The Impact of Attitude on Motherhood

I have this quote taped to the inside of my household binder which holds a collection of recipes, homemaking ideas and tips, gift ideas, and most importantly, notes to myself that I've made every few years that I label "rules of life". 

Lately I've been thinking so much about how this quote applies to motherhood, and how our attitude shapes our children's lives and our experiences as mother.

Our children don't have a choice about how they are cared for, but we have a choice when we become mothers about how we are going to embrace our new role.  We have a choice about our attitude towards motherhood and that attitude will make our life and our children's life and our spouse's life stressful or wonderful.  Over the last twenty one years of parenting, I've observed many different attitudes towards mothering and I think attitude truly is more important than circumstance, money, giftedness, skill, education, or appearance as it can make or break a family.  

By definition attitude means "a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically reflected in a person's behavior". I think in this day and age we must be purposeful in cultivating a good attitude through our thoughts and feelings about motherhood as our culture today doesn't send messages that support us.

We've been told, unlike past generations of mothers, that in so many ways raising children can put a cramp in our style, make daily living inconvenient, ruin our careers, drain our finances, and surely we have better, worthier, things to do with our time, energy and talents. We are expected to have and do everything all at once-we are bombarded with materialism and live a faster-paced life then years ago, the opposite of a "settled way" of being. When we realize this way of life is lie, that it is impossible to have and do all, it can easily allow resentment to build. If we expect our children to fit in on the sidelines of our life, and when we demand that they to conform to that lifestyle, they retaliate by being unenjoyable and needy, and we throw up our hands in frustration. Or maybe it's just simply the posturing trend today towards comedic sarcasm and self-pity-a "these darn kids" eye-rolling stance-that can permeate our way of viewing of parenthood if we allow it.

I've had times in my life when I had to remind myself to find some time to step back and take the time to switch my brain from heading down the wrong attitude path. I have attempted to jot down some of the things that have helped me over the years, and some of the characteristics and lifestyles of fabulous mothers I have observed over the years who have maintained a beautiful attitude towards motherhood and family life.

I think cultivating a beautiful attitude towards motherhood means truly surrendering ourselves with a purposeful attitude of gratitude towards our new role.  By that I mean, allowing ourselves to fall in love with our babies, letting ourselves be reformed into something new and start on a brave new learning journey of reshaping our old lives to build a joyous family life together.  It requires letting go of keeping up, shaping up, showing off, moving up, getting away, going out like we did before we became responsible for another's life and it requires giving our energy to something far more important than worldly desires-the child we brought into this world.

Our attitude really comes down to embracing and accepting hard work because motherhood requires this during all stages of parenting. "Work is love made visible" says a famous philosopher.  We must find a way to make this hard work enjoyable and if not, to just do it, knowing we will bear the fruits of our labor. Sometimes it helps just to expect that we will always be required to do hard work and stretch ourselves beyond what is comfortable at all stages of our children's development. We must know and trust that nothing in this world is more more worthy than our service.  It is okay for us to serve our families-sometimes serving them means showing them how they can help us, and other times it means just that-doing the work that is needed to care for our families. 

It comes down to developing a tender connection and a deep bond-knowing mother is important and irreplaceable, and that which there is no substitute-which takes the gift of time given freely, and sacrifice for many years. We must change our lifestyle so that our babies and children are able to flourish and thrive, and we accept that it's not just about what is best for us anymore. 

It comes down to guarding our hearts carefully every day-by that I mean rejecting the sarcastic attitude that makes parenthood seem like a long tortuous journey of interrupted sleep and sticky fingers and too long summer breaks. There's a child on the other side of that sarcasm wondering why he's thought of as a curse instead of a blessing. We must attempt to avoid this attitude like we would avoid the co-worker who constantly zaps everyone's day with her complaining negativity and pessimism. We must choose carefully who we spend our time with as mothers and what we allow to creep into our brains. Attitudes are catching. We must search out positive affirming messages about motherhood. We must find what fills us up, not what tears us down.  

"I get to do this" is a phrase that changes every task from a bother to a blessing.  Whether it be to rock a crying baby in the moonlight, soothe a frustrated toddler, help a slow learner with homework, or stay up late talking to a moody teenager, we must recognize that there are many fellow women whose hearts break daily because they desperately want to be given the gift of motherhood and some that have had it ripped away from them.

I've told the story before of a young mom who lost her toddler in a terrible accident while on vacation-she had said that before she left she was mad about the hand prints left over the newly washed windows and walls that gave her one more thing to do during the hectic time before the trip, and how when she came home without her daughter she searched everywhere to find just one beautiful, precious hand print to treasure. She shared this story to say, stop, slow down, strive to be grateful.

