Monday, September 30, 2013

Protecting Family This Fall

Catherine Pearlman had a excellent post on the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog this week.  If you're like my family, fall and the beginning of school has hit you like a force field.  The start of new commitments, renegotiating old ones and getting used to a new rhythm can leave your head spinning.  Her post entitled "Is Your Kid Overscheduled?" is therefore timely. 

Pearlman notes that although rigorous schedules keep everyone occupied, they can be detrimental to the family unit.  We can lose some of the impromptu and enriching moments of family life.  She discovered that by embarking on a lengthy family vacation with zero scheduling.  She reflects:

A few years ago, when our children were 3 and 7, my husband and I decided the four of us should take a month-long vacation to Spain. We swapped houses with another family with the hopes of living the life of real Barcelonans. On the first night, I had a miniature panic attack. What was I going to do with my kids for 31 days without the benefit of gym class, school, sports practice, piano, dance or theater? How could I survive so long without organized activities?
Within a couple of days I realized that, lo and behold, the vacation was a breeze compared to my real life. There was no rushing. No need to pack lunch to eat in the car so we could make it to class in time. I didn’t have to occupy my little one in the waiting room of dance class for an hour while my older one pranced around in a tutu.
On the airplane home I nearly cried. Those 31 days were the most relaxed and enjoyable family time we had ever had.  We didn’t merely get along—we learned to love being just us. We stopped all the mindless rushing, and instead casually played games and invented songs and raced Hot Wheels and played rocket from our enormous armchair. Without the commitments of school and play dates and classes, and without all of the distraction of our overscheduled lives, we found our family.

What an inspiring experience.  I found myself empathizing with her initial panic and surprising discovery.  The joy of that discovery rested upon simply being, not doing.  It is in the absence of the regular frenzy that her family really found love.

It's a challenge to pull back and be selective.  Type A personalities like mine fight it.  It is also difficult because we are often presented with good options - activities that are fun, enriching and maybe even spiritually enlightening.  On paper, why wouldn't we want to do them?  We remember why when our stress and fits of rushing produce short tempers with exactly the people we were hoping to positively impact, right?

In the last few weeks of summer, I distinctly remember leaving my weekday calendar free of regular activities for my children.  I remember the home cooked meals that we enjoyed.  I remember the delight of staying in our pajamas until the late morning.  And I remember actually recharging in way that we hadn't in a while.  That is not realistic now - after all, there are places we have to be.  But I am intent on keeping some of that magic.

That quest will look different from family to family.  Maybe it means truly letting the Sabbath be a Sabbath.  Maybe it's dusting off an old board game to play together each week.  Or maybe it's keeping one weekday free of planned activities - that's Pearlman's idea, and I like it.  Whatever it looks like for you, I am convinced that it will require a conscious decision and commitment.  But it will also have rewards.  Looking back, we will always remember the moments that we did it.

Dear God, Give us wisdom as we chose our family's activities; show us what to support and what to cut out.  Help us to protect the development of our enduring relationships.  May our work be pleasing to you, and may it enable us to dwell in your peace.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

If you liked this post, you might also like Watching the Green Grass Grow.

{Photo by Rupert Ganzer at Flickr}

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Is Education Wasted In Child Rearing?

A friend of mine passed along an article the other week about the choice to be a stay at home mother.  It’s interesting to read the article, O, Alma Mater by Anne-Marie Magginis, and the string of comments that follow to familiarize ourselves with the debate.  Magginis is a Princeton graduate who defends her choice to stay at home with her two young children, despite critics calling it a waste of her top notch degree.  She even felt disparaged by an alumni survey from her own university.  Being a stay at home mom did not appear to be a viable option, since it was seemingly without esteemed and measurable societal contributions.

Whether or not you stay at home with your children, this is an issue for all mothers because it touches on society’s value of our efforts.  Mothering is a challenge regardless of career decisions, but the thing that stay at home moms often lack is the feedback that is possible in the workforce.  There are so many tasks that all mothers do for the benefit of their families, tasks that are often unrecognized or unnoticed, and yet are essential to daily functioning.  Doing a job without vocalized gratitude that is then denigrated by society too puts stay at home moms especially in an unsupported position.  Out of respect for our communal goal to appreciate and advance the task of mothering, this should never be the case.

