one thing i know for sure about parenting

I felt pretty confident as a parent when I was younger.  This I attribute to a number of factors.

  • I was 23 years old and I didn't have a clue.  Ignorance was, as they say, bliss.
  • I was the eldest of 7 children.  There was always a baby in the house.  I knew what to do with little kids.  Feed, change, sleep, repeat.  Snuggle, read books, play, repeat.
  • I thought that if you did everything right, then your kids would turn out right.  (Having failed, apparently, to check out the first few chapters of Genesis where God parents the first two humans and they go completely off the rails.)

Now I'm 47, and in the process of all this parenting, I have become a whole lot less confident of my capacity to make things work out right, because:

  • I don't have as much control as I wish I did.
  • My kids all came standard with free will.  Part of the factory installation package.
  • The whole big, broken world full of pain and sorrow is out there, and I can't keep it from hurting my babies.

Don't get me wrong, there's a bunch of stuff I think is important, when it comes to parenting.

Do justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly.

Apologize.  Laugh.  Rest.

Balance that freedom and responsibility thing with your kids, one developmental stage at a time.

And, while you're spinning all those plates:  deal with your own junk.

(Maybe you're not sure if you have junk that needs to be dealt with, but this is your lucky day.  I have created a handy-dandy assessment tool that will let you know, for sure, if you have junk or not.  Here it is:  Are you a human being?  If the answer is yes, then you have junk.  If the answer is no, welcome to our planet and enjoy your stay.)

But at the end of the day, my perfect parenting (which exists only the realm of pure fantasy) guarantees pretty much zippola.

My kids get to choose.

And other people get to choose.

And all those things collide out there in the real world.

Which leaves me in a place that sometimes feels pretty scary.

But, in the process of learning that my parenting capacity is woefully limited, I have experienced this other one whole beautiful thing, for sure.

Here it is.

1.  God is at work, and His love never fails.

When I have failed as a parent.

When my kids have made bad choices.

When other people have made bad choices.

No matter what.

God is at work, and His love never fails.

This is one of those things that we know to be true in our heads, because the Bible tells us so.

But I've also found it to be true in my heart these past few years.  I've lived through it now, and I know that I know that I know.

The best and most amazing transformations, both in my own life and the lives of my children?  Those have come when I could not.  

When I could not do one more thing.

I had tried and tried and tried and fixed and fixed and fixed and I just could not.

And then God.

(This probably surprises one whole person.  Me.)

I'm thinking about this now, because tomorrow is college move-in day.

And I just need to remind myself of what I know for sure.

God has been at work.  He will be at work.  

His love never fails.

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the summer of being-with

This has been the summer of being-with. Being with my children.

Being with my husband.

I planned it that way on purpose.  My nest is emptying, and I want it to empty well.

The best way I know, to do things well, is to spend time together and build connection.

So being-with has been Priority 1 all summer long:  to laugh together, to be in awe of beauty together, to work on projects together, to have important conversations together.

To celebrate the now, to wear around the truth that we can still be connected, even when  we don't live in the same household any more.

To get a glimpse of what lies ahead besides uncertainty and goodbye.

Today, 10 days before college move-in day, this prayer of St. Augustine resonates with me:

I behold how some things pass away that others may replace them, but Thou dost never depart, o God, my Father, supremely good.  Beauty of all this beautiful, to Thee I will entrust whatsoever I have received from Thee, and so I shall lose nothing.

But in the summer of being-with, there's also a sense of waiting for the quiet that will come at the end of summer.  When we drive back up the trail of tears (aka I-35), when the new uniforms are donned, and the front door slams, and it's me and the dogs again, most days.

I have a feeling that I'm going to need what Anne Morrow Lindbergh says:

Sinking down through the upper layers of articulateness--leaving them behind--through thoughts--through emotions--down to where everything is dark and still and formless.  I feel I must sink to the bottom of the well before I can be renewed or creative again.

Because, while it's been a great summer, and pretty much the summer I planned and hoped for, it's also been an extrovert's summer, all this being-with.

And at the end of it all, I'm looking forward to another kind of being-with.

