Today is a NEW Faithful Everyday Mom interview, who also happens to be a great author and mental health counselor. We are covering the topic of how to identify and attack those ugly “you’re not enough” thoughts or tendency to over-worry as moms, and seeing what God’s word has to say about this. So, lean in and join us today!
Let me first introduce and welcome: Rachael Elmore!
Rachael:Thank you so much for having me!
Mallory: Rachael and I got connected through a friend of mine from college through first an email, then we spoke on the phone…She is in North Carolina and I’m in Tennessee, so that’s how we had to meet, but I knew right away that I want to interview her!
A little more about Rachael…
She is a wife and mom of two boys, a licensed mental health counselor and she LOVES Jesus! So, I was so excited to get her to interview her for all the moms reading and listening. She specializes specifically in treating postpartum depression and anxiety, so she talks to a lot of mamas, and has walked through a lot with her own personal journey in motherhood, including miscarriage and . walking through some severe postpartum depression with her first son.
Rachael: Yes, I was already a licensed therapist, and I got hit pretty hard with some postpartum and walked that road myself.
Mallory: Being a professional mental health counselor, that must have been hard to admit, but I know it helps you understand the mom your work with now with even more care. Rachael is a powerhouse though…I have to brag on you…She just decided since there wasn’t a great Christian resource out there for clinical postpartum depression, that she would just write it! So she wrote a book called A Mom Is Born. (AMAZON link here)
I ordered it, and it’s so great….I wish I would’ve had it nine and a half years ago when I needed it most! The book can really be used for all stages of motherhood too, not just postpartum. But I’m going to let her share more about that in a moment, but first, let’s get to know Rachael a little bit better with some fun quick questions:
Rachael, how do you have your quiet time with Jesus? Every mom seems to have a different answer in different seasons.
Rachael: Yes, it’s definitely changed throughout the years. When my babies were little and toddlers, I could barely hold my eyes open to read, so I would just listen to Scripture. A lot of people don’t realize that the free Bible app has free audio versions where you can pick which dialect you want to hear, and there’s a guy that has a British accent, and I found it very soothing to just listen to Scripture that way. And even if I started to doze off while feeding my babies, I figured at least I was feeding myself some of the Word of God. I felt bad during that season like, “Lord, this is all I’ve got.” And I had this overwhelming sense of the Lord saying, “It’s okay. Just keep trying. Decide to try.”
As my kids have gotten a little bit older, it’s gotten easier to study the Bible. I have a neighborhood Bible study that I’m a part of, and we just finished a study through the book of James. Sometimes it’s organized and sometimes it’s not…It just depends on the season. But I just want to encourage everyone listening, if all you can do is just click on that Bible app and press play, that’s a good start! And sometimes with my prayer life, it just starts with, “Hey, God.” Because as an exhausted mama, sometimes that’s all I’ve got. My goal has always been to keep the line of communication open between me and the Lord, no matter how tired or frustrated I’ve been over the years with things my family has gone through.
God and I just have conversations all day now…In between every client I see, I pray. And sometimes it’s just a quick five minute prayer, to tell the Lord, “Help me. Guide me. Give me wisdom. Let me see you today.”
Mallory: That’s great practical advice from lots of different points of view in motherhood. Thanks for sharing!
Another question I love to hear the answer to is, what is one thing that makes you feel like an everyday ordinary mom? Just on the typical day. I’ve gotten so many funny answers on this one! What is the thing that comes to mind when you hear, “I’m just an everyday mom?”
Rachael: Well, there are scuffs all over my walls, only up to my waist level. I’m pretty tall–I’m about 5’11. We freshly repainted the inside of our house a couple years ago, and for what reason, I do not know, because there are scuffs everywhere! It’s just kids being kids. They’re not being destructive, but they’re playing sword fight in the hallway or tag or the things little boys do — It’s definitely something I’ve had to let go! I remember wanting to repaint every time, but then I’ve just left it, because I just think scars are really beautiful and my hallways are just full of so much love and joy. Someday I’ll have really clean, perfect walls in my house, but not today…that drips with motherhood. Am I right?
Mallory: Yeah, and then you’ll have grandkids and it’ll all go away again! But yes I agree, especially having boys myself…they’re always wrestling or doing something!
So, I have to say this about you, Rachael, I didn’t tell you I was going to share this, but I took notes when we first spoke on the phone, and I wrote down something you said to me I want to share with all of the moms out there: You said, “Motherhood is a holy calling. You’re helping them when they’re sick. You’re helping them in the little things because it ALL matters…And I just want moms to believe that they are good moms!”
