I could probably write for days about all the changes that have taken place in me in the 8 weeks, 5 days, one hour, and 2 minutes since my daughter Beatrice was born. But since I aim now to start and end projects as quickly and efficiently as I can before she awakens from her nap — let me give this what I can. And try to tailor my reflections to the thoughtful women in leadership who read these posts.
I need to pray, “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil (or, the evil one)” more earnestly these days.
On my own, as a young married woman, I had figured out so many of the cultural and emotional trappings that weighed me down in my adolescence and in my twenties. The way I could be my own worst critic. The manner in which my judging nature determined things were right or wrong, good or bad, black or white. The truth that comparison, whether you ended up on top or on the bottom, wasn’t very helpful or fruitful. I had figured this out in ministry, in marriage, and in my mind.
But just days after giving birth, all of those natural (though obviously not healthy) inclinations resurfaced in a new form and needed to be identified anew in order to be ultimately denatured.
Criticism. I could be my own worst critic, and in a postnatal context where everything I did could be directly or indirectly commented upon by parents and visitors, I would need to remember to be gentle with myself and to give myself and others a lot of grace. “I am a new mom. This is new for me. I am learning . . . . We are learning together, Beatrice, John, and I. We are a new family. John is a new dad. She’s __ days old. We are doing our best and, actually, I think we’re doing great.” In addition: “He or she is a new grandparent to this child. Everyone is trying their best to do what they think is helpful and kind. No one is out to discourage anyone else. Let’s do this together.”
Judgment. This is a classic new-parenting trap, but although this book or that friend might say X, Y or Z, with the strongest of words and the best of intentions, the truth is, there are a lot of very reasonable and effective ways to (insert here the topic at hand). Various ways to feed one’s child. Multiple good ways to put one’s child to sleep. And so on and so forth. Maybe attachment parenting is or isn’t for you. We don’t have to judge each other.
Comparison. I had no idea how complicated the “mommy-space” could be. One woman will tell her birth story, and immediately, the comments come: who had a longer/shorter labor, who needed more/less intervention, who got pregnant faster or took longer to conceive. Even if another person shares their personal account without me meaning to compare it to my own situation, I found it’s almost impossible not to. Empathic listening almost requires the ability to step into another person’s story; but when I’m done listening and I go home, I can’t help but revisit what I’ve heard and feel grateful for my own situation or feel that, actually, it would be great to learn how they got their child to sleep through the night by eight weeks!
What does it mean for me to be who I am — a pastor, still in seminary, in active service to others; and yet also be a new mom — brand new to all this, needing to process and make mistakes?
I sense that in the world of new mothers, there’s volatile chemistry under the surface. For me, and for others. The shifting nature of personal identity and responsibility. The real hormonal fluctuations and changes. Professional discontent if there are latent or overt frustrations because motherhood has made working (or not working) harder. Lots of wisdom and counsel on offer (whether invited or otherwise). Lots of new information to consider, filter, interpret, and modify for personal use.
Unique cultural dynamics are also at play. Even if I’m a second-generation Chinese-American who knows that the perpetual comparisons I heard from Chinese moms at church weren’t helpful or God-honoring, and that competitiveness has only measured benefits, it’s up to us to re-envision community around Christ and not around culture. To seek the best for others without fearing that it’ll harm or detract from my own child. To believe that there is infinite abundance, a lavish spread for everyone to eat from at his table, that we’re all his children, and he loves each of us a ton.
But before I start trying to pastorally shepherd others through the tremendous transition it is to become a parent, I need to first yield to this quiet inner work myself. To allow God to walk with me in my transition. To spread a table for me, to minister to me. So that later on, perhaps, I’ll have something real to offer younger, newer moms that the Lord gave to me at my point of need.
So then, this is how I pray. Lead me not into temptation, Lord. Deliver me from evil. Deliver me from the temptation to compare myself to others and find myself lacking. Deliver me from the easy tendency to judge others for their parenting decisions. Deliver me from fears of doing it all wrong and negatively impacting Beatrice.
God, deliver us all from cattiness and pretension, arrogance and selfishness . . . help us love each other (and especially our new mom-friends) as ourselves in a new way, in a new season, whatever the new dynamics that are at play, in every new day.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.
A version of this post was first published at the Asian American Women on Leadership blog.