Grace in Parenting

When I was a young mother, I thought I had it all together. I was probably a little overconfident and obnoxious, but I felt like I was doing a decent job as a firm but loving parent.

My oldest is now entering the teen years, and I suddenly have never felt more out of my element.

He is stretching and testing and pestering and exerting his power over his brothers by using his sudden strength and size. Not to mention challenging everything he’s told, the sudden self-awareness and subsequent insecurities, and needing freedom to spread his wings outside of my watchful care.

I had never read a parenting book in my life, but after stumbling across a really great insta-story by @simplyonpurpose about sibling rivalry (which is intense here at times) and she suggested reading some books about it for more information, I practically ran to the library. OK, I drove because if I had run, my legs wouldn’t have been able to keep me upright once I got there.

A nice librarian showed me the parenting section, pointed me to the right Dewey Decimal numbers, and left me to my own devices.

I checked out a couple of books on sibling rivalries, and The Five Love Languages of Teenagers caught my eye. I grabbed that one, too.

(Since I had read The Five Love Languages when I was first married and really liked it, I decided to start with that. I have to admit I renewed it the two times I was able before I just bought it so I could finish it.  But it really has helped open my eyes to what my learning and growing and maturing son needs.)

I also had never attended a parenting class before, but right about the same time, I saw an ad for a class put on by a local agency, and signed up the same day.

I was reeling in my inadequacy. I was reaching for any help I could possibly get. I was in tears many times after asking my son a (what I thought was) casual question or requesting he do a job for me, which turned into major confrontation.

I was lost.

And then I was reminded (again and again and again) that Heavenly Father is absolutely aware of my insignificant life. Not only did those two experiences fall into my lap just when I needed them, He brought it all together for me.

We had a great speaker in church talking about grace, a topic which I truly didn’t understand until now.

In Mormon culture, there is a story called The Parable of the Bicycle. I can’t really really summarize it here quickly, so click the link and watch the quick video about it. It’s worth it. Basically, if we put all our efforts into something and come up short, the grace of Jesus makes up the rest.

This same speaker then talked about another Mormon parable I’d never heard, which he called the Parable of the Piano Lesson.

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

God isn’t asking for perfection, He asking for continual improvement.

But what about when we rise to the bait our children set? What about when he reacts irrationally, and I in turn react irrationally to his irrational reaction and it all blows up? What about when he comes to me wanting to talk about something important to him and I give the wrong answer?

What about when I totally and absolutely fail?

When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying.

That is the sentence that rang true for me that Sunday more than anything else.

And because I am trying, putting more effort into understanding this stage in his life than I’ve ever put in before, even when I do mess up, the grace of my Savior is making up the difference. I’m putting in the practice, and He is making my efforts go so much farther than they could ever hope to go.

 The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.

He is changing me, everyday.

As a parent, yes. That’s where I think I need it most right now.

But in every other possible way as I’m continually practicing at life.

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You’re Doing OK

A month or so ago, a friend was giving a talk in church. It was a great talk, but I’m not entirely sure that what I came away with is something he actually said.

Have you ever had one of those times where you’re not sure if a person spoke the words or if it was the Holy Ghost?

Anyway, he possibly posed a self-reflective question asking how long it had been since we’d been to the temple, and I started thinking, “Thirty days has September, April, June, and … I have no idea.”

I went home and looked at a calendar trying to figure it out, and still had no idea. So the next day the temple was open (Tuesday), I called the temple (we have one of those cute mini-temples near us that you have to make an appointment for), and set up my time. Friday at noon. I would make it work.

Friday was a pretty typical “get the kids out the door” morning.  Get up, make sure kids are up, get breakfast going (Yes, I make my children breakfast. I have four boys. I don’t dare send them off to their teachers without them being well fed.), pack lunches, remind people to brush their teeth and put on their shoes, pray, and kiss them on their way out.

Then I had a minute to breathe and think before it was my turn to get out the door. I usually try to go to the temple with something to ponder or a specific question, so I spent a minute asking Heavenly Father to guide my thoughts. Instead of a train of thought to ponder or someone specific to pray about, I was given some instruction.

