Thursday, October 25, 2012

COM Ch 8: Lessons for Life

Chapter 8:  Lessons for Life

            That list of rules is a humorous one . . . humorous, but true.  However, on a more serious note, there is another list of rules that I try to live by.  These are beliefs that I have formed, though not executed perfectly, from things that I’ve read and by watching how people (including myself) interact with their kids.  They are ones that you probably will see in some parenting books.  They may not fit for you, but they do for me.  (These do not include specifics or advice on discipline.  There are numerous good books out there about that.  These are just some general principles.  And many of them also speak to how we should relate to all people, not just our children!) 

            #1  Hold them as much as possible when they are young.  Don’t buy the old “Just let them scream it out.  It’s good for their lungs and it makes them more independent” thing.  I think the opposite is true.  They are looking to you to respond to their calls.  A little baby isn’t trying to manipulate you when it is crying to be picked up.  (The ability to manipulate comes later.)  Babies actually have a need to be held and interacted with.  There have been neglected children that have died for lack of human contact.  It’s a physical need to be cuddled and communicated with. 
            I think that the more you do respond to their calls, the more secure they will be; and therefore, the more independent they’ll become later.  You would have given them a stable foundation from which they could explore the world.  (At least, that is my hope because I’ve probably held my children “too much” when they were young.  Even the handyman, Bill, noticed one day and said “Lady, you are never without a kid on your hip.”) 
            They’ll also be comfortable being appropriately dependent on another person because they knew that they could depend on you when needed.  And hopefully, prayerfully, they’ll transfer this trust to God more readily and learn to be appropriately dependent on Him because Mom and Dad modeled for them someone who was there and who responded to their calls when they were young.  They will better understand God’s love and faithfulness.  
            Lamentations 3: 22-23:  “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
            #2  On a similar note, don’t turn them away when they come to you for comfort.  When they are scared of a storm or the dark or got their feelings hurt, take their fears and feelings seriously - even if they seem “childish” to you.  They are children and so they will be childish. 
            Think back on how it felt to be a child.  Imagine how it must feel to be afraid or heartbroken.  And you go to Mom or Dad seeking safety or comfort.  But instead, they send you back to your lonely, dark room or say something like, “Stop being such a crybaby.  It’s not that big of a deal!”  As though your feelings had no validity.  Not only would you have a broken heart or uncomforted fears, but now you are feeling like a fool for having them.  And you’ve learned not to go to Mom and Dad with your concerns.  
            There’s no easier way to shut a child down than to make them feel unimportant or to talk down to them.  Once again, you reflect God to your children.  And God doesn’t send us away when we come to Him with our “childish” concerns and He doesn’t call any of them “trivial.” 
            As a counselor, I once met with a woman and her six-year-old son.  The mom was doing everything in her power to push this child away because she really did not love him.  (You don’t think this is ever possible, but it does happen.)  And one of the saddest things I have ever seen was this little boy trying and trying to talk to his mother and to joke with her and smile at her.  He kept looking into her face, searching for her eyes.  But never once would she ever look him in the eye.  She always looked down at the floor.  She basically wouldn’t even acknowledge his existence.  He wasn’t worth a glance.  And if it broke my heart to see it, I can’t imagine what it did to his! 
            My husband can’t understand why I always let the kids come in to say “Good Night” even if it wakes me up.  I told him that I never want to turn them away when all they want is a hug or to be by me or to hear an “I love you!”  Wanting these things is something I want to encourage, not discourage.  And it will set the tone for the future when I want them to come to me with their questions and concerns, or for guidance.  If I shut them down and turn them away now with the little things, they will not come to me with the big things. 
            Do you want your children to believe that God has time for them, that He cares about their fears and hurts?  Do you want them to be able to readily call on the Lord for help?  Then model it!  They will have an easier time believing this if they had a parent that made them feel welcome, even when their problems seemed “childish.” 
            “Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.  My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!  Your face, Lord, I will seek.  Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper.  Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Savior.  Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.’”  (Psalm 27: 7-10)
            #3  Here’s another one about seeing it from their point of view:  Get on the child’s level to see things through his eyes in order to interpret his behavior, to figure out why he might be doing something.  Many times, we misinterpret their behavior, and we discipline them unfairly because we aren’t seeing things from their eyes. 
            I was sitting there once watching a little boy who was watching his father wrestle with some younger kids.  I could see the joy in his face and the delight in his eyes as he bounced around on the couch, trying to figure out a way to get involved in the fun.  And what did he do?  He leapt up off the couch, ran over to his dad and punched him in the back, and then jumped up on his shoulders with all his weight. 
            This didn’t get the hoped-for response.  It got, “Why did you do that?  That really hurt.  Would you like it if someone came up and did that to you?  What makes you think you can do that to someone?  Go sit down on the couch.”  What this little boy wanted to be a sign of playfulness was interpreted as rudeness.  After all, no one likes to be assaulted out of nowhere.  And what was meant to be a way of connecting with his dad actually led to being punished and having to sit out of the fun. 
            Try to see it from their eyes before reacting.  Remember that kids have unexpected, childish ways of sending out messages.  They don’t think and act like little adults.  “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.”  (1 Corinthians 13:11)  Discipline defiance and disobedience, but be more lenient and understanding of childishness.          
            #4  Along similar lines, respond gently to children.  Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  Yes, this does include our children, too.  Why is it that we apply this to all other people but our own family members?  
            After my very demanding, difficult third child was born, I became rather . . . how shall I say it?. . . overwhelmed.  He was so demanding that I was busy most of the day just trying to keep him content enough so I could get anything done.  Or if he was sleeping, I would be busy trying to keep the kids super-quiet so that they didn’t wake him up.  The phrase often heard in our house was “Don’t wake the beast.”  (Meant in the most loving way possible, of course!) 
             I was a stressed-out mess.  I was stretched so thin between his needs and the “crisis” and trials that I was facing that the last thing I had time for was a needy older child.  So when my other children would come to me and simply say, “Mom,” I would bark out, “What do you want?” or a long, exasperated “Whaaaaat?”             
            They would pick up on this frustration and walk away, as I breathed a sigh of relief so I could get back to the task at hand.  Or they would sheepishly make their request, and I would either rebuff them because I was too busy or I would grudgingly get them what they needed.  I can only imagine how it must have felt to be in need of something or to just want some Mom-time, only to be treated like a nuisance that Mom just wanted to shoo away.  They didn’t understand how busy I was or why I was so stressed.  All they probably sensed was that they were not as welcome as they used to be. 
            In fact, it always amazes me how we will do the very things to our children that bother us the most when it happens to us.  (Here’s a challenge: Think this over in your own life!  How do you hate to be treated?  Do you hate being called names, talked down to, made fun of, or interrupted?  Are you doing this to your own family?  This is a strong tendency that most of us don’t ever notice.) 
            One of my biggest fears was being a burden to anyone, and yet I was treating my children like they were burdening me.  I was very fortunate to catch on to my attitude rather quickly and to be repulsed by it.  I did not want to be that kind of mom, and I certainly did not want my children feeling like they were a bother or that their feelings or needs didn’t matter to me.  I might still be busy and unable to help them with what they wanted, but, my goodness, I could speak nicer to them. 
            Besides, carrying around all that stress and tension didn’t make me any happier.  I realized that I wasn’t enjoying my days at home like I used to.  I had to remind myself to just enjoy my children again.  And so I set out to make a conscious effort to respond with a welcoming and gentle response when the kids came to me.  But it took effort, and it meant delaying my response a few seconds so that I could check my attitude. 
            I occasionally fall back into my exasperated tone-of-voice.  But I feel much calmer and more pleased with myself when I treat my children as the wonderful blessings that they are.  After all, they are the very reasons I am home.     
            #5  Another dove-tail from that point is this:  Don’t yell at your children unnecessarily.  “Fathers, do not exasperate you children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)  Exasperate means to make someone frustrated or angry or to make them feel worse somehow.   
            This is something that I need to consciously mull over.  How do I make my kids unnecessarily frustrated or angry?  Or how do I make a bad feeling even worse?  There are parents who believe that children have no rights or special provisions in the family.  They are to obey no matter what, never question, never balk, never have a negative feeling about anything a parent does, and never, ever talk back.  “BECAUSE I’M THE PARENT, THAT’S WHY!”
            But even God made a special provision - special protection - for children when He commanded parents to not exasperate their children.  I think an easy way to exasperate them would be to never let them speak up about anything, not even when they have a valid point.  Never let them grow up!  Always treat them as though they are too young to ever know what they are talking about!  Treat them like their childish ways are a nuisance and that you would rather they just go away and leave you alone.  Don’t ever let them know that you enjoy them or respect the person that they are turning out to be.  These would be exasperating to me! 
            Here’s another way to exasperate:  Promise things that you won’t follow through on.  Break your word to them.  Tell them you’ll take them to the park, but then come up with some excuse why it’s not going to happen.  It’s especially effective if you find a way to blame them for why you won’t do what you said.  “Well, we were going to go to that park; but because you did such-and-such, now we can’t.” 
