Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What Really Matters

Little man was very upset. He didn't like it that his mommy and daddy said no more tv for the rest of the day. He felt like screaming. In fact, he did start screaming. The screaming hurt mommy's and daddy's ears, so mommy carried him into his room to finish screaming. She didn't leave him in there by himself, though. She stayed in the room with him. She spoke softly to him, with words of understanding. She gave him a back rub. Little man calmed down and began enjoying the back rub. Then his mommy told him that sometimes God tells her to do something that she doesn't like. She shared with him how she tells God how she feels, and asks for His help to do the right thing. Then she asked if he wanted to hear a story. "Yes, mommy!" little man exclaimed, always ready for a story. So mommy proceeded to tell him the story of Jonah, a prophet who did not want to do what God told him to. Little man listened with rapt attention.

As mommy recounted the way that Jonah ran from God, but God knew where He was the whole time, how God showed Jonah and the people of Nineveh grace, how God wants us to simply listen to what He says, and to trust Him, even if we don't like it, she realized something important: we mommies and daddies can sometimes place too much importance on our parenting methods. But,in the end, what will really stick with our children?

If parenting is about the heart, then we need to focus the majority of our time with our children dwelling on things that will stick with them throughout their lives. And what will stick better than those stories spoken out of God's mouth, penned by the God-followers of old? Stories that will remind them of truth, of God's grace, of the fact that the doorway to heaven stands open to them because of the precious gift of Jesus.

We need to recount truth-filled stories to our children. I am reminded of God's instructions to the Israelites: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) 

God gave these instructions to them so that they would not forget Him when they were dwelling in comfort in the Promised Land. He wanted the Israelites to talk to their children about Him when they were sitting, walking, lying down, and waking up...in other words, over and over again, all day long.

Are we filling our ears and those of our children with truth, with stories and truth from God all day long? Or are we spending all of our time and energy focused on a method, worried when our children misbehave or don't fit a certain mold, fearing that they won't turn out unless we do this or that?

Let's give our children the timeless gift of God's truth during this New Year that is swiftly approaching, and throughout all the years to follow.

Merry Christmas, dear fellow mommas! Let's keep Jesus' precious gift to us the focus of our momming!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Parenting Through Changes

We moved recently. And not just across town. We moved from the southernmost tip of Texas to mid-Tennessee. We moved as an act of faith, believing that God wants us in Tennessee to help out with a mission that is just starting up.

We suspected that the move would be hard on our children, and, while it was also fun and exciting, our sweet three-and-a-half year old son and our precious, very active nine-month-old baby girl (who hates her car seat, incidentally) went through some major upheaval. I realized through this move how hard it is to take my children on journeys that are sure to be fraught with hardships. Radical faith is not as romantic as some would have us to believe. But without radical faith in a radical God, life would be so empty. I want my children to grow up seeing that while life may be hard, God is an always-faithful Father, the Father who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. The Father who will never ever let us down.

But this move has been tough in many ways. First, our son spent the final day of our road trip with a high fever and nausea (and yes, he did puke all over the moving truck). Then, right after we finished unloading the moving truck, the baby and I came down with the same mysterious sickness.

After about a week, we were all on the mend. And that is when the wild emotions kicked in, for all of four of us. My husband and I felt confused, disoriented, and tired. Baby girl was fussy fussy fussy. And little man threw tantrums like none we have ever seen before. We questioned our parenting. What had we done wrong?  And then, my wise husband said, "You know, maybe he just feels as lost and confused as we do, and he doesn't know how to express his feelings." That statement put our entire family on the road to healing, as husband and I turned to God's grace, and realized that this was our chance to pour out His grace toward our son.

What did this look like?

-Lots of hugs, lots of verbalizing feelings for our son

-Refusing to be embarrassed by our sons little bits misbehavior, realizing that he felt out of control

-Establishing a routine (will do a post on this one soon)

-Letting our son see us turn towards God when we were struggling

-Spending time enjoying and playing with our children

Our little guy also became quite aggressive after the move. It seemed that he was taking out his frustrations on his baby sister. Husband and I had an earnest talk one night, in which we decided on a plan to help our son realize that, while he was allowed to have his feelings, he was not allowed to hurt his sister. Every time he screamed at her, pinched her, or tried to kick her, we implemented "you hit, you sit," except we used his big, soft bed in the room as the place for him to sit. We said these words each time, "Uh, oh, you may not hurt your sister. When you are ready to treat her kindly, you may come out of your room." Key to this, was to not shame, scold, lecture or punish. We simply wanted our son to see that he could control his actions toward his sister. It was beautiful to see our little guy begin to treat his sister with respect; and to see him grow in the realization that he could control himself.

I want all of my blog readers to know that I plan to post more frequently in the future, and I also plan to revamp my blog soon to include pictures and be more friendly to read.

Grace truly covers a multitude of sins. May we revel in God's grace daily, clinging to Him as we press on towards the finish line.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Genuine Obedience

Little man was playing with daddy yesterday. I smiled as I overheard their conversation:

Daddy: "We will play with your train set, but first I want you to clean up these toys."
Little man: "Okay, daddy. Okay. I will clean them up right now."

I smiled because we have never forced our son to say, "Okay," when we make a request of  him. Yes, when we have a specific request we make sure that we follow through, that our request gets headed, that our words have meaning. And our little guy does not always say, "okay," when we ask something of him. Sometimes, our requests make him upset.

So hearing, "Okay, daddy. I will," just melts our hearts. Why? Because it is a response to us that comes straight from the heart of our precious child. It is a response that we did not force or manipulate. It is a response based on our child's love for us.

That being said, I wish to clarify before going any further that my children are human. I am not any more shocked when they mess up, then when I myself do. My husband and I are not aiming to grow children who are models of exemplary behavior. We are aiming to raise children who understand that God's grace in Christ covers all our sins; children who understand that Jesus wants us to have an authentic relationship with Him.

Philippians 2:5-8 describes true obedience as exemplified by Christ himself: 

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,  who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

The beauty of Jesus' obedience here? His obedience was a choice. It was a choice for Him to humble himself. It was a choice for Him to sacrifice His life for us. God did not say, "Jesus, you are my beloved son, so I am going to force you to obey, because that is the right thing for you to do." No, Jesus had a perfect, intimate relationship with God; He was God; yet, He chose obedience.

You see, integral to genuine obedience is choice. When we force our children to "hop to it" and do what we say, or else, we teach them to comply. Many children are labeled as obedient because they immediately, without question, do what their parents tell them to do; I would label these children as "compliant," because they are doing what their parents tell them to in order to a)avoid punishment and b)avoid parental disapproval. 

That is not to say that I don't help my son comply with my requests. I choose to do this without the use of punishments of any type. But, to keep my children safe, to teach them to become responsible citizens, I require compliance, with the offer of help if they are having trouble complying on their own.

Yet, this leads to the question of our ultimate goal as parents: is it to have children who are compliant, or children who understand what it means to genuinely obey from the heart? Many times throughout the Bible, the following phrase is used: "the obedience of faith." It provides a wonderful example of what genuine obedience erupts from. When we choose to believe what God says, when we choose to trust Him, we are exhibiting the obedience of faith. And what brings us to this obedience? It is a confidence that God can be trusted; that in His very nature, He is good. It is a confidence that what He says is true. It is an assurance that we are perfectly accepted in the Beloved. It is the rest that is found in knowing that we do not need to do anything to please God, because Christ did it all, and we are hidden in Him.

God NEVER uses force, fear, or coercion, though He has every right to, to get us to trust Him. Instead, He first restores relationship with us through Jesus. Then He invites us to daily walk in that relationship, which involves the obedience of faith.

