She Picks Herself Up

When a new baby was born, while everyone was exclaiming how wonderful, how cute, my Grandpa would say (quoting his own father): “Even cockroaches have babies.”

Becoming a parent in a physical sense is a function of biology. Having a child – or six – doesn’t automatically make someone a good parent.

Sure, having lots of kids gives me some street cred. Lots of people turn to me for advice on some aspects of parenting. True, I have experience. Mostly because I have done things up to six different ways. I have breastfed and I have formula fed. I have had an induced labor in the hospital. I’ve had home births. I’ve spanked my kids. I’ve done attachment parenting. I’ve done naps and I’ve done no naps. I have done daily school with workbooks and I’ve “unschooled” and let them learn on their own. I’ve made my little kids sit through church and I’ve kept my kids out of church until they were old enough to sit still. I’ve done time outs and I’ve locked my kids in the backyard or myself in the bathroom. I’ve done cry it out and I’ve nursed my babies to sleep. I’ve achieved patience and I’ve lost my temper. A lot. I’ve made sacrifices and I’ve been selfish. I’ve done chore charts and I’ve nagged the kids for help. I’ve enforced consequences and I’ve thrown up my hands in despair of ever getting some discipline around here.  I’ve attempted to mold my children into something I’ll be proud of and I’ve tried to allow them to be their own persons and realize that they are not merely extensions of me.

Sometimes, everything goes smoothly. Sometimes, the kids get along. Sometimes, the chores get done. Sometimes, we’re all cheerful. Someone does something kind or sweet out of the goodness of his heart. And things look good. And I feel like I am someone who can be relied on for good advice. And I feel like I am a Mom of Six Children who Has it All Together.

And other times, I just feel like a failure. I hear them fighting and I recognize my bad attitude in their words. I hear them being unkind and I recognize my selfish behavior. I see I’ve set a bad example and I think that even if I get my own act together and start being perfectly patient and perfectly kind and perfectly fair and selfless, it will still take so much digging to get out of this hole that I’ve inadvertently put them into, this deficit in character that they have copied from none other than me. I feel like That Mom of Six Children Who Shouldn’t Take Her Family Out in Public.

I told my husband tonight in our nightly few-minute chat that we usually have after the kids are asleep, that sometimes I just feel like a failure. Without discounting all the work we have to do on our own sanctification, he reminded me that we don’t have to be perfect to be good parents. What is more important is that we keep the lines of communication open with them, allow them to see that we are sinners, continue to seek their forgiveness as we ask them to seek ours and one another’s. If they don’t expect us to be perfect, they’ll forgive us our faults, and we can all try to improve together.

We pray every night that we would be like the Holy Family. Sometimes I (irreverently and) silently snicker to myself because we are so very far from this lofty goal. Of course, it may just be that I take after my namesake, the wife of Abraham. She also laughed at something she thought was impossible. But with God all things are possible. So I guess I need to live up to my other name – Faith – and believe that if we are required to be holy, that we can and should be holy.

Lent is upon us this week. It’s a good time for me to look them in the eyes, ask their forgiveness again, and make some resolutions and goals as a family as we try to improve – myself first.

Mothering is not one of those things you can just do and have it be done. Like so many of the things in a mother’s day, it is defined in the doing over and over. Like giving one’s life to Christ. We do it once, but it is not the end. We must continually be giving ourselves to Him, just as we must wash dirty dishes every day and clean the laundry whenever it’s dirty and pick that toothbrush up off the floor again and bring the cutlery back from the hallway to the kitchen, and cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. Parenting is continual, it’s cyclical, and it moves forward one laugh, one mistake, one trial, one tickle, one loss of temper, one asking of forgiveness, one hug at a time.

If God gives me tomorrow, I will try again.

This entry was posted in How She Does It, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to She Picks Herself Up

  1. Esther says:

    You are so right. Thanks for the pithy reminder.

  2. Hannah R. Greene says:

    Amen. Thank you.

  3. Erin says:

    Other than “thank you for such honesty” I’m at a loss for words that reflect my appreciation for this post. I see so much of myself in your words.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Lovely Sarah!

  5. Sarah says:

    so true!

