What Do My Reactions Say To My Children?

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction…and a parent’s overreaction.

He met me at the door, eyes wide and brow furrowed. I immediately knew something was up, because the only one who meets me at the door these days is our 7 pound, 4-year-old toy poodle. Not our 8-year-old who typically has his eyes glued to a computer screen watching cats jump three feet in the air at the sight of a cucumber, painful football injuries…or people opening Christmas presents. (I didn’t even know that was a thing.)

No, it couldn’t be good.

As I opened the door, he launched into the horrific tale of walking into our master bathroom to use the restroom only to find a wet spot on the wall by the toilet. (gasp)

Right.

His delivery needs work, but it was good for an amateur.

So I began my usual line of questioning. What kind of wet spot? What color is it? Did you smell it? Are you sure it was already there and not just bad aim?!?

He quickly assured me that it was already there and that he had no idea how it happened…but that I should see for myself. So I went to investigate the crime scene with him trailing close behind.

Sure enough, there it was. A wet spot, still dripping, directly next to the toilet. So I did what any seasoned mom would do and bent down on hands and knees to smell it.

Perplexed that my keen supermom-senses did not detect any bodily fluids, I sat back on my heels and began to survey the room around me while Hayes stood there anxiously wringing his hands and repeating, “I have no idea what happened…it’s just weird.”

Right.

That’s when I caught sight of faint specks of red on the floor underneath the wet spot and a wad of wet toilet paper by the sink.

“Did you try to wash something off of the wall?”

You’d have thought I had accused him of grand theft, and he was getting 10-20 in the slammer.

Denial, tears, blame (it had to be the brothers…or the dog…or BOTH) ensued while I tried not to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

I wasn’t even mad, at least not about whatever had happened there. I just wanted him to tell me the truth, and I told him so. But the more I prodded him to come clean, the more the frenzy escalated until I finally just sent him to his room before I lost what little patience I had left and said something I would regret. (been there done that…too many times to count)

After a few minutes in the think tank (he does not like to be alone), he came out, sat at the kitchen island, and stared at me.

“Yes?”

Then came the tears, “But I don’t want you to be mad at me.” 

“I’m not.”

“But you are! You have the mad face!”

Sigh….“Ok, a little…but not because of the wet spot or whatever happened with the wet spot. I’m upset about the lying. The wet spot can be fixed easily; the lying is the real problem. That’s harder to fix.”

And that’s when the dam broke…and through the tears and the sniffing (lots of tears and lots of sniffing), I pieced together the sad tale of an 8-year-old who had a bloody nose, ran to the closest bathroom, made a mess on the wall, then tried to clean it up before anyone knew what had happened. How nobody else in the house knew all of this was going on, I will never know.

But in that moment, my heart broke a little.

Don’t get me wrong. He was still in trouble for lying and had to listen to my “Why it’s always better to tell the truth” speech. After 15 years of parenting, it has been fine-tuned and well-rehearsed, so I wasn’t about to waste it.

But what broke my heart was the fact that he was afraid to tell me the truth. Not because it was horrendous. Believe me, all three boys have done worse. Not because of the punishment. He knew he deserved whatever happened. I didn’t even play the “I’m disappointed in you” card, so it couldn’t have been that.

No, he was afraid of my reaction.

How many times have I completely flipped out over a spilled cup, a scratch on the car, a rip in a new pair of pants? How many times have I lost my mind over something little just because I was having a bad day? How many times have I made my children feel like something material, something replaceable, was more important than they are?

Like an arrow to the heart, I realized that I had failed in creating a safe space for them to come and share their mistakes and failures.

Oh sure, they talk to me about all kinds of things. They tell me all about their friends at school, what’s going on in their lives, who is doing what; and I pride myself on being the kind of mom who has an open line of communication with my children.

But when it comes to things like this, things they’ve done wrong and mistakes they’ve made….let’s just say my reaction has been less than inviting.

If they can’t come to me with the little things, how can I expect them to come to me with the big things?! It doesn’t mean there won’t ever be consequences or punishment. Those are part of life, and we have a responsibility as parents to see those through. They know that and expect it, but sometimes they just need a soft place to land when they mess up regardless of the consequences.

