The Family Bed

The Family Bed. Ah yes. Such a lovely thing… Just to make sure we are all on the same page, let me define that for you.

Family Bed: noun. Mom and Dad’s bed. The place where nursing babies, crying toddlers, scared children, and sick children gravitate to in the middle of the night. There is always room for one more. 

(courtesy of Esther Heneise)

I have endured the family bed for 18+ years now. With our first child we were highly influenced by the trend of making your baby learn how to sleep through the night at an early age and if she came to our bed in the night, we took her back to her own bed immediately. Then we had more kids and we just got tired, and we also realized that the time we had to pour out affection on our kids was actually finite and so we just resolved to welcome our children whenever they wanted us. Which for some reason or other, is often in the middle of the night. 

We have had nights when I’ve counted five kids in the bed by the time we hit morning. We have had nights, more than once, when a child walks into our room and says, “Mom I’m not feeling well…” and then promptly throws up on our bed. We have had nights when the abundance of children in our bed has made one or both of us adults abandon the parental bed and go sleep in one of the empty children’s beds. (They usually end up following us though.) Let me say, this doesn’t happen every night, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. My six oldest have outgrown the need for parents in the night and I realize that our time is short. But, every once in a while we get nights like last night where I question my relaxed philosophy.

So, last night my husband and I had the lights out by 11pm. We were fast asleep when somewhere around 2 am I heard the telltale rattle of our doorknob, accompanied by the fretful cry of the two year old. Since this is a regular routine, you would think I would react calmly. But no. Every night, without fail, I jerk awake and poke my husband, ANDY! THE BABY! I don’t know why I do this. It is my nighttime response to anything unexpected…ANDY! DO SOMETHING! Maybe because I know that I am incapable of doing anything coherently in the middle of the night and I hold on to a slim hope that my husband will somehow be better able to cope. Which, he isn’t. He grunts and lays there. I poke him again. THE BABY! OPEN THE DOOR FOR THE BABY! He grunts again. Grumbles, “He can open the door himself.” Which, three out four times he usually can. I’m just always worried about that 1 time when he can’t.

We lay there listening to the door knob rattle and then finally the door opens and we hear the trotting feet of a baby boy. He comes around the bed and climbs in with me. He’s still nursing, which is unusual for me. I have weaned all my others between a year and eighteen months, but this is our last baby and I’ve been dragging my feet about giving up the last tie to babyhood. I let him nurse for a while, then I’m over it and I tell him to go to sleep. He is a hot-natured baby and so he hates to be under the covers. Andy and I both want to be under the covers. This makes for an awkward arrangement, but we finally all settle back down to sleep. (Because taking him back to his bed at this point, is a lesson in futility.)

About thirty minutes later, I jerk awake again. I’m pretty sure I just heard footsteps. I squint into the dark and there is our six year old daughter, hovering by the bed. The kids have learned to hover on their dad’s side of the bed, not mine, since I usually wake up, see a face five inches from mine and scream, which then makes them scream. All very unpleasant. They now hover on their dad’s side of the bed, because he doesn’t wake up. 

My little girl looks like she woke up from a bad dream. Lately she has developed a fear of the dark which wreaks havoc on bedtime. I tell her, Get in your dad’s side of the bed, this side is already taken. She peers into the bed and sees the baby laying next to me. She lifts up the blankets and crawls in next to her dad. Fine. She’s not bothering me. I can still sleep.

An hour later I wake up again. More footsteps. Good grief. Is this an epidemic? There is the seven year old daughter. She shares a room with the six year old and must have woken up, saw her sister was gone and got scared also. I’m not sure what to tell her. We already have four people in the bed. I tell her to go sleep in my armchair in the corner of the room. There’s a lap blanket on the chair that she can use. She hesitates, nods her head and goes over to the chair. Fifteen minutes later she is hovering by the bed again. Apparently the chair is too far away from mom and dad. I sit up a bit, survey the bed, and then point at a small open space in between my husband’s feet and my feet. Crawl in over there, I say, pointing at the foot of the bed. She nods again, lifts up the blankets and crawls in at the bottom. I silently groan. Now I can no longer fully stretch my feet out. There is no way I’m going to make it through a whole night like this. 

