Yes, My Husband Babysits

by Elizabeth

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I didn’t have children the first time I heard a mom announce that “dads don’t babysit.” At the time I didn’t understand what the fuss was all about. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Since becoming a mother thirteen years ago, I have repeatedly heard that sentiment in all its various forms, but I have never joined in the conversation. Because my husband does babysit.

I’m the primary caregiver in our family, and my husband works a full-time job. So if I want to work, or go out with friends, or go out by myself, or even get my own medical care, I’m going to have to ask him to watch the kids. Because to me, the “ask” is what constitutes the “act” of babysitting.

It would feel silly to ask, “Can you parent on Tuesday night?” Or, “Can you do some fathering on Thursday from 3 to 5?” He’s a parent all the time, not just when he’s watching the kids.

I don’t always say, “Can you babysit?” Usually I say, “Can you watch the kids at that time?” (In fact, JT WATCH KIDS is what goes into our shared Google calendar.) But what I tell other people is that “I have to get babysitting first” (the default here being ET WATCH KIDS).

And lest you get the wrong idea, let me say that we made the decision to run our family like this together. This is our mutually decided-upon life for now. It means that I’m the one at home most of the time, and it means that if I want alternative childcare during certain times, I have to ask. It doesn’t mean I think of him as “the babysitter” and not “the dad.” It just means he has to plan time to stay at home in place of me.

Saying I have to arrange babysitting with my husband doesn’t mean he doesn’t parent. (His parenting is astounding. He’s calm and wise, pragmatic and sensitive. He sees through any child’s manipulative tactics and also sees straight to their heart needs.) It simply means he has a job and that if I, as the primary caregiver, need or want to leave the house without my children, I’m going to have to ask him to clear some time in his schedule. It’s something he’s more than happy to do, but it’s still something I have to ask for, and it’s still something we have to plan.

So yes, my husband babysits. And yes, he also parents. He does both.

Two Things We Need to Teach Our Kids About Sex

by Elizabeth

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This spring Jonathan and I participated in a panel discussion on issues of sexuality and parenting. During the course of our conversation I verbalized two things I think are important when it comes to talking about sex with our children. First, from very early on we need to be cultivating a mistrust of friends’ information. And second, virginity is not the point: purity is.

Long before we ever thought about talking about sex with our children, we encouraged them to come to us with the things their friends told them. Then we could tell them if their friends were giving accurate information — or not. We happen to be a very talkative family (you probably can’t imagine that, can you??), and our children report back to us with gusto.

The things they tell us their friends said are, almost without exception, incorrect. By now it’s almost a family joke. We started this approach early and are hoping it continues into the teen and young adult years. We’ve now started telling our older kids that when it comes to sex, their friends will most likely not be correct. They appear to believe us because this has been the case for so many other topics over the years.

One more thing about the friendship issue: we need to include Google as one of these untrustworthy “friends.” There are a couple reasons for this. The internet may very well give scientifically or Biblically accurate information — but not necessarily. And young people have difficulty discerning reputable sources on the internet. Additionally, finding porn during a Google search is literally 1 second away. {I know this because it happened to me. Ew.} The internet is not our friend when it comes to sex education.

Cultivating a mistrust of friends’ information is something we can do from very early ages, before we begin talking about sex or even begin thinking about talking about sex. But when we do begin talking about sex, we need to start steering the conversation away from virginity — which has been a traditional way of talking about sex and marriage — and direct it towards purity.

Virginity refers to an event. Its loss might be a past event or a future event, but it is still a one-time occurrence. Purity, on the other hand, is a state of living and a state of being. No matter what our past is, because of Jesus, purity is possible in the present and in the future.

Purity is what Paul means when he tells us to press on. Purity is what Jesus means when He tells the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. Virginity will fail us, but purity is always available.

Our virginity status isn’t a pre-requisite for marriage. God cares more that we are currently living in purity than whether we enter marriage a virgin. (Of course, if you’re a virgin, that means God wants you to remain so until marriage.) But if sexual immortality has been confessed, repented of, and forgiven, those specific sins don’t matter anymore. We — and our children — are clean now.

So let’s not talk about virginity, other than to define what it is. Instead let’s teach our children to walk in the way of purity and commit to walking in that way ourselves.

 

In the future I’d like to address various questions about sex and relationships that I’ve received from teenagers over the years. So stay tuned.

The thing that happened while I was scrubbing the kitchen floor with a toothbrush

by Elizabeth

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It was many years ago now. My boys were preschoolers, and my girls weren’t even conceived. I was literally on my hands and knees scrubbing my kitchen floor with an old toothbrush when I got the call: the call from a university professor offering me an interview for a chemistry lab instructor position.

For a bit of background here, let me just say that I’ve loved chemistry ever since I walked into Mr. Smith’s 10th grade chemistry class nearly twenty years ago. I love the ingenious organization of the periodic table, I love the way chemical reactions balance just so, and I love learning about how the smallest structures in creation affect large-scale life.

