Parenting is hard work, there’s no question. From the moment we set eyes on a firstborn son or daughter–and maybe even long before that, the daily exercise of dying to self becomes a call on our lives.
When I was pregnant with our firstborn, Henry, I remember it being somewhat of a magical time. Once I got past the nausea and exhaustion that comes with the first trimester (and even then, really), I was fired up to become a mom. There were no little ones running around the house to demand time or energy from me outside of my uterus, which made focusing entirely on preparations for our baby my reality. I loved all of the mile markers of that first pregnancy, and I could embrace every preparation and baby decision that came our way. But, while I made the very most of those days carrying and growing Henry, I don’t think I could appreciate then what parenting was all about (and I’m definitely learning still).
From the start, I was thrilled to think about holding and feeding and rocking our sweet baby. I was humbled that God would entrust a little life to us to look after. And, as a first time parent, I heard plenty of advice on how to savor moments and not blink loooong before Henry arrived to us. There were also plenty of folks who wanted to impart wisdom by way of warnings and horror stories about parenting, as well as more than enough people who thought it appropriate to comment or judge my pregnancy and unborn baby based on my size, shape and the “way I was carrying.” To put it plainly, I felt initiated into the world of motherhood well before I ever met our baby boy, and sometimes, to a fault.
But I didn’t know motherhood then the way I can know it now, and I certainly didn’t appreciate it the way I do today. I had no idea just how much parenthood would refine me from the inside, out. Not only has my body foregone the physical changes of pregnancy several times now, but I am not who I was six years ago, and I am so grateful for that.
There are days, like this morning, when the kids wake up all too early, and I’ve made the silly adult decision of staying up too late the night before. In these moments, my first inclination is to grumble–to tell the littles they need to read quietly or wait for breakfast or find something to play until I’m ready to greet the day. (Honestly, I’m crazy-fortunate that both kiddos actually like to read to for a while when they first wake up, and that their yearnings for breakfast can often be quelled with a snack for a bit before I get into the kitchen.) But I’m beholden to these little lives that I begged and prayed so much for God to create, and as a parent, I know I need to rise (quite literally) to the occasion and be a mom to them before I need to put myself first.
I do give myself a bit more grace at this stage of my third pregnancy, inviting the kids on some days to snuggle in bed next to me with a snack or a pile of stories so I can get a little more rest, and they are (mostly) incredibly gracious to oblige. We all know we’re working together as a team to invite a new life into our family, and that makes this season of being more tired and achy all the more sweet; even at five and nearly three years old, Henry and Eloise are definitely able to understand small sacrifices as we all work to love and serve each other well. But this has without a doubt been an effort on our part as parents, too, to model hearts of service as best we can and to have reasonable expectations of each other, which isn’t always easy.
What we are learning over and over again in this stage of parenting (and pregnancy) is that there is SO much to be said for the effort of enjoying our children–not just for who they are, but also for the seasons they’re in as individuals and as siblings, too.
This is hard work. Super hard. And we fail at it all of the time. There are countless times a day when my natural inclination is bent toward frustration before I arrive at grace.
I have to make a conscious effort to respond out of love, to have enough patience, and to model self-sacrifice by putting my own needs down before theirs. It is a daily exercise that shifts and changes with whims and moods and developmental stages. Often, it feels like shooting at a moving target; sometimes I miss, and occasionally I hit the bullseye and feel like a rockstar parent for a few minutes until the next target comes up. It’s a beautifully sanctifying, maddening, refining process.
With my hormones changing on me in an instant and without notice lately (I mean, the growing belly is notice, but there’s not much more than that 😉 ), I have to be especially conscious of when I need to step away. More often than usual, I have to creatively manage breaks so that Henry and Eloise are still exposed to more of my normal M.O., and are shielded from the irrational responses that surprise me just as much as them. In some cases, this is just a few minutes in the bathroom alone, washing dishes at the sink while the kids play together in the other room, or planned screen time for 20 minutes so I can shower and clear some head space without interruption. Today, it was an afternoon nap that shifted gears for me in a major way.
I could feel guilty about taking small breaks away from our kids–especially as a stay at home mom. But what causes more guilt are the things I feel (and sometimes say) that come from not taking breaks away at all. When I’m with our kids, I want them to know just how deeply I love them and how much I truly enjoy them. And while I can’t articulate or demonstrate this in every moment, I think it’s healthy and important for them to experience my coming back from a break refreshed. We appreciate each other more, and our times together are more fulfilling, when we have all had some space to recharge, too.
So, yes. I believe it’s totally possible for us to enjoy our kids at every stage, even if some stages require more digging to find the sweet spots than others. And yes, I believe we are called as parents to delight in the gifts we’ve been given in our children. Not only do they mold and refine us, but they can absolutely offer joy and insight and dimension to our lives that might otherwise be easily focused on ourselves alone.
Motherhood has called me far outside of myself and back again, down to the deep places of my spirit that I didn’t know existed, and further into the depths of my capacity to love.
It started before I could even feel Henry moving with gusto in my belly, and I pray it will continue long after our days of parenting wee ones have ended. In fact, I hope we never stop growing and finding more ways to enjoy our children–as newborns, toddlers, preschoolers, students, teenagers, adults, and parents themselves. Naysayers seem to warn as often as they get the chance, “You think this is hard? Just wait…” but I’m not going to hang my hat there.
Yes, this is gig is hard. Lots of other gigs are, too. I just can’t think of one that comes with as much joy and reward over the long haul. Raising small people to become great as big people is no joke. And I kind of can’t wait to start again with this babe in my belly, learning more about myself as a person and as a mom, and discovering more of what God has for our family along the way.
grace to every parent, everywhere. to the ones who are smack in the middle of the daily call of parenting now, and to those who hope to be someday soon. the sacrifice is major, but the reward is, too.