Category: parenting

I’ve only read the preface and I’m in love

I started a book last night that I’m positively going to LOVE.

It’s called In the Midst of Chaos: Caring for Children as Spiritual Practice. Because it’s written by a mom and theologian, it seems to be both practical AND deeply theological. Many books targeted at moms are not deeply theological. Sometimes barely theological.

I’ve only read the Preface so far and I’m already in love with it. Really? Who falls in love with a book in the preface? (Actually, I have a history of really liking a book at the beginning only to find myself cringing by the end. But whatever. I KNOW that is not going to happen with this book). On the first page, she explains her own goal in parenting:

I strongly believe I owe my kids bountiful love and attention, not the kind that indulges their every whim or puts their success ahead of other children’s, but the kind that cares deeply about their maturation into compassionate, faithful adults.

Yes! Me too! As I’ve written about before (and quite clumsily, I might add), I want to love my kids extravagantly while also loving others extravagantly. I want them to love people deeply, putting others needs before their own (when appropriate), so why do I think they will become these kind of men and women someday if I’m telling them NOW that their success is more important than others’? My ultimate goal is not their success now in the areas of sports and education, but that they would be compassionate, faithful adults, which in my book is true success.

Spiritual Development Does Not Always Require Quiet Spaces

The Church has often emphasized that spiritual development happens best in quiet ways- sitting in our “quiet time”, Bible open, reading, praying, meditating. And while it certainly does happen there, it can also happen in loud, fast, semi-chaotic times- like in the daily experience of raising children. Bonnie writes:

I want to redeem the chaos of care as a site for God’s good news. What would happen, this book asks, if we were to search for spiritual wisdom by looking closely at messy, familial ways of living? What would happen if we considered how people discover God not just when alone, in worship, or on the mountaintop, but when with others- specifically when with children and all the turbulence and wonder they bring into our world? (xiv)

Well, I’m ready to find out.

The author, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, is a professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and an author of several books. This is the first one I’ve read.

On a more regretful note, I must tell you that I’m a little sad because I have a feeling this is the book I was hoping to write in 10-20 years. But thankfully I get to benefit from it on this end of parenthood as opposed to the other.

p.s. This book is not just for parents. Bonnie takes a whole page to explain how this book is for anyone who cares for kids- aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, friends.

So…which way is it? Thoughts on Parenting from One Generation to the Next

This won’t be a full post- just raising something to think about.

For those of us who are mothers to preschoolers and early elementary school kids, I’ve heard many critiques- sometimes “we” are too lenient with our kids, afraid to discipline and afraid to hurt their little egos. Sometimes we hover too much, are too involved, and are “overparenting” them.

So which is it?

Many of these same critiques come from parents who are the parents of the “emerging generation”, who are supposedly enabling their adult children to not take responsibility for their lives, not grow up, etc etc.

Is this not weird to anyone else?

Review: Paws & Tales- Being Kind and Caring

Paws & Tales- Being Kind and Caring, is put out by Chuck Swindoll’s Insight for Living, and is aimed at “equipping [children] with essential tools for godly living.” The DVD contains two episodes: The Hullabaloo at Hunker Hill (which talks about revenge and forgiveness) and The Great Go-Kart Race (featuring the idea of teamwork, based on Matthew 6.14).

Overall, this DVD is okay. Asante (4) and Aly (3) watched both episodes and it kept their attention the whole time. Aly even asked to watch it again the next day!

But, I must admit that I do have some issues with it, especially the first episode, which was about forgiveness (which is ironic because we’re learning about this same thing in Sunday School, but this video comes to some different conclusions than our class!).

1. The kid characters were sassy, a little mean, and had some attitude. Asante even commented on how he wondered if maybe this movie was teaching him it was okay to be mean. Granted, he’s our little critic and has been encouraged to reflect on what the hidden messages are behind the things he watches on TV and the advertisements he sees (poor kid will never be able to enjoy a movie for what it is).

2. All the adults were so gruff and harsh-worded with the kids. Things like “What am I going to do with you?”, “When will you ever learn?”, “What were you thinking?” — with tones that showed displeasure and disappointment. Of course we are disappointed with our children sometimes and we shouldn’t always pretend that we are. But, there are more graceful, gentle ways of speaking with our children.

