December 2010


The volume level in my house since having kids is exponentially louder than I ever imagined.  I don’t think I ever considered that aspect of life when pondering children.  Sure, babies would cry, kids would require attention, but with three of them now, the overall noise can be, well, LOUD.  On the positive side, the sound of three kids playing together, laughing together, running around playing chase together.  On the negative side, the sound of three children whining, complaining or crying.  I prefer the ‘happy sounds’, but in either case, I don’t always handle it well.

There are times during the day that I simply cannot take another noise.  I just need quiet.  I need everyone to stop talking, to stop requesting something, even to stop playing or laughing, or whatever…I JUST NEED QUIET.

In recent weeks, as I have sat back and watched my husband interact with the kids at night, I have gained a greater appreciation for letting my kids simply be kids.

You see, I can be a bit of  a control freak at times.  Especially by the end of the night, after a long day, I’d be ready to shoo the kids up to bed nice an early.  My husband, on the other hand, having been at work all day, wants them to stay up and play a bit.  Not extravagantly late, but later than I’d choose.  In the past this created a great deal of friction.

For some reason, in the past few weeks, I’ve been able to sit back and relax a bit.  After dinner, when I’m usually trying to round everyone up, instead I’ve been observing.  I observe my husband roll around on the floor as they each try to tackle the ‘big bad wolf.’  I’ve sat back and watched as my children run around the kitchen table – I suppose in some kind of a race – as they did tonight.  For a good 20 minutes the three of them amused themselves running around, ‘exercising’ (as Abigail tells me), laughing and playing with one another.   They were simply being kids.

I am not sure what changed in me that has enabled me to appreciate the childlike exuberance my children have, but I am grateful nonetheless.

The noise can still get to me.  At times I still hush everyone and need a minute of quiet.  But all in all, I am learning to give my children leeway in expressing themselves.  I am recognizing that loud, hearty play is simply play, and not misbehavior that needs correction.  And I am learning to appreciate the differences between myself and my husband, recognizing that maybe, just maybe, his perspective has some merit.

And I know my kids will benefit from these new revelations.  Just in time to start 2011.

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My family and I are enduring a test of our ability to be content in all things…the kids seem to be doing just fine, but I am failing miserably!

We have been without heat or hot water since yesterday.  Pablo was home yesterday because of the snow – the restaurant didn’t open.  He headed off to work this morning without a shower (shh, don’t tell his coworkers), and here I sit, desperately needing a shower myself.  I have laundry piling up – a sink full of dishes, all waiting for some hot, or even warm water, to be washed.

I am one grumpy girl without a shower, and for 2-days, even more so.  Then, just as I sat down to write this post, with three space heaters pumping the only bit of warmth in the house, it seems half of our electrical outlets went out, turning off two of the heaters.  I finally got them reposition into the only 2 outlets still working, sat down again, and now those two outlets are out, leaving us with three space heaters unable to heat.

In other circumstances, I’d head over to the mall for the day to be warm, until they fixed the problem…but without a shower, I’m not going anywhere.

So here I sit, totally failing at being content in all circumstance.

I rationalize in my head – we have a right to have heat and hot water.  We certainly pay enough money to live here that such requests are not unreasonable, I mean we aren’t living in the ‘budget inn’ where you expect to have some sort of problem all the time.  WE HAVE RIGHTS, after all.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve had head/water problems.  Our hot water heater exploded about a month ago, leaving us stranded again, and also introducing some mushroom foliage into the corner of our eating area.  That was fun!

They replaced the heat, and finally cleaned up the carpet mess, but we went on to have 3 more heat/hot water outages over the next 2 weeks.  Every few days I’d be calling to say, ‘it happened again.’  Each time getting a different explanation for the problem.

I know somewhere there is a line between simply complaining and being a good steward of our money as we seek to uphold some sort of value for the things we buy – including an apartment to rent.  We do indeed pay a lot of money to live here.  One reason we were willing to pay so much was for the ‘supposed’ extra’s that this complex offered, the conveniences provided.  Well, when something as simple as water is a problem, my brain starts questioning why we are paying so darn much when we could live elsewhere for cheaper, and maybe not even have such issues.

As I think about my complaints, I think about the 1 century Christians whose day consisted of being fed to lions.  To Paul and the other apostles, and other Christians throughout the centuries, including this very day, who will endure physical and emotional beatings today, stoning, even death.  In the grand scheme of life, a few days without heat or hot water is a mild inconvenience.  Yet, my heart has not stopped complaining since I awoke yesterday to discover that I would not be taking a shower.

