Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to a local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. I guess they invited me because they assumed I’d have something inspiring to say since I was once a mother of preschoolers and have survived to tell the tales. I also initiated the launch of a local MOPS group approximately 10 years ago. There was a great need in our area for the type of nurturing support MOPS provides to mothers and their offspring, and that program continues to be attended by hoards of harried mamas each month. Praise the Lord.
So, what would I talk about with these young mothers whom I feared would look at me as if I could impart some great wisdom? Well, I attempted to talk about the universal mama burden of worry. I talked about how worry seems to begin in pregnancy when we fret about our blood pressure, glucose levels, prenatal vitamins, birth plans and getting registered for a car seat that ranks near the top of the Consumer’s Report.
How once the baby is born, we worry about its breathing, sleeping and eating. And then how worry can morph and grow like the blob oozing through a fictional town in a campy horror movie. We worry about crawling, walking, falling, screen time, vaccinations, bicycle helmets, bullies, environmental toxins, developmental milestones, swallowing quarters, swallowing Polly Pockets, swallowing Legos, toilet training, finding Legos in the toilet, homework, sports, piano lessons, voice lessons, swallowing beer, throwing up beer, ACT tests and college applications. This is only a basic list of typical mom worries but you catch my drift.
And what I’ve discovered over years of trying to manage my mental state when it comes to parental worry is that parents today have the added burden of abundant choices. Yes. Just as an immigrant mother once told me how she’d stood frozen in an aisle of canned tomatoes in an American grocery store unsure which to choose, so can American parents develop serious FOMO (fear of missing out) when considering all of the options we have for our children. Families are inundated with parenting options about everything from fitness to nutrition to education.
I think back to when I started kindergarten. It seems my mother simply found the school bus that came nearest our home and put me on board. I’m not sure she even knew exactly which school that bus took me to. But all of the other moms were doing the same thing, so I’m sure this gave her some confidence in making and sticking by her decision.
Contrast this simplification to today. In our hyper-competitive educational atmosphere, where parents seemed terrified that little Jane won’t get into the best college if she doesn’t attend the most dynamic and leadership-focused preschool, we have the added burden of choice. So many choices. Language immersion schools. Religious schools. Montessori schools. Classical education schools. Global learning schools. Play-based schools. Farm schools. And the worst part is that unlike when I was little, many parents seem to be doing something different. And they often want you to do what they’re doing because either they feel so strongly about their choice (bullies) or are secretly unsure of their choice and want you along to validate their decision (wimps).
Those who have a bit more sanity and who are less obsessed with making the “perfect” choices for their children in the arena of education may look around and wonder, “Is something wrong with me that I’m not freaking out over which school to send my 2-year-old to? Maybe I don’t love little Brenden as much as I should. I’m a terrible mother.” Then you flip through Instagram photos of moms who lost their baby weight in two weeks while you eat a box of SlimFast bars.
Now don’t get me wrong. Choice can be a good thing. I understand that not all square pegs will fit into one round hole of a single type of instructional method. But when we lack the community support provided by peers who are all pulling in the same direction, we can get caught up in second-guessing our decisions and this can make us miserable.
That’s why groups like MOPS are so important. We crave community. We crave reassurance and support. Now, of course not all the moms in whichever type of community group you choose are necessarily going to be making the same parenting decisions as you. But hopefully, you find a group of friends or mentors with whom you can talk through important parenting topics and gain a sense of confidence in your personal choices.
Like my international friend who was just looking for some canned tomatoes, maybe ask yourself if some of the decisions you’re afraid to make are truly going to ruin your sauce. Unlikely.
The things we worry about as mothers can be important but are rarely the most important. The most important thing is to raise moral and ethical children who love the Lord with all their hearts, minds and souls and who love their neighbors as themselves. When I was pregnant and really worried about the health of my unborn baby, my doc said something like, “You could have a perfectly healthy baby who grows up to steal twenty bucks out of your purse.” I think she was saying, there are no perfect children and no perfect parents.
If you’re going to worry about what they’re learning, this is the most important thing we need to teach them. And community groups for parents or circles of friends whose lives are rooted in biblical principals can help redirect our focus toward what’s most important. You may also find that learning to reduce your own anxiety when it comes to pursuing perfection for your kids may result in more confident, comfortable children who worry less about performance and pursuing perfection just to please you. Something to think about…