Why Service & Hard Work Are Two of the Best Things We Can Give Our Kids

My teens spent a week as counselors at our church’s kids camp earlier this summer.

They spent a week in the hot Texas sun singing crazy camp songs, cheering and high-fiving a cabin full of young campers.

They spent a week tying shoes, passing out bandaids, and encouraging homesick hearts.

They spent a week putting others’ needs before their own.

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More than once, I got a message from an adult at camp letting me know my kids were giving the week everything they had. They came home without a voice and a load of stinky laundry and fell in bed for a 5 hour nap.

That first night back at our dinner table, they begged to go on the youth missions trip a few weeks later to do construction projects for some marginalized people in a Texas community. We didn’t really have it budgeted or planned and my first response was to say no. I could tell my kids were disappointed.

Later, my husband said, “Honey, let’s rethink this. Our kids just spent a week serving others and instead of complaining about all the work, they are asking for more. They want to spend a week on an air mattress repairing homes for marginalized people in a segregated area. I know it will cost us, but this trip could be priceless.”

I thought long and hard about his wisdom. Because I know how physical, selfless work and serving others has turned my life upside down.

I’ve seen how working at the Mercy House warehouse a couple of days a week has got my kids thinking less of themselves and more about others.

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When we told our kids we were reconsidering, they offered to contribute some of their own money. I knew something good was going to come from this.

service and hard work are two of the best things we can give our kids

They left on a Sunday and the first update from my daughter read, “Mom! We just finished our first day of hard work. Today was so hot and we are so tired! We are giving this lady a new floor, so we had to rip out the old one, leaving a huge hole in her floor and then add new supports, more flooring and then tile. It was a lot of work, but it was fun!! This lady’s house needs a lot of work, but we are just doing what we can. I miss you. Tell everyone I said Hi! Love you!”

So. Yeah, my kids are working their tales off this week as construction workers for the disadvantaged and they are having fun! Who knew?! Most importantly, they are being changed from the inside out and probably don’t even realize it.

We live in a culture where kids are often encouraged to do nothing and avoid things that are hard. We often don’t find selfless serving kids headlining in the news. But not only can our kids do hard things, they should. Here’s why.

6 amazing things kids learn through hard work and service:

  1. It’s harder for them to think about themselves when they’re busy thinking about others.
  2. It’s easier to be thankful for things they normally take for granted. Hello, a floor.
  3. It’s something our kids can feel really good about. Can you hear the pride in my daughter’s text?
  4. It’s something that is contagious they want to keep doing. See above.
  5. It’s always more fun than they think it will be. I have the texts to prove it.
  6. It’s become clear that working hard and serving others matters. I’ll let you know if this carries over at home.

I only got one text from my son all week. It read, “Mom, I love you. The week has been amazing! We just washed each other’s feet and now we’re at Dairy Queen. Serving rocks!”

8 Ways We Make Parenting Harder (Than It Already Is)

There’s no doubt about it: parenting is hard.

The kind of hard that makes you want to pull the covers over your head and cry yourself to sleep an hour after you’ve fist bumped your husband and proudly declared: we rock at this parenting thing.

Yeah, that might have happened this past weekend.

And to make matters worse, we learned in the news that crayons and ibuprofen (two of our greatest parenting resources) are probably going to kill us in the end.

Awesome.

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I’m obviously no expert. But I’ve been parenting long enough to have some hindsight, retrospective thinking, afterthought and other words that are appropriate after you recognize you’ve messed up.

I’m convinced we don’t set out to make parenting harder on ourselves, but I’ve found that when I overstep or overcompensate (even out of love and concern), I often rob my kids of an important life lesson.

Here are 8 ways we make parenting harder than it already is:

1. When we try to fix all their problems

I hate seeing my kids upset. But life can be upsetting. We need to experience sadness to know true joy. We need to walk through disappointment to recognize success. My kids have experienced some disappointments in friendships and I’ve tried to step in and help (also known as making matters worse). But when I stepped back and let them work it out on their own, we’ve all been amazed at what God has done to restore relationships and deepen friendships.

2.When we don’t admit we are wrong

I’m really good at this one. I expect my kids to apologize, but find I have a hard time doing so. The other night I was standing in my kitchen in a heated moment with one of my kids and I knew I was as wrong as they were. Nothing diffuses a situation more than saying “I’m sorry.” And sometimes we need to be the first to say it.  As soon as the words came out of my mouth, the tension lifted and we were able to talk through the issue.

