Happy Families – A game of comparisons

I attended a parenting course many years ago and apart from the mind-numbing rigidity of the rules-based strategy they espoused, I came away with a bit of advice that has stuck with me through the years.

‘If you want happy kids, focus on creating a happy marriage.’

It’s simple and yes, a little simplistic, but there is a gold thread of truth in this statement.

There are no, one-size fits all formulas, or magic tricks to raising happy healthy kids. We instinctively know that, yet strangely we often believe everyone else seems to have found the solution. In parenting, perhaps more than any other role in life, we buy into playing the comparison game to excess. From the moment a baby is born, many parents start the endless measuring, comparing and judging as to whether the child is ahead or behind in achieving those ‘vital’ milestones of development. Parents who play this game aspire for above average, will grudgingly accept ‘normal’ but are often left confused and dismayed with anything less than that. Somehow, a parent’s identity, value and effectiveness is linked to this freshly-hatched little person who, must prove to the world in each stage of life, that we’ve ‘done good’ in raising them.

Some of us feel secret relief when another parent confesses to having a troubled teen. At least ours isn’t that bad! We can feel a niggling shame and guilt when our child is the one in trouble at school most days. We try hard to duck and weave while other parents’ eyes are on us as we rush through the school carpark.

I have experienced all those emotions if I’m to be honest. In our family we ranged from having a child who was the ‘teacher’s pet,’ the ‘good kid,’ to having teachers lining up in the foyer of the school wanting to vent at me as they battled to deal with our ‘class clown, always in detention,’ child. We also had a child who quietly slipped on through in his usual, ‘don’t notice me, I don’t want to make any waves,’ style.

At the time my reactions probably landed somewhere between humiliation and smug satisfaction, but as realists we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t take credit for the ‘teacher’s pet’ and avoid taking responsibility for the one who made the teachers work harder to earn their money every day.

I look back now and know that the bigger issue for us as parents was to ensure our children knew they were loved, accepted, treasured and respected. Why? That’s what my husband and I wanted for us in our relationship too. We sought to honour their unique personalities and ways of seeing and dealing with the world. Our job was not to create clones, not crush, but shape their uniqueness, helping them deal with the situations where they didn’t always find safe landings.

We sought and still do, despite major and minor hiccups, (’cause that’s life) to provide a loving safe space, where we as a couple intentionally invest in our shared relationship. Our focus has been on ‘fighting’ to keep it as healthy as possible in every season and stage of our lives together. For the most part, we’ve been very happily married and we hold no ‘smug satisfaction’ in that at all. One of life’s miracles is ‘to have and to hold until death do us part.’ Sometimes it’s just not possible.

Have our children always been happy? Only they can answer that one. I, one day, want to be brave enough to ask them how our marriage ‘for better or for worse,’ impacted them as they grew.

But what we have learned over time is to quit playing the comparison game and focus on building and maintaining a happy, healthy partnership as a couple. We consider our adult children to be dear friends and companions in life. We enjoy their unique personalities and perspectives, we laugh together, face challenges together, listen to each other and learn from each other. We are happy, together.

James 2:13 ‘Mercy triumphs over judgement.’

Crazy good – Family

Here is my second response to what’s most important in my life and why?

I still remember my husband’s reaction as he carried our firstborn out of the maternity hospital on a sizzling Sydney summer day. He gently placed our precious cargo in his bassinet in the back of our blue 2 door T-18.  His face was beaming with pride, joy and delight. He could barely contain himself, constantly gazing at our precious son and saying in wonder, “He’s ours. He’s ours and no one can take him away.’

My husband grew up in a children’s foster home and his words rang of the understanding from his childhood that some families for various difficult or traumatic reasons, had to give up their children to government social workers, who would deem them safer in the care of others. Phil’s parents had become foster carers and gradually added to their homegrown brood of six children, (of which my husband was the eldest and only boy), until eventually their household expanded to an average of sixteen children. Most of them became permanents, while others came for temporary stays, before returning to their families or other carers.

My family of origin on the other hand, was a more traditional housing commission, mill worker variety of mum, dad and the pigeon pair, with me being the eldest.

