Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What I’ve Learned through Foster Care

He left this morning.  I figured the judge would rule that way, so last night I packed up baby boy clothes, again.  I boxed the formula.  I set out the medication and extra diapers.  It was all ready to go, and sure enough the call came, and we hadn’t finished breakfast before an appreciative social worker and an excited birth parent were in our family room.

“Thank you for all you have done.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  The birth parent is as excited as any parent with a new baby.  And I’m happy for their excitement, but also a bit concerned, because even now there is so much about their baby that they don’t know how to care for.

I guess they will learn.  There will be bumps on the road and I will not be there.  Because in a moment Ben and I change from the parents who know more than anyone else how to care for this baby, to people in the past who may never see him again.  The car backs out of the driveway, and where a minute before there was excitement and activity and boxes and bags, and a baby, in the family room, now there is only an empty bed.  Again.

This time we only had the baby for just under two months, and I feel only concern, not real grief.  But I keep remembering last time when my heart got torn out.  And even now I feel my throat tighten at the emptiness in the house, at how in a moment, a case I’ve poured my heart and so much time into can just be—done.

It’s just a second that I feel this way, because we are in the middle of breakfast, and David is doing his math page, and I promised the kids we would make strawberry chocolate chip muffins if they were good.  So I’m pulled back to this moment of being a busy mom in a busy house, and I know it will be awhile until I can pick up foster care again, and I think about what I have learned through it and how much it has changed me.

It’s Not About Me

One of the main lessons I’ve learned since stepping naively into the foster care world is that it is not about me.  As a foster parent, I have been thanked and loved and appreciated and supported, but also a number of times falsely accused, ignored, used, manipulated, lied to, jerked around.

I knew going in that it wasn’t about me, but sometimes when I’m offended I need to remind myself of that.  Any foster care case is not about filling my gaps, meeting my needs, or helping me feel better about how needed I am or what a great person I am.  In foster care cases it really doesn’t matter what I think or how I feel.  It just doesn’t matter, and the sooner I accept that the happier I am.

I’m grateful that my thoughts and feelings matter to the Lord, to my husband, and to my friends.  But in the foster care world, my opinions and feelings are really not all that important, and I’m there primarily to love the child, to be an advocate, to reach out to their family.


One of the challenges of foster care is that we become aware of a lot that we cannot control.  We learn about tragedies, about complicated drama, about decisions we don’t agree with.  We learn about a lot of things, and most of them we can do nothing about.

So I’m finding that I need to fulfill what I am responsible for.  Feed this baby.  Love this baby.  Reach out to the parent if I can.  Call the caseworker and advocate for this baby.  Pray for this case.  And then it is out of my hands.  And I cannot let my life be consumed with worry and frustration over what I cannot control.  I can only do my job well and leave the rest.  And really isn’t all of life that way?

I’m learning too how to reach out to dysfunctional people without letting their drama spill over into my life.  I’m learning how far to go and when to say “enough.”  I’m learning when to say, “Yes, I can help with that” and when to say, “Absolutely not.”  Setting boundaries is a hard balance which I usually find by first overstepping on one side or the other, but slowly I’m learning.

Grief and Hope

This was my main journey of last year—learning what grief was really like and how to hope through it.  I still don’t have a lot of words for what I learned but I know I am changed.


I’m learning that when we step out of our comfort zone and do ministry, it can get really messy.  Things aren’t always black and white, and it’s hard to explain that to someone who sees the world that way.  Things are complicated and answers are not easy.

I remember when a friend told me that I might find encouragement in Beth Moore’s story of loving and then having to give up her adoptive son.  I made the mistake of googling this, and instead of finding an encouraging story, I stumbled upon a range of personal attacks from people who just did not understand what foster care and adoption was really like.  “She refuses to say much about it.”  Well, maybe that’s because it’s confidential.  “She gave up her son.”  Well, maybe because she or some authority made the hard choice that he should be with his birth family.  And so forth.

This is not easy stuff, people.  The moment you foster or adopt, you open your life to a tragedy, and often a series of tragedies, that happened.  There are no quick fixes for these tragedies.  There is often no one right answer.  Everything is bittersweet and nuanced and complicated.

The baby’s leaving this morning was a triumph to his birth family and a testimony to how hard they worked to get him back, but at the same time it was a concerning transition and a loss for us.  His coming into care in the first place was exciting for us, and a good change for him, but it happened because of wrong things that go way back.  If things had gone differently and we had been able to adopt him, it would have been because of other tragedies that would have happened along the way.

Even the foster care system is messy.  You hear from the cynical about how much the system is broken.  The truth is there are a lot of wonderful people trying to make a difference, and a lot of laws that really make sense.  There’s also a lot of mess and nonsense and red tape and things that make me feel like pulling my hair out.  Hmm, why did I think ministry would be straightforward and easy?


