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Shedding Selfishness

So, I didn’t expect to write this post so soon. I thought I’d give it about two weeks to really track my progress and change. But I’m one week in and it deserves a post. I warn you , it is long. But please read through it because it is my heart on a…screen.

I deleted my “go- to” apps off of my phone.

A couple of weeks ago, I reposted this post about trying not to use my smart phone as often. I have a theory that consistently turning to my phone circumvents my brain’s natural processing. I am more distracted, less able to process complicated issues to their fullness, and less likely to engage in depth (conversations, books, problems that need attention, etc). But for all the nice talk of that post, and for all of my good intentions, my phone and my go-to apps are too alluring.

So I deleted them. I didn’t want to, and honestly I struggled to do it for a long time. But one night I was praying about the negativity I’ve picked up toward my children over the last few weeks. It was really bothering me that my patience had seemed to disappear and I was frustrated over small, insignificant things all the time. I watched myself from an outside view and shuddered at what I saw. This was not the mom I wanted to be. This is not the mom I am, but this is the mom I am letting myself become unless I make some changes. I felt God challenge me again to delete these apps from my phone.

Now, please note that this is my experience and mine alone. I am not saying you are a terrible mom if you have go-to apps on your phone, nor am I saying you have to delete any of them. I’m just sharing my experience.

After a short argument with God ( yes , sometimes I revert to the two year old behavior I have never actually overcome in my heart), the whole issue about my apps came clear: I was using them as an excuse to feed my selfishness. Parenting is hard. It’s exhausting and can be frustrating when you are in a challenging season with your children. Somewhere I had let an idea creep in that because I’m giving so much to my kids – my attention, my sleep, my efforts, my life – I deserve to be a little selfish. After all, what about me? I mean , for reals, what about me, dang it ? I deserve a break every so often. In fact , I deserve a break whenever I start to feel overwhelmed because I’m in this for the long haul, which means I have to pace myself. Right?

Wrong. Instead of putting my big mama pants on and really going into this for the long haul, I got into this habit of just doing short sprints. I invest just long enough to feel the tug of agitation, and then I check out by checking on my favorite apps or sites. I’m wearing sandals instead of running shoes, and then I’m wondering why the heck my feet hurt so bad. The habit of having a go-to on my phone is short circuiting my ability to see something through with my kids, whether in discipline or in fun. How many times has the pull to post a picture of the fun thing we’re doing interrupted or stopped the fun thing itself? How many times have I not followed through on a consequence because I just want tell someone how hard it is in this moment? How many times has the draw to see what’s going on in the outside world caused me to shirk something that needs attention?

Too many, sadly enough. I am embarrassed to admit it, but my own selfishness has caused my love for technology to increase to a point where my kindness, patience, and grace for my children has diminished. I’m putting my own desire for a break and the lie that I deserve this above investing in my kids. I have turned my favorite job and responsibility into a burden because I am putting my own feelings of ” this is really hard” into action. I am doing this instead of buckling down, taking my kids by the hand, and pursing goodness, gentleness, grace, and solid relationship together, even if it is really hard. Because, honestly, no one ever said it should be easy. Easy is overrated.

Back to the challenge: I deleted these apps from my phone and instantly, I felt freed. It was weird , but it was almost like cutting myself free from this tether that always got the best of me. I finally stopped being pulled all the time, and I had control over when and where I could check them. Here are the things I noticed almost immediately after I made this change :

- I could focus. I stopped thinking of everything in terms of a short status update and started looking at life as a whole. Interconnected. A process instead of a one liner or a single picture. Because of this, I could focus on the moment as part of a stream of life and invest now so that it creates a better foundation for later. I could see patterns in behavior and words instead of just hearing fussing.

- I could anticipate my kids ‘ needs better. I had this habit of checking my apps whenever we had a minute of downtime. Not having this option enables me to see the need for a change of scenery, a snack, or a snuggle before the need is so intense that it causes them to be agitated or frustrated. We’re having a lot more peace simply because I am actually doing my job before everyone is mad.