Our childhoods were so vastly different and created an interesting melting pot for us to become a family and raise our three boys.

Our sons grew in the nourishing soil of being loved deeply by a devoted gentle, playful father who has always delighted in spending quality time with them at every opportunity, paying attention to their interests, sports and hobbies. And now with the uniquely characterful trio in their mid-thirties, we have the pleasure and privilege of calling them sons and dear friends.

I learned to be a mother over time, mostly through the lense of hindsight as I dared to vulnerably own and learn from my mistakes. Unlike my husband who had been surrounded by babies, toddlers and troubled teens, I had never handled a baby, let alone a new born prior to having my own. I was more the sporty, outdoors type. Always on the move, blissfully self-absorbed is a fair description. I wasn’t and am still not one of those nurturing maternally inclined women who make comforting or celebratory cups of tea to go with their home baked goods, while gushing and gooing over tiny babies.

I brought my own brand of parenting imprinted from my family of origin with its strengths and weaknesses. But, over time, and not altogether without inner resistance and struggle, I melded more and more with my husband and my offspring who have taught me to be less intense, live lighter, love and laugh more and accept imperfection in myself and those around me.

This love has expanded in us and through us over time. I’ve learned there is always more love to go around. We have always chosen to love whomever our boys loved and with that in our hearts, our family has grown, blended, strengthened and been changed for the better with each inclusion in our lives. Some have come to stay and some have gone, but our love, affection and life lessons learned from them, has remained.  A wonderful part of that embracing and engaging has resulted in the birth of three delightful granddaughters. And yes, I have rather enjoyed the gushing and the gooing.

For me, our family has been a safe place to grow up. I’m still growing up. It has been a messy, non-linear, jarring, jolting, joyous journey, of small tentative steps with stumbles, falls and stalls. With equal measure of tenderness and terror entwined in my psyche. ‘No-one comes out unscathed,’ a friend said recently.

It has been and continues to be a place of unlearning in so many ways. Of re-shaping, re-forming, recovering and restoring. A place of amazing depth and delight in the deceptively ordinary, surprising moments of giving and receiving love.

And I’d do it all again. It’s been that crazy good.

More than our Mistakes

Holidaying in South Durras is a delight. A beautiful corner of the world, beaches, sandstone rock formations, bike rides and lovely bush trails to explore.

On one sunny morning over the Easter break we walked through the back of the shack property and down to a path that crossed a creek via a walk bridge.

On the bridge was a father, his son and daughter. The daughter was on one side of the creek and the son in the middle of the bridge anxiously looking over the side where his shiny new rugby ball was floating serenely in the middle of the dark tea tree coloured creek. He was looking dismayed and upset as he looked to his dad who then walked to the other end of the bridge, found a long branch and stood at the edge of the creek guiding the ball back to land with the branch.

As we walked by I heard the young boy make a heartfelt apology to his dad: ‘I’m so sorry dad.’

It was the reply of the father that spoke volumes to me. In a quiet and kind voice he simply said:

‘That’s OK son!’

Phil and I kept walking, but I pondered the scene as I went and reflected that many parents would have responded differently, either out of frustration, annoyance, anger and recrimination. I’ve heard those responses far too often and cringe as I hear parents speak harshly to their children when they make mistakes.

It crushes something inside a child when they are regularly criticised and condemned often for just being a child and childish.

But this father was not perturbed at all. Their walk, yes, interrupted, the ball obviously thrown, missed, who knows. I didn’t see that part.

But I heard the genuine remorse of the child and the genuine love and acceptance of the father and it reminded me of my heavenly Father who is always kind, good and gracious to me. He is never impatient, cross or harshly judging me for my human frailties.

Instead he lovingly accepts me and works with me to deal with the problem together, just as this Father did on a walk with his children. God is bigger, stronger, kinder and more loving towards me than anyone else I have ever and will ever know, and I am grateful for that.

I wonder what voice you hear when you make mistakes, do you hear the voice of an angry parent, or a gracious gentle God who accepts you, loves you and steps in to work with you to put things right.

It changes our lives when we know we are loved and accepted every day no matter what happens.