It was a comment on Facebook, responding to the announcement that a friend is expecting her first baby: “Fantastic! You will love every minute of being a parent!” I have to admit, I laughed – possibly a little hysterically – and thought: “No you won’t!” It is not that I think this new mum won’t love being a parent, I’m sure she will. I am also sure however, that she won’t love every minute of it.
Being a parent is life changing. It is the most wonderful, amazing adventure and it is also one of the most challenging, stressful and anxiety-provoking experiences possible. I met another mum today. She was looking as hassled as I was feeling. We are both in the process of getting our third-born children ready for university. They may object strongly to being referred to as children but to us, their mammies, they will always be our children or weans as we would say here in Donegal.
We had the stress of the Leaving Cert and then the results. We then moved on to the stress of waiting for the offer of a university place and then the awful, gut-wrenching wait for accommodation. We have both envisaged ourselves having to go to Dublin to tramp the streets looking at the various standards of rooms on offer – one smaller and less homely than the next. However, both our children have been lucky enough – after an agonising week of waiting – to be offered campus accommodation.
As mammies we are both deeply relieved. It gives our children the best basis for university life, there on campus, no travelling late at night, plenty of students around them, rooms that are warm, clean (for now anyway) and safe.
There just remains the challenge of paying the ridiculous rent that is being charged and awareness of what that does to ‘the budget’.
It is perhaps a parable of parenting. Exciting possibilities and opportunities come at a cost. So, to that new mammy I would like to say: “Yes, you will love being a parent. It is a gift and a blessing. You will also find that it demands so much of you, love above all, but also resilience, selflessness, courage and hope. You will love being a parent but there will also be days when you want to hide in the bathroom just to get five minutes peace.
“Being a parent will transform your life in wonderful ways – and sometimes that process is painful. Rejoice that you are going to be a parent but don’t be hard on yourself in those moments when you struggle – we all know what that feels like even if we don’t always admit it.”
When I was at Mass this evening, the priest mentioned in passing the idea of “letting Mary mother you”. It really struck me that here was a woman who knew all about what it means to live with the stresses and anxieties of parenting.
I find that comforting and it puts my anxieties in some perspective. It also makes me aware of the need to take time out to allow myself to be nurtured and strengthened. That might be through prayer or meeting a friend for a chat. It might be going for a walk or making time to sit in the back garden with a cup of coffee. Whatever it is, we need that time.
Loving demands a lot of strength and energy. This is the love that labours to bring a child to birth. It is the same love that sits patiently with a child who is struggling to learn to read. The same love steps beyond its own anxiety and prepares a young adult to move out into the world. And it is in this loving that our children glimpse the face of God and are perhaps given the courage and desire to be parents themselves some day.