3. When we make small things a big deal

I’ve lost my mind over messy rooms and toy-covered floors. And I regret it. That’s not to say teaching our kids to clean up after themselves isn’t important and necessary–it is. But when we make it a constant battlefield, we do more harm than good. Let the little things stay little, so we can focus on what really matters: growing a deep love in their heart for God and others.

4. When we constantly criticize them

I have watched my children’s faces crumble at my harsh words concerning their clothes or room or whatever. I would give anything to take them back. We often lose all the ground we gain with our tone and words. Our words can speak life or death. I’m learning it’s better to say nothing than something hurtful.

5. When we don’t let them fail

My first instinct is to protect my kids from failure.  But I’m proof that God teaches us in our failure as much as he does our success. Sometimes letting them bomb that school assignment or miss out on allowance because they didn’t do what you ask them is really a gift we give them.

6. When we give them what they want when they want it

I’ve learned this one the hard way. Kids are naturally selfish and usually will take all we give them. When we meet every demand, we feed the instant gratification beast that cannot be satisfied. It’s okay for kids to wait. It’s okay for them to work for what they want. It’s important that we let them.

7. When we compare our kids to others

Recently, I’ve been guilty of this one and I’ve hurt them by making comparisons. Every family is messy–even the ones we admire, especially those. We all have problems and challenges. And I wouldn’t trade my kids for anyone else’s, but when we compare, that’s exactly the message we’re sending our children.

8. When we refuse to listen to them

I’m convinced that we talk too much. When I quietly wait (and don’t push, prod or pepper with questions), my kids talk (especially my older ones). Life isn’t a monolog where we monopolize the conversation, pass the mike. I’m always amazed and impressed with my children’s opinions and insight and confessions when I hush. I ask God to make me a better listener all the time. Because I think it will also make me a better parent.

Yeah, parenting is hard. But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

P.S. When I shared the news about the crayons and ibuprofen with my husband, he said, “We will survive! Kids are resilient. When we were young, we used to break open glass thermometers so we could play with the ball of mercury. We turned out just fine!”

The Christian Parent Manifesto

We walked into church and my daughter grabbed my arm and whispered, “Why is it so crowded?” I looked around and she was right, every seat was filled.

“This is what happens when Christians think the world is ending,” I whispered back.

“Mom!” she said as we found our seat.

I wasn’t sure she even understand my sarcasm. It was the week of the Supreme Court decision when I wrote about love instead of fear. On the way home from church, I told my kids about the packed-out churched the Sunday after the 9/11 attack and explained that people often look to the church when they are unsure of where our world is headed or if they are afraid.

We talk a lot about cultural norms and shifts in our home because I want to teach my kids God’s standard of right and wrong, especially when issues become hot topics in our society. Because I know for a fact that their peers will be talking about what they are reading online and I’ve always wanted my kids to compare what they hear with what they’ve been taught in God’s Word, so they will know His standard in contrast to the world’s.

“Should we be afraid?” one of my kids piped up from the backseat.

We are living in uncertain times and what used to be unthinkable is now daily headlines. When I read about nearly 100 children being executed in the Middle East by ISIS lunatics because they refused to fast, I couldn’t help but want to protect my children from the evil in this world.

I understand that teaching absolute truth that sometimes contradicts cultural norms could be making life a little more challenging for them. And if the evil that is targeting Christians in the Middle East ever found its way here . . .honestly, the thought terrifies me.

But perfect love casts out fear, so we are just going to love people and hold onto Jesus.

I woke up in the middle of the night burdened for our world and these challenging times when truth becomes a battleground; hate is louder than love and children have become targets of an evil enemy. I am not a doomsday crier, but it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that our world has become more violent, darker and more uncertain in the past few years.  I wrote this manifesto as a reminder of what I want to teach my children about following Jesus in uncertain times:

The Christian Parent Manifesto

This world is not our final home.

Because of this, we won’t always fit in, and actually, we should strive not to conform to the world.

The Bible is our standard for holiness and guides our everyday living.

Truth may shift in our culture, but we look to God’s Word as our standard.

There will be people who choose to live differently than we do. This doesn’t affect, change or alter how we treat them.

We love people no matter what.

There are scary things in this world, but we can hold fast to the peace of God.

His peace comforts us when we don’t understand things around us.

God is in control and He sees all and knows all.

