As my children get older and more independent, I realize that helping them make good choices (and, even worse, watching them suffer consequences for bad ones) is a whole different kind of pain and labor. Without anesthesia!
So, I really enjoy learning from moms who are a bit further down the parenting path. Their wisdom inspires and encourages me.
One of my new mommy-blog friends is Jenibelle. The mother of five, including a severely handicapped daughter, Jeni's parenting path has not been easy, but she has a completely wacky sense of humor and a great long-term perspective. This summer she will be the mother of the bride for her second daughter and add a son-in-law to the mix. (I love reading her Wednesday Wedding Planning posts each week.) Jeni is fun and funny and I was excited to pick her brain.
Here are her thoughts on surviving all types of labor pains...
#1--What have been your biggest challenges as a mother? What have you learned from them?
Truthfully, the hardest part of parenting for me was not the ‘dog days’ of little children, it was high school when my older kids were making some choices that I knew could effect their eternal salvation. This was beyond hard for me, I love my children, as we all do, and to see them struggle was sometimes more than I could bear. I had a hard time letting go of my expectations for them and of them.
Another part of my experience with my children has been all the major health issues. We have had everything from retardation, epilepsy, ADHD, hearing loss, speech problems, you name it, and we’ve seen it!
What have I learned? Nothing you don’t really already know:
*Pick your battles. Ask yourself if this is the cross you want to die on. A haircut will grow. Funky clothes can mysteriously disappear. (I haven’t got an idea --Mitch-- where those lime green pants ended up….) Laziness will come back to bite them in the rear end.
*Encourage good friendships; make your home open to those good friends. I firmly believe that the most important choice a teenager will make is their choice of friends.
*I have learned that free agency is hard on parents.
*I have learned that you really can’t control much, as hard as you may try. So learn to trust (and verify).
*Laugh--find the humor because there always is something.
#2--What is the best thing about having teenagers? How would you encourage young moms who are just facing their children’s adolescence?
The BEST thing about teenagers? Their friends!
Friends are always nicer to you and think you are great even when your own kids don’t.
Teenagers are a tough bunch! I loved how involved my kids were, I love going to all their activities and rooting them on. I am sure I was so obnoxious about my bragging about their accomplishments, but it was just so fun!
Mitch’s senior year he tried out for the school musical. Les Miserables. I laughed!
Well, guess what? He got a big role and really has a nice voice.
I went to every performance and the dress rehearsals and smiled the same goofy smile every time.
When Lauren was a junior she had to emcee a rally in front of the whole school, 2800 kids!! This doesn’t sound all that bad except for she has a profound stutter. I held my breath and she didn’t stutter once!
I cried I was so proud.
Experiences like these are what I loved about my teenagers. (Jeff is in Guys and Dolls next weekend. I am polishing up my goofy smile.)
I believe the evening before a child turns 13 their parent should get a visit from a heavenly messenger. He should bring them a military flack jacket to keep their kids harsh & angry words from penetrating too far, a refillable prescription for anxiety drugs to get you through this time. And last of all, knee pads…you'll be praying a lot!
How to encourage young moms? My friends, in the eternal scheme of things, adolescence is a short dark tunnel. They will emerge from it!
You have to love them but you do not have to like, tolerate or appreciate poor behavior. Be firm, be fair, and again, don’t forget to laugh.
#3--What do you wish you had done when your children were little? What are you most glad you did?
Oh, I am horrified to admit this-- I wish I had read to them more!
I was SO bad at it and now I have three kids who don’t really like to read. That makes me sad, because I would rather read than just about anything!
We were really good about taking our kids everywhere and taking lots and lots of pictures. Byron and I devoted our weekends solely to them, nothing else. We went places, played games, put together puzzles, watched movies, we spent all our time with them. Even now with just two of them at home, we do spend a lot of time with them. Some of my favorite times now are when Scotty curls up in my lap and snuggles.
When Lauren was graduating we made a video for her of pictures throughout her life. After watching, she said "I’ve had a really good life, haven’t I, Mom?" I hope all my kids can say that.
#4--How do you balance the needs of your disabled daughter with the hustle and bustle of the rest of your family? How has the rest of the family pitched in to help?
