Incorporating Joy Into Your Parenting

Note: On the fourth Tuesdays, I’m starting a new blog series on the Fruit of the Spirit, taking us through the nine character traits and applying that to raising kids.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

A few years ago, Jennifer Senior’s book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting, attempted “to look at the experience of parenthood systematically, piece by piece, stage by stage, in order to articulate—and in some cases quantify—what today’s parents find so challenging about their lives.” Her premise is built on the fact that many parents today have little joy or happiness in parenting because we’re so worried and concerned about our kids.

One of my goals as a parent coach is to help parents recover their joy in raising kids. I’m not talking about some Pollyanna-esque mental state of constant, relentless joy, but the quiet, inner joy that radiates from your heart at the sight of your children. That delight we have in our children’s happiness—not in our making them happy, but in their expressing their happiness. This isn’t about how we can make others happy, as that’s a losing proposition from the get-go. This is about rediscovering your own joy in the midst of the sometimes frustration, sometimes hard, sometimes trying, sometimes difficult path along the parenting journey.

How can we have joy in the messiness of raising kids? Here’s how I experience joy, even when I feel like crying or screaming, in my parenting.

Enjoy the moment. When I’m really paying attention to my kids, and not giving them the once-over as I dash by to complete the next item on my to-do list, I can experience joy in their own joy. Seeing a son’s face light up as he talks to his brother about something that happened in a book he’s reading makes my heart light. Hearing my two teenage daughters laughing over a K-pop video brings a smile to my lips. Watching my husband tell an awful pun at dinner that makes everyone groan, then laugh, warms my inner core.

Remember each day is brand-new. One of my favorite quotes from Anne of Green Gables is “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it.” Let’s make a pact to not over our anger or hurt into the next day. Let’s start each day with the idea that we can do better, our children can do better, and that we can find joy in the day’s tasks, activities and challenges.

Let go more than hang on. When we parent with open hands, not holding onto our—or our child’s—regrets, mistakes or missteps, our hearts will be lighter, our responses more positive, and our outlook rosier. That’s not to say we forget about the past, but it does mean we try not to bring up things that have been resolved, and we don’t measure the future by the past or present.

Ditch perfection and settle for okay. Don’t chase after having the perfect house, raising the perfect kid or being the perfect mother. Be okay with average. Embrace being “good enough.” When we do our best but don’t sweat perfection, we breathe easier and relax more—excellent ways to allow joy to bubble to the surface of our lives.

Smile or laugh every day. Kids are funny, and raising them can be even funnier. When you have those moments where you want to laugh or cry, choose laughter. Not at your kids, but with your kids. A smile will soften any hurt. A shared laugh will knit you closer together. So smile more, laugh more and your heart will feel more joyful.

These are just some of the ways that I find to bring joy into my parenting and my life. Whenever stress, challenges, discouragement or frustration beats down my joy, it’s usually because I’ve let these five simple things slide. If you haven’t been doing any of these things and want to have more joy in your life, then pick just one to start with—you’ll be amazed at what difference a small change can make.

Until next time,

Sarah

Battling for Your Children Against the Father of Lies

by Connie Almony

I’m not perfect. I’m one of those sinner-types who needs a Savior.

Sooooo … being a Savior-needing sinner, who’s done a few things I’d hate for my kids to repeat, how can I be a good role-model for them?

When I signed up to write a parenting post, a number of ideas came to mind. I’m trained as a counselor and have worked with young people all my life. However, having a well-grounded 16-year-old daughter, I decided to ask her what she appreciated most about my parenting. She answered, “Being real!”

I’ve never hidden from her my flaws, faux paus or the sins of my past. Granted, I haven’t dumped them in her lap at one setting, either. But when she asks, “Have you ever done…?” wondering if I’ve strayed from my own standards, I answer her openly. Some would think this gives her license to call me a hypocrite, since she is not allowed to copy my sins. You know, saying “You did <insert sin>, why can’t I?”

