• 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! :)

  • Jesus_with_children

    Suffer Us Little Children

    What parent doesn’t want to be a better parent to their kids?

    And what Christian doesn’t desperately wish to be truly humble? (OK, almost no Christian actually wants any such thing, but play along with me here.)

    What if I told you that I have the secret to attaining these two highly desirable goals all in one fell swoop? Well, I’d become a viral sensation and finally be discovered and recognized as the spiritual genius I am, of course!

    Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Ah. Sorry, sometimes I just need a good laugh. (You may not find me so amusing, but from time to time I crack myself up. It always makes me happy to know that someone thinks I’m funny.)

    Anyhow, in all seriousness, somewhere along the line I picked up a spiritual habit that actually does humble me far more than I want to be humbled. And it does make me a better, more compassionate parent. And I will share it with y’all in case any of you are stupid brave enough to want to follow in my footsteps and enjoy the horrible joyous spiritual misery benefits. (I’m feeling really up on life today. Can you tell?)

    It goes back to something Jesus said:

    “[Jesus] called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

    Now, the bible is filled with references to God as father. Which would make us children. But it’s often not a particularly helpful concept because we tend to want God the Father to be a grandiose, super hero version of dad rather than a real dad.

    So we think that being dad, God is supposed to protect us from all harm. Which, as anyone who has ever watched Finding Nemo knows, doesn’t actually work in real life. And we want God to be the dad who makes sure his kids have everything they need. Which is no doubt what the father of every child who has ever gone to bed hungry wants as well. We want God to move heaven and earth, changing time and the rules of life itself if that’s what it takes to make things all better. Even though heaven, earth, time and life itself all work the way they do because God made them work that way, presumably for good reasons.

    The truth is that we don’t actually want God the Father. We want God the personal body guard/Santa Claus/magician.

    In real life, dads do provide and protect, to the best of their ability. But mostly they tell you to stop jumping on the couch. They spin you in circles and tickle you and make fart jokes. They refuse to give into your temper tantrums and tell you to wait your turn and share with your sister. They teach you how life works and strategies for coping with its difficulties. They tell you stories and give advice and keep your secrets.

    Once you understand this, Jesus’ teaching that we must become like little children takes on a whole new flavor. In fact, what I’ve learned is that when God is not responding to me the way I think he should, it’s because he’s dealing with me like a real father. And I’m acting like a real child. Which is hard to see when I think I’m the righteous heroine in distress and God’s supposed to be my father cum super hero/Santa Claus/magician.

    For example, this spring, I realized that my ongoing anger at God was very much like when my kids would attempt to bend me to their will by throwing the world’s biggest temper tantrum. And that much of my time in the desert was basically God using my own super easy, super effective parenting trick on me. He was just standing by, waiting out my hurt and anger so we could both start to move forward.

    And it makes me appreciate how much God puts up with from me. How rarely he chastises me for my anger and instead offers comfort and understanding. He bends down to my height and listens to my howls of pain and outrage and tells me I’m going to be OK. Then when I won’t be comforted, he withdraws a little to wait until I’m ready.

    But he never mocks me. He doesn’t tell me to shut up and show some appreciation for everything he does for me. He never holds the things I say in anger against me. He doesn’t walk away in disgust. He doesn’t yell at me or tell me to pull myself together and grow up. He doesn’t get angry at me for not showing proper respect. He just loves me through it until I figure things out for myself.

    Realizing how much pain I am in when I throw my spiritual little kid temper tantrums, forces me to look at my children’s temper tantrums with much more compassion. I can see how ridiculous they are sometimes being. But even when they know they’re being kind of ridiculous, they are in so much pain that they just can’t help themselves.

    So I do for them what God does for me. I don’t mock, ridicule or yell at them. I offer comfort and if they won’t take it, I just stand by and wait it out. I understand that as annoying as a temper tantrum throwing little kid is, it’s much worse to be in that much distress.

    Right now I’m in a period of waiting. My life is a disaster. Beyond repair, so far as I can tell. Yet I’ve had multiple people who I trust pass on messages telling me that it’s just a matter of time. God has very good plans for me. But he’s working on his own schedule and he’s not going to deviate from it, even though it’s painful for me.

