With my first child, I rigorously studied infant sleep schedules and development books and felt like I was giving my baby everything she needed. With my second child, our little world was knocked out of control, but I thought I would eventually get it back. Indeed, the more he grew, the less demanding he was and seeing their interaction was priceless. Now with my third child, I feel completely helpless most of the time.
I’m sure you can feel helpless with one or two children, but only now have I finally surrendered to the fact that I can’t always meet their needs the way I’d like to. To change a diaper, I often have to leave one crying. To get one to sleep, the other two have to wait even if they are tired. I have a plethora of priorities to choose from and it is incredibly frustrating to not be able to do it all. I would like to pick up the baby and play with him more. I would like to sit down and read a story whenever the two-year-old asks me to. I would like to get out more with the four-year-old and maybe do another mommy-daughter date. I would like to have more homemade food for them all, a more organized house, more toys, cuter clothes, a less frazzled mom. I would like to have more friends and playdates, more trips, a yard, and nature walks.
The Illusion of Omnipotence
With one child, I’m sure I couldn’t meet her needs either. I had the illusion that I would, though. Of course, I wouldn’t say yes to her every want so she wouldn’t be spoiled and rude. Of course, there would be firm limits and bedtimes and table manners. Yet all the other needs I felt I could provide for. I scheduled everything around her naptime. I made sure she saw different people and got out of the house every day so she would be social. I practiced baking and imagined all the fun we would have when she was older and could revisit my favorite childhood books and movies.
Now I don’t have the time to sit down and watch a movie with her. I put on the movie so I can get things done. I yell at her a lot more than I thought I would. I see problems with her I never expected and don’t know how to deal with them. It scares me to think I have failed her in her most formative years. My attention is always divided and I am realizing I can’t buy all the things for her I’d like to.
God the Father Doesn’t Always Meet Our Needs
When I back up a little from my guilt trip, I realize we all have a Father who is the one running the show and our Mother Mary who is really the one caring for us. I realize I am not the ultimate provider for my children. They have been given to me. I must try to care for their material needs as much as possible, but this is not the final goal of our lives here on Earth.
It was a game-changer when I realized God our Father loves us more than we can fathom, with an unrequited, all-embracing, unconditional love, yet he doesn’t meet all of His children’s material needs here on earth. There are people in the world that are starving. There are people in the world that live in horrible conditions and extreme poverty. There are people that are victims of natural disasters. There are people that are victims of sexual abuse, trafficking, torture, and warfare. These are all God’s children. Even the children that are closest to God and choose to follow his Will are victims of religious persecution, martyrdom, and just general hardship. As Saint Teresa of Avila famously told God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”
The Joy of Sharing
Maybe, just maybe, there are more important things to give our children than meeting all of their first-world, consumerist-culture needs and wants. Maybe I’m not able to give my daughter all the patience, home-baked cookies and play dates I’d like to because that’s the way God wants it. I suppose I won’t be able to shield her from the hardships of life, even from the ones that come from me.
One of my favorite stories from Saint Teresa of Calcutta comes from her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture:
“A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long – do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children – their eyes shining with hunger – I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her – where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew – and who are they, a Muslim family – and she knew. I didn’t bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see this is where love begins – at home.”
Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s words “the joy of sharing” has stuck with me. She thought that the supernatural gifts that would come from that act of love were more important than the temporary satisfaction of their material hunger. How is that for counter-cultural?
I think about that “joy of sharing” as I might not be able to read every book or play every game my children want me to, but know I am multiplying their family relationships in giving them more siblings. I think about those words as I see there are more important things than a child being catered to, having all of his developmental stages stimulated in appropriate classes and activities. There is the love between spouses, their parents. There is the love God pours out on them and makes available to them at every moment but sometimes comes through a cross.
There are more important things than a full tummy. One is a full heart.