During the seven years I have been a mom, countless moments have left me breathless with joy. The moment each of my babies was laid on my chest for the first time, or the times when they’ve fallen asleep on me and I’ve traced the curve of their soft cheeks in awe, or the instances of watching them discover or accomplish something new, have all been indescribably precious. Many treasured moments in motherhood have been deeply, gloriously fulfilling.
But many have not. I am not fulfilled by changing diapers. I am not fulfilled by hauling everyone to the grocery store. I am not fulfilled by messes and laundry and dealing with misbehavior. I’m simply not. And sometimes as I survey my life and realize how much of it is consumed by these activities, I can begin to feel a bit put out, and maybe even a bit angry. Why am I spending so much of myself doing things that don’t fill my tank? When I feel this way, it’s time to stop and assess my expectations.
What role am I asking my kids to play in my life? Do I expect them to make me feel good? To flatter my ego? To bring me joy and delight? To fulfill all my longings?
Or, do I look at them as gifts to be stewarded, nurtured, and loved? As a means by which God is sanctifying me? As an opportunity to lay down my life for another?
It’s possible that when I feel unappreciated and unfulfilled, it’s not because of the circumstances of a messy house, teething baby, or sibling squabble, but because I expect my kids to fill a God-sized hole in my life. I wasn’t designed to be satisfied by my children, so, quite simply, they can’t satisfy me.
If I become frustrated and dissatisfied with motherhood, it may not be that something is wrong with my kids. Rather, it might be that I have lost sight of my purpose and theirs. I cannot fulfill all their deepest longings, and they can’t fulfill mine. My children and I were not made for each other. We aren’t a perfect fit. We irritate and inconvenience one another. We disrupt each other’s little kingdoms. That’s because we are not meant to satisfy and fulfill one another, but instead to point each other to Christ. As the parent, my job is to lovingly train and guide them to adulthood, with the goal of leading them to Jesus. As children, the role they have in my life is less obvious, but no less important. They also are to point me to Christ, but they do it through reminding me of my need for and dependence on him and him alone. Their behavior reveals my own neediness and sinfulness, which drives me back to the Cross, the only source of true joy and fulfillment. My children and I aren’t here to make each other happy. We’re here to make each other holy.
As Augustine famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Are we seeking rest—joy, satisfaction, hope, fulfillment—in our children? We won’t find it there. But Jesus tells us where we can find what our hearts desire: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:28-29)