7 Things I've Learned from Parenting in the Trenches
One of my favorite things about birth is the sheer beauty that can be found in welcoming such an innate display of strength and vulnerability. But birth is only the beginning of those tender, raw moments that give us the opportunity to find out greatest strength. I have found it is in everyday, REAL LIFE motherhood that my strength is truly tested.
Don't get me wrong, motherhood is a SWEET season. Right now, it's full of snuggles and nose kisses and giggles while re-reading some of my favorite childhood books. But motherhood is also one of the most challenging, humbling and sanctifying journeys I've ever set foot on. And I want to embrace that journey with the same rawness and vulnerability that so draws me to the delivery room. So here I find myself... admitting to you that I am in a season of motherhood that I like to call "parenting from the trenches."
More days that not lately, thanks to the sin and brokenness of my own self as much as my children's, I have found myself with tears in my eyes, clawing through the mud, and praying for the clarity, grace, and protection of my Savior.
And each day, the Lord has faithfully answered me with bits of truth that are slowly helping me to see the beauty in a season that quite frankly I'm just praying to survive. #realtalk
Here are the 7 things I'm learning from "parenting in the trenches"...
1) The hardest thing about watching my kid fall into sin, is what it reveals about my own heart.
My oldest child has BIG FEELINGS. His joy is contagious. His tears can break your heart. And his anger? Well let's just say this mama sometimes has to fancy herself a firefighter. But here's the kicker... I know that in reality, his anger is not the issue. Mine is. Don't get me wrong. I do not excuse my child when his anger causes him to act in a way that is not according with God's Word. But I have to hold myself to that same standard.
I'm someone who has long taken pride in my long fuse. I'm typically not one to raise my voice or be easily angered. But someone once told me that "you might think you don't have a temper... but you probably just haven't been pushed to your limits yet." And my, oh my, has parenting pushed me to limits I didn't even know I had. And being backed into a corner to come face to face with my own brokenness is PAINFUL. I have never been so incredibly aware of my complete ineptitude without Jesus. And never have I been so grateful for the truth and GRACE of the Gospel.
2) There is IMMENSE power in the words I choose to use with my children.
"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1)
You know that anger I talked about above? One of the character qualities I am constantly trying to train up in my children is self-control. But let's be real... in the heat of the moment when your kid is staring at you with a "discipline me, I DARE YOU" air of defiance... it can be really, REALLY hard to show self-control as a mom. But one thing I have noticed is this... When I allow my own anger to enter my language, through tone or otherwise... I only fan the flames.
But when I choose to control my tongue, to speak softly, and to intentionally use life-giving words - the spirit of our moment in discipline shifts. A mom I look up to recently used the phrase "GREAT kid, BAD choice" when speaking of a discipline moment with one of her kiddos, and it stuck with me. I'm finding it is SO important to repeat over and over to my children who they are IN CHRIST, and that a bad choice does not define them... God's word does. When I am intentional about praising the good character I see in my children (both the traits that come naturally and that they really have to work on), I see more blooms and fruit, than when I spend a larger amount of my energy reminding them what they are doing wrong.
3) My greatest strength in this season is found on my knees.
The Lord doesn't orchestrate the sin and brokenness that can lead to hard seasons, but He promises to use it for our good. And I truly believe He is using this season to remind me that the most important "battle stance" I can ever take, is the one with my heart and knees bowed in diligent, strategic prayer. One of my favorite ways to do this in this season combines with my focus on using life-giving words that I mentioned above, by praying a few sections of Philippians 1 over them at the beginning of the day.
"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-- to the glory and praise of God."
4) I can rest on God's promises.
One of the things I struggle with most as a mom is the pressure to be the transforming agent in my child's heart. When I see those moments of such staunch hard-heartedness, where I seriously wonder "is this even my kid?!"; I become heavy-hearted, sure that I am absolutely FAILING this motherhood gig. But this is when I go back to Philippians.
"In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy... being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:4)
"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him." (Philippians 2:13)
Can we just all breathe a big sigh of relief here? It is NOT our responsibility as mamas to ensure that our children's hearts are pure and blameless and full of the desire to do what is right. Jesus has already been victorious over sin, and it is the Lord who promises to complete the good work that HE (not we) began in our children. In the words of Jeannie Cunnion from the book "Mom Set Free" (which I highly recommend)...
