I sat down on the curb by the water stop at mile 24 and refused to move. Big tears mixed with the sweat running down my cheeks, and it all washed into my shoes with the blood from lost toenails.
I sat down and grieved. My first marathon was not going as planned. It was so much harder mentally, physically, and emotionally than I ever imagined. It was not meeting my expectations. I had read so much about training for this day and about racing well. I talked with other runners and collected their stories of triumph and struggle. I was ready to write my own story. I ate the “right” foods, drank the “right” amount of water, trained the “right” ways, and paced myself diligently. So why couldn’t I do it? What was I doing wrong? Then I heard my husband’s words from that morning in my head: “Just don’t take your eyes off the finish line. You can’t get stuck in the difficulty of the moment. You’ve got to be looking ahead to the end goal.”
Six years later, I spend a lot less time training for marathons and a lot more time training little humans. Through tears, sweat, and blood, we went from zero kids to three kids in 26 months: two biological boys and a sister in the middle born from the incredibly long labor that is foster care. My days are certainly not the version of motherhood that I expected. No amount of reading or preparation could have kept me from going through the struggle of young motherhood. There are sleepless nights, fighting working mom guilt, correcting difficult behaviors, maintaining a healthy marriage—the list could go on and on. Parenting is work. It is the most sacred and beautiful work I’ve ever done, but hard work nonetheless. And I’ve sat down at mile 24 many times in motherhood. It’s much harder mentally, emotionally, and physically than I ever could have imagined.
Here’s what I’m learning when it comes to parenting: Just don’t take your eyes off the finish line. You can’t get stuck in the difficulty of the moment. You’ve got to be looking ahead to the end goal.
These days our little family talks a lot about the end goals. We want to raise kids with self-control and kindness for others. We want our kids to feel safe and secure in our home and in relationship with us as their parents. We want our kids to know that their big feelings and mistakes have a place at our table to be worked through without judgment or fear. We want our sons to know that when a girl says “no” with her words or her body, they’re expected to listen. We want our daughter to know that the goodness she can find in her earthly adoption pales in comparison to the goodness of the adoption when she begins her own relationship with Jesus. These things are on paper—written by my husband and me, revisited often, and practiced when we parent.
When we have the end goals in mind, misbehavior becomes a sweet opportunity to train. It’s no longer cause for a wild parental reaction, threats, or punishment. Instead, it’s a chance for us to connect with our kids, to remind them of who they are in our family, and to give them the opportunity to make things right. My son pushed his sister? I’ll hold his hands, look him in the eye and let him know: “We have no hurts in this house. God made you with kindness and gentleness. Let’s try that again!” Then I’ll give him the chance to repair the relationship, to practice expressing his needs with words, and to learn how to care for others when they’re hurting. Starting to lose self-control? I’ll walk her to the calm corner and rub her back while she takes some deep breaths and hugs a favorite teddy. All because learning to calm our body and our mind when we feel upset is the basis of self-control.
Running the marathon in parenting looks a lot like keeping my eyes on the end goals and logging the miles with my children. It would be easier on me in the moment to demand good behavior (and gosh, it’s so tempting to choose a less bloody, less sweaty route). But like it says in Proverbs 22:6, we’re training them up in the ways they should go so that when they’re older (and not under my roof), they won’t depart from it.