Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lieutenant Mother

We were recently featured in the Abilene Reporter News.  Somehow they thought it was news for a family in a small town to have a large family.  As three-year-old Ezra says, Whatever.

As I read through the comments on the article, I found myself wanting to answer some questions that people have.  Some are legitimate questions that I would also wonder if I were trying to look in from the outside.  I am a curious person and often wonder how other families and individuals tick.  I am also fairly willing to share my life because it continues to amaze me that others might possibly find it interesting.

So I'll be doing a series of blogs about these things.  If you have a question--not a criticism--about how our family works, feel free to ask in one of the comments.  If I want to answer it and can get around to it, I'll do so.

So the thing I'm starting with is the criticism in the comments about calling Grace the Lieutenant Mother.  I'm starting with this one because it really bothers Grace.  The term was coined by the journalist, not me.  He had asked me to run through each of the kids and give a brief synopsis of their personalities (as if you can truly do anyone justice in a brief synopsis--and if you know me, you know I don't use words in any sort of a brief way.)  I was telling him how much she loves to help me and he came up with that phrase.  It fits her because she has the glorious gift of loving to serve.  I greatly admire that trait in her.  I absolutely have not forced it on her.  I think if I'd tried she would resent it and not love serving people.

About a year ago, I began to really struggle with my relationship with Grace.  I felt she was trying to take over my job as mother.  I did NOT want her to have to do so much work with her younger siblings.  I am the oldest daughter in my family and I didn't want Grace to struggle with the guilt of growing up and leaving younger siblings "uncared for" (my perception as I grew up, not necessarily reality).  I didn't want her to be burned out on cooking before she even had her own household.  Yet the more I told her no, the more unhappy she seemed.  I finally began to let her help and she loves it.  She often asks me if she can go make dinner or lunch for me.  In the newspaper article there are pictures of her fixing the fruit salad.  Why was she doing that and not me? Because she WANTED to.  Letting her help me has restored a great relationship.  Sometimes she works alone, other times she comes and works beside me so we can talk.  I'm clearly the mom, but there will be a lifelong friendship.

She was in Colorado helping out with her new nephew for the month of February.  She had to step back while there and not do the cooking.  She was bored.  She loved seeing her nephew and sister-in-law (I don't think any of the kids add the in-law part, but I did for clarification) but missed feeling needed and useful.  When she came home we were all used to functioning without her and she got a bit depressed, confiding in me that she felt she had lost her place in the family.  We didn't seem to need her anymore.

All the kids have chores.  So do I and so does Roger.  How else do you keep any household functioning?  I suppose I could do it all myself, but why?  Why is it wrong to let them be a part of the family and know their lives have purpose and meaning and that they are needed in this world?  Look around you.  So many kids today are pampered and spoiled.  And are they happy?  What I see is a bunch of kids who have no purpose and just get sullen and withdrawn.  I don't want that for my kids.  When my older ones were younger and I saw that in some of their peers, I purposed to STOP doing everything for them and allow them to have meaningful lives. (Ask any mom, it's usually easier to do it yourself than to teach a young child to do something right.)  Maybe cleaning a toilet doesn't seem meaningful to an adult, but my 5 yr old Gloria (Happy Birthday, Sweety!) lights up when we "let" her clean a toilet!

When we make chore assignments we look at several factors. 
  1. What needs to be done?
  2. Who is the youngest person capable of doing this?
  3. Is that person the best choice for this job, or is there another job he/she would enjoy more and therefore do better with?
  4. Is there an older sibling that could train someone to start doing this job so the older one can give it up?
  5. Who WANTS the job?
And yes, most of the jobs get requested by someone.

Grace does a lot of the cooking and she LOVES playing with her younger siblings.  She hates cleaning bathrooms.  She doesn't get the bathroom job.  It goes to whoever requested it.

And just so you all know, after reading the comments on the newspaper article, I joked with Grace that she's no longer allowed to help me in the kitchen or tickle Ezra because I didn't want to take away her childhood.  I could hear the catch in her voice as she said, "If you were serious, I think I would cry."

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