The one parenting question you need to answer

A few weeks ago I learned why we don’t often visit Bruce at work. Taking all four boys to eat lunch with Bruce to celebrate Quade’s 7 1/2 birthday and Knox’s 1st birthday was two bananas shy of a fruit basket.

DSC_0650

Watts greeted Bruce’s employees by lifting up his shirt. Price proceeded to pour salt & pepper out on to the table. Knox celebrated his birthday rightly by dropping his glass bottle on the floor and smashing it to pieces (like a Greek wedding celebration…opah!).

DSC_0658

had a ticket to attend dotMOM, a mom conference, that weekend. The conference actually started around the same time my boys were running circles around a lunchroom table. But I chose to skip the first keynote session with Angie Smith (one of my faves) and fulfill my motherly birthday duties. 

Later that night I finally arrived at dotMOM just as Travis Cottrell began leading worship (one of my highlights by the way). Unlike Angie Smith, a name I was quite familiar with, I had never heard of the evening keynote speaker before.

Apparently, John Croyle, used to play football at Alabama. The first question in my head was, “What could an ex-football player teach me about motherhood?” (arrogant much, Heather?).

Then as Big Mama & Boo Mama introduced John and gave his bio, I had the following inner monologue: “How could his oldest child be 57, when that’s about how old he looks? Did I just hear him say he has 26 children in college? And excuse me, how many total children does he have? over 1800?”

Then John Croyle explained he owns a ranch in Alabama for children who have been orphaned, neglected or abused (ohhhh). A ranch he started instead of pursuing a professional football career (maybe I judged him a little prematurely). He shows these children a love they’ve never known and gives them a hand up to a better life. When they arrive at the ranch John tells them four simple truths:

  1. I love you.
  2. I will never lie to you.
  3. I will stick with you till you are grown.
  4. There are boundaries. Don’t cross them.

How awesome are those?

This ex-football player really knocked this momma over the head with truth when he shared the ONE question he believes shapes every parent’s actions.

You ready? Here it is: 

“What are you afraid of for your children?”

Stop and think about it. What are you afraid of?

While I sat in the large conference room my immediate answer was:  I’m afraid of what people think about my boys. I’m afraid of them getting permanently hurt. I’m afraid of messing them up. I’m afraid they won’t pursue God as adults.

John Croyle argues, “If you don’t get control of your fear, your fear will conquer you. If you are afraid of your children not measuring up. Let that go because it’s not your line to draw. God’s got His line of what He wants your kids to be.”

powerful stuff.

John’s words lingered in my mind for days after…”What am I afraid of for my children?”. Taking note of my behavior, in light of my fears, I realized my actions often didn’t show my true desire to love, cherish and nurture my boys…for instance:

  • Getting upset that toys were left out–>fearful they will become adult slobs & fearful I’m not a good wife if I don’t keep the house clean.
  • Losing my temper because one brother hurts another brother (again)–> fearful there is more evil than good in their hearts.
  • Becoming Impatient when I have to keep nagging them to get ready to go–> fearful of how it looks when we are consistently late.
  • Embarrassed and then controlling when the boys act a little “wild” in public–> fearful others will think I’m a bad mom.

Yes, I want to train my boys to have good habits…but training in grace (not fear). Yes, I want to help them love one another…but by showing them gentle love. Yes, we need to be on time to commitments…but not because we need to impress others. Yes, we need to have self-control out in public…but not because we are consumed with man’s approval.

John’s right. “Guilt & fear are Satan’s biggest weapons.” Fear is robbing me the joy of mothering these precious boys. Because when I look back at the pictures above I see their smiles and realize they weren’t being “bad”… just being boys…in an office cafeteria.

Over and over in the Bible we read, “Do not fear”. Do. not. fear. “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” It all comes down to John’s last bold statement:

“You are a daughter of a King. Act like it!” -John Croyle

I’m already loved by the King of the Universe. Time to put on that big girl tiara and start believing it.

How do you manage your fears? Do you have Scripture memorized? Do you rationalize why your fear is unrealistic? Do you realize how much you are loved already?

Let’s tackle our fears ladies! for the children.

DSC_0653

Filling up my Momheart

Two years ago while ill with flu, I stayed in bed and followed the Momheart conference on Twitter (via @SomeGirlTweets). Here I listed all the wonderfully inspirational tweets.

