Katariina Rontti | The Voice of Zion May 2018, Translated from Äiti, SRK 2016 --
Mom, did you order those shoes for me? What’s for dinner? Mom! Come look at this homework. My friend has been waiting outside for a half an hour! Why didn’t you make rice porridge? I’ve asked for it so many times! Mom, check if my teacher posted information about the celebration! Where’s the newest comic? Moooom, he’s teasing! Mom, isn’t it my turn to play the piano?
Questions, demands, and requests bounce around the room. My spouse is still working, so I’m the only parent answering the children’s needs. One child does not always notice that I’m already occupied with another. From her perspective, I am here right now for her and only her, so she moves in to interrupt.
Over the years, I have learned quite well to answer, “Let’s talk about that a bit later” to the children when they want to talk about something that doesn’t call for immediate intervention. The children also learn. During the afternoon mayhem the older ones do not even try to say anything to me that could be said “a little later.” Still, at times, sometimes quite often, there are situations in which I feel like covering my ears with my hands and jumping up and down on two feet, purely from the jumble inside my head.
Motherhood Is Listening to My Own Feelings
As the mother of several big and small children, I have noticed that it is necessary to be aware of what situations are challenging to me and of the difficult feelings such situations give rise to. Actually, being a mother is all about listening to and managing your own feelings. I cannot spill my frustrations onto a child, or grumble about my fatigue, passing it on for them to carry.
Motherhood has also taught me to be merciful, especially with myself. Sometimes in the evening after the noise has calmed down and I’m sitting in the sauna, I review the ABCs of grace and remind myself that a child’s development is not irrevocably harmed by my poor words. I believe that God perhaps permits imperfect parenting so that the child learns to accept his own imperfection. If parents were to always behave unerringly, how would a child know how to relate to his own mistakes? Sometimes when I have remained in my own guilt, I’ve found that it works as the generator for new errors. If, on the other hand, I find mercy for myself, I am able to relax when it comes to questions of parenting.
Challenging situations, the kind that sometimes seem to make up the whole life of the mother of a large family, have forced me to look in the mirror. I always notice new things about myself. Some things bring much delight, while others cause a strong feeling of anger. Discussions with believing mothers have revealed that regardless of the number of children they have, most other mothers also experience strong emotions in their motherhood. Together some of us mothers have found inspirational words to repeat in our minds when we feel we need it.
Even incomplete, I am adequate. I understand myself. One potato at a time. I value myself as a mother. I managed this situation well.
I have also observed that although it is during situations with children that negative feelings sprout up, there is usually something difficult already going on, something that has nothing to do with being a mother. For example, poor self-esteem might be something that could be accentuated by being with children. In such a case, it might be easier to focus the negative energy on the children’s mess or on the noise they are making.
Children Give More Than They Take
It is often said among believers that children are a blessing. This has many different meanings. To me this means above all that God has not meant children to be a barrier to living the right kind of life. Understanding this has been one of the most important things in parenthood. When surrounded by all the physical and psychological work and burden, I continuously return to that thought. I believe that in children, God has hidden things that we adults need, perhaps, more than anything else. In a children’s song we sing, “All the children in the world have a little bell ringing deep in the bottom of their hearts. In a child, it rings tenderly.” The job we as adults have is to find that little bell and let it ring. The bell is joy and authenticity. It is the ability to live in the moment and the ability to love unconditionally. These are things that often are lacking in us adults, and things that through children, we can own more easily.
What prevents us from seeing that small bell and from hearing it ring? I have pondered this often in my day-to-day life. A child, perhaps, doesn’t match the picture we have of proper behavior. A child messes the house. A child has a lot to say and this requires that an adult take the time to stop and listen. A child whines. In these typical ways of a child, he sets a demand for the parent that does not feel easy. In challenging parenting situations, it doesn’t come to mind to “let the little bell ring tenderly in the child.” However, when I have really stopped to tend to my child’s needs, taken time and made an effort, I realize that I have been on the receiving end of what I was trying to give, namely love, joy, and strength. When we share a morsel of love with our child, he gives it back in a greater amount. That is what you call a blessing.
God has evenly spread out the special moments He has placed in my path. These bring perspective to my every day chaos. During these times I have been able to pause around why I am the mother of a large family. The birth of a new baby is an example of such a time. I quieten down during the holy moment that follows the birth of a new baby. At that moment I experience that God is showing me His strength and omnipotence in a very moving and concrete way. A newborn baby brings fresh greetings from her Creator in heaven, and at that moment, I remember, perhaps better than at any other time, the destination of my own travels.
At services, too, one receives greetings from God without even asking. I remember one evening when I sat in a sanctuary that was full to the brim. I hadn’t made it to services for two months because of morning sickness. The opening hymn rang out heartily. I felt as though everyone, familiar or not, was singing for me—for strength in faith, for comfort, and for courage. After a long and lonely wilderness journey, I reached an oasis that has given me strength in later times of illness as well.
Encountering the life situations of other believers and experiencing these situations with them brings new points of view that are necessary for my own journey and life situation. When I listen to the ticking of a wall clock when visiting an old woman who lives alone, I suddenly realize how short life is. I understand what “there’s a time for everything” means. For me, it is time to sow my own plot of land with my children and spouse. Often my brow is sweaty, but soon my children will have spun away from the hem of my skirt. What will I long for then?
Could I see more clearly what is valuable now, and be thankful? On the other hand, I have had a single acquaintance approach me after services to encourage me in my motherhood and to tell me that our family is remembered in prayer. Also, one mother, when she dropped her child off at Day Circle said she has had a rough week, so her child might be restless. We didn’t discuss further, but after that short encounter I felt somehow closer to that mother.
I have often pondered that there are so many different kinds of events and work in Zion so that open and free encounters with other believers would increase. In all situations in life, they are enriching and a source of strength. It is in these moments when one can feel the communion of the saints, which carries one on the road to heaven.
Kinds of Help
Through the years, my husband and I have come up with strategies that are a valuable help with a large family. For example, we have agreed that when one or the other feels as though patience is wearing thin and there is danger of going overboard, he or she must leave the situation. If at home, the spouse will be asked to take over. We understand that now my spouse needs to take a break before continuing with the children. We often reassure each other in such situations, saying for example, “It’s normal to feel like that in this situation. I understand you.”
Another unspoken rule is that if a child has something to speak about one-on-one, we try to arrange an opportunity for it. Usually these opportunities come up in the evening, when I am ready for peace and quiet of my own. Sometimes it stings to leave the newspaper and focus on a discussion with my child. However, these discussions mean a lot to the children and for that reason we keep them as a priority. We also feel it is important to ask our children as often as possible about how they are doing. My husband is especially skilled in this. If a child answers “I’m fine,” the discussion is not left there. Long and heartfelt discussions have sometimes come from a concrete question, such as “Who were you with today at recess?”
With time I have learned that as a mother I do not need to be able to do everything and to be good at everything. Also, I don’t need to feel bad if my husband manages a situation with the children in a better way than I would have. God has given children two parents so that the responsibility of raising them might be shared. Both have their strengths.
Our family is suitable and the right kind for each member of our family. I need these kinds of children, this kind of husband, and they need me, as I am. At best, interaction in our home is rewarding to each of us and makes us feel good inside. I commended my five-year-old for always remembering to put his outside clothes to dry when he came in from outside. When I wondered aloud how it is possible that he remembers, he answered: “You taught me!”