Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dear Moms: You Are Not A Cruise Director

I’d been waiting for this day for a long time. The day after, Little Bit, our youngest son, completed kindergarten.

I wasn’t waiting in the “I’m over this school year” kind of sense, though that was also true. I was waiting because I longed for alone time with my baby.

Until this year, Little Bit spent two days each week at home with me. Sometimes, we did exciting things together, but most often, we spent our days living in the mundane. Taking walks in our neighborhood, playing outside, cooking, or running errands.

On many occasions when it was errand-running day, we’d find ourselves at our local mall. Our visits would involve trips to a few stores, and they would always end with lunch in the food court at Chick-Fil-A.

These days were nothing special and everything special, all at the same time.

For a year, it’s been my desire to pull Little Bit out of school so we could revisit the past. He’s my baby after all, and this year has involved gigantic waves of change for me.

But in this crazy season of life, that desire never became a reality. Inevitably, I filled my calendar with other obligations, or unexpected things would come up to prevent us from having these special days.

Thus, the wait.

A couple weeks ago, as we were preparing for school to end, I asked Little Bit what he wanted to do on his special day home. I expected him to request a trip to the arboretum, a movie, or a play date. But that’s not what he requested. Instead, he asked if we could do all the things we used to do when he was home with me before starting kindergarten.

He said he wanted to snuggle. He wanted me to work outside in my chair while he rode his bike. He wanted to go to the mall and have lunch in the food court at Chick-Fil-A so he could visit one of the workers he refers to as his “friend.” He wanted to ride the escalator up and the elevator down, throw a penny in the fountain, and buy something. Then he wanted to go to the coffee shop and drink chocolate milk in the loft before we picked up his siblings.

Simple enough. So that’s exactly what we did.

The day was nothing special and everything special, all at the same time.

It made me think of summer. And it made me think of you.

I know that moms come to the end of the school year with different emotions. For Stay-At-Home-Moms, summer can feel daunting because it steals their quiet and invades their most productive time.

For moms who work full-time in an office, summer can feel daunting because they wonder how they will fill their kids’ time.

For moms who work part-time or from home – it’s a combination of these extremes. Trust me, I know.

We all have unique circumstances that can make summers challenging.

But I think we put too much pressure on ourselves.

I think we believe a lie that the only way our kids can have a meaningful summer is if we fill their days with mountaintop experiences.

Based on my experience with Little Bit yesterday, this lie couldn’t be farther from the truth.

So moms, lean in. Listen up. I want to speak words of encouragement into your hearts today. Your summer job is not that of a cruise director. Sure, there will be times when you’re organizing the details of a vacation or outing and carting your children from here to there.

But it’s not your job to insure there are 24/7 activities happening on the Lido Deck.

Your job is to love your kids. To introduce them to Jesus. To teach them right from wrong. To cultivate an environment that’s safe and nurturing. To model grace and forgiveness.

Your job is a lot of things – and yes – it includes setting aside time to focus on creating memorable experiences. But let’s not confuse quantity with quality. Rich blessing exists in the normal day.

I’ll leave you with this. Last summer, I was strolling through some shops on vacation, when I came across a sign:

Normal Day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my fingers into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want more than all the world your return. – Mary Jean Irion

May this summer include some mountaintop experiences. But may it also be filled with many opportunities for our children to treasure the normal day.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why We Must Give Our Kids The Freedom To Strike Out

