Category Archives: parental ponderings

First Day of School


These two had a great first day. We have been telling them that every day is an opportunity they can seize, and I look forward to seeing all they will do. I pray that they use the time they are given to work hard and learn everything they can. Now that they are the establishment rather than the new kids in town, I pray that they will show kindness and welcome others well. I pray that they will grow in wisdom as much as knowledge and learn how to succeed and fail with grace.

Thankful for our school and for our sweet students.

Firsts and Lasts

Last fall I had a chance to spend a little time with an old friend, watching her son play one of his last high school football games. She said something to me that I have pondered over the months.

She told me that it is easy to pay attention to the firsts in your children’s lives: you know their first step and their first word, the first time you go to the beach and the first time they play soccer. It’s more rare to know when it’s the last time they will do something. You wake up one morning and realize a stage is over and you never had a chance to realize it was even slipping away.

This perspective has been refreshing, and grown my patience.

If I knew it was the last time my child would want to sleep in between us, would I kick her out of bed?

If I knew it was the last time she ever wanted to play My Little Ponies, would I get down on the floor and play too?

If I knew she was never going to draw for fun again, would I hang this picture up on the fridge?

If I knew this was the last time she’d read Madeline to her Madeline doll, would I stop and listen?


(I think it was. I did.)

Pondering this was has led me to treasure up the sweetest, most childlike moments in my heart. I don’t know how much longer I my girls will be little and frolic in the splash pad or hold hands with their friends when they walk together.

When Kate was a toddler, I couldn’t wait for her to be a kindergartener in a little plaid jumper. Now that she is in fourth grade, I wish I could slow things down.

But as we continue to experience firsts together, I will choose to celebrate with my girls. Growing up is a big adventure. I am proud of them and enjoy seeing them tackle new challenges, even if there are moments I wish I could freeze them in time and keep them just the way they are forever.

Parenting in the Social Media Age

We had just reached Sunset Rock, an uphill hike of less than a mile, with a lovely view. As we gazed down at Highlands, looking like “a fairy village” nestled in the trees, I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture.

Immediately, Kate and Lexi wanted me to take a picture of them, walking sticks in hand. “Is it cute?” “Email it to my teacher!” “And then email it to MY teacher!” “Wait, just put it on facebook so everyone can see it.” From the mouth of a six-year-old. And it’s not the first time. “Just text and ask her.” “Are you going to tweet that?” “Did ____ like that picture of me?” and “Can you just pull it up on youtube?” are all things our girls have said more than once.

I wonder sometimes what all of this will mean for them. Even though they have limited screen time with no computers or iPod touches of their own, and certainly no social media accounts, they are so aware of them that whenever that day comes, they will start using them seamlessly.

How can we cultivate humble virtue in a world measured in likes and comments and retweets? How will they learn that doing justice and loving mercy requires more than a link or a mention?

Intentional parenting, particularly being thoughtful about what tools they have access to, and how they use them, is vitally important. I think different families can develop different strategies and boundaries that work, from firm limits to constant monitoring to sending their kids to camp for a month every summer where they are completely unplugged so they are reminded that life goes on (and can be very exciting) far away from little screens.

More than that, I need to set a good example by putting down my phone and focusing on them more throughout the day. Being present in their moments will teach them the value of being present as well. I hope they will learn how to be fully alive in a world that seems to be losing its grip on what is true and good and beautiful and real. I am praying for the wisdom to help them get there.

On Attachment Parenting and the Mommy Wars

TIME Magazine’s cover package this week feeds into the antagonistic, Mommy Wars culture that has become rampant in the United States.

We live in a society dominated by metrics purported to determine merit, grades and standardized test scores, sales figures and evaluations. And somehow that mindset trickles down to parenting. Turning parenthood into a competition starts early. “How old is she? How many hours is she sleeping?” “Did you give birth naturally?” Mommy bloggers post about all the minutia of babyhood in a way that makes it seem like an accomplishment.

Dr. Sears coined the term attachment parenting, and brought some of its practices to light in mainstream American society. It makes me really sad to see his work equated with competitive parents who brag about how long they co-sleep or judge others for having their baby on a schedule.

