I sank into the cushions of my couch, feeling the full weight of two rounds of colds in our household in the last month. My little guy was sleeping, and I longed to do the same. The pillows stared back at me like temptresses, willing me to rest my weary head. I couldn’t resist. I grabbed our fuzziest blanket, curled up, and buried my face in the fluffiest pillow in the pile. And that’s when I heard it. My inner mom voice.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. You aren’t going to take a nap, are you?’
“Have you looked at this house lately? It’s a pig sty!”
“The baby is sleeping. This is your only chance. Those dishes aren’t going to do themselves!”
“Oh, and don’t forget about dinner prep. You’ve been eating waaaay too much mac and cheese around here. We don’t want little P to grow up addicted to sugar and carbs now, do we? By the way, when’s the last time your son ate something green? You really aren’t pushing those veggies enough. He’s probably already on the path to obesity!”
On and on the little voice rattles, until I drag myself up off the couch and pick up a vacuum or a sponge or my laptop and get back to work.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that voice. I don’t know about you, but sometimes my inner monologue sounds more like a 17 year old mean girl than a grown adult mother. Sure, she seems well meaning enough at first. She appears to want what’s best for me and my family. None of what she says to me is necessarily wrong. Sometimes my house really does need cleaned. Sometimes I can’t remember the last vegetable my son ate. Sometimes I really could use a good workout.
But here’s the thing about my inner mean girl. She‘s never satisfied. I can do yoga and scrub the floors and lose weight and attend all the toddler development play dates in the world, and she’ll still tell me I’m not enough. Like Regina George dressed in pepto-bismol pink, she seems pure and good and sweet until she rips your heart to shreds. My inner mean mom paralyzes me with guilt when I take an hour to read or watch Netflix or, God forbid, take a nap. She tells me everyone else is getting along so much better than me, and why can’t I just do ALL THE THINGS like so-and-so seems to (so easily) do?
This voice is not driven by love for my child or myself (a lie that’s quite easy to believe), but by judgmental comments, comparison shopping, and jealousy. It gets it’s power from articles like “5 Ways to Make Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by 4 Months” or “How to Raise an Angel Baby Who Never Cries and Will Definitely Never Have an Epic Meltdown in a Target.” Even articles telling us to ignore the dirty dishes and “be really present” can feel like eternal judgments on our parenting. According to the Internet, when I’m cleaning, I should feel guilty about not soaking up precious minutes of my child’s life, and when I’m busy “being present” I should feel stressed about the food hardening to diamond-like strength on last night’s dinner dishes.
My mean girl lurks behind the noise of tractor toys and Bob the Builder (“ah, ah, ah, better be careful about that screen time!”), laying on the sarcasm and the judgement wherever she can. She’s Regina, only perhaps worse, since she’s armed with a decade’s worth of expectations about what “good moms” or “good women” do (or don’t do).
Here’s the thing. We all know our inner Regina isn’t good. She’s a life ruiner, remember? It may not be the most “fetch” lesson we learned from Mean Girls, but it’s just as important. Mean girls steal our joy and destroy our relationships, making them nothing more than a game of jealousy and comparison.
Deep down, I know that judgmental, condescending voice taking up space in my brain and heart isn’t my real voice. The reason I know that is because it sounds completely different from the voice I use with my own child when I’m at my best. My genuine voice, the one that loves my little one so much it hurts, is full of tenderness and grace, patience and good humor. That voice doesn’t condemn or shame or weigh down with guilt. Instead, it gently leads, corrects, affirms, and encourages. It assumes we’re on the same team. We are a work in progress, but we’re growing and learning together. I expect there to be mistakes made along the way, lessons to be learned, and consequences to learn them from. But my truest inner mom, or at least the mom I long to be, doesn’t ever want my child’s life to be ruled by guilt and unmet expectations. I want him to grow up joyfully believing he is fearfully and wonderfully made and loved exactly as he is–imperfections and all.
I want to say I’m DONE listening to my mean mom voice, but even as I make that declaration, I hear her whispering, “You can’t do it. You’ll just go back to the way you’ve always been. You NEED me.”
And you know what? She’s right. I will fail. I will continue to hear her voice, and sometimes I will listen to it. That doesn’t mean I am a failure. That means I am a human. Because I’m human, I will sometimes fail. I will yell. I’ll use the TV as a crutch. I’ll eat junk food too many days in a row. I’ll look at my phone too much. I’ll clean when I should be playing or play when I should be cleaning. I’ll make mistakes I don’t even realize I’m making until years later. Perfection is not an option, despite what Instagram or Pinterest would have us believe. The only option we have is our response, the voice we choose to listen to. We can talk to ourselves like Regina George on a power trip or meet ourselves with the same grace and gentleness we long to give our own children. This Mother’s Day my heart is so tender towards all of you who are battling the same mean girl I have in my head. This motherhood business is hard enough without listening to a mean girl judging you all day long. Be kind and take care of yourself this year.
Take a nap. Read a book. Go to Target by yourself. Write or paint or work out or hike or garden.
And when you make a mistake or feel like you’re failing, treat yourself with the same tenderness you give your own children. Because the truth is you are a child too, sweet friend. And you are just as precious as them. Our heavenly Father doesn’t want His children to live with the crushing weight of guilt, envy, or impossible expectations. If you can quiet the mean girl long enough, you’ll hear the whisper of the truth–you are fearfully and wonderfully made and loved exactly as you are, failures and all.