The Most Important Parenting Lesson I've Ever Learned

The Most Important Parenting Lesson I’ve Ever Learned

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I have four pretty fantastic kids. I love them like crazy, but they are not perfect. In fact, sometimes they are downright miserable. Sounds like pretty much every single person on the planet, doesn’t it?!!

This past weekend, I had moments where I thought I would burst with pride. I left multiple conversations incredibly encouraged. And then I had a humbling moment that tempered the pride and kept me in my place. And this, my friends, is the most important parenting lesson I have ever learned (and keep relearning apparently!).

It started when I picked my 3rd born up from his Sunday School class. His teacher is a good friend and she told me (again!) that my boy is a “whip”. She said that he always wants to read, is able to answer all of the questions and could probably teach the class if he wasn’t, you know, 8! For a kid who has struggled with being shy and anxious in new situations, these comments on his growth mean so much to my mama heart.

Later, I was chatting with another friend and told her about playing the game Taboo for the first time with our kids the night before. I commented on how surprised my husband and I were when our 2nd born killed it, possibly doing better than his word-loving, game-loving, super competitive mother! We were surprised because this is our kid who had a speech delay resulting in other delays; issues with spelling, writing, and reading. Yet he handled a game, that in our experience has been difficult for youth boys, with ease and brilliance. We were amazed. My friend wasn’t. She has seen his growth over the past 6 years and was quick to tell me that she is impressed with him, with his ability to handle social situations with peers and adults. She informed me that he is a joy to converse with and my heart swelled for the 2nd time that morning.

As I hugged a 3rd friend and thanked her for spending a morning with my kids while we were on vacation, she told me that she just loves my oldest daughter. She found her to be endearing and sweet and while she said all of my kids were a joy, she raved about my oldest. This was precious to me because my girl has been harshly criticized in the past and told that she was a mean girl (with no hope of change- it’s just the way she is). While I knew these statements were not true, they still have been painful for me. So when I hear someone express a different impression of my girl, I am reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my daughter’s life. And again, my heart was blessed.

And then. One of the dear nursery workers found me in the hallway and asked for me to come and handle a situation in the nursery. My precocious 3 year old had pushed a friend and was refusing to apologize. I was not surprised by this. As darling and dear to our hearts as our youngest is, she is also sassy, spunky and assertive (all qualities that when expressed by an immature kid are not so pretty). And so, I dealt with my girl who did eventually apologize (under duress!).

I then headed to the worship service with the thought that parenting is awesome and difficult, often times simultaneously.

What I have learned is that no one (child OR parent) should be defined by bad behavior or mistakes that they make because we are all a work in progress. A child’s future should not be dependent on their ability to handle every single social situation that is thrust upon them. They are not more amazing if they can read at 4 or less amazing if it doesn’t click until they’re 8 or 12 or whenever. Their middle school years with all of the jealousy, selfishness, drama and hormones that they are struggling to understand are not what will determine how they will turn out. And when a 3 year old pushes another child, it does not mean that she cannot learn to love others well.

I have had to learn to not define myself as a mom by my kids behavior. While I hope and pray that they will have hearts that seek mercy and kindness, I am not naive enough to believe that my kids will always respond the way my husband and I desire for them to respond. They are sinners in need of a Savior, just like their Mama and their Daddy. And while it is encouraging to hear others speak highly of my kids, I am completely aware that this is ONLY the work of Christ in their hearts and it has nothing to do with my amazing parenting (because truthfully, that expectation is too much. I’m not always amazing and that’s okay!).

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And this is it, the most important parenting lesson ever learned- I cannot change my children’s hearts. I am powerless in this regard, no matter how desperately I would like to make them who I want them to be. This knowledge is both terrifying (I have no control!) and empowering (I can trust them to their Maker who loves them more than I can possibly imagine and who is powerful enough to change any behavior, any weakness, any sin and redeem it for their good and His glory!).

My youngest didn’t act in an appropriate way and I’m pretty sure this is not the last time she will act this way. I know this because in the short time since she pushed her friend, she has hit her sister and pushed her brothers. She has some big lessons to learn, but 14 years of parenting have taught my husband and I a few things. We’re not worried. We know God’s faithfulness. We have seen Him work in 3 other 3 year olds and we are confident in His ability to work in the 4th.

But if I know that I do not need to own my children’s bad behavior, I don’t get to take credit for their good behavior either. What I will own and take credit for is my own heart. Am I being faithful or am I being selfish? How do my behaviors affect my children? Am I actively seeking to woo their precious hearts and point them to their Savior? Am I leaning desperately on Jesus, trusting His work in my children?

