How to Handle Bickering

by Kaye Wilson on March 25, 2020

NOTE: This is one of a series of posts on how to help your family actually enjoy this period of open-ended quarantine rather than simply enduring it. I won’t always send out daily posts, and hope you’ll not feel bombarded by them. –Kaye

In this strange season of confinement due to the pandemic, we might all be enjoying a sense of reprieve; we’ve been given a completely unexpected break from our normal routine of work and school!

After the initial sense of freedom and holiday begins to wear off, however, we will probably begin to find ourselves bumping into each other, becoming irritated with people in our space and our face. Kids,even those who love to play together, tend to get into squabbles when faced with hours on end in close proximity.

In my last post I promised to help you get a handle on this, so here goes!

First, a rule for you, the parent: Do not intervene or try to figure out who “started” it. When you do, you set up winners and losers, which will only lead to more strife. Instead follow these steps, recommended by author John Rosemond and only slightly modified by yours truly:

  • You will need a whistle or bell, and a piece of paper for the sign you’re going to make and post in a prominent place.
  • At the top of the paper, write “Disturbing the Peace.” Underneath, write short bullet points, just two or three, describing the things you aren’t going to tolerate: for example, screaming, bickering, physical fighting; customize for your own family, but don’t have more than three behaviors. Under that draw three boxes, or attach three “tickets” (cut out three pieces of paper and write “Ticket” on each).
  • Explain to your kids that these three things are “against the law” and each time you hear one of them happening, you will cross off a box/take a ticket. NOTE: They must understand that each box or ticket belongs to everyone involved in the conflict, whether they “started it” or not, and explain the following:
    • When they break the “law” by doing one of the things you’ve listed you will blow the whistle to get their attention, remind them of the rules, and mark off a box/take a ticket.
    • When all three boxes are marked off/all three tickets taken, they will all be put “under arrest for disturbing the peace,” sent to their rooms for the rest of the day, AND put to bed right after dinner.

If it seems unfair to punish all of them, just remember that it takes two to tango–we’re talking about bickering here, not assault. You want to make it very clear that you will NOT tolerate this kind of nonsense, and it’s up to them to make sure it stops. Seem overly harsh? Don’t do this if you want your kids to continue to bicker and scream at each other, but if you really want to get a handle on this business, there is no more effective way to nip it in the bud.

You can never work out their squabbles, and it’s not your job to do so; simply explaining that they need to work things out won’t do a thing to help. But if you implement this very simple and harmless (but to them very unpleasant) thing, it won’t be long before these squabbles will be a thing of the past. Not only that, but you’ll have convinced them that you actually mean what you say!

Put the responsibility of keeping the peace on them, and spend your days of quarantine in peace and quiet.

It’s Gonna Be A Good Day

by Kaye Wilson on March 23, 2020

A good day begins with you getting in front of it. Instead of waiting for your children to wake you up, get up before they do and think ahead. You know your children–you know how they typically react to things, what they like and don’t like, and what they respond well to. You’re going to take that knowledge and use it to both your advantage and theirs.

First, settle and ground yourself. Before you face the hordes, sit, bow your head and close your eyes. Visualize a few things you are thankful for–your home, the fact that you have food, the spring weather. Remember that God loves you and your children. Tell him thank you for that love, and ask him to help you through the day. If you have time, read the 23rd Psalm and picture it in your mind. Tell God how you’re feeling, no matter what it is–“God, I’m already tired of my kids. Help me not to be crabby.” or “God, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen with this virus. Please help me.” Just tell him. Amen.

Next, think of the day in three segments: before noon, after noon, and after dinner. Jot down a few things your kids could do: play games, color/do crafty things, watch TV, read/listen to audiobooks, etc., things you know they enjoy doing. Include a pretty good chunk of “quiet time” after lunch–if your children are young enough for naps this is a given, but don’t forget that children of all ages need time to be quiet and alone. Plan on AT LEAST an hour, and two is not unreasonable.

By the way, you will need easy access to a timer, something to use as a noise to get your kids’ attention–your phone, a whistle, a bell, or even a glass you can clink with a spoon–and paper and pen.

