Perfect Parenting…Is A Myth

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I decided to home school. Okay, I was not totally sold on the idea, but my husband and I were pretty sure that’s what we (I) should do for our children. As my oldest child turned 3 and 4, I looked into curriculums and considered the possibilities of what home schooling would mean for us. For me just as much as for her. Because my dear firstborn daughter is not a “typical” child. No, ma’am. God decided baptism by fire was the way to go for us, and we have been in the fire ever since day one. She is fiercely independent. Any time I tried to do a worksheet or a simple preschool assignment with her, she brushed me off as she chose to do her own thing. Her own way. It didn’t bother me as I wanted it to be fun, not work. I learned (fairly) early on to choose my battles. Worksheets are not one of my choices, so I didn’t worry about it. However, as school age neared, I became concerned that she would never be interested in “school” at home with me.

The picture of the perfect parent begins to form before parenthood is even a possibility. As a child, you take your own parents combined with those of your friends, other family members, and the idea of a “great mom” or a “great dad” starts to form in your mind. You get older, you gain experience watching other people’s children, and you decide how you want to be as a parent after observing them, their children, and their home.

Then, God willing, it happens. Ohmygosh, I’m going to be a mom. A MOM! This mythical creature I have watched, studied, loved, loathed, and dreamed about becoming is happening to me! And from the day you stare at that positive pregnancy test, the specifics of what it means to be a great mom dance around in your head night and day. You make decisions and form plans about breastfeeding, diapering, sleeping, working, vaccinating, and on and on.

When that glorious day comes and you finally meet your precious baby, you quickly learn that everything does not progress according to the plan. Some of your choices work out incredibly well, and others are painful, stressful, and not at all what you had hoped. These disappointments can cut deep, very close to the heart as every mom wants to do the very best for her child. I had made decisions about what was best, and some of them worked out very well and I was proud of it. Homeschooling…was starting to seem less than ideal for us.

In September of 2014, the year Isabella would have started preschool, we took a trip to Springfield. I took the kids there a couple times a year to spend time with my sisters and their kids. Between my two sisters and me, we had 7 kids under the age of 6 at that time. It was always chaos and very stressful for me, but I felt it was worth the sacrifice for my kids and their cousins to have time together.

This trip was no different than prior trips. There are many factors involved when you are out of town, sleeping in a different place, not on a regular routine, and not in your own home with your own stuff. I knew all these things were factors in Isabella’s behavior, but it was not helping me figure out what in the world to do with her. She was sassy, mean, screaming, yelling, acting crazy, and I felt control slipping from my fingers more each day. We had planned to leave on Monday morning. We visited my sister’s church on Sunday, and I was not going to send her in to a class with strangers based on her behavior that weekend. So I took the kids to the family room and tried to pay attention to the service (never possible in the family room).

Isabella flipped her lid a couple times, and that was the last straw for me. I took the kids back to the car, texted my mom that I was leaving, and I drove to get a Starbucks while and I cried and cried and cried. I had to go home, I could not handle one more day of this trip. My mom wanted to stay, but I begged her to go. We left, and as we drove home and talked, I decided that I needed to check into preschool. I was worn out, beaten up, and I needed to regroup. I felt bad that I needed preschool more than she did, but I felt that God was really leading me this direction, and that brought me peace. I was not concerned about her academically, but I wanted her to experience the structured environment and the opportunity to interact with other kids in a controlled setting. I needed the three hours, two days a week to get a little break. It’s true. I needed a break from my child. I know many of us mothers do not like to admit this, but it was (and is) very true for me. If I don’t get regular alone time and a chance to recharge, I am a wreck. With a child as demanding as Isabella, that break I need is vital to my mental and emotional health.

When I returned home, I called a local preschool. Within two weeks, Isabella had her first day of preschool. She was excited, and so was I. Within a couple of weeks after that, I knew without a doubt that we had made the right decision. She enjoyed it, I appreciated it. I was resistant to preschool because I myself did not attend preschool, and I turned out just fine. I knew she did not need it for the academics, but I learned that she needed it in a lot of other ways.

It is time to register Isabella for kindergarten, and that is another question with another set of circumstances to consider. I am due with our third child a mere two weeks before school begins. This time, we know that we can make a decision about kindergarten for Isabella without feeling “locked” into that decision for the remainder of her education. This is one year, and we will make the best decision we can for Isabella, her education, and for the whole family. I am thankful that God gave me a chance to reconsider my opposition to preschool this year.

Don’t be afraid to reconsider your parenting ideals. Pray and trust God to lead you to the right decision for each child.

