I recently read an article about finding joy in the midst of parenting, embracing all the moments, and choosing to have a positive perspective on parenting. The phrase that stuck out to me was, “it’s ALL JOY.” And being someone that is literally nuts about my baby girl, I wholeheartedly resonate with that. Somehow, in the midst of every exhausting day, and in the midst of every parenting trial, I still find being a mama to be the greatest joy I have known on this Earth. But I am also someone who happens to have a very, uh, passionate, strong willed, and determined child. She’s only ten months old and she is more confident of what she wants in life than I am, I swear. And with her determined and strong willed nature comes lots of choices for me. Do I lose my cool? Do I complain? How do I manage my stress levels? What do I do when I am genuinely frustrated with her? And with all of those choices comes the underlying choice that drives all the rest: Will I choose joy? The reality is, sometimes it hurts to love your baby. But even in the midst of that pain, there’s a joy. So how do we find that?
How do I, as a new and constantly learning mama, find joy in parenting when parenting isn’t always happy?
Because that’s where the reality is. Parenting is not always happy. My baby is one hundred percent passionate (and I clearly have no idea where that came from) and has big feelings about little things. She has been that way since she was born. Actually, no, I knew she was that way in the womb. And the truth is, sometimes parenting her isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. I am reminded on a daily basis that sometimes it hurts to love your baby.
And I get it, I know that being a parent is challenging for anyone, but seriously y’all. When I was in California recently, several of my friends (who are seasoned mamas with multiple children) looked me in the eyes and said, “Yea, Laura, I can see why you are exhausted. She is definitely more difficult than the average baby.” So as I share about what to do when it hurts to love your baby, I want you to know that I am talking about an aspect of parenting that goes beyond night wakings, cold coffee, and forgotten date nights. I’m not talking about laundry piling up or dishes needing to be done. I am talking about the raw and real challenges that come with loving your baby so much that it truly does hurt.
Maybe you’re wondering what I mean when I say it hurts. Well, with an extremely strong willed and determined child (and who knows, maybe with any child in general), sometimes the decisions I make as a mama are decisions that are made out of love, but they don’t make my baby happy. A more accurate way to say that would be to say that my decisions often make my baby very angry. I can’t speak for all the mamas, but I can speak for myself in saying that sometimes my love-driven decisions result in massive meltdowns. Learning how to parent and discipline a somewhat emotionally advanced baby is anything but easy, and
sometimes it always makes my heart ache when her little eyes fill with tears. It takes a great deal of courage and strength on my part to hold back my own tears, remind myself that she is safe, healthy, and well loved, and that she will be okay. It literally hurts my heart. It doesn’t get easier. In fact, in this stage of her development, it only gets harder.
She has learned that she can hit when she is upset, that she can throw something if it is not what she wants, and that she can say, “NO mama.” And while I know that she is just a baby, sometimes these things really hurt my heart. It makes me sad when she yells at me defiantly. It hurts when I let my feelings get the best of me and I become frustrated with her. And yet I don’t let these things go. I don’t shake it off and say, “she’s just a baby.”
Why? Because my husband and I have made a decision to start truly guiding her in loving and age appropriate discipline now rather than waiting until “she is old enough to understand.” And that decision means that every time she acts out, I have to respond. Perhaps that would be easy were it not for the whole “big feelings” thing. Because while my child is very passionate and very outspoken already, she is also quite possibly the most sensitive child I have ever met. A simple, “no ma’am,” can turn on the waterworks- no yelling required. And these moments are anything but happy. And I find myself feeling anything but joyful. Instead, I find myself feeling like a bad mom and wondering if my child still loves me even though I took a penny away so she wouldn’t choke on it.
So where do I find the joy in these less-than-happy moments? Where do I find the joy in her heartbreaking cries and floods of tears? Because if it is all joy, I should be able to find it.
While I don’t have all the answers, here’s what I do know: the joy comes in the knowledge, the awareness, and the confidence.
There is an innate and God-given knowledge that leads and guides my decisions as her mama. I have been fully equipped thus far, and will continue to be equipped as each day passes. God doesn’t entrust us with His little ones and then neglect to give us the tools to parent them. He loves them way too much for that. When I am reminded that God is continually granting me the knowledge (whether directly from Him in a moment, or through the counsel of others) to love my child well, I am able to find joy knowing that He cares. And not only does He care, but others care. Others have been there, done that, and are so quick and gracious to remind me that I am not alone.
And then there’s a constant awareness. It’s the mother’s intuition they talk about. It’s a real thing. I have a constant awareness of her needs. And sometimes those needs are bigger than food and water. Sometimes those needs are emotional, and possibly far greater than the need for food. Sometimes what she needs is to be told no- for the sake of her health and safety, or even for the sake of her mental development. When I acknowledge my own intuition and remind myself that I know what she needs, I am able to find joy, knowing that I am doing the right thing.
And then there’s a greater awareness. There’s a deep knowing in my soul that these moments won’t last forever. The days are long and the years are so short. I want to look back on these days and remember immense joy in the midst of unhappy moments, because I will miss those unhappy moments when they are no longer a part of our lives.
And finally, I find joy in confidence. It is a deep joy that comes in a resting place. And in that place I remind myself of the basic truth that I am the only person that can be her mama. I am the person God chose to carry her, deliver her, and shepherd her. I am the person to whom God gave the pure privilege, honor, and delight of being her mama.
God chose me to be the primary source of His love and affection for my baby, and in that knowledge and awareness, I find confidence.
And that brings me joy.
So I embrace that joy, and I make a choice each day to tap into that source. I emphasize “choice” because it’s exactly that- it’s a choice to find joy and walk in it. And no matter how much it hurts to love her in difficult ways, guide her heart, and gently discipline her, I get to choose to do it with a joyful heart and positive attitude.
I don’t want to waste my time being frustrated with changes in her behavior or wishing the difficult developmental phases away.
Because at the end of every day- or heck- even in the middle of the day as we approach nap time, I can honestly say I never think, “thank goodness she’s going to sleep now,” or, “thank goodness today is over.” Instead, I ask myself the same questions as I go over and over our day in my head. “Did I love her well? Did I love her enough? Did I teach her everything she needed to learn today? Was I available? Was I engaged with her?”
“Did she feel outrageously loved by her mama?”
Every night as I hold her before she goes to bed, I say the same thing to her. “You’ll only be this little today.”
I say it every. single. night. And I cannot remember a time that I didn’t cry when saying it.
And in those moments, I am reminded that my love for her is the greatest joy God has given me. In the good and the bad, I choose joy.
So mamas, when it hurts to love your baby, remember this. Your baby will only be this little today. And today (and every day) you have the knowledge and awareness and confidence to tap into the joy of parenting.