January 21, 2020

Be a Current Changer

If you spend any time at all on social media, I have no doubt that you regularly see opinion-spouting – i.e., people feeling entitled to publicly spew what they think and believe, usually absent evidence to support their claims and accompanied by ugly, thoughtless dehumanization of those who think differently. Our culture has – for well over a decade now – been inundated with the phenomenon.

Of course, sharing one’s views isn’t a bad thing. In fact, feeling free to speak one’s mind has been ingrained in the American psyche since the Founders penned the First Amendment. But with any right comes responsibility – in this case to handle the “weapon” of words properly – and acting irresponsibly carries dire consequences. Tragically, our society’s new knee-jerk habit of reflexively spouting off is anything but responsible. And it’s hurting us, individually and collectively, in many ways.

As with any other behavior, the remedy comes down to a personal choice to change – an individual’s conscious commitment to stop spouting off and begin, instead, to speak responsibly, sharing logical, evidenced-based ideas in a mature, respectful manner. It matters not what “everyone else” is doing. The direction of a river is changed little by little over time as rocks are placed – one by one – in the current’s path. If we want the tenor of our cultural discourse to change – and who doesn’t long for today’s ugliness to cease? – we can’t wait for “everyone else.” Each of us must, instead, decide to take personal responsibility and commit to planting current-altering pebbles, rocks, and boulders.

If that thought irks you – “Why should I have to watch my words when [name your personal nemesis] never does?” – purpose to look forward for motivation. Without a commitment to actively redirect ourselves, human behavior always degenerates over time (see Romans 1); in fact, that truth mirrors the natural law of entropy which God has built into the creation as a whole. This means that the social environment our kids will face as they grow up and then become adults will – without a change in current – be even worse than it is today. Can you imagine?

I hope you can. And I pray the thought of it chills you to the bone and then motivates you to be among those who aim to change the current. If you want your kids to live in and contribute to civil society when they grow up, it’s imperative that they see and hear you doing the same now.


Photo Credit: FotoFloridian

December 10, 2019

It Might as Well Be You

Are you feeling the pressure of the Christmas Crazies yet?

For many, this sense of feeling constantly stressed and overwhelmed starts the week of Thanksgiving and carries all the way through December into New Year’s Eve. First, they fret over preparing the “perfect” Thanksgiving meal – and/or having to endure a long holiday weekend with particular stress-inducing relatives. Then they dive headlong into “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” bargain-hunting but still worry right up until Christmas Eve that they don’t have “enough” of the “right” gifts. In between, they hunt down the “perfect” Christmas tree, aim to fill their homes with “perfect” holiday d├ęcor, bake batches and batches of “perfect” Christmas cookies, draft a “perfect” family Christmas letter, pour over recipes to plan yet another multi-course holiday meal with the same unpleasant relatives, and try to squeeze in a visit for the children with a mall Santa. They might also haul reluctant kids to practices for the church Christmas program, scour clothing racks for “perfect” family Christmas outfits, and prepare “perfect” goodies for the school or homeschool co-op Christmas party. And as all of this is going on, they surround themselves with streaming Christmas carols and grumble each time they hear a refrain mentioning peace or joy. “If only,” they mutter while pulling gaudy wrapping paper over yet another present they hope against hope its recipient will actually enjoy.

When we stop and think about it, most of us can readily admit we hate the chaos. But we feel stuck. We muddle through because we’ve done it “forever” and because everyone around us is in the same boat. But is that really a good reason to stay on the hamster wheel?

I think not.

Habit, others’ expectations, and cultural norms are never good reasons to partake in activities that make us emotionally – and even physically – sick. It may feel odd to step out of the holiday vortex, and friends and family may question or criticize. But we can still decide to take a different path if we really want to. It’s simply a matter of personal choice and a commitment to follow through – with love and grace – despite possible detractors.

So…ponder what actually brings peace and joy to your home and heart at this time of year, and focus on that and that alone. If a long-standing tradition brings more angst than peace, set it aside this year. If a particular activity steals your joy, take a break or at least tweak it somehow. You can always go back to it next year, but you may find you don’t really miss it after all.

When a society’s behaviors become unhealthy for its individual members, someone has to step out and say, “Enough is enough.” It might as well be you…and me.


