The 3 Words That Can Revolutionize Motherhood

It was one of those early school mornings that started out with Cap’n Crunch cereal for breakfast. Just a regular Thursday, the same kind we have most every week. The details don’t matter, but a simple request quickly escalated into an argument between parent and child.

It was over nothing, really. But then why did it hurt so much? Small things can still temporarily turn a home into chaos.

And while I packed lunches and wiped up spilled milk and tried not to cry over it, I wondered for the 100th time in the last month if I’m doing this parenting thing right.

My husband and I are constantly learning on our kids and just when we get the hang of one phase, a new stage leaves us reeling, wondering what just happened.We try to look past our children’s behavior and see their heart. Why are they so angry right now? Why are they so defensive? What is really going on in their heart? 

Before my husband left for work, we talked about it for a minute.  ”We have amazing kids. Some days though, I wonder how we should handle things. Maybe we need help or something?” I could hear his frustration because I felt it, too.

And with each new parenting phase, I wonder Is this normal? Are we normal? Are we doing this wrong? Do other parents deal with this kind of thing? I wish I could ask someone who’s been here before.

I thought about digging into the parenting books on my shelves and googling for answers. I thought about the hard morning and whispered a prayer for help.

An hour later, my doorbell rang. It was a friend coming over to volunteer to send out packages for the Mercy Shop (in the building in our backyard). We started off just chatting and she said something about her four daughters, all but one grown and out of the house.

I sort of jokingly said that I could use a parenting mentor and then I did something I wasn’t planning on:  I poured out my heart standing right there in my kitchen.

And she let me.

I told her how inadequate I felt, how one day I was mom of the year and the next day I was mom getting kicked in the rear. I told her how I hurt for my kids and how some days we hurt each other. I told her that my children were going to change the world, but some days they rocked mine.

I cried.

And then my friend said three words that were better than anything I could read in a parenting book written by a PHD. and more relevant than a counselor’s couch or a magazine article.

“This is normal, Kristen,” I breathed in deeply.

This is Normal - 3 words that can revolutionize motherhood

“You are normal to feel this way. Your kids are growing up and this struggle is normal, too.  I’ve been through it with my kids and it will get better. Keep loving them. Keep being consistent,” she encouraged me. She told me her own crazy stories when her kids were at home and with each one, I felt more relieved. She told me how beautiful and strong her daughters were today and how they could laugh about the hard days. And with every word, I let my heart believe This is normal. We are normal. It’s going to be okay.

And maybe my normal isn’t really all that normal? What is normal anyway? But that’s not really the point.  She could have easily said I have no idea what you’re talking about or my kids never acted that way.

She could have made me feel worse by saying nothing at all.

Instead this older mom who was further down the road listened to my struggles and patted me on the arm and her simple response encouraged me not to give up. This is normal was another way of saying you’re not alone. This is normal is saying this too shall pass. 

Because it really will.

And you know what? What you are facing today –those sleepless nights, that baby that wakes up every hour, the flailing tantrums, the angry foot-stamping, the smelly socks, the lost homework, the food battles, the bad attitudes, the drama, the really awful family fight you had yesterday on the Lord’s Day (ahem) –that’s all normal, too.

Even your child who refuses to wear clothes and runs down the street naked, likely normal (and if not, doesn’t it make you feel better to think it might be just a phase? Or knowing that it will be okay and you’re not alone?)

These three words can revolutionize motherhood.

When we see another mom struggling with something we’ve already endured, conquered, survived, we can change their day by whispering these three words in their ear. I said it to a lady at Target the other day and I watched her sigh at her mismatched child lying in the middle of the school supply aisle.

Because it’s not a mother war we need to fight.

We don’t need more competition; we need collaboration.

We can encourage and empower our sisters with the gift of our words. Look for a mom behind you in this parenting journey and instead of quietly judging her misbehaving children running through the store or staring at her head-banging toddler, or saying nothing at all–smile with her and let her know it’s going to be okay.

