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Archive for August, 2013

Patience.  That elusive quality every parent desires, but always feels is just out of reach.  We assume that every other parent is more patient with their kids than we are.  I hear it all the time: “Oh, I could never homeschool.  I’m too impatient.”  Please allow me set the record straight in this particular area.  Homeschoolers are no more patient than any other parent.  I’m doing this by the grace of God because I believe it’s what’s best for my kids, not because I’m a Super Parent.  Now peewee soccer coaches, on the other hand, are the Super Parents who deserve sainthood!

Soccer Coach Saint
Guess which one was our clueless peewee/tool for sanctification from God?

I recently read a profound statement about patience.  “Love always begins with patience and patience is a willingness to suffer.”  We all love our kids – that’s a no-brainer.  So why is being patient so stinkin’ hard?  Because patience causes us parents to sacrifice our own pride, schedule, and goals in the best interest of our child.  Simply put, we don’t like to suffer.  Who does?

We grow impatient with our kids when they display behaviors we think they should have outgrown a long time ago because so-and-so’s kid doesn’t act like that.  (Even though so-and-so’s kid may have a whole different set of issues his parents are obsessing over.)  When our kids don’t act the way we want and it inconveniences us because it forces us to slow down, embarrasses us, or interferes with our plans, we have a choice: hurry them and shame them, or suffer the shame and inconvenience ourselves as we demonstrate patience.  In our modern world of instant gratification, comparisons, and unreasonable expectations of children to all perform like little robots, it’s no wonder parents often find themselves struggling with patience.

I wonder how much of our impatience as parents is due to the comparison game we all play.  We look around at other kids and judge our own based on how they measure up.  When they fall short of our expectations (based on these comparisons, instead of their own timetable for growth), our patience wears thin.  But what if we just stopped?  What if we gave our kids – and ourselves – the freedom to grow at the pace God intended?  Would we suffer?  Maybe.  Perhaps our pride would take a hit because Junior still hasn’t gotten his multiplication facts memorized after three.  Long.  Painful.  Years of trying every possible method to help him.  When we refuse to shame our kids or rush them – when we demonstrate a willingness to suffer ourselves rather than humiliate them – it costs us.  Sometimes dearly.  When I pray for patience, what I’m really asking is for God to give me a willingness to suffer on behalf of my kids, to be inconvenienced rather than insist on getting my way.  Kinda changes the way you think about prayer, doesn’t it?

However, if I want the Fruit of the Spirit – patience, in particular – to be evident in my life, then I have to look to my Heavenly Father as my role model.  Does he grow impatient with me when I still struggle with the same issues that plagued me as a child?  Does he roll his eyes when I get distracted during the sermon or let my mind wander during devotions?  Does he compare me to Susie Sunday School and say, “When are you going to get your act together and look more like her?”  Of course not!  The truth is, God gently allows my life and growth to unfold, as a seed planted in spring slowly grows to maturity.  At times, he disciplines me by weeding out destructive habits and pruning dead branches where growth no longer takes place, but he never forces growth.

Demonstrating patience by taking on the shame of a child who doesn’t measure up to our own or someone else’s expectations puts us in good company – the company of Christ who took on the shame of my sin so that I could be set free from its consequences.  He demonstrates his own love – his patience – for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  Before we got our act together, he decided we were worth suffering and dying for.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t hold us accountable for our actions and attitudes, just like we, as parents, should hold our kids accountable for their actions and encourage their growth toward maturity.  But godly patience means that our motives in doing so are solely in their best interest, not ours.  Everything our Heavenly Father does (or doesn’t do) on our behalf is for our good and the good of others.  God desires my life to bring glory to himself, not because he needs the ego boost or reassurance that he’s a good God, but because he wants my participation in drawing others to him so they can also live in glory with him for all eternity.

