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.


August 7, 2019

Spare the Red

I remember laughing out loud in one of my teacher-training classes over 20 years ago when the professor recommended not using red pen to correct student papers. He maintained that red is a “negative” color and that using it to mark up student work would stifle their motivation and self-esteem. Shortly thereafter, when I got my first job, my principal included “no use of red pens” among his rules for new teachers.

Perhaps someone had done psychological studies about the “damage” caused by red ink. Absent such evidence, though, I, frankly, thought the whole thing was silly. However, using colors other than red was a condition of my employment, so I took to using green and purple; by the time I transferred to a new school without that stricture, the habit was ingrained and has even stayed with me through my years homeschooling my daughters. Thus, though my girls tease me relentlessly – they think it’s silly too and assure me that they won’t be scarred by seeing red ink on their rough-draft essays and math pages – I’ve stuck with other-than-red all these years.

And, in a way, maybe there is something to it. I don’t believe red to be a “negative” color. But by not using it every day related to everyday tasks, maybe my students and kids haven’t been desensitized to it. Thus, when they do see red, maybe they pay close attention, knowing that whatever is marked in red must be extra important.

The same is true of our words. We’re busy, imperfect human beings so we can’t monitor and moderate every word that comes out of our mouths. But what would happen if we would purpose to use “red” words sparingly instead of regularly?

“No” is a good example. I don’t believe saying “no” damages children; kids need boundaries, after all. However, if we use it continually in regular everyday situations rather than seeking alternatives, I think we might desensitize kids to its use, making it less effective when we really need it (i.e., when a child is seconds away from touching a hot stove or running into the street). In non-emergency situations, can we choose to begin replacing auto-pilot “no” with more helpful, relationship-based communication (i.e., “I’m sorry, hon. We can’t have ice cream now because dinner is in half an hour.”)? I think we can.

The same goes for all our communication with children. The goal isn’t to stifle us into political correctness; red ink is not inherently evil! But when we keep our actual end-game in mind – helping the kids in our lives to grow and mature into joyful, healthy, productive adults – why wouldn’t we aim to use positive, instructive, and specific language as much as possible? In doing so, we’ll provide a positive model for our kids to emulate, we’ll deepen our relationships with them, and we’ll maintain the impact of red-letter words for when they’re truly necessary.


July 9, 2019

Bright, Shiny Packages

Though I’m an in-betweener – beyond my own childbearing years but ahead of my daughters’ time to be married and have their own children – I’m surrounded by babies. Not literally, of course. But I know many people who are still having their own babies, and I also have an increasing number of friends who are becoming grandparents. As a result, I hear about new babies being born on an almost weekly basis. Of course, every healthy baby is a cause for much celebration, and we also rejoice in the few who are born with challenges even as we pray for them to be brought to full health. Every new baby is, in a sense, a bright and shiny package we can’t wait to “open.”

Unfortunately, the shine wears off all too quickly in some cases. I’m not talking about hard days – we all have those, as either our sin or that of our kids gets in the way, or the sheer depth and breadth of a parent’s job temporarily overwhelms us. What I notice are the perpetually negative parents. The ones who complain every day about a “bratty” toddler, an “out-of-control” eight-year old, or a “disrespectful” teen. Who regularly marginalize and degrade their kids, even in public. Who don’t ever seem to have a good thing to say about those precious children to whom they gave birth or worked so hard to adopt.

What happened to the enthusiasm which accompanied meeting the “shiny package” for the first time?
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3.22-23)

This means that God never gives up on us, never dismisses us as “worthless causes.” Instead, He chooses to look on us with new mercy – or new compassion, as some translations say – every single morning, regardless of how we may have messed up the day before. Indeed, He does it moment by moment in the midst of each day as well, choosing to lavish love on us despite ourselves. He, of course, wants us to confess our sins to Him – and to grow in our maturity – but when we do repent, He keeps no record of wrongs (1 John 1.9). He chooses to see the shiny package – to encourage us and celebrate us – and to cheer us along so that we can get past our sins and weaknesses.

Don’t our kids deserve the same from us? Of course, it’s necessary to appropriately discipline and correct their wrongs. But if God can “forget” our sin once it’s dealt with – choosing to see us anew each morning despite our track record – why can’t we give our kids the same grace? Imagine the difference it would make to them if we set aside pessimism and negativity and, instead, chose to focus on their new potential, day by day. If we choose to see a bright, shiny package every day of their lives.

Then move beyond imagining and make it happen.


Photo Credit: Backdoor Survival

June 26, 2019

Keep It Positive

One of my pet peeves is seeing parents – and teachers – rant about their children/students online. And, sadly, it happens pretty much every day in one way or another. Currently, teachers in conventional schools are expressing relief about “finally having a break from the little monsters” and parents are bemoaning the “burden” of having their kids home for the summer. In a few weeks, that will flip; teachers will begin complaining about having to “endure” the children again and parents will throw horrid little “celebrations” akin to The Wizard of Oz munchkins singing, “Ding-dong, the witch is dead,” as their children pile back onto school buses. In between will come a continual barrage about how “terrible” certain children or teens are.

On the one hand, I get it. Classroom teaching is hard, and parenting is harder; I’ve done both. And sometimes – in order to release it so it doesn’t eat away at us and poison relationships – we really do need to vent frustration at children’s behavior; they are, after all, sinners just like us. However, doing so online – the equivalent of spewing one’s filthy laundry into the middle of a public square – isn’t the place for that. Teens and children – even those whose current behavior is poor – deserve better. And if we think they don’t know – “My kids aren’t on Facebook,” or “My students don’t follow my account.” – we’re sadly mistaken. It gets back to them. And the inherently negative nature of social media magnifies and twists the issues at hand, in their minds and ours. Then our thoughts and feelings spiral down into even more negativity. They know what we really think of them, and then see our plastered-on smiles for what they really are.

So, when you need to blow off steam – and we all do from time to time – keep it private. Offline. With your spouse or one trusted and trustworthy friend. Well out of your kids’ earshot. And, ideally, you enlist that person to help you begin brainstorming possible solutions immediately following your vent, so that neither you nor your kids get stuck in a pattern of angst.

And when you’re online? Keep it positive. Don’t lie or pretend you’re living the 21st century version of Leave It to Beaver; it’s okay to ‘fess up to tiring days and ask for general prayer requests (God knows the details; your 817 Facebook “friends” don’t need a blow-by-blow). Think of it as an opportunity to practice discernment and restraint. And then use the time you might have spent typing up your rant – and subsequently responding to all the commiserating which would have ensued – to try your hand at authentic, in-person problem-solving and relationship-building.


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).


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.

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?


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.

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

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


Photo Credit: Sai De Silva on Unsplash
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