Soul Care for Stressed Moms
Do you feel like you could use some soul care, mom? On FamilyLife Today, author Maggie Combs offers encouragement to identify and address your real needs.
About the Guest
Wishing for an exit strategy–or just some soul care–in the wear and worry of motherhood? Author Maggie Combs offers strategies when you’re feeling starved.
Soul Care for Stressed Moms
Dave: As a mom, what would you say, if you can remember, was your biggest source of stress when we were raising our boys? Think, actually, any stage you want.
Ann: I was going to say each stage had its own degree of stress. When they were little: “Will they stay alive? Can I keep them alive?” As they get older, with teenagers, “What trouble could they get into?” or “What are they doing?” As they get older, “Who are they going to marry?” Do you see what I mean? Every single stage has a different degree of stress and things you worry about.
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 Today!
Do dads not? Do you never worry about our kids now?
Dave: Again, I’m just one dad; I can’t speak for other dads. But I talk to a lot of guys, and they seem to be somewhat—
Ann: Okay, I’m going to look into our studio sound booth—
Dave: We’ve got two dads in there.
Ann: —dads/two dads. Do you guys worry about your kids?
Dave: —like 24/7.
Sound Engineer: No.
Dave: Jim’s laughing over there.
Ann: Oh, Jim does.
Jim: I actually do. [Laughter]
Dave: Jim does.
Jim: I actually do. [Laughter]
Ann: Okay, so maybe it’s kind of: “Everybody’s different.”
Dave: I mean, some of it’s personality—
Dave: —some of us carry—but I don’t think I’ve ever met a mom that doesn’t carry it almost non-stop.
I thought it might be interesting, since not every day do we have two moms in the FamilyLife Today studio, and one dad, to ask you two some questions—
Dave: —related to—we have Maggie Combs back with us again. Thank you for being back on FamilyLife Today.
Maggie: Thanks for having me.
Dave: Yes; this is a great discussion about motherhood from your book, Motherhood Without All the Rules, which is fascinating. It’s also interesting—I have two moms of just boys—three sons that are—your oldest is ten?
Dave: Yes; and our oldest is 36.
Dave: Our oldest is 35.
Maggie: She knows because she’s thinking about them all the time.
Dave: Did you catch that?
Dave: I always get it wrong, and she never gets it wrong. [Laughter] But we have grandkids almost as old as your—well, we have six-year-old granddaughter—you have a son that’s six; right?
Maggie: Yes, but he’ll be seven next week.
Dave: Look at that; [Laughter] you have to think.
It’s interesting—you’re in two different stages—and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in the room. We’ve got a seasoned mom and a younger mom. I think, not only can parents learn a lot, but moms can learn from you guys.
Ann: Thanks; and Maggie has not only written this book—which the subtitle is Trading Stressful Standards for Gospel Truths—Maggie, you wrote a book when you were right at the beginning of mothering called—
Maggie: —Unsuper Mommy. [Laughter]
Dave: Did you come up with that title?
Maggie: I did.
Dave: That’s good!
Maggie: What happened is: I put a book picture of me and my three boys—and I probably I have like a two-month-old or something, and a fifteen-month-old, and a three-year-old. Someone wrote on it, “Supermom”; and I was like, “Ohhh!”
Dave: “Ohhh!” Not what you were going for.
Maggie: “I cannot bear the burden of that title. If they could only see my house right now, and my children right now, they would know I am not a supermom.”
Ann: You’re just trying to survive.
Maggie: Yes; the goal of that book was to help women throw off some of that expectation that, really, we’ve got nine months to set up expectations for ourselves; right? [Laughter]
Maggie: Nine months to build up those expectations in our head, and it only takes a couple of months to knock them all to the floor.
Ann: But you’re also a writer.
Dave: And it’s a little unknown fact: is you live on a hobby farm? What is a hobby farm?
Maggie: I feel like the fancy term nowadays is homestead, but I don’t do any of the homesteading stuff really.
Ann: Are you Ann Voskamp II?
