Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Motherhood over this past year

Sunday - Mother's Day - was quite a lovely day - the kids wrote me nice notes, Jared got me lovely flowers and made a delicious breakfast, during church, all the women were relieved of any duties they usually have during third hour by the men and the youth who took over all the primary classes and nursery for the day and enjoyed tasty treats and the chance to just chat and relax together. Then after church, we took our traditional Mother's Day photos (it was so much faster and less painful than in years gone by!). We went to Park City to have a great lunch with my mom and dad. Everyone went around the table sharing their favorite things about me and about my mom and it was great to learn what the kids notice and appreciate. We got on Facetime with a few of my siblings plus my mom showed us old photos and read us some funny and interesting stories and memories written by my great aunt Wanda who wrote all about the life she shared with her sister, my grandmother and my mom's mom. I love how my mom is always making doing all she can to help us stay connected to our forefathers and foremothers.  I love thinking of the sacrifices and joys and work and learning of the mothers who went before me and wondering what kind of legacy I'm leaving for my own children. What will they remember most about me? Anyway, it was such a perfect thing to do on Mother's Day afternoon.

How I love each of these amazing people who call me mom!

Ashton, age 17

Isaac, age 15

Eliza, age 14

Oliver, age 12

Silas, age 12

And how I love this amazing woman who I get to call mom! I realize more and more every day how incredible she is as I try to follow in her footsteps.

When we got home, I wrote about my motherhood journey over this past year - what I have experienced and learned, that sort of thing. I try to do that every Mother's Day. I won't share all of what I wrote as some is too personal and specific to share. But here are some of my thoughts:

Wow motherhood is some amazingly hard and amazingly beautiful stuff. I think this year as a mother has been by far my hardest. Motherhood felt pretty crazy-hard when I had five preschoolers and everyone was always needing something at the same time and my days (and sometimes nights) were full of simultaneous mutually exclusive needs from so many little people. Plus I was always juggling community involvement and church callings and making healthy made-from-scratch meals and keeping the house pretty darn clean and trying to teach my kids about each of those things while doing them. There were lots of days that were ridiculously full and stressful compounded by the regular needs and constant interruptions (some adorable, some horrible, lots in-between) of five sweet little children who needed diaper changes and stories and intervention as they got into squabbles and help picking up toys and ideas of fun things and who also needed to ask me LOTS of things and tell me LOTS of things almost constantly. (I came across this old blog post that captured one particularly crazy day.)

But in the midst of the busyness there was so much sweetness - they said and did so many cute and funny things, they gave me lots of hugs and kisses, they frequently told me I was the best mom in the world, they thought I knew everything. There were plenty of frustrating and stressful moments and quite a few worries about certain behaviors (a bout of lying, a lot of bickering going on at times, a lack of obedience, etc.) or certain physical and mental things (Should we worry that Isaac isn’t walking or talking as quickly as Ashton did? Is Eliza ever going to get any hair? Do the twins need speech therapy? Should we get surgery to repair their too-short achilles tendons that make them walk on tip-toe which is affecting their foot development or should we go with serial casting? Do we get stitches or just super glue this small gash together? Should we take him in for an x-ray on that hurt arm?...). There sure seemed to be plenty to worry about.

These days, I get some nice quiet time while the kids are at school - something I dreamed of for many years. I can plan out the errands I need to do and the work that I’d like to accomplish and can realistically get those things done in an orderly and productive way while the kids are at school. I sit at my computer most of the day working on Power of Moms stuff and connecting with moms around the world. I often feel lonely and things feel a little too quiet but I still feel happy every day that I can actually get things done in an un-interrupted way after all those years of constant interruptions! And going to the grocery store without kids still feels so nice - especially when I see those valiant moms managing 2 or 3 kids at the store.

From 3pm to 10pm (and often later), my weekdays are crazy-busy with driving places and picking up and making dinner and checking homework and talking kids through various things. After school, there are still times when the simultaneous mutually exclusive needs go on like they did with the kids were small - someone needs help with homework while someone wants to tell me something cool while someone is asking if they can have a snack while someone is asking for a ride. In the midst of all this busyness, I still get some hugs and “you’re the best mom in the world” from the twins but more often, the kid-initiated interactions I have involve requests (sometimes sounding suspiciously like demands), complaints about what we’re having for dinner or about what they aren’t allowed to do with something with the occasional “let me show you something cool” (usually at the most busy moment) thrown in there.

