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That Time I Had a Baby at 45

Our family has a lot to celebrate this week: Yesterday was my youngest daughter’s birthday. Today is my birthday. Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday. And the following day marks the 30th anniversary of the day we met, which also happens to be “Lovers Day” — isn’t that fitting?

I’ve taken my own aging and my husband’s advancing years in stride. Turning 50 didn’t faze me last year, and 51 doesn’t seem like a big deal, either (although I have noticed my bones creaking a lot more now than they did a decade ago).

The thing that’s been hardest to accept is the idea that this sweet little baby could be six years old already:

That Time I Had a Baby at 45

She’s growing up so fast! She can read. She can ride a bike without training wheels. She even lost her first tooth yesterday!

But the fact that there are no younger siblings trailing in her wake makes the bittersweetness of each new milestone particularly poignant. That’s why I made it one of my New Year’s resolutions this year to hold Abigail in my lap at least once every day: I know those days of cuddling will end far sooner than I’m ready to say goodbye to them.

Incidentally, Abby told me that one of her New Year’s resolutions was to sit in my lap at least once every day — so it’s been working out beautifully so far. We’ve only missed one day in four months — March 1. (That was election day for the Texas state primaries, and I worked the polls all day, personally checking in and credentialing one thousand, one hundred fifteen voters in the span of 12 hours. It meant leaving the house before Abby woke up and returning after she’d gone to bed, so no lap time that day. 🙁 )

Abigail was born the day before I turned 45. I had my first child at 23, my second 16 months later, and another every couple of years after that for two decades. One of the best benefits of big-family living is that I haven’t had to give up the joys of one stage to embrace the pleasures of the next.

I’ve been able to nurse babies and cuddle toddlers and read with grade schoolers and nurture adolescents and teach teens to drive and attend graduations and converse with adult children and witness marriages and welcome grandchildren — all at the same time! That’s been absolutely amazing as long as it’s lasted.

Barbara Kingsolver Quote -- So true!!

But now that I’ve (most likely) reached the end of those precious childbirthing years, I’m more acutely aware than ever, as my little ones pass milestone after milestone, that some of my favorite aspects of motherhood are being left behind in the transition. I don’t want to take any of these moments for granted, which is probably why the following poem so resonates with me at this stage of my life:

The Last Time

From the moment you hold your baby in your arms,
You will never be the same.
You might long for the person you were before,
When you had freedom and time,
And nothing in particular to worry about.
You will know tiredness like you never knew it before,
And days will run into days that are exactly the same,
Full of feeding and burping,
Whining and fighting,
Naps, or lack of naps. It might seem like a never-ending cycle.

But don’t forget…
There is a last time for everything.
There will come a time when you will feed your baby
for the very last time.
They will fall asleep on you after a long day
And it will be the last time you ever hold your sleeping child.

One day you will carry them on your hip,
then set them down,
And never pick them up that way again.
You will scrub their hair in the bath one night
And from that day on they will want to bathe alone.
They will hold your hand to cross the road,
Then never reach for it again.
They will creep into your room at midnight for cuddles,
And it will be the last night you ever wake for this.
One afternoon you will sing “The Wheels on the Bus”
and do all the actions,
Then you’ll never sing that song again.
They will kiss you goodbye at the school gate,
Then the next day, they will ask to walk to the gate alone.
You will read a final bedtime story and wipe your
last dirty face.
They will one day run to you with arms raised,
for the very last time.

The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times, and even then,
It will take you a while to realise.

So while you are living in these times,
Remember there are only so many of them and
When they are gone,
You will yearn for just one more day of them…
For one last time.

Author unknown

If your baby is still a baby, savor the sweet moments while you can. If your youngest has grown up faster than you ever imagined possible, then you can undoubtedly relate to this poem as much as I do. (I don’t know who wrote it. If you do, please share in the comment section below.)

Of course, there’s no stopping the march of time — and I wouldn’t want to, even if I could. It is vitally important that we let our children grow up, that we encourage and facilitate their maturity and independence, and that we — little by little — learn to let go.