Now, think of the food you have and what you would like to serve for meals. Write it down. Think about snacks–instead of allowing your kids to graze, set specific times, say 10:00 and 4:00. At breakfast, announce, “Kids, from now on we’re only going to snack a certain times. I’ll let you know when it’s time.” At snack time, use your whistle, etc., to get their attention, and have them come to the table, sit down, and complete a limited portion of a snack, preferably something healthy, but definitely something you’ve already chosen; let them choose between a couple of options if you’d like.

You now have a list of food and activities, as well as a structure for the day. What you’re looking for isn’t a schedule, it’s a resource of ideas for when you are grasping for something to do. If your kids play well together you may not need need to use it much, but with so many days at home stretching out before us you’ll probably need this list at some point.

As the day progresses, use your whistle to announce a change of activity:  “It’s time for coloring!” or “It’s time to go outdoors!” or whatever you’re ready for them to do. Tell them they can only do this until the timer goes off, and set the timer for however long you think they can engage in the activity before it devolves into conflict. This is more manageable and less stressful than saying, “You have to play outside until I say you can come in” and then having to rush out when you hear screaming.

You can insert times when they have to play alone, thirty-minute TV breaks, handwashing breaks, “listening to music” breaks–however you want the day to go. Use the timer in this way throughout the day. Try not to just park them in front of the TV or ipad indefinitely.

Remember:  You do not have to entertain them. In fact, they’ll be far happier if you don’t get involved in what they’re doing, but they will do much better with you leading them through the day in this way than if you ask them “Well guys, what do you want to do?” You will have time to do some things you need or want to do, and you will have less whining and bickering to deal with. Notice I said “less”. You’ll still have to deal with complaining, whining, and bickering from time to time, which is why . . .

Tomorrow, I’ll explain how to deal with complaining, whining, and bickering!

Here’s What Your Kids Need Right Now

by Kaye Wilson on March 22, 2020

This is a strange and scary time. The kids are home from school, and you’re home from work. Even if you’re homeschooling, things are different and your kids know it– they can sense it even if they don’t fully understand what’s going on. Depending on their ages, each of your children will understand things at a different level, but they will ALL take their cues from you. It’s the perfect opportunity to begin or continue to lay a good foundation of faith in their lives.

The thing is, if you’re fearful, they will be, too. How’s your own faith? To make a quick assessment, start here:

• Think through all your “what if?” questions, all of those terrifying thoughts that you try to push back but that keep popping up. Go ahead–we’ve all been thinking these thoughts, but we’re hesitant to really confront the fears. What if all those awful things floating in your head were to actually happen?Answer the following, True or False?
o God is Love; God loves me.     T   F
o I am not in control, but God is.    T   F
o I do believe God has a purpose bigger than I can understand, for everything.  T   F
o Even if bad things happen, God’s goodness and love do not change—he is ALWAYS good.  T   F
o I can trust God, I can trust his word, even if I am afraid, and even if hard things happen.   T   F

• Did you answer True to most or all of these? Remind yourself of these truths moment by moment, day by day. If you want your kids to really trust God, you have to start here! If you aren’t sure, the next bullet point will help.

• Read Ps. 107 and Hebrews 12. Both remind us of God’s faithfulness and the fact that we can trust him no matter what. The Scriptures are full of these affirmations of God’s love and care and power for those he loves–don’t leave the Bible unopened!

There is no more important lesson you can teach your children than this! We can’t know what the future holds for our children, but even without things like pandemics we know they’ll eventually face hard times. Use this opportunity to begin preparing them for whatever comes by laying a foundation of deep faith! Make sure your own faith is solid; if you don’t already do it, build yourself up by reading and praying God’s word. As your faith is built, you’ll be better equipped to spend this time with your kids in a way that comforts and strengthens them.

TOMORROW: Specific things to read for yourself, and things to do with your kids!

The Magic Words

by Kaye Wilson on November 26, 2019

Are you familiar with the phrase, “Say the magic words!”? I don’t hear it often anymore, but as a child I heard it almost daily, either from my parents or parents of my friends. It was their prompt to get us to say “please” and “thank-you”, and was every child’s first lesson in manners.

