June 11, 2019

A Hope and a Future

Earlier this month I attended the graduation ceremony sponsored by my local homeschool association. Within the program each graduate had written a brief paragraph summarizing favorite high school experiences and his or her post-secondary aspirations. And I noted with delight the wide variety of future plans – everything from pursuing a PhD in physical therapy or advanced degrees in mechanical engineering, biochemistry, and philosophy to attending cosmetology or culinary school to opening a business and getting married later this summer to taking a gap year while earning money for later endeavors to diving into missionary work. In fact, I don’t think even two among the 22 graduates had the same immediate game plan.

I know kids who graduate from conventional schools aren’t generally given a forum to describe their ambitions in a similar way. But I hope the pursuits of graduates from every school might be similarly as diverse. That would mean each teen had been given the opportunity to discover how the Lord has wired him and the freedom to chase after his God-ordained dreams. It would mean that every graduate has come to believe in the value of her future.

Sadly, I know my hope isn’t reality. Some young people have been held back by challenging or even debilitating family circumstances, improperly diagnosed special learning needs, or a lack of access to opportunities for exploring future plans. And we absolutely need to do whatever we can – within our extended families, neighborhoods, friend-networks, and church communities – to ameliorate such tragic situations.

But there’s another hindrance of which we must be acutely aware even with our kids who don’t wrestle with such struggles. That potential roadblock is – in a word – us.

As Kathy regularly exhorts those who attend her seminars, we must love and accept the children we have and not try to turn them into the kids we wanted. Perhaps you wanted a doctor in the family; instead, your daughter is called to teach. Maybe you’d hoped a son would get an MBA, but he’s passionate about joining the Marine Corps. Or you’ve dreamed since your daughter was five that she’d take over your dog grooming business but she has her eye on an Ivy League degree.

We obviously want our children to launch well and lead happy, productive, God-honoring adult lives. But we make a grave error when we attempt to force our wishes for specific vocations without regard for how God has designed a particular child. If we do so, we cause the child to doubt his own beliefs about who he’s created to be, and we risk robbing him of hope for his own future.

Teens obviously need our discernment and experience as they explore possible future endeavors; for example, a young person who desires to sing on Broadway but cannot carry a tune in a bucket needs gentle redirection. But we must take great care to ensure that our guidance is Spirit- not self-led, in order to partner with God in giving our kids a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29.11).

CK

May 28, 2019

Outside of and Beyond


“Learning” and “school” aren’t synonyms. Of course, we certainly hope that every child’s schooling – wherever it’s delivered – involves real learning…not merely performance or “coverage” of topics. But there’s actually a big difference in the connotations behind those two words.

“Schooling” is compulsory – a mandated activity in this country. Each state has a compulsory school attendance law, requiring that all children of a certain age (usually beginning at five or six and going through 16, 17, or 18) be schooled in one way or another (i.e., in a public, private or home school). Thus, governmental agents can and do insist that children “attend school” – i.e., that their bodies are physically present in a legally-defined “school” setting for a certain amount of time each day and year. And they can and do require that instruction in particular topics be delivered to those children. They cannot, however, mandate learning.

This is because “learning” involves the heart and will of the student. A child or teen can obediently sit at her desk all day long, not causing a single disruption, and still not learn a thing. In fact, the same is true of adults. How many times, for example, have you sat through a sermon at church, yet come out of it saying, “Well, that was a bust; I didn’t learn a thing,” or blatantly committing the sin discussed in the sermon not 20 minutes later?

So, how do we help children to actually value learning?

We can start by acknowledging to them that learning and schooling aren’t necessarily the same thing. Be honest. Kids must legally attend school, and we can hope that some real learning occurs there each day. But – for many reasons – “school” is truly a drag for many kids, and we need to accept their feelings instead of belittling them. We can say, “Yes, you must attend school and I’ll do my best to help you with all that involves. But it’s okay that you don’t like it.” When we do that, we gain credibility in their eyes and, thus, earn the right to speak into their lives.

Then we can show them how real learning is different from schooling – that it involves exploring ideas and activities of personal relevance and making active choices to engage with that content. And we can create opportunities for each child to dig deeply into his or her areas of personal passion outside of and beyond their “schooling.”

Did you know that Edison and Einstein – to name but two examples – were abject failures at “school?” Edison was literally sent home (permanently) for being “learning disabled.” And, though Einstein earned “good grades,” he chafed at the constraints of the school environment. Yet both clearly continued to educate themselves outside of and beyond their schooling and demonstrated in unmistakable ways that they absolutely valued learning. Why? Each was enabled to find his niche and run with it. Your kids deserve nothing less.

