A Look Back

journal

In just a few short weeks my oldest daughter will be getting married. My dining room is filled with boxes and wedding supplies as she prepares for her big day. She and her fiance are busy fixing up an old house they were able to purchase. It is fun to watch them together, as they work on wedding plans and prepare to start their new life together. But it is also frustrating because my daughter lives here and her stuff is here, but she isn’t really here. Know what I mean?

And I wondered how I felt the summer before my August wedding? Was I as in love? Were my parents frustrated with me?

But I didn’t have to just wonder. I could actually look back. Because, as you may already know, most writers journal. And so I have some kind of record of my feelings about life since about 5th grade. I have pulled out those journals every great once in awhile as I have raised my teen girls.

So a few nights ago I decided to pull out my journal from the summer of 1988. I had not read those words since I had written them. It was strange to read the words of my former self. I am the same person. And yet, I am not the same person.

In those pages, I read about events and relationship dynamics that I had totally forgotten. And guess what? I had some of the typical problems with my parents, too, as an adult living at home. Only I had a different perspective back then. I had not remembered any of that.

It was also interesting to see what I had written about my future husband and myself and the problems I anticipated us having as we headed off into marriage. And all these years later, I could see that I was right. They were the problems that we have faced over and over again in our marriage.

As I told my husband about my insight into our future as a 22 year old, he jokingly said, “well, I guess you shouldn’t have married me.”

But I can honestly say that never crossed my mind. I’d marry him all over again in a heartbeat. And so I responded, “If it wouldn’t have been those problems, then it would’ve been different ones.”

Yes, we have issues. Every marriage does.  There is no perfect relationship. (Why do we think there will be? Could it be the romance novels we read? Or the chick flicks we watch? Why in the world are our expectations so high?)

But we work through them, one step at a time, with candor, forgiveness, a sense of humor, and total commitment.

And how gratifying to realize almost 26 years later, that we have made some progress. We are not the same people we were when I was writing all those years ago. We have changed and matured and become just a little bit more like Jesus as we have added years. Oh, those flaws flare up and still stare us both in the face sometimes, but it isn’t as often. And it isn’t as severe.

I don’t know if you have your life recorded in journals. If you do, why not pull one out and take a few moments and look back? See how far you’ve come. If you don’t, then just take a few moments and think about how far you’ve come. Whether you are 25 or 95, think about your past years. Has your marriage relationship improved over the years? Have you become more like Jesus? Praise the Lord if the answer is yes. The Holy Spirit is working to sanctify you, just as we believers are promised in scripture (I Peter 1:2). But if it is no, don’t despair! Start today to create a new future! One step at a time. It is never too late! (And remember, real and lasting change can only be found after our relationship with God has been made right. If you don’t know Him personally, please click here.)

Our future is created one moment at a time. We are given choices each and every day–we can choose our attitude, our responses, our reactions — and these small choices are what creates the person we will become.

I didn’t think so deeply back when I was writing that summer of 1988. I didn’t realize all of this. Now, looking back, I can see that the prayers of my parents and grandparents helped to keep me on the right track. So that’s my second point. Pray for your kids and grandkids. There is so much we don’t understand when we are young. And most of us don’t want to listen to anyone tell us about life. Let’s cover the young people we love with much prayer.

It was interesting to take a look back. And in some ways I’m jealous. Starting out in life sounds fun and exciting. But then I realize– I wouldn’t really want to go back and learn everything all over again. So, here I am, middle-aged and headed into the future. Still determined to become more like Jesus through the little choices I make every day. Failing daily, but always brushing myself off and starting over again!

 

Don’t Let it Go

Frozen_21

Oh my goodness. I was looking up the lyrics to the popular song “Let It Go” for a different blog post (which will still be coming one of these days) and found something so worrisome, I just have to share it.

You see, little girls (and even quite a few little boys) are singing this song at the top of their lungs across this nation. As Christians, most of us tend to view Disney as fairly innocuous. And before you think I am on some vendetta against Disney, let me assure you that is not the case. I love stories with princesses and happy endings as much as the next guy.

But reading these lyrics made me realize that they are not neutral when it comes to what is being pushed on all of us in this nation. And what is that? It is that there are no absolutes. We are all free to decide in our own mind what is right and what is wrong.

Here are the lyrics I found–

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

I know that many of you will think I am –as the cliche goes–making a mountain out of a mole hill. Others of you will shrug your shoulders and not care. But please keep reading.

Am I suggesting that we ban Disney movies from our homes? No, that is not my point. That is between you and God.

What I do want to talk about is teaching our kids discernment.

If you see something on any kids’ movie that is completely opposite of biblical truth, do you speak to them about it? Do you discuss it and share with them why this does not agree with God’s Word? Even two year olds can understand that mommy and daddy want to honor God and this song or phrase doesn’t do that.

But are we even having the conversations?

These conversations are pretty easy and productive when your children are small. They are like little sponges and it is a wonderful time to fill them with the resources they need to live a life that pleases God. However, as they grow older, it takes a little more courage, because you will get ridiculed and teased by teenagers and they will think you are very annoying and maybe even a little crazy.

