Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Guilt Management in Motherhood

  I have the privilege of reading an advanced copy of Jen Hatmaker's newest book, Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life (out August 8, 2017). I read it quickly and have since been pondering some of the thoughts in various chapters. One particular quote resonated with me and has had me wrestling internally, especially lately.

  In a chapter titled "Moms, We’re Fine" Jen writes:
Motherhood often feels like a game of guilt management; sometimes the guilt is overwhelming and debilitating, sometimes just a low simmer, but it always feels right there.
  I am in the trenches of motherhood, parenting a 4- and 7-year-old. I do feel that there’s always some aspect that is nagging at me trying to fill me with guilt over something I’m not doing or am doing incorrectly. Right now my guilt centers around playing with my children. The feeling of being obligated to play with them constantly presses on me. I read somewhere that I am not supposed to be their constant source of entertainment, that they need to learn how to deal with boredom on their own and I do agree with that concept. Because I don’t work outside the home I believe that part of my job is to interact purposefully and intentionally with my children regularly (and I bet a lot of working moms feel that they should spend some, most or all of their non-work time connecting with their kids as well). But what exactly does that mean and look like? And what is the right balance?

Yes there are things I need to get done but how much time should I allot for chores, play, etc and what types of play count? Is it fine to say, “I will do X, Y or Z  with you but not T?” [T for me being imaginary play. I will read books, play board and card games, build Legos, practice sports, and hide and seek. Playing good guys versus bad guys with the Lego men every day (and having to be the good guys ALL THE TIME) wears me out. "Mommy, pretend the bad guys are going to steal the good guys' hide out."]

How do I say "no" to this face?!
My husband and I have tried to recall our childhoods and don’t have memories of our parents playing toys with us. I remember playing Barbies and dolls on my own for hours. I remember playing Micromachines and Pogs with my brother. I remember days of running around outside with neighbors. I remember seeing my parents doing yardwork and housework. I remember mowing the lawn with my dad on our riding mower, playing basketball as a family, family movie nights in the basement. I remember fun birthday parties. I remember my parents coming to my sporting events, school performances and award ceremonies. I just don’t remember ever playing Barbies or “let’s pretend” with them. I still have positive memories and feelings of my parents and childhood. I felt loved and supported.

Or "no" to this one?!
So is this guilt something I perceive to be a lack from what I think other mothers are probably doing? Is it a lie from Satan? Do I feel this pressure to constantly engage from social media images? I have no idea. What I do know is that I feel tremendous guilt if I respond “No” or “Not right now” when my son asks me in his sweet little 4-year-old voice, “Mommy, will you play with me?” It’s a dagger to the heart to hear that request. That request makes me feel like I’m failing because the lie in my head tells me that he shouldn’t have to ask but that I should initiate. I know (from experience) that kids will take as much time with you as they can get. I cannot completely satisfy their desire for a playmate at all times. Nor should I. Like I mentioned above, it is good for them to learn how to manage their boredom and learn how to entertain themselves (preferably without electronics). They have plenty of books and toys and even a dedicated playroom where they are free to do whatever their heart desires. But all of this knowledge still doesn’t quell the guilt.

I should probably be covering this part of my life in prayer. Prayer for peace, for confidence and reassurance that I am parenting well and that my kids do feel loved and supported. Prayer for wisdom to know when and how to engage. Prayer against guilt when I don’t spend every moment of my child’s day playing, but instead take care of some of my responsibilities.

This is my current struggle. Anyone else here in this trench with me? Anyone have any encouragement or advice for this season of life? I could really use a “me too” today.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday, Lent & Preparing for Easter

   It's Ash Wednesday, which signals thee beginning of Lent and the process of preparing ourselves for Easter where we will celebrate Christ's sacrifice for us by submitting to die on our behalf and his subsequent resurrection three days later! 

   Growing up my family attended Methodist churches until I was in high school. We participated in fasting for forty days over Lent in imitation of Christ's forty days of fasting in the desert in preparation for his ministry. I have one distinct memory from when I was in second grade and gave up chocolate milk for Lent (my drink of choice at school).

   I don't have any other strong recollections until I was in college. In my junior year I recommitted myself to Jesus (I was baptized at the end of my junior year of high school but I spent the first few years of college floundering). That spring I was leading a women's small group and suggested that we all participate in Lent by fasting from something and helping each other stay accountable.

   I think most years since then I have either fasted from something or added a practice to draw me closer to God even though I have attended non-denominational churches (which generally don't talk about fasting during Lent).

   In the last couple of years I have really begin to miss the traditions of Advent at Christmas and Lent at Easter that I grew up with. My husband also grew up Methodist so we have continued to practice them at home together.