She has yet to do this, because I’ve already given her the answer. It goes like this:

“Because I’ve been to the funerals. I’ve seen the destruction wreaked on those who’ve survived their sin—including myself. I’ve witnessed that which I hadn’t first understood, and now trust the God (and sometimes the parent) who knows more than I do.” In other words, I don’t just bare my brokenness, allowing her to also be aware of her own need of a Savior—I teach her how God loves us best by creating boundaries designed to make our lives fruitful.

It is because she knows I am aware of the power of temptation, and that I don’t judge the people succumbing to it (we often pray for them), and she knows the pressures I faced (and sometimes succeeded against), that she and her friends are open with me. They often come to me after school to describe the toxic choices of some of her fellow students. After these disclosures, we talk (again) about the temptations to do these things (sex, drugs, what-have-you) and the effects of giving-in.

My daughter has been discouraged from stating she will never engage in a particular sin. Why? Because, as I’ve told her, the minute you believe you could never do that sin, satan discovers you are unprepared for the temptation he can throw at you. She didn’t understand.

I said, “Imagine …”—this is where being a fiction author is helpful— “… you are struggling in school, and just as everything seems at its worst, I die. You no longer have me to come to. Your dad is riddled with grief and the stress of caring for you and your autistic brother all by himself. A friend shows you a tiny pill she claims will take your mind off your troubles. What could it hurt? It’s only a teeny pill. And it’s free (for now).”

My daughter’s delayed response was heavy with understanding. “Oh.”

I said, “Yeah. That’s how satan rolls.”

When battling against the father of lies, the best defense is always openness and Truth.

About Connie Almony
Connie Almony is trained as a mental health therapist and likes to mix a little fun with the serious stuff of life. She is a 2012 Genesis semi-finalist for Women’s Fiction and received an Honorable Mention in the Winter 2012 WOW Flash Fiction Contest. Her newest release, Arise from Dark Places, is an edge-of-your-seat inspirational retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Connect with Connie on her website.

 

Letting Teen Make Own Decisions

Q: I feel like I am in a quandary of sorts. My youngest child, who will be 17 next month, wants desperately to go with her best friend to a haunted castle. My oldest went to this when he turned 18 because we felt he should start making those decisions on his own. What is your opinion on this regarding older teens?

I hate anything remotely dark or evil and have always despised anything like it, but I also don’t want to be one of those over-the-top helicopter moms who shelter their child so much that they rebel when they are on their own. Can you give any advice for us teen parents on this topic? Is it time for me to let go and just start letting her make these decisions?

A: This fall, we allowed our 15-year-old 9th grader go to a haunted walk with a friend (and the friend’s dad). Not something I ever wanted to do (and her younger sister—who’s the same age as the friend—didn’t want to go either), but sometimes, it is time to let them make those decisions as teens. What we ended up doing with my daughter was to tell her that she had to pay for half the ticket price herself. That meant if she really wanted to go, she’d part with some of her cash.

What we did was talk about it ahead of time, making sure they understood what they were getting into. And we regularly discuss evil/good, what we should watch, what God says we should or shouldn’t do, pray together, etc. It’s our job as parents to impart our family values to them as they grow up so that when they reach the teen years, they have a firm foundation upon which to make their own decisions.

When kids are teens, it’s time to start letting them make these low-impact decisions. It’s a haunted castle, so things will be gory and scary and, well, kind of fun if you like to be scared (which some kids do), but in a controlled environment.

I also find that my husband is a good counterpoint to my own inclinations, because I’m with you on avoiding that sort of stuff because of how it impacts me. But it doesn’t affect my husband nearly as much, nor does it my oldest daughter. It’s important to offer guidance but to let them make their own decisions in these types of things.

Yes, it’s hard sometimes to let go and let them experience the joys and trials of making their own decisions, but for teens to be ready to make those decisions in the real world, they need practice in situations like these. Will they make bad decisions? Of course they will (didn’t you as a teen? I know I did), but from the safety of the family, we’re there to help them recover and move on.

 

What’s Your ‘Mom’ Thing?

