by Julie Hahn
I’d just closed my eyes when I heard a gentle knock on my hospital room door. I was tempted to roll over and tell the nurse, ‘It’s okay. You look after her. I’ll get some sleep’. With two other little ones at home, sleep was not on my agenda. But a midwife had swaddled my new baby so that all I could see of her were two enormous brown eyes that peeped out, blinked at me and drilled straight to my heart. There was no going back to the nursery for her. I was in love with my new baby girl.
But less than two years later, after I’d retrieved her from climbing to the top shelf of the pantry and cleaned up the 400th mess for the morning, I found myself in a fed-up heap on the floor.
‘GOD! I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!’
What happened between the moment I fell in love with my child and the moment I found myself on the floor, exhausted, depressed and defeated?
Life and motherhood is what happened. I’d given everything I had, and still, being a mother seemed to require more.
As I lay there at the lowest place I’d ever been, a verse of Scripture came wafting into my consciousness. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. In my heart, it was translated as ‘I’ve been waiting for you to let me! You’ve been relying on yourself. You have been fighting so hard to stay in control of everything. No wonder you’re exhausted. Why don’t you let me take over?’
It would make a great story if God sent angels to rescue me and clean the house, do the washing, make meals, drive to the kids’ schools, pick up their dad from work, clean up drips on the floor, read 52 storybooks a day, clean sticky fingers and faces, and answer the three-year-old’s 300 ‘whys’.
But angels – the heavenly variety with wings – didn’t arrive to take away my work. Something much better happened. God showed me how to rely on his strength – and not my own. On that first day, on the radio, in the book I was reading and in the words of a friend, I heard the words, ‘God is faithful’.
During the next few days, weeks and months, as I made it from one difficult moment to the next, I recited, ‘God is faithful’.
My eyes opened up to the ‘angels’ with skin on: the women at church, my friends, other mums, books about parenting, voices on the radio, my family at the other end of the telephone, and my poor husband who’d been filling in the gaps.
I learnt how to love in new and different ways. The new ways worked.
Ours used to be a ‘No’ house. If the children asked for something, the answer was ‘No’. If they reached out to touch something, they were reprimanded with ‘No!’
The children each expressed that life was not as it should be. The five-year-old took control of everything – and everybody. The three-year-old grabbed attention any way he could. The baby became an expert tantrum-thrower.
I thought I appeared calm on the outside, but on the inside I was screaming, stressed out and miserable.
Devoted and meticulous, my husband attended to all the jobs for which I had neither the energy nor inclination. If anybody had asked him, he may have answered that he could not remember the last time he had laughed with his family.
It’s not surprising that the joy of parenting had gone from our daily lives.
One day, our children’s preschool teacher took me aside and asked, ‘Miss Julie, is there a reason I don’t hear you saying ‘Yes’ to your children?’ I didn’t have an answer. But that question changed our family’s life path.
When preschool ended that day, for the first time ever I squatted down and held my arms out as wide as I could. My children spread out their arms and ran into mine. It restored the smile that had gone missing.
From then on, at every possible opportunity, I watched people like that preschool teacher in action, and then I’d go home and practise. We read books and listened to people who had a much gentler and more enjoyable approach to parenting – with better results. Our house gradually became a ‘Yes’ house.
Saying ‘Yes’ didn’t mean that we gave up ‘discipline’ but rather, changed the way we disciplined. We had confused discipline with punishment. We learnt that to discipline means to ‘train’; that is to show how.
We learnt to show our children how to touch things gently – placing their little fingers in ours and helping them to touch things, such as books, china and baby brothers and sisters … gently. When we responded with a ‘Yes, that’s right. Gentle’, we found we were more likely to see that behaviour repeated.
Others helped us see that children whose needs are being met are much more eager to please their parents. When given small, manageable tasks and when they know that the rest of the family ‘team’ relies on them to do them, children tend to rise to the expectation.
Nobody starts out as a parent wanting to scream at their child – or at the other parent. But what we find ourselves doing in moments of stress is often exactly what we promised ourselves we would never do.
We learnt through watching other families and through our own mistakes, that children don’t need perfect parents. They need parents who know about grace – who know how to give without expecting anything in return. Grace in parenting is recognising that simply by being, they are likely to get into trouble – that’s real life. But grace is about picking them up, dusting them off and loving them anyway.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve been observing, studying and practising practical ways for parents to be more effective parents. I’ve taught parenting classes and mentored families. I’ve watched families make small changes, which have resulted in big differences.
Often parents ignore the spiritual aspect of their lives. I found that the changing demands of being a mum sidetracked my own spiritual journey. By joining a craft group of Christian women, I was able to talk through my frustrations. The older women helped me to know that they, too, had struggled. They helped me understand that Jesus is just as loving towards struggling, bleary-eyed mums as with anyone else. And during the journey, Jesus will never, ever leave me. Jesus is faithful.
It’s now more than 20 years since I was in that screaming heap. With new skills and knowledge, and an open heart and mind to the wisdom of others, parenting has been much more bearable – dare I say, enjoyable. We have certainly had our ‘moments’ but, generally, we have a lot of fun together and keep in touch when we’re apart.
Every now and then, a little verse comes wafting back into my consciousness, ‘Be still and know that I am God’.
And I’m reminded to keep my eyes open for angels with skin on, and that God is and always will be … faithful.
Julie Hahn is a member of The Ark, Salisbury Lutheran Church, in South Australia, mother of four adult children and the wife of a scientist. She plans to release her first book ‘I’m too busy being a parent to read a parenting book’ soon.
This story is an excerpt from the Lutheran Media booklet Parenting Finding the Fun. To order a copy, phone 08 8267 7300, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.lutheranmedia.org.au