Category Archives: parenting

When Life Was Simple

When life was simple I held you in my arms and the greatest mystery was the beauty of your fingers and toes and how quickly you seemed to change day to day. Now at times so much of you is a mystery and when called upon, I struggle to explain you to Other Adults,to Concerned Adults, who are just wanting to know why you said or did what you did. I should know. I should, I’m The Mom. But I don’t always know the whys and wherefores. I don’t know your mind, though I try.

When life was simple my biggest, most important job was to fill your most basic of needs, to feed, clothe, and nurture you. Now I admit to feeling conflicted about what my job entails. To protect you? To equip? To shadow you? To let you go? I have tried, though failed in many small ways, I know, to guide and challenge you, and to love you through each difficulty. And I have let you out into the world where there are so many opportunities, but also so many places to stumble.

When life was simple everyone oohed and aahed and cooed and cuddled, tickling your toes and inhaling the freshness of your new life. Now mingled with kind and encouraging words and praise of who you are becoming are calls and emails with concerns and questions I want to be able to answer.

When life was simple I knew every inch of you as if you were still a part of me. I sensed quickly your patterns and understood your needs. Now so much is a question mark and even as The Mom I furrow my brow in puzzlement because sometimes I just. Don’t. Know. But if I don’t, who will? And if something inside of you is broken, then as The Mom, am I responsible for the breaking? What do you need from me? What can I do? What should I do?

When life is simple, I want to recognize it. I don’t want to miss the sweetness of small moments as I get lost in the complications that surface with each year of life. I want you to be who you are and to grow into who you will be. But in those moments when I am feeling ill equipped and scared, I long for the quiet moments of innocent childhood that continue to slip so quickly through my fingers as I try to hold on.

Thank God it is not up to me, even when it feels like it is. I thank God that He is there to fill in the gaps I so clumsily miss and that His love covers not just my child in its strength and purity, but it covers me as well. I don’t always understand it, and I don’t have to. I can just rest in the beauty of it.  It’s that simple.  

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Not The Way I Wanted

Image Sometimes there are events that crash into your life that have no apparent reason and which inflict the always unwelcome pangs of pain and grief. Yesterday our sweet little 2 year old cat, named Max, died unexpectedly and with no visible explanation. Crash. I found him. I screamed, horrified at the sight of my sweet lifeless cat, but also with the realization that this would be the first significant grief experience for my children, and my heart felt like it would tear open to think of their reactions. No. No, not this way. I want them to learn all that there is to know about the preciousness of life, about compassion, about how deep joy often is only felt or understood after deep sorrow has left its marks. But not this way. Not through this loss with no reason, no why, no warning, no nothing. Just crash. There are deeper losses, tragedies that rip families apart, parents from children, children from parents, things unspeakable and wounds that run to the core and don’t ever heal completely. I know that. This is not so big it will encompass us. This will heal. We will heal. But right now it hurts. I miss Max, but more than that, I ache for my children as I watch them, individually and collectively, face the cruelness of grief. I want to spare them from this, shield them, take it away. Away. But I can’t. This is part of their story now. This is imprinted in their hearts. My hope is this: that the way we grieve together, the way I allow them to ride the waves and follow all the emotions where they take them, will be just as imprinted. Because loss is part of love. And if they can learn now to love deeply but freely, and to release what is gone while holding the connection that remains, I may one day be able to see this as a time we all grew through our pain. It is not the way I wanted. But isn’t that life? It is not going to fall into the neat pieces we planned. It is messy and cruel and beautiful. It is not ours to control, but it is ours to cherish. I want so much for my children, and I have often bristled at the cliché that we all just want our kids to be happy. Because really I think we all want something bigger than happiness. We want strength, hearts of kindness and mercy, love given and received freely, compassion, wisdom, joy…And the mystery is that all of these seem to emerge in their truest sense through heartache and loss. But we don’t want it that way. It’s too hard. I would take all the pain if I could. Because my children experiencing pain is not the way I want. Ever. But here we are. We are knee deep in this moment of loss. It seems senseless and random. But it need not be wasted. It can still have meaning and import and yes, even push us as a family and individually, to a different, deeper, better place. Not what I wanted, but where we are.

