Friday, July 29, 2011

Listen To The Right Voices

If I could give one piece of parenting advice ever, this would be it: Don’t listen so much to other people’s opinions and methods. If you listen to God, your child, and your own heart, they will tell you what you need. Too often, other people can give you all kinds of messages that get in the way of what God, your child, and your heart are telling you.

That may sound like I’m writing off other people or books about parenting, but that isn’t exactly the case. In fact, other people are necessary for support and encouragement, and books can be excellent resources if used wisely. The problem comes when the opinions presented by other people or books become a parent’s primary way of deciding what to do. First and foremost, listen to God, your own child, and your heart. Putting other voices ahead of these can sometimes lead you down a path that God never intended for you to go, a path that may not actually be the best for your unique child/family, or a path that veers away from what your heart and parental instinct are telling you.

The truth is, no matter what you do (or don’t do), someone is going to say you’re wrong, mock you, or think you’re weird. And no matter what you do (or don’t do), you will probably be able to find someone who thinks it’s great. The opinions of other people vary wildly and are therefore faulty indicators of whether your choices really are the right ones for you and your child. Unfortunately, because so many people are driven by approval, at least to an extent, it is often all too easy to give other people’s opinions a more influential place in our lives than they deserve.

Shutting out the other voices that try to tell us what we “should” do is not always easy. There are so many of those voices that sometimes we mistake them for God or our own heart. Similarly, if enough of the voices are saying the same thing, it’s tempting to allow them to override what we feel our hearts telling us.

Take a deep breath, and momentarily close your eyes and ears to everything but these three things: God, your child, and your heart/parental instincts. Listen to them carefully, and then follow the path that is right for your family and your children. This may look different in some ways, or even in many ways, from what other people around you are doing, but that’s okay. Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all journey; it is a unique and individual journey. Along the way you will come across people, books, and other resources that encourage you, and that’s great! Just don’t allow them to start dictating your path for you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What a Terrible Mom!

On a hot summer day, I arrived at the McDonald’s indoor playground. All week, it had been too hot out for this pregnant momma and her two kids, so I decided lunch and indoor playtime was in order. So off to McDonald’s we went.

As we ate and the kids went to play, I noticed the other people in the room.

Nearby was the mom whose daughter wasn’t allowed to have a happy meal or a soft drink. A few tables down was the mom with at least five kids, and from the looks of it, perhaps more. Sitting with her was the woman whose baby lay in an infant carseat while drinking its bottle. And there was also the mom whose two year old was allowed to drink a sweet tea. (That last one was me.)

So, according to the hierarchy of mommy judgment, where do we all rank? I thought it over and decided I would probably rank myself somewhere below “no happy meal” mom because of what I was letting my kids eat and drink. I also decided I’d probably land below “mom of 5+ kids” because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the energy or patience to bring five children to a McDonald’s playplace. Or perhaps anywhere. ;)

But I do breastfeed my babies and carry them instead of bringing them inside in carseats, so does that mean I rank above the “bottle and carseat” mom? Some people might say yes. (I don’t think that, for the record!)

Then again, we were all sitting in a McDonald’s playplace, so that kind of puts us all at the bottom of the list compared to the all-organic non-consumerism types who would never step foot in McDonald’s, right?

Of course, this whole ranking system is completely ridiculous. The truth is, none of us rank above or below anyone else. And yet, as parents, at some point each and every one of us have been been judged or have judged others. We find ourselves self-consciously looking around the room, trying to figure out exactly how we stack up and whether we’re doing okay.

Interestingly, as the time at McDonald’s went on, I discovered that the “mom of 5+ kids” and the “bottle and carseat” woman were there together and were babysitters. Some of the children may have indeed been theirs, but many were not.

And that’s a perfect example of why it’s unwise to judge someone based on a snippet of their life that you just happened to glimpse. You just don’t know other people’s situations. Here are some real-life examples for you: Maybe you’re a breastfeeder and the woman you’re judging is bottlefeeding her adopted baby. Maybe you’re a babywearer and the mom you’re judging for bringing her baby inside in its carseat is battling depression and it was a major accomplishment for her to get out the door that day and come out in public. Maybe the mom being harsh in the store has had a very stressful day– perhaps she’s going through a divorce or there’s been a death in the family, or she’s just tired and at her wit’s end that day. For that matter, maybe the kid who’s throwing a tantrum in the store isn’t a spoiled brat with permissive parents; perhaps he’s overtired, has sensory issues, or is hungry. Maybe the couple who doesn’t have children is dealing with infertility or repeat miscarriages. Maybe the couple with more kids than you would ever personally want to have is absolutely in love with their family and wants to continue adding to it.

