Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Monday, January 17, 2011

On the Brevity of Life with Small Children

My husband’s out of town. When he’s gone, sometimes I want to clean the house and try to maintain the relative order of having one less person in the house moving things around and dropping them willy-nilly. Sometimes I want to drop things willy-nilly and leave them there indefinitely, and enjoy complete chaos without the worry that he’ll be home at five, see our disorder and want to return to the hinterlands from which he came.

I want to beg off all my duties, beginning with answering the alarm clock to get my school children off to school. I knew my oldest would be home sick today and I almost let my daughter play hooky too, but at the latest possible minute, I roused everyone, and we accompanied her to school in our pajamas

Chaos reigned until around noon, and then the coin landed on order, and I took a shower, dressed, did some dishes, and muscled through the Math lessons and dictations and handwriting exercises that comprise our Must Do home-schooling activities for my kid who home-schools. These late starts initially sound like a good idea, but you never regain the precedence of school in the order of the day, once it’s lost. The day was a bust. How many days like this can we endure before we call the whole project a bust?

My cousin told me about a woman who passed away recently, the mother of a friend of hers. The woman had a few short, happy years with her husband, long enough to bring eight children into the world, and then her husband died young, and she continued to raise the children on her own. She smoked heavily because what else is a widowed mother of eight going to do for a good time? And every night when her children came home, she called them into her room, one by one, to give them a kiss goodnight.

“She was smelling our breath to see if we’d been drinking,” say the children--her only line of defense in the battle against the world for her children. The Judas kiss goodnight always betrays you. But up until her last day, said a priest friend, “All she ever wanted to talk about was her children. They were the center of her life.”

“It’s such a short time,” said my cousin, “that we’re given on this earth with our spouses, and with our kids.” Such a short time to leave our effects on one another, and it’s so tempting to think that there’s a way to get it right—or right enough that no one will ever go astray.

When my husband is gone, I can’t help but imagine what it would be like to do this alone all the time. So much slips through the cracks, and I think, to heck with it—let’s put all the kids in school and let the world do with them what it wants. I know from sending half my chicks out, and keeping half of them home, that lifetimes are lived in those morning hours when my kids are gone. And the evening hours pass too quickly. My influence wanes, as they all by now prefer their friends and each other to me.

I flipped through the channels last night to see the ball gowns on the Golden Globe awards, and on some real-life channel, Marky Mark documented the descent of several South Boston teens into a life of drug abuse. One boy was the youngest of five children, and encountered OxyContin on the streets outside his home at the age of eleven.

It seems like the only thing a parent can do for our kids’ well-being is postpone their debuts in the world by whatever means possible. Protect, protect, protect—no one else is going to protect our children for us. But gosh it’s exhausting. You can never look away for a minute.

Another alternative: don’t surrender my duties too willingly. It’s such a brief amount of time we have to affect one another. So brief. One of these days, they’re going to go, regardless of how I feel about it.

17 comments:

kate said...

Yes, raising kids is scary. And doing it alone would be brutally hard. But, no, protecting them is not the ONLY thing we can do - and delaying their debut may or may not be called for. FORMING them is the real thing we can do - it is our job to prepare them for their inevitable debut and to TIME it well. Too soon, disaster. Too late, disaster as well. My 5 are almost grown. And the results are, well, pretty great. All go to church on their own - and when away at college have gone to Mass on their own, often daily. My two oldest boys go to confession at least twice a month. Both of them spent some time in the seminary. I won't go on and on but I do have more evidence that they are with the program. And they went to school. 16 years of Catholic schools. The critical issue with our kids and the world is the formation of their hearts, minds and souls and the provision of an acceptable peer group - which they themselves frequently will create if we give them some help. Without some friends that share at least some of their values, it gets very dicey. Buuuttt. I've seen all five of my kids naturally choose friends like that. ANd I've seen homeschooled kids, kept home through high school and CONTROLLED - go crazy wild when they finally escaped. Seek the Lord - and don't get agoraphobic. (sorry for the speech - but I've got more, I'm actually holding back, this is a hot button for me)

kate said...

Hmm. One more thing. We raised our kids in a movement - I don't think it's the only way to get good results but we consciously "raised our kids together" - in my work in our parish now, I encourage young families to create networks of families to do the same - build their lives around the parish with other young families, recreating with them, having dinner with them. HELP those kids have friends who are being raised with faith.

