confessions graphic FINALapples

Dear Devi,

Hey, you over there, can you hear me? Yes, I heard the lady in the church crèche, too. Her son was talking at 10 months, and I saw your heart filling slowly with fear. You wondered about Little Boy – nine months at the time – and why he didn’t have words yet. You’re feeling afraid, afraid that you haven’t read enough, talked enough, spent enough time together, and you’re wondering about development, intelligence, autism.

How is comparison working out for you today? Here’s my opinion – not very well.

You thought you were great at not comparing him to other babies, but that’s only because when you compared him at the beginning, he was doing fine. There was no reason to worry and lots of reasons to feel like you were doing a great job.

Because that’s what comparison was about, wasn’t it? You needed all the evidence you could find that you were an adequate mother, that you were figuring out this baby thing, that you were doing a good job. In the absence of a progress report, salary or job performance evaluation, what you had instead was a baby, and there had to be a way to find out how he was doing you were doing.

Was he rolling over in time? Yes. Was he sleeping well at night? At the beginning, yes. Was he napping? Like a star. Did he cry for long periods of time? Never.

You desperately needed to know you were doing a good job, and he made it so easy for you to do that in the beginning. Comparison seemed like the only way you could know for sure that you were enough. You were enough because he was doing well. You knew he was doing well because he was winning a game. 

Here’s the thing, Devi. Children aren’t trophies, they are your treasures, your relationships, your gifts, but they are not trophies. They are not evidence of parenting successes or failures. Please don’t set yourself and your son up for a co-dependent future. He can own his successes, and he can own his failures. Your successes and failures are yours to own.

The more you feed the comparison monster, the more it will grow. Put yourself around comparison-oriented people, and the monster will thrive.

You don’t want this way of life for yourself, and you don’t want it for your children. You long to be the mother that only you can be because you are unique, with a unique past, moving toward a unique future. And you want your children to live free without the fear that they can’t meet a certain standard set by other people or even set by you. Little Boy, he wants to know that he can live, grow, thrive in a way that is his alone, not the way the sons in other families live. No other family in the world is like yours, every family has it’s special purpose, so don’t lock yourself into the box that comparison will build for you. 

So relax a little. You’re free to be a good mother, you’re free to be the mother you are supposed to be, the one who cooks with her boys, the one who doesn’t have lots of rules, who sings and dances daily, the one who reads a lot, who doesn’t give baths, the one likes to sit and think and think and think and so many other quirks and oddities and specialities and normalities. This is you. No need to be anyone else or try to meet someone else’s standard.

When you compare yourself, when you compare your children, this is what you are doing – making someone else’s life and standard the best thing and measuring your worth and your life to that standard. Whether you succeed or fail in the comparison game isn’t the point, as long as your way of measuring success is comparison, you will just keep having to do it. This is why it is so destructive – it keeps you coming back for more.

And one day it will wear you out. You will get tired of succeeding in your comparisons because it means you won’t get close to people. You will get tired of failing in your comparisons because it will make you feel worthless. But before it does that, it will wear out your kids and give them lots of reasons not to trust you. Every child gets to the point when they realize a parent is measuring their worth against someone else, and it immediately leads to feelings of inferiority, guilt and resentment. 

No comparison, Devi. Never. Ever. No one has a perfect family, and your family relationships are not your achievements. When you understand who you and Husband are, how you parent, who your kids are and what makes them tick and build the family only you are supposed to be, you give yourself, your husband, and your boys the gift of freedom.

Set your family free from the burden of comparison and watch them thrive in the light of grace and truth. 

Love,

Devi

If you’re interested in more thoughts about comparison, I wrote about it for 31 Days in October 2012.

This post is Day 23 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

confessions graphic FINALTP

This is the inevitable post about marriage, or the inevitable post about toilet paper in marriage. I report you, decide, but either way, We Are Going There.

