The Motherhood Challenge
Hettie Brittz, author of "(un)Natural Mom," was eager to start her family when she married at 20. After delaying motherhood, she was thrilled to find out she was expecting, and even more thrilled when her baby girl was born. Motherhood proved more challenging than she expected, however. Brittz tells how God helped her be the mom her children needed.
About the Guest
For Hettie Brittz, author of “(un)Natural Mom,” motherhood proved more challenging than she expected. Brittz tells how God helped her be the mom her children needed.
The Motherhood Challenge
Bob: Hettie Brittz remembers when her baby was still a newborn—it dawning on her she was now responsible for this little one’s life and safety.
Hettie: On Day One in the neonatal ward, with my little baby next to me, I saw a nurse coming in. I pulled her over and I said: “Why haven’t you given my baby a bath? One would expect better service around here.” She looked at me and she said: “Ma’am that is your baby. You were supposed to bathe her yesterday.” I just—I just went cold and I just had this fear come over me that “I don’t know how to do this.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Some aspects of motherhood may just come naturally, but there are other things that we have to learn along the way. Hettie Brittz joins us today to provide some help. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’ve heard you say that you think Barbara was made for motherhood; right?
Dennis: Yes; she loved children and couldn’t wait to be a mom. We had six children in ten years; and obviously, she was a mom for almost three decades—and still is today—and now a grandmother. She loved the assignment.When she got fired by the empty nest [Laughter] and they—these little ones flew the coup—it was a great loss for her, because she thoroughly enjoyed being a mother.
Bob: Some aspects of motherhood came easily for her. Other aspects had to be learned over time; didn’t they?
Dennis: [Laughter] You could ask her about that but, again, absolutely.
She was hardwired to be a mom, but there isn’t any mom alive who has got the perfect disposition to handle all that children can throw at you. I mean, four daughters / two sons—all the different combinations of relationships. I think I’ve shared with our audience before—I had a guy, who taught statistics at the university level, do a study of our family and said that these six kids produced something like over a 1,000 relationships. I mean, it’s astounding— the number of different combinations of relationships that we have. All of them demand a mom who knows her assignment and who knows what she’s doing. We have a guest with us from the other side of the world—
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: —south of the equator—way south—from Pretoria, South Africa. Hettie Brittz joins us on FamilyLife Today. That’s easy for me to say; isn’t it? [Laughter] Welcome to the broadcast, Hettie.
Hettie: Thank you Dennis and Bob for having me. It’s an honor.
Dennis: Hettie is an author/speaker. She is the wife of Louis since 1992. They have three children. She has written a book called (un)Natural Mom and the subtitle is Why You Are the Perfect Mom for Your Kids.
First of all, let’s just unpack the title of this. Where did you come up with this title and what does it mean?
Hettie: We were brainstorming about a book to put out. The publisher was asking me about: “Who are you?” I said, “Well, I’m the most unlikely parenting writer/author you can think of because I’m an unnatural mom.” He went, “That’s it!” [Laughter]
Just like Barb, I always wanted to have kids—you just spoke about Barbara and how she was ready for it. I scared my husband when we got married, because I was only 20 when we married. When I started talking about kids, he said: “What are you talking about? It’s too soon.” I had him commit to a five-year deadline.
So, I was ready—or I thought I was, Dennis—but then on Day One in the neonatal ward, with my little baby next to me, I saw a nurse coming in. I pulled her over and I said: “Why haven’t you given my baby a bath? One would expect better service around here.” She looked at me and she said: “Ma’am that is your baby. You were supposed to bathe her yesterday.” I just went cold and I just had this fear come over me: “I don’t know how to do this. How could I not have realized that this is my assignment?”
And everything after that, for many years, was like that—every now and then—that realization: “Oh man! A natural mom would have known to do this,” or “A natural mom would have never done that,” or “If I were a natural mom, this would have been easy.” But everything about it was hard for me.
Dennis: When Ashley, our firstborn, was born, I just remember when they handed her to us. I kind of felt like flipping her over and looking for the instructions: “Are they on her stomach?—[Laughter]—on her back? —her …?”—you know? I mean, “How do you do this thing?” It really is an incredible responsibility.
I remember Barbara and me counseling a couple of friends, who had decided to have a baby. She was terrified before she got the baby—before she cuddled with that little child that she’d given birth to.
Bob: Not only is it an incredible responsibility, but every mom I know wants to get it right.
