Like I was Saying….

I have just passed the 21 year mark of parenting.  It took most of those years for me to start appreciating the irony of some of the things I say to my kids – things God is always having to say to me, over and over again. Continue reading

Springing Forward

I'm the short one in the back, clapping

I never knew before this year that in addition to eggs, bunnies, new dresses, and ham, the Easter season is traditionally when Handel’s Messiah is performed. Growing up, Messiah was a Christmas tradition in our house going all the way back to vinyl records. As mothers, we always hope these traditions take hold and find some treasured spot in our children’s hearts. Hopefully they are later hauled out by them when they are adults and have their own families. I fell in love with the music of Messiah on some intrinsic level and I have always played the modernized version of it, The Young Messiah, for my family.

In Junior High and High School, I was a chorus kid. We sang some high choral literature and some modern numbers too.  In one production, I did choreographed steps to Broadway musical numbers and was picked to play the part of Dolly Parton for a tribute to 9 to 5.  Continue reading

Let’s all bow our heads and say, “Grace”…

I am republishing this post today as a reminder to myself. Anyone out there need some grace today?

My six-year-old is known for saying some dinner-stopping stuff, but this past week she let one fly that I will need to remember forever. She started by saying that she loves her daddy more than she loves me. Now that may sound awful, but I was glad to hear that one.  Her daddy would have been gratified to hear it, if he had been there.  He is always having to be the heavy around here so he gets the lower flow of the warm fuzzies. The reason she gave is what echoed in my head and still stirs around uncomfortably in my gut. She said, “Daddy loves God more than you.” …Ouch. Wow. Really?

Of course I had a ton of questions for her. Why did she think this? He prays with them every night before bed and I have them pray. To quote her, “He prays more than you.” Then my ten-year-old piped in with, “But Mommy reads her Bible more than Daddy.” Oh dear.

I have lots of explanations for why they think these things. That is beside the point. I was left wondering why my little one didn’t see me loving God. Do I not teach her right from wrong on a minute-by-minute basis? But…have I explained where I get all those standards from? Do I not talk to her about God and Jesus and love and sin? Yes, but…

I realized I was avoiding talking to them about spiritual things because I am afraid. I am afraid of doing the classic talk-the-talk without walking the walk. I know too many who have been burned by this hypocrisy. There is no way I could live up to all the ideals I want to teach them. It is one of the hardest dichotomies of parenthood. My children see me for who I really am. They see me get angry and tired and complain and make jokes at the expense of others. They see me dance like a fool to a Kesha song. They see me laugh my annoying laugh at less-than-spiritual things on 30 Rock. This is why I don’t want to preach to my children. I’m very prone to give up doing something if I can’t get it just right.

So God in His great timing has been teaching me about grace. Not just the work of grace that He did on the cross by reconciling us to God, but the constant state of grace that we live in every moment. I realized, through the work of the Spirit, and my great ladies group, that I have been trying to reach a place where I no longer need grace. I was striving for the ultimate sweet spot where I would live consistently and be transformed into some other kind of Christian who didn’t need to feel failure or darkness or doubt or defeat. This place is one we are all to look forward to, while at the same time realizing our inability to achieve anything but human-ness this side of heaven. Until that great day, we rely on Jesus as our righteousness. Not to teach it to us or help us achieve it but to BE it for us. It is our only peace.

So now my job is to be human and spiritual with my children. I will try to do this more each day, keeping grace in mind as the motto for me and for them. I can demonstrate love for them even when they fail. I can  explain to them how this is possible through what God has done for me. I’m only sad that I learned this so late in the game. The beauty part is, His great grace will cover that too.

Matthew 5:6
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Punishment vs. Discipline

Last summer, I participated in a group exercise program through my church. Never before have I regularly exercised and made an effort to watch what I eat. I was always one of those girls who could eat anything and sit around and stay skinny. Well, not anymore. Suddenly I am focusing on being disciplined, instead of being the one handing out the discipline. Either way, it is tough.

