Parenting in Public

I remember the first time I caught myself doing it.

My firstborn was a toddler, barely a year. I was at the post office with her near Christmas, waiting in the holiday lines to send a package. I don’t remember what she did exactly, but it required correction. I squatted down on her level, acutely aware of anyone in my peripheral vision who might be discreetly watching me parent, and explained what I needed her to do and why, just a *little* too loudly, in terms far above a 13-month-old’s grasp.

That was the beginning of justifying my parenting in public.

Raising kids brings up ALL my insecurities and magnifies them, so when I’m out around other people, I’m naturally very conscious of what my kids are doing, how I’m responding, and how I might be coming across to people within earshot.

Misbehavior is the worst, obviously. Online parent-shaming is sort of a national hobby. I’ve read posts with titles like “How to Discipline Positively,” “How NOT to Discipline your Child,” and (my favorite) “Seven Reasons It’s Your Fault Your Kid is a Brat.” Everyone has an opinion and has read dozens of blog posts to support it as the best and only way to go. When my child misbehaves, the consensus seems to be it’s my fault: if I were more effective, she wouldn’t be acting out. Maybe she needs more discipline. Maybe she needs more love. Maybe I should cut out dairy and gluten. Whatever it is, her naughtiness is a problem rooted in my lousy mothering. So I’m already in the hole, at least a little. But NOW I have to respond to it, and that’s where my specific mothering style feels especially scrutinized.

So I do things as I should. Calm. Kind. Compassionate. All explained about 20% louder than necessary with about three times as many words as my kids need, just in case someone nearby doesn’t understand I’M MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION HERE, AND THIS IS WHY… [more]


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notes from the overwhelm

Y’all, I’m over it.

OVER. IT.

Not my little people- they’re fabulous, if maddening. I’m over everything else, though. July has been a hell of a month for me, and I’m whooped. My husband left for a ministry thing for a week and a half, which is more than I’m accustomed to handling with four littles. (Side note: single moms? Military wives? You’re amazing.) My dear friend showed up to be extra hands (hooray!) then the smallest turned one, then I had to put down the dear, sweet doggie who’s welcomed all four of my babies home, then my husband got home (hooray!) and my friend left after a week instead of a month because Jesus redirected her, and by the way, the husband is home but has a bunch of evening commitments, so, though I spent a week and a half being awesome and being the mom through all the crappy and family-dog-putting-down, I (impossibly) had to slog through another couple days of pseudo-solo-parenting.

Then today.

At one point, I had dishes from the last 36 hours on the counter, laundry from the last… several days on the futon to fold, cheerios on the floor (because my dog is dead as of last week), my one-year-old eating a piece of leftover dog food to console herself because she rolled down a flight of stairs because the toddler boy left the gate open when he dragged his bike up that flight of stairs, and two big girls with two huge pots apiece with two sunflowers per pot, shoving a collection of eight sunflowers in my face, demanding that I must LOOK AT THEM RIGHT NOW, but for the love of all things green, DON’T TOUCH THEM, MAMA, BECAUSE YOU KILL THINGS.

My oldest, the wisest of them at age six, tells me I need coffee and some food.

I tell her I need a week of silence.

I’ve been counting down for more than two weeks now: until my friend came, until my husband came back, until the weekend, until my process night. I kept imagining that if I could make it to the next thing (whatever that thing was), I could finally relax and find some margin.

It’s slowly dawning on me that the “next thing” never fixes it. It’s taken weeks (well, perhaps years, depending on how you’re counting) for me to get to this overloaded place, and no three-hour chunk of quiet (nice as it may be) can fix that kind of weary. It’s a little like the realization that I will never “catch up” on sleep. There’s not enough time ever to make up all the hours of sleep I’ve lost over the years of babies and college and miscellaneous late nights.

So now what?

Well, when I’m especially behind on sleep, I try to adjust my habits to get more sleep, but I stop worrying about “catching up.” I let “more” be enough.

I wonder if, in this current state of weariness and this current deficit of quiet, I need to just let more be enough. I can’t get a week of silence to compensate for the two weeks without.

I hope I’m right, because a week of solitude is not an option right now. (Darn it all.) My game plan now is to find quiet wherever it can be found (bathroom, anyone?) and hope that eventually it’s enough again.

