The ups and downs of parenting

Parenting children comes with ups and downs. This up and down life of parenting is something I am living right now in an intensified, exaggerated form. The doctors warned me that even after several days in a row of upward trends to be aware that Olivia might take a few steps back at any given time.

I know this, and to a certain extent I’m expecting this. I’m expecting it in the sense that I’m always a little tense wondering what each day is going to bring. But then when I do have that bad day, the day where we go backward instead of forward, the day where I don’t see any obvious improvement or, worse, a significant setback, the day I wonder if I am going to make it through, I suddenly find myself worried.

I search the internet for all of Olivia’s symptoms and find a host of long-term potential diagnoses. Maybe Olivia won’t heal completely. Maybe there is something else wrong with her brain. Maybe we are just uncovering the tip of the ice berg when it comes to Olivia’s diagnosis. What will await me in another month when Olivia passes the expected recovery time and still isn’t ‘normal’?

These are all questions that I wrestle with on a daily basis, but they are especially intense and emotional for me when we have a bad day. Like today.

But all parenting is like this. My friend thoroughly and helpfully explains how recency bias applies to parenting. In a nutshell, we often take one good day and think we are sailing through parenting. Or, we have a really, really bad day and we project our children spending their lives in a jail cell. My child is throwing a temper tantrum in the grocery store. Oh no, she has no self-control. Can you imagine where no self control can lead her in life?

This isn’t to minimize character issues, but it is a reminder that as children grow and mature they will not always follow an upward trajectory. Sometimes we will be on top of the hill, and other days in the valley. And there will be many days throughout the parenting journey where we will find ourselves rolling around in the mud pit.

The brain is a complex organ. As a mom, I feel helpless. I can’t kiss Olivia’s booboo and make it all better. I can’t giver her some Tylenol and tell her all will be well tomorrow. I can’t make her a delicious, soothing pot of chicken soup, prop her up with some pillows, and have a movie night to make being sick feel special. I can’t put a band-aid on and cover up the sore.  I can’t even really help her understand what she is going through.

It is a microscopic view of parenting. I love, nurture, and guide her. I shield her from circumstances that she might not yet be able to handle. I comfort her when she is upset. I guide her gently through her emotions. And when I can’t guide her, I simply hold her and pour more love on her. I pray with her that God will heal her brain. I tell her that Mommy loves her no matter what happens in the future. I tell her I will always be there for her.

And then I go to my room and I beg God to have mercy on her body.

And aren’t the hearts of our children much the same? Our children have beautiful, fragile hearts that are so complex it can make us feel helpless. We can’t kiss their sinful hearts and make them sinless. We can’t give them some medicine to make them sin no more. We can’t soothe and coddle their sin to make it feel special. We can’t put the band-aid of behaviorism on only to find them ripping open scabs when they are 15, 20, or 30 years old. We can’t even explain why they do what they do except to say they are sinners in need of a Savior.

So we love, we nurture, and we guide. We shield them from exposure to sin that they are not mature enough to handle. We love them when they fail. We guide them through the ups and downs of life. And when we can’t guide, we pour love on them and take them to the Giver of life. We pray with them that God will cover their sinful hearts with gracious forgiveness. We tell them that no matter how they sin, how they fail, we will love them. We show them unconditional love just like God has shown us unconditional love.

And then we go to our room and beg God to have mercy on their sinful hearts.

Just like I don’t yet know exactly how Olivia’s brain will heal, I don’t know where my children’s hearts will be in 10, 15, or 20 years.

But just like I can’t base future prediction on my daughter’s good day or her bad day, I don’t place my hope for my child’s future in a good parenting or a bad parenting day.

My daughter’s brain, and the hearts of your children and mine lie in the merciful hand of a loving Father. It is not for me to know what the future holds. I simply remain faithful today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

I love, nurture, guide, and point them to the Savior that has met all their punishment for them.

And I trust God to give them Life.

Photo Credit



  1. Rébecca says:

    That was a beautiful post. You have such a wonderful and wise perspective in such trying circumstances. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Beautifully put, my dear sweet daughter.

  3. Thank you so much for this beautiful post, Johanna. Can’t help but share this one…perhaps it will encourage someone else like it did for me. Praying for you and your family.

  4. RaShell S says:

    So precious! May the Lord continue to hold you tightly through the night as you hold Olivia. May your days be bathed in His love and comfort. Our family is holding up yours in prayer.

  5. Beautiful.

    I know the ache of not being simply being able to kiss away a boo-boo or make it all better and I know how discouraging each step back can be. Praying for His peace to comfort your heart as you continue to nurture and care for Olivia throughout her recovery and trusting that the Lord will be merciful in allowing her to reach a full, complete recovery. ((hugs))

  6. Praying for Olivia and for you all. You are exactly right to take one day and then the next. That’s what we ALL should do, whatever the circumstances. God is in control, and we all need to trust Him to do what is right and best and to give us grace to follow His leadership. So well put, Johanna. Love you!

  7. Oh, my dear, I am praying for both you and Olivia right now.

    I can totally relate to the recency bias. I feel like that with my manic-depression. Yesterday was dreadful and so were the five days before that. So, today is better, but I’m suspicious. Tomorrow will probably be better yet, and so it goes. I completely forget, from one mood swing to the next, that there will be a swing. Oh, sure, I realize it intellectually, but it still hits me like a punch to the gut when I get depressed. The sun will never shine again, right?

    I’ll keep praying.

  8. Elsbeth Rodgers says:

    Johanna, I have been just recently following your blog and have been deeply moved by all I have read. I just read this latest entry while holding my beautiful, little, Loralyn. She was being born as you all were going through your traumatic hospital stay. In a way, I feel that God has used that to bind my heart to you and your beautiful Olivia, to pray over your family. Often in a day I feel it pressing on my heart to plead with God to restore Olivia’s health, give you and Brian strength and wisdom and peace, to comfort your boys. Thank you for your raw honesty. My heart aches for you. I’m also encouraged by your trust in God’s faithfulness. In our weakness, His glory in revealed. I’m also praying with you for the hearts of our children, to know the One who gave His all to save their souls. On the good days and the bad days, He remains the same, good, faithful, loving.
    -Elsbeth Rodgers

    “In every situation and circumstance of your life, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and and you do not know.” -John Piper

  9. Ruth Bixby says:

    Great post, Johanna. Very true. As parents we must work hard, yet recognize upon whom our dependence really lies, and plead for mercy while trusting in His kind hand and gracious purposes.

  10. Beautiful post.

  11. So wonderful–again. I got possibly even a bigger blessing out of this than the first time I read it :-) I am so thankful that we DO have a merciful, loving Father with whom to plead. Blessings on you in this continued parenting journey, sweet friend.

  12. Thank you for this reminder. It brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my soul.

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