This past Sunday was a beautiful moment for our little family: My husband baptized my two youngest children.
A passel of family and friends showed up, smartphones at the ready, and when my kids came out of the water, there were whoops and a whole lot of applause.
Afterward, we headed to my in-laws’ for chili and coconut cream pie.
And I thought, This is what we celebrate.
“I See You”
But the discipline of celebration is about even more than this, I think. It’s about training our eyes to see the God around us, from the architecture of a leaf, to the subtle and painstakingly slow ways God’s growing our kids in seasons where our heart twists like a dishrag.
Celebration isn’t the equivalent of a Pinterest-perfect birthday party. There’s a distinction in whether celebration points to ourselves, or whether it’s from the mindset of “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Celebration is an extension of gratitude–being awake to God’s presence and activity among us.
It reminds me know of C.S. Lewis’ words.
The sense in which the picture “deserves” or “demands” admiration is rather this; that admiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate, response to it, that, if paid, admiration will not be “thrown away”, and that if we do not admire we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers, we shall have missed something…
[God] is that Object to admire which…is simply to be awake, to have entered the real world; not to appreciate which is to have lost the greatest experience, and in the end to have lost all.
THE KEY: Celebration is getting all excited about how great it is to be God’s kids—a people marked by joy. It is
• Seeing God and what he’s doing, and taking time to get excited about what’s going right
• Making moments and traditions for us to remember
• Setting markers in place in our schedule and minds to take time out and feast in the context of worship and community
As a bonus? Celebrations lift our eyes from all that isn’t going right so we can remember that God is still working. He is trustworthy.
Some of the times when it is most painful to celebrate are the times our brains and hearts most need to rake through our days and our lives, finding what is beautiful among the ugly and painful.
When we’re metaphorically wondering where our next meal will come from, it helps to remember how God’s packed our lunches every day.
I think it might be why God scheduled regular feasts (when His people also set aside work). It’s like a massive flag waving: Stop everything. Remember how good we have it? Remember how good he is?
So here: Some practical ways to weave small celebrations into the fabric of your family.
Even more, it may be that as you celebrate the small things, something sticks out: A child earning an award for a hard-won accomplishment or character trait. But even if not?
Reward your kids’ little wins.
Yes, we live in a society where the whole soccer team gets a medal, even for showing up and picking weeds. But sometimes our kids are working hard at character or spiritual disciplines (like scripture memory. These are wins that matter!). And those may never be rewarded.
Like watching a plant grow, it requires intentional watching–maybe like the father of the prodigal son, eyes sweeping for a silhouette on the horizon.
So here’s a certificate to get a little jazzed up about what’s going right with your kids.
I think of my son’s recent swing from moody teenager to a young man interested and focused on the things of God.
After all the prayers poured in on his behalf, I want him to know (sans awkwardness)–I see the ways you’re changing, and I’m thrilled about it with you. These aren’t attached to how much I love you, but this right here? This is a win.
Invite others in.
Last night, my husband and I sat with my parents on the patio around a fire. Suddenly, my husband interrupted himself: “Oh, guys, look: Check out that sunset.” Our heads swiveled toward a gorgeous wash of lilac- and grapefruit-colored clouds.
At least eight Psalms speak some version of this:
I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great congregation. (Psalm 40:10)
Other parents mentioned they shared the video with their kids–who also had some of the same struggles with courage that my kids’ did. It’s not a source of comparison and one-upmanship, but rather a place of This is so cool! We’re excited with you!
I actually think social media (as much as we dog it) can help us in celebration. I felt giddy being able to share the images and videos of my kids–and being able to show my kids later, “Look at all the people excited about your walk with God!” (I do admit that there’s a lot of hokey theology wrapped up in a photo of a new car with “#blessed”–like some spiritual version of the humble-brag. But I digress.)
Involve as many senses as you can.
God is a bit of a party animal. Jesus’ big debut was making wine from water for a wedding. The Bible ends with His own wedding. God’s the pinnacle of our joy, of our feasts and revelry.
And I think He uses our senses—the evergreen smells at Christmas; the clam dip (it’s our family thing); birthday cake—to cement our minds to what we can’t see.
Think Psych 101: How can you create “positive association” around what God’s doing in and around your family? Do you want to go for coffee with that kid who finally got a B on a spelling test? Do your kids need a wrestling session with dad when he finally arrives home after a week away?
Keep an eye out for others’ wins.
Through a text or a thank-you note or a postcard, it doesn’t take much to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). (Though admittedly, this can be harder than “weeping with those who weep”?)
What are simple ways to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24)?
Maybe you could
drive over a special coffee to a friend who’s finally turned in that last paper for her degree
send a Marco Polo video to the sensory-processing-disorder kid who had to get a cavity filled
when a friend’s parents finally say they’re coming for the first time, get excited and bring muffins for a family-sized breakfast–or just hug her and get excited
Take pictures. Print them. Keep them on shelves where kids can reach.