Maggie: Not at all; I’m probably the antithesis of that. [Laughter] It’s like, “How can we do this with as minimal work for me as possible?”
That’s how I grew up. My parents have some acreage outside of the suburbs, and I grew up there. We had cows and horses. Then we found out we were pregnant with our third boy; and we were like, “Get us to the farm,—
Ann: —close to your parents.
Maggie: —“close to the parents.” We built a house right next to my parents, and we share the land with them. Then we added to the livestock fainting goats.
Ann: What? Wait; I love these things!
Maggie: Have you ever—
Maggie: —next time you are having a really bad day, go onto YouTube and type in “fainting goats.” [Laughter]
Ann: I have totally done this!
Maggie: You’re welcome.
Ann: They’re so funny!
Dave: You have goats that faint—
Dave: —like all the time? How does this work?
Maggie: When they are scared or excited, they faint; they just fall over. [Laughter] I’ve made up my own term—sometimes, it’s like they don’t fully fall over—they just get leg-locked. Their legs are all straight like this, and they have to walk. I can’t even show—obviously, this is not visual medium—
Ann: This is a boy’s paradise: “When they get scared…” How old were your boys when you got your fainting goats?
Maggie: I think four, five and seven. [Laughter] They’re very gentle with them.
Ann: Oh, good.
Maggie: My middle son loves animals, and he makes a pet of every time we have goat babies; they are literally the cutest animals of all time. They jump up in the air and do fancy twists; they’re just so joyful. But my son always takes one to make it his. He takes it down the slide with him, and then carries it all over; and then one day we sell it.
Maggie: Talk about hard life.
Ann: That’s so funny.
Dave: Well, let me ask some questions to you moms. Several of these you cover in probably both books, but I know definitely in this latest one, Motherhood Without All the Rules. Even when you talk about a farm, it sounds like, “Oh, that’s a great escape for some people.” You live there.
There’s a myth and you say it’s a—what do you call it?—standard—
Maggie: Stressful standard.
Dave: There’s a stressful standard of: “Mom’s deserve an escape: ‘You deserve this/you’ve earned this.’” Is that true?
Maggie: We actually/we tell ourselves we need it, like we can’t go on until we have had this escape; and we set it up as the most important thing. Sometimes, it is like a piece of chocolate in the pantry.
Ann: That sounds good. [Laughter]
Maggie: Right? I actually started a whole thing in the pandemic that was like, “Pandemic Pantry Chats,” where I’d shut myself in the pantry; because that was the only place I could be alone. [Laughter]
Sometimes it’s as little as that, or it’s the next trip that we’re planning, or it’s like a bubble bath. And all of these things are good things; the problem is when we elevate them to a need. God actually tells us that He supplies all that we need and that He is the One who feeds us and cares for us like He feeds the sparrows and the birds of the air [Matthew 6:26].
We tell ourselves, “We need these things”; and then, when we need something, we are willing to fight to get it. A lot of times, I hear moms say all the time/I say all the time, “I never thought I’d be an angry mom. Why am I an angry mom? Well, it’s these kids keep getting in the way of what I’ve told myself that I need to survive.” Then they start taking that little piece of comfort away from me; and suddenly, I’m just a flashpoint of anger, and I yell at them. Then I feel the shame and “Oh, why did I do that?” It’s because I had elevated this need up to the point where it was more important than my need for God, and I’d put it on the throne of my life; and that little need was ruling everything for me.
Ann: You know what else we do with that need?—is we look at our husbands, if we’re married, and we think, “They get all their needs met,” and we begin comparing our lives compared to them.
Dave: I’ve never heard that. [Laughter]
Ann: Then we think, “Oh, if I don’t get what I deserve/my escape, then I’m mad, not only at my life, but at my husband, at the circumstances, and at my children.”
It seems like, “Wait, what?” It doesn’t seem like it’s a bad thing; because to say you need an escape—that’s not a bad thing—because that can be true, and we all need that at times. But you’re saying, “We kind of elevate it to the point, where it’s our savior.”
