Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3
Two of the most difficult tasks in mothering young children (for me at least) have been potty training and transitioning a little one from crib to “big kid bed.”
Despite having used cloth diapers and a variety of potty training methods, almost every single one of my little ones has taken three plus years to finally be fully trained. I had my first daughter a few months after my best friend from India had hers, and she convinced me that diaper-free was the way to go. She made it seem so effortless and beautiful – knowing instinctively how to be in tune with her baby girl’s needs and take care of them totally mess-free. Her baby was completely trained well before 12 months old, and all four of her littles have had similar experiences. Things did not go smoothly for Jaelah and me. Esteeming the Indian culture of diaper-free babies didn’t translate into a diaper-free reality for me. I crawled around battling terrible morning sickness (for Selah was on the way now that Jaelah was 7 months old) cleaning up mess after mess, committed to taking as many weeks as possible to make it happen because I didn’t think I could face having TWO babies in diapers. It wasn’t to be. Whatever I was doing wrong, I couldn’t seem to figure out how to get Jaelah off to a good start. Back to diapers we went. Little did I know then that I would be (unsuccessfully) potty training not one but TWO toddlers when Chavah was born 16 months after Selah. Yes, we had THREE little ones in diapers at the same time for longer than I care to admit. And then I had twins a little less than two years later. One daughter finally potty trained, and FOUR in diapers. We spent a fortune on those things before we finally were able to afford to invest in a big enough set of cloth diapers for the twins that I would only have to wash every other day. I felt like I was scrubbing poo off cloth for unbearably long hours every day, not to mention the accidents all over the house. Thank God we lived in an old house that had all wood floors by then. It made things much easier. During these diaper years, God did a deep work of humility in me. There is something so real about having to minister to the messy, unglamorous needs of little ones all day, every day. I’m embarrassed that it took me as long as it did to finally surrender to the process, not just accept that it was going to take my little ones longer than average to get the whole pottying thing down but fully embrace the season as it laid itself out before me.
Co-sleeping is awesome when nursing a newborn all night. It takes only a second to pull a biscuit into bed and snuggle in together. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize at first that I would actually get MORE rest by bringing baby into bed with me than by getting up to visit the crib across the room several times a night. Several well-meaning mamas had told me the only way to preserve my marriage was to keep the baby in her own bed from the very start. I had to be willing to get creative and determine what God wanted for me and my family, and that was tough because I carried so much guilt and a desire to please others in the early years of motherhood. I didn’t know how to stand on my own relationship with the Lord and let Him guide me. Getting baby eventually to a crib was a process in itself, but going from the crib to toddler bed was a tremendous challenge. Why? Because by this time, sleeping through the night was practically a given and I had gotten used to fewer interruptions. A contained baby isn’t out wandering the halls upstairs while she is supposed to be napping, getting into make-up drawers while I’m homeschooling the older kiddos downstairs totally unaware. A toddler with a newly minted big kid bed is curious and willing to do just about anything other than sleep. We had to move to the bed because the next toddler needed the crib while the newborn needed the co-sleeping bassinet, but we almost never were ready for the transition because it brought new struggles to the surface. It seemed like everyone ended up getting less sleep for awhile. Many disasters were quietly created before the guilty little one fell asleep face down in the middle of the floor, all 89 shelves of clothing and socks pulled out and thrown all over the bed. People who haven’t experienced the exasperation that can rise up over these kinds of endless extra little tasks added on top of the normal day’s requirements probably can laugh at how insignificant it appears to be. But let me say, the frustration is very real, and the overcoming of resentment at children who struggle to obey the simple expectations of staying in bed for rest time is a challenge for the most patient of mothers. It has been during these times of tearful discouragement that I have poured out my heart to the Lord, asking Him to remove the burden of frustration and replace it with a heart of grateful service.
I’ve only mentioned two of the struggles that have cost me a great deal emotionally on my own personal journey of submission to the high calling of motherhood. There are too many others to mention. There is no way around the breaking down of the flesh that will occur when two people make the decision to have a family. The blessings of children are too numerous to give justice to with words, but the price we will pay to experience the fruit of our labors is quite high. It is intended to be. For what value is there in something that costs us nothing to grow? Coming into this new season of potty training and big girl bed with Tirzah, our last little love, I have finally entered into a place of pure peace and contentment. I’m not being insincere when I say that I am no longer burdened by that pile of poo on the carpet. I am not disheartened by the sound of little feet pattering up and down the hall during “nap” when I’m faithfully trying to get my oldest girls through their logic lesson for the day. I no longer cry in frustration inwardly as I go upstairs to help another little soul learn how to shema multiple times during the two hour long nap time. Why? Because something has developed in me over the years and years and years of cleaning up and repeating instruction and wiping bums over and over and over again. Eric and Leslie Ludy call it tensile strength. I don’t even think the heart attitude necessarily has to be in a place of perfect posture before the Lord for this kind of strength to be developed, for I can remember multiple times when I was full of complaining instead of rejoicing. I think the strength is developed just by doing the next thing in front of us. It comes by faithfulness. One diaper at a time. One nap at a time. One sink full of dishes at a time. One math problem at a time. One alphabet letter at a time. Think about it. The tasks for the day are going to be there no matter what heart attitude we have, but the more we have a posture of surrender instead of resistance, the quicker this tensile strength is developed in us. We have a choice to make. Rejoice or complain. Trust or anger. Pleasure and delight in God’s sense of humor over those little things that are so tedious sometimes, or resentment at a husband who works all day and doesn’t notice the hundreds of little details I tried my best to take care of before he gets home. God has been showing me clearly just how fleeting this precious season of innocent childhood is. Perhaps it was losing a baby that caused me to wake up to this reality, but I have fully embraced this last push through the Potty Train Wilderness and Big Girl Bed Caverns.
We hear in Proverbs that we are to bind truth and kindness around our hearts. Kindness with my precious little ones and the others that God brings across my path. Always. Not optional. Truth – both the understanding of Who He is and how to express Him to those in my charge, and the full understanding of how significant my seemingly insignificant actions are in light of eternity.
So today, I choose to do hard things. Tomorrow, there will be more new hard things. But with each act of faithfulness, a heavenly strength is forged deep in my soul.