“It’s just a season.”
I heard that phrase tossed around by other mothers all the time after I had children. Its intent was to convey the fleeting nature of the various woes and sacrifices we endure in the name of parenting; to give hope that this, too, shall pass.
Haven’t slept a full night in months? “It’s just a season.”
No date night with your spouse since Junior arrived? “It’s just a season.”
Can’t finish a book longer than Green Eggs and Ham? “It’s just a season.”
Excercise? HA! “It’s just a season.”
Feeling conflicted/stressed/embittered about work/life balance? “It’s just a season.”
I started using the phrase, too, because I believed it. Once you’ve survived your first child’s newborn stage, you do see how quickly things change. The self-denial that’s necessary in early parenting (like not showering for a week, the better to constantly hold your newborn) evaporates once your toddler can play by herself — and the next thing you know, you’re putting her on a school bus that whisks her away for 7 hours a day.
Hope is important. During the first years of parenting, sometimes it’s all you’ve got.
However, now that I’m a new parent again for the fourth time, I’ve been doing the math. If we consider the first five years of a child’s life “that season” — the time during which we’re most likely required to put our own plans and desires on hold — then from the birth of my first child until the moment I put my fourth child onto the school bus, 11 years will have elapsed. Eleven years is not “a season;” 11 years is more than a decade, more than a quarter of my life-to-date.
This scares me, because lately I’ve noticed that I’ve been using “It’s just a season” to justify what might charitably be called “complacency” — and what might truthfully be called “laziness.”
So, I’m not as involved in the community, in volunteering, in helping others as I might like? “It’s just a season.”
So, I’m terrible at keeping in touch with friends who live elsewhere? “It’s just a season.”
So, I have all these creative ideas percolating but all I can manage is to write a couple of 900-word blog posts a week? “It’s just a season.”
So, we used to dream about traveling the globe with our children, but we haven’t been more than 3 hours from home in almost 4 years? “It’s just a season.”
This is intended neither as an underhanded way of fishing for compliments, nor as an overhanded smack to anybody who doesn’t do these things or have these goals. This is just an honest assessment of where I am right now: I worry that I’m getting too comfortable.
It used to be a stated goal of our marriage and our individual lives that we wanted to get uncomfortable whenever possible. Doing things that were out of our comfort zone — like managing a school build in central Tanzania, living in a neighborhood where our bikes got stolen and our windshield got shot out, or even just hosting a big group to dinner at our place — was good for our souls, because discomfort forces reliance on things greater than yourself: FAITH.
But throw in four kids, home-ownership, and a steady job, and suddenly comfort looks mighty appealing. It takes us 30 minutes to get out the door. Not to mention, there’s malaria out there….
It’s both unavoidable and appropriate that parenthood changes one’s risk tolerance. Things like travel now involve the safety of four additional little people — and have also become really, really expensive. But I suspect that, too often, I’m hiding behind my children, using them as an excuse to take the easy way out of experiences that might be slightly complicated.
If the “It’s just a season” mentality encourages us to delay adventure and challenge until some elusive future when things will get easier, it also encourages us to miss the present moment. “it’s just a season” implies that where we are right now — in the trenches with very young children — is a time to be endured, the way we grit our teeth and wait out the grey, frigid, shut-in season of late winter by focusing on the promise of coming spring. So I sit them in front of a video and count the hours until school starts again….
Writing this from the middle of my season, I worry that I’m missing it: missing both the chance to embrace challenge, adventure, and discomfort — and also missing out on the quieter joys of having a house full of little ones.
When I began writing this post, I didn’t know where it would lead. (That’s usually the case, which is why writing is one of the few adventures in my life these days). Now I see that it was leading to two goals. Here they are, my attempts to thrive rather than just survive this season:
1. I resolve to do at least one thing that makes me uncomfortable each week, whether that’s picking up the phone to call an old friend or flying to Uzbekistan.
2. I resolve to feel grateful for at least one thing each day, to find joy in my present circumstances, even if that circumstance was playing My Little Pony on the carpet for hours.
I have a hunch that, when this season ends in five years, I’ll find that the next season isn’t quite as rosy as it looked from a distance; having four children in school may not be as freeing as I’ve expected. I won’t know for sure until I get there, but at the very least I can try to live now in such a way that I won’t look back and wonder, “Where was I those 11 years?”