On Parenting

Not having blogged here seriously for a long time, I am not going to apologize for that now. You may find some of the reasons if you read between the lines- or maybe not.

warning: this may turn into a long post. it will certainly go deeper than I have on this blog for a long time. you may not want to read what I have to say. don’t say I didn’t warn you

How did I find myself inspired to write here today? On this topic? I visited the blog of a long time blogger who has become a new mother. She said this:

Looking after a newborn baby is really, really hard. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done. It’s mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting, and it’s relentless. People keep telling me that it gets better or easier. I hope so. I’m pooped. ~Meg Pickard

When I read that, I remembered back …way back to my first introduction to motherhood, and yes, that is very much a description of how I felt at the time. I don’t know if there was a generation more unprepared for parenting than mine- at least among those who were like me.

Why do I think that?

  • We had jumped from ‘Leave It To Beaver’ and ‘Father Knows Best’ to ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘All In The Family’
  • Smart Girls prepared for careers, not families; and Supermom wasn’t going to show up until much later.
  • We had come from smaller families, and didn’t help raise siblings, and our moms and dads were all getting divorced. At least in my circles. Elsewhere in America, too, if the statistics tell the story.

How did this play out for women like me? We were sorely under-prepared for taking care of babies. We were socked with that relentless exhaustion and tried to play catch up with learning how to change diapers, adjust to feeding schedules, and generally learn parenting and household skills on the fly.

Humans are survivors- and women like me and our babies survived. From our survival lessons came the supermom syndrome. Which, for me, translated into a frenzy of trying to make everything “work”. And if you were like me you could make everything look pretty good…. on the outside. A house of cards, if you will.

This is getting ominous sounding, don’t you think? Well, in some ways it was, but in others- there were good times, there were some things I would do again, but the overall tone of life? No. Perfection makes a hard taskmaster, and I would trade that for making “Nurture” the keynote of our family. As it was, the keynote was more of “Accomplishment” as framed by my environment.

The reason I would change that focus and tone might be found in the name of a category I have on this blog, one that I haven’t yet found heart enough to fill up, but perhaps this post will be filed there,”Broken Heart Devotionals”.

Because another hard truth not told to new parents is the fact that not only can you fall deeply in love with your babies, but that they can grow up and break your heart. Not all of them, not inevitably, but it is one of the possibilities. And a parent needs to recognize that. It could change our focus and remove some of the deception that seems to infect every generation in some way or another.

I’m not going to get all sappy here, and I am certainly not going to imply that this is the inevitable outcome. Perhaps for some it isn’t in the cards, not even as a possible condition, I don’t know. I do know that when such heartbreak hits, it can come as a complete surprise… the same arrival of surprise that the exhaustion brought to an unprepared, naive mother in those first few months. With the same impact to your psyche, and your sense of what life should be.

Do not mistake facing reality for regret. There is no regret in the wonderful people that came into my world. I am happy for each individual child being a part of my world and the world at large. There is only sadness that I didn’t understand that nurture and tenderness, taking time for small moments, and living the love I felt for those people was more important than anything.

Anything.

And if I were to sum up my advice, thoughts, and stories on parenting in one thing it would be be that last paragraph and its emphatic underline.

But I have more to say. Just don’t let go of that one nugget of truth, which is the only real piece of advice I wish to pass on.

Sifting Through The Sand Of Motherhood

Sand, because motherhood will both polish you and wear you down. It will get in your shoes, but it is also lots of fun to play with. In the right conditions it will focus you on the truly important things of life, even if a little late.

To go back to that mother’s observations which I began with:

It’s also really boring much of the time. No-one tells you this. In fact, I think it’s probably frowned on to say it. But if you’re used to being surrounded by agile minds conducting fascinating thought-experiments and verbally jousting at work every day, looking after a baby gets pretty tedious rather quickly, especially when they’re too young to play or engage much with their surroundings. There’s something about the relentless monotony of routine (is it feeding time again? So soon? I could have sworn we just fed a few minutes ago…), and the fact that your brain has been sucked out of your ears by exhaustion, and the need to be constantly entertaining or on the move. It’s knackering.

