Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Parenting Two under Two/Dr Marshall's 5 Tips

I’ve been meaning to write on impressions about parenting for awhile, but it’s been hard to do without sounding like a complete jerk (here are a list of things that people say/do that piss me off) or a sanctimonious prick (this is how wonderful life with children is blahblahblah). This is, of course, because raising children (or doing anything else in life) has its good days and its bad days and the truth is often somewhere in the middle.

Then Fr John at Blog of a Country Priest (one of my favourite priest blogs) posted a link to this excellent article by Dr Taylor Marshall. An article giving tips for young people raising large families? I’m there! The article is worth a read even if you don’t have kids or a large family, as I think his tips are sensible for living a life that errs on the side of happiness. His comments on mentors, or what I might term community, really struck home. My biggest attraction lately? Blogs (or articles) by other people with large young families. Since we only have two kids, following the trials, tribulations, and jubilations of those with more than two always makes my life look easier. But because we have two-under-two, I don’t feel guilty when I compare my chaos to other people’s, because I feel we’re all in the trenches together. It’s a form of camaraderie.

See, I've realised that people who don’t have little children, or a lot lot lot lot LOT of children, forget reality pretty quickly. It’s like that cliche about giving birth – it hurts like hell but you forget it as soon as its over. That’s why it’s so annoying to hear things like “treasure this time – it passes so quickly” or “your generation likes to complain a lot” when you talk/complain/vent about the insanity. Both of these statements can provide a useful reality check but if I lock you in a room with a tantruming Walter and fussy Emily during the afternoon when both kids seem to be perpetually needing diaper changes and food and constant entertainment ALL AT ONCE, just see how much of your moment-cherishing-not-complaining spirit remains. It takes some time to recover from the battle and return to that happy state where we are reminded yet again of what blessings children are. Unfortunately for those of us in this season for life, the chaos, which is relatively short lived in the human life cycle, is blissfully forgotten by those well meaning, or not so well meaning, commentators. Which, if you think about it, is pretty good news because it means we’ll probably also forget just how crazy it was (unless we have so many kids that it becomes permanently engrained in our memory).

Didn't ask for cheerios. Was given them anyway.
Another great point from Dr Marshall’s article was about counting all things you complete in a day, instead of focusing on what you failed to do. I know that my days end on a great note when I remind myself of everything I did do rather than letting all the stuff I didn’t do drag me down. In fact, my house may be messier but I am turning into a better housekeeper because I actually take the time to clean in when I have a chance. I’m an introvert who recharges by sitting and reading books/sewing/watching a movie so after a fourty-hour work week it was always difficult to find the energy to clean. Now that I spend a lot of time watching the babies with one eye and reading books with the other, it’s a nice break to go scrub or vacuum.

This journey with two little babies is teaching me that I have to let go and turn things over to God’s timing. Rather than a “to-do” list I have a “hope to accomplish” list. If things aren’t getting done, I pray about the list & ask God to help me accomplish the things that are important. It seemed silly at first but I found that not only did it work, it helped me relax about the things that weren’t getting done. Of course it also involved honesty on my side – in return for God’s help with my day, I had to make the conscious decision to be a good steward of my time.

Dr Marshall also talks about ensuring that both parents get enough sleep. With Walter, although I was pregnant with Emily and therefore always feeling exhausted, it wasn’t that hard to sleep when Walter slept if I needed the extra rest. But with two babies it is certainly harder to get a complete rest. And I know that my marriage suffers when we’re short on sleep. It’s so easy to take everything personally when I’m tired, and I also have no patience to do anything but push through the day. It isn’t always possible for us to get enough rest, although we try to help each other, but it is important to remember that the days when one of us is super tired are the worst days for problem-fixing. I get frustrated, because sometimes it feels that waiting for the right moment to talk about important things can take weeks, but important discussions when one of us is exhausted are almost always an exercise in futility. And I’ve found that if it’s something pressing & important it works best to have all my points layed out in advance, so that no precious time is wasted & I can easily communicate what needs to be said, and to pray that God will give us a chance to talk & make a decision.

What I find helps me the most is to remember that married life, and all it has brought with it, is my vocation. It’s more than just a job – it’s the path God has put me on to help me grow in holiness. When I lose sight of this it is easy to indulge in self-pity and frustration. Taking care of small demanding humans who can’t say “I love you” or even “thank you” does not make each day feel rewarding. The repetitive chores of housework can often feel maddening, especially when I find myself cleaning up the same mess over and over again. And, of course, this life is so counter cultural. I like to think that my career-life had a bit of glamour to it – trips down to London to work in the corporate office, helping the police with their investigations, giving advice to multinational companies & major airlines... life before kids seems like life on a different planet.

Oh the glamor -- a pool table AND a Foosball table in the lunch room
Then I think about what it means to embrace married life, to embrace openness to life, as my vocation. I’m called to serve my family. I think that this is counter cultural – as a 21st century woman, I feel like I should be fighting this idea, especially as it’s currently defined in my reality of cooking & cleaning.  Then I think about Christ washing the feet of the disciples. I take care of my family because I love them, but on the days when I don’t feel a lot of that love coming back I remember that I also take care of my family because I love Jesus. When a good day comes to an end, I go to bed feeling positive & happy. And when a bad day comes to an end, I try to do the prudent thing and remind myself that loving & serving this family of mine is my calling. I might feel that no one is noticing my sacrifices, stress, & exhaustion, but I know that God is watching every virtuous & unselfish action of mine and encouraging me to continue on. Repeating a dose of selflessness & sacrifice on a daily basis is only going to help me grow.

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