I'm feeling much better today, but since I've had a lot of time to just sit and read over the past few days, I have a lot of thoughts to share. In my reading, I came across the stories of two mothers, each with three children, and both in places where they are miserable. I believe they are two sides of the same coin and wanted to reply to each of them. So, one today and one later.
The first woman responded to an advice columnist who published a letter about another woman who wanted to be a mother. (Confused yet?) In her (the mother's) letter, she felt as though the advice columnist hadn't done due diligence in her reply because the woman felt that motherhood wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. She had three children and she felt tired, overwhelmed, and pretty much a slave, chauffeur, and maid to her family. It wasn't what she had signed up for. The advice columnist's response was along the lines of, thanks for giving the whole story.
I wish the columnist had responded differently because my heart broke for this woman. While I admit that parenting can sometimes be hard and overwhelming and monotonous, it does not have to be this way all the time. (And, frankly, these descriptors can be applied to all of life, whether you have children or not, they are life issues and not specifically parenting issues.) I wished I could have invited this woman over for coffee and given her the support and encouragement she so desperately needs. And what would I have shared with her?
First, I would tell her that mother and maid are not synonymous words. If you are a mother and are feeling like a maid it is a sign that something is askew in your household. Of course, how much you do for your children is in direct correlation to their ages. Small babies and toddlers obviously need more care than older children do, but this is a very small window of life (which depending on the day can seem endlessly long). As the children get older they can, and should, be enlisted to learn how to be a contributing member of the household. Even little toddlers can be taught how to pick up their toys and by the time they reach high school, each child should be able to pretty much run the household by themselves if necessary. (Blessings on A. and B. who have made dinner two days in a row because I just didn't have the energy to do it.) It is probably a good idea to think of yourself as more of a life skills trainer than anything else. You are working toward the goal of self-sufficient children who will be able to function on their own in society. It will take time and energy, but there is purpose to it.
Second, I would ask her why she is driving her children hither and yon to the point of exhaustion. Do they really need to do all those activities? Has she thought about why she has signed them up? I think it's fair to say that many parents sign their children up for activities because of fear. Fear that they will stunt their child's development or they won't get into the right college or that they will be considered bad parents or (horror!) their children might be bored if they don't. It's crazy. Free time to dream and learn to occupy oneself and yes, do work around the house are just, if not more, important than endless activities. If the activities are making for a cross mother or cutting into family time, they are not worth it. Just stop! Really, the world won't stop spinning if you drop an activity and it may even produce a happier, more relaxed family.
Third, I would ask if she has a support network. Does she have friends who are parenting at the same stage so they can support each other? I'm not talking just complaining to each other, but also encouragement in the tough spots and rejoicing in the positive ones. We all need friends with us along the way to help us keep going. Does she have friends who can act as mentors? Having women in your life who are past your current parenting stage are a huge blessing. I have learned so much my friends who are a little further down the road than I am and I would be a much poorer parent without them. They can offer perspective and advice that is much different from a peer who is in the trenches with you. Having friends makes the journey more pleasant.
Last, I would remind her of the important work she is doing. It may not feel important at that moment. Doing the dishes (again!), asking the child to pick up her socks (again!), putting in another load of laundry (again!) do feel monotonous and unimportant, but we have to look at the bigger picture. All of these things are needed to raise children to adulthood. We are training the world's future generation and we have no idea the impact they will have. We parents can be the single biggest influence on our children's lives. By teaching our children responsibility and kindness and generosity and patience we are affecting the lives of possibly thousands of others because of who our children will influence. This is no small task. It is an important thing we do and, in my opinion, there is no better way for me to spend my time.
And I would tell this mother one more thing, before she left to go home, I would remind her of the fleetingness of childhood. It is not so many years that we have with our children and it would be a shame to waste them in focusing on the frustrations instead of the joys. Soak up and cherish every story read together, every hug, every kiss, every funny expression, and even every tantrum, because they will not come again. Do not send your last child out of the door and regret that you focused on the wrong things.