Bob: The weight of thinking: “This is a human being who is in my care. I want to make sure their physically protected. I want to make sure they are emotionally safe. I want make sure that they grow up and thrive,”—then you stop and think—“and I am completely inadequate for that task.” I can see where a mom would get paralyzed and not know what to do. Is that how you felt?
Hettie: Absolutely. It’s overwhelming, but I had some sense of confidence in myself which was completely misplaced. [Laughter]
Because I studied speech pathology and audiology, I knew everything about normal development. I knew how the embryo was growing. I knew what was happening before the birth, week by week. I had signed up on this internet platform. I watched the development of the baby, knew what to pray into. My nursery was kitted out—I made everything / I sewed—that was the only time I ever sewed. I sewed everything the nursery needed. I read all the books / I attended the prenatal classes. I thought the key was: “Just get all the information from the right sources. Have your tick lists ready. Have your bags packed. Have everything the baby will physically need and then you will be ready.”
But it's the emotional readiness and that readiness to unselfishly look away from yourself for the next however many years that I was not ready for, because I was ambitious—
—I had qualified as a speech therapist / I wanted to build a practice. I had an outreach center in a poor part of our city, where I looked after 45 kids every day after school, inputting into their lives. I had all these things that I wanted to do for God / for other people. It’s a lot easier than caring for a little bitty baby who was mine, and that shamed me—because I looked in the mirror, after each day, and said: “I did a lot for those kids today;”—[previously] other people’s kids—“but now, I just don’t know what to do with my own baby.”
Dennis: “This baby’s all yours.”
We just need to clarify here, on the frontend, that Pretoria, South Africa, is a whole lot like America. I mean, it’s on the other side of the world / it is south of the equator. While it’s winter here, it’s summer there; but the same western values and media just kind of saturate the culture, which undoubtedly, you’d absorbed—
—all these high expectations of yourself, as a woman, moving toward being a mom. I mean, you had to have these unrealistic expectations built, not only from yourself, but from the Christian community—but also the culture.
Hettie: Yes; absolutely. I started dreading Mother’s Day above every other day on the calendar; because you walk into church on Mother’s Day Sunday, and you get a rose. Then you get read Proverbs 31. The checklist personality that I have—immediately starts scoring myself—I get: “She can sew,” / “I can’t,”—“She cooks,” / “I can’t.”
Dennis: “She’s in the marketplace.”
Hettie: “She is a night owl and a morning person.” I mean, that is just not fair! [Laughter] She stays up all night and she gets up before the chickens do—it’s just overwhelming.
Dennis: Her husband speaks well of her / her children speak well of her.
Hettie: Yes; and my kids want to give me up for adoption. [Laughter] I need to listen to all of that and feel like I’ve been honored today, but I was shamed and embarrassed and felt more and more inadequate the more I looked into this mirror—
—because I could do that part where she does business or where she goes out and works / I could do that—but the family part—the relationship part / the nurturing of kids was what was tough.
Dennis: There is one other thing you’ve left out—that’s the home you came from. What kind of mom did you have, growing up?
Hettie: Oh, I had the most thoughtful mom one can ever have—but at the same time—a mom who made the right decisions that the culture and what she understood to be biblical standards expected of her. She gave up her career to raise us; but I always felt the tension of: “If it weren’t for these four kids, I could have done more with my life.” She never found, I guess, the permission to do both. It was always an either/or.
There was a sense of dissatisfaction with her life that I think I inherited in a certain way.
Bob: I think the question is—a question of: “In the face of competing priorities—
Bob: —“where does first allegiance lie?” That’s where you have to look to passages—like Titus 2—that say to be a lover of your husband and a lover of your children, and keeper at home. When you’re doing those things—and there is margin—I don’t think there is any prohibition, on God’s part, to say: “Well, you can’t’ use your margin for anything other than husband/home.” I do think you have to come back to—if something’s got to give, at the end of the day—it can’t be that what gives—
Hettie: It can’t be the family.
Bob: —is your marriage and your kids.
Hettie: No; absolutely.
Dennis: I’m thinking of the passage that Paul wrote to Timothy too—it says “…for godliness is actually a means of great gain when accompanied with contentment.”
Dennis: Being able to exhale and say: “This is the call on my life for today.
“It’s a season. There will be another season someday.” Undoubtedly, we’re speaking to moms today—or maybe future moms—who are wondering, “Can I have it all?” The answer is: “You really can’t—
Dennis: —“have everything.” That’s one of the lies of the culture.
