Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

The Way He Should Go

February 27th, 2020

“Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” ~Proverbs 22:6 (maybe in the 1994 NIV?)

We sang the proverb along with Steve Green’s “Hide ’em in your heart” album.

I heard the same proverb referenced by all sorts. The self-confident parent, sure they were doing it right. The despairing parent, wondering where they’d gone wrong. The parenting guru, assuring Christian parents that if they followed his patent-pending discipline program they’d be guaranteed their children wouldn’t stray.

What I didn’t frequent hear was what “the way they should go” consists of.

If I had to hazard a guess, based on the context of the conversations I’d heard, I’d guess “the way they should go” was all about moral behavior.

Today, I don’t hear that proverb so frequently.

I wonder if, in part, the fruit of the last generation’s claim on that promise has soured it.

Far too many parents are reaping tears when they felt they had been promised otherwise. They had raised their children according to a good moral standard. They’d raised them to obey. And now those children are chasing all sorts of things their parents taught them to avoid.

I thought of the proverb after a little exchange I had with Tirzah Mae this morning.

Tirzah Mae: “Did you know that Jesus has a heavenly home?”
Me: “Is that so? Can you tell me about Jesus’ heavenly home?”
Tirzah Mae: “Um, no. I don’t really know anything about it, I just heard about it somewhere.”
Me: “Would you like to learn more about it?”
Tirzah Mae nods in assent.
“Where do you think we could find out more?”

And so we were off to John 14 for a little Bible study that touched on the Trinity, heaven, and the exclusivity of Christ.

And that’s what reminded me of Proverbs 22:6. Thomas asks “How will we know the way?” and Jesus answers “I am the way.”

As parents, we have a high call to train up our children. But what way are we training them in? Am I training my children in instantaneous obedience to me? (I wish I could figure that one out!) Am I training them in Judeo-Christian morality? Maybe I’m training them to be nice?

All of those have a place, I think, but I don’t think any of those are what Proverbs 22 refers to when it says to “train up a child in the way he should go.”

Instead of simply training in instantaneous obedience or good moral values or a nebulous sense of kindness, I am called to train my child in Christ. I am called to point my children again and again and again to Christ. Christ as their only hope of righteousness. Christ as their only means of accessing God. Christ as the one who loved them first and enables them to love others. Christ as the way.

And I can have confidence, not that I have somehow guaranteed that my child will never stray (as if that was in my power), but that I have done what I was called to. I will have trained my children in the way they should go, and when Christ calls them to himself, he will keep them to the end.

Tending my little farm

January 10th, 2020

Five years ago, as a newly minted mother of a 4-month-old baby, I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy and reflected on the chapter “Springtime.”

Laura writes

“There was no time to lose, no time to waste in rest or play. The life of the earth comes up with a rush in the springtime. All the wild seeds of weed and thistle, the sprouts of vine and bush and tree are trying to take the fields. Farmers must fight them with harrow and plow and hoe; they must plant the good seeds quickly.

Almanzo was a little soldier in this great battle.”

I wrote:

“This year… this passage reminds me of [the] springtime of our lives and the great trust that parents are given of sowing seed and cultivating little hearts. It’s easy to be complacent, to assume that children will learn what we want them to learn, that they’ll establish good habits, that there’ll be plenty of time to teach them tomorrow. But the best time to plant a seed and kill a weed is springtime. And the best time to communicate the gospel and establish good habits is early in life.

Which is why I am resolving to be a little soldier in this great battle – and to establish my own habits now, while Tirzah Mae is tiny. Now is the perfect time to get into the habit of speaking the gospel to my daughter, the perfect time to steep us both in Scripture songs, the perfect time to live a visibly Christian life around my home.

Because the life of the earth comes up with a rush in the springtime. And I want the life that grows in my daughter to be a good planting.”

Yesterday, I listened to Cherry Jones read this same chapter as we work our way through the audio versions of the classic “Little House” books on our way to and from various activities.

I reflected again on the metaphor of springtime and our young children. Now the mother of four (on the outside – plus one on the inside, one in heaven, and two reintegrated into their biological families), I see even more how tireless the springtime work must be – and how important.

This is springtime. Evil ideologies vie for my children’s minds as we peruse the picture books (in order by author last name) from the library. Corporate interests try to imprint their names and logos into my children’s imaginations, try to get my children to beg for their products, ensuring customers for life. My children’s sin natures spur them to do whatever they want, following the desires of their wicked hearts. Voices from all over encourage my children to follow their hearts.

