Before I married, I had three theories about raising children and no children. Now, I have three children and no theories. John Wilmot Parenting can be so hard. Hard in a gut- wrenching, I didn’t know what I signed up for, crawl back into bed and hide under the covers kind of way. Sometimes, it’s even hard in a hit the pillow and cry myself to sleep kind of way. At least it has been for me. This is certainly not the case every day. I have had some amazingly spontaneous moments of utter joy and sweet days of simple contentment with my children. But for more moments than I like to admit, I have felt overwhelmed and under prepared. I have used this word picture: I am standing in the middle of the battlefield, enemy combatants approaching, and no one told me it was time to get my armor on. I think what shocked me was how quickly it got hard. I was naive, I admit. I knew the baby stage could be hard, in that always-tired-always-needed-never-a-moment-to-myself kind of way. I knew that the teenager/young adult stages could be hard. But I honestly thought that elementary years were the years of nothing more challenging than cleaning glitter glue off the kitchen table, or filling out streams of permission slips and making sure they look like they have a caring adult in their life (who properly dresses them for the weather) when they get on the bus. But, as it happens, at least in my family, it has been a lot more challenging than that. Our children are precious to me. And they are (biased opinion here) bright, beautiful, and kind, each in a unique way. And as I write this, I am mindful of the need to protect them, yet be honest and say that they are also capable of making really poor choices and of breaking my heart. Maybe the specifics aren’t important. Maybe someone reading this could fill in their own blanks. I will say that fashion, fitting in, manipulative behavior in friendships, and “girl drama” seem to have crept into the life of my daughter much sooner than I expected. My sons are blissfully unaware of some of these pitfalls, but all of them have tripped over questionable choices in friendships, hurt feelings, deceptive behavior, and, how do I put this, less than stellar verbal reviews of our parenting skills. On the harder days, my internal critic says “Maybe no one else struggles like this and I have a particularly “bad batch” on my hands. Or maybe, despite our best efforts, we just have not been effective parents. We stink at this.” I have to admit these self doubts creep in and it takes a special kind of strength to fend them off. Again, I feel like I am engaged in a battle. But when I examine the facts I come up with three solid truths that arm me for this battle. The first truth is that I love my children with a deep fierce love I didn’t even know existed until I gave birth. I will fight for them until I lose strength. Sometimes this means advocating for them when I feel they have been unfairly treated or hurt. These are the “mamma bear” moments, and I’ve had a few. Sometimes it means digging in deep with them to pull out the weeds of wrong in their hearts and minds. When I do this, I do it with the hope that they see that no matter what, I am here. I am going to go through this with them. I am not going anywhere. The second truth is that I am not alone. I have an incredible husband who is the exact right father for each one of our children, and who is humbly and diligently honing his parenting skills every day. Beyond that, I have this host of amazing adults involved in my children’s lives, some directly, and some through patient and consistent prayer. The third truth is that through each challenge, disappointment, discouragement, and heartache, my character and their characters are being formed. We are being stretched as we struggle and strain through these moments. I firmly believe that there is the promise of these more challenging moments being recycled into beauty and strength. They are in process, and so am I. Parenting can be so hard. But it can also be so incredibly life transforming. And so with every tear, with every sigh, with every eye roll, with every hug, with every apology, with every misspelled note of love, somewhere inside of me I utter the faintest whisper of gratitude. These children are mine. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.