But as long as my little girl still wants to crawl into my lap to snuggle, I’m gonna let her do just that!

To the Mother whose Child is Leaving Home

You knew it was coming.

From the first moment you held that tiny baby in your arms, you knew the day would dawn when you’d have to let her go.

But it came much sooner than you expected, didn’t it? The child who yesterday was snuggling in your lap has almost overnight transformed into a wonderful young adult who is packing bags, leaving home, moving away… and taking your heart along for the ride.

So now you are choking back the tears and trying to swallow that lump in your throat. Not because you have a lot of regrets. You don’t. You were the best mother you knew how to be, and you love your child more than life itself.

Always have. Always will.

But, oh how you miss her! You miss hearing the details of her days. The happy chatter. The sparkle in her eye. The infectious laugh. The music she made when practicing piano.

And that empty place at the dining room table is a daily reminder that she’s gone.

It’s a bittersweet time of life. But in the midst of your lonely, melancholy moods, I hope you’ll find encouragement in these thoughts:

  1. This is the natural order of things.
  2. Our little ones were never meant to stay little forever.

    The whole goal of parenting is to work ourselves out of a job. To raise capable, confident children who are able not only to survive, but to thrive as responsible, caring adults.

    Leaving home brings them one step closer to that objective.

  3. We still have telephones.
  4. And Skype. And Facetime. And instant messaging. And Twitter. And email. Not to mention snail mail (a perennial favorite in our household).

    Even when my daughter spent six months on the other side of the globe, whenever she Skyped us, it was almost like having her back in our living room.

    When our fore-mothers said goodbye to their adult children, it was often as they were boarding a ship to sail to the New World or climbing into a covered wagon to cross a continent. Those mothers knew they literally might never see their child again.

    When you think about it in those terms, we really have it easy.

  5. Kids come back to visit (bringing reinforcements with them).
  6. Whether your child is moving into the dorms or exchanging vows at an altar, she isn’t leaving your life forever. Not only will you hear from her again, but she’ll come home to visit, as well.

    And when she does, there’s a good chance she’ll bring her college classmates, then later a spouse and children, with her.

    So do what you can to make home a warm and welcoming place to be, and be happy for whatever time she’s able to spend there with you.

  7. The other people in your home are depending on you.
  8. If your child left younger siblings at home when she moved away, then you haven’t worked yourself out of a job quite yet. Your other children need you to remain fully engaged in their lives. Let the first child’s leaving motivate you to use well the time that remains with the others.

    If you are blessed to still have a husband at home, now would be a great time to give him an extra measure of love and attention, as well. One of these days, that last little bird will finally fledge and fly away, and then it will just be the two of you together again. By investing wisely in your marriage along the way, you can ensure it continues to flourish even after the nest is empty.

    If this child’s departure left you truly alone, with no spouse and no younger children needing your attention, then look for ways to invest in the lives of others in your church and community.

    My own mother, now widowed, lives out this principle beautifully: She works in the nursery at church (weekly), attends Bible Study Fellowship (weekly), teaches a BSF children’s class (weekly), volunteers with Buckner Children’s Home (weekly), is active with several widows’ and senior citizens’ groups (often hosting them in her home), and plays a vital role in the lives of her children and grandchildren. Mom is proof that living alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely.

  9. The next season of life deserves to be savored.
  10. If you spend too much time pining for the season just past, you’ll fail to fully appreciate the season in which you presently find yourself.

    Those happy, hectic years of nursing babies and changing diapers and chasing toddlers marked one of the sweetest, most precious seasons of my life. But I must admit that when I first began my journey into motherhood, I spent many a night wishing for a little more of the uninterrupted sleep I’d enjoyed in the previous season! If I hadn’t learned to embrace those midnight feedings, I would have missed out on a lot of warmth and joy and closeness that came from those sweet, undistracted hours with my babes.

