Mothers with Young Children Need Help! Let’s Talk about How

For the past couple months, life with my 2 1/2 year old and 1 1/2 year old has seemed….pretty manageable.  It’s to the point, where I’m like….should I have another baby?  Because I should just be jumping back on the crazy train as soon as I’ve caught my breath, right?  I’ve started reading more, writing more, cleaning more, and just lounging more.  And then I got the urge to volunteer my time in some way.  Rather than sitting around, enjoying how easy I have it and thinking about me, me, me; I wanted to figure out a way to help others, with my 2 little ones in tow.  Near and dear to my heart is helping other mothers who are buried deep in the trenches of motherhood.

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Back when we had a 15 month old and a newborn.

I have some friends who have just had or are having their 3rd baby and their oldest is 2 1/2 or younger.  I can only imagine how challenging and tiring that would be. That could’ve been me had God not taken pity on my sanity and given me time to figure out NFP without another surprise during the confusing early months when Silvia was a newborn.  I respect my friends and their sacrifice to faithfully practice or attempt to practice NFP even with children so close together, and I want to help.  I want to be God’s hands, cleaning their houses, making them dinners, and keeping their older kids busy.  I know that God won’t give them more than they can handle and that He will carry them through the difficult times, but maybe God wants to use me to physically carry them through.  In this very manageable season that I’m in, maybe it’s my turn to reach out and help.  Also, I already have my own help.  My two neighbor girls, aged 11 and 7, are answers to my prayers for help that I cried out years ago.

Today, I brought my kids to my friend’s house and the four toddlers played together while she and her husband took their newborn to a doctor appointment and then did a little housecleaning.  I did my best to help clean, too. I could have stayed all day and cleaned (cuz I’m weird and actually enjoy it), but alas, there were 4 toddlers to help take care of.  I’ve made plans with her to make this a weekly event for a while.

I’m still brainstorming ways to help all these moms that need help.  In our modern world of isolation, I want to build communities and networks that have each other’s backs.  We and many of our friends don’t have family in town.  It can be so difficult to get help without paying your left arm for a babysitter.   When a crisis pops up and the babysitter isn’t around, it’s important to have a safety net of people you can turn to.

I’ve thought about something like a co-op daycare, where moms could drop their kids off for a few hours while a couple of other moms babysit together; and then they all switch babysitting duties the next time.  In busy seasons, where moms have newborns, they would be exempt temporarily from babysitting duties, but could still drop their kids off.

My friend thought that moms should just swap babysitting and/or cleaning with another mom.

Also, what we need is more “big” kids to help out like my neighbor girls.  They are at an age where they love little kids and find them so adorable; so they like to play with them.  Leo loves big kids because they run around with him, play hide and seek and push him on the swing.  They don’t take his toys like the other toddlers do.  They are kind of like older siblings and they can be mommy’s helpers at home while she cooks,cleans, works on something or just relaxes.   My little sister babysat (without charging) for a large family for several years.  She started when she was in middle school and continued to babysit throughout high school.  The mom would work from home on her business or do housework while my sister was there.  I see now what a blessing she was for that family.

Do you have any ideas on how to help moms with young children?  Or how to build up communities?  I’d love to hear them.

 

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Depression, Despair, And How to Have Hope

One of my favorite quotes is by the Italian writer, Cesare Pavese: “But a man’s life is down there in the valley, in the fields, at home. Beside a hearth and in a bed. And every day that dawns confronts you with the same toils, the same failures. In the end it wears a man down… The everlasting, grinding toil, the effort to stay alive from day to day, the recognition of evil in others, petty evil, as tiresome as summer flies–that’s the life that cripples a man.”