So how can we be more patient?  I wish I had an easy answer, but here are a few areas I’m working on:

  1. Acknowledge the “otherness” of your child.  He or she is not an extension of you.  God has given your child a unique set of strengths and weaknesses.  Encourage and celebrate your child’s strengths, and recognize that our weaknesses are often the very things God uses to draw us to himself.  When God reminded me of this regarding a particular struggle of one of my children, it was incredibly freeing.  I realized that God did not expect me to “fix” every flaw in my kids, but rather lead them to him so that they can experience the power of God at work in their lives as he helps them to overcome what they cannot change on their own.
  2. Recognize that time and maturity will take care of a lot of issues, and there’s no set timetable for a child’s development.  Having a toddler or preschooler who struggles with impulse control does not automatically mean he’ll end up a juvenile delinquent.  You can respond appropriately to your child’s misbehavior 100% of the time, and it still does not mean those consequences will become a deterrent until his brain has developed the ability to delay gratification.  So don’t assign a dismal future to a child who struggles with something you think he should have mastered, or beat yourself up as a parent because you’re not yet seeing results.  It’s hard to be patient when a child makes the same mistake over and over, or seems like he’ll never learn a particular skill, but every child develops at a different pace.  Hang in there!  A child will read when he’s ready to read, regardless of how many books you read to him or educational videos he watches.  A child will be potty-trained when he’s ready, not when a book says he should be ready.  (My daughter still wore pull-ups at night until half-way through kindergarten.  It seemed so huge at the time, but how many college students do you know who still wear pull-ups?  Relax, mom, it WILL happen.)
  3. Stop comparing.  Now.  Comparison is likely at the root of much of our impatience.  It’s not the particular infraction that bothers us so much, it’s that we think our child is the only one doing it.  And sometimes, there’s nothing inherently wrong with what they’re doing, it’s just…well…embarrassing.  If you think your child is the only weirdsmobile, go hang out in his Sunday School class or invite her friends over.  All kids are weird – so let them be.  Here’s where the suffering part of patience can be a hard pill to swallow (and why I sometimes distance myself from my kids at the grocery store).  Refer to Step #2 when tempted to overreact to the Quirk of the Day.  I could write volumes on all my kids’ quirks that have come and gone over the years – but that’s just it, they’ve come AND gone, usually without much effort on my part to squash them.  Besides, quirks are what give us great stories and anecdotes to share on facebook.  (I pity the parents of “normal” kids – how boring!)
  4. Slow down.  We cram our schedules so full of “good things” it makes us impatient parents because we push and prod our kids through the day, nagging them to hurry up all the time.  We set them up for failure by pushing them beyond their limits.  (Ever tried to drag a baby and toddler on 3 hrs. of errands, only to deal with meltdowns during the last 2 hrs.?  Guilty.)  Fear is often at the root of our over-scheduling; fear that if we drop an activity our child might fall behind his peers, or that our kids won’t get a scholarship if they don’t have music lessons and sports camps and enrichment activities every moment of their childhood.  Maybe it will cost us more money for college down the road when my kid doesn’t get that $500 activity scholarship that only lasts her freshman year (don’t get me started…), but I know my limits, and in order for me to be a patient mom, I have to have “white space” on my calendar and margins in my life.  (Shoot, if you took the gas money you spend running kids to and from activities and put it in a savings account, I bet you’d end up with as much as that pathetic activity scholarship!)  I want to give my kids the gift of an intentionally slow childhood, instead of 18 years of college prep, because in the blink of an eye they’ll be gone.
  5. Pray and be willing to accept the answer.  When my own plans and fears begin spiraling out of control, prayer and a gentle reminder from the Lord that he knows my kids and their needs, is what sets me back on course.  Instead of impatiently praying for God to help my kids hurry up and conform to my plan, I have to be willing to pray in accordance with God’s will for them.  His plan for their lives may include some suffering and disappointment in order to develop their character, and instead of interfering and trying to make their problems go away, I need to trust God and patiently allow his plan to unfold.  God is not rushing them or comparing them to anyone else, and he can give me the same grace toward my children if I’m willing to suffer the loss of my agenda in exchange for the good work that God himself will complete in them (Phil. 1:6).

Do you struggle in the area of patience?  Let God whisper grace and peace to you today.

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All right, now that I’ve posted my glowing report of the blessings of homeschooling my two kids, before you start thinking this mom has perfect kids who always behave, let me assure you it’s not all snuggles while we debate the classics around here. My kids are “normal,” by which I mean that they often drive me up the wall. Today, in particular, I feel the need to reach out to my fellow mothers of sons and just say,

It’s not you.  It’s them.

In an effort to keep it real, allow me to share the following email I sent to my husband this week:

Please make a mental note that when you get home you need to beat the snot out of the boy with the boffer swords (how ever many it takes).

Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrggggggghhhhhhh!!!!!

He just took Ashtyn’s shoe while they’re on the swings. He has a seriously ornery streak in him right now that requires a sound beating from the Alpha Male (that’s you, by the way). You should also probably get out the airsoft guns.  (Feel free to “accidentally” miss the target and pelt the boy instead.)

Come home.  Soon.

Sincerely,
Desperately Seeking Solitude

Yep, Mother of the Year. While I am not promoting violence toward children – if sarcasm is not your language, please understand that my husband and I speak it fluently to one another – there is actually some validity in my suggested course of action. This may be difficult for some moms to understand, but mothers, your boys are not like you. Even if they were sweet little angels from age 0-10, something happens when they are on the verge of puberty and hormones begin to exert their influence. Suddenly, your mild-mannered boy is tackling his sister and stealing her shoe on the swing. It’s not your fault. You’re not a bad mother. He’s just possessed. By testosterone.  (There’s a reason why there are so many movies made about 10-12-year-old boys. It’s an awkward age and generally painful for everyone involved, so don’t think your child is the only one starring in Goonies.)

Unfortunately, our feminine-leaning society does not know what to do with rowdy boys. Honestly, the quiet, bookish ones are easy to manage. So we encourage boys with those traits and roll our eyes at the aggressive, physical ones, declaring, “Boys will be boys,” as if they’re a cursed group who must simply be tolerated. Yes, they may drive moms crazy with their energy and need for physical acts of stupidity, but if we try to make boys suppress their masculinity for our own comfort, we risk robbing them of their unique, God-given strengths.

The answer is not to change them; it’s to beat them. With boffer swords. Only moms shouldn’t be the ones delivering the non-violent blows. This is the time when a boy needs his dad (or other strong male role model) to step up to the plate and actively guide his development. Sure, Mom can keep the peace with threats of punishment, but what a boy really needs is a positive outlet for his aggression and the occasional reminder from Dad that he’s still a pup. In animal packs, the Alpha Male asserts his dominance when challenged by the young pups, and while I’m not advocating dads pounding or humiliating their sons, some good-natured physical competition is necessary for boys to test their strength and find out if they have what it takes to be a man. (Please note the smile on my son’s face, below, as he passes his dad on the race track. Yes, my husband took his foot off the gas, but sometimes boys also need a taste of victory.)

Racing Dad

Boys need a safe place to test themselves. If we don’t channel a boy’s energy toward appropriate opponents – Dad, sports, martial arts – then we shouldn’t be surprised to find the boy sitting on his sister, just because he can. Much like falling into a vat of toxic waste unleashes power in a superhero (or villain), it’s as if the surge in testosterone awakens a boy to his powers, and either we channel them for good instead of evil, or we ground our boys until they’re 20. Your choice, moms.

There’s nothing wrong with boys who are more physical and daring. I’m thankful for men who risk their lives to rescue us from burning buildings and fight for our freedom and safety. If my son had brothers, they’d be wrestling all the time and it would be no big deal because boys can dish it out and take it. His sister, however, can dish it out, but can’t take it without ending up in tears. It’s not his aggression that’s the problem, it’s his target. The answer? A beat down with a boffer sword. Yes, my husband came to the rescue and restored balance to the Force.

Boffer Sword Fight

If you’d like to know how to make these inexpensive weapons for safe, epic battles between father and son, the instructions are below, courtesy of my husband.  Who rocks.

2016 Update: These are not just for boys, by the way. My daughter and her friends love them! I brought them to a 5th grade girl’s birthday party and the girls spent the evening gleefully whacking the tar out of each other, protesting loudly when I took the swords home with me. For making girl swords, however, I highly recommend getting duct tape in fun colors/designs for the handle.

I also used these to teach a Sunday School lesson to 6th grade boys on the Sword of the Spirit. My husband would say a lie of the enemy – “You’re such a loser” – then one of the boys would read a corresponding scripture taped to one of the swords – “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1) – and proceed to battle the “enemy” (my husband) with the boffer sword. It was an epic Sunday School lesson on the power of scripture. And swords.