Being with me.

I need to be with myself.  

To be still.  To breathe.  To listen to love.

To process things in the ways that make sense uniquely to me.

And in the end, to be grateful for all I have received, and to trust for the goodness yet to be.

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how sweet it is

Baby Bird #3 is poised on the cusp of the nest this week.  He graduates from high school Wednesday night. And while I love and adore all four of my children, and am endlessly proud of who they are and what they are doing with their unique and powerful young selves--well, this particular week with this particular child is particularly sweet.

Because when you've had the word "disability" applied to your child at an early age, watching him soar is like no other feeling on earth.

This is the child who didn't hit the scope and sequence the way we thought he would.

This is the child who got held back, who wondered why he was older than everybody in his class.

This is the child who finally learned to read at age 10.

This is the child who still needs to talk his ideas out, before he can get them down on paper.

This is the child who is graduating, with a bunch of AP credits, in the top 7% of his 750+ member class.

This is the child headed into a prestigious university program that, even two years ago, we would never have imagined.

This is the child who has inspired me for years, with his hard work and dogged determination.

This is the child who never gives up.

Disability, my behonky.

So go ahead, baby bird.

Show us what you got.

We are prepared, as always, to be amazed.

DSC_2733 (Medium)

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heart wide open

It was a salt in the wound day. A little girl sat with her back to me.  And after 18 months of play therapy, she finally spoke.  About the pain and the sorrow and the love she's given up on.

And all I could do was weep.

So that was my day.

And that's what we're here for, my friends.

Not just me, but all of us.  All of us who know Jesus, and hold onto hope in the dark.

We are here to listen and to weep and to bear the burdens of those who just have too much to bear.

So let's get up and do it again.

Hearts wide open.


Lyrics to Salt in the Wound :

I want to disappear Far from the folks I know I want to get an answer To why I was even born No one here can tell me What's been haunting me all my life Well this rat race has left me limping Cause I balanced on the edge of the edge of the knife.
Why am I here?
Oh what should I do? Well is this the point I'm trying to prove?
If there's a god in my head
Then there's a devil too How can I tell the difference When they both claim to be true Maybe God is God Maybe the Devil is me Well I just throw my chains on And tell myself that I'm free
Chains - are they really there?
Is this just in my head? Well I'll just stay in bed
Life sure has its meaning Over years I have postured the sun Thieves and preachers robbed me For many hats that I've hung Now with my heart wide open I listen to the wind just for a word Sure, I know it's futile But that's all I have in this world
To look down from the hill And howl at the moon All the tears I cried never salted any wounds Well the earth is so tender and cruel Well if you're not there it's still so beautiful
(lyrics from
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An Anatomy of Redemption: The Baby Bears

"You're like a momma bear with her cubs." The person who said this to me (right in the middle of the worst year of my life) was, I think, attempting to admonish me.

But all I could say in reply was, "Well, yes.  Yes, I am like a momma bear with her cubs.  That is my job."

I have four children.  I love them fiercely.  If you try to hurt one of them, you will run off with claw marks down your back.

(I can't figure out a way to feel bad about that.  Although I must admit that I haven't tried real hard, either.)

That was one of the hardest things for me about the whole pornography mess in our family:  how it impacted our children.

Maybe you're a fairly perfect parent.  If so, you can spend the next few minutes reading a post you don't need.  Or go back to the football game.  Whatever.

But maybe you're a human being.  And you've screwed up.  Or you're married to a human being who has screwed up.  And you're worried about how your baby bears are going to survive the mess.

Let me tell you some things about our experience.  I hope they'll give you hope.

When we returned to Dallas in April 2003, it was our 5th international move in 3 years.  It was also our kids' third school situation--and third country--in one school year.  They had been home schooled in the Solomon Islands, attended a small mission school in Papua New Guinea, and then went into huge public schools in suburban Dallas county in April.

They were at four different ages and four different stages of life and the multiple moves and family upheaval impacted each of them differently.

To say that it was an emotional disaster zone is not an exaggeration.  And there was not much we could do about it, except cry through it with them.  And wait for the healing.  There was a lot of pain and I think some of the healing is still happening.

