I seriously feel like this could be an entire book (and quite possibly, someone has already written it), but allow me to just discuss my own personal experience.
In the 18 months since I first became a mother, and especially the last two months since adding our second little one to the family, I have rapidly been forced to shed ANY illusions of my own virtue. It's been equal parts humbling and horrifying. Yet ironically, that stark image of my undeniable brokenness has a bright side: It has made me more open to God's plan, more willing to trust Him, because I know how much I need it. I can finally see just how bad off I am. And I know how much I need Him to soften my hard heart and sanctify my tainted spirit.
Motherhood has not broken me. It has just revealed how broken I was all along. How I had no hope of changing myself or controlling my selfish impulses. Without the mercy of God and the help of His Holy Spirit, I'd have murdered someone by now... probably for something as trivial as spilling milk or not taking out the trash. That might sound like a joke, but it's not. No sarcasm. No sense in pulling my punches, so I'll just say it: I am capable of the greatest atrocities ever committed by one human against another. But those impulses have been held back, mostly by modern conveniences and a strong support network. Underneath all that, though, the reality remains: I'm a danger, to myself and others. Just because you can see with glasses, it doesn't mean you're not near-sighted. Sure, when life's easy, I can be a nice person. But when life gets hard, the true colors fly.
Yup, once you have kids, there's no denying it. You're a jerk. Deep down, you're not a good person. Your motives are as corrupt as your behavior. This quickly becomes indisputable when you see how you react under the pressure of parenting. You might call it "the crucible of children."
I used to think I was patient. Not after cleaning those Cheerios off the floor for the eighth time today. I used to think I was gentle. Not after yanking my toddler back from the stairs so hard I worried I might have tweaked his shoulder out of its socket. I used to think I was organized. Not when my toddler is determined to undo all my work in record time. I used to think I had a servant's heart. Not when my children's needs feel more like chores I resent than beautiful chances to love and serve my family. I used to think I was compassionate and self-sacrificing, that I put others' needs ahead of my own. Ha! Not when I'm running on 3 hours of sleep and see a way to leave my exhausted hubby with the kids while I go take a break/nap.
You get the picture. As a wise friend once told me, "Parenting is not for the faint of heart." Amen.
Unfortunately we are all fainthearted. We are all fickle. We are all out for ourselves.
We might say (even convince ourselves) that we are kind and good people, loving and patient parents. But like a chemical reaction, the proof is in our boiling points. The times we explode with anger, instead of answering with a sigh and a soft word of reprimand. The times we put what we want (food, sleep, recreation, whatever) ahead of what is best for our children, all while claiming to love them "more than anything." The lowest moments when our true desires unmask themselves and we are confronted with the truth: we are broken. Self-centered, short-tempered, lazy, angry broken people.
This reality has hit me like a brick to the forehead. And it left a mark. I'm not the mother I wish I was. I'm not even the mother I claim to be. You don't judge an artist based solely on his best painting, nor a cook based solely on his best dish. No, you consider the full spectrum of what they make, good and bad, and then give a judgment of averages, as it were. That only makes sense. But somehow we expect a different rule to apply to our behavior, especially in how we treat our children. We attempt to validate our parenting by magnifying our "creme de la creme" days, those rare jewels of crisp and calm behavior, and minimizing our regular "burnt toast" days, chock full of failures.
So what happens when you hit a wall of bad days? When you can't lie to yourself anymore about what a kind, loving parent you are? When you catch more than passing glimpses of your faults? When you are forced to confront the truth of your brokenness? What happens then?
Here's the beauty of seeing your soul in a full-length mirror, gazing on its naked ugliness. You are freed from the dangerous illusion that somehow you are making it, you are doing a fine job as a mom or dad, heck, you're probably in the running for parent of the year. Nope. Not even close. You yelled when you should have spoken gently. You checked Facebook instead of reading to your child. You fed him a cookie instead of a banana, because it was a quick way to get him to shut up and you were too lazy to spend two minutes peeling it for him, or ten minutes making him a nutritious meal. You did all these things and more, not because you were "just tired" or "needed a break." No, you did them because that's who you are on the inside.
That's me, I realized with a shudder... and then a great sigh of relief. Why? Once you recognize your own depravity, you can lean into it. And once you lean into it, you can let the Lord help you rise above it. Nothing to measure up to anymore. No charades. No being your "best self." Guess what? Your best self is still a terribly flawed person. Don't waste your time trying to prove otherwise. But also don't just accept yourself the way you are. Instead, simply accept how badly broken you are... and then accept the only source of true healing: the mighty hand of Jesus Christ.