I see some things have not changed much from my generation. I think we gave that attitude to the next generation as something of a legacy. Perhaps it was the gleam in the eye of our divorced mothers, and we inherited it ourselves? It said, “Smart girls are bored by the dailiness of the life of Motherhood”. Not that this was the essential point of Pickard’s post- it wasn’t. I simply plucked it out as saying what I, and many like me, felt- to the letter. Or thought we felt because we were supposed to feel that way as modern, hip, thinking women. and whether you think a certain way, or think you ought to and subscribe to it- it boils down to the same thing.Many of us Baby Boomer mothers struggled with it in one way or another.

I think it is ‘Supermom’ residue, personally. which is the opposite of “Earth Mother” persona. E.M.’s have to live in this society,too, so I don’t think they get off scot-free. They are, however, more apt to take time for their mothering, as part of their identity.

It’s Not All About Mothers

Mothers are not all there is to the forming of a child’s life, and psyche. But I do think, that like fathers in their way, mothers of my generation went sort of AWOL. And we got mixed up about what makes a good mother. We got too much into the debate over working and not enough into the conversation of what loving a child looks like.

And even if mothers do things right, it doesn’t insulate them, their families, or their children from the vicissitudes of our society, which has lost its mooring. Really, it has. No one can even define the semantics of our roles or actions in any substantial way today.

But thankfully, one thing stands against all the assaults and assails of whatever is wrong with us as individuals and as a society, and that is that “Love Never Fails“.

It really doesn’t. If you really love your child or your spouse, or any relationship with true care and concern for them as a human being, as someone that matters, then you will go a long way toward nurturing that soul. And they will thrive from it.

Don’t get sidetracked about what that love looks like. Don’t get fooled by some made-up experts rules. Do things that puts the wellbeing of that person on the top of your list.

Being a Christian, I don’t think there is any defining lesson on what that looks like more than you might find in I Cor. 13, the Love Chapter of First Corinthians. I don’t think we can make up what love is like any more than we can make up what nutrition our child needs. There are certain hard wired realities in humans and in life.

We could be more wise about disseminating real facts on that. Just like real facts on neo-nate development. Certain things happen and develop at certain stages, humans need certain things to thrive. Lets be very real about what those things consist of and how to properly deliver them to each other and to our families.

Love has elements of attachment, elements of freedom, and elements of hands-on actions. There are many recipes for a healthy relationship, and part of life’s challenge is to use the elements in a way that produces a whole human being.

For those who found themselves in Hell’s Kitchen, there is a new day to work at creating a life of Home cooked, life giving, wholeness making Love. It will be seasoned with humility, because it is hard to start over, to let go of preconceptions, and to admit we make mistakes.

But I’m very hopeful we can do this.


All right. I guess that is all I have to say about being a parent, and what I hoped to communicate. Til later, friends…

…another highly ineffective person

Made the world’s largest pot of coffee, pottered randomly around the kitchen in the dark for a few minutes (thus allowing me to don the highly coveted Mantle of Domesticity), savagely threw an obscenely large spoonful of coffee ice cream into my coffee cup and headed for my office where I performed the ritual genuflection at the shrine of Santa Mañana, the patron saint of highly ineffective people. ~Cassandra

Lies We Live and Die By

keelthepot blog writes Dean’s Divorce Proceedings was a really good read. The writer quotes Jen Abbas’ Generation Ex:

I’m still, at 31, working on being happy with myself. Sociologists, psychiatrists, and academics can downplay it all they want. Divorce affects us. Watching a parent walk out the door on your mother and on you is something traumatic. In the 80’s, parents who divorced used to talk about how the parent “left the other parent, but not the kids.” Taurus Feces. You leave the wife, you break the family. They also used to say that people shouldn’t stay together “for the kids.” Ditto. All you tell your children when you walk out is, “you are not important enough for me to stay.”
This sounds like I blame my father. I do. I also blame my mother. Neither one of them put the kind of work, love, and sacrifice into their marriage that they should have. Unkind? Maybe. I’m sure I didn’t know everything about their marriage since I was only there for six years of it. But I’m also certain that if they had asked for help, gone to some kind of therapy, and really died to self the way that Christ asks of us, they would still be together today. And I would be a very different person.

