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Let’s Make a Deal

I’m about to tell you one of my most favorite parenting decisions I’ve ever made. No, it’s not the hidden sock basket, though that is one of my favorites. (FYI: Kids don’t put dirty socks in the laundry basket. But they DO put them in the secret hidden sock basket in the living room. Because it’s a secret basket. Like a treasure chest…but with dirty socks.)

One of my most favorite parenting decisions is to make a deal. Have you ever tried letting your kids in on the discipline/consequence process? I don’t do it with everything, obviously, but there are certain issues that are resolved much easier and quicker when I let my kids in on creating the consequences.

One day awhile ago I was extremely tired of Micah’s whining. I had tried everything to stop it, and my ears were bleeding. Finally, quite by accident, I said to him, “Micah, I can’t handle your whining anymore! What are we going to do to get you to stop?!” And he replied, “Well, Mommy, maybe I just have to hop around the circle every time I do it.”

I honestly didn’t think it would work, especially because none of my very smart and perfectly thought out consequences had helped. But I was desperate, so we tried it. Every time those whinies came out, all I said was, “Hop the circle” in response, and he immediately got up, hopping like a rabbit all the way through the kitchen, down the hall, and back to me. It didn’t matter what he was doing, he dropped it and hopped. Let me tell you what, it worked like a charm! By the time he got back to me, not only was he out of breath to even try whining, but he couldn’t remember why it was worth whining about to begin with. Plus, it made me laugh.

And since then, whenever there is a non-serious issue that I can’t make a breakthrough in, I invite them to help me. We strike a deal: you help create the consequence, I help enforce the consequence, we all abide by the rules of the consequence. See, it seems to me that when I hand over some of the control in creating the rule, they take more ownership over it and more initiative in following it. They also seem to follow it easier and quicker when I’m not there to enforce it because part of it has come from their hearts.

For example, Norah loves her long hair. Loves Loves Loves. But she HATES when I brush it or pull it up, or wash it, for that matter.
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This is an old picture, but this is her real bed head, my friends. This is real trouble. So we struck a deal. IF she lets me wash her hair the night before, she gets to wear it down. IF she doesn’t let me wash her hair, I pull it up, and she gets to pick the barrette. We both follow the rules of this deal, and she gets all the choosing. No more struggle.

Another deal we have is Pennies at Dinner. I’m not sure if this happens at your house, but dinner chairs at my house apparently contain secret springs that shoot my children out of them as soon as they sit down. No amount of convincing keeps my kids sitting. So we struck a deal. It goes like this: you, child, get five pennies. Each time you get down, you give me one. If you go through dinner with all five pennies, you get to buy a candy from me. If you lose all five pennies, you get to have trouble.

“Pennies! CANDY!” yell my children.
“SIT!” yells their mother.

And they sit. And to date, Micah has never lost a penny, and Norah has only ever lost two. (And for the record, a candy is equivalent to one chocolate chip or one miniature candy cane. My poor, poor children. They have no idea how minuscule that is.)

I’m really into teaching my kids responsibility and obedience from the heart. I want them to know that rules are for reasons, like keeping them safe or keeping the family running smoothly, not just because mom likes to be mean. So in handing them partial control for non-serious issues, they get to evaluate the situation, be creative in coming up with possible solutions, and recognize the need for the rule to begin with. When they do this, it helps them to feel the responsibility for follow-through on their own. They’re not just going to get in trouble for disobeying, they’re actually letting themselves down because they know internally that they are doing something wrong. They get to experience the natural consequences of not following the rules.

The wonderful thing for me in all this is that I get to simply follow the rules too. It takes the power struggle out of it because we came up with it together. When Norah lost those two pennies, she didn’t want to give them to me. I geared myself up for a battle, but when I said, “Norah, that’s the deal, remember? Every time you get up, you give me a penny. That’s just how it goes with Pennies at Dinner,” she begrudgingly gave me two pennies, without a fight.

Sometimes the deals don’t work, so we throw them out. But when we hit on a good one that helps solve an issue that’s causing everyone frustration, we all win. And we all grow through the issue, eventually coming out of needing it all together. Micah never hops the circle anymore, and I’ve stopped saying, “Hop the circle!” in my sleep.