Maybe this seems like a “duh” in the age of Insta.
But my son and I have twice now had an ongoing photo competition during a hike. It turns both of our eyes to the little breathtaking vignettes all around us. It affects our inner zoom lens–to the point that recently, on a hike by myself, I was moved to tears by this art gallery of God’s I was walking through.
Of course we’re tempted to fake it a little; to zoom in on only what’s lovely about our lives. But there’s something to be said when my kids look through our Chatbooks, drawn from our lives: See what memories we’ve had? Don’t forget.
It’s like the Israelites erecting a monument by the Jordan, with each tribe choosing a stone.
“When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord…
“So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:6-7)
On that note–
Keep physical reminders of what God has done.
My parents kept a charred license plate from a 1977 Cadillac Seville.
The driver? A slightly more youthful version of my mother, pregnant with me, her firstborn.
Only a half mile from our farm house, she’d yielded at the intersection. But it was summer, and the field of corn stretched green and high. Another car was charging through somewhere around the posted 55 miles per hour.
Rather than getting caught up in perfection, get caught up in celebration. Plan ahead. (Or don’t!)
One of the things that can keep me from celebrating? My idea that everything has to be sparkly. And my house should be clean. And I should have the right words.
But wouldn’t that be sad…if my own image-management kept me from celebrating what God does?
One of my mom’s love languages is planning. And I like that she planned picnics down by the creek on Mondays while we were small.
Even though she was a farm wife with, I don’t know, chickens to pluck or whatever–she made the effort to communicate, Your childhood is worth celebrating and remembering. And I’ll create a day to make sure it doesn’t pass us by.
Sometimes a good celebration can have paper plates, or friends over for ice cream right out of the carton, or a text that just says, Hey. I see what’s meaningful to you. And I’m proud of you/happy alongside you/cheering you on.
Back in high school, I took a crazy-cool trip with an organization, performing evangelistic street theater as we camped through Europe. It was unforgettable.
But I’m sure it was no easy feat. Our team consisted of 90 teenagers (not a typo). Tents were lined up with military precision, and meals were planned down to the number of boxes of macaroni and the packets of oatmeal.
In a similar spirit, free time wasn’t called free time, but “O Time”: Organized time. As in, be intentional. Don’t fritter it away.
I’ve thought about this as an adult–the healthy part of it, and the unhealthy part. I like to be intentional about free time, because mine feels like it vanishes like a bunny in a hat. And then hops away with tenacity and feeling. I hate that feeling of “Oh, shoot! I wanted to bake a mincemeat pie and ride my unicycle, and instead I got distracted by watching Dick Van Dyke reruns.”
Though I learned so many things that summer, something was lost for my particular overachieving, people-pleasing, never-let-them-see-you-rest personality (/sins). Something about O Time felt absent of the grace to simply…be.
Know Your Kids
So as you evaluate how to steer your kids in the long, lazy days of summer, I’d first observe your kids and their personality.
Do you have
a little overachiever, who’s already worked their way through the entire summer reading list at the library?
one whose thumbs you are concerned may fall off from gaming or texting?
one whose energy just might kick a hole in the wall if you don’t do something, and fast?
such a little extrovert that you have considered installing permanent friends in the house for the summer?
a bookworm that might never interact with society unless forced?
Determine Your End Game–and Consider their Input
What would a full, wholehearted, rich summer look like from your perspective, and your kids’? This part of “O Time” is great: Intentionality, so you don’t get to August without riding your metaphorical unicycle.
Think (prayerfully) about questions like these.
What are my individual kids’ weaknesses?
What are their strengths?
What are my strengths as a parent…and my typical blindspots? (I get overcommitted. I have my nose buried in work. I’m prone to let them drown in video games.)
Is there anything I think we need a break from while school’s out? (A group of friends with a negative impact. Disrespect that’s gotten out of hand. Screen time with no structure.)
What’s one area of behavior, skills, talent, etc. I’d love to see each of my kids grow in?
Forget about what the rest of the world says about success for a minute. What would God value in my summer? What am I sensing our family needs?
Make Sure Your Kids Know How to Rest and Enjoy God
Interestingly, there aren’t a lot of Bible verses about playing. But I did find a reference to peace and prosperity in Zion: “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah 8:5).
Sounds like a happy city, to God, has some playtime for kids.
I also think that in general, Western families run at the pace of Navy SEALs with ADHD, maybe being chased by a swarm of bees carrying horsewhips. Are we setting patterns that “normal” means running at max capacity?
Are we communicating, subtly as a bullhorn, that we should always be performing, always achieving, always pushing ourselves, always on?
Create a Little Sanity with a Nice Mix of Structure and Freedom
So basically, I have minimal theology backing this up. Most of my thoughts are cultural–like the fact that my kids will be working their entire lives.