3. At the end of this episode, the “mean kid” didn’t forgive the other kids. Some may say that this is more realistic- our “enemies” don’t always forgive us. But, leaving the story like that can be difficult for preschoolers to understand. The conclusion did propel Asante and Aly to ask questions about why the mean boy didn’t forgive the other kids, which was good to talk about.

4. I wish I could remember where we read it, but Jake told me awhile back that when kids are watching shows that show bad behavior and then later on show how it was wrong for them to act like that, the thing that has impacted the kids MORE is the bad behavior that they saw for the majority of the time. The “lesson” can’t just be at the end of the story- it has to be cut up and put in throughout. Asante commented on how everyone was mean to each other, and how he didn’t really like watching a show like that. He’s a pretty sharp kid for his age, so I think the way the message was presented was just really confusing.

It wasn’t all bad:

1. I liked how the characters prayed sporadically throughout the episodes, calling on the Lord for  help. It shows kids that you don’t have to just pray at meals and bedtime, but all throughout the day.

2. This episode also showed the need for us to reach out and ask forgiveness after we’ve falsely accused someone else of doing something they didn’t do.

Overall, I don’t think this episode in particular is the best idea for a preschooler, but maybe for early elementary (whom is their target audience).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 […] : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Let them Eat Beets.

Ah, yes. The French. I’m beginning to wonder if these blogger/writers are paid by the French government to write these books and posts. Motherlode has a new post up today about all things fantastic concerning food in France. I’m glad that the writer of the article voiced that she thinks the French aren’t the perfect parents, and that parenting the French way isn’t necessarily the only way to parent.

And I would agree that there is a problem with childhood obesity in America. It’s super harmful and something that needs to be worked on together as a community. Just as big of a problem, however, is that the childhood weight issue gives some moms more ammunition to use in the mommy wars (as a sidenote: today’s Her.Meneutics guest blogger urges women to drop the “violent”-oriented words altogether- a good one to read).

“My kid is so tall (95%) and so thin (25%). It’s because they eat so healthy and love fruits and vegetables.” [Read: I’m an awesome mom who has tall, skinny kids because I created them to be that way.]

“Did you see that boy eating white bread? Poor kid.” [Read: that kid’s mom is horrible. Child abuse for feeding a kid white bread!]

“Oh we don’t drink juice.” [Read:…and you do? tsk tsk]

For those of us who have thicker kids, going to the doctor can be a very stressful experience. We’re sometimes looked at as neglectful parents because our kids are “overweight”. Not only do I want my kids to be healthy, I also care what other people think (because, let’s be honest, some of us moms let other moms give us our job evaluations). When my kids step on the scales, I get nervous. I prepare in my mind how I will respond to the doctor if they say anything about the kids’ weight or how they think I feed and care for my kid.

I wonder if our parents dealt with the pressures of monitoring our weight too. Because doesn’t it seem like it is suddenly a huge problem onset by the increase of the evils of processed foods, white bread, and sugar? Maybe. But look what I came across.

Here’s a pic of Jake as a preschooler:

And one of me on my third birthday:

Chubby? Yes. We look exactly like our kids, who are a bit…squishy. I wonder if our parents were looked at with disdain when they took us to McDonalds for a happy meal treat (ahh…THAT is why your kid is fat). My guess is probably not. Back then people ate what they ate (which, for me and everyone else I knew, included white bread and poptarts and Lucky Charms and canned green beans and all the stuff that is taboo these days). Kids were different shapes and sizes, and given enough time, most of us balanced out to a good weight for us. If we were kids today, we’d be labeled at-risk for obesity and other issues. Back then, we just hadn’t hit a vertical growth spurt; no biggie.

My point is, perhaps we need to back up, give kids a little space to go through chubby phases, and allow everything to work its magic. And as a culture, we need to realize that God doesn’t have preferential treatment for skinny people. Some of us will be chunkier, and that’s okay.

Let the French kids eat their beets. We’ll stick with our goldfish.

Loving our Way into a New World

Whew, we’ve had a rough couple weeks. The new year began with fevers, ear infections, pneumonia, a bum knee, cavities and very cranky kids who couldn’t sleep through the night. We had a small hiatus from this sickness this past weekend, but we’re back to it with Ada’s fever and ear infection returning (which means she won’t sleep well tonight….don’t ask me why I’m still up writing this and not getting a head start on sleep).

