Last week I enjoyed the privilege of sharing a bit of parenting advice on my lovely friend Alysa's blog. I most certainly stand by the overall point that, for me, each stage of parenting has been better than the last. However, after more thought on this very subject I wanted to take the opportunity to add some clarification of what it has meant for me to be present through each season with my kids.
A definition of present that I'm quite fond of is "existing in the now." That's it. Pretty basic. It doesn't say loving every single minute, thriving always, knowing exactly what to do, or being overly positive or inauthentic about life's challenges. Being present is existing in the now. Shauna Niequist put it this way a few months ago: "Present over perfect." Yes, present as to not miss anything, but being present does not require rose colored glasses of fakeness or oblivion.
My overall hope of the post was to encourage parents to be present in the seasons of their kids' lives. However, a burden of day to day drudgery may have been hoisted onto the backs of moms who are currently struggling, and that is never ever my intention. Listen, I'm no perfect lady. Through the years there were late summer days that I just wanted/needed school to start, or night terrors or vomit explosions that led to sleepless nights that led to grouchy next day mom, or kids that wouldn't listen so I yelled my frustrations in their face to say "CAN ANYONE HEAR ME NOW?!"
Oh yes. So many sins I could list here, but that isn't the point. I've owned up to my mistakes with my kids and with my Jesus, so I'm able to move forward and trust that God is molding me through the process of parenting. Make no mistake. Parenting isn't only about you molding your kids. In fact, through parenting, my life is continually being molded by a gracious and direct God in unbelievably profound ways.
But here is what I really want to tell you about being present as a parent.
It's not about being in every moment of every day. Sometimes we get so caught up in keeping our heads down to do the work on the ground level that we forget to look up and see the trail, to gain our bearings from the sun and stars, and see the path ahead. Sometimes being present is about living in the day to day, taking it all in, caring for sickies or whiners, making memories, holding and cuddling. Sometimes being present is about keeping your parental vision of raising humans beings that love God and love others in focus so that you don't lose your way.
The times I struggle the most in parenting is when I've been neglecting taking care of my soul. Do you have the times that you are "so present" that you haven't showered, gotten out of the house and walked through an isle of breakable things without panicking, read a book, or talked to an adult? Those times for me shriveled my soul. Now, I've never been a proponent of "me time." Seriously. I cannot stand that phrase. Our culture is obsessed with self. But I am a very strong proponent of soul refreshing time.
Friends, one of the very best ways you can be present as a parent with your family is to care for your soul. What fills you? What breathes life into your weary bones? Do you even know? Are you willing to set time aside to just read for 10 minutes a day? Can you leave your child in their room so you can take a five minute shower? Do not just take care of your body through diet and exercise. Do not just take care of your mind through reading a good book or engaging in good conversation. Do not just take care of your heart through spending time in prayer or going out with friends.
Take care of your whole, entire person. Your soul.
Do not get bogged down in the external distractions of self, self, self. Look inward to see what you truly need, and then allow God to deal with your soul. Five to ten minutes a day of soul care will carry you through being present so that you can believe that each stage is better than the last.
For those of you that are in the trenches this is what soul care looks like for me then and now:
- exercise 4-5 days a week at a gym with childcare (glorious gym childcare. *sigh*)
- read 5-10 minutes a day, not to my kids, to myself
- meals at the table most nights when I had littles, 2-3 times a week currently
- showered when I wanted to, put my kids in their crib or room guilt free
- "Go play in your room without my direction or instruction. Just play."
- regular Bible study either by myself or with a group of friends -- so refreshing
- investment into others' lives so that I wasn't self-focused
- invited people over regularly and taught our kids that they weren't the center
- adult music in my car -- the Wheels on the Bus can wait
- deep breaths, eyes closed, whispered prayers of thankfulness and love
Oh this is such a short list. Soul care is deep, important work. I continue to learn about how important it is. (I'm currently reading a book on this topic. I'm only on chapter 3 and I love it so much, but feel the need to be responsible to read the whole thing before I recommend it. Stay tuned for more on this subject.)
How do you care for your soul? Do you engage more in your external or internal life? What importance do you see in the balance of both internal and external when it comes to being present? Have you experienced that your current season with your kids is better than the last? Why or why not?