Herbert Hoover once said, “About the time we can make ends meet, somebody moves the ends.” This is completely what happens when you have kids. There’s no such thing as “making ends meet,” not financially, physically, or emotionally. This week I had the pleasure of being a keynote speaker for a mother of preschoolers group. The focus was on “Imperfect Peace” and realizing that through all the chaos and rivalry, the person inside the parent makes all the difference.
My speech is below, (though I definitely had some improvisational moments). Unless you have siblings, it may not be worth reading, but if you do … I’d love you to! I wish you would have been there too! Be blessed!
So before we begin today, I just have to tell you a small confession about speaking in public … I’m NOT afraid of it. If that makes me less relatable or endearing to any of you, then please, forget I said it immediately, but in truth (and I feel I should tell you the truth because lies aren’t a great way to make friends) I’m not afraid. I speak in public for a living to the most judgmental, egocentric crowd in the world – middle schoolers. There isn’t a thing I say or teach or do that they don’t question me on, but they don’t scare me … you do.
Believe it or not you, you Christian women who I have more in common with than any other demographic population on the planet, intimidate me beyond compare, because … well … look at you! You’ve got it all together! From this side of the podium, you’re lovely, and neat, and coordinated. I’ll bet you all have Pintrest accounts and hand-sew your kids Halloween costumes and make every school snack with: peanut, tree nut, dairy free, soy free, gluten free home-baked care and still, miraculously find a way to make it taste delicious. I, on the other hand, have children who pray (literally) that God makes mommy a better cook. I am afraid of you because you ladies, are the true rockstars. You’re the Jedi-Masters of scheduling and the superheroes of social graces. Come to think of it, you are probably the toughest crowd I’ve ever addressed, because in my mind, you’re perfect. That’s what I see, when I look at you.
But I know that’s not what you see in you is it? Not by a long shot. You see the bleary-eyed, almost cried, cell phone died, totally fried shell of a woman you used to be before THEY happened. And you know who THEY are, because THEY are the ones who made us like this right? Our children. And they seemed like such a great idea! Babies. Sweet and soft with fresh-from- heaven faces, the perfect blend of you and him, but better. We fantasize and romanticize the role we are about to take on because we’ve been sisters and babysitters and nannies and aunties and we think we’ve got this mom-thing in the bag. But then, one day, you realized there was nothing in the world as humbling as becoming a mother. Because no matter how 100% Mary- Poppins-Perfect you used to be, none of us were given a “spoon full of sugar” strong enough to fix the personalities of our children.
It’s not so easy to recognize with one. I used to have ONE. And then there were two, and the plot just got thicker. A little about my mommy background … I have two kids. One of the boy kind and one of the girl kind and my husband and I are the “we absolutely are thrilled and blessed to have them” kind. But oh, how two plus one and two plus two are different. Siblings change everything.
I in no way wish to disrespect those of you in the crowd who only have one child. Any number of kids is an amazingly profound gift of God and I want you to know there is NO belittling the heart of a mother which beats as fiercely for one as for ten. That being said, I was asked to speak about sibling rivalry, and so, I am going to make the bold statement that there is a different (not harder or better, but VERY different) level of parenting that has to happen when you go from living with he and she make three, to he and she make four or more.
I can honestly say that things didn’t really change all that much in the beginning, but this was mostly because my son didn’t notice my daughter. To him, she was just a cozy little lump in the corner who slept a great deal and became mommy’s favorite prop for photos. I think he finally noticed her when she was about six months old, and reached a chubby pink hand over to take his toy. This was NOT okay. Since then my son has been a bit protective of “his” stuff. Not long after, my daughter realized that she better claim things fast if she has any chance of keeping them. And that’s when my story of imperfect-peace began.
Before I go on, I want to take a moment to read Philippians 1:9-10 with you. In the text, Paul says, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” And this is my prayer for you too ladies. For you and for myself and for every parent out there who struggles with the hum-drum, day-to-day “Are you serious right now!?!” moments that threaten to steal our joy and, more importantly, our soundness of mind. So I am going to ask God right now to bless this time together, to make it meaningful and to let it open our hearts and spirits to awareness of what our families are, and to offer us renewal of what they can be.
