Sunday, May 24, 2009

One Year Later, and We've All Survived!

In some cultures, it is customary to have a great celebration on the completion of a baby's first year since it is such a milestone for them to make it to that point. It seems only appropriate that our family celebrate the fact that we are all alive and well at the completion of Haley's first year. We've made it through a year with three preschoolers unscathed! God is so gracious. There were many days this past year (possibly close to half of them!) where I wondered if it would ever get better/easier/less stressful/more enjoyable. It's a little sad that when you have children so close together, the emphasis is more often on surviving than enjoying or thriving; but it is what it is, and God is good nevertheless.

For us, one of the most surprising things we've encountered this year has been how many people don't get that parenting three children three and under is taxing and affects every part of our life. Or that having three children in as many years is very different than having three children over a 6-10 year span. There have been only a few conversations I've had this past year where another mom will acknowledge this, and it is reassuring and refreshing when she does. But for the most part, when I express that, no, I don't . . . (do many errands, jam-pack activities into my week, do much of anything outside my home at all), the usual reaction I get is a perpelxed look from a mom with two little ones or three that are spread apart (a look that says, "Really? Why not?!"). Once in a while I'll have a mom interject, "but mine weren't as close as yours," or nod in understanding when I reply that I really don't make it to the mall to shop clearance sales much nowadays, or that we're not doing that thing since we already have one activity this week.

There have been several well-meaning strangers or acquaintances this past year who have readily advised me, knowing very little of the details and challenges of our situation (which sometimes changes on a minute-by-minute basis!) suggesting I do things this way or that way, since it seems to be a struggle for me to parent and things don't seem to be going very smoothly (which has to mean you're doing something wrong, right?). I have bit my tongue when a completely impractical suggestion is voiced, when I hear a trite, "you should try what so-and-so does. It works well for her" (and I have to remind myself in my head, "but so-and-so has one child"). It can get quite discouraging--even if I acknowledge the impracticality or difference in situation--to have it suggested that struggle is something we shouldn't be experiencing.

Sometimes (well, okay, most of the time) life is just hard and that's all there is to it. We have to prioritize and decide things like: is it more important to have a hopping social life or keep our sanity and a peaceful home? (Which can be a challenge no matter what we cut out). And yes, we do make it harder on ourselves by focusing on training our children, not just having them. Our hope is that the groundwork we lay in these early years will lighten the load of difficulty in later years. Would anyone ahead of me in this please speak to this hope?

Last summer, when we started getting out more after Haley was born, as we left a restaurant, a woman passing us said, "I remember when my three were that little. This is the easy part!" I found that comment severely disheartening. I did not know this woman or what her parenting philosophy was, and that would have been helpful to know in order to process her comment. Could it be that she was the type that just let her kids be and didn't train them or ask much of them until they were older, and that is when parenting became difficult? It isn't that I expect that after age four or five it will be smooth sailing, but I'd love to keep the hope that focusing on the heart and training our children in obedience will simplify and ease the difficulties in years to come. At the very least, I could have stood to hear her acknowledge that having three short ones is no small task, no matter how easy or hard it will get.

A few months ago, I was sitting in a group of four other moms when I was asked, "Didn't you say once that Claire likes to throw tantrums?" I was taken aback for three reasons: one, that it was worded that way--"Likes to." But, well, I couldn't argue. . . if she didn't like to, she wouldn't do it, so I acknowledged that yes, she does indeed like to throw tantrums. The next reason I was surprised was that in all the times that this mom had spent time with or around us (weekly for months), she had never been witness to even one of these very frequent tantrums. After a moment of silence, I proceded to ask the other moms, "Don't your kids throw tantrums?" (This was the other reason I was taken aback. I was truly surprised at their surprise that Claire threw tantrums.) The reply I got was mostly shaking of heads (as in, "no"!!!) One woman, appearing to reach waaaaay back into her memory, mentioned that her child did, once. ONCE!!!

I was floored. I'm still in shock about it. Can it be that in the five families and eleven children represented, mine are the ONLY ONES who have readily thrown tantrums at some point in their short lives? Sure, I would say that right now, we have two--sometimes three--strong-willed children, but as to them being exceptionally willful above the average child at his or her worst? I'm not sure I buy that. I have to wonder if the fact that their children didn't throw fits might have something to do with either their not requiring much of them, or not denying them anything. It is truly perplexing, and, for my own sanity, I filed that one away in the "I don't have enough information to make an assessment about this" file. It still baffles me today.

