Saturday, August 31, 2013
So we're back at it, sending our kids to school.
Be it public, private, charter, co-op, part-time, virtually ANYTHING besides shutting them in their rooms all day long, we are exposing them to the outside world.
And this world - this horribly broken world in which we live - presses in on us. If our kids are compared to balls of clay, then many things can leave an impression. The question I have today is this: How can we, as mothers, leave the strongest and most influential one?
Well, I don't have ALL the answers, and I'm sure innumerable books have been written on the subject. But I thought I'd share some strategies I've come up with to maintain my relationships with my children when they are no longer around me most hours of the day.
I'll start with a little background. Last year sometime, things got a little crazy. I gradually lost sight of my real job as a mother, and instead tried to perfect my less important jobs of time manager, homework supervisor, activities director...you get my drift. This happens as your kids get older, I've noticed. I suddenly realized that the main two windows of time I had to spend exclusively with my kids during the week, the morning shift and the after school shift, had been reduced to me barking orders and getting frustrated if my small people didn't act like robots completing their responsibilities.
I hated that realization.
And I knew I needed my precious few hours with them per day to be very different. Now, here are some ways I approach those two windows in an effort to maintain my influential ground.
1. Before school time stays positive.
First of all, I am not a morning person; I don't feel much like talking to anyone, eating anything, or investing in relationships anytime before 9 a.m. But the reality is that I have to engage with, provide for, and encourage my two small people starting at 6:30. I wasn't doing it very well before. Now I am. And I've learned that I, maybe more than some moms, have to exert a lot of effort to be a good mom in the early hours of the day. I force a happier tone of voice. I ask questions nicely about how prepared they are and what kind of cereal they want. I try to make sure I've given them some physical affection too. Then in the car, we listen to worship music, talk, or tell funny, made up stories about their stuffed animals on the way to school. None of it is what I FEEL like doing. I promise. But this short window is the launching point of their hours without me. They then get sent out into the battlefield of childhood. That day, they may feel small, or unseen, or they may get laughed at for something they say. They may fail a test or make a bad choice. They may get their hearts broken. But before they walk out MY door, I want to leave a strong and positive impression so they know I'm on their side. I know them. I'm a safe, accepting place. It's really so hard for me to do in the morning before my brain is even awake, but I work hard at it now. Maybe all this morning business is natural for you. But for me, it takes work.
And do I even need to say that some days, all this fails and some people are crying? I didn't think so. Life is messy, and grace is important. Especially for yourself as a mom.
2. After school time includes connecting.
During the season when I realized I was losing influential ground, when I realized being AROUND them was not the same as being connected WITH them, I noticed our nightly reading-together time had been squeezed out by classroom demands that the kids read every night independently. And I was getting too tired from the days activities to muster up the energy for it anyways. That's when we started what I called Padgett Book Club. As soon as they came home from school, my focus was turned toward them. Instead of me rushing them to the table to complete a pile of homework, they got a mental break. I showed interest in being with them, not necessarily peppering them with questions about the day, but I stated up front that any questions or problems they encountered at school would certainly take precedence. We made a snack together, and then I read aloud to them while they ate it. By the way, this tradition is continuing, and my kids are 8 and 11. They still love it.
One reason I chose to make this happen was because I was getting a little too used to my time off from mothering. This didn't happen for me until they were both in full-day elementary school. The big chunk of time off allowed me to get more involved in projects or activities of my own that I had a hard time pulling away from once they got home. Again, they would come home from school, but my mind would be on the thing I had just gotten interrupted doing when I had to go pick them up. It could have been a fine thing...cleaning or folding or grocery shopping. Maybe a very legitimate job of mine. Or maybe just an overly ambitious craft. The activity didn't matter though. It was more about where my head was. I had to reconsider which jobs were my priorities, and which ones were the true interruptions? Are my children interrupting my jobs, or are my other jobs interfering with my relationships with my children? I learned to stop myself. And I'm still learning, because it's hard. I shut off all the things going on in my brain and I focus on my kids. It's as simple and as difficult as that.
By the way, when my oldest first started preschool and I had a younger one still, my version of connecting after school looked like this. On the drive home, we'd chat in the car. (To this day, my kids know that "Nothing," and "I don't know," are not answers I accept when I ask about their day. I would kindly encourage them, "Use the good brain God gave you and think of one thing to share." And then wait. It never failed. I'm hopeful this has given us a foundation of openness about their time they spend away from me at school.) When we got home and little guy went down for his nap, my big girl and I would have a snack date. I'd make a special snack - the same for BOTH of us - sit across the table from her, and chat with her more about anything. The point was connection. The point was making sure she knew I liked her, I wanted to know her, and I loved to be with her. Ugh, that last bit gave me a lump in my throat.
In each season of the young ages, I tried hard to maximize one on one time, until, finally, they were both old enough to follow along in the same book and we could spend that quality time together.
So I guess the bottom line here is this. Holding your influential ground when you lose hours with your kids during the school year is not so much about lecturing and teaching and trying to make that lasting impression on the ball of clay. The lasting impression, I'm guessing, is simply a natural result of a positive, loving relationship. If your child has more of a positive relationship with their peers, their teacher, their coach, or their choice of entertainment, then those things or people will most likely have more of an influence on them. I know it's healthy for those influencers to shift as they get closer to adulthood. But I'm certainly not willing to lose my influence on my children right now, and by accident. By carelessness.
Making the most of the short windows of time during the week is what I shoot for. And then I lecture sometimes too. I'm really good at lecturing. But I know deep down, it is not the heart of love. Relationship is. Time and touch and listening and snacks.
We will have to fight for consistent opportunities to connect with our kids. I know it. Our phones and our friends and our blogs and our schedules will compete against our children for our attention. I pray that we both make better choices this year in those little windows, for those little souls.