• Rolling your eyes is a good parenting technique

    Collin is learning to be a really funny, crabby 45 year old man. Unfortunately he’s stuck being 12 at the moment.

    Want to do something amazing for your relationship with your kids?  Engage in this thought exercise:

    Think of a good friend; someone you genuinely like and care about.  (Don’t use your spouse – too many in-law issues!)  What sort of parent would you want for that friend? If you were somehow able to go back and parent your friend yourself, how would you do it?

    I have found that by looking at a friend, who I don’t really have a vested interest in trying to change, I can envision what it would look like for me to parent with more patience, wisdom and acceptance.  It’s helped me come to see my kids for what they are.  They are their own persons who have both the right and the responsibility to figure out who they  are and what sort of life they want to live. What they are not are extensions of me or proof of the worth of my life or even my skills as a parent.

    This is so clear to us when dealing with any human being other than a child – particularly your own.  Then we are prone to respond to their imperfections, independence and petty rebellions by going into whatever our version of full-blown panicked-tyranny mode is to cow them into pleasing us.  And that’s hard on both parent and child.  Even as a kid it always seemed to me that both my father and my grandfather would have liked to be more gentle and empathetic than they were with their children.  But they were convinced that if they didn’t make sure we stayed not just on the straight and narrow but on the painted line right in the middle of the road, all hell would break loose.  I just don’t have the fortitude or the compliant kids necessary to get away with that style of parenting, so I’ve been letting my kids wander all over the countryside surrounding the road for a while now and my father himself has commented positively on the results.  (Not that he doesn’t have some reservations, but then again, so do I!)  And it turns out that I was right about my dad too – seeing him hold one of his grandkids is a beautiful thing.

    Now, don’t get me wrong – I have no problem pulling rank and forcing my kids to behave or comply if need be. But my preferred method is always to convince them to go along by choice. One of my proudest parenting moments was when Continue reading

  • Do Your Kids Know Their Own Story?

    Trotter children are immediately identifiable by their curly hair

    Each of my children has a story we tell them about some way in which their lives have mattered.  I believe that it’s one thing to tell a kid they are important and that they matter, but it’s something of a gift to them to be able to tell them how they have mattered.  Then they’re not just a lowly child floating out in the world with no real base or purpose to start with.  It grounds the message that they have value in their real world.  It’s concrete evidence for them that just because they exist, the world is a different, better place.

    My oldest Noah was born when his father and I were not married.  If it wasn’t for him, we would not have formed a family and his siblings wouldn’t be here.  And his birth also changed me.  Before having him, if you had walked up to me at any given moment and said, “I’m sorry, only real humans are allowed here.  Penguins such as yourself belong elsewhere” and I would have shrugged at being caught and thanked you for telling me I was a penguin – I had been wondering about that.  I had a bad case of imposter’s syndrome.  Practically from the start, parenting Noah was something I just knew how to do and I felt completely comfortable doing it.  It was almost like working out of an area of spiritual blessing and was an important step on the way to me knowing (hopefully) more and more of who God created me to be. 

    Collin, who is now 12 was born while his dad was very sick.  His medical care was awful but we were young and hadn’t yet realized that the system works differently once your illness has no identifiable cause or treatment.  They eventually told us that he was crazy – really, they did.  They even gave us a black binder with a report saying so.  Continue reading

  • Angels in my Bedroom?

    After a longer string of good days that I’ve had in I don’t know how long, I woke up pretty out of sorts this morning.  Which is bound to happen.  Especially, you know, every four weeks or so.  So, rather than ruining my whole day by pushing myself until I’m too overwhelmed and drained to function, I grabbed my still groggy, crabby 2 year old and went back to bed to cry like a baby myself until it passed. 

    After a couple of minutes, Olivia looked up at the corner above the bed and began pointing towards the ceiling.  She does this fairly often.  I always say, “do you see an angel?” although I never see anything in the corner she’s pointing to.   Continue reading

  • “Shut Up, Mommy,” Saith the toddler

    Tonight, I was telling Olivia, my sweet just about 2 year old, to keep her grubby mitts off the food that was waiting to go into the oven.  She got frustrated with me, grabbed a piece of paper and pretending to read it, said, “shut up, mommy” and handed it to me with a humph.  Oh goodness.  I just laughed at her and moved her away from the food.  Nice try, little one.

    I have always been pretty lax about rude, disrespectful kids.  Yet no one who spends time with my kids would ever describe them as rude or disrespectful.  Just the opposite.  (Don’t worry – they have plenty of other questionable traits!)  Being rude and disrespectful may not get you in trouble around here, but it will get you laughed at and scooted aside.  Great powers do not need to respond to petty beligerance. 