Just keep going back to the Word of God.

You see, it’s not my opinion or your opinion that matters. The only opinion we should care about is God’s. If we can teach our kids that from the time they are little, we will be well on our way to raising young people who put their faith in God.

Now to go on a little rabbit trail–

I know that some of you are probably thinking that it is hard to even know what God’s Word says with all of the interpretations out there. And I agree with you. I have seen, in the last few decades, the flood of scriptural “interpretations” and confusing commentaries on scripture that have been let loose on the church so that even we Christians can get confused about what God’s Word says exactly. This is when I go back to history– what has the true church taught for thousands of years? Because, let’s be honest, God’s Word didn’t change 50 years ago to give a carte blanche on man’s sinful desires (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

So, instead of using the “Bible is confusing” as an excuse to avoid good discussions, why  don’t we commit right now–today– to study the Bible ourselves and see what the Holy Spirit has to teach us? If you don’t know where to begin, then click here for a great website to get you started on studying God’s Word.

It is only by doing this that we will have the knowledge necessary to combat the attacks against scripture that are coming from all sides– even in the form of an “innocuous” Disney movie.

 

 

My Four Mirrors

four mirrors

When I had babies so many years ago, I don’t think that I fully realized something.

Wait– let me rephrase that. I know that I absolutely did not realize something.

Each one of my babies– in one way or another– would mirror some of my own worst sinful traits and most annoying habits.

They say that kids change you. And that is certainly true. And, quite honestly, I expected to be changed. It was coming face to face with my own sin on a daily basis that I wasn’t quite expecting.

I have great kids. I am so blessed. But almost every day, I will spot a bit of selfishness or anger or backbiting or gossip, and, while with my mouth I am “encouraging them” to stop what they are doing, inside I am frustrated because I know–as sure as I know the sun will rise again tomorrow– where they learned that behavior.

It is rather interesting to me that, as parents, we often have the toughest time getting along with the kid(s) that are just like us. Could it possibly be because of this dynamic? These kids that are like us force us to come face to face with our sin almost every day. And we don’t like that. It irritates and frustrates us. Our pride is hurt over and over again, because we know we haven’t conquered this sin in our lives and now we’ve condemned our children to struggle with it for the rest of theirs.

Could that possibly be part of the reason?

Whatever the reason, I do believe that, instead of growing frustrated, we need to humble ourselves and recognize the sin in our own lives, while we do the necessary task of raising our children.

How important it is that we do not pretend we are perfect while we discipline our children, while all involved — children, spouse– knows full well we are not.

Life is changing now for me. My kids are young adults and my role looks quite different. And the mirrors grow so much clearer. I can see some of the struggles and battles they are going to face because of the example I set. And I feel like a failure.

But, then I remember God’s grace and the victories over sin I have experienced through the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. No, not perfection, but victories. I am not the same person now that I was twenty years ago. God is slowly, but surely, sanctifying me and making me look more like Jesus.

And I know that, through their obedience to God’s Word and the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, my much beloved children will also have that same victory in their lives as they mature.

Now my main job is to pray.

 

If you like this post and believe it would be an encouragement to others, I would very much appreciate if you would share it. Thank you! :)

 

Parenting 101: Being a “Great” Grandparent

7 GrandparentOf course, as you know, I am not a grandparent. At least not yet! But my husband and I are looking forward to those days (after all, as I always say, if you are going to be old you may as well enjoy it!) I am sure some of my readers have some good input to give on this topic of grand-parenting. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments after this post.

From my perspective as a parent of a grandchild, I can think of four very important gifts that grandparents can give their grandkids–

1. Time. Time for conversations, reading stories, and playing games. Times for spotting leaves, finding butterflies and smelling flowers. So often, Mom and Dad are so caught up in their busy lives that they don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the little things of life. But many grandparents finally have the time to stop and enjoy and appreciate things. Including little ones in this special time of life is a wonderful gift for them.

2. Support their Parents. Supporting your children in their quest to raise godly children is such a gift to your grandchildren. Giving Mom and Dad a night off, so that their marriage can be nurtured and strengthened is also a very special gift to give. It is also important to keep our mouths closed around our grandkids. If we are going to speak about their parents, our words should be uplifting and positive.

3. A Listening Ear. Little children love to talk, don’t they? And, sometimes, parents get tired of listening. But that is where grandparents can step in! Grandparents often only have the children for a limited amount of time. Listening to them, without condition, during those times will make them feel valued and loved.

4. Neutral Ground. As kids grow older, the job of raising kids becomes a little more difficult. Battles take place and many are the frustrations. As parents, we are called to teach our kids and to grow them up to be godly men and women. This takes work and sweat and sometimes it hurts. But grandparents, while maintaining basic discipline and, of course, not doing anything contrary to rules Mom and Dad have set, can offer a wonderfully comfortable place where grandkids can just be kids. They offer neutral ground where frustrations and hot topics can be discussed from a more objective view point. Grandparents can be so valuable by functioning as mediators during these times.

