Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. I’d take a bullet for them, or donate a kidney, or trash my waistline, sagify my bustline, ruin my sleep schedule, and jeopardize my sanity for them–oh wait, I did most of those things already. But if I’m being totally honest, I didn’t really ENJOY them all that much until the last few years.
See, I’m not really a kid person. Or even a baby person.. It’s just that kids are just kind of small and meh. I’m not that fond of other people’s kids or even my own relatives’ kids. Don’t be mad. I don’t hate your kids when they come over, and I’m not lying when I say your baby is cute, I just didn’t really enjoy spending time with my kids.
My husband likes little kids, which is a good thing because he is an elementary teacher. I just figured that he’d be the good cop to my bad cop for this decade. I’d tolerate them till they became teens and then it would be my turn to enjoy parenting.
This sounds horrible, I know. There are dozens of decent mothers reading this that are truly shocked that I’ve just admitted to not enjoying motherhood and just doing what was expected while my kids were around. But, I don’t think I was really conscious of it. Part of it was that so many OTHER MOMS weren’t really enjoying their kids either. We were all being miserable together, waiting for naptime. We love our kids, but we didn’t ENJOY them.
But a few years ago, I realized that I was missing it. Honestly, I was losing the opportunity to enjoy their childhood by hiding out on my blog. I was so busy pining for a different stage in their lives, wishing they were bigger, assuming that my day would come, that I was MISSING IT.
So I decided to make a concerted effort to enjoy them, to like them, to engage with them. Rather than figuring out how to AVOID them or OCCUPY them so I could do my own thing, I decided to interact with them . . . on purpose. Consciously or unconsciously, I started making a few changes that have helped me not just LOVE, but LIKE my kids, you know, as humans. 😉
1. I stopped trying to be consistent. (Sometimes. Not all the time. Whatever. ;))
Every parenting and discipline book sings the praises of consistency, and I get the point, but frankly, nothing I’ve ever implemented with my kids has lasted more than a month. See, KIDS CHANGE CONSTANTLY. Why are we so hell bent on being so structured? Maybe it helps some moms to feel a sense of control and organization, but I feel crippled by insecurity every time I fail to complete the chore chart, or allowance system, or daily routine. They just make me feel overwhelmed.
Now, when I implement systems, I take a Mary Poppins approach. We’ll stick with it until the wind changes, or our mood does, or the season changes, or we’re sick of it. Consistency is for old people; not kids. Consistency with kids is an oxymoron and it makes us miserable. We dumped it.
I think I believed that I had to be long suffering to be a good mom. I had to enjoy doing all the things my mom did, or you do, or the pinteresting Facebook mom does against my will. That’s awfully tiresome if you’ve tried it.
I stink at sewing. And scrapbooking. And decorating cupcakes. And birthdays. And sports. And playdates. And video games.
But there is some kid-stuff that I like. I rule at braiding hair. Finding good library books. Making pizza dough. Talking about feelings. And spelling. (There’s other stuff.)
In relationships, people do what they agree upon with their friends. So I decided to form relationships with my kids around mutual interests instead of martyring myself to activities that I hate just so that I would be a cool mom or like moms I admire.
If my kids want to paint or play basketball or do Wii, they can do it without me. I smile and say, “I don’t like to do that.” Does that sound selfish? It’s not. They don’t really know what they like and don’t like yet, but I do. :) I introduce them to things I enjoy, hoping we can enjoy it together. I spent MONTHS trying to get them to listen to audiobooks, which I adore, but they refused. It took some persistence, but eventually, a rainy afternoon and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made audio book listeners of my kids. Now we all enjoy listening to Harry Potter, and Junie B, and Wonder and so many other books that are better on audio.
My point is, I stopped trying to enjoy things with them that I’m terrible at and wouldn’t enjoy anyway. I’m the grown-up, so I taught them to enjoy things that we can do together. Win-win.
3. I count it a privilege to be their mom.
In order to explain, I need to give you a strange parallel. The other day after a conversation with my brother about our marriages, I got to thinking about the fact that there are really no other men who are my age-peers that it would be appropriate for me to talk to in that way. My brother is the only guy, other than my husband, who I can talk to about deeply personal stuff, knowing that we have shared history, he loves the Lord, and he cares about me. That’s a pretty cool privilege to have a relationship like that with a family member.