I feel this sentiment so frequently.  I’m someone who despairs or gets depressed easily.  Every day I’m confronted with the repetitive daily chores and tasks that are required of me.  If I’m in the wrong mood, it all seems impossible.  Sometimes it makes me want to lay down and give up.  In difficult times, the thought of an escape (death/running away) sounded easier than going through the motions of another day.  So where is my hope?  Well, for a little while I lost hope and I thought that it would be better if there were no God, so that death would be The End.  But I just couldn’t convince myself that there’s no God and no life after death, as if death is not a mystery, but something already known.  And if there’s a God and a heaven and hell, and I only have one chance at life, I don’t want it to be this way.  So I need hope.  I look for hope.  I place myself in hopeful situations.  That is how I came across the author, Walker Percy.  I went to the New York Encounter, hoping to have an encounter with God.  And He gave me someone to follow.  Walker Percy feels like a grandfather to me.  He died an old man in 1990.  He struggled with depression his whole life.  He was agnostic until he converted to Catholicism as an adult.  With his new faith, he was able to keep a fascination for the human experience and write about it. WalkerPercy (1)

“The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”
― Walker Percy, The Moviegoer.

I think this quote is very similar to Pavese’s quote about the everyday toils we face.  But it goes further and suggests that the only way out of this “everydayness” is to always be searching for something (God, truth, the meaning of life and so on).  And if we don’t search, we despair.

Well, I was curious about who Pavese was since I related to some of his thoughts.  I looked up his bio and discovered that he was a brilliant writer, an atheist, and had committed suicide in 1950.  He had several quotes which I think Walker Percy would have identified with as well, but their lives ended so differently.  Pavese despaired in the end.  Percy fought the good fight and died triumphant.  He was always searching, always questioning and he struggled his way through this life until death claimed him by cancer.

2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight.  I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith.”  This verse has always been comforting to me since it was in a song I listened to as a child.  I hope I can say these words at the end of my life.

“Losing hope is not so bad. There’s something worse: losing hope and hiding it from yourself.”
-Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

And one of my favorite quotes, which I recently used in another post:

“You live in a deranged age – more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”
― Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

Do you struggle with depression?  What helps you?

Part 2: Modern-Day Parenting in America: Unintended Consequences

True to being a Sociology major, I got interested in the topic of narcissism and rented the book “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement” from the library.  The book talks about many aspects of narcissism like entitlement, seeking fame, the mortgage crisis, celebrity obsession and parenting practices to name a few.  I’m going to focus on modern-day parenting.

I was born in the late 80’s.  So mostly, I grew up in the 90’s and 2000’s.  There was (and still is) a growing self-esteem movement which caused practices like “participation” ribbons and trophies.  I remember getting 5th place, 6th place ribbons and “participation” ribbons, which I threw away.  Why is that anything to be proud of?  Also, the first year that I entered high school, a new rule declared that students would not be told their class ranking.  We were told if we were in the top 10% (although an error caused them to keep track of the top 20% instead; they didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the students they’d accidentally placed in the top 10%.)  I can only assume the point of this was so that students wouldn’t feel bad if they weren’t in the top of the class and also to eliminate friendly competition (which seems like a good motivator to me)??

Why did this change occur in my school? Was it that teachers and principles felt they needed to protect the students’ self-esteem?  Or was it helicopter parents trying to shelter their kids from the reality that a lack of effort typically earns a bad grade.  helicopter parentingMaybe it is embarrassing for the parents to have a child who fails at something.  I’ve noticed the trend that parents seem to want “bragging rights” about their child, as if their child is a trophy to be shown off. (Like the stickers on cars: “My child is an honor roll student”).  Consequently, if their child does slack off or fail, the parents still want the child to receive special treatment and be forgiven their faults, which does not help them learn from their mistakes.  My personal theory as to why parents have placed so much of their own self-worth in their children is that we are a people who are lost.  More and more, we are turning away from religion, but what are we turning to?  I think many of us are adrift (including myself much of the time).  I love this quote by Walker Percy: “You live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”   Maybe parents are clinging to their offspring and trying to live vicariously through them or to show everyone how successful they are because their kids are successful.

