Category Archives: Family

The failure of trying to be everyone’s person

I’m going through a phase right now where I feel like I’m constantly failing. I say it’s a phase for two reasons: 1. I’ve been in this place before, and 2. I trust God to never let me stay here for too long.

The problem really isn’t so much about failure to accomplish goals or tasks (although there is an element of that). The problem lies in my desire to be everyone’s person.

The mom who shows up for every game, concert, and recital for my kids while also making healthy meals, helping them study and prepare for school, predicting their needs, comforting their hurts, and creating space to snuggle, cuddle or talk about life so they always feel connected to me.

The wife who prays for her husband daily, offers an empathetic ear when he’s had a bad day, acts as his biggest cheerleader, supportive of all of his endeavors and interests, all while trying not to be too needy or selfish with my own stuff.

The employee who thinks creatively and innovatively, never misses a deadline, maintains 100% focus while at work and doesn’t let her personal life interfere with her work life.

The daughter/niece/sister/grand-daughter who remembers to call, to visit regularly, to send those thank-you notes, to let everyone know how much they mean to her.

The friend who listens, who shows up with soup when you’re sick, and prays with you when you’re struggling. Who remembers to call or send a text to say “good luck at that interview/doctor’s appointment/meeting/etc.” Who never cancels lunch plans, or misses out on celebrating a big life event.

The women’s ministry leader who makes every woman who walks through the doors of that church feel welcomed and loved. Who prays for each woman by name, knows who is struggling and needs help, and makes time for coffee, to offer up encouragement and friendship to each woman, and always says just the right thing.

Some days I get some of the things right with some of the people. But most days I just get it all wrong and feel like I’ve failed all of the people. The forgetful friend, the frazzled mom, the tired wife, the absent daughter, the rushed ministry leader, the distracted employee. None of it feels good.

And the thing is, I don’t do any of it for a pat on the back or praise and thanks. I do it because I’m a relational person. I value relationships immensely and I’m incredibly grateful for each relationship and role I’ve been blessed with in life.

I genuinely love people (yes, introverts can love people, too). I especially love the people in my life. For so many years I felt terrible loneliness so I don’t take it for granted that I have all of these beautiful people in my life. When I think of how much I love them it knocks the wind right out of me and I want them — want you — to know it.

But instead, what ends up happening is inevitably someone feels left out. They feel slighted, shorted, overlooked, or forgotten. Or they don’t. But because there isn’t enough time for me to invest in the relationship the way I want to, they move on. They can’t wait for me to make time, so they find someone who can.

So here I sit. In this place of fear and worry of disappointing and failing them all. But even more so, I sit with fear of being left behind. That I tried to do so much I was left with nothing.

Then all of the thoughts come: I should have said yes to that; I should have said no to that; I should have called her back sooner; I should have double checked that date; I should have gotten more done yesterday; I should have gotten more rest last night; I should have stayed up later; I should have…

It’s overwhelming. It can be paralyzing. It makes me tired.

So, so tired.

Just before my head hits the pillow I read my daily devotional and it speaks like it was written just for me at this exact moment. God’s voice comes through the words on the page and says, “yep, life is pretty crazy right now. I know you don’t like it this way. I know you do better when everything is neat and orderly. I know you feel overwhelmed and like you are failing. I know you are worried people will leave you or be angry. I know.

But I’m here. You can’t do it all by yourself. You have to trust me. I will help you. I will comfort you and give you rest. I will help guide you on what to do next. I will never leave you to do it all alone.”

For a few moments I have peace. I am able to sleep.

Until the morning when it starts all over again.

Thankfully God has an infinite supply of patience.

Thankfully He never lets me stay stuck here for too long.

 

photo credit: Silvia Sala  via photopin (license)

This is Fifteen

Fifteen.

Today you turn fifteen and I’m feeling very emotional about it. I can’t say exactly why, only that some ages hit me harder than others. I remember crying the year you turned seven, for no particular reason except that seven seemed so much older than six and I felt like a season was coming to an end.

