Friday, July 16, 2010

Amen and AMEN!!!!

We have been without internet the past couple of days, so lucky you all were...my blog was quiet and my mouth was shut! Well...at least virtually :-)

I was catching up on over 100 emails when I stumbled upon an article that just had me almost cheering with "Atta Girl"'s!! I'd like to share it with you, it spoke so perfectly to my own experience and I am sure to lots of others out there who read regularly. In this article, the author, Rachel Campos-Duffy is commenting upon another article written recently.

The link over at ParentDish is here: "Parents Hate Parenting Because They are Doing it Wrong"





Here is the article with my comments inserted in bold:




Jennifer Senior's recent and much commented on New York Magazine article, "All Joy and No Fun", about why parents hate parenting, caught my attention -- especially since I wrote a book on how to be a happy parent.

According to Senior, the day-to-day grind of parenting sucks and there's plenty of stats to prove it. So why do modern day adults, who have a choice in the matter, put themselves through it? She concludes that it's fear that we might regret not having the parenting experience.

Could there be a worse reason to become a parent than this? "...it's the fear that WE might regret not having the parenting experience." Yea, that's a great reason to walk into parenting, which is a pretty self-less endeavor much of the time...let's look at it for what WE might be missing rather than what we can offer a child and the world through that child. If someone parents because of that reason alone, it is no surprise at all that they miss out on the wonder and delight of parenting! Parenting is NOT ALL ABOUT YOU!!!

But in our world today, that is very often our motivation for much of what we do, isn't it?

And how does she explain the fact, that despite the dour results of the studies she cites, when asked, parents are decidedly more upbeat about the experience? The mind, she says, plays a "lovely magic trick of the memory," gilding hard times that later provides "intense gratification, nostalgia, delight."

I've been through natural childbirth and there is nothing gilded or lovely about that memory. Unlike natural child birth, parenting and nurturing can be a very pleasurable experience. That too many parents have turned it into a joyless, angst-ridden achievement and an exhaustive competition should not be an indictment on the pleasures of parenting.

YES! Could it be...maybe, just maybe...that it is the PARENTS and their expectations and not the kids at all?

Sadly, it's become fashionable to bash parenting and portray those who enjoy it and gain real-time satisfaction from it as intellectually inferior, uninteresting or unsophisticated. To say without irony that you love being a mom, that you think it's fun, is to open yourself up to criticism and suspicion. People quietly wonder whether you're a Stepford wife or worse, they take your maternal contentment as a judgment on them.

That's me, Stepford Wife of Montrose!! Hahaha! I DO think it is fun, the most amazing challenge anyone can take on, and if I am being truthful it is the "career" I was meant for. Does that mean I could not have handled something else? That at times I don't fantasize about what else I might be doing with my life? Of course! We ALL do that. But the truth is, raising a family uses my various intelligences in ways I never imagined. There have been times in the past where I realized others might not look to highly on me for being "just a mom" or when I was working some sort of measly part-time job that was unfulfilling but paid the bills. But somewhere along the line this past year, I learned to say with pride "I am a full-time mom and homemaker" and to appreciate the gift it is to have a husband who wants this for our family too and has worked so darned hard to make it happen.

Do I like the laundry and dishes and perpetually sock-picking up and taxi driving and mopping? Well, let's just say I don't dislike it any worse than copying, filing, typing or answering phones. Work becomes a drudge when we view it as meaningless and as something that is beneath us. Work is honorable whether it is in the home or outside of it.

Year after year academics roll out study after study telling us how mind numbing and hard (not to mention environmentally detrimental) it is to raise kids. The truth is, parenting is hard. These days, there's less support from extended family, plenty of pitfalls and long hours.

Yea...and that aforementioned filing, typing, phone answering, and accounting work is SO stimulating by comparison!!! Hahahaha! Don't make me fall off my seat laughing!

I am so sorry, but I get to study human development first hand, I have a PhD in self-taught psychology which is used in real world experiences every single day. I am an educator who has the privilege of working with a variety of students with challenging issues. I get to use my creativity while building lesson plans, teach life skills, and help others explore not only our incredible world at large but their own hearts. I get to run an annual budget that is tight, and learn how to squeak out extras as is possible. I oversee a cleaning staff of 5 :-) I manage a social calendar for 7.

And what job in the world would allow me the opportunity to do ALL those things in the course of a single day???

Mind numbing? I think not...but I can see how those who have disdain for the profession of motherhood might think so.

But so what?

What successful CEO, entrepreneur or entertainer hasn't toiled very long, hard hours doing what they love and have passion for? Who among them would tell you that every bit of it was joyous?

"I never promised you a rose garden!" Work is exactly that...work. The part of my job that is actually work is not something I expect to be waltzing around the kitchen singing Mary Poppins' songs to!

For me, the diapers, meals and clean up is the price I pay to do what I want and love to do – be around and enjoy my kids for this fleeting season of my life.

Oh...and how fleeting it really is...

In fact, with each added child to our tribe, I've become a happier and more relaxed parent.