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A weighty conversation

girlOnce again, I sat stunned, unprepared. I was sitting on the front steps of our house with my 9 year old daughter.  My beautiful girl, with tears in her eyes, was trying to convince me that she is fat.  She slapped at her thighs and held her stomach between her fingers, saying “See?  I’m fat!”  I stared at this darling girl, with the deepest pools of blue eyes I  have ever seen, who in her best moments is the embodiment of light and the sweet confidence reserved just for children, and my heart broke. Because in this  moment, and in the moments leading up to it, some of her innocence had been lost and she seemed to me now uncharacteristically unsteady and insecure.  My mind felt like time was speeding up and slowing down all at the same time.  I whizzed through all the appropriate cliches, passing by phrases like “you’re perfect just the way you are” and “you are beautiful on  the inside” until I landed on a few that I thought would be ok.  I am not honestly sure what exactly I did say.  I felt a bit paralyzed,  the weight of this moment heavy on me. I became acutely aware that there are things I should say and things I should probably not say.  I think back to days when, though a bit older,  I had similar conversations with my mom.  One particular time I remember her response was to chide me a little bit, saying something like “Don’t you think it makes God sad to hear to talk that way about yourself?”  Great.  Now I’m not just fat, I’m also making the Creator of the Universe sad.  So I stayed away from that one.  I did try to communicate to her that I believe she was created uniquely and wondrously, knit together by her loving Heavenly Father.  And that she is a healthy, beautiful, growing girl who is kind, funny, and smart. During and after this deer-in-the-headlights moment, I felt inadequate and unarmed.  I went to my Facebook community, and received kind and understanding encouragement and advice.  In the following days I did a bit of research, and I am clear now, if I wasn’t before, that  there are volumes of books, magazine articles, DVDs, and the like that are out there to help moms like me in situations like this.  That is great, it really is.  But can we just take a step back for a moment and acknowledge that this just stinks?  It is ridiculous that a child of this age is even beginning to struggle with body image.  I am loathe to pull the “when I was that age” bit, but seriously, when I was that age I was playing with my smurfs and running around, getting dirty, and, I am pretty sure, oblivious to the inner and outer critical voices that would make themselves heard soon enough.  I just hate this for her, hate that this bugaboo of body image that will continue to resurface likely for a lifetime, has already shown its ugly head. This moment happened about a month ago.  Happily, I have not heard the “I am fat” mantra from my daughter  since that time, and for that I am grateful.  I have  watched her playing outside with her friends and her brothers, doing cartwheels, playing some made up game or other, in a world  where she is, for the moment, not worried about how she may appear.  These are perfect childhood moments, and I am soaking them up. And as I sit and contemplate this whole thing, I try to understand my role in what I hope will be a journey of healthy self image for her.  Just yesterday, the morning crew on the Today Show discussed fat talk (women basically competing with complaints about their bodies).  I realize this is a trigger for me, as I often grow so weary of these types of conversations and find myself just wanting to walk away when I feel them beginning.  Hopefully, I have been at successful at my attempts to keep my own self criticisms in my head, because I am certain that whether either of us wants to admit  it or not, I am a role model for my daughter. I know it will only become increasingly important to model a healthy self image, as well as paying attention to and honoring a inner life of beauty.    This is a balancing act for sure.  I want my daughter to know that cultivating a spirit of compassion, humility, and love far outweighs (ahem) all the trappings of what our culture will define as beauty.  But there are times I look at my daughter and I catch my breath, thinking “she is so beautiful.”   And I tell her. Which brings me to perhaps the sweetest and  simplest advice I have received on this topic so far.  It came from my beautiful and wise 17 year old niece.  I frantically texted her after the incident, searching for the input of someone closer to her age, hoping for some magical wording that would poof! make this go away.  Of course I know this is impossible, but her response came as close as I think I will ever get:  “Just keep telling her she’s beautiful until she starts believing you.”

