Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ever feel out of control?

Some of my real-life and several of my blog friends are pregnant with their second child. Some of you are getting a little crazy on me and having #3 or more! I am so happy for you, but I know what challenges you are facing.

People often ask me what it’s like to have a large(r) family (by our culture’s standards - I know many of you have more than I do!). I always tell them that the hardest part for me was having the first baby (surrendering to the fact that my life is not my own anymore), followed by the transition of going from one to two children, and then from two to three.

It’s not that I didn’t have issues adjusting to subsequent children, but by then, my oldest children were old enough to entertain themselves, and some could actually help (my oldest was 7 when #4 was born). By then, some routines were in place, and I was more confident in what I was doing as a mother. Most of all, I had some perspective on the preschool years that I didn’t have with the first three.

But, man, those first years were rough for me.

Here is a portion of an email I received recently from a friend who just had her third baby in three and a half years. Her thoughts represent so much of what I have felt. Maybe you, have, too:

The main reason I'm writing is to just get some perspective from another mother who is a little farther down the track than I am. Do you ever feel out of control? Like you have no control over any aspect of your life? It's how I'm feeling at the moment. Now, granted, my life is colored by extreme hormonal changes and sleep deprivation, so I'm not exactly thinking as clearly as one might hope for on a good day.

She goes on to list her areas of feeling out of control:
  • Body (pain from c-section, bre*sts leaking, head fuzzy from lack of sleep, crying for no reason)
  • Home (housework going undone, or “helpers” putting things away in strange places)
  • Children (newborn unpredictable; toddler entering a terrible “independent” stage and Mom not able to deal with it well because she is recovering from a c-section)
As usual, I went back and read some of my journal from the years when I had three preschoolers. Would you like to know some of the topics? Oh, there were the usual cute antics that made for some of my fondest memories.

But in there were also headings like this: "I’m exhausted." "Frustrated. " " Frustrated, again." "I'm losing it. " The preschool years were some of the greatest years (certainly the cutest!), but they were also some of the absolute hardest times of our marriage and parenting. You are NOT crazy for feeling this way.

One of my most out-of-control times (there have been many!) was when I was pregnant with our third child. I was on bedrest for sixteen weeks (almost four whole months!). My body was wanting to go into labor constantly. I was not able to work (I had a part-time job at the time), so we had financial strain. Thankfully, some kind friends helped me with housework, but I was so embarrassed that someone would have to fold my underwear and clean my toilets!

But the worst thing was that I was not able to deal with some discipline issues well (kids aged almost 4 and 2 1/2) during that time because I couldn't get up, had no energy, and was probably (in hindsight) depressed. My kids watched movies for hours on end, and proceeded to do whatever it took to get me to get up, with both good and bad behavior (mostly bad). At one point, someone confronted me on how sassy my oldest was becoming, and how I needed to rein her in. I just broke down crying. I was angry, frustrated, hurt - I felt like I had nowhere to turn and felt totally helpless, lying there on the sofa 24/7. Then, we moved when the baby was 8 weeks old, so throw househunting, packing and unpacking in there, and I realize now what a mess I was in!

I say all that to let you know:

(1) You are not alone. I have so been there, and so have others, although they might not remember it (time has a way of fogging the memory), or they might not be brave enough to admit it. I was not at the time - at least not to people, not really even to my husband. I journaled (even then, it was somewhat “censored”), and poured out my heart to God, but to the outside world I was "doing great!"

(2) It's going to be okay. I think so much of what I feel about this goes back to what I wrote about conflict. I put my babies on a schedule (a lifesaver), but a certain amount of success doing that led to a subtle trap: Thinking I had more control than I really did. It set me up for grave disappointment for many years, and I do mean "many" in all seriousness. I thought that somehow if I did it all "perfectly" (not just with the baby, but with training and discipline as the kids got older) I wouldn't have any troubles at all. When things didn’t go well (or, like when I was on bedrest, I just couldn't deal with it), I was overwhelmed with a sense of failure and guilt. This sense of responsibility for “doing it right the first time” weighed heavily on me.

My friends, God knows we can’t do it all. My children were not perfectly behaved (they still aren't!), my house was not perfect (it still isn’t!), and I did not do everything right when they were small (I still don’t!).

But God is so faithful. I struggled so much thinking I had ruined my daughter before she was four (she was a handful!). I made countless mistakes, and I’m absolutely sure I’m not through making them. But parenting is a very, very, VERY long endeavor. God gives many, many opportunities to love, train and discipline our children through their years at home. I am so thankful for that, especially when I see my young teenage daughter’s heart turning toward Him. I could never have dreamed what a blessing she (and the others) could be now, given the rough start they had. It’s all because of grace. God met me at my lowest point of weakness and proved He is truly strong.