However, the media seems obsessed with the idea that attachment parenting is about mommy martyrdom. Though there are AP moms who judge other people very harshly, that’s more about them and the culture of competitiveness in our society. If you never leave your toddler or preschooler in a nursery, with a babysitter, or even with your spouse, that’s a personal choice, not one that has been dictated by the philosophy itself.

I read The Baby Book after Kate was born, and I was already naturally adopting those principles based on my own instincts and philosophy of childrearing. I found his writing warm and flexible, for example: “Do the best you can with the resources you have – that’s all your child will ever expect of you… Use these as starter tips to work out your own parenting style – one that fits the individual needs of your child and your family. Attachment parenting helps you develop your own personal parenting style.” (from What AP is.)

Motherhood is hard work. In our own human effort to build ourselves up and find meaning in our lives, we turn our choices into accomplishments, our children into gold stars that show our worth. Whether we are bragging about how many hours they slept alone in their crib or how many kids share our bedroom, we are getting it wrong every time we find our value in life that way.

We are all different, and so are our children. There is no single approach that will work for all families or personalities. That’s not to say that we ought not ever talk about our choices or seek encouragement, we all need a little help sometimes. But we need to see our own choices as doing the best we can, with what we have, where we are and give our mommy-neighbors the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the same.

Family Photoshoot Tips

Gabrielle Blair of Design Mom posted today about preparing for their December photo shoot. She has an amazing vision for such things, but I couldn’t help but think that most families don’t have the same level of energy and budget for photography. As a former photographer, here are some quick, basic tips for making the most of your family photoshoot.

(1) Think “coordinating” over matching when planning your outfits. I love how my friend Dolly outfitted her family for a quick mini-shoot I did of them a few years ago.

She used several colors and lots of different shades and textures. Everyone looks like themselves and they go together. Don’t they look fantastic?

(2) Think about what the location can add to your photos. Sometimes this is determined by the photographer (for example, if you are getting a mini-session deal) but if you have a choice, pick a place that is meaningful to you right now, like the front stoop of your house, your backyard, the park you play at all the time. Let the location tell part of your story. Even if you could find a prettier spot, it’s more meaningful if its personal. If you are in a more generic space, make sure that your family will look recognizable to you twenty years in the future by utilizing styles you wear regularly.

(3) Be realistic. If you have small children, they are going to tire easily and even if you have 90 minutes with the photographer, you may only get a small window of cooperation. Prioritize what you’d like and start there. If your heart is set on a formal family picture for your mantel, tell the photographer and start there. One of the nice things about being at home is that if all falls apart, you can change outfits and get some “lifestyle” shots of your children playing and doing what they normally do. Or throw on pajamas and jump on the bed. Those may be the pictures you end up cherishing the most.

(4) Communicate with your photographer beforehand about anything that’s really important to you. Get your expectations out there and clear up any questions you have. If you have a vision for your shoot, it would be really helpful to know that beforehand so they have everything they need to help you pull it off.

Don’t worry if things don’t go just like you want them to for your photoshoot. With the advent of digital cameras and now cell phone photography, our children are bound to have far more pictures of themselves than they will ever have time to look through. A few good ones is all you really need anyway.

Be Kind

It was beautiful outside yesterday, so I took the girls to the park. While I was sitting watching the girls, I started to hear two moms about fifteen feet away start escalating in volume in their conversation.

One of the moms was a bit older, pushing a stroller and with several other children coming and going. The other mom was younger, with a toddler about two years old on her hip.

“If you believe…” was the phrase that drew my attention to their conversation. The older mom was getting more emphatic. “The Bible clearly teaches that if you discipline your son, you save his soul from hell. SAVE. HIS. SOUL. You must discipline him.”

The younger mom was apologetic, and speaking more softly. “He hasn’t… we haven’t decided…”

The older mom continued her citing of Proverbs, and the younger one tried to graciously withdraw from the conversation. After a minute or two, she walked away, and the older mom called out after her, “You think about that! It was nice to meet you, Stacey!” Then she turned to one of her older children and said, “some people just need a little help.”