It is very hard to find honesty about the effects of divorce and other such cultural issues. A few years ago, I might not have said that… I might have held out hope that we are facing these things and looking at the consequences and outcomes that are now obvious. But we aren’t. Science isn’t- at least not in a way that gets reported in the media. And so…. it is in the shadows… in the secret places where people confess their weakness and their hurts that we see glimpses of the truth.

We are helping to weave the lies of the present generation- we are passing on and we are lending our support to lies that will unravel our children and grandchildren, that will strangle their hopes for happiness… because they will have believed it until it turns and devours what they hold most dear and runs away laughing, mocking, and leaving them shattered.

Didn’t we feel enough pain from our own shattering under the weight of the lies that we had embraced. Didn’t we? Or are we only pimps and madams who lure them into our own web of immorality and degradation? Our own sins seeming to be forgiven if only we shut our eyes to the fact that they exist? Continuing to make merchandise of their lives that we might comfortable continue in our sins untroubled.

No it isn’t easy to sort out. I know that. But exchanging lies will never bring the wholeness to humanity that is so needed.

The Mommy Wars

Reposting this from Nov. 3, 2004 in the interest of defining some things about SAHM’s and some of the cultural myths that are *still* with us.

Prologue:
While keeping track of the election results and discovering new blogs I came across a set of things that caught my interest and have the common thread of comments on parenting, and being a mommy in particular.

The first was a book,Home Alone America, which the webpage headlined as reopening “The Mommy Wars”. I suppose that is related to the “Cultural Wars”, or a subset of sorts. I read the interview with the author, Mary Eberstadt , and she basically uses research to point up the problem of parental absenteeism, which includes the role of Mom, though it doesn’t restrict the problem to that. ( According to reviews).

The second thing was an article from the Wall Street Journal, which you can access in pdf form, here or look up on the Wall Street Journal site, it is called, “The Carriage Trade: Stay At Home Moms Get Entrepreneurial”.

The third, also a book review article, is

The all-too-female cluelessness of “I Don’t Know How She Does It”
from Salon.com.

Those were the inspiration, here are my thoughts-

…. but first, know that I am not wading into the mommy wars. If you are going to read my thoughts, get ready for a realistic look at what it is to be a SAHM in our culture, and not a blow by blow dissection of working women’s choices.
Continue reading The Mommy Wars

Teach Your Children Well

What do you teach your children? What sorts of things do they soak up from your example in relationships and practical, important areas of life like handling money and directing their financial future? We imprint them with more of how we live in these areas of life than we verbally teach them. I wonder if some of that doesn’t come from the familial need to identify. To reject wrong thinking is somehow disassociating ourselves from the family group.

The Biblical concept of being teachable would help us in both the teaching and learning aspects of our families. We under rate the influence of our living habits, both in consequence and in setting example for others. I think it all boils down to the point that my pastor made in a recent sermon: the parable of building upon the right foundation is absolutely key to having a life that withstands storms and pressures. The foundation dug into the rock is nothing more than simple obedience to the commands and teachings of the Lord.

It is just that simple.

All the other stuff are just teaching aids to the main lesson.

Conserving Farm-Raised Children

via Moonmeadow Farm

Conserving Farm-Raised Children

If we want a decent food economy and a decent rural landscape, we have got to find the ways to prepare and encourage our farm children to grow up to be farmers. Because of the dominance of industrial values and the prevalence of economic distress on the farm, our rural schools act and have acted for a long time–as child-confinement operations, where our farm children are gathered up, processed, certified, and shipped out. This may be the most urgent “farm crisis” that we have.

Are Stay-At-Home Moms Economically Productive?

The question seemed to be raised whether a woman who oversees a home is as economically productive, or even if she is -at all, as the woman with a career. This discussion arose in the comments at previously cited, the evangelical
outpost’s “Don’t Marry a Proverbs 31 Woman”
. Although this was not the main point of the post, which I happen to agree with: that we should have a Biblical model for the “Virtuous Woman” standard and not a reworked 1950 Sitcom throwback.