- I have so much more time. I am accomplishing so many more things in a day than I thought possible, partly because I’m fighting that “I need a break” selfishness and actually getting proactive. And partially because a lot of technology is a time eater. Even though it can feel productive, it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Often it left me feeling like I still need more of a break because it didn’t fulfill my desire to be productive.

- I am much more content and happier with what my life is like now. I try hard not to compare myself to other people, but this becomes inevitable when everyone is focused on posting beautiful pictures of themselves, “progress” updates where we see how much they did today or how well they ate or how long they worked out, and especially the comparison of children and how smart/cute/creative they ( or we as parents) are. I admit to doing this too. But not having that bombarding me so many times in the day has really freed me to see my life as beautiful the way it is.

I chose to write this (now extremely long) post to be transparent to you. This is my love affair with technology that I am finally casting off, and it feels pretty darn good. There is nothing so important about faceless technology and it’s alluring applications that trumps the value of my children and husband. They deserve my face, my smile, and my eyes without a phone constantly between us. So here is my commitment, and maybe my challenge to you: I will value my family above my phone, tablet , or computer, and I will love doing it.

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To the Lady at the Mall

*Disclaimer: this post is intended to be sarcastic.*

Dear Lady at the Mall,

Yeah, after the way you looked at me waddling toward the play place, a child on each hand, I discovered the smear of toothpaste from someone’s small lips all over the underbelly of my shirt. You had a look of pity in that smile, and I had assumed it was because I’m great with child and have two others under five. But now I think it’s probably because you realized I didn’t get the chance to glance at myself in the mirror before we left the house. It’s true – I didn’t. Because if I had taken the time to do that, one of my kids would manage to lose the shoes I had already double knotted on their feet and the other would’ve peed their pants.

But don’t worry, Lady. I am totally owning this toothpaste stain. This Big Mama is working it. Rocking it, even. As you probably already noticed, it matches pretty well with the wrinkled look and dark eye circles I’m sporting. At least I’m wearing some bracelets. I am quite the pair with my daughter, whose twenty barrettes around a crooked and messy ponytail create some awkward bumps under the sweatshirt hood she insists on wearing, even though it is 73 degrees outside. You must pity my poor son, who looks very normal and unfashionable in his pants and tshirt. His only defining characteristic this morning is his unruly cowlick. I confess I tried to wet it down with about three gallons of water, but no one listens to me, least of all the unruly cowlick.

Yes, I know I’m carrying a bright pink lunchbox into the food court of the mall. We do that “bring your own lunch” thing, and I’d thank you not to let my kids in on the fact that everyone else gets to eat chicken nuggets and ketchup when they come here. Listen, I already masterfully diced my kids’ lunch into appealing snack sized bites and packed them into cute snack cups. Nevermind that I will end up feeding them each bite anyway because their arms suddenly develop headaches at the sight of real food. If you ask me, I’ll tell you we are playing mommy and baby birds. But if you simply watch, it might look more like I’m pleading and threatening rather than playing. But not bribing. A mom’s gotta draw the line somewhere.

That’s right, my son is the one running at top speed and honking in his loudest voice. This play place doesn’t really require inside voices, right? Race cars and trains and construction trucks all make that honk, and it’s important for those honks to be done somewhere that’s not the car or the kitchen or in my ear. I’m sure you can get used to it if you sit here and watch us long enough. But you can go ahead and sit in a different part of the food court if you want . These honks will follow you there too , but they may sound more endearing if you’re farther away and you give them a chance to drift toward you through the air. It’s all about the distance, really. They’re very tolerable about 50 to 100 feet away, at which point they kind of break into various harmonies of each other.

