Perhaps more than any other experience, parenting brings a myriad of conflicting emotions. Exhaustion and expectation. Fear and excitement. Frustration and happiness. Tears and laughter.
These dichotomies are hard to describe or understand while you’re living them because there is rarely a free moment to consider such things. It’s nearly impossible to process profound life lessons when you’re holding a screaming newborn, starting your fourth load of laundry and catching a scent of an impending diaper change – only to realize that in fact, it’s you that needs some attention, because you haven’t showered or changed your clothes in a very long time.
A feeling like no other
It might seem trite to say, but parents really are superheroes. By giving life to another, we give up a little of ourselves. Whether we’re ready to or not, we say goodbye to some of our individual freedoms in order to fully commit to this precious bundle of joy that God has given us. As soon as we hold that tiny human, our hearts expand, our view of the world shifts and our life path is redirected. It’s a feeling like no other.
But as we settle into the daily rigors of parenthood, elation often mixes with despair, especially for those of us who battle anxiety. “Is it normal for them to cry all night long?” “Why won’t she eat anything but carbs?” “Why does he feel the need to jump off of every tall object in sight?” “Why won’t they wear pants!?”
I’ve often heard it said that parenting is the “hardest, yet most rewarding experience,” which is often accompanied by the classic piece of advice, “the days are long, but the years are short.” Both are true, but I found no solace in these idioms when I was sleep deprived and trying to find my first-time parent confidence. Solace came via the milestones that marked progress – gurgling laughter, tentative steps, new words and abilities, and a clearer look at who this little person actually is. When I saw these signs of growth, I realized that maybe I was doing something right after all.
No more, “No, Mama!”
As my daughter became a school-aged child, peaceful reflection slowly found a foothold in my life. As spit-up stains were replaced by grass stains and the resounding, “No, Mama!” was replaced by the alphabet song, I could finally grapple with the deeper experience of motherhood.
In still, quiet snippets of time, I could rest long enough to consider the journey I’d traveled, a relatively short beginning to the longer road ahead. I realized that my prayers had evolved from, “Lord, get us through this hour” to, “Lord, thank you for this season,” and that my faith had carried me through each day.
No parent has all of the answers. Every parent has had tough moments and questioned their abilities as they tried to excel in their new identity as mother, father or caretaker. As I look back, I can see that in every challenge, there was learning. In every shadowy day when I wondered if I could be a great mother, the light of God’s love was surrounding me, often in the form of meals delivered by members of our church, a smile from my baby and the help of family members.
Take comfort in the Comforter
When our days are full, when self-doubt stirs within us, our ever-faithful God is patiently beside us, holding our hand, encouraging us and cheering us on. We see it in our sleeping (finally!) baby’s cherubic face, feel it in a sticky-handed hug, hear it in the first mumbled, “Wuv you too.”
Maybe there are days when we struggle to believe it, but our Comforter and Creator has brought us to each moment because we can do it, we can be the parent our child needs – we already are, because we’re loving, nurturing and dedicating ourselves to this amazing child God entrusted to our care.
Laura Buchanan works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. She, her husband and 8-year-old daughter live in Nashville, Tennessee. Contact her by email.
This content was published January 25, 2022.