This book is honest, complete with stories about fights in the backseat, toothpaste smeared on shoes, and meltdowns in the grocery aisle. It made me realize that I have a lot in store for me in the years to come. But it also encouraged me in real ways. A lot of books might encourage you in motherhood, but very few give such practical and Christ-centered approaches to the daily things you will face. Jankovic says right up front, "I didn't write this book because mothering little ones is easy for me. I wrote it because it isn't."
Sometimes I feel like I'm not quite qualified to read, let alone review, a book about motherhood. I mean, hello, here I am about 15 minutes into this thing. But I wish someone would have handed me this book before I had even given birth, because Jankovic does such a beautiful job of helping a mother realize what her true duties are. I am guilty, and I think a lot of mothers are guilty, of pitying themselves in certain moments. It is safe to say that I felt pretty sorry for myself the first several months after Blythe was born. I mean, I was losing SLEEP and Blythe was basically in control of MY body and my emotions and my frustrations were everywhere. The author paints a picture of two of her daughters cleaning up a bedroom. One girl jumps right in, but the other one picks up one toy and then lays down to whine and cry. She says, "You know as a parent that lying down and whimpering about the tasks does not get them done. It makes it harder, slower, and more difficult in every way. The child who is really working faithfully will see progress, will see that the task is doable. The child who is feeling sorry for him or herself will never get past that emotional low." And right when I think she's going to go into a lesson on how to look at your daughter's heart in this moment and..ya da ya da…but out of nowhere she turns the tables and starts talking about MY ATTITUDE! "Do you see yourself in that [scenario]? … Time to adjust to the workload God [has given] me. [Decide] to be the kid who would dive in and not the kid who would stand around anticipating the work and getting overwhelmed." She said she decided to stop saying, out loud and to herself, that she was overwhelmed. "Deciding not to wallow in that fact has removed one of the biggest obstacles to my work-- my own calculations of how hard the job is."
And in the hardest moments, when one kid is poopy, another is ready to nurse, and your oldest just stole a toy from the youngest, instead of thinking "I'm overwhelmed" and feeling sorry for yourself and the task that lay ahead, she says to glance at the clock, take a deep breath, tell yourself "in twenty minutes this will be over," and dive in to the work. "A moment. It passes. But when it passes, you will be very glad if all you did was work right through it. No self-pity, no tears, no getting worked into a dither. Look at the clock, look at the work you need to do, and bear down. That super intensity will almost always be over in twenty minutes." I know it is so hard when you are living these moments, but to look at them as moments helps. I was so very bad about this with nursing. You can ask anyone close to me-- I complained
Beyond the shifting parts of your body, motherhood changes you in very fundamental ways too. At times this change has been harder for me to forfeit, and I know it's just the beginning. The author says, "Your children change you into a different person. If you suddenly panic because it all happened so fast and now you don't recognize yourself, what you need is not time alone. What you need is your people. Look out-- look at the people who made you what you are-- your husband and your children. Study them. They are you. If you want to know yourself, concentrate on them." I love this part because I think it goes against everything our culture tells us, and last I checked, our culture kind of sucks at giving advice about marriage and family. It is all about "finding yourself", but like she says in the book, after you've become a mother, this is YOU. You aren't the same person you were before they laid that slimy bundle of helplessness on your chest. Though I agree that quiet times and recharging are essential to being healthy spiritually and emotionally for your family, "finding yourself" is not done on a weekend get-away by yourself or with your girlfriends. Jankovic says, "If you want some quality 'me time,' make a date with your husband. Do something special with your children. These people are you. Your identity is supposed to be intertwined-- that is the way God wrote the story, and it is the way he intends us to read it." I would hate to think that my mom felt like she'd given up herself when she had Kali and me. I actually like to think the opposite: that we helped her become more of who she was created to be. When I am feeling "changed" by motherhood, I hope to remember this.
As Christian parents, we have an advantage: we know Someone who can give us peace and calmness even in the most trying of situations. This book reminded me that it is my responsibility to be tapped into that power continually throughout my days with Blythe. Jankovic simply says, "The state of your heart is the state of your home. As you deal with your children, deal with yourself always and first. This is what it looks like, and feels like, to walk as a mother with God."
Blythe isn't really pushing her boundaries yet, but it's starting. When I had the vacuum out today she crawled over to the socket and unplugged it. I got onto her, moved her, gave her a book, then plugged it back in and was back to vacuuming. One minute later she was right back over to the socket. Such a small thing, but I could feel my patience deteriorating. Later in the bath she would not listen when repeatedly told to sit on her bottom. And then I remembered this metaphor from the book: "Each day we get a sheet of paper with math problems on them. Except instead of basic addition and subtraction problems, they are little tests for our patience, for our peace, for our kindness. It is a regular fruit of the spirit speed quiz. They are easy, basic, Christian living challenges brought to us daily by our children, and the allotted time is our waking hours. Sometimes sporadically through the night." I used to agonize over those silly multiplication tests. I could never remember 7X8, so my parents wrote 7X8= 56 on sticky notes and plastered them all over the house. Do you know what problem I don't hesitate on to this day? 7X8. I like to think that over the next 18-20 years, patience will be a little like that if I let myself learn it every time one of those "sticky notes" pops up throughout my days. The author says, "If organization and order can be found in my attitude, we are doing well. But if my attitude falters even in the midst of external order, so does everything else."
