April 17, 2018

The Death of the Monologue

“Mom, you’re monologuing.”

Said in love, I hear variations of this comment from time to time from either of my teen daughters. “Monologuing” is their term for when a person rambles on with commentary far beyond the scope of an original question or statement. I think monologuing is a sort of “occupational hazard” for parents…but it’s something we should work to avoid.

But why? Most of the time when I jump onto the monologuing bandwagon, I’m not upset. In fact, my daughters and I are usually involved in a meaningful, positive discussion when it happens, and I’m merely trying to contribute useful insight based on having lived more of life than they. But, even though they know my ultimate good intentions, monologuing inevitably comes across as “lecturing.” And lecturing shifts the dynamic of a mutually engaging, two-way conversation into interrogation-mode, which unintentionally stifles the growth of real relationship.

My pastors recently preached through the Book of James and spent significant time during one sermon on James 1.19, which says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” To emphasize the importance of the verse, the pastor preaching that week said, “We have two ears and only one mouth for a reason. It means we should listen twice as much as we speak!”

If we want to truly connect with our kids, we’ll seek the development of authentic relationship with them. In order for that to happen, they need to believe they are truly “heard.” And in order for them to be heard, we need to truly listen. We can only do that when our own mouths are shut.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t impart lessons we’ve learned from our own life experiences and also share wisdom from Scripture; a responsible parent will, indeed, do both. But in order to discern the most important insights to share at any given time, we must first purpose to actively and fully listen.

I have to regularly remind myself of this; monologuing comes all too naturally, while consciously choosing selective input takes work. But it’s worth the effort. I want my kids to be secure in the fact that they can talk with me – really talk, as opposed to being interrogated. Monologuing might make me feel competent and important – and it’s a great dramatic tool in Shakespearean plays. But it damages my kids’ security and my relationships with them. So real life calls for the death of the monologue, to be replaced by real, authentic dialogue.

CK
*****
Photo Credit: Steve James

April 3, 2018

Walking the Tightrope


With my kids now only a couple of years from graduating high school and launching into their adult lives, I’ve been thinking a lot about their childhoods. My girls are only eleven and a half months apart – so I was essentially pregnant for two straight years, and then spent several years burning the proverbial candle at both ends in order to meet the many and varied needs of my almost-twins. I cherish the memories of my daughters as little girls, but that was definitely a physically exhausting season of life, and I’ve generally welcomed the self-sufficiency they’ve gained with maturity.

I’m seeing, though, that this current season has its own challenges. When my kids were little, I was definitely exhausted…but I literally controlled everything in their lives – what they ate, where they went, what they watched and listened to, who and what they played with – and I found comfort knowing I was doing everything I could to keep them safe and healthy. It wasn’t about being a helicopter parent; it was simply appropriate at the time. And I’ve always known that the ultimate goal of parenting is to work one’s self out of a job. But it’s one thing to know that in my head and another thing entirely to live it. Thus, there are days now when I’d give my eye-teeth to go back to what seems in hindsight to have been a more-tired-but-simpler time, in order to quell my admitted anxiety about the “what-ifs” of my kids’ next few years.

Of course, that’s impossible. Yet – just as I couldn’t let go of their bike seats too quickly when they were learning to ride without training wheels – I can’t just leave them alone to fend for themselves either, whether that’s in real life or the Wild West world of technology. They do still need guidance, albeit in different ways than before. And – by God’s grace – they’ll still want my feedback even when they’re fully independent. So I’m trying every day to walk the tightrope of balance – being as hands-on as necessary without treating my young adults like children – and continually aiming to discern when to hold on and when to let go.  

And I’m seeing that walking that tightrope is actually what it means to “be fully present” at this stage of my kids’ lives. It’s no longer about having them with me every minute of every day. It’s no longer about me orchestrating every element of their daily schedules. It’s no longer about my husband and me being the only ones speaking into their lives. But neither is it about backing away entirely, as too many parents seem to do with their teens. Rather, it’s about a choice to remain mentally and emotionally engaged in order to accurately discern when to step back and when to step in.