            We, as tired parents, oftentimes blurt out something that we don’t mean, usually to appease the child for the moment or to get them to stop bugging us.  But then, we don’t want to or can’t follow through, so we find some way out.  We excuse our unfulfilled promises, and yet still expect the children to respect us.
            Sometimes, there are very valid reasons for why we can’t follow through on something that we intended to - sickness, unexpected emergencies, etc.  Those are teachable moments about priorities and dealing with interruptions, but we should do our best to fulfill our promises as soon as we can. 
            My concern here is not those moments, but the times that we promise things that we really don’t want to do and have no real intention of following through with.  We need to become parents of our word.  We need to learn to not make hasty promises.  These kinds of things have an effect on how much our children will learn to trust us and rely on us; and this will affect how they view God, too.  For good or bad.  Once again, Matthew 5:37:  “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’ . . .”         
            Another exasperating thing we parents do: punishing them unfairly.  I once heard of a mom and a dad who were taking their kids on an exciting vacation.  The kids were so excited on the drive that they were constantly kicking the back of the seat or something like that.  Out of frustration, the dad yelled, “If you do that one more time, you’re not going.  We’ll find you a babysitter, and Mom and I will go by ourselves.” 
            Well, as you would expect, sitting still the rest of the drive was too much for very excited children, and they did it again.  The mom and dad strongly believed that whatever they said, they needed to stick with.  So they had to follow through with this unreasonable punishment that was thoughtlessly blurted out.
            I think this is the kind of thing that exasperates a child: demanding unrealistic things from them.  I think it’s entirely appropriate for a parent who makes an unreasonable rule or punishment to take responsibility for it.  Maybe after a short time, that mom and dad could have said, “You know, I think we were wrong to punish you so harshly for that childish behavior.  So after thinking it over, we are changing the punishment to . . .”  Show them how an adult corrects their mistakes or apologizes.
            I counseled a mom once who, in a hasty moment of discipline, cancelled her daughter’s birthday party.  And then, although this mom felt guilty about doing that, she didn’t feel that she could go back on it because she was taught that you must stick with whatever you say.  While I do believe that we need to follow through on things we say, I also believe that if we make a mistake in what we say – dishing out an unfair or irrational punishment – we need to be able to say that we were wrong or unfair, and to change it accordingly.  Children shouldn’t be overly punished just because we said something stupid.     
            Other ways to exasperate are to expect more out of the kids’ attitudes and behavior than even you yourself can achieve.  You know, like when they get in trouble for saying something that you yourself have been known to say.  Or you call people names, but yell at them when they do.  Or you punish them for lying or cheating, when you do those things yourself.  That would be exasperating to me!
            Show them the right way to live and behave!  Model for them someone who lives with integrity; instead of just demanding unreasonable perfection from them, and then yelling at them when they can’t comply or when they are just following your bad example.  They won’t know the right way unless you teach them.  And they won’t care enough to follow it unless you live it! 
            Also, try telling them what you expect from them nicely, before you yell at them and treat them like they disobeyed you.  Try speaking to them first with a polite, respectful tone-of-voice before going for the punishing one.  “Would you please pick that up?” usually gets the job done, instead of “Get that off the floor!”  They will listen.  And you may find that yelling, scolding, or discipline isn’t needed as much as you think it is. 
            Or better yet, make up songs for what you want to tell them.  The kids act like they hate it, but I suspect that inside they love it.  So let’s say you walk in and find a game all over the floor.  You could scold and rant, or you could make up a song, for example, to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain When She Comes”:  

                                    I’ll be tripping on your game soon and I’ll fall,
                                    I’ll be tripping on your game soon and I’ll fall,
                                    I’ll be tripping on your game soon
                                    then I’ll send you to your bedroom,
                                    so you better pick your game up, after all. 

            I just made that up of the top off my head and so can you.  It doesn’t need to be perfect, but it’s a fun way to get your point across and to help you stay relaxed.  (It drives our kids nuts that we are always singing.  They’ll probably turn out to be a bunch of grumpy curmudgeons just because we sang so much.)
            In fact, I made up a whole verse to the “Safety Dance” song by Men Without Hats.  For a long time, one of my boys would start wiggling and dancing when they had to go to the bathroom.  But they wouldn’t go until it was nearly (or totally) too late, despite my many attempts to encourage or push them to go.  And so instead of fruitlessly yelling at them to “Quick, run to the potty” when they began to wiggle, I made up the “Pee Pee Dance” song. 

                        You can dance if you want to
                        You can wet your pants, that’s fine
                        But if your friends find out
                        Then your friends are gonna laugh
                        When they see you got a wet behind
                        You can “go” where you want to
                        You don’t need to use the can
                        But if they get wet
                        Then I’ll be upset
                        Cuz I’ll have to wash your pants again

                        You can dance
                        You can dance
                        You can lose bladder control
                        You can dance
                        You can dance
                        Instead of just deciding to go – Oh – Oh - Oh
                        You can Pee Pee dance
                        You can Pee Pee dance          
                        That’s the Pee Pee dance – Hey

            And I have to say that it was much more effective, because they knew that if they didn’t go to the potty then they would have to listen to the whole song.  And I think it drove them even more nuts that I totally delighted in singing the “Pee Pee Dance” song.  Anyway, my point is to have fun with giving them instructions.  And then, if they don’t comply, you can up the ante.  Tell them that you are serious, and ask if they would like you to get mad and to yell, or if they would like to obey you when you are being nice and calm.  If they still choose to disobey, then they are choosing and expecting discipline.  Don’t disappoint them, or they will lose respect for your authority!  But at least give them a chance to disobey before treating them like they did.
            I think, as much as possible, it’s best to have established rules ahead of time.  Then, when those are broken, they know that they are choosing discipline.  It’s not a surprise.  And I think that this is how God deals with us.  Read the Bible and see how many times He lays out the options: “Obey or disobey.  And if you disobey, this is what will happen.”
            Sometimes before disciplining, though, I do have to “check-in” with myself to see if I ever let them get away with breaking those rules before or if they did not know that it was an established rule.  In those cases, I choose to be a little more lenient or make it a warning, because I am partly to blame for the confusion.
            Let me stress one thing here, though, as we are talking about discipline.  We DO NOT have a right to discipline in anger.  We do not have any right to go off in a rage and start swinging or calling names or go on a soul-damaging tirade.  Do we ever read about God doing that?  Does He just go into a manic fit and begin squashing people left and right?  No, He doesn’t.  He is reluctant to discipline.  It breaks His heart that it gets to that point.  But when He does have to discipline, it is after clearly laying out the consequences and giving people chance after chance to repent and change their ways.  He is so slow to discipline harshly, but so quick to forgive. 
            Remember, our children are not really ours.  They are God’s.  What right do we have to lash out toward them in our anger, calling it “discipline”?  Abuse is never appropriate discipline.  God is watching how we treat His children.  And they will grow up into the adults that they will become, in large part, because of how we treat them.  Yes, discipline is necessary, but we need to be cautious and thoughtful about how and when we discipline.          
            Make your home and your family a safe place to learn and grow.  Don’t be unnecessarily harsh.  And don’t discipline them in front of their friends or other kids.  This is very crushing to children.  We wouldn’t want to be scolded in front of others by our spouse or boss, would we?  And yet, how often do we do that to our kids?  Acting as though they don’t deserve the same kind of basic consideration that we want for ourselves.  Take them aside at the appropriate time and discipline, not when it makes a show of them in front of others.
            And don’t discipline them in front of other adults just because you are trying to look good.  There seems to be a tendency among parents to show what good disciplinarians we are.  We savor the power that comes with parenthood, and we want to display it like a trophy.  And so we scold our kids in front of other parents simply to make ourselves look better, to look like we really have this parent-role under our belts.    
            I remember once, as a pre-teen, coming back from camp with our youth group.  While at camp, I had misplaced my money and had gone through everything trying to find it.  Well, when one of my parents came to pick me up, the leader told them all about how I turned the place upside down and, apparently, bothered everyone else while looking for this money.  And right in front of these people (and the boy that I had a huge crush on), I got scolded for being so inconsiderate and disruptive and all that. 
            I didn’t think it was fair.  I didn’t think the leader had been fair because much of the time that I was looking for the money, no one else but my best friend was in the room.  And I told my parent this when we got in the car.  They then backtracked and told me that they knew that I wouldn’t really behave that way, and that I wasn’t in trouble because it wasn’t as big of a deal as the leader made it seem.  So then, why scold me in front of others, taking the leader’s side and humiliating me in front of everyone?  (I’m sure that I have my own times when I’ve done this to my kids.  And when they get older, they can write a book about it, too.)  
            Make your home and family a safe place, especially when you have to discipline and correct misbehavior.  That is when kids feel most vulnerable.  You will be a more respected leader in your family if you still show respect for your kids while disciplining them.     
            #6  The previous points can be summed up in this Biblical principle:  Imagine how you want to be treated and treat your kids likewise.  Good ‘ole Matthew 19:19:  “. . . love your neighbor as yourself . . .”  Well, our closest neighbors are our family members.  It seems so obvious, but it’s amazing how little we show kindness and respect to our family members. 
