What makes a good parent?

What makes a great parent? Or even a good one? It’s a question that I have asked myself many times over.

I used to know the answer…before I had kids.

Oh yeah, it was so clear to me back then. Good parents set boundaries, loved fiercely, read nightly, kept to a routine, played lots of classical music, prayed with their kids, helped with homework, disciplined, modeled values, and showed up. And in return they had well-behaved, polite, kind-hearted, honest, hard-working children who loved the Lord.

I’m now in my 15th year of parenting. I have honestly done all of those things on the “good parent” list more than not (well except maybe the classical music part). Sometimes some of my kids exhibit some of those qualities I thought would come in return, but never do all of my kids exhibit all of the qualities at once. And so I have also yelled, cried, pleaded, threatened, hidden in my room, bent the rules, changed the rules, and completely checked-out.

The end of the school year is both a relief and a bit of a regret. Another year down, another year closer to when these chickies leave the nest and there are glaring reminders all over of how imperfect my kids are — the awards ceremonies, the report cards, the standardized tests, the calls home from teachers and administrators, etc. And the thing is, it’s not the fact that my kids are imperfect that bothers me — I expect that and know that — it’s that it all feels like a recrimination of my parenting skills and choices.

Surely the mother who beamed proudly as all of her children received one academic award after another knows something I don’t. Surely the father whose son not only received the Christ-like behavior award, but prompted an impassioned speech from his teacher about this wonderful young man’s character, has done something I haven’t. Surely the friend who gets phone calls from the teacher just to tell her what a joy it is to have her children in his/her class has this parenting thing down to a science.

I tell myself this and I really want to believe it. I need to believe it. Because if it’s true, then it means that I have the ability to raise “good kids” and to be a “good parent”. I just have to figure out the right formula.

Of course the flip side is that it also means that in 15 years of trying I haven’t found it yet and I’m running out of time. My kids are closer to the age of leaving home than not and they are still making really bad choices. Choices that break my heart and scare me. They seem hell-bent on learning lessons the hard way, and not always learning the lesson the first, or second time around. Sometimes I feel like we are living in one bad after-school special after another and walking on the fringes of that one mistake that will change their lives forever.

So here I sit with this question: what makes a good parent? Because I really, really want to be one. More than I’ve wanted to be anything else in my life I want to be a good parent. This is the most important job I have and God has entrusted these three lives to me. There are no do-overs, and I desperately want to get it right.

But you know what I want almost as much? I want a friend to say, “You are not the only one. I know exactly how you feel.” I want a friend who comes alongside and says, “my kids did all of those same things and they made it, they turned out great.” I want a listening ear without judgement, and advice without recrimination. Because the hardest part of being a mom who feels like she isn’t getting it right is having the rest of the world agree with you.

Every well-meaning friend who has offered unsolicited advice or lectured one of my children in front of me, is a confirmation of “you don’t know what you’re doing, so let me take it from here.”

Every teacher or church-leader who has said, “why don’t you have your kid do xyz, it will be a good influence on them,” is recrimination that I haven’t provided enough good influence and my kids really need some more.

Every person who has come up and said, “let me tell you this funny story of this thing your kid did yesterday,” and then proceeded to tell me a highly unhumorous story of what my kid did wrong, is a reminder that I’m raising kids that make poor choices, not in a vacuum or in the privacy of their home, but front and center with the rest of the world watching and judging.

So yeah, I really want to know what it takes to be a good parent — and if you have figured it out, please tell me. But until then, I desperately just want someone to love me and love my kids in all of our imperfection, without judgement.

photo credit: Darren Johnson / iDJ Photography Mother and Son via photopin (license)

You are a daughter of the King

 

I have battled with my weight most of my life, to different degrees. And most of my life I have received messages that because of my appearance I did not measure up, I was less than.

In high school I was told, “you have such a pretty face, if only you weren’t fat.” In college I watched as my girlfriends always got asked to dance when we went out, and I sat alone at the table.

My first real job out of college a colleague and friend told me how she and our boss (a woman) had been talking about me, discussing how I was so smart and hardworking, it was a shame I was overweight because this would hold me back in my career. Years later, a male boss told me I didn’t have “the right look” to be the face of the company in the media, even though I wrote all of our press releases and marketing materials (a male boss who was 50 pounds overweight, I might add).

At my healthiest I was a size 12, having lost 60 pounds after giving birth to my twins. I was running 3-4 days a week, even participating in 5k’s and 10k’s. It was hard to keep up this workout schedule with three very young children and a full-time job with a commute, but I did my best. I felt strong and beautiful. In 2007 I started a new job. I was making good money, doing interesting work, well-respected, and getting to travel the world. I felt really good about myself. About 5 months into this job I went on a business trip to Thailand. I was sitting in the hotel lobby with a male colleague talking…I don’t even remember what the topic of conversation was but at some point it turned to health and fitness and he asked me if I had ever thought about exercising. Before I could answer, he said “you know if you worked out you could lose some weight.”

