Not Enough: The Freeing Truth About How to Be the Mom Your Kids Really Need
:A mom of two hard-to-handle boys challenges readers to come to terms with the reality that they are not enough to succeed in the daunting task of parenting, which is why they need to seek daily the power of God....
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:A mom of two hard-to-handle boys challenges readers to come to terms with the reality that they are not enough to succeed in the daunting task of parenting, which is why they need to seek daily the power of God. Writing with candor and hope-filled truth, Brooke McGlothlin roots her content in Scripture, repeatedly pointing readers back to Jesus to anchor them in hope through the challenges of motherhood.
Brooke McGlothlin is cofounder of the popular online community for mothers of boys, the M.O.B. Society. Brooke and her husband make their home in Roanoke, Virginia, where she spends her days writing and homeschooling their two energetic sons. Learn more at www.themobsociety.com.
Why Enough Always Feels Out of Reach
The cool, refreshing water eased the ache of my sore muscles as I slid through the pool. I began swimming my slow laps, trying to make my body do what it did when I was sixteen and on the county swim team. Hair braided back, goggles on, and swim skirt flapping in my wake, I was on a mission—ten laps or bust.
But ten measly laps felt like an aggressive goal that day. I’d completed only eight the day before, and it nearly killed me. This from the girl who used to swim a mile or more at each practice. Twenty-five years and a couple of kids will do that to you.
Did I mention they weren’t consecutive laps? That’s right. This unfit mama had to stop for air in between every other lap. I’d sprint one lap, then ease my way through the next and pause at the edge of the pool to catch my breath for about a minute (and dutifully note the location of my kids) before trying to do it again. Don’t you dare laugh. I think it’s very athletic of me to sprint anywhere at all.
During one of my stops for air that particular day, I overheard an animated conversation between a mother and her son, who was maybe a year or two older than my younger son. The mom, whom I knew from a local Bible study group, happened to be standing close to me in the pool, so it really wasn’t my fault I was eavesdropping. Their tones clearly suggested something was wrong when the little boy said, “He did it again!”
The mom and another mom who was with her began to ask him questions, and my ears perked up when I thought I heard my son’s name. My fears were confirmed as the little boy described what his attacker was wearing—exactly what my son had on that day.
I gave up my intention to sprint the last three laps and swam over to the animated group with my heart pounding and my lungs on fire from my recent athletic display. “Ladies, what’s going on? It sounded like you were talking about my son.”
“Well, Brooke,” the boy’s mom said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your son caused my son to have to go to the emergency room last week. He punched him in the chest and then followed it up with a knee to the chest, and my son was in so much pain we took him to the ER. We thought something was broken.” I gasped and placed my hand over my heart. But there was more. “Thankfully, he’s just bruised, but my son has informed me that your son just did it again.”
Do I even need to tell you how I felt in that moment? Probably not. You’ve had your own moments of Mom Shame. I apologized to the mom whose son was hurt and then climbed out of the pool to get my son, who had been playing on the upper deck during Adult Swim. We removed ourselves from the situation, far enough away to talk without embarrassing him any more than necessary, and I shared with him what I had just been told. He didn’t deny it. He just sat there with a sort of shocked look on his face as he tried to process what I had said.
After some back-and-forth detective work, I came to the conclusion that he really hadn’t meant to hurt the other child. A group of boys had been playing a fighting game in the water, and everyone was punching and kicking everyone else. Apparently my son is such a brute that he was able to plow his fist toward the little boy’s chest underneath the water and actually cause damage. Sigh.
After we worked through it (him telling me everyone was doing it, me telling him that didn’t matter one bit and threatening his life if he ever played that game again), he walked back over to his friends, drew the boy aside, and asked him for forgiveness. In their eyes all was well. In mine it was just one more humbling example of how I don’t have what it takes to control my son.
If you were sitting across from me at our favorite coffee shop right now, I would look into your eyes and tell you I’ve been fighting for this boy since he was born. I would tear up as I describe how the Lord showed me early on that my child was a fighter, and then I’d explain how I spent too many years fighting against his natural tendency to push past boundaries. I would share that when he was five, the Lord graciously changed my perspective and showed me I needed to fight for him, not against him (we’ll talk about that concept more in a later chapter) and how I’ve been trying to do that ever since. I would tell you I’ve worked hard to embrace who my sons are and how God made them, and I would describe how I’m trying to shape them instead of change them. I would let you know that over and over again I’ve submitted to Jesus my embarrassment and fears for them and that most of the time I feel pretty confident this is how God wants me to parent my boys.
But that day as I walked away from my son and collapsed into my pool chair, those old, familiar feelings came rushing back. How much longer will I have to fight this battle, Lord? No matter how hard I try, pray, and fight for this boy, I just don’t seem to be able to get through. I don’t have what it takes to be his mom, Lord. I’m just not enough.
Within seconds the dialogue in my head had me convinced the ER incident was all my fault. I forgot that eight-year-old boys are prone to impulsiveness. That he is a naturally strong little boy. That at the time he was detoxing from a medicine we were taking him off didn’t even enter my mind. All I could think about was that I had failed. I was responsible for his every behavior. I wanted to give up.
The longer I sat on the pool deck and entertained that internal conversation, the worse I felt. Eventually my body posture—what was happening on the outside—matched what was happening on the inside. I sat slumped down in my chair, head back, eyes closed, tuned out.
