Friday, 12 May 2017

A question of obedience

I read something the other day. A Christian parent, with the best of intentions, said their goal for their child was to build "a habit of cheerful, first-time, complete obedience".

I thought about that.

I mulled it over for days.

And I have pretty strong feelings about it: this is not what I want to build in my children. Not at all. It's something I have read and heard fairly frequently in Christian circles, this idea of instant obedience as a goal for your child. With the idea that they will then be quick to obey God in a cheerful and complete manner.

So why do I disagree so strongly? There are just so many things wrong with this idea!

  • Firstly, I don't want my children to obey any and all authority out of habit. A habit of obedience is not good in an adult, and adults is who they will become.
    "I was ordered to do it, and I obeyed." - as an Austrian, with the shameful past of the 20th century behind us, this makes me shudder.
  • I want my children to choose to obey God out of conviction. Not habit. This is something they will need to choose at a later stage in their lives, when they are able to; and I want them to think it through carefully, commit completely, and obey because they are convinced and because they love God. Not because they've been taught, or out of fear, or out of habit.
  • Equally, I want my children to obey me because they love me and they love to please me. Not because they've been trained into a habit of not questioning my authority. In fact I would welcome their questioning - I want them to trust that I will only require obedience at times where it truly matters, and I will always have good reasons for requiring it. They are welcome to ask me what those reasons are, and I will explain it to them.
    That is how I want them to obey God, too: out of love and trust. I believe God is good and requires obedience for good reasons, for my good. That's why I obey him. That's how I want my children to follow him - with their minds engaged.
Obedience training is for dogs - a child is not a separate being, they are persons who will be adults and I really try to think through what I'm building into them long term. Would "cheerful, complete, first-time obedience" make my life easier? For sure it would! But that's not the persons I hope to build as they go out into the world.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Sleep (or not): an experience of powerlessness

It's 9.30pm and N - now 2 years and 4 months old - has only just fallen asleep. We started this evening at 7pm or so.

At times like this, every single minute truly stretches. She doesn't fight, as such; she just lays there and stays awake. Counts her fingers. Plays with her lips. She doesn't try to get up but she's definitely awake and conscious.

And it's the most infuriating thing! Why? Because there is nothing, nothing whatsoever, that I can do to get her to go to sleep. She's not doing anything wrong. She even closes her eyes when I tell her to sleep now (for a moment or two).

Over the course of these long 2+ hours I go through a lot of approaches. None work. We start with breastfeeding, as usual; when one of us has had enough, she comes off and I'll cuddle her. That's when I expect her to go to sleep.

But no.... the fiddling, whispering, finger play - or, if I crack down on everything, simply laying there awake continues. And continues. She stops doing whatever it is when I tell her to stop, but starts up again a little later. And I get frustrated. Later I get angry. And I have shouted at her before, making her cry.

It's all because I'm powerless.

I can't make it happen.

I can't force her.

Maybe this is a taste of parenthood reality.... as a baby, I was in charge and if I wanted her to sleep, I'd put her in bed, feed, done. But babyhood is over and piece by piece, this small person is wrenching control of her life from my grasp.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Life with 2 under 2

For 5 months in 2016, I had two kids under two years old.

There's been the occasional comment about their "close gap". I don't know.... we never planned any of it and I never had a fixed idea in my mind so this gap to me is the perfect gap. It's what we've got and once I got my head around it, we got it to work! Helpfully, big girl has never been hostile to the little boy. She was very angry at me for the first few weeks but from the start she liked her little brother. She'd stroke his head and on occasion I've had to intervene when she tried to share her food with him - once I found half a grape in his mouth!

While it's been lovely and they are both giving me lots of joy, I have never worked so hard in my life on a 24/7 basis. Worked mentally, emotionally, and physically. The demands are constant and immediate. Sit down with a cup of tea? Don't make me laugh - I count myself lucky if I get to brush my teeth in the morning and showers have become a twice-a-week occasion (how's that for openness??)

