You know those commercials that say, "Research indicates the first five years are the most important in a child's life"? While that may very well be true, I have to admit that this message scares me every time I hear it. I mean, it's taken me the first five years just to get used to being a parent! Forget maximizing my kids' brain development. Most days I'm happy if I get all three of them dressed.
If you're like me, you ventured into parenting with a certain set of expectations about what it would be like to raise children. But as my 5-year-old twins and my 1-year-old have grown, I've come to see that most of my expectations were based on a fantasy that couldn't be farther removed from the reality of my life as a mother with young kids. Does any of this sound familiar?
A Day in the Life
The Fantasy: As your little ones sit quietly at the kitchen table and hum along with Beethoven, they absorb their age-appropriate encyclopedias. Meanwhile, you recreate the map of the U.S. using homemade sugar cookies. Ahhh, you think to yourself. This is what life's all about.
The Reality: Your little darlings simultaneously shriek, "Mine!" as they rip the latest Bob the Builder coloring book in two. Between loads of laundry, you smell smoke. You rush to the kitchen to find the slice-and-bake cookies burning in the oven. Fed up, you stand at the counter and remember the days when you thought you'd actually spend your life doing something worthwhile, like being a brain surgeon by day, and lawyer for the poor by night.
As my mother-in-law says, motherhood is a thankless job. "Kids don't even realize how good they have it!" says my friend Diane, mother of a 4-year-old. "Sometimes I feel like I just go, go, go and it means nothing to my daughter."
"Moms can feel very forgotten, like they're at the mercy of their kids," explains Chari Morrow, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Upland, California, and mother of three. "Many moms, especially stay-at-home moms, feel alienated from the world around them and suffer from a lack of support or kinship. True appreciation from children toward their mothers doesn't come for so long. You need to feel like you matter now."
Then there are the women who have two jobs, namely being a mom and working outside the home. My friend Brenda, the mother of two, says she would love to just sit down and take a break for a few minutes when she gets off work. "But," she says, "if I do that, I feel so guilty. I really need some time to unwind, but my kids always seem to need something."
It seems no matter which kind of life we are livingworking or staying home or some combination of boththe mothers of young children feel drained and wiped out. But despite the burnt cookies and loooong days, God has promised to keep us filled with all that we need to live faithfully. Isaiah 30:18 says, "The Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him."
Morrow reminds moms that, "God has a vested interest in doing right by us. He wants to, and can, meet our needs." I often think of Ecclesiastes 3, which says there's a time and season for every activity under heaven. While there are moments when I long for a life beyond motherhood, God has filled me with a sense of peace. I know that for me, this season is the time for my little ones.
The Fantasy: You and your hubby have date night once a week; you and your girlfriends have moms night out once a month and you're all caught up on your e-mails, memory books, and birthday cards.
The Reality: You and your hubby are strangers in the night; your best girlfriend thinks you fell off the face of the earth and your cousin is mad at you because you failed to send a thank-you note for the toy truck she sent when your son was borntwo years ago.
Once little ones arrive, some relationships begin to suffer. Be it lack of energy, lack of time, or the lack of desire to strap everyone into their car seats for a fun-filled trip to the post office to buy stamps, moms with young children often struggle to invest in the adults in their lives.
When baby number three came along for me, I was determined to hang on to all of my adult relationships. But soon I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of trying to keep up with everyone. I knew I needed to get a better sense of my priorities. And at the top of my list of human relationships was the guy who was getting mere scraps of my attention. I knew that if our marriage started to crack, our children would suffer.
I also had to figure out how to balance my need for friends with my limited resources of time and energy. My friend Diane feels my pain, saying, "I feel like I have to work at maintaining my friendships. It used to be so easy!" While it's hard to think of losing friends, it's vital that moms with young children recognize that we simply can't pour ourselves into our friends like we did pre-kids.
At the same time, it's important for moms to have a few core friends with whom we can laugh, cry, or just vent about the challenges of motherhood, marriage, and life. I joined a women's Bible study that has been a lifesaver for me. Not only has this group helped me stay connected with God, it's also provided much needed support and encouragement in the form of friends who care about me and who are genuinely invested in my life.
