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. 

 

 

January Series Schedule: Parenting 101

FamilyL1800x1200Last year I had a little series in January about joy that I called Jumpstart to Joy. As I was thinking about the new year, I decided to do a series again. It’s just a fun and challenging way for me to begin my new blogging year.

This year I am going to write on a topic that affects a good many of us. I hesitate to even write about it, because I never want to give the impression that I believe I have perfected my skills in this area. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I have learned a lot over the years– both through my own experience and by observation.

I have chosen the topic of Parenting. I wish I could come up with some clever title for it, but none has come to me. So I guess this series will just be called Parenting 101.

My youngest turned 15 last month and I realized that I have learned an awful lot over my past 23 years of being a parent. I’ve learned a lot from my parents and other godly parents. I’ve seen some bad examples and some good examples. And, of course, God’s Word has been our invaluable guide and help in this area. All of that has brought me here — to the place where perhaps it is time to share a bit of it here on the blog.

I plan to break it down into 8 different posts, which will be posted on Tuesdays and Fridays this month–

Jan 3 - The Basics A few basic principles of parenting, no matter what stage you are in

Jan 7 - What does my marriage have to do with it?  The importance of keeping our marriages healthy

Jan 10 – Who’s the Boss? Parenting toddlers

Jan 14 – When They Grow Out of the Cute Stage! Parenting kids between six and ten.

Jan 17 – I Need a Reason! Parenting ‘tweens and teens

Jan 21 – What’s My Role? Parenting adult kids

Jan 24 - Being a “Great” Grand-parent Supporting my adult kids in their role as a parent

Jan 28 – Where’s God At In This Whole Process?  Weaving God and His Word into every stage of parenting

Jan 31 – I will save this day for any questions that may come up during this month from any of you. Feel free to e-mail me questions (see contact page) or to post them on the Growing4Life Facebook page. If there aren’t any questions, I will resume my normal blogging that day.

I hope that this series will be an encouragement to you. If you find the posts helpful, I hope that you will consider passing them along to others you know.

 

 

What We Remember

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Christmas is such a blessed time, especially if we truly understand the reason for the season. But, inevitably, as we grow older this time of year also comes with a bit of sad nostalgia as we remember favorite childhood memories and loved ones no longer with us.

Sometimes I am so caught up in the busyness of the season, I don’t really take the time to reflect on past Christmases, but this season has purposefully been a little slower paced and so I found my mind going back–

One of my favorite Christmas memories was making homemade Christmas ornaments with my mom and brother. Sometimes my grandmother, aunt, and cousins would join us. Sometimes we would make them on Thanksgiving Day. We would play Christmas music and cut and paint and glue and glitter. We would watch colorful plastic shrink in the oven until it became a quarter of its original size (anyone else remember the wonder of shrinky-dinks?) I especially remember the felt ornaments we tried one year. There was the Christmas tree with the rick-rack garland and the ornament shape with glued sequins and ribbon decorating it. I am pretty sure my mom still hangs some of these handmade ornaments each year on her tree.

I remember coloring with my brother. Every year we would buy the same matching Christmas coloring books. Its pages held a story about a girl and a boy and Santa. We would lay on the floor on the brightly-colored blue, red, green, and gold afghan my grandmother had crocheted, listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks while we colored in our coloring books with a brand new box of Crayola crayons. I always colored the girl’s hair a golden yellow.

I also remember my very favorite song called Christmas Chopsticks sang by Bobby Vinton on my very favorite Christmas album called a Very Merry Christmas. I think it was an album put out by a hardware store. Remember those? I used to play that record over and over again. Jim Nabors (i.e. Gomer Pyle) sang a song on the album in a deep bass voice. It was nothing like his Gomer Pyle voice at all.

And one of my fondest memories is spinning around in circles to Christmas music. My brother and I would try to stay on the blanket (yes, the same brightly colored afghan) and twirl and twirl until we got dizzy and we fell down. If any part of our bodies left the blanket we would be the loser. It was a made up game we loved. We did that every Christmas for years.