But Andy made a really good choice, back in 2003, that I think has made healing and redemption possible.

He told our kids the truth.  He told the older two at the time, and then waited to tell the younger two when they got a bit older.

I will admit that I was opposed.  I thought it would just hurt them more, at a time when it seemed to me that they'd had way more than enough.

But he felt strongly that he should tell them.

And he was right.  Genius, in fact.

It was difficult.  Painful.  But absolutely the best thing he could have done.

Telling the kids means that we're not hiding things from them.  

They know what's going on.  They don't have to make up stuff to explain the emotions in the house.

And that's what kids do when they don't have the facts.  They create a story that explains the emotions.  And usually that story involves self-blame, because every child believes that the world revolves around them.

Our kids are free to be angry with us, but they don't have to blame themselves.

Telling the kids means that they aren't responsible to fix the family.

This is an adult problem, the adults are taking responsibility, and the adults are doing what needs to be done to fix it.

When the adults aren't honest and when the adults aren't taking responsibility, the kids will do their best to fix their family.

Some will turn to perfectionism.  They'll try hard to make their parents feel better by being perfect or funny or beautiful or care-taking.  Others will become the black sheep.  They'll try hard to fix the family by creating problems that bring everyone together to work on solutions.

Our kids can be mad at us, but they don't have to fix the family.

Telling the kids means that we admit that we are human and imperfect.

It would be nice if we were perfect, and they never had to deal with this.  Because at some level, kids want their parents to be perfect.  So when we give them hurtful evidence of our imperfection, it's painful for them.

But the perfect ship has sailed.

So we tell the truth and we deal.

Telling the kids means that when they're struggling, they know it's OK to tell the truth and ask for help.

Our kids are having to learn how to cope with the internet in a healthy way, and it's tough!  Accidental exposure to pornography is almost a given at some point.  (Unless you're Amish.  And if you're reading this post, you aren't.)  Because our kids know what Andy's dealt with, they can come to him and say, "Dad, you need to block this one website, cuz it's giving me grief."

Most of all, what I've learned is this:  when we are not perfect, God can still take care of our kids.

I Corinthians 12:9 says this:  "My gracious favor is all you need.  My power works best in your weakness."  (New Living Translation)

God's power works best in our weakness.  His grace is all we need.  Even for the baby bears.

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all the bruises

This morning I met a little boy who's maybe four or five.  He told me his name, and then identified his caregiver, sitting nearby.  He said, "I'm her new boy.  She just got me today."  And from the environment we were in, I knew he meant that this lady was his brand-new foster parent. And then he said this:  "I'm the one with all the bruises."

Can somebody tell me how to live in this world, where a child identifies himself as the one with all the bruises?

Because in moments like that, I just get lost.  In the hurt and the pain and the absolute senseless evil that is the abuse of a child.  There is no way to make it OK in my head.

And so we do what Anne Lamott says.  We "take the tenderest possible care" of the little one with all the bruises.

And then I go home and cry and pray.  My husband brings me flowers.

And I listen to some Mumford and Sons.


"I fell heavy into your arms."

Waiting.  Grieving.

That's the only way I know how to live in the world today.

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can't buy me love

[youtube=] Have you seen these new back-to-school Famous Footwear commercials?

I've spotted three different ones so far, all with this plot line:  Mom buys "the shoe" for grumpy teenager.  Grumpy teenager begrudgingly gives mom a smirk.  Mom is overjoyed and says, "Victory is mine!"

I think there is confetti at this point.

Now hear this:  there is NOTHING WRONG with buying your kid red Nikes.  More power to ya.  (Really cute shoes, BTW.)

What IS wrong with this ad series?  Three things.

One.  The idea that we are responsible for the emotions of our adolescents.

Two.  The idea that we can buy things, and then they will be happy.

Three.  The idea that if our kids are happy, then--and only then--can we claim victory as parents.

In truth, we all know that sometimes our best, most victorious parenting makes them really unhappy--for the moment.

The Beatles said it this way:  can't buy me love.