I want to be that soft place. I want to be approachable in the little things so they will feel safe enough to come to me with the big things too.

It’s not easy when life is hard, and busy, and stressful. Our nerves are frayed and our tempers are short. The last thing we need is one.more.thing. 

But in the grand scheme of things, what is really more important? Fixing a broken door or fixing a broken spirit?  We all know the answer, but simply asking the question puts it into perspective.

And it doesn’t become easier as they grow older, only harder. So it’s time to create that safe space for my family, that soft place to land. It’s time to show them that their feelings are important, and I love them more than things.

It’s time.

And…

It starts with me. It starts with my reaction. It starts now.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” – James 1:19, 20

 

Christmas: The Most Wonderful Time of Year…or is it?

When the most magical time of year doesn’t seem so magical…maybe we should listen to the movies after all.

The holiday season has just begun, and I’m already tired.

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? But the mere thought of decking the halls and fighting the crowds makes me want to crawl under the covers and resurface only after the ball drops in Times Square.

Now, maybe you are Cindy Lou Who and radiate the Christmas spirit all year long; and if that’s the case, yay you! Please feel free to come to my house and radiate all day long. I will not stop you…and may even hand you the lights.

But some of us need help. (And by some of us, I still mean me.)

I’m not going to lie. Every year at this time, I get cranky. I’m all Thanksgiving-ed out, the kids are jacked up on caffeine and sugar, and all I can think of is the enormous list of things that need to be done. And don’t get me started on the lights that mysteriously stop working from year to year. I just love that. 

Bah-humbug.

Let’s face it, Moms. Our children’s happiness rests solely in our hands! Whether Christmas is a success or failure depends entirely on us. One wrong move, and our kiddos are going to therapy!

Or not.

But isn’t that how we feel? We put this enormous unattainable pressure on ourselves to make this the biggest and grandest Christmas of them all and completely wear ourselves out doing it. There’s nothing less fun than when we try to force the fun, believe me I know. I usually have this idea in my head of how it’s going to go….and hell hath no fury like a mother who doesn’t get her picture perfect holiday.

“Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together.” – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I mean, just how many “traditions” does one family actually need? Talk about pressure! After years of collecting traditions like coffee mugs,  (those sentimental blog posts and creative pins will get you every time) I started asking myself why? Am I creating lifelong memories for my family to pass down to their children…or am I trying to impress other moms who are just as tired as I am.

After giving it some thought, I realized many of the “traditions” we had were merely checking boxes.  They didn’t breathe life into our family or make happy memories. It became more about creating the “perfect Christmas” than about celebrating Jesus and our time together as a family. Bottom line, it was stressing me out; and when mama ain’t happy…nobody’s happy.

“He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!” – How the Grinch Stole Christmas

And guess what. I found out that no one even cared about half of the “traditions” anyway! Here I was stressing over fitting it all in so we could “Save Christmas” that I was totally missing what really mattered to my family.

When I took the time to sit down and find out what that was, I realized it was more about “Quality over Quantity.” It’s not how many traditions we have or how many presents we buy….

  • It’s making the traditions we have count. Quality time together doing something we all enjoy. And that’s different for every family! You may enjoy baking Christmas cookies…and we may enjoy going “Light Criticizing.” (don’t judge…it’s a perfectly good holiday tradition) 
  • It’s making the gifts we buy count. The older our children get, the more expensive the toys; so they know they may open fewer gifts…but they also know they will enjoy them longer.
  • It’s making the memories we make count. The more we schedule, the less fun we have. The best holiday memories I have are of the unplanned moments…the people…the love.

“That’s what Christmas memories are made from. They’re not planned, they’re not scheduled, nobody puts them in their Blackberry, they just happen.” – Deck the Halls

I don’t want the only holiday memories my children have to be of their crazy mom trying to force the magic. I want it to be magical because it truly is a magical time of year when we let it.

Quality over Quantity…that’s what I want. Now if I could just get rid of the Elf…..

“Just remember the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.” – Santa Claus, The Polar Express

 

 

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Because we are all in this together…

I married a baller.

