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The secret to appreciating and enjoying your little kids

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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 01/14/23

I want my kids to know that they’re not a burden, but the greatest delight and blessing of my life. Here are the secrets to truly appreciating your little kids.

Being a parent of young children is incredibly hard. It’s grueling, relentless, around-the-clock work … and there’s no payment or even a “thank you” for all your sacrifices.

Yet I never want to fall into the trap of thinking of my little ones as a burden or nuisance. Each of them is a blessing from God, a beautiful gift of His grace that I could never deserve but can only profoundly thank him for His goodness in giving to me.

It’s hard to remember this at times. And certainly it’s not possible to enjoy every minute. But even when it’s hard, I want to hold onto knowing that my children are not a burden but the greatest of blessings.

I was talking about this recently with my friend Jane. She shared that she actually stopped following certain social media accounts because of how negative and critical parents were being about their young kids. She felt frustrated when someone loudly told her, “I bet you can’t wait for your kids to go back to school and be out of your hair all day” … right in front of her kids! 

She felt so discouraged by these opinions that would influence her to see her children as anything less than the blessings that they are.

The expectations game

It’s understandable why some parents complain so much about their young children. One of the many tragic pitfalls of our individualistic era is that young adults are pretty much never around little kids until they have their own.

As a result, many parents have totally unrealistic expectations of behavior from their children and are flummoxed and distraught when their children act like …well, children! It’s not their fault they don’t know what to expect (and our intense need for much greater inter-generational community is a topic for another day).

Book - Grow Wild by Katy Bowman

A helpful resource is the book Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family Nature-Rich Guide To Moving More by Katy Bowman. Bowman makes the convincing point that children have a biological need to be very active, and that adults need to adjust our expectations accordingly instead of expecting silence and stillness from our kids most of the time. She also offers lots of practical ideas to fit in more movement!

Vent with care

Of course, there certainly is a place for judicious venting. Raising little ones is intensely physically and mentally demanding, and sharing our stories with our friends really can help us find solidarity and encouragement. There’s a lot of wisdom to venting about the challenges, asking for advice, seeing the humor in difficult situations, and taking a break from time to time.

But at the same time, I try to be really careful about how I talk about these things around my kids.

Our children pick up on our attitude and they know how we feel about them. I want my kids to pick up that I like being around them, enjoy spending time with them, and take great interest in their lives.

I am firmly convicted of this: The more we enjoy being around our children when they are little, the more they will enjoy being around us when we are old.

They are learning from us and imitating us. When we model being patient and understanding and interested in them, even though they are so very different from us, they learn to treat us the same way in return.

But yes, it can be hard to enjoy our children. If you’re feeling this way, here are a few of my time-tested secrets to enjoying my little ones..

I use my imagination

One of my favorite secrets to enjoying my young children is imagining that I have come back in time from old age to today. I imagine that I’m very old, perhaps a great-grandmother, and can barely remember what it was like to have a house full of rambunctious little ones. Then I imagine that I somehow found a way to time travel. I think, “If I were very old, I would pick to come back in time to this moment, right now.”

Right now, when my kids are all little and want nothing more than to be touching me at all times. 

Right now, when they think I’m the best person on earth, and we can snuggle, read stories, and sing songs all day without them ever getting tired of it. 

Pretending I’ve time traveled from my distant future to this moment puts everything into perspective. I notice the darling, funny way my toddler pronounces words; the joyful creativity and enthusiasm and sweetness of my older children. Everything cute about my kids stands out in sharp relief, and everything frustrating seems to melt away as unimportant. 

This little trick of imagining I’m visiting today as my much older self really helps me to appreciate this brief, precious time. 

I speak gratitude

The words we say affect what we think and feel. So I try to say things like this to my kids …

“I love to help you! It’s not a problem for me.”

“I love when you tell me what you’re thinking. The things you come up with are so interesting!”

“I love watching you play.”

“I love seeing what you make.”

“I’m so happy I get to spend this whole day with you!”

“I must be the luckiest mama in the world to have you for my little girl/boy.”

I do things with my kids that I enjoy

A big secret to enjoying our kids is spending time with them doing things that we genuinely enjoy. So, you usually won’t catch me playing sports with my kids, but you will find me cooking and baking with them, making art with them, and reading lots of books. I even came up with the concept of “kids’ book club,” which has become a beloved part of our homeschooling, because my own book club with my friends is one of my favorite things to do in the world. 

I listen to moms who love to be moms

Like my friend, I try to be careful what voices I hear when it comes to parenting. I try to follow social media accounts that are positive about motherhood. I try to remember that the frustrating moments of parenting are something that most parents go through at some point, instead of thinking I’m the only person ever to deal with this issue. I even try to see the humor in my kids’ uproarious antics, although often it takes a little time before I can really appreciate the funny side of these things!

It’s not easy, but every day there is a new chance to choose joy and gratitude. I want my kids to know that they’re not a burden, but the greatest delight and blessing of my life. And I hope they feel the same way about me, too. 

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