   Some years it has been a real challenge, especially the years I have fasted from dessert (I haven't done that in a while because my daughter's birthday always falls during Lent and that seems cruel). I love chocolate and sweets! But it has really helped me to be reminded regularly of Jesus and what he did for me.

   This year I struggled a bit to figure out what to fast from. I have been feeling a little pudgy but Lent is not about losing weight so I didn't want to stray from its purpose in remembering my need for Jesus. I ended up choosing both a fast and an added practice. I am fasting from all beverages except water. My added practice is to meditate on (and hopefully memorize) a Bible verse each day. 

   I also found a local Methodist church where I could receive ashes as I begin this season of Lent. It felt a little foreign as it's been so long but I am glad I did it.

   Do you fast from something at Lent? If so, what has been your most challenging fast? Do you fast from the same thing every year? If not, do you have a different way you like to prepare for Easter?

Friday, January 20, 2017

My Goals for 2017

  Last year I was fairly ambitious with my goal setting. I was not successful in keeping them all perfectly, but the real aim is improvement and growth. Normally I would beat myself up for failure but I have been growing in my understanding and acceptance of grace.

  Last year I also learned more about trusting God and the importance of rest. I still struggle with choosing rest over productivity at times but I am seeing the benefits of resting and trying to rest in the knowledge that my worth and value and acceptance are not based on achievement. I have subtitled 2017: The Year of Less. With all of that said, this year's goal list is short.

1. Call one family member each week.

  For some people this is something that is a regular part of their life. That is not the case for me. My family is spread out, mostly on the western side of the country. I see some of them about once per year. My immediate family has never really been one for regular communication - we don't have a history of contacting one another unless there's something important to share. Since I've had kids, we have had a little more frequent contact, mainly Facetime/Skype so my parents can see the grandkids. But anyone with small children can tell you that not a lot of important information is able to be communicated while conversing with toddlers and preschoolers.

Facetime with my niece

  Last year I struggled a lot with loneliness and a desire for greater community. I realized that I could do something to feel more connected with my family members - more regular communication. I'm not a huge fan of talking on the phone (part introvert, part distraction from my kids), but it's the most effective option for me at this time. I would like to feel like I am more aware of what's going on with my family and hope that this will improve our intimacy and connectedness. 

  I have thus far called a different family member each week and have enjoyed catching up. I can tell it surprised them to have me call randomly. One person was concerned that something was wrong because I was calling them (proof I should call more often). I think I will enjoy this goal very much. Even if I don't manage to connect with someone weekly, I will benefit from more regular contact however frequent it ends up being.

2. One date night with my husband each month.

  Again, I realize that some may see this as a low bar, something they easily achieve. Once again, not for me. It's not that we struggle with wanting to spend time together away from the kids. We enjoy date nights. In the past our schedules have been too full to have time for a date. We also have to find a babysitter every time because we don't have family nearby. With finding a babysitter, our date night costs are greater than we'd like sometimes. But money should not be what keeps us from having some fun, maybe even an adventure, to keep us connected.

  It helps that our kids are older and easy to babysit. They're practically self-sufficient. Having it as a goal will hopefully helps us to keep date night a priority in our minds. We've already had to reschedule January's date three times (once for weather, once for a change in plans, once for babysitter conflict). Not a huge deal as we haven't settled on an official plan. I am finding it humorous (and not surprising) that the first one is taking so much time and effort. The enemy enjoys trying to thwart our efforts. Knowing there are eleven other dates to plan is helping me to think of things we could do or places we could go for a different experience. It is exciting!

  Additionally, we are working toward going on a couple's vacation this year. We haven't had a real vacation without the kids since before we had kids (so at least 7 years). We did have a day trip in Sedona and a couple of days in Yellowstone a few years back but I'm talking about taking a plane somewhere where we're completely out of contact for a bit. I'm definitely looking forward to this!

  So those are my official goals for the year. It appears the focus is on relationships. It seems like a natural segue after all of my loneliness talk last year. I felt that these goals were Spirit-led so I am excited to see what happens.

  I do still want to work on blogging more regularly and being present with my family at home. There are always a myriad of possible improvements in my life but I recognize that I don't have to do it all at once (or, actually, do it all period). I'm also still going to make sure reading is a regular part of my life as it's something that helps me relax and refresh but I don't have a set goal for books this year.

  I do also have a goal (desire) to finish my book revisions and have it available online before May. It has a deadline so it's a little different from my regular goals. We will see how that goes.

What are your goals for 2017? Have you made so many that you feel overwhelmed before you started? Perhaps cut the goals in half (or by half)? Remember the spirit of setting goals - motivation to work on something you want to improve in your life.