Category Archives: Life Lessons
I don’t know if there is anyone who doesn’t smile at the sight of baby. Fresh and new, unblemished, ready to begin life on earth. We smile at the innocence, the beauty, the miracle.
I think I began my life as a mother in a similar way. Innocent, hopeful, full of wonder and excitement. Of course, trepidation was a common feeling too. “How am I going to manage this ‘mom’ thing?”
As my children grow, I see their experiences molding and shaping them year by year. I take note of their minds and hearts working as they learn to make decisions for themselves. I try to give them helpful counsel as they learn to react to and interact with others. All too often, I wish I could protect them from hurt and difficulty, from the scars I know life will bring. Brought on by those same things I have faced and sometimes continue to face, even as a “grown up”. Sometimes I even wish I could protect my children from myself. From the fears I haven’t faced, the hurts I haven’t quite gotten over, the skewed perspectives I have. I think how nice it would be if I could do the “mom thing” from that same unblemished, perfect state babies seem to have when they enter the world.
Sometimes it takes years to realize something I encountered long ago still affects me … and my interactions with my children. The way I relate and respond to them. Not long ago, I felt hurt by a friend’s attitude toward my kids, and didn’t know why. Then I realized why it affected me the way it did. Years ago I had been hurt by the words of another “friend” who was vocally opposed to my second pregnancy and let me know in no uncertain terms that she felt me and my children were only a burden. The hurt I felt by her remarks remained in a place so deep I didn’t consciously realize it was there.
But it was. I became one of those parents constantly hovering over my children, hushing them if they became too loud, telling them not to disturb this person, and not to bother that person. Yes, it is good to help children grow in awareness of others and to understand there is a good and a not-so-good time to ask for things, but my hovering was borne of fear that I would again face—or worse, that my children would face—someone letting them know they are a burden, an unwanted load.
I was often preoccupied with making sure my children were “good” and “quiet” so they wouldn’t become an issue for someone else. But I don’t want to make the mistake of raising children in fear or negativity. Enough negative and harmful things face my children simply because we live in a broken world. My duty as a mother is to be a haven of security, peace, and helpful boundaries. Not to exude an “excuse me for breathing” mentality.
Most of all, my responsibility and privilege is to show them unconditional love. Children are a gift. They don’t need a reason or an excuse. Each child is a treasure with the potential to change the world for the better.
Seeing each day through the eyes of a child can help me remember every day is a chance to start over. Each lesson I help my children understand can serve as an encouragement to let go of past pain and hurt. Every new life ushered into this world is another proclamation that my life can likewise begin anew every day.
“Oops, sorry,” And “uh-oh” seem to be two very common words in a child’s vocabulary. In fact, “uh-oh” was in the “top ten” of first words spoken for each of my children. It was my nephew’s first word, which he mastered at only eight months.
I thought it interesting how children are so aware of when they make mistakes and blunders—which are such a common part of childhood. Children strongly sense our acceptance and approval because it is a need for them to feel accepted and loved; they also recognize the lack of those, especially when they make mistakes.
It’s easy to get frustrated when the same child has made the same mistake, yet again! However, we have to understand that our reactions to their mistakes will develop into their reactions at their mistakes. If we view childish blunders as “the end of the world”, or respond sharply or angrily, they will learn to fear mistakes, and will grow with a mistaken view of that state called “mistake”.
When we do something wrong, we usually hope no one noticed, and we jump at the chance to start again and do it right the next time around. How much more so should we give our kids the chance to try again, without judgment or labeling?
As a child, I was freaked out about making mistakes and screwing things up. I remember one summer when we went for a weekend camping trip. We were at a table with some friends we had made in a room with 50+ other tables, all full of vacationers. I knocked over my glass of orange juice and it spilled on my new friend’s plate of food. No one even reacted strongly or harshly but I was so mortified that I began to cry and it took me a few minutes to compose myself. I can’t remember how I first developed such a fear of mistakes, but it was deeply ingrained. As a teen, my perception slowly changed and grew into the fact that mistakes can be learning experiences and failures can be stepping stones to greater things.
When I became a mother, I hoped my children would never have that same fear of “failure”, but would have a healthier perception of it. I tried to encourage them and adopted a simple saying in our household of, “It’s okay. We all make mistakes.”
