Less Than Picture Perfect

 

time out

It is the end of the day with my three little ones and I am spent. It hasn’t been a bad day, or even an unusual one for that matter. In fact, perhaps it is the very sameness of this day from the day which went before it which has me worn so thin.

So many words have left my mouth today: a litany of “Stop!”, “Don’t touch that!”, “Be careful!”, “Obey!”, “Listen.”, “Come here!”, “Be still,” and “Leave your brother alone.” Along with them comes a steady stream of reminders to say, “Please,” and “Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, and “I forgive you.” There are reminders to pray, reminders to wash, reminders to share, reminders to brush, reminders to flush, reminders to show kindness, respect, and care. There is explaining, defining, and demonstrating. There are attempts at humor and times when the words come too hard or too soft.

And in case your days go blurry like mine with a dizzying torrent of no’s and stop’s and listen’s, let me just remind you that the fact that your days are full of words like these is not an indication that you are failing as a parent. But rather it is an indication that you are doing the hard business of training and instructing, correcting and paying attention to the details of raising small humans into (hopefully) responsible, loving, and generous adults one day.

Somehow, though, I think we all are surprised by the constancy of this need for discipline and training. We think we must be doing something wrong, or must have much more difficult children than so-and-so because our days are spent this way. When we come to the end of the day and we have had to reprimand them, repeat ourselves, and explain basic principles of decency and decorum, we feel at our wits’ end when really this is just the business of parenting.

Have we really been hoodwinked into expecting children to come out of the womb already kind and courteous, thoughtful and sensitive? Do we think somehow that doing the right thing and the hard thing (sharing, completing chores, stopping fun things to do challenging or laborious ones, leaving friends, listening to our body’s need for rest) should somehow come easily to them when it is often just as hard for us?

All of us are born bent and broken. And we don’t straighten out on our own. We need training, discipline and instruction. Change is not easy for any of us, and perhaps it is especially not easy for our little ones.

The point, and its simple, my friend, but worth re-stating: this constant need for discipline and instruction is the normal state of parenting affairs, especially when parenting very little ones. Don’t add to your burden by thinking you are failing, or that your children are, or that such repetitive need for instruction simply should not be. Our days are hard enough without unnecessary weights of guilt, inadequacy or shame.

Perhaps if we could stop thinking our days ought to be full of one pastel-filtered Instagram moment after another, we would be less ruffled by the normal childishness of our children. Perhaps if we could accept the rawness of our real moments, we’d find more satisfaction and less frustration in the importance of our roles in shaping that raw material into men and women of godly habits and character.

So don’t be flustered by your children’s misbehavior; seize the moment as an opportunity to explain what is right, good and true, as an opportunity to do the very hard but important job you’ve been called to do: parenting.

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Parenting: This. Is. Hard.

LUKE JAMES 1MOTwo months ago, our sweet baby boy decided to make his debut a month early. A slow leak of amniotic fluid meant a heightened risk of infection for baby and me, so much to my dismay, the nurses hooked me up to a bag of Pitocin one Wednesday night in early October and induced a labor I wasn’t expecting that day or for nearly another month. (I told them that it wasn’t a give-birth kind of night—more of a movie-and-popcorn kind of night, but they disagreed and hooked me up anyway.) Thankfully, our sweet boy is a fighter, and he came out kicking and screaming. One short NICU stay later, and a few jaundiced trips back and forth to the hospital, we had our precious James Valor home with us for good.

Since then we’ve been slowly getting accustomed to life with a 3.5 year old, nearly 2 year old, and newborn. Did I mention all three of them are boys? Energetic, sometimes mischievous, hard-of-hearing boys…yes, that’s the kind we have. They are also sweet, adorable, can’t-help-but-kiss-their-precious-little-cheeks kind of boys. That kind. I love them to pieces, despite the fact that the two oldest are currently keeping each other awake upstairs rather than napping. I’m choosing to ignore this so I can write a word or two to you because God has put something on my heart to say. And here it is: this isn’t easy.

I know you know it, but sometimes I think we as parents tend to think that we are the only ones who feel this way, that perhaps somehow everyone but us has it together, that perhaps other people’s children are innately better-behaved, or other parents are just better than us at balancing it all. Well, I want to say that it just isn’t so. Sure, some of us are better organized. Some of us have more experience with little children. But none of us get a free pass. Everyone who is privileged enough to be a parent has the incredibly hard task of raising a little one from complete dependence to independence. Every one of us is given a child whose heart is bent away from God and towards selfishness. And all of us must pray and parent diligently to turn their hearts toward Him.

So in case you’ve seen me on a good day, when my hair is combed and make-up is actually on; in case, you’ve assumed that because my children sometimes can be super-sweet that I’m one of those have-it-all-together kind of moms, well, just in case you thought that about me or some other mom you know, then let me set the record straight. Parenting is hard. It’s hard for me and hard for all of us.

Here’s where I feel like I’m supposed to offer you some great pick-me-up, some biblical principle that makes what I’ve just said all better. I don’t know that I can. I know that the struggle is worth it. I know that the love I have for these little guys is bigger than the frustration I feel on a daily basis. I know that God’s grace is sufficient for me even in my weakness, even on the hardest of days. And I want you to know that too. But I don’t want any of that to eclipse what I’ve just said. This isn’t easy.

And if you don’t hear it or feel it from anyone else, I want you to know dear, sleep-deprived friend; I want you to know dear, when-will-he-ever-potty-train-wondering mommy; I want you to know sweet sister in the can-I-throw-one-of-those-tantrums-too trenches that I hear ya, I feel ya, and I understand. This. Is. Hard. I’m right there with you and so is God. (He has some pretty obstinate children also. At least that’s what I hear.)