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It Just Isn’t A Thing.

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So we’ve been doing this three-kid thing for about six months now. And let me tell you what has become one of my main goals in the day: minimize the drama, man. For reals, though. The drama around here can get pretty deep. or steep. or something.

Now I’m actually all about walking through feelings with my kids. I try to make time for that in our day so that we learn how to communicate well and they feel like we are a safe place to express themselves. But here are some “feelings” we’ve been feeling lately.

Me: Ok, go brush your teeth.
Child who shall not be named, bursting into tears: IT HURTS MY FEELINGS WHEN YOU TELL ME THAT!

Child A: I’m pretending to be a super hero!
Child B: I WANTED TO BE A SUPER HERO!
Child A: OK! YOU CAN! DON’T YELL AT ME!
Child B: MOM! I’M BEING LEFT OUT AND THAT HURTS MY FEELINGS!

If you hadn’t noticed, we use a lot of caps around here. One day, out of partial craziness, I made up a song that says, “If you want to cry, poke yourself in the eye. But don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” They think it’s hilarious until I sing it to them, at which point it makes them cry. And sometimes one kid will recommend that I sing it to the other kid during a meltdown…which often makes it worse.

In any case, being up to the ceiling in drama, I’ve been trying to think of ways to bring it down. While some tears are legitimate, some of them are over things that aren’t really…well, Things. So I’ve been trying this lately, “Oh, babe, that’s not actually a Thing.” Like when I say it’s time to get shoes on to leave the house, and they start to fight me, I say in a totally pleasant voice, “oh, that’s not really a Thing. We aren’t actually going to fuss about that.” And I move on. And you know? Maybe it’s because they’re so surprised (or maybe it’s because I use The Force), but they move on too.

I’m not really recommending that you try this (but if you do and it works for your kid, let me know!), but I’m more writing about it because I think it’s hilarious that it works. Of course, if there’s a real issue, then we definitely take the time to work it through. But I’ve decided that those non issues are no longer Things.

For example, I’ve stopped asking my kids to clean up and help me set the table. They kept turning that into a Thing, and I was tired of fighting. So instead, it’s not a Thing anymore. I just call them to me and start a conversation, and in the course of the conversation, I hand them dinner plates and forks and cups, or piles of laundry and toys, casually directing where they are to go. And the times they’ve stopped talking long enough to fight with me, I simply tell them, “Oh this isn’t really a Thing. Take this to the table while you tell me more about Mario.” The art of distraction. Like a Ninja.

They’ve been fighting a lot lately too, and partially I think it’s just because they don’t know what to play next. Obviously there are fights I have to mediate. But doggone it, the fights born of boredom or plain old pettiness aren’t worth it, and learning all the sides doesn’t really help anything because they just want to be dramatic. So when that happens, it’s just not a Thing anymore. I’ll tell them, “Guys, we don’t treat each other that way in our family. We just don’t. It’s not ok to fight, and this isn’t going to be a Thing anymore. Don’t do it again.” And sometimes, like a miracle, it works. Sometimes it works just long enough for me to leave the room. But sometimes it really does work.

And eating. OH. MY. GOSH. One of my children has started crying, “I don’t like this! I never like this!” before I even have a chance to put it on the table. The list of vegetables I could use could be counted on one hand. I started missing them. Dreaming of them. Longing for them. So, it’s no longer a Thing around here. I cook with every vegetable that sounds good to me. Take that, tiny people! And when the whining starts about what they see on the table, I tell them, “Oh, we aren’t going to make this a Thing. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” I do have a stipulation here, though, which is I only cook one dinner, and yes, peanut butter sandwiches count as cooking. Oh, and dinner time is family time, not whiny, go away and play time. So they gotta sit with me while I thoroughly enjoy my food. Now, I know this may sound harsh, but I’ll tell you how it’s worked for us: they eat dinner every night. With me. With minimal whining. Sometimes there is a pile of unliked vegetables on a napkin next to their plate (but not ON their plate. Because that is sacrilegious). But they eat, and actually hardly any one complains anymore because they know my answer: Oh, this isn’t going to be a Thing. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.