As we care for, protect, guide, nurture, and correct our children, we must remember that our job as parents is not to somehow force our children to obey (though we often graciously help them to comply).

You see, obedience is a choice, a decision, that God wants our children to make on their own; devoid of any coercion on our parts. Children are told to obey their parents in both Ephesians and Colossians. We as parents need to recognize that obedience to us is something that God asks our children, not us, to accomplish. We also need to ask ourselves if our behavior toward our children invites them into a freedom-filled relationship with us; a relationship based on grace; a relationship in which obedience spontaneously erupts from a heart of love. We need to make sure that we are not parenting to impress others with our compliant children. 

As our Father has so tenderly extended His love toward us, let us in turn reciprocate this love to our children. It may make our parenting look more messy than some, but for me, this messiness is worth the end product: children who understand obedience as a choice, and choose to obey anyways.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Swiftly Approaching Disequilibrium

fI love these books by Louise Bates Ames & Frances L. Ilg in which they describe the development and behavior of different age groups. Here is the description of the three year old on the back cover of Your Three-Year-Old Child: "A three-year-old child is a real puzzle to parents, sometimes anxious to please and befriend, sometimes strong-willed and difficult to get along with. At the heart of the three-year-old's personality is often an emotional insecurity--and this causes a host of problems for parents!"

The first chapter of the book describes the three-year-old as easy-going and eager-to-please. Then, it describes an interesting phenomenon: at three and a half, the child undergoes a period of disequilibrium. Other Ames & Ilg development books describe how, usually at half ages, children undergo periods of emotional, physical, and behavioral "rockiness". This period is usually followed by a period of peace and stability. Here are some characteristics of three-and-a-half year old disequilibrium: "Refusing to obey is perhaps the key aspect of this turbulent, troubled period in the life of the young child....he strengthens this will by going against whatever is demanded of him.... (5)," "...characteristically inwardized, insecure, anxious, and, above all, determined and self-willed....The three-and-a-half-year-old child seems emotionally very insecure from the word go...(6)," "....stuttering...tensional outlets....vision, too, may pose special problems...emotional insecurity....sometimes it almost seems that nothing pleases...(7,8)."

When Aydon turned three, I immediately read and reread this Ames & Ilg book dedicated to three year olds. I do not follow all the discipline advice in the book, but I appreciate the description of age-appropriate behavior; it helps me be patient and understanding when my little guy has trouble.

At three, Aydon was so happy and easy to manage that I thought perhaps at three-and-a-half he would be an exception to the "rule". I am beginning to believe otherwise! Aydon is not three and a half yet, but he is almost there. Little three-and-a-half year old behaviors are manifesting themselves. Yesterday, at supper, he screamed, "Don't look at me!" to his dad, and then a few seconds later, sweetly offered to share some of his food with said longsuffering daddy.

But that is not all that happened yesterday! Earlier in the day, at the end of a long grocery-shopping trip, as I was sighing with relief and feeling proud because baby was sleeping peacefully on my bosom in the sling and Aydon was cheerful and visiting with me from the front seat of the cart, I encountered some astonishing behavior that ushered me swifty into the world of three-and-a-half. It all started with a small dollar-bill-like slip of paper that children are given at the checkout. It is called an HEBuddy buck; children place it in a kiddie slot machine located at the store exit, in exchange for stickers. Now, usually the cashier gives Aydon several said "bucks." But today, Aydon received only one. Being that Aydon was holding the buck, I thought that he realized he only had ONE to spend. I scooped Aydon out of the cart and set him in front of the machine. He skillfully fed the buck into the slot, and withdrew his sticker. "Ok, let's go home!" I cheerfully exclaimed, feeling like a GREAT momma (keep in mind that this slot machine is at the exit to the store; in other words, the kids using the machine are on display in front of all shoppers checking out). And that is where the trouble began...as I lifted Aydon back into the cart, he loudly declared, "No!!! I don't wanna ride in the cart! AAAAHHHH! I want another HEBuddy buck!!" (flailing and ruckus ensue). A grandma nearby, seeing my son's distress, offered him an extra buck (grrr...um, thank you, grandma). Foolishly, I took my screaming child out of the card and let him use the next buck. Then, as I lifted him back into the cart, drama ensued once more (oh, at this point he was also holding some pamphlets he had grabbed off a shelf), "NOOOO! I don't want to ride in the cart!" I finally managed to get him seated, upon which he angrily threw the pamphlets to the floor. Once again, foolishly, I lifted my boy out of the cart, growling, stifling my embarrassment, "Oh, no, Aydon, we need to clean these up." I held his hand and walked him to the pamphlets, placing one in his hand. "No! I can do it myself," exclaimed my suddenly-maniacal child, dislodging his hand from mine, and running like a madman toward the front door. At the last minute, he veered away, then made a wide arch towards the pamphlet stand, tossing the pamphlet onto it. And yes, horror of horrors, before I could get a grip on things, he repeated this with each of the other three pamphlets. Finally, I managed to grabbed my son and lifted him back into the cart. There was some good that came out of this: my son and I had an excellent and bonding conversation about the importance of listening to mommy on the way home.

As I reflected on the grocery store experience, I came to a startling realization: three-and-a-half is swiftly upon us. So, here are some decisions I am making in regards to how I want to handle things:

     1) As one of my sweet readers pointed out: parent by the Spirit. Allow Him to control me. When a situation presents itself, take a deep breath, recognize that I do not have to let sin (anger, etc) control me, and allow the Spirit produce his fruit in my life (gentleness, patience, self-control, etc).

     2) Revert to a main strategy used at two and a half, namely, remain near my child at all times, enforcing rules through swift, kind, firm action. For example, he absolutely must hold my hand in the parking lot, he will ride in the cart at the store, and if I make a request, I will stand near him so as to ensure that my request is heeded. This is because I realize that my son's inner world is rocky and out of sorts right now, and he needs stability in his outer world because he will have more trouble controlling himself than he used to.

    3) Spend a lot of time outdoors, engaged in free play. Limit television, which winds little man up. Provide my precious child with a routine that is not too rigid, yet allows life to feel somewhat structured.

   4) Remember that aberrant behavior is the result of inward upheaval, respond with compassion, don't take things personally, and recall how quickly this stage will pass, therefore enjoying each moment, whether easy or difficult to navigate.

Most of all, I want to remember that love and grace trump all other actions and attitudes, for my own Heavenly Father is constantly pouring out His love and grace on this often-crazily-behaved momma, as He gently reminds me that I need Him to take control, lead, and guide me at all times!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Al Naturale

I was watching a TV show last night, which featured a large family. One of the children had written on the counter with marker, and the mom immediately marched her five littles in and demanded to know who the culprit was. Of course, none of the children would fess up, so all five had to stand in the utility room, noses to the wall, for four minutes (one minute per year of age). When the time was up, the mom explained to her children what they had done wrong, again, and sent them off to play. Now, I am not criticizing this mother...she clearly loved her children, but I do think she could have employed a different method. I noticed the sad looks on the children's faces after time-out, the look of children who are so sorry to have disappointed their mommy, so sad that their behavior forced her to punish them: the look of  shame. I know from experience that long after a punishment has been implemented, the punishee (forgive me for coining a word here) worries that the punisher is unhappy with her/him, and also that the punishment is often more recollected by the punishee than the "crime" itself. 