  6. Jessica says:

    What a great post. I am going to mention it on my blog because I really think it’ll inspire a lot of mothers out there, especially during this reflective time of year. I think I will even print it for personal reference during Lent.

    Amazing! Thank you!

  7. Katherine Lauer says:

    Thank you for the beautiful post. I need it, especially from a more experienced mama.

  8. Joy says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. So many people look at my daughter and tell me what a good child she is, but as you mention, as I see the behaviors she has no undoubtedly learned from me, I feel as if I am failing. As my daughter gets older, I realize more and more that as I try to shape her into a better person, I myself have to become a better person.

  9. Robin says:

    I obviously can’t comment as a parent, but I can say that the fact that my mom was willing to apologize to me when she made mistakes meant (and still means) the world to me. She’s always been willing to talk things over, and I know that my thoughts and feelings are important to her. I’d rather have a parent who can admit their mistakes and really talk with me than a perfect parent–besides, the only way I was going to learn how to apologize and deal with fights was by watching my parents do the same.

  10. Sheila says:

    I’ve had this post open in a tab, waiting for a chance to comment on it, for days. Thanks for your honesty — I think we’ve all been there! Though you sure seem like The Mom Who Has It All Together to me. (But I’m sure you have your moments. My own mom refers to herself sometimes as “the walking contraception commercial.” She thinks no one who ever saw her trying to herd my younger siblings through the grocery store would ever want to have kids!)

    I’m curious as to what you do at church now. Have you written a post on that, and if not, could you? I’m still trying to work out what we do … for now it’s “bring the baby, but don’t expect too much,” which does leave us with a lot of time in the vestibule and some bite marks on the missalettes. What we’ll do when he’s three, I have no idea.

    • Sarah says:

      Sheila, I did want to respond to your question but not sure I have a whole post’s worth. I think 10 months to 18 months is a difficult window – the child is going to be very active and not really understand about sitting still or being quiet yet. I think you are doing what I’d do with one kid under 2.
      I have found that the “magic” age for sitting still in Mass is somewhere between 3-4. When I had one, she sat okay much of the time but in that 10-18 month window we were up and down, taking her out, correcting her and bringing her back ad infinitum.
      Once we had more young kids than arms between us it became a little more unwieldy and I’d realized by that time that no matter what we did or didn’t do, they seemed to be sitting well right around the same age! So I figured it was more a maturity thing. And that has held true. I still allow my 4 year old to draw in a small notebook during Mass, and my 2 year old as well. That helps keep them busy and quiet (when they’re not loud-whispering to show me their amazing picture).
      But maybe you can work something out with your husband so that you trade off weeks of taking the baby out / letting him walk around, etc so each of you gets to really pay attention in Mass and receive communion regularly.
      I used to think there was something “magical” about simply having the baby in the building but I don’t think that anymore. Being in the church building is not a sacrament, but confession and communion are. I think it’s really helpful for a parent to have access to the sacraments, so I’d try to work something out to that end, even it if means sacrificing having the young baby physically present. That is my current opinion, anyway. 🙂

  11. rebeccah Brann says:

    I loved this post, especially because I was bemoaning my lack of completed goals as I approached my 30th birthday, and women, who are not my usual circle of friends, and thus un-used to my hyperbole and drama tried to comfort me by saying, “What?! You haven’t accomplished anything? You have two beautiful children!”
    I, of course- being our grandfather’s granddaughter- replied, “Even cockroaches have babies. That’s not the hard part.”
    The women all uncomfortably shifted and or turned away, and I realized they, being moms of 2-7 children each, took my words as a personal attack on them. Like I was saying their lives weren’t valid because “even cockroaches” could do what they solely devote themselves too.
    It was one of those instances where if I tried to explain, it would get worse, so I started singing a jingle or something and quickly excused myself to go help with dinner…wish I could subtly send them this link…oh well. Too late.
    Let them forever misunderstand my true anguish in not being the complete person I really wanted to be at 30.
    And yes, Sarah. Your heartfelt article about you is all about me.

  12. Ann says:

    It was an eye opener for me. I felt guilt towards to my kids upon reading but it gave me another chance to improve myself as mom to my 3 kids [iyandari]. God bless and thank you…

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