This year the journey to spring has seemed like two steps forward, one step back, with 75 degree days followed by 12 inches of snow two days later. And right now everything just seems like a big sopping wet mess outside.
It’s pretty much how parenting feels, especially lately. It’s been 2 steps forward, one step back, sometimes feeling like I am knee-deep in mud and muck. Maybe you’re there, too.
Maybe you have just come out of a hard season with one child, seeing light on the horizon, only to have another one completely fall apart.
Maybe you have a child with a mental illness, disease, or learning disability and after months of doctor’s appointments, teacher conferences, medication changes, therapy, etc. you start to see improvement. Maybe even a few good weeks go by and you start to exhale a little bit and think the worst is behind you, and then suddenly you get the call. Your child has a bad day. A really bad day. And it feels like you’re right back where you were, with no end in sight.
Maybe you have a baby who has been crying for 6 months and not sleeping and you are 100 days past exhausted and weary to your bones. But then 4, 5, 6 nights in a row she sleeps. You sleep! It’s bliss! You start to feel semi-human again. Then on night seven she screams for six hours straight and you are on the floor next to the crib sobbing with her, wondering how anyone could handle this.
And you’re thinking, “One month! All I want is one month where everything is smooth sailing and everyone is healthy and happy. Is that too much to ask God? Why can’t we catch a break? Why does this keep happening to our family? Why?”
You’re knee-deep in the mud and the muck. And the glimpse of easy, smooth, and happy almost seems cruel if it’s going to be taken away. What’s one warm and sunny day if it’s going to be followed by more bitter cold?
But then, where did we get the idea that parenting is a straight path and you have to choose to either move forward or go backwards? Or that the end of a harsh season signified the beginning of a warm one? Who sold us this picture of parenting? And for goodness sake, why did we buy it?
Parenting, like the weather, is unpredictable. Seasons come and go, but not in a neat and orderly fashion. God’s word tell us that to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to get, and a time to lose;
It does not say, however, that the weeping ends when the laughter begins. Or that once you start dancing, there will be no more mourning. Nowhere does God promise that our time of loss will be short and our time of prosperity plentiful. Only that there will be time for both.
Maybe the point is not to simply endure the hard winters of parenting, while you wait for spring to arrive. Maybe the point is to look for the beauty that can be found in each, knowing that God has promised there is purpose in it all.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
Today my three kiddos started back to school for another year. The first day of school is always a weird jumble of emotions for me. I vacillate between being ecstatic that they have some place to be other than home, happy for a normal routine again after a long summer without much structure, and pushing down that giant lump in my throat that forms knowing they are one more day closer to walking out the front door for good, and this year will go by just as fast as all of the others have.
I think I’m probably not alone in this and most parents have a little bit of worry inside about what lies ahead for their children at the start of a new school year – will they like their teacher? Will their teacher like them? Will they choose kind friends? Will they get picked on because of their lisp/birthmark/crooked teeth/loud laugh/weight? Will they be pressured into doing something they don’t want to do? Will they come home crying because their best friend said they can’t be friends anymore? The list goes on.
At different times over the 12 years of sending my little ones off to school (counting the pre-school years), my heart has been burdened with all of these things. And, unfortunately, each of those worries has become a reality at some point over the years. So it’s not without some witness that I carry these fears with me as I wave goodbye and send them off for another year. But then I get to work and I see the reminders all over my desk about Who has authority over their year; about Who has them in His hands.
I need to see these reminders every day.
My kids attend a small Christian school, and each year the school has a different theme. This year’s theme is “know your path” and the verse of the year is “You make known to me the path of life” (Psalm 16:11). I am in love with this theme. As a mother who strives to set her children on the right path, and as a Christ-follower continually seeking the path God has prepared for me, it is a soul-comforting, welcome reminder that God faithfully makes known His path for us.
The path that leads to Him.
The path of Life.
