When your mommy efforts crash and burn

The days when I most feel like writing a blog post about motherhood are the days when everything is going well.

I think maybe I should write a blog post about home schooling Kindergarten in those moments when I feel we are so very clearly on top of our game.

Maybe I should write a blog post about cultivating good sleep habits when both our kids have been sleeping through the night for a long time.

Maybe I should write a blog post about helping your 2YO play independently when Elanor is being so content and creative on her own—hmm, maybe that’s why the home schooling was going so well?

Then there are the days (or, for me right now, the entire horrendous month of January) when all my mommy efforts crash and burn and all the answers I thought I had are kind of sizzling in ruin on the floor around me.

Not to be overdramatic or anything.

Those moments when I am collapsed in exhaustion in the family room while my son is in bed with a stomach bug and my daughter is for no apparent reason in the middle of yet another big meltdown.  I feel like I should peel myself off the couch and try to help her, but I seem to have misplaced the manual on how to switch off tantrum mode and what exactly she is trying to communicate through her different moods.

Oh, wait, she didn’t come with a manual.  And I am trying to grope my way along and keep my sanity and patience and firmness and hoping there is a light ahead when this will be easier.

David has been in a hard stage before and I am trying to remember how I felt then.  I remember for a few months when he was three we were dealing with tantrums, and I cried a lot.  Then the tantrums stopped as quickly as they had started, and I wrote a blog post about what I learned.

Now we’re going over another bump with Elanor, except she is different and everything is different, and the things that worked with David don’t work with her.  I desperately want to have a good relationship with my daughter, and I love it that she loves to be with me.

But I don’t love it that suddenly with no warning separation anxiety has hit—why after being confident and assured for so long does she now want to be connected to me at all times?  Why, after her sleeping so well for so long, do I feel like I have an infant again up multiple times in the night?  Why does she only seem content when she’s watching a movie?  Why can we have so much fun together doing something like a baking project and then a millisecond later she is screaming and kicking on the floor?

Part of the frustration of parenting for me is the lack of answers to questions like these.  On one hand, I can find very specific and confident (and contradictory!) answers from parenting books that assure me if I were a little more strict (or a little more lenient) or did something just a little differently, success in parenting would be mine in a moment.  I’ve gotten to the place where I usually ignore those formulaic approaches and try my best with the wisdom of God’s Word and the intuition He has given me and Ben.

But I still find myself casting about for answers—is she on a growth spurt?  Teething?  Is this because I’m pregnant?  Is it somehow connected to our foster baby leaving 6 months ago?  Is this all a detox from the fun time she had in Florida?  Are these weeks of drama because she was sick for a few days?  Is there an undiscovered food allergy?  Have I not been giving her enough attention?  Am I pandering to her too much?

I can drive myself crazy with questions like these, and it’s a little hard to think logically about them when Elanor wants at the same time to be held close and to have the freedom to run around, to eat something yet she’s not hungry after all, to play with that toy but never mind she hates it, and I think—she doesn’t know what’s wrong either.  She is just, for whatever reason, at this point in her development, really, really frustrated.

It’s easy to feel mommy guilt when our child is going through a rough stage, to wonder if we somehow did something wrong, or caused this, or if we’re not responding in the best way, or are we missing something obvious?

But I’m trying to remember this:

In some jobs, you can put in X and know with certainty that Y will come out.  The cause and effect are clearly linked.  There’s a formula and pattern and it all makes sense.

Parenting isn’t like that because we’re dealing with people.  We put in X and we have no idea what will come out.  When good stuff is coming out, we can applaud ourselves, and other people may join in, at what a great job we are doing.  Look, I have a happy, well-balanced child for the moment!  Aren’t I a great mom?

Then we hit a rut when weird stuff is happening and we don’t know why and we’re crying out for wisdom.  I think in those moments it’s helpful to remember:

The perfect parent we are really trying to imitate is God.  And His parenting didn’t always go well.  His children didn’t always turn out and follow Him perfectly.  His lavish grace and mercy wasn’t always met with appreciation and obedience.

The parent we are really trying to imitate is the Father of the Prodigal Son.  Somehow his oldest was a hypocrite and his youngest was a rebel.  He just kept doing the right thing in his parenting, waiting patiently, reasoning gently.

I hope if there is something I can do differently that will help Elanor through this rough patch, that I figure it out really soon.  But I also don’t want to beat myself up that things aren’t going perfectly for me right now.  I feel like one test of parenting is how we live when all our efforts are crashing and burning around us.  Am I still being consistent?  Patient?  Joyful?  Or am I allowing the mood swings of my two-year-old to become mood swings of my own?  (Not like I’ve had moments of hysterical tears these last few weeks, that’s just a hypothetical question.)

Anyway, I have no really great ideas about parenting right now.  Love your kids and be affectionate with them.  Be firm and try to teach them good things.  Try not to go crazy when they do.  And when it’s falling to pieces, try to remember your hope is in the Lord, not in your sweet children or your awesome parenting skills.


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