Christian living- dealing with one 'oops' at a time…

Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

Rules vs Priorities

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We live in a world that likes rules. We have ‘zero tolerance’ for fighting in school (one of my pet-peeves because the child being bullied is usually the one caught and punished the worst…), etc. But is this the best way to live?

God does not live by ‘rules.’

As we see in the Bible there are always times when God made exceptions. For a BIG exceptions see when God did not punish the women for prostitution as it was kind of the men’s fault in Hosea 4:14….

So then how do we live?

By the Holy Spirit!

But when in doubt, a list of priorities helps.

So ask yourself what is your first priority in any situation.

When dealing with your children it may be a good heart attitude. If your child fails a test because they spent their study time trying to convince a friend not to do something horrible and to do the right thing (and this is not a pattern of excuses used for not studying) then maybe we let this one go.

When dealing with your spouse, the priority is to strengthen your marriage. So when they do not load the dishwasher to your specifications or they do not wash your favorite shirt for when you wanted it, maybe we let this go and understand that they may have been working on another priority even you would agree should take precedence.

Rules are not bad, but they need to be flexible.

Too often we hold onto the rules as ‘right’ and forget why they were there to begin with.

For example, how many poems and wall-hangings have you seen reminding you that a clean house is not as important as time spent with your children? There is a reason for this. The older generation, who in the past liked to cross stitch etc was trying to impart wisdom to the younger generation. Sure, a clean house is nice, and to some level necessary, but it needs to take a back seat to being an involved parent who actually knows their kid. Children grow up so fast (trust me on this one!) that it would be a shame to not be the most important influence in their lives. When you obey the rules blindly you often prioritize things that truly don’t matter as much, such as house-keeping and work and lose the opportunity to bond with your child…

Don’t let your children grow up to resent you for not being there.

Don’t let your spouse distance her/himself because all of your rules are hard to deal with.

Be there for the people you love and make sure your priorities, not your rules, determine what you do next.

Making a list of your priorities and putting on a fridge or mirror is sometimes a good way to start.

My Take on Harambe and the Boy at the Zoo

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Let’s be fair- we weren’t there and we don’t know enough to make an informed decision. End of story. Let the people who were there deal with the situation and stop being an arm-chair quarterback/ parent.

But… (and this wouldn’t be a blog post unless there was a ‘but…’)

Here is what we do know:

  1. Somehow a young child got into a zoo enclosure. This is dangerous and should be close to impossible. The zoo should be investigated and the protection against small, impulsive children ever doing this again should be increased- for the safety of the children and the animals.
  2. Millions of young children visit the zoo and never get into the enclosures. Do even great parents sometimes lose track of their children at times-yes. Do even well-behaved little ones sometimes do things that are mind-boggling stupid- yes. But, (and here’s that but again) usually they do not, which is why this is big news. The fact that the child was not well supervised at the time, and the fact that the child did something a child of his age should know not to do are red flags. This could be a day that would never happen again in the life of this family, or it could be a sign of neglect. Child protective services must look into it. If it is an aberration, then the family has nothing to worry about, albeit any visit from child-protective services is a hassle. BUT, if the child is not being taught to avoid danger, and is poorly supervised, he could be playing in traffic, jumping out a two-story window, or engaging in other behavior that is even less forgiving than jumping over a large wall and meeting a 400 lb animal- and that should be prevented from happening.
  3. There were people around when this happened. Eye-witnesses say they thought a woman close to the boy was his mother and that she was going to stop him… and then the woman turned and asked whose child is this and it was too late. When I was raising kids, most mothers would step in if a child was not behaving properly, especially if the child might be in danger- and most mothers would thank us for doing so, because we realized, despite the popular myth, that we do not have eyes in the backs of our heads. Today we are so afraid of upsetting others that we hesitate to act. This hesitation on the part of the on-lookers made an uncomfortable situation a deadly one. (Deadly for the animal, potentially deadly for the child.) We need to stop worrying so much about other people’s feelings and start doing what is right.
  4. We also need to stop being so quick to judge. Before all the facts were in, people who had no clue who this mother was and what really happened were already judging the situation. Some were telling people ‘everyone loses track of their children at times’ and others were condemning the mom for being the worst parent in the world. The truth is- you don’t know. Others decided based on the little bit of video that was released that the animal should not have been killed. Again, only an eye-witness truly knows how roughly the child was being dragged and only someone familiar with the animal could gage what he might do next. The right people made the call. It was a tough decision, and one they are probably not happy about having made. Let’s get off their backs. They likely feel bad enough about what they had to do already. (Remarkably, no one seems to be thinking about the feelings of the people who had to make this tough decision… But then again, as a society we seem to have a list of people who’s feelings do not count, and people doing tough jobs to protect others seem to be at the top of that list. Another rant, for another day.)
  5. And while we all understand why it is bad to call a good mother who made an understandable mistake bad, do we really understand why the ‘everyone loses track of their child’ tact is just as bad? When we make excuses for bad behavior, we do not give anyone an incentive to fix the behavior. Instead they feel justified and the problem remains. While it is horrible to compound the misery a good mother would naturally feel on what has to be a horrible day, it is just as bad for the child to let a negligent mother off the hook by letting her believe everyone is really just like her. Some things need to be fixed. This may, or may not, be a wake-up call for this family. Making excuses for them without knowing their situation is not ‘helping’ either. We have an epidemic of child neglect in this country- just ask a teacher. (We also have helicopter parents etc who also make teacher’s lives miserable, but that is another story.) Here we have a chance to say, ‘Hey, this is what can happen if you do not watch your child and/or teach him not to do things like climb over fences etc.’ While this mother may have done everything she could, not watching your child and not teaching them to obey does increase the chances of these things occurring and we must be honest about that if we want to prevent it.

