As rewarding as it is to be a mother, there are times when this whole Mommy gig is scary enough to make you want to jump in the car and run for the hills. (Or is that just me?) The responsibility of raising another human being without completely screwing them up can feel like a tremendous burden bearing down on your sleep-deprived shoulders. I tip my hat to those mothers that breeze through the process with nary a hair out of place, with spotless homes and well-rounded little angels that never rebel or give a moment's worry.
To the rest of us that don't live in Stepford, I'd like to offer these words of encouragement: I've done it and lived to tell the tale. You can too. Here are a few things to consider...
#1: Nothing Lasts Forever
Oh, those sleepless nights....will this child ever let you rest for more than an hour or two at a time? The answer is yes (hallelujah!) That fussy little angel that either won't sleep in their crib or (for those that co-sleep) elbows and knees you to death from midnight til dawn will someday grow into a teen that you won't be able to drag from their bed before noon. Someday, believe it or not, you'll realize one day that they don't want to snuggle with you anymore. After a week's worth of peaceful nights, you'll also realize that you miss it.
#2: Trust Your Instincts, Don't Ignore Them
Either through my own personal, hands-on experience, or from the shared struggles and triumphs of other mothers, I'm plenty familiar with ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, Down's Syndrome, Autism, cerebral palsy, Asperger's and a host of other special needs. If your otherwise healthy child exhibits symptoms of learning disorders, don't ignore them but don't panic, either. And unless you really, really believe in your doctor, don't take their first diagnosis, either. Research, get second opinions (and third and fourth opinions if it still doesn't sound right to you). We live in the Information Age and there are multitudes of women that have been in your shoes. Find them, learn from them, share your own story with them and be encouraged.
3: Every Child Rebels
You fed them only wholesome organic fruits and vegetables as a baby, and now they don't want to eat anything unless it comes out of a box. You knelt with them beside their bed and taught them to pray every night, but now they don't want to go to church. You said, "I love you," 58 times a day, but now they stomp off to their room crying, "I hate you." Unless your child is Jesus, they will rebel. There will be conflicts, misunderstandings, miscommunications, hurt feelings, and outright disobedience. I hate to tell you this, but if you think potty-training or the terrible twos are hard, you ain't seen nothin' yet. It's going to be a battle, so you'd best be prepared for it with the only two things that matter: discipline and grace. How do you know when to use which?
#4: Pick and Choose Your Battles
There's a big difference between the child that pours shampoo down the toilet after they've been told twenty times not to, and the child that wants to dye their hair with pink stripes while sporting an all-black wardrobe. Both are a form of rebellion, either against your authority or against their perception of "what's expected". The trick is knowing which one calls for discipline and which calls for grace. When discipline is needed, be consistent (don't give in once and expect them not to try getting away with it again later), be fair (don't ground them from the t.v. for two weeks because they forgot to wipe the table after dinner), and be firm (don't cut the punishment short because they're really really sorry...if you put them on time-out for five minutes, it needs to be the whole five minutes.)
But not every rebellion needs discipline. You have to pick and choose your battles. Does sinful behavior need discipline? Yes. Do sinners need grace? Even more. If you ever find yourself saying, "I never gave my parents this much trouble..." try reading Romans 3:23. And then call your parents, if they're still alive, and tell them you're sorry, you love them, and thanks for all they did for you and put up with from you.
#5: You Did Not Create Them, You Can't Change Them
Whether you gave birth to them or adopted them, you did not create your child, God did, and you will never be able to make your child be anything other than what God intended them to be. Yes, as a parent it is your responsibility to raise and guide your children to the best of your ability, but if you nit-pick a child over every little aspect of their behavior, you're not only going to miss out on witnessing the development of a richly unique individual, you're going to run the risk of having your child view you as a drill sergeant instead of a loving parent. Don't try to make a doctor out of an artist, a farmer out of a writer, or a musician out of an engineer. Encourage exploration in different avenues of interest, by all means! Give your child every opportunity you can to find their niche, but don't wear yourself (or your child) out by trying to make their squareness fit into any and every hole you come across. Yes, you might have been the world's greatest living pianist if only your parents had encouraged you, but that doesn't mean your child will be, wants to be, or (most importantly) was made to be.
#6: Get In The Picture!
I'll be totally honest here...I still struggle with this one. I hate having my picture taken and have since I was four years old. (Yes, I have issues. That's just the way it is.) As moms, we love getting those impromptu snapshots of our kids doing something funny, charming, bizarre, etc. But when we're gone, who's going to be looking at those photos? Our kids. And who's going to be missing from them? You. So what if your hair is having it's 437th bad day in a row, you've got stains on your t-shirt, and the only pants you wear these days are of the yoga variety (or, in my world, hole-y jeans)? However you look now, your kids will be thankful to see pictures of you like this again when they're grown up and getting their own middle-aged spread. Remember, no matter what you think of your looks, you're beautiful in the eyes of your children, and you always will be. Everyone loves strolling down memory lane sometimes; don't deprive your children of the chance to do the same.
I'm no expert on parenting, just a woman that's learned a few things along the way, both as a parent and as a child. So, as a mother and a daughter, I'll leave you with one more thing to ponder.
When I was just a babe, I thought, "My mommy is the smartest person in the whole wide world. I want to stay with her forever!"
When I was a young child, I thought, "My mom is pretty smart, but I know more than she thinks I do."
When I was an adolescent, I thought, "My mom isn't that smart, she really doesn't know that much."
When I was a teen, I thought, "That woman is completely clueless. She has NO idea what I'm going through!"
When I entered the world on my own, I thought, "I'm so much smarter than my mother ever was. Thank goodness I don't have to live with her anymore!"
When I had my own children, I thought, "My mother is so out of touch. I hope I don't turn into her someday!"
When I reached middle age, I thought, "Wow, Mom's pretty smart! I wish I'd listened to her more."
When I became an empty-nester, I thought, "My mother is the smartest person I know. I wish I were more like her."
When I reached my last days, I thought, "I miss my mother. I wish she were still here."