    Now, after being pregnant and/or nursing for twenty-five years solid, it would seem my baby days are behind me. But rather than grieving that the last season has come to an end, I’m determined to make the most of the season I’m in now.

Your child’s leaving home is not the end of the story — certainly not for her, but not for you, either. It’s simply turning the page and beginning a new chapter.

Best of all, you get to help determine the direction that chapter will take. Will it be a drama or a romance? A tear jerker or a comedy? A plodding documentary or a page-turning adventure?

You’ve got a lot of life left to live, so come on out of your child’s empty bedroom, dry your eyes, and get busy living it. Your next adventure awaits!

Helping Siblings become Friends

How do you encourage siblings to be friends? Here's what works in our family (www.flandersfamily.info)

One of the first things people usually notice about our children is how well they get along. Sure, they have occasional squabbles, but that is the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, they really love and admire one another and enjoy being in each other’s company.

They are friends.

When people ask us how this came to be the case, we’re always quick to credit God’s grace. It’s a heartfelt answer, but not particularly helpful. So for parents who are searching for ways to encourage a deep and lasting friendship between their children, we offer eight practical suggestions:

  1. Turn off the TV
  2. Have you ever noticed how poorly family members treat one another on sitcoms? Yet every snide remark is rewarded with liberal doses of canned laughter. If our children are raised on a steady diet of such fare, it shouldn’t surprise us when they emulate what they’ve been watching.

    Even if the programing is good and wholesome, allowing children to watch too much of it precludes more meaningful, real-life interaction with their own family members. So switch off the set and make your own fun, instead.

  3. Play Games Together
  4. When you enter into your children’s world through play, you send them the message you enjoy being with them, and those warm feelings get sent back to you and shared with one another.

    A few of our family favorites? Puzzles. Zombie tag. Spoons. Knock-Out. Chess. Checkers. Tea parties. Hearts. The Hat Game. Ultimate Frisbee. Putt-Putt Golf. Ping-Pong. Cabo. Bananagrams.

  5. Allow for Kid-Directed Adventures
  6. Sometimes our kids dream up things to do together that don’t include Mom and Dad: Build blanket forts. Ride bikes around the block or to the gas station for a treat. See how deep a hole they can dig in our backyard. Hike through the bamboo forest. Build bicycle ramps. Bake peanut-butter cookies. Sell lemonade on the street corner. Drive to Dallas to see Nana.

    As long as the things our kids are asking to do are feasible and reasonably safe, we try to say yes to their requests. Not only do these sort of adventures build character, maturity, and confidence, but they bond siblings together in a special way that parent-directed activities alone cannot do… ( Read the rest of this post on our family blog.)

The Flanders Family Website: Helping You Build a Happy Home

Fathers Matter (Every Day of the Year)

Fathers Matter!Last Sunday was Father’s Day — a day for celebrating the parent that goes largely unnoticed and under-appreciated the rest of the year.

Dads are under-appreciated partly because our society is no longer conditioned to hold fathers in high esteem.

Fathers have long been a favorite target of television sitcoms, where the vast majority of them are depicted as inept, irrelevant idiots more deserving of ridicule than respect.

For decades, fathers have been marginalized and emasculated and treated as if they have nothing of value to contribute to their family’s life beyond its economic support (if that).

And to the degree that life imitates art, men must fight against these stereotypes, not only in contemporary culture, but sometimes even in their own homes.

But another reason dads go unnoticed and under-appreciated is because so many of them are absentee fathers — they’re seldom around to attract any attention or appreciation.

This may be due to death, divorce, abandonment, or career choice; regardless of the cause, their absence comes at a high cost to the children they’ve left behind.

Despite what the liberal media might lead us to believe, fathers play a vital, irreplaceable role in the development of their children. Despite the divorce lawyers’ assurances that “kids are resilient and will quickly adjust to life without you,” the children rarely (if ever) escape such an ordeal unscathed. Most will carry scars from their parents’ split for the rest of their lives.
Do Fathers Matter?
And while having a loving, engaged father living in your home, eating at your table, and taking interest in your life is not essential to success, studies show that paternal involvement makes such success a lot more probable.

