Breathing in the midst of chaos
I’m standing in the kitchen holding my crying 2 ½ year old. Sobs are bubbling up from deep down, racking her little body and I can feel her heart galloping along at breakneck speed. But she’s letting me hold her, which is good. Better than the last twenty minutes, anyway.
I breathe a sigh of relief that she is my third. Because third time round, you know there’s light at the end of the tunnel. She will get over it, and I feel less threatened. Thank goodness for experience.
I am grateful, too, for housework. Because that’s what I’ve been doing for the past twenty minutes. Maybe that sounds cold and heartless. Like the advice I was given when my oldest was her age. “Just ignore him.” That didn’t work for me then, and still doesn’t. No, right now, housework is giving me an opportunity to stay near her without crowding her. I can be mindful of her, picking up on small cues in her pitch and body language, waiting for the moment when she’ll allow herself to be comforted. And I can take care of myself, reducing my own frustration. After all, by the time she’s calmed down, I’ve managed to get her lunch on the table and a lot of washing in the machine – and after lunch she’s going to have her nap. Phew.
Most of all, I am thankful for the absence of guilt feelings. For me, that’s a new(ish) place to be in. One that I certainly did not inhabit when my two older ones were little. To tell the truth, I was totally taken aback by the sudden cacophony of voices inside my head when I first encountered the “terrible twos”. Well, terrible one-and-a-half-to-fours, more like. Lots of people – mostly those living rent-free in my head but also a few real ones – suddenly had a thing or two to say about my parenting (or lack thereof). Why were they crying in the first place, why wasn’t I managing controlling my children, where was the discipline? One particularly unwelcome cerebral resident, whenever a child of mine behaved in an inconvenient manner, reminded me in the voice of a family member that all they needed was “a good spanking”. Suffice it to say that I didn’t act on the impulse – in fact, the impulse became a warning sign, a red flag that highlighted (and still does) to me that there was something wrong in the power balance between my children and myself, a sign I needed help, support, a break. Now, six years later, these voices have fallen almost silent. And I’m so thankful. It’s been a long road. Escaping the narrow confines of the faith community I was brought up in and becoming part of a vibrant and compassionate church community has been a very healing experience and was a major contributor to this change.
I’m thankful, too, for being able to see my own limitations. I once timed a tantrum. My oldest wasn’t two yet and it went on for forty minutes solid. And that was not uncommon, nor was my child the only one to flip in that way, as many other parents have confirmed to me over the years. Would I do things differently now? I’m not sure. I don’t remember the situations well enough to know whether I could have improved on what I did then. Probably yes, because experience is always on your side. But sometimes it is just plain tough, sometimes there’s nothing you can do apart from riding it out, and it takes humility to accept that. In fact, I believe it is humility that stops us from beating ourselves up – not to be confused with a popular misconception, according to which humility is beating ourselves up, but that’s a topic for another time.
For me, being a mum has been an exciting journey and one that’s changed me in ways I would never have thought. I’ve had to face up to dark places inside me, ugly anger and rage I’d never have thought possible. I have lost it with my children too many times and have had to ask for outside help (and that was a choice that still pays dividends). But through it all, and here I’m writing as a Christian – I wouldn’t be telling the whole story, in fact not even half, if I left that out – I have become more intensely aware of Father’s hand holding mine, of Him silencing deceptive voices of false guilt. Yet there are also voices of guilt that are real. When I have messed up and hurt my children in the process. And it is here that I’ve really experienced Jesus’ power to wash away guilt, to forgive real wrongs, squeegee on whiteboard, to help move on, not on my own but in His strength, because frankly, I wasn’t able to do it on my own. And for that I am thankful beyond words.
“When condemnation grips my heart
And Satan tempts me to despair
I hear the voice that scatters fear
The Great I Am the Lord is here
Oh praise the One who fights for me
And shields my soul eternally”
(Gilkeson Gareth Andrew & Llewellyn Christopher Dean)