Legacy Living: Really? Now?

Legacy Living: Really? Now?

A Mom to Mom leader recently asked the question: “Our group will be doing the lesson on ‘Beginning at the End: Legacy Living from Day One.’ (Session One from Inside Out Parenting curriculum) It’s been a few years since you filmed that. Anything to add from ‘on up the road apiece?’ ”

Great question! Good enough even to make me do the unthinkable: sit down and watch my own DVD teaching. Tough. If you don’t think so, just imagine watching a 30-minute video of yourself!

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The Balancing Act: Being a Mom—and a Person, Too

“Honey, I hope you’ll be able to be a whole person yourself—not lean on me for your total identity.  I want you to always be able to have a life of your own.”  My husband Woody said this to me years ago as he reflected on a particular patient who seemed unable to function independently years after her husband died.   Woody meant well. He really did.  Nevertheless . . .

“I want you always to be able to have a life of your own.”  The words exploded in my brain, and I’ve never forgotten them.  This conversation occurred during the living-at-the-end-of-a-dead-end-street-with-three-children-five-and-under-and-my-husband-never-home era of my life.  Woody was just getting a new medical practice off the ground, and was working day and night.  I could not even imagine having a “life of my own.”  Just when would that occur?  Perhaps between the hours of 3am and 5 am,  when often—but not always—all three kids were asleep and Woody was often—but not always—home to stay with them?  Not the greatest time to go for a run, take a class, or meet a friend for coffee.

All those long-ago feelings came back to me a few weeks ago when a young Texas mom asked me, “Do you think a woman begins to resent her husband and children if her whole life is devoted to them and she has nothing in her life just for her?”  A really good question!  I’m still thinking about it, in fact.

There’s no easy answer.  And there’s no answer any of us moms can give for someone else.  We’re all wired differently, and our life circumstances and family lifestyles vary greatly.  But here are a few reflections from my mama-heart:

  • To be a good mother, you must first be a person yourself.  A whole person.  We repeat this often at Mom to Mom.  Being whole, healthy women of God means we must be nurtured physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually in order to nurture others. It’s a little like breast-feeding, come to think of it.
  • Motherhood is an extremely sacrificial role.  We give up a lot for our kids—and our husband, as well.  But it requires balance.  Someone said it long ago: If we constantly bend over backwards for our families, we tend to lose our balance.
  • Each of us finds ways to maintain our balance, and those ways differ from person to person.  For me, it meant that no matter how hard it was to make it happen, I managed to attend a Bible Study (with childcare at our church), go for a 30-minute run now and then (when I could get an after-school babysitter), and attend a Book Club once a month (Woody had one night off a week and I read the books during nap time or in the occasional evening when I could keep my eyes open).
  • Keeping our balance as moms requires hard, clear thinking about priorities.   I wanted to live without huge regrets.  In my case, this meant that I chose not to return to my career (teaching) because the demands of the position would have negatively impacted my family.  This was a very personal decision, and I realize that many moms do not have choices about working outside the home.  But where it was a choice for me, I wanted to make a choice I would not later regret.
  • There are many seasons in a mom’s life.  Though I walked away from one career opportunity, I was able to say a joyful “yes” later on to another—more teaching in my church, and eventually to the great adventure of beginning Mom to Mom.  It’s important to remember that though your days may feel like “forever” right now, there will be other days ahead, including potentially much more freedom in your choices.

It’s a wild ride being a mom, isn’t it?  A wild, wonderful ride!  And a precarious balancing act.  Keeping my balance kept me on my knees.  As with everything else,  attitude is everything and prayer is the main event.

How do you keep your balance?  Please share your thoughts—we’d love to hear from you.

Another Great Question: Words To Live By

“When you’re in the trenches, what scriptures have carried you through?”

What a wonderful question!  But it would take a lifetime to answer—both my lifetime and yours!  For one thing, God’s Word provides “everything we need for life and godliness” (I Peter 1:3), whether we’re deep in the trenches or singing in the sun.  The Bible is packed, from beginning to end, with words to live by.  And the Holy Spirit individualizes it to each of us.  He knows precisely what words we need at any given time, and He brings them to mind when we need them.  And, as Moses reminds us, “They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.” (Deuteronomy 32:47)

With that caveat, here’s a (somewhat random) list of some of the Scriptures I live in:

  • Psalms:  All of them, at one time or another.  But some I call my “walking Psalms,” Psalms I memorized as a child but have re-memorized as an adult, Psalms I sometimes go over on walks or in the middle of the night: Psalms 1, 23, 100, 121, 46, 139, 103, 91, 34.  Food for the soul!
  • A Pattern for Godly Parenting: Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Ephesians 6:1-4
  • Parenting Prayers for Wisdom:  James 1:2-5; II Chronicles 20:12; Judges 13:8
  • Encouragement: Philippians—all of it, but especially 1:6 and chapters 3-4
  • Worth and Value as a Woman:  Isaiah 43:1-7; Zephaniah 3:17
  • Hope for the Future (and when I’m missing my mom): John 14:1-6; Revelation 21:1-5; I Corinthians 15 (all of it—but especially vv. 51-58); I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Believe me, this is only a start—the smallest beginning.  As I said, it’s a lifetime question.  Stay tuned...  And in the meantime, maybe some of you would share some of the scriptures you live in.  I’d love to hear from you!

Two final thoughts (final for now):

  1. A Daily Tip: Most days, I read Daily Light, along with my other readings for the day.   Here’s why: The compiled verses on a given topic often remind me of passages I’ve not visited in a while.  When a verse jumps out at me, I look it up in context.  It often leads me to wonderful places in God’s Word where I’ve not been recently.
  2. When you’re really hitting the bottom: Remember God’s lifeline promise that the Holy Spirit prays for us in “groans that words cannot express” when we cannot pray for ourselves (See Romans 8:26-27). Thank you Jesus!

More Great Questions

Recently I had the fun of engaging with a group of women in a Q&A session.  And they asked some great questions!  I’ll share one of them in this post and at least one other in a future post.

“How can I get my husband to see that Scripture has more than negative rules—do’s and don’ts?  Growing up we tend to hear the ‘rules’ and not the love.”

A really important question.  But it made me a little sad—to think how easily our view of scripture can be distorted (depending on our backgrounds and early exposure).     For the Bible truly is God’s love letter to us.  Or, as Philip Yancey so succinctly put it, “In a nutshell, the Bible from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22 tells the story of a God reckless with desire to get his family back.”  (The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 268)  The “rules” are rooted in relationship.  They grow out of our relationship with God.  And they facilitate better relationship with others.  God’s ways are, as some have put it, user friendly.

So how to help someone see the true message of the Bible?  My first thought was, “Invite him to read it!”  But then another part of this woman’s written question got me.  “How can I get my husband to…?”  The short answer?  You can’t “get your husband to” do anything.

Bulletin:  We wives are not called to be the Holy Spirit in our husbands’ lives—no matter how good we might think we could be at the job!  So maybe our starting point should actually be on our knees.  Step one would probably be: “Pray that the Holy Spirit will open his eyes and heart to God’s message of love to him.”

Then think about how your husband might best be able to see the scripture for what it is.  Maybe there’s an opportunity to attend a class or join a small group that could help him hear God’s message of love to him.  Or, if he’s a reader, books like Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God or Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace? might be useful.

Perhaps best of all, try showing him the love of God in the way you love him.  After all, our children often best come to understand how God loves them by the way we love them.  May be that could help a husband, too.

Your Husband: Assistant or Companion?

It’s happened again.   Someone in an audience asked a great question.  And now, over a week later, I can’t get it out of my mind.

Woody and I were speaking at a Mom to Mom Couples’ Night in Massachusetts which was followed by a brief Q&A.   We had talked about the huge challenges of Woody’s schedule (as a medical oncologist) in our parenting.  I mentioned how much I had wished Woody could be home earlier in the evening.

Afterward a man in the audience asked,” What were you looking for in wanting your husband home?  Were you looking for an assistant?   Or a companion?”  Great question!  After a moment’s thought, I answered, “yes—and yes.”  Both.  I really needed both.

Certainly I needed help at the end of those long days with three kids five and under.  Every mom reading this will resonate.    But I also longed for adult company.  No, more—I longed for Woody’s company.  He’s a really great guy—intelligent, thoughtful, interesting, and just plain fun to be with.  And he makes me laugh.   After all, I married him because I like to be with him.  I still do.  Yes, even after over 40 years of marriage!

But the question got me thinking.  And I asked myself another question: Did my husband know, in those days, how I longed for his companionship as well as his help with the kids?  Does he know I still do?

How about your husband?  Does he know you like being with him?  Does he know that your need to have him home is not solely for parenting assistance?  That you see him as much more than just the “rescue parent” at the end of the day?

I’m just asking.  It’s a hunch, but I’ll bet his knowing that could make a big difference in your marriage.   Let me know what happens when you tell him!

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 . . .”

How Do You Get Dad More Involved?

I promised to share with you some great “mom questions” I’ve been asked over the past few weeks.  So here goes with the first one! A number of moms have asked how they can get their husbands more involved in the parenting of their kids.  Common complaints include:  “He just wants to be a playmate, leaving all the discipline to me.”  Or: “He really just wants to do his own thing and not get involved at all in day-to-day caregiving.”

Good question!  And not an easy one to answer.  As I thought about it, I happened to be visiting one of our sons, so I thought I’d get his male perspective on the issue.  He happens to be a very involved Dad himself.  But I asked him what advice he’d give other moms as to how to get their husbands more involved.

His first response put things into stark perspective.  “That’s really a hard one, because we all are basically selfish and want to do our own thing.”  [BTW, by “we,” I don’t think he meant just men.  All of us are basically selfish, though I do think moms get a lot of day-to-day practice in becoming selfless!]  He went on to say that a lot of the men he knows seem to be a lot more focused on their own leisure pursuits than on their time with family.

An uphill battle, for sure—at least in some cases.  And the hard part about it is that, as we say so often at Mom to Mom, the only person you have power to change is YOU.  You really can’t make another person do anything.

Having said that, here are a few tips I’ve gleaned along the way—some from my own observation and experience and some from a great group of moms who dove into this question along with me:

  1. PRAY about it—first, last, and always.  Pray especially before speaking about it with your husband.  How you approach it can make all the difference!
  2. Watch your attitude!  Some of us women are particularly gifted with “attitude,” and if, like me, you are also gifted in sarcasm, watch it.  Another point of prayer….
  3. Use “I….” statements rather than “YOU…” accusations.  “I feel,” “I need,” “I miss,” “I want your input” are far more effective than “YOU always…” or “You never…”  But do tell him what you need, rather than “stuffing it” and letting it smoulder.
  4. Use fewer words rather than many (and this from Linda!)  When it comes to men and words, less is more, believe me!
  5. Help your husband see the difference he makes for your children—and you!  For example, “Honey, he so looks up to you. “ or “She’s just watching for you to notice” or “We just love having you home—and a part of these projects.”
  6. Create opportunities for successful interaction.  Sometimes we get so used to “doing everything” that we don’t even leave space for him.
  7. Avoid a constant critique of everything he does—e.g., he went to the store but bought the wrong brand, he put the baby to bed but put on the wrong PJ’s, he never sets the table right. (Ouch!  But honestly, Woody does still get the fork and knife sides reversed—is it male dyslexia?)
  8. “Change your thinking.”  This from one mom who said she finds she needs to refocus periodically to see what her husband actually does do to help, rather than only what he doesn’t do.
  9. Affirm whenever you can.  Let your husband know, at every opportunity, the things you appreciate about him.  One mom shared how an older wiser woman with whom she would sometimes share her “husband complaints” would always begin by asking: ”Have you made the list?”  The list, that is, of all you love about him—even before the “complaint list” that may come more naturally to us.
  10. Pray some more.  Let “Lord, change him” become “Lord, change me.”  And sometimes—not always, but sometimes—he will change, too.

Not an easy question.  But maybe some of you have something to add.  We’d love to hear from you!

Cute shoes, a Clutzy Speaker, and Great Questions

In the past 10 days, I’ve had the privilege of speaking to two groups of terrific moms—one in North Carolina and one in Wisconsin.  My only regret is that I didn’t get pictures of each of these groups.  (If I get to speak to your Mom to Mom group sometime, will you PLEASE be sure we get pictures?  I always forget that!)  But you can be sure they look a lot like you—and other moms you know. My morning in North Carolina brought a new “first” in my speaking experience.  I actually spoke sitting down with my foot iced and elevated!  It was quite a scene—I really do wish we had gotten a picture!

I didn’t start the morning with a foot injury.  No, I waited until just moments before I was to speak and then I performed a feat (no pun intended) that would be absolutely non-reproducible, by me or anyone else!   In walking across the room to get some water, I managed to catch the toe of my cute red shoe on the leg of a chair.  Nothing really unusual for me about that.  But read on: my big toe actually came out of the shoe and got caught on the front edge of the shoe—and bent backward!  OUCH!!

“How in the world does such a thing happen?”, you may be wondering.  I could never do it a second time — at least I hope not!  It was all about the cute shoe . . . and I have my friend Kay to blame for that. Kay is a real Southerner (she grew up in Alabama and now lives in Atlanta), and thus is my chief clothing consult when I speak in the South, where even moms always seem to manage to look really cute all the time.  Or at least that’s my impression.  Those of you who live in the South may take it for granted — but for us northerners, it can be a little bit intimidating.

So I ask my friend Kay about what to wear when speaking in the South.  In the Fall, for example, where it is actually HOT in October.  As I stand in my Wisconsin closet eyeing the woolens that hang there in ready protection against the winters which seem to start here in October, I think of Kay’s advice (only half tongue-in-cheek): “Just wear cute shoes and carry a cute purse.  The rest doesn’t matter.  It’s all about the cute shoes and purse.” So of course last week when I was speaking in North Carolina I was wearing cute red shoes.  Now these cute shoes are actually very uncomfortable. Very, very uncomfortable.   I bought them really cheap at Marshall’s and only wear them for short periods of time — never, for example, in airports or when walking long distances carrying grandchildren.

Last Wednesday I obviously wore them too long—even though it was early in the morning!  But the women there were wonderful, producing ice packs, towel wraps, a chair to elevate my very red big toe, plus lots of great mom-TLC.  And, despite my clumsiest intro yet, we had a great morning together.

The best part, I thought, was their questions.  They had asked if I would do a Q&A after my talk (which I love doing) and had submitted some terrific questions.  A wonderful discussion grew out of both what I could share with them and the great, creative ideas they shared on various topics.

Then this week I had a similarly great discussion time with moms at a Mom to Mom here in Wisconsin.  (Just for the record, some of those moms had cute shoes, too, I think.  The only reason I’m not sure is that being a northerner, I don’t always tend to notice shoes.)  These moms also had great questions.

And it got me thinking: one of the most important things in life is asking the right questions.  It’s the starting point for so much learning—and growing.  Over the years I have often agonized over what was the “right thing to do” in various situations.  Often when I bring up these questions with Woody he will say, “Well, for starters, at least you’re asking the right questions.”

So I’m thinking that in the next few blog posts I would like to share a few of the questions these and other moms have asked me recently.  And share some of our discussions in response to them.  I say “discussions” because good, hard questions don’t tend to have easy answers.  And I definitely do not see myself as an “”answer lady.”  I am most definitely still learning as I go through my mom-life.  And I learn so much from all of you.

But there are some great guidelines—from God, above all, and also from experience.  And from other moms.  So I hope you’ll stay tuned for some great mom-questions in the future.

And watch out for those cute shoes!