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Attempts to illuminate our brief mortal existence

Monday, January 6, 2014

My children are not my enemies

I don't remember when the thought first came to me.  Sometime late this past fall, probably, when Christopher was needing something.  I do remember the sudden epiphany: 

My children are not my enemies.  

It was only after I had the thought that I realized that I had a habit of thinking of and treating Christopher as, in some respects, my enemy.  My mental framework of our relationship set him up as my main competitor for some of my most precious resources - my time and energy.  If he got it, I didn't, and vice versa.  The best case scenario in this framework was a carefully choreographed tug of war, with my toddler and my conscience on one end of the rope, and my sanity, selfishness, and legitimate need all jumbled up on the other.  If I allocated resources just right, the rope stayed taut and we all stayed upright, but under continual strain.  In the less desirable but more realistic scenario, an unexpected tug on one end led to a giving way on the other, leaving everyone on the ground and nobody quite happy.  Christopher gets his snack, but maybe I yelled at him a little, and my sanity has a nosebleed.  Or my sanity gets its knitting break, but accompanied by much guilt, and Christopher doesn't get read to that day.  

But if my children are not my enemies, my competitors, then what are they?  My best answer for this at the moment is that they're other human beings, with whom I am in relationship, within the larger organic unity that is our family.  Basically, I think of us all as part of one organism.  There are still more demands on my resources than I can answer.  Those demands still sometimes seem to be in direct conflict.  But it helps to remember that this is not a win/lose situation; rather, what is good for one part of the body, i.e., our family, is good for the whole.  Practically, this means that instead of seeking a sort of static even tension, where everyone is getting just enough resources to stay upright and keep things balanced, there is flexibility, with an eye toward equilibrium.  Just as one part of an organism might temporarily demand more than its "fair share" of resources in order to heal or grow, so one member of the family might need more time and attention for a short while.  Sometimes that's one of my children, and I give up something that I legitimately need for their sake.  Sometimes, it's me, and my children go without something important, like story time, in exchange for a functional mother.  

I find this framework especially helpful during these days of early motherhood.  The fact remains that my children are very dependent parts of our family, and much more fragile than myself, or Landon.  They can't handle much deprivation of resources; James, in fact, can handle almost none.  It's comforting to know, however, that there's a reason that things feel off balance and a little feverish, and that this will not last forever.  

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