Today it’s feeling less like a season coming to an end and more like a new beginning. Like you are embarking on a journey that will lead you straight into a new world — one that you are inventing and crafting for yourself — and straight out of the comfort and safety of the world I created for you.

I finally understand why there are entire sub-groups of the population that celebrate Quinceañera when their daughters turn 15. In these Latin American countries and communities 15 is seen as an important coming of age for girls. Large parties are held to recognize her journey from childhood to maturity. And that’s what it feels like today. Like I am finally having to recognize and accept you have crossed the threshold from childhood to maturity and are walking quickly toward adulthood.

I realize that this didn’t happen overnight, but there’s something about 15 that feels like this journey has suddenly gone into warp speed. This past year has been full of so many moments reminding me that you are no longer a little girl. It’s almost like someone gave you a check-list of things to do to signify you are leaving behind childhood and you are rushing to cross-off every item.

First love. First driving lesson. First phone. First bank account. First broken heart.

You got your braces off. You started making a list of colleges you might want to attend. You are earning your own money through babysitting, pet-sitting, and tutoring jobs.

In two days you leave on your first missions trip. You are traveling out of the country…without me!! It will also be the first time you won’t be home for a major holiday (somehow I did not make that connection when I agreed to this trip all those months ago).

I know it’s just the beginning. A sign of things to come. There will be more trips, more stamps in your passport. More time behind the wheel of a car, and more planning for college and life after highschool. More holidays spent away from your family, more time spent with friends and on dates.

So much more.

But the truth is it’s not just all of the things you are doing that has me feeling this shift, this change in trajectory. It’s also the changes I see in you. Physical changes, of course: you’re stunning, no longer a child’s face, but a young woman’s smile. And those long, long legs! You are now as tall as I am and will likely surpass me soon.

More striking, though, are the changes to your personality. At the core, you are still you — goofy, adventurous, dramatic, loving, talented, fiercely loyal, strong, and smart. But these traits have evolved. I see how a recently-developed maturity overlays each of these and makes them something different. You are protective of your family, vocal about social injustice, devoted to your friends, generous with your time, serious about using your gifts, but also humble and willing to admit your mistakes and shortcomings, committed to doing better and being your best-self. I am often amazed by how self-aware you are, a trait I find lacking in many adults, and especially in teenagers and children.

The most significant part, though, is that while you are this woman-child walking boldly toward adulthood, growing more confident with each step, I see you pause every now and then and look back over your shoulder at me. Are you making sure I’m still there? Not wanting to leave me behind? Or saying, “come on, mom, keep up! I need you with me”? I’m not sure which. Maybe a little of both. But I can tell you that taking this journey with you is simultaneously the greatest joy of my life and also has me completely undone.

But then, that’s motherhood in a nutshell.

My beautiful girl

Happy birthday my darling girl.

 

 

The Ugly Truth of an Overwhelmed Mom and Resentful Wife

I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined the writing team over at Her View From Home, a lifestyle magazine that connects your view to the rest of the world; embracing everyday living through daily articles about family, kids, fashion and health, recipes and faith. Below is an excerpt from my first article.

It’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m exhausted.

The kids have been in bed for an hour, and my husband is asleep on the couch next to me. I shut down the laptop, turn off the TV, and pick up the cordless house phone to put in the charger. I am aware that if I don’t remember to do this tonight we won’t have use of our home phone the next day because someone has used the other handset, forgotten to put it back, and now it’s lost with a dead battery, somewhere in my house.

I pass by the dog’s food dish and see the child responsible for feeding her did not refill the water bowl, so I stop to fill it. I start to climb the steps to the upstairs, picking up a lost sock, a forgotten toy, and dirty dish towel along the way. With each step I climb, I feel the resentment growing inside of me.

I am the director, the scheduler, the planner, the seer, the doer, the organizer, and the manager.

Why don’t they remember to turn off the lights, and pick-up their shoes, and run the dishwasher, and sweep up the spilled cat food without being asked?

To read the full post, click here.

And while you’re at it, give them a like on Facebook.

How do we prevent sibling rivalry?

