And if you thought this post was going to be about cleaning...No. I don't clean.
Let me ask you a question: What do a dictionary, my favorite pair of boots, and a box of baby wipes have in common? They are all heavier than my son was when he was born.
On February 22, 2013, I woke up to what I expected to be an ordinary day. The first thing I did was shower and shave my legs, which should have been a sign that this day was going to be a weird one, but I didn't think much of it at the time. I was 26 weeks pregnant with my first child and was heading to my monthly check-up at the OB's office. We knew were having a boy, and we knew we were naming him Joshua Michael. Michael, after both our dads and my husband, and Joshua, because that is one Biblical dude you don't want to mess with.
I drove to my appointment, hoping it wouldn't take too long so I wouldn't miss too much work. I was saving up my vacation days for maternity leave that I was supposed to start in June and didn't want to waste any time. Plus I had leftover chicken fingers in the car that I was planning to eat on the way to work because that's how I roll. However, Joshua had other plans. After I arrived at my appointment and had been examined, the nurse realized that I was developing pre-eclampsia, a condition that is dangerous for both pregnant mothers and unborn babies. She sent me to the local hospital. I called my husband on the way there, trying to act like it was no big deal and that he should only come if he reeeaaally wanted to. He really did, so he and my mom met me there.
When I got there I was more annoyed than anything. I knew everything would be fine and I just wanted to get to work. And my chicken fingers. But everything wasn't fine. They checked on Josh and realized he was barely moving, he was too small, and he wouldn't respond to anything. So I was sent to another hospital, one that specialized in helping premature babies. At this hospital, they found that not only was Josh small and unresponsive, he was rapidly growing worse. A doctor came in and did an ultrasound and explained to us that it seemed like the umbilical cord was not giving Josh the nutrition he needed - basically, it was only working about half the time. They said I would have to stay in the hospital and they would need to check on him every day for a while. I didn't understand part of the scan and asked the doctor to show me again. And while he was explaining it to me, he noticed that now the umbilical cord had stopped working altogether. Unless Josh was born that night, he would not survive more than a few hours.
Have you ever gone down the steps and missed the very last stair? It's so surprising, so unpredictable, and a jolt of fear goes through you that is so deep and sudden that it takes you a minute to recover, even though you are okay. That's what I felt like. When they told me Joshua would be born that night, it felt like I was missing stair after stair and no one could catch me.
I was rushed to the operating room for an emergency c-section. It was so surreal. I felt like I was watching my life on a movie screen, like I wasn't really even part of it. At 7:08 in the evening, my son Joshua was born. He weighed one pound, seven ounces, and was 12.5 inches long. He was smaller than this Beanie Baby. I could have fit him in my shoe. But the doctors advised against that. The doctor brought him to me, told me I could give him a kiss, and then took him away to the NICU, where they would work for hours to save him.
My son was in the hospital for 115 days. He had dozens of blood transfusions, was on a ventilator for several weeks, and had a level two brain bleed. During his time in the NICU, he developed a blood infection, had both of his lungs collapse multiple times, and stopped breathing on several occasions. I didn’t get to hold him until he was two weeks old. It was a terrible, difficult time in our lives. But God is good, and on June 17, when he was four months old, we finally brought our boy home. Today he weighs eighteen pounds, is trying to walk, and has the biggest ears I have ever seen.
The first few months with Joshua at home are still sort of a blur. He needed to see a pulmonologist, a cardiologist, a physical therapist, an audiologist, an optometrist, and basically any other doctor that ends in “ist.” He was on oxygen at all times and we had to cart his tank and monitors with us wherever we went. And let me tell you, there is no graceful way to unload an oxygen tank from a minivan. None. Don’t even try it. Just accept that you will look ridiculous and move on.
At night, Josh had to be hooked up to a machine that monitored his heart rate and oxygen levels. My husband and I were regularly heard asking each other if we had remembered to plug the baby in. It was stressful, but we didn’t know any other way. We just did what we needed to so Josh would be happy and healthy. And after a while we fell into a routine that, while not exactly easy, was at least doable.