Maggie: Yes, then we create these things that aren’t actually meeting the need that we really do have—and that might be actually some fellowship with women that will point us to Christ—but it’s soul care kinds of things. We’re so focused on self-care/our external needs that—
Ann: That’s a big word right now, too, “self-care.”
Maggie: —that we totally neglect soul care. I’ve heard self-care people describe it as “You’ve got to put your oxygen mask on yourself first if the plane is going down.”
Ann: I’ve heard that too.
Maggie: But a lot of times, the mask we’re putting on has no oxygen coming from it.
Maggie: Because the things that we’re using aren’t oxygen providers. God is the breath of life; He give us oxygen.
No, that doesn’t mean that always then—every time it’s running, got to have my nose deep in my Bible, which is great—but it can be just changing our motive. Instead of a self-focused thing that’s like, “I need this so I’m going to take it; I’m going to get it,” you can say, “I am weak! I have physical limitations, as a woman; so I’m going to look at my day and see God has made me physically limited, and I need to take a nap now to be able to do what He’s asked me to do today.”
It’s just a change in our attitudes; and it’s a focus from our self to looking up to God, and saying, “Man, I am not God; I can’t do everything.” Moms can’t do everything; we can’t be supermoms. But that’s embracing the weakness and connecting to God to empower us. Part of that is meeting our physical needs with an attitude of: “Wow, thank You for giving me the opportunity to meet that physical need.”
Ann: It reminds me of the woman at the well in John 4. She thought her need/she could have said, “My need is for a man [who] would love me. I’ve had five, and no one has loved me.”
And God is saying, “No, that’s not what you need; that’s not your escape,” because we’re all looking for ways to escape. He was saying, “I am the living water. If you drink of Me, you’ll have streams of living water [John 4:14].” And that’s what you mean, Maggie. He is the oxygen; He’s the one that fills us up and meets those needs.
Dave: Alright, that brings up another topic that I think I’ll give you a shot at. Talking to the men—talking to the husbands/talking to the dads—what do you need from us?
Ann: Ooh, that’s a good question.
Dave: Tell the men or just tell your own man; I mean, what do you moms long for your husbands to do to help them?
Maggie: I think what most moms—I know I, but I feel like listening to my friends talk, too—we just want our husbands to see us, to recognize that it is really hard work; that maybe motherhood sometimes asks more from us than fatherhood asks from them, emotionally, because we are always thinking about our children like we talked about. Just that recognition of: “Hey, I see that you’ve been working really hard lately,” goes such a long way.
Then the recognition also of like: “I see that this has been really hard, but I see that God is working in your life.” And changing our encouragement to being based upon God’s work in their life instead of everything that you’re accomplishing. Because sometimes we can get it all flipped around in our head and be like, “Well, then if I don’t accomplish it, then he won’t think good of me,” or something.
So seeing her—recognizing and then pointing her to Jesus, too—just like we were talking about good friends do.
Ann: I would add to that, too—I agree with all of that, Maggie—and the part of like seeing us. I think, Dave, you would do this sometimes, but I had to ask you to do it; of just asking you to ask me how I’m doing.
That’s really big—that’s part of feeling like, “Oh, you hear me and you’re interested in my life, which now feels super boring and monotonous; like, ‘Who wants to hear about this? I’m bored with myself,’”—so when you would ask me, “How are you doing, really?” I think you were afraid to do that; because if you asked that, I would say, “Well, I would be doing a lot better if you would…” But I think for us, as women, just to have been asked that question feels like you are entering into our world.
The other thing I feel like you were good at this—you would tell me specifically what you were inspired by in my life—one time, you said, “I love that you are always bringing Scripture,” or “You’re praying in the car; I love how you’re bringing God into the boys’ daily life and into your life.”
I remember thinking, “What? Wait! Am I doing something that someone noticed and you saw it?” Because the kids don’t know; they don’t see it. They’re not saying, “Oh, thanks, Mom, for feeding me again.” They may once in a while, but for a spouse to recognize and point specifically to something we’ve done well of sharing Jesus, that is like a breath of fresh air to our souls.
