6/24/13

Parenting away from complaining and toward contentedness (guest post)

When John and I were in the midst of trying and not succeeding to get pregnant, I entered the new, previously hidden world of infertility. When we started our adoption we took a break from that painful world; I felt like I was breathing easily for the first time in over a year. Now, we’re back into it. Back into questions, the hope, the disappointment, and back into all those unknowns about the future of our family. We are so happy and blessed to be a family of three, but the question looms: now what?

As with many trials in life, there are some things you just can’t understand unless you’ve been there, but there is one reality I want to share because it was extremely hard to cope with during that time and is again becoming very difficult. It’s something I’ve heard again and again from other women who struggle with infertility: it’s the pain of a complaining parent.

I know parenting is hard. I am not against sharing battle stories or needing encouragement on those bad days. I’m not even against using a little humor to cope with the strange and annoying things kids do. But there’s a line. When I hear parents sharply complaining about their kids and gracelessly wishing for a different reality, it feels like being stabbed in the heart and slapped in the face. It’s so painful. You have something I am dying to have and you are wishing it away.

I’m sure that even in the 7 months since Arie’s been home, I’ve slipped up and said something insensitive about parenting. I do try, though, to focus on the positives and let them define my parenting journey instead of the negatives. Even with just one child- one who is a very happy and easy going little guy- it is easy to get down about the difficulties. In the hard times (late night diaper overflows and bed changes), the frustrating times (he just threw his cheese in my face), and the exasperating times (he drew on the table with permanent marker. Again.), I have to remind myself of what it was like to be childless and longing.

All this has inspired me to share one of my dear friends with you. My friend Steph is a mother to four beautiful children. She has not struggled with infertility herself and yet she has somehow understood what precious gifts her children are. In the years since her motherhood began, I have heard Steph talk honestly about her challenges but I have truly never once heard her complain about her children. I marvel at this! I have asked her to share some of her wisdom with you today and I hope you come away as encouraged as I have!

**

Steph, thank you so much for taking this time (in the midst of your busy life!) to share with us today. Will you introduce yourself and your family?

Yes! My name is Steph. I just turned 27 last month, the day after delivering my fourth baby. My best friend and husband, Mike, has been riding this crazy roller coaster of our life with me for the past 6.5 years. We've been married for 5.5 of them. We have a 4 year old daughter, an almost 3 year old daughter, an almost 18 month old (extremely busy) son, and a 3 week old daughter.

**deep breath** Yes. Here's the quick math for you: we met and then dated for 7 months; we were engaged for 4.5 months, married, and got pregnant 7 months later. That's been our trend ever since! Every 7 months, I got pregnant.

Mike works long hours, 6-7 days a week with his parents, owning a wholesale nursery and retail garden centre. I spend a lot of time alone with 4 small children. A lot.
Wedding day in December 2007

What made you desire a bigger family?

We always wanted four children. We each come from families of four children. I would love six or eight, actually. I just want my kids to have each other. When Mike and I pass, all they will have left of us is each other.
Our family, taken this spring. 
My mother is one of nine children, and I always enjoyed having so many people in our family. Family gatherings are huge, loud, and full of laughter. Although my grandmother was blessed to have nine children, my mother struggled after two. There is a crazy 13 year gap between me and my younger sister. My mother struggled with 'secondary infertility' for eight long, painful years. I believe this played a huge part in my outlook today. I grew up with the fear of not being able to conceive, or that it might take a long time if I did. Then, of course, the fears of miscarriage. My mom had a few of those.

We all know that raising young children is hard, tiresome, and often monotonous work. Do you get tired? Bored? Sick of it? How do you cope?

Yes, I have to admit. I have had a few scary thoughts come across my mind, in the midst of the long, monotonous, stressful days. I’ve thought, “I don't want to do this anymore.” And to me, this is a huge red flag. When something like that creeps into my head, I shock myself. I wonder, “If I truly followed that train of thought, where would it lead me?”

