I wasn’t close enough to hear any part of the struggle but I was seeing it. She was trying to get her son to go into the school and he was flailing and crying and wiggling. Her hands were already full of items that she needed for her workday inside the school building. She just…needed…to…get…inside. And right as she was about to reach her goal, he struggled free and ran off to the grass and wailed. A crying child…what breaks your heart more than a crying child? For me, it’s the mom. I hurt for her as my oblivious kids ran right past her and her son in their zeal to get inside the school building. I watched her body slump as the air rushed out of her lungs and she fought to hold her own tears back. She was fighting hard to keep it together…to maintain her dignity while her son fought against her. As a mom, I know that having a child means spending the rest of your life with your heart walking around on the outside of your body…your heart is no longer something that can be protected by walls you’ve built up around it…you can no longer count on your defenses or protective thinking to keep your heart safe…you become vulnerable to so much more. So, when your own heart rebels against you and screams at you, it is hard to know what to do. As I watched her shoulders slump down and her head look to heaven for an answer, I started planning to park and run to help her in my normal scary-school-drop-off-state: wet hair, no makeup, slippers, jacket = bra…that alone should make her feel better about herself, right? And right as I made the decision, I saw one of her co-workers, another mama who has already experienced this stage before her, calmly walk over to the wailing son and then…he magically stopped crying and ran inside ahead of the two women. And I felt it…I felt her mixed emotions of relief that this moment of hell was over and also disbelief that he could turn it off like that…that her own heart would put her through that for what appeared to be nothing…that feels a bit like betrayal.
As I drove home, I kept replaying that scene in my head. I have been there. Oh! How I have been there! Caleb, my even-tempered sweet little bear cub used to test me this way too. I remember having to abandon grocery carts full of groceries on many occasions in hopes that we wouldn’t starve before we were able to have a successful shopping trip. I remember the looks of scorn and even mean or thoughtless comments from strangers that had me feeling twisted up in knots and completely inadequate. I remember the physical and emotional pain that I would experience as I would use my body on top of his to hold him down in his room while he thrashed through another tantrum…I would hold this position above him…being careful not to squish him…while he would scream and writhe until he would, at long last, go limp and hoarse (but too exhausted to harm himself)…and he would eventually sleep heavily and I would go in the next room and sob alone. I remember thinking that I had unknowingly traded my independence, privacy, goals, dreams, paycheck, and brain for this little bugger who was treating me like the enemy. To make matters worse, when he would fall asleep and look like an angel, instead of having some blissful rest myself, I would berate myself for my thoughts during his hellish wakeful hours. Hormones! That has to be it. That is the only explanation for why I prayed for this…blessing? Confession time: I literally kept a gym membership for a couple of years just to have a place to drop my two littles off for a couple of hours a day and take a shower alone! (Well, as alone as you can get showering in the same room with 10 other women…but none of them would stick their head in my shower stall and plead for “Mommy hoed due!” so I counted it as a win.) No lie, when I had pneumonia, I went to the gym Every. Single. Day. It took less energy than dealing with the tantrums! (Stop judging me…you just wish you’d thought of it first!)
What is the point? Well, several I guess. One is something that you’ve heard a hundred times a hundred ways and that is “Girls judge each other. Women empower each other.” The seasoned mom that I saw help the struggling mom was doing just that. She helped her to get her stuff together so that she could present her professional face to the world and feel like a whole, complete human. Also, I would like to point out to the moms of littles, that I don’t experience this anymore…there is light at the end of the tunnel and they don’t stay in the tantrum stage forever…in fact, my tantrum-throwing bear cub has become one of the most even-tempered little people I know. Finally (and this was the point for me today) I was able to use that empathy that I was feeling for this woman that I barely know, and transfer it to women that I do know but don’t care for. You know the women I’m talking about…the ones that just grate on your nerves or whose decisions you simply can not identify with. What if I tried to think of that woman that annoys me in that difficult life stage? What if I thought of her as having to struggle through those difficult “Mommy times” that are not glamorous? The tantrums, stomach bugs, sleepless nights, tension with husband, and body image issues following having a baby. For some reason, getting a glimpse at someone’s struggle (even if I made it all up in my head) makes extending some grace a bit easier, doesn’t it?
So, how are you doing with this? Are you the mommy in the struggle right now? Are you the mommy who helped her out? Is there someone you could lend a hand to? (It didn’t change the seasoned mommy’s day but it sure made a difference in the struggling mommy’s day.) Be honest, is there someone you should be extending grace to? Can you imagine that person going through the struggles of life and feel a little bit of empathy for her?
My prayer today is that we would take a few moments to acknowledge those struggling around us and offer them a hand and some encouragement. I am praying that we would enter in to people’s struggle with them instead of judging them, detached, from the outside. I am praying that we would find a way to contribute, even in tiny ways, to help each other press on and that we would, through our lives (not through grand gestures), show Jesus and his grace to people in our spheres of influence. Much love friends,