While going through this new process, I was inspired by something my pastor said in a sermon. “Punishment focuses on the past and what you did, discipline focuses on the future and how you can grow.” After twenty years of parenting, this was a new view for me. As a pastor, he was using this to talk about how God does not punish , but He does discipline. As a mother, I started to wonder which one I use most. As a woman, I wonder if I discipline myself, or punish myself. As a wife, am I punishing my husband for his mistakes or trying to change things for the future? This perspective makes a world of difference.

As a mother, it is important to never go after your child in anger. Any instruction or restrictions on our children should be for their own personal growth. One of my biggest pet peeves is the parent who punishes in public because they are embarrassed by something their child did. I understand how this feels, but that doesn’t make it right. That is punishment for our ego’s sake and a kid can spot that a mile off. Any punishment that is venting our anger is abusive and never in the child’s best interest.

This is not to say that discipline should be sweet or pleasant. It should hurt in a way that is meaningful to the child. Pain is nature’s way of letting us know we should never do what we just did again. Without getting into the debate over spanking, there are many other ways you can get this message across to a child in a firm but loving manner. Find a way that communicates strongly, “for your own good, you should never want to do that again”. Right now, for my eight-year-old son, that is tied up in video games. For my older children, it could mean no iPod or cell phone. I have even threatened to ground my children from church when it is their favorite activity. Whatever they are attached to, leverage it without shame.

As for punishing ourselves, this is a bad habit many women are stuck in. When we cheat on our diets, we throw in the towel. That is not growth for the future. We must stay positive and start over again, a hundred times if necessary. When we fail at something new, we tell ourselves it is just not something we are good at. Certainly we will not be great at everything we put our hand to, but don’t punish yourself out of an opportunity to overcome some obstacles and triumph in a difficult area.

In our relationships, this concept is especially tricky because we are not mother or boss to our loved ones. It is not up to us to discipline them but the focus on the future can still help you keep your goals in a relationship clear. When conflict comes, are you all about venting and raging and punishing or can you take a breath and focus on restoring whatever is broken. Do you pout in silence to make someone you care about pay for what they said or did? This kind of acting out only adds to the stack of junk that would need to be sorted through to maintain a healthy relationship. That stack gets big enough on its own, so don’t add to it.

In all relationships, it is best to give out the grace that has been given to us. We will never catch up to the matchless grace of God, so make grace a habit.  Ask God to show you a place between total dominance and excessive liberty. The beauty part is, His grace will be extended to you while you are learning to sort it out! Don’t forget to extend some grace to yourself as well.

I am interested to see how this new way of thinking plays out in these areas of my life. Any time we move toward the future and away from the past with a positive outlook and a desire to be like Christ, growth is happening. Whatever place you are in your life right now, you can work on growing toward being a better person to the people in your sphere of influence. For me, it is great to know there is always room and opportunity for improvement. Let’s take full advantage of that.

Having It All

First off, I have to apologize for using the most overused title in all of women’s literature. For many reasons, this is a subject that is often discussed and will never be resolved. Women ask me all the time, “How do you do it all?” For the people who really know me, this is a funny question because I don’t really do that much. It is a lot of smoke and mirrors truly. This is especially true compared to the women who came before me.

I have six kids. My mom had seven. From the time she was 22, until the time she was 53, she had children that needed raising. She had no formal college degree and no work experience to speak of, even well into her 30′s. But when my dad finished his education and went to work for the IRS, he was not allowed to work a second job, so Mom went to work outside the home. She applied at a Piece Goods store, something she knew about because she sewed all our clothes for years. That was the beginning of my mom’s life as a “working mom.” It was the 70′s. She was not alone.

I’m about to turn 39 in a few days. The first time I was aware of my mother’s age was at her 39th birthday. I was five years old. My youngest is now five. This was near the beginning of her working mom days. I have never been to college or had a job. Well, not since I filed and answered phones for an insurance office my senior year in high school. I have wondered if I could do what she did, and she would say, “of course you would if you had to, like I did.” But becoming the manager of a store is not exactly having it all, granted.

