Solidarity, Moms: Less Is More

Every April I can smell it.

Summer.

It’s coming and we are always ready and waiting.

Honestly, we are pathetic these last months of school. We’ve carefully counted up our missed days and tardies and we are barely gonna make without a truancy officer at our door. We stopped our second grade reading log weeks ago (she sadly discovered the Diary of a Wimpy Kids series and although I hang my head in shame, she’s reading like a champ!)

I’m longing for pool baths (you know what I’m talking about, good moms bring shampoo to the pool, moms like me let the chlorine do its magic), sleeping in until after the sun comes up and swapping the Netflix password for reading time from my kids (insert wicked laugh).

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I don’t know about you, but some days I feel the pressure to never let my kids down, to parent “the whole child” with excellence, to always be fair, and provide for their every want and pack up summer with All The Fun. Our culture has been sucked into perfect parenting deception. And every Spring, I sort of panic and evaluate how I’m doing.

I’m pretty sure I already told you guys that when my youngest discovered the secret stash of baby books, it didn’t take long to realize hers was 1/16 of her siblings. I had been tucking pictures and cards into the book for years thinking I’d get to them some day. She’s 8 and “someday” never came. She seemed pretty disappointed, especially that the “first haircut” envelope in her baby book was empty. So one day while she was at school, I did a manic scrapbooking session and glued like a wild woman. I guessed at weights and heights and dates on all the first. I mean, it was correct, but I was there, so there’s that. It was hardly creative memories-worthy, but it would work. I had it all figured out except for the haircut thing. So, while my school-aged kid slept, I snuck in her room and snipped a lock of hair and put it in her book and acted like I found it in my secret hiding space.

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It turns out I’m quite convincing. If that doesn’t make you feel better about your mothering today, I don’t know what will.

At the risk of sounding like a really bad mom, more and more I want to give my kids less in life. Because in a lot of ways, it is giving them more:

1. Less structured play and scheduled time: Last week, my younger two used a hammer, some string, a rubber band and nail to make an instrument in our Mercy House building after they tired of helping me paint. It was a night of imagination and it was awesome. Even later on, when my second grader’s said “instrument”  left a small gash in her head. It was fun after the bleeding stopped. Just ask her. Of course, some fun leads to lessons about swinging sharp objects . I love summer because it lends itself to more unstructured time. My kids thrive on free time and it seems so limited the rest of the year. Let’s choose to resist the pressure to fill All The Hours with things to do. Some of my favorite moments are when I can’t find my kids in the house. They are sprawled on a chair reading or tinkering in the garage. Or you know, finding their imagination.

2. Less focus on themselves and more on others: I want serving others to be so ingrained in my kids lives, they don’t even know they are serving (or mind it). Putting others before ourselves isn’t hard when it’s a way of life. But it is more challenging to complain about all you don’t have when you’re face-to-face with someone with a lot less. I believe every North American needs a regular dose of perspective. The best way to be thankful for what we have–is by serving someone with less.

3. Less of me making everything all right: I packed my second grader’s lunchbox a couple of weeks ago without a lunch in it. Her teacher called me from school. I felt terrible about my absent-minded mistake. It probably wouldn’t have been that big a deal, but I also forgot to wait on the porch when the bus dropped her off a couple of days before (she’s working through some fear issues about us not being there, even though I was just inside). It was a good reminder that mom isn’t perfect and that even though she doesn’t mean to, she occasionally lets people down. We can’t always make everything perfect for our kids. Some days life happens. When we fail our kids (and we all will), it’s a great time to remind them of One who will never let them down.

4. Less of me fixing their problems: There’s this overwhelming temptation to protect my kids from failure. There are things I could “fix” that would reduce their disappointment and defeat in school, sports and well, life. But often we learn the most through natural consequences, losing and falling flat on our face. I remind them of forgotten lunches and notebooks for a season, but sometimes letting our children face the consequences is helping them more in the long run. We can’t always keep our kids from failure, but we can help them overcome it.