And maybe not. But you don’t know. And you aren’t entitled to know, either. You are not entitled to know someone’s story in order to decide whether or not to judge them. 

What good does it do to judge people anyway (whether silently or aloud)? What good does it do to glare, roll your eyes, or shake your head in disapproval? (Non-verbal judgment, loud and clear!)
Instead, why not offer a smile or a kind comment, or even take time to strike up a friendly conversation? Love for others is sometimes that simple. As Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

So forget about this parenting hierarchy junk. Quit making snap judgments. Stop comparing yourself to others and trying to figure out where you, and they, rank on some imaginary chart. We all have our own stories, struggles, motives, and choices. And we all could use a little more love and a little less judgment.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Life With a Little One: Bedtime Routine Chart

I read about this in The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers, and I thought it was a really great idea. Obviously, having a bedtime routine is a good idea; kids like the predictability of knowing what’s coming next, and it’s helpful for parents to have a routine to follow too.

But the idea here goes beyond simply having a bedtime routine. With the bedtime routine chart, it’s written down in a place where your child can see it and illustrated with pictures so they can understand it (especially helpful if your child can’t read yet). The book suggests either cutting out pictures from magazines to correspond with each bedtime routine activity or using pictures of your own child.

I decided to use pictures of our 2 year old because I think it personalizes things a bit for him to see himself and his familiar environment on our chart.

It was very easy to do. First we had to come up with a routine that works for us (something we hadn’t been doing very well up to this point). Then I just took pictures, got some poster board, cut the pictures down so they were all about the same size, and glued them to the poster board in the right order. Beside each picture is a brief description of what we do. I love that having this visual will also help with understanding numbers and sequencing (pre-math and pre-reading skills). Learning experiences are cool. ;)

Here’s the finished product:

Bedtime Routine Chart

We’ve had the chart for a week now, and our 2 year old loves it. Within a couple days, he was “reading” the chart to us by pointing at each picture and telling us what was happening. If I ask him what 1 is, he says “bath.” Pretty neat!

By the way, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers is full of awesome ideas. Creating a bedtime routine, gently helping children learn to fall asleep on their own, teaching kids to stay in their own beds at night, and solving all kinds of other common sleep problems for kids ages 1-5… it’s all in this book. It’s an invaluable resource for parents of toddlers and preschoolers, in my opinion. There is also a version for babies under the age of 1, called The No-Cry Sleep Solution. :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Some Things Are Personal

People love to speculate about what the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” may have been. We see someone as influential as Paul and we cannot help but wonder what weakness or temptation he regularly struggled with. I think perhaps it makes us feel a little more “okay” to know that someone like Paul struggled just as much as we do. It means we’re all human.

I have wondered why Paul never specified what his struggle was. But as I reflected on my own experiences, it began to make a bit more sense to me. There are plenty of things that I’ve struggled with that I am very open about. I certainly never want to give the impression that I’ve got it all figured out. And as I read Paul’s writings, it seems that there were some things in his life that he was very open about as well.

But there was that one thing, the “thorn in the flesh,” that was not shared openly other than to say that it was there. And I can definitely understand that. You see, there is something in my life that I’ve struggled with for quite some time now, something that only my husband and three very close friends have ever heard me speak of in a specific, detailed way. Why? Because it’s personal. Because I’m ashamed of it. Because I’m afraid of what people would say if they knew. Because I’m afraid I would lose friends. Because it’s not always wise to share the details of your biggest struggle with anyone and everyone.

Paul’s struggle may not have been similar to mine (or who knows, maybe it was!). Perhaps, like me, he had a close friend or two who knew what his “thorn” was. But he did not have to share it publicly if he didn’t feel like he had a very good reason to do so. Some things are just personal, and it’s okay to keep them that way.

So that’s my theory on why Paul never specified his struggle in his writings. Can you think of any other possible reasons for this?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Impostor

Sometimes I have conversations with myself in my head. Weird? Perhaps. But hopefully slightly less weird than having them aloud. In public.

Anyway, I had one of those conversations recently. I was telling myself that I feel like such a hypocrite sometimes. I can’t understand how I can have the heartfelt conversations I have about God, and truly believe the things I say I believe, and yet simultaneously struggle with some of the things I struggle with. I feel like the darker side is the real me, and the faithful side is an impostor and a liar. And one of these days, everyone is going to realize it and I’ll be exposed for the hypocrite I am.

