Parenting 101: Think Outside of the Box

Cole train 2

This photo of my son, who kept his pacifier much longer than any book or speech therapist would advise, was taken by my friend Julie.

When my oldest daughters were little we took a trip to visit a dear friend. The visit was wonderful except for one problem. My friend’s infant son and my oldest daughter had to sit next to each other in the car and while my daughter had a very large personal bubble, my friend’s son was obsessed with constantly laying his hand on her. This small infraction resulted in her screaming her head off everywhere we went. We tried to think of any possible way to resolve the issue, but came up blank. We couldn’t switch the car seats around for safety reasons, and we could not convince an 8-month-old to stop touching my distressed daughter. We were at a loss until my friend’s mother suggested we tear apart a cardboard box and put a piece of the cardboard in between the kids. It was so simple, but would it work?

Before our next outing, we placed the cardboard between the seats, loaded the kids up, and prayed for a scream-free ride. I watched as his little infant hand made its way over and stopped right at the cardboard as my daughter was oblivious of his intentions from the other side. I’ve never seen anything look so ridiculous and marvelous at the same time. I’m pretty sure the “Hallelujah Chorus” may have broken out spontaneously in the light of that Texas morning as we enjoyed a quiet ride and a pleasant conversation.

The very first words of Genesis tell us that God is creative. And just as he created the wonders of the heavens and earth, he also chose to create us in his imagine. “When God began creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was a shapeless, chaotic mass, with the Spirit of God brooding over the dark vapors” (Gen. 1:2). I love how the Bible refers to the earth as a shapeless, chaotic mass. I don’t know about you, but sometimes my life as a mother feels like a shapeless, chaotic mess! But his word tells us that we are not here by accident. Likewise, he has given us our specific children to parent for a purpose.

As a writer my job is creative by nature. But I’ve never used my creativity more than in my role as a parent. There isn’t a single day when I’m not looking for creative solutions to inspire, educate, discipline, and manage life with my children. And kids are the ultimate game changers. Just when you get one stage figured out, they are on to the next stage. Proverbs 22:6 tells us we should, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” This verse was so helpful to me as a young mother surrounded by the advice of well-meaning books and friends. It helped me to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all style of parenting. Every child is unique and should be raised according to his or her individual needs and leanings.

So what does that mean to me on a practical level? It means that I’ve got to think outside of the box when it comes to raising my four unique children. Here are some personal guidelines that help me parent my kids creatively:

  1. Do what works. I take advice, but then use my discernment in all things. If I find something that produces good fruit in my children then I do it even if it seems unconventional or ridiculous. I walked our first daughter in a front pack every day for 6 months because it’s the only way she would sleep. She stayed happy and I stayed fit and, no, I don’t carry her anymore.
  2. Roll with it. Our second daughter insisted on wearing a Tigger costume every day for 6 months. Which was replaced with a swimsuit (in the dead of winter), followed by various crazy outfits. Whenever I felt the urge to control her choices, I had to remind myself that she was simply expressing her personal taste and it was NOT a reflection on me.
  3. If you resent it, change it. This may seem contrary to #2, but this is all about picking my battles. Some battles aren’t worth fighting and some absolutely are. When it comes to sleep, I am militant about my no-kids-in-our-bed policy. For me, sleep is a deal-breaker, and I would be a very unhappy momma in the morning. Instead of allowing resentment to grow in my heart, I pray and ask God to help me find a creative solution. For our oldest daughters, that meant putting them in the same room at night.
  4. Steal a moment. With 4 kids and a husband who travels frequently, it can be extremely difficult to find one-on-one time with my kids. So I have to get creative and steal moments with them, whether that means taking one who needs some extra love on an errand and sneaking in ice cream or chatting with one in the car. It also means giving them all of my attention when a little one comes to me with a question or wants to discuss something.

