November 13, 2018

Front-Loading Focus

 My husband and I have just wrapped up six months of focused training with our two daughters. Specifically, we helped them learn to become proficient drivers by allowing one or the other to get behind the wheel anytime they were in the car with either of us. In the process, each one ended up logging well over 50 hours of drive-time and both recently passed their road tests.

This season of life caused me to hone in on the concept of focus, starting when I quickly realized how much I operate on auto-pilot when I drive. In fact, most of us who’ve been driving for a while do this; we become so comfortable with the process that we stop thinking in a fully conscious way about particular steps required to accomplish specific tasks. But, of course, when we must teach another how to parallel park or navigate a roundabout, we’re forced to think again about each little part of a maneuver so we can communicate clearly to the student. It’s not enough to say, “Look somewhere behind you and back up until you’re done.” Instead, we must focus on each small element of the process in question and then help the novice driver to do the same by providing clear, detailed, sequential instructions.

The need for such explicit direction becomes readily apparent when one is sitting in a 2,000-pound motor vehicle in the passenger seat next to a wide-eyed teenager. But the reality is that our kids need our specific input and feedback at every age each and every day.

As with driving ourselves, though, we often slip into auto-pilot mode. Thus, we direct a child to clean her room but neglect taking the time to clean it with her the first few times, narrating our expectations as we go. Or we tell a group of kids to write an essay without ever providing explicit instructions about how to do so effectively. And then we scold her for doing it wrong and downgrade them for communicating poorly without realizing that it’s actually we who have failed.

It takes time and concerted effort to provide specific feedback on a consistent basis. It’s hard, exhausting work. But if we’re willing to put in the hard work at the beginning, we’ll save ourselves and our kids much time and needless frustration later on. During the first few weeks of our daughters’ behind-the-wheel practice, we all – parents and teens alike – came home mentally spent more often than not. But front-loading our efforts paid off as I realized a couple of months into the process that I was narrating and guiding less and less in favor of simply “passengering” more and more. And the same is true with any endeavor our kids undertake; if we commit to providing specific input at the beginning, we’ll exponentially increase the likelihood of their ultimate success.


October 30, 2018

Your Kids Are Worth It

Saying no is easy.

That one short syllable rolls readily off the tongue in response to so much of what our kids say and do. No, you can’t have cake for breakfast. No, you can’t go outside without a coat. No, you can’t go to your friend’s house today. No, you can’t have a Facebook account. No, no, no.

Obviously, it’s our responsibility to provide healthy boundaries for our kids. And, of course, children and teens – by virtue of their inexperience and immaturity – often want to do or say things that are unwise and sometimes even dangerous. It’s our job to stop them from hurting themselves or others and to correct and guide them as they move toward maturity. However, saying nothing but no doesn’t help much.

For one thing, if it’s all we say, the word loses its punch. When we only say no – without an explanation or a positive alternative – kids tune us out. We become to them like the boy who cried wolf, and they’ll ignore a no when it really and truly matters. If, on the other hand, we reserve our use of the word as a stand-alone for serious situations – i.e., when a toddler runs toward the street, when a teen driver initiates a left turn into oncoming traffic – our kids will respond because they won’t have become impervious to it.

Additionally, being a “Dr. No” is an authoritarian stance that damages our relationships with our kids. It is, of course, biblically right for children to respect and obey their parents (Ephesians 6.1). But the same passage (Ephesians 6.4) exhorts us against provoking our kids to anger, a command that runs counter to authoritarian parenting. In contrast, when we take the time to explain the reasons we must say no to a child’s desire – and, better yet, offer positive alternatives – we maintain our parental authority in a healthy way while concurrently strengthening and deepening our relationships for the long-haul.
“No, you can’t have a Facebook account. Remember when I showed you the Facebook policy? It says users must be at least 13 and you’re 11. Plus, remember that Dad and I have our list of expectations for getting social media accounts? I’ll definitely work with you on that and we’ll see where you’re at when you’re 13. But not yet.” 
“No, you can’t go to your friend’s house today. We’re going to Grandma’s tomorrow and need to get an early start. But let’s see if Sammy can come over here next Friday.” 
“No, you can’t go outside without a coat. I know it doesn’t look cold, but see the window thermometer? Twenty-eight degrees is even colder than the temperature in our freezer!” 
“Cake for breakfast? Okay, buddy, you know that’s not an everyday thing. But it is left over from your birthday yesterday…so why not – just this once! You just have to promise to remind me to brush my teeth really well after!”
Offering alternatives and explanations is definitely harder – it takes more time and effort – than a blanket no. But your kids – and your relationship with them – are worth it.

