He was tired. I was tired. We were both tired. And that’s where the frustration began.
My toddler son had woken up early from his nap–the only possible time a parent can really focus and get work done–but now half-time is over. He’s awake and hungry. But when you’re three years old and sleepy there’s not a morsel on the planet that you’ll eat. Unless it’s the cupcakes that you’ve been begging for all day. My refrain of “not until after dinner” evaporates amidst the heat of a disgruntled child. He’s happy for about two minutes.
Now he wants attention. No. He demands it. It’s a “crawl in your lap, call your name non-stop, make it impossible for you to work” type of focus that he wants from me. But I let my selfishness show.
“Play with your toys,” I say. “More cupcake,” he says.
Okay. Maybe a change in location will help. I bring my laptop to the dining room table and sit him next to me. I start him with a puzzle that has numbers 1-10 for the pieces. Let’s be educational.
He gets through the first puzzle and now it’s time for the next one–a combination of letters and numbers. But his patience is gone and now every piece causes a wail of aggravation. Pieces thrown. Time for a “time out”.
My eyelids are droopy. I can hardly stay awake. I just want a nap. And my son needs to rest, too. But there’s no way he’s going back to sleep now. Too riled up. Too much stuff to get into.
So I grab a Red Bull and try to get back to work. Then I get a phone call that I have to take. I turn to our babysitter. At $9 a month, she’s very affordable. Her name is “Netflix”. The phone call ends in due course, but by now I’m sitting on the couch. The Red Bull is coursing through my veins, but I’ve lost all motivation to be productive. I end up watching TV only a toddler and a zonked parent could appreciate.
The Struggle Never Ends
By this point you’re probably ready for the punch line. The “suddenly everything got better” part. I’m sorry to disappoint. That moment didn’t come this time. It was a hard day all day long.
But I’m content, even motivated. I can deal with days like this for two reasons.
1) Parenting is a Struggle
First, I’ve come to expect parenting to be hard. One trick to raising kids and the enjoying other areas in life is to be neither optimistic, nor pessimistic, but realistic. Optimism leads to constant disappointment as every snag unravels your notions of perfection. Pessimism siphons off any source of joy you may get from your circumstances. Realism, on the other hand, understands that both pleasantness and disappointment await you every day. Realism about parenting helps you to deal productively with difficulties and experience moments of felicity to the fullest.
2) Faith Grows through Ordinary Struggles
I know that faith grows in the womb of daily life. It’s in the ordinary, mundane, common struggles of family, work, and our own hearts that we live as Christians. “Aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one (1 Thess. 4:11-12).
As Christians we should aspire to excel in the ordinary. It’s the daily plodding as a parent that God values and blesses. For some reason we think our lives should look like action movies full of death-defying scenarios, passionate romance, and explosions. More often they look like stop-motion animation–slow, jerky, and slightly ridiculous. Yet if we resist temptation, throw ourselves on the mercy of God, and rely on His strength daily it may not be glamorous, but it is God-pleasing life.
A Godward Struggle
I routinely fail to live a quiet life of faith. Too often I think that because parenting feels hard and I’m struggling with ordinary stuff that I’m doing something wrong. But belief in Christ relieves us from the burden of being superhuman fathers and mothers. Christ’s life death, resurrection, and coming return are all the drama we need. Because of Christ’s action-packed story we are free to live the ordinary struggles of a parent undergirded by consistent, persistent, steadfast faith.
Now my child’s in bed. I’m still tired. Work still isn’t done. Tomorrow may be just as hard. But my struggles have a Godward tilt. I parent to the glory of God. And because of His Son, the Father is well-pleased.