Dear Children: Let Me Explain This Thing Called Summer

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

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 towards boredom.

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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?

 

edited repost

When I Tell You No It Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Care. It Means the Opposite

The text vibrated against the table in the Mercy House warehouse.

I was overseeing a roomful of volunteers and excused myself to make sure it wasn’t an emergency.

“Mom, it’s an emergency! Can you please bring my notebook to school right now? Plz?? I need it by 4th period for a presentation. Let me know asap,” read the text from my child.

I sighed.When I Tell You No

I had reminded my notebook-forgetting child three times to get it off the stairs where it lay all weekend. And earlier in the week, when I’d dropped off the forgotten book in a rainstorm, I had said, “This is the last time I’m doing this.” Forgetfulness had become a recurring issue and it was time to put a stop to it.

Before I could respond, there was another text, “Mom? Are you there?”

I knew this wasn’t going to go over well. Sometimes doing the right thing as a parent is the hardest thing.

I took a deep breath and typed these words, “I’m sorry you forgot your notebook. Unfortunately, I cannot bring it to you.”

Send.

“Why? What r you doing?” was the response.

“I’m working at the warehouse and I have volunteers here. Plus, I already told you I would not bring anything else to school. I’m sorry, but the answer is no.”

I went back to work and all but ignored the vibrating phone. When I glanced again, I winced at these words, “You don’t understand, Mom. You just don’t care.”

The hard words found their mark and for a split second I nearly caved. Our kids know exactly what to say, don’t they? And I did feel bad. I felt horrible that my kid was about to learn a big lesson in responsibility and consequences.

It was hard not to imagine my child standing up in front of the class to do a presentation without notes.  I really did feel bad.

I texted, “When I tell you no– it doesn’t mean I don’t care. It means the opposite.”

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And while my kids might not be old or mature enough to believe or get this principal yet, it’s the truth.

Sometimes saying no is about not allowing them to go somewhere or be with someone or do something. Sometimes I get to say yes and that’s my favorite, but many times, no is the best answer.

Recently, I observed a woman in the store who could not tell her preschooler no. I mean she said it, but she just didn’t enforce it. And after watching him do the opposite of everything she said she continually changed the rules required of him, he started hitting her and calling her names. She laughed it off and I felt really sorry for both of them. Because what might seem like a harmless phase or stage now, can quickly become the norm. And if we don’t learn to tell our children no when that’s the best answer, one day they might just wonder if we really care at all. Kids aren’t meant to lead parents, it’s the other way around.

We say no because we want them to respect us. And themselves.

We say no because we want to respect ourselves.

We say no because real life won’t always tell them yes.

We say no because we want to protect them from things they don’t understand.

We say no now so we can say yes later.

We say no because we love them.

At dinner a couple of years ago, a friend of my daughter’s was eating with us. My kids were teasing about how strict we were and listing off the rules we enforced, when this child looked up from their plate and said, “I wish my parents had rules. It would make me feel like they loved me.”

It’s easy for our kids to whine and complain and even hate that we tell them no, until we don’t at all.

Raising a Generation of Children Brave Enough to Ask “Where Was This Made?”

“Fast fashion often means slave or sweatshop labor.”

As soon as she said the words, I had a sick feeling.

I’ve watched the documentaries about children the age of my second grader chained to a chair with a quota to fill. Weeks after, I couldn’t stop seeing a little girl in bondage every time I saw mine in freedom.

I stood at the doorway of the guest house we were staying at in Ethiopia last month talking to a missionary friend who lives there. The beautiful Ethiopian women they serve created lovely jewelry for our June Fair Trade Friday boxes going out at the end of next week.

We were talking about empowering women through product creation and long term sustainability. The conversation turned to companies producing fast fashion that’s cheap for us to buy, but cost the women making it long, back-breaking hours of work for pitiful wages.

“Yes, and now there’s a popular clothing factory in Addis Abba. They are employing women for nearly nothing. And women are standing in line to take the jobs because they are desperate,” the missionary told me.

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We had spent the day with Ethiopian women bent over a sewing machine, mothers desperate enough to sit at a sewing machine all day and all night to provide for their children if that’s all they could find. But these women were filled with hope and opportunity.

We met the mother and daughter who make the thread from sheep’s wool–

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And we visited the home of the family that weaves that thread into fabric–

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And we asked these women to sew that fabric into bags for Fair Trade Friday to buy…

We have seen the room they work in, we have touched the fabric they sew. We can guarantee the good working conditions. Because we know where the product is made.

But not every impoverished woman is that lucky. As soon as my missionary friend named the store she was referring to, my teenager looked up from her book and walked over to our conversation. I could tell she was listening closely and probably thinking of our visit to an H&M store last year in The Netherlands.

