Friday, November 26, 2010

The Five O'Clock Hour

I don't know what it is about Thanksgiving weekend for me but for the past number of years it has become my prompt to begin preparing for the resolutions I might make in the coming year. While others are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their Christmas tree, I am swarming with thoughts of the New Year. I relish the thought of the fresh start that January 1 represents.

Last year on Thanksgiving weekend I was contemplating reading the Bible throughout the year (OT once through, NT twice). I am thrilled that I am on track to reach my goal (I half thought I would not follow through).
It was a relatively small committment but it was important to me to make and stick to. It has been good for me to discipline myself in a small way, especially in a year that was so full of hard and good things.

This year my goal is a bit more ambitious. It involves seeing a five as the first number on my alarm clock, and NOT seeing a ten the night before. Here I add my caveate: "when it is reasonable." Because it is not reasonable to arise at 5-something when the night was full of sleeplessness. If I do go through with this, pray for Ryan. I have a terrible Snooze Button Addiction. He would frown on two hours of 104.1FM every 7 minutes. (I, on the other hand, find that rather dreamy...)

Why, oh WHY would I consider torturing myself in such a way? Bible Study. Regular, consistent studying of the Bible. I have racked my brain trying to come up with even 20 quiet, uninterrupted minutes in my day to make this happen. Honestly, it does not exist. Oh, it happens now and then - but regularly? 'fraid not. Since I don't want to spend those 20 minutes being grumpy at the kids for their interruption and distraction ("Leave Mommy alone! Can't you see I'M STUDYING MY BIBLE!?!!?" Nice witness, Mommy), I need to invent a new hour of the day. It is called "pre-dawn." I have heard of it, but rarely seen it on purpose.

And if I can squeeze in some exercise before the kids notice I am up, all the better.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Let Dad be Dad

Tip#15 Nurture a deep respect for your husband specifically as it relates to his role as father.

I will just be honest and say that I have been guilty all too often of thinking I know far more than my husband when it comes to parenting. The evidence I would point to? (And I point these things out with all sincerity and with as much respect as I can claim when formulating a somewhat disrespectful list of I'm-Better-Than-You-Are's.) For every 1 of his hours of parenting, I have 4; for every 1 parenting book that he has read I have read 8; for every 1 conversation he has had with another dad about discipline, I have had - well, I can't even count that one.

He would whole-heartedly agree that I am the PRDD (Parenting Research and Development Division) in this household. He actually prefers to default to what I know and have experienced when it comes to lots of parenting issues. The problem with me spending time down I Know All - You Are Clueless Avenue is that it goes no where good. My heart fills with prideful hautiness and disrespect toward by husband. Blech. So regardless of the fact that I have more information, experience and support, I must foster a deep and true respect for my husband who loves our kids as much as me.

Making this happen:

Pray for your husband, his fatherhood, his realtionship with the kids, and his relationship with the Lord.

When parenthood is new and fresh and frightening, allow him to learn how to be a dad at a slower pace than you are learning. You think about this child every.waking.moment. He works all day. And does not let milk down every 3.67 hours. And is not tending to every detail of every nap. And did not sprout "mommy ears" the morning of your child's birth. So be patient, kind, respectful and considerate, remembering that you and he will NOT, rather, CANNOT, learn parenthood at the same pace.

Let him have the type of relationship he desires to have with the kids. This might vary greatly from your idea of a perfect relationship between father and child. If you wonder what kind of relationship he wants, ask him. Let him talk and don't criticize. Encourage him, and don't sabotage!

Communicate a deep respect for this thoughts about all things, particularly when he comments on anything kid-related. You might initially think he is wrong on a point (and perhaps he is) but a respectful response does not include a quick "no" or dismissal. Respectful says, "I have never thought about it in that way." I have much work to do in this area. I am known for my quick "No."

