Last weekend we enjoyed being descended upon by almost all of our adult children and their spouses (Joey and Jamie being the understandable exception). Gabe was over the worst of his illness and was left with a very runny nose and a cough. I missed joining everyone at the high school basketball game but had extra time to prepare for the masses. The main event of the weekend was the celebration of Keith's 46th birthday. What a testimony to his dedication to, and love and devotion for his family that his children would make such an effort to be with him.
I think they all genuinely enjoy being together, too.
I suppose every family has its unique dynamics. But, I see the same development and growth in the relationships of our family as I see in any relationships and they all go through similar ups and downs and trials. Some siblings clash right from the beginning and seem to be always butting heads no matter how hard you teach, chasten, mold, and correct. Then, they're suddenly best friends spending hours talking and actually sticking up for one another in public.
(Seven of our eight boys)
Keith told me something about twenty years ago that made a difference in my thinking concerning raising children. He said, "Our children WILL love each other." I thought he was crazy. Children seem to naturally have adversarial relationships with their siblings. How could he say so definitively that they would love each other?
I try to ponder new ideas and mull over them before coming to conclusions and, although my initial inclination was "that's impossible" I didn't give up on the idea. I thought about my own sibling relationships and about what made me like or dislike my siblings, and them me. I thought about ANY relationship for that matter. And what I realized is that we like, or love, people who are good to us. We (or children anyway--adults tend to get complicated) love people who love us.
I theorized that if we worked to direct our children towards displaying kind and loving behavior to each other they would naturally have positive feelings toward one another and therefore, in a child-like way, they would love each other.
(Priscilla loving all of us!)
I saw all this as MY responsibility for what I would and would not allow from them. I thought of the way I treated my younger sister. I annoyed her! Terribly. I don't recall any really mean behavior but I was downright annoying and I knew it. When she would complain our mom would just tell her to "leave her alone" or to "stay away from her". Looking back, I think that was a mistake. I should have been dealt with and made to stop the behavior, because I was violating God's command to love one another.
Therefore, in my own family, it's been my goal to get to the source of the behavioral problem when two of the children aren't getting along. Often the problem is on both sides. Perhaps one is the initial cause--i.e. child #1, "I can play the piano better than you can and I'll always be better." But, then it's followed by a reaction, child #2 taunts #1 and plunks on the piano keys while #1 tries to play. In this case, child #2 came to me in distress. Eventually the whole story came out and both were found guilty and the matter was eventually resolved. I don't know that it caused them to love each other, but not dealing with it and changing behavior certainly fuels the likelihood of them NOT loving each other.
I'm sure there are hundreds of stories and examples where I have failed and missed things and handled them wrong and believed the wrong child and favored someone and, and, and, but the principle stands. And I believe, with 5 of our 11 now adults, that they genuinely love each other. And love does amazing things. It sets an example that gives the younger members something to immitate and creates an overall atmosphere that is inviting.
It is incredible to raise a child, love them with all your heart and more, pour into them more of yourself than you thought possible, and see them leave and cleave to another. It is a most satisfactory, wonderful, blessed, yet somehow heart-wrenching experience. Seeing them start to raise their own families is a wonder that I'm only just beginning to feel.
It all gives me a wonderful appreciation for the time I have with the younger ones who are still home. I used to think, with the birth of each child, "I'm going to get this one right, with no mistakes." I know I can't do that, I always knew I couldn't, but I sure wanted to try.
I no longer think quite like that, but I am encouraged to keep going, to work harder, and stay on course. This takes more work and more crying out to God than it ever did, because my flesh is older and weaker. It would be easier to settle into a comfortable routine for me and just "get through" these last years, and sometimes I feel tired and tempted to do that. Then I look into these faces, and remember their older siblings, and remember being young myself, and I pray and ask God for youth and vitality and freshness. Then it's easy to say, "Sure, pull out the trundle bed and have a slumber party!"
I suppose the order of my home (OK, rather the lack of it) proves that I haven't quite settled into my own rut and abondoned the priority of letting kids be kids and making it fun! But, I am tempted.
Most of all, as I watch our family grow up and out, I am more and more thankful for my husband. I see his hand and influence all through our home and family and our relationships. I see his care and passion influencing and guiding and directing. I see God's presence in his spirit that keeps him fueled and rejuvinated every day, giving him the strength to encourage, help, and love me. The candles may create a near atomic glow and the smoke may be choking but they're evidence of maturity and wisdom gleaned with years of immersion in the word of God and working out His principles practically every day.
I am blessed with another year, or even just another day, with him.