Though I do not know from personal experience, I have heard multiple people say that parenting is the hardest job you will ever do. There are some misguided souls out there who still refer to stay-at-home moms as women who do not work. (That is a laugh and a half.) For whatever reason, God in His sovereignty has not given Eric and me children yet; but, what He has given me are mommy friends who allow me the gift of looking into their lives – the good, the bad, and the frazzled – and seeing what parenting really looks like.
In my early twenties, babies were so cute and cuddly. I wanted a house full of them. Eric and I picked out at least six baby names before we were even married. We knew parenting would take hard work, but it was going to be so fulfilling and rewarding. Ahhh, babies.
Now here I am in my early thirties and, though I still want babies, my outlook on parenting has changed significantly. Not only am I in the age range where everyone I know is procreating, but I go to a church which celebrates large families. All that to say, I have been around many babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school children in the last several years and I can say with absolute conviction parenting is the hardest job you will ever do!
I watch my friends struggle to complete a full thought, have an entire conversation, get a full night’s sleep, and have time alone with their spouses. From the time they get up until they fall into bed, their days are filled with cooking, dishes, sweeping, schooling, kissing boo boos, breaking up fights, wiping noses, wiping rear ends, making snacks, saying, “No, you may not have anything sweet right now” a thousand times, potty-training, and the dreaded bedtime battle.
Sometimes when I wake up in the night and stumble to the bathroom half asleep, the thought crosses my mind, “If I had a sleeping baby in the next room, I would have to tiptoe. And, if I woke her up, I might be up all night. What am I going to do without sleep? Kids have so much energy. I do not have that much energy. Am I cut out for this? Can I even make it as a parent?!” I think it is safe to say my desire to be a mom diminishes in the wee hours of the morning and returns promptly when I see babies dressed in Santa costumes on Facebook.
With parenting being three full time jobs rolled in to one, it can leave mommies and daddies weary, defeated, and wondering, “Am I doing any of this right? I feel so lost. Am I as terrible of a parent as I feel? I wish God would give me a sign – a glimpse – that I am not completely screwing up my children for life.” (Note: When you feel the urge to harshly judge a struggling mother’s parenting, remember that she is probably already judging herself ten times harder than you are. Pray for her, show her grace, and for goodness’ sake, buy her a cup of coffee!!!)
Thankfully, for one of my dear friends, God did give her a glimpse the week before Christmas.
My Little Bestie, Amelia
More than five years ago, I was blessed to meet my friend, Jennifer, who (at the time) had one child – a one-year-old named Amelia. Jennifer and I grew to be close friends as we shared about our common struggles and even more so when she moved into a home around the corner from mine. As our friendship grew, so did baby Amelia. It is hard to remember just how cute she was as a toddler, but occasionally I am reminded by a picture or video.
I may not have realized it, but I needed Amelia. She helped fill a void in my heart that grew bigger with each passing year. Everybody needs a little person in their life to keep them young and enthusiastic. Amelia wiggled her way into my heart with her lively and deeply dramatic personality and her abiding love for Play-Doh and Hide and Seek.
A couple of years later, her little sister (Emma) came along. Now I had a preschooler and a baby to enjoy! Though I did not go through the sleepless nights and long chaotic days myself, I did get a front row seat for Parenting Reality 101. With one child nursing around the clock and another potty training, Jennifer did not spend much time just chillin’. She was on the go and even more so when Emma grew (overnight, I might add) from a tiny baby into a curious toddler.
The Countless Worries!
As I watch Jennifer keep going day after day, I am amazed at how much work she does; and, in addition to feeding, bathing, and clothing her household, I know she and mothers everywhere are plagued with countless worries.
Are they watching too much TV? How is that media consumption going to affect them later in life?
Are they receiving enough Biblical teaching? Is it too early for them to understand? Have I started too late? Am I showing them Christ’s love enough? Am I too harsh?
Am I teaching them what they need to know? When they go out into the world, will they be ready? Should they have more chores by this age? Fewer chores?
Is anything we are trying to teach them sinking in at all? Have they heard a word we have said?
Some Moments Make All the Tears, Hard Work, and Sleepless Nights Completely Worth It!
With Christmas approaching, Jennifer wanted Amelia to have some giving experiences. No child needs help understanding the joy of receiving, but the virtues of giving have to be taught.
Jennifer contacted a local soup kitchen to see if they had any volunteer opportunities. Since Amelia is still a bit too young to help with the food prep, the director suggested they create goodie bags and hand them to the children as they enter the soup kitchen. (Challenge accepted!) They got to work decorating and filling paper bags with small treasures; and, on December 18th they stood out in the nippy air and passed out candy bags.
Amelia, who has always been delightfully animated, happily greeted people and wished them a Merry Christmas. Then, in one of those moments I know Jennifer will cherish forever – one of those glimpses God gives to parents to encourage their hearts – Amelia turned to her Mom and said, “Mommy, giving really is more fun than getting.” Can you imagine how different our world would be if every six-year-old had the chance to experience the joy of giving? We are a nation of consumers; yet, if our children grew up volunteering – learning to be self-sacrificing – we could see a huge change over the next twenty years.
This Christmas season will hopefully stick in Amelia’s memory forever; and, having started at such a young age, I expect she will always equate Christmas with making someone else’s season bright. In addition to her goodie bag outreach, she also helped me ring the Salvation Army bell last month. She was the cutest little bell ringer ever – and surely the most passionate!
Another Lesson to Tuck Away
I consider this one of many life lessons I have learned from this young family. Start them young. Take them out (age appropriate, of course) and show them what the world needs. Light a fire in them to make a difference. Show them what true Christianity looks like while their little hearts are still open and tender.
Amelia’s goodie bag caper is just one of many service projects to come and that excites me. These experiences are shaping her heart and her worldview. Being a witness to these moments inspires me to begin such traditions in our home once Eric and I become parents. Teaching our children to follow Christ does not have to require three-hour nightly Bible studies. We can take them out into the world and show them first-hand what it means to serve the Lord – to love others as you love yourself (Mark 12:31).
So, when the time comes for you to cultivate a love of giving in your children’s hearts, simply let them see you give genuinely and sacrificially and make sure they have constant opportunities to serve as well.
It is amazing to see what happens later in life from the seeds of planted in a young heart.
Whether or not you have children, create (or take part in) an opportunity which gives a child the opportunity to bless someone else. [And then let us know what happened in the comments below!]