Tag Archives: parenting

4 Things Teens Want From Their Parents

 

 

campI spent last week with around 200 young people. Every morning, I sat around drinking coffee, listening to a group of 20 teenagers discuss things like minimum wage, abortion, poverty, same-sex marriage, welfare reform, the legalization of marijuana, and society’s standards of beauty. In the afternoons, I sat in a circle with 16-year-old girls and talked with them about what stresses them, what they love to do, whom they go to for advice, and what is important to them.

Every summer I spend a week at this camp. And every summer I feel like some sort of undercover agent, a mom infiltrating a society of teenagers and learning their secrets — which aren’t very secret at all, by the way. I like to think I’m giving back to West Virginia 4-H, the program which contributed so much to making me who I am today. But really, I am the recipient. I am the student learning from these young teachers. Spending a week with them and learning from them makes me a better mom.

Yesterday, I realized I’ve been selfish. I’ve kept this information to myself. Maybe you, my bloggy friends, need to learn from these young people too. Maybe we all need these reminders. So here goes —

First, I want to tell you that I’m always so impressed with these young adults. Sometimes the comment section of the internet can make you want to stab your eyes out with a fork so you’d never have to read another comment section again. The hatefulness and harshness and ugliness of the comment section can make us lose all faith in humanity. My morning discussion class at camp was a beautiful, lovely antidote to the internet comment section. These young men and women talked about hard things, controversial things. We boldly stepped right out into potential conversation minefields, but these kids gently and intelligently peeled layers and layers away to get to the core of the issues. They disagreed kindly and with respect. They asked questions and then truly listened to each other with an eagerness to learn. And they made me laugh a lot. This week, I was reminded that it’s easier to discuss hot-button issues when you share a sense of humor and laugh together. 

As I spent time in the discussion class and with my group of girls and one-on-one with campers and at meals with these young people, I listened hard. I listened for what was deep in the words they said. And I came away with four main things kids want or need from their parents.

1. Our kids want us to put down our phones and really listen to them. I hear adults talk about how kids these days are always looking at their phones, but we are just as guilty — maybe even more guilty. Our kids need eye contact with us. They want to know they are more important than whatever we are doing on our phones – more important than a status update, more important than Bejeweled or Candy Crush or whatever. I am sad to say that I’m guilty of this too often, but I am trying to do better. I’m trying to put down the phone or close the laptop or stop whatever I am doing and look my kid in the eye whenever he wants to talk to me. The teenagers I spent the past week with want to talk to their parents, but they don’t want to compete with Words with Friends or Twitter.

2. Our kids need us to provide downtime for them and allow them to say No. Teenagers are stressing out about their AP classes and sports and band and choir and college admissions tests. Their schedules are full. They worry about having enough time to do the piles of homework they have in addition to all their extracurricular activities. They need us to tell them over and over and over again that we only want them to do the things they LOVE and that it’s OK to say NO to everything else. They need us to give them time to sleep or play board games with the family or watch funny videos and laugh together. Our kids feel a lot of stress and pressure, and they need us to help alleviate that instead of add to it.

3. Our kids need to know that we love them, no matter what. They need to know that if they fail algebra or choose not to play a sport or sit on the bench the entire season, we will love them. If they disagree with us, if they get pregnant or have an abortion, if they are gay, if they smoke pot, if they go off to college and become Calvinists, if they drop out of band, if they get a tattoo, if they don’t get a part in the play — no matter what, we will love them. Our kids need us to tell them often that our love for them is not based on their performance. They aren’t earning our love. It’s free and plentiful, and they have our love simply because they belong to us. The young people I know want to please their parents, and they are worried about letting their parents down. We have to assure them and reassure them and reassure them that we love them. No matter what.

4. Our kids need us to be honest about our own shortcomings. When we make mistakes, our kids need us to own those mistakes and apologize. They need to see that we are human, that we fail and learn from our failures. They need to see us humbly confess when we have messed up. Our kids want us to tell them we’re sorry when we are wrong. When we are too proud to admit our own humanity to our children, we rob them of an authentic relationship with us and we rob them of the opportunity to learn how to humbly grow and learn from our mistakes. The teenagers I know want genuine relationships with their parents. And they can’t have genuine relationships with parents who aren’t honest about their own shortcomings.

So there you have it — the four big things I heard from young people last week. The good news is — friends, we can do this!

We can put down our phones and look our kids in the eyes and listen.

We can give our teenagers downtime and let them know we don’t expect them to do forty million extra activities and make straight A’s in every AP class their school offers.

We can tell our kids we love them often. We can praise who they are more than we praise what they do. We can straight up tell them we will love them if they flunk math or score on their own team’s goal or squeak their way right out of concert band.

And we can be honest about our mess-ups. We can apologize when we lose our cool or when we overreact. We can tell our kids about that speeding ticket we got or about the time we missed curfew.

We can do this. These four things are totally do-able, Parents.

Let’s start today – pick one of these things to do right away. Then please let us know in the comment section what specific ways you’re doing these things for your kids. Let’s use this comment section to help each other out and encourage each other. Let’s be like the young people in my class and listen with an eagerness to learn from each other.

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People Skills

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I’m writing this on my phone. And this is my view. So if I don’t make any sense, you’ll understand why.

It’s hard to make sense with this cuteness distracting you —

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At breakfast Sunday morning we were discussing popularity — not a bad, go-with-the-crowd-no-matter-what popularity. Maybe what we were talking about would better be described as a people-skills popularity.

Actually, first we were answering a question from the Question Jar. What is your greatest ability or talent? Jackson answered, Making other people happy. Making people smile.

And we all agreed with him. It’s not that he is a people-pleaser, though he may have inherited a touch of that from me. Jackson genuinely loves people, not throngs of people but people individually. (He noted that difference himself.) And, in turn, people love Jackson.

At field day, as I supervised the bounce house line, one little girl saw my nametag and excitedly exclaimed, “Are you Jackson Hatcher’s mom?!? He is so popular!!” And, for a fourth grader at his elementary school, he is.

So around the breakfast table, we discussed popularity and why people love Jackson. He isn’t popular in the way some kids are popular. He isn’t a great athlete; he doesn’t make the best grades; he doesn’t wear the latest fashions. No Elite socks halfway up his shins. No American Eagle underwear waistband an inch above his shorts. He doesn’t even have a cool haircut. His sister who plans to begin cosmetology classes next year practices on him. (Please feel free to take notes on my excellent parenting skills – yes, I let my daughter who has never actually taken classes in how to cut hair practice on her brothers. Because it’s free.)

Anyway, my theory is that Jackson is popular not because of who he is or what he does, but because of how he makes the other kids feel when they are around him. He truly wants people to feel happy. He pays attention to people. He listens. He shares. He is kind.

When a little girl was returning to school after dealing with some hard things, the entire classroom of children agreed in a class meeting that Jackson should sit beside her upon her return. Because he would make her feel welcomed and happy.

A couple of my boys had this teacher for kindergarten. She had this gift of making every student feel special, of making every parent feel like the favorite parent. When she spoke with you, you felt like you were her top priority. I remember talking with another teacher about this, and we agreed this must be how Jesus-on-earth was.

I bet each one of Jesus’ disciples felt like he was the favorite. I think every person Jesus spoke with had His undivided attention and felt special and important.

Obviously I am not saying Jackson is perfect like Jesus. But I am saying I think Jackson shows Christlikeness in the kind of friend he is to his classmates. He is popular because he makes each of his friends and classmates feel valued and important and special.

Oh, there are times he doesn’t. There are times he is selfish or distracted. There was the time he got caught up in the crowd and ended up making another child feel bullied. He’s not perfect. But he does have a gift, and it is really cool to see.

When he gets to middle school, the star athlete popularity or the cool clothes popularity might win out temporarily, and Jackson’s popularity may fade for a while. But I have no doubt that this gift of making people happy, of making people feel special and important and valued will be a huge part of the impact he makes in this world.

And in this way, I want to be more like Jackson when I grow up.

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On realizing I have three teenagers . . .

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Tomorrow, my three oldest children leave with the church youth group for a big, ten-day trip to Florida. Because my three oldest children are teenagers. Teenagers. Y’all! Seriously! Do you get what this means??!! It means — half my children are teenagers. And the others aren’t far behind. Griffin, the BABY!, for heaven’s sake!, is eight-and-a-half. Y’all! I am on the downward slope of raising children.

Excuse me while I go curl into the fetal position and rock back and forth in the corner.

PAUSE! I want to hit the pause button. Just for a little while. I do try to mentally hit the pause button or at least the pause-and-soak-it-in button. Last night, I forced all six of them to sit and watch a movie together — one of those feel-good, family movies on Netflix. I popped popcorn, and we all snuggled on the brown sectional couch for 99 minutes. Pausing time so I could have all my kiddos gathered close before three of them take off on a summer adventure with 50 friends. Those gathered-in, chicks-all-under-my-wings moments are precious these days.

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It seems like yesterday I was in the thick of babies and toddlers and preschoolers. I was changing diapers and singing nursery rhymes and teaching ABCs and reminding everyone to say please and thank you and use their words. And now, here we are. Just like that. Jackson recently asked me if I know who Edward Snowden is, and then he clearly articulated his opinion about the entire situation. Last week, Griffin explained how his friends often debated the Bible and God-stuff during lunch. All of my boys have recently started shouting Safety! after they fart before the brothers can yell out Doorknob! and start punching the heck out of their arms. **Ladies, in case you don’t have brothers or sons, this is an actual game teenage boys play. I am so proud of my thirteen-year-old son for introducing his younger brothers to this classy pastime.

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Lauren is half-way through high school, and Rach is right behind her. We’re talking SATs and ACTs and potential colleges. Sometimes we sit up late and laugh and talk, or we watch chick-flicks together. And sometimes we disagree about appropriate bathing suit styles or shorts lengths or how often a girl really needs Starbucks.

I am learning how to loosen my grasp and relinquish control while still loving fiercely.

This is not an easy thing for a momma to learn. But the next ten days will be more practice for me. Today, it’s been like my emotions are in a blender. All the feelings whirring around and around. So much excitement for all the fun they will have. A little bit of jealousy that they’ll have so much fun without me there to watch all the fun they’ll be having. A touch of worry and anxiety that something bad will happen while they’re out from under my care. (As if I have the power to prevent bad stuff from happening when they’re in the same zip code! Ha! Hello! Silas and his open-fractured arm would have something to say about that!) Oh, and an empty sort of sadness because I will truly miss them. Ok, I won’t miss the eye-rollling or the sighing or the Really, Mom? Really? reactions. But I will miss them. So, so much.

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Most days, I feel like I am so not ready for this. For children with feet bigger than mine. For children who drive and drink coffee. For children who have intelligent opinions about Edward Snowden, for goodness’ sake! But it doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not. It’s happening. They’re growing. They’re becoming themselves, people totally separate from me. They’re going on fun vacations without me. At least three of them are. Tomorrow. And I’m thrilled and proud and terrified and happy and sad and worried and excited.

Parenting to the Heart

I wrote this in June of 2008. And I sure need the reminder today. 

Just in case anyone else needs this reminder right now too. . . 

This morning, in his Father’s Day message, our pastor mentioned that our parenting should not be about performance.  We shouldn’t discipline to our children’s performance; we should aim for their hearts.

Now, I know this.  I really do.  But sometimes I forget.  The past couple weeks I have been so tired and so overwhelmed with my to-do list.  I got way behind on laundry and cleaning a few weeks ago and because of travels and more laundry and some sickness I haven’t caught up yet.  The giant mess in my kids’ room and the overflowing laundry hampers stress me out.  Stress and exhaustion and six children in an apartment are not a great combination.  So I desperately needed that reminder this morning.

Even when I know better, it’s easy to fall back into the bad habit of performance-based parenting.  It’s especially easy when I’m stressed and tired.  “I want you to obey because I said so.  And I want you to obey perfectly.  And I want you to obey now.  And I don’t want to have to think about your intentions or your motives or showing you grace or how I’m supposed to be building you up and showing you overwhelming, unconditional love.  I just want you to obey so my life will be easier.”

When I’m tired and stressed, I get angry too easily.  And then I respond from anger and not from love and certainly not from the perspective of forming the character of my children.  I just am irritated that I’m inconvenienced and that I have more work and that I’m dealing with the same exact problem for the sixth time in the past hour.  And I forget that my irritability and horrible example will just result in more work as the same irritability and anger shows up in my children’s attitudes.

Duh!

So I needed the attitude adjustment this morning.  I’ll probably need it again tomorrow morning.  I’m slow that way.  Fortunately, I know from experience that the Holy Spirit will whisper reminders to me in the days to come.

Aim for the heart of my children.  Look for their motives and intentions.  Praise them liberally.  Don’t lump them all together and take out my frustration with one’s behavior on everyone else.  Show forgiveness quickly.  Look them in the eye.  Listen to them when they want to talk.  Have fun with them.  Laugh often.  Hug them.  Remember their ages and set my expectations accordingly.  Respond with love.  Expect mistakes and misjudgments and misbehavior; they are still learning.  Spend time remembering the moment each was born and the overwhelming joy I felt.  Keep in mind the Golden Rule.  Keep in mind 1 Corinthians 13.  Love them.  Love them.  Love them.  

 

#TBT ~ Distraction

A ThrowBack Thursday post for you. I wrote this in October of 2007

soccer4This was just before a game, but it happened in the middle of games too. 

Soccer season is winding down. We’ve had four children playing for the past month. The girls play on a team on Mondays and Wednesdays and two of the boys play on a team on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those Tuesday, Thursday games are quite entertaining. Kindergarteners and First Graders. If you haven’t had a good laugh in a while, go watch 5 and 6 year olds play soccer.

Last night, I stood next to a mother and father and we laughed for most of the game. Some of the children spent more time rolling around on the ground than standing up playing. At one point, three kids kicked at the ball. They kicked each other, but none of them made contact with the ball. One little boy is fascinated with the chalk lines on the field. He spends the majority of each game walking the lines, stomping and watching the chalk fly. Occasionally, he bends over and rubs the chalk with his hands, covering his palms in white chalk. One little boy was standing on the sidelines, waiting for his turn in the game when the ball came near. Quickly, he ran on the field and picked up the ball with his hands. He was so excited to touch the ball that he completely forgot the rules, nevermind that he wasn’t even supposed to be playing at that moment.

 

soccer3It’s important to stop for teammate hugs in the middle of a game. 

It reminds me of my older son’s, Caleb’s, first season. He played defender, which really means he stood around near the goal and his coach hoped he wouldn’t do too much harm while a couple little boys actually played soccer around him. Caleb loved to play in the dirt. He dug so many holes in the field that first season it looked like a groundhog had made his home there. Ever the class-clown, Caleb also loved to make his teammates laugh. So he fell down often. On purpose. Just to get a laugh. His favorite part of every game, though, was to lift his jersey up over his face and wave his arms wildly while screaming, “Who turned out the lights?” It was a sure-fire way to make his teammate Max double over laughing. All while the opposing team was racing past them with the ball ready to score a goal any second. Max’s competitive parents weren’t Caleb’s biggest fans.

Watching these little kids get so totally distracted from the game can be very funny. It does make me laugh to see the goalie climbing the goal posts or waving to his sister when he should be ready to defend the goal. They are little and they’re still figuring out the game. Their distraction is cute sometimes.

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But I’ve been thinking. I tend to face life and my relationship with God the same way these little guys play soccer. And it’s really not funny or cute at all.

I have a tendency to get distracted. I watch the sidelines; I watch the other players; I obsess over whether my teammates like me. I focus on something totally unimportant, like the dirt or the chalk. I don’t keep my head in the game, so to speak.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “. . . forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Paul maintained his focus. He pressed toward the goal. He didn’t stop to play in the dirt or compare himself to his teammates. He didn’t stop to wave to his mommy on the sidelines or stare at the big dog somebody’s dad brought to the game. Paul did not approach life like a Rookie League soccer game. (I know, it’s a very deep, profound, theological thought. It will probably shock you that I haven’t been to seminary.)

I don’t want to approach life like a Rookie League soccer game. I want to maintain my focus. I want to keep my eyes on the prize. I want to press toward the goal. I want to “lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (Phil. 3:12) I want to press forward to maturity and perfection. I want to keep my focus on Christ’s Kingdom.

How about you?

 

 

from a Working Mom ~ what she wants you to know

Yesterday, I shared with you the Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom. As I said then, annoying and hurtful comments certainly aren’t reserved for SAHMs. Today’s guest-blogger is my sister-in-law, Julie, who has worked outside the home for many years. Julie and I both agree that the Mommy Wars is mostly media sensationalism, but we know that there are some attitudes and misunderstandings that feed the Mommy Wars notion. We believe healthy dialogue and listening to each others’ perspectives are always good things. So in that spirit, I share with you Julie’s perspective, in her own words —-

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I sat in my boss’s cubical trying to explain. I liked my job on his ministry team, but I had been there for two years, and there wasn’t room for promotion. The marketing team had an opening and they were interested in having me interview for a full time position. This position also was going to pay almost double what I was making. It would be a great opportunity for me to learn and it would challenge me to grow and break into a new field that held my interest.

Knowing that I had been trying my hand at part-time employment after our 2nd child was born, he said something that day that cut me like a knife –

“But Julie, who will raise your babies?”

A while back when my sister-in-law, Jenn, put it out there on her Facebook page that she was looking for a working mama to write about the most annoying comments they have ever heard, I knew I had to write this post.

