What Parenting Has Taught Me About My Community

As a highly relational person who cares deeply about giving people my best, my full attention and consideration, one of the scariest things about becoming a parent was knowing that a little human would almost constantly infringe upon that value. When we were preparing to take in our first foster child, who we were later able to adopt, I was nervous about a lot of things. I was 22 years old, had only been out of college for a year and a half, and felt like even though this was absolutely the right thing to do it also felt like closing the door on so many possibilities of who I could become. My intention was to stay home with her and that meant saying no (at least for that season) to a lot of other things. But it also meant that some of my deepest values about how I connect with other people would never be the same. This challenged my sense of self and my purpose.

If I might no longer be able to care for and connect with people in the way that I was known for, would I still be valuable? Would my friends still love me? Would anything else I do ever be my best if I am always distracted by the work of parenting? These are the questions that gnawed at the back of my mind as we prepared to become parents and in the initial weeks after our little one moved in. To be honest, these are the questions that still nag at me.

Over the last two years of parenting, I’m coming to realize that while my role as a parent will undoubtedly impact my ability to focus on conversations and connect with others, it also strengthens me and the relationships I have with others. Parenting has exposed some of the deepest darkness and lies in me, but with so much grace, the Lord has brought healing and growth in me that has enabled to be a kinder friend and more patient person. As much as parenting has taken from me, it has given me so much more. But even if that were not true, it would still be the absolutely right thing to do. The clearest indicator of whether or not we are following our calling in obedience is not whether or not we are fulfilled or challenged. It’s whether or not we’re doing what we’re called to do. The work of parenting and I would guess many other forms of work, come with seasons of great fulfillment and a sense of purpose, but also with seasons of frustration, dismay, and loss. The measure of our obedience is not on our emotional response to the work we are doing. If that were the case, the average parent’s obedience would be all over the place--parenting is a roller coaster!

I am learning so much through parenting. I can confidently say becoming a parent has given me a greater love for others, a depth of patience I did not know I had, and a softness and curiousness toward others that is allowing me to better love others. But parenting isn’t just some grand, informal-educational experience. As a Christian, it is my responsibility to raise the children I’m given in such a way that points them and others to Jesus. This plays out in the way that I learn to discipline, celebrate, potty train, and read books with my kid(s). This also plays out in the way I relate to my community now. Parenting has forced me to allow my community to show up for me even when I can no longer be the same focused and caring friend that I was before I was a parent. Parenting has shown a light on the darkness of my self-reliance and met that darkness with the soft warmth of community that rallies around me in the extraordinary and the mundane.

I am a dangerously independent and self-reliant person. At my worst, I build up boundaries and walls that keep me from needing others. This also allows me to maintain the role of supporter and caregiver in my relationships which makes me feel important and secure. Parenting has made it so difficult to keep up those walls and has pushed me to depend on my people in a whole new way. Just a couple weeks ago I was trying to plan a time to hang out with two of my best friends and had to tell them that I could really only hang out at my house in the evenings because I needed to be home while Addie was sleeping. In general, I prefer to be the person who bends and shifts and makes things work at the convenience of others rather than myself. It’s not as noble as it sounds, but it’s my default. As I apologized for being tied down by my child, my sweet friend Lydia said, “Shelby, your babe is our babe and we love her and you.” What a gift Lydia gave me just by saying that and actually meaning it. Having friends who have supported me as a parent by babysitting, coming to my house to hang after bedtime, and just by having grace with me as I’m often distracted while having conversations, has been instrumental in the work God is doing in breaking down my walls and my idolatry of self-reliance.

Becoming a parent at 22 when most of my friends weren’t even married yet, much less considering children, brought some loneliness with it. It has challenged my sense of self and my ability to care for people as I think I ought. I’m confident that parenting has infringed upon my ability to care for my friends, listen to them well, and give them the attention they want and deserve. I know that must hurt them sometimes, and I hate that. I also know these people love me and know my role as a parent is an important part of my calling. My friends have given me the gift of being supportive of the work God is calling me to do while being cared for, known, and loved even when I cannot give them my best. I still regularly get frustrated by how difficult it can be to focus on a conversation when my friends come over for breakfast, but I’m seeing so clearly the kindness of the Lord who shapes and encourages me with a community that knows Him and loves me. The funny thing about parenting as a Christian is that it is like being shown a mirror all day every day that you are not as good or capable or kind as you’d like to think. In that same mirror, if you look closely, you see the care of the Father for you on even your worst days and you’ll see the Holy Spirit equipping and enabling you for the work before you. Parenting has shown me so much, but in this season I am so thankful for the grace and kindness of my community that tolerates (and sometimes even celebrates) the interruptions of my daughter, showing her and me the love of Jesus.