    This is very frustrating because every time I get upset and beg God to step in and help me and I get angry about my life, I am forcibly reminded of how my kids pester me when I tell them to wait. How they will come to me multiple times a day demanding to know why it’s not their birthday yet. Or asking, “are you ready yet?” over and over. Or wanting to know when their stomach flu will pass.

    Frankly, my kids’ inability to wait irritates me like nothing else. Realizing that I’m in the same boat and that the waiting is unbearably painful both humbles me and gives me new compassion for my kids. I’m not sure I’ve really understood before how much I’m asking from them when I tell them to wait. Which has forced me to be more judicious about when I elevate my priorities over theirs and how long I ask them to wait.

    It also makes me more cognizant of the burden of their trust. I cannot ask them to wait patiently if I cannot be trusted to do what I’ve said I will. I’ve learned to make very, very few promises or commitments with my kids. It drives them nuts, but then when I say I will do something, they can have full confidence that it will happen, no matter how long it takes.

    I don’t honestly like the idea that my problems, which from a human perspective are not small, are so small in the eyes of God. It makes me feel less than. No one likes to feel less than. Like a lot of us, if you tell me that my problems are childish or my pain is caused by my immaturity, I feel angry and humiliated.

    But this reveals a flaw in my thinking; God is not a man who would look on a child’s problems as foolish and inconsequential. The harm done to a child can stay with them for a lifetime. He’s not the sort of parent who demands that his child takes his perspective for their own. He respects our limits and doesn’t treat us with disrespect because we are not as mature, powerful and capable as he is. God asks us to be humble, but never, ever, ever wants us to be humiliated by our status as children.

    We’re children. We have children’s problems. What Love knows, that we too often do not, is that children’s problems are real. The fact that we, from our vantage point as adults see them as foolish and unworthy of care or concern comes from our lack as parents. Yes, sometimes our kids frustrate us and sometimes the gap between their distress and the magnitude of the actual problem makes us laugh. But we should never shame them or humiliate them for seeing things from a child’s perspective.

    Part of what I have learned from humbling myself enough to see that I really am like a child to God who really is like a father is how much is required of us as parents. We speak of child’s problems as if they are small, foolish things. But as I said, the harm done to a child can stay with them for a lifetime. And too often parents minimize the harm done to their children because they are unwilling to be strong, brave and sacrificial enough to help them.

    Think of all the children who are abused by parents who believe they have the right (if not the obligation) to inflict pain on them for their own good, when really the parents are just too immature and out of control to handle the demands of parenting. Or the kids who seek help only to be turned away by adults who are unwilling to risk ruining a reputation or threaten a comfortable family dynamic. Or all the kids who are hurting and in trouble who get met with “tough love” or ignored by adults who want the child to carry all of the burdens placed on them rather than facing their own failures or disrupting long existing ideas about how things are done.

    Then think of what God did for his hurting children on the cross.

    When God asks us to humble ourselves to be little children, he’s not trying to humiliate us. He’s asking us to give him the chance to be the sort of parent that we actually need. To be the parent who is trustworthy and won’t turn away in our time of need. To be the parent who comforts rather than shames us. To be the parent who takes our hurts seriously rather than mocking them. To be the parent who lifts our burdens rather than telling us to buck up under them.

    Which all sounds nice, but there’s a great deal at stake here. You see, it’s very hard to parent when you were never parented well yourself. No matter how much you love your children, when your back’s against the wall, your automatic response will come out of your brokeness rather than your love.

    Children are vulnerable. It’s easy to hurt them without ever meaning to. And if you are unwilling to humble yourself, to allow God to parent you and show you the way, you may cause harm that can’t be undone in this lifetime. Which is why Jesus ended his words about becoming like little children with a promise and a warning for us:

    “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

  • me n olivia

    What Olivia is Teaching Me

    I have a 20 month old baby girl named Olivia.  And she cracks me up.  When I tell her “no” she says, “oohhh.”  She does it just like someone going, “aw man!”  She has this laugh that sounds like whatever she’s laughing at is the funniest thing ever.  She also has an unusual command of her body.  She’s been walking since 8 1/2 months and can pull herself onto a counter using only her arms.  She’s been able to twist tops off of bottles since before she could walk and recently figured out that if you bite down on the tip of a marker and yank really hard, you can pull the inked felt core right out of the marker.