I posit that natural-like consequences would have been much more effective in this situation. The goal of Christian discipline, I believe, is to teach, correct and guide. So, when we discipline our children, we should ensure that our method will teach our children without shaming them. In the instance of the marker, the mom in question's goal was to teach her children not to write on counter tops. Why not invite them all into the kitchen, show them the marker stain, and then calmly declare, "Uh, oh, marker on the counter. Marker is only for paper. We need to clean this off."? Then, she could have handed her children each a rag, or a scrub brush, and let them work the marker off, possibly lending a hand here and there. This would need to be done without shaming comments, lectures, or angry words. In fact, it would be fine if, in the course of the consequence, the children actually had fun!! This way, the mom's role is not that of a judge who sentences her children and then carries out the sentence, but, rather, her role would be that of a kind teacher who offers her children the chance to correct and learn from mistakes.

Yesterday, little man wanted his daddy to play with him before work. Daddy informed him that he would play, after little man cleaned up the play dough he had been playing with. Little man did not want to clean up his play dough. Daddy warned him that the longer it took for him to clean up, the less time he would be able to play with little man, as he had to go to work. Little man started running around the room, playing with other toys. We informed him that he could either sit on the couch and rest (since he said he was too tired to clean up his play dough), or he could go ahead and clean up his mess. Little man opted to sit on the couch for a loooong time. Finally, he got up and cleaned up his play dough. Then he looked expectantly at daddy: "Play with me, daddy!" Daddy looked at his watch, and said, "All right, but I can only play for five minutes, and then I have to get ready for work." Little man accepted this, though he was a bit sad when his daddy had to leave to get ready for work. This is an example of a natural consequence in action. I believe that this is one of the most effective ways of teaching our children. Little man learned a bit about using his time wisely; he learned the reason why listening to what we say and doing it right away can have rewards (more time to play). He learned that he is responsible for his own behavior, and the consequences thereof. Never once did we have to shame, lecture, or punish. We did not have to stress out over our son's behavior--the choice and the consequences thereof, good or bad, were up to him.

This is really how God disciplines His children: His aim is to teach us, not to punish us. If in doubt, read Hebrews 11 and 12. Read the book of James. What do these books show is the purpose of discipline and trials in the Christian life? The purpose is to train His children, sometimes to correct them, but never to punish. 

As parents, let us meditate on these excellent verses from 1 John 4: 

15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Awaken Their Hearts

My husband and I were listening to the Christian radio station today. He mentioned that he did not much like Third Day because the lead musician sounds like he is trying to copy the lead musician in Creed. This is a matter of opinion, of course, but my hubby and I don't care for most Christian music: to us it sounds canned, like food that was once tasty but has been processed so much that it has lost its original flavor. And that leads to the question: If we Christians have been redeemed, given a new heart; if our relationship with our Creator has been restored, then why does our music sound like yesterday's leftovers? Shouldn't we Christians, restored human beings, be the ones creating new and beautiful songs? Forgive me for saying this, but I think that Christian literature is canned also (though there are some exceptions). It seems to me that for so many Christians, their creativity, their sense of self, their ability to stand out in a crowd as something unique and indeed, a reflection of the divine, is masked, smothered somehow.

Where do we develop our sense of self? I believe that our sense of self develops as we grow from babyhood into adulthood, and is greatly influenced by our families, because, let's face it, no matter what sort of personality we have, we begin life looking up to the people who clothe and feed us. If family so influences the way we think about ourselves, it is vital that parents step back from their parenting practices, and take a long, hard look at what those practices are communicating to their children. If you observe most recommended Christian parenting practices today, you might be surprised to discover a secular influence: behavioral psychology. Now, this sad fact is laughable in some ways because most Christian parenting gurus scoff at modern psychology, citing it as the reason why parents choose not to spank, and therefore have hell-bent children (though I do see psychology, the study of the mind, as important, I do find it ironic that Christian parenting is so reliant on one "stream" of psychological thought).

Let me share with you some of the tenants of behaviorism as found on a web article by Saul Mcleod, a psychology lecturer at Wigan and Leigh College (http://www.simplypsychology.org/behaviourism.html): 

  • Behaviourism is primarily concerned with observable behaviour, as opposed to internal events like thinking.
  • Behaviour is the result of stimulus – response (i.e. all behaviour, no matter how complex, can be reduced to a simple stimulus – response features).
  • Behaviour is determined by the environment (e.g. conditioning).
Behavior is the result of stimulus...hmmm....doesn't this sound like Christian parenting instruction? Reward good behavior, punish negative behavior. Follow this formula,and, lo and behold, you will have a good person, a quality kid. Oh, and just for good measure, use a few poetic Proverbs (wise sayings) literally, apply them as promises, and you have the perfect parenting philosophy, one that teaches that if you punish your children when they misbehave, with the rod, they will be saved from eternal punishment.

The problem is, however, that the core of the behaviorist approach is decidedly anti-biblical. Here are two central tenants of behaviorism(quoted from Saul Mcleod):

People have no free will – a person’s environment determines their behavior

When born our mind is 'tabula rasa
' (a blank slate).

This is absolutely NOT what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that all our innermost parts were formed in our mother's wombs. The Bible teaches that we all inherited a nature from Adam that is messed up, bound to sin; but it also teaches that each person is given a will, the ability to make choices. If the foundation of so much Christian parenting philosophy is behaviorism, then we need to take a fresh look at our parenting techniques, and ask whether or not they are truly biblical.

Did you know that behaviorist techniques are used, effectively, to train animals? If you are trying to teach your dog to sit, for example, you will reward him with a bone each time he sits, until he learns to sit on command. Interestingly, as I have mentioned before, science now shows that punishments should not be used to train animals, as it will cause them to lose heart and become angry. The problem with using behaviorism on people is that it deals only with outward behavior. There is a sad misconception among many Christians that if they force their children to comply with their commands, then it will also change their children's hearts.

Let me take a shot at explaining what behaviorist techniques do to a child raised in a Christian home. Christian parents use God's law as their standard of right and wrong behavior (nothing wrong with that). The problem arises here: children are externally motivated to do right and to avoid doing wrong. They learn, early on, to only behave in an acceptable manner. If you, as an adult, knew that someone would inflict pain on you when you did something he/she did not want you to do, wouldn't you avoid the pain-inflicting behavior at all costs? So, when we look at the externals, it would appear that we are creating model citizens by applying behaviorist techniques. Again, the problem arises because behaviorism can only deal with the externals. 

As Christians, we believe that children are born with a soul, with a personality, an identity, unique to them. They are also born with a sin nature, though in the Bible children themselves are never labeled as "devils" or as "ugly rotten sinners" who need to have the sin beaten out of them. When we reward our children for "good" behavior and punish them for "bad" behavior, we are not getting rid of the "bad" behavior; we are forcing it underground. Our children, like us, will at times experience jealousy, greed, selfishness and envy, etc. By punishing the outward expression of these inward vices, we are teaching our children to hide them, to pretend that they do not struggle with things. We are teaching them that they are good as long as they behave well. We are also instilling a deep shame and self-loathing in them, for they know that though they do not outwardly display certain behaviors and feelings, they experience them within. The only way they know, then, to deal with these things, is to mentally flog, berate and shame themselves. They inwardly yell, "I'm so stupid! I hate myself! Why can't I do better?"

These children are not offered the freedom that comes with knowing Christ, with understanding that He came to make their hearts new, clean, free of charge. Their parents teach them the gospel, but the children have been instilled with a lethal dose of shame, believing that at their core, they are evil, worthy of the worst of punishments. The children struggle to grasp the truth that when they put their trust in Christ's death and resurrection on their behalf, they are given a new, perfect, clean identity because they believe that their very personalities, their selves, designed in them by God, are ugly and wretched. If you believed this way, wouldn't you struggle to express yourself creatively? If you believed that you, at the core, are wretched, wouldn't you have trouble knowing who you are; wouldn't you, indeed, try very hard not to even find out who you are? After all, your parents carefully trained you to only display the side of you that was acceptable to them. You were shaped by your parents as though you were a tabula rasa, a blank slate waiting to be written on. The only truth you know about yourself is what you have been trained to believe, which is really that you are a disgusting, vile person who deserves punishment.