These four things will be such special gifts for your grandkids. They won’t understand it until later, but, one day, they will grow up and realize how tremendously blessed they were in having grandparents like you. And that is when you will reap tremendous rewards for your investment in their lives. Many of these children will grow up and want to keep their relationship with you. Instead of a dreaded chore, they will count it as a privilege to spend time with you in your old age. My grown kids still make spending time with their grandparents a priority (NOT that I am suggesting that they are old yet!) 

And, so, this post wraps up the month of January’s posts about parenthood. We went from the first stages of parenting to almost the last. Life just keeps changing and sometimes it is hard to keep up. But being flexible and accepting the changes that come is key to enjoying each stage to its fullest!

 

Parenting 101: What’s My Role?

6 Adult KidsTo be extremely transparent with you, I am still working through this stage. I am in the midst of finding a healthy balance of being supportive without being over-supportive, if you know what I mean. I am trying to find the balance of expectations in this new and strange world of mothering adults. Once again, I find myself way out of my comfort zone.

I think we almost need to break this stage down into two different sections–

Adult Kids living in the home

and

Adult Kids living outside the home

Personally, I have only experienced the first one. As all four of my kids are still living at home and three of them are 18 or older, I do feel somewhat qualified to write about it here. Please notice the word “somewhat.” When you are in the midst of a stage it is hard to tell what exactly you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. But I am fairly confident about a couple of things. First, it is still our home. No matter if they are 15, 25, or 40, if they are living in our home, they still have a responsibility to abide by our rules. Now, those rules, we have found, do need to change and relax a bit. i.e. While we ask the kids to be discerning in their choices within our home (we don’t want to hear ungodly music blaring from a speaker or see worldly junk on the TV in this home), we do not put restrictions on what they do outside our home (although we do feel free to share our disappointment in any bad choices!).

And, second, we do ask them to help a bit around the house without pay for their room and board. Trust me, they are getting the deal of their lives– although, as is typical of life — they really don’t understand this.  I know parents who charge room and board and parents who don’t.

If they do not like our rules, we have made it clear that they are free to leave with our blessing. We love them but our responsibility for this home before God remains. So far, they have all decided the perks are worth it! Lots of parents do this stage differently for a lot of different reasons. What do you do? And why?

As we navigate through this time in our lives, we still keep talking and loving and messing up and forgiving. Life is changing substantially for us as parents and for me, particularly, as a mother. I try to lean into the curves, but I don’t really always do such a good job (as my kids will attest to). I wasn’t mentally prepared for this and I find myself feeling lost and out of my element much of the time. There. That’s a bit of honesty for you.

As for parenting our young adults who are married or have moved away, I have a few things to say because of my own experience as a child. And I have been giving some thought to this recently, as my daughter recently got engaged. I want to pattern my parenting in this stage after my own parents. I feel so incredibly blessed and I want to share with you what I believe they did SO right in this area…and continue to do so right. I want to be just like them for my kids.

1.  They take their role to support my brother and I very seriously. While they have their own lives and friends, they have made our family (and my brother’s) a priority.

2. They use their words to encourage and love, rather than to criticize.

3. They backed away from their role as “fixer” and got comfortable in their role as “mentor”.

4. When my parents confront us about anything, we take them very seriously. We do this because this happens so infrequently that we know they must feel very strongly if they have chosen to speak to us about it.

5. We have become friends in a two-way sense, so that I can also be an encouragement and support to them sometimes.

6.  They bring fun and joy and help to our lives. Vacations and trips and outings are much more fun when Grandpa and Grandma are along.

7. Because my parents love the Lord and have made God a priority in their lives, we can always count on them for biblical counsel.

8. They are not intrusive. They did not criticize us about raising children, handling our finances, or the choices we made that troubled them. And I know that there were times they would have liked to. I am not sure how they were able to sit by and watch, but I am pretty sure that what they weren’t saying to us, they were saying to God. I know we were (and continue to be) prayed for.

And here’s the thing (before you get the wrong idea)–my parents are NOT perfect. They would be the first to tell you that. It’s not about perfection. It’s about humility and love and grace. They have messed up and have their personality flaws just like everybody else.

And, while I picked my parents to write about here, we have also been very blessed by my in-laws (my husband’s parents) as well, who have offered so much love and support through the years and have been there whenever we needed them. We have often said that we don’t deserve so much support when some couples don’t have any.

We are so deeply grateful for all four of our parents. As we enter this new stage of parenting my husband and I pray that we, too, will be supportive and loving and, instead of filling hearts with dread and irritation when we are around, we provide joy and comfort and fun!

I think Adrian Rogers says it best. Here is his formula for being the best in-law you can be –

Hands-Off,
Prayers-On,
Mouths-Closed,
Hearts-Open

 

Parenting 101: I Need a Reason

5 TeensMy nine year old gave me a little attitude. She was my oldest and, while she wasn’t one to keep her opinions to herself, this was a little unusual. I looked at her and wondered.