As I sat in the service and contemplated all of these thoughts swirling in my head, the offertory played and these words penetrated my heart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

This truth is mine, but it is also a truth that is free for my children to accept and embrace. How GREAT is the love the Father has lavished on us (1 John 3:1)!

May they know His love, His salvation, His faithfulness and may they pursue Him with all of their hearts!

 

Seagulls in Snowstorms

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Seagulls in snowstorms,

And tan lines and gloves,

Rochester near Spring time-

A crazy land that I love.

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We have had a little bit of snow in Western New York these past couple of days. To think that last Thursday, we used the grill to make chicken fajitas, because we lost power for 3 days! The Thursday before that, we were sun-kissed in Mexico. And the Thursday before that? Our water heater quit and Dave spent the day before we left for a cruise replacing it.

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To say it has been a strange few weeks would be an understatement. Through it all, I am grateful for a husband who works hard to take care of our family. I am grateful for God’s timing, for protecting our kids while we were gone and for not allowing any major issues (failing water heater, power outage, blizzard!) to occur while we were out of the country. I am grateful for a gas fireplace, reading by candlelight, puzzles, generators, friends who love us well, good attitudes, a calm between storms for ease in grocery shopping, not missing any school days besides our scheduled ones, a puppy who loves the snow and being snowed in with my family.

This Thursday, we will be snow blowing our way out of a storm and next Thursday, it will be Spring.

Will we make it? Fingers crossed and a whole lot of prayer!

How Being a Mom is Like the Relationship Between Earth and Jupiter

In science this week, the boys and I have been studying Jupiter and the curriculum we are using, Apologia Astronomy, compared Jupiter to a mother protecting her children. Jupiter’s size and position in space are crucial in protecting Earth from rocks and debris that would otherwise threaten catastrophic destruction.

As we were reading through these comparisons, my mind started to wander (as it so often does!) and I started thinking about my relationship to my kids and how often I have sought to protect them from the hurts of this world. A great deal of the pain I have experienced in my adult life is the result of absorbing the “rocks and debris” that have been hurled at my kids.

This morning, my husband hung a picture of our 2 1/2 year old daughter and 6 month old son from a photo shoot eleven years ago. As I once again gazed upon this picture, memories were stirred from that day. The rocks that were hurled at me on that day no longer sting, but they are still firmly embedded in my memory. It was my first attempt as a mom of two at getting pictures of my kids taken in a studio. It was Ethan’s first Christmas and I wanted a picture of my two little ones dressed in red for Christmas cards.

I was perhaps a little too optimistic about the results of this shoot. Optimistic and naive. I was still adjusting to the stubbornness and sassy behavior that Lindsay was beginning to display with the advent of a baby brother, but it hadn’t been enough time for me to forget the angel baby she had been for the first two years of her life. She had always done well when I took pictures of her (and I did this rather frequently, posing her with flowers and dolls and books! Certainly her baby brother would be no different, right?!!).

But there were a few things I did not anticipate. The studio happened to be in the middle of a department store and the room they put us in was walls of windows on three sides. In addition to this, the photographer didn’t seem particularly comfortable with children. Huh. I can hear all of my fellow mamas groaning. You know where this is going.

Lindsay was incapable of sitting still in this scenario. She wanted to explore all of the new equipment, not sit next to a baby and smile when prompted. Every time someone walked by (which was often!), she HAD to see what they were doing and where they were going. No correcting or cajoling was working with my precocious child and I could sense that the photographer was beginning to grow irritated. I kept attempting to get Lindsay to cooperate, praying that she would sit still for at least a moment. I was feeling frustrated with Lindsay and with my inability to get her to do what the photographer wanted her to do.

And then the stones were thrown. The photographer told me that I should probably reschedule the shoot and inferred that I was not a very good mother and my daughter was a horrible kid. This was when I kicked into Jupiter mode. The thoughts that went through my head at break neck speed were these- this woman must not have children! Does she have any idea how much work it took for me to get a 2 1/2 year old and a 6 month old to a scheduled appointment on time and dressed perfectly? Does she know that trying to attempt this feat again is like expecting a comet to appear twice in a lifetime?

I quickly moved from the mom who was seeking to let the photographer do her job to the customer who was not being treated respectfully. I asked to see the manager and with an eye roll, she acquiesced. I think the manager may have been a mom, because when I explained the situation, she offered to take the pictures herself and moved us into an enclosed studio.

The results? Great pictures of my kids and one that became an 18 x 20 portrait that is once again hanging on my dining room wall.

