The Roller-Coaster Ride of Parenting

By Ellie Gustafson

That our children turned out well might indicate we did something right as parents. Even though bad kids can come from good parents, God is the moderator in such matters. Parenting works best when plugged tightly to Him.

Both Jim and I had good parents. They gave us books, music, and places for the imagination. They loved us with firmness. Our small town was safe. Church was a given, and except for my parents splitting up, I had an idyllic childhood.

But how would my parenting go? First of all, what do you know in your early 20s? Not much, and we made lots of mistakes. Doing it over, I’d go about it differently, learning from today’s excellent books on parenting.

What did we do right?

  • Play—our most valuable tool. We romped on the floor, chased the kids, played games, read aloud, taught skills (boys sewing buttons, girls changing tires) and generally had
  • A pow-wow around a fake campfire in the middle of our living room gave each of us opportunity to bring up topics, and we’d talk briefly about each. As parents, we could discuss a range of sticky things.
  • I learned mid-course that encouragement was a better “fixer” than admonishment and saw child #3 go from slouch to straight after we changed our ways.
  • We bought a large forest as a tree farm. Like, just plain woods. No electricity, running water, shelter, bathroom. We all learned to make do without the basics. The boys ran chainsaws and drove truck and tractor. Rachel, though, balked at firewood hauling and opted to train as a Christian camp counselor. We sent her off with our blessing.
  • Daily devotions were a sometimes thing, but we tried to model our faith in day-to-day choices and conversations.

What did we do wrong?

  • How do we sin? Let me count the ways… Observing sinful parents who are saved by grace isn’t a bad lesson for kids to learn.
  • We were selfish, often inconsiderate of our children’s needs and schedules. I remember making son Eric wait nearly a half hour to be picked up—for some frivolous reason. He was not pleased, and I’ve always felt bad about it.
  • We slept in, requiring our kids to make their own breakfast and school lunches. They rose to that reality with reasonable grace, but it was not a good thing.

My bottom-line advice? Be there. Be available. Be supportive. Be positive, even in correction. [Oh, I’m sorry you chose to do that. What can you learn from it?] Give choices; make consequences clear. Train in self-management—money, habits, choosing friends, etc. Hard work, yes, but the rewards are eternal.

Proof of the pudding:

Eric and Lee—You gave us fun things to do (Indian clothes, tepee, snow trains), and even dangerous stuff (chain saws, driving tractors, logging). We appreciate you!

Rachel–You’re a fine example of life-long mothering. I’m watching and praying for you in this next stage.

April Joy— Happy GRANDmother’s Day! I feel so fortunate to live with you. Thanks for faithfully following God and pursuing Him.

Books I wish I’d had earlier:

  • Any of John Eldredge’s work.
  • Parenting with Love and Logic books—Foster Cline and Jim Fay.
  • Paul Tripp is new to me but seems to have a good following.

About Ellie Gustafson
Ellie Gustafson began thinking up stories at a young age but didn’t begin writing and publishing until 1978. A graduate of Wheaton College, she has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences include gardening, house construction, tree farming, and parenting—all of which have helped bring color and humor to her fiction. One of her major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story. I’d love to hear from you about your parenting adventures. Connect with Ellie at

Keeping Kids Entertained Over the Summer

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Q: Now that school is almost out, I’m starting to dread summer vacation with the whining from my kids about nothing to do. While we’ll have some activities, like a family trip and a week of camp for each of them, I’m at a loss as to how to direct them to entertain themselves the rest of time. Help!

A: I hear this question a lot! And parents who don’t do a little bit of prep work before the summer often find themselves throwing electronics at their kids way more than they want to. Here’s my suggestions.

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid/

Think about the big picture. While I’m not a fan of school work per se over the summer, I am a fan of having kids keep learning. Homeschoolers often do this as a matter of course, but if your kids are in public or private school, summer is your golden opportunity to provide real-world learning that’s fun and engaging. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time devising activities, but it does mean you pick a few life skills you want your kids to focus on this summer. For example, this summer, my goal is for my 8- and 10-year-old boys to have mastered one meal they can cook by themselves for dinner. For my middle and high school girls, I want them to develop a good exercise routine.