Trust me when I say I’m not flippant about my kids’ feelings. But I realized that I’ve been feeding some drama through my responses, and often these are the dramas that don’t need to be Things anyway. And honestly, through saying this to my kids, I’ve realized some of my own Things that I have had to give up. Like the pouty attitude I get when Elena doesn’t nap as long as I’d like. Instead of getting grumpy and mulling over how much I couldn’t get done, I have to put my grown up pants on. This just isn’t a Thing, Kim. Or how unbearably long it takes us to get through a store. Sometimes I just want to sob all my feelings to the cashier because we’ve been there for three hours and I stood through a long line with three crying kids and I just realized I forgot the celery that my kids will pick out of their soup tonight. But I have been telling myself, “This doesn’t have to be a Thing, Kim.” Because it doesn’t. There are enough Things in life that are inevitable that I don’t need to make anymore for myself. And there are enough Things that my kids have to learn and grow through that I don’t have to allow unimportant stuff to become more Things.

I’ve been working to pare down our lives to what’s important and not. Fighting isn’t. Drama isn’t. Showing patience and boundaries is. So even if I refuse to take up some of the Things that my kids want to cry over, placing that boundary around us for next time is good for them. And good for my sanity. Because my sanity….well, that should be a Thing.

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The Clash of the Personalities

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There are some battles that I always determined to win. There are some that I always felt could be negotiable. And there are some that I never expected to fight, most of which I have come away waving the white flag.

I’m not sure how the thought escaped me that I may have a child with a very different personality than mine. In my beautiful, peaceful, serene dreams of parenthood before I ever had a baby, my children were always compatible with my personality. Sure, we would have to establish discipline and rules, but after that, we would always get along. Downright smooth sailing.

Enter: my child with a completely different personality than me.

If you’ve read any of my posts about muddling through discipline with my two year old, you may have picked up on this before I ever did. But once I realized it, life is a whole new world. Not usually always in an easy way, but now I’m trying to approach things differently to help us both to thrive instead of clash over and over and over.

Ok, I admit. We sometimes still clash over and over and over. But now I can approach the clashes (or aftermath) with some levelheadedness and solutions instead of feeling completely helpless. This is what I’m trying to do:

 

1. Realize my child is an individual, not an intentional source of conflict. This means that often the way she is acting is because she’s wired differently than me. Even though our personalities may clash, her actions and reactions aren’t necessarily always an attempt to buck my authority. In the same way that I may not understand why she reacts to something a certain way, she may not understand why I’m acting or disciplining this way either. This potential for misunderstanding has led to so many huge outbursts between us that could have been avoided had I stopped to remember that this approach is actually part of how she is wired. When I realize that she isn’t (always) trying to just be a little stink to me, then I can be more patient and gracious in how I respond.

2. Do my research. Once I realized that Norah is not only the namesake of my sister, but also her carbon copy, I was able to pinpoint so much of why we struggle. As kids, my sister and I fought like cats, but after we learned how to relate to each other in high school and adulthood, we have been able to become very close. I’ve spent several a long conversation with her on how her personality works, what makes it tick, and how to get through on a level that make sense and sticks. Knowing and understanding the aspects of a personality that seems to foreign to me has helped me to recognize when these triggers pop up and how to approach them so they don’t explode. There are quite a few books out there about how to determine your child’s personality, as well as free online Myers-Briggs and other types of personality tests. I’m planning to read and do some of these things as Norah gets older to help me better understand her as she solidifies more of her personality.

3. Realize the strengths of her personality, and celebrate and encourage them. Sometimes the strengths of another personality can show up in unmanaged or rough ways. Like a diamond that isn’t always beautiful in the middle of the rough, these strengths have to be worked on in order to be used well. Sometimes, they are downright frustrating to me because I don’t understand them well. But choosing to recognize them as strengths, instead of seeing them as conflict and trying to shut them down because they don’t match with my personality, allows me to invest in the person God created my child to be. Instead of creating patterns of frustration and negativity in her, I can encourage her to walk in her strengths within healthy boundaries. For example, it’s a big deal when she feels wronged. Not only does she outburst, but she wants the wrong to be righted. This can be a huge challenge when she is so focused on the wrong being atoned for, and it can be frustrating. Until I remember that it isn’t just that she wants it to be fixed, it’s that her personality is justice oriented. If I realize that being justice oriented can be an asset to her and that it also is accompanied by a bigger heart of compassion for those who are being wronged than any I could ever muster, then I can see the beauty of that diamond in the middle of the current rough and work toward drawing it out instead of throwing it out.