Confession. For much of my life, I’ve struggled with fears of rejection and failure. Whether these fears are part of my DNA or whether they rose from an unfortunate incident involving an unkind neighbor when I tried to sell him cookies in grade school, I’m not real sure. But the fears are there, and I’ve struggled to liberate myself from them for a long time.
I vividly remember almost not trying out for cheerleader when I was a junior in high school because I was afraid I wouldn’t make the squad. And I remember removing myself from officer elections during my sorority years for the same reason. I’m sure there are countless other things I’ve not done along the way because I was afraid of fear and rejection.
It’s one of the things I like least about myself, so helping my children overcome any fears of failure or rejection they may have is a top priority for me. I want them to learn now what it’s taking me most of my life to understand:
Failure is one of our best teachers, and success is born upon its back.
Last week, I referenced our oldest son’s struggle with sports. This baseball season has been particularly tough because they’ve moved from coach to player pitch. Though he ended last year with a batting average of 500, this year, for seven games straight, he’s swung at the ball maybe twice. To his credit, many of his at-bats have resulted in walks and runs, but his dad and I knew he wasn’t swinging at balls he could hit.
We’ve struggled with how to respond.   
We don’t want to minimize the significance of walking in baseball. It takes a good eye to call balls and strikes. But we also don’t want him not to swing because he’s afraid he’ll strike out. In both our guts, we knew we were dealing with the latter.
I recently picked up Tim Elmore’s book – 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid – at the recommendation of some friends who work in education. Mistake number one on his list?
We Won’t Let Them Fail.
Elmore says this:
“When people – especially young people – know they are free to try something and fail, their performance usually improves. It brings out the best in them. But if they are preoccupied with trying not to fail, they become paralyzed.” (12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, page 34).
That described our son in the batter’s box perfectly. “Paralyzed.”
It made me wonder.
Were we effectively communicating to our son that it was OK to strike out?
Or were we unintentionally sending him messages to the contrary?
I wasn't sure, but I’m learning that when in doubt, it’s best to over-communicate. So Saturday morning before his game, I casually brought it up.
I asked him if liked baseball. He told me he did.
I asked him if he wanted to be good at baseball. He told me he did.
I asked him what he needed to do if he wanted to get a hit. He told me he needed to swing at the ball.
And then I went for it.
I asked him if he thought his dad or I would be angry with him if he struck out. He said he didn’t think that. But just in case, I said something like this:
“The only thing that will ever upset your dad and me is if you don’t give your best effort, on or off the baseball field. We don’t care if you strike out. We don’t care if you mess up. We only care that you try. When you do something amazing, we’re going to go nuts about it in celebration. But when you don’t, we aren’t upset with you. We’re just going to save the praise for the times when you’ve earned it.”
He smiled. We hugged. And that was it.
I couldn’t attend his baseball game that morning, as we had three kids who needed to be in different places at the same time. But I got a call from our son after the game. He got a hit, stole second, scored a run, and got the game ball! Just as promised, I “went nuts in celebration” over the phone.
Did he swing at the ball because I gave him the speech that morning? I’ll never know for sure, but I don’t regret taking extra measures to create a safe place for him to fail.
And what I do know is this. Our son learned a valuable lesson that day. If he wants to be a good baseball player, he’s got to swing the bat!  


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Have You Invited Your Kids Into A Story That Matters?

What does it take to be a great parent?
This was the question that had my husband and me on the edge of our seats at Parent Night five years ago. I would have guessed a handful of things, but I never would have guessed this:
“Know and embrace your child’s ‘now,’” our headmaster said.
I didn’t understand what he meant, but he explained that a “now” is that thing we care deeply about. That thing which lights us on fire and gives us purpose. That thing in which we want to invest and be good. If we dig deep, all of us have one and so do our kids. He explained that if we wanted to be great parents, we would be about the business of learning, embracing, and supporting each of our children’s now.
It sounds simple. But as our kids are growing in their individualism, we’re learning it’s easier said than done. That’s probably why our headmaster chose to speak about it to a group of eager parents at the beginning of a new school year.
I think embracing our child’s “now” can be tough for at least two reasons.
If our child’s now is different than our own, the possibility exists that we aren’t good at it, we aren’t comfortable with it, or we don’t like it. Sometimes, our child’s “now” is way outside our comfort zone and forces us to stretch. So instead of helping them develop their own “now,” we make the mistake of forcing our “now” upon them.
I was a dancer, gymnast, and cheerleader growing up. These activities were my world. I loved them and dedicated most of my time outside school to being good at them. So when I had a daughter, I assumed she would also be into those things.
Turns out, she isn’t.
Instead, she wants to participate in theater, swimming, and band. And while theater isn’t all too unfamiliar, anything I’ve learned about competitive swimming or playing an instrument, I’ve learned through trial and error as we’ve helped her find her way. Similarly, because I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag, I don’t enjoy art. Supporting our oldest son as he explores his creativity through art is an area where I need to grow.
I think embracing our child’s “now” is also tough because, sometimes, it goes against cultural norms. I know all kids are “out of the box” in their own way, but for some, it’s more obvious than others. This is certainly the case for our risk-averse, hater-of-the-spotlight, artsy and musically gifted son. He’s been playing team sports since he was four, but none of us are quite sure team sports are for him.
As he’s getting older, we’re noticing how different he is than most of the boys in his grade. He doesn’t like to roughhouse or wrestle. At recess, he generally won’t mix it up on the field. And he’s less aggressive and less driven in athletics. He may be a late bloomer like his dad, but team sports may also not be his thing.
I wish I could say I was 100% comfortable with this possibility. But, I’ll confess I’m not. Not because I need him to play sports to fulfill some unmet need in my own life, but because I know navigating his peer relationships as he gets older might be simpler if he shared in this common interest in the area where we live. It’s just easier to fit in when we’re mainstream. And where we live? Sports are mainstream.
But we aren't called to fit in, nor are we called to be mainstream. Instead, we're called to live fully into the design God has for us.  For some, mainstream activities like sports is part of that design. For others, it's not.  
As parents, it’s our job to help our children discover God’s design for their lives. This includes helping them to identify their gifts and talents, to elevate their strengths, and to refine their weaknesses. It also involves nurturing their “now(s)” along the way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this as we’re making plans for summer. So after church on Sunday, we had family lunch at a local deli and began a conversation. Gathered around the table eating paninis and sipping iced tea, each of our kids shared one thing inside of school and one thing outside of school that is deeply important to them. Using their answers, we’re going to set some goals and offer them a challenge. Because I believe that if we can pair their passions with some of our own expectation, we just might invite them into a story that matters.
I’d invite your family to do the same!  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

