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I have wanted to be a mother for most of my life. I am crazy about my children. I always call my two boys, “My treasures”, and I mean that with all my being.
But this parenting thing is tough.
It’s not for the faint of heart. When you’re trying to do everything right, to parent well, to be a good spouse, to keep the house respectably clean, to keep the kids healthy, to not let them grow up to be menaces to society…
Sometimes you lose the joy.
Sometimes you’re soooooo tired. Sometimes you think if that kid whines one more time your anger is gonna turn you into this ugly monster you hate. Sometimes you think you’d give your right eye to get to sit through one supper without the baby wanting to nurse, or to get 15 minutes alone with your husband before you’re both so doggone tired, or be able to read more than 2.3 sentences in that book you’ve been trying to finish for the last six months.
And it’s ok to want those good things and make ways for them to happen.
But if you’re like me, those things aren’t happening every day. In fact, you’re lucky if they happen once or twice a week. And the majority of your time is spent taking care of other people’s needs. You’re meeting goals at work. You’re teaching the three-year-old to wipe his butt. You’re fixing your husband’s lunch for the next day while he’s asleep on the couch and the rest of the house is quiet because, gosh that man works hard.
And if you’re a stay-at-home mom or a work-at-home mom (or dad), you’re spending a LOT of time with your children, your wonderful, amazing, frustrating, exhausting, lovable , drive-you-crazy-all-day-long children. If you’re a working parent, you’re probably coming home after a long day with limited reserves left to invest into your kids.
And maybe you need to find the joy in parenting again.
Maybe you just really want to enjoy your kids and consequently your life.
I’ve found this to be true over and over again. I’ve had to seek it out and take initiative and make it a priority. So, with no further ado, here are some things that I have found indispensable in my quest to enjoy parenting my children.
#1 Get down and play with them.
You guys, this is SO HARD for me. I had a recent conversation with one of my cousins. She is the second of nine kids and her parents are SO GOOD at this. She is getting married soon and anticipating starting a family, and we were talking about all things marriage and motherhood. I shared that this is a struggle with me, just slowing down and playing with my kids. She looked at me like I was from Mars. All that to say, maybe not everyone struggles with this. Maybe I’m in the minority here.
But I suspect that I’m not. I suspect that a lot of you awesome parents out there have a hard time setting aside your agenda for the day to enter into your kid’s agenda and that maybe you’re not even sure you know how to play anymore. I mean, you remember it being so fun as a kid, but, sheesh, what did you actually DO?
Learn what they love to do, and do it with them. Karyn Purvis, author of “The Connected Child”, emphasizes the importance of playfulness in bonding and attachment. Though she writes and speaks with children from hard places in mind, I have found her research on parenting and her heart for healthy, well-attached children so valuable and have implemented bits and pieces of her parenting strategies with my own children.
I know it’s hard. And there’s no formula for making it happen or doing it well. If there was, it probably wouldn’t be play, right? But it matters. It’s valuable. Your kids will say and do the funniest things. You’ll get a chance to enter into their world, see their beautiful imaginations, observe what they’re learning, and be delighted in them. Enter into something they enjoy and do it with them. Even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time, just do it.
#2 Give technology a break.
This one’s easier said than done and it’s a popular theme in online parenting advice, but in my home at least, it makes one of the biggest positive impacts.
For some reason, my oldest son LOVES those little nursery rhyme videos on YouTube. And I mean LOVES them. He would watch them for hours if I would let him. Which is great if I’m sick or something, but not so great as an everyday activity. Stopping the videos often elicits tears, anger, and tantrums, none of which make my child very enjoyable. Other activities may require more time, more focus from me, and more cleaning up, but it’s worth it to make parenting more enjoyable.
Parents aren’t off the hook either. I admittedly check my phone too often. Sometimes I use it as a filler between normal activities. Instead of just moving to the next thing I should be doing, I check my notifications. I really, really enjoy Instagram. I read articles, comment on posts, gather advice and suggestions, and watch hilariously dumb videos all on Facebook.
And I sometimes – no, oftentimes- I ignore my son in the process. Keep putting him off. Get exasperated because he won’t just be patient and wait for two minutes. Which he should, right? There’s nothing wrong with expecting and teaching obedience. But there is something wrong with responding in anger, especially over something that’s really not that important. That’s me. Guilty. Way more often than I’d like to admit. And too much technology really feeds that.
#3 Structure life and routines so that you do get some alone time.
It IS important for you to get some time to recharge. Honestly, just because of our own personalities or other stress in our lives, some of us will need this more than others. We are absolutely called to give unselfishly to those around us, but even Jesus sometimes retreated away from the crowds he was serving in order to rest and speak with His Father, and then He continued on His mission.
We won’t be able to enjoy our kids if we’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed out all the time. We will burn out as parents if we never nurture ourselves as well. I think everyone knows this, but it is always a hard balance. So do your best to structure life in such a way that you do get some time to do something you enjoy without your kids, to focus on your spouse, to refuel your heart and mind and body to be able to keep being a good parent.
For me this means I aim to have both kids in bed by 8:30 p.m. My youngest is usually asleep well before that, but it’s a struggle with my three-year-old. He’s in that awkward stage between needing a nap and not needing a nap. If he doesn’t get one he’s a miserable, emotional wreck before we even get to supper time, and if he does get one, he could easily stay up until 10:30.
