Friday, April 18, 2008

Different Views On Child Rearing

On of my daughters-in-love sent me the following article. This Ramble is a long read but I hope you will take the time to read it.

By Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer prize-winning columnist and author

All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow, but in disbelief.

I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three adults, taller than I am. Three people who read some of the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, perhaps more than I like.

Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves. Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past. Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach, T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Spock. .

The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education - all grown obsolete. Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories. What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations - what they taught me, was that they couldn't really teach me very much at all.

Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay.

No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One child is toilet trained at 3, his sibling at 2.

When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent, this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing.

Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow. I remember 15 years ago pouring over one of Dr. Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.

Every part of raising children is humbling. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the 'Remember-When-Mom-Did' Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language - mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed.

The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on his geography test, and I responded, 'What did you get wrong?' (He insisted I include that here.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I would not let them watch Mutant Ninja Turtles.

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 7, 4 and 1 ... and I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the DOING a little more . . . and the "getting it done" a little less.

Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the whole world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts.

It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were!

After reading this article, I think Ms Quindlen's ending is off and she doesn’t give near enough, on second thought, she gives no credit to God. He is the professional we should turn to when we need help raising our children. By giving God credit for the outcome of how our children become adults, it takes a lot of worry and guilt we feel – after all He created the child and if we are careful to follow His care instructions then we know He will be happy with the results. Much of her article is filled with how we live, how we loose it, how we regret, and how we feel – what I would write would include how God provided for my children’s growth even though I lost it, regretted not being more in the moment, doubting my own abilities, etc.

When my oldest son was about 7 (second son would have been about 4; and youngest son would have been about 2 years old), I enrolled in a very in depth spiritual growth program. Part of the program required a minimum of an hour’s quiet time to do the written homework, in addition to the 30-45 minutes a day of Bible study. This was a big deal for me to attempt – after all I had 3 very active children, a husband, worked part time, and finding that kind of study time was difficult. I found the best I could do was to get up really early to do my studying.

One Saturday morning I was up doing my study and the study was about what is most important in your life. There was a long list of things and people that I had to prioritize – what could I loose and still love God. When I got to the part of the list that included my husband and children, I found I could put my husband on the second list (with God on the first list). After all, my husband is a grown man, Christian, and able to care for himself. But when I got to the boys, I was thunderstruck to realize I couldn’t put them on the second list. My rationale – they were children, at that time they were not Christian, and they needed me to care for them. The dilemma that arose in me was gut-wrenching. I began to cry, I really wanted God to be the only one on my first list, but what about my children.

As I cried to God about this, I came to realize they are not MY children – God had created them – I was (and am) just the caretaker of His children. As I literally cried and fell to my knees, that day I turned the outcome of His children over to Him. With tears I wrote each of their names on my second list, and I found that after each name was written I had a peace that they would be OK in a way I never felt before. This was not a quick process; it took me over 2 hours to reach that point on the floor. My children, who were always up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons, slept while I had this very intense and personal conversation with God. God took care of the details to allow time for my growth as a Christian and a parent.

Does this mean I quit worrying or caring for my children, absolutely not. It meant that I worried more and cared more but for a different reason. I was taking care of God’s children and I did not want to disappoint Him. So I did the best I could, even with all my flaws and doubts, but I left the results up to God and now I give Him the credit for how they turned out. I am and was just the caretaker not the owner.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Appreciation for Shoppers

I just celebrated my birthday. It was a fun day filled with family and laughter. I did something I haven’t done … well ever. I took my 3 daughters-in-love (referred to as my daughters) shopping. These 3 women are very different with the common thread being they married one of my sons – they probably would never have met, been friends, or missed each other, if they had not married one of my sons. It is very strange how God brings us together to make a family.

We were celebrating my birthday, one of my daughters’ birthday, and a son’s birthday – we are a large family and we like big celebrations so we save up birthdays and celebrate them altogether, except when it is a very special birthday … oops there I go again, right, back to the girls and shopping….

I took – well one of my daughters drove the four of us – to the Sugar Land Town Center. It is a great place for walking, talking, and of course shopping. The four of us (or is it four and half, after all one of my daughters is pregnant… sorry) went straight for the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop. We took our sweet cold treats and sat at a table on the sidewalk to enjoy them while we discussed what we wanted to do. That took about 30 minutes to do – not so much the eating but the talking and laughing to figure out what we would do next. One of the items we discussed was going to a movie, but I do not get many opportunitys to spend time with them and a movie seemed like a waste of 2 hours we could spend talking and laughing.

The daughter that is pregnant had mentioned she would like to go the Motherhood shop, which conveniently enough, is in the middle of the block around the corner. As we walked we passed Ann Taylor’s Loft, which is the favorite shop of the other 2 daughters.

When we arrived at the Motherhood shop, I felt it coming – the urge to buy (not for the sake of buying but the urge to take care of, provide for, and spoil my daughter – after all it was my party, so what if it was a shared party, I felt like it was my party). So the non-pregnant daughters and I convinced the pregnant daughter to try on all these clothes that she would never have tried on. Of course, we allowed her to try on some clothes of her own choosing. (My daughters are really good at convincing you want to do something.) About 45 minutes later pregnant daughter and I walked out. She was grinning a grin that says I feel pretty, which is how she should always feel. The clothes she chose were not the ones she picked, but rather the ones the other daughters had selected. They are beautiful clothes and they made her look lovely and sexy even when pregnant – what more can you ask for?

While checking out at the Motherhood shop, the other 2 daughters had gone to Ann Taylor’s Loft – next door to the Motherhood shop – I wonder if there is a connection there? Wear nice clothes; end up at the Motherhood shop? – Again, my apologies, back to the Ann Taylor Loft experience.

When pregnant daughter and I arrived the other 2 were in the midst of a storm collecting clothes to try on. It was a thing of wonder to watch. These 2 women are so different but both so at home in this store and they were shopping using the same methods. Pregnant daughter went to the dressing room and claimed a room for one of the other daughters – she was really smart and claimed a larger room with a place to sit, which is where she stayed while the storm outside raged. Now if this sounds like I am being critical, I am not – I was in awe. I do not like to shop and it is a chore for me. Maybe if I mastered it as these 2 have, it would not be a chore but a mountain to be conquered, a quest to be completed, or a treasure to be found.

I was truly impressed. But not nearly as impressed as I was when they started trying on the clothes they selected. They all fit – I guess there was a day when I could have said I wear size Y and I really could wear size Y. For me, all I remember is clothes that sort of fit and you would have to keep trying sizes, forget about different outfits, I am talking about different sizes, until you discover what size you are for this line of clothing. Then you start on outfits, only to find they are from different manufacturers, so you have to start all over with the size thing. Really a bummer, I am sure this has a lot to do with why I do not liking shopping. Of course, this is a store that carries only one manufacturer’s line of clothing, so that helps with the whole size issue…. but back to the daughters.

They tried on a number of outfits (I was so flabbergasted that everything fit, I lost track of the number of outfits) and they were beautiful. There was one time when they traded a couple of pieces so the other person could try it on without having to go back to the showroom floor. Then they carefully started culling through the clothes. They separated the clothes into piles, the OK, the good, and the “must haves.” And then it was time to start the second culling, because now was the time to look at the price tags. Again, they shop the same way – and they did not grow up together, not from the same economic background, not even from the same area of the country – and they shop the same way – astounding to me.

I insisted on buying the clothes for them but I also insisted they put down the coupons that had been the prompt to come into the store. They grinned with happiness and with concern that I was spending too much, but who could resist – they are wonderful daughters and this was worth the cost to watch “pros” shop.

Elaine H.