This is not working.
I say that all the time.
The baby won’t stay in her bed. This laundry pile stretches out infinitely from prehistoric past to all predictions of the future. We are outgrowing the kitchen table, which is the biggest table we can fit in the kitchen. Cat in the house. Math. Bedtime routines. Going anywhere with six kids and pretending that I’ve got it all together.
One thing I have learned about parenting, roughly a decade into it, is that it requires an incredible amount of creativity. I’m not talking about the interesting kind of creativity–like writing books or painting great works of art. I’m talking about the basically boring kind of creativity–the games I can make up on the spot to keep everybody happy while we wait in the parking lot of the grocery store. Or the epic plot lines we come up with at the dinner table that end with the spoon going into the baby’s mouth. The high-level math involved in getting six children wrestled into pajamas with twelve rows of teeth brushed and a dozen eyes closed for eight to ten hours. There is no algorithm for this.
There are days when I am literally doubled over, hiding and crying in the closet. They aren’t frequent, but they happen. My life is wonderful and beautiful. It is bubbling over with the laughter of children. Healthy, vibrant children, who know next to nothing about heartache in this world. We have such good lives. I get to spend my life with this family. I get to eat every meal with them. I get to hear them play music all day long. Miracles happen to us on a regular basis. So much of my life is like a beautiful, glowing memory.
And yet, here I am, on my knees in the closet, sobbing, “God, this is not working.”
I’m coming to a place of true respect for that statement. It usually comes after a season of realizing afresh that I am actually not in control of my life or the lives of my husband and children. And that though I try desperately to make it work, in my own strength, I can’t. It will never work that way. I am not strong enough to deal with life in this world on my own. And I am not nearly creative enough to think up solutions to every new problem that arises.
I have begun to appreciate those words because they bring me back to God. God, this is not working. I thought it was. It served us for a season. But I need something that will help me through the weeks and months ahead. Life has changed, and I need a change of mind and heart to give me a new perspective. I need a new idea. I need the next concept that will bring me through my life in progress.
I want so much to find the thing that works for us. I want to know the type of mother I am. The type of homeschooler I am. I want to say with confidence, “We adhere to (this philosophy of education/life/etc), and have a perfect plan that will not fail me.
This family is a living organism. It is constantly learning and growing and changing and undoing all the hours of long, hard planning and speculation I’ve pored into it. There are eight souls involved in this process of learning how to live together as flesh and blood. There are eight unique minds that have to come from far-off travels to sit together at the dinner table and have a conversation. There are strong wills and individual human natures involved. There are separate secret hopes and dreams. There are parents and children. There is innocence and experience. There is knowledge and wisdom and the realization that:
The only thing, I am beginning to realize, that is truly going to work is this: Staying close to the Creator, and daily praying for the creativity to make this day meaningful through the leading of the Holy Spirit. I pray that God will teach my children the things they need to know for their lives in this day. I pray that He will help me to see my children as they are, to identify who they are becoming, so that I can lay down a broad foundation and eventually narrow the focus to help them become the individuals God has created them to be. That they will find their identities in Christ. And that I will as well. That I will align myself to His word and daily seek out solutions to the ever-present question:
God, how do we make this work???
I can look back through journals and see how, just at the moment where I thought I was going to break, God has intervened and given me a tool to help me through a difficult season in my life. I believe He wants to be in constant dialogue with me about the rhythm of my family. But it often takes me coming to the end of all my own ideas before I remember this truth.
I would like to share a few of the ideas/resources He has given me in the last few years of being a mother of a growing family that are currently working for our family of six young children. I hope there may be something here that will work for you as well.
1. Quiet Time. I wrote a blog post about this a couple of years ago. You can read it here: Making Time for Quiet) In this house, every day after lunch, all the kids climb into their beds and have one hour of quiet time. They can nap, they can read, they can draw, they can do anything they like as long as they are not staring at a screen or making noise. This has been the most life-changing component of our day. In a large family living in a small space, quiet time has given us all time to think without interruption. It has helped my children cultivate the ability to focus and play alone. It has made them infinitely more creative and productive. It has given them the healthy practice of having an idle mind to fill as they please without the pull of technology. I cannot say enough about this beautiful hour.
2. Grace for homeschooling. I am still developing (and will continue forever, I’m sure) my philosophy on education and homeschool. But a friend gave me a book that pretty much has become my reminder to focus on what is most important to us: that we pray for God to show us who our children are, and that as He reveals that to us through their personalities, passions, and interests, we give them the opportunities and experiences that will help them become the people who God has created them to be. I highly recommend the book I Saw the Angel in the Marble, by Chris and Ellyn Davis. It is a collection of essays on homeschooling that have been extremely influential in my philosophy of education. The idea above came from a chapter called “Identity-Directed Homeschooling.”
3. Schedule. This is the newest tool that God has given me, and I am still trying to figure out how to work it! I read a book called Managers of Their Homes by Steve and Teri Maxwell several years ago and I thought it was absolutely and utterly ridiculous. It had every part of the day scheduled in 30-minute increments for every person in the household. I reread it again after our sixth child was born, and it was like a lifeline to me. It seems like the more children we have, the more necessary it is to have a schedule. I love this book, although I don’t schedule nearly as rigidly as is detailed here. I have found that having even a rudimentary schedule or a list for each child takes away most of the dread of figuring out what everybody is supposed to be doing all day long. This is an emotional and physical drain on me. Life runs much more smoothly when everyone can look to the schedule and see what is next instead of the asking me all day long, “Mom, what can I do?” Win/win.
4. Morning Time. I have been so encouraged by a homeschool movement called Morning Time. The idea behind it is this: There are things that we, as Moms, are passionate about, and we definitely want to share these things with our children. But sometimes these “extra” things are crowded out by math and handwriting and all of the “real” subjects we feel the pressure to teach first. The Morning Time idea is so simple. Pick a time (for us, it’s right after breakfast), gather your children around and pick a couple of things that you want to share with them all together. For us, it is Bible and then one other thing. We recently finished a read-aloud about Bach, which we all enjoyed immensely. On Monday, we are going to start an art project. Your Morning Time can be as simple as one or two things, or it can be an hour or two or more… You can literally plug anything in that is important to your family. But I love that it is creating a family culture around shared experiences, and at the end of the day, I just feel good that I have gathered my children around and spent that time with them all together, teaching what is important to me. If this idea, (which I have barely touched on here) is interesting to you, please give a listen to the Your Morning Basket Podcast by Pam Barnhill. I have been so inspired by this podcast. It gives lots of practical and inspirational tips on how to have a meaningful Morning Time.
I feel that God is speaking grace to me, that I don’t have to figure it out. I don’t have to have a label for myself or my family. Our identities are in Christ, and as we walk with Him, we are growing and learning and changing. That is enough. God has given these children to us, and they are a constant reminder of His beauty. They were created in His image. That is their identity. I can rest in that.
And so, the lesson for this season is this: I am trying to take one day at a time, walking with Christ through this life. When I remember Him, He infuses my life with purpose. He transforms the mundane tasks of my life into something sacred and set apart. He is helping me to walk with Him, season by season, opening one door at a time. He is helping me to stop and see the beauty in each moment, even in the moments where I am fully aware of my own human frailty.
So many times I say it. This is not working. But in my weakness, He is made strong. When I come to the end of my own wisdom and every bit of my creativity is used up, it brings me back to Him. That is the point of greatest possibility, and deep down, I know that is the best place to be.
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Very beautiful Mackenzie! You are a wonderful writer.
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