I got pregnant at the age of 20. I was living in an apartment, working two jobs and enrolling in school. I struggled occasionally but I was a hard worker and I was passionate and optimistic. I was young.
Nine months later I had a baby. In one two-week period, I became a wife, a mother, and a step-mom to a 4 year old son. We were poor. We lived primarily off Shane's tips waiting tables nights while he went to school days. I didn't know a thing about babies. I was overwhelmed and clueless. I needed help. We visited churches and I tried to make friends with other moms. I was part of the mom-club now and thought that was where I would connect. The club didn't want me.
I was a young, poor, knocked-up, and a bit desperate. I can't imagine why that wouldn't have been appealing to the soccer-mom crowd around me. So, with the help of a few dear friends and family, who rallied around us, Shane and I struggled through those first years of raising Brandon and Allison alone. I, during the week, he, on the weekends while I worked waiting tables or at the mall.
Flash-forward 10 years and things are very different for us. Shane finished school and life got better. Allison started school and I went to work. We bought a bigger home and had a couple more kids. I was now one of those soccer-moms in a minivan. I'm a better mom now, at least most of the time. I made a lot of mistakes with Allison and Brandon, but here's the thing, they were not made from lack of love. The fact that I am a better mom with Ben and Clara does not mean I love them more, it just means I learned some things along the way.
Motherhood is hard. Really hard. There is no instruction manual for children. Well, actually there are thousands, but they are so contradictory in their opinions and research, it was easy to drive myself crazy trying to figure it all out. Even the Bible, the one manual I do believe to be infallible gives us only general parenting instructions: Love your children, teach them, discipline them, cherish them, do not provoke them.
Pray a lot.
Nowhere does it say if we should run to our children in the middle of the night, or let them cry? How should we handle a tantrum at a grocery store? What if your child is a screamer, or a biter, a whiner, or like Ben still eating baby food when they are 3? We all know this, so why are we so quick to judge other mothers?
Do we really think that because a child is "wearing a leash" or "still using a pacifier at age 3" or "wearing too much eyeliner at age 15" or any of the other hundreds of things that we rant about that their mothers love them less? Is it honestly all laziness? Isn't it possible that these moms are just as confused and overwhelmed as we are sometimes? Isn't it possible that they too stay up nights worrying about how to discipline their teenager, or how to get their toddler to eat solid foods after trying 3 therapists? (okay, digressing about myself now)
I understand that there are things that are obviously wrong. We shouldn't abuse our children or belittle them or ignore them. We probably shouldn't let them watch Barney 12 hours every day or eat potato chips for every meal. But what mom hasn't had a day when they were sick or sad and just getting your kids through the day fed and safe was all you could manage? Why do we, including me, forget this? Where is the grace?
Where is the compassion to the mom with the screaming toddler, or the one who left her wallet in the car and held up the check-out line? (That one would be me too.) Why can't we show kindness to the mom that has the child that just doesn't know how to make friends at school or insists on wearing the same shirt to kindergarten 3 days a week?
My challenge to myself now is to try to find ways to show love and grace to other moms in the trenches: Help a mom struggling to change a baby on one of those awful changing tables or who forgot a diaper (me again). Stop to give a kind encouraging word to a mom with a screaming baby/toddler/6-year-old and is in danger of screaming herself. Offer to hold a door, pick up toy, or corral an escaping toddler.
By now you are probably thinking that I am harping on this "grace thing" because I was crazy enough to have 4 kids and I obviously need so much of it myself. You'd be right. But Merriam-Webster defines grace as "an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency". S0 yes, I need grace. Who doesn't?