Every parent has their fears, and here is number one on my list: Overprivileged, entitled, bored sons. I was on the Tunnelbana (our subway) with 15-year-old boys who were bragging about champagne parties and photos of all sorts of strange things that are sent around class, and I sat behind them wondering, How does this happen? Why is this appealing to you? And I see their vacant, hollow eyes. They are bored. They have too much, and they are tired of their empty lives.
Our three-year-old is a great kid, and I am so proud of him, but I already see the seed of entitlement taking root in his little life. The meal table is where I see it the clearest. There are few things that irk me more than my children turning up their noses at food. They eat three meals a day, often a snack as well, meals with protein like eggs and meat, vegetables and carbohydrates, and I try to make food for them that is enjoyable, tasty and easy to eat.
But still we regularly have meal time showdowns over sauce touching food, the quantity of rice that needs to be eaten and why chickpeas need to be finished. I don’t want this one!!!!!!! I don’t like it!!!!!!!!
I deserve something better. I need something more. I demand something else. This is entitlement; there is nothing that screams overprivileged more than seeing my child refuse to eat his meals.
I can’t stand it. Not when today poor nutrition causes the death of 45% of children under the age of five every year. Not when sixty-six million children attend school hungry in the developing world. Not when one out of six children in developing countries is underweight (source).
I have no way to rid this entitlement from our home. Our Big Boy and our Little Bear are human beings with their own will, their own personality and their own desires – they will make their own choices. I cannot control them. But these are their little years, when they are wide open to hear, to receive, when their souls are pliable. I want to make the most of this time, and this is one small, easy way we are trying to keep entitlement at bay.
Our Thankfulness Garden.
In November for the past two years, we’ve had a Thankfulness Tree – a basic tree branch, and we write what we’re thankful for daily on little leaves that we hang on the tree branch. Big Boy loved it last November, but Thanksgiving passed, and we stopped doing it. I wanted to re-instate it, and the Thankfulness Garden was born. I used a container we had that fit my decorating tastes – a rusted, metal tin. We took it down to the beach, and the boys and I filled it with sand. At home, I cut out fruit shapes (or my attempt at fruit shapes) from coloured paper, stuck it on popsicle sticks, and during meal times, we write down what we’re thankful for and stick it in the sand. I usually start our meals with a prayer (start is a lose term here – the boys have usually started eating already by the time I sit down, water glasses are filled and I am ready to eat, but I’m not formal about prayer starting a meal, that it is done is more important to me than when it is done). Sometimes we fill our Thankfulness Garden at the start of the meal, sometimes in the middle, other times at the end, and often we don’t do it. I try to do it once a day. The boys love the activity, it takes some focus off the eating, which for our toddler helps him to eat.
My hope is that it nurtures an attitude of thankfulness in their hearts, but I give you no promises of what this can do. Yes, I see some lovely things coming from Big Boys mouth and heart because of it. Yes, it has amazed me some of the things he has been thankful for. No, it has not eliminated food battles. Yes, we still regularly have noses turned up at food that is given. But their hearts are a work in progress – my heart is a work in progress. This is one small thing we can do every day that will build into the future, and I long for this – for our home to be a place of thankfulness, where whatever our circumstances may be, our eyes might always be open to the hand of God, open to us in all its abundance, keeping the dogs of entitlement and boredom away.
That we may set our hearts on what we have, to set our minds on what is good and pure and beautiful, to rejoice in the glorious ordinary – our food, the sun, each other. That we may in all things, at all times say two small words: Thank you.
Life happened. Husband went back to work, the mornings I had to myself were gone, I stayed up late, the kids woke up early. It seemed to come out of nowhere, the same old feelings of hopelessness and despair, but the truth is it grew in soil fertilised by worry, media, frenzied living. These things are my “noise.”
Noise looks different for everyone. Yours might be literal: Television, cars, music, too many people talking. For me it is often the noise that isn’t making a sound: Words on a screen, thought patterns in my mind, how I use my time.
