I’ve been at this parenting gig for awhile now. Not long enough to call myself an expert, but definitely long enough to feel like I’ve got a handle on a few things. Of course, I’ve got a teenager now, and a tween right behind him, so on any given day I pretty much feel like I’m winging it in some way or another.
Besides that, however, I’m pretty sure I’m nailing this motherhood thing. AS IF IT’S HARD!
Every once in awhile, though, I’m thrown for a loop, and it’s usually by something fairly benign. Sometimes the old lessons that I feel like I should have mastered come back to bite me in the backside, and I find myself back at square one, looking at all these small people and wondering why there are so many of them and what on this side of heaven could they possibly want from me?!
My 11-year-old is currently obsessed with making slime – making homemade slime in one of my tupperware dishes. And what does one do with homemade slime, you might ask?
Well, I asked the same question and I got “the look”. You know…the look that kids throw your way that make it ten shades of obvious you are completely clueless to anything really important in life. It’s the look that says you should probably just go ahead and give up, because clearly you are failing at life.
“You play with it, Mom,” she answered, and I felt like I needed to apologize for even asking the question. “It’s very satisfying.”
Then she had me stick my hands in the slime and squish it around, and…okay yes, the way it rolled through my fingers was kind of satisfying.
Then she took her tub of slime to her room, and I stared at the aftermath and felt my blood begin to boil ever so slightly, because making slime is a messy endeavor. It involves Borax and shaving cream and glue, and then you throw in food coloring, because obviously. And you top it off with glitter because everyone knows that the world spins on an axis of glitter.
The agreement we’d struck in this whole “slime making” ordeal was that she had to clean up after herself, and she did that as well as any 11-year-old would, which means there were faint streaks of shaving cream spanning the width of the table, half dried drips of glue running down the sides of the chair, and Borax crystals crunching beneath my feet.
But the piece de resistance was the glitter that now permanently resides in the cracks of my table. My brand new table. The table that Lee and I spent actual dollars on for the first time in our adult lives. Every table before this one was a hand me down. The last table was in such bad condition that it became a hazard to anyone who attempted to sit at it.
But this new table is a gem, and now it sparkles. Hot pink sparkles, to be exact.
My initial reaction was indignation. I mean, how dare she?! Why couldn’t she be more careful? WHY DID SHE NEED TO MAKE SLIME IN THE FIRST PLACE?!
So many questions, none of them with decent answers, and as I set to trying to remove as much of the glitter as I could the two year old came tearing by me, belly laughing at the top of her lungs while her brother chased close behind.
“Hi Mommy!” she yelled as she ran past, and then she crashed into the end table where someone had left a cup of lemonade, which immediately spilled and scattered across the floor I had mopped just moments earlier.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to erase all the glitter, and silence all the noise, and dump slime over all the heads, then drink wine and eat ice cream and wallow in my own self pity.
I opened my mouth to let out a sigh of frustration, but then I caught her eyes. They were big and wide, and full of toddler remorse, and it stopped me in my tracks.
I felt suddenly so foolish because hadn’t I already learned this lesson 100 times over? Don’t I know that these children don’t keep – that they grow and suddenly they’re not into slime, but boys and makeup and trendy clothes?
I knelt down in front of her and gave her a big hug, squishing her soft cheek against mine because it sinks in and feels so sweet. She threw her arms around my neck and squeezed hard, then kissed me straight on the mouth.
“I wuv you!” she yelled, then off she ran again while I pulled out a rag to mop up the lemonade that was sure to make our feet stick for days.
And now I’m sitting at my table alone. The kids are all in bed, and I’m here typing out the story of a day when I had to relearn the lesson that babies don’t keep, and that spilled lemonade isn’t worth losing my cool.
And while I write, the table sparkles in the glowing lights, flecks of pink glitter lighting up the cracks right in front of my eyes.
We are now one month into Donald Trump’s presidency, and it has been a heckuva ride so far, hasn’t it? The world is alive with noise right now, everyone jockeying to make their opinions known, fighting to prove their “rightness” and everyone else’s “wrongness.”
And along for the ride, bouncing in the wake of this political madness, are our children. Young and old, they’re watching and listening, and make no mistake, they are trying to figure out their place in this crazy world.
I’ve seen a number of disturbing posts and articles from parents lamenting their fear at raising children under a Donald Trump presidency. While I can certainly empathize with these sentiments, the truth is they baffle me.
Parents, why are we afraid? Now is not the time for fear, but for action, and what better way to exact change in this world than by raising strong, confident children who care well for the needs of others?