I think before we go much further you might want to know a quick thing or two about me, and why in the heaven you should listen to what I’ve got to say. Well, my paper trail says that I am an author, the writer of an active blog, and a teacher of literature and composition with a Master’s Degree in Education and Professional Development. But I am going to be completely straight with you … none of those so-called “accomplishments” mean a thing in the long-run. Like sprinting, they are short-accomplishments that mean something “at the time,” but the glory is momentary. I don’t think you should listen to me because I can sprint from one attainment to another … and I can’t promise you that anything I’ve got to say will resonate with you, though I hope it will. In truth, when I was asked to speak as a “Mother of Influence,” I sort of thought it might have been a fantastically-lucky mistake. It still might be! But I didn’t say no, so now you’re stuck with me, and I’ll do my best to seem like I’ve got a clue!
On a more serious note, if I can make a case for myself … if I can offer just one reason why I’m standing here at all … I think the best thing I can say is because I’m not afraid to admit that I am highly accomplished at loving people – all kinds of people, but particularly, the little-kid kind … the kind that make the greatest, messiest, most glorious mistakes for us to celebrate together. So today we are going to focus on mistakes … the growing up and raising kids kind, of which, I personally, have many! It is funny, because when I told some of my friends what I was going to speak about, “sibling rivalry,” more than one right-out laughed in my face. “YOU!” They scoffed. “What do you think YOU know about sibling rivalry? Your kids are perfect,” was the gist of what I heard. And to the naked eye, to the outsiders who see those picture-perfect, everyone smile moments … maybe I could see that. But I’m a mother people … so I know every detail of what it took that morning to get those smiling teeth brushed, that shining hair raked through, and those matchy, but not matchcy-matchy, clothes onto “I just want to stay in PJ” bodies.
Usually, the outside isn’t the best seat in the house, because you don’t see the curtain’s drawn moments that make you feel like a “normal mom.” Instead, you see the composure, the church- ready attitudes and the shiny-cheeked moments that make you wish your family was like THAT one. But every family can take a good snapshot, and it doesn’t in the slightest mean that they’ve got it all together … no one does. One of my favorite parenting moments was the day I was an “outsider.” I was in Walmart, and I saw a dad, barrel-holding his kicking, screaming, squirming little boy. He was making a mad-dash for the exit with a more-purple-than-red face of exhaustion from the exertion of holding his darling monster. The best part was, this particular dad was OUR pediatrician! This was the guy who gave me advice on how to “best raise” my sound in mind, body and soul children! I had spent hours over the years seeing nothing of his family but fantastic, photo-collage calendars on his office walls. They were always suntanned and smiling and for the first time, for one beautifully-vindicating moment, I got to glimpse reality! And isn’t it great to know that even the most “together” people are as emotionally patch-worked as we are!?! That was a great day, and I hope you don’t think me too evil for saying so.
I want you to take a moment right now to think about your own situation growing up. I want you to think, not of your own children, but of you and your siblings as children. What were you like? What personality traits did you bring to the family table? Were you a mellow-yellow, sunny funny kind of kid, or a neon-personality, as I like to call them – wild, unpredictable, never matching the scene you were placed in at all. Looking back at my own childhood, I have to admit that I was spoiled with the fairy-tale. I had a mom and a dad who loved one another, a sister who wasn’t the “evil-step” kind, and I was the baby. My sister and I were four years apart and rarely got into fights. Part of this might be because we were “perfect angels,” which we all know is a total lie, but I think more of it had to do with the fact that we never had to compete for attention at all. Being spaced as we were, I was always entering into a phase of life right as my sister was leaving it. There wasn’t a venue we ever had to share. When I was starting middle school, she was on her way to high school. When I got there, she went off to college and, chase as I might, she graduated in four years and was married the summer before I started Freshman ye ar.
Thinking now of my own kids … this is not the case. My children are two years apart, almost exactly. And, like I mentioned before, my son definitely “notices” everything my daughter does or doesn’t do. Take a minute to define your child. If I looked them up in the dictionary, what would it say? Do you have easy-breezy personalities to raise or are they more difficult and dramatic types? My guess is that on any given day they are like mine, which is any range in between. My son … is awesome. He has twinkling eyes and a mischievous smile. The greatest compliment you can give my son is that he is “tricky.” He loves soccer, and building and taking things apart. His room is an absolute destruction zone of Legos, magnets and a cat trapped in the closet. He is funny and witty, quick with a comeback and wants to be a chemist when he grows up.