This balancing act is exhausting in its own way. And right now it feels even scarier than fearing many years ago that one of my newborns would succumb to SIDS. But I purposed back then – even in my fear – to trust my girls to the Lord so I could get some rest each night. And no matter how precarious the tightrope feels, that’s what I’m trying to do now, too.

CK
*****
Photo Credit: Geoff

March 6, 2018

The Hammer of Competition

Is competition good or bad?

The answer – in a word – is “yes.”

As with many parenting issues, this topic isn’t black and white. At times – for some kids in some circumstances – competition is helpful and motivating. At other times, though, it’s harmful and might even be soul-crushing. Thus, we shouldn’t blindly accept cultural norms about competition or expect all of our children to engage in the same level of competitive activity. Instead, our role as parents is to understand each child inside and out and to discern – with input from the children themselves – what’s best for each in regards to competition. There isn’t one “best way” for every child; figuring out the preferred path for each one is an on-going, trial-and-error process. We must be willing to set aside the notion of a one-size-fits-all approach to this topic – and so many others.

As a former public school teacher – for nine years at the secondary level – I believe the most harmful use of competition occurs in classrooms around academic learning. I actually don’t see any reason why we should compare one child against another, ranking and sorting them when it comes to their academic education. I know some who claim to thrive on competing with peers for good grades; I was actually one of those kids growing up, but I realized too late that I lost sight of actual learning in favor of high performance. The two are not synonymous and I grieve the opportunities I lost to really learn out of fear that my grades would suffer if I tried. Conversely, I could name dozens and dozens of classmates and former students who’ve spent years feeling “stupid” simply because they couldn’t be “top dog” in terms of class rank. It would be so much better if we employed a different model – not academically comparing one child to any others but, rather, letting a child “compete” against herself by comparing where she was last month and last year to where she is today, and letting each one progress in learning at whatever pace works for the individual.

One of the main reasons competition with academic learning needs to change is that school is compulsory. Kids are required to attend somewhere – either in an institutional school of some sort or at home in compliance with homeschool laws – so they have no viable escape if destructive competition prevails. In contrast, I’d suggest that competition in voluntary activities – sports teams, music and drama, dance, etc. – can be good and can provide a way for kids to develop a healthy understanding of competition. When an activity is voluntary, a child can opt-out if he discovers he lacks interest or skill or – even if he continues – the pressure is lower when he knows he could leave if he chose to. As parents, it’s not always easy to discern whether or not to allow a child to step away from such activities – sometimes making a child keep going is good and other times it’s fine to leave – but when the activity itself isn’t compulsory, at least we can choose.

Competition as a concept is actually neutral. Like a hammer, it can be used for good or ill. Our job is to avoid allowing its use to pound holes in the “walls” of our kids’ lives but to, instead, insure its use for truly building them up.

CK
*****

February 20, 2018

The Olympics: Taking it Further

As you read this, the Winter Olympics are just days away from wrapping up for another four years. Perhaps you’ve watched the medal rounds for a few favorite sports. Or maybe you’re a diehard fan who’s streamed coverage during all your waking hours. As Kathy and I have discussed in the last few newsletters, the Olympic spectacle is a great object lesson for imparting to our kids inspiring lessons about important character traits like perseverance and graciousness. It can also be a tool – even as it wraps up – to help our kids expand their understanding of the world.

I have some friends who’ve jettisoned their usual homeschool lessons for the past month in favor of an in-depth Olympic-themed unit study. In the process, they’ve used the Olympics as a portal for learning in all content areas – language arts, science, history, geography, health, and even math, art, and music. But one needn’t be a homeschooler – or a homeschooler who dropped everything else in February – to use the Olympics in this way.

