Monthly Archives: May 2013

Surrender

We had a rough night in this house last night. Loud storms freaked everyone out so the girls slept with me. That means I didn’t sleep well since sleeping with them feels a bit like snuggling a couple of octopus/monkey hybrids with a bad case of fleas. I stayed up too late watching the weather. Romeo started yelling for his breakfast before the sun was up and I finally surrendered to all the chaos at around 7:00 a.m.

To give you an idea of what this means, let me say that I am NOT an early riser by nature. . .and sleep deprivation turns me into a cranky, unreasonable and generally unpleasant person that even I don’t enjoy being around. I sent the girls downstairs to watch TV at some point before 6:30 because they were awake and extra fidgety. I tried to put Romeo back down after I fed him but he was not having it. On a normal day, I would try to fight for more sleep for a while, getting more and more worked up and aggravated as it didn’t happen. This morning, I decided to surrender to the circumstances that wanted me up early. And I learned a valuable lesson: When multiple circumstances call for me to be the parent, resistance is not futile, but it causes a lot more turmoil than surrender. Trying to get a few more minutes of sleep while my girls got more screen time than they should have and Romeo yelled and occasionally fussed from the other room was a bit like a toddler defiantly plugging his ears and throwing a tantrum about something he didn’t. want. to. do. And being that I am the grown-up here, I decided I needed to act like it. And you know what? Our morning was much more peaceful because of it. And I did get a nap a bit later, after everyone’s needs had been met for a little while and Romeo was down for his nap.

Maybe no one out there can relate to me, but that’s okay. I’m not proud of the immaturity I see in myself at times. I struggle with shame for the burdensome emotions that sometimes swirl inside of me as I deal with the normal things that are expected of a mom. I know my kids are not the problem. They have the normal, age-appropriate needs of an 8, 3 and almost 1-year-old. But I am proud of the fact that I continue to move forward through the process of building my emotional muscles. I don’t do it right every time, but I do it right more often than I did 6 months ago. . .and exponentially more often than I did 5 years ago.

So I’m taking this lesson forward with me. When I start to feel like my circumstances and the needs of my kids are swirling madly around me and I am trying to resist and get my own way, I will stop. Think. And surrender. Because as painful as it is for me at times, I’m learning to be the grown-up in the room. And in this case, growing up feels kind of good. <3

It’s okay to change your mind. . .

This morning when I was making breakfast, Melody came into the kitchen and saw that I was cutting up blood oranges for the fruit platter. “Eww! I hate blood oranges. They’re so gross!” she commented loudly.

I rolled my eyes. “They taste very similar to regular oranges, silly. You haven’t even tried one yet. They’re just a little sour.”

“I don’t agree,” she said adamantly and wandered back out of the room.

A bit later we were eating breakfast and Jubiliee announced that she did not like the red oranges. . .after picking one up and looking at it and placing it back on her plate without so much as a lick. “They taste similar to regular oranges, Jubilee,” said Melody matter-of-factly. “They just look different is all.”

I was a bit amused. “So you changed your mind about them in the last few minutes?” I asked. “No,” she said indignantly. “That’s what I think.”

“No, just a few minutes ago you said something almost the same to me as Jubilee and I gave you the same explanation you gave her. That is changing your mind. It’s perfectly okay to change your mind when you get new information about something that makes you look at it in a different light, but it’s also important to admit you changed your mind. It’s not good to pretend that’s what you always thought.”

And of course, that conversation got me thinking. In the very beginning of parenting, I was determined to be consistent with my kids. All the time. That meant if I said something, it was law. Written in stone and non-negotiable. For the most part, it worked well, but there were times when this policy inflicted unnecessary pain on both my kids. . .and MYSELF! I’d sling out an “If ____, then____” statement of consequence without thinking it through and then I’d be stuck giving the consequence, even if it was unreasonable. . .all in the name of consistency. And sometimes I still feel that it’s important to stick to my guns and I do. That makes me think long and hard before I threaten something. I’ve taught myself to stop (most times. . .I’m certainly not perfect) and think about if what I’m threatening is something I’m really willing to do. For example, telling Jubilee that if she doesn’t get her shoes on quickly I’m going to leave without her. . .is not only unreasonable, but it makes her wonder if I’d actually do it. . .which provokes a cruel amount of anxiety in her little mind. Or telling Melody that if she doesn’t clean up her toys I’m going to give them away. . .might be effective in getting her to do it, but I’m not really willing to give away her toys. . .and I’m guessing she knows that. Those examples are pretty obviously outlandish, but sometimes I threaten the not so outlandish ones, and then I feel like I have to do what I said, all in the name of consistency. Don’t get me wrong, being a consistent parent is important when it comes to showing your kids that you keep your word, following through when consequences are necessary and setting healthy boundaries and keeping them. . .but if my goal is to raise children who can admit when they’re wrong, own their mistakes and learn from them, I have to set an example in ALL areas. Not just when I mess up big and have to apologize.

