What Is Parenthood, Really?
My son’s cry rattles me from sleep. I rub one eye and take a dreaded peek at the clock.
Who needs alarms when they’ve got kids?
Tossing back the covers, I shiver in the chilly, pre-dawn air. But this is it. No more covers. No more sleep. The baby’s awake. The day’s begun.
I slip into his room silently, though it’s not like it matters. His wails have grown stronger and more desperate. Behind the bars, tears stain his sheets and crib mattress. I lift him over the railing and cradle him, absorbing the warmth of his small body. He nuzzles into me, rubbing his face against my pajama shirt. When he pulls back, a trail of mucus shines from my shoulder.
I grimace. “Did you wipe your nose on me?”
Then he coughs uncontrollably in my face and I have my answer.
After wiping the germy spit from my cheeks, I collapse onto the recliner tucked in the corner of the nursery.
Maybe I can snag a few more minutes of sleep while he eats.
But before I can finish that thought, the door to my daughters’ bedroom creaks open, followed by the sound of uncertain, shuffling feet and the unmistakable swish-swish of Pull-Ups on the prowl.
My two-year-old peeks her head into the nursery, allured by the soft, blue light of the glowing lamp. The only light at this time of day.
“Mom?” She rubs a tired eye. “I’m hungry.”
I let go of any hope of closing my eyes. “Okay, let me finish feeding your brother, then—”
“And I’m wet.”
With the baby still attached and slurping, I crouch beside my toddler and strip pee-soaked clothes from her body. She wraps her arms around herself and shivers.
“Now I’m cold, Mom!”
“I know.” I suppress the frustrated huff rising into my throat. “Let’s go get you some clothes.”
“But I’m COLD!”
My heart pounds against my temples. If I weren’t holding a nursing baby, maybe I could massage them for a moment.
But I know that’s out of the question.
I glance at my daughter, the tiny girl with gigantic emotions. If she goes to get her own clothes, her flaring temper will surely wake her older sister who shares the same bedroom.
I sigh. “Stay here. I’ll get your clothes.”
Fumbling through the dark, I make my way to the girls’ room and open the dresser drawer. Slowly. Quietly. I reach inside, grabbing blindly, then go back to the nursery and slip the dry clothes onto my quivering daughter.
“Will you make some breakfast now, please?” she asks.
“Sure.” I prop the baby onto my shoulder and pat his back. Again he coughs in my face.
As I fill bowls with Honey Nut Cheerios, my oldest comes out of her room, her hair a tangled mess, a shy grin glowing on her face. She scurries to me and presses her face into my abdomen.
“Good morning,” she says, her soft words muffled by my shirt. “Can I have some milk in a cup, too, please?”
It’s barely 6 o’clock and I already feel like a ragged, worked-to-death servant.
The word leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Servant. Blech.
I could do so much more. Be so much more. If only I didn’t have to wait kitchen tables and the small children crammed in the chairs.
But Jesus didn’t call us to be comfortable. He never offered an easy, convenient life. And He definitely never promised prosperity in five, fun DIY steps.
In fact, He did the opposite. He challenged us to do something way more difficult. More counter-intuitive. Something that’s much harder to hear about and cheer for. He commanded us to die to ourselves. To be servants.
He told us to serve those who are without food and drink. To serve people with nowhere to call home. To nurture, comfort, and heal the sick. To give company and mercy to those in prison. And even to give of our excess to those who need it more.
He calls us to live the Corporal Works of Mercy.
And parenthood—especially in the early years—is the embodiment of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Day after day after grueling, grinding day.
Feed the Hungry/Give Drink to the Thirsty
The hungry and thirsty? Those might as well be my daughters’ real names. Not to brag or anything, but as a mom, I feel like I can check those two works off the list every fifteen minutes.
Shelter the Homeless
Until my kids turn 18, I’ll go ahead and put a checkmark by this whole shelter thing, too.
Visit the Sick
When a virus spreads through the family, who’s the one to stay awake, vigilant, stroking the backs and sweaty hair of the ill-stricken? Parents. Moms and Dads. I know I’ve had my fair share of all-nighters where my kids coughed in my mouth, sneezed in my eyeballs, and puked all over my pajamas. We visit the sick and we take care of them. It’s in our job description.
Visit the Prisoners
The aspect of prisoners gets a little trickier here, as our kids (hopefully) aren’t running around breaking state and federal laws. But they do break family rules. All the time. Or at least mine do. And who visits with those scoundrels who’ve earned solitary confinement—their hands shackled, if invisibly, to the nearest wall? Who receives the prodigal sons and daughters once their time is up? You got it. Parents. We’re responsible for showing them mercy and Jesus after their most royal of mess ups.
Give Alms to the Poor
I can’t think of a poorer population than children. And I also can’t think of anyone who gets more of my money than my kids. Case and point.
So, mamas and papas, if you’ve been thinking that parenthood is tough, you’re in good company. We are constantly dying to ourselves. Constantly meeting the needs of others while our desires go unmet.
We are constantly being servants.
We are constantly living the life Jesus called us to live.