            And, this is a novel thought . . . treat them at least as good as strangers.  Why is it that complete strangers get kinder words, gentler reactions, and the benefit-of-the-doubt more than our own family members do?  And why do we treat our children with more harshness than we would tolerate for ourselves?  We won’t let other people call us names, but we’ll call our kids names.  We won’t let others speak to us like we’re stupid, but we may talk to our kids that way.        
            Talk respectfully to your kids.  They are people, too.  And, as I said, they are God’s children on loan to us.  Think of it as though we are just babysitting God’s children.  Don’t think of them as your property, so that you can yell at them all you want or call them names or speak harshly to them.  (Same goes for how you should view your spouse and others.)  Those are God’s kids that you are mistreating or degrading.  And as parents, we all know how it feels when someone messes with our kid.  If our inner mother-bears come out so easily when we see our cubs being messed with, imagine how God must feel to see us messing with His cubs.  I believe that we will all stand before God and give account for how we treated the people He gave us to raise (as well as all the people we encounter throughout life). 
            I had the sad opportunity once to overhear a young mother speaking to her children in a very damaging way.  I could hear this mom yelling through her open window at her two toddlers.  She was so angry and forceful that I half expected to hear a child being thrown against the wall.  (And trust me, I was listening.  And ready to call the police, if it sounded like it was getting physical.)  And this little boy was crying, “Mommy, Momma, oh, Mommy,” over and over again, as the mother yelled, “SHUT UP, SHUT UP!  I can’t take it anymore.  I am stuck here all day BECAUSE OF YOU.  Just SHUT UP!  SHUT UP!”  And on and on it went with many words that I couldn’t decipher.  And on and on that little boy cried for a good hour or so in his room by himself after the screaming stopped. 
            I knew his other parent was home, his step-dad.  Why had he not stepped in and removed the child from his enraged mother for a few moments so she could calm down?  I’m sure she didn’t want to be sending these terrible messages to her kids.  Maybe she would have appreciated a little help from him. 
            My advice to all the “other” parents out there, the ones watching it all happen . . . never sacrifice your child and leave them in the path of a wrathful, hateful tirade because you’re afraid to step in and become a target yourself.  Do the brave, bold thing and swoop in to protect your child from immediate harm to their bodies, minds, and hearts.  Even if it means calling the police.  Children are too precious for you to just sit on the sidelines and watch them be destroyed.  And then try to encourage your spouse to seek help for their anger.  They may thank you for it later.   
            How my heart broke for this little boy!  How I wanted to run in there and scoop him up and hug him and tell him that he is a wonderful little creation.  I can understand getting frustrated and reaching your boiling point, but please remember that your words have a lot of power.          Proverbs 12:18:  “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  Words and attitude (or total indifference to them) have the power to crush the life and the spirit out of a child.  I’ve heard this before and I wish it were true: children should come with a tag that says “Fragile! Handle with care!”  
            I’m sure many of you think I’m over sensitive.  My husband does.  He teases me that I am overly concerned about protecting my children’s self-esteem, that I fear that everything I do will cause lasting and irreversible damage, and someday my children will write a book titled Scarred For Life: Memoirs of My Childhood. 
            Maybe I am overly concerned.  But as a counselor, I have heard and read so many personal accounts of what kinds of things damaged people’s developing self-esteems and created certain negative beliefs, behaviors, or protective walls.  Maybe it’s not that I am overly concerned; maybe others aren’t concerned enough. 
            Children are fragile, even if they don’t show it.  For example, I know that when one of my kids gets his feelings hurt or gets scolded, he smiles and skips away to the other room.  It may look like he is not listening or that the message hasn’t sunk in.  But he heard and he feels pain.  I know this because he is just like me when I was young.  (And it’s probably the way I still am; smile through the pain, don’t let them see you hurt.)  If I go after him to check on him, I can see that he waited to cry until he was away from people.
            Even if your children look like they are blissfully unaware that they are being yelled at, they are probably just hiding the pain from you.  They are more sensitive than we give them credit for, and they need to be handled gently.  When you discipline, make your point and make it once.  Don’t carry on and on, kicking a dead horse and making them feel worse and worse because you don’t know if you made your point loud and clear.  I’m sure you did!  Yes, children are resilient.  But don’t use the “Children are resilient” motto to be careless in how you treat them. 
            It always surprises me when I will scold one of my children for something and they will look like they didn’t hear or care.  It’ll seem gone and forgotten; but then, ten minutes later, they will come in the room all forlorn and say, “I’m really sorry, Mom.”  Trust me!  They do hear all that you are saying, even when you don’t want them to.  Which brings me to my next point . . .           
            #7  Don’t be afraid to share your parenting mistakes and stories with your friends and to laugh over them (if it’s appropriate) because we can all understand.  But please remember that children are very sensitive and easily embarrassed whenever things are shared about them.  Do not let them hear you talking about their funny or embarrassing moments to others.  If you are going to share anything with another person, make sure it’s only with those who won’t pass it on or tease your child.  Don’t sell them out for a laugh or use them as fodder for conversation.  (Don’t do this with your spouse, either.)  You might just lose their trust and respect.  Proverbs 11:13:  “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”  
            [Oh, and speaking of parenting mistakes.  We will all make them, so just accept that.  We will all say and do irrational, stupid, hasty things that upset us.  But one mistake that we should never make is to think that everyone else out there is a perfect parent, and we are great, big failures at it.  Because, most likely, those other “perfect” parents are thinking the same thing..  I think it’s time that we all forgive ourselves for not being perfect.  Seek to try harder, of course, but go easy on yourself.  And know that as long as you continue picking yourself up when you fall and you apologize, your children will probably turn out fine.  Trust me, it’s no surprise to them that we aren’t perfect. 
            Oh, and when another parent shares their parenting mistakes with you, don’t leave ‘em hanging.  Feel free to be real with them, too.  Our Adult Bible Fellowship Class (a.k.a. Sunday School) was doing a series on parenting once.  And the leader asked if anyone in the class would be willing to admit to any mistakes that they have made as a parent. 
            Well, I assumed that all of us in that room were human, and so we all must have some sort of example to share.  Yet, knowing how hard it is to be the first person to speak up, I decided to go first to break the ice, to build the camaraderie.  And I shared about a time that I really wasn’t proud of, when I disciplined without truly understanding the situation.  And then . . . NO ONE else spoke up.  They all heard my confession and then sat there in silence, with “Hmm?  You know, I can’t think of one example from my life” expressions on their faces. 
            I tell ya, my insides were burning with embarrassment.  I felt about two feet tall.  Come on, people!  Don’t leave me hanging out there all by myself, all exposed and vulnerable.  I wanted to then say, “Oh, yeah, well, do you all know about the other 95% of the time?  That I try really hard to be the best mom possible and that I do a really good job, if I must say so myself.”  And apparently, I would have to say it myself . . . because nobody else would speak up.  Okay, I’m done now.  I’m letting it go . . . taking a deep breath . . . moving on . . .]  
            #8  Since kids listen to everything you say, let them hear you complimenting them and praising their accomplishments and good qualities to other people.  Ephesians 4:29:  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  
            I know what you’re thinking, Hey, typo!  I just read that.  Yeah, well, if you’re like me, I’ve heard this so many times before that I go “Yeah, yeah, I know all this.”  And then I go out and do exactly what it says not to do, daily.  So I’m going to keep saying it till it sinks in, and I obey it.  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 
            One day, I began noticing a trend.  When my husband came home from work, I would start by telling him what the kids did wrong during the day, mainly just in the name of conversation and filling him in.  Then he would feel that he needed to say something to them or discipline them, and it would start off the whole evening on a negative note.  Now, I can’t fault him because he was just trying to do the husbandly thing and help his wife. 
            But I decided to try something different.  I decided to make it a point to tell him about the ways the kids impressed me - like when Ryder picked me a flower, or when Hunter got his Thank You cards written right away with no complaints, or when Kody thought about saving the last orange for Dad because he knew that he would want it.  Or when he offered to not go bowling with the boys for Hunter’s birthday party because he felt bad that we had to spend too much money already.  (I mean, what child is that sensitive to other people’s needs?  That is a really rare, special trait that he has, and it’s so endearing to me.) 
            This got Jason to praise and encourage them.  And I can only imagine how they must just swell inside when they hear me tell their dad the good things that they did during the day instead of the bad things.  This also encourages them to try harder and do better so that they can hear more of those affirming words.  I think I’ll try that more often and save the negative for when he really needs to hear it.
            To help set a more positive, encouraging tone in our house we started something that we call the Special Plate.  There is one plate different from all the others, and this is our Special Plate.  Occasionally, one of us will get this plate with dinner, because we did something special to deserve it or “just because.”  And everyone else needs to say something special about whoever gets the plate. 
            Ever since we started this, I have seen positive changes in my more reluctant-to-help children as they begin trying to find ways to impress us and help out more.  And I can just see the smile in their eyes when they find the plate in their spot at dinner-time.  (Although, when they don’t get the plate they tend to get upset and envious.  This helps us teach them that we need to encourage and celebrate others when it’s someone else’s time to shine.)  But it has helped us all be more conscientious about complimenting each other and considering each other’s feelings.  And hopefully, this will help set the tone for the adult relationships that the boys will have.    
