This coming March, my eldest child turns 25 years old. [It’s completely shocking.] I thought I would share with you 20 of my hard-earned nuggets of wisdom, learned over the years of parenting my four kids. They are not necessarily in order of importance, mostly because I couldn’t decide which were more important than the others… So here are they are in random order.
Write down the funny things they say
Kids say the darndest things! At the time that they say them, we think that we will always remember every word, but after a couple of years, the exact wording and even the context starts to slip away. Take a few moments and write it down in a safe place.
On learning to read…
Reading is a skill that depends on the development of a myriad of other skills first. Here’s a little tip… learning to read is a lot like potty training. You aren’t in control of it; your child is, or rather their development is. Just like you can’t force a toddler to go potty in a certain place at a specific time, you can’t force them to be ready to learn to read at a certain age. When our child is 35 years old, it will make no difference at all if they learned to read at 5 years old or 9 years old. One of the most common pieces of advice I give to anxious moms of young kids who aren’t ready to learn to read, is “Relax. Enjoy your child right where he/she is right now. Don’t wish today away. Don’t put the burden of performance on your child. Just accept them and love them in their current place. That’s what God does for us, right?”
“The days are long, but the years are short”
This is something to remember when you feel like you aren’t going to make it through the crazy day you’re having. I talk more about this topic in this blog post. Give yourself a break and go read #1 on this list.
“No” is not a dirty word
The word “NO” needs to be used often in our lives if we want balance. No to being too busy. No to comparison. No to looking for peace as the world offers it. No to taking responsibility for other peoples’ actions and words. To learn more about how I learned to have a healthy “NO,” read #15 below.
Authentic doesn’t [have to] mean disastrous…
but if it does once in a while, that’s okay, too! Authentic living is the daily decision to live this truth: Jesus died for me so I can have freedom from living only by my own resources. That doesn’t mean that my house is always going to be immaculate with everything nicely under (my) control; it does mean that I am learning to ask Him for wisdom in my priorities and help in my responsibilities. It means that I want to run this race with excellence – not covering imperfections and messes, but also not focusing on or glorifying them either. I wrote much more about this in this blog post.
Learn and teach how to set boundaries
I highly recommend that everyone alive read the book Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud. Lack of boundaries is, I believe, (besides sinful natures) the basic root of all relationship and communication issues that we humans struggle with. Please read it [and apply it]! You will be doing yourself (and your children and grandchildren) a HUGE favor.
We need to let our kids make choices
This is a REALLY big one and probably deserves to be closer to #1 on my list. We want to raise kids who will be good decision makers, right? We can do this by letting them make decisions now. All four of my kids are strong willed, some more than others, but they all fall under that category. [Honestly, with the parents they have, what else could they be?] I learned early on that they were a lot less cranky when I allowed them to make a few little decisions for themselves. For example, when they were toddlers, I would say, “Do you want the blue cup or the green cup?” or “Would you like strawberry or grape jelly?” or “Would you like to wear the pink or the purple shoes?” Just giving them these little choices gave them a feeling of ownership and empowerment in their lives. The same thing applies for choosing their homeschooling topics. Every year, I sat down with each of my kids and gave them the choice between two or three options in at least one of their subjects. We also went back-to-school shopping where they got to choose new notebooks, pencils, and pens, etc. As they got older, the decisions grew along with them. My daughters especially have stepped into adulthood with good decision making skills.
Electronics are not going away – let’s learn to deal with them!
Okay, I’m going to be honest. There are times (when I’m not using them for work!) that I wish I could rid the world of social media, electronics, and all of the distractions they bring into our lives. But let’s be honest, electronics aren’t going to go anywhere – they’re here to stay, so we need to make a plan of action. For our family, it all comes back to relationships. Kids (actually all human beings) need connection. We have learned that by setting limits on screen time – and it starts with us as parents – and making sure that we are connecting in real life, with each other and our community, screens don’t have the same role to fill. That’s why I have business hours set on my social media and websites. My family needs to know that when I step away from the computer at the end of my work day, my attention is on them, not every person who private messages me on Facebook or Instagram. By my being present, I’m setting the example for my kids. There are no phones allowed at the table. There are no screens allowed at all when it’s time to play a game. Connections need to happen in real life as much or more than through the electronics in our lives.