Like my episode on bed rest (little did I know there would be two more of them), or when you have a new baby, you will have periods when things are not smooth, and there will be character issues you don't deal with well. There will always be housework that goes undone.

But you will only have a newborn for a short time (in the grand scheme of things).

If some things have to be put on the back burner for a while, they will eventually work their way to the front. You don't have to solve everything right here, right now. Let people help you, even if their "help" seems harder than doing it yourself. Take some naps. Deal with the big siblings as best you can, but don't stress. They're not leaving home any time soon. Some acting up is expected with a new baby around, so don't take it as a personal affront to your parenting ability. The end of the story has not been told yet. Keep loving on them and including them and showing them that you are still their Mommy and that eventually things will settle down. This is a great time for them to bond with Daddy (my husband does big kids so much better than newborns, so he took the big kids out a lot to give me time alone). They are more resilient than we give them credit for. I think the fact that kids love us through it all is God's way of telling us He is in control, in spite of our inability to have a grip on things all the time!

I have muddled through most of my parenting years, but never more than when I had a new baby and a toddler or two. But God has been there for me. He’ll be there for you, too, sometimes using human hands, but it's Him nonetheless.

Congratulations on your newly expanding families. Rest, my friends!

The Lord Jesus Christ [has] the power that enables him to bring everything under his control.

Phil. 3:20-21


Shawna said...

What an awesome and timely post! I am expecting my 4th child in a matter of weeks, and I fight off the panic on a daily basis. I have my hands FULL with a 14 year old, who sometimes helps and sometimes makes it worse, and a 4 yr. old and a 3 yr. old-all boys, so they are rowdy to say the least. This will be my 4th c-section so I will need a while to recover.

Let me just say that I really needed the words of encouragement that you laid down. I understand all too well the hormone surges and sleep deprivation your friend emailed you about, and it scares me. Thanks for your wise words. Bless you.

Kristina at Learn2Luv2Run said...

Thanks for this post. I am one of the second pregnancy/second child people. I noticed that I had no idea how much physical work it took to care for a child until I got pregnant. Lifting my 32 pounds 18 month old (he's big) is so tiring!

Thanks for your encouragement.

Beck said...

Having toddlers AND babies is hard, no doubt. This is the first time I'll be toilet training a toddler without also being pregnant!

Jennifer said...

Thanks for this, Katherine. I've been lurking around here for a while. I'm pregnant with #2 and I know I'm going to need this advice in about 6 months when I'm up to my ears in "newbornness", recovering from a c-section (again!), and dealing with a just turned 2-year-old. It's good to hear from moms who have been there! :-) Oh, and I'm linking to this post because I know there are moms of twos and threes who read my blog and are feeling this strain right now!!

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written Katherine.

I've got five kids under 7 yrs and this past year has probably been my easiest one yet. Not because the work has lessened or because my kids are better behaved but because my dependance on Christ has grown significantly.

I have learned, much to the deteriment of my children, that I do NOT have the patience needed to raise this crew. I simply don't. I don't have the wisdom, the organizational abilities and I certainly don't have the energy!!!

But I start my days confessing this and turning to the One who loves me and equips me. And I'm telling you, His help is very much real. In a practical way. He is my source. He's my all in all. I talk to Him LOTS. And call on Him LOTS. Thankfully, He doesn't expect me to do this on my own.


Chris from Canada

loni said...

Please hop on over to Kelli in the Mirror's blog and wish her a very Happy Birthday!

Deborah said...

Wow! Another great post w/ some great advice. With #5 on the way, I sometimes wonder if life will ever be sane again. I try not to do the math too often, like old will I be when this one graduates, etc.

Although my 8yo sweetly told me that when he can drive, he'll take me out for ice cream. Then he added, "That'll be when you're 50, Mom!"

Here's a huge hug to you for all your words of encouragement. You have no idea how much I needed it today. Life constantly seems out of control. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Very good post. I apologize in advance for what I think may be a longish comment. You're on a nerve!

"I put my babies on a schedule (a lifesaver), but a certain amount of success doing that led to a subtle trap: Thinking I had more control than I really did. It set me up for grave disappointment... "

That whole paragraph sounded waaaay too familiar. (I'm wondering if you may have also used a certain set of parenting materials that provided otherwise sound information in the context of a very rigid view of parenting...) Even though I tried to tell myself as a new parent that there was no such thing as "cookbook parenting," part of me didn't believe it. The world around me also subtly but continually promoted the idea that there was-- especially the Christian community, which also has the convenient ability to slap such forboding labels as "godly" and "God's way" on methods and outcomes.