Provide opportunities for learning. For example, take your kids to the grocery store with you and give them each part of the list to gather. Let them figure out which is the better deal—the name-brand on sale item or the store-brand product. They can add up coupons to see how much you’ll save. You can discuss nutrition as you have them read labels to decipher which cereal brand has less sugar per serving.

Ramp up the chores. Summer is a great time to teach kids new chores, like mowing the grass and doing laundry, cooking dinner and mopping floors, sewing on buttons and making jam. You can also do family projects, like painting a room.

Get their buy-in on activities. Ask your kids what they want to do this summer and give them the reigns to plan outings within your budget and travel area. You might be surprised at how creative they are!

Let them plan the vacation. We’re to Colorado this year from Northern Virginia, taking four days there and four days back. My oldest daughter volunteered  to devise a listening schedule for the time in the car so everyone has a chance to listen to their music or audio CDs—this will cut down on arguments and have happier travelers.

Plan one-on-one time. Think about something you can do outside of the normal stuff with each child this summer. Maybe it’s teaching a kid how to fish or reading a book, putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle or doing a service project—find something to do to connect with each of your children.

Whatever you decide to do, relay your summer goals to your kids a week or two before summer break begins. That way, they will be thinking about how to incorporate these goals into their summer plans.

Homework Hassles

Q: My 8-year-old daughter is not doing her homework by herself. I have to remind her to do it, and she is always complaining and trying to find something else to do. She can pass two hours on one line of math problems. I know that she has some difficulties, but I always have to fight or remind her to do the work. I remind her I can help her to revise her writing and math but not when I am cooking dinner and not two minutes before going to bed the night before.

It’s been that way for three years and I am sick to push her. If I don’t tell her, she will not think about the work and will not do it. I have tried for two months and no success. 

Do you have any suggestions? She is not concentrating on anything she is doing. She is bright and very talented, but she is not concentrating on anything.

Image courtesy of photostock/

A: Until she starts caring more about her homework than you do, nothing’s going to change. You can’t make her care and you can’t make her do it. However, you can make her life uncomfortable enough that she’ll decide to straighten up herself.

How to accomplish that? By moving the homework monkey off your back and onto hers. I’d start with a chat with her teacher. Tell the teacher that Daughter has not been doing her homework on her own and that you will not be helping her complete it any longer. Explain that you fully expect teacher to give Daughter the grade and enact any consequences for not completing the work—and that you will support teacher in this matter.

Then sit Daughter down and tell her that you’re sorry you’ve been too involved with her homework, that from now on, her homework is her responsibility entirely. She must have her homework done by X time each evening (at least 90 minutes before bed would be good), that you will not sign any school papers after that time, and that she can ask you one homework-related question per week.

Then step back and let her handle it. Sure, she will likely NOT do her homework…but wouldn’t you rather her learn time management and how to motivate herself when the stakes are low in elementary school? This is a problem that will only grow bigger the longer you enable her in this matter.

One further thought: One of the reasons teachers assign homework is to see what kids are learning and retaining in class. Parents who hover and correct a child’s homework until the work is done to perfection are not allowing the teacher to see what the child might be struggling with and what the child has mastered. Teachers have a pretty good idea as to what lessons might need reinforcement when children do their own homework.

Forgiving Yourself For Your Failures as a Parent

By Christine Lindsay

Parenting is a bumpy road, especially if your family is blended in some manner through adoption, or divorce and remarriage, or any other number of life stresses.

But when you fail—and believe me, you will fail—the worst thing you can do is wallow in guilt. What your children need, no matter what their age, is that you forgive yourself. With this caveat: Learn from your mistakes to become a better parent.

My parenting skills were put to the test when I began to search for my birth-daughter, Sarah, the baby girl I gave up for adoption in 1979. Sarah and I never saw each other again, until 20 years later at our adoption reunion. The intense emotions of the search, during and after the reunion, put me as a woman and as a mother through the emotional ringer. I failed my children; my daughter Lana and her two brothers, and my birth-daughter Sarah.

