Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches Paperback – November 26, 2010
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Insightful, encouraging, honest and practical and a great deal of fun to read. Rachel is a blessing to her husband and her little ones. Now she is also a blessing to me and mine. May this book bless you and yours as well. --R.C. Sproul, Jr.
Mothers of little people have one of the most challenging and important jobs on earth. But it is a humble job. Rachel Jankovic is a woman who lives out her story with humility, grace, and a houseful of humor. And with five exuberant children, ages five and under, you can be sure she knows what she is talking about. -- --Nancy Wilson, author of Praise Her in the Gates and The Fruit of Her Hands
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I loved her approach for dealing with fights over toys and the like; we modified it for our family and we see some headway (little by little). When my kids fight over a toy, we address their attitudes to each other first and then the toy. A lot of times, the toy is either forgotten or they find a way to share. This alone, has been one of the biggest helps from the book. It is encouraging to see them "get it" - they feel contrite and want to make it up to their sibling. We still have plenty of arguments and disagreements, but my husband and I continue to insist that their relationship with each other is more important than whatever thing they fancy right then. I think that also cuts down on the fighting for our benefit or attention, because they know we are going to say they need to fix it with each other themselves (unless it's big and we need to step in to help solve it).
For me, I needed to be reminded about being fruitful. That is one of the reasons I went looking for my copy, only to remember I had given it away. The author uses the illustration of a fruit tree overloaded with fruit on the branches and some have fallen to the ground. She says something like, bearing fruit doesn't mean that each fruit is destined for greatness, but some pieces are not for any specific purpose other than "being fruitful". It is okay spend time and energy on something that may not serve some great purpose, but is enjoyable. I think she mentioned baking or sewing. I needed to hear that. Coming from working outside the home with productivity being quantified to the nth degree, I needed to hear, it's okay to do something that's not huge in the scheme of things.
I say all of that to say, I have been encouraged greatly by this book and I continue to come back to it because is simple and practical. I have told many of my friends and other moms about this book too. It's definitely worth your time to read (and it's a quick read too)! Enjoy!
Although the individual vignettes vary by topic, ranging from how our language shapes our children, to the benefits and perils of schedules, to the attitudes mothers have toward their postpartum bodies, there are several biblical threads that run through the entire collection. Reminiscent of the themes Paul David Tripp emphasizes in his parenting materials, Loving the Little Years admonishes mothers who privilege pruning undesirable behaviors over helping their children uproot the sinful heart issues that sprout these behaviors. Arguing from a grace-based philosophy of parenting, as opposed to a legalistic one centered on behavior management, Jankovic reminds parents that their own heart issues need to be brought before God if they are to help their children. With her usual candor and insight, Jankovic writes, "...the state of your heart is the state of your home. You cannot harbor resentment secretly toward your children and expect their hearts to be submissive and tender. You cannot be greedy with your time and expect them to share their toys. And perhaps most importantly, you cannot resist your opportunities to be corrected by God and expect them to receive correction from you" (14-15). This requires that we humble ourselves in front of our children in ways that are not always comfortable. But Jankovic promises that this is how we plant the seeds that will bear good fruit throughout our children's lives.
Other themes I appreciated include her challenge for mothers to avoid dwelling on what may have been sacrificed on the altar of motherhood - a home that is easy to clean, sleep-filled nights, uninterrupted alone time, a trim figure - and instead embrace motherhood as the high calling that it is, acknowledging the joyful responsibility that comes with raising little ones. I was also convicted by her assertion that "Christian childrearing is a pastoral pursuit, not an organizational challenge" (50). How tempting it is to use the things we currently have under control, like a clean house or a firmly established and well-functioning schedule, to mask what is out of control, like the deeper spiritual and pastoral issues lurking, unchecked, in our homes.
While my husband and I have our fair share of mayhem raising just a single toddler, I can't yet identify with the unique chaos that comes with rearing multiple young children at once. This distinction between my life and the author's, however, did not make this book a waste of time for me. Not only did I see reading this book as a preemptive move should more children grace our future, I also took away wisdom that will serve me as I engage little ones in various capacities at church. Jankovic reminds us not to see children en masse, but instead address them as individuals with unique needs and preferences. In a recent altercation among preschoolers over who got to pin the Pharisees to the flannelgraph, I was definitely guilty of seeing the children as a group of glue-stained humanity set on testing my patience, and not as individuals with real concerns and heart issues. Although she is talking about our relationship to our own children, I think the following applies to our relationships with other children as well: "Most of the time children do not know that what they are doing is overwhelming. This is because they do not forget that they are individuals" (53). Let us also not forget this.
