Dear Parents All Over The World Everywhere,
I'm sorry I underestimated you. And I'm sorry I've never truly been as impressed as I should have been. Yes, some of us have it easier than others. But the truth is, parenting can make you feel like the newest character on Looney Tunes. One minute it's all "Let's have another!" And the next it's "How is it possible to be angry at a five-week-old?" One minute its "See, it's not that bad" and the next its "I really can't do this another minute." And even when that's true, there normally isn't a choice and you surprise yourself by moving forward. One minute you find yourself tearful over the sweet sleeping baby and 10 minutes later you are weeping, wondering why she won't stop (crying). In your sleeplessness you start recalling conversations you had with other adults (delivery man, parent at the park, pastor, coworker) and realize that what you said didn't make any sense whatsoever. You sway drastically back in forth between gratefulness for the gift of a child and absolute crazy town.
Survival. I have two one-word mantras and that's one of them. I remember years ago being frustrated when my husband didn't wash the dishes the way I wanted. Now the dust collecting on the wooden floors under the bench across from me is like a welcomed old friend. Having small children isn't about doing all things well, it's about getting from one day to the next with everyone still breathing.
Grace. This is the other mantra. Yesterday one of my friends admitted letting her begging 3-year-old have pretzels for breakfast. "Surely there's something healthy in pretzels!" she proclaimed. "Yes, sweetheart. Just go with it," I told her. This was after being 45 minutes late to her apartment for a play-date as I pushed an empty stroller chassis and lugged the baby carrier in my arms because I forgot the right stroller adapters after trying to save time by taking a cab. Yep.
Before I go on, please refrain from thinking, "Just think if you had even more." That's annoying and quite frankly if we start the comparison thing we could all one up someone somewhere. A better place to spend our (very little remaining) contemplative and emotional energy is to consider how parents in this sleeplessness-next-to-insanity-state-of-being make it?
By God's grace. Jeremiah 31:3 says God loves his people with an everlasting love, therefore he will be faithful. I'll admit while I'm happy to point others toward God's faithfulness in giving his people grace, I'm terrible at preaching it to myself. I put my prideful self on a pedestal as if I don't need his grace and cloak it with "I just don't deserve it." The truth is, if I don't spend time meditating on what God's grace is and means then I'm not going to understand it. "Time? Not having time to think is part of this problem, right?" Right, so ask those around you to help you understand God's grace. Part of God's grace is the community that he offers us. Utilize that Face time or Facebook or text or whatever means possible to ask others to help you see clearly.
With prayer. Or shall I say: Pleading. Psalm 145:18 says the Lord is near to all who call on him in truth. One thing we all do is Google everything. "Sleeping patterns." "Toddler schedules." "How to remove lice." One blog post I read about potty training suggested praying for your child. Honestly, at first I kind of laughed, but then I got so desperate after cleaning poop out of my bed that I tried it. I found that if I was seeking to pray for my child I was slower to anger and quicker to love. Shocking, I know.
In realism. Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife (Prov 17:1). Help your spouse, your children and the people around you by cutting out the unnecessary. In other words, give yourself a break. This means you slow down. You order take out. You make something easier. You let your friends send you paper plates. You ease up on everything and everyone around you. Some call this "don't sweat the small stuff." I call it "setting down your pride and realizing that you aren't actually superwoman and you do in fact need others to be the hands and feet of Jesus for you."
With joy. Yes, I mean this in a spiritual sense. There is great joy in knowing Christ. But I also mean, just remember to straight up laugh (Prov 17:22). My friend Dorsey says, "Strategy is incredibly important in counterterrorism efforts. When dealing with the irrational and unpredictable impulses of baby terrorists in particular, it's important to maintain victory over the imposing sense of doom through frequent and determined laughter." During my last pregnancy I sent my husband to emergent care with my three-year-old at 10 pm . . . for a diaper rash . . . because I thought it was scabies (after all, someone in childcare at the gym had them so we probably did!) This, my friends, is funny stuff. This is why Jim Gaffigan can write a book about parenting and we all buy it to read to make ourselves feel better.
Choosing thankfulness. Everyone has struggles. Everyone deals with either cancer or fear or death or depression or debt. Everyone has something. I want to remember that even in my trials I can be grateful (Phil 4:6). Not because it's easy. Not because my struggles aren’t a big deal. Not because there is someone somewhere worse off. But because there is something to always be legitimately thankful for. There may be moments where I feel like there isn't, but there always will be. Can't think of anything? Just ask a friend. Or your spouse. Or your child!
Our culture is obsessed with being the most famous, the best and the brightest. Perhaps it's not our culture so much as our human nature just exaggerated by technological capabilities. Regardless, this obsession has taken the secret, silent beauty out of the hard and mundane. The problem is that while perusing Instagram during a 4 am nursing session, discontentment can begin to creep in as you creep on other people's so-called lives. We want to climb mountaintops and reach the stars so badly that the concept of being faithful in the little feels boring. But the truth is, the daily grind of small, faithful diligence is as admirable as it is difficult. Personally my ability to be diligent is far from amazing, but with each new day I see that God has sustained me from the last and that I get to start over (Lam 3:23, Rom 8:28).
So here's to being faithful in the crazy . . . to finding stability in the midst of exhaustion . . . to choosing joy during 3 am potty problems . . . to not hating yourself for now using the word potty instead of toilet . . . to being thankful for small provisions like someone having paper plates delivered to your door.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial . . . (Jas 1:12a). While often times as parents the idea of anything inside of us being steadfast amidst the chaos is comical, I cling to the fact the God is perfectly steadfast. When you become a Christian, you aren't given a switch to flip in order to cause gratefulness or even rationality, but you are given the Spirit of God. What baffles me is that I should be this reliant on the Spirit of God with or without children, yet I have a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn’t be. While it can certainly feel like becoming a parent is my problem, it turns out that my issues were already there; these little ones from God are just stepping on dormant grenades planted long ago.
Be encouraged dear, dear Care-Takers-Of-Kids all over the world: may the revelation of our need push us to the feet of Jesus! And for the very fact that I am being pushed to the feet of Jesus, may I be forever grateful.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.