By Vanessa Rasanen
It is currently 4:30am. I have been up since 2:45 when our youngest woke up and refused to go back to sleep. To be fair, my husband initially got up with him at 2 (!) and tried to settle him back down, but as he has a 12 hour shift at the ER today, it seemed best that I tag him out and let him head back to bed. For 45 minutes I rocked and cuddled our little man before finally giving up, brewing some coffee, and settling onto the couch to let him play.
And in my head I’m replaying the words I said to friends last night at church. “At least he goes to bed easily and sleeps all night now.”
Now, being a Christian I don’t prescribe to the whole pagan notion of jinxing, but the humor of this situation is not lost on me either. My words last night were uttered in order to comfort myself that all hope was not lost in my parenting efforts — even if I felt like a failure most days, at least we were all getting regular sleep. Boy, my son sure told me!
Most of us parents are well familiar with the common unrealistic expectations we have regarding children and sleep. During our littles’ first years we yearn for that milestone of “sleeping through the night”. We might even try to train them when the sleep deprivation becomes too great. And once the days finally come when sweet sleep returns, what do we do? We expect it to last forever. We assume — even if we’ve gone through this with multiple children previously — that once the skill of self soothing and sleeping all night is learned, our kids will rarely, if ever, have another sleepless night.
How foolish we parents are.
Okay, some of us do actually anticipate the random sleep interruption and understand it’s one of those things that will happen (even though it is still frustrating when it does). After all, our children are people, and people don’t always sleep well. It happens. We deal with it and move on. Yet there are areas of this parenting gig where we may fail to apply this understanding that our job is never actually done. While there are skills our children learn and master — such as walking, talking, tying their shoes, using the bathroom — there are others that will require ongoing, life-long practice and guidance.
Now I got a little cocky, maybe, before God gave us our fourth baby. Three kids was manageable. I was confident and secure in my parenting abilities. Then we welcomed our last little one at the same time that our oldest grew an attitude I didn’t expect to encounter for several more years, and then postpartum depression knocked me off my high horse.
I’m not completely clueless about parenting — I don’t think. I have a lot of techniques and disciplinary tools in my arsenal. But as our kids grow and move through the seasons of childhood, I’m feeling less and less confident and more and more frustrated by my seeming inability to discipline them and garner respect and obedience from them.
It can be incredibly defeating to put in so much effort to teach our children the commandments, to offer correction and discipline, and to raise them in the faith only to have their Old Adam give us a proverbial slap in the face and say “nice try, Mom/Dad, but I do what I want!” So many times I’ve told friends how I feel like a complete failure. So often my husband and I have discussed what we can do differently to raise the authority-honoring children we know we should. So often have I wondered what I’m doing wrong to have my kids be so defiant — sometimes mere minutes after they’ve been reprimanded.
And then last night while driving home from vespers I had a random thought, a revelation, if you will. Perhaps disciplining our children is not a one and done skill we teach, a single milestone we mark. Maybe this is an area where we cannot put in a few years of effort and then celebrate the day when our kids no longer need our correction. Yet how often do we approach it in this way? I know I do.
Perhaps I’m alone in this, and that’s fine, but I’m betting I’m not. While our kids are still fairly young (turning 2, 4, 6, and 9 this year), I’m beginning to realize and understand that this raising of children will not be a one and done effort. We don’t spend the first couple years disciplining and then coast through their adolescence, nor can we expect each child to respond to discipline and learn these skills at the same pace or in the same way as either their siblings or the other kids in the pews.
After all, our children are human, and they are sinners. They will struggle against their Old Adam just as we do. They will face that daily battle against temptation, and they need us parents to guide them in the faith so they can do so.
Just as in everything, the raising of children will have its ups and downs. We will have our successes and our setbacks. We will get frustrated and distraught, and sometimes we may get haughty and proud. But let us take heart. This is a hard job, one God has bestowed on us, and certainly not based on our own merits. And just as we must daily nurture the faith He has given us by being in His Word and receiving His Sacraments, we too must daily nurture our children’s growth and development with discipline, correction, and a ton of patience.
And through it all let us remember that this is a Holy vocation we have been given, and we are never alone as we tread this path. If you are struggling in this season of raising littles (and not-so-littles), hugs to you. It is hard, yes, but it is Holy. Keep teaching your kids God’s Word. Ask for their forgiveness when you sin against them, and grant them forgiveness when they sin against you. You and your children are forgiven in Christ Jesus.
And that is, in fact, done.