3 Keys to Raising Confident Children in a Contentious World

3 Keys to Raising Confident Children in a Contentious World

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?

We’re all Aly Raisman’s Parents, and We All Deserve a Hug

The Olympics are killing me.

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)

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.

Let’s face it – We’re all Aly Raisman’s parents. Some of us mask it better, but all of us feel like a nervous wreck at times watching our kids grow up.

Today is a shout out to all the awesome parents who are doing the hard work. This is for the parents who are pushing their kids to succeed, and the ones who are cringing when they fall short.

This is for the parents who are wondering if they’re not doing enough, and for those who feel like they’re pushing too hard.

This is for all of us who are trying to do the best that we can, wishing we had a crystal ball to give us the outcome and save us so much emotional stress.

This is for the parents of potential Olympians, future business leaders, possible missionaries, someday stay-at-home moms, and young men who will work hard to provide for their families.

This is for all of us raising kids in a world that feels scary and dangerous.

Maybe we will cheer them on to gold someday, or maybe we won’t. Either way, we’re doing a heckuva a job. 

We will all deserve a great big hug at the end of this road.

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Raising World Changers

I was twenty-five years old, a brand new mom, and I rolled slowly to a stop in front of her house. I picked up my weeks old baby boy and walked to the front door, loaded down with an overstuffed diaper bag, several blankets, and a deep need for someone to tell me I would survive.

When Laura opened the door, she whisked the baby from my arms and bounced up and down with him while I set up the pack and play in a nearby bedroom. Once he was settled and sleeping peacefully, little bum up in the air, she and I sat on the couch, and we just talked.

Her kids were all off at school, and for the first time since she’d become a mom herself, she had extended periods of time alone. Her youngest had just begun first grade, and now all three were in school full days. She and I were both in transition.

Laura was looking at her free time and evaluating how she would fill it. Would she go back to work? Would she get another degree? Would she stay home? She had a lot of options, and just as I was adjusting to life with a newborn, she was adjusting to life with quiet spaces.

For the next eight years, Laura and her husband, Tom, would pour faithfully into Lee and I. They, and another couple at our church who also had children one step ahead of ours, were instrumental in our understanding of what it looks like to raise children in a Christ-centered home.

In fact, outside of our own parents, the greatest impact on our lives since we’ve been married has come from the Hughes and Krosley families.

StuartHughes

Last night, Lee and I and the kids sat in front of the TV and watched, sometimes with tears in our eyes, as Tom and Laura’s youngest son, the little boy who had just started first grade on that day so long ago, stood up on a stage and received the Wendy’s Heisman award. 

We were as proud as we possibly could have been.

Not just of Zach, though of course we’re proud of him. He’s grown from a squirrelly little boy into a young man who looks out for the needs of others, and who is one of the hardest working kids we’ve ever known.

But we were also so proud of Tom and Laura. They’ve raised three amazing kids – kids who aren’t just talented, though every single one of them are just that – but they’re also kind, loving, giving, humble, smart, and hard working.

I can boast the same things of Kevin and Pam Krosley, the other couple to mentor us through the early stages of parenting. Their (five!) kids are growing into amazing, talented, godly young people who look out for the needs of others. They’re raising world changers, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the impact these families had in our lives at such an early stage.

Even after we moved away, the Krosleys and the Hughes have continued to invest in us through phone calls, visits, and encouragement. They are still two of the couples we look to for advice, and though we’re watching from farther away, we continue to observe how they raise their kids.

Our children are now the same ages that the Hughes and Krosley kids were when we first met them. We’re in the trenches, and some days I’m certain that I’m failing miserably. Other days I take, perhaps, a little too much pride in my children’s outward talents, forgetting that the character of the heart matters above all else.

But we constantly come back to the lessons we learned from the Hughes and the Krosleys. We learned from them the value of focusing on who God has created each one of these children to be, beyond their gifts and abilities. We’ve learned to focus on the fruits that we see developing in our kids: the compassion, and mercy, love for others, and hearts for service.