Two nights ago I went to sleep desperate for a quiet mind, a still soul, and I prayed, God, wake me up at 4am tomorrow. It’s the only way I can get even a tiny amount of time to myself. I woke at 3:40am to the sound of my two sons talking to each other. Big Boy woke up to use the potty, and Little Bear woke up in the process. By the time I helped one with the toilet and put them both back to sleep, I looked at the time: 3:58am.
So there was my answer. I made my way downstairs, and into the arms of our IKEA love seat, the pages of my journal, and the words came out. I’m tired. I’m anxious. I’m stressed.
It doesn’t matter what the words are. It matters that they come out. That we see ourselves for who we are. That we regard our condition. That we don’t lie to ourselves, to the people in our lives. I poured my heart out to God, I read the Bible, I swished coconut oil around in my mouth. These are the ways I tell myself, I love you, I care about you, you matter. The kids were still asleep at 6am, so I kept going. I made breakfast, unloaded the dishwasher, and then in an act of extreme faith, I took a shower. I washed my hair, changed my clothes and I even dried my hair. I’m not kidding when I say that it’s the first time since our second son was born that I washed and dried my hair on a weekday.
Finally around 7am, Little Bear woke up (formerly known as our Baby). I had three blissful hours of quiet, and it was a gift to my soul. It did not come in the package of three days in a hotel. I had to fight for it. But it was sweet. And necessary.
There’s a lot of noise in the world, friends. What’s yours? How is it making day-to-day life unbearable? Isn’t it time you made it stop?
I’m trying to keep the computer off, less time on my phone, less time social media gazing, less time running from here to there. More time encouraging. More time creating. More time playing. More time here, where I am, soaking up my now.
I’m guest posting today at my friend Christy’s blog, Lane Letters. We met several years ago, on the same day that I met Husband, and there are lots travel memories associated with our friendship, warm drinks in Geneva, midnight train rides in Ukraine, airport pick ups in Australia and hopefully many more to come in the future. I’ve started the post here, but click over to read the rest at Christy’s blog, and then grab a drink and look around her site for some great tips on travel and perspectives on living abroad.
Ibought maple syrup for pancakes on Saturday, Husband says to me with pride as he opens the first big bag of groceries from the store. He was in Stockholm the week before unpacking our things so that when the boys and I arrived on Saturday afternoon, we wouldn’t need to hunt for baby clothes in boxes or wonder where the pans were. Husband went to work on Monday, and on the weekend he filled our fridge with plenty of frozen pizzas and our pantry with all of the ingredients for pancakes.
Because Saturday morning is pancake morning in our house, and it didn’t matter that we had just moved, that we didn’t know the Swedish words for butter, flour or milk, come Saturday morning we were going to have pancakes.
Creating and maintaining traditions is one of the best ways I know to keep myself and my family stable as we go through multiple overseas moves. We are a multicultural family – I am Sri Lankan born, raised in the Philippines and the United States, but an Australian passport holder (as are our children) after moving there as an adult. My husband is German, and we’ve raised our children so far in Switzerland and Sweden. In the absence of a culture or nationality that we all have in common, there is an even greater need for us to maintain a family culture and identity.
Traditions are the markers in a day, the week, the month and year that hold us secure and remind us of our family identity, what we value, who matters most to us and what our lives are about. CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST HERE
There are people who say that motherhood is a profession, worthy of your time, your life, your all. You’re sitting at their kitchen tables, they throw out words like “high calling” while spoonfeeding their babies, I make my baby food from scratch, she says,and this seed takes root in your heart.
There is only one way to be a mother.
It looks like staying at home full time, breastfeeding, giving birth with no epidural, making your own baby food, delighting in playdates, meal plans, a clean and orderly home. It was God’s plan, they said, This is what it means to be a godly woman, wife and mother. You do it, you do all of it (except for the clean home part). No epidural, check. Breastfeeding, check. Staying at home full time, check. Making your own babyfood, play dates, meal plans, check, check, check.
