Thursday, June 19, 2008

reflections on motherhood - the non-apple pie smothered version

This is a short talk I gave tonight at a church baby shower for a sweetie named Zachary. My husband T. thought it deserved wider readership. If you're looking for a speaker for an event I love to talk so feel free to email me. (If you pay me I'll even try to make it funny.)

Of course, I would have to talk about the blessed state of motherhood after a sweaty, gripey Inservice Day with the kids home from school, sitting on the leather sofa in sandy, wet swimsuits and stepping in the flowerbed, and me wanting to throw them onto a passing Canadian Diabetes collection truck! Anyways, here it is:

The top 10 reasons I love motherhood:

1. If you don’t want to go to an Amway party, volunteer on a church committee or take a part time job all you have to say is “Sorry, I don’t have a babysitter.”

2. You get to ride with Merry-Go-Round again, this time without people staring and calling you childish.

3. You have a scapegoat for all your audible farts.

4. The chance to rediscover Charlotte’s Web, the Cat in the Hat, and Voyage of the Dawntreader with a few of the newer classics – Captain Underpants - thrown in.

5. Knowing that in at least one area you’re doing things differently than your mother, and realizing that in every other area…she was right.

6. Finding used Bandaids in your sheets and ½ eaten cupcakes behind the sofa and realizing you don’t care.

7. Being the only one they want to kiss away all their boo boos and chase away their monsters.

8. Weeping with pride from behind your video camera at dance recitals, Christmas pageants, squawky band concerts, and sweaty graduations. He waves and you know he’s waving at you.

9. Knowing, for at least the first 12 years, that there’s a short person who thinks you’re the best mom in the world.

10. No matter what we do – wiping off the waterfall of half-digested tomato and stomach bile soup which cascaded from the bunkbed to the back of your neck before you could say, “What’s wrong honey?” Or bribing them to do times table flashcards or baking floppy birthday cakes or remortgaging the house to pay for college – no matter how mundane or traumatic, everything we do as mothers carries the grand purpose of shaping for God’s kingdom a new, unique image of the Creator with the potential to restore another part of his creation. And so we go on, through leaky diapers and late night leg cramp rubbing, knowing God sees what no one else sees. And he knows our joy and pain because God is a parent, too.

Mothering is full of surprises, as I’m sure you noticed already. Zachary may not sleep or feed like you expected, and there’s a good chance he didn’t arrive like you expected. (Unless you’ve ever swallowed a moving freight train, you can’t really anticipate that kind of force taking possession of your insides.) And so began the loss of control – now your home, your sleep, your schedule, your wallet are no longer totally your own. Your once widened belly gave way to a widened life.

There were a lot of things I didn’t know before I became a parent. (And some things it’s just better not to know before you get there.) Here’s what I wish I had known:

1. Where ever you go there you are. Motherhood didn’t miraculously change my personality overnight. You’d think the responsibility would come with a divine dose of wisdom and maturity but it doesn’t. You don’t become a super-spiritual saintly missionary the day you get off the plane in Africa. You don’t become a great dancer the day you enroll in ballet. Just as Zachary will grow gradually so will you. So be patient with yourself and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

2. Just like I’m still me, my husband is who he is. And your husband is still who he is. He didn’t turn into a younger version of his father or a cuter version of James Dobson or a white Bill Cosby overnight. I know T. didn’t fit the picture I had in my mind of what he’d be like as a dad – he doesn’t throw the kids in the air (because of his back injury), and he hates rollercoasters. But he does read the Hobbit with crazy voices and he plays piano while they dance. Let Dad be who he will be.

3. You need community. Even if you’re an introvert, motherhood is too big to do all alone. Not every mother will understand the unique challenges you face as a parent, but someone out there will. Find her. And find other mothers who feel alone or misunderstood, because you have gifts to give them as well. Get involved in a small group, mom’s program or Family Centre. (St. George School has a good one.) Motherhood is a tie that unites women across cultures, generations, and languages. (We all have days we want to sell our darlings to the circus.) When you’re in pain reach out for community, don’t isolate yourself.

4. Just because your child came from inside you, doesn’t mean he’ll think anything like you! Take time to understand Zachary’s fears and dreams. When children feel understood they are much more willing to listen. I used to take it personally when my kids disobeyed because I took it to mean they weren’t respecting my authority. But I learned that responding to misbehaviour isn’t to protect our honour as parents, but to use it as an opportunity to teach them kindness and self-control.

So is a child’s willfulness a manifestation of original sin, the divine image, or immaturity? Those who say children are inherently sinful let babies cry because they’re being “selfish” and punish toddler’s “nos” because those must be defiant. People who say children are innocent give them everything they want and excuse their inappropriate behaviour. Those who answer “immaturity” believe kids are just blank slates, raw clay waiting to be molded.

The truth is children are all three, just like the rest of us. We all assert our wills and raise our voices in sometime selfish, sometimes immature, and sometimes divinely prophetic ways. Don’t assume too early that you know which it is.

Galatians 5 says, “When the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Whether you use time-outs or sticker charts, whether you decide to let him cry it out or rock him to sleep a little longer, aren’t the most important part of discipline; Zachary will learn to follow the Spirit most by watching you model gentleness, self-control and patience, even when he’s flushed your earrings down the toilet. That applies not only to those with children at home, but to all of us as spiritual mothers and grandmothers to others in the family of God.