But as the attitude continued over the next weeks, I realized that we were starting our journey into the wonderful world of adolescence. I wish somebody would have warned me that it starts so early. Oh, it’s not full blown at nine. Thankfully, I had a nice long transition into this strange world. The next seven years were a bit of a rocky ride for our family as she figured out who she was as a person and we figured out who we were as parents of a teenager! I felt exactly like I had felt when I first held her in my arms as a newborn. Who was this child and what did we do with her?

But we muddled through and she had the wonderful opportunity of being our family “guinea pig”. Now, on our fourth teenager (our youngest is fifteen), we have fallen into sort of a pattern.

You will notice that I said seven years above. That is because, without exception (so far, anyway– one more to go!), age sixteen became the turning point for all of our children. It is when things started to improve– attitudes, motivation, disrespect. Oh, they didn’t disappear overnight (wouldn’t that be nice??) but they started to get so much better.

Now, before I go any further, I think it is important for you to know that our family had some difficult times during these years. It was not all happiness and roses. We had moments when we feared that we were going to lose a couple of our children to the world. Moments where we were weighted down with heavy, heavy hearts by those mistakes we have made and realized we were going to probably pay a very high price for making them. God, in His great mercy and kindness, reached down and touched hearts and wrought change. Only He could do that and we give Him all of the glory.

I am not here to give you some perfect formula. I don’t have one and I doubt there is one. But, by the grace of God, each of my kids has committed their lives to the Lord and we see fruit in their lives that gives evidence of that commitment. I do not tell you that to boast, but to give validation to what I write here.

And, while this time in the life of a family is a little scary, it can also be very rewarding, especially if you did all of that hard work when they were toddlers and elementary-aged children.  And while some of what we did when they were younger still held true as they turned into young adults–things such as loving them unconditionally, making time for fun, and having lots of discussion time– there were a few other things that we learned were also really important during this time.

First, pray for your children to love God with all of their hearts, souls, minds, and strength (Mark 12:30) before they give evidence of needing that prayer. Don’t wait until they are in some kind of trouble and then pray for God to extricate them. Pray often and hard for them to hunger for God and to hate sin. We know this is God’s will for them and we can pray with confidence!

Second, this is the time that we have to provide reasons for our rules. These kids beg for and need a reason for the rules you set in your home. And rightly so. As an adult, don’t you like to have a reason for requests made of you? Oh, you may get them to obey you on the outside during their teen years but when they get to college– look out! They are just itching inside to do and watch and listen to all of that “fun” stuff that wasn’t allowed and when they finally escape the watchful eyes, they take in the world with giant gulps. These kids have never understood that they are accountable to God, not to Mom and Dad.

In our family, we tried to help our teens understand that we were accountable to God for what we did and did not allow in this home. We tried to give reasons. We did not ask them to agree, only to respect our decision. Gradually, as they matured, they started to understand that they are accountable to God, as well, for their own choices and we had the pleasure of seeing them start to make their own wise decisions. Notice the word “gradually”. It is a long process.

Giving rules that make sense was a challenge for me, at first. I remember times that one of the kids would come to us and ask to do something and I would give an automatic NO without thinking and my husband would look at me and say two words: Why not?  Why not, indeed? I realized I actually didn’t really have a reason and would humbly change my mind. And so, you can see, this was something I needed to learn.

Third, ‘tweens and teens do need some rules. Oftentimes, children of legalistic parents often end up parents of children with no rules. These parents know how harmful legalism was to their souls and so they decide they are just going to let their kids do what they want and hope and pray they come around. While rules without reasons should cease, rules themselves should not. We need to set standards in our homes that please the Lord. It is our job as parents. And it is important to remember that as our kids get older, we need to back away and gradually let them make some of their own decisions. It’s a slow, gradual process, but it does need to take place.

Fourth, the Bible needs to be established as your family’s solid foundation. I cannot even begin to tell you the value this has in the life of a family with teenagers. Especially in this crazy world. The other day my 15 year old and I happened to watch a clip of a news show that had six different women giving “their views” on marriage. We both had to shake our heads as we realized that these women were basing all of their views on their own personal opinions. Nothing else. What a precarious place to put your trust.

Here in this home, we knew we had to teach our kids that God’s Word is where we find the way we should live and so this is where we turned, not only for big questions, but for reasons for the standards we set.

You want to go to that movie? Please tell me if Jesus could come along and watch with you.

You want to buy that group’s album on iTunes? Print out the lyrics and show them to me so we can compare them to what God’s Word says.

Your friend did what to you? Let’s see what God’s Word says about responding to that hurt.

A girl at church started living with her boyfriend? Let’s find out why that isn’t right from God’s perspective.

The Bible provides truth, answers, comfort, strength, and guidance. It has proved itself over and over to us. It is far more valuable than what any magazine or talk show host or psychologist has to say about anything. We tried to make that clear in our home.

Fifth, we need to set a good example ourselves. We can hardly expect our kids not to cheat and lie, if we do so. We can’t expect them to practice discernment in their TV watching, if we don’t. If we want them to make church a priority, we need to make church a priority. If we explode in anger, are we surprised when they explode in anger? We need to try to be what we want our kids to be as adults.

