Often throughout my life, my father has said to me, “Don’t be so hard on yourself!” Of course, in high school and college, and while looking for jobs and looking for a better job, and during grad school, I’d just shrug and think, “Whatever. I have to be. Otherwise, how will I [insert goal-oriented thing here].” I didn’t understand what my father really meant — give yourself some grace — until I had children.
Four kids. In eight years. (Twins.) I didn’t know what “don’t be so hard on yourself,” meant because I hadn’t really ever, other than my husband and my family, loved someone so much more than myself until they were born — and because I didn’t know this kind of love, I didn’t know true forgiveness either.
I have had to grow into this love for them. Of course, I was overjoyed when they arrived. And while sometimes I don’t always like them, even while loving them, but to love them day in and day out, over and over, regardless of the situation or circumstance — it takes a lot of patience, and yes, grace.
I had to really, really learn to love them, to practice loving them at their worst, to lean into this love and carry it with me all the time, even in the most despairing of moments. I had to learn, over and over, to summon all kinds of love beyond what I knew myself to be capable of, so I could truly love them through the orange marker all over the white couch, the inches of self-cut hair on the counter, the bite marks and bruises they’ve inflicted on each other, the broken lamp(s), vomit in the grocery store, the pee in the church breezeway, and the endless squabbling and screaming (will they ever stop fighting with each other?!).
I mean love them beyond the 2 a.m. wake-ups for weeks on end (in the despair of day-after-day exhaustion that only newborn twins bring).
I mean love them beyond the completely ridiculous tantrums at 5 p.m. (during an already awful week and without a shred of any decent human emotion left in me).
I mean love them beyond the point where I thought I’d go insane (from the tears my one child had almost every.single.day.for.an.entire.year from anxiety).
I mean love them beyond the hours of crying from reflux (standing up, holding them, singing over and over to quiet them, only to put them down in their crib, have them wake up, and have to start all over again).
To love them beyond the most heartbreaking thing they can say to hurt you (I hate you, Mommy!).
I am sure there is more to come, too, that I will have to learn to love them through, as we enter the tween years and beyond. I am sure the big-kid issues will be uglier than colic or teething, milk puke and lice heads. And they may last longer than and have more vicious consequences.
But it is only in the over and over, through the changing of a thousand diapers, the endless Goldfish Crackers underfoot, the hours of washing bottles, the countless steps back and forth, back and forth at 4 a.m., the mind-numbing repetition of the same lullaby or book for four years, that a love is practiced to the point of being learned. When you have been tested past the point of endurance (and don’t they always test us!), and you survive out of pure love for your children, you learn that not only is it possible to forgive yourself — but that you have to, because you are not going to give up on this crazy parenting life, nor will you ever give up on your babies.
Now that I have lived through love stronger, wider, deeper and every other “more than” adjective I have ever known, I know how not to be so hard on myself — and give myself some grace. My children are the ones who have showed me how — through my love for them. My children have taught me that through love, things beyond my understanding are possible.