Nannying

motherhood

To Be (or Not To Be) a Mom: The Continuing Saga

Back in October I wrote this guest post for my friend Brett over at his site, Irresistibly Fish. I had every intention of posting it over here as well, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. I’m posting it here today because I never had the opportunity to share it here and it’s something I’m still really wrestling with in my life right now. Brett has an entire series on his blog called “To Be a Mom” that you should check out if you want to hear some great perspectives on motherhood. (I was the only guest blogger who is not actually a mom).

I do want to be sensitive to any of you who may be struggling with infertility or grieving miscarriages.  I understand that it may be hurtful to hear someone else questioning if they even want children if you have lost deeply-wanted children or are struggling with infertility. It is so not my intention to cause you more pain so I wanted to post this “trigger warning” for those of you who may not want to read this one. 

Also, to be clear, this is not a criticism of people who choose to have children. I believe there are many people who are meant to be parents. This is just an exploration of my own sense of purpose and calling.

***

To be a mom used to be something I dreamed of. As early as elementary school l I told people I  was telling people that I planned to have six kids (mostly girls with one or two boys thrown in). I regularly made and updated lists of my favorite baby names.

I grew up in a home where motherhood was valued and praised. I have a wonderful, selfless, self-sacrificing mother and my dad adores her. Since I have two sisters who are significantly younger than me, I started practicing my mothering skills at a young age.

To be clear, there was never any pressure or expectation placed on me by my family that my calling in life was to be a wife and mother. I simply had a natural bent towards domesticity and nurture. I like cooking and baking and I love small children. I think I “get” them better than I get adults. Maybe this is because there are parts of childhood I’ve never outgrown – for example, the urge to stomp my feet when I am frustrated or to sing tuneless songs narrating what I’m doing or to be scared of things like balloons that might pop at any moment – so I understand where they’re coming from a lot of the time.

I started babysitting when I was twelve didn’t stop until I was 25. I taught 4-year old Sunday school class at my church all through college and after college I transitioned into full-time nannying, which is the closest you can get to parenting without actually having your own kids. (Of course, this varies from situation to situation, but in some of my jobs I did the grocery shopping, prepared meals, did homework and school projects, washed clothes, bought clothes, arranged play dates, bought birthday presents for parties, and attended school functions so I honestly think it’s fair to say that this was part-time parenting).

I met my husband at 18 and was married at 22. Our plan was always to wait a few years before we started our family, but I still wanted a big brood of kids and felt pressure not to wait too long. As I was nearing 25 and nothing was happening for me career-wise I started to think, “Maybe we should start having kids.” I believed that having kids would be meaningful and frankly, I believed I’d be good at it. It was something I’d always wanted to do.

And then, about two years ago, something in me changed. I can’t explain exactly how or why, but I woke up one day and I no longer felt the desire to have children. People joke that nannying is its own form of birth control. I don’t think it was that nannying made me stop wanting kids. But I do think nannying made me want to be the right kind of parent.

To be a mom, to really be a good mom, you must be willing to die to yourself and to invest the best of who you are into your children. I have a mom like that, so I know what it looks like. I have worked with different kinds of families and there is a profound difference between the parents whose priority is their children and who are willing to sacrifice their comfort, their careers, and their dreams to invest in their kids and the parents whose priority is themselves or their careers or the image they want to project. I don’t doubt that these second kinds of parents love their children. But based on my experience with those kids, I don’t think they are being the kind of parents their kids need them to be.

I started to wonder why I had wanted a family in the first place. Why do most people have children? I don’t mean that in a flippant or cynical way. It’s something I asked very seriously. One of my deeply held beliefs is that WHY we do things matters tremendously. So I started to ask. Do I want children because I’m hoping they will give me a sense of purpose? Because it’s the next thing to cross off the list? Because nothing else in life is working out and this feels like the next logical step? Because I’m afraid of missing out? Because I believe it will express a unique kind of love with my husband? Because I’m curious about what a mini-me-and-Jonathan would be like?

For many people, the desire to have kids is probably some combination of those things. And that’s not necessarily wrong. I’ve just come to believe that, for me, those reasons are not ENOUGH. For me, there has to be a deeper sense of calling and with that a commitment to sacrificing whatever is required to parent well.

Understanding what parenting really means and what it requires has convinced me that it isn’t something that should be undertaken lightly. I genuinely believe that God took the desire for children away from me for a season because it isn’t the right time. Not long after I’d had this total change of heart, the opportunity for my husband and I to move overseas came up. Our move abroad has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, and we wouldn’t have made it if we’d had a child or even been trying to have one.

