Category: parenting

Working Ourselves Out of a Job

I’ve read a lot of parenting books over the last two decades. Why? I had four kids to raise. That’s a lot of opportunity to screw up, and I didn’t want that to happen. In all honesty, I can’t recall a lot of the specific things I’ve read over the years, but there is one thing in particular I read once that has stuck with me. I think it was James Dobson who wrote,

“If you are doing anything for your kids that they can do for themselves (or should be doing for themselves) you are doing them a disservice.”

That hit me hard because I can be that kind of mother. I can be that kind of mother because I have that kind of mother. My mom did absolutely everything for me… And I loved it. When it comes to the people she loves the most, my mom has a servant’s heart. Her acts of service were how she loved on me, and it’s how I love on my people.

So when I read that quote, it struck me right between the eyes. My kids were still small then, but I was doing things for them that they could do for themselves. I tried to stop. It’s hard. I’m that mom. If I am completely honest, I still do things for my kids that they could do for themselves, and I continue to hear James’ words in my ear. I think it was easy for James to say those words because he’s a man. Men are wired differently.

I know we are trying hard to blur the gender lines in society today, but the truth is, men and women are created to be different, and that’s okay.

For instance:

My husband often tells me I coddle our kids too much, and my position is that he’s too hard on them. Wanna know something? We’re both right. But somewhere in the middle of all that is the right balance for our kids. He’s getting them ready for real life, and I’m the soft place they can fall when real life hits them too hard.

That little nugget I learned from Tim Keller’s parenting book called, Grace Based Parenting. Okay. Maybe I remember more than I thought.

I recently sat at a table and listened to some parents of young adults bemoan the fact that their kids were no where near ready to handle adult life on their own. Their kids had no goals, no idea how to handle their finances, and no plan for how to change any of that. It was a source of great concern for those parents.

In that moment, once again,  my husband was a champion to me.

Because of Matthew, our young adult kids are learning to pay bills, live on a budget, save money, give a tithe, use a credit card wisely, and finish college on time while holding down a job. Periodically, he has them write down their future goals… One year, three year, or five year goals.

He teaches them how to care for things they have, and how to handle repairs if something breaks. I can’t say they are always thrilled to learn these practical life lessons, but they are better off because of them.

If it was left up to me, they wouldn’t know any of those things. I’m more of the encouragement, relationships, faith, and character teacher… (In addition to teaching them how to wash clothes, cook a meal, and run a vacuum)

Our kids need all of it to succeed in this life. If any part is missing, they’ll have a rougher time of it. As parents, we can’t throw in the towel before we get them to the finish line. We have to hang in there, even when we are tired and even when they would just rather us not.

I’ll still finish up my kids’ laundry for them rather than making them do it sometimes, and to my husband’s point, I could certainly make them do more around the house.

But just this week, I was going to be delayed getting home one evening which meant I would miss being able to fix dinner. Worried, I said as much to my oldest son who said, “What? Am I six? I can handle dinner, Mom.”

That’s the trouble with raising capable children. You work yourself right out of a job.

The Way We Parent Has a Lot to Say About How We View God

As a young girl, my first ideas of what God was like were connected to my ideas of what my earthly father is like. Because of that, to me, God was interested in me and in the things I was interested in, but he was not too intimately involved in the details. He was always there in a pinch, could fix almost any problem, and always came to my rescue. It was a comfortable, dependable, and fairly predictable relationship. It was very safe. I am thankful for it.

I think girls tend to marry men rather like their fathers. Sometimes that is a good thing, sometimes, not so much. For me, I found the very best of my father in my husband, Matthew. In many ways they are similar, but in others they are very different. Still, it was the qualities I loved most about my dad that first drew me to my husband. I think that is very cool.

I remember one of the first times Matthew rode in my car, he thought he needed to check the oil. (I didn’t know why, something about a pretty yellow light on my dashboard…) He checked it, and apparently I was a quart low. He happened to have a quart on hand, and put it in my car. Just like my dad. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

I have grown in my faith over the years. It has changed the way I see God, and the way I think God sees me. The biggest thing that has changed about the way I view God is that I believe he is more intimately involved in my life than I realized. He’s not watching from a safe distance, ready to jump in and intervene at a moment’s notice, he is right there, close as a breath, all the time. It’s like the old hymn I used to sing,

“He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own…”

I have recently noticed something about the way I parent. I love my parents, and I think they did a stellar job raising me, if I do say so myself, but there are differences in the job they did and the job I think I am doing. My parents often tell me I need to back off a bit in my parenting. They think I might be too intimately involved in my children’s lives. They tell me that my kids will figure most things out on their own, and that I should just be available if they need me. I think they think I meddle. Okay, sometimes I meddle.