But along the way, we found this detour:

It probably started here, in Joe’s post

“This is not to say that marital bliss requires women to become June Cleaver-style stay-at-home moms. In fact, the biblical ideal for a wife, which is clearly presented in Proverbs 31:10-31, shares much in common with what we would nowadays consider a “career woman.” The primary difference is that becoming a “professional woman” entails acquiring qualities to build an impressive resume, while becoming a “Proverbs 31 woman” requires obtaining qualities to build an impressive character. But just as Noer warns against marrying a career woman, many Christians would advise (in reality if not in theory) that you avoid marrying a “Proverbs 31 woman.””

but it was in the disucssion that some of the thought was fleshed out

from commenter ‘Boonton’,
“I think for a small minority homeschooling is a perfect fit. I think, though, that for many many others homeschooling would quickly devolve into “just watch TV while I do these chores”.”

and
“I think getting the job done is the most virtous. That means it’s more virtous to have the humility to admit that you probably can’t homeschool your children very well and therefore let the school do it than it is to neglect your child’s education”

…it started to develop more here

“1. The assumption that God desires a Christian wife to devote herself to maintaining her home, rather than doing economically productive work.”
with a three point clarification from ‘TeresaHT’

as the contrapuntal view of stay at home woman now means one who does not do “economically productive work”

TeresaHT goes on to further elaborate:

“Some housework is economically productive, yes. But most of it, arguably, is not. Rather, it is work spent consuming and maintaining what someone else has already earned. It is not the same kind of work as raising chickens, spinning wool, maintaining a garden, or weaving cloth. All of these latter actions produced raw materials or converted raw materials into goods which could be used, bartered or sold. That’s what I’m calling “economically productive” work. Some housewives do this kind of work, but for many women, if they do it at all, it is only a small part of their work. Going grocery shopping is consumption, not production. Vacuuming the floor is maintance, not production. Do you really not see the difference? I’m not saying such consumming-and-maintaining work is unnecessary or unhelpful. Buying groceries, preparing meals, and clipping coupons is real work, no doubt about that! I’m just saying that I don’t believe God intends for such maintenance-and-consumption work to be the primary work most women do. The “men are producers, women are consumers and maintainers” model is not a Biblical model for division of labor: it is, rather, a result of the Industrial Revolution.”

Then a commenter, ‘giggling’ ( don’t be fooled by the inconequential name, this is one cogent and hard-hitting commenter) answers,

“What’s interesting here is that you seem to be stuck in the Industrial Revolution mindset as well, with your IR distinctions of producers of goods, consumers, and maintainers.

But in today’s society, it seems that the “goods” that people produce are not necessarily physical commodities that you seem to elevate in importance above “services” that people produce.

Services, after all, are what you are describing as somehow lower in importance than the production of physical commodities. Yet what is your justification for such a distinction?

Isn’t it true that companies exist today whose sole purpose, for example, is to go grocery shopping for you and deliver them to your door? They are called service industries and there is simply no reason to say that what they sell are less products than shoes are to Nike.

I seriously believe in light of examples such as this that your own Industrial Revolution perspective limits what you view as production, and therefore taints your view of the legitimate production that wives do (not to mention those employed in service industries).”

I couldn’t have said thngs better myself, not even with time and editing.

There is much more in the comments ( 77 and counting last time I looked), but this is enough quoting to give you the direction that some of the opinion was taking.

======

IMO

There is much made of falsely quantifying criteria for the purpose of rendering soundbytes. That isn’t the fault of a singular blogger, it is the way we deal with information in our society. If you are issuing government statistics or computing taxes, it makes sense to reduce “economic productivity” to the restricted terms used here, but in real life, and in actual computation of what makes the financial cut, there is a whole passive economy that simply isn’t factored in. And the SAHM’s are smack in the middle of that “passive” economy. I thought we had come to a place in our society where we understood that a throw-away consumerism will cost everyone more in the long run. I guess I was wrong, because when you give added weight to those “produce” through creating goods, and marketing only, the ‘career women’…. you have returned to that mode of assessing value.

So instead of outright preaching, I throw it to the common sense and sensibilities of the readers: do those who maintain the wealth, who provide volunteer services, do untold tasks for healthy families which then require less “help” form government and non-profits ,who keep the warp and weft of society strung together count for something economically?

(yes, I kinda preached anyway)

Raising Children-God’s Way

How hard can that be?