It’s not our kids’ job to make us happy
Our kids should never feel like our mental health is their responsibility. Plain and simple. If we want to teach our kids to own their own emotions, actions, and thoughts, we need to model that for them. Guilt-tripping is not parenting; it’s making our child “the boss” over what is really our responsibility. Inverted parenting makes for major disfunction and angry kids.
Kids need time to explore and think an original thought
In decades past, life was not so full of running and doing, and kids had time to be kids. I have consulted with a countless number of families who are dealing with issues that all stem from being too busy. Their kids are cranky and rebellious. They don’t want to do their school work. They don’t want to do anything they are being told to do. They are unmotivated and overwhelmed. I tell these parents that they need to go through their list of “have-to’s” and get rid of about half of it. When they argue with me that they want their kids to “have all of these experiences,” I remind them that original thought and invention happens ONLY when a person has time to formulate original thoughts. I teach the parents how to “brain dump” and in turn, teach their children to do the same. There is nothing better for creativity and inventive thought than actually scheduling “think time.”
No cracks, top or bottom, front or back
This is our family’s dress code.
Not everyone can breastfeed
I know that this is a touchy topic, and I debated even bringing it up…but since it is something that I have learned the hard way over my years of being a mom, I figured I’d be brave. Besides, maybe someone needs to hear this right now. When I had my son almost 25 years ago, I was 20 years old, and I was not quite three years away from the cult in which I was born and raised. As a survivor of almost unfathomable abuse, my mind, soul, heart, and body carried the damage and trauma that abuse brings. When I had my son, my body did not produce even a drop of milk. Nobody I talked to ever told me that it was common for an abuse survivor to have this issue, and so I added my “failure” to my list of “I’ll never be good enough’s.” At that time, my husband was the only person who did not make me feel terrible about giving my baby a bottle. [He also booted the overbearing lactation consultant out of our house!] I was finally physically able to breastfeed my third child, but the entire time I did, I dealt with almost suicidal depression and horrendous nightmares. It wasn’t until I researched to find out what was happening to me that I finally found information based on studies done on other abuse survivors. So, if you are a mom who is struggling with not being able to breastfeed (whether because of trauma or because of other life situations), give yourself a break. Experts say “breast is the best,” but honestly, “sane mama” and “fed baby” is the best.
You don’t have to be Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart…
unless that’s truly your thing! I enjoy cooking for my family, but honestly, that doesn’t mean that I spend hours in the kitchen every day. In fact, I’ve gotten simple down to a science. Something in the Instant Pot or crockpot or baking slowly in the oven is the center of the meal. When I say “something,” it’s usually half-thawed meat that I forgot to pull out in the morning… Although I’d love to say that I’m that mom that makes deliciously healthy baked goods from flour that I’ve ground myself, that’s just not my reality. My family eats well and more than marginally healthy most of the time, but I am usually that mom that shows up at events and gatherings with a styrofoam plate of Oreos or brownies baked from a mix. I can probably count on my two hands how many times I’ve actually had the time to create something from scratch to bring to a pot-luck over the last 27 years.
God uses our relationships
I have had the experience of walking alongside several of my children as they dealt with the growing pains of making their faith their own. On these occasions, I have looked into their eyes and seen how they are trying to sort through the hard stuff – trying to reconcile the reality of pain and loss with a loving God. There have been times that I have said these words, “Honey, do you trust me? [nod] Do you know my testimony and how God has redeemed my life? [nod] While you are in this time of seeking and searching, I’m going to be right here, showing you that God loves you. See, this is the thing, it’s God’s love that flows through me to you. He’s the One who gives me wisdom and patience to be your mom. He uses our relationship to model the relationship He wants with you.” My number one prayer for each of my kids is that God will make Himself extremely real to them, and that they will love Him with all of their hearts, souls, and minds. Our relationships with our kids are so extremely important.