In addition to this convicting advice, she also shares practical strategies for helping children get outside of themselves through the use of story-telling. Jankovic argues that children are very insightful when it comes to identifying the sin issues in protagonists, but often lack the insight to see those same issues at play in their own hearts. There is definitely much wisdom to glean from Jankovic's application.
Whether you are currently raising one child or eight, this book has something very meaningful to offer. I found myself laughing at her honest anecdotes, cringing at my own shortcomings as a parent, and nodding in response to her wise counsel. Most of all, I found myself praying that I can be the kind of parent whose instruction and discipline point my children to the love of God and their need for a savior.
Update: In reflecting on reading this book, I see how God used it as a catalyst to show me there is another way to live. I was desperate for some help, for some relief from parenting two kids under two. I felt suffocated and barely able to manage my attitude. As I read this book, my heart began to soften and I realized I didn't have to parent on my own. I started to see that there was a God who would lovingly and gently walk alongside me. I wasn't a believer in Jesus Christ as my Savior at the point of reading this book. But after reading, I began going to churches in my area. I found that the worship songs crushed me...I sang and wept and knew there was more. In reflection, I know it was the Holy Spirit drawing me near. This was all such an incredibly strange time because I was walking it alone, trying to understand who God is and how to have a relationship with Him. During that time, God placed more people in my life to point me to Him. Then he opened up all the doors for our family to make a temporary move to Anchorage, Alaska. At that point, he started to draw my husband into searching for and learning about who God is. Six years later, God has been incredibly faithful to continue to draw my husband, two girls, and me nearer and nearer to Him. As we read the Bible and pray and build relationships with people who know and love God, we find ourselves desiring to know Him more and to grow closer to Him. What an incredible blessing this book has been to me and my family.
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She is also pro spanking, and uses it as a force of discipline, saying her daughters were fighting and emotional so after spanking them they discussed feelings etc, this makes absolutely no sense. Why would you hit your children because they had emotions, everyone has emotions hitting them isn't going to make those emotions go away.
It is called Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, and was written by Rachel Jankovic. It's the sort of book that is supposed to be encouraging but can be a bit of a bummer in places because it can make you feel like you're not doing enough. I don't usually give in to that feeling since I know I'm doing plenty of parenting over here, and I also like to read things with a little grace knowing that the author doesn't carry things out in the way she recommends all the time either, and these are just the good tidbits of advice she has that she also probably needs to remind herself to follow at times. So in some places this could be a brutally honest review about how I feel about the book, and in others could be trying to sell the book, so bear with me -- or don't, if this isn't the type of book you'd even consider reading :)
A little background - what makes this a "Sunday book" for me is that it is written from a Conservative Christian perspective and backs up its claims with Scripture for me to study and with which to encourage me. So it's a "Christian" book. If this is not your particular bent, I will say that there is some helpful information that non-Christians could glean from it; however, there may be too much "Christianese" in it for your taste. I don't think she was heavy-handed in that realm, but I may just not notice that sort of thing enough anymore. I'm going to point out some of the better ideas she had, though, and a few of the things that annoyed me, so then you can judge whether it might be something you would like, as based on my own humble opinions :)
First off, she opens the book by letting you know where she's coming from, and for me this is important. I know I shouldn't base what I think about someone's advice on how many children they have, how old they are, or whether or not their children are close together in age. I know this. When I had only one and had learned a few good things and was only 28, I wouldn't have wanted someone to discount everything I said on the basis that "She doesn't know anything yet - she only has one." I am sure some of you have been there -- feeling belittled because you don't have a ton of experience, but hey, even having one child is difficult and sanctifies you in some ways and brings you knowledge you didn't have before. We're always learning about how to parent, from the first child to the last. That being said, though, I do sometimes find myself rolling my eyes whilst reading a parenting book written by a parent of only two children, three years apart, telling me how to totally stop what I'm doing and have this looooooong conversation with the child who has just misbehaved, in order to get to the root of the problem and address the heart, etc, etc, etc. I don't throw the baby out with the bathwater - I love to get ideas from any good parenting book to help me along in my journey - yet, I do know that some of the things this lady says really don't apply to a family with 5 children all about 20 months apart. I can't always dig to the heart of every issue or the house will fall down around my ears, you know what I mean?? So hearing about this author's background was helpful to me because it did give her a smidge more credibility in my biased mind, I am sorry to say. But hey, which of us is truly objective all the time? When she wrote the book I calculate that she had been married about 7 years and had 5 children -- a 5 year old girl, a 4 year old girl, a set of 2-year old twins (a girl and a boy), and a 4 or 5 month old baby girl. I think I have that right, but maybe the ages are a little off. Either way, you can see she is really writing from way down deep in the trenches.