Foster care has forever impacted my parenting by reminding me of what is truly important.  It has taught me how significant and life altering it is to parent—one of the most important jobs a person can ever do—and all the more important for a child’s first few years of life.  I believe that what I am doing as a foster mom, and just as a mom in general, really matters and really makes a difference, because that’s what the research shows.

When my first son was born, I worried way too much about sleep training and schedules and other silly things that were essentially my attempt to bring control to an area I knew nothing about.  I’m still really fond of sleeping and having a good routine, but I’m learning not to sweat the small things, and to focus on what really matters.  Does this child feel loved?  Am I teaching this child how to attach?

I read this quote from a New York Times review of a foster care book: “Though foster parents understand that their parenting responsibilities are usually temporary, some can’t help falling for their foster kid….”  And I thought, this reviewer totally does not get it.  Not. At. All.  Try it this way:

“Though foster parents understand that their parenting responsibilities are usually temporary, they are also trained to know the importance of attachment.  They make a deliberate decision to bond with each foster kid, knowing that risking their own heartbreak is worth it to make a lasting difference in each kid’s life.”

There is a lot more I’ve learned since opening my life to this mess called foster care, and this bumpy journey we’ve been on.  It has not turned out like I dreamed.  I still want to adopt through foster care someday, but I also know we are gifted in reaching out to birth families and maybe adoption isn’t part of God’s calling for us.  Whatever God’s calling is, I have a feeling it will not be predictable or easy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

When your mommy efforts crash and burn

The days when I most feel like writing a blog post about motherhood are the days when everything is going well.

I think maybe I should write a blog post about home schooling Kindergarten in those moments when I feel we are so very clearly on top of our game.

Maybe I should write a blog post about cultivating good sleep habits when both our kids have been sleeping through the night for a long time.

Maybe I should write a blog post about helping your 2YO play independently when Elanor is being so content and creative on her own—hmm, maybe that’s why the home schooling was going so well?

Then there are the days (or, for me right now, the entire horrendous month of January) when all my mommy efforts crash and burn and all the answers I thought I had are kind of sizzling in ruin on the floor around me.

Not to be overdramatic or anything.

Those moments when I am collapsed in exhaustion in the family room while my son is in bed with a stomach bug and my daughter is for no apparent reason in the middle of yet another big meltdown.  I feel like I should peel myself off the couch and try to help her, but I seem to have misplaced the manual on how to switch off tantrum mode and what exactly she is trying to communicate through her different moods.

Oh, wait, she didn’t come with a manual.  And I am trying to grope my way along and keep my sanity and patience and firmness and hoping there is a light ahead when this will be easier.

David has been in a hard stage before and I am trying to remember how I felt then.  I remember for a few months when he was three we were dealing with tantrums, and I cried a lot.  Then the tantrums stopped as quickly as they had started, and I wrote a blog post about what I learned.

Now we’re going over another bump with Elanor, except she is different and everything is different, and the things that worked with David don’t work with her.  I desperately want to have a good relationship with my daughter, and I love it that she loves to be with me.

But I don’t love it that suddenly with no warning separation anxiety has hit—why after being confident and assured for so long does she now want to be connected to me at all times?  Why, after her sleeping so well for so long, do I feel like I have an infant again up multiple times in the night?  Why does she only seem content when she’s watching a movie?  Why can we have so much fun together doing something like a baking project and then a millisecond later she is screaming and kicking on the floor?

Part of the frustration of parenting for me is the lack of answers to questions like these.  On one hand, I can find very specific and confident (and contradictory!) answers from parenting books that assure me if I were a little more strict (or a little more lenient) or did something just a little differently, success in parenting would be mine in a moment.  I’ve gotten to the place where I usually ignore those formulaic approaches and try my best with the wisdom of God’s Word and the intuition He has given me and Ben.

But I still find myself casting about for answers—is she on a growth spurt?  Teething?  Is this because I’m pregnant?  Is it somehow connected to our foster baby leaving 6 months ago?  Is this all a detox from the fun time she had in Florida?  Are these weeks of drama because she was sick for a few days?  Is there an undiscovered food allergy?  Have I not been giving her enough attention?  Am I pandering to her too much?

I can drive myself crazy with questions like these, and it’s a little hard to think logically about them when Elanor wants at the same time to be held close and to have the freedom to run around, to eat something yet she’s not hungry after all, to play with that toy but never mind she hates it, and I think—she doesn’t know what’s wrong either.  She is just, for whatever reason, at this point in her development, really, really frustrated.

It’s easy to feel mommy guilt when our child is going through a rough stage, to wonder if we somehow did something wrong, or caused this, or if we’re not responding in the best way, or are we missing something obvious?

But I’m trying to remember this:

In some jobs, you can put in X and know with certainty that Y will come out.  The cause and effect are clearly linked.  There’s a formula and pattern and it all makes sense.

