I checked my voicemail one morning to hear my dear friend fighting back tears: “I’m on my way to work in tears because having a three-year-old is breaking me. I’m out of every resource and idea that I can summon, and it’s just not going great. Do I just put my head down and survive this year?” When I called her back, how I wanted to reach through the phone and hug my friend! I could offer her neither resources nor ideas, but only solidarity and a little perspective. Being the mother of one child is hard. And of a three-year-old, really hard. Our conversation that day was regularly interrupted by admonitions to my own three-year-old, insistent on harassing the neighborhood ducks. But mine had older sisters, and I had weathered three-year-old tantrums before. My friend had not. Having older children had, in some way, made the current challenges easier for me.
I now knew that the annoying phase of today would pass into a slightly less annoying one tomorrow. I had also realized that while my responsibility is to educate the young minds and form the young souls in my family, it was God, not me, who had given them their distinct personalities and temperaments. I could only work with what I was given. I had less control than I once thought. And, particular to my friend’s situation, I had learned that “the kingdom of irrationality” (as JPII termed it) reigns supreme in the land of three-year-olds, but under the deceptive guise of rational thought, since those small people talk back so competently–and rudely– with complex sentences.
But how clearly I remembered the battles of will, accompanied by the subsequent frustration and the crushing self-doubt after difficult days with my first child. Least helpful of all was the ever-present thought—so-and-so has six children, and I can’t handle one. How does she do it!? Why is this so hard for me?
Though I still do not have six children, I will be so bold as to speak for those who do. They fare, just like you, mother of one, do—with creativity and humor, perseverance and prayers…and yes, tears.
Whether the thought of adding more children to your family is accompanied by unfulfilled longing or by a deep reluctance, or perhaps a competing mixture of both, being the mother of an only child is an opportunity to contemplate in a unique way the mystery of the Holy Family. Though small in number, the Holy Family teems with life, love, holiness, and, as with all families, many trying moments. Fully human, with a fully human will and body, Jesus was not perpetually at repose on his mother’s knee, as the artist prefers to depict. What were those days like for Mary with her son, especially before he reached the age of reason? Ask the Blessed Mother to reveal to you that hidden life of Our Lord and her hidden life with him. You may find more in common than you ever imagined.