Being a parent is way harder than I ever expected. I don’t know what I expected, exactly, but it wasn’t this.
I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to learn what I needed/need to know.
All I knew, at the time, was that Edward and Bella were in love and about to have a baby and ohmygosh I’M IN LOVE and I’M ABOUT TO HAVE A BABY! (Yes, I was reading Twilight when I was pregnant with my first. I have no regrets about this fact.)
The other day, I started down our driveway to go for a walk when my oldest son, Theo, caught me and asked if he could ride his bike along with me. I said he could, and soon, I was walking down our street with him riding confidently and freely a few hundred yards ahead of me.
My son loves his bike. I mean LOVES his bike. Nothing quite embodies his need for freedom, movement, and challenge like his relationship with his bike.
He got his first bike when he was two.
A single, solitary year later, the training wheels came off.
One day, at an older friend’s house, he simply jumped on a bike without training wheels and took off. We didn’t teach him how, he just did it. And he never looked back.
If that isn’t a metaphor for my story as a mom then I don’t know what is. The training wheels have always been off: Off way before I expected, off way before I knew what was happening, off way before I knew what to do with a kid who knows what he wants and just goes after it and expects you to keep up.
As I watched my super confident, super capable son riding with such a contented expression of peace on his face, I realized how grateful I am for a kid that is constantly throwing me into the ring way before I even realize I showed up at a fight. Becoming his mom has humbled me to my very core. It’s shown me that I have far more to learn from him and this experience than I could ever hope to teach him. (I’m not worried about that current imbalance, I know his kids will someday return the
butt kicking…I mean…”life lessons.”)
I came into motherhood with very few plans or ideas on how to be a mom, but my oldest son has revealed to me that I had a whole list of expectations. I didn’t realize it at the time. In fact, it’s only been in recent months that I could even recognize and verbalize these previously unacknowledged, unspoken expectations. But oh momma – were they ever there. They still are. And when life as a mom gets hard, I’m learning to look those expectations in the face. And you know what I see? Myself. It’s like staring in the starkest, most soul baring mirror. It’s like standing under florescent lights in the middle of January in a too small bathing suit, revealing every imperfection.
The expectations that I hold aren’t really about my kids, they are about me.
So that is where I’d like to start.
Parenthood is hard work. Parenthood is some of THE hardest work on the planet. And if I’m being really honest – with myself and with you – that is at the heart of what I’m fighting against on the days that are the hardest as a mom.
You know the days – the ones where you feel so tired, so discouraged, and at your absolute wits ends as “what to do” with your kid/kids. You ask advice, you pray, you read books and blogposts and yet you still come up with nothing because it all just feels so hard. The current struggle feels like it will never end. You get tired of the same old reel of the same old fights and battles. You want things to be different. You want them to be different.
And therein lies the problem. A problem that I think most of us face, so I want you to know this comes from a place of solidarity and empathy and not judgment. I’m not throwing stones at your house, I’m standing behind the same glass you are.
As parents, we need to face a few of our unspoken expectations that are derailing how we view life with our kids.
Do you know why life with our kids feels like a lot of work? Because…it is. That’s the job. That is what we signed up for. Quite simply put, we welcomed new humans into our home who have no clue how to operate in this world and who depend on us to learn all they need to know. They are little. They are self centered. They are uninformed. And they are in need of parents who understand that the reason why they don’t “get it” yet is because “getting it” takes years. Most of us as adults still don’t “get it,” yet our unspoken expectation is to explain things to them once with the hope that they master the skill immediately.
They won’t. Most of them, can’t. And the really special ones, the ones that defy simply for the sake of seeing mommy’s head spin around like a merry-go-wheel, well those are the ones that teach us that we tend to measure our success as parents on a sliding scale of compliance. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what makes us so miserable.
Because if the job is to teach, and we are measuring our success in terms of compliance, then ohhhhh friend. We are in some serious trouble.
I know, because I live at the intersection of willful child and frustrated mommy.
I believe that my children come into this world as fully formed people in the sense that they have a God given purpose and identity apart from my expectations of them. But my responsibility to them is to teach and nurture them in a way that honors the person God has made them to be. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have rules or expectations. It simply means that while I go about the business of raising my children that I do so with the very clear understanding that this gig is work. And it’s my work.
