Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Phases of Motherhood

The other night, my son and I brought dinner to a friend who recently had her first baby.  She was very grateful to receive a meal and a visit among one of the most hectic, challenging, joyful times in life.  As we talked, she mentioned trying to figure out what was best among the various approaches to parenting a newborn she heard from others.  I could tell she was a little overwhelmed.  I wanted to give her some advice, but I know she has to figure it out on her own.  A one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t apply to child rearing.  

Plus, just because I am well beyond the newbie stage doesn’t mean I have all the answers either.  I’m really just a few steps ahead in this journey called motherhood.  The crushed Cheerios in the carpet, toys taking over every room in the house, holding my breath instead of completely losing it on my kids phase.  One in which I am trying in vain at mealtimes to get one kid to sit down and the other to eat a vegetable.  Where I am simultaneously holding a conversation with another mom at the play ground while I watch two kids who are off in different directions, doing mental gymnastics to keep track of when they each last had a sip of water, went to the bathroom/had a diaper changed and how many donut holes they consumed. 

It’s crazy, but crazy enough I'm pretty comfortable here.  In fact, it can be somewhat of a stretch now to go back and remember what it was like to have a newborn and be in completely unfamiliar territory, feeling desperate and isolated as a new mom.  I’m in the thick over-growth of a new forest.

Instead of counters littered with baby bottles and cans of formula, every square inch of our fridge is adorned with crayon scribbled and water color painted pictures.  Instead of infant cries and coos, there are toddler and preschooler shrieks in conjunction with the music from kids’ tv shows.  My kids now play by themselves together, but fights over toys inevitably ensue, interrupting a single household chore at least 10 times.  When I put Rory in her crib at night, I can be 99% sure that she will sleep straight through the next 12 hours, and it won't be all that long before she trades in the crib for a toddler bed and diapers for Disney Princess panties.  Colton is now one of the oldest kids in my moms’ group, and I am the one passing down his old clothes and toys instead of being on the receiving end.

There are new worries and challenges here, and while they aren’t helpless newborns anymore, some days I still feel unequal to the task of mothering two little ones.  Their needs have actually seemed to increase as time has gone on.  Now they need discipline as well as their physical needs taken care of.  It gets discouraging and frustrating when my four-year-old doesn’t obey, and nothing I do seems to help him change his unpleasant attitude.  It’s draining when my toddler constantly disregards my “no”, bent on doing what she wants. 

Yes, this phase often means banging my head against the wall when my daughter is super clingy and I can’t figure out what’s wrong because she only says 10 words, which put together make no sense.  It means exasperated sighs when I’m downstairs in the basement doing laundry, and my preschooler yells from the top of the stairs and I come running, only to find out that he just wanted a different television show on.  It also means wanting to hide in the bathroom for five minutes of alone time, if I can just get the door shut before Rory rushes in there to “help” me.  It most definitely means thinking I will go crazy if I hear the word “MO-MMY!!” one. more. time.     

This stage in between feeding, rocking and changing non-stop and teen rebellion is a lot of stinkin’ work.  But it’s also exhilarating.  And, for me, ultimately better than the newborn phase.  It’s fun to watch both of them learn new things and play together.  I still have so much influence over what they watch, do and eat.  Their disobedience is small right now, and their faith is big.  Their hearts are soft and innocent, making them a perfect place for Jesus to live.

I love having them press in close while I read them stories, see them dance and "sing" to songs, and experience life through their eyes.  I know one day I will look back on these days in which the pages of "If You Give a Moose a Muffin" play out repeatedly, and my heart will ache for when they were that little.  Then I will be "that older lady" telling another mom to try to treasure these moments, even though you feel like you're going to be swallowed up in them.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A Woman's Right

I have been thinking a lot lately about rights since the abortion debate was once again thrust into the media with last week’s filibuster by Texas Senator Wendy Davis of a bill that would hold abortion clinics to the same standards as ambulatory care clinics and require abortionists to have admitting privileges at hospitals, as well as ban all abortions after 20 weeks.  Pro-choice supporters showed up to help defeat the bill, championing the cause of women's rights so loudly that it caused chaos and confusion in Texas’ State Capitol, and the bill was not signed into law before the deadline for the special session had passed.  

It seems odd to me that the same group who lobbies for women's health is the very same group fighting against legislation that would effectively make abortion safer for women, but that is not what this post is about.  It is about rights.  Or what we think we have a right to, at least.

The reigning ideology today insists that a mother determines whether or not she wants to be one, and whether or not she perceives a child worthy of life, even as it develops in her womb. She makes these decisions at an incredibly emotional and vulnerable time, with the support of a prevailing belief that there is empowerment in ending that child’s life within her.  This has been, in fact, defined as her constitutional “right”.

In the last 40 years, the feminist movement has done a very good job of persuading women that they should be ashamed and even fearful of traditional women’s roles.    It has instilled a great fear of having to give up oneself for the sake of a child.  It has even instilled the fear of pregnancy itself, going so far as to say childbirth poses more danger to females than abortion. 

For many women, childbearing and rearing is a wonderful, joyous thing.  But for many others, it represents death.  Even in the best of circumstances, motherhood demands your all.  You give up control over your time, your finances, your needs and your wants to put those of small children ahead of your own. 

Motherhood is not celebrated or embraced in our post-modern culture.  Instead, it is reviled.  There is very little support for mothers these days.  Our communities by and large are no longer the welcoming, safe havens they once were and the statement “it takes a village” is a thing of the past.  Sadly, many churches turn away the unwed pregnant girl instead of offering resources and hope.  By contrast there seems to be a multitude of organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, presenting a way out.

In her book What Women Fear, Angie Smith writes that when sin entered the world back in the Garden of Eden, fear was ushered in right along with it.  “[Adam and Eve] acted out of fear, and so do we.  We do it in all kinds of ways, and while it’s different for every person, the heart of it is the same.  We are responding to the lie of Satan each and every time we run.  Fundamentally, every single fear comes from the lie spoken by the enemy in a garden designed to be a haven…  Is God really good ?”     

I have experienced the sheer panic which accompanies the realization that you now have the soul-crushing responsibility of a brand new baby.  Even as my son grew older, I experienced fleeting moments where I thought my world was crashing down around me.  Just when I thought I had mastered those, I gave birth to my daughter and experienced that same all-consuming feeling of fear.  Only this time, it appeared to double since I had the responsibility of both a toddler and a newborn.  How much more must this fear be present for women whose pregnancies are unplanned.

Fast forward to present day, and my children still regularly trample on my freedoms.  My right to privacy is infringed upon by their barging into the bathroom without knocking.  My right to peace and quiet is walked all over by a four-year-old asking "why" questions that stretch down around the block and back, the ear piercing crying of a one-year-old, numerous tantrums and meltdowns over any number of things, fights over toys, songs being sung at the top of my son's lungs, and the list goes on and on and on.  My right to my own body was infringed upon by a tiny baby taking up residence inside of it on two separate occasions.  Then there's the right to advance my career or financial/social status, which I basically kissed goodbye when I became a stay-at-home mom.  My world revolves around the constant needs, wants and demands of small children who have absolutely no regard for what I gave up for them.

All of this can feel threatening if I lose sight of the fact that Jesus gave up His rights as Lord and King when he came to earth and lived among needy, dirty people who demanded all He had to give.  He was entitled to glory, honor and praise but He laid it all down for us.  “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!”  (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV) 

He made Himself nothing

It's that kind of self-sacrificing love which inspires me to serve not only my children, but others around me who are in need of grace.  It is that perfect love which drives out fear- the fear of losing myself in motherhood, of being required to give up too much and get little in return, even of giving up control over the way my kids turn out.  When we have a relationship with Christ and understand His sacrifice for us, we bring everything under His lordship.  Everything we are holding onto so tightly we are then able to let go of and entrust to Him.  We let Him order our steps and faithfully give up that which we feel we are entitled to.

The very law designed to protect women’s rights ironically also impedes their liberty, since true freedom is only found in Christ.  Giving a woman the right to terminate a pregnancy is not, in and of itself liberating when she feels her choices are very limited to begin with.  For her, it is often the decision between the figurative death of herself or the actual death of her unborn baby.  Women should be empowered to carry out the work of nurturing and caring for a child, a mission of many pregnancy resource centers.  This is something that politics alone cannot accomplish; it must come through a genuine encounter with a Savior who has already walked the road of sacrifice and suffering.