Because this is normal.


One of the Best Things We Can Do For Our Kids in this Culture War

I send my children off to school every morning.

Right into a war zone.

And you do, too.

Wait. What? I’m not talking about how you choose to educate your kids. If they attend anything outside your home –Boy Scouts, reading time at the library or soccer at the YMCA, or if you let anything inside your home through media–they are being influenced by others and exposed to a culture war.

A culture war is a struggle between two sets of conflicting cultural values.

And if you haven’t noticed, our society  has one set of values and Christians have another. I’m not going to talk about the differences and list all the things we should or shouldn’t do. Because that’s not Christianity.

Simply put, Christianity is following Jesus.

Which isn’t really simple at all. Because it cost Jesus his life. It will cost us ours, too.

Father and Son

I’ve followed Jesus into some places that scare me. They aren’t safe or pretty and loving others who are different than we are, can’t be wrapped up with a neat little bow. Sometimes following Jesus is dirty, hard work.

By living in this world, my kids are exposed to sin.  And no one on either side of the battle line likes to think about sending kid soldiers into war. But as we teach right and wrong, instill values, develop a moral compass, we are doing just that.

Because following Jesus doesn’t make sense to our culture. (Jesus said it wouldn’t, so don’t panic).

The first ten years of my marriage, I was married to a youth pastor. We spent all of our time, work hours and after hours, loving kids. Even back then, it was a crazy time to be a teenager in our culture. Kids were experimenting with all kinds of things and most of the parents were clueless. They were exercising a little bit of freedom, trying on different experiences and learning from their mistakes.

And some parents forced their kids to come and made church a battleground while others grounded their kids from coming to youth events as a form of punishment. Some kids stayed in church, others left, but the kids that ended up choosing to live their lives for Jesus were the ones who got to know Him.

I believe one of the absolute best things we can do for our children is help them build community with believers their age. My kids are now the age of some of the youth we led. And I watch my kids fight the battle at school, struggle when they don’t fit it and test the waters we’ve warned them about. And I recognize their deep need for a safe place to commune with kids and figure out how to live this Christian life.

These days, it’s sort of a fad for kids not to attend church with the family. We value sports practices, part time jobs, just about any and everything more than we do church. It’s a dangerous trend.

Recently, I signed my daughter up for an Encounter Weekend with her youth group and when I told her she freaked out. Nothing sounded fun about staying at a stranger’s home (from our church) with a group of junior high girls she didn’t know.

I told her I wanted her to go, but wouldn’t force her. It was her choice. And then I prayed my heart out that she would choose to go. And she did. And not only did she encounter other girls her age, she encountered God.

Sure, I wanted her to connect with girls her age, but even more I wanted her to experience God without me.

There’s all this crazy research on why so many kids are leaving the church once they can (6 in 10). Why? Some are leaving because it’s the first time they have the freedom to do so. Here are 6 other reasons.

But I think most leave because they don’t know Jesus.

They have heard about him their whole lives. They have the t-shirt. But it’s not that personal.

I don’t know if there’s a right way to go about it. But I do know it’s not about rules, it’s about relationship. 

One of the best things we can do for our kids is introduce them to our Savior. If we are living in relationship with him, they probably know that. Kids are smart. They can see the One who has turned our lives around.

We lose them to our culture if we fill our home with a lot of rules and legalism in an effort to produce morality. Because you can have all these things and not have Jesus.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” Romans 12:2  (MSG)

So, what can we do? 

1. Pray for our children-like on our knees. It’s a tough world for them to navigate.

2. Talk openly. Let them ask hard questions. Over lunch the other day, my kids asked why we left the denomination we were raised in. We were honest. It turned out to be a very meaningful conversation about religion and what it really means to follow Jesus.

3. Admit your mistakes and doubts. I think it’s good to let our kids know we struggle, too.

3. Refuse to let culture dictate your calendar. Most kids simply can’t fit a midweek Bible Study or youth group into their already busy lives. I wonder if that is being too busy.