And don’t worry about sticking around so you can gasp at all of those crazy tumbles my daughter is taking. The nose dive off of the squishy pig really wasn’t so bad, and the little boy she smashed into at the bottom of the slide was totally fine. His mom only rushed over because he’s, like, bigger than her and didn’t even cry. After all, she is the only girl here and is trying to keep up with all the boys. We’ve already discovered that no little boy respects a girl playing with a hot wheels car – they think it’s some kind of mistake. They take it away like it’s an insult for her to have it. How else will she stake her claim at the play place without a little rough and tumble?

Oh, ok. I’ll let you go now. No worries , we can handle the rest of this outing alone. I promise we will make it out of here and all the way home, with or without incident. You never know, really, which it will be, but it will be one of them. I’ll let you imagine the worst, and then I’ll scale it back just a bit. I’m really glad you were here to watch us today. It was so heartwarming to see the looks you have for us. I’ll let you know next time we come, and maybe you can plan to lunch at Chuck E. Cheese instead!

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Miracles in the Storm

As part of our bedtime routine, we try to read a couple stories out of the Bible. Last night we read the story where Jesus walks on the water to His disciples. How many times have I read this story? A lot. But something struck me this time.

Picture this: twelve grown men, burly, bearded, sun weathered. Fishermen. Men who worked hard, day in and day out, with rough, calloused hands. A zealot, or fighter. A tax collector, who, before knowing Jesus, probably knew the ins and outs of intimidation and manipulation. Tough guys. Twelve men in a boat, and suddenly a storm comes up. Now, we know at least four of these men practically lived on this sea. All of them were acquainted with being in boats, even during a storm. And yet, they were having trouble. As they fight the storm, they look out, wind whipping their faces, water spraying into their eyes, nose, mouth, and they see a figure coming toward them. He is walking toward them, feet and body unaffected by the winds. His hair probably whips around, but His face is steady. He knows His destination, and He is undeterred by the storm.


The disciples are in the middle of a life threatening storm, but – get this – they were afraid of Jesus. They thought He was a ghost. As He came toward them, these twelve men were terrified. Jesus, ever calm in the storm, reassures them, but they don’t believe.

They believe more in the impossibility of the circumstance than in Jesus’ ability.


Now comes a part I find equally absurd and fascinating. Peter asks Jesus to prove Himself by allowing Peter to walk on the water. As a fisherman, Peter knows the danger of the storm, but he’s willing to step into it if it means he will reach Jesus faster. It seems that Peter counted braving the storm and possibly encountering a ghost as the lesser evils than staying in the boat without a Savior.

But what about the other disciples? Even having seen multiple miracles from Jesus in days leading up to this, the other disciples still couldn’t believe the availability of the miraculous in their everyday lives. When Jesus reassured them He was not a ghost, only Peter was willing to test the miracle of Jesus’ presence by walking on water. From an outside perspective, I could judge the other disciples. Until I realize I would not have stepped out of the boat either, nor do I always find the faith to step out to Jesus on a daily basis.

I find a challenge in this that I hope I can draw together. Often I use storm metaphors to convey the daily roller coaster of parenting, and when I read this story last night, I felt conviction in my heart. How often am I in the middle of a storm, and yet I am unwilling to believe in Jesus’ miraculous power to intervene? Why am I so hardened against the belief that in the toughest moment, Jesus could be walking toward me, totally unaffected by my circumstances, totally unfazed, and willing and ready to perform a miracle?

On hard days, I get in this zone of always and never, and I say things like, “I will always struggle with my kids,” and “I will never be more patient!” Or “They always react this way” and “they will never change!” The possibility of change in my life and my family’s lives is nonexistent. We are in a vicious cycle, I am out of ideas, and we will never find freedom from this. Like the disciples, I believe more in the impossibility of change than in Jesus’ ability.

But the miracle is this: Jesus is always able, and He will never leave me.