Photo Credit: Clipart Library

November 12, 2019

BE the Parent

Correcting requires careful observation and for you to use more words. It may also require an attitude change on your part. You must be interested in helping children improve rather than just pointing out what’s wrong and maybe getting some perverse power from putting them in their place. (Start with the Heart, p. 210)
Ouch. These are tough words from Kathy, but they’re spot-on.

It’s all-too-easy in the trenches – when we’re probably overextended in other areas of life as well – to lose sight of the kind of intentional parenting it takes to carefully observe our children, focus on helping them mature, and keep a check on our own attitudes. It’s easy to fall into an unhealthy routine of on-the-fly criticism to curtail some imminent bad behavior. But, of course, that causes most children to react with defensive antagonism, which then leads to more criticism by parents, and eventually sets up what seems like a never-ending cycle of angst in a home. This is why too many kids can’t wait to leave and why too many parents think (or even say), “Good riddance.”

What a tragedy!

I feel a bit like a broken record when I say this, but it’s truth. The way out of this sort of relational tailspin comes down to a parent’s conscious choice (day in and day out, moment by moment) to be the parent – i.e., a mature, responsible adult. It is not a child’s responsibility to “stop being a brat” so the parent “doesn’t have to” scold. It is not a teen’s role to “grow up already” so the parent can stop criticizing.

It’s actually just the opposite. As a parent chooses to stop scolding, a new relational pattern will develop such that the child will eventually stop acting out in “bratty” ways. As a parent chooses to move from criticism to correction, the teen will learn as time progresses to truly hear the parent’s words and then begin to self-regulate. Difficult as it is and as much as we dislike “adulting” some days, it is our job as parents to take the lead…because we are the parents.

Having peaceful homes and fulfilling familial relationships – both of which are wholly possible –starts with us as parents. Parents choosing their “better angels” over knee-jerk emotional responses. Parents deciding to watch their words and actions. Parents putting on the cloak of maturity no matter how unnatural it may feel at first. Parents faking it till they make it. Parents being parents.


Photo Credit: Kim Davies

October 29, 2019

They Will Not Depart

When I was a young college student sitting in Kathy’s education classes, I didn’t take compliments well. I was a perfectionist who didn’t see the point of a compliment unless I performed perfectly. Of course, I rarely reached that goal in my own estimation so I never felt worthy of praise.

Because Kathy was the faculty advisor for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group to which I belonged and also attended the same church as I, we soon became friends. And she began to gently challenge my thinking as I deflected her compliments. I was a baby Christian so I was still trying to grasp even the basics of God’s infinite love for His children, but one thing Kathy said early-on has stuck with me ever since: “If we don’t graciously accept a compliment, we’re insulting God.” Why? Because by downplaying or rejecting a compliment, we’re essentially saying that the way in which God has wired and gifted us is junk.

I still didn’t believe anything I did was praiseworthy, but I sure didn’t want to hurt the God I’d just embraced as Savior and Lord. When I voiced this to Kathy, she encouraged me to essentially fake it till I made it. She suggested I stop trying to explain why I wasn’t worthy of a compliment and, instead, simply say, “Thank you,” no matter how strange that felt.

Fast forward quite a few years and my husband and I were raising two beautiful girls, then in their early teens. We’d raised them using Kathy’s precepts for complimenting and correcting, but there came a time when one of them – when she was about 14 – suddenly began to push back at every compliment, despite their being real and wholly appropriate. I regularly reminded her of what her “Aunt Kathy” had taught me, but she struggled to say even the fake-it-till-you-make-it thank you.

Fast forward two more years and this girl was finally emerging from what she now calls her “angst-y phase.” And one day she said, “Thank you, Mom, for always reminding me that not accepting a compliment is offensive to God. I know it didn’t seem like I was hearing that the last couple of years, but I was. I felt so bad about myself I didn’t believe anything nice you or anyone else said, but in my head I always kept saying, ‘Thanks, God, even though I think they’re wrong.’ And doing that is part of what got me through the angst.”

Applying the principles that Kathy teaches about complimenting and correcting from early-on imprints those ideas on our kids’ minds and hearts. And – as with all godly precepts – our children will not depart from them when they are “old” …even if they take an occasional detour or two along the way (Proverbs 22.6).


