I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. (Romans 8:18-19)
Thanksgiving is upon us. It is a time for us to stop, and be mindful of the many blessings we have and how thankful we are (meanwhile we stuff ourselves with obscene amounts of turkey, and develop strategies for black Friday sales). Amidst all the festivities, and family gatherings, and lists of what we are thankful for, many people might walk away with a certain feeling of guilt for not being as “thankful” as we ought to be.
With the insistence that we must be thankful, comes the unspoken sense that if you are in any way not enjoying some aspect of your life, then you are ungrateful for what you have.
For me personally, this guilt tends to revolve around how I feel about my children.
I love my children more than words can express. I would do anything for my children. I get a tremendous amount of joy, happiness, and satisfaction from my children. Every day I count myself blessed to be able to call myself their father.
But raising children is hard, exhausting, and seemingly never ending work. Especially when they are young, and they depend on you to dress them, feed them, bathe them, and entertain them. Virtually every facet of your existence becomes consumed by them. It can certainly wear down on even the most loving and devoted of parents.
However, it never fails, whether it is Thanksgiving season or not, that wherever my wife and I go with our three children (3 years old, 2 years old, and 3 months old) some well-meaning person (typically an older looking woman, who obviously has grown up children) looks at our family, smiles at us in admiration, and then reminds us that we should, “Enjoy every precious moment you have with those little ones! They grow up so fast”.
We always just smile, say thanks, and move on.
What I always want to say is, “That’s easy for you to say. At the end of your day you are going to your neat and tidy house, have a nice and peaceful dinner, spend your evening doing whatever you want to do, and then go to bed and have a nice restful 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.”
“Do you know what the rest of OUR day is going to entail? We will get home; try to get our 3 year old to use the potty. He won’t. We will discover our 2 year old has a poopy diaper. We will change him. We will realize that our 3 month old is 45 minutes past when she was due for a bottle, and now the rest of her day/evening is going to be thrown off and we are faced with the impossible decision of either feeding her an extra big bottle at 6:30, and praying she makes it until morning, or giving her a ‘dream-feed’ bottle at 10 pm when we barely have energy to stay awake. We will go with the first option. We will divide and conquer, with one of us feeding the baby, while the other tries to get two toddler boys to sit still at the table to eat a hodge-podge “dinner” of hot dogs, cut-up grapes and cottage cheese. The cottage cheese will probably mostly get into their hair, requiring an immediate bath following dinner, at which time we will discover that the 2 year old is poopy again (for the 4th time today) and our 3 year old, who didn’t have to use the potty before, has now soiled his underwear (for the 2nd time today). By the time the nasty underwear has been cleaned and the boys are splashing in the bath tub, the baby will have finally been fed and laid down to sleep. We will then spend the rest of the evening trying hopelessly to keep the boys quiet as we get them ready for bed so that they won’t wake the baby. We will have marginal success at that as we dry them off, get them changed into their pajamas, gather up all their “favorite” stuffed animals of the day (all 20 of them), read them bed time stories, brush their teeth, wash their hands (because the bath just didn’t get them clean enough), say bedtime prayers, and lay them down to sleep. However, in spite of our best efforts to keep them quiet, at some point in all of this a door will inevitably get slammed very loudly, causing the baby to wake up. We will listen to the baby fuss on and off through the baby monitor for about 10 minutes, praying that she will settle herself down and go back to sleep. She won’t. We come to the conclusion that we should probably give her another bottle, and will have to go through the process to feed her, burp her, change her, cuddle her, shush her, swaddle her, and finally lay her back to sleep. At this point we will finally sigh a breath of relief and think that the evening is now ours (once we’ve finished cleaning the kitchen table, loading the dishwasher, and picking up the 5 million toys scattered haphazardly around the house), when we realize that our 3 year old is out of bed. We will then spend the next hour tucking him back into bed, pretending to scare away monsters, bribing with promises to go to grandma’s tomorrow, and threats of disciplinary action, before he finally decides to stay in bed and go to sleep. Our evening will finally be ours, at which point we will realize it is 10:30 pm, and that we should probably go to bed ourselves, because we know that at least one (if not all) of the children will be awake at 6 am and we will be facing another long day of runny noses, poopy diapers, kissing boo-boos, and a million other things that it takes to keep a 3 year old, a 2 year old, and 3 month old simultaneously happy. Even though we realize that the idea of all three of them being content at the same time is probably just a dream that will never come true and that we are in the middle of the ultimate of existential struggles.”
“That is what we look forward to today, tomorrow, and EVERY DAY for the next SEVERAL YEARS.”