Today I read an a post on parenting. New parents, Christian parents, never get tired of reading the secrets to success in parenting, it seems. Forgive me if I am tired of it. Forgive me if I seem short and cranky when I write about this. I don’t mean to rant, but I have been parenting for 30 some solid years now. I have been through the wringer, because I have tried very hard to follow the advice and I have had to hold fast in some very difficult storms. Storms that threatened to shipwreck our home, at times.

And placebo advice can make me feel grief that is difficult to restrain and redirect. Because all those well meaning voices truly..mean well. But I decided to tell you all the truth. Real, Godly parenting is both extremely simple and extremely hard. It is just plain hard, and you cannot guarantee either your outcomes or your pathway. You are going to have to come to grips that only God can do that- and some families seem to have more grace than others, although I think we can rely upon God to give more when that is called for.

The Simple:
You have to parent daily.
You have to build bridges of communication.
You have to put yourself aside and put your child’s needs forefront.
You need as much consistancy as you can possibly muster.

The Hard:
There is no one method.
You are human.
You have no final control over the circumstances of life, only over yourself( and that is more than most of us can handle).

The hard means there are influences other than yourself that will factor into your childs life. Not all of those influences are healthy or helpful. You are coming into this with influences and factors of your own, in personality and upbringing. Society is not sympathetic to you, and no one will give you a break, parenting has become an unthankful job.

The simple means that there are things that work. It means that children are flexible and forgiving, and they love you and will respond to what you put into them, beyond what you might expect. The simple does not mean that these are easy things to do, but that they don’t take lots of training or even wisdom to accomplish. They just are time-tested ways that parenting works.

God’s Way in parenting means you pray alot. That is what following God’s way in anything will entail- lots of people get parenting quite well- they have things built into them, or they work hard at building relationships, but if you are going to parent as a Christian it is as simple and as hard as the rest of your relationship with Him. I wish that I had listened more fully to God and less so to the well-meaning teachers and experts. I wish I had had less well meaning interventionists in the Church- who second guessed all my parenting, and more loving rebukes, like some of my friends gave me, that were along the lines of common sense.

We still have the whitewashing of sepulchres as the approved methodology of the Church. Shame on us for that. If we did more to support and love the young mothers and fathers and children of the Church- that would go much farther to producing godliness amongst us than tens of thousands of programs, seminars, and well advertised books.

But we dont. That would just be too simple, and doesn’t swell the coffers near as much…doesn’t make for great statistics,either; although it could go a long way to reduce those shameful other sorts of statistics that the Church now wants to explain away…divorce, pornography use, and all the other stuff that lonely broken people are helpless to resist.

So forgive me if I have tears when you are wringing your hands over how horrible the world is and how much you want to tsk-tsk and herd together.

Be willing, instead, to keep communication open when it is so very, very hard, because all your standards have been tossed aside, and you are forced to see the damage and hurt that you wanted to protect that child from come to pass. Keep open and cry and pray all night because you can’t sleep. Understand that all the teaching in the world is only in hope of a open ear. And sometimes it will take time to create that between you and your child. Understand that there are strong lies in our society, and you will not win the battle against all of them. But keep trying. Keep the faith, so your child will have somewhere to return if the decision to go the Prodigal’s way is chosen.

Keep the fires burning and keep the door unlatched. Love them.

That is all I can tell you. And I am sorry that I cannot applaud your methods and your exteme enthusiasm. Because I know it’s endurance that wins the day in this thing… and that we are quite weak in our ability to walk in humility and love. But I hope the best for us all… it is the highest of callings to raise the generation that will continue after we have all gone. It is worth the sacrifices and the investment.

Invest more in the child than in the method. It pays a far better return.

Things I Learned From Having Children

[repost from 9-24-04]

My first two births were the usual medically “enhanced” type. It wasn’t until my third delivery that I had the natural birth experience with full awareness of all the stages. It was in the final portion of labor, the “pushing”, that I experienced something resident within the human soul.

Labor is called labor for a reason. It is some of the hardest work that a person may experience, and it comes with both urgency and no means of retreat.

It was in this I learned that there is place within, after all ones strength seems to be spent, that a second wind can form. A lift above the pain, above the exhaustion, to see through to the goal…. to finish the task.

The Finns have a concept and particular word for this. It is “sisu”.