We had been exploring the old city on our layover our the home from working at Mercy House in Kenya. We had just visited Anne Frank’s house and ended up in the shopping district.

My daughter asked if she could go into the big H&M on the corner and she ended up buying a cute summer dress, thrilled she had one of the latest European fashions.

After being exposed to the term slave labor on my trip to Kenya in 2010, I returned home a wreck and literally wore myself out trying to buy only fair trade items for my family. I wanted to be a conscientious shopper, but I went from one extreme to the other. I remember spending weeks searching for a pair of  fair trade black pants for my daughter to wear to her band concert. I ended up at Target with the pants I needed and with a lot of  unneeded guilt.

I finally acknowledged that I couldn’t tackle everything and so I focused on my yes to God which resulted in starting Mercy House.

But I cannot ignore the thousands of women from India to China to Bangladesh to Ethiopia who literally slave over the clothes that end up on a rack for us to buy and eventually hang in our closet. And even though we are mostly powerless to stop it, we can educate ourselves to avoid the places we know don’t hold to good working standards. But more importantly, we can also teach our kids (future shoppers) about redeeming consumerism.

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Of course, we can’t trace every item we purchase. But we can avoid places we know offer unfair wages or poor working conditions. (<—–This 2014 list is shocking and I’m glad some of these companies are changing the way they do things.) And we can support places we know offer ethical choices, like this ethical kids clothing store.

Since that day in Ethiopia, my daughters have held up sale items in a store- the kind we would normally make a beeline for and asked, “do you think a slave made this?” While it’s not exactly a normal question that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy, it’s an important one.

Because cheap and discounted don’t always mean free.

“I don’t know,” I answered because I didn’t. We walked away from the sale. We may not know the answer, but we can ask the question and teach our children to do the same.

A couple of days ago, my daughter was trying to decide what to wear on a day out when she said, “You know that sundress I have from H&M? I don’t ever want to wear it again.”

I reminded her we didn’t know where it was made and that it was okay. I know we were both thinking about that moment in Ethiopia.

“I do now,” she replied.

3 Ways to Redeem Consumerism:

1. Start somewhere. Ask questions. Research brands and stores. Avoid known fast fashion places.

2. Start small. Decide what area you want to be an educated shopper. Maybe it’s chocolate or coffee since these are well-known products that don’t always pay or treat people fairly. Perhaps it’s in gift-giving…

3. Start today. Buy fair trade-it’s a guaranteed way to trace your purchase. We are going to buy stuff. But when we choose to buy fair trade, we are giving a gift twice and empowering a woman in poverty. (That’s another reason I love Fair Trade Friday. Every item comes with an origin and story card.)

When we buy fair trade, we are making a statement.

We are telling the world, we know where this was made.

Moms, We Might Want to Bookmark This Post For the Middle Of Summer

My 9th grader mentioned another project that was due before the end of school and we both just rolled our eyes and sighed. There might have been some nervous, hysterical laughter even.

The second grader in the house handed me a huge stack of papers in her neglected homework folder while we sped to carline. Her look of disdain was dully noted. I should probably take a look at those sometime.

My son hit snooze on his alarm 3 mornings last week. One day he got ready for school  in 9 minutes.

I’m pretty sure he left the house with only one shoe on. I tossed a granola bar at the back of his head.

Yeah.

We have 11 days of school left. Can you tell?

I don’t ever want to make lunches again. Why is sandwich-making so hard??

There’s all the opening and spreading and assembling. It’s just exhausting.

And then there’s getting my 2nd grader off the bus. I have to go outside. Why is our driveway sooo long?

Stick a fork in me.

moms we might want to bookmark this post for the middle of summer

I know we are in the homestretch and every end of the school year, I feel this way. I keep rereading Jen Hatmaker’s post and the hilarious comments and I know I’m not alone. Solidarity, right?

The first couple of weeks of summer are amazing. We turn off the alarms, the kids sleep late. We pull closed our favorite room darkening curtains to help their bodies get more rest because we think only of the children. There’s a lot of laying around and few expectations. We swim and go to the park and fire up the bbq. We make summer bucket lists. We wear flip flops every day.

But moms like structure and we get twitchy when our kids stay up all night and want to sleep all day. So, we start slowly with a requirement or two. Like maybe get out of bed or get dressed today. You know, baby steps.

We take their resistance in stride. But we secretly change the Internet and Netflix password and hand them a list of chores in exchange for the new codes. It’s parental blackmail and totally legit.  This isn’t our first summer, ya know.

We hit a high in the summer and we are just so grateful for all the freedom from routine and schedules and togetherness.