            #9  Always remember, you only get a few years until they are grown.  And when they are, you will reap what you have sown.  Galatians 6:7:  “. . . A man reaps what he sows.”  They will treat you in response to how they were treated.  Parent in such a way that earns their respect and honor.  Don’t expect it just because you are the parent.  1 Peter 2:17:  “Show proper respect to everyone. . .”  Even your children! 
            Remember that we teach them how to treat others by how we treat them.  So if they have some behavior or attitude that you don’t like, examine first the behaviors and attitudes you model for them.  Or consider how their behavior may be in response to yours.  Maybe the change needs to start with you.  And I don’t just say this to “everybody else.”  Trust me, I’m always reevaluating myself, too. 
            #10  And I am always trying to see what I can learn from other people’s mistakes.  There’s a wealth of information out there if you take the time to notice it.  You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again:  Learn from other people’s mistakes.  You can’t make them all yourself.  Proverbs 10: 14, 16: 21:  “Wise men store up knowledge . . . The wise in heart are called discerning . . .”   
            Do you see a mother and child out to dinner, and notice how lonely the child looks as the mom gabs away on the cell phone through the whole meal?  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this.  (What a sad commentary on our times and the state of families nowadays!  PUT THE PHONE AWAY!)  And I made a decision to always focus on my kids when we are out with them. 
            [This is an easy one for me, though, because I hate cell-phones, anyway.  In all honesty, I do have a little pay-by-the-minute phone for emergencies.  But, really, how did we as a society go from never having cell phones to being unable to function without one stuck to our heads?  It’s one thing if it’s for work or if it’s something that actually brings your family closer together.  But it’s maddening to see how many people can’t be without them and can’t just enjoy the here-and-now: the dinner, the bike ride, the car ride (come on people!), the movie, the company, etc.! 
            I went out to dinner with a friend a few times, and during dinner she would get on her phone to make plans with someone else for after dinner.  And then she would cut our dinner short because “something else came up.”  How’s that supposed to make me feel?  (I don’t see her anymore.) 
            Seriously, people, PUT THE PHONE DOWN!  You are missing out on what’s going on now!  Okay, I’m done now.  Just had to get that off my chest.] 
            Does a friend tell you how she can’t get her kids to listen unless she yells at them?   Deduce that they are probably tuning her out because she yells too much.  Teach your children to listen to you when you speak to them the first time.  (I’ll let you know when I master this one myself.)  Teach them to respect you by respecting them, also.  Respecting them does not mean giving them what they want or treating them as a peer, but treating them the way you should treat any of God’s children.
            Does your friend tell you about how he wishes that his father had played ball with him just once in his life?  Go outside and run and laugh and play with your kids.  Get involved in their world and do the things they like to do.  Don’t wait until they are old enough to do the things you like, or you may have lost them by then.  Learn from other people’s stories and mistakes, and evaluate what lessons you need to apply to your life.  And then do it! 
            #11  Your actions speak louder than your words.  Model godly behavior for them.  Proverbs 22:6:  “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  Live the way you want them to live; don’t just tell them how to do it.  Don’t let them see someone who smiles at people, and then gripes about them behind their back.  Don’t show them someone who acts as though the sky is falling when problems come - when you could be showing them someone who displays faith in God to handle it.  (And, for honesty’s sake, I am guilty of both of these.  I’m working on them, always working on them.  It takes a lot of daily work to manage these kinds of things.) 
            Or how about when you are driving . . . what kinds of words come out of your mouth when you are cut off in traffic?  (Oooh, I bet I just got a lot of you with that one.)  Consider this: “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.  Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ [possibly meaning “Empty-headed”] is answerable to the Sanhedrin.  But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”  (Matthew 5:22)  Serious consequences for flippant speech.  You know, if you insult a work of art, you insult the Artist!       
            Your life should be one big mission’s opportunity - a ministry - to witness to your kids and your neighbors, to make them see the benefit and beauty of serving our God.  One of the fastest ways to ruin that witness is to be a hypocrite.  The ol’ plank in the eye verse.  Live a godly life before you run your mouth off about how others should do it. 
            Sounds harsh, I know!  But this is an area where I think many people, including myself, need a huge wake-up call.  And it’s not a one-time thing.  At least, I know that I have to check and recheck myself at times, and strive over and over again to alter a behavior that is out of line with a godly walk.  And then, when I fail, I have to ask for forgiveness, pick myself up and try again.
            #12  On a more practical note, take the responsibility of being a wise parent seriously and make conscientious decisions in life.  By all means, put thought into the who, what, where, when, why, and how of raising kids.  God gave them to you to raise.  Never just accept what others say as truth, including the “experts.”  Research it for yourself. 
            In Isaiah, even the farmer sought God’s guidance about planting.  “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?  Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil?  When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin?  Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?  His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.”  Isaiah 29:24-26. 
            If God is concerned about proper planting techniques, then I am sure that He is also concerned with proper ways to eat, discipline, treat our bodies and our minds, and manage our homes.  We are responsible to God for the decisions we make or don’t make, and we and our families have to live with the consequences of those decisions.  Be conscientious and deliberate in your decisions, seeking the Lord’s help! 
            My husband and I have researched many different decisions about the things we eat and buy, etc.  (As a result of the one of trials we went through, that I will get to very soon.  Hang in there!)  And we have been shocked to see how many things that we just accepted as the “right ways” (because everyone else did them) were really gray areas, and may not be as beneficial as we were taught to believe.  And they may not be something that we want for our family (even though everyone else was doing it).
            It opened my eyes and helped me learn this rule: “Research your decisions yourselves.”  Your children are depending on you to make wise decisions for them and their care.  And God has given you (not the government, not the “experts,” not the schools, not your parents, and not even the church) the job of raising your kids.  By all means, listen to what others say and consider all sides.  But make the final decision for yourself.  
            Be conscientious about (and pray for God’s guidance about) your choices concerning the pregnancy and the birth . . . any medical treatments, interventions, preventative care, vaccines, medication, etc. . . . school options . . . whether you should stay-at-home or work . . . the food you put in your bodies . . . the products you buy . . . the movies, music, and books you allow . . . the church you attend . . . the activities you get involved in . . . and the friends you allow into your family’s life.   
            For the longest time, I didn’t give much thought to these things.  I didn’t think I had to.  I figured if it’s what everybody else does, then it must be okay.  But after researching many, many things that I never thought I had to, I actually came to very different beliefs about them.  And the more I research and make deliberate decisions, the more convictions I live my life with.  And it gives me a firm foundation to evaluate newer decisions by.    
            Want a good shock . . . become a label reader.  One time, I got curious and I began writing down every questionable ingredient and additive I saw in our food and toiletries.  (You know, those ingredients that don’t sound like real or natural things in our shampoos, soaps, food, toothpaste, etc.)  I began researching each one to see what they were made of, how they were classified, and how helpful/harmful they were.  And I was shocked! 
            Nearly everything I looked up was a carcinogen or toxin or potential toxin of some sort.  And this is stuff we rubbed into our skin and cleaned our home and clothes with on a daily basis.  These are things that have to go somewhere when we are done using them - which is into the environment, where they then impact the world that we will hand down to our kids.  Sure, if I used just this one product on an occasional basis, it probably wouldn’t do much harm.  But this is stuff that is in everything we use or eat all day long, that we are filling our children’s developing bodies with on a daily basis.   
            I went through our home and got rid of nearly every product that I didn’t feel was safe and natural.  And I began buying natural products or making my own good alternatives with virtually edible ingredients.  I feel better about this way of living, and I believe that I am making a healthier environment for my kids (and it’s a lot cheaper). 
            The whole changeover was a long, hard process.  Major changes are never easy.  But I felt like I was accomplishing several good and worthwhile things at once.  1. We were learning to use our money more wisely.  2. We were creating a healthier home and environment and bodies.  3. We were “voting” for better products and manufacturing practices with our money.  4. We were teaching our children (by our words and our example) to make responsible, thoughtful, discerning, and deliberate decisions.  5. And we were being more honoring to God by using our God-given brains and the knowledge and wisdom we had gained to make better choices.  It was a lot of work, but it worth the time and effort.   
            Now, this may not be the way you want to do it.  But my point is, make conscientious decisions that fit your family.  Ask advice, read some good books, pray and seek God’s wisdom, and formulate a parenting style that fits you.  And be teachable.  There is always something new to learn, always something we don’t know, and always something we can do better.  It’s a huge learning process. 
            And when you have made a conscientious decision about something, and you feel confident that it is right for your family, you will feel better about the way you live.  But be prepared to stand up for it.  And I speak from experience.  If it is different from the “mainstream” way of doing things, expect opposition.  Develop a tough skin; one that can say, “I have made a researched, deliberate decision.  And after lots of prayer and consideration, this is what I believe is right for my family.”  Be gracious and polite, but firm.  And once again, be teachable and consider what is being said, in case you missed something the first time around.  But accept only the good advice and reject the bad. 
