No Mom Left Behind: The Elementary (and Preschool) Years with Beth Claes.

For the past several years I’ve had the privilege of serving alongside Beth Claes, creator of Wrestled Faith, as community group co-leaders. Her insight and wisdom is parallel to none and I’ve come to listen, truly listen, to every word she has to say. As moms of preschoolers and elementary school aged children, Beth and I are in similar stages of life. She has been a cheerleader in my own parenting and I’m excited to share her incredible perspective with you! 

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Hey there! My name is Beth and I am a momma to 3 children – Miriam (8 years), Eli (6 years), and Owen (3 years). Nate and I have been married for 13 years. We went through graduate school together (4 years of having very little income and very little time), and have pretty much grown up into adulthood together. Currently, I’m a licensed psychologist who teaches in the psychology department at Roberts Wesleyan College. I have most school breaks and summers “off”, while also riding the semester wave of an increasing workload from the beginning of the semester until the end. I love teaching, love my students, and especially love the time it affords me to be home with my family. 

How do you balance life in your home? 

This question actually makes me laugh. I hate the word “balance.” How do I balance it all? The honest answer is that I don’t! Being a working mom with 3 kids means there are simply too many balls in the air for me to keep track of. I haven’t mastered the art of juggling – so if it’s inspiration you are after, you may want to look elsewhere. I think the words that come to mind for this question are “priorities” and “strategy.” To return to my juggling analogy, I have to choose which balls I will actually attempt juggle, prioritize those, and then develop a strategy for keeping those specific ones in the air. I also have to be okay with letting some balls just fall away. The question I continually return to is – what is most important here? 

If living by my priorities is the goal, then making strategic decisions is the roadmap for getting there. So, for example – family time is really important to me. It is something I want to prioritize which means I have to carefully weigh every extracurricular activity, work function, family event, girl’s night, school event, and even date night against it. I think there is a time for every single one of those things, but I find that very quickly I can lose sight of something I value by saying “yes” to other good things. 

I try to navigate this with strategic “no’s” and also by making the most of time that is already embedded in our lives (like connecting through conversation in the car). I also have to stop and remind myself to stop living for someone else’s view. We don’t have to leave our house to make beautiful memories. My kids don’t need to be involved in a million extracurricular things. I don’t even like that kind of chaos. But give me time outside in my backyard with my kids, or a rainy-day reading books together while drinking hot chocolate. I think one of the most important things I am learning is to prioritize connection during family time, however that may look. 

How do you grow your spiritual life as a mom?

I think this relates back to “priorities.” I used to not spend any consistent time with God in the Bible or in prayer, and my relationship with God suffered quite a bit. Right now, what works for me is to wake up early before anyone else wakes up and spend the first part of my day with Him. Most days I get up at 4:45am, get dressed, and sneak down my creaky stairs two at a time, carefully placing my weight in least creakiest places so I can escape unnoticed. I grab a cup of coffee that just finished brewing (thanks delay start!), and retreat to a little corner of my house with my favorite bible and some journals. I don’t miss a day, simply because I have grown to love it so much. Spending time with God in these early morning hours has become one of the most treasured parts of my day. 

But different seasons have worked differently for me. A few years ago, my mom had cancer and I was pregnant with my youngest. Between work, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, a sick mom and being pregnant – I couldn’t find time to shower or wash my clothes – let alone spend time in the Bible. And I was coming out of a season of where I had been spending no time with God at all, so I had no good routines to fall back on. I decided to just start by reading a few Bible verses each day, and I prayed for hunger for more. I also put Bible verses around my home in places I would see them throughout the day to help me think on scripture more often. And then I used my 30-minute commute to pray, and thus new patterns began to develop in my life. Giving God those first few moments of my day (small as they were) was the first step in my life changing; and God answered my prayer, awaking a deep hunger in me to know Him more and more. 

Right now, I still strategically use my drive to listen to podcasts or pray. I also read a lot (books and articles), but the vast majority of the resources I regularly use are more focused on theology or general faith application (the Northridge podcast, sermons by David Whiting at New Heights, Jen Wilkin (books and podcasts), and any resources from authors/speakers at CCEF, Desiring God, and A Right Heart). I find that my best parenting seems to grow from having a growing relationship with God, and these are the tools that best help me grow. Obviously, this can look different for everyone. I think the key is to find the tools that grow your relationship with God and help you apply the Bible in your life. 

How do you teach your children about God? 

I think this is perhaps one of the most important responsibilities I have in this life. As someone who teaches for a job and enjoys the art of teaching, I’m always wrestling with how to be better at it. And much like anything one teaches, content delivery is only one part of the teaching process. Teaching my kids about what the Bible says about who God is, is something that I try to prioritize. And yet, I’m consistently reminded that it is not knowledge about God that changes us…it is our relationship with Him that when interwoven with accurate knowledge most significantly impacts our lives. With this in mind, I try to live out my relationship with God through a glass house. I want my kids to see the daily workings of my relationship with God as often as possible – in what I teach, and especially how I live.  

I’m learning that God’s character and love is not necessarily best conveyed by doing the “right” things. When they see me serving at church, spending personal time in devotions, or reading Bible stories with them, they are only seeing one small piece of the God who loves us and gave Himself for us. Sometimes God is revealed more meaningfully to them in the moments that I react to their interruptions with patience and grace. Or when I ask for their forgiveness after messing up. I think they can learn more about the God who transforms hearts and lives through our “insignificant” day-to-day moments together, than when I formally teach them. 

What words of advice would you give to mother’s who are in the same stage of life as you?

I love the author Sara Haggerty – if you need a good book to read, she has two. She wrote in Every Bitter Thing is Sweet – “And my hunger is revealing this: Motherhood’s greatest fulfillment is not when children become vibrant God-followers who change the world for Him. Though this goal is certainly high on my list, I would be left bereft in the day-to-day reality of parenting if my eyes were on this alone…if my chief end as a mother is anything less than knowing Him and carrying His glory in my life, I will walk through these years empty.”

And so, my advice for this stage, and any really is this: Make it your goal to know Christ and carry His glory in your life. Make it your goal to love Him and please Him. Pray for His help. Ask for His wisdom in the challenges that you face and wait expectantly. From this grace – knowing Christ – comes everything you need to mother well. 

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