Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. ~Psalm 127:3-5

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lessons Learned

Today as I was holding and cuddling my baby, Isabella, who doesn't seem like a baby anymore so much as a little being getting older by the second, I was thinking about all the things I have been learning in my journey of motherhood so far. It's only been 5 years since I became a mother - yes, I'm counting from the time I began my first pregnancy - but there is so much I have learned in this short 5 years that it almost feels like a lifetime now. But a lifetime is full of much more than just a few lessons learned, as we change and grow with our children and become more wise (and less wise), empowering ourselves with the strength to not only teach our children but allow them to teach us as well.

I wanted to make a list of some of the things I'd like to tell my children when they are grown and have babes of their own. Here I'll share this list with you, along with a personal reflection on each.

In no particular order of importance:

1. No matter how many children you have or how "stretched" you feel on any given day, make personal time for each of them, even if it's just 10 minutes.
As much as I would love to say this is just about them, it's also about me, too. I get so much joy in my heart from the time we spend together one on one. I also find that if I spend some quality time with each of them, I create a special (and positive) bond, and I believe that bond will connect us forever. Later in their lives, they will remember it and it might just be the only thing that comforts them in some dark moment in their life...or maybe even what comforts me in mine.

2. Laugh with your children. Be silly. A child's laughter has the power to heal the heart in a way nothing else can.
Recently, when I was rocking Bella and playing with her, making silly noises on the top of her head, she broke into the most hysterical laughter I've ever heard come from a baby. That alone made me feel that even in the middle of all we are facing right now, everything will be okay.

3. Listen to your children, no matter what age they are. Some people are under the impression that children don't have anything of value to say but really, often times, they have much to say that has more substance and meaning to it than a lot of what I've heard out of the mouths of some of the adults in my life. My 4 year old is very good at convicting me on my flaws in such an innocent, almost like it's straight from God, sort of way. Just today, at a moment when I was getting flustered and frustrated without even realizing I was doing so, she said very quietly and innocently, 'mom, lets ask Jesus to help you calm down.'

4. Hug your children whenever you can. Make sure they know how much you love them, even if it's just through this simple act of personal touch. We humans were made with the need to be touched (out of love, not anger or control!) and the more you hug your children, the more content and secure they'll feel. Even my 4 year old, who is far from a touchy-feely sort of girl, makes it known when she needs to be hugged and cuddled if we haven't already done so that day.

5. Tell your children that you love them. Every day. Even though there was a lot of chaos in my own home growing up, I always can remember my mom telling me she loved me. Children need to be told over and over that they are loved. Hearing the words 'I love you' is so calming and reaffirming, especially in times when things seem difficult, or they've gotten into trouble, or when they aren't feeling well.

6. Pick your battles. I have come to realize that arguing with my children over some things is just not worth it. It's one thing to want them to obey no matter what, but sometimes before I even give the command I don't think about why I'm giving it. For instance, if my daughter wants to change her clothes back into pj's in the middle of the day, I often am just annoyed that she's changing once again so I tell her 'no.' But really, it makes getting ready for bed a lot quicker if she's already in her pj's and there really is no reason for her to not to be able to do it. It's not harming anyone, she enjoys changing her clothes and she loves spending time in her pj's.

7. Tell your children you are proud of them, even for the smallest of things.
Tonight at dinner, and most nights really, we had to praise the kids and cheer them on every time they took a bite of food or they couldn't seem to go any further. It's amazing how a little cheer, clapping and general hub bub over such a small task that you usually just expect from them, can lift their spirits and give them that little push they need to get it done. Their eyes lit up with the brightest happiness and sense of accomplishment and they felt so good about themselves...all because we clapped when they took a bite of food. How strengthening and encouraging it will be for them as they go through life if we are like this about all their accomplishments, big and small.

8. Snuggle and cuddle your children, especially in the evenings. This sort of goes along with spending time with them or giving them hugs but I wanted it to be a specific and separate thing because I think it's significant, outside of those other ones. Snuggling and cuddling seems to be a sort of calming thing and if done in the evenings, it gives them that last little ounce of attention and love before they go to bed and helps them to unwind and be peaceful in the process. It also reaffirms that sense of safety because their is nothing more comforting and safe-feeling than the strong embrace of your mother or father's arms.

9. Give your children small tasks to do around the house as soon as they are old enough to understand, being careful not to be critical in any way but praising them for their work instead. Giving them little chores to do not only builds character and an appreciation for organization/cleanliness but it helps them with that sense of accomplishment that is so important to their fragile hearts, especially when you make sure to praise them for their work (regardless of whether it's "perfect"). My children are so proud of themselves when they straighten their toys in the playroom or pick up the clothes on their bedroom floors, especially when they do it of their accord.

10. Be mindful of what you say around your children and how you act, regardless of whether you think they're paying attention and regardless of their age. I'm sad to say that for the first year or so of Angelina's life, her father and I fought horribly practically every night. Often times, we were so loud, it woke her up. Even now, she has issues with sleeping through the night, often wakes up crying or screaming, and is just generally a more fragile sleeper than our other two, or any child I know. On a less serious note, there have been times that we've said things we didn't think Angel or Aidan could hear but later heard them repeating it to us or each other. This can be embarrassing in certain situations!

11. Talk to your children about God, even when they are babies.
While it's last on my list, it's the most important. Children need to be taught about God from an early age, and every day from then on. We talk to our children all the time about God's love for us, how God loves them, praying to Him, asking Him for things (especially things not necessarily of a material nature) , etc. We pray with our children and make sure they know it's important to trust in Him for all of our needs. To have that in their minds, in their hearts from even before the moment they're capable of remembering will give them the sense of something secure to fall back on throughout their entire lives. It's our duty as Christian parents to teach our children the essence of God's love, not only through these talks but through our entire process of parenting - the hugs, the encouragement, the listening, the loving.

Throughout my life and the continuation of my motherhood, as my children get older and I grow more mature, there will be many more reflections I will wish to pass on to them as they pertain to my children's lives as parents. These are just 11 things that have been on my mind and heart lately and I hope that they give you, my readers, a small glimpse into my life as a mommy, and hopefully, they will also give you some direction on your own path. I realize that as my children get older, the lessons I will learn will also be learned by them and we will all grow in our knowledge of parenthood in a deeper sense than that of just flying through, talking but not listening to our children, teaching them but not learning from them, raising them but not loving them with every fiber of our being.

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