I can breathe. You know those deep sighs that just feel so good? Those, I have those once in a while now that my oldest kids are 5 and 6. And now that oxygen is once again getting to my brain I am starting to forget what it was like before. And if I'm forgetting now what those little bitty years were like, I'm totally going to forget in a couple years and having forgotten the hard, probably wouldn't love other moms well who had itty bitties. So I need to write this letter to myself for when my kiddos are older. And hopefully it's not just a letter to me, but maybe you'll get something from it to? Oh I hope.
To date I have 4 kids (with another on the way) and the oldest two are strong-willed boys, 13 months apart. They had no one older than them to set the example of normal. They were active. Very active.
Dear future me,
Remember the time at the park when the boys were two and three and one darted toward the street and the other darted toward the lake. After assessing who was in the most danger you chased each down right after having a c-section and a baby on your hip.
And remember the time you were cleaning up the kitchen and heard the boys laughing in the bathroom. You thought, "They are in the bathroom, how much damage can they really do?" and tried to finish up the dishes. Not 5 minutes later you tried to open the bathroom door and it was locked. They kept laughing laughing laughing... 10 minutes gone by... this was not good! Finally after yelling and threatening they opened the door and you found...
Yes, that is toilet paper dipped in the toilet and thrown around the bathroom.
Remember the days you literally had no time to sit down. Showers were a luxury (and sometimes it felt like going to the bathroom was too). Not 5 minutes would go by without having to intervene on some major catastrophe or having to discipline for some reason. If only I were exaggerating. For real... 5 minutes.
The only way you could describe your emotional state during those itty-bitty years was as if your nerves were the ends of a frayed rope; survival mode. Remember how it felt that not one child could do anything for themselves and needed constant correction and discipline.
Remember the time you almost broke down crying because you were bringing all the kids in from the car and there was a piece of trash in the yard; it seemed so overwhelming and you thought, "When in the world was I going to find time to pick up that piece of trash!? I can't even find time to go to the bathroom!"
During this season of survival, correction from other more experienced moms (or moms who didn't have boys or strong willed kids or kids 13 months apart that happened to be the oldest) was seriously the last thing you wanted... or could handle. You didn't have emotional energy to pick up a piece of trash in the yard let alone hear about all the things you should be doing to be a better mom and have more well-behaved, non-chaotic kids. You would try to avoid conversations (and sadly even people) you knew would end up giving a "should list" for fear of bursting into tears right then and there. **This was a biggie, try remember this!!
Remember the sweet ladies comments were not coming from a mean heart. You knew they didn't want to hurt you, you believed they sincerely wanted to help. But it seemed so often the well meaning advice cut so deep. Remember how the Lord drew you to Himself during those years and reminded you to forgive quickly and believe the best about the ladies with the swords. Remember how He reminded you to make the best effort to pull out what was true of what they said, and throw away was was not true and let it go. Remember how much it made your emotional state worse when you didn't let it go and forgive. Remember how it helped so much to cling to God's Word and what He said about you and His calling on your life. Remember these things future Laura, and use them to pray for moms with little bitties in the future. And remember how it was only by the strength and ability of the Holy Spirit you got through any of it in the first place.
So aside from how you emotionally dealt with the hurtful comments, here are some of the comments that cut the most, so please dear me in the future, when all this is a distant memory please never say these things to people.
Comments that stung:
1. Your doing too much ________. (For me it was ministry). Remember how you already felt like you weren't measuring up. How you were trying your hardest and giving every ounce of energy, disciplining consistently and keeping the house from burning down. To hear how else you were failing was crushing.
And secondly the Lord called you to ministry from before you were married or had kids. He knew what the future held for you and that calling didn't change when you had kids. Ministry, getting to use your gifts felt like the only outlet in your life where you could re-charge. It was the only time you had to breathe. Time away to recharge... and go to the bathroom.
So future Laura when you come across moms who are doing things outside the home, things the Lord has called them to, encourage and affirm them. Affirm their freedom to take time away from their kids and do things that refresh them. Tell them it's ok to do things that give them life. Remind them Jesus is the center and life revolves around Him, not kids. Remind them it's not even good for kids to have life be all about them. And remind them it's good for their kids to see them serve and use their gifts and strengths for the glory of God. Encourage them that it's ok to have some time away from the kids.
2. "Enjoy this season" or "cherish this time" and things of the like. Remember the survival mode, wondering when you were going to get to go to the bathroom and if a shower is somewhere in the picture of the next week, having disciplined kids for hours on end in one day, and cleaned up toilet water off the ceiling. Remember how you wanted to have walked with Jesus through it, but that didn't mean you had to enjoy and cherish the times of chaos where you felt like pulling your hair out. Remember how much it would have meant if someone would have said, "You don't have to enjoy everything about this season, just embrace Jesus through it." Or if someone said, "It will be worth it. I know it's hard, you're doing great."
