Successful Parenting When You're in the Storm

While I'd love to report that harmony continually reigns in my house, this isn't the case. We're a normal family. We say things we regret, get under each other's skin, fight, fume, and eventually patch the rough moments with apologies and forgiveness.

I forget that this behavior is normal. After years of practice, I assume we already should have mastered lessons of good manners and conflict resolution.  I secretly worry that any sign of dysfunction is terminal. When one kid does one rotten thing on a day when I already feel off, I can spiral quickly, suspecting that every parenting decision I've made up until that point—including, but not limited to, choices about my kids' diets, exercise, technology use, bedtime, activities, and disciple—has been wrong.

It escalates quickly. Let's say I plan a craft to entertain my younger daughters while my husband travels, but they ruin the evening by launching into an epic fight over which canvas to paint (which is a purely hypothetical example, not something that happened last weekend.)  Instead of thinking, "Well, this behavior isn't ideal," if I'm depleted and hormonal enough, in seconds it's not merely about the canvases. It's about how I've somehow failed to teach them better, or how they'll never grow up to be courteous or sane members of society.

Of course, this isn't true. It's merely a storm of swirling emotions, howling my heart’s deepest concerns.

In these moments, I think about the disciples as they crossed the Sea of Galilee. They saw the waves, heard the wind, and felt the boat's terrible lurching. In the presence of these alarming sensory cues, their deepest fears surfaced. The worst-case scenario finally had been confirmed: the ship was going down. They would die.

Meanwhile, Jesus slept. Jesus was in the boat with them, yet he remained unaffected by the waves and wind. The storm wasn't in him.

Don't we all need this ability to keep the storm "outside" of us when we parent and navigate life? When chaos laps at our feet, waves of craziness crash, or toddler tantrums and teenage eye-rolls threaten to sweep us away, we can acknowledge the storm's existence.  But then, in the next breath, we still can announce, "Peace, be still."

This declaration of peace not only pertains to what happens around us; it's equally important for what happens inside us.  We can see external storms unfold around us: children melt down, belligerently argue with their siblings, or speak careless words of disrespect.  As we watch, invisible storms, which are even darker and sometimes more damaging, rage inside us: worries that our kids are going the wrong way, concerns that they'll never internalize what we’ve taught, or suspicions that their bad behavior indicates that, somehow, as parents we've screwed up everything.

Like the disciples in the Sea of Galilee, our worst-case scenario seems to be confirmed. These ships of ours? They're taking on water. They're going down.

But Jesus would say, "Peace, be still." Not only to the conditions, but also to our hearts.

Over the years, I've accepted that it’s not the best time to engage in deep soul-searching or emotional introspection when storms actively rage around me. Let's be honest: these aren’t the right times to entertain a new haircut, much less to critically evaluate my parenting performance or analyze my life purpose.

No, when storms rage, it's simply time to ride them out and declare peace. It's enough to teach my kids that their feelings are legitimate, but new feelings will blow through soon enough. It's enough to accept that chaos is real, but it doesn't have to rule.  It's enough to survive by telling my emotions, "I feel you, but you don't have the final say in how this scenario turns out. That right belongs to Jesus, and he says Peace."

And then, because this is all extremely tiring, it's also enough to take a nap. (I mean, Jesus slept, so clearly, this response is biblical. Just following in his steps.)

Storms will come; they always do. But we can keep the storms outside of us, even if we're inside of them.

Knowing What You Need

For anyone who's witnessed a toddler in full-blown meltdown mode, you know that they don't respond to logic.  There's wailing, gnashing of teeth, and frothing at the mouth.  There's crying, feet-kicking, and nonsensical belligerence.  But there's definitely no logic.

When my daughters were toddlers, they'd periodically fight against naps or bedtime despite their exhaustion.  Exerting all their remaining physical, mental, and emotional energy, they'd rail against sleep even though, ironically, sleep was the only thing that would bring them relief.  When they finally succumbed, instead of drifting peacefully into slumber, they'd hiccup, whimper, toss and turn their way into a fitful rest until finally, finally, sleep's restorative grip fully overcame them.

