Exposing the Myths of Motherhood
About the Guest
Is motherhood a walk in the park? Hardly. But surprisingly, before having children, many women think motherhood will be a snap. Karen Ehman, a mother of three and Proverbs 31 Ministries author and speaker, tells how astonished she was when she had her first child and realized that motherhood was actually hard. Karen tells how God used a colicky baby and little personal time to teach her how to die to self.
Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and New York Times Best-selling author. Described as profoundly practical, engagingly funny and downright real, her passion is to help women to live their priorities and love their lives as they serve God and others. Karen writes for Encouragement for Today online devotions that bring God's peace, perspective,...more
Karen Ehman tells how astonished she was when she had her first child and realized that motherhood was actually hard.
Exposing the Myths of Motherhood
Bob: It is hard work being a mom. It can be a little easier if you’ve got other moms around you in your network / in your circle of friends. Karen Ehman says, “They don’t all have to be moms who think just like you.”
Karen: What happened in my life was that I did not forge friendships with moms who did things differently than me. Think about a piece of wood—you can take a piece of wood, and you can build an ugly fence between you and another person because they don’t think like you; or you can humbly lay that wood down, and build a bridge, and get to know them, and appreciate each other’s differences, and support each other.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There is a lot about motherhood that, as it turns out, is mythology. We’ll see if we can correct some of those myths today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Thanks for joining us. Did you think being a dad was going to be easy when you became a father for the first time?
While you’re thinking about that, I spent seven summers, before I was married, working as a camp counselor. I thought being a dad—you were just like a full-time camp counselor—you just say: “Hey, what do we want to do today?” “What would be fun and exciting for the kids to do today?” And that would be basically all I’d have to do. It was later that I realized there’s more to it than just being the fun-meister in your home every day.
Dennis: There really is. I thought it would be fun / I thought it would be a lot of hard work. I really hadn’t given it a lot of thought. I didn’t really even like kids, as a single guy. [Laughter] It took marriage to Barbara and being around some people, who had children, who had really, I think, more of God’s view of children—that they are a privilege, they’re a blessing, and that you really are better off with them if God grants the birth of a child to your family.
They are going to teach you a lot about yourself.
Bob: I just think that dads, in general, are a little more laidback about—
Dennis: You think?
Bob: —being dads than moms are about being moms.
Dennis: It’s one of our many battlefronts that we have. In fact, our guest on today’s program—I’m going to start out: “She can handle it / she’s a tough cookie.” [Laughter] Karen Ehman joins us again on FamilyLife Today. She is the coauthor of the book, Hoodwinked, and it’s about Ten Myths That Moms Believe and Why We Need to Knock It Off. I love that!
So, you start the book—I’ve got to question some research that you did that you state in the book. I just want to read what you said—you say in here that you surveyed over 300 moms and asked if they had preconceived notions of what motherhood would be like. An astounding 83 percent said, “Yes; absolutely.”
I guess I wonder, “Really?—why not 100 percent?” [Laughter]
Bob: You want to meet this 17 percent, who thought, “No.”
Dennis: I mean—this from a group of people / Christians, who quote passages like this: “She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up they call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’” This is in the Bible—Proverbs 31. We all know about the Proverbs 31 woman. In fact, you work for Proverbs 31 Ministries.
Karen: Yes; I do.
Dennis: It’s the ideal! So, who hadn’t heard of the ideal / who doesn’t have a lot of expectations?
Karen: Yes; we come into it, not only with biblical expectations, but we grew up knowing a lot of seemingly amazing moms—maybe, in our neighborhood or in our family. Of course, we were only seeing the good parts. We didn’t see behind their four walls at the day-in and day-out motherhood in the trenches and how hard it can be.
We kind of had preconceived notions that it was going to be a walk in the park; and often, it is not.
Dennis: It isn’t. It’s a challenging job—may be one of the most difficult jobs on the planet because you’re not dealing with—how should I say this?—I’ve already said children are a blessing; okay? Children aren’t always rational / they aren’t always controllable.
Bob: They are born with the universal human condition—
Dennis: They are.
Bob: —they are depraved.
Dennis: They are, and they are related to their mom and dad—
Dennis: —and have some of their tendencies, which really aggravate us when we see our children have that.
So, you have three children. What about you? How did you enter into being a mom?