I remember my dad taking forever to get ready on Christmas morning. We kids would sit there in anxious anticipation, lining up our presents in the order we would want to open them. And then re-lining them up again. We would shake them and stare at them, trying to guess what was in each brightly colored package. And then we would re-line them again. After what seemed like an eternity, my dad would slowly walk down the steps, smiling. It was just part of our family’s tradition and we loved it!

And I remember my uncle Dave, pretending to be Santa and the excitement and expectation of him walking through the door– even though I knew he wasn’t really Santa. I remember family gathering, and laughing, and playing games, enjoying one another’s company. I remember mounds and mounds of yummy Pennsylvania Dutch food. We were not a gourmet family by any sense of the word and the foods that were prepared would make any healthy eater shudder, but I still, to this day, enjoy a good carbohydrate-laden holiday meal.

You know what I don’t remember?

I don’t remember any of my gifts. Oh, wait–I take that back. There was one Christmas that I wanted my own phone “real bad”. Back then, of course, that meant running wires and putting in another line. My mom thought it would be funny to put a play phone in a box and wrap it up. I still vividly remember opening that blue play phone with its rotary dial. I actually didn’t think it was that funny.

But I don’t remember many other gifts. It wasn’t that I didn’t get gifts. My mom loves Christmas and we were never disappointed (except for that phone incident!) But now I can see that the gifts weren’t really what was important about Christmas.

For Christmas is most importantly about Jesus coming to earth as a babe to save the lost. It’s about God sending His Son into this fallen, sinful world to grow up to be a man and then die on a cross for sinners. It’s about that Son rising again with victory over sin and death. Christmas is a big part of the plan of salvation, that is available to all people, through God’s grace and mercy.

But Christmastime is also about family coming together, forgetting for a brief time the cares and problems that keep us apart. Christmas is about spending time together, making memories and loving one another. I didn’t have a perfect family. My mom’s family was not perfect and neither was my dad’s. There were serious issues going on in my extended families, unbeknownst to me at the time. But I am so thankful for family members who could enjoy one another’s company for a few hours each holiday season to make beautiful memories for the child that was me. What a blessing.

As we look at our Christmas gift list for the tenth time this year, stressing over all we still have to buy, let us remember that Christmas isn’t really about the gifts under the tree, after all.

Let’s try to bring joy and hope to our family gatherings this year. Let’s not discuss topics that will start arguments. Let’s ignore the sharp tongue of that critical family member. Let’s overlook the faults of another for this short time. Let’s act and react with grace and kindness. Let’s give our families the gift of peace.

Let’s plan some fun activities — making ornaments, completing a Christmas puzzle, reading a Christmas story, watching A Christmas Carol, picking out a tree– anything that will make great memories and strengthen our family relationships. Let’s give our families the gift of happy memories.

And let’s focus on what matters. Let’s be sure our children know why we celebrate Christmas. Let’s keep Christ at the center of it all. Let’s strive to please our Lord and Savior all through the year. Let’s give our families the gift of a life lived for Jesus.

 

Giving Up Without a Fight

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The Cockatoo sat nonchalantly on its perch in the center of the giant metal cage. We spotted its white feathers as we walked towards it. It was a beautiful day to go to the zoo and we were enjoying it. We had just passed the parrots and were moving on to the beautiful white bird that is native to Indonesia.

At first our eyes took in the bird, but then movement at its food dish caught our eye. We laughed as we saw the squirrel chowing down on the cockatoo’s food. And then I took a picture–because I just knew there had to be a blog post in there somewhere.

We watched the squirrel eating for a few moments while the cockatoo sat indifferently and unmoving on its perch, and then we walked on to the next cage. But the sight had started my thoughts turning.

Why didn’t the cockatoo protect its food? It easily could have, using its loud squawk and large wingspan.

