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Entries in Marriage/Family (43)

Tuesday
Nov062012

Confessions from Mrs. Empty Nester

It's been two months since my youngest flew the coop.  It feels like he hasn't really flown at all.  He still sends me text messages regularly, and he's been home often.  I'm thankful for that part.  Still, the house is a lot quieter and I realize how just how much easier it is to run a household with just two of us here.  Some evenings, I don't even cook anything; we just have soup and sandwiches.

When we confront new situations, we often speculate about how it will be.  Often, we expect one thing to happen, but something else does instead. I didn't know what to expect, really, when I thought of life with all of my children away from home.  I do know, however, that the feeling of guilt that I recently detetcted was not something I anticipated.  Guilt, you say? About what?

Many women, when they have no more children at home return to the workforce.  I am not planning to do so. If it was a matter of feeding us, I would, but we are able to live on my husband's income alone. I don't take any credit for this. We understand this is a gift from God.  What has surprised me is the comments some have made, and my own feelings of guilt about it.

Some have said, "Oh, it must be nice to be at home all day."  I don't want to be paranoid, but there often feels like an unspoken, "...sitting around doing nothing" behind such comments.   I do have more free time than I used to, but I am also busy with things.

I also get comments like "We could never manage on one income," as if our ability to do so is somehow abnormal or suspect.  Well, we only had two incomes for two years of our marriage; we adapated.  It has meant sacrifices.  When people talk about how lucky we are (and we know we are blessed) to manage on one income, I seldom mention the fact that we've never had more than one television, and the one we have now was given to us as a gift. We've never been to Disneyland with our kids and most of our holidays have been to see family or have been taken when my husband went to a convention and our transportation costs were covered.  Our home is not elaborately decorated and we only have two vehicles because one of them belongs to my husband's employer and he has the privilege of using it. I'm thankful for all our blessings, and I wouldn't change a thing.  I am not going to get into a debate with women who work about the benefits or drawbacks. We all have our vocations.

My guilt, I suspect, has come from the prevalent sentiment in our culture that says that our worth is found in our ability to work.  I have grown up in a world where being able to earn substantial amounts of money or gain success in employment has become a virtue.  In a society which rejects God, people will naturally turn to something else to determine their worth.  As a Christian, my worth is in Christ, and that worldly practice of determining my worth by my work is not an attitude I should have.  

I realized that I had given into this guilt trip last week, when after lunch I indulged in watching on DVD an episode of one of my favourite television shows, "Ballykissangel," while I knitted.  I had a clean house.  I'd finished my study for the day in preparation for my lesson the following Sunday. That morning, I'd been in the nursery at the mom's bible study, and my dinner for that evening was simmering in the crock pot.  Yet I still felt guilty. Surely, sitting around like that was being a bad steward of my time.  As I reflect on that I see that this comes from the wrong place.  Whose standard am I trying to live up to?  Do I subconsciously still cling to the notion that my identity is wrapped up in my work?

My identity does not rest in the definitions outlined by the world. Because I am in Christ, my life is hidden with Him (Colossians 3:3).   I have been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5).  I am His workmanship created to do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).  My citizenship is ultimately not in this world (Philippians 3:20). I am not to be of the world despite being in it (I John 2:15-17).  My identity is in Christ and in doing everything to His glory.  That can mean a number of things.  An entire post could be written about the things a Christian woman is able to do in service to God.  My point is that I should not give in to guilt because I don't bring in an income or have a prestigious career.

Every morning, after my husband is gone to work, I sit at my desk.  I read; I study; I pray; I write; I listen to music; sometimes, I sing out loud. If the sun is coming up in a particularly lovely way that day, I may run out on to the driveway in my bathrobe and take a picture.  I love those times.  But I recognize that all of this is a gift from God, and it could all change without notice. There could come a day when I long for times like this. The challenge now is to make sure I immerse myself in Scripture as much as I can.  This opportunity to study and read more can only bring benefits with it.  Who knows how what I'm learning now will help me in an area in the future?

