Let me introduce Jan. She is a mother of two adult children and six grandchildren. She began her motherhood journey in the Deep South of America where her husband was a pastor; moving back to Australia when their eldest boy was to begin school. During the years of her children’s schooling she juggled the roles of pastor’s wife, mother and high school teacher. When she became a grandmother she gave a lot of time to support her children in their role as parents whilst continuing her work with others. In the joys and challenges that have been a part of her story, she has turned to God in prayer and trusted in the Bibles promises. I first knew her as my high school computing teacher, but nowadays she is my mother-in-law. She is a resilient woman, and I think she raised an awesome man.
How old were you when you became a Mum? I married when I was 29, and during that first year of marriage we moved countries. A new country meant a new health care fund and with this, a stipulation of different waiting periods for medical conditions such as pregnancy. So our first son was born when I was 32. Our two boys were born in Alabama, U.S.A where medical costs are very high.
Has anyone inspired you as a mother? My first thoughts go back to my own mother. I learnt from her home making skills. She taught me to sew my own clothes, to cook, do my chores, drive and encouraged me in my schooling. My Mum was a teacher, so there was much I unconsciously copied. I grew up with the normal routine of Mum going to work while us kids went to school. So, it was natural for me to train as a teacher and pick up this job again after our boys were starting their own schooling.
Now as a Grandma, I have been inspired by watching younger Mums using all the tools and support that they get from books and each other. This wasn’t available to me in Alabama in the 70’s.
What is one of your favourite memories of raising children? A favourite milestone was when the boys could put themselves to sleep. I found great satisfaction from learning how to teach the boys to cry themselves to sleep. I know it sounds strange, but I was a guilt-ridden mother whose instinct was to make sure I was always there to soothe their tears and rock them off to sleep. It was only when my sister-in-law came to visit, that she helped me to learn this skill. I think the first night it took 45 minutes for him to fall asleep and it decreased each night after that. It became a great routine; to know I could put the boys to bed and leave them to fall asleep by themselves.
Another favourite was watching them grow and learn. Seeing them develop new skills and strengths. Being a family together for meals, especially Sunday night home-made pizzas. The four of us huddling in our bed to watch a movie on TV was very special.
Can you share a particular challenge you faced in parenting? Finding my role was a challenge. Being a pastor’s wife and a parent was very challenging in the early years – living in a small country town in Alabama. There were huge expectations put on me by this community. For example: Even though I had difficult labours, I was expected to be at church, on show the following Sunday. The adult Sunday School class met in our lounge room before church while I was feeding the boys and dressing them (in their 3 piece suits with bow ties)…no pressure! There were no baby clinics (like we have in Australia) so I found it very hard to talk about how to raise children. It was so different to life back home.
In Brisbane, when our boys were a little older, I was to play the church organ while my husband was preaching. The boys had to sit by themselves, (and sometimes played up) and I remember the horrid looks I got from some of the church members.
Another major challenge for me was learning to deal with the totally different personalities of my boys; no two children are alike! You think you have it all sorted out with the first, but no. Each child comes with very different challenges and blessings.
How did you work through this challenge? What gave you hope in times of trouble? I found consolation in my study of the Bible, and learning to trust God through these times. Without the Psalms of David I would have thought I was the only one to be going through tough times. I was very thankful to have grown up knowing the promises of the Bible and knowing the reality of praying to God who knew me and understood my life. We also had some great friends visit us and share their stories and love.
If you were to meet your ‘young Mum’ self, what advice would you give her?
- Take it easy. Relax. Enjoy your children. Don’t worry about what other people think. Take lots of pictures.
- Be their parent, not their friend or pal. Kids need to know their parents are in control and are leading them in a good direction.
- Don’t try to be ‘super Mum’. Learn to say “No” to things that become a burden.
- Get them to bed early so that you can enjoy your evenings.
- Take time for yourself.