This past weekend my husband and I headed home from the best theological conference we have ever attended. Simply put, Mbird NYC 2016 wonderful. We ate every meal with friends, walked around New York City holding hands, and felt the profound relief of God’s Grace.

Then we came home to our kids. And they woke us up at 5am.

There was a time early on in my son’s babyhood when I realized his every move felt like it was cramping our style. We couldn’t see our friends anymore and we were spending all of our cash on Target diapers. And contrary to what everyone told me, it didn’t “get better.” He got older and had ill-informed, dogmatic opinions about things: No orange or green vegetables! I only watch Paw Patrol! I hate all babysitters!

It was a shock to my system. I don’t know what we expected when we had children. Perhaps, that they wouldn’t really be children. I think we expected verbal puppies who could eventually take piano lessons. I know what I did not anticipate. I did not think that raising a child would mean taking care of actual people who have a constant need of my attention and encouragement.

asshole parents

I write all of this because I am sympathetic to the current parenting zeitgeist. There is an entire stream of the internet right now dedicated solely to complaining about one’s own children. It is perhaps best personified in an Instagram account called simply Asshole Parents. Here is how it works: You post photos of your toddler throwing a fit and write a comment underneath like: “Didn’t let him have a second bowl of ice cream which is why I am an #assholeparent.”

Don’t get me wrong, it is kind of hilarious. Children are tempestuous beings and having some peer to peer camaraderie about their ridiculous behavior is probably healthy for all of us. Yet I worry about the things we post on the Internet hoping for hope. Because try as I might, this collective angry attitude towards our kids never really makes me feel better about parenting the ones who have been placed into my care.

Mbird writer Stephanie Phillips shared a beautiful account at the conference this weekend about what motherhood looks like through the eyes of children. It is from Kathleen Norris’ The Quotidian Mysteries. Norris writes about observing her young niece, Christina:

“My brother, Christina’s father, who is a Disciples of Christ pastor, would drive her to daycare in the morning, and her mother would pick her up after work. And every afternoon she brought Christina an orange, peeled so that the child could eat it on the way home. One day Christina was busying herself by playing “Mommy’s Office” on the front porch of our house in Honolulu, and I asked her what her mother did at work. Without hesitation, and with a conviction I relish to this day, she looked up at me and said, “She makes oranges.”

The truth of the matter is that kids don’t think their parents are assholes. Actually, most days, they appear to believe that their parents are embodied miracles. And not because we all go above and beyond or have a fantastic Pintrest account. I certainly don’t do either of those things. My experience has been that my kids think I am miraculous because I do Mama Stuff. I kiss boo-boos away and somehow manage to track down that one beloved shirt with the praying mantis on it. And on cold mornings I make them cinnamon toast. All of that makes me somehow seem magical.

newman bookLately, I’ve found my solace in a new book by Catherine Newman called Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood’s Messy Years. Newman documents the story of raising her two small children in some of their most difficult moments. But she writes about them with such generosity and grace, that she has reminded me what children are: Gifts. Smelly, sweet, funny, challenging, weird, beloved little gifts.

Newman writes about one particularly hard night with her toddler aged daughter, Birdy:

I rock this person—this half-baby, half-child—and sing to her, a ballad about Spanish leather boots because those happen to be the only lyrics I can remember right now. Birdy is struggling still and crying hard, but I try to remember that sometimes, if I’m sad or despairing, Michael, my husband, might rub my back and speak soothing words to me, and even though he might not see any change on the outside—I might appear to be wholly and despairingly unaffected by his care—inside I am comforted. And just as I’m thinking this, Birdy’s body softens in my arms and her screaming morphs into raggedly breaths with only a little bit of intermittent crying when she remembers her great Woe and Sadness. After the song ends, she sits up and asks, “Could I have a tissue, bease?,” so polite that tears spring to my eyes. And when I hand it to her, she blots at her own eyes and blows her nose, smiles at me, and says, “Sink you, Mama!”

While I love a solid commiserating laugh as much as the next person, I struggle with thinking about parenting as burdensome and trying. It gives me no relief to laughingly suggest that my children think I am an @$$hole. My kids are not difficult because they choose to be. They demand so much from me because they are tiny human beings. They want to be loved and comforted through their struggles just as much as I do. They want someone to peel them a magical orange. And I happen to be pretty decent at peeling oranges.