Before I married, I had three theories about raising children and no children. Now, I have three children and no theories. John Wilmot Parenting can be so hard. Hard in a gut- wrenching, I didn’t know what I signed up for, crawl back into bed and hide under the covers kind of way. Sometimes, it’s even hard in a hit the pillow and cry myself to sleep kind of way. At least it has been for me. This is certainly not the case every day. I have had some amazingly spontaneous moments of utter joy and sweet days of simple contentment with my children. But for more moments than I like to admit, I have felt overwhelmed and under prepared. I have used this word picture: I am standing in the middle of the battlefield, enemy combatants approaching, and no one told me it was time to get my armor on. I think what shocked me was how quickly it got hard. I was naive, I admit. I knew the baby stage could be hard, in that always-tired-always-needed-never-a-moment-to-myself kind of way. I knew that the teenager/young adult stages could be hard. But I honestly thought that elementary years were the years of nothing more challenging than cleaning glitter glue off the kitchen table, or filling out streams of permission slips and making sure they look like they have a caring adult in their life (who properly dresses them for the weather) when they get on the bus. But, as it happens, at least in my family, it has been a lot more challenging than that. Our children are precious to me. And they are (biased opinion here) bright, beautiful, and kind, each in a unique way. And as I write this, I am mindful of the need to protect them, yet be honest and say that they are also capable of making really poor choices and of breaking my heart. Maybe the specifics aren’t important. Maybe someone reading this could fill in their own blanks. I will say that fashion, fitting in, manipulative behavior in friendships, and “girl drama” seem to have crept into the life of my daughter much sooner than I expected. My sons are blissfully unaware of some of these pitfalls, but all of them have tripped over questionable choices in friendships, hurt feelings, deceptive behavior, and, how do I put this, less than stellar verbal reviews of our parenting skills. On the harder days, my internal critic says “Maybe no one else struggles like this and I have a particularly “bad batch” on my hands. Or maybe, despite our best efforts, we just have not been effective parents. We stink at this.” I have to admit these self doubts creep in and it takes a special kind of strength to fend them off. Again, I feel like I am engaged in a battle. But when I examine the facts I come up with three solid truths that arm me for this battle. The first truth is that I love my children with a deep fierce love I didn’t even know existed until I gave birth. I will fight for them until I lose strength. Sometimes this means advocating for them when I feel they have been unfairly treated or hurt. These are the “mamma bear” moments, and I’ve had a few. Sometimes it means digging in deep with them to pull out the weeds of wrong in their hearts and minds. When I do this, I do it with the hope that they see that no matter what, I am here. I am going to go through this with them. I am not going anywhere. The second truth is that I am not alone. I have an incredible husband who is the exact right father for each one of our children, and who is humbly and diligently honing his parenting skills every day. Beyond that, I have this host of amazing adults involved in my children’s lives, some directly, and some through patient and consistent prayer. The third truth is that through each challenge, disappointment, discouragement, and heartache, my character and their characters are being formed. We are being stretched as we struggle and strain through these moments. I firmly believe that there is the promise of these more challenging moments being recycled into beauty and strength. They are in process, and so am I. Parenting can be so hard. But it can also be so incredibly life transforming. And so with every tear, with every sigh, with every eye roll, with every hug, with every apology, with every misspelled note of love, somewhere inside of me I utter the faintest whisper of gratitude. These children are mine. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Monthly Archives: April 2013
Originally posted April 6, 2013
“It’s one of the things that strikes you most forcibly- that the only thing that’s taught one anything is suffering. Not success, not happiness, not anything like that. The only thing that really teaches one what life’s about- the joy of understanding, the joy of coming in contact with what life really signifies-is suffering, affliction.”- Malcolm Muggeridge
Something inside me cringes when I hear someone say “Well, I just want my kids to be happy. Isn’t that what we all want?” I do not want my kids to be happy. Or to put it another way, I do not want my kids simply to be happy. Simply hoping for their happiness seems to be aiming way to low. In fact, I think aiming for their happiness misses the mark entirely.
Think about it. When a child is 2, it might make him happy to take toys away from his baby sister. Or it might make a 4 year old happy to treat a parking lot like a playground, running around freely, blissfully unaware of dangers. A teenager may feel happy playing video games and ignoring the looming project that is due. Or it might feel really good to gossip about that girl that has been mean to her at school. In these cases, every parenting instinct kicks in and says lovingly but firmly “no.” We know in those cases it’s not OK to pursue what feels like happiness when it could harm our children or others.
But what about when it doesn’t appear harmful? What about the happiness that comes with a new toy or a trip to the mall? We want to provide our children with happy moments, right?
Well, yes, and no. It’s fun to see smiles on Christmas morning, or with a spontaneous treat just to brighten a day, but I think we actually rob our children when we try to bring them from moment to moment of fun and pleasure. We buy into the lie that life is about grabbing for every shiny object, every new experience, every fleeting pleasure. It’s a lie because each of these things, or at least the feelings of happiness they bring, are so painfully temporary. When we indulge in this behavior, it teaches our children to flit from experience to experience, never landing, never feeling satisfied, always looking for the next thing, always looking for…joy.
What is the difference, then, between happiness and joy? “Happiness is tied to circumstances and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude.”– Brene Brown. Joy is that deep sense of well being that is not so easily shaken by status, belongings, weather, money, etc. Somehow, we need to instill in our children that there is something so much more satisfying then the next thing.
So, in not limiting our goal to happiness, there is a protective measure, and there is a desire for our children to have deeper joy. But there is something else. There is that desire for our children to learn and to grow. And this, in all honesty, does not come through trips to Disneyland and new bright shiny objects. It comes through struggle, through failure, through heartbreaks and disappointments. And that is a really hard place to come to as a parent. We don’t want our kids to suffer. I love how Sara Groves wrestles with this very idea in her son “Prayers for This Child” : I do not know how to pray for this child. I want to guard her from everything wicked and wild. But in the trial…I learned how to hold on to the heart of God.”
Which brings me to the quote I used to start this entry. We learn the most significant lessons from hardships and suffering. So if we know this to be true, why would we simply want our kids to be happy? Happiness is fleeting and superficial, and teaches them only to seek endlessly after what ultimately will not satisfy them or build their character. So what do I want for my children? I want them to know love and show love, I want them to act justly and to love mercy. I want them to walk humbly with their God. I want to instill into my children a sense of purpose and deep joy and peace that cannot be shaken, regardless of their circumstances. This is what I want for my children.
Originally posted March 31, 2013
Right now I just want to sit and bask in this simple moment. We have taken a few days to be up at the cabin, and to have an “electronic detox.” No TV/ movies, no Wii/ Mario, no internet/email/Facebook. But the “nos” have not had as much impact as what we have done. We have played games, played outside, had snowball fights, met a neighbor, gone on nature walks, talked, laughed, been quiet, read, and rested.
It’s quiet right now. Dan and Harry are out for a walk. Chuck and Maggie are upstairs in the loft, reading. Occasional comments float down to me…
I have this sense of calm. Right now, in this moment. Calm, and gratitude.
It has not been perfect, or tidy, or all of everything that any one of us may have wanted. But it has been completely what we have needed. I needed this, I realize. I needed this to see that when I am stressed, exhausted and overwrought, it does not always mean thatI need to take a break from everyone and everything. Sometimes it means that we need a break, together, from the routine and the static and chatter of everyday life.
It’s nothing magical. It does not need to be a big, sweeping gesture, not a plane ride to a beach somewhere (not saying that wouldn’t be nice someday). It can be a simple drive, a few fleeting moments. Nothing radical, but big in its own way.
It’s big because I think they will remember some moments from these days. I hope they will. I hope they remember a trip to our neighbor Ernie’s house to bring homemade cookies as a thank-you for plowing out our driveway, so we could get in; and his giving us a tour of his property, including his shed where he recently build an apple press, and inviting us to walk his trails full of all kinds of wildlife, anytime. I hope they remember Dan’s “trivia games” at dinner time, designed to help them learn more about our families, their heritage. I hope they remember our all busting out laughing at the silliest things, but truly laughing, together, as a family. I hope they remember and treasure these things. I know I will.
I wish I could stretch this time out just a little longer. I wish we were not leaving tomorrow. But I will refuse to live in the “if-only” and will embrace the “what-is.” And what is, right now, is this moment of calm, of rest, of renewal. And not just for me, but for Dan and for our family. That is priceless.
“I say to myself ‘ The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.'” -Lamentations 3:24-26
“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11
Originally posted March 30, 2013
One of the arguments I have the least tolerance for is when my kids justify poor choices by pointing out someone else “did it too.” This is either cropping up more or I am more aware/bothered by it lately. I have come up with a standard reply. (I have a few of those, and I suspect as my kids get older, they will tease me/repeat them back to me, as kids do to their parents. Oh well). My reply goes something like this: “Do you base your decisions on someone else’s poor choices or on what you know to be right?”
I have to say, there are so many times that I say something quite parental like this, and first of all, a part of me says, “oh my goodness, I’m the mom now. huh.” And secondly, I hear the same words echo in my head as a lesson for me. This is one of those. For me, it’s not making fart jokes or sneaking extra time playing wii. For me, it’s a bit more subtle, and sometimes, a bit more internal: gossip, envy, careless words, avoiding responsibility, a little bad habit here and there. But no matter the bad choice, it’s always easier to justify if I can look around and see someone else doing something similar. “She did it, too.” So how do I measure my choices? What standard do I use?
Scripture comes to mind as a pretty handy tool for this. And with Scripture, come some pretty wonderful examples of men and women making strong, wise decisions, as well as men and women making poor choices, all too often followed up by all sorts of justifications. One of the most obvious to me of the latter is the whole finger pointing debacle in the Garden of Eden. But what struck me recently, during this Holy Week, is a lesser discussed example of a brave, singular decision made by a nameless criminal:
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
Wow. How brave, how wise, how (seemingly) alone this man was. He could so easily have joined in with the mockers, or even the silent. But he formed his decision, not on what anyone else was doing, but on what something inside him told him to be the Truth. What a marvelous example of courage in the midst of the darkest hour.