And then I answered my own complaint in a way I had never considered before.

“The side of you that you don’t like, that you’re ashamed of, that struggles with temptation and sin– that is the part of you that is an impostor. That part is the liar. The faithful part– that part is the authentic you.”

How can that possibly be true? I wondered. And another answer came. “The old has gone. The new has come. You have been made new; you have been redeemed.”

My soul is clean. I have been made new. Yes, there is a sinful part of me, a dark side. But it is not the authentic me; it is not who I was created to be. It is the impostor and liar, and it is not what I should ever allow to control me. I should not let it stop me from sharing my faith and worshiping God.
I read a quote recently that went along beautifully with these thoughts of mine, so I just want to close with it:
As a former seminary professor of mine once reflected, “Anyone who articulates the gospel articulates it as a hypocrite, someone who is trying to live it out but failing.” Except for Christ.

Monday, July 18, 2011

This Is Grace

I tossed and turned in bed, feeling discouraged. It seemed that I was always fighting this battle. Sometimes I thought I had finally won, only to have the struggles creep back in just when I thought everything was going well. And that night, frustrated, I told God that I don’t want to fight this battle again. I’m exhausted and weary.

And I felt this answer: “Stop fighting on your own. Let me fight it for you. This is grace.

Grace. Unmerited favor. God sees that we cannot possibly meet his standards on our own, and rather than leaving us to fight it out, strive to do better, and fail over and over… he has offered a way for the standard to be met through him. All the striving and trying to be perfect is out the window; we are free to have a relationship with him based on his love and grace, not our own ability and performance.

I can’t fight the battles on my own. And the amazing thing is, God doesn’t expect me to.

This is grace.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Guilt and Shame

In current Christian culture, I have observed quite a bit of guilt and shame used to attempt to motivate people to do more. We are constantly reminded of how blessed we are in America and how we should be doing more and giving more to help others. And that may be true, but wrapping up the truth in a package of shame is not an effective way to move toward long-term change on a heart level. Guilt and shame may temporarily motivate people to outward action, but they are not pathways to long-term inner change.

All too often, Christian culture will tell you that unless you’re giving up everything and dedicating your life to going overseas and ministering to people, you aren’t doing enough. There is this misconception that anything less than that is selfish.

For example, there are some who will criticize the act of giving money to organizations that help people. They would say that by doing something so small and “sterile,” you are really just refusing to actually get your hands dirty and help people in a hands-on way. In other words, you can walk away feeling good about yourself for “helping” without actually having to help. This attitude really bothers me. Giving financially to an organization absolutely does require real sacrifices for many people. And for some people, going to help in a more hands-on way may not be feasible, for a variety of legitimate reasons.

Unfortunately, even those who are able to help people in a more hands-on way are not immune to the guilt and shame critics will heap upon them. Short-term missions trips get their fair share of criticism. I have heard it said that people just go out of the country for a week or two to satisfy their selfish desires and to travel, and then they can come home and pat themselves on the back for all the good they’ve done. Meanwhile, the people they helped are still suffering and just have people revolving in and out with no permanency.

How is it encouraging to say that it is not enough to make sacrifices in order to give money or to help others in a hands-on way? Certainly if a person is being called to something more and is attempting to ignore it or satisfy the calling with a little money or a two-week trip, then yes, for them that is wrong. For them, it’s not enough because it’s not what they are actually being called by God to do. But to generalize that to everyone who gives money or goes on short-term trips is also wrong. It is not our place to tell others what God is calling them personally to do.

The church can encourage generosity and love without heaping pressure and shame on people. Sometimes I wonder if we start thinking that God isn’t doing a good enough job of changing people’s hearts and so we jump in and try to do that for him. Unfortunately, we often mess it up when we start trying to do that. Instead of making people feel as though they aren’t doing enough by giving money or going on short-term trips, let’s encourage people to listen to God and do whatever he is telling them to do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Too often, when I hear stories that break my heart, I let the brokenness fade without ever doing anything about it. While it is tempting to chalk it up to pure selfishness, I honestly think there is so much more to it than that. I’ve been able to identify a few different reasons that I do this, and I’d like to explore some of them here.

As I become more aware of the needs and suffering in the world, it is very easy for me to become emotionally overwhelmed. I mentioned in my last post that I’m a fixer and an empathizer; when I am aware of a need, I tend to feel it deeply and desperately want to fix it. And because there are so many needs in the world, it is impossible for anyone to fix them on their own. For that matter, on my own, I may not be able to completely fix even one thing. I am only one person who is already stretched in many different directions.