There's still a lot of sweetness as I get to see the kids work hard and achieve in school and in sports and as I see their great personalities emerge more and more. I love how I can now talk to them more as a friend and coach and less as a manager and director. Sometimes motherhood is just so fun these days - we can all play real games together and go on serious hikes together and explore beautiful places together and they show me cool videos and great new music and tell me about interesting and funny things that happen out in their world. And it's heavenly when someone tells me something good that they've observed in my kids - that they are always willing to help, that they are so good with little kids, that they are funny and kind and smart and hard-working. Stuff like that is such music to my ears!

It's so nice that they are able to do so many things on their own now - but it's so frustrating when they don't do the things I know they can do and know they should do - like clean up after themselves or simply close doors and cupboards or not leave clothes and towels on the floor (I can't figure out why that split-second act of closing something or hanging up a towel is so very hard!).

There are a lot less worries about safety and health and managing the needs of so many little people and a lot more worry about character and interests and achievements and decisions. While mothering little kids was physically exhausting, I’m finding that mothering teens is mentally and emotionally challenging in huge ways.

In physical ways (getting dressed, eating, etc.) my kids need me so much less while in emotional and mental ways, they need me a whole lot more - but they don't want to admit they need me very often so it's pretty hard to help in the right ways at the right times.

The teaching moments are fewer and the stakes are higher. The kids aren’t with me that much these days between school and sports and work and friends so it’s hard to find the time to enjoy time together and strengthen bonds and talk through how to handle issues that come up in their lives. And when they are around, sometimes they are so surly! I never know whether they'll walk through the door happy and excited to tell me something cool or whether they’ll walk in and I’ll ask the how things are and they’ll just give me some grumpy one-word answers and act totally bugged by me and totally down on everything about their life.

When there are worries, knowing just how to address a sensitive topic with a somewhat surly teen is sometimes like walking through a minefield.

I love that the kids are all becoming quite self-reliant - but as they become more and more self-reliant and get more chances to be autonomous, they often want more freedom than they’re ready for (or than we’re ready for) and that can cause quite a bit of conflict. It’s so hard to know when to hand a choice over to a person whose brain and reasoning is not fully developed but who needs to learn how to make their own choices!

It’s so important but so hard to figure out which choices should belong to them and which choices we need to keep for a while longer. And it sucks having to be the bad guy and say no and feel that anger and hear those hurtful words. But then it’s beautiful when they choose good things and you realize a lot of what you’ve taught has sunken in and that they are becoming remarkable people in many ways. (I did a podcast episode recently about giving our kids choices - check it out here if you want.)

This past year has been a year of serious mothering angst and worry and fear - that's probably one of the biggest reasons I haven't blogged much - I've been too busy working through some stuff that's not really blog-able. The hard stuff has spurred a lot of self-reflection and learning and growth and humility for me - but also a lot of heartache. I've been stretched in ways that I've never been stretched before - and sometimes that stretching is so painful! 

I think this quote by C.S. Lewis reflects how I feel about my motherhood experience over this past year:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

I don't think I'm becoming much of a palace. For much of this past year, I've felt like I'm not even a "decent little cottage." But I'm starting to see where my mothering has been strengthened and important foundations have been built so I can understand more and do better moving forward and really be the mom my children need. 

I have hopes that one day, if I keep trying and praying and learning and loving with all my heart, my mothering can be something of true beauty to myself and my children. It'll surely be beautiful in different ways that I might have envisioned going in. But it will be beautiful just the same. As my sister Saydi says, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be perfect."

