Birthdays are a big deal in our home. They're a time for celebration and affirmations of the birthday girl/boy. They're the best reason to gather our friends and family together in our home for yummy food, cake, and good conversations. And for me, as a sentimental mama, birthdays are a time for reflection. I've officially been a mama for over a decade, which is hard to believe! As I prepare to parent a pre-teen, I'm reflecting on the lessons I've learned from a decade of motherhood.
5 Lessons Learned From A Decade of Motherhood
Lesson 1: It's Okay To Not Have Everything Figured Out
I can be hard on myself as a mom. I get frustrated when it seems like I'm repeating the same phrases, giving the same consequences, and reacting the same way to my kids' behavior. A decade in and I sometimes think I should have motherhood figured out for the most part and know how to manage four children. And then I remember, I've never done (fill in the blank) before. I've never parented an 11 year old before. I've never parented 4 kids all in elementary school before. I've never had hours to myself while everyone is in school. It's okay if things are bumpy and I feel shaky or uncertain of how to proceed with different situations. Just like in any job, I'm learning. I'm growing. They're growing. And it's okay to not have everything figured out.
Lesson 2: Professional Development Days Are Needed
Along the lines of learning, comes the need for what I like to call, professional development days. 6 months after my fourth was born, when I had four kids ages 6 and under, I felt like I was drowning. I couldn't catch up with everyone's needs nor did I have the space to evaluate what each of my kids needed at the time. It dawned on me that in almost every single profession, there are professional development days. Days where you spend time either individually or collectively, learning about the profession you are in. I had these days almost weekly as a teacher, where I met with my grade level team or entire staff for several hours to plan, look over data, and learn together what best practices should be used to meet our students' learning needs. If professional development days are so crucial to the success of employees in the working world, why wouldn't they be crucial to the success of parents?
After this realization, I started taking half days off every few months to read, journal, reflect, and pray over my kids. I would write notes about my kids and what character traits I wanted to work on with them. I would think through what they needed emotionally from me. I created daily and weekly schedules, planned one-on-one time with them, read through books and listened to podcasts. I took the posture of a learner and created space to learn how to parent my kids, not according to others' standards, but according to what I sensed they needed, using books and blogs and wisdom from the Holy Spirit as a guide. These professional development days are life-giving for me and have been the best thing I could do for myself and my children.
Lesson 3: This Won't Last Forever
This was probably one of the best lessons for me to learn and something I cling to both during hard moments and sweet ones. Whatever season you are in, it won't last forever. Grocery store tantrums, whining, angry outbursts, and constant sibling squabbles will not last forever. I remember being in a really hard season with one of our kiddos that I thought would never end. I walked on eggshells waiting for him to erupt in anger. I fought back tears as he told me I was the worst mom ever. I crept into his room at night and prayed for a gentle spirit within him while he slept. Day after day, week after week, month after month, and even year after year, we battled emotional dis-regulation. I truly thought we would be in this hard season with him forever.
After years of consistent work, learning how to connect with him, helping him regulate his emotions, and even taking him to play therapy, we finally saw the softening in him we had been praying for. He is a different child and I've learned that every phase is just that-a phase.
This lesson doesn't just apply to the hard phases, it applies for the good ones too- the ones you want to freeze and bottle up to savor forever. My daughter is going to be 8 and still sucks her thumb. I have absolutely no intention of making her break this habit just yet because I love when she climbs into my lap, thumb in mouth, and allows me to hold her. She won't fit there much longer so I'm savoring it as best as I can. (I know I'll pay for it later-literally-when it comes time for braces!) My littlest is 5 and nearly 40 pounds. He's a lot to carry but (with the exception of foster care), he is my last one to sit up on my hip. So when he asks to be held, I scoop him up and am grateful he still needs me in this way. I'm savoring the hours of make-believe and the afternoons my boys ask me to play catch with them. I love that they still want to be around me and get excited for one-on-one dates with us. I know this won't last forever, so I'm going to do my best to be present and savor it while I can.
Lesson 4: Connection Over Consequence
This has probably been the hardest lesson for me to learn, but it has changed my parenting the most. In our foster care classes, we read a book called The Connected Child, by Karyn Purvis. This books stresses the importance of connecting with your child as a means of building trust, safety, and attachment between you and them. Through this book and other trainings, I heard over and over again that when our kids are struggling, misbehaving, acting out, etc., it is often because they have a need that needs to be met, and the way to meet that need is to bring them close and connect with them prior to giving a consequence. To be honest, this was such a foreign concept to me! In the first few years of parenting I was very black and white-a misbehavior happens so a consequence is given. A child chooses to not obey or listen to what I'm asking, so immediately they are reprimanded. Now, I want my kids to do what I ask. In the early years most of the things I'm asking has to do with their immediate safety (don't walk in the street, don't touch the stove, don't hit your brother, etc). But as they got older and the behavior became more disruptive, I struggled with how to parent larger tantrums and outbursts. Reading The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline also opened my eyes to my children's brain development and their need for emotional regulation. Learning to connect before I redirect them, has been huge in de-escalating situations and allowing my kids to feel seen, heard, and known.
The final lesson I have learned in this past decade of motherhood, is this:
my presence leads to peace
Motherhood is busy. Most days I'm meeting multiple needs at the same time while also trying to remember to eat lunch myself and keep track of all of their socks (whhyyyy do they always lose them??!). While there are times where multi-tasking is necessary, I have found that the more present I can be to one thing at one moment, the more peaceful I feel within myself, the more peaceful my kids are, and the more peaceful my home is. When my kids were infants and toddlers, this meant sitting on the floor with them and playing. Sitting down and nursing my baby without trying to make lunch for my toddlers at the same time. Pushing them on the swing or watching them go down the slide all by themselves. Now that they're a little bit older it looks like sitting down, looking them in the eyes and having a conversation about their day at school. It means coming close to them when they are fighting and teaching them how to reconcile, rather than yelling from upstairs to stop fighting (still guilty of this at times!). Being present means putting my phone away at the park and playing a game of tag, or throwing a baseball to them in the backyard for 20 minutes. And for me as a creative, it means putting my laptop away during peak hours of the day (after school, dinner, and bedtime) and choosing to edit and write when they are at school.
Motherhood has brought so much joy to my life and has also been my greatest season of refinement. I'm learning every day. I fail and apologize and start fresh each morning. I try new things that work and throw out what doesn't. I ask for help when needed and try to remember that the best source of wisdom comes from God, who formed their very being within me and knows them better than I can even imagine. And at the end of the day I remind myself that if I connect with their hearts and continually get to know who they are, that's the most important thing I can do as a mother.