There are well-over 100 Bible verses that reference a path in life, many of which have provided me with comfort and guidance over the years. (If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know my personal experience with and affection for Psalm 18:36, “You broaden the path beneath me so that my ankles do not turn.”) And as I started to think about this theme and all of the prayers, dreams, and worries I hold on to for my children each year, I wanted each of them to know what it took me over 30 years to learn, what I’m still learning:
God cares so deeply about their walk that He has lovingly and intricately carved a unique path for each of them. Because the remarkably divine paradox of following God is that while there is only One Way to Him (John 14:6), He’s gifted each of us an exclusive route for getting there.
So, I did what a mom who has to write things does, and I wrote each of them a letter. For each child I chose a verse about their path that represented to me what I pray for and long for them to know, and then I shared with them a piece of my mother’s heart. I put each letter in a card, sealed the envelope, and tucked it into a lunchbox, hoping my kids aren’t too embarrassed by these personal intrusions of their day, or even worse that they overlook them entirely and the envelopes get tossed in the garbage can along with their string cheese wrappers.
I won’t share with you the full notes, as there are some things that should just remain between a mother and her child, but I would like to share with you a glimpse of my prayer for each of my kids. Because maybe you pray the same thing for your babies. Or maybe you would like to add me and mine to your prayer list. Or maybe just because putting it out there makes it feel heard.
Hannah (13, 8th grade)
Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. – Psalm 77:19
“I believe God is preparing you for a very specific path, one in which you will have great impact on the lives of others. He has given you many special gifts and talents, but perhaps the one that I believe is most special is the gift to love and embrace others for who they are. This gift is all the more inspiring when you are able to just be you – bold, beautiful, funny, unafraid YOU. I’ve seen you struggle with this at times because the outside world sometimes sends us messages that just being ourselves is not good enough. Or that we have to conform to a certain image or personality to be accepted. I know this is hard. I struggled with it for many years, and sometimes still do. But when I see you being YOU, I see people around you being touched and inspired, and I see you lighting up the world.
I believe this is what God has intended for you…When you feel challenged, hurt, confused, angry, sad, or pressured by the world around you, remember He is there and you can count on His guidance to get you through.
Daniel (10, 5th grade)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6
“I know sometimes school is hard for you, and even sometimes home is hard for you. And I know sometimes you wonder what God’s plan is for you, or how you will find success and peace. Just like Mrs. Dhom taught you in kindergarten, God has a plan for all of us. Sometimes we just don’t understand it or see it clearly. It may be hard to understand why God created you with ADHD and some of the struggles you face. But I know He has a reason. I believe part of that reason is because one day it will give you a greater understanding of others who struggle…I think having some of the struggles you do makes you rely on Him more, and this has brought you into a closer relationship with God.”
Olivia (10, 5th grade)
Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. – Proverbs 4:25-26
“God has blessed you with a HUGE heart. You love fiercely and deeply. You show your love for your friends and family and even people you haven’t met every day. You always want people to be happy and you worry if they are hurting or sad…You may not realize it, but I believe God blessed you with these gifts so that He can use you to touch other’s lives.
As you start to get older, you will be confronted by people and things that make you feel like you are not enough. They will judge you against worldly standards instead of God’s standards and you may feel like you need to act, look, or be different. My prayer for you is that you will always keep your eyes fixed ahead on God and His path.”
Praying God’s protection and guidance over all of you and your kiddos as they start a new school year.
It was about 7 years ago. For some insane reason I had taken all three kids out to lunch. By myself. They were about 5, 2 and 2 at the time. I remember my son refused to listen and then started to have a melt-down about 5 seconds after we sat down with our food. So, I did what I had to do and put him in time-out, right there in the middle of the Dairy Queen, pretending not to notice — pretending not to care — that there were other people staring at me and my temper-tantrum-throwing son. I sat down and started to help my daughters, hands shaking as I cut-up chicken strips and opened ketchup packets.
About 15 minutes later an older woman came over to me on her way out the door and whispered, “you’re doing a great job; keep it up!” I almost melted into a puddle of grateful tears. It was exactly what I needed to hear that day, and I have never forgotten that 5 second encounter.