According to a fascinating new book by Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, the general consensus, at least in the research community, is that fathers do matter. They matter a lot.

Beginning before conception and moving through pregnancy, delivery, infancy, children, teens, and all the way to fathering in old age, Raeburn covers cutting-edge research that gives insight into how fathers shape their children, for better or worse.

The bottom line? When fathers are involved, everybody fares better:

The children benefit.

  • Infants respond most positively to the way their father plays with them, which tends to be more physical and idiosyncratic than their mother’s play. (p. 126) Furthermore, children of fathers who engaged in the most physical and enjoyable play were less aggressive, more competent, and better liked by their peers. (p. 152)
  • Fathers have a huge impact on their children’s language development, even more so than mothers and irrespective of the mother’s education level or how she speaks to the children. (p. 145)
  • Children with fathers who are supportive and encouraging show a boost in intellectual development. (p. 147)
  • They also do better in school, both academically and socially: Paternal encouragement is associated with better relationships between children and their school teachers, as well as better behavior and social skills. (p. 150)
  • Engaged, attentive fathering has been linked to higher IQs in children, lower risk of smoking as teens, and even lower incidence of depression and psychological ailments decades later. (p. 151)
  • Sadly, there appears to be a robust association between father absence — both physical and psychological — and accelerated reproductive development in daughters, increased sexual risk taking, and higher incidence of teen pregnancy and STD infection. (pp. 160-164)

The wives benefit.

  • When fathers are present in the delivery room, mothers are less likely to cry or to require pain medication. (p.111)
  • Supportive parenting on the part of fathers has been shown to improve the behavior of mothers toward their children. When he’s more loving and attentive, she is, too. (p. 147)
  • When couples forge a strong alliance in parenting, their marriage is strengthened, as well. (p. 85)

The fathers themselves benefit.

  • Fathers who are involved with their children have a reduced incidence of illness and mortality. (p. 138)
  • Men who devote more time to fatherhood also have higher self-esteem and lower parental stress. (pp. 123-124)
  • Interestingly, low testosterone is not only associated with increased longevity, but also with better, more attentive fathering (pp. 74-75) — so why does our society push supplemental testosterone on middle-aged men as if it were candy?

And those findings are just the tip of the iceberg. I’d encourage you to read Do Fathers Matter? to get the details on the benefits mentioned above and to discover a myriad of others.

So what does all that mean for us? How should these studies affect our day-to-day lives?

For me — and these are my thoughts, not the author’s — this book serves as just one more reminder of how vitally important it is that I nurture my marriage. The next generation is counting on it!

No matter how much others would like us to believe that marriages are just contracts of convenience that can be dissolved without consequence, that simply isn’t true. When Mom and Dad go separate ways, the children are always affected.

No matter how often society argues that what consenting adults do in private should be of no concern to anybody else, their behavior does affect the community around them — especially the children.

And no matter how emphatically our culture insists that one definition of “family” is just as good as the next, the preponderance of research indicates there is an optimal design, at least when it comes to rearing offspring: that of a father and a mother firmly committed to one another and jointly and lovingly involved in the lives of their children.

Making Big Investments in Little Things

President Obama created quite a stir last week with his comments regarding Moms who leave the workplace to stay home and raise children: “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make,” he said resolutely.

Recipe for Success: Making Big Investments in Little Things

His solution to the pesky problem of SAHMs? Taking more and more children out of their homes at younger and younger ages and placing them in tax payer funded preschool, so their moms can get back to climbing the corporate ladder ASAP.

The President pushes this agenda — and pretends it will be best for all parties involved — despite the fact research has shown that the more time kids spend in non-maternal care during their first 4.5 years, the more behavioral problems they develop.