3. When they are discouraged don't assume it's because their kids are being awful. When people knew you were discouraged and assumed it was because of the kids and tried to encourage you, it deflated you. It led you to believe everyone thought you were an awful mom. Isn't it crazy how assuming breeds assuming. Yuck! So instead, ask questions, don't assume. Ask lots and lots of questions. Questions like, "Why are you discouraged?" and don't stop there but keep asking, "What happened?" "How did you feel when _____ happened?" Try to really understand where they are at. Seek to understand.
4. Don't assume you know exactly what she is going through just because you've had kids. Every family is different. Different personalities, different dynamics. For instance I don't know anyone else out there with two strong willed boys, a year apart, as the oldest (If that's you, I'd LOVE to talk with you). So ask questions and hear them before giving advice. It seemed so often the advice people gave was given before hearing and understanding what you were experiencing and before asking any questions. It seemed people saw something the kids did and then talked about how you need to ____ or ____ without asking how you responded or what you did when your kids did that crazy thing. Future Laura, please don't assume. Don't assume other kids will respond and act just like yours. Don't assume that if a kid is acting bad, that means the parents aren't disciplining. Just please don't assume. When you think something, respectfully ask and then keep asking. Seek to understand. And then if you have a piece of advice, ask if they want it. Because remember how overwhelmed you were to even hear it? Remember timing is everything and if what you have to say is really important, save it and then ask at a different time if they'd like to hear your thoughts.
5. "Are they all yours?" This question didn't really bother me, but remember all my friends who have been hurt by this question. So if I have to say this, say something like, "It seems like you're doing great! All those kids and you're even dressed!" Or on the other hand, a comment like "You only have one?" like Jen (in the comments said) That can come across condemning as if they couldn't handle more. Please think of a different way, a gracious, life giving way to ask that question if you just have to ask. Affirm how great of a job they are doing and affirm God's sovereign choosing of family size for His glory, not according to our ability.
6. "Your kids are your ministry". This perhaps stung the most. Remember what you heard from those comments, "Cut off every part of you that doesn't have to do with kids and every desire that isn't wrapped up in your kids and if you desire to do anything else, you're a bad mom." So whether that is what is meant or not, blanket, general, over-arching statements were not helpful. Remember you knew your kids were your ministry, but they were not your only ministry. Remember how you felt this comment left no room for that. So, please don't say that to moms.
So enough about what not to say dear me in the future. Here's the things that did encourage you.
What encouraged most:
1. Jumping in to help. Someone reaching for the baby and saying, "Can I hold him?" Or seeing dishes that needed to be done and doing them. Remember the time on the plane (which was a complete horror story) when the lady sitting next to you tried to help entertain squiggly little, loud and screaming, two year old. You was so grateful. Or people who held your baby so you could eat. Those sweet ladies were like a breath of fresh air.
And remember when people asked, "How can I help?" or "Let me know if you need anything" how you honestly just didn't have time or emotional energy to think through how to delegate something to them and felt too bad receiving help anyway. So just help. Look for a need and do it.
2. Giving a specific offer to watch the kids at this time and date. Remember how Angi would do this. Remember how she broke out the dates and times so you knew she was serious. It was a tremendous blessing!
3. Affirmation and reminders of something good. Affirm affirm affirm. Remember Rhonda who was excellent at this. Remember how she would affirm how you was parenting (even if she didn't think it was all good, she found something I was doing well) and tell you how we really were doing good at ___________. That meant the world to you. And she said it over and over, which was exactly what you needed. Continual affirmation over time helped you get through one of the toughest seasons you've gone through.
So, future me. Don't forget what the Lord has brought you through and use it to minister and love other moms well in the future. And go back to this great post by Brooke, To the Older Mom's who've Raised their Children Well.
PS Check out this article about How to Deal with Criticism from Other Believers
Laura, the creator and host of Missional Women is married and has four kids, two of whom are adopted. Laura and her husband have been missionaries to college students for 11 years serving with Master Plan Ministries. Laura is the Staff Women's Development Coordinator and has discipled over 150 girls, led over 30 Bible studies and speaks to college and women's groups. Laura has authored 5 books, including an award winning 12 week Bible Study on First Samuel, Beholding Him, Becoming Missional, Reach; How to Use Your Social Media Influence for the Glory of God, and A Devotional Journey through Judges, a devotional to accompany the free online Bible study at TheBookofJudges.com. You can find her on facebook,twitter, pinterest, youtube, instagram and her author site.
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