Welcome back to military life: change is hard
The last few weeks have been some of the most weary and stressful of our lives. The constant to-do list, the constant cleaning, and the constant readiness. This selling a house business with 5 small children pretty much stinks, but it isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is the reminder of what it means.
It’s coming. This move is coming at me like a speeding freight train that I just want to ignore. I can’t slow it down. I can’t change its course. It is my reality and I must accept it. But I don’t like it.
The language around our house is starting to change. There are more acronyms being used, words that haven’t been on the tips of our tongues the last 3 years of shore duty. We are going through the frustrating process of using government websites to move our household goods. We are buying uniforms for a school we have never even visited, trusting God’s leading and peace for another big change. Whether we like it or not this is happening and it is hard.
I have begun to realize just how much I have settled in and called Charleston home. How I let my hair down and made true heart friends, free of fears of the future. How I have taken complete ownership over my home without viewing it as another white wall, not worth the nail hole that will need to be filled later. How this time has let me forget what this military life is really like.
Most of the time I am a good military wife. Usually I will tell you with a smile that I embrace change and love the adventure. That I am so proud we serve our country and I hope my boys follow in their daddy’s footsteps. But some days it is hard, really hard. The change is hard. The new cities, houses, friends, churches, etc are all hard. And for these past years I have forgotten. I have forgotten all that change and called a place home. Now I must accept it is coming again.
So I will be strong. I will take a deep breath and do my duty. I will once again prepare for long days and even longer deployments. I will love my children and do my best to comfort them and where I can’t the Lord will. Because in all things He is good and He is there. He is there in the lonely moments. He is there when life seems overwhelming. He is there even when my precious husband cannot be.
So for now I will be sad. I will cry and grieve this beautiful place. But I will also look forward to what is coming. Look forward to the new friendships and adventures that are some of the BEST parts of this life. I may not be able to stop this train but I am so grateful that even when life is completely out of my control God is in control. He is going before us. He is preparing a new life for us and even though it may be hard, I know it will be good. Because He is good.
A Well Oiled Machine: Finding the Balance in Marriage and Parenting
I think it is an established fact that motherhood is hard.
I think you can even take that a step further and say parenthood all around is hard.
It is a season of sacrifice, a season of long days and even longer nights, and a season of immense, sometimes soul crushing, responsibility as we raise these little people. All of this can take a toll on our marriages.
It is no secret that marriages are suffering these days. Divorce rates are high and Millennials are even wary of getting married in the first place. I can’t help but wonder if the modern mentality of making our children the sole focus of our homes is partly to blame. Why are we neglecting to prioritize the relationship that gave us these children in the first place?
I’ll admit Paul and I compliment each other well. We are opposite personalities. I am a dominant extrovert and he is a loyal peacemaking introvert… and while that may sound like a disaster waiting to happen, it works well if I keep my foot stomping, demanding self in check. He has strengths in areas where I am weak and there are ways I am stronger as well. Honestly we often joke that he would make a better stay at home parent and some days I would LOVE to take my bossy self, put on his uniform and be a naval officer… but then I remember he works on a ship and I get terribly seasick. Overall, we just seem to flow well together.
We are also far from perfect. We have our struggles just like any other couple. We disagree. We get on each others nerves. He still refuses to rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. But in the last several years, as our family has grown, we have settled into a beautiful rhythm. We may be more stressed with 5 kids but are much less likely to snap at each other, even going months without a fight. We are quicker to acknowledge and thank the other. We are genuinely happy we get to be with one another, even in the craziness. We have settled into this parenting gig like a well oiled machine.
The other day we were talking about how smoothly the addition of our sweet girl has gone in regards to our marriage compared to our first babies. It was amazing to look back over the last 7 years and see that the tasks have not changed but WE have changed. The Lord has grown and shaped us as parents. Obviously we still have a lot of growing to do… we have 18 more years before our nest is empty and many trials ahead, but there are several things we have done through the years that I think attribute to our current joy.
The first, before we ever had children, even before we were married, we agreed that we wanted to be intentional parents. From the beginning we were in agreement that our ultimate goal in raising these kids was to point them to the gospel. We want more than anything else for our children to know Jesus and live their lives to serve him. In light of that we also wanted to raise them to see the importance of marriage as the picture of the gospel. In our house, our marriage comes first. We want our children to see what a precious relationship marriage is and find their security in being loved members of our family, not the center of our family.
