‘Which age do you find the easiest/hardest?’ A mum recently posted on a Facebook forum. Hundreds of responses followed, with each mother listing the ages and stages she found most challenging or most delightful. There was great variation in the responses:
‘Newborn is easiest! They’re so sleepy and cuddly’
‘I’d take toddlers over teenagers any day’
‘I find tiny babies hard, especially learning to breastfeed and struggling for sleep’
‘The school years are definitely easier than the baby years’
‘I thought my parenting journey was finished, but sometimes they’re hard even as adults!’
For every age and stage there were some mums who found it a breeze, and others who found it challenging to the point of frustration or despair.
Longing for what’s next
I have a three month old and a three year old; the stage I’m in involves a lot of nappies, tears and tantrums; emotion juggling (both mine and my children’s!) and sleepless nights. It is easy for me to wallow in the challenges of this stage and discontentedly look forward to the next.
I am tempted into believing my life will be perfect once I no longer have a nappy to change, once I’m getting more sleep, once I’ve stopped breastfeeding... My frustration with the challenges of this stage of parenting quickly becomes self-pity, and my self-pity quickly becomes despair or envy.
When I am in despair I cannot imagine a life without struggle—whether it is imagining years without sleep or the constant disobedience of a child. When envy overcomes me I look longingly at my neighbour: if only I had a bigger house, older children, more money or better sleep!
Parenting is not a comfortable journey as the everyday challenges evolve and the goal posts are ever-shifting—after all, even those with adult children must learn new things about being a parent or grandparent!
The problem with a discontented heart is that it is not satisfied by imagined desires. There will always be something lacking, some new milestone to long for.
The secret to contentment
‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’ (Philippians 4:12-13)
I’ve often read the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippian church with frustration, ‘all this through him who gives me strength’, he makes it sound so easy!
So often my own approach is to simply ask God to take away the challenge, to provide me with more comfort, to make my life easier—but comfort is not the same as contentment.
Paul is talking about a strength that comes from knowing a truly good and holy God as our Father. This contentment springs from the riches we have in Christ, through his redemptive work on the cross, rather than our own circumstances.
True contentment does not mean we will not experience hard things, but that our perspective of the challenges we face will be dramatically altered.
When I am discontented and fed up with parenting small children, when I think I just cannot possibly change another dirty nappy and I long for the next phase, I must remember that it is not the challenge of this stage of parenting that is the problem. It is my heart.
When we cry out to God in lament, or even sheer tiredness, we can rest in knowing he promises to give us the strength Paul is talking about. The strength to persevere, the wisdom to make godly decisions and every spiritual gift we need for life and godliness. He will not come up short, or leave us to flounder about without hope or purpose.
What is the secret to finding contentment in the part of the parenting journey God has placed you in? Each year of parenting brings fresh problems. Contentment will not arrive when your troubles pass, once your baby sleeps through the night or your child finally learns how to use the potty. True contentment is only found in God, who promises to help us live out our faith in all circumstances.