Hi Dr. Laura,
I am a 35-year-old mother of 5 children (two boys: 11 and 9, three girls 7, 4 and 4). I have stayed home with them since my first child was born and will continue to do so. I will be the first to admit that there are many challenges in this role and I often feel inadequate or at a loss of knowing the solutions, but I have never felt more passionate about something besides my husband and religion.
The grandeur of motherhood is easily overshadowed by the slow and gradual process of rearing worthwhile people. I can see how easily women can be distracted from our divine purpose because we don't get accolades and progress reports. I often have to step back, stop comparing, be present in the moment and remind myself that I only have them for a limited time. Being that it is summer, I found myself emotionally drained from the constant bickering between the kids. Every attempt at anything would be derailed by complaints, jealousy, fits, or button-pushing. I felt I was in a chronic state of irritation and that most of my conversations were threats of what I would be taking away if they didn't stop fighting. It wasn't working.
I took it to prayer and finally realized the kids could sense I had absolutely no faith in them to behave better. That saddened me. So I quickly made a chart for each child. I made 10 squares with a sharpie marker and a final star-shaped spot that said "Yay!" I brought all the kids together and told them to color a small picture that would serve as a moving marker. I then announced that any and all upcoming family activities would not be all-inclusive, meaning if they wanted to attend they would have to earn their spot by being kind and obedient. If they didn't make it to the final spot on their chart, I would be getting a sitter for whoever didn't do their part and the sitter would make sure that the child/children would finish a list of chores to pay for the sitter. It was an almost instantaneous huge improvement. I got to dole out praises with hugs and high fives. If there were fits or fights, I would warn them they may need to move their marker back a space and solutions came into play. I got many "What chore can I do to move and extra space?" I didn't have to spend a dime--I just made an expectation into a privilege. They feed off the genuine joy I have in praising them and rewarding them and the sadness I felt in moving their piece backward.
Thank you for your wise words that help me remember what my job is. Thank you for being an external reminder that what I'm doing will make a difference.