What if God was a behaviorist? This is how the Garden of Eden would have looked: God would have told Adam and Eve that if they touched the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then he would spank them hard enough to really hurt. He would have used fear of punishment to keep Adam and Eve away from something that would, indeed, harm them and the entire human race. Would it have worked? More than likely. But God gave man free will. He wanted man to follow Him by choice; not because he was forced to. He wanted man to be internally motivated to choose Him; not externally. 

Forgive me if I am making too great a leap, but I suspect that many Christian children grow into adults who, believing their very selves to be evil, hide those selves, failing to realize that God designed their unique personalities. At the cross, he freed them from the influence of sin, thus enabling them to freely express their true selves, which are not, and never were, evil. 

As Christian parents, it is our challenge to discover who the unique person God created our child to be is; to awaken the core of them, to inspire them to be who they are free of shame. Yes, we call sin sin. Yes, we teach our children God's law. But we do not label our children as evil; we do not teach them to hide themselves in fear of retribution, as though they are somehow too ugly for us to accept free of charge.  We do not teach them to cower in shame whey the do wrong, because, indeed, Jesus has died for them, to redeem and restore them. God, after all, made no mistakes when He created them as the individuals that they are; punishment instills a child with a deep sense of shame and a desire to hide any part of her/himself that may be unacceptable. Perhaps, if our children grow up without shame, they will more freely express themselves in a multitude of ways that bring glory to the God whom they represent and reflect.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Do They Really Think?

Children receive a very clear message when they receive corporal punishment, but it is usually not the message their parents intend.  I asked several women what they remembered about being spanked; here are their thoughts and stories:

"I was three or four years old. After putting me to bed, my parents were sitting in the livingroom where they were untangling and testing several strings of Christmas lights to put up on the house. Of course, I found this fascinating; the sparkly lights seemed to call to me. I found excuse after excuse to come out of my bedroom. Eventually, my parents spanked me and sent me to bed with the threat that I'd get more spankings if I came out. I was crushed. I felt misunderstood. I was too excited to sleep but they didn't care. I stayed in my room but the resentment stewed. The next day I took it all out on anyone and everyone who couldn't strike back--my baby sister, the dog, the children at preschool. I became a bully." 

"After the spanking was over, my parents would hold me.  I remember being terrified, humiliated, and scared to do anything that would displease them in the least, lest the nightmare repeat itself.  I would sit in their laps and pretend I was sorry.  I learned that tears of "repentance" really made them happy.  I became a fake repenter.  I felt bad about what I had done, don't get me wrong.  I even wished I had not done it. But not because it was wrong.. But because with the punishment came the terror of shame.  The sick feeling of worthlessness, and a total and complete failure as a person."

"I remember feelin scared. Ashamed. Unloved. I remember the feeling of anger and resentment towards my parents. My mom would stop on the side of the road and "cut a switch(spelling wrong I'm sure)" and carry it with us in the van if we were acting up. And I don't remember what the "acting up" consisted of either. But I rememeber the anger from her. And the hate in her voice. I felt unsecure and worried about my next move."

"I always vowed to "get them back", I don't remember if I actually did anything, but I was very angry. The last time I was spanked, I screamed so loud that the neighbors came over to see if everything was OK. I had warned them that I would do it. They didn't spank me that hard, but it made me very angry. I don't think my younger brother or sister were spanked much after that either. I must just add that I have wonderful parents who love me very much, they just didn't know what else to do. (I was very difficult)."

"I was never a violent child. At all. But when my mom spanked me I wanted to get a knife and stab her in the chest. I wanted to bite her in the face and spit a chunk of her flesh back at her. I remember feeling somewhat good inside when other kids would misbehave and get spanked. I wasn't the only one. I felt like I wanted to dominate younger children at times due to it. I had been subdued and dominated, I needed to unleash that on someone else or it would consume me from the inside. When I got older and babysat other children I was terrified when I realized the anger that had been building up inside of me all those years. I was able to control myself and I never hit a child in my care. As an adult, I had to work through all those things and release them in a way that would not hurt others."

"I once told my sister, as we were in our room waiting for our parents to come up with the wooden spoon, not to cry when they spanked her. "If you cry, it means they win," my young self told her. That is the dynamic spanking creates: Us versus Them. Don't let them win. Don't let them break you." 

Here is a telling testimony from as former spanker, Claire. I have included a link to an insightful blog she and a few other women write in, where you will find more stories and thoughts on gentle discipline:

"I smacked my son's hand a number of times before I moved to GD. I would smack him, he would cry, I would cuddle him. When he had calmed down enough he would say, 'Don't hit me Mummy'. Not Sorry I drew on the wall or I won't scratch my sister again. There was no connection in his mind between the offense and the punishment, he just knew he had been violated by someone he should be able to trust 
Also, at other times, he would do the same thing again, experimenting to see if he got the same reaction - it wasn't much of a deterrent even though it was painful. Part of me knew that was normal 2yo behaviour - in fact that sort of determined experimentation is GOOD - and I shouldn't have to hurt my child over and over again for being 2..." http://greenegem.wordpress.com/ 

If you use punishment to train your child, I encourage you to take a long, hard look at your method. Ask your child how spankings make him/her feel, promising that you will not punish him or her for being honest. Look into your child's eyes: Is he afraid of you? Is she angry/hurt/wounded? Ask yourself: am I treating my child the way God treats me?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lock 'Em Up, Throw Away the Key

I am excited to address in detail some of the topics I touched on in my last post. I think that this true story may give some mommies insight into the impact of spankings on some children. All children are different; some are more sensitive than others. In future posts, I plan to share some testimonies from people with different personalities as to how spankings impacted them inwardly.

Once there was a little girl who very consistently received spankings, ones that even she would've said she deserved. A spanking was the penalty for any infraction, minor or major. The little girl's parents felt that the spankings were highly effective. After all, their little girl was a model of perfect behavior. She was cheerful most of the time, she worked hard to help her mom around the house, she was quick to obey any directive her parents gave her.

The little girl's parents were careful not to spank in anger. They followed a procedure of talking to the little girl before and after each spanking. The little girl always seemed so repentant before the spanking. After the spanking, she appeared to be relieved of a heavy burden of guilt that she had been carrying.

The little girl grew up to be an excellent teenager. She was easy to get along with and quick to please. She was upheld in her church as a model of good behavior for younger girls.

Though on the outside this little girl was a model daughter, on the inside things were different. You see, spankings taught this girl a very important lesson: as long as you conceal all sin and human weakness, including negative emotions, you will be acceptable and valued, and you will escape punishment. 

The little girl's parents understood that all humans are born sinners who are unable to make themselves better. They thought that by spanking the little girl they were teaching her that sin has consequences. They thought that by teaching her to immediately and cheerfully obey all parental directives, they were teaching her to trust and obey God. What they didn't know was that many times, the little girl did wrong because she was impulsive. They didn't know that she longed for the opportunity, time and again, to simply admit her wrong and be forgiven. They thought it was funny when once, she attempted to spank herself hard, in order to avoid punishment. They didn't know that many times, as this little girl was spanked, she felt humiliated and angry. She often wanted to turn around and scream at her parents. At other times, she would spend the entire spanking hating herself, wondering how God could ever love someone as wretched and horrible as she, wondering what she could ever do to make God love her; to get on His good side; after all, look what her parents required of her when she sinned! Yes, she knew about Jesus, but it seemed that she was too horrible for His death to be sufficient for her. The little girl was relieved after the spanking was over, not because the burden of guilt had been lifted, but because she knew that, an hour or so after the spanking, her parents would once again smile at her and accept her; she knew that they would then require no "payment" from her for her sins. Each time she was spanked, she would vow to behave better.