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Some Thoughts on Parenting

Before I married, I had three theories about raising children and no children. Now, I have three children and no theories. John Wilmot  Parenting can be so hard.  Hard in a gut- wrenching, I didn’t know what I signed up for, crawl back into bed and hide under the covers kind of way.  Sometimes, it’s even hard in a hit the pillow and cry myself to sleep kind of way.  At least it has been for me.  This is certainly not the case every day.  I have had some amazingly spontaneous moments of utter joy and sweet days of simple contentment with my children.   But for more moments than I like to admit, I have felt overwhelmed and under prepared.  I have used this word picture:  I am standing in the middle of the battlefield, enemy combatants approaching, and  no one told me it was time to get my armor on. I think what shocked me was how quickly it got hard.  I was naive, I admit.  I knew the baby stage could be hard, in that always-tired-always-needed-never-a-moment-to-myself kind of way.  I knew that the teenager/young adult stages could be hard.  But I honestly thought that elementary years were the years of nothing more challenging than cleaning glitter glue off the kitchen table, or filling out streams of permission slips and making sure they look like they have a caring adult in their life (who properly dresses them for the weather) when they get on the bus.  But, as it happens, at least in my family, it has been a lot more challenging than that. Our children are precious to me.  And they are (biased opinion here) bright, beautiful, and kind, each in a unique way.  And as I write this, I am mindful of the need to protect them, yet be honest and say that they are also capable of making really poor choices and of breaking my heart.  Maybe the specifics aren’t important.  Maybe someone reading this could fill in their own blanks. I will say that fashion, fitting in, manipulative behavior in friendships, and “girl drama” seem to have crept into the life of my daughter much sooner than I expected.  My sons are blissfully unaware of some of these pitfalls, but all of them have tripped over questionable choices in friendships, hurt feelings, deceptive behavior, and, how do I put this, less than stellar verbal reviews of our parenting skills. On the harder days, my internal critic says “Maybe no one else struggles like this and I have a particularly “bad batch” on my hands.  Or maybe, despite our best efforts, we just have not been effective parents.  We stink at this.”    I have to admit these self doubts creep in and it takes a special kind of strength to fend them off.  Again, I feel like I am engaged in a battle. But when I examine the facts I come up with three solid truths that arm me for this battle.  The first truth is that I love my children with a deep fierce love I didn’t even know existed until I gave birth.  I will fight for them until I lose strength.  Sometimes this means advocating for them when I feel they have been unfairly treated or hurt.  These are the “mamma bear” moments, and I’ve had a few.  Sometimes it means digging in deep with them to pull out the weeds of wrong in their hearts and minds.  When I do this, I do it with the hope that they see that no matter what, I am here.  I am going to go through this with them.   I am not going anywhere. The second truth is that I am not alone.  I have an incredible husband who is the exact right father for each one of our children, and who is humbly and diligently honing his parenting skills every day.  Beyond that, I have this host of amazing adults involved in my children’s lives, some directly, and some through patient and consistent prayer. The third truth is that through each challenge, disappointment, discouragement, and heartache, my character and their characters are being formed.  We are being stretched as we struggle and strain through these moments.  I firmly believe that there is the promise of these more challenging moments being recycled into beauty and strength.  They are in process, and so am I. Parenting can be so hard.  But it can also be so incredibly life transforming.  And so with every tear, with every sigh, with every eye roll,  with every hug, with every apology, with every misspelled note of love, somewhere inside of me I utter the faintest whisper of gratitude.  These children are mine.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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What I Want for my Children

Originally posted April 6, 2013

“It’s one of the things that strikes you most forcibly- that the only thing that’s taught one anything is suffering.  Not success, not happiness, not anything like that.  The only thing that really teaches one what life’s about- the joy of understanding, the joy of coming in contact with what life really signifies-is suffering, affliction.”- Malcolm Muggeridge

Something inside me cringes when I hear someone say “Well, I just want my kids to be happy.  Isn’t that what we all want?”  I do not want my kids to be happy.  Or to put it another way, I do not want my kids simply to be happy.  Simply hoping for their happiness seems to be aiming way to low.  In fact, I think aiming for their happiness misses the mark entirely.

Think about it.  When a child is 2, it might make him  happy to take toys away from his baby sister.  Or it might make a 4 year old happy to treat a parking lot like a playground, running around freely, blissfully unaware of dangers.  A teenager may feel happy playing video games and ignoring the looming project that is due.  Or it might feel really good to gossip about that girl that has been mean to her at school.  In these cases, every parenting instinct kicks in and says lovingly but firmly “no.”  We know in those cases it’s not OK to pursue what feels like happiness when it could harm our children or others.

But what about when it doesn’t appear harmful?  What about the happiness that comes with a new toy or a trip to the mall?  We want to provide our children with happy moments, right?

Well, yes, and no.  It’s fun to see smiles on Christmas morning, or with a spontaneous treat just to brighten a day, but I think we actually rob our children when we try to bring them from moment to moment of fun and pleasure.  We buy into the lie that life is about grabbing for every shiny object, every new experience, every fleeting pleasure.  It’s a lie because each of these things, or at least the feelings of happiness they bring, are so painfully temporary.  When we indulge in this behavior, it teaches our children to flit from experience to experience, never landing, never feeling satisfied, always looking for the next thing, always looking for…joy.

What is the difference, then, between happiness and joy?  “Happiness is tied to circumstances and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude.”– Brene Brown.  Joy is that deep sense of well being that is not so easily shaken by status, belongings, weather, money, etc.  Somehow, we need to instill in our children that there is something so much more satisfying then the next thing.

So, in not limiting our goal to happiness, there is a protective measure, and there is a desire for our children to have deeper joy.  But there is something else.  There is that desire for our children to learn and to grow.  And this, in all honesty, does not come through trips to Disneyland and new bright shiny objects.  It comes through struggle, through failure, through heartbreaks and disappointments. And that is a really hard place to come to as a parent.  We don’t want our kids to suffer.  I love how Sara Groves wrestles with this very idea in her son “Prayers for This Child” : I do not know how to pray for this child. I want to guard her from everything wicked and wild. But in the trial…I learned how to hold on to the heart of God.”

