Pitfall 3: Being intentional is easily mistaken for being in control
You’ve probably gathered by now that I like to be in control! A personality trait that no doubt many of us intentional parents share and can both celebrate and curse in equal measure.
As we thought about in my last post…..
(Apologies for my absence by the way in the unlikely event of anyone noticing it: I blame the delightful distraction of holidays and family weddings! )
In my last post we saw that careful consideration, caring and planning are good things! As is parenting with the grain of one’s temperament. However, there is another side to this coin and it is important to recognise that thriving on being in control and parenting is also a bit of a toxic mix.
From the moment we decide to ‘go for it’ we relinquish control. At the very point of making an intentional, thought-through decision we let go of the reins. We may take vitamins and pee on sticks, take our temperature and wave our legs in the air (or was that just me?) but what happens next is simply not up to us. While it is natural and wise to consider all the various factors involved in the timing of giving birth: the gaps between our children, having a September baby, where we are in our work lives, our marriage, our house renovations…all these calculations can only ever be faintly pencilled in.
Then, for a little while, in the middle of the pregnancy, if all is going well, a small sense of control creeps back. Some of the uncertainty is over – a rough timescale and list of appointments and stages are set out before you. You read the books about babies and you make the lists and write the birth plan and it feels basically do-able. We are back in the driving seat – even if the seat-belt sits rather oddly over our growing bump and getting out of the car in a tight parking space becomes a bit trickier!
But, it is only a very little while because the memo about your due date doesn’t seem to travel through the placenta and once they finally do come it becomes increasingly obvious that your baby hasn’t read the same books as you!
Either that, or they have in fact read the books and simply decided they were speaking rot!
Then slowly, ever so slowly, as the baby and toddler years start to pass we claw back some ‘control’ over our lives. We drink a cup of tea and realise it is still vaguely warm. We get a full night’s sleep. We sit through a church service without being called into crèche or constantly, yet surreptitiously, passing ‘quiet’ snacks to our toddler. Our bodies, though they will never be the same, bear some resemblance (a second cousin once removed for example) to what they used to be and our clothes no longer have to be sniffed for baby sick before we go out in them.
At the same time as clawing back some of this control over our own lives (at least for those of us who have been given the generous gift of good health and well-being in our family situations) we continue to enjoy a semblance of control over the lives of our children.
Their lives are within certain boundaries which we manage quite closely. What they eat (or at least what they are offered to eat!) and who they meet are pretty much up to us, or at very least are well-known to us and within our sphere of influence.
I say ‘control’ and semblance of control because whoever we are and whatever we are doing control is at best very limited and often an illusion. Perhaps strong and active influence is a better term? I feel a new post coming on!
For those of us who have sought to be one step ahead of the game: who have planned meals and budgets and limited television and screen time; planned in family time and bible time and quiet play time and routine bed times this sense of being in control is only heightened.
And once again, without realising it, we start to get our parenting maths badly wrong:
a) I have planned things well and wisely and worked really hard at it (or at least endeavoured to).
b) Things are going relatively well and in many ways are getting easier.
c) If I keep planning things well, and thinking through things carefully and working hard I can be confident that this state of affairs will continue and all will go according to plan.
Hence our intentionality as parents is not only in danger of morphing into a bogus guarantee (pitfall 2), but also – particularly during certain more settled stages of parenting – of giving an illusion of control that simply doesn’t exist.
And so when the next stage hits it is like having a bucket of cold water thrown in your face.
Or as if, having finally gained my footing as a parent, I was walking along with increasing confidence totally unaware of the cliff I was about to walk off!
But now the initial shock has worn off I find myself able to philosophise as I free fall through the air.
I find my experience of life post-primary very akin to that of birth and babies. So similar in fact that I have dubbed my struggles over the last year or two as post-primary depression.
I thank God that we did have a relatively settled period in our lives while our children were in primary school. When the children are small the stages change and shift before you’ve even had time to acknowledge their existence. Life is a constant bucket of water in the face and it has been good to have a season of recovery and consolidation.
A season rather like the middle trimester of a straightforward pregnancy. The nerves and fragility and sickness of early pregnancy have passed, you are comfortably aware of the baby growing inside of you and more able to share that joy with those around you. The discomfort, uncertainty and potential dangers/complications of late pregnancy are some way off still and meanwhile your baby is getting on with developing and growing thanks to the wonderful environment you are providing.
But, I also thank God for this next stage: for all that it has already taught me of God – the ultimate patient, gracious, and generous Father; for all it has already challenged me with and taught me about myself; and for all it is revealing about the amazing individuals God has entrusted to me to mother.