It was around 4pm on a typical Wednesday afternoon. Efraim, my 6 year old, pulls up a chair next to me at my desk and starts working on his homework. While he’s working on number bonds and 4+2=6, I’m searching Pinterest for “chicken pasta” recipes.
About 5 minutes into it he asks, “Mom, do you know what sex is?” My eyes shifts from the computer screen to his mischievous-looking eyes like he knew he said a trigger word. I say something like, “Oh, are you talking about someone’s gender- whether someone is a boy or girl?”
Efraim: (Looking puzzled as he continued working out math problems while talking.) “The girl that sits next to me kept saying it’s something bad. I don’t know why. She said something about it’s boys and girls kissing (insert mischievous look here), but I don’t know why she kept saying the word sex was a bad word.”
Me: “Well, buddy, I do know what sex is, and it’s not bad word, but it is something for when you’re married.
Me: “It’s probably not appropriate for first graders to be talking about though, okay?”
Efraim: “Hmm, yeah”
Me: “Okay, let me know if she says anything else like that okay. Sometimes kids talk about things but they don’t really know what it is. Whenever you’re not sure what something is, come ask me or dad okay?
Efraim: “Okay, can you read the directions to this next page?”
This conversation happened in a span of maybe three minutes. It wasn’t one I could’ve planned or prepared for. It wasn’t an appointment I had scheduled on my calendar. There was no series of open-ended questions I asked to get him talking. It just came out of no where (that’s how it seems, at least) But that three minute conversation served as a reminder for me as to what it means for me to continue being a full-time mom during this season while all five of my kids are in school. It was also a great reminder for me about why I’m so guarded about how my kids’ time is spent outside of school and why their “plans” are limited.
As a full-time mom, I’ve transitioned out of being present because of basic health and safety issues in a physical sense to now being present and conscientious of health and safety issues in an emotional sense. I don’t worry as much about my kids running into on-coming traffic or falling down stairs, now I tend to worry about them being on the receiving end of a kid’s cruel joke or stumbling onto an inappropriate website or social media account without my knowledge.
While I read as much parenting resources as possible and study from those who have gone before me, there’s nothing like personal experience to really cement your vision and goals as a parent.
And the vision doesn’t always feel urgent.
And it doesn’t always feel scheduled.
And it doesn’t always feel productive.
It often feels quite random and aimless, though I now realize, it is far from it.
While I consider my overarching goal to train and disciple my kids to love God and love people, I’ve noticed many days it looks more like being available and flexible to my kid’s needs– physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. The biggest part of my “job” in this season is having the discernment to know what response is necessary in any given situation.
- Some days it means being available to answer a homework question, only to find out it’s going to lead to a conversation about sex.
- Some days it means being flexible (and late) because something needs to be resolved.
- Some days it means being available to stay home with a sick child, and realize they needed some extra attention and space.
- Some days it means being flexible with after-school chores when you understand one kid is dealing with some extra peer pressure.
While the physical needs seem most pressing (someone has to buy food and make that doctor/dentist appointment), sometimes it’s the emotional needs that cut the deepest and last the longest. The emotional needs are harder to see so it’s easier to overlook. It’s easier to tell a friend you can’t attend a playdate because your child has a cold/fever than because your child needs some time alone.
While I no longer have the physical demands on my body I once had with three kids under four, I do have the weight of emotional demands. And from my current vantage point, it weighs so much heavier than the physical ones ever did. Maybe that’s why God takes us through the physical demands of the job first- to prepare us for what’s to come. Where once I was tired because of around-the-clock feedings, now I’m up at night wresting through the best approach to help a child dealing with peer pressure and/or body image.
I can recall a critical conversation, tough situation, or relational dynamic in at least one of my kids (if not all five) that’s taken place at least once a week as far back as July. I’ve come to grips with the fact that this is what the season of “middle years” looks like. We’re dealing with puberty issues, pornography truths, and defining cuss words. And while my kids are not the same age, much of my job is figuring out how to talk about these things to a 6 year old (“What’s a cuss word?”), 8 year old (“What’s puberty?”), and 12 year old (“Where did cuss words come from?”) in a truthful and age-appropriate way according to their personality. (No wonder I drink more and more coffee.)
Based on our family dynamics, we’re still at the beginning of this season. Because of the nature of the current election cycle, I intentionally limited the news exposure to the debates- and even those I was ready to change if needed. I knew they weren’t mature enough to understand some of the issues happening, and I did not want to add any more fuel (or “inappropriate” words) to the unconfined sparks in their hearts and minds. In some of those moments, I longed for future days when we can gather around and watch with the maturity to filter. But that won’t happen if I don’t put in the hard work now.
I don’t want to isolate my kids from all things “inappropriate”, I want to teach them through it. I want to be able, as a mom, to talk about porn issues with my boys (not explicitly). I want to teach them how to treat women by talking about a woman’s point of view. I want my girls to understand these same issues and have awareness about the self-deprecating issues that plague our society.
So I create space. Daily space, and weekly habits that give room to learn and grow through the mundane, through the high emotions, and through the uncomfortable. There’s no formula for it, and most of the bigger moments have happened in the middle of me doing something I would label “important” and had to quickly alter course. But, I have noticed two things- all of these conversations have been at home, and all of these conversations have been with me or my husband present. SO, I guess those two things are my “formula” or method to being proactive in this season. First, present, and then available and flexible.
This isn’t enjoyable. In fact, there’s a great deal of tension and stress in it, but already I’ve noticed an ease in which I can approach these areas. And the more I confront and shine a spotlight, the easier it gets the next time time around.
These “middle years” are a delicate place, but they go by fast. Just like that baby eventually started walking, I’m confident my kids will be capable of soaring through high school. That’s my goal, it’s what I’m praying for.