Then Summer Transition Happens.

We all remember that first whine, the first “I’m bored,” the first time our head spins around 3 times. It generally happens the first day back from vacation or summer camp or you know June 10.  It happens we’re not entertaining! and delighting! our children all the time!

Moms know about summer retention level and TV brain cell loss, so we have a little family meeting called, “Reading Time Earns Screen Time” for our younger children and a beautiful program called “Get a job,” for our older ones.  These are very popular programs with mothers. Every time a child complains we point to the weeds in the backyard and the stack of library books on the coffee table. We can smell their fear.

Moms, Save this post for summer

We love summer. We love our kids. We love the mix of both. But even things we love get routine and mundane. 

Moms perk up on our (escape) trip to Target when we catch the scent of school supplies in mid-July. Kids immediately feel nauseous. So weird.

By August first, we are eating popsicles for dinner and we are sending the kids outside and locking the backdoor behind them.

We are taking the shampoo and bar of soap to the community swimming pool and calling it bath time. And we pack the pajamas in the pool bag if we really have our act together.

The last 12 days of summer are a bittersweet countdown we love and hate at the same time.

A lot like these last two weeks of school.

So we try to do the impossible, moms: We try to enjoy every moment-those last days of the school year and the fleeting days of summer. And all the ones in-between that make us crazy.

Because we know they all end.

And begin again.

A Letter to My Teenaged Son

The week before you were born I had my first pedicure. It was a Mother’s Day gift from your Dad.

I didn’t have to see my feet to know they were terribly swollen.

I begged my doctor to induce me early–not because I was miserable, although yes. But mostly because I wanted to meet you.

You are my only son.

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And in that one heavy statement- you have already met and exceeded every joy I thought might come with being a boy Mom.

Except for the dirt. There’s been a lot of that.

The years have been short and you become a teenager this week and with that comes a little more freedom, a lot more responsibility and big lump in your momma’s throat.  Thirteen years old. I can’t keep the pantry stocked or your pants long enough. I can’t keep the girls from taking a second look at your lean body and adorable grin and I can’t keep you from flying away.

When I asked you to kiss me on the cheek for a Mother’s Day picture, you blushed and laughed and said, “I don’t really know how to kiss.” I think I will hold onto that moment forever (and try not to bring it up when you show up with a girlfriend on the doorstep in a few years).

A Letter to My Teenaged Son

You are changing daily. You keep more to yourself. You are quiet where you used to be loud. Your wit is razor sharp. You are growing into a man in front of me and there are some (more) things I need to tell you.

Son, there’s a part of me that would keep you young and innocent forever. But that would be selfish. Healthy things grow and you’ve got the growing up part down. The world is a difficult place to navigate, but now that you are a teenager, I have to start letting you try.

I want you to always:

Choose people over technology.

Understand that 6 out of 10 of your classmates will look up porn on the Internet to learn about sex. Don’t be a statistic. As hard as it may be, ask us.

Know there will be times you don’t like me very much. But I’m your mom and you have to get over it.

Remember when a pretty girl whispers she loves you one day that your momma loves you more.

Say you’re sorry when you need to.

Be quick to forgive and slow to anger.

Choose kindness before popularity.

Understand that girls you may be tempted to look at are somebody’s daughter or sister.

Remember social media is a powerful weapon or resource. Your choice. Use it wisely.

Know that ownership is not a right; it’s a privilege. This means your future phone and car and well, everything, is actually mine and your dad’s and we are letting you borrow it.

Have an escape plan for when you feel tempted. Joseph ran from Potipher’s wife and that’s always a good place to start.

Serve other people before you serve yourself.

Be cautious when sending a text message, a picture or replying to one that you wouldn’t want me or your Dad to receive.

Remember you can always tell your Dad and I anything. Everything. Always.

Wait for sex. Some days it will be hard. Other days harder. But wait for it. God has an order and when we stick to His plan, there is a lot of peace and fulfillment. When we get things out of order we end up carry a lot of extra baggage.

Know that God is with you every moment–in joy, in sorrow, in love and life and death.

Extend grace and forgiveness. Especially to yourself.

I love you,

Mom

The Truth About True Beauty That We Must Teach Our Daughters

She tried on every dress in her closet.

And then she moved to mine.

Nothing looks good on me, she said near tears.

The Truth About Beauty That We Must Teach Our Daughters

I wondered how we could both be looking at the same reflection and see something so different. I saw a beautiful teenager getting ready for the luncheon I was speaking at, but she saw much less.

She’s growing into her own skin, discovering what she likes about herself and learning to accept things she can’t change.