CK
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Photo Credit: Todd

May 14, 2019

What Have You Done Today?

On Mother’s Day seventeen years ago, I was featured on the front page of my local metro newspaper. Shortly after delivering my youngest daughter on the previous Tuesday, I’d been asked if I’d consider sitting for an interview and photos for the paper’s Mother’s Day edition, the results of which turned out to be a long article and a big, bold, top-of-the-fold photograph of my newborn and me, in addition to pictures of my husband and our older daughter. My family was apparently “interesting” that year since our girls are Irish Twins, having been born just 11.5 months apart. Thus, the reporter mentioned how I hadn’t been a mother at all the previous year but was suddenly a mother of two who weren’t actual twins.

Setting aside the reality a presumably secular reporter wouldn’t understand – i.e., we had an older daughter, lost to a miscarriage two years earlier, who’d actually made me a mother, or at the very least that I was already a mother when pregnant with my older surviving daughter – it was an interesting experience. I am photo-phobic to begin with, and I definitely didn’t relish the thought of my picture being splashed all over the front page of the paper less than a week postpartum. But I chose to do it for my girls – to make a family memory of our somewhat unique situation. I wanted to demonstrate that I valued them by taking advantage of an unusual opportunity even though it shoved me far outside my personal comfort zone.

Thankfully, I don’t often need to go to – what was for me – such an extreme. In fact, we most often demonstrate to a child that he or she has value in the little things – i.e., massaging his dimpled baby-thighs after a warm bath, cuddling up to read to her (the same book for the umpteenth time!), consoling him after a tumble off his new two-wheel bike, celebrating her first solo dance at a recital, putting down our phones when they need to talk… Yet we must still be intentional about communicating to them – regularly and sincerely, in actions and words – that they have deep value to us and in this world.

Sadly, kids will not be taught that truth elsewhere. By God’s grace, they’ll have a few encouraging teachers and coaches along the way and will find supportive friends. But the tragic reality is that much of what they’ll face in the world – even as young children – will seek to tear down their sense of inherent worth. So, if we want our kids to be immune to such assaults on their emotional and spiritual well-being, we must purpose to provide daily inoculation against it by clearly and directly – in big ways and small – communicating that they are, indeed, important and valuable.

What have you done today in that regard?

CK

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Photo Credit: Tommaso Scannicchio

May 1, 2019

Don’t Be a Flake

My teenage daughters now work with young children in their part-time jobs, one as a lifeguard and the other in a childcare center, and they regularly share work anecdotes with me. Just the other day, each was recounting recent incidents in which they’d noticed among the parents of the children with whom they work what they refer to as “good parenting” on the one hand and “flaky parenting” on the other.

When they described “good parenting,” they both mentioned calm consistency, wherein a parent set a clear boundary with his or her child and calmly but firmly held to it – without yelling – no matter how hard a child tried to push the envelope. The “flaky” parents, in contrast, were either very terse and negative with their children or did not set boundaries but, instead, allowed their kids to manipulate situations.

Not surprisingly, this discussion led to reminiscing about their childhoods. And, though I know I lost my temper far too often, I was heartened to hear from my girls that what they mostly remember from me is calm consistency. Of course, it irked them at the time that I wouldn’t negotiate when they wanted to argue or that I didn’t give in to a temper tantrum. But now that they’re sort of on the other side, they see as objective outsiders at work the different fruit borne by “good” and “flaky” parenting.

Young parents often tell me they’re afraid their children will “hate” them for setting boundaries and providing discipline; I was sometimes fearful of that myself so I understand. And if a parent’s definition of “discipline” means yelling and belittling and setting random, arbitrary rules for the sake of exerting control, that’s inevitable. But the same will also happen with permissive parenting, wherein a mom or dad sets no boundaries and lets the foolish whims of immature children rule the roost. As my teens have seen, parenting that works falls in between either extreme of its “flaky” alternatives.

Kids really do need structure and boundaries; it gives them security. And they need guidance and correction delivered patiently, in love. If you determine your family’s rules based on your values, communicate them clearly, and then consistently enforce them in the context of relationship – not as a hammer – you can avoid being either kind of “flake” my daughters have noticed.

CK
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Photo Credit: moonjazz

April 16, 2019

Step Out in Faith


I didn’t grow up going to church. And the churches I’ve attended as an adult have, by and large, not given much attention to “Holy Week.” Some have marked Palm Sunday in a special way – but some have not. And none has encouraged its members to commemorate the Scriptural events that occurred on Monday through Thursday before Good Friday, nor to do anything significant with Saturday. And for a long time, I didn’t give that a second thought.