In the middle of my storms, He is able to reach out and perform the very real miracle of giving me what I need in the moment. This is most often patience and grace, and frequently a divine ability to keep tears inside my eyes. He is willing to perform miraculous works in the hearts of my children, showing them their wrong and teaching them how to be loving, kind, and godly. Peter counted the dangers of the storm as less than staying in a boat without his Savior. He would rather have been holding onto Jesus in the middle of the water than riding the waves in the safety of the boat. When will I see trusting Jesus in that moment as more beneficial and effective than clinging to my safety nets, my go-to discipline strategies, my ingrained and inherent reactions? I want to start looking for the miracle of His presence in my everyday instead of being astonished and afraid by it.


Let’s stop being like the other disciples and start believing more in Jesus’ ability to work miraculously in our lives instead of in the impossibility of it. Let’s see Him in the middle of our difficulty and hold His ability to work miraculously in our lives as greater than the raging of our storm.

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To Be Offended

I’ve had this post in draft for about a week now. I’ve been a little worried that my posts are coming across not as “real life” but more as complaints about the struggles of being a parent. But I’ve tried writing some more lighthearted posts, they just aren’t from my heart. As a commitment to myself, this blog is always about real life – real joys, real struggles, real breakthroughs with The Lord. Some days I feel wildly joyful about the messiness of parenthood and the beauty of children. And other days…well, those are real life too. So bear with me as I talk through our lives. And join me if you want, as I seek to be changed and grow in The Lord through it all.

Once upon a time, I took everything personally. Every look, every comment, every accidental exclusion, every intentional inclusion, surely all of them must have an ulterior motive.

Then, after a series of relational eye openers, I made a decision: getting offended is not worth my energy. And so, with a lot of intentional practice, I changed my mind about how people treated me. I say this lightheartedly, but mind you, it wasn’t a lighthearted change.

And now I have children. Very verbal children, as a matter of fact, and as we all know, kids say the darnedest things. For some reason, the decision to not be offended hasn’t transferred as easily toward my kids as I would have expected. Here are some of the things they’ve said to me, just in the last few weeks:

Norah, while standing next to me, discovered my unfortunate amount of gray hairs: Mommy! What IS that?! Get those out of there!

Micah, after a very sweet snuggle: Mommy, when will your belly be smaller again?
Me: After baby Elena is born, it will get smaller slowly.
Micah: But I want it small right away.
Me: It will have to shrink like a balloon with a tiny hole in it. It will take a little while.
Micah, bursting into tears: But your big belly really bothers me!

Norah, quoting a Yo Gabba Gabba song: Don’t bite your friends!
Me: Remember you bit me yesterday? Am I your friend?
Norah, after thinking about it for about three seconds, just started snapping her jaws at me. She later informed me I am not her friend nor Micah’s friend, but lucky for him, Daddy is both of their friends.

Micah: Mom, you smell like fat chicken.

Micah: Mom, can I put a bow in your hair?
Me: No thanks, buddy. I’m wearing my hair down today.
Micah: But I really wanted you to look pretty for my birthday today!

Love keeps no record of wrongs, right? So all of these little comments from my kids, who really don’t know that they’re hurting my feelings, should roll right off of me like water off a duck’s back. Should is the key word here. Don’t is the more appropriate word. Apparently next I need to teach them tact and proper timing and just what not to say.

It’s easy to get offended when you’re laying so much of yourself down for another person, especially because that sacrifice makes you vulnerable to them. And why is it that the more vulnerable we are, and the more we have to trust someone with our hearts, the more the little things make us feel offended? I mean, come on. If they know me so well, don’t they know better? I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few days, and what I’ve come to realize in myself is that it’s because it feels like an affront to my dignity. But more than that , if I really look at it, it’s an affront to my pride. Those people who are closest to me are not affording me the respect I feel like I deserve, and that means my pride gets hurt. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes the things people say and do are a genuine offense to our dignity, and that should be dealt with. What I’m saying is, most often, in my life with my family, it’s not my value that is feeling sore. It’s my pride.

What it comes down to is me feeling like I deserve better than you saying that to me. Didn’t you see all the work I did today? How could you say and do that, after everything you put me through? Who are you to make that judgment on me ? How dare you take that tone with ME!

