Sometimes when I talk about these things with other people, they are quick to offer me excuses for why I make the mistakes I do... 3 kids ages 3 and under! A newborn in the house! Lack of sleep! Little boys are challenging! Nonstop nursing! If I'm honest, I was the first to offer those same excuses up to the Lord when I would catch sight of my reflection and not like what I was seeing. An ugly moment when the kids wouldn't stop fighting and I raised my voice. A little arm that was grabbed too tightly out of frustration. Discipline that was administered out of anger instead of loving correction. Eyes that rolled, exasperated phrases uttered, threats issued, love and generosity withheld. All ugly. So, so ugly.
This past weekend I confessed to Rob that I am making myself miserable by giving in to the frustration, and don't like who I am becoming in the moments that are challenging. The worst part about it was that I could tell it was starting to greatly influence the atmosphere in our home. In the middle of the struggle we went through in our first attempt to sleep Robbie and Ellie in the same room this past weekend, I finally surrendered. I confessed my fears (again), anxiety, the desire for control and the temptation to give up on discipline to the Lord and asked him to forgive me. Then I asked Him to fill my heart and our home with His presence. I shed a few tears (yes, out of my desire for a little more sleep and peace that has yet to make its way to our everyday lives!), and then determined that it was time for a fresh start. I forgave myself for what God had already forgiven me of.
And then I went to Moms Together at our church yesterday, a 2 hour gathering any mother can attend whether or not they attend our church or even share the same beliefs. A panel of 4 mothers who have children who range in age from kindergarten to college answered questions and spoke honestly about the challenges and blessings of motherhood. It was so encouraging to me to be there, in the company of other young mothers with young children themselves, listening to the wisdom of older mothers who have a different perspective on these early years since they are a little farther down the road than we are.
Several things that were said really stood out to me.
One woman said that she found herself yelling at her kids all the time when they were little. She took their disobedience personally, as if each time they did something that was wrong it was because she wasn't a good mother. As a result, their misbehavior would make her angry, and she would end up yelling at them. She said that one day she realized that her yelling revealed her own insecurities as a mom, and she asked for her children's forgiveness and determined to respond differently to them going forward. I appreciated the honesty of this woman - it was so helpful to have my own insecurities pinpointed through listening to her testimony, and to know that as moms we often share the same struggles without realizing it. (Who is quick to point out their own shortcomings!?)
This same woman told a story about hiking up and back down a mountain with her daughter and another family with a daughter the same age as hers. The young girl who was not her own daughter was having a hard time being able to complete the hike, and this woman sprung into 'cheerleader' mode, encouraging the young girl and helping remind her of what awaited at the bottom of the mountain (I think maybe it was a trip to get ice cream or something?). The young girl's mother thanked this woman after everyone made it down the mountain, and she said to us yesterday that she realized had it been her daughter having trouble completing the hike, she would have responded so differently! Instead of encouraging, she might have said something along the lines of 'suck it up', 'quit complianing', etc. And it made her decide to treat her own kids as well as she treated everyone else's!
Another woman shared three questions that she always asks her children when they misbehave: 1) What did you do that was wrong? 2) Why was it wrong? and 3) What can you do to make it right? I thought these were great. I even asked Robbie these questions today when I had to discipline him for a bad choice he made while playing with Ellie, to see if he was old enough to dialogue about his misbehavior, and he could answer every question.
And then someone pointed out that our children start out not knowing who Jesus is, and guess who has the greatest opportunity to influence them and teach them about who He is and what He has done for us?! Moms and dads. And the greatest way that we teach them is by the way we live, how we treat and interact with our spouses, and how we engage with them as children.
All this to say - being a mother of young kids is hard. I think I knew it would be, but I never dreamed that carrying and birthing them would seem like a cakewalk compared to raising and disciplining them. What's the title of that book, 'I used to be a really good mother - until I became one'? Can't we all identify with that?
So if you are a young mother, and find yourself at your wit's end at that dreaded hour, 4pm (or even earlier, as I sometimes do!), know that you aren't alone. And thankfully we have a compassionate, forgiving, and loving Father that we can turn to who will fill us with His Spirit and enable us to be the mothers to these sweet little ones that He desires us to be, even in the most challenging moments.