The Little Things are the Big Things are the Little Things

This year – 2019 – has been rough for a number of reasons; there hasn’t been room for anything except the essentials. I expect I’ll share more about some of that later. But I do enjoy blogging, and I want to get back to it. This is an important space for me, and I hope I can serve my family and others with it, too. Today I have some parenting reflections to share.

One recent afternoon, I was working my way through a substantial “to do” list. Yet one of my kiddos had been struggling, and I’ve found that when my kids struggle, they need me to ramp up my efforts toward connection with them. To that end, I asked her if she wanted to play a round of Solitaire, which we often play as a cooperative game, working together to strategize and try to win.

I thought it would be a low investment, high payoff situation – it would take 5 minutes, I’d have that moment of connection with her, and then I’d be able to go work on my list. It didn’t quite work like that! We played one game – and lost. We played a second – and lost. We played a third – and lost. We were having a stretch of bad luck.

I could feel my anxiety rising. I needed to get moving on my list. This was taking much longer than I thought it would. I was tempted to tell her that I needed to be done, and whatever happened in the next game, I had to stop, but I knew that would be frustrating for her, not to end on a triumphant, successful note.

And so I started talking to myself. “Connection with your kids is the most important thing you do as a mom. The to do list can wait.” Persistence is important. I needed to stick with this and play until we got a win. That was true in Solitaire, and it’s true in parenting. So much of the time, my parenting work takes longer than I expect, is not as productive as I hope, and is more frustrating than I think it will be. Sticking with it until I am successful is important.

We lost a fourth game. She said, “We should switch from this blue deck to the red deck. The red deck is better for us.” Sometimes we need to change our strategies. Our goal remained the same. We remained committed to working toward it. But we tried something different. And sometimes those different strategies make all the difference.

Did I really think the red deck was objectively better than the blue deck? No. But what was important was listening to my daughter, letting her know that I was willing to hear her, that I would make a change when she wanted us to make a change. It matters to my kids to know that they have a voice with me.

And the fifth game? We won! She was delighted.

It was a brief moment of connection and teamwork in the middle of my day, and it was absolutely worth it to take the time away from my attempts at productivity in order to have that time to connect with her. It ended up being a highlight of my day – I need those moments of connection, too.

My child is not giving me a hard time. They are having a hard time.

Sometimes we all need reminders in parenting – glimpses of the reality that we know to be true but can so easily forget in the moment. I’m firmly committed to connected parenting, and I believe in giving my kids the benefit of the doubt and being gentle with them – but even so, I still have moments of frustration and feeling like my kiddos must be working against me.

Yesterday morning Matt made a Lego truck for Atticus, who was thrilled. But the truck broke just as Matt was pulling out of the driveway on his way to work, and Atticus was inconsolable. He firmly believed that Matt, and only Matt, had the power to fix his truck, and he was devastated by the idea that it would be hours before Matt was home again. A full-blown meltdown ensued.

I already had a “to do” list a mile long, and my interest in spending 30 minutes working through a tantrum was so low. I engaged halfheartedly, though, and just as I was starting to feel defeated, that nothing I was saying or trying was helpful, he curled up on the chair and said, very sadly, “Mommy, I’m going crazy.”

Immediately I stopped. And I remembered the quote I have seen so many times before and wholeheartedly believe to be true: My child is not giving me a hard time. They are having a hard time.

My little guy’s meltdown wasn’t a manipulative attempt to ruin my day; it was an expression of the overwhelming emotions he was feeling. At four years old, he doesn’t have the self-regulation skills to know how to calm himself. He knew his feelings were big, too big for him to handle alone, and his meltdown was a reflection of that, and he needed help to work through it and through his feelings.

I went and sat down on the floor near him. “Oh, buddy, you’re not going crazy,” I told him. “But I know you’re feeing a lot of feelings, and they can be big and overwhelming, can’t they?”

“Mommy, I AM going crazy!” he insisted.

“You feel like you’re going crazy?” I asked. He nodded. “You need Mommy to help you with those feelings?” Another nod.

“Let me get some flowers. We’ll smell them together,” I suggested.

“Will that help with the crazy feelings?” he asked.

“Yes, yes, it will,” I told him.

We leaned in together, breathing deeply in the smell of our flowers, then slowly letting out those deep breaths.

A few minutes passed, and he said, “Mommy, also I would like some chocolate milk.” I refilled his cup for him and asked if he wanted me to hold his hand while he drank it.

“No, Mommy, I want you to sit with me,” he said. He curled up on my lap and drank his chocolate milk.

And then, calm, he told me, “Mommy, I love you.” And he was able to strategize with me about what we should do about his Lego truck. We texted Matt a picture and asked where to put the pieces that had fallen off, and he texted back a response. I replaced those pieces, and Atticus was good to go.

