I’ve been slowly working my way through “Anne of Green Gables” a few nights each week with my two youngest daughters. As many of you know, it’s a classic full of gems worth quoting. My most recent favorite comes from Rachel Lynde, mother of 10:
Folks that has brought up children know that there’s no hard and fast method in the world that’ll suit every child. But them as never have think it’s all as plain and easy as Rule of Three–just set your three terms down so-fashion, and sum’ll work out correct. But flesh and blood don’t come under the head of arithmetic.
Well, if that ain’t the truth!
And yet, it’s clear that many parents today (myself included) would love clear, quick, comprehensive “solutions” to parenting’s most vexing dilemmas. And lucky for us, definitive answers seem to be just a click away. (And in a Top 10 list, no less!) Just do this, this, this, and this and your child will eat well, sleep well, behave well, potty train quickly, feel confident, make good friends, succeed in school, clean up their rooms by themselves, and otherwise grow up to be perfectly perfect.
Why do you think there are so many ads and articles that start with “1 weird trick . . .” and “5 Ways to . . .”? Why do you think some of the most popular parenting books have titles like Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, 1-2-3 Magic, Brain Rules for Baby, and The Secrets of Happy Families? (Solve, Magic, Rules, Secrets.)
Because we want quick and easy answers and solutions, and we want them now.
And really. Who can blame us? We live in a world of instant messaging and life hacks, automatic reminders and google. From weight loss and home organization to starting a home business or learning how to make freezer jam, just type in your question and BAM! You’ve got more ideas and answers than you could ever process in a lifetime. (I just plugged “organization” into the google bar and got 1,140,000,000 results in 0.41 seconds. Um, that’s billion.)
So why shouldn’t parenting solutions also be quick and easy, comprehensive, and fall under a neat and tidy Top 10 list?
I don’t think this propensity to seek for clear and easy answers comes solely from parenting in the information age. I think it’s also just part of being human. We all crave a sense of order, control, and predictability to one degree or another; especially when mothering tiny creatures who don’t give a whit about schedules, cleanliness, or anything resembling order. It’s ridiculously normal to feel like you’re going out of your mind when raising children of all ages. And the more Type A you are, the more order and control you had in your life before children, the weaker your support system, and the more children you add to your family, the stronger this need for “plain and easy Rules of Three”.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. Many of the books and websites claiming to reveal the Holy Grail of parental sanity are backed by years of reliable research and lifetimes of experience. Our family has implemented more than our fair share of ideas and systems from good and reliable sources to help us with chores, music practice, good behavior, earning money, and developing other healthy habits and life skills, but none of them have worked the same for all our children, and most of them have gotten stale, irrelevant, or too cumbersome at some point.
I have always struggled with this ambiguity in motherhood. Why does each child have to be so different in temperament, interests, aptitude, and personality? Why does each age and stage require a new and different skill set and knowledge? And for heaven’s sake, why can’t I just find one program/schedule/system and have it work for all my kids and work forever and ever, The End?!
Rachel Lynde truly knew what she was talking about when she said, “flesh and blood don’t come under the head of arithmetic.” It’s an uncomfortable truth that none of us will ever really get this mothering thing down pat. That is to say, when dealing with human beings, we can’t just set our “three sums down” and expect predictable, universal, or fixed results. (Results not typical should be written across the bottom of every parenting book.)
So what is the answer then? Especially if you haven’t read all the latest parenting information, have unintentionally broken all the rules you never even knew existed, or you simply don’t have the temperament or energy to get your husband and children on board with any kind of schedule, organization program, or family system?
You can love.
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians, love never fails. Or as the recent popular colloquialism declares, Love always wins!
And it’s really true. You can never go wrong with love.
Love is what you do when your toddler has a melt down.
Love is what you do when your teenager ignores you.
Love is what motivates your kids to do better and to be better.
Love is what creates feelings of peace and harmony in a home.
Love is what you do for yourself when you screw up and fall short.
Love is what you do when you don’t know what else to do.
Love is the magic bullet of motherhood.
In this world of “life-changing” apps, “must-read” parenting books, Top 10 lists, and promises that this is the answer to all your parenting troubles and woes, I vote to take a step back from all the hype and promotion and return to where this whole motherhood thing started: love. From this place of love, take some time to really think about what you and your children need, and then seek out resources/make decisions/implement and execute plans. (Not the other way around.) You may be pleasantly surprised to realize how much less pressure you feel when you work from this place of love rather than the suggestions and expectations from the outside world.
So to you moms out there who feel overwhelmed and under supported, discouraged and depressed because you can’t “pull it together” and lose that baby weight, de-clutter your entire home, make a binder of family meals for all four seasons, create and execute schedules and systems for your children to learn valuable life skills, have meaningful dinner conversations as a family, and all the other things that our mommy culture is telling us will supposedly ensure our family’s happiness and success, you can rest assured that love always wins.
No, flesh and blood may not come under the head of arithmetic, but all flesh and blood feels and responds to love.
QUESTION: Are you someone who struggles with parenting information overload? Who feels completely inept and unable to keep up with today’s expectations for motherhood?
CHALLENGE: Contemplate the phrase “Love Always Wins” and ask yourself what that would look and feel like in your home and for individual family members. Using love as your foundation, move forward in ways that will be the most effective and meaningful to you and your family.
Image: tongdang / FreeDigitalPhotos.net with graphics by Anna Jenkins.