A feeling of helplessness follows closely behind feeling overwhelmed. Too much is broken; there are too many people suffering all over the world. And I begin to feel as though anything I can do still isn’t enough. It feels like a tiny drop in a vast ocean of need, and I wonder if the small contributions I could make will actually be able to help anyone in any way. Unfortunately, I have learned that this doubt is all too often reinforced by Christian culture, ironically in an attempt to motivate people to do more. I have a lot to say about this, but I’ll save it for the next post. I don’t want this one to get too long. ;)

Have you ever insulated yourself from the suffering of others because you felt overwhelmed or helpless?

Monday, July 11, 2011


As I listened to Amanda’s words, one heartbreaking story after another, something inside me silently cried out, “Please stop. Don’t say any more. This is too much. It hurts too much.” But her words kept coming, just as they should. She sat in front of the group gathered at church, showing pictures and telling stories of the time she spent in Uganda ministering to children. And as heartbreaking as some of the stories were, they need to be told. People need to be aware.

I realized that for me, at least, it is far too easy to insulate myself from the things that are happening in other places in the world. When I come across stories online or on the news, I may pause for a moment and think about how sad a particular situation is, but it is so hard to wrap my mind around. It seems so far away, and so far removed from my daily reality, that it is sometimes hard to imagine that it’s actually real.

But these stories weren’t coming from an online article or a news broadcast. They were coming from someone in my own little world, someone I see on a regular basis, someone who has recently gone to Uganda and has seen these things firsthand. She has held the hands of children whose situations I cannot even begin to comprehend.

And I feel so broken, so shattered inside. What can I do? Can I even do anything that is actually helpful? Will I? Or will I, once again, let it all fade as my attention returns to my normal daily life?
I am the type of person who desperately wants to fix every need I see. I am empathetic and very much a feeler, and stories like the ones I heard absolutely wreck me emotionally. I want to fix things, and I feel so overwhelmed and helpless. It doesn’t help that I have seen a lot of guilt and shame perpetuated within Christian circles when it comes to situations like this, often in well-meaning attempts to get people to do more.

I have a lot of thoughts about feeling helpless and about guilt and shame that I’d like to explore further, but they don’t really belong in this post. I do think they’re strongly related to my tendency to insulate myself so it doesn’t hurt so much, though, which is why I bring them up here. I hope to explore these topics in my next couple of posts.

Until then, I will leave you with this question: When you hear stories that break your heart, do you let the brokenness fade? Why?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Love and Grace are Not Permissive

In my last post, I talked about reflecting God’s love and grace in parenting. That all sounds very good, and I think it is very good; after all, how can treating our children the way God treats us be a bad thing? But it also raises questions– questions that I think are legitimate.

Most parents know that permissiveness is not something to strive for. And when someone starts talking about the role of love and grace in parenting, it can cause people to freak out a little bit. “Love and grace? That sounds permissive. What about setting limits and enforcing consequences?”

Here’s the thing. If you read my last couple of posts, you know that I’m coming from the perspective of reflecting God’s love and grace in our relationships with everyone we encounter, and I certainly think this should include our children. So let me ask you this: is God is a permissive God?

My answer is no, of course not! The fact that he is a God of love and grace certainly does not mean that he isn’t firm or that he doesn’t set limits or that he doesn’t enforce consequences. If parents fail to set limits, are not firm when the situation calls for it, and never allow their children to experience consequences, that isn’t parenting with the love and grace of God.

But let’s be honest: it can be really, really difficult to figure out how to be firm, set limits, and enforce consequences in a way that reflects love and grace. I know that is a challenge for me! I am too quick to become punitive sometimes; at other times, it is easy to err on the side of permissiveness. I’ve talked to many parents, and I think this is something a lot of people struggle with– sometimes we end up swinging back and forth from permissive to punitive in our attempt to find the right balance of firm but gentle parenting.

I guess this is the part of the post where I’m supposed to give you my answers. I’m supposed to tell you how to determine how to disciple children with love, grace, limits, and firmness, without ever becoming too permissive or too punitive. Right?

