nine reflections from nine years of pre-schoolers

Something is brewing in the Robinson household.

After nearly nine years of raising pre-school children,  the third and last chabling is about to leave pre-school and prepare for the big wide world of PROPER school.

I’m not gonna lie: this season brings a whole range of emotions for me.

This week we attended our third and last pre-school graduation.

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And as I watched that last little chabling receive his graduation certificate, dressed in cap and gown and smothered in cuteness, I found myself trying hard to hold back the tears. And I wondered why with this one I was holding back the tears, when with the other two I sobbed shameless snot-faced-tears.

Maybe I was afraid that this time if I released the teary-floodgates I wouldn’t be able to close them.

You see, this time it’s different.

With this one I’m not just releasing him into a new season. I’m also releasing myself into a new season.

And that’s exciting. And a teensy bit scary as well.

Filled with highs and lows, moments of competence and many more of how-on-earth -am-I-supposed-to-do-this-parenting-thing , this pre-schooler season has been a rollercoaster. And I’ve loved the ride. Not every second of every minute of that ride. But isn’t that just like a real rollercoaster? You come off the ride exhilarated but in the moments when you dip down and your tummy hits the sky it feels more scary than fun. But overall you come off the ride and say that it was FUN.

And this pre-schooler ride has been challenging, and scary, and hopeless at times. But most of all I’m coming off this ride saying it was FUN. And I’m not the same person as I was when I started out on the ride.

So, as I often do in transitional times, I’ve been reflecting on what those years have meant to me and what I’ve learnt along the way.

So here you go… Nine reflections from nine years of pre-schoolers:

1. Change is constant

One thing I’ve noticed with pre-schoolers is that you’re just about getting used to one season just as the new one is ushered in. You’re just getting the hang of breast or bottle feeding and they start eating solids.  You’re just getting used to them sitting up and they start crawling. You’ve just about got the hang of looking after one kid and another one shows up. You’ve almost reached a place where they’re content in the buggy and then they go on a buggy board.

Knowing that change is a constant was helpful for me. It just meant I gave up trying to hold too tightly to a particular thing or season.  I love change but even for me I needed some constants in shifting seasons. For us the constants were the little routines that we put in place each day that didn’t change – how we did mealtimes or prayers, or bedtime routines. They became the constants in the ever-shifting world of pre-schoolers.

2. You’re never ready

You’re never ready for the emotions that children bring up. You’re never ready for those feelings of inadequacy when newborn crying just won’t cease. You’re never ready for that moment when your kid bites someone else’s kid. You’re never ready for the swelling-heart-pride as you watch them take those first steps. You’re never ready for the echo of their laughter in your heart.  You’re never ready. Even with the second and third child you’re never ready.

 

And yet, somehow, you have to be. And maybe that’s one of the biggest life-lessons for me in this season. I’m the kind of person that never feels ready for anything. I could always feel more equipped, more resourced, more informed.  And in most other things in my life I can make a choice to not do something because I don’t feel ready. But with parenting, you have to just choose to be ready.

Even when you don’t feel it.

Even when there isn’t enough information. Even when you feel wobbly. Because a small person is needing you to be ready. It’s scary and liberating all at the same time.

For me, this season has been about going to the One who is always ready. The One who always has enough wisdom, resource, love, forgiveness and patience. Thank you God that you are always ready.

 

3. You’ve got to walk the journey ahead of them

I’ve talked about this before.… our kids can’t win the ground that we haven’t already taken.  In this season we’ve been challenged first to think about how we relate to God when we’ve considered how we want our kids to relate to Him. And then we’ve tried to live and walk that way.  When we’ve considered the rhythms and routines we want our kids to walk in, we’ve had to walk in them ourselves first. When we’ve thought about how we want our kids to love others we’ve tried to model that to them. And when we’ve wanted them to see for themselves what it looks like to ask for forgiveness, and to say sorry we’ve had to be the first to do that. We’ve done it all imperfectly. But that’s ok, because integrity is not the same as perfection. We’re living examples not perfect examples.

