The motherhood myth of Mary Poppins

Written by Alli Worthington
Published on September 22, 2023

My boys were five, three, and a baby when I walked into my mother-in-law’s kitchen. There was Anna, up early, making a big breakfast, chatting with them as though talking to toddlers was the most exciting part of her day. My stepdaughter, Jessica, was with us as well, and Anna was equally engaged with her, chatting about the latest craze in the world of eight-year-olds.

I stood there for a moment and watched her in awe. She was everything I thought I would be as a mom. She was happy, energetic, playful, all while whipping up a great meal. I had planned to be that mom—happy, calm, doing all the things. I just knew I’d be a modern-day Mary Poppins. I’d take care of business with a smile on my face, and then we’d have adventures and make memories. 

“I don’t know how you do it. I saw this whole mom-life thing going way differently than it is. I always wanted to be a mom like you are. But I’m not. I’m tired, I’m grumpy, and I yell all the time. I’m not a happy, carefree mom. I’m not Mary Poppins at all!”

Anna had my full attention. She explained that she wasn’t happy and calm when her kids were little. She was like this now only because she wasn’t parenting littles. It was easier to be a part-time grandma than a full-time mom. She promised me it would get easier. 

Although I loved being a mom, I found mothering to be both physically overstimulating and intellectually boring. The constant stress of motherhood and the physical exhaustion of caring for young kids left me feeling lonely and miserable. I was emotionally burned out. 

Motherhood was too much and yet, at the same time, not enough. That left me feeling like I was too much and yet somehow also not enough. It was a constant mental tug-of-war, and it was breaking me. 

Tired, lazy, and grumpy were the words I used to describe myself. I wasn’t the magic-carpet, bag-carrying, spoon-full-of-sugar mom I imagined I would be. I went through the motions, believing I was a lousy mom who was messing up her kids. I put myself, my needs, and my happiness on the shelf and trudged through life every day. 

A few months later, I was visiting my friend Laura. As our seven kids destroyed her living room, I tearfully confessed, “Laura, I’m afraid I might be a terrible mother.”

She listened as I laid out the evidence I had against myself, then she told me what I needed to hear: the truth. She reminded me that Mary Poppins was the nanny, not the mama, so of course she was always singing and dancing and having fun and playing games. The woman was sleeping at night. And she probably had the weekends off. She wasn’t the mama, the wife, the budget maker, the grocery shopper, and the cook while also running a business. 

I had to wrap my head around the truth that being a good mom isn’t based on some imaginary Disney-level happiness or all the things I do for my kids. If I were to take anything from Mary Poppins’s example, maybe I should be kind to myself. Get some rest. Take some time off. Discover what I enjoy doing without my kids. 

What if being the best mother I could be meant I had to start by mothering myself?

Laura shared that we moms are often so focused on our kids’ well-being that we neglect our own. When we neglect ourselves long enough, we become emotionally unhealthy. And when we mother from an unhealthy place long enough, we raise emotionally unhealthy children. Mothering yourself means taking care of your needs just like you take care of the needs of your children. 

I’m sure you have heard the saying “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” And while it’s a fun saying, it carries deep truth. If we want our children to be happy, confident, and emotionally steady with healthy boundaries, we must live that way ourselves. A mother’s emotional health (her spiritual, mental, and relational health) is the most important legacy she can give her children. 

Our culture teaches us that for our kids to be well, we have to focus solely on their development and happiness. But in doing so, we push ourselves and our emotional health so far into the background that we lose ourselves. 

The more a mother sacrifices and puts herself last, the more likely she is to teach her children to do the same. Her daughters believe the same myths, perpetuating the cycle of what we now know to be broken modern motherhood, and her sons grow up believing they’ll have that kind of wife and mother to their kids, for better or worse. 

Motherhood changed me, not just physically and emotionally but also spiritually. The gospel of grace was an idea that sounded good in theory, but I could never fully grasp how God’s love for me was unconditional. 

We are God’s creation, his beloved. He sacrificed everything for us and gave us such perfect love that nothing could separate us from him. It wasn’t until I became a mother that I fully grasped the gospel of grace, God’s perfect, unconditional love for me, his child. 

I realized this truth: God has already written the future of every single one of my children. Sure, I have to do my part as their mom, but nothing I do can ruin the future God has for them. The weight of their future is on him, not on me. In today’s modern motherhood, we carry a weight that God never intended us to carry. 

God extended his gospel of grace to my children as well. His love for them is also perfect. And according to his promise in Scripture, nothing—neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (including any shortcomings I might have as a mom)—can separate my children from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). 

Even if nothing else takes the weight of motherhood off our shoulders, that promise alone should. Amen and hallelujah. 

Taken from Remaining You While Raising Them by Alli Worthington. Copyright © August 2023 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan,

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Alli Worthington

Alli Worthington is known for her straight-talking encouragement and practical tools that help women reach their dreams in business and life. Author of Remaining You While Raising ThemThe Year of Living HappyFierce Faith, and Breaking Busy, she is a well-known speaker, podcaster, and life and business coach. Her no-nonsense, guilt-free take on business, family, and balance has led to multiple appearances on The TODAY Show and Good Morning America. Alli lives with her husband, Mark, and their five sons outside of Nashville with a pampered golden retriever. @AlliWorthington 

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