Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: parenting (page 1 of 12)

The blessing of the youngest

The youngest’s birthday passed without much remark due to circumstance; we spent the day like the previous 4 and the following 2, at the beach and in the pool with the family. We had celebratory (GF) brownies and he managed to get everything he asked for throughout the day. The following morning he attempted to extort something from his papa, and he was informed that it was no longer his birthday, so he couldn’t have everything he wanted.

This didn’t compute for the little guy, mainly because most of his life he gets what he wants.

These babies of the family . They’re something else. And I argue there’s a mathematical equation that relates the number of children in a family to the yountest-ness of the youngest. The baby of two simply doesn’t bear as much youngest-ness as does the baby of nine. I’m sure someone has written a thesis about this. And while someone with a Ph.D. can argue that the trend exists, I’ll pontificate on why it tends to be, at least as it has grown from my own experience.

As parents continue to have more children, we have to open up our hands (and our hearts) a bit more to make it all fit. So, naturally, we let go. Those firsts, we hold tightly.  The voice of our duty to love and protect rings in our ear. We want the best; we strive for it. We take in everything we can as we learn along the road of parenthood. We see things sitting along the side of the road and we put it in the garage “in case we need that someday” because we just don’t know what is coming along next. It’s likely we’ll parent our firsts all the way through in this manner.

As our youngests grow, we get more familiar with the terrain. We learn what we might need and what just gets too heavy to carry along. It’s like comparing our first trip to Disney last week, our backpack filled with all the “essentials” to my cousin, who makes multiple trips per year, and walks through the gate empty handed. He knows exactly what he’ll need in a day, and where to find it so that he doesn’t have to carry it along.

So in the experience of parenting our youngests, things get lighter. We still have the same desires to make things right and good for our children, to offer them the most opportunity and help them become the best humans they were created to be. Yet we also recognize that lugging along a spare of everything “just in case” won’t be what makes it happen. The day won’t be ruined because we didn’t bring a second tube of sunscreen, it will be ruined when we loose sight of the fun that exists without trying damn so hard.

And so goes parenthood. We won’t ruin our children because we didn’t do X, Y, and Z. I think our chances are much higher that their childhood becomes a negative experience when we carry the baggage of the shoulds, the musts, and the if-we-don’ts.

So, the baby of this family gets more of what he wants. (And let’s be honest. The little guy deserves to get a few privileges to make up for the the massive amounts of hand-me-downs he has had to, and will continue to, endure.) Now it matters less what he believes to be true when he gets to pick his own spoon rather than use the one I’ve given him. That’s a power struggle I no longer need to win, because I don’t carry the fear of being “wrapped around his finger.”  I’m making space to carry the parenting essentials for all of these children and the if-we-don’ts won’t fit in my pocket anymore.

Essentially, I fear less with the youngests. Fear is tiresome, and it has robbed me of too many beautiful moments with my firsts, and I don’t want it to get the best of my youngests.

I read an unattributed quote the other day that said, you can do things out of love or you can do things out of fear; but you cannot serve two masters. My parenting approach has shifted with more babies and much of this is because what I mistook for love was actually fear. And honestly, as I keep parenting my oldests, it continues to be the case. These unknown trails of raising humans are wrought with fearful moments and places. With every new developmental stage and age, I remember, once again, that I have no idea what I’m doing. (And I’m getting better of remembering that no one else does, either.)

As a human being, I’m wired for fear, to protect myself and my species, so there’s no shame in that. The gift of these youngests lies in familiarity, remembering that I need not to be afraid all of the time. Now I get to live – and parent – from a different place.  Instead of traveling with constant concern of what lies behind the bushes, I now get to walk the path of raising children with a bit more reverential beholding of the beauty of it all.

 

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Imperfect Parenting and the River of Goodness

One of my greatest parenting successes has been convincing my children that a trip to IKEA’s “Smaland” is barely a step down from COSI. We treat it like a museum or McDonald’s PlayPlace – an event designed around their fun. (Little do they know, mama is accumulating a cart full of garlic presses and organizational bins.)

So on the Random Friday With No School, I decided a trip would be the best use of our time. JJ was off to other productive work, so all 4 kiddos and I headed to Canton. The lady working Smaland was less than excited to see me (she tried to exclude both my youngest and my oldest, but we easily fell within the height requirements on all fronts), probably because we take up 2/3 of the available kid allotment. They had fun not jumping in the balls, and I found the necessary non-brass light fixture. The kids opted for lunch in the Ikea cafe, so we headed upstairs.

