Archive for For New Moms

Deep Roots

We’re living in Iowa for the fall, so of course the kids and I have been out hiking in this wonderful Midwest countryside, learning all about Iowa plants, especially prairie grass. Prairie grass can grow higher than my ten year old’s head, but even more remarkably, its root systems are three times as big as what you see above the ground!

As my kids were sketching away in their nature journals, I reflected on how these deep prairie grass roots are similar to the roots I’m investing in my kids’ lives each day. You usually can’t see the literal blood, sweat, and tears that I put into my children, morning, noon, and night, but that doesn’t mean that the unseen, mundane mothering is not essential for the visible flourishing. When you see my tall, happy, healthy ten year old boy who is helping boost his little sister up to drink out of the drinking fountain or who quickly goes and rounds up everyone’s coats while I’m saying my last goodbyes at church, I see the thousands of hours of reading, playing, and snuggling together that I’ve invested so that our relationship is one of security and deeply felt love. I see the hundreds of times I’ve had to follow through with consequences when he hasn’t immediately obeyed me, training him that we obey “right away, all the way, and with a cheerful heart.” I see all the sibling squabbles when I’ve had to drop everything I was doing and referee, sometimes for hours, and the extra time I’ve invested in making sure that he doesn’t just obey me and share with his sisters, but that I actually reach his heart and help him see how important it is that he see those three little girls as precious gifts, not just inconvenient pests. I see the times that he’s down on himself for failing again and I have to speak words of encouragement and praise for the progress he’s made in other areas. Anyone who has helped their child overcome a sinful tendency knows just how often our attention and assistance are essential to this little person with an immortal soul. Even as I’ve sat and typed out this paragraph, I’ve had to pause about six times for a parenting investment!

We full-time mothers often struggle to articulate what is so wrong about those working mom blog posts that insist they do everything we do—and put in 50 hours a week at the office, too. Such a comparison is ridiculous, of course, because it’s only focusing on the visible things (yes, we all feed our children dinner and drive them to soccer practice) and pretending that a human soul can be adequately tended merely on evenings and weekends. It’s like comparing two plants, both which grow to ten feet tall, without noting that one has roots that will hold it secure in a thunderstorm while the other is rooted so shallowly that anyone can come along and pull it up. If you’re on a nature hike with a two year old who has managed to push her stroller over the side of a hill dropping 30 feet into a ravine, which kind of plant would you want her to encounter on the way down? In our case, catastrophe was averted for both toddler and stroller because the deep roots of the prairie grass held fast and stopped her close enough to the top for us to hoist her back up. Deep roots are important, even though you can’t see them.

If you are a new mom holding a baby who is sleeping or crying most of the time, and you don’t see that producing breastmilk or mixing up a bottle is building any roots, think of the security and nurture that you are giving your child with skin-to-skin contact, gazing into each other’s eyes, knowing each other’s smells and sounds and facial expressions. As a certified foster parent, I can tell you countless stories of kids who don’t have that bond in their early weeks and months and struggle to adapt for the rest of their lives.

If you are a mom in the trenches with two or more little people, plus a baby, wearing spit up on your shirt and reaching into your purse for your wallet and pulling out a sippy cup instead, don’t let the world tell you that you’re wasting your talents or (strangely, often simultaneously) that your company is not enough for your child. The kind of socialization your preschoolers need is not a room full of other three year old narcissists overseen by one or two unrelated childcare professionals (no matter how sweet). Your little people need to know how they fit into a family unit, the basis of community, and they need to be cared for by an adult who loves them and who will never stop loving them or praying for them to grow into men and women of integrity and faith. There are many important jobs out there, but nothing is more important than the tending of a human soul.

If you are a homeschooling mom like Anna and Bethany and me, don’t measure yourself by your failures (as opposed to the homeschooling supermom you follow on Instagram). And if you haven’t noticed, we can’t do it all, either. Notice that we’re not doing much blogging anymore? Our own housefuls of students are keeping us busy. Repent openly to your children when you lose your temper, ask the same of them, and remember that each new day is a new chance for you and your kids to grow in self control and diligence. Don’t let yourself think that nothing was accomplished because “all” you did today was math, spelling, and reading aloud. Even if your kids need a calculator and spell check when they’re adults, they won’t forget the comfort of snuggling on the couch, reading Farmer Boy or Charlotte’s Web or The Hobbit. You’re the primary influence shaping their tastes and aspirations, and you know better than anyone else when they need a read-aloud day (and when they just need to buckle down and do their Latin and drill their math facts and finish that writing assignment). You are the world’s leading expert on your child.

Go tend those roots!