    The day will come when Olivia can be taught the value of kind words.  She’ll learn soon enough; you don’t have to agree with me and you don’t have to like it.  You just have to do what I say.

  • What sort of garden do you grow?

    The best parenting analogy I have heard compared having a child to being given a plant.  Some plants are more demanding to grow than others.  Some are more sensitive to change.  Some must be nurtured for many seasons before they will show their flowers and bear their fruit.  Others are easy and sunny and thrive on neglect.  We create a lot of trouble when we try to force the artichoke plant that shows up to grow the way an oak tree grows.  After all, who wouldn’t want to be an oak tree?  Well, an artichoke plant, for one.  Or it could just accept that he’s supposed to be an oak tree and be one unhappy, messed-up artichoke plant.

    That is what is at stake as we parent: will we send a healthy, thriving plant out into the world?  Or will we be sending out an artichoke that knows all about how to be an oak tree and nothing about why he should want to be an artichoke.  It’s not easy.  We sometimes don’t know what sort of plant we’ve been given until something goes wrong.  Sometimes we were the ones sent out into the world with no concept of how to be who we are.  And gardening is frustrating.  You can nurture a plant to perfection only to have a rogue deer show up and eat the buds off.   Some plants are just ridiculously difficult to grow.

    For me, I think of it this way: My job is to help my child learn to be the person they are made to be while living in this world.

  • Michaela with her lovely first grade teacher

    What Michaela is Teaching Me

    Michaela with her lovely first grade teacher

    Michaela is my oldest daughter.  After having 2 boys, I really wanted a daughter and somehow, I wound of with 3 of them (yes I do know how it works!) but Michaela started it all.  And although this might sound like a strange thing to say about a not-quite-7-year-old, I admire Michaela a lot.  She really is the most naturally positive, determined person I know.  When she was very young and trying to do something new like use a hula hoop or throw a ball, you would hear her say to herself, “try, try again.  That’s what dad always says.”  What kid actually says that sort of thing to themselves at 3 and 4?  Michaela.

    Michaela keeps track of the compliments she receives.  She has a list of accomplishments that she’s proud of and willing to share.  When she’s struggling with something, she will calmly put it down and take a break before she gets frustrated and upset.  She finds reasons to ignore negative things people say to her.  If she realizes she’s wrong, she’s more likely to laugh at herself than anything else.  She’s a person of action and her judgement is such that if she offers a suggestion, I stop to think seriously about it.  Her ideas are usually good ones.  She just seems to naturally be the sort of person that I have struggled my whole life to be more like.

    Not that she’s impervious to being hurt.  Recently she came home from school in quite the foul mood.  She insisted she was fine but I got an inkling of the problem when I heard her yell at her brother, “stop it!  You’re hurting my feelings.  People have been hurting my feelings all day.”

    I pulled her aside and sure enough, a group of people she normally plays with at school had shunned her during recess that day.  She cried and we talked about it.  Once she was feeling better and I was starting to talk with her about what to do should this continue to be a problem she told me, “at first I went off to the side of the playground and was really sad.  But then I realized that Max and Adella and Paige were playing tag.  So I just went and played with them.  I’m really good at tag.”  That’s my girl!

    I want to be like Michaela when I grow up! :)

  • The best of the week . . .

    According to infalible me!  Ha!

    I’ve done more writing than reading this week, so this is a bit light, but here goes:

    How children’s  play is being sneakily redefined.  I totally agree with this from Alfie Kohn:

    1. Play is being redefined to include things that are clearly not free, imaginative play.

    2. Younger and older children ought to have the chance to play together.

    3.  Play isn’t just for children.

    4.  The point of play is that it has no point.

    5.  Play isn’t the only alternative to “work.”

    When congress does something so idiotic that the people who create internet memes take a break from ridiculing Edward Cullins and valorizing Chuck Norris to say “WTF?”, the people are not amused.  US Congress Rules That Pizza is a Vegetable.

    An old homeschool blogger buddy, Henry Cate at Why Homeschool shares an article on the surprising differences between elite achievers and others:

    • The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players (around 50 hours a week spent on music),
    • but they’re not dedicating these hours to the right type of work (spending almost 3 times less hours than the elites on crucial deliberate practice),
    • and furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly throughout the day. So even though they’re not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.

    Kids with high IQs more likely to become teens and adults who use drugs:

    The results may seem surprising at first glance, but the researchers noted that they do fit some established patterns. “High-IQ individuals have also been shown to score highly on tests of stimulation seeking and openness to experience,” they wrote, and it could be that “illegal drugs are better at fulfilling a desire for novelty and stimulation.”

