Parenthood

It’s Not You, It’s Me: A Message to My Children

If there is anything indisputably true about the human condition, it’s that no relationship is flawless. We can’t always treat each other well. We can’t always meet each other’s needs and expectations.

The relationship between a mother and her children should be the closest one to purity. We are joined like nothing else can be. You are mine as much as I am yours. A mother and her Son were the only two people to live in this world without stain. But even their bond was not without pain.

In fact, there is much pain between us. The day we meet is, by its very nature, both exuberant and excruciating. The weeks and months after are not much easier. You need me so, and I can’t give you everything your tiny heart desires without also giving away pieces of myself. Eventually those pieces add up, and I feel lost. I find myself angry, or annoyed, or simply quite tired. Sometimes those weak moments come out of nowhere—when I wish I could sit down and eat a meal in peace. Sometimes they come in the middle of what I consider a battle between us—when you just won’t sleep, and I just can’t breathe. Really, though, there should be no battles.

My precious babies, I must tell you a difficult truth: I am woefully inadequate to be your mother. My patience is too thin and my head is too big. Please know that this frustration is my shortcoming and never, never yours. You are delightful and innocent and all things good. I am weak, and it isn’t your fault.

Please know that it’s not you—it’s me.

The times I come to your room, frustrated and less than gentle, and ask you “Why can’t you just sleep?!”—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

The times I cry as you cry, begging “Please, please, just stop”—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

The times I sigh an exasperated sigh at another stinky diaper or uneaten meal—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

The times I seem to prefer my phone or a little solitude over your need for cuddles and warmth—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

Sometimes I need a little space. Sometimes, though I always love you, I find it hard to be physically attached to you. Sometimes my feelings—and yours—are so intense that they scare me. But that’s not your fault. It’s mine.

I hope that you know, despite these moments, that I love you with my whole soul. I hope that you know that you are the utmost blessing and the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. I hope that you know that my love, second only to God’s, is the one you can count on for as long as the clock ticks.

What I need to remember, each and every day, is that your smile is a miracle. The way you—even when I’m at the end of my rope and wish I could just sit down for five uninterrupted minutes—look upon my face with relief and comfort is a gift from you to me. I’m deeply sorry that I don’t always acknowledge that gift. I’m sorry that my goodness doesn’t match yours. Years of selfishness and independence have spoiled me into thinking that my time is my own, but it never was. Time belongs to none of us. But the love that you offer me each day, without thinking, does settle into my heart in the quiet moments. Please know that I adore you in return, though I’m not very good at expressing it sometimes.

When you show me your little grin during yet another nighttime feeding, I am rejuvenated. When you roll for the first time because you were looking for me, I am humbled. When you reach for me because you hurt, I am soothed. When you cling to me because you are hungry or frightened or confused, I am strengthened. And when you stare in wonder at my exhausted face, I feel beautiful. These are the moments that return all those little pieces of me tenfold—the moments when you give me more than I could ever give you. Every part of you reminds me of my purpose. Though I fail, each and every day, to embrace it, you are my greatest vocation.

Your Daddy and I helped make you with love and wonder. We awaited you with the liveliest awe. We care for you with the elation of two people whose joy has literally joined in the creative spirit of God. So while I may lack the devotion and selflessness to remember in each moment that you are the most precious part of my life, even as you live your whole life knowing that I am your favorite, please know that it’s not you—it’s me.

It’s me who forgets. It’s you who reminds me, day in and day out, what a delight our family truly is.

Please forget my weakness and remember my adoration. The love of our family is the most profound truth I know.

You can always come to me. I will always be on your side. And while you may hear words of untruth, of unkindness, of unwelcome from the marred world around us, please always remember these words from the mother who conceived, carried, birthed, cared for, and loved you always: You are precious. You are a gift. And you are always, always loved.

My husband and I practice NFP. Now you know.

Pop quiz: What’s number one on the list of FAQs encountered by virtually every newlywed couple ever?

“So, are you planning on having kids?”

Bingo. All of us hear it. Even though it can get irksome from time to time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our families asking about it. For some of them, it’s something akin to “Are we there yet?” They’re excited to hear the pitter-patter of little feet and see a little bundle at the next family gathering. Who isn’t?

Plus, it gives me hope. The fact that building a family of happy, well-loved children is still foundational to marriage—and the logical next step—is encouraging. Because that means family still matters.

Like anyone, Erik and I do our best to answer this question honestly, discreetly, and without awkwardness. Our children, after all, will be neighbors, friends, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren to these people. It takes a village.

But there’s something tricky about our answer that, if I’m honest, I could do a better job of addressing. And when I say “tricky,” I don’t mean “crazy” or “questionable.” I mean “misunderstood” and, often, “looked down upon.”

Natural family planning is hard for me to talk about. That’s partly because it’s hard to make people understand. Frankly, though, it’s also because I always expect to be judged. And the more I think about that, the more it bothers me—because, in my heart of hearts, I know there’s nothing crazy or questionable about it, and I know the people asking won’t react that way.

Typically, I’ll only barely discuss it with immediate family and virtually no one else. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Relative: “So, are you and Erik planning on having kids anytime soon?”

Me: “We definitely plan to have a family, but not right away. For now, we’re happy just enjoying each other as husband and wife.”

Erik and I are not shy about practicing our faith, nor are we shy about our efforts to adhere to the Church’s teachings. Maybe for that reason, I often get a really specific follow-up right about now. It’s typically accompanied by a skeptical look and mild concern.

Relative: “Well, are you doing anything to prevent it?”

And there’s the kicker. This is when I have to decide how deep I’m willing to get into the topic in that moment. Ultimately, I take one of two (very weak) approaches: vagueness or avoidance.

Me: “Yes, we’re being purposeful about it”  or “Yes, but nothing artificial.”

That’s the phrase I always use: “Nothing artificial.” And, usually, the relative will nod quietly and change the subject, or ask me a follow-up or two. (Examples: Does it work? Isn’t that rhythm method way out of style? Doesn’t that mean you can’t have sex?)

I’m a little ashamed to tell you that the conversation has never gotten much farther than that, unless I’m discussing it with someone I know is also practicing NFP, or at least in agreement with it. That’s because I’m afraid of judgment. And that shame is on me—not on the person who’s asking.

I should be excited to tell them how well it’s working for Erik and me, how close it keeps us, and how effectively it has helped us keep our lines of communication open. I should tell them how much better I understand my femininity and my fertility because of it. I should readily bring up all of the statistics I know by heart, all of the evidence, and the science behind the methodology we use. And, above all, I shouldn’t hesitate to bring my catechism into the conversation and talk about the most important question of all: why we do it. But I’m not that brave, and I am nervous.

For me, it’s pretty easy to be married. It’s easy to practice what I believe in private, with the support and close partnership of my husband. But sometimes it’s hard to bring that into the full light of day. And it’s hard not to worry about what other people will think.

So I’ll consider this my “debut” as an NFP user and advocate—even if it’s only in my circle of friends and family. I’ll keep talking about here, and I’ll try to be better in one-on-one conversations, too. Ask me about it. And don’t let me avoid giving you a genuine answer.

nfp-pro family