The Problem With The Child-Centered Home

I held up a finger when she opened my bedroom door, reminding her I was on an important call and didn’t want to be interrupted.

But she ignored my attempt to quiet her and asked the question loudly as if MY ONE FINGER in the air meant nothing.

I pointed again, more forcefully. My 7 year old kept right on talking.

Even my most threatening face didn’t stop her.

This must be really important, I thought.

I said excuse me to the professional on the receiver, covered the mouthpiece and whispered through gritted teeth, “WHAT IS IT?”

She took a tiny step backward and said, “I don’t know what to do. I’m bored.”

Y’all.

It was nearly a poltergeist moment for me.

“Go play. Give me 5 more minutes,” I said seething.

“But mom, I need you to tell me what to do.”

The rest of the phone call occurred with me sitting on the closed toilet behind a locked door.

When I hung up a few minutes later, I kept thinking about my daughter’s words. I need  you to tell me what to do.

I’m not a stranger to a child-centered home. For years, we let our kids determine restaurants we ate at, we gave them ample choices, we backed down from consequences, we centered our lives around their extracurricular activities, we added fun kid stuff to every weekend so they wouldn’t be bored, and when they asked us what they were supposed to do for fun, we told them. Some days, we still reap the effects of it.

And then, a few years ago, we started to shift to a Jesus-centered home. Instead of child worship, where we bowed to every whim and demand from our kids, we refocused and prioritized our lives. My children didn’t stop being important. We didn’t stop loving them unconditionally or stop meeting their needs. We just stopped trying to fix every problem and giving in to every desire.

Last week, I told you how serving turned our home right-side up. It’s never too early to start or too late to try. We started by picking a few things off this list:  100 Ways to Make a Difference As a Family.

Listen, humans are naturally self-centered. We want what we want. Our kids are no different.

If we build our home around their every want, they will let us.

And it may seem easier because kids who always get what they want seem “happy.”

Until they don’t get what they want.

And then watch out.

My greatest calling is being a mom. I love my children and I’m grateful for them. But that doesn’t mean they are the sun and I should orbit around them in submission.

Children having picnic

When we center our homes around the wants and demands of our kids, we are actually hurting them, not helping.

Here are five risks of a child-centered home:

  1. It gives kids the false security that the world is about them- We can build our world around our kids, but the world won’t return the favor. Sooner or later-in school or at a first job, they will discover life isn’t always fair and they can’t always get out of sticky situations.
  2. It puts a strain on our marriage-it’s easy to put children in front of spouses and when we put kids at the center of the home, things get out of balance, including our marriages.
  3. It reinforces selfishness-kids don’t need to be taught selfishness. “Mine” is usually one of their first words. But constantly letting the world revolve around their demand and wishes, only reinforces selfishness.
  4. It puts a responsibility and pressure on children they weren’t meant to carry. Kids weren’t designed to carry the burden of getting their way all the time. Not only is it unhealthy, I believe kids want restrictions and guidelines. It’s another way we show them how much we love them.
  5. It makes them a challenge outside of home (school, church, etc). Enough said.

Refocusing our homes, centering them around Christ instead of our children isn’t easy. It takes consistent, hard work. And when our kids are begging for us to tell them what to do, we should hide in the bathroom. Or give them time to answer their own question.

Oh, and I found the perfect thing for my daughter to do. Her room has never looked better.

Dear Children: Let Me Explain This Thing Called Summer

It was an hour after she got home from Vacation Bible School.

One hour after Water games! Snow cones! a Slimy Craft! Dancing and Singing! The Best Day Ever!

We were in the second week of summer. The second week of sleeping in and she was slipping and sliding

splash1

splash2

towards boredom.

Walking around the house, whining about nothing to do.

Kicking her foot and waiting outside the bathroom door. (I wasn’t hiding, really).

Sound familiar?

Go. Find. Something. To. Do.

She gave me an empty stare and then I realized she was waiting on me to tell her what to do, to do something with or for her.

And there it was again, this “You Owe Me” mentality that is wrecking our culture. We do so much for our kids- camps and classes,  back and forth to lessons and events, we spend money and fill their lives with stuff and you’d think they would be oozing gratitude, but we are taken aback when they just want more.

More activities, more fun, more stuff.

More.

And honestly, I can’t really blame my first grader. Because for a long time, I provided The More. I bought into this lie that it’s my job to make my kids’ childhood magical and fun and everyday an adventure all about them.

I have fed the entitlement beast and when it rears it’s ugly head, my children aren’t the only ones to blame.