I’m not setting our family up as some stellar example. (That would be a bad idea.) But if we were standing together at the playground, this is what I’d tell you.
I’m still linking chores to screen time, though my kids are old enough not to use the popsicle stick system. My kids do two chores for 20 minutes of screen time. They get an extra 5 for making their bed, and an extra 5 for doing a quiet time. Those chores could involve anything from raking to folding laundry to making dinner.
Creative spiritual disciplines.
Most of them have selected a reward of their choice, and agreed on a goal with me of how many Bible verses they’re willing to memorize to achieve their “prize.” Click here for the Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families series. There are a ton of (actually fun) ideas.
Serve someone other than yourself.
I’ve asked them each to select a way they could serve the church or another family over the summer.
We’ve noticed an uptick in disrespect…so have implemented a 10-pushup rule for overreacting and rude responses.
One of my children may or may not have done 140 pushups in one day last week. (But I put the penalty on myself, too–and had to do 30 on a day when I was not responding very much like Jesus. But the same son tells me I will be ripped.)
School-wise, my suppressed inner homeschooler has decided my kids will do 30 minutes of school. Usually, this means alternating between something they’re great at, and something that’s hard for them.
So my sophmore is interested in political science, and alternates with studying for the PSAT and doing Dave Ramsey’s curriculum for high schoolers.
Another son is taking online cooking classes and practicing his instrument.
My daughter loves the online Always IceCream, in which she plays educational games/writes stories or articles/designs in a safe online community in order to get “scoops” as currency for their online store. She’ll do this year-round, but my youngest son just uses their brother site, Clever Dragons for the summer.
My youngest is also working on writing a story, and he and I have some moments learning piano. (You get the idea.)
The Usual Suspects
My kids will go to youth group and camp and Grandma’s, and will participate in some sports. It works for our family because living in a small town, they can easily bike to a lot of activities.
Don’t miss the links below for lots of creative ideas for kids on break.
We go to the library and cart home more than our proportionate share of books–mostly stuff that just interests my kids, but I also ask them to pick up one they can learn something from. I purchase some strategic (usually highly visual) used books and leave them out (this summer I’m getting a reading list from this book and this one), usually finding one languishing with a kid in an arm chair.
We do some read-alouds at night, and check out audiobooks from the virtual library, too.
But You Work from Home during the Summer, Right?
Well. That’s the idea anyway. So the structure helps. (I get up early to get work done while the kids sleep in. It takes some pressure off when they start fighting. Maybe they can come fight at your house?)
I work from home so I can be a part of their moments. So as much as the stress has ratcheted up…it’s worth it for me to be here, which sometimes means stepping away and just making fun happen.
I also find having friends over–that whole “subtraction by addition” thing–works well for us.
But sometimes it just means I schedule something fun a few times a week: Going to the army surplus store. Making waffles for breakfast. Calling kids’ friends to join us as I work poolside at the local aquatic center.
And not being afraid of my kids being bored. Because pretty soon, bored makes kids creative.
It was literally snowing here in Colorado during the first two days of summer break–so my kids decided to have a cooking competition. I won’t tell you about the mess they had to clean up–but the afternoon of creativity was well worth it. They got the science experiment book I love out, too.
Alright–enough with the monologue already.
What do you do to mix structure and fun for your kids in the summer? What activities do your kids love?
Help us out! Comment below!
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People think of sleep as one of the easiest things in the world. Babies can do it! (Though as one woman wrote, “I don’t want to sleep like a baby. I want to sleep like my husband.” Hear, hear.)
But I’ve noticed a weird amount of people around me now who have serious issues getting to sleep and staying asleep.
And it’s even weirder that one of them was my 12-year-old daughter.
I’ve been thinking and praying about this lately as I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this; a lot of sleep issues seem to be emotional/psychological issues. One of my brain’s favorite signals to tell me I’m overloaded is its failure to get back to sleep after I’ve woken up. It’s like an annoyingly perky smartphone. Good morning! Good thing you’re up at three. Allow me to present your to-do list!
Then why was my daughter worried about getting to sleep now? It’s summer. What’s on her little brain?
The Sleepless Cycle
I wrapped a blanket around her, then my arm. We perched on the edge of the bed. And this was what we were able to pluck out. (I asked her permission to tell you.)
She was babysitting the next day for her new summer job. What if she was crabby with the kids? What if the kids’ mom got frustrated with her and decided to reneg?
So I wrapped my arms around her–and told her what I need someone to tell me.
Everyone hates to blow it. But even when you really bite it, you’re worthy of being loved. Trying to be perfect all the time can make us really nervous, depressed, busy, and fake.
You don’t need to be afraid of not being perfect, or even of disappointing people.
Jesus loves you. So you can do all this great stuff–loving people, being kind, achieving. But don’t do that stuff so he’ll love you. That’s backwards.
