Sing Alleluiah!

Who’ll join me in a song of praise?!?!!! I just heard from our youngest daughter!!! She sent me her mailing address. She thanked me for the card…I’m assuming she got the one I sent from Malaysia. Of the cards I’ve sent, sending one from half-way around the world may have been worthy of mention. I’ve been guessing at the address so it’s good to know the official “send-to” info.

Keep the faith!

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Smile and be thankful for what we have

It would be easy for me to be jealous and feel resentful when I hear (or read) about parents who have such wholesome families, and great relationships with their children. I know that in their 40’s many people mourn the loss of their youth. I’ve mourned the loss of my children’s youth. I wouldn’t dream of starting my own life over, even knowing what I know now. Sometimes, however, I’ve thought it would be nice to go back 23 years and re-raise my children. Knowing, of course, what I know now. Maybe that’s why I feel so compelled to share what I’ve learned.

Within my own world, I can smile, and thank God for what I have. I spent time visiting with my youngest last night, and that was very nice. It was definitely a good conversation. This morning over breakfast he got mad at me over a discussion about hormone treatment of plants (I’d never heard of such a thing – he felt I was arguing with him). But at least we’re talking.

I have a wonderful husband, a good job, a nice house & yard, few money woes, a fabulous church family and a harmonious relationship with God. I love my children, and have always tried to do right by them. Although I was a rebellious black sheep in my family-of-origin, I now have a great relationship with my parents. We talk several times a week and they come visit several times a year. When I left home at 17 (off to college) I thought my mother might win a worst-in-the-world competition. I’m somewhat amazed at how much like her I am. My middle daughter, M, is now staying in touch and I’m grateful for that. She offers me hope, and she has voiced reassurance that I’m not as bad as she thought I was 2 years ago. Not to be trite, but “time heals all wounds” and “distance makes the heart grow fonder”.

I remain faithful, and I trust that my children are under God’s watchful eye. I will try to worry less, and trust more.

Do’s and Dont’s

I’ve learned a lot in the last 22 years of parenting. Some of what I’ve learned is what NOT to do. Since I’m still in the business (my youngest is 14). I’m hoping to get help from the parents who visit this blog. Here are a couple of items that have been on my mind. I hope to hear some feedback.

DO:

  1. Make your children pick up after themselves.
  2. Leave “love notes” or other messages for your children to show your affection.
  3. Stick to your word, including delivering on any “threats” of punishment.
  4. Assign household chores and expect these to be completed in a timely fashion (regardless of attitude).

DON’T:

  1. Make your children clean their rooms. (Do leave them some territory to learn on their own, such as the benefit of putting things away).
  2. Constantly badger and nag your kids.
  3. Threaten things you can’t deliver on (like “You’re never going to bake another cake if you don’t clean this mess up!”)
  4. Make chores arduous or unreasonable for the age (and don’t expect the attitude to always be ideal).

That’s enough for now. What are your thoughts?

Rent – too mature for 14?

I joined my son at a birthday party for a 15-year old. His mom bought tickets for him and his friends to go see “Rent-Filmed Live on Broadway”. This is a newly released movie of the broadway production. The movie is rated PG-13, but touches on such mature subjects as homosexuality, AIDS, heroin addiction and other aspects of the bohemian lifestyle of New York City in the 80’s. It seems relatively mature subject matter.

I was the only adult with a group that included one middle-schooler, 4 9th graders and 1 sophomore. I’m much more uptight than I ever dreamed I’d be, but I was surprised that no other parents chose to attend. I met the mother of the birthday boy and I know he had already seen the production live in Houston. The kids were all reasonably mature, and no one seemed shocked or confused by the movie.

What are your thoughts? No biggie? Or should more parents have attended?

The Prodigal Son, the "good" son, and the father

I thought I knew the parable of the prodigal son, having heard the tale many times during Sunday readings. It only appears in Luke’s gospel, and it is the story of a father and his two sons.

The Story retold

The younger son requests his inheritance. The father divides his property between his two sons. The younger son then gathers his belongings and new-found wealth and beats it distant lands. He squanders his money on wild living. It’s his bad luck that the country hits on hard times. He gets a job feeding pigs and about the time he realizes the pigs are eating better than he is, he decides to go home. His father is ecstatic (filled with compassion) when he sees his young son returning. He runs to his son, throws his arms around him, and gives him a big kiss.

The son is humble, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

But the father puts on a huge party, dressing his son in the best robes, putting a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. They kill the fatted calf and begin to celebrate.

Now the older son, who has been faithful and diligent in his service as a member of the family, returns from the field. Hearing the festivities he asks and is told that his brother’s return has prompted the celebration. He responds in anger and he refuses to join the party.

His father comes and the older son voices his objections, “Here I’ve been all of this time slaving for you. I’ve never disobeyed you, yet you have never given me any recognition. But when this son who squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fatted calf for him!”

The father responds in love, “My son, all that I have is yours. We are celebrating because your brother was dead, and now he is alive; he was lost and now is found.”

I was a prodigal child. Not necessarily taking any inheritance, but certainly marching off into the world to live my own life by my own rules. My oldest 2 were clearly on this path of staunch rebellion, disavowing their family for the sake of adventure in the land of greater opportunity. In the last year I have had to revisit this parable from the perspective of the other two central characters.

The “good” son

How did the older feel about the whole situation? Clearly he was peeved when the younger son came home and a big fuss was made. Why the production and obvious waste? I can imagine how put out he must of have been seeing the fruit of his labor spent on his good-for-nothing brother. I wonder if, when he was toiling away in his father’s field, he felt somewhat superior to his younger brother who had so foolishly left the security of home. He may even have well-imagined his brother’s suffering, in light of the country’s famine. I picture him toiling away, maybe a little smug about his position, knowing that he deserved to be in his father’s good graces. His commitment never waivering during the long, hot days of servitude.

