Giving Up Exorcist Mom

Caryn: So I went 40 days without Diet Coke. Today I could drink it—since I only gave it up for Lent—but I won’t. I kicked that habit to the curb, baby. And I’m not going back to that evil, wicked temptress. I may need to take up smoking or find some other vice, but Diet Coke won’t make me that crazy, craving woman at 9:30 am any more. At least for now.

All this to say, I realized during this period of Lent that indeed there are areas of our lives in which we Revolutionary moms can and should grow. I’m not saying all of us need to kick the Diet Coke (I know you’d rather lose a limb than your morning D.C., Carla), but I think it IS important every now and again to look at our lives, see the things that maybe aren’t too healthy for us and chuck them. Lent is a great time, of course. But it’s not the only time.

For instance: I reconnected with a mom I know from my son’s baseball. I loved her last year (she’s smart and outgoing and always wears cute hats and has cool hair, for what it’s worth) and was excited to chat with her again. Anyway, we were talking about beverages or something and that lead to Diet Coke, my giving it up, how I think it is evil and makes me fattier, yada, yada. And this leads to her saying how she gave up yelling for Lent. She realized she was turning into the “Exorcist mom” too often and needed to get a grip.

Her experience in the giving up of yelling was remarkable, she said. She’d spent time praying when she felt like yelling and was experiencing some real growth.

Huh. Of course, I have just a TOUCH of an issue with yelling and becoming a total Exorcist mom when life gets crazy and I get stressed. And yet, it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that it was something I could—and should—simply “give up.” I realized I needed to “do better,” but I hadn’t ever thought to commit to letting go of it completely.

So I might try. I might follow her lead and just give it up. I’m thinking some prayer and breathing and a stretch or two in its place may do the trick.  Perhaps do better with my daily Scripture reading. Or, the smoking thing might actually help…. [I feel the need to put in a big old, JUST KIDDING here. I hate smoking. I realize it’s practically child abuse to smoke around children…. So in case you felt the need to mean comment about this—I jest.]

Thoughts, Carla?

Carla: I ran out of Diet Coke today and am already getting a little panicky trying to figure out when I’m going to be able to head to the Super T to get more. So clearly, I’m not giving that up any time soon. However, I like where you’re heading with this. I think we all recognize the obvious “vices” we need to limit or eliminate from our lives. But there are so many little failings that we somehow find ways to justify.

I am a pro at explaining why I have every right to be crabby on any given day–I’m under-appreciated, I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in 12 years, I have a deadline, the kids are on my nerves. And while all of those things might be true from one day to the next, they really aren’t good reasons to be mean to people I love.

What gets tricky for moms is figuring out how to both accept that we aren’t always going to be the kind of moms–or people–we want to be and giving ourselves some grace, and still working on those pieces of ourselves that aren’t where we know they ought to be. In The Myth of the Perfect Mother, I talk about motherhood as a practice of spiritual formation. And this is exactly what I mean.

So much of what we hear and read about motherhood focuses on the kids. But motherhood is as much about our growth and formation as it is about our children’s. We are shaped and changed by parenting–in good ways and some not-so-good ways. On our best days, we become more patient, more compassionate, more selfless. On our worst? We are angry, short-tempered, stubborn.

Formation happens when we are intentional–like a mom who breaths in patience and exhales frustration–about building up what is good so that it crowds out what is not so good.

So tell us friends, what practices do you have that help you become more of the person you were created to be?

Update: If you want to hear more about Carla’s take on the spiritual practices of parenting, check out her conversation with Doug Pagitt here.

15 responses to this post.

  1. so i really needed to read this today. i have never thought of giving it up either (yelling). and i feel so horrible at the rush i feel after i’ve yelled. it feels really good sometimes. and then i look at the faces around me and immediately that good feeling leaves.

    someone really smart (a friend at MIT) explained to me all about endorphins and neurons and synapses and stuff like that one time (obviously after having 3 kids i don’t remember any of the details of what he said…) and told me that habits make our synapses fire a certain way and it makes us feel good, so that’s why i feel that euphoria almost after i yell. so i need to retrain my brain (by stopping yelling…yeah right) so that i am not craving that release and i get it some other way instead.

    anyway, suffice it to say i’m not even good at cutting back on yelling. but i want to be better at this. my mom was a yeller, and i swore i’d never be like that. and now, sometimes, i watch our kids yelling at each other and i tell them “don’t yell” and then immediately get convicted.

    so this was exactly what i needed to read today. thank you.


