In the last couple of weeks we have seen quite a lot of change in our infant. She is finally getting up on her knees to crawl instead of doing her “commando drag.” She is pulling up to a standing position and happily standing for a while. She is trying and enjoying new solid foods, showing much more dexterity and ability than I had imagined. And this week, she is slowly easing off of breastmilk. After some early problems with weight gain, the doctors had me start giving her expressed milk to encourage more consumption. Once that began, she quickly decided she liked bottles better. And so for the last year I have been expressing milk for her to eat.
Many people have shown shock when they realize I put up with pumping that long. What I knew from our first child is that, in some ways, producing milk has been the one expression of parenting that has felt purely good for me. In all my other parenting efforts, I regularly feel like a failure – not being a consistent and effective disciplinarian, not being creative and fun-loving enough, not knowing how to answer the hard questions. But producing milk, which luckily my body does quiet easily, was the one thing that I could do that was good and pure, and to me, felt holy.
Looking back, I know my feelings are a little irrational. My ability to produce milk for a year does not make me a better parent any more than my challenges make me a bad parent. The truth is that producing milk for so long is probably the only thing that I will ever be able to control when it comes to parenting. Once that contribution is over, the rest of my journey with my daughter is going to be a series of wonderful successes and terrible failures. And that is the nature of relationships between parents and children.
In many ways, I suppose that is how our relationship with God is too. We have very little, if any, control over the relationship, and most of the time we will feel like failures in the relationship. It will be messy, hard, and sometimes discouraging. But there will also be wonderful moments of grace, joy, and laughter. The trick is agreeing to stay in the relationship, even when we do not feel like we are very good at it. And quite frankly, God has that whole unconditional love thing down way better than most of us as parents or children do. So hang in there, keep up the good work, and don’t take it all too seriously. Happy Lent!