Guilt, parenting

Serving Left Overs

I have very fond memories of my childhood. Many people say I was raised in a Leave it to Beaver home. My dad worked for the government, and my mom taught Home Economics at the local high school.

Dad was raised as a farmer, and we always had a huge garden filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. We helped plant and pick and snap and shuck. My mom spent her summers canning green beans and freezing okra and corn and making homemade tomato sauce and pickles. And mom made the most delicious chigger plum jelly! I had never eaten store-bought green beans until I moved off to college!

Mom taught every student in the community to sew. Unfortunately, she made me rip out too many perfectly not so perfect seams…and I quit my sewing career before it ever started. However, she did teach me to cook. When I was in the seventh grade, Mom had surgery a few days before Thanksgiving. I asked who was going to cook our Thanksgiving feast, and I was told we wouldn’t have a normal meal. That simply was not going to work for me. I drug my dad to the grocery store, and we picked up all of the ingredients for our traditional feast. On Thanksgiving morning, Mom gave me directions on how to make the turkey and the dressing and all the fixings, and I cooked the entire meal.

I always planned to be a June Cleaver mom. I dreamed of kids coming home from school to fresh, homemade cookies. I knew we would have a garden full of fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables. I would be the homeroom mom, attending every activity, maybe even homeschooling. And holidays. Coloring eggs at Easter and homemade Valentines and Christmas decorations. We would do it all, together. I would be a Pinterest mom extraordinaire.

Dreams are great, until they collapse around you.

My reality is far from the Cleaver image I had planted in my mind. I am a single mom, raising three kids on my own. I work a full-time job, write part-time, and chase my kids to activities every day.

A garden? Nope. Didn’t get my dad’s green thumb. I can’t even keep an ivy plant alive!

Fresh canned vegetables? Nope. Who has time to can when I work 8-10 hours each day of the week?

Homeroom mom? Nope. My job doesn’t allow me to attend every activity during the school day.

Nutritious home-cooked meals shared as a family every weekday? Nope. We often rush in, see what we can scrounge up, and rush back out the door. Left-overs are a staple.

Crafts and holiday fun? Nope. I’m too busy trying to keep our lives running.

Lazy summer days swimming? Nope. Sledding on snow days? Nope. Picnics and bike rides? Nope.

I feel like I serve left-overs to my kids in so many areas of life.

Left-overs at meals. Left-overs of my time. Left-overs of my energy. My kids seem to get whatever I have left over at the end of a long day, a long week, after doing my best to fulfill all of my responsibilities.

I’m not sure why I feel so inadequate at times. I’m not sure if it’s the gap between my expectations and my reality. I’m certain there’s a big dose of guilt in there. And, there’s no doubt Satan would love to rip apart my self-esteem in an effort to keep me from being effective for the Kingdom.

If you ask my kids, they would probably be oblivious to my short-comings. They know I work hard to provide financially and emotionally. They know that I bend over backwards to attend their activities. They know that I put their needs at the top of my priority list.

But I find myself grieving over the mom I wanted to be.

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. Psalm 68:5-6

Let’s be honest: as a single parent, I am trying to fill the shoes of two people, a job I was never meant to do. It was supposed to be a shared responsibility, one that we took tremendous joy in together. Our job is to shepherd our kids, to show them how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. We are supposed to help mold their hearts, teaching them to love God and love others. And we are supposed to do it as a team, sharing the burden.

But life happens. I find myself shouldering the responsibility by myself. And I have become keenly aware of how incapable I am.

Several years ago, I quit parenting. Actually, I quit life. I became consumed with Galatians 2:20: My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. My prayer every single morning is that God would live through me, that every word I speak, every move I make, would be Him through me. And that includes my job as a parent. I pray every morning that God would parent through me, that He would guide my every interaction with my children. I pray that He would be the perfect Father to my children.

There is no way I can adequately lead my children. And, by the grace of God, I don’t have to. Where I am inadequate, I must trust that God—the Father to the fatherless—will step in and take over. I must trust that I can do my best, and God will do the rest.

This life is not what I expected it to be, but it didn’t take God by surprise. He knew from the beginning of time that I would be raising these precious children on my own, and He provides the grace I need for each and every day. He gives me wisdom. He gives me direction. And His grace steps in and overwhelms me in my short-comings.

What will my children remember when they get older? I don’t think they will remember the left-overs. I don’t think they will remember the occasional field trip I missed. I don’t think they will remember the many nights we scrounge around to find something for dinner.

I really believe they will remember how I sacrificed everything for them, that even when money was tight I found a way to get them the new shoes they needed. I think they will remember the love and laughter. I think they will remember how we pray together every morning on the way to school and every night before we go to bed. I think they will remember that yes, their mom was often tired, but it was because she worked hard to provide for their needs. I think they will remember the late night conversations when life was weighing on their hearts and how I did everything I could to fight sleep and listen to their concerns. I think they will remember how I rushed from one activity to the next on a regular basis to make sure they knew they were loved and supported. I think they will remember that we had a house full of love and grace and mercy.