Parenting isn’t like that because we’re dealing with people.  We put in X and we have no idea what will come out.  When good stuff is coming out, we can applaud ourselves, and other people may join in, at what a great job we are doing.  Look, I have a happy, well-balanced child for the moment!  Aren’t I a great mom?

Then we hit a rut when weird stuff is happening and we don’t know why and we’re crying out for wisdom.  I think in those moments it’s helpful to remember:

The perfect parent we are really trying to imitate is God.  And His parenting didn’t always go well.  His children didn’t always turn out and follow Him perfectly.  His lavish grace and mercy wasn’t always met with appreciation and obedience.

The parent we are really trying to imitate is the Father of the Prodigal Son.  Somehow his oldest was a hypocrite and his youngest was a rebel.  He just kept doing the right thing in his parenting, waiting patiently, reasoning gently.

I hope if there is something I can do differently that will help Elanor through this rough patch, that I figure it out really soon.  But I also don’t want to beat myself up that things aren’t going perfectly for me right now.  I feel like one test of parenting is how we live when all our efforts are crashing and burning around us.  Am I still being consistent?  Patient?  Joyful?  Or am I allowing the mood swings of my two-year-old to become mood swings of my own?  (Not like I’ve had moments of hysterical tears these last few weeks, that’s just a hypothetical question.)

Anyway, I have no really great ideas about parenting right now.  Love your kids and be affectionate with them.  Be firm and try to teach them good things.  Try not to go crazy when they do.  And when it’s falling to pieces, try to remember your hope is in the Lord, not in your sweet children or your awesome parenting skills.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Helping Your Kids Stay Healthy This Winter

Cold weather rolls in, and we moms start thinking the same thing: how will we help our kids stay healthy this winter?  And, is it worth it going to church children’s ministry, a play date, library story time, or a home school field trip, with the inevitable exposure to germs?

Here are a few tips I’ve learned for helping my kids stay healthy in the winter so we can still get out and about.  A disclaimer first that some of these ideas take time and/or money—not much, since I’m busy and on a tight budget, but some.  The way I see it, though, I’m going to spend my time and money somewhere, and as far as it’s possible, I’d rather spend it on healthy food and supplements than on sick visit copays and prescriptions.

Hand sanitize and wash after being out.  Keep a healthy hand sanitizer (I like this one) in your purse so that your children can sanitize immediately after shopping or being with friends, and definitely before eating out.

Then the minute they walk inside the house, have your kids thoroughly wash hands with a good soap (I like Udderly Fresh Soap and also DoTerra OnGuard soap).  Help your children avoid contact with shopping cart handles, restaurant high chairs, and other things that are swarming with germs—clean with a sanitizing wipe or put a cover over it.

Avoid artificial colors and sweeteners (including high fructose corn syrup).  I try not to buy anything with these ingredients.  This simple step cuts out a lot of unhealthy food.  Because we don’t actually have a food allergy to these ingredients, I don’t freak out if my son has candy at a class or colored frosting at a birthday party.  A little bit here or there is not a big deal; it’s just not a regular habit.

 This was one of our exceptions to the "nothing artificial" rule!
Minimize sugar.  Depending on where you read it, the exact numbers are different, but the basic fact is that we eat many more pounds of sugar per year than our ancestors did.  The difference is something like 2-7 pounds of sugar per year in previous generations vs. 150 pounds of sugar and high fructose corn syrup per year now. 

That’s a huge increase, and we’re paying the price for it.  We are getting used to having everything hyper-sweetened.  If a child starts the day with fruit juice and boxed cereal, has a pb&j sandwich for lunch, and has something like spaghetti for dinner, chances are that every single dish is sweetened, not to mention any snacks and desserts thrown in.

Make simple, small changes.  Make your own food instead of buying it packaged.  Serve homemade oatmeal instead of boxed cereal, or plain yogurt mixed with fruit instead of a yogurt cup.  Use honey, maple syrup, liquid stevia, or fruit as sweeteners.  Look up paleo recipes online when you’re baking something—I love these coconut flourbrownies, for instance.

It’s easiest of course when you can start this with babies so your kids’ taste buds acclimate to healthier options.  If your kids think plain yogurt mixed with honey and orange pieces is a normal dessert, so much the better!

Avoid stress, and get enough sleep.  These are good rules to help us moms stay healthy (though of course they can be nearly impossible to follow!).  But they also apply to our kids—are they getting enough nighttime sleep?  If they need a nap or quiet time, do they get it?  Are they anxious and hurried from one event to another, or do they have time to relax, read, and play?

Eat lots of fruits and veggies.  Find yummy ways to serve vegetables—broccoli or green beans tossed with olive oil and oven roasted, peas steamed with butter, or whipped carrots.  If your kids don’t love them, they can still learn to eat them—every mealtime at our house usually includes some sort of instruction like “eat five bites of vegetables and then you can have your biscuit.”  Fruits are a natural favorite for my kids, and we try to eat lots of berries and citrus especially.  Smoothies are a great way to disguise fruits, and even vegetables like spinach.

