As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Date Day

Back when my third son was born, I had this genius idea that I should take each of the kids on a date day once a month, to make sure that I was getting enough one-on-one time with each of them.  Not the baby of course, who took most of my time anyway and who, quite frankly, could care less at that age.  But the older kids who were so deprived of my time while I tended to this new little one - they were the ones who needed me. 

It is genius. And yet, for some reason, I have never been able to make it happen on any kind of regular basis.  More often than not months will go by, at which point I will notice some behaviour on the part of some child that indicates to me that maybe he or she could benefit from some time alone with Mom.  It usually takes several weeks of coordinating to make an evening away with just that one child possible.  While I still wish I could take each child out once a month by themselves, I am grateful at least for the opportunity to make it happen when I see a need.

Near the end of my pregnancy I got a vibe from my second son that he was just feeling a little left out, and made the grand announcement to him that someday soon (I didn't know when) we would have a date.  His little eyes lit up, and he carried the anticipation of that time alone with me day after day, frequently reminding me of it and so very much looking forward to it.  As my pregnancy approached its 40th week and it became apparent to me that I just wasn't going to be able to get an evening out before the baby's arrival, I delicately floated the idea of maybe, possibly, having a date after the baby was born and bringing the baby with us.  Which, thankfully, suited him just fine.

Five weeks after the baby's birth, this date was still heavily on my mind.  I grew more and more exasperated each day, the guilt weighing on me.  Why haven't I been able to make this happen yet?  I know why.  I went from being a (huge!) pregnant, homeschooling Mom with extra doctor's appointments and no energy, to a no-longer-huge-pregnant mother of a newborn, who also homeschools and juggles weekly extra-curriculars for all the kids.  Time is not in abundance for me.  This poor little guy has been so patient and chipper waiting for his mother to make good on her promise.  I am so very, very grateful for his good attitude in the midst of his waiting.  He never left my heart, not once in that whole time.  But sometimes a great opportunity takes a while to find you.

I recently took on a small cleaning job.  It's once a week in an office, and takes me about two hours to complete.  I had all the kids in town on an outing one day last week and had arranged for my husband to meet me and get the kids, so I could clean the office before heading home. Then it dawned on me - bring him with you.  I figured I could get him to help me out, pay him some of the money I earn, and spend some time with him at the same time.  This little guy loves to help out, and when I told him my plan his eyes lit up! 

My sweet boy, looking all distinguished
He was a pure delight to have with me, and despite only being six years old was a very competent helper. We laughed and joked as we worked together, and I got to listen to his stories uninterrupted.  It was a true joy to spend our time together. As I packed him into the car on our way out he said to me, "wait a minute Mom, remember that date we were supposed to have?"  And my heart sank.  I took a deep breath and tried to glamourize the situation as best I could, praying that the time we had just spent would be an acceptable compromise for him.  "Well, that's what I was thinking when I brought you along," I told him.  "I had some work to do and I've been having a hard time finding a day for you and I to go out, so I thought we could hang out at the office and do some work together, and you could have a chance to earn some money at the same time."  He grinned from ear-to-ear and said, "this is our date?"  And I said, "It sure is!  Wanna grab a treat on our way home?" And he was delighted.

This is a lesson I learned long ago with this boy - that I don't need to move mountains in order to create a "perfect moment" for us to spend time together.  He is so happy just to be included in my grownup world, and this day that I hoped and prayed would be sufficient to him turned out to be extraordinary for him simply because I let him be part of it.  I let him work with me, and he was revelling in being useful and in being with me.  What I can't give him is more hours in a day, or more days in a week.  But the thing I can give him is myself, by opening my life to him.  What a joy to know the thing he needs the most is what I already have.  Lord help me to be more attentive to my kids in my everyday life, so that I can allow them to share in these moments with me, and not let their little lives pass me by in search of a perfect moment that can never be constructed.
So grateful for this boy!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Of Truth and Trust

We are having an issue with one of our children and lying.  I know it's normal for kids to grow through, and that some kids will struggle more with it than others.  When I was growing up what I remember most about the way my mother related to me was how she always treated me with dignity, and relied on the strength of our relationship to discipline me.  I didn't make a habit of lying to her but when I did, the words, "I forgive you but it's going to take a while for me to be able to trust you again," carried much more of a sting than any grounding ever could.  I knew that when I had children of my own I wanted the same kind of relationship with them - one of mutual respect, one where if they damaged my trust, the loss of that would be enough to effect a change.