There is a lot of pressure on teachers to give theirs students good grades.  A teacher friend of mine said that she’s had parents who were perfectly sweet to her face, but then wrote nasty emails ordering her to give their child more chances to turn in homework or to receive extra credit.  explainAnother friend of mine doesn’t want to go back to teaching in part because of the parents she had to deal with.  Children need to fail so they don’t become fragile adults who cannot cope with the real world and all of its’ hardships and rejection.  Also, children who are protected from failing often take less risks because failure is an unknown and scary idea.  One can’t go very far in life without taking some risks.  All of the great names in history tried and failed many times before they gained success.  They learned the most from their mistakes.

Grade inflation is a phenomenon that I noticed while I was in high school.  It seemed to me that the average person was not getting a “C” anymore.  Students today get better grades for doing less than their counterparts from the 1970’s.  This teaches kids that they don’t have to work very hard to be successful, which does not meet reality or prepare them for the real world.  In a study, children did better when praised for working hard because they could repeat that behavior or improve upon it.  Children were afraid to try again if praised for being smart because they might fail the next time and no longer be “smart”.

This obsession with self-esteem is harming our children and we can already see the effect of it in my generation and the kids of today.  Society and parents are overpraising children, overpraisingeven for the littlest achievements or poor performances.  Kids are told throughout their childhood how special they are.  They come to expect praise for every effort they apply and are not equipped to handle failure.  They grow up feeling entitled to success and are shocked when they get out of college and find that a job is not waiting for them on a silver platter.  In fact, some have never worked a job before they graduate from college, because their parents wanted them to focus on their academics.  Now these  jobless graduates do not have the perseverance or the understanding that they need to apply to 150 jobs before they get an interview.  Instead, they settle back into their parent’s house and play video games while tossing up a job application or two, all the while blaming the economy or their bad luck.  Americans have passed up the not-so-glamorous jobs like trash collectors, lawn maintenance and house cleaners because rather than get a mundane job to support themselves or their family, they feel they deserve better and won’t settle for less.  In reality, it would make more sense if they worked any job and also kept their eyes open and applied hard for jobs they’re interested in.

Self-esteem should come after success.  Self-esteem does not cause better grades, test scores or job performance.  Americans have higher self-esteem, but perform worse on standardized tests than many other countries.  Within the U.S., Asian Americans are the ethnic group with the lowest self-esteem, but they achieve the highest academic performance.  Self-admiration is not promoted as much in other countries.  Many other cultures focus on self-criticism and working on one’s weaknesses as the key to success.  Mothers and grandmothers in Taiwan both agreed that self-esteem is not very important.  Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese do not even have a word for the concept of self-esteem.

Americans seem to have an inflated sense of self because their self-esteem was always boosted and protected despite their average or poor work.  Kids are special to their parents, but not to the rest of the world.  It’s not helpful for parents to teach their kids that they are special and deserve special treatment, because they will never be treated as special in the real world.  Even if they are above average in some area, they should be taught humility because no one likes an arrogant jerk.  This seems to be counter-cultural at the moment, but parents and society should be teaching children that the world doesn’t revolve around them.  Sadly, all the of the TV shows targeted at kids, the commercials, the advertisements and so on are teaching the opposite.  (“If you use this product you’ll be special.”  Or “Buy this! You deserve it!”)  A quote from the book: “Compared to earlier generations, we’re emotionally closer to our kids.  They confide in us more, and we have more fun with them.  But we’re too indulgent.  We give our kids too much and demand too little of them.”  Overindulged children lead to outcomes like the 7 deadly sins: pride, wrath, envy, sloth, gluttony, lust and greed.

No generation has ever done parenting perfectly.  It’s important to recognize the cultural tides and fads in parenting styles of our generation so we can take a step back and decide if these are the values we want to pass on to our kids.  Most likely, we’re in the same battle, so together let’s take up the fight against our increasingly narcissistic culture.  Materialism, narcissism and entitlement are all things I hope to avoid passing on, despite the constant bombardment of these things all around me.  I’m not going to worry about my kids’ self-esteem.  I’m going to focus on whether they are serving other people enough….whether they are grateful for what they have…..whether they are working hard and building character….and how well they are loving those around them.