But recently, a light bulb went on in my head. My parents parented me according to the way they see God parenting them. I parent my kids the way I see God parenting me. I don’t see God standing at a distance, interested, but just diligently watching. I see him all up in my life, leading, directing, protecting and loving. He talks to me, and I talk to him. I share with him my hopes, dreams, fears, and failures. I am his.

I can’t fathom not being up close and involved with my children. It’s how God parents me and it’s my best example. I want my kids to look at me and Matthew and the way we parent, and realize that’s how God wants to be with them. He wants to be as up close and personal as he can be.

The Bible talks about the spiritual relationship God wants to have with us as being like the physical relationship is between a man and woman in marriage. That’s pretty close. And for a child of God, there can be nothing better than knowing that He wants to be that close.

Take a look back at the way your parents parented you. Do you think it has affected the way you see God and his relationship with you? Does the way you see God influence the way you parent your kids? Is that a good thing for your kids? If not, could it be you need to change the way you see God?

Remember, the way your kids see you may well influence the way they see God.

Are These Kids Listening to Me?

As parents of kids who are getting older, Matthew and I begin to count the days we have left with them in our care. Partly because those days become precious, and partly because you begin to plan the celebration! Just kidding, sort of. The reality is that we are given these kids for only so long and if we do our jobs correctly, they will fly away from the nest and never look back. Except at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And Mother’s Day. They better not forget Mother’s Day.

I’m kidding again. As a parent you hope to always be a small part of your children’s lives, but a lot of that depends on how you raise them. I tell my husband we want to raise our kids in a family they want to be a part of for the rest of their lives. I want them bound to us as their parents and bound to each other. We’ve always told them, “Friends come and go, but your siblings are forever… So treat them better than you treat other people.” This has been an ongoing lesson for our daughter who tends to treat our youngest child more like a pet than a brother.

We’re working on it.

Here are some other things we are working on with our kids.

“It’s only awkward if you let it be.” If you have teens, you know they avoid awkward situations at all costs. Even situations that are not really all that awkward, like me singing in the grocery store, or talking to a complete stranger in the check out line about what they are buying and what they are going to make with all that. Sometimes uncomfortable situations may truly arise, but they are only awkward if you let them be. We face those tight spots with people with as much grace as possible, and move on.

“Say thank you and show gratitude.” Our kids are like most these days and have so much. They get to do so many things. We want our kids to always be thankful and to show their appreciation to those who are generous. Ultimately, we want them to remember that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights…” (James 1:17), and we want them to be thankful to their heavenly Father for all they have.

On that note, remember “If you never ask, the answer is always no.” Sometimes our kids have gone without something simply because they were too afraid to ask for it, or they assumed the answer would be no. As the saying goes, “A closed mouth never gets fed.”

“Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” This was a principle we adopted a while ago, and we have been pleased to see it reinforced by other influences in our kid’s lives. This is a good principle for when they are applying for a job, and trying to keep a job, too. But it reaches much farther than that. It shows that you will do what you say you will do, and that you are honoring the other people to whom you have committed your time. Now, we all run late sometimes, but if we are honest, we run late because we didn’t prepare to not run late. If you do all you can to honor your commitment, and still cannot, then of course, we hope grace will be offered. But running late should be the exception, not their habit.

“Be thrifty, not cheap.” I guess this one should be pretty self-explanatory. Living a life in full time ministry means we were not going to live a life of luxury. But there is a difference between thrifty and cheap, and we have tried to teach our kids that difference.

“Find your passion, and serve God with it.” Whatever gifting and talent we have is only given to us to serve our God and to make him famous. We have tried to help our kids find their passion, each one, and have hopefully shown them how to glorify the Lord through it.

