Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tale of Three Women

This weekend I had the privilege of giving the devotion at a baby shower for three friends, two of whom have just had their fifth babies and one who is about to have her fourth baby.   Since I am fresh out of writing material I thought I would post the talk here, though I am so bad at never really sticking to what I write if I am speaking that it may not really be what I said at all.  Names have been changed to protect the innocent. :)  If you already sat through this feel free to check back in with the next post!

Here we have 3 women, Heather, Julie, and Lisa. Two of them have recently given birth, and one may give birth at any minute. They may all be getting about the same amount of sleep. But not one of them is new at this baby birthing thing. These are experienced women.

All 3 of them are close to 40 years old (2 are closer than the other one!) and have been married 10 years. Soon, they will have 14 children: 9 boys, 4 girls, and a little mystery child yet to show his or her face. They see these children as blessings from the Lord, which of course they are. But did they just wake up one morning and find they had 14 children? No.

First, they were pregnant for 3935 days (and counting). That’s closer to 3 years for Lisa, and closer to 4 years for Heather and Julie. If you are wondering, Julie was the big winner at very nearly 3 years and 11 months. I’d say I can’t imagine, but, actually, I can. While pregnant all of those days these 3 women gained 450 pounds. That’s like a man, woman, and child all put together. Then after 3935 days they gave birth to 109 pounds of baby (so far), which is like a young teenager. By the way, that left them with 341 extra pounds to deal with!

Most of the time, God gives us one baby at a time. Thankfully, Heather did not give birth to all 44 pounds of five babies on the same day. No, somehow she managed to have 5 babies, each one weighing in at exactly 8 pounds 13 ounces, but not all on the same day. So a new mom takes one look at that one baby and is overwhelmed – overwhelmed with love, joy, and thankfulness, and, if not at first, at least eventually, overwhelmed with all the work and energy it takes to care for that one baby. There comes a day when a new mom finds herself at home alone with a screaming infant, a ton of dirty laundry, a dirty house, nothing for dinner, and tears streaming down her face. She has no time to do the things she used to do for herself and her husband, and she cannot imagine how she will ever catch up on her work, or her sleep. But God’s grace is sufficient for the day, though it may be hard to feel.

Now fast forward to the weeks following the birth of the fourth or fifth baby. Does it look different? Does it feel different, at least? Most days it does. Now our new but experienced mom is not home alone. There are 3 or 4 little kids running around. There is even more laundry than she could have dreamed of several years ago. The house may be a mess, but she has learned to accept that for a time. The newborn may be crying, but mom probably is not. Some of the children are old enough to help a bit, maybe a lot. And at least mom has lived through it several times and knows things will improve greatly over the next couple of months. God’s grace is sufficient for the day.

Three times Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove the thorn from his flesh, but the Lord responded, “"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) I think a new mom, whether it is the first baby or the fifth, knows what it feels like to be weak. If you really believe that God’s power is made perfect in weakness, then we have a faultless combination here. God’s grace is sufficient. He is working for our good. Knowing that should bring contentment – we are where God placed us, home with these many children. It is a blessing.

But even when you are well aware of the blessing that it is, it is easy to get discouraged by the seemingly never-ending list of needs that must be met, over and over, every single day. How do you stay content in a life that does not revolve around you? I believe it is easier than when your life does revolve around you. Nancy Wilson once blogged, “Selfishness breeds discontent; selflessness breeds contentment.” And “Joy comes from self-forgetfulness.” I think that having four or five children, ages 10 and under, is one of the best ways to forget yourself!

Psalm 16 says, “LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” You have to believe this is true. Your job is from God; He assigned your cup.

This is a good verse to memorize, so it can pop into your head at 3 am when necessary! It is easy to forget how delightful the tasks of raising children can be when you are right in the middle of it. One of the extra blessings of this, however, is that you often have so little spare time that you cannot dwell on yourself enough to become discontented. Besides, God’s power is made perfect in weakness; His grace is sufficient. Be content where you are, messy house and all.

No matter what we do, our real job is to glorify God. Whether we are discovering new chemical compounds or changing diapers, we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength. We are to think about His commands all the time – when we sit at home, when we walk, when we lie down, when we get up. When we do this and communicate it to our children, watching them grow in godliness and seeing them glorify God - it is a beautiful thing. Yet it is no small job to be a Christian wife and mother, especially during the short period of life that finds you home with many young children. It can be so easy to get caught up in the little moments of tedious work that you forget to think about God’s commands. But we have to do the next thing to the glory of God.