So I will continue to ask my children, and continue to ask myself: What do I base my choices on- what everyone else is doing? what “he/she did”? someone else’s mistaken thinking or poor decisions? Or on what I know to be Truth?
“Here’s what truly is at the heart of Wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”- Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Originally posted March 28, 2013
I am currently finding myself trapped by the I-Shoulds. I should put away the folded laundry. I should fold the rest. I should tell the kids to come and take care of the orange peels they left on the kitchen counter. I should get out and go for a walk, it is really nice out today. Can’t waste a nice day. I should gather up the library books.
I want to get out from under this pile and address what has been just under the surface of my thoughts. This blog. I started with something close to gusto, and I suppose a little of the bravado it takes to put one’s thoughts out there and hope there are a few people who are interested in reading them, maybe even responding. Then, I’m not sure what happened, I suppose life, I suppose some of those nasty I-Shoulds. And I suppose, a hesitation to jump in without reservation.
I have been, for lack of a better word, absorbing the work of Brene Brown, and recently read her books The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, and I hope to process some of what I’ve learned in entries to come. But what is striking me right now is the term she uses- wholehearted living. I have been thinking about this, and about the importance of jumping in, and of owning this experience. I think it is safe to be casual about it, but daring, and a bit scary, to say this is something I do, this is important to me. And I am ready to be daring.
Originally posted February 26, 2013
I turn 40 today, and as I reflect on where I have been and where I might be going, I thought I would write out 40 things I have learned so far on this journey…
- God’s faithfulness has never depended on mine.
- What I have has always been enough.
- It is never a good idea to compare myself to anyone. Ever.
- From the moment I found out I was going to have my first child, a lot of people had all kinds of advice and opinions. It was good to listen, there were a lot of wise words to heed. But then, like now, I needed to find my own path. If I knew in my heart it was the right thing, I learned to tune out the criticism. I have come up with enough reasons to feel guilty all on my own.
- In general, I have learned to avoid negative and cynical people. Like drowning victims, they tend to pull a person down right with them.
- The more trustworthy I am, the easier time I have trusting others.
- Authenticity is an unbeatable quality.
- So is loyalty.
- No one is perfect, no matter how it might appear to the onlooker.
- The more settled I am in my own life, the less interested I am in finding flaws in someone else’s.
- Admitting I am wrong and asking for forgiveness can be crazy scary, but totally worth it, no matter what the outcome is.
- Parenting is so much harder and more complicated than I ever imagined it would be (and I just ignore when people say “just wait, it gets harder”- I truly believe each stage has it’s own set of unique challenges).
- The depth of love I have for my children is beyond words. Sometimes it takes my breath away.
- My family knows me better than I’d sometimes like to admit, and their love is all the more meaningful and truer because of it.
- Joy can be found in the simplest, most mundane moments, and can be totally elusive in the big, fancy ones.
- Meekness and submissiveness are not signs of weakness, but of a deep, inner strength.
- Rolling up my sleeves and getting to work often feels better than I think it will.
- Ten minutes of praying about something often goes much farther than three hours of talking about it.
- Friendships come in many different forms, some can be quite surprising. Some friendships only last a season, and that’s OK. They can still be of lasting value.
- No one gets to define me.
- Very close beneath the surface of anger is often hurt or fear.
- Grief and loss are inevitable. There has been no way to prepare for them, I have simply learned to live through them and learn through the process.
- I don’t underestimate the healing properties of a good run, a good cry,a good laugh, a hot bath, or listening to a favorite piece of music. Or all of the above.
- Time alone is essential and I cherish it.
- I am married to my best friend- we have been able to laugh, cry, fight, and love our way through anything.
- I cannot expect from others what I am not prepared to give.
- “Fake it till you make it” is sometimes the best way to go.
- I was not meant to carry others burdens and they were not meant to carry mine. But a true friend can. shoulder the load for a bit and be company for the journey.
- Joy is more complete because of the pain I have felt.
- Doing something kind goes a long way to putting me in a better mood.
- A good book can soothe the soul.
- There is always more to learn.
- When meeting new people, I have learned its best to ask good questions and then really listen. If all I do is talk about myself or what I know, I have gained nothing.
- For every study that says coffee and chocolate are bad for me, there’s another one that says they will help me live longer (or at least smile more).
- Discontentment is a nothing but a joy-killer.
- It can be tempting at times to focus primarily on our strengths, and other times on our struggles.. But I have found the highest value lies in sharing honestly about struggles we have faced and how we have become stronger for the challenge (and by the grace of God).
- Love really does cover over a multitude of sins.
- I have learned to go to church not just to be fed, but to feed.
- Just when I think I have life figured out, something happens to humble the socks off of me.
- It is good to have people in my life who challenge me, and good to have those who are a safe place to land. I treasure beyond measure the people in my life who are both.