Monday, January 25, 2016

Why it's good to yell every now and Then

10 years ago I decided I would never get angry again, and I felt pretty good about it. I hate yelling and its something I decided I would never inflict on my kids. Plus, it was pretty effective at ticking them off when I just spoke in a calm, sugary sweet voice while dishing out whatever consequences they had earned.  My oldest son would actually scream back "JUST YELL AT ME! STOP BEING SO CALM!!!" But I held my ground and whispered.

I actually fooled myself for a long time. I thought I was really not getting angry, but the truth is that I was storing up silent hurts and resentments which festered into anger, even though it never came out my mouth. I totally kept my cool all. the. time. which meant I didn't experience those intense feelings of rage, but I also didn't experience intense feelings of joy. It's impossible to numb the negative without numbing the positive as well.

In light of this discovery, I've been trying to loosen up and allow myself to feel the full range of emotions fully-including anger and hurt. Today I had a breakthrough of sorts.

I was sleep deprived, hungry, late, and stressed about an issue that had nothing to do with my kids. I walked into the kitchen where breakfast was being made and immediately my youngest began pleading for a friend to come over and work on a school project later in the day.
I issued a terse "no, thats not happening." She persisted in her request and told me all the reasons it MUST happen, and I responded by yelling "THE ANSWER IS NO!". She immediately ran out of the room crying and I felt terrible. I had just become the very thing I had worked so hard not to be-a raving maniac who takes her stresses out on her innocent children. I thought for a minute and composed myself, then followed her upstairs and apologized. We had a good talk where I shared some of my stresses and she explained how much she wanted to be able to help her friend. We negotiated and agreed that helping was more important than doing laundry, and the friend could come. She dried her tears, gave me hug, and said "Thank you Mom for understanding."

It was a magical moment. My daughter got to see me, her mom, make a mistake. She got to see that i am a human being with flaws and imperfections. She got to see me humble myself and admit that I was wrong and come to her seeking forgiveness. She learned that her voice is heard and when she speaks up for something important to her, adults will listen and reconsider. She got to experience what it feels like to be part of a living, breathing relationship that sometimes hurts and also can heal.

I'm not proud of yelling at my daughter today and I don't plan on doing it again anytime soon, but I want to fell joy and so I know that I will also experience pain and anger. I am not perfect and no mother is, so today just give yourself a little break and know that letting your kids see you in all your imperfection is a good thing.

Monday, January 18, 2016

If you sacrifice your happiness, you'll be miserable

And so will your children.

I keep seeing these annoying memes online that look something like this...

This is a really damaging message. Its all candy and roses on the surface, but let's look a little deeper. It seems to be saying that if you want to be a good mom with children who will sing your praises, you must "sacrifice your own happiness for (theirs)" and "do everything to make things perfect for (them)" .

I used to buy into this line of thinking. I really believed that if I just sacrificed myself completely and lost myself in service to my children, that they would see my sacrifice and be filled with love for me. I was sure they would stand up in church and tell the whole congregation how awesome I was, and then I would be filled with joy and it would all be worth it.  So I did all the things that I thought would make me a good mom. I baked bread, worked on Scout projects, started Homeschool Co-ops, made cookies, did crafts, woke up early and stayed up late spending every moment with my kiddos. If I was in the shower and they needed me, I jumped out. If it was 2am and my 6 year old wanted me? I was there. If I was talking on the phone to my mother and a child wanted my help?  Gotta go, mom. 
I know that some of you out there know what i'm talking about. You're reading this blog on your phone hiding in the bathroom and there are little fingers shoved under the door looking for you...

Sure I was tired and depleted, but I just knew that if I modeled this kind of selfless giving for my children, surely they would be happy and kind and then we would have a happy family. I never went to Girl's Night Out because then my kids would (gasp) be without me for a whole evening. I didn't dare go visit my sister in California because my kids would miss me. I didn't dare take more than 10 minutes in the morning to put myself together because the kids needed me. I didn't go exercise because it would be shallow and selfish to leave them in childcare just so I could have a beautiful body. 

This went on for literally 15 years. I kept giving and giving and wondering why our family wasn't deliriously Happy. I was sacrificing EVERYTHING for them. There was literally nothing of ME left. I woke up in the morning ready to meet their needs and I did it all day long until I collapsed into bed exhausted. Don't get me wrong-there were moments of joy and i really did love my kids- but I was not getting the results I was hoping for. It hit me like a ton of bricks during a conversation with my oldest daughter (15 at the time) who informed me that she had no interest in being a mother. 
I was shocked...