Supplement.  Supplements can do more harm than good if they have synthetic ingredients that your body just reacts against and tries to flush out of the system.  Buy a completely natural whole-food supplement.  A good way to verify the quality of a supplement is to see whether or not the Vitamin E is synthetic.  We use GNLD LiquiVite, a liquid supplement full of vitamins/minerals/other immune boosters.  (We’ve ordered a similar all-natural liquid supplement from the Vitamin Shoppe, which was half the price but also half the potency.)  We also like GNLD chewable VitaSquares and VitaGard. 

We buy liquid Vitamin D from the Vitamin Shoppe, and give our kids a drop or two every day.

One of my favorite ways to supplement to fight off sickness for me as an adult is to take garlic capsules.  I like GNLD garlic because it’s very potent and doesn’t make my breath smell afterwards.  If I’m fighting sickness, I will take as many as 6 garlic capsules a day to quickly kick any infection.  My kids can’t swallow capsules, though, and no way are they chewing garlic capsules, so I haven’t found a way yet to help them with this (other than to mince fresh garlic and put it in soups and casseroles).

Other weird stuff.  Because frankly, some of it is weird.  But it works.

Herbal tea.  The Nourishing Herbalist, probably my favorite health blog right now, gives instructions here for making your own herbal tea that is basically a homemade supplement.  Again, this is the kind of thing that takes a little time and money, but once you get started, you spend only a few minutes a day.  We ordered our herbs from iherb.  Our kids love to drink it and so do I.

Raw milk.  This is a controversial one, though surveys have shown that you are more likely to get sick from eating spinach than you would from raw milk.  Here in Virginia we can only legally purchase milk through a cow share system.  Find a small farm you trust where conditions are clean and cows are regularly tested.  Raw milk is full of vitamins that would be otherwise be killed in pasteurization.  It’s also a great source of probiotics.  Speaking of those …

Probiotics.  Drink raw milk, make your own yogurt from raw milk (again, it will take a little time to get the hang of it, but once you learn, it’s very easy and saves a lot of money), and/or give your kids a probiotic supplement like FloraBaby.  (FloraBaby can be good for mixing into formula if that’s how you need to feed your baby.)

If you’re not excited about the idea of raw milk and homemade yogurt, at least try to buy organic whole milk yogurt and give your kids a serving a day.  For us, yogurt is always our bedtime snack while we have a Bible reading.  Probiotics boost the immune system and can also help your children from becoming constipated.  Having one BM a day is a good goal.

Apple cider vinegar and honey drink.  Use Bragg raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar (available through Amazon or a local health food store).  Then buy raw honey from a local farm—you can save by getting a gallon jar.

From the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, I order from Hay’s Apiary through the mail.  The cost (including shipping) is actually less than what you would pay for raw honey at Costco, which I’m sure is healthy but doesn’t have the advantage of being local.

Once a day, or at every meal if you’re really ambitious, mix 1 tbsp vinegar and 1 tbsp honey with a glass of water.  I can’t believe my kids actually like this, but they do, and both the vinegar and the honey have multiple health benefits.

Elderberry/echinacea tincture.  This is another one from the Nourishing Herbalist.  She explains here how to make it but I find it much easier to buy hers, which is reasonably priced.

Essential oils.  This is still a new frontier to me so I can’t say much.  Essential oils rubbed on the bottoms of feet and/or diffused into a room can really help not only in preventing sickness but in helping your kids get better when they’ve got something.  Diffusing essential oils in their bedrooms at night can be especially helpful when they have a respiratory sickness.  After doing a little research and price comparison, we’re ordering our essential oils from Native American Nutritionals.

UPDATE: We’ve started to use essential oils a little more since writing this.  Oregano oil is strong but effective in helping fight infection—dilute one drop with coconut oil and rub on the bottoms of feet.  I like to diffuse Olbas oil (from the Vitamin Shoppe) to help with respiratory sickness.  Elanor gets sick more frequently now (maybe because she keeps putting her fingers in her mouth), and I diffuse Olbas Oil in her room overnight when she is sniffly.  Lavender and peppermint are other favorites—both help against sickness; lavender is especially effective for calming and sleeping, and peppermint is good when you’re feeling nauseous or have a headache.

So there’s my smattering of ideas!  Yes, they take a little time or money, but if I have the choice, I would so much rather be doing these things, than cleaning up vomit and blowing noses and cancelling events because my kids are sick.  I'm grateful for all the days that we can stay healthy, and when we do get sick, I'm grateful that these ideas can usually help us get better quickly.

Here’s to a winter of helping our kids stay in their classes and play dates and out of the doctor’s office!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When Submission Becomes Codependence

I'm posting over at Warrior Wives today:

"I remember when I learned in clear, concise words that my identity and purpose in life was to be a helpmeet to my husband, a mother to my children, and a keeper of my home.  I was probably eleven, and I was memorizing a motto.  Nothing about the motto surprised me, since I had been taught these concepts my whole childhood.