            This may not so much be a rule for you, but it is for me.  I have made many decisions that others didn’t agree with.  But I made them after much research, thought, and prayer.  So as hard as it may be sometimes, I have to remind myself that I need to stand firm in my choices.  Even if I feel that I’m the only one standing for it.  God made us to be the caretakers of our children.  We are responsible for the ones He gave us.  Be strong in yourself and in the Lord when you believe that you have made the proper choices for your family.  Enough about all that now!  Really, though, research, research, research!  Live deliberately and with conviction!  And “. . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  (1 Corinthians 10:31)
            # 13  Always remember, though, that others have the responsibility and right to make the decisions that are best for them, even if it differs from what you think is best.  Romans 14:3:  “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.” 
            It seems to me that although motherhood is enormously rewarding and satisfying, we place on ourselves an added burden of unconscious competition.  Instead of just enjoying the differences in other mothers, sometimes we use those as sticks to measure ourselves against (or to beat others with). 
            Is this just me?  Maybe it is?  But I think we tend to unconsciously interpret what other people do as a comment on what we are doing.  If they chose X, then they must think my Y is wrong.  Or if I chose X, then their Y is wrong.  These differences can create a lot of insecurity that can lead to what I call “mompetition.”    
            We don’t mean to do it, but we do it (at least I do).  I look at what sports or activities others have enrolled their kids in and I feel bad that my kids have to make do with playing with their siblings in the backyard.  Or I feel that my kids will grow up stunted because we didn’t go on an ice-fishing trip to catch our own fish and roast them over an open fire in a handmade igloo like so-and-so did. 
            Or on the flip side, I make a choice to do something, and then I have to fight the urge to be overly proud of it.  It’s easy to get smug and condescending when I have spent hours researching a decision and made one that I think is “the best” one.  I find myself either being too proud of my decisions or threatened by others’ decisions, as though our decisions are really subtle commentaries on someone else. 
            I stumbled upon this realization once during a conversation with an aunt that I barely see.  She asked us why we chose not to do something that nearly everyone else in America does.  We had done a lot of reading and praying and thinking before making this decision.  And we felt that it was best for our family.
            But as I was telling her our reasons (since she asked), she began to get very hostile and agitated.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening.  I wasn’t criticizing her or saying anything that should make her get defensive.  I was just sharing my reasons for my choice because - once again - she asked. 
            I thought about it as I went to bed and I realized what had happened.  By the very fact that I deliberately chose something different than her (I didn’t choose it because it was different than her, it just wasn’t what she chose to do.), she felt as though I was criticizing her choice.  After all, I had all these reasons why her choice wasn’t right for my family.  But I wasn’t commenting on her choice, just on mine.  However, these are not mutually exclusive.  They are intricately connected.  A choice for one can be seen as a vote against the other.  And that can be threatening.   
            That experience has helped me become a lot more cautious in talking to people when we are discussing our different choices.  And it has helped me to remember to check my reactions when I hear that someone made a different decision than me.  I don’t want to make others defensive or get defensive myself because of our differences.  After all, there will always be someone who made a different choice than me.
            So, why all the “mompetition”?  That’s easy . . . Insecurity.  Plain old fear.  We are afraid of failing our children, afraid of not doing as well as we could or as well as other mothers, afraid of the judgment or disapproval of others.  And let’s face it, we are our own worst critics!  So we will never be totally satisfied with ourselves, and we will constantly check ourselves against others (or check them against us), like checking our child’s growth on those growth charts.  How are they stacking up to other kids?  How are we stacking up as mothers? 
            We could be thinking, Hey, I’m doing a pretty good job at this mom thing.  Things are going well.  But then we hear of the trip that our neighbors took, or we see the cool homemade catapult the they built themselves, or we hear why so-and-so chose public school and so-and-so chose private school and so-and-so homeschools.  And suddenly we feel that we failed our kids.  We feel that they are missing something.  And we fear the irreversible repercussions that it may have on them in the future.
            And it’s not just moms who do this, but all of us.  Women, men, kids, teens.  All of us.  Everyday.  We evaluate how well we measure up to others and how well they measure up to us.  It could be about character or clothing or possessions or our level of service or humility or income.  It could be about how nice our hair looks or about how “godly” we are.  Instead of evaluating ourselves according to God’s standards and remembering our worth in His eyes, we compare and contrast so that we can evaluate where we all fall on the scale of “doing pretty well.”      
            And this leaves us in a constant state of fear and discouragement because there will always be differences.  And we fear the differences because of what they might say about who we are and how well we are doing.  We generally tend to see others as a threat if they do anything different from us.  It makes us doubt ourselves and our value if we feel we aren’t measuring up to others.  Or it makes us smug and condescending because we feel others aren’t measuring up to us.
            And so I’m learning to keep this common thread in the forefront of my mind:  We are all God’s loved children.  We are all on even ground at the foot of the cross.  And we are here to help each other on our journey toward spiritual growth, not to tear each other down or step on someone else’s head so we can feel a little bit higher. 
            And when it comes specifically to “mompetition” . . . we all love our children madly, and we make our decisions about what we think is best out of that love for them.  And once I let go of the need to compare myself to others, I realized that I love seeing the differences in people, the idiosyncrasies that make us all unique.  We all have something different to offer, like a field of wildflowers.  All different colors and scents and sizes and styles.  And it’s what makes that field beautiful.  I am no better or worse than other mothers, just different.           
            My friend, Jen, has three boys, very similar in age to mine.  She once asked me over the phone about a decision that I made for my kids.  She had made a different choice, and she was wondering what the reasons were for ours.  So I told her. 
            Just as I was hanging up the phone, the conversation with my aunt sprang to my mind and the thought hit me, Oh, no!  What if I offended her and she felt that my reasons were a criticism of her choice?  I called her back right away and I apologized in case my decision came across as a criticism of her choice in any way.  I told her that I feel that she is a great mother and that I would never want to give her any impression that I thought she made bad decisions. 
            Then she said something that was so wise that it really stuck with me.  (I wish all mothers could adopt this attitude!  It would relieve the burden of competition).  She said, “No, I wasn’t offended.  I know that there are thousands of different ways to be a parent and most of them are just fine.  We all love our kids, even if we make different choices.  And I’m not threatened by someone making a different choice than me.  I’m confident enough in myself as a parent to not be offended by someone else’s decisions.”  I loved that!  I LOVED that!  I loved her confidence in herself, her ability to respect my choice and yet feel comfortable in her own.  We need more of that!  I need to do that more often!
            (Getting off on a little tangent here. . .)  I think, too, that we tend to forget that God created the right to choose.  He built into us a free-will, and He allows us to make our own choices - good or bad - about raising children, careers, food, religion, salvation, values, lifestyle, world-views, etc.  And He allows us to face the consequences of those choices!  We are all accountable to Him for our choices, not to other people.  (Of course, this is not referring to those choices that break the law and that we need to be held accountable to society for.  I’m talking here about personal, non-law-related kinds of choices.) 
            This doesn’t mean, though, (and this is a BIG ‘though’) that He considers all choices equal and right.  In His eyes and in His Word, there is still a “right” and a “wrong.”  It’s just that we get to decide if we want to agree with Him and do it His way, or if we want to rebel, disobey, and go our own way.  We have the right to choose, and someday we will stand before Him and give account for those choices. 
            There were times in my young life when I felt that it was my responsibility to make others see the “errors” of their beliefs and the “rightness” of mine.  And I think this is a common tendency for most people at some point in their lives, especially Christians.  We can’t believe that others can miss the truth that we can so plainly see, and we think it’s our responsibility to force them to see and accept it. 
            Yes, I do believe that the Bible is all truth, the only lasting truth.  And, yes, I do believe that it’s a Christian’s job to witness and to spread the gospel and truth.  But I have come to the conviction that it’s our job to share and live this truth, not to force it on anyone through mean-spirited words or actions or a holier-than-thou attitude.  We enjoy the right to choose our beliefs, and we need to respect that God-given right in others (even if, and especially if, we don’t agree with it.).  This, I believe, is what tolerance really is.  This is the way for Christians to tolerate the world that we live in. 
            But society also needs to learn how to tolerate the Christians.  In our society (and this really, REALLY bugs me), we have completely misconstrued what tolerance is.  In our day and age, if you do anything less than fully accept, support, and condone someone else’s choices and views, they cry out, “Intolerance!  Intolerance!  You offended me!  Intolerance!” 
            The labels of “intolerance” and “you offended me” are being used as clubs to beat others - especially Christians or those with strong moral views about right and wrong - into agreeing with questionable, controversial, and immoral choices/beliefs and to make them ashamed of their differing viewpoints.  Which is especially damaging now that “intolerance” and “being offended” are becoming the basis for lawsuits.  (At this rate, there will be lawsuits based on “You offended me by being offended by me, and you’re being intolerant of my intolerance!”  It’s getting ridiculous.  It really is!)
