Friday, October 30, 2009


Lately I've been pondering balance. It's cropped up in a lot of areas of my life, and seems to be vital oh, just about everywhere. I love/hate it when things are like that; inescapable, like rain in Washington or mosquitoes in Georgia. Everywhere you go, there you are!

Balance is critical. It's necessary. And often, it's severely lacking.

One area where balance has been glaring at me like a garden toad refusing to budge is in the area of how I represent myself to others. I'm a fairly self-effacing gal. Pretty practical. Prone to stomping on toes just as often as I spout encouragement. Fairly optimistic. I hope that's the vibe people get from me.

I don't try to act like anything I'm not. But maybe, sometimes, I do it without realizing.

Case in point: I am very, very careful what I say about my husband and children. I believe that there are plenty of people practically waiting in line to tear down any member of my family if given half the chance; why on earth would I want to cut to the head of the line? In the course of a single day, my poor husband gets more phone calls insinuating that he's sly, wily, working for Satan, you name it, than your average guy just working to bring home a buck. He really doesn't need my help in knowing that the world is a vampire, to paraphrase some good old Smashing Pumpkins this afternoon.

The same goes of my kids. I have a four boys for goodness sakes. You know the kinds of things that people say about them: loud, noisy, unruly, rude, dirty, etc. Do they really need to overhear their mom recounting to someone just how annoying so-and-so's habit of x, y, and z are?

Huh-uh. No way.

So I'm careful what I say. I chose words that are designed to convey meaning without labeling. My husband is not a big handyman. I could point out how familiar he is or is not with the contents of our toolbox. Or I could just point out that he's more of a book learner than a doer. Works for me.

Logan can be called a firecracker, a passionate kid, a boy who is learning to harness his energies. Or I could join the snarky chorus you hear so often in the halls of the church: "My kid is driving me nuts!" No thanks. I'll go with the former over the latter.

As for my family size, I am militant about not agreeing with the people who comment about how over my head I am, no matter what kind of a day I'm having. That's just not o.k.

So you rarely (hopefully never) hear me say negative things about the people I love. And I try really hard to be pretty much the same way about my circumstances, whatever they are. God has blessed the English language with enough adjectives to cover a whole host of situations. Sometimes, though, "sucky" is the one that comes the closest. So I use it. And then I move on. Navel-gazing is not my forte.

But does all of this, when added up, make me seem somehow like a superhuman wife, mother, woman? Do people assume that because I verbalize the positive, there is no negative? Do they think I'm a walking, talking billboard for The Right Way To Do It?

I sure hope not.

I was reading Amy/Birthblessed's blog the other day and began to wonder: am I now, or have I ever been part of the lie? Has anyone looked at me and felt that I was spouting the party line of how to happily mother a houseful of kids one-handed:

The large family boosters that I knew in my young motherhood were insistent that "more children aren't expensive, you don't need all that stuff being marketed" and "you train them when they're young and by the time they're teens, they are no work at all."
I hope I haven't been lumped into that well-meaning but hard-to-live-up-to group. But I probably, inadvertently, have been.

More children are more expensive. I'm sorry, but it's the truth. I have yet to find a way to feed a family of 7 on the same budget I used to feed my family of 3 way back in the day. Yes, you can hand down clothes and things, but at some point, the knees of the jeans wear out and you can't find all of the pieces to the Rescue Heroes set. Or the children have different body types. Or they just hate blue, which was their brother's favorite color. Or they should be allowed to have their own Sparks vest, by criminy. And let's not even discuss the trivial things like the difference between paying a co-pay for one child versus the co-pays for five, or the cost of a vehicle (and fuel) that can haul a larger family.

It costs more to have a larger family. It does. I'm not whining, I'm stating it as fact.

And that bit about not having a single problem out of a well-trained child? Oh, my dears. Let me ask you something very, very personal: do you want your children to grow up as submissive automatons? Really? Think long and hard about this. Because I believe that you can train a child to first-time obedience, to absolute agreement, and to perfect behavior. Sure you can. But do you want to?

Really, it's so much easier for us as parents if our kids walk the line. But at what cost? What are we missing out on? What flame of discovery, independence, or joy might we squelch by building careful, 6 foot-walls around our children and forcing them to stay within? What blessing might God have in mind that we have trained out? Think of all of the stories of amazing Christ-followers who went against the will of their parents or authorities to do the big things.

I'm not going to make my kids so afraid to disobey me that they risk covering their ears against the will of God. And sadly, I am pretty sure I've seen that happen in some families who, outwardly, were the perfect picture of large-family harmony. I could share a heartbreaking story here about a girl who wanted to be a nurse, but was told that women didn't train for jobs outside the home, but I won't. Because you get the point and frankly, it will make me cry to think on how God could have used that lovely girl to bless countless souls.

