Letting go of expectations (Lesson #1) relates to Lesson #2: Look no further into the future than the here-and-now, because it never goes the way you expect it will, either. That’s actually quite Biblical. Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
If I wake up and the sun is shining and I feel rested, I make all sorts of plans in my head about what I’m going to accomplish that day. I’m going to open the windows, let all the fresh air in, clean the whole kitchen, make some breakfast cake, organize our clothes, and take the kids for a long walk. And then, when all I get done is breakfast, lunch, dinner, and helping the kids with their school-work, I feel like I failed for the day.
I can either get upset that I’m not getting my peaceful break or my grand plans accomplished . . . or I can deal with the interruptions and the daily, menial tasks with gracefulness and a servant’s heart, doing what’s required of me at the moment with a godly attitude. Just do my current job as well as I can and let Later worry about itself!
For me, it also helps to shift my focus. Lesson #3: Instead of looking at all the things that I can’t expect to do anymore or the things that I have to give up, I try to find the little, unexpected gifts that are hidden in each day. This takes effort sometimes, an alertness and desire to find the blessings in each day. Maybe it’s that wonderful first smell of coffee when you wake up. Or the sound of your kids laughing together. Or the flower that your two-year-old picked from your neighbor’s carefully-tended garden and presented to you with his great big eyes full of love. (My sweet, sweet Ryder! And I just have to brag: the other day, he looked up at me, smiled and put his arm around me and said, “You my sweet girl!” What a doll!)
I had one of those blessed moments the other day. It has been a long, long winter here in the Midwest. But I discovered a little gift in the midst of this endless string of difficult, frozen days stuck indoors. And I needed to email my friend to tell her about it. I was afraid that if I didn’t tell someone about it, it would fade away, and then it would be like it never happened.
Jen, I just had to tell you about a moment I had this morning. If I don’t tell it, I’ll forget it. And it was a good moment . . . maybe 120 seconds. This morning, I woke up before all the kids got up. I slept rather well and felt rested. And it was quiet! The only sound I could hear was a bird or two and a few distant cars. Nothing else. And there was a crisp, coolness in the air.
I know it’s like 10 degrees outside. But as I laid there with my eyes closed, I could easily imagine that it was early spring. And that the air outside was lukewarm cool and moist, and filled with the smell of freshness and mud and life. And I just soaked it in. It was so refreshing and invigorating.
I didn’t want to open my eyes and see the cold, frozen earth. I didn’t want to see all the chores that needed to get done and the piles of stuff to put away. So I laid there for about 2 minutes and imagined that I was camping in the springtime and that there was nothing to do but enjoy the moment. It was a good 120 seconds. And then I got up and did a load of laundry. Ah, back to the daily grind.
It’s the little things. Notice and remember the blessings in each day. It’s just a fact that your feelings follow your thoughts. If you focus on what you didn’t do, can’t do, didn’t get, and don’t have, you’ll get depressed and frustrated. But if you look for and focus on the blessings that God has poured out on you, big and small, you’ll find that your attitude is more thankful and peaceful. And you’ll feel like, I can do this, even if it’s difficult. Because God is with me and there are so many good things to be thankful for. James 1: 17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above. . .”
Anyhow, enough of my nostalgic reminiscing. Let go of your expectations, do the job that needs to get done, and learn to enjoy the little things. Oh, and one other big lesson. Lesson #4: Learn some humility. As a parent, I have learned (and continue to learn) that there is no place for pride (unless you want to take a giant fall).
When I had my first child, parenthood seemed easy and clear-cut. It was something I could handle with ease because I was so well-read and educated. I remember thinking that my children were going to be innately smarter. After all, I had attended graduate school and read all the parenting books. They would talk early, walk early, and toilet train early.
Oh, yes, God has ways of keeping us humble! Not only did my children not do these things early, one of them was still barely understandable at four years old. Only his older brother could understand him. Jason and I would often have to say, “Kody, come here and tell us what Hunter is trying to say!” And he would get it right nearly every time, while we couldn’t understand a word of it. And my first two waited until they were over three to graduate to big boy pants. We have to see what happens with my third son. But I’m not holding my breath this time. And I’m certainly not feeling smug anymore. If only humble pie tasted like chocolate!
And the rules of the game keep changing with every new phase a child enters. Just as you figure out the best way to discipline at one age and begin to look like you have it all under control, they grow up a little and require a different tactic. I can’t very well scoop up a six-year-old and remove him from a store the way I could a temper-tantrum-throwing eighteen-month-old. And to keep it interesting, what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for the next. It keeps us on our toes. And maybe it’s God’s way of keeping us humble and on our knees, too.
