I’ve been ‘single-parenting’ it for almost two months now as my amazing husband has been gone day and night, working his day job and then heading nearly an hour away to help his family renovate an old home. It’s for a single mom who needs a place to move with her son because she’s losing her home to foreclosure, so there’s a time pressure involved. My husband is a skilled builder, so the renovation has fallen mainly to him, and with the narrow time frame he has to work with, the pressure has been pretty intense.
Nearly every day after work he heads straight to the reno house and works late into the night, often just staying there and sleeping so he can get up and go straight to work again. Between all of his extra driving and the times the children and I have driven over just so we can see him for a few minutes and get a tour of the work he’s doing, our gas budget has nearly doubled. That’s just not sustainable for a one-income family, so we’ve had to stop going to see him.
What that’s meant for me is a hubby who’s absent most of the time (read: no breaks for mama!) and who, when he does come home, is stressed and tired and tapped-out. Now, by ‘breaks for mama’ I don’t mean time away from my children. I don’t want or need to leave my little ones. But normally along with all of the sacrifices, compromises, and hard work that goes into keeping a long-term marriage healthy, there is companionship, caring, support, and a sharing of responsibilities.
In our family, mama having a break means daddy is the one who listens, at least for a little while, to the endless stories about snails that our little mud-magnet is into sharing at the moment. It means daddy takes a turn at the helm in helping our SPD girl cope when she gets overwhelmed. It means daddy takes our currently teething, clingy, diaper-rashed, sad little milk monkey out in the evenings to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to the moon (she’s a bit confused, but it’s adorable) so mama can take a shower alone. And, of course, all of that’s in addition to him running to the store, helping out around the house, fixing what’s broken, grilling dinner occasionally, etc.
But for the last two months all of the myriad details that go into running our home…homeschooling, juggling teenagers’ schedules, shepherding a high-spirited kindergartener, keeping up with a toddler, handling the bills, doing the banking and shopping and cleaning, coping with a broken dryer, and on and on and on…have all fallen entirely to me. Add to that some pretty hefty life-stressors we’re dealing with at the moment outside of our marriage and home…
And I’m tired.
And my hubby is tired.
And we’ve unconsciously fallen into the ‘my needs vs. your needs’ vicious cycle. You know the one:
First volley: “This is what I did all day.” (Translation: I need you to acknowledge me.)
“Well, this is what I did all day.” (Translation: I need you to acknowledge me.)
Second volley: “These are the reasons I did what I did all day.”
(Translation: I need you to understand me.)
“Well, these are the reasons I did what I did all day.”
(Translation: I need you to understand me.)
Third volley: “This is why what I did was harder than what you did.”
(Translation: I really need you to hear me.)
“Well, this is why what I did was harder than what you did.”
(Translation: I really need you to hear me.)
Fourth volley: “You didn’t do this.” (Translation: I’ll make you hear me.)
“Well, you didn’t do this.” (Translation: I’ll make you hear me.)
Unmet needs result in an ever-escalating cycle of attempts to get those needs met. And, as long as those two little letters ‘vs’ stand between ‘my needs’ being met and ‘your needs’ being met, the cycle will continue. Someone has to break the cycle, and the solution is always the same: Sacrifice.
Someone has to step up and stand down. Someone has to let go of their own needs and focus on meeting the other’s needs, not in an attempt to manipulate that person to meet their own needs, but with an honest generosity of spirit, a choosing to lay down self, a living expression of love.
And ‘someone’ will. Our marriage wouldn’t have lasted for twenty-five years and counting, otherwise! But I wanted to share some of the dynamics of breaking the ‘need standoff’ in a relationship while they’re fresh in my mind.
There are endless contributing factors to who stands down and when, from the differences in love languages, to past hurts and experiences, to upbringing, to the circumstances of the conflict itself. And standing down can take many different forms. It may mean moving on without receiving the apology you believe you deserve. It may mean letting go of the need to explain your position. It may take the form of an apology from you or a verbal indication that you are choosing to let go of the conflict. Or it may take the form of a favorite meal, flowers, a back rub, a gift, or some other loving act.