This marginalizing of mothers’ influence reminds me of a friend I had in graduate school who was totally grossed out by the idea of breastfeeding. “Why would you choose to nurse,” she once asked me in all seriousness, “when formula is so readily available?” (She also considered C-sections preferable to vaginal birth).

Infant formulas have made great progress over the past few decades in approximating the nutritional make-up of “nature’s perfect food.” And I’m glad they are available — especially since one of my own children had difficulty latching on and might’ve died without formula supplementation.

But even the formula manufacturers themselves concede that mother’s milk is superior.

I tried to enumerate the benefits of breastfeeding to my squeamish friend, but she remained unpersuaded.

This girl was no dummy. She went on to earn her PhD in Mathematics. Babies and breastfeeding just weren’t a part of her plan for that season of her life, but rather than owning up to that fact, she tried to pretend that my babies would be better off if I’d adopt her choices.

Of course, I didn’t buy her pitch, either.

Instead, I dropped out of graduate school three classes shy of having my Master’s in Math. My first baby was born just a couple of weeks after my final final, and it was more important to me to stay home with him and the others that would soon follow than to earn another diploma to gather dust in my closet.

I know some mothers will choose or need to work outside their home while their children are still young. I get that. And I understand why they’d want high-quality childcare to facilitate this.

That much is obvious.

But let’s not pretend that a publicly-funded institution is a better place for preschool-aged children than a loving home, or that paid workers can do a superior job of nurturing and teaching and loving on little ones than their own mother.

And let’s not assume, Mr. President, that the workforce is best place for a woman at any stage of her life, but especially not when she has young children who need her attention.

Those little ones won’t stay little for long, and the investment a mother makes during their formative years will pay much bigger dividends in the long run than any 401(K) plan an employer could offer.


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My Favorite Marriage and Family Blogs

Want to nourish your marriage? You'll find a healthy dose of encouragement here: My Favorite Marriage & Family Blogs | lovinglifeathome.comIf there’s anything I’ve learned in 27+ years of marriage, it’s that “happily ever after” takes work.

Yes, it’s attainable, but not without liberal helpings of love and focus and commitment and intentionality and grace and forgiveness and discipline.

Marriage is wonderful. I love sharing life with my best friend.

But we are both human, and there is always room for improvement.

The secret for me has been to focus on the areas I need to improve rather than on what I think he needs to change.

One way I invest in my marriage is by reading good books and blogs on the topic of marriage and family.

I love the encouragement I receive from these candid, Christian writers.

I like the fact that reading their stories gives me the opportunity to learn from somebody else’s mistakes rather than repeating them myself.

There are lots of great books and blogs out there to choose from, but here is a list of my personal favorites: Click on each image to visit the blog and learn more about it.

Ashleigh Slater  Better Mom  Club 31 Women  Happy Wives Club  For the Family  Matt Jacobson  Revive Our Hearts  Time Warp Wife  To Love, Honor, and Vacuum  5 Love Languages

Incidentally, all but two of these authors/bloggers have books in the Ultimate Christian Living Bundle (only on sale through November 10, 2014). Among all the other great resources, you’ll find these treasures:

As well as a copy of my own book, which is also included…

Are there any books or blogs on marriage and motherhood you find yourself gravitating toward? Tell me about them in the comment section below so I can check them out, too!


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10 Things Your Teenager Hates

10 Things Your Teenager Hates (Are you making any of these mistakes?) | http://lovinglifeathome.comThere’s no doubt about it.

Navigating life with a teenager at home can be a little tricky.

All those hormones raging through the bloodstream will sometimes have you walking on eggshells.

(Of course, teens might say the same thing about living with a menopausal mother, but that’s another post for another day.)

No parent is perfect. We all make mistakes. And it is sometimes necessary for us to make decisions that won’t necessarily be popular with our kids.

But if we can somehow manage to avoid the biggies — if we can refrain from doing these things our teens hate most — then our homes might be much happier, both during the teen years and beyond.