4. Give them opportunities to connect. If your church doesn’t have a good youth group, help them find one.

5. Don’t give up-no matter what, no matter how far they run, no matter how wild the battle rages. Do not stop fighting for your kids.

I don’t know if my kids will continue to follow Jesus once they leave our home. I can’t make the decision for them. But I’m going to do my best to love Him and hope they’ll follow.


How To Pray for Your Strong-Willed Children

My 7 year old barged into the bathroom while I was  soaking in the tub.

My head snapped up from my book.

She walked over to the edge of the tub and stuck both hands in my warm water.

And wildly splashed.

There went my relaxation. And my privacy (thanks, broken bathroom door lock). And my temper.

“Please don’t touch the water again,” I whispered through gritted teeth.

She stared at me and let her fingers hover over the water, so close to touching, but not quite. So, obeying. But just barely.

This is a strong-willed battleground and I know it well.

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In the last 14 years, between my two strong-willed girls, there have been meltdowns and tantrums and wild words and power struggles. There have been moments of anger and tempers and tears and regret from all of us. We have hurled angry words at each other over little things that don’t matter, the color of clothes, the length of shorts, the scary stuff under beds.

We have found our way, only to falter and find it again as we navigate this life together.

Much of parenting is two steps forward, one step back.

My daughters are loyal. They are determined leaders. They stand for justice. They work hard and are fiercely protective of those they love. They can’t be bullied or manipulated. They are rule followers, but also risk-takers.  They are respected by their peers. They know what they want and nothing can deter them. They are passionate lovers and fighters. And they never stop talking.

They walk into a room and light it up.

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Their iron clad wills have rocked my world. And even in the hardest moments when I fail them or they fail me, I wouldn’t change who they are for a minute.

Because their fierceness will change the world.

And so I pray this over them, under them, before them and after them:

God,

You gave me strong girls.  They are a gift. You and I both know, this is a hard calling.

Please help me not to crush their determined spirits with all my rules and regulations.

You created them to color outside the lines, give me the courage to let them.

Channel their determination into purpose. Turn their stubbornness into pliable willingness to say yes to you.  Teach them to yield their steadfast spirit and help me to let go of what doesn’t matter.

I need help mothering:  Show me how to look past the attitude and see a pure heart. Lead me to look for the good and appreciate the crazy. Instead of controlling them, teach me to empower them. And instead of drawing a line in the sand and demanding my way, remind me that these girls are a whole lot like me.

Oh, and see what you did there.

Most of all, teach all of us how to follow you.

Amen.

 

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The Most Important Thing We Can Teach Our Kids in an Over-Sexualized World

It was the middle of the night. Or day. Or whatever that fog of time is called when your jet-lagged family is in-between flights at an airport in Paris, on the other side of the world.

We had an extra hour and we were on a mission to find Chapstick for our windburned lips. We stumbled into one of those airport stores that has everything from duty free cigarettes to luggage and split up to start our search. My husband walked one way, but I thought I spotted the familiar red and white tubes and headed the other with my little one following behind me. The label was in French and I wasn’t sure if I’d found what I was looking for and turned to look for an English speaking attendant.

That’s when I saw my two older kids. My teen daughter had a shocked look on her face and was just turning to look for me. I heard her say her brother’s name sharply after she noticed what he was staring at and his head snapped up just as I walked towards them. He looked at me. “Mom?” he said confused. I looked at the row of magazines in front of him and realized my son was standing in front of a half dozen magazine covers in the center of the store. Pornography.

It was Europe after all.

The most important thing we can teach our kids in an oversexualed world

“I didn’t mean to look,” he said. “I just…’

“It’s okay, son. Looking once is unavoidable. It’s what we do after that first look that matters.”

Everything is filtered in our home: we have protected Internet, our Netflix account has a parental password, we opted in addition security on Google images, and Net Nanny on our phones.

