Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Tunnel of Parenthood

by Emily Sederstrand

In 2005, my husband, Tom, and I relocated from Ohio to upstate NY with three young children in tow. God provided for us, and we quickly made wonderful and faith-filled friends. Soon after settling in, I was invited to a “mom’s dinner,” an evening out to get refreshed. There, I was introduced to Joan, who was at the time the mother of nine and newly expecting her tenth. I looked at her in awe, unsure how anyone could have nine children!

“Oh,” she exclaimed, “you’re in the darkest part of motherhood! It’s going to get better!”

Joan was elegant and well-spoken. She turned to me and cheerfully asked, “So, what are the ages of your children?” I answered a bit sheepishly, “4 ½, 2 ½, and 1 ½,” unsure of where the conversation was heading. “Oh,” she exclaimed, “you’re in the darkest part of motherhood! It’s going to get better!” Say what? I was totally surprised, and frankly, relieved.

Instead, I had braced myself for some sort of motherhood fish story, the kind of rivalry that a soon-to-be-mother-of-ten could handily win every time… like, “Oh that’s nothing! You should walk a day in my shoes,” or “Just wait till you have six more and see how many loads of laundry you’ll have to do then!” or “Let me tell you about the time that eight kids, plus the husband and the dog, were all vomiting in our 12-passenger van during a 36-hour pilgrimage to EWTN!” Yikes! What could top that??

But that’s not the treatment Joan gave me. It was just…sympathy. Real, heartfelt sympathy from a more experienced mom to a newer one. Wow. It was as if a huge weight was lifted from me, and I was filled with hope. “It’s going to get better? Really?” I didn’t know it at the time, but Tom and I were in the “Tunnel of Parenthood: The First Five Years.” Now that we have emerged from the Tunnel, I have grown more and more convinced that those were indeed the hardest years.

It’s not the mere fact of having children under the age of five in the home that makes it the Tunnel; it’s going through the parenting of children under five for the first time. The very young child’s stages of development are rapid-fire and, when you’ve never experienced them before, are at times baffling. It all slows down after age five. Meaning, the differences between a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old are vast compared to the differences between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old. It is a literal whirlwind from zero to five.

More than that, in the first few years, parents are “on duty” all the time in a very physical way. It can be plain exhausting when the little ones are getting all of their needs met by Mom and Dad, and those needs are immediate and primal. Feed me! Change my diaper! Hold me! Play with me! Make my dollie talk! Push me on the swing! And on and on. I remember when the mere act of strapping three young kids into their car seats was like an athletic event. Parenting in the Tunnel requires a very bodily sacrifice from Mom and Dad.

While new parenthood is certainly joyful and miraculous, the years in the Tunnel can also be frightening, overwhelming and anxiety-producing. I have known many parents with two young children who say with conviction, “We couldn’t possibly have a third!” They often are working under the assumption that adding another baby would exponentially increase their current burdens, and they predict (incorrectly) that those burdens are permanent and unchanging.

How many decisions for sterilization are made during this stage of parenting, only to be later regretted?

Now that Tom and I are out of the Tunnel, we have found that each new child brings a paradigm shift to the family, and we all adjust together to that new reality. Welcoming another child after the first one is over the age of five is nothing like having a baby when you’re in the Tunnel. Our number four, Anthony Jack, came into our lives when the older three were 6, 4, and 3, and it was a revelation to see how much easier it was, repeat c-section and all. We had a better handle on what we were doing as parents, but most of all, little AJ had an older brother and two sisters to talk to him and play with him and love him. I know it’s been said by others, but how true: adding another child doesn’t divide your love, it multiplies love in the family.

When in public, I enjoy searching out parents who are in the Tunnel. It turns out they’re very easy to spot, and not just for the obvious reason that there are babies and toddlers crawling on them. There’s a subtle look of shock on their faces, maybe a combination of sleep deprivation, battle fatigue and confusion. It is always fun to approach them and tell them, “Congratulations!” Then, I tell them that they are in the Tunnel of Parenthood and that it’s the hardest part. They may look bewildered at first, then relieved like I was.

I tell them that the next baby will be easier, and they’ll often reply that they’re “done.” “Never say never!” I assure them. It’s impossible to decide today how you will feel next year or the year after that. The decision to get sterilized is often made based on feelings, albeit very vivid feelings. After number four, I could easily imagine being “done” myself with childbearing. Thanks to NFP, we revisit that question each cycle, and somehow, slowly and imperceptibly, that openness to number five has crept in.