Sometimes the one who chooses (note: an active choice, not a reactive/self-protective response as in an abusive/controlling relationship) to stand down in a relationship is the same person most, if not all, of the time. This is often the result of a peacemaking personality. If you feel you are ‘always’ the one to stand down, consider these two things:
1.) Are you really the one to always stand down or is that just a perception you need to work through?
2.) Do you have a peacemaking personality? In other words, do you tend to be the calming factor in most of your relationships?
If you do, in fact, have a peacemaking personality, be aware that it is a rare gift that comes with great responsibility. Someone once asked me why they always had to be the one to “put out the fires” in their relationship. Knowing this person to be a peacemaker in all of their relationships, I said, “Because God gave you the hose.”
While it can certainly be frustrating to be in that position, instead of letting it cause resentment to take hold, imagine how difficult life can be for those who don’t have that inner calm, and try to focus on the strengths they do have rather than fixating on the gifts they don’t have. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and focusing on people’s strengths (as well as being aware of our own weaknesses!) helps us to give them grace for their weaknesses.
*Take note, when it comes to parent/child relationships, the parent must always take the role of peacemaker, regardless of personality or gifts. Children not only don’t have an adult’s capacity for self-control, but they also don’t bear the responsibility for maintaining the relationship.
And so, in our home, with both parents tapped-out, tired, and out-of-sorts, we’ve found ourselves in that place of competing to get our needs met. Our children have, of course, joined in the ‘needs games,’ little reflectors that they are. It’s made for a less-than-joyful interval in what we typically refer to as the joyful chaos of our lives.
Then, last night as my miserably teething little milk monkey woke me up for the zillionth time with her crying and whimpering and tossing and turning and climbing from one side of me to the other and nursing and nursing and nursing and nursing until I thought I might explode, she suddenly stopped mid-climb, mid-cry, and pressed her ear against my heart. And then, with her tiny body draped across my belly and her head cradled between my breasts, she sighed and relaxed, a little Mona Lisa smile curving her sweet mouth as she finally succumbed to a peaceful sleep.
And in that moment, that tiny, mysterious, contented smile called me to surrender. To surrender to heart-meltingly sweet moments. To embrace again the extraordinary loveliness of ordinary life. To marvel at the littleness of the issues that set us apart and the bigness of the love that holds us together.
Love is a choice, not a feeling. Feelings shift, flowing now hot, now cold. They lead nowhere, and instead are misleading with their mercurial, capricious nature.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13
I choose love.
You are peacefully breastfeeding your 15 month old baby, cuddled up together in bed like every other night, when a hard pounding on the door jolts your little one awake. As you try to soothe her tears, two police officers and a social worker come into the room. The police read a warrant while the social worker snatches your little one out of your arms and marches out of the room, and the sound of your precious baby’s traumatized screams fade into the night.
Your homeschool year has ended and your family is boarding a flight, happily anticipating an exciting move back to your family’s country of origin. Suddenly, a fully armed police unit storms the plane and snatches your son out of his seat. You rush after them, begging them to give your son back to you, only to watch helplessly as your son is taken away by social services, bewildered tears running down his face.
You arrive to pick up your preschooler from daycare and are suddenly surrounded, handcuffed, and taken into custody where you are strip-searched with no explanation. Meanwhile, a contingent of officers has stormed your house, and Social Services has seized your children and is interrogating your pregnant wife, again with no explanation
While these scenes may seem like they’re straight out of a made-for-tv movie script, they are actually based on real events. In 2011, fifteen-month-old baby Alma was taken from her young mother when Spanish officials decided that breastfeeding and cosleeping were not acceptable forms of parenting. In Sweden in 2009, seven-year-old Dominic was snatched off of a plane and taken into protective custody where he remains to this day. His parents were accused of homeschooling him. And in Canada in March of 2012, little four-year-old Nevaeh set off a firestorm in the life of her family when she drew a picture of her daddy fighting monsters with a gun.
