A Cautionary Tale for Mothers

by | Aug 14, 2013 | Uncategorized


I notice a friend pushing a grocery cart to her car as I pull into the parking lot, someone I haven’t seen in months. Before going into the store, I walk toward the direction of her car while calling her name. When she sees me, I outstretch my arms, wrap them tight around her shoulders in a hug, thanking her for the pictures waiting in our vacation mail; old snapshots of my daughter with friends at youth group. We tumble into conversation about time passing, our kids growing up and fears about the next season.

She admits that she struggles with her place in life as her kids achieve independence. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do now that I’m not needed as much; it’s a common phrase I hear from women as their children grow up.

Some create a wide berth for motherhood while others squeeze parenting in between the small cracks of pursuits. As mothers we tend to journey from worrying too much about the details of our children’s lives to worrying about not being part of the details of their lives. But the most common mistake many of us make is assuming motherhood as an identity, instead of a gift.

You are more than a mother. You are woman carrying a unique voice of Hope for those dying without it. There are a million ways to feed His sheep outside of motherhood.


I used to be one of those mothers who showed up at my kid’s school several times a week to volunteer where help was needed. Teachers became more than my children’s educators, they were friends who asked me to pray for them during their free periods. But when we moved, my kids told me to stop volunteering because they knew I had other pursuits waning. In thoughtful discernment, they told me they didn’t need me to volunteer at their schools.

My volunteerism was no longer about them and they knew it. Their honest admission gave me permission to let go. Until the year my son got the teacher nobody wanted.

I observed the alchemy of a passive teacher with a classroom of troublesome kids transform my son into a puddle of apathy for six months, soaking my pillow with the tears of his sadness. And the irony? It was a do-over experience. He had the same circumstance with another teacher in his first year at the same school. That’s why we hesitated to be that parent and meet with the principal again. But hesitation became pleading prayers of desperation for rescue.

The result: he spent the last two and half months of that school year with another teacher and his countenance glowed again with hope. My son learned the value of true and healthy leadership by being in the trenches of a difficult experience.


In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says hope is not an emotion, it is learned. Children with high levels of hopefulness have experience with adversity. They’ve been given the opportunity to struggle and in doing that they learn how to believe in themselves.

That’s why it’s good to cultivate other pursuits outside of mothering, not just for you but for them. Your kids need to be set free to struggle, and fulfill their God given place as His children on loan with you. Don’t wait until their adults to do it.

How are you cultivating other pursuits and interests outside of parenting? Do you allow your kids to experience healthy struggle or are you more prone to find ways of escape?

Linking with Laura, Jennifer, Kristen and Emily.


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  1. Kris Camealy

    I am learning to balance my own pursuits and motherhood. It’s not easy, but I know that I need to do things besides mother to feel whole. This is a good piece of wisdom, Shelly. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Shelly Miller

      There is no such thing as perfection when it come to . . . well almost anything. We’re all on the road together, making our way home. Thanks for being so supportive Kris.

  2. Lynn Morrissey

    This is an excellent post, Shelly (are they ever not?!)….and I hope women will heed your counsel. We are complex beings, created by God with multi-faceted gifts and talents. I believe He essentially gives us one over-arching purpose that is lived out in myriad roles and missions, motherhood being one. And while we who are mothers always will be mothers, the ways in which we mother will change through our children’s seasons and ours. Although I left a full-time (and I might add, fascinating career when I had Sheridan), God opened up new opportunities for me to serve others concurrently with serving Sheridan. . . .such as my writing, speaking, facilitating, and singing, all of which could be interspersed with mothering responsibilities. What I also relish is sharing some of these pursuits with my daughter. Just as I entered her world, I have invited her into mine, so we share many of these interests…..such as singing, e.g. Just last Sunday, I can’t tell you what joy we shared as we sang a Mendelssohn duet in church. Tandem pursuits are also a blessing. And bless *you* for sharing!

    • Shelly Miller

      I went to Murielle’s art lesson (which is a story I’m hoping to share here at some point) and while we were talking with her teacher, I felt a shift in our relationship. She is growing up and I’m so proud. Tandem pursuits are indeed a blessing.

  3. Jillie

    Oh Shelly, this is more than timely for me! How could you know that I am struggling with this very thing? I am being “ousted” by my daughter and daughter-in-law right at this very time, as they have developed a strong friendship centred around our new granbabay! They have become “thick-as-thieves” together…and I am not invited to be a part of it. I feel very left-out, very alone, very much wondering what my role is to be from now on.
    My whole life has been about mothering. I knew I was called to be there for my children, every minute, every day. Now, I’m not so sure what to do next. I have some interests of my own, of course, but nothing that takes me anywhere but here. I know I need to expand my circle of friends and activities, but I’m really not a joiner. I’m more of a loner, an introvert, believe it or not! My daughter and I can still share some precious moments, where she gives me a peek into her life, but those moments have become rare. My best friend says I should just “ride it out”…that Jessie will come back. I guess I believe that, deep down, but I’m actually more disgusted with myself–that I have so wrapped my life around them that I no longer know who I am. I’ve lost the girl I was years ago. Who was “she”?
    Your words today are so wisdom-filled. Wish I’d had them years ago! Thank you Shelly, as always.