Weeds, threatening to choke the good seed of the gospel. Weeds, desirous to take over any structure or order I might impose upon my children’s lives.

But this is springtime, and I would rather be fishing, like the naughty boy in Almanzo’s story – I would rather dump my seed in one corner of the field and head off to Facebook or Feedly or whatever my latest amusement might be. Yet I know what happens to that naughty boy’s field. It is overtaken by weeds.

So I must dry the dishwater off my hands and deal with the children who are bickering in the living room. I must drag myself off the couch to deal with the disobedient child (instead of endlessly repeating myself with escalating threats.) I must be a little soldier in this great battle.

God, grant me grace to tend my little farm well.

I Take Everything You Say with a Grain of Salt

October 1st, 2019

For another month here, I have four children four and under (plus one in the oven).

Two in diapers, one in the middle of potty training, one potty trained with not-infrequent accidents.

I have three children who can turn on the sink faucet, two who can turn it off. All four can climb to get their hands under the faucet and splash water over the entire room (and beyond).

I have four children capable of pulling clothes out of drawers and dragging them through messes. None of them can wash, dry, fold, and put away those clothes.

I have four children who need fed four times a day. None of those children can provide any meaningful help in the kitchen.

This is an exhausting season.

I’m clinging to the idea that it’s just a season.

One day, these children will be able to consistently go potty in the potty chair and be able to wipe properly once they’re done.

One day they’ll all be able to turn off the faucet after washing their hands AND they’ll be able to clean up the water they spilled on the floor.

One day, they’ll be able to do their own laundry – and if they don’t do it I can let them deal with the natural consequences of their inaction.

One day, I’ll be able to send them off to the kitchen to tend the oatmeal in the morning or to reheat the leftovers at noon or to prepare tea in the afternoon. One day I can turn over even some dinners to the children.

These days of doing everything for everyone are numbered.

That’s what I’m telling myself.

But so many of you other mothers say “It only gets harder” and “just wait until they’re teenagers.”

I try to smile politely, but I just can’t believe it’s true. Sure, the rest of parenting isn’t a walk in the park, but it can’t be like this or worse for twenty years.

And then a fellow mother of many, a dozen years beyond me in the parenting journey, asked me how I was doing. I told her a bit about how hard right now is, how I feel like all I can do is put one foot in front of the other, trusting God to carry me through the next hour (sometimes even just the next minute).

She said she remembers that. When she had five under seven, it felt that way. And then, somewhere along the way, the children started to be able to do some things for themselves, started to be able to actually help. And it’s not just making it through the next hour for her anymore.

I could have cried with relief. Someone to confirm that the hope I’ve been holding on to isn’t a vain one.

Now, maybe it’s just confirmation bias. I want to hear what this woman had to say and I don’t want to hear what all those other mothers have to say about it only getting harder.

But the reality is that the mothers who were telling me it only gets harder? They’re mothers of two, three or four years apart. They haven’t experienced the utter exhaustion of having five little humans completely dependent on them for every aspect of their care.

So forgive me that I take what you say with a grain of salt while I cling on to every drop of encouragement that falls from the mouths of the women who’ve done this “many small children at once” thing.

It’s not that I don’t love you and value your input – it’s just that this crazy life my family is living right now is a whole ‘nother ball game.

It’s changed me – and I wouldn’t change a thing

June 11th, 2019

I once read an article about how the experience of infertility changes the experience of motherhood.

As a mother of two preemies, one “post-dates” baby, and three foster children (one at a time) – and as a woman who has now experienced miscarriage – I have to say that this too changes the experience of motherhood.

I thank God almost every day for each additional day each of my children got in the womb. For almost a month for Tirzah Mae after my blood pressure went high. For two additional weeks in the womb for Louis (compared to Tirzah Mae). For a staggering 8 additional weeks in the womb for Beth-Ellen (compared to Louis). I thank God for the things we could have experienced but didn’t in the NICU, for the things we could have experienced but didn’t regarding our children’s development.

And more and more, I thank God that I experienced two c-sections, that I have had rough pregnancies and rough postpartums, that I had children who didn’t sleep, that I have had to say goodbye to three children. Because each of those children have simultaneously been an evidence of grace (EOG) and an agent of sanctification (AOS).