You drive yourself hard, you push your husband and kids to perform. Everything needs to fit into this box where we look like The Ideal Christian Family to everyone around us, except there is no audience, you live on a continent that doesn’t know about The Ideal Christian Family enough to care, your audience is two oceans away happily living their life never knowing that you were on the other end of the world needing applause.
But something inside of you is dying, and you know it when the exhaustion starts to cripple you, and not because there are children waking in the night. You are breaking down because you cannot possibly live up to your own expectations, you feel daily like you are failing, and you know when you look in their eyes: Your husband feels like he’s failing, your children feel like they are failing.
Something inside of you is struggling for air, and you know it every time you pick up a book or put your pen to paper, there is an unspeakable mystery calling your name, begging you to listen, pleading with you to take notice. But you won’t do it, you can’t do it.
You can’t give up this dream, you’re so determined to be a good mother.
They sit with you in coffee shops sipping teas, cafe au laits and chai lattes and munching on chocolate croissants, babies bouncing on your knees holding their Sophie the Giraffes, drool pouring down your hands, and you’re talking about how much your lives changed. Most of them are back at work, their babies loving creche and eating three-course meals for lunch, everyone is still exhausted – as are you – but content with the pace of their lives. Eventually you move to Sweden where less than five percent of parents stay at home with children over 1.5-years and almost all kids over two are in state-funded dagis (daycare/preschool).
I need a space for myself, the woman tells you at the Oppna Forskola one Friday morning. You’re both feeding your one-year-olds, and in between bites of waffle fries, she tells you she loves her maternity leave and her time with her son is precious, and goes on to say that she will be back at work in September. He seems too young to be left in dagis, but I need to know that I’m doing something for myself, she says.
You nod and smile mechanically, and don’t dwell too long on the thoughts scanning through your brain, How incredibly selfish. This isn’t about doing something for yourself. It’s about the children. But you can’t ignore what’s cramping inside. You wish you could give yourself the same freedom. You wish you could do something for yourself.
You’re deeply unhappy but unwilling to see it because happiness is not a virtue of godly people.
So you find another group of people, these ones are mostly online, and they are preaching a message that sounds good. You have gifts, talents, abilities, the world needs what you have to give. Figure out with your spouse how to divide labor, so that you have time to do what you’re called to do. It’s not just about the future, it’s about living your purpose and living out of your passion NOW. Yes it may be messy, it may be hard, but it can be done, and it’s worth it.
You watch a video of woman talking about how to balance motherhood, calling and family life; she stayed at home for a while until she found her passions. But now she’s written a book, speaks, and she says she and her husband share homeschooling duties and trade off on office times. They lead a non-profit together. I used to have a clean home, she says, but I didn’t have a voice.
And you look around your messy home and wonder if you can have a messy home and still not have a voice. Do these North American dichotomies somehow apply to you, and how does it work when your husband is a businessman who loves his work and you love that he loves his work?
But you try anyway. It sounds good, you admire them, you are grateful for them and for their place in your life. You try to find the time to live out your calling, and a nap time gets interrupted. You try to start something in a new city, and you can’t figure out the culture. Your husband gets up at night with your kids, does almost everything you do at home, and is unceasingly gracious about it all, but he still works full time in middle management. And you have no desire to divide labor equally.
Because as much as there are longings in your heart, you can’t ignore one simple fact: You are loving your time with your children. Yes, the dirty work is no fun, but the relationship building, the conversations, the cuddles. You don’t want it to end. Ever. You want to soak it all up. You can’t get enough of it. The days slip by one by one, they are growing, changing, you are growing and changing, you have no desire for it to slow down even as you desire to write more, to let your voice and story be heard.
Even as the drum beats in your heart for Gaza, Ukraine, Syria and Australia, even though there are words that long to escape your fingers and fly into the world, you are intoxicated by the chubby fingers eating strawberries straight from the bushes and giggling with a toddler while wading deep into sea water still seems like the best way to spend the afternoon.