My intent in this post is to esteem the choice of being a stay at home mom by infusing the debate with a faith perspective.  To begin, it is helpful to recap the opponent position from the article.  Kelly Goff of the U.K. Guardian wrote a piece entitled “Female Ivy League Graduates Have a Duty to Stay in the Workforce.” In it she argues, “Any Harvard Law School degree obtained by a woman who then chooses not to use it in any sort of professional capacity throughout most of her life is a wasted opportunity. That degree could have gone to a woman who does want to spend her entire life using it to advance the cause of women—or others in need of advancement—not simply advancing the lives of her own family at home, which is a noble cause, but not one requiring an elite degree.”

As a graduate of Princeton Seminary, I found her particular focus on an elite degree interesting.  Goff clearly has stated expectations linked with that opportunity.  Yet her argument really applies to all well educated women:  Is education a waste if simply applied to child rearing?  She would argue yes through the lens of unattained professional advancement, but her perspective is flawed from a faith perspective, and here’s why:

First, Goff is operating under the assumption that there are two life spheres, the personal and the civic.  She finds it problematic that a mom would use an elite degree for strictly personal purposes.  Magginis argues that there are civic implications to stay at home mothering on the contrary.  Stay at home moms are not only giving all of themselves to their children, who form the next generation, but they are also often inclined to civic volunteerism.   That point resonated with me, as my ministerial work is largely volunteer at present.
Yet beyond debating the finer points of exactly where the personal and civic spheres actually rest, there is a sphere that has been neglected:  the spiritual one.  As Christians, we believe that the spiritual sphere informs the other two.   Our ultimate goal is to glorify God in life.  We seek to live in obedience to God and in response to God’s calling.  If God has opened a door to a particular institution and given us the means and desire to walk through it, it is our responsibility to embark upon that journey despite what any third party might say.

Second, Goff’s argument rests upon a controlled outcome.  If one gets "x" degree, then "x" particular professional expectation is set.  Yet we as Christians know that there is some level of mystery and surrender to following God’s plan for our life.  So often we may not understand all facets of the path we follow until we have the benefit of retrospection.  Success therefore isn’t perfect planning and execution, as Goff may argue, but rather perfect and sometimes blind obedience.  Further, we worship a God who holds both the personal and civic in his hands and can orchestrate for the good of both far beyond our expectations. 
I can honestly say that I never intended to stay home with my children.  But in the end, I couldn’t leave them.  I’m lucky that I didn't have to and was called to a profession that is allowing me to benefit from both worlds currently.  I am neither full nor part-time, yet I have an outlet that I am passionate about as a stay at home mom.  Sometimes that is exactly how God works.  His plan for our training comes out even better than we could have imagined.  I can think of no better way to advance our world than to live in submission to the One who created it, and advancement is ultimately what is wanted by both sides of the debate.

In our effort to pursue God’s calling for our lives, may we never demean the path of another.  Being a stay at mom should elicit our respect regardless of our professional choices.  It is through unifying rather than dividing that we can best affect a positive world for our children together as moms.  Education is never wasted, and investing in our children is noble and needed – and I would even go a step further by calling it a vocation, a ministry.  Yet the redeeming aspect to Goff’s argument is the challenge:  Are we making the most of every talent, skill, and blessing that we’ve been given as we follow our call?
What do you think?  Please comment below!

Thank you to my friend who passed this article along.  I love getting articles from fellow moms, so please keep them coming!  Feel free to leave links to articles in the comment section of my posts – I always check them!
And if this post encouraged you, you might also like Inspiring Quote: This Blog's Beginning.

{Photo by Molly Darling at Flickr}

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What Would I Really Never Change?