Last year I headed to the doctor’s office instead of the conference hotel, thinking I was going into labor. Fortunately it was a false alarm & I was able to attend Momheart after all (contracting every couple of minutes the whole time). But the 5 mommy tips I gained at last year’s conference I’m STILL using.

momheart conference

This year I sat & enjoyed the inspiration and wisdom of Sally & others without physical discomfort. It was glorious! It would be stingy of me to keep all this hope & encouragement to myself. Here are my “takeaways” from the weekend:

HOPE

1. “Hope is the energy that inspires you to pursue your ideals.”-Sally Clarkson

This quote sums up the feeling I gained from Momheart. Seeing Sally’s grown children pursuing God in various ways, gave me hope to keep pursuing my ideals. Knowing that the daily training & tangible love is worth the effort. Continuing to seek God early in the morning, so I may be filled with patience, joy, kindness, gentleness, self-control which can only come from His Spirit.

FAITH

2.  “If you only live by works, you will live by works the rest of your life. But if you live by faith you will depend on God for the rest of your life.” –Sally Clarkson

Seeing how it wasn’t Sally’s works which produced awesome grown children…it was her faithfulness to pursue her God. It is not my efforts or my works which matters, but my heart thirsting after the One who holds my children’s souls.Praying for wisdom only He can give in helping shape the ones only He can draw to Himself. 

“If I want to be an expert in the hopes & dreams & faith & fears of my children I want to go to the one who breathed life into them & created them. ” -Kat Lee

FREEDOM

3. “Your children are complete according to heaven. View them as fellow beautiful ones.” Sarah Mae

DSC_0613

Sarah shared her personal story of brokenness & how she did not believe God could ever love her because of her faults. She discovered freedom (Gal 5:1) and learned God already saw her as perfect because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross:

“For by a single offering he has perfected (completed) for all time those who are (being) sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14

In the eyes of all-mighty God you are already perfect…believe it!!

GRACE

4. “You are doing a good job because you are there & you try.” Kat Lee

Oh I’m just going to record this & put it on repeat. Good stuff. She is also known for saying, “You’re a mom. You’re kind of a big deal.”

Despite doing a good job & being a big deal, if there was anything I felt I wanted to work on…being more patient, more organized, less reactive. Kat’s advice was to:

“Make a list of the things you want to work on…put them in order most important…focus on one thing a month.” (Kat Lee)

LOVE

5. “Law created in love provides protection. Law without love is legalism.” Sally Clarkson

DSC_0596

Sally reminded me the importance of not getting my boys to behave because “I say so”. But maintaining a loving, trusting relationship with my children so they desire to listen to instruction. Creating an atmosphere of love. Treating them as I would like to be treated. Be respectful to be respected.

JOY

6. “Bring life to your puzzle.”-Deb Weakly

Deb Weakly is a dear friend of Sally’s. Deb encouraged us the best gift to give our children is a strong marriage. Having come from a home with divorced parents, she spoke with encouragement instead of condemnation.

Since life will always be a hard, bring life & joy to your puzzle (your children, your husband, your circumstances). Whatever challenges are present in your home…embrace them. Remember who you are, do the things you love. Remember why you love your husband…tell him why (she said if you don’t remember why you love your husband…ask God & He will remind you…then write it down!).

“Instead of being negative…lean into your marriage. Think positive thoughts. ‘I’m in this. No matter what.’ Commit your plans to the Lord. He will establish your thoughts. ‘I love Him. This is a bump in the road.'”-Deb Weakly

My prayer is these words will inspire you to keep up the good work in your home. When the days are long & you are weary, remember God sees your faithfulness…it matters.

welcomesign

One plan for dealing with misbehavior {aka “the time I forgot about consequences”}

When I had Knox, the older boys were just finishing up the second half of Spring semester. A month after he was born, I attended parent-teacher conferences. During one conference a teacher asked me, “When ____(insert name)___ does something he’s not supposed to do, what is his consequence?”

Crickets.

Oh shoot! Consequences? I had completely forgotten about consequences.

What I wanted to tell her, but wisely didn’t, was when the boys got too wild or broke a rule, their “consequence” was an angry mommy… or the command, “STOP IT!!!!” or choice words yelled across the house.

Feeding a newborn every couple hours made it challenging to remember the importance of an effective discipline system. Meeting the needs of a baby was all-consuming. Providing for physical needs of 3 other boys, then possibly meeting some emotional needs AND executing thoughtful discipline on top of it all? Forget about it.

But her question, “What is the consequence…” stuck in my head for several days. She reminded me how off-base my discipline had tilted. Maybe it had just fallen off the wagon all-together.

