Archive for Friendship

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

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

Hospitality and Houseguests

hospitality and houseguestsBethany and her family were in town this past weekend!  Besides my parents, who came out to help us settle in, they were our first overnight houseguests in our new house, and we made many happy memories here together.

I’ve shared about hospitality many times before, but I never talked about the having-overnight-houseguests kind because Bethany and Anna both do it so well and could write about it more eloquently and because I’m still holding out for Christina to come back and guest post for us on how she sets up her guestroom (I’ve stayed in three iterations in different houses, and every time, I was so inspired).  But I’m feeling the need this week to convince all of you to invite old friends to come visit you (or invite yourself to stay with friends–we have a guest room!).

I really do believe that for me, road trips to visit likeminded friends (my childhood best friend and a handful of our best college friends) are what keep my husband and me energized in this single income, stay-at-home mom, homeschooling life we live that is so very different from even the other families in our church.  It is not particularly convenient for people with large families and/or young children to share a small space for even a weekend, but it is still so worth it.  I’ve told before how Anna and her husband and two kids came to visit us when we lived in a one bedroom apartment in grad school.  It was such a sweet weekend, even though my husband and I were sleeping on an air mattress in our living room!  In a pinterest-and-facebook culture, it’s so easy for us to have slightly warped views of how even our dearest friends have everything together if we’re not local and stopping by to see the little lego pieces everywhere on each other’s floors on a regular basis.  The Real Housewives of E2S Project is Anna’s and my online attempt at transparency in this area; we aspire to be neat, tidy, and organized, but our lives are often anything but.  When you’re in someone’s home, you see that she has legos and cheerios hiding in nooks and crannies in her house, too.

Does it sound overwhelming to have people in your home for an entire weekend?  I’m an extrovert, so it appeals to me to begin with, but I’ve also taken notes from my hospitable friends and have a plan down for hosting.  I always try to start off the weekend with a clean slate–everything is freshly swept, vacuumed, and toilets and bathtubs scoured.  Toys are organized and put away so that when a million things are inevitably pulled out, it’s fresh chaos, not chaos on top of chaos.  This is work, but it is the kind of work I should do on a weekly basis, anyway.  I try to plan ahead of time to have meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks) plotted out, something I do, anyway.  When Bethany’s family was here, I grocery shopped the day before, spent the next morning making a double batch of granola and fresh crockpot yogurt for easy breakfast options, baked my normal four-loaf batch of bread for PBJ sandwiches for lunches, and did my most time-intensive meal (homemade pizza) that first night.  The second day, we did crockpot chicken tacos that I threw in at lunchtime so all we had to do at dinnertime was make the rice and warm up the tortillas.  I assigned my husband dinner duty on the third night while Bethany and I got out by ourselves for a couple hours, and he made the yummy homemade spaghetti that we’re eating in the picture above.  During the summer, he might grill out instead.  That’s pretty much our set weekend-company-meal plan, tweaked if people have food allergies or whatever.  Bethany’s kids, like mine, cheerfully eat tons of produce, so snacks were carrot sticks, red pepper strips, and cucumber slices in the afternoons and sliced up apples, pears, and oranges in the mornings.  Easy peasy!  I’d made a large batch of pizzelle cookies for a potluck last week and saved enough for us to have those for dessert one night, and I pulled cookie dough balls out of the freezer for an easy fresh cookie treat another night.  Feeding 11 people can be expensive, but since all of our meals were from scratch, each meal was probably less than $1/person.  A meal out would have easily been over $100 for our crew, so we didn’t go out.  We ate well at home.  As far as mess goes, three extra children do pull out different toys than mine would on a given day, but we also had all the extra sets of hands helping clean up every night.  All the adults pitched in with cleaning up the kitchen and wrangling kids.  It was a very low-key weekend, overall.

 

Do you host out-of-town friends in your home?  Did you grow up doing that?  Do you invite yourself to out-of-town friends’ homes?  Do you feel comfortable doing that?  Malibu is a beautiful place to visit, and did I mention we have a guest room?  Just sayin’.

Posted in Friendship, Good Food, Hospitality, Practical Housekeeping | Leave a comment

How to talk to a stay-at-home mom

When I noted in our identity series that others are often more willing to take us SAHMs seriously when they know we had an impressive pre-child resume, two of my working friends pointed out that perhaps the thoughtless friend in my anecdote truly didn’t know how to make conversation with a stay-at-home mother.  I have certainly met moms who can’t talk about anything other than their own children, just as I’ve met professionals who can’t talk about anything other than their job.  Both types are dull, right?  Quite often, the best conversationalists are also the best listeners, so I think it’s always wise to try to draw out the other person in the conversation.  If she’s a stay-at-home mom and you’re not, here are a few suggestions that I have.  Honestly, I think these principles are true when making conversation with anyone.  Readers, please chime in with more suggestions below!

DON’T say, “Wow, you’re a SAHM?  I just don’t know how you do it!”

I find this statement puzzling. How often do we say that to adults in other career paths? “Oh, you’re a lawyer—I don’t know how you do it!” “Oh, you’re a philosopher? I just don’t know how you do it!” “Oh, you’re an accountant? I just don’t know how you do it!” “You’re a plumber? I just don’t know how you do it!” Sounds pretty silly, right? I think it’s because we assume that people in those professions are, well, professionals. I know “how they do” their professions: they’ve invested time in learning the skill sets and work hard at them, year after year. How am I different? I’ve been called to run a home and raise a family. I actually invest more time than I did in my pre-children 8-5 job. I’m an expert on my kids in particular, and I’m pretty confident in handling the under-10 age bracket in general.

