If a six-year-younger version of me walked into my house right now, with her firstborn so new and rosy in her arms and her eyes bright with ideas about the future, there are so many ways she wouldn’t recognize herself in the Here-and-Now-Me. The younger me wouldn’t understand the mess. She wouldn’t believe my voice could elevate that quickly to angry tones over seemingly silly offenses (“I told you not to growl at your baby sister!”). She wouldn’t understand the exhaustion pouring from my posture as my very frame slumps over the dishes in the sink. She wouldn’t get why I have to remind my kids every single morning to brush their teeth. (Really?)
Whether we mean to or not, we all enter into parenthood with ideals of who we will be. Some of them aren’t even fully formed in our brains before our hands are clenched tight around them. They can range from “I’ll be the fun mom who plans great birthday parties” to “I’ll be the intentional dad who plans one-on-one time for each child once a week.” Sometimes our ideals are so abstract like, “My kids are just going to love talking to me one day!” Then we get into the thick of raising human beings, and it’s at that point we step back and think, “this is not the person I was planning to be!” That’s when we realize how much we had our hearts set on a specific version of ourselves, and how far we are from hitting that mark.
But maybe we are better than the person we planned to be?
Yes, my six-year-younger-self would probably walk into my house today and see too much stress, too much mess, a mom with un-washed hair and an overflowing laundry closet. After that, though. After that, she might see a mom spreading peanut butter on apples for her older kids with a perfectly happy, mostly clean toddler on her hip and think, “huh, that should be hard but she makes it look easy.” Maybe that younger me would see a mom who knows what kind of music to put on to get her kids out of a slump and into a dance party on the living room floor. Maybe she’d see a woman who keeps on going on four-hundred-and-one nights of severely interrupted sleep. She might see this girl trying to be a wise, adult mother who will still lie flat down on the floor next to a mopey six-year-old in a desperate attempt to show her, “I am with you in this day. Let’s make it better.” Maybe she’d see a mom who makes sloppy cakes with her kids? Maybe she’d see a mom who tears up when her 4-year-old son puts his arms around his older sister and says with wonder and kindness, “You looks so pretty today.” Maybe she’d forgive me for yelling sometimes. Maybe.
My children are still so young, just 6, 4, and 1, but already I can see the harsh difference between the mom I thought I’d be and the mom I am now. Sometimes I don’t like what I see. And sometimes, I really do. Here’s what I know now: mothering is not a minute to minute equation, balancing the bad ones and the good ones and striving to make sure all the bad moments are cancelled out. Parenting is the sum of all the moments. There is no erasing the bad moments. And there are some pretty bad ones! I know now, I make big mistakes regularly and I can neither deny them nor hide them from my kids. But praise God, there are so many good moments as well. The hope I have replaced my ideals with is this: that the sum of my moments will add up to love in my children’s hearts. I hope and pray that I will play enough games with them, make them do the hard stuff to build their character consistently enough, hug them enough, stretch out beside them in their beds at bedtime and hold them close so many nights, look into their eyes and really hear them so many times….that I will do all these things enough so that when they are grown, all the time we had together in their childhoods will scream and ooze warmth and safety, acceptance and care, affection and security that lasts and leads them ever onward to the Parent whose love is all they need.
May the sum of my moments equal love.