Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I'm Still Here

I haven't posted much over the past few weeks. First of all, my sister was here! It was pure joy, both having her join in on family life during the day and having her all to myself when the kids were in bed. Lynda came for Jack's half-term break from school, halfway through the two weeks Matt was gone, and we didn't dare waste time on frivolities like watching tv or writing blog posts. Instead we played with Jack and Sophie, took them to the park and hung out in our back garden. We laughed and sang and danced. We made and ate gorgeous meals. We read some, went to the gym some and talked lots. She flew back to NYC last Tuesday, and I fully intended to write about how wonderful her time with us was, but going into all the details was too hard. I missed her too much!

I also haven't spent much time on the computer because the weather has been beautiful, and much of every day I've been outside in our little back garden! This is our third summer here, and after planting, pruning, moving and removing various plants, I'm really happy about how it's all progressing. So won't you pardon me for not posting as regularly while this glorious summer season is here? I want to soak up as much of paradise as I possibly can, while I can.

The other, weightier thing I've been caught up in is the new phase of parenting we find ourselves in. The baby phase I loved, I mean loved, both times around. It's physically exhausting but emotionally rewarding, and we were blessed with sweetsweet, easy babies. The toddler phase can be challenging, I'll admit, but all in all it was predictable, manageable and I still felt somewhat in control. This, though? Not so much. I don't even know what to call it, but basically in the past several months Jack has become his own person (!) with his own ideas (!), his own agenda (!) and his own priorities (!). The hardest bit for me has been facing the fact that I'm definitely not in control.

At first I felt threatened. Then angry. Then defensive, and then scared. I thought about it. I prayed about it. I started talking about it -- to Matt, to the other mums in my small group and at coffee mornings with mums from school -- and I soon recognized that the problem wasn't so much with Jack but with me. I had allowed my expectations of Jack's behavior to affect my attitude toward him, and we were both showing clear signs of feeling the disconnect.

In addition to some refreshingly honest mom blogs, I've been reading some books that are challenging me to think outside my normal box of Proper Parenting. Although not written from a specifically Christian perspective (no offense, Dr. James Dobson, but Bringing Up Boys gave me nothing practical or substantial to go on), they emphasize the importance of treating our children with respect and honor, the way we would want to be treated -- parenting by the Golden Rule -- and showing them unconditional love. These two ideas (not really new, are they? but freshly examined and applied, you might say) have radically affected my thoughts, words and actions toward both Jack and Sophie in the last several weeks.

I hesitate to share the titles of the books because I'm several chapters into each but not all the way through any. And I hesitate to share specific examples of situations I've mishandled with Jack because I'm not brave enough to expose my parenting weaknesses that fully. (You're okay just taking my word for it, right?) But I will say that the reason this new approach is making sense to me is that I know how drastically differently I respond when I'm confronted with something I've done wrong, depending on how I'm confronted. Although I'm no longer a child, my inner sense of security is the same as it has been my entire life: strong and confident when approached gently -- with humility, understanding and grace -- and fearful and defensive when approached harshly -- with judgment, criticism and condemnation. In the former, I'm truly sorry and eagerly look for ways to change/make amends for whatever I've said/thought/done. In the latter, my gut reaction is to defend myself and resist accepting that there may be some truth in the matter.

It's also making sense to me because the Bible is clear that God loves us unconditionally and that, as our Heavenly Father, He's the ideal parenting example. How many times have I done something wrong and been shouted at from the heavens or immediately struck by lightning as a direct result? By contrast, how many times have I done something wrong and been uncomfortable in my conscience, confronted by the words of Scripture/a thoughtful friend/pastor/counselor or suffered the natural consequences?

It may appear that I've become more permissive as a mom or that I've loosened my grip, lowered my expectations and softened my approach toward parent/child accountability. My ongoing quest is to exhibit wisdom, balance and truth in my parenting, to treat my children with dignity, grace and unconditional love and to lovingly prepare and enable them to -- willingly and joyfully -- make wise decisions, both now and as they continue life's journey.

Anyway, that's where I've been the last several weeks.

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Love is patient, love is kind... It is not rude... it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV)

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