Grace for Those a Step Ahead or a Step Behind

{This is one of those posts that I hesitate to click "publish" on, as I don't want it to be taken as bitter anger. I just hope it can be taken as fresh honesty to preserve unity between all generations to come. No, this is not a salvation issue, but I still think it's worth mentioning. Photo by my mom, Renee Potgeter.} ***Author's Note: I updated this post after originally sharing it on August 1, 2016. I wanted to add more - especially to the "plank in my own eye" section - after receiving input from reader's comments. I love writing what I have learned, and I love learning from Readers as well!

{This is one of those posts that I hesitate to click "publish" on, as I don't want it to be taken as bitter anger. I just hope it can be taken as fresh honesty to preserve unity between all generations to come. No, this is not a salvation issue, but I still think it's worth mentioning. Photo by my mom, Renee Potgeter.}

***Author's Note: I updated this post after originally sharing it on August 1, 2016. I wanted to add more - especially to the "plank in my own eye" section - after receiving input from reader's comments. I love writing what I have learned, and I love learning from Readers as well!

I post a lot about parenting on social media. And almost every time I post something about the difficulties of parenting, I get one of these:

Enjoy every moment!

It goes by so fast!

If you think THIS part of parenting is hard, just wait!

Small children, small problems!

I’ll be honest, my initial response is usually not very Christian:

I’ll “enjoy every moment” the next time I get a full night’s rest and my toddler loosens her mighty grip on my sanity!

Enjoy every moment of menopause! It goes by so fast!

{Yup, I need Jesus daily.}

So today, I want to take a deep breath and have a civil conversation about this issue that isn't really an issue but I still want to talk about it. Including the fact that there is a large plank in my own eye when it comes to these kinds of phrases as well.

First, I want to address the “Enjoy-Every-Moment” Generation:

I hear your words that are meant to be encouraging, and I see your genuine smile and good heart behind these words. But can I be honest with you for a second? These words just about put me in my grave when I hear them. These words come across as...well...condescending, actually. And these words make me want to shout many things:

Don't you remember the sticky, sweaty, milky days when tiny beings depended on you for their very life? The days when you had no more mental capacity because you spent all the hours arguing with a tiny dictator about which color plate they wanted to eat their pb-and-j-but-no-crust sandwich from? 

You mean, on top of all the other Mom Guilt that tries to creep in each day, I need to also feel guilty that I don’t feel happy throughout every moment of motherhood?! 

I know I need to calm down a second. Even though that's how these phrases make me feel, I know your intentions aren't to make me feel that way. What my overly tired brain and my jacked up hormones keep blocking out is what you might actually mean when you say things like "small problems" or “enjoy” or “fast” after I just physically wrestled my toddler into her car seat, or after the clock decided to stop one hour before my husband got home from work.

Maybe what you actually meant was something like this?

I see you with your little kids, and it brings back fond memories of the enjoyable moments I had with my children when they were still the ages of Snuggling and Pig-Tails. Sometimes I miss those days, and someday you will miss the enjoyable moments too.

Yeah, my mind blocks out that part. All I'm able to actually hear is: You're doing it all wrong if you're not having fun! Or, Suck it up, it gets worse! 

And I don’t want you to miss what I’m saying either when I make a sarcastic joke about parenting, or when I vent to you about the difficulties of the stage I’m in.

I know I will miss having free access to the smell of a baby's head, and that precious sensation of my child falling asleep on my chest. I know I will miss all of the hilarious things my kid says between that adorable gap in her teeth. I know I will bawl like a baby when our daughter puts on a backpack and that classroom door is slammed on my face. I know I will miss a lot of the other absolutely awesome things about parenting at this stage.

And I know you have been there and that you know what you're talking about and that you are full of wisdom about life and love and the mysteries of children.

I’m just looking for a little solidarity. I just want to know that the wild variety of emotions I feel every day is close to normal. I just want you to give me a fist bump and say, “I feel ya, Sister.” I’m just looking to laugh a little so that you will never find me crying into a wine glass on the kitchen floor at 11 a.m.

I'm just trying to show you that if your goal is to try to encourage a mom of little kids, maybe a better thing to say is, "It goes by so fast, BUT...I know it's a lot of hard work too. Keep it up. You're doing great, Mama!"

Second, I want to remove the plank from my own eye:

The other day my sister-in-law said this: People often have a hard time giving grace to the people one step behind them in life. "One step behind," as in a few years younger, or in a different life stage or circumstance from their own. 

And isn't that the truth? I am so, so guilty of this too:

You think you’re “tired” because you had to wake up at 6 am this morning? Try having kids.

You think life is “hard” because you have to study for an exam? Try having kids.

You think you’re “busy” because you have to plan a wedding? Try having kids.

This is the same song as “Enjoy Every Moment,” just a different verse. And while the "Enjoy Every Moment" Generation usually isn't trying to be condescending, I usually am when I think those things. I am trying to compare my life to someone else's to try to prove which of us is suffering more, or whose circumstances are easier or "more enjoyable" than my own.

But what does it prove when I try to compare the number of kids other people have, their marital status, their income or education? How does that help?

It doesn't help to tell the high schooler to "enjoy every moment" when they are struggling to even feel comfortable in their own skin.

It doesn't help to tell the college student to "just wait until their real life begins because then they're allowed to get stressed," when they are facing a number of huge decisions all at the same time.

It doesn't help to tell the single person to "enjoy it, because these fun years go by so fast" when they deeply desire to find someone to experience a marriage kind of love with.

And so on and so forth. This kind of comparison, which usually feels condescending to the person a step behind, does not help. It does not maintain peace and unity among ourselves as the Bible says to.

Which is why we need to give grace to each other.

We need to remember that each stage of life has its own perks, yes. But each stage of life also has its own unique challenges that make us all exhausted, or busy, or stressed out at times. We all get tired, all experience our own hardships. And a lot less people are sleeping as well as we think they are. {My mom and grandma told me so.}

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. {Colossians 3:12-15}

So the next time someone looks at me with my kids and tells me to enjoy every moment because it goes by so fast, I'll use grace to bite my tongue and smile and see the good intentions behind their words. And the next time I vent about the hardships of parenting little children and I get a "If you think THIS is hard, just wait..." I'll use grace to not bite them on the shoulder. 

And maybe we can keep having honest conversations like this to figure out how each other wants to be encouraged, depending on the stage of life we're in. 

Let’s cheer each other on, no matter where we're at: young or old, single or married, with or without children. Christ said the world will know we are His disciples when we love each other.

And one way we love each other is demonstrating His grace to those a step ahead, or a step behind, or walking right next to us in a different pair of shoes.

 

Grace and Peace,
Kendra