I don’t know if this feeling will last forever or if God will bring back that desire again at the right time. I do believe that God is ultimately in control of my family and that whether or not we have children depends on him much more than on me. But as much as it depends on me, I want to make sure I pursue motherhood for the right reasons. And if I should get pregnant unintentionally, then I will embrace that as a clear sign of God’s timing and will trust that he will equip me for what he’s calling me to.

I used to long for motherhood, but now to be (or not to be) a mom is something I strive to hold with open hands. I want to keep it in proper perspective, neither looking at it as a means of personal fulfilment nor refusing it out of fear or selfishness. To be a mom is a high calling, but it isn’t everyone’s calling. I want to be sure I’m listening to mine.

 

Image from; joannagoddard.blogspot.com
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Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That (catching the anti-baby bug, or an update on the state of my uterus)

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a mommy. Not only did I play with baby dolls from toddlerhood to embarrassingly far into my preteen years, but I also routinely made lists of the names I would give my children, updating them as my tastes matured.*

Not only did I want kids, I wanted a lot of them. Six! With a set of twins! Preferably redheaded! I said before I understood the dark realities of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. By the time I graduated from college I had bagged myself a red-headed sperm-donor husband and had brought my hopes down to the more reasonable goal of three to four biological children and at least one adopted child to break up all the little redheads.**

I wasn’t entirely naïve. I had done A LOT of babysitting in high school and college. Mostly with very young children. At one point my senior year I was getting up at 5:30 AM to watch kids for a few hours before school, heading to another family’s house from 10:30 – 3:30, and then finishing my day with a third family from 4:00-6:30. And after college I worked for a year as a full-time nanny, which I extensively chronicled earlier on this blog. I got burnt out and exhausted from working with small kids all the time, but no matter how tough it got, never once did I waver in my conviction that I wanted to have kids of my own someday.

About a year ago I got baby bug in the worst way. Everyone was getting pregnant and having babies and, being in a meaningless corporate job at the time, I found myself wishing for motherhood more than ever before. I knew that the timing wasn’t right. And I knew that the sudden, overwhelming urge to quit my job and grow a baby was not a good enough reason to bring a human into the world. But the logic of the situation did not stop me from hoping against hope that the baby fever was God’s way of preparing me for a surprise pregnancy. And even though I wasn’t trying to get pregnant (in fact, I was actively preventing) I still managed to feel disappointed every month when it became clear that God had not miraculously intervened and made my body defy science and logic to conceive anyway. Jonathan and I agreed that we would re-visit the topic of baby-having in a year or so and see how we felt about it then.

For several months I continued to have baby-on-the-brain. Then I decided that if getting pregnant in a year or so was a possibility, I should probably do all of the things I really wanted to do pre-baby. Hence the commencement of Operation Lily Runs a Marathon and Operation Lily Goes to Grad School. I really wanted to undertake Operation Lily Travels the World, but sometimes even I have to be an adult and realize that I can’t have everything, so I settled for last summer’s vacation to the Dominican Republic and my marathon trip to Disneyworld. I also decided that before I had kids I wanted to be healthier, which led me to a radical diet change where I cut all sugar and starch from my diet and started eating lean meats and vegetables. I lost 20 lbs in 7 weeks and have a lot more energy and much fewer health problems than I did before.

I’ve made a lot of changes and a lot of progress over the past year: I quit my job, started grad school, ran a marathon, changed my diet and lost weight, did some travel, grew out my hair, and stopped biting my fingernails. But something else changed too. Starting in about October and growing steadily ever since has been a strong feeling that I no longer want to have kids. Not just right now. Maybe not at all. Ever.

If you know me at all, you know how weird that is. Like I said before, all I have ever REALLY wanted in my life is to one day be a mommy. I mean, I’ve wanted to have a meaningful job and a good marriage and to write and help others and all of those things too, but even when some of those things have been unclear or I have felt directionless, I’ve always had this deep desire for motherhood someday to hold onto.

In fact, my desire to be a mother has driven me to the point of fear sometimes. Thinking of having a house full of kids has made me feel a lot of pressure to figure out what I want to do career-wise as fast as possible because I don’t feel I will have the luxury of going back to school or trying to figure that out once I start having kids. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to get these things figured out because, after all, I’m 25, and if I really want to have 4 kids, I’m going to have to get started on that in the next few years.

