25 Things Being A Parent Has Taught Me

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” – Anne Frank


Twenty five years…a quarter of a century…yet a mere bleep on the screen of history. That’s how long I have been a parent. From first steps to first day of school, first car to college, first apartment to newly married… I have very few regrets. But even with the best intent, I am a broken human. I haven’t done it all perfectly. But here we are in the shadow of life and laughter, tears and heartache, compassion in disagreement, faith in fury…but still love and more good times than bad. Isn’t that successful parenting? I’m sure the title could read 25,000 things being a parent has taught me or 25,000 things I’ve done wrong…but I will choose to see the beauty in living and learning:

  1. It’s not all about me. Oh, if everyone in the world could recognize that truth at the same moment how different the news headlines img_9638would read! Most women really embrace this truth about the time they feel the first tiny movements inside. How much more apparent it becomes with midnight feedings, a hundred loads of laundry, and a thousand diaper changes. It’s even more evident when big brown eyes look into yours and tiny fingers hold your heart. Being a parent made me a better person.
  2. It’s not all about my children either. What a harsh realization when you discover that not everyone thinks your child is the center of the universe! This seems particularly apparent in the midst of play-dates and 4 year old soccer games. While you love your children and think they’re the best artists and athletes and scholars, sometimes other parents give their own children those titles as well. Teach them balance, respect, personal responsibility, and healthy pride in accomplishment.
  3. My heart is bigger than I thought. It was bittersweet when I first felt the deep pangs of parental love. Not that love for my own6413dd73-88c3-4c82-9f36-bb23bdf4b46e children was painful, but I suddenly became aware of all the people in the world, especially those that had never been loved as I loved my own. I saw people very differently. Either they were loved deeply and deserved my love and respect; or they had been denied that deep, unconditional love and protection and merited my compassion. The depth of that loss changed the way I viewed people in their pain and messiness.
  4. How to be brave. Noises in the night, scary looking insects, bad dreams, bad guys, and bullies can all seem overwhelming. What better way to overcome those fears than to become a fearless champion, knowing little eyes are watching? What about bigger fears? Sickness, stitches, broken bones, and bruised hearts? Parenting is not for the weak or the faint-of-heart.  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9)
  5. Spiders won’t kill me. Okay, this one should probably fall under the how to be brave category, but it was such a victory that it deserved its own bullet point. Enough said.
  6. I can’t stop all the pain. From lost stuffed animals, being left out of friendship circles, not making the team, to the death of pets and people, the sting and sadness of rejection and disappointment cannot be avoided. While I can’t stop it, dress it up, or discount it, I’m called and equipped to walk through it, providing support, encouragement, and hope along the way.
  7. The importance of presence. Availability. Attention. Acknowledgement. Who hasn’t noticed the eager eyes of children as they searched for a parent at a ballgame, a performance, or a school program? A field trip, a day of shopping, a quiet lunch for two? A funny movie on the couch?  When you are truly img_9630present, you are better able to really see, hear, learn, and know your children. You’re not only their greatest cheerleader; you also become a shepherd of their heart.
  8. Words are really important. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak life, truth, and encouragement. Tell them you love them, are proud of them, and are always available.
  9. How to say I’m sorry.  I messed up. I was wrong. Please forgive me. A little humility and humanity encourages grace and mercy. It says you can own your shortcomings and it models good communication and responsibility.
  10. Let go of guilt. “I wish I had..I wish I  hadn’t..I should have..I shouldn’t have..if only… Home school, public school, other moms, other kids..What if I make the wrong decisions? What if my kids end up in counseling because of me?” Let it go. Do your best. Pick your battles. Say your prayers. Love your kids. Repeat.
  11. Stop comparison. Younger moms, thinner moms, cooler moms, moms with more money, more time, and more creativity… Who hasn’t felt the drive to compete, compare, or self-degrade? Your children were given to you, not your next door neighbor, the preacher, or the lady down the street. You are good enough, smart enough, brave enough, and just what they need.