Note his truck on the windowsill behind him!

This is what parenting is. This is the mom I – far too often – am not but the mom I always want to be.

The Blessing of Big Feelings

This girl – she feels everything BIG. That presents us with some significant challenges. She and I and Matt have spent years trying out and cultivating strategies to walk through them well. But also? We’ve held onto the hope that those big feelings were going to translate into big empathy and into big triumphs, and we’ve cast a vision for that as we’ve talked with her about how God made her and how she is wired.

And sometimes we see glimpses – or even more than glimpses – of that hope shining through.

This morning, her three younger siblings were experiencing some conflict, and Madeleine CaiQun was left in tears. She and Miranda disappeared upstairs, and when they came down, Madeleine CaiQun came to me for some hugs and comfort, and Miranda went into the living room to talk with the littles.

Miranda came to me a few minutes later, “Mom, MeiMei told me about how she was feeling when we were upstairs in the luminescence room. The luminescence room is kind of like club house we made on the bottom bunk in our room where we can talk about feelings. We were petting the cats up there for a few minutes. And when we came downstairs, I talked to FangFang and Atticus. They didn’t want MeiMei to play with them, because their building wasn’t big enough, so I helped them make it bigger, and they said she could play now.”

And a bit later, as our all-three-year-old-boy child was attempting to destroy all the buildings, she took the initiative to create a “scrapyard” for him, full of creations for him to knock down.

Kindness, empathy, initiative, problem-solving, creativity, peace-making, and helpfulness – all things I hope and pray for as I parent my kids, as we walk through squabble after squabble, as we talk about how we can work as a team to solve problem after problem. It’s so encouraging to me as a mother to have these moments in which I see glimpses of the fruit of that. We’ll keep pressing on, working together to grow, and hoping for more and more of these moments.

On Priorities, Family Teamwork, and Chores

Matt and I have talked a fair amount about our priorities for ourselves and our family, and, as will come as no surprise to anyone who has entered our house ever, having a perfectly organized, always-clean home is just not at the top of the list. I think that at this point in our lives, having 4 children ages 3-7 and homeschooling them all, the choice is really between having a clean house or ever doing anything else at all – and because I’d like to have time to enjoy my husband, enjoy my children, have relationships with other people, occasionally read a book or write a blog post, or really do anything else ever, having a clean house is not a make or break thing.

That said, I do crave order, and it stresses me out when our house is a mess. We’ve always existed in that space of realizing that our house will not be perfectly clean – and being okay with that – but never quite being happy with how it does look on a daily basis. I read an article earlier this year that confirmed for me that this is a real thing – there is a link between stress and clutter. Since then, Matt and I have been slowly but steadily working to de-clutter our house and keep it more organized and clean, and that has been so good. I’ve found a rhythm for more of our household tasks that helps me to stay on top of them without it adding too much strain to my day, and having those routines has been so helpful.

Until a few weeks ago, our children’s contributions to our household tasks had primarily been on an as-requested basis, with the understanding that everyone was to help when asked to do so – and they’d sometimes even volunteer themselves or ask to help with various tasks. The big kids’ only real, routine chores were to (1) help clean up the living room every day after lunch and (2) put away their own laundry. However, we started to get increasing amounts of resistance when we’d ask our big kids to help with various tasks. As I shared recently, one of them whined, when asked to help set the table, that she felt like a slave when I asked her to do things around the house. The increasing resistance was pretty close to crossing my line of necessitating drastic measures, but the comparison of themselves to slaves was a leap far past that line.

Matt and I announced a family meeting, wherein we made a list of all of the household tasks that need to be done in order to keep our home running smoothly, how often those tasks need to be done, and who usually performs them.

Surprise, surprise, the performer of the majority of these tasks was me! We discussed the fact that our family is a team, and as such, it shouldn’t be one person’s job to handle all of the household work, and we asked the big girls to volunteer for jobs they’d like to do. Novelty is a strong motivator, and they each actually chose a number of tasks for which they’d like to be responsible!

I put together a couple laminated sheets, listing out each child’s Family Teamwork Jobs (aka chores) and the days on which they are responsible for those jobs, and we’ve been using that system for almost a month now.

It has made a huge difference. The novelty has worn off, and the complaints have begun, but we have persisted in spite of that. There are very few jobs that even the big kids perform entirely on their own – but they’re still learning how to do each one and getting better at each as we get more experience, and I work with each of them to accomplish what needs to be done, so it’s an opportunity for us to build connection by working together. Additionally, I now have a schedule (and some accountability, in the form of 7-year-olds and their lists) for completing each task, so each one is more likely to be done than when I just waited and hoped for time to tackle it.