Anonymous said...

I'm new to your blog, but had to leave a comment. I have loved your last few posts, just so wonderful, and true. Today's sent me over the edge---;)----I had to comment on the beautiful honesty! Thank you, and I am bookmarking your blog! God bless, Nina

kate said...

Betty - let's argue...!Your position is that of my best friend years ago when we were first having babies. 3 of her 4 siblings went off the rails in the 70's in the drug scene despite a "good family". So, she was scared for her children. However. There are movements and there are movements. Not every faith environment fosters freedom in a child's relationship with God and my observation on both a micro level (friends, family) and a macro (within a movement, parish, diocesan work) suggests that when a child/teen has Christ PROPOSED to him/her with respect and sensitivity to the experience of the child/teen, AND that child/teen has a supportive BUT NOT CONTROLLING environment - they will more frequently choose Christ. I've seen this in a families with diverse approaches to discipline - AND my observation is that a very controlled approach to the child that carries through into high school rarely has a good result. I'm not talking about letting all expectations or standards drop - nobody in our house watched a PG -13 movie we hadn't seen until they were 18. And if you live our house, you go to church, obey rules, blah, blah, and etc. But - we also recognized, converted as teens ourselves, that it was a personal choice our child had to make to follow Christ - and that all we could do was provide a structure that encouraged it. In the end, you are right - it is not something we can be certain of. BUT. it is not a crapshoot. Certain behaviors definitely stack the deck one way or the other. And even within the movement I've been in, I've seen both controlling and non-controlling families - and my theory still holds. The controlling families have less success. It is the warm, fun, easygoing, trusting (but not too trusting) families that succeed - not the stringent, my way or the highway, load em down with rules families....

Young Mom said...

I agree with Kate, It has to be a combination of protecting our children and educating them. I grew up in a family that over protected and did very little education, with very mixed results. The homschooling christian families I grew up around were trying to protect their kids from so many things (drugs, pre-marital sex, sexual abuse, self-harm/cutting, eating disorders etc.) and every one of those things happened in their families (many of them in my own family) despite the extreme lengths the parents went to trying to protect their children. Communication and education is crucial!

You cannot protect your children from everything (that is what is so scary about being a parent) but we can equip them to handle what they will encounter.

BettyDuffy said...

Kate, I can't argue with you when I don't disagree. I don't think I ever put forward a stringent, "load em down with rules" mode of parenting. And if you knew me--you would also know how unlikely it would be for me to carry out such a plan. I'm not that person.

If I'm arguing a point or a standard that I would like to uphold, it's Love your kids now. Give them a happy, orderly home life that will be a reference point to which they want to return. Within that prescription are certain protections--with which it seems you agree: moderate TV, certain books, video games, have some rules and standards that are required of this home's inhabitants. If you prefer, "Stack the deck in their favor."

Nevertheless, drugs happen, drinking, loss of faith. I believe that certain addictive behaviors are genetically conveyed, so it's possible that while I've stacked the deck well, I could also have handed them a wild card under the table.

kate said...

Okay. Looks like I've been shadow-boxing. You are right - in the end free will and the human condition enter in and we can't be sure what will happen. Meanwhile, we rely on grace - and we do the best we can while praying like mad and laughing like maniacs.

BettyDuffy said...

Agreed.

karyn said...

I think it's good to remember that we do have such a short time - I think this helps us "run the race well". Our society pressures us to abdicate our responsibility of forming our kids. My friend has her three year old in preschool five days a week, not because of work, but because she "needs a break". I often feel like I need a break, but then I remember I'll only be my children's mother, in this intense way, for just a little while. I can wait a little longer for a break.

Peter and Nancy said...

My oldest is ten, and boy, do I recognize the brevity part of parenting. In eight short years, he will likely be out of my home . . . and in a time shorter than that, he will be making many decisions outside my circle of influence in his life.

I love this dialogue. I have friend whose last of 8 left for college this semester, and she is greiving the loss of this season of motherhood. I'm glad for the reminder to treasure it.
Nancy

The Cottage Child said...

karyn, I think you nailed what I couldn't cobble together in a single cohesive statement. Well said.