  12. Always eat dinner around the table. Mealtime is always good. Why? We love to eat. We love to laugh. There’s something about sitting around in a circle that encourages conversation and accountability. No television, no video games, no phone. It’s a time to recount events of the day, plan future events, and ask lots of questions.
  13. Cereal is okay for supper. It’s fortified with essential vitamins and grains. It’s cheap. It’s easy. Knowing that so many people in the world go to bed hungry, there is no condemnation in Frosted Flakes. Or pop tarts. 🙂
  14. Stepping over piles of clothes counts as exercise. So does walking around aimlessly, running in circles, being flexible, and going the distance. Patience takes practice so that’s also a sport. Hiding in the bathroom counts as a cool-down routine.  🙂
  15. The car is a great classroom. It’s quiet. It’s confined. img_9636They can’t escape. The greatest lessons don’t happen in the classroom, but in the day to day moments of life when you can teach, share, and create real life and relationship. Believe it or not, they are listening.
  16. Make bedtime the best time. They’re tired. They’re vulnerable. They’ll open their hearts just to stay awake and to spend a few more minutes with you in the quiet darkness. What a sweet time to snuggle, to pray, and to listen to their hearts, dreams, and details of the day. It can be the great eraser of an awful, no good, very bad day.
  17. Take lots of pictures. There was no Facebook or Instagram when my children were little. Milestones and memories were captured in 4×6 glossy images in frames or behind plastic sheets. What seemed like too many at theimg_9635 time have proven to be never enough, but still offer glimpses into life and love and living.
  18. How to appreciate good art. Who needs expensive oils, French impressionists, and murky watercolors when hand-scribbled notes, finger-paints, play-doh shapes, fingerprint faces, and reindeer made of footprints can adorn walls and refrigerators?
  19. Laughing is the best. It reduces tension, stress hormones, and the need to hit something. Create inside jokes so no one else understands and you seem weird to other people. Tears will dry but laugh lines remain forever.
  20. Remember to invest. Children are a treasure, a blessing from the Lord. Each season is to be savored and captured in word, photo, laughter, and experiencing each moment to the fullest measure. But…part of our investment is in teaching children to grow, stand, walk, move on, and create their own journeys. Then what’s left besides the memories, photographs, and holiday visits? What of the other relationships? The other investments? The spouse, the deep friendships, the knowledge and care of self, the spiritual growth that is left to explore and experience after the children marry, move, or follow their own paths? Cherish, but don’t idolize your children, as you make investments in other lifelong, life-changing relationships.
  21. Be consistent and reliable. (Not perfect) As their parent, coach, cheerleader, and advocate. Be firm in conviction and what really matters, but always be a soft place to land and a safe place to rest. Then you will have a friend for the rest of your life.
  22. Pray. What could be more important, life-changing, heart-softening, and faith-building than lifting your children above a sea of chaos and confusion and into the watchful eyes and tender care of the One who made them and loves them most? “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” -Corrie Ten Boom
  23. Feel the pain. A loss, a heartbreak, a failure, an unrealized dream, a prodigal… With love and life comes pain. It means you’re alive, you care, and something matters. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
  24. Don’t walk the journey alone. Find a tribe, a village, a support system, a rock when you are weak and drowning in a sea of confusion, pain, or overwhelming burden.  “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might img_4817prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecc 4:9-12)
  25. How to let go. It starts the first time you leave them at daycare, with a relative, or a babysitter. It intensifies with the first “no” or “I can do it by myself”.  Then  classroom, camp, a car, college, marriage, moving away. There is beauty in freedom, success in standing alone, amazement as they fly. After all, they were only yours for a little while.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverb 22:6

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Children are a heritage from the Lordoffspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them    Ps 127:3-5

When It’s Cold Outside…

 

How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose if there were no winter in our year.       