Here are 3 Keys to Raising Confident Kids in a Contentious World
1.) Have Age Appropriate Conversations About Politics
My seventh grader is currently learning about Individual and Civil Rights in his Civics class at school.
“I have the right to say whatever I want!” he boldly proclaimed at the dinner table the other night. “It’s my freedom of speech. I can say anything because it’s my natural, individual right.”
Ah, seventh grade is fun, isn’t it? Sometimes I have to remind myself of how cute he was as a toddler so I don’t throttle him now as a teenager.
“Yes,” I responded, my voice sugary sweet. “You do have the right to say what you want. And I have the right to take your phone away if I deem your speech hurtful or inappropriate.”
I had to bite my lip to keep from ending my comeback with a good old fashioned, “BOOM! Take that sucka!”
Because my first-born is older now, we’re able to have deeper conversations about what’s happening in the world and how we should be responding. He’s privy to a little more information because he’s old enough now to process it, and to dialogue with us through it all.
My nine-year-old, however, is still a little boy. He doesn’t need to hear everything that I perceive to be wrong with our nation and the world. He’s not ready to process that information, so I don’t share my every concern with him.
Our kids are bombarded with enough messages on a day to day basis. Let’s not fill them with undue and unnecessary fears over political messages that we may or may not agree with.
2.) Teach Them to Be Kind
Most parents are already doing this. It’s a pretty second nature response when we have children. From a very young age, we admonish them to share with others, to speak kindly, to treat one another with gentleness, and so on.
That training has to continue, though, and as the children grow into young people we need to change our tactics.
We need to be teaching our older children to be kind to those who may think or feel differently about things than they do. Basic kindness may already be ingrained into their youthful hearts, but grace toward others is a skill that needs to be honed over a lifetime.
Today’s youth are bombarded with messages from the world, and social media takes the nuance out of difficult discussions. We need to work with our kids to help them navigate conversations, both online and off, with kindness.
3.) Show Don’t Tell
When I was a senior at Baylor, I took a class called Writing for the Popular Market. Our only assignment for the year was the write the first draft of a novel.
Every week, we met at a local coffee shop (there were only six of us), and we exchanged papers, reading and editing one another’s stories. And over and over in the editing process, our professor would repeat the same basic principle of writing:
Show, don’t tell.
Don’t just tell the reader what happened, show her. Give her the action that paints a mental picture.
The same is true for parenting. We can talk to our kids until we’re blue in the face, but our actions will have a greater impact than our words.
So let’s show them how to care for others, how to put the needs of our neighbors (both near and far) above ourselves.
Raising children in this contentious time feels like a gigantic hurdle, but really this time is no different than any other in history. Now is not the time to fear for our children, but rather to dig in and fight for them. And that fight starts at home.
What are your thoughts? How are you working to raise confident children in a contentious world?
There’s so much good stuff happening right now: books releasing, speaking engagements, book signings, school starting, toddlers talking – all of it is awesome. But it’s also all really overwhelming.
Currently, I am caught in the vortex of necessary work, which isn’t nearly as fun as spinning in the vortex of creatively inspired work. Launching books requires a different set of skills – the skills that don’t come as comfortably or naturally to this creative mama.
Marketing myself? Oh, how I hate it. And yet, it’s a necessary part of the writer’s job. Lately, however, I’ve been missing the art. I miss the craft of writing. But with little time in my busy days to dive back into it, I’m looking for other ways to feed my creative soul.
Because if the creativity doesn’t work its way out, I just might break down.
This is a common theme among creative mothers. We love our art, but the time in which to divulge in it is minimal, particularly when there are young children at home. I spoke to one creative mother a few weeks ago who confided that despite having consistent free time in her days with all her children finally in school, she still found it difficult to tap into the fullness of her creativity.
“I get them on the bus, then head to my craft room, and I just stare at the supplies. I finally have the time I need, but I’m feeling entirely uninspired.”
Oh, it’s a tightrope, this life of creativity and mothering. We inch our way along, at times completely unable to indulge in art at all, because motherhood takes up all the time.
And there are other times when the cracks of our days lengthen into wider spaces of free time, and the art won’t flow – such a cruel joke.
So what are we to do?
Here are a few tips for the creative who isn’t feeling creative
1.) Don’t Force It
The days that I most enjoy my family are the days that I don’t wake up demanding artistic perfection from myself. When I accept that there simply won’t be time to squeeze in the art, I can focus fully on the kids without an ounce of guilt.
