My children were born on four different days, each in a different year, each in a different delivery room and each in a different way. If the labor of giving birth were any indication of my children’s personalities, my two most challenging to rear were also my two most challenging to birth. For all the pain the births brought, parenting has brought more. In the midst of the joys and pride of rearing four children is the crucible of parenting.
Parenthood has tried me in ways I could never have imagined. It has engaged me in a tiring battle over my own selfishness, my penchant for perfection, my obsession for order, my dependency on quiet and solitude and my drive to produce work that exceeds expectations. These days, humility is a daily garment. Broken and messy is the prevailing attribute of most of my possessions and agendas. My home sounds like a clamorous, chaotic restaurant kitchen and smells like a laundry basket full of dirty socks. What I produce rarely exceeds my expectations. No flow marks my productivity, just starts and stops. Time to myself is stolen at best. Perfection is a luxury that no one can afford; I just didn’t understand any of this until I became a parent.
The clinks and clanks of breaking dishes and the mysterious locker-room smells permeating my house didn’t happen the day my husband and I brought our first child home. That all happened gradually. When my first child was born, the house was a sanctuary. Calm and order enveloped our new family in spite of the middle-of-the-night feedings and diapers. We were a family, and a new family is beautiful. That firstborn infant smelled so good. She cooed. Her skin glowed. She smiled, and my world lit. Every new development was meticulously chronicled among the extraordinary. She used to look off into space and smile as if she was onto something. She was the smartest baby ever. She was sacred, almost angelic.
The day she turned 18 months, that angelic head started spinning 360’s, and I swear her eyes glowed. We met Temper and Stubborn, those scary creatures inside of her that contorted her face and when something didn’t go her way made her scream, kick, fall down, refuse to budge — you get the idea. She was not to be engaged in any head-to-head conflict lightly. This girl could hold out. One night after refusing to eat a single slice of carrot before being excused from the table, she camped out in her booster seat until she fell asleep with a diaper that looked a little like the Hoover dam about to blow and the carrot on the plate like a quiet but formidable little orange battle flag. I never forced her to eat a carrot again. I learned. I chose my battles carefully because I didn’t want to lose against this surprising force of will.
Sixteen years of professional work experience gave me no preparation for this. Yet I have found that the stakes of parenting are ridiculously high. Failure is inevitable, yet so is joy. Parenthood has captured my heart and aspirations and laid them all on the line. While I can no more control my children’s choices than they can control mine, we are all indelibly affected by one another’s decisions. My bad moods affect my children even when I try to hide them. Their bad decisions break my heart. My energetic and patient days develop their confidence. Their loving and brave moments launch my heart heavenward.
Parenting is a crucible that forces my worst sin to the surface and makes visible my most broken places. In the process, it re-creates me, and I am changed. It is exactly what God means to do. I am not perfect; I am humbled. I’ve learned so much as a parent, but it is not what I thought I’d learn. The crucible of parenting has changed me. I have so far to go, but I’ve learned I have far less control and far more influence over my children than I ever imagined.
And those four beautiful, unique, different, funny, thoughtful, strong-willed, careful, charming, sneaky, sweet, tender children are coming along – one day at a time, and so am I, thank God.