When my first baby was born, after more than twenty hours of hard labor, they handed me this screaming, vulnerable, chubby little boy. He was precious and sacred. And yet I was so sore that I could barely hold him and I mostly just wanted to sleep. I had split wide open and bled to bring this life into the world.
That was just the beginning of this brutal and beautiful road of motherhood.
I know now what it is to survive for weeks on an average of four hours of sleep a night, whether it’s due to a cycle of germs passing around the family or just due to the combination of a teething night-owl baby and a morning-person kindergartener. I’ve gained baby weight and fought through workout after workout to lose it, only to see it climb back up with the next precious life growing in me. I’ve cried in an emergency room as my newborn screamed while doctors tried repeatedly to do a spinal tap on her. I’ve sat on a front step in the middle of the night singing to a toddler struggling for each croupy breath. I know what it is to fear and to love in an overwhelmingly powerful way.
It has worn away my carefully crafted façade of control and perfection.
I was the girl who wanted to do everything perfectly; who received recruitment letters from Yale and Stanford; who graduated college in three years with a 4.0 GPA, while in a long-distance relationship, then a marriage, then a pregnancy. I’m extremely driven and a hard worker.
I’m also an arrogant control-freak.
My kids are doing a marvelous job of wearing that away.
For a while, I think I blamed them for the person I had become, this person who did not have it all together, who had temper tantrums to rival her two-year-old’s, who pouted over interruptions, who whined about having to get up at night again, who snapped and snarled and tried desperately to keep up appearances.
But the truth that I realized later was that they didn’t create this person. I was that person all along. Hidden beneath layers of a life lived largely for myself and under my own direction, there lurked a beast. The temper, selfishness, and pettiness were all there before I was ever a mama. But these kiddos wore away that pleasantly maintained façade and showed what was hidden beneath.
I am grateful. Only when sin is acknowledged can it be redeemed.
My little ones have been like the sticks they like to poke into the creek outside—they’ve stirred up the dirt that had settled to the bottom, hidden away under the ripple-free surface of my life.
I realize now, God is as interested in refining me, as he is in molding my children. My mother-in-law once told me, “God uses children to grow up parents.” As a little girl, I always imagined that I would have things figured out by the time I became a parent. Surely when your baby comes into the world, you are imbued with some spiritual enlightenment to equip you in the shaping of this little soul. In my case, though, the enlightenment didn’t dawn in a day. It is slow work and messy work. I wanted to be perfect for these exquisitely beautiful and miraculous humans.
And I wasn’t.
I was afraid I was ruining them, ruining their childhood; afraid that my failures would be the strokes that shaped them most and they would be scarred by my incompetence.
The fault in all of that thinking is that I was believing their redemption lay in my hands. Praise God, it does not. Because I am a sinner. And grace is the only thing drawing me out of the mire. In her beautiful book, Real Learning, Elizabeth Foss writes, “The bad days teach us humility. They teach us that without God we are noisy, clanging gongs, barking orders and losing tempers. Without Him, we cannot begin to accomplish the daunting task of educating our children in faith for life.”1 The brokenness of motherhood is not an evil, it is a gift—a gift that peels away what is cheap and marred, like Eustace’s dragon skin was peeled away by Aslan. Underneath, we find the redemption, the re-making of ourselves that was always the Great Lion’s vision for us. “A family is uniquely suited to sanctify its members.”2 I was given my children by Providence, not by accident. As I guide and nurture them, they also refine me.
Nothing has broken me like motherhood. And nothing else is making me so very whole.
- Foss, Elizabeth, Real Learning (By Way of the Family Press, 2003), 196
- Ibid, 29