Getting Kids to Communicate

Me: “Hi son, how was school today?”
Son: “Mpf.”
Me: “Did you have fun?”
Son: “MrbleDrble”
Me: “What sort of things did you learn about?”
Son: “Stuff.”
In my head: Gasp! A word! A real english word!
Me: “Ok, well glad we could have this talk about your day!”

Does that sound familiar to you? Are my children the strange ones that don’t pontificate in prose about their every emotion and thought? I mean, they talk. A lot actually. But never about the things I want them to talk about. We could talk for hours with them asking me questions like:

“Mom, who invented the screwdriver?”
“Mom, when was the first cake baked?”
“Mom, who first said the word, ‘Awesome’?”
“Mom, is Michael Jackson really a man or are you lying to me?”
(Actual questions from this past year)

You know, basically an endless list of questions that I have no answer for.

I’m a bit of a determined bull-dog though. When there is an area that I’m frustrated with or feel like it could just be better I get dialed in and focused. I become determined to figure out how to draw out my boys.

These past three years I’ve been on this path to find ways to more deeply connect, with actual words, to my sons. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way (through a lot of trial and error).

Timing can be everything.

Here is something that should come with our children’s instruction manual.

“Appendix C
Section 4: Your child shall be virtually mute with the exception of inaudible mumbles for a minimum of 45 minutes after departing the school grounds.
Section 5: Each school day shall be described as either, a.) fine or b.) good. Just accept it. During this 45 minute time period they will remember absolutely nothing that happened during the school day since they did nothing according to your child’s steel trap memory.”

This may be extreme, some children love to talk about the school day the moment they see Mom or Dad. The rest of us should accept that walking out of school and having to be interrogated by Mom is just not nice.

Timing can be everything. Sometimes kids don’t talk because we ask them at all the wrong times.

I had to figure out the times my boys feel relaxed and ready to talk and seize those moments. For us, laying in bed at the end of the day is a really good time. We normally do a devotional or read a chapter from a book. It never fails, they start bringing up all sorts of things that they have kept inside the rest of the day. It doesn’t matter to me when they talk, just as long as we are talking. I know now, a silent car ride home is kind of nice for them after a busy school day. I get that and it’s now fine with me too.

Talk shoulder to shoulder instead of face to face.

This is like a sneak attack basically. I’m a woman, so generally I like to sit, look at my friend and then commence pouring our hearts out. Children, and especially boys I think, generally aren’t this way. (Also true for men but that’s another blog post!)

It can actually be intimidating to have their parent stare deeply in their eyes and ask questions.

Once I realised that my timing was not my sons timing I started to look for other moments. Doing something together (shoulder to shoulder) can create great opportunities. If I want to hear from one of my boys, I will ask them to join me on a project or I join them on something they love.

Today, I invited my youngest to cook breakfast for the family. He jumped at the chance. As we were working together making eggs I took over one of his “jobs”. “Mom! I’m supposed to crack the eggs!”. Without looking at him I just casually said, “Oh man, I’m sorry… I do that a lot don’t I? Just take over like that”. He didn’t miss a beat, “Yep, just yesterday you did the same thing with fixing my toy!” He started to giggle and laugh that we were pointing at Mom’s mistakes. I didn’t mind at all, it was all true!

We ended up talking about things he loves to do and wishes we let him do more. It was so good. This honesty would not have happened if I sat him down for a serious discussion on boundaries and independence.

Talking while working shoulder to shoulder can create the ease and safety to discuss whatever seems to come up. Try it.

Take the African Approach

Westerners generally take a very direct route to things. If we are frustrated, we sit down and say, “I’m frustrated.” Most cultures in Africa simply do not do this. They tell stories, bring up other topics and slowly remove layers of an onion until they finally get to the point in the middle where they say, “I’m frustrated”.

I’m starting to think most kids start out more African until we get our hands on them. It just feels so much safer to slowly get to a point instead of careening at full speed into a verbal confession about their day.

Be alert and join that journey. A story or comment about something seemingly insignificant could actually be them warming up to the heart of matter.