I have had a friend who had to work for the first year of her daughter's life tell me through tears that she had an acquaintance who complained to her constantly about how difficult her days home with her children-"warning" her against her desire to be home.  But my friend cried often when she pulled out of her driveway to go to work, wondering how she could desire so badly what someone else took for granted-somehow that made it hurt more.  Finally the day came when she was able to be home and she rejoices every morning when she doesn't have to rush off and appreciates being the one to see her children change and grow and learn all day long, and says she soaks it all up, thanks God for the opportunity, even if it is indeed hard work.  "I get to do this" is her attitude-an attitude of appreciation and thanksgiving.

Each of our children is a wonderful blessing from God and we are being entrusted with this little being to raise-and receive joy and love and affection that will never be found elsewhere in that process.  It comes down to reminding ourselves to possess overwhelming gratitude towards the gift of being able to raise a child, and to do that we must slow down and unwrap that gift daily with care.  


Encouragement For A Mother's Heart


A Beautiful Wedding at The Blue Dress Barn

Earlier in September my niece had her wedding at a gorgeous, fairy tale setting-an old dairy farm. It's called The Blue Dress Barn and it's in Benton Harbor, Michigan off a winding country road.  I felt like I was in a scene out of Anne of Green Gables-so many little nooks and crannies, and turns and twists, and little rooms, and hidden places, all dripping with ivy and blooms and vines.  I kept thinking of what it would be to grow up here-it is a child's paradise and just a beautiful, peaceful place for a wedding celebration.

Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare, 
like a gay knight riding down; 
perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways; 
perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, 
until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages 
betrayed the rhythm and the music, 
love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, 
as a golden-hearted rose slipping from it's green sheath."
LM Montgomery

Here are some (probably too many!) photos I took during this beautiful evening-

The backdrop for the ceremony.

Bridal suite.

The bridesmaids all had different style dresses in this beautiful color.

 Inside was just as gorgeous as outside-

The beautiful couple.

Delicious food.

Her dress was all lace and just gorgeous.

Outside next to the fire pit was a smores station.  One of those bars of chocolate might have been missing a little earlier than the fire pit was started. :)  I'll blame it on a certain little sidekick that follows me everywhere.


Thinking, Playing, Reading

I've been thinking about this beautiful essay written by Sally Clarkson concerning the teen years. 

"Family culture is built from the time they are born into your home–the life that is crafted, takes years to perfect, but builds strong roots.
The point is, we have so much fun and life going on in our home and so many invisible threads from our hearts to our children’s, that the pull of home and the deep connections and friendships we share with our children is a stronger pull than that of the culture that would seek to draw them. Our family culture, values and commitment is much stronger and more satisfying to their souls than the lure of their culture. Our ties to each other are strong."

Outside!  What a beautiful gorgeous September week we've had!  I love these days that still feel like summer, but have cooler evenings.  The grass is still green, the trees are still full, and I'm going to pretend this will last forever.  Janey and I have been taking walks and bike rides (her last year on the back of my bike maybe-it's getting quite squishy.)

I had two hours to myself on Sunday and I stopped in at the candle store (one of my favorite things is to always have a scented candle burning) but I could not go for pumpkin and apple scents yet.  I must ease myself into fall (because we all know what comes after right?)  This is as far as I could push myself:


I loved this book and read it in two days.  It reminds me a little of The Glass Castle in that it is a story of a childhood filled with terrible poverty and a desperate family life, but this takes place in Mexico and California.  I will never forget this book and it made me think deeply about poverty and immigration and desperation and family life and work ethics and luck, chances, education-so much in here to think about.

PS. Thank you to the reader who suggested this book!

These were my favorite children's books of the week:
A little owl is reluctant to leave the nest-beautiful illustrations and a sweet story.

A little duck waiting patiently for the birth of his little sibling.  Janey really loved this one.

And one more book:
I bought a new cookbook at the bookstore on that little Sunday break (it's this one:Southern Living Home Cooking Basics: A complete illustrated guide to Southern cooking) and I'm going to work myself through it just like Julie did with Julia.  This is my attempt at escaping a summer long cooking rut.  In spite of numerous soccer nights, I am DOING THIS. I must.

And a question answered from the last post:
Sarah, can you tell us your little "Libraries with little kids/babies 101" please? I have my first child, a 7 month old, and I would very much like to start going to the library with him. However, I'm hesitant about the etiquette and bringing a giggly baby into a quiet building.

Here is the way I work library visits:
1. Quickly. I hardly ever browse for myself, I order books through our on line library site and they notify me when they are in, and I grab them from the pile when I walk in the door. (Do all libraries do this?  It is heaven!)

2. I try not to go when they have library story time.  I know, that sounds awful, but the children's area gets too busy and I want to teach my kids that the library isn't for playing loudly, it's for books and books only. (Which is why I say no to the kid's computer table either-I say "libraries are for books".) 

BUT...I also know that is an excellent place to meet other parents when you are new to parenting and have little ones at home so I am not discouraging that, I just never really enjoyed the chaos. 

