Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why I Don't Give My Kids My All

Introverted Parenting Week - Day 3

About the author:
Helen Lee is the author of a new book called The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home and in the World.  The title alone should be enough to convince you that it is a unique and overdue resource for moms who want to integrate their parenting into lives of pursuing God's mission. I highly recommend it. You can follow Helen at her website, The Missional Mom, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Why I Don’t Give My Kids My All
Helen Lee
I used to think I was a kind, patient, flexible, understanding person.

And then I started having kids.

Three little boys later, there are days in which I am the absolute opposite of the gentle-spirited, gracious mother I always envisioned I would be. More often than I should, I exhibit qualities that are so far from ideal I wonder if my kids will think I’m a total hypocrite for having a poster of the “fruits of the Spirit” on our wall.

It’s taken me nearly a decade of parenting, but I now I understand that the times I exhibit Lucifer-esque qualities are the ones in which I have been around my kids a little too much.

I realize this sounds nearly sacreligious in our increasingly child-centered culture. “Too much???” I can imagine people thinking. “How can you ever spend too much time with your children?”

First, a side note about my personal context. I’m a homeschooling mom, so I spend the majority of my day with my children. And secondly, I’m what my husband calls “an extreme introvert,” because no matter how wonderful a person you might be, no matter how much I enjoy you, I will come home spent after being around you. (Even you, Oprah!) And my own children are no exception to this rule.

“Kids are like clients,” intoned Patty Hewes, a ruthless corporate attorney played by actress Glenn Close on the television show “Damages.” “They want all of you, all the time.” Hewes meant this in a pejorative sense, but there is truth to the statement. I’m around my kids all day, and they still cannot get enough of me! I’m not saying this to boast; it’s just the nature of children, to want your 110% of your attention, 366 days a year.

But I’ve realizing that I love my kids too much to give them that much of myself. For one thing, it’s not biblical. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother author Amy Chua writes, “Everything I do is unequivocally 100% for my daughters.” It sounds admirable, but Christian parents are called to recognize that our children are not supposed to be the center of our lives, no matter how much our “plan-for-college-when-kids-are-preschoolers” society wants to push parents to embrace this particular form of idolatry.

And another reason I need to make sure that I don’t give my kids every ounce of myself is because when I do so, I become a much worse mother (not to mention wife, writer, friend, neighbor, church lay leader, and other roles in which God has plans for me). Practically speaking, this means that I need to build in time by myself to recharge. Even if it’s just a half an hour here and there, those short breaks truly help keep me sane.

The same principle applies if you’re in the workplace and around people all day. You may be happy to see your kids when you come home but still feeling as though you need to get away. Give yourself permission to take even just 10-15 minutes to alone to recharge before you jump headfirst into family life. Those few moments can make the difference between your being attentive and loving to your children versus being distracted and snappy towards them.

And if you’re the one home with the kids, as eager as you might be to release the kids onto your introverted spouse when he or she walks through the front door, try to give your spouse space when he or she comes home before the kids latch on. Your spouse will appreciate it and emerge a better parenting partner as a result.

“Know thyself,” Socrates says, and the maxim can release introverted parents from guilt as they embrace the idea that spending time apart from their children can actually do more good than harm. I’m far from perfect, but my 8-year-old son still calls me his “angel mother.” Not bad for someone who makes certain she gives less than 100% of herself unequivocally for her children.