Teaching a child to say those words doesn’t automatically make him grateful, but the words themselves are very powerful, and can work almost like magic—especially “thank you.” The simple two-word phrase, “thank you,” has the power to completely transform reality–or at least, how we perceive it.

In St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church, he urges them to, “ . . . give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thess. 5:18 NIV) This goes far beyond the appropriate response for a birthday gift. Does Paul really mean we are to thank God in ALL circumstances?

As crazy as it sounds, what I’ve found is that the act of thanking God even in difficult circumstances works like magic in transforming the way I see reality. When I express thanks to God in the midst of difficult or unpleasant circumstances, I start to see beyond the thing I’m resisting and start to remember something bigger and more important— God made me, knows me, loves me. He uses everything, including this difficulty, for his purpose, which is always good for me. I tend to think something is good if it makes me feel comfortable/in control, but his purpose is to move me beyond comfort to maturity, wisdom, his presence. As I direct my thoughts to his goodness, I remember that all suffering is temporary–I can move forward knowing it won’t last forever. With each step I move closer to the end of my current suffering, whatever it might be, and to God himself.

This is freedom. It’s freedom from my natural compulsion to complain about difficulties, freedom to do the difficult or unpleasant things I have to do without chafing at them or pushing to change my circumstances, freedom to accept and rest in the fact that I’m not God, but he is.

With your children, begin by teaching them to say “please” and “thank you”; it’s an important first step in helping them to appreciate things and people. But let them also see your example of thanking God when things are tough. Explain it to them: “Kids, I am really frustrated. I feel like complaining, but I know God loves me and knows what’s best, so I’m thanking him.” Of course you won’t say this every time, but your attitude grateful acceptance sets the tone for your whole family; your thankfulness, or lack of it, will rub off on them. And, seeing you accept having to do things you’d rather not do will help them as they learn to obey you.

To help the message and the magic of “thank you” really sink in, try these strategies:

  • First, YOU begin to practice giving thanks in all circumstances , especially the unpleasant or difficult ones. Write I Thess. 5:16 on an index card and post it in different places around the house; make it your motto.
  • With your kids, practice the please-and-thank-you pattern for all kinds of things, not just gifts.
    o Would you please pass the potatoes? Thank you!
    o May I watch TV please? Thank you!
    o May I play with your toy for a few minutes? Thank you!
  • Teach children to face the giver when they say “thank you,” to make eye contact, and to SMILE 😊; allow them to receive the thing that’s being given to them only after this process is complete.
  • Set up various scenarios to practice this at home, acting out each one and having each person take turns being the “giver” (the one being asked for something).
  • Teach the “giver” to always say, “You’re welcome!” with a happy smile. It completes the exchange, and it’s respectful; don’t just ignore someone thanking you.
  • Regularly thank God for “ . . . our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life.” (Book of Common Prayer), and gently encourage your children to say “thank you” even in difficult situations.

Saying “thank you” is powerful and transformative; it changes the way you see things, it changes the atmosphere in your home, and it changes your heart. Your children will observe and imitate you. Saying “thank you” puts the focus on the giver rather than on yourself.  Of course, the ultimate giver is God, and we never lose when we keep our eyes on him.

Chores: Your New Secret Weapon!

by Kaye Wilson on November 1, 2019

When I got started as a mom, I decided I wanted my kids to be well-behaved, obedient, and ready to listen and learn. There were other things too, like reading a lot and using their imagination, but all of it was intended to serve the ultimate goal of their being well-prepared to leave the nest and live meaningful, productive lives.

Like most moms, I understood that the time I’d have with my kids was limited, and that I needed to make the most of it. I’m not talking about the “treasuring each moment” kind of time, but about the “train them up in the way they should go” kind of time; if they were going to become the kind of adults I hoped they would, I needed tools that would give me the biggest bang for my buck–big results with limited input from me.

My “secret weapon”– the tool that did the most to prepare them for a stable and satisfying adulthood–turned out to be good old-fashioned chores.