Until then, I’m just praying (again and still) for enough grace to make it through today. It’s always there.

If you have any tricks for finding margin again after a season of relentless overwhelm, I want to hear them.

I want to be like YOU

It happens when she’s the most stressed out and anxious and tired.

My six-year-old whines, “Mom! I wanna be like YOU! I just can’t be like you!”

Now, you should know that Jenna is like me in more ways than I can count. We’re both firstborns with a lot of younger siblings. We even both hit “oldest of four” status at just barely five and a half. She likes to write. She likes to take pictures. She sounds EXACTLY LIKE ME when she talks to the littler kids. She’s precocious and independent, as I was. She loves jalapeños, for heaven’s sake. Her strengths, weaknesses, interests, and mannerisms are eerily (sometimes frustratingly) similar to mine.

So when she starts fussing about wanting to be like me, I start countering with all of these things. “Baby, you are like me. You are so like me!”

She hears none of it. “But I CAN’T be like you! I’m only six! And you’re… far too old!” (I know.) “…and you have four babies! I don’t even have one in my TUMMY. And you know how to cook! And drive! I can’t do any of those things! I. JUST. CAN’T. BE. YOU.”

You know what? I feel her pain.

I have the same problem. I’ve been living this life as a follower of Jesus since I was younger than she is now, and I get frustrated.

He’s gentle and kind. Usually, I’m neither of those things. I want to interact with my kids in ways that are calm, consistent, and compassionate, but in general, I can hit two out of those three on a good day.

I get angry about really stupid things. For instance, nap time. When somebody wakes the little two during that sacred space in the afternoon reserved for glamorous things like bathroom cleaning and meal prep, I about lose. my. mind. I don’t think Jesus would get enraged at a random teenager playing basketball in the street because she caused His dog to bark and wake the babies. He gets angry, certainly, but not over inconveniences.

He is wise. I… try really hard. Most days, though, I’m at a loss. I have these little ones and I’m supposed to teach them how to be people, but I don’t even know how to be a person sometimes. I’m not sure what to do when my kid’s teacher lets me know that she’s been getting calls from other students’ parents because mine plays rougher than she should sometimes. I don’t know exactly what will connect with my kids’ hearts to impress upon them that sneaking out of their rooms at six in the morning to play with the iPad and go for a walk outside is SERIOUSLY not okay. I alternate between overreacting and underreacting. I want to parent with grace and truth, but I can’t find that line. I am fairly certain Jesus isn’t completely winging it like I am.

He is righteous, faithful, impartial. He knew Scripture very well (well enough to do battle with it when he was 40 days without food) and He was in constant communion with the Father.

He’s growing me in each of those areas, but I’m really not there yet.

As I sit here, listing off all the ways I’m NOT like Jesus, I’m tempted to be discouraged. All I can see is the ways that I fall short and how those insufficiencies affect the people around me. But then I hear Him telling me the same things I told Jenna the last time she and I had that conversation.

It’s fine.  

You have time.

That’s what you’re here for: to learn how to be like Me. That is the entire point.

 You’ll learn all of those things and it’s completely okay that you don’t have them all under control right this second. I’ll teach you when the time comes.

I love how much you want to be like me. You already ARE like me in more ways than you know. 

Try to get some rest. I love you.

 And, like my firstborn, I’m learning (very slowly) to obey and to rest in the truth that “God, who began the good work within [me], will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phillipians 1:6, NLT)

We will get there, friend. Slowly, incrementally, but as sure as His promises, He’ll continue His work in us.

 

 

 

 

 

Katherine’s fifth birthday

Hello, darling!

I just reread through last year’s letter, curious how things have changed in the last 365 days.

Mostly, you have become more you. And I know that’s how it goes, but it’s fun to see you become. You are a delight. You’re full of fire, light, spunk, and determination. There is might and sweetness. There are cuddles and fits. Your skin is still baby-soft and your grin is as impish as ever. You fear almost nothing right now, which is both beautiful and terrifying to your mama.

Sweet girl, a few weeks ago, you and Jenna got into a discussion in the car. Jenna asked which parent she was most like (me) and you asked, too (your daddy.) Then Jenna, being Jenna and the oldest and sometimes less than gracious, was taunting you, holding over your head that she was more like me than you.

You spent the next several days doing and saying things, followed by “am I acting like you, mama?”

It was both flattering and heartbreaking.

I told you this then, but I want to have it in writing:

I don’t want a version of you that is more like me.

I mean, in the ways I’m growing to be like Jesus, by all means… follow me as I follow Him. But in all the other things?

I want YOU. Just you. The you-est version.

I know it’s not always easy to be you. You’re close enough to your sister to feel compared to her frequently, but tailing her by just enough that you feel less-than. (For the record, I don’t see you as less than Jenna.) Your personality is big and your feelings are big and your voice is big and your impulse control isn’t quite developed yet and that causes some friction.

Can I be honest with you? I am ever so excited to see what all of that means as you grow up.

You’re strong and fierce.

That makes you challenging to parent, but it also means you are going to be unstoppable as a big person. (Well, you’re basically unstoppable now.) And now, while you do the hard work of pointing all that strength and fierceness in the right direction, you manage to be delightful and hilarious.

I adore you, my girl. You’re growing up just right. I’m praying for you this year, that you grow in grace and wisdom and self-control. You’re doing a good job.

 

love him anyway

I had the privilege of reading an advance copy of Love Him Anyway in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are all mine.

Abby Banks is a busy mama of three. Then one morning her youngest, at seven months old (that’s my youngest’s age now), woke up paralyzed. This is the story before and after that morning as the Banks family (and Abby in particular) fought for a new normal within what is, rather than what should be.

I know Abby Banks.

I mean, I don’t. Not really. But as I read her words—her heart—sharing the story of her family’s last several years, she seemed entirely familiar. It took a while to identify why, but she feels like a combination of several of my close friends. Her strengths, weaknesses, neurotic googling of medical conditions, mama bear love, second-guessing of her mothering… I get it.

So I wasn’t especially surprised to find myself pulling for her and for her family about three pages into the story. Before the wheelchair, before transverse myelitis, before Wyatt even came to be, I was really hoping things would turn out well for them. I mean, I’d read the synopsis, so I knew Wyatt and paralysis and a chair were coming. But I was really looking forward to the redemption and the healing.dsc_6176-copy

I was not disappointed.

I don’t want to offer too many details because it’s worth reading on your own (and her account is much better than mine could be), but my heart was so encouraged by the places this story went.

As a mama, of course I was picturing myself in her place. Initially I was anxious and heartbroken as she fought for answers and waited for progress, but as she found her bearings and her hope, so did I. Do I want my children to face challenges like Wyatt has to? Not especially. But as she walked me through the backstory and the diagnosis and the treatment, I realized that there has always been enough grace every day for Abby and her family in exactly the same way there’s always enough for me and mine. The circumstances are so different, but our God is the same.


Tomorrow is the last day of the #LoveHimAnyway blog tour, and it’s closing out on Abby’s page. If you want to follow Wyatt’s journey (or just want a little bit of sunshine in you feed) I recommend following Wyatt’s Fight Against TM on facebook. Or check Abby out on twitter OR instagram: @fightlikewyatt.

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If this story sounds like something that will resonate with your heart, it’s available for purchase all over, like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Christianbook.com. Or, if you’d like to save a dollar, buy it through Ambassador International’s online store and use the coupon code “LoveHim” for a 10% discount.

Better yet…

You can win a signed copy.

Click here for details.

(You don’t have to enter an email or anything. I just had a handy dandy widget that doesn’t want to work, so you have to click to look at it.) 

wholehearted

…in which we explore (somewhat belatedly) my “word” for 2017.

12:30 am. Early January. Trying to go to sleep and failing.

Wholehearted.

Wait, what?


I’d been mulling over a focus for 2017 for several weeks and hadn’t settled on anything. “Hadn’t settled” is actually wrong- that implies I had options, but I was coming up dry. I mean, I’d thought about it, but it was all kind of a jumble and nothing was resonating as a thing I specifically needed to work on.

So when “wholehearted” jumped to mind, apropos of nothing, in the middle of the night, it was kind of a surprise. It resonated immediately as the direction I should grow this year.

Wholehearted.

It’s wound through scriptures. Loving and serving the Lord with your whole heart.

I’ve also read a lot of Brené Brown- “wholehearted” is shorthand in her work for a lot of huge things- living from joy, gratitude, vulnerability, authenticity, among others.

It’s a big word.

It kind of scares me.