Photo Credit: Raj Vaishnaw

October 15, 2019

It’s about Relationship

A mom in a large homeschool group I moderate recently posted this anecdote:

Today, I am "that weird…mom." I didn't ground my son from video games or whatever normal people do. No, I banned him from paper for the day....

I [verbally] corrected him…about his chores while he was holding sheets of paper he was going to draw on, so he angrily threw them to the ground. I immediately told him to pick them up, so he [did]. [But then he] crumpled them up, which he also knew better than to do. So, I told him he was banned from paper for the rest of the day.

He whined, "But what if I need it for my schoolwork?"

I just replied, "You won't," and went back to what I was doing.

So, no paper...No drawing, making airplanes, or crafts of any kind with paper for him today. I feel kind of bad taking one of his favorite hobbies
from him for the day since he's so creative, but that's part of trying to raise good people, I suppose.

The story is a perfect illustration of what Kathy Koch advises in Chapter 6 of Start with the Heart: “When you think about what logical consequences, treats, and bribes might motivate and help your children, think about who they are.”

For many kids, banning the use of paper for a day would be silly and irrelevant. But for this boy – whose mom obviously knows him very well and understands the need for consequences even when issuing them makes us uncomfortable – losing the ability to have paper for the day was logical (and also somewhat natural, given that he’d crumpled up and essentially wasted at least a few sheets).

Over the years as I’ve parented, I’ve seen lots of “parenting systems” come and go. Generally speaking, these systems promote using the same techniques delivered in the same manner with every child, promising “well-trained” children if the parents dutifully comply with all of the system’s precepts. This view treats children as if they’re robots or, perhaps, products on an assembly line instead of uniquely-designed human beings. I get angry with those promoting such lies and grieve for parents who buy into them.

Consistency in parenting is important. However, that doesn’t mean subjecting our children to a sterile, inhumane “system.” Good parenting is much more complex than that. Good parenting means taking the time to know each of our kids so intimately that we’ll learn when to most effectively teach, when to coach, when to cheer, and when to referee. It means we’ll come to understand what motivates a particular child at different stages of his life and then be consistent in the application of what is logical for him in that season. And it means we adapt our parenting techniques as each child grows and matures. It’s not about a system; it’s about relationship.


Photo Credit: Valerie

October 1, 2019

Give Them a Gift

As Kathy describes in Chapter 6 of Start with the Heart, we can employ a number of different techniques to improve our kids’ motivation. All but one – natural consequences – involve us as parents making conscious choices about means and methods of punishment and reward. Natural consequences, though, occur…well, naturally. For example, the natural consequence of releasing your grip on a mug of coffee is that it will fall to the floor; the coffee will spill and the mug may even shatter. Because of gravity and other natural laws of physics, this is the expected (natural) consequence. You’re not surprised by it and, as you clean up the mess you’ve made, you process through what caused the accident (i.e., the handle was too hot) and consider ways to avoid a repeat performance (i.e., remembering to use a hot pad when grabbing a cup that’s likely to be too warm). 

Loving parents don’t want their kids to suffer. We would give our very lives for them and we would – if we could – take away all their pain. And we should, of course, do everything within our power to help them avoid serious injury. But we can’t wrap them in physical or mental bubble wrap; hurt of one sort or another will, unfortunately, come to each and every one of our kids. With that truth in mind, we can harness the power of appropriate natural consequences in little things to help our children learn lessons that may help them avoid serious issues down the line.

For example, one of my daughters wanted to quit guitar lessons about a year and a half after starting. However, rather than ask if she could give it up, she simply stopped practicing. I wasn’t aware of this for several weeks because she typically practiced in her room behind closed doors, and she actually told me more than once that she was practicing. When her lies to me became apparent, I obviously dealt with that via logical, negative consequences; I never take lying lightly. In addition, though, I let her suffer the natural consequences of her choice – i.e., she felt embarrassed at her lessons when she went unprepared and eventually had to confess her behavior and apologize to her guitar teacher. I hated to see her in pain; it would have been “easier” to make excuses for her. However, if I’d stepped in to save her some short-term angst, I’d have prevented her from learning some very important lessons that will apply all throughout her life. In case you’re wondering, I did allow her to stop taking lessons since her initial interest had waned – but only after she’d worked through all the consequences of her poor choice.