I wouldn’t change a thing, even on the days when I’m singing my newest song:

(to the tune of “You are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder)

You are an agent of sanctification
God’s using you to make me holy
You are an agent of sanctification
God has put you in my life

And when I feel that I am. so. done.
I’m thanking God that he is no-o-o-ot

Preemies. Post-dates. C-sections. A vaginal delivery. Prolapse. Sleepless nights. Disrupted routines. Lots of young children. Saying goodbye when we’ve planned to say goodbye. Saying goodbye when we were hoping for a lifetime. None of these things are easy.

But easy isn’t how we learn to rely on God. Easy isn’t how we become like him.

Praise God that he hasn’t let me live the easy dream. He’s making me holy, teaching me to trust.

These things have absolutely changed my experience of motherhood. And though I’m crying even now thinking of the dreams we’ve lost, I’m crying too for the things we’ve gained. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Even when I am. so. done.

God is not.

All I Want for Mother’s Day

May 9th, 2019

Mother’s Day approaches, which means everyone and their mother is opining about what you should give your mother.

I was scrolling past headlines when I saw “What your mother really wants for Mother’s Day” – and I suddenly knew exactly what I want.

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
~3 John 4 (ESV)

This is what I want, but it’s not something my husband can get for me. It’s not something my children can make happen on their own.

This requires an act of God.

So instead of writing an article for the nearest mom’s blog (or sending a link to one of those articles to my husband), I’ll be lifting up my request to God, as I do each day.

Lord, let my children – my Tirzah Mae and my Louis, my Beth-Ellen and my sweet P, our precious C and darling J – let them walk in the truth. Grant that their affections would be stirred toward you, that they would desire relationship with you. Grant that they would see the desperate wickedness of their hearts and their utter helplessness to change themselves. Grant that they might fall upon the mercy of Christ and walk in the way of the One who is Truth.

And if you want to give me a Mother’s Day gift, join me in praying for these six God has given me (for short or for long), that they would walk in the truth.

The Prayer I Keep Coming Back To

January 14th, 2019

Last year, in an effort to strengthen my prayer life, I searched for lists of “things to pray for your children.”

I dutifully recorded the lists in my prayer app (PrayerMate) and began praying for each of my children in each of the suggested categories.

The app would tell me to pray for Tirzah Mae’s future – and so I would. “Oh Lord, grant that my daughter would have a future among those who fear you. May she know your salvation and cling to you as her only hope.”

The app would tell me to pray for Louis’s purity – and so I would. “Oh Lord, would you grant that my son would be pure in heart – that he would have the purity of heart that can only come by being washed in the blood of Christ.”

The app would tell me to pray for Beth-Ellen’s health – and so I would. “Lord, would you bring my dead daughter to life by your Spirit.”

And on and on.

Character. “Lord, would you draw my children to yourself. Bring them to life through the work of your Spirit and cause them to grow in Christ-likeness.”

Holy Desires. “Above all, would you awaken their affection for you, that they might desire your salvation and recognize their own inability to save themselves. Grant that they might fall upon the mercy of Christ.”

Salvation.

It’s the prayer I keep coming back to. May my children desire relationship with God. May they see their sinfulness. May they see the worthlessness of their own striving. May they fall upon the mercy of Christ. May they grow in the grace of the gospel.

Save my children, O Lord, I pray.

Will it mess up my kids?

August 6th, 2018

As we’ve added to our family and as our family has grown older, I’ve discovered that my parenting toolbox is pretty limited. I’ve tried to add to that toolbox by doing some reading on parenting.

Many of the resources I’ve read have offered helpful tools to add to my toolbox. For that, I am grateful. But almost all have come with a healthy unhealthy helping of guilt.

Do it our way, they say, or you’ll mess up your kids.

You’ll mess up your kids if you spank. You’ll mess up your kids if you spare the rod. You’ll mess up your kids if you do time-outs. You’ll mess up your kids if you do star charts. You’ll mess up your kids if you don’t teach them to sleep on their own. You’ll mess up your kids if you let them cry it out.

And every time I read these books, I wonder if I’ve been doing it all wrong. In particular, they make me wonder if the specific parenting choices I’ve made at one time or another are wrong.

Are my children going to struggle for the rest of their lives because I sleep-trained them?

Are they going to struggle to connect with others because I sent them to their room to be punished instead of bringing them close for a cuddle instead?

Are they going to internalize the idea that they’re bad people because I’ve spanked them?

The doubts rise and then I push back. Yes, there is a such thing as abusive parenting. There are better parenting techniques and worse ones. But I reject the premise that every problem in our adult lives is a result of our parents’ doing (or not doing) x.

