Parenting Through the Pain

My kids are selfish, narcissistic jerks.

There I said it.

Case in point: It was 7 a.m. My wife had only 45 minutes earlier headed out of town on business, but not before depositing my daughter in bed beside me. I had a list a mile long of stuff I had to do when the sun came up: emails to return, posts to write, calls to make. Not to mention a seemingly never-ending DMV nightmare to continue, tons of bills to take care of and a load of nonprofit launch stuff to attend to—ya know: important big person stuff. This still, silent hour snuggled up with my baby girl would be the brief and priceless pause before the looming responsibility storm fully engulfed me.

It was a Hallmark moment; an Instagram image.

That is, until the vomiting began.

Yes you read that right, friends. With everything I had on my waiting agenda, my 6-year-old had the absolute audacity to invite a stomach virus in for a sloppy little surprise staycation all over our bedding and bathroom. The nerve.

I burst into full-on triage duty, immediately realizing that all of the stuff I had planned for the day would have to wait. I spent the next 12 hours doing (and re-doing) laundry, serving on bedside bucket brigade and assisting in what from the outside surely must have seemed like an awkward, prolonged exorcism.

I’d like to say that it brought out the best in me as a parent, but really it just ticked me off.

Yes, I performed the requisite toilet-side hair holding, the ritualistic hosing down, the sanitizer spray crop dusting, but I did it all with a sneer and furrowed brow, fully conscious of the cosmic injustice currently being dispensed out upon me. I was dutifully but begrudgingly caring for my sick daughter.

As the day from Hell bled well into a second day I grew more and more irritable and impatient. During a ride home from my son’s school punctuated by a furious volley of bickering in the back seat, I finally lost it in that kind of audible explosion that shocks you back into self-awareness. (An emotional vomiting, if you will.)

After effusively apologizing to my still stunned kids, I felt a heavy blanket of guilt quickly fall upon me for being such a lousy parent; for being bitter and impatient in the face of their needs and for allowing myself to be so selfish regarding my own. But even as this inner conviction happened I felt my heart offering a calm, steady rebuttal to the prosecution’s case.

I started to feel, as much as my disappointment in my attitude—a consciousness of my sadness. I stopped and noticed how much pain I was in.

I’d had a rough flare up of grief this week, hadn’t been sleeping, and was overwhelmed with the endless to-dos and the expectations I placed upon myself, along with the ones others had shouldered me with. It was all there churning just below the surface until it had to come out for my own good.

I realized I was doing what most moms and dads do every day: I was parenting hurt.

NFL players understand this. The tremendous, continual physical toll of their vocation means that most of them are in great pain as they willingly endure further bodily harm. As the season progresses, they sustain more and more injury but continue to fight in the face of it, squashing the symptoms and pressing on as best they can until their bodies finally give out and hoping it is enough to get a win. I recently heard a radio analyst say of the players, “It’s mid-season, everyone is playing through pain.”

This is parenting.

We’re all daily playing through the pain. We each have to wake up every morning, push back stuff that hurts, tape up our ankles, take a deep breath and get out there and do the best we can at far less than full capacity. We sustain damage as we seek to repair that of others. Much of the time our kids (and everyone else for that matter) won’t realize it or even care to consider it because they too are nursing similar injuries.

Moms and Dads, some days your pain gets the better of you.
Some days you don’t like what you end up doing or how you feel while you’re doing it.
Some days your plans fail and expletives fly.
Be OK with that.
It isn’t the sign you’re failing, it just means that you’re human.

Yes, we all want to be faultlessly patient with our kids, genuinely kind and compassionate in the face of the stinky messes they throw our way. And of course you don’t want to get into the habit of regularly blowing up behind the wheel or at the kitchen table, but remember to take it easy on yourself when you do.

You’re doing the most demanding, stressful, heady stuff on the planet. You’re perpetually overworked, overcommitted, underpaid, unprepared and sleep deprived, and you’re all of these things while simultaneously trying to hold together all the stuff inside you that’s badly broken and terribly bruised.

As a parent, you’re carrying the needs and wants and health and hearts of other young lives, almost always at the expense of your own. Yes this what you signed up for, but it doesn’t make it any easier or less costly or less painful. It doesn’t change how much it can hurt.

Do your best today in whatever season or storm or sickness you happen to be in, but cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to be less than spectacular, knowing that you’re wincing as you move.

You might need to take a breather or you may even need to get some time to allow your soul and body to be cared for by someone else for a while. But either way, know that your best is good enough, because it is everything you’re able to offer, given your injuries.

As I reflected back upon the time with my knees pressed against the cold porcelain, holding my daughter’s hair, suppressing my gag reflex while rubbing her convulsing back and assuring her it was going to be OK, I realized that maybe it was my finest hour as a parent. I was comforting her even as I felt such discomfort. I wasn’t perfect, but I was present and doing the best with what I had to give.

Guess that’s what we all do and all we can ever do.

Moms and Dads, thanks for parenting through the pain. It matters.

Be encouraged.  

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I am a father of two, (Noah and Selah), and husband of one (Jennifer); a 17-year ministry veteran, specializing in rabble-rousing, engineering mayhem, and generally trying to live-out the red letters of Jesus.