My 9yo son asked me yesterday if it was easier having a baby in the house with big kid helpers or if it’s easier to just have one baby in the house and no other kids to care for. (We just had our fourth little one in August.) I had to think about it for a minute. Having big kid helpers is so different than having only toddlers! It’s downright dreamy. But life is certainly pretty busy over here, and messy.
I told him that it’s technically easier just to take care of one baby–less laundry, snack getting, cleaning, question answering, etc. But, I explained, it’s easier for me to have three “big kids” (9, 7, and 5) and a newborn than it was having just my first baby–because I’M different.
I know stuff about raising small children now. Every childhood illness is not a source of extreme anxiety for me because it’s not my first rodeo. I’m better at defusing tantrums, making dinner one handed while holding a kid in the other, and surviving on no sleep. But most of all, I’m used to not being in control of my life in the same way—my time, my energy, I’m accustomed to these things not being my own anymore.
If someone refers to spit up stains on the shoulder of all your clothes and the sheer number of poopy diapers that you have to change as the challenges of parenting, they’re probably not a parent. It’s not the bodily fluids or the work involved that makes it hard, it’s how parenthood requires us to give up our expectations and control at the service of others. That’s the hard part.
With our first baby I was still under the impression that I was OWED certain things: uninterrupted sleep, time to be alone, a baby who acted the way the parenting books said he would. Instead our sweet baby boy was miserably colicky.
He would not sleep, he would not be put down, no matter what book’s advice we tried–he did not cooperate. And I was angry. I loved him with every fiber of my being and would have died for him without a second thought–but this wasn’t what I expected.
I felt a little betrayed by the parenting books. I thought I was going to be in control. Reader, I was not in control.
By baby #2, things were so different. Our baby girl wasn’t colicky, but it wasn’t just differences in circumstances that made mothering her easier–I was different.
I didn’t expect to sleep at night anymore. If I got a great chunk of uninterrupted sleep cycles I was over the moon. If I didn’t, well, that’s to be expected. I was going with the flow. (But it still took me a couple more kids to be okay with naptimes that went up in flames because I have been known to cling to the naptime break to retain that last thread of my sanity.)
When we offer our time to God–when we see the day ahead as an adventure to unfold and not a Schedule That Better Not Be Messed Up By The Kids Or So Help Me!–there is so much more peace.
Easing into all that parenting is and giving up on our illusions of control makes me think of laboring to deliver a child. Some birthing techniques like the Bradley method that I’ve used for my births teach a woman how to relax into her labor pains rather than fighting the contractions. By easing into the waves of pain, letting my body do the task at hand, releasing all the tension, I can handle the pain better. It doesn’t hurt as much as when I fight a contraction and try to control it.
I think parenting is the same way. Heck, life is the same way. As long as we refuse to surrender our plans, our time, our control to God we will not know peace. God knows what He is about when He makes some of us parents. He knows that parenthood is the path that will help lead us to holiness, the path that will help us give up all the things that keep us believing we’re in control.
Yesterday morning, my husband took the big kids hiking so I could finish the freelance piece I was working on. The baby was asleep in the swing. Just as I was hitting my stride, after 15 minutes of sweet silence, the baby started to wake and cry. I just closed my laptop and scooped her up to nurse her. The familiar feelings of annoyance or frustration at a thwarted nap didn’t come. What a different person I am than I was 10 years ago–even 5 years ago.
I’m still on this journey, like you probably are. I still lose it on the regular when things don’t go my way. I didn’t plan to clean up a mess of kinetic sand! Which kid scattered it all over the floor? And how did they even find it because I swear I hid this stuff really well so I wouldn’t have to sweep it up anymore! I didn’t plan to be up at 3am with a puking kid right before a writing deadline, but that’s how it goes sometimes. I didn’t plan to still be paying off outrageously high ER bills from our daredevil child’s head injury. But here we are.
We’re not in control and parenthood highlights this for us. So parents, we need to just give up our death grip on our expectations, ease in, and allow ourselves to be transformed by the path God has laid out for us. I’m beginning to accept that something beautiful waits for us on the other side.