When they are old enough to understand we talk about library etiquette, mainly being quiet because everyone is reading.

3. We choose our books, maybe I will let Janey play if it is quiet for a little while, but usually we don't stay long. When I had more than one at home, I would let them (depending on age) go to their respective areas and choose what they wanted, trying to touch base with each one while I sat with the "baby" at the train table.  

I hope that helps!


Toddler Tips: Shaping Good Behavior

Here are my tips for cultivating with love, a toddler's good behavior:

-Remember that the term toddler encompasses a huge range of development-from first "toddling" around one (still babies!), till three. What they can understand and control at one is so much different than what they can understand and control at three and they all move and grow at their own pace through these years (don't compare!).  Reading a book on child development helps so much.  I highly recommend Dr. Sear's Discipline Book (this one)-he mixes tips with child development facts so it's practical but informative.  Another book I love these two books by Mac Blesdoecalled Parenting with Dignity.

-Cultivate a kind, engaged, calm environment in our homes as much as possible with good routines.

-Give our toddlers attention. Read books, get on the floor and play, let them follow us around when we do chores (and give them work to do), hold them, hug them, kiss them, make them laugh (which is so easy!), pick them up when they need comfort (or get down to their level when you cannot).

-Recognize that toddlers will just have bad days-like we do, but maybe more so because they are growing and changing so quickly.  Pray for patience, show them love, and just know that things will even out.

-Anticipate what is going on in their little heads so we can guide them in the right direction before behavior needs to be corrected.

-Say yes as much as possible, make our "no's" count.  They will listen to our no's if they are rare and firm, but if they hear this word often and carelessly, it will become meaningless to them.  There are a million ways to say yes!

-Set up our home and routine to allow as many yes's as we can.  If we don't want our one year old to touch our special things, just put them away, until they are old enough to understand why they can't touch them.  Don't fight their need to touch and explore-this is what their brain is wired for!  It will just cause needless frustration for us and them.

-When toddlers are put in situations and environments where good behavior is "easy" for them, good behavior becomes a habit.  Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.  Toddlers need down-time and lots of it, they need to be able to move, play without sharing, be curious and safe and have attentive care.  When they get all these chances to be "good", they can more easily tolerate the situations where more is required from them.  Practically this means we have to say no to constant play groups, play dates, eating out, events where they are stuck in the stroller, or in a car seat, etc.

Redirect, avoid, prepare.  This is the key!
Redirect-I will give an example.  Today Janey and I were taking a walk.  We came to the corner of the curb where we can continue one way across the street (the way she wanted) or continue around the block.  She stopped and said, "This way?"  I said, "Let's go this way."  She said, "No, this way." I said, "Remember those acorns?  Let's go find those acorns!" in a very excited voice, and I started walking the way I wanted to go.  I could see her mind ticking, and she started moving my way.

I have done this so much with all my children-give them something else to think about instead of dwelling or escalating a problem.

Avoid-This is where we know our toddler's hot topics and do our best to steer around them-cut an event short and avoid loud crowds if they are sensitive, or be very conscious of too many choices if they are easily overwhelmed etc, and be prepared to spend more energy if we do participate in something that isn't age appropriate for them.  (Church, a crowded birthday party, a reunion, etc.)

Prepare-Tell our toddlers where we are going, what will happen and what behavior we expect to see. "We are going to the grocery store to get apples and bread, and when we get inside you are going to get in the cart with your baby, and mom is going to push you, and then we will ride the horsey at the end."  (If I knew that the cart would be a hot button for her, I will say just when I am about to put her in the cart, "What did mom say we had to get?  Apples, and grapes and blah blah blah."  If she protested, I would say, "You are gong to sit in the cart because we are going to go fast to ride the horsey at the end, look at these big apples over here, do you want to hold the bag of them?" This way I am redirecting attention away from the actual cart sitting process, and on to something else...we are moving forward, not dwelling, but I am still being firm.

-Be confident, calm and firm when correcting.  For older toddlers, when we say no, mean it and move on as quickly as possible. .

-Correct them with words and show them what behavior we want to see. (If a toddler is too rough with a young baby (even when that toddler is only one) say, "No, no, no, we have to be gentle or we will make baby cry, look how little he is!" and take his hand and show him what gentle means and then be so, so pleased when they do it the right way.  If a toddler throws sand, show him the pain and discomfort it causes (teaching empathy!) and say, (getting down at their level and holding their hands and with a very concerned face) "Look how sad you made (insert name), sand hurts, and we don't throw it ever, it's for digging."  If they would do it again, they are taken out of the sandbox and told, "No we don't throw sand ever."  If a toddler throws a toy, explain quickly and firmly why we don't throw toys- "because these are our special things and they might break and then we'd be sad, let's clean this up and do this instead."