And really, I told her, that’s what Jesus is all about. (J.D. Greear explains, “There are only two kinds of religions: those that teach you to obey in order to be accepted; and those that teach that you obey because you are accepted. In every story…from the Bible…God confronts attempts at self-salvation.”* Here’s a post about communicating to our kids, I accept you.)
Telling our kids it’s okay to fail releases them from being slaves to their own performance.
I used to think I was a perfectionist
See, I once would have told you I was a perfectionist. But it turns out I was only afraid of my own failure.
Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.
….Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.
― The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
I read recently of a town where police camp out at a local railroad track, on suicide watch. An alarming number of kids, pushed to capacity and the drive for success, have decided It’s just not worth it.
In a world that directly Instagrams to our kids specialness and perfection, where “good” won’t get you a scholarship–mediocrity, normalcy, and relaxing are scary things. What if I let my hair down and the bottom falls out of my world?
What if I’m not special?
Our kids need very little help for their brains to begin wiring their performance with their value. The entire world is telling them something different: Be skinnier. More productive. Smarter. Higher achieving. Faster. Better looking. More charming. More musical. More athletic. Better dressed, with a better haircut. Nicer. Well-read. Safer.
So I confess. I’m still totally #oneofthose moms of teen boys and a preteen girl, asking the boys to hold open the door for females, or help carry heavy stuff.
Maybe I’ve watched Kate and Leopold too many times? Or maybe I just think there’s something good about mutual regard–and about typically “stronger” parties using their strength to serve.
So I was curious how my kids would respond to a bit of local news here in Colorado (that went quickly national): A young man at the state wrestling competition (in our school’s class) refused to wrestle a girl, forfeiting his opportunity to win state. High school senior Brendan Johnston explained to the Denver Post,
I’m not really comfortable with a couple of things of wrestling a girl. The physical contact, there’s a lot of it in wrestling. And I guess the physical aggression, too. I don’t want to treat a lady like that on the mat. Or off the mat. And not to disrespect the heart or the effort she’s put in. That’s not what I want to do either.
As you can imagine, the media went a bit berserk over this one: Was it ego? Was it respect?
Even my kids were a bit divided about what they would do in the same situation. (Onward with the awkward conversations, right?)
Anyone else feel like they’re constantly fighting the tide of tech in their homes?
No, I don’t want my kids to arrive at college like a bat out of you-know-where. I want them to know how to responsibly handle tech as a tool for growth and entertainment. But this also means my husband and I are constantly seeking to add to our wisdom about protecting them.
I keep taking “next steps” to make sure we’re managing technology…rather than the other way around.
Though my kids are no longer the age for popsicle sticks and chore charts, our screen time is still connected to chores and behavior. And it’s still monitored via an oven timer and permission.
I’ll be the first to tell you I do not feel like I have tech mastery in my home. That always feels about three steps out of my reach, and is unique to my kids and my own parenting struggles. So along with you–I’m taking that next step, y’know?
After reading through these, I wondered if a lot of you would think I’m a hover parent, or a lawnmower parent–and I guess that’s a risk I have to take. But maybe like yours, my family and some I know have already been hurt by tech that’s not on a decent leash.
I’ve decided to wager being #thatmom in order to empower you to protect the kids you love, and hand them a more promising, real-life future. (I’m actually nice in real life!)
I’d love your further thoughts and practical tips in the comments section!
Videos and pictures sent on Snapchat disappear after a certain period of time. Many teens and tweens have a false sense of security that anything posted will be gone in a short time. Therefore, teens on Snapchat become emboldened to post more risque pictures of themselves.
2. Phones in the basket when you get home.
Full disclosure: I’m still working on enforcing this great idea from a friend.
But having my kids stash phones in a decorative bowl of ours when they come home helps me with a handful of issues on the tech front.
It demonstrates that genuine presence with people in front of you are more important than virtual presence.
I avoid conversations with earbudded teens.
I steer clear of phones at the table, at bedtime, and away from accountability.
It keeps family time to…family.
Studies have shown that more than two hours of screen time for kids leads to emotional impairment (aggression, depression, less recognition of facial expression) and cognitive delays. These can’t be compensated for by physical exercise.
4. Rule: Hand over your phone immediately when asked, or lose your phone.
I’m totally #thatmom performing random checks on my kids’ devices. Honestly? My kids’ safety and well-being is more important to me than their privacy. After a friend’s child met up with a predator after online gaming, I’m not taking chances.
I regularly check internet history and texts, in particular. If someone’s trying to delete something before they hand it over, the phone is mine. #PhoneNaziandProudofIt
5. Last kid in the class to get a phone wins.
I appreciated the above mantra of this Silicon-Valley-employee mom in this sobering New York Times article about the measures Silicon Valley parents are putting in place to guard their kids from what they know well to be the effects of too much screen time. I’m not convinced that my need to communicate with my child at all times supersedes the dangers they face with a phone in their pockets.
