This past Sunday, in the second service at church, we talked about guilt and grace in parenting. One of the reflection questions was, “What’s something you feel guilty about in regards to your parenting?”
My answer was this: Not wanting to be a parent sometimes.
I know that’s terrible (see, there’s the guilt!), but it’s true. Sometimes I don’t want to be a mom. There are times I want to run away and simply be me (whatever that means!).
I’m struggling with this off-and-on right now. I could pretend I’m not, but I’m hoping that writing about it will help (it usually does) and that maybe some other mom who’s feeling the same guilt will read this and say, “Oh, I’m not the only one.” (And some other woman who is struggling with infertility or loss will hate me.
I’m thankful our God is big enough for all of it!)
I think it’s the never-ending nature of parenthood that wears me down. I remember a conversation I had with a fellow teacher when my own children were still toddlers and her boys were nearly grown. She had just lamented that they were still leaving dishes in the sink for her to wash. “Plus,” she added, “at this age they’re facing choices that could have really long-term consequences. I pray harder for them now than I ever have.” She shook her head. “Parenting is never finished!”
I was horrified.
“Never, Lynnette?” I asked her. “Come on—give me something to hold onto here.”
I like teaching my kids; I love laughing with them; I enjoy going for walks and watching them discover things; I treasure our deep conversations.
But it doesn’t end there. A parent’s responsibility list is endless. There is no task for which a parent can legitimately say, “Well, I’ll let someone else deal with that—not my job.”
So in infancy we do it ALL! (At least they’re really, really cute!)
But as they grow older, the tug-of-war begins. We know that at some point they will need to take care of themselves, and we can’t just dump them at age 18 on some college’s or workplace’s doorstep and say, “I’ve delivered them safe and sound; now you teach them to work and clean and cook and manage their money and be generally responsible adults who contribute to society.”
So we must, bit by bit, make them responsible for those things as they grow.
They don’t like that!
At least my kids don’t. They resist my efforts to saw through the umbilical cord. They would be perfectly happy if I continued to cook every meal for them, clean up every mess, wash all their clothes and put them neatly away, help them with homework, etc. (That should be capitalized: ETCETERA.)
Yesterday a friend in her early thirties told me she and her husband are praying about having children. “I’m ready to stop working for awhile,” she said, and then she laughed at the irony (which she doesn’t entirely get yet—but that’s a good thing because quite a few of us would NEVER have embarked on parenthood had we known in advance how hard it actually is.)
Anyway, she asked me how old I was when I had my kids (30 and 34 [twins]—and then 38 when Patrick came home) and how I would compare my pre-kids stage to my post-.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” I told her. I didn’t want to discourage her, despite my current wrestlings, so I added, “but, boy, have I learned a lot about myself. I didn’t realize I was impatient until I had children—and I was a middle-school teacher! God has revealed so much to me about the depth of my need and the greatness of His sufficiency through my being a mom.”
Then I looked at her face—a little shocked—and realized my addition hadn’t exactly been encouraging.
“It’s a good thing,” I said. “It really is.”
But it’s a lot of growth, too.
And maybe I’m not so unlike my kids in this respect: They don’t like it when I shove them into greater responsibility; I don’t like it when God does the same with me.
Yet it’s so, so good!
I don’t have a whole lot of parental wisdom. Much of the time I’m doing it in desperation, in blind hope.
Not so God. He parents me with purpose, inexhaustible sufficiency, and vast knowledge of who I am and who He knows I will/can be.
He does the same for my children.
And when I wrestle through my desire to run away and then through the guilt that follows, He comes alongside me, and I grow more–in trust and in perseverance.
So, somehow my bumbling efforts at parenting are used for growth in my children AND in me!
What a miracle!
Here are a few verses I’ve thought about during this latest bout of wrestling, because, really, my frustrations ARE light and momentary, though they don’t feel like it in the moment. These verses remind me to keep the long view in mind.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.