…But Not TOO Well….

This is the other side of the coin regarding a post that I wrote a little bit ago entitled Speak Well of Your Children. There it is, if you want to go look at it.

I just wanted to share this incident that happened at the library this morning, lest anyone think I am advocating for the kind of Stepford parenting that has many people feeling isolated.

A meeting of moms and kids had just let out and several moms were still standing around chatting. I looked up from my conversation to see that S had climbed up and was standing on a chair.

I said in a clear voice, “UH-OH. Hey, man, please sit down.” And then he actually did. I know, right??!!

Another mom heard me say this and looked over to watch my son angelically comply with my kind request and I watched as surprise, then admiration, then a little panic flashed across her face.

I quickly blurted out, “It’s really important that you know there are at least 500 other “uh-oh”s behind that one, and most of them were not said that calmly or heeded that quickly. Or at all. I really want you to know that right now.”

Blessed relief. “Oh, thank you for saying that. I was going to say…well I don’t know, but thank you.”

People, listen up. NO ONE’s children are always as well OR as poorly behaved as we experience them to be in any one moment.

UPDATE: J would like it to be known that at the time this photo was taken he was sympathizing, not actually throwing a tantrum himself. Just in case any of you were confused about that.

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Speak Well of Your Children

As a parent I am my child’s primary advocate. Especially when they are small, what I say about E and S is the first and strongest impression people will receive about them. What do I want people to think about my children? If all I talk about is how they scream when I try to dress them, or the times when they don’t listen, or the messes they make, then it’s like pointing at the mess on the floor. Now it’s all you’ll notice. If I offer up other information, though, then other people have much greater opportunity to think well of my children.

It is so tempting to look for some sympathy. Parents of young kids are often tired. Believe me, I get it. It’s overwhelming, the completeness with which they need us. I know. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t find a safe space to process that out. You absolutely should. And please hear me correctly: I’m not saying we should pretend to be perfect, or that our children are. But if you really need to let off steam about something, it ought to be to someone who can think well about you and your kids, otherwise they won’t actually be helpful. If someone can’t think well about your kids, at best all they can do is say, “man, that sounds really hard,” and join in your pity party. At worst, they will agree with you that your kids are terrible. As parents, do we really want to encourage other people to think our children are the worst?

Consider two takes on the same book:

I just read this book; it’s about a bunch of people living in a fake place and they go on a trip or something and get lost in the woods and get separated and some of them die. And they’re fighting over this ring. I guess I liked it.

I just read this book; it’s about relationship, and how we can support each other and overcome anything, even if the odds seem terribly against us. It’s an epic story of courage found in the most unlikely places and it changed my life.

Which would you rather read?

Raising a Woman of Valour (and hopefully becoming one myself)

Lindsey Lohan. Brittany Spears. Khloe Kardashian (or some other Kardashian…I don’t know; aren’t there about three of them that are famous?). Barbie. Whatever “Bratz” is. Biblical Womanhood. Patriarchy in the Church. Women’s liberation. Feminism. Mean Girls. The mean girls in our neighborhood. Buffy. Bella. OH GOOD LORD, Bella. A flawed, tired mother.

My daughter is bombarded. I am bombarded with her. Megan at SortaCrunchy has written very thoughtfully on this topic. It is so overwhelming to think of how many different messages she will receive in her lifetime about how she should be defining herself; and about how she should be understanding herself to be in the world. Not that she knows what all of these things are. She’s only four and a half. But she will. And right now, what she knows is mostly me.

To quote Tina Fey, sometimes I’m the worst. I get so cranky. I’m tired. I hate saying that when people ask me how I’m doing. I don’t like the sympathetic head tilt, or worse, the judgment of the fact that we haven’t nightweaned or just plain old weaned our 17 month old. For whatever reason, I’m not managing my stress too well these days. J would love to give me a break or help me in some way, but I don’t even know what have him do. He helps with housework, kids, diapers, and a host of other things when he’s around. It’s not his fault. But still I struggle sometimes.

The thing is, I don’t think that being a woman of character waits until your kids are sleeping through the night. It doesn’t wait until you are not overwhelmed. Part of me wants to claim that excuse and live in it like a comfy sweater; I am allowed to be mean to you because I am tired. If I just wasn’t up at night, I would be able to do a better job. 