  2. I think Parenthood as a spiritual practice is an interesting thought. I have been thinking through it a lot on my own. My Spiritual Formation professor, Dr. Lambert, made a comment in class that, “maybe the most spiritual thing you can do, right now, is read your son a book before he goes to bed.”
    I have fought for many years to try and seperate these worlds. Do your “quiet time” pray and then get back to real life. But lately, some of the holiest moments I have experienced were showing my son how to write and “I” to spell his name, or sing and dance with him. I meet with God there. God loves me regardless of the checklist of spirituality I have.

    I just think that many Christian focus too much on the sacred- secular divide. Maybe most things are sacred. Maybe there isn’t really a divide.


  3. Posted by Pixie on April 16, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Whenever I feel like guilty for being a working vs. stay-at-home mom or for not having great organic home-cooked meals constantly or various other things, I stop for a minute to think and pray for the mothers in Uganda, where mothers worry about their children being kidnapped and forced to murder as LRA soldiers, or in India & Haiti & many other countries, where having enough food to feed your child – let alone enough nutrients for yourself if pregnant or breastfeeding – is an issue, or in Southeast Asia where there are way too many children (some as young as 5!) in prostitution. I realize that those mothers would give their left leg & maybe more if the only thing they had to worry about was their child actually liking their daycare provider or what kind of food they fed them. It gives me a strong kick in the A perspective and makes me realize how lucky I am.


  4. Posted by karin on April 16, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    A few months ago I was at a meltdown point. I was not only the mom I didn’t want to be, I was becoming the woman I didn’t want to be. I felt completely justified in the moment when I was mad at my husband for every little thing he did that irked me and when my son wouldn’t do what I wanted him to do and I would get immediately raging mad. But, immediately the guilt of having “lost it” would follow the rush of adrenaline that felt so good for an instant. I knew something had to give or I was on the verge of a mental breakdown (I’m sure moving to another country a couple of months before didn’t help matters). I just saw an ugly picture of where all of my rage was heading. I tried to resolve it on my own telling myself I wasn’t going to get mad when ____ or ____happened. Trying and failing showed me how uncontrollable my flesh can be. So, I resolved to get up each morning before my son and husband woke up and pray for God to help me just get through the day. I actually told God that if He would wake me up I would get up no matter what time. So, for the past 4 months I have been dragging my rearend out of bed to spend a few moments in the dark praying a prayer of surrender to the Holy Spirit in me each morning. What started with desperation to just make through the day without verbally hurting those around me, has become a time to enjoy time with my Savior.

    I am learning (often the hard way as the above story shows my complete failure to “kick the habit” on my own) that God sends wake-up calls to save us from ourselves and get us back on track. The part of Carla’s book where she suggests motherhood is a means of spiritual formation really changed my thinking about all of this. I had been prone to feeling like a complete failure as a mother each time I “blew it” as a mother, but I am realizing that growth comes when we realize we have an area where we see change. I just can’t do it well without Christ. That’s all there is to it.

    BTW…I wanted to post a comment on the sex topic, but twice I got sidetracked and interrupted. The conversation was great and I could relate to at least one thing everyone said. Thanks for being so honest about it ladies (and men).


  5. Jasmine–I’m with you… Most things (all things?) are sacred.

    I’ve found that the “mean mommy” in me has diminished as I’ve acknowledged my neediness and my lack of ability to make “mean mommy” go away on my own. Something has definitely changed over the last 6 months, and I’m not quite sure how to describe it. I haven’t been “trying harder,” though. I’ve done that before & it never worked out very well for me.

    I still have my moments, but it really is improving. In major ways. One thing I know is that Jesus has been more real to me in every area. My sadness over my sin has been deeper. My desire to repent has been stronger. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t something I set out to do… It is something that was done to me.

    Also–When I am that person who I hate, I am reminded that my kids need Jesus. They don’t need me to be their Jesus. I’m going to continue to hurt them at times because of my sin. I am going to disappoint them at times–not necessarily because of my sin. Maybe accepting all of this and being more “free” from the expectation of perfection has helped with all of this. I don’t know.


  6. Yeah. Charlotte, that totally makes sense.
    It seems when we forget common grace it is to dub things “more” or “less” spiritual. Sadly, motherhood can be one of those jobs that get pushed to the “less” spiritual side.