Let’s stop judging everyone (on both sides of the equation) and start thinking about the consequences of our own actions. Let’s start doing what’s right….


Samson: The Study of a Spoiled Child/ Dysfunctional Adult


There is an example of every behavioral issue in the Bible- we just have to look.

Samson is an example of a boy, now a grown man, whose parents had difficulties saying ‘no.’

The first clue we have is that Samson asks for a wife a man in his position- Jewish (which is enough), a judge, and a Nazarite- should never be asking to marry. His parents vaguely try to dissuade him by asking if there is not another, perhaps Jewish, woman he might want, and when he demands to have his way, they give in and proceed to give him what he wants, even though they know it is not good for him. (Judges 14-16)

So here are the traits that result from never hearing ‘no’ in any meaningful way…

  1. He does not think the rules apply to him.

Samson eats unclean food out of a dead lion’s carcass, he sleeps with prostitutes etc.

Samson, to his eventual detriment, disregards the rules when they do not suit him. This does not mean that he is always bad, but when the rules interfere with what he wants to do, he does what he wants.

  1. He does not fulfill his responsibilities when it is inconvenient to him.

The groom is expect to provide wedding clothes for the groomsmen. Samson finds ways to get out of his responsibility and stick his new friends with the bill.

  1. He throws tantrums when he is thwarted.

When the groomsmen answer his riddle, Samson does not handle it good-naturedly. Instead he goes out and brings them back the clothes of dead men, who were brutally killed in the outfits he presents.

  1. He does not consider the feelings of others.

Samson embarrasses his bride by not providing clothing for the groomsmen she provided him with and then with the horrid way he finally provides the clothing. (Samson may have no friends.)

  1. He storms off.

Upset about not getting his way and having to provide clothing, (even though he knows this is a societal norm), Samson storms off and goes home, leaving his bride devestated.

  1. He does not understand that his behavior will have consequences.

Later, Samson returns and believes his wife will be waiting for him, happy to see him, even after his horrid behavior.

  1. He does not accept that he caused the problem. It is not his fault.

When confronted by his father-in-law, and told that his wife has been married to another (because his behavior at their wedding seemed to indicate to everyone but Samson that he did not love her) Samson kills his ‘bride’ and her father and sets the neighborhood fields on fire, condemning the citizens of that area to starvation.

  1. He over-reacts.

When he finds his ‘bride to be’ married to another he kills her and her father and burns the fields, condemning others to starvation, or at least a very difficult year.

  1. He does not understand love and trust.

Samson is easily deceived by Delilah. This is likely due to the fact that Samson has never had a decent relationship, nor has he ever paid enough attention to another to be able to determine whether, or not, they are trustworthy. Being self-centered leaves you a target for others who are self-centered. No one with an once of self-respect wants to be close to a spoiled brat, so Samson has no wise counsel, or experience with ‘good’ people; so when someone comes along who is worse than he is, he is an easy target.

Still, God is with Samson.


There are two reasons found in scripture:

  1. God keeps His promises.

God made a promise to Samson’s mother before he was born- that he would deliver Israel. This may not have been the method God would have preferred to deliver Israel, but God can use anyone, even a spoiled brat. (Not that this is what we should aim to be… but our faults, no matter how large, do not mean that God is done with us.)

  1. God knows the beginning and the end.

Samson repents. Granted it is at the end of a very troubled life, but he does repent. God wants us close to Him- and He wants all of us close to Him. The relationship is the end-game, and in this instance, Samson eventually gets it, and that is exactly what God wants, for us to eventually get it and want a relationship with Him. Samson’s spoiled nature leads to a hard life, for him and those around him, but it does not disqualify him from having a relationship with God. And if Samson is not disqualified, neither are you!

Let’s Pretend…With Our Children’s Education


Let’s pretend that Common Core won’t cause teachers to pretend that students who do not learn the skills assigned to that grade are actually proficient. Nor will it cause students who are able to go ahead, to be held back, because those skills are not a part of the core curriculum for their year.

No Child Left Behind led to a rash of teacher cheating, and good grades being given to those who did not deserve them. I know because my children were part of this failed experiment. They also learned strategies to test taking and essay writing that allowed them to demonstrate knowledge without actually having any.

Did you know that if you pick out the biggest word in a question, then find that word in a paragraph and write the sentence you found the word in down you will most likely get the question right?

Did you know that the trick to writing a good summary is to pick the longest sentence in each paragraph, write them down and then change a few words here and there to make it your own work?

Did you know that you can get up to 75% in math by writing the numbers given in the problem as an addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problem in the space provided even if none of your answers are right because somewhere on the paper you demonstrated the right process for solving the problem? (3 points for showing your work/ one point for the right answer. The students who do the math in their heads but get all the right answers receive a 25%…)

Did you also know that a child who does not know all of her letter sounds, and is still counting beans in math at the end of the third grade, in a regular classroom, can receive straight As on her report card because her emotional handicap somehow means she needs to see those grades in order to achieve? (She was pulled out of a regular classroom twice a day for thirty minutes for math and reading taught in a 15:1 setting… And this is what the social worker called being ‘grade level’ and ‘doing fine in school.’)

Instead of standardizing education (because we know that every kid fits the standard) why don’t we encourage teachers to find what works for their students and let the parents be the judge of whether, or not, the child is getting what they need. School choice and more parental involvement is a better option than any one-size-fits-all program (even to the point of the local parents being able to get rid of teachers who do not meet their children’s needs- after all, the parents do pay the teachers’ salaries in the form of taxes…).

I took my children (who were adopted when they were older) out of this system and home schooled them. All of my special ed kids graduated high school. One served in the Marines, and now works in Kuwait. Another is in hotel management and is a high school soccer coach, and the third, who was to live in a group home for the rest of her life, is now a mother of two who works part time at a hotel. If I can do this without a teaching degree, just think of what our schools could do if we pushed them to try!

Let’s stop pretending and make real changes that really work. Implementing programs that are sure to fail and paying more into a system that has not produced results is just plain nuts.

Teens- It Can Be Easier!

Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

Let’s face it, being a teen today is tough, and most parents do not have the best of relationships with their children at this age, but I don’t think it has to be this way. I have raised seven children, three of whom are still teens living at home, and they are not difficult. Even my older children (the three that came to us as older children through adoption) improved their behavior as teenagers. Why do I think we were we different? Because we chose to be different. We didn’t mind being completely unique, and that helped us make decisions we otherwise might not have made. Here are some problems I see that contribute to the angst today’s teenagers face:

1. There is too much work (and most of it is not productive). The school system today assigns more homework than ever before, and sports teams meet five days a week for practice, plus games (which typically cause a student to frequently miss class). Combine this with church activities, chores and a growing body that needs rest and you can see why an average teen is a little testy. We avoided this by home schooling. One of our children grew in spurts. (He would come downstairs and all of a sudden nothing would fit right.) When he got tired, I let him rest, knowing he would be three inches taller when he finally woke up. Why? Because he had what I termed ‘puberty brain.’ He was so tired no decent amount of work was going to be done by him anyways, so why fight it? The other 360 days of the year he was a hard worker so I gave him the rest he needed. Not all of my children grew this way, but he did. There needs to be some flexibility in life for real needs and if there is a real problem with the amount of work, or other school expectations, there should be other parents who would also like to see a solution as well.

2. They have no real control over their lives, but are trying to become adults. Teen years are frustrating. A teenager is rightly trying to become an adult, but they have very little actual control over their lives and many of the rules they encounter seem arbitrary. To solve this, make rules that make sense, and advocate for your teen when they are subject to rules that are just plain nonsense. If possible look closely at the person in authority over your teen and how they handle their authority before choosing an activity for your teen. Two of my sons enjoyed the boy scouts, but we moved and the men over the new troop made up punishing rules that were ridiculous. The boys watched while the leaders broke the rules but they couldn’t. When my sons wanted to quit, I let them. This was not the type of leader I wanted my boys to be, so removing those men as role models in their lives was fine by me.

3. Because school and sports take up most of their time, they have very little time for real responsibilities. Real adult responsibilities, like helping to change the oil or make a dish to take to a sick friend, create a feeling of accomplishment. Most children do not have these opportunities, and adding too many responsibilities to their lives is almost cruel. Further, there are many, many opportunities for fun that are set up in such a way that a parent would be cruel to make their child miss out, but take up much of their time and money. (Do you remember when prom was only for seniors? Now many schools have one for multiple years, and many of the dances are just as fancy as any prom I attended!) Teens are therefore learning that it is their job to have fun, and mom and dad’s job to provide it. Anything that conflicts with this will cause tension in the house. So how do we solve it? By giving our teens the opportunity to perform adult tasks and help out when possible, and by teaching them the things they need to know for adult life, and by advocating for a sane amount of extra-curricular activities.

4. We focus too much on socialization. ‘Socialization’ has become a big deal in recent years, but it has become skewed to mean ‘socialization with one’s peers.’ While friends are important, many people will not see the friends they had in high school much in their adult life. Socialization with your family, who will be there later in life, is therefore also important, but it is something we often leave out. The Mormons actually have a great idea. They are advised to set aside one night a week, usually Mondays, for family time. There is no working late for dad, or any other activities. This night provides time for the family to re-connect and helps the children remember where their true priorities lay. Public school teens are very busy, but they still need to realize that their first priority is their family.

