Matt was incredibly excited to be invited to be part of Wakonse again this year, and we both knew it was a great opportunity for him. Last year he found it to be invigorating, encouraging, and helpful for continuing to refine his teaching, as well as a good opportunity for networking. I knew a week of parenting our 3 young kiddos would be intense without him, but I agreed that the trip would be good for him, and so, a little over a week ago, he boarded a bus headed for the shores of Lake Michigan at 6:00 a.m.
During the time that he was away, I found myself reflective. How should I view my week at home with our kids? What was the marriage and parenting context in which I was setting it? What did it look like to love and parent well during that time?
I preached to myself over and over a truth that Matt and I always make sure to discuss with young couples when we meet with them for pre-marital counseling – marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. Viewing it that way is a set-up for disaster. You’ll find yourself keeping score, tallying everything that you’re doing and comparing it to what you see of your spouse’s contributions, and it’s nearly inevitable that you will see him or her coming up short. It was so easy to start slipping toward making a list of all that I was doing during this week that Matt was away – changing diapers, making dinners, putting 3 kids to bed each and every night, and on and on and on; meanwhile he was obviously not here and thus doing none of those things. And I would find myself thinking of the rewards that I felt I deserved for my hard work…only to have to hit the brakes hard. This is my family, the people I love more than anyone else on earth. It is an honor and a blessing to care for them. And what I’m called to and what I’ve committed myself to is very different from putting in 50% of the work required to sustain our family; it’s putting forth 100% of what I can, looking for ways I can love and areas where I can serve, and doing so joyfully. That is what our marriage is about.
Another realization I found myself having over and over again was that, often times, proactive parenting is what constitutes good parenting. All of our kids had a hard time with Matt being gone, more than I expected. It felt like our days were often off course before they even began. I realized very quickly that, particularly within that context, I needed to be proactive, to spot potential difficulties before they arrived and do what I could to steer us around them. The sensory bins came out on multiple occasions.
We kept up with our structure as much as possible, doing school most days. We turned errands into adventures. I said “yes” when I could and tried to set us up for success.
On a related note, I reminded myself multiple times that I was making choices about the narrative I was telling myself about this time. I could choose to focus on the hard – and there was a lot of it – or I could choose to focus on the opportunities for fun. As much as possible, I tried to keep the positive narrative at the forefront of my mind, to see the blessings of our time and to plan fun activities for us. One huge blessing was that my brother David joined us for the week. While no one can take the place of a parent, having an extra pair of hands and some adult conversation is undeniably helpful! In part because he was here, we were able to pack a lot of fun into our week without Matt. We visited multiple parks, which was so good for everyone.
We all enjoyed being outside, and as an added bonus, the kids’ energy expenditure made them significantly more receptive to bedtime in the evenings!
Another well-received activity was making homemade popsicles and then enjoying them out on the porch during a rainy afternoon!
We really did have fun together!
Of course, I was still counting down the days until Matt’s return…which, of course, led to high expectations of what that homecoming would actually look like. I think probably the lesson I’ve most consistently needed to learn from Matt’s travels has been that homecomings are not all they’re cracked up to be. Yes, it was great to see Matt. No, he didn’t waltz in the door proclaiming his undying love and expressing profuse thankfulness for my efforts at home during his absence. And when I build up the moment of his arrival, counting down to it for days, I set us all up for disappointment.
All in all, it was an exhausting week, but it was great to get some time with my brother, and he and I and the kiddos really did have some good, fun times. And being jolted out of our normal routines gave me an opportunity for reflection – and, hopefully, growth, that I wouldn’t otherwise have had!