Were it not for these two families who invested in Lee and I as parents, I’m not sure where we would be. I think back to the days when those dear friends were in the same trench that we now find ourselves, and I remember that it wasn’t always easy or pretty.

They fought for their kids, they prayed over them, and they dug their heels into the process, all the while letting us see what it takes to raise our own world changers. Transparency goes a long way in mentorship, and we hope to pass that torch along to others who may be a step behind us in child rearing.

And so this is my public thank you to the couples who have shaped and molded us, who have loved our kids and let us be a part of their journey. We’re proud to be called your friends.

And Zach Hughes, we are SO proud of you!

Slow Descent? Nah, Just Fall Into It

Castle2

Ten hours and fifteen minutes after taking off from Munich, the plane finally began it’s approach into the Atlanta airport. I couldn’t even really feel excited over the sheer exhaustion of it all.

Ten hours is a long time.

I’d finished writing a chapter in my book, written the beginnings of a short story, read for quite a bit, and watched three movies, because somehow zoning out to the tiny television screen felt the least like trying to slog through quick sand.

Sandwiched between my husband and a very kind young German man, I’d shifted and squirmed through most of the flight, because I can find neither comfort nor sleep on an airplane. It’s a terrible curse to not be able to drift to sleep in any position but fully prone.

One of the movies I watched had a bit of suspense to it, and at one point, when a shark leapt out of the water and almost bit the main character’s head off, I yelped and accidentally grabbed the arm of the kind, young German man. Lee fell over into the aisle laughing while this poor fellow confirmed his suspicions that I was a crazy American. I tried apologizing, and he smiled politely, then shifted as far away from me as he possibly could.

Bless him.

As we made our way down, the runway in our sights, I offered Lee a small smile. “Almost there,” I said, and he nodded in return, equally numb.

We raced toward the ground, waiting for the wheels to touch down on American soil, and then WHAMO!

It was one of the roughest landings I’ve ever experienced in an airplane. I suspect the pilot had his own feelings of numbness to contend with, and perhaps he got tired of the slow descent and decided to just throw that sucker down and be done with it.

As the plane shuddered and bounced under the weight of a quick landing, I gripped the armrest. I almost grabbed my new German friend’s hand, but I noticed he had tucked his hands under his legs in self defense. Poor fellow.

A few minutes later, the plane rolled to a stop, and my grip loosened as I realized we’d made it safe and sound. The plane didn’t barrel roll into the gate like it seemed it would in those first few moments after slamming to the ground. We had arrived. We were home.

I didn’t realize our landing would be a metaphor for reentry into every day life.

It’s amazing how a getaway can revive a person. Last week away was fabulous from start to finish. I loved every minute of it, and if I’m going to be completely honest, I didn’t really miss the kids until the day it was time to go home. I simply relished in the freedom of kidless-ness. There were many moments when I wished that the kids were with me. Each time I explored a castle, I wished I could share the experience with them, because I knew they’d love it.

But I never once wished I was back home.

When we finally landed in Tampa, though, Lee and I were beyond ready to get home and see the children. This was our slow descent. It felt like it took forever for our wheels to hit the ground, but finally we were there, and the return hugs and snuggles we got were worth every minute away.

The first night was sweet and fun as we shared our trip with them, and they shared their week with us. My mom not only survived, but she did a slam bang job of holding the house together in the process. She deserves a few extra jewels in her heavenly crown for last week, for sure.

MomandTia

We went to bed that first night, and slept soundly, then woke up and WHAMO! No more slow descent. Arguments, homework, notes from teachers and homeroom moms listing out 8,462 things that needed to be done before the last day of school, soccer try outs, practices, and incidents that occurred while we were gone that needed to be addressed.

It’s like we fell out of the sky and slammed back into real life, and last night Lee caught my eye after we finally managed to get them all in bed. His wide eyes matched mine, and we sort of just stared at one another for a long minute before starting to laugh.

