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.
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?
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.
“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.”
Here is an equation we can count on: two plus two will always usher in a new day.
Photos by Kelli Campbell
Post 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.