One day, He will return for us.

This is our blessed hope.

Until that day, we will stand for what we believe is right.

We will serve others who cannot serve themselves.

We will speak up for those who have been muffled by oppression and poverty.

We will give more than we take.

We will love others because He first loved us.

We will follow Jesus wherever He leads.

(Download a copy for your family here) (or print one here)

I don’t always know how to navigate this changing culture as a Christian parent.

But this is a good guide:

“Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.” Deut. 6:5-7

Parenting Doesn’t Get Easier. It Gets Different.

“Please tell me it gets easier,” she asked in the foyer at church while wrestling the baby in her arms and the toddler wrapped around her knees.

I smiled. And I remembered the long days and early bedtimes, the wrangling and chasing, the time outs and tantrums.

I’ve exchanged the physical exhaustion of motherhood with the emotional. I cry and pray and worry more over my kids now than I did when they would fit in my arms. A crib and gates and latches kept them close and safe. Now, the world is their playground and I can’t keep them from getting hurt. Bandaids and momma kisses don’t mend teenage angst or insecurities as easily.

When I looked into her weary face, longing to hear some encouragement, I knew some things were meant to be learned on our own.

“It gets different,” I replied.

I thought of how their independence has allowed me some freedom to pursue my dreams, not to mention the sheer joy that comes with watching them experience the seasons of growing up and fall in love with what they are good at. I thought about their humor and sarcasm and how I thank God for the laughter every day. Oh, and glorious sleeping-in Saturday mornings cannot be underestimated.

“Every phase is hard and good,” I continued.

parenting doesn't get easier. it gets different

She adjusted her baby on her hip and sighed deep, “I just want to do something. . .” She didn’t finish her thought, but I recognized the longing for something bigger, something important.

“You are,” I responded gently.

Because the daily work matters. The foundation we lay when our children are young gives them a place to come back to.

I thought about my current season of parenting. I’ve watched my teens experience anxiety and some small bumps in the road in their self confidence this year. It’s been little things in the scale of life, but nothing is small when you’re a teenager. And it’s been painful to watch at times and I’ve felt helpless.

And I’ve wept over their heartache. But mostly, I’ve pointed them to Jesus. Because He can mend what I cannot.

Last week I curled up next to my teen in bed and we talked and argued a bit and worked through something hard she was facing. I listened and I ached. I couldn’t change the situation and I couldn’t stop either of our tears. As I tried to encourage her, my words sounded like spiritual platitudes in my ears. I finally said, “Honey, I know it may sound simple and too spiritual, but all I can do is point you to Jesus. He is all I have. He is the only One who can carry your burden. He is the only One who can heal this place in your heart.”

I left her room feeling like I had failed. Because as our kids grow, there are some things we cannot fix.

Parenting Doesn't Get Easier. It Gets Different

When I returned later to drop something off in her room, she was curled up next to her Bible listening to worship music. And even though she’s taller than I am and mostly a woman, all I could see was that chubby-cheeked, dimpled-hand toddler running into her Father’s arms so He could make it feel better.

So, yeah, moms, the exhausting physical wrangling and emotional wrestling and mundane work you do every day matters so much more than it seems. Every season has it’s ups and downs and challenging days. But our faithful love and discipline is building a solid foundation and a soft place to land.

Mostly, it’s pointing them to strong arms to run to.

And that makes different good.

10 Things We Need To Teach Our Kids About Social Media

If I could give parents one bit of advice concerning their kids and social media, it would be this:

Hold off as long as you can.

Because once that switch is flipped, it’s harder to turn off.

In our culture, kids are interacting online earlier and earlier. And passive parenting in this area can lead to problems in others.

We’ve asked our kids to wait until high school to become active in social media and here’s what we’ve learned so far:

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1. Nothing is ever really private | Statuses and pictures can be shared and altered

2. Or permanently deleted | Everything is traceable. I read something really disturbing on Facebook the other day from an old friend and when I went back to show my husband because I was alarmed, it had been deleted. But it definitely wasn’t forgotten.

3. Some things are better said face to face (like apologies or confrontations) | Social media makes it easier for us to be cowardly. We need to teach our kids the value of looking someone in the eye and making things right. Sure, it’s harder, but they won’t forget it.

4. Remember there are real people with feelings behind every avatar | Lately, I’ve been on the receiving end of some harsh words. And sometimes I just want to remind the offenders that I’m a real person. I think it’s good to teach our kids that our (online) words can hurt.

