When Parenting Kicks Your Butt
One of my Facebook friends recently lamented that parenting was kicking her butt lately. If you're a parent, I'm sure you can empathize. It is without a doubt the most difficult undertaking any of us experience in a lifetime. It's also by far the most rewarding, and it will definitely show you what you're made of as it pushes you way past what you thought were your outer limits.
Here we are with the first six of our eleven kids. This was by far the hardest time for me, as they were all more inclined toward making messes than cleaning them up. You can probably imagine how stressful getting this picture taken was; it took a couple of hours to get everyone ready, this was supposed to be our Christmas card picture as well as the church directory picture, and poor little Amy wouldn't stop screaming the whole time. Picture me barking through gritted teeth, "Just keep smiling! Maybe she'll stop screaming, and we can get a good picture." Alas, that never happened, and this was both our Christmas card and our church directory picture. Perfectionist me was not pleased..... :0
Those beautiful little creatures we call our children don't come with a guidebook. Not only that, but none of them are alike! When I had my first child, I was absolutely terrified. When #2 came along, I thought I would be a pro because, well, been there done that, right? Wrong. Opposite gender, completely different personality. So then I thought, well, I got both kinds of kids; this one is night, that one is day. I'm set! Then #3 came along, and I was completely dumbfounded. Yet another different temperament and personality. Same thing happened with children numbered 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Of course, after about 4, I was kind of figuring out that whomever was coming next was going to be a unique little surprise, with his or her own special gifts and challenges.
Here are a few things I learned along the way:
1. Lower your standards a little...
....or maybe a lot. I am a perfectionist by nature, and I had visions of being the perfect wife with the most perfectly beautiful, clean-scrubbed, well-mannered, perfectly behaved little beings that ever walked the face of the earth as we lived in our perfectly clean and happy household filled with cheerful, smiling faces, always looking to help out, cleaning up after themselves without being asked, and I would have wonderful meals all made from scratch with everyone gushing over my wonderful cooking. And holidays? Well, those of course, would be perfect, too, just like in a classic Norman Rockwell painting. Beautifully wrapped presents, perfect Christmas dresses and little suits, perfect little pony tails and curls, and so on.
I don't know what planet I was living on, but that was clearly delusional thinking. For years I felt like I was drowning in diapers, dishes, and laundry. I have vivid memories of vacuuming my carpet with my little ones following me with graham crackers in their hands, happily munching away and dropping crumbs all over the part I had just vacuumed. I really didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the time, as I was so tired and frustrated.
So my advice on this is lower your standards. It's not going to be perfect. It may be more like perfectly messy, but that's ok. It's only for this season of your life. My little ones weren't trying to make messes, and they weren't trying to cause me grief; they just wanted to follow me around and be part of my world. I often forgot that as parents, we were the biggest part of their world, and especially me since I was home all day with them.
Which leads me to....
2. Let your children be part of your world.
This may or may not be a no-brainer for you. For too many of us, we think we have to do everything or it won't be done right. The kids won't load the dishwasher right or they might break the dishes or they will miss half the carpet if they vacuum or they won't get all the crumbs up. And so on. Who cares?? Little ones are so eager to help; teach them how, tell them how much you appreciate their help, and turn it into a habit. This is easier said than done for many of us. If you insist on doing it yourself, as I did, you end up playing the martyr, slaving away all the time and eventually resenting everyone for making so many messes and not helping with the clean up. You reap what you sow. Sow the habit of cheerful helpfulness in your children. If you can't get the cheerful part to work, then at least get the helpful part down. It will make your life enormously easier, especially as they get older and more capable. Here is a chore chart I saw on Facebook:
As you can see, they can really do quite a lot if you take the time to teach them how when they're young, and this will pay off in a big way later on, both for you and for them. It does no one any favor to have everything done for them; when they move out, those kids won't know how to do anything. Cleaning, shopping, money management, cooking, all will be a big mystery. That's a huge disservice to your children. Prepare them for the real world by teaching them how to help out as soon as they are able.
One of my inspirations for homeschooling is Maria Montessori. A huge part of her teaching is teaching children chores at a very young age and using child-size tools, such as a small broom, to accomplish them. You can read more in her book, The Montessori Method.
3. Make some time for yourself
This is a very tall order when there are little ones underfoot. Try getting up 30 min earlier and just enjoy the morning before everyone else gets up. Don't do any chores during this time, just be still, drink your coffee in peace, and do something just for you. Start with some prayer and meditation (as little as 5 min can make a huge difference!), and then write in a journal, read a book or magazine, paint your toenails, it doesn't really matter. If the early morning is just impossible for you (like when you have a new baby, and all you want to do is sleep for days), try the evening after the baby goes down or do something for you during nap time. If you need to hire a neighboring teen to be a mother's helper for a couple of hours, then do that. Take a hot bath, take a nap, go on a walk, or go shopping! Fill your well, and recharge your batteries. The Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself; the key phrase there is, "as yourself". if you don't love yourself, then how well can you love your neighbor? Or your child? God wants us to love ourselves, too, so that we are refreshed and ready to take care of our kids and give our best to our husbands. As moms it's very easy to get in martyr mode, burning the candle at both ends and then completely running out of steam. No one benefits from that, not you nor your family. I know from experience.