With my first child, disciplining wasn’t much of a challenge. I was prepared. I had read all the books and had all the time in the world to watch him carefully and to swoop in to correct him, if need be. And since he was such an easy child, he didn’t seem to challenge the rules too much. He was pretty content to be the subordinate and let me be in charge. I can only remember a few times when he really surprised me.
Once, when he was about eighteen months old, I was getting ready in the bathroom and had a clear view to the living room where he was playing. He had been trying to get Daddy’s Transformers which were up on a shelf, and I yelled to him to leave the toys alone. Kody very sweetly walked over to the bathroom door, smiled, and shut the door on me.
That’s odd, I thought. I opened the door a bit to peek on him, and there he was, using a long roll of wrapping paper to try to knock the toys off the shelf. How industrious! It was like watching a monkey stack boxes to get to the bananas. I had really underestimated him. Not only was he smart enough to find a way to do what he wanted, but he was sneaky enough to try and hide it from me. (Oh, how many times I try to do that same thing with God. It’s as if I forget that He is peeking down from Heaven and watching it all.)
While that one was amusing, there were a few times when he did really try to fight the rules. And, as you would expect, it always seemed to happen in front of other people. Another way God keeps us humble.
We were out to eat at the mall once when he was about two or three years old. I had told him, “No more fries until you eat some chicken.” Well, he didn’t want the chicken and he started to fight me on it. As any good parent, I put my foot down and insisted that he eat some chicken. Well, like any good toddler, he resisted and refused to eat the chicken. We were locked in a battle of the wills. And I was determined to win this one. (I still had the energy for that back then.) I knew that his respect for my parental authority was at stake.
I scooped him up, took him out into the hallway in the mall, and set him down on the floor. I said, “When you are ready to eat your chicken, we can go back to the table.” He pitched a fit like I had never seen him do before. He screamed and kicked and thrashed around all over the floor. (Yes, my gentle, calm Kody had a wild side, after all.) And I just sat there next to him and blithely smiled at the gawkers who walked by and probably thought that I was a heartless, cruel mother.
Five minutes, six minutes, who-knows-how-many minutes went by before he finally stopped and sat up and said he wanted his chicken. (“Yes, YES! I win one for a change. Take that, toddlers of the world!”) So we went back to the table, where he happily ate his chicken and then got his fries. Hey, I guess I’m pretty good at this parenting thing, after all.
Kody made it easy to feel like a parenting success. But I believe it’s because he let me be in charge, most of the time. (Does that mean he’s really the one in charge after all, albeit passively? Hmm?)
Then feisty little Hunter came along. He wasn’t that much more difficult, but he did like to test the limits a lot more than his brother. Kody’s pretty quick to give up the fight, whereas Hunter will make many different cunning attempts to get what he wants. He has a stronger need to push the limits and test parental authority.
At first, he will outright try to defy me. He’ll continue to do what I’ve asked him to stop doing until he feels that I am REALLY serious. Then he’ll back off a little. And after a little break, he’ll try to go back to doing it again. He’ll smile at me as if to say, “See how cute I am. You can’t possibly be mad at me.” And then if that doesn’t work, he’ll start to ask permission again to do what he knows he can’t do. So I’ll give him “the look” and say, “Don’t you dare ask me if you can do that again!”
He’ll then switch in mid-sentence and say, “I wasn’t going to ask. I just wanted to say . . . ‘I love you, Mom.’” Yeah, he’s a sneaky, smart one. (But I’m onto you, kid!)
Or he words it like this, “I can’t play video games, right!?!” Perfectly on the border between a question and a statement. So when I tell him “no,” he can say, “That’s what I just said. I wasn’t asking to do it! I just said I can’t play video games!” Those kinds of mental games can be exhausting, requiring a bit more mental energy than I am always capable of.
And as if it doesn’t keep it interesting enough having two very different children, God gave us a third. Our wonderful, wonderful, challenging, busy, busy Ryder. Now, just as I truly believed that I was doing a great job parenting because my first two were so well behaved, I also truly believe that God gave me my third to break me of my parenting pride. To humble me even more and to make me realize that I wasn’t some great prodigy of motherhood.
Whereas Hunter tries to bend the rules as much as he can, without breaking them; Ryder pretty much believes that our rules should never have been rules in the first place, so it’s our fault that they were there to break. He’ll do something he’s not supposed to do, and then when I scold him, he’ll give me that “What is wrong with you? Can’t you see who I am!?!” look.
