Early on, I decided that it was my life goal to be a mom. No. It was my life goal to be THE Mom. I would vacuum in pearls. I would homeschool a houseful of creative, kind children. We would have picnics under the oak tree and maybe sing on a mountain meadow as I gently strummed my guitar. Ten years into momming has taught me that perfection in mothering is impossible. And yet, stubbornly, I keep seeking it. I berate myself for missing my own lofty mark. We all miss the mark. But, for some, we miss the mark even farther because of a chronic struggle. Illness, addiction, and pain keep us from being the parent we want to be.
In my own small way, I have a taste of this. I was raised by my dad who suffered with chronic pain. Every moment of every day he suffered and still does. That pain began to rob him of things he loved and it took its toll on his spirit. My sister and I watched helplessly while he writhed in wordless agony during episodes of unbearable pain. We watched him age quickly and lose his joy. Chronic pain is no way to live but, trying to be a single parent in the midst of it, is insurmountable. Now that I am grown I have my own of chronic pain. About once a week a get a migraine. It starts in my temple, travels behind my eyes down my neck and into my shoulder and mid arm. The pain is unreal. Gradually, my eyes swell shut and all I can do is blindly try to keep my kids alive. Normally, I can take some meds and, if I do it soon enough, the migraine will subside. But when I am pregnant or nursing I can’t take my meds. When those migraines hit they can last a couple of days or more. I go from an active, over-achieving mom to a wincing ghost.
I’m not writing this for sympathy. Nor do I want medical or homeopathic advice, I’ve tried it all. I’m just painting a picture of a struggle. I know that what I have to deal with is nothing compared to some. During our travels, I had the privilege of meeting up with a friend I went to school with who moved to the Nashville area. Her migraines are so intense that she has to make regular trips to Chicago for treatments that aren’t always very effective. Yet she has two darling little ones who need her. I know another mom who, through two pregnancies, suffered with cancer. And yet, in the middle of all of the pain, there are children in the mix whose needs are still as high as ever, sometimes higher because stress in the home makes them extra needy. Little babies still need to be nursed through the night, pee accidents need to be mopped off of the floor and, remarkably, kids still need to eat three times a day. Tantrums, diaper blow outs, school, hurt feelings all still happen. How is a person supposed to be a good parent when it is all they can do to get through the day without breaking down. Depression, alcoholism, chronic pain and disease happen with unfair regularity to people who want to be wonderful parents.
The question is this:
How can a person be a good parent when they are battling something huge?
This is where we need to figure out what is the stuff of good parenting and what is just accessories.
My list of good mothering used to include without exception these things: reading to my kids every day, gardening, good housekeeping, healthy and delicious meals, fun crafts and activities, exposure to art and beauty, and the list goes on (and on and on). But what I know now is that, while all of those things are good things, they are accessories.
The Bible is sometimes annoyingly quiet about the specifics of parenting. I want a step by step formula. Now I know that the few and sweet admonitions of walking alongside my kids and having conversations about God and training up my children in the way they are bent are some of the very few specific parenting passages. The Bible doesn’t say, thou shalt wear denim rompers and homeschool your 25 kids. It doesn’t say that because God has authored different stories for each of us and what is good for one is not okay for another. Feeding my kids boxed mac and cheese and graham crackers all day while they sit in front of the television isn’t okay if I am well enough to provide a healthy meals and care for them, but it is okay if I can only open my eye a slit to get myself to the kitchen. There are seasons of pain for all of us and in those times we each, individually, have to figure out what the definition of being a good parent is in that season.
Here is my new list of what it means to be a good parent:
to love God with all of your heart, mind and strength,
to pray without ceasing,
and to be as available as possible to the needs of your children.
Everything else will sort itself out in its own time.
My kids understand deep down why I can’t always be an involved, fun mom. They probably get tired of my headaches and wish I could open my eyes long enough to read a book or play a game with them, but they know that I love them and that’s enough. Striving for excellence in parenting is great. I’m for it. But sometimes, parenting is a survival game. its a game where grace is the only winning strategy.
How about you? Do you find yourself stifled by something chronic and wondering how to be a decent parent on top of it all? I’d love your thoughts!
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