As a mom of three kids, two of whom are twins, one of my biggest challenges is keeping sibling rivalry at bay. I realize that some form of sibling rivalry is inevitable and it’s been happening since the beginning of time (thank you very much, Cain and Abel). My sister and I certainly fought and competed with one another growing up. But I always imagined — before having children – that my kids would love and support one-another, growing-up to be best friends. There were even signs that this might happen when they were very little. My eldest doted on her baby brother and sister when they came home from the hospital, bringing them her blankets and stuffed animals when they cried. When they were toddlers, my twins would waddle out to the playground hand-in-hand, or help each other up when they fell. It was so sweet and heart-warming…and lasted precisely 19 months, 16 days, 3 hours, and 27 seconds.

Now, here I am today with a teenager and two pre-teens. Mornings are torture as they snap at each other, blame each other, and try to boss one another around. Mealtime is filled with arguing over whose turn it is to talk, trying to get one another in trouble, or telling us about what the others did wrong at school that day. And car trips. Oh, don’t get me started on car trips! They are the worst! If I had a dollar for every time I said “no more talking, looking, or breathing at each other until we get home,” I would be able to afford that $30k a year private college my teen is eyeing.

Those pre-children dreams I had of raising three best friends are a distant memory now. Most days I’m just hoping nobody gets pushed down a well or sold to traveling Ishmaelite’s (thank you very much to all of Joseph’s brothers for planting that idea in my kids’ heads)!

I may not be able to completely stop the fighting and bickering that happens between my three, but one area I haven’t been willing to give up on is keeping them from the comparison trap. I never want any of my kids to feel like they aren’t as good as their sibling(s), or that they are expected to be the same. I know that this type of sibling rivalry will only create resentment and separation. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed as they get older this seems to be happening more and more, and it literally keeps me up at night worrying about the impact to their self-esteem, and their relationships.

Despite the many nights spent worrying and praying over this, and my resolve to not let it happen, I can tell you that [spoiler alert] I unequivocally have not figured out a perfect formula to prevent it. But there are a few things that seem to help more days than not, and I’m sharing these with you in hopes you will also share what is working in your family. Maybe together we can create our own play book on how to prevent a lifetime of competition and animosity between our children.

  1. Help them choose goals that are specific to their talents and abilities. This year all of my kids decided to run cross country. The three of them have varying degrees of athletic ability and experience running and if they all had the same goal of coming in first in their age group or running the same time, it would create a lot of frustration, disappointment, and comparison. So I talked to them regularly about what their individual goals were, focusing on improving on their previous times, and achieving personal bests, instead of all vying for the same goals. We do this with grades, too. My youngest daughter has really struggled with her spelling grade, so our focus this year has been on improving that. While my high-schooler has a history of late or missing homework assignments, so our focus has been eliminating those. This way we can celebrate when each child achieves a personal milestone that is meaningful to them, instead of only celebrating who got the most A’s and B’s.

 

  1. Privately encourage the older siblings to mentor the younger ones in specific areas. Now, I realize this may not work in every sibling situation. But my teen is great at making others feel included. She’s always been the kid who seeks out the loners and sits with them at lunch. Meanwhile, my younger daughter has been struggling to balance different groups of friends and the hurt feelings that can come between middle-school girls. Frankly, she doesn’t always like my advice or listen to it because, well I’m her mom – what do I know! So I’ve asked her sister to talk to her about it because my younger daughter looks up to her big sister. It lifts her up to think her big sister is taking a decided interest in her life. Meanwhile, it makes my eldest feel needed and important, instead of feeling annoyed by her little sister.

    If there is something one of your younger kids is struggling with, consider bringing in an older sibling, sharing only what is necessary and appropriate so as not to break confidences, and encourage them to help out. It inspires the older sibling, showing them what an important role they can play, while potentially opening doors to a pattern of siblings confiding in and supporting each other.

 

  1. Never, ever compare one sibling to another out loud. Notice my caveat of “out loud” here. What I really mean is don’t do it in front of your kids. The psychology magazines will tell you we, as parents, shouldn’t compare our kids at all. But just being real here, that’s not easy for me. Always in my head I look at my younger two and wonder how they are twins when they are SO different in every way. I look at my oldest and wonder how it is her sister is so organized and she struggles. I look at my son and wonder why dental hygiene seems to be so much more important to his sisters than it is to him. But I try very hard not to say these things out loud.

