06 Aug 2014

The parenting books were wrong (and other good news for moms)

When the mother of one small child turns her tired eyes my way and says, “I don’t know how you do it with four. I can hardly handle one,” I know she has not yet learned something important.

There is no mathematics of motherhood.

Or, if there is, it is some higher math, something closer to nonsense, where 2 plus 2 does not always equal four.

For instance, I am living this strange equation: I am less tired and overwhelmed now with four children than I once was with one.

***

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So many parenting books carry an implicit message. And that message lays a heavy burden on the shoulders of the tired mom. The struggling mom. The can’t-stop-messing-up mom.

The books seem to say read me now before it gets worse.

In other words, too many of them sell their ideas with a false and fearful urgency. An urgency that would have us believe this parenting gig only gets harder. They tell us sleep issues compound, potty training problems become a downward spiral, willful toddlers become surly teenagers. And college? Should have started saving five years ago.

And we believe them. We believe them because it seems so logical. More kids, more work. Bigger kids, bigger problems. We look toward tomorrow, and we are afraid. The forecast, it seems, is gloomy.

But I’ve come to believe that many of the most difficult periods of parenting are exactly like bad weather. The radar map of my early years was covered in angry reds and oranges. More recently, the forecasts have called for blue skies, occasional rain.

Is there some parenting secret to be tapped here? Have my years of experience brought me wisdom and thus fair weather?

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I don’t think so. If anything I have abandoned my early intensity to always do the right thing. I have forgotten much of my new-mother knowledge. Absorbed in the busyness of living, I can no longer recall most of the helpful advice I once gripped like a lifeline.

And yet the secret, if there is one, doesn’t lie in willful ignorance or parental laziness. The weather may be fair, but I’m convinced I can take little credit for this, either on my over- or under-achieving days.

The small girl who was overwhelmed by life (and so overwhelmed her mother) has shifted into the child who starts her homework as soon as she walks in the door, the child who makes her bed every day because she likes her room to look nice. The little boy who crawled into our bed every single night will never be a good sleeper, but he stays in his own room now. Some nights, I wake, I remember how it was, and I miss him.

How did this happen? And why did I assume that the weather would always be rough? Why did I listen to the well-meaning older parents who said, “Oh, just wait! If you think it’s hard now …”

Jesus has said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself.” And, yes, I find that each day does have its own trouble. But far worse than the particular trouble of each day is our despair when we believe that all we can hope for are storms.

Rough weather is one thing, but the hopelessness that says these clouds will never break is much more oppressive.

Night will end, joy does come in the morning, and, perhaps sooner than you think, the mother beaten down by life’s storms will open the door and find sunshine.

***

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“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-23

Here is an equation we can count on: two plus two will always usher in a new day.

Photos by Kelli Campbell

ChristiePost by Christie Purifoy: Christie earned a PhD in English literature from the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for a vegetable garden and a henhouse in southeastern Pennsylvania. When the noise of her four young children makes writing impossible, she tends zucchini and tomatoes her children will later refuse to eat. The zucchini-loving chickens are perfectly happy with this arrangement. The chickens move fast and the baby even faster, but Christie is always watching for the beauty, mystery and wonder that lie beneath it all. She writes regularly of what she sees at There Is A River and A Deeper Story.

Comments

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  1. 1

    It’s going to be finish of mine day, however before
    end I am reading this impressive post to increase my experience.

  2. 2

    Thank you for this. I don’t read many parenting books anymore but I do find the sense of urgency they instill creeping its way into my thinking. Focusing on the gifts coming in the years ahead is infinitely more useful than worrying about the inevitable hardships. Of course, this is now much easier that my kids (mostly) sleep through the night. And I thought it would never happen. :)

  3. 4

    Such good truth in this, Christie.
    As a young mom, I used to read all of those books and think that if I didn’t get it all right by the time my kids were 6, that all hope was lost, it would be too late to shape them, and they would be set for life, however I’d messed them up. But there’s a grand measure of grace that’s unaccounted for in these parenting books. And it is as you say, there have been plenty of blue skies, and the surprise storms. But there’s also been so much joy, so much love, and so much grace!! Loved this, my friend.

  4. 6

    Needed this, so much. <3

  5. 7

    Yes, yes, YES!!! Better days are right around the corner–it’s a matter of our perspective. I cannot tell you how many moms have told me that they’re dreading the teenage years (and beyond). What a sad perspective! I have loved my teenagers–they are fascinating, funny, and fun people. And now that two of my three are even beyond their teenage years, it’s even more fun. We have wonderful conversations about really important stuff. Yes, the problems tend to get a little trickier, but the blessings are so big.

