Parenting from the box

shape sorterI remember to this day, when the humbling happened.  Of course getting taken down a few pegs only happens when you were on a perch to start with.  Beautiful and I thought we had parenting by the tail.  Holding something by the tail is well and good as long as the tiger you are holding doesn’t have teeth.  Coco and Princess were, model children.  Clearly our parenting wisdom was validated by the fact that they were “turning out.”  Time and again, other parents would say, “Just wait until they hit X.” and X never came for us.  Later, we noticed other parents asking us how we achieved the results we did.  Yes, we were feeling pretty good.  I mean stick your thumbs in your suspenders and rock back on your heals kind of good (except I don’t have suspenders).

Then Thunder happened.  I am so thankful that our Lord brought him.  When I consider all of the blessings he and the other siblings that followed brought, I am moved to tears.  Being able to see one of them go from sadness to a beaming smile because we were there for a skinned knee, or shared a root beer float, or some other minor little thing that was meaningful to them makes every sacrifice absolutely worth it.  But Thunder brought another blessing as well.  He brought a big dose of humble pie to two parents that thought they had parenting down cold.  Sometimes I forget that other parents have not had the blessing of raising children that did not spring from their DNA.  Consequently, they probably still have a bit of pride in their results.  I don’t mean to take anything away from their accomplishments or their children, nor is my goal to try to inflate what is happening here.  Rather, my point in this post is to raise awareness, because I was once again reminded of the ignorance that some parents still hold.

I was looking through some support forums the other day where a parent had my exact problem.  They were looking for a way to disable a feature on some technology for their children.  One parent posted a bit of a snarky comment that you can’t “raise your kids in a bubble” and went on to describe the rules she put in place for her two boys, now grown and making good choices.  The outcome, clearly validated her methods and so the rest of us should get on board.  [Sound familiar?]  Fear, not, I was kind in my reply.  I realized though, that her perspective, is common and the danger that it represents is very real.

Children are not little plants or machines.  You don’t put the perfect mix of nutrition, hydration, and affection in, and out comes the perfect child.  If they have issues, clearly you got the recipe wrong.  That is not how it works. 

Each child is unique and you need to constantly pay attention to their needs, expressed and never articulated.  You have to meet them where they are at, and take them from there.

I remember getting asked by pediatricians for many years about the child proofing in our home.  Social services actually inspects for child proofing when they do their home inspection.   Why is that?  Because every child, at some point, doesn’t understand boundaries.  Others, even when they do, are wired in such a way that they have to test those boundaries.  No parent in their right mind would let a child come to fatal harm in order to learn consequences.  We protect them from what they cannot understand or what they are unable to resist in order that they will grow as much in maturity as they are able.

Some kids will never get there.  They will never get to the point that they will make those good decisions on their own without lots of help.  It could be because they cannot sort through the decision matrix (common with children that endured trauma).  It could be because they cannot connect the consequences with the action (common with children exposed to alcohol in vitro).  It could be because they need to role play through the situation before being in it (common with most children).   What happens to these children?  they end up as adults that cannot make good decisions.

— Warning Political Tangent —

I am conservative and I think we have a lot of good ideas.  One idea that most of us conservatives hold that I think is horrible is the idea that all we need is for everyone to have opportunity.  Work for everyone and everyone works.  WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!  Some people did not get the right care growing up and likely are not getting the right care as adults.  You could put opportunity on their doorstep, or better yet, in their lap, and they won’t know what do with it.  They cannot hold a job because they do not know how to function.  What do we do for these people?  It is a serious problem and callous policies on welfare will only make it worse.  I know, we all know people abusing the system, but that is no reason to make everyone suffer.  We need to understand the full scope of a problem before we start holding our opinions overly tight about how to solve them.

— Tangent end —

There is no safe box for you to parent from.  There is no formula that works on every child and produces perfect results.  There are a lot of great ideas and some methods that definitely help and yield good results, but even these will have set backs.  Since I took away your box, I will give you a list.  Not a firm list, or one you can just check the boxes on, but a list to serve as a guide.

