Thursday, November 14, 2013

True Confessions of an Imperfect Parent

If you are a parent, or if you have ever been a child, then you know for certain that in a family of more than one kid, it's inherently wrong to pick favorites.  You are NEVER EVER allowed to say: "Billy, you're my favorite kid." - especially if your other child is standing next to Billy.

I know, I know, sometimes you have a child who is an absolute delight all the time, sickeningly sweet in demeanor, always being helpful and making you feel like you are the best parent in the world.  But you just don't pick favorites.  It's wrong.  It's cruel. 

However, I have an admission.  A confession.  I'm gonna say something that parents should never, ever say.

One of my children is my least favorite.  I even have moments (sometimes hours) where I feel like I don't even like this child.  (And I am rightfully embarrassed about this.)

It's awful, I know.  A mother's love should be unending and unquenchable.  We've all heard the phrase:  a face that only a mother could love...  So what does that mean?  Could it mean that I should be full of love, cuddles and syrupy-sweet goodwill towards my child even at the worst of times?

Sorry.  It just doesn't work that way.

Somehow, this child (whom I will not identify) has the ability to reduce me to tears with only a few words.  Their stubbornness and effluent attitude melts my patience like a snowflake melts when it lands on an open flame.  I have found myself at wit's end more often than not due to this child's amazing ability to push all of my buttons, excessively and repetitively until I feel literally broken and totally inadequate as a mother.  I am not exaggerating.

Yes, deep within my heart, and on the good days, I really love this child. 

But it is so stinkin' hard sometimes.

So what do we do with a close relationship that seems to be all bumps and jagged edges?

What do you do when someone you are supposed to love has an amazing ability to rub you the wrong way?

What do you do when you're supposed to be the grown-up, the example, the leader... and you keep on making mistakes, saying the wrong thing and over-reacting?

Pull them closer.

Yep... you heard me.  As much as you want to run away... instead, when you are in a difficult spot with a loved one and you feel like you just don't get it and you can't make it work... the best thing you can do is pull them into your embrace (figuratively and maybe even literally).

Now, I can't exactly take credit for this advice - I don't remember where I heard it though, and I've adapted it to my own situation.  So I'll paraphrase and try to explain what I mean and what I've experienced with this "special" child of mine.

When my child doesn't respond or react the way that I want, to the things I say, I feel threatened.  That's the bottom line.  I end up feeling a loss of control both of my emotions and of my child.  Unfortunately, when I'm losing control,  this child reacts to my emotions and has a way of escalating the situation. 

Certainly we are clashing due to personality differences, due to circumstances and personal stress (mine and theirs) but life will always provide reasons (excuses) for blame in a difficult relationship.  It doesn't mean that the end result should be frustration, hurt and separation.  Believe me, I WANT to run away.  I'd rather give myself a 'Mommy-time-out' and disengage myself from the conflict.  Yet, my child deserves more.  And I hope for so much more in our relationship.  Instead of leaving, instead of shutting the door to my heart emotionally, I'm learning to draw this child close - to seek out points of connection and closeness even though the conflict seems to trump a lot of our days.

So how do I cope?  Well, I'd like to say that I have learned to instantly recognize when I'm becoming too emotional and acting like a child and losing control.  However, I'm not there yet.

My strategy is three-fold. 

First, I stabilize the situation.  If that means that I have to stop the conversation... (even to the point of putting down the school book that only has half a question answered so far, despite all of my encouraging and prodding...) I will let it go - even if just for the moment, and sometimes for the rest of the day.

This is similar to the idea of "picking your battles".  Sometimes I know that I will not be able to handle the situation well, so we just end that situation while our emotions are heated.  We can always come back to it later.   The schoolwork can wait.  My child's heart is not worth being trampled upon because I don't know how to respond without being emotionally stirred.

The second part is the "pulling closer" part.  That could mean that once you've shut down the situation, you immediately connect physically with your child (or significant other, if that is the person with whom you're having conflict).  Or... if this doesn't seem feasable, then plan a way to connect later that day.  Do something special together.  Read a book, have a cup of tea, share a cookie.  Just find a place of loving connectedness.  Re-engage in a way that doesn't feel stressful.  (Now is not the time to bring up the issue of conflict!)

Lastly: try, try again.  Could you have approached the situation from a different angle?  Or, if it was clearly one-sided (and it rarely is....) then could you just get yourself to a place of peace where you don't react wrongly?  Obviously when it comes to dealing with kids, I can't just expect them to act like mature human beings all the time.  They are going to respond childishly.  I do have to be the "better man" and choose to be more patient, loving and kind than I feel that their actions deserve.  That is my responsibility as a parent.  And if I'm dealing with an adult - whether friend, spouse or stranger - that is being difficult, I want to learn to be gracious.  I desire to be a peacemaker - even when it is challenging.  It's not easy, though.

On easy days & hard days: Pull Them Close!
Okay, so I've admitted my weakness here.  I'm not the perfect parent who deals graciously with my kids at all times.  I screw up.  I get emotional.  At times I feel broken and sorely lacking in my relational skills.  But there is hope.  There is even forgiveness.  And I really believe that the key is connectedness.  Don't let the angry moments overshadow and quench the moments of kindness and closeness.  Fight for the connection.  Though I may feel wounded, I will push past my bruised ego that wrongly says "I'm the mom, so I always need to be seen as right". 

Life is a journey.  I'm set on learning, growth and change.  Even though there are the "bad days", and on those days, I may not feel as though I "like" my child(ren),  I will always love my children and I'll keep on trying.