I am failing miserably at being content today.  When I do finally get that hot shower, I can tell you that I will delight in the wonders of plumbing, allowing water to come out right there in my bathroom, heated, and with controlled pressure.  As I put in that first load of laundry, I will rejoice in automatic washing machines, and the blessing of clean clothes.  As I switch on the dishwasher, and listen to the wonderful sound of dishes getting cleaned, I will sing for joy that soon those dirty dishes will be ready to be put away.

I am indeed failing miserably at being content, but I rest in Christ who was always content, even as He endured the cross.  I will rest in His perfection, knowing that I have no perfection apart from Him.  I will be reminded of the Gospel of grace that I so desperately need.

 

Last week, Todd Friel of Wretched Radio posed the above question.  He was commenting on a recent interview of Sarah Palin.  Sarah Palin, the evangelical champion two years ago; the representative of Christians in the political sphere.  That same Sarah Palin was now using the term ‘neanderthal’ for those who believe that women with children at home better serve those children by being at home.

Here is the actual quote:

“There are still the Neanderthals out there, who pick on the petty little superficial meaningless things like looks, like whether you can or can’t work outside of the home if you have small children. All those type of things where I would so hope that at some point, uh, those Neanderthals, will evolve into something a bit more, um, with it, a bit more modern, and a bit more understanding that, yeah, woman can accomplish much…”

Is this really a ‘little supercial meaningless thing?’

Going back 100 years or so within the church (and even outside of the church), Todd Friel pointed out, that those families in which the mom worked outside the home would be looked at as strange, even wrong.  He suggested that church discipline would even be likely for having a mom leaving her young children to work outside of the home.

Today, unfortunately, it is accepted and even expected that mom work.  Whether it’s just, ‘the way culture is these days,’ or ‘financial necessity,’ mom working outside the home is more common today than during any time in history.

So Todd posed the question: who was right, us or them?  It cannot be both.  100 years ago mom working outside of the home was almost unheard of;  today, it is looked upon as normal.  Either they were right 100 year ago, or we are right today. Which is it?

I often find myself using the phrase, ‘losing my patience’ with my kids.  It’s my way of letting them know that Mama might blow at any moment…as I think about it more, it’s also my way of excusing a lack of self-control.

Just this morning I used that phrase in a conversation with the maintenance man.  After losing our hot water and heat for the third time in less than two weeks, it’s fair to say that we are rather frustrated.  In speaking with the man, I asked him to pass on to his supervisor that we are losing our patience with this issue.  But is that really accurate?

There are times when one may lose all self-control and erupt in anger – but that is an instantaneous event.  It is not generally pre-meditated, it’s not a conscious decision…it’s still sin, and inexcusable, but it is different from the ‘losing patience’ that I often refer to.

When I say I am losing patience, what I really mean is that as the particular unpleasant situation continues, (or various situations combine) I am making a conscious decision to think and act with less kindness, less patience and less compassion.  Under a guise of ‘losing patience,’ I somehow deceive myself into placing the blame outside of myself, rather than admit that it is my own heart issue.

See, if out of no where I simply explode in anger and yell, my conscience immediately reveals that sin to me…but if it is a slow process, then I can excuse my sin and claim that it was the continual action of my children that caused this sin, because they would not stop.  Losing something is not an intentional act after all.

It is amazing how my mind can twist reality to avoid personal responsibility.

I need to change my language here.  Next time I want to think or say that I am ‘losing my patience,’ I think I’ll replace it with some self-talk that goes something like this, ‘Melissa, you are sinning in thought and deed.  You are seeking an excuse to act in a fleshly way rather than to fight this sin of selfishness.’

Yesterday I posted about a ‘teaching moment’ I had with my oldest during a card game. I wrote about how proper training requires much more of our time that putting a band-aid on the issue.

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking on this quite a bit.  Parenting is not for the faint at heart.  The proper training and instruction of child takes time, a LOT of time.

As society seems to be falling apart; kids more disrespectful day by day, I can’t help but wonder if parents have lost the diligence that is required for instructing their young people.  In my own life, I see a direct connection between my times of laziness as a parent and a downward spiral in the behavior and attitudes of my children.

A scenario for you.  I am resting on the couch during our afternoon ‘quiet time.’  The girls are each in a bedroom upstairs, either sleeping or quietly playing.  Alexander is asleep (hopefully) on the couch down stairs.  I am tired.  I want to rest; either taking a nap or reading a book, when a child exits a bedroom and comes with a question or request.  Now, there is 1 main rule during quiet time: stay quietly in the room until I call you downstairs.  Pretty simple.  But not always popular.