My husband and I decided to allow our freshman in high school to get his first phone this year. But we do want our son to be able to handle a phone wisely before college, and given the nature of our son, we also weren’t too afraid he’d be excluded socially (again, weighed with the threats of sexting, cyberbullying, and tech addiction). We initially wanted a flip phone that didn’t have internet access; unfortunately, in our area, it was actually much cheaper month-to-month (by at least $20) to get our son a smartphone. It’s an iPhone 4, which limits his app access.
Because of this, we’ve had the data on his phone turned off by the phone company. This means he can only access the internet through a router; he spends most of his time at school, the library, and home, which all have filtering devices. So we feel (slightly?) more confident he’s protected.
6. Turn off MMS.
In the article above from youth workers, I also gleaned the great piece of advice to turn off multimedia text capability on my son’s phone–which means he can receive words, but not images or videos. (He’s on a limited text plan that allows 500 texts a month; if he wants an add-on, he needs to pay for it.) Here are instructions for an iPhone and an Android.
I chose not to tell our son what I was doing (can you tell he doesn’t read his mom’s blog?); he probably thinks it’s part of having an older phone. He could figure out how to turn it off. But perhaps my mindset in all this is similar to preventing petty theft in Uganda: We’re constantly installing more stop-gap measures to make it that much harder to do bad, and easier to do good.
7. Look up the reviews and the lyrics.
Maybe this is a “duh” for some of you parenting vets–but I’m not just concerned about the quantity of screen time. I’m concerned about the quality. Sites like PluggedIn.com and CommonSenseMedia.org help me get smart about what my kids are taking in–because I certainly don’t have time for it all.
As if in this post, my inner media Nazi isn’t being revealed to the worldwide web, now for something completely controversial: We’ve chosen to say no…to Fortnite. After looking up reviews, comprehending its ability to addictively consume my kids’ brains (kids playing it through the night and in class), and some of the online dangers, we’ve become #thoseparents.
Sure, maybe some of it is that minor amount of awareness I want my kids to have that we can be just fine without drinking the cultural Kool Aid. But I also think that even if everything is permissible, not everything builds my kids’ minds and hearts (1 Corinthians 10:23).
9. Stay in the know about cyberbulling, cyberporn, and video gaming.
Back in the day, when I was in high school, I remember one Christian radio personality saying, “Take the TV out of your child’s bedroom, and replace it with a computer!” Anyone else determine how this could be really bad advice now?
In general, we don’t allow screens in bedrooms. But even more, our general guideline is that if you’re on a screen, someone should be able to immediately walk in a room and see what’s on it. Sometimes that even means switching chairs. This prevents our kids from not only being victims, but also bullies.
11. Have a tech curfew in your house.
Blue light interferes with sleep waves–and our kids need help creating no-tech zones in their lives. Maybe this means no video games on weekdays for your house, or just that your kids are off devices well before bedtime.
According to The Seattle Times, our teenagers may need our help powering down. Self-control is not fully developed in teen brains, so it can be hard for teenagers to voluntarily turn off a video game or close out of Instagram, the article said. One expert said giving teenagers smartphones without any restrictions is like offering them an unlimited supply of Häagen Dazs ice cream and telling them not to eat too much.
12. If you’re on social media, your parent is (literally) your “friend.” Consider a social media contract.
If kids are on social media, make sure you have all passwords for their accounts, keeping an eye on their activity.
We’ve decided that when gaming, our kids can’t communicate through text or audio. My kids have real-life friends we can vet and enjoy, so I don’t feel the need for online relationships with “kids” around the world.
Please, help us out!
What do you do to manage tech wisely in your home?
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My thirteen-year-old and I sat across a sticky table from each other at the local donut shop. If I remember right, he had this maple-frosted thing that was the size of a small planet, totally at my permission (unusual for my Sugar Nazi tendencies). His tears had dried by now, leaving a whisper of salt on his cheeks.
“I just feel like I have more setbacks than wins,” he shrugged, so clearly in pain.
He wasn’t entirely wrong.
That was the day that, out of the four saxophonists who auditioned for advanced band, three made it in.
And it stunk to be #4.
Add to that the fact that he was my kid with a couple of learning disorders. He’s come so far, people. But that means that out of four kids, three of my kids find school relatively easy. One doesn’t. (Sensing a pattern here?)
And junior highers aren’t particularly merciful when your ADHD lapses into the territory of Wow. You’re amazingly annoying.
All that to say, my son was becoming good friends with striking out. Watching him across the table from me, I glimpsed that sense of powerlessness.
I personally have a lot of experience with failure. My heart wanted to scoop him up like when he was little, cuddle him up, and let him laugh out loud at Clifford the Big Red Dog. (But maybe that would contribute to a teenager’s sense of failure. Y’know.)
