Everyone knows that stretch marks are a part of pregnancy. The growing life inside you swells your belly, and pulls at your skin, creating purplish-red stripes.

Stretch MarksThe part that comes as a surprise is that even after your baby is born, you never stop stretching. And I don’t really mean in a physical sense. I mean in every other sense.

Way after your belly is back to normal and you’ve worked off most of that “baby weight”, your child will continue to stretch you in every other way.

Your newborn will stretch your endurance, keeping you up at night.

Your toddler will stretch your patience, throwing tantrums for hours until you want to either give in or run away.

Your pre-schooler will stretch your patience, too, insisting on doing everything “by myself” while you bite your nails and look at the clock. Your school-age child will stretch your tolerance, demanding love and attention while demonstrating less than likable behaviors. And we won’t even talk about teenagers.

It’s important to know that stretching is a part of parenting. Stretching is uncomfortable, and often very painful. But much like the discomfort of carrying your unborn baby, it is a sacrifice worth making. During pregnancy, stretching allows new life to form and grow. Life that could not otherwise exist.

After your baby is born, stretching is no longer something that happens beyond your control. It becomes a choice. Your child will test you, and when you are tested, you choose. To stretch, or not to stretch?

Not to stretch is to remain emotional rather than cerebral. To be rigid rather than elastic. Not to stretch is to remain exactly the way you were before and hope against hope that somehow, someway, your child will change, stop being so difficult, and just leave you alone.

The problem with choosing not to stretch is that it conflicts with your innermost desire to do what’s best for your child. Because deep down, you know that every child deserves a parent who is thoughtful, calculated, patient and giving. A parent who does what is right for the child and not what is easy or immediate. And unless you are stretching, you are not that parent.

Know that if and when you do choose to stretch, those stretch marks are not ugly lines on your body; they are beautiful accomplishments. They come with a heady sense of victory, and a joy like no other. The joy of stretching; of overcoming your own impulses, of doing what is right for your child.

Stretching changes you in a way nothing else can. It is the mark of parenthood that will forever impact the essence of your being; you are a new person. You have been tested, and you have stretched.

That is the joy of motherhood. It is a joy won by tears, sacrifice, struggle…and yes, stretch marks. But these are stretch marks you can treasure.