5. It’s okay to disagree with someone’s opinion, but kindness always win | “If you’re not kind on the Internet, than you are not kind.” -Glennon Melton. It’s as simple as that.

6. Don’t let negative comments to your pictures, statuses or no likes at all change how you feel about yourself | This one is especially important to teach our girls. There’s this whole secret online code between mean girls and we have to remind our daughters who they are doesn’t change because of how people see them.

7. It’s easier to attain a bad online reputation than a good one-so watch what you say | We’ve all probably done something online that we regretted. Our words follow us.

8. Avoid drama | We all read and see things we don’t agree with and I want my kids to use self control and click away.

9. Don’t ever mention your location | Predators don’t lure kids at the school bus nearly as much as they do online. Our children need to know the dangers of over sharing.

10. Take a day of rest from social media | Recently, I asked my teen to take a break from social media. She wasn’t doing anything wrong or in trouble. I just noticed she was isolating herself and it would be healthy for her to take a couple of days off. Later, she thanked me.

My life has been changed by a social media love story and I’m so thankful for the online world. Let’s commit to protecting our kids by teaching them how to handle this powerful tool.

Fathers Are Not Idiots

My daughter pushed the grocery cart as I checked items off my list.

Light bulbs.

Super glue.

Father’s Day cards were next.

We stopped at the card aisle and I told my kids to pick out one for their dad, while I looked for one for my father.

I’m not a greeting card snob and I don’t spend hours hunting for the perfect one. But after 15 minutes and reading dozens, I had a really hard time choosing one card for my dad and my kids for their father, that didn’t send this message loud and clear: Dads are idiots.

Half the cards were about farts and beer and the other half were lewd or too generic and not worth the $3.99.

Is this what our culture really thinks of fatherhood? Is this really how we celebrate the men we call father on the one day of year we choose to honor them? Thanks, Dad for being the bumbling guy who is trying not to screw up his kids. Today, we mock you.

We’ve all seen the “idiot dad” characters and sitcoms where dad burns down the house cooking something hazardous in the microwave or loses the baby because he isn’t capable of you know, watching his own children.

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I don’t know who these men are.

One certainly didn’t raise me. I was raised by a selfless, generous man who taught me to love the world more than I love myself.

And just last week, when we had to keep our youngest home from church day camp because she had a low grade temperature, I went to her room to console her little broken heart (she really loved the camp) only to find her father beat me to it.

As I stood at the door and listened to my husband do it a hundred times better than I could, I was moved with his compassion for her. His too-big-body was curled up next to her on the pink twin bed and as she cried and whined about the unfairness of her fever, he was patient and tender and understanding. And then he prayed for her to get better quickly so she could return to camp.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of the gift he was giving his little girl: his time, attention and care. And more than that, he was showing her the picture of a Heavenly Father who listens and comforts and is there for us when we need Him.

I finally found an appropriate card for my dad that wasn’t offensive and my kids made their own for their Dad.

Because even if our culture doesn’t see it, we know the dads in our lives are anything but idiots.

Let’s do our best in honoring fathers this weekend.

Camp Mom

Summer 5

1. My 5 Rules of Summer for My Kids:

  •  Read to earn screen time
  •  If you can’t get along with your siblings, you can’t have friends over
  •  You get the Wifi/Netflix password when you do what I’ve asked you to do
  •  Get outside everyday
  •  Serve someone other than yourself at least one day a week

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2. The 5 Things We Always Have on Hand to Stir Up the Imagination:

  • Balloons
  • Copy paper
  • Blankets and sheets to build the perfect reading hideout
  • Water
  • Puzzles (our dining room table has a 2000 piece challenge right now)

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3. 5 Easy Snacks to Keep on Hand:

  • Trail Mix
  • Popcorn
  • Fresh fruit
  • Nuts
  • Boiled eggs

4. 5 Summer Recipes (That don’t include turning on the oven):

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5. My 5 Rules of Summer for Mom:

  • Stay home at least one day a week with no agenda
  • Accept help (from kids, husband, friends)
  • Do something I enjoy once a week
  • Teach my kids something new (like driving, Lord, help me)
  • Remember occasional boredom is good for my kids

What Kids Are Really Doing Online (& Why We Can’t Ignore It)

When this email hit my inbox, it made me sick to my stomach:

My second grader spent the night at a friend’s house last week. The girls were innocently playing games on the computer and one things led to another and they typed in the word “boobs” on the Internet to see what would come up. My daughter and her friend were exposed to very graphic porn. She can’t stop crying and she can’t sleep. We are devastated.”

The blog reader who sent me this email asked me to tell parents to do whatever necessary to protect their children from the loss of innocence her daughter is now experiencing.

I hate pornography. I hate how it degrades women and men. I hate how it destroys innocence. I hate how it distorts our culture’s view of sex. I hate how the pornography industry tries to convince our culture that porn is okay.

And I really hate how easy it is to access.

I sent a compassionate response to the mom without judgement because it could happen to any of us. Without safe guards in place, it could happen in any of our houses, to any of our kids.

It takes active, involved, persistent work on our part to protect our kids from this kind of exposure. I asked a group of moms out of curiosity at the playground the last week of school how they handled monitoring and restricting their tweens and teens Internet usage. I’m always trying to reevaluate how we handle it. They looked at me like I was an alien.

What Kids Are Really Doing Online (& Why We Can't Ignore It)

“Aren’t you worried about them seeing things you don’t want them to see?” I asked.

One mom replied, “Oh, I trust my kids. They would never look at anything inappropriate.”

I thought of some of the hard conversations I’ve had with my teens and I knew this mom might be as shocked as I was at this viral article last week that describes in (warning) graphic detail exactly what  kids are seeing and learning on the Internet. “Kids are learning from the 21st century’s version of sex education class, the internet; a more enlightening and forthcoming source than nervous parents and teachers. But these lessons are a dangerous mix of misinformation and distorted images of sexuality…” source

The best way to guarantee our kids are exposed to inappropriate content is to do absolutely nothing to stop it.

1. Don’t restrict or monitor computer, tablet or smartphone time.

2. Don’t filter your internet or ask family and friends home your kids frequent if they do.

3. Don’t talk to them about the dangers online.

4. Don’t talk to them about lust, temptations and the lure of pornography.

Sadly, I believe at some point in time, many kids–not matter what we do– will be exposed to porn and content we’d rather them not see or read. In our Internet-ready culture, I think it’s probably impossible to completely remove it from their world. Research shows that 92% of boys will be exposed to online pornography by age 16. Unless they live in a bubble, they could see it on a friend’s phone at school, church or homeschool group (believe me, it’s happened). They could stumble upon it innocently researching a project or turn to Google out of curiosity.

But if we have already had important conversations about it, they will be prepared and know what to do.

When it comes to Internet safety, don’t be passive. Besides filtering the Internet, talk to your kids and establish some guidelines.

Younger kids:

  • Tell them there are dangerous things on the Internet that aren’t appropriate for them to see.
  • Advise your children not to click off games or movies to other links.
  • Keep the computer or screen in an open place (not in their rooms).
  • Teach them Google isn’t a Dictionary.
  • Disable search engines or install safety browsers like Safe Eyes. Restrict Google images.
  • Teach your kids about healthy/unhealthy relationships between men and women (modeling it is a great way to teach it)
  • Tell them if they ever see anything that seems wrong or that they don’t understand, to get you immediately.

Tweens and Teens:

  • Talk openly about the dangers of pornography online. It’s as important as having a sex talk with our kids.
  • Keep an on-going open conversation about lust and sex and the lure of porn.
  • Teach them God’s standard of sex and His design for it.
  • Don’t be afraid to put restrictions on their devices, including smartphones.
  • Extend grace. Our kids are sinful just like we are. They are going to mess up and give into temptation. If we freak out, they will be hesitant to confide in us. Remind them we are on their side and while we want them to live purely, we also know they are human.
  • Privacy is a privilege in our house. We reserve the right to check your phone, computer, etc if we feel like there’s a reason to
  • Remind them that everything they put on the Internet or send in a text is never really private.
  • Don’t expect your tween/teen to bring this subject up or share a lot of their feelings on it.

It’s hard for everyone to talk about these things, but that’s exactly why we need to.

 

Helpful Resources:

Preparing Your Son For Every Man’s Battle: Honest Conversations About Sexual Integrity by Steve Arterburn

Preparing Your Daughter For Every Woman’s Battle: Creative Conversations about Sexual and Emotional Integrity by Shannon Ethridge

Passport to Purity-a life-changing getaway with your preteen.

(Click for a more extensive list of recommended resources dealing with pornography)