Karen: Well, you know, I thought I was just going to kind of strap on my first baby in her little baby sling and just keep going like I had been. You know, I was a pretty with-it girl—involved in a lot of things. All of a sudden, I’ve got this colicky baby that was keeping me up at night, and costing me time, and making me get to noon / one o’ clock and I couldn’t even get in the shower.
Karen: Just really kind of upset the apple cart of my life, but I really feel that God used that to help me to learn to die to myself, and to care for another human being, and to really forge my relationship with Him because I had to go to Him for answers because I did not know. As many books as I read, I thought I was going to apply all the knowledge in the books. This was the day and age before internet. Now, people go to blogs for all of this, but—
Karen: —I thought I was going to apply the knowledge I learned in the books. I would do what they said the mom was supposed to do, and the kids would behave the way that the kids in the book responded to the mom.
Bob: You thought—and I think we thought the same thing—that Betty Crocker tells you how to bake a cake. She gives you a recipe, and it turns out well. So, Dr. Spock, or
Dr. Dobson, or whomever you are turning to—he’s going to give you the recipe to turn out your kids.
Bob: And if you just—if you do a cup of this and three-quarters of a tablespoon of that, your kids will be perfect.
Karen: Absolutely. And the more I’m a mom, the more I realize that mothering and fathering—parenting is not a recipe / it’s a relationship. It’s a relationship with your kids, and it’s a relationship with God.
We need to be going to Him for our answers, our strength, and just keep showing up—just keep showing up.
Bob: Dennis quoted your research—83 percent of women, who said, “I came into motherhood with a preconception,”—but he didn’t finish it out. They all said: “My preconception was wrong. What I thought it was going to be is not what it turned out being.” So, they came in with one idea, realizing that was either unrealistic; or they had some kind of romanticized vision of what motherhood was going to be.
Karen: Absolutely. And I think it’s even worse in this day and age with Pinterest® perfection—you know, pictures of houses and beautiful children, sitting there minding themselves on the couch, eating that gourmet food that you—I mean, everything just looks like it’s just so easy, and perfect, and wonderful. Then, we get to our reality; and it’s hard!
Bob: Well, that’s the other thing I was going to say because I think, if you went to most moms today and said, “Give yourself a grade on how you’re doing as a mom,” there would not be many people who would say, “I think I’m getting an ‘A’ as a mom.”
Maybe, they’d be harder on themselves than they ought to be; don’t you think?
Karen: Oh, absolutely. I think we are much harder on ourselves, and we get this picture of perfection and these high standards. We think we need to be doing all of it, all at once, all at the same time. Then, we just get down on ourselves.
Dennis: So, if you are a man listening to this broadcast—whether single or married / whether you are a daddy or not—you need to listen and ask God for understanding of your wife because this explains a lot of how mothers feel and why they need a husband who really lives with his wife in an understanding way. By the way, that’s a command of Scripture, if you didn’t recognize it—1 Peter, Chapter 3, verse 7. So, listen carefully to what we are unpacking here about how moms view their assignment.
You’ve actually built your book, Hoodwinked, around ten myths of motherhood. I want you to just quickly—and you don’t have to comment on each one. We’ll go back and do that on a few of these, but just quickly go down through the ten myths.
I think a lot of men need to hear these because this will help guys understand what’s entailed in being a mom.
Karen: Here are the myths of motherhood: “Mothering is natural, easy, and instinctive.”
Bob: It’s not; right? [Laughter]
Karen: No! Number two: “The way I mother is the right and only way.” Myth number three: “I am just a mom.”
Bob: Now, what’s the myth about that—“I am just a mom”?
Karen: It doesn’t matter—“I’m just a mom.” Society doesn’t think it’s very great.
Bob: Oh, not a whole lot of value.
Karen: It’s not important—no.
Bob: Okay; alright.
Karen: Then, the next one is kind of the opposite of it: “Motherhood is all-consuming and all-fulfilling.” The next myth—number five is: “A good mother can do it all, all at once.” The next one: “Motherhood is a rat race.”
Karen: Myth number seven: “Motherhood is luck of the draw.”
Bob: What do you mean “luck of the draw”?
Karen: You know: “It really doesn’t matter what you do as a mom. Kids are going to turn out like they are going to turn out. So, why are you wasting your time trying to turn out good kids?”
Karen: Number eight: “Everything depends on me.”
