The other day I was cleaning my kitchen when an old memory crept back into my mind:
You were both very small - both under the age of two - and I was frazzled. I had been trying to keep the perfect home while my marriage was failing, Daddy was never home, I was trying to pick up work on the side, and your grandparents and our extended families were far. We had moved to a new area almost a year before, and we didn't really know anyone very well, and I was feeling more overwhelmed than I would have ever believed possible. Despite all of this, I demanded perfection from myself. I was so overwhelmed there were days on end that I didn't get a shower, or bother getting dressed. I was totally spent on my house, home, and service. I had demanded so much from myself that I had never, ever, left both of you with daddy and took a break. What was breaking, however, was our home. But nothing I ever did felt good enough.
As the memory ended, I looked around my home today. You boys were running around playing happily, my happy husband was coming home to spend his lunch hour with us, and I was feeling warmth in my heart. How did I get here, from there?
Many believe it was because of the babies. Sure, two children under two is a VERY huge job, but really, that wasn't it at all, you little guys were not the problem. It was ME. (And despite what others insist, it was NOT postpartum depression... I will explain more later)
I wish, so much, that I could go back in time to my 2006 family. I wish I could hug myself, and tell me to be brave, and that things will work out to be better than I ever imagined. I can't do that, but what I can do is offer some of the things I learned over the years to you guys, for your families. I don't know where you will live, what you will do, who you will marry, or how many children you will have (Yes, Carter, I know right now you insist you will marry Kayla and have one single child, a boy, named James- but things have a way of changing!) but I do know that most of these things are universals that can be applied to many parts of your lives. While many of these were written from my role as your mother, I REALLY HOPE you understand that it is NOT just your wife's job to do the housework. NO NO NO NO. More on that later, but do NOT skip over parts of this that "don't apply" to you (in your mind...).
Sleep matters. Get around 8 hours of it, at least 5 nights per week. Your chores can wait until the morning, your email can go unchecked, your social networking will not crash down- go to bed. If you have infants in the home, NAP when your babies nap!!! (I never did this, I really should have!!!)
2) Nutrition can make all the difference! Don't eat gluten. Like, ever. If you are feeling really sluggish, look at your sleep, stress, and nutrition- how are they going? Try and manage nutrition as best as you can by only filling your home with healthy things. By healthy- I mean look at the biochemistry of the inputted calories and how they react with your body. If you do have a craving for something unhealthy, it is not as easy to indulge if it is not found inside your home. Indulging is NOT the end of the world- but don't make it easy. Do not feel like you need to eat something just because someone handed it to you- especially if it was well meaning home or visiting teachers, family, or a friend. Just smile politely, thank them, and then either pass it to your neighbor, donate it to a food bank, or toss it away.
3) Forget about your weight. Seriously. Forget it. There WILL be a time in your life that working out will fit in, and that you will have the time to devote to getting your healthiest self. If you have very small children, this may not be the time, and that is OKAY! I have gained and lost a lot of weight over the years- and for what? Most of the time I was gaining I was obsessing about gaining. Don't make that mistake. Just realize that weight is not stoic and that things will change when you are ready to change them, but don't kill yourself doing it right now if you don't have the time. Try to live an active lifestyle, eat healthy foods, and have fun moving your body- if you are doing that, chances are you will not have a huge problem.
Educate yourself! I learned this one a few years after Carter was born. Even if you are not in school, your education is not over! Read about ultrasounds, vaccines, food production, congressional bills, safety regulations, car seat reviews- READ THEM! Do not blindly follow rules, protocols, or advice. Read things and decide for yourself. This includes Church activities- read the scriptures, ponder, and pray- gain your own testimony! I cannot tell you how many times someone has heard our family doesn't (or does) X, and they will say, "But you must do X!" and when I simply say, "Why?" they have no answer. "Why are your school age children in car seats!? Don't you know boosters work just the same?!" "Don't you know you have to vaccinate them!? Vaccines are safe!" "Bread is healthy for you, your kids need it to grow!" We get it a lot- and I have found that because I have taken the time to educate myself on both sides of the argument or issue, I am better able to handle questions (or attacks) such as these. Generally, the accusing party is not nearly as knowledgeable as they originally believed they were. Even if they are educated on the subject, once they realize that I have also done my homework, they tend to back off. Don't fall victim to heard mentality- stay sharp and educate yourselves on things, especially when they involve the health or safety of your family. Good rule of thumb- if "experts" disagree on the safety of something, then it's a safe bet that you should probably look into it.
