3 Go-To Reminders for Very Bad Parenting Days

Screaming, tantrums, violence towards siblings, bad language, lying, lying about the lying. You know, just another week in the life of a parent. Sometimes wisdom dictates that we do not add up all the defeats. It’s just too discouraging. Other days, parenting is full of pay-check moments. Those interactions with our kids where we say, “That moment right there makes it all worth it. Everything is going to be all-right.”

But what do we do to get through those “I give up!” moments? One day I actually caught myself mumbling, “Yay, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil.” I might have been feeling a touch dramatic about my children’s behaviour that day. I wasn’t laughing then, though. Death literally seemed on my doorstep. Theirs or mine, I wasn’t sure. Hostages were being taken I didn’t know if we would all survive.

I have found that I need a mental plan to get through those times. For those day, or weeks, here is my go-to list to keep my head in the game and my heart from despairing.

Keep the Long View

When times are tough in parenting land, I have to pull back. Parenting is all-consuming. It’s meant to be that way. But, it is so easy to get caught up in the minutia of the day to day.

I have to pull back and remind myself that hitting your brother today does not mean going to prison at 18. As young parents it is so easy to make every issue into a make or break issue. It isn’t, it really isn’t. Today is a bad day but we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and no child’s destiny is determined by how I handle this specific bad attitude.

There’s lots of time for this whole circus to come together into something that works. Don’t obsess about today, keep the big picture in mind, time is on my side.

Call for Help

The help I’m referring to is prayer. We all know this but I need to remind myself in the moment… pray!

I often text a friend and just say, “Very bad parenting day, please pray.” It helps. Really, it does. I also find that praying together with my husband is a miracle worker.

Anne Lamott has some great wisdom on prayer. One of the go-to prayers she says is important is the “Help! Help! Help!” prayer. When parenting is overwhelming I like to take Anne’s advice and just say to God, “Help! Help! Help!” We really don’t need fancier words than that.

Listen to Mama Bongi

Mama Bongi is a great, long-term friend of mine. She is a wonderful South African mother who is full of wisdom.

Many years ago I asked Bongi, “What’s the secret? I want to do well at this mothering thing.”

She paused for a second and said, “This is what you have to remember Lindsey. God has brought you through many trials and challenges. You are confident and grateful for the journey that God has brought you on. That’s the same God who will do exactly that for your children. It’s not a different God and it won’t be an easy journey for them. It wasn’t easy for you. But, you have to trust that God doesn’t change when it comes to your kids. The same God who was faithful to you will be faithful to them.”

Honestly, it was sobering. I don’t want my kids to go through the challenges. I want my kids to face zero challenges, actually. But they will. I have a history in my own life that shows, God always comes through. He did it for me, He will do it for them.

I go back to this often. He did it for me, he will do it for them. He did it for me, he will do it for them. Same God. I can’t ever forget that.

Photo Credit: Giuseppe Milo

Kids grow up… What are we going to do about it?

Your children are getting older. The baby clothes are being given away. The high chairs are being passed on. Their first Dr. Seuss books are being packed away and replaced with video games historical novels.

My boys are 8 and 10. I’m 50% done. I’ve kept them alive. That was the goal, right? I’m looking at the horizon and it is the second half of their time in my home. Then they are off. This whole pony ride is speeding up people.

I’ve currently got two things on my mind in this season. Preparing and celebrating.

Preparing

What is the goal of parenting? To disciple them. Prepare them. Equip them for life. Apart form you. Such as, living somewhere else. I’m seeing this reality more clearly than ever and I’m getting more intentional than ever.

My 8-year-old is a self-professed “music nerd”. He’s constantly asking me to download music. All. Day. Long. Normally I have looked over the songs, deemed which were inappropriate and got him the rest. Then I had an epiphany. I’ve got an unsustainable situation. I can’t decide forever what they should listen to.

So, I switched, big time. I told them, “I am going to teach you my process of selecting music. Then you are going to do that. Whatever you decide to listen to, I will agree to it. Even if I disagree.”

So, each weekend we look over lyrics. I explain everything they don’t understand. They ask questions. They make the decision.

The first weekend I explained:
F^%k
B@$ch
Rape
“Feel you up”
“Make love all night long”

You get the idea.

This led to questions at the dinner table as to what was “child rape”. My son had read it in a newspaper headline at the shops.

To many parents, Christian or not, I’ve made a very bad parenting decision.

Perhaps.

Honestly, my husband and I were high-fiving at the end of the weekend. We had just had the most honest and engaging conversations with our children in months.

They had heard so many of the terms and had no idea of what they meant.

At one point a son said, “Mom, do you want to be called a b&^ch?”.
“No, I don’t. It makes me feel like trash when people call me that.”, I replied.
He thought about it and then said, “That’s what I would guess… I don’t want to listen to music that makes you feel that way.”