The Fantasy: As your preschooler throws his fifth tantrum of the day, you calmly escort him to his room for a time out. You then joyfully return to planting rare orchid bulbs in homemade clay pots, knowing that your son is going through a phase and it will soon pass.
The Reality: Grabbing his arm with a sharp jerk, you drag your preschooler kicking and screaming to his room after yet another tantrum while hollering at him to stop making your life miserable. After his door is shut, you find yourself sitting on the edge of your bed crying, wondering why you're such a lousy mom.
It might surprise you to know that most mothers lose control now and then. Morrow says, "Many moms I talk to are surprised at the amount of anger and impatience they can have toward their own children."
While taking our anger out on our children is never wise, it can help to know that our lack of patience for our kids isn't a sign of our failure as mothers. As Morrow points out, "We need to recognize these emotions as part of our flesh, and that anger is due to unmet needs. Whether it's lack of adult conversation, lack of sleep, or no time with God, something has to change. Anger is a built-in warning system."
I know that's true for me. One of my twins is what I consider strong-willed. For a long time, I felt like I was using every ounce of patience and creativity to meet her needs and I was still failing. My resentment and anger toward her were slowly building until one day when I actually heard the sound of my own voice as I spoke to her. I was loud, harsh, and downright mean.
God mercifully gave me some insight into the situation. It was clear to me that I was depending on my own resources to parent my daughter, and expecting her to be exactly like her compliant and obedient twin. I was drained emotionally trying to turn her into someone she wasn't, instead of raising the child God gave me. My anger toward her led me to open myself up to God's leading. It was indeed a warning sign that something needed to change.
Morrow offers a simple idea for moms who struggle with moments of anger. When your young child acts up, Morrow says, "Give your little one a hug and simply hold her. Through this you're saying you're strong enough to handle her emotions. It creates stability. It may seem counterintuitive, but it works."
(If you cannot control your anger and feel you might harm your child, call a neighbor, your pastor, or your spouse to watch the kids while you take a break.)
The Faith of a Child
The Fantasy: Your little one innocently inquires, "Mommy, how did the clouds get so high up in the sky?" With a knowing smile, you crouch down to her level and reply, "Well, sweetie, God loves us so much that he decorated our world with all kinds of beautiful things for us to look at. Clouds are a pretty picture in the sky to remind us every day how much God loves us!"
The Reality: Your little one innocently inquires, "Mommy, how did the clouds get so high up in the sky?" As you scurry her to the car you quip, "I don't know, dear, just get in the car we're late for church!"
Ideally, we'd all grab hold of every teachable moment to turn our children's hearts toward Christ. But many moms struggle with teaching their kids about God because we aren't very confident in our ability to teach biblical truths. The belief that our children's faith rests with us is a daunting one to say the least.
"God has entrusted me to raise his children and to teach them his waysnow to me that's huge!" explains Megan, mother of a 14-month-old with another on the way. It feels particularly huge when we look at the world into which we're sending our children. There are days when I feel completely inept at preparing my children to stand up under the temptations of sin. It would make things a little easier if there was a "Barbie the Bible Study Leader" or "Snow White and the Seven Missionaries," but
My sense of inadequacy is not unusual. Morrow says, "Moms have a way of making themselves feel that everything pertaining to their child is up to them. That's a big burden." But it's a burden we don't have to carry. The Bible tells us that God "gently leads those that have young " (Isaiah 40:11). Truly, we can trust our God not only to fill us with the strength and wisdom to guide our children toward him, but to work in their hearts even in the face of our failings.
When parenting demands every ounce of patience and endurance I have, I'm grateful that God has wonderful plans for me and my children (Jeremiah 29:11). Yes, there are daysor at least 20-minute stretcheswhen I feel like I know exactly what I'm doing. There are many moments of indescribable joy. But sometimes my Supermom cape starts flapping so loud it drowns out God's voice. In those times of wild kids and short tempers, I have to remember that God never intended for me to run this race alone. He is my coach, my partner, and my source of strength.
When all her kids are asleep, Jill Eggleton Brett is a freelance writer in Lake Arrowhead, California.
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