We aren’t paranoid, we are proactive. Plus we are highly sensitive to this topic since it nearly destroyed our marriage nearly ten years ago.

We are also prepared.  We talk about the dangers online. We have a stack of books we’re working our way through from living in purity to fighting lust. We are open about what our kids are exposed to from peers.

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Protecting our children from our sexually-charged culture is something we work hard at. And in one unavoidable moment, it happened. My sixth grade son saw pornography right in front of me.

And that’s when I realized something gravely important: It’s impossible to filter the entire world. I can’t do it forever. It’s not realistic or even my job. Instead I have to equip my kids.

You can’t turn on the TV during a half-time football game and escape breasts and tiny shorts or checkout at a grocery store and miss Miley Cyrus hanging nude from a wrecking ball. My kids don’t have smart phones to receive sext messages or view explicit images online, but friends at church and school do. And really, we’re all just one click away from something we can’t un-see.

The most important thing we can teach our kids is self control. Because let’s face it: no matter how well we parent, our kids are going to be tempted. It goes with being human. Self-control is the ability to control our emotions, abilities and desires. It’s the power to stop spending money we don’t have, to tell our kids no when entitlement rears it’s ugly head. It’s exactly what we need to teach our kids to stop eyes from looking the second time.

Without self-control, we are absolutely defenseless against sin. ”A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28. When the word self-control is used in the Bible it describes a person who is willing to get a grip on their lives and take control.

Self-control is the key to living in our sex-crazed world without giving into it’s lustful appeal. And as hard as it is to accept, our kiddos are sexual creatures and at some point in their lives, it will appeal to them. That’s why we can’t wait. Here are three things we can do to help our kids (and ourselves) exercise self-control in their lives:

  1. Model it. Our kids are watching us and we are their example. And when you blow it, apologize and try again.
  2. Ask God for it. Self-control is a gift from God. The more we get work on our relationship with Him, the more empowered He makes us.
  3. Teach it. It’s easy to feel unprepared. Don’t be afraid to rely on solid resources like Passport2PurityPreparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle; Preparing Your Daughter for Every Woman’s BattleSex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World

My husband pulled my son close as we paid for the Chapstick and walked towards our gate. “Whenever you see something like that, look away immediately. Bounce your eyes and try really hard not to look again. You might be tempted to look again, but ask God to help you have self control not to.”

I’ll never forget that day in the airport on that cold day in December. But instead of remembering it as a day of failure, I see it as a day of opportunity to teach my kids the importance of self-control and second chances.

 

*Updated to add* If you’re not a regular reader here you might read this post out of context with the way we live our lives for God (and what I’ve written for years). While I’m encouraging parents to teach self control and fleeing sin to their kids, that’s only part of it. It’s mostly about pursuing Jesus and showing our kids how satisfying it is to have a relationship with him. The closer we are to God, the less we want the things of this world. That’s the foundation we base our lives on.


What Really Happens When We Give Kids Everything They Want

“I want it.

Why?

Because everyone else has it.”

(Or does it.  Or wears it.)

It’s a conversation we’ve had countless times in our house. It doesn’t matter what it’s about–the newest technology, the latest fad, the most popular shoes- it’s treacherous ground to add it to our want list so we can be like everyone else.

These five dangerous words are turning homes upside down. When we give our children everything they want (because everyone else has it), it speeds up their childhood: We have six year olds addicted to technology, carrying around their own ipods and iphones without limitations; eleven year old sons playing bloody battles of Assassin’s Creed over the Internet with strangers instead of playing ball outside; And 13 year old daughters shopping at Victoria’s Secret, wearing angel wings across their bums, looking far older than they are.

But worse than losing a generation of children, this choice breeds a nasty virus. Because maybe if we keep giving them everything they want, they might just drive a new car intoxicated and kill four people and be diagnosed with affluenza.