            But this is NOT what tolerance is!  Tolerance is basically an “agree to disagree” attitude.  It’s saying, “I may not agree with your choices and I don’t have to like them, but I respect your right to choose.”  (Once again, as long as it doesn’t break the law or violate anyone else.)  Notice that I didn’t say that you have to respect their choice, but we should all – Christians or not - respect someone else’s right to choose.  (And by “respect,” I mean “accept that they have a right to choose”.  We don’t have to have respect for their choices, but we need to accept that they can choose differently from us.)   
            Tolerance is accepting responsibility for our choices and letting others accept responsibility for theirs, knowing that we will all stand before God someday to give account for them.  God will judge in the end, and we will all face the result of our decisions.  I know that we Christians sometimes feel that it is our sworn duty to defend God and to force His ways on people.  But we need to remember that God doesn’t really need us to defend Him.  He will do a great job defending Himself and making all wrongs right in the end. 
            I think if we focused more on humbling ourselves before God and abiding in Him and living “Christ” as much as we can in our lives, we would have a far greater impact on our country than by trying to force others to believe as we do.  We need to live as godly of a life as we can.  We need to look for the open doors that God brings us to speak to others about the hope that is in us.  We need to intercede for our country, to pray for God’s mercy and for revival, and to work for change by starting with ourselves.  We need to share truth in a loving way - in a way that shows that we have firm beliefs of right and wrong, but that also shows respect for their right to agree or disagree.  We need to love!  But it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to work in other people’s hearts and to call them to faith or to correct a bad choice or belief.  Just a thought that’s a little off the point, I know!  But an important one.             
            #14  Remember that your children are counting on you to look out for their welfare.  Do not put them in risky situations, either deliberately or by neglecting to find out what’s going on. 
            I remember as a pre-teen that it was time for me to go in for my physical.  And as we sat in the waiting room, my mom told me, “Now, Heather, this doctor is known for being a bit of a pervert.  If he asks you to take off your clothes, tell him your mom said not to.”  And then . . . she sent me in there alone.  I was terrified the whole time and I felt like she was basically throwing me to the wolves.  If she knew that he was inappropriate, why not find another doctor?  Why not insist on going in with me?  As it turned out, he did ask me to take off my shirt and bra so he could listen to my heartbeat.  I said no.  But somehow, he got me to just take off my shirt.  And while he took my heartbeat, he stared at my basically non-existent boobs.  I was so uncomfortable and couldn’t believe that a mom would not look out for a daughter’s welfare better than that. 
            Unfortunately, we also need to be careful with people in our own neighborhoods nowadays, too.  We don’t live in the “good old days” when kids were able to roam the neighborhood unattended.  Back then, neighbors knew and looked out for each other.  But nowadays, we are all too busy with our own lives to care about anyone else’s family. 
            Don’t take chances with your kids’ safety.  As long as you’re going to make conscientious decisions about what is in your house, be just as diligent about learning who your kids’ friends are and where they are going and what they are doing on-line.  (1 Corinthians 15: 33:  “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’“)  And while we don’t mean to do it, it may end up offending or hurting others at times.  But be gentle and firm.  Your children depend on you to look out for their safety.
            Can I ask this?  Why is it that children are being taught that their social, on-line world is so important that they should be given complete freedom from parental supervision and given the right to network socially all day long?  Back in the day, kids had to talk on the family telephone where parents could hear what was being said.  And they had to use the family computer that was in full view of everyone else.  And when they weren’t doing these things, they were living a life unplugged. 
            But now, they have their own little world in the palm of their hands, with no sense of restraint or accountability to anyone.  And kids are being bullied and putting/viewing things on-line that are so harmful to them.  But we don’t know it because we “wouldn’t want to invade their privacy or comment on their friends.  It’s their life.”
            Is this really the message that children should be receiving?  That their “social world” is of upmost importance and is far above any scrutinizing or accountability?  No wonder children are growing up with severe narcissism and ego-centrism, and a complete lack of work ethic and respect for authority.  (Can you tell that I feel strongly about this one!)  
            On a different note, too many times I’ve heard of people who let their kids go off to someone’s house without knowing the family or friends.  Or they let them roam around the neighborhood unattended, meeting who-knows and doing who-knows-what.  Maybe I’m too cautious or old-fashioned.  I don’t know!  But I’m always surprised to see this. 
            One day, my boys made a nice, new friend in the neighborhood.   His family was staying with his grandparents down the street from us for a little while.  He didn’t know anyone, so he asked if he could play with my boys at our house.  We said it was fine, and he ran back down the street to ask his dad.  I expected his dad to come down and meet us and see who we were, since we were strangers to them.  So I stepped out onto the sidewalk, looked down the street, and I saw his dad walk out of their house.  He looked down the street at me, waved, and went back into his house, as his kid ran to ours. 
            That felt a little odd to me.  For all he knew, we could have pornography all over the place, watch R-rated movies when the kids are around, or scream and yell and curse at each other in front of or at the kids.  We could be feeding his kid any number of things, or we could let our kids have access to beer or guns.  (Wow!  I am quite the catastrophizer, aren’t I?)  NONE of this is true in our house, of course.  But his dad didn’t know that.    
            On his next visit to our house, this little boy asked if my boys could come to his house and play.  He had a secret fort that he wanted to show them.  His dad may not have minded letting him go to a stranger’s house, but I am not comfortable with that.  I wrestled, though, with being afraid of offending them.  After all, they let their kid come to our house to play.  Was it too snobby for me not to trust them with my kids?
            My husband considered letting them go because he felt too bad saying “no.”  But I just couldn’t do it.  I explained it this way to Jason, “In all likelihood, they are fine people.  But we don’t know what goes on in their house.  We don’t know what’s in this secret fort of his.  Maybe there’s pornography or maybe he hides there because his parents are abusive.  What if they fight while he is around or curse a lot?  What if they talk about things we don’t want our kids to hear?  If his dad didn’t mind sending his kid off to some stranger’s house, and he wasn’t concerned with what goes on here, it makes me wonder what kinds of things they don’t mind letting their son be around at his house.  It doesn’t mean he’s a bad parent, but I’m not taking chances with my children.  They can play here.” 
            I, too, felt bad about saying “no” and about offending them.  But my job is to raise my children to the best of my ability and to use wisdom in caring for them, not to be too concerned that I might offend someone else.  (Trust me, there will always be someone who will be offended, and we’ll exhaust ourselves trying to appease everyone.) 
            I think it was easier for me to say “no” and to be more (too?) cautious because of an experience that I had once as a pre-teen.  I had a good friend at school - my best friend, actually.  But neither me nor my mom knew her family well.  One day, I was invited over for a birthday sleepover.  I was the only one invited and it was my first time at her house.  This was going to be a great time and I was excited! 
            When I got there, her father was in the darkened living room watching a horror movie, Hell-raiser.  I hate horror movies.  Hate them!!!!  And I hated having to be anywhere near where one was playing.  So my friend and I played in the kitchen.  After a few minutes, her father called me into the room with him and asked me to sit on his lap.  I was not a very assertive child.  I could not stand up to adults at all, so I did what he asked.  I don’t have to tell you how uncomfortable and embarrassed I was! 
            My friend, her mother, and her sister stayed in the kitchen, looking like they were keeping busy.  But I could see their anxious, knowing glances in my direction.  Even as a child, I could tell that they knew what was going on and that there were family secrets hidden in their dark rooms.  (Sometime later, we found out that this creepy man did abuse his girls.) 
            I sat there on his lap for a few minutes (I had never even met him before) watching Hell-raiser, before I managed to excuse myself.  And I sheepishly made my way to the kitchen.  I was mortified and I felt violated!  This didn’t make the sleepover go very well for me.  I had a hard time falling asleep, for fear of what I may awaken to.  I laid there all night listening for footsteps.  I felt so vulnerable!  Morning-time and going home were the highlights of my visit.  Thank God that nothing more happened! 
            Be aware of who your children hang out with and, if you do not know the family well, don’t be embarrassed to insist that the kids get together at your house, to seek information of what will go on at their house, or to invite them over to get to know the family first.  People with nothing to hide should not be offended by this.  And if there is anything that gives you pause about another person or family, consider that it may be the Holy Spirit giving you discernment.   
            And give your kids an “out.”  If they are ever too uncomfortable at someone else’s house, tell them to call home.  And then give them a reason to come home that would not embarrass them, such as, “Something came up here at home and I need to pick up my kid.”  And something did come up – your child needed you to intervene for them.  And that’s as good of a reason as any.  I have spent several sleepovers balled up in the corner of a room, trying very hard to plug my ears and close my eyes because they were watching unexpected horror movies.  I only wished I had been thoughtful enough to call home and ask to get picked up.   
            #15  Speaking of sleep-overs . . . Now, we all know the importance of discussing drugs, smoking, alcohol, and sex with our kids.  So I won’t expound on those points.  But can I throw another one out there for you to consider discussing with your kids?  (And I’m going to sound really “out there” to a lot of you, I’m sure.  But here goes . . .)  Those seemingly innocent sleepover games!  You know the ones I’m talking about: “I believe in Bloody Mary,” séances, tarot cards, Ouija boards, horoscopes, etc.  Harmless fun, Right?  Nothing comes from it but a good laugh and a little, fun scaring, right?  Or is there more? 