When Josh first came home, my husband and I decided we would wait for several years before discussing any more children, if we even decided to have another one at all. That was the plan that we thought we best for our family. But have you ever heard the saying "We plan and God laughs"? Well, God is still laughing over what happened next. When Joshua was barely seven months old, we found out that we were expecting our second child. We were floored. I took about twenty tests just to make sure I hadn't gotten it wrong. It turns out it's pretty difficult to mess up peeing on a stick and we determined I was indeed pregnant.
I was not excited. This was not our plan. At this point, Josh was still on supplemental oxygen and monitors and saw a specialist of some kind about once a week. I had been laid off from my job just before Josh came home and we had moved in with my parents. We were barely keeping our heads above water. Long story short, another child was not ideal for us at the time.
I know I sound cold. I promise I'm nicer to my kids when I talk to them. Most of the time. But I was panicked. With Joshua, everything had gone wrong. What if the same thing happened again? What if this baby was born even earlier? What if she needed oxygen and specialists and was sick? I didn't think I had it in me to do all of that again. Everyone around me told me God had it under control, and I knew that He did, but I still worried about what that meant for my family.
We found out we were having a girl this time. After a fairly uneventful pregnancy, our daughter Jenna was born on May 29 of this year. She was perfectly healthy and we were able to come home after only a few days in the hospital. Just like with Joshua, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her.
But Jenna also kind of scared me. Not like she was scary-looking or hid in my closet at night with a Freddie Kruger mask; just that she was so totally, completely…normal. There was no monitor attached to her so I could check her heart rate. She didn't need to see any specialists and had no breathing problems. My entire experience with babies until Jenna was born had consisted of hospitals and cardiologists and oxygen tanks and physical therapists. To be able to take her with me to the grocery store, to not have to worry if someone got too close to her at church, to put her to bed without taping a little monitor to her foot - this was all brand new territory for us.
And then the comparisons began. I want to state first that I love my kids equally. I am so proud of both of them. Josh has a pretty significant developmental delay but he works really hard to catch up. And Jenna smells like strawberries, which I appreciate. But it was hard not to separate my children into a "failure" and "success" category. I never realized how behind Joshua was until I saw what Jenna could do. When she grabbed for a toy at two months - something Josh hadn't done until he was almost a year old - I called my husband and told him our daughter was a genius. I tried not to compare, but with every milestone that Jenna met, I would mentally put her in the "success" column and then wait for Josh to do something so I could put him the success column, too.
And after a while, I started to resent Joshua. I know. I am the mother of the year. I was just so tired of dealing with everything. I was tired of explaining our lives to people. I was tired of smiling politely while people informed me that my son was a little small for his age, and they wondered if I was concerned about it. I was tired of working so hard for the tiniest victories that other people got to take for granted.
Are you familiar with Debbie Downer from Saturday Night Live? She was a character that always brought down the mood of whatever room she was in. Any time someone would say something happy or encouraging, Debbie would counter it with something incredibly depressing and ridiculous. Her statements were accompanied by a sound effect that went something like wahhhh, wahhhhhhhh.
I always loved the Debbie Downer skits. But even though the skits were funny and not meant to be taken seriously, it felt like Debbie Downer was following my family, waiting for something good to happen so she could bring us all down again. With every issue Joshua faced, I heard the wahhhh, wahhhh in the back of my mind. He finally started babbling! Yay! Except he should be saying at least ten words by now so we should focus on that. Wahhh, wahhh. He finally learned to hold his own bottle! Wow! Except by now he is supposed to be using sippy cups and we need to take the bottles away. Wahhhh, wahhh. You get the picture. I was so frustrated that he was still behind after all of his hard work, and I started to be angry with him for not catching up faster. And then I compared him and Jenna more and more, to the point where I would write down when Jenna reached milestones just so I could compare to when Josh met the same milestones. It was like a I was keeping a scorecard of my children’s accomplishments.
