We’re living in Iowa for the fall, so of course the kids and I have been out hiking in this wonderful Midwest countryside, learning all about Iowa plants, especially prairie grass. Prairie grass can grow higher than my ten year old’s head, but even more remarkably, its root systems are three times as big as what you see above the ground!
As my kids were sketching away in their nature journals, I reflected on how these deep prairie grass roots are similar to the roots I’m investing in my kids’ lives each day. You usually can’t see the literal blood, sweat, and tears that I put into my children, morning, noon, and night, but that doesn’t mean that the unseen, mundane mothering is not essential for the visible flourishing. When you see my tall, happy, healthy ten year old boy who is helping boost his little sister up to drink out of the drinking fountain or who quickly goes and rounds up everyone’s coats while I’m saying my last goodbyes at church, I see the thousands of hours of reading, playing, and snuggling together that I’ve invested so that our relationship is one of security and deeply felt love. I see the hundreds of times I’ve had to follow through with consequences when he hasn’t immediately obeyed me, training him that we obey “right away, all the way, and with a cheerful heart.” I see all the sibling squabbles when I’ve had to drop everything I was doing and referee, sometimes for hours, and the extra time I’ve invested in making sure that he doesn’t just obey me and share with his sisters, but that I actually reach his heart and help him see how important it is that he see those three little girls as precious gifts, not just inconvenient pests. I see the times that he’s down on himself for failing again and I have to speak words of encouragement and praise for the progress he’s made in other areas. Anyone who has helped their child overcome a sinful tendency knows just how often our attention and assistance are essential to this little person with an immortal soul. Even as I’ve sat and typed out this paragraph, I’ve had to pause about six times for a parenting investment!
We full-time mothers often struggle to articulate what is so wrong about those working mom blog posts that insist they do everything we do—and put in 50 hours a week at the office, too. Such a comparison is ridiculous, of course, because it’s only focusing on the visible things (yes, we all feed our children dinner and drive them to soccer practice) and pretending that a human soul can be adequately tended merely on evenings and weekends. It’s like comparing two plants, both which grow to ten feet tall, without noting that one has roots that will hold it secure in a thunderstorm while the other is rooted so shallowly that anyone can come along and pull it up. If you’re on a nature hike with a two year old who has managed to push her stroller over the side of a hill dropping 30 feet into a ravine, which kind of plant would you want her to encounter on the way down? In our case, catastrophe was averted for both toddler and stroller because the deep roots of the prairie grass held fast and stopped her close enough to the top for us to hoist her back up. Deep roots are important, even though you can’t see them.
If you are a new mom holding a baby who is sleeping or crying most of the time, and you don’t see that producing breastmilk or mixing up a bottle is building any roots, think of the security and nurture that you are giving your child with skin-to-skin contact, gazing into each other’s eyes, knowing each other’s smells and sounds and facial expressions. As a certified foster parent, I can tell you countless stories of kids who don’t have that bond in their early weeks and months and struggle to adapt for the rest of their lives.
If you are a mom in the trenches with two or more little people, plus a baby, wearing spit up on your shirt and reaching into your purse for your wallet and pulling out a sippy cup instead, don’t let the world tell you that you’re wasting your talents or (strangely, often simultaneously) that your company is not enough for your child. The kind of socialization your preschoolers need is not a room full of other three year old narcissists overseen by one or two unrelated childcare professionals (no matter how sweet). Your little people need to know how they fit into a family unit, the basis of community, and they need to be cared for by an adult who loves them and who will never stop loving them or praying for them to grow into men and women of integrity and faith. There are many important jobs out there, but nothing is more important than the tending of a human soul.
If you are a homeschooling mom like Anna and Bethany and me, don’t measure yourself by your failures (as opposed to the homeschooling supermom you follow on Instagram). And if you haven’t noticed, we can’t do it all, either. Notice that we’re not doing much blogging anymore? Our own housefuls of students are keeping us busy. Repent openly to your children when you lose your temper, ask the same of them, and remember that each new day is a new chance for you and your kids to grow in self control and diligence. Don’t let yourself think that nothing was accomplished because “all” you did today was math, spelling, and reading aloud. Even if your kids need a calculator and spell check when they’re adults, they won’t forget the comfort of snuggling on the couch, reading Farmer Boy or Charlotte’s Web or The Hobbit. You’re the primary influence shaping their tastes and aspirations, and you know better than anyone else when they need a read-aloud day (and when they just need to buckle down and do their Latin and drill their math facts and finish that writing assignment). You are the world’s leading expert on your child.
Go tend those roots!