Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Date archives January 2016

Life & Faith / Motherhood

A Word to Moms of Fewer Children

I am coming to the conclusion that there is a line between having five kids and six kids. At five, you are considered to still have a normal number of children. At six, well…that is over the line and out of normal range. At five, people have plenty to say about having your hands full. At six, they stop to count twice because they can’t believe their eyes. Well, for now they’re counting the kids and the bump. It amuses me a little, if I’m honest.

Really though, one might be astonished to hear any number of the comments I hear on a regular basis about our family size or something related to it. Some are kind, others are not at all kind. Not many of them bother me too much. People are curious. It’s ok. Don’t we all feel a little uncomfortable when we encounter something far outside our personal experience?

There is one comment that comes up innocently, and rather often, so I wanted to write about it…largely because it is a comment I have heard at different times from friends who have one, two, three, or four kids of their own.

It usually goes something like this:

So and so is telling about one of their parenting challenges…vulnerably (beautifully) sharing about a hill they’ve been climbing or a struggle they’ve been going through, and then in an instant, its like they suddenly remember I have twice or three times as many children in my care, and they back-pedal with a statement like, “Oh, but I only have X number of kids, so I can’t imagine how much harder it is for you.” See, a totally innocent comment. And well-meaning. But I cringe a little every time I hear it. Especially when it includes the word “only”.

Sure, it is different to have many children vs. few children. There are basic logistical differences, and there are different challenges, different dynamics, and different needs…but I really want to say out loud that parenting is challenging from day one, whether you have one child or ten children. My heart is to encourage all parents of littles, regardless of how many they have, that what you are doing every day to raise your little ones are all really hard things. You’re doing them! The hard things! You are living with less sleep, less money, less “free” time, less personal flexibility to do whatever you might like to be doing. You are learning-as-you-go how to solve the various problems you run into at every stage of development. You are doing the important, holy, hard work of meeting all of your child’s needs that you possibly can in a day, even when you yourself are scraping the bottom of your nearly-empty barrel to give what you can to them until you collapse on the couch minutes after they fall off to sleep. I’ve been there. I am there. I just can’t stomach the idea that mamas look in on my life and feel like they’re not measuring up because they feel like they can’t gracefully handle their X number of children while they happen to catch a few graceful moments of me handling mine.

It’s all messy, every step of the journey. Messy and beautiful and so hard at times. I will say, for as odd as it sounds, I think it may be more difficult to have fewer children…especially if you’re at two or three under the age of 5. Oh man, I remember those days, and I can tell you with certainty that life will not always look the same! Life with infants, and toddlers, and preschoolers is NO JOKE. You’re pretty much up to your neck in the deep water of parenting at all hours of the day and night. It takes all you’ve got, and it is totally important to be able to share your struggles, heartaches, troubles, and challenges without discrediting the incredible amount of love you’re pouring out every day to your children because you “only” have X number of children.

A mother is not more heroic or more admirable because she has more children vs. less children…All moms are heroes of the greatest kind–heroes that give selflessly, serve faithfully, and love their own children in a way that no other person could. You’re doing beautiful, hard things, and have no reason to compare your victories or failures to other moms. As your children grow, you grow as well…learning skills and techniques you may not have had in your pocket during the earlier years. If you happen to have a few more children, you will learn the skills and techniques you need at that time to handle those new challenges and dynamics.

I guess I’m just saying, hang in there, and don’t downplay the difficulties of your particular stage of parenthood. We are all fumbling through the best way we know how, and it is important that we stick together in this, whether that be to share our struggles, compare notes on particular stages, or just to cheer each other on in the marathon of motherhood.

“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.…” Psalm 127:3

 

Life & Faith

Nourish

I push through a mealtime, rally to prepare foods and portions for a small army, and do my best to clean as I go so I don’t come back to a disaster zone the next time I come through the kitchen. I find myself eyeballing both the cookies and the apples on the counter. I like both fine, and I surely need a bite here in a minute. There is a strong temptation to go for the cookie. It is, after all, made of the most delicious combination of ingredients on earth (butter and sugar). And it is something I can devour without any additional work (on the front end, I mean). Lift, bite, savor. Gone in five seconds, for sure. But the apple, that requires I take an extra 30 seconds to wash and slice it. Such an agonizing choice. One a little more tantalizing than the other. One a decidedly better choice for my body.

Totally like a million tiny decisions we run into every day. There is a tantalizing choice that offers very momentary pleasure or reprieve…and a choice that may take a little extra effort but may pay us dividends beyond what we can recognize at that moment.