The problem is, that will be too late. E is starting to absorb this behavior. Remember, I am her normal. When I apologize for slamming a door or for speaking too harshly, she says, “I didn’t think that you were being mean, but I forgive you.” This is the worst part for me, because it means that she has learned from me that this is how people are with each other, and it kind of breaks my heart. Kids do not immediately see meanness as meanness. They will assume that they are the problem, and that they deserve it. And eventually, they will start to pass that on to other people. E has started making the most awful (and awfully familiar) grimaces at her brother.

But parenting is a relationship, and you get more than one chance to make an impression. It’s possible that her first memory will be some mean thing that I did or said. But hopefully she will also remember that I apologized and made real efforts to become more gracious. That I never claimed to be perfect, but that I never gave up trying to be my best.

But I can not be everything that a woman should be. No one woman can be everything that a woman should be, and so I am always looking for really great women to talk about with my daughter. It is inconsistent to think that we can obsess over and emulate shallow people and yet raise women of character. I think the first step to becoming and raising women of character is to value those things at a societal level.

So I will present, for your consideration, a few women who are famous in our house.

This is Beatrice Mtetwa. She is a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe and has risked her life and safety to tell the truth about corruption in that country. We heard her speak last summer, and Elizabeth wore pink for her because in our reading about her we found that it is her favorite color.

This is Chloe Hopson. She is the founder and Executive Director of Passport Project, which is a Cleveland organization working toward better cultural understanding and promoting a more healthy, aware and peaceful society through the arts. She is one of the most openly passionate people I know and cares very much about fighting against the racialized ways that our culture functions without many people even knowing it.

This is Mayim Bialik (I’m on the left there). She is a tv star, but I still admire her very much anyway. Because she’s an observant religious person in Hollywood and in the scientifc community, she homeschools, she has a Doctorate in Neuroscience; she’s also just very thoughtful about a lot of things that I care about, like encouraging non-competition between moms, and buying socks from American Apparel because they are sweatshop free even if you do have to make sure your kids don’t see anything super awkward in the process causing them to ask you questions you may or may not be prepared to answer, or to make comments that you find very surprising. I interrupted her bagel-eating to take this picture in which I do not at all look like a crazy super-fan. Ahem.

There are so many more people who are famous in our house than there is space for in a single post!

People like our neighbor Danielle, who homeschools her children who are 10, 6 and under 1. Her older two have taken my daughter under their wing and as I type this she is at a drop-off playdate at their house. She gives me hope that my kids, too, might survive my parenting. Maybe even to age 10.

My friend Audrey, who runs a business from her home and is just generally a really great friend. She is the mother of Everett, who I recently found out is also E’s imaginary friend. That’s how much we like their family.

My friend Michelle, who opened her home to me when I needed a place to stay a few years ago and was my first real grown up housemate. A lot of little unconscious things I do in my household are because of her. My friend Catherine who, among other things, came and found me when I was giving birth and whose voice is the one I hear in my head when I am trying to sound calm and reasonable and eco-friendly.

My mother, who is my normal and who built the framework for how I view the world. My MIL, who did the same for my husband, working very hard as a single mother for his formative years.

I think I’ll stop there for now. But it is encouraging to have such a great cloud of witnesses to what being a woman is. The more wonderful women I can look at and think, “Wow, I’m glad she’s in the world,” the less I feel pressured to do ALL THE THINGS and the more I feel freed up just do my thing.

…So Far As It Depends on Me…

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

The bold sentence is the one I have been thinking about today, although I wanted to show it to you in context because it bugs me when people take a random sentence from the Bible out of context just to prove whatever point they are trying to make.

I have been confused about how much my ability to proceed peacefully through life and community depends on me. What I am learning is that there is no one clear cut percentage that I can apply to all situations. There are so incredibly many factors that affect how I will respond to others that I am left to think that if I am going to actually live the life of Jesus in the world, I may need some help to do it. As I researched context (because, as I said, that’s important to me), I realized that there is some helpful instruction for me in the surrounding paragraph. Things that have really wide application, whether I am chatting with my highly political friends, trying to stay calm when faced with whining for what seems the hundredth time in a single afternoon, trying to figure out if some friend or another is upset and what I should do about it if they are, or even just  trying to calm the teething baby.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.“- I do not presume to claim persecution. I am not one of those who thinks there is a War on Christmas, and I don’t think that just because my religion isn’t widely preached in public schools I am not welcome to have faith. However….if we are supposed to bless those who persecute us, then what excuse do I have for getting upset with some person outside whose car alarm woke my sleeping baby? Is it really communicating who God is to allow personal insult to be felt where it is not meant?

