Dear Moms of Littles, This Might Be The Most Important Thing You Do Right Now

She had a two year old wrapped around her leg, holding on for dear life, while she bounced her crying newborn in her arms as we talked.

“What’s new with Mercy House? Oh and the refugee women in Houston?” I noted the longing in her voice. I started to answer and she whispered wistfully, barely audible over newborn noises, “I’m jealous of your life.”

I almost laughed off the comment–because my day had consisted of a crammed  “to do” list,  computer issues, a rushed meeting, dragging boxes to the car to mail, two dramatic daughters, several carlines and a tension headache.

My life is hardly worth being envious of….

But I knew she wasn’t talking about my day.

She was referring to my season in life.

And in a blink, I was the one standing in the kitchen of an older friend with a strong-willed two year old and a nursing baby, longing for my days to matter.

Dreaming of doing something big for God or at least getting enough sleep so I could dream. Or actually sleep.

I took her baby and patted his back, “Right now, your days are long. But the years are short. What you are doing-the burping, the diapering, the chasing, these days matter. Love is not waisted. Loving your babies is the most important thing you can do right now.”

family foot

I suggested a few things she could do from home to help me out if she wanted to and she seemed excited.

But sometimes the best way to serve is to know our season.

And recognize its value.

This isn’t to say moms of littles can’t serve. But first you need to recognize being a mom of small ones is service. Service is never small.

Because you are the only one who can do it.

We often long to do more because we don’t believe what we do matters.

I love talking to others about saying yes. But we need to say it right where we are.

Maybe changing diapers is how God wants you to change the world right now.

I have more time to serve. My season allows it. But instead of having littles wrapped around me, depending on my body, I have kids who lean on me for a shoulder to cry on. And instead of sneaking out to Target when my babies were all asleep by 7pm like I used to, I’m up until 10pm listening to heartaches and headaches that tweens and teens often carry.

This is my season.

But just like winter blossoms into spring, seasons of motherhood change too. Sometimes they blow in like a storm or break the ground like a pastel miracle, new seasons are always coming.

So, don’t wish this time away. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Recognize it as your yes for now.

Because tomorrow the winds may change and you’ll have an opportunity to step out in a new way.

This just might be the most important thing you can do today.


I Think We May Be Missing Something Very Important

It was a hot February day in Texas. We only had a handful of volunteers and hundreds of needy refugees had already formed a line, so everybody had a job. Even our kids. Especially our kids.

From across the parking lot, I watched my 14 year old give directions to the handful of kids barely taller than her waist. This small army of children were  in charge of the mound of toiletry and hygiene items we were sharing with refugees in our city.

I blinked back tears as they divided the supplies into over 100 paper sacks.

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They sorted donations, led refugee families around the free garage sale, and collected their vouchers for needed items.

They worked for hours and never complained.

Earlier in the weekend, I felt guilty for roping my family into all this extra work. What started out as a simple yes, ended up being a time-consuming-several-day event that is now an on-going service project.

Volunteers helped us organize and sort a truckload of donations, spread out on our driveway. When my 6th and 8th grade kids got off the bus, their friends asked if we were hoarders.

I think that might be called Junior High persecution.

sorting donations

As I watched my kids work hard in preparation for that day, jump in and serve refugees and navigate a language barrier, I quickly realized they didn’t need an apology for not making the weekend fun! filled with more stuff! just for them! all about them!

It reminded me how healthy a bit of hard work is for all of us and how rewarding it is to serve other people. 

As parents I think we’ve missed something very important in our culture. In an effort to make family a priority and give our kids what we didn’t have, we’ve become a child-focused culture. In many ways, we’ve lost our purpose. The sense of entitlement our kids exhibit is fueled by a parenting model that is obsessed with giving our children what they want and by making our kids the center of our lives.

In a way, we are just too into this parenting thing. We used to have birthday parties where A CAKE made it special and now it’s an EVENT. We used to pass out store bought Valentine cards, now we have them professionally printed with photographs and candy and goodie bags and mylar balloon bouquets. We used to play outside with sticks and get dirty; now kids have a variety of expensive game systems and a lot of technology at their disposal.

This quote by Jerry Seinfeld made me laugh because it’s so true. But then it really made me think.

The bedtime routine for my kids is a royal coronation jubilee centennial of rinsing and plaque and dental appliances and the stuffed animal semi circle of emotional support. I have to read 8 different moron books to my kids. Do you know what my bedtime story was when I was a kid? DARKNESS. My parents would yell “Go to bed!”

We’ve all probably done the bedtime dance. I remember one of my kids had to have a certain color of pacifier to HOLD in her hand before she’d sleep. So, clearly, I’m no expert here. I’m learning from my parenting mistakes, too.

But in centering our world around our children and giving into their demands, we foster entitlement.

Most entitlement begins because we lack the courage to tell our children no or because we don’t exhibit the strength to keep our no a no

We continue to enable entitlement by rewarding our kids for everything they do.

We may be taking away the sense of satisfaction and pride that comes from genuine achievement.” Jason Walsh, a special education teacher in Washington, D.C., witnessed this firsthand during his school’s fifth-grade graduation ceremonies. Some students received as many as 14 different awards. “The majority of the students didn’t know what their awards really meant,” says Walsh. The honors “didn’t reinforce a specific achievement—but a sense of entitlement and of being great.”

Kids don’t need more stars and stickers.

They need more hard work.

Kids don’t need more activities.

They need more unstructured time.

Kids don’t need more stuff.

They need more opportunities to give their stuff away.

Kids don’t need more store-bought or manufactured fun.

They need freedom to create their own.

Teaching our kids about serving

I looked at my exhausted, dirty children who gobbled down sandwiches in the car on the way home after our full day of serving, grinning silly and full and I didn’t feel bad at all. 

Because I realized I had given them something money couldn’t buy. I had offered them something more valuable than the latest technology or hottest brand. I had given them perspective. And opportunity.

A few days later, I wanted to reward my kids. I’m definitely not against a pat on the back. But as I offered a small token for their great attitudes and hard work, it occurred to me they didn’t need a sticker or star or reward from me for serving others. It was time for me to change the way I parent.

Because working hard and serving others was their reward. Just ask them.


Maybe Sometimes Your Kid Just Needs a Hug

I ran out of threats.

I ran out of energy.

I ran out of the room.

Mothering can be exhausting and emotional and it can empty you.

It was one of those days where my patience was a thin rope and my child was swinging from it. I was barely holding on and she wouldn’t let go.

Go. To. Your. Room.

I sighed and paced. Consequences ran through my mind and I made my mental list of how I should handle her actions.

My head was foggy, but I heard it clear Go to her.

Just the thought diffused my anger. I laid down my need for control.

I put away my rules and my mental list of consequences. I set aside the threats and the lectures. I slowly climbed the stairs and stood at her doorway. She looked up, eyes brimming. Instead of seeing a defiant child, I saw pain. Instead of seeing anger, I saw my little girl. I walked to her bed and sat down. Without saying a word, I wrapped my arms around her.

 Sometimes our kids just need a hug

She bristled at first and tried to pull away. But I held on and slowly, she melted in to me. And we sat there saying nothing, but everything that needed to be said.

Maybe sometimes our kids don’t need another rule.

Maybe they don’t need another consequence or punishment.

Maybe sometimes we need to break our own rules and just go to them.

Maybe they simply need us to hold them long and hard.

Maybe every once in awhile, our kids need to know no matter what they are feeling or experiencing, no matter how hard they struggle against us or how hard they fight, we will be there.

Standing in the doorway, waiting.


What We Teach Our Kids When We Don’t Know They Are Watching

I started this terrible wonderful habit last year.

All three of my kids started a new school and there were some bumpy days in the beginning.

So on the first Friday of the first week, I took my kids to a darling little hometown bakery near our house. And we celebrated with a cookie.

The next week it was a brownie.

A few weeks after that it was a cake pop.

It became a sweet tradition.

And well, many Fridays later and my pants won’t button. It’s a weighty problem.

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So a few Friday’s ago, I was backing out of my spot and looking behind me and not at the lovely Mercedes next to me and I scratched the whole side of the car.

That is a bad feeling.

I slowly pulled into my spot (straighter this time) and told my kids to follow me to look for the owner. The car was parked in front of Massage Envy, next to the bakery. So, yeah, I immediately felt worse, of course.

I was about to stress out someone who was having a massage. 

I told the gals behind the desk what happened and described the car. They said, yes, the owner was having a massage and I wrote my name and number on a piece of paper. And then the receptionist said, “I can’t believe you came in to find her. You know you could have left. She would have never know.”

The other girls nodded their heads and encouraged me to throw away the paper.

I looked at my kids looking at us, listening and watching what I would say.  “I would know. My kids would know.”

They were impressed with how “good” I was.

Really? This is what it’s come to in our world? Being honest about hitting someone’s car when they aren’t looking makes me a good person. Huh.

We left and I told my kids it would have been wrong for me to drive away without telling the truth. I fear there is an entire generation of kids who don’t take responsibility for their actions and wave the “it wasn’t my fault” banner.

Say what you need to say. And do what you say you’ll do. It’s called integrity.

Friends of mine from another country, who are now new Americans made this observation to me, “We’ve noticed that when you mention a new idea or cause, many Americans are so excited! They think it’s a wonderful idea and they want to do everything to help! and share! and give! But many do nothing. All the excitement ends when it’s time to show up. In our country, not many people are interested in new ideas, but at least you know where they stand.

I was embarrassed because they spoke the truth.

Sure things come up and plans change. That’s life. But when we make a habit of hiding the truth or not following through with what we’ve said we will do, we are teaching our children to do the same.

Integrity is something we teach our kids when we don’t know they are watching.

Sometimes we use words.


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.