(And I would add, especially when your kid is a whacked-out bundle of hormonal adolescence.)

I love, love, love my kids.  And because I love them so much, it is hard to see them unhappy.  When that happens, I want to fix it SO BAD!

But when we attempt to buy their love, to manipulate them into feeling better so we can feel better:

  • We teach them that their negative emotions scare us.  If we're scared of their negative emotions, they will be too.
  • We miss out on the opportunity to let them be disappointed or sad or angry, to learn how to cope with it, how to contain it, how to live through it, and move on.
  • We teach them that the answer to their negative emotion is some THING that somebody ELSE can provide.
  • We  miss out on the opportunity to let them have their own victories, to learn the wonderful skill of self-efficacy.  To take responsibility for themselves--for the shoes, and for their own emotions.  
  • We teach them that they are the center of our universe.
  • And while that may be true--and even good and right when they are little--it needs to become less and less true as they grow older.  We've got to let them go, step by step.  

Maybe we're afraid of:

  • their anger, if we make choices they don't like.
  • our grief, if they make choices we don't like.
  • feeling abandoned, as they grow up and leave us.

I'm NOT saying, throw your kid out to sink or swim on their own.  Being completely detached from our kids is just as unhealthy as being totally enmeshed with them.

Of course we need to be there, and keep loving them, no matter how grumpy they get.  Of course we want to make sure they have what they need.  And it's fun to provide some of the things they want, too.  Those things are all part of showing them that we love them.

But judging our parenting skills by their current emotions?

Victory is nobody's.

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ride on the back-to-school bus

It's been a nice, quiet summer for yours truly.  But now it's back-to-school time.  And as a therapist who works quite a bit with children and adolescents, I'm about to get busy. Because when they're stressed for whatever reason--social anxiety, learning disabilities, ADHD, family transition--kids will act out.  And if it gets bad enough, they'll get referred to somebody like me.

I've written about younger kids acting out before:  here and here.  Follow the links, and get the same advice I give to parents who bring their kids into the office to see me.  For free!  Plus, bonus material:  the most embarrassing acting-out incidents I could recall in my own parenting experience.  What's not to love about that?

If you have a young child struggling to manage emotions, think about having every person in the family keep a daily mood chart.  There are lots of feeling charts on this website, but I'd recommend the simplest one.  Four emotions:  sad, glad, mad, or scared.  Everybody puts a sticker on how they felt during the day and talks about what was going on.

I've also written about trying to keep my sanity while parenting teenagers in the care and keeping of adolescents.

And then here are a couple of more specialized ideas.

First, the Bravery Box.  I designed it for a kindergarten-age child who was essentially non-verbal at school, and he was talking normally after three sessions.

I think you could modify this basic idea for any big challenge your child might be facing.  It has two important elements:  break the big challenge down into small, do-able, reward-able steps; and help the child process the underlying emotions, using read-aloud books.

I've used this same idea with an adolescent, who had extreme social anxiety and was quite depressed.  For that child, just going to school had been a daily, unacknowledged act of bravery for years.  So we acknowledged his bravery.  And then talked about how he could apply the skills he already had (he already knew how to do something really, really hard every day) to a new challenge:  talking to his teachers and classmates.

We started with non-verbal skills, like raising his hand and showing the teacher a card that said, "I need help."  Later, he identified one or two kids at school who had been nice to him, and said hello to them every day.  He found that it was easier to talk to people he wouldn't see again, so his mom would drive him to Whataburger and stay in the car while he went inside and ordered for himself.  Immediate reward!

So every week he came to therapy with a list of successes instead of failures.  And, he became the person who pushed for more advanced tasks--and before long, he decided he was doing fine and didn't need my help any more.

Second, the Calm-Down Bottle.  My little clients love making these, and the bottles can help soothe both anxiety and anger, by giving them an acceptable physical outlet for their emotional energy.

For little boys, I might use a book about the Incredible Hulk to talk about the bad things that can happen when we misuse our anger.  And then present the Calm-Down Bottle as a tool to help us to manage our anger, instead of hurting ourselves and other people.