"Nothing about the motto concerned me either.  What more could I want than Prince Charming to show up in my later teenage years and give me a happily ever after?  I would gladly obey my husband and care for our home and children, especially since the alternative was forever obeying my father and caring for his home and children...."  

Read the rest at Warrior Wives.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Songs of My Story

I love getting truth in books or in sermons, but there is something especially meaningful to me about getting truth in songs.  I believe our response to God should involve our whole being—not just our mind understanding and affirming, but our emotions participating.  Nothing helps me with that more powerfully than songs.

Somehow a song is a way of bringing truth into life, of saying, “This is not only true, but I believe it, right here and now, even in this.”  With a book or a sermon, I can be passive, listening, holding something at arm’s length, accepting or rejecting, but with songs, I’m invited to join in and sing along and really make the truth my own.

Songs become especially meaningful when they become a part of my story—when in some season of life, a particular song becomes the cry of my heart, and whenever I hear it afterward, it reminds me of how I struggled and of how God was faithful at a particular point in time.  I love hearing from others how songs have become part of their stories as well.

Casting Crown’s “Praise You In This Storm” became my heart cry when for three months I waited for the resolution of a difficult situation I could not control.  On difficult days, my mind would get stuck on repeat just on the first few lines:

“I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day….”

I could hardly move past those lines because each day, I was sure that God would have come through for me by that time, but He hadn’t, and I was still waiting and crying without answers.  That song gave me words of lament and helped strengthen my faith.

During the same season, I really liked Chris Tomlin’s “I Lift My Hands.”  The line “I lift my hands to believe again” became my way of confessing, “My faith has faltered.  In moments of difficulty I didn’t really believe this.  Now I’m affirming again that I do.”

At a time when I felt falsely accused, one of my favorite songs was also by Chris Tomlin, “Whom Shall I Fear.”

“I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side….”

Maybe I like songs so much because I can play them while I wash dishes, clean the house, drive in the car.  They can become a part of my life all week long, during the moments when I am fighting to believe.  When I have woken up on dark mornings and stand in front of the kitchen sink wondering how to go on, songs can bring me hope.

Sidewalk Prophets became another recent favorite of mine.  Their song “You Can Have Me” seemed like it was written just for me as we were loving and losing our foster baby.

“If You're all You claim to be
Then I'm not losing anything
So I will crawl upon my knees
Just to know the joy of suffering

I will love You enough to let go
Lord, I give you my life
I give you my life….

“When did love become unmoving?
When did love become unconsuming?
Forgetting what the world has told me
Father of love, You can have me
You can have me.”

The world was telling me I was crazy to foster and get attached and lose—who would sign up for that pain?  It wouldn’t have hurt so much if love could have been unmoving or unconsuming in my life.  But if Jesus was all He claimed to be, my loss was going to become gain.  I listened to that song over and over and over again. 

During that dark season another one of my favorites was Jeremy Camp’s “There Will Be a Day.”  I really started to hope in heaven more, especially as it became clear that my perfectly happy ending was not going to happen here on earth.

Recently when we felt at a crossroads trying to make a decision, I listened a lot to Sidewalk Prophets “Would You Help Me Find It.”  It perfectly captured my heart question: should we wait and be still, or should we walk forward, and if so, which road?

“If there’s a road I should walk
Help me find it
If I need to be still
Give me peace for the moment
Whatever Your will
Whatever Your will
Can you help me find it?”

Right now my favorite song is Big Daddy Weave’s “Overwhelmed.”  I hope it’s not annoying my family that I literally listen to it every single day.  I love that when I type “overwhelmed” into my google search, that music video is what comes up.  I have been feeling so overwhelmed lately—overwhelmed by my circumstances and relationships, overwhelmed by my weakness and inadequacy.  This song reminds me to be overwhelmed mostly by the Lord.  I find my mind getting stuck again and singing on repeat, usually when I’m feeling overwhelmed:

“I delight myself in You
In the Glory of Your Presence
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You.

“God, I run into Your arms
Unashamed because of mercy
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You.”

I love hearing from friends about songs that have become part of their story.  One friend of mine shared that she listened to Josh Wilson’s “Before the Morning” on her way home from the funeral of her baby son.

“So hold on, you got to wait for the light
Press on, just fight the good fight
Because the pain that you've been feeling,
It's just the dark before the morning.

“My friend, you know how this all ends
And you know where you're going,
You just don't know how you get there
So say a prayer.
And hold on, cause there's good for those who love God,
Life is not a snapshot, it might take a little time,
But you'll see the bigger picture.”

Wow.  Can you imagine singing along with that as you mourn the death of a loved one?  Now I think of my friend and her faith whenever I hear that song play.