Dennis: Oh, that’s the myth of the messiah—
—thinking: “I’m the solution. I’ve got to fix everything.” That betrays a biblical understanding of how kids are hardwired.
Dennis: They are selfish.
Karen: Number nine: “I have to do it all right, or my child will turn out wrong.” And myth number ten—my personal favorite because I’ve dealt with it in my life—is that: “My child’s bad choice means I’m a bad mom.” We tether our identity to the choices of our children, and then, decide we’re bad moms because they made a bad choice.
Dennis: And sometimes, it’s not a bad choice—it’s a series of bad choices over a season of months, if not years. That’s when it really becomes difficult to be a mom.
Bob: Well, and here is the thing you say about these myths—you say that: “It’s not that they are all not true. They are all somewhat true,”—but I love / we talked about this earlier—Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong; it is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”
Some of these myths are almost right—
—I mean, your kid may be in the principal’s office because of something you did or didn’t do. It’s the almost right—that’s not the absolute reason / that may be a contributing factor. That’s true with all of these myths; isn’t it?
Karen: Absolutely. They are just slight variations of the truth that trip us up in our mothering.
Dennis: Let’s go back to the first myth and have you unpack that a bit more. A lot of us, as men, assume that mothering is a part of the hardwiring of nearly all women. As a result, it’s natural, it’s easy, it just kind of flows from the inside out. You’re saying that isn’t true.
Karen: And see, this is one of those almost-truths. The myth we state is that motherhood is natural, easy, and instinctive. And I think it is instinctive that we want to be a mom. We do naturally feel this nurturing sense in our life—we want to nurture our kids—but what is not instinctive is how to do it. We want to be good moms, and we want to raise our kids and love our kids, but we don’t always know—
—with each of the bazillion decisions we need to make in our mothering—we don’t always know what it is that we are supposed to do.
Dennis: So, what is happening today is—Millennials, who are becoming parents, are going online / social media and crowd-sourcing, “How to be a mom.” Now, I’m not saying you can’t find wisdom in the crowd, but I’ve got to tell you, “That’s a dangerous place to go—to throw, wide-open, how you become a mother according to God’s design.”
Bob: Well, especially if the crowd you’re sourcing is your peer group. If they are no more experienced at being a mom than you are, then, you’re really just sharing theories that don’t have a whole lot of basis in fact. It is one thing to crowd-source older women, who can mentor you, based on some of their experience; but even there, we need to go back and say, “There’s an absolute source beyond the crowd-sourcing”; isn’t there?
Karen: Absolutely. And I think, when people go online, I see them go two places.
They either go to famous Doctor So-and-so, who is the expert in the topic; or they go, exactly as Dennis said, to a popular mommy blogger So-and-so, who writes about her mothering in such an engaging and funny way that whatever she did with her rebellious teenager: “Well, that must mean I’m supposed to do that with mine.”
Instead of taking in those experts and those bloggers as resources and adopting them as lifestyles, we need to get our decisions from God and His Word. Yes, we can gain some insight from other people; but we need to realize that that person isn’t us. They are not the mom we are, and they don’t have the child that we have. So, what worked for them might not work for us. We need to make sure we are going to God for our marching orders and our direction, and just use them as resources, and not adopt every single thing they say as gospel truth.
Dennis: I was approached some time back by a young mom, who came up to me—and she knew I had written a few books—so she said, “I’d like to write a book.” I said: “Okay; great. That’s a great idea / good ambition. You’re a good writer; yes.” I said, “What do you want to write about?”
“About raising kids.” I said, “Terrific. How many children do you have?” “Two.” “How old are they?” “Well, they are four and two.”
Now, here is what I want to be careful about saying—it’s not that someone who has got a four-year-old and a two-year-old doesn’t have something to say—because you know what? They are in the crucible. So, they may have plenty to say about where they are, and what they are facing, and how they are processing it; but I immediately went to the thought, “I wrote a book about raising teenagers before I was done raising teenagers.”
Now, do I regret doing that? No, but I wished I had been done raising teenagers before I wrote the book. Why?—because, in the process of finishing my raising of teenagers, I was having to go back and look at what I had written. I was going, “You know, this sounds just a little too perfect.” At that point, the issues we’d faced / the things we’d done were only so deep.