  6. 9

    This is just perfect. As the mother of an only child toddler (who was years in the coming and may stay an only due to infertility), I struggle with the tiredness and thoughts in my own head that say things like “Well, she has three kids and she’s doing just fine – you probably won’t ever adopt again because you can barely handle one!” And the idea that maybe I am weaker or less-than because I may just have one kid in a culture of young moms who seemingly pop out babies perfectly-spaced every two years. It is my insecurity, of course, but nonetheless this was an encouraging read. That parts of parenting will get easier and that mothering has no mathematical rhythms that make her “more” a mother and me “less” a mother. I needed to hear this…

    • 10

      Oh, Sarah Beth, I see myself in your words. Infertility is a big part of my story, too (though you’d never know it to look at my family, today). But after the agony of waiting for my babies (especially my first) I felt like a double failure. How could I be failing at motherhood when motherhood was such a miraculous gift? Double despair. Double guilt. I’m praying freedom and grace for you today! May God hold you near during the long nights. Joy does come in the morning.

  7. 11

    This is very inspiring Lisa and comforting to me as a mother of two boys. I tend to be wound up and I’m a big schedule and list maker and if those schedules and lists get messed up, I’m frazzled…and that’s not how we should live life. I need a reality check. Thanks for helping me see some things differently.

  8. 12

    I’m happier than I can say to see you here, Christie. Love your wisdom and the gentle way you spin it. Thank you, friend. I believe these words will set many free.

  9. 14

    Thank you for your post. The Lord led me to it in a mommy moment of despair. (I’m a stay at home mom with 3 sick little girls ages 4, 2, and 1.) Your words comforted my heart and encouraged my spirit. His love is steadfast. His grace is sufficient. Thank you!

  10. 15

    She speaks such truth! I think I could have written this myself; however, it wouldn’t have been done so eloquently. I was one of those die-hard readers of parenting books once. Now with my first grandchild and still having three of four kids left in the home, I’m learning to enjoy the moments and sit and play. The work is always there tomorrow but the children are gone in a blink of an eye.

  11. 16

    Oh, I needed to read this today. I’ve all but given up on reading parenting books and blogs. I keep coming back here because in this place, there is so much grace. I’m pregnant with my third boy and overwhelmed at the prospect of it. We got a puppy just before I got pregnant (surprise!), and that just compounds my crazy. But this gives me hope that there are brighter days ahead, that 2+puppy+1 might mean more joy soon. :) Thank you.

  12. 17

    so wise and so lovely, Christie, as usual!

  13. 18

    LOVE seeing you here, Christie! Had no clue you and L-J were IRL friends. Cool. And I absolutely agree with you. Adding number 3 was easier than adding number 2 and even thought some of the difficulties are of a deeper degree when the kids are teens/young adults, NOTHING is harder than those early years. I loved having older kids. A lot. And I adore having grandchildren. So hang in, hang on, enjoy as much as you can and stop worrying that things will get harder/worse. Great words.

  14. 19

    Amen, Sister! Love your forecast analogy! Those clear skies do catch us by surprise at times. And I have also found myself missing a toddler “issue” now that they have outgrown certain needs. We must remember to be careful what we wish for as God does give us blessings.

  15. 20

    Beautifully said.God gives us enough strength for everyday :)

    http://www.godlyindianmom.com/

    https://www.facebook.com/godlyindianmom

  16. 21

    I totally blew it today, and worse than the guilt of the present mistake was the guilt that I’ve somehow “ruined” my kids by reacting incorrectly to their innocent actions that drive me batty. I know that my short fuse with my 7, 5, 3.5 & almost 2 year old happens when I haven’t taken time to rest in the Lord’s presence and drink deep from his peace. Thank you for helping me today. You’re so right that joy comes in the morning & I have no reason to fear the future with a loving, gracious God in control. I forgave my own parents and didn’t turn from God as an adult despite certain hurts caused by my dad’s alcoholism…they can forgive me, especially when I do wish to repent & be reconciled to them & God rather than feeling entitled to a lack of self-control.

  17. 22

    Thank you so much for this encouraging truth! When I was a new mom, I remember feeling the need to heed the advice of others, even if it felt wrong in my heart. When I went with the flow and against my “gut”, I usually ended up regretting it. There are some great parenting books out there and lots of wonderful advice, but we need to remember to listen to our “mother’s instinct” and not get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Great post!

  18. 23
    Morgan Windle says:

    I don’t know how I found this page, but I’m so glad this post came across my newsfeed! I’ve said it a hundred times, 3 is easier than 1, but still with #4 well on the way I am feeling frazzled and overwhelmed more often than I like. I needed this today.

  19. 24

    Love your bio, good message, thanks!]

  20. 25

    This is such a great post about mothering. It isn’t as hard as many make it out to be. Yet, there are moments.

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