• Good Luck With That “Normal” Thing

    Perhaps you have heard that I have some children. Entirely more than a respectable woman ought to have, in fact. I have even heard tell that there are those who point to my old woman living in a shoe lifestyle as evidence that I may be a bit touched in the head. Sad. But true. Fortunately for me, it turns out that being a bit touched in the head is pretty much a prerequisite for good parenting, so it’s all worked out just fine.

    At any rate, two of my children are currently man-boys who are 20 and 16 and completely awesome. Not that I’m biased or anything. You’d think they were completely awesome if you met them. Although you’d probably be glad you weren’t responsible for raising them.

    So recently my 20 year old expressed his concern that I was often excessively harsh with his 16 year old brother. And that this might cause the 16 year old to think it was OK to be excessively harsh with the 5 year old. And the 5 year old has made it clear to everyone that she is the reason for the existence of the entire universe, so this constituted a threat to the well being of all that is.

    Now, the thing you need to understand about the 16 year old is that he is, at all times, right. He knows it. I know it. Everyone who knows him, knows that he’s always right. Except when he gets stuck in his own head or is being irrational. In which case, you pretty much have to drag him kicking and screaming by his hair out into the light of day to wake him up. When he was a kid, I used to give his teachers very simple, specific instructions for how to successfully correct him. Those who did not listen paid the price.

    So, I called Mr. Always Right over and said, “your brother here is concerned that I am excessively harsh with you sometimes.”

    He, of course, looked completely confused, laughed, and checked to see if we were just pulling his leg. (Always a distinct possibility in our home.) ‘”Dude, I’m going to need some examples to go on here,” was his response. He was clearly completely befuddled. As was his brother at this point.

    Now, as I have indicated, the 20 year old is male. So obviously he can be really dense. But mostly he’s incredibly sensitive to everything and everyone around him. Which means that the older he gets, the more subtle the touch required to move him. Anything more than a persistent firm nudge feels like an armed assault to this one.

    “I never talk to you the way I talk to your brother sometimes, right?” I asked the 20 year old, who looked appalled at the very idea. “You would feel terrible if I talked to you like that, but obviously your brother isn’t experiencing me as particularly harsh.”

    I could practically see it dawning on the 20 year old how different his brother actually was from him. Which, as well as they know each other, one would think he would already know. But obviously it had never occurred to the 20 year old that something as basic as our emotional responses could be completely different from one person to another. After all, our emotional responses happen pretty automatically. And we all experience the exact same emotions. So it’s very easy to assume that your normal emotional responses to the world are normal for human beings generally rather than for you particularly.

    I suspect that many, if not most, if not all of us make the error of assuming that we are normal and therefor all seemingly normal people must be pretty much like us. In fact, I was in my mid-30s when it really sank in that maybe – just maybe – I wasn’t actually normal. Me. The woman who has so many children that they’ve basically created their own subculture together. The woman who is in Mensa and married to a black guy and swears while discussing theology and doesn’t own sweats or a proper pair of athletic shoes. I actually thought I was like baseline normal. (Obviously I have some masculine tendencies.) I’ll wait until you’re done laughing to go on. . . . Continue reading

  • Did You Miss Me?

    Here’s a fun fact for you: the last time I was out of the presence of a child for 24 hours straight was 10 years ago when my husband and I travelled without our kids to help a friend plan their father’s funeral. Before that, it was two years earlier for the same friend’s wedding. Before that, it was the week I took off before giving birth to my oldest. 19 years ago. And I have come to the conclusion that being in the presence of children continually for years on end constitutes a form a torture.
    Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. Most of the time I even enjoy them. But you can never fully relax around kids. You can’t start a project and feel comfortable knowing that you’ll have the time you need to complete it before a child needs your attention. You can’t even just allow yourself to become absorbed completely in something without running the risk that you’ll discover that your child decided to entertain themselves by emptying a king size down comforter all over your bedroom.
    I’ve been trying to find ways to get away from my kids for years, but lacking resources and/or generous friends who want to give me the keys to their vacation home and money for transportation to get there, it has not happened. So this summer, I decided to take an impromptu sabbatical to recover a bit. I told my kids that I was on “pretend vacation” and taught my kids to bother and manipulate each other instead of me. I spent time with them (I called it “visiting”) on my schedule rather than theirs.
    Mostly I just sat and thought and thought and thought and thought. In between thinking, I sought out a few other adults and just talked and talked and talked and talked. It was good for the soul. I learned a lot, in fact. And as you may have noticed, I didn’t write at all. Because writing is much harder than talking.
    But today the kids went back to school. Not only did the kids go back to school, but my youngest started preschool. Which means that for the first time in 19 years, I am going to be at home, without kids on a regular basis. So, no more writing like this:

