When Motherhood is Harder Than it Has to Be
Words fly today.
They are cannonballs launched with expert timing at an enemy that requires complete and utter termination. They are bullets waiting in a dark chamber, encased by cold black steel, unforgiving, taking no prisoners.
The first born is usually the first to ball up the fists and the second born knows no greater challenge.
Words cut today.
They are sharp slivers, shards of glass slicing, precisely aimed, embedding themselves deep into tender flesh - and they cut to the heart.
Words fly back from the other side. And those too, pulverize the heart of the first, leaving both offenders shocked and shattered. Broken a bit.
And it’s not all that challenging to fling words that penetrate so deep, because the innocence of the enemies on either side of the battle line, offers them no armor and only a few years of experience in life.
A toddler and a preschooler.
And both are more alike than they would care to confess. Giddy children with adventurous, open hearts. Sparkling brown eyes that see the world through the lens of wonder and forgiveness. Best friends one moment and then burning down the house the next moment just because they have to breathe the same air.
I am caught in a whirlwind of name calling and teary eyed threats of revoking friendships. These tiny people and their big battles, I remember similar frenzied occasions from my own childhood and how deeply the ugliness can hurt.
I catch my breath and form words, commanding my children to put a quick stop to this whole messy explosion. And I think... There’s likely to be a casualty if this doesn’t end soon.
They don’t hear my demand to cease fire. Or probably it’s that they choose not to.
So I get louder and louder and still am unheard by these passionate little people. My own temper flares. I have only taught them this at least seventy five times in the last week alone. How many times until they learn? Am I seriously destined to be this broken record, this cracked compact disc, this ridiculous repeater of the same syllabus - forever?
I pull out the fire-extinguisher-mom-voice and rain down my own torrent of words that they cannot possibly ignore. And in the heat of the moment, I wonder what’s worse, the meanness they are flinging back and forth or this yelling, crazy mother I have become in my hasty attempt to put a stop to all this madness and meanness.
But honestly, it is too late to think of some sweet, precious jingle that a nice mother - that a non-sleep-deprived, non-over-caffeinated, storybook mother - would use to reign in this kid-war. No, there’s no time to sugar the approach and act in some thought out, put together way like the patient and gentle church-going mothers that I envy just a little bit. Right here, right now, this feuding fire has got to come to a swift, hard stop. Right now, they get the real me. Poor things.
So I take aim and let fly, words explode from this fire extinguishing mouth of mine and the torrent hits them with less gentility than they know what to do with.
And there it is.
The chins start to quiver, the eyes brim and run over, the little hearts that can bear no more hurt just crack open, and the two most precious little people in my world crumble right here before me.
And then I do too.
My eyes leak salty little streams of hurt right alongside them. No one told me how mothering would rip your heart right open a little to see your littles hurt - especially when it’s done by one another.
But even more especially when it’s done by me.
Two little heads hang and two little bodies heave with sobs and here stands one little mama with not one little clue about how to mend these three hearts of ours.
I close my eyes and search my mind for the right words to say.
How do I teach them through this?
My mind is blank, I’ve got nothing.
How do I start the clean up? God anything would help right now… Please tell me what to say.
I wait for a second. My own words are messy, but I pray them anyway to a good God, the one who knows all and sees all and can hear my heart and see this plea within me.
Time is of the essence here…?
But there’s nothing. He doesn’t give me any words. Not a single one.
The only thing that I can hear is the loud ache in my own heart, it throbs with every breath. I hate how I’ve just added to the heaping pile of hurt. I’ve always run long on impulsivity. I want more than anything to be held right now, because the healing has to start RIGHT NOW or I know I’ll just crack and split even more. Bitterness grown from un-forgiveness of my own shortcomings takes only seconds to grow into a massive, looming shadow. I wish I could take back my torrent, taste the words before I spit them out, offer help when they need me instead of just giving them a double portion of pain.
I hurt because I’ve hurt. And more anything, right now, these hurting places in me yearn to be embraced, I long to just be loved - even though I’m broken. Because I am broken.
And all I know is this: If I am in such dire need of love in the middle of all the messiness of life, then they must be too.
So maybe I don’t need to say another word to them, because it would seem that I keep botching that anyway. Maybe all three of us need to sit at the foot of a far better Teacher than myself.
Maybe I am making this harder than it has to be. Maybe mothering is simpler than I expected.
And so, I just go to them, kneel down and open my arms up wide, offering them what I too need most right now.
Relief sweeps over me as they release their battle positions and step into me. And we collapse into a heap right here in the middle of all this mess. Embracing one another, letting the tears wash away the hurt.
And I breathe a prayer of thankfulness for these arms that are able - able to wrap them up and hold them close. The three of us here, hugging and holding, in a disheveled heap on the floor.
This family of mine, we fight fiercely and love intensely and what a motley crew of ragamuffins we are, utterly dependent on our barefooted Savior.
Now I see how He answered me, how my children don’t need to hear my voice, but rather they need to know my love. If I need love and acceptance after all this ugliness and hurt, then they do too.
The knowing grows stronger within me - that I am helpless to mend their wounds without the love of the One whose own wounds saved the world.
I think of that scripture, the one that sums up all that God is in one four letter word. Love. (1)
And a little more of this whole mothering thing is making sense. It’s difficult for them to learn when I’m lecturing - far more learning is done when I’m loving. When I’m living out the essence of God.
Covered in salty tears and kissing smeared cheeks, here in this heap on the floor, God heaps His love on us. On me - because of how He helped me shut my mouth and simply open my arms. On them - because they received from their mother grace and forgiveness rather than punishment and shame.
There has been many a time that I’ve shamed them, sure, in an attempt to extinguish the fires that little people can start. But thankfully, not this time. And how much more love has flowed in this house today, on this floor, to these children and even to my own heart when I came to the end of myself and my own ways and let the Holy Spirit in me do His work through me?
We sit here for a long time rocking one another and letting love heal, as it always does - love reassembling the pieces that leave me puzzled on my own. And this time, there are no words for all the ugly that just happened. With these two precious souls tucked tightly into this lap of mine, I only have words for the beautiful. I whisper the truths of God into these little ears.
“I am so thankful that God gave me you.”
“He made you wonderful, in His own image.”
“He loves you so.”
“Thank You for Your love, Jesus. And for how it is healing our hurts and our hearts.”
And there is this knowing in each heart here that this is the better way, that this is right and good and true. That this is what we were designed to do, that living out love is the essence life.
And if we were made in His image there in the Garden, as it says we were in that Genesis beginning…
And if His image is love - a definition so simple that a child, a toddler, even an infant can understand….
Then wouldn’t it make sense that love is the only way for us? That love is what heals, teaches, restores, and strengthens us, we who are made in the very image of love itself?
Wouldn’t it make sense then that unless we do life this way, this lovely God-led way, that we are going against the very make-up of ourselves?
Wouldn’t it be true then that a life lived with love as it’s guide is a life lived by its true design?
I ponder all these things while I hold these two precious souls in this lap of mine. As their sniffles slow and their breathing returns to its normal rhythm, they begin to chatter about other things amongst themselves. A giggle slips from one and then the other.
I am here, but not here. Lost in this inner conversation, an inner awakening of this soul of mine that too often slumbers.
If we are made in Love’s own likeness, shouldn’t we then align our lives with love’s ways? Shouldn’t I then love them first and do all other things second? Shouldn’t loving them come before the making of beds, the schoolwork, the “play nicely” speeches, the desire I have to see them eat with utensils instead of their hands at the dinner table (especially in public!)? Shouldn’t loving them come before all else?
I am not always good at this. I often fail. But He takes these meager moments, when I come to Him with five loaves and two fish, and He makes a feast for these love-hungry little hearts. He takes this willing heart of mine and makes my little lunch sized offering an abundant buffet. He takes my meager and makes it magnificent.
The toddler interrupts my musings with her need for a snack and the big brother seconds her request. I agree to the snack and they bolt for the table like they’ll never get another meal again. I put these thoughts on pause and plan to revisit them soon - it would seem there is a bit more to uncover here.
But for today, I see how I was never meant to mother in my own strength. I see, in moments like this, when I come to the end of myself, how the Spirit of a Holy God who lives within me has room to work through me. When put my own idea and my own way of mothering aside and then let Him show me moment by moment what His way is.
Today, in this moment when motherhood was harder than it had to be, He met me in my state of need, and showed me (again) that His way is far easier. On all of us.
Part two on this topic - Extinguishing my kids (and some of my own) bad behavior.