So how do I cope - how do we make it work? A few things we've learned...
  • I learned how to feed both at the same time, while lying down in bed. The secret - big girl lies on the side and feeds from that side, and little boy lies on me on his belly and feeds there. Practice made perfect!
  • When my milk came in, big girl thought it was great. Too much so! She woke up more often in the night to feed than the newborn did! And I just couldn't do that for long - so we night weaned her pretty rapidly. For the first three or four months therefore, Mr was sharing a bed with big girl and I was in a separate room sharing a bed with baby. She cried for three days but Mr was there to cuddle her and she eventually accepted that nights were for sleeping. Within a week or two she was reliably sleeping through.
  • I gave big girl only one side to feed on, whereas little boy fed from both sides. That way, one side was reserved for the baby at all times. Now we've pretty much come to a point where one side is his and the other is hers.
  • We go out every day, morning and then again in the afternoon. Staying at home, without outside space, just doesn't work. Going out can be something as little as going grocery shopping, but mostly it's playdates and playgroups.
  • This has taught me that somehow most families seem to only go out in the morning but in the afternoon all the family activities cease! No playgroups in the afternoons, even the play cafe closes at 3pm. It's an ongoing challenge finding things to do now that playgrounds aren't much of an option with the winter weather.
  • Big girl had settled into a routine of one big nap in the middle of the day even before the boy was born, and I made sure she continued that way. There have been a few occasions where she wouldn't sleep - sleep regressions at 18months and 2 years - but she's always settled back into the mid-day sleep. Which both the boy and myself join her for. This keeps me going when the nights are long with hourly feeding!
  • Oh, and grandparents. Twice a week they take big girl away for a couple of hours to give me breathing space. And when things get on top of me they're there too. Grandparents are the best.
We're getting to a point, baby being 7 months old, where they're actually interacting with each other occasionally and it's so cute to see them laughing together! I cannot wait to see their relationship blossom as they grow older. 19 months is a great gap to have.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Adding baby 2: the first few weeks

I haven't written in months, and for good reason. Life has taken on a whole new level of hectic since the boy joined us in May; he's now 7 months old and starting solids and sitting unaided! So quick, I must have blinked....

A conversation with a friend today made me realise that I'm already half forgetting the early days - maybe mentally blocking them out? - and I don't want to forget. Those were hard times, but I don't want to bury them because we got through and we've all grown so much because of them.

Like last time, Mr had two weeks off after I gave birth. Unlike last time, his role was mainly to occupy and be there for the toddler, who had just started walking. Luckily I was physically much better after this birth (going for a family walk the very next day) so I didn't need rest as much... and the first days as a family of four were anything but restful! Mr did what he could but of course toddler girl still wanted mummy and the newborn was windy and cried quite a lot.

At the end of his 2 week paternity leave, Mr sat down opposite me, looked wearily at me and asked, "are you angry at me for some reason?" - ouch.

I had been short with him, easily annoyed, expecting him to read my mind and getting angry when he couldn't - all the while I knew he was doing his very best yet I couldn't help it. I was stressed and worn out and I took it out on him. My rock and anchor was where I dumped all the rubbish feelings and he really didn't deserve that!

I'd love to say it all got better after this. In fairness, I didn't take out my stress on Mr quite as much but that's at least partly because he went back to work and simply wasn't around! I had to sink or swim with my 2 under 2. And for the first month or so, I barely kept us above the water. Constantly torn between toddler and baby, neither getting my full attention much of the time - but, eventually, a routine came about and I learned a thing or two about what was feasible in a day and what wasn't. I'll probably do a separate post about what our days look like now.

Having two kids who are actually really easygoing and lovely, having parents in law close by who are willing and able to help, and a solid support network of local mum friends: those are the things that made all the difference in the early days.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Living undistracted

I had a pretty painful realisation this evening.

Every night as I feed my kids to sleep, I either play around on my phone (if I have a hand free, which is not always the case when feeding two at the same time!) or I pretend to be asleep so that my toddler won't have anything to distract her from falling asleep.

Often she performs various gymnastics (Downward Dog with nipple in mouth is a particular favourite) or she attempts to engage with me, kiss me... and until this evening I've always dismissed that as attempts to evade sleep, so I ignored or discouraged it. But what if those attempts at connecting with me are genuine expressions of love? I believe they are - and as of now I'll no longer distract myself or ignore her, I will receive and reciprocate her love and if that means some extra time at bedtime then so be it. I enjoy her company, after all.

I don't think I'll ever make a draconian resolution like getting rid of Facebook or the smartphone - after all it's not the tool but the mindset which takes me out of the moment. I can be perfectly distracted without a smartphone, if I'm physically there but making my shopping list in my head. And to be fair, I do enjoy my children so much that I'm pretty good at being fully present with them, much of the time.

But, no more distractions at bedtime.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

I'm not the parent I thought I would be

Before I had my first child, let's be clear, I didn't really want kids so I didn't spend much time thinking about how I might raise children. I didn't spend time with other people's kids either: I could count the occasions I babysat on one hand (and then only on the condition that they were asleep when I arrived!). As far as I was concerned, as long as they were someone else's responsibility and kept quietly out of the way when I was around, I was ok with them.

That said, occasionally I had conversations about kids with parents. Given how big a part of a parent's life their children are, it's a hard to avoid subject. Once I was married, and many of my friends were too, the subject would come up more often. And once I was pregnant of course it was something I sought out deliberately - I was obviously very aware of how little I knew about child rearing and how much catching up I had to do!

