Survey Says? Your Parenting Stinks

I wrote this piece for a book publisher’s parenting blog. They were like, “Hey, can anyone write 750 words about how parenting can be ridiculous?” And I was like, “750 words? I could occupy all of the internet with that prompt, but here’s 750.” It ran last week. Hope you enjoy!  
bylorenaWe pulled into our parking space at 9:38am. Yes, we were technically eight minutes late. But I’d managed to dress and feed four hungry tiny people, wrestle them into car seats, and drive here. Eight minutes late was a win.

Dr. Bergen’s receptionist did not agree. “It’s 9:42. Your appointment was at 9:30 . . . I’ll ask if they can squeeze you in.” As if the doctor had been waiting for us with bated breath since 9:15.

“That would be wonderful, thank you.” I politely replied. I had to stop myself from pointing out that never in the history of pediatric appointments has the doctor been less than twenty minutes late for a scheduled appointment time. Whatever, lady.

“You can fill out this health questionnaire for three-year olds while you wait.” She handed me a clipboard with a yellow sheet that listed a series of yes or no questions. I herded my cats to a cluster of germ-covered chairs while I balanced a baby and a clipboard, one on each knee. I assumed the questions would be basic family history stuff. Instead I found these:

“Do you offer your child fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal?”
Well, not EVERY meal, but many meals. I guess that’s a no?

“Does your child eat high-fat foods such as ice cream, pizza or fast food?”
Answering no feels un-American (and is a lie), so I guess I’ll be circling yes.

“Do you make sure that your child plays actively for at least one hour each day?”
Does Bo On the Go count?

“Do you have the Poison Control phone number stored in your cell phone?”

Yikes. This thing was starting to feel less like a health assessment and more like an indictment of my lousy parenting. I thought this form was just supposed to be a long, bureaucratic way to ask me if we have a family history of diabetes. I half expected to find these questions on the backside:

“Why did you even have kids if you don’t know how to feed them?”
“Do you limit your child’s screen time, or have you chosen to ignore the causal relationship between baby screen time and serial killer development?”
“Have you considered that maybe you aren’t cut out for parenthood?”
“Did you bring your child’s vaccine card, or do you not even care anymore?”

Twenty minutes after that fun exercise in parent-shaming, the medical assistant beckoned us.
I hustled our crew into the exam room, where we spent thirty noisy minutes waiting for the hopeful sound of the Doctor’s rat-a-tat. The baby nearly lost her mind when I refused to let her lick the floor. The three-year-old’s unrelenting requests for a snack were drowned out by the five-year-old’s neighs and gallops. The six-year-old quietly read her book. (I’m eighty-percent sure this was because the children take shifts to display obnoxious behavior and she was on break.)

I pulled out an iPad and three baggies of Goldfish crackers as the doctor entered. Experienced parents know that an uninterrupted conversation with another adult sometimes requires a snack or a screen. Instant child hypnosis.

“Good morning!” Dr. Bergen was always genuinely cheery. After the effort it took to get us here, fed, bladders emptied and shoes on, part of me felt like he might give me a high-five or Starbucks card for being an incredible mother, but then I remembered the survey.

“Looks like Carter is growing perfectly well. Any concerns?” He asked in his characteristic grandfatherly tone.

Yeah, your “health survey” comes across as a little Third Reich-y.

“Nope! All is well.”

He did the whole stethoscope/ears/throat thing, chit-chatted with the kids, then rattled off the standard recommendations. “Make sure he’s getting plenty of sleep, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and try to avoid simple carbs . . .”

We both awkwardly eyed the children inhaling their baggies of Goldfish.

“Yeah, those aren’t the healthiest . . . but carrots are kind of a bummer so . . . they’re the whole grain ones?” I mumbled.

He wasn’t really listening.

“Ok, we’ll see you at his four-year check-up! Oh, wait, I guess we’ll see you three times between now and then,” he said, motioning to the three other hooligans.

“Can’t wait!”

 

 

 

Photo credit: byLorena, Creative Commons 

Dear Mom Guilt: It’s not me, it’s you

Marc-Andre LariviereWhen your first baby is born, the whole world stops. That tiny 8 pound human brings more joy, tenderness and love than you thought possible. But like a creepy, uninvited party guest, an invisible beast is also born that follows us mamas around every day: Mom Guilt.

