Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Parenting in the early years


Sometimes, I wonder if any of the hard parenting work is paying or will ever pay off.  Does it matter that we try to have a consistent nighttime prayer routine with them?  Does it matter that we try to get them to eat their peas?  That Tim and I work to stay on the same parenting page?  An article came out just recently suggesting that what parents do during their kids' childhood years has little to no effect on them.

When I hear a parent say, "they'll turn out how they'll turn out" or see an article like the one mentioned above, the discouragement sets in.  Really?  It doesn't matter that I fight every bone in my body not to let out one giant F-bomb when my almost three-year-old is whining as I'm chasing my ten-month-old around while my breakfast is burning and I've had to go to the bathroom for 15 minutes?

If it's a total crapshoot on whether my kids will grow up to be decent, greens-eating humans, why bother, right?  Let's break out the donuts for dinner, kids; that's what mom wants anyway.  Let's watch TV all day on Saturday, not watch our language or smile through pain or go to church.

No.

I don't passively parent.  It's not in my vocabulary to say, "well that's just how I am, so deal with it." I wish that didn't sound as prideful as it does, but it's true.  I take parenting seriously.  If I'm impatient with them, I learn to grow patience.  And I do that by actively choosing the longest line at the self-checkout, or talking Ella through a conflict instead of dismissing her with a, "cut it out" or doing something kind for someone who has hurt me.  Every weekend, we get them ready and go to church. And, if I'm being at all honest, sitting through an hour during which your nearly 3-year-old and almost 1-year-old need to be quiet and sit still is exhausting (not to mention dealing with the anxiety from receiving the your-kids-are-loud looks).  It isn't convenient by any means, but we do it because we know love isn't conditional or convenient. We take the extra time to cook and to let Ella help us stir, flip, and measure, to foster a love for food and healthy eating.  And we've taken 20 minutes to talk Ella through apologizing to Archie for hitting him.  I do not respond to a work email if my kids are around, and if I happen to fall into the "Facebook" trap, when I do pick up my phone, I then let Ella use my phone to take a few pictures to let her know that this block doesn't rule mommy's world, that I'm okay handing it off.

We put a huge amount of effort into bettering ourselves and our home, so to hear it doesn't matter makes me seethe and question.

But recently, our efforts were affirmed.  A couple weekends ago at church, I was exhausted.  Tim had just gotten back into town late Saturday night after being away on business; it had been a long few days.  I was doing the half, butt-on-the-pew kneel when Ella looked at me and said, "kneel, Mama."  I, of course, immediately fell to my knees, gave her a kiss, and thanked her for reminding me to do so. She then kneeled next to us until it was time for communion at which point she walked right up to receive her blessing, arms crossed.

It was a moment of total awe and payoff.  I wanted to cry.  Our parenting exhaustion was serving a purpose.

Ella's only 2, so we, of course, don't receive this big of an affirmation every day.  Nor should we, I guess.  Parenting isn't about affirming us on the daily.  But it is encouraging to see that hard work matters.  Ella of course has her moments.  Hell, I'm an adult and I don't feel particularly polite on some days.  But Ella has a way of sprinkling an "excuse me" or a "sorry"or kisses for Archie or wanting to say prayers that I'm reminded that what we do, who we are matters to and for our kids.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Fresh month, new habits


I'm trying to complain less.  You know, saying less of "I'm tired", dwelling on things that are in the past or are out of my control, things like that.

Recently, I've gotten a couple compliments on my "positive attitude", which, if you knew me when I was a teenager, you would be (or are currently) falling out of your chair.  I know.  It's thrown me, too. But a little less so, because I've been actively trying to be more positive.  Driven by my gained perspective, I'm trying to purify my negative outlook and turn it into a positive one.  When someone comes to me and says, "Ugh, I'm so tired", I try not to say "Ugh, me too.  The kids were up all night, blah blah blah."  Instead, I try to respond with an upbeat, "It's Friday! <<insert big smiles>>" cheeky sort of thing.

I've been doing a good job, too.  I've made mental flags for myself, so whenever I hear an "ugh" or "sigh" I know to pause and think before I blurt out in agreement.  But I've noticed a recent trend.

Some weekends ago, I had a work event.  I was to walk around with a camera on my neck and take pictures of a conference that was to be featured in a magazine.  Committing to it was a bit of a stretch.  We had had some scheduling issues with our babysitter in the 2 weeks prior, so Tim had been spread thin between work and watching the kids.  We were still unpacking, and I was trying to balance watching the kids at night after I got off work, so Tim could get some work done.  But I was in a transitional phase at my job, this event needed to be documented, so I agreed.  The night before, I caught the plague that had been going around, and I texted the woman who was my point of contact for the conference.

"...I'll try to be there for 8:30AM, but I can't guarantee it.  I'll be there as soon as I can tomorrow."

I woke up and immediately felt like I needed to roll over, but I got my photag overalls on, and made it to the venue by my call time.  I made it through the day by being graced with my co-workers' presence. But by the end of the day, I had noticed that by wearing the camera around my neck for a good chunk of the day, I had irritated an ongoing muscle injury in my neck.  I knew I was in store for a week of spasms and migraines, but I kept it together...until I got in the car when Tim picked me up.

Almost immediately, I let it all out.  "Ugh, my neck is killing me."  "I'm starving."  "Where's the tissue, my nose is, like literally dripping."  It wasn't for nothing, I did feel miserable, one neck spasm away from crying my face off.  Since instating those mental flags though, I quickly realized I was doing the very thing I was trying to avoid around the very people who (first and foremost) should not be on the receiving end of my "ugh's" and "woe is me's".

Not complaining around our loved ones is...impossible.  They're our safe place, our judgement-free, worry-free zone.  Willing to be a part of a venting session is practically required of our kin, but we need to be careful.  Negativity, complaining, that energy (if you're into that sort of speak) is toxic to a family's relationships.  I know all too well how that cynicism can seep into kids' impressionable little minds and form their view of the world.  My kids, my husband are the first -- not the 15th, 16th, and 17th -- people I need to practice not complaining around. This isn't to say, I'll, in turn, dump my bad days or irritations on the first person who I pass in the hall (even though that sounds ever so appealing on some days).  All of us realize this too little. Husbands, wives, kids are the first ones to get the brunt of a bad day at work or the leftovers from the jerk who cut you off on the way home.

But when we walk into our homes after a long day and say "that sucked, this was awful" to our husbands, then our husbands react poorly to our our kid who then gets frustrated with her brother. You see where this is going.  What if we were to do the opposite?  The kind of beautiful ripple effect it could have?  Instead of making others crash, we can help them to fly.

Here's to polishing our own wings, so we can help those around us to soar.