Ask him what he would like to see you focus on  and make sure your priorities reflect his. I spend an enormous amount of time talking with other mothers, reading blogs and ruminating on how I will raise our boys - everything from how to get them to do their chores every day to how I will prepare them for college and the real world of pursuing the Lord. My tendancy is to come up with a wonderful idea, think of the 10 ways to accomplish that idea, decide on the best way, move forward with the brilliance I came up with and then - maybe - mention it to Ryan. Or maybe not. Like I said earlier, he prefers to defer to me with most parenting things anyway, so I can get away with this. But BOY does it get me into trouble in the end. Before I invest a mound of energy into my ideas, I have learned that I really need to get a clue as to what RYAN'S priorities are for the boys. I need to take the time to investigate what HE wants me to focus on and pursue those priorities first and foremost. EVEN IF IT MEANS DYING TO MY OWN PRIORITIES. The Lord honors a wife who respects her husband in word and deed. This has been the single most significant way I have gained great respect for Ryan as a father.

Oh, one more thing. Realize that progress in this area (especially if it has been an area of concern) is a long process. Don't strongarm your husband tonight trying to get him to tell you every parenting thought he has ever had. I can't imagine that conversation going anywhere productive in my home. Would it be different in yours? So do yourself a favor tonight and, instead, slip into something nice and light a candle in the bedroom. Atta' girl.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Study, Study

This is part 2 of tip #14, as I neglected to say the most important part.

After much studying of children...

It is not enough to merely know about my children. I must attempt to understand their needs and ACT. By way of example, here are my study notes, followed by how I hope to respond to what I have learned. In the past I have referred to this as a "Hope Check." Maybe my notes will be better inspiration and stir ideas in your head.
Davis: Perfectionist. Thrives on words of Affirmation. Feels the pressure of being the one with significant homework, realizing that he must do it while everyone else plays. Easily overwhelmed by homework load (perfectionism). Has a lot to say. Motivated by money and TV. Booksmart. Functions only in a black and white, right and wrong, true (not make-believe) world.

Jackson: Loves fun. Easily distracted. Loves to please me. Competitive. Playful. Loves his brothers. Loves to play with friends. Motivated by money. Enjoys same things his dad enjoys. Intuitively smart. Lives a bit in a make-believe I-wish-it-were-this-way world.

Weston: Comical. tenderhearted. needs a great deal of control over his environment. Wants to be in charge (regularly tries to put Mom out of a job). Feel "beat up" by little brother quite often. Sees little brother's ability to share and/or not wreck his trains and car set up as hopeless. Increasingly wants to be considered one of the big boys. Doesn't get enough sleep. Doesn't have toys of his own, or toys he has claimed as favorite. Is rejuvinated by alone time.

Drake: Delights greatly when he knows you understand what he said or wants. Playful. Loves to see others laugh. Physical  interaction (read: rough-housing) is favored activity above all. Recently landed in the world of "being two" and all the typical baggage that comes with that. Understands who is in charge and what submitting his will entails. Increasingly wants to do things for himself. Gathers toys to the point of his own frustration (try crawling up or down stairs with seven matchbox cars and two train engines - see what I mean?). Willing to risk a spank/crib time if it means getting a rise out of Weston.

After thinking carefully about what I am currently learning about each child, I pick one or two areas that I can concentrate on that will make a significant difference to that child so that they feel well loved, and hopeful about an area of weakness or frustration. This does not include enabling weaknesses or frustration, but rather is an opportunity for me to offer with great intentionality the grace, tenderness, understanding, and patience they need in that area. Sometimes my only goal is to avoid exaperating my kids: Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the teaching and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) I am pretty sure mothers are just as capable of exasperating...

Here are a couple of examples of my thoughts:

Weston: protect that relationship between him and Drake. Don't let them play together without supervision (the two goose eggs on Weston's forehead are evidence that Drake cannot be trusted!). Protect Weston and provide him plenty of opportunities to play without Destruct-o boy.

Drake: Be careful to distinguish playfulness and defiance. Only discipline defiance. PLAY with his PLAYFULNESS! Find him a little sack or box or something to carry his load in - will that delight him or further frustrate? Laugh with him. Be quick to discipline misbehavior toward Weston - keep a close eye!

The point is to find the needs (by studying!), think through how they might be met, and then give it a try!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Be a Student

Tip #14 Study Your Children

It is astounding to me how often I am just plain wrong. I think I know what I am doing, or how to do something only to discover that I am a fool. This was especially true when I had only one child. He was a pretty easy little guy and I had him trained to obey well by the time we celebrated his second birthday. I knew I had a good kid, but I also had to give myself SOME credit for being consistent. So you can imagine how I felt when the same training tactics FLOPPED with child number two. Not only did they flop, they backfired. That second child of mine bucked every system I had. He was not about to cater to my desires to have TWO well-behaving children. No-sir-ee.  I had to eat a lot of crow with that kid. Sorry if you are one of the people I gave parenting advice to prior to February 25, 2004. I was clueless, discompassionate and not helpful. But I sure was confident!

