Boaz turned 5 today. People always say it – but that 5 years went by unbelievably quickly! I’ve been on a very steep learning curve, and I’m still learning every day. But here are what I think are the 5 biggest things, in no particular order, that I’ve learnt since becoming a mummy.
- Breastfeeding is hard. Like, really hard. Before Boaz was born, my midwife gave me a DVD of young mums’ positive experiences of breastfeeding (I think because I was 21 I fell into the ‘young mums’ category). Breastfeeding was sold as this wonderful, pain-free, bonding experience which would perfectly nourish my baby and give me time to snuggle and nurture them. Pictures on the walls of the children’s centre were of mums blissfully looking down at their sweetly sleeping baby as he or she nursed peacefully.
I’m calling time on this tosh. What a lot of rubbish. Now, if you’re one of the lucky ones who seems to feed with no problem, then feel free to ignore the rest of this point. But for the rest of us, I want to ask: where on those pictures were the tears of a mummy who was beyond exhausted from sleep deprivation? Where were the pictures of a mum whose breasts were so sore she couldn’t even shower because the water hurt? Or of the mum who had to sleep with muslins shoved down her bra because, for some reason, her body thought she was feeding the 5000, not just the one baby? Whose nipples were so cracked and painful that there was almost as much blood as milk? Who squeezed her husband’s hand when feeding because it was nearly as awful as the labour? Whose heart sank every time she heard her baby wake up because she knew she had to try and latch them on again? And then there’s mastitis. Flu like symptoms?!?! Please! When do you ever have flu but have to wake up every hour to feed a baby? Or when is a standard flu symptom to have excruciating pain in your breasts?
Breastfeeding is hard. That’s the truth. Sometimes it’s full on awful. It hurts, it’s tricky, it’s exhausting – and it’s flipping cold when you’re at the park in the winter with older children. But it does give us some opportunity to reflect on Christ and His suffering. He endured what He did because of His love for us, in the same way as we endure breastfeeding because of the love we have for our children (and perhaps also because it’s free!). That’s not at all saying that mums who don’t breastfeed love their children any less – we’ve just said how horrendous it is and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, breast feeding just won’t work out. But perhaps if we were a bit more honest about this fewer mums would feel shocked and alone when it isn’t the beautiful serene bonding experience it’s supposed to be!
- I am very, very sinful. It’s not like I was under any illusion before I had children that I wasn’t sinful – but having children seems to bring out both the best and the worst in people! I lack patience: I shout at the boys because they haven’t put their shoes on quickly enough. I’m desperately selfish: I’ll make excuses not to play with the boys because I’m checking Facebook. I’m lazy: I’ll stick on the TV or just dish out some punishment rather than try to help my children deal with the attitudes of their hearts. I’m resentful: I grow bitter against my husband that he doesn’t have to do the night feeds. And so the list goes on…
It’s not been especially pleasant having to really acknowledge the extent of this side of me over the last few years. But it has, nonetheless, been encouraging, because it is not the healthy in need of a Physician…
- Jesus isn’t Supernanny. Obviously. But all too often I found myself desperately pleading with God that he would somehow reveal himself in this way. How, I asked, can He really love my children if He’s given them to me with no clue of what to do? The answer, I’ve come to realise, is two-fold.
Firstly, God has revealed Himself through His Word. If I take the time to study Scripture and prayerfully read it, then I will come to know more and more the heart of God. It might not give me ‘3 easy steps’ to follow when I don’t know what I’m doing, but it will lead me closer to raising my children as Christ would have done. Over the years, I’ve got to know my husband more and more, and so I’m more able to make decisions that I think he would make, even though it may be a completely new situation. The same is true of God: the Bible may not tell me exactly how much sugar I should allow my children to have a day, but it does teach me about God and that our dependency and comfort should be in him, not in sugary treats. And it does teach me that we are created in the image of God, and that God had a physical body in Jesus, and so how we treat our physical bodies does matter.
Secondly, Supernanny goes into a home, shows them how to fix the problem, and then leaves them so that they have control of the situation themselves. This is not what God is in the business of doing. In fact, the very idea that God would waltz in, give us 3 easy steps to follow and then leave us to it is the complete opposite to the narrative of the Bible and the Gospel of hope that we have. God did give us rules – to begin with one very simple one, and then a plethora of more complicated but, nonetheless, theoretically do-able rules. And we couldn’t, we simply couldn’t keep them. So Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life fulfilling all the law and then bore the wrath and death that should have been for us, so that we could be forgiven. He did it for us, because we can’t. And the Holy Spirit is given to us to help us in following Christ – but not because we have to or because it has anything to do with our salvation. But because God has works through the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and so we want to follow God’s way, and it is part of our sanctification. Even if Jesus did come as Supernanny, our sinfulness (see above point) would mean we simply couldn’t follow any parenting law perfectly. Parenting law, like any law, would crush us. We need Jesus’ righteousness and grace in parenting as in anything. And we need to walk with Him and pray for the Holy Spirit to work within us. There’s no way we could do this on our own with a set of rules!
- My kids are fun. I assumed that I would love my children, that I would nurture them, that I would read and sing and play with them. But I don’t think I ever expected them to be fun: that I would really enjoy their company. They make me laugh; they lift my spirits with a cuddle; they amaze me with what they’ve observed; they entertain me with stories and shows. Motherhood is hard – but it can also be lots of fun if we let it. We do have to be intentional about it too, though. Sometimes we have to make a determined decision that reading another story cuddled up on the sofa takes priority over being on time, or that sharing a one-off sneaky biscuit when they wake at 3am is going to be more important than our sleep, or that instead of snapping when we feel tired and irritable we’ll take a deep breath and scoop them up for a hug.
- God is awesome. When I first thought about this point, it was going to say something like ‘I’m amazed at what I can achieve’ or ‘I can cope with so much more than I realised’. But neither of these statements is true. At all. What is true is that God really is the Sustainer of life: when you’re so sleep deprived that you think you’re going to throw up and you cry all day, God sustains and somehow you make it through till bedtime. God really is Provider: when you’re run down and overwhelmed, God puts people in your life to share your burdens. God really is Healer: when you’ve taken out all your frustrations on your husband, God works a healing power in your relationship. God really is Sovereign: when nothing makes sense and you can’t see a path through, God knows the path and will take you down it. God really is the Giver of life: when you have nothing left to give, God still uses you to give to your children.