The first eight months of our youngest son’s life epitomized uncertainty to me. I rocked a baby against my chest every night, a solid fragile weight pressed next to my heart, not knowing if I would ever be able to call him “son.” It was the riskiest version of love I’d ever known. As every adoptive parent knows, a mother’s heart cannot be fenced in by legal titles.
Each time we braced ourselves to walk into a courtroom or an intimidating meeting with legal counsel, every time we sat by the phone waiting hours for any kind of hope, or on the desperately long days without any new information–each time, my husband grabbed my hand, squeezed it tightly, and said, “To the brink, Mama.”
To the brink.
I don’t know if there are any words he has said to me in our 13 years of marriage that have encouraged me more. He verbalized the solidarity we felt in facing the mountain in front of us together. Whatever happened next, we were in this. We were in this. It bolstered my fragile courage. It helped to strengthen my resolve, to quiet my very physical trembling, to toughen me up mentally for whatever we’d meet on the other side of the doors, the phone, the email.
To the brink.
Because really, in all of parenting, this is what we’re pledging ourselves to: we’re in this until the very end.
When that new baby is placed in your arms–whether you birthed him, adopted her, fostered them–when your eyes light on that face for the first time, you’re in. You’re all the way in. This parenting thing is a promise to go to the brink, no matter what. No matter the heartaches that lie ahead as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, the fears that hide in every corner, the illnesses that surprise everyone. The fragility and resilience of someone’s childhood is yours to fight for.
Some stories might look a little like ours; most will not. We may be at different points on the map of parenting, but with every varied and nuanced challenge in raising children comes a uniquely mixed bag of fears, hopes, and hurts.
We’re in this, parents. To the brink.
To the parents with a houseful of preschoolers, toddlers, and babies: you look at each other in the evenings with shadowed eyes, afraid you’ll never sleep again. In a continual caffeinated hangover you trip over toys on the way to bed and collapse with fatigue, knowing that someone’s waking up in an hour or two. Or quite possibly in the next ten minutes. The joy and laughter provided by your little ones are sweet and precious commodities, but sometimes the glow of what’s good gets overshadowed by the sheer exhaustion you feel every day when the last one is finally tucked in. Look at each other, Mom and Dad. Grab one another’s hands before you turn out the light tonight. To the brink.
To the parents who are navigating teenagers through the years of rebellion and angst: hold fast to the Lord who loved you through your own rebellion. Your children’s sin is not a reflection of who you are as a person or a parent. When Jesus saved you, your sin did not characterize Him. But, later His grace characterized you. Your rebellious teenagers are feeling out boundaries and wrestling to find their own identity, and sometimes that comes with heartbreakingly stupid decisions. The consequences are often both painful and deserved. You’re in the trenches right now. Be strong together. Love hard. Be present. To the brink.
To the single parent who’s doing this on your own: you amaze me. I honestly don’t understand how you do it. Under the best of circumstances, you’ve got a beautifully difficult job. But under the most difficult of circumstances you’ve got financial strain because you daily have to decide whether to be the breadwinner or the parent and you want to be both. You have to be both. All of the worry you hold by yourself. You’re wearing all the hats at once. You lie awake at night and question every decision you make for your children because you’re making them alone. You’re never off duty. But you’re strong because you have Someone stronger than you to rely on. You’re not alone. Hold His hand, and press on. To the brink.
To the parents whose child is sick: you walk a wearisome, scary road. We see you advocate for your child at the hospital with treatments that deplete your child of their health and personality in an attempt to get well. You’re regularly researching, fighting with insurance companies and bill collectors. You’d trade places with your kid in a moment. But you can’t. So you comfort and console, and you pretend to be stronger than you are so that your baby can find rest in your arms. You’ll swallow your fears and theirs. No one really has to remind you–to the brink.
To the parents of children with special needs: we also know that you will go to the brink no matter what. You are an advocate, a parent, a therapist, a friend, a defender, a spokesperson, a teacher. You are their voice when they cannot speak for themselves. You are worn out. You never stop wondering if you’ve done enough for your child. The Lord’s mercies are new for you every day. Draw strength from Him. Love freely. Love long. Love loud. To the brink.
To the parents who waited long for their children: it’s okay to complain about the sleepless nights. It’s okay to need a break once in a while. You’re scared to admit that this is harder than you thought, and you feel like people will judge you for wanting to verbalize that because you asked for this. Ignore what others say and know this: you’re a parent, too, and waiting long for your kids doesn’t negate the fact that parenting is hard. To the brink.
To the parents who had to travel across a state, country, or ocean to become parents: you fought long for this. You had to make the decision to become a parent over and over and over again–with every document, home visit, legal hoop, and travel plan. And now you’re getting up every morning with a child who comes from a hard place, and you have to figure out what to do to make today safely normal. You’re not alone. To the brink.
To the foster parents whose front door is a revolving one: you are my heroes. You make your home a safe place for children who desperately need it. You advocate for children that don’t get to really belong to you. Whether long term or short, you are showing the lavish love of God to a child who needs to be filled with it. You attach and bond while you parent these children, you hurt and grieve when they leave. You secretly hope that maybe one day you can hold on to this one forever. Or that one. You may have a placement without enough notice to even prepare a bedroom. But you do it anyway, rolling with whatever punches present themselves. You’re in this. To the brink.
To the parents who’ve lost their children: we see and acknowledge your grief. Maybe you’ve buried a child. You walk the road we all fear the most. You’re always a parent to your child, no matter what. You’re still in this because the memory of your child will always be. Maybe you’ve made long term decisions for your children’s future that don’t involve your daily presence. Maybe you have a severed relationship with a grown child. I can’t encapsulate every form of loss, but I do know this: loss is loss however it’s dressed, and grief is hard. You’re in this. To the brink.
I can picture specific families that I know in every single scene. Multiple families. That’s a heavy and compelling thought to me because I bet you can, too. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are a retailer’s brain child, probably. But these days are good for taking a step back from whatever is discouraging us about parenting right now and remember that our kids are gifts, entrusted to us for such a brief window of time.
Because it really is a brief window.
A breath of childhood, a whisper of growing up years.
When the Lord hung on a cross to pay for your sins, He did it willingly, and He was in—all the way in. He went to the brink and beyond to rescue us from darkness. Nobody else loves you like that. Think of how deep the Father’s love is for us, and draw from that vast and bottomless well when you stand at the precipice of whatever difficult, scary, annoying, fearful, hopeful, joyful, rebellious, hurtful stage is next in parenting.