I’ve been really struggling with frustration lately. We have been having company over 2-3 times a week of late, and I am so, so ticked when my kids work hard to clean up the house to make it presentable and then manage to trash it by breakfast time the next morning. I feel like all I’ve been doing lately is cleaning up areas that I just cleaned up. I cannot tell you how much I loathe picking throw pillows off the floor. Just the sight of a stack of them is enough to get my blood boiling. Can anyone relate? Then I run next door to borrow an ice cream scoop from my neighbor at 5 pm, and her house is immaculate. Never mind that she is an empty nester, she and her husband both work outside the home all day, and they have housekeepers twice a week. I see her entryway, which is pristine, and I come back to mine, which features inside-out soccer socks, seven pairs of flip flips (more than one pair per resident of our home!), play kitchen dishes, duplos, a couple sweaters (it has been over 100 degrees this week), and several rumpled copies of Highlights magazine. I sigh in frustration, yell at whatever kid is within range to “come pick up this mess!” and hustle back into the kitchen to get things done.
It occurred to me yesterday while I was sorting orphan socks (is there any task more indicative of the futility of getting it all done?) that I’ve been frustrated with myself and my kids largely because I expect us to have figured this stuff out already. My kids know how to clean up–I’ve trained them well–and I have dedicated years to training them in obedience, diligence, and personal responsibility. I’ve been treating housekeeping and child rearing like riding a bike, expecting that once we all learned how to do it, we’d just keep riding smoothly along. Except that unlike bikes, kids are living, changing human beings, with emotional and physical needs that ebb and flow (my youngest is in the last stages of potty training, so of course things are out of whack around here!).
If I expect that we’ll just get on the homemaking bike and coast, I am setting myself up for sore disappointment. With young children in the house, it’s irrational to think everything will always be neat and tidy. All of the pillows in the house are piled in the library because the girls, their imagination sparked by listening to Swallows and Amazons, are camping out there with their dolls. Each girl has multiple sets of flip flops by the door because they have to coordinate shoes with their outfits, and between potty training and art projects involving glue (because I’m a masochist), there are several outfit changes a day. I am tripping over paper airplanes everywhere I look because my son’s best friend at church got a paper airplane making book for his birthday and has been teaching T all the best models. I’m still not sure about the orphan socks. I mean, we live in Malibu. The only one of us who wears anything but flip flops on a regular basis is my husband, and his work socks always make it through the laundry with their pairs.
I find myself getting even more frustrated when parenting isn’t a smooth ride. Seriously, I’ve been in the SAHM business for coming up on a decade now. Surely little things like teaching my children prompt obedience or developing a sense of personal responsibility for one’s belongings and the state of one’s room should be things I have down, right? I’ve said to them for years, and I still say, “We obey right away, all the way, and with a cheerful heart.” It’s just that following through and requiring cheerful, immediate, thorough obedience is a continuous process. Just because I have a snazzy saying gleaned from a mom’s Bible study from 2007 doesn’t mean that my job is done.
My attitude shifted for the better this week when I changed the analogy in my head, thanks to a field trip with the kids. Forget the bike. Motherhood is more like a walk over stones along the beach. I know how to walk, and I have a vision for the direction I want to go, but I have to keep re-evaluating how to step on each stone in my path, changing my approach as necessary to avoid slipping and falling into the really cold ocean. And even if I do make a bad choice and slip in, I have to climb back onto that slick rock, adjusting my technique now that I know better, and keep going. Oh, and if I keep my head down and just focus on the task at hand, I’m missing out on the amazing view I’d have if I looked up for a minute and reveled in the beauty of God’s creation all around me. So while I’m carefully picking my way across the shoreline, I need to remember to pause and thank God for the beautiful place in which He has placed me, with the beautiful task He has set before me.
Does this analogy shift help anyone else? Is your parenting feeling like a smooth bike ride or a precarious walk across slippery stones?