I almost wept. Instead of Mom just turning off the radio and deciding what he should or should not hear, he now get’s it on a heart level.

We did take a risk and continue to do it each weekend as they look over lyrics. But the bigger risk is to let them figure this out on their own.

The added bonus. My boys now know on a whole new level, Mom and Dad are the best source for the truth. Mom and Dad won’t flinch when we ask them stuff. (I was perhaps flinching internally though!)

At some point we have to move from total protection to teaching them how to inerpret the world. I don’t want that process to happen on accident nor when I’m forced in to it. I wouldn’t do this with a 3-year-old but my boys are no longer 3. We are taking initiative and doing it on our own terms. I’m moving that process into high gear in certain areas. Denial is out. Brave equipping for life is in.

The truth, I can have a strategy to totally protect and isolate. I can create a “bubble” where the bad stuff stays out. But, then I need to also remove scriptures from our home. Because nothing I talked about that weekend isn’t already in scripture in some way shape or form.

God talks about this stuff. So should we.

Celebrating

They are growing up. It is so sad! But they are my baby! But I’m not ready for this!

Honestly, sometimes I think we need to get a hold of ourselves. Especially Moms. This perpetual grieving and hand-wringing over our children growing up is both strange, weird and probably not helpful.

What is it like for our children to hear their whole lives, “But you are my baby! I’m not ready for you to be big? I’m not ready for you to be in 5th grade! Whaaaaaaa!!!”.

Our children do not need to grow up too fast and be adults before their time. Neither do we need to hang on, with every ounce of strength, to their toddler years. I think it’s ok to reminisce about the baby years. It’s ok to be sentimental on the first day of school. But I think we’ve collectively moved beyond reminiscing. We sometimes act like it is a crisis that our children are doing what they are meant to do, grow up.

The irony is we allow them to grow up on the outside (fish net stockings for 4 year olds anyone?!) but with none of the responsibility, courage and character that must be carried on the inside.

Parents, let’s celebrate our children growing up. Don’t make them go ahead of their times but neither do we need to perpetually tell them that “I wish you would stay my baby forever.” If they did, that is failure.

When they start a new grade or a new year, I want my boys to hear, “This is great! You are ready for this new challenge!” I want to tell them, “High school has seemed a long way off but now is the time and you can do this, I’m so excited you are at this point.”

I know parents that go into very real depression when the children leave the home. For those of us not yet there… put this before our eyes now. It will be sad. We will miss them. But our children leaving home and engaging the world is SUCCESS. It is exactly what we have been aiming for. Prepare them for that moment and then celebrate it when it comes.

Yes, it is sentimental and at times, sad. Have a moment and then step up to the plate Mom. Growing up is success. Staying a child is failure.

Last night I faced the reality that showers weren’t cutting it for my oldest. It was time for the big guns… deodorant. Here was a chance to celebrate. We talked a bit about “puberty” which was coming.

“It will be exciting… more hair, more muscles, more stink, more girls… more challenges which you are ready for and can handle. Deodorant is only the beginning and this is great!”

I want more of those conversations. Getting older isn’t always easy for parents or kids. But let’s not forget to prepare for and celebrate each step forward!

Photo Credit: Nicola Einarson

Five Women to not Forget on Mothers Day

Mothers Day, a wonderful time of joy and appreciation for millions of women and families. As with any holiday, it can also be a hard day for some.

If you have a Mother who is still with you, make sure you tell her exactly what you are grateful for. Even if it is as simple as, “Thank you for giving me life”.

Whatever this day is like for you, it is also an opportunity to reach out to those who experience pain or sorrow on Mothers Day. We all know at least one of these five people on Mothers Day.

Those who struggle with infertility

Infertility is one of the most painful challenges any couple can face. Take time to pray for those who struggle with infertility. If you know them well, take time to just simply say, “I don’t know if this day is hard for you but I want you to know I’m thinking of you and praying”. Don’t make empty promises or give pity. Simple heart-felt words can mean a lot.

Those who have lost a child

Is there anything more painful than to lose a child? I honestly can’t imagine what could be. For some, Mothers Day highlights the child they have lost… either by mis-carriage or the death of a child that they were able to hold and mother. Take time to pray for them… a day mixed with joy and sorrow.

Those who have lost a Mother

Especially if the loss is recent, Mothers day is bittersweet for those who have recently lost theirs. It often brings the joy of remembrance and the pain of loss. You could pray but sometimes actions show so much love. How about inviting someone into your home on Mother’s Day? Give them time to share what they loved and valued about their Mother. Ask questions and listen to their stories. Let them reminisce. Once the immediacy of death has passed, many don’t have an opportunity to share the stories they long to remember.