Sure enough, a couple minutes later, Andy has had enough. He is squeezed in between two babies and now has another child curled up by his feet. He sits up. “You two girls need to go back to your bed!” Instant crying.  I check the time. 5 am. The girls still have two more hours before I need to get them up for school. It’s time to take one for the team. I crawl out of the bed, grab my pillow and tell the girls to come with me. We all head up to their bedroom and climb into their big double bed. I am stuck in the middle, and since the girls sleep in the bed sideways instead of the proper way, my feet are now hanging off the edge of the bed. I brought my phone along with me because it has my alarm which is going to go off at 6:45 am. I lay there. Wide awake. Waiting for my alarm to go off. 

I’m pretty sure this is why moms take naps during the day. 

Fat Fridays: Week 7 Crying Babies, Stress, No Autopilot Eating

Today my kids had an unexpected day off from school. We decided that the best thing to do on a wonderfully warm February day with nothing scheduled, was to go visit Grandma and Grandpa, about an hour away. I took the six youngest with me and we had a wonderful day playing outside, helping Grandpa with projects, doing crafts with Grandma, just relaxing. Finally, the kids started getting tired and fussy. I checked the time, almost 7 pm. Time to load everyone up and head home. My plan was to leave at seven and that would get us home at bedtime so the kids could just go straight to bed. It was dark and I was driving on poorly lit, country roads. I hate night driving. I can see, but I feel tense the entire time, sitting up straight in my seat, gripping the steering wheel. I put on a Disney Music Station and had it blasting in the car, trying to drown out any whining and fussing and also make it clear to the kids that we were going to sit and listen to music instead of trying to talk to mom or get into fights with siblings or start a loud obnoxious game. I turned down the volume just long enough to remind the kids that Mom didn’t like driving at night and she needed to concentrate on driving and please don’t try to talk to mom.

Well, the two year old was sitting in his car seat right behind my seat. He got into the car crying and then proceeded to cry for the entire trip. All seventy-five minutes of it. I asked my older kids to try and figure out what he wanted/needed. All they were able to establish was what he didn’t want. He didn’t want a bottle of juice. He didn’t want a water bottle. He didn’t want his toy fire truck. He didn’t want his brother’s pillow. And he didn’t want anyone to talk to him. In desperation I finally bent my arm behind my chair and offered him my hand to hold. He held my hand for a couple minutes, taming his crying down to a whimper, and then he would suddenly push my hand away and start kicking at my seat and start up crying even more. Meanwhile, I am trying to drive carefully at the speed limit, straining to see the road in the dark, trying to not get blinded by the headlights of oncoming cars. Music is blasting and the other kids are singing along gustily. And the baby keeps crying. I put my hand back again and he holds it for a couple minutes and then pushes it away. We then proceeded to repeat this process for thirty minutes. To say that I was stressed would be a bit of an understatement.

As we were getting closer to home I started thinking about what I was going to do when I got home. The first step would of course be to hand the crying baby to my husband. Tag, you’re it. And then I thought. Toast. Some nice hot toast with melted butter and maybe a bit of jam. That sounds really good. That sounds really soothing. That sounds heavenly. And then I stopped. I realized what I was doing. I was majorly stressed and so I was now fantasizing about what yummy food would help me feel better. This was not good. I wasn’t hungry. It was past supper time, heading towards bedtime, I didn’t need any food. Really, a much better way to handle this stress would be to get home and immediately step on my elliptical machine and walk off the stress instead. Of course, I am a mom of many children and it was coming up on bedtime. Fitting in a workout right away was not going to happen. So what could I do?

We finally got home whereupon the baby instantly stopped crying. Of course. I handed him over to my husband and went about the business of emptying the car and getting everyone headed off to bed. Then my little girls wanted me to sit with them while they went to sleep, they were afraid of the dark. Then after they finally went to sleep the nine year old needed a bit of one-on-one time and then finally everyone was where they were supposed to be and I could finally check out. It was almost 10 pm. Too late to make toast. And I thought about what had just happened. I had been stressed and reacted in my normal, habitual way: think of what food will help me feel better, make plans to eat it as soon as possible. And then I had stepped back from the habitual thought process and recognized what I was doing. Instead of it being a non-thought-out process, it became something that I was thinking about and analyzing. And when I recognized what I was doing, I was able to put off the food until I finally didn’t want it anymore. Because really, my old me would have told my kids to go to bed, made toast, quickly ate it, and then run upstairs to sit with the girls.

