There is nothing easy about raising children. Remember that it began with nine months of pregnancy and a push at the end called labor. So now we have these little ones and often we are tired, sleepless, and sometimes a bit overwhelmed. During one overwhelming moment, when I still had only one child, I remember thinking: "I would give my left arm right now to have my mother here for ten minutes." That's desperation! That child now has a family of his own and two weeks ago graduated with his Masters in counseling licensure. But that process came about one day at a time.
You probably do not have the time to read my long stories regarding the treasures of mothering the young, so please allow me to make a few quick points. Since my sister had her three children and before I had my first, I asked her, "How soon did you start teaching them to say 'please' and 'thank you'?" She quickly replied, "Not soon enough!" Okay, let your children start hearing those words long before they can say them. You'll never regret that. They are learning long before they can talk.
Your child's best manners should be practiced at home. How we act around other people may be important but how we treat each other behind closed doors within our family walls represents more strongly who we are. And on a broader scale, in 1990 First Lady Barbara Bush spoke at Wellesley College's graduation and said, "Our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House but what happens inside our house." In times when you feel tired and discouraged, remember that this is still a society of families and that your family matters, and that you are the mother and you matter.
At times it has been comforting for me to remember that Dr. James Dobson used to say as a child psychologist that it is impossible to spoil a child for at least the first 15 months. This truth from a man who has made an incredible contribution to families does not discount the truth that children's bodies and spirits are developing from the very beginning of their lives.
In her wonderful book What is a Family?, Edith Schaeffer writes, "A family is an everlasting life mobile... a formation center for human relationships... a perpetual relay of truth... a museum of memories. All these things a family is and much more." Chuck Swindoll's book entitled, Home: Where Life Makes Up Its Mind is full of wisdom and can be read quickly to refresh a tired mom. Speaking of books, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya is one I read when my oldest was a baby. It has nothing to do with babies but a young mother will be quickly uplifted and infumed as you read meaty three page biographies of people who were devoted to having meaningful lives - not perfect people, but people who loved God. When my children were very young, I loved books where I could get a lot of "meat" in a very few pages and then later go on to the next small "meaty" chapter to nourish my heart.
A young mother has to protect her spirit and her health. To exercise, I danced around the living room holding my child in my arms, and walked with a friend everyday with my son in his stroller. That poor child was in a stroller for four years. I love the old hymns and I sang them as I rocked my children, finding comfort for them and for myself (years later I would sing those hymns to my mother when she was dying from Alzheimer's - I kept a hymnal in her room). Back to you - find music that you can enjoy with your child. As a reading specialist, I can assure you that reading to a child anytime is an endless gift you give as you model to that child a love for books and reading and increase his vocabulary.
Jill Briscoe writes: "There is an art of leaving some things undone so that the greater things can be done." This is not often easy, but we must remind ourselves that it is the snuggling, the laughter, and the lovely family moments that build the human spirit. I used three prayer lists to pray for my children all during their upbringing years, and I would also say that at times from the perspective of the child, it was important to be a parent who "played" as much as a parent who "prayed." We have to be wisely thinking about what children are seeing and greater still how their minds are perceiving what they see.
Likewise, in time we should help our children to be resilient as we learn to be more resilient ourselves, coaching them in the idea that we are always learning. As I was listening to a mother who was pregnant with her ninth child, she wisely said that we should raise our children to be easy to live with, keeping in mind that we only live with them for 18 short years but someone else has to live with them for the rest of their life. Spoiled children become spoiled adults, and spoiled adults do not have as great an opportunity to enjoy life. This is why it is wise to teach them to love many small things. I learned this quality from my two parents - it is a gift that keeps on giving because it essentially means that in every day no matter what the difficulty there is some small thing to enjoy. For example, my daddy loved tangerines at Christmas because they were a treat and not readily available when he was a child, and likewise poinsettias because of their lasting beauty. He died 16 years ago and he has five grandchildren who still think that this lover of life hung the moon because of the little things he did with them.
Since I was quite a bit older before I had my first child, I had time to think about raising children. I think it was wiser to compliment my children's character qualities like helpfulness, kindness, a loving spirit, etc. rather than their looks. I may have overdone that a bit - my son did not know he was good-looking until he was fifteen. On the other hand, he once said to his baby sister, "Bonnie - you make that dress look prettier than it already is." At 29 he still knows how to encourage and is an attentive father and husband.
The thought is, as Dr. Wendy Mogel writes in The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: "A paradox of parenting is that if we love our children for their own sake rather than for their achievements, it's more likely they will reach their true potential." To varying degrees, this time of loving and raising our children is a season of both joy and sacrifice. Our life is often not our own during this time, but it can be a time of living and growing together, building to make something that is good and memorable. I am told that sometimes our training and our actions live on to the third and fourth generations when our bodies are no longer here. You see, we mothers are people of influence and all of our efforts do make a difference.
Susanna Wesley, perhaps a mother who is familiar to you, was born in 1669 and she had nineteen children - nine of whom died before there were old enough to talk. She and her husband both seemed to be strong-willed, and he once left her for a year but returned to have more children. At least two of the ten children are still remembered today - John Wesley, who helped start the Methodist church along with his brother Charles Wesley, who wrote about 6,000 hymns. In addition to being remembered today for her short writings, Susanna is famous for putting her apron over her head - a signal for her children to not bother her so that she could pray and think and perhaps make clear decisions about this child or that. As women, you and I will appreciate one of her decisions and that was that her little girls would not have regular chores until they had first learned to read. Now that's a mother that has her priorities straight, a mother who is thinking outside of the box, certainly a mother who was ahead of her time. In whatever way worked in her world, Susanna did get a bit of time to herself. And she also devised a system where she set aside time for each child to be with her individually on a regular basis.
We each have our own world and our own set of circumstances, and we need a place where we can pray, a place where we can plan memories and make thoughtful decisions. We will make our mistakes and things do happen, but many young mothers have gone before us. As we lean on God and make wise choices according to His Word, we will still move forward.