Was it frightened?

It didn’t really look like it.

Was it distracted?

Could have been, with all of those people walking by.

Was it satisfied and unthinking about the future?

Probably.

You may already know where I am going with this.

I think we often make the same mistake with our children. I watch parents let the world swoop down and steal their kids away, barely putting up a fight.

Did you know that Satan is after the souls of your children? He would like nothing more than to break the chain of your family’s Christian heritage and to render your child useless for God’s Kingdom.

And many of us fall prey to his schemes.

Are we frightened?

Some of us are very frightened. We are scared we will lose the hearts of our children and so we allow them to do anything they want, not realizing that doing so is almost a certain formula for the very outcome we are trying to avoid. We want to be the friends of our kids, instead of the parents that God designed us to be. We don’t want to step on any toes and so we set few boundaries and rarely discipline.

Are we distracted?

Many of us are very distracted. We are busy with careers and committees. We are busy with our girlfriends and our fantasy football leagues. We are busy at church and at school and at club. We lose sight of the battle for our kids’ hearts because we are distracted.

Are we satisfied and unthinking about the future?

Yes, I believe most of us are. Oh, don’t get me wrong–many of us think about the future, but our thoughts generally center around the choices of college and career. We think proudly of their straight A’s or their future basketball career, while we strive to get them the scholarships they deserve. But how often do we think about their walk with God in relation to the future? What kind of Christian do you want your child to be as a grown-up and what steps are you taking to help that happen?

What can we do to keep the “squirrels” from stealing our most precious possession?

1. Parent with courage. It takes courage to say no when every other parent is saying yes. It takes courage to have meaningful conversations about sex and alcohol and creationism and God. It takes courage to set a good example and do what’s right, even when no one is watching. It takes courage to lovingly and graciously tell the truth. If you must fear, then fear the consequences of your child’s heart turned to stone towards God. So many of us parent selfishly, desperately worried about our child’s opinion of us. We should probably be much more worried about our child’s opinion of God. For that, in the end, is what determines their eternal destiny.

The irony of all of this is that if we can parent with courage, most of us will reap wonderful benefits for ourselves. For if our kids love the Lord, then they will love us, too. If they love the Lord, then we will share a biblical worldview and a common purpose. There is nothing sweeter than this.

2. Make your kids a very important priority. There is nothing wrong with doing things outside the home. I think the problem comes in when we are not discriminatory with our choices. We can’t do everything and yet we try. But something has to give. What are you willing to sacrifice in order to spend time with your kids? It may even be one of their activities that has to go. Most kids would benefit much more from a game night with Mom and Dad than from a weekly dance lesson. We cannot allow the world to tell us what is important.

Many years ago, my husband was actively involved in a softball league. Baby J and I would spend many summer evenings watching the games. After a year or two of this, another baby came along and Eric became aware that he was going to have to make a choice. At the time, he was in the first years of starting a business and this occupied much of his time. He knew that in order for his kids to be a priority, he would have to quit softball. How thankful I am for a husband who made our kids a priority.

It sounds like a no-brainer. Of course, the kids are the priority. But, unfortunately, I see this isn’t true in the lives of many parents, and if I am being honest, especially fathers. Many fathers check out when it comes to spending time with their kids, disciplining their kids, and talking with their kids about the hard stuff. Dads, you are one of the most important factors in determining your child’s future relationship with God. Fight for their souls!

And one more thing here, for the grandparents who are reading this–the value of your support in helping your children raise their children is inestimable. You can have incredible influence in the lives of your grandchildren. Our children should not stop being a priority for us just because they have reached adulthood. You can really make a difference in the lives of your grandchildren.

3. Think of your child’s spiritual future. We would consider it irresponsible not to consider our child’s future education or vocation. And, yet, many of us do not think about our child’s future spiritual condition. We need to consider this in the conversations we have and the things we allow in our home and the places we allow them to go. We need to give this consideration as we choose which church to attend and the friendships we encourage our kids to develop. But, most importantly, we need to be who we want them to be. If we want them to be honest and kind and loving and courageous, then we need to be those things.