4. Discipline based on building character. I try to do this anyway, but with a conflicting personality, it helps me to focus on what to discipline for, instead of disciplining whenever we have a clash. We want to build solid, godly character into our kids – respect, responsibility, kindness, patience, a good work ethic, etc. Because this is our goal, we try to tailor our discipline for building those things, choosing character battles instead of, say, fashion or food battles. I never expected to have such a struggle over clothes and hair with my daughter – I always thought I would let her choose but still have the influence to help things, you know, match. But often we struggle because she wants to pick the thing that I specifically don’t want or like just because I don’t want or like it. This especially drove me crazy on Sundays. Seriously, who lets their daughter wear jeggings and tennis shoes with dress socks under a frilly pink dress, without combed hair to church? Me, apparently. I finally let go and don’t even give an opinion about her clothes anymore because it isn’t worth it. As long as her attitude toward me isn’t ugly or spiteful, I’ll wave my white flag for fashion and not even think about a time out for not wearing matching clothes to church. On the other hand, if she decides to scream ugly words at one of us, we discipline for treating us wrongly.

5. Recognize the pitfalls of my own personality, and work toward growth in those areas. There are so many things I struggle with, and the weaknesses of my own temperament are often exposed when we are in a conflict. Just because I’m the mom doesn’t mean I am always right or always deal with things rightly. I have to be careful not to teach my kids weakness in these areas as well. For example, I have a tendency to struggle with fear. My personality tends to look at things through a lens of disaster preparation. But to my wild and carefree two year old, my constant irrational warnings (“don’t climb on that, you can fall and get tangled and we’d have to call the fire department to cut you free!”) can implant a fearful tendency that would normally be absent in her personality. By seeing both of our strengths and weaknesses realistically, I can tailor my responses to help teach her strength in areas where where she is weak, and receive from her where she can really impart strength into my weaknesses. Because, honestly, I could really benefit from some of that wild and carefree spirit.

Walking in peace with our kids often means making sacrifices for them. Sacrificing our time and energy to learn about who they are and how they work can only be a benefit to our relationships and to their futures. It’s my goal to invest my heart into each of my children, tailoring my interactions with them to show them their value to me. So far each one is very different from me and from each other, but that just means we reap a beautiful complexity in our family, one that speaks volumes to a creative God. I want to encourage that complexity instead of stifle it and celebrate our differences instead of bemoan them. Even if that does mean going to church with dress socks with tennis shoes.

 

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When Fear Comes Knocking

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Tonight I’m going to write about something near but not so dear to my heart.

Fear.

It seems like the world has gone crazy over the last few years. Maybe it’s always been crazy and I just didn’t realize it, or maybe it’s a new feeling of crazy because now I have kids. The possibilities of death and disease and kidnapping and abuse that could snatch my children away from me are overwhelming. And, to be honest, can be quite paralyzing. If I let myself think for even two minutes about the ways the world can grab my kids, I end up on the twisty slide of horrible fear. It starts as that gripping feeling in the pit of my stomach, and much like heartburn, travels it’s way up my chest and throat, and eventually springs out my eyes as a gush of uncontrollable tears.

Anyone else know what I’m talking about?

Now I talk about this because I deal with it, not because I’ve overcome it. Fear trots alongside me like that obnoxious stray dog who thinks it’ll get fed if it sticks around long enough. And to be sure, each time I glance down to make sure it’s still there, I encourage it to get a little closer and a little closer. If I’m not actively sending it away, it becomes my constant companion.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but fear steals. It steals the joy of the moment because our thoughts are consumed with the future. It steals peace because our hearts are intent on living in a scenario where there is no peace. It steals thankfulness because all we can think about is what we don’t have in that imaginary scenario. Be it sickness or death or separation, or whatever, we imagine a situation where we are without. Without peace, without love, without joy, without comfort, without hope, without life.

