Leading With Joy in Parenting

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Lately I have seen a lot of articles on how our culture is fearful of children.  There is even a new phobia of pregnant women that has been in the news.  Time ran a piece on child free living a while back.  All of these articles make me deeply sad for these people.  When I look back on my Twenties when I was single,  I can say that I had periods of happiness.  I got to live where I wanted, do whatever I wanted, and I was in charge of my life.  At least that is what I thought.

 By the time I was 28 I had left my home-state of Montana and had lived in Chicago, California, Texas, Maryland, Washington DC, England, Washington DC again, and then Montana again, Washington DC again, Tennessee, North Carolina, and I am now planted in Virginia.  In January of 2014 I will have lived in the same general area for 3.25 years, the longest I have lived anywhere since I was 18.
All of this travel helped me in fostering my Wanderlust spirit.  I was able to see a huge portion of this country and parts of Europe.  I marveled at history.  I remember how awe-struck I was to be standing on Roman ruins at Yorkminster in York, England.  I stood before paintings by Rembrandt.  I experienced the romantic beauty of Paris.  I walked the streets of Washington DC in springtime.  I stood before the Eagle and Child in Oxford and imagined how the Inklings must have met in that dark pub.  I dated and was able to enjoy the frustration, excitement, and happiness of new relationships.  I worked in multiple careers.  But the truth is that I was unfulfilled, bored even.  I was bored interning at The Heritage Foundation.  I had a highly competitive and enviable internship at the top conservative think-tank in the world, and I was bored.
When I had everything that I ever wanted, I was the most unfulfilled.  My faith journey was stagnant and capricious.  I flitted in and out of Mass as I saw fit and dabbled in various Protestant denominations.  I was a cultural Catholic who was lost.  Having a dream job and future prospects, living in my favorite city, and living in the political power of our country, left me empty.  Yes, I had periods of happiness in my Twenties, but it was incomplete.
I left DC and moved to the mountains of Tennessee where I finally met my husband.   Three months after we were married, I was pregnant with our daughter.
To be honest, I was so delirious and struggling with post-partum depression that the first 6 months of parenting are a blur.  They were marked with periods of great joy and great struggle.  Parenthood is a challenge, but it is the most important challenge marriage brings.  I think that as parents we have a tendency to lead with doom and gloom rather than joy.
Our culture is deeply fearful of children.  Since freedom is defined as what I want, children are seen as the greatest threat to that freedom.  Young adults do everything in their power to avoid children, even when or if they marry.  When we meet one of these couples, we need to start off by telling them how amazing it is to be a parent.  Sure we need to be honest, it is not easy.  Since I am Catholic, I come from a view that children are a natural part of marriage.  It is one of the reasons God gave us the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  My husband and I did not plan out our children, we accepted God’s will.  If there is one thing that I have learned about my fertility, it is that I am not in control of it.
Being a mom has taught me lessons that I could not have learned without my husband and daughter.  That is why I know in my very being that they are my vocation and I am right where God wants me to be.  Here are somethings that I have learned from motherhood:
1.  The deepest gratitude I have ever experienced.  My daughter has taught me to be thankful, not just thankful, but to sing praise to God.
2.  Joy.  Until I married my husband, I had not experienced joy.  My daughter shows me joy daily if I allow her to.  Joy is so beyond happiness that they are not even in the same book.
3.  How deeply selfish I am.  When I was single, I was less aware of my selfish nature.  Occasionally in relationships I would see it, but being a mom has put it square on my forehead.  I want everything to be about me and my daughter is showing me that I am not first, I am last.
4.  Sacrifice.  The last two years of my life have encompassed the greatest sacrifices that I have ever experienced.  I have lost sleep, experienced deep pain and heartache, I have had to go without things, but nothing compares to having my daughter.
5.  How to be a kid again.  This morning my daughter and I built a fort out of couch cushions.  We play pretend and make-believe and I am reminded of the magic of childhood.
6. Pride.  I mean the healthy kind.  I am so proud of my daughter and I get so excited when she learns something knew.  I never realized how much I would clap at my daughter using the toilet and it feels completely natural to rejoice at these occasions.
7.  Discipline.  I lack discipline.  I am controlled by addictions and desires, coffee and Facebook being the worst.  One of my daughter’s first words was coffee.  This showed me how much I must instill discipline in her and myself.  My daughter is very willful and stubborn.  We must harness that now through the freedom of discipline or she is going to spend her adult life struggling like I do.
8. Heart-ache that strengthens.  Other than the times I have had to call ambulances for my incapacitated husband who suffers from debilitating migraines, and my miscarriages, the deepest pain I have experienced is when  my daughter was admitted to the hospital a couple of months ago with a staph infection.  I wanted to take her place.  She was scared and I could not comfort her.  I cried, and I cried in a way that I have never cried before.  I slept in the hospital bed with her for two nights.  I worried.  I had to help the nurse care for her in the middle of the night.  I did not know how I could handle this situation after all of the stress of this year.  But, then my daughter woke up three days later and was herself again.  We had made it.  These are the hardest days in parenting, but they show us what we are made of.  I had a deeper sense of love for my daughter, my husband, and God.
9.  God’s love for me.  Being a parent has completely changed my view of how God loves me.  I now understand parental love and the language of “Abba” much more than I did before.
10. Patience.  If there is one thing that my daughter is good at it is frustrating me.  She is defiant and willful.  She ignores me or purposely tests me daily.  She wants my attention 100% of the time, but through it all, I have become more patient.  I can read, while she climbs all over me.  I can drive my car with her yelling at me without getting angry (ok..not every single time).  I am able to climb out of bed at midnight when she is crying and sit with her on the couch without being mad.  I am changing daily.
There is a reason that parenthood is a path to holiness.  It strips away our sinful  natures and helps us to put on Christ.  When I see these magazine articles about the good life of parent-free living, I am sad for them.  I never would have experienced authentic joy without my daughter.  I never would have gotten outside of myself, and I am quite boring and obnoxious.  Motherhood is the greatest gift that I have received.  There is nothing that I can buy in this life that compares.  So let’s lead with joy when we talk to couples who are holding off and waiting for the perfect time, or who are not considering children.  They are missing out on the real reason for marriage, to get outside of ourselves in order to learn to serve others.  Have a joy filled day!

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