There are twenty short chapters, all about 2-4 pages, with succinct points and helpful anecdotes, some of which are a bit comical, but most of which are a little convicting - as in, you can see yourself in them and how you maybe should have handled a similar situation in a better, calmer way. Here's a good line from chapter two to show you what I mean: "You can't be greedy with your time and expect them to share their toys." Ouch. "You cannot resist your opportunities to be corrected by God and expect them to receive correction from you." So there you go - a few hard things to get you started....
In chapter four she makes a really good point that applies to our children and to us. It's about taking note of their progress -- which runners should appreciate. You may feel like this is really hard, and you're worn out from all the child training and tantrums they throw and beating your head against a wall with trying to get them to understand why they should be kind to one another and all the messes they continually make -- but you are making progress as a parent. "You might feel just as tired," she says, "but you are now running ten miles instead of two blocks. Take a moment to remember what used to annoy you when you were single...do you see how totally unchallenging that looks now?" The same applies to our children -- maybe one of them used to have a problem with leaving a huge mess of the toothpaste and you were constantly finding it on a shoe or a piece of clothing when you least expected it, but now that same child has passed that test and instead has trouble with trying not to fight with her younger siblings over shared toys. You may not have noticed that she is past that earlier phase and is doing such a great job with the toothpaste (and is cleaning up after herself in the bathroom, and in her bedroom, and in the place where she does schoolwork and has just generally become more tidy) because some younger child is now annoying you with the toothpaste, and this older child has moved on to new challenges. I think she makes a great point here that I hadn't thought of before -- "As a parent it is very easy to demean their progress by demeaning the struggle. Instead of praising them and pointing to their progress to encourage them, we ignore it....sometimes this is because the struggle just seemed so dumb in the first place....so when they quit doing it, we don't recognize they've gained the victory over a very real struggle with temptation. Oftentimes we don't even notice that they aren't doing it, because something else has replaced it, and we are now too busy nagging them about [that]". Great point. I think I definitely have fallen into this trap.
There's a chapter applying specifically to little girls and the fact that their emotions can often get the best of them - with some helpful advice for talking them through the process of reigning in their emotions. "A well-controlled passionate personality is a powerful thing. That is what dangerous women are made of. But a passionate personality that is unbridled can cause a world of damage." Her point is to help your daughters along to the point of being able to have more self-control, not to squash their passion.
In chapter seven about "Thanksters and Cranksters," I did find myself rolling my eyes a little. She says how the obvious antidote for children being fussy is getting them to be thankful instead. And that when our children are fussing in the back of the car and we're frustrated about it, that we need to get our own hearts right (and switch to an attitude of gratefulness) before we try to get them to stop arguing with each other and complaining, etc. Be thankful for the headache, "thank Him for the scuffle that your children are currently having over who unbuckled whom and why." Um, no thank you. You can tell me over and over to thank God in every circumstance, and it's still going to be impractical to apply to my real life as a technique for making my heart feel less grumpy and more grateful. I see her point, and she says to practice it by asking them in other situations how an unthankful person would respond to something and doing some role-playing with the children, to practice being thankful by thanking God for the trees, and the birds, and the rain, etc, etc, etc. I am sure I do this sometimes with the children when they are complaining - about the rain (and we'll talk about how things grow) or about the long drive (and we'll talk about how thankful we can be that we have a working vehicle and the money to buy fuel). But when they're arguing and fighting and fussing about things in the backseat with each other, I don't attribute it to unthankfulness - I consider it to be two siblings sinning against each other and in need of correction. I wouldn't want to say, "You should be thankful you even have a brother and that he just hit you, because you could be an only child." Instead, we'd deal with the hitting, and then the reaction to the hitting, and being thankful or cranky have nothing to do with it. And just because I am a bit frustrated that they're fighting and am working on how to sort it out with them does not mean that I need to stop and be thankful that I have two healthy children who are capable of hitting each other in order to correct my attitude. So anyway, that may be a bit of a harsh take on that chapter, but I just didn't agree with her points there.