But wait, aren’t we robbing ourselves of those things when we give our minds and hearts over to fear anyway? If my mind is there instead of here, what is filling it? That peaceless, loveless, joyless, hopeless scenario that may never come true.

See, God is really, really good at giving us grace for our circumstances. But He doesn’t ever give us grace for the ones that are not here. Why would He give me the grace to handle a situation that I’m imagining? Here’s the flipside to that: every time I let fear plant a what-if in my mind, I imagine the worst. I imagine a scenario that lacks God’s grace to carry me through. That’s what fear, and our old enemy, wants to do. To plant a seed of distrust in our hearts: if ______ comes true, God will not carry me through it.

But dear friends, that is the old lie. I struggle to remember and to set my heart on this truth: that if we or our children encounter any of the horrible things happening, be it sickness or death or pain or suffering, the grace of God will wrap around our hurting shoulders and carry us through the thick of the suffering. God doesn’t give us grace for the imaginations of our fearful hearts, but He does give us grace for the real struggles we do and will face.

When two of our good friends died from cancer, battling long and hard against it, I watched as God’s insurmountable grace carried both families. This nightmare was horrific, but God had not abandoned them. In the middle of all my fears, I have to remember that God will not abandon me either.

I can’t answer exactly why God allows terrible things to happen. But instead of dwelling on the why, I can look to the overwhelming evidence that He remains present to get us through them.

So to the fears that pile up against me, to that stray dog I abhor, to that rising feeling of panic that I despise, I turn my back. When fear comes knocking at my door, I’m learning to let Jesus answer it. There should be no room in my heart for them, only for the peace that comes with knowing my Savior, and the joy that comes from His grace for the present.

 

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Practice Makes Better

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You know what I hate? Anyone want to take a guess?

Cabbage. Swiss Chard. Herbal Tea. Feeling thirsty.

I also hate the phrase “Practice makes perfect.” If you know me at all, you know I’m a recovering perfectionist. It wasn’t until I had kids that I broke down and started letting God deal with my perfectionism (because I started to drive myself crazy trying to be perfect AND be a mother! Can those two things even go in a sentence together?).

But back to that phrase. Can I explain why this is the perfectionist’s nightmare? It gives the illusion that perfection is attainable. While it is impossible for someone to actually be perfect, this saying, something that I said to myself over and over growing up and something that is often said to kids who are trying to learn a new skill, makes you think that someday you will arrive. If you just try hard enough, work long enough, strive enough, pressure yourself or others enough, have high enough standards, or give enough, you will be able to attain that perfection. The clincher is that no matter how much “enough” you get to, you will never actually arrive. You will never be perfect.

Devastating.

Sometimes I see seeds of perfectionism growing in my kids. They’re holding themselves to some kind of standard that is unreasonable and can’t be reached. When this happens, it’s like I see myself in a miniature body, and it’s not the “Myself” I always wanted in my kids. One day we had a serious all-out meltdown because Micah couldn’t copy the drawing of a face exactly like the example. It literally ruined his day. You know what was wrong with it? The ears were lower than the original.

See, one problem with perfectionism is that it completely halts any kind of growth. Instead of being able to see that this drawing was an opportunity to learn more about art, or that the ears being lower could even be a nice change to the picture, perfectionism pointed the failure finger and slammed the growth door in Micah’s face.

When I allow perfectionism to actively participate in my life and into our home, we get hung up on what isn’t happening – the house isn’t getting clean enough, the kids aren’t reading enough, we aren’t getting outside enough, I’m not reading the Bible to them enough, we aren’t eating enough healthy food. They aren’t picking up toys often enough, they aren’t getting along enough, they aren’t responding to me nicely enough. Enough, enough, enough! Instead of getting hung up on what is good and right in our family, seeing hiccups and speed bumps and potholes as areas for tangible growth, we let the walls close in. We get tunnel vision and we begin to feel the pressure to meet some kind of standard that a normal, healthy, godly family is never called to reach.

