When they say “parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual,” that’s such an understatement.
At least it was for me!
Even with the unsolicited but absolutely necessary and exceedingly appreciated advice from my mom along with all the calls to her, my granny, and the pediatrician, I had no idea what I was doing when they were little. The one thing I held on to, that made sense to me, was that if I could get them on a schedule and stick as close to it as possible? I might make it.
That and being packed and prepared for every eventuality. I never left the house without a fully stocked bag. In fact, I had emergency bags packed, bottled prepped and prepared, outfits for varying temperatures and sizes, baby blankets and toys, changing pads, bibs for days, wipes on wipes on wipes (especially for Haleigh who was allergic to everything, so I couldn’t just run in the store and grab something), snacks on deck and fruit on ice…I am still to this day the go-to lady at church and doctor’s offices for hungry kids or greedy kids or kids just looking for a nibble. This me:
But parenting was so much more than that. Despite my husband having 4 kids before these, and all his bravado about that fact, I learned real quick that his skill set was holding kids until they needed something and posting pictures when I dressed them up to be pretty and sneaking the oldest bottles while I was trying to wean her off them and doing fun things that I needed to clean up later.
Standard dad stuff.
Nobody—not even my own very hands-on mama—could prepare me for the late nights listening to them cry when they were sick. Or when they turned red from (very rare but very real) tantrums. Or the absolute disgust when the projectile vomit came. Or the poop smell that I scrubbed at for hours and hours til I realized that it was on my shirt. Or the fear I felt when the temperature wasn’t going down despite doing the alternating Tylenol and Ibuprofen thing. Or the 15 minutes of terror when one had to go in the operating room without me to get ear tubes. Or the worry that one wasn’t walking. Or the despair when I couldn’t afford the private school they were attending anymore. Or the desperation as I watched one floundering in school despite being absolutely brilliant. Or the frustration when doctors told me there was nothing wrong with her when I knew something was happening. Or the complete aloneness as I watched her fold into herself. Or the rage I held back as family on both sides attacked the personality of the one. Or the defensiveness that kicked in as I tried to shield her from people judging her because they didn’t like me. Or the anger that crept in as their dad preferred one to the other. Or the need to protect her so that she wouldn’t live in full on offense. Or the balancing act so that her sister wouldn’t think I loved her more. Or the resolve that overwhelmed me to pray them into being real friends as sisters despite the messiness of our emotionally stunted family.
Or the realization that I was broken in so many ways in so many places by so many people. That I was parenting from a place of my own emotional damage. That I had brought my trauma into our mother-daughter relationships. That I had maybe screwed them up by swallowing my rage and resentment and fear and dissonance in my own mind. That it may have been too late to change course as a parent. That I had to try anyway. That I had to start by fixing me. That I had to start by forgiving myself, and then asking for forgiveness. And keep on asking whenever I messed up. Because I would keep messing up.
I look back at being a mother now that they are both in high school slipping closer to real live independence away from my loosening grip on what they think and do and go and who they talk to and spend time with, and I pray fiercely that I haven’t effed up too badly. That my good parenting moments have edged out my terrible ones and knowing that I will gladly show up at therapy if they ever ask and listen silently at whatever they hurl at me with clinched fists and humble heart because I never intended to be a mother. I knew I didn’t know what to do with that complex position of power and authority, and when they came I didn’t have the mindset to be any good at it because I had even ever set my thoughts to “one day I want to.” I have survived motherhood the way you survive a plane crash: an utter and complete miracle. It is by the grace of God and (now later in life) the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit that I’m able to be a little bit effective as a mom.
And yet. I am so very glad that I have lived to tell the tale. If I had given up—given them up, I would not have known anything about myself. How it is okay to not be perfectly perfect. How just showing up is sometimes all it takes. How some of my best features and the things that people disliked the most about me as a kid have made parenting not so hard now that they are teenagers, cuz I know how to just sit and listen quietly without judgment (which makes me a safe space). How not taking myself too seriously makes me a fun person (but still a respected one). How it’s okay to make a mistake as long as I own it. How it’s okay to stop and play with the legos and Barbie’s still. How it’s okay to eat the snacks and learn the TikTok dances and be lame and laugh at myself. How much I can give. How much I can give up. How much I can love. How much love I can receive. How much I can adjust. How much I can achieve. How much I can dream. How wonderful it is to have 2 people who are proud to have me just like I am, flaws and all. How blessed I am to have 2 people who carry my features and my lessons and my mannerisms and my culture and my God forward into the earth and will teach their children the good that I have taught them and explain to their children the mistakes that I made and why and how they loved me anyway cuz grandma was a complicated lady who “loved us how she could love us, and it was just enough.”
I didn’t think I’d make it, but as I look at them make friends and rise to the occasions set before them and take risks and enjoy life and get to know God in their own way now as God pursues them? I realize that the messiness was worth the motherhood.
And that’s on that.