In Her Shoes is a series written by readers to give us a glimpse into their lives – what it is like to walk in their shoes. Today I am excited to introduce you to my friend Jeri. She is a wife, mom, writer, and so much more. You can connect with her and follow her writing at her personal blog and her cooking blog. Let’s join our friend as she shares with us what it is like to be in her shoes. ~ Love, Ginger
I’m Jeri; I live in Wichita; I have three amazing children and a husband who’s been my best friend for nearly 14 years.
When we got married, I had a pretty good picture of what to expect. I planned to follow rather closely in my mother’s footsteps: I would stay at home while my husband went to work every day, I would have babies, cook, tend a garden, can my own vegetables, sew my own dresses, go to church, homeschool my kids, and go on dates with my husband sometimes.
But that picture didn’t turn out to be my life after all! My shoes now take me places I would never have imagined back then.
For six years, I was a homeschool mom. Since I was homeschooled myself, and helped homeschool my younger siblings, homeschooling seemed the most natural choice at the time. And I did love the chance to give my kids the best possible foundation in reading. But this year, my kids are all enrolled in public schools.
Even though we made the transition gradually, it was a major change for our whole family. To my surprise, sending my kids to school has actually strengthened my relationship with each of them. But as beneficial a change as it has been for us, I could not have anticipated the intense emotional support my children would need as they adjusted to a completely new social structure. I never know what to expect when I pick them up at the end of the day.
Some days they need advice on how to handle peers or how to manage anxiety about schedules and deadlines. Sometimes they need reassurance that they are loved and doing just fine. Sometimes they need me to stand up for them to a teacher or administrator. Sometimes they need a listening ear and a comforting snack. Sometimes they just need to let off steam.
And that’s just what they need. I was so nervous at my first parent-teacher conference that I had to fight back tears! Even volunteering in my kids’ classrooms made me panicky and anxious at first; now, after nearly three years, I’m getting a lot more comfortable with school. I even feel like an adult there now, most of the time.
Never having attended middle school myself, I can’t really relate to my daughter’s experiences. Her adventures are all new to me. Which makes them all the more fascinating! Are we the only parents who sit at dinner asking curious questions about the cafeteria, the locker room, what happens at recess? (When she went to a dance party with her classmates, Missy wanted us to go along. We did and it was an emotionally intense experience as we coached her through a social experience that was as new to us as it was to her.)
My husband takes Missy to school while I’m still waking up. An hour later, I drop off the younger two at their school. Then I have six hours of “empty nest” time before it’s time to start collecting my chicks again. I still can’t believe how quickly that time goes!
Having that extra time to concentrate on myself has been invaluable for our family this year. You see, for years I thought the family I grew up in was merely dysfunctional like any other. More recently, however, I’ve finally been able to admit just how abusive my home was, that I have scars from that experience, and that I cannot afford to pass on that twisted legacy.
So, in order to be the mom my precious kids deserve, I have taken on the task of “re-parenting” myself. I am learning the skills of self-compassion and self-protection that my parents weren’t able to teach me. Thanks to books about PTSD and about motherhood, websites about abuse recovery, sessions with my therapist, conversations with women who have shared life with me over cups of coffee or tea, I am finding the tools I need. It’s been hard work, but I feel fortunate to be able to immerse myself in these metaphorical “healing waters.”
I’m taking time to care for my Self: through exercise, through play, through relaxation, through journaling, through college classes, through friendships, through volunteering for causes I care about, through beauty and art and nature–even new clothes! And just as we all benefit from healthy lifestyle choices, I believe my whole family benefits as I take steps toward emotional health.
I’ve known for years that making delicious food soothes and relaxes me, especially when the kitchen is quiet enough to listen to music or NPR. At my counselor’s recommendation, I joined a local book club. Between the stories, the lively discussions, and the fine people I’ve met there, it has truly enriched my life! And, perhaps partly influenced by all the authors who have helped me, I’ve become passionate about writing. I have two blogs now and ideas for a book or two.
Having an “empty nest” during the day has also changed the way we define “home” for the kids. My job description has altered slightly. As a homeschool mom, teaching came first and we all worked together to keep up with the other chores: meals, laundry, cleaning, etc. These days, the kids still have some chores, of course, but school has become their full-time “job,” as it were. We feel that as long as they are applying themselves to their assignments and managing their emotions well, they have earned the right to relax on their own time.
More than ever before, home is now a refuge, a place of comfort and security. When the kids come home, they can kick back. I take care of more behind the scenes now, while they are away, and let more things go when they are at home.
Our marriage has also evolved considerably over the last few years. We married under the complementarian model that says husbands are “over” their wives. Women are supposed to submit, serve, obey, and be available. Since then we have both come to value equality of the sexes, in marriage and anywhere else. After years of habits based on the old paradigm, we’ve made some serious adjustments to our roles!
On the one hand, outside observers probably would not notice a lot of difference in the way we live now. But on the inside, in our motivations and goals and the way we communicate, the change has been enormous. Stressful at times, too! But we just keep talking about what we want out of our relationship and what we need to tweak to get there. Since Chris works from home full-time, we often get to eat lunch together, or even take a quick mid-day walk around the neighborhood together on fine days. Sometimes I take a book or my laptop down to his office and just enjoy the proximity as we work separately in the companionable quiet. Until it’s time to go get the kids again!
We are learning so much about life from our kids. People told me I would understand my parents’ choices better when I became a parent, but, honestly, it hasn’t worked that way for me at all. Instead, I see my kids making great choices, being kind and courageous, learning to advocate for themselves–and most of the time I just want to cheer them on. They are incredible human beings; I feel privileged to watch them grow and their gifts unfold. I see them unfurling like lovely plants whose delicate leaves I don’t want to bruise. Life will be hard enough on them without their mother trying to mold them into a certain shape. I just want to see what they will become if they get all the nutrients and light and support they need to become strong and productive participants in their world.
In so many ways, my children are pulling me into a future I could not have predicted. I may need new shoes to keep up!
To read more stories, or if you would are interested in sharing your story, please go to the In Her Shoes tab near the top of the page. I love learning about the people in this series. Connecting with others seems to make the world feel not quite as big and scary. We’re all in this together. I can’t wait to hear from you, to read your stories, and learn more of what it is like to walk in your shoes. ~ Love, Ginger
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