As I watched a young couple in the front pew at church today in constant motion attempting to contend with their four young children, I couldn’t help but smile at the innocence of the scene. The parents certainly were not sharing my smile, and if I had asked them after mass how they were feeling, their feedback may not have been entirely positive.
Caring for young children is not easy. Babies and toddlers require constant attention and parenting can be very physically and emotionally draining.
As children that age cannot articulate what they need and often don’t know themselves what they need, parenting can be very frustrating. Young children do not travel well and generally are on very fixed napping schedules, so parents can feel isolated; some new parents have a sense that life on the ‘outside’ is passing them by. New families often have limited budgets, and with diapers, formula, and rent/mortgage there is often little left for spontaneous vacations or even dinner out on a regular basis.
Mike and I have experienced all of those challenges when our children were young. We often felt overwhelmed by the daily grind and unqualified to take on such an intimidating responsibility. I chose to stay home with our children for some years, and there definitely were days that I would have submitted my resignation if that were a possibility. Mike will remind me of days when he would return from work and I would meet him at the door, place a baby in his arms, and then drive off in the car without saying a word. He knew that my day must have been rough and that I need some time (at least a few hours) ‘away’.
For a number of years, our focus was almost entirely on raising our children and there was little time for a thriving social life. Mike and I leaned on each other to get through the difficult days; we understood the awesomeness of our vocation and we invested much of ourselves into our family.
We were very tired, but we were very happy.
Now that our children are older, our memories of those years are entirely positive. We remember little people in footie pajamas, carrying a special blanket, snuggling in to read “Ten Little Bears” and falling asleep in our arms. We remember big-eyed babies smiling a fat-faced smile, ‘talking’ without using words, or sucking on our fingers between meals. We remember first steps, band-aids on bloody knees, and walks in the woods. We remember bubbles in the tub, tiny fingers grabbing Cheerios off the tray, and warm bottles.
If you are fortunate enough to have one or more little people in your home, try to be as present as you can be to this season in your life. There is nothing in your life that you will do that will be as significant or as meaningful as what you are doing today. Do not wish it away. Parenting will require everything you have to give, but know that you alone are uniquely crafted for this role. Trust us when we tell you that life goes fast, and that you will be sending your baby off to college before you know it.