It took me a while to realize that I was even doing it. And then it took me even longer to realize why I was doing it. Why did I feel the need to compare my children? They are so different in so many ways it would be like comparing an ostrich to an alligator. I knew that comparing was pointless and would ultimately only hurt me and my kids, but I still felt the need to keep score. I think a lot of us are familiar with that feeling. As moms, we are constantly surrounded by people who are judging our choices and making us feel like we can't even blink without causing permanent damage to our child's psyche. Just look at the arguments between mothers, more fondly known as the mommy wars. We argue about eeeeeeverything. Whether it's where our babies sleep or what kind of surface they will poop on, we find a way to make sure that everyone knows how wrong their choices are. And when we run out of things to argue about, we rehash the original arguments over and over again.
Isn’t that crazy? Just look at how angry we get with people we barely know. Half the time it’s people we have only talked to on the internet. And I am as guilty as the next person of getting sucked into a good cloth versus disposable diaper debate. It’s funny because before I became a mother, I swore to myself I wouldn’t get worked up about stuff like this. I only had a vague idea of what parents did. Feed child, clothe child, try to keep child from beating up other children. But I was sure I could rise above such petty and insignificant arguments.
And then I crossed over to the Other Side. No, not Narnia. The Other Side of the gap that separates parents from non-parents. The side filled with tiny onesies and 800 sets of plastic keys and dogs that whisper "Hug meeee" at four in the morning when you're walking to the bathroom. You can look behind you and see the non-parent side for a little while. Then Dora the Explorer asks you to help her find her map and before you know it the non-parent side is nothing more than a distant memory. And the next thing you know, you’re typing in all capital letters on Facebook to some idiot who thinks that people who use strollers are turning their kids into serial killers while your husband begs you to just walk away from the computer because you’re starting to turn red and the children are scared.
Don’t pretend it hasn’t happened to you. None of us are immune to the mommy wars. It sneaks up on you suddenly, usually over something you didn’t even realize you cared that much about. I remember one time I was in a debate on Facebook over the cry it out method of sleep training. I was halfway through typing a really long paragraph when I suddenly wondered why in the world I gave two flips about which sleep training method a stranger from Canada was using. I couldn’t think of a good answer, and it dawned on me that maybe I was arguing just for the heck it.
Which brings me back to my original question: Why? Why do we do this? Why do I compare myself to other mothers? Why do I worry about what my friends think of the way I raise my children? Why am I online at three in the morning making some poor girl cry because we disagree on which brand of formula is best?
I thought about this for a long time. I felt like the answer was right under my nose but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And then it came to me: Guilt.
I don’t know about you, but I have never been less confident in any decision I’ve made than I am in the decisions I make as a parent. Every little choice causes me to worry. For example, my son has recently gotten into the charming habit of throwing his sippy cup off his tray, a past time I’m sure many of you are familiar with. Every time he does this, I wonder what I should do next. It’s like my brain suddenly kicks into overdrive with all the possible responses I can give and the possible consequences they can have. If I get angry at him for throwing his cup, he’ll know it’s bad and he will stop. And then he will resent me for yelling at him and never be able to make friends and he won’t do well in school and won’t get into a good college and he will have to live on the street in a refrigerator box.
Or I could ignore him when he throws his cup and he will see that misbehaving does not get him attention. And then he might try even harder to get my attention because he feels so ignored and he will start lighting dog poo on fire and leaving it on people’s doorsteps and then he will vandalize the school gym and won’t get into a good college and have to live on the street in a refrigerator box.
Or I could pick the cup up and give it back to him, showing him that he has a second chance to do the right thing. And then he will probably learn that none of his actions have consequences and he will never learn manners and will disrespect his teachers in school and won’t get into a good college and he will have to live on the street in a refrigerator box.
See what I mean? I know this struggle is something we all deal with. It’s silly but it’s also serious. My kids are so young that right now I have ultimate control over their lives. I decide what they wear, what they eat, where they go, who they see. And while the control freak part of me likes having that security, the worrying part of me finds it overwhelming and terrifying. I am far from perfect. And honestly I find myself wondering why in the world God would give me two children, one of whom requires a lot of special attention.
