Since becoming a mom, I’ve noticed that society—or at least, the Internet—often praises mothers as a group for their unselfishness, as if the mere act of becoming a mother automatically transforms women from regular people into selfless saints. Around Mother’s Day, memes will begin to circle social media praising the heroic selflessness of moms, and if anyone dares to suggest that any mom actually needs to work on being more selfless, they can expect to be sternly put in their place.
Sometimes, this praise makes me feel validated, because motherhood undoubtedly demands a level of unselfish behavior, especially in the first years of a child’s life when he is incredibly needy. Motherhood has forced me to give up sleep, time to myself, and even my body via pregnancy and breastfeeding for my children’s wellbeing. And all these actions are necessary and good. But acting unselfishly isn’t quite the same as being unselfish. It’s possible to do good to others or sacrifice for their needs despite a selfish heart, or even from a selfish motive to look good to others. Unselfishness is not merely the giving of oneself, though of course it requires that. But it is first and foremost a posture of the heart—a deep desire for the good of others above the good of self.
I can say with certainty that motherhood has not obliterated my selfishness. It has only revealed it for the ugliness it is. It has stripped away the cushy circumstances—uninterrupted bathroom breaks, time to enjoy a whole cup of hot coffee, and the mental clarity to remember why I walked into the kitchen in the first place—that allowed me to operate under the illusion that I was a selfless person. I used to think I was pretty good at giving generously of my time and energy to my church or my coworkers, because I was guaranteed time to refill and recharge when it was over.
Now that those circumstances have changed, I see that selfishness is alive and well within me. Every time I cringe when naptime is interrupted, every time I hesitate at dividing the last cookie between my kids rather than sneaking to the laundry room to eat it by myself (what? You’ve never done that?), every time I sigh over the dirt tromped in on my freshly swept floors, I am reminded that my selfishness is still deeply rooted. Motherhood has only uncovered those roots, not excavated them.
If I want them uprooted, I must continue to seek a new mind that values what God values and sees myself—my needs, my identity, and my purpose—as he does. Philippians 2:4-7 admonishes believers, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
We moms need the mind of Christ. If he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself and became a servant for our sake, then how can we do any less in return? So we must seek to emulate him. Rather than an attitude of, “I deserve a break! I just need some time to myself! I need to practice better self-care!” we abandon our selfishness by emptying ourselves and filling our hearts and minds with the thoughts and values of God. We look to give freely and wholeheartedly of ourselves to our children as an act of worship to the One who gave everything for us. We acknowledge that only Christ, not motherhood, can transform us, and we submit to his Lordship in our lives to accomplish that transformation.
I’m not unselfish just by virtue of being a mom, but motherhood is one of the ways God is showing me my need to become unselfish like Christ, and I praise him for that.