But we want our kids to “feel and deal”…not slap a bandaid on it. That is to say, not just escape, or spiritualize away, or minimize, or ignore.
After a death, Jews “sit shiva” for seven days. They sit around and are sad for the proper season. Obviously a failure doesn’t warrant a week of moping. But be okay, for just a little, appropriate while, to just be with your kids in their emotion.
2. Separate their ability to perform from who they are.
This is a priceless time to tell our kids the truth about where their value lies. It’s where we reiterate that we accept them 100%, no matter whether they’re smart, pretty, talented, athletic, mannerly, good, well-liked–or absolutely none of those.
Get this. If we gloss over our kids’ failure, rather than just sitting in it with them, we’re still sending the message, “You’re still smart/pretty/etc./etc. And that’s why I love you.”
Translation: As long as you are those things, you’ve got a friend in me. And I’m willing to look the other way as long as you are primarily those things.
That, friends, is not the message we’re going for.
(Though it may be hard. Our kids’ failure can so often feel like…our own. Can we separate our kids failure from who we are?)
My love, and your value in the eyes of God (the only eyes who truly matter!) are unconditional.
So if they’re not completely true, nix phrases like these:
It’s not that bad. You’ll still make it.
Eh, no big deal. It’s just band.
They’re just jealous. You’re better than all of them anyway.
3. Help them gain perspective on this failure.
That said, failing an advanced band audition does not mean one’s primary life path is closed.
I asked my son if he remembered the water slide we screamed down last summer.
Where had the engineer designed all the water to go? (The pool at the bottom.) Did it all end up there? (Of course.) We talked about the verse from Proverbs: The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (21:1). If there had been a hole in the waterslide, the water would have drained out to the wrong place. God shuts doors–boarding the slide up, so to speak–so the water of our life goes to all the right places.
So we dreamed a little bit. What could my son be good at instead? What other possibilities might be open because this door closed?
4. Get grateful.
My son needed a little help from a more developed frontal lobe, i.e. mine. When I was a kid, I remember allowing one bad event to tank my entire day. I think of it now as the snowball effect: Everything just gathers mass and speed, rolling downhill. Forget all that God was working that I could be thankful for. It was all curtains from here, right?
So my son and I talked about what was going right; things he hadn’t failed in. We talked about great things that, by the grace of God, my son has going for him. He’s got great health, a family who’s crazy about him, a warm home, a love for cooking great food, and killer compassion.
5. Get honest.
This can get tricky. Obviously, we don’t want to go with a shrug and, “Well, if you would have practiced more…”
But part of the gift of failure (yes, I called it that) is our human ability to change. I asked, “Is there something you wish you would have done differently?” Or you could say, “Is there something you wish you could go back and change?”
Yet even then, I want to be careful that I don’t raise kids who are victims; who can always find the reason in someone else for their failures.
It’s that classic adage of moms around the world: You can’t change their action; you can only change your reaction.
I asked my son questions about what he hoped to do in life with his instrument, so we could devise plan B. What was his end game? What did he like about band? (Should he try another elective better suited for what he’s good at? Shoud he try out for Jazz Band instead?)
What practical steps would it take to get to plan B?
He decided to talk with his teacher about what went wrong, and about what he’d need to do if he wanted to do band in high school.
What You Might Not Want to Do: A Beginning List
Don’t just distract them.
Yes, sometimes they’ll need help to snap out of it (…a donut? Did I suggest that? Maybe they just a good joke. I heard this week, “If you had the choice between being thin or eating tacos every day, would you choose hard tacos or soft tacos?” I digress). But communicate that being angry, sad, or afraid are okay. And you’ll sit with them through it.
That said, don’t just let them wallow.
They’ll need healthy ways to take captive their thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5)! You’re establishing patterns on how to deal with painful days in the future: The unfair boss, the project that blows up in their faces, the kids who won’t listen.
Don’t focus on what everyone else did wrong.
“I wish that teacher had seen your talent” makes the problem about someone else–and surrenders our kids’ capacity to change. Grow. Learn.
Don’t get sucked into the drama.
I liked a metaphor I read from an article years ago: Picture your child getting a shot at the doctor’s office. You could look distressed with them (“I know! It hurts! It hurts!”), or you could hold them quietly, whispering calmly in their ear. One helps them back away from the proverbial ledge more than the other. Here are 8 Strategies for Tackling Kid Drama (without Squashing Kids’ Emotions).
Don’t accomplish Plan B for them.
Restore their sense of “I can” by showing them they have the ability to dig themselves out of whatever hole they fall in. I agreed to email my son’s band teacher (without a guilt trip) so we could devise strategies over spring break, but my son had a list of action points all his own. (You might like this post about “hope” being plan B.)
The Rest of the Story
So yet again (you’ll remember this kid’s story of almost quitting football last autumn–and somehow ending up as Most Improved Player)–God was kind to my son.