In chapter eight she talks about language, and how calling things by certain names can really start to determine how we feel about those things. How she had a problem after she had had the twins (keep in mind this meant she had the twins in diapers as newborns, a 2 year old in diapers, and a 3 year old) of telling herself she felt "overwhelmed" and how she just had to bar that from her vocabulary - even just in her mind - because it made her feel more overwhelmed to talk about it. Well, really, I think she had a right to feel overwhelmed and to say it. I feel overwhelmed at times, and my 5 are further apart than hers - the oldest turning 7 right before the 5th was born. Now that I'm about to have 6, the oldest is 9, and the second youngest will be two a month later. So am I a wimp for letting myself feel "whelmed" as we like to say in our house? I don't think so. (But hey, maybe that's just me wanting to be wimpy and wallow in my wimpiness.) She does give a really good recommendation for a helpful way to get through such overwhelming times -- look at the clock. Tell yourself to "give it 20 minutes" and then put your head down and dig in to the work. In 20 minutes the storm will have passed (probably) and you can have that diaper blow-out cleaned up with the new outfit on and the old one soaking, the twins nursed, and the broken glass and spilled milk cleaned up and the toddler down for a nap, or some other such combination of impossible tasks when you've just come in the door from doing errands with them all morning and all he** is breaking loose. Yes, I agree, probably you can do it, and then -whew- you can sit down and rest and catch your breath. But you know what, it's still okay to feel overwhelmed at such a time. You shouldn't feel guilty if you do. You're a mom, and you need to make the situation safe and hygienic, so sometimes you have to push through it even when you do feel overwhelmed. And I think we all know that. But it still doesn't make the feeling of the "whelming flood" insignificant or wrong. There's a hymn that says, "His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay." What I'm meaning to say here is that there are times in which we are overwhelmed and need to rely on some power outside of ourselves to push through. Just because our "flood" may seem full of small tedious things rather than some martyr out in a far-off country or soldier in the field does not make the water any less capable of making us feel like we're drowning. I feel like when the author says, "no self-pity, no tears, no getting worked into a dither," she is really telling someone who occasionally does have a few tears of frustration that she is just out of control and overreacting. I think this is a bit like telling someone with depression to "get over it." I personally have never struggled with depression so I don't feel like I can really speak wisely to the issue, and here is someone who HAS dealt with feeling overwhelmed (the author) and has found some coping mechanisms, so in a way, she is qualified to speak to the issue. But that doesn't mean that the issue can always be handled in that way or needs to be discounted as something to just "get over" basically. In that vein, though, feeling overwhelmed constantly by the demands of motherhood is something that can seriously overtake you, and you do need to learn how to deal with it. In a lot of cases, though, even if you THINK you can't afford it, or you don't want to admit you need it, the answer might be to ask for help. REACH OUT in your time of need, admit your weaknesses, and ask for free help from friends and family, or hire the occasional - like $50 a week - help that might just get you through. Or maybe you have parents who live really far away but who wish they could be there to help you - maybe they could help finance a little assistance for you? I don't know the answer for you personally, but I know that if you're feeling overwhelmed, it's probably legitimate, and it's okay.
Oooh, I really liked chapter nine "To the Fifth Power." It's about how we can tend to bunch our kids into this one big frustrating situation (think: trying to get everyone out the door on time to be somewhere, properly dressed and fed) and stop seeing them as individuals. We can end up taking our frustration with a "situation" out on one child when that one comes into our sites having still not found his other shoe because he got distracted in the living room by a toy. Then we snap at him because the whole situation is just spiraling out of our control, and a lot of it is really our own fault. I can think back on countless Sundays when I have raised my voice at one child or another for not being able to find her sweater, and at a different one for not eating her breakfast quickly enough, when really I should have made sure the night before that their sweaters were ready and that all their shoes were together. Last night I finally did just that - I had each of them get their own sweaters and shoes staged by the door, so it was not more work for me, and we got out the door a bit quicker today, without any fussing from me :) I totally understand this principle, though, of the exponential growth of problems as more children are added -- just how sometimes having them all come at you en masse can make it seem like there are ten children instead of five -- and that we can't blame THEM for this problem. We're the ones who had all the children, and we need to try to remember to treat them as individuals who deserve our respect.
