Heather MacFadyen: “I’m a Failure as a Mom
About the Guest
Grappling with responsibility & even failure as a mom over how your kids are turning out? Author Heather MacFadyen knows your anxiety — and how to deal.
Heather MacFadyen: “I’m a Failure as a Mom
Dave: Okay, here’s a question I think every mom and dad probably wrestles with: “How much of how my child turns out is my fault?”
Ann: Oh! Let’s both answer it; like what do you think?
Dave: I don’t know. I hope it’s—
Ann: That’s not it. Come on; you need to give me an answer.
Dave: I hope it’s really low.
Ann: Give me a number; pick a number.
Dave: I would say 50 percent.
Ann: Okay; I would have probably said 80 [percent].
Dave: —is the parents’ fault.
Ann: Yes; that I am responsible.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
I actually got this question from a book I recently read called Don’t Mom Alone. We have the author sitting in the studio today; welcome back.
Heather: Thanks for having me.
Dave: I mean, do you remember this part of your book?
Heather: I do because I heard it from Townsend himself. We were at dinner, and I was telling him I was writing this book. He said he was asked that question from the stage—he and Henry Cloud—they said, “Okay, let’s play a game. We’ll both write our numbers down. Then we’ll show the audience at the same time, based on anecdotal cases.” You know, they are both counselors; they both wrote down that the parents were 30 percent responsible.
Ann: That’s amazing.
Heather: The trick—it’s like marketing—you don’t know which 30 percent. [Laughter]
Dave: —which 30?
Heather: So I just encourage moms, like: “You’re still intentional. You can read the books; you can take the classes. Pray your prayers, but you are not 100 percent responsible for the trajectory of your child.”
Ann: Well, I love what you said: “God’s power to redeem your mistakes is bigger than your power to destroy your children.” So many times, I was in bed at night, thinking, “I am wrecking them.” But what does that say about God?
Heather: It makes us into gods; doesn’t it?
Heather: —like we’re creating little trophy children. I just don’t believe that’s how He works. I know enough parents, who are following Christ, whose kids are wayward—maybe, never returning to faith—and it breaks my heart how they can sometimes be treated by those in the church or messages they received.
We do each other a disservice—when we hold that line for ourselves—we don’t give ourselves enough grace. We don’t give our kids enough grace to make mistakes; and give them the [right] message that: “I’ll love you no matter what. God is bigger than any of this.” I don’t know. I just don’t know that it shows a lot of faith to believe that we are fully responsible.
Dave: Is this a common mom thing? Because as I am listening to you two moms talk about it, it feels like it’s both; because I’ve done this as well as a dad. I know dads do; but it feels like there is a heightened responsibility that moms feel like, “I am responsible for how my child turns out: good or bad.”
Dave: Maybe, not good; they don’t take responsibility when they turn out good, but they definitely—
Heather: Well, that is what a mentor did say: “If I take responsibility for the good, I take responsibility for the bad”; because Facebook® is filled with all of the trophies and the awards. Especially when they are hitting the teenage years, I think they start to perform in ways that make us feel really good about ourselves.
But then I think about my friends, whose kids are really struggling right now, especially with COVID—I mean, mental health issues are at an all-time high—suicide. I’m thinking of each of those friends, too, when I see those posts. It grieves my heart, because it does cause more and more isolation in those teen years because of that line between a parent’s role and how they turn out. I don’t know if—I’m not a dad, so I can’t say if it is more—if the weight is more for a mom, but it feels pretty heavy for moms.
Ann: I agree.
Dave: I felt that way in our home—it felt like I tended, and this may be denial—[Laughter]
Heather: There could be personality that plays into that; I don’t know.
Dave: —I think, in some ways, I did step into denial. I would say to you [Ann], “Hey, it’s their responsibility. Who they become, as a man, is up to them; it’s not up to us.”
Ann: That was good for me to hear; I’m glad you said that.