Fast forward to today, where I am the parent of children who do not relate to things the same way that I did.  This is no surprise to me, of course - I know that everyone is not created the same.  The child who is struggling with lying these days also happens to have the exact personality that doesn't respond to guilt, that shows genuine remorse for wrongdoing but turns the page so fast that the long-lasting effects of that trusted line that worked so well on me carry little to no benefit with him.  No problem, I figure.  My kids are still young, and I'm still learning what works.  I'll just keep talking to him about how important it is to be a person of truth, and that people will never be able to trust you if you lie all the time, and pray that eventually it sinks it.

This theory however bit the dust in my mind this morning, as we found our children confronted with a somewhat dangerous situation in the yard with their friends.  One little boy got hurt and had to be taken home, and while my husband was walking the little guy back to his house I questioned my boys about what happened.  My boy gave me a story about how this little guy was doing something he shouldn't have, and he told him not to but the little guy didn't stop.  I told him he should have come to get us, and told him how when a situation is dangerous you can't just sit by and watch.  I walked away thinking about how that little guy can be trouble sometimes, and wishing my kids would have come to get me sooner than they did.

Then my other boy came in.  When I asked him what happened, I got a very different version of the story.  It seems all the boys, including both of my own, were taking part in this wrongdoing (something incidentally that they had already been spoken to about by my husband).  I called my boy back in and asked him the question again, instructing him to "choose your words carefully before you answer me."  He admitted to his wrongdoing and I sent him to his room, angry that I had trusted him earlier.

I know my kids are not very old, and this happens on a regular basis (looking me in the eye and promising one version of a story, when in reality there is another).  They know when they are lying and I hope and pray that they will, with proper discipline, pass through this phase to become truthful, honest boys.  I think what got me this morning however was that someone got hurt, and I didn't question my boy's story.  Worse, I wrongly laid blame on another little boy based on that story.  I thought about the concept of trust being something that needs to be earned, and it dawned on me that this wasn't true in this case - that by all accounts I should not have trusted my boy's first story (given his recent history of not being forthcoming about details that can be incriminating to him).  And yet, I did.  And you know what?  I think I always will.

So - that's what I told him.  I told him that he is my son, and I want to believe him.  I told him that I believed what he told me in the first place, and that's what hurt me so much.  I told him I will probably believe him the next time he tells me something, and I want him to know that.  It is a little scary to me that I laid myself out like that ("Woohoo!  Mom's going to believe anything I tell her!")  But I hope that in time, that early knowledge of a trust that doesn't have to be earned, that is just inherent in our relationship because of who he is to me, will form him into the kind of person who won't want to lie to me.  I don't know - he's still young.  But I think it's far better than placing the unrealistic expectation on him of acting the same way I would react ("how can he squander my trust that way?  Doesn't he want to please me?") 

What I do know is this - that God always has 100% trust in me.  No matter how many times I screw up, no matter how often I squander this gift, it is always freely given back to me.  How can I not be willing to be the same kind of parent to my own children?  Time will tell if telling him this has any effect, and I will try not to get any preconceived notions or expectations about it (this is new territory for me!)  But in the meantime, I think it is much better for me to approach our own relationship in the same way that the Lord relates to me - not as someone handing out trust and taking it away based on merit, but as someone who give all of Himself to me always, believing in me 100% even when I don't believe in myself.  It's easy to trust someone when they've given you every good reason to do so.  Trusting someone when they've hurt you?  That's love.   Please help me Lord as my children get older to discipline with the same gentle wisdom you show me - firm and reasonable, but also completely self giving.   May I react with love and not anger, and be for my children a safe refuge in times of error, gently guiding them onto the right path not because I deserve to be treated better, but because they deserve to be loved no matter what.