    (Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

    (Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

    I have a lot of interesting things coming up. Like an appearance on Moody Radio this weekend (more on that later). And the whole gospel that’s hidden in two words which you’ve never heard about. A post on free will, which several of you have asked me about. Another on what the blazes is going on with the world – is it really as bad as it looks, or is their reason for hope? (The answer is yes.) And a whole bunch of other Upside Down World awesomeness. So, stay tuned! I’m baaack! :)

  • When Parents Disagree

    What I’m about to say flies in the face of nearly everything you’ve ever heard on the subject of how to handle disagreements between parents. But it’s my blog and my life and I can do that when I see fit, right? And on the topic of how parents should handle disagreements between them, I have no problem saying that the standard advice is horrid and wrong.

    So, no doubt you have heard many times that while you and your partner may have disagreements when it comes to parenting, it is important that you present a unified front to your kids. Which is, if I may be so bold as to say this, utter bullshit. And if you take it too far, it can be damaging to your kids to boot. Allow I to explain.

    No two people will ever agree on everything. And inevitably when dealing with something as challenging and complex as parenting, sharp disagreements will arise. This is reality. And unless reality is so ugly that it would traumatize your children, you are never doing any favors to your kids when you hide reality from them. At some point they are going to have to head out into the world and find their way. So they need to have some idea of what they will be dealing with and some idea of how they can manage.

    Pretending that you and your spouse are in total agreement when it comes to parenting is nothing more than hiding reality from your children. And it’s totally unnecessary. Continue reading

  • Raising Moral Kids Pt. 3

    Let’s say that you take your young child to a friend’s house and while she is there, she breaks a toy. Would you prefer that she:

    A. Bring you the toy, ask for help fixing it and apologize for breaking the toy.


    B. Hide the toy so no one will know that she broke it?

    Let me give you a minute to think about this one . . . . OK, I’m psychic so I already know that your answer is A. You’d rather have a kid who admits her error, apologizes, tries to correct her error and will ask for help to do so. You’d also rather have a kid who didn’t lie to you, didn’t hide from you and was able to admit when she is wrong. Am I right? Of course I’m right.

    It just so happens that we know what the difference is between a kid who hides a toy they broke and one who takes responsibility for it:

    Parents rated their toddlers’ tendencies to experience shame and guilt at home. The toddlers received a rag doll, and the leg fell off while they were playing with it alone. The shame-prone toddlers avoided the researcher and did not volunteer that they broke the doll. The guilt-prone toddlers were more likely to fix the doll, approach the experimenter, and explain what happened. The ashamed toddlers were avoiders; the guilty toddlers were amenders. ~ Raising a Moral Child, NYT

    The difference between a kid who admits error and a kid who avoids it is the difference between guilt and shame. While sometimes you will hear people talking about healthy shame, the truth is that shame is often really toxic. We will do just about anything to avoid it. Including hiding our errors, lying, engaging in destructive self-soothing behaviors, mistreating others and ourselves. People will go to their graves never knowing a moment of real peace or love rather than facing their shame.

    Clearly shame is part of the normal repertoire of human emotions, but way more often than not, we experience it in really unhealthy ways. Too many parents encourage shame in their kids as a way to control them. Even parents who know better will unknowingly create shame in their children. According to current thinking, based on pretty much every human’s experience, shame is what you get when a caregiver uses anger, fear, ridicule or contempt in an attempt to control their child’s behavior. Continue reading

  • Raising Moral Kids Pt. 2

    So, I started telling y’all about an interesting article on what research can tell us about raising moral kids. Today’s take-away from that article has to do with the role of positive re-enforcement in creating moral children. But first, a quick word about positive re-enforcement. Back when I was in college, in the very first education class I took, the very first lesson we got on classroom management was this: punishment is the least effective tool in your disciplinary toolbox. So it should be the tool of last resort, not your go-to when things got rough.

    There was plenty of research to back this claim up as well as the fact that exemplary teachers report that this is their experience as well. By far, the most effective tool you have is praising what a kid gets right. Everyone wants approval. It’s human nature. If you show approval of the sort of behavior you want from your kids, they will engage in more of that behavior because it now has a very positive association for them. It reminds them of something about themselves that they can feel good about.

    Of course, then you have nimrods like the man who is principal of our local middle school. I once had a conversation with him that, I swear to you, went like this:

    Me: Mr. Nimrod Idiot, Sir, as I am sure you are aware, since it’s the first lesson they teach on classroom management, punishment is the least effective form of discipline. I am concerned that the only discipline tool being used to address the tiniest of infractions involving my dear innocent child is punishment. The child has being punished for a wide variety of infractions, including, but not limited to: trying to take a plastic bottle he brought from home out of the lunch room so he could continue reusing it, being late for class because the janitor hasn’t managed to get the lock on his locker fixed and you won’t assign him a new one and laughing at a joke I made when he called from the office to ask me a question. I would like to discuss alternative ways of helping my child to conform to the school’s expectations which do not depend on punishing him continually.

