Here are some ways her reaction to child-rearing difficulties can encourage all of us parents.
When my wife told me we were expecting our first child, I felt my heart grow two sizes. I was elated. I was also nervous. Really, really nervous. This was 12 years ago when I’d only recently graduated from college and secured my first job. We lived far from home and, honestly, were fairly naive about the world and what parenting requires. Like most first-time parents, we acquired a changing table, crib, mobile, high-chair, tiny baby-sized shoes, a tub to fit in the kitchen sink, walkie-talkies to spy on our beloved little one at night, and so, so much more. Apparently, we aren’t the only first-timers who lined our nest with unnecessary baby items. It’s all part of the experience. Partly, we fall prey to it because even though having a baby is exciting it also causes serious soul-searching. It really makes a person question if they’re up to the task.
Recently, we learned that we are expecting our sixth child. I was excited to find out. I was also just as nervous as the first time. Our parenting doesn’t seem to have messed up the other five too badly, so that’s good, but there are fresh worries over a healthy pregnancy and birth, money to raise for this additional child, and what the future holds. Each birth announcement is joyous – I wouldn’t change it for the world — but also slightly nerve-wracking.
It can be difficult to talk about the anxiety of parenthood even though to some degree we all experience it. It helps to be reminded not only that it’s all worth it, but also that it’s okay to admit that parenthood is challenging, sometimes frustrating, and overwhelming. Even aside from the anxiety that they have a good life, there is the everyday frustration of always washing their dishes, having to discipline them, the sneaky-guilty feeling that they are ungrateful, the lack of sleep, and never having a moment alone. Our children are under our wing for a time, but then they leave the nest and make life their own. They make choices that are hard to accept, and encounter difficulty we wish we could rescue them from. How can we deal with these negative emotions and focus on the joy of being parents?
Tomorrow is the day the Church celebrates the Annunciation, which is the day the Virgin Mary discovered she was expecting a child. From the very beginning, she understood that her motherhood would be a particularly difficult one, but still she greeted the news with joy. Here are some of the ways her reaction can encourage all of us parents.
Keep an open heart
Please tell me that other parents have had this happen to them, because it isn’t all that uncommon for me to ask my child a question and be totally ignored. Oh, she heard me, I might even get a look … but no answer. Or one of the younger ones will yell upstairs to Mommy to get a bowl out. I, who happen to be standing right there, get out the bowl to save her a trip and that’s when my own child, my own flesh and blood, tells me I’m not worthy to hand her a bowl. Only Mommy can do it. Not that I really wanted to hand her a bowl anyway. This is just one, lighthearted example of how frustrating kids can be. On a day-to-day basis I really enjoy having them around, but it sure does have its dark moments. They’ve caused emotions to come out of me I didn’t even know existed, like, sacrament-of-confession-quality thoughts.
Mary didn’t dwell on the negative. Instead she looked at the positive and saw the future with hope. When you’re frustrated with your children, remember that openhearted hope when you first learned you were expecting. Savor the good moments and remember that the frustrations are often simply normal growing pains.
Remember God gave you this child
I worry that I don’t love my children perfectly enough, that what I’m able to provide as a parent might not be what they need in order to become proper, well-adjusted adults. I know all my own inadequacies, the ways I’ve been impatient with them. I know how I’ve skipped lines in books I was supposed to be reading out loud or allowed my selfishness to detract from my parenthood.
Mary perhaps felt like this, especially since the circumstances around her pregnancy were highly unusual. She was told in no uncertain terms, though, that God loved her child very much. In fact, God loves all of our children with an absolutely perfect love. Even when we feel like failures, our children are deeply loved.
Feeling your child’s pain is a gift
As a parent, I’m upset when my children are upset. When they’re bothered about, say, the fact they’re having trouble with math, I’m bothered by that, too. I hate to see them sick. I wish I could somehow take all pain away for them or fix all problems, but I can’t.
Mary couldn’t change the life of her son in any way, either. All she could do was suffer along with him. Sharing your child’s pain, even if that’s all you can do, is a great gift.
Raising a family is all-consuming, and it seems as though parenthood overshadows personal identity. What I mean by this is that kids don’t really leave a lot of time for personal hobbies and parents often give up activities they love to become #1 fans at Little League games, which we also love, but it’s different.
Mary surrendered herself totally to loving her son, and she never regretted it. Love is a sacrifice, but when we give ourselves totally to it, we are receiving in return love like we’ve never known before. Parenthood doesn’t diminish who we are, it throws open the doors to life. No wonder every new parent is so excited.