If parenting isn’t what you had imagined, Becky May has some words of encouragement

parenting journey

To quote John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” I think many of us may confess to imagining what our future lives may look like, from time to time. Perhaps we imagined the pretty little cottage with roses around the door, or the life where we set off to our dream job every day, before returning to dinner prepared for us and an immaculate kitchen. Maybe our thoughts turned to children; “We’ll have four, two of each!” “Three is perfect for us, fill the backseat of the car.” “We’ll have a two year age gap between our children, that will work perfectly.” “Saturdays, we can go to ballet classes and then go and watch the rugby.”

Of course, when it comes to it, none of us really expect life to look like the pages of the mamas and papas catalogue and we find it easy to let go of the Pinterest-perfect pictures we formed in our minds before we lived the reality of parenthood. But, for many of us, the differences between the parenting journey we anticipated, and the one which evolves around us can be far more difficult to take.

For some, the parenting journey takes a different course before it even begins, perhaps when we face fertility issues and the babies we longed to hold are not there, for instance. For others, unexpected changes of direction or pace develop at a later stage; when our children face health issues or disabilities perhaps, when there are difficulties in our marriage, when we find ourselves living in a different part of the country, away from family and support networks, when we lose our own parents…

You may recall the book of Job, and the way his life journey did not go as he anticipated. There was loss, sickness, illness, bereavement and just about every other imaginable difficulty he and his family could experience. For parents who find themselves walking these difficult journeys there are just as many ‘Job-friends’ around today, as there were now and they will hear just as much hurtful and harmful advice. “This was God’s plan for …” “Perhaps you don’t have enough faith.” “We just have to accept God’s judgement.” “You must have done something wrong.” None of this was true or helpful for Job, and none of it is true or helpful now.

How do we as Christians respond to a parenting journey that falls short of our hopes and expectations? Where is God in those situations? What is happening here?

Here are three principles I have learnt which have helped us in those seasons where our parenting journey has been different to the dreams we had.

1) Acknowledge the pain and hurt

As Christians, we don’t have to be ok, our relationship with God works when it is rooted in being real and honest. The Psalms cry out to God in every circumstance and every emotion. When we grieve, when we are anxious, when we are in pain we should not paint on a happy face and declare that everything is ok; we need to be real and honest and share those things with the Heavenly Father who loves us.

2) Embrace the journey we are on

I shared with a family member that I really dislike the saying, ‘life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,’ and was surprised when he told me it was one of his favourites! I think it serves as a warning though, we can be so caught up in the hopes and dreams that we have for a life we wanted that we miss the joy that exists in the life we’re living. Sometimes we need to pause, look around us and soak it in. Together with expressing our pain to God, we can thank him for the gifts that exist in the life we are living and sometimes we can discover that the journey we are on is better than anything we could have imagined.

3) Ask what God is teaching us in this

I do not believe in a fatalistic ‘everything happens for a reason,’ nor do I accept that God intends for us to live in a state of pain and grief, but rather as Joseph discovered, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20a). Our Redeemer God brings good out of the difficulties we may encounter. Through the parenting journey we live, God reveals more of who he is and how we relate to him.

As we parent our children and help them to encounter pain, disappointment and changing circumstances, we ourselves are experiencing the loving parenthood of Father God. Our unexpected journeys are not outside of his presence in our lives; they can take us to places that hurt deeply, but they can also take us to places where we experience deep joy and an overwhelming experience of his love.