I have a confession to make. I've been lying. If you have seen me in the last week or two and have asked me how I'm doing, whatever variation of, "I'm okay," "Doing alright," "Hanging' in there," or "Alright but tired," I've given you, it's been a lie. Most of the time I feel like I'm barely hanging on.
There are so many reasons for this, it's hard to explain what's wrong. It's been a difficult week logistically. Liam had a stomach bug the same day that Nathan had minor surgery so I was taking care of all of us... no small feat with a nursing infant. I'm tired, physically and emotionally.
There are times when I barely even notice the boys' differences. Their autism becomes part of our normal and it disappears into our routine. But there are other times when their differences seem to glare at me in the midst of a playdate and I'm overcome with sadness at how difficult the world is for them to navigate and how it's even more difficult for the world to understand them. I'm in a season of the latter, overwhelmed and saddened, always in love with my boys but mourning the reality their lives might not be what I had dreamed they would be.
The deep, swift current flowing under the surface is what this month means to me. I feel like so many of my blog posts are spent recounting the past and sometimes I worry that people may tire of that, urging me to just move on. The problem is that the past has shaped me and it's impossible to express myself today without the background of yesterday. So bear with me at least once more because I can't look at the calendar without thinking about where I was last March or the one before that. Two years ago Easter came early, the last weekend in March, and it was the weekend we miscarried our baby Samuel. A few months later we miscarried again and the due date of that baby, our sweet Cora, was March 18th. Last year, the day before her due date Liam was diagnosed with autism.
So when I tell people how I'm doing "okay," I'm basically lying. I'm not doing ok. My house is a wreck. With the exception of a few weekly church events I look like a wreck. I'm barely keeping up with house work and homework and the mom-guilt just keeps piling on. But it feels too complicated to get into how I'm really feeling when we're calling to each other from across the church foyer or greeting one another at the entrance to the women's conference. In the midst of this down season I've received a few compliments on how patient I am with my kids or how I must be SuperMom because I do x, y, z. And if there's one thing I know without a doubt it's that I'm not a perfect mother, I'm barely keeping things together. This whole thing has gotten me thinking about compliments and SuperMom. And I've come to two conclusions.
We need to change how we compliment one another. And SuperMom needs to die.
When I receive compliments and you tell me I'm SuperMom I just shrink into myself. "SuperMom" makes me feel like I'm not really being seen. "SuperMom" makes me feel like an attempt to debunk that perception will only be seen as false modesty. "SuperMom" makes me feel more alone and isolated than ever before. (By the way, it's not like I'm hearing these comments all the time but I've heard them enough and spoken with a couple other moms who feel the same way and I feel pretty comfortable generalizing the sentiment).
When you tell me how patient I am with my kids my mind immediately recalls all of the times in the last 24 hours that I've completely lost it, "Stop. Stop. STOP. STOP IT JAMES I'M SERIOUS, WHY CAN'T YOU LISTEN?!" But I appreciate what people mean, I just wish SuperMom would stop getting the credit. She's not real, she makes me feel un-known and alone.
I've also realized that when I compliment other people I mean well but if I'm truly being honest, sometimes there's an element of envy undermining the community that could be built by such a gesture. "You're so patient,"... I wish I was that patient. "I love that outfit!"... I wish I had an outfit like that. "You're home is beautiful,"... I wish I could afford a home like that.
May I humbly offer an alternative? What if instead of offering blithe comments on how great people are, we endeavored to reaffirm the ways that people bear the image of God? What if instead of saying, "you're so patient," we tried, "I can see how much the Lord loves your kids when I watch you with them," or instead of, "you have such a nice home," we looked beyond and affirmed how we can see the Lord's heart for hospitality in them? Or I told my autistic son how I can see the Lord in the way James values steadfastness and order?
Then, when I receive a compliment, agreeing with the person gives glory to God, not myself. Yes, the Lord does love my kids through me and he does that even when I'm not great at expressing that love. Yes, the Lord does value hospitality even when I don't. And when I extend a compliment it releases me from the temptation to feel envy because I'm acknowledging that the person I'm complimenting bears those qualities because they bear the unique reflection of the image of the Lord... And I bear a different unique reflection.
For me this is about SuperMom. For you it might be SuperDad or SuperWoman. You don't have to be married or a mom or a woman to know this struggle to be the perfect version of you. But if Jesus lives in you, that SuperPerson needs to die. SuperMom tells me I'm not enough that I will never measure up and if people really knew the real me I would be alone and unloved. But the Lord tells me that she has no place here because he has made me to reflect his image to the world.
And that image is beautiful.