As I tossed the last wilted flower into the trash, it transformed, before my eyes, into an unexpected exclamation point — punctuating the end of 38 years of raising children. Just days before, we were caught in a flurry of friends and family all gathered to help us prepare for our daughter’s wedding.
She was our caboose, our ninth child. The little girl who grew up closer in age to the growing population of nephews than her siblings. Her teen years were spent living as an only child embedded in a family of adults. At last she’s joined their ranks, which puts us back where we started–just the two of us.
The standard question is, “How do you like having an empty nest?” My theory is, if you can’t enjoy a quiet house, you didn’t have enough children.
I’m sinking into it like a worn-out recliner. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not glad, or relieved, those days are over–not in the least. It’s just a different kind of enjoyment, one that comes from satisfaction and utter contentment.
A few days after the wedding my husband, who was once my high school sweetheart, looked at me with amazement and proclaimed, “We did it.”
Life without children in the house is hard to imagine when you are a young mother. Oh sure, you know it is inevitable. But it falls in the same category as death — it’s a lifetime away, and too far from your daily reality to give it any thought.
Be warned: If you don’t understand just how quickly it comes, it will sneak up on you like the last shopping day in December.
It’s safe to say that many of us begin our parenting with a vow to do a better job than our parents before us. There’s nothing wrong with that. Except, when your children are small, it’s easy to convince yourself that you actually are. Don’t be fooled into a false sense of security. You’re not done.
If, on the other hand, you don’t feel like you are doing a good enough job — take heart. Again, you’re not done.
However you judge your parenting skills, here are a few hard truths I’d like to whisper in your ear.
3. You’re Not the Mother You Think You Are
When my first two were born, they were what most older women called good babies. They cooed and smiled, and seldom cried. I nursed, rocked and talked to them almost every minute of the day. I “wore” my babies before there was a name for it, and nursed in a time when the hospital ushered new mothers and newborns to a segregated area for breastfeeding mothers.
Although you would never hear me say it out loud, I thought that my babies were good for a reason: I was such a great mom. I did everything “right.” In return, I created happy children.
Then came number three.
She was born just before midnight and within a few hours, she began to cry. For ten full months. She didn’t stop. Ever. It didn’t matter what I did. She cried when she was hungry. She cried when she was full. This baby hated a wet diaper and got angry when I changed it. We walked the hallways and corridors of every church service or any meeting I attended.
Lesson learned. It’s not about me.
Doing everything you think is right for your children is vital. Always follow your instincts, your heart, and learn to trust them. It’s your God-given compass for your family.
Keep doing the right thing and as you trust your intuition, understand this: input does not always equal your desired outcome. You have a lot less to do with the fact that your child is “good” or “bad” than you think you do.
Your child is a unique creation. One whose life is far more complex and resilient than we can fathom. Your part to play as a mother is essential. So do your part, but don’t try to take credit or blame you don’t own.
2. Homeschooling (or Raising Social Conservatives) Does Not Guarantee You Will Save Your Child From Social Ills
Through homeschooling, and being a part of the homeschooling community for 28 years, I’ve watched countless families devote their lives to raising their children. It takes sacrifice to raise your children according to deeply held values. This is right and good. But it does not come with a guarantee.
Good parents can raise children who grow up and do stupid things. The most important piece of knowledge you can give your children, that will impact their adult lives, is that their actions do not define who they are. Their behavior does not determine their worth or your love for them.
You will never be a good enough parent to keep them from all the evil or hardship life will bring. However, if you can nurture a relationship where it’s safe to fail in your arms, they will want you to walk beside them into adulthood.
1. Your Parents Didn’t Do as Badly as You Think They Did
If you’re like me, in your 20s, you have the world all figured out. In your 30s, your theories are put to the test. That’s when families tend to struggle the hardest.
Marriage becomes hard work. Children grow into their own into individuals with opinions. It’s right about then that you realize not all of your theories panned out. Then comes the sting of consequences that come with trying out adult wings.
We tend to judge our parents rather harshly. As I said earlier, good parents can raise children that make mistakes, and some of the finest people I know grew up in heart-wrenching homes.
Refrain from judgment. Take what you consider the best from your childhood and build on it. Learn from what you believe were mistakes. Remember the cycle will continue. You will make your own mistakes, and you too will be judged.
For some of us, it takes a long time before we can see our parents for who they are — imperfect people trying to raise imperfect children in a harsh and dying world.
When I realized that I can’t write my child’s life-story, I became a better mother. While our roles as mothers impact childhood, trust that God can, and will, use our failures and shortcomings to embellish their story with His grace.