Parenting methods that work all have these common elements (all are Biblical, by the way, but not the list most would look for):

  1. Care of the biological needs come first – if you aren’t providing adequate nutrition and hydration, their behavior issues are on you.  It is also a good idea to consider how biology might be affecting your child’s decisions.  Not every behavior problem is a spiritual problem (in fact, very few are).
  2. Listen before you speak – Children frequently resort to bad behavior when they were not being heard.  If you are not listening to them, you are not really caring for them.  You are also not proving to them that they can, and should trust you.  Children with delayed communication are going to act out more, so expect that and give them what tools you can (sign language is great for little ones).
  3. Model right behavior – Show them how it is done.  Don’t expect them to know unless you work through it first.  Jesus came to earth, not just to die for us, but also to show us how to live.  Model it before they are in it.  If they get something wrong, take them back to the situation and work them through doing it right.
  4. Protection not punishment – If your parenting response is punishment oriented, you need to recheck how God deals with us.  We all receive WAAAAY more grace than we deserve.  If your child cannot make good decisions about something remove them from the temptation.  That is exactly how God deals with us.  Yes, negative consequences do come  and some you need to let your children experience.  But you need to protect them from getting into situations they cannot handle until they have the strength and knowledge to handle it.

I understand that this list is going to cause a lot of you some grief.  It did for me for a long time.  However, the more I studied the scriptures, the more I saw it.  Give it some time before you dismiss it.

The bottom line is that there is no parenting box.  The quicker you come to grips with that, the quicker you will be a better parent.  If you have only raised a few of your own children, keep your perspective in perspective.  You have a miniscule sample size from which to draw your evidence, and it is not even close to being representative of the general population.

2014 Christmas Letter

(Picture gallery at the end of the letter)

Change is an interesting phenomenon.  I have come to think of it as an old friend.  Sometimes you don’t hear from it for a while and things just sort of chug along.  Then it is back in your life and you remember all the old times you have shared together.  2014 has been a year of massive change for us.  We came here almost 12 years ago to help with a church and a school.  In God’s wisdom, we are at a new church and the children are at a new school.  We would never have imagined that two years ago, but here we are (more on that later).

In the middle of all that change, we have been reminded repeatedly, of what matters most.  Our strivings, and efforts, while important, are important only in how they affect the eternal: people.  We are grateful for all of you, some near, others far; some recent, and others from times gone by; some we have known forever, and others we have not even met yet.  All of you, are what truly matters, and it is my honor to share a bit about God’s work in our lives this year.

Pooh Bear (2 Years)

Our little man has been the subject of many posts this year.  He continues to grow and become more of his own person every day.  It is truly amazing to watch his little personality expressed in new ways every day.  He clearly has his preferences.  In fact, he is probably the most opinionated young man, I have ever known.  He knows what he likes, and he knows what he doesn’t like.  At the same time, he is generally a very happy boy.  Beautiful and I are regularly asked if he always smiles.  Let’s just say that we are glad you are only blessed to see his happy times.

The boy is an incredible athlete and he loves to get into with Thunder and I.  If he sees us doing something with a ball (which is frequent), he has to get in on the action.  He also discovered Cars this year.  We feared for a while, we would never get him to watch anything else (yes indeed he is that much of a boy of habit), but he has finally branched out.  Now he will also watch Cars 2.  Okay, he will watch a bit more, but he clearly prefers Pixar animation over anything else.  Of course, he also loves to play cars and read about cars and whatever else involves wheels or balls.  Yep.  Definitely a boy, this one.  He recently developed this little growl when he is not pleased with our interpretation of his request.  It isn’t an animal growl, just sort of, “I am so exasperated with what you thought I said, I don’t even know where to begin,” growl.  It is actually pretty funny, but not particularly helpful, so we are looking forward to when he is past that phase.