Oh, and for the record, it isn't ALWAYS terrible with this child.  We have some great moments, too.  (But, I am looking forward to the season when we can relate better... probably when they and I have grown up a little more!)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why I Love Nature Walks...

For once, mud has made my heart happy.

The muddy boots sitting by my front door are a welcome reminder of tromping through the hills with my family.  We relished the November sun as it made slush of the snow-covered trails in the valley that echoed with the delighted exclaims of my inquisitive children.  I taught my little ones to recognize the call of the Chickadee, and smiled to myself as they called back "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" to the tiny bird perched high in the naked branches.

I highly recommend a regular diet which partakes of the great outdoors!

Are you stressed?  Get outside, under the vast expanse of blue sky on a clear day and soak it in.  

Are your kids driving you crazy with excessive noise and disaster-prone behavior?  Get them outside!  Trust me, the dirt is worth it when you account for the fact that their voices are lost in the wide open spaces and the entertainment is found - not in the eerie glow of a screen, but in the trees, hills, rocks and sky.

Are you sad or lonely?  All of creation cries of a God who meticulously designed a world intended to glorify Him, and give us delight.  Every snowflake, every cloud, every snow-capped mountain on the horizon... all of nature's bounty is a reminder of a good God, who makes beautiful things and cares about even the smallest details.  For that I am thankful, and in my grateful enjoyment, I am truly refreshed.

God's glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.  Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.  Their words aren't heard, their voices aren't recorded,  But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
-Psalm 19:1-4 (MSG)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Change, Uncomfortable Change....

I'm in transition again.

If you've had a baby, you know what I mean - it's that brief period of time before delivery where you shake, maybe vomit, and cry and scream at your companions: "I CAN'T DO IT!" 

That is the precise moment when one of the nurses knowingly nods her head and says: "She's in transition.  It won't be long, now."

Since I've had 5 natural births, I have to admit that when my last child was born (at home, unassisted) I recognized transition when it came.  No one had to tell me: "It's okay, sweety, you're almost there, you're just in transition." Likewise, I recognize that the transition I am experiencing now, though not about to result in natural birth, is just part of the process in the season of life that I'm currently experiencing.

The good thing is: the very nature of transition is change.
The bad thing is: the very nature of transition is change.
(Transition is hard, but can produce good results!)

If you are in a place of transition, you know that you can't stay there forever, but it involves a lot of shifting and stretching and pain as you adjust and grow into your next phase.  Change is good, but it means you have to deal with being in the uncomfortable and unfamiliar for a while before you come to the place of fulfillment. 

When it comes down to it, we usually fear and resist change because of the stress that it brings.

So let me be brutally honest.

I cried when I was painting the walls of my bedroom, feeling overwhelmed with the thought of needing to clean up our "new house" and sell it, and move again, for the second time in a year.
I got angry as I packed boxes and sifted through junk in my garage - thinking... didn't I just do this?
And I continually feel exhausted with the fiasco of house-selling: clean it, leave it, show it, repeat.

There are some days when I feel like I'm drowning in the stress of not being able to live a normal life.
However, even though I have my momentary lapses of insanity, and like a woman in labor I want to scream and swear and exclaim "I CAN'T DO IT!", I also have a sense that my perspective could be different.

I don't want to survive this season... I want to thrive.
I want to find joy in the journey.

The solution, as far as I know, is found in acceptance, hope, and the most sustaining of all: peace.

When you're in labor, a good trick is to tell yourself: "I just have to get through this contraction..." and you do your best to breathe deep and survive the tension of that moment, knowing that there will be a short rest period when the contraction is over.  But you MUST NOT think about the next 10 or 20 or 30 contractions - that is where panic sets in and you have no idea how you'll survive!  This outlines the "acceptance" part of my solution.  I just have to get through today, and I want to do today well.  I don't have to think about how long this process will be - in fact that would probably be detrimental to my state of mind!  So I do my best with today, and look forward to those moments of calm that come like a cool breeze on a blistering hot summer day.

Then there's the factor of hope.  What is coming, and what you will accomplish when you reach "the other side" of transition is more important than the "when" - especially when there are circumstances beyond your control.  There are a lot of aspects of my life which I am unable to control right now, and no matter how much I stress about it - it just won't change!  So I focus on the future.  I allow myself to visualize the future, knowing that "this too shall pass" and I have hope.  Just like an expectant, laboring mother knows that the baby can't "stay in there forever", I know that I won't be in this season forever.

Lastly, but most importantly, I have to give credit to the intangible, and often unexplainable sense of peace.  Philippians 4:6 & 7 describes peace as "a sense of God's wholeness... (that) will come and settle you down".  I don't know where I'd be without my random, on-the-spot 10 second bursts of prayer; those moments where I know I've come to the end of all reason and I need something-Someone bigger than myself to sweep in and assure me that I'm gonna make it.  God's peace can bring calm in the worst of situations.  His kind of peace brings resolve that "everything is going to be okay", even if you have no idea HOW it will work out.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (MSG)
I know that life will look radically different 6 months from now, and there's sure to be a new set of adventures for me to chronicle and blog about.  If anything, a life full of transitions signifies growth and an adventurous life.  I can't deny the fact that I'm an adventure seeker - and history speaks for itself.  Given the fact that my life will probably never be "normal", I'm on a quest to travel well - to grow in each challenge, and let this journey shape me, not break me.