Well, I don't mean to end this post on such a negative note, but my brain is not cooperating anymore and another wonderful and challenge-filled day is fast approaching. And yes, this would be a very lame "Happy Birthday to Haley" post. I plan to do that in the next couple days, complete with pictures and updates on our precious one-year-old.

Though it may not mean much to most of my readership, I will sign off with a comment that, despite its generally depressing first impression, I found extremely reassuring this week. At Costco, I ran into a family friend who has--eleven? twelve? (I've lost count) children, who, in peering into my cart full of three short people sweetly said, "I remember having three. I remember crying a lot when I had three." Perhaps she remembered how much she needed encouragement back then and wanted to bless me that way. And I am encouraged. Especially when I think of all the other things she could have said ("just wait". . . "three is nothing". . . "three is cake". . . "try having eleven--or twelve") It made me take heart that even a mom of so many remembers the challenges of having a few little ones, and would word it that way (implying, I think, that it may not always be this hard). Dare I hope?


Anonymous said...

Sarah, the ones who couldn't remember tantrums may have a different definition of tantrum. I remember a friend once say that he and he wife had never fought. I was flabbergasted. What was wrong with our marriage? Come to discover that he meant they had never resorted to blows! That put a totally different face on it! We hadn't either!!
I would bet the other women would define the tantrums their children have as meltdowns (I defined ours that way) or some other term. Their children still have them, they just call them something else or else the moms don't cross their children's wills often, so have less conflict now - but just wait - either they will have more later or will resign that their children are just wayward and throw up their hands in defeat.
You are laying a foundation that will pay off later. Proverbs 29: 17 - "Correct your son and he WILL give you comfort: He will also delight your soul." One version says "discipline your son and he will give you rest." :) "and let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we SHALL reap if we do not grow weary." - Galatians 6:9 You will reap the rewards of children who rise up and call you blessed. You are training little souls for eternity - it will be worth it!!

Sarah said...

Thanks, Mom. Encouragement is good, but coming from a mom of many and one who is ahead makes it even better. And you can't get much more encouraging than Scripture! I appreciate your references. I'll keep them in mind. . . especially the Galatians verse. That's such a good one for these past few years (and probably another couple dozen more, right?:)

ann said...

Hi Sarah! As always, I loved your post. Congrats on making it to a year with your third! I have to confess, I often wish I was a little further along with Andrew (and then usually feel guilty for wishing this time away). I can so relate to everything you have said!! Isn't it frustrating when moms of teens say..."oh, you just wait, it gets worse" and I'm thinking...oh, really? But at least when they're fifteen you aren't breastfeeding every three hours and they can wipe their own bottom. I'm sure what they are doing is equally as challenging on a very different level. But what they are essentially saying is, "where you're at with your young ones isn't really that hard or as hard as where I am". Why can't people be more of an encouragement? I think what it is really, is that we tend to forget the bad and remember the good.

I hear you on the one activity a week thing. If we have something one day, it's hard to do something again the next. I have to stay at home just to get caught up on laundry, among many other things.

Isn't it frustrating when you share struggles/problems/issues, with other moms and they just look at you blankly? You start wondering if you are crazy. But I agree with your mom. Maybe they are just calling it something else. So I am officially here to encourage you that we had several tantrums just last night. And I'm sure some more today!

Being of mom of three (4 and under) is the hardest thing I have ever done (by far)! Completely consumes me. Thus, the lack of blog-posting and blog-reading. I could probably write more, but my kiddos are up now. Can't wait to see b-day pics!

Linda Savage said...

Sarah, I love reading your posts! You are just lovely and real. I can't imagine having 3 so close in age! I can relate to the tantrums. My 2 year old is a very strong willed child. My 7 year old rarely threw tantrums. He was, however, a big whiner. He would whine and pout if he didn't get his way. My 2 year throws temper tantrums to the biggest extreme! He's just started biting too! You think you're a great parent until people watch your kids freak out and then they point their finger at you.

You are such a great mom and I hope you are encouraged to just keep doing what you're doing. Your kids are your priority and some day they will thank you for that. Your close friends will understand and stay in touch when possible. Thank God for Blogs!