Don’t try to teach during conflict
Be honest here…How open are you to correction and guidance from someone when you are in a clash of wills with that person? Your kids are the same way. If you are in “heated fellowship” with your child, resist the urge to turn it into a learning opportunity. Focus on getting through the heat of the moment without saying anything that is going to hurt your relationship with your child, and your child’s relationship with God. If you personally despise being “preached at” when you’re mad, then don’t do it to your kid. After the time of conflict is passed, sit down with your child and talk through what you need to address. Both of you will be in a far better frame of mind and a lesson will be more effective.
Be your kids’ ally
Being a kid is tough. Everyone else has a say in your life…what you’re going to wear, eat, and watch on TV is in their hands. It is important for us as adults not to be heavy-handed in our dealings with our kids. We can decide what kind of relationship we are going to have with our kids simply by the way we interact with them. I’ve seen many angry-hearted children (and was one myself) because they live in an atmosphere completely lacking in sympathy and empathy. Children need to know that their parents are for them – never against them. They need to know that you remember being a kid too. When there is something in the life of the child that needs to be corrected, teach them that you are on their side against the encroacher within. Take your stand side-by-side WITH the child, not against them, and teach them to stomp on the bad habit or choices. Let them know that you, too, need the help of our Mediator, Jesus, to overcome and live righteously.
Potty training 101
Statistically, boys are harder to potty train than girls. Personally, I’ve found this to be true. My son was not completely potty trained until about 2 months before his 4th birthday. One of the things I found extremely helpful in his training was teaching him to “aim before he fired.” I kept a small container of Cherrios© on the back of the toilet and tossed a few in for him to aim at. A little preventative training really helped the mess in the long run! For the girls, I had them turn around and face backwards. Little girls can be susceptible to urinary tract infections because of their anatomical design. [Their little hiney hangs down and prevents complete drainage.] Turn them around and let them doodle on the lid with a wipeable marker…then wash their hands!
Turn as many situations as you can into a personal growth challenge
I learned early on that kids are the happiest when they are being challenged to reach higher, dig deeper, and compete against themselves. Want to squelch the sibling rivalry and competition? Redirect their attention to their own record. Help them turn life into a “I’ll do my best ever single time, because I’m working to beat my last record.” And Mom, show them that you are doing the same thing in your own life. I’ve broken an almost countless number of bad habits by addressing them head-on and being honest when I flub up. My kids can see and hear me anyway, so why not turn it into a learning experience for everyone? It’s amazing how their support has helped me.
Start teaching your kids the life skills they will need in life (as early as you can)!
My kids have been making their own beds since they were about 3 years old. They’ve done their own laundry since they were tall enough to reach the dials on the washer/dryer, while standing on a stool (for most of them that was at about 6 or 7 years of age). Sometimes it’s hard to imagine them being grown-ups, but it is important for us to remember that we are not just raising kids; we are raising future adults. We should be working ourselves out of a job. Our future sons and daughters-in-laws will thank us!
Lighten up – let yourself make mistakes!
For driven moms like myself, this may be an extremely difficult lesson to learn. I spent a lot of years being a hard-core, head-banging perfectionist. I slowly but surely learned that choosing a perfectionistic outlook wasn’t giving me a perfect life…I still had messes and unfinished lists. What it was doing was sucking the joy out of my life and home. When I decided to embrace my mistakes, get back up and try again, a new joy came – the joy of celebrating the little sweet spots scattered throughout my days…the sweet spots that I had completely overlooked while in my nothing-is-ever-good-enough-for-me funk. Don’t take yourself too seriously or hold yourself to an impossible standard. If God can forgive our humanness, we can too.