Standing by the front window with my coat on and purse in hand, I waited for my husband's car to turn in the driveway. Our 15-month-old twins had ear infections—again—and had been fussy all day. John, 5, and Chris, 3, were fighting over a toy, and Allison, 8, was whining. When I saw my husband's car, I bolted out the door.
"Honey, I love you and I love the kids, but they're fussing and they're all yours now!" I exclaimed as I popped in the driver's seat. "I'll be back when I'm sure they're all asleep!"
I headed to the mall, spending the next several hours in sweet solitude, without anyone pulling on my body or needing me. Does anyone else feel like they're dripping with babies? I wondered.
A few years later, I again found myself at the front window. This time I was waiting for my 14-year-old daughter to come home from school. I never knew what kind of mood my teens were going to be in when they hit the front door after school.
Today, I'm at the front window again—but this time with great excitement. My three college kids are arriving home, and joining us for a family dinner will be their big brother home from England and their big sister and her husband with our first grandchild, baby Caroline!
Through 26 years of parenting—with its many stages and phases—I've learned three important lessons that have helped me in this awesome task of character-building and nurturing:
Look at Life in Terms of Seasons
Every mom experiences different parenting seasons: the toddler stage, elementary-school phase, the teen years, the empty nest, the "bungee-cord" season (when you think they've left and they bounce back), and the golden years. No season lasts forever, but it's tempting to look forward to the next and adopt a "when-then" mentality: When I just get them all potty trained, then I'll . . . When I just get them all in school, then I'll . . .
The problem with this attitude is, you end up missing out on the blessings of the season you're in! Learn to focus on the parenting season you're in right now—with its unique challenges and blessings. Find some other women who are in the same season who'll understand and encourage you. And look for much-needed older women who've "been there" to give you perspective.
Don't Forget to Prioritize
Phones ring, emails stack up. So much to catch up on! There are calls requesting you to volunteer, and your kids are already overcommitted. Can you handle one more extracurricular activity, one more team practice?
The good news is, God doesn't expect you to guess on how to make wise choices for your family; he's given you a blueprint for priorities in his Word. Just like the filter in my coffee-maker filters out impurities to make a good cup of coffee, God's priorities can help you filter out what's not the best for your family.
When I look at Scripture, I see four priorities for making wise decisions:
- Love God with all your heart (Deuteronomy 6:5). A mom can interpret her two-year-old's language because she's spent time with her child. In a similar way, you'll learn to interpret God's will when you spend regular daily time with him.
- Love your neighbor as yourself (James 1:8). If you're married, your closest neighbor is your husband, then your children if you have them. In a child-oriented society, it's tempting to put kids first. When you realize the importance of family time, it frees you to say no to yet another social event and instead go out on a date to nurture your marriage. You'll be able to say no to more activities for the children in order to eat meals together as a family.
- Be committed to the body of Christ. We cannot grow alone; we need other women to help us in our spiritual journey. I have three other women who are my prayer partners. They know me well—my strengths and weaknesses. They challenge me to spend time with Christ daily and to love my husband more. They are my accountability group. As Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man [or woman] sharpens another."
- Be salt and light wherever God's called you (Matthew 5:13–14)—in the neighborhood, at class, in the marketplace. Recently a single mom came to faith in Christ because a friend reached out to her at a Back-to-School night, invited her to church, and had her and her son over for a meal. This single mom has now led several of her own brothers and sisters to Christ. It all began at a public school function.
Occasionally I run a priority check and ask God which priority has become buried in my busy life. Then I take steps to regain balance. In being the mom I want to be, I need God's guidance in making wise choices. His priorities give me a basis from which to make better decisions for my family.
Don't Let Failure Throw You
One of the biggest shocks in having kids was coming face-to-face with my own failures. I just couldn't seem to live up to the expectations I had for myself as a mom—especially when we had five kids in seven years, including a set of twins! Often I felt like the worst mom and wife in the world. I couldn't seem to get my act together. But God gently began to reveal to me that I had a problem with pride. I needed to relearn that God loved me not because I was being a good wife or mom, but just because I belonged to him. God isn't shocked by my failure. He knows I'm weak and is waiting to forgive me.
One of the greatest blessings of having kids is realizing God's given you the exact children you need in the exact birth order he ordained not only so you can raise them, but so that they'll be his tools to mold you into the woman he created you to be.
Susan Alexander Yates is author of And Then I Had Kids: Encouragement for Mothers of Young Children and What Really Matters at Home: Eight Crucial Elements for Building Character in the Family (both Word). The Yates have five children ranging in age from 19 to 26.
Copyright © 1998 by Susan Alexander Yates and Christianity Today