But for the last 4-5 months I’ve found myself wondering if I really want to have kids, and I’ve concluded that what I really want is to have babies, not children. In other words, I love the idea of carrying a baby and then having this tiny little creature who is part of Jonathan and part of me and part something all his own. But I don’t want to bring an 8-year-old to dance class or fight with a 10 year old about cleaning his room. And I certainly don’t ever want to have a teenaged son.

Frankly, there’s a part of me that doesn’t even understand what the point is of having children. I know most of you won’t get this, but sometimes I think, “I could spend most of my life raising these kids who may or may not turn out to be good people, regardless of how good of parents Jonathan and I are, and for what? So they can go out and have their children that they spend their lives raising those kids so that those kids can grow up and have their own families.” There’s just something inherently narcissistic about it to me. I mean, if we just wanted children out of a desire to give of ourselves and our love and raise great men and women to right the wrongs of the world, there would be no more orphans. We would look at these millions of parentless children and find exactly what we were looking for. But that’s not all. We might want those things, but we also want mini-me’s made in our own likenesses.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that there are parents in the world. After all, if my parents had felt this way, I would never have existed. And I like existing. I’m just not sure that, for me, the reasons above are good enough reasons to have children. I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting and how, to do it correctly, it really does require you to sacrifice everything for the sake of your kids. I see the family I work for now where the parents aren’t willing to self-sacrifice for the kids, and how their kids suffer for it even though they have all the material wealth in the world.

And I look at my own family. I have two parents whom I respect and admire deeply. Not once in my life have I ever doubted that they loved my siblings and I and that every parenting decision they made was genuinely out of a desire to do the best for us. And yet, I look at my siblings and me – my brother who has wrestled with addiction for at least 10 years, my sister, whose entire understanding of her world has been rocked to its core since leaving home, and me, who has lived believing that my best would never be good enough and that no matter how good I was and how hard I worked, fault would be found in me. My youngest sister is on the brink of adulthood now and we have yet to see the things she carries.

My point in saying all of this is not to rag on my parents. It’s to point out that even having some of the hardest-working, most self-sacrificing, godly and loving parents in the world, we have reached adulthood deeply scarred. If this is the reality for a family so committed to raising their children well and loving them deeply, I am utterly terrified to think of what I, a much more selfish person than either of my parents, might do to my theoretical children.

When I started to articulate how I am feeling about all of this, it sort of freaked me out. I mean, I have ALWAYS been the one who loved kids and couldn’t wait to have a family. And more than that, I’m really good with kids, especially really little kids. It’s one of my main skills – something I pride myself on. Jonathan and other close friends are convinced that this is a phase I am going through and that I won’t feel like this forever.*** They might be right and that will be ok. It may be a phase I am going through that will last 6 months or a year and then it will fade away and I will go back to the way I was before. But for now, this is where I’m at and I’m embracing it instead of fighting it.

So what does the future look like for the girl who spent her whole life planning on being a mommy only to discover that she might not want to be one? Honestly, from right here it’s looking pretty unlimited.

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* If I had named my kids at age 11 they would have been called Chloe and Oliver. But then, of course, we named our dog Chloe so I couldn’t use that one anymore.
**Because I am convinced that all of our children will be redheaded, recessive genes be damned!
***At least, Jonathan is certainly hoping that’s the case. I can’t really blame him, I mean it’s sort of false advertising for him to pick a wife based on the fact that she wants to bear him 4 sons, only to find out after the deal is sealed that she really doesn’t want any. Bad form, Me. He has assured me that he will still love me if I do not bear said sons. But I can tell he still thinks the whole thing will blow over.

Saving Up Questions for Heaven – Learning to Live Questions Without Answers

I am starting my fourth week as a nanny (again!) and so far it’s been a breath of fresh air. I’ll admit, these kids lead a pretty privileged life – beautiful home that’s been professionally decorated, closets full of clothes that are much nicer than mine, tennis lessons, karate, gymnastics and dance. They are not believers and they certainly have their bratty moments (as most kids do), but they also have plenty of moments when they are sweet and fun and overall I am glad I get to hang out with them instead of sitting at a computer all day.  It’s true that I have been going to sleep at like 9:30 every night, because running around with the kids is much more physically demanding than my desk job was, but I am much less emotionally and mentally exhausted. I just can’t get over the contrast between what I do now and what I was doing at my old job.

Office job: Spend 3 hrs changing the amount of square footage available in a set of buildings in every print and electronic marketing piece in existence.

Nanny job: Spend 3 hrs swimming at a pool with a pretty cool water slide and getting tanned.