We’re seeing increased personal responsibility from our kids, and this is another vehicle to reinforce for all of us that our family is a team, and we work together to accomplish what needs to be done. I do give them some grace (most often when it is helpful for me to do so – i.e. when I just need the dishes to be done without spending 30 minutes doing them), but we largely stick to our schedules, and I think we’re growing as people, growing as a family…and our house is cleaner and more organized! We’re counting it as a win 🙂

Creative Cake Baking: Making a Love Cake

Yesterday evening, I took a step out of my comfort zone. I really like to know, understand, and, if possible, control what is going on around me, and it’s frustrating for me when I can’t make that happen. I like logic and order. And as you might expect, being a mother to 4 children ages 7 and under, my life could rarely be described as “orderly!”

My oldest daughter, Miranda, is a lot like me, but she also shares some traits with her father, and one of the most beautiful similarities between her and Matt is their creativity and desire to explore. Miranda loves to come up with new ideas and execute them. She loves telling stories and painting and making plans. And another thing she loves is baking.

A few times in the past, she has come to me, carrying a hand-written-and-illustrated recipe, and announced that she wanted to bake something. “That sounds great!” I’d reply. “I was just thinking about making a cake, too! I have this recipe right here; maybe we could combine ours and make one together?” And then we would – surprise, surprise – follow my recipe as we baked together. She always went along with it good-naturedly, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

That all came to an end about a week ago. Miranda came to me with, this time, an entire hand-written-and-illustrated book with her latest cake recipe.

“Mom,” she said. “You know how sometimes we bake together, and we say that we’re combining your recipe and mine? Really we mostly just follow your recipe. I’d really like to make a cake that follows my recipe.”

Inwardly I cringed. My inner control freak whispered to me through its clenched teeth, “That’s because we know my recipe will be edible! If we’re going to spend all that time and use all those ingredients for which we’ve paid good money, shouldn’t we at least make something that we know won’t taste horrible?!?!”

But instead of speaking those words to my precious, earnest daughter, I took a deep breath and said, “Okay, let’s do that. Can you tell me what the ingredients are? Then we can make sure we have them, so we can make your cake.”

She named off flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, eggs, milk, and butter. I breathed another sigh of relief – at least we were in the right neighborhood for cake ingredients. I asked her whether we needed cow’s milk (which we don’t generally have on hand) or whether almond milk would suffice, and she assured me that almond milk would work great. I told her I was pretty sure that most cakes included at least one of baking powder or baking soda, and I couldn’t remember which or why, but we might want to investigate that to see if one or both were really necessary. She responded that we didn’t need to look it up – we could just include a bit of both.

The one thing we really would need to buy, though, she said, was frosting, unless we were going to make that, too, but she hadn’t come up with a recipe for that yet. She hasn’t had as much experience with making frosting, so I wasn’t sure she’d have a good sense of the ingredients that should be included, and I thought we were probably already pushing our luck with following a 7-year-old’s made up recipe for baking a cake from scratch, so I offered just to buy the frosting.

I picked up a container of frosting in this week’s grocery shopping trip, and so, last night, we set about making our cake. Miranda honestly did almost all of it by herself. I helped her pour some of the ingredients when they were in large or full containers, but she was the one who did most of the work and ensured we were following the recipe. She loved it.

And I tried to hold my tongue and not make a million suggestions 🙂 I reminded myself that this whole thing was about connecting with her and honoring her desire to follow her recipe, to create something she’d designed. I needed to prioritize the connection, not the cake.

I did point out to her that she’d gotten out the bread flour instead of just the regular flour – but she insisted the bread flour was exactly what she wanted to use. And as I was reaching into a high cupboard for some of the baking ingredients for her, I asked if she wanted to add some vanilla (which she did). I really tried to let her take the lead. The only thing I mandated was that we really needed to bake it at a temperature more like 350 or 375 instead of the 151 degrees that she’d written down in her recipe. She assured me that that was really what she’d meant anyway.

We baked the cake during dinner, and after the bigs had taken their baths (and, unfortunately, the littles were already in bed), Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun and I frosted it.

Then the the two big girls and Matt and I tried it.

I was a bit nervous – but honestly, it was good! We all actually enjoyed it, and the girls are excited to share it with the littles and enjoy it as dessert for this week!

Matt asked Miranda what it was called. “A Love Cake,” she responded. How very appropriate <3

I’m so glad that I went along with her desire to create her own recipe and actually follow it and bake her cake, just the way she wanted <3 It was one of the highlights of my weekend. I need to remember, over and over and over again, to prioritize the connection and the relationships with my kids instead of the tasks themselves. These kids of mine make me a better person!