Those who are estranged from their children

Mothers Day can be quite painful for women who are estranged from their children. There are so many possible reasons this came about. A child who rejected their mother. A child who disconnected because the relationship was painful or dysfunctional. It really doesn’t matter and is never straight-forward. No matter who made more mistakes… a mother almost always longs for relationship with her child. If you know of a mother who will not be invited over for dinner because of an estranged relationship… why not reach out and make space for them in your home? Or perhaps just a small gift to recognise the Mother they are.

Those who have impacted you like a Mother

Don’t forget to tell those “almost Moms” what they mean to you! A women doesn’t need to have given birth to or adopted you to influence you like a Mom. Today is a great day to bless those “other Mothers” in your life.

If your Mother is around, bless her and show her your love! But, don’t forget, there are many women around us that would be equally as blessed by our love and affection on this day.

Photo Credit: The U.S. National Archives

The Pharisee’s Guide to Parenting

The following two mundane moments are so revealing in my parenting journey. Both happened the day that we had parent-teacher meetings at my boys’ school. The first teacher looked at us and said, “Your son is so well mannered, so well behaved, whatever you are doing, keep doing it!” Ah, the deep pleasure of parenting arrogance overflowed in my life. I’m surprised I didn’t pull out a recording device and ask her to repeat it in to the little microphone. Well behaved! Well mannered! Keep it up, you are parent of the year! Just think of all those rude children causing havoc in the classroom… not my child, not under my watch.

The second meeting just deepened my Pharisaic heart. The teacher looked at his report card and said, “What a smart child you have, I honestly can’t say anything he should be doing differently, he just consistently improves and achieves to a high standard”. I’m surprised my pride could fit through the door as I walked out. I was floating on cloud nine of outward behaviour, outward accomplishment and outward manners.

Compare this to a situation I had afterwards. Now, I’ve documented my to-be-unamed son’s expertise in lying. Garett has a problem and its been a work in progress.

It was the end of the school day. As he walked out off the school grounds with me I said, “Did you give my note to your teacher?” “Yes I did Mom.” he smoothly replied. “Well, what did she say?” Without skipping a beat he said, “She will think about it and reply to you on Monday.”

Innocent conversation. Except my husband found the “note to the teacher” in his school bag over the weekend. And when confronted he admitted that the whole and entire conversation was a lie. He never gave her the note and “what the teacher said” was entirely made up.

You know what? When someone asked me how my day was I replied, “Rough! What a day, Garett lied to my face and we are trying to figure out what to do about it.”

Do you see what just happened there? Let me write it as a math equation.

Desired behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = Good parenting day.

Undesired outward behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = bad parenting day.

This isn’t the Jesus guide to parenting. Jesus shows to us parenting of the Kingdom.

Jesus seemed to revel in the moments of failure. When failure happened it’s like Jesus was given a treat. The exposure of failure and sin was to Jesus as a blank canvas was to Michelangelo.

Think of Peter. Peter covered up his black heart at the last supper (Who me? Never!) Jesus jumped right in there with Peter and didn’t sulk and say, “Have I taught you nothing?!” In fact he promised Peter it was about to get really bad! I imagine Jesus rolling up his sleeves at that moment and saying, “Great, now we’ve got something to work with, Peter!”

Jesus was seeking out the messy and sin-prone children. He could work with that. He couldn’t work with hiders, cover-up artists and those with a facade of outward behaviour, accomplishments and manners. The Pharisees, the perfect ones did not appeal to Jesus. The failures, misfits and mess-makers were right were Jesus wanted to be.

The only difference between the messes and the pharisees was one was socially acceptable and one was not. The inward heart was quite possibly the same. Jesus didn’t get too excited with outward success. He got very excited with outward failure.

Do I do that? Do I get excited when my I catch my child in a lie? Do I think, “Wonderful, now we’ve gotten to the good stuff!” I should.

If I make parenting about my reputation or my pride, then I can’t parent well.
If I make parenting about outward accomplishments and not inward heart change, I will not parent well.
If I make parenting about minimising problems and keeping life calm, I will not parent well.

Jesus never changed course when people said, “Look at your disciples, what bunch of failures!” He didn’t get defensive or hopeless. Jesus was going for the heart change and that takes time. It takes outward lies and sins to be exposed. It takes disciples fighting and threatening violence. It takes bad days when everything is going wrong.

Those are the teachable moments. That is when all the good stuff happens.

We all want grace and mercy for our children without them actually needing grace and mercy. Let me not be afraid to see clearly their need for grace and mercy. Let me not make it about myself and my parenting failures but rather about Jesus and his hope for them.

Parenting pharisees feel defeated by the failures, messes and disobedience. Jesus saw it an opportunity for the truth of the need to meet the answer of grace and new life.

Outward accomplishment is good. Outward success should be rejoiced in. But Jesus went for the heart and so should we. The quickest way there is the mess and moments of failure.

When my children succeed outwardly I rejoice. But I don’t let it blind me that all is necessarily fine. I want their hearts like Jesus wants mine. Lord, let it be so.

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