What do you measure your success with? Behavior? Clean children? Kids who don't squeeze the bread in the grocery store?
One day I had sent all the kids to the car to go to swim practice. Lela was in charge of buckling Henry in and giving him his blanket. Ten minutes later I heard some commotion outside and found that they were all running around the street like wild animals. Two of them were barefoot, and one had not gotten his Speedo on. They had also let the dog out so she was barking and running around chasing pigeons. Henry was on the sidewalk, pointing to a sister across the street, and wanting to go get her.
"Get in the car!" I yelled, but to no avail. Finally, I screamed, "I am going to count to 10 and you need to get in the car!"
I started counting, slowly so they had time to run from where they were and seat themselves in the car. Which they did. I buckled Henry in and found out that no one had their swim bags, Ethan couldn't find his Speedo and Charlotte didn't know where her shoes were. Lela was making obnoxious noises (she would say she was singing) and Zoe had peed her panties. And I had forgotten my keys in the house.
It's days like this that make me feel like a failure. Did I do something wrong to make life so crazy? Maybe if I were a better mom I wouldn't have days like this. . .
My good friend, Megan, and I agreed that it would be nice to have a do-over. "God, can we start over? With a new set of kids, now that we know what to do?"
There are other things that make me feel like a failure. . . .the endless mound of laundry on my couch, the clutter on my kitchen hutch, the dirty laundry spilling out into the hallway from the laundry room, the child who pitches a fit every time I tell her she can't color when it's reading time, the toddler whose hair is slicked back with oatmeal as hair gel, the Comet spilled all around the toilet instead of inside the toilet... I could probably go on for days. . .
It's the daily grind, the mundane chores, the amount of responsibilities I have but can't get to that cause me to feel like I fall way short of the Good Mother award.
But most of the time, the reality of it all is that I try too hard.
I have this picture in my mind of a calm, gentle, loving and nurturing mother whose children love her soo much they obey compulsively. If they do make mistakes, she wisely and quietly corrects them and they immediately say, "Yes, Mother." Everyone is dressed nicely, hair combed and fixed, matching socks, matching shoes, bathed on a daily basis with soap. Beds are made with fitted sheet, flat sheet tucked in, bedspread, comforter, decorative pillows and regular pillows and matching valences to boot. Oh, and did I mention that all the bedding is sewn by said mother? And the beds are never stripped for impromptu fort building right before they have to leave for an appointment.
This is not real. I am quite the opposite. I yell, threaten, throw bundled urine-filled diapers to catch a kid's attention, hide in the bathroom while kids are jumping on couches and dog is eating abandoned bowls of cereal on the table, ignore the giant loads of clean laundry that needs to be folded, and make the toddler wear two different socks because I don't feel like finding some matching ones for her.
Yet if you met my kids, you would know that they are very happy. They enjoy each other's company, rarely says anything mean-spirited about any one, notices if someone is a believer of Jesus or not, and act like kids who are secure in their parents' love for them. Their dad works long hours and is often gone or sleeping, but they show no bitterness and treat him like he's around all the time. They have compassion for the poor, empathy for kids who are hurt, and the ability to share in other people's joy. They are all independent, able to help with cleaning the house, trustworthy outside, and looks out for the little ones.
And I truly believe that it's not about my effort, though I'd like to think so.
I am far from being that ideal mom who does everything with a smile.
Yet, I can say that my first 10 years as a parent have been successful. I believe I've got a pretty solid foundation for the next 16 years of parenting.
So how do you be a successful parent without trying?
By trying, I mean by doing everything. Cleaning, sweeping, laundering, cooking, gardening, driving, teaching, volunteering, sewing, spending, signing up for soccer, coaching, team parenting. While these things are great and we must be a good steward of all things given us, parenting is not about the house.
It's about the home. . .So here's a few ways to be successful at parenting without trying:
- Allow your kids to develop their own personality while still obeying your rules.
- Teach your kids to be able play independently, or with siblings. You are not a playmate/friend. That comes later.
- You are at least 20 years older than them. Don't let them crawl under your skin.
- Teach them good manners. . .When you say, "Use your polite manners." They should know which phrase to use under the circumstances. Ex) "Thank you for inviting us over.", or "Yes, please." or "Will you please pass the french fries?"
- While you want cooperation, teach them that you love them and it's your job to have them listen and obey. Expecting respect for you and your spouse saves a lot of grief and drama. Which means that you have to be respectable. Ouch.
- Open ended questions, for a toddler, are overwhelming. Narrow it down for them, and then if they can't decide, then the next two choices should be, "Do you want to pick, or do you want me to?"
- Remember that it's not your job to necessarily understand them, but to love them.
- Remember that it is not your job to accomplish everything on your to-do list. An immaculate house probably means the kids were outside messing up your yard. An immaculate yard either means you have money for a garden guy or the kids were busy messing up your immaculate house while you did your yard.
- Treat mothering as you would any profession. Get up, get dressed, put your makeup on, and treat it like you would any career choice. The only difference is, the pay check comes in eternal rewards and you can't change careers.
- Teach the kids that the world does not revolve around them. Entitled children can be just as bad as poor behaving children. We none of us "deserve" anything. It's because of Jesus that we have what we have.
- And remember when you are scrubbing the toilets, finding "science experiments" under the beds, changing poopy diapers, dealing with tantrums, dealing with sassy mouths, resigning yourself to a constant state of tired-ness, that the world does not revolve around you.
So the secret of my success: I've learned, and am learning, to lower my own expectations of myself. I have learned, and am still learning, that I need to stop trying so hard to be "perfect." Cleaning only until comfortable, cooking a few convenience foods, putting the kids in front of the tv when I'm having a tough day. . .My parenting isn't perfect. My kids are not perfect. Despite all our combined shortcomings, they are all learning to love Jesus, to love people, to love each other. They are solid on their feet, come to me for help, feel secure in their trust in me and aren't afraid to laugh and play even when I'm in my worst temper.
God fills in the blanks, you are just there to nurture, to guide with a gentle but firm hand, to teach them how to view things with God's eyes. Leave the gourmet organic cooking, crafty and artsy activities, quiet and sitting still kids for the fictional books.
Stop trying so hard.