Lots of parents don’t require their  children to do any chores at all, or just ask them to do little things from time to time–for example, set the table, take their dirty dishes to the sink, that kind of thing. Often, parents who decide regular chores are a good idea end up completely forgetting about the chore lists they put up for their kids; they don’t check to make sure chores are done, much less check to make sure they’re done well. Sometimes, Moms try assigning chores, but give up, saying it’s just easier for them to do those jobs themselves.

If I’m honest, I agree–it was much easier to do these jobs myself , and I could certainly do them faster and more thoroughly than my kids could, at least when they were little. But the hassle of teaching them to do chores was insignificant in comparison to the benefits that all of us gained from the process!

Here are just a few of the reasons why I believe chores to be one of the most powerful and important parts of family life.

  • Chores bring children fully into the life of the family as participants and contributors, not simply consumers with an entitlement mentality. This one thing alone makes the implementation of chores worth every bit of time and energy you have to invest.
  • If used well, chores teach attention to detail and thoroughness. For this to take place, mom or dad must make clear exactly what they expect the finished job to look like, then inspect it, and require the child to continue until the work standard has been reached, which is an essential part of being a good employee.
  • Chores take up time. Just today I read the results of a study that said the average child age 8-12 spends 4 hours and 44 minutes per day watching YouTube videos! That’s a kid with way too much time on his hands–a kid who should be contributing to the family by doing chores!
  • By the same token, chores also teach time management; kids learn that it takes a certain amount of time to do the work well, and how to organize their time so that they have enough of it left after chores to do more interesting and fun things.
  • Chores teach basic life skills. Every man and woman should know how to do laundry, vacuum, dust, clean the bathroom, and so on. Disclaimer: your child may not actually use these skills while he’s in college, but at some point in life these things will matter to him. Teach him how to do them, regularly and well.
  • Chores are a great antidote to boredom. When your kids say, “Mom, I’m bored! Can I play video games/watch TV/get on facebook?” you can say, “No need! I have plenty of things you can do!” My children learned very quickly to find books to read, games to play (not video), or some kind of outdoor activity to engage in, just so I wouldn’t “find” something for them to do.
  • Chores teach that hard work is not something to be feared, and that the results of it are very satisfying.

Oh, and by the way. Don’t pay them for these chores; there should be no connection between chores and money. Here’s why: with chores, you’re teaching good citizenship, the understanding that everyone in a community has to take responsibility to make things work–take out the trash, pay taxes, keep your home and lawn in good condition, etc.

The family is it’s own community; in the family, someone prepares meals, someone takes care of the lawn, someone sees to the maintenance of the car, etc. Nobody in the family gets paid to do these things, it’s just part of being in a family; it’s your responsibility. Paying a child for chores takes away this sense of responsibility and obligation, making the chores negotiable; “You want me to clean the toilet? I don’t need money that badly!” If you want children to learn the value of money, give them an allowance and teach them to give, save, and spend wisely. It’s a different lesson altogether.

Each of my five children started their chore careers around age three, with folding diapers and finding spots on dirty laundry to squirt with stain remover. Eventually, they did all of the household chores except meal prep, and that was just because I enjoyed it. This left time for me to do other things! Yes, it took a lot of work up front, especially with the first couple of children, but once the routine was established, chores were a given. My five all learned to appreciate order and hard work, enjoyed a sense of cameraderie and shared “suffering”, and gained a sense of pride in contributing to and being a part of something bigger than themselves–our family.

 

 

 

But What If My Husband And I Aren’t On The Same Page?

by Kaye Wilson on July 5, 2019

Many experts emphasize the importance of parents being united regarding parenting strategies. While there’s no doubt that this kind of solidarity can provide a strong sense of security for kids, we all know how hard it is to find two people who agree completely on anything! Being married doesn’t magically make our differences go away, especially when it comes to our own children.

There’s a lot a stake here–our children’s physical and emotional well-being, their behavior, their education, our finances, and their ultimate ability to function as adults, not to mention our own reputation as parents–all of these things are tied up in the seemingly endless ways of looking at the way we bring up our kids.

Often, when moms come to me for help, they start by saying, “My husband and I aren’t on the same page when it comes to the kids. What do I do?” While each situation is different, there are some things that can help, no matter what you disagree about.

