Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dare to Not Compare: Kid Version

When I first became a mama, it all seemed so simple...
   I was both humbled and encouraged by your response to my last post, Dare to Not Compare. I've been blessed as many of you have shared that you struggle with the same things. There's strength in numbers, isn't there? And something so healing in exposing the not-so-tidy bits of my life and finding that many of you can relate, that we're all just real people after all.

   My friend Shannon mentioned how we can also compare our children to others, and how there can be a fine line between wanting to encourage them toward excellency and making them feel condemned.  This really got me thinking, and is along the lines of a major parenting paradigm shift I've been undergoing the last year or so. If comparing our kids to others, whether by our words or our attitudes, makes them feel condemnation instead of grace, then something is grossly wrong with my approach. It can be so subtle, but can easily run like a strong undercurrent in my relationship with them. This is so far from what I want for them, and yet an honest examination of the way things are reveals that I have done this too much, if not with my words, certainly with my attitude.

   Deep breath....

   One of my children, and if you know me in real life, you will know which one, is a very challenging child. Highly intense, sensitive, active, extremely intelligent, perceptive, persistent, and emotional, are a few words that could be used to describe him. I can see the positives in these traits, but when you put them all together in an immature human, you have an explosive combination that can, and often does, create a lot of stress in our family dynamic. And when this one child takes about 75% of his mama's energy and attention, I begin to struggle with feelings of resentment.

    In the early years of his life, I would have used words like "defiant, strong-willed, and stubborn" to describe him. I took popular parenting advice and applied it to him, countering his fierce will with mine, meeting his stubbornness with what I deemed an appropriate consequence, and exercising my "authority". While I knew that each child was unique, I was still swayed by the notion that if you input a + b, you will get the desired result of c. (Something like love + consistent discipline, aka punishment, equals a happy, obedient child.) Sounds easy enough, right?

   Fast forward a few years, and something seems to have gone terribly wrong. My child, who is "supposed" to be happy and well adjusted, seems to have a very difficult time making wise choices. There is a lot of what appears to be anger there, and those tantrums that your two year old would only throw two or three times at the most if you dealt with them "the right way"? They still happen with a frequency and intensity that can be frightening at times.

   I have looked around at the other kids his age; they don't do this. I've struggled with silent, and sometimes not-so-silent resentment, that we are dealing with things that most kids his age left behind a long time ago. I've compared him, and in doing so, I've condemned. I've communicated to my precious child, not grace, but a deadly message that "you don't measure up", that "you are not what I was hoping for". Of course I've never said those words, and like to think I never would. I haven't even thought them exactly, but I've certainly felt them.

   I don't know what is going on with my son, but more and more I'm realizing that the "problem" is not one of merely behavior, and no amount of consequences is going to change him. There is something different in the way he is wired, and he requires a whole lot of love, understanding, and grace. (The love and grace must be super-natural, and we're seeking help on the understanding part. Of course, I think this is what all children require, but he even more so.) I wonder how much the approach we took in the early years worked against him, how much I tore him down instead of built him up. (And here I must remember to let grace wash over me, too. There is no condemnation. There are new mercies every morning. There is healing.)

    As I stood, sat, and wrestled my way through church on Sunday, I was flooded with these thoughts. (Yes, sometimes it feels like wrestling, with a baby in arms, and a couple of other kids who seem to want to hang all over me, or roll all over the floor, or something of the sort!) It's liberating to accept that my kids are unique, that the other family over there, the ones whose children sit still? They're just different kids. It's okay, it's even better than okay, to let go of my expectations. Maybe my son needs a small something to fidget with, or a walk outside in the middle of the service. The last thing I want is to make him miserable and resentful of being there, and so I need to do what it takes to help him. Not to change him, not to project my expectations onto him, but to accept who he is, and to help him.

    I've thought many times of writing about my son. I think one of the things that has prevented me, apart from not wanting to expose my family's "dirty laundry", is my fear of being judged. I say that, because I've judged so many other parents, especially before I had my own children. "Why doesn't she just do something about him?" I've shared these struggles before and been given plenty of well-meaning advice, much of it consisting of more ways to "discipline". My mama heart knows that is not what is needed here. What "worked" for another child in another family might have been just the thing for them, but there is no formula to apply here. I must stop comparing my spirited child with someone else. It's wrong, and it only damages him and my relationship with him.

    Will you pray for us? Will you pray for healing, and wisdom, and grace? Will you pray that I will joyfully accept who my child is, with all that it entails, and be granted love and understanding to build him up, to help him become all he can be?

  I share this in the hope that it will encourage some of you as well. May God give us all grace to love our children just as they are. To those of you who "know" what I'm talking about, my heart goes out to you. Hold on to hope, mamas! I can think of a few of my "real life" friends who will know exactly what I'm talking about, and I'm sure there are more of you. Blessings to all...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dare to Not Compare

Some people have nice fire pits: we just use the basin from an old washing machine.
        I recently read an article about how social networking is making people miserable. The premise was that people tend to put their best self out there, leaving others to feel they are the only ones experiencing the difficulties of life.  I have found, the more I'm on the internet, the more likely I am to compare my life with someone else's. Of course I know this is pointless and foolish, but the thoughts creep in, and I have to be vigilant to not let the seemingly rosy glow of someone else's life make mine seem dull.

    I noticed this most recently as many home schoolers are happily finishing up lesson plans, posting photos of lovely, organized school rooms, well thought out menu plans, and schedules organized down to the moment. And here I sit, just enjoying summer, thoughts of the upcoming school year surfacing here and there but not taking up too much space.

    This is when the ugly beast of Comparison sends in her twin, Condemnation. Condemnation comes to visit me a lot lately, and I'm trying for the life of me to not to let her in. Condemnation whispers, sometimes shouts at me: "You're not doing enough! You need to try harder! You're kids would be more obedient (happier, kinder) if only you were a better Mom. You suck! Her house is clean and she has twice as many kids as you. They would be better off with someone else. You send your kids to bed with dirty feet: your Mom never would have done that, and she had five kids! You haven't planned out the next school year yet! Dinner is late again?" And so on...

    When I stop and think about these things, I can tell myself the truth. Sometimes I need someone else to tell me the truth, because Condemnation can get pretty noisy. The truth is, that yes, I fail. Sometimes I yell at my kids and get impatient with my husband and my house is a mess and I waste a lot of time and am not prepared for things the way I could be. But the bigger reality is Grace,  Love covering a multitude of my imperfections. And I am me, not some woman from some blog with some other family.

    My life is not yours, and I have no business comparing myself to you. On the other hand, I hope that you don't look at my life and hold it up next to yours. I have tried to write honestly about my struggles, but there are many things I haven't shared. Some hard things, things I hope to find the words to share soon.

    I am slowly learning to walk in compassion, to look into my own heart and not to guess at what is in the heart of someone else. I can look at their well organized home, or their well planned school year, or their well behaved children and admire those things. But I need to remember that what I see of them is only one part of their life, and possibly the best part; they have struggles too, just like I do. It's okay that my school year isn't highly organized. I actually prefer planning one week at a time and adjusting the next week's plans to accommodate anything we didn't get to. (Which is pretty common!) Most of our learning really doesn't fit into a schedule or a plan anyway, and that's what works for our family. Going to bed with dirty feet isn't going to hurt my kids; in fact, they aren't a bit bothered by it! I don't do very well sticking to a strict schedule, but I do need to work on the rhythm of our days.

    This is something that has been on my heart a lot lately. There's a lot of good stuff on the internet, wonderful ideas being shared by the million on blogs and websites. But none of us can do it all; we can only give thanks for what we're given and live in our own moments. I can do some things well, but not all things. I, with four young children, am in a different season of life than the mama who has older ones who can do more to help around the house. The dynamics in my family are created by the individuals that live here, now, with me, and it's going to look a lot different than yours. Each family has unique struggles and joys as well as their own areas of strength and weakness.

    And so I will embrace life, the one given to me! (It is, after all, the only one I've got.) I will try to learn from others without being envious or comparing myself to them. I'll keep reading the blogs of other people who inspire me, keeping in mind that I'm only seeing one little facet of their life. I will give thanks for my children with their different personalities, my husband and all he is, my crazy, messy, sometimes hard, and joy filled life! 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Of Love and Blackberries

This is a repost from a few years ago, but it is during "blackberry season" that I remember this story so fondly! (If you want to read how we met and grew to love each other you can find that story here.)

    On August 18th of 2001 Erik came and picked me up to go pick blackberries with him. Just a month before he'd asked if he could court me, and though we'd been careful to never talk about marriage, we were enough acquainted with each other to know the other was looking for a spouse, not just a summer romance. It was a warm and pleasant afternoon; the blackberries were ripe and delicious and we were more than happy to be together. Here's what I wrote in my journal from that time:

    I wore my grubbiest t-shirt for the occasion. Driving home from blackberry picking Erik seemed to take a rather indirect route and said there was a place he wanted to show me. He drove up a hill and parked the truck, then we got out and walked to the top. It was beautiful; we could see out over the city toward the coast. We were walking along enjoying it when we came upon a lovely picnic set out before us. Spread out beneath an oak tree was a red-checked cloth, a picnic basket, trays of cheese and crackers, fruit, vegetables and dip, chocolates, a bowl of pasta salad, sparkling peach juice, strawberry lemonade, and chips. I was completely surprised and thrilled that he would plan and pull off such a thing!

    We'd been eating blackberries so we weren't very hungry at the moment. We sat and talked for a while then he said he'd bought something in London for me three-and-a-half years ago. I was, of course, rather curious as to what that would be! We'd known each other for longer than that, but on a very casual basis. He reached into the picnic basket and pulled out a red rose and a wrapped gift. When I opened it up I found a beautiful hair brush and comb set. The brush is made of ebony and inlaid with silver flowers and a butterfly. He then said that he had bought this for his wife! I looked at him in amazement. There was a part in the box for rings and in one of the slots was an exquisite ring. He then asked if I would marry him! The first thing out of my mouth was "Really?" Then, after a minute I said yes. Yes, yes, yes! He told me for the first time that he loved me. Before he would gaze at me affectionately and say "I like you" but now he told me of his love for me. I was glad he hadn't said it before; it meant so much more when accompanied by the commitment to marry me.

    The rest of the evening was lovely, joyful. We enjoyed the picnic and we enjoyed the new freedom we had to share our hearts with one another, knowing that God had indeed chosen us to be together. The sky seemed a deeper blue and the trees a more vibrant green. The sun set and we lit a candle and sat, dreaming of our life together. We had both, of course, dreamed of our life together before that moment, but it was the first time we could share those thoughts out loud with the other.

    We went back to my house where my parents were waiting up for us. Everyone except me knew that he was going to propose. Erik had taken my Dad out for coffee a few days before to ask his blessing to marry me, and had shopped for the picnic and enlisted my sisters to prepare and set it up. His Mom, who had been wanting this to happen for years, had wrapped the gift. They were all excited to hear how our day had gone and I got to show them my elegant and beautiful ring. I love to look at it, because it means I'm marrying Erik!

    I have a deep sense of gratitude. In so many ways I can see how God has been preparing us for one another. I see in him things I've prayed for my husband. God has given us a common vision for ministry and family, something not to be taken for granted. I know that it won't be easy, it will take work, but we're committed to that work. We both see a healthy marriage and family as foundational to any ministry or work that the Lord will have us do. The waiting hasn't been easy, but I can say that it was good and definitely worth it!

    And seven years later, I would agree- it was, and is worth it! My sister's pasta salad has been renamed "Engagement Salad" and we still like picking blackberries. We've moved a couple of times, had a couple of kids, lots of adventures, a few trials, and lots more picnics. I'm so thankful for this wonderful man and the life God has given us together.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Days

    I can't believe we're already past the middle of August. The days are full with all the usual things, plus extra visits with friends and lots of playing outside. I've also been working on a fun sewing project and continuing to clear stuff out of the house in preparation for our next big step.

    I just finished making a photo book on Shutterfly and was given the option to embed it on my blog, so I thought I'd try it out. A glimpse into our summer days!

    I hope you're having a wonderful summer too!