Mom Guilt is almost like a super power because it enables you to irrationally take credit for all of your kid’s illnesses, choices, bad personality traits, tantrums, accidents, rashes, food allergies, splinters, forgotten backpacks, learning quirks, and basically anything else that doesn’t go according to your parenting plan. (This includes athletic inability, head shape and shoe size.)

In the beginning, before Mom Guilt becomes really conniving and sneaky, we mamas blame ourselves for obviously ludicrous things:

“Baby has reflux and won’t sleep through the night…I didn’t take my prenatal vitamins the last week of pregnancy, so I’m sure this is all my fault.” (Vitamins aren’t baby antacids, you’re doing just fine, mama!)

“Do you think the baby’s allergic to watermelon because I ate too much of it while I was pregnant? I’m the worst.” (Nope.)

“This kid has had four colds and she’s only six months old. Obviously it’s because I couldn’t breastfeed. Why do my boobs suck?!” (They don’t honey, just ask your husband.)

But as the kids get a little older, Mom Guilt gets all sneaky and starts to disguise itself as simply taking responsibility for all of your numerous failures as a mother.

One of our kids was diagnosed with a speech delay at two years old. Our doctor told us he qualified for services like speech therapy and tutoring. The day I found out, I cried for basically seven hours straight. Mom Guilt convinced me the delay was 1.) a serious problem. 2.) because I spaced my kids too close together. 3.) because I didn’t teach him baby sign language. 4.) because I didn’t do enough Pinterest crafts with him.

I wasn’t enough. This is the fat lie that underlies every Mom Guilt premise. Does any of this sound familiar? “I’m not crafty enough. I’m not organized enough. I’m not fun enough. I’m not playful enough. I’m not strict enough. I’m not gracious enough. I’m not patient enough. I’m just plain not enough.” As soon as all that junk is ringing in your ears, you can be certain that Mom Guilt is rearing its nasty head.

After the speech delay diagnosis, I remember sitting on the floor in the play room next to my son, bawling, apologizing to this sweet, oblivious two year old. Mom Guilt had flattened me like a pancake. I pointed to and named every object in the room through my mascara-stained tears like an absolute psycho. David walked by and took in the scene of a fragile mother totally unable to think rationally, enchained by Mom Guilt. He softly said, “Sweetie. This is not your fault.” And then I proceeded to cry anime-style tears until the late hours of the evening.

After many hours of speech therapy and a few years of development, this child is THRIVING in the language department, words escaping his mouth at a rate and volume I cannot keep up with. I’m like Lucy at the chocolate factory, his questions and goofball jokes like candy flying out at me faster than I can process. Some days I even catch myself longing for just an hour of the temporary mute-ness we once had. (Just kidding. Kind of.)

Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back now I can decipher the lies Mom Guilt convinced me were true. You know what, Mom Guilt? David was right: this was not my fault. And I was enough. I am enough.

Did you know that “guilt” shows up 144 times in the Old Testament? Makes sense. The law is laid out in the OT, and when we break it, we are guilty. Do you know how many times “guilt” appears in the New Testament, after Jesus paid the penalty for our guilt? 16 times. As I looked a little more closely, I discovered that ten of those are actually “guiltless,” or “no guilt” or “not guilty.”

This was my favorite place I found the word “guilt” in the New Testament: “In every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge…so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:7-8 (ESV)

The Message translation of the same passage: “Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”

Boom.

Did you know what else I found when looking for “guilt” in the Bible? There is no place for Mom Guilt. No place at all. The guilt discussed in the Bible refers to sins against God. Me feeling “guilty” for not teaching my baby sign language or picking the wrong formula seems kind of insane when I think about all the actual, real ways I’ve sinned against God, and how He loves me regardless. I found zero verses condemning accidental missteps by well-intending parents. (Praise the Lord for that, amiright?!) Guilt is useful to us insofar as it alerts us to the depth of our lowly position before a holy God. But once we’ve grasped that and then accepted our forgiveness in Jesus, the guilt is washed away and we can gratefully move on in our newfound freedom. Why sit in the muck when it’s already been cleaned up?

