These past four months have been such a challenge for me. Forget the lack of sleep and the bags under my eyes from four months of sleeping 6 hours or less each night. Forget the insanity of trying to keep up with a house, a yard, the flower beds, the bills, and the car, in the "spare time" you have from feeding, loving, shuttling, bathing, and caring for 2 rambunctious kiddos. Forget the 2 grad-school classes and the weekly assignments and hours of videos and 15-page research paper I've written and thousands of pages of reading I've had to do. No, the real challenge has been trying to be both the mom and the dad to two children that desperately need both of their parents.
This separation has been so difficult for Aiden--not that he would tell you that in so many words. He says he misses Daddy, but he doesn't cry or mope or act sad. No, this need for his daddy shows up in other ways. When his daddy left, he was doing well at school and his behavior was great. He was 5, of course there were times when he would act a little rude or silly or have trouble concentrating, but he was generally doing well. But as the weeks passed, his behavior has gotten worse and worse. He's been snarky and whiney and rude. He talks back and argues and yells at me. He's getting in trouble at school. Things got better right after we went to see Brad in KS--suddenly Aiden was back on track, doing great in school, being helpful and respectful and sweet. But then, as the weeks have passed, again, things have gotten worse and worse.
To be honest, I dread seeing his teacher's face when I pick him up from school. In about 2 seconds flat, I know whether Aiden had a good or bad day by the smile I get, or the pained expression on her face. His teacher is wonderful, she is a loving, patient woman who works side-by-side with parents, so I am so thankful to God for providing Aiden with such a great woman. But I actually feel worse, knowing that my son is causing so much trouble in her class. Yesterday was a particularly low point. Aiden actually got into trouble at school all day for not following directions and goofing off. Then, on the playground, he was caught fighting with another child on the playground, sitting on top of him and screaming at him. Ah, jeez...
So here I am, trying to figure out what on earth I'm going to do next year when Brad is gone for at least a year, with only one 2 week visit home. Trying to figure out how I can provide Aiden with the mothering and fathering he needs. Trying to balance the need to discipline with the need to be loving and merciful toward my son. And trying to learn how to discipline without being angry, because that's really the only kind of discipline I knew growing up. I am struggling to grow as a parent, learning a lot about my priorities and what really matters, and having to transform the way I interact with my kids.
What have I learned so far?
I won't be continuing school for a while. I love seminary, the classes are interesting, and I've done really well in my classes, but right now, my ministry needs to be my kids. They need me too much right now. So, maybe when Aubrey gets into kindergarten, but for now, full-time motherhood is what God is calling me to do.
Effective discipline doesn't have to be angry or with a mean look or a stern tone of voice. In fact, discipline is much more effective when doled out without it--no matter how exasperated and exhausted I may be.
A few good friends that can listen to you vent from a few thousand miles away, or fix you a cup of tea and gab, or just give you a hug and lend you every parenting book they own when you are at your wits ends are essential when you are trying to parent solo.
An early bedtime and a solid routine are the only ways to survive the insanity of living alone with 2 kids.
No matter how rough the days, no matter how long the to-do list or how frazzled you feel, some days, you just have to fix breakfast for dinner or grab a pizza, put everyone in PJ's and cuddle on the couch with your kids while the dishes and chores wait.
So, I am learning. And listening. And praying. And seeking. And hoping that somehow, despite the insanity of this time, our family will grow stronger because of it.