For us, this means we don’t have kids in our bed. We chose to have a space that is ours alone. We have bedtimes and routines that protect the time in the evening for each other.
It means we date often. One of us is with our children 95% of the time and it is beneficial for them to see us leaving to go have fun alone. It has also resulted in our kids doing well with babysitters and what a blessing some of those girls have been to our family through the years!
It means we are intentional about discipline and are in agreement about what that looks like in our family. We don’t allow our children to go back and forth between us on a decision. Each parent’s word is final and they see that we respect each other.
The second thing we have done, and probably the area we have grown the most, is we try to think about how we can make life better for the other. Honestly, this one is easier said than done. This is the one we have failed royally at at times in the past and will most likely fail at again in the future. I can look back on the early years of our parenting journey and see ways we have hurt each other simply by not thinking about the other.
I think this looks different for women and men. The best way Paul does this for me is by offering help. It may be doing some dishes or laundry. It may be offering me time away to recharge from the craziness of 5 kids. It may be simply acknowledging that my work is hard and noteworthy. I know he works hard. I know he is tired. But in the last several months he has shown me so much love by alleviating some of the burdens from my plate.
But help is not necessarily what he needs from me. I think often times the biggest thing we as women can offer our husbands on this parenting journey is ourselves. I know, sometimes this can be really hard. I am tired. I am overwhelmed with my to-do list. I have been touched by children all day and feel like a dairy cow making milk for our baby. Often times I would prefer to take a long bath and sleep for a year. But when I step outside of myself and choose to offer attention, affection, or sex, even when I may not feel like it, my husband feels loved. And that is worth giving a little more of myself. That is part of this beautiful rhythm.
The final way we have found balance in our family and marriage, is not overfilling our schedule. This has not been true for all seasons of our life. We have had times when we have had a laundry list of obligations and grumpiness resulted. But for the most part we have found that making sure we have time to play and relax together as a family makes for a happier marriage. We are less stressed and I cook more, so we eat better. Our kids are less cranky and therefore we are more patient. Our routine runs smoother and so we have more quality time together when our kids go to bed. Sometimes a full schedule can’t be avoided, but sometimes you have to learn to say no to protect that rhythm. I believe a happier home leads to a happier marriage, and that is worth missing a few events or opting out of a soccer season.
This parenting thing is hard. It is easy to focus on all the needs of our children and miss the person beside us. But I think it is important for us to take a step back and evaluate our marriages. See if we need to tune anything up to make things run smoother. Because after there are no more diapers, after the last soccer game is played, and after the final college bill is paid… this person you married is the one that will be there until the end and a little maintenance makes for a long happy life.
Tears in the Trenches: Motherhood is HARD
It had been a super long day.
All of our help had left. I had been back at this solo mommy thing for a little over a week and Paul was working his third late night in that time. My evening had been filled with overly energetic boys due to the cold weather and I had fished a dirty plunger out of a bathtub full of clean children. I had finally wrestled them all in bed only to have spent the last hour sitting in the dark holding a screaming baby girl… longing for my cold dinner waiting for me in the microwave. The tears streaming down my face.
All I could do was cry with her.
Why does this motherhood gig have to be so freakin’ hard? Sometimes I even wonder why the Lord quite literally saved my life for this? For these long days wiping poop and breaking up fights. For the days when I can’t remember if I ate breakfast… or lunch for that matter. For the days when I haven’t sat down to rest for a second yet still can’t see the floor due to the mess. For the days when I am convinced I am royally screwing it all up?
I admit. Sometimes I want out. Sometimes I wish I could put on pretty clothes and go be amazing at a corporate job. Somedays I feel like that yellow bus calls my name. Sometimes I just want to walk out the door and never come back. But I don’t. I wipe one more nose. Make one more sandwich. Wrap one more swaddle. Teach one more lesson. Give one more hug.
The reality is, I think it is supposed to be hard. We have been entrusted with the responsibility of raising humans. I would even venture to say it is the hardest job in the world, raising the next generation. In those times when I am ready to quit I try to step back and think about the value of pressing through the hard times. Things of value often require work and my children, they are valuable. The most valuable things the Lord has given me.