But several years ago, I started wondering about that Saturday – i.e., how I should treat the day in between remembering Jesus’ death on Friday and resurrection on Sunday. On the one hand, it seemed we should be quiet and circumspect since Jesus’ original followers were mourning what they believed to be the insurmountable death of their leader. On the other, we know now, even as we attend somber Good Friday services, that Jesus overcame the grave. So, is it really necessary to attempt to imitate the disciples’ grief all through Saturday?

I actually think the answer to that question may be different for different families – and in different seasons of life. I am certain, though, that it’s important to help our children understand that there is far more to “the Easter story” than the events we remember during the week’s church services. And, in fact, we as parents – not our kids’ Sunday school teachers or even our pastors – are the ones called by God to fully train up our own children in the faith (Deuteronomy 6.7).

In regards to “Holy Week” when my kids were young, my husband and I used a few specific learning tools, including Resurrection Eggs, videos from NEST Entertainment, and some beautiful Easter-oriented picture books, to walk them through the historical events that occurred daily between Palm Sunday and Easter. And one year we read Amon’s Adventures, a marvelous multi-week devotional by Arnold Ytreeide. The goal each year has been to remind them – and ourselves – that important, prophetic events occurred on each day of that special week

As you read this, we’re in the midst of “Holy Week.” And perhaps you’re now feeling guilty because, though your kids marched down the church aisle waving palm branches last Sunday and will come with you to church on Friday and this coming Sunday, you hadn’t given any thought to any other sort of remembrance before now. But don’t despair! You don’t need fancy resources to disciple your children; you just need the desire, a Bible, and the Holy Spirit who lives within you!

So, take a bit of time as a family each day this week to read in Matthew as listed below, backtracking as necessary depending on when you start. Then discuss your thoughts together afterward. You lead your children spiritually by stepping out in faith, no matter how tentatively. And what better week to start than this?

  • Palm Sunday: Matthew 21.1-11
  • Monday: Matthew 21.12-17
  • Tuesday: Matthew 21.23-25
  • Wednesday: Matthew 26.1-5
  • Thursday: Matthew 26.17-30
  • Good Friday: Matthew 27.1-61
  • Saturday: Matthew 27.62-66
  • Easter Sunday: Matthew 28.1-10
CK

April 2, 2019

The Soft Place

What if you knew that today was the last day you’d ever have with your child?

I know that’s an awful thought – and I pray God that all the children of every person reading this sentence outlive us by decades, and that we, too, live to a ripe old age. But life is but a mist and we don’t know what tomorrow will bring (Psalm 39.5, Psalm 144.4, James 4.14). So…what if?

You would surely want your child to know in his dying breath that he has been loved unconditionally by you. Or you’d want her to rest in the knowledge of your unfailing love as she received the news of your passing. And the only way to guarantee that outcome in death is to live it.

I’ve interacted with too many parents who feel it’s their job to “toughen up” their kids. I even once met a dad who questioned my decision to homeschool, believing I was depriving my children the “opportunity” to be bullied. We all know that our fallen world is messed up and that our kids will inevitably experience pain and loss “out there.” But, rather than mimic the cruelty of the world, wouldn’t it be better to maintain home – the arms of mom and dad – as their soft place to land?

That’s not to say we shouldn’t provide discipline and discipling as they grow and mature; indeed, setting logical boundaries and holding to them with consistency is one of our main parental responsibilities. And, in fact, doing so provides security for kids that enables them to know they are loved. But the manner in which we do so makes all the difference.

We can yell or we can coach. We can scold or we can guide. We can accuse or listen. We can presume the worst or seek redemption. We can tear down or build up. We can bemoan the child we don’t have or accept the one we do. We can offer malice or mercy.

We will not be perfect, of course. We will have moments when we scream at our kids. In our fallenness, we will make unfounded accusations. But if the overall “tone” we set within our homes is one of grace, our children will forgive our lapses – indeed, they’ll most likely forget them – and they’ll know they can trust and rely on their parents to speak truth in love.

*****
You will never have this day with your children again;
tomorrow they’ll be a little bit older than they are today.
Today is a gift. Breathe and notice. Smell and hold them,
study their faces and little feet, and pay attention.
Enjoy today; it will be over before you know it.
Relish the charms of the present.

