I grew up with six younger brothers and two younger sisters. I spent my years in college practicing and taking care of a three year old and an infant instead of partying or hanging out with friends at all hours. I knew basically everything there was to know about young children. Or so I thought.
I’ve been a mother for five years now if gestation counts as mothering. And I haven’t lost my baby whisperer touch. If anything, taking care of babies is only easier as a mother than it was as a big sister (never forget the silencing power of milk!).
What I didn’t know to take into account as a big sister was how much I would continue to mature as a person. I felt grown up as a teenager. I made reasonable decisions. I was smart. I was educated. I was good at being selfless. I knew how to shut my mouth and pretend I knew what was going on (though I’m still working on knowing when I have something important to say).
I thought maturity was about knowing what was right, making reasonable decisions, and not being stupid. I’ve always been good at those. I can read a book and listen to a sermon with the best of them. I can be a good person externally. That’s easy for me.
And now it’s cliche to say it, but what I didn’t know as a teenager was how much I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. I didn’t know how to feel my emotions and come out the other side. I didn’t know how to separate who I was from who others wanted me to be. I didn’t know that giving up yourself for others is only one part of motherhood—the other, just as important side, is investing in yourself so you have something to give besides hurt and bitterness.
Teenage me thought that knowledge was the most important part of parenting. Teenage me was also a little obsessed with being logical instead of emotional. Young children, however, are nothing but a bundle of emotions, one after the other. Try to logic them and you will probably provoke a torrent of something. Instead, I’ve had to learn to lean in to the emotions, name them, and accept them. They will pass.
Being a parent is such a good opportunity for growth because it’s one of the places you fail all the time. Most days, parenting feels like limping up a hill with bleeding bare feet, falling and picking yourself up over and over again. Some days the path levels out for a bit and you get a breather. But most days are about being painfully reminded of your own inadequacy for the task. And in those moments of inadequacy comes growth. You repair your relationships. You give yourself grace.
What parenting has taught me so far is not about how to handle a child or not be embarrassed in public. I want to model so many things for my child—love, kindness, patience, graciousness. But I’m terrible at them. I lose my patience (an innocuous phrase for it) over silly things. I hit. I shame. I minimize.
And slowly, I grow.
Irene has recently been learning to crawl, and it’s been a slow process. First she was creeping backwards. Then forwards an inch or two at a time. Then a little further. And now she snakes her way around the house, interspersed with times of rocking on hands and knees to get up the strength for a proper crawl. It’s taken her weeks of practice.
Maturity is a lot like that. You can’t just read a book called Behaviors of Mature People and immediately become mature. It takes practice, failure, and time to learn that life isn’t black and white–that people aren’t immediately separable into good and bad. And most of all, it takes humility to realize that you’re not defined by your failures or successes as a parent, but by whether you repent of your fault and repair your relationship with your child.
So here I am, five years into this. I hope it says something good about my parenting that my benchmark has shifted from “Be the best mother ever!” to “Don’t mess up your kids too bad.” After all, the baby gave herself a black eye while I was writing this (in pursuit of her goal of crawling, of course), so I seem to be doing a pretty good job as an average mother.