Kids Don't Retrofit

Oct 14, 2011 |Candice Watters

I used to think I could fit kids into my life. Now I'm not so sure.

I used to think I could fit kids into my life.

"Women today are in college to get degrees and pursue careers that will challenge their creativity, expand their skills and fulfill their dreams," I said. "That doesn't mean they don't want children — in fact the majority say they do — but that they don't want to give up their professional selves to become moms. Put plainly, they want both."

I then went on to explain how, with a little foresight and planning, having both is possible. Not easy, but doable. Now that I'm caring for baby number four, I'm not so sure. At the very least, I'm a lot less confident about the prospect, and a lot more tired. So I thought it only fair to update my original assertion with some new information, borne of a few more years of experience and a couple more kids.

When my boss said I could work from home, I figured I could fit my new purpose — our new baby — into a lot of the life I already knew. I took my computer and my responsibilities to my freshly redecorated home office where I continued editing Boundless, while our new son made the most of his swing, bouncy seat and Kick n' Play on the floor beside my desk.

But then he started rolling over, and not long after that, rolling away. I couldn't just put him on autopilot anymore. Suddenly my mothering responsibilities and my work responsibilities were competing for my attention. Something had to give. And then things really got complicated: I got pregnant again. Once our daughter was born, I was outnumbered.

For all my effort and creativity, kids weren't fitting neatly into my life.

I was figuring out what mothers have known for generations — your child wants you, all of you, and he isn't interested in being a second-tier priority. For all the things you might want to hold on to and fit a child around — your work, your lifestyle, your identity — your child needs you to be the one doing the fitting.

This is the tension that's largely ignored in the so-called Mommy Wars. In her book, Home Alone America, Mary Eberstadt writes,

Of all the explosive subjects in America today, none is as cordoned off, as surrounded by rhetorical land mines, as the question of whether and just how much children need their parents — especially their mothers. In an age littered with discarded taboos, this one in particular remains virtually untouched....
For decades everything about the unfettered modern woman — her opportunities, her anxieties, her choices, her having or not having it all has been dissected to the smallest detail.... [T]he ideological spotlight remains the same: It is on the grown women and what they want and need.

I was convicted reading Eberstadt's book. In the "work from home" path I was walking, I knew I was making a lot of sacrifices for our kids, but too often, I was forced to choose between what the kids needed and a pressing deadline or desire to take another project for the financial benefits and identity boost it provided. It turns everything upside down when you shift from thinking about what set up would be optimal for you, to thinking about what would be best for a child. But that's the shift our kids needed me to make.

For all the debates that rage about whether mothers of young children should work and whether they should place their children in daycare, rarely, if ever, does anyone ask, "What would you want if you were a toddler?" Pop psychologists have conditioned us to assume the answer would be, "I'd want what would make my mommy happy, because that would make our relationship better!" But deep down, I know I'd want someone to love me enough to make me a priority — even if that meant they had to sacrifice something.

Work and day care are sensitive issues to weigh in on because there are often so many factors driving a mom's decisions, not the least of which is the very real challenge of getting by in today's economy on one income. But it's in this highly charged arena that the underlying struggle is most evident — will this child fit into my life, or will I be willing to refocus my life around this child?

In our culture, it's normal for the children to fit into whatever lives they're born into. It takes a spirit of sacrificial love to see through a child's eyes and adjust your wants, needs and desires to those of the child.

Why is the child's perspective significant? Because that's how God designed it. He entrusts helpless infants to our care and gives us the responsibility of meeting their needs and shaping their souls. It's where Paul started his message to the Ephesians: "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

And the sacrifice isn't limited to the questions of work and daycare. Even if you already know you want to be a stay-at-home mom someday, other sacrifices will be required. For some women, it will be a sacrifice of time or professional identities, for others, it will be their bodies or their hobbies. Your sacrifice will vary from the moms in your playgroup and even from day to day.

Today my sacrifice was being able to finish a phone call with my mom and reading the newspaper. Some days the sacrifices are small and manageable, some days they threaten to break me. But whatever sacrifice is required, Jesus is our model. For love, He laid His life down; we're called to do no less. The reality of whom we're laying our lives down for — our own dearly loved children — provides a constant motivation to keep on doing it.

Because of His great love for us as children, Jesus, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant ..." (Philippians 2:6-7). This is the countercultural, upside-down approach we're called to as believers. As women who are dearly loved by God, we are called to live a life of love that imitates the sacrifice of a servant. And that's especially evident in the life of a mom. As Albert Mohler writes,

... the nurture of children is one of the most time-consuming, demanding, and unrelenting responsibilities that can fall upon any human being.... [M]otherhood is one of the highest callings on earth. Inevitably, the experience of being a mother brings limitations into a woman's life. At the same time, those limitations represent the liberating lines of transcendent purpose.

There is great peace and joy in embracing the sacrifices that go with having and caring for a family — in repeating the words of Jesus' mother, Mary — "I am the Lord's servant. May it be unto me as you have said." It's a sacred assignment. Consider the words of J. R. Miller,

Oh that God would give every mother a vision of the glory and splendor of the work that is given to her when a babe is placed in her bosom to be nursed and trained! Could she have but one glimpse into the future of that life as it reaches on into eternity; could she be made to understand her own personal responsibility for the training of this child, for the development of its life, and for its destiny, — she would see that in all God's world there is no other work so noble and so worthy of her best powers, and she would commit to no other hands the sacred and holy trust give to her.

The nature of parenting is sacrifice. That's the lesson I've learned as we've gone from one baby, to two, to three and now four. I just can't retrofit kids into my present life. At least not without depriving them of what they need from me most, their mother. If I want to be faithful, I have to fit my life around what God calls me to as a mom. And that requires dying to myself daily.

It's painfully hard, but it's actually easier than trying to work in vain pursuing the illusion of having it all. You are dearly loved. As you approach starting your family, imitate the one who loved you by laying down His life and trust in His promise that "whoever loses his life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:25b).

Copyright 2009 Candice Watters. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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