The only thing I could hear was not enough. Actually it felt like the whole world was united in screaming at me, “You’re not enough!” I don’t know about you, but when I feel the weight of my child’s entire future on my shoulders—as I did that day—my natural inclination is to get out from under it and look for an escape, some affirmation that what I feel in my heart isn’t true and I really can do this mom thing right.
If we did an Internet search for the phrase “I don’t feel like I’m enough,” we’d find a multitude of resources to help change our minds. TinyBuddha.com would give us seven things to do when we feel we’re not enough. Psychology Today would help us understand how the traumas from our past undermine and skew our perspective. Some websites would give us positive mantras to speak over our lives when we feel the weight of “not enough,” while others would produce a list of Bible verses to make us feel better about our contributions to the world. Yes, most of us long for reassurance that we’re enough, and we are willing to do just about anything to erase the feeling that we’re not.
But what if all those assurances of our enough-ness are wrong?
What if instead of trying to eliminate or overcome the idea that we’re not enough, we embraced it? What if instead of convincing ourselves that we’ve got what it takes, we entertained the notion that God quite possibly made us to need Him—not just for a few minutes, not just for our salvation, but for every minute of every day? Crazy, right?
I’ve spent a good deal of time searching the Bible for the concept that human beings were designed to be enough on their own, but I haven’t been able to find any passages that declare our innate awesomeness is just waiting to be revealed. What I have found is consistent evidence of just the opposite: you and I are both something of a mess.
As I look at the Word of God, I clearly see I’m not enough. Verses like John 15:5 (“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”), 2 Corinthians 12:9 (“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”), and Ezekiel 36:26 (“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”) prove it to me, and they are just a few of the verses we’ll be diving into. Even though God graciously uses my experiences over and over again to remind me that I’m not enough, I don’t really need them to know it’s true.
You may disagree with me, saying, “Wait a minute! God is enough, so I’m enough!” Or “God will give me everything I need; therefore, I’m enough.” Or even “Jesus lives in me, so He makes me enough.” And I see the arguments behind all these different ways of assuring ourselves that we do have what it takes to succeed at whatever we set our minds to. Still, I think the overarching theme of Scripture proves them wrong. The Gospel isn’t, at its core, about us ever being enough on our own. We grow. We change. But we never arrive. We never stop needing.
The word enough means “to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” It’s the “fully” part of the definition that catches me. If we’re “fully” able to meet demands, needs, or expectations, why would we continue to need Jesus? As I read the Scriptures, we are in a state of perpetual need for His intervention in our lives. We are supposed to be dependent on Him for everything. We may be saved and have all the benefits of that salvation, and certainly when God looks on true Christians, He no longer sees our sin but the righteousness of His Son. With Jesus we have everything we need, but that doesn’t take away our need for Him to give it. We don’t become capable of developing the necessary strength in ourselves. The problem is with the placement of our eyes. When we believe we are enough—even when we feel Jesus’s enough makes us enough—we’re placing our eyes on ourselves, as if our abilities are top priority. On the other hand, when we acknowledge our constant need for and dependence on Him, our eyes are placed on Him, and His priorities take over.
God is no doubt perfect, and He is more than enough to make up for our lack. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), but that “divine power” still comes from Him, not from somewhere inside us that is independent of Him. We clearly need God—not just once for salvation, but constantly and continually and in more ways than we can count. Whatever enough He gives us access to still comes from Him; He is its source. If we were enough on our own, we wouldn’t need Jesus, and, friend, we all desperately need Jesus.
Sure, you and I both know moms who look like they have what it takes. Their homes are immaculate, and their children are well behaved (and able to do long division the very first time). They work fifty-hour weeks or volunteer for all the school events, have perfectly manicured nails, and enjoy a weekly date night with the love of their lives. They’re in perfect shape, not a hair out of place, all plates spinning at maximum speed without the slightest threat of even the tiniest wobble.
From the outside it looks pretty convincing.
But at that mom’s core—that deepest, darkest part of her heart where the truth resides—she knows she’s not enough. She sees the spots and blemishes no one else suspects. She knows how much effort it takes to keep those plates spinning and how tired she is. She hears herself yell way too much, criticize too often, or choose the easier way over the right way because she’s just so utterly exhausted. She knows the helpless feeling of watching her dreams of changing the world take a back seat to folding laundry and doing dishes. She knows the longing for what might have been and the weariness of going to bed at night in tears because she wasn’t the kind of mom she wanted to be that day.
Could that woman be you? I’ve wanted it to be me…to at least look from the outside like I know what I’m doing. But I’m pretty convinced that when people look at me, they see the truth—that I fall short a lot more often than I get it right.
We long to be the moms our kids need, but all we can see is how we’re coming up short.
We’re not abusive, crazed lunatics who are ruining our children on purpose or squandering our lives. We’re just normal, everyday moms who listen to our kids squabble for the fifty-seventh time in a day and wonder if we’re getting anything right. We know in our hearts that much of the time we don’t, and we worry that we’ve missed our chance as we watch our babies grow way too fast and mature way too slow.
It’s not that we’re particularly bad at being moms or that we don’t want to be moms. We’re just keenly aware of how often we get it wrong. But maybe that’s the way God meant it to be.
“But, Brooke,” you say, “I need some kind of assurance that I’m going to get the hang of this mom thing one day and it will all come easier. I need to be able to be enough!”