And so I say solidarity now, moms.  We are imperfect, messy people with dirty floors and two-day old pony tails. We don’t have it all together, but we love our kids and most days, that’s more than enough. We are doing just fine. And if we can remember to throw in one or two of these things, we might just make it to summer.

The One Thing You Can Do for Your Kid Who Sabotages Family Time

We sat around the dinner table finishing up our tacos, shredded lettuce and cheese scattered about.

“Okay, everyone, finish up and I’ll pass out the Bibles,” my husband said.

For years now, we’ve made an attempt to Break Bread after we’ve consumed it. Its been the optimal time for our family to connect, read a devotion or Scripture or two for a few minutes. Dinner is one of the only times during the day we are all together, mostly still and quiet.

I’ve said this several times, but it’s my favorite time of the day with my family.

Unless one of our children tries to sabotage it.

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Distracting. Irritating. Complaining. Whining. You name it.

While I don’t think there’s a calculated conspiracy or evil plan to sabotage, once I realized it was happening regularly, I acknowledged one of our kids had gotten really good at disrupting or all-together ending this intentional family time.

One night, I watched it unfold and I was frustrated. Not only because my kids all knew better, but because it was defeating. This cycle of trying and failing.

Maybe you have a kid like this too? Passionate. Strong. Determined. A Leader in the Rough.

It might happen at dinner or in the car, on vacation, while at school….

Big emotions all the time.

As my husband attempted to read, I watched my strong-willed kid make faces at siblings, maybe hoping to be sent upstairs… I thought about how well this child leads, when given a chance. I thought of one of our trips overseas, where complaining and griping threatened to ruin the day.. So, we handed over the maps and guides and said, “Okay, you be in charge. Lead us.” It turned out to be a brilliant parental move.

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We still have those occasionally.

A plan begin to formulate.

The next night at dinner I made my move, “Honey, would you mind if we did something different tonight?” I asked Terrell to hand the Bible to our determined child. “I like the way you read aloud (entirely true). Would you read to us tonight?”

Sure.

With character voices and inflection and without distraction, we had a wonderful devotion and family time.

We repeated it the following night. And the next.

I was amazed at how pleasant and peaceful it was and there may have been a high five or two between my husband and I.

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Honestly, my first reaction is to threaten and dole out consequences when the rules are bent or broken and it works well with a couple of my kids. But we can’t parent all our children exactly the same when they are obviously different. Over time, I’ve learned that the child acting out the most probably needs more love than consequences. More time than separation. More of me. And that strong-willed child needs a strong parent to let go of control.

So, instead of banishing your disrupting or disobedient child or punishing them for annoying behavior, let them lead.

You may just be surprised where it takes you.

10 Fun Ways to Keep Easter About Jesus

The Easter Season is the perfect time to practice intentional parenting. It’s more than bunnies and baskets and golden eggs-it’s an opportunity to teach our children about the most important event in history.

If we didn’t have the Cross, we wouldn’t have forgiveness.

If we didn’t have the Resurrection, we wouldn’t have hope.

If we didn’t have Jesus, we wouldn’t have anything.

 

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Here are 10 fun (and easy!) ways to keep Easter about Jesus:

  1. Read The Parable of the Lily and plant (or force) a lily bulb
  2. Create this easy, beautiful watercolor Cross Art
  3. Plant an Easter Garden 218495019391568479_3wI73Ndz_f
  4. Dye/hunt eggs. Share the reasons behind the traditions
  5. A Sense of the Resurrection – a great ebook to help little hands (ages 3-6) grasp the meaning of Easter.
  6. Make Resurrection Eggs. Read Benjamin’s Box: The Story of the Resurrection Eggs
    along with it.
  7. Bake Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday
  8. Fill Easter baskets with something meaningful (a new Bible, a cross necklace, eggs with Scripture)
  9. Make Resurrection Rolls for Easter morning breakfast
  10. Have a family devotion together and talk about the meaning of Easter (this is a good one)

updated post from the archives

The Hard Prayers of a Mother

We stand toe-to-toe.

Just like we did when she was a strong-willed three year old only I’m looking up at my teenager instead of the other way around. The argument has changed, but the passion and determination are the same.