Photo Credit: skyseeker

October 16, 2018

“I’m Me!”

One of my teen daughters recently decided to “go natural.”

For the last few years, she’s enjoyed experimenting with her “look.” She’s tried different clothing styles, changed her hair length (via cuts on the one hand and extensions on the other) and color (several times!), and played around with different make-up looks. Nothing she’s tried has been inappropriate, so I felt at peace giving her that freedom.

Recently, though, she put away the extensions she’d been wearing daily for months and then asked me to help her get back to her natural hair color. She also stopped painting extended eyelashes onto her lower lids, switched from heavy, black false eyelashes to very lightweight, brown ones, and softened how she’s doing her eyebrows. When I asked why she was switching things around so noticeably, she said a friend had recently seen a picture of her as a little girl and couldn’t believe it was her because she looked so different. Then she said, “I like how I looked then, and I want people to know that I’m me!”

I know it’s common for most every teen – and many adults! – to go through periods of self-doubt, wondering if they’re “okay” just the way they are. I never really thought of my daughter’s experiments in that light – and for some people, playing around with how they look is just lighthearted fun – but I see now in hindsight that her pursuit of different looks may have been her way of working through such apprehension. If so, I’m beyond grateful that she seems to be coming back to a desire to look like herself – the way God naturally made her – and I’ll be aiming to help her stay there.

Unfortunately, many people never feel comfortable within their own skin and really struggle accepting that they were created (within the bounds of what is biblically right) just as they are – on purpose with a unique, individual purpose. Instead, they spend their whole lives doubting their worth and sometimes take their lives in response to their angst. Or they strive for decades to be what others say they should be rather than finding and resting in God’s real purpose for them.

One of the challenges parenting expert Kathy Koch gives in her seminars is, “Accept the child you have, not the one you wanted.”

That’s so spot-on! As parents, we – not classroom teachers, peers, or media – have the greatest influence over how our children feel about themselves. Of course, if our kids don’t sense acceptance from us, they’ll turn to other sources, but God has designed a child’s mind and heart such that, at root, he wants his parents’ acceptance most of all. And it’s our responsibility to help each child unwrap and develop the purposes for which God has designed him – not to attempt to mold him into what we’d like him to be.

Do your kids know today that they were created on purpose – that in God’s plan, they’re not accidents or mistakes? And do they know that He’s given each of them a specific purpose which no one else on the planet can accomplish in their place? Are you cooperating with His purposes for your child – or fighting against them? Can your child honestly and happily – without reservation – exclaim, “I’m me!”

Photo Credit: Bluesrose

October 2, 2018

Speaking Truth in Love

“Sorry, I can’t spell.”

Sometimes one of my teen daughters will grimace and make this declaration.

It’s true that learning to spell correctly didn’t come easily for her. We began working on it when she was about six and, even as her sister mastered construction after construction, it remained difficult for her to remember many words with consistency. I encouraged her to persevere and kept working with her through an academically-sound spelling program.

After a couple of years, I did begin to wonder if she had a “problem,” but I determined to remain positive with her even as I began to research possible causes for her difficulty and potential solutions. And I concluded that the main issue – beyond the sheer craziness of English spelling itself! – involved her preferred learning modality. So, then I found some supplementary resources, and she began to make swifter progress, though her spelling still contained rather frequent errors.