    Principal Nimrod: Yes, you are correct, we do know from research and experience that punishment is the least effective form of discipline. However, we just believe that if we continually confront and punish students when they step out of line, they will eventually get tired of it and exert some self-discipline to change their behavior.

    OK, I didn’t actually call him Mr. Nimrod Idiot, that’s just what I call him in my head, but seriously – that’s nearly word-for-word what he said. And that’s why I think I need to go pray for him some more.

    Anyways, positive re-enforcement is a tried and true tactic, but it turns out that there’s a small caveat; you can do it wrong. Continue reading

  • Raising Moral Kids, Pt 1

    I thought this was a great article in the NYT about what researchers have to say about raising moral kids. A lot of it is stuff we all know is true (but hope we can find a way around). So it’s interesting to learn that some of our old parenting gems aren’t just theoretically true, but that they’ve been proven true as well. Which is particularly comforting for some of us who went against the grain, did these things and discovered that raising a good person doesn’t automatically turn them into leaders of industry. Those are two different skills sets, it turns out.

    Anyhow, the article covered a lot of ground, but I have a take-away I wanted to pass on today and one more for tomorrow. And one more the day after that. I decided that two 2000 word posts in one day might be a bit much, so I’m splitting it up.

    Besides, it’s an important topic. I genuinely believe that the way we raise our kids is what will ultimately change the world. For my part, I believe that raising kind, caring, moral children should be just as important as raising kids who can get into college. Or who can still find her purity ring to wear home from college. More important, really. But if we believe that, we have to live it. So, here’s today’s research-supported bit of parenting wisdom:

    Your kids will do what you do, not what you say.

    I know, crazy, right? Who knew? It’s not like every single one of us is walking around feeling guilty as hell knowing that our kids will inevitably struggle with many of the same imperfections as we do. And that I am completely helpless to stop it because I am simply not capable of being perfect enough to keep it from happening. So I lie to myself and think, “they’ll take my advice rather than following my instructions. After all, why would they want to end up like me? That’s got to be a powerful deterrent, right?”. . . Or maybe that’s just me. It’s probably just me.

    Anyway, the good news is that what you do right has more power than you probably realized. Continue reading

  • My Amazing Discipline Trick!

    One of these days, I’ll have to tell you about my oldest son Noah. He was really something. Even my mom didn’t want to watch him. And she had 9 kids. But that’s a kind of long story for another day. Suffice it to say he was challenging.

    One of the things which made Noah particularly difficult is that he simply wasn’t responsive to punishment. He wasn’t vulnerable to any sort of trickery. “Flattery will get you no where” may well have been his first complete sentence. Time out was me dealing with a two hour fight and I’m sorry, you don’t get to just make me miserable for two hours straight like that. Day after day. Just . . . nothing I tried really worked. He was getting better over time, but good Lord, at the rate we were going he was going to be having temper tantrums on his honeymoon.

    I think it was while reading some book on positive parenting that I came across the idea which actually worked. And it’s the discipline trick I’ve turned to almost exclusively with all my other kids. Because it works. AND it teaches them skills that they need to be good, healthy people. But it’s so simple, you might think I’m crazy. Continue reading

  • Great Power and Petty Beligerance

    Yesterday, I wrote about how the changing role and nature of authority in our lives demands that we change the way we parent our kids. Which is why my first rule of parenting is to raise good men and women, not good children.

    Of course, as the existence of our prison system and the IRS demonstrate, authority still exists. Our kids do need to know how to submit to some authority other than their own. Even when they disagree with it. So it’s not that I’ve give up all authority over my children. Especially with five kids, there’s no way our family could function!

    Which leads to my second rule of parenting: great powers do not respond to petty belligerence. Especially in Christians circles, a great deal of weight is placed on establishing and maintaining the near absolute authority of the parents. The idea seems to be that the parent’s authority is under constant threat from rebellious children. Therefor, resistance to a parent’s authority must be dealt with as the threat it is.

    I think this is ridiculous. I’m in charge. I know I’m in charge. My kids know I’m in charge. I don’t need to waste my time proving to them that I’m in charge. Nor do I need to force them to continually reassure me that they still recognize my authority. Great powers can tolerate protests, complaints, petitions for change and challenges without fear. Only insecure powers feel that they must respond to and crush every petty belligerency.