I always want more chemistry in my life, but with two young boys to take care of, such chemical thoughts were few and far between. So I cannot explain to you just how much I wanted this job. I would run the lab, prepare the chemicals and equipment, instruct the students, and grade their lab reports. It was an ideal part-time job for someone like me — someone with a love for chemistry but lacking both substantial experience and a graduate degree in my field.

Now, I had worked (very) part-time at the college chemistry level before, tutoring chemistry about five hours per week at a community college. And even that I had given up so I could stay home and nurse my newborn second son without interruption. Then suddenly I was handed this new opportunity — and from a prestigious private university no less.

The hours required for the job were somewhere between 10 to 20 hours per week. I had gone in for the interview hoping it would be fewer hours than that, but it wasn’t. Both financially and family-wise, it was too many hours for me to take on. I simply couldn’t afford that time outside the home, and I knew God was saying NO to this particular opportunity.

The interview had occurred, painfully enough, when my husband was out-of-town on a work/ministry trip. I was alone with two little boys when I heartbrokenly realized I wouldn’t be able to take this job. I was alone with no one to comfort me in my obedience. I was alone as I cried so hard I couldn’t breathe. I was alone when it seemed to me that my world was ending. (I thought it might be my last chance to grab a chemistry job before too many years elapsed and I was unemployable.)

But I knew God’s message to me was clear. For my family, and in that time, I needed to focus my full-time energies at home. And the funny thing about that experience? I never once longed for outside work again. I was really content at home and went on to have more babies (those aforementioned darling little girls).  Obeying in the moment was hard, but the fruit in my daily life was lasting.

So what does obedience mean for me today? Because in the nine years that have ensued since my kitchen floor story, my passions haven’t waned a bit. I still want to do ALL THE THINGS. And I want to do all the things NOW.

I want to doula, and I want to write, and I want to edit, and I want to teach calculus, and I want to teach chemistry, and I want to do youth ministry, and I want to do women’s ministry, and I want to spend more time reading to my kids, and I want to spend more time with my husband, and I want to spend more time taking care of myself.

But I can’t do all those things at once. I can’t even do many of those things at once. And I’m currently coming out of a season of discerning which things I need to be doing and which things I need to be saying “no” to. It’s been a hard season. Not break-my-heart-hard like it was several years ago, just plain hard.

For me today, obedience means looking at the people who are already in my life, and saying yes to THEM. It means saying no to certain other things. I’m finding that as I practice my yeses and nos, I’m more content in each moment. I’m more joyful in each moment. I’m more present in each moment.

But make no mistake: saying both the nos and the yeses has been hard. Contenting myself in my current stage of life has been a slippery path to plod. Obedience isn’t as clear this time, and there’s not just one monumental decision to make. In its place are a multitude of tricky choices and subtle attitude adjustments. I hope practice makes these choices, if not perfect, at least a little easier.

Because in my mind’s eye, I can still see myself on my hands and knees scrubbing the dirt out of an old linoleum floor with a toothbrush, listening to the ring of a landline telephone, and continuing to scrub as I answered it. I can still see the hope in my young heart when given the opportunity to do something I loved. And I can still see that nervous young mom walk into the chemistry building — then under construction — and wait, and pray.

I can still see me walking out of the building when the interview concluded and knowing, knowing that I couldn’t say yes.  I can still see me crawling into my boiling hot, broken-down 1988 Honda Civic and trying to catch my breath from the disappointment. I can still see me calling my out-of-town husband, unable to stop the flow of tears, and hearing him tell me with love, “I’m so proud of you.”

But best of all, I can still see myself enjoying full-time young motherhood in a crackly, crinkly 60-year old parsonage, day in and day out, for the next five years.

Those images are, for me, a symbol of choosing the best thing now, of choosing life for my family, of obeying even when it’s hard. I hope and pray I take those images of wisdom and love with me through the rest of my mothering years, because that kind of joy is something I don’t want to miss out on.

The Best Parenting Move Ever

I told this story on my Facebook page several weeks ago but wanted to share it with my blog readers too. ~Elizabeth

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My kindergarten teacher told my mom that I would probably be an average student and what’s more, that when we began receiving letter grades, I’d probably make C’s. (This is the teacher who, when she thought we kindergarteners had been Quite Loud Enough Already, forced us to sit silently at our tables and copy the numbers from 1 to 100 on a chart.)

But in what amounts to probably the Best Parenting Move ever, my mom did not pass that information along to her daughter, no she did not. She expressed no disappointment in me. And she expressed no low — or high — expectations of me. She simply said to herself, “Whoever this firstborn daughter of mine turns out to be, that’s fine with me.” Which meant I could continue to enjoy school without feeling any pressure whatsoever.

For the next couple years I was a slow worker. I liked school, but I struggled with the pace of the workload. I remember being sent home with piles and piles of papers that I hadn’t been quick enough to complete at school, so I had to complete them at home. (These were very boring color-cut-paste-panels-in-order activities.)

Then one summer everything changed: I discovered reading (perhaps through the Laura Ingalls Wilder books?). When I returned to school that fall, I excelled. Mom didn’t expect that but was happy to witness the transformation from slow learner to avid reader and dedicated student.

And though I’m not passing this gift on to my children quite as perfectly as it was passed on to me, I still look to my mom’s example of pressure-less parenting, and I’m thankful that she patiently waited for me to bloom academically. . . or not.