We all have at least one—that mom thing we like to do for our kids. That little gesture that we use on a regular basis to communicate without words that we love our kids. For example, one mom makes her kids’ lunches for school every day. Her mom did that for her, and she enjoys passing on the tradition to her three children.

I do hair. Each morning, I brush and braid my two teenager daughter’s hair. Once a month or so, I cut my two boys’ hair. Sure, the girls could do their own hair, but I enjoy it and they enjoy having me do that in the mornings before school.

It’s wonderful that we each have a regular way we connect with our kids. The trick is not to have so many “mom” things that your kids aren’t doing things on their own.

Please share your “mom” thing!

A Parent’s Back To School

At the start of the school year, it’s not just the kids who face an adjustment—parents do too. From homework to teacher conference to after-school activities, this time of year can be overwhelming and chaotic.

But don’t despair—help is right around the corner! Join me, along with five other parent coaches, on Friday, Sept. 15, for A Parent’s Back to School Facebook Party, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:10 p.m. Eastern time. Here’s the lineup of topics each coach will discuss, along with giveaways and answering audience questions. Note: All times are Eastern time.

5:30 to 6 p.m. Coach introductions—the giveaways start.
6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Parent Coach Laura Gray on Getting Your School Day Off to a Great Start
6:30 to 7 p.m. Parent Coach Susan Morley on Creating a Family Mission Statement
7 to 7:30 p.m. Parent Coach Trinity Jensen on Avoiding Homework Hassles
7:30 to 8 p.m. Parent Coach Sarah Hamaker on Scheduling Your School Year
8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Parent Coach Liz Mallet on How to Avoid Micromanaging
8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Parent Coach Wendy Faucett on How to Have a Great Parent-Teacher Relationship
9 to 9:10 p.m. Final thoughts.

On Friday, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1892016571016178 to join the fun–you can ask questions, interact with the coaches or just enjoy the party. Hope to see you all soon!

 

Separation Anxiety

Q: I need any advice on how to approach separation problems for my 3- (almost 4) year-old son. My husband and I teach his Sunday School class every other week, but the weeks with other teachers, we have trouble dropping him off. He has asked me almost every morning for the past year if we’re going to church that day. The second question is if we’re teaching his class. Today, we were not teaching and he became upset, tried to run away at the door, and when forced to go in, tried to hit another friend. We took him out and calmed him down before trying again. He had gotten to a point where he would go in fairly willingly, but it’s gotten much worse lately. I don’t know what has changed or what to do about it.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: It sounds like you’re playing Parent Detective in trying to discover why your preschooler suddenly doesn’t want to be without you in some social situations. But because he’s three, he probably has no idea why he doesn’t want to be alone in a classroom without mom or dad there. What is clear is that he’s not ready to be on his own at this time.

Sometimes, when kids are growing into a new stage developmentally, they regress a bit socially, and that sounds like what’s happening with your son. And because he’s becoming more physical in demonstrating his anxiety, you’ll need to simply stop trying to make him do this.

Each week you’re not teaching, tell him that he has a choice—he can go into his classroom by himself or he can sit quietly with you in your classroom. When he says stay with you, remind him that he must be quiet (and make sure you’ve brought a coloring book or something to occupy him during your class) and take him in with you.

What you shouldn’t do is try to convince him there’s nothing to be afraid of or to force him at age 3 to go to class by himself. And don’t discuss this other than to ask him once what he wants to do each time. The more you talk about a problem at this age, the bigger it looms in the child’s mind and a molehill morphs into a mountain.

He will likely outgrow this and start to want more independence, but until he does, you’re better off not forcing the issue.

Clinginess, Tantrums, Screaming…Welcome to the Twos!

Q: I have boy/girl twins who just turned two years old. We are experiencing an increase in several behavior issues that seem to be compounded by a very recent move and also minor illness, from which they are now recovered. Here are my specific questions:

1) How do I manage my son’s clinginess? Specifically, he wants to be constantly carried (up and down stairs, into school, to the car, etc.). He has always been a very challenging personality, but even more so recently. I have been complying when he asks properly (saying please and without whining), but it is becoming very difficult with him getting bigger. I would prefer he walks most of the time like his sister.