But I don’t say any of that. Admitting to the stranger (or sometimes even family member) that you are not thoroughly enjoying every single moment of raising your children would be tantamount to not loving your them. Every moment that you are stressed, or frustrated, or angry, is a moment that you are not “cherishing” them. Every moment that you find yourself secretly longing for the day your children are older so you can finally get some rest is a moment when you are not being “thankful” for your children.
I’m sure that in 20 years I will be looking back at pictures of my children as they are now, and I will long for the days that I could cradle them in my arms as babies. I’m sure I will wish I could go back to when my son would pretend to not want me to kiss him, all the while laughing and giggling while I shower him with kisses. I will probably miss the days when I would give one son a piggy back ride around the house, while the other pretends to be a lion and chases us while roaring. I will miss the nights as we are turning the lights out at bed time when my son calls out, “I love you Daddy!” In the midst of all the chaos that is going on, I am storing these moments in my memory, and I know that I will shed a few tears when these days are gone. I do love these moments. I do cherish these moments. I most certainly am thankful for these moments. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
But I can’t handle an entire lifetime of this. Am I not allowed to call the hard times for what they are? Am I not allowed to admit that sometimes I am not sure I have any more in me to give? Am I not allowed to say that I’m looking forward to when things get a little bit easier?
No, it is perfectly acceptable in the midst of a hardship to look forward to better times to come; to have hope in a better future. In fact, as Christians, our entire life is meant to be focused on the future that we have to look forward to in the presence of the glory of God. The apostle Paul tells us, in his letter to the Romans, to find our hope in the midst of our“present sufferings” in the “glory that will be revealed in us”. Any difficulty, any hardship, any suffering, can be endured by focusing on the promise that God has made us that we will have a better tomorrow; even if that “tomorrow” isn’t until we are with Him in heaven.
Jesus himself compared it to a woman in the pains of childbirth:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:20-22)
For the birth of our daughter, a mere 3 months ago, the labor progressed so rapidly that my wife did not have a chance to get the epidural she was planning on. She got to experience first-hand what a fully natural child birth felt like. No drugs. I stood next to her helplessly as she screamed in what seemed like unimaginable pain.
How would it have gone if in the midst of her pain I said, “Honey, don’t forget that childbirth is a miracle, and that this moment will be gone so fast. Make sure you cherish every second of it!” I’m pretty sure if I had said that, it would have been the last thing I ever said.
Yes, childbirth is a miraculous moment. Witnessing the birth of my children are three of the most memorable moments in my life. But it is also probably one of the most painful, miserable, difficult ordeals that a woman can ever go through. No woman should feel guilty for not wanting to relive her labor pains. No woman, who is in the midst of labor pains, should feel guilty for wanting it to be over. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love her child. It doesn’t mean she isn’t grateful for her child. It doesn’t mean that immediately after she has given birth that she doesn’t relish in, and cherish the moment when she gets to hold her baby for the first time. It just means that giving birth is really painful.
Just like a woman giving birth seems to forget the agony of her labor after the child is born, I think parents forget how difficult raising children is when their children are all grown up. I think the well-meaning strangers telling us to cherish these moments with our children are probably only remembering the good times, and selectively forgetting the difficulties. Otherwise they might be more sympathetic to the fact that we might sometimes be looking forward to the day that its over.
Raising children certainly isn’t as painful as childbirth (not that I would know, I’m just guessing). But it certainly lasts longer, and as much as everyone tells you that it is over in the blink of an eye, when you are in the midst of it all it can seem like its lasting forever.
No parent should feel guilty for feeling overwhelmed by it. No parent should feel guilty for feeling worn down by the constant demands, exhaustion, and the day-in-day-out drudgery of the never ending work. No parent should feel guilty for looking forward to when they might get a break from it.
It doesn’t mean they don’t love their children. It doesn’t mean they don’t love and cherish the good moments (and there are plenty of good moments). It doesn’t mean they aren’t thankful for the wonderful family they have.
It just means that parenting is hard. It just means that they are human. And sometimes looking forward to an easier day in the future might be the only way they can muster up the strength to carry on with it.
So the next time you see a family with young children, and the mom and dad seem slightly frazzled, maybe you don’t need to remind them how “fast” things are moving for them. They probably won’t believe you. What they might need to hear more from you is an encouraging, “Hang in there, you got this!”
To all parents of young children out there: children are a blessing, but they are a hard blessing. Cherish the blessings, and this Thanksgiving be sure to take some time to mediate on how thankful you are for them. But don’t feel bad for letting the difficulties get you down. Don’t feel bad for wanting the difficulties to be over with. You are only human. We know that you love your children. We know that you are enjoying a lot of good times with your children. We know that you are thankful for your children. But being thankful doesn’t mean that you have to pretend the hardship doesn’t exist, it just means that you know the hardship is worth it.
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