Sunday, January 3, 2010

This Blog is Moving!!!

I had a sudden revelation this morning in church, and, oddly enough, it directly impacts my blog. It was one of those "this is what you're supposed to be doing with your life" moments, and it gave me the chills. Totally out of the blue, too.

But the end result is that I'm closing this blog down and starting up a new one--one that's a little less self-focused, purposeless, pretentious, and, well, again, all about me.

Here's the link.

Parenting, pt. 4

So I actually covered part of this in the last post . . . when it comes to an organic process, sometimes it's hard to strictly separate out different steps. They all sort of flow from one to the other.

But the last step I've found to this is Direction. And that's just following up your strategic thinking with strategic action. You see the challenges your kids will face, the parts of their personalities that will be stretched the most in the next stages, and you create opportunities for growth and teachable moments that can begin to move your kids toward maturity in these areas.

My daughter had a very definite view of the how the world Should Be, and sometimes it's very hard for her to adjust to the world As It Is. So I create small opportunities for her to learn to be a little more flexible in her approach to life. One of the things I've done is made sure I regularly serve food she's not a fan of, just to help her learn obedience in small things and to learn to deal with not always having things her way. And that it's OK that Liam messes up her organization, especially when she organizes things that aren't hers! It's not a big thing, but it helps build in her a certain way of looking at life. Small steps are easiest to teach, I think.

So that's it, really. Just OCD parenting (joke!). It's not reactive parenting, and when I find myself reacting, feeling out of control, and I pray, 9 times out of 10 God will tell me I'm not taking the time to think about my kids, and so I'm not prepared for them. If you have a strategy before the problem hits (or before it hits next time), you have a new default setting (a new automatic response) that can take over, instead of your old reactive setting. So it's not reacting to your kids, but being proactive: thoughtfully and prayerfully watching them, thinking about them, and then directing them on a path that fits them and moves them toward maturity. Easier said than done, that's for sure. But it helps to have something concrete to work toward!

What about you? What parenting advice do you give out, or was given to you? Believe me, I'd love to hear it. I, for one, have a long way to go!

Parenting, pt. 3

OK, so Christmas got the better of me. That, and filling out applications and financial aid applications for Ph.D. programs. Essays, essays, essays . . . and all about what I want to do with my life, when I have so little idea of what that is! Ah, well. I'm thankful God's got that covered. It's pretty intimidating for me to consider.

And now, on to the second part of what I've learned about parenting. The first was learning to watch my kids, to get to know them. The second is Contemplate, which is basically the acronym-appropriate way to say that you set yourself to think deliberately and strategically about them.

As I get to know my kids, I start to notice their strengths and weaknesses, and I learn more and more about the stage of development each is at. So the next thing I have to do is consider what I know about them and set it next to what I know about life, my own experiences, those of my husband, the stages of development my kids are in and those they're moving into, and consider what challenges, victories, learning opportunities, and general growing up my kids will experience now and in the future.

For example, my daughter is a perfectionist. So one of my goals for her is to help her not fear failure, that she will learn to have the courage to try new things, even if she's not good at them yet, and not give up just because she doesn't succeed the first try. My son, on the other hand, sees failure as a personal challenge, an affront to him because he didn't win. So my challenge is to help him understand that just because it's there doesn't mean he has to win over it right now. Sometimes it's better to wait until you're properly equipped to handle the situation--like a 7-month-old trying to climb the stairs by himself. Not safe. Failing just made him want it more!

Those are long-term goals. Short-terms goals are important, too. My daughter lives in her own world, a very imaginative world. She gets it from me, so I really understand how important it is for her to get out and do physically active things, to learn active games like basketball, soccer, etc., just to learn the skills of teamwork, competition, etc. My son, on the other hand, lives very much in this physical world, so I'm trying to gradually teach him that it's OK to have quiet time and that playing by yourself for a few minutes is a good skill for you and those around you! He's 25 lbs, and wants nothing more than constant attention, games, and being held around the house. We're working on expanding his repertoire of skills. These kind of short-terms goals are things you can work on as part of a game with your kids: teaching them to catch (hand-eye coordination) or jump (balance), to sing or to take turns playing.

The key is to look at your kids now and to look ahead for them and help prepare them for the future. My goal is to grow healthy, responsible adults. My prayer is that they love Jesus, too. That's a continual bit of teaching and role-modeling, and the most demanding and intimidating. It's a whole new world of thinking to figure out how to talk about Christmas and Easter to a very sensitive 2-yr-old, to role-play Bible stories and remember children's songs about the Bible and set about to deliberately, strategically instill that in my kids. It's hard, because I want it to be real, to be honest, and to be God-led, not me-led. And that's the toughest part about parenting. It's more and more about God doing his thing through me, teaching me the skills and the way to think, but letting his strength, his love, and his kingdom life be what drives and forms my parenting and my life.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gotta love the Onion!