Hettie: I couldn’t agree more. What I would love for a mom to understand is that it’s not her spiritual immaturity that is making that phase difficult for her—it’s her personality—our personality is our flesh. It is what we are supposed to rise above by the power of the Holy Spirit.
If my mom had had permission to say to herself: “I am not a bad Christian / I am not an unspiritual woman. I am probably a workaholic that needs to get a lot done; because at the end of the day, all I have to show for the day is dirty dishes, dirty diapers, and a dirty home.
“It gets to me, but this does not mean I am a bad person. This means some of what is my assignment right now goes against what I would love to do, just in my flesh. I am going to tap into the Lord for this specific thing. I’m going to ask Him to give me the grace to be myself but be that godly mom that my children need.” I think my mom did it to a large degree.
Bob: You put your finger right on what I think a lot of moms feel, which is they look at the end of the day and they go “What did I accomplish today?” You look around and you go: “Well let’s see, my children are still alive. That’s a good thing; right?” But not much else happened that they can point to and say: “I moved the ball forward in this direction. I accomplished this.”
This is where I think—as moms and dads—we have to look at the fact that the raising of the next generation is not done in days—it’s done in years. It’s faithfulness in the days that leads to healthy years.
Dennis: Yes; and there’s the whole process of raising kids.
That does wonders for our humility—to be given the assignment of taking little human beings, who are related to us and our tendencies. Here you are—struggling with your identity, as a mom, and being content in that—and your daughter starts having a little bit more aggressive play with her brother—I assume younger brother; right?
Hettie: [Laughter] Yes.
Dennis: You go to a counselor/therapist to kind of work this out—figure out what it is. You get another message back—that you’re inferior.
Hettie: Yes; because I thought that something was wrong with my daughter—I mean, to not want her brother to breathe another breath—[Laughter]—seems like some sort of diagnosis. After the evaluation, the play therapist pulls me back into her room—she says “You have an uncertain ambivalent bond with your child.” I asked for normal words and she said—
Dennis: —“an uncertain ambivalent bond.”
Hettie: Yes; that was the diagnosis, and it was mine—[Laughter]—it wasn’t my daughter’s. She looked at me and she said: “It means your daughter isn’t sure who you want to be in her life. She’s not sure if you want to be her mom. Do you?”
It took the breath out of me; because it was the confrontation of: “Do you really want this assignment? Do really want to get up in the middle of the night? Do you want to be the one who gets up for her when she screams at 1 am? Do you want to change the diapers? Do you want to do the hard work it will take for you to have a relationship with her?—because you did not bond with her because there were things that she needed that you just didn’t do.”
When I asked her how this had happened—if I waited for her / we struggled to be pregnant with her—there was great anticipation / immense joy when she came—so: “How is it possible that I didn’t bond with her if I wanted her that badly?”
And she said: “It’s because she is your opposite. Everything that comes naturally for you to do with a baby, she doesn’t need. What she truly needs—the way she experiences love and nurturing is what you can’t do unless you are going to intentionally love her the way she needs to be loved.” I said, “Well, tell me what I need to do.” She said: “You need to slow down. You need to get into the bathtub with her, for half an hour, at least, every day. You need to wash her slowly.”
I could bathe her in five minutes flat and have her dressed so I could go on with my life, which was pretty much all I wanted to really do, which was my big mistake. She said: “You need to take half an hour. You need to do this slowly, and you need to dry her whole body—put lotion on her little arms and legs and hold her until she lets go.” My first response was: “Lord! I can’t do this.
“I don’t know that I can do this, but help me because I know I need to do this.” The reward from that has just been immense; because she is still, at age 17, the one who regularly slows me down. [Laughter]
You know that Scripture that says women will be saved through childbirth? To me, this is what it means—it means that your children, who are not like you, will save you from yourself. They will be the ones through whom the Lord says: “Is this really important? Is this really godly? Is this really who you want to be?” She’s been that person many times—and so have the other two. [Laughter]
Bob: Hettie, I have to believe that we’ve got moms, listening today, who are relating with what you’ve described—life is busy: “Thirty minutes to bathe a child. You’ve got to be kidding me! How do you take that much time to spend bathing a child when life is a blur around you, and there are places to go, and there are things to do?”
They’re feeling under-appreciated / they’re feeling overwhelmed. They are looking at the pace and they’re saying, “I’m not sure I was made for this.” What would you say to them?