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Posted in For New Moms, Importance of Mothers | Leave a comment

Motherhood as Sanctification

Today I was going through old posts on our family blog, and I came across this post from five years ago.  I’ll copy it in its entirety:

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E suddenly entered the terrible twos this week.  Butter in Daddy’s coffeemaker.  Dumped out all her tiny choking hazard elastic bands on the floor right in front of the baby.  Emptied half a brand-new container of clorox wipes into the toilet.  Got into the fridge and ate the tips off of a bunch of strawberries.  Got into the hand lotion I’d bought for our stocking for a soldier and spread it all over herself, her clothes, and a bunch of toiletries for the stocking.  Dropped her sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich on the kitchen floor and ground it in with her heel.  Tore open the granola bars for the soldier stocking, and when my back was turned, egged T on to cut the tags off the baseball cap I’d bought for our Operation Christmas Child shoebox.  Whereupon I announced tartly that it was quiet rest time and everyone had better wash their hands and get into bed.  At which point she pooped in her panties and sat down on the potty, smearing it everywhere, and wiping it up with the hand towel.  This was all in under five hours.

By the time everyone was down for naps and the poopy clothes were in the washer, my sinus headache had grown to a full-blown throbbing body ache.  I just had enough energy to cry out to God, “Please help me.  I can’t keep doing this!”  What a way to start a week that will have my hubby gone Tuesday evening for a candidate dinner and out of town Wed-Sat for a conference in DC.  One or two instances of severe naughtiness in a day don’t phase me anymore.  It’s the cumulative effect (plus fall colds) that knocks me off kilter.  (The afternoon included incidents with a pencil sharpener, the toilet bowl brush, the rest of the clorox wipes, more poop, an overripe banana, stickers, and two more wardrobe changes.)  Several times lately, I’ve been so tempted to just shout, “I’m done!  This is too much!”  Rachel Jankovic recently had a great post on this whole phenomenon.  She notes,

I think it is common to have this mental ideal of what your days as a mother are supposed to be like. We think that if we were doing it right, then it wouldn’t be this hard. Of course there are a lot of ways to improve what we do, that make things easier. But it is like improving the form of a runner. They still have to run in order to use it. It still won’t be easy. You can continue training to the point that you are no longer puking in the bushes and all red in the face by the end of the first block, but you aren’t ever going to take the running out of the running.

She’s great at reminding me that right now, motherhood is instrumental in my sanctification.  I keep thinking I’ve been at this for almost five years and shouldn’t be surprised by anything now, but I guess I have a lot more growing to do!

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I thought I’d share this blast from the past with all of you to say a few things.  First, toddler days are hard.  I think my life is crazier now with my kids being older and having to juggle activities and tween issues and whatnot, but it’s not harder.  Two year olds are hard.  The two year old in the scenario above was by far my easiest child.  She is generally a cheerful, helpful, sweet right hand woman.  But even she was difficult at two!  Moms of toddlers, you are in a hard phase.  I promise that you’re not stuck there forever.

Second, with five year’s distance from that crazy day, I can see the progress of sanctification in my children and myself.  I’m writing tonight with a horrible cold that has knocked me out of commission all week (while my husband has been busy at work), but I’m managing to hold it together better than the Emily of five years ago would have.  I see that as God stretching and training me to keep my temper, to have patience, to feel compassion for the child who is really just pushing all my buttons.  And while my kids did bicker and act up today, I see the progress in their lives, not just in basic maturity (which helps!), but in growing to want to please God (and please me).  I’m not saying that motherhood is no longer a challenge for me or that I don’t still lose my temper way too often, but that when I look back over the past decade, I can see progress in my own heart and mind.  When you’re in the trenches, it’s hard to see that growth, but I want to encourage you, dear readers, that it’s happening, slowly but surely.

Third, I was reminded by my 29-year old self that whatever crazy stuff my kids throw at me in a day, I can choose to be complain or look for the blessings.  It’s hard when we’re sick and tired and our kids are sick and tired and we probably let them watch too much PBS Kids and the house is a mess and there’s nothing for dinner.  I’ve been there–we all have been there!  We don’t need to pretend we love cleaning up kid poop while hacking our lungs up and breaking up fights over stupid toys.  It’s not fun.  But we can check our attitude when we respond to a super stinky day.  And after the fact, we can try to laugh at how crazy it was and how we all survived.  I have wise friends who encourage me to laugh about these things.  Do you have friends who will listen sympathetically and help you react to your rough days in a positive way?  Can you use your own experiences to empathize with and encourage others?

We’re all in process, my friends.  Press on!

Posted in For New Moms, Friendship, Home Life | 1 Comment

Stocking Up

stocking-upSo many great food sales this week!  Did you stock up on staples along with your Thanksgiving turkey?  I have enough flour, sugar, and canned pumpkin to last me well into the spring.  My husband rolls his eyes at me, but it’s an investment in our food budget.

Lately I’ve gotten to hang out with two new moms, and I’m struck by how much the early months and years of motherhood are a time of stocking up for the busyness to come.  A few months into parenthood, if you establish a fairly predictable routine and prioritize your child’s sleep needs, you’ll likely find yourself feeling that this isn’t too bad.  (If you’re ten months in and still hating your life, please get a hug and maybe talk to some different seasoned moms about adjusting your parenting philosophy–Anna and I tend to be on different sides of the sleep training/co-sleeping spectrum, so remember that what works for one family might not be the best for yours, and there’s not one perfect way.) But in general, once you figure out baby basics, you find your groove, you have about three dependable naptimes per day, and it’s not as overwhelming as it was at first.  You can do this!  And then you start wondering if you’re being lazy because you have a bit of time to yourself during the day for perhaps the first time in your adult life.