Dave: Yes; but I mean, you didn’t—I mean, you are saying that now—[Laughter]—but then, you were like, “What do you mean?! It’s all on us.” Actually, I felt like she was saying, “It’s all on you; you need to be the dad.”
Dave: But we do carry that. There is a sense that/in some ways, I’m hearing moms carry it a little bit more—maybe not; maybe, it is personality-related—but it is a sense of/it gets us back to that quote: “If we feel like it is our responsibility, then we are not depending on God. Is there a God?—is He in control?—does He have our kids?” How do you wrestle with that tension if you’re living between those two realities?”
Heather: For me, it was, again, getting to the end of myself—having a panic attack in the chicken/the fried chicken drive-thru—where I was holding it all. I was holding four young boys, and not just how they turned out, but just physically caring for them. I think I feared, not just other people’s approval or being rejected, but their safety. It felt like a heavy load that, if something physically happened to them—where they ran into the street—I mean, that was on me. I was overwhelmed by all of that.
My husband—this often coincides with their careers growing—they are working a lot; so you can feel lonely in that you are not emotionally connected to your spouse, so you’re not getting that. Then I had pulled away from friends because it was just the time—I didn’t have it; I really didn’t have it—and I didn’t have energy, when I did have time, to hang out with people. All of that pressure on me—all of those fears and the isolation from others, who were saying, “You’re doing a great job,”—or even if you don’t believe them; it’s hard for me, too—“This is normal,” wasn’t there. It all collided into a panic attack.
It took me, finally, seeing a counselor to say: “This is normal; this pressure is normal. Your desire to do this well is normal.” I don’t know why I had to pay someone finally; it would have been cheaper to have friends! I do think that all of that pressure for moms, particularly, comes together; and it actually keeps us from being the moms we want to be, which is the saddest part of it; I want to free moms from that.
Dave: I’m just picturing you in a drive-thru. I mean, you don’t see that posted on Facebook—
Dave: —“I had a panic attack today.” Do you think a lot of moms are at that breaking point?
Heather: I think the last two years, for sure, because even if they had touches of community on the sidelines of a sporting event or touches of community in the hallways of a church, they haven’t had that in a lot of places. They’ve been very, very physically isolated from people for two years—I think that for sure—I mean, even our family in England, it’s been rough; so yes, they are feeling the pressure.
Ann: Heather, what about your relationship with Jesus? You’ve talked about that in your book. The subtitle is Growing the Relationships You Need to be the Mom You Want to Be. You’re talking about how we do need friendships with other women, but you’re also talking about this relationship with God—we mentioned that yesterday—“How have you developed that? What does that look like?”
Heather: I’ve walked through—in addition to the counseling—and inner healing prayer ministry and the Holy Spirit just doing some work in my life to combat some lies that I’ve been holding onto that were coloring all these relationships. Until I dealt with them, and invited Jesus in and kind of allowed Him into the places that I was thinking I was keeping Him at an arm’s distance, I couldn’t then engage in these horizontal relationships.
For me, the healing—yes, I had to talk to a counselor; and I joked about it would be easier with a friend—but I think, then, it was that layer of healing that came from/only God could do. I could have all the people in the world tell me words of: “Oh, you shouldn’t worry about other people’s approval,” or “You’re not responsible,” or “You don’t need to have that fear”; but I needed a supernatural deliverance from a spirit of fear/a supernatural deliverance of a soul tie that I had that I wasn’t hearing directly from God.
Having that almost cleared away and healed up, I think led me to the next level of healing, which is through our 12-Step Celebrate Recovery at church, and the community that came alongside me to, then, continue to combat those lies and wrong beliefs, and how they were coming out sideways in relationships. That’s why I start the book with the relationship we need, first, is God; because if we haven’t done the work with God, we will continue to interact with people with those false beliefs and those false ideas.
We might even look to people to be something they were never intended to be: we might be too vulnerable and scare people off. We might say that vulnerable thing—I’ve had people say, “Well, I am vulnerable with people; it doesn’t work.” I’m thinking: “Possibly, this is some deep-rooted work that needs to be done with you and God,” and “What you are needing from people, they could never satisfy.”
