People love to give advice. Especially when you have children.
Why I should not let my children into our bed at night. Why I should not let them eat hot dogs. What activities they should and should not be enrolled in. What they should know by age three (how to read, algebra 2, and the Magna Carta if they’re to get a decent job as adults).
Why I should spend more time with my kids.
Chris and I take our responsibility of parenting very seriously. And when others heap well-meaning advice on us, the pressures squeeze us through a Play Doh spaghetti factory until we go to bed strung-out and dry. This last particular piece of advice–to spend more time with the kids–gets to me. Because there’s no possible way I can.
I realize it comes from a place of grace, to not worry about dust and appearances because the kids are more important. But it doesn’t come to me as grace.
It comes to me as one more thing I might get wrong and ruin my children forever.
(“And why did you feel the need to dismember all the cats in the neighborhood?” “Because my mother didn’t spend enough time with me when I was two.”)
Here’s the thing. I’m home with my kids all day every day. I love it. I love playing with them. I love Play Doh and finger paints and trucks and trains and tea parties and puzzles. And, let’s be honest–I’ve never been Emily Post, so letting go of an organized well-groomed house didn’t cause much stress in my life.
But occasionally, if we want clean clothes to wear, I need to do the laundry (I’m talking wash and dry here, not folding and putting away). And maybe I should scrub away the dirt in their bathtub from last week’s mudpies. And I should probably cook the chicken we’re going to eat tonight because, you know, salmonella. And when advice piles on to spend more time with my kids, I feel guilty for doing even these things. I should build another tower! Color another picture! Throw another ball!
Maybe I could prepare dinner when they nap instead of writing. Maybe I should separate the laundry after they go to bed at night instead of knitting.
But I’ve come to realize two things: (1) I need space to be me. I’m not talking Oprah fuzzy feel-good balance crap. Because life is not balanced right now, and that’s okay. It’s also not about me. It’s about loving the Lord your God and loving your neighbor, and part of the way I love God and neighbor is by writing, teaching, preaching and knitting and I may not do as much of it right now as I’d like, but doing these things is part of my humanity.
(2) My kids need to see me do the things that love God and others, and I need to catch them up in this world of how we love others. We cook and clean for each other. We make things for others. This is part of their humanity.
Plus, my kids need to learn how to play together without killing each other even if Mom doesn’t see it.
So here’s my plea: unless I specifically ask you how you handled a situation, please stop giving me advice. I love you. This is not personal. But I need some grace. I love this time of life, but it’s also crazy. My goals are two-fold: that my kids survive, and that they love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, and minds. Even these two things I can’t control, but I will influence as best I can.
Here’s what we parents need: love and affirmation. We’ll figure out the parenting thing, no worries. I don’t think letting them cuddle with me at night will turn them into serial killers. I don’t think giving them hot dogs will fatally wound their chance at Harvard. And I don’t think letting them play on their own for a bit (or letting them help) while I scrub the bathtub will make them question my love for them. When people I love and respect tell me, “Good job,” or “I’m proud of you,” (and I do have people in my life who do this for me–like my parents) I feel God’s grace wrapping around me, healing me from the guilt of yelling at my kids or letting them watch TV or leaving Annie screaming in the gym childcare so I could go to a yoga class, and I know that I haven’t forever ruined my children because Jesus loves them, this I know.