I'll tell you because I did follow that train of thought, just to see where it would go; just to see what other answers are out there for my "problem." Well, I could send them all away to daycare (to be clear: I'm not bashing daycare; just stay with me). Daycare is a fun and educational place for kids! But what would my heart be behind sending them?  Mike and I are not in a position where we have to send them to daycare. We decided together that this is what we wanted for our family: that I would stay at home and raise the kids. If I chose daycare, the truth is that I would be sending them so I don't have to deal with them. What a terrible, horrible reason. Everything is a matter of the heart. And sometimes, I need to give my head a shake and regroup. Because mothering requires all of your heart, and sometimes that can be utterly exhausting, not to mention painful.

So, now what?

First and foremost, I repent. God has blessed me with babies…abundantly! How dare I complain about it! I wanted these babies. I prayed for these babies. I asked God for these babies, and I received them. God is good. Psalm 127:3-5 says, " Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate."NKJV emphasis mine.
Our newest blessing. 
A reward, that verse says. Other versions say "children are a blessing from the Lord." God is giving me His blessings. I better rethink my attitude.
Using my clean laundry and laundry bins as "baby beds." I guess I can't get mad at that cuteness! 
Matthew 18:10 says "Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven." Whoa. Am I despising my children? They sure know how to make my blood boil. If I hear that high pitched screaming one.more.time…. heart check. My children are human; they sin too. Unfortunately, it often feels like they are sinning against me. It's hard not to take that personally.

What spiritual practices have you found helpful?

First, prayer. Then there are some parenting difficulties that don't pertain to my children sinning. For example: nighttime parenting. Everything is ten times harder in the middle of the night, when you just want to sleep. The only thing to do is pray. You're awake, and you have to sit there rocking them back to sleep for the next 10 or more minutes anyway. Pray over their life. Pray for their salvation. Pray for their future spouse and their future spouse's salvation. Pray for their health, their safety. Pray for their ability to hear God's voice and direction. By the time you get through all of this, they may be asleep. If not, start over but pray for their siblings. Pray for your spouse. Pray for yourself. By this point, the sun should be coming up soon! *winks*

Prayer is often under utilized. It's good to get into the habit of an ongoing prayer. Be in constant conversation with God. Instead of thinking to myself, I 'think to God' so-to-speak. I rarely have the opportunity to sit in a quiet moment and bow my head and 'formally pray'. I pray with the kids before we eat, when they get hurt, and before they go to sleep. Nothing refocuses me like prayer. One example: my daughter was recently driving me bananas right before bed. She called to me, again, so I went back into her room with a sharp, "What?!"

"Mommy, can you pray for me?"

Busted.

My heart dropped. The juxtaposition of my previous attitude and the one I needed to attain before coming before the Lord with my girls was a little painful. It's insanely hard to have to regroup so quickly. Everything about my behaviour and attitude had to turn around instantly. I was quickly humbled, and prayed over and with my girls.

Second, reading scripture. I know it's hard, running on 3 or 4 hours of sleep, to "just get up earlier and do your devotions." People who say things like that are obviously NOT running on 3 hours of sleep! Devotions should not be a guilt laden chore. Do make special time for Him and His Word, but know that it may not look like everyone else's.

Personally, using my Bible and a pen with some notecards is my favourite, along with my prayer journal. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. Take advantage of technology, and use an app, website, or email devotions. It may take some extra consideration as to when is a good time to spend some serious time in the Word. I'll admit, I tend to just try to get a few quick dishes done, or a load of laundry in during nap time, and then I will get to my devotions.

Of course, my desire to multitask often gets in the way. Or- can we be totally honest here?- social media and the internet. Those are hard for me sometimes. As a stay-at-home mom, we are often shut-ins with our kids. Sure, we take them places, but it can be so busy that we don't get enough adult conversation. Social media is such a blessing in that way that we can have engaging conversation, sometimes healthy (sometimes unhealthy) debates even. That is so good for our brains. However, it is so easily accessible that sometimes it can get in the way. My biggest struggle is the vast information I can access on the internet. I am an information junkie. I love to learn. I want answers to all my questions, so I look them up, carefully searching for credible articles. Sometimes I'm searching for opinions, and check in on some blogs. The access is endless.