This is my takeaway. I need to continue to make Thinking about Why I am Eating, a priority. When I realize that I am eating for reasons other than hunger, I am able to take steps to stop. If I go about in a haze and just eat on autopilot I’m never going to get anywhere. So, that’s my goal for this week, no autopilot eating. Think about what I’m doing. And then hope I can make good decisions.

P.S. Clean Jeans Test this morning told me that my jeans are definitely getting a bit looser!

Can You See Me?

It’s a beautiful February day here in Tennessee. Temperatures are in the 60s, a stark contrast to last week where we had snow, ice and temperatures in the teens. (To all my non-fahrenheit readers, not sure how to help you since Celsius is a mystery to me. 32 degrees F is when ice freezes, a super hot day in summer would be in the 90s.) I returned from taking my kids to school and then collapsed on the couch, not fully awake. My four year old immediately launched into a plea for me to take him to the park. Right away. Let’s get our shoes on right now Mom! Uggh. I managed to put him off until 9am when I finally gave in and got the boys ready to go out. We walked out onto the front porch and I looked around for my double stroller which has been parked on my porch for the past six months. Not there. I called my husband, thinking maybe he had put it in the shed? He said no, it should be on the porch. Still not there. I finally had to come to the conclusion that someone had walked off with it. We haven’t had stuff stolen in a while, especially since our dog does a pretty good job of scaring strangers away. Double uggh.

Ok, fine. We’ll just walk without a stroller. The park is only two and half blocks away, surely the two year old can make it. Well, about half way he decided that, No, he couldn’t make it. We had a showdown in the middle of the sidewalk for about five minutes. I insisted he could walk. He insisted I should carry him. I told him I would hold him, but I wasn’t walking with him, he had to walk to the park. So, he would refuse to walk then hold his hands up for me to pick him up. I would pick him up and then refuse to walk. He would urge me forward and I would tell him that if he wanted to go the playground he had to walk there. He finally figured out I wasn’t moving on this and so he wiggled back down to the sidewalk and proceeded to run the entire rest of the way to the park, which solidified my theory that he wasn’t tired, just lazy. I also knew that by the time he was done playing on the playground he was going to be truly exhausted and then I was going to have to carry him all the way home. I needed to conserve my energy for the return trip.

The entire time on the playground the kids kept turning to me, “Mommy look!” “Mommy come help me with this!” “Mommy! See!” “Mommy!” As I trailed around behind them on the playground I thought about how important it was that I see them. They had an insatiable need to be seen. In fact, all my kids have this need. A big chunk of my parenting is simply giving my kids attention. Listening to their stories. Looking at the things they make. Watching the new tricks they’ve learned. Finding out about their day. When my kids get home from school I sit in my chair or on the couch and I just listen. For a couple hours. It doesn’t look like I’m doing a whole lot. Just sitting there. But, for this introvert, it’s actually the most exhausting time of my day. The time when I see my kids. See who they are. See what interests them. See their hopes and dreams.

I just started rereading a book called Taken by Dee Henderson. It’s about a woman who was kidnapped when she was sixteen. Eleven years later she finally manages to escape. This fictional book is about her return to freedom. It’s about the people who gather around her and help her make the transition, help her get justice, help her start the path of healing. I’ve read the book a couple times and I started wondering what it is about the book that keeps drawing me back. I finally figured it out this morning, while I was watching my boys play on the playground. The book is all about being Seen. It’s about a woman who has undergone trauma and pain and the people who see her and her need and who gather around her to provide her community and friendship and a strong hand to hold on to.

