My oldest son turned four a few months ago. I had no idea how much four-years-old would shake up my mom game. Three-years-old felt like my senior year as a mom to little ones–I was a little wiser, a little more cynical, a lot more relaxed, and kinda had the baby/toddler stage mastered. But four-years-old is a wide expanse of uncharted territory now. We’re making education choices and deciding which extracurriculars to pursue and realizing more and more that we have a big kid now! As with much of life, I just keep learning how much I didn’t know before.
I’m thinking back to this past year, how my son has undone so many of my “sanctimommy” parenting theories. I remember chatting about all of my parenting passions and goals at playdates when he was just a chubby bundle of immobile, nonverbal ease. I can’t even have those conversations anymore because he or his brother either interrupt or need help or require coaching through social mishaps with their play mates. In fact, it’s really difficult to complete thoughts and conversations at all these days. Sorry, friends. This is my life.
Like, I had a lot of things I thought I’d never do or let my kids do before I had kids and as a new mom. For example…
-He’ll never play with my phone.
-He will rarely watch TV.
-He just won’t learn what most candy is.
-I won’t yell.
-I won’t lose it with my kids in public.
-I will never let him eat a meal without washing his hands.
-I won’t only see an extra pair of helping hands when my husband walks through the door
-We’ll always pray before we eat.
-I will not lose sight of my high calling to raise one soul well.
…just to name a few.
Not that I had this physical list written out anywhere. But if I stopped to think about it, yes, I would’ve assumed most of these things of myself as a freshman mother. You probably have or had an internal list of your own somewhere in the files of your brain.
But for me–every single one of those things–broken.
And if I dwell on it for a long time–it breaks me. I’m now four years into this motherhood gig, and I am just not the mom I wanted to be–in a lot of ways.
When we look at long lists like this and dwell on all of our shortcomings, of course it’ll get us down. Because goals and passions and theories are wonderful–they help direct a very important path and we need them–but then there’s reality. And days go by and habits form–good or bad–and our little creatures of habit will be ultimately shaped by their daily routines–whether our ideal parenting theories are woven into them or not.
If you have a long list of shortcomings like I do, I want to encourage you to just take one thing and change it. Pull it out or push it into that routine you’ve all gotten so comfortable with.
Here’s my living example that I am right in the middle of now (disclaimer: it’s a little long winded, but I’ll come back to the point, I promise!):
I’m embarrassed to admit this, but for most of his third year, my son came to my bedside every morning and asked for sliced apples and cartoons. And I would get up like a zombie, slice an apple, turn on the TV, and go back to bed until his baby brother woke me up for the day.
That was our routine, and I let it happen because I was tired. I did not foresee my second child going well past his first year with multiple wakings per night, and I wanted that extra hour of sleep in the morning more than I wanted to be a mom who limits and oversees all screen time. That’s just the truth.
It’s not the worst thing an exhausted mom could do, but still, my son was getting too good at finding his own shows on Netflix and straying away from the educational ones I was handpicking for him. And I wasn’t around to change that.
So a few months back, I had had enough of TV being such a central part of our family’s day. It seemed to be what my husband and I defaulted to once the boys were in bed, it’s what I watched while I folded laundry and sipped coffee at nap time, it was how our son spent his mornings, it was how he spent any time when his brother was asleep and I was occupied. It was a bad habit that we ALL had to eradicate.
So we stopped. All of us–cold turkey. I told myself that my son would always love TV if he always saw his dad and mom loving TV. And nobody needs help with that lifelong struggle, ya know?
And the next morning? He wanted sliced apples and cartoons. But instead, he got sliced apples and special reading time with Mom. On the second day, he asked for cartoons and sliced apples again, but instead, he got the apples and we started a workbook that is teaching him to read. On the third day, he just came to get me and we rose together. I think we even ate clementines that morning. ;)
How quickly that habit was broken for him when I imagined it going so much worse. Now, if I’m in the kitchen prepping dinner while his brother finishes off the last of nap time, rather than defaulting to cartoons, he draws pictures. He plays with his race tracks. He’s doing a few more chores around the house, and he even helps me cook! And all of these things are so much better for him than upwards to two hours of brain-numbing television. This right here is more like the mom I wanted to be.
As it turns out, it’s never too late to change the trajectory of your parenthood. We’re still working through what healthy screen time looks like for everyone in our family, and some days we fail miserably, but it helps to know that we can change. We don’t have to default to our same bad habits tomorrow. There is always room to start fresh, and these malleable kiddos aren’t nearly as set in their ways as we might assume.
That’s why that list you once had and those theories are still worth having–because they’ll help us come back to true north when we’ve gotten lost in chaos of real life with kids. But we have to have grace when we measure ourselves against that mom we pictured ourselves being before we were moms.
Because that mom you and I dreamed up? She didn’t take into account exhaustion or children with strong personalities or just how messy a house can get with little ones around. She wasn’t elbow deep in real life like you and I are. So don’t let her discourage you off your path; just keep her around enough to remember what you stand for. Be real with yourself about your shortcomings, sprinkle some grace in there, and then change the one thing.
Tomorrow: we start praying before meals again. <3
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