Bright Eyes (5 years)

Bright Eyes is full of life and our little purple tornado is still at it.  She is a girl who lives on extremes and I believe that will be a trait that marks her life.  She speaks her mind all of the time and it has led to some very interesting conversations with adults.  You always know where you stand with Bright Eyes.  If she is happy with you, she will give you the sweetest compliments.  You would be tempted to think she was getting them from a secret stash of Hallmark cards, but she is just a sincere and sweet little girl.  Of course, she can  be just as creative with her words if you should upset her.  She is still cuddly and is very sensitive.  Her older siblings get a bit frustrated with what she finds frightening (two kitties duking it out, would be scary in her mind), but that is part of what makes her such a kind-hearted little girl.

The transition from pre-school to Kindergarten has been amazing.  Her teachers have embraced her and her challenges with great enthusiasm.  We frequently get to swap funny Sarah Grace stories with them.  It is a huge blessing to us to have her somewhere that recognizes and loves the broad spectrum of children that are part of God’s big world.

Portable Circus AKA P.C. (7 years)

P.C. has had a great year.  He continues to amaze us with what his mind comes up with.  He is definitely not a conventional thinker.  That is both a strength and a challenge for him.  There are times, as all of us must do, where he has to focus on something mundane.  This takes a tremendous amount of personal energy for him.  On the other hand, if it is a subject he is interested in, the house could be on fire and he wouldn’t notice.  His teacher has been fantastic at working with us and him to maximize his learning experience at school.  Once again, this is a huge blessing to us.

He played baseball in the program that Thunder has played since he was 6.  It is one of the best programs in the country.  While he loved the uniform and the equipment, his favorite position was botanist.  Needless to say, we are looking at other activities for him.  He enjoyed a basketball camp this summer and has decided that is his sport.  He informed us, there is no waiting in basketball.  This might just be right up his alley!

Curly Girly (9 years)

Curly Girly had a fantastic year in 2014.  She really emerged from the extreme quiet and shy girl that we saw two years ago.  Her teacher has worked with us and with her to provide the right challenges to grow her without overwhelming her.  The immediate result was when her sense of humor began to show again and she began to participate in her schoolwork with renewed enthusiasm.  She was very disappointed when we hit our first school holiday of the schedule.  She loves school that much.  While it may seem odd to say that it was heart warming to see my daughter disappointed, if you understand what that represents, you would understand.

She has also started to emerge in her play.  This is also represents tremendous growth.  In the past, P.C. used to imagine and guide all of their play.  Curly Girly loved to participate, but now she also leads.  Watching her confidence begin to blossom in tangible ways in something that we pray for all of our children.  We are blessed to see it happen a bit more every day.

Thunder –  (14 years)

Thunder, or if you prefer Brute Force, also had a great year.  He received some disappointing news earlier in the year (at least at the time it was).  He learned that he was probably done growing in height (5’ 10”).  Now that he has adjusted his expectations, he has come to love the news and the way that God made him.  He is still built like a line backer, and he is getting stronger and faster every day.

He had another great year playing baseball and has turned an important corner.  He used to coast on his talent alone.  This year he has learned to work hard with that talent.  He was able to see very clearly that when you combine incredible talent with significant effort, magical things happen.  Thunder has enjoyed the transition to High School.  He misses his friends from his old school, but he has made plenty of new friends as well.  He definitely likes his new school better and he also has started to emerge as a solid leader.  Like all of us, he has set backs, but his general progress from boy to man continues and it is a blessing to watch.

Princess (21 years)

Princess has always been a blessing, but this year she took it to new and glorious heights.  Not only has she been an incredible help at home, she was able to get a clearer picture of where God would have her for now.  It has been fun to go through this time of great growth with her.  I cannot say enough about how much we all enjoy her sunny spirit in the home.  We are enjoying this time and treasuring it as much as we can, because I know the Lord could have her minding her own household in a metaphorical blink of an eye.