For example, I aim for willing obedience from my kids.
My perfectionism aims for them never needing grace.

I aim for consistency in patience and kindness toward my family.
My perfectionism aims for never having days when my patience is tried or I don’t feel kindness.

I aim for teaching my kids to take chances in learning and growing.
My perfectionism aims for my kids trying something once and doing it right thereafter.

See the difference? Allowing perfectionism to seep into my kids’ lives from my own expectations creates stress, unneeded pressure, and all around misery. Because I don’t want this lifestyle, I’ve been trying to change. For example, for my own sanity, I’ve decidedly given up writing to-do lists. This might sound funny to you, but it feeds my perfectionistic pride to have a huge list of to-dos and to cross them off. Crossing them all off means I had a perfectly productive day. Leaving even one shows that I failed to accomplish. Sounds ridiculous, right? It is utterly ridiculous. Which is why I refuse to indulge it anymore. With my kids, I allow mess, like letting them cook with me and getting flour everywhere. And letting them paint or pour liquids or fold laundry in the way that they choose. Today Norah so willingly helped me fold a huge basket of laundry, and it took everything within me not to refold each piece she handed me. Instead of refolding them, I took the opportunity to teach her how to do it, and even though it wasn’t “right,” it was folded. Kind of.

I also try not to compliment them by saying things like “That’s the best picture you’ve ever drawn!” or “That was the funniest joke I’ve ever heard!” Guess what? Those kinds of compliments imply that they’ve arrived. If that was the best picture ever, the pressure is too great to keep working at it to get better. How can they compete with the best picture ever? Or on the flip side, if they’ve already done the best, then why even work for it again?

I know they don’t consciously think through compliments that deep, but I’m trying to feed their hearts and minds with a growth mentality, not a stagnant mentality.* If I say, “Wow! That is a really good picture!” I still fulfill the desire to be praised for a job well done, without giving them an unnecessary standard they have to meet or exceed next time. Investing in a growth mentality means that I feed their desire to keep going, keep learning, and keep taking the chances to succeed. They won’t be as afraid of failure because a less-than picture isn’t being measured against the already-perfect picture from before. Failure isn’t debilitating because their learning plane isn’t reaching for the highest heights, only to crash to the lowest lows when something isn’t just right.

Yes, some perfectionism and fear of failure is part of personality. It is in me. But that doesn’t mean we have to be stuck in it. If anyone understands the struggle against perfectionism, I do, and I’m willing to do what it takes to help my kids not be paralyzed by its unreasonable standards. And the beautiful thing is, by them simply being around, they’re helping me learn the same thing.

*This idea of growth vs. stagnant mentalities comes from the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but what I have read has rocked my little perfectionistic mind.

 

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Discipline: Round 3000. FIGHT!

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

From the red corner, weighing in at four hours of sleep and three cups of coffee, we have Mom. Seasoned and known for her quick “NO!” jabs right into the middle of unexpected situations. She anticipates her oppontents’ moves and is best on the defensive, adept at keeping her feet pacing the periphery.

From the blue corner, weighing in at eight hours of sleep and sugar from Grandma, we have the Kids. Known for their element of surprise, they easily take down Mom by pulling out stunts that she’s never seen before. Their art of distraction gives them the upper hand by taking Mom’s focus off the center of the problem.

Ok, ok. I honestly don’t view my general interactions with the kids as a fight. But I wanted to share a recent experience that we’ve had with them that genuinely felt like a caged fight every single day.

After Elena was born, the kids did beautifully. They seemed to adjust with such minor hiccups, and I was so thankful. That’s why I think it took me by surprise when, after several weeks, our lives flew up into chaos. Suddenly it was like we had never taught our kids to obey what we asked, and they pulled out these ridiculously crazy stunts – both physical and emotional – that left us standing there with our hair blown back and crazy in our eyes because we didn’t even know what hit us.

Between lack of sleep for everyone (maybe I should mention that our 4 and 2 year olds still don’t sleep through the night?) and all of the emotions and adjustments for us as parents, Davy and I didn’t realize it, but we had grown lax in our discipline. Not just lax, but inconsistent. We would discipline for something one time and then, instead of doing it again the second time, we would give a warning or a verbal rebuke because we were either too tired or didn’t want to discipline again. It felt like that was all we were doing all day long!

