I’ve heard many people say to me that they just aren’t cut out to be a parent, or that they aren’t ready to be a parent. I’ve thought it many times myself, especially on particularly trying days! And while I used to try to convince people that they could handle being a parent (with the corollary that they should be open to life), I think I’m changing my mind. They’re not cut out to be parents. I have two kids, and I’m not cut out to be a parent either.
How did I come to this conclusion, you ask? I took stock one evening of all the things that being a parent was requiring of me:
Love: my babies need me to love them consistently, unconditionally, and more than I love myself. You try doing that when your nose is runny, your head hurts, and you just want to take a shower and a nap, while the kids still need to be fed, changed, and cared for. Love feels easy when you’re watching those babies sleep and your heart is melting, but sometimes the self-denial required is significantly beyond my ability.
Joy: adding insult to injury, being a parent means that I can’t simply feed and dress my kids with an underlying attitude of resentment, anger, or bitterness. For them to feel loved, they need to know that I enjoy being with them. Unfortunately, small children are not always innately enjoyable. My joy, therefore, has to come from something other than them (and, incidentally, what a burden it would be for a child to know that their parent’s joy and happiness was in their small and inexperienced hands!), which means I have to either be one of those irritatingly cheerful people who always seem to be happy, or that I have to find some source of authentic joy outside of myself. On my own, I don’t have the joy needed to be a great parent.
Peace: when my two-year-old is whining at supersonically high frequencies for a never-ending litany of reasons and my one-year-old is climbing on top of everything in sight (including my head and the two-year-old’s plate of half-eaten food), it is not humanly possible to keep myself from being irritated and annoyed (at least not for me!). I will lose my cool, at least once every day. Probably more than that on the days I don’t get out of the chaos by going to work, honestly. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve prayed for peace and asked Mary (one of whose titles is the Queen of Peace) to pray for me to have peace as well.
Patience: this one needs no explanation. Everyone knows you have to have patience with a toddler – and everyone knows that they don’t have as much patience as said toddler demands of them every day.
Kindness: because the tone of my voice matters. My body language matters. The extra activities and snuggles and treats we enjoy together, for no reason at all, matter. The little kindnesses I can do, the general demeanor of kindness and caring I can maintain, convey to my children that they matter – to me, to the family, to the community, and ultimately to God.
Goodness: as a parent, I’m my babies’ model of who God is and what basic moral standards are. My righteousness or lack thereof informs their developing consciences. So hmm, maybe my self-absorption, sloth, lack of compassion, and pride are things I should work on if I really want to ace this parenting thing…
Faithfulness: as every parent knows, one of the hardest parts of the gig is that there are seldom any breaks. The job is 24/7 for years – and two of the requirements is consistency and commitment. I can’t just take off for a year to develop different interests or explore a different side of myself; I’m in this for life. I think this is one of the biggest reasons why people in this culture don’t feel ready for parenthood! We are frightened of commitment – because it ties us down, but also because we’re afraid we’ll fail.
Gentleness: I’m trying to raise my children with courtesy and respect – to model for them the character I want them to have as adults. So when my temper flares, I can’t let it out with a smack or a yell. Maybe I can vent later to my husband or my journal; maybe I’ll just have to talk myself down from that emotional cliff. Most days I try to work at prevention, by being gentle and patient with myself and my boys so the anger doesn’t have an opening. But there are still times when I speak harshly and move roughly, my anger overcoming my kindness, abrasively damaging my connection with my children instead of building it up, and from what I read and hear and see, I’m far from alone.
Self-Control: ok, we all have that stash of chocolate we hide in the pantry and don’t share with the kids. We all have our favorite TV shows or books that we binge on to get our heads out of our reality. But as a parent, we have to be able to hold ourselves together as long as our kids need us. If our baby wakes up in the middle of our time alone in the evening, we still have to respond with kindness and love. The thoughts and desires we have need to come second to our responsibilities – and I’m not saying to take care of ourselves, but even with adequate self-care that can be pretty hard sometimes!
Hmm, does that list look familiar to you? That’s right – it’s the fruit of the spirit (from Galatians 5). No wonder I don’t feel ready for parenthood, or cut out to be a parent: I’m not. That fruit has not reached maturity in my life yet. Parenthood, to put it briefly, demands holiness. Holiness is not something I can live out, no matter how much I try; my old sinful tendencies still need to be put off and set aside. My prayer is that parenthood will at least hasten the process of sanctification in my life, as the refining fire or sculpting chisel in God’s hand.