The Mindset of Solo-Parenting

My husband often travels for his job, and his work is such that when he travels, he is mostly unavailable to me. He tries–God bless him he tries! He knows how tough it can be and how much I just need to hear his voice sometimes. But the demands of his job are high, his schedules are brutal, and the pressure is intense. Mess up, slack off, crumble under pressure and you are done in his line of work. So, when he goes off on a trip, it’s crunch time. Often he comes home to tight deadlines and high expectations, which means the pressures of a job generally follow him home, into his office, and it can be several days before he comes up for air.

And so lately I find myself at home, more or less solo-parenting my children for various stretches of time. Funny how I never really ever thought about this part.

When you have a baby, you only think about the day baby comes. Nine months of pregnancy drag on until your belly is so full and your back is sore so, you think you might literally break in half. Then the baby arrives, and you realize how easy you had it. How nursing a newborn is literally a full time job. How sleep deprivation is very, very real. How these innocent, angelic babies actually do grow into toddlers who scream and bite and kick–all day long and on purpose! When they arrive in your life, you realize how much work, effort, time, and mental capacity they take, and you look back on your pregnancy with dreamy eyes.

Because when you have a baby, you only think about the baby coming. Not actually staying.

Few of us ever consider in that moment what life will be like when baby is five, and there are two or three others behind it. But then, out of the blue, it hits you. At 5pm when you are at home in a half packed house getting ready to move 1500 miles, with a kindergartener negotiating dinner plans, and a two year old screaming over the wrong color cup you just handed her, and a baby kicking in your belly all while your husband is in another hemisphere and won’t be home for another week. The reality of parenthood comes crashing down on you like an avalanche of emotion.

Are you angry because they are never, ever quiet and you just need 20 minutes to close your eyes? Frustrated from the fifteen things that are all half done, or the other fifteen that still need doing? Sad because you know you should be able to keep it together and yet you are so inadequate, cowering in a corner hoping its all a bad dream? Uncertain if any of this was the right choice? Overwhelmed at the sheer amount of character training and basic child raising that still needs to occur, and you are the only one home to do it? Depressed because this was life yesterday, and last week, and last month, and will be your reality again tomorrow?

Our baby shower registries, our first steps videos, they are all well and good. They make lovely pictures that we cry over years later. But they are the poetry. The alliteration may be pretty, but parenting is not poetic.
Parenting is a process of perseverance. It is sacrifice. It is love beyond what we ever dreamed bringing out the absolute worst in us, facing that, and changing that. It is digging in when the going is tough. It is asking for and accepting the help we so desperately need. It is choosing not to allow exhaustion to steal your joy. Not allowing the boredom of routine to blind you to the blessings. It is stepping in to correct and teach, over and over again.

This season of life I face is pushing me to limits I am still not certain I can withstand. I have many days of doubt. Am I making the right choices? Is this sustainable? Is this day a reflection of the life I want or a life I’m just surviving?

The questions clutter my mind. They fill every corner and speak out, blurring my beliefs and challenging my parenting creeds. Times may be demanding. My days may leave me utterly wrung out as my head hits the pillow and my night shift begins.

But I have too much at stake to dwell in the hardships. These children won’t raise themselves. These three precious souls, they are my work. And while I may need a rest from time to time, they are the moments that make up my days. They are my laying down my life and taking up His love. Living this way doesn’t make the job any easier. It just makes it matter.

And so I go to bed tonight. I lay down hopeful for a few hours, lucky if I only see the clock a few times. I prepare myself to face the coming weeks of travel, enjoying the few days I have him home for and choose to persevere. I choose to keep going. I choose to face the fatigue and trust the process. Because they matter. I matter. The work waiting for me tomorrow–it matters.

Our First Homeschool Year

I pictured a cute little table, with small chairs, and a colorful rug underfoot. The walls were lined with shelves filled with wonderful books, vibrant pieces of art, and bins of sensory toys made from organic wood. In the corner we would have pillows on the floor for reading and a few lamps to provide a soft glow. Large windows would welcome the outdoors in, and we would probably have a fairy garden with live plants sitting next to our stack of read-alouds from the library. (Never overdue, of course.) The air would smell like crayons and glue, and spring to life with the sounds of classical music intermixed with childish laughter. And we would be happy. We would dive into wonderful learning adventures together, all from the harmony and comfort of our special homeschool room.