Tonight I sat in a booth at a local diner with my three kids. They’re now 12, 9 and 9. Going out to eat with them (even alone) doesn’t overwhelm me anymore. They each had a book with them; the younger two colored on the kid’s menus and the older child played on her iPod. Except for a few terse words exchanged between my girls over some serious offense like touching elbows or breathing each other’s air, it was a very pleasant, easy dinner. But in the booth across from us I watched as a young mother and father struggled.
Their son looked to be about 18 months and the very last thing he was interested in doing was sitting in his highchair and eating dinner. He whined and cried and tried to escape the highchair and, later, their arms. He did that lovely thing toddlers do when they arch their back and turn into putty hoping to slip out of their parents’ grips. I overheard his young mother talking to her son, becoming increasingly stressed. The dirty stare from the woman walking past them on her way to the bathroom was the final straw and the mother asked her husband to take their son out to the car.
I glanced over to see her hands shaking as she picked at her now cold food, eventually giving up and asking for a box. And I remembered that day seven years ago and the encouragement and love showered on me by a perfect stranger. As my kids and I got up to leave I hesitated, then I walked over and smiled and said, “Hang in there. It gets better! One day you will be able to come have a peaceful dinner with three kids! Hang in there….you’re doing a great job.” She smiled in relief and her eyes welled up a little as she said thank you; it was what she needed to hear.
I remember those years with little ones. I remember having to pack a bag before going anywhere. I remember having to carefully time all outings so they weren’t too close to nap or bed time, lest I be prepared for full-on warfare. I remember wondering if we would ever have a meal that didn’t end in either spilled milk, smashed Cheerios all over the floor, or at least one melt-down. I remember vacations that weren’t the slightest bit relaxing and day after day feeling like a captive in my house because it was just easier to stay home.
Of course I worried about all the wrong things then. I worried about introducing the right fruits and vegetables at precisely the right time; about enough tummy time; about strollers versus slings; co-sleeping versus sleeping in their own bed. And most of all I spent way too much time worrying about how the rest of the world viewed my children. Not because I was worried about what they would think of my child, but because I was terrified of what they would think of ME as their mother. Worried every tantrum, every lack of manners, every spilled drink and sibling fight was a direct reflection of me and my success or failure at being their mom. In those days a heavy sigh, or admonishing stare from a stranger could completely unravel me.
But if I could go back in time and tell my younger mommy-self one thing, it would be this: Hang in there! It will get better. You are doing a great job.
OK, so maybe that’s three things. But they are all equally important, and all equally true! And it’s what I longed to hear in those days.
I’m not saying parenting a pre-teen and 9 year old twins is a piece of cake! My husband and I often feel like we’re talking to the wall and then, promptly want to beat our head’s against one. I am often ALWAYS tired. I worry my very last words on this earth will either be “have you brushed your teeth?” OR “for the LOVE, please stop sniffling and blow your nose!” And I get to answer fun questions like, “why can’t I shave my legs” or “mom, what does ‘lose your virginity’ mean?” (yep got asked both of these questions today.)
We definitely have our challenges…they’re just different.
Thankfully, I no longer measure my success as a mother by what other’s think. I don’t care so much what the stranger in Target thinks when one of my little cherubs belches loudly and then the other two burst into a fit of giggles. Because, you know what? They’re kids. They’re loud, they’re silly, they forget their manners too often, and they make bad choices when they know better. Even on the very worst days I know, deep down, that I’m doing a good job…doing the best I know how to do.
And wouldn’t it be great if we moms all reminded each other of that more often?
If instead of admonishing stares we smiled and whispered, “it will get better!”
If instead of sighing and rolling our eyes we laughed and said, “don’t worry, one day the thought of eating out won’t send you into a cold sweat!”
If instead of silently judging we walked over to the next booth and poured love out on a perfect stranger and reminded her that her success or failure as a mother was not defined by that moment right there, and we told her: