We have had a rough couple of days around here. There are many reasons for the struggling, but I have been thinking and praying so much about our children and our family ...and it has brought me back to this conclusion that I have mentioned many times before: parenting is constant transition.
There is always something new and different. There are always new moments to savor. It seems like, at the end of each day, I remember a funny or sweet moment I had with each child. There is always fresh joy. But we are always broken and sinful members of this family. There is always a new challenge. There is always some new behavior that needs to be addressed (in the kids or in me). There is always a change to be made in the way that each child needs to be loved and disciplined.
Some days it's just so...exhausting. I am honored that I get to do it; that I get to be "in the thick of it" with my kids everyday, helping to form their little hearts. But, as I mentioned, exhausting.
So, as I have been doing all of this reflecting, I have come up with this:
The Stages of Parenting (by child's age)...
Expecting a Child: "I Know Everything There is to Know About Parenting"
Maybe this actually starts when you decide that you'd, one day, like to have children. Maybe it starts when you find out that you're pregnant or decide to adopt a baby. I don't know. But it becomes clear to you that you are a parenting genius. Of course, you don't mention this out loud to anyone, but you know it. You hear parents talking about their children and their maniacal, out of control behavior, and you actually smile inwardly. You know exactly what you'd do in that situation. You have basically already written the official parenting manual. Before I had kids, one of my mom friends was telling me about her kids wreaking havoc on her house. I thought to myself "Oh, your kid wrote on the wall? Then put the markers, up. I'm surprised this hasn't occurred to you yet." Parenting Genius, I tell you.
Newborn-Age One: "I Could Use a Nap, but Oh, the Bliss"
I mean, aside from the not sleeping and the constant feeding and, if you have biological children, the physical recovery from labor, this is when you realize that yes, you are in fact a parenting genius. Sure you're still figuring out how to swaddle and what to pack in your diaper bag, but come on. You have an adorable child, who also happens to be perfect. They will obviously not be throwing tantrums like Suzie ScreamsALot that you saw at Target the other day.
Two Year Old: "The Beginning of the End of Bliss"
Well, you still have the most adorable kid that ever lived, but he/she is starting to learn about pushing his/her limits. You knew this was coming. Everyone talks about the Terrible Twos and, some days, you think that it IS terrible. But all-in-all, your child is just exercising independence for the first time, and it's neat to see their little brains trying to figure things out. It's sure frustrating sometimes, though, and so maybe you start to consult some other "parenting experts". You start to realize that maybe you don't have it all figured out. Just a little help in a few areas and we'll be back on track. And as soon as they can really talk, it will get so much easier. That's what the experts say.
Three Year Old: "What's Wrong with My Kid" AKA "I Know Nothing About Parenting", also sometimes called "What Did We Do Wrong?"
(If you do not yet have a child that has reached this stage, I'm so sorry to be the one to have to tell you this.)Well, your child just did that thing that you said they would never do. And all your friends were watching. Your method of discipline has failed and seriously, what now?? The markers that were "up" - well, there are these things called chairs and three year olds can climb. While you were cleaning the "artwork" off your walls, the child found something else to destroy. This is the time in your child's life where you don't go anywhere because it's too stressful and you have thoughts such as "It's better to let them watch another movie than it is to sell them...right?" Oh my. I have a dear friend, who happens to be a fantastic mom, who told me the other day "I HATE the age three". I hear ya, sister. Suzie ScreamsALot has nothing on my three year old. The good news is four comes next. Four is fun.
Preschool Age 4-5: "Sweet Relief"
I'm not saying they are perfect by any means, but I love this age group. It's like something clicks in their brain and they suddenly become normal little people. There are challenges with every age and we will certainly have to continue working on obedience, respect, manners, and honesty, among other things, but now we can carry on rational conversations and, most of the time, the monstrous meltdowns are few and far between.
Now all these stages are very broad. There are tons of little milestones and phases and struggles that we could add here. What would you add? Or maybe your stages of parenting are totally different than mine? I'm sure there must be some differences between boys and girls, spacing of children, temperaments, etc. And I only have littles, so there are plenty of stages I don't even know about yet. Surely, everyone's journey will look different.
All of this is just to say, parenting is hard. Sometimes people see these frustrating moments and they are judgemental or they give some "helpful" advice that makes you feel like you're ruining your children. You're not. It takes time and effort and prayer and consistency and TIME to change your child's heart. Yes, heart. Changing behavior is momentary, changing hearts is a much bigger and more important job. It's so hard to remember these things when you're carrying a screaming, flailing child out of the restaurant, but keep on. Galatians 6:9 says "Let us not grow weary in doing good, for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
I'm not always the mom I want to be. Most of the time people only see our "best" on the internet, but I just want to say, on those most challenging days, I'm WITH you and I'm praying for you, friends.