And because I feel so unworthy and unable to make these decisions, I look to other mothers to see how they are handling it. That’s how the comparisons begin. I see that Sally Smith is using cloth diapers and I read about how they’re better for the environment and better for babies’ skin and I start to feel really guilty because my own poor kids are in disposable diapers and if I am going to use those I may as well just dress my kids in garbage bags because it’s basically the same thing. And then I start to resent Sally because who is she to tell me how to diaper my kids? My kids are very happy in their disposable diapers and they have pictures of Mickey Mouse and Big Bird on them and those guys have educational shows so I am educating my kids by putting them in disposable diapers. And before I know it I hate Sally Smith for her judgmental ways and for making me doubt myself and for her stupid opinions on her stupid diapers.
That might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever said. In the scenario I just described, no one judged me. No one tried to make me feel guilty. It was my own guilt, my own insecurity, that turned a simple observation into an argument.
And please hear me - I am not trying to shame you or blame you for feeling bad when someone judges you. I know that some people are just itching for a fight and go to great lengths to make others feel bad. I know there are bullies in the world who just want to hurt other people and more likely than not, we’ve all run across at least one.
I just think that mothers are easy targets because we are already constantly second-guessing ourselves. And that’s truly where I think the mommy wars come from. The worry that we are not enough for our children, and the guilt over not giving them our best. Even the bullies that have hurt you or told you you’re a terrible mother because of a choice you made - I would bet that they are feeling pretty lost and insecure themselves and just want reassurance that they are doing okay with their own kids.
But I’ve got some good news. It won’t sound like good news at first, but trust me; it’s good news.
We are not enough. And sometimes we won’t be our best. But we serve someone who is always enough and who only gives His best. It isn’t up to us to be perfect. God has promised us that though we will mess up, He will be there to guide us back on the right path.
That can be a scary thought. But it can also be a relieving one. It isn’t up to me to be the best mom on the planet. I don’t have to worry that because I made the wrong decision my child will be permanently unhappy. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t it so amazing to know that the very creator of the universe is investing His time into our children, and that he is allowing us to be part of that?
Don’t get me wrong - I am not giving you permission to stop raising your kids. When little Timmy asks you for some breakfast, I am not suggesting that you stay in bed and tell him that God will be along to butter his toast in a few minutes. God has placed with us the task of raising our children and teaching them and loving them. But he didn’t just drop these kids off on our porches and run away. He is there with us, protecting us, redirecting us, showing us that though we are still sinners He still desires us.
When Hannah asked me to speak today, at first I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think I had much of a story to tell. But over the last few weeks God has shown me so much truth that has set me free. I still struggle. I am still tempted to keep a scorecard for my kids. But now that I know the reasons behind it, it’s not so scary to deal with. I am able to enjoy my family more and rest in God’s promise of redemption for me as a mother, daughter, sister, and so much more.
And now I can compare my kids in a much more wonderful way: I can look at their different personalities and gifts, not as a way to decide who is doing better, but as a way to celebrate their unique identities. My son Josh is a thinker, like his father. He never does anything without deliberate consideration and planning. But he likes to giggle. And he loves people. He would sell me online in a heartbeat if someone gave him a hug and a pop tart. He likes to pretend but he is too excited to keep it up for very long so any games of pretend usually dissolve into giggles pretty fast. He is my strong boy, a living example of the way God works all things together for good. My daughter Jenna, though only five months old, is already much more of a drama queen. She feels every emotion with all of the power her little body can muster. She is impulsive and moves from toy to toy, trying to gather all of them in her hand at once. She is slower to give a smile but once she does, it’s always worth the wait. She is my passionate girl, a living example of God’s faithfulness to His people.
Those are the comparisons I want to focus on. Those are the things I want to remember in twenty years when my kids are in school (or living in a refrigerator box) and I am reflecting on their lives. Those are the things I want them to remember when they have their own kids and struggle with wondering if they are doing a good job raising them.
I will make mistakes. You will make mistakes. It’s inevitable. But I can sleep easier tonight knowing that our Heavenly Father makes no mistakes, and that He loves my kids even more than I do.