So as my kids’ mom, I have the privilege to have this unique knowledge of them, and an opportunity to invest in them and train them. As much as it’s daunting and scary, it’s AMAZING! There are three people on this planet that I get to be the mom of and that is a priceless gift that I don’t want to miss by avoiding them or handing them a tablet continuously. (I can still inconsistently hand them a tablet. ;)) They are cool little people and getting cooler by the minute. Sure, they are equal parts wretchedness and sweetness, but I get to be their teacher, their caretaker, and their one and only MOM. So when the pile of papers come home from school and there’s one stuck in there that says, “I love you Mom!” I want to pause for appreciation and enjoyment (before adding it to the recycle bin–cause sheesh, there are so many PApERS!) Even though there are millions of moms, I’m the only mom for them. That’s a privilege.
4. I treat myself as well as I want them to treat me.
After I had Anika, I started attending a little class my sister-in-law taught called Sanity Strategies. At the time, her kids were 6, 4, and 2 year old twins, so I figured maybe she knew what she was talking about. One of the things that she mentioned several times, was the need to sit down for meals. I remember thinking that was just nutso. I ate half my meals standing at the counter while preparing meals for the kids. There was just no other way, was there?
Then I started realizing that eating while standing up was just one of many ways that I had started to treat myself badly, like I didn’t matter, like my mealtime was unimportant compared to serving them.
Do I want my son to treat his future wife like she has to stand up while eating all her meals? Do I want my daughters to expect that of themselves? No way! I started to realize that I wanted to take care of myself IN FRONT of my kids so that they would treat me and someday themselves with as much respect. For me this means, no kids can sleep in my bed. Kids are not allowed to come in my bedroom or bathroom without knocking. (This is an ongoing battle.) I get to sit for meals and the family cannot start eating without me. I don’t always take the smallest or last piece of food.
My friend Lisa shares that through counseling she has learned that Jesus teaches us, his followers, to love others as well as we love ourselves. Therefore, if I don’t show any love and respect for myself, my children and spouse won’t either, and then I won’t enjoy them because I resent them for being self-centered little meanies. When we all show mutual love and respect for each other, then we can enjoy each others’ company more fully.
5. I remember that all their feelings are real and valid.
At my mom’s annual granddaughters’ Valentine’s day tea, my mom asked us all to share something we appreciate about our mom. Addie, my oldest, said that she thought I was really good at handling emotions. HOORAY! A triumph! This is something that I have always attempted to do for my kids because I didn’t learn to respect my own feelings until I was an adult.
Sometimes, I still forget that all feelings (even mine) are real and valid. I shouldn’t dismiss or ignore feelings. Even if my kids’ reactions are immature or even sinful, how they feel is real–it comes from something. If they are sad, or scared, or angry, or spiteful, that is a real emotion that comes from somewhere. How they feel matters to them and it should matter to me–even if I have to deal with negative behavior or emotions. Dismissing their emotions, minimizing their emotions, or ignoring their emotions almost always leads to an unenjoyable tension, distress, or distance. Even wading through ugly, mean feelings with them is better than the train wreck caused when my kid feels like I don’t care about how they feel. It is hard for me to enjoy my kids when I’m reacting snappishly to their emotions. When I snap at them, they don’t trust me. And that distrust hurts me. Even though kids can be manipulative or contrived, I can usually tell what they are feeling underneath.
When I remember that their feelings are REAL and valid, and I respect those feelings, I enjoy them more.
6. I remember they aren’t mine.
Really, I’m already halfway done with Addie. She just turned 10 and that is totally terrifying. I am just stewarding that beautiful girl for a few more years until she will be independent of me. A grown woman. Everything she was created to be.
She isn’t mine anyway. She is God’s precious creation, made so uniquely. And the other two are not very far behind at all. Anika, my strong-willed daughter, constantly reminds me that I’m not in charge of her. 😉
When I remember that these children aren’t really mine, then I can let go of the anxiety that I might mess them up. I can release them to bask in the grace that will cover ALL of my mistakes and all of theirs too. I can enjoy watching their personalities, their strengths, and their struggles unfold. I can enjoy seeing who they are becoming without taking undue responsibility for producing them. I am CARING for them, but I’m not making them. I’m shepherding them, but I’m not designing them. I’m not writing their story; I’m in it.
The bottom line for my process of learning to enjoy my kids has been infusing more of MYSELF as Katrina, into their lives, instead of carbon copying some idealized image of motherhood behavior onto them. When I am my inconsistent, emotional, audiobook listening, sit-down-eating, non-helicoptering self, I enjoy myself more; therefore, I enjoy them too. Does that make sense?
Have you learned some tricks that have enabled you to enjoy motherhood more fully? Share them in comments below.