I am really enjoying my children as they grow. As a young mother i used to roll my eyes when older women would say, "Enjoy them while they're young, it gets harder." I doubted life could get harder than no sleep, no help, and children who were continually making messes and climbing all over me. Today, I am one of those older women. As children grow, it doesn't get harder. But, they do stay needy. I haven't reached the stage yet where people say, "Once you have two children it isn't hard to add another one." Please. Children are not cows that you put out to pasture. Each individual child takes time, energy, effort and love. I do believe, however, that you give everything you have to one child, and you give everything you have to seven. You give everything you have to your toddlers, and you give everything you have to your older children. It does get different. They are easier to put to bed, but harder to stay close to and win over. Older children are more mentally exhausting and younger children are more physically exhausting, in general. (And, if you're really lucky you can do both older and younger kids and REALLY learn how to loose yourself in service!) But really, being a mother is just full-time, no matter how old your children are.
For me, parenting middle school boys requires CONFIDENCE and HUMOR.
1. Have Confidence!!
There is a great art to being a parent who teaches and a parent who listens. We do not want to SQUASH our children into submission. We also don't want to loose the many opportunities we have to teach CORRECT principles. Just because our children are getting older and more persuasive does not mean our parental instinct is wrong. TRUST your gut and TEACH correct principles.
In our family with older kids, my husband is hot and cold and i am the maybe. I'm too much the maybe sometimes. It has been good for me to listen to my children complain that they have too much to do to help with dishes, for example. Part of me just wants to say, "Fine, i'll do it for you." I do say this often to prevent a war, but NOT without teaching and testifying.
I often find myself pushing, pushing and then letting my children win (Like Romney did to a bullying Obama in the third debate. Anybody who thinks Obama won points on Libya is mistaken. Sometimes you win more by what you do NOT fight.) I teach, teach, teach and then end up saying, "I don't feel good about this, but if you are so certain you should do it, fine. You choose." Surrendering myself usually gives them the chance to change on their own. This throws them off. Most of the time they are easy, good kids. But if push comes to shove, i push with confidence but don't often shove. I look them in the eye and tell them that the principle i am teaching them is right, and then i let them decide. I remind them that THEY will be happy if they learn the principle I am teaching them. They will NEVER be happy as they are lazy, or selfish, or rebellious, or unkind. They know that i love them. I let them choose, even if that means I do the dishes for them. It is BETTER to do the dishes with a smile PROVING to them that it really could be done in 15 minutes (the time they were probably still standing near you with smoke coming out of their ears). You WIN the fights you do not engage in. I try to teach with confidence and serve with love.
2. Use HUMOR!!
I can't tell you how many lessons i have taught gently with a joke. My best teaching moments have been times when we ended up laughing. I need to remember humor-- especially with middle school boys. LAUGH TOGETHER! We need to laugh more in our homes.
Drew got some new school shoes in the mail. I opened them up right in the midst of some cranky, unkind mornings. 1. I was confidant that being kind was a good lesson for Drew to learn EVEN when he had a reason to be unkind. 2. I taught him with humor. I showed up at school wearing drew's new shoes. He asked, "Mom, are those my shoes that came in the mail?"I laughed, "Oh, these new things? No, they're not yours, they're mine."
He was confused so i explained. "These are my shoes. I might let you buy them from me if you want."
He laughed. "With what money?"
I explained, "They don't cost money. You buy them with kindness. These are kindness shoes."
We laughed together and his friends thought i was funny wearing drew's shoes... but, i was serious. I would put his new shoes on every morning to remind him that they were waiting for him to buy them with kindness.
We still lovingly refer to them as his kindness shoes.
When Jakob was being rude about the time we left to bring him to school in the morning I said a whopper of a "fine, you can ride the bus if you can't be respectful." Problem is, the bus didn't go early enough for him to make it to Jazz Band. So, i was in a bind. We often say things as parents that we can't enforce. When he got home i had some index cards laying on the counter with his name on them. He asked me what they were, and i told them they were Bus Tickets. If he wanted a ride to school in the morning, he would need to purchase a ticket. On the back of each ticket were jobs like, mop the kitchen floor, or clean the windows. He laughed at me and I told him he was so lucky to have a smart mother. He washed the floor sweetly and got a ride to school the next morning.
Today, our mornings are peaceful. I hear my boys saying, "Dad, please be aware of the time." And it stops me. I am AMAZED at their kindness and respect. It feels natural to them, it is natural to them, but it was also taught.
Humor is also a great way to give your older boys PHYSICAL TOUCH. I think it's easy to hold and cuddle and love on younger children. For me, I have to make a conscious effort to remember to do the same with my bigger kids. THEY NEED IT. My boys hang on my husband in a rough, teasing, wrestling way. Sometimes it drives him crazy. I always smile and tell him to smother them with love. When they show him, through hitting, or punching, or trying to give him a wet willy, that they need TOUCH, he usually grabs them and covers them in love. It looks to me like a big, dumb wrestling match. But, there is touching and loving and bodily contact. I can initiate touch with humor... "Come here sweet boy, do you need some loving?" said in a silly voice helps them to feel comfortable in my arms while i kiss their cheeks and rub their hair like i used to do when they were little. When they are leaving i'll make them come and kiss their sweet mother. I'm not sure why i have to joke about it to lighten the mood, but i do. And, it works.
When i write about these interactions with my children my tendency is to think that there are children out there who never give their parents an ounce of trouble. The truth is- MY BOYS ARE THESE CHILDREN. They really are super great kids. But, even super great kids need to be taught sometime. Sure, some of my children are rarely ever sassy, they help cheerfully, they are more kind than i am. But, they have other issues. EVERY child has something they need to learn.
Teach with confidence.
Teach with humor.
Enjoy these days.
PRAY!! Pray for your children and pray for wisdom to teach them.
God will hear and answer your prayers!!
I'm not telling you this from my high seat of parental accomplishment. I'm telling you this as I run, right next to you, in the everyday effort of motherhood. I am also not alone, my children have a wonderful father that teaches right along side of me. We are similar and perfectly different. My kids also have great friends and teachers at church and school. It takes a village.
i HOPE my efforts are helping and working.
i have FAITH that our best efforts are enough.