5. Teens have too many moms. The average teen typically has more than one person they call ‘mom.’ This can be a teacher, or a friend’s mom. This may seem affectionate, but it really is inappropriate. Some teens even have ‘mentors’ that are assigned through the school or other programs. This also messes with the family dynamic because in general these adults are not supporting the family unit. Instead there is a subtle hint that they know better than the child’s family. So, when a teen is caught between pleasing a ‘mentor’ or other friendly adult and their parents, who do you really believe is going to win? The person who loves on them all day with no judgment or accountability involved, or the person who takes away their phone and grounds them from the party they wished to attend? The Bible says that a person cannot serve two masters. This is true, and some of the relationships teens are building with other adults boarders on usurping the proper authority of mom and dad. Sure, a teen with negligent parents might benefit from this, but all other teens need to be encouraged to go to their parents for advice and help. The fallacy that teens can’t talk to their parents is just that, a fallacy. Most teens have awesome parents, they just don’t want to face up to what they have done. And they are not being helped to grow up by allowing them to avoid the consequences and letting them believe their parents are the problem.

6. Bait and switch. Many of the problems I see good teens having come from situations I would have a problem with as well. Here’s the deal. The teen is told that Christmas break is coming up and they will have two weeks off. They are then told that there is a list of assignments to be done over break. What?!?!? Break means break- no work. And if mom and dad planned a vacation, how are they going to manage all of this? Things like this are common in a teen’s life, and they are wrong. They are picked for to be drum majorette, then they find out someone changed their mind. They have a game Saturday, then at the last minute it is on a Friday and they must be there. Some teens lives are so arbitrary it is easy to see why they explode. So when Mom says, ‘But we have plans on Friday,’ the teen is stuck between a rock and a hard place- disappoint mom, or disappoint the coach. And the coach usually wins. Why? Because he has the psychological ‘You’re letting down the team,’ on his side, plus he can bench the child from an activity they love. (This happens with church activities as well, where the leader assumes the teens can drop everything at a moments notice, not realizing how it messes with a family who is actually trying to spend time with their child.)

7. We juvenilize everything. High schools now have days where you wear your pajamas to school, and youth groups focus more on eating gross foods and games then they do on growing up. This is not what the teen years are about. Sure it’s ok to have fun once in a while, but the fun occurs after the work is done, not instead of it. A teen who is truly intent on being an adult, ready to live on their own and consider marriage after high school should feel weird when asked to do pointless juvenile activities. Adult jobs that pay well do not have pajama days, for obvious reasons, and no one makes their accountant or physician eat gross food as a way to judge their competence.

8. They don’t know their parents. With school, sports and other activities the teen has had very little time to get to know their parents. The majority of their interactions occur when the teen has done something wrong. This is not the way to build trust and an easy relationship. A small child does not see their parent the same way an adult does. If you do not build a more mature relationship with your child now, where you both talk and listen to their ideas, it will be harder to do later, after they move out.

9. Parents do not make the rules clear. The teen does not automatically know everything you expect him to do. If you are not clear about it, they can become confused. ‘I didn’t know’ is a frequent excuse teens use, and while it is at times a ploy to avoid getting into trouble, sometimes it is the truth. Be clear with your expectations, especially if they are different from the norm. For example, my son once ‘courted’ a girl who was an oldest child who had parents who were extremely into ‘purity.’ This was fine with him, but he did not know the rules. It seemed to him, and to me, that the parents were making things up on the fly, after they were done, which meant he was frequently shamed for things he did not know to avoid. For example: My son gave her a fairly expensive necklace; he should have known it was too much. My son held her hand; he should have asked first. They offered to let him stay at their house when he visited; he should have known to refuse. Don’t be like this. Dating, driving and other things are going to be options for your teen to experience. Come up with a game plan that is clear and known by your children before these options present themselves.

10. The teens have no life plans. There is another fallacy going around that teens need to ‘find themselves’ before college. Well, while your teens are finding themselves, and often only finding themselves in trouble, other teens are preparing for a life that supports the family they hope to have. They will be the doctors, lawyers and business owners, and hopefully, when your teen is ready, they will offer him a job. Sound harsh? A teen with no goals does not see why he needs to do anything. A teen with goals stays out of trouble because he does not want to ruin his future. Let me give you an example: My oldest son came to my house at ten and a half, and he was a handful. He was also a cocaine, fetal-alcohol syndrome baby who scored low on IQ tests. He is now making six-figures. Why? Because he had a goal, and he worked hard to achieve it. At 17 1/2 he joined the Marines. After four years of service he worked private security, going to classes to acquire all of his clearances so he could carry a gun, and then took a job doing contract work in Kuwait. Is he perfect? No, but he is doing better than many of his peers. Why? Because sitting on my couch was never an option. And when he wanted to quit high school I told him we could help him get a loan on a septic truck so he would at least be making enough money to feed his future family. (Messy jobs no one wants tend to pay well.) He didn’t like the septic idea, which is why I chose it, so he pushed through. Buying into ideas that say your teen in incapable do your teen a disservice. I knew my son could complete high school, but I also knew it would be hard. I also knew he really wanted to be a Marine. We worked together and a boy with behavioral issues and a pretty low IQ passed the ASVAB and served tours successfully in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