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I became like Jupiter that day, absorbing the harsh comments and the poor treatment of myself and my child, but not allowing them to destroy me. The depths of my heart and my love for my children mean that I am able to fight for them when they are too weak (or little!) to defend themselves.

In addition to Jupiter, God has provided the Earth with an ideal atmosphere that protects the earth from meteoroids and asteroids. Likewise, my children are blessed to have adults in their lives who care about them and want the best for them. But there are still people who for whatever reason are like that photographer and are quick to throw rocks and stones at my children. As they get older, my role is changing. I can’t absorb or deflect all of the rocks coming their way. In fact, I must not. They need to learn that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). It is crucial that they learn that they must depend on their Creator the one who has “overcome the world”!

The craters in their lives, the hurts and the heartaches, are important for their spiritual growth and so I must be careful not to be overprotective of them. But I will always be a Jupiter (sharing their hurts, protecting them from catastrophic destruction) in their lives and I pray that my children would “shine like stars in the universe.” (Philippians 2:15).

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A picture at home from that same memorable day! Lindsay still struggles with distractions and unfair expectations, but she thrives when adults are willing to meet her struggles with compassion. When they do, they get to see a beautiful girl, dimples and all!

Impress or Inspire

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Do I do what I do to impress others or to inspire them?

This is a question that I ask frequently of myself. In the past, I have  answered it based on the ways I assumed others would answer it. Did she think I was trying to get attention for myself? Did he think I was trying to prove something? There were aspects of my creativity that I allowed to be stifled as a result of the way I answered these questions.

I have been using the past tense, but the truth is, I still struggle regularly with these issues.

It’s hard to let go of people pleasing ways, especially when you have developed a lifetime habit of seeking to live up to the expectations of others. If I perceive that someone is disappointed with me or if they are annoyed or irritated with something I have done, I have a tendency to isolate myself and not try again. Inevitably, my frustrations will grow, because I blame the other person for misunderstanding my heart and for keeping me from doing the thing I was made to do. Even as I write that down, I recognize the ridiculousness of this reasoning. First off, perceptions are not to be trusted. But secondly, even if someone IS truly bothered by something I have done this should not be the thing that determines what I do or don’t do.

As I have been praying about my one word for the year, submit, I have been deeply challenged to let go of my need to please others and to seek only God’s glory. The question of impress or inspire has to be a heart check rather than a question of what others will think.

The truth is God has given me a passion for life. I love to celebrate anything and everything. I find ways to make even the most mundane things fun. I’m the kind who dances while mopping and wears a tiara when vacuuming. I cry weep when I see a child succeed. I want to support every beautiful cause, be there for every important moment, exuberantly cheer on friends, lavishly love others and live life to the fullest. There are times when I feel like I could just burst with emotion, because of the deep feelings I feel.

The problem is that for the people in my life who don’t understand my personality, there is a tendency to believe that I am competing, trying to be the center of attention or even that my actions are born from insecurity.  For the people pleasing side of myself, this is the worst! I so often feel misunderstood and like I am not good enough. I want to explain why I do what I do, to convince them that this is not an effort to put myself on a pedestal, but that it is actually the personality that God knit into my very being.

But there are some things that can’t be explained and submitting is teaching me that this is okay. Because God does not judge by outward appearance (or by what He sees me do). Instead He judges the heart and so I can trust that if my heart motivation is to bring glory to Him, He will know this and it doesn’t matter what others perceive or assume about me.

The problem is that I can know this in my head, but I hate feeling the disconnect between friends. I love openness and authenticity, but my bruised heart has had to put up guards and boundaries that are completely contrary to my “I want to be best friends with everyone” personality.

Pinterest is one of my favorite social media outlets, because it inspires me and stirs my creative bent. For me, it is not about trying to compete with others or to impress them. It is all about giving an outlet to the creativity that wells up within me. When I get an idea or have a picture in my mind of what I want something to be, it becomes a launching pad for more and more ideas. Birthday parties are a natural opportunity for me to express this creativity and I am so grateful that my children appreciate my creativity. For those who look at Pinterest as a place that is about competing or one upping each other, they will not be able to understand the creatives in their life who simply love to create, because they are inspired and want to inspire others!

Being faithful to who God has made me to be means that I will continue to live with passion, to turn brownies into footballs, to decorate with balloons and streamers, to celebrate others with exuberance and to write in this blog. I’m pretty sure I will always struggle with wanting to please others and feeling upset when I feel a disconnect, but I have an audience of One. And He is the one who answers my heart question of impress or inspire.

 

 

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