First, sit down and talk about your family. You should each consider your thoughts on questions such as these:

  • What are your goals as a family?
  • What are your hopes for your children?
  • What are the concerns you have regarding your children’s behavior?
  • What kind of education do you want for your children? etc.

It is essential to be clear about what your own desires are, to communicate them to each other, and to listen to each other regarding your hopes and dreams. Write them down. Find areas you have in common. Discuss the differences you have. There are probably things you assumed about each other that are wrong! Talk through these things, apologize where appropriate, and work toward clarification.

Second, write out some details of how you think your family ought to function, expectations you may never have expressed:

  • Family dinners together
  • Regular chores for the kids
  • Good table manners
  • Regular family game nights
  • Limited technology
  • Friends over for dinner regularly, etc.

As you write these things down and begin to get a better idea of your expectations and which of them you might have in common, it will become clear that you might have to make some changes for them to become reality. For example, if you want your kids to have good manners, you’re going to have to teach them. If you want a family game night, you’re going to have to do some scheduling, etc.

Third, talk through the changes that may need to be made; honestly assess whether or not they are doable and, more important, whether you are able and willing to make them.

  • Is dad able and willing to be home in time for family dinners?
  • When will the children do their chores, and who will oversee their implementation?
  • What, exactly, does “limited technology” mean? Does it mean dad needs to limit his own gaming? Does mom need to curb texting? Will we let the kids watch TV? How much and which programs? What about phones?

Each of these areas leads to multiple questions, and you won’t be able to solve everything in one discussion. Agree to set aside time for several such discussions until you work through everything, or if possible, plan a weekend away to work through it all.

As you dig deeper, you will run into things either you or your husband are not willing to do–maybe he’s not willing to schedule a regular game night like you want, or maybe you aren’t willing to have people over for dinner as often as your husband would like.

What to do?

Here’s what I recommend. Wherever you disagree:

  • Honestly recognize it and accept it. Do not even think of trying to change your husband, and do NOT accuse him of selfishness, not caring about the family, etc.
  • Look at your priority list and see how many of these things you might be willing to let go of. For example, could you be happy with the occasional spontaneous game night, trip to the park, or evening walk rather than a scheduled “family game night”? Can you let go of family meals every night and instead maybe plan on two or three?
  • If necessary, take care of things you view as vital on your own! If the chore thing isn’t important to your husband, but is to you, just do it yourself! Start teaching them a few daily chores, and make it part of the routine. If dad inadvertently undercuts what you’ve asked them to do, don’t get mad at him, just talk with him about it later or make some other adjustment.

You and your husband, while united in many ways, are still individuals with different ways of looking at things. Instead of ruining your life together constantly trying to change him and continually resenting him for what he’s doing or not doing, just accept it. No, it’s not ideal–I wish every family had a clear and unified purpose, and that all parents agreed with each other regarding how things are done.

But the reality is that we are flawed, selfish, and short-sighted. Agree where you can, do things on your own where you have to, talk through the things that you believe are essential, and compromise where possible.

Show grace to each other, and trust that your husband truly has the best interests of you and your family at heart.

 

 

5 Keys to a Happy Day With Your Toddler

by Kaye Wilson on June 27, 2019

Anyone who has a toddler knows that they’re unpredictable; one minute they can be humming and as happy as can be, and the next they become little Tasmanian Devils, screaming, throwing, hitting, biting, and rolling around on the floor. There are reasons for this, and you probably are not surprised by it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. The fact is, toddlers can ruin your day, and fast.

Here are five things I’ve discovered as a mom that may not make for a perfect day, but can certainly make for a much happier day, for both you and your toddler!

Number 1: Lead from the front. You’re the boss, the leader. You have to be in front!  Be awake and dressed before your toddler. This is really hard sometimes, especially if you are not a “morning person” and your toddler is an early bird. However, anticipating when your little one will wake up and greeting them from a position of caffeinated clarity  puts you at an advantage from the very beginning. When it’s time to do the next thing, simply say, “It’s time for breakfast!” or what have you. Whatever you do, DON’T say, “Well honey, what do you think? Do you want to eat now? What sounds good to you?” You’re the leader–lead!