But my family and those close to me are most often not intentionally hating on me. When it comes down to it, the offense I feel is also a question of worth. Did my value as a person, wife, or mom diminish because my kids insulted me? Am I less of a person because they don’t like my cooking or because I ruin fun with cleanup time or because I picked the ugly shoes to wear today? Do I have less dignity because my husband and I both happened to be grumpy and yell at each other yesterday morning? Am I worth less because my daughter spoke to me in the ugliest voice she could muster?

The answer is no. I am a person of value because Jesus created me. I am a person of dignity because Jesus died for me. My worth lies not in my role or my performance or my ratings. My worth lies in Jesus Christ. If He died to save me and He loves me, that’s the end all anyway, and no amount of insult or offense can change His opinion of me.

As I walk through each day with my small kids , teaching them how to do life and how to love God, I have to remember that God is using them to also teach me how to do life and how to love Him. If I let Him speak to my heart, these moments of offense can be real moments of reassurance. He shows me again who I am in Christ, and just what that means for my interactions with my family. I don’t have to take things to heart. I can take them to His feet and let Him transform them into words of His love for my soul.

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Freedom in the Boxing Ring

Well, surprise! Norah is still two, which means…wait for it…she’s still acting like a two year old.

Last night, after a particularly loud struggle between us, I felt like, “why are we still struggling? Why isn’t she getting it?” And then the brilliant answer dawned on me: I’m an adult and can analyze my actions and emotions, make changes, and actually remember what I should be doing, even though many times I don’t do it. She is a toddler and can’t critique her own actions and judgments and then change in the middle of mommy being so horribly mean as to ask her to eat dinner.

Working through the Terrible Twos has been significantly louder this time around. I ran at full speed into her room last night because I heard her screaming at me, only to discover her completely asleep. Yes, my meanness even pervades her dreams. You must wonder what I do to incite such horrific emotions in my daughter. The list is terrible, unfair, and includes things like go potty in the toilet instead of the floor and no, Honey, we don’t eat chocolate for dinner.

So this morning as I got breakfast together, feeling the weight of last night and girding myself up for another day’s battle, two songs that Davy has been singing lately came into my head. They go like this:

Where the Spirit of The Lord is,
There is freedom
Where the Spirit of The Lord is,
Chains are broken, eyes are opened
Christ is with us, Christ is with us
(Where the Spirit of The Lord is by Hillsong Live)


All I want, all I need
Is more of You, less of me
Take this life, Lord it’s Yours
Have my heart, have it all
(To Be Like You by Hillsong Live, same album)

As they morphed into one continuous song in my head, I had an eye opening moment. Bear with me as I explain:

Where the Spirit of The Lord is, there is freedom: Because we love and follow Jesus, He makes His home among us. That means His Spirit is here. And that means we can walk in freedom here.

Because His Spirit makes its home with us, we can believe and trust that He will work in our lives. Read this to mean: God isn’t standing idly by while I struggle with Norah. His love and grace are here. His perfect ability to see her heart, know her struggles, and know what will work are here. He can and will open her eyes to understanding what to do, how to respond, and eventually, that she needs Him too.

Christ IS with us here. He hasn’t abandoned me to the tossing waves of life with a toddler. This means I CAN turn to Him in the heat of the moment and He WILL give me strength.

So many days I see myself responding out of my unseemly human nature. You know, the responses that make you cringe in shame if you think anyone had seen them, and yet they continually come out to your kids. (Or maybe that only happens to me…) So how do I change? Here is my answer – make my aim for today more about allowing Him to change me – laying down myself to make room for more of Himself – than about disciplining Norah. Walk in the freedom He promised is already here, freedom to be Christlike in my heart and toward my kids, instead of the “freedom” to make my kids obey.

