“Parenting is intense.” A friend said that to me today. The truth of those three words pierced my heart and almost made me cry. Not from sadness, but from a soul-felt “AMEN!” She put into three small words the very reason I find parenting to be so exhausting. And you know what? I believe this is a universal truth.
We all feel this way. We have so many hopes, dreams, desires, sorrows, aches, joys, anxieties, fears, beliefs, knowledge, ignorance, and so much more wrapped up in our parenting. The crazy thing is that most of the time it’s all wrapped up together in the exact same moment. So intense? Yeah. Definitely.
Just last night my oldest sat next to me on the couch while we watched some Doctor Who. I glanced over at him when he reached over and held my hand intending to just smile at him, but for the next ten seconds I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t look away because my heart was breaking.
He is 14 years old now. Four. Teen. It has gone so fast. Too fast. In that 14 year old face, I suddenly saw my baby’s face. The baby boy that was placed in my arms. I saw him! I saw his profile! I saw his nose and mouth! I saw my baby again! It was unexpected, and my heart leapt with delight. I didn’t even realize how desperately I missed that baby boy until I saw him again last night. And suddenly there he was. My heart was so happy. Then… my heart broke in that same moment. Why? Because that baby’s face was different. He has a little bit of hair on his upper lip now. His shoulders that were once soft and squishy are now hard, muscled, and toned. His light colored baby hair has now turned dark brown and is thick and wiry. His fat wrinkly neck is now long and thick. His mouth still stretches into the same smile, but it’s bigger. He has adult teeth. He’s my baby. He’s still my baby. But…he also isn’t my baby. So while my heart filled with joy, it also ached with sadness. My baby is still here, buy my baby is gone. My young man is here, but he will soon be gone. I had to look away before he could see the tears in my eyes because one thing hasn’t changed in him since he was a baby. My tears upset him. He doesn’t want to see his momma cry. It was an intense ten seconds.
Now contrast that moment with this morning’s events.
This morning I was confronted with the reality of some of my oldest’s poor decisions. Fear. Anxiety. Sadness. Love. Forgiveness. Hope. All of that filled me, and that’s just the stuff I felt for him! Forget about the stuff I felt about myself! Anger, frustration, impatience…all the stuff I felt about myself was in that moment as well. Intense? I’d say so.
Again I found myself having to look away from my dear boy simply because I had so much inside that the tears were going to come out. Why? He wouldn’t understand them. He isn’t at a stage where he can understand that sometimes I cry because it’s just too much for one heart to hold. He would believe that I am crying because he hurt me. That’s his reality. But the truth is that I cry because I am thinking, “What if he never learns?”, “What if this small thing becomes a big thing?”, “I don’t want this to become a big thing!”, “His future would be in jeopardy if this small thing never changes!”, “I know people whose lives suffer because they aren’t learning.”, “Oh my boy. I love you so much.”, “Oh my boy. Don’t beat yourself up.”, “Oh my boy, you aren’t a failure.”, “Oh my boy. We all make mistakes.”, and “Oh my boy. Never give up. There is always time to learn. Always.”
However, when I looked away, my son created the story that I looked away from disappointment. So I ended up allowing him to see me cry, and I had to tell him briefly what was going on inside. It was so very very hard. It brought us closer together, though. He cried. He leaned into his mom for comfort. He talked. He poured his little 14 year old heart out. And we both left a negative situation with positive feelings. The last thing I said to him was, “My sweetest boy, I promise to always love you no matter what. And I promise that you can do this, and I will help.”
Then I turned around and yelled at my daughters five minutes later. Why? Because parenting is intense.
And I was intensely feeling like a failure as a mother. I was angry at myself for failing at teaching, for failing at protecting, for failing at being a good mom. Because if I was a good mom, my kids wouldn’t make bad choices…OBVIOUSLY.
So I yelled at my daughters. Because that’s the sane course of action when I am hating the bad mom inside me. Right?!
The thing is, there was a part of my brain screaming at me to stop. There was a part of my brain reminding me that the anger I felt had nothing to do with the girls. (Well, not most of it. A little bit had to do with the fact that they had ignored me for 10 minutes when they were told to bring their school books out.) But I yelled anyway.
Then I hated myself more. Because parenting is intense.
That’s when I reached out to my friend. That’s when she gave me those three words. That’s when I almost cried…because that’s when I realized that we’re all bad moms. Maybe not all the time. Hopefully not all the time. But that is a part of us.
So I took a minute. I slowed down. I prayed. I prayed for my kids. And finally…I prayed for myself. It wasn’t until I was asking God to forgive me for being a bad mom, that I realized the only thing missing was me forgiving me for being a bad mom. And there, while in prayer, I saw her…the bad mom. She looked just like me, but she was angry and crying and yelling at the world. In that moment all I could feel for her was love. Straight up love. So I mentally ran to her and held her and told her the same thing I found myself telling my son earlier this morning. “It’s OK. We all make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up. You aren’t a failure. I love you. Don’t give up. There’s always time to learn. We can do this together. I promise.”
Parenting is intense. It will bring you to the most glorious heights, beyond anything you can imagine. It will also bring you to the innermost circle of hell and give you a mirror. The most important lesson I am taking from today is this:
The bad mom in me needs the same love and compassion and forgiveness that my children need when they screw up. If I can’t give that to myself, I can’t move forward.
So give your bad mom some love and understanding today. Because parenting is intense.
Take It, and Be Thankful