If you have some down time during the day and your child is still taking a morning nap, you have been blessed with the opportunity to stock up on homemaking skills.  Now is the time to figure out how to time meals so that the vegetables and the main dish are done at the same time.  Or how to cut up raw meat.  Or how to stock a pantry.  Or how to buy the right amount of produce so that you have enough for the week but nothing goes bad.  Or how to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes.  Or figure out how to add more vegetables to your dishes.=)  Or how to streamline your cleaning/laundry/grocery shopping/menu planning routines.  Or how to be in the Word every day.  Or just how to set up your day so that you get everything done.

Most of my friends who are juggling work and home say that this is hard to do, and I agree.  When I was working prior to having our son, I simply didn’t have the time to invest that I had once I was home full-time.  So if you are home for the first time with a little person, embrace this season!  I know some people swear by Fly Lady or other services or checklists for getting everything done in their homes, and I’ve learned a lot from reading other people’s menu ideas and cleaning schedules.  But I’ve found that because I invested the time in stocking up on those skills when my children were little, so much of homemaking has become second nature that I don’t need a set program to keep my house running.  And it’s a good thing, too, because we are busy, busy, busy living life as a family of 6!

 

What skills have you improved since your early days of motherhood?  And what great deals did you find at the grocery store this week?  =)

Posted in For New Moms, Practical Housekeeping | Leave a comment

The Support Moms Need, Part 3: Friends You Can Use

Yesterday I alluded to moms who don’t have a supportive spouse: single moms, military wives whose husbands are deployed, and even women married to jerks who think having a stay-at-home wife means they can abdicate any responsibility for the care of their children.  Even for many of us with supportive husbands, life looks pretty different than our grandparents’ generation, when everyone was raising families in the context of family and community.  Since becoming a mother, I have always lived hundreds, and now thousands, of miles away from my parents and siblings.  When you move so often that each of your kids is born in a different state, as we did, you don’t always have a dependable community to turn to for help for those immediate, physical crises we all have from time to time.  All moms, and especially those without help in the home, need to be purposeful about building real friendships.  We’ve talked about friendship before (here, here, here, and here), and we had my friend Sandy, a veteran military wife, talk about being and helping a single mom for a season.  So I won’t belabor the point that we should all can and should proactively reach out to the lonely or overwhelmed sahm in our neighborhood, church, Bible study, or playground.  (If you don’t know any isolated sahms, you need to look harder.)  I will point out that the sacrifice of reaching out to a new friend almost always blesses me unexpectedly.  Building community is a service project that redounds to you.

I’ve probably blogged enough about how practicing hospitality–having people into our homes–is a huge friendship builder.  I’ve also found that asking for and giving sacrificial help instantly deepens the bond of friendship.  Our church community group once had a discussion about whether we felt comfortable calling each other to get a ride to the airport.  Though we all were friends, most of us felt that that was too much to ask!  Then I broke my foot (and re-broke it 11 days later) and realized I needed to ask my community group for help.  Some of our group members live an hour away from me.  It was humbling to see how many of them showed up at my house with a meal last summer.  So a few months later, when one of their kids broke his arm, I found myself driving 45 minutes to drop off a meal for them.  Now I think either of us would be willing to ask for a ride to the airport!  It often takes a medical emergency (a broken foot, a new baby, a particularly bad stomach flu when the fridge is already empty) to get me to ask people for help, but after I’ve done it once, it’s easy to reciprocate in kind.  I often say that I’m not really friends with someone until we’ve been in each other’s kitchens.  Maybe I could add I’m not really good friends with someone until we’ve exchanged sacrificial favors–watched each other’s kids or run an errand for each other.

Some moms truly are so alone that there is no one they can ask to watch the kids during a doctor’s appointment.  I’ve certainly had my kids lined up on the floor during my annual exam or while getting a dental check-up shortly after moving to a new town.  It is depressing and so, so hard.  But many of us actually do have people we could ask for help in such a situation but we just don’t want to trouble.  It sounds selfish to “use” a friend, but it actually indicates a closeness that you don’t have with a mere acquaintance.  I have never been turned down when I asked a retired mom from book club or a CBS classmate or a Sunday School teacher, “Could you please watch the kids while I go to the OB-GYN?  My husband can’t get off work, and my son is too old to come along with me anymore.”  Most of my friends were happy to be asked.  I rarely have friends ask me to pick up the kids for them or borrow an ingredient for dinner, but I am always thrilled that they feel they know me well enough to ask (even if I can’t help that that particular time).  I can see how a single mom might feel that all she’s ever do is asking for help, which is why I’d probably go out of my way to ask her for help so that she feels things are mutual.

 

How many friends do you have who you could ask to run you to the airport or pick up your kids for you?  Do you have a support network of friends right now?  How did you grow to feel close enough to ask for help?

Posted in For New Moms, Friendship | Leave a comment
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