Is this a Cleaver family childhood? No. But, as long as we are together and focusing on God, it’s the perfect childhood, the perfect family, for us.

20 thoughts on “Serving Left Overs”

    1. How true that is! They are pretty amazing, and don’t take anything for granted. They have such thankful hearts for everything I do, whether it’s fixing dinner or buying new shoes. They really make this entire single parenting gig a whole lot easier!

  1. Amen. I was convicted by the Holy Spirit because I used to say that I was raising my 2 kids alone. The Holy Spirit said that I was never alone and that he is the father for my two kids. He is the comforter and overseer! We are not raising these babies alone!

    1. We are not alone! He is the perfect Father to our children, filling all the gaps we leave in our humanity. He is more than able to do all that we cannot do. He only asks that we surrender to him, draw near to him, and let him take every piece of our broken hearts.

  2. I would give almost anything for my children to have a mommy like you. Some people would compromise their integrity or simply fold under those feelings of inadequacy. You however, lovely lady, are much stronger, wiser and loving than you give yourself credit for. Loneliness has quite an effect on those of us who have had to do this parenting thing alone. When immersed in all that busyness with the kids we find the strength to carry on because of our love for them. Those quiet moments alone are the hard ones. Those are the ones that remind us of our unfulfilled dreams and desires. Those are the ones where we feel incomplete. I feel you Ms. Dena! Know what though? God is good and after being tried and tested, He will give you the longings of your heart and that insecurity and loneliness will flee! He is for us!

    1. So much truth in what you say. Yes, God is good…even in the loneliness and busyness. It’s a difficult road, but it’s one I wouldn’t trade for anything. And, thank you so much for the kind words of encouragement. I know God has me in the palm of his hand, holding me close, protecting me. I know He has great plans, far better than anything I could ever ask or imagine!

  3. Thank you for this beautiful post. I am struggling through the balance of the life I wanted but am having to work to support family even though i am married. I am praying for peace in my life and that tbe guilt i have is removed. Thank you for writing this blog i read all your posts, they are a blessing and i share it with friends. God bless you and your beautiful family. Please keep blogging. ..

    1. Thank you. I don’t think I can ever quit blogging. God has put a passion in me. I’m glad to know that ALL parents struggle with this balance. It is a feeling of guilt, born from a desire to give our kids the best. I guess it’s good that they learn to deal with disappointments now, and that’s something I have to remind myself of. It’s a great opportunity to delegate to them, to teach them responsibility and team work. My kids are far more responsible than many their age because I’ve had to let go and not manage every detail of their lives. There’s always a silver lining. It’s not easy, but I know that ultimately God takes my efforts and multiplies them many times over.

  4. Thank you for this. I would have been married for 36 years on this day.

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

    1. Oh, Bev. I’m so sorry. Those anniversaries can hit so hard. I’m coming up on the sixth anniversary of our divorce, and what should have been 23 years of marriage. It’s still somewhat surreal that I am a divorced single mom. For all the joy in my life, I think there will always be a little sadness over shattered dreams.

      Lord Jesus, I pray that you would pour out an extra dose of love and peace over Bev today. You know the pain in her heart over broken hearts and shattered dreams. Give her a special blessing today, one that she knows comes from you and you alone. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

  5. He makes beauty from ashes. He won’t snuff out a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed. When you feel faint and all you can do is crawl he will carry/pull/drag you through!!! He takes great delight in us and rejoices over us with singing! What a
    Great, merciful God.

  6. Dear Dena,

    I cannot say enough what your ministry, your encouragement, your strength because of God
    And reading each blog has meant to my life. When I read the words of life that come with each struggle through your blog I am reminded of Gods love and how immeasurable it is.
    I am just over 3 months separated but I am fighting my way through this to Jesus. Your blog below has encouraged me tremendously. I thank the Lord and I thank you for this.

    may your blessings be multiplied by your faith in Christ. May God bless your hearts desires.

    With hugs,


    1. Thank you, Lorie. It means so much–is such an answered prayer–to know that my struggles are being used to encourage others. There’s no greater joy! I am so sorry for your pain. It’s such a long, hard journey. But, I promise that God is faithful. I promise that as you draw near to God, He will mend your broken heart and get you on your feet for good. Please know that you will be added to my prayer list!

  7. Dena,

    I can so relate to this post as I am a single mom with no family in the area. It is said that it takes a village to raise children and I often don’t know how I am supposed to teach my kids all they need to know about life. BUT God is so faithful and always puts people to fill in the gaps and He is their perfect Heavenly Father who will do the work in their hearts that no one else can. Thank you for sharing, I find comfort knowing I’m not alone in this journey.

    1. Oh, you are not alone! God is truly faithful. It’s fun to watch all the ways He provides, He leads, He fills in the gaps. May He always parent through us, leading our children to wholeness in Him!!

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