Because the Olympics showcases athletes from many countries, it presents a perfect opportunity to introduce our kids to other nations and people groups with – for Christians – a special emphasis on the missional mind of our God.

So here’s an assignment for you: Even if you haven’t watched any events up till now, set aside Sundaynight, February 25 – beginning at 8PM EST – as family time, and watch the closing ceremony together. Pray together first, that God would show you which particular nations He would like your family to be mindful of this year. Then, as the ceremony starts and you enjoy the pomp and celebration, ask each family member to make note of which flags and teams stand out, and keep a running tally, no matter how long. Choose to trust that the countries which your kids and you notice are the ones the Lord has for your family, and then use that list for weekly or monthly family study. 

Your activities can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like. Perhaps you merely use a wall map or atlas and a resource like Operation World or You Can Change the World  to read about and pray over the needs in one country once a week or once a month; even “just” that will begin to awaken your kids’ minds and hearts to the world and God’s plan for it. Or maybe you and your kids love to cook so you work together to research and then make a meal related to each country when you have a devotional time.

You could extend activities throughout the week by gathering picture books for each country in turn – most libraries have a good selection for many countries – to use as daily read-alouds with your young children. You could also research country-specific crafts and projects. And – no matter where they attend school – you might encourage older kids to find related books to use with literature assignments and during free-reading time. Additionally, as your school-aged children and teens get various assignments through the year – for research and writing, in particular – suggest using the Olympic country list for topic ideas.

When it comes to using an event like the Olympics for learning about the world, the sky’s the limit. Use the list you create during the closing ceremony all throughout the year to take it further in whatever ways strike you as you go. A year from now, you’ll all know a lot more about several countries and their people than you do today. And that can only be a good thing.


CK

February 6, 2018

Be Intentional

Though both my daughters took dance lessons for a number of years and were once pursued by a local swim team, neither has an interest in competitive sports. They do, however, choose to participate in “Solo & Ensemble,” a competition-of-sorts for teen musicians that draws 100,000 kids from across our state every year.

Solo & Ensemble is a different type of competition, in that each participant is actually “competing” against himself more than anyone else. In other words, each musician aims to perform to the best of his ability at the festival, and the adjudicator compares his performance against a rubric designed specifically for that event. Performers have access to the rubrics as they prepare, so they know from the beginning what they’re shooting for if the goal is to receive the highest score, referred to as “a first.” Every participant can earn “a first” – but only if the clear, measurable parameters defined by the rubric are met. Judges fill out a rubric form during a performance and add specific notes as needed; most also take time to verbally “debrief” with the student.

As a parent who participated in Solo & Ensemble when I was a teen, I was pleasantly surprised to see this level of precision because the process was much more subjective when I competed. The rubric system is still open to some human error – my daughter was downgraded on one song for singing what her judge deemed to be “incorrect rhythms” even though her vocal coach knew from extensive research ahead of time that what my daughter had sung was actually correct – but it’s a vast improvement over what previously existed.

When our kids participate in competitive events of any sort, this type of objective specificity is incredibly helpful in terms of teaching them to lose – and win – well. When children and teens watch Olympic events, football games, and shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent, they only see the end result. And in our instant-gratification culture, they tend to want that same sort of success and fame for themselves without grasping reality – i.e., that it took years of sweat, toil, and tears for the “stars” to get where they are. It’s our responsibility to bridge that gap.

And we can do that by finding ways to provide specific, measurable feedback to them as they learn various skills and seek to improve. If a child doesn’t place at a skating event and can see it’s because she didn’t execute particular elements of her Triple Lutz, she can more readily accept the loss without giving up and know that she has a chance next time if she practices and ultimately masters specific moves. Likewise, if a team wins a basketball championship, they’ll be “good winners” – happy and humble, not arrogant – if they realize the victory came not by “magic” or “luck,” but, rather, because they chose to drill rudimentary skills as their coach directed.