Sixth, we need to keep our loving authority in place. In this weird, wishy-washy world we somehow have found ourselves in, your teens will try to convince you that you have no right to judge or critique anything they do. After all, you have plenty of your own sinful habits and areas to grow. Who are you to tell me? This is a constant theme in much of the Christian world and I have a sneaking suspicion it is working its way into our homes.

It is a hard day when we realize our kids see our flaws and foibles. It’s an even harder day when we have to discipline them for something we struggle with so much ourselves. It does feel a little hypocritical, quite honestly. But, as parents, this is our job. We want them to go into the world more prepared than we were to handle the struggle we still battle. And, by the way, tell your kids that. Don’t ignore their concerns. Talk to them and let them know how inadequate you feel and the struggles you still face. Be humble. This goes a long way in building your relationship.

Seventh, keep the future in mind. Instant gratification in raising teenagers may exist, but it comes with an extremely high price. Now is not the time to be your teen’s friend. It’s going to come but it isn’t now. There will most likely be some very difficult moments. Moments when you want to give up. Moments when failure looms in front of you. Try to keep the goal in mind. Ignore the embarrassment you feel from the comments of others. Ignore the few minutes of hatred spewing from your teen’s mouth. Don’t be too proud to listen to advice, but run it all through a biblical grid. And, most importantly, this is not the time to worry too much about your reputation. Your child is more important than any reputation. This one I learned first-hand.

Don’t let each battle with your teen weaken your relationship, instead face it head-on with loving leadership and open communication and let it strengthen and deepen your relationship, until eventually, the battles become less and less fierce until one day they disappear completely and you are left with the beautiful promise of a lifetime friendship.

There is so much more to say. A short blog post cannot even begin to encompass my heart on this issue of teens. My heart aches for so many kids who do not feel they can talk to mom and dad and feel so lost. For the parents who feel almost as lost as the kids. It was not meant to be this way.

And, while this is a challenging stage, it can also be very rewarding. I cannot begin to tell you the joy that comes from watching your children grow to love and serve the Lord. It is truly the only thing that matters. It is the legacy we carry with us into eternity. May we remember this during each and every moment of this challenging time in our lives.

Parenting 101: When They Grow Out of the Cute Stage

4 KidsSomewhere in the neighborhood of six or seven our kids start losing all of that adorable “cuteness” and turn into ordinary kids. It is no longer cute if they bring in mud or talk disrespectfully. It’s just annoying. But, on a very bright side, they can now take their own showers and we get a full night’s sleep.

This was my favorite time of parenting. While I have loved each and every stage for different reasons, I would have to chalk this one up as my favorite so far. I homeschooled all of my kids through all (or most) of their elementary years and we had such a great time! We played games and read books and did projects. I scolded and cajoled. And sometimes I yelled. But we still had fun, despite the frustrating moments. Camping together as a family at this stage was especially rewarding. There would be loads of excitement about even the smallest activity. Few demands and lots of joy. It was a simple time.

But, while this is such a fun and less demanding stage (if you’ve done your work during the toddler stage, that is…), we can’t let down our guards. For now is the time to get them ready for those chaotic teen years just around the corner. And, by the way, if you haven’t done your homework in the toddler years, it’s not too late. Now is the time…before it is too late.

I am not sure we specifically planned them, but we did seven things during these years that I can see now prepared our family for the teen years. While there are some things I would change if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change these seven things–

1. We taught them God’s Word. I had a formal Bible time each morning in our home school and Eric had devotions and prayer time with them at bedtime each day. We wanted to foster a love in their hearts for God and to know and love His Word. We wanted them to know that their spiritual lives were important to us.

2. We talked about important topics in front of them. We talked about problems and struggles and biblical solutions. We spent dinner times and travel time and bedtimes talking about just about everything. Campfires were especially wonderful for this. Nothing was off-limits because we wanted them to know that we were here to answer their questions. If we didn’t have the answer we would hunt it down. We used God’s Word as our guide and our foundation. I believe this is how we developed the biblical world view that they each continue to hold to this day.

3. We laughed and played a lot. While we enjoyed many serious discussions, we also had lots of fun. I hope that our kids knew that we enjoyed being with them and that we valued them as an integral part of this family.

4. This was the stage where we started to require chores. We laugh now about my many efforts to organize this. Oh, the charts and graphs and beads and coins that went into trying to systematize chores! But I never gave up. I think it is so important that our kids start giving back to the family at this stage. It helps them understand the balance of work and play and also makes them feel like they are an important part of the family. And have them work alongside you while you fix the car or bake a cake, teaching them what you know. After all, your kids will work for the rest of their lives in one capacity or another. Now is the time to teach them a good work ethic and the skills they need to live a happy, productive life.

5. We spent some one-on-one time with each child. At this stage it is so much easier just to do things in a group. And that is important. But it’s also important to spend time alone with each child, getting to know them personally. And, while I know some families who set up special “dates” and outings, we accomplished this a bit more simply by letting the children take turns staying up later (they just loved watching their siblings go to bed while they snuggled on the sofa to read a story with mom!) or taking only one child to the grocery store. Even if you don’t have time to plan something, you can work one-on-one time into your schedule.

