Over the last few weeks I have been keenly aware of the changes that are happening in our family because our children are growing up. No longer do I have a preschooler, a toddler, or a baby.
Yesterday I was driving some extra kids home from our day in nature and decided to let them all have a swim in the local swimming spot on the river. Most of them just went in as they were – it was a fun 15 minutes. As I sat on the bank and watched these preteens have fun swinging from a tree I reflected back on what it used to be like.
When we started homeschooling I had a 4ds, 3dd, 1dd. Our third child had just finished a course on Chemo, which had involved a lot of travelling the previous year, and she still had regular checkups where we had to travel 5hours by plane regularly. During that year I fell pregnant with our fourth child. Our second year of homeschooling, the year Daniel was born, is really remembered by more health issues with Nomi. We were hospitalised 8 times for Nomi – plus going to hospital to have the baby! I remember very little of Daniel’s baby hood and toddler years. I remember snippets but not much. Our 3rd/4th homeschooling year is where the skids hit. I suddenly felt that this homeschooling needed to get serious. After all Josh was in grade 3! It wasn’t elementary primary school any more!! This was the beginning of my journey to find a lifestyle of learning regardless of what ‘grade’ my children were in. By this time my children were 8, 7, 4, 2.
It was to these times and the next few years that my mind started to drift to yesterday, as I sat on the banks of the river. I was remembering all the opportunities that came our way that I just turned down. Sometimes I planned to join in but cancelled at the last moment. There were group activities, visiting artists, picnics and social visits. I felt at times I was becoming a really unreliable person (actually I felt I could be depended on to cancel!) And here I am now, 5 years or so later, and I am out all day, every day for a week, looking after extra children!
This is one of the changes that are happening because our family is growing up. I looked back on those years and remembered all the excuses I felt like I had to give when I didn’t join in. I remembered wondering if I should be doing more for my older ones. I remembered feeling bad for cancelling, changing plans, pulling the pin. Now, with the gift of seeing a bigger picture – being able to look back and see all those years – I see that was the time of my life and that was what I needed to do to do the best for my family in that time of life. If only I had the confidence then that I do now and say no in the first place, instead of making plans and changing them!
I don’t believe for a moment that my older ones have suffered because they didn’t participate with these activities when they were 6, 7, 8. What was happening in those years was our family identity was being built. My older children learnt that our family came first, they learnt to care for the sick, and they learnt to lay aside their desires for peace in the family, for another person in the family. Now when we head out, or even when the older ones head out by themselves, there is an awareness that their actions affect other people, our family are – other people.
Another change that has happened is that the children can be left to themselves for a while and care for each other. This has given me some flexibility that I didn’t have before when the children had to be with me all the time. Not only can they play together and keep peace and harmony with each other but they can help each other through their lessons, without me, should that be necessary. Last week when I had a meeting I asked Jess to be in charge of the younger ones. Her instructions were that her priority was peace between everyone, second priority was to help the younger ones with their worksheets, and third came her own worksheets. She wants to learn to look after littlies, this is training for her – more significant than the work that was on those worksheets!
With responsibility comes privileges and the children are earning these privileges. They can be left at the library, they can be left eating an ice-cream, they can be left reading a book! Which means I can duck into the grocery store by myself, it means I can do the running around town by myself without dragging 2-3 kids in and out of the car, it means more flexibility for the whole family.
When I was in the middle of cancelling plans, or not joining in I never dreamed that it would be like this. I guess if I had put my head to it I would have hoped that the days would come but I am not sure that I was lifting my head up to look at these years ahead of me. I was too busy looking at the trees, not the forest!
With this new found ‘freedom’ I have started to make plans. The most significant one has been to do with community service. I dearly want this for my children and we have a close relationship with the Salvation Army people in town so it seemed a natural opportunity to join their initiative and visit the Aged Care Facility to sing and chat. We have managed to get there once, I forgot once and have had to cancel twice! The last time I cancelled I had to think this through carefully. It put stress on the family; it wasn’t fitting in as naturally as I thought it would. Sure I had to think through if they were things that we needed to push through or whether they were legit and I needed to rethink the whole thing. I ended up cancelling the commitment all together and was left feeling really bad. I asked myself why did I feel so bad? It was because I had a preconceived idea that this was the only and the best opportunity for service my children had, and we were dipping out.
This of course, wasn’t even logical. I had always believed that service starts in the home. The children learn to see things that need to be done via household chores, they learn to serve people in our home by relating and learning to be kind, to initiate love etc. As the children get older and some of these things that they have been taught they start to come out of the children naturally, they start to serve the family. Then they start to serve other families when we are out visiting by seeing something that needs to be done and doing it. Then there is the church family – they can start serving there. Then there is the community.
What is community service – it certainly isn’t defined exclusively by singing in an old people’s home. I started to look, again at my whole family – not just the older ones. In my new found freedom (with the children all growing up that little bit – I had shifted my focus a little to the left – I was focusing on my older kids, not the whole family). When I started to look at it I began to see the things that our family is involved in within the community, the people that come through our home in particular. There is no way that I could do the things I do, if my children didn’t support me. In them supporting me, practically, by setting up the home for workshops, for spot cleaning for meetings, for cooking, for being available – all these things are their opportunity for serving the family and being a part of a family who serves the community. This isn’t a new thought – we have always seen it this way I had just taken my eyes off it and was looking for something ‘bigger’. What is bigger anyway? We need to do the things that God puts in our hand. This is service to the community; it fits with what God has for our family at this stage. Nothing else is better than that.
I have written these thought down to encourage young mums who feel that they can’t do it all, that they are turning down opportunities, that they choose to stay home for the sake of their little ones and that they are missing out or messing up. These little ones, they grow up and as they grow your opportunities, your focus, will change. Grow with your family instead of taking on too much right now. But also I have concluded with my ‘service’ story because I am still there too. There are many opportunities that still come our way that I have to say no to and that is okay. But at the same time family life is changing and with that change different things will happen in our family life.
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