When You Can’t Afford to Be a “Good” Mom

This is a guest post by Hannah Anderson.


About eight years ago, our family hit a tough spot financially. My husband is a pastor and while we never dreamed of riches, we did expect a life of general stability. If you followed a certain formula, we’d heard, things would work out. So we did what we were supposed to do. We graduated from college before we got married. We both worked while he finished grad school. We were frugal and didn’t have debt.

Then about ten years into marriage, we hit a snag and found ourselves unable to make ends meet. I was weeks from delivering our third child when my husband came to me with the numbers; there was simply no more stretching an already stretched budget. We ended up on food stamps and Medicaid.

At first, my faith didn’t waver. I’d grown up with little, and I knew God would take care of us. This was just a temporary measure to tide us over. But then things went from bad to worse and eventually troubles in ministry left us without a job or housing. As the weeks turned into months and the months to years, I found our financial woes hitting me in a place I’d never expected: motherhood.

When I stood in the checkout line, I felt a mix of gratitude and shame, praying that no one I knew would see me take the EBT card out of my wallet to pay for our family’s food. When I took my children for well-checks at our state-assigned doctor’s office, I couldn’t help but notice the worn carpet and cracked, peeling vinyl chairs in the waiting room. I was simultaneously thankful and sad. Thankful that my children could eat well and get the care they needed; sad that I couldn’t give them better.

While my story may be a bit of an outlier, the desire to care for our children is a universal one. “Which of you,” Jesus asks in Matthew, “if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” The heart of every loving parent is to provide good things for our children. So when we’re financially unable to give them “bread”, it can strike us to our very core.

Sometimes our inability to care for our children is real but sometimes it’s perceived, based on the expectations of the culture around us. In a culture that equates success with how much you earn and how much you can spend, being a “good” mother can sometimes become defined by your ability to provide a certain lifestyle for your children.  

To be a “good” mother, culture tells us, you must feed your child organic, locally sourced food. To be a “good” mother, it whispers, you must book a professional photo shoot for each new stage (as well buy new matching outfits.) To be a “good” mother, we hear, you must have the perfectly accessorized nursery. And then as they grow older, to be a “good” mother you must be able to pay for dance, music, and art lessons. But all these things come at a price and it’s not always one we can afford. And when we can’t, even the best mothers can end up feeling like failures.

What I remember most about our lean years was the sense of helplessness and guilt I felt. After all, what kind of mother can’t take care of her own children? What kind of mother can’t provide for them? What kind of mother am I?

It was during this time that God taught me some deep and necessary lessons, not just about trusting him to provide financially, but trusting him to care for my children. As a Father himself, God knows and understands the weight of your mother heart. He knows how desperately you long to give your children good gifts and how much you despair when you can’t. In fact, in Isaiah, he offers mothers a particular promise, one that has become dear to my heart:

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“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

In the midst of our financial struggles, in the midst of my feelings of helplessness, God was feeding us and carrying my children in his arms. He didn’t always do it the way I would have liked. He didn’t always allow me to give them everything I wanted to, but he never abandoned them.

But more than caring for my children, God was also caring for me. As I carried them, he was carrying me. As I led them, He was gently leading me. And part of what he was gently leading me to was the understanding that he never intended for me to care for my children alone.

For years, my husband and I had struggled, had done everything in our power, to provide for our children. He worked two jobs while I did my best to reduce household costs, cut corners, and coupon. But, it was never enough.  I found myself desperate, anxious, and overwrought. Despite all my work, all my efforts, it was never enough.

But by coming face to face with my own limitations, I was forced to turn to the only One who was enough—the only One who would always, ever, only be enough. Instead of trusting my own efforts, I learned to trust him. Instead of relying on my own work, I learned to rely on him. I learned to leave my anxious toil and hopelessness and find rest in him.

Today, my husband and I live in a working class community in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. We’re in a much more stable financial position as a family, but I know that lean days could come again at any point. No matter how much we earn, no matter how competent or educated we are, none of us can ensure that we will never face need.

But while I don’t know what the future holds, I do know this: The Lord is my Shepherd and so I shall not want. And because the Lord is my Shepherd, my children won’t want either. He will feed his flock. He will carry the lambs in his arms. He will gently lead those that are with young.

 


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Hannah Anderson lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where she spends her days working with her husband in rural ministry, writing, and caring for their family. Her books Made for More and Humble Roots unpack questions of identity and purpose while crafting a vision for the abundant, flourishing life that God promises us through Christ. You can connect with her on Twitter, on Instagram, or at her blog.