One day this week, a close friend of mine was struggling with her pre-teen daughter’s behavior. My friend was going on a field trip with her younger daughter the next day while the older girl was in school, and her daughter was very upset about that. For 20 minutes in the car (read: no escape), she listened to her 12-year-old lecture her about how it wasn’t fair that she was spending the whole day with her sister and yell about how she felt so left out and how it was clear Mom loved the sister more than her. She yelled that she wasn’t going to school the next day and Mom couldn’t make her. She was very disrespectful and rude and just downright mean to her mother. My friend was very frustrated with her and when they got home, she told her that if she had come to her calmly and respectfully and told her she was feeling left out, they could have done something special together that day since she was spending the next day with her little sister. But that after the appalling nature of her behavior all the way home, that wasn’t going to happen.

I talked to my friend shortly after this incident and she was understandably upset. She’s been at her wit’s end with her older daughter recently and said that it seemed like she was constantly punishing her for her attitude and mouthiness. . .but it didn’t feel like the consequences were helping at all. I thought about it for a bit and suggested that she do the opposite of what she was planning. . .that she take extra time and do something special with her daughter that day, just like she intended, since clearly she was feeling sad and left out and really wanted to spend extra time with her mama. My friend was struggling with how to be consistent, since she’d already told her that her behavior cost her the extra time together.

That’s when I had an “Ah-HA!” moment of my own that I shared with my friend. It’s okay to change your mind. In fact, I’d say it’s a GOOD thing to change your mind if you both can learn from it. I suggested that my friend tell her daughter that she’d thought more about it and decided that she was sorry the girl felt left-out and sad, and that while her behavior was still unacceptable, she would do something special with her that day just because she loved her. For the behavior, the girl would lose her TV time that evening, but they’d spend the day together and enjoy each other’s company. And that’s just what they did. And while it wasn’t a miraculous cure for her daughter’s smart mouth, there was more connection between them that day than if she’d followed through with what she started with. Maybe her daughter will remember that day and know that if she comes to her mom with her feelings, her mom will respond in kind. . .even though the daughter made a mistake in her presentation, she was heard. . .and she knows her mom is willing to listen, think about what she said, and be fair in her response. She still got a consequence, but the change made the consequence about her behavior, not her feelings, an important distinction, especially for those of us who struggle with separating the two because of anxiety and “big” emotions.

Now, clearly I’m better at helping someone with the problems they have with their kids’ behavior in the moment than I am with my own children. Probably because I’m a step emotionally removed from the situation. But after my conversation with Melody this morning, I’ve really been pondering what it means to be free to change my mind.

I’ve changed my mind in so many areas over the years that sometimes I feel like a different person than I was 20 years ago. I used to be afraid of admitting it, but now it feels so freeing. . .when someone sees me doing something different with one of my younger kids than I did with my eldest and asks me about it, I freely admit that I have more information now and feel like the new way is a better way. There’s no shame in that. In fact, it’s a good thing. It would take a whole other post to list all the ways I’ve changed my mind over the last 9 years of being a mom. And after thinking about it more, I’m going to try and make a concerted effort to walk my kids through the process when I change my mind about something. Because I want them to learn how to be wrong. Or just how to not be threatened by new information because they feel a need to save face. I’ve already learned that perfection is impossible. Growth is more important than striving toward perfect any day. And I’m really good at being imperfect and changing my mind. Who knew that could be considered a strength?

The Light

I read a blog post this morning that really resonated within me. The main idea I took away from the post is that telling our children they need to “be an example” for Christ is a well-intentioned statement that falls empty in the execution. In fact, I want to take it a step further and say that setting our own goal as simply being an example for Christ is short-sighted. Now before anyone goes all crazy on me and thinks I’m giving Christians a license to just do what feels good, I’m not. We live within scriptural boundaries and within our own Holy Spirit convictions because we love Christ and that’s a good thing, but it’s dishonest to only show the world what we do perfectly. And Jesus seems pretty clear about where He stands on being honest.

Early in my adult life, as a young Christian, I felt like I had to portray a certain “holiness” to the people in my life who didn’t claim Jesus as their savior. I kept to myself a lot at work, trying to show that I was separated in my way of living. I looked appropriately offended when anyone used profanity or talked about sex outside of marriage. . .or told a dirty joke. In my heart, I wasn’t feeling self-righteous. In my immaturity, I genuinely felt it was my responsibility to portray a certain way of doing things. That somehow me showing the world only the “good” part of me was my calling. You know what that made me to them? Unapproachable. Unlikable. Hypocritical.

As maturity began to happen, I had some realizations. I’m a sinner (I know, duh, right?). The only difference between me and the prostitute on the street corner at the core is that I’ve accepted a free gift that has transformed my very being. I did nothing to earn it. I don’t deserve it. And it didn’t turn me into a perfect person. It turned me into a grateful person, saved from a fate worse than death through no power of my own. It made me want to live in a way that makes my Jesus smile. But it didn’t give me superpowers of neverdoinganythingwrongever or overcomingallthethingswithoutastruggle. It didn’t even change my base nature. So why on earth would trying to portray unattainable perfection that really doesn’t exist attract anyone at all to my faith?