5) Follow your gut, but trust the Lord. I cannot possibly grace this with all of the times that I have found myself in a position where I felt so lost and unsure of WHY I got a specific answer to a prayer, but later it was perfectly clear. I cannot help but think of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho (click to watch the quick Veggie Tales version, if you are not familiar with the story) and the faith that must have been exercised by Joshua to follow through on such a seemingly strange request from the Lord. It is important, boys, that you follow your gut. So often I have felt uneasy about something and then realized I shouldn't have done it. Other times, I followed through on my feeling, pondered it with prayer, and then was able to safely rest knowing I was doing the right thing. A few things have included: not giving Carter cranial skeletal reconstructive surgery, not immunizing Harrison, moving to Reno, and staying home full time. These were big decisions that "felt" a certain way, but were later confirmed by prayer. **There have been times where I would pray, and get an answer QUITE different from my knee-jerk gut reaction. Moving back to Salt Lake City, away from Idaho, was one of those times. Again, it all worked out for the best, but at the time, I was terrified. Yes, I trust my instincts, but I have pure faith in The Lord, and only He knows what is truly best for us.
6) "Less than perfect housework still blesses your home" - FlyLady. I found FlyLady in 2006 and I loved it! My house was ALWAYS perfect (Daddy's comment was, "Wow, when I married you I didn't think you would be able to keep a house this big so clean!"... Daddy was in big trouble for this, because 90% of our early marriage messes were Daddy's fault... more on that later). However, once little Harrison came along and Carter started to get into more trouble, the house needed more work. I embraced the FlyLady system, but I didn't really "get" her purpose. The idea behind FLY is Fully Loving Yourself. I was not doing that. I was going through the motions. The idea that "less than perfect housework still blesses your home" did not stay in my heart until 2010, when we were living with Sean and Uncle Brian. With six people in less than 1300 square feet (half of the six being little boys UNDER the age of six!) there was a LOT of mess to clean, in addition to a lot of regular traffic cleaning. I can remember sweeping the kitchen and crying because I had swept and mopped it the day before! In my tears I remembered, "less than perfect housework still blesses your home" and instead of allowing myself to feel guilty over not mopping right after sweeping, I simply swept, and walked away. It was amazing, it was freeing!
7) If you don't work, you do the housework, right? Wrong. So wrong. This one is really going to fluctuate based on your family and you will need to determine (early!!!) what kinds of family roles you both feel are appropriate. However- the things you found yourself agreeing to before the marriage, and the things you find yourself in five years later, may be quite different. It is important to understand that there are many different seasons to your home life. There are the dating years, the early marriage years, the baby years, the school-age children years, and so on. During these seasons, the level of housework will change, as well as the time that must be devoted to other areas (school-aged children are able to dress themselves and feed themselves, babies are totally adorable but helpless time-suckers). The first three years of our family were the hardest- not just because of you little babies, but also because Daddy believed that he didn't have to do anything around the house. Daddy only cleaned or did dishes if people were visiting, so when people visited Mommy would literally be sprawled on the couch, enjoying the first break she would have had for months! (Due to this, our extended families seemed to believe Daddy was a slave! HA! What a joke!) I understood that taking care of hearth and home were "my job", but Daddy felt that EVERYTHING in the home was my job- to the point where he wouldn't even pick up his own towel, put his own clothes in the hamper, or remove dishes from his own office. In short, Daddy was refusing to pick up after himself, and treating me like nothing more than a housekeeper. We didn't understand at the time- but now it is so clear why Daddy's position needed to be changed. Around the time Daddy and I separated, he took a 40 hour a week job. Because I was so busy going to school, working, volunteering, and doing other resume building activities, Daddy was actually home more than I was and therefore was forced to spend time with you and clean things for himself. For the first time ever, he realized home work is a VERY BIG THANKLESS JOB! The roles were totally reversed when I would come home late at night, toss my things on the nearest clean surface, complain that his dinner tasted less than wonderful, and then go to bed without so much as lifting a finger. I TRULY hope it does not take a role reversal for you to understand how difficult, time consuming, gulling, and often thankless being home full time is. Yes, your work at work is probably busy, stressful, and exhausting. But trust me when I can HONESTLY say, there are days where I would have PAID for the luxury of a commute, because just the idea of time by myself in a car sounded like a piece of Heaven. Help your spouse, by helping with housework- even if it is a single daily chore, it will help!