Ann: That really is the picture of Dave and I on our ten-year anniversary. We wrote a book called Vertical Marriage; and basically, I was saying, “I have nothing left for you. I don’t have any feelings for you.”
Dave: Two little babies and toddlers at home.
Ann: Yes; part of it, now—because we’ve done counseling since—is I/exactly what you said—I was trying to get from Dave what only God could give.
Ann: I think there is a beauty to that/of realizing, “No one can give that to me except Jesus.”
Ann: There is an awakening. I think I am so passionate about this for women; because I see women so tied up, so longing for more; and they are not free.
Ann: They have so much pain, so much baggage, so many wounds. I carried that for years, and years, and years—of wounds, of things that had happened that were still affecting my decisions and my joy. So when I read that, I was like, “Yes! You really did do the work to get some help and that inner healing.”
Heather: And it’s so beautiful when I get to do that with other friends—friends that I’ve been in Bible studies with; and we’ve been circling the same symptoms over, and over, and over again—but when we get to bring it to God, and get to uproot the core memory or whatever/whatever they started believing that doesn’t line up with God’s truth about who they are—and we get to invite Jesus in and reframe the memory; and see them walk out of that prayer session, just full of life and freedom—is such a gift to me. It encourages my faith, because every story is so unique.
I haven’t prayed with someone and seen the exact same—but Jesus is the same every time we invite Him in—He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He shows up with the same character the same way: He engages with them. It’s such a gift to realize that this same Jesus is here for everyone; we simply invite Him to those places.
Dave: You know, it’s interesting—it’s a long story, so I can’t tell it—but I can tell this part: I sat with a guy, who walked me through healing prayer about my dad leaving; and again, there are details and things listeners have heard me say before; but at the end of that prayer—and it was a 10-/15-minute sort of journey—one of the things that I feel like God spoke to me that I never understood—and I’m/I was in my 50s at this moment, so a long life—was I had spent decades of my life mad at my dad for leaving when I was seven years old, blaming him for different aspects of my life. I felt like God was saying—and I should have heard this earlier, but it was the first time it had ever really hit me—He was saying, “I protected you.”
Dave: Even in that phrase, it wasn’t: “I removed your dad from your life Your dad made a decision. That was his decision and left; but you’ve always felt like, ‘If I would have had him, I would have…’ He’s like, “Do you understand, if he would have been in your life, you are not the man you are today because it would have been negative.” It was one of these freeing moments—like something I thought was always evil, God was turning for good; and God was there. It’s what you just said—it was when you connect with God on that kind of intimate level, which can involve another: mom or another dad in your life; but man, if you don’t have that connection with Jesus yourself, nothing else—
Heather: No, you—
Dave: —no other mom will ever be it.
Heather: I’m guessing that you—and any interaction between the time that your dad left and that prayer time—you were protecting yourself from rejection in the future.
Dave: Right; yes.
Heather: When God said, “No, this wasn’t a rejection; this was a protection,”—
Heather: —it reframes it. You’re no longer fighting to keep people from rejecting you.
Heather: You are free to love them for who they are.
Dave: Exactly. That was one of my lies—is: “I have to.” You just said you had to do lies. What’s a lie? Are you willing to tell us one of the lies that you had?
Heather: That I had? I’ve had lies of not being safe—recently, after my dad passed, I had a lie that God got it wrong. That was wrong, and I had bitterness rooted. I will tell you I physically felt free when I confessed [emotion in voice], “God, I am believing that You got this wrong. Please forgive me.” And He is always willing; He’s like, “Of course, My daughter, I just want you to believe what is true. I don’t want you to live in a state of bitterness.” He is willing to offer us forgiveness; we just have to align our beliefs with what’s true.
That confession—confession, I think, gets such a bad rap of being this: “Oh, I did something wrong; I better confess it,”—no; what if it’s: “I’ve just been believing something that is not true”? Whatever that is—if you are listening—like ask God, “What have I been believing about You/about others that is not true?”
