Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book review: Loving the Little Years

Only yesterday, I received a copy of Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches by Mrs. Rachel Jankovic for reviewing; I have read it from cover to cover today, and am now sitting down to write this. 

Loving the Little Years is a great read for busy mothers; written by another busy mother who has no time to be particularly long-winded, this little book is full of succint, straight-to-the-point advice on how to survive (and thrive) in daily situations of kitchen messes, diaper blowouts, and squabbling children. 

Right now, a book on motherhood that makes me nod and say, "yes, I've been there" is a welcome and comforting read. I giggled like mad as I read, "when taking the garbage out becomes a "destination", you know you are really in the trenches!" - well then, perhaps this isn't just me who says to her girls with the air of announcing a surprise party, "let's go for a walk to take out the garbage". Admittedly, the garbage bin is a little off the road from our house, but anyway, it's nice to know someone sane enough to actually complete a book and get it published can relate to what you feel.

Having said that, I have two issues to take with this book. One is the mention of spanking as an acceptable discipline method. I simply cannot agree with this; I do not wish to enter into an argument, and there is really very little to be added on this matter. By the way, this was also what put me off a bit while reading For the Family's Sake

The second issue is a general message I felt, while reading, that every difficulty can be dismissed by telling yourself, "stop complaining and count your blessings. There's no justification to feel overwhelmed when there's work G-d obviously wishes you to do." Now, this can be good advice in many situations, and moping is, certainly, not a very productive attitude. But there are also circumstances when people go through genuine hardship such as tragic family situations, crumbling marriages, illness, bankruptcy, and other experiences in which simply telling oneself to cope with it and move on can result in even worse burnout and depression. There really are situations when we must call for a stop and accept, with humble grace, the help of people who are sent our way in those troubled times, to support us until we can pull ourselves together.

I understand the reasoning behind not wanting to give in to negative feelings, but in retrospect, looking at certain periods of my life as a mother when I felt very hurt and vulnerable, reading that I'm not supposed to feel overwhelmed, nor speak of it, would not have been very good advice. In fact, it would have made me feel even guiltier for being inadequate than I was already feeling. Sometimes what we really need is comfort, unconditional love, tenderness, compassion and support. We always have that in our Creator, but there are times in our life when we need the material manifestation of His love in the people who surround us. 

Also, I believe that one must know one's strengths - as much as possible, anyway, as we do tend to err both ways; both in saying we can't do something we later manage to pull off and even do quite well, with G-d's help and mercy - and in trying to tackle something we cannot do without stretching ourselves very thin. We are, after all, blessed with different gifts, and what is easily possible for one is excruciatingly difficult for another. We must know our weaknesses - no, not to indulge them, but to allow room for growth by reasonable, individual planning. 

Now, I'd better wrap this up because it's getting a bit long for a book review post. I will summarize by saying that the book is definitely worth a read, even if you don't agree with everything you find in it. If you are a mother of little ones, you will probably relate to many passages, and will most likely crack a good laugh or two - which, in my opinion, is the number one test that makes a self-help book worthwhile.

7 comments:

Elizabeth said...

I have read this book, and while her advice is really good for normal women in normal situations, it seems to me Mrs. Jankovic spares very little compassion and understanding towards those who are less fortunate.

I gathered from various hints that Mrs. Jankovic has a very supportive husband. Does she have any idea what it's like to live with someone who always complains and pulls faces because the house isn't clean enough, the menu isn't varied enough, the children aren't obedient enough? Who constantly waxes nostalgic about how his darling Mama used to do things when he was a kid, and of course you can't ever measure up? Who blackmails you with the threat of divorce so that he can always get his own way in everything?

Does Mrs. Jankovic have any idea what it's like, struggling to keep it all together somehow, while living with a man who does everything in his power to leech your soul out of you, to drag you down to the bottom, to extinguish the last little brave flame of light still alive in your heart?

Somehow, I doubt it. This is why I probably won't be going back to this book again.

The Gentle Mom said...

I have not read this book, but I'm familiar with the type of advice you describe, and I must say that I don't find it to be at all helpful. This is one of the (many) reasons that I can't abide most of the posts at LAF and similar blogs.

As for the spanking: I agree with you 100%. Parents should not spank their children, and I'm glad to hear you would never lay a hand on your precious little girls.

MacKenzie said...

I haven't read this book but might in the future however, I do want to second (or third) your 5th paragraph. I have just finished a difficult season of my life dealing with my mother having cancer and several weeks ago, passing away. Trying to care for my home, husband and toddler while still being present for my parents and siblings has been a challenge, combined with the spiritual and emotional draining of the situation mean I am feeling very burnt our right now. Just last week I asked for help from several church members and friends, they are providing me some meals till I can get back on my feet. It was hard to ask for help, especially when I only have one daughter and some of the moms who helped me out have more children, are homeschooling, etc but I'm glad I did, the response was so loving and generous. I know someday I will be able to repay the favor, if not to that exact moms, to others who may be going through a hard time as well.