Here are a few of the main things I've learned this year about mothering (there are probably a lot more but these are the first ones that come to mind):
  • No matter what I do, I cannot protect my children from all the things that can hurt them and keep them from making all choices that may cause problems for themselves and others. They have to learn some things the hard way. And taking away too many choices just feels wrong to them and to us as parents. I can advise and warn in simple and logical ways - repeatedly if that feels right. But in the end, control is not the answer. Loving acceptance and gentle persuasion and prayer are the answers.
  • My children need to recognize me as someone who will always fight for them, love them fiercely, and make sacrifices for them. But they also need to see me as someone who loves them too much to condone behaviors that have clearly led to problems for so many people and loves them too much to let them treat me or anyone else with disrespect. I will always love them unconditionally and open-heartedly. I will always accept them with open arms. But I will continually remind them that respect and love really need to go both ways and will stand up for my feelings and those of others around them.
  • Certain areas of the brain (cause and effect, empathy, etc) are not very developed for many people until they are into their twenties. Teenagers need a lot of patience and gentle nudges while those areas of their brain develop more fully.
  • Children are seedlings, not lumps of clay. I've always known that it's our job as mothers to work to figure out who our children really are and help nurture them to become the best apple tree or azalea bush they can be. They come who they are. We are here to water and fertilize and sometimes prune them. We are not here to mold them or try to make them into something they are not. This year, I've come to understand and accept this truth all the more.
  • The Lord cares about these children even more than I do. He's there to guide me and help them. I need to remember to turn to him and trust him more.
  • When the going gets tough, love harder. Expressing and truly feeling unconditional love is always a huge part of the answer.
As part of a Mother's Day note, one of my children told me that they felt like they could talk to me about anything, that I was really good at understanding, and that they knew I loved them no matter what. Hearing that was the best part of my Mother's Day. I guess I am living the principles I spelled out above enough that my children are feeling what I earnestly want them to feel.

Motherhood sure is a wild ride. And there have been times this year when I've wanted to get off the ride for a bit, give my heart a rest, re-center myself. But I've kept my heart and my mind and my soul in the game. I've thought hard. I've cried hard. I've loved hard. I've worked hard. I've been guided to the right words at the right time in amazing ways. I've been sent beautiful answers to prayers. And the hard stuff makes the beautiful stuff all the more glistening, There have been so very many good moments and memories this year.
I'm so deeply grateful that I get to mother the amazing children God sent to me.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Important food for thought on screen time

I listened to these two episodes of TED radio hour while on a long hike last week and they were full of some powerful food for thought - all the ramifications of the screen time that we and our kids are experiencing these days. Really made me think and wonder...

We walk around with these mini-computers in our pockets that give us miraculous connections to people that we love and information that we need. But it's so easy to get caught up in what is happening elsewhere and connections with people who aren't near us at the cost of being fully present and enjoying what is actually happening to us in real time and interacting in a non-distracted way with the people who are physically with us.

Most of us have two realities - the one we are living and the one we are sharing. What does that do to us? And to those who see what we post? No matter how "real" we may earnestly try to be on social media, it is natural for us to want to capture and share the great things in our lives. Plus, because of the shear magnitude of what we all experience internally and externally every day, we could never present the full picture of our lives on social media.

There's some interesting stuff on how passive screen time (watching TV) affects us and our children differently than active screen time (using an ap or playing a game where our actions affect what the screen shows us). There's some thought-provoking stuff about how virtual reality can change our thoughts and feelings beyond what film can do. There's stuff about how we're essentially all "cyborgs" these days - people who have enhanced abilities due to technological gadgets we attach to ourselves (our phones) that affect our abilities and actions (we can remember things in a super-human way when we record things with our phones using text or photos, we can find out information and shop and do so much more without even moving from our chairs...). 

No one knows how the screen time that is such an integral part of our lives will affect us long-term. We are all guinea pigs. Scientists are trying to figure it out but they have a long long way to go. They have done studies on mice who are exposed to tons of flashing screens and noisy TV shows and have found that those exposed to a certain number of hours of this every day loose their ability to retain information (i.e. groups of mice who were not exposed to all the TV were able to learn and remember how to get through a maze much more quickly than those who were exposed to all the screen time). I see my teenagers so glued to their phones, feeling they simply must see what is on Snapchat or reply to a text, during dinner or while I'm trying to talk to them about something. It's like I'm cutting off their arm or something when I tell them to hand over the phone so they can more fully be present - but it's important and I do make them put phones in their pockets or put them away. We have lots of talks about how we need to be with who we're with while we're with them - that the present person needs to be prioritized over the person or material in cyberspace. But it's hard. That little device is so tempting...

There's a lot more involved in these two episodes but I thought I'd put down a few of the things I remember off the top of my head.

Screen Time I: It's become pretty normal for us to always be glued to our screens. So how are they changing us, and how will they shape our future? This hour, TED speakers explore our ambivalent relationships with our screens. Screen Time II: When we go online, we present a digital version of ourselves. How do we transform when we interact inside our screens? In this episode, TED speakers explore the expanding role of our "second selves."


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