_______________________

I know that almost all of us love our children with our whole hearts. We’d do anything for them. But sometimes we lose sight of the world as it swoops down and steals the hearts of our children, while we sit, our eyes half-closed, on a perch nearby.

I say that it is time to open our eyes wide and parent with vigilance and abandon for the very short time we have them in our homes. We need to fight for the souls of our children!

Redeem the time and fight! For the heartache that comes with grown kids who aren’t following the Lord is a very real and painful thing.

 

A Letter to Young Moms

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Dear Young Mom–

I know I seem a bit irrelevant and old-fashioned to you. You would probably much rather get your information from colorful parenting magazines or child education specialists. And, honestly, things have changed a lot in this world since my children were small. But, although some things have changed, many others have not. After all, many of the worries, frustrations, joys, and rewards that come with being a mom are timeless.

As I contemplate the struggles you must be having today, I can confidently let you know that I, and many other women like me, truly can understand what you are going through. We remember the sleepless nights, the potty-training frustrations, the cheerios on the floor, and tripping over toys. We remember going over and over math homework or phonics lessons that we just couldn’t get our child to grasp. We remember the loud car rides and the chaos of bedtime. We remember the craziness of getting ready to go to church and the {almost} impossibility of trying to cook a meal or vacuum a floor with a baby on our hips.

Honestly, it seems like a lifetime ago–and yet it seems like yesterday.

A family is a little like a flower arrangement. Stick with me here. I love flowers, so this example came naturally to mind. When you see flowers in an arrangement, they look perfect and beautiful. But, without exception, each of the flowers in that arrangement was grown in dirt. It was most likely sprayed for pests and diseases, and probably pruned. Sometimes I think we expect to have picture perfect families right at the get-go. But the honest truth is that it takes years of hard work to reap the fruit of what you are doing right now as a young mom.

So how do we, to the best of our abilities, end up with a beautiful flower arrangement  instead of a wilted and broken mess?

If I could give you one piece of wisdom, drawn from my own experience, it would be make sure and determine your long-term goals for your children right now–while they are babies. You see, if you develop your goals now, then you can eliminate the things that are not moving you towards that goal and foster and grow the things that are.

For me, personally, my goal for my children was simple and was drawn from the words in Mark 12:30-31:  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

I figured if my kids learned to love God and others, then the rest–marriages, education, careers– would fall into place. Of course, I guess, by its very definition, this can’t really be a goal since I cannot control the outcome. But it was my first and most important priority in raising my kids–to teach them the truths of God from the Bible and to try to set a good example so that they would be, first and foremost, servants of God and secondly, that they would selflessly love others. Oh, I wasn’t very good at any of this some days and I have failed (and continue to fail) miserably sometimes. But this was my priority as a mom.

So, once we have set our goals (or priorities may be a better word) in place, how do we remember them in the midst of the daily chaos?

Here are a few helpful tips that I learned along the way–

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Bathroom accidents, muddy hands and feet, magic marker on the piano keys or the walls, locks of hair mistakenly cut off –all of these, when looking back now, are not as big of a deal as I made them. I know that now.

2.  Keep your focus off of yourself.  Whenever I was down or even angry as a young mom, I would eventually realize that it was often because my focus was on me. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want to lose sleep or clean up that mess. Someone wasn’t treating me right. Poor little ole’ me. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. Because life isn’t really about me. It’s about glorifying God (Isaiah 43:7). And, if I am going to keep my priorities in order it is critical that I am not my focus!

As a side note, I want to mention here that, as moms, we are constantly barraged with this message: You deserve a break! You are a mom and you need time to yourself! And while I most definitely believe that is true, I also believe that breaks are to be enjoyed like a cool drink of water in the midst of a marathon. Motherhood isn’t about the cool drink, it’s about the marathon. It is important as moms that we keep our focus on the Lord and our families and not so much on ourselves. Sometimes, looking back, I am appalled at how self-centered I was (still at battle with this in my life…)

3. Find a happy balance in keeping your house. It is important to keep a neat and tidy house. Your husband feels loved and appreciated when you do. A household that is organized is a happier and more peaceful household. However, if your child cowers in fear if he spills his milk or you walk behind your children or husband cleaning up after them, you may not have found a balance in this area.

I will always remember one of the most encouraging things an older woman said to me when she visited my house one day amidst the toys and books and baby cups: “This is how a ‘lived-in’ home should look! I always feel sorry for kids who live in perfect houses because they can’t even be kids!” That made a huge impact on me as a young mom. I realized that it was okay for me not to have a picture-perfect house 24/7 (which was good because at that time I was also finding it impossible!)

We need to let our families “live” in our homes, but we also can’t throw our hands up in the air and stop working at keeping them clean and organized. Sometimes this can be a hard balance to find.  I’d like to say this gets better –and it does in some ways–but now, instead of cheerios, I find chip bags, and instead of toys, I trip over size 11 boots, soccer cleats, and flip flops of all shapes and colors!

4. Keep your current priorities carefully. Review your goal(s). If your goal is for your child to be an Olympic gymnast then hours and hours spent at the gym make sense. Otherwise, they do not.  But be very careful when setting any goals or priorities and consider the long-term, eternal ramifications of them. Is it really worth skipping church to go to an 8 year old’s sports event? Does that fit in with your long-term goal? Make sure your daily, current priorities match up with your long-term goals.

5. And, finally, don’t give up. Sometimes you probably feel like you just want to throw your hands up in the air and quit. Of course, as moms, we can’t do that. But if you are finding yourself amidst a really stressful, crazy time, see if Dad or Grandma will watch the kids and take one of those needed cool drinks of water. This is what they are for–high stress, difficult stages that come in waves all through life. Take a bath, go out with girlfriends, read a book, or–even better–spend some one-on-one time with God. You will come back refreshed and ready to tackle life head-on again.

I know that I have said this before, but I’ll say it again, anyway: You will blink and your babies will be all grown up. Life goes SO fast.

Spend the next few years loving the babies that have been entrusted to you. Discipline them, care for them, and nurture them. And then let the Master Arranger make a beautiful thing out of your family. He is faithful!

Lovingly,

A Mom Who Has Been There

 

 

 

Life with Almost Grown Birdies

93189_7381revWe have a nest full of almost grown birdies in our home right now, with two young adult children almost ready to fly, a college student, and a 9th grader. While we enjoy their company and are glad to have them with us for right now, one of the greatest challenges we face is determining correct boundaries for these almost full-grown birdies.

I have seen parents that have completely eliminated rules and expectations after their kids have graduated high school. Usually this has not turned out very well.

I have also seen parents who have tried to micromanage the lives of their young adults. This, too, does not often turn out well.

But how do we find the balance in this area?

I have had a couple of different friends ask me about this recently. I thought I might take a few moments to let you know what we do in our home–not that this is the “perfect” formula– but we do have a good relationship with our young adult children (most days) and I thought I would share how we have managed to do that. (And don’t stop reading here if you have young children! The peace we enjoy now is because of some things we did when they were small, which I will talk about in this post, as well).

First, we have given them the control of their personal choices and decisions that are outside our home. They are now old enough to determine where they want to go, who they want to be with, and how to spend their money. It is important for them to experience the consequences of bad choices and the blessing of good choices. If we constantly monitor and rescue, they will experience neither.

Second, we continue to have good conversations and discussions about the things that matter– morals, standards, discernment, world view, budgets, time management. Our kids often ask us for advice and, while they don’t always follow it, they will generally give consideration to what we are saying. The only reason we can do the first thing is because of the second thing.