My daughter, on the other hand, is about the girliest of girly-girls there ever was. She is a pink and purple make magenta blend of sprinkles and sparkles and glitter. Wide-eyed and wonderful, she is careful and slow and moves with the grace of a clumsy ballerina. Somewhere between tu-tu’s and an art smock, she delights in pretend and princesses and sleeping-in. Where her brother sticks to Science, our daughter’s life ambition is to be a mermaid. When I tried to have a conversation with her about this, she shook a little finger at me, stopping me cold to say, “No mom … I’m going to be a mermaid. A rockstar mermaid.” When I asked what color fin and tail she’d have, she said matter-of-factly, “Whatever God gives me.”
So there you go. Polar opposites. It isn’t hard to see why, though we can take a great family photo … there might be just the slightest bit of discord at our house from time to time. Now I am not going to paint an unrealistic picture for you, my kids are great. Most of the time, well at least half, okay maybe a quarter of the time, they are delightful. They are polite and caring and loving to one another and the world. Sadly, most of the un-besting of ourselves comes at home. Where I get lovely reports at school, we all know that home is where we are allowed to be most “us-ish” for better, or for worse. On the rival days, or hours in each of our days, my daughter’s “take her time” attitude is met head-to-head with my son’s “life on fast-forward” frame of mind. We might as well be eating an elegant Victorian eight-course meal for the time it takes my daughter to eat five chicken nuggets and a handful of sweet potato fries. My son is on his third snack after dinner by the time she’s done. She wants to draw, he wants to build a model, her markers compete for table space with his color-coded Lego piles. You get the idea.
So now I just want to give you naysayers a little glimpse of some of the Harris’ family’s greatest sibling rivalry match-ups in the hopes that it makes my parenting experience legit enough for you! When my son was four and my daughter was two, he decided to absolutely plow her with hugs. Whenever I said he was being too rough, he would reply syrupy-sweet that he was just “loving her.” To which I say, “Baloney and cheese you were loving her! A full-on-tackle is not a hug!” This went on for some time before I realized that something more drastic than a “logical discussion” needed to be done. And so, one night after another “incident,” (judge me if you will) we were walking in our carpeted hallway and I grabbed his ankle and WHAM! He hit the carpet faster than he even registered he was falling. I know, I know. I’m a terrible mother … but I’m up here talking so just hear me out! After looking up at me with liquid blue eyes, I immediately scooped my son up into my arms and rocked him back and forth saying, “See! It hurts when someone knocks you down. I am SO sorry that you wouldn’t listen to mommy without me showing you. It is so sad that you made me do that and I really hope that it won’t happen again.” And you know what? Problem solved.
But then, oh yes … then. Then there was one of my favorite epic lash-outs. My son, again, was feeling frisky and he decided that he was going to take out this energy on his sister. Much smaller than him at the time, he thought it would be a good idea to not only trip her, but take her out with a pillow to her knees. (I must admit that the shot simultaneously tripped her and made her hit the ground with a soft landing, so it was kind of genius, but naughty.) After she scraped herself off the floor, I put our son in a time-out, which didn’t work in the slightest. When you have a kid with an active imagination, time-outs aren’t a punishment … they’re a respite, a breather, a break. So when he got off of time out, I told him that he was, instead, going to lose his favorite toy of the week, but when I came over, he tossed it under the couch and looked at me like, “What’re you going to do now.” And ladies – It. Was. On! In a moment of Herculean strength I moved that couch and snatched that toy right out from the depths of the dust. Looking at me with a quizzical brow, he shrugged his little shoulders as if to say, “Whatever, I can wait for it
while you put it on some shelf.” But here is where you need to use YOUR mommy logic and strategize. Don’t give in to un-original punishments that don’t affect your child and will not help them grow – get creative. A moment later, I called my daughter, barely three at the time over. I made sure we were standing directly in front of my son and then crouched down and gave her HIS toy to keep. This did not sit well. He exploded in a fit of tears, telling me the injustice of her having a “boy toy” and on and on he sobbed. I told him that when he showed me he could treat his sister with respect, he could get it back, but until then, she could play with it as much as she liked.
