So, last Tuesday was a rough one.
Let's be honest: A lot of days are rough ones right now. I fear the age of not-quite-two will go down in history as one of our more challenging phases. But I don't think this is unique to us. Or the not-quite-twos.
I think this is parenting.
It's the same at all ages and stages. A mom with one idea; a child with another. Back and forth, up and down, day in and day out. A never-ending cycle of crazy.
Sometimes I can let the hard days roll off me, no big deal. But other times I cannot, and that's when I start running my mouth — on my blog, on Facebook, on the phone, to anyone who will listen and have pity and tell me it's okay and I'm not alone. "It's so haaaaard," I whine. And almost immediately, my trusty group of mom friends jump in with support. Because it IS hard, and we've all been there, and sometimes we just need to let it out.
I firmly believe it's okay to complain once in a while. Necessary, even. But in recent weeks I've starting thinking about the ramifications of my public pity parties. Am I letting out too much, too often? How many times in the past year have I written about the challenges I face as a mother vs. the joy I experience as one? Would a casual reader of this blog think I love being a parent or loathe it? Do my posts on motherhood, which I've always considered honest reflections of my life as a mom, really just come across as whiny and ungrateful...or, worse, unhappy? How will my words affect my son, who will most likely read these essays on his childhood one day? And how does what I say affect those around me right now who don't have children, who haven't "been there?"
The other day I read an article in Details magazine titled The No-Baby Boom. An excerpt:
In a 2003 survey of more than 20,000 parents that Dr. Phil conducted for his show, 40 percent reported that they wouldn't have had kids if they'd realized the difficulties of raising a family.
It goes on:
My wife and I have plenty of friends whose complaints seem to corroborate the findings of that survey. "I have no time for myself!" they tell us. "I don't know who I am anymore!" "Thank God! Only 11 more years and he'll be out of the house!" "Only 17 years, 8 months, and 29 days and she'll be out of college! Hey, did my watch stop? 'Cause time's moving really f'ing slowly!"
Oh. My. Gosh. Granted, this is a very one-sided account written by a man who is childless by choice (nothing wrong with that in my book, just stating the facts), so it's hard to say whether he took liberties with the comments of his friends who have kids. But let's say he didn't. Let's say after a day of tripping over toys and being hit in the face during temper tantrums and having to carry his kicking and screaming child out of the store, an exhausted friend said to him "Only 17 years, 8 months, and 29 days and she'll be out of college!"
It's not really that hard to imagine, is it? Parenting is frustrating and tiring and grating and there are times when I just want to fall on the floor and sob because I really can't do it anymore. Except I can. And I will. I want to. I love being a mother, far more than I ever thought I would. Yes, the toys and the messes and the sleepless nights and the chaos and the constant back and forth make me crazy. Those things would make any sane person crazy.
But in losing my mind, I have found my soul. My purpose. And joy — lots of it.
Parenting is not for everyone, though, and I respect couples who remain childless by choice. There's nothing wrong with knowing your limits and leading the life you want. In fact, if you had asked me five years ago whether I wanted to be a parent, my answer would have been "maybe" at best. At the time I wasn't particularly interested in children, and I certainly wasn't interested in the responsibility of caring for them. It would have been impossible to imagine myself living — and enjoying — the life I have now.
Thankfully, the Lord planted a seed of longing in my heart and placed wonderful examples of motherhood in my life — from my own mother and mother-in-law to my beautiful friends. Women who passionately love their children and joyfully embrace the task of raising them. In observing them, I saw the possibility of finding that same happiness for myself. But now I wonder: Would I have made the decision to have children had everything I heard about motherhood from these women been negative? If they had only shared stories of rough days and long nights and loss of self and constant heartbreak?
Looking back, it's hard to say. But from where I stand today, I know one thing is certain — I am not one of the 40% who regret choosing this life. And I never want the words I share, by mouth or in writing, to lump me into that category or harden someone's heart against having children.
So, just to be clear: Sometimes I am a tired, crabby, complaining mom. And sometimes I should probably just shut my mouth. But even on my worst days, I am still a happy mom. A grateful mom. A joyful mom. A mom who knows how blessed she is to have the challenges of a biting, tantrum-throwing not-quite-two-year-old because having those challenges also means having the extreme privilege of loving a precocious little boy with one blue eye and one green eye, an obsession with "big trucks," and a mind-blowingly good vocabulary.
And I hope you always see that in me, and in the words I write, even on the rough days.