And then one day when she was about 13, I swear she woke up one morning able to spell with 95% accuracy – just like that! That day she suddenly got most of her practice words correct, and I noticed over the next few weeks and months that she got most words right most days. Suddenly – due to what I’m now sure was simply a developmental shift as part of her natural maturing process – my “struggling speller” could correctly encode almost every word, and her few remaining errors could easily be attributed to the language’s inherent irregularities.

I happily shared my observations with her on a regular basis, which has helped her to become more confident over the past few years. In fact, she’s a gifted essayist and poet, finding great personal joy through the writing process and communicating profound truths in the most beautiful ways.

So, when she bemoans how she “can’t spell,” I have a responsibility to call her out, in love.

“Honey, that’s a lie. It’s true that it took a while for spelling to ‘make sense’ to you. But let’s look at this essay you wrote the other day. It’s got over 1,200 words and only a handful of misspellings, two of which are actually typos. In fact, most of your pieces only have a few misspellings, and most of the time when we edit together, you remember and rarely misspell the same word again. You’ve actually become very good at spelling, and you’ve developed strategies to check yourself when you’re not sure.”

I want both of my daughters to think and speak accurately about themselves. One of my jobs as a parent is to help them along on that journey. Thus, when I hear them voicing inaccuracies about themselves, it’s my responsibility to speak the truth in love.


September 18, 2018

“You’ve Earned…”

My “Irish Twin” daughters are each working through a driver education preparation program. Each of them began the process nine months ago by working through a 30-hour online course that required a specific level of mastery. Upon satisfactorily completing the course, they had to enroll in a verified driving school that offers state-certified behind-the wheel training and take an affidavit from the school to the DMV, where they had to pass a two-part written test in order to obtain an instruction permit. The permit allowed them to get behind the wheel of a car to practice, and they had to spend at least six months doing so, during which time they’ve had to accrue at least 30 hours of drive-time with a parent – 10 of which had to be at night – as well as six hours driving and six hours of observation with an instructor from the driving school. They currently have one more session with the instructor, after which we’ll schedule appointments for each of them to take a road test at the DMV. When they pass – whether on the first try or after multiple attempts – they’ll be granted probationary licenses, which carry restrictions on when and with whom they may drive for nine months. And, finally, at the end of the probationary period – and if they’ve maintained clean driving records – they’ll each have earned a regular license.

This is a rather long and cumbersome process, but it’s provided them with a very clear and concrete object lesson for the reality that one must earn certain privileges. They obviously knew they couldn’t waltz into the DMV on a whim and demand licenses without evidence of their competence to operate a motor vehicle. But the lengthy graduated licensing procedure in our state has served to show them that important activities require time and concerted effort. Thus, when they’re granted their licenses, my husband and I will be able to say with integrity, “Congratulations! You’ve earned this.”

Obviously, our kids shouldn’t feel as if they need to earn everything; for example, we must communicate in word and deed that we love them without any pre-conditions and that God’s gift of salvation through Jesus is offered to them freely. It’s also true that some situations where they’re required to “earn” something – i.e., being graded by a capricious teacher – aren’t always fair. We must acknowledge that reality to them and help them work through such unavoidable disappointments with grace. But there are many situations where it’s good and healthy for our kids to know that poor choices earn them negative consequences, and that working to earn something good is commendable. And by using the power word – “You’ve earned…” – on a regular basis as relevant, we’ll ingrain that truth in their minds and hearts.

Photo Credit: State Farm

September 4, 2018

How to Reap a Good Harvest

Helping our kids develop a sense of personal responsibility is difficult.

Many blame what they call an “entitlement mentality” common in modern culture, and it’s true that such an attitude is prevalent these days. However, the problem goes all the way back to Adam and Eve – when Eve blamed the serpent for her decision to eat the fruit and Adam blamed both Eve and God Himself (Genesis 3.12) for his choice. And it’s not limited to historical figures and children. If we were to honestly tune in to those of all ages around us – and, frankly, to our own thoughts, words, and actions – we would quickly see a victim stance running rampant. The fact is that our natural human tendency is toward deflection and blame-shifting.