My mother circa 1965ish

Later, my shy mother would take on a sales job that was totally out of her range of experience. She would go on to be very successful at her job, even making more money than my dad for a few years. It was the 80′s. She was not alone in this either. I was entering my teens and I knew my mother did not like this job most of the time, but she was very good at it nonetheless. It was a time when we needed that income for college for my sisters and all the things teenagers need. I really don’t think I could do that, but she would tell me I could, if I had to, like she did. But again, a door to-door, drive-all-over-the-territory, fill-out-Saturday-paperwork job ain’t exactly having it all, I know.

In 1988, when I was 17, Mom landed the perfect job for her. She became a tour guide for a local bus tour company. Mom has said many times that raising seven children uniquely prepared her for leading retirees around all over the country. She got to travel and make money doing it. She got to take my dad with her occasionally and she got to visit her children and grandchildren around the country. She was loved by everyone who traveled with her. She had been preparing for this all her life, raising children, managing a store, going door to door until the shyness was no more. She was in her 50′s and she got to see the country and have a great time doing it. This I’m sure I could not do, no matter what you say, Mom.

My mom is a praying woman who leaves the worries of this life to a mighty God. She was 39 like me, with no IRA, no 401k, probably not even money in a jar anywhere. Now she has been retired from the travel job for years. At 70 years old, she and my dad celebrated 50 years of marriage. She enjoys her grandchildren, bakes cookies, visits the nursing homes, gets her nails done, and does needlework. That may not be your dream, but it is the very definition of fulfillment for her. At no one time did she “have it all” but if you add it all up now, it is more than she ever dreamed.

Knowing all this history about my mom has always helped me not to panic about what I don’t know or haven’t done yet. I feel sure there is a plan for me and I try to stay ready for what I am meant to do. I’m pretty sure, I’m meant to have it all.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer. 29:11

Bullying: A Parental Problem

This past year has been full of news stories on bully related violence and desperation that started an important and overdue conversation in this country. I can’t possibly read every bit of coverage on these stories, but it seems there is a glaring lack of anger toward the parents of those doing the bullying. While parents are rewarding their kids for making the team, scoring the goal or making the grade, they seem to be neglecting their kids’ character development. Being kind is something any child can learn to do well. From the time a child is crawling around and stealing toys from their siblings, we can teach them kindness and empathy. Instead of finding the quickest way to stop the screaming and fighting amongst siblings, we have to take some time to teach basic principles like the Golden Rule. What will you spend time teaching your children? Do you want a baby genius who knows Mozart and flash cards or one that is kind, disciplined and secure enough to consider other people’s feelings.
Your child knows without you having to tell them what you want them to learn most. No parent sits their child down and says, “Now Sweetie, I want you to remember that you are the most important person in the world. Be sure to make any kid that forgets this very miserable.” Unfortunately for us, it is a monkey-see-monkey-do situation that will lead to your kid being a problem or the solution. Watch for signs of bullying in their close friends, their not-so-close friends or even in the TV shows they watch. Kids who are bullied at home by an older sibling tend to act out on kids at school. Too many parents consider teasing and being mean a normal part of sibling behavior. It should not be tolerated toward anyone. If you wouldn’t allow them to do it to their friends, then they shouldn’t be allowed to do it to their siblings. Period. Be clear with them that bullying is not limited to punching and fighting. Whispering while glaring, calling names and harmfully excluding other children are more subtle ways of being unkind, but they are unkind and unacceptable.

What’s worse, some kids are allowed to bully their parents. Is your kid running the show at your house? Are you afraid to confront your own child for fear of some sort of punishing emotional response? Are peace and happiness more important to you than raising a really great kid? All these conditions are perfect for a little tyrant to stage a coup you  won’t even notice until it’s too late. If you find yourself refraining from making your child do what you want for fear she will scream or throw a tantrum, you are raising a bully. If you look the other way when you know your kid is lying, you are giving too much power to a tiny person, and you know what they say about absolute power. You must call a kid out on their junk or they will use it against you and then others.