"I can confidently anchor my hope in the truth that God is already doing what He wants done in my children, and He isn't depending on me to be the Holy Spirit for them. He is the One helping them obey Him. In fact, His grace is what gives them the desire to obey Him; and by his Holy Spirit, He equips them with the power to obey Him."
5) Sometimes we all need to slow down, quiet the noise, and take a deep breath.
There is a strange sensation I have experienced since our youngest arrived, particularly when nursing, when all of my nerves suddenly seem to fire at once when my oldest attempts to crawl on top of me, and just generally invade my space while the babe is cradled in my arms. I've sometimes heard it referred to as feeling "touched out," and I think the way I can best describe it is just being completely over-stimulated. My breathing quickens, my chest tightens a bit, and my temper shortens extensively. And while I first noticed it while nursing, there are times I've noticed it beginning to happen even without the breastfeeding aspect - especially in an area with a lot of noise and things going on, with my youngest crying about something, while my oldest is tugging on my arm and saying "mommy, mommy, mommy, mommmmmmmyyyy!" (Is this raising your blood pressure too?) ;)
It's completely overwhelming, and I've gradually been learning how to cope, and how to avoid it altogether. Deep breaths are essential (and a few essential oils don't hurt either!) Removing myself (when possible) from the situation is helpful. But one of the key elements I've found is simply to remove any unnecessary stress/stimulation: i.e. my phone, TV, loud music, the rush of a tight schedule, etc. When I remove these elements, suddenly I am much more calm and capable of responding to my children's needs without feeling like I'm going to pull my hair out in the process. I'm finding immense beauty and LIFE in slowing down our days and giving myself FREEDOM FROM MULTI-TASKING (because let's get real, none of us are really any good at it), so that I can instead be fully-present in the moment with my kiddos.
6) I can't expect my children to respond appropriately to situations I haven't prepared them for.
Just as I am learning what works best to keep myself calm; I am also learning how to navigate every day tasks and activities in a way that avoids the need for "trench-warfare tactics" from the start. Often this is as simple as a little conversation and preparation.
For example, all of us mamas know the sacred nature of nap time. Yet recently, upon arriving home from morning errands to put my little one down for his nap, my oldest go let the dog out of her house while I'm settling in the rocking chair to nurse, who would then burst into the room with collar jingling, followed by my oldest with an attempt to whisper some random need to me over my shoulder, all while my youngest's eyes would fly wide open and his back would begin to arch to get a glimpse at the big brother he adores. Sounds sweet right? Except when you know the events just added 20 minutes to your nap time routine. And yet this situation would repeat itself day after day, all while my blood boiled and I harshly whispered and pointed to my oldest to GET OUT!
But you know what the real problem here was? Other than asking my oldest to be quiet while I put Silas down (which he thought he was accomplishing through his whispers) - I hadn't adequately prepared him on how to handle his behavior during little brother's nap time. Once I realized this, we chatted about his little brother's love for him, and how that made him a distraction, so he needed to stay out of baby bro's sight, what activities were appropriate during that time period, and how Riley (the dog) needs to stay in her house until mama lets her out. Every since, nap time has been SO much more peaceful. I can apply this to so many other areas, from trips to Target (I'm currently trying to train my youngest to understand that bottoms must stay in the seat), to how to appropriately get my attention when mommy is talking to another adult. I'm learning that SO much of parenting is TRAINING.
And that an ounce of training is worth a pound of discipline.
7) And finally... Consistency is key.
Consistency in prayer. Consistency in discipline. Consistency in my own heart and attitude.
And yet praise God there is GRACE when we miss the mark. Motherhood is HARD, friends... But God is bigger than every trial and mistake. And we can trust Him with the children that He blessed us with.
"And now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or image, according to His power and work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)
P.S. Would you like to receive encouragement like this directly into your inbox, as well as have access to some of my favorite resources for moms? You can sign up for monthly love letters from yours truly here - it would be my honor to walk alongside you on this motherhood journey, friend! Also - check out GraceLaced and the Risen Motherhood podcast if you haven't already. Their words have been so life-giving to me in this season!