Monday, March 14, 2016

Farmer Boy: Advice for This Mama

Reading page after page from the very descriptive and informative book, Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingals Wilder, has actually made me reassess my own parenting. I started out simply reading the book as a read-aloud to my children filled with the excitement of creating our own lap-books, learning about life on the farm and enjoying a world in a simpler time, but as I close the book each day I find myself questioning my own mommyhood. I mull over the Wilder family as they work relentlessly and struggle together. They labor in unison. Each working hard. Each knowing their role in the family. Each working tirelessly for their family to succeed. I've asked myself, "How did Almanzo's parents do it?" "What do they know that I clearly do not know?" "How do they get their children to do chores and heavy jobs without complaining?" THIS mama needed to know.

The story I read that has truly stuck with me was the chapter entitled, "Ice House." In this chapter we learn how the family had to gather ice, chop it, and store it. It began with the father, brother Royal and Almanzo traveling to a nearby pond that was frozen, then sawing 20 inch by 20 inch blocks of ice, loading the wagon, hauling it home and very carefully and very precisely stacking the ice so it would last all summer long without melting. This job was hard, heavy, and exhausting work and all taking place in 40 degrees BELOW zero! In all of this work the task left for the boys was to load the ice house with the ice the father delivered to them from the pond. Little Almanzo, age nine, and his older brother Royal, age 13 were left at the ice house to stack the ice. They were left ALONE to do a grown up, man's job. They had to stack it perfectly and to insulate each ice brick with three inches of saw dust--this was a no-joke job. Their work was important to the family and had to be done right. At one point, they were hungry and tired, but did not stop to rest, or to even have a snack.

I'm sorry- WHAT???!!!
Let me say that again, "They were hungry and tired at one point, but did not stop."
Did you also catch what I said earlier?
"They were left ALONE to do a grown up, man's job."
Again-- WHAT???!!!
How in the world did Almanzo's parent's teach him to: a) work hard, b) do the job right c) not complain and d) do what was right when no one was looking?
I needed to know.

Well, in doing more investigating I found out that spankings were a part of their life. If Pa told you to do something, you did it- period. The child knew there would be consequences to disobedience. Mind you, they always had a choice: obey or disobey. Clearly, Almanzo and his brother chose to obey consistently. Clearly, the parents were consistent in the ramifications to disobedience.

Thus the mystery was solved. I found where my problem lied- inconsistency. Try as I may, consistency has been difficult for my husband and I. The resolve to discipline a child for an infraction habitually has not been easy. The findings made me feel like a failure. I have trained, I have disciplined, I have yelled, I have given grace-I have done many different things and I think I've caused a bit of confusion. Without consistency I find I have not gained in my children what Pa had worked in his-a team.

So, day after day I journeyed on in this book and I could see that it was lovely for my kids, but honestly it was painstaking for me! Each day I yearned to be a better parent. I prayed to God for help and tried not to hang my head. AND then it happened! The chapter I needed to read. "Keeping House" on page 203. Pa and Ma were heading off on a romantic week's long vacation for two. They had never left the children alone for a whole week and unattended before, but they gave the children instructions on meals, chores, etc and started on their way without even looking back. The pit in my stomach grew deeper-"When could I ever do that? Golly, I'm the worst parent!" I thought to myself. Then as I continued to read I discovered that these well behaved children weren't the very best without Pa or Ma standing over them. They were like any child. They ate bowls of ice cream, ate watermelon for dinner and did NO chores while the parents were away. They laughed and played the whole week. I was shocked and some what relieved!

I started to view my parenting as not too shabby. I thought about it: my children do clean when I ask them to. They do work hard. They do try to work as a team, AND they do stop working when I'm not around! They are just kids and I am just not perfect, but together we do love each other and want the best for the family. We're human-we're sinners. They don't always work hard and I'm not always consistent, but when I really need them to dig deep, to work hard, and get the job done, they do. They do it because they love me and my husband. The Lord keeps telling me it's all about having a relationship with my children and I see it's come back to that again. What is a clean house, clean bedrooms and a perfect yard if I don't have a relationship with my kids? Nothing. I know I can do better and I know my kids can to, but it takes work to have a relationship and that has been where most of my focus has been. In a relationship there is grace and mercy, not just black and white verdicts. And I'm not saying that Pa didn't extend grace to his kids because he did, he just was definitely more strict then I am. I have found God calling me to more heart lessons than mere discipline. And sometimes the heart lessons are harder for me because I just want to view things more simply and give the correction, but long term I want a heart change and a relationship not a robot.

So, my house isn't as clean and as organized as I would love it to be, and I'm not as consistent as I ought to be, but I love each one of my children- I treasure them and they treasure me.  For now, they obey out of love and well, I guess, also maybe to stay out of trouble, that is if I remember to define the punishment! ;)

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