Rachel Jankovic. Loving the Little Years (2010).
My dear friend Jenny just gave me something I’ve wanted for a while: Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic. I read half of it returning from the States on the plane (As it is subtitled “Motherhood in the Trenches” I thought it appropriate to begin it on a transatlantic flight with my little children . . . yet I didn’t quite plan on reading it just after my sick and bewildered toddler pitched a screaming tantrum culminating in her puking on me. Yes, I noticed some amused glances at the title.) I read the other half with some of my bonus jet-lag hours in the middle of the night.
Jankovic is very honest about the challenges of mothering little ones: It’s exhausting. It’s messy. They are all born with tainted human natures. And by testing our physical and emotional limits, they tend to bring out the natural human in us. As Jankovic says, “One of the great things about having children is that you constantly convict yourself by teaching them” (18).
The book is a combination of anecdotes from Jankovic’s current experience of raising five young children and wise, well-reasoned advice. I was particularly appreciative of her concrete examples of constructive discipline techniques. I am always looking for ideas of how to train in a positive, grace-filled way that supports children where they are and helps them to do rightly. See, for example, Jankovic’s idea of stroller “stations” for her girls to grasp in tempting places like stores and her method of “practicing” shopping with everyone in tow on a day when there was no list and no pressure (96). Our lifestyle involves a lot of walking and I’ve used the same idea for my oldest–she has a short strap on the baby buggy that she must hold in stores and on busy roads. We have also had plenty of practice sessions! Or see Jankovic’s system for dealing with complaining among her children by highlighting the very different attitudes of a “thankster” and a “crankster” (35). Her discipline techniques are full of clarity, understanding, and creativity. I love this quote: “Now try thinking of discipline as a different kind of nourishment–a sweet means of grace to your children. Bring that to the table with a smile and a wink–a means of building up little people, not a means of bringing them down” (19). A mother’s role as an authority figure is not ignored. But, like Dr. Tim Kimmel in Grace-Based Parenting (2004), she emphasizes that a mother’s authority “should always be geared toward guiding with an eye toward releasing” (84).
One of Jankovic’s ideas must be highlighted here. Writing about the importance of controlling our language, she tells about a time after her twins were born when she had to eliminate the word ‘overwhelmed’ from her vocabulary. She realized, “God gave me this to do. I may not be overwhelmed about it. I can try as hard as I can, and maybe fail sometimes . . . I can try as hard as I can and maybe fall asleep at the dinner table . . . Actually, I may be overwhelmed, but I may not say that I am overwhelmed!” (41). I’d read this book again even if the rest of it wasn’t any good just for that gem of insight. That’s exactly what I felt God was telling me when we had just arrived in England and Harriet was born. That it was time to get up, be strong, and just do the work in front of me because he is with me. Because, as every mother will tell you, the thing about raising children is that as soon as you learn to manage you enter a new phase with new and more difficult challenges. You must either spend your life overwhelmed, or, as Jankovic says, “Start over, and accept the new ‘normal'” (73) and pray for a “growth spurt” (72) of your own!
Though the collection of short chapters is slightly random and occasionally repetitive the themes that are built as the pages turn are those of contentment and gratitude in this phase of life as a mother. The reader is encouraged to face the calling of being a mother squarely and joyfully. This little book is a treasure.