I am sorry, but I am tired of hearing that it can’t be done. That teens are wired this way, and there will always be conflict, and that sitting on your couch finding themselves is the way to success. This is bull. My nephew just graduated from college and is looking forward to working on his masters. Most kids his age living near us are thinking about maybe working at Walmart, and they are ‘good’ kids. The difference? It’s not the brains as much as the expectations that they grew up with that set them apart. And those expectations will likely cause them to struggle financially for the rest of their lives. Further, the extra time in their parent’s house is not helping their relationship. Lack of responsibility is creating tension when mom and dad become tired of cleaning up an adult child’s messes, and watching him sleep in every day. So ask yourself: Is this really what you want for your child? And if you do not, what are you going to do to change it?

Worshipping As A Family

Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

Today there is a big push for family devotions, and in a way, this is Biblical. Christian parents are to teach their children, but is sitting down as if they are in school the only way?

One family I know sings. They are gifted, and their house is filled with praise music. Most songs they know contain lines of scripture. I often think that maybe our family should have been encouraged to sing more. My husband has an excellent voice and so do a few of our kids. But then I remember that I can’t carry a tune to save my life, and some of my children are like me, so maybe this is not our best option.

Another family I know prays. Okay, so many families pray, but not like this one. Prayer before meals often becomes corporate prayer, with other people taking their turn as well, sometimes until the meal becomes cold. And they love it. At times I have wished that my family could pray like that, but we like our food hot, and many of our children are not too excited about public speaking.

We do traditional devotions. We are geeks. Conversations could last hours, and often do, though no one believes my children when they say so. But this is our way, and for the most part, we like it.

Other families do missions work. Their children have been feeding the homeless and talking to strangers for years. These children have never met a person they couldn’t speak with, and do not understand that some people think that Saturday mornings are for cartoons, and school breaks are for Disney Land. (And if they did go, Mickey Mouse would probably find out what it takes to be saved!) These families too make me wish we did more…

My point: Every family is different. (And here I have picked example of those who do one thing to an extreme. Most of us will find ourselves to be a mix of talents.) Wishing you were like another is futile. Yes, you need to share your beliefs with your children and train them well, but there are a variety of ways to do so. Figure out what works well for who God created your family to be and do it. And the best way to teach, the way we all teach, is by example and explanation. If you are not living well then all the hours of praise music, devotional time and prayer are just hypocrisy and are unlikely to have much affect on your children. So do the hard work of figuring out who you are (and it is hard work for this generation) and figure out a way to communicate God’s message in it. (And if one of the models I have shared speaks to you, go for it! There is great joy in following hard what God has placed on your heart.)

When Did Bragging About Your Kid Become So Wrong?

Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

When I was a child, long before every house had A/C, adults sat on their porches and visited with neighbors. If a neighborhood child did something good, everyone heard about it and congratulated them. I don’t remember ever feeling ‘less than’ because we lived across the street from the high school quarterback who actually had one date with Brook Shields. (In our small town USA these things were big deals.) Instead I remember feeling proud to be somehow associated with people who did such things.

Fast forward to the world of home schooling. When my children were young, home schooling was still somewhat new. Every home school accomplishment was one more victory for our team. Life wasn’t a competition, but a group effort to ensure every child was supported and educated. In our case this occurred by supporting the parents, sharing ideas, new curriculum finds and field trip opportunities.

Today, while my younger children are finishing school life seems different. My announcements that my child received a scholarship are met with looks that say, ‘Well aren’t you so great,’ rather than ‘How’d you do that?’ And these looks are from the younger generation, who do not yet have a child to compete with mine- and who knows what theirs will do? (Though, from the responses I get, Mom is not too confident…) And maybe that’s the problem, our young moms are not so confident. Somehow we seem to have created a culture where everyone sucks is the motto, and striving to be exceptional, or even the best you can be, is discouraged. How did this happen? I don’t know, but we better work to get over it. Shared failure does not seem to be such a fun place to be. Let’s take back our ability to be happy for those who achieve. Let’s look to those who have done well before us, not as people who have attained the unattainable, but as those who can tell us how. Let’s rejoice in our uniqueness and add to the talent pool where we may, not caring what others will think when we do things just a little different than they did, because that is how you add value. Let’s not cringe when we do well, hoping no one will notice, but glory in the fact that we can make a difference, and we can be someone special to somebody.

My father talks of the high school janitors he used to have. Even when I was young, they were respected. The children loved them, and they looked out for us. When my father brought lobster home from a trip, one had to go to the man in the overalls, because for some reason, he was the one we most wanted to bless. Why was he ‘someone.’ Someone so important we’d put lobster on ice and save it for him? Because he cared. Because he was someone who came to work happy to be there, doing the extras to make our school special. Because we knew he loved us. How did we know he loved us? From his interest in our lives, his pleasure in our accomplishments and his disappointment when we did not behave. (Who do you think was in the hallway when you were sent out of class?) And we came home and bragged about him. I do not remember what we said, but it was enough that my parents would sacrifice part of our precious feast to give him something he had told one of their children he had never had before.

