Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Downside of Great Expectations

This weekend my family and I enjoyed the children's Fall Break from school. Third grade has been off to hectic start, so this particular break was well-timed. My husband was able to take a couple of days off from work and we truly 'retreated' to the mountains of North Carolina.
It was a sweet time of 're-booting' our family rhythms after a couple of frustrating months competing with the hamster wheel of daily life. I have come to realize that my emotional health and sanity need these "time outs" to regroup and get reacquainted with the people I love most.

The time away also led to a humbling and painful realization. While sitting at lunch Friday (in a crowded booth, my pet peave) I semi-lost it. My excited, hyperactive, full-of-life children simply could not/would not sit still. As they wiggled and squirmed and kicked their feet something in me was boiling.

I should have been giddy. I had the people I loved, on vacation in a gorgeous setting, waiting for a delicious meal that I wasn't responsible for cooking or cleaning up after...and yet, I was so zoned in on bad table manners I couldn't see it. After the second table kick that sent full glasses wobbling and silverware clinking I grit my teeth and angrily said the entire name of my energetic daughter. I might as well have breathed each of those syllables with fire. If the wilted look on her face wasn't enough, the look of surprise and disappointment on my husband's was a clear barometer. My reaction was totally out of proportion to the situation.

This wasn't an isolated event for me...it was simply the icing on the cake of a weird snippiness, annoyance and anger that has been brewing inside me.

It wasn't an appropriate time to hash through it all, but the rest of the day I pondered and asked God to search my heart. That night, as the children were getting ready for bed my husband and I had a chat. He spoke truth in love that I needed to hear: What is really going on with you? Why are you so upset these days? Things have changed.

As we talked I was able to confess what I believe is at the heart of it all. My unrealistic expectations. As my children get older and I feel time slipping through my hands, there is a self-induced pressure to start getting some things right. I want every moment to count and all of our times to be sweet and smooth. Basically, I want a fairy tale--behavior and circumstances that are completely unrealistic. The irony is my desire for such peace is being used to rob it.

While I know I have very little control over the 'big things' in life, I have slipped into an unfortunate pattern of thinking I can at least control the little ones...so I get flipped out over things that shouldn't matter nearly as much--like table manners, being on time, my schedule, grooming.

I realized that as much as I WISH it were not true...and even though I KNOW better...my flesh is in an all out war. I have a prideful need to feel like I am "doing this well." In the absence of a true, measurable, short term scorecard I have made one up--and (again, unfortunately) it has to do with performance, behavior and appearance.

In quiet, rational moments I know this is NOT what I value most. I am far more concerned with the heart development of my people than the outward parts. Messy hair and untucked shirts matter not if the heart inside is growing. I really do believe this...and yet...

When I allow fear and insecurity to have a voice to my heart--man, oh man--it wreaks havoc:
"Look at you, Mother of the year, that toddler across the room can sit still longer than your nine year olds."
"Look how rumpled your children are--like little vagabonds. You'd think a stay at home Mom could have them a little more together. What exactly do you do all day?"
"They still aren't looking adults in the eye. Look at their posture. Jen, they are almost tweens. Get on this stuff."

Words I would never dream of speaking to others, I use to lecture and condemn myself. And with all of this mental wrangling going on...self condemnation over things that aren't 'the main things...' it's no wonder that I breathe a little fire. It has been the soundtrack in my head to myself!

God has given me great kids. Not because of their appearances, their manners or their 'performance' but because HE is active in their little hearts and minds.

They are NINE. And I am going to stop apologizing for them or expecting them to be 39, 29, 19 or even 12.
This doesn't mean abandoning all expectations. It just means planting my flag on realistic ones. I sincerely hope they can sit still before we hit double digits. And maybe brush our hair every day.

But for now, I am going to breathe deep and pray the Lord will help me wrangle this thought life back under control.


megs7827 said...

That devil. He gets us to say the meanest things to ourselves. I pray when you start to have those thoughts you realize it is the devil. The part you wrote about brushing hair I thought that's one good thing about me having all boys. I think your kids look great but if it bugs you you could always get the boys shorter cuts.

Little Pink Rose said...

Hi! I honestly don't know how I came across your blog but I am glad I did. I struggle with the same thing you do, except I have never been honest about it. You are so authentic and real it has encouraged me to do the same. Once you bring it to the light the enemy doesn't have as strong a foothold. Way to go for bringing it to the light. Thank you!

Maria said...

I love your blog. You are always so real about things. I just know we'd be friends if we lived in the same neighborhood instead of the "blogosphere!"

I can so relate to this post. And many times, the greatest, most humbling, wonderful lessons of my life have been after I lost my grip and had to apologize to my two boys or my husband. But the best part is, they love me like Jesus and forgive me just the same!

Renee said...

After spitting fire at my daughter today I stopped and had the same discussion with God! Praying that the Holy Spirit can speak through me when I speak to my kids instead of my short tempered flesh!!

Karen in VT said...

This rings so true, it's a little painful to read. Although, I do find great comfort in the fact that I am not alone in my struggles. The fact that I can see the look of surprise and disappointment you speak of on your husband's face is only because I see the same look from my own husband. I confess that I am not as quick to recoil and reevaluate the situation--my prides often leads me to snap at my husband, too. Quickly pointing out that it must be easy to have more patience with their ridiculous antics when you're only around for short bits--but SURELY if you were in the trenches everyday, LIKE ME, and this was the umpteenth time you asked them to stop, you'd have the same reaction. Ouch. Sounds even worse when I type it out...and the truth is, my husband has was seems to be a VERY deep well of patience that I admire.
These reminders are good for my soul and I truly appreciate your honesty and candid perspective. May I also be a gentle reminder not to be too hard on yourself--you are in the trenches solo a fair amount and even though it's not ideal, I think we're allowed to flip out just a bit every once in a while. You're a good mama and I like to believe I am too, but we're not perfect. Not a single one of us.

Mommy said...

This sounds so familiar in my life. After a ladies Bible class today on shame and content, it was the topic of conversation at lunch between my five year old, nine year old and myself. Shame leading to contempt of self and others...one of Satan's craftier tricks. All founded in lies!!! Thank you for your honest, open, real blog!

Mommy said...

This sounds so familiar in my life. After a ladies Bible class today on shame and content, it was the topic of conversation at lunch between my five year old, nine year old and myself. Shame leading to contempt of self and others...one of Satan's craftier tricks. All founded in lies!!! Thank you for your honest, open, real blog!

Margaret Stabler said...

I understand being critical of yourself when raising children. But, I bet the children quit kicking for a while. Sometimes, kids keep at it just to see you lose it. Don't always be so hard on yourself.

Jani said...

I face the same things now that my oldest is a freshman in high school...I am always wanting to be sure behavior is "correct" and he is doing the things he should be..and "what would others think if he did THAT?" And, then, I tearfully remind myself I have but four short years left with him living here and I think very tearfully lately, "My God how the time will fly..."

Brandy Garner said...

This speaks for me, too! I struggle with this so please don't think you're alone.

EMC said...

Oh thank you again and again for you honesty and willingness to be transparent! You articulated what I have been feeling for a long time! Not only is God using you In Your family but also through this blog! Truly, you are such a blessing!

Kerin said...

You are a great Mom and are raising great kids. Since my "baby" is a senior this year, I have been wishing for those days when the kids were younger, the house was noisier and things were busier. Really enjoy these days, they go by so fast. Before you know it, they will be going to college.

Melinda said...

My heart tightened and my eyes stung reading your post. My babies are truly just babies, but this is my struggle and it's sucking the joy out of such a precious time in our lives. Praying with both surrender our need for control and unhealthy thoughts over to God. We have something very sacred and special that the Devil wants...be strong Mama.

Respectfully Submitted said...

This resonated with me as well. Thank you.