6. We tried not to overschedule. This is the time of life where we start feeling pressure to get our kids involved in sports and dance and music lessons and math club. And these are not bad things. But be sure to leave some time for them to be bored. For that is how they develop problem-solving skills and their creative side. If every moment is scheduled, they become dependent on their schedulers and list-makers, instead of learning to think for themselves. Our kids need some downtime. In our family we accomplished this by keeping activities to only one or two at a time (i.e. music lessons and soccer). We also had a daily quiet time in our homeschool where each child would spend an hour or so in their rooms, reading or playing quietly (which also functioned as my sanity keeper in the midst of those crazy years!)

7. And–maybe the most important thing at this stage– we listened. Most kids in this stage talk and talk. And talk. And then talk some more. My mom gave me some really good advice about this, which I’ve shared here on the blog before: “Listen now so they will talk to you later.” Oh, such wisdom. Now is the time to develop the good communication you will need as you head into the teen years. I have found her words to be true.

 

If you find yourself in this stage of parenting right now, I hope these seven things will help you as you prepare your kids to become teens and adults. These years will too soon be over, so try to appreciate each moment you have with these young treasures. I still feel an ache in my heart when I talk to kids sometimes, knowing that that part of my life is over.

And always keep in mind that the work you put into them now will reap immeasurable rewards later. Keep up the good work, my friend!

 

Parenting 101: Who’s the Boss?

3 Toddlers“NO!” screams a defiant two year old while his mom or dad stands helplessly by. We try to be nonchalant as we move around the battlefield of child against parent in the store aisle, but usually curiosity wins out and we take a quick glance. Have you been here? Or maybe you have been that parent?

I have seen and heard about enough situations to know that the TV Show Super Nanny isn’t filled with families that are exceptions — they actually seem to be more the norm. And these little tyrants are growing up to be adults who think they deserve the world when they say they deserve the world. Unsurprisingly, this method of letting little children rule the home is very detrimental to our society. 

Of course, they are so cute and demanding and their tantrums endure forever but, oh my goodness, what a lot of heartache is spared for a parent later on if they can establish their authority in their homes when their kids are small.

Before I move on, I do want to mention one thing. Whenever we get into this area of parenting 2-5 year olds, inevitably the whole idea of spanking comes up. Do you? Should you? As you consider what you should do in this area, I would encourage you to pay more attention to scripture (Proverbs 22:15; 13:24) than to humanistic  philosophies. Both my husband and I believe we are better spouses, parents, employees, and friends because our parents spanked us. It is also a much shorter route to get where you are going. Now–that being said–I have seen Super Nanny accomplish the same in a longer, more circuitous route. Whichever way you choose to discipline, the key is: there must be some. 

This is where we parents can get so selfish and lazy (trust me, I remember those days!)–

He is screaming and screaming and so we just give him what he wants to shut him up.

She keeps getting up off of time-out and so we just let her go back to playing. 

He keeps whining and fussing about the broccoli on his plate and so we don’t make him eat it. 

She is embarrassing us in the store and so we hand her a bribe, usually in the form of a sugary snack or a toy.

We can be prepared for heading up a committee or organizing a project, but we are never prepared for a 2 year old screaming NO in our face in a public place or making such a fuss over something on their plate.

I remember the first time I held my oldest child in my arms. I looked at that tiny round face and thought: I have absolutely no idea what to do with her.  The responsibility of it all was so overwhelming. That was 23 years ago and the advice to parents back then was a little different than the advice parents are being given now. I am so thankful for parents and in-laws who advised us as we got our feet wet in the parenting thing and also for radio programs like Focus on the Family that helped me so much. Of course, bible-based parenting books were a great help, too (and I will list some of my favorites at the end of this post). It is so important that we are open to godly advice and counsel from those who have been successful in this adventure of parenting. If you don’t know where to turn, find a family with godly, well-behaved children and ask them what they are doing. 

But, in the meantime, here are a few pointers that my husband and I learned in this parenting journey. If you can do these six things with your young children, you will establish a strong base for your family when the rough seas of teen years come.

1.  Establish yourself as the authority. This may be the one most important thing. Because if you don’t do it when they are two, you will have a very difficult time doing this when they are twelve. Many times the word authority causes us to cringe. We want to be friends with our kids. But there is time for that later. Our kids yearn for someone to be in charge. You are that someone. We need to embrace the role that God has given us in our homes and be the loving authority that our babies so desperately need and desire.

2. Keep in mind that the word authority is not synonymous with tyrant! It is important that we let our children make a few small decisions that really don’t matter in the scope of life. Perhaps we can let them choose their own outfits on Saturdays. Or what they eat for breakfast on Sundays. It won’t hurt them to allow them to stay up late and wait for Daddy to get home from a business trip. We need to be flexible and not run our homes like a dictator.

3. Disobedience must be followed by consequences. Whatever consequence you choose to use –spanking, time-outs, or taking away a favorite toy–must be used every time that child disobeys. They must equate a bad consequence with their wrong behavior. We have to work above our feelings in this area. There can be no free passes because they are cute or we are too tired.

