On Motherhood and Growing Up

This is a post I started a while ago (as evidenced by the holiday references) but wasn’t able to wrap up until now because of said holidays and the need to process Sasha’s death with y’all. So, back to business…

 

Oh, the holidays. A time of year when extended family members you don’t really know love to ask you those awkward questions that only family can get away with. They’re still offensive, but hey, what can you do about it? They’re family.

This year it started with, “Wow, you look great! I bet it feels good to have your body back!”

Uhhhhh… Sure. You can think that. You do not need to know that I am still nursing my [then] 19-month-old four to six times a day because it is the only way I know how to get this screaming Tasmanian devil to shut up for two seconds so I can think straight.

“Yep. Sure does!”

But then, he back-tracked: “So, are you done?”

Because there is nothing I love more than talking about my sex life at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Or maybe it wouldn’t be such a difficult question if I had a definite answer.

I don’t.

But the questions aren’t nearly as offensive as the judgment. “Why would you want another kid when you can’t even handle the ones you have?” (True story.)

First of all, you’re a jerk.

But second, what does that even mean? I can’t “handle” my kids? I guess I didn’t realize I was their “handler;” I thought I was their mother.

Fine. I will play your little game.

You’re right, I am maxed out.

Except… I was maxed out when I had one kid. I was maxed out at two kids. I am maxed out with three kids, and I am sure I will be maxed out with four. (Although they say that three is actually the most stressful number of kids.) I love this post that talks about how it doesn’t matter how many children you have; you will feel emotionally and physically maxed out at the number of children you currently have.

Think about that for a minute. It’s true, isn’t it? Have you ever NOT felt maxed out with your kids? I don’t think I have, at least not for long.

But what if that’s okay? What if that is how it is designed to be? What if parenting, more than any other endeavor in life, has the ability to max you out and bring you to the end of yourself? What if that is exactly where God wants you to be? What if that is the place where you learn to grow and trust Him more, because you just have to?

I wrote not to long ago about my desire to grow up spiritually. Raising three girls has grown me more than anything else in this life so far. My friends or family members who are not parents yet don’t like it when I drop the mom-card—“You don’t understand; you’re not a mom”—but this parenting gig will max you out in ways that you have never been maxed out before, and you truly cannot grasp it until you are there.

Most of the books and blogs I am reading about spiritual maturity say that love is the ultimate goal of maturity. Think loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Maturity means loving and loving well. Loving God for who He is, loving yourself for who you are—your real self, not the false self you create out of shame—and loving others for who they are, just as they are.

Another book I read describes this kind of mature love as giving yourself away. The first stage in maturity is finding and establishing yourself, but the next stage is giving that self away.

And so I think loving well means giving well. Parenting definitely teaches you a thing or two about pouring yourself out in love for others.

And if growing up is giving away, I think it also means giving up your ideas that there is only one way to do something. Giving away the idea that you are right and you know what is best. Maturity is letting others be who they are because you are comfortable with who you are. You are not threatened by the “other,” because you realize that everyone is “other” than you, and that’s exactly how it should be.

The Mommy Wars are so based in shame—moms shaming other moms for making decisions that are different from theirs.

That’s immaturity. And our generation is so immature.

But that is one way having more kids has matured me. The more kids I have, the more I realize just how little I know about this whole parenting gig. We are all making this up as we go, and we are all doing the very best we can. We’re all in this together, even if we go about it differently.

And I can see that those who shame others for making different choices do so because of their own insecurity and their own hurt and their own shame. As they say, hurt people hurt people.

That is practically the definition of immaturity—being so self-absorbed and selfish that not only can you not empathize with others around you, you actually seek to tear them down in order to build yourself up.

At a wedding last summer, one of my cousins said that marriage will reveal just how selfish you are, but I think parenting takes that to an entirely new level. And this selfishness is celebrated! “Oh, we aren’t having kids for at least a few more years; we are way too selfish for that right now.” [He said it; not me.]

Perhaps this is why parenting maxes us out more than it seems it did previous generations before us. We have much further to fall when it comes to realizing that life is so much bigger than ourselves.

And that’s the thing about having a fourth child. Yes, it will be very hard, especially during those first few years. But it doesn’t stop there. That baby will become a toddler who will become a child who will become an adult and will (hopefully) marry and start an entire new family. Life is bigger than infants and toddlers that I can’t “handle.”

My family is celebrating my grandfather’s 80th birthday this spring. He and his wife had three children, who became six when they got married, and who birthed eleven grandkids. From those ten living, four of them have already birthed nine great-grandchildren so far, and we’re just getting started. I can’t even take the time to think about how many people will be in that room that day… All because of one man, my grandfather.

That is the difference every time we bring a new life into this world. Forgive me, but “not being able to handle” one more child is too short-sighted for me. Four generations from now, my postpartum depression won’t matter. It is just one of many sacrifices I am willing to make. I am willing to pour myself out one more time in this way.

Because motherhood fits me. Sure, I am maxed out. But there is no where I would rather be.

My love has more to give, not because I have anything to give of my own, but because of who I am in Christ. Love can give a little more. Always.

 

Our generation, fitting in with our self-centeredness, was raised to think we can change the world. It is a little disillusioning to learn that the world is a lot smaller than we once imagined and we cannot change much in the big picture after all. But the thing is, this parenting thing? I am changing the world. Hannah, Becca, Lizzy, and any others to come—they are changing the world just by being in it. Perhaps someday they will each be surrounded by 50+ children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as they celebrate their 80th birthdays. None of those people would be in that room if it weren’t for these three—or four!—children of mine. That is world-changing enough for me. I want to pour myself out for that.

 

Perhaps much of growing up is learning to know what is truly important and what isn’t. How well I “handle” my kids is not important. What matters is that I love them and I love them well, which I am able to do only because I know that—as a daughter of the High King—I, too, am loved well. And it is my prayer that His love will overflow through me and into generations of Christ-followers to come.

That? That matters. And that is how I choose to change the world.

 

I hope you will join me.

 

 

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About kneumair

Karen Neumair is a lover of God and a lover of words, especially when those two things come together. She has experienced multiple depressive episodes in her life, most severely after the birth of her second daughter, but is overwhelmingly thankful for how God has used her depression to teach her more about Who He is (and who she isn’t). Wife to Chris and Mommy to Hannah, Becca, and baby Lizzy.
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One Response to On Motherhood and Growing Up

  1. Sadie VK says:

    I had someone ask me why I was having another when I couldn’t handle my two. She’s a 40something career woman who never had kids and couldn’t know how devastatingly hurtful that was to me.

    I’ve been thinking that parenting is the most sanctifying thing I’ve ever done. It has brought me to my knees more than ever before. It has revealed my anger and selfishness issues. It has brought me to the end of myself and forced me to rely on God. And my kids are 3 and 5 . . . my sister is going through the trenches with her teenagers and I know the ride has only begun . . .

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