A few days ago, I went on a rant to a new officer of my moms group at church about how the speakers at our meetings always go on too long, get boring, the group gets antsy, and it just doesn’t work. I ended by mouthing off about how we have plenty of expertise within our group from which to draw speakers if we feel like we really need them, and heck, even I could give a ten or fifteen minute program. I doubt they’ll take me up on that, but I started to wonder what I would say if I had that opportunity. What relevant knowledge do I have that they don’t already know? Probably not much; these are good Catholic ladies who are involved in their church and have their priorities straight. Most of them, however, are younger than I and most of their children are younger than my oldest, so I might have some broader perspective in that regard.
I began by imagining what I would like to go back and tell my younger self, when my now-eighteen year old was two or three and her childhood stretched out before me, as broad and mysterious and full of potential disaster as a long trek through a forbidden forest. I think it would have been helpful to me to realize several things:
1. Understand how much power you have over your home. As the mother of the family, you set the emotional atmosphere your children grow up in. If you decide to be a happy person, positive and fun, it will be much easier for your kids to do the same. If you are bitter and play the victim, you are throwing up an almost insurmountable obstacle to happiness for your kids. – your attitude sets the atmosphere. Remember what Paul said in Philippians 4:11-13 “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. Paul gives a clue on how to do that in verse 8: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” So, find something positive about your situation and focus on that, find a way to be happy, for your children’s sake. Nobody gets to play the martyr card, and I mean NOBODY.
2. On the other hand, never give up on trying to make things better. Every family, every person, has issues, has things that need improvement. Some are more disastrous and intractable than others. As the mom, you see what is wrong in your family and in you that needs to change. Never, ever give up on it. I saw an episode of Hoarding: Buried Alive the other day where the dad was a hoarder and the mom had given up. The children were living in squalor. He didn’t change his destructive behavior until she got motivated to force it. Never give up, you’ve got to keep working to make your family better. As the mom, you have more control over this than anyone else.
3. Trust your instincts. You know your children better than anyone else. Almost every time, you really do know what is best for them. If you think your child would benefit from piano lessons, find a way to get them in piano and don’t let anyone tell you music isn’t beneficial. No one else loves your children as much as you do and no one else is as interested in making sure they get what they need. Be confident about your decisions and don’t torture yourself by second-guessing. There is no advocate in this world more powerful than a concerned mother who knows she’s right. You can make things happen for your children that no one else can.
4. When your child hits a new stage or when you hit a child-rearing snag, read a book about it, or twelve. It’s easy to get complacent after those first white-knuckled new mom years. Don’t. Especially when they get to the teen years, you need specific information to deal skillfully with that. Get it for yourself so that you can continue to parent confidently through every age.
5. It will be decades before you begin to see the fruits of your labor, but you WILL see it. Take heart. Much of mothering is thankless, frustrating, and mentally and physically arduous. You will wipe behinds and noses for years, teach, cajole, lecture, and threaten thousands of times to seemingly little effect. Then one day you will look up and your oldest is a caring, responsible, creative young woman, ready to leave home and go confidently in the direction of her dreams. You begin to see that you have made a difference in the world.
6. One of your most important jobs as a parent is to help your children find out what they are naturally good at, so make sure they try out a lot of things before they get to high school. Keep your mind open and seek out opportunities for them, even a failure is a valuable lesson. When you find something that comes naturally and joyfully to your child, help them find ways to take that activity as far as they can. You want to let them experience that feeling of finding their niche and having exceptional competence at something. Such is the root of true self esteem.
7. Regarding discipline, your credibility is your biggest asset. Never threaten to do anything you aren’t 100% committed to following through with. I hate hearing parents say “bye” to their little child when they are getting ready to leave and the child won’t come. Of course they aren’t really going to leave the child, and they are teaching the child that their threats don’t hold any weight.
I’ll finish up with a list of things I am proud of having done:
I have never regretted one moment of reading aloud, playing on the floor, facilitating creativity, and letting them have friends over.
Things I have regretted:
Anything I have done that was fueled by anger and frustration.
Hope this helps, moms, we’re all in this together.