As the little girl grew older, she put her trust in Jesus, believing that He had paid her sin debt. Each time she was spanked or punished, she went running to God with her guilt-feelings. She began to see Him as a refuge, as One who forgave her right away, no payment required. She ran to Him when she felt unacceptable. But she hid her true self from her parents. When she was angry or hurt during a spanking, or when she was angry at watching one of her siblings get spanked, she ran to God with her anger, mentally declaring, "At least YOU love me!" or "Please avenge my sibling!" So, in a sense, spankings drove this girl to God, but in a different way than her parents intended. As an adult, this little girl struggled to reconcile a God who on the one hand was so good, a refuge for the hurting, with a God who required that childish misbehavior be punished although Jesus had already paid these children's sin debt. Sometimes, she did not even want to read her Bible, for fear that God would suddenly turn on her, declaring that she was unacceptable, declaring that she must be punished.

As a teen, this girl hated to be called "sweet" or a "role-model." She knew that in her heart she was imperfect, weak, sinful. She was terrified that those who put her on a pedestal would one day be disappointed in her when they found out she wasn't her they thought she was. She hated herself. She often wanted to rebel to escape from the pressure. 

When the girl entered college, she did not know who she was. She was terrified of any authority figure, whether pastor or professor. She did as she was told without questioning. As she progressed through college, she began to realize that she was an equal to others, that she could indeed question those in "authority" over her. This led her to question many things that she had been taught as a child. She began to feel free as she realized that she was a person, capable of thinking for herself, of standing up for herself.

You see, spankings taught this little girl to hide her true self, to exhibit perfection. They taught her that to be acceptable, she must never be negative, never be disobedient, never question authority. She knew that she must never tell her parents how spankings made her feel. She knew that after a spanking, she should act repentant and remorseful, but she also knew that she shouldn't cry for too long or sound angry when she cried after a spanking, or that would be reason for another round. 

Essentially, the little girl learned to lock up the parts of her that were wrong and messed up. She learned how to act in order to avoid punishment, keeping her inner prison cell locked, the key forever lost. Wouldn't anyone, adult or child, respond this way to punishment? The very purpose of punishment is to create feelings of fear in a child so as to keep them behaving in a certain way. My husband recently told me that dogs who are hit with a stick as a training method often either become excessively compliant, timid, and fearful, or suddenly turn on their owners in anger. 

Is this really what God requires of Christian parents? Is this how He treats His children? In Jesus, He provided a cleanser, a healer, a just escape from the payment we all owe for our sins. He did not want us to have to bear a load of sin and guilt. He did not exact penance from us.

I cuddle my daughter and thank God that I do not have to load her with feelings of guilt and fear as I nurture her into adulthood. I smile when my son cheerfully exclaims, "Thankyou, mommy," or "Okay, mommy," because I know that his words express genuine feelings: these are things I have never forced him to say to me. I am thankful that my son can tell me, "I am sad," or "I don't like it when you say/do that, mommy," or even scream in frustration without fear of reprisal. I welcome any chance to tell my son, "Aydon, Jesus died to pay for your sins. He loves you so very much!" I am convicted that I need to pray without ceasing because I know that it will be God's spirit who woos and convicts my son, not me. 

I read this verse with tears in my eyes, thankful for a compassionate God:

Psalm 103:10-14 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hodge Podge

My thoughts have been scattered lately. Here are some of them:

Yesterday, I was frustrated by this thought: Many Christian children end up with bruised bottoms after they receive spankings. Sometimes, the bruises turn purple. I remember the use of a switch being touted because it left no marks while inflicting a great deal of pain. The same Christian parents who feel that they are following God's commands when their children are spanked hard enough to leave bruises would be upset if they saw a child in the grocery store or at the park with bruises on their arms, legs or face that appear to have been inflicted by a parent. These parents would call those bruises signs of abuse. What if these bruises were on a child's back? Again, these parents would probably worry that the child with back bruises was abused. Yet, the literal command in the Proverbs is to beat a child (actually, a teenage boy) on his back. Nowhere in the Bible is the bottom advocated as a place to strike a child. (Neither is striking a small child biblical, but that is beside the point here.) I wish Christian parents would wake up and realize that there is no difference between a bruise or a welt on a child's bottom as opposed to a bruise or a welt on a child's arms or legs. It makes no difference whether the parent was spanking in anger or as seemingly justifiable punishment, the results to the child are the same. In fact, children who are spanked because they have done wrong wallow in shame and feelings of self-loathing and self-hatred long after the spanking ends. God is not the author of this treatment!!! Please, parents, study your Bibles! God does not command us to spank our little children.

At the same time as I have been pondering spanking, I have also been pondering permissive parenting. I read a very wise warning recently. In summary: if we let our children act in some manner that we don't approve of, and ignore their behavior, hoping it will just go away, we actually make our children insecure! This is because children are excellent at reading our nonverbal cues (tension, frustration), and they see that while we don't like what they are doing, we are allowing them to continue in that behavior. They leap to the conclusion that we don't like them. This really made sense to me--I have seen many children raised in permissive homes who are incredibly insecure, wondering constantly if their parents love them.

I heard a sermon recently that I disagreed with . The preacher taught that the reason we as Christians should avoid sin is because of the gruesome consequences of said sin. This preacher overlooked the teaching in Romans 6 that we do not sin because we have been crucified with Christ and have a new nature, because we are dead to sin (though we can still choose to live in it). When we as Christians encounter sin, we are to realize that we are dead to sin; sin has no power over us. We are to stand in our co-crucifixion with Christ, and the Holy Spirit will empower our new nature to do right. I was frustrated with the sermon mostly because consequences really only make us avoid outward sin. What about the hidden sins of the heart? Sins that we can cover up and pretend to not have? Sins like murderous anger, greed, jealousy? God's solution to sin was to make us new, to give us the Holy Spirit, to remove sin's power over us. God deals with the heart. I see how Christian parenting has been influenced by wrong thinking about why we don't sin. Christian parents are taught that if they can give their children enough fear of the consequences of sin, then their children won't sin. Children who are raised this way often become prideful because they do not engage in outward sinful behaviors. They often do not see their need for God to work in their hearts, to deal with their inward sins. We need to teach our children right and wrong. When they cannot control themselves, we need to walk beside them and help them to do right, to instill in them that there is a right and a wrong. We need to let God's spirit work on their hearts as they grow older, convicting them of inner as well as outer sin, leading them to a genuine understanding of their need for a Savior!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Growing Up Should Be Messy

My sweet little Aydon stops his trike in the hall in front of the kitchen and proudly announces: "Mommy, I stopped! I'm not coming in there, I'm not!"

"Thank you, Aydon! I am so proud of you!"

Just a few days before, my husband told him that he could not drive his tricycle into the kitchen. He was very upset, and yelled "No!" I made the mistake of asking him to try again: he looked at me with a puzzled look, and then yelled again, "No!" Oops! I didn't mean try saying "no" again, Aydon, I meant tell mommy that you are mad instead of yelling no.

Hubby and I are not afraid to let our little guy express his feelings, though compliance is not an option. This makes growing up seem quite messy at times, but then I remember that God is willing to daily deal with us and all the messiness we create: and He always embraces us with grace.

And then there are those little moments where we can see gentle discipline pays off: like little man beaming that he had exercised self-control and had not entered the kitchen.