When they woke, they'd be human again.  Sleep made all the difference.  Simple as pie.

One of the beautiful things about aging is that we learn to listen to our bodies, discern our needs, and hopefully, act on them.  For example, unlike a toddler, my 40-year-old self knows it's best to go to bed when I'm tired.

The catch (there's always a catch) is that I don't always apply what I know, which makes me suspect that I still have some toddler-like aversion to logic.  I still scratch proverbial itches in less-than-productive ways, fighting against true remedies or accepting weaker substitutes.  I still push the boundaries of physical tiredness by staying up too late, thinking that some mindless television will refresh me.  When I feel the nudge of loneliness, instead of making plans to gather with actual people, I sometimes resort to scrolling Facebook. It's an easy option, after all, but merely a shell of connection.

To some degree, I think we're all guilty of this.

But let me tell you about yesterday.  Yesterday was a notably bleak and uninspiring day: gray skies, frigid rain, freezing roads.  I woke feeling sluggish and tired, and by midday, I was chilled, coughing, and miserable.  Some sickness was creeping up.  Part of my internal dialogue urged me to push through:  Stay on campus to get more work done.  Fit in the 3:45 class at the gym like you always do.  Suck it up, buttercup.

Then my mature 40-year-old self, the one who raised three children through their toddler years and witnessed their illogical protests, took control.  I gave myself permission to go home early.  (Work could be done from home, and what didn't get done could wait until the next day.)  I put on comfortable clothes, took a 20-minute power nap, skipped the gym, simplified dinner preparations, outsourced post-dinner clean-up, and went to bed abnormally early.

When I woke, I was human again.  Sleep made all the difference.

Knowing what we need -- what we truly need -- takes discernment.  It's easy to misinterpret or ignore the signs our bodies and lives are sending us, as if we're undisciplined or unproductive to experience and respond to our human needs.  But I don't want to be a grown-up toddler, railing against the only solutions that actually bring relief.

Sometimes we've just got to sleep.  Sometimes we've just got to address our own toddler-like irrationality and put ourselves in time-out until we can function better.

Know what we need and then act on it.  It might be the most mature and adult-like thing we can do today.

And the snow is falling...

The snow has started falling, and I realize how comforting it is.  The weather serves as a free pass from responsibility.  No one expects to go anywhere or do anything.  We might stay inside and watch a movie, play board games, or read books while we curl up with cozy blankets.  We might bundle up and take a walk.

Plans have no relevance today.  We're forced to hunker down, and when you're forced to lay low, you let yourself sink into the sensation, no guilt or shame attached.  This whole day is designed to be slower, like the snow is muffling any sense of urgency about life beyond these walls.

If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.

 Keep falling, snow.  Keep falling.

Sometimes "One More Thing" Can Wait

Each morning before I leave for work, I aim to do one more thing.  "One more thing" always starts so simply.

I choose to empty the dishwasher -- an entirely sensible morning task -- but handling the dishes triggers me to think about dinner and whether I have that one ingredient.  I check the pantry, jot down a quick grocery list because I do not have that one ingredient (so glad I thought of it!), and then walk down the hallway to put the grocery list in my work bag. (Clearly, I wouldn't want to forget the list and get tonight's dinner off track, would I?)

While in the hallway I find a single sock belonging to one of my children.  I carry the sock up the steps, wondering why socks are never found in pairs, why they prefer to exist in balled-up, isolated states, and load my arms with other odds-and-ends left behind on the stairs as I make my ascent.  Once I distribute the items from the stairs to the appropriate bedrooms, I start a load of laundry because, if I know anything about socks, it's that they're never balled-up on a hallway floor when they're clean.

After loading the washing machine, I walk down the hallway again, this time noticing that one of the kids left the bathroom light on and a glob of semi-gelatinous toothpaste is hardening in the sink.  I wipe up the toothpaste, perhaps touch up the mirror with Windex, and head downstairs to go to work, but not until I pack my lunch from last night's leftovers, store the remaining leftovers in a Ziploc freezer bag for another meal (such foresight! I'm so smart!), throw away the lettuce that had wilted behind the leftovers, and then take out the trash.

