My mom told me I should write a parenting column. I am no where near qualified to hand out advice on parenting, as anyone who has watched me chasing my toddler recently will testify. However, I started thinking about how a few key ideas have shaped our days significantly. I thought I would share them here. From me to you, completely free and worth every penny. But they have changed my life, and made my time at home with young children much more pleasant. Maybe they will make your day a little easier, too.
1. Keeping the train on the track.
Picture me, chasing baby Asher (who was not much older than Emmy is now, actually), recovering from a c-section, and neck deep into life with a very restless, uncomfortable infant. I was in way over my head, and my house was a wreck. About this time I realized that a "clean house" - that moment when every surface is scrubbed, every floor mopped, every toy in its place - was not going to happen again for a long, long time. At the same time, we couldn't just live in squalor for the next eighteen years. I stopped seeing "clean" as a pass/fail grade (that I was always failing), and I began to see my house as a means to an end. There were messes that were unsightly (blocks on the playroom floor, for example) but not really problematic, and there were messes that actually kept us from functioning at our best. Keeping dishes and laundry available was necessary for daily life. For me, personally, having common areas that are functional is also necessary. If I am tripping over toys to get to the couch, our living room really isn't functional for the adults who live here, and I am going to be a much more disgruntled mother. But the rest isn't nearly as important as I think it is. When housework was no longer a project to be completed (that was never, ever going to be complete) but a matter of processing materials in order to keep our home functional, I could find satisfaction in a folded load of towels without despairing over the tile in the back bathroom. It was the difference between feeling as though I were constantly failing versus mostly succeeding in my daily life. It sounds small now, but at the time, it was huge.
2. We are a team.
Maybe this is going to be controversial? Maybe you guys will disagree with me? But in our house, by and large, we don't have individual toys. We have family toys. There are a precious few exceptions (sleeping blankets, for example, are personal property. At Christmas, each boy's very favorite toy became his personal property, and his brother had to ask permission before he could play with it). Otherwise, it's all fair game. Blocks, baby dolls, superheroes, costumes, markers, books - they belong to us, collectively. "Mine!" does not apply in our house. It's not yours; it's your family's. You may have a turn, and in a minute, it will be your brother's turn.
In the same vein, we rise and fall together. If one brother is melting down and refusing to put on his seatbelt, the car won't start and nobody can leave. If Emmy is stealing her brother's cup (as she is wont to do), it is the offended brother's job to help her find her own. The newest example: if a child runs out of food at the table, and wants seconds, he can wait until an adult has eaten something and is ready to get up again to give him more. It isn't just about YOUR dinner - it's about OUR dinner. We are all in this together. We talk a lot about team work and cooperation, and thinking about what other people need, not just what each individual wants.
I don't think I realized until recently how much this idea permeates our family's culture. My kids are accustomed to the expectation that they will help each other with the tasks of daily life. I also firmly believe that this mentality is preparing my children for the real world. If you cannot deal with people who irritate you, problem solve among a group, and see how your actions contribute to the whole of an organization, you aren't going to get very far in the working world. Also, following Christ is primarily about sacrifice and love. While I am careful not to dictate spirituality into my children's lives, I also believe that if your life is already full of sacrificial love, your heart will be more accepting of Christ's own love and sacrifice for you.
I think I will have more to share next time. What about you? What key ideas shape your family and your days?