One time, when he was nearly four years old, we were staying at my mom’s house for a week and taking care of her horses. Well, I’m in the kitchen washing dishes, and I look out the window to see Ryder several hundred feet away, walking toward the horses . . . with a pitchfork. So I drop what I’m doing and I go running full speed across the yard. And when I get to him, all out of breath, I’m like, “Ryder, what are you doing out here with a pitchfork?”
He looks at me with a completely innocent, What-are-you-talking-about look, and he’s like, “I’m feeding the horses.” He may as well have added on, “Duh!” That is typical Ryder, with his “Who are you to question me?” attitude.
He was a challenge from the beginning. And he broke me. He broke me bad! And now I can never look smugly at other mothers. Because I’ve been there! (You know, there’s a thing called Every Mother’s Special Blessing. Actually, it’s Every Mother’s Curse, but I prefer the sound of “Special Blessing.” And that’s “May you have a child just like you.” That’s the “special blessing” that I am going to give at his wedding! Is that wrong?)
In our house, he is fondly known as “Darth Tater,” “TyRydersaurus Rex,” or “The DicTater,” (Tater is a nickname, from Tater Tot. All our kids seemed to have a food nickname at some point.). He has a methodical way of going about wreaking havoc. He is as amusing as anything and can be incredibly sweet. But, boy, is he busy!
When I only had two children, I read about someone who said how her child could get into mischief faster than the mom could keep up. And I remember thinking, Oh, yeah, sure I know what she means. Children are just busy. But I had no idea what she really meant until my third.
I walked into the kitchen once, when he was just over a year old, to find him standing in the middle of the kitchen table. My other two really weren’t climbers, so I wasn’t expecting that. I pulled him off and set him on the floor, telling him not to climb the furniture. He was only gone a few moments when I heard Hunter yell, “Mom, Ryder broke the computer desk.” I ran into the next room to see him sitting on the pull-out shelf that holds the keyboard. And, sure enough, it broke under his weight. If any of my kids could knock me off the King-of-the-Hill position, it’s Ryder. He has more stamina and determination than my other two combined.
After I had Kody, Jason and I ran into one of his old friends who had three children.
“Life doesn’t really get interesting until you have three kids,” he said.
Boy, I tell ya, I was miffed! I thought, How dare he downplay my status as a parent because I only have one child. I still qualify for being a parent. But I smiled and nodded my head, letting him feel like he was superior to me. I felt like he was putting himself in a different class of parents - a better class - because he “has three kids.”
But after having three, I can now understand what he means. He was not making a value judgment about what kind of parent I was. He was simply stating a fact. And he was not bragging; he was sending out a distress signal. A warning. Life gets much more interesting (read: busy, challenging, demanding) when the kids outnumber the adults. At least, it did for me.
Child Number One gets all the attention and time that you have available. I could be there to catch every infraction of the rules. Therefore, he got disciplined much more by the book. (I still had time to read books back then.)
Having two was still manageable because my eyes could be on one while my hands were busy with the other. It was only a bit harder because then there was the “Who’s really to blame?” dilemma. But at least there were only two possible culprits, as well as only one possible match-up for sibling fights.
But it increases exponentially with three. Now, there are three different personalities, three different directions they could run, and seven different fighting combinations: child #1 against child #2, #2 against #3, #3 against #1, #1 and #2 against #3, #1 and #3 against#2, #2 and #3 against #1, or all of them against all the others at the same time. (I know several families with seven or more children each. I can’t even begin to figure out the possibilities for that!) If I am not in the room to see who did what, when, and to whom first, then it can be quite a headache trying to sort it all out, especially if they are all talking at once. That makes disciplining harder and my head want to explode.
With three, you are also that much busier with food and cleaning. After dealing with Baby Bottle Tooth Decay in our son, I started making as many meals from scratch as possible. This means a lot of time with meal preparation. That, in turn, means that there is less mental and physical energy to be on top of every infraction of the rules like I was for my first. So each child gets away with a little more than the older ones. Sometimes, my kids are just lucky to get a bath, let alone my undivided attention to sort out who did what first.
I’ll admit it, I used to be one of those “I’ll-never-do-that-when-I-have-kids” kind of people. But I can no longer feel smug because I am now the kind of mom that I used to raise my eyebrows at. The kind that lets her toddler have a pizza cutter, run around outside in a diaper, dig holes all over the yard with a hand shovel, or wear a shirt three sizes too big with pants that are two sizes too small for several days in a row. It’s all part of the humbling journey of motherhood.
(My husband has tried to tell me that I don’t always have to give in to Ryder and give him what he wants. I say, “Oh, I know I don’t have to. But, I’m not doing it for him. I’m doing it for me.” Sometimes, it’s the only way I can ever get anything else done! Is that really bad?)