I prayed to the Lord, and He answered me.
He freed me from all my fears,
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
No shadow of shame will darken their faces.
Psalm 34: 4-5
I was sitting in an ice cream shop with my kids and husband one Saturday afternoon many months ago and a TV was showing the news in a corner of the shop. A few days prior, a 4 year old boy fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, and this was the story on every news channel all weekend long. As we know, he survived the incident, but the gorilla was shot dead to protect the young boy’s life. One of the shop owners was sweeping near the TV and commented to another employee that they "just should have shot the mother instead." My stomach lurched in shock and anger; but, apparently this sentiment had been echoed in comment sections, petitions, and Twitter feeds around the world. What is it, I wondered, that made people feel that the only logical conclusion to this terrible accident was that she was a bad mother?
I wasn't at the zoo that day, but many eye witnesses actually defended the mother and absolved her of fault. The court of public opinion, however, had its own measure of justice and found her very much guilty. In fact, she received death threats and global condemnation for this split second moment of her life. In a world that processes every piece of information through some sort of social media platform, it has become more common than ever to think dichotomously about each global and personal event in order to make sense of our worlds. Everything is either all good, or totally bad, fully right or terribly wrong, with you or against you. In the case of this young boy’s mother, millions of strangers sat behind a screen in the comfort of their own home, across the world from her and shamed her, a total stranger, by reducing her to her very worst moment.
One of the most problematic aspects of modern parenting is the way in which we allow the half-truths, unnecessary absolutes and utopian newsfeeds of social media mold our perspective. The message of social media is that there is always someone to blame and that we must proclaim absolute fault in every circumstance; also we must live in perfectly soft lighting, wear coordinated outfits, and maintain Pinterest-worthy houses at all times. But the message of the Gospel is that we are all on the same sinking ship without Jesus Christ—and it is His grace working within us that brings peace and joy into the world—not perfect houses and lives made up of photographable moments. It is His Spirit within us that strengthens us to meet every challenge of raising human beings. However, when we spend more time scrolling through Facebook than connecting with others and most importantly, with God, we start to reject the complexity of the actual human experience in favor of these false absolutes, and we lose sight of God’s story in the world.
God, thankfully, does not assess our value based on the one or the hundreds of decisions we make as parents; our worth in His eyes is not tied to our best or worst moments in life. Just like a mother loves her child through every good and challenging moment, God loves us abundantly through every single triumph and failure. We may not watch our kids fall into a gorilla enclosure today (I hope!), but something will happen today, and probably the day after that, that will make us feel like less-than-amazing parents. If we process this moment of failure through the narrative of social media, we may think this moment defines us, but the truth is this: bad moments DO NOT make bad mothers. These negative and absolute thoughts hinder the growth that comes when we acknowledge our mistakes before the Lord and seek his forgiveness, recognizing the bigger picture of His hope and redemption. When we truly surrender our fears and failures to God, asking for his help and his grace, we can experience His freedom and peace.
The best news for us all is that God is always here to strengthen us and help us through challenging circumstances and difficult parenting moments, and yes, even our failures. If you feel defined by your worst moments as a parent, it’s time to hold that thought up to the light and examine it—the light of honest conversation with a trusted friend or a counselor, and certainly to the light of God’s word. Let someone you trust help you to see the whole and beautiful picture of your life as a parent. Talking to someone who feels safe can help you to gain perspective and replace these negative thoughts with the truth and can help you to experience the grace of a heavenly Father whose hand is always stretched out to help you through your challenges as a parent.