Below is a slightly abridged excerpt from Finding Sarah Finding Me that focuses on our journey as a family back to wholeness:


Lana and the boys are so ready to accept this shift in their family orbit. But as much as I love their biological sister, Sarah, if for one minute I thought meeting her would hurt the kids I’ve raised, I’d stop everything. The paradox hits me between the eyes. These are my kids. But Sarah is my firstborn, and the distance between us is creating a constantly widening rift in my soul. Still, as much as I crave a relationship with Sarah, I can’t even meet her if it risks hurting the children who live safely beneath my roof.
Relief shores me up—my kids are reacting positively to the reunion, and the appointment is set. I don’t have to make that awful decision, which is good because I’m not sure how much more shifting of my orbit I can take, or how much longer I can deny my maternal feelings for this daughter I relinquished. I’ve often wondered how God managed to properly love the ninety-nine sheep he left behind to go out searching the hills for that little one that was lost.
Is my love for my “lost sheep” starting to overshadow my love for those safely within my fold?


The excerpt above shows the cracks in my mothering. As I focused much of my attention on my birth-daughter, I didn’t realize that I was laying the foundation for great pain in my daughter Lana’s heart. Years later, Lana would exhibit that sadness in ways that would break my heart as much as losing her sister to adoption had.

So often, we can pay great attention to a prodigal child, or the child who suffers from severe health issues, or just simply the more needy, demanding child. The quiet—seemingly unruffled child—can be quietly suffering, and we as parents have no idea.

In this excerpt from Finding Sarah Finding Me, I realized my failure as a mother:


My fear stretches across the expanse of my desk toward the woman from Student Life as she says, “Lana is in the hospital. She took an overdose of pills last night.”

Boys don’t always notice when Mom isn’t all she should be. Daughters are different, as though they’re looking to their mothers as a rough sketch of what it will mean for them to be women, rejecting and incorporating aspects of us as they grow.

During the search and reunion with Sarah, the boys were too young to notice my struggles for stability, especially since they had a great dad who made up for it all. In the years after the reunion, with good therapy and a renewed focus on God’s Word, I returned to the mom I used to be, even striving to be better.

But off and on during those two or three years of Lana’s impressionable teens, I’d let depression, poor self-esteem, and my own suicidal thoughts filter in to my children’s lives. Lana took emotional refuge at her friends’ houses, friends who often only added to her confusion. No matter how much I’ve changed since then, the damage was done.


Is there a way back from that kind of failure?

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Here is the beginning of Lana’s and my journey back to wholeness, and the joy that we experience today. Another excerpt from Finding Sarah Finding Me:


Lana looks up and starts to cry as I near her hospital bed. Even from a few feet away I see her tremble. Something deep inside me dies. I have done this to my child. She lifts a hand to wipe her cheek like the little girl she once was, as vulnerable as when I used to hold her hand to cross the road. Vulnerable but alive! It could so easily have been otherwise, but God protected her. We both still breathe, our hearts still pump. Though we’re both bruised as crushed reeds, there is hope. I’ll give my all to see her find joy.

Sitting down beside her bed, squeezing her hand, I weep as I tell her, “I love you. More than life itself.”

She nods, tears streaking her pale and tired face, and whispers, “I know, Mom. I know you love me.


You will fail as a parent, but there is hope.

  • Admit your failure to yourself and to your children.
  • But don’t remain there in a wallowing state of sorrow and shame.
  • Pick up your feet, and with God’s help learn from your mistakes and become the parent your child needs, even if they are 3 years old or 30.

Finding Sarah Finding Me is a braided memoir that focuses on the various angles of adoption and parenting when we start out as parents with an extreme sense of loss, such as my own as a birth-mother, that of adoptive parents who felt the loss of infertility, and the myriad of emotions that are part of the whole adoption scenario.

About Christine Lindsay
Irish-born Christine Lindsay is the author of multi-award-winning Christian fiction and non-fiction. Readers describe her writing as gritty yet tender, realistic yet larger than life, with historical detail that collides into the heart of psychological and relationship drama. Christine’s fictional novels have garnered the ACFW Genesis Award, The Grace Award, Canada’s The Word Guild Award, and was a finalist twice for Readers’ Favorite as well as second place in RWA’s Faith Hope and Love contest.
Connect with Christine on or follow her on Amazon on Twitter. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter, and be her friend on Pinterest , Facebook, and  Goodreads.

