I will never forget two trips I made with my older two kids. One was to my brother's in MD and the other to my cousin's house in PA. Gavin and Kate were about 2 and 3 years old.
I had done the trips within months of each other solo - at that time Stephen was doing shift work and often worked the weekends. Both trips were at least 4 hours in length and so by the time I got to their houses I was ready to hang out with my family.
At my brother's house I remember putting my kids to bed after an afternoon of playing with their cousins. I was looking forward to just getting some down time with my brother and sister-in-law.
Well, that didn't happen.
Bedtime took at least 3 hours that night. Every time I went downstairs, little feet pitter-pattered after me. I would bring them back up, tuck them back in, and then head back downstairs. The pitter-patter would follow.
Repeat for three hours. (yes, I was a slow learner!)
In that situation my eyes were so focused on my desire to hang out with my family, I did not look at all at my children's needs.
Fast forward to my cousin's house. After a morning of travel and an afternoon of play, we started our bedtime routine. I read them their stories, sang them their songs and went out to be with my cousin and his wife. And no more than a minute or two later, my two little ones were by my side.
Repeat three times. Then I had a moment of realization as I had a flashback to my brother's house.
I was putting my desires before their needs.
They were in a new place and needed me there to comfort them. I walked them back into the room and stayed there with them. It took only 10-20 minutes before they fell asleep and I was able to go hang out with my cousin and his wife.
I am sharing this story because our little guy is now the same age my older two were when I took these trips. We haven't been traveling but when we come downstairs after putting them to bed, he will find his way downstairs - "I am thirsty," "I am hungry," "I want to watch the Mets game with you Daddy," etc. He always has a reason why he is coming down.
I admit to often getting frustrated with him because I am wanting my down time before I go to sleep.
I am in a selfless season of life.
It took many nights of grumbling and being frustrated for me to come to the same conclusion I came to years ago with my other two...
I need to put his needs before my desires.
This season will pass.
I would look back in regret of all those frustrated nights of bringing him back upstairs over and over and over again. I will not look back in regret at the times I spent in his room watching his energized body slowly unwind itself to stillness while singing him songs that slowly fade to silence.
When I put my desires before his needs, his needs nor my desires are met. When I put his needs first, my desires are too met. That's interesting when you think about it.
I also think it is important to mention that when I have "fed" myself first - taking care of myself in Spirit, mind and body - I have more to give my children. For from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. If my tank is empty, my reactions reflect my emptiness. When my tank is full, I have greater perspective and patience as a parent.
If you too find yourself in a caretaker role of any kind, be sure you are "feeding" yourself in Spirit, mind and body so that your tank is full to give from. The next time your find yourself in a position where someone's needs are taking place of your desires...
Pause. Breathe. Pray.
Remind yourself that meeting their need is greater than meeting your desire. It is a selfless season we are in yet it will all be worth it in the end.