Scenes like these and others are played out in nations around the world when parental choices come into conflict with governmental controls. In nations governed by dictatorships, military rule, and communist parties, the abuses of the power wielded by officials are unfortunate facts of life, and parental choice is a foreign concept. But in democratic nations, parents expect to be able to exercise their rights to make life decisions for their family, including their underage children, without undue interference from their government. Increasingly, however, these parents are discovering just how vulnerable they are to governmental incursion into the heart of their homes.
The desire to give every child a safe, healthy, and happy upbringing and stellar education is certainly a worthy cause. However, the belief that government, that faceless entity populated by an ever-shifting power base and mercurial agenda, should have the final say in what is ‘best for the child’ is an idealistic hope at best and a dangerous arsenal at worst. Enacting and enforcing laws to protect and provide for children is a wise course, but cultures vary world-wide in what is defined as child abuse, what is viewed as proper housing and provision, and what is considered effective education.
In Bali, a thatch, open-air bungalow would be considered perfectly acceptable accommodation, while in the United States a home with no windows or electricity would be grounds for removal of a child into protective services. In Finland, children aren’t expected to even begin formal education until a minimum of age seven, whereas in Japan such educational standards would be considered seriously deficient and even harmful. In the Middle East, young boys are often subject to physical punishment in their religious training, but such actions in Switzerland would result in prosecution.
Having a one-world standard is, then, clearly problematic. But even on a smaller scale, the idea that government is a better caretaker and decision-maker for a nation’s children than their parents is insidiously taking root. Children in the U.K. have been removed from their homes due to educational choices that were once considered the prerogative of parents. Parents have gone into hiding in Australia for making vaccination choices for their children that went against their government’s edicts. U.S. children not old enough to see a pediatrician for an ear infection without having a parent present have been given access to abortion and vaccination without parental consent or notification.
In an era where cultural diversity has become a cultural icon in and of itself, one would expect the idea of whitewashing childhood into an institutional lunch-line to be rejected out-of-hand. But the emotional tug of sensationalized stories of child abuse and neglect is powerful and a far too alluring force for power-mongers to ignore. Harnessing that emotional train to usurp parental choice and enforce government controls is a pattern used to great and terrible effect in the past in Nazi Germany and more recently in The People’s Republic of China, among others, with human rights always, always, suffering in the process. The idea of allowing the same ideology of governmental controls to be implemented to protect human rights, specifically children’s rights, is counter-intuitive and doomed to the same misuse of power history has revealed time and time again.
There is absolutely no doubt that laws and regulations need to be in place to protect children. The question is, should the power to define what constitutes the rights of a child be given to an unelected global council which does not and cannot share a common culture? Even on a national level, how much power and control should government have over the private lives of its citizens?
Clearly there must be some norm, some agreement on what constitutes a safe and healthy childhood. But how far should it be permitted to go? Should government be given the power to co-parent, as claimed by the Canadian officials in the case of little Nevaeh? Should they be allowed to determine whether the turkey sandwich you sent to school with your child fits their standards and replace your choices with chicken nuggets as occurred in a North Carolina elementary school or send your five-year-old home with welts on his bottom from being paddled with a 16″ board without your knowledge or permission as happened to a Florida preschooler? And who should decide? A faceless global council? A distant national committee? Local government officials? Parents?
There are no easy answers, and yet the stakes are huge. We must protect those who can’t protect themselves…these small humans who come into the world so perfect and so helpless, who contain the next generation of scientists and sculptors in their ranks, who will one day run our world.
The question is this: Who has ‘the best interests of the child’ in their hearts and minds for your child? Should you have the right and privilege of deciding if and for how long to breastfeed, whether or not to vaccinate, how and where your child should be educated? Or should the government have the right to dictate those choices and more for you and your child?
