This is my toddler. He is a cuddly, curious, rough-and-tumble, adventurous sweetheart whom I love to pieces. And, he is Trouble.
Over the last few months, Baby Bear has been a machine of discovery. Doors and high counters are no longer an obstacle for this little bundle of energy. I try to keep an eye on him, but he is more curious than George and faster than Lightning McQueen. In the past week or two, he has:
- Helped himself to cereal multiple times (after piling it on the floor, of course);
- Dutifully checked on the contents of his sisters’ cups and juice boxes whenever possible;
- Emptied containers of blocks and laundry baskets, about twice a day on average, in order to put them to much better use (as push-toys);
- Discovered, and confirmed with further testing, that glass things break when you drop them on the floor;
- Colored on walls, furniture, toys, books, himself…;
- Diligently filled several cups of water from the bathtub and poured them onto the carpet;
- Found out that Costco-size spices look fun, but a pile of pepper is not quite a sandbox; and…
- Practiced his art skills in the kitchen with a paintbrush and a bottle of Worcestershire sauce.
Humor aside, I truly do believe the majority of his escapades are due to curiosity rather than naughtiness. He is learning, if only about where a boundary lies. Still… WHEW! If this kid didn’t take a three-hour nap every day, I don’t know how I would survive.
Now, of course this is just a stage that will pass in time. But no matter where we are in our parenting journey, we will always face challenges. I think we would all agree that parenting can be hard work. I say this not as a complaint, nor to deny that children are a blessing. I do not mean to compare parenting to other jobs, saying it is any more or less difficult. I say this simply because sometimes, especially on days when I feel extremely unproductive, I need to confirm in my own heart and mind that what I am doing is truly something of substance and worth. It is not just a simple matter to be glossed over and forgotten.
I have often heard what an important job parenting is. There are numerous studies out there that prove what a crucial role we play in our children’s lives. Yet while I know all this in my head, I don’t always let it penetrate my heart. After a much-needed discussion with my husband recently, I am beginning to realize how little value I truly place on what I do. All my wifely and motherly duties feel little more notable or praiseworthy than my ability to bathe and dress myself. They do not seem to require a significant amount of skill or intellect. They are just what I do… a given… nothing more.
And yet, I often can’t keep up with even these simple, menial tasks. I told my husband that even if I got to the end of the day and the house was clean and the children were fed and happy, I feel I would have netted a 0 on my Wifey Score Card. After all, that is the bare minimum, isn’t it? I can be thankful my score wasn’t reduced for the things I didn’t do, but I certainly haven’t earned any positive points. And my previous Score Cards have me far in the red anyway, whether through my own faults or otherwise. And the more these negative points pile up, the more hopeless I feel about ever catching up, and the more useless it seems to even try anymore. Why expend all this energy for what feels like nothing?
Fortunately, this is where my dear husband stepped in and gently reminded me that I am a crazy person (my paraphrase). I am not being nearly generous enough in how I view my efforts. I have fallen into the trap of thinking that I have to do everything, be everything in order to impress my peers or keep my family happy. But my children don’t need elaborate meals, or a Pinterest-worthy home, or to be doing something with me every second of every day. My husband (blessedly) doesn’t need me to pinch every single penny, and I am not a failure when he helps me with the dishes and the laundry. These things are not the measure of a good wife and mother, and while I may weak in some areas, there is much that I can do well.
To conclude our conversation, my husband came up with the idea of writing up a list of child-and-household-related priorities. As an example of how basic this list is, the first item is “Keep the kids alive.” (This encompasses their general health and well-being, of course, but really… That’s a big job!) “Wash the dishes” didn’t even make the top five. It may seem silly, but to me, this idea is incredibly helpful. Not only does it help me prioritize my duties, but even when I’ve accomplished nothing on my daily to-do list, I can see the more basic things I have done and remember that they are the most important. On the days when mothering feels especially fruitless, this can be a great comfort.
And on those days when I’m longing for something more stimulating than wiping crayon off the walls and Worcestershire sauce off the kitchen floor, I can remember that there have been times when the Greatest and Wisest has done tasks as menial as the wiping of dirty feet. Our job is not easy, nor superfluous. As we see in Scripture, “some parts of the body [of Christ] that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary” (1 Cor. 12:22).
You are filling an important role, friend. It is the one God has designed especially for you.
Photo Credit: All photos taken by Jessica Cole.