Tuesday, July 31, 2012

To the Childless

This letter is not meant to be crass. It is not meant to be sarcastic. It is not meant to be unkind or unsympathetic. It is not meant to belittle your struggles and very real heartache. This... is just honest. 

I was seventeen when I first said I wanted a baby. I remember plopping down in my desk in senior lit class and announcing it. My teacher, Mrs. Anderson, lovely woman full of spunk, experience and sarcasm, well, I think her jaw hit the floor. She was, for that moment, speechless.

Many girls dream of finding a mate and starting a family, usually some time after high school/college. By age twenty-one I was ready. Sooooo ready. Only... not. Apparently God thought I could be more ready. To me, however, it seemed as though he was torturing me with abject loneliness and despair, as not only did I not have a "significant other," I neither had friends. Total suckville. For years, I watched as friends and acquaintances, all the young pups in my church and elsewhere, got married, some way way too young. Some started families, some took a bit longer. Some got divorced. During this horribly long stretch of singledom, I had rededicated my life to the Lord and began seeking my own personal relationship with God, I became active in my church (because really, what else was there for me to do), I went to bible studies, I reclaimed my virginity, and I waited. Very. very. impatiently. Many times I cried out, "what's wrong with me, God? Why not me? Why am I not worthy of getting this?" No answers were given, to which I grew more pissed off.

In this season, I surrounded myself with the women who were having babies (and sometimes marital problems to go along with that). I held babies, rocked them, listened to the mommies talk about breastfeeding and teething and everything mommy-related under the sun. I asked questions. I hung out. And mentally, I took notes.

Of coarse as the story goes, I met Kong and we got married and had babies too, lots and lots of babies, though that story has plenty of bumps along the way and didn't exactly happen overnight. But here I am today, one husband and five children richer. After a three year dating spell/engagement, I was not quite thirty when we married, and I was thirty and a half when I had my first baby. (Thirty-seven and a half when I had my fifth and final baby, in case you were wondering.) I have recognized that that time, those extra years I had, taking notes and maturing just a little bit more, were good in that I was just that much more capable of handling it all. More than my twenty-one year old self would have been. More than those nineteen and twenty year old counterparts were. So I can be thankful for it now, but the waiting really was a horribly low time for me.

I will be the first to tell you that I need to appreciate my family more. I need to spend more time reveling in what a blessing they all are. And I am doing that. I'm being more intentional. They are blessings, and I am humbled and honored to have been graced with this position. The flip side is that parenting is hard. Damned hard, and sometimes it's hard to be thankful for those "blessings." It's the most tiresome, unending, repetitive, frustrating, overwhelming, stretch you to the limits and beyond, self-sacrificing, thankless job you'll EVER have anywhere of anything. Which I say in full authority of coarse because I've been everywhere and done everything. Ok, so maybe not. But I'm pretty sure I'm right.

When you become a parent, your whole life, your sleep schedule, your body, your time, your everything - it is no longer your own. Your freedom is gone. Your "freedom" to be selfish is gone. Your ability to go somewhere on a moments notice without making major preparations (diaper bag, sitter, sleep schedule, travel time, company, food/bottles, carseats, etc) is gone. It's very easy to feel trapped, and there is even a period of mourning that loss. Your money, if you ever had any, is now spoken for. You may no longer sleep til noon. Or 8am. Or even alone. Or.. at all. You may not listen to loud music. You may not even get to listen to your music. Or watch your shows on television. What you eat changes. Where you eat changes. For some, where you live changes. You become concerned with things that were of no consequence before. Because now, everything has consequence.

You are responsible for another human being. For every minute that passes, ultimately you are responsible for their care, their livelihood, their well-being. It is your job to direct or shape their mind, their values and beliefs, their personality, their soul, their education, their goals, their future. Everything you do has an impact. Even if you manage to sneak away for an evening, a weekend, a whole blessed vacation sans children, you are still responsible for what happens to your child. No grandma, aunt, uncle, friend is more responsible for your child than you are. Ever.

My days are filled with things that frustrate the heck out of me. And... it's my job to change it. It's my job to teach them, by constant vigilance and repetition to the nth freaking degree, to put their shoes away, put their plate in the dishwasher, clothes in the hamper, to pick up toys, how to pick up toys, to look for cars, to ask before taking (anything and everything, god help me this may do me in some days), to eat what is put in front of them, to listen to complaining, to listen to whining, to stop the complaining and whining and fighting, to endure tantrums and sass and attitude. Teaching personal responsibility, personal hygiene, caring for property, manners, respect, kindness, math facts, not to cut your own hair, to ask before you hand out apples to the seven other children at the park, to not draw on walls, pee on the merry-go-round, or pull the paint off the walls - all this and more - is NEVERENDING. And when I say constant vigilance, I mean C O N S T A N T   V I G I L A N C E.

Have you ever heard that quote that says, 'Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.' ~Elizabeth Stone. It's true. You love this child (who drives you batty) so much, but a heart outside your body is unprotected. Still, most parents do everything in their power to protect their child, until they realize the frightening fact that there is a lot outside their control. Kids get sick. Kids get hurt. They encounter danger of many kinds. Sometimes they are born with physical/mental/developmental challenges. As a parent, you don't get a choice in those matters. It can make you sick to your stomach thinking of all the what if's, the things out of your control. You can never be prepared enough for that, whatever may come. 