For me, discipline swings on a pendulum swinging between too-strict and too-permissive. When things get too permissive, it gets too chaotic in our home and it robs the joy.

James Dobson gives a memorable analogy (this is my summary…) Suppose you are going 90 mph on the highway and pass a police officer. What if the officer could only stand next to the highway and yell as loud as he could, “Slow down!!” & blow his whistle…would you stop speeding?

6268234475_4a1566663f

photo credit

But imagine driving with your kids, jamming to your Seeds Family Worship and you see the lights of a police car in your rearview mirror (not that this has happened to me…merely an example). 😉 Your heart beats rapidly as you roll down the window to hand over your license & registration. You wait anxiously for the officer to return to the side of your car and determine whether you will be handed the dreaded ticket requiring you to pay a large sum of money.

For the next month…or year…when you get to the specific road you were pulled over, you make sure to go well below the speed limit. And it worked…behavior changed by a consequence.

For a long time I’ve been the police officer just yelling from the side of the road. My kids called my bluff & there was no change in behavior.

Then I was flipping through the book “Good & Angry” by Turansky & Miller and was reminded of a simple way to deal with misbehavior at home. It gave me a plan to implement in those moments I want to just shout “no!”.

Here is my version of their plan for handling misbehavior:

  1. Unacceptable behavior occurs
  2. Ask the offender to sit on our bottom step
  3. Tell him to come find me when he is ready to talk about his behavior
  4. When he finds me we talk through the following questions:
  • What did you do that was wrong?
  • Why was it wrong?
  • What are you going to do next time?

**End with “Now go try again!” (my favorite part…they leave encouraged instead of discouraged).

Slide1

I’ve found the boys typically know what they did wrong. But they rarely can express “why” it was wrong (a child development issue…most kids struggle with the “why”). Talking through the why helps form their moral code. For example, “Why was it wrong to hit your brother? Because God commands us to love one another. Hitting someone is not loving or kind.”

Then talking about options and ways to respond next time has also proved helpful in reducing bad behavior choices. For example, “If he takes one of your toys and it makes you upset, you could tell him, ‘I was playing with that car. You can have it when I’m finished.'”

I’m not going to lie & tell you life is grand & my boys never fight or disobey. No ma’am. But I have a plan now. When the baby needs to be fed & someone makes a bad choice I have a tool I can pull out instead of yelling.

What consequence system have you found to be useful? I can use all the help I can get!! 

Seeking God’s Plan for my Boys

Only God knows what kind of men my boys will become. And so I seek Him and ask Him to give me wisdom. Wisdom to know His plans. Eyes to see their uniqueness. And then words to direct their hearts towards His calling.

Today I’m writing over at the MOB Society about casting a Godly vision for your boys (also true for girls…but the site is for mothers of boys afterall…). Click here to read the article.

To go along with the theme of my post I wanted to share a video of my two oldest boys we made last week. The only prompt I gave was: “Do y’all want to help me tell others about HelloMornings? Lots of ladies will see it and maybe want to join me in waking up early. You have one minute to talk about why you like when mommy wakes up early.”

This is the result:


So I speak this vision over my eldest son…”God has gifted you with the ability to craft words. You perform well in front of others…with passion. You have a wonderful sense of truth and share it well. I can’t wait to see how God uses these talents for His glory.”

What gifts do you see in your children? Have you sought God for wisdom in how He could use those gifts for His glory?

Such a high calling to take the raw material God has placed in my hands and shape it for His purposes. 

Do You Trust Me? {lesson from the Horse Whisperer}

When Knox arrived a year ago, my other three little guys experienced chaos and upheaval. For a solid 6 months (2 months before the birth, at least 4 months after) stood a tired and highly emotional mom.

Our relationships suffered. My boys just didn’t trust me. Eyes questioned my harsh tone. Bodies leaned away from my reach. They didn’t believe I had their best interest in mind.

Fortunately I’ve spent the last year rebuilding that trust. But it’s taken a focused effort. More patience and understanding on my part.

IMG_5298

This process of rebuilding trust all made more sense when I recently read, “Horse Sense for People” by the Horse Whisperer (Monty Roberts). This man trains horses in an unconventional way. He does not use harsh methods. Instead he develops a trusting relationship with the horse and establishes he is not a threat to the horse. Then he proceeds with training.

He learned horses are fight or flight animals. “To saddle a horse, for example, is to provoke the sense that he is being attacked by a predator and this leads him to act in self-defense.” Traditional trainers keep the horse chained up and then whip him when he attacks or tries to get away. They work from the principle, “You do what I tell you, or I’ll hurt you.”