While those things are stressful for parents to handle, what was most stressful for me was not having any time to unwind in the evenings. Normally the kids go to bed around 7:00 or 7:30, and I have the rest of the night to do whatever my little heart pleases. But with the sick kids, there was no “bedtime”- kids and hence adults rotated in and out of beds, bathrooms, bedrooms, and the couch all night long as we tried to find the perfect combination of most comfortability and least chance of the kids waking each other up with their cries of restlessness and pain. (Have I told you that we live in a really old house with thin walls, creaky floors and no carpeting to absorb sound?) By the end, we had the right mixture of room, kid and parent down, and while jake and I hadn’t slept in the same room for most of those 2 weeks, we managed to get a decent amount of sleep.

Isn’t being a parent crazy some weeks? One change in a household can send everyone’s moods and schedules haywire. The interconnectedness of family, especially with small children, blows my mind some days. In our home, I’ve learned that how we all wake up in the morning can very much determine the rest of the day’s events. How we treat one another is so important in helping the day go well. If one of the kids decides to annoy their sibling that day, then the sibling gets annoyed and angry, which causes me to do a whole lot of talking and re-directing, which causes Ada to get grumpy because I’m not paying much attention to her and the other two are being louder than she would like. This cycle in turn causes frustration to well up in me because I feel like I don’t have control over my kids (lol, and of course I don’t, but when things go well I like to think that I do), and then I get grumpy and short-tempered with them. Alas, the cycle continues.

I think this happens on a larger scale too, out in the “real world.” We honk at the person who cuts us off in traffic, which ticks them off and makes them less gracious to the gas station worker. That gas station worker gets tired of being spoken to like they aren’t actually a person and they go home and are snippy with their wife/husband. It’s a cycle. I guess Jesus knew this was how things worked, because he told us to love one another, and that the way of the Kingdom is through turning our cheek, loving our enemies, and practicing mercy. The world will know us by our love. Love really does cover a multitude of sins.

So tomorrow is a new day- a new day to show mercy and love and kindness. To give to those who don’t “deserve” it. To offer kind words to those who are rude. To offer a word of encouragement to the one who I feel like isn’t doing their job. Let’s all try and find one way to love someone in a surprising way tomorrow and then share about it!

Review: Truth in the Tinsel

This advent season we used Truth in the Tinsel, written by Amanda White (you must visit her personal blog AND her momma blog). It was FANTASTIC. Everyday of Advent we read a part of the Christmas story, and then made an ornament to go with it. While I had most of the items lying around, I did have to buy some stuff, but that led me to fun aisles of JoAnn’s that I had never been in before- so win, win! 🙂

I liked that Asante could do pretty much every part of the ornaments. Aly had to have quite a bit of help, but I think that’s just because she isn’t mastered her cutting skills yet. Each day’s ornaments were unique- it wasn’t all cutting or all paper or all material. There were a lot of different mediums, exposing the kids to art material we hadn’t used before (i.e. flour/salt dough).

During the end of the season, we missed a couple days, simply because I wasn’t prepared and Jake wasn’t around to help with some of the ornaments that weren’t easy to make while Ada was needing my attention.

My suggestion is that if you didn’t do it this year, go buy the ebook right now (only $4.99), buy the stuff that you’ll need now and stow it away in your Christmas decorations box so that when Advent rolls around next year, you’ll have it all ready!

Here are all of our ornaments from this year!

Our No-Presents Christmas Celebration

This past Christmas we tried to experiment a little, in hopes of re-creating a meaningful, Christ-centered Christmas celebration. Because we are far from family this year, we had a little more flexibility in shaping our holiday season to be what we wanted- no more, no less. So, we decided to keep it simple.

When we woke up on Christmas morning, we waited to go downstairs until everyone was awake. Jake rushed down ahead of us to prepare. When the kids and I walked down the stairs, we heard a Christmas hymn playing. Sitting in the middle of our living room, we saw a baby, wrapped in a white cloth, lying in a “manger”. The room was still, except for the bouncing light from one lit candle placed near the manger. We quietly filed into the living room, kneeling around the baby. Words of “Emmanuel” and “Our King” filled the air. For a few minutes, all we could do was stare … my mind began drifting to what it would have been like to be there when Jesus was born. Our king came as a baby. A baby who relied completely on other people for his care. A helpless babe. Our king. Our Lord. What a strange way to come. What a beautiful way to come. After a few minutes, I read the Christmas story while we gazed at the babe.

