As anyone above the age of 30 can attest, perspectives can shift with time. Some experiences may change the way we once perceived things. Others may cause us to hold more steadfastly to our views.
As a mother, stepmother, grandmother, and now a great-grandmother, there have been many occasions that have given me reasons to pause and reflect on motherhood. During some seasons, those momentary pauses have turned into months of intense soul-searching.
Moms on all stages of the journey – from the “rookie” who’s just starting out to the “seasoned veteran” with 60 years under her belt – have one thing in common. Each year, on the second Sunday in May, we all spend time reflecting on motherhood. What did we do right? Where did we go wrong? Was there a mix-up in the hospital or are these kids really ours?
My views on motherhood have evolved over the years. This Mother’s Day weekend, I reflected on the topic by revisiting some of my writing on the subject from a decade ago. I invite you to travel back in time with me to a moment when I shared my thoughts.
Written in Spring 2010
“Parenthood is a tough job, but it is the most rewarding one you’ll ever have,” or so I’m told. As a mother of 4 – two by birth (ages 12 and 13) and two inherited through marriage (ages 26 and 31) – I have a good grasp on the “tough job” part. Unfortunately, I am still attempting to come to grips with the “most rewarding” portion.
There are times when I can’t help but wonder if a couple we know had made the better choice. They’ve been married almost as long as my husband and I have, but they chose not to have children. They recently had a change of heart and decided they want to get pregnant. And as hard as it is to admit, when they informed me of their plans, I stood there, four-kids-the-wiser, searching for a word of encouragement to offer; but was hard-pressed to find one.
On the contrary, three thoughts immediately came to mind. The first was, “Why would you do that to yourselves?” Next was, “This parenthood thing is highly overrated!” Followed by, “Once you have them, you’re stuck! “
Thank God my mother had always taught me not to speak if I didn’t have anything good to say. So, I decidedly refrained from speaking. After a few minutes of searching my mental database for a positive, affirming statement, I managed to come up with, “Well, you’ll always have two babysitters with my girls around.” Pitiful? Maybe. But it was the best I could do on such short notice.
Let me be clear about one thing, I have uttered my share of inspiring words about parenting – but only to those who were parents already. Were my comments to them cliché or phony? Absolutely not. My heart went out to those poor souls who were on the brink of utter despair over their children. Those motivational words represented my best attempts to instill hope that there would be light at the end of the tunnel; to help them believe that a brighter day would come.
On the other hand, I, personally, have not gotten a glimpse of that supposedly glorious day, when parents finally get to enjoy the fruit of their labor. But in the words of King David, I would have fainted unless I believed I’d see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I hold on to those words for dear life. They keep me from sinking into the depths of depression. So, when other discouraged parents reach out to me, I choose not to pour salt on their wounds by speaking candidly on the subject. (That’s what blogs are for.)
When I was pregnant with my now 13-year-old daughter, I forced myself to be optimistic about this whole parenting phase I was about to enter. I was determined to combine the hard-knock lessons gained from raising my two stepchildren, the practical wisdom from every “seemingly” successful parent I could find, along with advice from books, TV, radio, etc. I was desperate to believe that with good information, prayer, and fasting, I could bypass the travesties of parenthood with our subsequent children. But it didn’t happen that way.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t love my children; that’s the part I’ve mastered. And I’m not implying that my four are any worse than the kids down the street; in fact, you could say that mine are pretty typical. Honestly, after having heard so many parental horror stories, I’d have to admit that relatively speaking, mine might be considered “pretty good” by some standards. None has been in trouble with the law; or hooked on drugs; they’re healthy, hard-working, and respectful (usually). I will give them credit for that much.
By now you may be thinking, “So what’s she got to complain about?” My gripe is this: When I consider all that my husband and I have invested into our children’s lives – money; time; energy; wisdom; self-sacrifice; kindness; patience; praise; encouragement; repeating ourselves hundreds of times; pouring out our hearts and souls; sleepless nights; unconditional love and acceptance; blood; sweat; tears; and did I say money? – it seems to me that children provide a very low return on investment.