When I feel overwhelmed, I remember that God has entrusted me with these precious children and they are gifts from him. Only a cruel God would give me a child without giving me the tools that I need to raise her. But our God is good, and he has given me everything I need to love these children well. Through his word, prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m free to raise them one crazy, creative day at a time.

*This article was originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of Between the Lines magazine. You can read the full issue here.

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It’s Summer Time! Are We Having Fun Yet?

My kids have been out of school for a month now. My stack of parenting magazines is covered with titles like, “Summer Fun!” or some variation of that sentiment. Is it just me, or are those titles mocking us moms? Sometimes the idea of summer fun seems nothing more than a half-baked dream I had before kids when my head was full of unrealistic expectations. In reality, my summer doesn’t always feel fun. With 4 kids all relearning how to get along, it can feel like a lot of work.

 

I admire the mothers of largish families who tell me how much fun having a large brood is, but I often wonder how I’ve missed the boat here. For me, adding more children has translated to increased pressure. After laundry, cleaning, phone calls, bills, finding time to write, picking up all day, and a hundred other tasks, I often feel like any joy has been squeezed right out of me. Throw in a dozen tantrums and some tween sassiness and I’m done. I’m not saying there aren’t hilarious moments, there totally are and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there are also increasing demands and responsibilities. When I get stressed, fun feels like the first thing to fly out the window.

So the question I asked myself before this summer began was, “How can I better balance work and play without losing my mind?” Since we added another child to our crew over the winter (Lord if you’re listening, we are good now thanks!), I knew having a plan in place for fun would be even more essential this summer. So here are a few guidelines I came up with to keep my work/play meter in check:

  1. Care Less. With 4 kids in the house generating dishes, laundry, and mountains of stuff, summer is a great time to care less what my house looks like. Messes are temporary and memories of merriment are forever.
  2. Take Breaks. Without school to give me a daily breather (my hats off to homeschooling mamas everywhere) I need to make an effort to take breaks in the evening or on weekends. I might do something crazy like grab a Starbucks and sit in silence or wander aimlessly around Target.  
  3. Be Silly. Even if my natural inclination isn’t silliness, I make an effort every day to act a little immature. My favorite silly behaviors include dancing, joking around, and finding little ways to make my kids smile. Of course, some awesome moms will take this to the next level like the pinterest picture I recently saw where stairs were turned into a slide using cardboard. I think I’ll pass. That would end badly in my house.
  4. Slow Down. During summers the older kids have reading time each afternoon. One day on a whim, I decided that instead of trying to get things done while my little one was sleeping and they were reading, I would sit down for 30 minutes and read too. It was refreshing and I’ve been doing it ever since.
  5. Enlist Help. Many high school kids are looking for babysitting jobs during the summer. I have a weekly play date with my older girls while my younger ones are home playing with a sitter. It’s a win-win.
  6. Release Control. I sometimes have a misguided desire to be Wonder Mom, so this summer I’m giving some of my workload away. Turns out, my kids are a lot more capable than I imagined. They’ve learned to help me cook, handle their own laundry, and they’ve been drafted into my army of deep cleaners armed with nothing but a box of baby wipes. It may not get done perfectly, but they are learning to be part of a team in the process. 
  7. Add Structure. Having fun with kids often requires planning on my part. I write down some things to do throughout the week. Whether it is a surprise outing to a favorite place or something as simple as playing a game, I make a plan and stick to it no matter what work is piling up around me.

Last summer, we announced that we were going to spend the morning on a family bike ride. After what felt like 5 hours of whining, preparation, and hassle we finally hit the road. When at last we arrived, it was a glorious ride that everyone enjoyed. An older gentleman passed by our biking clan, smiled and said, “You’re doing great mom! The family that bikes together stays together!” His encouraging words were a gift. It was worth the effort to play that day. It always is. The projects can be put on hold, the work will still be waiting in the wings come fall, but today it is summer. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” This summer, I’m doing my best to stay cheerful and not let my bones dry up in the heat.

How about you? How does your family have fun in the summer?