I'm not advocating that you let your kids run amok. I'm just saying that it's o.k. to let them be kids. It's o.k. not to burden them with responsibilities and expectations beyond what they can truly handle. And it's even o.k. if they show a little spunk now and then. After all, God blessed Jacob and let him go, didn't He?

As to the second part of that lie--the bit about teens being no problem at all ... well, I've been pondering that alongside the concept of balance, too. And here's where I'm landing: is it possible that God's design for families includes some tension and strife with teens? Is it possible that it's His desire that we drop everything and tune in acutely to the needs and wants of our kids just before they leave the nest? Is it possible that this time--not the vaunted, "foundational" baby years--is perhaps the most important season of parenting of them all?

I don't know for sure. The door to the teenage years is just now swinging open for my family. But I'm wondering ... and I'm praying.

I want to be real. I want to encourage people, not through pretty words that make my life seem like something out of a Thomas Kincaide painting but through an attitude that acknowledges the beauty in everyday life and its ups and downs. I want to inspire those around me to dismiss the word's negative assumptions and embrace the true meaning behind considering it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds. I want to admit the hard stuff, and relish the truly good. I want to be real. Because in the end, that balance of good and bad is what reflects God's goodness in my life most of all.


Mama JJ said...

This is a good post, thoughtful and well-said.

Livin' the Dream said...

I loved this post. I've thought about this a lot recently. Especially when I had a friend tell me she could never picture me in the McDonald's drive-thru. Excuse me? Either she's deceived herself or I am deceiving.

But, for what it's worth-I don't see you as coming off as a super-mom, try-to-be-as-wonderful-as-me type. You are a wonderful parent, and I see the proof in the pudding, but it's not in a condescending way.

ThyHandHathProvided said...

I often get compliments on our children and what we do food-wise via our blog and in person. I also often grimace a bit, wondering if I am painting too perfect a picture. We are certainly not perfect. I just know that down the road my children will have access to our blog, so I want to be careful what I say about them. They will know what life was like growing up in our home. They may not want the whole blogosphere to be aware of all their personal tidbits. Those are for them to write about if they wish.

I also think about it this I want my husband complaining to his friends about my short-comings or my kids to point out to all their friends how mommy messes up(no matter how valid the complaints)? Nope, I do not. So I keep my mouth shut about theirs.

You're right. It's about finding balance between being positive and respectful and coming off as something we are not. It's a tough one.

Also, I just wanted to say that I love what you wrote about the teenage years. I think you might be on to something. Feel free to write more about it:-).

I see good balance here, Mary Grace.

Jana said...

Thanks for your honesty, Mary Grace. I have a 15 yos who is a joy and has never been interested in defying our parental authority or desires. I have a 13 yod who is also a joy, and hasn't yet defied our authority or wishes, but she has questioned a few. And that's been a good thing so far. She makes me really think about our choices and decisions, but she also scares me a little. If I have a teen who causes us heartache, it will be her. But it might not be her, either, you know? But she is sure to keep me on my toes (and knees!)

Sandi said...

Thought provoking post.

I wonder sometimes if people see me that way especially because I am not very emotional. I get told all the time how level headed and on the ball I am. Some how I feel like I am doing something wrong becasue that is far from the truth just ask my husband how loopy I can be.

The first time obedience comments hit home. Two years ago I was the poster child for 1st Time Obedience. Just do it right and they turn out right. What is right anyway? My first is a naturally complient easy going kid. She tricked my into believing we were on to something :o) My second child is very passionate and driven ;o) He has taught us to be different parents and that his many struggles outside the norm are actually changing our lives for the better.

We are still working on the balance thing and as for teen age years...haven't gone down that rode yet but should. I am only a few years away.

Camille said...

Enjoyed reading this one. I totally agree that to air our "dirty laundry" is not God-honouring and it is not dishonest is wise. It has been a pleasure to visit here once again. Thanks for taking the time to write thought-provoking posts...your love of the Lord shines through.


Michelle said...

I just came across your blog for the first time, and I really like the way you write. As I just started my first website, I was talking to my hubby about what was "acceptable" to share and write about in regards to our personal life.
He basically said no "self-effacing!"
I said, "but honey, ladies who don't do that get accused of not "being real enough!"

Seriously though, it takes a lot of wisdom to know how transparent to be. I want to be honest and real about my struggles, and not give the impression that I have somehow "arrived" and yet, not deliberately down myself just for the sake of pleasing others!

I also think that those who are thinkers/writers get accused more of not being real enough because our writing style might be different from our speaking style.

I look forward to reading your blog now that I've discovered it! (I found it as I was reading about Mammoth Math.)

Love in Christ,