When my friend Erin asked me to participate in a special blog recently, I had too many ideas rolling around in my head to nail down just one for my post. So I wrote two posts. The first post was part of the original blog party, and this second one is just for a little encore honoring my parents and holding myself accountable for my own parenting as I pass this legacy on to the next generation.
Upon thinking about many of the ideas I had rolling around in my head, I realized that a large portion of them fell under one common thread or heading: giving yourself away.
Parenting is sacrifice, and you can do it beautifully & joyfully or you can do it bitterly & begrudgingly. My parents chose the beauty and joy, and my husband & I endeavor to do the same. The Merriam-Webster dictionary includes a definition of sacrifice as being “something given up or lost, i.e. the sacrifices made by parents.” Given up. Given away. My parents gave of themselves for their children: their money, their energy, their prayers, their time. What I want to focus on here is how my parents gave themselves away by giving of their time. They gave us themselves.
My parents constantly gave themselves away to my brother and me, both in large and small ways. I know this is a large umbrella, but I will give a few specific examples of ways they exemplified this and how I now give myself away to my children.
My dad had an extremely busy medical practice when I was growing up, so any time we had with him was especially coveted. Once a week (usually Friday morning), he gave himself to my brother and me in a very specific way, by taking us out to breakfast (donuts or Jack In The Box) and letting us go on rounds with him at the hospitals. To use other words I frequent here, he extended grace to us by allowing us to enter his world. My dad also gave himself to us by bringing joy into tedious things like math problems. He would sit us down at the kitchen counter with a little bowl of M&Ms, and work through our math lessons with us using one of his favorite treats—candy coated chocolates. He knew how to turn a grumbly little girl with a red-circled math problem in her hand into a grinning little girl with chocolate-coated teeth and a shiny star on her paper instead.
We pass this on to our Gabriel by going on special family dates, letting him help with yardwork, and are beginning to use chocolate chips to count one through ten. In the future, I would love to see my husband take our child(ren) on errands, out to breakfast, and help with math papers. Giving himself away is something my husband has been doing for me since we first met and he moved three thousand miles across the country to live near me—and he is already doing the same with our little boy.
My mom was always giving of herself for us: being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom necessitates that, I believe! She never begrudged us of herself. We never felt unwelcome in her embrace or like we intruded upon her. Not only at home when doing schoolwork, playtime, or cooking & cleaning—we went everywhere with her. Especially me. It was extremely rare that she would go to Safeway or Mervyn’s without me! I even went to aerobics class, Bible study, and church craft night with her. Again, she gave herself to me not only by entering my world of baby dolls, plastic play-food, and my backyard prairie house—she let me enter her world of grown-up conversation, spiritual food, and responsible routine.
Being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom myself gives me many opportunities to pass on many of the ways my mom gave herself to me. I endeavor never to begrudge myself to my little boy, no matter what I am doing. He goes almost everywhere with me—not because he has to, but because I want him to. I want to give myself to him when I am cooking, cleaning, gardening, driving, banking, listening to a sermon, fellowshipping over a meal, and helping him learn. I give myself away by giving him my time, energies, attention, and love—by allowing him to enter my world as well as by entering his.
One of my other favorite ways my parents gave themselves to us was the bedtime routine. They would trade off putting us to bed—one night I had my mother, the next night my father, and so the pattern went. There was always tucking in, kisses, prayers, and lots of singing. Oh the singing! I loved it when they gave themselves to me in the form of music. My mom created her own special words for me to the tune of Brahms’ lullaby, and to this day when my own son’s musical toys play that song, I still hear my mother’s sweet voice lulling me to sleep with our secret lyrics. My dad, too, gave me the gift of his creativity in music. When he would ask what song I wanted on a given night, often my favorite answer was “make up!” No, not powder and lipstick—I wanted him to make something up on the fly. Sometimes it would be about dark starry skies, ladybugs, or my blanket—other times it would be about God’s love, a Bible verse, or loving my family. With his guitar and his voice, my dad would give himself away to me with bedtime songs.
We pass on this heritage of singing at bedtime now to Gabriel. He can’t yet tell me what his favorite songs are, but I know them—right now he especially likes the Gloria Patri, The Lord’s Prayer, and the Jamie Soles version of the Apostle’s Creed. Steven hasn’t yet started including guitar when he puts Gabriel to bed, but someday he will—maybe when Gabriel is slightly less infatuated with the guitar (at this point it wouldn’t help put him to sleep, it would keep him awake).
My parents also taught us through example how to give ourselves away to others. My dad spends crazy hours ministering to people at his office, giving parenting advice, marriage counseling, and sharing the Gospel—even more time than he spends looking at infected ears, checking bowel function, and listening to heartbeats. He gives himself away to anyone who asks of him, even purposely doling out longer appointments than are “necessary” in order to allow him to give more of himself away. My mom has always been a woman of encouragement through words, be it in written notes or the spoken word. For as long as I can remember, she has had some kind of clever remote headset for her telephone, because she is always counseling somebody—be it in motherhood, wifehood, homemaking skills, cooking lessons, or spiritual accountability—and she never begrudges anyone who demands of her time in this way.
These are small ways my parents taught us to give ourselves away to others, and ways that I find myself imitating already. My little boy already knows when I am writing notes, speaking on the phone, or working on the laptop (sending emails or writing on forums)—and I will tell him specifically, “Mommy is encouraging someone with her time, words, and prayers. Please be patient.” We always came first to my parents, as my son does to me, and yet it is made obvious that giving ourselves away is important in many directions, not just toward the child(ren). By giving myself away to others in the presence of my son, I am giving myself to him in the form of teaching him the act of sacrificial encouragement. Just like my parents have always taught me.
Lastly, my parents taught me by example to give myself away physically to my children. When my son is sick does that mean he doesn’t get kisses? Of course not! He gets even more than usual, regardless of a snotty nose. This may seem like a silly thing to highlight, but it is one way that my parents sacrificed themselves for us as kids—showing us that even our physical health is not more important than giving ourselves away for our children. This is something that is keenly evident in my life, as I give my body away constantly to pregnancy, miscarriage, and heaps of medical treatment. My physical comfort is not more important than my babies. Anything that I can do physically to help nurture my children is not too great a task (even though I am tempted to feel otherwise at times). In fact, as I sit here looking at my arms and the eight welts that I have to show for the eight injections I recently got as a reproductive immunological treatment, my eyes are filling with tears, as I acknowledge that I would do it again every day if I had to for my babies. Even as I shirk at the idea of all the needles & pills in my future during the pursuit of children, I am confident that every pain, every prick, every tear is more than worth it for the children God has & will give us.
And who taught me that lesson of sacrificial self-giving? My parents.
I love you, Mama & Daddy.