You see, for 17 years I have worked outside the home and I’ve heard it all. From well-meaning people who say, “It must be nice to have all of that extra income!” To which I want to respond, “Yes, our family is just rolling in the bank. Um we live in Colorado, hello, it’s not cheap” To not-so-well-meaning questions that, when my children were younger, sounded like “How do you leave your kids with a stranger every day?” To which I wanted to respond with an instant eye-roll and “You know it’s great. I’ve found a great serial killer for a sitter!”

My kids are older now and I’ve matured. I don’t get nearly as defensive as I used to feeling like I have to justify my path as a mother who has chosen to work outside of the home. But instead of focusing on all of the negative things that have been said to me through the years, things that have also been said to countless women who choose to work outside of the home, I realized this week it was the one line said to me by my old boss 14 years ago that encapsulated them all.

Why was it such a blow to me? Why does it still cause a bit of anger and hurt to rise up in my gut when I recall that conversation?

I was in my twenties, and I had two beautiful kiddos, a supportive husband, and a growing faith that I was using my gifts and abilities to help families—for Jesus. I was eager, and excited to give back to a ministry that I felt was making a difference in the world. And what was I getting back in return?

Guilt and shame.

It wasn’t so much what he said, it was how he said it. Condescending and self-righteous. Looking back now I realize, he was a supervisor losing a valued team member. He was going to have to find a replacement. I know this guy. He is a good guy who loves Jesus and his family. He didn’t mean to hurt me. He was speaking from years of what I believe is an attitude that many evangelicals have adopted. They put their personal cultural preferences over what the Bible actually says about certain subjects.

This is often played out in the cultural Mommy Wars. Jenn and I agree that the Mommy Wars are often brought to you by the media hype looking for a good catfight on programs like The View or The Talk. Things aren’t really that bad between my friends and family when this subject comes up. But one place that I have found the Mommy Wars raging the hottest is within evangelical circles. It almost feels like there’s a select few trying to hold on to a sense of what once was or an unrealistic ideal that just isn’t possible in society today.

I am older now and I quit allowing myself to feel guilt for working outside of the home. I made my choice because it was God who opened up doors for me. By feeling like I had to justify my path, I was allowing this false guilt to creep into my thinking. I was cheapening His work in my life. Often this guilt and shame from desiring to work outside the home would come from what I thought others expected of me. When I stopped allowing myself to be manipulated by this way of feeling, I realized that I have gifts and abilities that I can humbly say that the Lord has used through the years in some pretty incredible ways.

I am often asked now that the kids are teenagers, did they suffer as children? I can honestly answer “no” because the spirit in which I took my responsibilities was forged in being obedient to God’s leading in my life. The fact that suffer is a word actually used in this conversation is crazy talk to me. Were there times that I have been off-balanced? Worked too hard? Didn’t give them as much attention as they needed? Yes, yes, and yes! But any mother will attest to being guilty at some point of all of these things. No matter if they choose to work outside the home or not.

You know what? Every mother I know works. And you know what else? We need to stop arguing about how and where she does it. Period.

For the life of me I just can’t understand why we all just can’t agree that Mommy Wars wrapped in the Biblical justification for whatever side you fall on is just nonsense.

We must stop this craziness for our daughters, for our nieces, for our granddaughters. They are watching and we have a great opportunity. Let’s not blow it.

So to help end the negativity surrounding this subject, I wanted to do my part. I want to share with you five positive observations that have been said or done for me—or I have learned over the years as a working mother. Now that I am older, I use them as guide to help me support other mothers, no matter if they work outside the home or not.

If you have other mamas around you, I challenge you to think about some of these examples, and use them to love on the women God has put in your path.

Aunt Sue
Whenever we visit my husband’s family I often find myself having these beautiful conversations with his Aunt Sue. I’m always attracted to talking with her because she has this way of drawing you into conversation in such a loving way. When I was in 20’s and working with babies, I noticed right away that the way she would always make a point to ask me how my work was going. What did I like most about my job? What I was learning? She still does this today. Aunt Sue models how I should take an interest in all mothers around me. She showed me through her actions and words how to see past the stereotypes and ask about the individual. The world needs more women like Aunt Sue.

Treat It Like A Season
After being hurt so badly by my former boss, I sought advice from a Vice President in the company who just happened to be one of the few women in leadership. She wisely looked at me across from her desk after this incident 14 years ago and said something I have never forgotten. Treat this like a season Julie. Don’t be angry. Instead, step back and ask yourself to do something intentional. Look at this as a season. One day, God may ask you to be at home. One day you may have to work more. Treat it all like a season. So when you see a mom who is struggling, hurt or torn, remind her it will not be forever. Point her to being faithful in the season, and to the one who has her there. Do this because time will eventually change the landscape for her. This advice helped me get the focus off of other’s opinions of me, and see the big picture. I am forever grateful for this lady’s ability to redirect my thinking.

If Mama Ain’t Happy Ain’t Nobody Happy
Another great lady and mentor friend of mine gave me this sage advice one day when I was communicating how much joy I felt when I worked, but I felt guilty because, you know I should feel guilty. She told me about her own mother who was very accomplished. How she would get the “guilties” and stay home with the kids when she caved into external cultural pressure. When her mother was home, my mentor told me it was terrible. Her lovely mother would get cranky and frustrated. My dear friend told me, her mother was the happiest when she worked, and that she set the whole tone for their family. I never forgot what my mentor then said to me. If Mama Ain’t Happy Julie, then Ain’t Nobody Happy. So work if it makes you happy. Stay home if it makes you happy. Your kids will reap the benefits of your being in tune with who God made you to be.

Remember The Broad Appeal of The Proverbs 31 Lady
I realize that every Christian woman wants to see herself in this lady. That is why she is there. And you know what else about her? She has a broad appeal. She could be a work from home kind of gal, or a market place chick. Either way you see her, she is a class act. And as long as I don’t put her in a box (I think God wouldn’t like that—that is why she is in Proverbs) she is a fantastic example to all women. No matter where they choose to work.

