Archive for May, 2010

In the Middle of the Muddle, What Matters Most?

Another good question a mom from Mom to Mom asked me recently:  “Your kids all seem to be doing well as young adults.  As they look back on their growing up years, what do they say made the biggest difference for them?”

Good question!   And I only have a partial answer to share at this time, as I’ve not had the chance to ask each of our kids how they would answer this.  It would make great conversation, and I intend to ask them when the time seems right.  Stay tuned, and I’ll try to share more in the future.

But for now, I’d like to share a few things from my own mom-perspective as I look back on the years when the kids were still under our roof.  First, however, a crucial disclaimer.  There is no “magic answer” to this question.  Each home is a different story—with different players in the drama.  Different parents.  Different kids.  Different circumstances.   God uses—and works in, through, and in spite of—all kinds of family situations.

And parenting is no slot-machine endeavor.  It’s not as if we can figure out just the right coins to put in and buttons to push—and out come the kind of grown kids we’d been hoping for.   Every one of us—including every one of our kids—has been given what someone has called the “terrible freedom of choice.”  Our kids grow up to make their own choices.  And we are not responsible for every one of those choices.  They are.  It’s important to remember the difference.

Having established the limitations of our parenting (and God’s non-limitations!), I’d like to share with you a few things which were important to Woody and me as parents—and which I think were also important to our kids.

  • TIME.  Children often spell love T-I-M-E.  It’s important that we leave spaces in our lives to be available to spend time with them.  This means not being so over-scheduled (you or them) that there are no spaces just to hang out together now and then.  This is actually far more important than theme birthday parties or trips to Disney World or lessons you sign them up for.  It really is.  Trust me on this!
  • LISTENING.  Some of us (guess who!) can be better talkers than we are listeners.  Children want to be listened to.  That does not mean they call the shots.  It does mean that they feel “heard” even when the decision you come down with is not what they wanted.  It also means you are attuned to what they don’t say as well as what they do—able to “listen to their feelings” when you need to.
  • STORIES.  Children love stories.  Both imaginary and real.  Both  fun flights of fancy and real-life experiences you—or perhaps your parents or grandparents or aunts, uncles, and friends– have had.  Share your stories!
  • BOUNDARIES.  They won’t tell you they love these, you can be sure.  But they absolutely do need to know who’s the parent.  You need to be the “wall they run into,” as one friend put it, when necessary.  They need you more as parent then as pal.  They’ll make plenty of friends.  You’re their only Mom.
  • FUN.  Laughter is essential.  Absolutely essential.  For their health—and yours.  Make opportunities to have fun together.  Family vacations played a big part in our family life.  But just as important may be the ability to find fun—and funny things to laugh at—in the mundane routines in life.  If you’re looking for it, there’s something to laugh at in almost any situation.  You just have to be paying attention!
  • AUTHENTICITY.  Over-used word these days.  Let’s just put it this way: Kids need you to be real.  Be real about your self and your limitations (often lots to laugh about there, BTW).  Your struggles—and theirs.  The fact that life is hard, progress often comes slowly, problems can seem insurmountable.  But God is bigger.  His clocks keep perfect time.  His love is forever.  And His strength truly is perfected in our weakness.
  • GOD!  First, last, and always.  God.  Keep a Godward focus.  No, you are not God—and never will be (phew!)  But HE is God.  And he will never never never never never never (to borrow from Churchill) quit.  Remember this when your two-year –old (or three- or four-year old) looks as if he/she will never be toilet trained.  Remember this when your young adult child seems to be running from God.  And remember this all the years in between—and beyond.

That’s it for now.  This is certainly not an all-inclusive list by any means.  It’s just what came first to me in response to this question.  If I had to sum it all up in a word, it would be grace.  It’s all grace, really.  God’s grace in our lives—and theirs.  Some kids take the long way around.  I know—maybe the long, long way around.  But as we often say at Mom to Mom, “There’s no place your kids can run that’s so far God’s grace can’t find them.”  That, of course, is what makes all the difference.

What about When Kids Make Choices You Don’t Like?

Today it’s time to get back to your great questions.  Here’s a second one a group of moms asked me recently.

“How do you respond when kids make choices of which you don’t approve or which you feel are not in their best interests?”   A few examples came with the question: body piercing, smoking, drinking, clothing choices, spiritual choices, dating.

As you can see, there is quite a range of issues (or potential issues) in the examples given.  Which brings me to the first thing I have to say in responding to this question.  It depends a lot on what the specific choice is.  And it depends a lot on the age of the child—pre-adolescent, teen, young adult?   Living at home with you or being supported by you?

It’s also important to say that, as is the case for so many parenting questions, for some of these issues there may not necessarily be one good answer for all parents—and all kids.
But there are some very basic questions to ask, I think, before you respond:

  1. Is this choice dangerous?  (e.g., drugs, drunk driving, sex, etc)
  2. Might this choice have life-long consequences?
  3. Is it a moral/ Biblical issue?
  4. Is it a health issue?

If one of the above is true (and assuming this child, if a young adult, still lives with you and is subject to your “house rules”), then it is vitally important to draw boundaries, establish consequences, and practice “tough love” if you need to.

If, however, the choice truly is a matter of taste, personal preference, or a WWPT (“What will people think?”) issue, then I think a parent needs to decide what is worth going to the wall for.   If we think clearly and are honest with ourselves, there may be some issues which may be more a matter of personal preference (ours) than of principle.

Two quick examples: Each of our sons had chapters in their lives when their preference in the area of “hair issues” differed from ours.  At one point Lars, now our Marine C-130 Aircraft Commander, sported a blonde pony tail.  Actually, to my surprise, Woody kind of liked it.  He said he liked seeing it bounce around the soccer field as Lars played with all-out passion for his favorite sport.  I have to admit I didn’t share his enthusiasm—for the pony tail, not the sport.

One Sunday morning during this Lars-chapter, a woman who was in Mom to Mom approached me after church.  “Oh, Linda,” she said.  “I was so glad to see you with your son in church today.  His hair makes my son’s hair look tame!”

I honestly don’t remember how long the “pony tail” chapter lasted.  But I don’t think that we ever said anything about it.  And I have always suspected that a certain young woman in his life (now his wife) had something to do with the disappearance of the pony tail.

When Bjorn came home at Christmas of his freshman year of college, he looked like a homeless person—oversized flannel shirt, scruffy hair, and a scraggly beard.  Since we were paying a sizable college bill, I knew he was not, in fact, homeless.  However, we greeted him with open arms at the airport, made no comment about appearances, and enjoyed his spirited report of college life on the drive home.  Later that night I asked Woody, “What do you think of the facial hair?”  “What I think,” he responded,” is that the less we say about it the shorter it will last.”  It all disappeared by the end of the break.  Woody and I never said a word.

Now I realize in using these examples that they may sound minor—even ridiculous—to some of you with much bigger issues with your kids.  I simply include them because I think sometimes we pick the wrong battles with our children, especially when they are teens.  All too often we may “win” a particular little skirmish but risk losing the bigger “battle” (and sometimes it feels like a battle!)  of relationship.
There are no easy answers to this question.  But I encourage you to do three things before just “reacting” to a particular behavior: 1) Ask good questions about the seriousness of the issue; 2) Engage your child in dialogue about issues which may be negotiable; and if non-negotiable, give good reasons about why you feel the way you do 3) Be courageous (“Be the parent!”) in following through with the non-negotiables.

Above all, PRAY.  Pray before you ask any questions.  Pray as you ask the questions.  Pray as you talk with your child.  Pray as you follow through.  And always, always, always let your child know he/she is loved no matter what.  Remember from Mom to Mom?  “I love you too much to let you . . .”

Babies, Birds’ Nests—and Mamas Forever?

“Honey, you never stop being a mom.”   That’s what my mom always used to tell me.  She’d say that when I was worrying about something in the life of one of my kids—or when she was worried about me!  I’ve been thinking about her words a lot lately.

I think it all started with the birds’ nest we found in a tree in our front yard.  We didn’t even know it as there until one afternoon when we were examining a very sad-looking spruce tree which had been so damaged by the past two winters that it looks like a comma.  That’s what my neighbor calls it: the comma tree.  We were wondering if there was any way to save it—or if it would have to come down.

Suddenly there it was.  Buried deep in the branches was a beautifully built nest with three perfect eggs. The eggs are that spectacular color we call “robin’s egg blue” but which I never thought could be that brilliant in real life.
Ever since our discovery, I’ve been monitoring the nest daily—well, more like several times a day.  Most of the time the mama-bird is sitting on it.  As she sits all puffed out on that nest, she looks just like I felt when I was pregnant—fierce and fat.   And very protective.  Very, very protective.   Her expression says it all: “Don’t you even think about messing with my babies!”  (BTW, if you don’t think robins have facial expressions, you really need to meet this one.)
Kind of like us human mamas, don’t you think?  But here’s a big difference.  I’ve been wondering how long till those babies will hatch (I’m afraid I will miss them when I’m out of town), so I asked my brother, who knows a lot about birds, what the timetable might be for these babies.  He tells me that once the eggs hatch, the babies will probably only be in the nest 14-18 days.

14-18 days??!!  Quite different from our mom-job, girls.  More like 18 years for us.  At least that’s what I used to think.  Now I know much better.  Each year when Mother’s Day rolls around, I realize even more the truth of my mom’s words.  You never do stop being a mom.  Oh, the job description changes.   Those of you with children over the age of, say, 6 months, know how the job description for a mom changes constantly as our kids need different things from us.

The good thing is that, as they grow, we grow, too.  (I hope that sounds familiar to those of you who’ve done our Mom to Mom curriculum Growing Together)  It’s a very stretching experience, indeed, to be a mom—and I’m not just talking about pregnancy stretch marks!  I remember thinking, when I was a young mom, that I always felt just a little behind my kids.  It seemed I had just gotten the knack of being, for example, a pre-school mom, when suddenly they were in elementary school.   And just as I got comfortable with my role as mother of elementary school kids, they were charging into adolescence.  To say nothing of all the adjustments and new roles as mother of a college student, then mother-in-law—and now, glorious but amazing, a Nana!  All these things I never thought I’d be old enough to be!

No, you never stop being a mom.  Sure, the job description changes.  But here’s what doesn’t: the mama-heart.  I’m reminded of what my friend Mary told me just before Bjorn, our first child, was born.  “Linda,” she said, “being a mom is the best thing ever.  I love being a mom.  But you need to know that, once that baby is born, your life will never be the same again.”  No, not the same.  Once you are a mom, you will forever think differently, sleep differently, pray differently.  For life—and, I suspect, on into eternity.

What was it someone said—“To be a mom is to walk around the rest of your life with your heart outside your body”?  I’m not sure who said it, but it rings true.

Recently we attended a wedding where the bride and groom, both now in their 50’s but once high school sweethearts, have rediscovered each other—and, it seems, their faith, after many twists and turns in the plot of their lives.  They both looked so happy—so very happy.  But the best part of the wedding was watching the groom’s mother beam with joy.  She has prayed many years for this son.  And here he was standing before God and a wonderful Godly pastor, entering into a very Christian marriage.  The mother of the groom is over 80 years old.

No, we never stop being moms.  That’s why I wanted to take time out this week from our “great questions from moms” topic  (we’ll get back to it soon!) to salute every mom reading this blog—and even those who don’t!  Whether you are an expectant mom, a brand-new mom, an exhausted toilet-training mom, an exasperated teen-mom, or the mom of a much-loved young adult who seems to be taking the long way around to God … I salute you!  You are doing a phenomenally important job.  Whether you are changing diapers or living in your van between soccer matches or wearing out your knee pads praying a prodigal home, you are doing something no one else can do.

You are loving your children as only a mom can.  And you are, I trust, praying for them as only a mom can.   As Winston Churchill famously said, “Never never never never never never give up!”   Even when—and there are so many days like this in our mom-lives—you feel like it.  God hasn’t given up on them—or you.  Just keep changing those knee-pads.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

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