Organization and order. It needs to be foremost in my heart, not my home. This is something I foresee myself struggling with because I like a neat and organized space to live in. I can let things get messy for a few days, but then it just needs to be fixed! After reading this book, I want to be better about putting the broom away and getting down on the floor and playing [remember my previous story? I was vacuuming!]. Jankovic says, "When scripture says to bring [your children] up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, it is not talking about finding the most effective way to organize them. This is a very easy trap to fall in…because cleaning and sorting makes you look and maybe even feel like you have your act together, even if you seriously don't…Christian childrearing is a pastoral pursuit, not an organizational challenge." In this social media world where everyone looks like they have it together or are 'pinning' things that make it seem that way, it is especially easy to think the big goal of parenting is creating cute cubbies for your kids' stuff and having a chore chart posted on your spotless fridge and finding the most creative way to display your kid's artwork. But what the book reminded me was it's more important to be the one making the artwork right beside them. "Be a pastor to your children. Study them. Seek them out. Sacrifice the thing you were doing to work through minor emotional issues."
I always notice when parents are willing to stop what they are doing to tend to their child's need; to bend down at their level and talk to them about what is so upsetting or share in their excitement. You can tell a difference in the kids who have these parents. The author says, "While your children are little, cultivate an attitude of sacrifice. Sacrifice your peace for their fun. Your clean kitchen floor for their help cracking eggs. Your quiet moment for their retelling of a dream that a friend of theirs allegedly had. Prioritize your children far and away above other work you need to get done. They are the only part of your work that really matters….Fat souls are better than clean floors." My children won't look back and remember if our house was always clean, but they will remember that one time I let them make chocolate chip cookies all by themselves or finger paint while sprawled out across the dining room floor. I had a friend [and faithful blog reader] tell me that Blythe will eventually draw on the walls-- it's inevitable. She said, "I think when she does you should just paint little frames around them and wait until the kids leave home to paint again."I want to live like this. That would cultivate pretty fat souls if you ask me.
Obviously there are times when discipline is needed, and I felt like this book did such a wonderful job of giving great tools to guide mothers in this area. She said to "try thinking of discipline as a different kind of nourishment-- a sweet means of grace to your children." Growing up I was always a little jealous of my friends who were "BEST FRIENDS" with their moms. My mom and I would both tell you this wasn't the case for us. We usually got along, but we definitely weren't gal pals. And I think it is because my mom saw the importance of nourishing me with discipline. It tasted bitter to me, but now I realize it was "a sweet means of grace," and has allowed us a friendship now, in my adulthood.
Because Blythe is so very small yet and I clearly have a long road ahead of me regarding discipline, I found this section particularly interesting. Jankovic says, "If your son in his high chair is struggling with anger about his vegetable, you should be seeing a high school boy acting out after a lost basketball game. Give him the tools now that he will need then." The way to provide him the tools is to "stick to principles, teach principles, and then sort out the details in light of them." For example she told the story of two of her kids who were fighting over a flashlight. The issue appears to be wanting the toy. She said she could have caused quiet by taking the toy, or by telling them they each had a certain amount of time with it. But instead she thought about the real issue: They were putting the flashlight above their sibling. So she talked through it with them, put it in words they could understand. And in this example she said, "Grabby hearts make grabby hands. It is the hearts that are the problem." It is the parents responsibility to see the real issue, and discipline and teach around that. Though to be able to do this she reminds again, "Make sure before you start rebuking them that your own heart is in order…Thank God for these prime opportunities to teach…And then, after your own heart has been sorted out, move on to theirs."
I think sometimes it is easy to fall into the "because I said so" trap with parenting, but the book encouraged me to remember that we "discipline because you are the rightful authority over them, and the rightful authority over the both of you is God. You need to be pointing them to His law as you explain yours. God said, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' so Mama says, 'You may not hit one another.' …Your authority should always be geared toward guiding with one eye toward releasing. Authority into freedom." If they only obey us because "we say so", but don't learn why we want them to share/not hit/stay out of the street, they won't learn to do it on their own. The author reminded me that for us as Christians, "Obedience to God's law is freedom. Your kids should feel the same way about obeying you."
There is so much more to this book, so you really just need to pick up a copy and read it for yourself, but the last thing I want to highlight is where Jankovic talked about letting your kids know your expectations. If Brent and I have learned nothing else in the five years we have been married, it is that communication about our expectations is key. So it makes perfect sense that we should apply this to our parenting. She says, "One of the greatest kindnesses you can do for your kids is to lay out for them clear expectations. Think ahead a minute, explain what is going to happen. When it does happen, what do you want to see them doing?" What a simple piece of advice that could save a lot of headaches.
In my classroom I saw this play out time and time again, as things always went smoother if I laid things out for my students ahead of time. One thing that really reminded me of this was when the author says, "Do no micromanage their lives. As a general rule of thumb, you should use [making expectations clear] as a way of decreasing the bossiness, not increasing. If you have a situation in life where you are constantly firing off commands, it is a good idea to see if there is a way of streamlining it… Structure and freedom combined together make happy children. Too much of either is destructive." I don't know how many times in the middle of an activity I'd find myself spouting off more instructions or trying to get order back, when if I had simply taken a few more minutes before we began to lay out clear expectations, my students would have been free to take control during the activity. It makes perfect sense that parenting is the same way.
"Loving the Little Years" is a pretty short book [you're thinking, "Yeah right! Look how long this review is!"]. I read it in a day. It will be one I return to time and again. If you find yourself in the middle of "the little years" I highly recommend it. I'll leave you with this last quote:
"Motherhood is hard work. It is repetitive and often times mental. Accept it. Rejoice in it. This is your toil. Right here. Those are their faces. Enjoy them. The days of your life are supposed to be full of things like this. But joy is not giddy. It is not an emotional rush-- it is what happens when you accept your lot and rejoice in your toil. So rejoice in your children. Look them in the eyes and give thanks. You will not even remember the work of all this planting when the harvest of joy overwhelms you."