We obviously can’t let our kids suffer natural consequences all the time; it would be immoral, for example, to knowingly let a child touch the flame on a stovetop or to knowingly drop a teen off at a beer party. But it’s damaging in different ways – not to mention impossible – to try “protecting” them from every natural consequence. Instead, give them the gift of working through relatively harmless natural consequences with your guidance and support.


Photo Credit: SabrinaDan Photo

September 17, 2019

Do What’s Necessary

My “Irish Twin” daughters generally got along quite well as they were growing up. Being human, though, they’ve had their share of disagreements and fights, and when they were younger, one tended to rile her sister verbally with teasing while the other expressed her frustration physically, by knocking her sister down and sometimes biting. In either case, of course – as well as when one or the other did something inappropriate or sassy unrelated to her sister – it was my job to play referee and mete out discipline.

However, having grown up with parents who were not Christians and who both struggled with the effects of generational dysfunction in their families of origin, I was literally afraid of “discipline” for a long time. I didn’t want to yell the way my anxious, stressed-out mom had, and I certainly didn’t want to punch holes in furniture and walls like my father. In fact, my fear of repeating their mistakes led my husband and me to delay having children until I was in my early thirties.

I eventually grew in my faith enough to “risk” having kids, and my older daughter was a very laid-back baby. But I was grateful to learn of a church in my town that offered a Bible study in “biblical mothering” shortly after the older had turned one, when my younger daughter was just a few months old. With one child entering toddlerhood, the class came at the perfect time in my life, and the principles taught in the study provided a perfect balance between grace and truth, as it were, teaching me how to properly discipline as necessary while still maintaining a foundation of love.

For a long time, I thought I was alone in my fear of disciplining children. But from having interacted with many moms through the course of my kids’ lives, I’ve (sadly) learned that many wrestle with the same fear – i.e., of going overboard into abuse. As a result, I know many parents who don’t play referee for their kids at all, believing they can simply “talk things out” and that the children will somehow “absorb” self-control as they grow up. 

The problem is that it doesn’t work that way. Young kids whose parents don’t referee and set boundaries for them grow up to be angry and depressed or out-of-control teens and young adults. We see the fruit of that all around us every day.

I know firsthand that the idea of disciplining a child is petrifying for some; I truly understand that from the bottom of my heart. But kids need proper discipline in order to properly grow and mature. If you – like me – honestly don’t know how to be a healthy referee, don’t abdicate. Instead, find a reliable parenting class or a trustworthy mentor and allow yourself to be taught – even “re-parented” if necessary. God will hold you to account for refereeing your kids one way or the other; do what’s necessary so that He can one day say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


Photo Credit:  YouTube

September 3, 2019

It’s All Right, It’s Okay

My high school math teacher was an incredibly nice guy. And he was also my small school’s varsity football coach, so he spent plenty of time hearing the chants of cheerleaders during good games and bad. However, his desire to be kind and encouraging detracted from his ability to be a realistic cheerleader for his students.

I’m no slouch in math…up to a certain point. The content in Algebra 1 made absolute sense to me, and I loved Geometry. With a few exceptions, I grasped the content in Algebra 2. But after that – in what was called “Math IV” in my school, a combination of Pre-Calculus and Trigonometry? Not so much.

I’m a good memorizer so I could plug in numbers to the different formulas. But the theory behind it eluded me, so memory took me only so far. And I was a very unhealthy perfectionist at that time, petrified of seeing anything other than A’s on my report cards. Mr. Long – bless his heart – allowed me to come in during his prep-time for extra one-on-one help. And he tried. But I know now that my brain’s capacity for truly comprehending mathematical concepts ends somewhere near the end of Algebra 2. I have absolute peace about that now, too.

But I didn’t back then, and Mr. Long knew it. So – in his default nice-guy mode – he put A’s on my report cards for Math IV all year long, giving me credit for effort where my computational ability fell short.