I saw a commercial recently that makes the claim:  "If you're not whitening, you're yellowing."  Well, considering the regular intake of red wine and caffeinated beverages by many adults, that's probably true.  But what a claim.

Yes, our mouths might be changing a little bit every time we take a sip of our morning coffees.  I know that I cannot wake up without mine; my kids hit the ground running, and I need a little help to do so as well.  And our mouths might be changing again when we have a glass of wine after our kids go to bed.  Ah, that sometimes sacred glass of wine that we might enjoy with our husband once the sun goes down.  We can relax, admire a certain stillness to our surroundings, and appreciate a day well done.

Could this subtle change in our mouths be the result of a mother's day wide awake and well lived?  Why should we hide the effects of our lifestyle, when the seeds that we're planting are infinitely more important than any superficial observation of our appearance? 

It is as if our culture wants us to revert back to youth, and that is the standard for assessing ourselves.  Try to make your teeth look like your two-year old's.  Pluck out that gray hair, which instead is revered as a sign of wisdom in some cultures.  Try to "get your body back" so it looks like you've never had a baby. 

Yet anyone who has ever had a child knows that nothing will ever be the same again - and that's a good thing.  We have the privilege of living for another life, a life that we get to shape and love, and a life that can show us the beauty of the world all over again through sheer innocence.  It's an immeasurable blessing that comes with age.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look our best.  And we shouldn't let living for another life keep us from taking care of ourselves.  For when we burn the candle at both ends, it eventually catches up with us.  But we also shouldn't be ashamed of the effects of caring on our bodies.  Experiencing motherhood and it's journey has been what has added the most value to my life in Christ's service, and that is something that I wouldn't undo for the world.

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Honor her for all that her hands have done..." (Proverbs 31:30-31, NIV).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

When My Preschooler Couldn't Find Me

I have been thinking about dependency lately.  Why is it easier to feel and express our dependency on God when we are going through hard times?  It isn't as if we forget God when things are going well, but I guess prayers in trouble seem to flow off the tongue a little easier than praises do sometimes.

Every morning my older son comes into my room to find me.  Because he has been getting up earlier and earlier, he is frequently my alarm clock.  Well, the other day I had a morning appointment and had to get up before he woke up.  I went downstairs and made a cup of coffee.

It wasn't long before I heard the pitter patter of his feet on the hardwood floor upstairs toward my room.  I knew he wouldn't find me in bed and was expecting him to come downstairs looking for me.  But, I heard nothing.

After about five minutes of hearing nothing, my mom instinct prompted me to go upstairs.  Too much quiet spells trouble - had he gotten into mischief?  I climbed the stairs and went into my room only to find him standing quietly by my side of the bed.

"I didn't know where you were," he said.  He had just been standing in the same place the whole time.  He wasn't crying.  He wasn't up to mischief.  He just didn't know what to do, because his day had never begun that way.  His day begins with finding me.

As I looked into his wide eyes, I could see traces of fear that were melting away as I walked toward him.  His blank expression turned into a smile, and he ran toward me for a hug.  I felt his appreciation and love for me anew, and I was grateful. 

Sometimes we are so busy pouring juice, packing lunches, and rushing out the door as moms that we miss important realizations.  We may miss just how much we mean to our children.  And we may forget just how dependent upon us they really are - just as my son had surprised me.

Seeing his dependency reminds me of our dependency on God.  If we're honest, we may not always be aware of the extent of this dependency either.  I wonder what it would be like if we approached each day with my preschooler's eagerness to find our Heavenly Parent - to hear his word and allow him to tend to us and orient our day. 

Jesus once said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14, NIV).  I think Jesus was alluding to the holy nature of dependency.  The children were coming to him unencumbered.  I wonder what it would mean to God to see us embracing that same attitude whole-heartedly, instead of going about our daily rhythms preoccupied...And I can only imagine the blessings that would be ours if we did.

Prayer:  Meditate on Psalm 23 and the provision of our Lord.  This is the God whom we are dependent upon.  Just as we provide for our children, we are not forgotten, and God desires to tend to us and bless us.

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