Category Archives: Parenting

How do we prevent sibling rivalry?

As a mom of three kids, two of whom are twins, one of my biggest challenges is keeping sibling rivalry at bay. I realize that some form of sibling rivalry is inevitable and it’s been happening since the beginning of time (thank you very much, Cain and Abel). My sister and I certainly fought and competed with one another growing up. But I always imagined — before having children – that my kids would love and support one-another, growing-up to be best friends. There were even signs that this might happen when they were very little. My eldest doted on her baby brother and sister when they came home from the hospital, bringing them her blankets and stuffed animals when they cried. When they were toddlers, my twins would waddle out to the playground hand-in-hand, or help each other up when they fell. It was so sweet and heart-warming…and lasted precisely 19 months, 16 days, 3 hours, and 27 seconds.

Now, here I am today with a teenager and two pre-teens. Mornings are torture as they snap at each other, blame each other, and try to boss one another around. Mealtime is filled with arguing over whose turn it is to talk, trying to get one another in trouble, or telling us about what the others did wrong at school that day. And car trips. Oh, don’t get me started on car trips! They are the worst! If I had a dollar for every time I said “no more talking, looking, or breathing at each other until we get home,” I would be able to afford that $30k a year private college my teen is eyeing.

Those pre-children dreams I had of raising three best friends are a distant memory now. Most days I’m just hoping nobody gets pushed down a well or sold to traveling Ishmaelite’s (thank you very much to all of Joseph’s brothers for planting that idea in my kids’ heads)!

I may not be able to completely stop the fighting and bickering that happens between my three, but one area I haven’t been willing to give up on is keeping them from the comparison trap. I never want any of my kids to feel like they aren’t as good as their sibling(s), or that they are expected to be the same. I know that this type of sibling rivalry will only create resentment and separation. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed as they get older this seems to be happening more and more, and it literally keeps me up at night worrying about the impact to their self-esteem, and their relationships.

Despite the many nights spent worrying and praying over this, and my resolve to not let it happen, I can tell you that [spoiler alert] I unequivocally have not figured out a perfect formula to prevent it. But there are a few things that seem to help more days than not, and I’m sharing these with you in hopes you will also share what is working in your family. Maybe together we can create our own play book on how to prevent a lifetime of competition and animosity between our children.

  1. Help them choose goals that are specific to their talents and abilities. This year all of my kids decided to run cross country. The three of them have varying degrees of athletic ability and experience running and if they all had the same goal of coming in first in their age group or running the same time, it would create a lot of frustration, disappointment, and comparison. So I talked to them regularly about what their individual goals were, focusing on improving on their previous times, and achieving personal bests, instead of all vying for the same goals. We do this with grades, too. My youngest daughter has really struggled with her spelling grade, so our focus this year has been on improving that. While my high-schooler has a history of late or missing homework assignments, so our focus has been eliminating those. This way we can celebrate when each child achieves a personal milestone that is meaningful to them, instead of only celebrating who got the most A’s and B’s.

 

  1. Privately encourage the older siblings to mentor the younger ones in specific areas. Now, I realize this may not work in every sibling situation. But my teen is great at making others feel included. She’s always been the kid who seeks out the loners and sits with them at lunch. Meanwhile, my younger daughter has been struggling to balance different groups of friends and the hurt feelings that can come between middle-school girls. Frankly, she doesn’t always like my advice or listen to it because, well I’m her mom – what do I know! So I’ve asked her sister to talk to her about it because my younger daughter looks up to her big sister. It lifts her up to think her big sister is taking a decided interest in her life. Meanwhile, it makes my eldest feel needed and important, instead of feeling annoyed by her little sister.

    If there is something one of your younger kids is struggling with, consider bringing in an older sibling, sharing only what is necessary and appropriate so as not to break confidences, and encourage them to help out. It inspires the older sibling, showing them what an important role they can play, while potentially opening doors to a pattern of siblings confiding in and supporting each other.

 

  1. Never, ever compare one sibling to another out loud. Notice my caveat of “out loud” here. What I really mean is don’t do it in front of your kids. The psychology magazines will tell you we, as parents, shouldn’t compare our kids at all. But just being real here, that’s not easy for me. Always in my head I look at my younger two and wonder how they are twins when they are SO different in every way. I look at my oldest and wonder how it is her sister is so organized and she struggles. I look at my son and wonder why dental hygiene seems to be so much more important to his sisters than it is to him. But I try very hard not to say these things out loud.

    If my children pick-up that I’m comparing them to their sibling and see one child doesn’t quite match another in a specific area, then they start to do this, too. Not only does it become a slippery slope to one feeling inferior to another, but it gives the other sibling a sense of superiority that I don’t want any of my kids to have (ok, well except maybe with the dental hygiene thing – if only my son cared enough about it to be shamed by his sisters!).

 

Those are three tactics I’ve been trying to employ in my house, and have found success, to varying degrees. I would love to hear what works for you and your children!

3 ways to prevent sibling rivalry

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The 52 days that gave me strength and hope

“God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.” – Psalm 46:4

Recently I was looking at Facebook and a collection of my “September memories” popped up. At first glance, I smiled thinking about all the joy and special times that had come in September. But the reality is there were also a lot of not-so-great moments, struggles that left me feeling very depleted and scared.

In late-August my son was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and an Anxiety disorder. It came as a shock to us. We had started seeing a new doctor in May to help with medication management for ADHD, which he’d been diagnosed with when he was six. We never expected that the new psychiatrist would tell us he actually did not have ADHD, but instead had OCD and Anxiety.

The last week of August he came off his ADHD medication and began to take medication for OCD and Anxiety. The first week he didn’t sleep for five days straight. It was awful.

By day six he started to sleep and we thought the worse was over. But then he began having these fits of rage and complete loss of self-control. He’s always struggled with controlling his emotions, something that we thought was part of the ADHD and now know is due to his anxiety — but this was different. The first time it happened we were at a playground and he was fighting with his sister so I made him sit down and lose play time. He got so angry he tried to flip over the picnic table and I thought for a moment he might strike me. It really took me by surprise.

Then the next week he had a similar incident at school where he couldn’t gain self-control and ended up screaming at a teacher and kicking over a chair. When I got the call from the school I cried the entire 30 minute drive to pick him up.

It’s a terrible thing to see your child struggling and feel completely incapable of helping him.

But I do believe that God always equips us with exactly what we need to survive the trials and hardships we go through. And it just so happens that the same week we received the formal diagnosis of OCD and Anxiety I had decided to do a 90 day thanks and giving challenge, in the 90 days leading up to Thanksgiving. In fact, it was literally the day before my son started on the new medication that I began this challenge. Two seemingly unrelated things. But I can tell you now, 53 days later, this was not an accident.

Yes, September was hard. I had a lot of fear – fear of not being capable of helping my son, fear of not finding the right medicine, fear of having made the wrong choice to allow him to be medicated, fear we didn’t have the right physician to help us, fear that I was completely unequipped to help a son with OCD and anxiety, fear of how others were watching and judging my son for his behavior, fear we would have to pull him out of school.

Many days I felt completely drained by the time evening came. And in those moments I think it would be easy to stay consumed by that fear, to feel hopeless, and empty. But because I had this need to find something to be grateful for each day or to do something for someone else, I wasn’t able to be consumed by my own fear and hopelessness.

I believe when we actively seek out the beauty, the joy, the blessings in our lives, we are reminded that we not only have a good Father, but we have a God who follows through on His promises.

Yesterday was Day 52 of this journey. We were in church singing about miracles when I felt my son’s hand on my arm. I looked down and saw he was trying to tell me something. This is not unusual, my kids are always trying to ask me something right in the middle of worship. Usually something really important like, “Can I get another donut?” or “Can I go sit with Kaley’s family?” But as I leaned down close to his face to hear what he was saying over the worship music, his words caught be by surprise: “I love you.” Those were the words he had to tell me right in that moment we were singing about God’s miracles, the words that were so important they couldn’t wait till later.

I know our journey with OCD and anxiety, with medication and doctors, with fights over homework and stress about chores is not over. But as I stood there feeling the warmth of my son’s hand on my arm and absorbed the urgency of his words, I felt hope rise up. And as I look at the photos and posts from the last 52 days that Facebook put together, I can see some of the fear, worry, and fatigue that was there, but I mostly see the joy and gratitude I sought after each day.

It’s been impossible for me to lose hope or forget just how much God loves me and loves my son because every day for the last 52 days I have looked for something to be thankful for and every day for the last 52 days I have been able to find multiple things. I have seen how God provides for and protects my family. And I am reassured that His ways are better than mine and that He has a plan for my son, even if I can’t understand what it is.

By living in intentional gratitude, I have been able to lean into God and find hope and strength in Him; I’ve felt the warmth and urgency of His “I love you”.

Psalm 46:4

If you are interested in beginning the practice of intentional gratitude, download this free Bold, Brave & Blessed journal. It can be saved to your computer, or printed to help you recognize your fears, live in gratitude, and put your trust in God.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs LA Photowalk Kid via photopin (license)

No more labels, no more boxes

You’re only 11 years old and yet I am beginning to see the bruises left by society’s labels for girls; from comparing yourself to others and deciding you don’t measure-up, you aren’t as good. And it breaks my heart.

But I am resolved that it doesn’t have to continue, that together we can demolish the world’s benchmark and bust out of that box you are trying to put yourself in. We can drown-out the voices of others so you can hear just one voice, the only One that matters. Because I have my own scars from years, and years of wearing other people’s labels and trying to fit in their boxes, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that happen to you.

So here’s the thing I most want to tell you, my precious, sweet girl: You are.

You are strong.

You are brave.

You are loving.

You are funny.

You are fast.

You are clever.

You are a leader.

You are (fill in the blank with whatever you want to be).