And if that doesn't work, I'll get their little sister to take care of them.  She'll keep them in line!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Little I Have

Life with a four-week-old brings something new every day.  And this being my sixth time around, that's no surprise to me.  I've gotten pretty good at going with the flow of each day.  Except when that day begins at the end of a long night involving little sleep. 

Usually I can count on at least a few hours of sleep in between feedings (if the baby won't go down in her crib, then I just lay down with her and we both drift off to sleep - it's kind of nice).  But occasionally, as was the case last night, she has a restless night.  Which means even when she's with me she's grunting and groaning and twisting, and not much interested in nursing.  Have you ever tried to sleep with a grunting, wriggling baby?  Not happening.

Not much of this going on last night
I woke up this morning in despair.  Not only are all the usual demands of daily life facing me today (homeschooling three kids, feeding, clothing and otherwise entertaining my brood, mediating sibling squawbles, keeping the house in order, laundry-laundry-laudry!) but as it turns out my husband has a meeting to go to and will not be home at supper time (possibly even at bedtime) which, as any parent knows, is the most stressful time of the day.  I, in my sleep-deprived state, will be all alone with these six little angels (I'll tell you if my opinion of them changes by the end of the day!)  It's terrifying!
My husband, who is not usually quick to respond to my whininess, prayed with me on his way out the door.  He shared with me some of the things he's been struggling with, and how he's found grace in choosing to love me in his moment of weakness instead of giving in.  And that made all the difference to me.  I was (and am) feeling like I have nothing to give today.  And through his sharing, he helped me to realize that it is my nothingness that my giving means everything.  I have to love these kids, to choose to be patient even when it's not in me.  This is when the depth of my love is truly put to the test.

Enjoying a quiet moment
People tell me all the time, "I don't know how you do it." And I usually respond that the kids are easy on me, and that's how I do it.  But the reality is that in those times, it is easy.  My challenge is to still do it when things get rough.  Not to turn the page on these hard days and look for greener pastures, but to embrace these days as the fullness of my call to motherhood.  I am so quick to forget about the bad days or to want to move beyond them, but in reality they are what define me.  What kind of mother am I on the worst days?  How well can I love these little ones when I haven't slept all night, and the craziness of my day (not knowing any better) still comes at me full-force bright and early the next morning?

Loving them when things are good?  That's easy.  Loving them and treating them with dignity and respect when things get tough - that takes work. And that is where I will find my truest fulfillment, where my bonds with them will deepen and grow, and where I will find the tender love of the Father waiting to hold me up and show me I don't need to do this alone.  And if I am smart I will settle there, and allow Him to make up for what I lack.  Let's pray that I am smart today.

"And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny.  And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all who are contributing to the treasury.  For they have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.' " (Mark 12:42-44)

My true treasure

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Better and Better

I read a blog recently of a couple who had been cautioned against having children too early in their marriage by well-meaning friends, families, and leaders in their faith community.  The justification, which has become a sort of anthem for newlyweds these days, was that it was better to give yourselves a few years to be "just a couple" - to do the things you want to do first, build a solid foundation with just the two of you, make some money and build financial security, and then have a baby.  When they found themselves expecting within months of their marriage and their first child born before their first wedding anniversary, all they could think was, "why did people tell us to wait for this?"  They saw all the beauty that bringing a new life into the world with your new spouse can bring, and just like that it washed away any of the lesser benefits of waiting.  Sure it's practical and logical in many circumstances to do the things they were advised to do, but what you gain from those things pales in comparison to the way a child transforms your life.