I have had to get off my butt a lot lately! My husband is away on a mission trip, and my youngest brother, almost 10, is staying with us. Aydon had a hard time sharing toys and playing cooperatively at first. Enter comfort corner: a space where Aydon goes to take a break until he is ready to treat my brother with kindness. This is not a place of punishment, though at times I have had to pick up little man and carry him to his comfort corner. Sometimes, I sit in this spot with him, talking to him, encouraging and exhorting him (not lecturing) once he has calmed down to use words instead of force, to tell uncle what he is worried about, to make amends.

It was hard to get off my butt, and make sure that little man was not grabbing toys out of my brother's hands, or yelling at him, especially because that meant setting baby down for brief moments, or interrupting my chores. Often, I saw that the root of little man's behavior was anxiety: what if my brother hurt his toys? when will daddy come home?

I have watched little man blossom in many ways this week. He asks before he grabs toys from my brother. He offers to share with him. He asks before he uses my brother's toys. This blossoming did not look pretty; it meant many times of letting out anger and frustration in the comfort corner. It meant that I repeated myself and enforced boundaries ad nauseum. It also meant that I had to rely on God for an extra dose of patience and love. Little man is certainly not perfect, and many times each day I have to remind myself that I am not working to make a perfect child; my job is to guide, to teach, to shepherd, to model Christ to my child so that one day he will embrace this Jesus as his savior.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Lorax

Aydon: "Mommy, please can I have chocolate chips?"

Mommy: "First you need to get the Lorax (stuffed, library reading buddy that was supposed to be returned later in the day), and bring him downstairs."

Aydon: "No, I don't want to. (lying down on floor) I want chocolate chips."

Mommy: (growing confused and slightly exasperated... you see, this conversation had already been repeated several times...Mommy was not sure why it was so hard to understand that the Lorax needed to be fetched BEFORE Aydon would receive a few token pieces of chocolate--This chocolate was not a reward, either, it was something little man received in very moderate amounts every now and then) "I already told you that you have to get the Lorax first."

Aydon: (still lying on floor) "You go get it for me, mommy." 

Mommy: "If mommy gets the Lorax for you, then you won't get to have your chocolate chips. Mommy said if you want chocolate chips you have to get the Lorax first."

Aydon: "No. I don't want to. Mommy, I want chocolate chips."

Mommy: (peering towards heaven) "Dear God. I am running out of patience here. Is there something wrong with little man's understanding of this situation? Am I asking too much of him? Please, give me wisdom!" 

Brief Interlude

Mommy remembers that parenting by grace means sometimes making a genuine, kind offer to help the child when the child feels too week to comply. Mommy is still confused, but decides to act with tenderness toward her perplexing offspring.

Mommy: "Aydon, how about I hold your hand and we go upstairs to get the Lorax together? You will still have to carry it, but I will be right there with you."

Aydon: "Ok, mommy! Thanks!"  (stands up, holds out his hand to be held, allows his mommy to lead him up the stairs)

Mommy: (slightly shocked by change in attitude) after mommy and aydon reach the top of the stairs: "Ok, go get the Lorax and let's bring him downstairs. He is soft, so you can even throw him down the stairs if you would like to."

Aydon: (sweet, sad eyes peering up at mommy) "Mommy, I don't want the Lorax to go back to the library. Why can't he stay here with us?"

Mommy: (holding back tears of dawning understanding) "Aydon, you are sad that the Lorax has to go back. Is that why you didn't want to get him?"

Aydon: "Yes, mommy. I don't want him to go back."

This incident happened just a few days ago, but it continues to replay in my mind, especially when I am feeling exasperated at my child for not quickly doing what I ask! I realized through it that my little boy is so complex, even though so small. When he does not want to comply, there is almost always a good reason why. As a mommy, if I am willing to get to know my child, to cultivate relationship with him, to "help" him when he is unable to comply, I know that I will be amazed at the depth and intricacy of his emotions as he reveals them, trustingly, to me. I am finding that each time my precious eldest child has a hard time doing what I ask, that I, as I exercise patience and understanding, will only grow to love him more (and I am sure that this will be true with my daughter as well).

I am reminded of the compassion with which Jesus addressed crowds of unruly, unrepentant people. I am reminded of how he tenderly called them "sheep without a shepherd." I am reminded of how he sacrificially offered himself on their behalf, willing to go the extra mile to reach them, knowing that they could not help themselves, probing the depths of their hearts. May we always allow the Lord Jesus to be our guide and constant companion, the tender gardener and gentle shepherd of our mommy-hearts!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Blatant Disobedience"

I would like to announce, first of all, the arrival of our little baby girl, Emma Grace, born March 16, 6 pounds 3 ounces. I will post her birth story soon.

I had an excellent question from someone regarding my last post, and I wanted to spend some time answering it here. Here is the question:  "If I could ask a question, what do you do when he blatantly disobeys, ie, runs the opposite way (or towards the street as happened yesterday) when told to come?" I love dialoguing with other mommies, so thank you for this question!

First off, I think that we as believing parents have been misled by many Christian teachers to believe that our children are not turning out unless, at the tender toddler/preschool years, they are "obeying" all of our directives. The reason I find this misconception frustrating is that the Bible urges children to obey their parents (Ephesians). When the Bible tells children to obey their parents, it tells them to obey their parents in the Lord. So, this command was written directly to children who are old enough to understand what it means, and furthermore, it was written to children who could obey "in the Lord," indicating that the children being addressed are believers. This command is not addressed to parents, or it would read as follows, "Parents, be sure that in all things your children obey you." When parents are taught that they should force their little children to obey them, it reminds me of men who are taught that since the Bible urges wives to submit, it is their God-given job to force their wives to submit to them! So, all that to say, our toddlers and preschoolers are in a learning phase...I believe that it is our job to teach them what obedience means on a day-to-day basis; to cultivate relationship with them that will invite obedience; however, I do not believe that we must require our tiny tots to obey us, or else.

So how does this play out practically? It means that, first of all, we stop seeing absolute obedience from our little ones as a requirement from them. Instead, we walk them through what we ask them to do, teaching them actively how to obey us. I don't want my little guy to run into the street, either, so I have done several things: always remain near him when I can tell he is distracted and may bolt across the street, playing a "stop!" game with him so that when he hears me say, "Aydon, stop!", he stops, teaching him a healthy fear of cars running into him by talking, talking, talking, teaching him to ask me before he does something. I really feel that when we issue some sort of "command" to our tots, we should be right next to them to enforce our command so that words have meaning, and obedience occurs, but in a proactive way, rather than a reactive way. A toddler will remember not to do something much better if we stop them in the act, then if we punish them afterward. One way, the focus is on the behavior we want to teach, the other way the focus is on the child's failure. Toddlers and preschoolers are just so impulsive. Requiring them to obey us and then punishing them when they don't, in my opinion, sets them up for failure; they will not always "obey" us, and when they get punished for not doing so, it makes them feel hopeless or angry. 

Another thing I think about is how God deals with us. I wish more parenting experts would teach parenting from this perspective. God invites us to obey Him through relationship, not through fear of punishment. He gives us the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to obey Him; He does not expect us to obey Him because a)we are afraid of what He will do to us if we don't or b) because we are obeying Him out of a sense of duty or obligation. He gives us the strength and the means to obey Him; He invites us to obey Him because of His great love for us.