Because YOU get to decide who you want to be, no one else. No one else has the authority to place labels on you.

You are made in God’s image and that makes you precious, and valuable, and free. It makes you a conqueror.

He created you to do great and marvelous things in order to honor Him. He wants you to show the world just how wonderful you are because it is a testimony of His great power and love that He created someone as spectacular as you.

God does not set height and weight requirements for being His beloved daughter.

He does not require straight A’s or straight hair to win His approval.

He will never suggest you quit because you are not the fastest, the prettiest, the most graceful, the smartest, the tallest, the funniest, the most popular.

In fact, He has already put you on the team. You’ve made the cut. He’s called you according to His purpose; His plans. And He wants you, desires you, to come and be a part of His team.

Just. As. You. Are.

 

So, little one. Here’s what I want you to do for me. I want you to repeat after me:

“I am wonderful.” (Psalm 139:14)

“I am precious.” (Isaiah 43:4)

“I am strong.” (Proverbs 31:25)

“I am not afraid.” (Joshua 1:9)

“I am never alone.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“I can conquer anything.” (Romans 8:37)

Then I want you to go find your Bible and highlight those six verses listed above and read them regularly. Remembering that the only labels you should believe are the ones found in that book. The only voice you should listen to is His voice.

(And maybe, sometimes, your mama’s voice, too. Because she knows a thing or two.)

And then, once you’ve read those verses over, and over, and over, then you kick that box you’ve been trying to fit into out the door. Put it in the trash pile, and don’t ever take it back. Because the only label I ever want you to wear is this one:

I Am His

 

The surprising truth about parenting a teenager

You don’t have to be a parent to know that the general consensus around raising teenagers is “oh boy, hold on to your hat, it’s going to get bumpy” or perhaps something a little more blunt than that. There is this universal understanding that the teen years are the hardest to navigate as a parent, with perhaps the exception of the toddler years. I see it every time someone learns that I have a 14 year old daughter and they respond with a loud whistle or raised brows and big grin and say, “oh boy, you’re in the teen years!” or “phew! I remember those years, hang in there!” or even, “God bless you, teen girls are so hard!”

I’ve heard it all, and I’ve even said these things. I’ve joked with other parents about needing prayers to get through the teen years, or about the extra grey hairs growing on my head, and they’ve laughed or nodded knowingly. Because everyone seems to agree, parenting a teenager is challenging, trying, and even painful.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned  since we entered this phase of life nearly 2 years ago, the surprising truth about raising a teenager: It’s actually the most extraordinary stage of parenting I’ve experienced.

Here’s why.

The relationship is starting to shift. Her needs have changed. My daughter doesn’t call me mommy anymore and she certainly doesn’t need me to hold her hand when crossing the street, pick out her clothes, or even pack her lunches. She is becoming increasingly more independent each year, and while that may sound sad at first, the reality is it has created space and allowed for a new dynamic that I don’t have yet with my younger two.

Beautiful Hannah

She doesn’t need me in the same ways, but she still needs me. Often for something really important like someone to listen to her (just listen) when she’s struggling with a particular friendship or obstacle.

She needs me to set boundaries and then step back and give her the freedom to try new things, even fail, within those boundaries, while remaining close enough to help her up when she falls.

She needs me to know that sometimes a good cry, for no particular reason, is cathartic and part of life. But a hug and chocolate can make it all seem better.

She needs me to speak truth into her life, about how I need and rely on God every day so she may learn to do the same.

She needs my advice about decisions that will shape the rest of her life — big decisions and character defining moments — but only when she asks for it.

She needs me to recognize that she is not a little girl anymore, but also that sometimes she still needs her mom and be ready and available for those moments, without hovering or complaining when they pass.

Mom and daughter

I’m not saying this is always easy, this shift in how she needs me and the ways we relate to each other. And I most definitely get it wrong! I criticize, nag, and yell. I have a tendency to be sarcastic when I should be gentle. I ask too many questions when she doesn’t want to talk, and sometimes offer advice before it’s solicited. I’m still learning.

And for her part, sometimes I am the best mom ever and she will thank me 100 times for something little, and other times I am the enemy or invisible woman who she takes for granted. She’s still learning.

But even with the parts we get wrong; even on the days it’s really hard and one or both of us feels angry, scared, or disappointed in the other, this new relationship is nothing short of phenomenal.

Parenting a teenager is like getting an exclusive preview of the adult this child is going to be. It’s like reading a book about your favorite character and actually getting to play a role in influencing some of their story.

Because you know them more intimately than anyone else. You know where they’ve come from. You know what they’re afraid of, and what they hope for. You get to see all the good in them and the potential that is yet to be realized, but also know there are real struggles and mistakes to be made, which make the victories all the more sweet.

I’m still fairly new to this parenting a teen stage. And maybe it will get more challenging in the coming years, or with my other children. But what I want to say to every other parent who is approaching this stage: Take heart! Because while it might come with some really difficult moments, it’s also so much better than anyone ever tells you!

mom and teenage daughter

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!