James and I are sitting in on a family class Sunday nights, with four other couples, as we talk about the challenges of raising a family. The other couples all have children who are older than ours by 5 to 10 years. Nonetheless it is interesting to talk and share stories, ideas, challenges, successes, and everything else that goes along with parenting.
Last week we spoke at length about the old debate of nature versus nurture. How much of our children's personality come with them, and how me much is shaped by parents, families, and their surroundings?
I think about this a lot. A lot. Because James and I seem to have four children who are all very demanding, challenging, headstrong. Not one is laid back. Not one is easy going. Not one likes to just go with the flow. They are each very different in their demands, but it is exhausting parenting these four.
Juliette tantrums when she doesn't get what she wants. The funny thing is, we don't cater to her, we don't give in to her. We can't, with three other children that also need us. But the result is that I have two choices: engage directly with her as she chooses, or listen to her cry and scream. That is both lhysically and emotionally exhausting. It leads to lots of tears and frustration. It means that she is generally at my side 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I am an introvert who needs time alone to recharge. And while I can take it now and then, it is at the expense of my heart and ears as it means setting her down to cry. Oh, and she has yet to cry herself out. That girl can literally cry for hours.
Benjamin has some inner desire to defy. Not desire, need. A need to defy. A need to do the opposite of what you ask. A need to rock the boat and poke at others and test every iota of patience you've got. Even in the simplest things. "Benjamin, please open your mouth so we can brush your teeth," becomes a battle of wills. It descends into threatening and yelling and tears from everyone involved. But he has no problem with the brushing of teeth, so why does he sometimes choose to make it difficult? "Benjamin, do not go onto the road." He looks at us, hears, and then walks nonchalantly into the road. He has no currency in which we can work. He simply lives to defy.
Caleb is a big ball of emotion. He is easily hurt physically and emotionally. He feels things intensely. He wants to squeeze the life out of you when he hugs because he loves you so much. But he also might throw someone out of a moving car if he got mad. He needs both touch and time to express and experience love, which means he delivers a constant stream of words to be heard, acknowledged and answered.
Colin needs order, but it edges a little on compulsion. The chaos of his younger siblings is oftentimes too much for him. A he has turned eight I see him retreating more and more into books, a desperate attempt for his little introvert self to deal with the intensity of our small home. He is learning to deal with change, but often gets left behind as our attentions are sucked up with the others.
And so I look upon these four fireballs and wonder....is it something we have done? Is it because James and I are both intense personalities that we have genetically created uber-intense children? Is this why they say two first-borns should never marry? Or is it because neither of us are laid back that we don't have a laid back environment to nurture that in our children? Or would these lovely little souls have been much the same in any home, in any family?
Mothering is by far the hardest and at the same time most rewarding thing I've ever done. I never knew exactly what it would require of me, would never have guessed the constant demands, the unending service, the utter lack of any sort of break.
And yet, every morning I wake completely renewed (despite the average 2 hours of sleep I get at night), more in love with these precious us kids than ever.