Should Parents Seek Counseling for Socially Inept Ninth Grader?

Q: My son’s a 14-year-old ninth grader. His principal has mentioned to me a couple of times that he thinks my son could benefit from counseling on social issues, as he is socially not doing too great. By not great, I mean his interactions with others are often tense and negative. However, he has plenty of friends and enjoys hanging out with them.

The principal said he’s heard murmurings from other students that my son stirs up tensions. But there isn’t anything that can actually be pinned down, like “You lose all privileges until you go four weeks without punching and hitting.” It’s much more subtle.

His teacher also mentioned something along the same lines. I’ve already been advised three times to take him for counseling (once from the teacher and twice from the principal), but I have little to no faith in the profession (based on past experience).

Just wondering if you have a good idea how to handle such a vague situation?

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A. There’s nothing worse than trying to combat rumors, especially in a high school where things can be easily distorted and murmurings take on entirely different meanings. I don’t blame you from feeling confused.

Remember, recommending counseling is their default position—it’s one that’s probably drilled into them as necessary for liability issues, etc. They’ve forgotten that most of the stuff like this can be resolved in the home with parents who are aware and who care about their kids enough to do some of the hard work. To many parents, counseling is the easier route because it doesn’t involve them directly.

If Son has plenty of friends, why is the principal concerned? What, exactly, does he think Son is doing to “stir up tensions”? And what does the teacher think Son is doing to stir up tension?

First, I would press them for better examples aside from rumors from other students because that, to me at least, has shades of the telephone game, where something someone said gets so distorted it has no relation at all to the original sentence. Since by your account, he has friends and enjoys doing things with said friends, I would question what they think a counselor would do. Most of the time, counseling is recommended for kids who have NO friends and refuse to do things with anyone (no activities, social events).

To have a 14-year-old boy who has some social issues is, well, normal, right? I mean, 20 years ago or more, no one would have been concerned if the boy had friends but made some social errors from time to time. Who doesn’t in ninth grade?

Once you have more concrete examples, then you can address it directly with Son. I would take him out for ice cream or coffee, shooting basketballs or whatever he enjoys doing, and just mention one or two incidents, that his teacher or principal is concerned, and get his thoughts on what happened. If there’s a clear pattern (like he defaults to sarcasm, for example), then talk about how that can be perceived by others. Then ask what Son could do differently in that situation. Help him think through how his own solutions would solve the problem.

For now, I would stress to the principal and teacher that you appreciate their concern—that you welcome their observations about Son—but since the school year is nearly over, you’re going to address this with Son yourself and see how he matures over the summer before considering counseling. You want the principal and teacher on your side even though you disagree with their conclusions.

Dealing With Shyness

By Lillian Duncan

Most parents love when their child is that precocious child who grabs the heart and attention of everyone in the room. But what about the quiet child? The shy child? As a reformed shy person who still struggles at times, here are my thoughts on how to deal with shyness in your child.

Accept your child as they are. The world is made up of extroverts and introverts—there’s nothing wrong with either type. Of course as an introvert, I think extroverts can be a bit exhausting sometimes, but that’s just me.

The point is every person and child is different. I was misunderstood as a shy child. Many people saw me as being antisocial or snobby. The truth was I was just quieter than my siblings and preferred books to people. Probably why I’m an author today.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Encourage your child to talk to you about their feelings. Now having said to accept your child as they are that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about the situation with them. Give them the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings. You might just learn a thing or two about what’s going on in their mind.

Acknowledge that everyone feels inadequate sometimes. One of my biggest revelations that changed me from a shy person to someone who’s willing to start a conversation with a stranger was understanding that everyone feels inadequate at one time or another. Knowing that the other person might be feeling as uncomfortable as myself gave me the courage to take the first step with a smile and a greeting.

Role model positive social exchanges. A child learns what they live, so show your child how to behave in situations where they might feel awkward. But not only be a good role model, also role play to give your child some new strategies in social situations.