I often initiate this and have found it a miracle worker.

Recently my youngest son was out of sorts about something, annoyed at everyone in the family.

Instead of asking him outright, I went, sat next to him and said, “Did I ever tell you about the one time Babu (my father) yelled at me?” His eyes instantly got big and he was hooked. He expected me to talk about him and his behaviour (and he’d never seen Babu yell at anyone!).

We sat and I told stories from my past, we discussed a recent movie we saw, we reminisced about our own family stories. At the end I gently said, “I bet you get frustrated with me sometimes, don’t ya?” He didn’t even blink, “I sure do, just last week…”

He didn’t have to guess if it was safe to admit this or if the timing was right… we had slowly been working up to the moment and it was just natural to now share his own story.

How can you slowly work your way in to the heart of the manner in a more gentle and safe manner?

Be careful about sarcasm and verbal takeovers

If my sons share something and I either a.) make a joke about it (sarcastic or otherwise) or b.) jump in and take over the conversation then they will simply stop telling me things.

Some parents are especially prone to this. Just stop.

Listen and take their interests and information seriously instead of making a joke. Don’t have a comment for everything, no one wants to share with a verbal hijacker. Stop those bad habits.

Lead by Example

Do you know how kids learn to communicate? By watching Mom and Dad. If you want kids who communicate, lead by example.

Share with them. Be honest and vulnerable at times (in appropriate ways). Your own vulnerability can pave the way for theirs.

As Mom and Dad, make sure they see and observe you communicating to one another. Take an interest in what each family member shares. Don’t make communicating with your kids an interrogation where Mom asks they questions and they answer.

With some attention and flexibility, we all can find our children communicating more honestly and openly… even if they only have grunts for you after school.

There’s no crying on Christmas!

Yesterday I went to a children’s Christmas service at my church. Our children’s pastor did a great job of allowing kids to be kids. In fact, she started by telling all the adults to “sit back and relax, don’t be bothered by the noise, these are kids after all!” Wonderful.

The first song we sang was “Silent Night”. Oh the irony.

After a wonderful admonition to relax and let the chaos commence, we sang about how Christmas night must have been a picture of angelic silence and calm. The type that all parents can crave. My favourite line is this, “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”. Even the writer of this carol, all those years ago, was carrying the burden of the idealised Christmas.

Christmas is my favourite holiday. I love absolutely everything about it. The baking, cooking, gift giving, carol singing, decorating, friend inviting, exhaustion inducing glory of it all. But, with a holiday of this magnitude comes massive expectations on us and on our children.

Lets be honest. Kid’s here is your real Christmas list:

Guests are invited… behave!
Gifts are given… be thankful!
Memories are being made… treasure every moment!
Pictures are being taken… smile and look your best!
Mom is working hard… tell her you notice!
Jesus is the reason for the season… have a profound grasp of this!

Somehow, we wish some memo was sent deep into our children’s brains that told them, “It’s Christmas! Be perfect! Make memories! Enjoy every moment! Be thankful!”

Here’s the thing, with this holiday comes an even higher chance of none of the above happening. The chaos, change in routine, intense time together as a family all increases the chances of less than memorable moments. Even without this, our children’s ability to be less than “ideal” does not magically decrease at Christmas time (let’s be honest, it’s true for parents too).

No matter what the song tells us, even Jesus cried on Christmas.

So, today and tomorrow, don’t forget that your kids aren’t better than Jesus. When they open that present and say, “I wish it was blue!” don’t let it ruin your day. When the guests arrive and an epic tantrum ensues, don’t let it devastate. When a checked-out teenager doesn’t want to be bothered with visiting family, have grace.

Yes, it’s Christmas and we would all just love “one day of everyone getting along and behaving for the Love of God!!”

When the Christmas moments are less than glorious, just smile and say, “Even Jesus cried on Christmas!”

Photo Credit: Acrobat

Top Relationship Books of 2014

It’s coming to the end of 2014 and I’ve been reflecting on some of the top books and writings that I’ve enjoyed this year. This is a list of my favorite books on relationships of all types! I hope you get some ideas. Is there a relationship orientated book that you’ve loved this year? I would love to hear about it in the comments section.


With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God

Best Book on Relationship with God: With by Skye Jethani

This book wins far and away as my favourite book of 2014. Jethani is both engaging and penetrating as he looks at the false ways you might be relating to God. He takes on the false belief systems in Christian culture and our own individual lives, you will be left seeing things in new ways. The best part is that you are left with a deep and fresh hunger for Jesus. During a season of my life that I was struggling with stress, anxiety and fear… this book was a shining light in hard times.


Fun Loving You: Enjoying Your Marriage in the Midst of the Grind

Best Book on Marriage: Fun Loving You by Ted Cunningham

My husband and I both loved this book. A great read for those who have been married for a few years and need to re-focus on the fun and friendship that bring so much life to your marriage. As a bonus he gives a ton of practical ideas for dates, fun get-aways, and ways to just have fun together.


Boundaries with Kids: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, to Help Your Children Gain Control of Their Lives

Best Book on Parenting: Boundaries With Kids by Cloud and Townsend

The “Boundaries” series is a classic in Christian and counselling circles. I had never read the parenting version and it came at just the right time for me with an 8 and 9 year old. There is a ton of helpful advice and practical tips. I think you could read this book at each stage of parenting and come away with key wisdom to apply.


Best Blog Post on Dating and Engagement: “Sex & Engagement” by Ron Smith

I haven’t read any great books on this topic this year but a great article is buy a close friend and mentor, Dr. Ron Smith. Ron and his wife did our own pre-marriage counselling. He is honest, straight forward and so excited to see people find their love for a lifetime partner. This article is honest and direct about the sexual relationship of an engaged couple.


Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Best Beach Read: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

If you read my husbands book list for 2014 you will see he also listed this book (along with 2 others I mention here!). I would just like to state for the record that I was the one who tipped him off to this great read. It’s the captivating story of ultra-marathon runners. You don’t need to be a runner to love it, though. It is a true-story adventure that takes you from the headquarters of Nike to a stone-age tribe in the hills of Mexico. The characters are funny and totally engaging, you will get sucked in. This is a great Christmas idea for someone that loves running, adventure or just a great read!


With-God-Devo-logo

Best Daily Devotional: With Daily Devotional by Skye Jethani

I recently had the privilege of meeting Skye Jethani. He was speaking out our Community Gathering at our campus in South Africa. I was chatting to him afterwards and told him that I was aiming to sign up as many as possible for his daily devotional, it is one of the best kept secrets on the internet. For $1.99/month you get a daily devotional e-mailed to you with scriptures to read and a prayer to meditate on for the week. It is short, engaging, challenging, personal and helps you focus on Jesus more than ever. This would be a wonderful gift idea for yourself or others!


Bonus: Favorite Music Albums

Mali Is...

Mali Is… by Mali Music

Ok, little known info about me, I’m a huge Jazz, Black Gospel, R&B and Rap fan. I’m listening to one of these genres most of the time. My first CD was the Winans Brothers… not Bibi and Cici Winans, that’s black gospel for the masses. I was in to the real deal Winans. I seriously am tempted to do a whole post on my top ablums in these genres. But, it’s not the point of this blog… sigh. But, if you love any of these genres or want to love them, run, don’t walk, to your computer and buy this on Amazon or iTunes. Ok, you are sitting at your computer. So click on the link above. Do it. This guy is the real deal. Best relationship track on the album? “Heavy Love”. You will at least start chair dancing while he extols the beauty and power of love that lasts a lifetime. As he says, beautiful love is that “great-grand-mama and grand-daddy love ya’ll”.


The Undoing

The Undoing by Steffany Gretzinger

So now that you know my tastes, this album is out of my norm. Most worship albums I listen to involve Fred Hammond or Donnie McClurkin (if you just said, “Who?”, hang your head in shame and go take a time-out for 10 minutes). This album is minimal, contemplative and personal.  I found myself surprisingly drawn in. Steffany has an amazing voice, that is undeniable. But, it’s more than her voice that draws you in. Each song seems to be taken straight out of her personal journal in the best of ways. For those days when you need to hear the heart of Jesus more loudly, this album delivers exactly that.

“Do you understand anything I’m saying?”

My son and I were driving to the butcher when he looked off in the distance. We were discussing the pros and cons of using golf carts on a golf course (as we do).

“You know Mom, I think the reason old people don’t use golf carts, is… they’re old… carts can be used for…”

A long silence enveloped the car.

He looked up at me, “Ummm, I have absolutely no idea what I was going to say so never mind about that!”. We laughed together at the humour of it.

He suddenly said, “If I forget my thought in the middle of my sentence that must mean I’m becoming a grown-up!”.

“Yes, son, losing your words (and mind) is a definite marker of growing up”

A few days before that my husband and I got in a tense conversation over absolutely nothing and almost everything. All at the same time. Does that ever happen to you too? I was frustrated and couldn’t find the words out of the swamp of confusion, so I just walked away. My husband came back to our bedroom where I was hiding (as he always graciously does). He started talking, tentatively searching for a way out of a simple argument over a child’s car seat. Yet it was really about so much more.

Communication, words, listening, talking, all that stuff… it isn’t easy is it?

These words of Eugene Peterson struck me:

Because we speak our language so casually, it is easy to fall into the habit of treating it casually. But language is persistently difficult to understand. We spend our early lives learning the language, and just when we think we have it mastered our spouse says, “You don’t understand a thing I’m saying, do you?” We teach our children to talk, and just about the time we think they might be getting it, they quit talking to us … A close relationship doesn’t guarantee understanding. A long affection doesn’t guarantee understanding. In fact, the closer we are to one another and the more intimate our relations, the more care we must exercise to hear accurately, to understand more thoroughly, to answer appropriately.

I don’t want that to be true, but my experience affirms what he is saying.

Modern culture makes false promises about love and communication.

The deeper the love, the wider the years; the less the effort to communicate.
In true intimacy, we should know what the other is thinking even before they say it.

If only either of those statements were true.

The converse of this is old married couples warning us, “communication takes hard work people!”. So, the options become either effortless communication (not attainable) or a life-time prison sentence to hard labor (not enjoyable).

The truth is deeper than both these.

Communication will not flutter down on the wings of a dove like a moment of “eureka!” Nor will mere back-breaking work get us there.

Communication takes commitment, it is a heart issue. An unmovable heart to stay there and journey the path over and over until the right tributary is found. Not giving up until the path to understanding is walked upon.

Communication takes intention. True, deep communication takes days and months of chipping away at a thought or feeling of the heart until both can see it clearly. This is humbly sought after with immense amounts of love and care of the other.

Communication takes grace. True heart-felt communication is a messy and danger filled path. There are so many opportunities to hurt the other (whether friend, spouse or child). So many chances to be mis-understood. Constant temptations to build more walls than bridges and to throw our hands up in exasperation. Immense grace is needed.

Perhaps you are like my son who can’t find the right words in the right moment. Or like me who is tempted to hide in your room instead of treading deeper into a conversation that has no clear-marked exit.

Either way, there is only one path to deeper intimacy in our relationships. Communication. Get there by any means necessary, the journey is worth the destination.

The Best Parenting Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

I read lots of books, blogs and articles on parenting. I listen to podcasts. When I see parents I admire, I seek them out and ask for their input and advice. I’m all about good principals, best practices, practical wisdom…. I love it.

In the midst of this avalanche of parenting advice and wisdom, I always come back to a short phrase God whispered in my ear 7 years ago.

“Lindsey, stay the course.”

My 2 year old son was in the bathroom, ranting and raging. Tears were flowing and fists were clenched. I was outside the door, like a PTSD victim about to go back into another raging battle, shaking at the sound of every gunshot (or scream, as the case may be).