    Then there are the things she gets backwards.  We’ve been encouraging Olivia to talk because she’s so good at communicating using body language and odd noises that otherwise she’d hardly ever see the need to learn to talk.  So she’s starting to say a few words and try her hand at jabbering.  One of the words we hear most often from her is “no”.  But it’s not because she’s being contrary or disagreeable; she says “no” when she really means “yes”.  What’s even funnier is that if you ask her if she means “yes”, she repeats her “no” in a very exaggerated way as if maybe she wasn’t clear enough the first time.  It doesn’t help that she also says “no” when she means “no”.  We keep trying to get her to say “yes”, but she appears to be of the opinion that since she knows when her “no” means “yes” and when it means “no”, then we should as well.

    The other thing she gets wrong that cracks me up is she blows out when she means to breathe in and vice-versa.  This summer, I planted a bunch of moss roses (portulaca) by my front porch that grew int a beautiful, thick patch of covered with dozens of brightly colored, imitation rose flowers.  Olivia would frequently crouch down next to the plants and blow on the showy flowers.  At first I thought that maybe she liked watching the flower petals flutter in her breath.  But then I realized that she thought she was smelling them!  She knew that people smelled flowers, but was confused on the mechanics of it.  Put a candle in front of her and she’ll purse her lips and suck in like she’s using an invisible straw.

    While dealing with Olivia, it has often occurred to me that she gets things backwards the same way most people get things backwards.  So often, we have a tendency to intend to communicate one thing, but what comes out is just the opposite.  And then when people try to correct the error, we assume that the problem is their’s and not ours.  At the extreme end, we have jealous-stalker types who insist they behave the way they do because they just love someone so much.  More commonly, way we will tell a child how much they are loved and then snap at them angrily when they are irritating.  It’s the sort of thing we do all the time – especially with those closest to us.  Our actions communicate just the opposite of what we intend and we expect others to just know what we mean.

    And isn’t it just like us to blow out when we should be breathing in and breath in when we should be blowing out?  For example, we will try to demand that our partner be a certain way (blowing on them) when what we are supposed to be doing is allowing them to show us who they are and learning to deal with them as they are (breathing in).  On the other hand, we are affected deeply by the things that happen to us and hang onto the hurts and dysfunctions that are created (breathing in) while doing very little to change our hearts and minds so that we are better able to deal with what happens to us and let it go (blowing out).  We try to exert our will to change what we cannot change (other people, the way life is designed to work) and often put far too little effort into changing what we can change – ourselves.

    Eventually Olivia will learn to say “yes” when she means “yes” and to breathe in the scent of flowers and blow out a birthday candle.  As her mother, I also hope that by the time she’s ready to go out into the world on her own, she will have mastered the these skills in the rest of her life as well.

  • domestic help

    My husband can’t afford me!

    I did a little research about the going rate for the services I provide for a family our size in the area I live in.  So, here’s my version of one of those “how much does it cost to replace a stay-at-home-mom?” lists that comes out every year around Mother’s Day:

    Full time, live in nanny: $600/week for up to 50 hours.  $18/hr for additional hours or weekends
    Personal cook: $250/week
    Housekeeping – 18 hours/week: $300/week
    Laundry service – 25 loads/week: $100/week
    Lifecoach/therapist services for children – approx 5 hrs/week: $350/week
    Personal Assistant approx 8 hours/week: $100/week
    Tutoring – approx 4 hours/week: $100/week
     
    Cost to hire people to replace mom: $1800/week or $243,600/year.   Of course, if I were making almost $250K a year, I might feel obliged to cut back on the time I spend on the internet.  I might even be prodded into giving a rip about the Bush tax cuts expiring!  But I don’t get paid that way.  But I’d still say that I’m a bargain! And if I, or any other mom, wanted a new washer and dryer for Mother’s Day (hint, hint), it would be a wise decision to make that purchase without flilnching, don’t ya think?
    (And for the record – all respect to the working mom.  I don’t know how you do it all!)
  • glitter-kids

    The best parenting advice I’ve heard all year!

