Real life. Real marriage. Real parenthood.
Real joy. Real struggle.
And the very real Jesus who leads me through it all.
Real joy. Real struggle.
And the very real Jesus who leads me through it all.
The other day I had an accidental run-in at the park with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. I’d been thinking about her lately and hoping our paths would cross, and then there she was! We started to chat about her new adventure of being a stay-at-home mom and had just barely brushed the surface…just enough for her to tell me that she loves staying home but that it’s not at all what she thought it would be…when her youngest child had a diaper dilemma that required them to go home. As she apologetically loaded her girls in her car, I heard myself say, “No worries! I remember those days!” Then, realizing what had just come out of my mouth, I laughed. Remember those days? Umm, duh, they were like yesterday. Well, more like a year ago, but still, do I really have a right to say “I remember those days?” Yet maybe those words are encouraging to hear from someone who just made it through the baby and toddler years as opposed to someone who changed her last diaper decades ago.
Around Mother's Day there was a precious video popping up all over social media with a darling little girl dancing on the beach, which turned out to be a tear-jerker childhood montage with a song about needing time to slow down. It was precious and yes, I did choke up. But I also thought, “Goodness, as if the Mom of littles needs one more thing to make her feel guilty.” Because even though we wouldn’t trade the precious young years for the world, can we at least just admit that they are downright hard? Instead, parents of little children are told that they must "love every single second" and "pray for time to slow down." Really?? I mean, if what is glued in a person’s memory is only the pure bliss of rocking a sleeping baby or the heart-melting moments of a little boy picking you dandelions, then yes and amen. But those moments don’t last all day long…those are the moments that get us through the rest of the day. We need those moments and praise God for those moments. The truth is, as sweet as these moments are, there are also a whole lot of good and exciting things to come as kids get older. There are hikes and camping trips and deep conversations and great books and the ability to take road trips without constant crying. Good things are coming. It does get easier.
It’s not like parenting has magically gotten easy for us overnight; it's still plenty hard. Parenting will never get easy, but as we move from the baby/toddler years, we have a season that's easier in many ways. A decade from now, when my kids are 13, 15, 17, and 19, it will be hard in a totally different kind of way. But sometimes I think the challenges of parenting teens overshadows and belittles the challenges of the early years, causing the Mom of littles to feel even more overwhelmed and guilty then she already did. Moms of tiny little children often hear, “You think that’s hard. Wait til they’re older. I’d give anything to have the baby years back! I’d much rather have those problems again compared to the challenges of teens!” Just because there are different challenges in the teen years doesn't mean we need to dismiss or downplay the very real challenges of parenting littles. And telling her it's going to get worse doesn't encourage her (it might actually terrify her); it makes her feel overlooked. The parenting challenges of the baby/toddler stage and the teenager stage need not be compared – both are hard in totally different ways. Also, in most cases, the parent of the teen has been parenting a lot longer than the parent of a toddler and has a lot more experience to glean from.
One of the hardest things for moms of young children (particularly those who stay home) is the isolation that comes in these years. Though she loves what she’s doing in this season of life, this Mom is often lonely, aching for real, heart-to-heart conversation. Even when she does get to visit with friends at the park, the conversation is interrupted a million times and then usually ends abruptly with bathroom issues. The mom of littles is exhausted, sleep-deprived, and has every single minute of her day governed by her children. A young woman was I was just chatting with this morning said, “I can’t even figure out when to shower!” This is why it’s not helpful to brush off her exhaustion with the advice to just “love every single second – it goes way too fast!” That doesn’t encourage her…it dumps guilt upon her. She already knows she has the greatest job in the world, and she already is grateful every moment. But being grateful for every moment and loving every moment are two different things. It would be more helpful to give her a hug and say, “I remember how hard that was. It gets easier.”
As I pondered that little playground exchange the other day, I realized just how many things actually have gotten easier now as our youngest child races toward his fourth birthday. It actually does get easier…in a kind of gradual, “you don’t really realize it’s happening until one day when you finally see it” kind of a way. It changes quickly and unexpectedly (although it took me nearly a decade of parenting to be able to say that, so maybe not so quick.) Not quickly in a speedy kind of way, but in an unexpected kind of way. One day the diaper blow-out at the park is your kid, and then all of a sudden diaper blow-outs are a thing of the past. One summer you’re struggling to plan afternoons at the pool around naptime, and by the next summer naptime is also a thing of the past (and if you’re like me, you celebrate because it means FREEDOM!) This winter was the most fun winter we’ve had in our decade of parenting because 75% of our children were totally self-sufficient in putting on snow gear, and 100% of our children were actually able to walk in the snow! Winter is HARD with babies and toddlers. This year, it was fun and unexpected. Also, our family has avoided hotels for the last year, but I'm pretty sure next time we go to one, Paul and I won't have to sit in the bathroom waiting for the youngest ones to finally fall asleep. Progress!
Just earlier this week my 3-year-old was throwing a big old tantrum in his room, kicking his door, screaming, crying…all the usual ruckus. Having been around 3-year-old tantrums for about 7 years now, I was successfully ignoring it like a pro. His 5 (almost 6!)-year-old brother said to me, “Hey Mom. Do you hear Griffin kicking his door? He’s really angry. And he’s saying naughty things about you. He just called you a stinky chicken.” (I tried hard to keep a straight face there…I know full well the name calling won’t be so innocent in years to come.) “Mom, I know how Griffin feels because I used to do the same thing. But I don’t anymore.” Wait. Hold the phone… Say what??? I stared at the boy and tried to remember his last tantrum. By golly, he’s right! He doesn’t kick his door anymore! I hadn’t even noticed his tantrums ceasing until he told me. Things do get easier, unexpectedly and “quickly.”
One day you look around your supper table and realize, “Hey! You all feed yourselves now! And we just had real, meaningful supper conversation!” And you realize, “Hey! I didn’t have to buy any diapers this month!” And then a month later you realize, “Hey! Nobody pooped in their underwear this month! Thank the good Lord!” Now, three of my four my kids help significantly with chores and half of my children wash their own hair. Just the other night Paul and I lingered at the supper table and realized we were alone! All the kids had run outside after the meal, and it was just the two of us alone at the table and we could talk in full sentences. Hallelujah. Things actually do get easier, my friend.
And of course it’s not that we want to rush the years away. No way. Jesus celebrated little children and so must we. My little boys still pick me dandelions and I treasure them. And my littlest guy still can’t pronounce his R’s and I rejoice in the way his voice is still babyish. But my girls are growing up and we can do awesome things together that we couldn’t when they were toddlers…like have heart to heart talks on their beds and read all of Narnia together and go shopping and hiking (and I can pretty much shower whenever I want now). We do miss the baby days, but we welcome and celebrate the big-kid days.
And you know what? The goodness just keeps on coming, and it does get easier…quickly (in a slow kind of way) and unexpectedly. So take heart dear friend. What you’re doing is in fact very hard. Well done.