I’m often at a loss for words when people say this to me; I’m not sure what kind of answer they’re expecting. I’ll give most folks the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re not really doubting my ability to handle a household. Are they giving me an underhanded compliment, wanting me to thank them for the praise? That’s not a conversation starter.  Are they trying to explain why they’re not staying home with their kids, wanting me to affirm their career choice? Are they honestly curious about how my day runs, wanting how-to details? When I’ve attempted to explain how our life goes, the conversation quickly devolves into comparisons between their children and mine, and how their children are so difficult that they could never stay home with them full-time. As if I only spend all day with my kids because they’re angels!

With that pet peeve off my chest, I think in general, asking someone directly about their job is a limiting question.  I remember reading in a travel book years ago that Europeans find it extremely tacky when Americans meet someone and immediately ask where they work, because it’s like asking how much money they make, and that’s personal information.  I don’t know if that’s still the case, but I do consciously try to engage new people with more general questions.  So here are a few conversation starters I’ve used in the past week with spouses of law students visiting our house for dinner, fellow moms at the soccer field, and the neighbor’s nanny, who brings her daughter along while caring for the neighbor kid.

“Where are you from originally?”  In the college town where I grew up, hardly anyone was a lifetime native, so this question was a given whenever we met a new family at church or new neighbors.  It’s a great way to find out someone’s backstory, and often work, grad school, or family ties will come up as the reason they’re living here.  When the person is a native and I am not, I can follow up with questions about what it was like when they were growing up, best activities to do with guests, etc.  If the person has just moved into town, I always try to ask about what they miss about their previous home.  I know how hard it is to assimilate to a new place, especially in areas like SoCal where everyone outright says, “aren’t you so glad to live here!” (no, I wasn’t, for several years).  When you’re homesick and lonely (and stay-at-home moms often struggle with this upon moving to a new place), it’s wonderful to have an interested and sympathetic listener.  And if you’re listening to what she misses, you have immediate inspiration for how to help her fit into her new home (and a vision of what kind of things she values).  I’ve also found that it’s really a small world–every place we’ve lived, we run into friends-of-friends, and we often find that out through basic conversations like this.

“How did you and your husband meet?”  Every marriage has a story, and I’m amazed at how much detail we women go into when when we tell about how we met, dated, and married our husbands.  It’s an easy and fun way to find out a lot about someone’s interests (eg, my friend who met her husband swing dancing in LA!), school background (eg, my friend who met her husband in law school–note that this is way less pert than asking about what she did before she was “just” a sahm, as it’s part of her story but not the whole of her identity), theological convictions (eg, friends who were set up at church, friends whose marriages have involved conversion of one or both spouses), and even what they value in a friend.  Quite often, one of those will overlap with my preferences, and we can move the conversation in that direction to find more common ground–books, movies, music, even politics.  Just last week, I asked a new friend about how she met her husband, and I got way more than I was bargaining for–a story of mistakes, utter poverty, immigration, divorce, redemption, and unconditional love.  Wow!  I know so much more about her now (and respect her more than ever), just from asking a one sentence question.

“How did you pick your child’s name?”  This is one I use at the pool and soccer when a bunch of moms are sitting around watching practice, and it often tells me a lot about them.  Last week, a mom whose son shares my brother’s name said it was a tradition in her husband’s Italian family to pass the name on.  Like me, she’s not Italian herself, but I was immediately able to bond with her over marrying into close-knit Italian families.  Suddenly our conversation spread to culture, travel, food, and stereotypes.  Since two of my girls have the names of Jane Austen heroines, the young, single student who asked me this question last month immediately got excited to talk Austen with another fanatic.  In five minutes, we’d covered our respective trips to London and Bath, our favorite characteristics of Austen heroes, our favorite movie adaptations, the best sequels and fanfics (we both confessed to watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and other great books and authors.  Quite often, people name their children after characters or people they admire, and in explaining why they admire the name, or how they see that name fitting into their family, they’re telling you about their passions and priorities.  You don’t hit a shared heritage or interest jackpot every time with the name question, but I generally find the meanings of names interesting, so at the very least, I get to learn something new.

“How do you know [mutual friend who has introduced you]?”  Even if you have nothing in common, you have this friend in common!

“What did you think of that [sermon, concert, dinner, or whatever event you’ve met at]?”  I see a lot of my husband’s colleagues at the big annual gala dinner, where keynote speakers are often famous figures in his field.  I may not have an advanced degree, but I certainly have opinions on the speakers.  We used to attend fundraising dinners for the pregnancy center we still support in Chicago, and we met all kinds of people there.  Obviously we had a shared passion for helping women and children in tough situations, and that’s a big thing to have in common.  I love to talk about the current sermon series when I meet new people at our church’s coffee hour after the service.  One of my good friends (a working mom) loves classical music as much as I, so we try to attend performances together from time to time.  Our vocations don’t need to come up as we discuss what we heard.

This post is probably getting too long, so I’ll stop there and see what other suggestions our readers have in the comments.  In summary, ask the kinds of questions that are open-ended, aren’t fixated on income-earning activities or resume (although if they are important to the other person, she’s free to bring them up), give lots of opportunity to find common ground, and are easy for her to turn around and ask you back.  With the acknowledgement that my working friends who prompted this post know this already, talk to a stay-at-home mom like you would to any other adult!  Just because we spend all day, every day with children doesn’t mean we’re incapable of intelligent adult conversation.  Whatever you do, please just don’t talk about Frozen!

Posted in Friendship | 1 Comment
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