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.“- Well, this isn’t always meant literally. It does not help my children when they are weeping if I weep too. I know. I’ve tried. Mostly at 2 in the morning. But the spirit of this statement is, I think, that we should enter into each other’s emotional space. As E. goes through her day, she experiences many highs and lows. While I don’t have any wish to ride the roller coaster with her (my weight would throw the whole thing off the tracks in a terrible crash anyway), I need to respect where she is if I am going to help her. And now, as S. grows, he is on his own little emotional trajectory. God help me. I must get used to participating in their emotional lives now, or I will have no hope of it later.

“Do not be wise in your own estimation.“- Well, I don’t have anything to say about that one, for obvious reasons. It speaks for itself.

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.“- It’s not that hard to see that we shouldn’t haul off and hit our kids if they haul off and hit us. Even the most staunch spanking supporters I know would say that it shouldn’t be done in a vengeful way. The place where it begins to get trickier is around things like rudeness. It is hard not to be rude back, but it really does make it so much worse for E. if we get into a rude loop where she just says, “Mommy I want {whatever it is}!!!” and I just say “NO! I DON’T LIKE HOW YOU SAID THAT! AGAIN!” She is learning this, too, with her younger brother. If you push him, I say, he is going to think that is how people deal with people sitting on a chair next to them. If you take things out of his hand because you want them, he will learn that is how you get what you want. Is this what you want to teach someone you will be housemates with for the foreseeable future?

Respect what is right in the sight of all men.“- This doesn’t mean everyone else gets to be in charge of what I do. It means that other people have the ability to see things and will likely see things I don’t sometimes. That is worth remembering, and considering when someone suggests that I, for example, stop examining Facebook comment threads and read a story instead. “Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” Even when they are four year old girls.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.“- Growing up I claimed complete immunity from this directive. I didn’t mean offense so if other people were offended, that wasn’t my fault. Now, I am less sure what implications this has on a case-by-case basis. The part that confuses me is what depends on me and what doesn’t.

Some things that don’t depend on me:

My baby crying or not crying.

My daughter’s decision to whine or not.

Other people feeling victimized by me.

Other people feeling overwhelmed by me or my children.

Other people feeling judged by me.

Hmm….for expediency’s sake let’s just say other people’s feelings.

Some things that do depend on me:

Knowing the people I am speaking to, and doing my best to speak in a way I think they will understand.

Remembering when I learn something about where people are coming from, and remembering what in their life might lead them to draw true or false conclusions from my words.

Not passing judgment on other people’s parenting, food choices, lifestyle choices, or whatever.

Not defining someone’s entire personality by one emotion that I witness, whether it was lovely or extremely awkward.

Speaking from a place of love, and a desire for the best interest of my “neighbor” whether that person is an irate fellow driver or a sad child.

If I am overwrought or tired or for whatever other reason don’t work at the things that really are mine alone (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentless, self-control, etc.), then my positive effect on the world is diminished. If I am too busy concerning myself with things that aren’t mine to accomplish, then I really can’t focus on what I need to focus on in order to bring out the best in myself and those around me. The tricky and important first discernment to make as I come to each obstacle is to figure out what work goes into which space, so I can actually move forward.

On Explaining Gay Marriage to my Four Year Old

“Mom! We are having a wedding! We are marrying our-chother!” I squirmed a little uncomfortably as my daughter and her little friend, both beautiful in princess dresses, ran up to me. The two sides of my brain are in a culture war over this issue, and I don’t want my innocent girl to get caught in the crossfire, so I feel a lot of pressure to say the right thing. Don’t screw it up. Don’t screw HER up. Wanting to make light of it, I joked, “Not in Ohio, honey. You have to go to New York or Massachussets.”

One of my closest friends got married a few weeks ago, and E helped me as I helped with lots and lots (and LOTS) of wedding stuff. It’s been a wedding sort of summer. She wants to marry her dad, her brother, her Granddad and any of her friends who will stand in one place for long enough.

“Mom! My two dollies are getting married! I want them to wear matching dresses. What colors should we pick?” She looks at me quizzically when I don’t answer right away.