I think the biggest favor we as moms can do ourselves is to recognize that this IS hard. That despite what we see on instagram or at Target, we all struggle. We all have days where we feel like we aren’t cutting it. And you know what? That’s ok. We need to give ourselves permission to just let the tears fall somedays. Because while there are immense blessings in motherhood, there are also many struggles. The only way I can make it through these long days are by crying out to the Lord. He has called us to do this incredible job and He will equip us to make it through each day.
Each season of motherhood seems impossible. Sometimes it seems we won’t be able to make it to the next. But it is the Lord’s work in us that allows us to not only make it through but see the fruit of our labor. It is his strength that gives us the ability to press on.
So on the days when I am ready to throw in the towel. The days when I question why the Lord called me to stay at home or homeschool. The days when I am CONVINCED I am not enough. I remember the promises of His word “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…”* Because, while I know it is hard… it is WORTH IT.
*Philippians 1:6b ESV
Hitting the curve balls: struggling to cope with change
I am going to be honest here and tell you that I have always seen myself as handling change well. Change has been a big part of my life. We moved fairly often until I was a freshmen in high school. I attended 3 different colleges, one of them overseas. And then I got married and things really got crazy. In the 7.5 years Paul and I have been married we have lived in 4 cities (5 if you count the brief stint with my parents), been separated for a 3 month training and then 2 deployments and added 4 kids to our family. It is more change than most people experience in their lives but it is also a staple of being a military family and feels surprisingly normal.
But in reality the normality of those changes is what makes them so easy to deal with. I know we will be moving next year and again the year after that. Will it be sad? Sure! But expected. I know Paul will deploy again in the next couple of years. Will it be hard? You better believe it! But survivable. I am hopeful we will have another baby. Am I crazy? Probably. But we already knew that.
To me, those are the fast balls. I don’t think that kind of change bothers me because it follows the overall pattern of our life and therefore makes sense to me. It is the completely unexpected change that I struggle with. The change that I didn’t see coming or the feeling of needing change but not knowing what to do next. The fog of the unknown.
The curve balls.
There our times in my life I can see this pattern clearly. I didn’t cope well with finding out the gender of each of our children. I had always wanted girls and so the first boy was a bit of a shock… but 4 boys. Wow! I definitely wasn’t expecting to have all boys, much less 4 of them. With the addition of each little guy to our family I had trouble changing the picture of how I expected our life to look. I also really struggled when Paul’s last deployment got extended midway through. I was prepared for the initial plan but when I was told he wouldn’t be home in time for the birth of our 3rd son I was a wreck. (Thankfully he ended up making it home with 3 days to spare!). Those were curve balls.
I feel like we are in a season full of unexpected change right now.
The last 18 months have been very smooth for us. We are living in a city we LOVE. Somedays I feel like Charleston was meant for me and I know it is going to be very hard to leave. Paul is home every night and has a very flexible schedule. I feel spoiled to almost never be apart and we are enjoying the ability to go on regular dates, plan vacations, and just be normal. We haven’t added a new baby in the last year and have settled into being a family of 6 quite nicely. We have grown close to our core group of friends and are truly starting to feel established. Things have been quiet…
And it is because of all of that that I think I am having such a hard time with all the curve balls in our life right now. This was supposed to be our 3 years of stability and rest. This was supposed to be our season to feel and look like a normal family. But lately we have been presented with lots of change and I am STRUGGLING.
I am struggling with homeschooling. I always thought homeschooling would be an easy constant for us through all the moves and changes, but it is HARD! And with the added responsibilities of my business, I know I am not doing well as things are now. We need a change. Whether that means a nanny/housekeeper or a new plan, I don’t know. But that’s the problem, change is going to have to take place but I don’t know what that will look like.
I am struggling with the changes in our church and relationships. Our church has gone through a really big change the last couple months, causing changes in our community and friend circles and making us wonder what step to take next. The church has always been vital for us to plug in and find community quickly. It is our safe haven and the source of the majority of our relationships. I never expected to have to process major change a year before we are going to have to move and start all over again.
I am struggling with the major changes in my parents lives. I have always viewed that church and house as “home”. While I haven’t lived there in a long time, when you move constantly losing “home” is hard. Harder than I expected.