I also realized that when I fall prey to Mom Guilt, I’m usually not focused on kingdom things, but on the temporal circumstances in front of me not going the way I want them to go, and then blaming myself. What would my parenting look like if I was more occupied with pleasing God than controlling my circumstances? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be as worried about another cold or another broken bone or delayed speech – rather, I’d be looking for ways to navigate those circumstances in ways that are honoring to God. Not every parenting hurdle I encounter is about me. Most times it’s just a sinful little person encountering a broken world, and me, a sinful big person, holding their hand and guiding them through it. The hope is that we’d both be looking to Jesus for direction, secure in the freedom we have that when we mess up, He forgives us, and we can keep moving forward without dwelling on the previous, already-forgiven oopsies.

What verses or reminders do you preach to yourself when you’re feeling enslaved by that sneaky jerk Mom Guilt?  Hope you’re speaking that truth to yourself today. Would love for you to share it with me, too.

 

 

Photo Credit: Marc-Andre Lariviere, Creative Commons

What it’s like to have four kids

photo credit: Creative Commons: anyjazz65

I’ve grown in several areas over these past six and a half years: 1.) Physically: I’ve gained and lost a total of 140lbs. Thirty-five-ish per pregnancy, give or take, as some pregnancies required more chocolate/nachos than others. 2.) Vanity: I ditched any remaining shred of coolness when we bought a minivan, which I had vowed to never do because only nerds drive minivans. 3. Control: I largely stopped dressing my children in coordinated outfits. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 4.) McGuyver-ability quotient: I have grown entirely more adaptable in situations previously deemed too hard or totally despair-worthy, ie: broken legs (we’ve had three so far), newborn baby colds (stopped counting at a dozen), forgetting to bring a pack n play on an overnight trip. NBD, man. Life will go on.

Here is what to expect when you have FOUR KIDS, if you are considering doing such a thing. You crazy lunatic, you.