Basic Boffer Sword Construction

 “Boffers” are padded practice weapons for safe and fun fencing.  They are inexpensive and easy to construct.  Materials include:

  • 3/4″ PVC pipe ($1.70 for a 10′ pipe at Home Depot)
  • Normal-sized, closed-cell-foam pool noodles (Dollar stores often carry 4′ noodles.  Other stores often carry 5′ noodles for $2-3 each.)
  • Duct tape (<$4 for a 55yd roll at Home Depot)

From a 10′ PVC pipe and 2-3 pool noodles you can make four 1-handed, short swords suitable for kids and adults as described below (final length 36”), or adjust lengths to get anything from toddler-sized parrying daggers up to daddy-sized 2-handed monsters.

boffer_parts boffer_assembled
  1. Slide the blade padding over the end of the PVC core.  Work slowly and gently to prevent tearing of the foam.  Leave 8″ of PVC extending from the hilt/pommel end and 4″ of foam extending past the PVC at the blade tip end.
  2. Stuff a 4″ piece of foam into the blade tip to prevent the PVC from pushing through.
  3. Wrap the blade lengthwise with duct tape, beginning with several inches on the handle, extending up and over the blade tip and back down the opposite side.  Repeat with overlapping strips of duct tape, leaving no foam exposed.  Do not compress the foam while wrapping. Make every effort to minimize wrinkles; the smoother, the better.
  4. Slide the pommel padding over the exposed PVC.  Work slowly and gently to prevent tearing of the foam.  The pommel padding should overlap the PVC by 2″ and leave 2″ of foam extending past the PVC.
  5. Stuff a 2″ piece of foam into the pommel to prevent the PVC from pushing through.
  6. Wrap the pommel with duct tape similarly to the blade, with overlapping lengthwise strips.
  7. Wrap the handle with duct tape to secure the ends of the blade and pommel wrappings.

boffers

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When we set out on our homeschooling adventure 3 1/2 years ago, like pioneers blazing our own trail, we had plenty of hopes and an equal number of fears.  There have been days when the road is long and muddy, and we wonder if we’ll ever get there (wherever “there” is).  But there have also been many wonderful blessings that keep us going:

  • Relaxed mornings with no rushing around or yelling at the kids to hurry up so we’re not late for school.  We start whenever we’re ready to start, and progress through our day at a relaxed pace.
  • Being there for educational milestones as well as physical ones.  I will never look back and sigh over how quickly my kids have grown up because I’m right there with them, every day, not missing a thing.
  • Sibling closeness, as my kids basically have no choice but to be friends.  I’m confident that they will be better spouses someday because of all the years of practice they’ve had in getting along with the opposite sex.
  • Freedom and flexibility to tailor my children’s education to their individual learning styles and interests, taking breaks or changing things up when we need to.  Since my husband is now a college professor, we can match our schedule to his.
  • Watching my kids fall in love with my favorite subject (history), and gradually warming up to all the other subjects, as well.  There’s no more, “I hate math and spelling!” in this house.  My daughter has asked for more spelling this year, and my son always wants to keep reading just one more chapter of our math book.  (Life of Fred.  Check it out.  Now.)

I could go on and on about all the things that make homeschooling such a great fit for our family (although I acknowledge that it’s not for everyone, and there are days when I wish the yellow bus would take them away).  But there’s another, somewhat surprising benefit that I’ve discovered recently.  I shouldn’t be surprised, since the foundation of the Leadership Education model, which we loosely follow, is development of a child’s core character and passion for learning before rigorous study is applied.  And yet, until recently, I didn’t realize that this focus on prioritizing internal growth before external results would not only change their educational experience for the better, but change their lives.

I’ve often read my kids the book You Are Special, by Max Lucado.  It’s about a race of little wooden people, called Wemmicks, made by the woodcarver, Eli.  In the book, the Wemmicks love to put stickers on each other, based on how they perceive the other’s value.  Smart, pretty, talented Wemmicks get star stickers.  Ugly, awkward, “different” Wemmicks are given dots.  The main character, Punchinello, has been given a lot of dots.  When Wemmicks who don’t even know him see his all dots, they walk up and give him another dot.