Up until now I’ve made my daughter the victim, and sometimes she is, but she is no innocent in battle tactics either. She is adorable and fragile and she uses every bit of her “I’m the baby” rank in the family to her advantage. My daughter, my precious, one-of-a-kind angel is exceptionally good at whining. Not only that, she also has a bit of a temper on her. So when her brother, affectionately known as “the button pusher” gets her going – the gloves come off. She intolerantly wails and throws a blubbery fit and it is exhausting. An assault on the ears our poor pets go scampering to the farthest corners of the house to avoid it. Sadly, if I try to walk away, I find I have an insistent shadow, waiting for justice to be served, and an “I didn’t even DO anything” commenter following behind her. It is quite a dysfunctional parade we have going, but until the whining stops, I just don’t listen. To this I gently say, “Sorry sweetheart. Mommy can’t hear you in that voice, my ears don’t work at that level. When you calm down and talk instead of whine, I’d love to hear what’s bothering you.”
And you know, if it worked like that every time, if I always got the better of my kids, I’d be fine. But it doesn’t always go so smoothly. When I first got married, I had a friend over from work who sort of became my work-mom. When I was getting our tea cups down from the cupboard, she told me that I looked like a little girl playing house. I always loved that sweet image, and before you have kids it kind of is like that. But after? Not so much. After is much more like returning to Cinderella. Disney lied. You don’t marry the prince and become the princess, you start out as the princess, meet the prince and then turn into Cinderella but without the dancing rodents. Replacing the chirping birds is the constant squawking and squabbling siblings who won’t let you go to the bathroom or take a shower without reporting a major crisis.
Today is about finding peace in the midst of it all, and I’ve found when all is said and done (and at this point I can guarantee more has been shouted and undone) things do eventually have a way of working themselves out. It isn’t the problems or rivalries that stay, it is the repercussions of them. Like an atomic bomb whose radioactive affects linger, so to do the hurt feelings and general feeling that I failed as a mom. I couldn’t bring peace, instead, war ensued and there were casualties on all sides. She cried, he got defensive and I lost my cool.
And the thing is … they get over it, but I don’t. I tend to turn things in on myself in these moments and make them about me instead of the situation. I have a word that haunts me, and it has for quite some time now. The word is “Enough” but with a question mark after it. I tend to think that if I were only a little more of this or less of that, if I tried a little harder or did something a little differently, if I were MORE somehow, my kids would be less inclined to disagree. I want you to think for a moment … what’s your word? What is the insecurity or flaw that haunts you as a mother and makes you feel unsuitable? Take your crayon and write it now, get it out, stare it down.
I am going to tell you a truth now that you may or may not be ready to hear, but here it is. To find peace, we need to accept that we are inherently flawed and know, without a doubt, that we WILL make mistakes. It is not a matter of IF, it is a matter of WHEN and HOW OFTEN? There will come a day when you will say the profoundly wrong thing at just the right time to leave a scar. You will screw up as a parent, royally so! And so will every single other person in this room. So where does the peace come from then? You might be thinking, “Wow … great motivational speaker, she just told me I’m a screw up!” You’re right. I did. Because I believe that we need to stop acting like Superwoman and accept that that job was already taken. We aren’t superheroes, we’re moms. And can’t you see that that’s better?
Ladies, peace comes from knowing that even when you’re late, even when your temper flares or you miss an assignment or you send the wrong kid the wrong lunch, or, heaven forbid it, you pick up McDonald’s for dinner, GOD CHOSE YOU! He chose you! Intentionally. There is no one, not another one of these picture-perfect mothers around you who can love your kids like you can, because they’re yours! The fabric of who they are is of you, and because of that, it IS in you to heal their hearts like no one else can, even if you were the one to leave the scar.
I always say that sometimes I feel like too much and not enough at the same time. But there I go again, with my word that haunts. Before we can address the fractured, imperfect-peace in our families we need to address the brokenness of our own image. Because this isn’t what you pictured is it? This version of yourself as a mother doesn’t match the parenting magazine, Pintrest Prima Donna you envisioned. Well … I have two things to say. Number one, she doesn’t exist, and she never has outside of your imagination. And number two, if you don’t love and trust your mommy reflection how on Earth can you expect your children to?
