I don’t hear a lot of people talking often about the middle years: those years between the little years and the teens years.
I’ve heard about (and lived through!) the physical exhaustion of diapers, nighttime feedings, running behind a toddler. I’ve also heard about the emotional exhaustion of staying late talking with your teens, the constant driving them around to extracurriculars and the tension of figuring out how to, slowly but surely, move from commands to counsel, equipping them to leave the home. But somehow I missed what to expect for the middle years.
I have been surprised by the emotional exhaustion I have found in them. I thought that somehow there would be some respite between littles and teens.
But we went straight from physical exhaustion to the emotional kind. Is it that our kids have gone through a lot of transition and change? Is it that they are little expats, feeling the feels of Those-Who Are-Far-From-Home? Is it that they are working hard to learn a new language? Maybe it is facing their own health challenges, or living in a majority culture with religious beliefs different than our own. It is probably a combination of these things plus a million other variables.
Whatever “it” is, for several years now, we have been navigating late night conversations initiated by our deep thinkers and big feelers, learning how to manage their anxiety, and working through waves of grief that come and go.
Our children have voiced doubts about God, as they try to make sense of the suffering in the world, and in their own lives. They are also trying to understand how so many around us worship another god. “Is God real? Why is he not answering my prayers? How do we know we are worshipping the true God? Maybe the Bible is not true…”
These middle years are demanding a lot of time and energy from us. Counseling them; talking for hours; lots of snuggling; having regular date times one on one with the girls; praying often; talking together as their parents about how to best engage with them; reading and learning about how to parent through their struggles, questions and doubts; seeking counsel from TCK consultants and people who have walked this road before.
I thought I’d write what I am learning about these years and what practices I am finding helpful as I navigate this stage of motherhood.
1. Pay attention. I want to be slow to speak, and quick to listen. Sometimes listening means listening to what they are saying with their whole selves: with their words and also their body. I am figuring out the answer to these questions:
· What makes them really happy?
· What makes them really sad?
· What is their favorite kind of day? Why?
· What makes them thrive?
· What seems to sap energy from them?
· How do they learn best?
I recently started a new journal, just for motherhood stuff. I think best by writing. So by slowing down to write and process conversations with them and reactions and attitudes I am observing in them as we go through our day, I can pray and think through how to love them well in it all.
But, I not only need to pay attention. I also need to make sense of what I am seeing, which leads me to my next point. In this season I am also learning to…
2. Discern. Our children, just like us, are embodied souls. What happens to their bodies affects their souls and whatever happens in their souls affects their bodies. So I am learning to discern what is happening to them and to care for them as a whole person (body and soul).
So I am evaluating my kids’ attitudes and responses throughout the week and trying to figure out what they need. I am asking questions like:
· Is this a sinful response? Is there suffering at the root of this response? If so, how can I comfort them with the gospel while also training them in righteousness?
· Are there real physical and personality limitations at the core of this meltdown? How do I help my child deal with these limitations in a way that honors the Lord while at the same time not shame them for having those limitations?
· Are the kids’ nervous systems overloaded by input? Have they had enough time to recharge?
· Is this a form of grief?
· Have they had enough time in the sun and fresh air recently? How much physical activity have they had today?
· Have I given them long hugs today? Have we laughed together?
· Have they done things recently that bring them life?
· Is there a daily balance between the things that sap their energy and the things that help them destress?
· Have they eaten anything recently that may be contributing to this struggle? (Some foods actually set up the brain to feel more anxiety, despondency and depression).
· What is at the heart of this outburst of anger? Is it anxiety? Grief? What is triggering it?
3. Outsource my parenting.
One of the best pieces of advice from my husband has given me is to outsource my questions and inadequacy to the Lord. Every time I feel deeply my lack of wisdom, my need of grace, or my ignorance, he reminds me to outsource that to the Lord. My job is not to make myself a good mom – all sufficient and enough. My job is to let the Lord parent through me, and to parent by faith in his sufficiency.
Christ is my wisdom (1 Cor. 1: 30). He is patient, He is kind. Through my oneness with Christ, he is able to parent my children through me with His wisdom, patience, and kindness.
He is mighty to save them, hold their faith, keep them hungry for Himself. And I cling to that. Because I can teach them that it is possible for faith and doubt to coexist, or that we are always living in the tension of joy and sorrow. I can teach them about God and everything He is for us in Christ. We can read the Scriptures and memorize them. But I can’t make them SEE unseen truth. I can’t make them discern spiritual realities. There is only One who can.
So my prayers are a combination of:
“Jesus, help me.”
“Speak through me.”
“Love through me.”
“Be patient through me.”
“Open their eyes so they can see your beauty and long to follow you.”
Outsourcing my parenting to Christ has brought me great joy. Recently he was so gracious to show me how quickly he answered my prayers for help, when I didn’t know what to say. He worked directly in my child, moving her to apologize and have great insight into her heart, before I spoke a single word.
So yes, I didn’t realize this season would be a lot of work, but it is also here that my Father is meeting me, and parenting me in my own middle years – teaching me dependence, growing my faith, and, fueling my joy. To be trained by a Good Dad is such a gift and mercy . So bring on more of these middle years and beyond, Father… we want to know you.