on giving our kids a perfect life

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Once I saw those two little pink lines, everything in my life centered around creating the best possible world for my baby.

I choked down prenatal vitamins, ate salad when I wanted french fries, avoided wine and paint fumes.  I spent hours researching car seats and baby beds, googling the merits of a carrier versus a sling.  I washed tiny clothes in detergent I could barely afford, stocked up on all the best supplies.  I wanted everything that touched my baby to be perfect.

Once he was born, it only got worse.  In the beginning I hardly left the house.  Nothing mattered except his routine, and I spent my life in  three hour rotations - eat, cry, sleep, repeat.  I fretted over every tiny detail of his day.  I desperately wanted to get motherhood right.  I wanted to protect him from every germ, every mistake, every potential danger, every possible discomfort.

I had no idea how spectacularly I would fail.

It couldn't be helped.  I had given myself to an impossible task.  Even when he was two weeks old, my little boy was a person.  A whole, real, functioning person.  Real people, real life, includes pain.  It includes hardship and sickness and difficulty.  This thing that I was working so hard to achieve could never be done.

I realized my mistake over time, only at first it felt like failure.  When he caught strep throat I retraced my steps, wondering when I forgot to wash his hands.  When he had an accident, I checked to see if I'd missed something in potty training.

Then, when he was three I was big pregnant,  another toddler on my hip with my son's  little hand in mine, and the perfect mother myth cracked.  I no longer had the energy to make his world perfect.  Another baby followed that one, my marriage fell apart, and it was all I could do to get through the day.  My little boy knew it, hated it, and pushed against me with everything he had.  He threw all of his uncertainty and frustration and anxiety my way, and I accepted every bit, because surely this was my fault.

I'd set out to give him a perfect life, after all.  Now look at where we were.

Slowly our lives turned around.  As they did, I reached again toward my little boy. I learned to listen to him, to honor his temperament instead of reprimanding him for being who he was.  I stopped seeing him as the boy I was failing, and started to see him as a person.  A whole, real person.

I can't keep him from pain.  Even if I could, I wouldn't do it.  Pain serves a faithful person well.  It teaches us empathy, compassion, endurance.  Would I really deprive him of the chance to be fully human?  Would I really forfeit the places in his heart from which he will eventually connect with others?  No.  I wouldn't do it.

What I wish I'd known back when I saw those two pink lines is this: it's not a mother's job to create a perfect life for her children.  It's only her job to show up.  To love them when they are distant and sharp, to remind them they can do hard things, to let them be who God made them to be.  All the expensive detergent in the world couldn't keep difficulty out of my son's life.  But that was never what mattered.  What matters is not how we insulate them from hardship, but how we walk with them through it.


  1. I had the same misconceptions with my first child. I thought I could attain perfection with him, just as I try to do with my own life. I can't say something necessarily broke or clicked or that I had a moment of epiphany, it was out of necessity with my second child that I learned I had to let things go. It's a battle I still fight almost daily because I want the best for my children. What I struggle to realize is that they're the ones who need to decide what "best" is for them. Such a great post and it's so nice to know we're not alone in motherhood!



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