What do you do with your time that falls in the former category? Not saying you can’t have a cookie on occasion (I’m the poster-child for cookie-eating)…but what if in all the little ways, you made choices to do what most nourishes your soul/relationships/family? Like, for instance, what if you said no to things in the schedule that are not life-giving for you, no matter how much you feel you ‘should’ do them? What if you had a list of creative projects you want to start or a stack of books you want to read, all at the ready to jump into when a free hour presents itself instead of flipping on the TV? What if you marked time on the calendar to workout with a friend you’ve been missing, instead of sitting at home refreshing Facebook for the millionth time that day, hoping that by some wild miracle, you might connect with another individual in a meaningful way there, even though it hasn’t happened in quite some time? What if you sliced a bunch of apples ahead of time so when you got hungry, you could have a bowl of slices ready to fill your tastebuds and nourish your body from the inside out?

All I mean to say, is we each have to make the choices that will nourish our lives. Our physical bodies, and our inner-hearts. A million little choices, a million little opportunities to fill ourselves with good things instead of so-so things. I know I often fall into the trap of choosing the easiest, most immediately-gratifying things…but honestly, after years of life like that, I just want wholeness. Whole-heartedness. The only way there is to change the habits that keep me from getting there. To me, this is what self-care really boils down to. I see myself as worthy of the time it takes, the intention in requires, the sacrifice that may be necessary – to nourish myself so that I can put my whole heart into giving my best to those around me. Nearly every mama-of-littles that I know struggles with this, because we have on our plates the physical, emotional, spiritual needs of every one of our children in addition to our own…but this is the time we need to be most on our game! We have to be filled so we can pour out the good things to our babes.

What are the things you can plan ahead of time to help you make the most nourishing choices?

For starters, I’m off to slice a bowl of apples and put those cookies away.

“The steps of a man are established by the LordAnd He delights in his way.  When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

1211. sara groves album “floodplain”, so many good lines, 1212. a brisk walk to the library, 1213. great well-kid checkups for 3 of the kids, 1214. quiet reading hour, 1215. little one cleaning the house with baby wipes, the best kind of copycat, 1216. early to bed and a good night’s sleep, 1217. #4’s giggles when she feels the baby bump move, 1218. back to cbs after a long break, 1219. all the kids pretend-playing “public” school, complete with a principal, 1220. quiet

Life & Faith

Dishes

Water runs and muffles the commotion about the house. I play music from a little bluetooth speaker my husband gave me for Christmas a year ago. I open a cupboard, leaving the door wide so the speaker can sit on a ledge, safe from stray water drops and suds. Out come songs that feel like a respite wind through the knots in my chest while I rhythmically pass dishes through the sink into the dishwasher after a light scrub.

I stand here several times a day. Every day. It is a place of decision, where I decide when I arrive to it, whether I come with a cheerful heart or a reluctant one. Or on some sad days, a bitter one. It is the same thing, again and again, over and over. Scrub, rinse, repeat. A simple task that needs doing at regular intervals or the whole kitchen goes sideways.

For all the talk about big dreams and goals and resolutions and all the desires of the heart in 2016, I wonder what would happen if I discovered other simple things I can do at regular intervals to truly nourish my soul, tend my relationships, lovingly grow my children, and intentionally take steps forward through my personal struggles and shame. More than a word for the year, or a list of goals (both of which are lovely and totally not something I mean to rag on), I have to be real with myself that standing in January and talking about what I want out of this year is a whole lot different than what it will be like to walk step-by-step–in forward motion–through every surprise and challenge that will come as the year unfolds.

I find myself wholly unsatisfied with the empty-but-lovely-sounding platitudes about a new year and what it may hold. I also find myself unable to whip out a tidy list of goals like I’ve done for so many years. All I can do is stand at the sink of January and choose to arrive with a cheerful heart, knowing that this year I will see ups and downs, and will stretch and bend, I may be surprised and delighted and discouraged and challenged at different times…and that the grace of God will carry me as it always does, while I do the simple things that He puts in front of me each day.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ― Mother Teresa

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20 

1201. unexpected encouragement in the midst of a tough day, 1202. new baby gate from a new friend, 1203. complete meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the whole month, 1204. getting the kids off to a productive start to a new term, 1205. a nice phone call from my brother, 1206. started reading lessons with an eager 3-year old, 1207. ‘big boy’ haircuts, 1208. new sara groves album, 1209. anticipating baby, 1210. new podcasts