Eat Your Half of the Muffin

muffIn a recent column a wife complained that she and her husband had virtually no intimacy because they had young children who would burst in on weekend mornings and spoil any chance of couple time. As parents, they were just too busy with the kids. I thought that the line about children bursting in said a great deal.

Lately, I have been mulling over the issue of children and boundaries with parents in the home. My line of thought began because of a muffin. I had shared half of the large blueberry muffin with my daughter as I had my morning coffee. She looked at me when finished and eyed up my half still sitting uneaten in front of me. In the sweet way she has, she asked for my half as well. Having already shared half, I told her, no, that it was my half of the muffin. She looked sadly at me and said, “But you’re supposed to share!”

“I already did share, and this is my half. I really like blueberry muffins, but I wanted you to enjoy some as well, so I gave you half of mine.”

Emmy accepted the verdict, but it made me think about the mistake we make when we don’t establish boundaries in the minds of our children. Failing to do so just gives them an unhealthy sense of entitlement

The problem with the couple complaining about lack of intimacy was obvious. They didn’t put a lock on their door and teach their children that they may not “burst in” even if there is no lock. While parents of the past are sometimes criticized for not being attentive enough to their children, we’ve swung too far the other way, I think. If not taught about boundaries, children will take everything you have in energy, time and priorities and learn nothing about empathy, respect for others (including Mom and Dad) and how to do things on their own. Teaching children that “this is yours and this is mine, and those two things are not the same” is a crucial life lesson.

In homes that are too child-centered and where marriages are not given proper attention, the empty nest phase can be even emptier when children leave, because there is no relationship left between husband and wife. I love my children as deeply as a mother could, but they are not the only part of my world. I happen to love my husband, and time with him is prized above all. Our kids will grow up and leave us, and we’ll be left with what we have in our relationship. Children are a priceless stewardship, but they are never supposed to take the place of your primary relationship with your spouse.

When we had 5 children under 13 at home, Tom and I would take sanity breaks and go out somewhere just to talk. It wasn’t always dinner (too expensive), just a soda and a parking lot sometimes to discuss whatever was on our minds. We laughed at ourselves, as sometimes we would get home and pull in the garage, shut the engine off and keep right on talking. Small heads would poke through the breezeway door into the garage. “When are you coming in?” We would wave them away and finish our conversation. It was our joke that “garage dates” were a low cost way of staying close. Kids not welcome! The kids knew we’d be back in due time.

Even young children are fully capable of learning boundaries, but we often expect too little of them. Marriages pay the price, I think. Part of loving our children is modeling healthy boundaries and teaching them, in love, that they are not the center of the universe. Marriage is center of the family universe. So buy a lock for your door, carve out time away and eat your half of the muffin. Someday your children will thank-you for the example.

The Beauty of Forgiveness

Living out the Gospel at home is not training children in the doctrines of the Christian faith and teaching right behavior. Those things are foundational in the home, but living the Gospel out involves the application of what we know to be true from God’s Word.

To sum it up, modeling repentance and forgiveness of sins in day to day living is how we show our families what God does for us through Christ.

My preschooler is with me all day, every day, with very little exception. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but by the end of the day, I am very tired. Sometimes, I am so tired it is difficult to make it through the nighttime routine of teeth brushing, story reading, prayer and recently, singing. (A few months ago, Emmy began requesting a song at bedtime.)

The other night she engaged in some stalling tactics and belabored things unbearably. I was very cross and  in my exhaustion, I spoke sharply to her. An abruptly truncated nighttime routine resulted.

There were aggrieved tears and a woeful, silent trip to bed for my Emmy. With her finally in bed, I sat down in my recliner, took a deep breath and closed my eyes. But inside I knew I had to make things right. She hadn’t been naughty, she had been a typical preschooler.

I went back down the hall, pushed her door open, and in the dimness of her night light, saw my little girl lying silently on her pillow, tears still on her cheeks, clutching her beloved Fluffy dog. I knelt by her bed and put my head down by her on the pillow and told her I was sorry for being so cross and raising my voice.

She immediately patted my head and my face with her warm little hands. “It’s OK, Mama, I forgive you,” she said. She wrapped her arms around my neck for a tight squeeze.

This little act of repentance and forgiveness is what it is all about, I thought to myself. Forgiveness and the restoration of fellowship is a beautiful thing. It is living out in the home what God does for us if we come to him with sorrowful hearts. It is not complex, but it requires a sensitive conscience.