So this is where you find yourself – you’re not mom enough for the Godly Wife crowd, you’re not success-oriented enough for the Work Crowd, you’re not calling enough for the Live Out Your Calling people, but you’re trying to fit with all of them, keeping an orderly life, enjoying the kids and making pinteresting crafts while carving out time to write and read and think, exhausting yourself at both ends and coming up empty on all accounts, unable to enjoy any of it.
It’s this feeling of failure that is so deep, eating slowly away at the core of who you are because nothing it finds there is good enough.
You sit down with your kids for a meal, and what you hear is, It’s not healthy enough. You failed. You haven’t been reading to them enough. You failed. You lost your temper. You failed.
Nap time starts and you sit down to write, and what you hear is, You haven’t been writing enough. You failed. You haven’t been stewarding your words. You failed. You don’t have enough readers. You failed.
The yoke around your jaw is heavy, its eating into your mouth, disabling your ability to speak, and for a long time, you do nothing at all.
He finds you where you are, bends down and eases the yoke off your jaw and anoints your head with oil. There is a quiet whisper. Most of the time, you’re too busy to hear it, but there are a few silent evenings, moments gathered when its shocking truthfulness is there in simplicity, freedom and grace.
You belong to me.
You’re not a mother or a writer, a woman or a wife, stay at home or work at home or work outside the home.
You are mine.
Women and men will try to pull you into their way of life, their books line your shelves, the blog posts and status updates echo in your mind, offering a list of ways to become something, to be part of the group, to perform for an audience who will applaud or boo; their way always involves an audience.
I offer you something else – belonging. A green pasture and still waters, a place where you can rest your head, where I will gently lead you through dark valleys and up high mountains. There won’t be a list of right and a list of wrong, only my voice, my Word, my presence, and only a living in that place of belonging where you can hear my words. And live.
You want a prescription, I’m sorry I have none. It’s going to look different for you than it will for another woman. I offer you no opportunity to feel better about yourself than anyone else. My ways afford no time and space for you to look down on others. It’s an invitation that I offer you – to belong, to live as Mine, to lay down and rest in this green pasture, and to enjoy those who are in it with you because my pastures stretch on forever. There is room for everyone.
I wrote for 31 Days last October, the series was called “Notes to a New Mum.” When I started writing, I had no idea where each post would go or how it would turn out, but I wrote anyway and the result was easily the most fulfilling period of writing in my life. The work of writing ministered to me, helped me close a chapter in my life and allowed me to honestly and truthfully look at my life.
As the series went on, it seemed less and less like notes and more and more like confessions. Stories of the tough times, stories of growth, stories of change, stories of beauty. But each piece like a confession, me sitting down and telling the truth. I’ve decided to re-name the series and bring it back because the truth is, I am a new mum. I will always be. Every stage of motherhood will have a new learning curve, a new set of experiences, and in some ways a “new” version of my children. I will always be a new mum, and I like that.
So this is for you, too, friend. You who have had kids for decades – you are welcome here, to remember each stage of life with them and to face your adult kids as a new mum. Your experiences and memories are welcome here, too. You who cradle a newborn in your arms and rub sleep from your eyes, you are welcome here with the new ways the landscape of your heart shifts and changes. You who chase toddlers and mediate sword fights and drink tea with princesses, you’re welcome here with your bandaids and craft kit. You who catch the eye rolls of teenagers and pray for safety while driving to football practice and the mall, you’re welcome here. It’s for you, too, Dad, a chance to understand your mate better as you parent your kids together.
You are all welcome here to listen. To learn. To grow. To celebrate. To grieve. To speak truthfully. To search for beauty. To confess.
Check back in on Wednesday for the first post as I start writing again. I would also love to open this series up for guest posts. Two of my dear friends wrote for this space last year, Hannah and Amy, you can read their posts if you want to get a sense for the “tone” that this series takes. Also please read through the 31 Days posts as well. Submissions should be no longer than 1,000 words, but can be much shorter if you prefer, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.