Third, we continue to hold standards and rules for our home that they must follow if they are going to live here. Some examples of this are, as a general rule, we do not allowed R-rated movies in our home, we do not allow music that is offensive to God to be played aloud, and we do not allow them to come in at all hours of the night. We ask them to be considerate of our preferences in these areas if they choose to live with us. However, we do make exceptions on occasion and, for example, as long as we know they are coming in at 2am and it isn’t happening every day, it is fine.

Fourth, we do not punish our twenty-somethings. We believe that the relationship has moved beyond that. We do not take their cars, their phones, their TV. I do not check up on their phones or their internet use. We can do this because we trust them. With that said, we do “fine” them on occasion!

Fifth: the couple thing. Both of our twenty-somethings are dating. When they first started dating as teenagers, we would really watch over them. We would not allow them in the basement or bedrooms alone and we kept a close eye on them when they were in our home –or driveway ;). It was our way of helping to protect them from themselves. But as they have grown older, we realize that their purity is a reflection of their relationship with God and that they are now accountable to Him, and we have relaxed in this area a bit. But again, we can do this because we trust them.

Sixth, we do require some simple chores to be done. For some reason, young adults feel that they “grow out” of chores, and yet the chores still remain and, in some cases, are enlarged, as the kids become adults. It is very important (in our opinion) to expect the young adult kids to help with chores around the house. It gives them some sense of what to expect in the future (although they truly do not really have a clue!) and also helps to lighten the loads of Mom and Dad a bit. A question some of you might have is what to do about rent. At this point, we do not charge our kids rent. I am still not really sure if this is in their best interest or not, but I see them saving their money and not spending it too unwisely so we feel that this is the best option to give them the best start in their lives. If we felt that they were wasting their money we would probably have to re-visit that.

What we are doing works for us. It works for us because of some really important things we did when our kids were younger. If you have younger kids, start this now, so that your young adults will be joys instead of headaches–

1. Listen. Listen. Listen. Kids of all ages have big questions. Listen to them and then find the answers. Yes, it takes work but it is worth it. Take the time for conversations of substance.

2. Teach your kids about the Lord. Take them to church. Help them hide His Word in their hearts. Make God the priority of your family instead of sports, education, or anything else. Enjoy all of these things, but don’t sacrifice God because of them.

3. Teach them to respect you as an authority, so that when it is time for God to be their final authority they have already developed a spirit of submission and obedience.

4. Make boundaries that are driven by scripture, not by man made traditions. Explain why the boundaries are there and don’t budge if you have scripture as your basis.

5. Be a person they can relate to. It is so important to be humble and admit mistakes. It is so important to be fun and to laugh with your kids. It is so important to show your fear, your sadness, and your joy with them. Only when they realize that you are a fallible human being, just like them, will they be able to open up their hearts to you.

6. Love unconditionally. Let your kids know that there is absolutely nothing they could do that would stop you from loving them.

7. Pray. Alot. I almost always end my parenting posts with this thought. I cannot express just how important I believe this is. Pray for their spiritual welfare. God wants them to know Him. We need to pray for the hearts of our children every day.

Whew. This post covered a lot. That wasn’t my original intention. Hope I didn’t overwhelm you!

Our kids are still growing up and are still making mistakes — kind of like their parents. And as I write this, I don’t want you to think we have it all together — because we so don’t. God’s grace has covered SO much. But if we give our best efforts and make choices with a desire to please Him, we have found that He meets us half-way (or is it a quarter of the way??) and takes it from there. God is good. When we choose to honor Him with our lives and with the way we raise our families, He will guide and sustain us.

Are there some exceptions to this pattern? I know there are and it must be heart-breaking. I do not point fingers of judgment at any who have lost children to the world. Young adults make their own choices. We, as parents, can only do so much. We need to keep loving and praying. Never stop loving and never stop praying. We can pray with confidence because we know that God wants our children to be saved.

May God bless you as you raise your children to love and serve Him!