Category Archives: Parenting

You strike a woman, you strike a rock

Updated March 8, 2017. Originally published August 9, 2014.

Several years ago I was in South Africa on a business trip that happened to coincide with their Women’s Day. The national holiday, which is celebrated each year on August 9th, commemorates the day in 1956 when  20,000 South African women marched to government buildings in Pretoria to protest the inequality of women, including a law that required black women to carry “identity passes”. The peaceful protest marked a significant milestone in the women’s and race equality movements in South Africa. It’s reported that after marching to the Union Buildings the women sang a song called Wathint` abafazi, Strijdom that includes the line wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo, which translates to “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”.

The same strength, resolve, and courage of those women can be seen in women across history and geography. I think all the way back to 478 B.C. and Queen Esther, who stood up to her King and husband to save her people. I think of Americans Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who paved the way for women’s rights in the United States in the late 1800’s. I think of women like Manal al-Sharif and Aziza Yousef who are fighting today  for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. And then…

I think of my daughters.

What will it be like for them to grow up as women in the 21st Century? Living in a world that is becoming an increasingly more global society, where the plight and struggle of women in foreign lands must become the fight and protest of women across the world. I wonder, will they take for granted the freedoms and equality they have in their land of birth? Or will they read about girls in India being raped and neglected, and cry tears for them? Will they see TV reports about the girls who have been kidnapped from their homes and schools in Nigeria, forced into slavery and marriage, and become incensed? Will they learn of the girls stolen or bought from their homes in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America and sold into slavery right here in their own backyard and feel motivated to act?

Will my daughter’s know that they have the  power  responsibility to fight for women across the world? How do I raise my girls to understand that there has never been a more opportune, more precise moment than right now to take action and change the future for all women?

To know that when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

It’s a staggering responsibility, but I’m comforted to know that there are those who have gone before, paving the way. Organizations like The Seed Company and their Esther Initiative, with the single goal of translating and sharing over 20 Bible stories that will teach women of their value, worth, and the love of God. The Esther Initiative

Companies like Noonday and Fashion and Compassion that are creating “pathways out of poverty” for women in underdeveloped and vulnerable countries around the world. And organizations like Days for Girls ensuring no girl misses school simply because she doesn’t have access to sanitary supplies.

Because, when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

And I can teach my girls through example.

By shopping from companies that empower women artists and entrepreneurs, I can show them that what we buy and how we spend our money can make a difference in the lives of women around the world. By planning and leading a women’s retreat twice a year I can show them the importance of self-care and nurturing their relationships with Jesus and with other women.

When I speak of other women I can comment on their strength, their hearts, and their virtue instead of their clothing, their hair, or their size.  When I engage with other women I can treat them as equals, as sisters, and as friends, instead of as competition for men, or jobs, or attention.

I can show them through my words and actions that strength is beautiful, kindness is powerful, and education is the key to unlocking doors; that they deserve to be cherished and respected by the men in their life. And to always remember the One who envisioned all they could do and be when He created them with love.

Because, when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

 

graduation
Education is the key to unlocking doors, girls

There is more. So much more that can be done, needs to be done so my girls grow up to be sisters of change. But this is where I start.

Because, when you strike a woman, you strike a rock.

To my daughters, and to all of the beautiful, strong, and smart women in my life and around the world: Happy International Women’s Day!

The gift of broken tear ducts

When I was 17 years old my aunt took me to see “Miss Saigon” at the Kennedy Center. I cried ugly, drippy tears throughout a good part of it and felt a gut-wrenching loss and sadness for the characters in the story. The next day I bought the soundtrack. I remember driving in my little blue Hyundai Excel, listening to that cassette tape over and over, just sobbing as I drove, even months after seeing the show. It was then that I knew I might have a problem.

Over the years I have struggled with a growing sensitivity and overtly emotional response to certain things. At first I didn’t think I was vastly different from others. In college my two best friends and I would watch “Touched By An Angel” every Sunday night and pass the tissues back and forth (or roll of toilet paper, whatever was handy). In the early days of my marriage I cried just as easily over a sweet, romantic gesture as I did over disagreements, but so did other wives, I reasoned. Weddings and funerals always required water-proof mascara and a pack of tissues, but there were always others with the same need. I didn’t feel like I was alone in these responses.

Then at 26 I had my first child and whatever emotional dam was still in place just disintegrated. I began to cry at everything! And I mean everything. I cried at movies and over news reports. I cried at church. I laid in bed at 2 a.m. sobbing over a book. I cried while praying over a sick or hurting friend. I cried in the shower as the previous night’s argument replayed in my mind. At first I tried to blame it on pregnancy hormones, but after 6 or 7 years people stop accepting that as an excuse.

It didn’t help that as time moved on, it got worse.

Over the years any ability to temper when, where, or in front of whom I cry has been lost. These days a kind, heartfelt word from a stranger in the check-out line can make my eyes brim with tears. I cry at parent-teacher conferences and sitting in bleachers watching my kids play basketball, run cross country or dance in a ballet recital. I have sat in restaurants talking with friends and wiping my eyes and nose with napkins as they share their life and I share mine. And here’s the thing: it’s not really the content or the words that make me cry, it’s the feelings.

I feel all of it. Everything.

When that stranger in Target says, “you have really polite kids” I feel all the many frustrating days spent reminding them over and over to use their manners and be kind to one another. When I see my daughter running across that finish line, I feel her pain and hard work and how much she wanted to beat her best time. When the teacher tells me how my son is improving, I feel every hard day he came home with a poor behavior note and every hard night spent working with him around the dining room table, encouraging him to stay focused and finish his homework. When my friend sits across from me at that restaurant and tells me how difficult things have been in her marriage, or how she feels God has abandoned her, I feel her hurt and suffering. And just this afternoon I read the good news that a Syrian refugee family my childhood church was sponsoring finally made it safely to the U.S. after many delays; and I just cried because I felt the relief, the exhaustion, and the hope this family must feel to finally be here, be safe, and have a roof over their heads.

I feel it all. And the tears flow without warning, without control.

It can be embarrassing, off-putting, and frustrating to not have any control over these emotions or my body’s response. I was lamenting about this to a friend, who suffers a similar affliction, a few months ago and she said: “it’s because you’re an empath.” A what? I had never heard this term, but after she explained it to me and I did some reading I realized the traits used to describe an empath were very similar to traits I had recently read about after completing a spiritual gifts assessment for my church.

I had been excited to take the assessment, eager to see my spiritual gifts in writing, and expecting a confirmation of where I already felt called to be working in ministry. But I confess I was underwhelmed and confused by the results. Three of my top rated gifts included Mercy, Exhortation, and Faith, and I thought: What do these mean? How are faith and mercy spiritual gifts? These are things you just do or have. And what the heck is exhortation anyway?

It was mercy that really stumped me, though. Aren’t we all called to show mercy? I didn’t see how that was a special God-given gift.

But after talking to my Pastor and later having this conversation with my friend, I started to see a connection between this spiritual gift and my deep emotions. I began to do more research on spiritual gifts and how God calls them out in scripture. As I put the pieces together, I realized the spiritual gift of mercy isn’t just the act of showing mercy, it is an ability to feel great empathy for others, to walk alongside them in their pain, suffering, or even joy and show Christ’s love through that deep understanding. As one author explained it, those with the gift of mercy are able to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way…fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

So I started to wonder if my intense feeling was actually a gift. If my broken, leaking tear ducts were not actually a burden or something to be embarrassed by after all, but rather part of a call on my life from God — a channel for Him to use me to fulfill His plans. And then do you know what happened?

I started to cry.

romans 12:15

If you want to learn more about Spiritual gifts, I recommend reading Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 28-30, and Ephesians 4:11. You can also go to this website and take a free Spiritual Gifts assessment: http://spiritualgiftstest.com/

photo credit: Stefano Montagner – The life around me Irish Museum of Modern Art via photopin (license)

Four reasons why I do mommy dates

One of my favorite childhood memories is from when I was about five or six years old. My little sister was having her adenoids removed, so while my mom was with her at the hospital all day, I went to work with my dad. Sure, part of what made that such a cool memory is because at that time my dad worked at the White House and I got to see the well-oiled machine of support staff that keep the White House running day-in and day-out and the underground city they worked in: mechanical rooms, florist shops, kitchens, wood shops, and more (I might be remembering this with rose colored glasses, but to a 6 year old it was pretty cool).

But I  think what really made that day so special was that it was just me and my dad for the whole day. No pesky adorable little sister to take his attention; no hushed “grown-up” talks between he and mom. It was just us…and about 500 White House employees.

I had just barely turned one when my sister arrived so I don’t really remember a time when I had my parents all to myself. Spending the day with my dad felt like something really special. I think it’s partly due to this memory that I have found it important to have mommy-daughter or mommy-son dates with my kids.

My eldest was two and a half when she stopped being an only child. To make matters worse, she didn’t just gain a brother OR a sister overnight, she got both! I remember after I found out I was pregnant with twins holding little Hannah in my lap and crying because I was worried that my husband and I would be so consumed with two new babies, she would feel completely neglected and ultimately scarred for life! OK, so maybe that was the pregnancy hormones talking.

I do realize there  are people who have triplets, quads, or even more at the same time, and their kids turn out fine. I also realize there are people with very large families and kids who grow up with a new sibling being born every year or two for most of their childhood. So maybe having to share mom and dad with just two other siblings doesn’t sound like such a big deal…and I’m sure my kids would be just fine if they never had that one-on-one time. But, here’s what happens when we do:

First, the child going on the date usually gets to pick what we do. Oh boy! The excitement of being able to decide our activity and/or where we eat, without having to compromise, take a family vote, or yield to a sibling’s desires. This is like winning the lottery for them!

Second, we get to talk — uninterrupted! Sometimes I feel like I need a flashing sign that says “now serving number 45” and a deli counter number wheel just so my kids stop fighting about whose turn it is to tell me something really important, like how many EXs or YZs or whatevers their Pokemon cards have (I seriously do not speak Pokemon). And can I tell you the only thing worse than having to listen to a child give me a 15 minute detailed description of their Pokemon cards is having to listen to multiple kids fight over who gets to tell me about their Pokemon cards first! Not to mention when you have two in the same grade/class, there is always fighting over who gets to tell me what happened at school. So when it’s just one-on-one time there is no taking a number, no waiting for your sister to finish her 20 minute story about what happened during the 5 minute bathroom break, or feeling jilted because your brother got to tell me about the cool new math game you played today. Also, I have a teenager now. There’s a LOT she absolutely will not tell me in front of her brother or sister, so this one-on-one time opens up so many opportunities for her to share. And trust me when I say, I savor every bit of it.

Third, I get to see the best versions of who my children are. Seriously, when it’s just me and one child, they are the kindest, funniest, most gracious, well-mannered child in the world. But get them in the backseat of a car with their siblings and they turn into screaming, fighting, selfish, rude, head-spinning heathens! So it’s nice every few months to see a glimpse of who they might actually be one day, and to know that, indeed, they may have actually learned a thing or two I tried to teach them.

Lastly, these dates create sweet, sweet memories. Just like I can still remember that day with my dad from 35 years ago, I know my kids will remember these days for a long time to come. Often, at the end of a particularly long or exhausting day, after I’ve said ‘brush your teeth’ 20 times, and ‘who left their dirty dishes in the sink’ 50 times; while I’m tucking them into bed and simultaneously complaining about the fact that I can’t see the floor of their room underneath all of those clothes, I get asked, “mom, do you remember that time we went to see The Music Man, just me and you?” Or “mommy when is our next mother/daughter date? I really want to go back to Polka-dot-Pot and paint that jewelry box we saw last time.” Or my favorite, “mom, do you remember that time we went to the monster truck rally and got to eat cotton candy, just me and you? That was the best day ever.”

And selfishly I think,  ‘oh please hang on to those memories and let them be stronger than the memories of the tired mom who lost her cool one too many times.’ And I know, these dates are just as much for me as they are for them.

 

Three things that having twins taught me about motherhood

See those two cuties above? Today is their 11th birthday. Eleven years ago today my husband and I went from being the parents of one sweet little girl to….

…being outnumbered.

Everything changed that day. And I wasn’t the least bit prepared for most of it.

It’s true, I cried when the OB/GYN told me I was pregnant with twins. And they weren’t tears of joy. It’s also true that their first year of life is a bit of a blur. We were in survival mode, living through what felt like one, veeeeerrrrrryyyyy long sleepless night. I nursed the twins for all of three months before I felt like Elsie the cow and started to realize I was never going to get to leave my house again.

In the early days I wore the title “mom of twins” like some kind of badge of courage or Purple Heart because parenting didn’t just seem twice as hard, or like it was twice as much work, it felt 1,000 times more difficult than life had been with just one. (and this is where I pause and tell all you moms with triplets or more that you are freakin’ rock stars).

But now, eleven years later, it’s hard to even imagine a life without our three kids. And somehow over the years I transitioned from being the “mom of twins” to just simply being Daniel and Olivia’s mom. (And, of course, also Hannah’s mom, but she’s now a teenager so that’s a whole new badge of courage I’m sporting these days.)

Most importantly, though, I realize that having twins made me a better mom. It forced me to let go of a lot of things (showering daily is overrated) and focus on what was really important (getting two babies to sleep at the same time for more than 4 hours). It allowed me to discover the kind of mom I really wanted to be, and I’m so grateful for that.

So, here it is, three things (because ain’t nobody got time for anything longer than that) having twins taught me about motherhood.

  1. How your child acts in public is not always a direct reflection of your parenting. Oh, the ignorant blissful days of having just one child. One easy, slept through the night, smiled at everyone, loved school, easy child. Or maybe more accurately titled, my Judgy McJudgerson days. My first daughter was a breeze and, for the most part, very well behaved in public. Of course it helped that there were two of us to take turns holding her hand, entertaining her, watching her, re-directing her, etc. So it was easy for me to wonder what the other parents were doing wrong. The parents of the little boy putting mulch down his pants at the playground who told his pre-school teacher he hated her; or the parents of the little girl whose head was spinning around Exorcist-style as she screamed at the top of her lungs because her mother told her “no” to the baby she wanted at Target. Clearly those children behaved that way because their parents hadn’t taught them any better.Wrong.

    Those are all real-life examples of things my precious little cherubs did when they were toddlers ( I won’t even go into stories of things they’ve done as they’ve gotten older). All things that mortified and humbled me as a parent. But in a good way. And I think every parent who has ever looked down their nose at another should be blessed with at least one temper-tantrum throwing, mis-behaving, inappropriate word saying, call-from-the-principal kind of kid. Just to remind us that, hey — they’re kids! We can teach them right from wrong, manners, respect and kindness, but at the end of the day they are little human beings who make mistakes and will try to push the boundaries. (And just to set the record straight, my “perfect” first-born has had more than her share of cringe-worthy and embarrassing moments to last a life-time).

2. Being a “perfect mom” is highly overrated.

With my first daughter I tried to get it all right. I really did. We introduced veggies before fruits. We played classical music and read to her all the time. We loved tummy time and all the made-in-America-old-school-Melissa-and-Doug toys we could find. I went overboard with the perfectly planned, everything-is-part-of-the theme birthday parties. School snacks were home-made and holiday outfits were coordinated and chosen with care. And this was all before Pinterest was a thing!

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, except that trying to keep up with it, times three, was exhausting and overwhelming. And worst of all, if I didn’t keep up with it, then I felt like I was failing at this mom gig. That is, until I finally realized that being a stressed-out, tired, “super-mom” actually made me a pretty crummy mommy. So I stopped. I threw in the towel on most of it. And surprise, surprise, my kids don’t even notice. I’m more relaxed and happier, which makes me more patient and fun to be around. And last time I checked no one has given me a citation for being the mom who phones it in on the school snacks.

3. Every child is different and needs to be parented differently.

OK, so you don’t have to have twins to learn this…anyone with 2 or more kids can probably tell you this. But the lesson was certainly magnified for me when we went from 1 to 3 kids overnight. Add to that the fact that two of them were in utero at the same time, shared clothes, toys, and a room for the first five years of life, and yet could NOT be more different if they came from separate families…who lived in separate countries and spoke different languages and grew up in different decades.

What worked with our first born generally does not work with the other two. And what works for one twin does not work for the other. And so on, and so forth. I call this out not because it’s earth-shattering news, but because once I embraced this knowledge it made a world of difference in my tolerance, patience, and flexibility as a mom.

While they’ve taught me so much more about motherhood, life, and the kind of person I want to be, those are the three that really stand-out at this moment. I’m sure in another few years I’ll have some new lessons — after all, I will have three teenagers in my house in just two years!

But for today, I just want to say: thank you, God for this double blessing. For using my fear and weakness, and two little babies, to push and stretch me beyond what was comfortable and easy, so that I could become a better mother, and a better person.

Happy birthday Daniel and Olivia. You are my sunshine.

Odd mom out

This week I read an article by actress Mayim Bialik about her reasons for not allowing her sons to have smart phones. Actually the article was more about some interesting research by Devorah Heitner, PhD on the child and adolescent perspective of the world, as seen through the lens of technology and social media.

First, let me say this post is not about smart phones or debating how much exposure children should have to technology. Really, there are enough people out there on their soapboxes about that. In my house, at this time, we choose not to let our kids have access to social media or own smart phones because it’s what we think is best for our children. All the other parents in the world must decide what’s right for their children. And that’s all I will say on that topic.

But back to Mayim’s article and Heitner’s research. One of the things that hit me hard in the article was understanding how our children process perceived (or legitimate) exclusion, and how magnified that can be when documented in real-time on social media. Mayim wrote: “[Heitner] gives the example of your 10-year-old watching a slumber party they were excluded from play out on social media. That made me cringe. It gave the 10-year-old inside of me the chills. I would be absolutely devastated to grow up now. I was left out of so much and it was painful enough to imagine the girls I wanted to have accept me spending time without me. To watch it online would be that much more mortifying and so incredibly painful.”

In that moment I, too could remember how it felt for my 10 year old, 13 year old, 18 year old self to feel left-out. How I processed those feelings and their impact to my self-esteem and psyche at that tender age. To think about growing up in this very different, very exposed world? It makes me just want to hug my kids, tuck them under my mama-bird wing and keep them safe and protected forever! That’s right kids, pack your stuff! We’re moving off-the-grid to middle-of-nowhere USA, where I will home school you until you’re 25 and then select a nice husband or wife for you, and you can build a lovely cabin for yourselves right in the back yard!

OK, maybe not.

Of course, I realize sheltering them completely is not feasible or even really healthy. They do need to learn how to stumble and fall, or else they won’t know how to pick themselves up. But then, I remember how much it hurts.

 

One of the great things about getting older is an increased awareness and comfort level with who I am as a person. Which, for the most part, means less concern about how other people perceive me. But somewhere, deep-down inside my almost-40-year-old self is still a 13 year old girl who just wants to be liked and included. And sometimes…sometimes she surfaces.

Like when there is that group of moms that always sits together at the middle school basketball games and never asks you to join them, even though your daughters are best friends. Or there is that woman from the office who walks past you and says hello to your cubicle-mate every day, but never, ever says hello to you. Or those two mutual friends who are always planning girl’s night but never invite you. Or the photos all over Facebook of the party you weren’t invited to, but half your friend-list was. Yeah, those are the moments that 13 year old girl who just wants to belong and be liked comes out and asks: “what’s wrong with me? Why don’t they like me?”

And I admit, even now, sometimes it just plain sucks to feel like the odd-mom out.

Of course I recover much faster these days. I do a better job of reminding myself that exclusion is not always intentional or personal. I can do that, now. I’m almost 40 and I like this version of me. I know who I am and what I have to offer. And I know I have some pretty darn-friggin-fantastic friends who love me.

But my girls? My son? At 10 and 13? I don’t think they’re there yet. So I may continue to protect them just a tad bit longer. I may choose to limit their exposure to social media. I most definitely will continue to tell them Whose they are, and how they have been made in His image. I will do my best to build-up their self-esteem and confidence while I still have some influence. Because one day, no amount of mama-bird protection will keep them from feeling excluded or left-out.

However, if they already know who they are and are happy with that person; if they believe wholeheartedly that their value comes from their Creator and not from their number of “likes”, then maybe it won’t take them almost 40 years to learn they are not the odd-one out.

Luke 12-7