    John Ortberg, in his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” talks about the idea of spiritual discipline is more about training then trying. And that we must and should find the moments of spirituality in our daily life. In class the other day ( I go to John Brown University) we talked about things that stood in our way, spiritually. One kid said that his devotional times seemed more like a chore and he hated them. Our professor said, and quoted Ortberg, “then stop. if you are bored- it is very probable that God is bored.” Doing something where you have no connection or relationship, but simply because you want to be a “good Christian” doesn’t seem to fit the Christian life I’ve come to understand. Our professor suggested that the kid re-learn his Sunday school songs when he was a kid, take a nap, spend time in prayer, or do random acts of kindness….
    There is something to be said about devotion and study to God’s word, prayer, and other “classically” Christian activities- but as I said before, maybe the most spiritual thing I can do for today means not yelling at my two year old for spilling milk all over the floor, as he attempts to pour himself a sippy of milk.


    Gotta clean up milk… that is what I get for Blogging and ignoring my son’s asking for “ilk” “ilk mamma ilk”.


  7. Jasmine: LOL. I JUST mopped up chocolate milk off the table. My 2-year-old was adding “cream” to a cup left there by my 4-year-old. I also ignored the repetition of “keem, keem, keem” while checking email!


  8. Posted by Judy on April 19, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    What a wise woman you are Carla. I love the picture of “breathing in patience and exhaling the frustration”. I often remind myself to “be gentle.” I will say it out loud and it’s amazing how it diffuses the tense moments. I also call my children Beloved Hope and Beloved Isaiah. And remind myself that I am Beloved Judy. I think spiritual formation can happen when we choose to love ourselves as much as we love our kids.


  9. Posted by kimwj on April 19, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Charlotte — I really liked that last paragraph of your comment. I need to remind myself not to confuse myself with Jesus.

    I’ll be practicing lots of spiritual formation this week as my husband travels for work…


  10. Posted by Robyn on April 21, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Definitely the “take a deep breath.” I think that has become the motherhood practice that has changed me the most. I take a lot of deep breaths, lately. Also, my husband and I have agreed to hold one another accountable for our words and tone of voice when we speak to her. We agreed to tell each other when annoyance creeps into our voices and they start to rise. It keeps us both in check. Or the other will step in when one of us is at the edge so s/he can take a diet coke break.

    I’m not the most patient person. I like to “Get Things Done.” Sort of my mantra. But my 2.5 year old daughter has a stubborn, independent streak as wide as… well, as wide as mine, to be honest. She wants to do EVERTHING herself. Which is great! Except that it takes her 5 times longer to do it than if I just did it myself, and she doesn’t always do it “right.” What I’m learning is A) it’s actually faster to let her do it herself because if I help her, she will get angry, undo it all, and redo it herself anyway. And B) letting her do it herself makes both of us better people.

    Yes, mothering is about my child. Of course, it’s about doing my best for her to grow up the way God intends. But I agree wholeheartedly that it is, possibly even MORE, about my growth, my development into the woman God wants me to be.

    Grace. We all need more grace in our lives. Grace for the moment, grace for the day. Grace as mothers, grace as women. Grace from God, grace from each other, grace from ourselves. Room to forgive and be forgiven.


  11. Posted by karin on April 23, 2009 at 5:37 am

    It’s 7:30 a.m. and I can already tell it’s going to be one of those l o n g days. I am going to try to “breath in patience and breath out frustration” as well as reminding myself to be gentle. One day to the next can be so different from each other. We are going to have to get out of the house today at some point…well, here we go.


  12. Posted by Robyn on April 23, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Good luck, Karin! I’ll say a prayer for you today!


  13. Posted by karin on April 24, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Thanks Robyn. We made it with a little help from an unexpected outing with a friend and her daughter. No blow ups, so that has to be something!! 🙂


  14. Posted by Robyn on April 27, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Yay, Karin!

    Well, I totally lost it on Saturday. Sigh. I totally yelled at my 2.5 year old… and she really, really didn’t deserve it. Then I moved on to my husband. Mommy had to go have a time out. 😦

    Wouldn’t you know that the sermon yesterday was on controlling your anger?


    Okay, God, I hear you. I humbled myself and apologized profusely to my family. Ouch.


  15. […] behavioral issues tomorrow upon return, but the difference will be I’m not crazy, stressed out, “exorcist” mom. (The link is to a great post I read on The Mommy Revolution a few weeks […]


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