    Hmmmm . . .

    As I listened to this interview with Mattieu Richard, I kept saying, “yes! this man gets it.”  After a while I started getting a bit irritated that a buddhist monk was sharing some amazing things with the world while we Christians support a cottage industry dedicated to convincing ourselves that the world is only 6000 years old.

    Did you know that in Ezekial 16:17 God says that the hebrews had taken the wealth he gave them, made a jewel encrusted dildo with the gold and silver and pleasured themselves with it?  In 1 Samuel 6, the neighbors of Isreal, who had stolen the ark of the covenant, made models of their tumors with gold and sent them, along with models of rats made of gold back to Isreal along with the Ark. Can you imagine? “That there piece of gold looks like a goiter I had once!”  The bible is the most interesting book I own.

    From Slate: Four Excellent Habits – The subtle skills that will give you a permanent edge:

    Principle 1: Look for bright spots

    Principle 2: Find the right gravity

    Principle 3: Maintain your bridges

    Principle 4: Avoid following the herd

    And finally, I have decided that my 12 year old son Collin is much easier to understand and get along with if you just accept that he’s a 16 year old and an 8 year old living in the same body.  And the 16 year old doesn’t like being treated like an 8 year old.

    If you blog and have something you’d like me to read and maybe (almost certainly!) include in my weekly list, email the link to me at ratrotter73@yahoo.com with “best of the week” in the subject line.

    Principle 1: Look for bright spots

  • An example of my 1st grader's homework

    Homework in kindergarten

    An example of my 1st grader's homework

    So, I have my kids in the local public schools which has real drawbacks and benefits.  One of the things I am struggling with is when – if ever – to push back over some the homework issue.  Like has happened at a lot of schools, homework has creeped down into earlier and earlier grades.  So, my 1st grader has nightly homework and my kindergartener has homework once or twice a week.

    There are so many problems with this.  First of all, there has been a bunch of research into the matter and homework has no benefits – not educational, in fostering good work habits – until at least junior high.  The problem is that this conflicts with deeply ingrained ideas about the importance of starting good habits early, the need to practice those habits, etc.  So although it is literally a fact that homework for elementary kids has no benefit, people think that it must and won’t let go of it.  When confronted, people either deny reality or fall back on another admirable goal: parental involvement.  Which leads to the next problem . . .

    I am very involved in my kids life without your help, thank you very much!  And I don’t particularly feel the need or desire to document the time I spend involved with them.  And what if we go two weeks without reading together and then devour 4 books in a weekend?  I don’t need/want the schools making me feel like part of their job is to hold me accountable for reading to my kids!  The best predictor of whether a kid will be a reader is whether they see their parents reading and how many books are in the house – NOT whether I spend 20 minutes a day reading to them.  Needless to say I read on occassion (ha!  on ocassion.) and I have a few books in the house.  If I got nothing else right while homeschooling, at least I made readers.  I really don’t need or want the school’s help.  This is the one thing which I have held my ground on, I steadfastly refuse to document time spent reading to my kids – not for bribes of pizza or so my kid can get her gold star.  I’m not going to do it.

    But it’s not just the tracking of minutes reading that is a problem.  It’s the homework itself.  The homework is BULLSHIT.  It would be much easier to settle into complacency over sending my kids to school rather than homeschooling if I didn’t actually have to confront the bad pedagogy and pointless drivel which passes for school curriculumn.  Not to mention that it’s pointless to have my daughter “read” the same story each night for a week when by the second night she is reciting it from memory.  This does nothing to help her learn to read.  (And don’t even get me started on spelling lists.)  Seriously, people – sending this crap home each day is not confidence inspiring.

    It doesn't get better - an example of my 7th grader's homework

    I’m struggling with how to handle this.  I don’t believe in telling my kids things that I know aren’t true, so it’s hard for me to try and convince them that homework actually has a point.  Mostly I just focus on the expectation of the teacher that it be done and the star that the teacher will put on her chart when it is done.  I did finally start sending the names of books Michaela read to me or other family members in lieu of reciting the week’s story from memory (I still let her do that when she wants to – memorization is an important skill.  But it doesn’t count as reading.)  I have started refusing to help her with worksheets like the one above and insist that she figure out what she’s supposed to be doing herself instead.  Do I say anything to the teachers?  I know its not really their fault – and they are so sweet and seem to be genuinely good teachers.  It’s not really even something a teacher can do anything about.  Sending home work with kids is something they are all expected to do.  But there is  pressure on my girls to conform and jump through the hoops to get the grades (good skills to have, but hardly what the main focus should be about).  I want them to be successful in school, but I don’t want them to fall for bullshit claptrap like doing things simply to collect gold stars instead of to learn.  I know that my and even my daughter’s teacher’s power to effect change is pretty limited.  Schools are inherently limited in how flexible they can be.  Other parents no doubt completely disagree with my suggestions.  Curriculum is a huge investment and can’t be tossed on a whim.  Etc, etc, etc.  So . . . anyone have any suggestions, insights, experiences to share?  I’m all ears!


