Learning Some New Things

19 Nov

To follow up my last post about relearning the same old things, I thought I’d share a couple of the new things I’ve been learning over the past six months or so.

Bad Days Don’t Have to Turn into Existential Crises

Recently, all my kids (9, 7, 4, 18 months) sat through a church service with minimal drama or chaos. I was pleasantly surprised. This past week, I planned out meals Sunday night, picked up a Walmart order on Monday, and we had non-frozen-pizza dinners the whole week. Bedtime on Monday night with my husband gone actually went really smoothly. Our three older kids all share a bedroom right now (their choice); I nursed Neola in the chair in the room while singing songs, and everyone zonked.

But these things don’t mean that I am a great mom or that I have it all together — mostly it just means that the stars have aligned, and things have fallen together in such a way as to work out swimmingly. Case in point: Bedtime Tuesday night (with my husband still gone) was a total cluster. Same mom, same kids, different outcome.

Sure, there are some routines and preparations that have gone into those situations, but any parent knows that you can prepare or you can not prepare; you can teach or you can not teach; you can do your darnedest or you can wing it; and you really have no control over the outcome. Because your kids are their own persons, and they have their own experiences and factors going into every and any situation.

Sometimes things go really well.

And sometimes they just don’t.

It was fairly easy for me to learn that just because a certain situation worked out well didn’t mean that I was super mom. No sooner had I had thoughts like that than one of the kids threw a tantrum or hit their sibling, and it was painfully obvious that no, indeed, I am NOT super mom with angelic children that I have perfectly raised.

But it has taken me longer, much longer, to learn that those bad days, those stressful situations, also don’t mean that I am a bad mom, with bad kids. Carrying a screaming child out of a store because I told them I wouldn’t buy them a toy, or having a child wander off in church or a store and be brought back by a helpful but slightly judgmental adult, or losing my sh!t on my kids while they fight about who gets to play “delivery” with the groceries we just bought while the toddler is screaming full-bore — any and all of these situations threaten to prove to me my worst fears: I am a bad mom; I can’t handle my kids, let alone homeschooling; other moms are way better at this job than I am; and why did God entrust me with these souls?

But bad days or stressful situations do not have to turn into existential crises. Just like the parenting triumphs, they can be viewed as circumstantial. Like the saying, “Bad days don’t make bad moms,” stressful situations and bad days don’t need to be interpreted in the light of who I am or my worth as a person/mom. Having a rough homeschooling day where we did not even scratch the surface of what we needed to get done because of kids with bad or whiny attitudes, or mom’s own meltdown, often tempts to me wonder, “WHY am I homeschooling? How did I think I could handle this? These kids would be better off in school.” But a bad day doesn’t mean that the lifestyle you’re living is the wrong one for you. A bad day means a bad day. Period. Get up the next day and try again.

And for the love of Pete, don’t make any big decisions about your life while you’re having a bad day! Do something that makes you laugh or takes your focus off how frustrating things are. Get your kids outside. Watch a funny show. Take a nap with the baby. Then, when you’re in a better place and mood, if your lifestyle choices really are the wrong ones for you, God will reveal that to you then. Things always look worse at night and in the throes of a bad day.

Do the Hard Work of Healing

It’s hunting season here in Minnesota, which has been the annual nadir of my mental health since my husband is an avid hunter. I’ve blogged about that here and here. My husband and I joke (but it’s not a joke) that hunting is a four-letter word in our household. I have a love/hate relationship with hunting. I love that my husband has a hobby that he really enjoys, and that provides fresh, wild game meat for our family (95% of what we eat for red meat). But I hate that it takes him away from the family on top of his full-time job, for hours and often days at a time.

I have prayed and prayed about this issue, asking God to help me have an encouraging, positive attitude about his hunting. But year after year, I feel the familiar grip of bitterness and resentment. Back in 2016, this feeling led to me getting a part-time job. I thought that having something outside the house would help me better deal with being “stuck” alone with child duty for what felt days upon days. And it did… somewhat. It also added stresses and challenges of its own. (A big reason why I think moms, whether they work in the home, work from home, or work outside the home, all have unique challenges and hardships! None is on the whole easier or harder — they’re just easy and hard in different ways.)

Now I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama to four, and I can honestly say that I really enjoy all this time with my kids. Do I love every moment? Absolutely not. Do I love the constant messes (when your kids are here all. the. time., the messes!!), the whininess, the juggling, the constant at-home-ness? Not always. But it is worth it in so many ways.

Nevertheless, it has increased the challenge of my husband being gone hunting. As I was praying about this issue again this fall, God brought to mind the story of the paralyzed man lying by the waters of Bethesda (recorded in John 5:1-15). This scene was powerfully portrayed in the show The Chosen. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked the man. “Do you want to be healed?” God was asking me.

So often, we want deliverance from a hard situation, but we are clinging to certain things that hold us back. We cling to excuses, lies, and fears. In the case of hunting season, I had an expectation of what it would look like for God to deliver me from my bitterness and resentment. And when He didn’t do that, I wondered why He was allowing me to continue to struggle with this year after year. Would it always be this way in our marriage? (Which led to the slippery slope of, “Doesn’t my husband care about our marriage? Why would he continue in a hobby that causes so much strife?”)

This year, there were two specific instances when I was on the verge (and even sliding over the edge) of a self-pity breakdown. I went to God in prayer, and wrestled with the truths He had given me through my recent Bible study. In my mom-dazed brain, I honestly cannot even remember what specifically they were right now! But the gist was that if I really wanted to be free from this struggle, if I really wanted to get well, then I had to do things God’s way. And doing things God’s way in this situation was letting go of all the excuses and justifications I had for why hunting season was so hard and overwhelming; trusting God to supply every thing I needed as I needed it; and support my husband in hunting with a positive attitude.

Have I done this perfectly? No. Well? Probably not. But I have made progress. It has been a personal sacrifice to support my husband in hunting. But I think the difference this year is that the sacrifice was made for God, not for my husband. But in submitting to God first and foremost, I have also been enabled to submit to and support my husband.

(Lest you get the wrong impression, part of our continued journey in figuring out how we can incorporate hunting into our family life in a healthy manner is also figuring out how I can get more regular breaks from the kids to do things that bring me joy. Hence why I am in a coffee shop right now typing this post!)

If you are reading this, I encourage you to look at a challenging situation in your life and honestly ask yourself, Do you want to be healed? Are you willing to do the hard work of healing? Are you willing to do things God’s way, despite any excuses or justifications to the contrary you might have? God’s ways are always best.

“This God — his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).

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