Office job: Rainy mornings mean a lot of yawning and extra coffee while editing lease proposals.

Nanny job: Rainy mornings mean going to the movies and getting paid to watch Madagascar 3.

Office job: Working with boys means putting up with crude humor and bad language.

Nanny job: Working with a boy means learning how to play Pokemon battle (yes, apparently that’s still around.)

I think there’s a clear winner and a clear loser here! This week is the last official week of summer for the kiddos. After school starts, I will only be with working in the afternoons to early evenings and will be able to devote my mornings to increasingly long runs (yuck!), reading, writing, baking, and, when my semester starts at the end of September, online classes.

I am genuinely happy about the job change, even if nannying again isn’t the impressive career-path I think I should be on. I am mindful of my own tendency towards discontentment and have been asking God to help me keep my willfull heart in check by practicing gratitude in the midst of many still-unanswered questions. And I think the kids sort of help me with that in some ways.

Kids ask a million questions – if they can do things, have things, go places – as well as constant questions about the world around them. In just the past few weeks I have been asked all of the following:

Which is better for you, wine or beer? (I said neither was good for you, but maybe wine was a little better because you usually drink less of it?)

How do you get money?

Why don’t you have any children?

S, when her mom asked if she wanted to have all of her initials monogrammed on her first day of school dress or just an S – “Can it say something different? Could it say Party Time?”

I wonder what God looks like? (S told me she thinks He is green like broccoli. No idea why.)

As funny and sometimes annoying as kids are with all of the questions they want answers to, I can’t help but find it endearing because I see so much of myself in that. I think God must also look at me sometimes and think, “Stop asking me questions! Why do you need to know? It’s not important, I can take care of it.” Or “Why would you even ask that?”

There are still a lot of things I don’t understand about what God’s plan for J and I—why neither of us seems to be able to figure out what we really want to do or should be doing and where God’s hand is in what feels like random wandering. And then the questions of whether it’s more important to do something that makes you a bit happier on a day-to-day basis but doesn’t pay very well (giving you fewer opportunities to pursue the things you care about) or to do something you don’t really care about but that makes enough money to enable you to pursue the things you do care about? Not to mention my own questions about God – who he is and how he is good and why when I read the Exodus story I feel sorry for the Egyptians instead of feeling amazed at God’s deliverance.

There is a quote from a poet I love that I was reminded of recently and have taken a lot of comfort from. Rilke was a German poet who wrote during the beginning of the 20th century. This passage comes from Letters to a Young Poet.

“I beg you…to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer…” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

So, here I am – attempting to live everything – to live today fully, whether it brings joy and laughter, or frustration and more unanswered questions—and to strive to see all these things as threads of a tapestry whose pattern I cannot see yet because I won’t be able to understand it until it’s completed. And to believe with hope that one day, without even noticing it, I will have lived my way into the answers, so that those questions won’t seem to matter anymore.

How Disney Helped Me Quit My Job

Well, I did it. I quit my job. Last Thursday I marched into the Managing Director’s office, plunked down my letter of resignation and said, “I am done with this! I cannot work in this toxic environment anymore! I am too smart and I have too much self-respect to work for the idiots who work here and think they are the most important people in the world and act like big children and go out and party all the time even though they have families and little children. You don’t pay me enough to deal with this kind of crap. So I quit!”

Alright, that’s not exactly what happened. What actually happened was I timidly sent over my letter of resignation with a lot of “I’m really sorrys” and “I really appreciate all the opportunities you’ve given me here” and then I cowered before the other girls on marketing staff and my boss and stammered out all the reasons why this was just an opportunity I had to take, etc. etc. etc. Those of you who know me well know how much I hate confrontation and never want anyone to be mad at me, even if I don’t like them. So maybe it wasn’t the most triumphant resignation of all time, but still…I did it.

And do you know what got me through it? This song which was playing in my head the whole time:

We can analyze later why my brain subconsciously believes that “I’ll Make a Man out of You” equates to “You are a brave and capable woman,” but I think the obvious takeaway is that Disney has once again pulled through and helped me in a time of crisis.

I’ve never quit a real job before. Most of the other office-type jobs I’ve had in the past were paid internships or temporary assignments that had an established ending date. I’ve never had to tell people who weren’t expecting it at all that I was just quitting. To make matters worse, the same week that I resigned, three other people in our office resigned. (Which I think says something about this office environment.) But I ripped off that Band-Aid and now it’s done and I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted. I still have to finish out my two weeks, next Friday will be my last day. But having the end in sight makes me feel ready to handle anything they throw at me (or, you know, ignore it since there aren’t really consequences at this point.)