I thought my heart would burst with love for my small girl that night. I kissed her tenderly good-night and went to get some rest myself…this time with a light heart.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” ~ I John 1:9

Response to a Feminist Author

There’s yet another book out for women with the provocative title, Why Have Kids: The Truth About Parenting and Happiness. The feminist author’s title pretty much says it all. I quote from the Daily Mail article yesterday:

In an interview with UK newspaper The Times, Valenti says woman are bombarded with so much conflicting advice about child-rearing, much of which involves kids being the ‘centre of your universe,’ that the result is a state of near constant anxiety. (This is) the understandable outcome of expecting smart, driven women to find satisfaction in spit-up,’ she says.

It gets worse.

Co-founder of the blog, she also lists the on-paper drain kids place on their parents’ lives, including the long-term economic cost of having children and the inevitable effect a baby has on even happy marriages.

And then this:

Valenti says that she loves her daughter, Layla, very much but adds ‘I don’t see raising her as my life’s mission. I don’t believe that it should involve some kind of suffering or self-sacrifice.’

It’s difficult to know where to begin addressing this viewpoint. I don’t disagree for a moment that parenting, the way the secular world sees it, is problematic. Many mothers are motivated by the culture’s values and half kill themselves in giving their child everything that kids are supposed to get now, whether it’s umpteen extracurricular activities, the latest technology, the best clothes, etc. In addition, mothers are supposed to be successful in outside careers, keep a beautiful home, and on top of that, look “hot” at whatever age they are. No exceptions allowed. It’s a recipe for insanity. I agree.

But the real problem here is not devotion to your children! The problem is not the little ones! The problem in this scenario is the worldview of the mothers. Feminism is a joke. If the feminist philosophy was about liberation and freedom, how do you explain millions of  mothers who chronically feel trapped and that they are failing everyone because they are trying to have it all? The answer to the problem is not embracing selfishness and refusing to sacrifice for your children. The answer lies in giving some things up, because those children are most important to you. But authors like Jessica Valenti don’t believe they should be. In her view, children are the problem.

I have been a mother for 25 years. I am 46, and have learned some things along the way—a few insights I have gleaned. The most important lesson is this: You find yourself as a mother by losing yourself. This creed will elicit gasps of horror from authors like the one above, but it is the truth.

Years ago, my son Samuel had a terrible time with out-of-control asthma. He was a highly allergic baby who tested as sensitive to nearly everything in the environment, which meant that when he had a cold, it immediately triggered asthma, because his bronchial tubes were already inflamed from other allergies.

In the first 5 years of his life, he was hospitalized over 30 times, once in the ICU. Every cold, not some, every cold, meant he ended up in the hospital. We watched the seasons change at Children’s Hospital on 7th floor back then. We knew all the nurses. We’d spend hours in the ER, and then they would admit him eventually anyway.

I used to wonder why this endless cycle had befallen my son, and frankly, me. Watching Sam scream through endless IV’s on a papoose board, endure countless pricks for blood tests, and go through endless breathing treatments, knowing full well we’d be back at the hospital in another month with the next cold, was extremely hard on both of us. I was 21 when Sam was first admitted at 6 months old. I slept at the hospital holding him on my chest many, many times.

But in those years I learned an important truth.  I knew, even at that young age, that there was no more important job than what I was doing. I knew I was Sammy’s entire world of security and comfort. I would not and could not have been anywhere else but there. The world went roaring by on the roads outside the hospital, but we were locked in with each other in a little hospital room. Nothing else mattered to me but Sammy’s well-being and happiness.  In the haze of exhaustion and worry of those years, I found out who I really was: Mother. Nurturer. Comforter. Weaver of the fabric of lives.

When my children stand at my grave, I will have done my job if they know, without a doubt, that they were deeply, wholly loved. That however imperfect I was, that I did not hold back to save myself. That I gave all I could. That I spent the love I had lavishly on them.

There are no guarantees that our children will be grateful for our sacrifices, take full advantage of the opportunities we give them or “turn out right.” But as a Christian mother,  I have an ally in the fight. I have the help of a mighty God who hears my prayers and who may use my  humble mother efforts years down the road in the souls and lives of my children.

The meaning in life is found in pouring out our lives on behalf of others, just like our Savior did. We won’t gain applause from the world with its tragically warped value system, but we will have had a life well spent in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. And our children someday will bless our memory.

Her children rise up and bless her.  ~ Proverbs 31:28