I long to make the world easy for her to understand. To just say, “Yes that’s totally fine and I have no problem whatsoever with it,” as my friends to the left of me would, or to say, “No, that’s wrong. God says the world works in this other very specific way, and that’s how it is. End of story,” along with the friends to my right.

But the truth is, I’m just not as qualified to make sweeping judgments as I used to be. Or at least, as I used to think I was.

I know this may sound like a cop out but it would be disingenuous for me to take a strong stand on this issue right now.

I know that for me, even if I do find that the Bible is as clear about homosexuality as I was taught growing up, the line between a marriage that honors God and one that doesn’t is not just whether the two people in question have opposite bits.  Looking to popular culture even very briefly can show us this. Does anybody really think that Tiger Woods, Newt Gingrich, or whichever Kardashian that was that time are honoring God with their marriages and their bodies? That they were “more right” than Neil Patrick Harris, Jim Parsons, or any of the other celebrities who are coming out to tell everyone that they are gay and, even more shocking in Hollywood terms, have been with the same person for a decade or so? Unfortunately I know that some people do think that, and I’m clear that I disagree with them on that point.

I have been hearing from some that “we” as christians need to make a stand on this issue and read a couple of articles claiming that, as the church, this is our opportunity to be hated by the world just like Jesus. Guess what? Just because people are mad at you doesn’t always mean you are just like Jesus. Sometimes you’re just being a jerk.

We are nowhere in scripture called to go into the world and make straighties. We are, by the way we act, speak, and yes, even eat, to act in such a way that reflects the life of Jesus in the world; to live in such a way as to bring about an awareness of God in the people around us. That is a broad calling, and will look different for different people. I know that there are many gay people with very sincere faith (it hurts my heart a little to realize that I even needed to say that) and  I’m not willing to discount someone’s entire relationship with God simply because of their orientation. If I were, I think it would be a terrible overstepping of my job description as a follower of Jesus.

I am to love people with an open hand and trust that God cares at least as much about them finding their way in as I do. And you know what? I really have no trouble leaving almost everyone else’s sexual decisions between them, whomever they choose, and God.

And yet, if one of my kids came out to me….that would be really hard for me. I would choose to love my child no matter what, and what is important to them will be important to me also. But these are my kids, and it feels like I have so much more of a stake in their choices. I am told by the Bible to raise them to know about God, and to “train them up in the way that they should go.” It would be very hard for me if one of my kids was gay. It would also be very hard for me if they were judgmental, lazy, unwilling to learn, prideful, mean, or any of the other things that are so much more often and so entirely denounced in the Bible. But you know what? There are moments when they are likely to be all of those things. Because they are my kids. And there are moments when I have been all of those things. So rather than standing in between my kids and God as a gatekeeper saying, “This is what you have to do, and think, and be for Jesus to love you,” I will allow for the fact that there are things I’m not quite sure about.

All of this passes through my mind while E waits for me to tell her which dolly should wear what dress.

“Mom???”

“You know, kiddo, sometimes I don’t know what to say when you talk about girls marrying girls. It’s kind of a big deal for some people, and a lot of people think different things about it, and some people get really mad. One of our friends gets really mad if you say that girls can’t marry other girls, and another one gets really mad if you talk about girls marrying girls. I haven’t decided to get really mad at either time, but if it takes me a minute to answer you sometimes, that is why.”

That’s all I’ve got just now, and I can only hope and pray that it’s enough for today, and that I’ll be given more when I need it.

Other people I know (or at least read) have posted really thoughtfully about this topic. Some of them are:

Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker again. She’s that cool.

Danny Golde

Andrew Marin, an Evangelical guy who is trying very hard to reframe this whole conversation in a more productive way. I liked his book a lot. He doesn’t take really strong stances either, and that frustrated the “just tell me what opinion I’m supposed to have about this issue” crowd, but I appreciate his humble approach.

Dan Pearce– I’m Christian, unless you’re gay.

Can Guilt be Productive?

I think so.

In Christianity there is this idea that there is productive guilt (“guilt that leads to repentance”) and unproductive guilt (leads to despair and is often even wallowed in as a way to avoid having to make any change…we can do whatever lazy thing we want, as long as we feel really, really bad about it and ourselves). Unproductive guilt should be released, as it changes nothing and helps no one.

Or, to give credit precisely where it’s due,
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. ” 2 Corinthians 7:10

There are many different ways to express despair over the lifestyle we have here, and the choices we make (or don’t make).

Green Guilt.

Mommy Guilt.

Daddy Guilt.

White Guilt.

First World Guilt.

The list goes on and on. I am thinking about this because this blogger that I like to read, Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life, posted a link on Facebook to an article detailing all the different things that parents feel bad about doing to the planet. Their conclusion seemed to be that nearly everyone (94% of parents) has some level of guilt for the choices they make as parents.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like such a huge thing to be under…a little twinge when you throw out a plastic diaper, maybe a moment of regret at the register as you realize you forgot the reusable bags again…but these little twinges add up and can actually form an invisible barrier between you and whatever change you would make. Well, it’s just one more diaper. Besides, how many diapers have I thrown away this year? Oh…I know this is the wrong thing. I really should change it. But really, it’s just one diaper. And I’m so tired. Maybe next time. Ugh. I should do it this time. But I didn’t last time. I felt guilty then too. And look how pointless that turned out to be? And it’s really just one more diaper….


It’s insidious, really. The pointless guilt (worldly sorrow, for you Christianity-inclined lot) often comes trailing along behind a kernel of truly productive guilt, which is a real and helpful reaction (like its fear counterpart…people who see a wild animal running angrily toward them in the woods and don’t have an instantaneous adrenal response are probably more likely to get mauled) to recognizing something in ourselves or our lives that needs to change. We have a flash, just a moment, where we could change. But as we waver, all our past failure to progress comes rushing in around like a smotheringly comforting blankie to remind us that we really aren’t capable of change, poor dears that we are, so why even bother? We are left with our feelings of guilt, because we can’t let go of that (what are we, heartless? Think of the drowning polar bears! The sweat shops! The pesticides! No, we must hold on to our guilt, because we owe them that.)

This, people, is no way to live. 

When it comes to my attention that something needs to change, I try to really sit with it for a while. I find out as much information as I can, talk with respected friends (of differing opinions, if I can), and when I feel like I have gathered all the information, I move forward in the direction I choose. There is no room in this method for false guilt. I do the best I can with the information available to me.

Guess what? So do you. 

If there’s something you’re feeling guilt about, and have been for years, why? What’s the point? Is it something that you should change? If so, step out in freedom to change. If it doesn’t work, at least you tried! If you really can’t change it, or thoughtfully decide not to, then your guilt helps no one. Not the polar bears. Not the sweat shop workers. Not even your kids. Least of all you.

The Spectrum of Conversation

Right now we are dealing with some behavioral challenges. It’s somewhat helpful for us to call this a “negative developmental phase”. Somewhat helpful because it helps us to remember that this, too, shall pass. It would be easy in some moments to throw up my hands and abandon E. to herself. It is hard work to model calm, loving gentleness under normal circumstances; even harder when I am running on 3 of my four cylinders sleep-wise.

So when something comes to me like an idea-gift I have to write it down because chances are I’ll need to read it again in a few days because I’ll be tired and I’ll forget.

So here it is. Today’s revelation that is helping guide my daughter through this negative phase:

In any given conversation, there are constantly varying levels of passion on both sides.

Now, everyone has their own lexicon and might define marks along the spectrum a little differently, but this is what I came up with on the fly, starting with the least passionate and becoming increasingly heated:

Conversation, Discussion, Disagreement, Argument, Fight.

Here’s how that plays out in our family…we did some role-playing and here’s what we came up with:

Conversation-

“I think we should paint the room blue.”

“I think we should paint the room red.”

Discussion-

“I think blue would be better for the following reasons.”

“I get that, but I think red would be better for these other reasons.”

Disagreement-

“I hear your reasons, but I still think my reasons are better and I still like blue.”

“I know you like blue and I know why but I really think red would be better.”

Argument-

“I like blue better and I will not really listen to anything about red.”

“I like red better and I will not really listen to anything about blue.”

Fight-

“I don’t like red and I don’t like your shoes!”

“I don’t like blue and your hair is ugly!”

One way this is useful in our interaction is that I can check in with E. and say, “We are talking about this and I thought we could discuss it, but you are full on fighting right now.”

Another way it’s useful is to check in with myself and figure out where on the spectrum I am at opportune moments. If I am broadsided by a three year old who comes out swinging (so to speak) when I ask her to use the toilet, it’s easy to match her at the angry end of the spectrum. But even though it’s hard, it’s worth it to pull myself back for a minute and leave space for a “gentle answer” which “turns away wrath”.