So instead of cowards, irritated that someone is doing something we are not, let us be the type of people whom others can brag on. The person who is so kind that everyone knows who they are and loves them. The one who, when others achieve, is in their corner cheering them on. This is the attitude that encourages greatness, and produces people of ability. This is the attitude that makes a community. This is the attitude that makes a janitor the greatest person in the building. And it produces a generation that learns.

How To Make Parenting Easy

Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

1. Take care of problems early.
Do not just “hope” things go away. And, sitting around complaining never solved anything. When you see a problem, work to fix it. And keep working. Inconsistent parenting is just as bad as negligent parenting. This does not mean the solution is always punishment and more punishment. Get to the root of the problem. Poor grades may require tutoring, or finding a way to engage the child so they learn. Sudden disrespect can mean, ‘I’m growing and need so much more sleep I cannot currently function.’ Pay attention and help your child appropriately and early.

2. Don’t make stupid rules.
Children become frustrated and rebel when life seems unfair. One of the things I have never understood is limits on TV and video games. Why? Because free time is free time. It is time to do what you want. Arbitrary limits on things they enjoy just confuse them. (They should confuse you too. Do you place the same limits on yourself?) If the chores are done well, their homework is complete and they have nothing else to do why are you micromanaging them? If you want them to go play outside, say, “Go play outside.” If you want them to exercise more, set aside a time for it, or enroll them in a sport. If you want them to read, reward it. But to subtly tell them they can do whatever they want, and then limit what they can want seems foolish. It also teaches them to place arbitrary limits on their own lives, which is a hindrance to success. (Go through your own inner monologue and see how many ‘rules’ you have for yourself that make no sense. Get rid of them and see if your life improves!)

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Keep life in perspective. If your child is getting straight A’s, is kind to others, and generally does what is expected of them, then an unmade bed is not the end of the world. (Unless he is planning on enlisting in the military.) Do not continually harp on some little aspect and let that be all he hears when overall he is a good kid. This is not to say that you never address it, it is just not the most important thing in life. Talk to him about it and try a new approach. When I talk to my boys about their messes, now that they are older, I typically focus on how their future wife will view things. It works for them. Find what works for you. (Hint: Nagging, repeating the same thing over, and over and over, never works.)

4. Make time to talk.
You cannot build a relationship with your children without mutual respect. True they may obey out of fear of punishment, but fear only lasts so long. Children who respect their parents behave better than those who don’t, and the key to earning respect is time. (It is also by behaving yourself, but I am assuming that, if you are reading an article on how to be a better parent, you already understand that.) You need to spend time with your child, and watching him play sports is not it. This is time where you can talk. You talk about what’s important to you, and he talks about what is going on in his life. Don’t think you know it all. Chances are the things your children are focused on and worried about will surprise you. Prioritize. Missing one season of sports, or other activity will not affect their lives and relationships as much as never getting to know their parents. And make it fun. Sitting down with them in such a way that they feel like they’re being grilled will not garner the same results.

5. Take your kids places.
Too many parents leave the children home when they go grocery shopping, or out for coffee. Why? Because their children do not behave. Do you realize that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you do not take the children, and teach them to behave, they will never learn to behave, so you will never be able to take them. Instead teach them young, if possible. (I adopted a few of mine older, so we went on ‘practice’ shopping trips to catch up.) By the time they were older I could take seven kids anywhere. To the opera, museums, grocery stores- you name it- without trouble. It was hard work in the beginning, but it paid off in the end. So, when I needed a cup of coffee, and felt like sitting for a few minutes, that’s what we did. In the beginning, when my adopted children still did not know how to behave at this level, we took breaks and had a date-night, because it was needed. But the date-night did not make up for the tension in the house. We worked on the things that caused tension, and the date-night became something we do for fun, rather than a needed time to get away. You can see how life would be more enjoyable this way…

6. Do things that make sense.
Do not have rules, or ways of doing things that are based solely on what others do. Do things in a way that makes sense for your family. Let me give you an example. My daughter is home schooled, and has a youth group full of good kids that she loves attending. I do not work outside the home and my other children are old enough to stay home alone. When I show up in the parking lot I wait in the car, usually with a book, until she is done. Her friends have pointed out that it is rude of her to leave her mother waiting like that. (I told you they were good kids.) She talked to me about it (notice that we have established a pattern where she communicates, and does not just do what seems right). What I told her is that her friends would be rude if they left their mothers waiting. Some have small children who get cranky in the car, while others have to go to work in the morning. Our family is different, and my priority right now is to give her as much time as she would like with her friends, while not leaving her as the last one to be picked up, wondering when mom is going to get there. So I sit and read, and it is okay. If I go grocery shopping and there is ice cream in the car, I go in and tell her we have to go, and she goes. The situation changed, and she respects that. Rules should not be black and white. They should make sense. She also does not become upset because I decided to do something productive that would limit her enjoyment. Why? Because she knows I balance my priorities (because we talk, and I often explain why I do what I do), and she knows that most of the time this results in better things for her.

