Parenting is hard work. (So is marriage.)
Sometimes the journey toward parenthood is full of heartaches, but every parent will be faced with challenging seasons as a child is born, displays their unique God-given personality (sometimes with a touch more of that “he’s just like me!” than you expected), begins testing the boundaries, and exploring their little world.
Challenges will be different for every family, but every child has the same need: to be wholeheartedly loved by his/her parents. And every child displays this need differently.
Kate (of Modern Alternative Mama) wrote a post on Babble recently, confessing, “I Think I Love My Son a Little Bit More.” As sad as that post is, I would encourage any parent identifying with that post to not stop there. (And certainly not hope it gets better with the addition of another child!)
Get to Know Your Child
Of course, you know them. They’re yours. But dig deep. (Really, they want you to.)
Discover that amazing person inside that God has created. Learn their Love Language, and as you start “speaking” it, you’ll begin to bond more, and likely see some of those “obnoxious” attention-getting behaviors fade.
The detailed descriptions of different “personality types” and their biblical models was targeted information I needed to parent this amazing little person with a big heart, a whirlwind of larger-than-life creativity, spontaneity, stubbornness, and noise… and a temper to match my own. (Sounds a bit like Paul? [Acts 9:1-31 & Acts 13:1-49, for example] Yep. That’s what they said, too.)
With this resource in hand, I began the steps to connect with a heart so foreign- and yet so like my own– beginning to instill instruction with a vision for the future. I’m now loving additional books by Sally Clarkson, including Seasons of a Mother’s Heart and The Ministry of Motherhood.
Some people in this world (whether they’re our children or not) will always be “easier to love.” Personalities clash, interests are polar opposites, and experiences differ, for example. But that’s no excuse for not choosing to love.
I remember one tough night, tucking a child into bed (again!) after an especially challenging day of boundary-testing, and immediately hearing my husband whispering in my ear, “Tell [the child] ‘I love you.'”
“Oh, but I just don’t right now!,” I stormed. And then my heart was immediately convicted, as 1 Corinthians 13 came to mind. I had to make the choice to love; to not depend on emotions or obedience or personalities or circumstances.
I had to (and still do!) allow God to change my heart, to be Love through me.
Gary Thomas writes about this challenge in his book, Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls. As God continues to mold us, to make us holy, to work out His story through us, our parenting is a crucial element of the journey. (It’s not a speedbump or a detour.)
Your child’s journey to your arms may be a difficult one, setting up challenges to that initial loving and bonding. But this should not be a barrier for the rest of your lives.
Whether you’ve walked through a traumatic birth situation, separation after birth, postpartum depression, or some other experience, there is hope. It is not the end.
A visit with a craniosacral therapist can help you and your child walk through physical or emotional birth trauma. (We love Carol Gray.) Visiting with a counselor with experience in adoption and/or postpartum needs can help equip you for healthy parenting. (I was blessed to have a midwife with a background in counseling, as well as some visits with our family counselor, as a gift from a friend; this could be better than any gift you’d receive off a registry!)
I wasn’t even present at the birth of our daughter. Our adoption journey was stressful, with many extenuating circumstances in our lives at that time. Her birth/prenatal history was challenging for her.
I finally held her in my arms when she was about 2 1/2 days old. I felt shock and awe at this precious miracle. I didn’t feel an overwhelming emotional “love” response (plus I was missing those lovely post-birth “bonding” hormones!), but we knew that we already loved her, because we had chosen to love our child, and constantly prayed for God’s love, even before we knew her.
Physically, bonding took work. We wore our new little baby in a sling carrier constantly, and insisted on keeping her close– even taking her to work at the office! But this gradual bonding and growth of love wasn’t a surprise; we expected it as part of the adoption journey.
With our son, we were blessed with a smooth pregnancy and an incredible home waterbirth experience. But again, the initial love was a choice, as I met this little one for the first time, whom I’d only known through the movement within my womb- and now yelled angrily at me.
In the minutes, hours and days that followed, challenges with postpartum healing, adjusting to parenting two little ones, along with some breastfeeding issues that both the baby and I needed help with, and a couple stressful life situations seemed to continually interfere with the bonding process.
Again, we pulled out the sling baby carriers, and kept him close. We could already see that his “love language” would be different than his sister’s, as he made his needs known in different- often exhausting- ways. And love blossomed.
As the years have passed, moments and days of intentional parenting have often meant much self-sacrifice, but in the end, brought incredible rewards of growth in our relationships.
And we love them both, choosing to equally pour love into them.
One children’s book that I have adored for years is I Love You the Purplest. This may be especially helpful, if you are walking through the healing/bonding journey (or adjustment to a sibling) with a young child (instead of an infant), helping you vocalize just the right answers to speak to their hearts: Not “more or less,” but the “bluest” and the “reddest.”
All of us, as sinful human beings, will at some time, do something “unloveable.” You can model both God’s grace to your children with forgiveness, as well as humbly asking forgiveness yourself.
We can never do this parenting thing on our own… or life, for that matter. We can only do this with the help of the Holy Spirit, as we place our hands in His. God calls us to intentionally disciple our children on a daily basis:
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)
Remember the famous quote, “When your child deserves your love the least, they need your love the most” (unknown).