            Numerous times in the Old Testament, we are told that God abhors sorcery and contacting the dead.  (Such as Exodus 22:18 and Isaiah 8:19).  Basically, God tells us not to mess with the spirits.  They are very real and very active in this world.  How is it that even Christians, who know and believe the Bible, act as though that part of life is mythical?  Most of the time, we go about life unaware of the spiritual battles and forces that rage around us. 
            And we don’t bother to seriously evaluate the supernatural games that we play, the books and movies on witchcraft or immorality that we watch, and the ungodly things that we set our minds on.  But all of these things are doors through which the spirit world can affect us.  And sometimes, things happen to remind us that there is more out there, and that we need to be cautious about tinkering with it, even in the name of innocent fun.
            I’m sure that there will be scoffers and doubters, but let me assure you that I was there and this really did happen.  And I am sure that there are plenty of you out there with your own stories, so you will understand.  When I was about eleven or twelve or so, I was at my step-dad’s house for the weekend.  We were bored and just wanted something to do.  So his new step-daughter, my brother, and I decided to play the classic game, Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.  Silly stuff ?!? 
            We had my brother (around seven or eight years old at the time) lay down on the floor, while me and my younger “step-sister” took a position on either side of him.  We both slid two fingers from each hand under him.  Then we closed our eyes and began to chant:  “Light as a feather, stiff as a board; light as a feather, stiff as a board” over and over again for a few minutes.  And then we tried to raise him.  Nothing!  Heavy as a rock and completely unable to lift him a smidgen. 
            I, being the smart older one, concluded that we didn’t chant long enough.  “Let’s try it longer,” I said.  And so we closed our eyes and began again: “Light as a feather, stiff as a board; light as a feather, stiff as a board.”  We said this over and over and over again.  We said it for so long that we kind-of zoned out.  It was a trance-like state where we lost track of time and sense of our surroundings.  After I-don’t-know-how-long, we decided that it had been long enough and we tried to lift him again. 
            This time, I kid you not, he was light as a feather and stiff as a board.  We were able to raise him up with only two fingers on each hand, eight fingers total between the two of us.  We stood up and lifted him to chest level with absolutely no effort.  Meanwhile, he was as stiff and as still as could be, eyes closed and unconscious, completely unaware of anything around him. 
            We, being two adolescent girls, giggled and ooohed and ahhed.  “Oh, look.  It works!  Cool!  Let’s take him out of the room and show Dad.”  We began to walk him to the door and said, “Sean, do not open your eyes!  We are taking you out to show Dad.”  But as soon as his head crossed over the threshold by the door, he shook awake with a “Huh” and immediately regained all of his weight and crashed to the floor. 
            We laughed and ran to tell our dad how it really worked.  I don’t remember his response, but I’m sure it was like, “That’s nice!  Great imagination, you guys.  Now run along!”  And we ran off and found other things to do, forgetting about this supernatural encounter and completely unaware of what really happened.  
            What I didn’t realize, though, was that we were inviting the spirit world to come to us.  We were calling on their help.  And the second time around, we must have given them enough time to do it.  And I doubt, of course, that these were godly spirits.  Godly spirits don’t play these kinds of games.  It’s evil spirits, in the hopes of drawing you in more.  These innocent games can oftentimes lead to dark paths. 
            As an adult looking back now, I am always surprised at how this really worked.  And yet, I’m not surprised because I do, after all, believe the Bible when it says that there is an unseen, supernatural world around us.  I guess I am just surprised at how two completely innocent, naive, adolescent girls could unknowingly call on the spirit world, thinking it was just a game, and actually get a powerful response. 
            I also thank God that He did not allow the spirits access to me after I invited them into the room.  I think it’s because I had just previously accepted the Lord.  I have since read about how some people unknowingly open themselves up to spirit-control or oppression through these seemingly innocent games.  Ones you might find at any sleepover. 
            My point in sharing this story is to not weird you out or to come across as crazy (and I’m sure I’ve just done both), but to remind parents of their responsibility to teach their children to stay away from these kinds of occultic or New-Age things, as well as immoral things.  Do not take lightly (or allow into your house) books, movies, games, and practices that celebrate and encourage what God is opposed to: immoral things, occultic things, and things that mock God.  These are things that Satan uses to further his kingdom.  And yet, we lay down so easily and willingly, and we let them in because, well, it’s all harmless fun and it doesn’t really affect me anyway!  Right!?! 
            These kinds of things are not just innocent books and movies and games; they can hook children into deeper stuff or allow a spirit access to your child and your home.  And at the very least, they draw our minds off of godly things and fill them with things that Satan celebrates and encourages.   
            I’m not an expert when it comes to the workings of the spiritual realm, but it’s just what I understand about it.  And I haven’t yet talked to my kids about my experience as a pre-teen.  I’m not even sure how a conversation like that would go.  But the day will come when I will share this with them.  
            I guess, right now, I am torn between scaring them before they can understand it, piquing their interest in it instead of relating the seriousness of it, and knowing when they are ready to handle the knowledge that there is an active, unseen world out there.  But, you know, when I think about it, there is probably ample opportunity to talk about this kind of stuff with our kids if we just pay attention to the shows and movies that our kids are watching nowadays.  So many teachable moments out there because there is so much that is offensive to God out there.   
            I truly believe that it’s a parent’s job to educate their children about this reality, without over-dramatizing it.  After all, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome [evil spirits], because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”  (1 John 4:4) 
            #16  Okay, onto a lighter subject!  Proverbs 16: 24:  “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”  Tell your children daily that you love them.  Make it a ritual when they wake up, leave for school, or go to bed.  They love to hear it and they need to hear it.  (And you never know when it will be the last time you get to say it!)  Tell them things you like about them.  Especially if you want that behavior or personality trait to continue.  Hug them with all your might, even when they start to shy away from it.  (But maybe not in front of their friends because, you know, they would just “die of embarrassment, Mom!”)  They will be grown and gone all too soon.  Did I tell you how short eighteen years is?
            #17  Psalm 27:3-5:  “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.  They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.”  You are blessed with children and because of them.  Enjoy your children! 
            Sometimes we need to stop and remember to do this, considering all the cleaning and cooking and things we need to get done.  Sometimes we forget to stop and enjoy the very people we are doing it for.  (Actually, we are doing it for God!)  Remember to laugh with your family - laugh a lot.  Relax and find some quiet moments where you can just sit with them and enjoy them.  Life is too short to take everything, including ourselves, too seriously, and to fill our days with too many planned activities and electronic gadgets that detract from our family-time.
             If someone hasn’t been raised to laugh and enjoy good moments with good company then they will probably have a hard time learning to make satisfying, comfortable relationships with people as they get older.  (This is not scientific, just my theory.)  Have joy in this life, despite the circumstances.  I know that life is hard and that there is always one challenge after the next after the next.  (And you’ll get to read about mine in the next section.)  But remember that joy is a choice, and it’s based on where you place your thoughts.  Teach that to your children by modeling it for them.
            #18  As I said in the last chapter, learn to revel in the little things and to find the abundant blessings in each day.  It will have a tremendous impact on your emotions and your ability to praise and trust God.  I like Luke 16:10, about how being faithful with little means you can be faithful with much.  But I also like to think of it this way, “Whoever can be thankful for very little can also be thankful for much, and whoever is unthankful with very little will also be unthankful with much.”  If we can notice and be thankful for the little things, our lives will be so much more rewarding and full. 
            Sometimes, I have to remind myself to get out of the “grumpy, busy, leave me alone so I can finish this” mode and just enjoy the moment.  Maybe it’s a moment when my kids are cracking each other up with goofy jokes, and I need to pause and watch them laugh, to watch their eyes twinkle.  Being someone who is very reserved with emotions, especially excitement, it is a delight to watch my children with their unhindered expressions of joy.  They haven’t yet learned to restrain their excitement.  And I hope they never do!   
            One of my favorite things to watch in the summer is when Ryder goes outside to play.  He can play better than any kid I’ve ever seen.  He has this little yellow tractor that he will pedal up and down the sidewalk for hours.  It has a little trailer that he fills with all sorts of random things, like pipes and sticks and water noodles, and he goes about building “worker things.”  No one can play like this kid does!  I could watch him for hours and never get bored.   
            And he loves bugs.  (Ah, a kid after my own heart!)  This winter, box elder bugs kept getting into our house and Ryder caught one.  He named it “Friendy.”  He would carry this thing around and sit and watch it.  And whenever we found another one, we would yell, “There’s Friendy!” and he would come running to see. 
            One precious little moment that will be cemented in my head forever (because I took the time to notice) was of watching him holding his first Friendy.  I almost went back to doing the dishes, but something made me stop and just watch him.  He was watching this Friendy walk around in his little, cupped hands.  He stood there for a moment considering it, and then he leaned in really close and whispered in little-kid-speak, “I want to keep you!”  Oh, so sweet!  Here is a kid that can’t be quiet to save his life, but was so gentle and loving with this little bug.  Melted my heart! 