Yup!! I have become a different parent with the addition of each one, and a much better parent over time as I let go of the idea of having the perfect kid (Poor Matthew was spotless and corrected at all times! Surprised he made it through!) and am far more able to let my kids be who they really are and not offer apology for their lack of perfection in others' eyes. I was SO screwed up in my thinking when I started this parenting thing!

Yet with six kids around, I feel no pressure to be their playmate and I certainly have no time for helicopter parenting. Do I occasionally play Barbies? Sure. But I have no problem saying, "No, go play with your sister. I'm reading a book."

And I wonder if this isn't the root of most parents' lack of pleasure in parenting. Our generation has somehow decided it is their job to hover and be their child's playmate. It is unnatural, and as I have said to others in conversation before, I am not 5 years old and I can not pretend I am. I can NOT be fascinated with playing with Matchbox cars by the hour, and that is not my job. I too have no problem saying "I'm sorry, I don't feel like playing right now...go entertain yourself or I have plenty of things you and I can do together that I would love to have you join me in doing...like folding the laundry or making dinner." It is not said in an angry way and is in fact an invitation for a child to join me in MY world as I often join them in theirs.

Sure, I play Sorry and "house" and "Store" sometimes, but it is not a role I have established in our family. Mom as playmate is not happening. I also think that sometimes sets us up incorrectly as being equals with our children, which we are not and our children should understand that. Do we have family game nights? Yes! Do I take my kids to the park and ride bikes with them? Sure...sometimes I just walk and they ride. Do I play computer games with them? Dad does more of that. Do I work on crafts with them? Of course. But I am not their age, I am not their sole source of entertainment, and I am NOT Julie on the Love Boat and their Activities Director.

Ditto for my guilt-free nights out with my husband. Moreover, with so many kids, I've had no choice but to limit the enrichment activities and I believe we are all happier for it. I'm a firm believer in giving kids the "gift of boredom." Bored kids climb trees, rediscover toys, read books and give Mom and Dad a break.

OH YEA!!!! It NEVER EVER EVER EVER hurts a kid to say "I am bored" and have to go find some way to entertain themselves. Kids who feel that it is everyone elses job to transform their lives into a virtual Disneyland each and every day miss out on so much! We take something from them, mainly the ability to create and find self-satisfaction, when we assume the role of Activities Director. Boredom breeds exploration, curiosity and eventual contentment. I know it sounds contrary, but it is true.

We set up play dates, I haul the kids to the pool, and we do some outside activities, but about 2 years ago I made a conscious decision not to be a slave to all of that. With 5 kids it is even more limited, and yet funny...none of them are complaining one iota. They go build blanket forts and make stores (and a mint to make money!), they "play with our bodies" as they pretend they are superheros, they build monster airplanes with legos, they build doll houses and cook. If I am totally honest, and I know some of you will laugh and say I am lying, I think I have only heard the words "I am bored" perhaps 5 or 6 times in 10 years at our house. We never got into the bad habits that lead to it, and this week even with Josh here alone he somehow manages to either join me in the kitchen. read, play with his "guys" or find some other way to occupy his time.

Studies indicate that today's parents actually spend more time interacting with their kids, so then why do parents report feeling more guilty? Probably because we've redefined "good parenting" and substantially altered the rhythms of family life to include enrichment and sporting activities that end up making us feel rushed and ironically, more disconnected as a family.

I am sorry, I kid needs time with YOU more than time at every activity under the sun watching them from the sidelines. How, exactly, does that define "good parenting"? Someone else is interacting with your kid, and YOU put YOURSELF in the role of taxi driver and cheerleader! Please don't misunderstand me, I think some of this is healthy...enrichment and outside activities help our kids explore and learn that their talents are. But to run every single day of the week all year long without down time has become the norm, and it saddens me to think of what the kids are missing out on. I am being 100% serious when I share that this past summer one mom was yelling at a coach out on the field and felt totally justified because soccer conflicted with baseball which conflicted with 4H which conflicted with another after school activity...all for one child.

And when does that child get to be a kid?

What's more bonding? A lazy afternoon at the house with a family meal or driving to hockey tournaments, watching our kids from the bleachers and topping it all off with a drive-through Happy Meal on the way home? Perhaps there would be more time to let those precious childhood moments unfold if we weren't cramming so much "quality time" into our days.

Quality Time means different things to different people. For our family it means reading together in bed all snuggled next to each other. It means a bike ride or sitting on the patio on a summer evening as we hear "Mama Lookie Lookie!" as they do tricks on the trampoline. It means sitting in a pew together at church and then having conversations afterward about little observations from the service. Quality Time means WORKING together as a family, and taking pride in being a team we can be count on. Quality time CAN sometimes mean cheering from a sideline and grabbing McDonald's, but it is not the day to day structure of our time together. Quality Time means putting family first, and that is not necessarily synonymous with extra-curricular activities.

Senior's article begins with a poignant personal story of coming home from work and looking forward to a happy reunion with her young son. Instead, her evening devolves into a tedious battle with her 2-year-old and a wooden toy that needs re-assembling. Like so many other things in life, Senior is facing the gulf between expectations and reality and nothing can be as unpredictable as a toddler at the end of a long day, or more disappointing for a mom who's been craving the peaceful company of her child.