So how does one mom effectively manage four or five kids alone? Thankfully, she does not. Thankfully these 3 moms have Christian husbands loving and helping them. Yet the reality is there, Dad goes to work and mom stays home for a time, alone with all of these needy people. So a mom needs a plan, at least a little sketch of one. And the sooner the better. Maybe the plan is to pray and read the Bible with the kids, prepare and eat 3 meals, do some laundry, feed the baby and change her diaper (6 or 8 times), load the dishwasher, play outside for 15 minutes, move the children along to a new play activity when needed, do some school work with the older kids, and make sure everyone who needs a nap gets one. These are not lofty plans, but they can really take all day, or even longer! The plan is not to have expectations of this time of life that are too high. You are not super woman, but God’s grace is sufficient.

At least after having the fourth or fifth child the older ones have to be old enough to understand a few things, which is very helpful. They may have noticed that mom cannot do more than four or five things at a time. You can use their understanding of this explain to them that this means that they occasionally have to wait for you. They will have to wait for you; there’s no getting around it. There are a few times in the life of a young child that having learned the lesson of waiting for mom early in life can be extremely beneficial.

One of these times is first thing in the morning. Who’s in control of when the day starts? In reality, it is probably the newborn. Mom tries to get as much sleep as is reasonable and that ends when the hungry newborn screams for breakfast. Not a lot to be done about this at first! But mom can have a plan about what the older children are to do to start their day. Does she allow them to get up whenever they wake up, or does she prefer them to stay in bed until she gets them? Or maybe they play quietly in their rooms if they are waiting on her to get them up. There is no perfect answer that applies to every family, but I can guarantee that any planned answer to the question will start the day off much better than the chaos of not knowing what to expect. The older children tend to be very good at rising to their parents’ expectations, if you train them and back it up with loving discipline.

How about a real life example? When our tired mom arrives in the screaming baby’s room, she finds her to be soaked, along with the sheets. Maybe the bumper pad is wet, too. Maybe it is more than wet. Then child #3 or #4 comes in with wet pj’s. Children #1 and #2 are starting their day with a screaming match over a toy. And this is all in the first 5 minutes. How can mom manage all that at one time? Simply put, she cannot. A screaming, frantic mom is not what her children need. So, even though she had no clue all this would happen on this particular morning, she can be prepared to deal with it to some extent. What can she do? Lots of things. But they all involve prioritizing. Maybe you tell #1 & #2 to be quiet and sit on their beds until you get there. If you have a habit of consistent discipline they will know you mean business and obey. Then you can deal with the little ones – change them, and maybe even feed the baby before dealing with the older ones. The thing that is most important, and that your children will learn quickly, is that mom cannot do too many things at once, which means they will need to spend time waiting for you. This is a good time for them to learn that life is not all about them. Mom is busy learning that, and they can too.

Another time of waiting for mom comes every 3 hours when mom is nursing the baby. This takes up a ton of time! How can a 2 year old control himself when mom is so tied up? They really can, especially if you help them along a little bit. There is the classic snuggle with the toddler and read him books while nursing solution, which is great for some times of the day. Another good answer is room time. Each child plays alone in his room or some assigned spot (moms of many children must be creative about finding a spot for each child) during one or two of the times mom is feeding the baby. A baby gate might be needed at first to pull this off with young toddlers, but they will learn to stay in there in time. You can also use the divide and conquer plan – the oldest plays with the youngest toddler in one room while the middle kids play in another room. You know which kids can handle each other for 40 minutes, and which cannot. Conflict reduction is the key here! Or you can have them all in the room with you, but with planned activities, not chaos. The 2 oldest play a game, the middles do a puzzle. This is hard, but you can even choose one nursing period each day for your kids to practice sitting quietly with a book or quiet toy, kind of like church practice. Set a timer and increase it little by little. They can do it and you will enjoy the peace and quiet.

There are a million variations of this, and you guys have probably already thought of much of this. But I cannot over-emphasize how having a plan can help a mom to be both content and joyful around her children, allowing her to be the godly example of womanhood that they need. And in a few short years when you no longer spend 5 hours a day feeding a baby, you will see that the plan can be expanded. You can leave the house more often and without ruining the rest of the day. One day no one will need a nap; they will all tie their own shoes and go to the bathroom by themselves. They will help you clean house and cook dinner. And you will wonder where the time went. And, hopefully, you will still wonder in amazement that the Lord has given you boundary lines that have fallen in pleasant places. God’s grace will still be sufficient for the day.



M. Helseth said...

Whew! I got a little worn out just reading this! (And I'm going away thankful I only have TWO! No offense, Heather, Julie and Lisa! :))

But good encouragement, Tracey! I'm a big believer in having some kind of plan even if, as you say, it only includes the basics for that day. With a plan, things don't feel nearly as chaotic even if some rooms in the house look that way. :)

Good thoughts, Tracey!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I was going to ask you for it. :)

Tracey said...

Here's a post with a good tip for moms of many or few children:

Tracey said...

And if anyone knows how to make the above a clickable link, please do tell!