Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Elusive Balance

Warning: This is a bit of a rant. ;-)

So much of my life has been spent in search of the thing that seems most elusive in my life: balance.

Different chapters of my life have led me to attempt to achieve various sorts of balance. Work vs. life. Grace vs. mercy. Out of home ministry vs. my activities within my own family. Faith vs. works. I have tried to find balance in my finances, in my diet, in my relationships and now I am trying to define it again in my parenting.

I find myself increasingly frustrated with myself as a mother. I feel as if I am on a swinging pendulum vacillating between being too strict and too lenient. I want to be prayerful, intentional, serious about the task of motherhood, but I also want to be fun, loving and flexible. My greatest struggle seems to be that I cannot seem to get a firm grasp on what types of expectations are appropriate for almost 4 year olds.

Should they be expected to sit still at a table in a restaurant with a clown when all the other children are up walking/running around?

Is it OK to use a scolding voice when they are not listening to my requests?

Do I punish excessive whining when ignoring it does not seem to be effective?

Do I go back upstairs after everyone has been tucked in just because someone needs "to tell me somepin' " (for the umpteenth time) or do I stand my ground that is it really time to go to sleep?

Am I an unreasonable tyrant because I won't allow them to jump on the furniture?

Do I enforce table manners at this age or give it up and let them explore their food with their hands?

Is it OK that I desire to raise well-mannered little people or am I just behaving like a control freak that wants them to 'make me proud' in public settings?

Am I attempting to make them robots instead of embracing their individuality? It is certainly not my intent, but lately I feel as if I am completely fumbling through parenthood...and the stakes seem higher the older they get. They will remember portions of this age (as they lay on a therapists sofa one day)!

I firmly believe in the adage that you often 'get what you expect' but I also realize my children are still really little. We are in the throes of 'growing pains.' (Perhaps me even more so than them.)I don't want to stifle their creativity, but is it too much to ask for them to not play with their food?

I must surrender this all to the Lord. I try to do so on a regular (continual) basis. But lately, I am feeling a little overwhelmed. There are three of them, afterall, and they are all experimenting with their limits in different ways simultaneously. I have a teachable spirit, but I am feeling like what I am in more need of at the moment is peace and confidence to stand firm in my parenting and let go of what is unimportant. The problem is, I cannot completely define what is important vs. what is not.

Where is my manual???


Just call me D said...

I have no answers (I always like your answers to the big questions :) But I will lift you (and them) up to the One who does.

Sunshine said...

WOW - I hope you write a follow up post - because I SO struggle with the same things!!!!! These are the questions I pose over and over and over to my husband and to God! Thank you for sharing your heart - I wish I could offer you something more - but I will pray for you - Sunshine

Erin said...

I could have written this post. I ask the same questions on a daily basis. It is so hard to know what to do and how to do it. I go back and forth, as well. But, we have to trust that if we are seeking God's face daily, moment by moment, He is leading us even when we feel lost and confused. He knows your heart and my heart. I think you are a wonderful mother. Your posts inspire me!! Thanks!

laurie said...

When you find the manual, I want to borrow it :-) Praying for our sanity. . .

Jenny said...

I could have written this (although probably not as well. I think (hope) that you get more sleep than me :-P)
I find that motherhood only gets more challenging the older they get.
I expect/do all of those things with my almost 4 year old. Right or not. It's so hard. But so worth it.

I should go give him a hug. He's a pretty good kid ;-)

elizabeth said...

If you find the manual on how to raise three simultaneoulsy, then PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE forward it to me because surely I could do just one! Not really so sure though. Of course, we all question the exact and very things that you are questioning as mothers, but rest assured, God gave you this, even designed you for it. You are doing a great job! You are a great mom, no matter how much you question yourself. You will surely be praised in the gates lady!

I'm with you on all of this, but you are so much better of a woman than I to do 3 at the same time!


Danielle said...

Another vote for "I'm right here with ya sister". I read a very thought provoking and deeply interesting book that shifted my perception of my role as parent and my children's individuality. It might be a good one to check out at the library (in all your spare time :).
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. He has a website - www.unconditionalparenting.com

Big Mama said...

I think this is what we all struggle with. The balance is hard.

If you find the manual, send it my way. In the meantime I think we have to take it day by day with our eyes on God.

Deidre said...

I'm getting ready to turn in and decided to check bloglines. I've been going over in my mind all the things I did wrong today, but not really knowing if they're wrong. I prayed and asked God to show me some sort of confirmation I'm doing the right things with my children each day (6 and 2). Just last night I had a conversation with my husband and told him I thought I needed to ease up on our girls. I'm constantly teaching them good manners and now my 6 year old is seeing that this isn't 'normal' behavior for most children. ???? I diligently tried that today (to be more patient and let up a little), but the very second I'm lenient, they seem to GO WILD! What is that?