            [We did have a sad moment, though, when he found a squashed Friendy in the window sill.  He stood there looking at this flat Friendy.  His eyes misted over a little and the corners of his mouth turned down.  Being a good mom who wants to help him understand the harsh realities of life with truth and delicacy, I got down on his level, put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Honey . . . we’ll find another one soon.”  So we went on a Friendy hunt and we found another one.  And then another, and then another, and so on.  Friendy’s overstaying his welcome, I think.] 
            Now, my Hunter has a really sweet side, too.  He will do some genuinely thoughtful things that would be easy to overlook if I didn’t pay attention.  He always makes sure to think of me and to do things that he knows I like or that would make me feel special.  When he was just a toddler and slept in our bed, he would reach over and rub my back with his little hand and say, “I love you!”  Every night!  And when he sits down by me on the couch, he will make sure that I am warm and will cover me with a blanket.  And when he makes me something, he works really hard to make sure it is something I would like.  He’s always so thoughtful. 
            One time, he was making a little clay figure for me.  He knew that I loved the cute, little smiley faces that they put on their projects.  So he worked really hard to make it just right, constantly looking up at me with his adorable, eager eyes (he has the most beautiful eyes in the world, if I do say so myself) to see if I was watching and pleased with what he was doing.  He wanted it to be perfect for me.  The effort and thoughtfulness that he put into it to please me really warmed my heart (and gives me a good example of how I should strive to do things for the Lord). 
            He ended up making this adorable blob of a creature; a little, round owl.  It really had a charm all its own, with its cute, smiling face beaming from its midsection.  And then, he painted it.  It was like a stained glass window with splotches of blue and purple and yellow all over its body. . . except on its front.  For across its face and dripping all down the belly was a layer of blood-red paint.  With a few strokes of the paintbrush, it went from this darling, innocent owl to a menacing, sneering predator that looked like it had been munching on fresh road-kill.  I laughed and laughed (not out loud, of course!).  Bless his heart, he tried so hard!  But I still have it and I love it! 
            Kody is my builder.  He will sit and build intricate Lego designs for hours.  And it’s very important for him to show me and my husband each design.  It means so much to him to hear, “Good job,” as he shows us all the details and thought that he put into it.  And, as I alluded to before, he has a really gentle side and he shows a lot of concern for others. 
            When he was two years old, we went to the park. A bus-load of grade-school kids showed up and overran the playground.  However, there was one girl that didn’t have anyone to play with.  While she seemed invisible to everyone else, Kody saw her.  And without saying a word, he sat down next to her and put his arm around her.  Then he hugged her and began leading her around the playground by her hand.  Here was this little white boy and this pre-teen black girl walking hand-in-hand around the playground.  She was smiling the whole time!  And it was amazing for me to watch. 
            It was amazing to me that this came completely from inside him, that he noticed someone that needed some encouragement and he was compelled enough to reach out and provide it.  At two years old!  And he hasn’t changed.  He still has a softer heart for others than any person I know.  One time, when he about eight or so, I dropped him off for Sunday School at church.  And as I was walking out, I looked over and noticed that he had his arms around his friend, Caleb, and that there were two older, rougher boys pushing them back and forth between them.  I pointed it out to the person at the desk. 
            “Boys will be boys,” he said.  And all I could think was, No, not my Kody.  He doesn’t rough up others like that.  That’s not “being boys.”  That’s being naughty and rude.  After we picked him back up from class, I asked him what had happened.  Were they just playing? 
            And this is what he said, “When I got there, they were picking on Caleb.  So I told him that I would protect him, and I put my arms around him and let them push me, instead.”
            Oh, I tell you, it broke my heart.  It broke my heart, and yet filled it to bursting, to know that he would care enough about others to sacrifice himself for them.  And this doesn’t come from anything I taught him.  It’s all from him.  I, on the other hand, wanted to grab the trouble-makers by the cuff of the neck and shake them back and forth and give them a good talking to.  (And that’s the nice version.)  But I didn’t.  I just told Kody how proud I was of him for being who he is, and how if that ever happens again, he should tell a leader or come get me and I’ll have a talk with their mothers.          
            It takes conscious effort to notice these kinds of things sometimes and to commit them to memory.  Many, many special moments come without trumpets and fanfare.  Train your mind to notice them and to be thankful for them (and to tell your kids about it!).  It will be so rewarding for both of you!  Getting involved in their world takes time and focus, but it’s worth it.  They will soon put away childish things in favor of more boring, grown-up things.  Enjoy their youth and be silly with them.  Notice the tender moments.  You can’t get them back when they’re gone!
            #19  Parenting is a learning process and we all do it differently.  Go easy on yourself.  When I was a child, I didn’t realize that parents could be scared and clueless and unsure.  That went against the whole idea of being an adult.  Adults knew what to do in any situation.  Adults were confident and wise, even at the ripe old age of twenty-five. 
            I used to think that parents had the answers, that they had an innate sense of what was the right thing to do in any given situation.  And what they didn’t know, they looked up in the big book that they all got when they became parents.  You know, the one with all the answers. 
            Well, maybe I didn’t get in the right line because I never got my book when I had kids.  Instead, the curtain was pulled back and the truth revealed, so much of parenting is really done by the seat of your pants.  You learn as you go.
            Oh, I know some parents do better than others, and it comes more “naturally” to some than to others.  But we all have the same chance to do the job well.  It’s a job where we all go from not being parents to being parents.  And it’s a job where we need to be constantly on our knees in prayer because we can’t do the job justice without God’s help.
            We make mistakes and are completely clueless at times.  None of us are perfect.  Your kids know that, too, so there’s no use in trying to act otherwise.  Model for them how we should handle it when we do or say something wrong.  I think that’s more important than making it seem like we never make mistakes.  Be able to say that you’re sorry, learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself and others, and try harder next time.   
            I think the best “big book of answers” is the Bible, of course.  And Solomon’s words to his son in Proverbs 2: 1-8 could very well be God’s words to parents: 

                        “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.  For the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way for his faithful ones.” 

            So. . . 

            #20  Lastly and most importantly . . . Read your Bible, pray, seek out other Christian parents, pray, spend time with the Lord, and pray!  Pray for your family, pray for your children’s salvation, pray for the salvation and protection of their future spouses, and pray for God’s help in doing this most sacred, difficult and rewarding of jobs.  And when you feel like you just aren’t doing as well as you wish you were, pray as I do.  Lord, please take the imperfect, little bit that I can do and multiply it for Your glory.  Read your Bible, pray, pray, and then pray some more!  Enough said! 
             Psalm 119:9-11: “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” 
            Ephesians 6:18 “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. . . .”
            Well, this takes us to the end (of course, it’s not really the end) of my list of lessons I have learned along the way.  Wow, I really didn’t expect to get all serious and preachy like that when I started that first goofy list of advice last chapter.  But these are thoughts that I’ve wished at different times that I could share with others (and remember for myself).  So maybe this is my way of getting all that bottled-up advice out.  And since I’m the one writing this book, I can put it all here.  You don’t have to read it, though, if you don’t want to.  But . . . wait . . . you already did.  Ha-Ha-Ha! 
            [Before I close this chapter, I do want to clarify something.  I just said to pray for your children’s salvation and their future spouses’ salvation.  But one thing we need to remember - so that we don’t wrongly blame God for failing to answer our prayers - is that salvation is a matter of choice.  It is up to every person to decide if they want to make Jesus their Lord and Savior or not.  God will not force people to choose Him and our prayers cannot force them, either. 
            But while “Lord, save so-and-so” may not necessarily be effective, I believe that we can and should pray that God places the Truth in their paths and that their eyes and ears are open to it, that their minds understand it, that their hearts are soft and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s calls, and that God surrounds and protects them from the diversions and lies and blinders of the evil one. 
            I did this once for a friend.  I prayed over and over that God would put the Truth clearly in her path and protect her from the diversions of Satan.  And one day, she called to tell me that while she was in the stall in a public restroom, she looked down on the floor and there was a pamphlet explaining the way to salvation.  She came to Christ not long after.  God works in mysterious – and amusing – ways!]  
            I may have nearly a decade of parenting and three children under my belt now (and sometimes it does feel like the kids are actually under my belt, clinging to my pant-legs as I leave to go grocery shopping), but I still find myself surprised at times by the thought that I am the mother now.  Every so often I sense a huge discrepancy between how “grown-up” I feel and how grown up I must look to my kids.  Sometimes I still feel too young to be “the mom.”  But to my kids, I probably seem old and wise.  I know my mother looked very much like an experienced adult when I was young, and she had me when she was nineteen. 
            I’d learned a lot since first becoming a mother.  (And I hope to be able to keep learning and growing, and someday say, “Wow, I really didn’t know as much as I thought I did when I wrote that book back then!”)  But while I might have been doing good on the “mom” front at this point in my life, there was still had one area where I was failing miserably.  And if I could just get that area in order, I would finally be the woman that I always wanted to be.
            (It’s funny, but when I first set out to write this book, it was going to basically consist of these last two chapters that you just read.  Advice about being a mom and lessons that I learned as a parent.  That was my original intention.  But as I began to write, God began unfolding a whole other purpose for this book, as you’ll soon see.)

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