Competition isn’t a bad thing; used correctly, it can motivate and inspire our kids toward excellence. But in order to compete well, they must know precisely what “success” looks like and how to get there. So be intentional about providing them with the specific, measurable feedback they need.



CK

January 16, 2018

True Winners


This year’s Winter Olympics kick off on February 9. I’m unsure how much of it my family and I will watch, but I was often glued to the television during “Olympic season” as a kid. Stereotypically, my favorites were women’s gymnastics in the summer and figure skating in winter. And, though I merely watched gymnastics, I often pretended to be an Olympic ice skater when my brother and I went to the Saturday morning open skate at our local rink.

I can easily recall the names of several gymnasts and skating champions from my childhood. But now that I’m a parent, I wonder how many were actually winners?

If they were pursuing their own dreams – and eventually reached the pinnacle of Olympic excellence as a result – they were winners. But I believe those who got silver and bronze – or never even made it to the platform – were winners as well…if their Olympic experience was a personal passion fulfilled to the best of each one’s ability. On the other hand, I’d say that if any of them – even the medal holders – were not in it for the right reason, they weren’t winners at all.

I was the valedictorian of my high school class and graduated magna cum laude with my college degree. I do have an ability to learn well and retain thoroughly, so “academic achievement” came rather naturally. But I didn’t pursue those goals from a point of passion and joy, so I don’t consider myself a “winner” in that realm. I got my “good grades” out of fear – fear that I’d be rejected if I didn’t perform “well enough.” In fact, I was so consumed with perfectionism based on academics that I didn’t have any idea what God had actually wired me for until well into adulthood. I’m not stuck in regret – God uses all things for the good of those who love Him – but I do sometimes wonder how things might have been different for me if I’d not fallen into the people-pleasing trap of “perfect” performance.

As parents, one of our main jobs is to be “students” of our children. In other words, we must purpose to discover over time how the Lord has uniquely wired each one and then do everything we can to nurture and grow what we see as His orchestration, not our own machinations. Part of that involves helping our children see reality – for example, fewer than 2,900 men hold roster spots on NFL teams every year and only 704 are starters. But there’s a lot of room in between pipe dreams and extreme utilitarianism. It’s hard work, but it is possible to help every child find and develop his or her real gifts and talents and learn to apply them to real world reality as adults.

We must play our assigned role of “assistant coach” to the best of our ability, purposing to implement the Head Coach’s game plan, not our own. If we do that, each of our children will come out as true winners.
CK

January 9, 2018

Live in Such a Way

I’m in the middle of what – for me – is the hardest season of parenting I’ve experienced so far.

I have teens, but it’s not that they’re “difficult.” Not at all. I actually enjoy these years for many reasons – when I was a classroom teacher, I chose to spend my entire career working with teens – and my daughters are – though obviously not perfect – very good girls who bring me great joy.

The problem is that I’m much closer than not to having to “give them up.” Of course, I’ve known that reality since before I had them; we aim to raise children into healthy adulthood precisely so they can eventually make their own confident way in the world. But now – as I navigate the tightrope of continuing to provide enough guidance and oversight on the one hand while letting go enough on the other – it’s hitting me viscerally. And it’s hard.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that other seasons of parenting life aren’t difficult as well. For some, the “baby years” are excruciating. For others, it’s the toddler and preschool time. And some wrestle most with having children in the “school-age” or ‘tween phases.

I’m not a moral relativist by any stretch of the imagination; when it comes especially to biblical precepts, right is right and wrong is sin. But I’ve learned over the years that when it comes to some matters of daily life – for example, the parenting experiences we each navigate – there is quite a bit of “gray.” Thus, some of my friends cannot understand why this “letting go” phase is hard for me because – for one reason or another – they didn’t struggle much with it themselves. Others only have young children and they’re convinced their current experience – filled to the brim with sleep deprivation, poopy diapers, and temper tantrums – is the hardest time anyone can endure.