No wonder I keep coming back to this book. The desire to be seen doesn’t seem to go away after we leave childhood. I still have it. I still want to be noticed. I still want someone to have an interest in me and what I like and don’t like. I still want someone to come alongside me and just do life with me. I am happily married and my husband does truly see me. He cares about me and my interests and our life has completely entwined into one single life instead of two separate ones. You would think that was enough “being seen” for anyone. Somehow though, it isn’t. We long, as a couple, as a family, to be seen by others. We long to be part of a larger community. For whatever reason we find it really difficult. I know a lot of it has to do with our culture that is very self-sufficient and private. Everyone has moved off their front porch and now sits in their climate-controlled home being entertained by TV and the internet. While I have a wonderful church family, we go to a commuter church and all the people that I would love to spend more time with all live about a twenty minute drive  or more on the interstate away from me. Honestly, I could sit here and write a giant list of all the reasons it’s difficult to be in community. I’m not going to do that though, because really, I don’t think that’s the root of the problem. I think that I am the root of the problem.

We have had community before. Right here in Tennessee, despite all the obstacles that exist. We have had community. Looking back, I can tell you that the reason we had community was because we opened our home and invited people over. Regularly. Every week. We invited old friends over, and new friends over. We had big birthday parties and invited all our kids’ friends and their families. We reached out to everyone we saw and said, Hey, come on over. We’d love to have you. Come spend time with us. I would call people on the phone and just talk. Catch up.

I’m not sure what happened. Somewhere along the way I got worn out. I got tired. I got depressed. Overwhelmed. And I retreated.  Into my immediate family. Into myself. For a while there I had a hard time even interacting with my immediate family. I am a lot better now. I am embracing being with my husband and children again, but I find myself longing. Longing to be seen, to be known by a wider circle. And I’ve just figured out that in order to do that, I’ve got to start seeing other people. I’ve got to start noticing them. I’ve got to start reaching out again. It’s hard. I’m a little afraid of being burned. Rejection. But I need it. My family needs it. We need community. We need to see others and be seen by others. So, I will pray for the courage to try again. Put myself out there again. Go look for people that I can see.

Snow Day: Expectations vs Reality

Snow Day. I remember the joy those words used to cause when I was a child. Back in those olden times, we wouldn’t know it was going to be a snow day until we woke up early in the morning. Our parents would check the closings on the news or the radio and then come quietly say the words at our bedroom doors, “Snow day! No school today!” We would of course then jump out of bed and race to the window to see how much snow there was. Forget about sleeping in, it was a Snow Day!! Must get outside as fast as possible and play with the snow for as long as possible!

Now I’m on the other side of the equation. Nowadays I hear the night before that school is cancelled for the next day. I receive an automated phone call from the school board. They make their decision based on all the weather reports and predictions. Forget about waiting to see what actually happens. This of course has resulted in us sometimes having a snow day and no snow as the weather refuses to cooperate with the weather channels’ forecasts. But, that’s alright. I like knowing in advance. Being forewarned means that, in theory, we should be able to switch off the alarm clocks and sleep in. In fact, my mind conjured this really great image of a Snow Day.

It looked something like this..

fireside#1

And maybe some of this…

fireside#2

So the reality is my kids were in my room at 7am, before sunrise, asking to go outside. I made them wait till it was light enough that they could at least see their hands in front of their faces. Then we had to dress everyone in snow pants, coats, gloves, hats, snow boots…we didn’t even attempt scarves as that just seemed one thing too many. All of these items had to be pulled out of storage. (We get snow maybe two or three times a year.) Then someone dressed the two year old for me, trying to be helpful, except the baby had a poopy diaper, so I then had to to completely undress him again to change him first. And of course, since my kids like to use our gloves for things like storing dirt; or making baby doll hats; or storing a marble collection, we didn’t have enough gloves for everyone which then resulted in this…

noahgloves

 

After finally launching all of them out the door, I stood at the doorway in my slippers and took the obligatory Snow Day Pictures…

phoebenomisnow

judahjoshsnow

 

The teenagers of course tried to sleep in as much as their younger siblings would let them. When they did finally emerge, they looked out the window at the snow, grunted, and went back to their lairs…I mean bedrooms.

Little children ran in and out of the house in soaking wet, snow-covered clothing, complaining about wet gloves, snowballs in the face, and the most interesting one: the claim that the eleven year old had stolen all the snow. My pointing out the window at all the white stuff on the ground was not convincing enough evidence for the seven year old making this claim. Apparently all that white stuff didn’t count, he had stolen the “good” snow.