Abuses of rights will always exist as long as humans are human. But taking away those rights from the many because of the abuses of the few would be a crime in and of itself. We so often hear, “I’ll make my choices and you make yours and we’ll all get along.” But just as often we hear, “There ought to be a law…” And the truth is that there do need to be laws, laws to protect the helpless and laws to enforce those protections. But who do you want those laws to be written by? Someone you elect and can un-elect if they become power-hungry and corrupt? Or someone distant, unconnected, unaccountable who can and, historically speaking, will misuse their power because they, too, are human?
I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to have the conversations, explore the possibilities, and evaluate the options so I can do my part to contribute an educated and thoughtful voice to a global issue that is sure to be an ever-evolving and ever-controversial dialogue. And I’m willing to do the ‘boots on the ground’ work of educating parents about the needs of their children and about gentle, effective parenting choices. I’m willing to step up and step in if I see a child in need. I’m willing to spend my time and resources helping organizations such as Bead For Life empower women in third world countries to become strong, independent people so they can provide food, shelter, and an education to their children. And I’m willing to stand firmly and openly against so-called ‘parenting experts’ such as Gary Ezzo and Michael Pearl who promote rigid child-training and corporal punishment of small children.
If we as individuals, the grassroots ingredients of change, commit to support and educate families, protect and speak up for children, and provide a helping hand to those in need, we can shrink a global mountain into a local molehill. I’m in. Are you?
Small children aren’t born with an instinctive understanding of finances, so expecting them to grasp concepts such as pay periods, budgets, poverty, credit, saving, tithing, etc. is unreasonable. When they ask for things a parent can’t afford, the parent might react negatively out of their own stress, worry, or even guilt at not being able to provide what their child desires. Having open, honest, and ongoing financial interactions with our children sets the stage for a ‘team-spirit’ response and helps to ease the tension when these requests arise.
I remember one of my little people, about six years old, suggesting that I “use plastic” when I tried to explain that we didn’t have enough money for a particular toy. After I cracked up (and shared that little-ism with my hubby), I decided to start working on teaching economic concepts. Through the years, I’ve used different games and activities to give concrete examples of real life money management and social finance issues, some with more success than others.
~Here are a few of my favorites~
When your child wants to see this:
Or buy this:
Try this cute money management lesson:
Paint a square on a mason jar out of chalkboard paint. On the Wish Jar write what your child wants (or have them draw or cut out a picture of it and tape it on the front), and on the other jar write the amount of money needed for that wish and put that amount in the jar (round to the nearest dollar and use cash for more expensive wishes and quarters for less expensive). Every day before going to bed, let them take out one dollar (or quarter) and move it to the Wish Jar. When all the money is moved over, they get their wish, and in the process have learned about saving up for something in a simplified manner without the extraneous temptations of spending it along the way or keeping track of it that they may not be ready to handle. Keep in mind that this can be a fun and non-stressful object lesson, but only if it’s used sparingly.
Note: This can also be used for special family things like saving up money for gifts for Grandma or for a camping trip, etc. It’s a great time-keeper, too. As the money is moved from one jar to the other, it’s a natural count-down clock!
Social economic issues can be introduced by activities such as joining in a local church or charity’s community outreaches or on your own by organizing a mini-blanket or canned food drive among family and friends and letting your little people help with gathering items and going with you to deliver them. Nothing impacts children (or adults, for that matter!) more than serving others and seeing first-hand how real the people are who are in need.
Setting up a little shopping center at home can be a great way of helping older elementary school aged children learn some business skills such as stocking and keeping inventory, bookkeeping, making change, etc. And smaller children have a blast ‘shopping’ for their own toys or a small dollar store item or even grocery shopping for ingredients for helping you make lunch!
We’ve used several games to teach economics and finances through the years, as well. Here are a few you might like:
And here are some books to check out (Literally! Checking books out from the library teaches a great money-saving option!):