And then I realize that the real problem with the guilt the books are giving rise to, the real problem with feeling guilty over sleep training or time-outs or spanking – the real problem is that I’m letting the debate over technique distract me from the real issue in parenting.

The real issue, nine times out of ten, is my own heart.

The issue is that I am unloving, impatient, lacking in self-control. It is that I am vengeful, irritable, and selfish. It is that I am ungrateful and unforgiving.

And this issue cannot be solved by just snuggling my kids more or by resolving to not put my kids in time-out. This problem cannot be solved by healing the hurts of my past or by psychoanalyzing my parents.

This issue can only be resolved through repentance and reliance upon God to change my heart.

Rachel Jancovich’s Loving the Little Years is serving as a helpful tool to pull me away from these side issues and to bring me back to my own heart.

“As you deal with your children,” she writes, “deal with yourself always and first.”

I’ve summarized her thought in a single word that I’m reminding myself of frequently (and attempting to put into practice):

Repent.

Because the issue isn’t whether I’m going to mess my children up. The issue is my heart.

You have to have something for you

July 30th, 2018

In our recent conversation about homeschooling, my mom stated that “you have to have something for you”.

Then she elaborated. “Intercessory prayer was that for me. And when you all were very young, Agape Handmaidens.”

That was about the extent of that bit of advice. But don’t let the brevity distract you from the wisdom.

Mom was telling me not to forget self-care. This is good. This was good for me to hear from my mother. Because self-care is a buzzword in today’s mommy-world and I’m often quick to dismiss it (out of distrust for anything popular in the parenting world).

But Mom’s elaboration also emphasized the difference between the popular conception of self-care and Mom’s conception of it.

Popular self-care involves manicures and pedicures, massages and spa days, hotel stays. Lots of money. Lots of time. Lots more money for babysitters.

Mom’s self-care was intercessory prayer: spending a couple hours a week praying for others with others, while we kids were babysat (when we were very young) or played independently in our pastor’s basement. Agape Handmaidens? One morning a month the ladies of the church got together to work on hand-work while the children were babysat. Mom often brought laundry to fold while she chatted with the other ladies.

That’s it. That was her self-care.

For this time-starved, uber-frugal mama, that’s exactly what I need to hear.

I do need to have something for me. Taking the time to prepare for and go to Tuesday Connection, our ladies’ Bible study at church, is important. Having that conversation with adults? That’s important.

But I don’t need to feel guilty that I’m not spending lots of money and lots of time doing those things that seem to me like pointless indulgences.

More what?

July 25th, 2018

We were having plums for lunch, so it was perfectly reasonable that Tirzah Mae started to chant “More nectarines!”

I gave her a slice of plum. “Here is some plum.”

Then Louis began the chant. “More Macarena!”

I sighed. “Yes, you can have more plums.”

And then Tirzah Mae began again. “More macaroni and cheese.”

I give up. The silliness index is off the charts.

Separating “I wish I could have” from “I wish I had”

July 18th, 2018

When I was in Lincoln last month, I asked my mother about homeschooling. Specifically, I asked her what advice she would have given twenty-seven-year-old her as she embarked on her homeschool journey.

She had a hard time coming up with an answer because, she told me, “There are things I wish I could have done, but they just weren’t possible.”

She wishes she could have taken more field trips with us. But she had seven children in ten years – and taking those field trips just wasn’t possible.

She wishes she could have provided more opportunities for certain of my siblings to follow their interests more. But those things just weren’t possible in the circumstances she and we were in.

So she did what she could.

Even though that statement wasn’t advice, per se, I found in it a useful principle.

It’s valuable to separate the “I wish I could have” from the “I wish I had”.

Maybe I wish I could do x, y, or z but time, money, or energy makes it impossible.

I wish I could have taken my older littles to baby storytime at the library – but they were NICU babies and needed to avoid other kids.

That’s a clear cut one. Others aren’t so obvious, but they’re there anyway.

I wish I could do more outings with the children period – but I’m a homebody and I get really crabby at my children if I’m running all day. In this season of intensive mothering, limiting our time outside the house to two days during the week keeps me sane and enables me to manage myself and treat my children with compassion (most of the time).

Sometimes, I need to let go of the things I wish I could have done. I need to let go of the dreams I had of being this or that sort of mother.

I need to do what I can, not be forever regretting what I can’t (or being a terrible mother in the now because I’m doing something I really shouldn’t).

Side note: Lest you get the wrong impression, 27 is what my mother would have been (give or take) when she was in my situation child-wise. I got started quite a bit later and am definitely *not* in my 20s any more :-)

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