Wednesday, 11 May 2016

I'm not the parent I thought I would be

Before I had my first child, let's be clear, I didn't really want kids so I didn't spend much time thinking about how I might raise children. I didn't spend time with other people's kids either: I could count the occasions I babysat on one hand (and then only on the condition that they were asleep when I arrived!). As far as I was concerned, as long as they were someone else's responsibility and kept quietly out of the way when I was around, I was ok with them.

That said, occasionally I had conversations about kids with parents. Given how big a part of a parent's life their children are, it's a hard to avoid subject. Once I was married, and many of my friends were too, the subject would come up more often. And once I was pregnant of course it was something I sought out deliberately - I was obviously very aware of how little I knew about child rearing and how much catching up I had to do!

Looking back I think I had an advantage, though. I came into parenthood with minimal preconceived ideas and old-wives wisdoms. For the most part, I just did what felt right and trusted that my prayers for help would be answered when I needed them to be. And that's what happened! I didn't read what I now know to be guilt-inducing, formulaic books written by nannies and other women without children of their own (and I thank God for this). I prayed and then I trusted. And now I look back at my little one's first year without regrets, only joy... I look at her now, a year and a half old, and the joy still regularly takes my breath away. When she sleeps - next to me, in my bed where she's been from the beginning - I still often struggle to fall asleep because I can't stop looking at her. Motherhood is amazing.

That's not the parenthood experience I expected!

My experience seems to be the opposite of many of my friends. Many of them couldn't wait to be mothers, but once they were, found things overwhelming and confusing. I found things easier than I ever expected and beautifully clear. Maybe it's also partly an age thing. I was in my 30's, having had a pretty good career with fair amounts of responsibility. Perhaps that's why I didn't look to other people's guidance so much and just trusted my own intuition. I question authority; always have - I do my own research.

With the way I wanted kids out of the way and quiet, I sort of expected to rule my children with an iron fist. I certainly was that way with my own sister (6 years younger): what I said went, when we grew up. For my own, at the time not-yet-there children, nothing was off the table in my mind - naughty steps? Spanking? Time outs? Hey, whatever works to keep the rugrats contained! That's the parent I thought I would be.

I didn't know about the love.
I didn't know about the joy.
And I didn't know about the trust, that unlimited, complete trust in my child's eyes that I was good. That I was for her, that I was her refuge, her safe place.

How can I possibly betray that trust?

I can't. Against all my expectations, I have discovered that this little being in my care is actually a fully formed, fully functional human with a loving and caring personality, who deserves the same respect as any grown up human. Not sure why but I hadn't quite realised this simple fact before!

She trusts me and that's all I need to know about how to treat her. I see my role as nourishing her in every way, but also enabling her to go confidently out into the world to explore it - knowing the safety of mum is there to run to, an anchor. I don't hold her back from being independent, but I "spot" her if she gets into potential trouble... I was given this amazing gift, this trusting little person, and I can only do my best to justify that freely given trust to the best of my ability.

It's a beautiful relationship, not a one-way managerial job of keeping the kid contained. I never knew!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Things parenthood teaches me about God: the Body

I often find myself in awe of how God has made natural things in the world to reveal something about himself. Everywhere you look, things speak about him - how sure it is that there will be a new sunrise after the sunset speaks about his faithfulness and dependability, for example.

Since God is at the very core a relational being, I suppose it makes sense that the greatest lessons about him are found in relationships. Like marriage between a man and a woman - where the man's role reflects Christ, and the bride's does the Church. I've learned a lot about God's character from my own marriage relationship... my man truly does serve and lay his life down for me.

And now, parenthood. Going deeper still, I keep seeing new things that amaze me. This one came to me in the night, when my 19 month old struggled to sleep because of teething pain and wind...

My body is her comfort. 

As she struggled with pain, she snuggled in to me. I couldn't take the pain away of course but being close to me gave her instant comfort.

When she's hurting - whether by accident, by someone else, or through her own fault - she always runs to my body. It's not my words she needs at first, when the upset is strong; she needs my hands, my arms, my embrace. She knows it's safe there, that no part of my body will ever hit, hurt or otherwise (intentionally) do her harm, so no matter how bad things are I can feel her tense body relaxing almost instantly as she cuddles into me.

In the 19 months of her life, my body has been consistently there for her 24/7. Day and night, my body is within reach to provide comfort and literally nourishment (milk) whenever she needs it. That's probably why she's never taken to any "comfort items" like special blankets or dummies - the real thing has always been available.

She's getting more independent by the day, explores the world, walks away from me... but she always knows I'm there if needed. My body is available to her.

What does this teach me about God?

Two things. The body - my body is to my girl what Christ's body is for all people: my relationship with my little one reflects a truth about God's Body. And who is the Body of Christ? We are, the church. I'm both part of the body, and an individual child. As God's child, is it my first instinct to run to his Body for comfort and support? And as part of that same body, am I being that open, available, safe place of comfort for those who are hurting, whether by accident, someone else's, or their own fault? We need to be ready with our arms open and welcoming, providing, embracing - not judging, not lecturing. I'm part of that body and I need to do my part in this.

And secondly, the child - on an individual level, doesn't God tell us to come to him like a child? Trusting... arriving with all our needs and hurts... he never asked that we sort ourselves out before we come to him. When my little girl runs to me, crying, nose running, sobbing about something: I just embrace her, and hold her tight. God does the same. He is simply there. I'm amazed.