Since adding Lukas to our family, the Ulrich household has been utter chaos. Its messy. There are half naked children everywhere. Mom looks a tad disheveled herself. Adding another needy human takes a little adjustment. Roles change. Priorities change. Some handle the change better than others. I am learning to give grace to myself and my family in this moment of change. It wont be this way forever. It really is, just a moment in the grand scheme of things. We will again find our groove, a new groove, that maybe works even better than before. With change comes big emotions. As the mother and the wife, I can tell you that it feels impossible to meet everyone’s needs. I often feel guilt because I dont have enough to give right now. A baby requires so much of a mother. I am his all. His comfort, food, shelter. I am all he has ever known. Our love tanks have been a bit dry. The ways we used to keep them full no longer work the same. Its lead to some moments of pretty nasty behavior from all of us, at times. My temper gets short, Eva is tired of helping with chores and wrangling her siblings. Levi and Emma are in a fight to the death over who will be the dominant middle child. They are in search of consistent boundaries a nursing mother struggles to provide. Daddy is just tired and over worked.
You cant discuss these struggles with anyone. Its always met with snide comments like “Well you asked for this” or “if you would just stop popping out kids”. Its perfectly fine to express stress when you have 1 or 2 children, but more than that and “you brought this on yourself!” We did. A big family was our choice. I grieve the fact that there will likely be no more. This life, with all these little people is hard in this moment, but when they are grown, it will be an immense blessing. Im more than willing to work today for tomorrows pay off. But that doesnt mean that I dont have tough days. Most days are beautifully tough. In times of struggle, everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a criticism. Even ourselves. This post is just as much written to myself as it is to anyone who might read it.
Sometimes I think we forget that parenting is a journey. Its not really the here and now that matters, and yet, thats exactly what matters. My response to each situation makes a lifetime of difference. The goal of parenting is to raise responsible, loving, individuals who are of value to this world. Each day, my actions as a parent, either steer my child towards or away from this. Parenting is a hard gig. Some days I am so good at it. Most days, I dont have a clue.
Ill tell you what I do know. My life experience is of value. I have learned things from my parents, their parents, my schools, my church, my patients, and all sorts of other individuals who were parents before me, that have shaped who I do and do not want to be as a parent. Each has taught me both positive and negative things. Each, has taught me that I want to teach my children right and wrong, not demand it from them. I want to show them the reason for doing things, not force them into submission. I want them to understand their actions. I want them to know who they are and what they stand for. I want them to be loving and appreciative individuals. I want them to care for those around them. And most of all, I want them to know the perfect love of Christ. I want to model Christs love to them, as best as I can. I need them to know and understand Grace.
Ive struggled, my whole life, with self esteem. I put up a good front. I often come across like I know it all and have it all together. Confidence oozes from me. Its a coping mechanism, and one I work tirelessly to hide behind. In many things, I am confident. I am confident in my work, for one. There, I always seem to know what needs to be done and what I need to do it. But, In knowing who I am, as a person, my inner most being, I flounder. I constantly look in the mirror and wonder, who is on the inside. Is she lovable enough? Is she pretty enough? Is she smart enough? Is she funny enough? Do people want to be around her? Is she good enough? Is there a reason for others to love her? Is she desirable? I beg my husband for time alone. He offers me that time. I dont go, because I have no idea how to spend time alone. I dont know what I enjoy. I am afraid to be alone with myself, because myself is a stranger. My focus, thus far in life, has been to make sure I was good enough that those around me would be proud of me, so I could be enough. I have never nurtured myself, outside of others expectations.
But when you are living for other people, you never will be enough. They will always want you to be more. To give more. To help fill their voids. And then one day, you wake up and you are physically ill. The doctor calls it “adrenal fatigue”. It happens because your body has been under some immense stress for so long, that it no longer can function under those circumstance. Adrenal fatigue robs me of experiences daily. Im too tired, tired in a way that sleep does not help. My brain is foggy. Some days my body cant. When I push it, my body stops working. Some days I find that very depressing. I cant believe I let it get this far out of hand. I am so sorry that I am a broken individual. I grieve that I dont have 100% of myself to give to my husband and children. Thankfully, this condition is reversible and I am already healing. The problem is, in order to reverse it, stress needs to be eliminated. This means, for me, my life has to change, drastically. I can no longer live for other people. I have to rest. I have to live for this stranger I call myself.
The past three years, all of this has come to a head, both gradually and all at once. Two years ago, I made the choice to quit my job. The stress was too much. It wasnt one thing. It was all the things, all piled on top of each other, and it was too much. Making this change was the first step to healing. It helped eliminate some stress and I now, needed to have an identity outside of being a nurse. I knew from the time I was a little girl that I wanted to be a nurse. I spent my whole life focused to get there. That end result was all I knew. Now, I had arrived and needed to give it up. This has been so hard and awful and good and so needed. I need to take a step back. At first, being home lead to depression. Every day seemed like a failure. I wanted to be as good at being a wife, mother and housekeeper as I was a nurse but I had no idea what I was doing. With each perceived failure, the stress grew. Thankfully, my husband has so graciously supported me and allowed me time to flounder and search. He encouraged me to try new things. He tells me sweet lies, like he doesnt mind that the house is a mess. Anyone who knows my husband, knows he is lying through his teeth about that one. He lives for order. In searching, I learned a few things about myself. I learned that I rather enjoy photography. I learned that its ok to enjoy photography, even though I am not the best photographer ever. I learned that I heal through writing. I re-learned that I love music and love to sing. I learned that I thrive in silence and I need to seek times of silence. I learned that the day is not a failure, if you are more whole than you were yesterday. I learned that I needed to be better for my kids and my husband. I learned that the only way to do this, is to continue to find me.