You can read Part 1 here.

Parenting in Modern-Day America

Parents with younger kids: Do you worry if you’re stimulating your kids enough?  Do you wonder if you should be doing more crafts with them or reading more books to them?  If you’re giving them enough attention?  Feeding them super healthy? Do you worry you are screwing them up based on the parenting philosophy you’ve chosen?  Parents with older kids:  Do you worry if you are giving your kids the best education?  Do you worry about their future careers and if they’ll get into a good college?  Their self-esteem and their success?  Their safety? Their health?

CALM DOWN!  (And I’m saying this to myself, too)

If you compare the lives of kids today with those throughout the history of the human race, we have thankfully come a long way.

Basically, throughout time, children were looked at as little adults.  They “came of age” young and began apprenticeships or worked little jobs to help feed their families.    saggar_ladsIf they didn’t work outside the house, many worked around the house and weren’t able to attend school regularly.  Many didn’t learn how to read or write. Girls were married off young, even before the teenage years or adolescence.  There wasn’t much of a childhood.  I suppose I’m thinking mostly of the poor or working class, but that was the majority of people throughout time.

Today, our children can’t get a formal job until they’re 15.  Education is mandatory.  Deadly diseases are not seen as a huge threat to children. They have a long childhood full of play and stimulation.  kidsAs long as we parent them with love, we need not stress and obsess about all the details. Kids are incredibly resilient, despite what some modern “experts” say in laying guilt upon us.  I used to think I might damage my kids by letting them “cry it out” and that they wouldn’t learn to trust me.  I’ve come to realize that these are just small details in their lives and if they grow up in a loving family, these details aren’t going to be more significant than all the other millions of details of how we talk to them each day, how we discipline them, how we hug and kiss them.  I have opinions on what is a preferable way to raise kids, but I’m realizing that kids will be just fine in thousands of different scenarios and who am I to judge what other parents are doing if their kids are not being abused or neglected?

Whether or not parents keep their kids at home or send them to daycare and public school.  Whether or not they cry-it-out or are rocked to sleep.  Whether or not they eat organically or a basic healthy diet (junk food, GMOs and other non-real food is a modern problem, I’ll admit).  Whether or not they can read by age 4 or by age 10.  If they never go on a vacation or go 20x while growing up. If they go to college or not.  If they become a trash collector or a CEO.  These are mostly first world worries.  And they do not define what we should really be concerned about.

 My biggest concern for modern children is that they run a higher risk of becoming spoiled or entitled or narcissistic.  These are the attitudes that cripple them and prevent them from living happy, free and successful adult lives.

How many toys or gadgets do they have?  Do they feel they are owed these things or that they deserve these and other shiny things that catch their eye?  Are they learning the importance of helping around the house as young kids and developing a good work ethic as older kids?  Do they think they are special and deserve special treatment?  Will they be able to live independent adult lives or will they be babied their whole lives and always taught to rely on their parents for phone payments, a car, someone to harass the teacher about a grade on a college paper.  (This helicopter parenting has actually reached college.  Aside from the stories I’ve read, my sister, a college professor, has even dealt with parents trying to complain or advocate for their “child’s” grade!)

This post is part 1 in a series relating to modern parenting.  The next post will be on the book The Narcissism Epidemic:Living in the Age of Entitlement.

7 Quick Takes Vol. 2

7 Quick Takes on awkward Christmas cards, my crazy husband and butt-kissing.

1. So by awkward Christmas cards, I mean awkwardly late.  It’s now January 24.  A couple weeks after Christmas I decided that we had one good picture that we could turn into a Christmas card.  We only ordered 10 to give to immediate family.  I think Joe took care of his family’s side.  Typical of me, I procrastinated.  Then, I addressed 2 of them and either lost them or sent them out.  I think I lost them.  And the days just keep passing.  People still appreciate Christmas cards in July…right?? cuz I think they might not get it til then.