As a speech pathologist in schools for more than 30 years, I saw all different sorts of children. One of the things that makes me aggravated these days is putting labels on kids. Too often it seems when a child is different from the norm, that must mean something’s wrong with them. And if something’s wrong with them, we have to fix it! There is a time when professional help may be appropriate, but more often what’s needed is some encouragement and understanding when it comes to dealing with a shy child.

About Lillian Duncan
Lillian is a multi-published author who lives in the middle of Ohio Amish country with her husband and a menagerie of pets. After more than 30 years working as a speech pathologist for children, she believes in the power of words to transform lives, especially God’s Word.

Lillian writes the types of books she loves to read—fast-paced suspense with a touch of romance that demonstrates God’s love for all of us. To learn more about Lillian, you may visit her at or She also has a devotional blog at


Playing School

Q: My 9-year-old son is getting in trouble at school for playing games. He has also started missing assignments. He went to his room at 4 p.m. last Friday and Saturday evening for the remainder of the day. On Sunday, he had to sit in our formal living room for two hours to think about his choices. He has had no electronics of any kind, and still went back to school and played the games again. What more punishment will work?

A: You’ve fallen into the trap most parents stumble into at one point or another: looking for the magic bullet consequence to get a kid to change his behavior. But the fact of the matter is, there is no one perfect punishment that will make your son stop playing games at school when he’s supposed to be doing something else.

That’s because he doesn’t care about stopping that behavior.

Let me put it this way: Until Son cares about not playing games at school, he’s not going to change his behavior.

But that doesn’t mean you stop trying to influence him to change his ways with consequences. Parents should continue to do the right thing even when a child does the wrong thing. This is one of the hardest lessons for moms and dads to learn, because we want to fix the problem immediately. We want Junior to straighten up and fly right. And most of the time, children whose parents are consistent in applying punishments (but inconsistent with what those punishments are) will behave themselves. Not always, not all the time, but most of the time.

Image courtesy of nalinratphi/

Now, back to your son and his game playing at school. You don’t mention what the response of his teacher has been to his playing games, and you don’t mention what kind of games he’s able to play during class without the teacher noticing (which I assume is happening). Without some of these facts, I’m not sure how helpful I can be in addressing this problem.

So here’s a starting point. Use something like the report card method. Each day, your son has to bring home a piece of paper with either a Yes or No written and signed by his primary teacher. A Yes means he can go about his day normally. A No means he’s on lock down—restricted to his room without any of his toys, games, music, etc., and to bed very early (like 6 p.m.).

To get a Yes, he has to complete and turn in all assignments due that day or given in class to do, and to stay on task (no game playing, etc.). If he misses just one assignment or fails to stay on task, he gets a No for the day. He automatically gets a No if he fails to bring home the paper for any reason.

Each day starts new, with no carryovers from the previous day. Furthermore, you are only to ask about the report—not if he has homework, was on task, etc.

Plus, you support whatever the teacher or school wants to do in terms of punishment for his playing games in class. It’s essential to know that you are not going to bail him out for his own mistakes.

This might take a while to resolve itself, but consistence on your part without drama or overreaching to “make him care,” should get through to Son and provide enough of an impetus to change his game-playing ways.

A Kid’s Problem With “Alternative Facts”

Q: We are having honesty issues with our 6-year-old daughter. I’ve heard, “Ask no questions, and they’ll tell you no lies.” However there are times when we really require honesty, but are finding that she can be a bit murky with answers. For example, she will claim she’s hungry to get a snack earlier, claim she did not get out the umbrella to get out of trouble, or say she’s had a nap in order to stay up later in the evening.

It’s gotten the point that we are never sure if it’s the truth or just another lie. When asked a straightforward question, she is unable to give a straight answer, going from yes to no to maybe, or no answer at all, especially when she knows it’s important.

We have removed TV from her schedule, which she loves, and now require that she gets 30 stickers in a row (1 a day) for a day of honesty and straight, clean answers. When she lies, she goes to bed early that day. Have you any opinions on if we should continue the program? Or other suggestions on how else we could handle this problem?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

A: Ah, yes, the child with trouble telling the truth isn’t something new—this is an age-old problem! Yes, you should require honesty, but since your daughter has trouble with stating the facts then you need to stop asking her for honesty at this time. Some kids go through a phase where they can’t seem to tell the truth. I suspect she’ll outgrow this with a little assist from mom and dad. Here are my suggestions.

