A friend was over last week checking out homeschool curriculum. We had a nice chat, watched our children play, and when she was leaving she turned to me and said, "Do you ever feel overwhelmed?"
I've thought about her asking me that often. How could I NOT be overwhelmed? Like many mothers of young children, most days are overwhelming. So, to answer honestly I said, "Yes, every day." She seemed so shocked and relieved. She said, "Really? I just pictured you having everything under control, etc., etc." NO WAY and to be honest I don't want too. That is way too much pressure. I don't want to have all the answers. I don't want to appear as if it is no big deal raising several small children because every day is a big deal. I would never want to make another mother feel as though they can't quite get it right. I never want to "pretend" my life is easy, I have this mothering thing figured out, my marriage is better than yours, my kids are better, faster, smarter than yours. That is way to much pressure and not the Christian way to mother or be a friend.
So, to answer the following questions for myself, my daughters, and anyone who gives a darn.
1. Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
Yes, most days I feel overwhelmed some days more than others. I feel the weight of raising children, forming their soul, helping them find their interests, being strict, not being strict enough, forming habits while not making them able to go with the flow and not have their way if the routine is broken, encouraging while making them tough and strong, teaching them empathy while teaching them not to be a complainer. The task is comparable to climbing Everest.
2. Do your kids ever whine, fight,complain, be ungrateful, not appreciate, etc.?
Yes. We love our children with our whole hearts and are so grateful for each one of them, but they are not robots nor do I want them to be. They are human and they need Christ. I want them to need Christ. They are not perfect nor am I. My first years of parenting were so hard because I thought all their flaws were a reflection upon the job I was doing as their mother. As if they were some little project. I see things very differently now. Whenever I notice something in a certain child that concerns me, I try to first ask myself, "Do I do that to God?" "Am I that way to God." You see, I have long thought parenting is for the parent. Yes, I think we have "some" influence on our child, but the longer I am parenting I really believe God is refining me through them if I will let Him. He is teaching me the lessons I need to learn.
For example, if a certain child is being ungrateful. In the past, I would immediately assume they were getting too many treats, etc., and give them a talk on gratitude. Now, I give myself the talk I intended for them. "Look at all God has given to you and all you think about now is (fill in the blank)." Really, we aren't that far off from the faults we see in our own children just the issues are more grown up and some how okay.
If I find them restless and needy, I first must see where in my life I am restless and needy. Oh my, the apple never falls too far from the tree. I could go on and on which concludes me to say that "I must be what I want them to be." I must not make them into what I want them to be, I MUST BE WHAT I WANT THEM TO BE. They must see me disciplined, patient, cheerful, gracious, appreciative, attentive to my prayers, attentive to the sacraments. They must see me devote more time to study than to computer. Oh, it is so painful to realize our shortcomings.
I had a huge revelation one day while listening to my niece speak Russian. My sister's husband is from the Ukraine and speaks Russian to their children. My sister speaks English to them so they hear both languages and speak them fluently. Now, they never set Ehva down to tell her this is Russian, this is English. She just hears it. So, my brother-in-law told her to go throw something in the trash (in Russian). She walked over and threw it away. My sister then asked her what she threw away (in English). She responded in English.
We had been struggling with our children's manners for some time and I couldn't figure it out because I annoyingly reminded them "Say please. What do you say?" I was so puzzled because they usually needed to be reminded. Then I witnessed my niece and it dawned on me. THEY AREN'T HEARING IT FROM ME!!!! I would ask them nicely "Would you go grab Mama a diaper." "Dominic, Would you quick run and grab a fork?" I was forgetting one small little word probably because I was asking the request nicely. AMAZING the change. "Dominic, Would you PLEASE run and grab a fork? Thank you, honey." Truly, within days their manners improved 100 percent. I then became obsessed with using the wordage I was hoping to hear from them. AMAZING. Just like my niece learning and speaking Russian, THEY MUST HEAR ME SAY IT AND HAVE THE RIGHT TONE.
I tried to apply this to them also when they fall or get hurt. I use to say (nicely) "You're okay." Then, I realized to THEM, they are not okay. They may just want me to hold them or be sympathetic while not milking it. So now, if they get hurt, I always ask them "Are you okay? Come here." AMAZING. It has been wonderful to watch them be sympathetic to others when they get hurt. Once again, THEY MUST SEE IT FROM JOHN AND I.
3. Are you ever afraid to have another baby?
To be brutally honest, NO! I can answer that from the bottom of my heart. I, along with John, believe we are vessels or tools God uses to bring forth new life so to think that I have much say or decision making in the whole process seems rather trivial. We believe He is the giver of life. He knows the right time. He knows what I need, what John needs, what our children need, what the world needs for all eternity. God could have chosen any way he wants to bring forth new life. He certainly didn't need me, but in His goodness He allowed us to participate. So, I blindly trust Him.