Ann: I did the same thing with a woman. I’d been already dealing with my past abuse. She walked me through some inner healing; and she said, “What is the lie that you’ve started to believe?” because I felt so unworthy. She said, “I want you to confess it.” I said, “Confess it!”—like, “I didn’t do anything; I was abused. I am the person abused,”—she said, “No, confess the lie that you came to believe about who God says you are as His child and His daughter.”
I mean, I sobbed because it was: “I believe I am not worthy of Your love. I believe I don’t have what it takes to be a good mom or a wife.” It was this onslaught of emotions, and I am sobbing. It was just this beautiful picture—and then even asking the question—she asked, “God, what do You want Ann to know? What do You want her to realize?”
Ann: It was just this beautiful picture. I use my imagination for all kinds of crazy things; you know?
Ann: I think the Holy Spirit likes to take control if we allow Him, and it’s governed by God’s—
Ann: —and the solid foundation of the gospel, that He wants to free us from these things. I think that is the best place to start.
Heather: He doesn’t want us to be in a broken world, and He doesn’t want sin to interact with our story. That’s the freedom, even of moms that I am trying to communicate, is: “Even if you do all the things, and keep all the rules, and you’re the most intentional and you follow the list, evil will intersect with your child. If we have these tools”—what I love is learning these tools so, when my child starts to say something that I know is not true—instead of dismissing it and saying, “Well, that’s not true; you’re not an idiot,”—we can say, “That doesn’t line up with what I’ve read in God’s Word. Let’s pray; let’s listen.”
I’ve done that with one of my sons. He—and we say, “Okay, if anything comes to your mind, let’s just thank God for that,”—I did it with Him. I said, “I hear Him calling you a caretaker.” His eyes popped open; he said, “I heard the same thing!” I think we have these tools; and as moms, we then don’t have to fear: “What if something happens to my kid?” “What if I make a mistake?” because we have the tools and God’s Word to redeem, and restore, and recover, just like God did in our stories.
Dave: And I’m sitting here, as a husband,—
Dave: —looking at two women, who are moms, and are talking about freedom, which I think there are probably a lot of moms, going, “I don’t think I’ve tasted that kind of freedom.”
Here is my question: “What do we do, as men, when we see our wives locked up? They are not free. They are believing lies; we can sort of see it; but yet, when I would try to speak truth into Ann, she would often just dismiss it. Then I would think, “Ah, you don’t need me; I can’t help.” I felt like I wasn’t—almost like you needed another woman/another mom—“I can’t help you, but I want to!”
Dave: So you are two moms; you’re two wives. What would you say to the men? “How do we help when we see you’re locked up?” I’m not saying we’re not locked up.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Heather MacFadyen on FamilyLife Today. We’ll get back to the conversation in just a minute; but first, I want to let you know about a special group of people, who help make conversations like today’s possible; they are called FamilyLife Partners. It’s a community of people who believe in our mission and give financially every month.
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Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann Wilson with Heather MacFadyen.
Heather: I think, sometimes when men want to help—and that means doing a thing—and I would say, sometimes, with an age-old: “We want you to listen.” I think ultimately, you could do all of the things; but when it’s God’s right timing, He’ll redeem and restore. I think loving her by knowing how she receives love is really helpful. I think you/the desire is to fix her.
Dave: Yes; right. I’ve tried that many times.
Heather: That’s only God’s job to do.
Ann: I think, too, Dave: sometimes, what I can feel, as a woman, is you don’t like that I’m in a bad place.
Dave: You didn’t have to say that. [Laughter]
Ann: No, no; I mean, I don’t see that in a bad place, because none of us do/no person.
Heather: No man wants their wife to be in a bad place, so he wants to fix it.
Ann: Yes; that’s commendable for a man, because I think men feel responsible; and you do want to fix it.
I think for men to go to their wives, if she is saying something negative, to ask the question: “Tell me more. What do you mean by that?”
Heather: Get curious.