Finding me has been painful. It has required me to look back over my life and feel. Feel all the things I never felt, in the moment, because I was too focused on being who everyone else needed me to be; on who I thought I was required to be. I needed to feel the happy times. Feel the sad times. Grieve the things done and undone. Put the past in the past, comfortable to move forward. Understand that things can shape you, without defining you. In feeling, I have formed ideas and thoughts. Thoughts about things I liked and didnt like. Things I want to do and dont want to do. This brings me back to parenting.
I dont write this because I think my parents did everything wrong. This is not written out of bitterness. I hope its not perceived as such. My parents did many things that I hope to incorporate into my own parenting. They are one part of my story, but not the entire story. This is simply a reflection of my heart, as it stands today, based on my varied life experiences and many influences. I write this, to help me process. Its one more step in this healing journey.
I first and foremost want to teach my children how to care for themselves. I know this sounds selfish, but its actually the biggest sacrifice. As I am learning, you cant effectively care for others, in any capacity, if you, yourself, are not cared for. I do not want my children to find themselves where I have been. I want them to be confident in who they are and to own that. I want to teach them skills to center themselves. To solve problems. I want them to feel all of the emotions. To accept each emotion in balance. I want them, to have a desire to care for those around them. I want them to have passion. I want them to own every corner of themselves; their strengths, their weakness, and everything in between. All of these things require a strong foundation. I am broken. I cant be strong for them. I can be strong with them. You see, I want to foster connection with my children. Learning to change my focus from discipline to connection builds us both up, together. My insecurities often show up in response to my children. This is scary and it can be hard to temper one’s self in the midst of it. My words and actions become their inner voice. I dont want my damages to damage them. I want to break the cycle. Of course, I fail at these often, but that opens the door to teach about grace. Failure is an unavoidable part of this pareting journey. I have put together the following guidelines for myself:
- I will not use violence, of any form, against my children. I will offer natural consequence for their actions that will teach them why what they did is wrong and what would have been a more appropriate action. How can I teach them not to hurt others through violence?
- I will not yell at my children. I will speak to them respectfully, as I would like to be spoken to and would expect them to speak to others.
- I will not belittle my children. I will encourage them through positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.
- I will not force my children to fit into my mold. I will encourage them to find who they are with guidance.
- I will not limit my childrens activities. I will encourage them to experience a variety of things. I will discuss with them, hindrances like financial concerns, transportation, etc. I will encourage them to find solutions to these obstacles.
- I will not tell my children no without explanation. I will tell them the reasons behind my concerns so we can problem solve together. I want them to be an active part of making wise choices. I want them to understand and respect my choices for them.
- I will not tell my children to stop feeling any emotion. I will show them how to feel and control those emotions through a variety of channels.
- I will not hide my own emotions. I will feel them, in front of my children. I will discuss my emotions with them.
- I will not lie to my children. I will answer all questions, in full disclosure, as age appropriate.
- I will apologize to my children when I fail. I will be accountable to them, for my actions, just as they are to me.
- I will foster security and independence and individuality through attachment.
This is not lazy parenting. This is not permissive parenting. This parenting is exhausting. It requires 100% involvement of ones self every day. Its difficult. Its necessary for me. I do not ask for anyone to agree with me or to parent the same way. I do ask for respect. I appreciate an open discussion about how this parenting style works. I appreciate loving advice from those who have parented before me. Parenting is a learning process. Its fluid. It requires frequent change, as those being parented change and grow; as I change and grow. What works today, may not work tomorrow. I appreciate room. Room to figure this all out. Room to fall and room to triumph. I appreciate your support. I appreciate the individual who can see my children’s heart and not the “in the moment” behavior (because wow…its been something lately). I ask that you realize that children feel emotions, big emotions, and need tools to handle those emotions. I ask that you think about how being tired, hungry, feeling alone, overstimulated, stressed, etc effects your actions. I ask you to see these little people as just that, little PEOPLE. Please help me grow them, teach them and guide them. Please let your life be a part of theirs. Please tell them stories. Please ask them to help you. Please invest your heart into them.
Please understand that their parents love them. Please understand that our family is in a time of great transition. Please understand that their parents want the best for them. Please understand that our goals are likely the same. Please understand that their parents have researched and read and prayed and sought council in these decisions. How I parent has as much to do with me and my needs as it does for them and theirs. We are a family unit, and so, we must grow as one.
I am not focused on the moment. My focus is a life time.
What I choose to do in the moment, makes a difference in a life time.