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  • Writer's pictureLisa Popcak

What overwhelms or scares you in your mothering?

Is it sleep deprivation and all that comes with it?

Is it the angry child?

Is it the lack of good parental role models in your own childhood?

Is it your concerns about the future?

Some or all of the above?

Mothering can bring up so many fears for so many reasons, unique to each one of us. But we each experience them. They often manifest themselves as unsolicited internal messages that cause some anxiety, sap our energy, cause us to doubt ourselves.

For me, those messages would often summarize themselves into one phrase that would pop into my mind when I felt overwhelmed… “I can’t.” When those moments in life would loom up at me and weaken me, seemingly out of nowhere, I would feel, more than hear, “I can’t.”

“I can’t get all this laundry finished and still have time to be the present mother I want to be.”

“I can’t handle my children’s overwhelming feelings and my own right now.”

“I can’t balance everything I need to balance.”

“I can’t multitask for one more minute.”

“I can’t handle an incredibly stressful circumstance.”

I could share so many more examples. Perhaps you have a different but similar repetitive message that plays in your head in moments of overwhelm, doubt, challenge, or fear.

If you do, you are not alone. It’s my experience that we all have some message that repeats and depletes us.

For years I thought I had two choices in dealing with this message. The first was to push through and just do what I could. This wasn’t an entirely bad choice. I often accomplished the things that I was facing, but I often felt exhausted and self-critical afterward. I know if this had been the best way, I would have felt successful, accomplished, and more connected to myself and God. The second choice was just to let my feelings escalate into a state of complete overwhelm, which left me emotionally depleted and having to climb further out of the emotional hole before I could deal with the things I had to deal with - because none of it goes away just because I freak out about it.

I try to take some time alone every day with God. During that time, I use part of that time to bring any frustrations I’m experiencing to God and ask Him to give me a listening heart for His guidance. Then one day in my prayer time, I finally realized that I’ve been misinterpreting this “I can’t” message all along. I had been interpreting it as a self-critical, depleting message, so it disempowered and frustrated me. I now realized that those words should be perceived as an invitation from God inviting me to allow Him more intimately into the nitty-gritty of my life. There is an element of truth in that “I can’t” message. I cannot do anything on my own. Recognizing this is freeing. For example, I can’t breathe on my own, nor can I make my heart beat. I cannot have a creative thought on my own. I cannot perfectly enact my plan for my day nor my will for my children’s lives. It is God who has the power and the plan. I can choose to cooperate with it or not. He put me here to know Him, love Him, experience His love, and share it with my family through everything I do. I experience more peace and success when I pause to acknowledge His loving presence in my life and His desire to help me all the time. I experience Him more when I stop trying to impress Him and just ask Him to help me with all I have to do.

Every mom has the experience of watching her child take on something not yet within their capabilities. We stand there watching, wishing they would accept our help as they just try harder and harder until they burst into tears of frustration. This is so similar to my “I can’t” moments. God is right there waiting to help and comfort me. But like an intense child, I chose to block him out, or at least hold Him at arms distance. But if I instead read the “I can’t” message as an invitation, I can choose to take a pause, a deep breath, and pray, “You’re right Lord, I can’t. I need you. Help me, please. Give me the grace I need so you can show me the next small thing I need to do. Open me to your help, and your help through others. Calm me down and let me hear your merciful, loving voice instead. Give me your guidance.”

When I do this, I open the way for Him to accomplish good things, big and small. For example, when I ask for His help with the overwhelm the pile of laundry is causing me, I may get the grace to ask my family for help instead of powering through frustrated and alone, or I might see a way to fit it into tomorrow’s schedule, after first getting a desperately needed night’s sleep.

I can also do this when my struggle involves others. For example, I can ask God for the grace to take a moment to pray with my children for clarity in a situation they are struggling with, rather than just push my ideas on them. I can choose to pray silently before a meeting that God would direct all the minds involved to the best outcome. In any situation, pausing to invite God in (especially if I do it before the situation becomes stressful) always yields more empowered and peaceful results than when I try to handle it by myself.