“Sisu is a unique Finnish concept. It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of what it takes. Sisu is a special strength and persistent determination and resolve to continue and overcome in the moment of adversity. A combination of stamina, perseverance, courage, and determination held in reserve for hard times.”

A reserve.

A woman can have that within. She can have a second strength, an ability to reach beyond herself and beyond all she thought herself capable of, to rise above the difficulties….. it is there to be tapped into when necessity requires.

I have often thought of the experience of this when faced with other things that I felt were intolerable, that were seemingly insurmountable. It centered my hope and my confidence.

We are marvelously made.

A Day In The Life… of a parent

I was going to post on culture, I want to post on culture, but the soap opera angst of being a parent wins over. Why does Bill Murray’s Ground Hog Day seem like real life to me? Maybe because my husband and I keep hitting the same old road bumps.

This is especially true of our parenting journey even though we have vastly changed many things. We are loose, less demanding, we listen more and criticise less…. but does this get us the home pass free? No.

My husband, dipping into a now well berated woe-is-me why do we go through this mode, got some things to truly feel woeful about after I “explained” why I feel like I’m the only adult in the house. Although, he was good about it and explained back why that wasn’t so…. and I did end up giving him good advice which I intend to take myself: instead of concentrating on what you’d like not to be as a person, why not concentrate on the person you’d like to be? That way your actions and intentions are more likely to accomplish something. There’s something about the backward look that can be less than educational when it comes to making the positive changes. It doesn’t seem that is the way it works, but it does.

Must have something to do with what we fill our minds with….

Anyway. Parenting. All of our older set of children felt we were too restrictive. Fair enough. So on our younger set we have been both more lenient and encourage the usual social activities.

We have chauffered and made accomodations for numerous teen activities for numerous teens… no problem right? Right. So long as we always say yes. But today we said one no, and the whole teen contingent went slightly …um… emotive. Except the one who gets to go on said outing. We said no to one child , who at 13 seems young enough that there will be other opportunities, and we felt ( we felt, but I was handed the message decision “Go ask your Mom”) that maybe she should slow down some of the social schedule. At least for this one social event.

Tears, talks, my husband going very cave-like in that miserable state that men enter . I explained in my unrepentant self that you weigh things, you make the decision, you take the fall out, that is what mature responsible people do. You can’t please everyone. Very hard for my husband who wants to buy that book “Approval Addiction : Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone”. I tried to get him to buy it couple weeks ago “Oh, there it is, why don’t you buy it now, isn’t that the book you were talking about” “Yeh, later, I have too many things to do, I won’t have time to read it” . Well, now he’s mentioned that he needs to read it.

I don’t know. I don’t think understanding this personality situation takes away the pain. And it is painful to have to say no and get the responses that no oftentimes brings.

With raising teens, it is hard to know just what works for the longterm goal. The Mature Responsible Person. The person who can make their own happiness and come through dependably for those dependent on them. Those kind.

Like we try to be , but often fail at exemplifying.

Sometimes I, the one who usually has had strong opinions and convicitons on just about anything…gets throughly confused. I mean, sometimes I just want to say, “I don’t know anymore, leave me alone”. But I just go ahead with the information at hand, and do what seems to be best. What else can you do? You pray, you want the best, you’ve gone to the parenting seminars, and read the Bible studies. You absorbed who knows how many parenting articles in any number of Ladies Magazines. Talked with parents who have been there and those in the middle of….. but all is not clarity and light.

Talking and tears is what it is. I’d cross my fingers at this point if I thought it would help. But instead we just tread on through, hoping we hit the higher ground.

[And those experts who are so very sure that everything works out if you just do this and just do that? That give the Bible 1,2, 3’s on how to raise the perfect person? I have my doubts about them…. I have my real strong cynical and sceptical doubts….]

And the husband who looked like he wanted to bang his head on the wall? Do almost anything to just make the pain stop? He did probably the most useful thing of all: the private, sympathetic, Dad talk.

Whew…. good thing for Dad’s. Dads can be the best fixers, best shoulders to lean on, best lots of things I can’t think to name. We each have our place in this moving experiment called “family”. Ever changing ever challenging…ever humbling.

And tomorrow is another day.