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The world is white today. Beautiful, really. The same brush strokes that painted the world white also hit the pause button on the repetitive tapes of routineimg_8361 daily life and created a thousand still shots: mixtures of laughter, fun, relaxation, warm cups, warmer hearts, cozy mittens, scarves, and snowballs. Through filtered computer light I’ve seen pictures of snowsuits, snow boots, snowmen, snow forts, snow angels, sleds, and at least a hundred cold, smiling faces.

Our home is quiet. No one trekking in and out of the snow. No nudges or pleas to go outside and play. No sledding or snow forts. It’s a quiet sanctuary with no schedule apart from hot coffee, warm soup, and wide eyes watching the snow fall. The backyard bird feeders are frozen, the birdbath a mound of snow. So much to think about when the world is on pause…or at least moving in slow motion.

Measuring up. What a strange thought to entertain on a snowy day. Was it the varied predictions of how much snow, how low the temperatures, various cancellations, and other life disruptions that prompted the thought? Maybe it was images and thoughts far less img_8358tangible than measured inches or levels of mercury: laughter outside, pictures on phones and computer screens: rounded red faces flushed by winter wind, puffy balls of children swaddled in warm coats and hats, brave snowmen standing proudly in the midst of their cold, humble beginnings. They all seemed to project carefree laughter and unbridled joy from a three inch still shot photo on the computer screen. What did any of those images have to do with measuring up? It didn’t take long for a barrage of questions to assault my accusing thought processes. Was I a bad mom for basking in the warmth of  fuzzy blankets, inviting books, and warm, soothing coffee? Should I bundle up the kids and rush outside to make cold noses and warm memories? But wait… The kids are grown and making snowballs or enjoying quiet moments on their own. Then more questions…had I done it well, did they have good memories, why didn’t we get this much snow when they were younger and eager to play in the snow? Such simple, seemingly unimportant questions. How insidiously the comparison trap begins…

It isn’t really about the snow. It’s about the questions, the feelings, and the accusations. I see it everyday in a hundred different ways: comparison, competition, struggling, striving, never quite feeling good enough. I see it in people who have worked themselves into sickness and depression. I see it in the tired eyes of theimg_8301 lonely woman, the defeated man, the bullied teenager, the insecure child, the dropout, the addict, the weary. I see how it tries to sneak in, unseen, into simple everyday thoughts, plans, and observations. I should have… I could have… Why didn’t I… I wish… Like cold hard snowballs thrown mercilessly by the enemy, they always seem to find a weak spot or an unguarded target.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

Albert Camus

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

Where do the thoughts, the lies, the accusations, and the comparisons come from? When did they start? Why are the voices so familiar? Could it be that the struggle isn’t new at all? Could it all be a picture of the ancient struggle that began in  Genesis 3 with two simple yet opposing questions?

Did God really say..?

Who told you that..?     apple-273839_1280

Who told you that you weren’t good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not a good mom, not a good wife, not a good friend, not loved…just not enough?

What did God really say?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  I Peter 2:9

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:37-39

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.  Zeph 3:17

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..  Psalm 139:14

Why snowflakes and snowmen made me think of measuring up..I’m not quite sure. Snowmen are created in various shapes, sizes, and circumstances. Their lives are intentional but fleeting. They are masterfully crafted and shaped and each is unique.

And us? Masterfully crafted and unique? Fearfully and wonderfully made? What will it take to believe that? How can we be intentional? snowmenWhat would it look like to find others willing to step into the cold, messy storm with us to lend a hand, to support, and to strengthen? What does it mean to take every thought captive? Frequently set aside time for a thought check and belief inventory: What do you believe? Who or what do you concede the power to define you?  And a support inventory: who do you love, trust, and believe? Who will walk with you and give honest reflection of your strengths, your weaknesses, and your worth? All the voices, images, memories, and ideas we are exposed to have power to create beliefs and self-imposed definitions. Some realistic and accurate, others false, unrealistic, or even unattainable. So we compare. Or we condemn. We measure. Others and ourselves. How will you measure your worth today?

 Those were my thoughts on this cold snowy day.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.   Micah 6:8