This colleague had looked at me and decided that I must not take care of myself. Because I did not fit his ideal of health or beauty he assumed I did not exercise. Even though I was the fittest I’d ever been in my adult life. Even though I had just run my first 10k the month before.

In that moment I felt defeated. Like a failure. Because despite all the good things I was doing for myself, to take care of my body, I did not meet his standard of health. I didn’t measure up to what my colleague or much of the world around me declared as fit and beautiful.

And I felt inferior.

Nothing had changed. I still had that job. I still had my health and strength. I still looked the same on the outside. But on the inside I felt unworthy. I felt unloved.

Because I was measuring myself and my worth against worldly standards, it was easy to believe what the world told me. I let one off-hand remark, one opinion from someone I barely even knew, tear me down.

And it’s not just about my appearance. Throughout my adult-life I have at times felt like a bad mom, bad friend, and bad daughter. I have judged my marriage against worldly standards and found it lacking. I have doubted my skill and ability in my career based on another’s harsh words.

I have craved praise and compliments and confused approval for love.

But here’s the truth that the world doesn’t tell us: we’ve already been chosen.

Each of us has been hand-picked with love. And it is a love so deep and so fierce that wars have been waged, enemies cut-down, and evil defeated — for me, and for you.

There is a great King who has claimed each of us as His daughter. And now He’s just waiting for us to claim our inheritance and live like the heirs that we are.

 

Romans 8:15-17 (TPT) says:

15 And you did not receive the “spirit of religious duty,” leading you back into the fear of never being good enough. But you have received the “Spirit of full acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!”16 For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, “You are God’s beloved child!”

17 And since we are his true children, we qualify to share all his treasures, for indeed, we are heirs of God himself. And since we are joined to Christ, we also inherit all that he is and all that he has. We will experience being co-glorified with him provided that we accept his sufferings as our own.

We are God’s beloved children, His daughters. And that means we are not supposed to live in the fear of never being good enough. It means that we will never be orphaned or alone. It means that we, being joined to Christ, will inherit all that He is and all that He has.

And in case you’re wondering what that inheritance is, it’s heaven. Eternal life. And He’s reserved a spot for us at His table. The places are set and our name cards placed with loving care in anticipation of our arrival (1 Peter 1:4).

So what does God want in return? I mean He must only reserve a spot for those who can be good and live up to His standards, right?

Jesus put it very succinctly in Matthew 22:37-40: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Are we supposed to keep the commandments and follow God’s teaching? Absolutely. But God knows we will fall short and make mistakes trying keep his commandments. Yet unlike the world He does not condemn us when we fail (Romans 8:1).

He wants us to love Him. He created us, He claimed us, He protects us, He has reserved a spot in heaven for us, and what He wants in return is that we love Him.

This is why the Truth is so hard to believe. How can we believe that we are so important, so loved? How can we walk around declaring we are a princess, a daughter of a King?

The world tells us we are not good enough. The world records and catalogs every mistake and shortcoming. It tells us we have to try harder, do more, be more, and then, maybe we’ll be accepted.

God says: beloved daughter, you are my child and I love you. I have a spot ready and waiting for you in my castle. You need not fear never being good enough. All that I have is yours and all I ask is that you love me and desire to be by my side.

You are a daughter of the King.

you are a daughter of the King

 

 

Maybe it’s time

In a few days I will have another birthday. I will take one step further into middle age. I will leave the year of 40 and enter the year of 41.

Birthdays aren’t really that big of deal any more, although I confess at one time they were. You reach a certain point where it all just seems silly, and big celebrations become needless. As long as I get my black forest cake from my favorite baker, I’m good.

But last year felt like a big deal. Turning 40 felt like a really big deal. So I decided to celebrate it, rather than dread it. Entering both my 20’s and my 30’s had seen big celebrations and major bucket-list items were checked-off with each. Forty was to be the same. I made a list of 40 things I wanted to accomplish. I even gave myself an additional four months, starting the list in January last year instead of on my actual birthday. But the truth is many of those items, maybe even the majority, went unchecked.

They are still on that list, staring me in the face, as I reconcile the fact that I will not be able to visit 10 more states, hike 25 more miles, squeeze in 30 more dates with my husband, or lose 40 pounds in the next four days.

It’s hard not to feel a sense of disappointment, like I let myself down. Forty was going to be a year of celebration and also a year of self-care. Care that I have woefully neglected for way too long. But it wasn’t.

I didn’t start that exercise routine, I didn’t run those 40 miles. I didn’t do those push-ups and I didn’t lose a single pound (in fact, I went in the opposite direction). I also didn’t go to bed earlier, cut back on TV and social media, or finish that writing project that’s been in my head for over a year.