I remember rubbing my hand over my swollen belly so long ago -praying that my daughter would be strong. I prayed that she wouldn’t give in to others, that she would fight for what she believed in.

All I can say is God answers prayers. Just usually not how I thought He would.

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When my kids were babies I prayed I could sleep. (Very holy prayers like, “Dear God, (yawn) Zzzzz.”)

When they were toddlers, I prayed they would sleep. (“Dear God, Is it actually wrong to turn the doorknob around?”)

When they are in school, I pray for summer. Halfway through July, well, you know…

When they were little, I prayed God would get me through the exhausting moments.

Now they are bigger and I pray He gets me through the emotional ones.

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When my kids make a great choice and put someone in front of themselves, my prayers become praise.

When my kids slam their doors, roll their eyes and push back, I mostly pray for me. (“Dear God, protect my children from my wrath.”)

Nothing could have prepared me for the hard prayers of motherhood.

One minute I’m beseeching God for wisdom, the next I’m telling Him I’ve got this.

One minute, I see a scary glimpse of rebellion, the next, revival.

For one child, I pray for kindness. For the other I pray for courage when kindness is absent.

For one I pray for goodness, for the other meekness when goodness is present.

And I pray for patience and self-control all the time for all of us.

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I have cried over harsh words and willful behavior and we both know I’m not talking about the kids’.

I have offered prayers of thanksgiving when they offered unprompted gratitude. (“Dear God, I am doing a fabulous job here.”)

I have sat next to their bed in the middle of the night and whispered broken prayers over them.

I have wept at their loss, their pain, and begged God to fix all that I couldn’t.

I have rejoiced at their wins, their gain, and praised God in the moment.

I wrapped each of my new babies up in blankets and offered them to God on a Sunday. He gave them to me and I gave them back. And I’ve spent nearly every moment since trying to figure them out.

Lately, I have whispered the hardest prayer of all: “Dear God, Break my children. Break their heart for what breaks Yours.  Do what You need to do in their heart and lives to draw them closer to You. They are yours.”

Maybe these are they hardest words a mother prays for her children? Or maybe just letting go of our illusion of control never gets easier.

But it’s this place that is my undoing: uttering these hard, gut-wrenching prayers when I don’t know what else to do.

Because I know He will answer.

All these things I pray and whisper over my children? He says them over me.

(“Come to me, Kristen. Give me that hurt, that burden, that sin. I discipline you because I love you. I break you so you will heal stronger.”)

I found Jesus when my life was wrecked.

And when the last thing a mother wants to pray over her child is chaos, so they can know peace, humility instead of pride, forgiveness instead of bitterness, joy instead of loss, it’s probably time she did.

6 Habits of a Highly Effective Family

The other day I got an email from a TV producer and they wanted our family to try out for a reality show called “The Kitchen.”

Yeah.

It was some sort of cooking show and they wanted “real families” who fight, I mean, cook often together in the kitchen. The email went on to say, “We are specifically seeking out families with an interesting point of view, a unique style of parenting, and a real-life story unfolding in the family.”

Were we being punked? I looked for the hidden cameras. It’s like They Knew about our unique parenting style called “Stop combing your sister’s hair with your spaghetti fork or I’m going to hurt you bad.”

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I took this to mean, “We are looking for some of those family moments…you know the ones.”

And believe me- we have plenty of them. From the typical eye roll to the “I wish I had a different family,” comments that leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy, we just might help a network’s ratings.

But we won’t. Because, we are in fact, not that family (this time).

My family is probably a lot like yours. Messy. Like sticky apple pie you can’t quit.

But even in our worst moments, I want my family to be governed by good habits that make us effective in the world for God. When we wrote out our family mission statement so many years ago, it was more of a craft project than a projection of where we wanted to go. But God has used those words to guide and shape us.