Don't let the phrase deceive you.  "One more thing" rarely is one more thing.  It multiples and spreads, tentacle-like, leading us to different rooms, different messes, and different to-do items that hadn't even crossed our radar.

My twenty "spare" minutes before work get filled to the brim, making me feel more behind than ahead.  And that grocery list I jotted down after my initial morning task of putting away the dishes?  There's a 50-50 chance it never made it into my work bag, that I'll find it on top of the washing machine when I transfer the clothes into the dryer after dinner.

Now, I'm all for hustling and making the most of my time.  But sometimes one more thing can -- and should -- wait.

Sometimes it's enough to do just one thing -- like getting ready for work -- and not tack one "more" thing to it.  Sometimes it's smart to show restraint, acknowledge that rest of the work will be there when we return, leave it as it is, and learn how to be at peace with what we got done, even if it wasn't all of what needs to get done.  To put our heads on our pillows at night and trust God that tomorrow can be a safe space for the overflow of what couldn't fit into today.

We all have seasons, whether from our nature or out of necessity, when life is marked by greater intensity and hustle.  But I don't want this to be my continual norm.  I don't want my life to be characterized by rushing.  Efficiency?  Sure.  Hard work?  You betcha.  Foresight?  Yes, please.  But I don't want to become a slave to always completing "one more thing."

It'll be there when I return, after all.


Do you ever get caught in the "one more thing" rut?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Never Underestimate Small Gestures

The other night as I got ready for bed, my husband said he was going downstairs to watch football since he wasn't tired yet.  I said goodnight, continued brushing my teeth, then stepped out of the bathroom and noticed our bed.

Joel had set up the heating pad for me.  I use it every night after my evening physical therapy exercises, and before he had gone downstairs to witness Clemson upset Alabama, he took time to plug the cord into the outlet behind his nightstand, turn it to its highest setting, and prop it near my pillow so it would be ready for my shoulder when I laid down.

This was more than a plugged-in heating pad.  It's a statement that he notices and cares.  It's one of the dozens of things he does each week that keeps the "I do" alive nearly 18 years after we first pledged it to each other.

Let's never underestimate the power of small gestures with the people we love the most.

Every Semester, Do This First

The spring semester begins tomorrow.  I'm not ready for a semester until I do one final task.  It's not creating and photocopying the syllabi, or setting up my course websites, or even printing the rosters to review the names of new students before the first day's roll call.  These are important task, too, mind you, but in my heart, I'm not ready for the semester until I visit my classrooms and pray over them.

I walk up and down the aisles, touching each desk and the back of each chair, and pray for each student.  I pray for their protection, for peace to fill our classroom, and for God's presence to infiltrate our shared space.  I pray for wisdom to teach and evaluate their work, for positive connections to be built, and for their academic, social, emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

Then I linger in the classroom in the stillness just a moment or two longer, preparing my heart for the semester ahead.  Then, and only then, do I feel ready.


Let's Chat: It's a New Year.

I've gone off the grid recently.  My family traveled to Florida right after Christmas (which I'll explain more in a moment), and during the trip I ignored my laptop and rarely checked my phone.  This was a wonderful break.  Now that I've been reinserted into my real life (by which, I mean my non-80-degree-poolside-lounging-life), I forget how to function.  But it's time to dust off the blog after my hiatus, and since it's been a while, we'll keep things casual.  Let's chat.  Let's catch up.  It's a new year! 

First Plane Rides. Until last week's travels, I hadn't been on a plane since my honeymoon, which was the summer of 2001. My two younger daughters, both of whom never have flown before, argued that they had waited longer to fly than me.  "We've never flown our WHOLE LIVES!" they argued.  Of course, I tried to explain that their math was suspect.  They've only been alive 10 and 8 years, respectively, but I haven't been on a plane for nearly 18 years, a time span significantly longer than their individual existences, but they, being 10 and 8 years old and bored by explanation of a world before they were in it, refused to be persuaded that, technically, I've held out longer to fly than they have.

Kids these days.

What pleased me, though, was when my youngest firmly held my hand during take-off.