I saw no blood. I heard no crying. I have no idea what a two-year-old could have done to provoke a stranger to give his mother such a tongue-lashing.

There’s a quote that’s all over pinterest: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It’s probably misattributed to Plato, but it’s a good sentiment.

The child you see misbehaving in public might have severe special needs. He may be a foster child recently placed. It may be the very worst day of his life. His mother may be suffering. Maybe she is grieving the loss of a parent, struggling with depression, lonely, abused or mistreated.

Perhaps that misbehaving stranger’s child bit your kid, or hit her, or pulled her hair. If there is no permanent damage, no need to visit a doctor, how should you respond?

I believe the older mother thought she was blessing the younger mother with her sage advice. From all indications, she was satisfied, even proud, of the interaction.

How much more could she have blessed her with kindness? A gentle word of forgiveness, an act of compassion, could have thrown this younger mother a lifeline. “It’s okay, I’ve been there, too.”

I presumed that these two women were friends, so I did not intervene. When I realized they were strangers, I started to go after the younger mother, but she was moving quickly towards her car. I wish I had stopped her and given her a hug.

The love of Christ compels us to love others. Using scripture as a weapon isn’t loving, it’s generally ineffective, and at it’s worst, borders on spiritual abuse.

By God’s grace, we can do better. Be kind, y’all. And keep reminding me to be kind, too.

Holding Things in Tension

We had a chance to participate in a few conversations this weekend on Christianity and culture, kingdom-building and parenting (and the intersections therein.) Thanks to Leigh for making it happen: it is always fruitful to have space, time and ideas to spur thoughtfulness and I am hoping these conversations continue.

One thing that struck me again is that so much of life, from the practical to philosophy and theology, is about holding two seemingly opposing ideas in tension.

Mercy and justice. Law and grace. Liberty and responsibility.

Sometimes we luck out, and the pendulum finds itself at rest between two extremes without much effort on our parts. Other times we have to fight to correct our inclination to one extreme or the other, and push ourselves towards the balance.

We know, both Biblically and sociologically, that our kids need a sense of mission to make faith real and lasting. Jesus died on the cross for more than just forgiveness of sin and making us feel better. He is making things new. He cares about this world. He wants us to care too.

If we neglect kingdom-building, we truncate our children’s view of the gospel and make Christianity smaller and less meaningful in their eyes, or even end up promoting an anti-gospel where the purpose of life is happiness and security.

However, we can take this sense of mission too far in the other direction. Our children are a particular gift and responsibility from God. We have a limited amount of time to be with them. If we spend all of that making them feel like they are always second to mission, they will grow to resent it.

There is a middle way, of inviting them to be on mission with us, while leaving plenty of space for childhood, for play, for unhurried time to build that relationship. May we love others boldly and lose our lives for Christ’s sake and his kingdom. May we love our children well and guide them so that they always remember who they are, beloved children of their parents and of God.

In Which I Am A Curmudgeon

I’ve watched the Elf on the Shelf trend for several years, and I am going to come out and say it: I just don’t get the popularity among Christian families.

Doing something every day (even for a season) makes it a pretty big deal. An elf that reports in to Santa and plays tricks around your house? What message is that sending?

We don’t do Santa. There are lots of reasons, but primarily because gifts are not the focus of our Christmas celebration. However, I can see how Santa could be a fun part of a Christian family’s Christmas without taking it over. Santa could bring one special gift. You don’t have to emphasize the naughty and nice element. This is certainly an area where freedom abounds.

I’ve said before, and will say again for clarity’s sake, it would be weird if all a family’s traditions were religious in nature and had deep theological meaning. It’s good to have fun traditions and family culture. I am not knocking that at all.

But Christmas is about incarnation. God in flesh, who came to dwell with us. It’s an amazing picture of grace.

How does the elf on a shelf fit into an incarnational Christmas celebration? God doesn’t keep a naughty list. He knows how sin easily entangles us. I want my children to know God’s holiness and to strive to follow Jesus in obedience. But I also want them to know that God wants repentant hearts more than compliant exteriors. Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous.