“Don’t be afraid to commit.” We have been heavy on the relationship issues in our house. So many young men these days are afraid of commitment. So many marriage relationships fall apart because there is no real commitment there. Our two older boys have had only a few dating relationships. Our daughter, sixteen, has not yet even had her first date (Her choice). And Evan is still patiently waiting in the wings. Why? It would sound as though they are afraid to commit, when the reality is just the opposite. When our kids start a relationship, it involves our whole family. We all commit to it together. When our kids enter into a dating relationship, we have repeated conversations about where the relationship is going, and how it is going. This level of commitment has surprised a few girls, even scared a few off. But that’s okay, too

Matthew and I hope to send these kids of ours off one day ready to face all kinds of life situations. We are doing all we can to ensure there is no failure to launch among them. Life lessons are important, and we know our time is running short. We are working like a one armed paperhanger to get these lessons, and others, across.

Parents… don’t retire too early. There is still much to do even though our kids think they have it all together. It’s an act. It’s our job to hang in there till the game is over. A lot of us are in that seventh inning stretch, but we’re not quite done yet. You wonder if anything you are teaching them is sticking. You wonder, “Are these kids listening to me?”

Yes. They are.

Preparing for Our Own Empty Nest Day

There are lessons we can learn from the animal kingdom. Like you don’t really have to be able to outrun a grizzly bear. You just need to be able to outrun your friends. It really is survival of the fittest out there.

Elephants are my favorite members of the animal kingdom. It’s not because they are cute. They aren’t. It’s because of the way they treat each other. We could learn a lot from an elephant.

Little animals have much to teach us as well. Take birds for example. When young birds are finally ready to leave the nest, momma just pushes them out. There’s no discussion around the issue. There are no special considerations given to the late hatchers, on Empty Nest Day, everyone goes.

When young mothers first look into the eyes of their new born babies, I would guess very few of them think of pushing that baby out of the nest one day. No, looking into perfect little face, most mothers want to hold onto that tiny one forever. The last thing moms want to consider is pushing that precious darling out into the cold, cruel world.

But smart moms know this one thing. One day that little baby is going to be ready to fly from the nest, and smart moms begin preparing for that day long before it ever comes.

Babies are supposed to be dependent on their parents, completely. Without constant attention, those little bundles of joy would not be long for this world. As parents, we meet each and every need to the best of our abilities. And when we do that, something happens. That little baby grows up.

Raising children who are confident and ready to leave the nest on Empty Nest Day is one of a parent’s primary goals. The alternative is having a forty-year-old adult living in your basement because we never taught them how to fly.

Those flying lessons need to start early. That’s often harder for moms to comprehend than it is for dads. By nature, moms are nurturers. We cling. We hover. We smother

I read somewhere once that if we are doing anything for our children that they can do for themselves, we are doing them a disservice. Ouch. As moms, we often have a servant’s heart when it comes to our families, even if we don’t have it anywhere else. That can really get in the way of teaching our kids to fly.

If you have never watched a momma bird on Empty Nest Day, she can seem a bit cruel. Those baby birds are leaving that day. No negotiations. No moving back into the nest later with baby birds of their own. It’s done. Out, out, out.

But the momma bird is doing what she has to do to ensure that her babies survive. If she let them continue to stay in the nest, and she kept bringing them food, they would soon outgrow her abilities to supply their needs, and they would all die. The babies would die from lack of nutrition and exercise, and the momma bird would die of exhaustion.

So how do we moms learn from that momma bird how to prepare for our own Empty Nest Day? Well, we start the day those little bundles of joy come into our lives. The Lord gives us those children for a limited time. It’s kind of like they are on loan to us. Like everything else we have, those children belong to Him. Oh, they will always be our children, but they will not always be our babies.

There are so many bad things in the world that keep parents from readying their kids to live in it. We are afraid for them. But, what if instead of that viewpoint, we raise kids who say, “Look out cruel world, here I come! I hope you are ready for me!”

What if we raise kids who eagerly look forward to Empty Nest Day? I’m not talking about the rebellious, “I can’t wait to get out from under your thumb” kid, but kids that we have properly groomed to find their intended place and purpose in the world, and are anticipating that day.

The day is drawing closer for our first bird to fly away. He’s not quite ready yet, but he is stretching his wings and checking out the scenery. We are pushing him closer to the edge of the nest, and letting him get a new perspective on the world around him. From this vantage point he is beginning to find his place in society. He is beginning to picture his own life outside of our nest.

If you’ve ever watched baby birds leaving their nest, their first few attempts at freedom from the nest are a bit awkward, but they all get it eventually. And when they do, not a one of them ever looks back because they are ready to be on their own.

It works because the momma bird knows from the beginning that she has only a certain amount of time to get those kids ready to fly, and she doesn’t waste a minute. We can learn a lot from that momma bird.