~ Author Unknown

CK

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Photo Credit: Sai De Silva on Unsplash

March 19, 2019

Put on Your Coaching Hat

“He just keeps crying and crying!”
“Every day it’s another temper tantrum!”
“All she does is roll her eyes and slam doors.”

I regularly hear comments like this from parents in regards to their children and teens. Parents become exasperated with their kids’ behavioral issues and, because they’re fallible human beings, they respond in kind and sometimes even rant about their kids to friends and family members or in online forums.

Parenting is hard. It requires consistent, concerted effort, and we often fear that our feeble attempts will never bear fruit. But we won’t make things better by yelling at our kids to, “Just shape up!” And, while seeking wise counsel is one thing, it certainly won’t help to air their dirty laundry on the internet.

One thing that can make a difference is choosing to coach them in how to specifically express their needs.

A crying baby is actually doing just that as best he can. Because he’s pre-verbal, his mom or dad must take time to discover the cause of his angst. But he will stop crying when we’ve figured it out. And we can begin the process of teaching him to express his needs by talking to him as we aim to sooth him: “Jimmy, are you wet? Let’s see about that. Oh, honey, no, it’s not that, is it? Do you think you’re hungry? I know you just ate but maybe you’re starting a growth spurt. What do you think?” Babies learn to speak by being spoken to, and they will learn to express their specific needs by hearing us acknowledge them as we understand them.

As babies grow into toddlerhood and beyond, we need to continue and expand upon the coaching process. Instead of scolding a three-year old for having a tantrum, we must discover ways to keep her safe in the midst of it – that may mean letting her cry it out on the living room floor or it might mean holding her tight as she sobs – and then, when the storm has passed, comfort her while talking her through the situation – i.e., by asking specific questions and helping her to find the words she needs. 

If we commit to this process from early-on – such that our children know we are a safe refuge as they navigate their life experiences and feelings – we probably won’t ever get to the eye rolls and door slams. But we can ameliorate that behavior as well, if we are willing to take the time our teens need. An angry teen may need some time alone, but we mustn’t let her stay there. In many ways, teens are simply toddlers in bigger bodies, and we must comfort them, listen to them, and actively coach them in using specific language to express themselves just as we did when they were younger.

Kids don’t come to us all put together. When they “freak out,” it’s because they’re hurt and confused. And – as the people on earth who should love them best – they need our intentional, invested help. When we incrementally coach them, they will grow into the healthy, motivated adults we want them to be.

CK

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Photo Credit: 365psd

February 19, 2019

The Trick

When I was teaching teens who were learning English as a second language in local public schools, I learned that, for some of them, making direct eye contact ran counter to the cultural norms with which they’d grown up prior to arriving in the States. Thus, I walked a sort of tightrope with them. On the one hand, I had to be mindful of their cultural background and also remember that – as refugees – they’d already endured quite a lot in their young lives and were overwhelmed with the acculturation process at every turn. But it was also part of my job to help them learn American norms, and I’d have been remiss if I’d failed to teach and encourage them toward adopting our expectations regarding eye contact. Sometimes it was best that I nudge them toward looking me in the eye; at other times, it was okay to let them rest in their comfort zone. The trick for me was learning when to do what.

Now as a mom, I’ve learned the same delicate balance exists with my own kids. Though I see a bit of a shift since so many – kids and adults alike – have become (sadly) dependent on constantly looking down at their phones, our culture still places high value on making direct eye contact during conversation. As parents, we often say things like, “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” because we see that as a demonstration of a child’s respect for our authority. We also want to look our kids in the eye to measure whether or not they’re telling the truth. And we know that – in American culture – making good eye contact is a sign of confidence, which we want for our kids.

For their long-term benefit, we should teach and model this norm (and, as an aside, get our own eyes unglued from our phone screens!). But if we want to build deep and abiding relationship with them, there’s also a time and a place for giving them space to look down or away. Sometimes it was simply too overwhelming for my students to make direct eye contact, and the same is true of our kids. But if we create opportunities to interact with them when eye contact isn’t required – i.e., before bedtime in a dark room, while we’re driving with them next to us or in the backseat – they’ll very often pour out important stuff they need and want to tell us.

Finding the right balance for every child is hard, and we won’t always get it right; I know I sure haven’t. But if we purpose to correctly discern when to require eye contact and when to orchestrate less threatening opportunities for our kids to share, we’ll figure it out more often than not. The key is remembering that making direct eye contact and having permission to sometimes avoid it both serve important purposes in a child’s life as we seek to maintain and grow our relationships with them and also facilitate the development of good character in them. The trick for us is learning when to do what.