Number 2: Think ahead. Plan what’s going to happen, and when: meals, naps, appointments. If you haven’t done it already, establish a regular time for meals, naps, and bedtime. Keep this rough schedule in your mind; it gives you structure, and helps keep you from acting impulsively, or just reacting to your kids’ whims, which usually leads to cranky children and frazzled mom.

Number 3: Music and cardboard. I know, it sounds odd. Here’s the thing: most of us agree that we let them watch too much TV, and that phones and ipads are not really great for them, even if we may not view them as truly harmful. But what are toddlers going to do all day without those things? Let them play! If you give them something made of cardboard–an empty cereal or oatmeal box, an old wrapping paper tube, a shoe box, all of the above–throw in some measuring cups and spoons, maybe an old deck of cards–and turn on some music, you’ll be amazed at their ability  to entertain themselves! Music provides a background to the story they’re acting out–and trust me, there is ALWAYS a story going on in those little heads!

Number 4: Outdoor play. Here again is a perfect alternative to technology and TV. If you are fortunate enough to have a fenced yard or patio, or even just a porch or deck, let them take some toys outside to play by themselves. A small plastic container of water and an old paintbrush are terrific for “painting”. Of course, you should be within eye and earshot, and not engrossed in technology yourself–but with a few toys or a couple of those cardboard containers, a toddler can play happily for quite an extended period of time. If you have swings or a sandbox, even better, but they are certainly not required.

Number 5: Quiet time. Has your child outgrown naps? You must make daily “Quiet Time” an institution. Here’s how it works: Tell your child it’s just “Quiet Time”–they are not required to sleep at all! They can play quietly however they like but may not come out of their room until you come get them. Show them on your watch how long it will be; they don’t have to understand it, just that it’s a set amount of time. If they come out early, tell them you’re sorry but quiet time is not over yet, and you will have to add five minutes every time they come out early. You’ll be amazed at how much they learn to love this time; they will have time to think, to look at books (maybe read aloud to their toys), act out scenarios with all of their stuffed animals, build things, and so on; very often, they will even fall asleep. During this time, you can sit with your eyes closed (aka take a nap!), or read something, or enjoy a hobby. Gradually increase the allotted time as they become more used to it.

Toddlers can be challenging and exhausting, but with foresight and planning, most days can be satisfying and happy for you both.  Don’t try to do too much, know your limits and those of your children, and always return to structure when things go crazy! Take advantage of kid swaps with friends, or mom’s day out, but don’t feel like you’re doomed to stress when you have to be home alone with them. Here’s to many happy days ahead!

Order=Peace

by Kaye Wilson on June 12, 2019

I always enjoy the ordered beauty of a well-tended lawn. There is something restful about it. My neighborhood has lots of different degrees of orderliness as far as lawns are concerned; some are small, immaculate and tidy, some larger with a more landscaped look, a couple filled with all kinds of kitschy figurines, and quite a few that look forlorn–junk on the porch and in the lawn, and only the bare minimum of mowing done.

In a way, the lawn is a reflection of something about the occupants of the home. Of course, an unmown lawn does not necessarily mean the person in the house is a lazy slob, and a well-groomed lawn may only mean the person in the house is obsessed with outward appearances, not that he or she is a good person. But it does reflect something. Some process of thinking, or some life circumstance, has led the person in charge of such things to decide either to spend his time/effort/money on lawn care, or not.

The fact of it is, order and upkeep of anything requires some kind of effort, some kind of investment. And another fact is, order brings a sense of peace and satisfaction to the world, even just the world of my street, and that sense occurs whether the order comes from expensive landscaping or simply keeping things in their proper place.

Which brings me to our kids: They have a world of chaotic growth going on within them–and it’s good! They are often exploding with energy and ideas and determination, things they want to learn and experience, things they want to consume, or even to destroy. What they don’t possess naturally is order; they don’t have the ability to regulate themselves and their desires, to fit themselves into the world around them without sometimes (or often) being disruptive, and without this order, there can be no peace, for them or for us, or for anybody within fifty feet!

Wendell Berry said, “Order is the only possibility of rest.” The Bible speaks of the Messiah bringing an increase of government–government–and peace! Government and peace go together–I’m pretty sure that is not a reference to what goes on in Washington D.C., but to a proper ordering of things. When things are in order–closets, drawers, lawns, emotions, relationships–we experience peace.