Joan always says, “God sends each baby with a loaf of bread under its arm!” She should know, after ten children. Now that we’re out of the Tunnel, it’s easier for us to see as well. If you know a couple in the Tunnel of Parenthood, give them some encouragement and see if you can lighten their burden just a little. That may be all they need to open their hearts to one more soul in their family (and then another!). Their future children will thank you for it!

Emily Sederstrand
Freelance Speaker / Fertility Educator
”When you tell a woman how she’s made,
you’re telling her about her Maker!”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Joyful Mothering

My girlfriend Lindsey sent me a link to this blog post, and it really hit home with me, so I wanted to share it here:

Seeing Through The Weeds
By Christin, on August 23rd, 2011

Today’s guest post is by Andrea of Whispers in the Silence


Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. Psalm 127: 3-5a NKJV

With a quiver full of four children eight years old and under, I frequently receive the comments, “Wow! You must be busy,” “You must have your hands full,” and “I don’t know how you do it.” They are comments I have come to expect. They are ones I dread to hear.

I dread them because what I sense in these comments is a notion that parenting more than two children is a burden, not a blessing. And how I fight to smother that weed of a thought, especially in moments of intense mothering when my children push all my buttons simultaneously and I flounder to respond in a way which even remotely resembles Christ.

These weedy thoughts wage a war within me. The war between desiring to be joyful mother who embraces the call God placed on her life and believing motherhood is not a real vocation – that my days of meaningfully contributing to society are on hold until our children are well past their teen years.

And so I grapple with how to gracefully respond to these comments in a culture which often does not see the beauty in bearing more children than the societal norm. Often, I demurely smile or mumble some sort of affirmative answer and cave to the pressure of answering with an expected rejoinder. But when I do, I feel like I am short-changing God and the gift of motherhood He bestowed upon me; it feels wrong to agree with a sentiment I do not believe to be true.

What I want to say is that, yes, it is hard and not always fun raising four young children, and sometimes a convent sounds like a great idea. I long to share how much God has grown me these past eight years and though He has put me on a road less traveled, I would rather walk it than remain the same selfish person I was before these children were brought into my life. I want people to see how living with fewer children would mean living with less patience, less compassion, less desire to serve and put others first and a smaller capacity to love.

Most of all I long to point the commenter to the One who makes all good things possible.

So how do we, mothers of many small children, graciously respond to these comments in a way that points back to our hope and strength in God, and affirms our call as a blessing, and not a burden?

Here are some possibilities:

“I am. Blessedly so.”
“Yes, I do have my hands full…they are full of love.”
“I pray. A lot.” (I have started to use this one in response to “I don’t know how you do it.”
“With God, all things are possible.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And My Heart Grows...

I typed this on my phone the other day while we were on vacation. I intended for it to be my own little reflection, but after I shared it with Bobby, he really encouraged me to share it here. So here goes...

So today is one of those days when I wish that Ava could be forever 4, Lucas could stay a sweet 2 year old and Noah could always be my snuggly newborn!

I remember thinking when I was pregnant with Lucas, "How could I ever love another child as much as I love Ava?" And then along came Lucas and my heart grew. And now the same with Noah. Indeed my heart does not divide its love but rather I am realizing that in serving and giving to my family, it grows. God is molding my heart with less of me and more of Him and His love, which is the most pure form of love that I can give my children. I definitely still struggle with moments of selfishness (alot) when my insides just want to fight for my own time, a sit down lunch, quiet time in the morning to pray, 7 straight hours of sleep, laying out by the pool, freedom to window shop, etc. Yet as I gaze at Noah laying here in my lap, I can't ever imagine our life without him. There is no comparison. As crazy as it sounds, it makes me excited to think that we will keep reliving the joy of these moments with each new life we bring into our family- however many little souls that may be!

So no I don't get Mani/pedis as often anymore or go shopping at the mall or leave my house 'quickly' for anything at all especially now that I have one more bag to pack for the YMCA :) but I do get one more forehead to kiss goodnight and one more I love you in the morning.

I look at Noah and see this precious life that God has created in all time. All He needed was our YES. He needed our cooperation with His will for our lives. In our yes, God gave us this gift of life. It's hard for me to think, what if we had said no? What if we came up with a million reasons why we were "done" having children? 2 is enough. We're too busy. Not enough money. We are happy just as we are.

Gosh, how would we have ever known this joy that we know now!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Has It Really Been....

