There is an expression that says, "If you don't laugh, you'll cry." I am sure everyone has a moment when they realize the truth of that saying. My week was one such revelation.
My children are wonderful! They are well behaved, useful, enjoyable little people who give so much joy to me each day. I would never trade being at home raising them, even for the best salary/fringe benefits/total package "career" job you could find. I look at my life and wonder, "wow - how did I get away with this?" I watch each day as my little son grows cuter and cuter. I see almost all of the idiosyncrasies in my girls take form, and develop. I don't miss a single career change that Caleb makes (he informed me yesterday he wants to be a horse trainer). Sure, there are hard times. Sure, there are days I wish I could "take a break", send my kids off on a school bus and come back into a quiet, CLEAN home. I am human, and so are my children. But overall, I don't think either of us would really want to be separated from one another for the entire day, only getting the chance to connect in the evenings and weekends. I am jealous over my children's time, and I want to be there to discover life with them - not hear about it from someone else.
This last week went terribly awry, and while I may have days here and there, I can honestly say I had the worst week parenting - ever. This is no hyperbole. If I said right, then all went left. If I said stop, they kept going. They deliberately defied me. They exacerbated escalating conflicts which did not immediately concern them. They irritated one another to no end. Even Josiah struggled with an inordinate amount of fussing. I was brought to tears, along with Christopher, as day after day we poured ourselves out thinking, "how much longer can this last, God?" And then, just as mysteriously as it started, it stopped. Suddenly Caleb and Leah joyfully played together, respecting each other's space and genuinely working to cooperate. Bethany and Hannah followed through on responsibilities. Mary began using her words to communicate instead of simply screaming. And yes, even Josiah woke up with a huge smile which did not leave his face all morning. My children were home.
But I learned something in the midst of it. While perspective in life is vital, invalidating the reality of difficulty in another person's life is a shallow form self-aggrandizement. Perspective says, "my children are generally very well behaved, and even within this time of trial I am thankful that I only face relatively minor insurrections." Perspective reminds me to not exaggerate for the sake of inspiring pity in others. Perspective gently whispers that I still have so much to be thankful for in my life, and the lives of my children. Job inspires perspective. Invalidation seeks to undermine the reality of my difficulties by replacing them with someone else's version of my circumstances - a version that understates my cross to bear by pointing out the size of their own. Invalidation screams, "you can't say you are struggling because this is nothing compared to what I have dealt with!" Invalidation overwhelms with impotence by denying the trial, and trying to create guilt that you would even think your difficulty bears authenticity. It seeks to raise one above the other through incompatible comparison.
I was faced with both perspective, and invalidation over the course of my week. I had one woman share with me, through a gentle and quiet spirit, an encouraging word about how much she appreciates my children even in the midst of my exasperation. She pointed out how loving they are toward her child (who has some special needs), and how their manners speak of a solid foundation in quality character. It reminded me that I am dealing with a puddle of testing, not a sea of disappointments, and I was encouraged (I shared this with the children, to encourage them). The other interaction was a woman who overheard me share my current state of distress, and immediately pounced to admonish that, "at least you have your children home, and have the power to make them do what is right." She went on to say, without asking any questions about my current situation, that I should be thankful that my children are still young and can be responsive to correction. She would not complain, if she were me (mind you, I was asked by a close friend in a group setting how I was doing and it was through my reply that this woman opened fire) because I had no idea how much she would give to have her children back at home where she could control their waywardness. I felt bruised, and lonely after she finished. The only thing that loomed in my sight was the thought that unless my children were pursuing heinous sin I had no business feeling overwhelmed with my conviction to proactively parent.
I think I struggle with mixing the two. I think many people struggle. In our human nature we want attention, whether for the good we accomplish or the bad we survive. Our culture tends to place an inordinate amount of attention on the spectacular, so that we become desensitized to the reality of difficulty in other's lives, and focus wholly on our own right to receive consolation. By invalidating a trying circumstance for someone else we effectively demerit their right to experience what God has seen fit to use for their sanctification.
I hope this past week has taught me how to use perspective in future difficulties. I want to utilize the gift that often allows me to laugh, when I know I have reason to cry.
(Mary went to bed for "nap" in her crib, with the tent. This is what we found when we went to wake her.)