-Look at causes of behavior.  Was that toy thrown when the TV was blaring, when roughhousing with other children was getting too wild, when the room was a disaster (which is overwhelming to them), when no parent was present or paying attention for too long?  Tired, hungry? Toddlers respond to their environments, and we are responsible for trying our best to cultivate their environment.


On spanking, hand-slapping, pinching, flicking, (yes there is such a thing, I was sorry to find out), or any/all physical punishment which is meant to cause purposeful physical pain to the baby and toddler in order to get them to stop doing something, or start doing something:
-Our beautiful children aren't dogs, or goats, or mules, they are intelligent, thoughtfully-formed, developmentally driven humans with tender inner spirits.  Toddlers are shaping the view of the world, responding to their environments, learning who to trust, and how to act, what is safe and what is not. Being physically assaulted (this is what we would call it if it was done to us) can not ever be an effective, healthy path to learning or behavior, as it strips a child of his or her God-given dignity.

It bothers me so much when I see this advice given and new mothers being influenced by it. I understand that parents often might live in fear of not having a "good" child if they don't use these sorts of punishments, or feel pressure from family, or be desperately looking for advice when they feel their child's behavior is less that desirable.  But I want to assure that you absolutely can have a good child without physical punishment in the picture. I wrote about mother mentors back here, and when I think of the families I know that have just lovely, kind, kids (many of them are now adults) who are respectful and pleasant to be around, didn't and don't or almost never use or have used physical punishment, or for that matter, much punishment at all.

It seems so common sense and logical to me that when a small child lives in fear of pain, or lives in a world where the opposite of what is taught (don't hit) is then experienced (but I can hit you), and their need for calm, firm, loving guidance is confused, that child becomes either more aggressive, or whinier, or clingier, or louder, or distrustful, or angry, or unresponsive to any discipline or most likely, all of the above.  If it doesn't stop one behavior, it brings out another and the whole problem snowballs.  And then one is left with more difficult kids (where difficult behaviors are now considered "normal"), who need to be disciplined more, which makes the problem worse and worse.
In a way these children have become less sensitive, and develop a tougher exterior steeped in strong emotion.  It's a trapped cycle that parents and children are caught in, around and around and it doesn't have to be this way.

Firm and straightforward but kind, consistent loving calm guidance. high but appropriate expectations.  

I am not advocating for permissive parenting. That is just as extreme and misguided.  Permissive parenting means very little parent engagement, parents watching kids do naughty things or behave in ways that hurt or disturb others with a shrug and "what am I going to do about it" attitude, and letting kids be in charge. They do NOT want to be in charge, they need strong confident leadership and guidance and attentive consistency.

Our little ones want badly to please us, they want to be good, and we can have beautiful relationships with them-with us as respected leaders, and them as a disciple-learning, loving, trusting, growing.  We must make them feel safe and we do that by respecting their bodies, creating strong reliable routines, and showing them our love through our time. 

Sally Clarkson says it best:
"When we appeal to our children’s hearts for excellence and choices of good behavior, then we are giving them the will and desire to be excellent for themselves. Their desire comes from within and their motivation is from the heart. But if we train them behaviorally by always forcing them to do what we want them to do because they might get a spanking or some other kind of threatened discipline, their motivation is to avoid spanking or harshness, not to please God or to please their parents by having a good heart and responding in obedience."
"Our home, our relationships, our family will become what we live by, what we practice.  So today, if you wish your children would respond to you in love, in gentleness, with grace, with loyalty, with words of life, just do unto them as you would have them do unto you. Be consistent, have integrity, practice maturity–what we sow becomes what we reap in the lives of our precious children and I can say, at this stage in my life, the fruit of such practice is so very sweet. How very blessed I am by my wonderful, thoughtful, still growing, but loving children."
On cell phone and discipline, and something to think about:
Two weeks ago I was in the library with my three year old.  There were three mothers there also, every one of them on their phones.  Two out of the three ended up slapping/hitting their kids.  Both of the children didn't seem to be behaving terribly to me, in fact, both had spent most of the time behaving well, but they both did one inappropriate thing in order to get their mother's attention.

I would bet, had the mothers NOT been on their cell phones, that scenario wouldn't have played out the way it did.

I know how hard it is to not be distracted these days.  Because I am in my later forties though, I can remember the ancient times (one of my kids just asked if TV's were invented yet when I was young!) when phones weren't able to be carried everywhere, weren't beeping, and tempting and calling us away from our children.  Oh it was lovely!  There was so much more time in the day.  We must see ourselves through the eyes of our children.  We don't have to be available always (that would get tiring and no laundry would get done) but there is something about the constant pull of distraction throughout the day that is not conducive to parenting.

Look up. Encourage and notice the good. Be present. We will be rewarded with better behavior the more we are engaged in real life and the less we are distracted by trivial things.