As I stood outside the door, I contemplated the correct plan of action. I was tossing up hail Mary prayers to Jesus. Honestly, I was hoping some magical formula would resolve this behavioural issue. What I really wanted was to lock myself in a closet with a good book and coffee, oblivious to the outside world! This son came out of the womb with boxing gloves on and it lasted for years. Those who know him now can testify to his tender and emotional heart. But we went through some rough years together.

As I stood outside the door God put in my heart those words, “Lindsey, stay the course.”

I knew what He was saying:

Don’t grow weary in doing good.
Don’t expect results today.
Wake up each day and faithfully parent and love this child.
Hour by hour persistence.
The goal is not to be the perfect parent, but to faithfully parent imperfectly.

Never truer were the word of Euguene Peterson than it is for parenting: parenting is “a long obedience in the same direction”.

The growth was slow. The softening of his heart was like a glacial melt. At least that is what it felt like to us in the midst of the minute by minute faithfulness.

My husband and I didn’t always get it right. I lost my own temper many times and I’m not proud of that. My husband would turn him over to me and I would return the favor on other days. He’d walk in the door and I would say, “Your son is in time-out in the bathroom… as you can surely hear from down the street!”.

He wasn’t that bad… but for two weary parents, it was hard and baffling.

But, we stayed the course. We didn’t give up or throw in the towel. We stopped demanding change today. We began trusting for change over time. For that I am proud.

I, now, pass on the words of the Father to you.

Weary and wobbly parent, stay the course. One foot in front of the other. Even if, today, it feels like no change is happening. Don’t give up and tap out. The Father sees your hour by hour persistence and He’s right there with you. Our kids don’t have perfect parents… they’ve got a perfect Heavenly Father.

Remind yourself on days when you wonder if you are doing it right or want to give up:

Parenting is a long obedience in the same direction.

Parenting is not daily victories and quick results. Daily, faithfully, cultivate that garden. In the end it is God who will give the growth.

Parent, stay the course.

4 Simple Questions for Marriage Health

My husband and I are about to celebrate 12 years of marriage. We are not typical “romance” people. Our anniversary generally doesn’t involve me getting flowers, jewelery or chocolate. I don’t buy him… well, men are hard to shop for so that’s my excuse.

For us, an ideal anniversary involves the two of us being alone, away from the kids, overnight and with… wait for it… UNINTERRUPTED CONVERSATION. It is a rare thing but it does exist!

Since our first anniversary, we have a tradition of spending some time to just ask questions of each other. Questions that don’t normally get asked in the day to day of life.

If you don’t do this in your marriage, you should. Asking questions and then truly listening is one of the most powerful communication tools to keep a whole and healthy marriage.

Here are 4 simple questions on 5 important areas. Pick a topic, ask and listen.

4 Questions on Your Friendship:

Do you feel that we are having enough fun and light hearted moments together?
What events or dates could we plan that build our friendship?
Do we have any hobbies together? If not, what hobby could we do together?
Do we have mutual friends that we both like to hang out with? If not, who could we pursue?

4 Questions on Communication:

Do you feel I truly listen to you?
Do you feel that my words and tone show that I respect and value you?
Are there times that our communication struggles? What are those times?
Are there topics or areas you wish we would communicate about more?

4 Questions on Sex:

How is the frequency for you?
Are you feeling loved and cared for in this area?
In what ways could we make more time for it?
What could we do to make this area better?

4 Questions on Parenting:

How do you feel we are doing in being loving parents?
How are we doing in being consistent and following through?
What “season” do you think each child is in?
How are our family times, are they bringing us together or apart?

4 Questions on Spiritual Health:

What is God teaching and growing you in, right now?
What areas do you feel spiritually weak in?
What things do you do that feed your walk with Jesus?
What ways could I support you in your walk with Jesus?

More resources on question asking and date night ideas:
4 Types of Date Nights
Date Night on the Cheap
20 Ways to Take Initiative in Your Marriage
Questions to Take You Deeper in Friendship or Marriage