In the context of my life – for me, with my kids – they’re all “wrong.” But I’ve determined I shouldn’t disavow any of them of their feelings. The fact is that each parenting journey – just like each of our individually-designed children – is unique. What’s hard for me is easy for someone else; what I can coast through is a deep struggle for another. The truth is that our perception of parenting life is as unique as our individual fingerprints.

As we begin a new year – at which time many set resolutions or goals of various sorts – what would happen if we decide to respect each other as parents? To put an end to the one-upmanship we too often indulge? To choose trust rather than skepticism in regards to others’ parenting choices? To uphold and build up instead of sniping and tearing down? What could we all say about our experience as parents – whatever the circumstances, good and bad, through which we’ll walk over the next 12 months – if we knew others would support and help us along the way rather than trying to convince us that they know better?

We can envision the beautiful results. Now let's live in such as way as to make that our reality a year from now.

CK

December 19, 2017

Mary and Regular Joe

Mary was a young teenager when she gave birth to Jesus. Joseph was a bit older, but he was certainly as unprepared as she to raise the child thrust upon him. The angel who initially encouraged each of them announced that the baby would be “the Savior,” so they had a glimpse of how his life would turn out. But, of course, they couldn’t possibly have guessed the painful journey He’d need to take in the process.

Yet they managed, successfully raising Jesus to adulthood in the face of continual gossip about His paternity and despite living in relative poverty. How did they do it?

God didn’t give them the ethereal halos with which they’re so often portrayed in Medieval paintings. They were regular people, aiming to do their best – no doubt stumbling through plenty hard days along the way – without really knowing the “end game” for Jesus or their other children. They relied on the Scriptures available to them at the time, the Holy Spirit with Whom they’d been infused, and supportive friends, family, and community members. They lived by faith that God was with them and would guide them each day, week, month, and year.

Of course, none of our kids is destined to be the Savior of the world – that job’s already been taken! – but the Lord does have a unique, individual plan for each of them nonetheless. And He will guide us step by step, the same as He did Joseph and Mary, as we choose to walk by faith through the parenting process. Though His plan will sometimes differ from our expectations, He always works everything for the ultimate good of those who love Him. He did it for Mary and her “regular Joe” husband; He’ll do it for us, too.
CK
*****
Photo Credit: Charles Wiriawan

December 12, 2017

Can You?


My kids are old enough to stay home alone, but neither is yet driving for herself so I find myself living the life of a chauffeur. And one of the things I most enjoy about this “season” is the opportunity to have regular one-on-one time with each of my girls as I drive to and from various activities. We don’t listen to the radio, and they don’t text friends or surf the ‘net; we talk with each other.

On one recent excursion, my very sanguine younger daughter and I got on the topic of “philosophy of life,” and she optimistically said, “My philosophy comes down to not worrying. God knows everything that’s going to happen and there’s a reason for all of it, so why worry?”

Of course, she’s right, and we shouldn’t be surprised when wisdom comes from the lips of children (Matthew 21.16). In fact, her conviction – which I see played out daily in her life…and which humbles me greatly – is absolutely biblical (Jeremiah 29.11, Romans 8.28).

We might think she’s na├»ve because she’s “only” an adolescent – and one whose life has thus far been shielded from much of anything terribly traumatic. But truth is truth; it’s not less true when delivered by a young person (1 Timothy 4.12), and it doesn’t change even if some “more mature” people have allowed their hearts and minds to become jaded by life circumstances.

My daughter’s faith in a “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4.7) got me thinking about some of the many parents with whom I interact daily. These folks are anxious about nearly every aspect of their children’s growth and development. Not intentional, involved, and proactive – all of which are very positive parenting attributes – but literally worried. They fret over everything – sure they’re making all the wrong choices or not ever doing enough, and convinced that there’s something terribly abnormal with this child or that. They’re making themselves sick by attempting to control every outcome and stressing their children in the process.