So…here’s what I’m doing instead. For the last month or so I’ve been talking to a family on and off who are looking for a new nanny. Their old nanny had been with them for 8 years, but is having a baby in August and will be staying home afterwards. (Methinks they must be a good family to work for, or the old nanny would not have stayed with them for 8 years.) The mom of the family approached me about this job and initially, I had no interest in going back to nannying. After all, we all know how crazy that made me last time. But, after several weeks of talking and praying and the family having a hard time finding the right person, I’ve ended up with what I think is a pretty sweet deal. I’ve got two kiddos, Porter (9) and Spencer (6) who will be in school during the day for the regular school year. I will work full-time for the rest of the summer and then, beginning the last week of August, will only work in the afternoons-early evenings. I will manage the kids’ schedules, get them from school, help them with homework, take them to their activities, and make sure they have everything they need for school and activities. During the school year I will only have to work about 28 hrs/week with paid holidays and 1 week of paid vacation. And (this is the clincher) they have agreed to pay me enough that we’ll still be able to cover all of our expenses, etc.

Since I will have all of my mornings free (during school) this will give me some extra time to work on my classes that I will hopefully start taking online through Fuller Theological Seminary in September. The program I’m trying to do is an MA in Intercultural Studies with an emphasis on Children at Risk. I think I could really be good at and love ministering to at-risk kids around the world. Additionally, I will have more time to work on the small baking business I’ve started out of my home and hopefully promote that further. (More on that once I get my website up and running.)

Initially, I wasn’t attracted to the idea of nannying again. I certainly got burnt out the last time and it’s also sort of a pride issue for me. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to tell people that I’m a nanny or I feel like I’m hurting myself in the long-run by not doing a “real” job.  But some wise friends (and also my husband) pointed out to me that when you compare working another year or two doing something I hate versus doing something I enjoy more, part-time with a lot more day-to-day flexibility, it’s kind of a no-brainer. Sometimes you just can’t plan for all contingencies, as much as I’d like to, so you have to accept that all you can do is walk the path that God sets before you today, and make the best decision you can for that day.

And I’ll admit it, I may have seen Brave pretty recently. (If you haven’t seen it you, you definitely should.) So when the offer was officially made there may have been this Scottish voice playing in my head asking me: “If ya had the chance to change yer fate, would ya?” And my unquenchable sense of adventure said YES! Challenge accepted!

In gratitude to Disney* for being a constant in these tumultuous times, I have (very) tentatively decided to shoot for running the Disneyworld Marathon in January. That’s right, folks, a full 26.2 miles (please do not comment, you super-fit people who have run like three marathons and only trained for like a month. This is legitimately the most epic undertaking of my life.) I did my first training run yesterday – and immediately regretted even waking up that morning. So, we’ll see how that goes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                               

*Don’t worry, guys. I know it wasn’t really Disney who provided this opportunity for me and gave me courage to quit and gave me peace when I felt anxious. That was Jesus and I am so thankful to Him. But I do think he maybe used the familiar comfort of Disney to help me just a little. Probably.

The Problem With Kids These Days

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but for the past two weeks or so I’ve suddenly become completely baby crazy. I’m delighted by the thought of tiny people calling me Mommy, by holding someone who has my eyes and Jonathan’s red hair and something entirely and amazingly their own. I find my mind wandering at work to figuring out how we could convert our office into a nursery.  And suddenly, although for the last year I’ve thought nothing of it except that I’d like to have children in the distant future, I wish I could have them tomorrow. While I was nannying, there were days that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to have kids anymore. But the last two weeks it’s been like a switch suddenly flipped and I feel totally differently. This hasn’t really changed anything. I am NOT and am NOT planning to get pregnant for several more years.  (Just to make that abundantly clear to those of you who are just skimming this. I don’t want to start getting awkward congratulatory messages.)

What this baby-craze has made me think about is, well, children. And parenting. While I don’t have any kids of my own I have done a LOT of babysitting and nannying over the past ten years. During my time last year as a nanny I was “parenting” 40-45 hrs/week. I have worked with about 15 families at different points and in different places and have witnessed a lot of parenting styles and techniques. I have worked with well-behaved kids and with little monsters. I’ve come home saying, “I will never let my kids do that,” or “That’s a good idea, I’ll have to try to remember that when I have kids.” It’s easier when you are not the parent to stand outside of the situation and see how different parenting styles affect the kids’ behavior. Unfortunately, more and more I’ve seen some really disturbing attitudes towards parenting in both Christian and secular homes. Talking to other friends who work as nannies only confirms what I already felt was true. Kids these days are a different breed than when we were growing up.

