Grace, Both Ways

by Andrea Mowery
Originally Published: 

I remember being a new mom, listening to well-meaning parents of older kids who longed to talk about their own child-rearing days or offer advice on how to ease my own experience. I knew I’d be where they were eventually, but sometimes, their comments stung. My pride and exhaustion would get the best of me and I’d brush them off, mildly offended.

Now, on this side of parenting, I know how hard it is to be a seasoned parent and not share your own experience with newer parents. You want to share. As part of the sisterhood, you have a strong need to share.

When I hear a mother of young children lament about the various trials she experiences with her small progeny, I refrain from commenting “things will get easier” or “I’m glad those years are over” or “that sounds like a lot of work!” I realize these comments might not be taken well.

It is a natural reaction, when on the far side of a challenge, to express relief to be out of it and give advice to those going through it.

My rose-colored memories of the sweetest years of parenting are fresh; gone are blurred nights of continually interrupted sleep, tear-filled arguments about bath time, and the very real feelings of being threatened by the irrational whims of a screaming, wriggling, diaper-clad terrorist. As a so-called seasoned mom, when listening to these familiar stories from newer mothers, I want to exclaim, “It will get better! Have you tried…”

But instead, I bite my tongue.

I refrain because these comments are not supportive, as they are intended. They come across as “you’re doing it wrong” and “I’m glad I’m not you.” Those aren’t the words—or the thoughts—actually expressed, but the message behind them seems to come out that way. I remember hearing this message as a frazzled new mom, even when the words weren’t said.

Complementary spirits of relating and nostalgia drive experienced moms to say: “Been there, Mama. It’s tough. You’ll get through it.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I also can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief that the hard parts of that time are over for me, but what’s most important is keeping that sigh of relief to myself.

On the flip side, mothers of young children and babies may regard my own stage of parenting and say, “I don’t even want to think about the teen years. Teenagers today! They have mustaches and boobs! Scary!”

My mind fights against the perceived slight: They’re still my kids—my babies! Just because kids get older doesn’t mean they turn into aliens, I think to myself. As good as the early years are, these are good years too, despite the hurdles. These are the years when you get to discuss big ideas with them and you get to really know your children as people. I want to explain and inform, and before I know it, I mentally wave my hand in the air—oh, well, this new mom will understand someday—and the words slip out of my mouth before I have the chance to bite down on them: “Just wait.”

Old moms and new moms roll their collective eyes and wave each other away in the spirit of defending our own just-right practices, practices that are as unique as we are.

A new mom may dismiss my children and stage of parenting just as I may dismiss hers. While she takes offense to my question about why her kids don’t sleep in their own beds, she judges my parenting decision of allowing my preteen to wear lipstick and my teen to play first-person shooter games.

When we judge each other, the link between us weakens. Our tribal connection is threatened by in-fighting. The truth is that my babies were like hers, once. And someday, hers will be like mine.

In truth, there is no room for condescension. We are both equally important warriors on the same battlefield, just a decade apart. Her battles are not harder-won, just as my triumphs are not more significant. We need to practice grace.

I need to realize that just like me, she is doing the best she can with what she was given in her time of life and in the culture she lives. I support her by listening and showing interest in how she is raising her babies. She can do the same with me, and in this way, we will learn grace from each other.

For me, I have learned, sometimes grace is as simple as biting my tongue.

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