And I’ve spent the last month trying to figure out how to wrap words around why. I still can’t.

I assumed that at some point, I’d have a solid direction to go, but that hasn’t happened yet. I was waiting for some processing time on vacation to think all the Big Thoughts about it, because that’s what I do on vacation. I take time out and think Big Thoughts.

It didn’t happen.

So I’m learning about being wholehearted in the in-between. In the little things.

(Turns out, that’s where I live my life anyhow.)

It’s missing a lot of facebook and Instagram because I can’t afford to have my attention divided right now.

It means reading a lot of books, because reading focuses my attention rather than splintering it.

It’s spending some time talking with Lilly and watching her blow bubbles rather than washing dishes.

It’s getting thoroughly irritated at  a couple of my children, but paying attention to the part that was my humiliation at their public disobedience. It was me as well as them.

It’s being awake to things like the background noise of Lilly chatter and Magic School Bus and really loud compressor noise from the fridge behind me, along with a strong desire to read my book and the headache that comes from not enough caffeine and too many fevers and crises making their way amongst my children.

It’s looking my lovely babies in the eyes and seeing them.

It’s pondering (with no real revelation yet) how to bear the burdens of another as an empathetic friend without internalizing those burdens and making them mine.

It’s seeing my insecurities around living in shorts and bathing suits for several weeks of the last month, and being kind to myself both about my body and about my moments loathing it.

It’s noticing (and telling my husband) when everything he’s saying hits my ears as condemnation, and realizing it’s not coming from him, but from my own inner crazy.

It’s nothing huge or shocking or even slightly life-changing. I’m hoping it becomes large and it does change me this year, but today wholeheartedness means nothing more than paying attention and living life honestly.

 

dear mama… (when you’d rather be doing anything else)

Hey, friend.

I see you.

You love your babies. They’re cute. They’re hilarious. They’re delightful. They’re maddening. They’re smart. They’re determined. They’re expressive. They’re so difficult.

Some mornings you wake up and see the things that need to be done and the bellies that need to be filled… and filled… and filled again. You see the endless needs, wants, requests. You know you’re going to spend the whole day trying so hard to shape hearts and behavior and it is hard, exhausting, holy work.

The thought enters:

I would rather be doing anything else today.

Anything.

And then the guilt and shame set in. You hear every grandparent you’ve ever met telling you cherish every moment. You realize that they’re going to be grown before you know it. You know having littles and staying home with them is a privilege that some women would give anything to have. Maybe it was a privilege you’d have given anything to have, once upon a time.

And you’d rather be doing anything else today.

Oh, friend, I know.

I’ve been there.

am there.

Can we just talk about this for a minute?

IT IS OKAY. It’s okay to feel this way now and again. It’s okay to feel it when the needs and the noise overwhelm you. Feeling like running away does not make you a bad mom, whatever that accusing voice in your head whispers.

You are human.

This morning as I was sitting in my own puddle of exhaustion and guilt, I realized that this  please get me out of here and I’m such an awful mom for thinking that feeling is a useful warning light. In my heart, I’m pretty sure it means it’s time to look at self-care.

This week, I’ve been scraping by. Even the things that are bare-minimum level care (drinking water and eating food) have fallen apart. It’s no wonder I want to do something—anything—else!

There’s good news here. When I hear myself whisper, “I’d rather be doing anything else” …I can choose to do something else. Seriously. I still need to be here for my little people, but I don’t have to do it the same way. And you don’t, either.

Drink some water.

Declare “quiet reading time” and make sure you read, too. (Maybe not a parenting book or your facebook feed.)

Take an extra second in the car to breathe before you start messing with all the buckles.

For me, this looks like reading my Bible and my favorite devotional, then writing down some things I’m thankful for.

It looks like paying attention to the way baby Lilly’s head smells.

It’s drinking water, and making sure I remember my antidepressant. (Because if there’s one thing my family doesn’t need, it’s me off my meds. For reals.)

It’s choosing to look up.

At the moment, it’s letting a kid watch tv (before afternoon nap time?!?) so I can write.

This doesn’t fix all the things. But it does help fix me.

I don’t know what it looks like for you. But if you want to be doing anything else, please. Do something else. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t even have to look any different. It may be as simple as reframing what you’re already doing. (Or maybe not.)

We got this, mama.