Refuse To Allow Work (Of Any kind) To Define Who You Are
For years I allowed my work to define my worth. You say well of course don’t do that, but I will challenge any woman, it is easier said than done. Women like to point to men who are most defined by their jobs. But I think women are just as guilty. And it sneaks up on us. From the CEO mom on the cover of Working Mother to the homeschooling mama who just wants a clean house. Our roles and jobs are so personal and shape who we are that they sometimes become our whole identity. We must keep in mind that these “jobs” here on earth are all temporary. We must first and foremost find our identity in the Lord. Jobs will change, family situations change and if this is the identity we have built for ourselves it is a farce. I’ve learned this lesson more times than I would care to, so I share it with you. Go deep with your work and with your family, but always allow God to be your source and vision.

So folks lets keep it positive. End the Mommy War today. Be sensitive to all moms around you, because we need the support no matter what path we choose.

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Julie Abel loves Jesus, her husband Jeff, her kids Jacob (16) and Jessa (14), and their sheepadoodle Monroe. She has worked the last 19 years for Christian universities, in large corporate ministries, small affiliate ministries, and locally focused nonprofits. She and her husband own a consulting business, Rocky Mountain Media Group. You can check out her journey of leaving her suburban life in Colorado Springs behind to live in Estes Park, CO through her blog JulieAbel.com Work and Family.

Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom

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Approximately sixteen years ago, when my first child was born, I became a stay-at-home mom. I’ve officially transitioned to part-time work-at-home mom, but my schedule is so flexible I still consider myself a stay-at-home mom. Over the years, I’ve heard my fair share of ridiculous comments about stay-at-home moms (SAHMs), but I’ve also received a lot of support and encouragement. Many of my friends are moms who work outside the home, and I haven’t felt any animosity from them. I actually tend to think the Mommy Wars is a thing sensationalized by the media, perhaps even fabricated by the media. But a couple months ago, I read something by a young woman mocking the notion of a SAHM being busy and complaining about SAHMs not pulling their weight financially. So I wondered how many people think what this young woman was bold enough to say.

I asked my SAHM Facebook friends what sorts of annoying or absurd comments they have heard. Based on their responses and my own 16 years of experience, I have compiled a list of frustrating and outrageous comments and our responses.

So – here are the Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom

1. Oh, you don’t work?  Ummm, yeah, I just spend my day doing leisurely things, like scrubbing bathtubs and doing laundry and volunteering at my child’s school and mentoring other moms and, you know, managing a household of eight people — not work at all. And when my children were smaller, I spent my days teaching preschoolers and toddlers their shapes and colors and letters and numbers and changing diapers and feeding babies and cutting up grapes and picking up toys and cleaning up spit-up and wondering when I’d find time to brush my teeth. So yeah, I didn’t work in the same way a preschool teacher or daycare employee doesn’t work.

2. Since you don’t work, you can volunteer for this. Just because I have a flexible schedule and I don’t receive a paycheck does not mean I am available to volunteer for everything. I do volunteer for many things, but I also have a lot of demands on my time and I have to protect some boundaries. Please don’t assume I am available for everything you need simply because I don’t go to a place called Work during the day.

3. Of course you have a clean house! You’re home all day! You have All.That.Time! No, because we are home all day with small children (AKA mess-makers), our homes are being wrecked all day by the blocks and Little People on the floor and the play-dough on the table and the crumbs from morning snack and the half-folded laundry that we tried to finish but were interrupted five times during our attempts. If you work outside the home and your children are in some sort of daycare or preschool or school-school, your vacuumed floors get walked on for three or four hours every evening; a SAHM’s vacuumed floors get walked on for 12+ hours a day. Besides, I never stayed home to clean my house; I stayed home to be with my children. Often, those two things seem mutually exclusive.

4. I don’t know how you do it! I could never stay home with my kids all day! They’d drive me crazy! I think I get the thought behind this — it’s that we’re all different and fueled in different ways and have different priorities and stress-levels. But please know – sometimes our children do drive us crazy. Sometimes the crying and the spit-up and the monosyllabic conversations make us feel just a little bit like sipping Xanax smoothies in a room with padded walls. But sometimes the office politics or the seemingly impossible sales goals or the difficult parents of students or the whatever stresses of our former jobs made us a little bit coo-coo-crazy too. None of it is easy, friends. Stress is everywhere.

5. What do you do all day??? See the answer to #1. It probably looks different for every SAHM. When my children were little, I nursed and changed diapers and read board books and sang nursery rhymes and stacked blocks back up after a toddler knocked them over and clapped for the tenth time. I did all the things with my children that your child’s preschool teacher does with him. Now that my children are in school, I spend my days organizing the lives of eight people and volunteering in a Bible study and for the school and for the community and I write and sometimes I even clean my house or do some laundry or take my dog for a walk.

6. You stay-at-home moms don’t contribute financially. I have saved my family so much money by staying home! We never paid a penny for daycare or preschool — that’s a HUGE amount of savings! I never bought a work-outside-the-home wardrobe. We have spent much less money on eating out and convenience groceries, coffee shop coffees and commuting expenses. We are in a lower tax bracket because I do not have a full-time job outside the home. But that’s not even the point for me! The intangible benefits of being home with my children cannot possibly be measured monetarily. I nursed every ear infection, saw every first step, heard every first word. I taught them their colors and shapes and how to sing their ABCs and count to one hundred. I taught my children to read. I snuggled on the couch and napped with them after a sleepless night of teething or sickness or night terrors. You can’t put a dollar amount on any of that.

7. You’re so lucky! I wish I could stay at home, but I could never afford it. For some women, this is absolutely true. You are a single mom or your husband is disabled or unable to work. You truly have no option except to work outside the home. And you say this to SAHMs with full sincerity. For you, my heart is filled with compassion; I wish you could stay-at-home too. But I think this comment frustrates so many SAHMs because this is not a luxury we have happened upon. Most of us are not lucky. Most of the SAHMs I know have made great sacrifices to be home. For years, we lived in a tiny house and rarely ate at restaurants. We drive old cars and purchase things at thrift stores and consignment shops. Well over half the furniture in our home was owned by someone else first. We have never had cable TV. We don’t take week-long vacations to the beach each summer. For a long time, Date Night for my husband and me was eating Sonic take-out in our living room while playing Trivial Pursuit after our children were in bed because a babysitter and a movie or a nice restaurant were not in the tight budget. We have sacrificed because we believed it was best for me to be home with our children, because I felt compelled to stay home with them. (And I don’t say that AT YOU in any sort of accusatory way. It’s just that this is the choice I knew that I knew that I knew was best for us.) That initial choice for me to quit working outside the home was a huge step of faith. But over and over and over again, we have seen God provide in amazing ways — so, yes, we are blessed or fortunate. But I believe that blessing has come as a result of my being a SAHM, not as a cause. I have been blessed to see God provide for our needs in some pretty incredible ways, and I have been blessed to spend the past 16 years pouring into the lives of my children in a way I could not have if I had also been pouring into a job outside the home.

Are you a stay-at-home mom? Have you heard these comments? Did I miss anything?

I know not every mom wants to be a stay-at-home mom. I know some women decide it is best for them and for their children if the mom works outside the home. Some women feel as compelled to go to a place called Work as I have felt to be at home. And I know annoying comments aren’t only reserved for SAHMs, so coming soon — a perspective from a mom who works outside the home.

Adjusting Expectations

When my children were younger and I was younger, I felt disappointed often. You see, I had these crazy, ideal expectations. And, of course, they were rarely met. And by rarely I mean never.

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I would plan a a family day of going to the zoo. Inside my head, I would imagine my six offspring in adorable outfits, looking like Children’s Place child models even though the only Children’s Place clothes we had were hand-me-downs that had been worn already by three children. These children of my imagination would hold hands and smile and stay to the right of the walkways throughout the zoo. They would ooh and aah over the mind-blowing information on those little signs by each animal. When it was time to walk to the next animal, they would all walk together to the next enclosure. In my imagination, no child ever tried to climb onto fences that clearly had large No Climbing signs on them. No child whined, But I don’t wanna waaaalk that waaay. It’s too looonnnnggggg. Birds are stuuuupid anywaaaayyyy. My expectations never included one child calling another monkey poo or one child running half a mile ahead while another lagged half a mile behind. My expectations never included children complaining about the granola bars and water bottles I had packed and throwing themselves on the ground in a sorta-kinda-hunger-strike demand of ice cream from the zoo snack bar. Which is all quite odd since I actually live with my children every day of the year and know how children can be. I guess I just somehow thought that for Family Day, they would all change personalities and develop absolute self-control.

So I would feel grouchy and disappointed. And then I would start acting all grouchy and disappointed and not at all like the idealized version of myself I imagined I would be. Of course, then I would get annoyed with myself because really, what kind of mother whisper-screams through gritted teeth at her kid for acting like a tired and grouchy child when he is actually a tired and grouchy child? 

Every holiday and family day and special anything would result in disappointment and frustration. For me. Later, though, my children would speak of these days and remember only the good parts. Somehow, they’d forget about the brother who sat down and screamed and cried and refused to take another step because there was a pebble in his shoe and the world was sure to end any second. This sort of Children’s Brain Feature is the exact same one that compelled my son to once say, “Momma, I loved the way we used to all have church at home on a Sunday morning. Daddy would play the guitar and we would sing songs and talk about what we were learning about Jesus. I loved that! We used to do that all the time!” And really, we had done that exactly ONE time. ONCE. Ever. This Children’s Brain Feature is surely one of the most beautiful expressions of grace God has given to parents. We get like ten times the credit for doing something once. Grace upon grace.

Anyway, as time has gone by, I have gradually shifted my expectations to be a little more realistic. As I look ahead to special days or family outings, I expect that my children will act exactly like they act every other day of the year. I expect that we will have moments when all eight of us are feeling kind and happy and having fun, but that these moments will happen on a backdrop of the rest of the day, in which one or more of us will be hungry or tired or have a headache or feel irritable. And then I choose to feel incredible gratitude for the sweet moments and file those in my mental scrapbook and try to block out the rest.

This weekend has been an opportunity for me to practice this different-expecatations sort of approach to parenting and life. We don’t want to call it lowered expectations, so we’ll go with different expectations or, perhaps, more realistic expectations.

On Friday, we loaded up the family in the big, red van to drive to Lauren’s away soccer game. From there, we would all go two-and-a-half hours away to North Carolina for Caleb’s first dive meet. We’d check into our budget hotel and get some sleep, then we’d spend the entire day Saturday at the aquatic center for the dive meet. In the past, I would have imagined a fun van ride singing along to songs and reading aloud to the children followed by a cozy night in the hotel and a day of everyone excitedly cheering on Caleb in his first ever diving competition. But I’m older and wiser now. This time, my expectations more closely matched reality.

Caleb woke up Friday morning with strep throat, so he stayed home from school and went to the doctor to get started on an antibiotic. Rachel came home from school with strep symptoms, so I scrounged around in a drawer and found half a bottle of an antibiotic from last fall and started her on that. Yes, I am aware of all that is amazing about my parenting from that last sentence, but I hope you don’t feel too jealous or intimidated. So – for those of you keeping score at home – we started the trip with two sick, feverish children and a boy with a badly-broken arm still in a soft cast, on a Friday evening after a very long week. So it was no surprise that everyone was tired and a little grumpy and eager to plug into headphones and tune out everyone else on the ride down Friday night. It was not a sing-along, read-along, play the license plate game sort of van ride. But there were only a handful of he told me to shut up or she needs to mind her own business or no, I’m not an idiot; you are! kind of moments. So I chose to call the ride down a success, a good memory in my mental scrapbook.

At the hotel, three children slept in the room with Grandpapa and Grandmama and three slept in the room with my husband and me. Shockingly, there was only about one minute of arguing about who would sleep where before we came to a plan everyone could be happy with. Again, we’re going with success and happy memory here.

As we were falling asleep, Silas – the one with the arm in a cast – began this moany cry about how his arm was itching and he couldn’t stand it and it was horrible, just awful, absolutely awful, and really, really itching and he couldn’t scratch it and we didn’t understand how awful it was and aaaaaaaaahhhhhh. And for the first 30 seconds, I felt deep motherly compassion for him. But after my initial, “I know, sweetie. I’m so sorry it’s uncomfortable.” response, he did not stop the moany cry and calm down, like he obviously should have because of my awesomely sweet 30 seconds of mothering. We had already given him Tylenol for pain and melatonin to help him sleep, which was a huge ordeal because, for some inexplicable reason, he didn’t want to swallow those things, so there were kind encouragements, followed by desperate pleas, followed by threats. And so that had already all happened before the moany cry had begun, which meant we could not give him the very last dose of Tylenol with codeine (which we were saving for Saturday anyway). After my 30 seconds of sweet Carol Brady mothering, I quickly transitioned to Rosanne mothering mode. “Yes, we get it. You itch. For the LOVE! Can you please learn to cry in a quiet way? I cry and tears come, but I don’t wail and moan. It’s possible to cry without wailing and moaning. Try it. Stop wailing right now. You are waking your brother, and he needs to sleep because he has to compete tomorrow. Stop it. Moaning and wailing is not making you feel better; it’s just making everyone else feel worse. Stop it. Stopitrightnow.” Finally, I had a blessed epiphany! The bottle of Benadryl was in the suitcase. Benadryl is designed for itching! Also for making children sleep. But, in this case, he was actually itching and so I had a very good, solid reason to give it to him. So we gave him the Benadryl and he slept. And this child-wailing and mother-snapping did not ruin the weekend -or even the night- because I had totally expected something like that to happen. Success!

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Though I was tempted to want all the children to be interested in diving and watch expectantly for each of Caleb’s dives and ooh and aah and cheer, I knew that just having them present in the stands was enough. Good enough is good enough – my parenting mantra you may steal as your own.

I expected Silas to tell me he was bored 50 times, but he only told me about 20 times. Success! I expected Jackson and Griffin to crawl under bleachers and run around and bang on the seats and annoy everyone around us. And they only did that a little of the time instead of all the time. Success! The girls read books, and when we said, “Caleb’s up!” they turned their eyes toward the boards, watched him, clapped a couple times, then returned to their reading. Success! Silas napped for a while on the bleachers. While he was napping, he could not tell me he was bored or itching or hurting or anything. Success! When Lauren told me her throat hurt for the fifteenth time and I had already told her to take a drink of something and that I couldn’t do a thing about it, I just smiled and said, “Yes, got it! Your throat hurts. Now you don’t have to tell me any more. Until further notice, I’ll know your throat hurts. So only tell me if it stops hurting. OK? Ok.” And I didn’t feel irritated or annoyed or disappointed.

And since this was Caleb’s first meet, we had no clue what to expect for him. We were just happy to be there and hoping it would be a learning experience. When he came in seventh out of eight divers in one event, there was no disappointment. Only pride that he hadn’t done any belly flops or back flops or total fails. And when he won first place in another event – mostly because he was the only kid in that division, but whatever, First Place, baby! – we clapped and cheered and congratulated him and told him how proud we were. Success!

In the midst of all of this, there were moments of kindness and happiness and fun. I’m filing those in my mental scrapbook. Remember when we used to always go to North Carolina and stay in that cozy hotel and Caleb won first place in diving and we had that fun picnic in the parking lot and we had so much fun? We loved that! 

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How do you do it?!

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For a whole lot of years now a common reaction I get from people is “How do you do it?” When people find out that I have six children, they exclaim, “How do you do it?” When people find out that my husband travels often for his job, they shake their heads and ask, “How do you do it?” When discussing kids’ activities and trying to keep up with multiple sports and band and choir and all that stuff, other moms will sigh, “I don’t know how you do it all.” And usually I’ll say something about how everyone is wearing his last clean pair of underwear or how the floors haven’t been mopped in too many weeks to count or how I have to sometimes ask for help. Inside, I always cringe because I know that pretty much all the time I feel like I’m Lucy and Ethel in the candy shop and the conveyor belt just won’t slow down and I’m shoving candy in my mouth and shirt as fast as I can.

The thing is — I’ve gotten used to feeling that way. Barely contained chaos is the status quo around here. We eased into the noise and laundry piles and busy schedule one kid at a time. And now it’s our Normal.

This week, I’ve been spending every day with Silas while everyone else is in school. Last weekend he slid down the basement stairs in a cardboard box, the end of the box caught on a step, and he tumbled out and over and broke the heck out of his arm. A little lesson in inertia. After emergency surgery, he spent a couple nights in the hospital. Now that we’ve been home, I won’t let him go to school until he gets his hard cast on. So he and I have spent the past couple days hanging out at home together. And Oh.My.Goodness! That hard cast cannot happen quickly enough! Now it is my turn to say to all the parents of only one child, “How do you do it?!?”

For the love! I have things I need to do, but he wants me to play board games on the iPad with him and he wants me to play cards with him. And after we do those things, he wants to do them over again. He wants to sit right in the room with me, staring at me while I try to write or edit or whatever it is I need to be doing. And I love him more than life itself, but really! This morning I got a phone call, so I walked into the living room to talk. Of course, he followed me. And then he kept whispering, “What? . . . Who are you talking to? . . . What about going to the doctor? . . .” I tried waving him away, like a pesky fly that is trying to land on your lunch. But he would not stop. Finally, I whispered, “Stop it! I’m talking on the phone.” You know what he said? “Well, that’s rude to talk in front of me. You should go to another room!” What?! Kid, I was in another room and you followed me. Stop following me! 

This morning he kept telling me he was bored. I may have said something sweet and motherly like “If you tell me you’re bored one more time, I’m going to break your other arm.” Because that is the sort of gentle nurturer I am. Fifteen seconds later, Silas sat down in a chair and said, “I’m not exactly saying I’m bored, but I am saying I am not entertained.”

Well, now that would be the problem. I don’t entertain. I am not an entertainer.  I mean, I do occasionally stand in front of a crowd and tell stories and feel ridiculously proud of myself when people actually laugh at the things I think are funny. And I once did this absolutely incredible interpretive dance of Bette Midler’s The Rose while wearing a black trash bag. So I suppose I am sort of an entertainer. But I do not entertain my children. They entertain each other. It’s one of the benefits of having half a dozen of them. So I suppose I should add that to my list of answers to “How do you do it?” They entertain each other, which actually makes things easier. 

I sat at the table with him this morning in silence. I couldn’t exactly ask how his day was yesterday. I had been with him practically every second of it. I slept in the same room with him, so I knew how he’d slept. We’d already discussed his weird dream that he couldn’t remember any of. It was a pretty short conversation. Normally, all the children are loudly talking over each other. Many times our dinner table has a higher decibel level than a jackhammer. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating — there’s an app for measuring that. But with just the two of us, all the pressure to maintain conversation has been on Silas and me. Only us. Because everyone else is gone all day. And though I enjoy the peace and quiet of my near-empty house during the day, he obviously has been less than impressed with the idea of sitting in silence. 

Seriously – after the past couple days of so much togetherness – I am wondering how in the world you people with only one child manage! It’s exhausting! I have decided I am far too lazy to have only one child. That must be why God gave me six. How do I do it? I manage the chaos and herd the cats in the right general direction, but they entertain each other. They do the hard part! Right now, Rachel is playing cards with Silas so I can lean back in my recliner and write this. Later, Jackson will play checkers with him on the iPad. Caleb already played cards with him and put on Scooby Doo for them to watch together. 

How do I do it with six? I cannot imagine how I would manage without them all entertaining each other. And after this week, I’m fairly certain Silas would agree! I mean, he wouldn’t exactly say he has been bored with me. Actually, yes, he would say that. He would say that approximately 237 times in a 2-hour period.

Leaving Space For Mistakes And Growth

Growing up is hard. Sometimes, I forget that a little bit, and I don’t give my children quite enough grace as they figure things out and learn lessons. Other times, though, the giant invisible hand of God’s Own Spirit reaches out and clamps over my mouth, whispering into my ear, “Shhhhh. Only say kind, gentle, helpful things right now. This kid’s still learning.”

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This is my Jackson. He’s in fourth grade. Y’all, fourth grade is hard! H.A.R.D. Hard. I think it is the hardest grade of all. There is so much schoolwork to learn. So many state Standards of Learning tests. So many details and maps and people in Virginia history. (Virginia has a LOT of history! Like Virginia is such an overachiever and show-off in the history books! Really, Virginia, you need to have such important roles in Native American history, the European settlement of this land, the Revolutionary War, AND the Civil War? Give another state a chance already!) And math takes a giant leap between third and fourth grade. I don’t know; it just seems like schoolwork is injected with steroids or something at the beginning of fourth grade. And then some pre-puberty hormones kick in. Which doesn’t at all seem fair! Just as school gets extra hard, their emotions start getting all wonky and they develop an actual need for deodorant. But that’s fourth grade. H.A.R.D. Hard.

This year, Jackson has been learning so much. All the math and social studies and science and writing things. All those hard things. And also a bunch of the other hard things – how to be a good friend, how to work hard and not give up, how to be responsible, how to be funny but appropriate, how to be funny without hurting other people, how to not get caught up with the crowd in bullying or being mean. So many big lessons.

Yesterday, we had a conference with his teacher. The usual mid-semester conference to check in and take the temperature and check the pulse of this child and this school year. Jackson showed me some of his work and told me what he’s most proud of and what he wants to work on and how he feels about the grades he’s earning and the work he’s doing. Last week, we had a conversation at home about how just one “zero” can affect a grade, pulling an average down an entire letter grade. We had talked about the benefits of learning this lesson in elementary school and the importance of trying. Yesterday, as Jackson and I looked at some of his work, we talked about different kinds of “C” work. If we work really hard and do our very best and earn a “C,” then that is a “C” to be proud of! But if we don’t do half the work and make a “C,” then that is a “C” to feel disappointed about. Showing up and trying is important.

So Jackson was telling me that he is really proud that since he realized last week how much a “zero” hurts a grade and is a bad choice, he has made better choices and has worked harder at completing work. He said, “I’m really proud that I learned a lesson and that I’m changing. I’m doing better.”

When his teacher joined our conversation, she affirmed that, yes, she does see a difference already. Then, smack in the middle of a really hectic, busy, exhausting week, this teacher said something that breathed air and life back into this momma’s sails. I’m pretty sure a bright spotlight shone down from heaven and a choir of angels began singing quiet background music as she spoke. This sweet, sweet teacher said,

“Jackson, one thing I love about you is that you learn from your mistakes. This year, you have made some mistakes and bad choices, but you always learn from them. You listen to us and then you make better choices. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone does that. Not every adult does that! But you do! You are good at learning from your mistakes. And I’m really proud of you.”

And she gave him a high five. And he grew an inch and a half on the spot and his face lit up with a huge smile. And I just wanted to scoop this little teacher up in a hug and squeeze her and blubber-cry all over her. Because yes! This! This teacher sees my kid! She sees beyond his mistakes and she is gentle with him and she gets that he is still learning. She gives him an opportunity to learn from his mistakes because of her grace and kindness. And so he does.

Fourth grade is hard. H.A.R.D. Hard. But it is a little bit less hard when you have a teacher who leaves space for mistakes and growth. When you have a teacher who says kind, gentle, helpful things because she knows her students are still learning.