When Motherhood (or Fatherhood) Doesn’t Align with Your Gifting
For a few short months when my children were young, we took in four sisters whose mother was unable to care for them because of mental illness. They ranged from 6 years old to 16 years old— remarkable and resilient young girls, though threadbare from years of neglect. The first night that I tucked in the 11 year old girl, she was wiggly and excited— “I’ve never been tucked in before!” she told me. The next day when I couldn’t find anything to serve all the kids except a few boxes of mac-n-cheese, she gushed gratefully, “I always have to make my own macaroni and cheese— this is great!” She had never been mothered.
At the time, I needed the reminder of how important my role was. In that season with three kids under three when the bulk of what you do is repetitive and unglamorous, and many times feels so insignificant. Wash laundry. Wipe bottoms. Referee sibling spats. Feed people. Clean up. Force a nap time. Wipe bottoms again. Clean up. Put kids in time out. Try to organize. Clean up. Fall into bed exhausted. Wake up. Repeat.
Somehow the magical motherhood moments of wonder— the discovery of a butterfly or the snuggle sessions where the world seems perfect— felt way outnumbered by the mundane.
To make matters worse, I have no service or mercy gifting. When I take the personality tests or spiritual gifts inventory, I like to lead, develop vision, strategize, catalyze and motivate others. There’s not a service bone in my body. And parenthood is a LOT of serving. I identify with my friend Mike who likes to say, “I’m really good at management, but not so good at labor.”
So how has that worked out over the years?
First, parenthood means you have to grow up.
Let’s face it people, parenting is hard. This job brings us face-to-face with places of our immaturity and selfishness.
One day, my daughter and I each had a meltdown back-to-back. She threw herself on the floor, kicking and screaming, then I, too threw something across the room and screamed at everyone. My husband just looked at me and said, “Wow. That was like watching mirror responses – you and your mini-me.” Let me remind you, my mini-me was two at that point. Not a flattering comparison when you are 35.
But the truth is, we may have been extremely successful people in our pre-child life, but sleep deprivation and the relentless needs of little people will break just about anyone down. Even the former CEO, used to managing multi-million dollar budgets can find themselves crying for 30 minutes when a child has just flushed her make-up down the toilet. Parenting can break you.
And just like our kids, we have to learn to talk ourselves down when we are frustrated. We have to learn new skills that we may not have. We have to learn to put others ahead of ourselves. We may have to ask others for help. In other words, we have to grow up.
Some of your primary gifts may go dormant for a while.
Because the role of parent spans decades of development, you will find certain seasons align more with how you are gifted and wired… and others will not align at all.
It’s not just that I didn’t have service gifting in those early years of parenting, but almost all of my primary gifts were not being used. Yes, I did use my strategic gifting to figure out how to get everyone to nap at the same time. And I did use all my motivational skills in the potty training stages, but any form of higher brain functioning was pretty much nonexistent. Believe it or not, deep formative things happen in the seasons where our gifts are hidden; character, resilience, and new skills are forged when yielded in this season. Remember that there are ways to keep yourself afloat and the hiddenness won’t last forever.
But other seasons you will find your groove.
The good news is that in other seasons you are just going to shine. You may come to life during the awkwardness of the early teen years. Or you may be that parent that thrives on being there for every practice and game.
While early childhood was grueling for me, the teen years have been fantastic. My laid back nature and passion to help others discover how they are wired has made this season so rich. Not only do all my children know their Myers Briggs, Strengthsfinders, and Enneagram, but they have tested all their friends too.
Your gifts are designed to bless your children, no matter what they are, but they may not all look like the image of motherhood or fatherhood you hold in your head. Expect to cycle in and out of seasons of passing on the best of who you are to your kids and stop comparing yourself to others.
Learn to admit that you are not good at everything.
When your kids begin to compare you to other families (and they will), learn to get comfortable saying, “I love that about so and so, but that is not how I work best.” It’s okay to admit that you have a different style or an area of weakness. If planning themed birthday parties make you break out in hives— own it. If homeschooling would be a disaster for you and your children— don’t apologize.
My bestie has always had kids with beautifully styled hair while let’s just say at our house, we’ve been known to call one of our kids, “Roseannadanna” (look that one up, Millennials). After listening to them complain repeatedly about my inadequate hair styling abilities, I finally said, “Listen, girls, Ms. Alex has the Gift of Hair. I don’t have that gift. I teach you the Bible. Someday you’ll be thankful.” Yes, this was a real conversation.
Our kids need to know, no one is amazing in everything. We are modeling for them self-acceptance and the value of diversity.
Don’t fall for the lie that the mismatch of personalities is going to scar your kid.
Sometimes it feels like a cruel joke when you have a kid whose deep needs align with your weaknesses. The rough and tumble boy given to the sensitive, quiet dad. The child designed to test the limits given to the most cautious parents. The kid wired to verbally challenge given to the parents who are need peace.
In our case, we’ve been given an introverted child who thrives on routine and hates change. Unfortunately for her, the description of hell for my (and my husband’s) personality type reads, “Every minute of the rest of your life has been scheduled for you – and it’s a long series of arbitrary, solitary tasks.” Nothing in us naturally gravitates towards quiet and routine; we love change and activity.
But somehow I have to believe that there is a reason behind this seeming mismatch. Somehow these sovereignly appointed parental strengths and weaknesses will be woven into her story, her calling, and her life preparation.
The truth is we model and shape our children just as powerfully from our weaknesses as we do from our strengths. By watching us in these seasons where we’re not in our sweet spot, they learn how to orient towards their own limitations. They learn what it means to persevere even when it’s hard. They watch us make mistakes and have to ask others for forgiveness. They learn about the importance of community as we reach out in our need to others. And most importantly, they will point them towards their need for God. Because as my sister likes to remind me, ‘Where your strength ends, their need for God begins.”
Over the years, I’ve come to realize being a good mother is way more than just service and mercy gifting. I’ve nurtured best when I’m operating in expressions aligned with how I’m wired. And the places I don’t really shine give more space for my character to formed, my need for others to be exposed, and ultimately for the Gospel to come to life in my home.