Freedom. Psalm 18:19 says He has “put me in a broad place.” The connotation here is that He has pulled us out from a confined, dark, crowded place and put us in an open field. Air, light, openness, freedom. When I narrow my vision to the Terrible Twos, and Norah and I crawl into the proverbial boxing ring, we both see only one thing: competition. Our struggle is confined, narrow , and only one of us will come out the winner. When we are “duking it out,” there is no room for Jesus in between us. There is only room for the fullness of my will and the fullness of her will to clash, and clash fiercely. And trust me, it is fierce.

Oh, how I would rather follow Jesus into freedom! How I would rather let Him take my heart, change it to respond with His responses, and allow Him to orchestrate the discipline with Norah. To take her, as He would, in love and peace, yet firmness and truth, and reach her heart. To make room for His Spirit to open her eyes instead of trying to force her to see things my way. To walk with Christ in our home, showing her the absolute need for Him, instead of making Him wait outside the ring to sew up our wounds.

This is all nice and stuff, but what does it actually look like, especially in the heat of the moment? When she’s screaming in my face and defiantly refusing to obey? To be honest , I don’t know. It looks a little different each time because God is working something more , something deeper, into both of us each day. By having our standard, go- to consequences, we at least have a routine she understands when she disobeys. But the responses between us, the conversations, our looks, our tones – that’s where all of this freedom stuff comes in. Christ responded in love, and yet He still responded in complete truth. He did not back down from what is right, and yet He did not provoke either. He had varied responses to situations, and yet each time was in perfect righteousness.

Christ is with us, and that means, all of His responses can be taught to us too. Where He is, He can save us from ourselves, our knee jerk reactions, our hereditary responses. Where He is, He can teach us to walk in freedom.

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Input Monster

This is a repost from when I first started blogging, but it’s something I am trying hard to work on again. I continually have to remind myself to just Put. Down. The. Phone.

Tonight Davy and I did a rare thing. We talked. Not about our kids or our new house or work or parenting strategies or worship leading. We talked about Davy’s video game, and he explained all about the amount of damage he can do. And then he told me about a TED talk he listened to. And then we talked about something very interesting. Hence, this post.

After hearing about the TED talk, I made some comment about it being nice to listen to something that challenges me to think outside my normal range. To think about a topic in a way that exercises my brain and gets that flow working. I used to love this about college. I loved working through abstract and complex concepts – it felt like my brain was growing. Like I was smart. There was such a sense of satisfaction to it that made me crave more. Not just learning, but chewing on what I learned, examining it, working my way through and around it, and then coming out the other side of it. I loved the process. There was something I didn’t have back then that, I think, may have enabled me to fully dig my brain into that process.

My smart phone.

You thought I was going to say kids, didn’t you?

Hear me out. Before I had my smartphone, I didn’t turn to technology every time i had a spare minute. I didn’t have a trusty place to zone out to that was within grabbing distance at all times. I didn’t have the pull to check on all my sites for new information or comments or likes. Before my smartphone, my brain had a chance to do a little independent processing.

Enter smartphone.

Now, as I’m waiting the three hours it takes my two year old to climb the stairs, I immediately reach for my phone to read that article I haven’t finished on how to entertain my toddler with tot trays. Or I’m heating up lunch for a minute in the microwave, and I think, “I’ll just check Facebook and see if anyone commented on micah’s latest quote I put up. And I’ll just scroll to see what my closest friends have posted.”
Or I finally have Norah asleep and have Micah set up for quiet hour, and I decide it’s a great time to find some more house ideas on pinterest. Or I am finally sitting next to Davy with no kids between us (never mind that he’s driving), and I’ll decide it’s time to respond to all my text messages.

Result: I have quickly and efficiently learned how to fill all of my precious moments with my phone. Let’s just briefly mention the amount of time my kids look to me and find my face buried in this screen. How many moments am I missing with them? Sadly, I don’t, and probably won’t, even know. Because they already passed me by. Let’s also just briefly mention how this must look to them and what they’re learning about social interaction, personal responsibility, priorities, and the ability to simply focus on one task: that technology is more interesting, takes priority, and trumps responsibility.