I did make an attempt at being Pinterest Worthy. And told the kids I would make them hot cocoa. I got the water boiled, cups laid out, children gathered around, then opened the hot cocoa tin and found out that we only had a tiny bit of hot cocoa powder left. I divvied it up and everyone had a little bit of weak cocoa. Without marshmallows.

The house got trashed. The kids watched a lot of TV. I may have “raised my voice” a couple times. Ah yes. Snow Day.

Finally late afternoon I got hold of the situation and had everyone clean a section of the house. Turned the TV off, played scrabble with my daughter. Enjoyed a cup of tea. Made a nice hot supper. Had a chaotic, but family centered evening.

Tomorrow the kids go back to school, one hour delayed. That sounds so much better. One hour to sleep in a bit later, not be so rushed, but we still have a schedule to cling to. I think that’s going to be my new plea to the Weather Channel, Let’s have a one-hour delay!! That works for me.

 

Car Trips, Broken Ice, and Laughter

Today we drove about an hour north to go visit my parents. My youngest daughter had a birthday and we were going to celebrate with Grandma and Grandpa. We had seven kids in the car, our oldest three off living their own lives. We were traveling on a small country highway and I was looking outside enjoying the view: farmland, creeks and rivers, pretty little towns. We were driving along and I noticed a pasture covered in puddles which had then frozen over. I suddenly had a memory of living on my grandparents farm in Eastern Kentucky, maybe ten years old, stomping around on a cold winter day. I was wearing my old light blue tennis shoes, full of holes but wonderfully comfortable, my old worn out blue jeans, hand-me-downs from my older brother, my pink puffy jacket with decorative flaps on the front and secret inside pockets, an old knit hat and a worn out pair of gloves. I remember stomping through my aunt’s pasture where her ponies lived. The ground was covered in muddy indentations from the ponies’ hooves and each indentation had filled with water from the earlier rains and now had frozen over. I remember the sensation of the thin ice cracking under my feet, my foot bending with the frozen ridges in the ground. Stumbling along as I tried to find more ice to break under my feet. I remembered all this and then felt a pang. My children would not have those country-living memories. They were city kids. And I felt this overwhelming longing to just uproot my family and move to a farm so my kids could know the joy of running through fields in winter, breaking ice under their feet.

We spent the day with my parents and then loaded up the van to drive home again. I love car trips. I love just looking out the window and thinking about whatever random topics pop into my head. I love looking at the houses that we pass, wondering about the people who live there. Watching the sky turn colors until it’s just the stars making tiny dots of light. Seeing the dark hulk of hills looming in the distance. As we drove tonight I thought about all the roads I had traveled on in my life. I remembered driving home from Cap Haitien, Haiti to our little house on the mountainside. Laying on a bench in the back of our truck, watching the moon chase us down the road, marveling that we could never outrun the moonlight. I remember driving on sandy gravelly roads in the bush town of Bethel, Alaska, looking out from the road into pure darkness, no lights to interrupt the horizon, only our little island of a town, floating on the tundra. I remembered driving the Alaska Highway, the vast forests of never-ending trees. And all the other roads, highways in Chile, cross-country road trips out West. I felt melancholy. I couldn’t share these things with my children. I couldn’t give them these experiences.

As we drove along I started tuning in to what was happening in the car. In the very back seat my eleven and nine year old boys had made up their own little game. The eleven year old was singing favorite Disney songs, but he would stop at key words, MadLib style, and then the nine year old would fill in a random word. In the next row up were my two little girls, seven and six. They were giggling and laughing their heads off at the antics of their brothers, sometimes offering a suggestion of a word here and there. Lots of singing. Lots of laughing. In the next row up my four year old and two year old were strapped into their carseats, the thirteen year old sitting next to them, trying to ignore them. The four year old was holding up different shells from a little container of shells that his grandma had given him. He was explaining that if you held up the shell to your ear,  you could hear the ocean. Then he held up a different shell and said, “In this shell you can hear a crab playing rock and roll on his guitar.” He studied the shell thoughtfully for a minute and then pulled out another shell. “In this shell you can hear a turtle biting a fish.” And on it went, each shell with it’s own story. The two year old was fussing and wanted to hold my hand, but his carseat was a bit too far back and so in order to hold his hand I had to bend my body backwards, stretching as far as I could. It was a position I could only maintain for a couple minutes. I would finally feel something snapping in my back and I would pull my hand back and he would instantly start fussing again. My husband started making up a lullaby with silly words for him in an attempt to distract him. And it occurred to me. My kids have these memories. These are good memories. They are worth having. Memories of outings with the family. Memories of singing and laughter. Memories of talking to Mom and Dad about your shells. Memories of being loved.