She completed her CNA studies and certification, but didn’t find any open doors with that skill set.  This Fall she found  her current calling.  A non-profit organization, Together We Rise,  that serves children in foster care by raising awareness and meeting various needs, needed an intern in our area.  Princess was the perfect fit and has been faithfully serving ever since.  This year for her 21st birthday, instead of having a party, she hosted a party for 10 children in foster care at Build a Bear.  One of the children, an 7-year-old, had never had the Happy Birthday song, sung to her.  Princess has since made the party a monthly event.  Each month, something as amazing as the first happens.  I wish that each of you could attend one of these parties as they are truly moving events.

Coco, Sweetness & Little Buddy

Coco and Sweetness just celebrated their first anniversary, but honestly it feels like they have been together forever.  They are such a good fit together it is hard to imagine or remember when they were not.  We have all been blessed by their joy and dedication to each other.  As you can see in the family picture, they are also expecting Little Buddy soon.  We are all looking forward to meeting him and seeing what the Lord has for him.  They all live fairly close so we are blessed to be able to frequently enjoy their company.

Coco is enjoying his job writing software for one of the truly innovative companies of our time.  Sweetness has stepped right into being an amazing homemaker.  She is clearly a natural, but she has also had a great example in her own mother and it has been a blessing to see that love of family and home carry from one generation to the next.

Beautiful and I

As I noted at the beginning, this has been an amazing year of change.  I always thought that if big change would come, it would come in the form of a new job because of the unconventional arrangement.  However, that is more solid than ever as the work we are doing together remains incredibly exciting and the people are phenomenal.  It is truly one of the those rare organizations that produces amazing results while simultaneously valuing its people as people. This has drawn more great people and so the firm continues to get better everyday.  It has been an easy thing to turn offers aside when I consider how great our firm is.

While we loved the children’s old school, it was no longer a good fit for our children.  I cannot begin to describe how painful that decision was to make.  But, as I have noted in other posts, love, requires that you do what is needed by the beloved, not what is convenient or acceptable to the one doing the loving.  We are relieved and the soundness of our decision is affirmed every day as we see them flourish in new and inspiring ways.  The church was a similar, unexpected change.  This one was an even more painful decision as we specifically moved here to help get the church going.  We have literally seen many of the young people grow up before our eyes, and the adults grow old…wiser.  However, the Lord is bigger than any person or organization.  The church is in a different place and its needs are different.  While we will always be connected to and love the folks there, my efforts were no longer needed.  The Lord, in His wisdom brought us to a new church plant in the area that not only benefits from our family significantly, but also benefits our family significantly. That symbiosis is amazing and difficult balance to achieve.

Amongst all of that change, Beautiful and I have started a new venture.  We have seen first hand the benefits of solid therapy for children that come from hard experiences early in life.  As we thought about how to bring that to more children, the ideas began to coalesce into a solid vision.  That vision into a plan and the plan is starting to grow legs in reality.  We don’t know yet where this will go and what it will look like over time, but the entire family is excited to see where this will lead.

Blessings!

While our family celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ we remember that greatest act of sacrificial love.  It reminds us again of the things that matter most: each and every one of you.  We are blessed to be a small part of your lives.

We pray that the Lord has kept you and your loved ones close to His heart this year, and into the New Year.

Redistribution of Wealth

IMG_0602

We had a redistribution of wealth here yesterday.  No, this is not a political discussion, but it is a funny little illustration of how early human nature manifests itself.  Let me explain.

It all began when I started handing out the gold.  Pooh Bear was very excited that he was a recipient of the distribution.  He was happy until he noticed that his pile of gold was smaller than mine.  That was when the trouble began.  Poor Bear informed me that he saw a problem with the size of our piles.  He was polite but insistent.  I did not relent because, you see, we were talking about those golden sticks of goodness.  Yes, I am talking about French Fries!  [Editorial note: He was recently introduced to fries with ketchup and that took the goodness up to a completely different level]

I carefully explained that I was bigger and needed a bigger pile.  He was not buying it.  The piles of fries were all that mattered and they were different.  Need had nothing to do with it.  My explanation fell on deaf ears and then the grasping began.  Pooh Bear decided if I was not going to help, he was going to solve the problem for himself.  He promptly hopped up on his knees and grabbed a fistful of fries to add to his pile.  This was getting to be very entertaining so I ran with it.  I decided to make the piles even and see what would happen.

