Today I began painting our boys' bedroom. A new carpet is being fitted next Saturday morning, so we need to finish this week. The disruption caused by moving 3 boys out of their bedroom along with almost all their stuff is also something that I'm looking forward to coming to an end fairly swiftly.
As I was painting skirting boards, for a number of hours, I was thinking about how decorating has so many dull tasks that need to be done before the fun stuff can begin. Sticking down masking tape, hoovering up dust, shifting furniture, painting skirting boards all have to be completed before walls can be painted and IKEA furniture constructed (my favourite job).
My life, focused as it is on raising and teaching our children and running our home, feels a lot like this. Much of the time is spent doing repetitive but vital tasks. Saying "no" and meaning it. Teaching a child how to do up a zip or squeeze toothpaste out of a nearly empty tube. Cleaning up cuts and breaking up arguments. Helping a child who has always struggled to get to sleep quickly. Praying with a sad or hurt or anxious or repentant child. Admiring pictures or listening to descriptions of Minecraft creations. Reading the Bible. Teaching a little one to listen when we pray. Saying sorry when I mess it all up (again).
The high points happen because of the unseen hours of labour. I don't mean exam results or getting married or having a great career (these are way off for us anyway). I'm thinking of when a child suddenly shows growth of character, or that they have won a victory against a particular sin that they have been struggling with. I mean when a child tackles a difficult task and perseveres, or shows a love of reading or maths or art for its own sake. The (many) days when all four children play together peacefully, with the older ones enabling the younger ones to join in by adapting their play are wonderful to see. When I see them mature in love or in faith - though they, like me, often slip up again - I thank God for the work he does in their lives.
Being a parent is an amazing privilege, which brings many joys. Our children are a blessing, and we thank God for them. The day-to-day reality of bringing up our children, and of home education too, is often doing many unseen, unnoticed and menial tasks. Often it is tempting to look for easier ways - to give in to moaning or skip a Bible time because bedtime is running late, or to do every day tasks for our children rather than to train them to do them. If we avoid the mundane or squeeze out the basics, however, we can't expect to see the good stuff too. I know - I've tried at times! If I'm stricter, my children are happier. If I take time to listen to them and to hear their concerns, I'm better able to encourage and help them. When I take time over reading the Bible and don't rush, then I have better conversations with the children about what we have read.
Doing the day-to-day everyday aspects of raising children is where the real work happens. It is here that our relationships with our children grow as we help them in their struggles, and where we can point them to Christ, not just at Bible times, but after arguments or while eating ice cream or when they are sitting in the bathtub.