2.We’ve had a series of mishaps around our house lately.  First, the weather here dipped down to -20 degrees and pipes were a-freezin!  I had done a couple cloth diaper wash cycles, but left them in the washer overnight and figured I’d finish them in the morning.  Well the pipes were frozen.  After a couple days of having a space heater in the basement and still no luck with the frozen pipes, I got impatient and started filling the washing machine with pots of hot water.  Joe woke up from his nap and caught me in the act.  He was concerned that it might not drain properly.  Hadn’t thought of that.  Oh well, I said.  Too late now, I said.  Maybe I’m mistaken, but I thought he said I could try it. To my satisfaction, the cycle was running, but then all of a sudden the hose came undone and was spraying water all over the floor.  Some water got in the outlet and shorted it.  Thankfully, it didn’t fry the washing machine.

3.  Mishap #2:  Joe was laying a floor in the attic and decided that the old knob and tube wiring was in his way.  He assumed it was dead wires since he’d seen it at his friend’s house and it had been replaced 15 years ago.  Knob and tube wiring has been known to start fires and is now illegal to put in.  Anyway, he just starts cutting wires.  I told him that a fan in Silvia’s room was plugged in and just turned off on its own.  He was like oh sh*t.  And then he spent several hours reconnecting the wires.  And much to our surprise, the breaker box only had 3 breakers labeled and they weren’t even totally accurate.  This meant Joe had to turn off the main breaker to avoid getting electrocuted.  After our neighbor tried to help us, he suggested we take off the cover of the box to see “what the hell is going on behind there”.  I think  different people over time were just willy-nilly connecting wires to all sorts of random breakers …maybe a sick prank.

4.  Mishap#3: This one was all Joe again.  He spent the evening before I left for New York replacing the outlet I had shorted.  Being the procrastinator that I am, I had to wash my most important pair of jeans to take with me on the trip.  So I start a wash early in the morning and was running in the bathroom to move the clothes to the dryer.  Whoah! My feet are wet.  Oh my gosh! the whole floor is soaked.  The sink is running.  (That was a coincidence.  I left it on by accident.)  I start trying to figure out what caused it and discovered the hose to the washing machine was definitely not connected.  I call Joe.

Me: “Um, last night when you fixed the outlet, did you by chance take out the hose to the washing machine?”

Joe: “Yea.”

Silence.  We both knew what that meant.  Me: “You didn’t put it back in did you?”

So that was a fun morning, trying to get out of town, but having to mop up a soaked floor and dry my pants with 2 space heaters and 2 fans.

5. Today it’s -5 degrees here, but it feels like -18.  Our recycling service called to say they won’t be making the rounds today due to the weather.  The phone call was after Joe went on a 1.5 mile run to the auto repair shop to pick up our car this morning.  We talked about how he should stop and warm up in a store along the way if he became worried about frostbite (although he said many people don’t realize they’re getting frostbite until they’ve turned black and have to get amputated).  He made it there ok, but his beard was frozen over and as soon as he walked in the warm building it started dripping.  The workers there think he’s crazy.

6. This past weekend I flew to New York for a 3 day conference called the New York Encounter.  It’s put on by Communion and Liberation, a charism of the Catholic church.  One of my favorite parts of it was an exhibit on the author, Walker Percy.  He had an interesting life story in which he dealt with depression his whole life, but became fascinated by the human experience and tried to portray the strangeness of the human existence in his books.  I could relate to a lot of his sentiments.  You may have heard of some of his more popular books: The Moviegoer, God at the Ruins, and Lost in the Cosmos:The Last Self-Help Book.  I also got to hear a talk by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete (who wrote God at the Ritz and is quite a comedian).

7. Today I’ve had to hold Silvia’s arms like a straightjacket several times to teach her not to hit Leo.  When I let her go this afternoon, I told her to tell Leo sorry.  Leo said “no”, and since he wouldn’t turn around so she could give him a kiss on the face, she bent over and kissed his butt instead.  Leo and I had a little laugh.

For more quick takes, visit Jen. Have a great weekend!