Another friend shared with me that Hillsong’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” became a meaningful song to her while her son battled brain cancer.

“You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand.

“And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves….”

Can you imagine singing that as your son fights for his life?  I was so encouraged by my friend’s faith and how she believed in God and proclaimed Him even during such a crisis.  Hearing this song always makes me think of her and her family.

This is what I love about songs—they help us incarnate truth, making it more than just an abstract idea, but something we are actually singing and believing in the middle of trials.  I think this is our most powerful testimony to the world—not arguments and propositions, but lives lived well that affirm the truth and cling to it even in deep grief, or confusion, or just the crazy overwhelmed mundane feelings of life.

Maybe this is why the Bible talks so much about singing to the Lord a new song.  I’d love to hear from others what songs have been meaningful to you and when and why.  And if you don’t have any meaningful songs yet, start singing!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Parenting: Does It Have to Be THAT Hard?

Parenting is hard.  It is certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It means being on call 24/7 for 18+ years.  It means your body changing into some very strange sizes.  It means your patience being stretched like you never thought it would be.  It means risking the grief of losing a child, or mourning a child’s bad choice.  It means your clothes stained with sour milk, pee, diarrhea, vomit, and boogers.  From a Christian perspective, it means dying to yourself every single day.

Anyone who says parenting is easy and everything will turn out fine if you just follow this simple formula is deluded.

But sometimes when I talk with an overwhelmed mom, or read an article online like this recent one, emphasizing the all-consuming craziness of parenting—“10 Reasons You Don’t Want to Be My Friend Now That I Have Kids”—I can’t help but wonder if we’re making parenting harder than it needs to be.  Of course we find these somewhat tongue-in-cheek articles humorous because they remind us of our own overwhelming moments. 

But is that what the normal parenting experience should really be like?  Is it any wonder if someone reads an article like that and shudders at the idea of ever having children?  Does parenting really have to be THAT hard?

My hardest parenting season was when I had three kids, ages 4, 1, and a baby, and I knew I was soon to lose the baby.  That season challenged me more than any other, and also taught me some important survival skills about how to make a very hard job a little easier.  So when I read an article about the craziness of parenting, or hear a quote like, “Now that I have kids I hardly have time to shower!”  I think, “Yes, sometimes it’s crazy, but it doesn’t have to be THAT crazy.  There’s things you can do to make it easier.”

So I made a list of things that make my parenting life easier:


Make good sleep a top priority for you and your kids.  Obviously with a newborn baby it takes awhile to get there.  I’m not advocating unrealistic sleep expectations and especially not harsh sleep training.  I am advocating making it a top priority to work toward you and your children having healthy sleep hours.

Have a bedtime, a wake time, and a nap time (for your kids and for you!).  When your children outgrow naps, train them to have a quiet time, when they can watch a movie, listen to an audio book, or play quietly with toys.  This gives you a breather every day when you can take your own power nap, enjoy your quiet, and regain your sanity.

Don’t stay up too late after your kids go to bed.  Try to get close to eight hours of sleep, even if that sleep is in pieces.  Wake up before them if possible so that when they wake up, you’re ready.  Or give your early riser kids a quiet time so you can have your own before the day begins.

Routine and Rules

Strict schedules may be impossible with small children, but having a routine and a rhythm to your life is healthy.  Children want to know what to expect.  Have an order to your morning, an order to your entire day if you can, a naptime and bedtime ritual, and a rhythm to your week of how often you go out and when.  (And with small children, don’t go out too much.  Staying home is easier.  Is it really necessary to attempt the grocery store with all the little ones in tow, or can that wait till the weekend?)

Rules are closely related to routine—let your child know what to expect.  One of our rules is “whatever you have a tantrum about, you lose.”  If you tantrum because you want ice cream, you have definitely lost the privilege of ice cream.  This doesn’t eliminate tantrums of course, but it does give clear consequences and boundaries that minimize problems and help things run more smoothly.

Adjust your routine and your rules as you need to in seasons of change, but throw it out altogether and chances are your kids will be screaming and you’ll feel like joining them.


Prioritize eating healthy for both you and your kids, not out of guilt or legalism that you need to do everything a certain way, but simply a desire to make your life and your kids’ lives easier and better.  The time you spend cooking healthy, or researching vitamins, essential oils, etc., will be worth it for the difference it makes.

Of course a lot is out of our control.  Everyone has bouts of coughing, fevers, vomiting, and some far worse health crises no matter how careful we may be to avoid them. 

But there is a lot we can do as parents to minimize sickness in our kids.  The constipated child is grouchy.  The feverish one may keep you up all night and then refuse to nap.  Work to minimize the sickness, and you can minimize some of the most stressful moments of parenting.


Train your kids for independence.  If they are physically capable of something, teach them to do it by themselves.  This helps them develop as people, and means one less thing you need to do.