  • Salt-N-Pepa-copy

    Let’s talk about sex, baby!

    Note: A few years back I did some writing for a now defunct Christian magazine.  I never put these articles up here because the magazine owns the rights to them, but now that they are defunct, well, I’m going to share!

    In the early ‘90s Salt-n-Peppa famously sang “Let’s talk about sex, baby” and boy, oh boy do we take their exhortations to heart.  Sex is everywhere.  Even young children are constantly barraged with images, information and messages about sex.

    Advertisers and entertainers are busy talking to your kids about sex – are you?  If not, it’s time to get started.

    The reasons people avoid talking with their kids about sex are myriad: squeamishness, fear of saying the wrong things, embarrassment over their own failures.  Unfortunately, there is a whole world out there which isn’t embarrassed to talk to your kids about sex and they don’t care if what they have to say is right or not.   With so much noise, you can’t afford not to be in on the conversation.

    If the idea of talking with your kids about sex is off-putting, consider something reassuring: your children need good, accurate information about human reproduction, but they can get that out of a book.  A lecture explaining the function of “Tab A” and “Slot B” isn’t what they need most from you.  What they need most from you is discussions about human sexuality.  They need to hear what is and isn’t OK and why.  They need talk about love, commitment and purity.   They need an ongoing discussion with Mom and Dad about what it means to be a healthy, Godly sexual person.

    This may seem like an impossible task which pits our cultural milieu against God’s unbending plan for sex.  However, you and God have more influence than you might think.  Polls asking teens and their parents what they think about sex have consistently found that parents and God come out better than might be expected.  A recent survey done by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that the number of teens who listed “parents” as having the greatest influence over their decisions regarding sex outnumbered those picking the next five choices combined.  Additionally, 90% of teens say that providing a strong message in support of abstinence is important.   71% also think that religious leaders have a role in teaching about sex.[1]   Your kids are listening and open to God’s message.

    What should you say to your kids and when?   We would do well to head God’s words in Deuteronomy 6:7 “Impress [these commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  Ideally, your conversation should start as soon as they ask questions about babies and notice differences between men and women and continue on through to adulthood.  This is certainly a different approach than the traditional “birds and bees” talk at adolescence.  However, a billboard along your path advertising “Gentlemen’s” Clubs doesn’t care about your child’s tender age.  Don’t wait until everyone else has had their say to speak up.

    As to what to say to your kids, these core principles should guide you:

    • Stay positive.  God created sex as a beautiful gift, not something dirty or dangerous when used within the boundaries he proscribes.
    • Stay biblical.  God created sex for marriage.  Period.
    • Encourage the avoidance of temptation.  The enemy loves to use our God given desires to harm us.  When we play with temptations, we are cooperating with that mission.
    • Teach God’s superior vision of masculinity.  Almost any male is capable of virility.  However it takes real manliness to practice respect and self-restraint.
    • Teach God’s superior vision of femininity.  A woman who gives her body away will always find someone to tell her she’s beautiful.  A woman with strength and character will be found beautiful without giving her body away.
    • Allow for God’s mercy.  Romans 3:23-24 says “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace. . .”  If you speak condemnation over those who fall short, your child will see you as hard of heart and close his ears to your words.  God freely offers grace – you should to.

    Whether your child is 6 or 16, there’s already a conversation about sex going on.  Make sure you’re in on the discussion!

    [1] Bill Albert, (2007).  With One Voice: America’s Teens and Adults Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy.WashingtonD.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.



  • Picturesugaretc-179-300x200

    The real reason prosperous humans have fewer kids

    The more kids, the harder it is to keep the house clean.  When you live in areas with Western levels of prosperity, there’s a lot of crap for kids to make a mess with!  So to have more than a couple of kids, either you have to be a super organizer or you have a very high tolerance for mess.  Or I suppose you could be super mean and restrictive to your kids.  Most people simply have 1 or 2 kids.

    I think that those countries trying to boost fertility rates could help a lot by making it easier to pay for household help for families with more than one or two kids.  But then that’s another entitlement, blah, blah, blah.  But I bet I’m on to something here!

    Because, trust me, more stuff + more kids = more mess!

    Picture from Sh*t My Kids Ruined