However, just because this is our default doesn’t mean it’s okay. Scripture calls us to seek maturity (1 Corinthians 13.11), which includes being able to accept the truth that decisions have consequences, whether positive or negative.

Of course, we must start with ourselves, because important character qualities are more often caught than taught. If our kids hear us always blaming the other guy for problems we face and/or chalking up victories to “fate,” we’ll communicate an entitlement/victim worldview which they’ll inevitably adopt as their own. But if they see us taking appropriate responsibility – acknowledging that I was cut off by another driver because I didn’t actually signal properly or, conversely, explaining how I know I did well with a presentation because I took time to prepare – our kids will begin to grasp the nature of natural consequences.

And when we have credibility with them in this regard, they’ll be more able to accept our “therefore statements” about their choices.

Delivery also matters. When my child messes up – whether by accident or as a result of actual disobedience – it’s my responsibility as the adult in the room to address the issue calmly. If I yell and rant, I not only damage my child emotionally but also wreck my credibility with her. Conversely, when I sit with her and rationally address a problem using “therefore statements,” she’ll more likely see the connection between her decisions and the consequences they bring. And when she’s done something well, it’s much more productive for me to show her with “therefore statements” how her good choices led to a positive outcome than to simply say, “That’s awesome!” If I want my child to know how to replicate a good outcome, she must understand the decision pathway that got her there.

Intentional consistency with all of this is hard. But as we decide to take personal responsibility for parenting in a healthy way, we will see good fruit over time. To paraphrase Galatians 6.9 in a way we surely hope the Lord will speak to us one day: “I saw that you did not grow weary in doing good. Therefore, you reaped a good harvest in due time.”


August 21, 2018

Evidence-Grounded Grace

Recently, one of my daughters had a freak accident with her phone. As she was holding it in her hand while crouching to sit on the edge of her bed, it slipped from her grasp and landed right in a cup of water she’d put next to the bed earlier in the day. She yanked it out instantly and saw that it still worked so she felt she’d dodged a bullet. I did too. But later that day, the phone malfunctioned and only then did we hear about the “rice trick” we now know to be a common fix for phones that get wet.

As she realized the phone might be dead, my daughter was beside herself. She didn’t care about not having the phone; instead, she began to sob and said, “You and Dad bought that for Christmas. It was expensive and I ruined it.” She didn’t say it outright but I knew she was also thinking, “I’m a horrible, irresponsible person!”

If she’d set the phone next to a sink full of water, we might have been able to say, “You probably could have foreseen that putting your phone there wasn’t a good idea.” But what actually happened was clearly an accident; there’s really no way she could have guessed that her phone would slip from her hand just as she was sitting down and at just the “right” angle to land in the cup she’d set nearby hours earlier.

And her instant response was deep remorse. The evidence before me led to only one conclusion: “Honey, accidents happen. You weren’t doing anything irresponsible. In fact, I know because of how you’re reacting now that you mean to be responsible.” My husband felt the same way because, though she sometimes makes avoidable, youthful mistakes – just as all kids do – the overarching desire we see in her day in and day out is to be mature and “grown up.”

Though we all believed it was too late, we eventually put the phone in a bag of rice as a last-ditch effort. When we told our daughter that we’d decided to pay for a replacement, she protested; she thought she should pay for it herself. Of course, that desire was further evidence that grace was appropriate.

When I think about it, I’ve been in many situations with both of my kids over the years where I’ve been able to tell them that evidence – whether positive or negative – doesn’t lie. And, whether the issue at hand has been about one of them not wanting to accept a compliment or not wanting to own a mistake, when I’ve been able to calmly and directly point out what I’ve seen and heard, the tone and direction of the conversation always shifts.

Though still sad that her accident would cost us some money, my daughter stopped beating herself up after we extended evidence-grounded grace to her. Clearly communicating what we see and know about various situations in which our kids find themselves really does make a difference.

