This beautiful advice comes from my equally beautiful friend, Kathleen. It was a simple sentence she said in the midst of a conversation about why she chose to become a certified infant sleep coach. She may not even remember it, but it left a profound impact on me.
Hearing it spoken out loud, it sounds so obvious. Raising tiny pieces of your soul to build up and contribute to the next generation shouldn’t be painful, miserable work. Yet too often I fall into thinking that it is.
It can quickly become one more day to just get through. One more late night waking. One more grumpy mood. One more accident requiring the fifth sheet washing in a week. One more tantrum about how desperately hungry they are only to turn away after two bites of food. One more delayed phone call to a friend or family member because the energy simply isn’t there after a day of caring for tiny humans. One more lost temper on my part resulting in a little broken heart.
The overwhelm and guilt of parenting can be extreme and seem all-encompassing. Because the truth is these moments do exist. No matter my skill at reframing a situation to find the positive or my ardent commitment to appreciate the gift of parenting, there are simply moments when there’s not enough time and energy to gain perspective. In these moments, I recite Kathleen’s words.
This mantra helps me desperately seek and cling to the joy that is always there along with the struggles. Joy that I’ve often missed by taking it for granted.
The mornings when they come bounding out of bed excited to see me and talk about our day. Quiet snuggles on the couch while they patiently wait for me to finish my coffee. Molly’s pride as she practices writing letters thousands of times and tracks her own improvement. Emma putting away all the toys without my asking. A hurt child who confides their pain in me rather than lashing out. An unsolicited thank you for making dinner. A peaceful bedtime when I can hardly leave the room between “I love you”s said on repeat.
Apart from being a lovely reminder to find moments of joy in parenting, this wise advice has also spurred us to take intentional action in crafting a family life that makes us joyful. At the top of the list is spending time together. Prioritizing our family life led to my choosing to leave my job and become a stay-at-home mom after Molly was born. A decision I never planned to make and one I was extremely lucky to be able to make. It prompted Jeff to work all night shifts to give us a consistent schedule and allow him to be a part of every day, including dinner and bedtime. It drives us to travel as a family as often as we can to learn and experience new places and people together.
It has also led to many lifestyle decisions that contribute to more peaceful days. We hired Kathleen and sleep trained both of our girls in their first year. We moved to a smaller space with easier access to restaurants, outdoor space, and our lovely church to ease time spent commuting and caring for our home and now non-existent outdoor space. We downsized to one car. We use minimalism to control excess in our belongings and schedule to have more room for freedom.
We choose to accept help. This is an area where I struggle and as such it’s one I try to be more intentional about. Our dear friend, Christy, spent hours of her time and expertise helping us find a car seat solution that enables us to remain in our current car with three children. This included installing carseats in ninety degree heat. Twice. And feeding us lunch in the process. Our friends and family field our joyful and painful texts about our latest parenting ventures. They share in and augment our joy by taking an active interest in the girls’ interests and connecting with them on more than a superficial level. They babysit lovingly to give us time to connect to each other and other friends.
Parenting has provided me with my deepest sources of joy, but not a cliche joy that has me look back on my worst day and assume I’ll one day pine for the tiny disasters it included. It’s a joy that I am able to take an active part in crafting and growing. A joy that is the daily recognition of the tiniest gifts and growths in the littlest humans and myself. A joy that Molly expressed perfectly when arriving home after a busy day: “I just love our home. It makes me feel like Christmas.”