Ann: I think that curiosity builds a bridge, like, “Oh, he cares; and doesn’t just want me to snap out of it because it’s inconvenient.” It’s that: “Oh, he cares; and he wants to know.” That’s super helpful.
And to not stop saying the things that you see in her—because you would say, “Oh, you look so good”; I’m like, “No, I don’t! Look my pants are too tight,”—for you to not stop, because you’ve been really good at that over the years; you’re really great at complimenting me. I think you get discouraged, like, “It doesn’t do anything; you don’t believe it”; but don’t stop!
Dave: Yes, I would feel at times—I went on a journey, from early marriage where, “She doesn’t really believe that. There is no way she looks in a mirror and thinks she’s not the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen,”—because that’s what I think. I would make fun of it, like, “Yes, whatever! You don’t think that.” I don’t know how long it took me; but there was a day, where I was like, “Oh my goodness!” It was like a revelation: “She really doesn’t think…She believes this lie.” Then, I had to go, “Oh, I’m hurting her by saying, ‘You don’t believe…’”
Ann: You would get mad at me.
Dave: Yes; I mean, I was being the worst husband. I’m talking decades here, I think—where I was like, “Oh, she needs me to partner with her and be the voice of Jesus, saying, ‘This is what is true,’”—then she wouldn’t listen to it. I would often, then, get frustrated, like, “I’m trying to help you; and you still don’t buy it.”
Dave: I think, at the end of the day—and this would probably be true for men or women—I think one of our roles as—and I am speaking to the guys now; maybe, your wife made you listen to this—[Laughter]—here is what I would say to the guys; because for a long time, Ann said, “I feel alone as a mom,”—and I would be like, “What are you talking about?!”
Ann: [Speaking harshly] “You’ve got all kinds of people around you.”
Dave: Look, she even does the voice; you know? It’s got the harshness.
Heather: It’s got that accent; that’s good. [Laughter]
Dave: She would say, “When you talk, you act like I’m an idiot.” That’s how I did it; I’m like, “Come on! What are you talking about?!”
I would say to the guys: “I need to realize she really does feel alone.” I would say two things:
- Number one: partner with her; this is a really hard job as a mom. She is carrying something that I don’t think we fully understand, because we don’t carry it in the same way. Be her partner. Help out—right?—and you would say, “Just help me!” That would be number one.
- Number two would be: create a way/a space in her life, so she can connect with God and connect with other women.
Ann: Yes, that’s big.
Dave: Figure out a way in your schedule to say, “I’m going to carve out a night,”—maybe, once a week; I don’t know what it is—but say, “You know what? It’s about helping her find time to be with Jesus, because it is really hard for her to do as a mom.”
Number two—have some friends—so: “Go out with your friends and find your tribe.”
Heather: And don’t make her feel guilty for that.
Ann: Yes: “What time are you going to get home?”
Heather: I think, even then, moms won’t take the time; because they feel bad that they are not there—they’ve been there all day—I think it’s really hard for my mom friends, who do work outside the home, to take any time—
Ann: —because they’ve already been gone.
Heather: —because they feel like they’ve already been gone so they don’t deserve that. I think that is a lie too.
Dave: So guys, you got your assignment today [Laughter]: “ Are you going to do it?”
Heather: Well, and the same message of—“God is bigger; we are not fully responsible for our kids,”—you, as men, are not fully responsible for your wives. God is big enough; He can minister to her heart. Your job is to love and support her, just like our job is to love and support our kids.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson, talking with Heather MacFadyen on FamilyLife Today. You can get a copy of Heather’s book, Don’t Mom Alone, at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
And if, while you were listening today, and you thought of someone who would completely relate with the conversation, consider sharing it from wherever you get your podcasts. And while you are there, it would really help get the word out if you’d rate and review us.
You know, so many moms feel like they are a bad mom because of “X,” “Y,” and “Z” that they aren’t doing. Well, tomorrow, Dave and Ann are going to be talking, again, with Heather MacFadyen about living in the moment; so you can escape bad thoughts like that. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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