And on a totally unrelated note, check this out. The history-linguistics geek in me thought it was hilarious. And yes, I have a really weird sense of humor.

What I've learned about parenting, pt. 2

Or rather, ideas I have about parenting so far, given that I'm not very far into it: my daughter turns 3 in just a few months. On the other hand, I'm fast coming to believe that toddlers are just very young teenagers . . . or maybe that teenagers are just very big toddlers??? Hmmm. And now I'm just going to leave that right there.

So what I'm discovering about parenting is that it seems to be a 3-stage process. This isn't developmental stages or anything like that. These are stages I go through--or remind myself to go through--every day. Because I needed an acronym I could remember easily, and because I've got a pretty weird sense of humor, I call it OCD parenting: observation, contemplation, direction.

I have to observe my kids constantly, starting at birth. Those of you who are parents know that there are some things you can just tell about your kid (especially in contrast to an older sibling) from their first 24 hours of life. For example, my daughter is the oldest. She watches the world, considers it, analyzes it, and figures out how to get what she wants and where she wants based on the rules she deduces. My son is almost 8 months. From the time he was born, he saw the world, and tried to change it to match what he wanted. My daughter will deal with things as they are until they pass her internal limit, and then she falls apart. On the other hand, things are either good or the end of the world; there is no middle ground for this boy!

So I watch both of them, trying to get to know them and understand them and how they think.I keep track of where they are developmentally, and try to figure out what might be the biggest challenges and the most rewarding aspects of the stage they're in and in the next stage. That way I can help them with their challenges and praise them and appreciate their successes. I can also be prepared with some strategies for the next stage, but that's getting ahead of myself. That's the next step: contemplation.

And it's late, and my daughter is apparently out of bed and in the bathroom playing with her stepping stool. Let's end it here for now, and pick up with contemplation next time! It's time for little girls to be in bed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

What I've learned about parenting, pt. 1

It's embarrassing to realize that I promised this post a full 4 months ago, and am only now finally sitting down to write it. My excuse? Umm . . . parenting??

Actually, it's true. My son waited until he was 6 months old to sleep more than 2 hours at a time at night, and my daughter hit that wonderful 2 1/2 stage. I though maybe I should figure out some of my own parenting puzzles before writing about "everything I've learned about parenting." What I've learned in the past 4 months feels nearly equal to the previous year! So this one post will actually become two, and yet, in the end, really only cover two things: what I see as my job as a parent, and the parenting philosophy I've sort of settled on after a few years of hearing everyone else's advice and watching how everyone I know does family.

My least favorite part of parenting is the enforcer role. You know, the one that feels like a kill-joy ("Don't push your brother around the dining in his highchair!!") and so often ends in discipline ("Go to your room, NOW!"). I hate it. I hate that I have to emotionally distance myself from my kids to discipline them well. I've discovered that if I let myself stay emotionally invested in the situation, I react emotionally to their disobedience, and disciplining my kids when I'm emotionally involved always ends up feeling like punishment instead of discipline. I want to train my children even in the consequences they face for bad behavior. I don't want to just shut them down. So I've developed a mini-speech I always give my daughter after I discipline her. First we talk through why she got disciplined. Then I tell her I love her, and that my job is to help her grow up and be safe, and that's why we have rules and consequences.

Those two phrases--"grow up" and "be safe"--have come to summarize (to me, at any rate!) my job as a mother. So how do you define these? Safety is the obvious one. If the hurt you'll do yourself is not worth the cost of the injury and what you'll learn from it, don't do it. But what about "grow up"? I define that as preparing my kids to one day enter the real world as healthy and responsible adults capable of successfully navigating the confusing decisions of adulthood. As a Christian, a huge part of that for me is introducing them to the God of the Bible, who loves them profoundly and practically, and to Jesus, who walked in their shoes and offers the way back to God and to the kingdom reality we were meant to experience in complete trust and confidence in him.

Nearly every rule, every situation in parenting so far fits under being safe and growing up. Disobedience? It's part of growing up healthily, because we all need to be able to take direction and obey authorities. Don't play with hot water? Be safe. Don't hit your brother? It's part of growing up to be a healthy, responsible adult. Loving other people? Same thing. It helps my daughter understand I have reasons, and that these reasons are to help her, not just to shut her down. But then, that's her personality. I have a feeling that it will be more important to just say "I'm mommy, and get over it!" to my son!

The side benefit of consistently reminding Jenna of this is that I remind myself of it, as well. And that encourages--well, it challenges--me to parent thoughtfully, with one eye on my children and one eye on their future. And the idea of taking the long view on my kids actually brings me to the second part of what I've learned parenting: my parenting philosophy. It's based on our need as parents to get to know our own kids and to parent them based not on today's needs (at least, not only!) but on the future adults we see in our children.