I’m going to digress for a moment, and talk to you about art. Someone taught me this in an art class, but I took the lesson much more as a metaphor for life than for anything else. I want you to look at your brand-new, only wrote one thing crayon. It is bright and shiny and FRAGILE. Holding it, coloring with it as is, you will never see what the true pigment is, you will never see what colors it can really produce, because you’re too afraid to “mess it up.” I know this is hard, but I want you all to take your crayon and break it. Don’t think I won’t know if you don’t … I’m listening for 100+ individual snaps and my teacher ears will know if you’re lying to me. There. Now I want you to look again at the word that’s haunting you. I want you to press your broken crayon over that word and color as hard as you can for all that its worth. I want you to see what accepting broken looks like. It is beautiful. Even on the days when: your underwear is on inside out, your hair is a mess from the day before because a shower was a luxury you couldn’t afford, you forgot deodorant and had to buy the gas station kind and smelled like a man all day, and you’re wearing the majority of your children’s lunch that spilled … even on those days you’re beautiful. And the beautiful mess of the brightest tone is what your children really see when they look at you.
But remember it is never to late to reinvent the family dynamic you really want. I don’t believe in bringing up a lot of “feel good” stories without real plans of action. It starts with seeking wisdom, and so I’m just going to take a moment to pray with you from Proverbs 4: 5-7. “Get wisdom, get understanding, do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it costs all you have, get understanding.”
Can I just say that I LOVE that God personified “wisdom” as a woman here!?! He really knows what he’s doing our God. Well, I have a couple of points for you to consider when you’re trying to reclaim peace in your sibling-rivalrous home, and then I also attached a list of actual actions to try on your own if you think they might be useful. Overall, however, I have found that three,
specific tactics have worked in the Harris household. The first is simple – AVOID “BITE YOU IN THE BACK” MOMENTS. What I mean by this is, make sure that you never say anything you’ll regret or have to “bite back” later. One of my favorite failures I like to reference came when I didn’t think that my son and daughter were being entirely honest with me about something that had happened. I said, thinking that I really was cornering them now, “You know, GOD knows your heart and HE knows the truth so I want you to know that.” At this point my son, smarter than me apparently said,
“Mom! You should just ask HIM what happened then.” Yeah. So, God is good but let’s just say I never found out what happened. Make certain that any question or consequence you offer is something you can live with, because if it isn’t, you’ll be dealing with the punishment.
Next, and I think this might be the most important, BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT ATTENTION. I am going to make a bold statement and say that I believe ninety percent of conflict comes from attention-seeking behavior. Face it, we’re busy, our kids know it and all they want is YOU. Sure the other ten percent could be personality, hunger or tiredness. Every day we have something we call “the witching hour,” where no matter what solution I try, my children are tired and hungry and over-it. The rest of the time, they just want to know you’re there – that you hear them, you see them, and you choose THEM. Make time, even if you’re stealing it from something essential, for each child. They depend on it.
Finally, try your best to POWER-UNDER situations. This is a strategy I learned from a friend of mine who is a school police officer. He reminded me that the best way to de-escalate a situation is to not buy into it. When your children are arguing around you or shouting at you the insults and injuries they’re suffering, don’t allow yourself to get wrapped up in the chaos. Breathe, keep calm, and power-under. Say something like, “I’m sure that was really frustrating when that
happened,” or, “I’m so sorry that you had to go through that.” When all else fails – hugs are quite soothing to a toddler’s soul.
In closing, I want you to remember that motherhood is a training ground. Every day is both a blessing and a battle, but you aren’t alone. You may, like me, be intimidated by these lovely “got- it-all-together” model moms around you, but underneath it all … we are really all just broken crayons. But can you imagine the colorful, beautiful masterpiece our journeys would make if we continued to support one another instead of trying to go it alone?
Embrace that you WILL make mistakes, and so will everyone else.
Believe that God chose YOU with intention to have the privilege to raise a family and He would NEVER give you a task you were unable to fulfill in Him.
Admit that being broken also means being beautiful.
And rest easy in the IMPERFECT-PEACE that surrounds you.
Thank you, Be blessed.