Intentionality is good. Seeking wise counsel is…well, wise. But what would happen if we aimed to adopt my daughter’s philosophy of life in regards to our children, leaning into two very important corollary truths:

  1. If God’s in control, He knows absolutely everything about the unique, individual child He’s given me – all the child’s strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, inclinations and aversions – and He has a specific, unique plan for the unfolding of that child’s life;
  2. God entrusted that child to me…which means that He – knowing all of my strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, inclinations and aversions – trusts and will (daily) empower me (despite myself) to help the child uncover and fulfill His plan.

In other words, what would happen if we chose to truly walk in faith in regards to our children? To make our plans as they seem good and healthy, yes, but to also give God wide berth to redirect our paths as He sees fit (Proverbs 16.9) without reacting like Chicken Little when He does?

Think for a moment about one area of current “concern” for each of your children. Rather than unproductively worrying or fretfully micromanaging, can you, instead, give those issues to God and purpose to trust Him to work things out over time according to the unique plan He already has in mind? Can you decide to observe and facilitate rather than control?

CK
*****
Photo Credit: jonathan lopez

October 31, 2017

I Don’t Understand But I Trust You

I wrote last time about the reality that “only a child’s parents are ultimately accountable to the Lord for their [parenting] choices” and that “absent a direct request or a case of clear, imminent danger, we need to respect that boundary.”

I firmly believe in those principles. But another reality is that we do live in community, interacting daily with friends, family, and others in our congregations, neighborhoods, and towns. And, though feeling entitled to opine about others’ choices is one troubling side effect of “social media culture,” the opposite end of the spectrum – feeling paralyzed to broach any potentially sensitive topic for fear of “offending” someone – is just as irksome.  The fact is that we shouldn’t have to feel so bound by “political correctness” that we can never ask questions or express opinions in the context of relationship.

But how on earth do we begin to strike the right balance?

I’ve parented my children almost to adulthood, and along the way I’ve made some choices that exist far outside the box of conventional thought while also choosing at times to follow social “norms.” So I feel capable of providing some guidance on this topic. And I believe these principles apply regardless of the specific “concern” – whether it be how/where a child is educated, a parent’s vaccine choices, dietary preferences, disciplinary methods, or any other parenting decision.

First, relational proximity matters. Thus, while close friends and some family and community members have a “right” to engage in these discussions, acquaintances, distant relatives, and “random strangers” on the street do not. In other words, we need to choose to refrain from criticizing or even commenting on choices made by those with whom we don’t have a significant relationship. For example, though my mother-in-law might be justified in wondering why my children aren’t doing homeschool lessons on a particular day, the woman at the park with her grandkids was out of line when she approached me, demanding to know, “Why aren’t those kids in school?”

Second, tone matters. Even if we have a “right” – by virtue of a close enough relationship – to ask about a parenting decision, we must still do so with respect. Perhaps, for example, I have a concern about my best friend’s choice to put her family on a vegetarian diet. Because I’m part of her inner circle, it’s not inappropriate to ask. But how I broach the subject is important. It would be wrong to say, “Sally, you’re ruining your kids’ health by cutting out meat!” But I could say, “Sally, I admit I really don’t know about veganism. Can you help me understand why you’ve gone this route?” As the old adage goes, we catch more flies with honey than vinegar – and we maintain more relationships with kindness than contempt.

Finally, grace matters most of all. Sometimes, though we’ve approached a topic in the right way and engaged in a positive and thorough conversation, we’ll still disagree with another’s parenting choice. And we have to be okay with that. We must accept the other person’s right to choose differently than we would, both because it’s the right thing to do and because we want to give the same grace we hope to be granted. In such situations, there’s really only one appropriate response: “I don’t understand, but I trust you.” If you love the person in question more than you love being “right,” you can do it.

CK
*****
Photo Credit: Gareth Williams
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