I'm praying for balance and wisdom. Most days I don't feel very good at this job - not good at all. I want one night to go to bed feeling okay about the decisions I made that day. This Mommy guilt - not a fun season.

Kara said...

I have been going through some of the same questions with my own kids...my sister told me to read a book, "Have A New Kid by Friday" by: Dr. Kevin Leman...it's really good and I am excited to start his ideas and see a change in MY family! I'll let you know how it goes!

Jenny said...


I think you may have written a post that summarizes what most mothers are feeling. As I was reading your post, I was thinking "I could have written this." And, I was going to ask you to please pass the manual on to me if you found it. Then, I read the comments, and everything I was going to say had already been said by at least one mother! I guess it's good to know that we are all in this together. We all do the best that we can, and I think that so long as we're doing that and seeking God, we're on the right track!

I'll be praying that you find the balance you desire in your mothering. If you'd pray for me too, I'd love that! James Dobson is right... "Parenting Isn't for Cowards"!


Amy said...

As I was reading this I kept thinking, "I could have written this..." and then as I read through the comments I see that we have much company. Does that make it easier? No. However, I think the very fact that you are intentional and prayerful will keep you as close to balance as you can get. I also struggle with expectations for my 4 and 3 year old - but I would rather them rise to the occasion than fall short because I didn't think they were capable. Maybe once we find the "manual" it will have coupons for the therapy everyone will need!

Kelly @ Love Well said...

If you find your copy, can I borrow it? Just for a week.

Mayhem And Miracles said...

I'm right there with everyone else thinking "Yes! I feel that!" Only I am in that stage where the stakes DID get higher as they are now 11, 8, and 6. I hate to say it but it is still just as agonizing, but now it's do we pretend that we as a couple never fight, since they are sensing it anyway? What do we let them call the process of passing gas in a single word, since "toot" is sounding a bit silly for middle school? Is giving them a cell phone for sleepovers too indulgent, or does it give them the freedom to alert us if the other family is more lenient that our own home rules allow? Balance is certainly my MOST DIFFICULT mothering problem as well. I will say that even though I probably did err way to much on the side of strictness with my oldest, he now addresses all adults with "yes, Ma'am and no, Sir" without even a thought, much to the impression of a lot of grown-ups, while I'm still struggling to remind the other two constantly. But again, is that the difference in raising or just their current ages? I think I need to go pray!

Lee said...

Just a lurker emerging... I think this is my hubby's blogger account tho... As an elementary teacher, I have seen many, many kinds of children go through. There is very little "typical" for an age.

My advice as a mommy and a teacher is to continue with high expectations of good manners and behavior. The FACT that you are thoughtful, aware and concerned about your children's mental well being makes it unlikely that you will go over the top in trying to make them little robots. :) Study after study shows that kids crave structure and routine. If they know your expectations for them, they feel safe. And if you love them, which is clear you do, they know it.

And so many kids in schools are like little wild wind-up toys who are hard to get to attend to tasks...they had no behavioral expectations at home and don't KNOW how to behave in public. It's very frustrating for teachers.

Good luck, we all need it!

Arlene G said...

I agree with the post just above! I have raised three children and I worked for ten yrs with two yr olds at a local weekday school. I taught Sunday School for many years as well. All this to say...keep up the manners!too many children today have NO concept of even basic manners or respect for others. I was teasing another Sunday School Teacher that we needed to start a course on manners that the parents at our church could sign their children up for!!lol..Even a child is know by his doings....One of the toughest things about being a mom is the EVERYDAY battles that could wear down even the strongest soldier. Jen, from reading your blog, I would say you are doing a good job...hang in there. Be not weary in well doing...you will get the reward one day.

HW said...

I so agree with Daniel's comment.

As the mother of two teenagers (ages 14 and 17) I do agree that the stakes get higher as they get older. That is why you must stick to your guns on the things you have listed. The clown in the restaurant? If your first impulse is to make your children sit still at the table (and I would) then make them sit still at the table. I think most of the other parents would be looking at your kids and thinking "How do they get theirs to sit still?"
I would say YES enforce table manners. Mine both regressed when they entered school and saw how other children ate, but, really, others find it a pleasure to eat with children who have been taught well.
It is very hard to parent with purpose when you (mainly our kids) notice others who seem to have no rules. But you are a very purposeful mother and you will be so glad in ten years, that you held firm on your expectations.
I'm sure it is very difficult with three at a time,so I have no advice on that. But follow your first instinct on these rules because you are raising them to be pleasant members of society, and not self-indulged children who turn into self-indulged adults.
You can do it!!