4. Consistency is crucial. As parents, we have the responsibility to discipline our kids when they need it. We don’t have the right to be too tired, too busy, or too tied up watching our favorite tv show or checking Facebook. If they disobey, we need to be there in both mind and body to provide the consequence.

5. Learn the difference between accidents and defiance. Accidents happen and I sure wouldn’t want to be punished for toppling my water at the table — after all, it still occasionally happens! Accidents do not warrant punishment unless there is disobedience connected to it (i.e. you told your child not to run in the house and he chose to disobey and broke a lamp).

6. Hug and play and hug and play. I know that sounds rather funny but, quite seriously, it is so important that we establish the truth that we love them unconditionally and that they are important enough to us to spend time with them at this young age. They need to know we are on their side in this treacherous game of life!

While none of us will be perfect in doing these six things (I know I wasn’t!), if we can establish an overall pattern of these things in our homes, it will provide a solid foundation that will reap tremendous fruit later on.

I know this because I am living it.

I remember some especially hard times with my son as a toddler. We would be doling out consequences multiple times each day and the days would be SO long. But those long days paid for themselves when, as a teenager, we went through some difficult days with him. While we fought and cried and battled together, he did always acknowledge our authority and we never lost complete touch with his heart.

And so, while I can’t give any guarantees, I can assure you that most parents that do the hard work when their kids are small reap big rewards when they are older. It takes patience but it is so worth the wait. (Of course, there is some immediate fruit that shows itself when we parent toddlers correctly — like being able to go the store without any tantrums!)

I know that many of my readers are out of this stage of parenting. It is my prayer that this post makes it into the hands of a few young parents that will be encouraged by this. While this stage of parenting comes with such joy as we watch our kids discover the world, it also comes with a lot of hard work. But keep doing the hard work. It will be so worth it!

A few of my favorite parenting books –

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp (which I noticed is only $1.99 for the kindle version today! Not sure how long that will last)

She’s Gonna Blow! Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger by Julie Barnhill

On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Buckhnam (this book is specifically for teaching infants to be on a schedule, but helped me to establish routine and schedule for my kids early on. They have a book called toddlerwise, as well but I don’t think it was written years ago, so I can’t recommend it…)

What the Bible Says About Parenting by John MacArthur

These are the ones that come to mind right now. I will add more as I think of them.

Parenting 101: What Does My Marriage Have To Do With It?

2 Marriage The little girl stared wide-eyed at her parents. The family was eating a dinner like any normal night. The mom had cooked a meal and when the dad had come home from work the family all took a seat at the table. But somewhere during the course of conversation that night, the mom and dad had started to argue. The argument had become quite heated and the little girl was scared. The big “D” word played over and over in her mind. She thought of some of her friends who lived with just their moms.

After dinner, she quietly left the table and hurried upstairs where she grabbed a small suitcase and started packing. She didn’t know what was going to happen but she knew she didn’t want to be around to watch it.

She didn’t get very far. Her parents found her and they all had a good talk.

That little girl was me. I do not remember much about my childhood but I do remember that evening. I was only a small girl — maybe six or seven. But seeing my mom and dad fight scared me to death. Thankfully, I was in a home where that was not a daily occurrence and when it was over, it was over. Genuine apologies were made and life moved on.

I tell you that story because I think it shows just a bit what our children think when we are struggling to get along as a couple. I can also remember when Eric and I went through a very difficult period for about a year early on in our marriage. No cause showed itself and eventually it just got better but, for whatever reason, we just couldn’t get along during that time. While we struggled, one of our children would get up every night with a bellyache. It wasn’t until later that we put two and two together and realized that the poor child’s fear of an impending divorce was showing up in her belly. Now, we knew we weren’t getting divorced– just as my parents knew they weren’t getting divorced when I heard them fighting– but she didn’t know that.

Can you see how critical it is that we make sure our kids know how much we love each other? That they understand that we will never, ever get divorced? But only if it’s true. Don’t lie to them. That will make things worse.

And, I might add here before moving on– I understand that some of you are married to uncooperative and ungodly spouses. I grieve with you over that. Keep praying. And may that motivate you to pray that your children would choose godly spouses as they grow up.

But for those of you who are married to a Christian spouse and really want a strong family with well-adjusted kids, be sure to keep your marriage a strong priority.  I can think of three specific reasons–

1.  It provides a security like no other for a child. The world can be in utter chaos, but if home is a safe and happy place, our children feel secure.

2. It provides consistency between mom and dad that is comforting and helpful to growing kids.  Kids are smart and if they can play mom and dad against each other to get their own way, they will do it. Healthy marriages keep these games to a minimum.

3. It gives them a godly example of marriage to emulate in their own lives when that time comes. Children in homes with healthy marriages are much more likely to have their own healthy marriages. Whether we like it or not, most of us end up being just like our parents. We end up arguing like them, serving (or not serving) like them, going to church as often as them, and parenting like them. Oh, many of us make changes because we see the need, but our natural inclination is to be like our parents. With that in mind, it is important that we have a healthy marriage now so that our kids have a much better opportunity to have healthy homes of their own one day.