Husband and I have different bathroom habits. We side-stepped the how-to-squeeze-a-tube-of-toothpaste debacle, and for a while I thought we were superior to every other married couple for it, but in the end the toilet paper was my downfall.

I put the toilet paper where it should go: on the silver toilet holder, located to the right of the toilet slightly behind the seat, but if he started a roll, it always went on top of the washing machine directly to the left of the toilet seat. For some reason this misplaced roll began to drive me crazy.

I don’t know what the first real negative thought was, but somewhere along the way it morphed from a minor annoyance into a full-fledged source of resentment.

I assumed he was doing it on purpose (assumptions are usually fueled by accusations).

He knows I want the toilet paper on the roll. Why does he want to frustrate me on purpose by putting it on the washing machine?

I made more assumptions.

He is probably trying to play a game with me, like he wants me to put the toilet paper on the roll instead of doing it himself, he thinks his will is stronger than mine and that I will cave first. He has no idea how strong-willed I am. I will never cave. 

There were times when the toilet paper was left on the washing machine for weeks, and every time I looked at it, the roll was the silent reminder that Husband and I were locked in a power struggle: Who was going to win? Who was going to move the toilet paper to its proper place? 

A few times when I started a roll,  I put it on the washing machine on purpose. (Warning: Extreme Neurotic Thinking Ahead.)

That will show him! I’m above needing to follow even my own rules! I’m going to try to drive him crazy by putting him in the position of having a roll on the washing machine that I put there and now he’ll have the pressure to put it on the holder!!!! I beat him at his own game!!!

On days when I was already mad about something else, the toilet paper on the washing machine taunted me- He doesn’t care about you, he is not interested in your marriage, he doesn’t love you. 

I didn’t say anything about the toilet paper for a year-and-a-half. Finally we were in Australia in January 2012, eating lunch with my sister and her fiancee and having conversations about marriage. I decided to volunteer the story about the toilet paper roll as an example of not talking about things, but I was going to do it in a “ha ha, so funny” way so that Husband would realize how much it bothered me without having to talk to him about it.

(I believe counselors refer to this as passive aggressive behavior.)

After I told the story, Husband looked at me like I was strange, and said, I put the toilet paper on the washing machine because it’s easier to reach. I thought I was making life easier for both of us. 

Just to recap in case some of the details got lost:

For a year-and-a-half, I saw toilet paper on the washing machine and felt like I was having a marriage crisis, resented my husband and thought badly of him.

For-a-yar-and-a-half, Husband put toilet paper on the washing machine because he thought he was making our lives easier.

I wasted a lot of time on toilet paper.

It’s no secret that marriage is tough after kids, and there are plenty of studies out indicating that marital satisfaction plummets post first baby. Believe me, this little blog post is not going to tell you anything you don’t already know, and I certainly have no great secrets about how to make marriage work after kids (only that you have to make it work, you’re welcome).

Marriage is hard work for every married person; it doesn’t matter what you believe, what kind of life you have, where you live or what your histories are.

So here’s my lone nugget of wisdom, maybe even truth, and God only knows my life would be better if I lived by it:

If you hear an accusation about your spouse in your head or from another person, you have only two options ever: 1. resolve it immediately in your head and heart so it does not come between the two of you or 2. talk about it with your spouse. 

Dismiss or talk. That’s it, no exceptions.  (And dismiss means do not think about it ever again.) 

Living this out is ridiculously difficult for me partly because I am easily prone to judgment; not everyone is, your character flaws are different from mine. But the few times when I’m able to pre-empt judgment, accusations and negativity by talking to Husband about whatever has been bothering shows me that it is worth talking and having those conversations I would rather avoid.

The seemingly worst talks – and after kids, the talks are also at the worst times – lead to a richness of friendship, and a depth of love that is better than anything I could have ever hoped for. Honesty and vulnerability with your spouse is worth it.

What is something you need to discuss with your spouse? Something he or she does that eats away at you and you can’t put it aside? Isn’t it time to sit down and have the conversation? Or can you find away to put it out of your head? 