5 months since I last posted an update?!? Oh my...crazy how time flies. I really don't even know where to begin!
In January, Bobby and I took a mini "babymoon" to Chattanooga while my parents watched Ava and Lucas. When we met them for dinner before they took the kids back to Atlanta, we surprised them with the fact that we knew the baby's gender!! My mom was BEYOND excited. We couldn't just tell them though, we had to make it fun, so my girlfriend who loves to bake so sweetly made us some cupcakes with blue filling hidden on the inside. I could barely contain my excitement as we ate dinner together at PF changs bc all I wanted to do was hurry up and give them the cupcakes! We even got Alex and Tyler in on the surprise by calling them and I sent them text message photos with a whole cupcake and then a picture after Mom and Dad bit into their cupcakes to reveal the blue! It was so much fun!
The rest of the weekend was so nice to get away with just Bobby and just BE. Most of the attractions in Chattanooga that we were interested in (riverboat dinner cruise, incline railway, putt putt golf) were all closed for the winter, which actually turned out to be a good thing bc it forced BObby and I to do something that we almost never do-- RELAX and BE STILL!! So we enjoyed a long nap on Saturday in our hotel room and then woke up and read books in bed for like an hour. It sounds so crazy just typing it out that we actually did that! LOL
In February, I got to fly out to Maryland to go visit Alex and Tyler for a long weekend. It was WONDERFUL! I really enjoyed spending so much time with my sister and her husband bc it has been hard for me to get used to them living so far away :( They are doing great and are adorable newlyweds. Alex and Tyler had to work on Friday while I was there and Alex was so worried about me being bored in their apartment until 1pm when she got home. I laughed and said, "Alex! That's the beauty of it! I get to be BORED!" So when she called me at 12:30 to say she was on her way home, I figured I should probably get out of my pjs! Most funny part of the weekend was when Alex got us completely and utterly LOST in the ghetto of Baltimore...apparently she couldn't remember the address of the restaurant for dinner, but just guessed at what she thought it was hoping we would get there...well we didn't! hahahaha ohh man I am just laughing thinking about it right now. Of course it wasn't as funny at the time, but luckily none of us were starving, or else it could have turned ugly fast! LOL

In March, Alex and Tyler shared with us the EXCITING news that they are EXPECTING!!! We could not be happier for them, and I am overjoyed to be an aunt. Alex is already so nurturing and maternal when it comes to my children, so I can only imagine how phenomenal she will be as a mother to her own precious baby.
Ava started ballet lessons in February, and she is a hoot to watch! She enjoys the lessons, but especially the music. We go once a week on Fridays from 12-12:45pm, and I thought that was kinda short, but Ms Missy her dance instructor CLEARLY knows what she is doing bc it is almost painful to watch her try to keep the girls' attention for those 45 minutes!

On to April, we spent 2 different weekends in Atlanta, which was soo much fun! The first trip was to celebrate my best girlfriend Katie's first baby shower. She is due about 2 weeks after me (and actually as I type this, she had her sweet baby girl Addie Elizabeth 2 days ago! She beat me!) I was 34 weeks and she was 32 weeks at her shower. It was really special to share that time together as pregnant best friends!

Of course we also went back home to ATL for Easter as we have done ever since we moved to Franklin. It's a tradition that we dye Easter eggs with Bobby's family on Saturday night and then on Sunday, my dad hosts a big Easter egg for Ava and Lucas...and Alex and I :)

Now finally on to May and right now! This month has FLOWN by, but unfortunately the last week of May has d r a g g e d on as I am now 5 days past my due date and we are still waiting for our little bundle of joy to arrive! This time of waiting has been a great time of reflection for me as I have found myself spending more time in prayer asking God to continue to give me patience and to not take for granted these extra days that I have with my little family of four. Bobby has actually been sick (perhaps one reason why I have not gone into labor yet?), so Ava and Lucas and I have been spending lots of extra together time on picnics, at the pool, etc.
One thing I don't want to forget to include that we are so proud of is that Ava learned how to push herself on the swing! We have been working with her alot to pump her legs and last week, she finally figured it out! It's kinda a big deal in our house :) She turns 4 in July.
Ava also had her ballet recital this month and Bobby's parents were traveling through on their way home from St. Louis, so they got to come watch her. Her little group of 3 & 4 yr olds were quite entertaining! They did their best!

This last picture was taken on Tuesday night the 24th- the night before my due date. We have a tradition with our best friends the O'Neils to go out to Mexican for dinner and then come home and take some castor oil with the hopes of inducing labor. We had a GREAT time that night and laughed alot...but no baby :( I actually had false labor that night (4-5 hours of contractions lasting 30-45 seconds about 4 minutes apart...who would have thought that would be false?!) and have barely had any contractions ever since! Craziness...