You went on to say, “Bad moms don’t take the time to care about whether or not they’re doing a good job. So, if you are trying to improve and do better, and you’re asking for help, then you’re not a bad mom. You’re a good mom.”
That is SO TRUE! And for the moms reading and myself, I’m going to ask the question that we’d all like to know the answer to, but not sure that we can ask:
What is the number one reason that women come to sit on the couch across from you during counseling? What’s the number one reason that moms come to see you?
Rachael: The number one reason that I get that first phone call or email, is definitely some sort of anxiety. And the mom may not name it as anxiety, but that she’s just feeling anxious and has thoughts that are swirling around her head and the mom guilt…It all comes together in this perfect ugly storm.
Experiencing anxiety and just not feeling like enough in motherhood, is definitely the reason that most moms come to see me. I remember a client many years ago, and she told me she couldn’t sleep when her baby was sleeping because of all these anxious thoughts about something bad happening to her baby. She was also having some intrusive thoughts as well that were spurning, which we’re going to talk about today, that triggered the anxiety.
So, she just was like, “I can’t sleep.” That was her first reason. And I was like, “Oh my goodness. Not only can you not sleep when the baby’s awake, but when the baby’s asleep.” She was so desperate for those thoughts to stop. And I would love, Mallory, to be like, “I am the best counselor, and it was all me.” But It wasn’t me. It’s never me. It’s Jesus. And it’s the mom across from me picking up the tool belt, putting it on, picking up the tools that I give her and using them.
Then God reveals His heart and Holy work through her. I have the coolest job! Watching that mom get better…and she did…She started sleeping. She wasn’t having those obsessive intrusive thoughts. And I don’t want to say the magic, but I do want to see the miracle that comes in the beautiful psychology and the beautiful Truth of the Word of God of what He’s given us, and being able to sit across from that, I’m pretty stoked! I could talk about it all day, obviously…
Mallory: I love that!
I shared a little bit at the beginning about your book, A Mom Is Born. GET HERE! But there’s specifically a chapter (ch.8) titled: Ugly Thoughts Living Rent-Free. I love all the titles of your chapters, by the way. They’re super creative! But in this specific chapter, you shared that at the time, you were seeing a counselor yourself walking through some grief…And your counselor surprised you by interrupting you saying, “Rachael, you’ve got to stop. That’s an intrusive thought. Is that a thought that is helpful to you or hurtful to you?” Then, you go on to explain in that chapter about intrusive and anxious thoughts that are living rent-free in all of our minds.
I feel like a lot of moms can identify with that, both walking through postpartum and just in general. So, can you explain to us what intrusive thoughts are and some ways that we might be struggling with these as moms, even if we don’t even realize it?
Rachael: Yes. The National Science Foundation and most psychology studies, have estimated that all human beings at some point or another, have had intrusive thoughts. And so it’s not just moms. It’s not just moms with postpartum, this is why my book is for all mamas in all seasons.
I’m realizing now how I started writing about postpartum, but then the book became so much bigger than just that, because I just realized all moms struggle and all moms need this support.
So, if all human beings have had one intrusive thought or eight or ten in their lifetime, if not more, we know that everyone can benefit from this. But let me talk a little bit about what they are first. So, an intrusive thoughts are unwanted, harmful thoughts. They are sometimes a thought that pops in your head about harming yourself or someone that you never in a million years would harm. I don’t want to be triggering, but running your car off the road, some of those kinds of things…Or thoughts about something bad happening to someone you love that is out of your control.
I will not name specific ones for mothers, because I don’t want to be triggering, but I do want to say they are ugly can be very disturbing. I had some pretty bad intrusive thoughts. And the thing was, I was so deep in my postpartum, my baby blues, that I wasn’t able to look at those and name them and say, “I don’t want to do these things.” These are unwanted thoughts that pop into your head. I learned all this in graduate school, but going back and writing the book, which took me two and a half years after living this out for 10 years.
But in a given day, everyone has between 12 and 60,000 thoughts a day, and about 96% of them are involuntary. So, they are thoughts that just pop in our head, like a stranger walking by the front of our house.
And I always like to say, “Look, someone walks by the front of your house. It doesn’t mean you chose it, and it doesn’t mean that you’re inviting them to come in and move in and you’re not going to serve them supper.”
I use the example, because I didn’t want to trigger moms. In this chapter, I was having a hard time after losing my grandmother, who was a very big part of my life. I was having intrusive thoughts after she passed away about what was happening to her earthly shell. And I know that’s, again, an ugly thought, but saying that to my therapist, she leaned forward and said, “Rachel, you’ve got to stop.”
Because the more I kept thinking about that thought, the more damage it was bringing to me. There was nothing good or holy in that thought. My grandmother is with Jesus right now. In His name, she is in glory. Again, for me to list other intrusive thoughts that mothers specifically have told me, can be quite triggering, and I don’t want to do that for all the beautiful mamas reading…
Yeah. No, I totally agree. But yeah, I can think of times that I’ve had thoughts just specifically about kids and worrying about their health when they just have a simple cold and you go to the extreme of what they have, the COVID scare.
Yes, it’s not good to name them, but we’ve all had them about various things. And so I definitely think that what’s coming next is super important!….Later in the chapter, you have three steps that you share. So, you’re just getting a little bitty snippet of her book here today, and you’ll have to check out the rest!
But there’s 3 steps of identifying these thoughts that are crippling to us. They make us worry. They make us anxious. They give us these ugly thoughts we don’t need to have. And you use the verse Philippians 4:8 in the first step, which I think is so good! So, will you share with us how you apply this Scripture and how these 3 steps work?
Rachael: Yeah. So, step one is, having the thought that walks by us, that we didn’t choose…And so we start to evaluate the thought before we let it move in…before it takes up residence in our hearts.
And so Philippians 4:8. "So, finally, brothers and sisters, whatever's true, whatever's noble, whatever's right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things." And so I felt, and I still feel, that this is one of the best moments of psychology in the Bible where we can say, "This is how God has commanded us to think." And look moms, we can't always choose the thoughts that pop in our heads....Again, 95% of our thoughts are involuntary. We don't want to think them, but we can sometimes choose deciding to dwell on them and thinking about them over and over again.
In my book, I have a table where we go through an exercise to say, “Let’s go ahead and deal with this. So, is this thought true? Is it noble? Is it righteous, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy?”
If you go back to my original thought, and I hope this isn’t too hard, but it’s a really great example: Is it true that my grandmother’s earthly shell doesn’t look like what it used to? Yes, it is true. But is that thought noble? Absolutely not. Is it righteous?
Something righteous is something that echoes the Word of God, that facilitates hope. Ask yourself: “Is this something that is righteous for me to be thinking about this? Is it admirable for me to be focusing on this? Is it excellent or praiseworthy?
It was interesting reading about the Greek words there…It was literally referring to putting something on a marble pedestal to look at. And that image was so powerful for me, Mallory. Because I was like, “Um, no, God does not want me putting this horrible, disturbing thought on a pedestal to look at.” My grandmother is with the Lord. That’s what I need to focus on.” Because that’s also what is true, which comes back to thought number one.
Mallory: Great word! When I was going through some anxiety at a time in my life, I remember someone said to me, “You have to take your thoughts captive. If you have to literally swipe your hand in front of your forehead and be like, ‘Get out of my head,’ and just motion your hand to throw it away….then do it!“
Our captive thoughts don’t own us, and they shouldn’t live rent-free, as you called it. And I’ve heard lots of different Scriptures used to combat anxiety, but not that one– So when you break it down in your book, it’s just really powerful.
What are the other two steps that you shared in this Chapter?
Rachael: Yeah. So after we evaluate the thought with that verse and we decide: “Is this something God wants us to think about and to focus on?” Step two is our eviction notice, when we walk forward, recognizing how to actually deal with our thoughts. Sometimes it helps to acknowledge what that thought might be trying to do…We don’t need to not to personify our thoughts. For example, believing that I’m a bad mom might motivate me to be a better mom…but it doesn’t do that.
In step 2 we’re going through and saying, “Okay, what is this thought trying to do? Is it trying to make me a better mom? Because that thought doesn’t make me a better mom. But what does make me a better mom is realizing what God says about me is true and knowing He’s going to sustain me.”
Replace the garbage thought with Truth…then every time that bad thought tries to creep back up, replace it with the Truth of what God says about you. So, this is the psychology of we replace the bad with the good, and the good takes over.
And moms, if you’re saying, “Oh my gosh, I can’t do that!…” YES YOU CAN!
Because of how our brains are wired, and we’ve learned a lot about this even in the last five or six years, it’s like a muscle that we strengthen to get it there. It’s like we have to push it to get it there. And so again and again, we strengthen that muscle by putting the Truth in the place of the lie. So, that’s step two. Obviously there’s a whole chapter on this…
Step 3 is: How do we kick these anxious or intrusive thoughts to the curb?
And with that, I have a challenge that comes here, to write your anxious or intrusive thoughts on a piece of paper and then very safely dispose of it. You can tear yours up. You can bury it. You can do whatever you need to do. But as you do that, and as you hold that thought in your hand, before you get rid of it, I want you to say a prayer. And this was mine:
"God, this thought is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, or praiseworthy, I believe your word when it says to not think on these things. I have demanded evidence and I've not found evidence for this harmful thought to need to exist in my heart. So, Father, help me let this go. When this thought comes into my mind, help me choose the one thought that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable or praiseworthy. And Lord, give me the strength to tell this thought to go away again and again."
And I’ve seen this work in front of me hundreds of times on the couch right behind me…
Mallory: Wow, that’s awesome and super powerful! I love the thing that you said about it being a muscle that you can strengthen, that you can teach the good to overcome the bad. That’s what the Gospel is all about. And then also the prayer that you can say in throwing that thought away, so many good and practical steps. Thank you for walking us through those!
I hope any mom reading right now is challenged and also encouraged, and that she can find some freedom in that. Because I know it’s hard not to worry when you’re raising kids in a sinful world, with plenty of things to worry about that are out of our control, but we get to see goodness and light by following Jesus and raising our kids to follow Him.
And that is a good thought to overcome all the chaos in our world and realizing there’s more to life than this earth. There’s life with Jesus. And I want my kids to know that personally!
Rachael, I have one more question and we’ll get this thing wrapped up…What challenges or words of encouragement would you have to leave a mom with that’s reading right now?
Rachael: With every mom I meet with, I always want to ask these questions: What good comes from you believing that you’re a bad mom? How in the world does that actually motivate you to be better? What if you just believed that you’re a pretty good mom and that you’re working on it?
And that the way that we are good mamas is we just decide to try. We decide to keep going. A good mom perseveres. She keeps swimming. Every day you are working on becoming more and more like Jesus and more and more of a good mom. You will be a better mom today than you were a year ago, because you are giving it to the Lord and growing closer to Him.
There are no ways to be a perfect mom and literally millions of ways to be a pretty darn good one. So, how about we simplify motherhood to three steps? Three very simple steps. And don’t worry, they’re not long!
Feed your children and feed yourself God’s Word and stay in prayer with the Lord.
And so if we simplify it down to, “Nothing good comes from believing I’m a bad mom, so how about I believe I’m doing a pretty good job and that I’m going to keep swimming.” And then I can say no thank you to what the world has to say about being a good mom. Because you guys, it is mostly garbage on social media…
The Word of God’s pretty clear on how we’re supposed to be good moms. It doesn’t talk a ton about motherhood in particular…I have combed over every line and every verse, obviously, to incorporate biblical perspectives into my book as well as the psychology. And it’s so valuable for both, but obviously the Word of God here is supreme. God is pretty clear about how we’re supposed to love one another, and that’s the goal, is to love our children the best we can. Raise them up telling them about Jesus and then they’ll know the way to go…
It’s not Pinteresty birthday parties. It’s not getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight. (God bless you if that’s your goal in life!) It’s not having your life look a certain way or taking a certain number of vacations and having the pictures to prove it. It’s really not. It’s really about just taking care of yourself and taking care of that baby and making sure you keep that line of communication open with the Great and Mighty God of the Universe, that has control over everything that you are crying or worrying about today!
Mallory: Wow, that is a way to leave it. Amen!
Rachael: I get pretty fired up.
Mallory: Yes, you do, but I like it! I don’t feel like I have anything that I could possibly add that would be better than that. So, I just want to say thank you for joining me today, Rachael. You’ve given us so much helpful advice, a lot of encouragement, and I hope that moms walk away with that today.
If you would like to get in touch with Rachael or purchase her book or buy it for a friend walking through postpartum:
Rachael is also giving away a FREE resource today: A 21 Day Challenge Three-Minute Self-Care. It’s a 21 Day self-care challenge for moms that also brings in the Word of God each day. DOWNLOAD THAT HERE!
And I also have a Bible study through my hosting ministry, Love Worth Finding, called Mastering Your Emotions. It’s a great way to have your daily quiet time, and a really good resource. GET HERE.
Remember to keep up the good work of pointing your kids to Jesus!