First of all, let me say that I am so thankful for Rachel. She has added such depth to our family in a way "normal" kids don’t always do.
My children are patient and kind. They are accepting of everyone. They aren’t afraid of others; they are always the first to help. She gives our family an eternal perspective and hope. She has such a personality that just brings out the best in people.
Rachel can do nothing for herself and in some ways; this makes her easier than some children with disabilities. She doesn’t talk at all, she can not feed herself, toilet herself etc…this is hard. I do all the bathing and such, but everyone feeds her, plays with her, and makes her laugh.
When we are doing something, we just can load her up and go!! (She does live in a care home now and is home on weekends.)
When she was younger she just went everywhere...friends' houses, sporting events, school stuff. Brentwood is a small town. I think people came to know her and appreciate her!
Believe me, we have had some funny experiences and some that just made me want to be instantly swallowed up in the earth, but, for the most part, we are all grateful for our little "Beana".
#5--You seen to have such a fun sense of humor. What makes you laugh? What are the other things that lighten up your life?
I love to laugh! Nothing, absolutely nothing is better than a gut busting, ab-burning laugh. Even chocolate isn’t that good!
Laughing is about the only exercise I get --so I try to do a lot every day. Life just strikes me as fun. It is meant to be savored, enjoyed and loved not merely endured. Things people do or say strike me as funny. I think some people think my sense of humor is bizarre, I prefer to think of my sense of humor as varied.
The difference between a disaster and a great story and laugh is a couple of weeks. We can laugh at just about everything in our lives, even if it’s a bewildered painful laugh.
Even Rachel’s experience has its very funny times. Once she swallowed the top of a Bic razor. Seriously!! The funny part was the hospital, people crowding around to see the x-ray. It honestly was like an episode of ER.
My job totally makes me laugh. Oh... I wish I could blog everyday about it! I have surrounded myself with wonderful friends who love life and that makes things fun. And my kids, they have given me a TON to laugh about!!
#6--What do you do when your children make poor choices? How do you know when to push and when to let go?
I cry. I am a world class crier! Nothing, nothing is more painful than a child who goes astray. When I have said this people say, "Well, what about Rachel?" Oh, Rachel is fine, her salvation is clear, she has been blessed beyond belief. With Rachel, we think eternally.
But a child who goes astray, you fear for them. What if they don’t come back? What will happen to them eternally, I will miss them!!
What do I do? I hang on, I pray, I don’t for one second let them believe I will EVER, EVER accept their behavior. I let them know that while I love them more than anything, I will never be okay with certain things.
One day one of my children said to me, "Mom, your problem is that you love your children too much." I thought of this as a compliment. That child will never doubt my love for them.
I have never purposely pushed my children away. I tried to keep them close.
When to let go? I don’t know. I am still learning that.
About a year ago, I received the most marvelous note from one of my children. "Mom," the note said, "thank you so much for fighting for me. I know now that that is what you were doing, fighting FOR me, not WITH me".
Trust the Lord, pour your soul out to Him. Trust your instinct. Trust yourself when you don’t trust them. And learn to laugh!
#7-- What lessons did you learn from your own mother? Who are the other mothers you have learned from? What have they taught you?
My own mother…that’s interesting. From my birth mother, I learned what real love is. In her case it was being brave enough to let go and let some else do what she couldn't.
When I was 14, I went to live in a foster home with amazing parents who taught me more than I have words for. They taught me to trust people, to love others, to work, to forgive.
They taught me the gospel. They taught me to believe in myself--something I struggle with to this day. They gave me confidence and the ability to believe I can be happy. They taught me joy.
I have been blessed to have known great women as my friends. I try to learn from them, I watch them, I emulate them, I lean on them! Vicki, Pam, Margo, Rachel, Carol, Kim, they have all set such good examples for me. I love them for their willingness to love me despite of my faults and to love my children.
I have learned that sometimes others can help your kids more than you can. I have learned to stop and think before you go ballistic. I am reminded of the eternal nature of families through the tragedies of two of my sweetest friends. I have learned the value of service to my children from friends. I have learned that the load of motherhood is lightened through sisterhood.
Amen! Thanks, Jeni.
Jenibelle's blog--Where's My White Picket Fence? --is one of my favorite stops.
(This amazing story had me sobbing at the keyboard.)