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.