Which brings me to the quote I used to start this entry.  We learn the most significant lessons from hardships and suffering.  So if we know this to be true, why would we simply want our kids to be happy?  Happiness is fleeting and superficial, and teaches them only to seek endlessly after what ultimately will not satisfy them or build their character.  So what do I want for my children?  I want them to know love and show love, I want them to act justly and to love mercy.  I want them to walk humbly with their God.   I want to instill into my children a sense of purpose and deep joy and peace that cannot be shaken, regardless of their circumstances.  This is what I want for my children.  

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Up North

Originally posted March 31, 2013

 
Ok, so I’m going to cheat a bit.  It is Easter after all, and I am enjoying the day of rest with my family.  Which actually has a lot to do with what I want to post- a page from my journal, dated March 26th.   Our family went up north to the family cabin and enjoyed some time away from the “everydayness” of life.  Here are some thoughts on the last full day there:

Right now I just want to sit and bask in this simple moment.  We have taken a few days to be up at the cabin, and to have an “electronic detox.”  No TV/ movies, no Wii/ Mario, no internet/email/Facebook.  But the “nos” have not had as much impact as what we have done.  We have played games, played outside, had snowball fights, met a neighbor, gone on nature walks, talked, laughed, been quiet, read, and rested.

It’s quiet right now.  Dan and Harry are out for a walk.  Chuck and Maggie are upstairs in the loft, reading.  Occasional comments float down to me…

I have this sense of calm.  Right now, in this moment.  Calm, and gratitude.

It has not been perfect, or tidy, or all of everything that any one of us may have wanted.  But it has been completely what we have needed.  I needed this, I realize.  I needed this to see that when I am stressed, exhausted and overwrought, it does not always mean thatI need to take a break from everyone and everything. Sometimes it means that we need a break, together, from the routine and the static and chatter of everyday life. 

It’s nothing magical.  It does not need to be a big, sweeping gesture, not a plane ride to a beach somewhere (not saying that wouldn’t be nice someday).  It can be a simple drive, a few fleeting moments.  Nothing radical, but big in its own way.

It’s big because I think they will remember some moments from these days.  I hope they will.  I hope they remember a trip to our neighbor Ernie’s house to bring homemade cookies as a thank-you for plowing out our driveway, so we could get in; and his giving us a tour of his property, including his shed where he recently build an apple press, and inviting us to walk his trails full of all kinds of wildlife, anytime.  I hope they remember Dan’s “trivia games” at dinner time, designed to help them learn more about our families, their heritage.  I hope they remember our all busting out laughing at the silliest things, but truly laughing, together, as a family.  I hope they remember and treasure these things.  I know I will.

I wish I could stretch this time out just a little longer.  I wish we were not leaving tomorrow.  But I will refuse to live in the “if-only” and will embrace the “what-is.”  And what is, right now, is this moment of calm, of rest, of renewal.  And not just for me, but for Dan and for our family.  That is priceless.

“I say to myself ‘ The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.  The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.  It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.'” -Lamentations 3:24-26

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” – Psalm 16:11

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He Did it, Too

Originally posted March 30, 2013

One of the arguments I have the least tolerance for is when my kids justify poor choices by pointing out someone else “did it too.”  This is either cropping up more or I am more aware/bothered by it lately.  I have come up with a standard reply.  (I have a few of those, and I suspect as my kids get older, they will tease me/repeat them back to me, as kids do to their parents.  Oh well).  My reply goes something like this: “Do you base your decisions on someone else’s poor choices or on what you know to be right?” 

I have to say, there are so many times that I say something quite parental like this, and first of all, a part of me says, “oh my goodness, I’m the mom now.  huh.” And secondly, I hear the same words echo in my head as a lesson for me.  This is one of those.  For me, it’s not making fart jokes or sneaking extra time playing wii.  For me, it’s a bit more subtle, and sometimes, a bit more internal:  gossip, envy, careless words, avoiding responsibility, a little bad habit here and there.  But no matter the bad choice, it’s always easier to justify if I can look around and see someone else doing something similar.  “She did it, too.”  So how do I  measure my choices?  What standard do I use?

Scripture comes to mind as a pretty handy tool for this.  And with Scripture, come some pretty wonderful examples of men and women making strong, wise decisions, as well as men and women making poor choices, all too often followed up by all sorts of justifications.  One of the most obvious to me of the latter is the whole finger pointing debacle in the Garden of Eden.  But what struck me recently, during this Holy Week, is a lesser discussed example of a brave, singular decision made by a nameless criminal:

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:35-43)

Wow.  How brave, how wise, how (seemingly) alone this man was.  He could so easily have joined in with the mockers, or even the silent.  But he formed his decision, not on what anyone else was doing, but on what something inside him told him to be the Truth.  What a marvelous example of courage in the midst of the darkest hour.

So I will continue to ask my children, and continue to ask myself:  What do I base my choices on- what everyone else is doing?  what “he/she did”?  someone else’s mistaken thinking or poor decisions?  Or on what I know to be Truth?

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