I believe my experience is something that may resonate with many moms. That is why I am sharing it here. Instilled in each of us is an invitation to co-create our lives with God, the Great Creator. By letting Him into each moment of our lives, we can overcome those depleting voices, as He replaces them with His grace, peace, and power one moment at a time. No moment is too big or small for Him to care about. He wants to love, support, and help us in every moment because He loves us. He’s just waiting to be asked. So now I work hard to make it a practice to invite Him into my day and throughout each day, especially if that depleting message starts to creep back in, and I’m always startled and grateful at how lovingly He shows up.

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  • Writer's pictureLisa Popcak

Hello moms. It’s been a minute since I’ve landed here to share with you, but not for lack of trying. I’d create a post or podcast, and then the next moment, everything in the world would change. I don’t have to enumerate the changes here. We’ve all been living through global and deeply personal ones. Those constant changes left me struggling to say anything that would be relevant to everyone. Each person's experiences this many months have been so unique and constantly varying that I felt my thoughts might not serve enough of you. So I rarely shared them.

One common experience we did share, however, is that most of us, at some point, have felt stripped down to our studs. Almost none of us could rely on the “same old, same old” that usually gave us a sense of rhythm and support to our days. The constant changes and uncertainties had us doing the best we could with whatever the circumstances brought our way.

I too had to find my equilibrium each moment of each day, and attend to all the challenges of the constant flux between responding to change, as well as the impotence of the holding patterns we are all living in so many ways.

Yet as I access the situation, I realize some things didn’t change, and by sharing them here, I’m hoping they may resonate with you in a way that brings a bit of peace.

The first is God. He is unchanging and steadfast. The storms of this world can cloud my vision at times, but He is still present. He is always loving us, available to us, and working for our good. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes we are being called to look harder to find Him or understand His directions, but He and His unending love are present.

Also unchanging for me, and most moms, is my love for my family. That love causes me to look beyond my reactions and instead intentionally prioritize what is needed to keep each of my loved ones as healthy - spiritually, mentally, and physically- as possible in the midst of whatever we are dealing with in the moment. As circumstances change from day to day, each family member's needs and reactions (fear, worry, hope, frustration, excitement, impatience, anger, etc.) change with them. Having to live with that can rock a mom’s world! I’ve learned to ask myself, “What can I do to keep this person as stable as possible and feeling as loved as possible in each of these areas?”. This practice gives me sound structure through all the continually changing situations. I can look at the tantruming child, the lonely, frustrated teenager, the worried young adult and ask myself (or ask them) what this person needs to feel loved, and a bit physically, spiritually, or mentally better, right now.

But to be honest, I, like many of us, don’t always feel up to the challenges. We’re all trying to cope with our own emotions and needs, unending list of tasks, and then, because we’re moms, we have to deal with everyone else’s too! It’s hard. Sometimes it is very, very hard. Sometimes we don’t feel up to it all, and certainly not all on our own. When I feel that way, I remind myself to go to that ever-present, unchanging God and pour out my heart as honestly and totally as I can. Then, I ask Him to give me whatever virtues I need to do the next thing He’s asking me to do through the needs of the family He’s given me.

Do I need more kindness, a more nurturing spirit? Do I need more bravery for the next right thing? Would a better sense of humor serve well at the moment? Of course, the most essential virtue to ask for is wisdom. These virtues can only come from God,

and I have to ask for them and the strength to exercise them bit by bit, moment by moment.

I also ask Him for the grace to say I’m sorry to Him and my family members when I fall short if I’ve let fear, and all it brings with it, overtake my strength and conviction to love the way my children and husband need to be loved. Pride can make that hard to do sometimes. But if I keep talking to God about it -even if it’s just grumbling to God about the situation or person- He always works with me and shows me what I can do differently to make the situation better. Then he graces me with the virtue of humility, which frees me to take the next steps He needs me to take.

I cannot parent my children or love my spouse well on my own, and they are not my own to love. They are His, and I’m called to be His hands and feet and heart in their lives and to love them with His love.

Whether it’s the little day-by-day struggles of being a mom or the huge life-altering ones, I want you to know that it is ok to not be enough. Only God can be enough. We just have to keep inviting God in, ask Him to give us whatever we need to take the next small step He and our family need us to take, then take that small step. Repeat.

My heart is with you as you take the next small step you need to take, to love your people well.

