Big Hope For Exhausted Parents

exhausted parents with awake baby

Photo Credit: hannanik Flickr via Compfight cc

They didn’t quite say it, but they didn’t have to.  As I looked at the run-over-by-a-truck exhaustion on their faces, then at their bubbly one-year-old, the message was clear.

‘We’re sooo tired.  All. the. time.  We feel like we’ve lost our lives.’

Once upon a time, my wife and I were parents with young children, and we’re around a lot of them now. They have two things in common.  They adore their kids, and, they’re utterly exhausted by their kids.

If you can identify with this list of languish, this post is for you.  You’re exhausted because…

  • Your infant or toddler wakes you up multiple times each night.  One poll found that 76% of parents are sleep-deprived, leaving parents slower mentally, less able to manage emotions and even making it harder to express joy.
  • Your hormones are throwing a temper tantrum and/or you’re experiencing postpartum depression (moms).
  • You feel like your wife has been abducted by the child you created, in love, together (dads).
  • Your kids need constant help and attention: diaper changes, feedings, etc.
  • You’re worried that your kids are going to get hurt if you tune out, even for a moment.  There’s definitely an emotional component to the exhaustion!
  • You never get a day off: if you’re honest, it’s way easier to go to work than have a ‘vacation day’ at home (LOL).
  • As kids get a little older, you still have very little downtime, and they bombard you with words and questions.  In fact, moms field about 290 questions per day on average.

I’m sure many of you could add to this list!

Our Story, Your Parenting

I’ll never forget the night we brought our first (we have four) home from the hospital.  The night before she arrived, we had slept blissfully in our bed, dreaming of unicorns and winning the lottery.  (Actually, my wife was waking up to go to the bathroom because the baby was pressing on her bladder, but you get the point, right?)

After our daughter was born, we brought her home, and went to bed like we always did.  Just earlier because we were dead tired.

We put her down in her crib after consulting the ‘best practices’ for such things, then quickly fell asleep.

For about a minute.

That night – and many after it – she cried.  A lot.  I remember laying next to my wife, in out-of-my-mind delirium, blabbering that ‘all I want to do is sleep!’

And then I would feel angry at myself for being angry.

All that to say, parents, I feel your pain.  When your kids are young, it’s really, really hard.

But chances are you’re here not only for some commiseration, but for some hope.  And maybe even some help.

So let me try to encourage you from God’s Word, and what we’ve learned, in the next few minutes.

Hope For Exhausted Parents

Here are some encouragements for you.  Let’s start with some shifts in mindset, then get more practical at the end.

You’re not making this up

Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like you should be less tired.  Or, that trusting God more would be like drinking a Red Bull.  But until Jesus returns, the entire creation, parenting included, is in a state of ‘futility’ and in ‘bondage to corruption’. (Romans 8:19, 21)  This feels hard because it is, and God doesn’t expect you to pretend like it isn’t.  You can be honest with him, with yourself, and others.  Honesty can reset our expectations and relieve the pressure that stems from pretending like you have it all together.

Losing your life to find it

In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus lays out an important principle.  ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’  Perhaps more than anything, parenthood is a call to deny yourself and live for your child because of what Jesus has done for you.  We follow a Savior who left the comforts of heaven and died a cruel death to give us life.  He invites parents to follow him in a journey of self-denial that will lead to life.  As we say ‘yes’ to Jesus and our kids, one decision at a time, God prunes away hidden selfishness.  We begin to experience freedom that comes when we’re no longer at the center of our lives.  Everything around us screams that this is death, but Jesus says it’s life. 

Re-thinking hope

It’s so easy to say our hope is in Jesus.  But parenting young children reveals our dirty little secret: our hope is usually in our circumstances.  In my next break.  When they’re out of diapers.  When they no longer need me constantly.  When…

Early on, I remember my father-in-law saying ‘little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.’  Yeah, I thought, but not sleeping through the night and these disgusting diapers ARE REALLY BIG PROBLEMS!!!  Now that we have a kid in college, I can see that he was right.  We have far less influence, and the stakes of her decisions are much higher than spilling Cheerios all over the floor.

God uses parenting to teach us that our hope truly can’t be in our circumstances, which may or may not improve when we’re empty nesters.  We learn to say with David, ‘For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.’ (Psalm 62:5-6)  There’s an amazing freedom and peace that comes with letting go of control we never had, and putting our hope in God.

Three Practices That Should Help

Honestly, asking God to change you at a heart level (see above) is the biggest thing.  It’s a hard, slow and deeply good process.

But there are very practical things we can do along the way.  Here are three suggestions.

Work as a team

It may not feel like it most days, but you’re married.  And marriage is a one flesh partnership designed to reflect the way Jesus relates to us (Ephesians 5:22-33).  Practically-speaking, this involves putting your spouse first.  For example, husbands, maybe you take the night time feeding when your child is ready to take a bottle.  Or wives, maybe you encourage your husband to go out with the guys when you’d rather have his help at home.  Seeking God’s life-giving help together in prayer is also incredibly powerful.

Keep dating

When your first child comes along, you’re not sure if you have the time, money or – most importantly – the energy to spend time with your spouse.  But remember: God called you to marriage before he called you to parenting.  And, with God’s help, your spouse will be there long after your kids leave.  (Hugs for those who’ve gone through divorce, or other special circumstances.)

So, it’s critical to invest in cultivating this most important human relationship.  Ask your parents to come over if they’re close.  Do a date night swap with other parents.  Or pay a real sitter (I know, it hurts) – believe me, you won’t miss that money later on.

Find ways to serve

Having young children can be a season of survival.  But even in difficult times, God calls us to serve others.  If Jesus thought about his mom on the cross and provided for her future there (see John 19:26), it must be possible.  It may not be the time for you to start a non-profit, but how can you cultivate a life of giving without over-extending yourselves?  Each week, we meet for small group at the home of a couple with a four-month-old.  They open up their home, and provide solid, consistent leadership for our group.  Those are the kinds of sacrifices that God delights in, and in giving we receive (Acts 20:35).

Parents with young children, you’re in a really hard season.  But through the exhaustion and loss of autonomy, God is bringing massive, Jesus-sized life to your kids, your marriage and the world around you.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What’s hardest for you in your particular season of parenting?
  2. Which shift in mindset, or practical idea, above would help you handle the challenges with more hope?