Our children need to be bored. They need to kick their feet and wait outside of bathroom doors, unanswered. They need to be sent outside or to their rooms to play. They need to turn over the bag of tricks and find it empty.

Because that’s when they will discover they don’t need stuff to fill their time. They don’t need a plan for entertainment.

They can create their own. And that’s when summer gets magical.

I pulled my little one aside and got down on eye level and I said, “Let me explain summer to you, honey.”

“There will be fun days! We will check boxes off your summer bucket list. We will play. We will work. We will serve. We will have great times. But there will also be a lot of unplanned days, there will be empty hours. There will be days when you’ve watched enough TV or we won’t be leaving the house for something super fun.

At first, these days may seem boring or like there is nothing to do. And that’s okay. Because after you whine and perhaps, cry, you will have to make up your own fun. You’ll get into that book from the library. You’ll draw doll furniture and cut it out and give your paper dolls a good home. You will figure something out. I love to see you having fun, but I will not, I cannot make every day fun. It’s not my job to make every moment The Best of Your Life. But it is my job to teach you that the days that aren’t fun usually end up being the best ones of summer.”

She ended up with a bucket of Legos and spent a couple of hours creating the coolest flying space car ever.

Sometimes we have to just wait for our kids to remember just how fun boredom can be.

C’mon, moms! Who’s with me?

Read more about how we are trying to conquer entitlement in our home in Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God When Sparkly Safe Faith is No Longer Enough.

The Problem With Not Having Any Losers

My first grader announced she was trying out for the end-of-the-year school Talent Show with a couple of girls in her class.

They had rehearsals at recess. And she practiced at the kitchen table. And outside.

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I didn’t voice my surprise at this announcement. But I was surprised. She can be shy in front of other people. And she doesn’t usually love that kind of attention.

But I signed the permission slip, encouraged and reminded her that no matter what the outcome, to have fun.

The group did the Cup Song (inspired by first graders who did the same song the year before).

Only my little girl’s cup rolled off the table. Twice.

She seemed a little worried, but nothing that a cookie after school didn’t fix.

When I picked her up the next day, she told me her group didn’t make the Talent Show.

She was disappointed. There wasn’t a ribbon or trophy. No stage or recognition.

We talked about something unique she could do next year. She’s already planning.

Because here’s what she did win: she learned something by losing.

And that made her want to try again.

Losing is a good part of life. It helps us define what we win even in loss. It builds character. It makes us work harder.

Because in real life, not everyone can win all the time..

And that’s why letting everyone win is a big problem.

the problem with letting everyone win

The participation trophies and the we-can’t-pick-winners-because-it-will-make-losers-feel-excluded are nothing more than a temporary reward for our kids. Making everyone feel like a winner is actually creating a culture of people who don’t know how to lose.

And it’s not just in sports and talent shows, last week a school actually called off their annual Honor Awards Ceremony in exchange for low-key recognition that didn’t make the rest of the kids feel left out since honor ceremonies are “exclusive” in nature. Seriously, I thought that was the point. Let’s not reward those who’ve had exceptional grades because it might make those who didn’t feel left out?

Here’s the problem with letting everyone win: When no one loses, it doesn’t make everyone a winner. It robs our kids of a chance to learn through failure or being excluded.

Letting everyone win empowers entitlement. It gives our children the false sense of security that we are owed something just for showing up. Letting everyone win doesn’t really make us work harder. That’s mostly learned through losing.

Participation does not always equal success.

And losing doesn’t make failures.

“There is no failure except in no longer trying.” Elbert Hubbard

So, the next time your kid loses or is excluded or doesn’t get picked, hug them. And remind them the real reward is in trying.

Because there’s always next year.

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P.S. Celebrating my book

CONROE_Kristen Welch_MAY14-FB

The Blessing (Or Curse) of Stuff and What We Are Really Teaching Our Kids

I ran into an old friend on my way out of the post office the other day. We quickly caught up on each other’s life and I was tempted to count how many times she said “I’m blessed.”

“We moved into a bigger house. We are so blessed! We finally upgraded to a new van. Just so blessed. My kids got into an exclusive summer camp and don’t you just love my new purse? I’m just so blessed! If God keeps blessing us, we hope to buy some land soon…”

I’m not opposed to blessings.

But I couldn’t help but notice how every time she said  “blessing” it was attached to a thing.

I’ve said the same words before.  But I’m talking about more than word choice and terminology.