I am a writer – that’s what I do. I’m not a decorator or a baker. I can’t sew a button on a shirt, and though I love singing, I cannot create music on my own. My gift lies almost solely in words. But what do I do when the words won’t come?
I look for other ways to let the art out.
I’m not a good photographer, but I like trying my hand at it. My favorite artistic expression outside of writing is through the camera. No one will be paying me for my photos anytime soon (or ever, for that matter), but the simple act of pulling my camera out and playing around can unlock the words in mighty ways.
Some days, inspiration hits and the time to create is magically present. Those days are a gift, and I cherish them. But they’re rare.
Most days are a little more parsed out. Wallowing in frustration doesn’t help anyone, so I simply take heart in my ability to do something. Maybe it’s post a picture on Instagram, or perhaps I have time to punch out a blog post. Maybe I can manage nothing more than a few necessary emails, or maybe I’ll have time to work on my next book.
At the end of this life, I want to look back without regret. I’ll see seasons of life that were all mothering, and seasons that gave way to the art. But I’m certain I’ll not look back and see a life that somehow balanced it all.
And that’s okay.
In just one short month, my second book hits bookshelves!
This happens every four years. The greatest sports competition in the world takes the stage, and I forget to sleep for two weeks. I try to be a responsible adult, and I tell myself over and over that I won’t stay up and watch every event, but I’m a sucker for human interest stories, and the Olympics drags me kicking and screaming into the arena.
United States’ Simone Biles bites her gold medal for the artistic gymnastics women’s individual all-around final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
We’re a week into this event, and I’ve got the bags under my eyes to prove it, but it’s been worth it to cheer on the athletes. Plus, it’s provided a tiny bit of motivation to get back to the gym and actually put in a modicum of effort.
Because when you watch the sacrifices these athletes have made, it sort of obliterates any excuses one may have to skip that extra round of crunches.
Last night, I watched once again as athlete after athlete finished first, second, third…
I watched Michael Phelps smoke the field in the 200 IM. I watched Simone Biles soar to the top of the podium in what I’d call her destiny (if I believed in destiny).
And I blinked back tears as so many of them rushed into the stands to hug their moms after it was all said and done.
Parenting children is the ride of a lifetime.
We know everything about these kids of ours, from their greatest strengths to the weaknesses that threaten to hold them back, and we walk the razor thin line of knowing when to push, and when to step away.
We make mistakes along the way, and we will always wish we did something better. At the end of the day, most of us know we won’t watch our children get a gold medal hung around their necks.
But all of us, without doubt, will watch as our children navigate the world of growing up. We’ll cheer them on from the sidelines of life, sometimes with our hands over our eyes, waiting with bated breath to see just how far they’ll go.
I didn’t realize how much I loved silence until I didn’t have it.
There is a cacophony of sound that thrums it’s way through the walls of my home from very early until very late. Laughter, whining, shrieks of delight, cries of frustration, music, television, arguing, playing, balls bouncing, and the list could go on. It starts often before the sun rises, and stops long after she tucks back below the horizon.
And I feel like I’m losing my mind.
Summertime means an uptick in the sound, and that’s okay. For the most part, I welcome this noise. It’s all signs of life. I’m not so overwhelmed as to miss the blessing in the messy music of my family, but every once in awhile I dream of running away. Far, far away…
We spent a full week on vacation. Six of us crammed into one small hotel room, one small rental car, one short window of time. It was truly a lovely week. My kids are growing into wonderful people, and I can look back on our week together and think of so much joy, which buried the few moments of stress. Yay us!
But we’re home now, and they’re still on summer break, and it’s just so noisy!
The irony of this is that I am currently sitting at my kitchen table in a completely silent house. Everyone is still asleep, and somehow I’ve been afforded these few solitary moments to myself…and I don’t quite know what to do with all this silence.
Of course these quiet moments came with a price, as I was awakened at 3:30 this morning by a fussy toddler, and I never went back to sleep.
Please send coffee.
As I sit here, I keep hearing little bumps and creaks as the house groans her way into a new day, and each time a noise pops, I look around wildly, waiting for someone to come out and shatter the quiet.
It’s sort of like motherhood PTSD – every little noise makes me cringe.
Maybe I’m not alone in this. Maybe you feel the same way? Perhaps you long for just a few solitary moments of quiet in the midst of bustling, nonstop days. Surely I’m not the only one who finds herself escaping to the closet a few times each day just to block out the noise.