Ironically, I feel like we get most frustrated with our kids when we expect more out of them than we do ourselves.
It took me three separate visits to the optometrist to successfully get my contacts in my eyes because my eyes are sensitive and I was scared and that was when I was in HIGH SCHOOL. Yet I lose my mind when my kids, who are all still under the age of seven, can’t figure out one of the MANY new skills I’m expecting them to master on a daily basis. Everything is a new skill to them. They are literally new people. Bless them with their fresh baby brains wrapped in fresh baby skin. We forget how much they are learning on a day by day basis.
I’m learning that my moments of frustration are ultimately revealing my expectations that they should be learning and mastering things way quicker and with way less involvement on my part.
I know, it sounds selfish and naive and delusional to me, too.
If you have a strong willed kiddo, then you know there is another piece to all this, too. A piece that kind of breaks your heart. But a piece that, honestly, I think teaches us a valuable lesson pretty early in the game. That lesson is this: loving people, be it your kids or others in this world, is not about what the recipients of that love choose to do with. It’s just about you loving and doing the job you know you are supposed to do. End of story.
I’m not accountable for outcomes, I’m accountable for putting in the work.
My strong willed child showed me from the beginning that I can’t control him. Ok, fine, I can accept that. But what I’m now starting to realize is that I also can’t force him to accept the care I want to bestow on him. He has to want it. Accept it. Allow it. And sometimes, he just doesn’t care that I care. And yes, for the record, that hurts. But I can’t parent out of my hurt.
This is probably one of the most heartbreaking things about loving your kids. Geesh. It’s one of the most heartbreaking thing about loving anyone. All we can do is show up and love to the best of our ability. We can’t control outcomes. We can’t force those we love to be transformed by our love. We can simply continue to show up day after day, do the work, and trust.
And lest you think that I’m painting a grim picture, let me set the record straight. This is not a doom and gloom perspective. This is a freeing perspective.
Love looks like showing up daily with healthy food, trusting that even if our kids don’t choose it now, we are laying down a healthy foundation for wellness in their future.
Love looks like creating boundaries and rules and following through with reinforcement that is delivered with grace and kindness, diffused of all anger that comes when we feel entitled to a certain result.
Love looks like returning to the same lessons and instructions day after day, knowing that we aren’t a failure and they aren’t “bad,” this is just the job. This is simply what they need from us.
Love looks like turning the mirror on ourself, and asking what our reactions and frustrations are revealing about our own expectations and preconceived notions about parenthood. Love looks like getting humble, acknowledging our role in the problem, and changing thought patterns and beliefs.
Love remembers that parenthood is a long game. Love remembers that our children’s lives aren’t over once they leave our home. Love remembers that we are still growing and learning and becoming, and so will they.
Love acknowledges that it’s scary and hurtful to want the best for our loved ones and watch them choose things that we feel aren’t in their best interest, and that it’s ok to feel the weight of that sadness. But love also reminds us that ultimately, our job isn’t to make sure they make all the “right” choices, because we don’t even have that ability. Our job is to remain a constant source.
It’s funny – one of the ways that Webster’s defines the word “parent” is with the word source. I think that is incredibly profound.
The word source is rich with spiritual implication and meaning. Sources only work and provide when we stay connected to them, and that is not something that can be controlled. It must be chosen.
I choose to stay connected to my source – my spiritual vine – because he is loving and merciful and gracious. He is truth and justice. He is strength and vitality. He is life, and life abundant.
This, my friends, is what I believe is the calling of every parent. We are to remain a source. Day in, and day out. Some days, our kids will reject that source. They will reject the peas on their plate, the rules about how to behave in the bathroom, and the constant request that they please, PLEASE, stop fighting with each other. They will reject instructions on how to treat others, who to befriend, and the importance to tell the truth. They will reject a million and one little and big things.
This, is not in our control.
But I believe, oh how I believe, that what my kids really need is not a perfect track record, but to be consistently exposed to their source. And so perhaps the most powerful thing I can do is not beg or demand that they remain connected, but to simply remain connected myself. I can show my kids what it looks like to remain connected to the source. I can model it and provide an atmosphere for it. For I know that in all of this, I’m a reflection of a greater, truer, ever lasting source. And on the days when I feel like maybe all this isn’t working, I remember that I’m connected to a source that never quits.
He never quits on me. And he’ll never quit on them.