While the family was lingering, I made cinnamon rolls. We sang Happy Birthday to Jesus (complete with candles in each of our buns), and then got ready for our church gathering.

After the Christmas worship service, we came home, ate lunch, took naps, and then spent the rest of the afternoon/evening watching a Christmas movie and making Jesus ornaments out of a flour and salt dough.

It was a simple day, but filled with conversation about Jesus’ birth. Honestly, I was relieved at the end of the day because it wasn’t a let-down. The lack of presents didn’t take away from the day at all. In fact, it was fun and restful. The kids were so excited all day because it was Jesus’ birthday— not because they were going to get anything, but because they love Jesus and were excited it was a special day for Him.

Fast forward one week. New Years Day. Today was our day of presents and paper and bows and big surprises and lots of unpackaging of small playset parts. We were celebrating the new year in a way that looks forward to the hope of a new world, filled with fun and extravagance and gifts.

The kids did a great job of disconnecting presents from Christmas, even though everyone around them was doing presents on Christmas. They were happy to wait, because, as Asante said, “why would WE get presents on Jesus’ birthday?! It’s not our birthdays!”

Anyway, that was how our day went. We’re excited to be starting new traditions!

Re-creating Christmas

Christmas Day is only a week away. And to be honest, I’m not as excited about it as I normally am.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. I like the lights all over peoples’ houses (I must say that I have seen more decorated houses/apts/row homes here in my neighborhood than anywhere else I have ever lived- it’s fantastic!!). I love gathering with extended family (boo- that’s not happening this year since we’re so far away). I LOVE Christmas music and ornaments and stockings and cookie exchanges.

But I also love presents. And this year, we won’t be opening presents on Christmas Day. Technically we didn’t open our gifts as a family on Christmas Day last year either, but we had family in town and we opened up gifts from them, so i guess it was still a pseudo-Christmas Day.

As I look forward to next Sunday, I’m not as excited as I normally am. The anticipation of three little ones opening their gifts and their eyes dancing with delight at the gifts I’ve carefully chosen is not there. Instead, we’re left with empty space to fill. How do we celebrate Christmas without a morning full of presents?

And really, my heart reaction has been an affirmation to me that this is the way we must go. I want Christmas to be a celebration of Jesus’ birth. While I suppose some can maintain this true worship through the giving and receiving of gifts, I don’t think I can. To think of Christmas without the tradition of gift-giving surrounding it leaves me feeling bored.

As we’ve been observing the season of Advent this year, I’ve been trying to focus on what Mary must have felt when she was round with child in her last month of pregnancy. Having been pregnant for so much of the last 4-5 years, I can vividly remember the thoughts and feelings that have gone along with month number 9. I’ve also trying to think through the meaning of Jesus coming as a baby- through a woman. What an honor that must have been for Mary. And for all women really. Finally, I’ve been longing for the Lord’s return, which is something I don’t naturally desire. I love life as I know it, and I love living here on earth. But, to remember that this is not my home, helps me to feel a bit more like a foreigner to this land, which is healthy for my soul.

So when I think about the consumerism and materialism that is emphasized during this season, I realize something has got to give in our traditions if I’m going to be able to take my eyes off of things or people, and onto Jesus, my Savior. I don’t want my kids to be excited to open gifts on Christmas Day. I don’t want them to go to sleep, wondering what they’ll get in the morning. I want them to be excited about Jesus’ birth. I want to create some family traditions to fill the day that are deeply meaningful and are as exciting as opening gifts. I want my kids to look forward to this feast day, without them feeling like they are missing out on something “cooler”.

This holiday season will not be without gifts, however. We’ve decided to open some gifts on New Years Day instead. My reasoning is that it helps the kids to be able to relate with their friends in participating in this cultural event, BUT, it helps separate (hopefully!), in their minds, Christmas and presents. I don’t think our solution is perfect (perhaps it still participates in the consumerism of the season?), but it’s a step in the right direction for us. [I’m not against giving gifts- one of our family’s values in generosity, and we love to be generous with our time, money (the little we have right now as students, haha), and our love. Gifts can communicate deep love to people. But in my mind, there’s a difference between giving a gift and materialism (I digress, that’s another post in itself)]. How hard is it to engage in culture, but at the same time, not get wrapped up in the distorted aspects of it?

So, this is our messy struggle towards re-creating this holiday to be one of rich worship for our family. Often we find ourselves feeling “weird” and “out of place” when we talk about these kind of things… it’s easy for others to judge our intentions and label us as kill-joys or uptight or Santa-haters. So, I’d love to hear if anyone else is thinking through this concept too!

