I visited some friends and their newborn in the hospital last week, and it took me back to those early days with Ellie: sleepless nights, breastfeeding problems, an overwhelming sense of deep responsibility coupled with complete and terrifying uncertainty. Because I'd never been a parent before, it genuinely felt like this is all there was, like this is what parenting would always be.
But it wasn't. Within weeks, Ellie's eating and nighttime sleeping issues improved. It would take ten very long months, but we eventually were able to get her on a somewhat predictable schedule. I started to know my daughter and how to best help her in various situations, and being a parent no longer felt quite so overwhelming or scary.
It's a good reminder for me now as we've recently entered a new stage with Ellie where I feel equally hesitant and confused. Suddenly, my sweet little girl needs a lot more discipline than she used to, and I'm often left staring at her, wondering exactly how I'm supposed to respond to her latest outburst or disobedience. I won't go into a lot of details here since I'd like to limit my public analysis of my daughter's flaws, but suffice it to say that she's two, she has lots of opinions, and she's testing lots of boundaries.
We have a lot to figure out, CJ and I. What behaviors merit what types of consequences? What issues do we focus on now, and what issues can we let slide until later so as not to overwhelm either ourselves or Ellie? How do we communicate grace to Ellie even as we discipline, teaching her to obey and yet at the same time teaching her that she can never fully obey, that her repeated failures are ultimately a sign of her need for a Savior? How do we deal with our own sin that surfaces in these situations, with our very ugly anger and impatience?
It's complicated, and to be honest, I feel an even deeper sense of responsibility and uncertainty than I did when Ellie was a newborn. Keeping a baby alive is hard, hard work; caring for a child's soul seems, to me at least, even harder. And it's easy to look at the road ahead (sixteen more years until college!) and feel like this is all parenting is - correction, training, dealing with everyone's messy, sinful hearts.
But holding a newborn last week reminded me of two things. First, while parenting itself is a long road, this particular season will pass. When Ellie is fifteen, we will no longer have battles over who is going to put on her shoes. As hard as it feels to believe, a day will come when I will no longer have to remind her to say please every single time she asks for something.
And second, in the passing of each season, in the parenting challenges that do eventually fade away, there is the accompanying loss of particular joys. I have already lost the peaceful pleasure of holding Ellie as a tiny sleeping baby; I will one day lose the sweet, simple joy of last night: half an hour as a family of three, snuggled on the couch reading our way through a pile of library books.