And finally, before all else fails:  PLAY.  Did you know that researchers are finding a correlation between regular play in outdoor green spaces to reduced ADHD symptoms?  Others are pretty sure that play will get your kid into Harvard.   And guess what:  being happy makes your brain function 30% better.

So, for the best back-to-school ever, get out there and play!

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the native teenager in its natural habitat

The other night we went to hear the band Delta Spirit in concert at the Granada theater here in Dallas.  It's one of those deals where you can only talk to your neighbor by shouting directly in his ear, and the bass beat is so strong it could recalibrate your pacemaker. The highlight of the evening, as far as my boys were concerned, was when the lead singer slung his mic over his shoulder and climbed into the catwalk during the finale.  They didn't sing the ballad that is my absolute favorite piece of theirs.  The boys said they didn't sing it, because it isn't a good concert piece.  Not enough whaling on a trash can lid, apparently.

So WHY did I spend $20 to stand in a beer-drinking, toe-crushing, ear-drum-murdering crowd of students for three hours on a Saturday night?

Mainly because I wanted to.  I've listened to my kids' music, and I really like a whole bunch of it.  It's loaded on my iPod, and I even listen to it when no teenagers are around.

And here's why I bother to like my kids' music.  Because they are really into indie folk/rock.  It talks about things that they are interested in, things that matter to them.  It's important to them, and that makes it important to me.

When my kids were little, I got to be in charge of pretty much everything.  I picked out their food and their clothes and their activities and their music and their movies and their TV shows.  And that was fine and as it should be.

But the older they get, the less I want to pick everything.  They have their own ideas.  Their own choices.  Their own preferences.  Because they're going to be adults.  Really, really soon.  And they need to practice.  That's what adolescence is all about.

So, my kids are going to be adults really, really soon.   Having a relationship with another adult is not just about me, and what I like and what I want.  It's got to be about what the other person likes and wants, too.

This is why I think it's important that I let them start to influence me now:  they're practicing to be adults and I'm practicing to be the parent of adults.

I know I've got a lot to learn.

So, native teenagers in your natural habitat, thanks for letting me hang out.

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the things we do for love

I woke up this morning with a hacking cough, aching all over.  This could be the flu, although I had the flu shot, and it really doesn't feel quite that horrible.  It could be allergies, because we live in Texas, where the cedars inexplicably bloom in winter. Most likely, though, I think I can blame pure exhaustion and the Super Bowl.

My kids have always wanted to host their youth group Super Bowl party, and this was our year.  So there were football shaped sugar cookies and red velvet cupcakes and veggie trays and seven layer dip and chicken-bacon wraps.  Amounting to about 12 hours of work over the weekend, now that I come to think about it.  (And the roasting pans are still soaking.  Curse you, Paula Deen.)

I did this for one reason only:  I love my children.  They wanted this.  I love seeing them happy, and I wanted to do it.

And last night, in the middle of giving to my kids just because I love them, I heard God saying to me, "Do you get it?  Do you see?  Let me do this for you, too."

I really, truly believe in my head that God wants to give to me.  He loves me.  He knows what gives me joy.  He gives to me just because He loves me.  I believe he loves for me to be at peace, to experience joy and happiness.

I really, truly believe that that is true.  And yet it feels kind of funky when I say it.

It's easy for me to understand that if I receive from God, then go out and help somebody else, then that's good.  Or if I am in a terrible trial and I praise God anyway, that's good.  Clearly those things glorify God.

But what if I also learn to simply receive good gifts from God, and what if God is glorified in the joy and happiness that I feel?  What if that isn't selfish?  What if that's good?  What if that's exactly what God means when He gives to me?

I would be extremely disturbed if my kids went to school this morning thinking, "I ate 4 cupcakes, 3 cookies, 10 chicken wraps, and drank 2 Dr. Peppers.  How selfish.  I wonder what I need to do to make up for all that. "

Instead, I will be thrilled if the experience of happiness can empower them to face whatever comes their way this week.  I will be thrilled if the experience of receiving can embolden them to ask me for what they want and need, and confidently expect that I care.

God, let me get it.  Let me see the things you do for love of me.

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