By the time we finished raising four teenagers at one time, we had learned a ton that we could have shared with people.
I think this myth that you are talking about here—that being a mom is easy / it’s instinctive, it’s natural—and just because you’ve been doing it for three or four years doesn’t mean you’ve got it down.
Karen: It’s always a learning process. It’s that relationship with God. We go to Him when we don’t know what to do. He meets us in our need. We apply what we’ve learned, and we learn for the next time when we come up against another issue that is similar—or maybe, it’s a whole new thing. It’s just a constant give and take—a constant learning, and applying, and giving ourselves grace, and giving our kids grace. We’re not going to be perfect moms, and they are not going to be perfect kids.
Dennis: And back to Bob’s illustration—it’s not a recipe—it’s not: “A half a cup of this, and a dash of this, and bake it at 350 degrees, and it’s all going to pop out perfect.” You’re dealing with human beings, who have to learn how to do it right on their own.
Bob: Well, and the recipe issue really bleeds into the second myth that you list in the book—and by the way, we’re talking to Karen Ehman, who is the coauthor of the book, Hoodwinked, which is a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center if you’d like to go online to order a copy. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call us at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
The second myth you’ve listed here is that: “The way I mother is the right and only way,”—that there is a recipe, and—“If you’ll just follow what I’m doing, this will turn out perfect kids.” I know moms who are susceptible to this way of thinking. They so want to believe that there is a right way that will ensure perfect results that, if somebody comes along with confidence and says, “If you do this, this will cause this to happen right and perfectly,” moms will go, “I will do anything if it means perfect kids.” But kids don’t conform to recipes; and there is not one right perfect way to raise your kids; is there?
Karen: No, there’s not. And women who believe this myth—I mean, I believed it for many years—we have a good heart. We want to do what’s right for our kids. So, wanting to find the “right way” is a good thing—that’s good. But we need to realize that there are all sorts of differences when it comes to—I don’t know—how you’re going to feed your child when they’re young, how they’re going to be schooled, if you’re going to work outside the home or inside the home. There are all these different areas that we need to take to God in prayer, we need to discuss with our spouse if we have one, and realize what is right for our family might not be right for another family.
We want that slick, 3-step recipe. When we really form in our mind what we think is the right and only way—at least, I know this was the case for me. What happened in my life was that I did not forge friendships with moms who did things differently than me. Instead of—think about a piece of wood—you can take a piece of wood, and you can build an ugly fence between you and another person because they don’t think like you; or you can humbly lay that wood down, and build a bridge, and get to know them, and appreciate each other’s differences, and support each other.
There was one time I remember—I homeschooled when my kids were younger. My first two were homeschooled the whole way through. My last child is in public school currently. He’s just finishing up high school. I remember when another fellow homeschool mom decided to put her children in the public school. That school was just across the street from me. I could see her two kids playing happily on the playground. I called her up midmorning. I wanted to tell her that I saw them, and they looked like they were having fun.
When she answered the phone and I said who it was and I said, “Hey, I heard you put your kids in public school,” she said: “Stop right there! If this is going to be another phone call from another mom telling me that I’m not following God’s will, I’m going to end the conversation right there.”
Karen: I said, “No. Actually, I was going to say, ‘Your kids look like they are having a blast.’ And hey, I live right across from the school. Why don’t you put me down as the emergency contact person in case something happens and they can’t get ahold of you?” We need to build bridges with moms who do things differently than us.
We’re not going to always do everything the same with our kids as someone else does.
Bob: This is an area where I have seen moms fall into self-righteousness.
Dennis: Are you talking about school choice?
Bob: I’m talking about the whole “My way of parenting…”—whether it is school choice / whether it’s how you feed your baby when they are young. This is an area where moms feel passionate about the choice they’ve made; and I sometimes think they feel passionate and, maybe, insecure at the same time. And some of this sense of rightness is just them trying to deal with their own insecurity: “I want so much to do it right”; but they’ll become critical of the mom who is not doing: “Oh, So-and-so—I heard she’s bottle-feeding her baby. We need to pray for her.” Well, there is such a ring of self-righteousness in that as if: “I’ve got the answer. Everybody else is wrong.” And you know what? There is not a verse on bottle-feeding versus breast-feeding.