No, not like “the Rock” kind of Baller (although I’m sure my man wouldn’t hate the comparison), but the kind of baller that at one time or another has played, coached, or binge-watched every sport known to man. (Maybe you married one of those too, and we can hang out every Sunday afternoon from now until we die. Call me.)

So when Shane and I embarked on this little journey called “life” together, I knew at some point we would most likely produce a little baller of our own. It seemed inevitable…and became even more of a probability once we realized we could only produce boys. However, while the first two willingly participated in many sports, there never was that burning fire inside that drove them to diligently practice for hours on end or force themselves to do every day tasks with their non-dominant hands. (apparently, that is a thing)

And surprisingly enough, my baller husband was ok with it. I expected him to be all “Crazy Sports Dad,” but he had seen so many of those throughout his years of playing and coaching that he had determined not to become one himself. I was impressed.

Then came Kid #3.

If you look up baller in the dictionary, I’m sure you will see a picture of Hayes, or at least you should. Straight from the womb, this kid was on fire. So of course, we registered him for every sport possible as soon as he was eligible, because he was chomping at the bit and that’s exactly what he wanted. Happy dad.

It was pretty great until we realized we had more to work on than just form and technique.

For instance, take (age 5) when we told him he needed to stop hogging the ball and let others have an opportunity to score. After clearly struggling with the decision, he reluctantly kicked the soccer ball over to a delighted girl in pigtails who then proceeded to kick it straight into the stands. Face red and arms crossed, Hayes immediately looked over at us from across the field and yelled, “THAT’S THE LAST TIME I EVER DO THAT!!!”

Proud parenting moment right there, let me tell you.

Or how about the times his older brother advanced in either stripes or belts before he did in jiu jitsu, and he cried biguglytears…while complaining loudly about the injustice? Fun times.

I’d love to say that we were able to take these teachable moments and imprint upon his little baller brain that it is important to be a team player, cheer your friends and teammates on to success, and win or lose graciously. However, if it were that easy, there would be no Tom Brady’s, Lebron’s, or Cam Newton’s now would there. (no offense, Cam, we still love you)

No, there have been plenty of highs and lows, bad attitudes and ego trips in his 8 short years; and I am sure there will be many more to come.

So when we started off the football season this year, I was nervous…especially after he made the first touchdown and celebrated like he had just won the Super Bowl. I wondered if he would be able to give up the spotlight and cheer for his teammates, put the team first and fight together for the win; but to my surprise and relief, he did!

Somewhere along the way, he began to see that working together and celebrating each other is important. It’s what makes people love being part of a team. It’s what makes someone a true baller. 

“Someone else’s success does not rob you of anything.” – Christine Caine

So why do we grown ups often forget this important truth ourselves?

When something good happens to a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker, our worth does not become less because of it. Yet so many times, we feel like another’s success somehow magnifies our failures.

“We have an enemy, and it’s not each other.” – Lysa TerKeurst

Satan would love nothing more than to use the good things in a person’s life to alienate and damage relationships. By whispering lies, he manipulates our emotions to keep us from working together toward a common goal and building each other up. Don’t you see? If he can divide us, then he can conquer and render us useless in furthering the Kingdom. It’s been his plan all along!

But God has a better plan,

“Two are better than one…for if they fall, one will lift up the other.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” It happens to be a favorite in our home; because as a family of five, nothing gets done unless we work as a team.

But the truth of the matter is we are all on the same team in this life. We are all working towards a common goal. My weakness may be your strength, and your weakness may be my strength. So why not capitalize instead of compete? Can you imagine what we could accomplish together if we started celebrating each other?

The devil certainly doesn’t want us to find out. He will do everything in his power to keep us divided. But thanks to our gracious Heavenly Father, he isn’t on the throne, and we don’t have to listen to his lies. The battle has already been won, our Almighty God is victorious, and we are His team. Let’s act like it.

 

 

 

Am I a Bergen or Troll?

