Sometimes when you’re in the midst of parenting tiny humans, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative. They scream a lot. They make messes. They keep you from having a sane sleep schedule. Having babies makes you gain weight. They make most adult activities harder.
All of this is true. Kids can be a pain. But they have their pluses. And I’m not even talking about the obvious things, like their cuteness, their innocence, or their humanness. Though that’s all true too.
I’m not here to tell you to “enjoy those special moments; they’re only small for awhile.” It’s great when you can take the time to try to notice how cute your kids are…but maybe what you actually need right now is some sleep, or some adult conversation, not a few more toddler cuddles. Take care of yourself. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint, so you have to pace yourself (wow…could I be more cliche?)
Maybe a better way to put it is that parenting is a lifestyle, and you need to make sure it’s a sustainable lifestyle, not a constant survival mode. If you’re a counselor at a summer camp, it’s okay to push yourself to the limits of your endurance, because the camp will be over in a week or two, and you’ll be able to rest up. Parenting is never really over, so you need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself properly the whole way through.
Parenting is hard. Your kids take a lot out of you sometimes, and it can be hard to find the time to do necessary self care.
But kids add things besides cuteness now and possible future grandkids down the road. Here’s a few things I’ve noticed my kids do for me–when I let them. (I find that I’m more ready to receive these blessings from my children when I’m not sleep deprived or starving for adult company. So this is absolutely NOT saying that parenting isn’t hard or that you don’t need a break sometimes.)
Routines and habits are vital. Good routines and habits make life possible. But our habits, like our technology or any other thing we use, need to be our servants, not our masters. It’s all too easy to become a slave to our routines and habits when nothing disrupts our patterns now and then. Nothing is so disruptive as having a child around. Every season or so, you have to rethink your household routines, because your child is in a new stage of development. Storing the remotes and pretty glass knicknacks on the coffee table seemed like such a good idea…until the baby started crawling and pulling himself up on things.
Kids make you rearrange the furniture, rearrange your schedule, and rethink your life choices. This might not sound like a positive, but it is. If you are never forced to examine your choices, routines, and habits, it’s too easy to slide into unintentional living. Children are a constant reminder that you have to keep deciding what’s important to you, and keep choosing it, not just drift. If you’re parenting young kids right now, it might be helpful to try to think of the constant changes and curveballs as an opportunity to consistently reexamine your habits, and not just a toppling of your neatly laid plans.
Smelling the roses
With kids around you’re likely to smell a lot of other things too. But what I’m talking about here is enjoying the unexpected, and observing things you might not otherwise see.
The other day I was hurrying into the grocery store with two small children in tow. Hurrying not because I was in a hurry, but because I like getting things done quickly so that I can get on to other things that I find more interesting. One of my children asked the standard toddler question, “What’s that?” and I looked. There was a dumpster in the parking lot for a renovation project the grocery store had been doing, and a truck was about to take it away. We stood there next to the grocery store and watched the whole process. And you know what? It was fascinating. I never knew before what a marvelous piece of engineering those dumpster-hauling trucks are! Or the skill their drivers need to have.
And I would still be unaware of it if my kids hadn’t been with me that day. If I’d been alone I wouldn’t have stood there and watched. Partly because I’d have been embarrassed to. (Why, I’m not sure. It should be socially acceptable for adults to stand around and watch interesting things happening.) And partly because I wouldn’t have noticed it.
Kids are so good at noticing things and wondering at them. As Chesterton says, “The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade…” And while they remake our worlds in unpleasant ways sometimes, they can also refresh it for us; remind us that the world really is a rather marvelous and wonderful place full of interesting things to see.
Renewal of hope
If children have the power to renew our interest in the outside world simply by being interested in it themselves, they also have the power to renew our hope. A baby is so full of glorious potential. A toddler is constantly learning new skills, new ideas, new abilities. They seem potentially limitless. (Sometimes we wish their energy was not quite so limitless)
It is strange to think that everyone started out in the same place–as helpless innocent babies.
Remembering that everyone started out as a tiny baby can be encouraging. If Stalin was once a baby, so was St Therese. There is hope for everyone. Your children are the future, and you have a hand in shaping it.