So God gave me a first child who ended up having challenging special needs to burst my bubble, but the world around me would not let me out of that whole trap. I tried so earnestly to do things well, but I didn't know for a few years what I was up against. I'll never forget sitting in a Sunday School class covering the excellent book, Shepherding a Child's Heart, and expressing that, despite my best efforts, somehow the whole approach was just not having much effect on my child. The very respected teacher's only answer was that clearly I must not be acting consistently, or doing it right, or spanking hard enough. Nobody, anywhere, seemed to want to acknowledge that every child does not fall in line with The Program. If they don't, it's all your fault somehow, and that's it. When the recipe doesn't go according to the book, no one acknowledges reality, and you can be left with truly nowhere to go. That silent, guilty vacuum left in the wake of such a recipe failure is an awful, chaotic place to be... which is such a shame because, in reality, God always has plan B, grace in abundance, and deals with us as individuals...
Even though I've long ago kicked that false belief to the curb, I can't help but feel the eyes of others who have not yet abandoned fantasy judging me, and the battle with guilt continues. My eldest does not wear a sign explaining his difficulties, so he(and sometimes even his siblings, who can learn things from him) often does not measure up to people's expectations... and I bear the weight of their unspoken judgement that I was somehow too incompetent, or even ungodly, to follow the recipe.
I pray that I'll at least be able to extend God's grace and love to other moms. I appreciate your efforts to do so here!

Jen said...

Thank you for this wonderfully encouraging post. I am expecting my third child - my son will be 3 1/2 and my daughter will be 22 months when the baby arrives. I am worried about how I am going to manage with all of them, but it helps a lot to know that others have been through it and have survived! I really appreciate how you highlight the postives of parenting and give good, constructive advice in all your posts. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Ohhhh, SO encouraging! Truly Galatians 6:2!

My third turned 6 mos. yesterday, and the "older ones" (haha) are 2 and 3. I smile so much at these words because I agree with a thankful heart. I am so grateful for God's' grace. I am a terrible perfectionist, and that legalistic sin tries to rob me of my joy almost every day. It is a constant battle; I nodded affirmatively to your point #2. I also struggle with selfishness on a major level - I want to have my shower in quiet, my sandwich in quiet, a few minutes to do something myself, and sometimes I even wish I could have the bedroom at night to myself for an hour or two!!! But I am learning that true joy comes from humbling myself, self-denial, the need to simplify and de-materialize my life, and LEAVING the success of my meager efforts up to God. "Only God can work in a person's heart!" seems to be my husband's mantra to me....

When I read little "pep talks" of the faith like this, it spurs me to keep going and count it all joy to be able to raise children. Thank you again. What a joy to walk on the road together and encourage each other!

Gwen Sirmans (Ivey's Mom) said...

Love this. Where was it when my first child was 9 months old and I found out that I was pregnant with the second, or with an 11 month old second child finding out I was preg. with number 3????? You are right- becoming more confident in your own mothering skills tends to be the key. So here I am with a 4 year old, 2 year old and an 11 month old----HELP!!!!
If all of your advice does not help any one, they are welcomed to come over here any old time to help with my 3 under 4.
Great POST!!

Jenn @ Knee-Deep in Munchkin Land said...

This was written for me, right?! I especially love the part about not being alone! Thank you for your wise, wise words!!

Code Yellow Mom said...

Thank you. So much.

Christine said...

Thanks for this post! You are such an encouragement to those of us in that "still-have-a-baby" stage!

Anonymous said...

Now THIS should be in one of those What to Expet books! This is such an excellent post, even for people like me who lose their grip from time to time with just one. This is a must read for every new or expecting mom. Very good Katherine.

dreamingBIGdreams said...

Thank you for this. I too feel this way sometimes. I have two boys (3 and 1 - 22 months apart) and sometiems feel as though I might loose it! Thanks for the insight and the hope of what is to come.

Dutchnic said...

That is really inspiring. I have no children yet, but I would like to start a family in a few years and posts like these are encouraging. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm here from a link at Shannon's. I'm past the "baby" stage (as far as I know....), but I can nod my head along with everything you said. The baby/toddlers years were hardest for me in many respects. But it really is going to be okay -- I hope all the moms reading take that to heart. God's grace truly is sufficient, moment by moment.

Lisa said...

Thank you. I'm also here on a link from Shannon's blog and I am so glad she mentioned your post. I don't even really know what to say... your words have touched my aching heart. With a 34-month old boy and a 14-month old girl and a heart desiring more children... but feeling like a crappy mama right now... your words have been such an encouragement. Thank you.

~yolanda said...

And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee. For my strenght is made perfect in weakness. II Cor. 12:9

Isn't God Good? :-)

Merri said...

Do you still get comments on old posts? I just found your blog today, and this post is so where I am right now. I want you to know the Lord has used you to encourage me tonight. Thank you.