The terror and treats of parenthood

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It’s that time of year when it’s possible to be anything you want to be. A pirate, a ninja, a clown, a queen: Halloween lets you try on any role for a night. Buy a costume, apply some makeup, and your new identity is complete.

As a mom, it’s fun to see the kids get so excited about the possibilities of Halloween. I think back over my own life and recall the parade of identities I assumed over the years, including a cowgirl, a princess, Mickey Mouse, and – in college and my 20s– a gypsy (always the easiest costume to cobble together at the last minute).

It’s intoxicatingly fun, the chance to be someone else for a night. And it’s so easy to assume a new role, knowing it’s temporary and just for a lark.

It’s the opposite of real life, where our roles involve a serious investment of time and energy. This is certainly true of my roles as teacher and wife. It’s even more true of my identity as a parent.

When my oldest son was born eight years ago, life as I knew it changed forever. It didn’t take long before l knew that my new role – a mother who cared for a tiny newborn, who got up multiple times a night to feed him, who wandered around smelling of spit-up – was the most all consuming one I’d ever known.

Parenthood is a commitment like nothing else. It’s not a role you can wear once and discard, like a costume. You’re in it for the long haul, forever (as my mom says, you never stop worrying about your kids). It’s an identity that may feel a little bit uncomfortable in the early days. It may feel like you didn’t get a chance to try it on first, or that maybe parenthood is not as good a fit as you thought it would be.

But the amazing thing about parenthood is that, as the old maxim goes, God doesn’t call the ready; God readies the called. What I didn’t know about babies would have filled a library, but with the grace of God and the help of experienced parents, I got to the point where I could spend a day alone with my baby without fearing I’d make a parenting error that would scar him for life.

And when I look back over my life, parenting my kids is something I’m proudest of: Not because I’m doing a brilliant job (goodness knows I mess up often), but because I began with such a knowledge deficit and somehow managed to reach a baseline level of competence. That role as a mom, which felt alien and downright scary at times, is one that I wear like an increasingly comfortable sweater.

And the best news – the most important bit, really– is that there is such unique joy that comes from living this role.   Seeing your baby smile, feeling a little hand slip into yours, walking two excited superheroes around the neighborhood on a night dedicated to terror and treats: these little moments can overwhelm you with feelings of happiness and gratitude.

Yes, parenthood can seem downright terrifying, especially at first. But with grace and God, we grow more at home in the role. And it doesn’t take long to learn that there is no treat half as sweet as the love of a child.

This article first appeared in Catholic San Francisco.

5 Responses to The terror and treats of parenthood

  1. I love this post…it resonates with me! On my best days, I look at my 3 adolescent children and say a prayer of thanks, and I think, “THIS is my best work.” Other days, well…I’m convinced that I have NO IDEA what I’m doing, other than screwing up and giving them fodder for the therapist’s couch. It’s exhausting, consuming, terrifying, and like the treats of Halloween, sweet.

  2. What a *sweet* article; :-)

  3. Nicely put, Ginny. Parenting IS tricky, but replete with treats.

  4. This made me smile…so true. One of the many things you and I have in common is having to be a mommy to an 8 year old boy!