Because after meeting the poorest of the poor on the other side of the world–and serving every Friday among the refugee women in my city– people without furnishings or cars or diapers or even enough food for the day, without “blessings” –I couldn’t help but wonder if they are blessed, too?

stuff

When we relate blessings to the stuff in our lives, our gratitude sounds hollow and shallow. Are we still blessed if our house burns down, our car breaks, our kids rebel, our health declines or we choose to give our money away?

Every good and perfect gift comes from God. Yes. And I know the heart is often thankfulness behind our statements, “I’m so blessed because I have ___.” But what if we lose these blessings? Can we still say I’m blessed?

This was the life-changing question that flipped my life upside down.

Because when I stood eye-to-eye with another mother in the slum who had nothing–nothing–and yet she praised God for being blessed with life and the  jug of clean water in her hand, I knew she possessed something I didn’t.

It has been said that our unhappiness is evidenced in our excess of stuff.

We buy and buy and buy and then when we have too much, we drag the stuff to the driveway, stick a price tag on it and sell it so we can buy more. What in the world are we teaching our kids?

We are teaching them that stuff makes us happy and even more stuff makes life better. When we unite “blessings” with “things” we are teaching our kids that if we don’t have things we aren’t blessed. I’m certainly not opposed to buying stuff we need and even things we want. But the truth I’ve discovered is that real blessing comes when I buy something someone else needs instead of something I want.

That’s the blessed life I want to show my kids. 

Because being blessed has absolutely nothing to do with stuff. It’s temporary. It can be gone tomorrow and it will be gone for eternity. We are blessed no matter what we have because God has given us grace, forgiveness, hope, a second chance and eternal life.

This is my story of how I went from suffocating from stuff to discovering the real “stuff” of God that we cannot buy.

4 Things We Can Do to Teach Our Kids the True Meaning of Blessings:

  1. Name your blessings as a family (but tell your kids they can’t name “stuff” or things money can buy).
  2. The next time you drive by a garage sale, use it as an opportunity to introduce this idea of our throwaway-so-we-can-have-more culture. Or take them to Goodwill.
  3. Gather extra stuff occupying closets and drawers and plan a garage sale and give the money away.
  4. Give gifts of time and service to family members instead of more stuff and encourage your kids to do the same.

We have stuff. But stuff shouldn’t have us.

 

What To Say to Your Kids When Their Friends Get Everything They Want

I tucked her in bed and pulled up the cozy pink comforter to her chin. “Mommy?” she whispered after prayers were said.

“Yes, honey?” I waited.

“I am sad.”

“Really, why?” trying to remember what would cause this statement.

“I’m sad I don’t have my own iTouch like my friends.”

SAY WHAT?

“A lot of my friends have them and iPhones, too,” she said as she rattled off half her first grade class.

“Why do you want one?” I asked, even though I could have guessed her answer.

Because my friends have one.

what to say to your kids when their friends get everything they want

And then I went on to tell her this wasn’t right for her at seven years old. But this wasn’t about technology (although- really?)–she could have asked for a purple pony named Lucy or a giant stuffed marshmallow that all the kids must have now. The point is, we cannot give our kids stuff just because their friends have it.

And we cannot give in to giving our kids stuff because our friends are giving it to their kids.

It’s a dangerous cycle that is hard to break.

These over-the-top two year old birthday parties are more about the moms competing with their friends than the cake-covered baby having a meltdown due to exhaustion. I watched a mom at my daughter’s tumbling class tap on the glass and give her little girl a stern look and whispered through gritted teeth to “stop having fun” and then I overheard her comparing her daughter’s skills with another mother.

That little girl flipping on the mat just wanted to have fun. Her mother was the real competitor.

We cannot make our parenting choices based on what others are doing. We have to purpose our lives with intention or we will just end up being like everyone else, caught in a trap in our culture that demands we fit in.

What do we say to our kids when their friends get everything they want?

1. We don’t do what everyone else does. We will not try and keep up. Sometimes we just need to say no.

We must choose what is best for our own family today, so that when the latest fad or must-have is hot on the market, we have a plan that isn’t tossed around by the gimmes or the pressure to give in because everyone else is.

2. We remind them about perspective: Not everyone has this or (fill in the blank). It may seem like you’re the only one in your class or in your grade or on this planet who isn’t fitting in or keeping up. But if we are going to compare ourselves to others, let’s also compare ourselves to kids who live in poverty. That way we will live in the middle of those who have everything and those who have nothing.