Tiny. 
Looking back I think I had an advantage, though. I came into parenthood with minimal preconceived ideas and old-wives wisdoms. For the most part, I just did what felt right and trusted that my prayers for help would be answered when I needed them to be. And that's what happened! I didn't read what I now know to be guilt-inducing, formulaic books written by nannies and other women without children of their own (and I thank God for this). I prayed and then I trusted. And now I look back at my little one's first year without regrets, only joy... I look at her now, a year and a half old, and the joy still regularly takes my breath away. When she sleeps - next to me, in my bed where she's been from the beginning - I still often struggle to fall asleep because I can't stop looking at her. Motherhood is amazing.

That's not the parenthood experience I expected!

My experience seems to be the opposite of many of my friends. Many of them couldn't wait to be mothers, but once they were, found things overwhelming and confusing. I found things easier than I ever expected and beautifully clear. Maybe it's also partly an age thing. I was in my 30's, having had a pretty good career with fair amounts of responsibility. Perhaps that's why I didn't look to other people's guidance so much and just trusted my own intuition. I question authority; always have - I do my own research.

With the way I wanted kids out of the way and quiet, I sort of expected to rule my children with an iron fist. I certainly was that way with my own sister (6 years younger): what I said went, when we grew up. For my own, at the time not-yet-there children, nothing was off the table in my mind - naughty steps? Spanking? Time outs? Hey, whatever works to keep the rugrats contained! That's the parent I thought I would be.

I didn't know about the love.
I didn't know about the joy.
And I didn't know about the trust, that unlimited, complete trust in my child's eyes that I was good. That I was for her, that I was her refuge, her safe place.

How can I possibly betray that trust?

I can't. Against all my expectations, I have discovered that this little being in my care is actually a fully formed, fully functional human with a loving and caring personality, who deserves the same respect as any grown up human. Not sure why but I hadn't quite realised this simple fact before!

She trusts me and that's all I need to know about how to treat her. I see my role as nourishing her in every way, but also enabling her to go confidently out into the world to explore it - knowing the safety of mum is there to run to, an anchor. I don't hold her back from being independent, but I "spot" her if she gets into potential trouble... I was given this amazing gift, this trusting little person, and I can only do my best to justify that freely given trust to the best of my ability.

It's a beautiful relationship, not a one-way managerial job of keeping the kid contained. I never knew!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Things parenthood teaches me about God: the Body

I often find myself in awe of how God has made natural things in the world to reveal something about himself. Everywhere you look, things speak about him - how sure it is that there will be a new sunrise after the sunset speaks about his faithfulness and dependability, for example.

Since God is at the very core a relational being, I suppose it makes sense that the greatest lessons about him are found in relationships. Like marriage between a man and a woman - where the man's role reflects Christ, and the bride's does the Church. I've learned a lot about God's character from my own marriage relationship... my man truly does serve and lay his life down for me.

And now, parenthood. Going deeper still, I keep seeing new things that amaze me. This one came to me in the night, when my 19 month old struggled to sleep because of teething pain and wind...

My body is her comfort. 

As she struggled with pain, she snuggled in to me. I couldn't take the pain away of course but being close to me gave her instant comfort.

When she's hurting - whether by accident, by someone else, or through her own fault - she always runs to my body. It's not my words she needs at first, when the upset is strong; she needs my hands, my arms, my embrace. She knows it's safe there, that no part of my body will ever hit, hurt or otherwise (intentionally) do her harm, so no matter how bad things are I can feel her tense body relaxing almost instantly as she cuddles into me.

In the 19 months of her life, my body has been consistently there for her 24/7. Day and night, my body is within reach to provide comfort and literally nourishment (milk) whenever she needs it. That's probably why she's never taken to any "comfort items" like special blankets or dummies - the real thing has always been available.

She's getting more independent by the day, explores the world, walks away from me... but she always knows I'm there if needed. My body is available to her.

What does this teach me about God?

Two things. The body - my body is to my girl what Christ's body is for all people: my relationship with my little one reflects a truth about God's Body. And who is the Body of Christ? We are, the church. I'm both part of the body, and an individual child. As God's child, is it my first instinct to run to his Body for comfort and support? And as part of that same body, am I being that open, available, safe place of comfort for those who are hurting, whether by accident, someone else's, or their own fault? We need to be ready with our arms open and welcoming, providing, embracing - not judging, not lecturing. I'm part of that body and I need to do my part in this.

And secondly, the child - on an individual level, doesn't God tell us to come to him like a child? Trusting... arriving with all our needs and hurts... he never asked that we sort ourselves out before we come to him. When my little girl runs to me, crying, nose running, sobbing about something: I just embrace her, and hold her tight. God does the same. He is simply there. I'm amazed.