The request from the child might be to come downstairs early, or to get a toy out of another room, or a number of other things.

What should happen: (possibly) entertain the question, and provide an answer.  If child protests my answer, I may remind them of them that they need to stay in the room, giving them another opportunity to obey. If (when) the protest continues, I should get up off of the couch, go upstairs, and deal with the child.

This is what should happen, but this requires effort and energy.  This requires me doing something that I don’t want to do (interrupting my own quiet time) to deal with a frustrating situation.  This requires that I put my selfish desires aside for the benefit of my child (mainly, building their character by teaching them respect for authority and obedience to mama the first time).

But oh, how much easier it seems, to get a bit louder with my requirement that they stay in their room.  It seems easier because I can do this from my lounging position on the couch.  I simply escalate my voice.

But take a guess as to whether this is ever effective?  Walk down this road with me…all that will happen is an argument between the authority figure (me) and the child…did you catch that sentence.  An ARGUMENT, between an authority and a child.  For starters, that is something that should never happen.  It should never reach the point of argument…if it does, I have failed in doing my job of enforcing the household/family rules.  So, I argue with this half-pint, she argues back, and eventually I am yelling the same words that I started out saying: go back in the bedroom, it is still quiet time.

So, which response is really the easier response?

Which response yields a harvest of righteousness that I, as a parent, hope to see in my child?

Which response is teaching my child proper communication, proper respect for parents?

Which response is going to produce the type of child that I actually like, the kind of child that I want to be around and spend time with.

I find it so sad and tragic when parents are so eager to get their teenagers out of the house.  And I can’t help but wonder if mom and dad did a better job when the child was 3, maybe when they turned 13 they wouldn’t be such a punk.

But it’s hard.  It is hard to interrupt my life to deal with this little life.  It is hard to put down dinner preparation to properly discipline a child.  Or interrupt a much needed rest to correct a bad attitude.  It is HARD.  It is HARD to be a good parent.  Hard and tiring.

It seems to me that parents have to choose between two paths.

Path A seems easier.  It is the ‘sitting on the couch, yelling’ path.  Failing to address discipline issues properly.  Scolding, yelling, grounding, etc, without ever addressing the problem and correcting it.  In the moment, this path seems easier, but it leads to out of control little people who turn into really out of control big people, causing shame and sorrow for mom and dad.

Not a great choice.

Path B is HARD.  It is time-consuming and exhausting.  It requires placing the discipline and training of your children at the top of your priority list, for as long as they are in your home.  But, after those long years of diligent training, there is a good likelihood that you will have produced children you actually enjoy being around. Young adults that are a joy, not an embarrassment.

While this path requires much more of an investment upfront, the payout is worth its weight in gold.

Who doesn’t want to have great kids?  Who would honestly say they want that bratty 5 year old who talks back to mom and dad all the time, and the 15 year old whose most used phrase is,’ whatever mom?’

No one wants that, yet most fail to prevent it.

Our nearsightedness is so dangerous.  We can fail to have a long term perspective on things that seem so unimportant today.  We can assume that ‘it’s just a phase,’ and ‘he’ll grow out of it,’ rather than admit that our children are sinful and in need of discipline and correction.

Mom and dad, you need to make a choice, and you need to make a conscious choice. Failure to think on these things is almost a guarantee that you will chose Path A, because Path B is the narrow road, and requires forethought.

You will still fail from time to time.  You will still miss opportunities to correct, you will say the wrong thing, you will over or under discipline at times…but you will have a target and you will know at what you are aiming.  And, by God’s grace, you will raise wonderful little people who turn into wonderful big people…isn’t that what every parent desires?  I know I do.

 

After dinner tonight I took out a card game the girls have had for a while; a game that we used to play quite often, but haven’t touched in a while.  The main reason we haven’t played in a while is because a very active toddler boy would rather grab and squish the cards than sit nicely and allow a game to be played…but that is another post.

So I took out this game, similar to Uno.  We played the first round, and Annabella won.    We played the second round, and Annabella won.  We played one last round, me hoping that Abigail would have a chance to win, and….Annabella won.

Abigail is competitive, just like her Mama.  I once pegged a teammate in the head with a soccer ball because he was the reason we lost a game in practice…IN PRACTICE. Thankfully, my competitive nature has toned down (a bit) over the years.  I can see Abigail heading down that road, without some kind of intervention and direction.   She really really doesn’t like to lose, and doesn’t handle it well.

She complains.  She says she doesn’t want to play any more.  She says, ‘it’s no fair.’  She asks, ‘when am I going to get a turn to win?’