Bob: I mean, there are verses on breast-feeding; but—and people say—we’ll get letters / we’ll get emails, saying, “There were no bottles in the Bible / they knew nothing about bottles.” But we just have to pull back and go: “Really? Is this what the Scripture is teaching us?”
Karen: I’ve seen friendships fractured over sleeping arrangements—
Karen: —if your child sleeps with you or if they sleep in a crib. Let me tell you—I have three children. They are all adults now. Two slept in a crib / one slept with us. They all are fine, upstanding members of society. For us, the issue—
Bob: None are sleeping with you today?
Karen: No—not today.
Bob: Okay; just checking.
Karen: But the issue for us finally became—not “Who is sleeping where?”—but “Who’s sleeping?!” If it works for you, fine / if it doesn’t, don’t do it. We don’t have to be exact replica / cookie-cutter versions of all of our friends.
Dennis: I think part of what creates the insecurity is that motherhood is under attack today. It’s not esteemed and valued by our culture.
Bob: Yes. In fact, that’s one of the myths you talk about in your book, Hoodwinked. We’re talking to Karen Ehman, who has written a book called Hoodwinked. It’s a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
If you’re listening and you’re interested in a copy of this book, Ten Myths Moms Believe and Why We All Need to Knock It Off—I love the subtitle—go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—you can order a copy of this book from us online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of the book, Hoodwinked.
And you do address in this book, Karen, the issue of the devaluation of motherhood—the myth that a mom can feel like, “I’m just a mom.”
Dennis: This is huge in our culture today. It’s not valued; is it?
Karen: No. It’s often looked at by society as something women do if they can’t get a real job: “Well, I guess they’ll stay home with their kids.” And it doesn’t mean just necessarily that this myth applies to moms who stay at home. It can apply to moms who work outside the home too. When they think of their mothering, they often think: “So many of the aspects of motherhood can be farmed out. We can hire people to do things with our kids.” We get this notion that what we do is just “less than…” but you know what?
God sees what we do. Our mothering matters. Our children will be, in part, who they become when they grow up because of the time that we have poured into their lives and the time we spent with them.
Bob: Most of the projects we tackle, as people, are things that we can do in a week; or maybe, a long project takes you a couple of months. Or maybe, you’re building a house; and it’s going to take a year to build a house. Building a human being takes the better part of two decades—
Karen: It does!
Bob: —to get it done. And as a person doing it, in year six, you can start to think, “Is this really making any difference at all what I’m doing?”
Karen: Absolutely. We don’t have quarterly feedbacks and evaluation, and we don’t always get the praise and the pats on the back. You know, you started off the broadcast talking about “Her children rise and call her blessed,” that they say in Proverbs / that is written in Proverbs 31. And when my kids were little, I used to often wonder: “When is that going to happen?”—like they are four and two / they are not running around saying, “Oh, blessed are thou, O Mommy, for all you do.”
Karen: But I’m telling you—when they are older—I got a text message from my 21-year-old son the other day, just saying, “Mom, I was just thinking about all that you’ve done for me,”—I can’t even say it without crying [emotion in voice]—“Thank you for all you’ve done. You’re an amazing mom. I love you, and I don’t tell you enough that I appreciate all you’ve done for me.”
Doesn’t always happen when they are little; but when they grow up, they will look back at the time you’ve invested in them / that you’ve poured into their lives, and it matters to them. And it matters, most of all, to God. We need to let that divine nod of God be enough for us and not to be seeking that outside, even though it’s hard. We’re not always going to get the pats on the back from society. We’re not going to get the “‘At a girl!” that we should. We need to know that we are doing it as unto the Lord.
Bob: We’re going to get into some of the other myths tomorrow. You can join us for that; right?
Bob: We’re talking today to Karen Ehman, the author of the book, Hoodwinked. Again, if you’d like a copy, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and you can order from us online; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
As we wrap up today, “Congratulations!” to our friends, Michael and Pat Coefield, who live in Apopka, Florida. They are celebrating their wedding anniversary today. They listen to FamilyLife Today on WTLN.
And as many of you know, FamilyLife is celebrating an anniversary this year as well. This is our 40th anniversary of ministry. We thought it would be appropriate to celebrate by talking about some of the anniversaries that have happened through the years because of how God has used FamilyLife, strengthening the marriages of so many couples throughout the years. And the Coefields are one of those couples.
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We will untangle more of the myths of motherhood tomorrow. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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