The things that we spend the most time and energy on during Advent and Christmas are going to be things that draw us to this great story of incarnation. The hope and longing for a rescuer, then the joy at His appearing.

That’s not to say that we won’t watch Frosty or drive around looking at lights or do a myriad of other things that are not Christ-centered. But none of those things are daily, central parts of our celebration.

Maybe I’m wrong and your elf is gracious and kind and brings your child a Jesse Tree story every morning. Feel free to share if you’ve figured out a way to reconcile the elf to your Christmas celebration. I’ve just spent several years a little mystified watching this trend explode.

Pondering Christ

Sally Clarkson has long been an encouragement to me as a mother, and her blog post on pondering Christ as a foundation for a philosophy of parenting is a must-read.

Radical, self-giving love is hard to make into a formula or six simple rules to be sure your children follow Jesus. But it’s what we are called to, as parents and as followers of Jesus.

Philosophies, Revisited

By nature, I am a fairly philosophical person. I like to know why I am doing what I am doing, and parenting has certainly been no exception. As our girls have gotten older, the day-to-day of parenting has changed. Recently, I wondered how the ideas I contemplated when they were toddlers have stood up as they have grown.

You are your child’s first view of God compelled me to find one sentence I really wanted to strive for in parenting. I chose “gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” This is still extremely relevant with older children but I meditate on it much less.

One of the advantages of parenting older children is that they are trying to understand God and his character better for themselves, so I am able to talk about that directly and engage with them about who God is. When they were babies and toddlers, I did that, but the conversation was mostly one-sided. I was relying much more heavily on the indirect. However, I am also their first view of what it looks like to follow Jesus, so living out gospel principles (do justice, love mercy, walk humbly) is just as important as it was before.

You can not parent by remote control was huge to me with toddlers. I strove to follow up my directions with actions, helping them to comply without much fuss from either of us. e.g. if I said “Don’t touch that,” I would get up and move them away. As children mature, they are better able to listen and control their impulses, so I do not have to get up and make sure they do everything I say every moment.

This maturity makes my life a lot easier, but I think that the general principle is still entirely relevant. Even if they can do what I tell them to do, it is good for all of us to have accountability. I need to follow up and make sure what they can do on their own is done well. I need to stop and take time to engage them throughout the day, so they know how important they are to me.

I am really thankful for the hours we spent talking about children and parenting while pushing Kate in her stroller. These ideas have grown well with the girls, but they are more subsets of those bigger philosophies about what we believe about children and what kind of people we want them to be. Being philosophical about parenting has given me good lenses to evaluate practical everyday strategies, and also made it easy to take or leave those strategies as needed, because the bigger picture ideas provided continuity.

It’s probably time to revisit those big ideas and hone them. We have a long way to go on this journey.

*** There are still several days left to enter the giveaway for my new etsy store (see the post on November 1st) Yay, giveaways! ***

Making Adjustments

Parenting is often a school of humility.

Just when you’ve found the perfect strategy or product or idea, something changes, and it doesn’t work any more. You have to try something new. Maybe even swallow your pride and do that thing you swore you’d never do.

Mothering in particular can feel like management, as we seek to control daily chaos. The trouble is that children are people, not problems to be solved. And people are dynamic. They change, the problem changes, everything feels askew.

Love, that ever fixed mark, compels us to go beyond. Sometimes it calls us to find another fixed mark, to figure out what we really want for our kids that circumstances cannot change. The sort of lofty idea that is hard to quantify or assess daily, like doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with their God.

Frankly that can be a little bit scary. Having children who eat vegetables is the sort of goal you might really reach and know you have, and there is a sense of accomplishment in that. But I hope to find a much greater joy at the end of this journey.

A Perk of Boredom

Since M was gone again, I finally made our own version of the family rules I’ve seen everywhere lately.

I included things we say all the time, lyrics from songs I sing to the girls, etc. So even though we didn’t come up with them together, they have a lot of personal flavor. Both girls said they sounded great. Now to get them printed and hung, probably in a different color, even though I like this grey a lot.