BettyDuffy said...

Yes, Karyn, exactly.

Julia said...

Mine aren't so little any more (youngest is 7, oldest 16), and it's so much easier to let them grow up into who they are when you've watched each petal unfold. Relishing what you've been given (in between prayers for patience) closes the door to regretting not doing what was given to you to do. There's always plenty of room to regret what you didn't know or couldn't have controlled.

augustine1121 said...

A well written article I can totally commiserate in some small measure even though I do not have any children yet. Your scenario is exactly what terrifies me of having kids in the first place. It seems like your entire life is gone in a blink of an eye. You have no more time to do anything except the mundane and necessary. Yet despite these sufferings I still would choose the sufferings of child rearing over the soft death of being married and choosing not to bring children into the world. We must always remember that the married vocation is our primary means of sanctification.

Marco (to view my blog go to www.marcominute.blogspot.com

eaucoin said...

I never home-schooled and there are no Catholic schools within 100 miles of our home, but this fear of not having prepared our children well enough is universal, so I just wanted to remind those of you who are still anticipating letting go that it's never too late to appeal to God and the Blessed Mother for parenting help. Three days before one of my daughters was heading for boot camp, I brought clean laundry to her room and encountered a huge mess. She wasn't packed and she wasn't packing. She had been enjoying the last *insert day of the week, time of day, and some mundane activity* time with her childhood friends with whom she had shared classes for twelve years and preschool. I sat on her bed and got really upset. I told myself, "she's not ready and it's my fault, and ohmigod, what do I do now--they're gonna make mincemeat out of her." And I wanted to go give her what for, and then I thought: what if that's the memory that she holds onto of her mother, so I prayed, and I asked the Holy Spirit to help me. Then I went to speak to her and I said, "Hon, I know we gave our permission and you belong to the military now, but I just want you to know that to your father and I you will always be our baby and if you ever need us, we'll be here for you." (And then I felt surprised because it was so different from what I intended to say.) My daughter looked at me and said rather indignantly, "Why would I come to you? The only advice you ever gave me is to trust God and drink lots of water." (my kids played alot of sports) I was kind of stunned, and I thought, I'm sure of I've given you lots of stupid advice but I wish what you just said were true. I felt a thrill of relief and I realized that the Holy Spirit was answering my prayer. He was telling me that I hadn't messed up irrevocably--that, in fact, sometimes when she hears the Holy Spirit, she thinks she's just hearing what I would say--which means that she knows I love her, and the Holy Spirit is watching out for her. She's a sub-lieutenant now, and she still makes decisions that I would like to veto, but I am so far from without influence. I know our culture has messed up a lot of the spiritual message, but we should all have a magnet on our fridge that says, "Our mothers can't be everywhere, so Jesus gave us His."

Lizzie said...

When I think about this too much, fear kicks in. So I pray pray pray.

When my son was at his dad's house this weekend, he played a moderately violent game on the wii (he's only 6) and came home and proceeded to kick me and scream at me - nothing like this had occurred before.

I took the bull by the horns and went to speak to my son's dad and his partner and as the conversation progressed, I realised that it's not protection that matter so much (although it does of course matter where young hearts and minds are concerned so I'm still not convinced about the computer game - it all fills the heart doesn't it? Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks etc etc)BUT I realised that what matters most is giving our children the strategies to articulate the effect things have on them e.g. computer/TV so that they can recognise in themselves when they are becoming aggressive/rude etc. and hopefully choose that they don't want to behave that way. I hope, pray and keep the conversation and trust flowing...

ps as I type this, my son has just said 'you're the best mummy anyone could ever have'. Gotta love them.

JMB said...

We all mother our children in different ways. Some are better at mothering babies and toddlers; some peak at the teenage and young adult years. I've never thought it was wise to judge what other mothers do - some moms do need "preschool" breaks without which they may seriously harm their children, or fall into a depression. Some mothers need to send their teenage sons to boarding school; some mothers prefer to have everybody home all the time. Some mothers aren't sad when the youngest goes off to kindergarten!

I love my children but I've never had a hard time letting them go in the world. That's where they're going to be. I pray for them daily that they will find a home in the Catholic Church. That's about all I can do and all that I have "control" over. The rest, and most of it, is up to God.