    • Lynn Morrissey

      Jillie, I’m so sorry for your pain in all of this….and truly this must hurt, especially with so much to share with the new grandbaby. I hear you!! I know you want to share with your grandchild, daughter, and DIL so much. And yet….this can be such an exciting time for you, Jillie. God i s “stripping” you to be sure, and yet when He does that, wonderful worlds of growth and adventure will open up to you. YOu’re like that Ps. 1 tree, and when you root yourself in Him, planted by streams of living water (even though your lush leafage has been stripped)……you are going to bear such luscious fruit. Great things are in store for you, Jillie. Lean hard on your friend, Jesus. Stay close to HIm, and let him become everything to you and turn the loneliness into intimacy with Him. He’ll do it, and you are going to be so amazed at the richness of this time–time you may not have had before!!!

    • Shelly Miller

      Don’t give up Jillie. She is and always will be your daughter. Don’t allow yourself to feel like you don’t fit in because you belong, you do. Can I encourage you to pray that God will show you some ways that you can be with your daughter that will be a blessing to you both? Even though it seems like she may not need you, she does. She needs the mother that only you can be to the gift God gave you, and please don’t be so hard on yourself. I, for one, think you’re pretty awesome just the way God made you.

  4. Lisa notes...

    I’m sure this post is going to hit home with many of us, Shelly, regardless of what season we’re in.

    This is a valuable truth:

    “But the most common mistake many of us make is assuming motherhood as an identity, instead of a gift.”

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks Lisa, I’m humbled that is resonates.

  5. DeanneMoore

    Serendipity? This morning I pulled a little purse out the closet that is filled with letters I wrote to my daughter the last semester of her senior year. I remember leaving them on her pillow while she was at school. She kept them in the purse. (I didn’t know that until much later.) I read some of them this morning. Some made me cry, some made me laugh. Mostly, they made me feel full. I realize those letters (and shaped post-it notes with Scripture stuck to each one) were a letting go, a releasing. She kept the letters, hand-written on pastel papers, tucked in their pastel envelopes. They meant something to her. Reading back through them I see I wrote them for me as well—a way of giving away something of myself to her, my love, and my dreams for her. I didn’t do that for her brother and I don’t know that I will for the one who starts his senior year on Monday. None of my kids would call me a “helicopter” mom…sometimes I have to shake off guilt…struggle with letting them wade through the hard…I pray they will know that my standing back was because I knew they could make it through, believed God was with them, and gave them room to reach for Him instead of me. Oh this hard and beautiful life…so very grateful to live in its fullness.

    • Shelly Miller

      I love that you wrote her letters Dea. Of course, that is the kind of mom that you are. And the fact that she kept them in a special purse, oh my goodness. You are making me think . . .

  6. Alecia Simersky

    I think I am realizing this myself. It’s easy to lose your identity when you become a mom. For so long they need you for everything and then they get older, and they don’t. I’m trying to find the line between being available and backing off to let them grow. And in the process, hopefully, find my calling outside of them as well.

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s a hard transition for all of us Alecia. I’m still struggling to remember to let my kids help by doing the dishes for heaven’s sake! I think it is a gradual process of letting go, kind of like childbirth. You can’t imagine having a baby and then you can’t wait to get it out.

  7. Jennifer Camp

    You are wise and beautiful and courageous. So excited to share this with friends. Thank you, Shelly.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thank you Jennifer. I’m humbled.

  8. rachel lee

    i bawled my way through this. i’m momma to an almost one year old, and even still…this gripped me very hard. thank you, you brave beautiful dearheart.

    • Shelly Miller

      You are in the trenches of training Rachel Lee and its the most beautiful exhausting season of parenting I think. Hang on friend, with every day it gets a bit easier and more rich.

  9. Becky

    I’m learning this in new ways as my kids are no longer kids but young men. It’s a hard lesson for me because so much is changing but your words are wise and true and bring encouragement to keep learning. I’m coming over from Out Of the Blue…thanks so much for sharing!

    • Shelly Miller

      My son is entering the years of becoming a man and its been wonderful and a time of grieving as well. I miss those early years some days. He’s turning 14 tomorrow. Thanks for visiting Becky, so glad you stopped by.

  10. Nancy Ruegg

    When our three children were in elementary school, I was concerned about the very matter you address here, Shelly: when to step in; when to let them figure out solutions and coping mechanisms of their own. I spoke to my wise father about it. “It’s hard to find the middle of the road sometimes,” I told him. Dad’s response? “The middle of the road is wider than you think.” I felt twenty pounds lighter! I didn’t have to make the perfect choice every time. They would somehow survive the bumps of life, and even flourish. Now our children are in their thirties, and living proof that Dad was right!

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