Why I Deleted My Facebook Account

Yep.  I did it.  I took the plunge and deleted my Facebook account after being a member since 2005.  That was way back when it was just for college students.  It’s been almost a daily part of my life for the past 8 years.  But you know what?  I haven’t regretted it or missed it these past few weeks.  It’s quite freeing.

From what I can tell, many people have a troubled relationship with Facebook.  On the one hand, you have all these people (some of which are friends) that you’re connected with and can easily share/receive information with, but on the other hand they tend to drive you crazy at times.  Facebook is ever-evolving and it’s gotten to the point where it was too distracting, frustrating and annoying for me.  People are always sharing links, some of which I found interesting, some of which I found infuriating.  I’d tell myself I would get on Facebook for a couple minutes, but then the shared links would catch my eye and I’d end up on it for much longer.  Clearly a fault of my own, but I’m glad the temptation is gone.  Also, I think people are more opinionated and louder on Facebook than they are in real life.  Jen says here that people who don’t have Facebook tend to view their friends more positively.  I can understand that for the same reasons she talks about.

I plan on keeping in better touch with people than I was when connected with them through Facebook.  It is too easy to have shallow friendships with people in which maybe you keep up with their life by reading their posts, but you don’t actually have face to face or phone to phone conversations.  As was mentioned in a talk at the New York Encounter (that I attended this past weekend), “the bonds of society are getting weaker”.  We’re less attached to one another.  Face to face encounters build relationship rather than passively keeping up with someone’s life (or what they feel like posting about their life) through the internet.  And if I think of someone and it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, it’s a reminder than I should call them to get together.

So yes, I’m excitedly trying to simplify my life, but I admit, it’s hard not to just switch out Facebook with some other online addiction, like keeping up with multiple bloggers.  But if I get this under control, I’ll be one step closer to freedom.  Freedom from the grasp of the internet.

 

On Being Open to Life

I have my good days.  I have my bad days.  A night of awful sleep in which both kids wake up and there is lots of crying and trying to coerce them back to sleep, I am an angry zombie.  You’ll hear “I’m never having another child!”  from my lips.  If enough time has passed and the kids are being super sweet and adorable, my heart starts to soften.  But the first year of a babies’ life is not my favorite.  I’m not a baby person.  Babies are so very dependent and require so much time and sacrifice.

But all this talk is me, me, me. A line from a book called “Are You in Reality” by Gregoire Plus, struck me: “Life is difficult, and many would like to live as if life should be easy or without problems”.  This line immediately made me think of my fears of having more children.  I wrote down a few notes to understand why I am so nervous about this area in my life and why I try to resist giving it over to God.

1.  My life will become more difficult again (and it’s been getting easier lately since my youngest is over a year).

2.  I will lose some of my recently gained “freedom” as I’d have to start over again with sharing my body with another (from pregnancy to breastfeeding…)

I think I’d written down a 3rd point, but it was probably just another way of saying “It’s not going to be easy.  In fact, it’ll be downright difficult for a while!  And I’ll lose my “freedom”, whatever that is to me”.

So to admit this fear out loud really made me understand that I am resisting the toil of being self-sacrificial.  For some months I could go through much difficulty and be forced to sacrifice much of myself for my family, and maybe struggle with depression for a short time (I don’t take big changes very gracefully).  But after that rather short time (in the spectrum of things), I would come away with a child who will turn into an adult and forever be a love in my life that I will never regret.  And who is, in fact, an eternal soul.  It still seems kind of worth it to me…..

At this point, however, for my own sanity, I think spacing my children out a bit is a good thing.  But these thoughts and questions about when I might be ready for another child is more than just about what I want.  Creating an eternal soul is God’s specialty, so I think it important to ask His input and clarity on the matter.  Sometimes I was afraid to pray about this as I was afraid it’d be sooner than I wanted; but I want to be open to God’s will in my life and trust that He’s working for my good. Maybe a life of self-sacrifice in raising a family is the way God intends to sanctify me and lead me to holiness if I cooperate.  No saint ever walked the path to sanctity with ease.

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