gobsmacked |ˈgäbˌsmakt|
adjectiveBrit. informal
utterly astonished; astounded.

I can’t remember where I read it, but someone used this word to describe parenting and I now borrow it. I was gobsmacked by motherhood.

I am not particularly gifted or brilliant but I’m intentional and diligent and that was enough to “succeed” at most things that I wanted to until I became a mother. I have to give the initial years of my oncology nurse career some credit in paving the way for me to fail. It seemed there was always someone somewhere who felt you messed up, could have done better, botched it and the like, not to mention people you grow to really cheer for don’t always make it and no amount of being intentional and diligent can help. I could write about that another day.

But parenting. I was under the mistaken impression that I was patient, not prone to anger and that if I just stayed consistent enough, I could get the results I wanted. Ha! I grew up with three younger siblings, a LOT of cousins and doing LOTS of babysitting. I knew I would love my child/ren and figured that my love + my diligence + consistency = happy, thriving children who, though occasionally frustrated with me (that’s to be expected right?) would come around to being delightfully well-behaved regardless of their personalities. Oh how merciful God was to me. I couldn’t see it in those really early years, but I see it now. He gave me a very spirited first-born and a super busy second born (two years later) and allowed us to move to a developing country in Central Asia when #2 was 4 months. Before I knew it my patience had conveniently disappeared, I was screaming at my two-year old and having to give myself time-outs as I even felt aggression rise up and I’d want to grab her with more force than necessary at times. How about consistency? We moved to a culture where interruptions and last-minute everything is the norm. Not to mention plenty of parasites to lay me flat-out many days of the week (though who can actually be laid out flat with two busy little running around) plus the exhaustion of learning a new language and culture and being completely immersed in it. Pretty much God provided the perfect circumstances to bring me to my knees, show me I could not do it, and make me absolutely desperate and dependent on Him.

My husband can tell many stories of coming home to finding me bawling my eyes out, certain that my 2-year-old will never want a relationship with me and at least 90% certain that the exhaustion in my body and pain in my heart would kill be before they reached their teen years. I would cry, “I can’t even worry about their teen years, I won’t live to see them! This is killing me!” I’m not one prone to drama either so this gives a good idea of where my head was. I had read early on, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” and had come to really buy into the idea that it really was up to me to train my children in the way they should go so that when they grow up they will not depart from it. I knew that I had to be quick to deal with not obeying the first time and bad attitudes because these things only fester with time and then I’d end up with a REALLY big problem on my hands. I’m not going to demonize the book because many families have been hugely blessed by it. It was just a very poor fit for my wiring and where I was at in life. I really didn’t know what to do with a child who would request to go outside (we lived in a 4th floor apartment) and in response to my saying, “sure, I’ll help you get your shoes on” would throw herself down and scream, “NOO! I don’t want to!”

Me, “You don’t want to put on your shoes?”

Her, “NOO!!”

Me, “Okay, no problem. We don’t have to go outside.”

Her, “NOOOO!!! I’m going outside!!!!”

Me, “Okay, well you can’t go outside without your shoes on. There’s lots of stuff to hurt your feet out there.” (try broken glass, used needles and other unsavory things)

Her, “NOOOOOOO!!!” Wailing, flailing ensuing.

Me, “I’ll wait until you are done screaming.”

And then on to the next thing. If she wanted an apple, I’d hand her an apple and she’d cry and fuss about it. If I didn’t hand her an apple, she’d cry and fuss about it. It seemed I couldn’t win and even in my attempts to avoid power-struggles, she’d try to inject one in. That’s what it felt like. I don’t think that a 2 or 3-year-old actually premeditates a power struggle, but she sure had a knack for making the most of every opportunity.

In this setting, and in the exaggerated weight I’d put on my efforts in child-raising being what would draw this child and all people everywhere to Jesus, I lost something so, so, so important. I lost the freedom to just enjoy this child. To just pick her up and hold her, even kicking and screaming, even when the book gave me the impression I should be disciplining her for her lack of obedience. Thankfully, it dawned on me one day: How does God treat me? He’s actually quite patient with me and His main purpose for me: relationship with Him, infuses every one of His dealings with me. Thank God.

Raising two intense, active littles in those first couple years of living here did not suddenly get easier. In fact, I feel huge waves of empathy swell in me when I meet anyone with a 2 yr old and baby or a 3 yr old and a 1 yr old  or even a 4 yr old and a 2 yr old. Those are such hard years! But I started to find more freedom to just enjoy my kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love and loved these little ones with such a deep and overwhelming love it also gobsmacked me. It astonishes me to this day. But deeply loving these darlings does not necessarily make enjoying them automatic. Here again, grace has met me and continues to meet me – ALL THE TIME. My kids have never been ones who make me look like an awesome mom. But if you get to know them a bit, you will discover how delightful and enjoyable they are after all. I can really and truly say that they are really wonderful children. I can also really and truly say that is grace. It’s all HIM.

He is so merciful. If he had given me my #3 child as my #1, I would have thought that all that compliance was a result of my great parenting. I would have judged others and probably given simplistic advice, you know the kind that starts with, “If you’d just…” I would not have grown in desperation, I’d have grown in self-righteousness. And I would have nurtured self-righteousness in my kids (already something too easy to do I find) and none of us would have experienced the incredible grace of God that we have.

It’s still going. Just an hour and a half ago I was working on a little bit of school with one of my kids and the fight was getting infused into our interaction and I was working so hard to stay calm and reasonable and said child stood up and walked out, face red with anger and sadness and I was left partially feeling like I should force this child back to re-do the interaction and the other part of me not knowing what in the world to do. So, I did what I’ve grown accustomed to doing and prayed, “Oh God. Help. I don’t know what to do.” Then I pursued that child and held her in my lap, letting her soft hair rub against my chin and kissing that sweet forehead, still reminiscent of her baby-self and telling her, “The most important thing to me in all of this stuff is a relationship with you.” And I was reminded that is what He says to me in the midst of it all, “the most important thing to me in all this stuff is relationship with you.”


One thought on “Gobsmacked

  1. I love this so much. Since I’ve had Alden, I’ve discovered in myself the ability to get more angry than I ever thought possible! I also need the reminder to sometimes just hold him and take joy in him. The picture of you doing that with your sweet girl is beautiful. Thank you for this, Sara. I love your writing!


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