It’s Not Enough That You’re a Mess

We’re in This Together

There’s a pretty comforting trend going around the mama blogosphere. It goes like this – “You’re a mess. I’m a mess. We’re all okay.”

You’ll find tons of posts following this theme. They tell hilarious stories of moms’ most embarrassing moments or their most frequent failures all with the general message – if I can make it through this, then you can too!

I’ve liked this trend for as long as I’ve been a mom. I’ll readily admit I’m a Pinterest-poser who relates way more to the messy bun mom in sweat pants.

In many ways, confession blogs give me permission to accept that I’ll never be the perfect parent I envision and more than likely, I’m always going to be a bit of a mess.

So often, that’s exactly what my sleep-deprived soul longs to hear.

These parenting posts are meant to be funny. But I wonder if they reveal a side to motherhood we need to address more seriously.

Behind the camaraderie, there’s often a lot of painful complaining.  Beneath the jokes about how hard this life is, there is often the very serious shock of nagging discontentment. While we pat each other on the back for making it through another day, there’s a side of us that seems to actually say, “how long do you think we can hold on?!”

Yes, I get a good laugh at the messy mom blogs. But when I turn my attention back to the little ones fighting in the living room, and the laundry laying on my bed, and the work emails waiting in my inbox – that’s when empathy isn’t enough.

In my muddle of tasks each day, it’s not enough to know I’m not alone. As much as I love them, I need more than other moms on my side.

The Big Picture

Of course, we know how to talk ourselves through the tough days. Mom blogs exist so we can be reminded of the bigger picture:

“Yes, life is hard and basically unbearable some days, but somehow we’ll get through this. We just need to take it one day at a time. Someday our little ones will grow up and it won’t be this hard. But for now, they need us and we love them; so it’s worth it.”

But, what if the big picture is actually bigger than that?

What I’d like to propose is that maybe the point isn’t to strive for the day when we’re done struggling. Maybe we don’t need to settle for just surviving these years. And maybe we’re meant to do more with our pain than turn it into a punchline for our friends.

I’d like to argue that you’re a better mom for being a mess. But only if you wear it well.

A Tale of Two Play Dates

Take for instance, my latest play date adventures…

One happened today. We met up with friends to celebrate a little girl’s birthday. The kids got to eat lunch at McDonald’s and then play at a local park. The sun was shining and for the first time in months it was warm enough to play outdoors without a coat.

My kids were ecstatic. They gobbled up their chicken nuggets as they shared silly stories with their friends. At the park, they ran around the playground and imagined they were pirates sailing through the ocean on the lookout for sharks. They built towers out of dirt and threw stones onto the still-frozen pond. It was a full day filled with energetic giggles followed by the rarest of 3-hour afternoon naps.

To me, this was a triumph of a play date.

Last week’s play date had a bit more character.

It had just rained, and being a city girl transplant in Montana, I didn’t think about the consequences of taking an unpaved back road to my friend’s house. When we arrived, my car was dripping with mud – which I took no notice of until I had pressed against the side of the car to undo the backseat buckles.

Great. I only had one kid out of the car and already I was a mess.

I proceeded to get out children 2 and 3; but in those few seconds, child 1 decided that mud dripping off of our car looks pretty cool and should be examined closely. Said child got mud all over his hands. I finished getting all children extracted from the vehicle and closed the door just in time to see little Henry poking at the gushy puddle. I tried to pull his hand away, but in the process I accidentally swung him around too far and smooshed the back of his coat flat against the mud-covered car.

Keep up with me now – by the time I reached the front door I had 2 muddy, messy people for my friend to welcome into her recently cleaned home.

7 lunches were made and divvyed out. Although it was a bit of marathon getting everybody settled in for lunch, it was worth it. Finally, my friend and I could plop down in the living room to chat while we enjoyed lunch with the littles and the big kids ate on their own.