“I guess there’s no easing back into this, right?” I asked. Lee shook his head and raised his glass to me.

“To Germany!” he cried.

To Germany, indeed. I write this now after a restless night with a kid who had nightmares and ended up in our bed…on top of me for the the most part. The same kid woke up with a gushing bloody nose that I got to deal with before a sip of coffee crossed my lips.

Welcome home, and thanks for dropping in, I thought to myself when I got them all on the bus, but there’s a grin behind the thought, because I wouldn’t orchestrate life any other way than this – crazy, and busy, and brimming with love.

I could do without the bloody noses, though…

On Facebook, Children, and that Pesky Quest for Fame

QuestforFame

Last Sunday, our oldest conquered a fear. He stood up on a stage with his guitar in hand, and he sang into a microphone. His voice was pure, if a little shaky. He was obviously nervous as he never cracked a smile in the three minutes he stood in front, but he did it. He sang his first solo.

I couldn’t have been more proud if I tried.

After he finished singing his song (a song that he wrote himself), he received a lot of praise, and he deserved the praise. He did a great job! Of course, as any good parents would do, we captured the momentous occasion on video…from two different angles. Later that day, I posted a photo of my handsome boy on stage on Facebook, and I shared our joy in his bravery. Naturally, friends and family wanted to see video.

I asked Sloan if he would mind me sharing the video with a few people. He immediately agreed, and I went about downloading the video, but deep in my heart, I had a nagging feeling that this was not a video that needed to be shared with the online world. I tried to ignore the feeling, because the proud Mama in me wanted everyone to see my boy’s amazing accomplishment.

But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this video needed to remain more private, shared only with grandparents and a couple of close friends who’ve known Sloan since he was a baby.

Our kids are growing up in the social media age. More than any other generation before them, these children have to navigate the constant pressure and need for attention. With reality shows, the Disney Channel, and the internet all pulling for their attention, today’s children are under a constant quest for fame.

They’re told that fame is right there within grasp. All they have to do is put themselves out there…all the time…and they could be the next internet sensation.

I don’t want this for my children. I don’t want fame for them, because I don’t think we were designed for fame. Certainly children in their formative years do not need to be worried about garnering more attention for themselves.

It’s no secret that I enjoy the perks that social media has to offer. I love Facebook and blogs, Instagram and Twitter. I love the connection these tools offer with people around the world. I love the good that is coming from these social sharing sites.

SloanGuitarBut I was 30 years old before I ever had a Facebook account. I navigated my teenage and college years in relative obscurity, and thank heavens for it because I can only imagine the number of ridiculous images I could have posted of myself as a youth.

I don’t want my children to live their lives according to the number of “Likes” they get on a post. I don’t want them beholden to statistics, and I don’t want them to measure their gifts and talents by the amount of praise they receive online. Even I have to monitor my heart, and my reasons behind posting online. I’ve pulled back a lot in the last few years, mostly because I knew we were approaching the age when the kids would take notice.

I don’t want my boys to think that every major accomplishment can only be celebrated if they receive cyber high fives from a bunch of strangers and acquaintances.

I don’t want my daughter to post duck face selfies online every time she feels cute, then measure her physical appearance by the attention she did, or did not, receive.

So I chose not to post the video, for no other reason than I wanted Sloan to know that his accomplishment was momentous because he chose to offer a gift up to the Lord for His glory, not because his musical accomplishment would give him five minutes of internet fame.

Navigating the online world of social media is difficult enough as an adult. It will still be some time before my children are allowed to tiptoe into these waters. My job as a mother in the internet age is to prepare my children not only to face the world around them, but also the world behind the screen.

This is serious work, indeed.

How do you as parents handle the world of social media with your children? This question is aimed particularly at you parents who are a step ahead of me in this process. How are you helping your child navigate these waters of the online world? I’m open to tips and encouragement!

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