Once upon a time, I had a little boy who was a very restless baby. He was eight months old, his brother was two years old, and his big sister was 5 years old, and just starting kindergarten.
This little cherub, while sleeping pretty well at night, refused to nap well in the day time. His little brother had two hours every afternoon. He happily had me read two or three stories to him and he'd fall asleep quite nicely. Even his big sister, going to school half days, would come home and occasionally fall asleep on the couch for a while -- wait, she's recently been diagnosed with narcolepsy; that explains that. But that little baby; well, I felt like there was nothing predictable about life, and that is where I struggle most: I like structure, and this child was teaching me how to let go of that.
It was a tiring time. There was chaos. There was lack of sleep. There were too many nights when my husband had to work late. There was an extended period of time where his job took him out of the province, and he was only home two days a week. There were trips to the emergency room with the older boy, just diagnosed with asthma. Like many other mothers, I was exhausted.
There were busier households than mine, of course. As my mother repeatedly pointed out "Well, you only have three; try having four kids five and under" (like she did). I shall forever be less than a good mother because I didn't have four. But I felt busy. It was overwhelming at times. The balance of power shifts when you have three kids; two laps, three kids. Two attention spans; three kids. If there were struggles and spats among them, it was always when there were three of them. I rememeber one evening, around 5:00, after not having showered all day, looking at my house which was in entire disarray and having nothing substantial to cook for dinner (praise God for a husband who didn't care if the fare was nothing more than scrambled eggs), and just laying my head on the counter top and crying.
I know a lot of young mothers who had worse days than this, and felt the same. I probably felt sorry for myself more than I ought to have.
I felt like this parenting gig was pretty hard. Stubborn kids who don't want to get toilet trained; arguing over ridiculous things, flushing Winnie the Pooh figurines down the toilet, writing on walls; it was a busy time. God makes women to be the most fertile at a young age for a reason.
And then something happened many years later that revealed to me how very hard things could be. It hurt with a pain that I will never forget. When our kids are older, the kind of struggles we have with them can be extremely painful. I learned what it was to sorrow and grieve about a child. It could have been much worse, of course, and I know parents who have dealt with worse, but I had never dealt with it at all, and I was reeling for a long time. Young children display their depravity in a variety of ways; teenagers display it in more adult-like ways.
I have not forgotten the struggle of parenting young children. I remember how hard and tiring it was. It's just that in between the temper tantrums and squabbles and mess and where I am now, other things happened that took the edge off those struggles. Time has a way of softening things. Perhaps when I'm older and in my rocking chair, I'll see the teen years in a softer light. I don't know.
What I know for certain is that no matter the size of the struggle, God's grace is sufficient for me. Perhaps if I hadn't gone through those struggles with my teens I wouldn't have learned that. I don't think I learned it when my kids were younger. To my shame, I suspect I relied more on my organization and focus than God; and even then, He was the one behind it all, anyway. I didn't really see how much I needed God's grace in parenting until he brought along a struggle where being highly organized and focused was absolutely meaningless.
The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12, talks about a thorn in his flesh. I'm not equating my teenagers with a thorn in my flesh, but his sentiment is applicable to any struggle. Paul discovered that God's grace was sufficient for him (2 Cor. 12:9), and he was at peace with his infirmities. The truth that God's grace is sufficient applies to parenting. I learned through parenting teenagers how to say quite honestly:
I count it all joy, Lord, that I have met with a trial, because I know that the testing of my faith produces steadfastness, and that it will have its effect, that I will be perfect, lacking in nothing.
It took me a while to say it, but I said it; out loud in my car one morning while I was driving.
I do remember the struggle of parenting small children, but the struggles I had parenting my teens was where I learned to thank God for trials. Perhaps I should have learned that when the were younger; maybe it would have helped me further down the road.
What can I say? I'm not always the sharpest knife in the drawer.