Friday
Oct192012

Why I love my man

My husband doesn't care a lot about what others think of him.  What I think, his children, and his family think; that is important to him.  Really important.  When it comes to others he's not intimately or daily connected to, he doesn't care much.  That results in escapades like yesterday, when he went to Pizza Hut to get our dinner wearing cut off denim shorts, coloured work socks, and his running shoes.  He also wears socks and sandals, which we tease him about.  Seriously, though, what makes him do those things is part of the thing I appreciate most about him.

The praise of men is something he doesn't seek out.  He isn't in the business of wanting to be loved by the masses.  He isn't easily offended.  This trait has an overflow, which goes beyond simply not looking to be the centre of attention.  When our kids were younger, and doing those teenage things that drive parents crazy, he did not care what they thought of the punishment he handed out.  I found it hard to know that my kids were angry with me, and sometimes, I just wasn't firm enough.  He had no such attachment.  Don't get me wrong, though; he is not a harsh man.  In fact, he's quite merciful.  I tend to be less merciful, which is kind of ironic because I'm also too sensitive.  Go figure.

When he handed out a hard punishment, he bore no grudges.  He did not act cool or detached from them, punishing them with his anger.  He acted as if nothing had happened.   Of course he knew the real situation, but he didn't stop loving them or being kind to them.  He simply went on with things.  He wasn't deterred by their stoic anger, but just kept on acting as if everything was okay.  I had a hard time doing that.  If I had been parenting alone and left to hand out the punishments, I think it would have been difficult in the end. Who knows if they would still be speaking to me.

Sometimes, my husband likes to wear Mr. Rogers type sweaters, sing Perry Como songs in the car while the kids' friends are riding with us, and wear socks and sandals in public. I'll take Perry Como and sandals over the alternative any day.

Wednesday
Oct102012

When annoyances become beautiful

My husband has garbage issues.  Specifically, he has a hard time remembering when it is garbage day.  It's on the same day every week, and almost every week, as he's backing out of the driveway, he sees the neighbours around us, with their recycling and garbage out at the curb, and he pulls back up to the house and takes it out.   This is just who he is.  He has one of those memories that forgets such things.

Today, when he left it was dark, because he was meeting some men for coffee and a bible study.  When the sky lightened up, and I looked out the front door, I realized he had forgotten the garbage again.  The plan was for him to go straight to work after coffee.  

Grumbling and sighing, and wondering why on earth God had not given me a husband with a better memory for such domestic duties, I went upstairs to get my sweat pants on so I could get the garbage out.  Mrs. Inner Gollum just chanted, "We hates to take out the garbage, we does."

In my best martyr demeanor, I went outside into the cool fall air take out the recylcling.   We have two bins: one for paper and the other for cans and plastic.  As I came a back from taking the paper box out, I was met with a very striking fall sky.  I hurried inside and got my camera, putting on a wide angle lens and climbing up on the picnic table.  This is what I saw:

Now, had my husband not forgotten the garbage, I would never have seen that.  The window over my desk faces east, and this was in the norther sky, so I didn't see those lovely contrasts.  Clearly, I was meant to see that.  I felt bad for my grumbling.  I should be thankful that I have a husband to do these things for me in the first place.  I don't have broken legs or arms, and garbage isn't all that heavy.  I should have just told Mrs. Inner Gollum to go look for a raw fish.

He came home to take the garbage out before he went to work.  There could be rice pudding in his future.

Friday
Aug312012

Don't feed Cupid

A while back, I wrote a post called "Playing House," where I talk about some of my thoughts regarding dating.  I have never been a big fan of teens dating seriously.  The baggage that remains is often burdensome, and it can take a young persona long time to unload it.  Despite this feeling, my children, being the independent thinkers I hoped they would be, chose to date.  And no, we did not forbid it.  The idea that a young person wants to date but his/her parents won't allow it can make it a forbidden fruit kind of thing, so we chose rather to voice our concerns and then monitor what happened, applying boundaries where necessary.

Teenagers, because of cognitive and maturity factors, have a tendency to throw caution to the wind.   Their risk assessment skills are not great.  Just ask my husband, who runs an insurance company which deals primarily with auto insurance what the statistics for who has the most car accidents and why.  It's revealing.  This tendency is why you see young prodigies.   They have less fear than us old fogeys.  This is why some teen relationships are simply disastrous; they give it their all at a time when they're not emotionally ready to do so, or in a position where marriage is foreseeable.  This is my primary reason for being very wary of teen dating.

But.... and this is a but you can't ignore...

Young people are programmed to find a mate, and it becomes evident well before self-sufficiency.  Young people are designed to find an "other," in their lives, and it can be hard to fight that.   Two hundred years ago, many young people at the age of 18 were married, and could be married.  With our complex society being what it is, it takes longer to be independent from parents, and marriages occur much later.  If you hear of a couple who are young getting married, you will often see raised eyebrows and words such as "shot gun wedding" being mumbled.  My son, who is 20, is cynical when he hears of young marriages, saying they're getting married just to have sex.  Yes, he has some growing up to do.  Personally, I'm in favour of young marriages.  Today, the young people think they need to be well-off and have done everything they wanted to do before they can settle down.  I say there is an element of learning and growing together as young couples.  Thus endeth my plug for young marriage.

I was asked in that post what I thought was a good way to approach young people who want to date, but whom you would like to see put it off.  I don't have a lot of wisdom in that, but here are a few suggestions.

First, encourage friendships of all genders, and encourage group activities. If your child likes a person of the opposite sex, emphasize the friendship aspect.  It's okay for a boy and a girl to be best friends, but when it starts to look like it could be getting too much, impose limits, and encourage the couple to spend time in groups.  

Second, monitor your child's laptop, phone, and anything else that can connect him or her to a "crush" via the internet.  When I was a teenager, talking on the phone was what we did instead of texting.  There is something that feels safe at 10:30 at night, when you're talking to a boy you like; you feel daring, and you say things that are a little too open.  The next time you see the guy, you feel embarrassed, because you think you said too much.  This kind of activity is exponentionally more profound with social media.  We all know that we say things online we might not say face to face.  Late night Skype sessions can have the effect of a young couple becoming too open with each other and fostering a closeness that is dangerous.   Monitor their cellphones and laptops.  If they object, pay for them, and then you have every right to examine them.  Don't let them keep them in their rooms overnight or use them in the isolation of their room.  No, you can't stop them from doing it when they leave home, but you can check them.

Third, get your kids involved with hobbies.  And if they won't pick one, pick one for them and do it with them.  Get them outside.  Seriously, kids stay inside far too much.  By being more actively involved with your family, your child will not only have less time to obsess over a crush, but you will be contributing to their relationship with you.  While kids who have perfectly good home lives like to date, the fact is that many teens, if there is very little family connection will look for such connections elsewhere.  Futhermore, and I can say this from my experience as a teen, an absent father can very well lead to a girl who looks for male affirmation in the wrong places.  This is a no brainer:  dads, your daughter's view of men begins with you.

Fourth, do service projects as a family.  This is one thing I wish we had done.  This was a suggestion that someone at my church made.  Getting kids to serve others is a good way to get their thinking away from themselves.  Find a project and approach it as a family.  It would be good for you, too.

Fifth, remind your child that a friendship can last a lifetime, but a broken romance can put it to death forever.  A few weeks ago when my daughter was home, she saw a boy she became friends with at 13.  There were times when each of them began to wonder about something more, but it never happened.  Now, they see each other when they are both home; friends for life.  Tell your kids not to feed the romance.  Remind them that dating is not a recreation.  People's emotions are so easily engaged, it can become messy very quickly.  The logical outcome of dating is a permanent relationship, so keep things light while there is no chance of that. Maybe your child's best friend is a person of the opposite sex.  I don't see much wrong with that, but keep up boundaries, like time spent alone, contact with cellphone and Skype.  Don't call it a romance.  Call it a friendship.  Have discussions about this in the context of what marriage is.  If they respond with, "Oh, I don't want to marry her!" then you can say, "Well, then there's no need to get romantic."  One of the things I hated to hear when my kids all got to be about 13 was the inevitable (and stupid, in my opinion) question from well-meaning relatives was "So, do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?"  Seriously.  At 13?  Come on.  Also, talk about the idea of being married younger.  This notion that getting married only after you've had a lot of fun is beginning to pervade Christian circles.  What does that say about our view of marriage?