    A great deal of conflict, stress, resentment and drama is created in families by parents who take their kids behavior as a threat to their authority. It’s a very ugly dynamic that I’ve seen lead to terrible parenting and destroyed relationships. And it’s completely and totally unnecessary.

    I refuse to take my child’s behavior that personally. They behave the ways they do for their own reasons, not to see if they can knock me off my throne. Even when they are deliberately testing boundaries, it’s no threat. And I let them know that. If they go too far, I will put a stop to it, but otherwise, they enjoy a great deal of freedom. And they are allowed to renegotiate the boundaries from time to time. I’m in charge. I can decide to move boundaries if I see fit.

    Because of this, my children trust me. They know that I’m not engaged in senseless power struggles with them when I do put my foot down. They know that I will show respect for them even if they do not show respect for me, because I’m not nearly as childish as they are. They know that I will remain in control even when they do not. They know I can be trusted to listen to their concerns and deal fairly with them.

    So, the next time you are in conflict with your children, stop and make sure than an unwarrented concern for maintaining power isn’t driving you. Maybe get a t-shirt made to remind yourself, “Great powers are not threatened by petty belligerence”. You’re a great power in a secure position and none of you have anything to prove on that front.

  • (Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

    Why Parents Should Meditate

    Meditation is good for us. The bible tells us to meditate dozens and dozens of times. Modern science has shown that meditation changes the way our brains work and provides a host of physical and mental health benefits. Everyone should learn to meditate.

    While meditation is good for everyone, it is essential for parents. In fact, I think it is safe to say that if I didn’t meditate, I would be unable to parent my 5 children without the assistance of weed or booze to smooth things out. But because I meditate, I am usually an oasis of peace in the middle of chaos, even while sober.

    When you meditate, you learn to tune out your senses – or at least not give them center stage. Which is really helpful when a kid spilled milk in the car without your knowing it. If you haven’t learned to meditate and tune out your senses, the smell of spoiled milk every time you get in the car might really bother you. Not so for the meditating parent.

    When you meditate, you learn to quiet or take no notice of the chattering little voices in your head which insistently demand your attention. This is an essential skill for parents when several children gang up on you demanding ice cream and a pony. You just use the skills you have developed through hours of meditation and those chattering, insistent voices quickly fade away, leaving you free to contemplate what it would actually be like to have a pony in the backyard. As with meditation, when you take no notice of the chattering voices of children demanding that you give your full attention to every inanity of life, they wear themselves out and go away.

    Meditation also develops your powers of concentration. Which is helpful when you’re trying to pay enough attention to what your daughter is saying so you can keep track of who is mad at whom today and what each person’s favorite My Little Pony character is. When you’re stuck in the house all day with small children, you take your gossip where you can get it, so this is very important.

    The ability to tame your brain and concentrate is also helpful when you have a kid who wants to explain, in minute detail, an epic pokemon battle he saw on youtube. The control over your brain developed through meditation allows you to tune him out entirely without him noticing. You just tune in a couple times a minute to repeat the last word or two you heard – “he used thunderbolt attack, mmhm.” Then your brain is free to plan your next meal, rehash your argument with your sister or find the answer to meaning of life. A parent who doesn’t meditate has to either let their kid know that you don’t care what they are talking about or be held hostage to a long diatribe about the evolution of Celibi, the guardian of the forest.

    Another benefit of meditating is that you become more aware of what’s happening in the moment. My husband responds to the various screetches, yells, wails and shouts of our children with alarm and panic. He doesn’t meditate much and therefore has a hard time tuning into the details of the present moment in a pinch. He often struggles to discern the difference between the cry of a child whose finger has just been severed and a child who is losing an argument. But as a meditating parent who is in the moment, I can discern not only between serious injury and frustration. I can tell the difference between crying caused by injury that requires medical attention, injury which requires an ice pack and an over-reaction to a scratch. This greatly reduces the amount of panic in my life. It allows me to continue what I am doing until the child who is wailing comes to tattle on someone.

    Now that I have teens, I have found that being an experienced meditator is even more essential than ever. For example, part of meditating is not responding to every thought, emotion and stimulus that comes up. Instead of reacting, you just observe. Let it be what it is. Which was helpful this afternoon when my son came home with two bows in his hair. Rather than reacting, I could simply observe that his hair looks cute with bows in it. When my other son decided to forgo a shower this morning, I was able to observe that the room he was sitting in smelled like cumin and politely told him to go shower before the odor seeped into the couch cushions.

    People sometimes ask me how it is that I can raise 5 kids, keep my house from being condemned by the county and write. The answer, simply is meditation. If it wasn’t for meditation, I wouldn’t be able to write many of my blog posts like this (you only think I am kidding):


    Related: Just a Housewife in Wisconsin