4. Since you are never afraid to have another baby, does anything scare you about raising children or do you just trust God in all areas?
Yes. Yes. Yes. I am not contradicting my above answer. As much as I trust God in giving us new life, I am TERRIFIED AND Disorderedly afraid of losing one of them to the point of tears and anxiety. I cling too tight. I hold on too tight. I see their preciousness, their littleness and it terrifies me. When they are sick, I always say in my head, "I do not like being this vulnerable. I don't like feeling this paralyzed with fear of being without this child so therefore I can't have anymore children because I don't want to feel this vulnerable anymore because if I were to lose one of them, our worlds would forever change. This is an area where I need to grow and mature. I trust God in the giving of life, but not the taking and then my pride and lack of trust take over.
5. Whenever we've brought a new baby home, our house falls apart. Does this happen to you?
Every time. The baby is never the problem. I am a hot mess. The kids are all disoriented because my head is somewhere else. There are always lots of tears, lots of everything to be honest, but it settles down every time. Every time. I promise. Your first couple children will be the hardest. When I think about this new baby coming, I don't ever wonder those things any more. This is our seventh child. We know the crazy routine by now and we also know that is settles down every time. My uncle use to say "The cards have been shuffled." So true. Everyone takes on a new role. The baby becomes the toddler, the toddler becomes one of the little kids, the older kids become OLDER. I become a mother of seven not six. New roles, but you do settle into your role WITH TIME. Be patient. With time.
6. Do you enjoy pregnancy? Is it hard for you?
Telling your pregnancy, labor and delivery stories are a lot like telling your wisdom teeth stories. Nobody quite had it like you, right. We each have our own little tidbits that make our stories unique and special mainly to us. I do love being pregnant. I love taking the pregnancy test. I love seeing the line change and realizing somebody new is coming, I love ultrasounds, maternity clothes, doctor's visits, counting the weeks, reading my pregnancy book every time, watching each baby move, talking about names, watching the kids be excited, labor and delivery, and being in the hospital.
Pregnancy is though a gift of our bodies. One of the greatest gifts we can give to God. Kimberly Hahn said once that God will ask to see our battle scars when we die. Well, I hope to have a lot to show Him. We are battling for their soul. Be it weight gain, varicose veins, stretch marks, fatigue, mental battles, they are wounds we willingly take upon ourselves to show our love for the good Lord. My mother had varicose veins that were prize worthy. Holy Smokes. I, too, inherited her legs. I had surgery done on my legs after Zellie. The doctor told me that I shouldn't have anymore children if I wanted my legs to stay "nice." Needless to say, there is a reason you will never see my legs ever again. Not pretty, not quite sure recognizable, but I am grateful they work.
In most cultures, thinness is a sign of power. So for most women, this probably is one of the most challenging parts of pregnancy. The constant weight gain, attempted weight loss, weight gain, not quite weight loss, weight gain, I am getting really tired weight loss, weight gain and I am not quite sure I care, but I do weight loss, weight gain, I am tired weight attempt loss. For some reason, if you are thin especially as a mother "you have it together." How do you do it? How do you manage ALL these kids AND be thin?" Crazy that a human being can accomplish both of these things in the same lifetime. Too much pressure. I feel as though a woman's motherhood is often measured in her mind by her appearance. Ridiculous, pointless, and detrimental to the Christian walk of life.
How should we handle this? Should we just let go? Should we even care? It is so sad that the beauty of a new baby is clouded by our thoughts of a 45 pound weight loss journey that lies ahead. So sad. So empty especially at the end of our days when we our dying. I've not found complete peace with this because I think about weight issues a lot, but I have found peace knowing that this is my season of having children. As much as I don't look like I want to, I also will never put my appearance before having another soul. So, if that is the sacrifice I must make, then I lay it before God.
Once at my bible study, we were talking about this delightful topic and someone made a reference to "when I was in high school, my body..." Then, we started reflecting upon how funny the comments were because if I said, "When I was in high school, I was so good at basketball." Nobody would even care, and that is how our appearance is to other people. As nobody cares if I was good at basketball or not, why should they care if I weighed 115 lbs. in high school. So the comments, I could get back into my high school jeans is as ridiculously as saying "I can hit a three pointer." Who cares? That was the past. Things have changed. I have changed. My body has changed.
