I’m not sure what kind of parent I expected I would become when I had kids. I’m not sure that I spent much time thinking about being a parent before I became one. I was quite honestly a bit too preoccupied with my eating disorder and self-destruction. But then against all odds, I managed to fall in love. And then against even greater odds, within about a year, I gave birth to two remarkably healthy and vibrant children. Who would have thought that I would be given the privilege and high charge of motherhood, twice over? I certainly did not.
So, when the kids were tinies, and by “tinies” I mean not old enough to talk or accrue too much damage by my lack of mommy-skills, I counted on the fact that I still had a couple of years to nail down the whole “parenting gig”. I would read all of the parenting books, pray circles upon circles around their little cribs, and become the best darn mommy my babies could ever imagine. I’m not sure if all parents think like this, but I thanked God repeatedly for the “buffer time” of infancy and fact that long-term memory doesn’t really kick in until age three or so.
The best laid plans sometimes fail us, and my plans of perfecting mommy-hood did not unfold quite as I had hoped they would. My kids were not great sleepers. This statement is an understatement–it may be the largest understatement on the planet. I don’t think that Jordan or I slept for three solid years, and I am not convinced that there is even a way to recover from three years of absolute sleep deprivation. When a mother tells me that her baby is a good sleeper, my brain just does not compute that statement. It’s like she is telling me her baby is a cactus. It doesn’t fit: Baby plus sleep? Nope.
Also, I got really sick.
Also, I had to work really hard to keep the little babies happy and healthy, so there was not much time for reading or preparing for when they would actually be old enough to create memories and be emotionally damaged. And three years goes by in lightning speed. I believe that scientists will soon discover that relative time passes exponentially more quickly when a person has a small child.
So, here I am, with a four-year-old and a five-year-old, smack dab in the middle of winging mommy-hood, entirely unprepared.
I’m flying by the seat of my pants here. I have read a few parenting books from various points of view. In reality, however, they have not helped me much as I would have hoped. I have scoured pinterest, the internet, and books for strategies, crafts, pros and cons about homeschooling, positive parenting, intentional parenting, no-drama parenting, highly sensitive parenting, whole-hearted parenting, and many other forms of parenting.
Also, everyone has an opinion about what you feed your children. I’m just happy if they eat. Beggars can’t be choosers here, man.
All of the parenting training in the world would not have been able to prepare me for the parenting challenges that my life-filled Lily brings to the table. She is so similar to me, and our likeness is simultaneously incredibly redemptive and unbelievably challenging.
Early in Lily’s life, I could see my reflection in her eyes, her personality, and in her very spirit. God used the mirror of my daughter to teach me how much He loved me, and how lovable I am. I adore everything about my little girl and her unique personality, and if I delight in her, then I must take some delight in myself and my personal idiosyncrasies. On the flip side, we often butt heads and challenge one another because we are so similar. We are both strong-willed, and we are both deeply sensitive. She’s incredibly intelligent, and she has learned about a million different ways to push mommy’s buttons. By the end of the day, when my nerves are shot, my energy is sapped, and I cannot mentally compute life while upright, I do not respond in very emotionally intelligent ways.
On a warm day of September, Lily was adjusting to her new lifestyle as a big yellow bus-riding, backpack toting, school lunch tray carrying kindergartener, and I was adjusting to our new normal as a family of a preschooler and elementary-aged kid. My nerves were frazzled that day, and my adrenaline was coursing excessively through my fiery veins. Lily was tap dancing on my every live exposed nerve, and her brother was not helping. I had snapped at my kids ten-too-many times, and by their bedtime at 7:30 PM, I was wallowing in self-hate and self-pity. I was a terrible mommy, and I mentally thrashed myself within an inch of my life. After I snapped at the kids to brush their teeth, and I shooed them into their beds, I sheepishly climbed into Lily’s double bed and pulled her pink owl quilt over both of our shoulders as I pulled her close. She made her usual “scratch my back” request, and I acquiesced. I said to her repentantly, “I’m sorry I yelled at you today so much. Mommy had a really bad day.” With her soft little hand, she stroked my hair, and she leaned her little forehead into mine.
With her eyes of compassion gazing into mine, my sweet girl said, “It’s okay mommy. I’m sorry I had a bad day too and was grouchy.” My world came alive in that moment of shared repentance with my daughter. In a second, I learned a kingdom principle in parenthood. When we humbly seek forgiveness from our children, they are able to connect with us in a way that changes both of our lives. In that moment of contrition, my relationship with with my daughter deepened. I saw in her eyes the heart of forgiveness and connection. We both shared a pain with one another.
In that moment with my daughter, I learned that perfection is no longer my goal as a parent. Humility is. I aspire to acknowledge my struggles, to seek reconciliation, and to keep my heart open to my childrens’ places of hurt.
I cannot do everything right as a mommy. But I can humbly seek to care for these little treasures whom God has entrusted to me. They are treasures. They do not come with a manual, nor should they. We prayerfully learn as we go. We acknowledge our faults, and we meet our little offspring in their mess. We look them in their little eyes and we communicate love. Sometimes, we will snap at them. Sometimes, we have really bad days and we have to apoligize.
More and more frequently, on my knees, I beg for God to fill in the gaps for my kids. My illness leaves gaps. My low energy, poor concentration, short fuse, constant pain, and physical absence in certain activites leaves spaces empty that I wish I could occupy in their lives. But God is faithful. He brings community, the proverbial “village,” that it takes to raise kids. Our church family loves on my little ones. Their wonderful daddy fills in some of the mommy gaps.
Never do I beg for healing for my body more than when I am begging on behalf of my children. More than anything in the world, I want to be everything that I can possibly be for them. I want to be well, whole, and fully present for them. I don’t want to miss anything, and I don’t want them to miss anything from me. God knows this, and He’s filling in the gaps in their lives. He has been filling in the gaps every moment of their lives.
His grace is fully sufficient in my weakness, and I have to believe that through my illness, He is working a greater miracle in the lives of my children. He is building compassion, care, mercy, and grace. He is creating in them hearts of intercession, sensitivity, and deep understanding that wouldn’t be present otherwise.
My moments of weakness as a momma are the moments of the greater grace of God, touching the hearts of my babies. My babies are miracles, born out of a barren womb that was labeled an impossibility. And they will be illuminated by the Father of lights, as grace shines through the cracks of my broken motherhood.
He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9