I needed to go to the temple fasting.

But I wasn’t given anything specific to fast about. In an effort to follow the spirit even when I don’t fully understand, I started a fast and got in my car.

I had an hour-and-a-half drive to ponder and think, but still had no insights or thoughts as to what I was fasting for, and when I’ve gone to the temple alone in the past, the drive has been a time when I’ve had some great conversations with the Lord. So, I just put on some Hymns and drove. Truthfully, it was quite peaceful.

Sometimes when I get to the temple early, I will have a conversation in prayer, but again, I just had quiet. I started to wonder what I was fasting for.

Then, as my time there progressed, I had a very distinct thought come to my mind. “You’re doing ok.”

And I was a little blown away. I didn’t realize I didn’t feel like I was doing ok. I had no clue that the everyday tasks and the continuously changing phases the boys were going through and my husband’s constant need to be busy and an agent of change was wearing on me. I knew that I wasn’t feeling like I was on my “A” game, but I felt like I was mostly past that.

And yet, here I was, following promptings that I needed to get myself to the temple, and that I needed to increase my communication with the Holy Ghost by fasting, and return being greatly, greatly edified and uplifted.

Because that thought, “you’re doing ok”, wasn’t the only feeling I got that day. I was filled with a light and peace I had never felt before, at least that I can recall. My heart was lifted, my shoulders felt lighter (which is really something since they are ALWAYS tight), and my whole soul felt peace.

Years and years ago, I gained a testimony of how little we have to do to be greatly blessed. We just have to be trying, in some small way, and we will be blessed. I had to put forth the pretty minuscule effort of making an appointment, arranging a playdate, fasting, and driving, and in return I got an amazingly uplifting experience I didn’t even know I needed.

And I am so thankful for it. There have been many, many times since then that I have questioned myself, and I’ve been reminded that I have an answer for that. From God. And that’s pretty difficult to doubt.

And let me tell you this. If I’m doing ok, so are you.

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Let’s Talk About Sleep

An amazing friend of mine just had her fourth baby. We went out one night, and, with that desperate pleading a mother of a newborn has, asked me if my kids sleep. I almost did a spit-take because, no, and then my heart just ached for her.

She has one good sleeper.

I can relate.

There is so much out there about how to get your kids to sleep. When I was a brand new mom, there was the Ferber method, where you essentially throw them in the crib and let them scream themselves to sleep. (At least, that’s what it felt like to me, the one and only time we tried it and that poor child screamed for 3 hours while my husband and I kept talking the other down from rescuing that poor baby.)

I spent years pleading on my knees every night that I could get some sleep, and then would pray with my husband about the exact same thing.

My babies were not those amazing kids that would sleep for hours on end. They were the kind that wanted to be fed every two hours, thank you, day or night. Growing was going on! And gas. And ear infections. And colds. And …. you get the gist.

I would keep track of what time it was when I got up, got back in bed, settled down enough to go back to sleep, and then got up again. And then I would compare the amount of sleep I got to what my husband got. We had to one-up each other with our amount of wakenings. And let me tell you, I’ve heard finances are one of the top causes of divorce; sleep comparisons could have been a legitimate reason for us.

Finally, after my repetitious prayers were going nowhere, I came to the (prompted) conclusion that I just needed to suck it up.

Even if/when I did finally feel like someone was finally sleeping pretty well, someone else would get sick. I spent many a winter night in the garage with a child’s head over the deep freeze breathing in the freezing air to calm the incessant croup.

Or someone would have a bad dream and need to snuggle for a bit.

Or someone had an accident that needed to be taken care of. (Or, if I’m being honest, the child got relocated and the mess waited until the morning. We’re talking survival here.)

Or vomit.

Or a trip somewhere where it starts all over again.

Or, in those baby days, a move. That was about every 18 months.

Or I was pregnant. There is no sleeping when I’m pregnant because I’m either vomiting, or I have restless leg, heartburn, or a backache.

Or my husband was on a work trip. There is just not sleeping then. Period.

There are a lot of “or”s there, but I think you get the picture. No uninterrupted sleep.

