Monday, September 23, 2013

Bullet Points for Life: Lessons to my children

  1. Character matters more than money, smarts, and education. I would rather you be a person of integrity than the smartest, wealthiest person on earth.
  2. Life is not fair. It stinks, but it really is true. There will be times when someone else gets the job you are more suited to or another guy/girl gets the date you want. Sadly, that’s part of life. Don’t be surprised when these things happen, but instead, focus on your response to it. What can you learn from it? Choose not to be bitter.
  3. Just because a chocolate chip cookie really does make you feel better when you’re down, it doesn’t mean you should partake. Have a good relationship with food. Don’t let it control you.
  4. Be kind to the people who hold lesser positions in life, the people who are servers or have menial jobs. In fact, you should have one of those jobs sometime in life to really appreciate the amount of work it involves. Don’t be so proud that you’d never take a job like that. The way that you treat people in those jobs is very telling. When you start to date, notice how your date treats the waiter, the valet, pizza delivery guy, etc. If they are rude or disrespectful to them, move on!
  5. Be interested in others. Ask good questions. Don’t always try to be the center of attention. Be a good observer of people, and remember things that people tell you about themselves.
  6. Have a good handshake and look people in the eyes when you introduce yourself. Use their name when you meet them, so you can remember it!
  7. Be willing to try new things—new foods, new experiences, new hobbies.
  8. Laugh, laugh, and laugh some more. Try to find the humor in a situation. And when you do

    something stupid, laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
  9. Marriage is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make Bullet Points for Life: Lessons to my children because your relationship with your spouse colors every aspect of your life. Marriage takes work, and just because you have a rough spot in your marriage doesn’t mean you should give up. Work through it because getting to the other side of a problem makes your relationship stronger. Continue to date your spouse; have fun together. Don’t forget what brought you together, but realize that your relationship will grow and change.
  10. Learn history—world history, Biblical history, American history, and our family history. Yes, I know it’s not always interesting in school, but there is so much to learn—how God intervenes in people’s lives, how to avoid the mistakes others have made, why we are where we are today.
  11. Show kindness to those who are different from you—the outcast, the one with special needs, the new kid in town, the elderly.
  12. Be an encourager, not a discourager. The words we say cannot be un-said, so choose your words wisely. Our words can give life or death. Choose life.
  13. Learn to do things yourself. Even if you have all the money in the world to call in an expert, if the toilet breaks, learn how to fix it. When the deck needs painting, do it yourself. You’ll eventually learn which things you can do and which really do require an expert. As you know, your dad and I stink at dry wall repair. J
  14. Learn to be content. God’s Word says, “Contentment with godliness is great gain.” There will be times when you won’t have everything you want and perhaps even be in need. Seek to be content. Ask yourself, “Do I have food, clothes, and shelter for today?” If the answer is yes, then you have enough.
  15. Be grateful. Practice eucharisteo—thankfulness. It’s not something just for the month of November. Slow down and notice all of the graces that God has given—a baby’s belly laugh, warm sheets out of the dryer, sweet tea—and watch joy erupt in your life. Discontent arrives when we focus on what we don’t have. Joy barrels into our lives when we notice what we do have.
  16. Explore other cultures. Often we think that our own culture is the best, but that is so shallow. Even if you don’t like it all, look for the good in another culture.
  17. Seek to be balanced in life. Work hard, play hard, and rest. We are not slaves, so learn to rest and not feel guilty.
  18. One of the most important things in life is learning to extend grace. Be one who is quick to apologize and quick to forgive. We are all sinners and in need of grace. If you don’t believe me, when you have children, you’ll understand your own sinfulness.
  19. Take care of your body. Eat well and exercise. You only get one body, so be a good steward.
  20. Be authentic. Don’t try to be something you’re not. As someone once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
  21. Tell the truth. It’s far easier to be honest than to keep track of your lies.
  22. Stay out of debt. I realize that it’s not always possible and sometimes life throws you curve balls, so if that happens, get out of debt as soon as possible. Debt = slavery.
  23. Find your passion. Discover the gifts that God has given you—both the skills (the things you’re good at) and the desires (the things you like). Try to find a job that matches both—or create a job that uses both and it will never feel like a job.
  24. Do all things with excellence, whether cleaning up after dinner or writing that presentation for school or work.
  25. Above all, love God. Pursue Him. Spend time in prayer and studying His Word. And know that He loves you more than any of us can imagine.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Realizing I Didn’t Have as Much Control as I Thought

Have you ever thought about the end goal of parenting? What your primary purpose is as a parent? Do you know where you’re headed?

Look at Alice’s goal (or lack thereof) in this dialogue from Alice in Wonderland.

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" said Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where –" said Alice.           
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"– so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

“It doesn’t matter which way you go” if you don’t know where you’re going. If we don’t seriously consider where we’re headed as parents, we’ll likely end up anywhere—maybe some place good, maybe bad. Because parenting is a 24/7 job, too many of us fly by the seat of our pants without ever pondering what the goal of parenting is. We are too busy changing diapers, wiping noses, packing lunches, chauffeuring to practices, and helping with homework to ask ourselves where we are headed. As a result, we don’t ask ourselves those tough questions.

            What is the end goal of parenting?
            What is my primary purpose as a parent?
            What am I seeking to achieve?

Many of us, because we are simply exhausted, will reply: “I’m just trying to make it through each day without one of us dying.” OR “I’m just trying to make sure my kids get through high school (or college) and then they’re on their own.”

Unfortunately, just like Alice in Wonderland, we’ll get somewhere just by walking (or parenting) but it may not be where we want to be and our relationship with our kids may not be what we truly desire.

Whether we realize it or not, here’s our goal of parenting: We are not raising kids; we are raising adults.

Think about that. We are raising adults. That’s the end product of our years of parenting. So what is an adult? It’s someone who is responsible for himself, takes care of his own needs, can make good decisions, is considerate of others, provides for himself, and knows how to manage himself around others. If we are raising adults, then we need to have in mind the “end result” of our parenting. We need to picture them as adults and then ask ourselves how we can help them get there.

When my kids leave my home, they need to know how to take care of their own needs (cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, managing their money, etc.) They need to know how to relate to others in healthy ways. If that’s the case, how do I ensure that TODAY they are learning something that will better prepare them for that day when they leave my nest?

I like to think of children as living in worlds of concentric circles. As toddlers, they are in smaller circles, able to do little bits of things independently. They can put on their own shoes and help to put away their toys. As they get older, they can manage more of their world, so their “circles” increase. They are able to manage their own hygiene, do their own homework, and eventually drive a car. Over time, they should be growing in their privileges and responsibilities, able to take on more and more adult-like tasks as their sphere of influence increases.

So often, though, our own impatience prevents us from allowing our kids to move towards independence. Frankly, it’s easier to do things FOR them rather than take the time to teach them how to do it themselves. At the same time, on an emotional level, sometimes our own anxiety hinders their growth. We are afraid to see them fail, so we act on their behalf. In the end, it’s a control issue. We think that we know best, so we do FOR them what they can do for themselves and we rob them of the chance to grow. Sometimes, in our parenting journey, we think we are in control, but occasionally life gives us the opportunity to realize we aren’t, and we get to watch our kids grow up just a little more.

I had just such an opportunity this summer. My kids flew solo to California to visit their grandparents while I was out of the country. My husband was flying to see me at the same time my kids were flying to Cali. Well, as fate would have it, all flights were delayed, which caused them to miss their connecting flights. The possibility that my children could spend the night alone in the Atlanta or Chicago airport was high. I began getting texts and phone calls half a world away about the delays, but I COULD DO NOTHING. Talk about anxiety producing! Did I mention that there was nothing I could do? UGH!

It was now up to my 15 year old son, who was in charge of his younger brother and sister.

I finally forced myself to get some sleep and when I awoke, I talked to my son. It was midnight in Chicago, and they were boarding their Chicago flight to California. Miraculously, and I mean miraculously, that flight was held/delayed.

“You’ve got to be exhausted. Did you guys sleep at all?”

“Yeah. Reeve and Hannah did, but I stayed awake because I didn’t want us to miss our flight.”

Oh. My. Word.

The maturity that I didn’t even know I could hope for had shown up. I was floored. Here he was, in a big airport, in a highly stressful situation, acting as the protective older brother. It was more than I could handle, so I did what any good mother would do. I cried. (Not that I let him know that.)

“Wow. I am seriously impressed, buddy. I love you.”

When we loosen the reins—or perhaps hand over the reins—we allow our kids the opportunity to become the adults we are raising.

So today, ask yourself if there is a skill that your child needs to learn or a responsibility that needs to be given. Then, squash your anxiety, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Monday, September 9, 2013

On this Bus…

On this Bus…

It was on a bus that my family was introduced first-hand to bullying. My son, riding home with a friend, was the target because of his red hair. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that when I found out my son was punched in the face for the color of his hair, I almost came unglued. In the end, however, the punch in the face, was minor compared to the punch in the gut we all felt when we came face to face with the lack of action on the part of two groups: the other kids on the bus and the school administrators.

