No one told me that finding an old, tiny flip flop would make me cry. But today it did. I was cleaning out a catch-all cabinet in the kitchen, and I stumbled upon one of my son’s tiny flip flops from when he was a baby. My heart lurched and tears sprung into my eyes. I was surprised by my reaction. It took me back to when he was tiny and pudgy and squishy and needy and so little and precious.
It got me thinking.
When you have your first baby, it’s like stepping behind a curtain into a world you didn’t know existed. While you find the deep joy you knew would be there, you also find some of the absolute hardest days you ever thought you could experience. You look around at the parents who have been there awhile, and you see understanding in their eyes. You see that they wanted to warn you how hard it was going to be, but they’d didn’t want to tinge the joy you felt as you awaited your little one. You join the throngs of parents who do the back-breaking work of nursing, round the clock feedings, diaper changes, rocking, and back to the top for days and days on end.
And you think, surely this gets easier.
Then they’re toddlers. Their temper and stubbornness and craziness exhausts every bone in your body. The stress of wondering if you’re teaching them right, disciplining appropriately, setting the right schedule, and trying not to let them see you crying while they’re oblivious, building a fort in the living room with PJ Masks plays in the background. As much as their smiles and cuddles fill your heart, you also feel like you’ll never have peace or quietness or alone ever time again. You struggle to hold those two things at the same time.
And you think, surely this gets easier.
Then they turn into the magical 5- to 7-year-old range. Suddenly they’re fun, better-behaved (mostly), and you can actually do things as a family. They’re more flexible. They’re delighted at the smallest things, adventurous in ways you have long forgotten how to be yourself. But you’re starting to sense the tug of them pulling away a little: going to school, playing with their friends more, branching out, not needing you quite as much. It pricks your heart in tender places you weren’t expecting, like a bruise that pops up and you’re not sure where you got it. This age was supposed to be a relief, and while it is many days, you’re feeling a little uncomfortable with how fast it’s going.
And you think…surely this gets easier…?
Then they’re suddenly a pre-teen. The pull now is clear and present. They’d rather see their friends most of the time. They can get their own snacks, take their own showers, cut their own nails, and stay up reading in their room without your presence or your help to sound out words. You simultaneously carry pride and an aching sadness as you watch them navigate things like friendships, homework, self-control, and self-worth. Guiding while giving space is tough. Wanting to take away the struggles and knowing you can’t is tough. Wanting to shield them from all the stresses of life is the deepest longing and yet also the most impossible task. You can only be present, set boundaries (which they’ll probably hate you for), and give the rest over to God and time.
And you think…surely this gets easier.
I have a ways to go, as my kids are only ten and seven years old. I cry to my sister (whose three kids are grown), and she assures me mine are still tiny. But she also assures me, and I see now, that it does not get easier.
There’s an all-encompassing fullness to the love and work of being a parent. I was expecting all the fun and joy for sure, and I’ve received that and more. But I was not expecting it to consistently be so hard. The hardness changes. It gets grittier and sinks deeper to a soul level.
I see this pattern in all of life. I got married, excited for the happiness and joy. The tension and the fights and the stresses that come with being adults and married hit me like a bucket of ice-cold water. I’ve had, and do have, jobs I love. Yet the stress of balancing that work with motherhood, managing multiple schedules, conjuring creativity when I’m exhausted, and sometimes working late into the night are harder than I anticipated.
Just like life, parenting does not get easier. It simply changes. You get stronger, and you learn to work at it: physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
That tiny flip flop brings back so many memories of how hard it was when they were tiny. But diapers and naps and difficult bedtimes…while yes they are hard! I’ll never deny that!…are the training ground for all that was and is to come. They’re still wearing tiny flip flops…metaphorically speaking. We may not be helping them learn to walk, but we are helping them navigate life, training them not to be bogged by the world, showing them that love plays itself out in the small things, being an example of serving each other in a world that tells us to always put ourselves first, and trusting that we have the biggest transformations sometimes in the most significant, albeit mundane, commitments in life.
When they placed that tiny baby on my chest the night he was born, my heart literally felt like it was breaking into a thousand pieces, but in the best way possible. It was definitely a dull kind of pain completely overshadowed by happiness. Little did I know, my heart would continue to break over and over again watching her grow…in the best possible way.
Lord grant us the wisdom, the foresight, the gratitude, and the awareness to be thankful for the present and to be hopeful for the future, not grieving what is past but anticipating with joyful hope what’s to come.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4