I transitioned from feeling desperate and angry every time I had to get up with someone to just realizing that this is what I signed up for. And let’s face it. The only thing that has been removed from that list is pregnancy.

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And in case you’re reading this, nodding your head in agreement and relief that you’re not the only one, here is a picture of my baby, who will be five in a few months, with his reward he just earned for going to sleep on his own and staying in his bed for the whole night. Survival mode got to the point of just scooting over and letting him snuggle in instead of getting up and fighting with him to go back to sleep in his own bed. If I have to actually get up and function at night, I’m up for at least an hour before I can go back to sleep. If I let that little cutie snuggle up close, I’m back to sleep in 5 minutes.

Here’s all I’m saying. Sleep is amazing. Do what you have to to get what you need. If that’s a 15 minute nap every afternoon so you don’t want to sell your children at bedtime (guilty), then do it! If your baby needs to get in bed with you until he’s five, it’s not a big deal. If you’re kids don’t sleep well, you are not alone.

The terrifying part is, I don’t see any change in the foreseeable future, as I have one who is approaching teenhood, and I’ve heard the sleep and worry is even worse then.

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Why Do I Bother?

I feel like I’m coming to a crossroads in my life.

When I had three little boys at home and another on the way,  it was a no-brainer for me to stay at home with those boys. The cost of putting the boys in daycare would have eaten up any money I would have brought in. The days were all you could expect staying home with three little boys would be – fabulous and frustrating.

Now, as all but one of my boys are in school full time, and my baby will be going to preschool next year, I’ve been wondering what my worth actually is. What do I do that is beneficial to anyone besides my family, who, if it came down to it, could really do all the things I do on their own? Maybe the house would be messier and there would be a lot less fruits and vegetables in their diet, but they would be fine without me.

Just to pile on, because sometimes Satan sees an opening and takes it, I’ve had a couple of little things happen that made this whole “who the heck am I?” question really, really bother me.

Incident 1 – A sweet friend asked me if I’d present at her son’s elementary school career day about being a stay-at-home mom. I’ve seen and heard about women who do this and totally rock it. All I could think of was folding laundry. I declined that invitation.

Incident 2 – I was visiting after school with some of the moms at the playground who were mentioning their work. One stays at home right now, but when her twins start first grade next year, she is going to start doing some free-lance editing from home. I had mentioned the career day thing, and another mom told a funny story about her daughter asking her what she did at school. This woman had gone back to school to get her PhD in English and now teaches classes at the university along with being a mom and doing the drop-off/pick-up thing, toting her kids to and from sports, laundry, dinner, and cleaning. All I could think was, “These women are amazing! What the heck to I have to show for myself?”

Incident 3 – My husband and I were asked to be judges at a scholarship pageant. They asked us to come up with a bio for their program. Given the previous two incidents, you can imagine my excitement about this. Here’s what I came up with:

Sarah Chapman folds clothes, washes dishes, vacuums floors, and makes dinner. She lives in Pullman, WA.

Pathetic. Let’s try that again.

Sarah Chapman is a stay-at-home mom, where she oversees four boys, two dogs, her husband, Brandon, and her mom. She also volunteers in her children’s schools, is secretary of elementary PTA, and serves in her church. Sarah loves her life in Pullman, WA.

Well, that’s marginally better.

Here’s what my PR husband came up with:

Sarah Chapman is the mom of four rambunctious boys, plus a husband who is just as bad. But she holds her own with a keen ability to laugh and have fun. She grew up in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Centralia, Washington. She graduated from Centralia High School and attended Centralia College before graduating from Clover Park Technical College with her degree in Surgical Technology. She used that to work in the operating room of three different hospitals, the last of which was in Moscow, Idaho, as she helped her husband get through school at WSU. She has also performed in various school and church plays. She’s sung in, and directed, various choirs. However, her real ability is to burst out in song or dance whenever the mood strikes her. She likes good TV and cinema, though she would much prefer Broadway and a book. She loves Pullman, volunteers every week at her children’s schools, is the PTA secretary, and serves in her church.

to which I responded with something like, it’s a good thing a married a PR guy to turn nothing into something.