We know this, or we wouldn’t mow our lawns, you know? Unruliness must be tamed, chaos must be put in order, and children must be taught and trained in order for there to be peace and rest.

“Children must be taught and trained in order for there to be peace and rest.”

That’s why we’re here, parents–it’s our job to help our kids learn to order their impulses, to curb their destructive tendencies, to channel their energies–to govern themselves. Like gardeners, we are given the task of mowing and trimming and planting and watering these little chaotic gardens, and it’s a tough job that requires quite an investment of time, effort, and money, just as lawn care does. The investment we make (or choose not to make) will be visible to everybody, and it will reflect something of the gardener, first us, and then as they learn to tend their own gardens, it will reflect something within themselves. One day, may these little gardens–so chaotic now– bring a sense of things being in order, of beauty, of peace to everyone they meet.

Making Life Special

by Kaye Wilson on June 6, 2019

I’m ridiculously pleased with the items I just brought home from a brief shopping excursion. They aren’t much–an oven mitt, a candle, and some makeup: foundation and powder–but for some reason I feel like it’s my birthday!

As I’ve wondered why I’m so pleased, I think it’s come down to three reasons: first, the trip itself was more enjoyable than shopping trips usually are; I had plenty of time to browse instead of trying to squeeze shopping in between appointments, and I was at the mall mid-day, mid-week, so parking and crowds were not issues. Second, part of the purchase was a splurge–the mitt and the candle. I very rarely buy something just for fun, something that isn’t on my list of things I need, so even though together they cost less than $30 (in fact, partly because they were not expensive), it felt really special and fun to buy these two items from one of my favorite kitchen stores. Third, though makeup is on the list of things I need, the packaging of what I bought was especially lovely–I love the floral exterior, the feel of the material the boxes are made of, the lettering, all of it. I seriously considered saving the box just because it was so pretty!

These are small things, and you may wonder why I’m mentioning them in a parenting blog. The thing is, I think this drove home for me and serves as a good example of how we can bless our children by giving them less rather than more–fewer “special” things, like treats or trips to the store or toys–and by giving them less extravagant things when we do choose to do something special.

I remember being taken to the local drive-in for a root beer when I was a child; we didn’t even get out of the car, but being with my family on a hot summer night, hearing the radios in the other cars and the murmur of people talking, and the cicadas drone while I sipped that icy mug of root beer–wow, that was a real treat! It was made even more so because we so rarely ate out or went to the movies or anything that cost money. We might go to the local amusement park once per summer, and every now and then my dad would take us swimming, but special nights were usually popcorn and an old movie on TV (no movie rentals and certainly no streaming video back then!) watermelon and a game of charades on the front porch, or games with the family. For vacation we drove across the country in un-air-conditioned cars (no video or electronic games) to go camping in National Parks.

I know of kids now whose parents take them out to eat on the reg, reward them for “being good” at the store by buying them a treat, give them money to buy whatever they want when they go to the mall, provide iphones and ipads, and make sure they have non-stop entertainment. I don’t condemn them for this, but it’s hard to make anything really special when it’s all so routine.

Parents, think back to what you thought was special when you were a child. Don’t feel like you have to shower your children with stuff simply because you have the means to do it, or out of fear that your kids will feel left out or “different”. Instead, bless them by making sure their life is different–and by that I mean special.

 

Your Days Are Numbered

by Kaye Wilson on April 4, 2019

When you’re a parent, lost in the crazy whirl of day to day responsibilities and challenges, it can be tough to remember the goal. It sometimes seems as though the highest and best thing you can aim for is getting food on the table and making sure everybody gets to soccer practice or tae-kwon-do on time. As important as it is to keep our children fed and where they need to be on time, there are higher goals than staving off hunger so that we can make it to extracurriculars.

In his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks speaks of two sets of virtues, the “resume virtues” and the “eulogy virtues”, and says we’re far too focused on the resume virtues with our children. We fixate on achievement, grades, college admissions, and anything else we can do to ensure they will fit in, stay out of trouble,  and eventually become gainfully employed. These virtues also include things like being a team player, having good organizational skills, being able to manage people well, and being a self-starter, all of which are valuable traits, especially on a resume.