To some extent, every generation finds ways to reject things about the generation before theirs. In this case I think a lot of today’s parents felt constrained by their own parents and felt that they had to meet certain expectations of who they would be/what they would do, etc. The tendency these days is to really allow children to develop their individuality and to try out all kinds of things so they can “figure out what they like,” to encourage them to be anything they want to be. This sounds great, in theory, but the reality is that children are not adults. They do not naturally appreciate the sacrifices of others or understand how to be considerate of one another. They are not naturally respectful of or submissive to authority. They have to be taught to obey, to be considerate, to appreciate the things they have. Hence we have some of the most privileged, over-stimulated, ungrateful, self-centered, out of control children the world has ever known. As a seasoned childcare provider, here are some particular things I’ve encountered (generally with kids 12 and under) that drive me crazy. If you’re a parent and you’re easily offended by parenting critiques you might not want to read this:

Food: Two year old children do not have a sophisticated enough palette to truly have likes and dislikes when it comes to food. “My child is a picky eater.” Your child is a picky eater because you allowed them to be a picky eater. If you only feed your child chicken nuggets and pizza then of course all they will like is chicken nuggets and pizza. If you feed your child green beans and carrots from an early age, they will learn to like or at least tolerate green beans and carrots. If you allow your child to have ice cream as a snack every afternoon, you can’t expect them to be happy when you offer them an apple. Eventually kids do develop preferences that are legitimate just as adults who are not “picky eaters” may have two or three foods they just really don’t care for. But there is nothing in the world as frustrating for a babysitter as trying to feed a two year old and having them scream at everything you put on their plate until you figure out what it is they feel like having at that particular moment.

Bribes: While it makes a child temporarily happy to give them something to quiet down a temper tantrum or ward off hysterics, it ultimately encourages bad behavior. The answer to a temper tantrum is never “What can I give you/promise you to make you calm down.” This is lazy. This is caring more about not having to deal with the tantrum and enforce consequences than shaping your child’s character. We excuse things in children because they are children. We say, “They’ll grow out of it,” but spoiled kids who get their way when they pitch fits become spoiled adults who pitch different, but even less attractive, fits when they don’t get their way. Teaching your child that they will always get what they want if they make enough fuss is setting them up for failure.

Parents who use their children as a security blanket: there are so many parents these days who act as if the main reason they have children is so they themselves can feel loved and needed and important. When their kids get upset about a decision they’ve made or say something like, “You are a mean mommy!” they can’t stand the way that hurts their own sense of security so they give in to the child so that they feel better about themselves. That’s just selfish. Their kids might be happier with them in that moment, but I can guarantee you they don’t respect them and it is ultimately not the best thing for the kid. Small children are not your friends. If they cannot even use the bathroom on their own, why do parents think they can make all kinds of rational decisions? Little children are not logical. Often, they cannot be reasoned with. This doesn’t mean we don’t value kids or consider them as much people as adults. It’s like this: we would certainly agree that a man who is a plumber and a man who is a doctor are equally valuable as human beings. But if I need surgery, I’m not going to ask the plumber to do it just because he’s a valuable human being. Kids ultimately feel loved and secure when they know someone is taking care of them and their boundaries are clear, even if they don’t act that way in the moment.

Overstimulation: It is not fun to a 5 year old to go to kindergarten, play two sports, take dance lessons, be in a play group, and learn to play the cello. It is exhausting. No wonder they’re cranky!

Inconsistency: either between mom and dad or between the parents and their other caregivers/authority figures. This confuses kids because they don’t know whose expectations they have to meet when and causes them to act out. I’ve had authority figures who were inconsistent. Frankly, it is terrifying as a child to not know what is expected of you and when you’ll get in trouble. Consistency between caregivers is huge as well as consistency with one. If you have a rule and sometimes you hold hard to it, but other times you let it slide, the child doesn’t know if you are serious or not or whether you really mean it. It makes them feel out of control. The family I nannied for this past year did such a great job of consistency with each other as parents and with me. If I reported something to the parents or had to punish one of the kids they ALWAYS backed me up, even if they might have done it differently because the most important thing was that the kids knew their parents and I were on the same page.