To the comment, "You don't look like you've had (fill in #) children. BUT, I have had (fill in # of children) so why is it admirable to look as if I haven't had any children. I have had children and why is wrong to "look like I have had six children."
7. Do you ever lose your patience?
Someone once told Stephen Covey's wife who had nine children that she must be a patient person for having all those children? She responded, "What part of me having nine children makes me a patient person?" So true and funny. Yes, I have lost my patience many times. Just because I love you more than anything than life itself, doesn't mean we don't have hard days, hard weeks. I am human. You are human. We are living together and growing together. I am not perfect nor do I want to be. I have yelled, spanked, been irrational, BUT what I have NEVER done is NEVER not said I was sorry. I have never let the sun go down on my anger. Before I put a certain child to bed of whom we have had a rough day together, I ALWAYS bring them to me, hold them, and say I am sorry if needed, talk through our day, pray together, and vow to work tomorrow to improve. Children, especially young children, are hard. They never quite seem to do what we quite seem to want them to at the given time. Not that I am not working on patience, etc., but I think more than being constantly patience and never losing it, it is more important for them to hear the words "I am sorry. Please forgive me." They will face trying relationships the rest of their life. We want so much for them to know how to repair a strained relationship.
8. How do you get your housework done along with all your other duties?
I believe I run an orderly home, BUT during most days my house is a bomb. There is only one of me and six of them. I pick up every night, fold laundry, clean the kitchen, tidy each room before bed, but by noon it looks as if I never have done anything. They have tried on swimming suits, princess dresses, built Lego ships, eaten two meals, changed clothes, brushed their teeth with a whole tube of tooth paste, washed their hands with all the soap, etc., etc. I try to make the habit of picking up before John gets home. He appreciates it, but never expects it. I don't feel the pressure to always have an immaculate home. It is near impossible especially if you care to spend time with your children, be joyful, let them learn, let them be children. There will be a day when the toys come out for their last time and I don't want it. I love surveying at night all that they did during the day. It is okay. So, my attitude is work hard, keep every thing going, but remove the pressure of perfection. Mothers wake up serving, serve all day, and continue on through the night getting life ready for their families the coming day. I am sure the Good Lord is pleased with our efforts. I know John and our children would much rather have me joyful during the day then walking behind them uptight about everything. That is not the kind of childhood I want them to remember.
But, you say, I can't function if my house is a mess.
To which I add, You have to pick. You have to find the balance. They will be little for such a short time. Work hard, do your best, but remove the pressure.
9. Do you ever need a break?
Yes, everybody does from their work, their vocation. I don't mean leave my vocation, but I do need to step out of the office some times. Once again, as much as I love our children and enjoy being with them, I am also grateful for the moments I can regroup, rethink, review, reflect upon my motherhood. Although, I usually get terrible separation anxiety upon leaving. I always return refreshed. I went a couple months ago to a bookstore about an hour away to review homeschooling material for THEM. I hated leaving even though they were with John, but still felt sad to be driving away. I knew I couldn't bring them. I returned a couple hours later with great ideas, renewed love just from those couple hours driving there and back in silence and prayer. Of course, Yes, I do have those days that I just am in a funk. The monotony of the routine, fatigue, loss of motivation, the loneliness, feeling fat, the requests, and all the needs just get to me. Yes, I have all the same emotions you do. It is not a lack of love, lack of commitment, nor of dedication. It is just relationships and their nature. Some days just are. Some days are just tough. Some days are wonderful. Some days are just bad. We must keep remembering where we are going and what our end goal is and we start over. To me, it's about the relationship good and bad.
10. Do good parents make good kids? Do bad parents make bad kids?
I have never liked that statement. Too much pressure on people who are trying to raise their kids right who are struggling. It focuses way too much on results instead of the process and the end of our lives. I know some fabulous parents who are struggling a lot with some of their kids. I know some parents who in my opinion were terrible and they have great kids. I know good parents who have good kids and I know bad parents who have bad kids. I have several friends who work on obedience every day and their kids aren't obedient (in their opinion). I know kids raised in a Christian home who have no inclination towards religion. I know kids raised without God who are only drawn to God.
Above all, we must seek heaven for our children. We must seek what is good, holy, true, and beautiful for them. The results are up to God. He knows their story. He knows our efforts, our attempts, our tears, our frustrations. He sees everything. We must also remember that we took vows to our spouses not our children. It is easy to pour everything we got into our children while forgetting about the man we promised God we would love and honor. So, in some ways you can say "Good parents are good spouses."
Well, I hope my love and honesty is a reflection of my encouragement for you. I know what thoughts defeat me or play in my head and it is often comforting to know "You are okay. You are normal. Now, let us proceed."