This post is Day 22 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.) 

confessions graphic FINALAmy and I met our freshman year in university, and she has been one of my dearest friends ever since. We share a love for words, dodgy Chinese restaurants and country music (among other things). She is creative, intelligent, hilarious and thoughtful, a most wonderful friend, devoted wife and mom, and a deep thinker. It’s a pleasure to have her thoughts here about her own experiences with motherhood. When I read this piece a few days ago, my first thought was, “I so needed to hear this right now,” and I think you will feel the same way. 

Amy lives in Texas with her husband, Kyle, and 4-year-old Owen and 1-year-old Audrey.


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It was a few days ago that my 4-year-old, Owen, was playing in his playroom. The door was closed, so I can’t say for certain, but my guess is that it was show-time for his usual cast of characters: Hot Wheels cars and little Fisher-Price knights. I heard him through the door, bringing his toys to life with the low, gravelly voice he uses for all the battle scenes. There were Booms! and Ahhs! and the mighty clash of plastic against plastic. Then silence. Life is loud here, so the quiet made me listen.

“Haha, I guess we should stick to high-fives from now on!” one of the knights said, finally. Owen narrated with a self-confident chuckle I hadn’t heard before.

It’s funny, this person he is. The baby stage for my husband and me was relatively easy. It wasn’t not-complicated or not-frustrating or not-exhausting, but it was black-and-white. It was analyzing patterns and diagnosing cries and training new skills. It was a relief to {loosely} schedule naps, wake times and feedings, and we fell into rhythms.

But babies become toddlers who become little boys, and that is the thing that most births my stress and tears and second-guessing. The being I protected in my womb and nourished in my arms is now the boy-person who claims a portion of my heart. His emotions have in many ways become my emotions. I feel his insecurities; I see his fears; I stumble over his stumblings, because they are things I often can’t fix with milk or a hug or a word or a correction. And when I am depleted and my empathy is lacking, I turn to harsh words, or an unnecessary tone or a command to “just stop doing what you’re doing,” period. Which, to a 4-year-old, sounds an awful lot like “Just stop being who you are,” because he needs help navigating this world. He needs pruning, guiding and leading from trusted hands.

I wasn’t prepared for a lot of things about parenthood, but at the top of that list was the reality that my son is a person. I should study him. When he is insecure, I should be gentle with him. When he is afraid, I should speak words of courage and security. When he is persistent and stubborn, I should show him how to channel those qualities in positive ways. When he is disobedient, I should aim to impact his heart and not be satisfied with modified behavior.

Yesterday, a friend commented that Owen looks like me. I asked Owen how that made him feel, and he sucked in his cheeks, looked at me sideways and whispered in my ear: “Happy.”

I have his innocent devotion for a short time, and if I take that for granted – if I don’t take the time to earn his trust through love, patience and security now — one day he’ll be a man I don’t know walking through the door of what was once his home.

Today, it’s raining, and I listen to him just a few feet away in the next room. He’s looking out the window and playing with Super Sly and Zoom, two of his cars. Super Sly and Zoom are chatting about “giant raindrops.” One of them says, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m afraid of heights.”

Owen looks my direction and closes the door, and his voices are muffled and it’s hard to hear.

I pray that I never stop listening.

This post is Day 21 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.) 

confessions graphic FINALbook2

As part of this 31 Days series, I’ve been reviewing my favourite (so far) parenting books. It’s a saturated market, and I’m sure you have your own that you love, but these ones form basic guidelines for me as I go through the daily grind of parenting.

Grace Based Parenting” and “Simplicity Parenting” give me the foundations on which we build our parenting style, but “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is one I rely on for the practical side of communicating with my sons. I cannot say enough how outstanding this book is, easy to read (although a bit long), easy to apply, incredibly practical. Not everything will work for every child, but plenty of the strategies work even with my two-year-old.

