Friday, July 09, 2010

Mixed messages

Once again, listening to the radio and driving is perhaps not something I should do.  Especially, if I find myself heartily disagreeing with what I'm hearing.  It's just not safe because I'm so distracted.  (It's moments such as these where I realize how far I need to go before I reach my goal of becoming serene.)  Since I survived the drive to the grocery store and back, I can now share my thoughts with you instead of talking out loud and banging on the steering wheel. 

The topic was benign enough: a woman who has written a book of devotionals for young mothers was being interviewed.  And really, I wasn't terribly interested and was only listening with half an ear.  That is until I realized that the author was using the terms "young mother" and "mother of infants and small babies" interchangably.  So I start to pay attention.  Not because I was ready to take offense.  I know I am outside the norms by being an older, experienced mother with babies.  But because I was curious about where she was going to go, and this is where I start to bang on the steering wheel.

First, I hear that yes, being a young mother with small children is very difficult.  The children's needs are so great that all of the mother's needs must be put on hold during this time.  But take heart, this period is really just a few years, you'll be able to pursue other interests before you know it.  The message was clearly stated that parenting babies and small children is hard, difficult and unrewarding, but soon they will be off to school and you (the young mother) can have your life back.  Then there seems to be a complete about face.  I am then told that being a mother and parenting children is an important work, one that has life long and eternal implications. 

Now I am confused.  Which is it?  Is mothering something to grit your teeth and survive until you can do something more personally rewarding?  Or is it a career in and of itself; something so important that it must take precedence over other endeavors?  I don't think we can have it both ways. 

Yes, being a mother is difficult sometimes.  There are sleepless nights, many diapers, and the need to be ever watchful when there are babies and young children in the home.  This is particularly true for the first baby or two because the new mother is still feeling her way in this new phase of life.  (I am convinced that parenting 5,6, or even 9 children is easier than when I had just a toddler and a baby.  More laundry, but much easier.)  We do new mothers a disservice to ever imply that what she is doing... changing diapers, rocking and nursing babies, playing peek-a-boo... is somehow not important.  Or not that it isn't important, but not nearly as important as pursuits outside the home, pursuits that influence adults.

We also don't tell this new mother the truth.  That though it is tiring to stay up at night with a baby, that it can be inconvenient to have to plan things around a baby's schedule, this is the easy time of parenting.  There is no other time when your child will adore you with all of their being and there is no other time that parenting is so joyous.  Really, how difficult is it when all your baby needs you to do is hold her tightly, gaze at him adoringly, kiss cheeks and tummies, and play with fingers and toes.  Society acts as though once the child is old enough to send off to school, that easy times are ahead.  But this is precisely when the hard work of parenting begins.  We need to be there to supervise our children and not give them more unsupervised freedom than they can handle.  We need to be there as they struggle with what they believe and how that is going to look in their lives.  We need to be there to set an example as to how to make tough decisions and to act in Godly ways even if it is not the easier path.  What our children need is our time, and lots of it.  Not some guilt-relieving notion of quality time, where it's not the amount but the intensity of the interactions, but real time. 

This could sound on the surface that I believe that mothers should exist solely for their children.  But this is not what I mean to say, nor do I think that that mindset would be healthy for either mother or child.  Of course mothers can be interested in and do things that don't involve one's children, but we must keep our priorities straight and our goals must be clear.  To raise children to be faithful adults, who function in society, and who follow hard after God takes great time and effort.  It is not something that can be outsourced or something we do with whatever time we have leftover from other things.  Parenting must be in the top three... our relationship with God, our marriages, and our children, in that order.  To tell mothers that there is another, easier way is to send them the wrong message and to cheapen the calling of motherhood. 

3 comments:

Jena said...

very thought provoking read... I always read your parenting posts with great interest!

LawMommy said...

As Jena said, thought provoking reading...

I do have to say that my own experience parenting an infant and a toddler was infinitely more frustrating and just harder, much harder, than parenting an older child...I know that I was reeling from postpartum depression, and I know that Gabe's inability to sleep for three years (can I say that again? THREE YEARS OF NOT SLEEPING) - it was unusual.

Which is not to say that this elementary school period is easy - we still have difficulties and arguments and the added stress of sibling rivalry...but I enjoy parenting my kids at this age so much more than I enjoyed parenting an infant...

I think it boils down to two things - a. I'm getting regular sleep and b. my children are capable of talking to me. Those two things make parenting them so much more enjoyable.

Changing gears - your sidebar says you are serving carnitas for dinner. Recipe? Please?

Lucy said...

It's a trade - the physical stresses for the mental stresses. It's easier, IMO, though tiring perhaps, to tend to the physical needs of a toddler and a baby but as the diaperings and sleepless nights end, the hardest part of parenting begins - focusing the attitude on pleasing the Lord, molding the behavior to Christ like responses, and preparing the child(ren) emotionally and mentally to be God-fearing, responsible adults.

Many more sleepless nights to come ;-)

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