#ThrowbackThursday: Oldies But (Maybe, Hopefully) Goodies

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Wanted to highlight some blogs and writers who’ve guest-posted here in these last whatever years because periodically I go back and look through the lists and read them – they are still so good. So gracious. So powerful. So much a gift to me. And I want them to be a blessing for you too!

Motherhood Mantras: Stories of Survival was the first series on the blog and truthfully, a relatively selfish and indulgent one. Because I was in the throes of new babyhood (times two) and desperate for someone to share in my literal physical, emotional, spiritual suffering. And needed people to give me a glimpse of that elusive light at the end of that seemingly endless tunnel.

Maryann McKibben Dana’s post has been hitting it home for me this month:

It was the witching hour, and my husband was working late. I’d managed to cobble together some semblance of a balanced meal for the three amigos and me. But there was no getting around it—we had to go to the grocery store after supper. It had been an exhausting day of ministry. As I navigated traffic with the kids in the back, I was lost in my own thoughts about e-mails left unanswered and people who would need to be visited the next day. I was heavy with the burden of pastoral care, not to mention sermon preparation, which percolates underneath everything else, all week long. I love my kids, but I was counting the minutes until they were tucked quietly into bed.

A plaintive request came from the back seat: “Mommy, can we pretend we’re in a spaceship?”

The internal answer was instant and vehement: Ugh, NO! I was just too tired. I wanted to get to the store, buy what we needed, and get home—no muss, no fuss. I had expended all my creative energy during the day. Surely there was nothing left for spaceship play. The internal answer was instant and vehement: Ugh, NO! I was just too tired. I wanted to get to the store, buy what we needed, and get home—no muss, no fuss. I had expended all my creative energy during the day. Surely there was nothing left for spaceship play.

But something in me shifted. What if I went along with them in the game? What if I decided not to do the bare minimum? What would happen if I summoned up some energy I wasn’t even sure I had, in order to play along? “Sure!” I heard myself say, and began barking out nonsensical orders. “First Officer Caroline: monitor our coordinates. Lieutenant Margaret: check the thrusters to see that they’re operational. Sergeant James: give us a report of weather conditions outside.”

A short growl came from the backseat. Oh yeah, James is in his I’m-a-dog phase. “Did I say Sergeant James? I meant Scruffy the dog. Scruffy, you lie down until we get to the moon, then you can help explore.” The whole errand went this way. The Fairfax County Parkway became a giant asteroid belt. The grocery store became a space station where we needed to stock up on supplies. Our garage became a lunar docking station.

Miraculously, bedtime afterward went smoothly, even joyfully. I thought they’d be wound up from our game, but they were content, excited that they’d been able to do something out of the ordinary. What’s more, I was in a better mood too.

Later that night, I remembered a phrase I’d read as a young adult: “It’s easier to do what’s hard than what’s easy.” The author’s point (if I remember correctly) is that people often choose the path of least resistance in their lives, but that path can make life harder in the long run. (Doing the bare minimum to graduate, for example—it’s easier short-term but it can impact career success for a long time.) By contrast, if you put in just a little more effort, it can make a huge difference in the end. What’s initially hard becomes easier over time.

That phrase has evolved into a parenting mantra:

The harder thing is the easier thing.

It’s hard to summon the energy to play Minivan Spaceship, but it’s easier in the long run than dealing with cranky, bored kids, resentful at yet another errand, dragging their feet instead of skipping down the aisles, looking for provisions.  It’s hard to keep the house in a basic semblance of order, but it’s easier in the long run when you know exactly where the permission slip is on the morning of the field trip. It’s hard for me to set aside time for Sabbath each week—a practice our family has been committed to for many years—but it makes life easier because it makes life more pleasant.

The harder thing is the easier thing.

It’s hard to have the tough conversation, or to respond to that angry e-mail with a phone call instead of another e-mail, or to tell the truth the first time rather than fudge it… but it is so much more freeing to be on the other side of it. Sometimes we’re tempted to do the minimum to get by—in life, in relationships. And let’s face it: as mothers, we’re constantly playing triage. A bit more humor, a bit more kindness, a bit more intentionality, require a lot more energy up front. But these things pay dividends in the long run, through stronger relationships and a sense of well-being.

The harder thing is the easier thing.

Like every good mantra, you have to know when embrace its inverse. Sometimes the harder thing is the harder thing. It’s possible to force things, to strive for a perfection that’s not only impossible, but exhausting and dispiriting. I’m a big believer in the good-enough parent. Sometimes simply getting everyone to the store and back in one piece is good enough. Surviving is a victory.

But other times, the harder thing really is the easier thing. And the more joyful thing.

*MaryAnn is at the Blue Room Blog.

Some other tidbits that I still use throughout the day like prayers and chants:

From Courtney Mills Jones Willis: And yet, through lots of trial and error, lots of joy and tears, I have discovered something really beautiful. I have discovered that while I am called to ministry, motherhood too is my calling.

From Galit Breen: It’s just a small moment. Every mothering moment – from the dark to the glowing – is so very small and so very fleeting. Sleepless nights and crying newborns are woven deeply with belly laughs and tiny fingers laced tightly with my own. I can pick up the golden moments, place them in my HeartHand, and enjoy them.

From Micah BoyettHave grace with yourself, my friend said to me. She knew what I would feel some days: The temptation during your baby’s first year to long for her success, to judge yourself in light of her advancement, to value her in light of what the world values: appearance, physical impressiveness, signs of intellect. How often did I compare my kid with another? How often was I the one bragging of some sign of my child’s superiority? Have grace with yourself.

From Katherine Willis PersheyHold the railing. It’s a motherhood nag, not a motherhood mantra. Right? Or perhaps it is a mantra. I repeat the same words to myself, thundering down our creaky wooden steps with the baby in one hand and always, always, something else in the other. They are everywhere, these menaces of gravity and right angles. People fall down the stairs all the time, breaking a hip, an ankle, a neck. Stairwells are just one small danger in what seems like an infinite funhouse of ways to get hurt. We are so vulnerable, so breakable. We cannot fend off every attack or avoid every pitfall or swerve from the path of every errant automobile. It is enough to make a mama weary with worry, or worse, paralyzed by anxiety.

From Caela Simmons Wood: I can only control myself. That’s all there is to it. I cannot control my child. It’s not my job. My job is to help him learn how to control himself. And I can’t do that if I’m trying to control him. I was shocked at how quickly this mantra began to heal our relationship. I can say it to myself when I’m starting to feel angry and immediately begin to feel calm. Better yet, I explained the mantra to my child and it really seems to be helping him with his own behavior, too. In a moment of calm connection, I explained to him that when I get mad, I have to remind myself that I can’t control him, that I can only control myself. I told him that he’s the only one who can control himself. He really seemed to like this idea. I think it made him feel bigger and stronger.

From Katie Mulligan: In the middle of all this, the director of academic affairs asked me, “How do you get out of bed everyday?” I stared at him in amazement, and asked through gritted teeth, What’s the other option?? What’s the other option? And I meant it. I stared at him a while with sharp, angry thoughts running through my head. Who else was going to get the children out of bed in the morning? Who else was going to feed them? Who else was going to make sure they got to every blasted appointment and took prescribed meds? Who else was going to make sure they took a bath? Brush their teeth? Had clean clothes? With my family all the way out in California, and other seminary students busy with their own dramas, who else was there? What was the other option?

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