I shudder at the thought of having a son that everyone is afraid of or a daughter that everyone avoids. Take a good look at the child you are raising. Especially if that child is athletic, popular, or even bigger than all the other kids. Let’s face it, you know if your child has some social or physical power. There should be a strict, zero-tolerance policy for any behavior that comes anywhere close to bullying. Listen in when they are in earshot. Do they use any type of slurs or slang that targets one group or one person? Do you keep hearing the same name ridiculed in conversations between your kid and his or her friends? If so, it is time to bring the hammer down with the same consequences you would use if he or she were failing a class. You might find your child is the ringleader or you might find a peer pressure situation that needs to be rooted out.
Don’t be too quick to defend your child if he or she is called out for bad behavior. Too many bullies find shelter in the arms of their doting parents. I once read about a teacher who was asked about the biggest difference between the beginning of his thirty-year career and the end. He said he used to be able to control the behavior of his students with a mere mention of calling their parents. After thirty years, he would find himself threatened by students with a call to their parents. What a sad change in the system when the disciplinarians become blind advocates. I know my generation suffered from a punish-now-ask-questions-never type of discipline, but we have gone beyond over compensating for this with our children.
Whatever your beliefs or background, we all want kind children. We want them to be the kid who stands up to the bully in the bathroom or on the playground. We have learned the hard way that the issue of bullying is extremely high-stakes. The kindness of your child could be the lifeline that a bullied child needs to see hope in a cruel world. If your child has any social standing at all, hold him or her to a high standard of behavior. One great kid can set the tone and lead the way with proper guidance from a great parent.

If your child is following Christ’s example, compassion and love and bravery are the standard. It’s not right to teach our kids that God works in the lives of adults only. Encourage them to exercise their faith in real ways that show the love of Jesus to everyone, even when it is tough. Their Heavenly Father has their back, as always. is already taken

I am a selfish, lazy mother. It’s true. Worse than that, I think you should be too. Any of you out there that are mothers or ever plan on being a mother, listen to what I have stumbled upon in my nearly twenty years of parenting.

There is a law of nature at work in all relationships. You all have that woman in your group of friends that is giving and nice and always puts others first. You also know that guarantees that she will have a troublesome mother, sister, best friend or boyfriend. In the world of parents, nice, giving mommy translates into selfish, terrorist children in this same way.

Now I didn’t set out to be selfish and lazy for the good of my children. I was just born that way. This has always been in my nature. It just needed the proper outlet. When I became a mother, my purpose was clear. I was to use these traits that are so disagreeable in me, to raise the next generation to be thoughtful, generous children.

Years of tradition and religion back me up here. Every religious tradition or even pagan culture, puts an emphasis on honoring your elders. This is the supreme goal of a selfish parent. Honor me, serve me!

Of course, I’ve stepped over the line to the ridiculous, but it is not as far off-base as it may seem. My true observation is that the children being raised in this child-centered society are not very nice children. I used to feel bad about insisting on my rights with my children, but one day I watched a child grab food off his mother’s plate and eat it. His mother was one of those nice, perky moms with a voice one octave higher than mine. She wasn’t even fazed by this. However, it wasn’t long until this child was grabbing food off the other children’s plates. This is where the lesson plays out.

My child would not grab food off another child’s plate because if this happened at my house, I would say, “Hey – that is mine” , not, “Oh here honey, can I get you something else?”  This is the gist of honoring your parents.  How many of us had to get up if our dad came in while we were in his chair? Things like this teach us to view others with respect in the home, the preschool, the high school, or the conference room. We are, after all, trying to teach kids how to be adults and no one makes you the center of their world at school or work. Children should not be taught to expect this because of what they have seen at home.

God always works through our failings, shortcomings and human nature. I couldn’t be more thankful to see His grace at work in my home. So when you think you are a bad parent or would be a bad parent, stop and think about how you can love a child by teaching them to respect and honor you. I know this works well, because I like my kids and they like me. We respect each other. We enjoy spending time together. Kids do not have to take over your life. They can add so much to your life and the lives of others, if you let God work in you with all your strengths and your weaknesses. He is the master at using us as we are, jars of clay, for His glory.