So, I try to set my priorities. Sometimes we have more time than we think we do. Personally, I find before bed is best for me because I won't be interrupted. I don't have to cut it short, or watch the clock because someone will wake up soon. That is the season of life I am in right now. One day my kids will be old enough to get their own drinks, or take themselves to the bathroom, and then I can take as long as I need to with my devotions. Until then, I will adapt.

What practical advice do you have for other parents?

I like the idea of morning devotions because it just gets me started on the right foot in the morning. I really only have the opportunity to whisper some prayers as I go about my busy morning. It's so important to have a good attitude, and truthfully, I am the only one responsible for that. I have to set myself up for it. Part of that is taking care of myself before I get burnt out. When I get those scary thoughts creeping into my head, that's a huge red flag that I have not been maintaining myself.

Alone time. I am a very independent person. That can be a virtue and a vice. I am called to be surrounded by dependent little people, so I can feel overwhelmed and annoyed. I just need time alone. My husband knows this about me, and is learning to recognize that need before things get out of control. It's so important that your spouse understands your 'maintenance needs', because sometimes you don't know you need it until you're ready to run away. For others it may be time with your spouse, or friends, or hobby.

I also find, that when I eat well, my mood is better and I have more energy. I always need lots of energy!

Life-giving influences. Another way to help preserve and maintain a good attitude is to surround yourself with life-giving influences. My social media feeds are filled with people, blogs (like this one), or groups (this one and this one) that post encouraging words to moms, scripture, information on living a healthy lifestyle, or humor.

I have a few go-to books that encourage me as a mom (“Loving the Little Years” is a favourite!) . I know which songs will uplift me. I write out, or print, quotes to remind myself of this joy I'm seeking and trying to maintain, or just some words of encouragement on being a mother or wife. Sometimes, in extreme cases, I gather the kids around the computer and we watch funny baby or cat videos. Lame, I know, but it works. Gives us a little break from reality to regroup and try again.

Laughter is crucial. I believe that's one of the reasons God paired me with my husband. He makes me laugh every day. Often I just have to step back and laugh at the whole situation my kids have me in. Sometimes it's just so incredibly ridiculous, it just feels like it can't actually be real. God has cast me in some kind of sitcom, and for sure He is enjoying this entertainment.
Having a hard day, texting with Mike and playing off Jim Gaffigan's joke that having kids around is like living with drunk people! :-)

This, too, shall pass. It's only a season.

How do you keep yourself from complaining about your children? How do you stay so positive?

Perspective. I count my blessings. I know too many people who have lost children, to whatever reason.
Buckling four kids into car seats is time consuming and sometimes a battle, but I will not complain because right now they are under my care and I know they are safe. There will come a day when they are driving in cars with friends, and I won't have control over their safety.
That's a lot of buckles! 
:0)
If I am up in the night with my child, I whisper a prayer of thanks that I am at home with them and not in a hospital room. I am thankful they are up for the mere reason of cutting new teeth, or having a bad dream or a tummy ache. Something that parents with sick children would give anything for. I have four healthy children. They will enjoy a normal childhood, outside the confines of a hospital.

How do you respond when you hear other moms complaining? How do you encourage them without commiserating?

No one likes a whiner or a complainer! Have you ever met someone that always has something negative to say? I am so thankful for the ability to filter my facebook newsfeed. I have some family and friends that I just cannot stand their status updates. I am so tired of reading how difficult their night was, or how their child won't sleep, or something else is going wrong. What is the point of that? Let's skip the virtual pity party.

I am all for supporting people, though. Especially other struggling mamas! Sometimes when I see a whiny status, I will acknowledge the difficulty and offer a solution. "I'm sorry you're not getting any sleep, that is so hard! Have you tried ______?"