Oh, and by the way…the rice worked after all! By the next day, her phone was working good as new. More importantly, of course, her self-talk and our relationship were both working too.


Photo Credit: Second Wave Recycling

August 7, 2018

Wielding Great Power

“You’re not a good reader. Oh, and your spelling is a mess.”

Can you imagine how my child would have felt if I’d told her that?

The fact is that one of my daughters did “struggle” to learn to read. I see in hindsight that the problem was mainly with me – I was pushing her with formal instruction just because she’d turned five rather than watching for real developmental readiness – but the observable reality at the time revealed an inability to process phonological concepts. In fact, though she doesn’t have a learning disability, things didn’t click for her with reading until after she’d turned eight. And she wrestled with our crazy English spelling constructs until she was 13, but then seemed to wake up one day able to spell with consistency as she hadn’t before.

Of course, her “delays” concerned me; any good parent wonders and worries when a child struggles in any way, be it academically, physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. And, sadly, my daughter saw some of my anxiety. But I’m thankful I knew in my gut to avoid making negative statements that would influence her identity. In fact, I remember – even when my stomach twisted in knots during a lesson –consciously coaching myself to purposefully encourage and not dishearten her.

“You’re doing great, honey. Yes, you remembered from yesterday how to sound out st-.”

“Wow. You’re on fire today! You spelled seven of the 10 words correctly!”

It turns out that my daughter was simply a “late bloomer” – who also happened to have hyperopia (farsightedness) and an astigmatism. Thus, she simply needed glasses…and time.

Depending on the circumstances, we do, of course, sometimes need to seek more intensive intervention. But even then, it’s imperative that we avoid plastering our kids with negative, identity-defining labels. Instead, we must help them frame their identities positively and properly – for example, a friend purposes to say that her son “has autism but it doesn’t have him” rather than saying he “is autistic.” Kids internalize who they are based primarily on the messages we parents send with our words and actions.

My “struggler” is now a beautiful, mature young lady on the cusp of adulthood. Some spelling constructs still baffle her – after all, our spelling system is a bizarre mishmash where rules are more often broken than followed! – but she’s become a gifted writer, able to describe and challenge with her words in ways far beyond her years. And she absolutely loves reading; not long ago, she was – by choice – delving into Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the works of Emily Dickinson at the same time and has recently chosen to concurrently tackle Wuthering Heights and Alex Haley’s Roots for her homeschool literature assignment, while reading other difficult works for fun.

Imagine how different her adolescence would be if she’d believed that her early “struggles” controlled her identity; I shudder at the thought. Our words wield great power in our kids’ lives. Are you using yours positively, for their long-term well-being?


July 24, 2018

Honesty Builds Trust

One of my main goals as a parent has been for my kids to know they can trust me. And one thing I’ve done to build trust is promising to answer any direct question honestly. Of course, I’ve also been mindful of providing developmentally appropriate responses, so some answers are very short, focused only on the exact question being asked without additional exposition. But I aim to avoid skirting around an issue, no matter how uncomfortable, and I don’t lie in response to any direct question.

Thus, when my seven-year old asked – just as we were pulling into the grocery store parking lot! – how a baby gets into a mommy’s tummy, I took a deep breath, paused to gather my thoughts, and replied, “Well, a daddy’s sperm joins with a mommy’s egg and then a baby starts to grow.” Satisfied, she said, “Oh, okay,” and hopped out of the car. But it clearly stayed on her mind because she announced fifteen minutes later in the middle of the store, “Oh, I get it! The sperm floats over to the egg!” I was embarrassed but didn’t want her to be, so I said, “Yes, you’re exactly right, honey,” before redirecting her attention to helping me find the Goldfish crackers.

We chose to allow our kids to believe in Santa, and we enjoyed the happiness the myth brought them. But when they asked me point-blank if Santa was real, I told them the truth. And when they asked why their aunt was getting a divorce, I didn’t deflect. Instead, I explained the complicated situation as best I could without oversharing.