We all know kids like Punchinello who are different, and end up with a lot of dots.  By the time we pulled my son out of second grade, he was covered in dots.  He struggled with writing, so the heavily writing-based curriculum of the public schools was torture for him.  He’s a smart kid, but there was no way he could finish all those worksheets each day.  Dot.  He’s also slower with calculations, even though he’s capable of grasping advanced mathematical concepts like gear reduction (at age 7), so those daily math drills were a hopeless cause.  Dot.  Homeschooling him was an obvious decision because kids who get covered in dots eventually see themselves that way and give up.  But there’s more to this story…

One day, Punchinello meets Lucia, who has no dots or stars.  Some Wemmicks see that she has no dots and try to give her a star, but the stars fall off.  Other Wemmicks see that she has no stars and try to give her a dot, but they also fall off.  Intrigued by this, Punchinello asks her why the stickers don’t stick.  She replies that every day she goes to see the Maker, Eli, who loves her and reminds her who he created her to be.  Eventually, she takes Punchinello to meet Eli, and I’ll leave it at that so I don’t spoil the ending for you, but I’m sure you can guess what happens.  It’s a great story.  But can taking our kids to see their Maker each day really keep the stickers from sticking?  Yes!!!

My Little Star

My Little Ballerina “Star”

My daughter is just like Lucia.  She would probably thrive in public school and get lots of “stars.”  She’s naturally athletic – star.  She’s sweet (‘n spicy!) and makes friends easily – star.  She just turned 9 last month and is doing 5th/6th grade work in school – double star!  And yet, I had the strangest conversation with her last spring.  I was thinking ahead to the inevitable changes that will take place sometime this year, since my son is turning 12 this fall, so I took my daughter out for smoothies and actually encouraged her to consider going back to public school.  I didn’t want her to feel rejected by her brother, who is her best friend, as he begins the necessary process of pulling away from childhood.  I thought it might ease the blow if she had other friends at school.  (She does have other friends, but doesn’t see them every day.)  I pointed out that she’d be repeating 4th grade (since we’d already covered the material when she was in third grade), so she’d get good grades.  <insert blank stare and sound of crickets>

At this point, my daughter looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language – and come to think of it, I was.  Grades mean nothing to her.  Her only public school experience was in kindergarten (which I don’t regret because I am not a crafts person, and she loves the crafts), so she has not been indoctrinated into the grades value system.  The thought of repeating material instead of learning new things was ludicrous to her.  After 3 years of trying to instill a love of learning in her, it hadn’t occurred to me that she actually loves learning and could care less about a grade!  I wanted to put a star on her, but stars just fall right off.  Why?  Because she spends time with her Maker.  Because I made a commitment to God before I ever cracked open a workbook (then promptly put it back on the shelf) that I would do this thing his way, and disciple my kids to be followers of Jesus – not of me, a “system,” or their peers.

As a result of giving them a reprieve from the world of Wemmicks while they discover their own identity, and taking them to their Maker – who gets all the credit for their transformation – I have seen them begin to blossom in their uniqueness.  Not only do the stars not stick to my daughter, the dots don’t stick to my son, either.  He’s completely comfortable in his own skin, free to be himself because he’s confident that God has a plan for his life.  Are my kids perfect?  Of course not.  But homeschooling has given them the gift of freedom from constant reminders of their imperfections and pressure to be a star, while their Maker is slowly revealing in them the purposes for which they were made.

I hope to eventually share more details on how we nurture their love of learning (while reinforcing a strong work ethic through chores, lest you should think it’s all fun and games around here), but I wanted to establish first that how we educate is of less importance to our kids’ success than building a strong foundation of character and a secure identity in Christ.  You don’t have to homeschool to take your kids to the Maker each day.

When we are confident that we are loved and valued by our Maker (and our family), we’re free to explore the world we’ve been given with joy and anticipation instead of fear of judgement/dots or a misplaced desire for external rewards/stars.  (When I cleaned out my boxes of childhood memorabilia last summer, I threw away gobs of meaningless certificates and awards that did nothing for me except make me crave rewards and recognition.  Yes, I’m still a recovering star-aholic and dot-fearer, which is why I’m so amazed at God’s work in my kids.)

The more time we spend with the Maker, the more we discover his plan for our world and our place in it.  No stars.  No dots.  Just freedom to be who we’re created to be.

Is God trying to peel off your stars or dots?  I’m praying for you – and me – to know our Maker more fully, and find our true selves as we shift our focus from stickers to our relationship with Him.

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