But the reality in all of this is that God is still faithful even when we experience unexpected change. His plans are better than our plans. He sees the big picture inspite of my desperation to cling to the constant. He can guide us to the next step.
God has called some of us to lives full of fast balls. He has equipped us for those. But He also uses the curve balls. He uses the unexpected change to mold us and shape us to be more like his Son. He shows us our lack of faith, ability, and need for growth sometimes. He uses change to highlight areas we need to strengthen.
Do I think it is ok for me to be confused, sad, angry even sometimes when I experience change? Absolutely. But my prayer is that it would bring me to my knees to seek His wisdom and guidance for the future. That I would trust his plan even when it completely blows my plans out of the water. That I would allow God to use it to equip me for the future and to encourage others around me that are walking similar paths.
Even though I struggle there is such peace in knowing that God is the one ultimately calling the shots.
Stop and Smell the Christmas Spirit
This is my living room. It looks exactly like this this morning… including the toys on the floor, few presents wrapped, and the decoration and wrapping boxes that have been sitting there for 2 weeks.
Why haven’t I put them away? Ugh.
Christmas is my favorite time of the year!
I love decorating (and spend a lot more time and money on it at Christmas than the rest of the year… THAT makes sense). Young Living sells an essential oil blend called Christmas Spirit and I was so excited I bought 3 bottles almost 2 months ago. I love buying presents for my boys and am tempted to go overboard every year (typically Paul is reigning me in BUT this year he was spotted buying a full arsenal of Nerf guns for the boys… including one for himself when we were “done and just getting the candy for their stocking”). I also love taking my boys on shopping trips for other children and teaching them about buying things for those in need. I love our family traditions like going to see lights, cookie baking, having hors d’oeuvres for Christmas Eve, and spending Christmas day in our own home watching our boys sparkle with excitement. I love that we chose long ago to not do Santa or Elf on a shelf but instead spend the nights leading up to Christmas focusing on the gift we were given in a Savior on Christmas night and pointing them to the Gospel.
But this year has been far from idyllic. We have barely had time to breathe much less truly enjoy the Christmas season.
We have had a babysitter 5 nights in the last 2 weeks and Paul or I have been gone another 4. Not much time for Advent readings… making me feel like we are missing the mark with teaching our children the true meaning of Christmas.
I have put so much effort into getting my decorations up that my house has been a complete wreck since Thanksgiving. Making me feel like a complete failure as a homemaker.
All of the events and responsibilities have led me to feel disconnected with work. I am genuinely passionate about this job and WANT to be involved with all aspects but time has been an issue lately. Making me feel that I am shortchanging my team.
We haven’t opened a school book once this month.
MAN do I feel judged just typing that.
Aside from reading and some field trips we just haven’t done school. Which really stresses me out because our Saxon math book says I should have done 12 lessons in December… Ahh! Makes me feel like I am not equipped to teach my children.
We haven’t had many home cooked meals.
We have only been to the gym once.
We haven’t baked a single cookie.
And the list goes on.
But today, things are changing. We are going to lean in and enjoy this time with our kids.
We are going to load everyone up in the car tonight to drink hot chocolate and look at Christmas lights. We are going to bake and decorate some sugar cookies this week. We are going to diffuse Christmas Spirit (man does that stuff smell awesome) and have a family game night. We are going to pop corn on the stove and watch a Christmas movie. We are going to have daily reminders about why we celebrate Christmas and the amazing gift we have in Jesus Christ. We are going to tuck our kids in bed, dim the lights and drink a bottle of wine in the glow of the tree, remembering that we love each other.
As I look back over pictures of our past Christmases I don’t remember all of the events we had planned, the gifts I bought, or even the food I made. I look at these sweet faces and think about the time that is gone. I will never again feed Townsend at 2am by the light of the tree. I will never again sit with Wyatt in my lap helping him rip the paper off his presents. I will never again get to witness their first Christmas movie, Christmas lights, Christmas parade or sip of hot cocoa.
So instead of worrying about how much work I am getting done, how much time is not being spent doing math, how clean my house is, or even how little “Christmas” we have done. I am choosing to lean in.
I am choosing to stop, put a little Christmas Spirit in the diffuser and snuggle up with my babies. Because the days might be so very grueling and long but the years are gone in a blink of the eye.