CK

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Photo Credit: pxhere

February 5, 2019

More Than Worth It


There’s no doubt that parenting kids to maturity is exhausting and stressful; I’ve walked most of the journey with my children and now teeter on the cusp of being “done.” In other words, I’ve been-there-done-that, so to speak, and know the angst firsthand.

Along the way, I’ve had my share of feeling at my wit’s end. For example, about eight years ago, one of my daughters went through a long bout with insomnia-induced anxiety. Every night for several months, she struggled to get to sleep at a “normal” time, and the longer she remained awake – while also seeing her sister fall asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow – the more anxious she grew. Unsurprisingly, her increasing anxiety as the hours wore on fed her insomnia, pulling her into a terrible emotional vortex every single night. She even started to get anxious each evening after dinner, anticipating the stress bedtime would bring.

Hearkening back to my childhood – in which, unfortunately, my fears and anxieties were ignored with a “just suck it up” attitude – I determined to break that chain and committed to being physically and emotionally present for my daughter in her struggle. So, I began laying with her each night at bedtime, during which we had some of the best conversations imaginable. Then I prayed over her, reminded her to breathe deeply and relax, and stayed with her until she was asleep. Sometimes I fell asleep too and stayed there most or all of the night!

For a few days – or even if it had been a couple of weeks – this was fine. However, as the issue extended into multiple months, it took its toll. My daughter was less stressed…but that transferred to me as I felt I was being held “prisoner” by my nine-year old’s anxiety. Of course, I also struggled with wondering about the balance between helping and enabling, concerned that my nightly routine might be harming my daughter, even as I also knew I could not in good conscience abandon her to deal with it entirely on her own.

To make a long story short, I began earnestly praying for discernment even as I continued asking the Lord to heal my girl’s mind and heart. Some nights, He clearly told me to stay with her; other nights, I felt led to coach her a little and then give her space to work it out. And over time – as she learned to accept that God had designed her to need less sleep than her sister and to lean on Him when she was afraid – she got better.

As I look back at that time, I feared my child’s anxiety would never end, and I wrestled with plenty of frustration. It was good that I stepped back incrementally once I’d given my daughter some tools to use on her own. But I don’t regret for a minute the nights I “lost” in taking care of her. I see now that God used my choice to be fully present for her to strengthen her security in me and in Him, and no one who knows her now would ever guess at the anxiety that once plagued her. “Being there” for her – hard as it was some nights – was more than worth it.

CK

January 22, 2019

We Must Have Moments

My two teen daughters now work and volunteer, taking them away from home during the late afternoon and evening several days a week. My husband and I eat dinner while they’re gone, and they each grab something when they get back, often retreating to their bedrooms for some mental and emotional downtime. In many ways, we miss our routine from years past – we ate together every night, played and talked together afterward, and had family read-aloud time before bed – but we’re purposing to adjust to current realities by prioritizing family time whenever we can.

Many parents I know feel horribly guilty about not having continuous family time. And that’s a shame. My husband and I could demand that the girls not have jobs or serve others so they’d be home every night. But we’re seeking to help them launch into life as productive young adults so insisting they remain insular would defeat that purpose. The daughter of a friend is an extremely gifted dancer – she’ll likely attend a fine arts high school in another state beginning this coming fall – and in order to hone her craft, she must attend long rehearsals several nights a week. They could forbid her from being away from home so much, but to what end? Parents sometimes have church or work meetings during typical family time.

It is, of course, vitally important that we prioritize our outside-the-home activities and not over-schedule ourselves or our kids. We absolutely need time together to grow and maintain strong family bonds, and we should carve out as much time as possible. But we need balance as well, realizing that our time together will sometimes be justifiably more limited than we might prefer.

The key to remaining unified is to be fully present when we are together.

When we go to a restaurant as a family, phones should remain silenced and put away so that real-life conversation can flow. We should keep the radio off and earbuds out during car rides together, when many significant conversations might develop. When a child comes to us hurting, we must put him – not a Facebook status update – first. It’s imperative that we sit down with our kids to build with Legos, play with dolls, play board games, and assemble puzzles; handing them devices loaded with educational apps is no substitute for our full presence with them whenever possible. Our kids – and our spouses – must, of course, have our physical presence, but they need our full attention along with our bodies.

Don’t guilt yourself about time you legitimately cannot be all together. Be realistic about the fact that you’ll sometimes all be home but each doing his or her own thing. But choose to be mindful, aware, and intentional about making space to be fully present with your spouse and each child in some way every day. Oftentimes it’s the little moments that count most, but we need to have those moments in order to make them count.

CK
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