So, do I require my little guy to "obey" me, or else? No. I view myself as his teacher, guiding him and helping him to obey. He is impulsive, he lacks logic, he lacks impulse control. So, when I require something of him, I am on hand to "help" him or to stop him from doing something I asked him not to do. Often heard in our house: "You need to pick up that cup." If he refuses: "Can you pick it up by yourself, or do you need help?" If he still refuses, "Mommy is going to help you," and then I get behind him, hold him in a safe bear hug, and "help" him comply. In this way, I am teaching him how to obey, and helping him to obey when he does not have the strength. I am being proactive, so the focus is not on him and what he did wrong, but rather on "this is how we obey." This is a lot of work, but to me it is sooooo worth it! Often, if he is not tired or hungry, little man happily complies with my requests. Sometimes, he needs help, and that is all right! How many times am I sending up a prayer, asking God to give me the strength to do what He is asking me to do?

I hope that this answers your question! I'd love to continue to hear any and all thoughts that you, my readers, have on these matters! I am so not perfect, just happy to parent in this way that keeps relationship with my child intact, and that teaches him who God is, and how He relates to us.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

So Thankful

I read this blog post by Sally Clarkson recently, and was so blessed and encouraged by it: http://www.itakejoy.com/first-time-obedience-really/. I love that she is an experienced mom who calls for us to be tender and loving and gracious with our children. I also love it that she has the full support of her husband.

My husband and I were talking about how wonderful it is to be able to parent our son in a non-adversarial, non-punitive way. We were laughing because our little guy has a real stubborn streak. I cannot imagine the awful battles of will that we would have to go through to "force" our son to obey us. Since we are on his team, we do not dread those times when we have to follow through with what we say. Here is an example: Little man was sitting at the table eating crackers beside his dad. He began to play with the crackers, breaking them into pieces. Suddenly, on a whim, he threw the pieces on the floor. "Uh-oh," said my husband, "we have to clean those up. When we make messes, we have to clean them up." My son's reply? "No! I don't want to. That makes me sad!" "Well," continued my husband, "I know it makes you sad, but we have to clean up messes when we make them. Would you like some help?" Little man at this point dug in his heals, refusing to budge from his chair. I walked over to him, picked him up out of his chair, and sat down with him on the floor beside the cracker pieces. I reiterated what my hubby had said about cleaning up our messes. At this point, little man threw a fit. I rubbed his back and held him. The fit lasted only a few seconds, and then little man sat up, and cheerfully began picking up all the pieces, handing them to his daddy, happy to comply. In the process of us helping Aydon to do what we said, none of us lost our dignity. We had no regrets as parents, because we did not lash out punitively at our son, neither did we back down. Aydon was able to decide to comply; he was not forced or backed into a corner (though he did have no choice, we were right there beside him, supporting him the whole way).

I cannot help but imagine this same incident if we were parenting "with the rod." I am quite certain that little man would do anything but comply if he felt that he was being forced to do something, or else. I cannot imagine the heartache and regret that we would feel after hitting him, harder and harder to try to force compliance. And in the process of trying to force little man to "obey" us, we would be provoking him to anger, something that fathers (and mothers) are commanded not to do in scripture.

Words cannot express how thankful I am for the multitude of ways in which God led us away from punitive parenting. It might take a little extra time to "help" little man comply with our requests, but it is worth more than gold to be able to remain on his team, to treat him with grace.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Peace that Passes Understanding

It has been way too long since I last blogged. Baby is coming at the end of March, and we have been trying to prepare for this birth. My plan was to have a VBAC at the local birthing center, but they are understaffed, and at 32 weeks, they told me I could not birth the baby there. That led to a search for a midwife who could do a home birth on such short notice--and, praise God, we found one. So now we are in the process of buying all the items we will need for the birth.

Today was one of those days where I felt like a train that got derailed, and I did not know how to get back on the track. Little man is having allergies right now, and that makes him wake up early in the morning. Things were going well, but then little man and I missed our nap. Enter numerous rough and "squirrely" behaviors from little man. He wants to tackle and wrestle mommy. On days like today, he is apt to do anything I tell him not to do, unless I am standing right beside him to enforce what I say; I am a terrible get-off-my-but momma when I am tired.  By this evening, I felt like I was going to pull my hair out. Numerous thoughts began to nag at me: "I am such a bad mom!! Look at how he is acting!" and "I can't handle this anymore. I just want to crawl into a hole and cry. Do I really have to cook supper and wash the dishes?? How on earth am I going to manage that?!"

I told my husband how I was feeling, and he reminded me that most days he feels like he is falling apart too, and that all we can really do is to trust God. Honestly, that was the last thing I wanted to do at the end of this crazy day. I often worry that God is the one who is putting all those nagging, self-loathing thoughts in my head. I am afraid that he is going to "flog" me somehow, remind me that I am a failure, get onto me for not trusting Him sooner. But, I was at the end of my abilities, and I had no one to lean on but God. It is amazing what happens when we turn to Him! He really is the best example of the best parent out there! When I turned to him, the first thing that happened? Weight fell off of my shoulders. I had a sense of calmness, of peace. It was as if my Father were hugging me, telling me everything would be ok.

After I calmed down, rested in my Father's unconditional love, a new understanding of my little guy emerged. Compassion replaced frustration. My Father in heaven, rather than berating me for not following through like I should, or for not being the momma that I should be, welcomed me into his arms with tenderness and forgiveness. And I am an adult; I should know better than to live disconnected from God, my life-source, for a minute, let alone a whole day! But God does not berate me when I fail, he beckons me closer to Him. And here I was, frustrated with my tiny, immature three-year old, for not controlling himself better when I had been spending hours steeped in attitudes and patterns of thinking that were not from God but from my flesh: I was allowing sin to control me. For the first time, I really saw my poor little guy; he was so tired! I stooped down on his level, gave him a hug, and told him that I loved him. I explained to him that I needed to do dishes while he played with his toys, and then we were going to read a lot of stories together. He beamed through those exhausted eyes of his. Why hadn't I noticed them before? Now he is peacefully asleep, and all seems well with the world.

I wonder why it takes me so long to trust God sometimes? I am often afraid that before He invites me back into fellowship with Him, I will have to pay some sort of penance; that I will have to somehow suffer shame. And yet, His word clearly states that when I live in sin, I simply need confess, and He is faithful and just to forgive. I hope that my little guy experiences this sort of grace from me as he grows into maturity; that he never thinks he must suffer before he can be in "fellowship" with me again! I know that for that to happen, I need my heavenly Father to love through me; I would be a crappy momma without Him, that is for sure.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Parenting 101

Little man has recently begun exhibiting an incredible amount of independence. While this is a good thing, and it is part of growing up, it can be unpleasant at times. Especially when he decides that he absolutely will not do something that we have asked him to do, or absolutely must do something that we have asked him not to do. I feel like I am in Parenting 101 all over again, but I am, believe it or not, actually enjoying being a student, because I know that I will learn so much through this.

First of all, this new level of independence is teaching me that I must always be quick on my feet! If I am going to say "no" about something, I need to be right beside little man when I say it, so as to enforce the no (usually by holding a little hand and remaining calm when he shouts "NO!" back). If I am going to ask little man to do something, then I need to be right beside him with this offer: "Can you do it by yourself, or do you need me to help you?" I am learning that being quick on my feet does pay off...little man realizes that my words do have meaning, even though he may not like them.

I am also learning humility. Like today, when we were in line at a fast-food restaurant, and little man decided he wanted to eat dessert rather than a meal. Of course, the answer was, "no, only a meal today." Boy was I surprised when my formerly mellow little guy began to shriek, "No! I want cake!" Solution for me? "Eat humble pie, you are parenting before God and not before man." So, I stepped out of line and removed little man to a quiet area. I hugged him and told him that I loved him. I said simply, "you need to sit here (beside me) until you are ready to listen to mommy." When he calmed down, I gave him a simple choice: "Eat a meal here at the restaurant, or go home. No dessert." He chose option A, of course, and was such a happy, peaceful little guy as we returned to the line. I am so happy, yes HAPPY, for this incident. Every time I parent through the eyes of grace, I relax a little more into my Heavenly Father's love for me. I am so thankful that He deals gently with me so that I can deal gently with my child.