    Today I was reading through a fairly fluffy article offering advice to parents of teens.  (Because with two teens in the house and a whole lot of future teens coming down the pipeline I need all the help I can get!)   In the middle of this fluffy little article, I found the best parenting advice I’ve read all year.   In the for-parents-of-teens version it goes:

    If your teen breaks curfew and you meet her at the door ranting, what do you think she’s going to focus on—the fact that she’s late or that you’re screaming like a lunatic?

    I read that and a lightbulb went off in my head.  Although the context is for dealing with teens, I think that this is great guidance for all parents.  If your child does something wrong and the way you correct them makes a bigger impression on them than the fact that they did something wrong, you have failed.  We’d all like to think that when we flip out at our kids they will think to themselves, “gosh, when I drew with crayon all over the wall Mom wailed and cried and threw my crayons on the floor and stomped on them until I cried.  I guess I better not draw on the wall again.”  But the reality is that when we are done flipping out our child will sit and think, “Mommy was really scary and hurt my feelings.”  Not being the most thoughtful, logical creatures in the world (perhaps something they inherented from parents who flip out over childish misdeeds?) kids tend to miss the cause-effect message when they are busy being upset/scared/mad/etc over how they have been treated.  Personally, I have vivid memories of times my parents lost it and virtually no memory of what I may have done to provoke such a reaction. 

    So, when you are tempted to flip out or even just respond with harsh words or punishments in reaction to your child’s misdeed, stop and think for a minute.  Isn’t your goal to teach proper behavior?  If so, you may well get better results by toning it down and making sure the message doesn’t get lost in delivery.

  • The state and your children

    I sometimes wonder if parents realize how much control they are handing to the government when they enroll their children in government schools. I’m guessing that many parents do not realize that not only are they not choosing what specifically their children are taught, but they do not have the legal right to have their children exempted from lessons which they may find objectionable or immoral. This came to light again last week in Lexington Massachusetts after a 2nd grade teacher used a book called “King & King” to teach children about different types of marriage. (Story here.) The teacher did not inform parents ahead of time that a book depicting marriage between two men would be used (and he is under no legal obligation to do so). When parents objected, the school’s response was predictable:
    “Lexington Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash said Estabrook has no legal obligation to notify parents about the book. ”We couldn’t run a public school system if every parent who feels some topic is objectionable to them for moral or religious reasons decides their child should be removed . . .’ “
    Last year a father at the same school who refused to leave school grounds until he was allowed to have his son opt-out of lessons which included teaching about same sex marriage was arrested for trespassing. We saw a similar demonstration of state power over our children in a case decided in California last fall where parents were found not to have the right to prevent a school from requiring their children to participate in Islamic practice’s including prayers to Allah. (Story here.) This is the power of the state when it comes to educating children – they can choose what to teach them AND the parent has NO right to have their child exempted from lessons and activities which they find objectionable (exceptions for sex ed are allowed in most places).
    Right now this is primarily a problem for those with traditional values, but it could just as easily turn against those whose values are in the minority. It’s not hard at all to imagine a situation in a part of the country which is less amiable to the idea of same sex marriage where a lesson may include a statement such as “No society in history has ever recognized marriage other than between a man and woman (or women) because it has long been believed that homosexuality is unnatural and children entrusted to such couples would grow up twisted and unable to participate in the functioning of the society.” Obviously, such a statement (while perhaps factually true) would be offensive to a same sex couple and might even cause real harm to the psyche of a child being raised by a same sex couple. However, parents simply do not have any right to insist that their children not be exposed to something which the state or its officials want them to be exposed to. When a child is enrolled in a government school, it is the state and the state alone which decides what that child is to be taught. What is so crazy about this situation is that we often hear from pro-government school apologists that the public school system is the foundation of a functioning democracy. In fact, a mandatory state run school system which claims sole responsibility for the ideas a child is exposed to while in its care in order to maintain a society which functions according to that state’s vision of proper is a defining characteristic of dictatorial, fascist and other non-representative freedom killing regimes. How is it that so many people have accepted the idea that in a democracy the government should take on such a role? Call me cranky, but it really is the idea that it’s perfectly reasonable that parents hand over their right to educate their own children to the government which bothers me much more than any particular thing which is or isn’t taught in schools. To me giving the state the right to indoctrinate my kids as they see fit, without my input or control, runs contrary to the sort of radical freedoms our nation was founded on.