Prior to walking through the line, we had a team meeting to clarify expectations: once food was ordered and on a plate, there was no changing of the minds. Everyone executed.  The line was a tad tricky, and we made it through without tears until we sat down and the youngest discovered that french fries had not come with the meatballs he requested. Mama was going to share, but there was no convincing him of anything. Trading plates of meatballs didn’t work. I couldn’t just take the other kids’ food – I’ve learned this the hard way. You just end up with more tears. The other kids were looking at me, waiting as patiently as possible for ketchup while the baby of the family melted into a puddle on the chair. And in my arms.

It was clear there was nothing I could do to save the day. I was powerless until he actually put some food in his belly and overcame the Hangry. I couldn’t leave him to get the ketchup. I couldn’t get him to settle down.

And then, the oldest took a handful of his fries and laid them on his brother’s plate. The other two kids followed suit. They dished off food until the tears stopped. We were finally able to fetch the condiments without nasty looks.

While I had maintained most of my composure during The Episode, I know my Bigs felt the energy of my defeat and frustration. For the rest of the meal, my oldest was beyond helpful, refilling water and ketchup without being asked. He hugged me no less than 4 times.

In the midst of their mama’s powerlessness, my kids stepped up. They realized that to make the best of the situation, they would all have to come together and help one another. This is a lesson they could never learn if I were to continually make the problems go away.

I can preach to them that we belong to one another or tell them to serve and love using more than their words. These will be quotes on a printable until I give them opportunity to put on shoes and take the ideas for a run. Without the chance to do it, they may never know what it feels like to live their values, which we all know is a whole lot different than simply believing something.

I’ve never felt like a perfect parent, and I’m confident my kids are aware of my flaws, so “imperfect parenting” isn’t just about me and my shortcomings. I’ve heard other parents talk about how in our mistakes we can show our kids grace and the need for forgiveness. But I think accepting our imperfections has wider implications.

To parent imperfectly means to stop filling 100% of the holes for my kids and let them learn how to clean up a leak. I think we should give them a chance to let their heart whisper “hey, go get a towel!” and then allow them to feel the sense of goodness that comes from doing a good thing that has grown from their own place in the world.

What if kids learned to trust their ability to do what is right and good?  What if they learned they actually have the capacity to change a situation, even if it’s only in the enjoyment of a meal as a family? Isn’t that still something worth doing?

Goodness is like a stream running throughout the universe. Sometimes we’re swimming in it, and sometimes we’re not. But I’m not sure the Goodness River is something that you can toss your kids into; they have to learn to jump. As a parent, the best thing I can do is to dive in as often as I can, and assure them that they’ll float when I see them standing on the banks, contemplating a swim. And, as they come up from under the waters, greet them with a smile that shows them how proud you are that they’ve decided to take the plunge.

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On Sibling Unity

Dearest Children,

I have many hopes for your life. That you find a deep and satisfying love for another person, a partner in life, to hold and hold up, who reveals the best parts of you. That you discover a vocation that resonates with your soul, a means for you to partner with God in the work of redeeming this world. That you cultivate friendships that honor and carry you, a family outside the bounds of bloodlines.

And that you hold on to one another.

I hope you become one another’s loudest cheerleader and biggest challenger. I hope you support without forgetting honesty and love without holding judgment. Please, please, please remember: in this thing of life, you are on the same team. 

May you find that none of you are perfect, yet all of you are good. And when you face the world together, you are complete.

My best gift, my only gift, I can offer you – outside of my attempts to reflect the presence of God and my sluggish struggle to demonstrate the importance of these wishes with my own life example – is one another. With each and every child I gave you, it was my best step toward being a better mother. My own love never feels enough, so I’ve offered you each a team of other humans who love, protect, guide and challenge you.

You will compete. You will be frustrated. You might not talk to one another for a period of time. The idiosyncrasies of each personality will eventually drive you toward an appreciation for solitude, but may it guide you toward compassion, an understanding that God’s image comes in many containers, often that look nothing like your own.

Each of you has a gift to offer the world, and it begins in your love for one another. May it be so.

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