Adjustments, transitions, seasons of life…sometimes they’re not very easy. For me, becoming a mom was one of those difficult transitions. While our son’s first couple of years were filled with many happy times, when I look back, there is a dark cloud of sadness that taints all of it.
Our precious child was… well…there’s no other way to say it. He was a difficult baby. He couldn’t stand for me to be out of his sight. He wanted to be held all the time. He screamed inconsolably for no discernible reason. At six-months-old he started holding his breath until he passed out. The doctor said it was his way of throwing a temper tantrum, but not to worry…he’d outgrow it by age four. He wouldn’t sleep in his own bed. He wouldn’t sleep in our bed without my husband or I. He wouldn’t let others hold him. He wouldn’t play by himself. And I knew all these “wouldn’t’s” must be because of me and some flaw in my parenting. “After all,” I thought, “aren’t children blank slates upon which their parents and environments must write upon?” (In case you don’t already know, that is not true).
Meanwhile, there was my best friend’s experience to consider. She had a son three weeks older than mine and he was one of those perfectly placid children who never seemed to be upset. If perchance something should upset him, a few whimpers would let you know. I watched her whenever I got a chance, observing, analyzing and making mental notes about what she was doing right and what I was doing wrong. The proof was right there, wasn’t it? Her son was perfect, so she must be perfect…and I could be perfect too.
Except that I couldn’t.
I didn’t seem to be able to do any of it perfectly. I couldn’t seem to get the advice right in the books I was reading. They all seemed to be so serious too! If I didn’t follow their direction precisely, they implied my child would be a blubbering, insecure, maladjusted, discontented blight on society as an adult. To make matters worse, the books seemed to say the exact opposite of everything the older, wiser mothers in my life were saying. On one side, mothers of children I adored said do this and succeed. On the other side, the so-called experts said don’t do it or else. I flip-flopped from one opinion to the other and nothing seemed to work.
On top of all my mommy-guilt, I was trying to live up to Donna-Reed-like standards in my housekeeping. I was the wife of a preacher, and as such you have to maintain a Better Homes and Gardens cover home, right? I thought so anyway. And you can imagine that with a squalling infant, it was nearly impossible to get even the basic housework done, much less the rest of what I expected of myself. To onlookers, I seemed to be coping well with motherhood and we often received compliments on our beautiful son who was oh-so charming. In my head, though, I suffered through a constant and vicious inner monologue, believing I was doing everything wrong. Before long, I was quite depressed…even suicidal. It took years to begin to unravel the damage of those first couple of years of parenthood. If I’m honest, sometimes it’s still a struggle, but here’s what I’ve learned…
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
In context, Romans 14:7-8 is talking about something else entirely, but the point applies here: as Christians, we live for the Lord. We are the Lord’s. So live to His standard… not the world’s; not the lady down the street, and not your best friend. I did learn that children are not just blank slates we write upon; they have their own little (or should I say big!) personalities from day one. My best friend’s second child was just like my first… and I could see that even my perfect mommy friend struggled with this personality type. All the difficulties hadn’t been my fault any more than they were her fault. Some kids are just difficult. Some kids are easy. They just are. Much of my depression could have been avoided if I had realized that the only standard I needed to compare myself to was God’s. His standard is the one we’ll be judged by (John 12:48). His word is the perfect mirror (James 1:22-25), the rock to be built on (Matthew 7:24). My best friend is only human. Donna Reed’s characters aren’t even real and the pictures in Better Homes and Gardens are no doubt staged by entire teams of people…and I’m quite sure children don’t run through the set either.
Don’t forget the truly important things.
Martha was worried and troubled about many things, but Jesus reminds her that there is only one thing that is necessary (Luke 10:41-42). This is one I’m still working on, but prioritizing is a life-long effort. I have decided that if I get nothing else done in the day– if all the dishes are piled in the sink, if my children are dressed in yesterday’s clothes (or even clothes from the day before yesterday) and my shoes get stuck to the floor that hasn’t been mopped since Bush was President– I want to make sure my focus is spiritual. We will sing songs. We will read the Bible. We will discuss spiritual matters. We will praise God and notice His blessings all around us. His words will be on our hearts and we will learn of them while we sit, while we walk, while we lie down and as we rise up (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). If we get that accomplished, I will call the day a success and refuse to beat myself up.
Remember, it’s only a season.
You’re only young once, so the saying goes…and so are your children. You only get to keep them with you for a very brief season. Children have been compared to Jell-O: the idea is to get as much good stuff in there as you can before it sets. That’s our job. And if doing that job well means that sometimes my house is a shambles, so be it. If fulfilling my God-given role means that I don’t get to go to all the events I’d like to, it’s okay; maybe there will be time when this season has passed. If I get side-tracked by things meant for another season and don’t take care of what this season has for me, I probably won’t enjoy the next season much because it will be filled with regrets over this one. So I bear in mind what the Preacher says: “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). This is my time with my children. If I am granted a tomorrow, there will be time for other things.
Remember, there has only ever been one perfect person.
Jesus walked this earth in sinless perfection (Hebrews 4:15). We cannot say the same (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8). For me to expect perfection from myself is unrealistic and even somewhat arrogant. I have been given my children to teach and care for, but ultimately, they will be responsible for their own souls (Ezekiel 18:20). I will fall down and I will sin…and so will they…and it will not be my fault. I bear the guilt of my own sins and they bear the guilt of their sins. Basically, as long as I am doing my best to walk in God’s ways and do His will, my sins, my weaknesses are covered and not charged against me (1 John 1:7). If God forgives me, who am I to disagree and not forgive myself?