I love being on my little guys' team like this! Yes, I am the authority in his life, and sometimes that means that I will say no if something is unhealthy. Yes, little man needs to learn how to calmly respond to mommy if he doesn't like something she is telling him. We have lots of do-overs and practice daily, with me often asking little man, "how can you say that more nicely?" and then supplying him with an example if necessary. But I AM on his team. He need not fear harsh retribution when he acts childishly. I can see that he will be a strong man someday, able to stand by his own beliefs, no matter what others say or do. This is something I want to nurture and guide in the right direction. I can see that little man has just realized that he is his own person, separate from me, with desires that sometimes differ from mine. Now he is in the sometimes no-fun place of learning that he is under authority. May God give me and his daddy wisdom as we nurture and guide this precious little one; how I love being in His classroom!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Attached Parenting

Ten weeks to go until the expected arrival of baby number 2. I am so excited to meet this new little one! Realizing that a new baby is coming has made me reflect on my journey into attachment parenting.

When I became pregnant with Aydon (who is now almost three!!), I had no idea how I was going to raise him. I had a lot of church friends who sang the praises of a book entitled Babywise by Gary Ezzo. I quickly bought into the myth that a baby could easily destroy my marriage unless I made it sleep in a room by itself. Crying-it-out made good sense to me (now I shudder at the thought). The way CIO is described by Ezzo makes the whole process of "sleep training" seem so logical, practical, matter of fact.

But God had a different way with babies in mind for my husband and I. First of all, Aydon arrived quite unexpectedly at 32 weeks by emergency c-section. He spent the next six weeks in the hospital. I pumped milk for him, but I yearned to nurse him at my breast. When he came home, I struggled for weeks to move him from bottle (with my expressed milk) to breast feeding. God is good: once Aydon learned to breastfeed he did not stop until he was almost two and a half years old! I remember Aydon's first visit to his pediatrician, who looked at us sternly and said, "Let him nurse whenever he wants, for as long as he wants, as much as he wants." I remember breathing a sigh of relief...how nice it was to follow my instincts and to meet my little guy's needs, without worrying about some sort of legalistic "schedule" that I would have to keep him on!

On top of this, Aydon came home with an apnea monitor. It made sense to have him sleeping near us, in case something happens. I found it so comforting to have him nearby, hearing his breathing throughout the night.

I couldn't shake all of the Babywise ideas, though. I was convinced that if we didn't force our little guy to cry to sleep, he would never sleep on his own. Thankfully, the second time I tried laying Aydon down to fuss and cry to sleep, my husband said, "We are not going to do that. He is too little to understand what is happening." Thank God for my husband.

About this time, some of our friends stopped by, and brought me a gift: The Baby Book, by Dr. Sears. Waves of relief and freedom washed over me as I read the pages of this book. Overall, I gleaned from the pages that moms and dads had natural instincts that, when followed and listened to, would drive them to be good parents (such as, when baby is crying, and you feel the urge to respond, do it!). The main thesis of the book was that if we build a strong foundation of trust with our infants, their bond with us will follow them throughout their growing up years. Now THIS reminded me of how God deals with us, His children: He draws us to trust Him; He builds a foundation of relationship with us; He always answers our cries for help; He is always available to us; He never leaves us or abandons us.

For a long time, Aydon slept in a little bed beside ours. Once, we were on a trip to visit my husband's parents. It was deathly cold at night, and our little man woke every hour, freezing cold. My husband leaned over to me and whispered, "Just let him sleep in bed with us." Once again, I felt immense relief. We all slept so well that night that Aydon hasn't left our bed fully yet!

Our almost three year old is not a spoiled-rotten brat. He has grown from being very attached into having a healthy amount of independence for a two-year-old. While he is somewhat introverted, he knows how to smile and greet others with a "hi." He sleeps the first half of the night on a little mattress by our bed, by himself. When he wakes, he crawls into bed with us, quickly falling back to sleep. Some nights, I do not even remember him waking and crawling into our bed! He is weaned, though I would have nothing against him still nursing. Weaning was a beautiful, natural process. I was four months pregnant, and was producing very little milk. Aydon was only nursing at bedtime and naptime. I gently taught him to fall asleep with cuddles at naptime by telling him he could nurse for a few minutes, and then we would cuddle. At bedtime, I nursed him till he was almost asleep, then lay beside him, snuggling, until he drifted into dreamland. Soon, we moved to mere cuddles to fall asleep.

Has attachment parenting destroyed my marriage? NO! It has turned my husband and I into compassionate parents. When our little guy has trouble sleeping, we meet his needs, and we are a team. One night, I was somewhat frustrated by how long it had taken our son to fall asleep: my husband looked at me and said, "Well, he is just like us. Some nights it is harder to fall asleep than others." We have plenty of time to enjoy our marriage, and knowing that we both believe in being responsive to our son, helps me to relax and have fun during our time together. Enough said, there. :-)

Being an attached parent is wonderful, and I wanted to describe it here so that I will not forget our wonderful journey into attachment parenting.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thanks For Hanging in There for My Vent

I have always wanted to be gracious towards other parents, and as I was rereading my former post, I realize that it was more of a vent than an encouragement! Hopefully I didn't hurt or offend anyone.

God has really just been humbling me lately as a parent, and showing me how much I NEED HIM! My little guy missed his nap today, and we went grocery shopping instead....not always a smart idea. He did great, but when we got home, he was a bit stare crazy so I took him to the park at our apartments. He rode his tricycle as usual, and we were doing fine until we were on our way home, in the parking lot, and a car needed to back up. I told my little guy, "Uh, oh, car backing up, we need to move!" and he did not budge. Instead, he said, "no, it's not!" Yes, this is little man. He is very much like his daddy. Don't ask him to do something if he does not feel that there is a logical reason to do it. :-) I realized this recently, and I have started to rephrase my requests to "You need to, or mommy will help you," rather than giving him an explanation right then. Anyways, long story short, little man dug in his heals until I was forced to pick up him and his trike and move him to the side of the parking lot...and a massive fit ensued. Yes, for the whole apartments to see... I sat in the grass with him and held him while the fit went on and on and on...not at all typical behavior for my little guy.

Public fits really bring out the humanity in me. I was embarrassed and so tempted to be harsh and punitive. I did not look to God for help as I should have. The fit finally slowed and I told my son, "Listen to mommy first, and when you are not mad, we can return to your trike." He finally decided to listen, and calmed himself. I talked with him about how important it is to listen to me because I love him and am trying to take care of him...I wonder how much he really understood, because when I since looked back on the situation, I saw a myriad of factors that affected my son's behavior: lack of sleep, hunger, fear of losing his trike, fear of his big feelings. I do not regret standing my ground, but I wish that I would have in a gentler spirit, trusting God, instead of worrying about the neighbors. Initially, I tried to reason with my tired tot to get him to move out of the way; in retrospect, I should have said, firmly and kindly, "You need to move now, or else mommy will pick you up and move you," and followed through...we might have avoided what turned into a "showdown", adversarial type situation. Ugh, sometimes I hate the way I handle things. To make matters worse, kids are SO forgiving, so quick to go back to loving their mommies and daddies after rocky times.

I just realize how important it is for me to be gracious towards other mommies!  God always uses little situations like tonight to humble me, to keep me from being judgmental, and to remind me to rest in His strength, to trust in His guidance.