In contrast, the virtues we hear in a eulogy are those things that set a person apart, the set of qualities that made them memorable and that we hope to emulate, such as compassion, loyalty, integrity, and courage. As parents, we rarely think of these virtues in relation to our children, partly because we’re so intent on helping them “succeed” and partly because, frankly, we forget about them. They almost seem outdated, old-fashioned–the kind of things you read about in books by Laura Ingalls Wilder or articles in Guideposts. We wouldn’t object to our children possessing them, we may even hope they possess them one day, but they just aren’t on the day-to-day radar.

Why is that? Why is it that we don’t think about them? I think it’s because we have become short-sighted and shallow. We’re driven forward by the current trends and fads prevalent among our peers–not our kids’ peers, mind you, our peers. Whatever group we spend time with and want to be accepted by is the group that will set the tone of our expectations regarding our children. Our group, in turn, is influenced by whatever cultural/media presence or personality we most admire and want to emulate. Of course, these aren’t the only influences we’re affected by, but because we spend a lot of time being entertained by pop culture, we end up absorbing–more than we might think–the particular perspective of pop culture, making light of things that should be taken seriously and getting upset over things that don’t really matter in the long run. Even among people of faith, we’re often so immersed in our favorite Netflix binge or the latest Bachelorette that our thoughts remain “in the sha-a-aaa-llow.” (See what I mean?)

The result of this is often shallow and expedient thinking in relation to our children. We find ourselves focusing on how they look, what their grades are, making sure they don’t stick out, and whether or not they’re in the kind of activities that will look good on a college application. In working to accomplish these external goals we often forfeit the opportunity to help them learn the more important internal qualities: to be content with and care for their possessions, to contribute to the work of the home, to struggle for understanding and skill in difficult subjects, and maybe even to accept failure graciously and learn to try again. We nag them about their behavior towards others while allowing them to be rude and disrespectful toward us.

We have an obligation, not to make sure our kids’ lives go according to the most desirable current narrative, but how to handle life when it doesn’t go according to any narrative that we would ever want to think about. What if college isn’t in their or your financial capability–will you suggest they take out a massive loan, or will you already have prepared them to save and work and make do with what is within their reach, say a community college or tech school? What if the only work they can find isn’t particularly satisfying–will they know how to live a richly satisfying life, regardless? What if they lose everything in a flood or wildfire or earthquake–things which seem oddly possible these days!? What if  they’re tempted to commit adultery, or embezzle from their boss, or accept credit for something they didn’t do? The college they attended is irrelevant in the face of any of these scenarios.

In the Scriptures there are multiple examples of God’s children being in positions where they must face the sinful world in all it’s ugliness and unfairness. Think of  Moses, born into a world hostile to his very existence, then given over to be brought up by a woman who served false gods; or Joseph, the delight of his father, sold into slavery by his own half-brothers, unjustly accused of sexual assault, and wrongly imprisoned–God forbid that anything remotely like this should happen to one of our children, but clearly God had a purpose in allowing these things to happen to these men when they were mere children. In fact, it was these very hardships that God used to shape them into the leaders they became. Their mothers must have been a part of their preparation for these difficulties.

Difficulty and unfairness are all too often a part of life, and while we are fortunate that there are often ways of changing a tough situation for the better, this is not always the case; even when change is possible, it is  often a lengthy and costly process, in terms of both money and emotional stress. These are things we have an obligation to prepare our children for. We don’t need to outline every possible negative thing that might happen to them, of course, but they need virtue, and they need wisdom, both of which are in our power to help them acquire.

We must begin by remembering that our days are numbered. We don’t know how long we have to live, but we know we won’t live here forever, and that when we die there will be an accounting taken of what we’ve done while in the body. When we think of life in this way, our perspective shifts to more lasting values. Perhaps, if we can start to remember that the time we have with our children is finite, and that life itself is fleeting, we will have the presence of mind to impart truly lasting values to them; maybe then both we and our children will have eulogies to be proud of.

“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12