Michelle said...


Thank you so much for this post as I as struggling with this with my son who is 2.5. I am so glad you have had so many responses. I, too, have felt like I am being hard on him, but I think I will plod on, knowing that it will be better for him in the long run.


Cheri (aka "The Mom Lady") said...

You HAVE to go to http://newlittlemonsters.blogspot.com/2008/04/double-post-thursday.html and read what my son's friend wrote about his dad - it's true for parents in general but I think he hit the nail right on the head. Especially the part about "there are always more questions than there are answers" and "it all centers on God". The Bible is the manual, always has been, always will be. It just doesn't have an index with "how to handle (insert subject)". It requires "big picture" study and application.

When our sons were teenagers, we learned an important truth about ourselves of which we are not proud - we found we were more concerned with how others perceived us and our parenting skills than we were with how our sons were acting, learning, remedying. What a slap in the face to us - we had to regroup, forget about what the world thought, "close the wagons" and deal with the matters at hand. It was a lesson we certainly needed to learn and one I advocate to all parents. While it's "nice" to have the respect of your "peers" for their perception of your parenting skills, it's more important that your children know, no matter what, that their well being, discipline and relationship with God is more important than what anyone thinks about their parents.

Hindsight is always 20/20. We figure that's what grandparent-hood is for. We often focused on manners at the table to the detriment of good conversation. We often were more "rattled" by the stares or glares of others than by addressing the behaviors that caused said glares and stares. We learned it's important to say "I'm sorry" to our children when we made mistakes as well.

Children learn by example more than anything else. If you and your husband have a solid relationship and treat each other with respect (which I wager you do), then they also learn to do the same. And you and your husband must be on the same page when it comes to rules, punishments, etc. Consistency is the key. You can micromanage children - but then how can they MAKE mistakes and then LEARN from them?

We can't and shouldn't want our children to NOT make mistakes - that's how they learn, while under YOUR umbrella as parents, to make better choices as well as learn consequences.

Paulette said...

yes stand firm on this one lol
yes and no, there are certainly appropritae times for both
Yes it is certainly approriate to expect manners at this age or they will have none when older.
This was fun!!
I only joke, but not really. I have been there. Parenting is hard J. There are fine lines, as you said you do not want to come across as a tyrant for sure, however children need rules and guidance. My teens tell me now they were GLAD that I set boundaries and rules, it molds and shapes their lives, and it isn't forever, once they are set you can back off more and more.
You are doing wonderful. I was raised with so much abuse and meaness, I was more laxed yet firm because I did not want my kid's to think I was overbearing. On the other hand I did not let them get away with much either.
Children must be raised to distinguish love, and they do need to be able to make mistakes or how else will they know how to be responsible in their choices.
Over bearing is too hard on children,I believe it makes them coil.
Love you!

Alice said...

I think I've asked every one of these questions too! With two girls I'm asking, how much am I teaching them to be gentle ladies and how much am I just stifling them and not letting them be children? I'm sure you've read lots of books and have gotten some good recommendations in these comments, but my go-to book for the last five years has been "Disciplines of a Godly Family" by Kent and Barbara Hughes. My favorite quote is, "Children are like arrows--if you aim at nothing, you will surely hit it." The book has been an invaluable source of wisdom for me.

Love Being A Nonny said...

It is your DESIRE to parent well and to raise Godly children that our Father is pleased with. Keep the desire. He'll lead you through the daily struggles. You are not alone!

A NC friend thru your entries

Tara said...

I feel for you right now because this is where I have been since my oldest (now 6) was three. You struggle to know what is appropriate. I think the biggest hurdle is making a decision (with your spouse) and being consistent. I find myself feeling torn when I see others judging either my child's behavior or my reaction. I have to know I can't please everyone.

If you can get your hands on anything by John Rosemend (not sure if that is correct spelling) I would do so. He has a column in our Sunday paper and offers very practical advice for parents. He doesn't hold back when saying parents are making mountains out of mole hills or let's them really have it when there is a behavior that needs changing. Also, read Grace Based Parenting. While I didn't agree with everything, there was some good thoughts on what you (and probably most of us)are dealing with.

I struggle with knowing what behavior is typical but still in need or correction or just something to dismiss and remember to "pick my battles." I'm sure some behaviors are going to be different depending on your individual family, while others are across the board for most families. I think (and pray) that the things I choose as "important" will lead my children in the direction they need to go in to become good citizens and most importantly Christians.

MamaBear said...