Bullying is a complex subject and I won’t pretend to fully address every angle possible in this article. My son was involved in a single occurrence; others are targets for years. There is verbal bullying, physical bullying, and cyber bullying. Some adults intervene beautifully, while others turn a blind eye.

Given the fact that bullying has been discussed ad nauseam for quite a few years, here’s the question I want to answer in this article: What can we as adults (parents, teachers, administrators, etc.) do differently to lead our kids?

One of the major responsibilities that we have as adults is the structure that we set for our children. Whether we are parents, teachers, or bus drivers, we are responsible to our children for the environment that we create. While we don’t have control over our children’s behavior (like it or not), we do have control over the structure of their environment and the administration of consequences. Because of this, we have the opportunity to set a positive tone in our home, classroom, or bus. Here are a few specifics on how to set a positive tone in your environment.

Check your language. One of my biggest pet peeves with the Anti-Bullying Campaign is the language that’s used. Repeatedly, kids are told “Don’t bully,” “No bullying,” “Don’t be a bully.

Let me ask you, “What are you thinking about when you’re told over and over to not bully?” You’re thinking about bullying! Unfortunately, the incessant talk of bullying actually has the potential to increase the very behavior we are seeking to diminish! It’s like telling someone to NOT think about a pink elephant. Well, guess what? They’re going to think about a pink elephant! Instead, we need to be informing students about the behavior that we want to see rather than what we don’t want to see. This leads directly in to the next point.

Communicate clearly your expectations.  “This is our bus.  And on this bus, we treat each other with kindness and respect. Now when you step off of this bus, I don’t know how you’re going to act. When you go home or go to your classroom, you might act differently, but on this bus, we are kind and considerate.”

In his book The Essential 55, award-winning teacher Ron Clark says it is important to let kids know what is expected of them.  “It’s unrealistic to expect kids to automatically behave exactly as you hope they will. Kids are kids, and many actions that may seem like common sense to us will seem foreign to them. I have found that no matter who the child is, if you explain exactly what you want from him and exactly how you hope he will act, then he will try his best to perform up to your standards.” (p. 166) Apparently, Mr. Clark knows that of which he speaks. Not only does he start each year by explaining his 55 rules to each new classroom of students, but he has seen the positive effects of clearly teaching proper behavior. Part of that teaching includes role-playing, a helpful way for kids to immediately practice what they are learning.
So clearly communicate your expectations. Create scenarios and allow the kids to practice appropriate behavior. If you don’t tell them what they expect, it’s more difficult to hold them accountable.

Create a family environment.  Look at the “on this bus” quote above. Do you notice how there’s a sense of camaraderie, a sense of family? It’s like saying, “Other families may tear each other down, but in our home, we build one another up.” It’s important to create an environment in which kids know that they belong, that they are part of the group. When we treat others in a harsh or rude manner, it affects the whole group. This can directly impact their sense of responsibility when they see someone being bullied. If expectations are clearly communicated and they believe that they are part of a group, they are more likely to intervene and stick up for the target of the bully. Unfortunately, we often see bystanders experience a “diffusion of responsibility.” In other words, they don’t individually feel any responsibility. Each person bears a small part of the responsibility and therefore no one is responsible. Instead, if the adults encourage a sense of belonging, then the children will want to stick up for those in their group. They will have more of a brotherly or sisterly concern for their classmates.

Follow through with appropriate consequences. The word “consequence” is usually interpreted to mean “punishment,” but it’s important to understand that it simply means the result or effect of something that has already occurred. I raise this issue because too often people dish out consequences for inappropriate behavior but not for good behavior. Here’s a challenge for you: look for both, but focus on the good behavior. If you’ve set an environment where you expect your students to be kind and respectful of others, then you must absolutely discipline when those rules are broken, and it should be quick and clear. In other words, the consequence needs to happen as soon after the offense as possible and it should be clear to the child exactly what their offense was. But don’t stop there! Be on the lookout for children who are being kind and respectful and extend a “consequence” to those children as well. Perhaps they get a special treat or privilege, but make sure it is celebrated so that all of the students can take note. As a mentor of mine says, “Whatever you celebrate, grows.” Do you want to grow kindness and respect on your bus? Then celebrate it. Do you want your students to be responsible and mannerly? Then celebrate it.

As the adults in our communities, children are looking to us for direction and encouragement. Let’s not let them down! Let’s lead them in creating an environment where bullying takes a back seat to respect, kindness, and encouragement.