Out of desperation, Davy and I had almost nightly conversations about what the heck was happening to our children. Nothing we tried worked. Then I stumbled upon this blog post and it opened my eyes: my kids weren’t the “problem.” Our inconsistency was the problem. They weren’t trying to wreak havoc on our lives, but suddenly the rules seemed to have changed: where once the things we disciplined for were very clear and understood, now they were muddled, and if done in just the right way, the kids could get away with whatever they wanted. Where once the expectations for their behavior were simple and upheld, now they were confusing because ugly behavior wasn’t being called out. There was fighting like never before. There was hurting each other like we’d never experienced. There were frustration levels at new heights for all of us.

We had forgotten the most important element of discipline. Every single time we didn’t follow through, we undermined our own authority.

Let me give you a basic example. I would say something like, “Don’t get out of your seat during dinner,” and one or both of them would get out. Obviously, they had heard me. Instead of following through on my request, I would have a conversation with them as they wandered around the room or started playing or drawing. See what I did? I just showed them that my requests aren’t important enough to listen to. No, it’s not a big thing, and often I didn’t enforce it because I didn’t want to make it a big thing. But because I didn’t enforce it, that little thing added up with a bunch of other little things to make a big habit of thinking, “There’s no consequence for ignoring Mom’s request.”

This is where the yelling came in. I’d tell them to stay in their seats, have conversations or play with them while they disobeyed, all the while telling them to get back in their seats, then finally use my mad voice because they weren’t freakin’ getting back in their seats. Only then would they jump to action.

Oh duh. Of course they aren’t going to get into their seats the first time! By not following through right away, I showed them that they get to have an extra 10 minutes of play time while I casually ask them to get back in their seats before they get in trouble for disobeying. What kid in their right mind would willingly give up 10 extra minutes of playing in favor of sitting still on a hard chair and eating broccoli?

Somehow I thought all the warnings were me being nice to them. I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s not being nice to them! A funny thing about kids is that they feel more secure within defined boundaries. If they know that when I say something, I mean it, and if they disobey, they get this specific consequence, they feel more in control and more willing to obey. They have a very clear choice. If they don’t know exactly when Mom is going to mean it and when she is going to blow her top, they push the boundaries over and over and over trying to figure out where they are. The fight will happen every time because the boundaries may not be in the same place that they were yesterday.

When Davy and I realized that we were undermining our own authority by being so inconsistent, we took several steps to turn the tide back in our home. First, we established together what we would discipline for. Did it matter if they did that thing? Was it life threatening? Does that thing matter in shaping their character, not just their behavior? We tried to keep it simple enough for everyone to remember, especially me with new-mom brain. Then we sat the kids down and explained that our home was feeling out of control. We gave them examples, and we showed how this kind of behavior from everyone (including ourselves) brought chaos instead of peace to our family. We talked about what kind of a family we want to be – kind, loving, and examples of God’s love to each other. Then we outlined exactly what would happen if they disobeyed, and yes, I mean literally. If they did —–, they would get —– consequence. We had one for each infraction, and we lovingly told them they would get no second chances until we reestablished obedience in our home.

Guess what? For the first time in weeks, I could count the number of screaming, thrashing fights on one hand. It took considerable energy from me at first because I was retraining myself in being faithful to discipline. So many times I wanted to let something slide because I was too exhausted to go deal with it! But I’ll tell you what, the fruit of being so consistent and reestablishing that Mom means what she says was completely worth the initial exhaustion. And when Davy came home at night and showed them that Dad means what he says, and that Mom and Dad can’t be pitted against each other, we began to see peace peeking through the dark thunderheads.

Yes, my kids disobey often. I still have my hands full disciplining every single day because, as long as I have small children, we will always be working through something. But the disobedience is nothing like it was. Now my word means something again. Now I don’t have to bring out the consequences all day long, and I don’t have to use my mad voice either.