I could tell you that I have some really good excuses for not accomplishing these things. And maybe I do. My husband had a stroke a few days after I turned 40. My son was diagnosed with two mental illnesses 3 months later. My grandmother moved to my town so I could help care for her 6 months after that, and a lot of other stuff happened in between.

My year of 40 became a year of caring for others, of which I don’t regret or wish away one single moment. I felt, and still do, privileged to be able to do the things that I have for the people I love. But somewhere along the way, despite a few positive starts (like finally getting that check-up and blood work done), I decided I had to trade my self care for the care of others. Self care for me became sleeping in on a Saturday because I was so exhausted from the week, and binge-watching The Crown and Outlander until 2 a.m. because once the house was quiet and no one needed me, I needed to escape to another world for a while. But it felt less like self-care and more like survival mode for much of the time.

So here I sit. The list still staring me in the face. And I have to make a choice: Do I wallow in the failure, the let-downs, the “should haves” and “could haves”? Do I only focus on the things I did accomplish (and there were quite a few of those) and say “to hell with the rest”? Or do I dare try to be brave enough to say, “This year! Forty-one is the year. I will get this self-care thing right,” and try again?

Honestly, I don’t know what to choose. But I think maybe I don’t have to pick just one. Maybe I can say “Good job on these 12 things you did do, Jelise. Cross them off the list and celebrate. But don’t give up on the things you haven’t finished yet. They’re still important. And you can learn from your mistakes and do better.”

That’s what I would say to one of my kids, isn’t it?

Maybe 41 is the year of self-grace and shortening the “to-do” list instead of adding to it. Maybe 41 is the year to say “less is more”. Maybe my 40’s are the time for slowing down and savoring what I already have; what’s already been accomplished. Maybe this decade doesn’t start with giant celebrations and major bucket-list items but ends with peace and contentment, knowing that each day was celebrated for the gift it is, and that I tried to love well. And maybe this season is when I finally choose self-care — not just once or in some big, bold way — but every day in small, meaningful ways that strengthen my body and nourish my soul.

Maybe it’s time.

I finally choose self-care. Not just once or in some big, bold way, but every day in small, meaningful ways that strengthen my body and nourish my soul.

This is Fifteen

Fifteen.

Today you turn fifteen and I’m feeling very emotional about it. I can’t say exactly why, only that some ages hit me harder than others. I remember crying the year you turned seven, for no particular reason except that seven seemed so much older than six and I felt like a season was coming to an end.

Today it’s feeling less like a season coming to an end and more like a new beginning. Like you are embarking on a journey that will lead you straight into a new world — one that you are inventing and crafting for yourself — and straight out of the comfort and safety of the world I created for you.

I finally understand why there are entire sub-groups of the population that celebrate Quinceañera when their daughters turn 15. In these Latin American countries and communities 15 is seen as an important coming of age for girls. Large parties are held to recognize her journey from childhood to maturity. And that’s what it feels like today. Like I am finally having to recognize and accept you have crossed the threshold from childhood to maturity and are walking quickly toward adulthood.

I realize that this didn’t happen overnight, but there’s something about 15 that feels like this journey has suddenly gone into warp speed. This past year has been full of so many moments reminding me that you are no longer a little girl. It’s almost like someone gave you a check-list of things to do to signify you are leaving behind childhood and you are rushing to cross-off every item.

First love. First driving lesson. First phone. First bank account. First broken heart.

You got your braces off. You started making a list of colleges you might want to attend. You are earning your own money through babysitting, pet-sitting, and tutoring jobs.

In two days you leave on your first missions trip. You are traveling out of the country…without me!! It will also be the first time you won’t be home for a major holiday (somehow I did not make that connection when I agreed to this trip all those months ago).

I know it’s just the beginning. A sign of things to come. There will be more trips, more stamps in your passport. More time behind the wheel of a car, and more planning for college and life after highschool. More holidays spent away from your family, more time spent with friends and on dates.

So much more.

But the truth is it’s not just all of the things you are doing that has me feeling this shift, this change in trajectory. It’s also the changes I see in you. Physical changes, of course: you’re stunning, no longer a child’s face, but a young woman’s smile. And those long, long legs! You are now as tall as I am and will likely surpass me soon.

More striking, though, are the changes to your personality. At the core, you are still you — goofy, adventurous, dramatic, loving, talented, fiercely loyal, strong, and smart. But these traits have evolved. I see how a recently-developed maturity overlays each of these and makes them something different. You are protective of your family, vocal about social injustice, devoted to your friends, generous with your time, serious about using your gifts, but also humble and willing to admit your mistakes and shortcomings, committed to doing better and being your best-self. I am often amazed by how self-aware you are, a trait I find lacking in many adults, and especially in teenagers and children.

