This evening, I feel quite tired and drained. Looking for some encouragement (see a previous post on this!), I turned to an old favourite blog, and read this post about the value of words that had me nodding in agreement, and feeling less alone.
In the UK it is the school summer holidays, and for the third consecutive year, I am surprised at just how lonely I find this time. Some of this is because friends tend to go away for several weeks at a time, whereas our family rarely would go away during the school holidays (why would we choose to do so? A minor advantage of home education is that flexibility). Churches also tend to close down a bit over the summer, and many of the regular mid-week activities that I am involved with have a break. But an additional reason for feelings of isolation relates to the comments made on the Making Home blog: that many mothers find their children overwhelming when they are home for the six weeks of school holiday. In fact, I do not think I have ever heard a parent make a positive remark about this, such as 'Fantastic, I love the summer holidays and all the time we can spend together!' I find the way that people speak about their children really quite telling. For example,
'How am I going to entertain the children for six weeks?' - I hear that one so often, but it makes me think two things. Firstly, do you have so little imagination that you cannot think of fun activities for this short period of time? Secondly, if you think your role as a parent is to 'entertain' your children, you have already lost certain battles, and are going in with an unhelpful attitude. If I were to ask you to list the key attributes of a parent, I don't think 'entertainer' would be up there among the top ten, but people don't seem to see the paradox when they use the phrase.
'My children have so much energy, they are bouncing off the ceiling!' - Well my answer to that one is very unpopular: Get out more. Go on long walks. Plan 'adventures'. Pack sufficient food and water (it doesn't need to be a beautifully prepared picnic - something like peanut butter sandwiches and fruit would be just fine). And go off without a clear plan. Walk through town and talk about things you see along the way. Explore a park. Go on a day out on the train. Think of all the things you loved as a child, and head out. It really does help to burn off the energy in a constructive way. I know that on days when we are not active, I find the boys' behaviour more challenging. It helps us all to keep active.
'Yes, but I don't like doing things like X, Y or Z'. This one can be hard. I have family members who refuse to come to the park/ go for walks/ join us doing anything active with the children because they don't personally enjoy these things. This effectively means that they are unable to really get to know the children, and are choosing to withdraw from the potential relationship by limiting it to short visits spent inside a cluttered living room where the children do get restless and irritable after about an hour. Although I enjoy sport, particularly running and hiking, I never previously would have been particularly interested in many of the things that occupy our days. But I needed to get alongside the children, to see the world through their eyes, buy some warmer clothes, a pair of wellies and get out there. Now, I wouldn't change things, mainly because I see how much the whole family benefits. (And yes, there is still a part of me that feels like saying, 'I don't like that', or 'I don't want to do that', and I have to repent of my selfish attitude.)
'Don't your boys drive you crazy with their constant chatter and questions?' I've had this a few times in the past weeks, often whilst on public transport. No they don't. Yes, it takes energy to listen to their flurry of often seemingly unrelated questions. Yes, it means they hold my focus and attention and so I cannot chat to others as freely as I might once have done. But by answering patiently, I am teaching them about the world around them, teaching them that their questions are valued and important, and teaching them the basic rules of conversation. Often we will follow-up questions with trips to the library or to particular places, or they may lead on to experiments. Much of their education stems from the questions that arise. (And yes, there are days when it would be nice to sit and daydream and look out of the window, but that is not what this season of life is about. I've had those days, and probably have more in the future. For today, it is my delight to answer the questions my boys raise).
'I can't wait until September and they are back at school' - often spoken within earshot of the children themselves. How are they supposed to feel? Loved? Valued? Appreciated?
I think one reason why I find it so hard is that just because I embrace the opportunities of parenting, and we have chosen to prioritise time with our family, it is NOT always easy. I try to keep a right attitude, and and prayerful about my choice of words, but it doesn't mean I don't find things difficult at times just like any parent. Lately, I have felt a bit more tired, and as I mentioned above, I find the school holidays can be a lonelier time. Something may be immensely rewarding, but is not necessarily easy by any means. I don't know that there are many things of great value that don't take hard, consistent, focussed work. Another set of comments that frustrate me are those which somehow imply that because I don't complain about my children that I must have it easy:
'I didn't even know you were pregnant. Wow. You weren't sick or anything' - having not complained about sickness, but ending up in hospital with hyperemesis gravidarum!
'You always have such 'easy' babies, its OK for you' - I have not had any real challenges with my babies (except the death of one, and the near-death of another - to be slightly sarcastic), but they have all fed every 2 hours through the night until about 8 months which is normal, but can be tiring. I just chose not to spend my waking hours reliving that, or moaning about it!
'Yes, but I can't get my child to eat well' - Do you offer other foods when they refuse what you have given? Do they get dessert if they do not eat the main course? I think if they are genuinely hungry, then they probably will eat and be thankful!
'You don't need as much sleep as I do' - how do you know?
'You're so lucky that X, Y or Z' - I am thankful for all God has provided for me. But often this is said in relation to something which has been an active, conscious choice and may have involved some kind of sacrifice on another level. I thank God that He has guided our decision making as a family, and that we have a unified approach, but I don't think it comes down to 'luck'.
This post expresses some frustrations I have felt lately. And I am thankful that the one thing I chose to read this evening directly spoke to some of the things that were on my mind and brought God-given encouragement and peace!
- I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure.