I wasn’t sure if I’d ever write this post, I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to, I wasn’t sure if I could bear to be this real… but we claim to believe that “the gospel of grace gloriously speaks into our messy lives” here at Gospel-Centred Parenting. So here we go, warts and all…
I (Cathy) went through a rough patch back in the New Year.
We’d had quite a good run I suppose. For six months the baby and the toddler synced naps for an hour or so every day (glory!!!). In the early days I’d sometimes nap too, but often I’d use that hour to do a job or two, and just rest with a coffee. It was a little respite in an otherwise long and exhausting day of looking after a young baby and a jealous and energetic toddler. I could cope with the days (often enjoy them in fact!) But that little break was really helpful for me to refuel and brace myself for the afternoon.
But suddenly everything changed; within the course of a few weeks…
- The toddler got chickenpox (we were in quarantine for a week).
- We went on holiday, and then the baby got chicken pox while we were away (we were in quarantine for another week).
- I got mastitis (if you’ve never heard of this – think breast duct infection while being a breastfeeding mother – ouch!)
- The toddler stopped napping but the baby didn’t stop his incessant night-feeding, resulting in sleep-deprivation and exhaustingly LOOONG days.
- The toddler was 2.5 years old – cue tiny tyrant behaviour and many embarrassing social situations.
Then to top it off –
- A mean mum yelled at me the park – we’ll get there later on…
- I was exhausted. I was sad. I was exhausted, it was making me sad.
- I started gorging on Mars Bars (for you non-Brits, all you need to know is that Mars Bars are basically 100% sugar… with a bit of fat thrown in the mix. Battered Mars Bars are a Glaswegian delicacy: I didn’t go that far).
In the space of a few weeks, my somewhat ordinary life had been turned upside down and I felt totally overwhelmed and like I couldn’t cope.
Let me explain to you what this felt like, because a list does not do the misery justice!
Mastitis is, for me, clear evidence of the fall! How can something as beautiful and natural like feeding your baby be such torture?! That horrendous infection was so debilitating. I had never experienced feeling so unwell as a mother; how are you meant to look after two tiny dependent children, when you can’t even get down the stairs safely because you feel so faint?
Superhero Daddy flew in to save the day…but still, after he returned to work the exhausted lingered on for another week or so. Recovery was not helped by the fact that…
Just at the very time when I most needed the toddler to nap, he decided enough was enough and he would much rather be awake ALL DAY LONGGGGG. No respite and a grumpy, naughty “terrible two-er”.
But then I finally started to feel well again. “It’s ok”, I thought. “We’re through it”, I thought. “We’ve survived!” We’ve battled the chicken pox, the mastitis, the sleep-deprivation, the nap-loss, and now we’re feeling ready to go on an outing (we hadn’t done one of these for a while – apart from to nursery, to church and to visit family) and so, we decide to venture out to the park; at 4pm in the afternoon; the week that the toddler dropped his afternoon naps. I should have seen a disaster was waiting to happen, but alas…
There I was chatting to some friends as we congregate around the climbing frame, watching our little ones. At the time, my two-year old was going through quite an aggressive stage. Occasional hitting, pushing and “NO”-ing. Not OK behaviour, but age-appropriate I hear. To be expected I hear. They grow out of it I hear. It’s called the “terrible twos” I hear.
I don’t think the other mum had ever heard of it before. But I get ahead of myself.
I was watching the toddler and chatting to my friends (probably bemoaning the fact that I had just had mastitis) when the baby started crying. I took my eyes off the toddler and leaned down to pick up the screaming baby, I straightened back up again and BAM…
Mean mum was there, in my face, raising her voice.
“Your boy pushed my little boy” It started off, innocently enough. Oh I thought, she wants me to get the toddler to apologise. I call him over.
Oh no… I quickly realise. That’s not what she wants.
She just wants to have a go at me. Swear about my child. Humiliate me and try to provoke me to yell back at her. She’s aggressive. She’s intimating. She’s acting completely disproportionately to the situation. She’s creating a scene – we’re surrounded by the post school-run crowd.
I was shell-shocked.
I have never had someone speak to me or my child like that.
What my toddler did may have been wrong (incidentally I didn’t even see the scuffle, as I was getting the baby out of his pram, although I don’t doubt that mean mum was telling the truth) – but her reaction, unlike my son’s – was not age-appropriate or defensible. It’s never ok to insult a tiny child in their hearing!
Well, I did what I always do in confrontational situations. I fled… I fought back the tears, grabbed my little boy and took him to a quiet corner of the play area to talk to him about his behaviour (and out of earshot of the mean mum).