If all that isn't tiring enough, the other thing parenting does is hold a big fat mirror up to your own inadequacies or faults. You see your mistakes repeated in your children's actions. You hear them repeat your voice - the one of criticism, pettiness, complaining, or that screechy one. You know the one. They repeat things you never should have said. They test your limits. They push you past your limits. They stomp all over your weaknesses. You find yourself filled with regret, or 'I wish I would have done that differently', or 'I wish I would have done that better.' You do or say things you never thought you would. You see where you made wrong choices, and how that impacted everyone. Being a parent is like standing in a fire. If you let it, it refines you, but it's a hot place to be, and it sure as heck isn't comfortable.

My oldest is only eight, and I have those thoughts of regret. For my one short foray into being a sorta mom to a teen I totally screwed up to degrees that still cause me great sorrow, even as I type this. I wonder daily - will that damage ever be undone, or rectified? My youngest sibling is thirty three and I hear my parents make remarks of regret all the time. And my parents were/are good parents.

All that to say... parenting is not what it seems. Not what you dream. The moments of snuggling and story reading and hand holding are crowded with much less pleasant realities.

I have several friends who have battled infertility. I have friends who are single mothers. I have friends who still have not found "the one." I have friends who have gone or are going through the long grueling adoption process. I have had a miscarriage. I have prayed many prayers for one friend who has miscarried, experienced infertility, and still hopes to adopt, though it appears as though it may never happen. (I still pray. I still have hope.) I am a regular reader of a few blogs by people who blog out their heart ache in regards to their body's inability to create or contain a child. None of this makes me an expert. None of this gives me the true understanding of your experience or heartbreak or pain. It only gives me a window, and a smidge of empathy. My heart truly aches for your longing.

I don't know why God has allowed you to go through this trial. But do not be mistaken, there is a reason. There is fruit to come. There are lessons to be learned that will, or should, come out of this time for you. Parenting (or marriage, for that matter) is not as romantic as we think it to be in our pre-child state. All my high school notions were just fantasy, not - not at ALL - reality. Once, a few years ago, I called my mom and asked, "So, tell me again why I wanted children?" Her response, "I don't know. Why did you?" Yes, there are blessings and rewards that come with being a parent, but it is a long, hard time in the making, sometimes taking years, or decades, to see. The "mama" you were once so excited to hear eventually becomes the thing you wish they would stop saying (because it's usually preceding a request, a demand, a complaint or just being said to annoy the heck out of you). I love you's become I hate you's. Hugs become slammed doors. Nothing about parenting is easy. Sometimes, not even the loving.

As they say, the grass is always greener. So take a moment, please, to consider your own lawn, and the tending that can be done there. There is good in your life right now. There are "benefits" you have that you take for granted, just as I often take for granted the five (+ hubby) blessings I have who take up my every waking minute. And just as I should find grace in the blessing of "getting" to do 14 loads of laundry a week, so should you take the opportunity - while you have it - to spend time on yourself, on your prayer life, or your marriage, your ability to travel, your freedom to help people, to go to counseling to deal with your 'issues,' to find mental health, or a career, to develop great friendships or a cure for cancer, or to sit around in your undies all day and eat chips without having to share. We all need to open our eyes wider to the opportunities, privileges and blessings that lay before us, that are already here, right here, right now.

And with that... This is what has come to mind.

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
May the Lord shine his face upon you and be gracious to you,
May the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.

Because truly, parent or not, we need all the blessings, grace, favor and peace He has to offer us in this life.


  1. Its the son of the return of " you don't know what life is *really* like unless you've had children ", Part II again, again (along with the " unless you have children, all you have is lots of money and free time to do whatever you want " preview).

    1. Ha. :) I wish that that had been true of me when I was single/childless - lots of money and free time. I don't think it's the case for most people. At least not the people *I* know. But, I think, that you have more choice with those two comodities. But definitely, you don't know what life is really like until you''ve been there, wherever "there" is. And that can be said of many things or circumstances in life.

  2. I loved this! Thank you so much for reminding me to be content in the here and now; to not overlook all my many blessings in wishing for the ones that I don't have.

    "The grass is always greener on the other side" - I know it isn't, but sometimes the information doesn't seem to make it from my head down to my heart. Your post helped me to look down and remember how green the grass is right beneath my feet. Thank you so much!

    I pray God's blessings on you and I hope we get to see you guys sometime!

    -Julia O.

    1. :) Thanks Julia. I appreciate the comment and am so glad you got something out of it. I think it's very easy for anyone to constantly wish for what they don't have, instead of being thankful for the things they DO have. I am so very guilty of this, and trying to find contentment in today.

  3. I have raised four boys, two mine by biology, two through my second marriage (but we always had them).....My oldest is 42 and yes, I'm old, but that's not my point. I loved this post and it almost made me cry as well as laugh. For I have been through every emotion you described and then some. My oldest is a drug addict......so I have had many sleepless nights, many days I thought my heart couldn't take another day. And one day when I was at my doctor's office and she was so happy and calm, I asked this question..."do you have children?" She said "No." I replied "lucky!".......

    I don't really mean that except that sometimes I really do!

    I stumbled onto your blog and have enjoyed reading!