All thoughts and questions I can relate to.

Now, it was tempting tonight to simply scold her for being a ‘bad sport’ and a ‘sore loser.’  It would have been easy to shame her into outwardly behaving by condemning her for thoughts that are, quite honestly, understandable and reasonable.  I mean, who really likes to lose?  And given a choice, who wouldn’t want to win?

How often do scenarios like this come up in a given day?  If you have children at home, it doesn’t take long before someone has a bad attitude, a poor or selfish spirit. The quick solution seems to be a quick scolding, so that we (mom) can move on with the important things of the day.  But how shortsighted…and how shortchanged we leave our children when we do that.

I could have called Abigail a sore loser, but what does that even mean?  How often do I throw out cliché’s without ever explaining the meaning to my children?  As if they should just know what I’m saying.

The alternative is to take the extra time upfront, engaging in a thorough conversation addressing the heart issues, not just the outward behavior.  This, unfortunately, takes a whole lot more time and is much more inconvenient than offering a quick rebuke.  But that is what we are called to as parents, isn’t it?

Tonight I had a “teachable moment.”  I didn’t set up the scenario, I didn’t choreograph the encounter with the goal of lecturing my girls.  I got something so much better.  Within the normal, natural course of life, a scenario presented itself, revealing a heart problem with one child.

I know that her extreme competitiveness will present itself again, and the poor spirit that displayed its ugly head will reappear in some future event.  I haven’t tied a bow around this problem, believing that it is all fixed.  But, I have chipped away at the heart attitude, hopefully making an impression that I can call upon the next time this occurs.

Slowly, over time, and with diligence, I pray that I will be able to mold her in this area; making her more gracious both in victory and in defeat.  Teaching her to treat others as she wants to be treated.  Able to win without boasting and lose without complaining.

With my eyes on the long term, I hope that this issue diminishes over time and that as she enters adulthood, her character here will be more Christlike.  In the meantime, I will fight the small battles, knowing that each battle is a small part of the entire war.

With the exception of the World Cup over the summer, we have been a TV-free family for quite a while.  We make very intentional decisions about what our kids watch through internet outlets like Hulu and Netflix, but aside from that, our kids watch very little media.

My husband has missed countless footballs games and soccer matches over the years, and can’t quite take it anymore…so we have cable once again.

It is amazing how the thing seems to have a magnetic draw, desperately wanting to be turned on.  So far, I’ve managed to mostly keep it at bay.  The kids have watched a Dora and Diego a few times, much to their delight.

One evening, while Pablo was working, I tried to find something decent to put on for the kids and me.  With nothing else on, I settled on figure skating.  Within a minute or so Abigail asked why the lady was half-nakey.

Even at their very young ages, I am teaching my girls the importance of modesty, of what we keep covered up and why.  Modesty is important at every age, but my hope that as the girls get older and begin to develop their own fashion sense, their sense of modesty will be just as strong today as it is then.

So when Abigail asked about the lady, and her outfit, I was stumped for a moment.  I grew up with the idea that this attire is normal.  Gymnasts also have a lack of clothing, but it is generally accepted as okay, normal, not immodest.  Under other circumstances, such attire would likely be seen as inappropriate.  When Abigail posed the question, I realized I had never thought about it before.

With cable back in the house, and after that question, my guard has gone up even more than usual.

Even on channels that are supposed to be child friendly, their is foul language, immodesty and materialism.  Am I willing to allow my child to see or hear any such thing?

If, in private, I teach them about modesty, about controlling our tongue, about proper and improper words – including blasphemy, which is rampant on TV – and about not loving the things of this world, what message am I sending them when I tune into a program that promotes such things?

‘Stupid’ is not a word we allow our children to say.  Occasionally I slip and call something stupid, and I am quickly reminded that, ‘I’m not allow to say that word.’  I smile with such reminders, knowing that my teaching is sticking.  So if I do not allow my child to say that word, then why would I allow them to watch a program that calls something or someone stupid?

So, I have been challenged on whether I am living consistently before my children. Does my entertainment line up with my claimed morals and values?  Or, for the sake of entertainment, do I relax my standards?

I have a narrow window here to either show myself true to my children, or reveal myself as a hypocrite, losing credibility before them.  Allowing even one program of questionable content may put into their minds a doubt about what mommy really believes.  I do not want to be a cause for their stumbling.  I would rather put a millstone around my neck then do something that might impede their love of Christ.

For the sake of my children and my relationship with my children, I think I’ll let the TV collect dust during the day.