The only answers I can give you are the ones I keep coming back to in my own life. Personally, I am trying to get to know God better, draw closer to him, and reflect on how he disciples me. I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer, asking him to help me see my children the way he sees them and to help me show them his love and grace. I’ve been asking God to help me lead my children in a way that reflects him, and to teach them patiently. I also try to know each of them individually and parent them as the unique people they are. And I have been learning more about positive parenting; there are several excellent books with ideas for parenting in a way that is both firm and positive. Let me know if you’d like any recommendations. And, for me, it has been huge to remember that I am not going to get it right all the time because I am human too and I’m still learning. Thankfully, God has patience and grace for my screw-ups, and he continues to lead me gently on this journey (which has been a beautiful parenting lesson in itself for me).

I am so thankful that God disciples me with love and grace. And I think you can rest assured that endeavoring to show God’s love and grace in the way you parent is not permissive. :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Love and Grace in Parenting

In my last post, I talked about the transforming love of God. As a follower of Christ, I am called to show God’s love to others in how I interact with them. And because “other people” also include my children, this causes me to evaluate how I parent them.

Recently I was reminded of something very important: my children are not “mine;” they are God’s, and he has entrusted them to me. What an awesome, and very serious, responsibility. It is not something to be taken lightly. I am to guide them and to show them who God is. And if it’s true that people see God through our love, certainly that must also apply when the people in question are the children God has given me!

I take my role as a parent seriously. As God disciples me, so I want to disciple my children. I don’t want to rely on fear-based motivation to get my children to do what I think is right, because this is not how God disciples me. I want to introduce them to the love of God, the only power that can actually transform them from the inside.

The interesting thing to me about this is that it is not within my power as a human being to transform the heart of anyone else– and that includes the hearts of my children. (And, actually, Christians can get ourselves into some dangerous territory really fast if we start thinking it is our responsibility, or even within our power, to change people’s hearts.) I can, however, show them God’s love and grace in how I treat them, and I believe God will use his love to transform them as he sees fit. Therefore, my role as a parent is about so much more than shaping outward behavior; I am responsible for treating my children in a Godly way, reflecting God’s love and grace in my interactions with them. In fact, that is the responsibility of all Christ-followers in our interactions with other people, whether they are adults or children.

And so I attempt to treat other people, including my children, the way God treats me– with love and grace. Do I slip up sometimes? Yes, of course. More often than I’d like. I’m human. I am incapable of showing perfect love (defined in 1 Corinthians using words like “patient” and “kind”) because I am not perfect. And the beauty of it all is this– when I mess up, when I do the very things God would not want me to do, when I fail to love as he loves me… God continues to disciple me in love and grace!  Even this is a beautiful reminder of how I am being called to treat my children when they mess up.

The love of God transforms people’s hearts in a way that fear never can. Fear may shape people’s outward behavior, but it cannot change their hearts. Only love– only God– can do that. This is something so important to me in my role as a parent.

You may be thinking, “This ‘parenting with love and grace’ stuff sounds good– but doesn’t it really turn out to be nothing but permissive parenting?” The short answer is no; showing the love and grace of God has nothing to do with being permissive. I’ll address this topic further in my next post. :)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Love Transforms

At church on Sunday, we talked about God, fear, and love. James pointed out that fear certainly motivates people– it motivates us to strive and do everything in our power to get things right. But love transforms. Love is what makes it possible for real change to happen on the inside. One of my favorite scriptures was used; it is part of a beautiful passage in 1 John about the love of God. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

For probably all of human history, people have used fear to motivate others, and I’m sure we have all been motivated by fear ourselves. But fear is a horrible basis for a relationship with God, or with anyone else, for that matter. God disciples us and transforms us with his love, not with the fear of punishment. Read that passage again: There is no fear in love… for fear has to do with punishment. 
It seems to me that when scripture tells us such things about God, his character, and how he disciples us, we should sit up and take note. Because just as God treats us, so are we to treat others. 1 John also says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us.” When we allow our treatment of others to reflect the love God has shown us, people see God through us.

This is a great reminder of how to relate to the people we encounter and/or have relationships with throughout life. Love others. Reflect the love that God has shown us. Relate to people through love, rather than trying to motivate or influence them through fear. In a way, it reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the man whose enormous debts were forgiven, yet this man who was forgiven so much went out and demanded smaller debts from others. He did not treat others with the same amazing forgiveness and mercy he himself had been given. If God has given us mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love, how can we justify treating others with anything less?

As Christians, our responsibility is not to try to change other people’s hearts through fear; it is to draw close to God, to show the love of God to others, and to allow the fruit of the Spirit to be reflected in our words and actions.

When scripture talks about how followers of Christ are to treat others, I always consider what this means for me as a parent in my relationship with my children. In my next post, I’ll talk more about my thoughts on the transforming love of God and how that relates to my role as a parent.