This is a example conversation with my 5YO as I’m making dinner in the kitchen:
Him: “I’m thirsty.”
Me: “Help yourself to some water.”
Him: “What?!”
Me: “There are cups on the shelf.”
Him: “But I can’t reach the faucet.”
Me: “Get a stool.”

I would rather spend time showing my son I care by doing quality 1-on-1 activities, like reading a book or playing a game, than by scurrying around acting like I’m the slave and he’s the prince.

Take the time to teach your children to buckle their own seat belts, clear their own plates, put on their own shoes.  Teach them to solve some of their own problems instead of expecting you to.


When my firstborn was colicky, I felt like panicking.  “What am I doing wrong?  Why isn’t he happy?  I wish he could tell me!  I wish I could help him!  Why won’t he just SHUT UP so I can sleep?  Wait, was I just angry at my baby?  Where did that come from?  I can’t believe I was angry!  I’m such a horrible mother!” etc.

Then when he was three and going through a stage of almost daily tantrums, I felt myself in a similar meltdown of frustration with him and myself.  I’ve needed to learn not to let my kids control my emotions.  It’s a learned and practiced skill to be able to remain calm when your circumstances are crazy.  When you can be calm yourself, you have a lot better chance of calming your kids.

Am I going to be angry when my daughter spills water, or am I going to hand her a towel and instruct her how to clean it up?  Am I going to be frustrated when my son starts a tantrum, or am I going to give him a time-out and talk reasonably with him when he’s ready?  Am I going to stress when the baby has a blow-out, or am I going to get the wipes and do the obvious?

Just because my kids may be crazy doesn’t mean I need to be crazy.

Remember “This Too Shall Pass”

The season of having small children, when compared to the rest of your life, is a short season.  Even if you want a large family, the years you will spend with small children are still only one season among several in your life.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with first trimester morning sickness, newborn diapers, the 4-month-old who stopped sleeping, the 2-year-old potty-training, the 3-year-old tantruming—and we forget we are in a short season.  The challenge that filled our perspective one month may be gone the next.

We need to zoom out as parents and remember: “This Too Shall Pass.”  Newborn weeks are hard, but they are a matter of weeks.  They pass so quickly.  In those weeks, as in all parenting stages, there is so much to treasure and be grateful for before it’s gone.

You Are More than Mom

Being a mom is a wonderful job.  What it lacks in pay it more than makes up for in meaning.  I really am grateful to be a mom, despite how hard it can be.  But I am not just a mom.  I can’t find my identity in my kids.  If I do, I’ll be sunk when I’m an empty-nester, and I’ll probably be frustrated a long time before that, when my kids who are my life aren’t exactly fulfilling me how I expected they would.

Being a mom is one of my callings.  I am also a wife.  I am a friend.  I am a daughter and sister.  I am a teacher.  I am a foster parent.  I am a writer.  Primarily I believe I am a disciple of Christ—that’s where my identity comes from even if I would lose all else.

No matter how hard parenting is at any particular season, I don’t want to let it consume my soul.  Maybe that means when it’s really crazy, I need to ask my husband or a baby-sitter or friend to watch the kids for a couple hours so I can get out.  I have always been grateful to have a part-time job, so though I’m essentially a SAHM, there are three hours a week when I do something else.  And I like to get together with a friend for coffee and not bring the kids along and talk about something other than kids.  I need that perspective.

So parenting is hard, but it doesn’t have to be THAT hard.  There are moments and sometimes even weeks or months of crazy, but it’s not always crazy, and even when it is, I can be calm.  I may wear sweat pants sporting cereal crumbs on both knees, but that doesn’t mean I can’t change into something else when I go out.  I may think about breast pumps and sippy cups and potty training, but I think about a lot of other things, too.  I may not be able to answer the phone when you call, but I can get together with you next week.  I’m doing the hardest job of my life, but it doesn’t completely define me.  It’s hard, but it’s not that hard.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


This is the first week that finally feels like fall.  The mornings are cool and crisp and I take a blanket out with me when I have my quiet time on the patio in the morning.  My potted mum from Costco blooms on the deck right beside my Chaco sandals, covered with wet grass from when I went out earlier with the kids to blow bubbles and stomp rockets and pull up a few random weeds.

I can’t shake the feeling of someone standing up after a bad fall, gingerly touching their bruises, and then looking around perplexed at where they are and how they got there.  On the surface I felt content, settling into a happy and comfortable fall rhythm, but beneath flows an undercurrent of feeling hurt and displaced.

When our foster baby left in early July, it came as no surprise.  I had grieved and feared his leaving for months, and when he did leave, it was such a gradual shift that in some ways it wasn’t as horrible as I had expected.  It was so anticlimactic it would have made a terrible movie.  I packed up the clothes in his dresser and sent those away one day.  Another day I boxed his toys.  Eventually I emptied our kitchen cupboards of baby food jars and Similac cans.  I did all those things and I kept breathing and we kept seeing him for visits.  Only last week we put his car seat and high chair in storage—easily accessible, but not always visible.

