In 1996, then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton coined the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child,” later using it as the title for her book. I was in high school then and was a star babysitter. Even then I knew exactly how I would raise my future children, what I would do and what I would never do as a parent. I believed I would never allow my children to eat hot dogs — cancer sticks! — and of course they would only watch a movie once a week during family time. I believed that when my future children did arrive they would be sweet, polite and kind hearted. I would fantasize of people looking to me for parenting advice.
A few years later, after my husband and I started the adoption process but before we still had children, I was listening to Dr. Laura on the radio. She mentioned that quote from Ms. Clinton about the village and Dr. Laura said Ms. Clinton was wrong. It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes two parents to raise a child.
Embarrassingly, at the time I believed Dr. Laura to be correct. Every child only needs two parents, or a fantastic single parent. You don’t need help, you don’t need daycare or grandparents or a nanny or a team on your side, you just need yourself. You’ve got this. Raising kids is not a hard job and it’s full of blessing. Are you really going to miss all that time with your kids by allowing a village to help you out?
But then we adopted one, two, then three children. Still I desired to be the perfect mother, the mom who could keep it together, who dressed nice and only said sweet things to her children, who only allowed the TV on at special times. I wanted to be the mom who never raised her voice or felt like locking herself in the bathroom, the mom who would never think a thousand times a day, “What’s wrong with you?” about her kids. The mom who could do it all with a smile on her face, a happy skip in her step, with her kind-hearted, obedient children in tow. The mom who didn’t need a village.
For weeks, no, months, I would find myself glassy-eyed, wandering around my home to the sounds of children arguing, things breaking, a constant confetti of lego pieces, bits of food, crayons, and paper cuttings all over the floor. And then I had a breakdown. Not just the kind where you go and cry and then you’re okay again. But a full blown, ugly-crying, on my knees to God, asking, yelling for Jesus to help me, realizing I can’t do this any longer by myself.
Admitting my pride and arrogance which came from being convinced that not only I but all other parents should be able to do this on our own, began to heal me a bit. I began to recognize there’s no perfect family, no perfect way to parent, no perfect children. I began to see through some of the walls of perfection we put up to hide the storm brewing behind them. I began to see what happens when we’re truthful about how hard this parenting thing really is — how mothers and fathers and grandparents and foster parents are just doing their best and they need each other. We need a village, an honest and vulnerable village full of grace and acceptance.
I am still weary. I am still tired. I am still thirsty for peace and quiet. I still feel like I am drowning as a mom, barely keeping my head above the waters of guilt for too much screen time, guilt for being at my wit’s end, guilt for having disobedient children, guilt for yelling too much, guilt for feeling guilty. I am weary, as I am sure many of you are. Why don’t we talk about our weariness more? Why do we keep it all bottled up with “I got this” attitude? What would it look like for each of us to live honestly about where we are as parents? That it’s okay to admit we aren’t the perfect parent we had in mind before we had children?
I find too often I am annoyed or irritated at my children for taking too long, for not being able to find their shoes when we need to leave, for creating tornado-like destruction every step they take through our home and yard. Instead of being able to see the joy and beauty within parenting, my weariness takes over and I can’t wait until bedtime when the home is quiet and put back together. I find it difficult to enjoy the delight which parenting brings. These truths also take a village. It takes you, my friends, to remind me of joy in the midst of mud-pies and lost shoes.
I am reminded of the time my husband was getting the kids to bed right before another board meeting would take place in the midst of my messy home. I was preparing that Sunday’s sermon when he walks downstairs and tells me the kids want me to sing a hymn to them. My mind began to say, “Don’t they know how busy I am? Don’t they know I don’t have time tonight for that to take place?” I put down my all important work of writing about the Kingdom of God, and begrudgingly started up the creaky stairs, took the hymnal off the chair and flipped to that night’s hymn.
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
it is well, it is well with my soul.”
And as I sat in the hallway with my children’s doors open to hear the words drift in, my heart swelled, opened, I admitted my pride and arrogance once again. I all but shouted and sang the words that it is well, it is well with my soul.
Because I am not alone in this. I am weary, I am tired, at times I can barely keep my head above the waters of parenting, but God continually reminds me to see the sacredness of parenting and that I am not alone and I’m not meant to do this alone.
When can we start to admit to each other, even just a little bit, that we need help? I found out I need a village. And I wonder, if I need a village, perhaps you do too.
PREVIOUSLY in FAITH-Y:
- The Love of the Mysterious Divine
- Happy Mother’s Day
- Every 15 Minutes Reality
- Fred Phelps and Forgiveness
- The Sacredness of Home
- Dr. Fratkin Told Us a Story
- Sharing Beliefs Relationally
- His Light Endures
- Remembering to Anticipate
- When Christmas is Hard