Four Thoughts For The Times When Parenting is Hard

This week, I got a report from Zoe’s preschool teacher that left me in happy tears. The little girl whose preschool transition I worried about so much is a leader in her class.

I do not need my children to demonstrate any of the traditional indicators of success—as long as they are kind, happy, and doing their best, I’m overjoyed—but I saw Zoe’s natural leadership emerge when she was just fifteen months old and wondered what it would turn into.  For the last fifteen months, this potential has largely been overshadowed by her behavior, and I wondered what other qualities were being hidden by the difficulties she experiences.

I’m so glad she is learning the skills that let her be her true self.

At the same time that she has been demonstrating her abilities in school, we’ve had a hard week at home—think lots of tears, screaming, scratching herself and others, biting herself, throwing things, hitting, spitting, letting herself out the door, strange sensory-seeking behaviors, and arguing about everything. I don’t believe that these behaviors reflect her true self, I don’t judge her for them, and I don’t give up on trying to help the girl underneath come out—but I do get tired.

I’m trying my best to be honest about my parenting journey with her without throwing her privacy under the bus and without writing anything that might make her question my love for her if she ever read it. It scares me that I might do something wrong as I write about this. But at the same time, I want to be honest because I yearn to connect with others who are experiencing similar things and let them know that they’re not alone.

The truth is that parenting the child whose name means “life” has been both the joy and challenge of my recent life.  I have done harder things, but they were, like, REALLY hard things (recovering from an eating disorder) and I had plenty of professional support. (Not to mention that when I was in ED recovery, all I had to manage was myself—and now I have to manage 3 people!)

During the first few months of Zoe’s behaviors, I would feel God’s love and presence so strongly in approximately 4% of my moments, and then there would be 96% of the moments where my toddler was drawing blood from my infant’s eye in the shopping cart at Trader Joe’s and the cashiers were fluttering around with a first aid kit and concerned looks and I was asking Him WHERE HE WAS because gosh, I felt alone.

And I’d pray, and feel a little better, but then they’d wake up at 12:30 and 3 and 5 am and need so much from me, and by 3 pm my faith that God was with me through all of this would fizzle a little. If He was with me, wouldn’t He be teaching me to do this better and wouldn’t I have more energy?!

My recovery from an eating disorder took years of slow, plodding progress.  Similarly, God has not chosen to snap His fingers and make my parenting journey easier (although He just gave me in-laws six blocks away, which definitely counts for something)! 

But as I constantly remind myself, just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean I’m alone—or that I’m not learning and growing with every step.   For example, my ratio now is more like 80% “cool, you’re with me, God, thanks” and 20% “what the ACTUAL heck do I do in response to this?” Growth!

This week, I felt compelled to write down four thoughts that God has been stirring in me—four reminders for the times when my child is having a hard time, when I feel like I can’t do this right, and when I need a reminder of His truth and design.

I thought I’d share them today, even though they’re a bit of a departure from my usual blog content. If you don’t like Bible study (or if you’re not a parent), feel free to skip everything else in this post, but studying these ideas has really blessed me, and I thought they might help someone else!

img_2698

(1) God made my child, and He calls her good.  She was knit together in the image of God and is fearfully and wonderfully made; His eyes saw her unformed body and all the days ordained for her when she was still in the womb. “Your works are wonderful; I know that full well” (Genesis 1:27,31; Psalm 139).

(2) God gave her to me to parent.  “Children are a heritage from the Lord; they are a reward from Him.” My daughter was placed into our family “with the help of the Lord,” and was the answer to our prayers for a child to love. He places each part in the body just where He wants it to be, according to His design (Psalm 127:3, Genesis 4:1, I Samuel 1:27, I Corinthians 12:18).

(3) I am not alone in this job. He wants to help me. He is “my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” I am never alone; I have an advocate to help me and be with me forever. When I pray “let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me,” I can rest assured that “He is faithful to His promises” and will help me (Psalm 71:3,; John 15:26; Psalm 71:18, 22).

(4) My job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through me to my child.  All outcomes are up to Him. We are told to teach our children to “love God with all our heart, all our soul, and with all our strength.”  These commands are to be on our hearts, to be talked about, and to be lived “as we sit at home, as we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up.”  This implies active pursuit of God in my own life. Teaching Zoe about God—and teaching her the skills she needs to be successful—are both important, but loving the Lord myself is the most important thing I can do for my children. Apart from Him, I can do nothing; fruit comes only from abiding in Him and loving as He has loved me. I can plant the seeds and water them, but in the end, only God makes things grow (John 15:12-13, 5; I Corinthians 3:7).

To recap, and make it personalized for you (if you are still reading):

God made your child and He calls him/her good.

God gave him/her to you to parent.

You are not alone in this job; He wants to help you.

Your job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through you to your child. All outcomes are up to Him. 

I hope these thoughts encourage you today! 

Advertisements

My To-Do List

If you’ve spent any time with me lately, you’ve likely NOT heard me ramble about work-life balance…because it’s so raw and I don’t know what to say.  My work-life balance has been changing a little bit after several years of being in bare minimum career maintenance mode, and it’s weird.

Since I ramped up my efforts to build my client list (a marketing effort which consisted mostly of prayer and not immediately screaming “NO” when someone made a referral), I have been blessed with a steady stream of clients and work. I am no longer working “very” part-time; I work part-time. This comes with increased client management responsibilities, more deadlines to keep track of, and some slight changes in personal identity.

