Thursday, November 06, 2008

Ever feel out of control?

It dawned on me after about the fiftieth set of chore specs I emailed out last week that at least half of my blog friends have housefuls of children under about the age of six. Maybe you read through the lists and said to yourself, "This is impossible!"

The LAST thing I would ever wish to do is to lay a burden on any of you - that somehow you are "less" of a mother if you can't keep your toilets cleaned daily, or that you are a "failure" if your four-year-old doesn't do his morning routine independently.

I just want to assure you that these things are not a measure of success, especially when you have a young family. Success is finally realizing we can't do it on our own, and that we can throw ourselves at the feet of a gracious and loving Savior, Who meets us at our point of greatest need. He loves working in spite of our best efforts, not because of them.

This was originally posted on March 21, 2007. My friend Amy reminded me of this post yesterday, and I thought it might be appropriate for those of you discouraged by what seems to be the insurmountable task of making it through another day of little ones.

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

Here's the addendum to this post.


Andrea said...

Oddly enough, this is so timely for me. My children are 15, 7, 6, 3 and I feel this way EVERY DAY. Today I was praying to the Lord to "show me what His burden is".
Am I taking on too much burden? What is realistically expected of me and what is the Lord's burden. (His yoke is easy, and His burden light.) I should just write a blog post, I guess, instead of taking up comments here. ;) You've given me a much needed reminder and perspective, and an answer to prayer. Now, I think you need to use this perspective on teens. *grin* Love you.

Trena said...

Thank you. I do feel out of control, guilty and like a failure--most days. But I know the Lord and each day is new so I ask for guidance and grace and try to muddle my way through tantrums, puzzle pieces and diapers without becoming an unloving wife and mom. THAT is the real challenge. Thanks for expressing my (and so many others) feelings and offering us hope!

Enid said...

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.
Katherine...I love this so much...this is my story right now but for Lords is all His Glory because how Blessed Iam.

Amanda said...

Thank you so much, I too needed this right now,pregant with our 3rd. with a 2 yr old and a 7 yr old I feel so overwhelemed. Thanks for making me feel less alone.
Keep writting Please

Julie said...

Katherine, you are such a wonderful encourager to young mothers. You truly have a gift for this.

I, as you know, am completely past worrying if my toilets are clean. Having teenagers will do that to you, ha. However, I think it is wonderful how you share your wisdom with all these young mothers starting out on there journey.

Have a great day,

Unknown said...

Well said Katherine! I was pregnant with child #2 when my first was only 7 months old. Nobody told me that I wouldn't experience that euphoric high like I did with my first. I had postpartum terribly, was in pain from a c-section, and sleeping very little with two babies in diapers and needing feedings all the time. I felt very lonely. Now I have an additional two who are a year apart and while I am handling this go round much better, being a stay at home mom can be the loneliest job in the world. I found support through a local MOPS group and encourage all moms of pre-schoolers to look up one in their area. It was a God send.

Anonymous said...

Hey Katherine--

I'm so glad you're still stopping by my place! I never stopped reading you, though I seldom comment (anywhere!)

I was wondering... can I have a spec sheet too? I've been thinking about them since the first time you mentioned them.

Thanks so much!!!