But when he left in early July, I feel like I entered some kind of free fall.  The weeks after he left were filled, rather incongruously, with fun.  Late July and early August were the most fun part of our year.  We went boating with my family on Lake Anna, twice, lazy days of wading on the shore, relaxing in the shade, yelling “faster!” as the inflatable raft skimmed along behind the boat.

We went camping, also with my family, and we played mini golf and Laser tag, and went swimming every day twice a day, then down the water slide, on the hay ride, to the flag raising and the craft times, and then at night around the campfire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows and fall asleep in our primitive cabin.

In the little time we were home, the kids had daily swim lessons beside one of the best playgrounds in the area, so every morning we would meet our friends there, first enjoy the swings and slides before it got too hot, then swim and eat our lunch on the way home, rest, and wake up the next morning to do it all again.

We went to a pony farm, and the kids rode ponies and fed the animals and played with friends.  We went to Chick-Fil-A Cow Appreciation Day, which is basically like a summer holiday for the kids, to dress up like cows and enjoy free food and play in the play area about as long as they like.  We went to the county fair and admired the crafts and saw the animals.  The kids each selected one ride, then David watched a little of the tractor pull, and on our way out we found a building just for kids with balloons and crafts and toys.

We drove to South Carolina to visit Ben’s family and managed to have a wonderful week despite Elanor getting rotavirus.  We visited the zoo and the kids ran around looking at the animals, especially the pink flamingos and the elephants spraying themselves with mud.  We read stories and watched movies and ate delicious food.  We went to the lake and waded and swam and had a picnic in the shelter.  We went to a museum with a delightful dinosaur exhibit that the kids wanted to walk through twice.

Our summer was just like Shauna Niequist’s description in her book Bittersweet:

“The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness.

“Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy....

“This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all along….”

Our summer was bittersweet.  Sometimes I wondered if it was even healthy to be doing so many fun things right after we lost our baby.  But I really think it was.  We needed to celebrate the family we still had.  We needed something to cushion those weeks.  Was I trying to escape the grief?  I hope not.  Our vacations naturally fell at that point in time, and our kids really needed to do something fun.  Grief went with us wherever we went, but so did joy—it was bittersweet.

I felt like I was in free fall until August when we were through with our adventures and I landed.  I was home, with two kids, and even though it was mid August, it was the beginning of fall because school was starting and every week one more thing fell into place to fill our new rhythm.

I realized I had no idea how to mother just two kids at home.  I could do school with David well enough, but Elanor walked around the house simply lost, looking for a playmate and someone to mother and scold and love.  The floors stayed remarkably clean.  Mealtimes only took half as long and were half as noisy.  I would sort laundry into baskets and think, “That’s all there is?”  Everywhere, in everything, we felt the absence of noise, of mess, of happiness, of chaos, and now just the quiet routine of what was left.

On the surface we looked once again like the ideal family size—one boy, one girl, well spaced—but that didn’t account for what felt like a gaping emptiness we took with us wherever we went.  At Costco Elanor used to ride with him in the cart, and she didn’t want to be alone, so now her dolly Jenna flopped beside her, which needless to say was not the same.  The normal question, “How many kids do you have?” became hard to answer.  Sometimes I say two and sometimes I say three.  Foster care makes life so complicated.  Legally I have two.  I birthed two.  I love three.  I cared for three.  I pray for three and hold three in my heart.  I totally know how to do three.  Two feels weird.

David got an “About Me” worksheet to complete, and the family space asked for the number of his brothers and sisters.  I held my breath a little, giving him no prompting and wondering what he would do.  He said cheerfully, “Well, I’ll put zero in the brothers space because I don’t have any brothers!  I have one sister, though!”

I walked over to the kitchen sink and remembered in the spring when one of his teachers first met our foster baby and asked, “Is this your brother?” and I said, “Kind of, he’s our foster baby” and David surprised everybody by shouting, “Yes!  He is my brother!  And when he leaves, I’m leaving, too!”

And I think about that zero on that worksheet and I think, he is healing, and this is good.  Elanor is healing, too.  She asks about him several times a day, but she asks happily like he is a good friend who will soon come to visit.

Last week when he was here, crawling crazily around looking for what he could destroy in the dining room, I was sitting at the table, and it hit me—we did have a choice with him.  We never had the option of adopting him, and if we had, we would have in a heartbeat, but he did come with a choice.  We could have said no, or we could have said yes for a year.  And I am so, so glad we said yes for a year.  Investing in his life is one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done.

Now we are ready and waiting for another baby.  Two calls have turned out to be false alarms.  In the meantime I am busy—busy as two kids, a part-time job, and a church community can make you, meaning I am busy but not as much as I was last year this time.  I feel that emptiness, and I’m wanting to meet the Lord in it, and to wait for whatever, whoever, comes next.