I am so happy that I don’t have to replicate my own childhood for my children in order for them to have happy, fulfilling memories. They’re writing their own stories, and those stories are good.

Morning People

Morning People. Ugh. I am not a Morning People. My husband is a Morning People. Ugh. My alarm goes off at 6:45. That gives me 15 minutes to get out of bed, get dressed and lay out breakfast for the kids. My husband is usually leaving the house about the time I get up. He walks up to me, all chirpy. His eyes are wide open, he’s grinning. He gives me a big enthusiastic hug. I passively stand there. Raising my arms feels like a bit too much work at this time of day. My eyes are barely squinted open. He laughs and makes some comment about opening my eyes up. I grunt. Barely murmur the words..Love you..and send him on his joyful way.

I used to think that I was a Morning People. When I was a young teen I would habitually wake up early to exercise or practice piano before going to school. I would read my bible and eat my breakfast and have a leisurely morning. Then college came and this thing called sleep deprivation. I remember coming home for Christmas break when I was in college. I would sleep in till noon every day. Of course it helped that we were in Alaska and the sun wasn’t getting up till after 11 am. I think that is some of the best sleep I ever got. I still remember it fondly.

Sleep deprivation has become a way of life. For the past 18 plus years, I have been pregnant or nursing a baby or had toddlers climbing into my bed. I can honestly say that I haven’t had a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep in 18 years. Of course, my husband really hasn’t either, but he still manages to be chirpy in the morning. So maybe I can’t use that as an excuse. Hmm.

Every morning I wake my kids up at 7, they get dressed, brush hair, put on shoes, come down and eat a quick breakfast and then we’re out the door at 7:15. Five kids going to school and often the baby and toddler ride along with us if they’re awake. I go to the elementary school and then the middle school. The middleschooler always rides up front. This suits me fine. The middleschooler has the same opinion of mornings that I do. We go over our Bible memory verses in the car, I pray for my kids, and the rest of the car ride is silent. Ok, my two little girls can be chirpy in the morning, but they sit further back in the van and I don’t have to hear them. My highschoolers walk to school. One time though I had to give my oldest son a ride to school. I can’t remember why, sprained ankle? Broken bone? I just remember that for a short time I had him sitting up in the front seat when we drove to school. He takes after his father. He likes to talk in the morning. Loud, enthusiastic talking. Telling me all about some show or movie that he really likes. And I’m just sitting there driving thinking…Stop, stop. Be quiet. Please stop talking. It is too early to be talking. Stop. Why???

I am fortunate that I am a stay at home mom. There is no pressure to be fully functional by 7am or 8am, or even 9am if it was a particularly rough night. I come home after dropping the kids off and sit on the couch with my two little ones. I zone out. I don’t do caffeine. I’ve never liked the thought of being addicted to any type of substance and so I’ve never developed a hot beverage habit. So, I just wait till my body finally says, Ok, we’re awake now. Let’s get on with the day.

Little kids, in general, are Morning People. Saturday morning they come bouncing into my room at 7am. What’s for breakfast Mom?? Me: hmmph? They climb up on the bed, hit me in the head with a book..Will you read this to me Mom??? Me: (barely whispering) Go away. Mom! Mom! Watch this! They do a somersault on the bed, landing on my legs. Me: AAAGHH!!! GO PLAY SOMEWHERE ELSE!! They finally run off to make noise in a different room. My husband climbs out of bed, says in a loud cheery voice, Well, I think I’m going to go work on some projects right now. Me: (thinking to myself, IT’S SATURDAY!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!) covers head with pillow and groans.