Intensity and Intentionality {a note about marriage and motherhood on the field}

A while back our organization asked me to write a little something about marriage and motherhood on the field. At the time I wasn’t sure whether I wanted the article to be anonymous or not, as I obliquely discuss both my children and my marriage in it. So I waited awhile before deciding (with both Jonathan’s and my children’s approval) that this is something that I could share publicly. ~Elizabeth

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Two words come to mind when I think about marriage and motherhood on the field: Intensity and Intention. After living internationally for over four years, my experience has been that everything about living overseas is more intense than living in your passport country.

It’s more physically intense. It’s wildly hot where I am, with no central air conditioning. Housework takes longer as there are fewer automated devices. Electricity and water are sometimes unreliable, and food and water supplies aren’t as clean. That meant that in the beginning especially, we were ill more often – and more severely – than we were back “home.” Life in another country is also more mentally and emotionally intense. Learning a strange, new culture and doing everything in a new language is hard work. You make mistakes and misunderstand things every day.

Anyone crossing cultures must deal with these changes and stressors, but as a parent, I also bear witness to the strain of crossing cultures on my children. They get annoyed by aspects of life here: it’s loud, it’s crowded, and we have no yard or playgrounds nearby. They don’t like the way local people touch them or stare at them, and they don’t particularly like the local cuisine (or at least, not all of it). Life here is transitory, and the friends they make often move in and out of their lives with little advance warning. On top of all that, they miss friends and family back home – especially grandparents.

In light of the intensity of missionary life, I have to be more intentional about marriage and motherhood. I need to care for my children’s hearts in a way I wouldn’t if we lived in America. Of course we have the same pre-school and pre-adolescent emotional turmoil that children and parents have in their home culture, but we also have more potential issues. I have to keep my own heart soft towards my kids, and I need to take the time to validate their feelings. This is difficult to do as I am already emotionally, physically, and spiritually stretched to the max myself. Practically speaking, it means I also need to carve time out of our schedule so they can communicate with friends and family back home (usually that’s through Skype).

Marriage is the same way: I have to be intentional about taking care of it. Simply surviving here takes more time and energy, so it’s tempting not to spend enough time on my marriage. But of course when I don’t spend time on it, my marriage suffers. The less time I spend on my marriage, the farther I drift away from my husband, and the harder it is to bring us back to together again. Likewise, the more time and effort I pour into my marriage, the easier and more fulfilling it is. It becomes life-giving instead of life-draining, as it does when I’m not nurturing it enough.

In order to pour so much time and energy into my husband and my children, I have to be intentional about filling myself up. I have to be vigilant about taking care of my spirit by getting up early to spend time with God. I have to be diligent about taking care of my mind and body by eating at regular intervals throughout the day, exercising four or five days a week, and going to bed on time. If I don’t do these things, I don’t have enough emotional energy to pour into my husband and children, who need me so much.

In many ways marriage and parenting on the field is the same as it is in my home culture, but its intensity level is higher. Missionary life simply requires more of me, and in order to match its intensity, I have to be intentional about taking care of both myself and my family. I have to daily turn my heart toward them and toward God. When I don’t, the consequences are great. But when I do, the reward is greater still.

This article originally appeared here.

Failing at Fatherhood {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas today, talking about how moving abroad ruined his parenting.

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I sat on the floor, weeping.

I was two whole days into living abroad, and I was already losing it.

Those tears portended more, and in our first year overseas, the thing that knocked me down the most, the thing that discouraged and distracted and depressed me the most, was the sense that I was failing at fatherhood.

I loved being a dad. It was a very core part of my identity, and something I really cherished. Moving to Cambodia, I had expected cross-cultural stress. I had expected transition tension and unmet expectations. I had even expected conflict with other missionaries and nationals. But I never thought I’d feel like my identity as a father was being shredded up and burned in the furnace of a cross-cultural move. That was a surprise.

We moved overseas when our boys were six and seven and our girls were one and three.

I suppose my fathering style could have been characterized as, um, B I G. I loved playing with our kids in wide open spaces, throwing things, kicking things, climbing things. We played loud and we took up a lot of space, and that’s how we liked it.

And then we moved to a concrete box with bars on the windows in an urban capital of a developing country. No grass. No yard. No large spaces.

For me, the shift from wide open spaces to urban jungle was rough. I had to adjust, but first I got depressed. Often, it’d happen on a Saturday; I’d wake up just wanting to go outside and throw a football with my kids.

And with the clarity of thought that overwhelms at times like this, I felt like I had moved from a garden to a prison. A prison that was 95 degrees and thick with humidity!

I had traded acres of green for walls of grey. En Gedi for Sheol.

I watched my kids hang from metal bars on windows when they used to hang from giant limbs on oaks. They were happy, but I was dying.

I missed being able to step outside and kick a soccer ball. I missed our fire pit on cold autumn nights. I missed our porch swing. I missed our yard. I missed the way I used to father.

But thank God the story doesn’t end there, with a depressed dad missing what once was. No, the story definitely doesn’t end there…

To read the rest of the story, click here.