7. Teach purposefully.
The ancient rabbis had their students follow them around as they went about their daily lives. The rabbis would then explain why they did things the way they did. This is important. Your children should know why you make the choices you make, or they may misunderstand your motives. When your children begin to understand that you actually think about them when making decisions, they learn to accept that sometimes they cannot have what they want, but it is not because you did not think about their wishes as well. They also learn how to make proper decisions, using the values and principles you find important.

8. Grow up.
The saddest thing I see is when a child is more mature than their parents. Many times it is because the child has had to assume adult responsibilities, or has had to become an emotional support system for the parent because the parent does not behave. This should never happen, and, even though it seems like the child is doing well, the emotional baggage they carry into adulthood is just not worth it. Get your own life under control before trying to ‘fix’ your kids. (Some of their problems could be because they are copying, or reacting to, you!) Think about why you do what you do, get your emotions in check, start to avoid people who are not good to you and actually obey all of those rules you teach your kids. Immature parents cannot raise well-adjusted children. And they make it difficult for the child to have a relationship with them later in life.

Now these tips will make parenting easier in the long run, but if you have issues you need to address the hard work starts now. You must put in the time to reap the rewards. The irony is that if you avoid putting in the time, you will have less time since you will have more messes to clean up, and the stress and anxiety are just not worth it. Will your family be perfect? No, but children can be manageable and enjoyable most of the time. Think of it this way: There is a Chinese restaurant that called us ‘The Happy Family.’ Why? Because I did not have to yell at my children to sit down, stopping touching your brother, eat your food etc every five minutes. Wouldn’t you like this to be you?


Photo by Matija Barrett

Photo by Matija Barrett

I am tired of hearing about children dying. I am tired of hearing trite, easy solutions. I am tired of seeing nothing constructive being done….

The main problem with bullies is that they operate under the radar. They are not the guy who punches you in the face and beats you in a fair fight. Nor are they the girl who is mad at you one day, and best friends the next. This is normal childhood behavior, and while it sucks, it is not what drives children to suicide. Bullying is a whole lot more…

Bullying occurs when a small group of kids develop a pack behavior. There is usually a leader, but he/she always has back-up, and the children not involved with the pack know to steer clear and allow whatever they are doing to go uninterrupted. Leaving and pretending not to notice is what the ‘good’ kids do, and who can blame them? This pack knows how to make a person’s life miserable in ways that are difficult to define and report. They also know how to suck up to the teachers and other people in authority. Bullies are rarely the ‘bad’ kids. No, they are the ‘popular’ kids. The ones teachers like, and other children want to have as their friends, not because they are so nice, but because not being liked by them makes you ‘left out.’

A true bully cannot be overcome by beating him in a fight, or finding a way to become her friend. If you do embarrass a bully, they will enlist help and tomorrow, and the next day and the next, you will pay. There is no way to defend yourself against a bully. True bullies do not ever allow themselves to be that vulnerable. Here are some of the things that bullies do:

They make their target feel ‘special.’ They treat them as if they are popular, or wonderful, and when they believe the target has relaxed and bought into it, they pull the rug out from under them. Bullies will go so far as to elect a person homecoming queen, or have a guy ask her to the prom. The girl has no choice but to buy the nice dress, and go through the motions, hoping it may be true. Then, at the last minute, the bullies will do something to let her know that this kind of honor could never really be hers and that she was a fool for thinking it would. Because of this the victim will grow to never trust anyone being nice to them. When they do have a good time with friendly people, they will go home and cry. Why? Because they want it to be real, can’t trust that it is, and don’t want it to go away. Socially awkward kids crave acceptance too.

Bullies pick on things the child cannot change, and things that are very personal. They know when people are watching, and choose their moments. Bullies love bathrooms, where a person feels most vulnerable. Many victims learn to hold their bladders until they get home. This is extremely tough on a girl with her period…

Bullies make it seem like everyone feels the same way they do. They set up scenarios that seemingly prove this. One group sent a blank sheet of paper around a class, claiming it was an attendance sheet. (Since the teacher had never taken attendance this way, everyone knew it was a set-up, but no one had the guts to not sign it.) After everyone had signed the sheet, they added a nasty paragraph to the top explaining that everyone who had signed did not like the person for the various cruel reasons listed. Bullies often enlist teachers too, using the schools rules to claim the victim was cheating, or cutting class when it was the bullies who somehow caused them to be detained etc.

Victims of bullying often develop ways of coping. One of my friends remembers a child who carried celery in his shirt pocket, neatly cut up, like a row of pens. Whether the child realizes it, or not, this is a self-preservation technique. If the children pick on him it is now not because they hate him, but because of the celery. The solution is not to get rid of the celery. In fact, getting rid of the celery will make it worse because the child will still be picked on, but now it is personal again.

Our old pediatrician had an interesting thought about acutane, the wonderful acne medication that sometimes leads to suicide. His theory was that the child with severe acne assumes that, when the acne disappears, they will no longer be picked on in school. As the acne resolves, and they continue to be a target, they become depressed, and end their life.

Why do people become the target? Typically it is because they are socially awkward. They may have acne, birthmarks, or just a high, or low IQ that keeps them from fitting in with their peers. It is not their social lack of ability that is the problem. Most people can find ways of liking and accepting them of given time. It is their isolation that makes them the perfect target. The wolves never go for the animal in the middle of the herd, no matter how defenseless the herd is; they always wait for an animal to be alone.

So what can we do?

As adults we can recognize the behavior of bullies for what it is, and actually do something about it. Punishing the bully directly will only make it worse. What needs to be done is to take away the bullies’ power. To do this, when you find the ‘attendance sheet’ with all of the names on it, you must make it public, and embarrassing for the ‘good kids’ so that it becomes less likely for it to happen again. But do it when the victim is not available, or you are just increasing their humiliation. Adults must also stop getting sucked into catering to the bullies. They are not your best friend, nor do they think you are the coolest teacher ever. These are ploys that allow them to do whatever they want without consequences. Don’t fall for them.

Since bullying is so far under the radar you will never totally eradicate it. But you can do things to help the victim. Gifted classes, special interest clubs etc where small groups of social misfits can find that niche where they feel accepted and loved help. But know that the bullies will show up. They will feign an interest in an attempt to destroy the club. This is what typically happens:

A group of socially awkward kids begin to enjoy an activity, like the school newspaper. It is a small group, and the teacher in charge would really like to see it grow. The popular kids show up. The teacher is ecstatic that they are showing an interest in something he/she loves. But on some level the teacher knows that they are not there to work, so she cuts them some slack. They are not held accountable for the things she assigns, and she gives them the best assignments that everyone who has been loyal to the paper wants. The children who loved working on the paper now hate it. Why? Because they are doing more work, since they have to make up for the things the popular kids are doing poorly, or not doing at all, leaving what used to be an easy task as a rush job to be done at the last minute. They are also not getting to do the things they really love, since these perks go to the kids the teacher is trying to bribe into staying. The original children are also getting picked on in a place that used to be a sanctuary. Not that the teacher would notice. First, bullies are always careful, and if they do get caught they are gifted at twisting the facts to make it look like they were not doing anything wrong, at least not knowingly. And second, the teacher is so motivated to get these children to stay that they ignore obvious problem behaviors. (Knowing a person may leave makes people chase after and cater to them.) Further, the bullies usually have a favorite teacher or two they can complain to that will talk to the teacher in charge and ‘fix’ things for them.

So how do we do things differently? We treat the popular kids the same as everyone else. When they show up they are required to learn, and are held accountable for the work assigned. They do not get breaks. We also make it so that the children who have been loyal, hardworking and ‘good’ feel that they can come to us with complaints. We then take their complaints seriously, and do something about them. If the paper needs to be late, who cares? We never, ever make a conscientious child pay for the laziness of another, and we let it be known, as a fact, kindly, not meanly, that by not doing what they are assigned the bully is the problem, but help is available if they need it- by the teacher. Never, ever force the victim to help the bully. This only gives the bully the opportunity to make things worse and traps the victim by placing him in a situation he does not feel he can get out of.

We also show love to the victim. Real love. Find ways to support what the victim likes, or teach the victim things they do not know, like how to dress, do their hair, put on make-up etc. But, do not expect the victim to do these things on a regular basis. A plain girl, when she suddenly looks beautiful will be bullied more than if she had not done anything, but these skills will help her in the future, when she is in a new situation and no one knows her yet, to not look like the type of person the bullies seek to destroy. (I called make-up my ‘war paint’ and put it on mainly when I knew I would be in a situation I felt forced to ‘do battle’ in. I grew out of the ugly duck stage and into a swan, and then back to an ugly duck- but at 43 that is more acceptable…)

Do not trivialize bullying. Do not ignore it. You will never catch everything a bully does, nor stop it entirely, so support the victim. If the victim is so socially awkward that you cannot honestly love them, then find people who can. No child should be made to feel so unloved that they cry when someone is nice to them, or kill themselves because no one seemed to care.

The Beauty of a Mistake

photo by Matija Barrett

photo by Matija Barrett

Throughout the years my children (believe it, or not) have made mistakes. Some of them small, and some of them whoppers.

Through them all my husband has had to reassured me that this is not the end of the world.

My problem: I am a perfectionist. I was the ‘good girl,’ the honor student, the one who did not mess up. (At least not often, and not according to the standards of the world.)

My husband did. He knows what it is like to make a mistake and overcome. He knows that even the bigger things are not always as bad as they seem to be.

By making, correcting and overcoming mistakes one learns to put things into perspective. One learns that hard work, and true repentance solve most problems. One learns to have mercy, to worry less, and to not sweat the small stuff.

So… while one never wants to see a child flounder, fall and fail, there is a beauty in having done so. And a beauty in having the loving hand of a parent to guide them through. One who understands and appreciates the truth that the hard work they need to do to overcome is not something to be avoided, but a lesson to be embraced, and to be glad that they have the opportunity to learn to face adversity and win when they are seemingly so young.

And yes… I am preaching to myself today!

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