I don't feel like I rant on here too terribly much. But people, it is time. You know, just in case you run into me and my family in Denver at lunch on a Sunday afternoon--that way, I can spare you the trouble of feeling the need to clue me in on what I'm doing wrong!
Background: Panda Express (gotta love coupons), after church, we're asked by a fellow customer if we "brought the whole neighborhood." No, Kevin explains politely, these are our children. Flash forward a few minutes to me and the kids sitting outside while Kevin is ordering the food, and that same customer is leaving. She approaches me and asks if I have someone come in to give me help so I can go out by myself. No, I say politely, I enjoy spending time with my kids and we like to do things together, as a family. The woman assertively informs me that I need to get help because I NEED TO GO DO THINGS FOR MYSELF, otherwise IT WILL BE TOO MUCH FOR ME. Well, I say, God gives me the strength to do the things I need to do, and I love being a mother. Okay, have a good day she says, and finally leaves.
Wow, what a great start to a lunch out. I cannot even begin to say how vulnerable you feel when a complete stranger sizes up your life and situation, and GIVES YOU ADVICE because surely, SUREly she knows better than you what you can and cannot handle. SO awkward! It's one thing if someone is concerned or wants to encourage you, but honestly this lady had a total air of hostility about her. Why, I have literally no clue.
I've only been a mom for 4+ years, not a super long time, and I am continually finding things that do and don't work for me. It's a journey. I doubt you ever have it all figured out. Well maybe some people do, but I never will! Anyway, for whatever it's worth, here are some of the thoughts that shape what we Heldts do as parents. If it's different from what you do--and at least some of it probably is--that's not me saying my way is right. In the end I think most all our kids should grow up to be decent, contributing members to our society, whether we follow Dr. Sears or Babywise or something else. :)
So like I told the woman at the restaurant, I don't have hired help. I clean my own house (in theory :) ), cook our own meals, and I'm with my kids from the moment they wake up to the time they go to bed. (Praise the Lord for naptime.) Yeah, that makes for a long day and more often than I'd like to admit, a grouchy girl. But being an at-home mom has always been a huge value for us. Neither Kevin nor I would have it any other way. I left college without graduating because the Lord blessed us with a baby. I don't know if I'll ever finish or not; right now it's a moot point because I've got four little ones that need a sane and present mother more than they need a mom with a fancy piece of paper on the wall, or a mom who feels like she "accomplished" something really great in the world's eyes.
I think children are small for a short time, even though most days it doesn't feel that way. :) Most of our time is spent at home. My kids don't go to preschool, though Anna knows all her phonics, her numbers and colors, and Yosef and Biniam know most of them, and they play quite well with other children. The older kids have learned such patience, compassion and gentleness from spending so much time with their baby sister. The relationships and bonds they have built doing day to day life together are priceless. (We DO go on outings, I'm just saying the norm is being home, and this routine works well for us.)
Honestly I don't feel like I sacrifice my life on the altar of motherhood to be home with them. YES I have "other interests", I enjoy adult conversations, and look forward to time with good friends but no I don't feel like being home with the kids turns my brain to mush or is unfulfilling--I feel like it's God's call on my life. I integrate my kids into whatever we are doing...whether it's showering in the morning (yes me and four kids in the shower, good thing it's a good size!), running errands, whatever, I think they are learning about life, God, and the way the world works by experiencing things WITH us.
I've found that for us flexibility and setting standards are really, really important. If something's not working, find a different way. I also think it's easy to underestimate your child in many ways, and for us we've found that having expectations in certain areas works great. (Like, not throwing a fit if you can't go with Daddy to the store--that was last night, eating whatever the rest of us have for dinner, etc.) I think our society sells our kids short way too often. Even very young children can be taught to deal with disappointment, and difficult things, and I think this prepares them for life and builds a sense of security as you nurture them.
Now finally, this one's a big one. No I do not believe I'm depriving my children of a happy childhood by having four of them. Not by a longshot. They beg to sleep in the same room, don't generally like to be separated, and are best buddies with each other. It's a paradigm shift I think. You go from thinking only in terms of how do I invest in this child to make them feel loved to seeing how nurtured, loved and enriched their life is just through day to day family life. I wondered when Kaitlyn was born, how might I meet her needs in addition to those of my three older children? Then I was floored by the sheer amount of love Kaitlyn was born into what with two brothers and a sister who adore her without condition. AND amazed by the patience and kindness the older ones showed in not once getting upset if I needed to tend to my newborn. I obviously can't predict how things will play out in the future. Sometimes I have doubts about what on earth I'm doing. So far though, I love the relationships I have with each of my kids. They are all unique, dynamic, and rich.
Whew, there you have it. Some thoughts on motherhood. I wonder if maybe you can generally fly under the radar with 2 or 3 kids, but if you have only 1 child, or 4 or more, people tend to judge you. I know this because I am an only child and people made all sorts of assumptions about me growing up. And now I have four kids, and people at Panda Express assume stuff about me all over again, and my kids, and our lives. I suppose people judge each other, period.
Thankfully God is bringing me to a place where I am resting more and more in His plan for me, and where He is giving me the strength to speak up for myself and especially for Him. I'm the type of person who avoids confrontation like the plague. But I believe that God wants to use my family and your family and how can He do that if we're always avoiding it? I'm at a place where I don't really have qualms with sharing how or why we do what we do. If a stranger wants to question how I raise my kids, that's fine, they will get a polite and honest answer. I can assure you my kids are happy, carefree, secure, and know that they are loved by us and loved by God. I am so grateful for the four blessings He's given me!!! (And there's no way I'd trade away my life with them for more "me" time. Goodness knows I spend MORE than enough time thinking about me!)