You see, six years ago I married at the age of 37. And so, we were in a bit of a rush to have a family as I felt my age leaning in and closing on my childbearing years.
I’ve spent some time considering what it’s like to be a mom in mid-life rather than beginning motherhood at an earlier age.
I’m sure there are advantages to motherhood and parenting at any age and for me specifically parenting now, at the start of middle life, gives me the advantage of words.
I have the language needed to say what I’m feeling.
I can name what I may not have been able to 15 years ago.
I can speak.
I have a voice.
I’m able to express the tensions that arise…not that this always leads me to speaking in healthy ways or acting in a manner accustomed to age (i.e. I often wonder who is acting like the toddler, me or my 2 year old?) But I’m at the very least able to say: I feel this way…. Or, I’m sorry for acting in such a manner.
With age has also come my very visible failures and insecurities. Not only this, but I can say now without hesitation that I worry what people think of me more easily than I could 10 years ago.
And, parenting is this knot of failure and discovery and brilliance and mess ups that only accentuate how I worry about what people think.
Ten years ago I worried whether I was thin enough or pretty enough or if I’d ever marry and what everyone thought of me if I weighed too much or had too many wrinkles too soon or never married.
Today, if my child tantrums in a store I think everyone must wonder at my parenting style. When my four year old daughter refuses to exit an airplane and just cries in her seat while I hold my fussy eight month old and encourage her to get up, I’m certain everyone thinks me a horrible mother. Or the constantly dirty faces.
Or the refusals to eat vegetables.
Or potty training at almost four years old.
Or the meltdowns…Oh, the meltdowns.
And here’s what I realized: It’s not about me. It’s not about what others think of my parenting, whether they believe me a good mom or a bad one.
It’s about my kids.
And I refuse to parent based on what I worry everyone thinks about me or my children.
Parenting is only about me in what it is shaping me to be. And hopefully I’m being made more into the image of Christ.
Mostly, though, parenting is about my children. It’s the exhaustion they feel while sitting on that airplane and the inability to express it so they sit and cry while travelers file by.
Or the screams when they can’t put their shoes on by themselves. They are unable to speak. They just don’t have words. So, they scream.
The words I find age gave to me.
Of course, raising children is guiding them through those tantrums and screams to a place where they can express what they are feeling. But I also want them to know they can trust what they are feeling in those moments, even if they can’t say what it is, so that they arrive in a space where they know they can listen to their gut, and one day, trust the Spirit and where it is leading them. And the selfless side of parenting is birthed when I step aside, not worry what others may think and instead let my child learn to speak their voice.
It isn’t about me and what people think. It isn’t about shaping a child to my will so that what appears before the world is a perfect child or really good kids.
It’s about bringing them to that place where they, too, can say what they feel. And know they are safe.
And maybe arrive before mid-life.
I think often we make childhood and parenting about creating experiences for our kids. So, we take them places, give them things, and offer them educational opportunities as a means of conquering childhood and parenting and therefore feeling successful as parents. What I understand, though, from this outlook, is that we as parents must be victorious over childhood. We then make parenting and childhood about ourselves rather than our children.
My husband and I hope to make parenting and childhood meaningful and purposeful and intentional so that safety is created and then reflected in how our children are able to name those places and feelings where they find themselves.
I admit, when someone says you’re a good mom or you’re doing a great job, it feels amazing. They’ve said I’m successful at what I’ve been doing with my life.
But what feels even better is when I hear: your children are a delight and so fun to be with. Because it’s then I think that I’m raising kids who feel safe, who are comfortable enough in their own skin to just be themselves, who they were meant to be.
And none of that is about me.
April Ispas is wife and mama, daughter and sister, friend and advocate. You can find her blogging at aprilispas.blogspot.com. She holds a B.S. in Biblical Studies from Multnomah University, an MA in Counseling from Western Seminary, and a Certificate in Creative Writing from University of Washington. She has previously been published in various blogs, Mars Hill Review, The Other Journal, and The Cry, having also acted as an editor for the later two publications. Currently, she is working on a series of books of contemplative prayer practices for families.
A Personal Note:
April is a dear friend who writes with poetry, insight and authenticity! I have long been a fan of her wordsmithing.
We shared the journey through grad school in “life-long friend” kind of depth kinda way… You know… those kindred spirits whose souls touch yours… so no matter how far geography may take you, hearts reconnect instantly. Yep, she is that kind of friend. I admire April – she is a beautiful woman – inside and out- beautiful, brilliant and bold in her faith and willingness to embrace life as it is and find beauty in the midst. Be sure to connect with her at Cypress and Fern – you will be blessed.