My firstborn, Sam, just turned 4! This amazing event has caused me to reflect on how I have changed as a mother in those years since I became one. Please bear with my little rant... :)
Parenting is so much harder than I thought it would be. I have encountered all sorts of challenges that I just never expected. I consider myself a fairly patient, loving person, and so I just assumed being a mother would come naturally to me. I suppose in some ways it does. But what I failed to realize is that parents have to make tons of decisions each day, and decision making is extraordinarily difficult for me. My thought processes are slow and meticulous, and when you have young children, you often need to be able to think fast. This is endlessly frustrating to me. I have had to let go of so many things in order to focus my mind on parenting well. And when I try to do too much, my kids suffer greatly. In my frail humanity, I ignore them or get snappy with them whenever I try to do anything (cook, clean, type, etc)while they are awake.
I never realized how lonely parenting could be. I learned this when Sam was just an infant. He was a very large baby with an even larger personality! I soon discovered that he was energetic and intense in ways few children are. When you have a uniquely challenging relationship with your child, you may feel like nobody understands what you're going through. Eventually, you will probably find other parents who can relate, but there may be times when you are weary, broken hearted, exhausted, confused, and even angry, and you don't know any other mom who truly gets it. There have been many times I have felt this loneliness in the past 4 years. One memory stands out in my mind of trying to sit at a cafe with a friend and her little girl who was the same age as Sam. (They might have been 2?) We both ordered hot chocolate to share with the little ones. My friends child sat calmly and politely sipping her drink. Sam saw me carry ours up, compulsively grabbed it, spilled it everywhere and then threw a screaming fit. It took all my energy(plus help from my friend) to get him out of the cafe. I was so disappointed that I could just not do anything like that with my toddler. Grocery stores, restaurants, malls and pretty much anyplace outside our house was a nightmare. Sure, all moms can relate to having difficulties and frustrations with their kids. But when I would talk to other women about parenting, most of the time I got blank stares, or looks of pity, when I would describe things I was dealing with on a daily basis with Sam. I was also immersed in a community that typically approaches discipline differently than I do, so I felt alone and overwhelmed on that front too. Frequently during the past four years, I have been terrified that I am going completely out on a limb and screwing my kid up. Parenting can be scary, especially when you don't feel that anyone is "in the trenches" with you. Thankfully I did have honest, good moms around me for encouragement. My mom and mother in law often gave me encouragement and praise. And by the time Sam was hitting terrible twos, I did have one friend who was truly on the same page with me on every level. What a blessing she was to me during the difficult 2's and 3's! Those were hard years, but God was faithful throughout.
One thing I have just recently been able to see and confront is that I am a sinner, and it comes out in my parenting. Yes, I have known that all along, but it is so much more clear to me now. When you're young and imagine being a parent, you never think about the fact that you will be ridiculously tired, and that when you are in that weakened state, you are more prone to failure. No matter how hard I strive to be gracious and loving, I fall terribly short. This is why it is so important to me to make an EFFORT to focus on grace and love in my parenting. Because even with my best efforts, my kids will not be loved as they ought to be. I cannot love them as my heavenly Father loves me. I am far too broken. But I have been loved well by God, and so I strive to love them well. Recently I was having a lot of difficulty with Sam again, and I realized that I had a bigger problem than he did. I was exhausted from being up with Truman every night, and so Sam was watching a show while I slept in the morning. This seems innocent enough except that I was OUT of it, and often Sam would try to wake me for a long time. This would result in both of us being frustrated and irritable. I would get mad at him when really I was the one being irresponsible. He's only 4. Of course he was behaving badly by the time he got me up. And of course I was irritable because of his relentless energy while trying to wake up(something that is hard for me even in a serene atmosphere!). The solution? I needed to go to bed earlier and get up before Sam. This has made the world of difference in our lives. I can't believe what a happy, sweet boy I have every morning now that I've stopped blaming and taken responsibility for myself. But the truth is, even with this effort on my part, I still fail my boys! And I am also learning to accept that, and know that God will be the parent to them that I cannot be.
Okay...now that I've tried to be real about my struggles with mothering, let me be real about its blessings too. There is just nothing sweeter to me than the smiles and laughter of my children. Their joy could brighten my darkest day. I cannot remember what I thought the good life was before I had Samuel and Truman. But whatever it was, it was nowhere near this satisfying. Mothering has been harder than I expected, but also far more rewarding. Kids have brought a much needed lighthearted element into our home. Joe and I can be far too serious. :) It is so fun to play trains, build with legos, watch "Charlie and Lola" and dip cookies in milk with Sam! Yes, this is my JOB, and it's fabulous. And as much as I enjoy them now, I anxiously anticipate future days with them. I am so glad I will, Lord willing, get to watch their personalities unfold in the coming years. I can't wait to find out who they become! I already appreciate their delightful, individual personalities, but it will be great to watch them grow into the good men I believe they will be. :)
In closing, I have to say that my mother in law was right. Four is a magical age for little guys. Sam is getting easier all the time. And Truman is just the chillest of babies. Our little family is at a really lovely place! I know it will get harder again, but for now, I'll breath a sigh of relief, smile, and hug my sweet babies, knowing that in a blink they'll be bending down to hug their mama!