  1. When you take your whole tribe around town, people act kind of weird, like you have seven heads. I took the kids to the doctor’s for a checkup the other day, and within an hour, FOUR different people stopped me to ask if all four kids belonged to me. One lady even stopped her car and rolled down her window to ask. Yes, you sweet bystander. This freakshow is all mine. Here is a sampling of unsolicited comments I regularly hear (like multiple times a day) while running errands: “Whoa, that’s a lot of kids!””Are they all yours?” “You have your hands full!” “Did you plan this?” “Better you than me!”
  2. Your day-to-day becomes a real life version of the movie Memento. Do you remember that movie? It’s about a guy who can only remember fifteen minute increments before he forgets everything that happened leading up to it. Super suspenseful and stressful, but I don’t really remember much else about it because, like I said, wait – what was I just saying? No, but seriously. I’m the Steph Curry of forgetfulness. The reason is basically that  your brain is like an internet browser (this is a real science fact that I pulled from my vast knowledge of sciencey things). Moms of four children have approximately 462 browser tabs open at any given time. Did I pay the phone bill? Is today Wednesday? Wednesday is early pickup. When did the baby nurse last? On which side? We need solar panels. Why does child #2 have his outfit on entirely backwards? Why do I not care? Has child #3 consumed any vegetables today…yesterday…the last three days? Meanwhile, four of the tabs (the children) are talking to you like those video pop up ads that come out of NOWHERE, yelling about who the heck knows what. So, for reasons you can imagine, some things are just forgotten: jackets, backpacks, sending your mom the Mothers Day card that has been sitting on your desk for a MONTH, texting people back, dropping off the dry cleaning, ordering Nespresso pod refills.
  3. Getting out of the house every morning is basically like living in the movie Jumanji. I’ve been doing this four kids thang every day for the last nine months, so the chaos has become my “normal.” A few weeks ago I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, so David had to get all of the kids ready, fed and out the door by 8:30. David is very hands-on when it comes to the dad-stuff. Diapers, feeding, dressing, you name it, he seriously does it all. But until this day, he hadn’t done a full morning with all four kids on his own. He met up with me to switch cars at 8:45. All the children were fed, dressed and even had shoes on. When I asked him how it went, he calmly responded, “Yeah, that was insane.” I guess it is. It’s the baby crying because the three year old is sitting on her while you try to brush the eldest’s tangled hair into a ponytail; it’s the five year old, unable to decipher the English words you are speaking when you tell him for the eleventieth time to PUT ON THE SHOES, ONTO THE FEET THAT ARE YOURS, THAT BELONG TO YOUR LEGS, AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LEGS, JUST BEYOND THE ANKLES, EACH FOOT GETS ONE SHOE AND PLEASE PUT THEM ON NOW BEFORE MY HEAD EXPLODES. NOW. NOW. NOW. NOW. And then you get a miffed response, “OK!” Like, “Sheesh!” Like, “Omigosh, mom you need to calm down.” Yes, because clearly I am the unreasonable one.
  4. After you take a shower and clip your nails, and then clip your kids’ nails, by the time you are done, you have just clipped one hundred nails. ONE HUNDRED NAILS. (Also I just realized that could be a great name for the band I will start with my children. We will figure out how to play instruments at some point after we have mastered the putting on of the shoes. First things first.)
  5. Speaking of showers, any tiny moment of privacy is now long gone. I took literally 3 minutes to shower off the stickiness from making breakfast the other morning. All the while, one little darling stood outside asking if I was done yet because they needed to show me a trick. “How about now? Are you done now?” “I will be done in two minutes, you precious angel from my womb!” (I said either that or something like that…-ish) “Ok…” (seven seconds later:) “How about now? Has it been two minutes?” So I just canceled the tiny remaining shower I thought I was entitled to. I was rushed through my drying-off process and over to the “trick,” which turned out to be a child who had spread a small blanket on the floor…and then jumped over it.
  6. One fun thing about having four kids is the opportunity to cook for multiple picky eaters at once. When cooking for four tiny food critics, you are pretty much guaranteed to never make a meal that every person will enjoy or even say positive things about. This is why I am working on training up my children in the way they should go. And here that means don’t critique mom’s meal choice and hard work, lest you skip dinner and have to wait for breakfast. I’m trying to implement a rule that when they ask what’s for dinner and I describe a lovely, nutritious meal, they may respond in one of two ways: a.) “Yay! Thanks, mom!” OR b.) “Ok!”  If I did not ask for your opinion on the meal, then you can just keep those words in your head, mmkay?
  7. You will probably bathe your four children less often than you bathed your kids when you had one or two. Not necessarily saying that I do this, but I’ve heard some totally reasonable moms of four kids say that they will go multiple days between kid baths. If I did know a mom who said that, I’d be like, “Hey, you seem like a pretty cool lady with great taste in music and Netflix shows. I trust your discretion when it comes to your kids’ bath frequency.”  A hypothetical mom might space baths a few days apart when it’s necessary for her sanity; like when she needs bedtime to happen NOW, and not like in 45 minutes after lathering, rinsing and repeating on FOUR separate bodies. But that’s just what I’ve heard. For some people. Sometimes. Or maybe a lot of times. (You don’t know my life.)
  8. Even though strangers regularly comment on your reproductive schedule and gawk at you like you’re straight-up cray; and even though the day is bursting at the seams with chaos and unreasonable behavior and dishes and crumbs and dirty cars; and even though walking through a buffet line with a nine month old in an Ergo is like wearing an octopus; and even though the laundry situation is so dire that you have considered starting a nudist colony; and even though, wait…what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Ok, even though all of these things make life hard and complicated and sometimes your head almost explodes, each time you bring home yet another baby, you are blown away that you can love something as individually and tenderly as all the other babies, who you thought took up every last morsel of your love capacity. And at the end of the day, when all the precious angels are asleep, and you are enjoying a glass of Sauv Blanc and a bag of Orville Redenbacher, Netflix binging alongside your husband, you marvel at your lives together and the babies entrusted to you. You wouldn’t have planned it any other way. (Except maybe if the other way meant you could have a free maid and chef, then yes, definitely I would have planned it that way.)

 

Image Credit: Creative Commons, anyjazz65