When I got married to my husband 11 years ago, I knew all about the saying, “love is a choice.” I realized that the “falling in love” kind of love didn’t last. You know, the feeling of walking on clouds, not being able to concentrate on anything but your loved one, just wanting to be together every second of every day? I had had enough education about love and marriage to know that that euphoria didn’t last for years and years into the marriage. And it did settle down. A few years in, I began to understand first hand that love and a healthy relationship in the marriage takes some work, patience and time, especially when the kids began to arrive. But this new kind of love in its place is so much better. The love of 11 years and counting has a depth and a strength that new love can’t compete with.
But what I wasn’t prepared for or taught in marriage counseling is that good parenting is a decision. I didn’t know that good parenting also took work, a lot of patience, an unbelievable amount of time investment and endurance.
I believe I started strong. Seven years ago, I went into the world of parenting well rested and with several years of teaching experience. I felt pretty confident in my ability to be a good mom. I had good parents as role models. I knew I had a natural ability in working with young children and I had seen my siblings raise their kids. As a teacher, I had good classroom management skills and great relationships with my students which I knew could carry over into parenting. I read a million books about babies. I read about pregnancy, feeding, labour (believe it or not, I watched videos of women in labour to see what I could expect), the first year, etc.
I had a very strong start. Jonathan and I felt so confident as parents, we had 3 babies in 3 years (ok, some of that had to do with getting the maximum benefit from maternity leaves). Feeling ever so confident still, we decided to go for the 4th. We didn’t want baby #4 to feel left behind, so we went ahead and got pregnant 15 months after the 3rd. But to our astonishment, we were expecting babies #4 AND #5. I remember telling the ultrasound technician as a slid off the table, “that’s a lot of kids. I already have 3 little ones.” A few minutes later, I sat in the van with my white knuckles gripping the steering wheel in shock. I wasn’t sure I could drive home. Was this van big enough anyway?
When the twins arrived, Jonathan and I went into absolute survival mode. The goal of the day was to survive the day. Feed the kids, feed ourselves, tend to basic needs, sleep when possible.
But, even with 5 kids in 4 3/4 years, I’ve tried to maintain our standard of parenting. But lately I’ve been feeling my standard slip. Seven years in, I’m getting tired. I’m tired of being consistent. I’m tired of repeating the same things over and over like reminding my children to use manners and say, “can I have some more milk, please?” and “thank you” when I give them something they’ve asked for.
I’m tired of the resistance. The resistance I get when kids don’t want to do chores or put on their pajamas. The complaining I hear when food is set in front of them they don’t like. The whining over not being able to have more pop, more juice, more cookies, more candy, more screen time. The battles over who had which toy first and who gets to have it and who has to give it up. The settling of disputes over who doesn’t want to play superheroes and who gets to go first.
It is exhausting. It is difficult to stay strong and not give in to the whining or get sucked into the complaining.
Two weeks ago, after feeling like quitting my mom job, I realized I can’t quit. It isn’t an option. And not only can I not quit, I need to keep doing a good job. A very good job.
Being a good parent is what I want to be. It is what God requires of me. God has blessed us with 5 beautiful, healthy children. Being lazy about parenting isn’t what God expects from me when he gave us his children to care for. It reminds me of the passage from Luke 12:48b,
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
I want to have well-behaved, emotionally stable children who know right from wrong. But more importantly, I want them to love God above all else, love others and to show respect to everyone around them.
The only way they will truly learn this is by my example (and by the grace of God). I can’t quit because it’s hard. I have to keep going and do what needs to be done each day. I need to strive to do this parenting thing well even when it’s difficult and I feel like slipping away quietly to my dark room and throwing myself under the covers and pretending I can stay there a long time before hearing someone yell, “Mommy! Where are you?!”
So when they call, I will throw back the covers, put my feet on the floor and answer, “I’m here! I’m in my room!” Because this is what they need. They need me to be here. They need my decision to be a good parent.
For love is a choice.