You know what is attractive to people? Imperfection. Real people who don’t give up. Kindness. Loving the unlovable. Encouragement. Hope. And that, my friends, is what made me decide to “get real.” Even this very blog is born of my desire to share the raw emotion of a follower of Christ learning to parent through the brokenness of pain, depression, anxiety and just being human. I am so far from the perfection every human soul craves some days that I wonder why God keeps holding on to me. There are days when I feel like I’m the worst “example” ever and that watching me live my life must make those who don’t know Jesus want to run as fast as they can in the other direction for fear of being like me. But then there’s truth.

Matthew 5:14 says that I am the light of the world. It doesn’t say I can be the light of the world if I’m perfect or if I’m trying hard enough every single day. It doesn’t even say that I’m the light of the world when I’m living exactly as a Christian “should.” It simply says that I am the light of the world. I am the light of the world because Jesus says I am. The end. My responsibility is to live my life. To allow others to see my brokenness. To see me struggle and fall. And to see me get back up and keep going. To see me change over time as I learn from my mistakes and make a better choice tomorrow. To know that I care about them when they’re hurting because I’ve been hurt, too. That is my light. My light is raw. My light shines through a scarred lampshade that paints a mosaic of brokenness, healing, failures, forgiveness, mistakes, hope and a love so big it’s impossible for any human mind to fully understand. And changing my perception of that marred and imperfect lampshade from something ugly and shameful to something unique and beautiful frees me to really. be. me. And learning that the real “me” is beautiful is the first step in learning to see the beauty all around me, and in allowing the people in my life who have not yet met my Jesus to see His beauty inside of me.

So no, I’m not a good example of Christ. But I am an excellent example of the transformative power of His love, and the hope He gives that gives me the strength to get back up on my worst day and keep going. And I hope I can carry that forward into the lives of these imperfect little people that He has given me the privilege of discipling for Him. Because if teaching them to be perfect is the goal, I’m going to fail. But if it’s teaching them to own their imperfections and keep moving forward, I got this.

Stormy Days

Dearest Jubilee,

You are my little tempest. You have always been. It’s part of what I love about you. . .but  the past few days, I’m struggling to keep up. This learning thing is HARD. This morning, a pink spoon started the meltdown. You REALLY wanted that spoon and Melody was already using it. And while the 20 minutes of crying and grieving you went through was what you needed, I just barely made it to the other side with my sanity intact.

I vaguely remember Melody going through this stage. . .when allthethings were a crisis and little disappointments led to huge meltdowns. But I parented differently then. I spanked her when she threw a “tantrum.” And she quickly stopped throwing them, which made *my* life easier.  But I have since learned that it taught her that her wild, sad, mad emotions were something to be feared, stuffed and punished, which is not a lesson I want to teach you and your brother now that I know better. And I am having to re-teach Melody to work through such feelings, a process which is much harder for both of us than just learning to embrace and understand feelings when we feel them.

Which brings me to the last few days. The littlest things lead to HUGE meltdowns. And when the meltdown starts, I do okay. I can help you name your feelings. “You’re so mad right now. You really want ________, but you just can’t have it. I’m so sorry that makes you mad and sad.” And I give you big hugs. But the feelings run deep within you and it’s never over quickly. So several minutes into the storm, I start to panic. I feel my own anxiety rise as I feel powerless to stop the waves of crying and anger and sadness that are wracking your small frame. I hold you close (when you’ll let me) and take my own deep breaths. And sometimes I blow it. This morning, I weathered the first one pretty well, but when you freaked out a second time about having forgotten your blanket at home while we drove Melody to school, I had nothing left. I turned up the radio and ignored you. I am not proud of that, but I am proud of the fact that I didn’t yell at you to stop, and I did manage to offer you some sympathy before I drowned you out. It was not the perfect way to handle it, not even one of the best options, but I promise to keep working on building my own emotional muscles so I can help you build yours.

So I’m writing this letter to remind myself that it’s worth it. I now know that learning to name and feel and work through emotions is a skill that many adults haven’t mastered (me!). But I am determined that you and I will learn this together. When I feel the temptation to spank you, or force you to just STOP CRYING, I will remind myself how big the feelings feel to you and how it’s not my job to fix it, but to sit with you and offer you a safe place to cry. I’ll remind myself that the goal is not silence, it is peace, which are two different things. Silence can be achieved by forcing you to STOP; peace comes on the other side of the storm. . .where everything is washed clean by tears, much like the rain cleanses the flowers in a real storm.

My emotional muscles are sore this morning, but I have a feeling I’ll get a chance to work out the stiffness yet again today. I will do my best to stay present and be patient. Because you’re totally worth it.

Love, Mama