 

4. Short-cuts don’t pay off. Nip it in the bud

A quick fix-produces a quick result. But it doesn’t produce a changed heart. There are quick and easy ways to get  children to stop crying, whining, shouting, or fighting. But sometimes they’re not the long-lasting ways. Genuine heart repentance and change is not the same as behaviour modification. The first is a long-road, and the latter is a short-cut. Behaviour modification is like trimming the weeds. But genuine repentance pulls the weed out at the root. Trimming the weeds can be done quickly and easily. Pulling out at the root takes longer, and takes a lot more effort.

I’ve tried both.

I know which one I find easier but I also know which technique I’d rather see the fruit of.

 

5. Every season is the best one…

Someone said this to me when the kids were young. I guess I’ve tried to carry it through with me over the years.

I’ve tried not to eagerly anticipate the next season or wistfully look back to a former one.

If you’re a parent you’ve probably heard countless other (older)  parents say “make the most of it.. they’ll be grown up before you know it.” When you’re in the throes of sleepless nights or toddler tantrums it can take all your self-restraint not to throttle someone who gives you those well-meaning words.

But those words are true. Kids grow up. Faster than you think.

And so viewing every season as the best one has been my way of trying to enjoy every moment. Not in an everything-is-wonderful-denial kind of way. Because there are always crappy days and sometimes those days merge into weeks.

But there is good in every season.

6….. Having said that… three under-5’s was a little bit nuts

Yes. It was.

Those were the days when all 3 of them were at home because they hadn’t started school and life felt a little bit hazy. In that  pre-schooler-fog, I would wake up some days not really sure of who I was, what I was doing or how I would make it through till bedtime. But I did. And He was faithful.

 

7. Your reactions become their reactions.

You know that moment when your kid trips up and falls down and then they turn round to look at your face? That’s the moment when they decide how they will respond to the fall. If your face is one of distress and concern their cry will be one of distress and concern. We cottoned on to that pretty quick with our kids so that when they fell we tried to say in a positive tone “up-you-get”, and unless the fall was really bad, that’s what they’d do.

It’s easy to see how your reactions become their reactions in those circumstances. But then there are the more subtle moments. The moments when you’re not quite so aware that they’re watching your reactions. The moments where you feel scared or fearful of something and they’re watching to see how you respond. The moments where someone is unkind to you and they’re watching your face. And your words. And your body language.

It similar to point 3.

Your reactions become their reactions.

 

8.  Never underestimate the power of food, sleep, and cuddles.

When babies are little it’s clear to see that food, sleep and cuddles make all the difference. If they eat and sleep well, and have lots of physical contact they’re pretty much happy. If they don’t, they’re not.

But when they get older they stop just falling asleep when they’re tired, regardless of where they are, and they no longer bawl their eyes out until they’re fed or held. And so it can be easy to forget that the basics of sleep, food and cuddles make the world of difference to a small person.  And to a big person, for that matter.

I remember at church we used to talk about the acronym HALT. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. We’d say that the more of those you had on your list the more you were prone to make bad choices. It’s no different for kids. The first thing I do if I see difficult or angry behaviour in my kids is to do a mental checklist:

  • When did they last eat?
  • Have they had enough sleep?
  • Have they felt loved? (which may be cuddles, but as they get older it may also be words of affirmation, gifts, quality time, or acts of service to varying degrees depending on which child it is)

Basic needs may seem basic. But they’re needs, not wants, so we can’t underestimate the impact of these things on our kids when there’s an insufficiency in one of them.

 

9. Parenting has helped me to be a better leader.

When I started out on the parenting journey I thought that I might be missing out, as I focused my attention to the home. But this has been a season of growth for me, not stagnation. The skills you need to be a good parent are the same skills that make a great leader.  So this season has not only been about growing in parenting. It’s been about growing in leadership too.

As I look down these nine reflections so many of them are transferable to leadership. Because at the end of the day they’re both about discipleship.

 

So these are my pre-schooler reflections. How about you – what are yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “nine reflections from nine years of pre-schoolers

  1. Hey Anna – great blog as always – and it got me thinking. Here’s my reflections so far…

    Going through all the starting school motions has been exciting – yet what I have felt more than anything is OVERWHELMING NOSTALGIA. Not at R starting school, but that at all the memories from when C (my first) started. The thing I feel like weeping copiously over is not that R is going to school, but that C is going into YEAR NINE. You what? YEAR NINE! How has THAT happened??

