Then I got a new bike when I was in highschool and realized something profound: bike riding is fun when I wasn't pedaling so hard.
Since it took me more than a decade to figure out the bike thing, it is no small wonder that it took me so long to figure out other easy fixes. Like why I didn't enjoy mothering. Why being with my children exhausted me. Why others seemed to find joy in parenting and I just found sweaty armpits.
It wasn't just one thing that helped me take the brake off on my journey. And all these things have contributed:
- Reading the Bible in the morning with purpose and commitment instead of when I am too weary with my failures to see past getting to sleep at night.
- Praying for wisdom. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." James 1:3-6
- Believing that there is more to life in Christ than just "enduring." "I [Jesus] have come so that you may have life and live it to the full." John 10:10.
- My own laziness and bad attitude were holding me back. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." Colossians 3:23-24
- Reading good books pertaining to my life and based in Scripture: She's Gonna Blow! Real Help For Moms Dealing With Anger [Barnhill]. Sheparding A Child's Heart [Tripp]. Oh, and actually applying what I learned.
- Getting daily exercise. (T-Tapp, more on that later). I'm getting up an hour earlier and instead of feeling more fatigue, I actually have more energy and perspective to deal with the never-ending demands on my day.
- Encouragement from other women who live admirable lives. Grace has written some great words about serving God by serving your family and also explains what homeschooling looks like in a real family. And Season's blog about child rearing and living on a God-made diet is inspiring. There are other blogs I follow too, but I know Season and Grace personally and they both encourage me greatly.
- "For the mother is and must be, whether she knows it or not, the greatest, strongest and most lasting teacher her children have." [Hannah W. Smith]. Realizing my children require discipleship not just discipline.
So the brakes are off and I'm pedaling at full speed. Actually loving the ride. Amazing? Yes. A miracle?Yes. Only by the grace of God? Yes. It's not always easy going though. I encounter challenging hills often and I feel like maybe I can't make it. But I've been relieved of my burden of anger and the frustrations that robbed me of energy. I can now step back from a situation and see, "Wow, this isn't working. What can we do to change it?" Sometimes it is falling to my knees in prayer and others times it involves preparing better for a situation by bringing a healthy snack. I'm not kidding. Life is that variable around here. Between God and peanut butter, we are gaining ground.
Here is an example of how things are changing in my world: my children's room gets cleaned by my children. Weird. I know. I've always struggled with the girl's messy room. I would yell, "This place is a pig sty. Start cleaning." When they didn't pick things up, I would yell more and louder, "Come on girls, work. Pick things up. Put them away." All the while I was madly putting their things away, growing more irritated by the second until I usually doled out angry discipline or stormed out of the room, leaving it a mess.
It was after one of those familiar frustrating experiences that I had a "wow, this isn't working. What can we do to change it?" moment. I called my mom and she suggested I teach my children how to clean their room. Teach them? Weird. I know. So, I started teaching them. Day after day, we spent in their room every morning. We sorted toys and gave a bunch away. Then, everything that was left had a place it belonged and both girls knew how to put everything away.
The first step was to pick-up right beside them. I would say [calmly] that I would pick things up as long as they picked things up -- if they stopped, I would leave. We even worked on those piles that get pushed under things that even I want to ignore. It wasn't always as happy as a cashmere sweater. My oldest daughter can still throw a fit that would frighten a lion (I'm not in denial about where she gets it). And my youngest daughter gets easily distracted because, well, she's two. But I continued on with their training. Calmly is definitely the key word.
The next baby step was to leave them alone to clean. I usually did this in the morning while I was cleaning up breakfast dishes. I would set the timer for 10 minutes and tell them to go clean their room. I would be up to check on their progress. If nothing had been done, I started taking away privileges for the day -- no questions asked. If they were working after 10 minutes, I would help them for a few minutes and then go back down and set the timer for another 10 minutes. Most days this principle really worked well and I added a few more flights of stairs into my daily exercise routine. :)
We didn't make it up this hill in a day or even a week. It has probably been 5 or more months. Daunting.
Then, it happened. I was going up to check on the girl's progress and heard Emma say, "Quick, mom's coming." Usually that would mean, "Quick, look busy!" I was prepared to stay calm and "motivate" their progress like usual. Emma ran out of her room and said, "Stop, close your eyes mom." I did and she led me in to the room. I opened my eyes and they literally filled with tears as I took in the scene.
Two girls dressed. Two girls with made beds (by Mandy). Two girls with a very clean room. No piles even!
I love that Emma said, "We did it without asking." It was a happy, happy moment for me. I now have high exceptions for my children and they exceeded them. And continue to exceed them as I work with them. Not against them.