Matthew 11:28-30 “‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'” (ESV)

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Next Stop…the Middle of Nowhere

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I attended Bible college for four years, where the biggest joke was that women chose the school to earn their “MRS” degree. And…that may have been an expected side effect for many of us. It didn’t happen for me, though. I am not sure I had one official date during my four years. I would say that the unmet expectation of getting married in Bible college (or even having a prospect or two) was disappointing as graduation came and went. I knew some churches would hire a single woman, but I had not majored in pastoral ministry or youth ministry or even children’s or music ministry.

I majored in Administration of Christian Education.

I wanted to be practical, to have a major in educating Christians (also known as discipleship) seemed to be something that would apply in a variety of situations and could be useful if married to a senior pastor or a youth pastor. Which I was not. Married to one, that is.

I minored in music, but I did not have the confidence to major in music. Being ever so practical, I did not want that to be my only option for employment, either. So there I was. Stuck with an education that, in my mind, was kind of useless for a single woman. But God disagreed.

I earned some interesting experience working at the Assemblies of God headquarters in the National Youth Ministry. I loved it. Organizing events, planning travel, scheduling, these are all things I loved, and they had a great eternal purpose. I was thrilled. After three years, however, my friends were moving away and on to other things, and I started to feel the desire to do the same. I called my youth pastor and left him a message asking what type of job he might have for me if I wanted to come there. We had talked a few times since my graduation, and he always mentioned that he wanted me to come whenever I was ready. I remember where I was when I made the call. I am even pretty sure it was New Year’s Eve 2001.

I have to admit, my expectations were LOW for this particular move. Oh, I was very excited to work for my youth pastor and his wife. Over the moon about it. I could hardly think of a man I respected more who invested more in my life and future during my pretty unstable teenage years. But as a 24 year old single woman, it made little sense to move from Springfield, MO – a place filled with young Christians and people who were and wanted to be in ministry – to Waverly, IA. I had visited Waverly one time. I was sure it was a place “filled” with farmers and very few places to exercise my right to shop. (This is before online shopping, at least, before I was doing any online shopping.) Also, I had only lived in Des Moines, IA, and Springfield, MO, which I considered to be decent-sized towns. The idea that you could count the number of gas stations and grocery stores on one hand COMBINED was absurd to me. I was not meant to live in a place like that.

How exactly did it make sense to reduce my prospects for dating/marriage by such a large number? Once I moved to Waverly, I soon discovered that 93.8% of people that attend high school in a small town also get married within 2.5 months of high school graduation. (I promise I could find a study to back that up.) For my analytical brain that loves a good pros/cons list, this was a terrible decision. My assumption was that I would “sacrifice” a year or two because I really wanted to work with my youth pastor. After spending that time in small town purgatory, I would be released to live somewhere awesome forever and ever amen.

The interesting thing about low expectations is that something or someone will rarely rise above the level you expect. I had my own ideas and very low expectations for Waverly, and for a couple of years, that was exactly what I got. When I finally (FINALLY) surrendered my plans and let God have His way, my heart and mind changed in a hurry. I had a few dates (seriously!), and in the meantime I was learning so much about ministry, I had earned my ministerial license, and I was developing a lot of other amazing relationships.

I was really narrow-minded when I moved to Waverly. I assumed I was leaving all the good people in Springfield, and there could not be much left for little old Waverly.

I was dead wrong. I am regularly overwhelmed by the deep relationships I have encountered here. I can think of a dozen friends who have the spiritual depth, godliness and knowledge of the Bible coupled with a love for others that could easily earn them the same ministerial license I have. They live their “regular” lives with the passion of a full-time minister of the gospel, and they love others with a grace and joy that often challenges me.

High expectations. Low expectations. They are both so dangerous to our ability to experience God and allow Him to meet us right where we are. Do you know a terrible place to put your hope? Things that are seen. Don’t put your hope in anything you can see. People (including family), possessions, money, position…we want to hope in these things so badly. But they will fail you. One hundred percent of the time, they will not meet your every need and supply you with all joy and happiness. Never. Ever.

Where do we place our hope? Jesus Christ.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

These are my life verses. They came to me at my time of greatest desperation, and they have spoken to me countless times since that moment. I am a realist, hopefully not all the way to a pessimist. I have a real tendency to lose heart. I love the regular loving reminder that these verses are to me.

I will talk about meeting my husband later. I don’t want to dilute the fact that changing my expectations by focusing on God and not myself was the key to experiencing full, rich life in Waverly. It was not finding a boyfriend or a husband, although I am grateful for that bonus. 🙂