The Horse Whisperer realized he had to communicate to the horses they could trust him, and he had to earn that trust. He found he could help the horse to discover the joys of working together, all without coercion and pain.

Even though my boys aren’t animals (a fact hard to believe sometimes), there is something to be learned from the Horse Whisperer’s insight. By establishing trust, my boys learn the joy of partnership and working together. They are more willing to accept discipline because they know I have their best interest in mind (not just for my comfort & convenience).

Isn’t that the approach God takes with us? Our entire relationship with God begins with faith (or trust). A faith He does not force upon us. We are given the free will to believe in the existence of God, to believe He loves us, to believe He sent His son to die for us.

He does not force us into obedience. He provides rules (laws) for our own benefit, safety and blessing. He desires a relationship with us. Not only a relationship, but a healthy, loving, growing relationship.

DSC_0215

Jesus approached the disciples the same way. He did not force them to follow him but proved himself loving and trustworthy. Once they viewed him as a Rabbi/leader/teacher, he trained and corrected them. Take the calling of Simon Peter:

“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

(Luke 5:4,5,10,11)

Do you feel like your kids trust you? How do you help foster a trusting relationship in your home? 

*As I was processing this concept of trust, my son brought home the book “Lass” by Roland Gebauer. This story is about a man who gains the trust of a wild sheepdog, trains him how to herd sheep, and the dog ends up saving a single lost sheep. A great story to read with your kids about God’s redemptive work in our lives. IMG_4819

The Book I Needed a Year Ago {“Desperate” by Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson}

When enough people tell you to read a book, you start to listen. Several bloggers received advance copies of Sally Clarkson & Sarah Mae’s latest collaboration, “Desperate”. These blogger friends kept saying, “Have you read Sarah & Sally’s new book?”, “I think you really should read their book.”, “Make sure to get a free copy of “Desperate” when you are at Allume.”

The positive peer pressure won me over.  A free copy of “Desperate” if I wrote a book review blog post? Sounded like a win-win situation.

During a rare quiet moment in my hotel room in Pennsylvania I read these words from Sarah Mae:

“Dear Sally, I’ve taken personality tests that say I’m an off-the-chart extrovert, but I don’t feel extroverted anymore.  I just want to be alone more and more these days.”

And later in the chapter she wrote,

“What happened to my resolve, my strong ideals and convictions? I still loved my children completely and wanted the best for them, but something was dying inside me.  I didn’t feel like the vibrant woman I used to be; I felt dull.”

Weren’t these my feelings this past year?

Back in Pennsylvania, a fortuitous elevator ride allowed me to look Sarah Mae in the eyes and say, “Thank you for writing this book. Thank you more than you will ever really understand. This is the season I am coming out of and moms need your words. Thank you.”

If you are a mom of little ones this book is for you. The subtitle, “Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe”, perfectly describes the book’s purpose.

Life with young children can feel like a game of Survivor. Drowning in a sea of constant needs and responsibilities and dirty diapers. Like the comedian Jim Gaffigan said, “Do you know what it’s like to have a 4th child? You’re drowning and someone hands you a baby.”

What makes this book different from anyone I’ve ever read is the combination of a younger and older mom. A living out of the Titus 2 command, for older moms to teach younger moms how love their husbands and children.

Sarah’s memory is still fresh with the exhaustion and frustration of motherhood. She wrote my thoughts, the honest and struggling ones. Then Sally answered Sarah’s questions with understanding and wisdom. 

“Dear Sally, My house is a mess and I’m so overwhelmed I just wish I had someone to help me clean it. I clean one room, and ten minutes later it’s wrecked again…”

the reply:

“Dear Sarah, …Housework has never been my strength, and dirty dishes in the sink will always make my heart drop.  Yet I focused more on the atmosphere of my home, the rhythms of keeping it going, and in time my capacity to work became stronger and I didn’t feel quite so overwhelmed…”

Sarah’s words make you feel understood. Sally’s words give you hope & direction. 

This book did not give more “to-do’s”, but permission to be proactive. Instead of surrendering to a desperate, miserable mothering existence, Sarah & Sally give you practical ideas on how to enter into a relationship of love & beauty with your children. 

These women echoed the message I hope to communicate on my site. Both directed the reader to seek God’s voice over the voices of others. To live a God-centered life. To serve selflessly, yet not miserably. To enjoy the life you’ve been given.