 

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Note to Self: A Letter to Myself on the Hard Days of This Motherhood Journey

Note to self

Dear Me,

You will look back on days like today and laugh. Repeat: you will one day be able to see the humor (or at least the irony) in the hysterical three-year old tantrum over none other than spilled milk or over the too-good-to-be-true quiet (the kind where you find the toddler happily playing in a puddle that is not water and not mud). It may not help now, but relax and know that these days happen. They happen to every mother.

Please also know that though doing the hard work of being firm with these little ones and disciplining them makes you feel thoroughly rotten sometimes—like wicked-step-mother-to-Cinderella rotten—in reality, drawing boundaries for them and standing by those boundaries is the very thing that makes you a good mother. So don’t give up; don’t give in; and don’t doubt that in due season the hard work of tough love will pay off.

Now, let’s talk about that little voice of doubt. You know, the one that pipes up and says, “Did I do the right thing there, or was that a prime example of a parenting fail?” Guess what? You may never know. There’s no play-by-play rule book to follow for this parenting gig. Don’t worry because you doubt yourself. Worry if you ever stop doubting yourself because then you may be too proud or bull-headed to consider you may be the one in the wrong. Don’t be afraid to ask forgiveness when you mess up. And don’t worry that you don’t know all the answers. No mother ever has. We’re all figuring it out as we go.

So now, take a deep breath. Count to ten or a hundred (or whatever it takes). And when bed-time (blessed bed-time) comes, take a break: a bath, a book, a breather, a nap, a good laugh—you know what makes you feel like you again. Remember that the hard days are often the days where you and your little ones are learning the most. Stretching precedes growth.

When you’ve been able to give yourself a break, give yourself grace. Be gracious to your frazzled, worn-out mommy-self. You’ve been pulled in a hundred ways and if you did nothing else today, you loved them. You loved them from their kissable cheeks down to their dirty little toes. You loved them through soiled diapers and eyebrows smeared in yogurt. You loved them through the fussing, the whining, and the crankiness as well as in all their better moments. You showed your love in firmness and in tenderness. You were love to them and that is one of the best pictures of God you will ever give them.

So give yourself grace, mama. A hard day? Yes, but a good one. A well-fought, well-loved day. You were mama to them today, and that is what they needed most.

Parenting with an Eye to the Harvest

Harvest Parenting

It won’t be long now before we wake to a nip in the air. Soon enough days will be upon us again where maples blaze like Horeb’s fire, birches melt into gold, and redbuds bear their garnets and purples with royal dignity.

I’ll admit to you that I’ve already marked my calendar for apple-picking. I’ll admit that I get uncommonly giddy at the jeweled tones of root vegetables, of pumpkins popping color from every neighbor’s front step, and the perfect blue of a cloudless fall sky. But though I’m a lover of all things fall, when I examine myself closely I must also confess that I often largely miss one of the harvest season’s chief lessons.

Somehow in my world where dirt only gets under my fingernails when I’m cruising construction trucks out back with the boys, I miss the whispered truths known so intimately by those who stay attuned to the earth’s rhythms. I miss this law that is fundamental to the way God created the world–the law the farmer knows so keenly: we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).

In a world where I can plop down my credit card and receive the fruit of the sweat of another man’s brow, it’s easy to take for granted the patience, the foresight, the diligence, and the perseverance of the one who follows life from seed to sapling, from first fruits to final harvest. My character hasn’t been shaped by the long arc of expectation and toil. And I know I’m the poorer for it.

I’ve been thinking about this law of sowing and reaping a lot lately, especially as it relates to raising children. When I look out to the horizon, to that cusp of time where my children will change oh-so-gradually and yet oh-so-quickly into adults, (the way the sunset is both gradual and yet quick) I can’t help but think about this present moment. I can see that glimpse of the kind of men I want my boys to become: passionate for God, secure in Him and in who He has made them to be, wise, bold, and true to their word. I can see that glimpse and yet be so careless as to the numbered days between now and then.

I’m used to immediate results, the waxed perfection and uniformity of the produce aisle, and the fruit devoid of the sweat it took to taste it.

But the good news is, I can come to the Lord of the Harvest knowing my ignorance, my impatience, my lack of discipline, my short-sightedness—in short, knowing all the weaknesses I bring as a parent–and pray. I pray for my children and for that eventual day where all that my husband and I have sown into their young lives bears or fails to bear fruit.

I can come asking for that which I do not have: I can ask for the patience to persevere through many fallow days. I can plead for the foresight of the one who surveys the field, who studies the curves of the land and the composition of the soil and who carefully calculates what and when and how to plant. I can petition the Lord for faithfulness and diligence in the daily care of tender saplings. And I can groan for the grace it will take to trust that He is ultimately the Lord of it all, the one who enables the plant to grow, who provides the rain, and who ordains whether or not that tree bears fruit. I can come in my weakness, expecting His grace, wisdom and mercy.

And so I come knocking on Heaven’s door these days, for the strength to be the kind of person I want them to become and to love, and live, and parent each and every day with an eye to the harvest.

 

 

For our further meditation: Matthew 9:37-38, I Corinthians 3:7, Galatians 6:7

For our personal reflection:
One of our goals as Christian parents is to raise children who walk in relationship with Christ, depending on Him, finding their joy in Him, listening to and leaning on His words. How are you doing in modeling this? Is there a joy your children see in you—a joy they know that comes from walking closely with Christ?

 

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