A quaint space, a perfect family, a love of learning. Such a pretty picture. Such a calculated plan.

I didn’t plan on moving eight weeks into our first homeschool year, boxes becoming our worktable. I didn’t plan on unloading shelves of books into storage and turning our family room into a school setting in the basement of a home that wasn’t ours. I didn’t plan on trying to keep two active children as quiet as possible so as not to disturb my husband, who worked in the bedroom above us.

But we were given a space.

And I didn’t see the baby. I didn’t plan on near-debilitating morning sickness or depression that left me lifeless. I didn’t plan on a husband traveling for weeks at a time. But it all happened.

We moved from a big city to a small town. And we fell in love with it. The dark country skies led us to a whole semester studying the wonders of our solar system. And our local library had telescopes we could check out for free. We learned to make maple syrup and build a fire. We stumbled into a welcoming community of homeschoolers at the YMCA and looked forward to our gym class each week.  We ended up just a few miles from my parents, who opened their lives to us from the day we got here.

I didn’t plan on tackling some pretty significant issues in our life at 34 weeks of pregnancy, and having to shelve some school to cope. I resorted to just doing the minimum. But the lack of pressure gave me time to heal, making me a better mother and a better wife.

And now, we are a stronger family.

I didn’t plan on driving 30 minutes in the dark, in the bitter cold of a Wisconsin winter to the hospital to give birth to a sweet baby boy who would join our school days and make them even more meaningful.

Our lives so very often do not follow our plans. They do not bend to meet our needs or fulfill our desires. More often I find that my plans, dreams, and desires change shape. Change importance. Morph into a better, more fluid, more becoming picture of the life I am proud to call my own.

A life in which I am always learning.

Mending

A wide, gummy smile bursts across your little round face. No teeth. Sparse hair. Big dark eyes. And all I see is delight. Happiness. Pure joy that I am your Mom.

In the early days I worried for you. Isn’t that what moms do best? I worried my sorrow would hurt you. I didn’t know what months of weeping and hiding and feeling lifeless would do to you. Would you feel loved? Would you feel wanted? Would you feel like the fortunate blessing that you are?

There were times before your birth I felt like I couldn’t do it. Like I was a terrible choice of a mother because really who would want me like this? So sad, confused, and lost I barely mustered the strength to rise and greet the day. So lifeless that even your brother and sister suffered, wondering what was wrong and why Mom was so overwhelmed. And so I was scared for you. I was scared that I wouldnt be enough for you. That maybe I wouldn’t get better and that you would suffer. Or worst of all, that I would go on, distant and despondant.

But you came anyway. You came in all your glorious newness. Bringing life and bringing hope. Bit by bit I overcame the depression that hung on me like a weight. The medication gave me the push I needed to get going. The therapy helped me regain clarity and composure. And the love of our family held me up while I found my feet again. But in my heart I still feel twinges of guilt.

Deep down I really just want to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was so sad. I’m sorry I didn’t care for us like I should have.  Maybe it’s all in my head, but somehow I think you already know. And you’ve already forgiven me. And so all that’s left now is thank you.

Because although all the other things helped, really at the core it was you, sweet baby. It was you who lit up my world again and banished the darkness. It was your wide eyes staring into mine with such wonder. Such amazement. Such love. Like you knew I needed to know.

You are a gift, my sweet boy. A beautiful baby God put into my life during a season that seemed so wrong, but could not have been more right. Now when you look my way, my heart floods with joy. So much that I don’t even know where to put it all. I finally feel stitched up. The freshness of the scaring is real. Healing takes time, and some days I still find a dim corner. A place that needs some clearing out and cracking open.

 

But you have made me come alive again little one. It is your innocence and dependency that has motivated me to be what this family needs me to be. To bravely carry the three precious stones that glitter in my hands. I have eyes that glow with wonder and pride at your brother as he grows up so proudly. And I have the grace to embrace your sister for who she is right now, knowing her little heart craves a mother’s love. I have the courage to let your father in, and a voice to let my heart out. And I have the gratitude to look at you and praise Jesus for the amazing gift you are and will always be.

I’m mending. Healing. You have been the best medicine for me. When you are older, I’ll tell you the story. The story about how God used your life to restore mine. About how loving you has made me so incredibly happy.