    So last night I lay awake thinking of what I’ve learned over the Y5 to Y8 transition. (If we were living in Northumberland where I grew up, C would be at the end of middle school, starting High School. That’s probably why Y9 seems such a milestone.)

    I think this is ‘wot I’ve learned.’ So far.

    1. They never ever stop needing you.
    C isn’t clingy like a baby, but she needs me there in the morning, hates it if I’m not dropping her off or meeting her from school, doesn’t like me going out in evenings (and I REALLY don’t do many evenings – that was something I learned very early on!) As soon as I’m in that bath or bedroom at night getting ready for bed, she’s there…’Can I just talk to you about something/anything…?’ And I have had to learn to give her all the time she needs.

    2. Pre-teens/teenagers need so much affirmation that you think you know their love languages – yet they need you to give them so much love in all areas. IN SPADES.
    For us this has meant what we call ‘One-on-one’ time with either Mum or Dad going out for coffee, to cinema, cuddling on sofa watching a film, and constantly speaking great things about them. Constantly.

    3. Nothing is off limits.
    We have talked about tattoos, piercings, cancer, drugs, sex, oral sex, gay sex, porn, drink, how much ectascy will kill you, FGM, sexual exploitation, rape culture, rape, transgender issues, transgender operations. And that’s just in the last week. I know some (and it can be Christian or non Christian) parents who don’t talk openly and that’s their call. Yet for me I want my kids to get accurate info from me and I want them to ask me my opinion.
    Which they do.
    And I want them to know what they think about it for themselves.
    Which they do.
    And in this I have always carried the story of the Lost Son and the Prodigal Father. You know why it says ‘Inheritance’ and not just ‘wealth?’ Because with inheritance the son got a whole load of the Father’s character. The son always KNEW in his heart, ‘I CAN ALWAYS GO BACK.’ And that’s my message to my 13 year old. ‘There is NEVER anything you could do that is so bad or awful that you can’t come to me about it.’ I don’t want my kid living in shame. Especially shame because they’re scared of my reaction. End of.

    4. And in the light of ‘3’ – pray without ceasing.

    5.You’re on countdown.
    Yes – we may have 5 more summers where C wants to come on holiday with us. AARRGHHHH!!
    I remember the wonderful Liz Lovell saying, ‘From the moment they’re born you’re bringing them up to leave you.’

    And that’s the wonder and paradox of parenting.

    So in the light of this, as you wrote Anna, I choose to:

    Love every season and to be thankful for my family daily, moment by moment.

    Thanks again,
    Love Nicole xx

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    • Thanks Nicole, this is so great, especially as you’re a few steps on with having older kids.
      I’ve heard so many people with older ones talking about how their kids actually need them more emotionally as they get older, and therefore how evening routines etc need to change and adapt with that. I also really like the one-on-one idea. We occasionally do that now but can see that we’ll be doing it more in the future.
      Thanks so much for sharing all your reflections – I think I’ll be coming back to them at some point in the not so distant future!

      Love Anna

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  2. This is beautifully written,encouraging and inspiring – as I have come to expect from you Anna!
    Even as I’m at the beginning of this journey, several of these already resonate with me and the others are good things to know as we go forward.

    For me particularly your last point about skills for leadership is really encouraging as I see it’s important not to underestimate how much you grow from being a parent. People like to say, ‘oh, but it’s the most important job in the world’ …. Which it is… But some days I feel like I’d have more to show for my day if I’d done some data-entry. Good to know life’s not passing me by whilst I stay at home!

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    • Thanks Helen! Yes, in regard to the last point- sometimes parenting feels very unquantifiable (especially on a day-to-day basis) and often the encouragement comes by reflecting back on a season where you can see change and growth both in yourself and your kids! Much love x

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  3. Thanks Anna! Our journey is just beginning and so far my reflections are that its taught me to be patient; enjoy (in my mind!) nights with inadequate sleep and the biggest is understanding the Father-heart of God!

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