We are nearing the ever anticipated summer break from homeschooling in our family. That realization causes my stress level to creep up and my patience level to hit a fast decline because there is so.much.to.do. It has also led me to joyless parenting. And apparently, I’m not the only one. Earlier this week, during our morning school time, my phone rang. I usually don’t answer it, but it rang again and again, so I decided to pick it up. It was a fellow homeschool mom and friend, needing a pep talk. “I am in a rut,” she said. “I just haven’t been enjoying my kids lately.” Unknowingly, she was echoing words that had been floating in my head all week.
Some days, it is a struggle to enjoy the little people that surround me in this house. I am too busy being lawyer and judge for the little fights over matchbox cars and arguments about being in each other’s personal space. The disciplining for the same disobedient response or disrespectful remark wears me down. I am smack down in the nasty, muddy, trenches of parent land and I don’t enjoy it one bit. I want to throw in the towel, and get up, clean myself off, and take a break.
But I can’t. I have to find some way to work through this instead – to come out on the other side with renewed joy in the hard work of preparing little humans to be big humans. In times like these, there are a couple of things that I try to do to get me back in the parenting groove.
First, I go to the Bible. God tells us over and over in his Word that our children are treasures. Psalm 127:3 puts it pretty plainly, “behold, children are a gift from the Lord.” Gifts are for enjoyment. Gifts are supposed to be treasured. They are given out of love from one person to another. All of the little people in my home, in my family, were given to me out of God’s love for me. Each one was specially chosen for my husband and I, with much careful thought. Gifts are not an albatross on our backs that we drag around and try to control – they are something that we handle with love. Sometimes I need that reminder. I need to remember that I have a house full of treasure, even if it isn’t always easy or ideal.
After that, I pray. I pray that God will help me find joy in the little smiles, the childhood tinkle of laughter that will disappear all too soon. I ask that my heart will see the good things, the sweet things, like holding hands across the backseat of the van, hugs, and “your the best brother” comments instead of focusing on the petty arguments and fights. I want my eyes to be opened to the bunch of daisies that the sweaty little hand is holding out to me and the room that was cleaned first thing in the morning instead of the messy living room and spilled water at the dinner table.
I also have to remind myself that I want to connect to their hearts, I do not just want to control their actions. This involves prayer too – asking that God open their hearts and that I see and take the opportunities to connect as they come. When I am at the end of my rope, all I want to do is get them to do something else, to be entertained elsewhere so that I can escape the frustration by doing something I enjoy. But, joy in parenting requires a whole different mindset. I have to reset my brain and my heart to seek connection. I have to remind myself that this is the greatest and most important work I am doing here, even if it means coloring or playing outside instead of cleaning house or settling in my chair with tea and one of the many books in my “to read” stack.
These things should be done on a regular basis, and I will admit that I am the first to forget that. Most of the time, when I realize things have gone too far is the moment that I don’t want to interact with my children. I begin look at them with disdain instead of love, and I feel that movement in my heart, the instant when God opens my eyes to my sinful selfishness. In those moments, I pray, but I also act. I change things up – we do something silly like picnic in the living room, or skip the rest of school to watch a movie (sometimes educational) and eat popcorn on the couch. Sometimes we just need to leave the house – go for a hike to look at the wildflowers or to the library or to a friend’s house. Changing up my outside environment goes a long way to change my inner mindset, to making a space for that joy to live in. And God does the rest.