In the ebb and flow of the family dynamic, there are good days and bad ones. And we don’t get it right all the time. But at the end of the day, I want to be able to say that we did something good for someone else-that we were effective in some way. We don’t always get it right or do it well, but there are 6 habits that we aim for regularly:

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  1. Let go of what others think | Parents seem to master this one before teens do. Just as I’ve learned not to care, my kids are very aware of what others think. Striking that balance is important. But so is remembering that at the end of the day, if you’re following your heart and God’s, it’s much easier to live without the restrictions of pleasing everyone else.
  2. Listen to each other | I’m still in listening school. As a mom, I think this is one of the greatest gifts I can offer my family: tuning in. I have watched my children come to their own conclusions, work out many of their problems and feel better about situations, by nodding my head and affirming they are simply being heard. And also, if I pause 5 full seconds after my husband asks me a question, he keeps talking.
  3. Lament the losses | I think it’s important that we pause to recognize the losses in our family-whether it’s a friend or a perfect test score, a pet goldfish or a first boyfriend, our family gets broken. And when we walk thru loss together, it makes us heal stronger.
  4. Love no matter what | Some of my children do not always make choices I want them to make. Shocking, I know. But at the end of one of those hard, tearful days, when consequences land wherever they may, I want my people to know that love wins. No matter what they do, who they become, how far they run, they are deeply loved.
  5. Live brave | I spent most of my life living scared. I was terrified far too long. Fear of failure, fear of missing out and not fitting in captivated me. I want my family to try, to live a little scared because that’s when we feel most alive.
  6. Latch onto God | Family life doesn’t always look like I thought it would. Neither does following Jesus. I’ve always thought it was done a certain way-church 3 times a week, Christian radio presets, church camp with the Christian t-shirt to prove it and a little rhinestone Jesus leading the way. My ideal was wrecked and I’m discovering I can’t make my kids follow Jesus the way I follow Him. I just want them to find him and hold on.

I’m glad God loves messy families.

Even the ones on TV.

Dear Son, It’s Okay to Be A Nice Guy (Faith-based Resources for Our Sons)

You’re nearly 13 years old.

Your voice is cracking and your little sister keeps mentioning your mustache.

You pretend you don’t hear her.

And I pretend it isn’t there.

You are 5 inches taller and you fill your plate three times before you’re full.

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You are a young man now and you are trying to fit into your man-sized feet.

Son, I want you to know you don’t have to be cool.

You don’t have to be tough.

You don’t have to wear a stiff upper lip.

You don’t have to fit in.

You don’t have to be girl crazy.

You don’t have to apologize for being kind to others.

I see the confusion in your eyes and the question in your voice as you try and navigate our culture that depicts men as either weak pushovers or calloused tough guys. Movies portray guys as either terribly sexy or extremely wimpy. They either hate women or use them.

Neither impress you and I know sometimes you wonder where you fit in.

You are sensitive.

You download worship songs.

You open the door for me and rush to bring in groceries.

You don’t enjoy violent video games or playing truth or dare when friends tempt.

You timidly raise a hand while we sing at church.

You want to be a world-changer.

But listen to me—these things don’t make you wrong or weird. They make you YOU. You are exactly who God created you to be: a nice guy.

And that’s okay.

Your son might be like mine or he may not, but either way, he’s probably getting some mixed signals from culture and peers. We’ve found some excellent faith-bases resources to help our boy navigate both. Maybe they will help your son, too:

Faith (Devotions, Spiritual Growth):

  1. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations
  2. You Were Made to Make a Difference
  3. It’s Not About Me Teen Edition
  4. Make Every Day Count – Teen Edition
  5. Triple Dog Dare: One Year of Dynamic Devotions for Boys (ages 9-12)
  6. Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood
  7. Your Boy: Raising a Godly Son in an Ungodly World

Purity (Lust, Sex):

  1. 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son
  2. Preparing Your Son for Every Man’s Battle: Honest Conversations About Sexual Integrity (The Every Man Series)
  3. Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys: 7 Conversations You Must Have with Your Son [7 Questions You Should Ask Your Daughter]
  4. Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World

Weekend Away:

Passport2Purity® Getaway Kit by FamilyLife
(guide and resources to help you take your son on a weekend to talk about purity and sex)

Faith-Based Resources For Raising Daughters In a Faithless Culture

I stood at the counter opening mail when my little girl held up her white tank top and asked, “What is this thing?” pointing to the elastic band. She’s small for her 8 years, but I was surprised her size 6 top had a built-in bra. I explained what it was and she giggled.

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I couldn’t blame her. But I know how fast time flies and I know what’s coming.

I pulled a book from a package and the colorful cover caught her attention. “What’s that?” I was excited to see my friend’s new book, thinking I would put it up for when my daughter was old enough to read it. “It’s a devotional book for tweens,” I said and flipped it over to read the back cover.

“It says ages 8-11. Does that make me a tween?” She asked with pride and excitement.

No. But help me, Lord, it’s getting closer.

We’ve been snuggling up on my bed before bedtime nearly every night since, reading For Girls Like You: A Devotional for Tweens together. Tween or not, it’s something she’s ready to jump into. This is a book she could really read on her own, but I love the few minutes together and the conversation that follows.

The world will educate and influence our girls if we let it. I’d rather teach my daughter about values and self-value.  I’ve shared these resources before, but I continue to get emails asking me for suggested resources for our daughters. Here’s what I’ve got:

Books for Mom and Dad (Body image, modesty, sex, purity, boys):

Books/Magazines for Daughters:

Devotions to have with your Girls (Tween to Teen):

Stylish Clothing Sites with Modest Choices for teens/girls:

Events:

Positive Girl Clubs/Groups:

Music:

  • Britt Nicole
  • Francesca Battistelli
  • Jamie Grace
  • BarlowGirl
  • Mandisa

Websites for our Girls:

Other:

  • A Mighty Girl: collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls

What They Don’t Tell You About Raising Kids

I spent five long years trying to become a mother.

And I’ve spent the last fifteen trying to be a good one.

Raising kids is probably the most important thing I will ever do. But I didn’t get educated in a classroom or with a how-to manual; I learned on the job and mostly by making mistakes. When they wheeled me and my new baby girl out of the hospital to join my husband who was pulling up the car, I remember hesitating and looking at the nurse nervously. She patted my back and whispered, “You will do fine.”

For our first hour at home as a family, we sat across the room and stared at her, while she slept in her carseat.

We were terrified she would wake up.

We were terrified she wouldn’t.

That sort of sums up my parenting experience so far–What if they do? What if they don’t? Will they? Should they?

I have second-guessed and been given second chances. I have marveled at all I didn’t know and been amazed at what I learn every day.

They didn’t tell me the sleepless nights of pregnancy were a foreshadowing of the next 18 years.

They didn’t tell me the deep-breathing was for more than birth.

They didn’t tell me about the first set of stitches or the second. Or that I would get woozy every time.

They didn’t tell me that I would want to give my kids everything, but that I mustn’t.

They didn’t tell me how hard it would be to say no, but I must.

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They didn’t tell me I would watch my heart get on a school bus.

They didn’t tell me I would long for school to start as much as I long for it to end.

They didn’t tell me there would be math. Lots of math.

They didn’t tell me about the first time my child would hurt my feelings.

Or how angry I would feel when someone hurt my child’s.

They didn’t tell me how I would ache to fix their problems.

They didn’t tell me I would fall into bed physically exhausted when they were little and emotionally drained when they were older.

They didn’t tell me I would give up something I love, so they could figure out something to love.

They didn’t tell me I would yell.

They didn’t tell me I would laugh until my sides ache.

They didn’t tell me I would cry myself to sleep because of something they said or worse, because of something I said.

They didn’t tell me my son would call me in the middle of school today and ask to go home early because he is grieving his beloved archery coach’s terminal diagnosis.

They didn’t tell me I couldn’t make some things better. Or how badly I would hurt when my children do.

They didn’t tell me how hard some days would be.

They didn’t tell me how fast it would go…

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They didm’ tell me how much I would love being their mom.

They didn’t tell me all these milestone and phases for one reason:

There is joy in discovering motherhood –the beautiful and broken days– for ourselves.

One day at a time.