This summery Monday morning finds us all outside in the backyard. We’re cleaning up from the aftermath of a gathering we hosted yesterday, so there are coolers to drain, chairs to collect, and pieces here and there to sort. We finished clean up and I started pulling weeds, trying to manage the ridiculous amount of uninvited growth that has popped up between the rose bushes we planted (“Oh! Are we growing grass with the roses?” asked the five year-old last week. Yes. Yes, we are.)
As I pulled weeds and thought back on other summers, I turned to look at the kids down the yard. The five year-old is scaling the slide. The eight year old is swinging and singing. The older boys are teaching the toddler to “whip & nae nae”. And we’re all outside.
This may not seem remarkable, but the fact that on a summer morning I am pulling weeds. The fact that we planted something other than tomatoes (we have a small garden where we grow tomatoes because… BLT’s, obviously). The fact that all the little people are clothed, fed, and fairly emotionally stable…this is a new season.
When you are in the early years, the survival mode of raising little people becomes the new norm. Your boundaries shrink down. What you can and can’t do all changes. In many ways, your life becomes a cycle of “Sleep. Drink coffee. Clean things. Cook things. Wash things. Repeat.” And you feel fortunate if the ‘sleep’ part is happening every night.
I know this is true. I know because I lived it for a lot of years. I know because I see friends who show up at a gathering and I can tell it took a lot of work for them to come. Because when you are in the little years, everything takes a lot of work.
That’s not to say that they aren’t amazing years. That season of introductions–the one where you meet your kids, you meet your spouse as a parent, you meet yourself in new ways even, and you have the incredible task of introducing your kids to the world– that season is significant and sweet. But it can seem as though your world shrinks down and you become a tired, robot version of your former self.
Exhausted parents, take heart. There will come a day when you can leave the house without putting on everyone’s shoes yourself. There will come a day when you can go on a run and leave them at home alone. There are days ahead where they will play board games and lock themselves away to practice a play and tell you stories that make you laugh until your sides hurt. At some point, they’ll be able to clean up their own room (and be strongly motivated by financial gain, which you will use sparingly to your advantage.) Tides will turn and seasons will change, and this sleepless blur with kids cartoons in the background will cease to be your norm.
But this future ahead, this one where you sleep more and discover lost hobbies and wear pants that don’t have an elastic waist, this new reality is not effortless. There are hard things ahead as well. Your kids will make bad choices, lie to your face, yell things in anger, hurt you in ways you did not see coming. They will ask you questions that you can’t answer, and those questions may even plant questions in your own heart. They may step out in the world and make a royal mess of it. They may have flaws that mirror yours, personalities that rub yours the wrong way, ideas about life that are contrary to the way you wanted them to believe. You may come to painfully understand the love of the Father towards his prodigal son; you may ponder that story as you turn the porch light on at night in hopes that your own prodigal might wander home. And in that moment, the faint memory of small smelly people crawling all over you as you try to sit on the couch- those years will seem sweet, indeed.
Parenting, in any stage, is no small thing.
So to parents who are in those early years, fighting your way through the marathon days and the mountains of tiny people laundry, the good news is that this phase won’t last forever, and it is preparing you for days ahead. The agony and ecstasy of littles is gently bracing you for what is perhaps the hardest lesson of parenting: that you are not perfect, and that all your best efforts cannot control your kids or protect them entirely from the world.
I guess the reality is that parenting will always be work, but that the kind of work involved in each season will be different. So do the hard work that is in front of you right now, and know that you will not always do this work. Time will pass, and you will have new work. The sleepless nights of toddlerhood may be followed some day by the sleepless nights of teenagers, but you + Christ will be enough. And there will be grace and goodness (and coffee) for that work as well.