The next chapter continues in this vein and is called "Know your sheep." It's sad but true when she says, "A lot of children from big families discover very early on that their parents simply do not have time for their problems. So they find ways to take care of themselves, usually through adapting to loneliness." And this one: "The fact that your children have learned to go with the household flow and do their chores does not in any way offset the fact that they spend all their available free time sulking in their room. Christian childrearing is a pastoral pursuit, not an organizational challenge." Here is her take on it, and something to really take to heart if you have several children: "Be a pastor to your children. Study them. Seek them out. Sacrifice the thing you were doing to work through minor emotional issues." There was a point in the chapter where I just had to say, "no way," though. She talks about how much they love being involved in the kitchen. Check this out. "It turns out that one child in a Baby Bjorn and four more [five and under] in the kitchen on chairs trying to help knead the bread can be a little overstimulating. But the thing that I have had to learn is that it is my job to figure out how to make this work....when there is a whole chorus of voices and a whole army of chairs moving into the kitchen, bringing out the enthusiastic welcome is a lot harder. I have to adapt. It is not their problem. Individually they are being precious and curious and excited." You know what? Just because I have five children and make homemade bread doesn't mean I need to include them in the process every time or all together. I can be discerning about the time I choose to make the bread and about whether I choose to include one or several of them, etc. Perhaps the author really doesn't mind the picture she painted, but I can tell you I would PULL OUT MY HAIR if that little scene repeated itself in my house. I know I would. Call me insensitive or impatient or 36 years old (I think the author's younger than me), but I like to involve my children when it is a bit more convenient rather than at any time they think they want to jump in. Sometimes they need to hear a patient, "No," from me and don't always need to be constantly on my coattails. She does say that there are times she'll tell her children that it's not a good time for helpers, but that example she gives of all of them in the kitchen while she's kneading bread, well, that would be one of those times in my book :)
Okay, two more quick points although I've only covered about half the book. My "sitting on the couch" Sunday time is about finished, and I need to put in some "feeding the family" time. There's a chapter called "Me Time," in which she agrees we all need some of this. But she also talks a lot more about sacrificing yourself for raising your children than I would tend to do were I writing this book. She talks about how our body is being spent and undone in the service of another person (our children) and that we need to not buy in to the propaganda saying we need to keep our bodies perfect like they're treasures. In fact, they are tools, and they will be well-used by the time we die. In a sense I agree with this, but I think overall that this chapter could really turn someone off and be seen as just being over-the-top. I can't really put how I feel about this chapter in to words, it would seem, but it just gives me sort of a bad taste in my mouth. Obviously, having had five children already and being a runner, I constantly cycle up and down in my weight for the sake of having my babies. And this can be frustrating at times since I can often feel down on myself for the way I look. But for some reason I still don't see this as spending my body in the service of my children. I think when you start to look at it that way you might tend to really "let yourself go" over the years as you raise your children - sacrificing your own health and fitness in order to have them at every event and be a "supermom" with a perfect house, etc. She does mention that, as a tool, we need to maintain our bodies well for service, i.e. we shouldn't just schlep around in sweats all the time after we have a baby, and that we should endeavor to regain our bodies in order to be better moms and people, etc. But when she says, "Carry the extra weight joyfully until you can lose it joyfully. Carry the scars joyfully as you carry the fruit of them," I am just a little skeptical. I think this lady must be a bit more of a "glass half full" person than me because I tend not to bear things quite as joyfully as her. I think of this along the same lines as being thankful for a headache. These are just not things that I think the Scripture is saying when it says to be thankful in all things or be always rejoicing. There are things that result from hardships and ways that we grow through them that are, indeed, things to be thankful for. And in that way I think we can be thankful for the hardship. But I am human, and actually feeling "joyful" about something with which I am dissatisfied is just not easy for me, and really, is not what I think is being said in those verses. I will be joyful always - but I will look for the reasons why I am joyful and not look around at things that are not awesome and then try to rejoice about them. Am I making sense?
Last point now, is about chapter sixteen "Grabby hands and grabby hearts." I can summarize what I liked about this chapter without referencing the book directly because I've already been implementing it some today. It refers to when your children are arguing over a toy - who had it first, whose toy it really is, who took it, etc - how you really need to get to the heart of it simply by realizing that the fellowship that used to exist between them has now been broken and needs to be healed, while, in the process, figuring out what to do with the toy. She asks her children if the toy or the sibling is more important to them, and they come to see that they are putting the importance of a toy before the blessing of having a sibling. They are putting their Polly Pockets before their sister. Which one should matter more to them? It becomes obvious, even to a 3 year old, which thing should be more important. There's a little dialogue, too, that helps give you some good ideas for dealing with such situations.