"Why not? " I asked

"Because it sucks. " she said. "Its hard and miserable and no fun- just look at you mom. You're never happy and you never have any fun; you just cook and clean and boss us around all day long. Why would I want to do that?"

From the mouths of teens. Since that day, i've taken a totally different approach to mothering and marriage and life in general. That approach has been to SEEK my OWN JOY. I decided that I would put myself first and then share what I gained with my family. I started reading books I wanted to read. I started cooking food I wanted to eat. I started calling my mom just to say Hi. I started a business because it makes ME happy. And guess what? Now they all want to grow up to do what I do.

You do not have to sacrifice your happiness for theirs to be a good mom. Please do NOT make everything perfect for them. Let them learn about their ability to create their own reality.  I'm not advocating for selfishness and child neglect. I'm proposing that you find what makes you happy, and do that because happiness is contagious.  Healthy Happy families START with Healthy Happy moms.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

I think she actually learned something!

Have you ever heard the principle that your biggest trials will also be your greatest teachers? My oldest daughter has been my greatest teacher since the day she was born, in more ways than I can say. Her entrance onto this mortal scene was itself was a huge lesson. As I experienced the full force of unmedicated birth for the first time, I kept crying out to God for a way out of that intense pain- Surely there must be some escape.  The answer came loud and clear; "The only way out is through" and that mantra that has echoed through every struggle of these past 17 years. This child has been the catalyst for much of the emotional work that I have done and for that I am so grateful. She has stretched me beyond all of my perceived limits and compelled me to re-form myself stronger and better than I was before. She is a force to be reckoned with and I gave up on teaching her anything years ago. I decided that the only person I could change was myself, and set out to do just that.

When this girl was born, I was a total disaster. I didn't know how to keep my bedroom clean, or do the laundry, or really organize anything in my life. I guess I physically knew how to do those things, I just didn't know how to blend them all together in a way that would make a household actually run. I forgot children at school on multiple occasions and let heaps of clean laundry pile up on a regular basis. The kitchen looked like a science experiment most of the time and we used plastic spoons because it was easier than washing metal. It was bad. Over time, I figured out how to keep the house running, and I moved onto other stuff. I took up daily exercise, learned how to eat right,  how to set and achieve goals and on an on. I have loved every step of the journey of self improvement. Every time I learned something new, I was eager to share it with my family, sure they would want to join me in my newfound passion. Wrong. They usually chalked it up to "My mom is crazy" and kept right on doing what they were doing-eating junk food, reading twaddle, and all the things normal kids do.  I was afraid I had failed. Oh well, I thought, at least I am healthy and happy. Then something happened.

A few weeks ago, I got a text from Ms. Independent (from the other room) that said:

I was stunned. I'd been trying to get my kids to exercise for seriously 12 years, and they were about as interested as a toddler is in broccoli.  Was she serious? Exercise? BOOTCAMP? And she actually researched and sent me a link? So naturally we signed up. And we have gone faithfully for almost 3 weeks.

Then this text exchange the other day after she went shopping for a new bedspread for herself (with her own money). I am the texter in blue.

Was this my daughter? After years of begging for the most expensive item available in any given situation, was she CHOOSING the practical option?

Then this morning, I was blow drying my hair, and she came in with another bit of wisdom.

"Will you help me hang pictures in my room? I know I've been keeping it ugly all this time because I was like 'I'm moving to London' but I think we both know that isn't happening anytime soon, so I decided I may as well make it a place I actually like to be."

From the mouths of babes! She has learned, for herself, that if we are constantly refusing to be happy in the present because we are holding out for some lofty future goal, it isn't helpful. She learned to that she is worthy of beauty and joy even if she isn't done yet. She learned that from me as she watched me loathe my surroundings for 7 long years, refusing to make a home until the house was perfect. Thank goodness she saw that struggle!

These may seem like small things to you, but to me, they were HUGE! I share them not to brag or to set myself up as some kind of example. I share them to offer hope. You may feel overwhelmed when you look around at your children and think of all that is needed to shape them into the people you want them to become. I would challenge you to stop looking at them, and start looking at you.  I hope today that you will walk away from this post with a knowledge that when you begin with yourself, it's like tossing a pebble into a lake-The ripples go out for generations to come. The greatest effect you can have on your family is to do the thing you want them to do. Your example will speak far louder than any words you will ever speak.