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

Posts tagged ‘children’

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?

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!

How to Raise Children With a Servant’s Heart

One of the toughest things to teach a child is how to do for others in a selfless manner. Toddlers almost instinctively take toys away from each other, and one of the first words they learn is usually, ‘Mine!’ even though this is rarely said in most households. For this reason I looked back and thought about where we went right while raising our seven and thought I’d share.

1. Ask your children to do things for you.
Ask for little things, a glass of water, a piece of paper picked up. Make doing little things a normal part of your child’s life.

2. Do little things for your children.
If you do not extend them the same courtesies, then they will see what you ask for as oppression, and not just the way life is supposed to be.

3. Share the chores with your spouse.
If there are no ‘his’ chores and ‘her’ chore then children learn to pitch in when needed. Sure one person can typically do a task, but when life gets busy, make sure you lend a helping hand.

4. Pick up after yourself and others when you are out of the house and see a mess.
Watch that you do not teach the ‘it’s not my job’ attitude when you are out. If someone missed the garbage can at church, help out by picking it off the floor and putting it in the trash yourself rather than walking by it. Do not be judgmental. Explain that people have bad days, and everyone misses the trash sometimes. But also explain that if everyone left everything for the janitor, then the place would be a mess, and trash, after people have stepped on it repeatedly is much harder to clean up.

5. Do not have a double standard.
If you would not be that messy at home, do not be that messy elsewhere. Just because it is not yours does not mean that you do not have to take care of it. If anything you should be more careful because it is not yours to break.

6. Leave things better than when you found them.
Make a habit of cleaning up well whenever you borrow a place, even if the mess was there before you got there.

7. Set the example.
Remember, your children are watching you. Most of what they do will be because they saw you doing it. So, help your neighbor, hold the door, be nice to the waitress and they will likely do the same.

8. Volunteer.
When the church has a work-weekend, go! When there is community work to be done, help! Take the children if possible. It is how they learn to work.

9. Make helping seem like fun.
Enjoy yourself. Visit with the people there and go out to eat, or for ice cream after. It is okay to have a small reward for a job well done.

10. Do not ask for too much.
If the work seems overwhelming, children will shut down. Break projects up into small manageable pieces and reward them after every step.

11. Work along side them.
If the project is big, help. Your working beside your child makes it seem like a needed job they can be proud to do rather than child-labor.

12. Don’t assume they are just being lazy.
Children do not have a lot of real-world experience and get overwhelmed easily. Before you yell, criticize or punish, redirect them. Tell them specifically what you would like them to do at the moment and talk them through the job. If this works, problem solved. If they continue to ignore you and the work, well, the consequences are for you to decide.

13. Reward work done when you were not watching more than work done under supervision.
Children need to learn to work when no one else is looking if they wish to be successful in life. If everyone learned to do this, we would need fewer supervisors, but that is besides the point. The point is, being self-motivated and not taking an unsupervised moment as an opportunity for a work slow down are skills you wish to cultivate, so reward them, and make sure they know why they are being rewarded.

14. Praise them for any spontaneous acts of good will.
Children respond to praise. If you want to see them offer guests a drink when they come to your house, make sure you praise them when they do, especially after the guest leaves.

15. Be the type of person you want them to be.
As a parent you are ultimately your children’s biggest influence. Make sure you are modeling the behavior you want to see in them.

16. Surround them with other positive influencers.
Don’t forget that the people around them will have an impact on their lives too. Make sure they are surrounded by people who behave in ways that you would want your children to imitate. They should have many role models by the time they reach adulthood, or they may get the impression that you and your spouse are just weird, and that all of that ‘good stuff’ is something they do not need to do.

17. Show them the rewards of going the extra mile.
Use others as an example and point out when someone was blessed because they were the type of person other people could count on, even when not asked. You reap what you sow is a fact of life. Make sure your children understand the long-term consequences of being selfless, as well as where a life of selfish desires will lead.

18. Do not flatter them to make them feel good.
Flattery is lie intended to curry favor. It does not get good long-term results. Instead it results in children who believe they can get away with doing nothing, and still be rewarded.

19. Do not manipulate them.
Ignoring them until they do what you want, or not doing the things they need you to do in a passive-aggressive manner just frustrates them and ruins their relationship with you. Consequences for disobedience should be clear and should not affect the things they rely on you for as children under your protection.

20. Explain the natural consequences to them.
In my house one of the common ‘lectures’ was, ‘If Mom has to do it all then there will not be enough time left to go where you want to and Mom will be too tired to want to do much else, so if you actually want out of this house on a regular basis I’d suggest you help.’ (’cause Mom wants to go to the movies, get ice cream etc too!) There are many ‘natural consequences.’ If you let the lawn go, there are mice and fines from the town. If you don’t take care of the car it does not run. Make sure the children know why they are doing what they do and how it benefits everyone in the home including them.

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