It’s been a tough week. Or really 8-9 days. Last Monday, I could feel myself starting to get sick, but I had so much to do for work. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were all 14-hour days. My body resisted. I started to run fevers, and it was all I could do to keep from shivering uncontrollably in the office under my wool coat and ear muffs. Thursday, I couldn’t do it anymore. Despite the need for me to be in the office, I stayed home. Went to the doctor. They thought it might be Strep. Got an antibiotic. Then, over the next few hours, the fever really started to spiral high. Hit 103. On Friday, it hit 104.My mom was pressing me to go to the hospital. My doctor said the same when I called her. My husband at least wanted me to get tested for the flu and so I could get some Tamiflu. I did none of the above (because I’m stubborn and hate going to the hospital or even the doctor if I can avoid it), stayed on a cocktail of Advil and Tylenol to keep the fever down, handed my children off to assorted grandparents, rested, pumped milk for the baby, and read almost all three of the Hunger Games books. Saturday started to improve. Sunday was better. The weather was warm enough for me to sit outside, and I felt myself start to come around. I stayed home again on Monday just to be sure, and today I’m back at work. In the midst of my illness, my family and home seemed to fall apart. Mealtime spills went uncleaned. The baby came down with a double ear infection. My preschooler showed up at school dressed in his uniform on Sports Day. His teacher contacted me to tell me what a tough day he had. The antibiotics my two-year-old was finishing up were forgotten a few times. The laundry exploded. One of the toy bins broke. The cards for Teacher Appreciation Day were never purchased. The coupons weren’t cut. The birthday gifts for my preschooler’s classmates’ parties were purchased desperately at the last minute. Grocery shopping was skipped. And my poor husband was pulling out his hair. So, yes, a tough week.
But none of that is why I started writing this post. Yesterday, one of the grandparents stopped by to help us out one more time by taking the preschooler to school. My preschooler was dressed in his school uniform shorts with his school uniform sweatshirt. When asked if our preschooler was wearing his school uniform t-shirt underneath his sweatshirt in case it got warm (as it was expected to be a warm day), my husband and I responded affirmatively. Then, said grandparent replied, “Okay, but I just want to check”, and proceeded to walk over and pull back my preschooler’s sweatshirt to confirm. My mouth fell open. The grandparent needed to double-check? In the time it took me to close my mouth, I immediately became furious. My thoughts spun. Obviously, said grandparent must think I am either a total liar or a complete moron. What other reason would there be to double-check? I was so upset that I had to walk away.
My reaction was strong. It didn’t fade. Hubby reminded me that said grandparent was doing me a favor by taking the preschooler to school, and, really, I should try to cultivate a “grateful heart” and forget about it. But I couldn’t. I mentioned it to another grandparent who promised to pass on my rebuke in a gentler way than I was capable of doing. But I was still upset. My reaction seemed a bit disproportionate, even to me. Granted, this is not the first time that said grandparent has taken it upon him/herself to question my parenting or point out things I’m not doing right. And it irritates me. Every. Single. Time. Especially since there are never any encouraging or positive words to say about my parenting. So, perhaps this was the straw that broke the camel’s proverbial back. But there seemed to be more to it.
Distressed by the situation, the strength of my reaction, and the not-so-positive fall-out of the attempts to resolve this issue with the grandparents involved, I stumbled (actually, Hubby helped me stumble) upon the root of the real problem. Which is . . . wait for it . . . [drum roll] . . .
There is no encouragement for parents in this day and age.
Wow, I bet you were waiting for something much more novel, weren’t you?
But here is the thing. When I was growing up, I remember my grandma encouraging my mother and praising her parenting. Similarly, I don’t remember anyone tearing her down. There was no Internet to suggest the 101 ways she was failing. No “mommy wars” full of self-righteous indignation like we have now. No Pinterest (or even Facebook) to upstage her. None of the endless comparisons (promoted by the Internet) between what she was doing as a parent and what every other mother from here to China was doing. There was only her approach and her parenting. And, for the most part, it existed in a vacuum. Now, I do realize that it was hardly a complete vacuum --- there was still television and neighbors and school mom cliques and all of the other nonsense that can create plenty of similar problems. The primary difference is that, as a parent, you could escape being bombarded by all of this negativity much more easily. Now, you really can’t. Criticisms and judgment abound.
There are no cheerleaders for parents. There is virtually no praise for parents or parenting. Half the time, it seems like our own parents are against us. There is so much for everyone to critique, so little to compliment. Whether it is because the world has changed, I am working too much/too little, I am earning too much/too little, my methods are too Catholic or not Catholic enough, I am at home too much/too little, my house is not clean enough, my kids are not dressed warmly enough, I am not reading to my kids enough, my kids aren’t eating enough healthy foods, I am not paying enough attention, there is a toy on the floor that poses a choking hazard, the baby has a diaper rash, I missed the news report about the latest horrible disease/device/situation that caused a child to die and am not implementing adequate preventative measures, I am not producing enough breast milk, I am fat, I am not keeping up with all of the safety recalls, the deadbolt on my front door is not engaged . . . the list of reasons that I am a bad parent and am going to ruin my kids for life goes on and on and on. It never ends. I don’t need my parents (or anyone else) to point that out to me. I feel tremendous pressure to juggle more, better, faster. But, candidly, I’m always dropping balls. Every single day. Drop, drop, drop. During the time I’ve been grappling with these feelings, which are so strong they forced me to open this blog post to sort them out, I’ve lost at least two billable hours. Drop, drop, drop. Sometimes the pressure is so unbearable. Drop, drop, drop. And, occasionally, it results in me working so hard and neglecting myself so much that I end up with a fever so high it should warrant hospitalization.