 

 

Enough

This moment is a quiet one. One where my little people are occupied and the baby is snoring on my chest and my thoughts slip into focus. Those savory thoughts I file away, deep in the back of my mind to come back to when I have the time to fully explore them. Ideas float in and out as if gliding on the summer breeze. Ideas I long to work out with the written word.

But his little sighs remind me that I have a new baby. My time is precious. And actually, I’m savoring this. Sitting here, rocking this tiny body. Peace and delight in the moment.

In the other room I hear the almost three year old humming her little ditties. She hasn’t quite been herself since the baby, and I make a mental note to sit and play wit her just as soon as my hands are free. And then my mind drifts to the six year old who is thriving in our homeschool because I work hard to create an atmosphere for learning. I feel proud of what I’ve managed with him this year, but that is territory to explore another day because down the hall a messy house calls, clothes lay in a heap on the floor, and bellies won’t fill themselves. There’s a husband to support while he’s been on the road, and a marriage to nuture when he is home. Suddenly I feel tired. Because in all this I have to sleep sometime.

And so, my friends, things get a bit neglected from time to time. Our souls collect dust and the things we enjoy crust over. All rusty in the joints. It’s the squeaky wheels that get my oil these days.

How dare we allow it, says our culture. Make you a priority. Convince yourself you are worth it. You can have it all–great kids, great marriage, a job you love, nights out with girlfriends, date nights with hubby, hobbies, spa days, and vacations.

But really, I think all I want is to simply be enough. Being Mom is enough. It’s enough, I say.

It’s enough to spend an hour making your baby smile because he likes listening to you sing. It’s enough to go for a walk and let the kids ride their bikes and then fall and scrape their knees.  It’s enough to play catch in the backyard without signing him up for T-ball. It’s enough to do the laundry, make the food, wash the dishes, organize the toys, settle the disputes. Must we really add the guilt of not doing something else onto it?

Maybe there’s more I’m missing out on. More I could have. More I should want for myself.

But I don’t. I just want to enjoy my children. I just want to do this job well.

And so I see you Mama. I see you at home, doing the day-to-day thing that isn’t worthy of an Instagram post. That thing no one gives you credit for. The thing that–really–you don’t even want credit for. I see the hard days; the ones that require an inhuman amount of patience. I see those rare days that are bliss. The ones somewhere in the middle. This is life. And it’s a glorious life. One you chose. One you commit to each morning. One you should be proud of. And one that is  enough all on its own. 

Tumbling

Rage. Anger. Screaming. A child who won’t cooperate. Won’t give in. Won’t back down. She is tumbling in the current while the River shaves off rough edges and knotty pits. It is not a pleasant process. Bouncing in the water she is out of control. There is no sense of direction; up and down she bobs in the waves never knowing what emotion will come with the next swell.

Painfully, I watch from the shore. My arms are burdened with another stone–one who needs me as much as she does. But he is too small for the mighty river and so I am helpless to save her. I am unable to jump in after her and rescue her from the jarring. And as her face twists in pain and voice rages against my gentle urgings, my heart breaks for her.

As the Stone Keeper my job is merely to bring them here to this life giving river. And He takes it from there. Though she may struggle, the undulating current is refining her. Though I may cry, this precious Ruby was never mine to keep. Only to raise. Only to love and teach and guide each day.

Despite my best efforts, I don’t know how to ease her stress. I don’t know how to help her adjust to this new person who has interrupted her life. All the things I thought I knew seem useless now. The experience gained while standing on the shore, watching her brother go through the same thing years back, seems to fail me. She is altogether different. A beautiful gem in the making. But the going is tough right now, and I feel useless.

All I can do is sit there, holding her, crying along with her, hoping for a better day tomorrow, and praying I can shine bright enough for her to find the Light herself.

Newborn

Soft squeaks awake me from a shallow sleep. Seven warm pounds stir and stretch against my deflated belly, rooting around to find a meal. I awaken to find two dark little eyes peeking at me through the dim light of our bedroom.

The whole world is sleeping, and my whole world is you.

Three babies in and most would think me a seasoned mother. One who would recognize, even come to expect, this feeling. But its all still so wonderfully new. I get butterflies when you look into my eyes. And your brown skin and dark hair are so beautiful I cry just looking at you. Every time I set you down to give my tired arms a rest, I miss holding you. And when you curl up in a ball, sleeping on my chest, my heart cracks open letting even more of you in. Pressing even more of me out, making a space all your own inside me. Continue reading