Hettie: I’d let them go and read Ephesians 1—that space, where it says—I’m quoting from The Message loosely—it says: “Long before we saw Christ and had our hopes up, He had His eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living.” If we can, for a moment, zoom out and get the big picture of what’s going on, we can trust that this is all part of a godly and glorious design. What that means, practically—because that’s a spiritual concept—practically, that means who you are, and who your children are, and what your life is—none of that is a mistake. All of that is part of a design; and ultimately, Christ will be written into your family story through who you are, even through the mistakes you will make, as He wrote His story into my life through the mistake I made with my daughter.
That visit to that therapist was the beginning of my parenting ministry; because that day, I said, “It should not be this hard for a Christian mom to raise her children in a godly way. Once I’ve figured out what I’ve done wrong and have gotten wisdom from God to fix this, I’m going to share this with other people.” That’s how my journey began—even the hard stuff is part of what God is doing.
Have you ever thought of how necessary it is for some kids to grow up a little tougher than others?—because God knows what’s ahead for them. Maybe I’m the one who is going to make them tough, even with the parts of me that God is sorting out as He goes along, writing a glorious salvation story into our family.
Bob: You’re saying: “God gave imperfect, flawed children to imperfect, flawed parents,” and then said: “I have a plan here; and that plan is a redemptive plan for them, and for you, and I know what I’m doing.”
Hettie: That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Dennis: And I can’t help but think, Hettie, that Proverbs 31—how we started the broadcast—has worked its way out in your life. It says “strength and dignity are her clothing and she laughs at the time to come,”—because you’re smiling right now. You’re not gritting your teeth, as a mom. You’re in the process—you’re not perfect / you haven’t raised perfect kids.
Bob: You’ve got three teenagers right now; right?
Hettie: Two and a ten-year-old.
Bob: Okay; alright [Laughter]
Dennis: —who probably thinks she is a teenager.
Bob: Yes; right.
Dennis: You’re able to look at the future and smile.
Hettie: Yes; I trust the Lord much more with my kids than I do myself. I know that He’s got their future in His hands in a way where I cannot wreck it.
Dennis: And He has your future, as a mom—and the moms, who are listening to us today—in His hand, going forward as well.
It is a faith journey: “It is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).” You have to expect that God is going to reward you along the way; and he does, as we raise these children to adulthood. They will become adults—[Laughter}—I promise you / they really will!
Hettie: That’s good to know. [Laughter]
Bob: Part of what you discovered in your journey, as a mom, is that there are different styles—different moms have different styles. In fact, some of it can be mapped out. There is, online, an assessment that our listeners can take if they want to. They can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. They can answer a few questions, and it will help them map out what style of mother they are. Once you understand what style you are, you can make adjustments as necessary so that you raise kids who thrive.
Go to our website, FamilyLife Today.com, for information about the assessment you can take, online, and for information about Hettie Brittz’ book (un)Natural Mom: Why You Are the Perfect Mom for Your Kids. Again, the website is FamilyLife Today.com. You can order a copy of Hettie’s book from us, online, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request your copy. Again, the toll-free number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY,”—1-800-358-6329—or go online at FamilyLife Today.com. We’ve got a link on our website, as well, to Hettie’s website. If you want to find out more about the work that she’s doing—about her husband’s ministry as a worship leader / about what’s going on in South Africa—you’ll find the link at FamilyLifeToday.com.
One of the things that we’ve observed, over the years, is that, when things are going well at home, that usually gives us a platform / a foundation from which the rest of life can do well. But if couples are struggling in their marriage, if kids are struggling at home, if there’s conflict between moms and dads and the kids, that spills into every other area of our lives. It’s one of the reasons why, at FamilyLife, we’re committed to providing you with practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family so that it can be all that God designed it to be so that, from that foundation, you can be an effective ambassador for Jesus Christ in your workplace, in your school, in your neighborhood, with your friends and family.
Our goal is to see every home become a godly home. I want to take a minute to say, “Thank you,” to those who share that goal with us, our Legacy Partners and those of you who donate to support this ministry. You are making it possible for the work of this ministry to be expanded to more and more people, month in and month out.
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By the way, when you make a donation, we’d love to send you, as a thank-you gift this month, a resource that will help you share the Easter story with your children or your grandchildren.
It’s FamilyLIfe’s Resurrection Eggs®. It’s our gift to you when you support the ministry this month with a donation. Again, we want to say, “Thanks for your partnership and for helping us reach even more people with God’s design for marriage and family.”
And we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. Hettie Brittz is going to be here again, and we’re going to talk more about how you can be the mom that God has called and created you to be. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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