There’s a reality about motherhood few people seem to talk about. Babies are little people. That means they have emotions and desires, weaknesses and fears. They hurt. They have bad days. They have a sense of humor. They can feel a sense of accomplishment or frustration; security or insecurity; boredom or inundation. And sometimes babies are just overwhelmed. Sometimes they don’t know what they want or how to communicate what they need. Just. Like. Adults. Just like you and me.
It seems to me that parenting has little to do with “knowing how to take care of babies” (or kids, or teens) and it has a whole heck of a lot to do with forging a relationship with your particular baby (kid/teen). There are no methods that work for everyone. Babies are not robots. Parenting isn’t a chemistry lab experiment where, if you mix the right ingredients: poof! You made an A+ baby! We have tricks and tips that we pick up along the way and some methods of parenting are more conducive to raising a child who is curious, strong and emotionally stable; however, there are no guarantees.
But here’s something else about babies-as-people. Babies have willpower. What does that mean? No matter how you parent, a large part of why your baby grows up the way she does has to do with how your baby WANTS to be. There is nature. There is nurture. And there is choice. The baby-person forges her own path.
So, basically, you don’t control your baby. And you shouldn’t. Your baby is a person and people shouldn’t be controlled. Not if you want to have happy, healthy, vibrant relationships with them, anyways.
This is something that’s hard for me to keep in mind, though. I spend soooooo much time and energy on parenting that it’s sometimes hard to remember my role in Phoebe’s life is not to “complete” her, but to support her. She’s not a recipe that needs to be mixed “just so” and baked at the right temperature until the toothpick I stick in her comes out clean. Babies aren’t projects. There is no “finish” with parenting. There is no goal where, when you reach it, you can pat yourself on the back: “Good job, me! My baby’s in an Ivy League school and calls me every week to talk about how exciting her perfect life is.” This is damned foolishness. Yes. Damned. Because this kind of idolatry leads away from the truth and grace of God.
How do I measure myself as a parent? If there is no scale of perfection, how do I know if I’m doing well? How do I know if I’m doing a good job?
The truth is, we are never perfect. Because relationships with PEOPLE are complex and difficult. Relationships with baby-people are no different. As a parent, I try not to expect Phoebe to be perfect. I understand that both of us have good and bad moments…good and bad days. When I speak to her harshly or get frustrated with her, I apologize afterwards. And when she’s being moody or upset for no apparent reason, I try to calmly step into the moment and try seeing things from her perspective. How wild the world must seem! How frustrating it must be to grow so quickly and have so many feelings, but have no way to communicate them! How scary it must be to try something new, like crawling, and get hurt by falling; and how brave of her to keep trying, even when she’s scared, even when she is unsure of herself.
I feel so many things for my baby that it’s hard to separate them out and name them all. I’m afraid I won’t be enough for her. I’m exhausted because sometimes I feel like she takes everything I am and there’s nothing left. I always am thinking about her. I’m always aware of her. She touches me deeper than I ever dreamed possible. She forces me to grow and dig deep; while I thought I was going to be the one helping her grow, I see in fact that we are growing together. Crawling along. Bashing our faces into things, crying, embracing, and carrying on.
The reason parenting is so hard and challenging is because I’ve allowed my baby to know me without my armor on. I’ve allowed her to touch me in my innermost heart where I have the most fragile feelings and the most rugged fears. I’ve allowed her to see me in the raw, with all my imperfections, for who I am at my core. And even though we have difficult moments, this truth remains: there is something altogether sweet and graceful about a baby’s unrequited love. My baby doesn’t need me to be perfect. She just needs me.
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