The most significant part, though, is that while you are this woman-child walking boldly toward adulthood, growing more confident with each step, I see you pause every now and then and look back over your shoulder at me. Are you making sure I’m still there? Not wanting to leave me behind? Or saying, “come on, mom, keep up! I need you with me”? I’m not sure which. Maybe a little of both. But I can tell you that taking this journey with you is simultaneously the greatest joy of my life and also has me completely undone.

But then, that’s motherhood in a nutshell.

My beautiful girl

Happy birthday my darling girl.

 

 

Listen up men of the church: This is how we eradicate sexual discrimination and abuse

When I was 11 years old I remember hanging out in the arcade at the bowling alley and two men came up to me, leaned in closer than I felt comfortable, and told me how beautiful I was. They offered to pay for my video games and then asked me for a kiss.

When I was 13 years old I was molested by someone I trusted. Someone who was supposed to be a father figure to me.

When I was 14 years old a boy that I liked put his tongue down my throat and it scared me so much I ran to the bathroom and threw up.

By the time I was 15 I started getting cat-calls when I walked down city streets or past construction zones.

Each year, during highschool, I put on a little more weight, got a little bit heavier, until I started to become invisible to the guys around me. I hated being invisible, I hated being the fat friend, but it was better than the unwanted attention.

By the time I got to college the only time boys came to talk to me was to ask me about one of my pretty friends. My dating experience was pretty limited, so you can imagine my surprise when one day this boy followed me into the lady Foot Locker where I worked and asked me for my phone number. I was 19 years old and four years later I married that boy. I guess you can say I got pretty lucky that my first serious boyfriend turned out to be the one. I would definitely say that.

But my early interactions with men had left a lasting impact I couldn’t shake, and as I entered my adult years I had absolutely no idea how to be around men or how to have male friends. My husband and I had very few couple friends in our early years of married life. Most of his guy friendships he’d had from his single days fizzled out, and it seemed the few men I did come into contact with either completely ignored me or made me incredibly uncomfortable with their sexual comments and perverse jokes.

On the flip side I was also very sensitive about the dangers of male/ female friendships. I’d heard too many rumors, seen too many broken relationships. I felt incredibly uncomfortable with the single women who sought out friendships with my husband. Maybe because of this, I closed myself off to friendship, or put off a vibe that I wasn’t interested. Even the boyfriends and husband’s of my girlfriends seemed to only just tolerate, if barely acknowledge my presence.

In my mid twenties I had a male boss who I thought of as a friend for a while, but he told me that I would never be able to reach my career goals because I had chosen to be a wife and a mother instead. And then he sexually harassed another colleague.

By my late twenties I started to wonder if it was possible to have healthy male friendships at all. If I even knew what a healthy friendship with a guy looked like.

So much of my interaction with men left me feeling either invisible or objectified. I just wanted to be an equal. Appreciated for my wit, my intelligence, and my kindness.

Finally, in my mid-thirties I began to find the kinds of friendships I’d thought might be possible, but had mostly been elusive. Brotherly friendships with guys who let me be their equal. Not surprisingly, most of these friendships came through church.

In the last few years I, who never had brothers, suddenly found myself with 6 or 7 dear “brothers from another mother.” And it’s been the most amazing phenomenon for me. I never knew how much I was missing this type of friendship in my life until it happened.

My girlfriends, they are beautiful and fierce, and our relationships are sacred. My girlfriends are my heroes. But my guy friends lift me up in a different way. They are wonderfully blunt in their honesty, and I never worry if they’re just telling me what they think I want to hear. They put me in check when I’m over thinking or over stressed about something I should be giving over to God. And most of them are legit hilarious, and can handle some good-natured, sisterly ribbing like a boss.

But you want to know what else almost all of these guys have in common? They cherish their wives. I see it in how they look and speak of them. And because they love and honor the most important woman in their life, they are able to treat other women with kindness and respect.

And guys – listen up! Men of the church, I’m talking to you now: We need more of this.

Women need to be treated with compassion and reverence. We need to have men show us we matter because we are daughters of a King and sisters in Christ, not because of how we look, sound, or dress. We don’t want to be looked over and ignored because of our femininity anymore than we want to be objectified for it.

First and foremost, love and cherish your wives; we will love and honor our husbands. Let’s definitely safeguard our marriages and put smart boundaries in place.

But then, be a brother and a friend. The women in your church or community need that. Our sons and daughters need to see healthy relationships modeled for them. They are watching.

We can get this right.

We must get this right. It’s so important! If we show our children the right way, then the next generation can eradicate sexual abuse and discrimination.

Are you with me?

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” – Matthew 12:50

Photo credit: timsamoff Ignited via photopin (license)

Romans 8:38-39