You are enough.
It’s a popular statement these days, offered to young parents lost in the doldrums of self-doubt, of worry, of guilt.
You are enough.
Whoever you are, no matter your failings and weaknesses, whatever your personality and strengths, you are enough. Your child needs you, as you are, and no other. You are enough.
It’s a beautiful sentiment, one meant to encourage, to inspire, to provide hope and confidence.
It’s too bad it isn’t true.
We dedicated Miles at church last month. It was a simple but beautiful part of the service: our pastor brought us up in front of the congregation, asked us a few questions, and then prayed for our family.
The first two questions were straightforward enough, and simple to answer. But the third one – the last one – made me pause.
“Will you remember that you are the closest examples of God’s love and grace to your children,” he said, “and when the time comes, will you seek to lead Miles into his own personal commitment to the Lord?”
It was that first bit that got to me. Though I know it to be true, something about the way he phrased it carried the full weight, the deep heaviness of this responsibility.
The closest example of God’s love and grace? I’m not sure I’m up for that.
In a provocatively titled piece for The Atlantic, David Brooks argues that the image we have of a detached nuclear family – mom, dad, and two-point-five kids – is a fragile structure, one that is a historic anomaly, one that cannot bear the pressure of real life in the twenty-first century.*
He claims that, rather than isolated family units, cultures of the past relied on large, extended, multigenerational clans.
“We’ve made life freer for individuals and more unstable for families.” he says. “We’ve made life better for adults but worse for children. We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families[.]”
Later, he details the results of this shift for each group of people – children, adults, the elderly. One sentence in particular stuck out to me:
“Though women have benefited greatly from the loosening of traditional family structures—they have more freedom to choose the lives they want—many mothers who decide to raise their young children without extended family nearby find that they have chosen a lifestyle that is brutally hard and isolating.”
Brutally hard and isolating.
While I don’t know that I would use such strong terms, I will say this: being home with small children is the most challenging and lonely work I’ve done.
During the dedication, Gabe didn’t just ask questions of us. He also had a question for the congregation.
“Will you surround this family with your love, support, and prayer?” he asked. “Will you, as God’s people, so live before Miles that he would find joy, support, and love as part of the body of Christ?”
Afterwards, our pastor’s wife found me in the hall. She thanked me.
“It’s a good reminder,” she said. “We’re a body. We’re all a part of raising our kids, together pointing them toward Christ.”
She paused, reflecting. Her kids are all “big kids” now.
“You know,” she said, “it goes fast. There’s so much I wanted to do with my kids and for my kids that just hasn’t happened. But as they’ve grown, I’ve realized – it isn’t all on me. So many people have poured into them over the years. I don’t have to do it all, because we’re surrounded by such awesome community.”
In his article, David Brooks explores the idea of “forged families” – people who are unrelated to each other by blood or marriage, but who, nonetheless, choose to act like extended family, to support each other, sometimes, even, to live together.
I told Jonathan, who had read the article, too, that I like the sound of such a community. I know it would have its challenges, of course, that people are people and it wouldn’t all be sunshine and roses. Giving up some individual freedom and autonomy would be difficult, but worth it, when you considered the benefits.
He cocked his head, thinking, and said, “Yeah, but we have that, don’t we? I mean, in everything but physically living together, don’t we have what he describes? We can always get better at it, we can always work to strengthen those relationships, but isn’t that the church? Or, at least, what the church should be?”
He’s right, of course.
Being at home with young children is challenging and lonely; I can only imagine how much more I would feel the strain and the pressure and the isolation if I didn’t have a community surrounding me, bringing me meals when my babies are born, watching my kids in an emergency, offering love and support and prayer and a “me, too” when I need it.
We are the closest and most important examples of God’s love and grace in our children’s lives; praise God we aren’t the only examples.
On my own, I am not enough to raise my kids well. I’m not even close to enough. But I have the Spirit of God within me and the Body of Christ around me, and that – that is enough.**
*Brooks’s article is thought-provoking and good. I recommend reading it, and also checking out the numerous responses to it (available with a simple Google search).
**Without a doubt, the Body of Christ is also the answer to the other concerns mentioned in the article, the concerns David Brooks’s “forged families” are meant to combat – the loneliness of many seniors today, the solitude of singles, the lack of support for young couples and people who are just starting out. But I wrote about what spoke to me in the current phase of life in which I find myself.