Dave: I remember, also, thinking—at least, you told me this—and I think you’d probably both agree, that you also want us to help. [Laughter]
Maggie: I was just thinking; I was like, “Those were great answers; but also, if you just want something really real, being like: “Hey, why don’t you take Saturday morning to go do what you want?” and “I’ll watch the kids.”
Dave: Yes, that’s helping out.
Ann: There was something about Dave taking the boys out, and I was in the house by myself, was like the most amazing gift. If you vacuumed, I’m like, “Are you kidding?! This is like Christmas today.”
Dave: I remember one time—and again, it could be taking them out; and we did the boys’ day out, which I would take all three boys for half the day once a month—and that was like a big deal, and they loved it; and it gave her a break.
But you talk about selfish. I remember one time—do you remember this?—you have Saturday afternoon, getting them lunch/getting them sitting in the high chair; the whole thing. It was just they were little boys; it was chaos. You’ve got the whole table set up. I go over; get myself some ice; get an iced tea; pour it; come down; sit down. I’ll never forget this—Ann’s here; all three boys are there; it’s chaos—and I say to her, “Hey, I’m preaching on selfishness tomorrow; I need a good illustration.”
She goes, “Seriously? Do you see what you just did?” [Laughter] I’m like, “What?!” She goes, “You’re serious right now?” I go, “What, what? What did I do?”
She goes, “You went over and got yourself a drink. You never got anybody else a drink. I got all three boys drinks; I got myself a drink. You want an illustration?—you’re the illustration.” [Laughter]
Maggie: Did you use it?
Ann: Oh yes, he would always use those.
Dave: Because I was like, “How am I that blind?” And I was.
Maggie: You know what gets me about when my husband takes my boys out? He’ll take them to a fast food restaurant; every single time—does not fail—somebody comes up to him and says—
Ann: Yes! [Laughter]
Maggie: —“Wow! [Laughter] Your boys are so good. Wow, you must be a really good dad.”
Ann: This is like, “Isn’t this amazing? You have all of them out.”
Maggie: “People of the world: you can say this to moms. Even if the kids are a mess for her and they’re really great for dad, we can say it to moms.” [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, that’s so true. [Laughter]
Dave: Okay; I’ve got a whole different topic, which it will be interesting to hear a mom of a ten-year-old and a mom with grandkids: prodigals. As a mom, if your son or daughter walks away from the faith—teenaged years or beyond—what do you do? How do you struggle with that? How is that navigated as a mom?
Maggie: I had to—when I talked about this in my book—I had to go to a mentor mom of mine to talk to her a little bit; because I can see it only from my perspective right now, early in life. But I’ll tell you, I think there’s an identity thing in there. Obviously, there’s a really, true beautiful thing. We want our kids to know Jesus, of course.
There’s also an identity thing; because we feel like, “We’ve worked so hard to be a mom,” and what is like the A+ on the report card of godly motherhood if not your kids grow up to follow Jesus? It can be like, if that doesn’t happen, then “Probably, I wasted my whole life.”
Ann: —“and I’m a bad mom.”
Maggie: We get really dramatic in our heads; right?! So all moms—this is just a constant fear across every season—is like, “What happens if this happens?”
I talked to a friend of mine, who experienced that. She said, “You know, the only thing I could do was just say, ‘Is Jesus even better than this?’ Even if my daughter never comes back to the Lord, after wandering away, am I going to believe that Jesus is still good, and that He is still better/that He is my treasure even beyond the treasure of my children?”
I pray that I don’t have to face that head-on, but I also know that I can work now to make a daily practice of, when that fear comes, asking myself that question now; so that if, one day, down the road, I have to face a prodigal child, then I will have made a practice.
I did Taekwondo with my boys.
Ann: Yes, you did.
Dave: Way to go!
Maggie: That is not something I ever planned to do in my life.
