When I first became a mother I remember wondering during difficult times: when does it get better?
By better, I meant easier. Less exhausting, not so all-consuming, not so isolating. And while it's been true in my experience that the second year is easier than the first year, I also know that challenges will arise no matter what stage my children are in.
The difficulty of parenting seems to ebb and flow. Some days flow by with ease. And other days every small obstacle becomes compounded by the conflict that comes after it, until you're spent from the never ending demands.
Almost a year ago, when my youngest had colic and my oldest was sick, I was up all night for so many nights that my days became a blur. I rarely left the house. I seemed to move from the children's bedrooms to the living room and kitchen and back again, in a loop that felt never ending.
After checking on my oldest's temperature and swaddling my youngest, there was a rare moment of quiet. I leaned against the kitchen sink, exhaustion like a second gravity weighing me down. In the kitchen window over the sink, the dark outside cast my reflection back at me. I could barely recognize the person staring back at me. I looked disheveled and worn out--that look of a person who hasn't eaten a meal sitting down in months. I felt ancient--like I'd aged a decade over the last year.
Which made me think of a question I'd asked my friend years before. I was talking with her about how I was deciding whether to move to a foreign country and she asked: "will it age you?"
Her question stopped me short and made me think about the experience from a new angle. Not just the logistics of the trip, my hopes about what I'd accomplish, or my fears about the challenges. But a question about how I'd change from the experience.
So much that we talk about in parenting is how the kids change--how fast they go through stages, how quickly they learn new things. It's easy to forget we are changing too. Maybe not as fast, or in ways that are easily measured, but we're still growing too.
All the ancient stories tell us that the journey is what makes the hero. He wasn't really a hero until the difficulties he faced made him one. Until the difficulties, he didn't have an occasion to rise up.
After the birth of my first son, a family friend shared her favorite saying that related to parenthood: "smooth seas do not make a good sailor." It's an adage about how when you don't have trials in life you can't get better at living life. It wasn't even parenting advice, but the adage gave me what advice is supposed to give: both comfort and counsel through a better perspective.
That night when I was studying my reflection in the kitchen window, that adage came to my mind. Despite the exhaustion, I knew I had more clarity of purpose to my life after having kids. I had a more streamlined focus about what mattered to me. I also felt more confident that I could take what was thrown at me. That clarity and confidence was born out of the difficulties--the constant tending to other people's needs.
A child's birth can be a rebirth for you. And like the rebirth of the phoenix, you've got to go through the fire first. If I could go back in time and tell myself something as a new mom, I'd say: It will get easier, but what's more important is that you'll get better at meeting the challenges of life. You will age, which is to say, you'll mature--you'll change for the better.