6 Tools Instead Of 13 Reasons Why

My Facebook news feed is flooded with conversation about a controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. Until our Middle School Guidance Counselor wrote a blog post about it, I hadn’t focused on the content of this show, nor did I know it was wooing the attention of kids in middle school and high school. When I read her words describing the plot, I was physically ill.

For those who don’t yet know about this show, it revolves around a high school girl, Hannah, who commits suicide as the result of a series of demoralizing circumstances brought on by kids at her school. A box of cassette tapes reveals 13 reasons why Hannah chose to end her life. The show is laced with themes about sex, drugs, bullying, and rape, and is rated “TV MA.”

I decided I couldn’t watch this show given the disturbing content, so I can’t make any recommendations regarding if it’s ever age-appropriate. I will only offer that we won’t be showing it to our children, the oldest of which is 12.

We live in a culture where media is all-too accessible. I know that if my oldest child wants to watch this series, she can. Even with all the parental controls we have in place, and even though she rarely has sleepovers, if she really wanted to watch it she could find a way. Nonetheless, my husband and I have decided we can’t allow the possibility that she might devise a plan to watch this show dictate that we expose her to it at home.

But we can’t stick our heads in the sand either.

We can’t ignore the issues confronting our children today. Instead, we must engage our kids in healthy conversation as they navigate the ups and downs of youth. More and more, I’m hearing from parents that they struggle to communicate with their kids.

I’m certainly not an expert in this areaand I don’t always get it rightbut I am a mom of three, and I know what’s working for our family. So in light of the narrative surrounding this Netflix series, my heart has been burdened to share our approach regarding communication in this space. Here are six tactics we’re using to engage our kids in important conversation:

1. Listen
It’s critical that we listen to our kids at all times, but we’re finding the car is a particularly good place to tune in. We’re less intimidating when our eyes are on the road, and our hands are on the wheel. So when the kids are in the car, we turn the radio off and turn our ears on. Opportunities abound!

2. Ask Lots of Questions
“How was your day?” will get a “good” response exactly 100% of the time. So instead, we try asking more specific questions to get the conversation going. Things like: Who did you sit by at lunch?, What was fun at recess today?, and Tell me your high and your low.  If we keep asking questions, important topics bubble to the surface.  

3. Maintain a Non-Anxious Presence and a Judgment-Free Zone 
This one is hard. I don’t know about you, but when one of my children shares something negative that happened at school, my mama bear instincts may rage and my insides may squirm. But we need to be trustworthy. Our kids need to know that when they confide in us, our response will be thoughtful and measured. We can be dying on the inside, but we absolutely cannot show it on the outside.

4. Let Their Questions Be Our Guide
Many parents have shared they feel unequipped to talk with their kids about important issues like the ones raised in this series because they’re unsure how much information to reveal. When our children were much younger, our family faced difficult circumstances that caused them to ask hard questions long before their peers. A child psychologist told us that if they’re asking the questions, they’re ready for the answers (presented on a level they’ll understand). When they change the subject, they’ve had enough. This gem has served us well. If they ask a question, and we’re not sure how to answer it, we’ve learned to say: “This is a great question. It’s so important that I want to make sure I get it right. I need to take some time to think about it. Let me get back to you.” Just be sure to get back to them! We’re building trust, here, remember?

