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The sharpening joy of motherhood

Don’t rush into having kids. Enjoy your freedom. I heard it over and over. My husband and I had been given the gift of childless graduate school, but I was indeed eager to welcome children into our home. A little voice in the back of my head wondered, though, if all the advice I heard was right:

“Children kill your freedom.”

“Children take over everything.”

“Say goodbye to your life.”

“Ugh, school’s over, I’ve got to go pick up the kids.”

“Summer is the worst.”

When I became pregnant, my arms ached for the little warm, wiggly body that would soon fill them, even as friends bemoaned the constancy of parenthood and the immediacy of children. I wondered if I was naive, if the majority of parenting blogs were right — children are at best a distressing imposition, at worst, specially formulated machines of torture for otherwise happy humans. Exceptions may exist, but they are few and far between. I can easily count on one hand the people who said, “Oh, what joy! Children are the best.” “You will so love being a parent.”

In my scant six months as mother of a birthed child, I’ve found parenthood to be an experience like many others in life — you’re going to go through it one way or the other, either kicking and screaming or by letting yourself be remade. I suggest that this frightening majority that bristles at the shackles of parenthood consists of those kicking-and-screaming types, uninterested in being changed, stretched, uninterested in growing and being transformed.

I’m afraid this attitude pervades much of contemporary culture, not just the world of being a mom or dad. We’re a society uninterested in listening, in being convinced, cajoled, changed, or otherwise “sharpened” by relationships (Prov. 27:17). I wonder if this is part of the prevalence of divorce. It’s surely a contributing factor in the political climate, and I suspect our penchant for a transitory lifestyle: living far from our families, our hometowns, our natal lands, is part of the mix, too. We want to change, but we want to reinvent ourselves, on our own terms, to be our own creators and the artisans of our lives and destinies.

Our rabid pursuit of self-expression and “freedom” cripples us in the face of real change and real growth. We want to define ourselves, to carefully curate our social media presences, to make our own truth. But in refusing to allow any other person or relationship to trespass our wide boundaries of personal space, we’re left alone, curving in on ourselves, doing the best we can without any community or input into the art we’re trying to create. And I suspect any artist worth her salt will tell you that trying to create in a vacuum is ridiculous.

Back to parenthood, specifically: to cling with death-grip hands to our old selves is to refuse the gift that God offers in the new relationship with a child. Surrendering our familiar rhythms and comfortable immaturity to instead lean on God in exhaustion and frustration, to embrace bewilderment and midnight loneliness, to be made into a new creation precisely by the demanding, transforming relationship between parent and child — this is the joy of family and of creation.

I’m not trying to say it’s all in one’s attitude: “If you just look at the sleepless nights as a ‘training camp,’ you’ll fly through!” or that if one makes a simple perspective adjustment, parenthood just “clicks.” Instead, I suggest that parenthood is a widespread and generally inescapable instance of an ever-more-rare condition in modern life that was part of the furniture of human society in ages past, the transformative power of committed relationships.

So it’s not just motherhood that changes a person in such a complete way, though its demands make it easier than the self-discipline that a similar devotion to another relationship might take. Every relationship invites us into new sharpening from God.


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