation and respond to their deepest questions.
A friend collects actual rocks and another mom uses a variety of objects around her house, both for the purpose of remembering God’s faithfulness to their families and sharing those stories with their children. Me? Driving home from doctor’s appointments, I tell my kids how faithful God has been through their multiple health diagnoses. I also keep a journal for each of my children and write books that I hope they pick up and read some day. How can you, in a developmentally-appropriate way, tell your children their own stories of God’s faithfulness to them in sickness and sorrow?
Like Mary, we have the privilege of pondering God’s work in the lives of our children (Luke 2:19). We can help them connect the dots of their personal history—the parts they remember with the parts they don’t—and tell them how we’ve seen God work in their lives from birth to present.
Depend on the Lord
Ultimately, parenting is by faith, and we depend on the Lord to guide our conversations with our children about the joys and sorrows of parenting. Whether a child asks an unexpected question at age eight or we plan a time to share intentionally on an eighteenth birthday, we invite the Holy Spirit to guide and ask the Lord to provide the wisdom he promises (James 1:5). Then, we trust God to accomplish his purposes, for his glory, in our children’s lives and in our relationships with them.
When my daughter asked me if I like being a mom, I froze. I wanted to get the answer right, but it was a loaded question. While there are parts of motherhood that I thoroughly enjoy, being a mom has also been one of the hardest and most painful things I’ve ever experienced. Motherhood is both. It’s joy and sorrow.
But oh, the joys far outweigh the sorrows, and I answered with a resounding yes.
That day and every day, I want to tell my children, I absolutely love being a mom. And not just any mom, but your mom. In the joys and the sorrows.
Katie Faris is the author of God Is Still Good: Gospel Hope and Comfort for the Unexpected Sorrows of Motherhood.
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I don’t want to diminish the need to pay people a fair wage for the work they do. But it is important for us to see work as a contribution, and not always with a dollar sign attached to it.
Katie Faris talks about the love, joy, and heartache of motherhood and how moms can experience God's comfort and grace in the midst of it all.