Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

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Of Books and Babies

August 4, 2015

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As a writer, I know the importance of beginnings.

Everything hangs on the first few pages of your novel.  If readers don’t enjoy those, they probably won’t move on.  There are lots of books in the world, so unless someone else told them it was a good story, why should they spend time on a book that confused them, bored them, or offended them right off the bat?

You have to foreshadow everything right.  You have to lay the foundation for the story and its themes, introduce your main characters and setting (in an interesting way!), and put your plot in motion.

Beginnings are HARD!  I can get so fixated on how my book starts that I don’t move forward, perpetually rewriting and revising my opening scene.

I tend to carry this attitude over to my mothering.

These little years are all-important.  I’m forming human beings!  It’s my job (I think to myself) to make sure they don’t grow up malformed, like a tree that was bent into an awkward shape while it was a sapling, and keeps growing crookedly.  It’s my responsibility (so I fear) to dot every “i,” and cross every “t,” so they have the best possible, perfect, ideal foundation for life.  Sometimes I feel like someone is standing over me, putting negative tally marks for every time I do something that is less than ideal for my children’s foundational years.

Oop, too much TV today. Bad mom.  She lost her temper again.  Bad mom.  What, no veggie with dinner today?  Bad mom.

Some people brush off worries about the little years with thoughts like, “Eh, they’re little.  They won’t remember this stuff anyway.”

But! But! I splutter inside.  They might not remember, but they’ll be irrevocably shaped!

They are shaped by my words, attitudes, and fears.  They are shaped when they see me crying over a poop mess, and when I yell about spilled milk on the carpet.

It can’t be done again.  I can’t rewind time, erase my progress, and start over with a stronger opening – my kids’ life, 2.0.  Their childhood thus far is set in stone.  And that’s a scary thought.

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In the world of fiction, there is a writing rule called “Chekov’s gun.”  It states that if there’s a rifle hanging over the fireplace in the first scene, it needs to go off by the end of the novel.  There should be no loose ends, no details that are not relevant, because all details tie into the plot.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of guns I’m hanging here, over my children’s heads.

(Is that…is that a nuclear missile???)

What part do I play in this opening scene of their lives?  Am I a loving mom?  A sweet mom?  A mom who languishes on a sickbed and weakly entreats her child to “have courage and be kind?”

A lot of the time I worry that I’m more like the wicked stepmother.

You had a potty accident on the couch AGAIN??

But I tell myself these things:

God is the ultimate Author of their stories, not me, and God’s stories always have perfect endings, no matter how messy their beginnings.

However I shape my children, His hands are around them (and me), far more powerful and purposeful than my clumsy little fists.

God’s stories are simultaneously first drafts and finished products, full of crazy, unexpected twists and concluded with every plot thread in place.  All His guns go off, and they all go off at the right moment – even if the characters were only fooling around and fired them by accident and hit somebody in the eye.

And my children are shaped by far more than my flaws!

They are shaped by our Bible lessons, even when I think they’re not listening because they’re busy giggling and smearing cinnamon toast on their faces.

They are shaped when my hubby kisses me in front of the kitchen sink.

They are shaped when I play Christian music on Pandora.

They are shaped by my hugs and kisses, that cup of water I bring them at 2 A.M., those many hours reading Beatrix Potter.

It just isn’t as simple as, “You’re either doing everything perfectly or YOU ARE FAILING AT LIFE.”

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We are all a crashing, colliding, crazy, messy crowd, mixing our good acts with bad attitudes and our worst mistakes with our best intentions.  We are saved in Christ, yet struggling sinners.  We aren’t perfect, but we rest in Perfection.  We are flawed and fallen, and yet He does His good works through us, and appoints us as His representatives in the world and His members in the church.

He didn’t just put me on the earth to make my children grow up well.  He also put them here to make ME grow up well.

So I can’t be paralyzed by these first pages.  I have to keep moving forward, working out my part in my own story and in theirs.  For praise be to God! – I pen imperfect novels, though I may write the beginnings a million times, but He never needs revisions, and He is creating a masterpiece.

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When God Says “As You Wish”

July 2, 2015

Last week I was chatting with a friend about parenting struggles.  She has a child who had gotten addicted to TV, and she had to do the hard work of cutting back screen time.  Not only was it upsetting to the child, but it was hard on Mom too!  Now she has to entertain the child during the time that was spent on TV before, or put up with the whining of a child who wishes they were being entertained instead of having to entertain themselves.

Parenting is hard! we agreed.  Challenging a child means challenging ourselves too.  It means putting aside our wants (peace and quiet, me-time) to help a child get over an idol or a disobedience issue.

And that got me thinking.

Most of us are familiar with that iconic line from The Princess Bride:

That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you.”

I definitely don’t deny the sweetness of that line (my husband and I sometimes say, “As you wish,” to each other!), and I don’t deny the beauty and practical love of deferring to others and serving them.

BUT.

That kind of deferential love can only go so far.

As parents, if we love our children, we can’t tell them “as you wish” for everything.  There are times we have to do the hard stuff: take away privileges, discipline them, limit screen time, let them make mistakes so they can learn.  We have to put them to bed even though they’d rather stay up all night, and feed them their vegetables even though they’d rather dine on sugar all day.

A parent who rolls over and says, “As you wish,” to every whim and demand of their child is not a loving parent, but a neglectful and lazy one.

He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.

– Proverbs 13:24

While there’s debate over whether the “rod” in this text is meant to be literal or metaphorical, the basic point is clear to people of all parenting styles – love disciplines.  Love sets aside my wants and needs, my mushy desire to never confront my child, my laziness, and the inclination to let things slide.  I have to get off my backside and intervene when my oldest is bullying the baby.  I have to take the time to talk to my daughter about her attitude instead of merely placating her wishes in hopes that she’ll stop whining.  Love doesn’t always give them what they wish, but rather sets aside what I wish in order to give them what they need.

Similarly…

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. – C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce”

God does not always say, “As you wish,” to His beloved children.  That is what He says to those He does not love.  And that is a frightening thought!  Those who happily go their own way, besotted with their sin, are those who are condemned to destruction, those who are hearing God’s, “As you wish.”

Those who go through trials, their desperate faith tested and stretched again and again, may wonder why God hates them so – but in reality, He is giving them His very best, not what they wish, but what He he knows they need.

You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. – Deuteronomy 8:5

And maybe it would have been easier for God to let us slide, wash His hands of us, and say, “As you wish.  Throw my law to the wind.  I’m done bothering with you.”

But He made us.  He knows what’s best for us, and what we were made for – and it’s Himself, and beauty, wholeness, and truth.  He cannot sit idly by while we twist His law and destroy one another and leave Him forever.  So he did something harder than any human parent will ever have to do – God left the peace and joy of heaven, entered this sin-soaked world as a Man, and suffered and died so that He could buy us back for Himself.

He gave Himself for me, so that I can have the strength in Him to confront my children’s sin – and my own.