3 Kids and Counting?

3 kids and countingSo, I’m home by myself … again. Well, I’m with Jax, our 18-month old, whose now napping. But, I haven’t decided if he counts as real company. He counts, in the larger sense, to be sure. But, he’s not exactly a conversationalist, and he doesn’t get my jokes. As a mom to twin 8-year olds and a toddler, this role is becoming begrudgingly familiar. I’m the one who stays back with the youngest family member while the rest of our brood enjoys the days’ agenda. Truth be told, it feels a bit as though we are running two families here, and I’m the head of the baby squad while my husband leads the faster-paced half of our legion. While I know this is just a season of life, the larger question is: How long do I want this role? Do we have more children or do we stop at three? How do you know when your family is done growing?

My kids’  grandparents’ jaws are dropping right now. They are probably aghast with the thought of us having any more. I think they thought the twins were enough. Then seven years later, we added Jax. Who needs more than three kids? Family sizes shrunk when my parents’ and in-laws’ were growing their families. Did you know that researchers who study generational differences call the time period in which older Generation Xers (that’s me) grew up the “anti-child generation”? It’s not because parents didn’t love or care about their Gen X kids. It’s simply because, as a generalization, they didn’t put a whole lot of thought into how they raised them. As a result society back then didn’t offer those parents much in terms of community support. We didn’t put a whole lot of money into parks or tax-payer funded community programs, for example.  Even children’s entertainment was more adult-focused than kid-friendly. Both parents were expected to work, and, as such, we evolved into a culture that largely required a two-family income to fit in. I share all of this only to explain why I think the fact that my cohort (college educated, middle income) is having larger families is confusing for the immediately preceding generation to understand.

Now I’m not saying that my parents or their peers were poor parents. Not at all. I’m simply saying that today’s parents do it differently. History sees this trend all of the time. My prediction is that my kids’ generation will talk about how their parents hovered over them and didn’t let them develop into independent adults, and they will consciously parent differently. One generation takes one approach to an issue, then the next generation does the opposite. As any sociologist will tell you, this pendulum swing is a common phenomenon in societal behavior.

My conflicting desire for more children doesn’t directly relate to  the way my parents raised me or my peers’ trend toward larger families, however. There are so many factors to consider when adding another child (do we have the financial resources, can our home accommodate another child, etc.). But the one that’s most salient for me is: How much of my older children’s experiences do I want to miss out on because I’m taking care of the little ones? Yes, we get babysitters, and my husband and I switch off in terms of who stays home with the baby (when he’s not coaching or leading the twins’ activities). But, Moms, you know that it’s us who is home with the baby 85% of the time. I know that Jax will soon be able to partake in more family events, which means I will too. But add a newborn to that picture, and my tenure as head coach of the baby brigade lengthens. Taking care of the baby often means I’m not able to help with homework, take advantage of the perfect moment for a heart-to-heart conversation, or even sit side-by-side with my oldest while watching T.V.

I wonder, though, if my need to be at my older boys’ sporting events and join them camping, etc. is more about my selfish desire to be included. Or am I am indeed being appropriately sensitive to something that will have a lasting impact on them? As adults, will they reflect on the fact that Mom was always home with the babies or tending to the babies’ needs,  and not able to watch them play ball or join in Monopoly? And, do these things matter anyway?

Yes, of course these things matter to some degree. But, if you know me or have followed my blogs for any period of time, you might know that I’m a fairly conscientious parent.  As self-critical as I am, I will admit that my boys aren’t lacking for parental attention. But, the question for me is how much less am I willing to be there for my older ones? As any mom to differently aged children knows, at any given moment it’s easiest to demand that the older ones fend for themselves while you attend to a crying baby. And to some degree, that’s okay. It develops independence and decreases our innate egocentricity. But, parents of pre-teens and teens also know that these want-to-be adults often don’t ask for you to be an active part of their lives, and will even actively push you away. And it’s precisely these times when you need to be there. Maybe not holding their hand (heaven forbid), but watching close by as to not miss the subtle signs that they need you. Will I have the extra eye, shoot – energy, to notice these things with one more younger one at my feet?