It’s hard to be fifteen.

“Honey, that dress looks great. You look beautiful.” It didn’t matter how I said the words, if she didn’t believe them.

I kept checking my watch. I didn’t want to be late, but I really wanted her to go with me like we planned. It wasn’t just clothes, it was imperfect hair and make up and just a bad day.  The harder she tried, the harder she was on herself and the clock was unforgiving.

“Mom, I really want to go with you. But I don’t feel good about myself today and I don’t want to make you feel bad about yourself.” Sometimes the hardest part of motherhood is knowing what to say when your kids hurt. Especially when there just aren’t words to take away their pain.

I tried to comfort her, but eventually, I had to leave. Puling out of my driveway with her standing there, a single tear trailing down her cheek was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Her choice made both of us sad, but I understood it. I still have days when I don’t like me.

I pulled over at the next street and texted my husband, “Be gentle with her.”

But he didn’t see my message because when he heard her bedroom door shut, he was there, lightly tapping on it.

He waited. She didn’t answer.

So he quietly opened the door without saying a word. She was sitting with her back against her wall, torn by her decision. My husband sat down next to our firstborn and put his arms around her.

She put her head on his shoulder and cried.

He held her and never said a word.

He didn’t have to say anything because he already said everything.

By the time I got home, she was in comfy sweats with her hair pulled back and they were baking a cake together. Tears were replaced with teasing and I could tell she was feeling better about the day.

They say beauty is only skin deep, but they probably weren’t freshmen in high school where every day is like a Pinterest fashion show. Our daughters our growing up in an image-obsessed world.

And it can be tough to feel beautiful in a filtered world.

Later, I kicked off my heels and propped up my tired feet and scrolled through Instagram. I clicked on my daughter’s account and scrolled through her images  like I do occasionally and what I saw there took my breath away.

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Pure beauty. The kind that has nothing to do with a bad hair day or clothes that don’t feel right. The kind of beauty that isn’t found in how we feel about ourselves, but instead how we love others-– (which ends up making us feel good about who we are)-that’s what I want my daughters to see in the mirror.

That kind of beauty doesn’t come with a great outfit, a perfect complexion or shiny hair. It is found deep within.

Pulling her aside I showed my teenager the picture. “Honey–this is the first time I’ve seen this photo you posted while we were in Africa at Mercy House. Look at it. You don’t have makeup on. You’re jet lagged and probably need a good shower. But I’ve never seen you look more radiant.”

Bad days are part of life and we don’t always feel good about what we see in the mirror. We have to remind our daughters that this has very little to do with true beauty. They need us to emphasize inner beauty as much as the world emphasizes outer.

She looked closely at the picture of her selfie with her African sisters. I saw her remember how loving others feels. She was reminded that these girls who live on the other side of the globe didn’t care about her outer appearance. They simply loved her for showing up and being their friend.

“You are beautiful,” I said again.

And this time, I think she believed it.

This is the Most Important Thing You Can Do For Yourself This Mother’s Day

I’m no parenting expert, but one time my child did say that I was the best mother she ever had.

So, there’s that.

I love being a mom. At the end of the day–no matter how many mismatched socks are in the laundry pile or how dirty the van is or how many kernels of corn are under the kitchen table, I am glad I said yes to motherhood.

But it’s no surprise that motherhood is hard.

Hard like crying yourself to sleep. Hard like second-guessing every decision. Hard like someone else’s bodily fluids on your person. Difficult mothering days are like a suckerpunch in the gut. And like a mood swing gone wild, the next day is beautiful and tender it takes your breath away and makes you want to do it all over again. And again.

Moms do it all.

We fish the icky things out of the dark scary disposal.

We sniff diapers.

We clean and trim other people’s finger and toenails.

We give up the other half of our bagel so our child can have a second breakfast.

We smell socks to determine if they are clean or not.

We wait for hours and hours and hours in car lines, doctors offices, at dental appointments, practices, rehearsals and recitals.

We clean up messes we don’t make.

We give up our bodies, our beds, our figures, our very lives for other people.

We sacrifice something we really want for something our kids really need.

We say yes.

And then we say yes some more.

We say yes without getting anything in return.

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Because that’s what moms do.

The most important thing you can do for yourself this Mother’s Day: remind mom (even if she’s you) that what you do is important. The unseen, unknown hard work of motherhood is changing your kids’ world.

Even if no one recognizes it. It matters.

Small service may feel small, but size doesn’t matter. What you do matters. It has long-lasting, eternal significance.

And there isn’t anyone else in the world who needs to hear this more: Mom, your small daily acts of service, your mundane–it matters so much more than you think it does.

Because when we embrace our yes–as messy and undervalued as it may seem some days it gives us the passion to keep saying yes every day.

It reminds us why we love being a mom:

We love that our teen daughter wants to borrow our clothes (Keep telling yourself it’s the highest compliment).

We love it when their feet are no longer the same size as ours though. Whew.

We love that our son who will be 13 next week, still grabs our hand when we are walking together.

We love that he mumbles sorry when he drops it quickly-just in case anyone’s looking.

We love that our baby still acts like our baby. But not to be confused with acting babyish. Some things are not meant to be loved.

We love the handmade cards and the small collection of homemade pottery.

We love the noisy car filled with arguing, fighting kids (everywhere we go). Ok. we don’t really love this.

We love the hope that one day our kids will sleep in on Saturdays (This is also when you know that you have ARRIVED).

We love that our children don’t hold grudges and are easy forgivers.

We love that no matter how hard of a day it’s been–no matter how much we yell or mess up, our kids still want us.

On this messy parenting road, we can always find something good to be thankful for. No matter what. Always.

Because deep down, we know one day there won’t be anyone asking to borrow our clothes, reaching for our hand, making us handmade cards, filling our car, our home, our lives with noise, leaving a trail of mess and mayhem in their wake.

We love that even though we don’t love every minute, every phase, every hard mothering day that leaves us weary and wondering if we are doing it right–we love that God chose us to mother our kids.

And that makes even the hard moments, so good.

 

 

[Click to download the above 5×7 Mother’s Day Printable]

edited repost from the archives

Because Sometimes Being the Meanest Mom Might Also Make You Mother of the Year

You’ve probably seen it by now.

The viral video of the Baltimore mother in bright yellow beating the hell out of her rioting teenaged son in the middle of the street.

She’s being called “mother of the year” by some and abusive by others.

And whether you’re cheering her on after watching the video or wanting to call child protective services, I’d bet a dollar her son has called her the “meanest mom in the world” before their very public moment.

Listen. I’ve been called it for much less.

because sometimed being the meanest mom might also make you mother of the year

If you’ve ever told your child no to protect or provide for them, followed through on a consequence with your teenager, or refused to give into their demands, you probably have the battle scars that come with the Meanest Mom title, too. If they are too young to say it, just wait.

I love my kids and my kids love me. But they have tried to manipulate situations, move my resistance, maneuver their way around the truth and mistake my compassion for weakness.

Motherhood is not for wimps.

When my kids think I’m at my meanest, they are really seeing my fierce love for them. They just don’t recognize it for that. 

When I was 16 years old, I misjudged the time and realized I was going to miss my curfew. This was long before cell phones and so I did what any other new driver would do, I sped. Just as the policeman was pulling me over a few blocks from home, my parents showed up.

I’ll never forget their words, “We will take it from here, Officer.”

They didn’t think twice about marching my butt home and if there had been a TV camera, they probably would have waved.

I was never late again.

(I’m about to sign my daughter up for driver’s education and Hey, Mom and Dad–I totally get it.)

motherhood is not for wimps

Life teaches hard lessons. And if we let our kids learn them, they might just learn from them.  Sure, we can protect our kids from consequences, but should we? They might just miss the lesson if we rush to make everything okay. Maybe they will think twice before they make the same mistake again.

I go toe-to-toe regularly with my kids. And it’s not because I like a good fight.

It’s because of love.

These are some of the non-negotiables in our house that earn me the Mean Mom title. They are of course, sandwiched in loved, bathed in grace and taught consistently (most of the time):

1. Lose it or break it and it’s lost or broken. (We might help you with it, but if you expect it, we definitely won’t).

2. Our family goes to church. You will go, too.

3. People who live in our house, do chores.

4. We apologize when we hurt people.

5. Your email, pictures and Internet history will be looked at by your parents. (Remember we agreed to this when you received access?)

6. If you don’t take care of your stuff, you can’t borrow mine.

7. If you want something, save your money.

8. Sometimes you have to fail at something to later succeed at it. (This is why I quit reminding my kids to do their homework, check on that missing paper, turn in that extra credit, etc)

9. Eventually, you will run out of clean clothes if you don’t do your laundry.

10. If I go out of my way to help you and you’re rude, the next time you ask for my help, I will say no.

11. We will always forgive each other, no matter what. Love conquers all of the above.

Does this list make me a mean mom? Probably.

Life has a funny way of teaching the best lessons–if we let it. Sometimes the very best lessons are in the consequences.

I hope one day my kids will look beyond the words and rules, and they will understand the deep, abiding love for them that sometimes makes me seem mean.

I know I did.

And who knows, they may even see a glimpse of Mother of the Year.