I am hopeful that one day my children will all sleep through the night and then maybe I’ll start sleeping through the night, and then maybe, I’ll just wake up early because I’m well-rested. And I’ll be cheerful and have lots of energy. We’ll see. I’m not holding my breath.

Parenting: It’s Not A Competition

The other day I overheard a conversation. Two moms. One was telling the other, while talking about schooling choices and the spiritual good of your children “And of course you would never want to send them to public school!” Which of course I am doing with my kids. I felt my hackles rise and a bunch of retorts came to my tongue, which I of course didn’t say, because the moms weren’t talking to me, about me, or even meant for me to overhear them…They meant no offense. But I found myself mentally defending my parenting choices, and thinking, “I bet your kids aren’t going to turn out terrific just because you’re doing it a different way..” and then my final mental argument, “The proof is in the pudding!” You’ll see! My kids are going to turn out better than your kids and then you’ll know that you shouldn’t have been putting down my parental choices!!! And then I stopped, because by this time my mental defense was getting a bit ridiculous. The proof is in the pudding. What does that mean anyway? Does that mean that if my children all turn out to be law-abiding citizens who go to church every Sunday and marry within their faith and do good works…Does that mean that I get to claim the prize of “GREAT PARENT” ? And then you have to ask, well at what age do you assess your grown children to decide if you were successful or not..20, 30, 40? Ok, so what if you have 10 kids and one of them turns out to be a saint, but another one goes through a really rough period and does jail time? Am I a success or a failure? At what point in time does your children’s decisions rest squarely on their own shoulders and you are exonerated from any blame? Or, at what point in time do their good decisions reflect their own good character and not just the fact that they were “raised right”.

In the Christian circles that I walk in, there is a definite fallacy that we parents seem to hang on to very tightly. The fallacy is that our children are perfect little angels or at least, only mildly sinful, and it’s our job to keep them away from all negative influences, all exposure to evil, and keep them “pure” at all costs. If we do so, and we can launch them into society without a single wrinkle in their reputation, then we are good parents. We have done our Christian duty to raise our children right.

Guys, my parenting journey has taught me very clearly that this is WRONG! I am realizing more and more that I need my children to not be perfect..instead I need them to be aware of just how imperfect they are. I need them to know just how short of the mark they fall. I need them to be aware of just how desperately they need Jesus to come and wash away their sins. Because, they are definitely sinful people. We all are. I need them to see that their natural selfishness is sinful. I need them to see that their desire to always be right is prideful, and that’s sin. I need my kids to realize that just because they live in a church-going family does not mean that they are somehow better than the kids who have never set foot in a church door. I need them to know this about themselves so that they can know how badly they need Jesus and they can learn that He is the only one who is going to bring them forgiveness and peace in this world.

This means that I can’t parent with this idea that if I can turn out perfect children then I will win the parenting prize. No. That’s not the point. The point is to spend their childhood teaching them about this God who loves them, teaching them that HE is the Way the Truth and the Life. Everyone is nodding their heads right now, “of course, we all want our children to be saved..” If that is our goal, then we also need to realize that We can’t save our kids. It’s God who calls them. And he has this really annoying way of doing things in his own time. Not my time. This means, I might have a child leave my home who doesn’t know Jesus personally yet. Can I do anything about this? No. But, I can certainly make sure that they know everything there is to know about God, Jesus, and the Bible before they leave home. And I can make sure that they always feel loved by their family, and I can bring them daily before God in prayer, on my knees, asking him to bring my child to salvation.

In the end, I have to step off the comparison box. I have to remember that this whole parenting thing isn’t about turning out perfect individuals. Me looking around and deciding that my kid turned out better than your kid is just stupid. This is not a competition. We are all raising up the next generation, together. We have the same goal…to raise up children into adults who love God and love people and who will take over the running of this earth after we pass on. We don’t get different colored ribbons depending on how our grown child turns out. This parenting thing is not an 18 year long job. It’s a lifetime job. We will spend the rest of our lives praying for our children, praying that they will grow in their knowledge of God, praying that they will be wise, praying for their protection…

May we resist the urge to compare ourselves with each other, getting worried or defensive when other parents do things differently,  and instead keep the end goal in sight…May we raise up our children to know God and be aware of their great need for him.