Thursday, 24 September 2015

Keeping up with the world's standards

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made - 
Luke's Gospel, Chapter 10, Verse 40.

The BBC drew my attention to the following article today - a Netmums (yes Netmums, not the controversial Mumsnet!) piece on how breaking one's back aspiring for parenting perfection is making life difficult for many parents out there.

Coupled with the fact that the Mary/Martha post I read this week wasn't much about the Mary & Martha story from the gospels like I hoped it would be (although it did contain lots of beautiful American craft for the home), my poor dear brain started thinking about parenting in terms of Mary, Martha and Jesus.

In case this is all too holy for you, the REAL start of this was my husband and I trying to decide which child is going to get a bath next and when in this house. We decided it has to be the stinkiest with the muckiest nether regions. Granted, we are in a post-operative lull (I now have a throat and chest infection, despite coming on leaps and bounds without a gallbladder) and one parent is doing mostly everything. But it wasn't that long back that I had a bath schedule whereby each child took a slot - Monday and Thursday, Tuesday and Friday or Wednesday and Saturday. (Extra points if you realised that the schedule was inspired by 1980s UK TV programming. I still think of them in my head as the Blue Peter, Grange Hill, or Young Person's Drama slots.) We were moving on from survival mode. What happened to that?!?!

And actually, I don't really mind. (I minded even less when I was whacked out on morphine, of course.) We have four kids now and although the regularity of bathtime, bedsheet changing, shoe cleaning, haircutting and nail clipping isn't as regular as most people's seems to be, I've made my peace with it.


Mainly with us, this is because of priorities. Every 6 months I make sure they go to the dentist for their check up. They have an annual appointment at the opticians. They have to do swimming lessons until they can swim lengths. They eat three reasonably well-balanced meals a day containing a reasonable balance of protein, fruit and veg and carbs and I like to produce home-baked and home-cooked food as much as possible. They clean their teeth before bed. My priorities.

Let's add in school's priorities. 20 minutes reading per evening, preferably supervised. Mathletics every week. Other homework. Clean uniform and PE kit. Coat or hat. Water bottles. School trip form and money. Charity donation. 'Fun' day fancy dress costume. Something for the bake sale. An entry for the colouring competition. A response to an assembly challenge. Class problems. Friend problems.


Oh, wait, there's more!

As (and we, like others I know, do this prayerfully, so as not to burn out our children and their joy) we do encourage our children to practise their talents and get exercise. Whether or not this should be 4 dance lessons a week for 2ndSister, plus a musical theatre class, a regular swim and visit to a park or an outdoor walk, it is, we made that decision. Did I mention, too, that because I enjoy hanging out with my husband, there is special time with him to schedule in, ringfence and enjoy?

And because I do listen to Jesus' requirements from me in my life, over and above general parenting, there are also my other priorities, of course. The church worship. The theological discussion. Sitting down to eat as a family. Thanking God for our food. Taking part in church council. Delivering young people's ministry. Trying out some preaching. Thinking about which desserts to make for our Chuch Harvest Supper.

Has your head exploded yet? Mine does, regularly. But we are a family with four children and we are doing our best. And my best is good enough. It's rarely as good enough as anyone else's 'middling'. It's often as good as most people's 'scraping the barrel'. But it's enough. Because there's a lot to do without striving to be perfect at it and add in extra stuff too (cough, Pinterest, cough.)

It clearly remains, however, a constant process of trying to catch up, always doing or thinking, in a 21st Century world. Despite my huge, unwavering faith, it's always easy to be distracted away from Jesus.

But I still don't think I'm really a Martha.

I believe the reason Martha couldn't sit down and listen at Jesus' feet because she wanted all the domestic stuff to be the best it could possibly be before she could rest in him. She couldn't let go. Not even for one afternoon. Because Mary wasn't helping, Martha played the martyr. She did over and above what was expected of her - domestically, at least.

Martha to me comes across as an ideal comparison to the harassed, must-do-it-all parent. Surrounded by the ideal of what things should be like, much of our humanness is Martha-esque. We strive for perfection. We compare ourselves to others. We stress that we are not good enough. We try and guilt trip others for not doing things our way. We take over when they don't do it our way, or don't do it all, whether because we think they are incompetent or because they are prioritising other things over what we perceive to be the most important thing in the world right now! But we aren't getting any respite. And we are slowly killing ourselves doing it.

Not that I'm suggesting we adopt a permanent Martha-state, dropping the domestic duties at every opportunity. (My other half would argue that's how I operate in general, I'm sure.) But in amongst the chaos of the workind and parenting week, when was the last time you took the chance to do any of the following?

  • gaze for a long time at a sunset
  • say YES to something unscheduled even though it means more mess/hassle in the household
  • engage in silly play with your spouse or child
  • bake a cake just because
  • draw something that's only good enough
  • go ahead with a craft idea that's not Pinterest worthy but is from the heart
  • take a walk in nature even though cakes for the PTA meeting won't get made
  • realise the Christmas cards won't get written this year, and that's OK
  • let the table get set wonky because your kid did it, without correcting her
  • realise that your spouse is resting because he needs to, not because he is lazy.

I really do think we need more Mary-ness in our lives.

And also, I mentioned that a lot of things that don't get done in our house seem to get done a lot more often at other people's. And this may generally be the case, whether it's due to perfectionist tendencies, a smaller family, or simply being better than I am in the domestic and parenting arena. But often, it's about perception. Possibly my favourite blog EVER, My Child I Love You, is a visual and narrative love letter by a mother to her family. I find it inspiring. The way that woman does so many things so well! It's an inspiration - but it's not a competition. It's an example - but it doesn't sit in judgement. I have never found myself drawn to compare our families, our parenting, the way we write, make dinner, do morning baths, get our children's hair combed and beautifully parted and make sure we exercise (OK there's maybe a little aspiration in there from me!). I just let myself be humbly and quietly guided by her, knowing that, as the food blogger Deliciously Ella wrote so eloquently this week, what we see on the internet doesn't tell the whole story of someone's life. Because do you know - there's no point me worrying that I can't keep up with the Kardashians, when it breaks my heart that someone I know out there is made to feel she's not good enough, because she doesn't do things as well as I do! I won't even mention the many things she does that I can't even contemplate trying to imagine I could do (ahem, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity on a regular basis.)

And Jesus doesn't do this. He doesn't make us feel that we are inadequate in our earthly tasks. When He asks us to serve him, He simply tells us to put Him first. We don't need to measure our achievements on a perfectionist scale. We don't need to compare our results to others. Yes, there are certain things that have to be done, but we can fool ourselves as to the importance of others. Are we regularly resting in Him? Does our prayer life feed what we do? Are we as spiritually full as we can be? Or are we being distracted by the incredibly demanding duties of parenting to the extent that become like Martha?

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” - Luke's Gospel, Chapter 10, Verses 41-2.

If you are struggling to be Mary-like in this season of your life, you may find inspiration in the following resources:

Lindsay's blog at My Child I Love You
Advice on finding your inner child and playing more with your offspring
The Happiness Project
Ann's blog at A Holy Experience
The Jennifer Fulwiler Life Pyramid

The book 'Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World'
The hilarious and heartfelt Five Kids is a Lot of Kids
(and maybe even the reminder I wrote to myself about how to Kickstart One's Prayer Life).

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