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  • Writer's pictureLisa Popcak

“I can’t do it,” “I’m not where I want to be,” “I don’t see any progress.” These are phrases that I’m sure many of us say to ourselves—a lot. Maybe others fill our heads with these messages. But these are phrases that make us feel stuck, feel like giving up, feel like whatever we’re trying to achieve is not possible—or sometimes, not even worth it. But where does this kind of thinking get us? The short answer (and the honest one) is nowhere. 

Recently my daughter Rachael and I were discussing this way of thinking. I have been noticing this way of thinking becoming even more of an issue during the pandemic as we are being told all the things we can’t do by our local governments. Our feelings of powerlessness through this are washing over many personal areas of our lives for so many of us. 

Rachael is a pastoral counseling associate with Her specialty is in success and performance psychology, so she spends a great deal of her time helping people overcome the mindsets that weigh them down or hinder them in meeting their goals. As we talked about my observations, I felt her insights may be helpful to many moms who are struggling with these thoughts, or who are trying to help their children overcome these kinds of limiting thoughts. 

Lisa: So how do we overcome this habit of hurtful thinking? 

Rachael: It starts with adding one, small word. Yet. “I can’t do it, yet.” “I’m not where I want to be, yet.” “I don’t see progress, yet.” Do you see the difference? Adding “yet” to the end of these sentences automatically indicates hope, possibility, capability, and opportunity. By finishing these sentences with the word “yet,” our following thoughts can more easily be directed towards creating a plan to achieve the things we want to achieve. 

By adding this one, simple word, we are able to feel inspired to pursue other things to help uplift us, help us keep going, or help us make a positive change. 

Lisa: It feels like that word reminds us that we’re allowed to learn, to get new skills, that we don’t have to have it all together immediately. Additionally, for me, it also interrupts that “I can’t” message enough to remind me that maybe “I can” because I have before. For instance, my automatic thought might be, “I can’t get all this laundry done.” But when I add the “yet”, sometimes my brain will kick in and say, “Why not? You’ve gotten it done in the past. Just do it one step at a time.” When that happens I feel less overwhelmed.

Rachael: Yes. Adding the “yet” interrupts the “I can’t” message enough to begin to let the problem-solving brain kick in, either with the “Yes you can because you’ve been able to before” message, or with a “What would you need to be able to do it?” message. Then you can break down that “one step at a time” into steps that will succeed.

Lisa: It’s also important to be able to break the problem that is overwhelming us down into those smaller steps. What is the technique you teach to help someone do that successfully?

Rachael: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy provides us with a wonderful approach to be able to make changes and accomplish the goals that we want to achieve. This approach is about setting SMART Goals. 

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. 

Specific requires that our goals be just that—specific. For example, “Cleaning the house” is a goal we all may be familiar with. But this goal is very broad and includes a large number of tasks. However, setting a specific goal means we break this down into smaller, singular pieces. Meaning, “Cleaning the house,” becomes, “Putting away the shoes in the hallway,” or, “Going through the stack of papers on the counter.” Another example might be, “Having a better relationship with my spouse,” becomes, “Making time to check in with my spouse for 5-15 minutes this evening.” And so on.

Measurable means ensuring that we are able to track our progress. It is important that we set goals that allow us to be aware of the progress that we are making, how much we have accomplished and what we have yet to do. Measurable allows us to keep track of the necessary steps towards accomplishing our goals.

Attainable or achievable is a goal that is within our power to complete or accomplish. Often we set goals that require someone else’s involvement or participation, but when making sure our goals are achievable, we have to make sure that they are entirely up to us to make progress and complete our goal.

Realistic indicates that our goals must be reasonable or realistic within the timeframe or resources we have to work with. Let’s go back to our example of “cleaning the house.” If we have 15 minutes before we have to run out the door, it’s obviously not realistic that we can clean the entire house. However, we probably CAN put away the shoes in the hallway or go through the stack of papers on the counter. 

Timely is last, but not least on our SMART Goals break down. Timely simply means having a set time frame for accomplishing our goals. We often say “I’ll get to it today,” or “I’ll do it later,” and sometimes we don’t have any time frame at all, we just say “I need to do this.” But this kind of thinking doesn’t set us up for success. If we set a time, I.e. “by 3 pm,” we will be more motivated and productive in achieving our goal. 

So let’s take one, simple step by adding the word yet to our regular vocabulary. This way we will be able to shift our focus from the “I can’t,” to what we CAN do in a way that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. 

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