5. Follow Up 
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone only to discover something you should have asked after the fact? Our kids are no different. Their brains can only process so much information at once, so it’s likely when we engage them in tough topics, they’ll have questions well after the conversation takes place. We’re wise to follow up by re-introducing the topic when the opportunity presents itself. It can go something like this: “What you’re saying reminds me of a conversation we had the other day about _______. By the way, have you thought much about that since we talked? I’m always here if you want to visit.”

6. Engage our Empathy 
And finally, when they’re hurting, a wise mom told me years ago to say, “I’m so sorry you’re hurting. I want you to know that when you hurt, God hurts with you, and so do I. In our family, you will never hurt alone.” When I say these words to our daughter, she melts into my arms. Every time.

There’s certainly not one right way to maintain good communication with our children. These tools are just a few of many we’ve used along the way. Regardless of differences in our approach, our goal should remain the same. We want our children to have these important conversations with us, not someone else, and certainly not with the TV. We will only achieve that goal if we create a safe, approachable environment where there’s space for deep conversation to take place. My prayer is that these tools might serve us all well as we navigate the tough issues kids face today. You are in my prayers!

What tools have you discovered to create good conversation with your kids?  

Monday, May 1, 2017

How Family Camp Helped My Son Conquer His Fears

When we arrived at Family Camp in 2014, it took exactly three minutes for our kids to kick off their shoes.  They’re not much for footwear and would go bare-feet to church if allowed.  In fact, our youngest, Little Bit, has lost several pairs of shoes at church.

How does that happen?
No idea.

I warned them about splinters given the wooden decks on the covered porches at Sky Ranch Ute Trail, but did they listen?
Of course not.

In the spirit of “picking my battles,” I decided to let the scene roll. Within two hours, our oldest son had a ginormous splinter in his foot. (Yes, “ginormous” is a word.) It was embedded deeply in his skin between his first two toes.

It happened while we were in orientation so the counselors tried to get it out. God bless their efforts, but he wouldn’t cooperate. What they didn’t know, having just met our son, is that he’s hard-wired to be fearful. Fearful of new things, failure, embarrassment, pain, heights, speed, loud noise. The list was endless.

It was part of his temperament that had us “in the weeds.” We knew we needed to help him work through his fear, but we were stumped to find the right approach.

We took our son back to our cabin to work on the splinter.  We didn’t have any better luck than the counselors and, before we knew it, things had spiraled downward.

In the moment when we realized we might have to hold him down to get the splinter out, my husband decided we needed a time out.

He went to the lodge to grab a splinter tool and a deep breath. He came back, armed with all the needed supplies and a new disposition on his face.

He told me that he struck up a conversation with one of the counselors while digging through the First Aid Kit.  As he shared the struggle we were having with our son, she shared that she suffered a similar struggle when she was a child.

She said she was extremely fearful and lost her self-control when fear overcame her. During these episodes, her mom would say to her:
“It’s OK to be afraid. But it’s not OK to lose your self-control.”

We took a deep breath and gave that speech to our son. He nodded his head in understanding, and we felt a renewed sense of hope. We got the splinter out with little drama. He was so proud of himself!

It was a pivotal moment.  We knew it then, but we didn’t realize its magnitude until we used the same speech to encourage him to do this:

And this.

And this.


Thank goodness we learned this new tactic on Day 1! Our son had an amazing week of self-discovery as a result of this tip.  

The irony is that we’d been working with him on a memory verse all summer, chosen for him after lots of prayer and conversation:

“God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love and self-control.”  2 Timothy 1:7

But in our teaching, we had focused on not being afraid rather than being self-controlled.  It occurred to us that telling a child not to be afraid is like telling someone not to be happy or sad, not to be angry or frustrated.
It’s unreasonable.

Rational or not, our feelings are our feelings, and we have to deal with them. 

That doesn’t mean erasing them with a magic wand or stuffing them under the bed. (Don’t we wish that were the case?)  It means processing them through real work, all the while, using the tool of self-control.

That was three years ago. This verse has been a theme in our family ever since.

We’ve been back to Family Camp the last two years, and we’re going again in July. What a gift it’s been to watch our son grow in self-control. In fact, last year, he conquered the high ropes course and the zip line like a boss!

From the ground, we watched him along with several other parents who know this part of our story because we’ve camped together the last three years. I was touched by the tears these parents shed alongside us as they watched our son achieve these milestones.

We only see these families one week a year, but there’s something about Family Camp that allows us to live a lot of life together in those seven days. The investments we make during that week bring us back year-after-year, and every year, we watch our children grow together.

For more information about Sky Ranch Ute Trail and Sky Ranch Horn Creek, click here. We’d love you to join us at family camp this summer!