What is the answer? I don’t know. Is it possible to start some kind of “parental encouragement revolution”? (Feel free to laugh --- admittedly, that’s really hard to say with a straight face.) Even if it weren’t such a funny concept, the reality is that it isn’t very plausible either. Our society thrives on tearing people down, and parenthood is an increasingly less popular choice in this modern world. So, no, I don’t think that will work.
Maybe I’m the problem. After all, I’m part of the self-entitled, “everyone gets a trophy even if they didn’t win” millennial generation. Meaning that I must have an unhealthy desire for affirmation, praise, approval, and recognition. I probably do. But, gosh, is it too much to ask for some encouragement once in awhile? Even once every 5-10 critiques would be so welcome.
Hubby asked me why I care so much about what other people, including our parents, think. He has this amazing ability to just write off any critiques/judgments, ignore any post-favor “lord it over” attitudes, and accept whatever comments are offered with grace. I don’t have that ability. Why not? I’m a strong person. So, why do I care?
I care what they think because I love them and their opinions matter. From past experience, the day I stop caring what someone thinks is the day I stop having any meaningful relationship with that person. I don’t want that with my parents.
The thing is, in spite of my many parenting failures, I really do have wonderful children. Children who are kind, caring, smart, and well-adjusted. People always compliment my children. Their teachers, their baby-sitters, other parents, their grandparents. They steal the hearts of everyone they meet. But the credit is not due to me. It is due to God. 100%. There is no false modesty here. I have no illusions that any of the intangible goodness in my children is due to me or that anyone (grandparents included) thinks it is. After all, I see how much I fail each and every day. I see myself when I’m “short” with my kids or erupt in frustration at some minor mistake instead of with Jesus’ gentle loving reproach. Thus, I’m absolutely certain that God has given me incredible children to mother, but children who are incredible because of Him and who He made them to be. And the grandparents and those who compliment my children see that. Hence, they compliment my children, not me. I’m okay with that. The saying goes: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” In my case, God knew that my life, being what it is, could not handle difficult children. So, He has blessed me abundantly with easy children, who rarely step out of line, who are genuine, happy, healthy, loving, beautiful. Almost effortless. They thrive in spite of me and all of the balls I drop. It’s amazing. Something so amazing is clearly from God. The credit goes to God.
I think I am most afraid that, somehow, I will screw up all of that wonderfulness God has given to my children. My perception is that the grandparents (to be fair --- not all of them, not all of the time, of course) look at me, my life, my failures, my ball-drops, and think the same. I think that is why I get all of the critiques I do.
[Long pause.] Wait a sec . . . Fear.
[This post is stream of conscious now. Give me a second to think.] Did I just say I was afraid? I didn’t expect to write about fear in this post. But there it is again. Looming in the paragraph I just wrote. Fear that I will screw up the wonderful, easy children God has given me. Fear. At the heart of all of this honesty is fear. What could that mean? I’ve talked about fear before. How it is Satan’s strongest weapon against me. I think I’m putting the pieces together as I write. Could this “attack of the criticisms” really just be Satan manipulating my fears (this time, my fears of inadequacy) again for his own benefit?
Gosh, that makes sense, doesn’t it? [Rushing to type fast now.] This attack has sure caused me a lot of angst (not just this time, but every time a criticism is delivered), and the attempts to work it out with the grandparents involved sure have been rife with failure and bad feelings. How did I not see it sooner? The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit. My brain is clicking so fast now. Of course it is Satan!!! How could it be anyone else? It makes perfect sense. Criticisms, harsh words, passing judgment, questioning another’s choices, probing another’s aptitude for parenthood --- those things hurt my feelings. They would probably hurt most people’s feelings. Words of that kind don’t come from God. They come from Satan. That’s glaringly obvious. How did I miss it?
But there is more. The kicker. What I was missing in all of this emotional analysis is that the analysis doesn’t end there. Those hurtful words play on my FEARS. Fears, which are also a product of Satan. Holy cow, talk about a double whammy!!! No wonder I’ve been so upset.
[Long pause. Cricket . . . Cricket.] Well . . . how is that for a turn of events?
Gosh, when I started this blog post, I was hoping to write about the importance of encouragement ultimately. I was feeling very discouraged. Wondering where all of the encouragement in parenthood went. Why it is so much harder to find nowadays. Wondering why all I hear are critiques, even from those closest to me. Why I’m stuck in such a fray of discouragement. At the end of this post, I think I was hoping that I’d have some insight on the importance of encouraging each other, of building each up, perhaps as some component of authentic Catholic social teaching. Some nugget or kernel of truth, which would shape the way I interact with other parents going forward. I guess I still think that a healthy dose of encouragement for parents on the front lines would really help overshadow the boatloads of criticism we receive everywhere we look. But I’m stunned by the abrupt change in course this post has taken.
Because, here we are . . . at the end of this post with a lot of my feelings spilled on the web . . . and I’m not thinking about encouragement anymore, or even feeling discouraged. Instead, I’m struck by the realization that Satan has been to blame for everything that led up to this post. The only thing I can think to wonder, in my current state of speechless shock, is how I was so daft not to pick it up sooner? I’ve been a parent struggling with issues of this kind for over four (4) years now. And I’m Catholic enough to recognize Satan interfering in my life, right? Aren’t I?
Well, geez . . . maybe not. Who’d have thunk it?