Two weeks ago, one of my son’s strategies–to audition with a different instrument–became a possibility.
Would you believe that kid is now in Advanced Band next year?
But here’s the bonus: He’s a different kid because of his failure. A better one. And as much as I would have spared him the pain, I wouldn’t spare him the richness of working overtime to great success.
I sat at lunch on Sunday with a handful of friends over turkey with homemade gravy and mashed potatoes (“So much for Keto,” mumbled the woman dishing up next to me). Of all things, the topic turned to high school wrestling. Two of the guys next to me had competed in high school.
One of them, Marshall, is 6’3″. In high school, he was upwards of 190 lbs. Maybe that’s why I was surprised at who he said were the most formidable in the sport: The kids from the school for the blind. In fact, one of them was the state champ during Marshall’s years in competition. At the time those students had no other sports other than swimming in which they could compete; baseball, basketball, and football were all out. So they competed year-round.
Even more than that, we all reflected aloud, was a blind wrestler’s exaggerated sense of touch. We’ve all heard that with the loss of one of our senses, our other senses rally to compensate (think of Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles).
The Scientific American reports that the brain actually rewires itself to boost the other senses. It’s a phenomenon now known as cross-modal neuroplasticity: “If one sense is lost, the areas of the brain normally devoted to handling that sensory information do not go unused — they get rewired and put to work processing other senses.”
Rewired in Struggle
I have to admit that as I thought about all this (and moved on to my broccoli salad), my brain went off-roading a bit.
I was thinking about our recent cancer scare with my second son–and the remarkable response of his faith as he was willing to place his life in God’s hands. Someone had once told me that Abraham, when asked to sacrficie his son, hadn’t received the faith he needed like some supernatural shot in the arm. Faith was something built.
Though a lot of people liken faith to a muscle, my husband pointed out that maybe it’s more like the rappelling my husband’s performed on cliffs, even over a waterfall in Africa.
Perhaps faith is more about loosening our death-grip on the rope, and realizing the breathtaking freedom of leaning back into trust.
Where did my son develop such a capability to release, I wondered?
As my husband and I talked about it, the most obvious was his diagnosis of ADHD at age five, and then a couple of years later, dysgraphia. No blog post has a large enough word count for me to communicate the tears (his and mine), his mortifiying lack of self-control, his playdates where we established consequences for not melting down or hitting anyone. He and I muscled through spelling lists two years behind his grade level. There were countless prayer and pleading and systems put in place. Mind you: We are still a work in progress.
Imagine the tears I swallowed when his eyes lit up with the topic choice for his first school speech: “The Treasures of ADHD.” His conclusion? I am glad for the way I am. I am still amazed by the way God made me.
Less than six months after his diagnosis, our family moved to Africa. Though sometimes it drove me crazy, we were frequently without power or internet or water–a built-in delay of gratification (for all of us, doggone it). If my kids purchased a Lego set, it would be coming over in the next three or four months with an intern. And the same kids were in the car when we were robbed at Christmastime.
I say that not to glorify suffering. But I read last week about “snowplow parents“, who aim to shove every obstacle out of their child’s way. Experts are speculating that this actually results in kids ill-prepared for adulthood.
Instead, I think to the blind wrestlers. What if our children not having something, or encountering obstacles and pain…causes other senses, like faith and gratitude and perseverance, to kick into high gear?
In this possible cancer, my son’s hard-earned habits from ADHD kicked in: Let’s get thankful. We conglomerated our thanks on a neon-yellow index card stuck in our family’s “cancer binder.” His habits of trusting God, I understand now, were just ratcheted up a level.
Just a couple of weeks ago, my son didn’t make advanced band (three out of the four saxophonists made it in. Poor #4). I admit to taking him for a donut. We sat there across the sticky table from each other. “I just feel like I have more setbacks than wins,” he shrugged, so clearly in pain. But within a week, he’d devised a solution so he could still progress in band. He’d rallied his troops once again.
No, by all means, my son is not getting it all right (he’s the one who tried to quit football last fall). But this is what I want more than a straight-A student, or even one who makes the first cut in advanced band: A child with a heightened sense of God, adapting His character, and wrestling through blindness.
Parenting my kids scares me because I want so much. Reading blog posts I authored when they were young, I remember I have always longed for great things for them. (In them, I repeat the phrase “I want my kids to…” a lot.) But as my season of responsibility and control wanes and I hand them the reins, I see what I have always seen in me: Fear.
And it leads to some of my worst parenting decisions.
It happens when I hear my sons’ loud laughter at an inane or questionable YouTuber. When I realize I forgot to check up on their grades. When I wonder if he’s telling me the truth, or what he’s doing downstairs while I read in bed at night. When I allow him to spend a night at a friend’s, and realize there’s little I could do if his friend pulls up p*rn on a cellphone.