Start early.  I wish I had talked about this more with my kids when they were younger.  It isn't wrong for a young person to want to seek a mate, to find someone of the opposite sex interesting and alluring.  But feeding the fancy may result in some consequences you don't entirely like.  Some people don't believe that teens can avoid dating in high school.  I know that to be absolutely incorrect.  Just this past summer, two young couples at my church were married.  Both married the first person they dated, a person they dated after high school, in university.  It is possible.  Dating in high school is not something a young person has to do for successful relationship development later in life.  They are already in relationships with other people.  Build on those, and leave the romance for later.  Our attitudes toward marriage begin with how we look at members of the opposite sex.   Teenagers (and for my teen friends, I don't say this condescendingly, I really don't) are more self-focussed; often their desires for a relationship have little to do with serving the Lord, and more for their own self-esteem.  That attitude won't fare well when they are married.

Wednesday
Jul252012

Empty Nesters 101

My son is gone on holiday with a friend's family to South Carolina.  He left on July 20 and will return on August 1st.  I've looked upon it as a training ground for September.  While my husband and I are used to our son's absence, generally, he is home at bed time, and we see him every day.  This extended period of his being gone, and us being alone all the time is rather familiar, but yet not.

We were typical newlyweds.  We spent time together, learning to live together, learning about each other, growing in Christ together, and developing a social life as well as a life at church, serving.   We could stay up late and sleep in late.  We could spend a lot of time in uninterrupted talking, and in times of silence.  Our lives were focused ahead as my husband finished his education and prepared to enter a career.

And then along came our children, and our focus moved.  It has to when you have children.  When we had no children, our conversation revolved around ourselves, really; our thoughts about this, or reactions to that; our jobs, our parents, our friends.  When the kids came along, our focus was on them.  Much of our conversation and energy as a couple went into building our family for the glory of God, instructing them, playing with them, loving them, worrying about them.  And now, here we are in 2012, with that last little cherub 18 year sold, and all set to move on to university.  And so, we find ourselves alone again.

But it is different.  We are different.  We have grown spiritually and emotionally.  We know each other well. We have a common history.  We have been together more than half of our lives.  

We are coming out on the other side of the teen years.  They were often difficult years.  I remember when my oldest was 12 years old, I thought to myself, "I'm not going to have difficult teen years.  We're going to enjoy them." And of course, we did, but they were hard years, too.  Teenagers think independently; they challenge us; they struggle.  It's often hard to find the wisdom, and always, we wonder, "Have I said the right thing?"  We are dealing with serious matters.  We have one wish, and one wish only:  that they love and serve the Lord their God.  We feel angry with them, but we love them fiercely. We cast our cares on Him.  We pray.  Sometimes, we cry.

All of that stress can interfere with time alone for a husband and a wife.  It can drain us, leaving us feeling rather spent at the end of the day.  My husband rarely shows stress, but during our kids' teen years, he was more serious than I'd known him to be in our early married life.  The responsibility of leading our family was ever present in his mind, I'm sure.  When you struggle with teens, sometimes, it's hard to muster a lot of energy for time together, as many with a houseful of teens can attest to.  Those books about how to date your wife, and all the things a man is supposed to do for his wife feel a little irritating when you're lucky if you can get home from work by 6:00, and then when you do, you have to deal with an unruly teenager.

But now, we're moving on from that as our kids are maturing.  The weight is a little less, and we are more in the guidance phase of parenting.  It frees not only our time, but our attention, too.  There is a lightness in my husband that reminds me of when we first met, but it's a lightness with accompanying wisdom.  It makes me happy for him, because he bore so much of the emotional burden during some hard years.

I know a lot of women who fear the time when their kids leave, and I am still not entirely sure how I'll feel in October, when the thrill of less laundry has worn off.  But I know that this season of life when my husband and I are just the two of us again is God ordained, and He has a purpose for us, to continue to be there for our kids, but giving each other time and attention, still seeking to honour God in all we do.  

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