Lowest Common Denominator Mothering

Earlier this spring, my husband and my father flew to the other side of the world for a month-long missions trip. Eight children missing their daddy, an unwelcome skunk family taking up residence in our crawl space, and the usual “Daddy’s Gone” catastrophes — but in the midst of that, I had a special treat.

My mom came to stay with us.


For the first time since I became a mother myself, I had the privilege of attending a month-long mothering instruction course – 24/7. Unless your mother lives with you, you’re probably limited to short-term observations of your mother. For me, it’s especially true since we live a thousand miles apart.

I learned a lot from my mother that month. It struck me that many of us who are still in the day-in, day-out routine of young children living with us resort to “lowest common denominator mothering.”

Lowest Common Denominator Mothering (LCDM)=

The unfortunate habit of observing what mothers at the same stage of life as you are doing.

The result of LCDM is that you comfort yourself into thinking that you can’t be all bad because everyone else is making the same mistakes.

An example of LCDM — “I yelled at the children last night and I felt so awful afterwards! Oh, you do that too? That makes me feel so much better.” OR “I’m always so impatient with the kids – I’m glad to know I’m not the only one!”

There is a certain amount of encouragement in knowing that other mothers aren’t perfect, either, but while my mother was with us, I was reminded of the incredible value of learning from older women who are exemplifying years of godly living and parenting. Of course, God thought of that same thing long before I did. Titus 2:3-5 tells us that older women should regularly be instructing younger women. So why do we frequently ignore those sage words and seek out the lowest common denominator example?

From my mother, I learned that a sleepless night is not sufficient reason to be short-tempered. When I have a bad night’s sleep (oh, that’s actually every night), I come out of my bedroom in the morning like a bear. A really unhappy, don’t-mess-with-me bear. My mom was short on sleep much of the time she stayed with us but she still managed to wake up with a sweet smile and patient responses to her persistent, energetic grandchildren.

I also learned that a soft voice is always preferable to an angry, irritable one. Funny thing – it seems like God had that same idea. Unfortunately, we “younger” mothers are guilty of LCDM. We seem to read verses like Ephesians 4:29 and think “Oh, it’s just so hard to be patient and soft-spoken when I’m short on sleep or the kids are fighting. Besides, all mothers lose their tempers and yell at their children.”

But over and over I was amazed to see how my mother spoke kindly, and even gently, when the two year old and four year old would pile on her lap for yet another book, while the eight year old was pounding out another piece forte on the piano — while the skunk smell continued to pervade the house and the noodles were boiling over. My first reaction? Yell. My mom’s reaction? Gentle speech. Would you like to guess which one was more effective?

Another lesson learned was that there is never an excuse for skipping time with God. This lesson I actually do remember from my mom when we were kids. Her Bible was always close at hand and we were strictly instructed to not interrupt her in her time with her heavenly Father. This had a lifelong impact on me and now, thank God, my own children are benefiting from seeing her example firsthand.

Of course my mom isn’t perfect, or so she claims. Yet I think we can all learn some mighty valuable lessons from the generation above us.

The next time you are frustrated, overwhelmed, and sinking in a pile of dirty diapers, dirty dishes, and dirty children, resist the temptation of LCDM. Don’t call or text your friend and commiserate together. Take the time to talk to someone who has gone through the mothering process and has come out shining like gold. An elderly lady at church, your mother, your mother-in-law; find a godly woman whose example is worth following. Then listen to her advice and follow it.

Your entire family – and even your future grandchildren – will be blessed when you break the LCDM habit.

Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Gwen’s eight children are under no false illusions that their mother is perfect. With God’s grace, though, Gwen and her husband, John, continue to train them for His glory. Gwen collects and edits missionary stories from the retired Bible translators her family serves with (truly examples worth following!). She also blogs at Tolivers To Texas.

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