Q: I got married right out of college. Four years later, I've got two needy toddlers and an art degree that apparently means nothing. Meanwhile, my still-single sorority sisters have thriving careers in graphic design and constantly post about their work and exotic travels. I love my kids, but I have to confess that I'm jealous and discouraged. How do I let go of those artistic dreams I once had?
Jim: I appreciate your honesty -- and I'd like to respond with an illustration you might not have considered. I'm sure you were taught, and likely believe yourself, that art matters a great deal, regardless of whether it generates "commercial success." I'm convinced that art matters because it flows directly out of our humanity. We were created to create.
With that in mind, I'd suggest that you're a creative artist of the highest degree "even" as a homemaker. You're nurturing children and shaping an environment where they can thrive and flourish. Sure, your working medium may not be paint, or clay, or an iPad. Instead, you're sculpting character every day in impressionable young human lives.
You're also well-equipped and positioned to help your children discover their own gifts and talents as they grow up. You can guide them in developing their own forms of artistic expression -- and create right along with them. As the kids get older, hopefully you'll have an opportunity to return to the workforce and/or pursue "formal art" as a hobby. As much as possible, schedule regular personal time to flex and retain your artistic muscles and creativity.
Meanwhile, never doubt that being a mom is a high calling -- and don't lose sight of the concrete fact that the lives you shape have more value than any painting or sculpture ever could. In fact, I'd predict many of your "successful sorority sisters" are likely envious of you.
Q: Our four-year-old daughter is afraid of going to sleep in the dark. We've tried everything - established bedtime, a night light, books, songs, prayers -- but nothing seems to help. Do you have any advice?
Dr. Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting & Youth: This is fairly common for small children; my kids were also scared of the dark when they were young. Their imaginations are developing quickly, so they may have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. Your daughter is probably going through a phase that she'll outgrow in time.
First, determine if any recent changes at home or preschool could have sparked these fears. Ask your daughter what's scary to her -- what she sees, hears or feels in the dark -- and what would help her feel safe. Help her train her imagination to think of fun, creative stories that have some excitement and end well. If she imagines a monster, have her draw it the next day and dress it up to make it funny and friendly. Change her perception by naming it and making up goofy stories about it.
If this isn't working after a week or two, try other methods. A night light in the room or hall is great, but make sure it doesn't cast any scary shadows on the wall. My daughter loved having several stuffed animals strategically placed on guard, with one special "bedtime buddy." My son enjoyed listening to soothing music just before falling asleep. Each child is different; what may work for one may not work for another, so you'll need to be creative. The goal is to help your child feel a sense of control and calm within their room as they go to sleep.
Finally, teach your daughter simple ways to talk to God if she wakes in the night. Remind her often that He cares deeply for her.
For more tips, see FocusOnTheFamily.com/parenting.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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