Stop asking her questions—and she will have fewer opportunities to lie. Use statements only with her and don’t let her drag you into arguing that “she didn’t do it” or whatever she might respond to your statement. Make your best reasonable guess as to her role in whatever situation and go with that.

Don’t engage in arguments. Just because a child wants to argue doesn’t mean the adult has to respond. This is key—you are the only one capable of walking away or not saying anything in response to the gauntlet your daughter throws down. For example, you notice the umbrella has been broken and you had told your daughter earlier not to play with it. You reasonable deduce that she has disobeyed. You tell her, “You broke the umbrella.” She responds, “No, I didn’t break it!” You repeat, “You broke the umbrella. Now X will happen.” She responds, “You’re always blaming me for everything!” You walk away.

Decide ahead of the situation what Daughter will be allowed to do. For example, you already know what you’ll do if Daughter asks for a snack or to stay up later, etc., regardless of whether she’s hungry, napped, etc. In other words, don’t let Daughter dictate these things—you already have a plan for the day. For instance, you decide to eat dinner earlier because of evening schedules, so you decide no snacks in the afternoon for the kids. You’ve noticed Daughter seems more tired lately, so you decide no late nights for the week. That sort of thing.

You also read stories about the importance of truthfulness. Stories like the Boy Who Cried Wolf, George Washington and the Cherry Tree and other books or tales provide a safe way for children to explore what it means to be dishonest and what the consequences are for those who lie. Literature is great at helping children realize their own faults.

For now, I’d stop the Honesty chart. Sometimes, when too much attention is paid to a particular problem like lying, it morphs into an even bigger one. Overall, stop talking about honesty and stop asking her for honesty for two to three months, and see if it doesn’t resolve itself.

Unsolicited Advice of the Parenting Kind

Recently, a reader wrote to say that “we are about to start toilet training and are getting so much negative feedback!” She went on to say that she keeps getting sent articles about how starting toilet training too early will be detrimental to her child’s overall well-being. The reader ended with “Maybe I should have kept my potty-training thoughts to myself.”

Her non-question brought up a very real concern in today’s age of over-sharing and an attitude of “I know best for everyone—listen to me.” How do you handle unsolicited child-rearing advice or concerns?

It’s something I struggle with as a mom of four and as a trained parent coach. There have been times when what I’m saying as a speaker to other moms and dads isn’t well received because they disagree with where I’m coming from. There have been times when I’ve given an answer the parent doesn’t want to hear (and I can tell by her expression, isn’t going to take).

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

I’ve shared what we’ve done in certain situations…and felt the roomful of moms initially recoil but eventually see the truth and freedom that comes from doing the right thing even though society at large might not agree with my decisions.

Because of my training in parenting, I don’t often receive unsolicited advice, but my standard response is: “Thank you for sharing your concerns or information.” Then I smile and change the subject. I find it’s best to not engage, just acknowledge their thoughtfulness (choose to interpret that way instead of intrusiveness and you’ll be able to deflect the person much more easily), and move on to something else. Ask a question about some benign child rearing issue that you don’t care one whit about if you must—redirection is key.

But on the flip side, I’ve also had to bite my tongue to avoid giving advice or solutions to problems friends or relatives haven’t asked to hear. I don’t want to be the one who can’t keep her opinions to herself on matters of raising kids.

That doesn’t mean I’m not true to who I am, but it does mean that I try to be more careful to read the situation to see if my advice would be welcome. Sometimes, I’ll even ask before launching into what I would do. Other times, I catch myself on a tear, and apologize for hijacking the conversation into one of my parenting talks. Still others, I wait to be asked my opinion, and if it’s not solicited, then I move on to something else.

I also try not to criticize how others are raising kids. No one wins that game, and while friends, family, acquaintances might be handling a situation differently than how I would (and could be creating more angst while doing so), it’s not up to me to fix that problem.

We should be supportive, rather than critical; warm and accepting, rather than pointing fingers; listening, rather than speaking. Raising kids has enough challenges without throwing in moms and dads being afraid to open their mouths and share their troubles or concerns.

Until next time,