I was told that going from two kids to three was the most difficult jump in parenting. At that point, you’re playing zone defense against a team with more players. If you can survive that, you can add as many as you want. Just throw an extra crowd into the burgeoning crowd of children. That’s what people told me.
Those people were lying to make me feel better.
The jump from three children to four has been far more difficult than I could have anticipated. Apparently, I am a man who can handle three children.
To repeat: I have four children.
I have exceeded my natural limitations. Almost daily, I have been reminded how true this is. I come home and my atomic-energy-fueled two-year old son is careening around the house in laughter/maniacal deviousness/rage-tantrums/emotional meltdowns fueled by hunger. Occasionally, all of them at once, which, I know, doesn’t seem possible. My daughters independently have pressing questions that must be answered immediately. That, or they have to point out the piece of candy that I have hidden from said psychopathic two-year old, which he feeds off of to redouble his efforts. While this mayhem is happening, my newborn is screaming because… well… just because. And she’s a quiet, nice newborn. But they all have this sense for The Moment.
The Moment is when my insides are coming apart at the seams and I have nowhere to turn for shelter. At that very Moment, I am also in charge of being a father to these four beings. This is The Moment. Maximum demand. Minimum competency.
Children are wonderful and can make you happier than just about anything or anyone else. But I was made with a natural capacity for three children.
I repeat: I have four children.
In some sense, The Moment is what parenting is all about. The Moment is also what marriage is all about. What life is all about. The Moment is hard and can absolutely break you. It will break you.
The response for many people is to avoid The Moment. Just don’t put yourself in that position where you reach that breaking point. Or medicate yourself away from The Moment, either with legal drugs or illegal drugs or experiences. Or sit in counseling and try to work out what it means. Probably the most common of the above is avoidance. More and more people my age are avoiding marriage and family precisely because it’s hard. “It’s just not for me. I like my/our life as it is.”
Make no mistake: Having kids will break you. Getting married will break you. Deep and lasting friendship will do the same, if you invest in them.
What I’ve realized these last weeks with four kids is that my own limitations and faults are nearly uncountable. Now, this is entirely disgusting. I don’t like these moments when I’m aware of how deeply flawed I am. But I’ve also realized that these moments are very, very good for me. I need these times where I am told by my screaming two year old and my chatty daughters that I very deeply want the world to revolve around me.
Newsflash for all readers: The world does not revolve around me. And it doesn’t revolve around you either (sorry if I spoiled the story for you).
What I am bumping into in my Moment with my chaotic world on fire around me is… the truth. The truth is that sometimes I want to scream because my kids will not do things my way, which has nothing to do with any objective standard of how things should be. I just want them to do it my way. I am often staring at my screaming two year old and thinking/feeling (sometimes doing?) the exact same thing for just about the same exact reason. And I get even more furious because I see myself as a giant toddler who has all the rage and none of the cuteness.
I want my kids to do the right thing, the wise thing and I am so, so chastened by how many times I have had to apologize to them and to their mother. I hate apologizing. Being right is kind of my thing. Apologizing means I was wrong. I hate being wrong. I hate lowering myself.
Sometimes, my kids wants me to play games and read silly books. I hate being silly. Do you know why? I hate looking foolish. I hate the idea that someone may be watching and may laugh at me. You know why? Because I am addicted to the thought that people will respect me and think much of me. I am a poser, in other words. I’m faking respectability. I am lying about how worthy of respect I am even as I wrap up a lecture to my five-year-old about how she shouldn’t lie and make up stories for attention so she will be respectable.
This is all stuff on the other side of The Moment.
Four kids make me have The Moment again and again and again. Operating beyond my competency is exposing all these weaknesses.
And this is why it’s probably so good for me to have four kids instead of three.
I am far too willing to believe my silent narrative that I am a god, worthy of acquiescence at all times. You should give way to me on the road. You should behave like I expect. You should do things my way, on my schedule, to my liking. Every time. I am very willing to believe this.
But The Moment pushes me out of fairy-tale, self-delusion land and into reality. I am a mere mortal with limits and limited control of what’s around me. I am basically a giant toddler who throws fits. I strut and pose and pretend that no one knows that I’m lying the whole time. Did I mention I throw fits?
And more than anything, The Moment teaches me that I need grace. I need so much goodness given to me that I so do not deserve. I am a broken and sinful man who needs people to treat me far better than I deserve. I can tell myself a thousand times that I do not believe that I am just like the people I judge. Having four kids teaches me that I’m right: I’m actually worse.
These past few weeks, I have been able to see my son’s gaping mouth and crocodile tears and breathe deep through my rage and say, “I know how you feel, buddy. Me too.” And I have to give him grace as much as I can because I know that I need more grace than I’m giving. I’ve had to honestly confess my faults and failures to my kids, admitting that I am not omnipotent, divine, or even really all that good. The Moment has broken me again and again to be reminded me how deeply I need repair.
The Moment is about me being exposed. And The Moment of absolutely insanity has been about Jesus. Jesus being present in my failure. Jesus reminding me that He’s better than me and He can manage my failures. Jesus reminding me that He has unlimited stores of grace. Every time I think I’ve blown it beyond repair or that I am so depressed by my insufficiency, Jesus gets to tell me again and again that He is the Repairer, He is Enough.
I cannot handle four kids. I cannot handle The Moment.
So Jesus has me right where He wants me. He’s got me. Teaching me this message for years on end. I am not enough. I need Him. And He has more than enough grace for me.
I’m so thankful I have four kids. I can’t handle them. And I’m so thankful for that. I’m thankful that Jesus can handle me, the giant toddler. My Moment with Him won’t break Him like it does me. I’m thankful for that.
But also, yeah. I’m thankful that my vasectomy is in a few weeks. I’m thankful for these moments, but I’m not a crazy person. Well… mostly.