After a bit more mouthing off, the mother cycled off, with her very embarrassed looking husband behind her.
It was so ridiculous, so disproportionate and so unexpected, that it sounds almost comical!
But the damage was done.
It was at an all-time-low for me as a parent. The whole incident was completely unexpected and mind-boggling to me. Perhaps if it had happened during a period of motherhood when everything had been going swimmingly then I could have coped fine. I would have considered it rude but I would have seen it in perspective – an overprotective mother taking out her anger on me. But the incident occurred right at the time when I was already feeling deflated, overwhelmed and utterly sleep-deprived.
I wasn’t in an emotionally stable place and her accusations really played on my mind and I started to internalise them. What she said about me and my son started to become how I viewed us too. I saw his aggressive behaviour as reflecting on me and my poor parenting (incidentally he is three now and has outgrown that aggressive phase). But at the time, there was no end in sight, and it got me down. I felt like a failure, and I wanted to withdraw from social settings.
It could have easily been a downward spiral.
But here’s what happened instead – God helped me out through different means of grace. God was kind to me and ministered through a number of very ordinary things. These were:
The incident happened in front of my friends. At first I felt that made the situation worse – how mortifying! But after the incident, they spoke truth to me, gave me perspective, helped me to see that this woman was acting irrationally and her opinion was not to be trusted. I’m so glad they were there – and as I replayed the situation in my head countless times after the incident, I clung to their words of advice and perspective.
Scott was great. He listened to me recount the scenario lots of times, he comforted me when I cried, he reminded me of all the great things that we cherish about our son, and he gave me perspective. And when I was still anxious and down about it several days after the incident, he patiently went through the whole process again and prayed that God would take my anxiety away.
I didn’t want to go to church, because I didn’t want my son to be around other young children. I was afraid of another aggressive incident and I wanted to isolate us rather than allow us to be in a situation where he could act badly, embarrass me and quite simply cause a great deal of stress! But you can’t really opt out of church if your hubby is in church leadership. So I had no choice – and thank goodness I didn’t. Being in Christian community where you and your children are accepted regardless of your/their bad behaviour is freeing. And being exposed to the gospel is the best possible solution to every problem and every situation. Christian community and gospel exposure were exactly the antidote to my temptation to withdraw.
My mum lives abroad but had just come back to the UK the week of the incident. Sometimes what you need is a few day outings, a change of scene and a doting grandmother who thinks your children are cute, wonderful little creatures who are simply going through a phase. Compassion, encouraging words and a good giggle is sometimes what’s needed.
A few days before the mastitis hit, we learnt that a local primary school had some subsidized spots for 2-year olds. They were very cheap and the child care was exceptional – so we decided to put Reuben in for 6 hours a week. This was God’s grace to us! The following weeks of challenging behaviour, nap-dropping and my being ill, demonstrated just how much we needed some external support. This support exceeded our expectations. God used these 6 hours a week to help give me rest and crucially to stretch our son socially, behaviourally and academically – his aggressive behaviour diminished very quickly. Secular nursery has been used by God as a means of grace – common grace abounds in secular education – and we are deeply grateful!
Of course all these means of grace come from Christ – who gives grace upon grace. It is the Spirit of Jesus who speaks truth to us through the people around us (notice how in all of the sections above, God has used people to bring healing and truth to me, where circumstances and mean mum were only bringing condemnation).
So let this be my message to you.
Are you feeling alone? Condemned? Overwhelmed? Angry with your kids? Unable to cope? Down and anxious?
Then come to Christ – who is with you in the midst of it all. And expose yourself to his grace, by surrounding yourself by his people. Because we were never meant to do this parenting thing, or this life thing, or this being a Christian thing alone.
So there we have it: “the gospel of grace gloriously speaks into our messy lives” yes it does… if we let it.
So there we go…. I actually wrote it… and I think I’ll probably publish it…
I can tell this story now. Now the baby sleeps through (some nights) and I feel refreshed. Now the two-year old is a three-year old and we’ve left that aggressive stage behind us. Now that I’m purging the mars bars from my diet. But you know what? I share this with you so that you know, whether you’re reading this while knee-deep in the messes and stresses of parenthood or whether you’re in a relatively easy/enjoyable stage – Jesus is enough. He’s always enough. He loves you when you feel strong. He loves you when you’re a mess – a leaky-boobed, leaky-eyed, barely-thinking-straight mess. He’s not phased. In fact, he’s compassionate. And he’s not going anywhere.