8) Don't allow someone else to define you. We associate so many meanings with simple words. If I say, "What do you do?" generally it is followed by a reply about a job. Imagine if, instead of being defined by our paycheck sources, we were defined by our interests. "I am a computer gamer, avid sports follower, a bit obsessed with following technology news. Most days I would love nothing more than to spend hours having epic light-saber battles with my children, and cracking 'unfunny' jokes at my wife. For my paycheck, I manage a local retail store for a cellular company." That would by Daddy! Doesn't that say so much more about Daddy, than if he had simply listed his job title? After all, it is not our work week that defines us- it is what we chose to do with our free time. Do not allow someone else to define you, do not allow someone else's definition of you blind you to who you are. For years and years I allowed a few people to define me, and it affected how I felt about myself, the quality of my work, and even my own expectations and desires. The freedom that comes from letting go of other people's definitions and expectations is beautiful! The Lord gave me certain talents and weaknesses, and by trying to fit into someone else's definition and mold, I am not allowing myself to become the person He would have me be. If you are prayerful in your decisions and choices, you will find who you are!
9) Forget about the Jones Family! You know the age old, "Keeping up with the Jones?" Forget it! What works for the Joneses will NOT necessarily work out for you! A factor in many of our early family struggles was my desire to be like ____ family. I actually remember a few specific families that I wanted to not only emulate, I wanted to carbon copy! I wanted so much to be what I thought they were, have what they had, and do the things they did! I practically drove Daddy and myself completely bonkers! Once I started to become the person I truly am, I found that my desire to keep up with the Joneses disappeared. Don't read this wrong- there are still women that I admire, ask assistance from, and whose traits I would like to pick up. But no longer do I feel the need to completely change who I am- now I just find great skills, philosophies, or ideas that I would like to learn. Boys, just as I love you for you- I want YOU to love you for you, and understand there is no "correct" way of being a family, that is why there are no daily instruction books! Just follow the Plan of Happiness, and the rest will fall into place! There are so many wonderful ways to be a family, and what works for one family will not work for others- and that is okay! Do not put unnecessary pressure on your families to be something you aren't, and do not judge or belittle families who are different from your own- some families think it is neat that we homeschool, others think it is ridiculous. Some mothers think it was neglectful of me to go to Africa while you were young, others thought it was inspiring. DO NOT worry about the Jones family- only ever worry about the Lyle family!
- Sometimes children cry. That's it. Don't freak out. Other parents will not judge you by whether or not your children cry, but they may pay attention to how you deal with it.
- Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, to teach a good lesson. One time you were both under the age of four and we were at a McDonald's Playland. You both climbed to the top, and were laughing at me, refusing to come down. I bought two ice cream cones, and stood at the bottom, holding them up, so you could see them. You both came right down, giggling in anticipation! I grabbed your little hands, tossed the ice cream in the garbage, and took my crying children home. You never, ever, tried that again.
- Sometimes Family Home Evening is going to suck. You will spend an hour getting everything ready, for 10 minutes of what seems like not very much fun. Stick to it- great blessings await!
- Sometimes your children will lose. When your children are young, your attitudes to these losses will matter more than the losses. In our home, DOing is what matters most- and as long as you did all you could, you did well.
- Sometimes your child will not be the best. That does not mean your child is a failure, and it does not speak volumes about your parenting. Let it go. Someone is always first, and someone is always last, and occasionally your child will be first, and occasionally your child will be last.
- Sometimes people will criticize how you parent. If you are finding yourself overly stressed or unhappy with your parenting style, maybe take a few minutes and think about the criticism. However, if you are happy, your child is happy, and there is peace- let it rest.
- Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Remember the Plan of Happiness, hold tight to the rod, and choose the right- you will be okay, things may be hard, but you will be okay.
- Sometimes you will want to give up. Don't. Ever.
- Sometimes you will need help. ASK FOR IT! If you are having family problems, I pray I am the kind of parent you can come and talk to. I pray that rather than offer harsh criticisms I offer loving kindness, a shoulder to cry on, and help.
- Sometimes you will argue with your spouse. For the vast majority of marriages, it happens.
- Sometimes your children will be totally awful, and you will wonder what you are doing wrong. If this happens rarely, it is probably not you... if it happens often, maybe rethink something about your parenting style.
- Sometimes your marriage will feel like a car. If you drive it too rough, conditions are too harsh, and you are too neglectful, it may break down. Break downs are a lot harder and more expensive to fix than regular maintenance. Dates, daily prayer, remembering who you are, honoring your priesthood, loving attention, and time together goes a long way.
- Sometimes you will be used as a tissue, a puke target, a jungle-gym, a towel, a magical protective force-field, a judge and jury, a security blanket, a portable chair, and bug slayer. Own these roles, they only last for a finite amount of time.
- Sometimes you will find yourself feeling so blessed, you will cry. It will happen, and it makes it all worth it!
There are so many things I would like to share with you, but those 10 will do for today. Just remember who you are, and things will be alright. I love you!