I say all this to make the point that just because you have one child figured out, don't assume you have parenting figured out. Also, don't assume that just because all your children share the same DNA that they are to be parented the same.

What's that? You already knew that?

Anyway, because each child is so different, we should be studying them. Learn what makes them tick, what their needs are, what their love language is, how their little brains work, what their propensities are. Some answers will stay the same over the years, while others will change depending on age and stage. So the studies never end for a mom! Learn learn learn!

Study materials:
1. Your child at play. What kinds of play does he enjoy? Does he use his imagination? What real-life experiences does he act out? Does he want to play next to someone, or with someone? Is the fun in putting a puzzle together or taking it apart? Does he focus on gross motor or fine motor right now? etc, etc.
2. Your child in frustrating moments. What kinds of situations does he find himself in that frustrate her? Is there a situation that comes up time and time again that gets the better of her? Does she like help? Does she hate help? Does she need to cry? Does she respond with anger?
3. Your child and how they relate to their siblings. Is he always following the lead of an older sibling? Is he leading the play? Is he hopelessly in love with the sibling? Does he aim to please? Is he excluded? Does he seem to gravitate to the older siblings and their play? How do the older siblings respond to his desires?
4. Your library: When I want to just understand what's going on inside the mind of a typical child at a certain age I go to the series by Louise Bates Ames. There is a title for every age: "Your One Year Old," "Your Two Year Old," etc. NOTE: I do not recommend her parenting advice, per se, but rather the scientific observations she makes (usually at the beginning of a section). It is so useful to get inside the brain and understand what is physiologically going on in a child's body.
5. Your bookshelf: Start bulking it up when you can with great references like The Five Languages of Children, Don't Make Me Count to Three, Grace-Based Parenting, Parenting with Love and Logic.
6. Your mother-in-law. If a child is not like you, he might be like your husband, so ask what he was like as a kid and how they dealt with it. Even if it seems like terrible advice, it is still valuable because it will give you a window of understanding into that child you otherwise don't get.
7. Your Loving Father in Heaven.This should have been much higher on this list, obviously. It never ceases to amaze me how much wisdom the Lord gives when I ask it. So, ASK!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Parent in Your Weakness

Tip #13
When Times Get Rough, Give Up Your Strong Suit

We start our parenthood journey fairly polarized, I think. God seems to build into each of us a propensity toward either grace or truth - that is, we are either compassionate or a careful observer of rules and laws. I am strong in the latter. It is where I get the phrase "Obey Mommy the First Time" (swat, swat). This strength of mine gives me a pair of glasses that first and formost sees behavior as either obedient or disobedient, nipping bad behavior in the bud before it becomes an issue. On the other side, my sister is naturally compassionate. She ponders and considers the heart motivation behind her children's behavior before deciding how to handle her girls. (What is your propensity?)

In my life it has been my inexperience and insecurity that has driven me to spend most of my parenting moments perfecting my strengths. There comes a point when I needed to consider living moments outside the comfortable zone of strength and instead treading the dangerous waters of my personal weaknesses. I remember the moment I realized that it was time to put my toe in these treacherous waters: Davis, my oldest and only child, was pushing the line of disobedience in new and improved ways. His usually sweet disposition had disappeared and the child I was now parenting was whiney, disobedient, and an all around pill. Where did my Davis go?!

I don't remember if I had received wisdom from a fellow mom, my own mom, or if it was the whisper of the Holy Spirit but I remember standing in my kitchen, seeing Davis pull some of his "new normal" antics on me. it was everything I could do to not discipline him for his disobedience. But instead of staying in my comfort zone, I parented (as it turns out) like my sister. It was less than a day and I was already seeing the old Davis again. I quicly concluded that I had perfected my strength to the point of turning it into a weakness!

It is a strange way to think about it, but when you are out of ideas with that one kid that is driving you to drink, do the exact opposite of what your gut tells you, and just see what happens. Who knows - it just might work!