    If my children pick-up that I’m comparing them to their sibling and see one child doesn’t quite match another in a specific area, then they start to do this, too. Not only does it become a slippery slope to one feeling inferior to another, but it gives the other sibling a sense of superiority that I don’t want any of my kids to have (ok, well except maybe with the dental hygiene thing – if only my son cared enough about it to be shamed by his sisters!).

 

Those are three tactics I’ve been trying to employ in my house, and have found success, to varying degrees. I would love to hear what works for you and your children!

3 ways to prevent sibling rivalry

What I learned from Clark Griswold

Some of you may already know this, but my family and I just returned from a two week vacation in which we rented a 30 foot motor home and drove over 2,500 miles,  across 6 states, visiting 5 national parks including the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone NP. While some people might cringe at the idea of spending two weeks in a 300 square foot box on wheels with three kids and their spouse, this was actually a vacation I’d dreamed of for a long time. I wanted to have a real-life Griswold Family Vacation (minus the dead great-aunt and dog)!

The decision to make the trip this year had a lot to do with me turning 40 and wanting to check-off a few things on the bucket list. But when my husband had a stroke less than a month before the trip, the significance and meaning of this trip took on even greater magnitude.

love at the Grand Canyon

I had begun planning for this trip months earlier. As I researched and evaluated each stop, campground, and driving route, I dreamed of the family time spent around a campfire; of my kids happily playing card games at the table while their Dad or I drove to the next destination; of the life-long memories we’d make together seeing some of the greatest sites in the country.

But as the trip got closer and closer I started to realize my ideas of the perfect family vacation spent on the road were highly optimistic, if not entirely unrealistic. I began to worry that I was building-up this vacation too much in my mind and that could only lead to disappointment when things didn’t go as planned. I jokingly referred to myself as the female Clark Griswold, but when I began to list the things that could  go wrong on our real-life Griswold Ballon Family Vacation, and calculate the chances I might have my own Clark Griswold-esque meltdown, I wondered: did I really want to try and pull this off? Wasn’t I just setting myself up for a huge, expensive disaster?

So I tell you truthfully, there was no small amount of anxiety plaguing me in the days before we left, and even the first few days of the trip. But I decided the best thing to do was try to stay flexible (completely out of character for me), and know that things might go wrong, but that didn’t mean the vacation would be ruined.

And you know what? For the most part the trip went off without a hitch. Sure, we had a few minor issues, but none of them were enough to ruin an entire vacation, or at least we didn’t let them become so important they were allowed to ruin any one day of our trip.

It was, indeed, a wonderful vacation. And while I liked to tease the kids that I was making them learn on their summer break by going to places like the Pueblo Indian cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park, or reading about the geological history of the Grand Canyon, I think I was the one who learned the most on this trip. Channeling my inner “Sparky” taught me a lot about myself and my family. Here are just a few of those things:

Be a family first.
In “National Lampoon’s Vacation” you hear Clark say over and over, “Why? because we’re the Griswolds!” I can’t say that I’ve ever said to my kids, “Why? because we’re Ballons!” But I did learn from this trip that establishing  identity as a family creates unity.

Today there are so many places in which people claim an identity — even kids. We’re runners, dancers, drummers, teachers, students, etc. We belong to our employer or our school, our church and our clubs. And there is a sense of unity that comes when you claim them. Often they begin to define us. It becomes easy to forget that the first place we belonged was to a family.

By spending such a concentrated amount of time together — away from our jobs, schools, and friends — we were able to just be a family. To be the Ballons. For 15 days straight we got to experience these wonderful places and things,  together. We will always have that. And while others may take similar trips and see similar sights, none will have the exact same experience that the five of us had together.

Garden of the Gods

Arkansas River

Sisters

 

When things don’t go as planned, have a Plan B, even if you make it up as you go!
Like I mentioned above, I had a great deal of anxiety leading up to the trip as I thought of every thing that could potentially go wrong.  Overall, we were fortunate that none of my biggest fears came to light. However, I don’t think it’s possible to go on a 2 week road trip and not have something go awry, and our trip was no exception.

