Forget the Highlight Reel: We’ve Got To Go Through It

In a few weeks, the college-aged young adults return home. 

Some are simply sleeping here for a few nights before making a cameo appearance at the dinner table in between groomsmen duties and friend visits. Another is crashing here for two weeks before a summer-long internship, and another has staked her claim in the empty bedroom upstairs while she checks off community college courses, holds down a part-time job, and catches a few extra hours of sleep in between.

I know what you’re thinking. Just how many young adults does this lady have?! Answer: a lot. But just because my house is full of budding adults trying to find their way in the world does not mean my experience is expert-level. I am just a mom, on her knees most nights, trying to minimize the mistakes while asking for lots of grace.

Young adult parenting is a far cry from the baby and toddler years—yet, it’s really not. The stakes are higher, yes, but the insecurities and the worry that those kids carried over those little choices still remains. 

Back then, the big decision was drinking out of the blue cup or red cup. Today it’s “how many boys do I have to date before I find ‘the one’”? Or “should I go straight to the workforce or power through and earn my college degree”? 

The hurts hurt bigger and the decisions mean more. 

But the love? That has grown exponentially.

All over the internet, we see mom influencers showing the glamorous side of parenting. Deliver at home with a doula! Make this sustainable craft! Clean your toilets with these homemade cleaners! Cook this healthy, vegan, locally-sourced dinner! Dress in your Sunday best! Marry the most supportive spouse! All of this has become the mark of a good mom: one who looks, sounds, acts and does all the tasks of motherhood and marriage with a smile and perfect children. If your house is a mess or you’re not at your ideal weight, you’re obviously doing life wrong.

But in the houses of the real moms I know, the ones who are busting their asses to do all the things with great love, I see something deeper, more meaningful, more real. In the midst of filling out school forms and job applications, teaching teens to drive, helping young adults learn how to open a checking account, or hugging a grown kid who wonders if they have any self-worth, I see a mom holding tightly to love, hoping it’s enough. 

There is no room for a perfectly curated social media feed. There are tears and prayers. There are laments and surrender. There is worry and fear.

You see, the hard work of motherhood cannot be photographed. Wouldn’t it just be me, bent in half in my closet amidst dirty laundry and shoes, crying out for Jesus’ mercy? Or would it be me ugly crying with both joy and sadness at this new precipice of a season of life? 

The forming of young people into confident, healthy, and resilient adults requires suffering. The suffering refines us, purifies us and, sometimes breaks us and our children completely open. It leaves us bare, but it does not leave us alone. 

When my kids were little, we read We’re Going on a Bear Hunt almost every night:

We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.

Uh-uh! A river!
A deep cold river.
We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it.
Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!
Splash splosh! Splash splosh! Splash splosh!

Now as those same children have grown into size 13 shoes and 4” platform heels, I have come to recognize and appreciate that there is no going over, or under, something. We simply must go through. 

It’s time to get uncomfortable. Log off social media to do the hard work of mothering. We must stop comparing our family’s low points to another family’s highlight reel. 

Our bear hunt is our bear hunt. 

We must recognize, even on the hardest of days, that we are accompanied by Christ. The same Jesus that hung on the cross suffered, too. Your biggest crosses are not lost to Him. Perhaps we should turn inward and recognize our own faults, tend and heal them, and then love our children through the same cycle. Again and again and again. 

Splash, splosh. Splash, splosh.

Take heart if you find yourself wondering just how to go through it. A few weeks ago, I was driving one of my college kids home for a break, and we found ourselves deep in conversation about big life things.

“Did you ever struggle with that, Mom?” this child asked. “Of course I did,” I replied softly. Out came a big sigh and a simple, “I needed to hear that.” 

I can’t say that the dilemma was resolved or that we had our kumbaya moment, but we both felt seen in that moment. And sometimes, being seen and loved as you’re going through it, is enough.

Splash splosh. Splash splosh.


1: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

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Kathryn Whitaker is the author of Live Big, Love Bigger, an award-winning book about living an intentional, hell yes, kind of life. She's a sixth-generation Texan who was raised as an evangelical Protestant and then converted to Catholicism on the eve of her wedding. On social media and her blog, Kathryn shares her honest take on family life and living the Gospel, all while drinking Dr Pepper and cheering on the Texas Aggies. She has appeared in USA Today, EWTN, radio and TV stations around the country and is a frequent guest/sometimes host on The Catholic Channel on SiriusXM. Kathryn and her husband, Scott, live with their six children in Austin, Texas.

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