Before all this, Brandon had arranged a meeting for me with a professor at his college who is doing some research, and it looked like I would be able to do some work for him from home. He seemed pretty excited about my helping when Brandon talked to him, and then I went in and met with him and it seemed like a sure deal, and then I didn’t ever hear back. Good times.

So, I was in a serious funk leading into Easter. I was feeling totally lost about what the point of my life is. I had devoted the last almost 12 years to my family and now my family is getting to where they need me less. Three boys are in school full-time and my littlest is just around the corner. Then, really, what will be the point of what I do. What will be my worth?

I decided to do some reading on the worth of mother’s on lds.org, ponder, and pray. It didn’t take very long for me to have some very uplifting and confidence building points of inspiration.

The first was, I am giving my children a sense of security in a turbulent world. When I mentioned to my oldest son that I was going to talk to someone about doing some work, he practically broke down in tears. “You mean, you’re not going to be the loving, supportive mom at  home?”

Honestly, I didn’t even think he noticed. And there is a real chance that none of us will ever understand or comprehend the benefits, but Heavenly Father assured me that I am providing a refuge, so I’ll stick with that.

The second thought was that I am in a partnership with God. I am a partner with God. God has given me a share of His eternal work and glory. What more can I add to that?

Is the laundry still monotonous and never-ending? Yep.

Do the children still complain about what’s for dinner? Of course.

Do I feel better about why I chose this particular path in life? You bet.

How could I not?

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Failing As a Parent

A few weeks ago, I reached the end of my parenting rope. My children had been defiant, bickering, hitting, pushing, tattling, crying, yelling, and accusing incessantly for what surely must have been months. Absolutely no consequences made any difference, and there was defiance and backtalk when  a consequence was laid out.

I had reached my tipping point. I had tried talking calmly, yelling in kind, timeout, grounding, forcing them to hug it out, and threats of spanking (not proud of that).

Finally, my crier with the shortest fuse started beating on one of his brothers for who knows what, probably looking at him, and so he got sent to his room for the rest of the day.

Let the theatrics begin.

The tears. The threats. The accusations. The justifications. They went on for hours. HOURS!

Finally he came whimpering into my room at 9:15 looking to explain himself and be comforted, but reengaged in the all-to-familiar water-works when he was told to go back to his room.

“FINE! I GUESS YOU DON’T CARE IF I DIE, THEN!” were, I think, the exact words that vibrated the walls.

I lost it. I marched into his room and give him a spanking I hoped he wouldn’t soon forget!

I went back to my room and laid in my bed and listened to him cry himself to sleep, praying that he wouldn’t remember.

Then, ironically, I cried inconsolably. I prayed for forgiveness, strength to get through this phase with the kids, and for forgiveness again. And again, and again, and again.

The next morning I got up to face it all again. I said a quick, “Please help me get through this morning,” as I got out of bed and went downstairs.

I think that was the only reason that the next part didn’t end up with a neighbor calling CPS.

The same boy who got the spanking the night before decided he didn’t want to go to school and stood in the middle of the front yard crying and not budging.

I went out the door, furious, and had one tiny moment of clarity.

“It’s OK,” it said. “Just tell him he has to stay outside.”

Recognizing what for it was, an answer to my plea for help, I went out and gave him his options. Go to school or sit on the front porch. He chose the porch.

I checked on him a couple of times throughout the day. It was cold and he had eaten his lunch by 9:30, but there was blanket on the porch, and he had at least eaten. He was not interested in going to school and stayed out there the until I picked up the other boys.

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I have to admit that I was nervous he would repeat the same behavior the next day, but I was in the clear.

And here’s the take away, because what good is a lesson if I don’t learn from it.

I need to ask for help more often. Whenever I ask for it, I get it. Like with the hitting thing. Another moment of clarity since nothing else was working. They have to go pick up dog poop every time they hit. It has worked miraculously! Why didn’t I think of that sooner?

So, occasionally I need to fail as a parent so I remember I can’t do it on my own. I don’t have the troubleshooting guide to these people, but Heavenly Father does, and He’s willing and happy to help.

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