Were his father’s words enough to quell his anger? “Your brother was dead, and now he is alive again; he was lost, but now is found.” Was he appeased by this? Or did he begin to plan his own escape?

The father

It is easy for me to imagine the father’s excitement when he realizes his son has returned. Having lost my children, one after the other, to their rebellious natures, I know that I am overjoyed when I hear from any one of them. When he saw his younger son coming down the road I am sure he was swept up in the moment, beside himself to see a child that he considered lost.

I have an image of the father and the oldest son spending long hours in the fields, each lost in thought. How the father must have mourned his loss. I know from the depth of my own despair how hard it is *not* to take our children’s decisions to heart as our personal failings. “Where did I go wrong?” “How could it have come to this?” It is so easy to berate ourselves and blame ourselves when our children go astray.

The meaning of it all

This weekend my husband is spending his time at a local prison, in a program (Kairos) intended to draw incarcerated criminals to Christ. I know the parable is representing the situation where God, our Father, rejoices as any of the men in the Kairos program return to God through our savior. My husband’s faith is not diminished, and his value in the Kingdom is not affected, by the joyous return to the fold by the men that are touched this weekend. That is what the parable is about. As wayward Christians return to God, the angels rejoice. My steadfast faith does not require celebration. I am already a member of the kingdom. In practice, I don’t hear the heavenly fanfare with each renewed commitment to Christ, so I am not chagrined. I get it…. As the “older son”, we steadfast Christians should not feel diminished.

In practice

But in the context of family, it is a tough story. I am reminded of a situation, years ago, when all four of our children were still at home. One semester we took the kids out to Red Lobster to celebrate, because it was the first time ever that everyone was passing all of their classes! It had been such a struggle with the oldest two to keep their grades up. For our oldest, especially. She repeated the 7th grade, almost out of apparent spite. I was so happy to not have to have any disciplinary discussions that semester.

Years later, our 3rd daughter informed us that this was a catalyst for her grades dropping. It seems that she internalized this message as “all you have to do is pass in order to be celebrated” and that anything above marginally passing was wasted effort. In hindsight I see that she considered herself (and actually claimed herself) to be “the good one”. She resented any celebration of accomplishments for the older two. Anything they received, she felt she deserved more of.

Did we do wrong? What could we have done to make sure our 3rd daughter understood the importance and value of her accomplishments?

Where do I begin?

I am a mother of 4, married 23 years. I started working when I was 12, delivering newspapers. Since then I’ve worked in fast food, in 2 different grocery stores as a checker or in the deli/bakery. I traveled with Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus. I’ve been a lifeguard for neighborhood pools. I spent 3 years as a clerk/typist/data entry/stenographer for government entities. This last motivated me to complete my engineering degree. With the higher education I filled various roles in product development, including Simulation Engineer providing analysis of transmission lines and electromagnetics for electronic products. Currently, I am an Engineering Manager responsible for developing notebook computers for a large company in central Texas. Raising children has proven to be a lot more difficult than any job I’ve ever had. Although it is the easiest job to land (no experience required), it comes without training or adequate preparation.

With the birth of our first child, I was disappointed to discover the absence of a training manual or owner’s handbook. Upon the arrival of our second I realized none of what I’d learned with Child #1 was directly applicable to Child #2. By the time our 3rd child was born, I thought I knew what I was doing. Shortly after we adopted our 4th child (who chronologically lands between #2 and #3) I realized I was wrong about most of what I thought I knew.

Now that our children are mostly grown and gone (all but our youngest), I’ve just about gotten a handle on parenthood. Our youngest, at 14, has a different set of parents than the oldest had at that age. Much of the transformation can be attributed to a few books that I wish I’d read 20 years ago, listed here:

The Five Love Languages of Teenagers, by Gary Chapman
Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, by Cline & Fay
Boundaries with Kids, by Henry Cloud

Chapman and Cloud have additional books that apply to relationships – also highly recommended reading. By the time I started reading these books, my 2 oldest children had already moved out. During the year that followed #2’s departure, I started making significant changes in my parenting style. The most important change was to allow our children to accept the consequences of their actions. There’s an element of “tough love” baked in to this parenting style. Although it is difficult to change the family dynamics, ultimately, it is a much less stressful style. The down side is the lack of support from the parents of the teen’s peers. Child #2 and Child #3 each moved out when they turned 18, and moved in with one of their friend’s family – where they were not fettered with accountability or responsibility. At least 2 of the oldest 3 found homes where they could drink, smoke and have sex freely. The 3rd moved out to live with her girlfriend’s family. In response to our concern about the sexual nature of their relationship, the girl’s parents reassured us that they slept in separate rooms. Our youngest seems to be doing fine, so hopefully we can get through high school without too much heartache.

I must also list the best reference book of all – the Holy Bible. In the last few years I have come to appreciate that my children are God’s children that He has entrusted to my husband and me. We have done our best, and we will continue to do our best. I have to believe that they will return like the prodigal son, eventually awakening with a maturity that allows them to return to relationship with earthly and heavenly parents.

I am called to share our learnings in hopes that our experiences might benefit other parents. The Bible has a lot to say about parenthood, as well as life choices. The guidelines provided there are not for the fainthearted. It takes a good amount of fortitude to live as God wants us to live, and to raise our children to do the same. I know that we are never challenged beyond what we can handle, and I believe that suffering is not without purpose. Although we may not gain insight from our trials until they are long behind us, we can be assured that without trials we are less likely to grow closer to and maintain a relationship with God.

I pray that I hear back from anyone who benefits from what I publish here. I am stepping out in faith to share experiences that have brought me great pain and heartache. I know that I am not alone, and neither are you.

Peace,