I know he meant well. But the A’s gave me a false sense of security and made me think – despite knowing the truth deep down inside myself – that I’d do just fine in college Calculus. I didn’t. And getting a C in that class – which may have been a bit of a gift from that professor as well – threw me into an emotional tailspin that lasted a long time.

Hindsight is always 20/20. And it’s difficult to have the courage to shout the realistic cheer when it becomes clear the team won’t pull off a victory. But with his naturally kind demeanor, Mr. Long could have done it. If he’d awarded grades based on my actual comprehension of the content and explained where he saw me in that realm, it would have been hard to take. But because we had a relationship, he could have helped me come to terms with my mathematical limitations. That would have saved me from incredible angst later on and enabled me to realistically reconsider my post-secondary plans before wasting considerable time and money.

No one is good at everything. God has designed each of us to be a unique human being and has laid out a unique plan for each of our lives, and that means each of us will soar in some areas and flounder in others. We need cheerleaders in our lives to urge us on in our areas of strength and redirect us when we’re unnecessarily stuck in our weaknesses. In the context of relationship, don’t be afraid to shake your pompoms and call out, “It’s all right, it’s okay. Try something new another day!”


Photo Credit: ClipArtBarn

September 1, 2019

Reflections from the “Road of Lasts”

Just as Psalm 139 tells us that God knows each person before he’s born, I knew well before my children existed that we’d homeschool. I spent time as a newlywed with two “modern pioneer” homeschool moms – one of whom was educating her kids at home even before it was legalized in my state – and was duly impressed with the kids’ character, their close-knit family relationships, and how the parents were able to cater to each child’s unique academic needs. I tucked the idea in the back of my mind for the “someday” when my husband and I would start our own family.

That day came with the birth of our older surviving daughter more than 10 years later, after I’d spent nine years as a public-school teacher and had suffered the miscarriage of our oldest child. And then, less than a year after that daughter’s birth, we welcomed her “Irish twin” little sister into the fold. I’d quit my job when the first was born because my husband and I wanted our children raised by us, and I pulled out the idea of homeschooling while the girls were still babies.

My husband wasn’t so sure. He knew and respected the families with whom I’d spent time. But both his parents had been public/government school teachers, and he didn’t know any homeschoolers beyond those two families. However, when the girls were toddlers, he took on the position of interim youth pastor at our church, and that sealed the deal. In that role, he met teens who’d run the gamut of educational experiences – government school, private magnet school, faith-based school, homeschool – and he came home one day extolling the virtues of the homeschooled kids. He said, “If that’s what homeschooling does, I’m in.”

Though people teased me about being an “overachiever,” we joined a local homeschool association when the girls were about three and four – not to get them going on formal academics but, rather, to begin forming relationships with other home-educating families and to learn about methods and materials from their years of experience. And over time we’ve participated in and eventually led many group activities – field trips galore, dances, parties, camping trips, support meetings, talent shows, musicals, choirs – and the girls and I have met our best friends among the group’s members. As I watched older members’ kids grow up before my eyes, I got ideas and inspiration about how to proceed and was encouraged to persevere on our journey.

Along the way, I tried my hand at several educational approaches and used a whole bunch of different curricula. Some resources were tossed after a couple of weeks…and a few never even made it out of the box! Others worked well for a season. And still others became tried-and-true staples I used for many years and still enthusiastically recommend. Even the “bombs” served a purpose and didn’t hinder my kids’ overall academic growth; in fact, every resource we’ve used has contributed to revealing how each of my kids has been wired as a learner, enabling me to fine-tune as we went.

And now we’re at the end of the line.

Because my girls were born so close together, they’ve progressed through their academic “careers” together, and will graduate from our homeschool together next spring. And that means I’m currently in the midst of a year of “lasts.”

We started our last “fall term” in mid-August, and enjoyed our last not-back-to-school breakfast when the public-school kids had their first day of the year a couple weeks later. The girls are in the midst of rehearsals for their last choir performance with our group. They’ll soon venture out on their last father-child campout with my husband and attend their last fall dance. Before we know it, we’ll be getting ready for their last “Snowball,” their last father-daughter Valentine’s dance, their last spring formal, their last teen bonfire, and their last “girls’ group” outing. Though they’ll have a few academic activities to complete this winter and spring, it’s our goal to finish most of it before Christmas. Thus, they’ll soon close the cover of the last book in our long-standing, beloved history curriculum for the last time, and soon write their last book reviews. And then sometime next spring, they’ll do their last math assignments, turn in the final drafts of their senior research papers, and have their last civics lesson with me. On June 6, 2020, they’ll graduate, and my homeschooling “career” will end.