Just one little warning here for the evangelicals who read this blog (skip to the following paragraph if you’r not interested, this is a major digression) – one of my only complaints about books that aren’t written from a faith perspective is that there is no appreciation or respect for the individual’s (and a child’s) ability to sin. So that is never taken into account, so this is not a book I rely on when it comes to the need to discipline for disobedience. But I part ways from the majority of the evangelical “go-to” parenting books (I’m thinking of “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” in particular) because of its singular focus on discipline for disobedience and its singular offering for what to do for disobedience. I still wish that non-faith books recognize that children aren’t innately good and able to “just choose” the right thing if parents line up all the right circumstances for them. But I wish that evangelicals and the evangelical books had an understanding and respect for child development, psychology and communication. These are not things to be dismissed – we need to understand, respect and listen to experts in these fields because they have something valuable to say to us about our children.

For me, I am constantly trying to find middle ground between these two camps, drawing from both what I appreciate but casting aside the things that I do not believe have relevance for our family.

Digression end. Moving on.

So this book, which I will now refer to as “How to Talk” – amazing. I love reading it, the style is conversational and easy, with lots of real examples of how parents apply the techniques. Each chapter also has questions for parents to answer and reflect on, an easy summary of the chapter, and questions from parents about the practices.

book

But the best part is that there are so many different ideas. I’ll just list now a few things that were helpful for me.

Helping Children Deal with Feelings (chapter 1)

After Little Boy turned one, I remember the moments when he became more willful about certain things, and as much as I knew there was a problem with the behavior, I could also recognize that there were feelings in his heart – feelings that needed to be respected. I also began to see that as I go through my own life, it’s a lot easier for me to deal with patterns of negative (sinful) behavior in my heart if I first begin to acknowledge me feelings, instead of just dismissing them or “controlling” them.

They give this sample conversation in the book.

Child: Mommy, I’m tired.

Me: You couldn’t be tired. You just napped.

Child: (louder) But I’m tired.

Me: You’re not tired. You’re just a little sleepy. Let’s get dressed.

Child: (wailing) No, I’m tired!

I hope I’m not the only one out there who has had a similar conversation with their child. It became so clear to me that many of our conflicts with Little Boy stemmed from me disregarding what he was trying to tell me and disregarding his feelings.

I can’t tell you how much easier some of our moments are now because I stop talking, listen, feed back to him what he is saying, give his feelings a name (“It sounds like you’re angry, kiddo”).

Engaging Co-operation (chapter 2)

Here are the main points:

  • Describe what you see or describe the problem – I did not realize how much I was prone to assuming he knew what was wrong instead of first communicating what was “wrong” with a situation.
  • Give information – This is one of the points that stuns me still today, even my two-year-old appreciates reasoned information. We have stairs that curve up, so at the curve the stairs are quite narrow. From our first day here, I’ve told him “big side for the big boy” when we walk up and down. Only in the past week has he started wanting to defy and walk on the narrow side. Finally yesterday I realized I had never given him any information, so I stopped, got down to his level, and said: “Kiddo, do you know why I don’t want you to walk on the small side? Look at the size of your feet, it’s too big for the small side, there’s less space for you to walk, so you might fall down, and I don’t want you to fall down. See there’s a big space on the big side, and it’s big enough for your feet, that’s why I want you to walk over there.” Zero issues with him trying to walk on the small side after that for the day (let’s see what today holds). I have been amazed at his ability to listen to these kinds of information-giving moments, and honestly I think it’s because he feels respected that I’m taking the time to inform him about something.
  • Say it with a word – again, this one is like a magic trick. Instead of a long explanation (although it’s sometimes needed, see above), I’ll just say “Shoes,” and he knows he has to go get his shoes. Or “Toys” when I want him to pick up his toys.

There were other points, but these were the most helpful for me. The book becomes more and more applicable as children get older, but the first two chapters alone had many helpful ideas that work well for me with our toddler.

This post is Day 19 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)