I was reading in Psalms the other day (side note: busy moms, do yourself a favor and read this post on daily Bible reading. It revolutionized my view on it and took away so much guilt for not having more time!) and I stopped full force on this one verse:

Trust in The Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Psalm 37:3

Befriend faithfulness. Being faithful in discipline isn’t easy, and it isn’t something we just do. Like making a new friend, we have to work at it. We aren’t best friends with someone we had coffee with once. It’s only after being acquainted with them over and over do we really allow them to be part of our lives and hearts. Being consistent to follow through, faithfully doing what we need to do to shape our kids’ hearts, gets easier the more we intentionally implement it in our lives. So grab your spouse and take faithfulness out for coffee. Befriend consistency. She’s a valuable advocate to have in your corner.

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Love Covers

I took a poetry class in college that was a crossover graduate/undergraduate class. One of the graduate students came in with the tiniest poem one day, and we were supposed to workshop it. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember the poem. It went like this:

Love,
Please bury me
In this hole.*

There may or may not have been more to this poem, but that part always stuck with me. We conversed the entire class about how even though the title of the poem was “Love,” the rest of the poem was anything but loving.

And a couple of days ago (yes, apparently that poem had a huge affect on me), that got me thinking about Love as a concept. We expect Love to be something we feel, and often it is. Falling in love, loving my coffee, I love this weather, Love of my Life, Can you feel the love tonight?, I love you Mommy, I love you more.

But Love isn’t always a feeling to me. Sometimes I just can’t muster up the tenderness that we associate with motherhood. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I really, really can. But sometimes….like when I’m being spit up on while one kid calls for help from the stinky bathroom and another starts screaming about being alone? I can’t really feel it in that moment. Or when I’m trying so hard to just get dinner on the table and I’m being followed by the whine crew and fit throwers? Nope. How about when the kids conveniently forget how to obey? Hmmm, not those times either.

This brings me exactly to where the poem left me. Love wasn’t feeling anything. Love was asked to do something. It reminds me of that verse in 1 Peter, which says, “love covers a multitude of sin.” In the back of my mind, I used to kind of imagine that verse meaning that if I love someone enough, that feeling of love would always “cover” the bumps in our relationship, like laying a blanket over a fire. Everything would be ok because, hey, we love each other.

Oh, little naivete, how sweet.

No, my friends. This verse isn’t talking about sweet feelings of Love, just like that poem wasn’t. This verse means that Love actually does. And what’s the action? Love covers.

Uhh…what?

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean Love glosses over a sin and makes everything ok. It doesn’t mean that Love ignores the wrong and covers up a problem. It doesn’t mean that Love puts up with an ongoing sin because it’s trying to hide the fact that there’s an issue. It definitely doesn’t mean Love is passive aggressive.

It does mean that Love, contrary to being a sweet feeling, is an active participant in a relationship. It actively seeks to forgive.

Love covers.

It means that Love closes the record book and wipes the scorecard clean.

Love covers.

It means that Love pursues peace and restoration of relationship.

Love covers.

It means that Love hopes and believes over again.

Love covers.

It means that Love is patient and kind in her patience.

Love covers.

It means that Love speaks out of humility.

Love covers.

It means that Love chooses to not be selfish.

Love covers.

Much like when we put our kids to bed, pulling up the covers to tuck them in and kissing them goodnight, Love decidedly looks our relationships in the eye and declares its steadfastness. Love covers because its nature is tenacious, fighting for the good of our relationships. Love covers because its nature is tenderness, gathering us back to restoration.

Sometimes I don’t feel a river of love flowing out of me. But that’s ok because that’s not the depths of what Love is. Love is an action, and when we act rightly toward our kids in the middle of their temper tantrums, we allow Love to cover their sin. When we act rightly in the middle of the argument with our husbands or wives, we allow Love to cover their sin. And when they act rightly toward us, they allow Love to cover ours.

So next time our children throw themselves on the floor screaming or say something that hurts our hearts so bad it stings, let’s actively turn from our knee-jerk reaction and act rightly toward them.

Let’s remember. Love Covers.

*I honestly don’t remember the name of the student who wrote this poem, but if you know her, by the most random chance in the world, please tell me so I can credit her properly!

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