I want to cry just thinking about it. Because as much as I’ve sought to be physically and emotionally “present” for my girls for all these years and to pour into them as best I could despite all my faults and weaknesses, it’s all gone too quickly. I don’t fear not having done “enough.” I just grieve that I can’t do more. That I can’t have more time.

By God’s grace, I have great relationships with both my girls, and I fully expect (and pray to that end!) that their foray into adult life will include me in significant ways. I’m excited to see how their plans unfold and so proud of the bright, capable young woman each has become; I’m grateful that I’ll get to cheer them on and coach them in new ways. But I know it won’t be the same as it’s been. And that’s as it should be if we’ve done our job as parents correctly – i.e., our kids are supposed to become independent and self-sufficient. But it still hurts to “lose” my little girls.

My goal for myself in this year of lasts is to make the most of each moment without falling into a sea of melancholy – to acknowledge the significance of each “last” and enjoy them instead of getting maudlin. So, too, I encourage you during this “school year” – wherever you are on the journey with your precious children – to make the most of it. It’s quite true that some days are long (very long!)…and that some situations in which we find ourselves as home-educating parents are very stressful. But the rest of the adage – that the years are very short – is equally true.

So please listen and take heart, and aim to focus on the big picture rather than the exhausting, anxious, maddening little moments. Before you know it, you’ll be in the middle of your own “year of lasts,” and you’ll want to walk that journey wishing for more, not craving the end. To make that happen, you’ll need to know you’d prioritized your relationships with your kids – letting the academics flow as a secondary, natural corollary to that – instead of getting stuck in minutiae. So, seek the long view this year starting right now, and every year yet to come.


August 20, 2019

Invest Up-Front

When my kids were seven and eight, I was becoming frustrated with how hard it was to complete the homeschool lessons I felt were appropriate and necessary to accomplish each day while subsequently babysitting two preschoolers and a baby. There was no question that I’d continue to homeschool, and my family needed the childcare income so I couldn’t give that up. I had to find a solution that worked within my circumstances.

Shortly thereafter, I ran across an organizational tool, Sue Patrick’s Workbox System, that seemed promising. I bought the kit, poured over the instruction manual the day it arrived, and went shopping the next morning for supplies: portable shoe racks, plastic shoe boxes, colored card stock, laminating sheets (I already owned a laminator), and (lots and lots!) of Velcro. Watching me assemble the various pieces and then fill each box with a learning task piqued the girls’ curiosity; I used their interest to build anticipation about implementing the system.

But even though they’d observed me putting everything together, I didn’t expect them to automatically know what to do on our first day using it. Instead, I took a chunk of time to show them each part of the system, explaining its purpose, and then demonstrated how I expected them to move through the process. And during our first few days with it, I offered frequent reminders and encouragement. By the end of our first week, we were accomplishing twice as much bookwork in half the time as before! And it was such a hit that I developed a related system I called “Our Do-It Door” for chores and daily routines, and set up a box system for the preschoolers, who begged to be like “the big girls.”

Fast forward 10 years, and, though I’ve tweaked the system’s implementation to suit the girls’ needs as they’ve grown and matured, we still use its principles. In fact, taking time to set up a concrete organizational schema when they were young and coaching them in how to use it has been one of the most significant reasons they were able to become largely self-directed in their studies by the time they started high school.

We needed the tool – in this case, Sue Patrick’s brainchild – but that wasn’t enough. I also had to choose to invest time and energy into assembling it and then instructing and modeling its use. I had to listen to my kids and adapt when Sue’s suggestions didn’t quite meet our immediate needs, and I had to be patient as the girls learned how to complete the system’s steps. But it was all worth it, both in the short-term and over the long-run.

The same is true for any task – at any age – in which we need to teach and coach our kids. Investing up-front yields great benefit for them and for us.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...