The days of Fisher Price Little People, backyard swings, bath-time songs, and dress-up play have long since passed in our home. The mornings where I worked passionately to integrate literacy concepts into everyday conversations, mathematical concepts into afternoon wagon rides, and writing skills into chore lists are a faint memory. Now I stand in awe of a child who surpassed me in math a long time ago, a child who uses writing skills to write devotionals, and a child who can help plan vacations with suggestions from internet research. Although I have four more years until both of mine will be high school graduates, the reality that “time flies” is surfacing to the forefront of my mind each day. Nobody prepares you for the emotional roller coaster of parenting adolescents. Some days are full of promise, seeing the fruits of your labor you have tirelessly invested over the years. However, some days are full of headaches, tears, and anxieties over whether or not you are remotely successful at the blessing called parenting. As we begin a new school year with two high schoolers, I have had some lessons impressed upon my heart that I know God is placing there for a very good reason. I must focus on the good (not the drama!), (Psalm 118:24), I must strive to discipline with love (Proverbs 1:8-9), teach by example (Deut. 6:6-9), and count my blessings (Psalm 127:3).
Focus on the good times. I am learning to say yes so much more often. Raising children in a conservative Christian home requires many times of saying no in order to comply with our convictions and God’s standards. When children are small, everyone expects you to say, “the housework can wait,” while you play with them, read to them, and listen to them. As they have grown older though, I obviously do cherish the fact I can take a nap if I feel like it, because they can feed themselves, and I can shower and dress without interruptions. Who doesn’t get excited about not being interrupted?! Moms of littles longingly say, “Oh when they get older it will be so much easier….I can actually do things without a mess!” I am finding out that while the rooms stay cleaner (a little) longer, it is still important to read to them, play with them, and listen to them. Family Bible time, family reading time, spontaneous trips to stores, and conversations when they want to chat have replaced storytime, playdates, and me prompting educational nuggets in our conversations. I have noticed that I am listening to their requests more earnestly now and trying to balance the times of “being productive” (i.e. getting things done while they “do their thing” and spending quality one on one time with them). One day recently after a day of playing catch-up with chores, unpacking, and planning meals, I still felt 1,000 steps behind where I “wanted” to be in household and family tasks to complete. Knowing we didn’t have anything on the calendar for the day, my daughter gleefully asked if we could go to the science center and the mall. I wanted so badly to get more household chores checked off the list (for once). I have learned however, with this stage of unpredictable days, you capitalize on the good days (if feasible…I’m not saying we are at our child’s beckoning call). Yes, yes we will go to the science center and the mall. She reminded me how much I love her as I reminisced in the science center with “remember whens” and “you used to’s.” Her once beloved kids’ section had been completely renovated. Watching her walk through it and still have fun exploring (and posing for pictures she wanted because that is fun too, right?!) brought joy to my heart. She taught me that no household chore is more important than one-on-one time with each other investing in relationships.
“Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)
Discipline, of course, needs to be consistent, but so many curveballs continue to force me to reevaluate my interactions when it comes to discipline. This can make a mama exhausted and decrease her self-esteem as she wonders if she is doing the right thing. Parenting continues to humble me like it never has before, which is a good adjustment in the long run as a Christian.
In 2 Chronicles 34:27 we read, “because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and you humbled yourself before Me, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you, says the Lord.”
Because the King of Judah had the right attitude, he was told that he would be gathered to his fathers and to his grave in peace. His eyes would be spared the disaster that the Lord was going to bring on the land and its inhabitants. I believe that, similarly, God is not expecting us to be perfect parents. He only expects us to realize that we absolutely cannot do it on our own. We must remain humble enough to admit when we did not discipline correctly, and then pray for wisdom. Our heart must be tender enough to focus on glorifying God first, and not ourselves, our parenting books, our friend’s advice, a blog post, or even the preacher’s sermon.
Teaching by example is the crux of Deuteronomy 6. As a mother and a keeper at home, my flaws are constantly on display for every member of our family to see. Recently I reflected on a quote from a homeschooling mother of 11, Debbie Pittman, about this very issue.
She said, “…We are constantly faced with our shortcomings…we have to continually require behaviors and attitudes of our children that we are still struggling with ourselves.”
Ouch! How can we lead by example when we are struggling and failing each day in our lives? We learn by God’s amazing grace, prayer, and examples of faithful men and women in the scriptures. If I am to instruct as Deuteronomy 6 states, I must be in His Word, with His people, and at His feet throughout all of my days. I must be humble enough to cry out to Him (Psalm 34:17), devote myself to study (Ezra 7:10), and be with the saints (Acts 2:42). I can spend my time lamenting over what I am not and what I cannot do based on social media, friends, and church family, or I can spend my time rejoicing in the gifts God has given me, my husband, and my children. “You shall teach them diligently,” does not mean I must have the same education, the same income, the same resources, the same programs, and the same household routines as other families. In Deuteronomy 6:7, “shanan,” means to point (transitive or intransitive); intensively, to pierce; figuratively, to inculcate:—prick, sharp(-en), teach diligently, whet. Yes, we can utilize other parents’ wisdom and experience in teaching our children, but our children’s needs, our family’s needs, and our own needs are different from other families, and “sharpening,” “pricking,” and “teaching diligently,” requires knowing what is best for our nest!
Count your blessings!
Motherhood is still teaching me that when I am discouraged, “thinking all is lost,” I simply need to count my many blessings to see why God is, indeed, good all of the time. Recently I became so emotionally burdened with a parenting issue that I stayed up later than my family and just wept on the couch praying to God. It brought new meaning to the old hymn “How Long Has It Been?”: “How long has it been? Since you talked with the Lord, and told Him your heart’s hidden secrets? How long since you prayed how long since you stayed on your knees till the light shone through?”
In my time of despair, I was thankful for several things: my Lord who listens day and night, supportive sisters who empathize and provide judgement-free listening, and the spiritual highs I had recently experienced at Polishing the Pulpit. Did I truly believe Satan would allow me to come home and spend my days carefree and confident? He hates it when we are on fire for the Lord and for the Kingdom.
David said in Psalm 119:139: “My zeal has consumed me, because my adversaries have forgotten Your words.”
The adversary (1 Peter 5:8) seeks us when our zeal is great! In my distress I am thankful, because I know that even though my heart is heavy, I am striving to keep priorities in the right order to glorify my Creator. Parenthood will not always be a yellow brick road to an enchanted castle on this earth, but it is a blessing from God (Psalm 127:3), and if we walk the straight and narrow path we will receive the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).
I am thankful God keeps reminding me how much of a blessing motherhood is. The toy wagon may soon be replaced by an extra set of car keys, but I will keep smiling (and crying).