2) Screaming/tantrums are occurring almost constantly by both. They are well-fed and rested, and we have good routines in place. The tantrums are a result of not getting what they want right away, especially not having my husband’s or my full attention.

3) Do we make a temporary exception to any of these issues due to the recent move and illness? And if so, what and for how long? With the move last week their normal routine was totally abandoned, but everything is back to normal this week.

Image courtesy of marin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: First of all, this is normal behavior. Truly it is! Toddlers are volatile creatures, that’s for sure. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wrapped into a dynamo package. And twins sometimes feed off each other, making the typical toddler challenges doubled. So, to answer your questions…

The son’s clinginess: He might not be getting enough time with you each day, so try to have more touch points. Read him a short book right after breakfast. Give him more unexpected hugs. Hug him when he wants to be carried, then put him down. Hold his hand when walking. That should lesson some of his clinginess, but stop carrying him around.

The tantrums: At this age, I’d stick with containment in a crib if possible or just hold the screaming child tightly (if you can) to calm him or her down. Yes, this is a child who wants what he/she wants when he/she wants it, and no one’s going to tell him or her otherwise. Hence the screaming.

The other factors: 3. You take into consideration the mitigating factors which help you not lose your cool, but you still handle the tantrums the same. It will take a little while for your routine to reassert itself but don’t be surprised if your toddlers want to forge a new one (like dropping a nap). This is the high growth stage mentally and physically, so expect ups and downs in personalities and behavior.

Above all, remember that this is only a stage, and it won’t last forever. Hang in there and keep loving on those little munchkins! Soon this will be all in the past and you’ll have moved on to the threes.

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 www.ChristineLindsay.org or follow her on Amazon on Twitter. Subscribe to her quarterly newsletter, and be her friend on Pinterest , Facebook, and  Goodreads.

Mothers and Daughters

As a daughter (and a mother of daughters), I have firsthand knowledge of the complicated relationship between moms and daughters. As one with two sisters (and a brother) more than a decade older than me—and with a brother and sister more than a decade younger than me—I’m in a unique position to see this in a microcosm of our family.

For example, I experienced how my mom related to adult children while I was in my tweens and early teens. At the same time, I saw how my mom related to babies/toddlers while in my middle teens. I also could see patterns in how my mom raised daughters in particular. For example, how my mother communicated with my younger sister when she was a teenager echoed how she did so with me. When my mother told me how my younger sister adversely reacted to certain things, I sometimes gently pointed out that wasn’t surprising because I acted the same way in response to the same situation.

I well remember saying to myself, “I will NEVER do that as a mom with my daughters.” But even as a teenager or young adult, I had enough self-awareness to know that while I might not do that particular thing that drove the teenage me crazy, I would likely do something else entirely that will drive my own teenagers crazy.

But as I get older and my four children grow older, I’ve come to realize that we all do the best we can in the time we live. My mother had her imperfections—and there are some things I wish she had done differently—but in truth, she hit the target center on all the things that mattered most. I always knew she loved me, that there was nothing I could ever do that would negate that love. I always knew she believed in me, that I would make my way into the world on my own. I always knew she would be there for me, to encourage, to listen, to pray for, to comfort, to rejoice.

That’s the kind of mom I hope I am to my kids—one that tells the truth in love, is a shelter for life’s storms, and loves unconditionally. I pray my mistakes are minor but my love is major. And I hope that my own kids find more to appreciate than criticize in my own child-rearing.

Until next time,
Sarah

Best Mom Ever!
This year, I had the privilege of celebrating my mother with a story in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever! Called “A Mom to Many,” the story gives a small glimpse into this remarkable woman I get to call mom. I will be signing copies of Best Mom Ever! at the Fair Lakes Barnes & Noble in Fairfax, Va., on Saturday, May 6, from 2 to 4 p.m. EST. If you’re in the area, stop by and pick up a copy for the mom in your life! More info here.