We found out two days before we were to pick up the RV that we were not going to be able to get it before 4 p.m., when we had figured on a 1 p.m. pick-up. This meant not only a 3 hour delay, but also dealing with rush hour traffic in Denver. It didn’t take long to figure out that our original plan to drive three and a half hours that first day was not going to work out. After getting over the initial frustration, we looked for a new, closer destination for our first night and adjusted our plans accordingly. As it turns out, we loved the campground we stayed at the first night, even if it was a short stay, and by dedicating our second day to driving (originally we were going to visit Sand Dunes National Park, but had to scratch that plan to allow for a longer drive), we were able to go slower and enjoy everything we saw (see number 4).

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon tower

Jelise at the Grand Canyon

My body is still strong, even when it hurts.
So the truth is that I’ve been mourning the days when I was more fit and exercise wasn’t quite so hard. Turning 40 has magnified a lot of the things I don’t appreciate about the aging process…and gravity. But on this trip we did a lot of hiking and moving. In fact my fitness tracker calculated I walked over 140,400 steps, or 66 miles in two weeks! And I can tell you a big portion of that included some strenuous, up-hill hikes, and even climbing wooden ladders through rock crevices in Mesa Verde.

Of course, it hurt. I was physically exhausted each night, and took a few more ibuprofen than usual. But I did it. And it felt good. This 40 year old body is still strong and capable of new challenges.

Bryce Canyon

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone

Sunset over the Grand Canyon

Enjoy the unexpected moments.
I’m a planner. Like my Sparky namesake, I spent a lot of time mapping out routes, researching parks, reading reviews, and making reservations. But, like I mentioned above, on a trip like this you will have moments that don’t go as planned. However, what really surprised me were the unexpected sights and unplanned experiences that became some of my favorite moments of the trip.

For example, day two’s focus was on driving from Buena Vista, CO to Cortez, CO. The most direct route that Google Maps indicated was a 5 hour trip through the Rio Grande National Forest, so that’s what we did. What I didn’t know was that this path would take us through an area called Wolf Creek Pass, which was not only a beautiful drive across the San Juan Mountains, reaching 10,000 feet elevation, but it brought us across the Continental Divide, provided an unplanned snowball fight, and hike to see Treasure Falls. It was one of my most favorite days, not just of the trip, but of all time. Totally unplanned and unexpected.

Snowball fight at Wolf Creek Pass

Bison baby at Yellowstone

Bottom of Bryce Canyon

Everyone is allowed at least one meltdown.
So, Clark Griswold’s meltdown in the movie is pretty iconic and long been quoted. Watching the movie before we left I laughed nervously at that scene because I could totally relate to how he felt in that moment and knew that I was fully capable of having a similar meltdown if faced with a trip where it was one disaster after another, and a vehicle full of whiny, complaining family members.

I confess, that it didn’t even take a series of ridiculous events to trigger my meltdown. On our second-to-last night in the RV it took nothing more than fatigue, lack of fire-wood, and a slightly ruined dinner. While I was at least about my wits enough to know I needed a time-out and went to bed early, it was not my finest moment. As soon as my head hit the pillow I felt guilty. The next morning before we left our campsite I gathered my family to apologize and I was met with the most unbelievable grace and love. They understood and forgave. And then they all thanked me for the planning and effort I put into the vacation. It was a very sweet moment and reminded me that everyone is bound to mess up, it’s how we deal with the mess-up afterwards that matters.

Old Faithful

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

Horseshoe Bend - Page, AZ

There was so much more I learned about myself, my family, and my country on this trip. But I realize this is already a pretty long post, so I’ll wrap it up with this: spend long periods of time with your family, disconnected from electronics. Take long drives and explore places you’ve never been. Be willing to let plans change, and make unexpected stops. And remember, if things go wrong, if you get pushed passed your breaking point, if you have a Clark Griswold meltdown moment, things always look better under the light of a new day and an apology.