So, now that we understand how important it is, how do we go about doing that?

Most of us are familiar with the Ephesians 5:22-29 passage about a woman submitting to her husband and a man loving his wife. We women get very “up in arms” over that word submit. But should we? Of course, over the centuries, many misguided men have twisted that word to be synonymous with the word doormat. But is that what the Lord meant? I think not, given the exhortation for men to cherish their wives. Men who cherish their wives do not treat them like doormats.

Very simply, a healthy marriage consists of two people giving up their own selfish desires for the other person. Of course, as a believer, we should desire to think less of self in all relationships (Philippians 2:3-5), but this fruit of selflessness is never so sorely tried as in marriage. For in marriage, we cannot hide our selfish motives and unkind hearts. We can’t hide our sinful habits and our big mouths.

And, interestingly enough, I found out rather recently in my own marriage that when one of the marriage partners makes an effort in being kind and loving and unselfish instead of snappy and critical, oftentimes the other person will rise to meet them in that effort.  And– just to be clear– it was my sweet husband who reminded me of what marriage can be by going above and beyond. His actions motivated me to meet him half-way in making our relationship so much healthier.

All marriages go through good times and difficult times. Meanwhile our kids are watching. And they sit back and wonder: Are they going to work it out or give up? Are they going to keep talking or ignore each other for days on end? Will they stay together or will they get divorced?

We need to live each marriage moment in light of being the husband or wife that God has called us to be. We need to be the same person at home that we are in public. We need to keep working and trying and giving up our rights and desires for the betterment of our spouse.  And, while this is not easy to do as naturally selfish people, I try to remember when I’m frustrated that it’s really no picnic being married to me, either! Marriage is two imperfect people living together in an imperfect world. There are bound to be some rocky patches.

One final very important thing to remember is that love is not a feeling. Love is action. And when we choose to love by our actions,  it is incredibly surprising and quite amazing how the feelings of love return. So choose to love and be amazed at God’s grace in this area. But I will warn you — this takes work. Work that is well worth it in the end, but it is work.

A healthy marriage is critical for a healthy family. That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements, but that we work through them in a way that honors our heavenly Father.

Thanks for reading! Hope you come back for the next post in this series which I’ve entitled Who’s the Boss? And if you liked this post, would you consider sharing it? Thank you! :)

 

Parenting 101: The Basics

The Basics

As I contemplated writing a few basics of parenting, I realized that what I write in this post would most certainly overlap a bit with the remainder of my posts in this series. With that in mind, I will not go into great detail on each point here. However, there are a few basics that hold true no matter what stage we are at in the parenting journey. There are certain things that help us tremendously whether we are trying to teach a two year old to obey or are giving advice to our twenty-somethings–

The first is humility. There is no great relationship without humility. It is what drives us to make genuine apologies. Humility is what allows us to show our vulnerability. It keeps us from being defensive and so quickly offended. It is the only way we are truly able to have a healthy relationship with our kids — and with anyone else, for that matter. Our kids need to know that we aren’t perfect, we don’t have all the answers, and that we know we mess up (they already know it and can’t figure out why we won’t just admit it!) Being willing to take an honest look at our failures and bad habits and apologize to our children when we fail goes great, great lengths in healing and strengthening a relationship.

Our kids also need to know that they are unconditionally loved no matter what. This isn’t so hard when they are little and so incredibly cute when they are naughty. It does become a little more difficult as they grow up and start smart-mouthing us. And then they start making decisions that go against everything you taught them or embarrass you or ruin your reputation. And your love starts being tested. But, no matter what they do, our children should never have to wonder if they are loved. If you aren’t sure if they know that you love them, then tell them right now. Today. Even if they are fifty years old. Age doesn’t seem to make much of a difference with this one. I’ve seen middle-aged men and women still yearning for the love and approval of their parents.

Make reasonable expectations and then be consistent in handing out consequences when the expectations aren’t met. This is one of the toughest parenting jobs there is. I will write much more on this throughout the month.

Remember the responsibility of being a parent. We aren’t here to be a buddy or even a friend (although that often eventually happens later) We are obligated to be the best parent we can be. We can help our kids walk with God or we can hinder it. What are we going to choose? Responsibility means doing the hard stuff even when we don’t feel like it. And, quite honestly, taking the easy route today creates the very difficult path of tomorrow. As they grow into adults, our responsibility changes but we are still responsible to be an encouraging and supportive parent.

Communication can never be underestimated.  Being a good parent means talking and discussing (not preaching) and listening and hours and hours of time. No matter what their ages, we are a good parent to our precious children by communicating with them.

And, finally, we can never stop praying for them. God steps in and takes over when we are hopeless. He supplies strength where we are weak. He loves our children more than we do. Prayer does amazing things. God cares about even the smallest thing. Why do we seem to have such a hard time making time for prayer?

These are a few basics of being a good Christian parent for children of any ages. Can anyone think of any others? I am sure I missed a few!

The next post in this series will be about marriage as it relates to parenting.