But that’s not the point I’m making tonight. The point is, actually, that I’m finding technology, for all it’s blessings, to disable my brain instead of enable it. It’s pull on my life short circuits my brain and robs me of the precious time i need to actually THINK. I think somewhere I picked up a false idea that I have to be productive to be worthwhile, and “multitasking” on my phone at least feels productive. But my brain needs more than the idle reading of useless, or even sometimes useful, information. I don’t need more and more and more input. This just leaves my brain fat and still hungry. I need my brain to exercise. To work out some of these ideas, to come up with new ideas, and to have the time to actually see an idea through from start to finish. Ironically, I need my brain to be left alone.

As we were talking, I was reminded of this instance not too long ago in the bank. I was waiting for the teller and resisting the urge to pull out my smart phone. I firmly told myself I would not check Facebook. Then I noticed something. The music in the bank was French. I started thinking about what differentiated French music from other music, and you know, I found quite a few reasons without even looking them up on google.

I have a theory that the level of input I receive from my phone is sedating my brain. It acts as a placebo, tricking my brain into thinking I’m still “learning” so much, like I did when I craved growth in college, but without actually giving me growth. It soothes the crave, but like a drug, leaves me empty.
I also have a theory that it contributes to my heightened level of distractedness. Maybe I’m teaching my brain to not be able to focus on one thing because every spare second I have, I’m turning to more and more and more input. I think by having something to “do” every time I have a minute to myself, my brain can’t stop long enough to process a single thing in its entirety. It’s jumping from input to input, thought to thought, and it learns never to spend longer than a few seconds or minutes on a single thought.

This bothers me. I want a strong mind, not a distracted one. I want a brain that holds up against the wave of information, not one that is tossed by it. I want to be an input processor, not just an insatiable input monster. And I don’t ever want the memory my kids have of me to be one of my nose against this dumb phone screen.

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Sharing Control

I had already asked him four times, and yes, I was keeping count.

Micah had either suddenly developed a serious hearing problem or he and I were developing a serious relational problem. It’s the little things that can really add up in a day. You know, like asking your three year old four times to brush his teeth, knowing full well that he heard you and also knowing full well that in about five minutes, he would want to snuggle you with that stinky mouth breathing on your face.

So I asked again, just for good measure. A request for the road, you might say. But he just kept playing cars. There might not be a degree to describe the boiling that happened in my blood, and I might have had to walk away so I didn’t outright yell at him. But I’ll tell you two good things that happened when I walked away: one, I realized this scenario was in large part my own fault for being lax on my follow through. And two, I decided to ask him why he never listens the first time.

“Because, Mommy, I just don’t like what you’re saying.”

Hmmm. Well, that isn’t going to fly. Part of me wanted to be offended and shocked at his response, but I knew I couldn’t let myself go there. Letting my pride rise up in arms because of the comment of a three year old just isn’t worth the fight or the tears. But the act of willful disobedience because he “doesn’t like what I’m saying” is a new one to me, and I couldn’t let it slide.

“Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you don’t have to do it.”

“Yeah, Mom, but I just can’t control this. And I don’t like that. When you say something I can’t control, I just don’t like it. So I don’t do it.”

He’s said this thing about control before, so I knew what he meant: when I tell him to do something he doesn’t like, he feels out of control of his life. Suddenly he feels like everything is falling apart.

As a side note, I should clarify that Micah’s verbal response to me didn’t get him in trouble. In this post, I talk about our family policy on saying no, and even though neither of us liked what the other was saying, Micah spoke to me in perfect respect. No raised tone, no disrespectful language. His actions had disregarded my request, and that was disrespectful. But when it came to our communication, he operated completely within our family boundaries. Because of this, we were able to talk about our conflict without verbal disrespect. Our kids don’t get in trouble with what they want to communicate to us, as long as the way they do it is appropriate. And just because they say it doesn’t mean they get their way. It just means they got to say it and we got to listen.