What Really Happens When We Give Kids Everything They Want

The psychologist testifying for the 16 year old boy who did just that, defined affluenza as this: children who have a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible, and make excuses for poor behavior because parents have not set proper boundaries.

And when you write a little post about the warning signs of entitlement and it’s shared nearly 800,000 times, perhaps we’re all a little scared of our kids catching the same bug.

“I am an RN working on a psych unit, and I see everyday the effects of entitlement. I see adults in their 20′s and 30′s who always had everything they ever wanted given to them while growing up, and now they just don’t get it. They are unemployed, either living with parents or with one friend or relative after another, or on the street. Having been given everything they ever wanted without working for it while growing up, they don’t feel that they should work for anything now. They were raised to think they could do no wrong, but instead of growing up to have high self-esteem, they have grown up unable to function. They cannot take disappointment of any kind. So we have a generation of kids that don’t want to work and can’t function as adults. Because they have no coping skills of any kind to deal with life, they become depressed and often turn to drugs and/or alcohol to feel better. Then, they end up on our unit, depressed, suicidal, and addicted,” a comment on this post.

Why are we saying yes to our children too early, too soon and pulling in the boundaries? I’m not sure, but I think it starts here:

  1. We don’t understand the future implications of giving them everything they want right now
  2. We want them to have the life we didn’t
  3. We are afraid to tell our children no because we know there will be backlash or because we think they will feel loved if we say yes.
  4. We want them to fit in with their peers because it’s hard to be different.
  5. We feel it’s often easier just to give in
  6. We struggle with a bit of affluenza ourselves

This excellent article shares the symptoms of this nasty virus:

To conquer the affluenza virus, though, one must first recognize it within himself and ask why and from where it comes. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do you frequently buy things you do not really need?

When shopping, are you unable to control how much you spend?

Do you envy the lifestyles of the rich and famous?

Do you feel bad when your neighbors have things you do not?

Do you measure yourself by what others have?

Do you ever use shopping as a means of escape?

Do you use your possessions to impress others?

Do you compare your possessions with what your peers have? If so, do you experience a feeling of superiority that yours are better?

Do you speak often about the things you want?

Do you find yourself complaining about the things you want but cannot afford?

Do you think of spending your money more often than saving it?

Do you often think your life would be more complete if you had more money and possessions?

“Jesus, speaking to the people, he went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” Luke 12:15

So what’s the cure? 

Maybe it starts with the little word no. We aren’t going to buy, get, do that just because others are. It’s okay to want things, but there’s a big difference in getting something because you love it and getting it because you want to be loved.

Maybe it starts with deciding why you do what you do. Don’t let the culture lead your family. Because it certainly will. I heard this week the most popular word among teens in 2013 was twerking. Do we really want society guiding our children?

Maybe it starts with reality–no, not everyone has, does, gets ____ (fill in the blank). We’ve discovered other people who don’t have ____(fill in the blank), but we’ve had to look for them and pray them into our lives. The world will tell you (and your kids) you’re completely alone. But that’s a lie. There are other families swimming upstream against our society and affluenza.

Maybe it starts with a dab of old fashioned failure (I love what this teacher said below).

“Some parents don’t wish their kids to fail. I admit I want my children to. I want them to fail, so they can learn how to get back up. I want them to not get every gift they want on their Christmas list, so they can appreciate what they have and work for what they don’t. Lastly I hope all of them get at least one or two teachers they hate. That way they will learn that in the real world, they will have to work with people (and bosses) they may not like,” a teacher who left a comment on this post.

Maybe it starts with exposing them to how the majority of the world lives. Affluenza is a first world problem. Hunger is a real world problem. Give them an opportunity to serve others.

Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I really don’t think our kids want the latest technology or the hottest name brand as much as they want something else. Oh, they think they do. And they will beg and plead (and drive us crazy) for it. But deep down, they are hungry for something deeper that satisfies and lasts a lot longer than just stuff. Giving them firm boundaries, love and perspective is exactly what we can offer them.