As you guessed, there was much rejoicing in the land as the wealth was now equitably distributed.  Then the eating began in earnest.  My pile quickly diminished and once again we had a have, and a have not.  However, the roles were now reversed.  I pointed this out to Pooh Bear, a normally generous young fellow to see what he would do.  He smiled said, “All done,” and gave me the sign for all done.  It is funny how in these circumstances it looked suspiciously like “Talk to the hand.”  I had a laugh.  I was not going to a beneficiary of another redistribution.  Since I spent my gold, I was all done.  He continued to happily munch for a while, keeping a wary eye on me to make sure I was not going to resort to his solution.  The lad was definitely catching on.  Clearly he has older siblings.

I went back to my day and came back a few minutes later to check on him.  He was all done too.  The really funny thing is that he never even finished his pile of fries.

It is funny how we can absolutely need something when someone else has it, and then find we really didn’t need it at all.  It was a good lesson for both of us.  I clearly didn’t need as much as I initially thought, and in the end, neither did he.  Even after the good natured conflict, we both had more than we needed.  That is the nugget in all of this.  I hope I remember our little lunch for a long time.  It was a timely lesson this close to Christmas.

Shifting Solar System

IMG_3355We had a change in the solar system recently.  You would think something like that would be memorable, but honestly I could not pinpoint the day it happened.  It just did.

It is sad for us, because, Beautiful and I enjoyed the old order.  We were the twin stars of Pooh Bear’s little world.  He would love nothing more than to see either one of us.  No matter what was happening if we walked into the room, everything else in his world stopped.

Every morning he would get up and charge into my office to get his morning hug and see what Daddy was working on.  That was then.  That was the old star.  Oh, he will still come see me, and I still get hugs, especially when he is tired or just needs a little “pick me up.”  But there are other things he needs to do now.

Pooh Bear is a busy toddler with a jammed packed schedule.  There are only so many hours in the day to play cars, watch Cars, or read about cars.  He has to make sure he is getting the most from his day.  If he were older, he might say he was “Redeeming the time.”  Or “Being a wise steward with his day.”  If he were more classically trained, “Carpe Diem,” might be his mantra.

As a parent it can be somewhat deflating to know that even in the eyes of a two year old, you take a back seat to things (sticking with the car theme here).  And that is where the problem is.

We don’t have children for our self-esteem or for how they make us feel important, needed or valued.  Children are a gift that we are able to enjoy protecting and pass along the pearls of wisdom that were given to us by our parents, or that we picked up along the way.  We are parenting well when we can equip them to not need us, and simultaneously do it in such a way that they still love us, and love to visit with us anyway.  Each child at each age has unique challenges that require help to overcome.  As we teach them to overcome those challenges, we are teaching them to stand, as much as possible, on their own.  You may be blessed with a special needs child that will always require your help their entire life.  Their independence will be limited to a large degree, but we need to give them what we can.

Being replaced in the solar system is a natural part of the world.  I have been through it seven times now.  It doesn’t get any more enjoyable to know you were demoted, but it does get easier.  At least in this case, a demotion is a good thing.  I might not be Pooh Bear’s sun anymore, but I know that is not because I got smaller. It is because his world got bigger.  That is fun to watch, if you are not too busy feeling sorry for yourself.

I might not be Pooh Bear’s sun anymore, but I know that is not because I got smaller. It is because his world got bigger.

An Update!

Woohoo an update!  I know all of you have been faithfully checking the blog every day to see if we had any kind of an update, only to have your hopes dashed as you discovered nothing new.  Well today is your day!

Well, perhaps neither is true.  I am updating the site though.  The kids are growing and it is still an amazing blessing seeing it happen every day.  Beautiful and I have free tickets for front row seats to best show on earth.

More updates coming…