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Are You Being Ruled by Rules? Tips for Christian Moms

If rules are ruling your mind, this post will offer you tips to notice, name and release unhelpful thoughts. Applications for Christian moms included.

Anxiety workbook for kids

Our brains are full of thoughts. If you had a thought bubble above your head, there would be a running stream of random things like those overdue library books, your son’s upcoming appointment, or last night’s TV show. Some thoughts are words, some are images, and sometimes it’s a voice.

The mental load of being a mom can be particularly intense. Even if we look to be at rest on the outside, there are a lot of mental gymnastics happening on the inside as we try to navigate the execution of all the care tasks that help a family to run smoothly. Our brains are constantly full of thoughts.

One type of thought is a cognitive rule. Some of these rules are helpful (“Always wear a seatbelt”) and others are not (“Don’t speak up for yourself”). Because unspoken rules have usually been around in our heads for a long time, they can seem like truth and can often go by unnoticed.

In this post, we are going to learn how to recognize these cognitive rules, look underneath them, examine them though God’s eyes, and practice the skill of choice.

Common mom-rules

Depending on your personality type, some of these rules might resonate with you:

I must never be late

I should attend all of my kids’ games

I have to clean the house from top to bottom every week

I can’t make mistakes

I should not waste time

I must always be available to my family

You could probably add to this list. Most rules have something in common: they include can’t, should, must or have to. These imperatives give the impression that we don’t have a choice because rules are not meant to be broken. Following these unhelpful rules can be so tiresome because they pile onto the already monumental job of being a mom.

Look under the rule

Hiding underneath our rules (especially the more global ones) is often a fear or a negative core belief. The rule acts like a protective coating to that deeper wound and it developed over time to protect it from being activated.

It can be hard to figure out what that rule might be protecting you from, but one way is to evaluate if there is a silent “or else….” lurking in the shadows. For example, “I should attend all of my kids’ games or else I am a bad mom.” Or “I should not waste time or else that will mean I am lazy.”

Talk to God about your rules           

When we bring our rules and underlying core beliefs to the Lord, it allows Him to shine His light on them. Ask Him to give you the ears to hear any rules throughout the day and to become aware of any lies they might contain. God calls us to “take every thought captive.” This is not because we are to control them, but rather to objectively examine them for their usefulness or truth.

For example, if you have a rule that says that you cannot make mistakes, there may be a core belief under that rule that says, “I am stupid.” Your mind is trying to help you avoid that core belief by keeping mistakes at bay (an impossibility, of course). When we bring this core wound into the light and share it with the Lord, it loses some of its power and it enables His Spirit to speak truth.

You can also spend time in the word of God so that He can use the truth within to heal these deeper heart wounds. It is one of the primary ways He ministers to His people.

How to release unhelpful rules

There are as number of steps you can take to release yourself from the burden of cognitive rules that add stress to your life.

1) Notice them

This sounds like the simplest of all the steps, but it is often the hardest. Many times these rules have been rattling around in our heads for many years. They often have an origin story attached to our childhood or early experiences. But by increasing our awareness of what is going on inside of our heads, we will be better able to make choices that are not driven by arbitrary rules. You can ask God to increase your awareness of the different rules that run through your head during the day.

2) Name them

If we spend some time noticing our thoughts, we will start to see some themes emerge. Maybe your rule-oriented thoughts have to do with what others think of you, cleanliness, timeliness, or self-imposed expectations.

One way to identify themes is to do a thought dump a few times a day for a few days. Just write what is going through your mind at any given moment. Don’t edit it, just document it with factual, neutral observance. Once you have gathered the raw data, see if there are any themes that emerge and give it a name. Maybe your theme is: “Not good enough” or “Scatterbrained.” Then anytime you notice one of these thought themes appearing, you can say, “Oh look at that – there’s the ‘Not good enough’ theme again.”

3) Identify the costs

Maybe you have a rule in your head that says: “the kitchen sink must always be empty.” What does this rule cost you? It may prevent you from relaxing. It may cause you to lash out at your loved ones who seem to constantly be filling it up. When we hold tightly to these unhelpful rules and feel the need to follow them unilaterally, it often comes at a cost to ourselves or our relationships.

A couple of good assessment questions to ask yourself are: “If I follow this rule, how will it impact the people I care about?” Or “Does following this rule blindly keep me from being the person I want to be or showing up with the values I hold most dear?”

4) Make a choice

Once we see these thoughts at work and notice how they are impacting us, we have a decision to make. We can keep living by the rule without question, with all of the costs, or we can make a conscious choice to hear the rule, recognize it for the help it would like to offer and then choose to act more freely in the moment based on what we care about.

The pause is your most powerful intervention. When we stop to pause, we create a space and within that space is a choice. We can choose to carry on as always or choose a different path.

For example, let’s say you hear a rule in your head that says: “My child must be potty-trained by their third birthday [or else I am a failure]”. As the birthday approaches and the skill has not been achieved, your tension will increase. Stop and pause. Notice the rule for what it is (an attempt to protect your fear of failure or inadequacy), hear God’s truth about the matter (you are more than a conqueror), and make a choice. If you kept living by that rule, what would it cost? How would it impact your relationships? Would it take you towards or away from the kind of mom you want to be?

We all live by rules. We need them for an ordered society. Some are good. Some are neutral. But some really hold us back. If you find that you are often ruled by rules, I hope that these tips have been helpful and allow you the freedom to examine your thoughts. Hold tight to the ones the take you toward the life that the Lord wants for you and release the rest.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

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