But still. Out of control or not, like it or not, falling apart or not, the guy still has to brush his teeth. And he still needs to obey, and get into the habit of obeying, what I ask him to do. So what do I do? Do I start telling him a list of all the things I don’t like to do but still have to do every day? Things like dishes and wipe bottoms and get up early and force feed everyone vegetables? And how it doesn’t matter that I don’t feel in control half the time, and that it doesn’t matter if I particularly like what I am doing at a given moment, if it has to be done?

Well, actually, yes. That’s what I did. I don’t recommend it, though, because it wasn’t effective. He really didn’t care, and he mostly just looked like he wanted to get back to playing cars, hoping I’d forgotten about the teeth thing. So if you were hoping for advice on how to lecture your three year old on the importance of responsibility and what it looks like in your own life, don’t follow this example.

Honestly, in the moment, I couldn’t figure out what to do. So I just made him go into the bathroom, and he cried through brushing, and he cried after brushing, and he cried when he remembered that he brushed. But I didn’t cry when he wanted to snuggle me because now he smelled like oranges and mangos. But I did cry later, when I prayed about it and brought up to God all the times he completely ignores me. In case you didn’t know, I’m mostly a crier. Maybe that’s where Micah gets it.

As I processed the scenario with God, I remembered those key words Micah had spoken: I just can’t control this. I realized that listening comes down to an issue of control with him. If he doesn’t “hear” me, he is in control of whether or not he obeys or disobeys. I know for some personalities that having a sense of control is very important. And while I don’t know the details psychologically or emotionally of whether allowing kids to have this sense of control, even in the choice to obey, is good or bad, I do know that allowing Micah to have it is more effective than holding the Ultimate-Authority Card over his head all of the time. And since one of my goals as a mom is to pursue peace and relationship within my family, I also choose to relinquish some control to achieve that.

So I approached this thing differently. If he wants control, I will give him two ways to have it. I decided not to pick the battle anymore. I will ask him once, and I will remind him once (because, after all, he is only three). After that, I take action. This keeps me from getting to a boiling level, and this keeps him from operating in a kind of manipulative control, especially because when it gets to this point, he sees me responding through my frustration.
First, if I ask and he complains, I tell him outright, “You can’t control this. You need to obey. But you can control your attitude. You can choose to obey with a good attitude and be happy or you can choose to obey with a bad attitude and make yourself miserable.” His response to this usually involves a fake smile and lots of whimpering, although I have been pleasantly surprised a few times with a complete attitude change.

Second, I give the consequence if he chooses to ignore me and I have to ask more than once. The consequence is simple and always the same: I get to take away one of his toys for the day` for every time I ask. He doesn’t pick the one I get – I do. Often I take the one he’s playing with. This makes him mad, but I always explain, “You had the choice to obey or have me take away your car. You chose to disobey and now I have to take your car.”

The other day he thought he had one-upped me and said, “I know exactly where you keep my cars you take away.” I think he was hoping to scare me into stopping my strategy. But I just replied, “Ok babe,” and didn’t give in to the call for a conflict. He walked away looking kind of confused, but I’ll tell you one thing. This “share” of control has worked really well for us. He hasn’t expressed feeling out of control even once since I started responding this way, and I haven’t felt like I will lose my control since either. Because there is a way of dealing with an issue that is so frustrating that removes the frustration for me, I’m able to respond in a way that is much more effective than screaming, “I’ve already asked you SIX TIMES to put on your shoes!” Sometimes it takes quite a gathering of cars in my little parking lot before Micah does what I’m asking, but it’s ok. It’s ok because he’s learning (and I’m reminding) that each times he chooses to do the wrong thing, he is actually choosing a negative consequence. He’s learning that choosing to do wrong is actually hurting him more than it’s hurting anyone else.

I like that as my kids get older and have more understanding, I get to be more creative with discipline and consequences. Each situation can teach a life skill, if I can wrap my head around how to convey it. Now, if only I could get my two year old to stop throwing herself on the floor…


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