  • What does the state need to be able to do to "their" kids?

    I read an article today about homeschooling in VA where apparently there are some rather onerous requirements for assessment. Fortunately, there’s also an out: a religious exemption clause which allows parents who are homeschooling for religious reasons to do so without interference from the state. Now some people are wondering if the law should be revisited due to the large number of homeschoolers claiming this exemption. Any how, what woke me up was this quote from former State delegate Jim Dillard who wrote VA’s homeschool law:
    “It goes back to the idea of an enlightened electorate,” he said. “In order to have society function as a democracy, the state needs to be able to inculcate certain values in its children, in order to prepare them for citizenship and to have a meaningful role in society.”
    Hello!?! The state’s function is to protect rights, maintain law and order, create a climate for commerce to function, not to “inculcate certain values in its children”! And this certainly isn’t the role of a democracy – only in fascist regimes like Hitler, Soviet Russia and our current batch of Islamofascists is indoctrination of children seen as a proper role of the state. Our founding fathers would be appalled.

  • Correcting other people’s children

    Yesterday a friend and I were talking about the taboo many people seem to have about correcting other people’s children when they are misbehaving. Then this morning, I found this article from the Today Show about how to deal with other people’s misbehaving/annoying children. In it the parenting “expert” completely accepts the idea that one should never correct someone else’s child even in the face of bullying or extreme rudeness (she mentions a child burping in your face). Can someone please explain the thinking behind this taboo to me? Now, I wouldn’t yell at someone else’s child or interject myself into the life of some random obnoxious child I saw while walking down the street. However, I see nothing wrong with telling a child who is operating in your common space, “please stop doing that. You’re going to hurt yourself/it’s very rude/you make other people feel bad” or whatever is appropriate. Occasionally, my children are corrected by another adult and they know that they need to deal with that and not give people cause to correct them. Of course I would never be abusive towards a child and would not tolerate another person treating my child in an abusive manner, but simply correcting poor/dangerous behavior seems perfectly fine to me. Every time this topic comes up, I feel like I must be missing something as I just cannot understand why stepping in to speak to a child who is out of hand should be a problem.
    Many of us (or at least our parents) remember a time when if you misbehaved out in public, not only would any adult present reprimand you, but they would likely make sure your mother knew about it by the time you made it home so she could deal with you as well. I think that the difference between those times and today demonstrates a change which parents neglect to take seriously at their (and their children’s) own peril. Once upon a time, you could be a fairly negligent parent, not devoting much energy to supervising or disciplining your children and feel fairly comfortable that your kids would turn out basically OK. That was because while you might not be there with your kids, other adults were watching and correcting problem behaviors. Your children simply could not move through the world in most places without having societal norms enforced on them. Having other parents and the community re-enforcing proper behavior and norms assisted parents in raising good kids. I think too many parents fail to realize that since this mechanism is no longer in place, they are wholly responsible for their child’s development. Too many parents act as if they can still send their kids out into the world and have them be OK. It’s not just that we live in a more dangerous world – the reality is that crime has dropped very dramatically in the last 20-30 years. Statistically speaking, we’re much safer today. However, what’s missing is any re-enforcement from others our children will meet as they move through the world of the sorts of good behavior and proper character development we’re teaching our kids. Instead of living in a world which helps us as we raise our kids, we must equip our kids to defend themselves against the world. It seems to me that this cultural taboo we have about correcting other people’s children simply feeds into this problem and makes raising good kids that much harder.