For about two months, I’ve been saying “I probably need to start saying no to any new projects”—but in those two months, I’ve said “no” exactly 0 times.  Here’s why:

-I genuinely like the projects and am so jazzed by (most of) the work that I do. I take on my clients’ missions and invest in my students’ futures.  I love getting e-mails from students thanking me for helping them learn and grow, coming back from meetings with my brain whizzing with ideas, and getting lost in research as I write narratives for my clients’ grant proposals.  I didn’t have an outlet for my passions, I’m not sure that my life would feel as meaningful. I know that I am called to be a present and engaged mom, but I don’t feel called to push down all of the things that I know and can offer the world in favor of having empty laundry baskets.

-It’s hard to say no to new clients who want to work with me, or to existing clients who would be a great source of continued business when I have a long-term interest in building a small business (or at least a job for myself) in this field.

-My counted-on contribution to our family income is all I “need” to do. But outside of that, I have hopes and dreams for our house, vacations I want our family to go on, and 529 accounts that I want (“want?”) to fill up.  Contract/freelance work = $.

Coming back to reality, however: at this point, all of my scheduled childcare time for the fall is booked with projects…so any new “yes” I say to work is a “no” to time with my kids, family, and/or personal time.

It’s tough to figure out the right balance between “this project pays for a month of your preschool tuitions, freeing up funds for a family vacation that will build priceless memories” and “this project makes me miss time with you and/or takes up any time I have to recharge, resulting in memories of time with a babysitter or a cranky mom.”  And I’ve had to accept that I’m not going to make the right call 100% of the time, because actually saying yes is new.

Trying new things is messy.  Add that to a life that was already a little less than put-together and it’s…well, messier.
photo-on-1-20-16-at-7-48-amBut there’s fun in the mess.  And with every messy challenge comes opportunity.

And so: I think that the challenge for me at this intersection of my kids’ development and my business growth will be to clearly define and act from my values.  The time I spend parenting will change and fluctuate as my kids move towards school readiness, but the value of my parenting time will not decrease, and the quality of that time should not, either.

This challenge also means I have the opportunity to experiment with new projects, clients, and work styles and schedules—and the opportunity to learn more about myself, my family’s needs, and what my future could look like—IF I pay attention.

Also, I realize that I am SO blessed to have these opportunities and choices. When I was fresh out of college, I wrote a description of my dream job. I wanted to work for a nonprofit organization, write professionally, be an adjunct professor, have the flexibility to work from home and coffee shops instead of always needing to be in an office, be able to cook a hot lunch (LOLZ, clearly of the utmost importance), and have time during my day to exercise, play with my then-imagined kids, and invest in other people.  In other words, way too many things, some ludicrous things, and also essentially what I do now.

The kicker is that when I left full-time work, I didn’t intentionally set out to achieve this life; I was just taking steps of obedience and looking, like, one foot ahead until I suddenly looked up and realized that I am actually living that dream (minus the daily hot lunch because it turns out that once I had more than one child, I began to struggle to even make a basic sandwich. If we could slightly tweak the goal to “making a latte after lunch,” though, nailed it). 

Even though this life is what I dreamed of, it’s not always perfect or easy or 100% fun.  It’s called “work” for a reason!  So when I begin to angst about the difficulty of balancing work and family and my soul, I have begun to tell myself: you are tired.  It’s time for a break.  Go for a walk with a friend.  Talk with your husband.  Watch a show.  Read a book.  Write a blog post.  Go to bed.  If your lifestyle can’t support Sabbath—something needs to change. 

In the morning, I wake up and journal and pray.  And towards the end of writing my honest reflections to God, I am always startled to realize that I didn’t have a situational problem; I had a gratitude problem, or was tired, or just needed to say no, or needed to set up an extra babysitting day but also plan a fun family activity to balance it out.  It isn’t actually that hard when you don’t carry all the burden of doing all the things perfectly all the time.

I don’t always know the “right” answer to the “should I take on this client/project” question.  And I won’t always get it right.  But generally, if I pause before responding, prayerfully consider a project, and move it through the filter of the important “to-do” list that I have developed below—I might.

img_5171

My to-do list: 

(1) Be an engaged and present mom and wife. I am there for my people when they ask me to be. I put down my thing/to-do and engage when they want to engage. I stick to clearly defined work times and don’t multi-task.  I work in my office or at my Starbucks office—not in the playroom.  I may leave things unfinished at times; this bugs me but I choose the better thing.  I’m there—fully present—for the big moments.

IMG_5178.JPG(Zoe before her first day of weeklong camp this summer! I was happy I could be there to talk her through nerves at drop off and see her excited face at pick-up.)

(2) Manageable and enjoyable work. I curate my projects/clients to a manageable list. As possible, I go for the enjoyable projects. I don’t need to “wow” on every project—meeting expectations is okay.

(3) Treat my soul with respect.  My life has time for quiet time.  I make time and space for a weekly Sabbath—a day or two with no “work work,” unless it’s one of my two grading hell weeks.  I make space for fun things with friends that seem like a waste of time from a productivity standpoint, because these friendships so greatly enrich my life and fun is actually important. I fight for alone time now and then.  I make time for reading. I pay attention to patterns in myself.  If my physical, mental, and emotional self all feel ragged—I talk about it and make some changes.  I “find rest in the incompleteness of the present moment as I learn to recognize the goodness of what is, [and trust] that what is needed for the future will be added at the proper time” (Sally Breedlove, Choosing Rest).

On that note, I’m going to go to bed!