21 May 2015

When You’re Tired and Just Tempted to Parent on Cruise Control, Do This Instead

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been tired for a decade.

But my oldest will turn 10 in August, everyone can pretty much cut their own food, handle their own business in the bathroom, and dress themselves in the mornings (even if the style and pattern choices are questionable) so the tired is receding.

True story, moms of littles, the day will come when you wake up and your kids are actually helping themselves to breakfast without you!

I mostly sleep through the night now without anyone calling for me.

Everyone can buckle their own seat belts.

And I am required to pay less attention to the minute details of my children’s lives. It’s liberating.

But lately I’ve found it’s also tempting to slip into cruise control.

Because my kids can manage so many of their own basic needs it’s tempting to tune out at times.

It’s tempting to slip away to my room and read for a few hours. Or watch  an entire season of The Musketeers.

It’s tempting to stop paying attention. Because I’ve been “on” for so long, it’s so tempting to feel like I deserve a break.

Because goodness knows, it’s also probably true.

However, here’s the rub. Here’s what has been creeping up on me the last few months. Well, this whole awful year of third grade, if I’m paying attention.

This message that keeps nagging at my brain, “It’s not time to get tired yet.”

I know. I know.

I know you’re telling me, “Lisa-Jo, listen, I’m not just tired, I’M FREAKING EXHAUSTED.”

I get that, I do.

But here’s the thing – when we let all that tired seep into our bones and we give in to cruise control, these kids we’ve finally raised up so that they can get about their business without us – THIS is when they start to crazy need us.

Need us in whole new ways. (Yes, yes, I see you older mamas there nodding your heads and wondered why this could feel like such a lightning bolt moment to me).

But it did.

It does.

It is.

Lightning I mean.

It struck me out of the clear blue this year how these big, lumbering sons of mine have all these tender feelings burning in their hearts. And if I’m on cruise control, I forget to ask about them.

If my evenings are defined by the quiet I crave and the shows I watch then I miss whole chunks of their lives. (I mean, listen, I LOVE quiet and a chance to watch a good movie more than most people and it’s not like I’m giving that up entirely. It’s that I’m learning to stop and pay attention to my tiny people and make sure there’s not a glaring wound I’m missing before I begin my evening ritual of decompression).

Because here’s the thing – it turns out that sometimes no matter how old, one of your kids might start reverting to wanting to sleep in your bed.

They might become riddled with unspoken anxieties and our job is to listen big time.

They might be awkward with their worries and our job is to put them at ease.

They might be nervous about opening up and our job is to make the invitation. To go first.

This year one of my biggest prayers was simply, “Dear God, help me pay attention.”

I wanted to become a student of my kid.

I wanted to be an expert in this unique gift so I could climb inside his fears and help turn them inside out.

We can’t do that if we’re on cruise control.

We’ll miss that opportunity entirely.

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I didn’t expect it.

It took me totally by surprise.

Lots of people had told me what a transition this year would be and still. Still moms can start to believe that now that everyone is out of diapers and can cut their own food and buckle their own seat belts and ride their own bikes, that we’ve made it.

You start to think you’ve crossed the finish line and you are just getting ready to exhale and put your comfy pants on and put your feet up and then you discover that really, really you’re only just beginning.

Because when boys get off the bus every afternoon they might start to come blustering into the living room with stories of mess that happens when you’re no longer toddling into the world but walking and leaping and running at the speed of age nine.

And your heart. Your poor heart that has just recovered from nursing and rocking and changing and wooing these tiny little babies, your heart that thought it was safe now that they could do so much apart from you – your heart will ache all over again as you watch them try to take new steps into friendships and camps and classrooms and fall down all over again.

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It’s excruciating to watch our kids fall down and have to pick them up and send them back out again.

But that’s the job.

That’s the whole definition of the job.

Because there’s no insulating them from the inevitable. Christ says it Himself—in fact, He guarantees it: “In this world, you will have trouble.” John 16:33.

Our kids are no exception.

This year has hurt because if you think your own friendship struggles are bad, it’s a million times worse watching your kids go through it.

And I’ve had a son question himself and his small elementary school world because he couldn’t make sense of friendship that sounded like fun and felt like being teased or poked or shamed. 

This was the year he realized we can’t protect him from everything. This was the year we realized that too. But it was also the year we had conversations about real, deep things with consequences and it was the year we committed to equip him.

It was the year we equipped him with these words – one of the first verses he has memorized:

–the second half of John 16:33: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I can’t let my fear for my kids rule my love for my kids.

I can’t let me kids’ own fear rule his life.

I won’t let lies from the enemy steal his joy or his gift for being the most generous friend.

I want my kids to run hard at life, fully prepared for all the bumps and scrapes and battles they might face.

As parents, this meant managing our own tired so that there was enough of us left after a long day to still pour into a small boy with big fears.

He is growing up on Bible stories – not always consistently told – but still. We tell them. Sometimes we act them out.

But sometimes, maybe sometimes that small boy needs his own Bible to tuck under his pillow and sleep on night after night to fend off bad dreams and rest in the truth of who God says He is.

This is his own idea. Not mine.

This is the Bible he hides under his pillow each night.

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And so it’s become part of our routine. Our bumpy, irregular attempt at not parenting on cruise control routine.

  • We make time to listen – in our house our kids call it “chats” – as in, “mom, let’s chat.” This usually means someone has something from their day they need to share and especially be heard. Parents never say no to a chat and no matter how tired, we listen all the way through.
  • We make space to listen – our special chats always happen on the bed. Either our bed snuggled up in lots of pillows or in their bottom bunk surrounded by all their stuffed toys. These chats are sacred ground.
  • We create special privacy – no kid is required to chat in public. Even their siblings know that “chat time” with a parent is special and everyone makes space for that to happen. Even on the days the toddler doesn’t appreciate that and stands whining outside the door the whole time.
  • We have a dedicated “night in mom and dad’s bed” – to help wean one of our kid’s off the crutch of sleeping in our bed to overcome his fears, we instituted a guarantee – every Wednesday he gets to sleep with us. This helps us set boundaries and it helps him enjoy a degree of security in knowing he WILL get a chance to sleep with us at least one night each week. Nightmare nights, however, (you know the ones) all bets are usually off.
  • We equip with practical tools – this year we’ve used The Beginner’s Bible and a small notebook for writing down the parts of the day a child is grateful for to help overcome the parts that were hard. It’s easy to read and beautifully illustrated and our oldest generally reads it every night to himself and often his siblings whether we remember to remind him or not.
  • We follow up – we’re learning to ask about a kid’s day and dig beyond the usual grunt or standard, “fine.” We also follow up on struggles from the day before and keep listening and processing together if it’s ongoing or celebrate when there are small victories.

It’s not a perfect system. I mean, it’s really not a system at all. It’s just an attempt to keep paying attention. Some days we do better at it than others. I’m sure your bumpy, irregular routine would look different.

But on the days I’m tired, but choose to pay attention anyway, it’s never a waste of time.

And we always get to keep trying again tomorrow.

With thanks to Zondervan for sharing the 25th anniversary of the Beginner’s Bible with our family and supporting today’s post. It has become such a gift to us. Let your kids take a peek at it and pick up your own copy to create your own perfectly irregular routine over here.

 

 

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