It’s tough to be this vulnerable with kids. Since they have permission to ask any question with the expectation of an honest answer, I must be mentally prepared for whatever might come my way. And, of course, as they get bigger, so does the nature of the questions they ask. Now that my kids are teens, they ask about my experiences as a young adult, and I have to admit when I made choices I now regret. I hate that – and I always couch my honest answer with the insight I’ve gained over the years in order to show that I realize how my youthful poor decisions weren’t always wise. But in committing to honesty for the sake of building my kids’ trust in me, I don’t sugarcoat the past.

By God’s grace, I see this approach bearing fruit, and I regularly pray that it always will. Recently one of my daughters made a very foolish choice that could have led to extremely serious negative ramifications – and she hid her actions from me. Through what can only have been God’s leading, I discovered her lie and confronted her in love. I was just as upset over the lie as the broader situation, and I was able to say, “Honey, it hurts that you’ve lied because you know I’ve always promised to be honest with you.” That statement broke her, so to speak, because she knew it was true. At that point, we could begin – in honesty – to deal with the actual problem at hand.

Honesty is hard. But it builds trust for your kids’ ultimate benefit. Are you willing to commit to giving an honest answer to any direct question from your children?

Photo Credit: Picturepest

July 10, 2018

Legitimate Pride

Human nature is a funny thing.

I haven’t looked into the research studies I’m sure exist, but we can all agree anecdotally, based on what we’ve seen all around us and inside ourselves as well, that it’s generally far easier to see the negative about ourselves than the positive. Maybe we all carry a sort of “historical memory” – something within, reminding us we’re descended from Adam and Eve and are, thus, prone to mess things up. Or maybe it’s the result of the sorting and stacking sadly inherent in our culture, where a person learns to rate himself horizontally – comparing himself to others – instead of thinking vertically and tracking his own unique, individual growth over time. I think, too, that as Christ-followers we aim (appropriately) to guard against sinful pride. But we can go too far and end up believing – and teaching our kids – that any pride is bad.

Of course, we all know parents who act as if their kids can do no wrong, a practice fraught with its own serious perils. But, generally speaking, the fact remains that most of us probably need to be more intentional about letting our kids know we believe in them and are proud of them.

One way to work on that is to decide to stop seeing our kids as the culture does. Specifically, we must choose to avoid comparing one child to another – whether at home or in school or community groups – and, instead, embrace each one’s unique, God-ordained personality, strengths and weaknesses, interests and talents. When we compare children against each other, the focus is on “better” or “worse,” and it often becomes impossible for a child – or her parent – to see her for who she really is. But when we choose a different focus – evaluating how a child is doing today in math or truth-telling or archery skills in relation to how she was doing last week, month, or year – growth and improvement becomes far clearer. And then we can more easily encourage the child.

Another way to be intentional is to be specific. Kids have a hard time embracing generalized statements – “I believe in you!” or “I’m proud of you!” In fact, when I’ve said that to my kids on the fly, they dismiss it with, “You have to say that; you’re our mom.” But when we choose specificity – “That was a tough situation. I’m really proud of you for speaking up firmly but kindly just now,” or “I’ve heard you at every lesson and as you practice every day, so I believe you can nail the solo at tomorrow’s recital.” – we let our kids know we’re paying close attention to their efforts, which enables them to more readily internalize what we say.

Because we do seem so prone to accept the negative about ourselves, criticism sticks much more readily than praise; when I scold or even appropriately critique one of my kids, I can see in her eyes that it cuts her to the quick. Conversely, it seems I must offer a dozen legitimate, specific praises before a child “owns” a compliment. We obviously need to correct our kids as necessary, but they desperately need us as their parents to point them to their strengths via specific, intentional praise. Building that sort of pride is healthy and good, ultimately leading a child to proclaim, “Look at the blessings God has built into me! I’m going to do my best to use them for Him.” They need our legitimate affirmation to get there.

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