Bergen…or Troll. Doesn’t sound like much of a choice, does it? This weekend I took my two Littles to see the new Troll movie while the Bigs went to an action flick; and to be completely honest, I’ve never in my life owned a Troll doll or even liked Troll anything. In fact, they always looked a little creepy to me. But the boys wanted to see it, they actually looked cute (kind of like rainbow Smurfs)…and Justin Timberlake is in it. Enough said. (Don’t worry, I won’t give too many spoilers if you haven’t seen it yet.)

Now, I don’t know how it is with your children when you go to the theater; but once my guys step foot inside the front doors, they act as if they are suddenly dying of hunger and thirst even if they just ate 5 minutes ago. It’s no longer enough that we spend a gas tank’s worth on movie tickets, they now expect to add a grocery bill in snacks to make the movie “extra special.” I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy, and theaters in fact pump mind altering drugs from their vents giving everyone inside the munchies. Mark.my.words.

Being the professional parents that we are not, they usually get away with a drink (to share), maybe some popcorn, and some candy (that may or may not be smuggled in at times…I will never tell). So drink and candy in hand, we find our seats just as the movie starts.

Just to give you a little background information without giving anything away, the Trolls are these adorable little creatures who are always happy, sing and dance about everything, poop cupcakes, and love to hug. (and I totally want one…or ten) On the other hand, the Bergens are large ugly creatures who hate life, need major dental work, and think the only way to find happiness is by eating a Troll. (sounds legit) Every year, the Bergens hold a festival in which they each eat a Troll, that has been captured and held captive, to find their moment of “true happiness;” and this particular year is the first time the Bergen King Gristle Jr. has been allowed to participate.

Now, if you really don’t want a spoiler, you may not want to read any further. However, this part of the story is important for where I am going with this. 

So here we are at the festival, as the young Gristle Jr. is preparing to eat his first Troll so that he can finally experience “true happiness;” and at this exact moment, Hayes hands me his Skittles bag to open whispering, “I can’t open this. Can you? Make sure you don’t drop them.” Famous last words.

I’m not even kidding when I say this….but it was like slow motion.

Gristle Jr. takes a bite of his highly anticipated first Troll only to discover he has been thwarted by the escaped Trolls just as I rip open the bag of Skittles sending every.last.one. of them flying into the air and all over the people around us.

It literally rained Skittles for at least five minutes; and just when we thought it was over, someone moved and sent yet more Skittles pinging across the floor.

The look on Hayes’ face mirrored that of Gristle Jr. Complete and utter horror.

Gristle Jr.: “How am I supposed to be happy NOW?!”

Hayes: “This movie is completely RUINED. I don’t even want to watch it now!”

And I’m sitting there thinking I just stepped into the Twilight Zone and wondering if there is enough room to climb under my seat. But then it hit me.

True happiness is not in people, things, or circumstances. We say we know this, right? But while it is hard for an 8-year-old to understand this truth, it is just as hard for us as adults to accept. We think that the work promotion, new car, bigger house, or designer handbag is going to make us happy. But the truth is, we only turn around and want something else…something bigger, something better. It’s never enough, and we end up forever chasing happiness just like the ugly Bergens…only with better teeth. Bottom line is that true happiness isn’t in something tangible. It is found in Jesus and only in Him can we truly be content. 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13 NIV

So instead of climbing under my seat (I know you wondered what happened with that), I turned to Hayes as he sat pouting and whispered, “Are you a Bergen or a Troll?”

Blank stare (but he was listening)

“Are you a Bergen who thinks the only thing that will make you happy right now is a bag of Skittles? Or are you a Troll who will be disappointed…but will still enjoy the really cute movie we are watching?”

Bingo. Light bulb. And the fact that I even suggested he was remotely close to the ugly Bergens was enough to make him sit a little taller and re-engage with the movie before us.

The fact of the matter is, this little lesson ended up being more for me than it was for him. Yes, it helped him put things into perspective. Yes, I plan to use the Bergen/Troll analogy again for other seemingly catastrophic events (of which he has many). But even more importantly, it made me ask myself the hard questions. What is true happiness to me? and Am I a Bergen or a Troll?

Oh and by the way, for those of you worried about the poor kid’s Skittles…yes, I did suck it up and go buy him a bag of ridiculously over-priced candy from the concession stand…and yes, I did leave a trail of Skittles along the way.