3. We have to plan for what we say yes to. We are intentional. Saying it too often only fans the flame of entitlement.

4. We are more concerned about who you are than what you have. I love seeing my kids happy. But keeping them happy all the time isn’t my number one priority. Parenting is a marathon and we have to remember our longterm goal of raising beautiful people who love God and others.

Sure, your kid might end up with the latest technology that you require them to save their money for and you may throw that one over-the-top 13th birthday party you’ve been planning all year. There isn’t anything wrong with these things when they are a part of your plan.

Because here’s the thing: When we parent with intention and moderation and our kids end up getting something they really want or have worked for–That gift will be intentional and not just another thing to add their pile of stuff. It will be appreciated.

Because we have to balance the natural desire to give our kids the world without giving them over to it.

Motherhood is messy.

But we can say yes in the mess and live a life that is making a difference in our world and most importantly, in our home. Because families who choose to live different do.

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Read more about the twelve things we are doing to try and raise our kids different from our culture in my new book:

 motherhoodismessy

15 Ways to Teach Kids How to Work Hard

It was the first day of summer in 1984. He was 14 years old.

His dad woke him up before work and said there’s a load of sand in the driveway and shovel. He told him by the time he got home from work, he wanted the low spots in the backyard filled.

There were similar projects all summer long.

That’s how my husband was raised.

(I was raised scooping dog poop in the hot Texas sun, so don’t feel too sorry for him.)

There was also summer fun for both of us -bike riding and baseball playing,  But there was also a lot of hard work. We didn’t sleep until noon or play video games until the middle of the night while mom fixed lunch everyday and did all the laundry.

We have come along way, huh? Maybe it’s time to backtrack.

Because when I declare it’s yard work day at my house, it’s like the End Times around here. We ignore the groans and moans and wailing and push through. Because hard work is good for kids. Not only does it teach them to be grateful for what you do all day long, it creates a work ethic in them that will carry them into adulthood.

Pile of dirty washing in bathroom

Here are 15 ways to teach kids how to work hard:

  1. Don’t do everything for them: It sounds simple, but kids will let you do everything for them as long as you do everything for them.
  2. Require them to take care of their own space. They won’t clean it up you say? Try the age old “you can’t do or have this (fill in the blank) until you clean up this (fill in the blank)” and I bet they will.
  3. Make them sweat a little. Like literally get their hands dirty picking up the busted trash in the street, washing the car, or the bottom of the trash can. It’s okay. They will survive.
  4. Start early. (And remember it’s never too late to start).
  5. Make work part of your family routine. This is just something we do. We take care of what God has given us.
  6. Let them learn from their mistakes (don’t jump in to fix or redo everything they try to do) Let it go.
  7. Make work fun (chore roulette).
  8. Be an example of hard work-Let them see you working hard.
  9. Serve as a family (perspective is everything). This has been huge for us.
  10. Be an encourager (and not a control freak).
  11. Let your kids be in charge of dinner (from grocery shopping to putting it on the table). Last week my son prepared dinner for the family. I needed his help and he did a great job. He doubted at first, but ended up really proud of himself.
  12. Give them a chance to earn money, so they can learn how to handle it. This has been the single best thing to eliminate the gimme gimmes.
  13. Teach them to save and give a % of their money.
  14. Give them projects that require time management skills (like dirt on the driveway)
  15. Be consistent

I married a hard-working man who is working hard to raise children who aren’t lazy. And I need to tell his parents thank you.

Maybe We Should Stop Entertaining Our Kids So Much

15 hours. One way.

That’s how long it took us to drive to New Mexico on Spring Break. Getting there, my children were delightful. On the long drive, they occupied themselves with reading, drawing, watching a couple of movies and asking questions about the change of scenery, and they got along well.

Clearly, we were amazing parents.

And then we piled in the car a few days later to come home. We arrived in the Land of Enchantment with one set of children and discovered they had morphed into entirely different ones for the long road home. Because all their books had been read, movies watched, pictures drawn.

There was squabbling and bickering and mostly, a lot of boredom.

While I wasn’t looking forward to the drive home either, the getting home part is sort of unavoidable, you know?

The complaining heightened to an all time high and at some point a kid from the backseat actually demanded, “Give me something to do.”

In other words, entertain me.

And this is the price we pay when we constantly entertain our kids: They cannot entertain themselves.

maybeweshouldstopentertainingourkidssomuch

Remember when we used to play outside for hours?

Now we have half a dozen screens to choose from between ipads, ipods, iphones, iii-yii-yii

Remember when kids used to use their imaginations?

Now we over schedule them with extracurriculars. .