I'm echoing the advice Mrs. Daniel offered above to keep your expectations high. I'm a high school teacher and a mom, and I can tell you that it is much easier to lower the bar as you go than it is to raise your expectations later. I am with teenagers every day, and I could tell you without even meeting their families what kind of parenting they've had. I'm appalled on a daily basis by the apparent lack of attention some parents give to basic courtesy and good manners.

If you are keeping your eyes on the Lord and your ear attuned to His voice, He will give you the sensitivity to raise your little ones with the balance you desire.

I'm looking for that manual, too, so let me know if you find a copy!

Anonymous said...

Aww, balance. I too struggle and strive to find the right balance. It's difficult. Sometimes my mother who I respect implicity will tell me if I'm expecting too much from my 2 and 4 year olds or if I'm not expecting enough. Oh, how I wish she'd be with me all the time! A great book I'm actually currently re-reading to really absorb it is "Love and Logic for Early Childhood". Very very good book.

May God guide and bless you.

P.S. If there was a clown at a restaurant and the other kids were up running around, I'd probably let mine do so too. Not because the other kids were, but if there's a clown there it's probably meant to interact with the kids. My problem is when we go to a regular restaurant and my kids want to jump on the booth and crawl over....ugghhh!

Trudy said...

Trust yourself, you're doing a great job. We can recognize in ourselves when we've gone overboard or haven't disciplined enough. Stop at those times and change a little, but overall God gave these children to you and they need You and all your gifts/faults to guide them into what God has planned.

I grew up in a family of six and there were times when my parents didn't get it right but I don't remember those times. I think they got all the big stuff right. I hope it is the same with our kids. As St. Therese said, "it is love alone that matters."

Sarah said...

My mom always says that the fact that you are asking questions and trying to find the answers makes you a good enough parent already. I have 5 children, and I can tell you the issues do get more difficult with age, but your gut feeling always tells you what you need to know. Keep asking and you will get the answers!

texasknights said...

When you find that manual, please send it my way. Thanks.
I can't count how many times a day I ask myself similar questions. ...and I am a teacher (part time) so I am constantly battling "too firm" or "too lenient." I keep reminding myself that if my heart is intentional then my instruction with my children will come across that way . . . even when it seems like they are sticking their fingers in their ears!!!! I have so been struggling with being intentional ALL the time. I tend to be in the mode of survival so who has time to take advantage of those teachable moments. Isn't that pitiful?!?!?

Renee said...

I know exactly how you feel as well. I thought of two pieces of advice I have received along the years that may (or may not) help. Give little freedoms away prayerfully because they are so difficult to get back. (I'm learning this one the hard way as we let the baby sit in our laps at restaurants when she was antsy in the high chair. Now she thinks she doesn't have to sit in a highchair when we are out. Why did we surrender that freedom so thoughtlessly?) And also, I would think your children are old enough to understand that different situations allow for different rules. For example, the restaurant with the clown. I always try to predict what we are about to experience and talk to the kids before we get out of the car. For example, "We are going out to dinner at a nice restaurant. Remind me of three important restaurant rules." or "We are going to a birthday party. Normally, we do _____ but today it is okay to do _________ because this is a special occasion." Any way, unfortunately parenting at four and up does require flexibility. But they can probably begin to handle it. Lots of talking before hand (proactive) seems to help us. We are in the throws of all stages...elementary, preschool and toddler age. It's like being a ref at a tennis match!

Dena said...

I'm getting in a little late here, but I had to think on it!
I have 3 kids, 7,5, and 2. I really can't imagine having them be all the same age, esp. 3-4, when they are trying out all sorts of behaviors. You are doing a very tough job very, very well.
One thing I've noticed with my kids and friends kids, is when they are over scheduled, they behave worse in public. It's like they are going to have their free time, even if it's not when you would like it to be!
I really believe that kids need time to get bored and be able to work through that feeling, or we are teaching them to seek stimulation at all times.
We focus more on how they treat others more than any other thing, based on what the NT puts so much emphasis on. My struggle is how to teach them to be strong AND tender towards others, when so many kids aren't taught how to be kind.
You are doing a great job!

Mary Lou said...

I'm late with reading this, but I believe you are doing a great job. I agree keep asking yourself the questions, make sure you are both on the same page and don't ever let them divide and conquer...Keep up with the training, as someone else said you can't regain ground you've given away. You have it hard with three the same age,but I am of the belief that God only gives us what He knows will make us better people. He gave you the three at one time because He knew that you all could handle it, whereas I could only deal with one at a time. That said...you will make it and you are making the right decisions, one day at a time. We can only do what we know to do at the time and look to Him for the answer and then trust Him.