Ahhhh...but was she REALLY craving the peaceful company of her child? That is the real question.

And I agree that expectations and reality often collide. Letting go of the idea that families are Leave-It-To-Beaver-like or that there won't be a fairy tale involved helps us to grab hold of the wonder that is parenting.

In this case, Senior has fallen prey to the guilt and the pressure to create a certain kind of family experience. It just doesn't work that way and it's not fair on the child either.

No, it isn't fair to either parent or child. What we have IS good enough folks, it doesn't have to compare with Joe Blow down the street or with some fantasy created on TV. Families argue, families are cranky, families are messy. But what would we do without them?

It's time for parents to take a page out of our parent's playbook and stop over-thinking this parenting thing. Free up the family calendar. Simplify. Have a family meal. Our parents weren't our playmates, social directors, coaches or chauffeurs. They also did not bring unrealistic notions of "fun" to parenting. Heck, the term "parenting" wasn't even part of the nomenclature back then.

How about letting our kids get to know who we are as human beings? How about getting to know who THEY are? Why is there this need for bringing the world into our families instead of making our families the harbor from the storm of life? Why do we expect it all to be "fun" all the time when nothing else in life is?

If today's parents hate parenting maybe it's because they're doing it wrong.

And maybe it is because we don't allow space for presence, we don't invite God in to join us, we go it alone, and we don't see the little moments of the Divine each and every day.
If there is one reason I keep this blog open for public consumption, it is not so I can highlight our family, but is so that all of you can see the little things in a new way and maybe, just maybe, get a glimpse of the Spirit in your life in ALL you do.

You know, God doesn't often come in a bolt of lightening or an eclipse. God is present in our day to day mundane interactions if we only look hard enough. I wonder if missing this is what ultimately makes "parenting" seem like drudgery. Take "self" out of it all once in awhile, remove "stuff" and watch your kids eyes light up as they learn something new. Listen for God speaking in your own family. You'll hear it if you get out of your own way. Then maybe, just maybe, parenting will suddenly become the most fascinating and fulfilling thing you have ever done.

7 comments:

Karon and John said...

Every time I stumble upon your blog I am so glad I did and it always seems to speak to something I need to hear at that moment. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you -- kids need time just to hang out and discover who they are and what interests them. We have so much "clutter" in our lives -- activities, electronic media, radio and TV -- it is hard to be still and quiet (or busy and creative!)


Peggy in Virginia

Kelly and Sne said...

I think you touched upon it but the biggest issue that I see is the need lately for parents to become "helicopters" which, I imagine, can get really tiring trying to do everything and anything for their children rather than letting their children figure things out on their own. I am hoping not to fall into this camp but society does seem to push us in this direction these days. On the positive side of this, I think that parents are much more involved these days than my parents were. "Go outside" was the refrain from my mother throughout our Summers/ childhood. Though I will also say, juggling a job/career and parenthood has been stressful. While I don't think I'd want it any other way (full time in either category without the other), one must be sacrificed and there is always guilt related to that (in my case it is work but I have a hard time convincing my husband of this which makes it even harder on me as I am carrying more of the parent load). Of course the guilt then promotes more helicopter parenting.... a vicious circle! Not that I'm complaining! But ask me at 5:30pm on a weeknight!

Michelle said...

When I had only one child...I was her playmate...she needed me to entertain her because I did it from the moment she was born. Now I am parenting more than one and I feel guilty at least once a day that I can't give them all the time I gave to Lilianna and that I can't give Lilianna all of the time she wants.
Thank you for the part about not feeling guilty when you say "go play with your brother"...because I need to NOT feel guilty about that!

and hello to Karon...my playgroup buddy from Birmingham!

dining tables said...

Kids must to have their own time to discover their selves. They need to know who they really are and what they want. That is why I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Cindy,

You often wonder where God will lead you through your theological studies, what will be your call. Of course, you know that this family is your first and highest call, but this blog is your ministry. You bring faith and hope and love to each of us. Whether we are parents, grandparents, contemplating parenthood or adoption, or have just stumbled upon your blog, God speaks through you. God is still speaking, and you are one of God's voices.

Love,
Lael

Becky said...

Being a parent of one or of five is such a rewarding joy but a never-ending task (believe me when I say never-ending because then the grandchildren come). Parenting is a lot of work, but because God established it, we know He is also right there with us. I believe quality time means the most to our children (it may be reading, playing a game or just talking and listening). I honestly think our children would rather see us as role models instead of someone their own age. Knowing that all our children belong to God and we are just His helpers could put a different perspective on this.

Hope I didn’t get off the subject and would like to share a poem if it is OK Cyndi. I don’t have the author’s name so if anyone does, they can add it.

LET GO AND LET GOD
As children bring their broken toys
with tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God
because He was my friend.
But, then instead of leaving Him
in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried,
“How can you be so slow?”
“My child, “He said, “What could I do?
You never would let go.”