Remember when going to the park, zoo, circus, playplace, you-name-it-in-kid-entertainment used to be reserved for a special occasion?

Now we do something every other day because our kids aren’t the only ones who are bored. Parents are too.

Maybe we should stop entertaining our kids so much.

Maybe they will start creating fun instead of depending on us to manufacture it.

Because it’s really way more about entitlement than entertainment.

Now, I have done it all. I’m a guilty parent entertainer. But I’ve realized the more I do, the more they want and the less they do for themselves. 

We live in a culture that thrives on entertainment. We crave the thrill of it. And that’s great for special days, but maintaining it constantly is doing more harm than good.

If we stop doing it, they will stop expecting it.

Because sometimes we have to wait.

Sometimes we don’t get our way.

Sometimes we are bored.

My kids ended up surviving the road trip. There was sleeping and made-up-game-playing and just old fashioned car-riding imagination.

Life isn’t always entertaining.

And the sooner our kids realize that, the sooner they realize they have the power to change that.

9 Things We Should Get Rid of to Help Our Kids

She borrowed something from me.

And then she lost it.

Accidents happen.

But it was the whole “It only cost ten bucks-you can get another one” attitude that I couldn’t let happen a moment longer.

So, I gave her a job that required hard work and gave her the $10 she earned and then I made her pay me for what she lost.

Child counting money (Shallow DOF)

Listen, when I realized I was more than half the problem in this whole entitlement parenting challenge, it was a wake up call. Kids naturally want what they haven’t earned, especially if we are handing it out for free.

But what we have is an entire generation of young adults who got everything they ever wanted with little or no work; we have a cultural norm and it’s a problem.

Because reality is, life doesn’t give us everything we want. We don’t always get the best jobs or a job at all. We don’t always have someone rescue us when we have a bad day or replace our boss just because we don’t like them. We can’t always have what we want when we want it. We aren’t always rewarded in life.

Here are 9 things we can get rid of to begin eliminating entitlement in our children:

1. Guilt: Often we give into our kid’s requests out of guilt. We need to stop feeling guilty for not giving our kids everything they want. It’s hard to swallow, but we foster the attitude of entitlement in our homes when we are ruled by a guilty conscience. It’s okay to ask kids to be responsible for what they lose and to require consequences for actions.

2. Overspending: I think it’s good for our kids to hear us say, “We can’t afford that” Or “We will have to save for it.” Because that’s real life. We don’t have All The Money to Buy All the Things. I’ve known families before who are working multiple jobs to keep kids in extracurricular activities, when honestly, the kids would probably be happier with more family time.

3. Birthday Party Goody Bag (Mentality)-I’ve been guilty of this like most of us. But, really? We take our kids to parties so they can give a gift, but they take a small one home so they won’t feel bad? It’s not their birthday. This concept of spoiling kids (which usually goes far beyond goody  bags) is temporary fun. It’s okay for them not to be the center of attention.

4. Making our day-week-month, our world about our kids-Working in the non-profit world has redirected our extra time. We simply can’t center our lives around our children when we are centering our lives around Christ. Child-centered homes don’t help children in the long-run.

5. The desire to make our children happy (all the time). If you visited my house, you’d find out pretty quickly that someone’s always unhappy. It’s not our job to keep our kids happy. Don’t carry that impossible burden. Typically when our kids are unhappy, it’s because we are standing our ground. And that makes for much healthier kids in the future.

6. Made Up Awards: You know what I’m talking about. Rewarding everyone who participates in every area only fosters an inflated self esteem. Kids don’t need rewards for every little thing. It’s okay to lose, they learn through failure as much as success.

7. Fixing all their problems: I don’t like to see my kids struggling. There’s a part of every parent that longs to make things right in their child’s world. But it’s not healthy to create a false reality. You won’t always be there to do so and not only that, if you’re doing it all for your child, why would they need to learn to do it themselves? Fixing all their problems is really only creating more challenges in the future.

8. Stuff: We could all probably fill a half dozen trash bags with just stuff. Excess. Try it. Bag it up and get your kids to help you and give it to someone who needs it.

9. Unrealistic Expectations: My girls are always asking for manicures. I didn’t have one until I was married, pregnant and 27 years old. I’m not opposed to the occasional treat, but it’s the attitude of expecting it because you as a parent or others have it. Just because I have an iPhone, doesn’t mean my children will get one. We don’t have to give our kids everything we have. It’s okay to make them wait for things in life.

It’s okay to toss out these things. Go ahead, give it a try.