The difference between a whiner and someone legitimately looking for help is usually in their response. "Yeah, I've tried everything! This kid just won't ever sleep! I'm never having kids again!" OR "Yeah, it didn't really work. But maybe I'll try _____ instead. Or maybe it's an ear infection/teething/food reaction., etc." Complaining for the sake of complaining is just annoying. If you are sharing your struggles, at least pursue a solution. And be mindful of your audience.

I have sought advice from other mamas many times. Sometimes it's not what you are saying, but how you say it. We are all in this together, so let's do it with class. Not too long ago I had a particularly difficult day and I was just feeling done. Mike had been working extra long hours, and hadn't taken a day off in over a month and a half. I was 9 months pregnant with our fourth and spent. I had no one to turn to. I had a laundry list of everything that went wrong that day, but in the end, I was determined to be thankful.

I took that no good, rotten day, and tried to at least make something beautiful from it: I shared my struggle in a status update just for the therapy of it. I needed to let someone know I was struggling and at the same time, I used it to encourage other moms who I knew could relate. Then I ended the status with encouragement. I wanted to let other moms know that I do not have it all together, and won't pretend to, but let's keep our chins up!

Motherhood is an extremely difficult calling, but it is a crazy blessed calling. Know yourself. Be prepared. Set yourself (and your kids) up for joy. "The days are long but the years are short."

**

xo

6 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm so encouraged by reading about Steph's life and how she journeys through motherhood. My husband and I are now in our 21st month of trying to conceive and I'd agree that it hurts, so much, to hear moms complain about their kids.

    This post was such a blessing to me and I will definitely keep her advice in the back of my mind for when we finally have our family.

    Thank you, again, for sharing this story. I'm so very encouraged.

    ~Jenna

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  2. Love this post. After two years of struggling with infertility, I cringe when I hear mom's complain about parenting. I struggle with how to be a friend who allows my "mamma-friends" to express their hardships while not becoming bitter with the idea that I am so desperately longing for the hardships they are vulnerably sharing. It is a difficult line to interpret when is it sharing and when is it complaining. Even with adopting, the resentment sometimes creeps in.
    When I have my hands full next year with a toddler that doesn't even speak English I will probably look back and think I should have allowed for more grace in those conversations. :)

    Thanks for your encouraging and inspiring blog. You are sharing a beautiful story THAT IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

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  3. Thanks for doing this post. How encouraging. I have been one of those complaining moms. And honestly I have been in a dark place for awhile now regarding my children. It's so good to be reminded of how prayer transforms everything. I have always wanted children and my girls (4, 2, and 9 months old) are such a gift. But they've also shown up my fallenness more than any other single thing I have ever encountered. Coming out of a time in my life where I was angry and giving God the silent treatment I was totally taken aback by how draining motherhood is emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I quickly came to the end of my own strength but failed to recharge. The result has been heart breaking. I I have so needed this reminder of where my source is. Thankyou again.

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  4. Thanks for doing this post. How encouraging. I have been one of those complaining moms. And honestly I have been in a dark place for awhile now regarding my children. It's so good to be reminded that prayer changes everything. My girls (4,2,and 9 months) are such treasures. They are also the most powerful reminder of my fallenness that I have ever encountered. Coming into child-rearing from a place of having been angry with God and distant from Him I quickly came to the end of my own strength but no longer had anywhere to go to truly recharge! The results were heartbreaking. I think much of my complaining has really been masking the fact that I am crushed that I am not the mother I hoped I'd be. Running on empty I am angry and impatient. And I have hated myself for it. I so badly want better for my beautiful children. Thankyou for reminding me that God is my source.

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  5. Steph reading this was such a blessing. KNOWING you is already a blessing, but being able to take in your wisdom like this is extra wonderful. Thank you for sharing and thank you for all the hard work you put into raising those little souls for God's glory!

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  6. Anonymous3/06/2014

    Very inspirational! Definitely lifted my spirits a bit, even though I'm not a mom (thinking about it though). Does Steph have a blog of her own we can follow too?

    ReplyDelete

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