With teens that I am slowly releasing, it feels like I’m pushing them out of the nest…and watching gravity take them as the ground gets nearer very, very fast.
I know that if he is leaving for college in three years, I must begin to release. As I told my oldest this weekend, It’s the Holy Spirit in you that I trust.More than my son, I trust the God who’s already written his days.
(Or at least I try to.)
But fear whispers to all of us as parents, What will happen to my child? What will my child become? And what can I do to make sure those odds are in my favor?
May I be honest with you? I see fear cutting some of the best of us down at the knees. In fact, sometimes it hits hardest those among us who felt unprotected and vulnerable as kids. I see the promises they make: That will never happen to my kids.
The Place of Fear
No doubt God has given us fear so that when, say, our child is running into the street after that ball, we do not stop to examine our manicure. I should have gone with more of a matte. Fear helps us envision what could happen, and make a plan.
But I also think it rules the hearts of women.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s a particular struggle for women, as lust is often more for men. God speaks specifically to women concerning being under authority, saying we are Sarah’s children “if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6). Is it inherent with our historic vulnerability? I don’t know.
Slavery vs. Sonship
I only know it’s a slave driver, this fear. I feel it lashing my back, threatening me with potential consequences. I am not pulled and compelled by love; I am pushed and provoked by the concern that snaps at my heels.
Lately, I have been piecing together what God says about fear. He always seems to follow up Do not be afraid with I am with you. But he does actually call it slavery:
I find it fascinating that his fear-antidote is to be a son. To have God as Father. (Tim Keller notes that we are all called sons because in ancient times, the sons inherited; the sons were privileged. And because of Jesus, even the daughters have the privileges of the sons.)
First John reminds me, too, of the fear-antidote: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love (4:18).
And isn’t that what I found in my son’s cancer scare? Didn’t it reveal the holes of my belief in God’s goodness, like Swiss cheese? The irony is not lost on me that 1 Peter 2 refers to “pure spiritual milk” as tasting that the Lord is good. It is elemental, something we must feed on constantly.
Isn’t that the fundamental point where my faith starts to jitter and shake? Where I see God as detached and driving, rather than more loving than I could ever be, and pulling me close?
Snipping the Leash
I realize that like any slave throughout time, when I place my leash in the hands of fear, I am ruled and jerked around as its captive. I work like a dog in what Gary Haugen has called “prayerless striving.”
The Pharisees were masters at the guise of control, rules, appearances, at placing burdens on others they themselves couldn’t lift (sounds a little like…slavery?). And within that control, they mowed right over the ability to love others.
Fear-parenting often leaves me reactionary, controlling, and vindictive. I reside in the knee-jerk area of my functioning. I’m not acting from trust in a loving, able, and infinite God, but a 30-something human with weak, empty hands.
I become unloving. I value the safety of rules and control more than wisely considering the heart in front of me. I’d rather run in and make a rule or issue a consequence (Give me thy cell phone!) rather than shepherd the heart of my child. As Marguerite Porete wrote in the 12th century, Faint hearts will not rise to tackle the demands of love. The faint-hearted take the lead in fear, not love, and do not allow God to work in them.
But when I begin from the place of beloved daughter, the leash is snipped. The slave is released. My chains, as the song goes, are gone.
I think about this with my teens; about the choices I cannot make for them. Ruth Barton writes gently,
One of the hard things that Judas’s story teaches us is that we cannot control others and their choices. Judas had been given the ministry and apostleship as much as any of the others, but his choice to “turn aside and go to his own place” was his to make.*
Of course, of course we should exercise control and consistent discipline over our kids (see 1 Timothy 3:4 and about half of Proverbs)! But our discipline and control can and should proceed not out of our white-knuckled terror, but our own place of trust in a good Father.
This morning I walked through my house, trying not to see things.
I tried not to see the underwear packaging left on the floor by my two teenage boys. The clothes my daughter left on the bathroom floor. The cereal bowl on the counter of a few floating Honey Nut Cheerios.
Note, though I left them there, I asked my children to pick them up. Which means first identifying who left it out; usually there are a total of four “not me”’s. Then I had to make sure they followed through. That takes a lot more time than if I just whisked them up myself and actually deposited them where they belong, which is not a guarantee with child help.
Not-seeing is a challenge for me because, while I am not the Queen of Clean as my mother is, I still don’t really dream of underwear packaging on the floor. I prefer my spaces relatively tidy and Cheerio-free. And like that whole “broken windows” theory? The more things aren’t picked up, the more people seem to leave their junk around. So there’s that.
More than that, my kids’ clutter, for some reason, feels like sticky notes all. Over. The house. They are written to me. They read something like, In case you missed it, you’re doing a really bad job at raising responsible adults. Forget world-changers! Your kids don’t even see mess. Let alone PICK IT UP.
But a funny thing happens at my house: When I clean up after my kids, they don’t actually get any better at it.