“God calls each of us to seek Him, to look for His wisdom and to follow where He calls us by faith, and it will be a different story for each family, marriage, and individual mom and dad.” –Sally Clarkson

Words that encouraged me as I’m coming out of my season of lamenting were in the chapter entitled,“When the Dark Invades.” Sally gives a plan that helped her lessen the impact and duration of depression. It’s a little checklist which perfectly targets the areas of my life which were out of “whack” this past year:

  1. Do I need sleep?
  2. Have I been reading my Bible?
  3. Do I feel alone?
  4. Am I watching my health?
  5. How can I get help?
  6. What do I need to invest in the joy factor of my life?

If you are in a parenting “rut” or if you feel desperate, I highly recommend this book.

“God lives in my home, but sometimes I ignore Him and don’t hear the music He is playing just for me.” –Sally Clarkson

If you are looking for a place for community and support while reading “Desperate” you can find various Facebook groups. Also there will be a book discussion group on www.theBetterMom.com starting January 29th. Or gather 5 or 6 of your mom friends and start your own discussion group (check out the giveaways if you order 8 books). Maybe even go on a limb and ask an older mom to read it with y’all and share her wisdom.

 “A happy mom who is secure in herself and at ease in her life is a rare gift that children love and appreciate” –Sally Clarkson

Desperate Book Tour - desperatemoms.com

Real mountains make my molehills look absurd

One afternoon last week I sat at the table spoon-feeding Knox. I couldn’t help but keep my eyes locked on him as he flashed a smile between bites. Our home is always full of noise from the brothers…fighting, pretending, running. On this particular day I vaguely remember hearing Watts singing.  Suddenly something smashed against my back, alerting me to pay more attention to my surroundings.

I turned around to witness the following scene:  a naked bottomed boy spinning in circles, his Pull-up held high above his head, belting out the Muppets Movie hit song, “Me Party” (for those unfamiliar…the lyrics are, “I’m having a me party, a party just for one. A me party.” Over and over).

Technically there is no problem with a preschooler singing naked in the comfort of his living room.  Unfortunately, in this case my son’s Pull-up had been full of pee. By “had been”, I mean while swinging the diaper (cuz really that’s what it is) above his head the pee-soaked granules were flung out. Which would explain the substance I felt hitting my back.

I quickly surveyed the damage trying not to freak out. I found granules on my laptop bag, on an Avenger Croc, piles splattered around the floor and even a tiny piece sitting on Knox’s high chair tray. Awesome.

pullupmush

After telling Watts to “never, ever do that again”. I considered how to clean up a mess I had never, ever encountered. An exploding Pull-up? Seriously.

mushcleanup

As I carefully swept each little piece into the dustpan (like cleaning up rice or pasta, this material smeared when pushed), I heard Quade say, “Mom what’s up there?” I looked up to see a huge chunk of Pull-up mush stuck to our wall right next to the lovely Christmas wreath I had hung on the window.

mushonwall

I laughed. Out loud. In the middle of the mess. Because I knew I had the choice to laugh or cry (or yell). Any other day I probably would have yelled. Maybe even thrown down the broom in frustration and run to my bedroom to cry. Not that day. That day I laughed. And I liked it.

Last Thursday night, I stayed up too late listening to an author share stories from his life. I felt an odd sense of freedom when he said, “If you take yourself too seriously, you will be miserable.” He was right.

With the weight & responsibility of rearing four young boys and keeping up with life in Dallas, I’ve taken myself too seriously. It’s not a joyful version of me.

The next morning each time I wanted to respond to a little thing in a big way I repeated in my head, “Don’t take yourself too seriously”.  10 minutes later the same phrase. Then again 20 minutes after that…”Don’t take yourself too seriously”.

That same morning evil walked into a school on the east coast and did the unimaginable. The truly serious happened making my overreactions seem even more ridiculous.

Because when you come up against a legitimate mountain the one you created from a molehill looks ridiculous.  My prayer for you and for me is to take ourselves less seriously because life is serious enough on it’s own. We don’t need to add to the weight with our unrealistic expectations.

In these days leading up to Christmas even though we grieve with those who grieve, may you find joy in your children. I know I’ve hugged mine even tighter. Enjoy the humor of “A Christmas Story”-leg lamps & tongues stuck to flag poles. After kids are safely tucked in bed watch the “mostly clean” humor of Jim Gaffigan’s “Mr. Universe” on Netflix. Or laugh out loud to Buddy the Elf’s childish antics in big, serious New York City. Whatever brings you joy this season…do it.

“Joy is the serious business of heaven” C.S. Lewis