Melanie said...

simply telling oneself to cope with it and move on can result in even worse burnout and depression.

I've been telling myself to just "deal with" my current "illness*" and severe burn out is exactly what has happened to me.

It took was my Pastor's wife adding me to a prayer with a few really sick people (guy with cancer, kid with a concussion, etc.) to get that sometimes, maybe, the message that God is trying to drill into your head is that you need help.

I wonder what the author would think of that, seeing as how she seems pretty anti "not being able to cope on your own." And, yes, I do feel overwhelmed after a year of malnutrition... Maybe that makes me weak, maybe it just means that not every difficulty can be overcome without asking friends for help.

(*And for anyone wondering, I've been nauseous for the past year now... Until the middle of September we thought it was morning sickness, but now we're not so sure, seeing as how DS is three months old and I still struggle to get anything down. I know "I have an upset tummy" sounds pathetic in writing, but it's my worst nightmare and it really has gotten harder to deal with over time.)

PS. Your last few posts have really hit home. Thank you, and your commenters, for letting me know I'm not alone :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

I have put this on my list to read because I have read some post by this author and enjoyed them very much.

I think, in general, American women do complain and are ungrateful. It is humbling to realize there are millions of women doing much more with much less. So in that aspect, she is right. Much is accomplished by a correct attitude and much can be corrected in the next generation by modeling that for them. We have become a society of toddlers, throwing temper tantrums and saying God doesn't love us when we don't get our way or are inconvienced. How sad. Generations who came before must be ashamed of us.

I have yet to have to leave small children hidden in a cave while getting water from the only water source within miles knowing that large cats hide their to kill their prey, yet some women do that everyday.

However, as someone who has survived much pain, I do think that there is a strange trend with some bloggers where everything is simply an act of mind over matter. As if ever being human is somehow unholy.
This is not true. Not everyone enjoyed a wonderful childhood that moved seamlessly into a serene coursthip that moved into a delighfilled marriage where both spouses work toward honoring the Lord. In fact, I would say that is the exception.

One blogger when asked for advice on coping with bad days replied "I don't have them, I chose not to" (I am parapharasing here) and it infuriated me. Really, YOU NEVER HAVE A BAD DAY?

Is that really the response we want to give struggling Mothers, Mothers who are dealing with addiction, spousal abuse, coming from childhoods where they never once say good parenting or marriages but have put their trust in the Good and Faithful Lord to try to provide that for their family? We want to PRETEND anything they encounter is simply a relfection of LACK in them? Reminds me of the book of Job if you know what I mean.

It is not a sin to struggle. It is our path. However, we should encourage and lift each other up. I think we are double responsible to do this if we have been given grace in an area where we once struggled, not to stay away from someone like the struggle is catching.

Anyone who is doing the right thing, no matter how hard it is for them to do it, should be encouraged.

Just my two cents. Many Blessings :)

Ace

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth,

I just wanted to offer some encouragement to you. I grew up in a home very much like you described.
I am very, eternally, grateful that my Mother stood her post against enormous odds. That she poured out her life in sacrifice for me and my family. It changed our generations and was a witness to my Father and his family.

Thank you for standing in the midst with battle raging all around you. I will pray you have peace while you do and that it will bring you ever closer to God. The military doesn't give out the big medals to those whowere safe behind enemy lines...but to the heros who gave their lives. It is often their contributions that change the course of battles and wars.

God bless you Sister,
Ace

Anonymous said...

Anna,
I've also been delighted by the book you mention. I laughed out loud more than once, and my husband even enjoyed exerpts. May I try to stem the trend of maligning the author and her message? It's human nature to impute motives to others and especially when the context is not fully understood. I've read this author more than once in other venues and am fairly familiar with her theology, and feel comfortable saying that not asking for help when you need it wasn't her intention.
If I remember correctly, she was addressing the all too common murmuring and complaining that seems to be the 'normal' (at least in the States) way some women talk about their duties and families. She was also addressing the idea that what we tell ourselves is "too much, I just can't handle it!" is usually just normal life. We may not like it, it might be uncomfortable, but, with God's grace, we can "handle" it. Your comments here were really good, Anna, that moping is generally a bad idea, and not productive, and in most situations looking at your duties as a high calling, and counting all the abundant blessings in our situation is encouraging and strengthening. Please remember that this is a little book, quick reading for women in the trenches, not a full blown treatise on suffering, nor a counseling book for the emotionally wounded. Those are topics better suited to their own books.
Don't miss out on the message that could do us all some good on most days just because it doesn't cover every possible situation.

Respectfully,
Janine