(And check out my new gray Nike sneakers and warm-ups in that picture. When you travel to the Citrus Bowl with the PSU football team travel party, you dress the part.)

Changes of Scenery.  When we first arrived in Orlando, my immediate response was that it wasn't real.  Blue skies, sunshine, and palm trees in December?  Is this some elaborate (wonderful) hoax?  After a day, however, the tables turned and I began to believe that my real life in Pennsylvania where I'm an employed person who does mundane things like making grocery lists, rather than eating out every meal, wasn't real, either.  All of this was very confusing -- reality and alternate reality working at odds -- and I chalked it up to the fact that, apparently, I'm like an infant who can't remember that her hand exists when it's covered up by a blanket.

When I'm in Pennsylvania in December, places like Florida cannot exist. They are covered by a blanket.  And when I'm in Florida in December, places like Pennsylvania cannot exist.  Blanketed, all the way.  Then I stopped thinking about this, and I briefly dozed on a lounge chair under these palm trees while my children swam in the pool.

But, in seriousness, the change of scenery reminded me that other realities can, and do, exist, even if you're not inhabiting them yet.  It made me hopeful for 2019.  If 2018 didn't look the way we wanted it to look -- if it was more gray skies than blue, or valleys than mountaintops, or struggles than successes -- it doesn't mean that 2019 must look the same way.  There's something new.  It just might be under the blanket, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

The Secret to Successful Miniature Golf.  Our family played miniature golf two times at an awesome pirate-themed mini golf course.  I loved the attention to detail: awesome stonework, iron lanterns, and an elaborate pirate ship. 

I mean, can you even look at this without saying Aaaargh?

Even better, I might have had the most successful rounds of mini golf EVER, with 6 total holes-in-one, 3 each game.  The irony of my success wasn't lost on my husband.  "Go figure," he said. "The key for you must be frozen shoulder.  You're finally locked in."

And I didn't even suggest that he walk the plank after that comment because, well, the man's got a point.

Why the Contents of My Suitcase Seem All Wrong When I Reach a Destination.  There's really not much to say about this, except that when I arrived in Florida, the contents of my suitcase seemed all wrong.  Note to self: Self, no matter how you style them, your Old Navy shorts, tee shirt, and brand new gray Nike running shoes will not ever make you feel swanky while passing through the Hyatt Regency hotel lobby.

The Aftermath of Immediately-Post-Christmas Travel.  We left for Orlando the morning after Christmas, which means that when we arrived home late on New Years day I was visibly confronted by the relics of Christmas past that I already had forgotten about. (See my "hidden-under-a-blanket-therefore-no-longer-in-existence" theory above.)  Why are there little piles of presents sitting on my family room floor?  And what's with this decorated tree?  What about these now-inedible Christmas dinner leftovers in our refrigerator, or these still-entirely-edible Christmas candies on the counter?  These things still exist?

But since I had more pressing issues to tackle, like unpacking and doing 12 loads of laundry from the trip, taking down the Christmas decorations has been a work in progress.  Which leads me to...

Goals for the New Year.  I had lofty goals for eating cleaner come January 1, but I'm suspending this resolution until I eat the remaining Christmas treats.  THEN I will refresh my lofty goals for cleaner eating.  Priorities, people. 

Blogging Recap from 2018.  Ever since I began blogging in 2010, I've ended the year by archiving a few of my favorite posts from the year.  Not one to break tradition, here are several selections from 2018 that are meaningful to me, whether they captured a significant event, or were especially fun or funny to write, or received great feedback from readers.  I welcome you to revisit some (or all) of them!

Overwhelming, Never-Ending, Reckless Love

When Your Best Friend Moves Away

Three Lessons I'm Learning from Limited Mobility
Be Happy That I Didn't Pursue a Career in Medicine

I Wish There Was a Way to Know You're in the Good Old Days...

When You're Invited to a Classy Wedding

When Mama Snaps: The Story of Broken Microwave...

Robin Kramer Speaks, Too

As always, thank you for joining me here at Robin Kramer Writes!  You could be reading anything, but you're here, and I'm honored!  

And now.... 2019: let's do this!

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