So what do we do? Because the prevailing theme of motherhood is that we should enjoy these fleeting days because they go by fast. I don’t deny that. My oldest is a teenager now. I blinked my eyes, and he was suddenly as tall as me. I know these days are fleeting. But let’s be honest – a day that starts at 3:30 drags on forever. And ever and ever and ever…
And so, I write this one to those of you who are longing for silence amidst the fleeting days of parenting. What can you do?
Not forever, of course. Running away from home would be frowned upon. But you can escape for a few minutes, if not for a few days.
Turn off your phone. Eliminate the noise of the world. Close the door to your bedroom. Close your eyes, and just breath in the silence.
The children will find you, of course. It’s inevitable. But you’d be amazed at the calming power of a few moments of silence.
And when the kids finally go back to bed and you crawl beneath the sheets, embrace the silence for however long it lasts. Because someday, it will last much longer than you like.
I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in our household as of late.
My children are content with being simply mediocre. When asked to complete a task, they accomplish the bare minimum, pat themselves on the back, then ask if they can turn on the television.
I’d like to blame this on summertime, but I don’t really think I can do that. This was going on before the lazy days of summer vacation settled upon us. Everything from schoolwork to athletics has fallen under the category of mediocre.
A few weeks ago, we had a heart-to-heart, the kids and I, about this particular issue. I made a reasonable request of them – Clean out the minivan. Sounds simple, right?
Only what you must understand is that our minivan is like a tiny, traveling landfill. I think I’m doing okay in parenting until I step into the back seat of the van, and then I realize I’m just raising cave people.
WHY IS THERE A MOLDED SANDWICH BACK THERE?!
So, I asked them to clean it out, and they did. Barely. They cleaned out the obvious, easily visible trash, but never bothered to reach under or between the seats. I kind of didn’t blame them, because I wasn’t entirely sure creatures weren’t living in those dark crevices, but COME ON!
That was our first discussion about accomplishing tasks well. Doing things right the first time, and with excellence applies to everything, even cleaning out the minivan.
Of course, I said this after I had gone into the depths of the van after them and actually cleaned it. In the process I found a missing iPod, seven dollars, and a picture of myself from high school, which was a rather curious find.
It may have been the ghost of my past mocking me.
I realized that day that this life skill of doing things with excellence isn’t going to come naturally. I’m not sure this is a problem unique to our family. It’s something that has to be taught, and I’ve not done them justice.
I’ve avoided the confrontation, and now I’ve got my work cut out for me. Because this spirit of mediocrity has bled over into other areas of life than just their inability to actually clean a room (or van).
My athletic kids are suddenly less concerned with excelling. They want to win, and they long for the accolades that come with their accomplishments, but they aren’t working for them.
Schoolwork is equally challenging. They are content to do the bare minimum in order to cross things off their list. Going above and beyond what was asked of them provokes looks of confusion when suggested.
And while A’s are nice, B’s and C’s aren’t so bad, either.
Truthfully, I have no problem with a B, or with second place, if I know you put your heart into working for it.
But if you just settled for it? Now we have problem, kids.
In college, I spent a semester studying in Kiev, Ukraine. I was enrolled in a Russian language program at The Institute for Foreign Languages, and my teacher, Olga Yurevna, was one of the most terrifying people I’ve ever met.
The first day of class, I joined seven other students in her beginning Russian class. They were all from China, and I was the token blonde-headed, All American girl. That night, she told us to go home and translate and memorize a passage of text that she had written down on the board.
The next day, when we returned, she pointed to a boy in the corner. He had longer hair, and sat slumped down in his chair. He was begging for her wrath.
“Recite line 8 of the passage for me,” she demanded. He shook his head.
“I don’t know it,” he replied.
She didn’t speak to him the rest of the semester. THE SEMESTER!
That was the day that I learned what it means to do something with excellence. Never before had I been in an environment that demanded perfection. It was slightly terrifying, but after four months I was nearly fluent in Russian because of Olga Yurevna’s high expectations.
Now, I know I can’t freeze my kids out for four months if they don’t meet my expectations, but perhaps there’s something to be learned from my experience in Ukraine. I rose to the occasion because I understood the demands, and because it was obvious that falling short was not an option.
We’ve got our work cut out for us around here, and these kids of mine may be in for a few unpleasant months. But I refuse to raise children who grow into adults who are content with mediocrity.
This year, we are in pursuit of excellence.
So, you know…add us to your prayer list. *wink*
How do you cultivate a spirit of excellence in your home?