To sum up…I think the main problem with kids these days is parents these days.  Sometimes I just want to shake them and say, “Your child is not in charge. You are an adult. Act like one.” If parents were just diligent with these things when their kids were little, parenting would get easier and easier (theoretically) as they grew up. Of course, I have a whole other shpeil about the way some excellent parents of young children have trouble parenting adolescent children. My own parents were terrific parents of small kids, but had a hard time transitioning to a lower level of supervision as I got older.   Having said all of that…I am sure I will screw up my children in my own special way, I just don’t plan on it being one of these. End of rant.

PS-In case you are interested I am posting two new pages: books I’ve read (this is a list of everything I’ve read in the past year or so. I don’t necessarily endorse or recommend them all) and blogs I follow. A list of fellow bloggers (including most recently my little sister, Anni) you might know.

Like A Little Child: Lessons on Love

It’s over. I’m no longer a nanny. Friday was my last day with the kids. We played at home and read books and made bookmarks and went to Sami’s school picnic at the park and then we came home and I put Dylan down for his nap. I hugged him and said, “I love you soooo much.” And he said, “No, I luh loo so much!” and that’s when I knew there was going to be trouble. I went downstairs and painted Sami’s teensy tiny toenails and her dad came home and took pictures as I read to her while we waited for the polish to dry. And then I said goodbye, I climbed in my car and I blew my horn and I drove away. And the second I turned the corner I burst into such hysterical sobs I had to pull over for a few minutes because I was squinching up my eyes so tightly I couldn’t see out of them.

As much as I have looked forward to this day, and as many times through the winter that I felt bored to tears and could not imagine another day spent entertaining little ones, it was still overwhelmingly sad to come to the end of it. I’m sure it’s similar to how elementary school teachers feel, growing close to a group of kids that they spend so much time with over the course of a school year only to have them move on, but nannying is also different. It is so much like being a mother and the relationship is so much closer than a teacher with an entire classroom to share her care and affection with. There were many days that I felt frustrated and tired and that I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile with my gifts and it was very, very hard. But I also lost my heart to these kids. I’m excited to move on to a new phase in my life and to hopefully move into some sort of career I find meaningful. But that doesn’t change the fact that I will miss them and the way that they love me—without expectations, whether we have a good day or a bad day, whether I’m impatient or gracious—ultimately it makes no difference to them. At the beginning of each new day when I walked in the door, anything that had happened the day before was wiped away, and they loved me.

I think that’s how Christ intends us to love each other. Without expectations and with no memory of wrongs. He says to come to him as little children, but in some ways I think it’s the other way around. I think He also comes to us as a little child. Not in the sense that we are His protector or that He puts his trust in us, but in the sense that His love for us in uninhibited like a child’s. He loves us this way, with no expectations and no record of our wrongs. His mercies are new every morning and His love for us is simply because we are ourselves.  And regardless of whether we have been faithful, whether we have trusted or have doubted, whether we have honored Him or not, whether we have made right choices, whether we have pleased Him in every way, He loves us freely and without limits.

I know I ragged on CCM music, but there is a song that’s been echoing through my mind for the past week, particularly as I’ve thought about leaving the kids and what I’ve learned about God loving me from their loving me. Most of you probably know this song, but I’ll post the video and lyrics anyway. Being from Louisiana I especially appreciate the image of “Loves like a hurricane.” A hurricane runs its course relentlessly and nothing can stand in its way.  I have seen such a picture of this in the kids’ love for me. It is also relentless and nothing, not even my own impatience, unkindness, or grumpiness, could stop them from giving it to me. And the rest of the song reminds me of how much greater and more perfect God’s love is than even these sweet kids.

Written by John Mark McMillan (and performed by him here), but probably  most famously recorded by David Crowder. “How He Loves.”

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy, wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

When I was little (picture me at around 7 or 8, dressed like I was on Little House on the Prairie, waist length hair in braids, and sporting enormous green glasses) and people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say, “A writer slash missionary,” because I thought it was interesting and impressive that I understood the meaning and usage of “slash.” I suppose I probably also went through periods before that when I wanted to be the typical things little kids say, Doctor or Teacher or Professional Ice Skater. I admitted in a previous post to my brief aspirations to be an olympic gymnast, Miss America, and a marine biologist. I never did go through the phase that my friend Mary Claire went through when one of her elementary school teachers asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she proudly said, “A daddy!” But that’s not really the point. The point is that the “writer/missionary” ambition is really the first one I clearly remember.

For most people, what they want to be when they grow up changes significantly throughout the course of their lives, especially throughout their educational careeers. According to the source of all wisdom and knowledge (Wiki Answers) 80% of college students change their major at least once during college and on average they change it three times. That’s a whole lot of people who are legally considered to be adults without having any clue what they want to do with their lives.

I sort of prided myself on my single-mindedness when it came to a major. I went in as an English Writing major. I still wanted to be a writer. I declared it freshman year and never changed my mind. I ended up with two minors (in Biblical and Theological Studies and in Anthropology) which, if you think about it, are very much in keeping with my childhood interest of “slash missionary,” but the main focus never changed. I watched somewhat pitilessley as those around me waffled through those early years, knowing they had to commit to a discipline and finding it so difficult to choose. Ha-ha, I thought. I am so clever. I have figured out the meaning of my life. I am not plagued with this absurd epidemic of indecision. I know what I like. I know what I’m good at. I have chosen a course of action and am able to stick to it. Boo-yah.

Fast forward five years. My friends and I have all been out of school for a year. The friend who switched from Math and Business/Econ to History and Bus/Econ sophomore year now works for a major financial consulting  firm and makes 50K. My friend who at one point considered a triple major with Math, Spanish, and Business/Econ is now a PHD candidate in biostatistics at a major university. My friend who was never interested enough in college to attend classes still managed to graduate early and is now a Navy Seal. And I, with my smug little English Writing degree have been working as a nanny for a year and am now applying frantically for receptionist jobs becuase A DEGREE IN ENGLISH WRITING FROM A SMALL LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE QUALIFIES YOU TO DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!!!!! Smugness gone.

I realized that knowing what you want to major in and being aware of a skill you possess or would like to use in your work is a far cry from knowing what you want to do careerwise. Dream jobs for myself include: travel writer, anthropological researcher for non-profit who then writers stories about anthropological research,acquisitions editor for children’s books,  national geographic journalist, novelist, magazine editor, queen of world. The problem is, there just isn’t anything entry level in any of these areas. As many well-meaning but discouraging people have pointed out to me, the print media industry is failing enormously right now and there simply aren’t any jobs in the magazine industry that aren’t top-tier must-have-10-years-experience type of jobs. And I would have to go to school for many, many years to be an anthropologist, which sounds terrible to me, so I’d want to be sure there was an awesome career waiting for me on the other side before I committed to that.

In contemplating all of this I have realized that I so easily fall into the trap of thinking that who I am and my importance in life is dictated by what I do for a career. This past year whenever anyone has asked my what I do, I have mumbled, “I’m a nanny” and immediately followed it with apologetic explanations that it’s just for this year and that my husband was applying to grad schools and that it’s not what I want to do professionally. As if it reflects poorly on me as a person to not have an exciting, upwardly mobile career. But really…if I’m honest…I want the kind of job that people ask “What do you do?” and when I tell them they think, “That’s so cool!” And, I suppose more importantly, I want to think that myself.

It’s also really easy for me to feel like if it doesn’t happen now, it is just never going to happen. I sort of go into a panic mode when I start thinking like this. My husband and I were having a conversation a few days ago where I very dramatically told him I could just picture my life in 15 years, explaining to my kids that I too used to dream about doing things  and I never did (as I drive them to soccer practice and gymnastics in our minivan. Shoot me now.) I basically felt like the world was caving in on me as I started to accept this as the inevitable future.

Of course, DH spoke some words of truth to me. He reminded me that that will only happen if we allow it to by giving up on dreams. He said that we should just be committed to pursuing things we care about and not feel stuck in any situation we are in. Actually, I think his exact words were “Lily Dunn, you HAVE to snap out of this. We are not going to let that happen.” If we’d been in a Rom Com he would have slapped me. I told him that if I could just have the assurance that it would happen someday and that God did have something perfect picked out for me, even if it isn’t coming for 10 more years then I would feel at peace, even if I have to be a burger-flipper. And he reminded me that that’s not exactly the way God works.

God promised Abraham that he would have a son, and didn’t fulfill the promise until Abraham was 100 years old. God promised his people that he would deliver them from Egypt into the promise land, yet they were slaves for 400 years before God sent Moses. God promised that he would send a savior, a messiah and he did…2,000 years later. This isn’t entirely comforting to me, but it does remind me that I am not the only person who has felt this way or will feel this way. This is what faith is.

So…I still do not know what career I want to have when I grow up, but this I do know. In the meantime, I would like to learn to be a woman of faith. Someone who is able to be at peace with where I am and trust that God has a plan. I am not this woman yet, but I would like to be. When I grow up.