This week I have been staying with a family of 5 while their parents are out of the country. My responsibilities have included reheating or preparing food, tucking the youngest boys into bed, making sure lunches are packed, homework is completed, entertaining the youngest boys, administering meds, and otherwise maintaining order and mediating. The kids are 7, 11, 13, 17, and 19, so I only really need to keep tabs on the elementary school-age boys.
I watched this family last month, and it was definitely a learning experience! I learned that for missionary families overseas, there is so much that goes into the process of raising their kids. I consider myself to be a flexible person, and don't mind getting slightly lost/misguided as long as I have my atlas and can get back on track. However, when you're with a 7-year old and an 11-year old, you have to plan your path, determining in advance where you will walk and which buses you will take (because they won't want to take the scenic route). On top of all this, my preferred walking pace is at least twice that of a little kid, so I had to slow down. For some families, their kids have special medical needs and require supplies that can either be found only in America or at high prices where they live (or perhaps both).
After the first weekend of watching just 3 of the kids, I was ready to get back to my own house, away from my students and away from any children that would ask me unending questions. Back to a place where I was only responsible for myself.
Now, I am back with this family, and thought I'd share some of my thoughts with the blog-reading world!
When you are a parent, personal space and personal time cease to exist. Each day I rode in the van with the kids, and would try to snatch moments of time when the kids were not asking something or otherwise requiring my attention (i.e., picking on each other, standing when they weren't supposed to, or asking for homework help). In the evenings, after putting the boys to bed, I still stayed up for a while until the other kids went to bed around 10; one of my thoughts was, "Two kids are in bed--but there are still three more that are awake!" Even in the middle of the night, when I am asleep, I don't necessarily have "personal time", as the 7 year old might come in, saying he had a bad dream. At any given moment, something is required of me. Therefore, any purely alone moments I have are precious (especially since I'm an introvert)!! (Does this mean that the space-time continuum ceases to continue?)
Growing up, I lived with a maximum of 4 others in the house--my grandparents, mom, and brother. Right now, there are six of us in this house. In the van, because there were more people than seatbelts (welcome to Ukraine), I often had kids squished next to me, and would choose a window seat for this very reason. Yesterday morning, the 7 year old was using my lap as a place to keep his "I Spy" book open.
Parenthood, in my inexperienced view, makes you less selfish. If not, then something is wrong. Parenthood requires you to be responsible for meeting the basic needs (food, rest, medication, peace, affirmation) of other human beings other than yourself.
Food/Medication: These are obvious enough. Older kids can get their own food from the fridge, but younger kids need you to prepare/reheat it. Some kids need medications, so it's important to administer this on a regular basis.
Affirmation: I've learned--this time through my own experience and not just through educational psychology--that kids need to be positively affirmed. If they are constantly being told, "No, you are not allowed to do this" or "No, not right now" or "No, we're not going there today," they will be less likely to listen to your directions and otherwise respond to you. This, of course, does not mean swinging to the other extreme and being indulgent--letting them do whatever they want when they want and not respecting your authority as an adult/parent. Rather, showing positive attention to kids, allowing them to make a choice between two good options, affirming them when they make a good choice, and interacting with them and not ignoring them, will help them to feel affirmed and loved.
Peace: We all face conflict in our lives, some caused by circumstances and some caused by others. With little kids, this usually includes fights over toys, using computers, and the use of their time (doing things they may or may not want to do). I've done a lot of mediating and collaborating this weekend, mostly between the kids when they argue or when the kids have to do homework.
A lot goes into raising a family, especially when there are five of them and one of them has special medical needs! Parenting--or, faux-parenting for right now--will make me less selfish, a process that I know will begin (in-depth, 24/7) anyway when I am in a marriage relationship. All I know is that I need to be fully dependent on Christ and walking closely with Him if I expect to show a Christlike example to kids.