In my Habits Project for 2013, I decided on 3 categories of habits: Health, Home, and Happiness. That’s the alliterative version. The more accurate titles would be Health, Organization, and Mothering. I picked the three aspects of my life right now upon which all others are built: my own physical stamina and energy, my ability to keep balls rolling and plates spinning, and my relationships with my children. The effectiveness of any other part of my life is dependent upon these.

February’s Happy Home habit, or Mothering habit, I worked on was smiling into the eyes of each child multiple times a day. I want smiling at them to be the instinctive thing I do when I enter a room and make eye contact, when they come in from outside, or when they come up to ask something. It seems so basic, yet it has not been my default.

Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. – Mother Theresa

Our Heavenly Father is pleased with us, and is pleased when we come to Him. This earthly mother, though, tends to enter a room, cast a critical eye about, and be generally dissatisfied with what she sees. Even if it’s not the children I’m dissatisfied with, I know they pick up and internalize whatever vibe I’m emitting. If I’m mulling on thoughts like “things aren’t very good around here right now,” I know they feel that burden personally, even if they couldn’t express it. It is a simple logical step to deduce that Mom is grumpy because of the smudges on the walls and windows, the scattered books and toys, and the constant chatter, all of which would not be there if the children were not there. We mothers would never verbalize, “Things would be so much better here without you,” but a dissatisfaction in the state of things can easily be interpreted that way by a child.

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. –Proverbs 14:4

March’s Mothering habit is related. It is to look the children in the eye when talking to them or when listening to them. It is to stop attempting to physically or mentally multitask while listening to the children. Now, this doesn’t exclude conversation with my dinner helper while we make dinner together, or other such instances, but it means I need to pay attention more often and not try to “make progress” on something when I should be conversing with a child. If I wander off mentally into menu planning mode while nodding, “Uh-huh, yeah….oh, really?” Then I’m not actually listening to them, caring about what they say, or being kind. And they know it.

All of us, children included, want to be heard, seen, known, valued. The pestering chatter is often a sign that they aren’t getting what they know they need: attention. And they will keep knocking, knocking, knocking, until they get it or they despair.

Both smiling by default and looking them in the eye are ways of giving attention, of really looking and seeing, to communicate that I want them, love them, and know them.

It seems crazy that it is so hard to do such a simple thing, but it is a fallen world. The good and right are not our native defaults. But with God’s strength and the Holy Spirit’s help (He does grant self-control and love and patience when honestly petitioned), it is our calling and duty we can fulfill.

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