Once I became the mother of that first little boy I began loathing the advice that comes from so many strangers and friends alike: "Enjoy them while they are little because it goes so fast." I mean, the HARD TRUTH of that statement is not lost on me. Not an ounce. Especially as I look at my towering (almost) 15 year old and wonder how did time slip by so fast. But perhaps the thing about having a large brood of boys is that while my 15 year old seems to have grown overnight...my preschoolers seem like they will NEVER grow up. :) And that's just it. When you have the benefit of hindsight, advice is so easily given. But when you are knee deep in the trenches...it feels like a poke in the eye.
What brings this to mind? It occured to me as I sat in a group of Godly moms offering advice to (mostly) younger mothers. And inevitably the sentiment of, "Enjoy them now..." came up. And it stuck in my spirit as it always does. And not because I was in a hard place with my boys. Not at all actually. But because I could see in the eyes of so many moms there...that they are knee deep, grasping for hope and then....the poke in the eye. I don't know. Maybe they are encouraged by the advice and it is just my VERY practical brain that finds it painful. But the way I see it a young mom needs someone to tell her HOW to enjoy the days. I mean, really...how do you stinkin' enjoy them when your post partum hormones are raging out of control? Or how do you enjoy them when you have had so little or no sleep and yet the children wake up full of energy? Or when you feel alone? Inept? Like a failure? Ugly? Fat? Weary? Hurt? Depressed? What do you do when your homeschool kids aren't learning and are lazy? Or when your finances are strapped so tight they don't meet your budget? Or when your husband works the second shift and is barely there to help? Or when your engorged breasts are cracked and bleeding and the baby has colic and your two year old is teething?
It sounds preposterous doesn't it? But come on...these are NOT isolated days. These are days that come in succession or even all at once. Satan loves a mom piled high with burdens. And when you hold the all important task of rearing God's children can there be any other way but to feel heavily that yoke sometimes? Of course we should be laying the yoke on Jesus' shoulders but sometimes our spiritual eyes get out of focus. And does it really bring our eyes into focus for someone in that moment to say, "Enjoy it! It will go by so fast!" I mean...REALLY? All that mom can DREAM of is that it will go by fast! And then she beats herself up for feeling that way because SHE ALREADY KNOWS IT WILL GO BY TOO FAST. See, there it is. Every mom already knows this. She can see it before her eyes. That little newborn she brought home from the hospital is now walking and talking. Her toddler is now in kindergarten. She gets it. But she can't stop wanting the deep pain in her gut to end. To get to that time in parenting when she can see some fruit. Some reward. Some sleep! :)
So, what do you say to that bleary eyed mother of four who is cradling a precious newborn on her chest but her eyes are filled to the brim with tears? You give her practical help. Of course extending an arm of help is first. After all, love is hands and feet. People need food, shelter, rest before they need advice. But, in reality none of us can step into another mom's home and shelter her from the hard work that needs to be done. She must learn skills. And I am not talking about how to clean her home or pump a bottle of breastmilk. I mean, the skill of eucahristeo (giving thanks) as Ann Voskamp outlines in her book, "1000 Gifts". I cannot recommend more highly this book to young moms...and "old" moms. The skill of counting blessings. Of writing down or speaking out loud your gratitude. Gratitude for small things and big things and hard things and lovely things. Ann Voskamp puts it this way in her book:
"A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit."
"This pen [writing down what she is grateful for]; this is nothing less than the driving of nails. Nails driving out my habit of discontent and driving in my habit of eucharisteo."
"Some days, ones with laundry and kids and dishes in sink, it is hard to think that the insulting ordinariness of this [writing down your list of gratitude] truly teaches the full mystery of the all most important, eucharisteo. It's so frustratingly common-it's offensive. Driving nails into a life always is."
These quotes hit me hard. It really is that simple. When we begin replacing our thoughts of self-pity and self-loathing and anger with thoughts of gratitude and humble amazement at our God, we begin driving nails out of and into our lives. We change our thoughts. We change our outlook. We pronounce it loudly in the midst of selfish children and demanding deadlines. We shout out, "Thank You Lord for this mess. For these children. For this man who loves me." And suddenly we pound out the ugly nails and pound hard in the nails of gratitude. Voskamp reminds us that we can only experience one emotion at a time. Choose gratitude. Pound it in. Like the driving of a nail. There is not one thing a mom can change about how hard the days are when you rear children...young and old. We have no control over that. And asking a woman deep in the battle to enjoy it is like telling a new widow to hang in there because soon enough she will find a new man. POKE...straight to the eye. Perhaps the advice is true. But ill-timed advice is well, a poke in the eye...and the heart.
Hear me well. No advice is more true than the sentiment to seize the day at hand and live it with great joy. But in truth, there is no help in that sentiment. And help is what hurting moms need. Teach that mom how to find gratitude amidst her work and you may have just given her the best gift of her life!