We had visitors over for dinner one evening when the inevitable happened. My daughter, who was four at the time, spilled her cup of water. She was stunned and looked up at me. I jumped up for a towel without saying a word. By the time I got back from the kitchen, our guest quipped a few words to try to liven the situation. It had the opposite effect and I saw the tears forming in my daughter’s eyes. I remembered that moment of mortification from years back and wished I could save her from it.
“Could you help me wipe the floor?” I asked her, giving her something to do. “You’re real good at cleaning the floor.”
She smiled and got off her chair. “It’s okay. We all make mistakes,” I whispered as we cleaned the mess together. The rest of the dinner proceeded without incident.
The next day, when I spilled some water in the classroom, my daughter was quick to say, “It’s okay. We all make mistakes.”
We do, and we always will. When we realize that and treat mistakes as such, we help our children gain a positive outlook on “failure” and give them the power to try again.
(A “repost” from 2011)
It was another day. For some reason, “another day” no longer held the magic and excitement it had once held. My life and circumstances had changed and there didn’t seem to be much to be inspired about. Days were slowly merging together into something I vowed I would never have—a weary and dreary sense of existence. There was cleaning, cooking and kids, day after day—and not much else, it seemed. One morning, I attempted to figure out what was wrong. Every day should have a bit of magic sprinkled throughout it, I pondered. Where was the magic?
I needed to get the house cleaned that morning, so I let the kids know they had the morning free from school. They were excited and ran to find something to do. That was when they found the box. It was an empty box, nothing special inside it—nothing at all inside it. It was a plain box—no painting, no markings, no decorations. I was soon to find out that this not-so-special box was, in fact, quite special indeed.
At first, it was a train coach, carrying them to a far-off and much-anticipated destination. Then it was a boat, keeping them safe through a giant storm. Afterwards, it was an easel, where each one of them could decorate and draw to their heart’s content. Again and again it morphed, from house to airplane to hiding place. The entire morning passed quickly for them in their magical box. As I watched them laughing and pretending as they climbed in and out of that worn, old box, I realized the magic had been there all along; no, not in the box—in the minds and hearts of my children, and in the many things they found exciting, amusing, and wonderful. It must be there in my own heart as well, I thought.
Magic was in every corner of the house—with its potential for imagination to take wings. It hid in the garden, the front yard and beyond—each place a chance for new discovery and experiences. It waited in the stories I read to them and made up for them—that would inspire their minds, encourage their spirits, speak to their hearts.
And yes, magic was in a big, plain box on its way to the recycling bin, a box that was just waiting for its chance to become a source of joy for three young children.
I looked around. There was still a lot of cleaning and more of the “same ol’ same ol’”, but it would have to wait. It was time to experience some magic, and, this time around, I knew just where it was hiding.
Have you ever realized, one fine morning, that you’re doing the parenting thing all wrong? Not every parenting thing in every way. For me, it was in something that could be considered the most important … because its essence is forgiveness and grace.
I’ve been reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. In chapter four, the author states, “[The saved sinner] knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.” I read that and I thought of one of my children. Just yesterday (and the day before) I had talked with my child about “justifying” … these days, we call it “owning.” Own your mistakes. Don’t make excuses. Only then can you learn from them and move on. You’ll be perpetually stuck in the same place if you can’t admit it when you’ve done something wrong.
It’s all fair advice, but I’ve been going at it the wrong way. “Repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.” I am reading that book because of grace. The concept, the gift, the wonder that it is.
In my work as freelance editor, last year, one manuscript after another that I’ve edited has touched on the theme of grace. I’ve picked up books at used books sales or at the recommendation of a friend. Grace. I’ve listened to Christian radio, and my favorite bands are singing about grace.
Over the past year, I realized time and again that although I’ve accepted the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for 30+ years now, I never quite caught grace. With every book I read or edited, every song I heard or sang along with, I was broadsided with the epic wonder of grace. Because I so quickly forget it. Gloss it over. Stand on it, forgiven, yet fail to extend it to others.
This is what was doing with my kids. I’ve expected them to first “own” their mistakes or apologize … then I’ll forgive them. Then I’ll be gracious. It’s not like I’m standing over them saying, “I won’t forgive you until you apologize,” but I’m conveying that they need to own it in order to make things right. I’m teaching them to be responsible, right? Not to grow up with the victim mentality that “it’s-everyone’s-fault-but-mine.”
Important, yes … but not vital.