A Story of Adoption through Foster Care

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. -James 1.27

Kelly and John Rosati are two people who have taken this verse very seriously. In Wait No More, they describe their experience of going from a family of 2 to a family of 6 through the process of adoption through foster care. Adoption is a very faddish thing right now in many Christian circles, but this book helps to give readers a good look at what life is really like when adopting in this way. Kelly describes the tears, frustration, and exhaustion that comes through parenting children who have experienced neglect, trauma in the womb, chemical addiction in womb, etc. She describes the emotional ups and downs that come with the process in general, along with the feelings of perpetual uncertainty and lack of control. It was fascinating to read, and I learned a ton about the system in which many of the orphans in America are involved.

What I also liked about Kelly and John is that they are not pursuing the typical Christian American lifestyle. They move back and forth between Hawaii and the mainland for various reasons (in their 30s and 40s, nonetheless!). When the kids were smaller, they tried to live as simply as they could so they could work as little as possible in order to spend as much time together as a family that they could. When the kids were older, John stayed home with them while Kelly worked full-time for Focus on the Family (they were quick to mention that this may not be for everyone, but they felt like it was what the Lord wanted, and what they wanted!). They were so focused on caring for these orphans that their desire for the “perfect life” faded. Each of their children have some sort of special needs, yet they are so delighted to be able to call them their own.

For anyone considering the idea of adoption, this book is probably a helpful one because it shows some of the inner workings of the system as well as the fact that it’s not all dandelions and butterflies. I have a deep respect for the Rosatis, and I’m thankful that they had the courage to share their story with the world, even when life doesn’t look so put together.

Tyndale provided me this book in exchange for an honest review. These thoughts are my own. I’m thankful for the opportunity to read and share about it.

Take (and Give) a New Perspective

Part 1: What do you mean by good?

Part 2: Throw away the carrots and sticks

Part 3: Take (and Give) a New Perspective

Chapter 10 of Unconditional Parenting covers the idea of understanding a child’s perspective, and helping the child understand others’ perspectives, especially as it relates to the moral development of our child.

To do so is to recast various ideas that are discussed in other parenting books. For example, ‘boundaries’ and ‘limits’ are usually thought of as restrictions that adults impose on children. But shouldn’t our goal be for the children to refrain from doing certain things not because we’ve forbidden them, but just because they’re wrong? The limits on kids’ behavior, in other words, should be experienced as intrinsic to the situation. We want them to ask ‘How will doing x make that other kid feel?’- not ‘Am I allowed to do x?” or ‘Will I get in trouble for doing x?’ (191)

The author recognizes how hard this is and how much work this will take. But, he points out that kids are typically really good at caring for others. To do this, he gives the following suggestions:

1. Care about them.

2. Show them how a moral person lives.

3. Let them practice. Give children lots of opportunities to help and care for others. It can start so early too!

4. Talk with them. Talk about values. Talk about how they feel when someone does x to them, and then help them to try imagine what a person feels when they do x to another. Talking about this over and over and over helps the children to learn to empathize with someone else. Talk to them about why they can’t do something (from the perspective of how it affects another person). I like this one a lot.

Perspective taking is actually probably difficult for a lot of us as adults, at least it can be for me. He gives a good example of this that hits home because of the religious camp that I’m from:

Or consider a different kind of example. While many people dismiss those with whom they disagree (‘How can she hold that position on abortion!’), those accustomed to perspective taking tend to turn an exclamation point into a question mark (‘How can she hold that position on abortion? What experiences, assumptions, or underlying values have led her to a view so different from my own?”). That effort to step outside oneself is what we should try to cultivate in our kids (p. 202).

I think this is forefront in my mind because with having kids very close in age, Aly and Asante tend to get in a lot of arguments. I’m eager to get to the place where they can deal with things on their own, but I know that in order to do that, I have to help them build some foundation of how to talk to others, discussing feelings, and understand where the other person is coming from. We talk this one to death, and although those two are only 2.5 and almost 4, we have actually seen a lot of improvement. They ask each other questions before yelling at each other about a toy (sometimes), they are quick to empathize, and sometimes apologize or cry because they have hurt the others’ feelings. Not all the time, not even most of the time, but it’s about baby steps and developmental maturity.