But two minutes into our lunch, I heard my daughter start coughing. I had warned my friend about this lingering cough that was the stubborn hold out from Gracie’s cold. It was nothing, I had assured her. But this cough didn’t sound like nothing. It kept going. And going. And going.

After a few agonizing minutes, Grace made her way to me with tears in her eyes because she couldn’t stop coughing.

At this point, I started worrying that I’d exposed my obviously sick child to all her little friends. I hate it when other moms do that to my kids. I hated it that I was now that mom that I hate.

I tried to console Grace while figuring out whether we should just pack up and leave. But before my brain even got the chance to answer this parenting pop quiz, Grace did something she’s never done before.

She threw up. In my lap.

Next mental challenge: should I laugh this off while politely requesting some paper towels? Or do I jump into emergency mode and order bucket and rags, stat? If I was at home, this would’ve been the moment where I would’ve screamed for my husband to “hurry in here, NOW!” and he would’ve saved me while I just sat helpless and lingered in my shock. But I wasn’t at home. I had to keep it together – to comfort Grace, to keep any vomit from getting on their carpet, to not die of embarrassment and total humiliation.

So I smiled, apologized, and asked for some paper towels. Of course my friend obliged.

And while she got them for us, just to top it off, Grace threw up on me three more times.

Still keeping count? I was trying not to.

Nora somehow made it out of the play date unscathed although there was a juice spill between her and her little friend which we might as well throw into our tally since we were on such a role anyhow.

I left this play date wearing my friend’s clothes and wondering if we’d ever be invited back, or if I’d ever risk leaving the house again for any play date, ever. I was embarrassed and worn out. And a mess.

Why We Need Terrible Play Dates and Messy Moms

To state the obvious, I only want play date triumphs. I never want to relive the ones where I was frazzled and got thrown-up on. But of course we don’t get to opt out of life’s messy moments. We ought not ignore them or laugh them off too quickly either. They can serve great purpose.

Why is parenting hard? Because I am a sinful mama, raising sin-addicted children in a sin-smeared world.

What does God do with sin? He redeems it.

Isn’t the message of the Bible, that sin has messed everything up and yet through God’s plan every single bit of that mess is going to be used to bring Him glory? That our God, not only conquers sin – He shockingly incorporates it into His salvation plan before He ultimately rids the world of it.

Sin is what makes motherhood a mess. It’s why we lash out, why we give up, and why we’ll never be the consistently-loving moms we want to be. But because God has fused His eternal purpose into every action of our day-to-day lives, He’s using our breakdowns to bring about breath-taking grace too.

Our repeat failures mount a stronger argument for God’s unfailing love. Our daily sins showcase a tally of the times Christ has chosen to save us. Our tired hearts reveal the challenge His promised sanctification is ready to take on.

We need the mess of motherhood to better understand the glory of the gospel.

What glories did I see in my play date catastrophe? I saw God deepen a friendship with bonds that went well beyond my comfort zone.  I saw God strengthen my relationship with my daughter who now knows I’ll care for her whenever and wherever she needs me. I even saw God jump start my prayer life, which to be honest had been lacking.

Make the Most of Your Mess

Does the chaos of motherhood point you to Christ or to your insufficiency? It’s not enough to admit that you are a mess if it doesn’t lead you to wonder at God’s grace at work in you. There is so much of God’s glory being revealed in our  weakness.

Whatever your final straw, your breaking point, wherever you last lost it as a mom – that is where you met the limits of your faith. And that is where Christ is ready to extend it by granting you yet another measure of His unfailing love and His unbelievable grace.

So let’s admit we are weak and revel that we are Christ’s.

And the next time we are reminded of our mess, let’s not simply turn to each other in mutual resignation. Let’s encourage each other to remember the relief we have in the gospel of grace. And when we do confide our struggles or laugh about this crazy life, let’s be sure it’s with a firm hope in our God who is working all of our failures for His glory.

Because ultimately our greatest hope isn’t that we have each other, it’s that we have Christ.