Not vital like the grace that says, “The saved were home before they started,” that says, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Not after we apologized. Not once we pulled up our socks or made a show of shame. He died for us while we were in the middle of the muck and mire of this sin-stained world. And He continues to extend grace every moment of every day.
Every moment. Of every day. I don’t understand it. But it rings with such deep truth that it ripples into eternity.
God, help me to do offer grace and forgiveness to my children, to those around me. I’ll never “get it” because Your grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love are beyond comprehension. But it doesn’t mean I can’t give it to others. Your grace is enough. Always.
Sometimes I’m having a rough day… I got some bad news, or am feeling extra emotional or vulnerable. After all, mothers are humans too. Maybe I’ve had an argument with someone and it seems too difficult to even attempt to patch things up. At times like this, I invariably look at my kids and see them having fun, playing, enjoying the simple things in life. The thought comes to me, “How are they going to do when they grow up and have to face these things that life will surely bring them?”
My hope and prayer has always been that they will be able to see their lives and face their future with a positive attitude, one of hope and overcoming. There are those throughout history who have had an easy life, but never made a name; they remain unknown. Then there are others who faced great difficulties; the deck of life seemed to be stacked against them, yet they overcame. They didn’t give up and they are known and admired today.
I want my children to grow up to be “overcomers”—those who do not see themselves as helpless victims to every obstacle: someone’s bad attitude, their own “bad-hair” day, or any negative person who might come along and give them a hard time. I want my kids to grow up to smile in the face of adversity, knowing that the sun will shine again and that things will start looking up. I want them to refuse to accept defeat when their heart tells them that anything is possible.
Then I realize that a lot of that is up to me. How do I handle adversity, bad news, a grumpy co-worker, or a tiring flu? Do I play the victim and blame circumstances or others? Or do I try to smile, even if through tears or a million “what-if’s” bombarding my mind? Do my children see me “going under”, or “rising above”?
We all know that our children will eventually be at the point of making their own decisions. There is not much that we as parents can do about that then…but there is a lot we can do about it now, while they are with us. Today, when they are our little shadows, following us everywhere, watching and mimicking each action and attitude, let us work hard to help them develop positive attitudes, by manifesting those attitudes ourselves, with positive actions to match.
Pretty much every child goes through the “all-by-myself” phase. Depending on the age of the child during the phase, they can also term it “self” or “self-do-it”. For some kids, it is a quickly passing phase, and they soon go back to their usual “I can’t do it” attitude, where they want you to do every single thing for them. The other kids, though, remain in this stage pretty much permanently, as it is part of their nature.
At times it can be exasperating: your two-year-old son wants to button his nice shirt “all by myself” when you are already late for a dinner engagement. It is easy to usher them along and quickly button their shirt, saying something like, “I can do it more quickly. Don’t worry; you can do it next time.” Or even (let’s hope not), “You’re taking so long! Can’t you go any faster?” For a child who is entering the stage of trying to figure out things, solve problems and find solutions, a reaction such as the above can hurt a child’s desire to try and find solutions or work things out for themselves. At that age, anything is possible, and it is our reactions that determine whether this can-do attitude remains or it degrades into a can’t-do frame of mind.
I have noticed it is sometimes the oldest who has more of a “I can’t do it” mindset. However, younger children need to see their older sibling (or siblings) accomplishing and succeeding; then they see it can be done. What is more, their reaction is often, “I want to do it too!”
Helping your child (and importantly, your oldest child, if you have more than one) build a positive attitude about their abilities will build confidence not only for that child, but the younger one/s to follow.
Case in point, I am the fifth of the six “kids” in my family. When I observed my older sisters or brother mastering a skill or undertaking a new challenge, I wanted to do it too. When my brother began to memorize his times tables, I started to do it as well, even though I was not yet officially “learning” it in my schoolbooks. When my sisters took typing in high school, I pulled out my mom’s typing book (from the ‘70s) and used her archaic typewriter (as in, you make a mistake, you pull out whiteout to fix it) and began to teach myself touch typing.
I recently noticed something: though I am grown now, it is still my nature. When I see someone doing something interesting, or something I don’t know how to do, the two-year-old inside me says, “self do it” and I find myself a tutorial or simply jump in and begin to figure it out. From computer skills to graphic design, from photography to writing, from teaching to cooking—my range of interests run wide and I love to master new skills.
Back to your two-year-old who is still working on his buttons. Stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and then cheer him on. You have a wonder child in the making; or didn’t he tell you yet?—nothing is impossible.