Dave: How did we get from prodigal to Taekwondo? This is going to be interesting.
Maggie: I did Taekwondo with my boys. I wasn’t going to do it. I signed them up for it. It was like a family Taekwondo though; my youngest would not do it without me. [Laughter]
Ann: Praise the things moms do!
Maggie: I’m not an athletic person! I was like, “Okay!” I started doing Taekwondo and the Taekwondo instructor would yell these things at us. One of the things he would yell is: “Practice makes”—and everybody would yell—“perfect!” [Laughter]
Maggie: And he would stop us and say, “No, practice makes habits.”
So if you’re a mom, where your kids are still young, and you’re facing that fear, we can make a habit right now of believing the truth of God’s Word; that God is still good in every circumstance, that He is sovereign, that’s it’s not something that we did that created this problem with our child. He is sovereign over our lives, and He is sovereign over theirs and that we can entrust them to Him; and if not, He is still better.
Ann: I would agree with all of that. That’s beautifully said, and I think there comes a practice and a habit of surrendering your kids every day at the cross. That’s not an easy thing to do.
I think, too, that fear grips moms more than anything else if we allow it to. Because we could be overwhelmed with fear every day of the circumstances of life, the culture that our kids are being raised in, the things that are going on; like we can project so much fear into the future.
I think every single day of that surrender—and we picture giving Jesus our kids—sometimes, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night—I’ve told you [Dave] this not too long ago—I can wake up in the middle of the night, and I have all adult children, and I think: “Are their marriages okay?” “Are their…” You know, I’m going through all this stuff: “Are they struggling with anything?”
In order to go back to sleep, I have to picture myself standing with Jesus; and I push our kids/our sons back to Jesus; and I have to say, “But, Lord, You love them more than I do. You see them more than I do. You can take care of them more than I ever could and my worry isn’t going to amount to anything that will be helpful. So I hand them to You, a good and loving Father; and they’re Yours. I’m going to trust You.”
Sometimes, bad things still happen; but God/the gospel of the truth of Jesus is bigger than that. That’s hard to live out. It has to become—I like what you said, Maggie—a habit of that total surrender every day.
Dave: Yes, it’s been fun to ask two moms. But I think that’s a great word—the habit thing—because surrender is a habit. It’s not a one time; it’s a daily/almost minute by minute—especially with your children that you can’t control—you have to: “I’m opening my hands right now.”
Because we hold on tightly to our children. As they grow up, it’s the hardest thing for a parent to go, “Okay, they’re not mine; they’re His. They may make bad decisions; they may make good ones. My identity is not how they do; my identity is in Christ. I’m going to surrender again,”—two a.m., three a.m., six a.m. —“I’m going to surrender,” and God will walk with your children.
Bob: It is true for us, as moms and dads, if our power source to try to accomplish the assignment God’s given us to raise our kids, if our power source for that is anything other than the power of the gospel—Jesus alive in us, animating us to do what He’s called us to do—we’re going to find ourselves flailing and failing. But if we are connected to Christ daily, that’s where the power to function as effective parents is going to come from.
That is one of the central themes of Maggie Combs’ book, Motherhood Without All the Rules. The subtitle is Trading Stressful Standards for Gospel Truths. I think about how many moms I know who are trying to live out the stressful standards instead of finding their peace and their hope in the gospel truths.
We would love to send you a copy of Maggie’s book as a way of saying, “Thank you for your ongoing support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.” I think most of you know FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. It’s listeners like you who have made today’s program possible. You help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this program every time you make a donation. When you do that today—when you make a donation—we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Maggie’s book, Motherhood Without All the Rules.
If you can help us extend the outreach of FamilyLife Today—help us reach more people, more often, by making a donation today—ask for your copy of Maggie Combs’ book, Motherhood Without All the Rules, when you do that. You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear about how our walk with Jesus impacts intimacy in our marriage. There is a connection between what’s going on in our soul and what goes on in the most intimate parts of our marriage. Dave and Ann Wilson talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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