Julie really got me thinking. There are so many people out there who are desperate for kids, and can't have any - yet so many having kids that are just living through their situation. Truth be told, I think that I am one of the latter. Now, that does NOT mean I am a bad mother - I am just not a natural mother. I don't want my comments filled with empathetic comments like, "I've seen your blog - you are a great mom!" I'm not looking for pity, because being an un-natural mom isn't a bad thing - we just have to try a little bit harder to make those special-mom moments happen.
Most people are surprised when I admit that motherhood is foreign to me because I have four, almost five kids. Everyone assumes that I wake up with little birds and mice that help me get dressed as I sing songs and make a delicious and obviously healthy, whole-grain breakfast. Again, not the case. Most mornings I wake up grumbling. This morning in particular I woke up to a naked baby at 6:15 telling me that she was poopy. I believe I rolled over and expressed my hatred of Claire's new toddler bed to Rob before getting on my robe and marching angrily into Claire's room.
So, if I'm not the song-singing, healthy-meal-making, high-pitched-voice mother, why do I have so many kids? That is a REALLY great question, one which I ask myself (and I'm pretty sure my husband wonders about me) on a daily basis. I should add that I do feel like a have a natural draw to babies. There isn't a thing I wouldn't do for a sweet, innocent, cuddly bundle of joy. Love for my children is immediate and overpowering at their birth. I know they are mine, and I hate putting them down. But at about age two I find myself looking at them thinking, "Now what?" Not that I have stopped loving them - heck, I love them more, I just don't know how to treat/handle children that can think for themselves. The (un)natural mother in me wants to tell them what to do for the rest of their lives and smile as I see them living out all of my dreams. Could my lack of mothering skills come from my overwhelming need to control everything? Maybe - I'll have to ask my shrink. I digress. I have lots of kids because to ME families are big. I come from a family of six kids and my husband comes from a family of seven. That's not the same for everyone - but it's what I know and it's what I love. Lots of little kids can be challenging, but I love having so many grown siblings and want the same for my kids.
But after getting through my fourth child, I have picked up on a lot of important things that kids need. Things that I can remind myself to do in those moments where I realize I have been self absorbed for WHO KNOWS how long, and have no idea what my kids have actually been up to. Because, over the years I have learned that it really is the little things that help kids to live normal, balanced, family-focused lives.
- When your kids try to show you something they have made, stop what you are doing and physically look at them while listening. When they are done explaining, even if you don't understand half of what they have said, compliment their work. A "Wow! That is beautiful, " goes a long way when you are physically engaged with them. But do yourself ONE better and give them a second compliment on something specific. That shows them that you're not just regurgitating the same response every time they talk to you. I have seen this work wonders with Jude. He is so proud of everything he brings me and always walks away with a smile. If you don't have three seconds to listen with EVERYTHING you have, tell them. Explain that you really, really want to see their work - but you need to do it in a few minutes when you can give them all of your attention. They usually understand.
- Raise your kids to be polite. Don't just teach them to be polite to others, make them be polite to you. As awkward as it seems to tell your kids to thank you for things, they need to be in that habit. Rob and I usually try to remind them to thank the other parent like, "Wasn't it so nice that Dad took you to the movies?" Even if I was there - then it doesn't seem like I am begging for a thank you. My parents raised me this way, and I am SO grateful that they did. Twenty years later I still know how much they loved me by their wanting me to be a great kid. Great kids have great manners.
- Work on the most strained relationship. I will not say that parents have favorites, but I will say that just like the normal people in our lives, you get along better with different kids. I also think this comes with ages and phases. There are just some ages you connect better with, but that doesn't mean to give up on the kids when they are, well, awkward! Try harder. Find some area that you can connect with - even if it is small. I have found that sending "Happy Wednesday," or "I love you tons," notes in lunches creates a bond and reminds my children that I am always thinking about them. When your kids are at their weirdest, love them the most. It's the love during those times that will get you through till the next phase. Blow it then, and it might be gone for good.
- Be at everything. When possible, go to your kids events. Even if it is a forty-five minute, eardrum-busting orchestra concert, be there. I have seen so many reactions of sad kids whose parents aren't in the audience: the kids who are dropped off, then picked up. Obviously, we won't always be able to get to everything, but do your very best. And if you can't be there, see if an aunt, grandparent, or cousin can fill in for you. Nothing is worse than putting on a performance for a room full of strangers. Apologize profusely for the times you can't make it. Make sure your kids know that there's nowhere you'd rather be.
- Let your kids see you love your spouse. Don't always agree in front of your kids just for their sake, but don't fight angrily or emotionally in front of them. Let your kids see you hug and kiss your spouse. A happy home raises happy kids.
- Sacrifice - sometimes, not always. Yes, you need that break from your kids, but don't let your kids grow up remembering family activities that you weren't a part of. Is Dad taking the kids hiking? Go with - sometimes. Wouldn't it be nice to stay home and relax while the kids are at that movie? Yes, but they also need to see that you enjoyed spending your free time with them. They don't always want to seem like the thing you were most eager to get a break from.
- Don't be phased by all of the creative and Pinterest worthy activities you see on the internet. It's fun to do something special for birthdays or IMPORTANT holidays, but your kids aren't going to be sad that your house didn't rock a red, white and blue breakfast for flag day. Stretch yourself too thin, and there's nothing left. And honestly, whose REAL life is that well put together? Not mine! Balloons and streamers for birthdays, traditions for Christmas and Easter. Your kids will adore you.
- Most importantly, tell your kids that you love them. Daily. Take that one step further by telling them WHY you love them. One of my favorite questions to ask my kids is, "Do you know why I love you?" They come up with some really amazing answers. Then I get to say things like, "I love you for being such a great big sister. That makes me so proud." They BEAM, and you know that they know.
And for all of you moms out there - natural, un-natural, and those still waiting to be, Happy Mother's Day (a special shout out to my mom and the other "mothers" in my life). Mothering is NOT an easy job, but I promise that through all of your failings and short comings if your kids know that you love them, you are winning.