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I was thirty years old when my first child was born, so I enjoyed plenty of time to graduate from college, settle into a career, and travel a bit before beginning the journey of motherhood. I viewed myself as a reasonably intelligent and capable person. That idea changed quickly when my son was born.
I was blessed with an infant who cried any time he was awake and couldn’t sleep to save his life. Starting the night he came home from the hospital, he wouldn’t sleep unless he was being held. When my husband and I managed to lay him down without startling him, he would wake within minutes and cry frantically. Within a week, our son was sleeping in our bed so we could all get some rest.
I quickly began pouring over parenting books and quizzing our pediatrician and any willing friend, relative, or acquaintance for ideas. Nothing helped. I spent my days in a bathrobe rocking him and trying to help him sleep or putting him in our Baby Bjorn and going on walks to soothe or interest him. I don’t know if any first-time parent knows quite what to expect from his or her new lifestyle, but this wasn’t the picture of motherhood I had envisioned.
My prayers that summer became desperate as I pled with God to “fix” my son. The peaceful answer I received to these urgent pleas was simply, “Don’t you want to take care of him?” “Of course I want to take care of him,” I thought indignantly, “but can’t you fix him?” Didn’t God know that my son was sleeping in our bed and might die?
But our son didn’t die. And he didn’t spontaneously decide that sleeping alone was okay either. Eventually, he changed and stopped crying so much. But more importantly, over time, I began to change. I still didn’t know why Jacob was so intensely needy, but I knew that I loved him, and I decided that sacrificing to help him feel comfortable and secure was worth my effort. Even though he was little and didn’t have words to express himself, I wanted to begin instilling in him the idea that I cared about him and that his feelings mattered.
Over time, I found that having a loud, demanding, not-by-the-books baby earned me free advice from lots of well-meaning people who were sure they each had the solution to make my son easier to handle. But as those months passed, I learned to listen to my heart, watch my son, and disregard advice that wouldn’t have helped. I found the courage to do what my mother-heart told me was best, even if it meant sacrificing my sleep and comforts. I came to realize that motherhood wasn’t designed to be easy or convenient, and that I needed to grow right along with my son.
My son has grown into an intelligent and affectionate boy. He feels deeply, and that passion often manifests itself as fierce loyalty, courage for what he believes, a desire to serve others, and a love for family members. Through the years, my husband and I have often remarked that having him as our first child made us better parents—we learned to listen to our children and to our hearts better than we might have otherwise. These days he still keeps us on our toes as we teach him to manage his emotions, but we recognize that he has tremendous potential, and we don’t want to limit that by squelching his feelings.
I now look back on the first several months of my son’s life with a bittersweet sense of growth. No, it wasn’t the peaceful path I had pictured, where I would calmly rock a sleeping baby and gaze in adoration as he discovered the world. However, through the desperate days and sleepless nights, I changed from a self-confident career woman into a sensitive, compassionate mother. It was a price worth paying.
QUESTION: What challenges in parenting have you faced, or are you currently facing, that have helped you learn and grow? How has facing these challenges made you a better mother?
CHALLENGE: This week, when difficult parenting situations arise, take a moment to consider how/what you can learn from them. Try to remember the long-term rewards of the sacrifices you are making everyday.
Images provided by Rachel Sullivan