So, with all these heartfelt questions about my oldests’ well-being, you might ask why I’m even contemplating more. It’s complicated, as most moms thinking about adding more kids knows. First, I love being a mom. With all the downsides (I know we mom’s don’t talk about it much, but some aspects to being in this role are a bummer), I love raising little people. Of course, the jury is still out on how we are doing because our oldest are only eight. But, for me, being a mom and a family beats just about anything I’ve tried so far. Second, I’ve sacrificed a lot to be the kind of mom I want to be. I gave up a career and, in doing so, I’ve made it very difficult to get back in it should I ever want to. So, if I’m being completely honest, I often wonder what else would I do that would give me the satisfaction I get from mothering. I know I can’t have young kids indefinitely, I’m just not sure I’m ready to voluntarily give that up. Finally, whether or not to have more kids isn’t a decision we make one month and go to it, so to speak. We can’t just say, “If it happens, it’s meant to be.” Again, it’s more complicated.

You see, all our kids are IVF babies. Now is the time when my husband would remind me that I’m an over-sharer. But, heck, I’m home by myself and who else do I have to talk to? In all seriousness, I’ve given a lot of thought to whether or not to share these details. I’ve concluded that I don’t think we talk enough about the hard stuff. We are a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps culture. American middle-class families are often reluctant to ask others for help because we believe we should be able to handle everything that comes our way ourselves. We don’t admit that some things in life are just plain old hard, that decisions are complicated, and that even folks who look like they have it all together struggle because that would risk opening ourselves up to scrutiny by our peers. As a result, we feel guilt and inadequacy when things are tough. Well, everyone struggles — some lots are more challenging than others to be sure. I’ve decided to share because doing so doesn’t make me any less important or valuable or successful, it just makes me human.

If you’ve dealt with infertility you know it’s an emotional and financial roller coaster. Some of you may judge us — we know that IVF is controversial. But we believe that infertility treatments are no different than other medical interventions: heart medication, asthma meds, and anti-depressants, for example. We were incredibly lucky. We knew off the bat that if we wanted a family, IVF was our only real chance. After a lot of praying, we went ahead and were blessed with twins. While a second attempt four years later was unsuccessful, 28 months ago we tried again and were blessed with Jax. We have the option of trying again (for reasons I won’t bore you with), and part of me feels guilty when I consider not taking advantage of that opportunity. One week I’m ready to go, painfully aware that I’m not getting any younger (and even the seven years between my pregnancies made the second one, though it was with only one baby, much more exhausting than the first). Another other days, like today, I’m ready to call it quits with three.

A good friend counseled me when we were contemplating our second round of IVF that we’d never regret bringing another child into the world. She’s right. Jax is a light in our family. He makes all of us laugh and brings out the best in us. Well, brings out the best in most of us. It’s those moments when I feel like I’m missing out on the rest of my family, when I feel like I’m not putting my best face forward, I get down and resentful. In part because I’m a social bug and missing out on those social times with my family takes away some of my energy. But I also wonder how much of my not being there impacts my oldest. I just feel like I’m not even close to coming to the conclusion of this cost-benefit analysis.  You see, there are emotions and intangibles involved here. And logic and emotions are poor bedfellows.

I look with longing at the many moms I see in my small town with large families. They look so content, so peaceful and serene. Shouldn’t they be pulling their hair out and feeling torn while trying to meet the needs of their differently aged children? Looking in, it just looks like God made them especially for that role. But, then I remind myself that our social self isn’t always the whole picture. That maybe those moms struggle too with the exact things I fear should I have a larger family. Or maybe God is just trying to tell me that this is the family He intended for me. And maybe guilt at what I “should be doing” isn’t the only way in which He nudges me. And maybe that guilt is simply me not being accepting of myself and my limitations. And  maybe my “what would I do without kids at home” question is simply my fear of facing what’s next in my journey.

I don’t have the answer to this question of whether or not our family is complete. But I trust that I’m getting closer. Prayer is helping to uncover my insecurities and remind me that my desire to be in control of what lies ahead, while totally human, risks blinding me to the possibilities that enter my life. It’s about being content with where I am, while finding peace in the unknown.

So, in the end, maybe not knowing if my family is complete is another lesson in being okay with today instead of focusing on what lies ahead.  When I’m bombarded on a daily basis with moms who seem to have it all figured out on Pinterest and big, happy families vacationing in exotic locations on Facebook, it’s easy to get caught up in “I don’t do enough, make enough, or have it together enough” thinking. Bottom line is, we all have our own journeys, our own trials, our own struggles. My issue is small potatoes and very first-world in comparison to most of the world’s trials; I know that. Truth be told my current dilemma isn’t a problem, per say. It’s a choice point. A choice that’s complicated by my own internal struggles with being enough. A decision that I’m blessed to be able to make. To have more children isn’t a choice afforded to all, I know that. But it’s where I am on my journey now. I don’t have it all together, and I don’t have it all figured out. I’m learning to be okay with it … [Perfectly Imperfect] is my goal. And when that fails to make me feel better, there’s always the downward comparison. I generally walk away from an episode of WifeSwap feeling pretty darn good about where I am in life.

Parenting: Wimps Need Not Apply

Parenting Wimps 1I’ve concluded that being a parent isn’t for the faint of heart. You need thick skin. Skin that retains it’s toughness despite severe sleep deprivation. Skin that deflects nasty pitches from your peers, in-laws and other well-wishers. Parenting requires a footing rooted in cement that keeps you standing upright despite the severity of the weather and direction of the wind. And the older kids get, the more rooted we need to be.

At some level I understood this before having kids. I knew I had to decide what kind of parent I wanted to be so I could stick to it when challenged. I’m the kind of mom who demanded that everyone wash their hands before touching my newborn babies. Who ensured my kids got the required amount of sleep by being a slave to the nap schedule. I tolerated the eye-rolls and the “she’s such a first-time mom” looks because I’d do whatever it took to create an environment that helped my kids thrive.

As they got a little older it got a little harder. I’m big on healthy eating which meant I said no when great grandma insisted the twins get ice cream at 8-months old. I brought my own baby-proofing kit when we made overnight stays despite others insisting they would watch the boys carefully. We limit screen time, so I’ve had to ask adults to turn off the TV, or at least change the program, when the same room was the only place in which my boys could play.  These moments are uncomfortable because they either 1) inconvenience the other party, or 2) inadvertently put the other person’s judgement in question. But, I’d do it anyway because I knew the kind of parent I wanted to be and the environment I wanted (or didn’t want) my kids exposed to. I tolerated the funny looks and the tag of “overprotective parent.”

But those were the easy days. Back then, I was almost always with my kids. As a stay-at-home mom who lived several states away from most close family, I was there to monitor what they were exposed to: what they ate, saw, heard, touched — you name it. They never stayed overnight without my husband or me; I even accompanied them on play dates.

Now that the twins are 8-years old, standing my ground is more challenging. Since I’ve realized this, I’ve put a lot of thought into what changed. Why does it take so much more of my energy to hold fast and firm to my parenting values now than it did only two years ago? In part, I’ve concluded that:

1) I no longer just have to tolerate toddler and pre-school tantrums as protests from my kids when my decisions don’t parallel their desires. I have to respond to their logic and their reasoning as to why my decision is wrong and their wants are right. I get caught in the game and it’s exhausting. And, 8-year olds are smart, and they come up with some pretty good arguments. When I’m not on my game, my boys play smarter than I do.

2) I’m not at their sides every waking hour anymore. Thus, I can’t whisk them away from bad influences at the first signs of danger. I can’t change the subject when another kid or adult starts talking in a way we don’t condone in our family. And I can’t even debrief about the event afterward and chalk it up to a teachable moment because I don’t even know it happened in the first place.

3) Adult peer pressure sucks. This is a big one, and something that will only become more challenging as they get older (my friends with teenagers serve as living proof). Call me naive, but I thought my days of being peer pressured were over. Isn’t peer pressure reserved for struggling teenagers and college co-eds trying to find themselves? Looking back, I was such a wimp when it came to peer pressure. I would have made so many different, better, choices had I been stronger, more secure in who I was and what my values were. But, now as a parent it’s at my door step again. Staring me in the face, sticking it’s tongue out, jeering “Na .., Na, Na, Boo-Boo!” I’m approaching 40 (ouch!) and am more insightful about my vulnerabilities than I was 20 years ago. But, despite a firm foundation in knowing what my core values are, I can fall into old habits of wanting myself and my kids to fit in (especially being a relatively new family in a community where most have been here for generations).

As the boys get older, I seem to face these moments that challenge my parenting values and decisions on a more frequent basis. To limit the amount of energy stolen by these moments (because there is laundry to do, dinner to make, and fun to be had), I’ve had to spell some things out for myself. I’ve had to lay out some game plans regarding how I deal with these situations so I’m not caught off guard and I make decisions that, for the most part, align with how we have decided we want to parent our children.

1) When I’m caught up in a verbal argument of logic with my kids, I need to step away and see the big picture. For the boys, the discussion is simply about the moment: Why they should be allowed to play Wii despite the fact they played on the computer and watched a full-length feature movie already in the same day. Instead of getting swept up in their logic: But, Mom, it’s only one time. It’s really hot out, and we won’t ask to do the same thing tomorrow … I need to see the big picture. I know that they have so many other things to do than become zombies in front of another screen. I know that too much screen time is, let’s not sugar coat it, bad for their brains. I also know that giving in now will make next time even harder to say no. The bottom line is, does the situation in question align with our parenting values or go against it? The answer to this question makes it easier for me to stand my ground. On the contrary, it also helps me determine when I’m just being a stick-in-the-mud. Perhaps my first inclination was to say no, but after thinking about it going with the flow (aka: what the boys want) is okay. I’ve had those moments too. I make sure they don’t talk me into them too often, but they are old enough that every once in a while, winning me over is okay. As long as it doesn’t conflict with our family rules and our values, it models flexibility and critical thinking: two things I also want to instill in my boys.

2) My husband and I need to be clear in our family rules and values. This is perhaps the most important tenant of parenting because it is the pillar against which we evaluate all our parenting decisions. If it goes against our rules, who we are, and what we stand for, it doesn’t happen. But, if we didn’t know what those values were, we would waver when challenged (by our kids, friends, teachers, and other parents). For our family, our faith largely determines our values. The degree to which the issue in question aligns with or challenges our faith helps determine our action. To make our values clearer and more concrete for our kids, we have a list of “Lahner Family Rules.” Each Fall before school starts we sit down as a family and revisit and revise our rules. We type them up and hang them on the wall so we can easily consult them when necessary. Go ahead, roll your eyes. I’m used to that.

3) I’ve realized that adult friendships cannot trump parenting decisions. Let’s face it: Having kids risks changing adult friendships. Maybe we realize we just parent very differently than our friends do. Maybe our kids don’t get along with our friends’ kids as well as we get along with their parents (did you follow that?). I’ve determined that some of my friendships involve their kids and mine, and some of my friendships involve adult time only. I’ve realized that the mix of my kids and some of my friends kids is like oil and water. Taken individually, they are all great kids. But put them together, and they rub the wrong way. So, I’m either present to supervise these interactions, or I get together with these adult friends sans kids.

Maybe other friends simply don’t respect your parenting values. Maybe  they always let your 12-yr. old kids watch R-rated movies when attending sleep overs at their house. Again, maybe these are friendships you continue without the company of your children. Differing parenting styles doesn’t have to mean the end of your friendship; it just means that your friendship changes to accompany your parenting style.

And, along the way you are bound to find those special, amazing friends. The ones who respect how you parent. The ones who call you and ask if it’s okay if your kids watch such-and-such a movie, or eat such-and-such. They are the keepers, the gems you will hold dear through your parenting journey. The ones you would never have discovered if you simply succumbed to peer pressure.

These points-of-reference simply make it a little bit easier to make decisions when I’m caught off guard, or simply too tired to put more thought into an on-the-spot decision. I know sticking to my guns will be even more difficult as they get older, but I’m thankful for today’s challenges because they strengthen me for tomorrow’s battles. Battle’s that will undoubtedly involve eye-rolling and sarcastic remarks from my own 16-yr olds. But, I’ll have grown some pretty thick skin by then. Parenting Wimps 2