Which, speaking of dropping naps, I enforce a quiet time every day regardless of needing a nap or not. If my three-year-old falls asleep during quiet time, I try to not let him sleep more than 45-60 minutes so that he’ll still go to bed at a decent time so I can have some time with my husband. But I tell him he doesn’t have to sleep; he just needs to do something quietly on his bed for an hour or so. He sometimes fights me, but if we are home, it happens.
We also have family nearby, and we are blessed that both sets of grandparents are wonderful and love having our kids. I rarely send my youngest because he’s still primarily breastfed and I hate pumping, but usually my three-year-old goes to one of the grandparents’ houses once a week.
Now usually during these naps, and quiet times, and grandparent visits, I’m doing other things that need to be done, but I prioritize reading my Bible the first chance I get each day and then sometimes do something else for me or with my husband during those break times. The point is, those things are built into life as part of our everyday routine, so that on those days when I do reallllly need some alone time, when I need a chance to gather myself and refocus, I can usually get it within a reasonable time.
#4 Do the hard work to help make them enjoyable.
Basically, do the discipline and training necessary to make your kids generally enjoyable to be around. Kids are kids, and they will all misbehave sometimes, and they will sometimes go through really hard stages (ahem threenagers…), but consistently training them to be kind, respectful, and obedient makes a big difference!
I by no means have a great handle on discipline, and there are plenty of situations in which I simply don’t know what to do, but these are a couple books that have helped shape my general framework of parenting: “Parenting by God’s Promises”, “Gospel Powered Parenting”, and “Don’t Make Me Count to Three”.
#5 Do what you enjoy, and include them too!
Don’t stop doing the things you enjoy once you become a parent! There are definitely some activities that are much harder or perhaps impossible with small children in tow, but there are plenty of enjoyable things you can do with your children.
I have always loved being outside, and that is one thing that is really easy to include them in. They both love the outdoors, and we typically spend significant time out in our neighbor’s woods at least a few times a week. Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed and my patience is wearing out, the best thing to do is just load up the wagon (we have this one) and take the kids out to the woods for a few hours. It is refreshing and recharging for all of us, and it is such a great facilitator for enjoying my kids because it’s something I already enjoy and seeing them partaking in that enjoyment is really pretty awesome.
It takes longer, but it’s also fairly easy to include kids in cooking, baking, or anything artistic or creative. I love to read, and even though my typical book choice would be different, reading to my kids is something we both really enjoy. For the most part, I do what I enjoy doing and just bring my kids along.
You can include your children in the things you already enjoy doing; you just have to let your expectations be flexible. Find the things that you both love, and do them together. It is so rewarding to discover that your child loves the same things you do, that you actually have some common interests!
#6 Remind yourself of the truth.
Sometimes in the day-to-day grind of life and parenting, we can forget the value of what we’re doing. God gave these children to you in this season. Whether you’re a working parent, a stay-at-home parent, a foster, adoptive, or biological parent, you have an important role that no other person can exactly fulfill.
These children have eternal souls. They will make the world a better place or a worse place. They can help to bring healing or they can create more wounds. And we can’t control exactly what they do or don’t do. But our influence is strong, and we can try to equip them for whatever it is God calls them to do. The hard work of equipping them is made much easier when we are enjoying them along the way.
God calls children a gift, a reward, and a blessing, but we don’t always see them that way. (We also often think of gifts and blessings as being easy, not hard, but that’s a post for another day…) Those times when they don’t feel like gifts and blessings – those are the times when we must remind ourselves of that truth the most. I believe God wants us to enjoy His gifts and blessings, and these gifts and blessings include our children.
#7 Pray for them, and for yourself.
With the thought in mind that our children are valuable gifts and blessings with all this potential for either good or bad inside them, it only makes sense that we pray for them. Praying for your children makes you pause and really think about what it is you want for your children, who you hope they will be.
It makes you notice what they are struggling with and be more compassionate toward them. It makes you remember all the funny and precious things they do and how much you love them. And it makes you thank God for all those things. Sometimes we don’t enjoy our children because we don’t even notice them. Praying for them helps you to do just that.
We should also pray for ourselves as parents, pray that we can experience joy in parenting even if there are difficult circumstances that come along with them. Aside from the strength of Christ, there is no way I can parent my children as I should, nor can I enjoy them as I could. Prayer is hard, slow work. It’s not my strongest spiritual discipline for sure. But it does both our souls and the souls of our children eternal good.
Enjoy your children now.
I know it’s cliche, but your children won’t be children forever. These days are just a little blip in eternity, with all the struggles and all the joy. My grandma is 81 and the mother of six children. They often had financial struggles; one of her daughters had special needs and died at 18. Her life, especially as a parent, has not been easy. But she always encourages me, “Enjoy your children. Those days when my children were small were the best years of my life.” She still enjoys her children, but she misses those days when they were all at her table each evening.
I want my children to remember the great things we did together. I want them to remember and know for sure, without a doubt, that they are precious to me. Even though we certainly love our children even when we aren’t enjoying them, I think that those memories of us enjoying each other will help to remind our children that they are our treasures and that they are so, so loved.
So yes, parenting is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and at times it may even be your greatest struggle. But the joy, even just the memory of the joy, will help to carry you through those trying times. So pursue the joy. Pursue the joy now. And enjoy your children.