Having just welcomed our sixth child three weeks ago, I can relate.  People ask us all the time if we're crazy, or think we're some kind of super-family because we have as many children as we do (and are open to having more).  And with each new child, I just don't get it - why do people think this is bad?  What makes people so afraid of having children? 

Here is what I know to be true, from my own experience of having children every 1 1/2 - 2 years since my husband and I got married.  That every time a new child enters the world, I fall in love with my husband all over again.  I see his tender care for me, for our new child, and the children that we already have, I soak it all in - and fall head over heels.  In a world where couples routinely fall out of love and romance dies, ours continues to be challenged, taken outside of itself and driven to new heights, not because of anything we read in any self-help book or saw on Oprah, but because having a a child with someone you love just naturally does this.  And it's beautiful.

And every time a new child enters the world, we go right back to square one with our household routines, and the things we thought we had under control.  We put everything else on the back burner to accomodate that new little baby, we slow down and relax, and search for a new groove without putting too much pressure on ourselves.  We drag ourselves out of bed several times a night to change a soggy bum and feed a hungry baby.  And in case we haven't gotten good at serving others before ourselves, we have a whole new reason to get lots of practice.

And every time a new child enters the world, our older children rise to new heights that we previously could not have conceived.  My last "baby" will be two later this month, and has been super clingy and *a bit* tempermental.  I was so worried about how he would be with the baby and you know what?  He has not been jealous, not once.  Even though I only have about 10% of the time to devote to him that I did before the baby came along, he's cool with that.  And he loves that little baby, they all do.  Want to see how quickly your heart can melt?  Watch the way older siblings will coo over a brand new brother or sister.  It's just beautiful!

And every time a new child enters the world, I get one more time to do this motherhood thing from scratch again, and hopefully try to make good on some of the mistakes I made with my earlier children.  My second child was much more demanding than my first and I didn't handle it well at all.  One of my biggest regrets as a mother is that I expected too much of him from the beginning, and it breaks my heart to think of how little patience I had with him, even as a brand new baby.  But you can bet your flying stars that every time I have welcomed a new baby since, I do so with no expectations.  This baby could cry day and night, and that just has to be okay, because I never, ever want to be that way again.  There are many more things I could list that I hope I will be able to overcome this time around (and soon enough that my older children can benefit from my newfound virtue!) but these are things that only prayer, time and experience can help with.

And every time a new child enters the world, it forces us - all of us - to give a little more of ourselves.  Our kids have one more person to share their toys with, to bunk in their room, to share their space and their lives with.  My husband and I have one more mouth to feed, one more person to cart around on family outings, to tend to in sickness, to plan a birthday party for.  What better way to teach a family, parents and children, that the world doesn't revolve around you, and that we have a duty to serve each other and to share our lives with one another?  I used to feel bad that my children didn't have their own rooms, but now I see the benefits that come from the fact that they just need to share each others' space.  Sure they drive each other crazy at times, but they also have this crazy bond that comes from staying up past your bedtime and chatting with your brothers (or sisters).  They are necessarily good sharers, and would sooner leave their toys in common areas for everyone to use, even when given the option with really special toys to put them away and bring them out only when the others are not around.  They look out for each other, they are conscious of each other, because that's what is natural to them.  And it's beautiful.

There are so many other things I could say, but I will end here.  I'm living in the newborn stage of being completely, romantically, hopelessly in love with life.  It's no cake walk to be sure - babies are a lot of work.  I don't sleep much, I don't get much free time, and my brain is always racing with things to do - housework, school for the kids, change-nurse-burp-repeat!  But just like with any good relationship, you know it takes work.  And the things you love are worth it.  There is a beauty, a joy in the work.  Being a wife and mother is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.  Wait to have babies?  No way!  Are we crazy?  Nope - just living life. If you found a wellspring of the sweetest nectar, wouldn't you keep going back?  That's what we're doing.  Sure we could have stopped long ago.  But the benefits that come from having the children that we did far outweigh anything that could have come from not having them.