It’s not that I’m expecting them to repay us for all we’ve done - but is a little appreciation too much to ask? Or they could try this one on for size…how about doing what we say the first time we say it. Another suggestion would be for them to do the things they already know to do without having to be reminded 3.6 million times, such as: taking showers, brushing their teeth, and picking up after themselves. Here’s a novel idea, what if they did their chores without first having to be threatened. Would someone please tell me if my list is unreasonable?
To add insult to injury, after we parents have done our best to train them during their formative years, and they grow as tall as we are, some of us make the mistake of breathing a sigh of relief. “Wow. They’re old enough to do some things on their own. We can finally take a little break. Hallelujah!” Just then, out of nowhere, arrives this peculiar creature known as the teenager. Now the “tough job” just got tougher. This stage of development has the strangest way of erasing all your fond memories of your sweet, little child of yesteryear.
In this dreaded stage, I suspect some undiscovered hormone kicks in that causes kids to lose their minds. The condition appears to be contagious. For many teenager’s parents have lost their minds, as well.
As my first-born daughter’s 13th birthday approached, a myriad of thoughts raced through my head. The most frequently being, “We spent all these years of our lives raising you for this?!!!!” After all the training, the explaining, and the complaining - how is it possible that nothing we’ve said had sunken in? Like the “old folks” used to say, “We might as well have been talking to the wall!” One hundred fifty-six precious months had been sucked into a vacuum of pointlessness. Four thousand seven hundred forty-five days of our lives had produced virtually no positive results. She may as well have been raised by a pack of wolves in the woods; because it looked like we had totally dropped the parenting ball on this one.
Sometimes it feels as though those years would have been better spent on a more fruitful activity. Maybe I was misguided in the decision to be a stay-at-home-mom since the productivity level turned out to be so low. Perhaps I should have taken a “paying” job. The extra money could have been used to pay off our mortgage early, which could have saved us tens of thousands of dollars. Or we could have taken those exotic vacations, driven nicer cars, purchased those season tickets, or eaten out more often. No matter what we would have done with the money, at least we’d have had something to show for those years by now.
My only consolation is in the biblical principle of reciprocity; more commonly stated, “You reap what you sow.” I long for the day when my future grandchildren rise to the occasion and avenge us. I can only imagine the pleasure awaiting us as we remind our children what they were like growing up, and how they used to do the same exact things.
I’m getting chill bumps just thinking about it! Paybacks! Perhaps that’s the parent’s “reward” I keep hearing about!
Fast forward to Spring 2020
Wow! My perspective has certainly changed over the past decade! I’m happy to report that my children do take showers and brush their teeth without my prompting. And I managed to survive their teen years.
Having said that, I now understand that while I was busy teaching the kids about themselves – they were also teaching me about myself. Moreover, the years my husband and I have spent praying and searching the scriptures for answers for our children, have so often resulted in revelation for the two of us.
And the part about waiting for my grandchildren to ‘avenge me” has played out in an entirely different way. My reality is that my life has been consumed with taking what I’ve learned throughout the process and finding ways to prevent the negative cycles from repeating.
In retrospect, it’s apparent that some of my words, warnings, and seeds of wisdom - that I thought had gone in through one ear and out the other - actually did take root. By no means am I implying that all of them have sunken in. But I am choosing to be grateful for the ones that have. It gives me hope that even more will, in time.
Another takeaway from my time of reflection is that we should strive to find ways to enjoy our children – no matter what stage they’re in. Admittedly, my words were penned during a very frustrating time. But when I look back, I can find happy memories from that period, as well. Sometimes we focus on the negative and it overshadows everything else. Had I known then, what I know now – my perspective would have been different. And that change in perception could have made my parenting journey more enjoyable.
In closing, I salute all the mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, foster mothers, and those who are “like mothers” to others! My prayer is that in your time of reflection, you will focus on and appreciate what is good. (See Philippians 4:4-9) And for those who cannot find good, I pray that God would dry your tears, comfort your hearts, and renew your hope today.