  1. Disapproval
  2. Your teenager hates to disappoint you. Whether he acts like it or not, he is hungry for your affirmation and approval. He needs to know that your love for him is unconditional. Yes, he’ll make mistakes. And yes, those mistakes may need to be addressed. But they’ll need to be addressed in a way that communicates your love for him and your confidence in his ability to do better.

  3. Lectures
  4. Your teenager hates being lectured. Sure, she still needs your counsel and correction from time to time, but it will fall on deaf ears if you deliver it in a spirit of anger or condescension. Don’t talk down to your teen or use sweeping generalizations. Make your point clearly, but don’t belabor it. Always and only speak the truth in love.

  5. Hypocrisy
  6. Do you use one voice for company and phone calls, but another for your family? Is the person you seem to be at work and church and out in the community the same person your spouse and children see at home every day? Teens are especially sensitive to discrepancies in this area. They are watching you, examining you, constantly observing whether your talk matches your walk. Be genuine and sincere. Live a life of integrity. Apologize and seek forgiveness from your family when you fail. Otherwise, you risk having your teen reject not only you, but everything you allegedly stand for.

  7. Micro-Management
  8. Don’t be a hovering, helicopter parent who tries to dictate your teen’s every move. The older she gets, the more important it is for her to take responsibility for making her own choices and decisions. This is a healthy part of growing up. Sometimes she may do things in a different way than you would do them, but in most cases, that is alright. God never intended for your teen to be an exact replica of you. She is wonderfully unique. Give her some freedom to be herself. When you try to control every detail of her life, it sends your teen the message that you think she’s either incompetent or untrustworthy.

  9. Passivity
  10. As much as your teen dislikes it when you’re controlling, the opposite extreme is just as bad. There must be a balance. Your teen still needs you to remain involved, to be available, to hold him accountable. When he pushes the limits, he’s just testing to make sure they’re still in place, the way you might push against the doors of your house each night to make sure they are properly latched. You should expand his boundaries a bit as he grows, but you shouldn’t remove them altogether. Whether consciously or not, your teen takes comfort in knowing that you care enough to keep tabs on him.

  11. Manipulation
  12. Your teen hates guilt trips. If you want or need her to do something for you, please just come out and say so. Don’t expect her to read your mind or try to guilt trip her into doing what you want. Be straightforward in your requests and sincerely grateful for her cooperation.

  13. Comparisons
  14. Your teen may tolerate positive comparisons to people he admires, but he hates to be compared negatively to anyone. Let him stand or fall on his own merit. There’s no reason to drag anybody else into it. If a comparison must be made, let it be in comparing your teen to his younger self and noting the growth, maturity, and progress he’s made.

  15. Discord
  16. This may seem counterintuitive, given how prone she is to argue sometimes, but your teenager hates strife. She especially hates to hear her parents fighting. There is enough turmoil in the world — don’t add to it by being at odds with your spouse. Let your home be a haven of rest, a peaceful oasis where your children can relax, recharge, and take refuge from worldly cares in full confidence of your commitment not only to them, but to one another, as well.

  17. Inflexibility
  18. Avoid letting “no” become your knee-jerk response. Don’t get locked into doing things a certain way, just because that’s how you’ve always done them. Be willing to think outside the box and weigh all the options, especially when making decisions that affect your teen. Attempt to see things from his perspective. Sympathize. Remember what it was like to be a teen yourself. And if your erstwhile dreams, ideals, and love for adventure have been snuffed out in the passing years, do your best to rekindle them — for your own sake as much as for his.

  19. Uncertainty
  20. Remember the verse about not being anxious for tomorrow, because each day has enough troubles of its own? This is especially true for our teenagers. Our kids face so many uncertainties during these years — Will I pass my test? Will I make the team? Will I get into college? Will I ever find love? — they don’t need parents heaping their own worries on top of what’s already there. Remain calm. Don’t overreact. Pray for your teen, point him to the solid Rock, anchor him there when the storms roll in, and assure him the sun will soon come out again.

What other things does your teen hate? Is there anything else you’d add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.


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