I remember when I was a perfect mother. Man, those were good days! Days when I could go in a restaurant and smugly watch moms struggle to get their kids to eat. Days when I could walk down the mall and feel superior when I saw mothers try to cope with their children’s tantrums. Too bad everything changed. I suddenly lost my mothering skills on the day that my first daughter entered the world.
Before my oldest’s birth, I remember talking to a coworker who had teenage children. I told her that I would stay home after the baby was born but might do freelance work or try to do something from home “after things went back to normal”. I so distinctly remember her laugh. Somewhere between incredulous and mocking. She said, “Things will never go back to normal.”
How hard could it be? I asked myself. I graduated from college with honors. I lived overseas and navigated a completely new country in a language I did not know at all at first. I lived on my own and learned to manage a home in a place that had an unreliable electricity and water supply and required that everything be made from scratch with food I sometimes walked a mile or more to buy and lug home. Children couldn’t be harder than that, right?
Wrong! How incredibly naive I was. Children have been waaaaaay harder than that. All of those things I did before I married and had children still contained one element that mothering does not and never will: the ability to live for myself. Sure, I said I lived for God, and I did to some extent. I was a missionary, after all. But I never learned self-sacrifice in the concrete, day-by-day, unavoidable way I have since having children.
As a single woman, I had roommates. With each one, elements of my personality emerged. Some of those elements showed me areas that God wanted me to change. I worked on those, changed some things to make life with the roommates more pleasant. I thought I had it together. Then I got married, and before long I realized there were a lot more rough edges to my personality that I hadn’t yet smoothed down. The more into marriage we got, the more of those rough edges we found.
Then motherhood hit. We thought Hey, we’ve been married a couple of years. We’re ready to have a baby! Now I ask myself if anyone is ever ready to have a baby. There must be women out there who take motherhood in stride. It seems Facebook is full of them. They love all of the fingerpainting and chaos and mess, and when their children scream in public it’s just downright cute to them. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m one of them.
I realized that when my daughter was a few hours old. I was trying to learn to breastfeed her, not doing well, really, and I found myself irritated. This didn’t bode well. How could I be irritated with a baby who had only been breathing the air on this planet for a few hours? And that was just the beginning of the rest of my life.
For me, the story of raising children has been one of learning to give up myself and yet not wanting to surrender. I know, I know, we have to keep some things for ourselves and carve out our own hobbies (hence this blog and a lot of crocheted items I’ve produced over the years). However, it’s really not possible to live for myself now that I have children. The moment I sit down to rest, I’m called on for something. The clothes I love often disappear to reappear in my oldest girl’s closet. I haven’t cooked a meal that I really liked for years, but I sure have cooked a lot of meals. I’d like to say that I have happily turned over my selfishness and have become this great mom who sacrifices it all for her children, but I don’t think I have. I still struggle.
Once in a while, my kids complain about each other to me. They tell me things that basically amount to them being in the midst of the same kind of struggle with their siblings. Selfishness vs. surrender. I tell them that anytime a person is in an intense relationship with another person there will be that struggle. It’s part of being in a family, and it’s good for us. If we live in a social vacuum, we won’t feel that tension between getting our own way and giving someone else what they need or want. We will sail along, having everything the way we want it. But we will also forfeit the good things that come with practicing self-sacrifice: the ability to see and sometimes meet another person’s needs, the desire to please God by surrendering to him instead of seeking just our own pleasure, the love and warmth of belonging to a family or close relationship of some sort. The results are worth every bit of sacrifice.
Maybe that’s where God is working. Can I tell myself that? That point where my desires and their needs intersect sparks a fire that can refine us all and make us more of what God wants us to become. Now the key for me involves realizing that and surrendering to it. Stopping the fighting and pushing against it and letting God intervene and guide.
How hard can that be, right?
Easier said than done.