revised and renamed version of this mornings post.
I have learned so much over the past almost eight years of actual parenting experience and I know I still have a lot to learn. I became a mother 9 years ago but didn't have the joy of doing the grubby work of parenting until our daughter was born. When our daughter was born I was so thrilled and felt so extremely grateful to finally have a child after such a rocky start to parenthood. I thoroughly enjoyed her as a baby and soaked up every minute but I also wasn't prepared for the challenges of caring for a "spirited" baby...around the clock. She was born ready to party and ready to take her place in the world. She still is!
Around her first birthday we lost our second baby to a miscarriage at 10 wks. A couple months later I was pregnant with Roman. Those first years are a whirl wind of pregnancies, nighttime feedings, tears and tantrums (sometimes my own). I was pregnant 4 times in 3 years...including 3 full pregnancies. I loved finally being a parent but also frequently felt overwhelmed with the challenges of two young children less than two years apart in age. I questioned my ability to effectively train up these two independent, strong willed and very quirky kids.
In the early years of parenting I frequently compared my children to other peoples kids, to other peoples standards and expectations of my kids. I read every parenting book I could get my hands on across the spectrum from Amish syle parenting to Dr. Sears. "attachment parenting" I tried so many parenting "technique's" and styles before I really started to get a handle on what worked for me and my kids individual and quirky needs. Somewhere in the middle is where I landed. I'm not about to strip a switch off a tree to "swat" my infant any time they fail a test I set them up to fail...and I'm not about to "free-range" parent my child either letting them decide their own boundaries. Kids need firm boundaries (moral, safety, respect) but inside those boundaries they need a lot of freedom to explore who they are, freedom to ask honest questions, freedom to make mistakes ....and freedom to be wacky kids. Its a balancing act that involves a lot of vigilance and constant adjustments. Raising kids is more like waltz between us and our kids than it is a left right left right march.
Confidence was what I was lacking in the earlier years. I was insecure and somewhat confused about my role and how to raise my kids in a God honoring way. Actually I was too busy with diapers, feedings, potty training and runny noses to give it much thought. I knew enough to do the basics of childcare, I was a good mom with great nurturing instincts but looking back I expected so much of my self and my kids. Discipline, consistency, quality time, fun play times,nutrition and affection were all part of those first years but they didn't always produce picture perfect kids with perfect behavior and I couldn't figure out why.
It was later that I got an epiphany. My kids are human. Humans make mistakes, humans have a sin nature that gets the best of us sometimes, kids are immature, kids are quirky, kids are silly and dorky and unpredictable. God made childhood as a time for them to get the dorkiness out of their systems :) My kids need a Savior just as much as I do.
I've come to the conclusion there is no one size fits all parenting system and no one discipline technique that fits all kids or situations. Parenting requires constant creativity and ingenuity. It requires flexibility, adaptability, consistency, perseverance and most importantly grace. I have become a student of my children learning what makes them tic, what they respond to and what they don't. I know what is important to them, what disappoints them , what they fear, what they hope for. I know them.
In the past Instead of trusting what I knew about my kids I let too many outside voices and judgments confuse me into thinking they should be something they just weren't.
(I couldn't make my extremely extroverted energetic toddler into a wall flower no matter how hard I tried, however I have helped to mold him into a charming, thoughtful ,extroverted ,energetic little boy.)
I just cared too much what other people thought. After all ,kids are an extension of our own image and ego aren't they(sarcasm inserted here)....or at least that's what we make them into sometimes. I now realize that kids are going to embarrass me on occasion. And that's ok because one of these days they will be teenagers and I will have the privilege of embarrassing them right back :)
My kids will say thank you 5000 times at home for random things like wiping their nose or pouring them a drink without ever being prompted but will forget it when it really counts and the world is watching....yikes. I now care more about nurturing a grateful spirit that will express that gratefulness consistently rather than just training a child to say a meaningless word for the sake of impressing a relative with the big gift
(not that I wouldn't prompt gratefulness at that point :) .
I'm just not going to let little bumps in the road like that embarrass me. I know my kids heart and whether they are developing a grateful one or not. I'm far more concerned with how pleased God is with them than anyone else.
This is only really part of my story of parenting. The part where I realize that an external set of standards is far less effective an an internal one. My focus in parenting is to raise them the way God raises us. With love, security, tenderness, joy, grace, boundaries, and natural consequences. Freedom to express ourselves and even bring our concerns and disappointments to Him without fear of being mocked or dismissed.
My favorite parenting book is called "Grace Based Parenting" by Dr. Tim Kimmel. He has other parenting books that I have read as well. His newest books are this one and "Why Christian Kids Rebel". I like "Grace Based Parenting" because its not a "how -to book" or a step by step program on how to raise impressive kids. He talks more about what kids really need from us as parents. Actually the three driving inner needs of every human.
A secure love
A significant Purpose
A strong hope
Without their parents nurturing these things in their lives (and modeling for them the One who can ultimately fill these driving needs) kids will go looking for them elsewhere...and unfortunately the enemy (who wants nothing more than to steal the hearts of my children) has a whole lot of counterfeits that fit into these categories.
Its just one of those books every parent needs to read. Page after page of "aha" moments. Its a very balanced, common sense resource to help us through this maze of parenting. Its worth a read...you have to read it start to finish though to get the whole of what he is saying.
Are my children's live's (and my life as a parent) filled with a sense of wonder, joy, creativity, freedom and tenderness? Or is it filled with guilt, resentfulness, frustration, obligation and irritation? I must admit some days its a mix of both categories...but when looking at the big overall picture I sure hope its the first one. Which one of best represents our relationship to God...or at least should represent it?
I want to woo their little hearts to the Father who loves them best.
Their little hearts are the prize. Their hearts are what I am after.
There is a spiritual battle for the hearts of my kids and the enemy doesn't play by fair rules of warfare.I can't just build up the walls , arm the fort and then sit back assuming he won't find his way in (when your kid lies to you the first time you realize sin is alive and well even behind a locked fortress).
Having an exoskeleton isn't much good if the enemy may already be deeply ingrained in the flesh beneath....what they need is a strong endoskeleton. A strength of faith, character and value structure that comes from deep within.
When dealt a severe blow or break an endoskeleton will heal it self, it will prove painful but not fatal. If all we equip our kids with is an exoskeleton a blow or a crack in the external structure will prove fatal. That I cannot allow.
The competitor for my child's heart plans seductive, deceptive guerrilla attacks to lure them.
This warrior mama has a battle plan though....she plans to out romance the competition. While the competitor attempts to seduce, I will woo. I will romance their little hearts just like God has romanced mine leaving no desire for any thing less...for a counterfeit. I also have plans to go on the offensive deep into enemy territory through prayer. The prayer of one warrior mama is a powerful thing! Don't underestimate it. I should also add that the prayers of warrior Grandma's, Grandpa's, Auntie's and Uncle's...anyone invested in the life of a child who is willing to commit to praying for them..is vital. Don't underestimate your role and your influence even from a distance.
I want to thoroughly enjoy this short season with my children but more than that I want to prepare them for the future and all the things that it will hold. My job as a parent is to eventually parent myself out of a job :) ironic as that sounds.
Now if you'll excuse me I need to go put on my armour, stand and keep watch over these precious little souls entrusted to me.