Calling Out The Best

As a young mom, I thought perfecting my children’s behavior – especially in public – was one of the number one things I should do. This lead me to often be a less than pleasant mom, who was strict, and made no room for children’s play. I heard more than once how I was a mean momma, but I didn’t care, my kids would be perfect in public. Period.

I’ve undergone a shift in my thinking over the years. No doubt, I still value obedience, and I am still trying to teach character and as I teach character, I think good behavior often follows suit. But I’ve come to see it as a teaching endeavor far more than a demanding or commanding endeavor.

In fact, I found myself recently telling someone (who thought disrespectful teens should be dealt with more fiercely than I am dealing with mine) that in an effort to pull out the best of him, I was going with do overs. Because I figure even if we have to do it over 100 times this week, at some point, he will learn it’s easier to give a kind reply than to have to repeat his reply. Sometimes I see it work in one day. Not always, but sometimes.

We’ve had days/mornings that started out with what I’m coming to accept as the bad attitude of 7th grade, that by afternoon, he was responding with some kindness and respect. And not because I let my frazzled self heap punishment on him, or lecture him. Because every time he opened that snappy, huffing mouth of his, and rolled his beautiful blue eyes in the back of his head because I said something simple (you know, like move your shoes, or excuse me, or it’s your turn to unload the dishwasher) I just stopped, and said “Don’t talk to me like that, try again.”

TRY AGAIN is the key, in my opinion. See, he’s tried to just shrug me off, or one time he said “I’ll be nicer next time,” but it delays the practice part of this. We are practicing kindness, we are practicing behavior, we are practicing respect, and we are practicing responses. So we must try again.

And when I say we, God as my witness, I mean we. When I don’t get it right and that yelling mom surfaces, and I’m sitting there with regret a moment later, I don’t shrug it off and say, “Next time, I’ll get it right.” Nope. I call for whichever beautiful child of mine got the brunt of it, and with a deep breath, I apologize for my outburst. Then I tell them, “I should have said it like this…” and I tell them with kindness what I meant to say, how I meant to say it.

I find myself writing this and thinking, sort of praying, “Jesus help me get this right.” Not this, as in this blog, this as in parenting. (I mean, I want to write it right, too.) I want to point them to Jesus and I want to raise people of strong character, who are connected and relational, who aren’t trying to recover from their childhood.

Like I told my friend, I’ve realized I wasn’t called to control them (parents hear it all the time, “won’t you just get your kids under control”). No doubt, there are times parents have to take control of a situation, because of our experience, our view on the world, and our ability to navigate safely, but our day-to-day is more about calling out the best of our kids. Calling out the good things we see in them and about them, and holding space for them to grow into who God made them to be.

Control suffocates them. Control closes the space around them, is squashes creativity and it squashes personality. Control does not impart character. Control is temporary and it is based on whether or not the person being controlled is fearful enough of perceived consequences to do certain things. Control affects our kids spiritually, because they begin to see God as controlling, too. Control is not a relationship.

Parenting through relationship gives us a unique place to explain why, and let our kids figure out how. It teaches them we are safe to talk to, can be trusted, and we can help them navigate. Parenting through relationship sometimes means we know a better way to do something, but we hold space for our kids to figure it out because learning through doing produces people who continue learning long after they go out into the world. The experience gained by doing something a different way is part of the process of them becoming who they are created to be.

I know I won’t always see the fruits of this labor on the same day. Some days it is nothing but do-overs and I wonder if they are learning anything from me at all. But there are tender moments they share with each other, with friends, moments when they don’t know I’m looking, but they are holding a door, helping a stranger, or otherwise showing good character that I know it’s working. It’s not easy, it’s not immediately rewarding. But these little people are growing and blossoming and God picked me to sit on the front row and watch all of it. How cool is that?

Until next time,
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A Prayer to Share:

God, help me get this right. I want a strong bond with my kids. I want to call out the best in them. I want to highlight how they are growing and honoring You. I want them to know that they can do things their own way, and that they are capable. I want them to know that different isn’t always wrong, and that I don’t always know the right way, and I rarely know the only way. Help me honor You in the way I speak to them, train them, teach them. Help me see the best in them. Convict me to correct where necessary. Show me how to build a lasting relationship with each of them individually.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.

Life with a Teenage Boy

I must start this post with a confession – my parenting thoughts were consumed with dread for the teenage years. I’m not sure if the dread came from society’s idea of teenagers, from my parent’s idea of teenagers, or from my own rebellion as a teenager, but wherever the idea came from, I was certain life with a teenager was destined to be disastrous. I feared the ugliness that I thought would come with a teenager.

Confession #2: When my husband and I got together a few years ago, and I thought of the future, I feared whether or not I would survive life with a teenage stepson. Sure, at 12/13, his boy seemed sweet enough, but teenage stepson’s spend every waking moment plotting how to wreck their stepmom’s life, don’t they?!

Let me tell you that my preconceived notions of what this 15-16-soon to be 17 journey would be were completely wrong. My stepson is an incredible young man. He his helpful, thoughtful, and respectful. Don’t think I’m trying to paint too rosy of a picture here – he has his moments where he questions what we say, and he has definitely been given the gift of sarcasm – in fact, if sarcasm qualified as a second language, he would be certifiably bilingual.

The biggest thing I have learned from our boy is to not take everything like a personal challenge. He questions a lot of things, and he has something to say nearly every time I open my mouth. If I let my feathers ruffle, and act like it’s a personal attack on who I am, how smart I am, or how adult I am, then our communication deteriorates and I get that look – you know the one, the one that makes me think he thinks I’m stupid. Truthfully, I think he’s thinking, “You’re not listening, AGAIN.” See, he’s on the cusp of adulthood, but the adults still feel like he’s a kid. Every mistake is scrutinized as a lack of maturity, but every mature act doesn’t quite measure up yet either – he could have done more, done better, tried harder.

Yuck.

I hated being that age and in that interim. The messages were conflicting, and the adults didn’t listen.

I try to listen. I fail daily. But when I say something and he has a thought, suggestion, idea, or comment, I try to remember a few things: he has a brain in his head, he has thoughts too, and he wants to be heard. I’ve also learned that if I let him share his thoughts, and offer responsive feedback, he is willing to listen when I put my foot down about something being “my way.”

He has incredible ideas – from things that make the mornings run smoother, to correcting his younger siblings, and even parenting through our blended situations. He doesn’t have all the experience in life that the adults have – and sometimes that shows through as a fresh pair of eyes with a brilliant idea, and sometimes he learns why an idea doesn’t/won’t work.

I am incredibly thankful for this journey and for learning how to do life with a teenager – and honestly, I look forward to the teen years with the younger kids more now than I ever did before.

I would love to know about your experiences raising a teenager (or teens). Share your story in the comments.

This is Parenting

(Originally Posted May 14, 2012…but totally applies to life right now. And every day, come to think of it!)

The everyday, repeat yourself a hundred times, oh my gosh that was my last nerve, is it bed time yet, feeling you have right before you pass out….

Yep, this is parenting.

Gone are the romantic life-notions that it would be fun, and that each moment would be faced enthusiastically, and it would be easy because you had something right and knew something that nobody else knew. (Wait, am I the only one that ever, even for a moment, believed that stuff? I hope not…)

I had a brief moment where I wondered when it made sense, or felt like I was making a difference, or when it was fulfilling and satisfying. I wondered when there was time for my life… and then my boys hugged me and told me they loved me. And I realized, this is my life. It is fulfilling and satisfying – but often times I have to be fast to catch those moments, because they tend to be fleeting.

Parenting makes me question my strengths, my intelligence and pretty much everything else about myself.

And parenting is mundane. It is repetitive. (Have you ever told a teenager to turn down their music before they hurt their ears? I figured once was supposed to be sufficient….but I say it over, and over, and over, and over….you get the point.) Or a six year old to take a bath? Or a four year old to pick up toys?

I thought that once you taught a lesson it stuck. So not true. You teach the same lessons over and over and over and over and….. yep, you got it. In fact, I’m beginning to think that if I sat down and charted it out, I could probably give you a perfectly reasonable list of 5 – 10 things that are the “parent” category for the lessons we truly want to teach our kids. And it is an everyday job, and we have to remind them all of the time about those 5 – 10 things. And that’s all there is to it. (Well, and a little ice cream and a bubble bath for my sanity….or something like that.)

It’s not nearly as simple as it sounds. And it’s annoying to say the same things all the time. And to remind them to use the same manners in the same places all of the time. But guess what I know?

I am grown, and looking back now, I can see why school was important, and I understand the majority of the points my parents were making. And that is the teeny-tiny thread of hope that I hold on to. Because when they are grown, they will remember those things that I repeated a bajillion times. And they will teach them to their children.

Sounds kind of like a romantic life-notion again now that I’m thinking of it…