Being a Loving Parent: Love From an Empty Vessel….

I think I can get everyone nodding by making one simple statement… Kids are hard work!  We have to feed them (constantly!), shop for them, answer their questions, play with them, chauffer them (everywhere!), keep them clean, help with their homework, discipline them, minister to them, try to keep them healthy (and care for them when they are not), and on and on and on…  And this job is 24/7 for at least 18 years.  Of course, you can multiply that by the number of kids you have.  We pour and pour and pour into our kids because they need it, because we love them, and because we feel that it means we are being the best parents possible.  Then we are expected to have plenty of time and energy left to take on all of the responsibilities the non-parenting sides of our lives demand.  So, what happens when we get so busy pouring, that suddenly our vessel starts to run out? 

 

I don’t know about you, but I do not have a cape hiding under my shirt.  I adore my children, and I love my job, but all of the giving required of me can be exhausting!   When I am exhausted, I am less patient and more irritable.  I start to drop some of the many balls I try to juggle.  There are times when, for the sake of showing love to my children, I pour myself out until I am empty.  But when I do, I can suddenly find myself no longer being the loving parent I want to be.  What!?  This feels like a trap!

There is a simple way out of this trap.  It happens the moment we realize that one of the best ways to show love to our children is to show love to ourselves.  Just as we juggle our schedules to be at their events or give up some sleep to take care of a bad dream, we need to make taking care of ourselves a priority.  Our vessels are not bottomless.  As we take the time to pour out into others, we need to also take the time to refill. 

How you refill is up to you.  It can be reading a book or watching a show.  You can spend a little more time in prayer or go to bed 30 minutes early.  Or, it might be spending a little more time with friends or a little more time alone.  More than that, it can be showing yourself a little more grace for being imperfect or making sure you use kind words towards yourself and not just others.  You are worthy of love and care just as your children are.  When you take the time to give yourself the love and attention you deserve, you will find that you will be able to fully give the love and attention you want to give to others, especially those ever demanding, always wonderful children. 

Remember, you cannot pour from an empty vessel.  There is no shame in keeping yours full.  In fact, your family needs you to. 

Being a Loving Parent - The Gift of Time

I had just gotten back home from grocery shopping on a Saturday morning last fall when my eldest looked at me and said, “Mom, can you play with me.  Just for like 20 minutes.”  My first thought was of the long list of the things that I hoped to get done that morning.  At the time, we were in the middle of moving closer to the school, so that to-do list was pretty overwhelming to say the least (and it’s why you haven’t seen an article from me since August.  Sorry!)  The next thing I thought of was that my daughter is already 10 years old, and pretty soon might not be asking me to play with her anymore.  And while I was feeling the stress from the list of things to do for our move, she had stress of her own.  She was facing a lot of change and her parents had been very busy and distracted for several months.  So when she asked me to play with her, she was really asking, “Am I important to you?” and “Do you love me?” 

See, love is about feeling connected, and connection is something you have to work at.  One of the ways we can create connection with our children and communicate our love to them is to take time to BE with them.  Now, being with them is not the same as carting them from one activity to another or sitting with them while they do their homework.  Being with our children is about really talking with them, listening to what’s important to them, and having fun together.  Playing is a great way to do all of those things. 

On the surface it sounds simple.  Spend time connecting with your kids and they will feel loved.  I also recognize that it really isn’t that simple.  Time is one of our most precious resources.  It always seems like there is never enough.  (I know! That’s the whole reason we moved.  Too much time was wasted driving to get to everything we do.)  So, I recognize that giving extra time to our children can be a sacrifice.  Think of it as giving them a gift.  It is a pretty powerful gift.  Children who feel loved and connected with their parents grow into adults with higher confidence and sense of worth - very important components of feeling happy and satisfied with life.  The good news is that the gift can be given in small amounts.

So that day we had 20 minutes of playtime before I started my to-do list.  And you know what?  I don’t even remember what was on that list.  We managed to successfully find a house and move with that 20 minutes given away.  But I do remember the fun we had together, and we both felt better and closer for it. 

Totally worth it.

Being a Loving Parent: An Introduction

I love my kids.  Like, really, REALLY love my kids.  When I think about the amazing little people they are and that they are becoming and the fact that they are my little gifts that God made for me, I actually feel an ache in my chest from loving them so much.  Whether you get a physical reaction or not, I would be willing to bet that you intensely love your children as well.  It has been my experience that 99% of parents love their kids just because they are their kids.  What has also been my experience is that the percentage of time children FEEL loved by their parents, especially in a complete and unconditional way, is not as high.  So where does that discrepancy come from?  Well, sometimes there can be a big difference between feeling love and being loving.  We have to make sure in our words and our actions that we are communicating love to our children.

So, how do we communicate unconditional love to our children?  What does being a loving parent really look like?  I would argue that there are many ways we can be loving towards our children, and some are not as obvious as others.  I’m talking about actions and behaviors that will connect our children to that feeling we hold in our hearts.  The benefits of making that connection are enormous: increased confidence and self-esteem, a greater ability to be resilient in the face of challenges, and many more.  One of the best benefits is that many of the ways we can show love to our children simultaneously provide them with the guidance they need to grow up to be responsible, well-balanced adults. 

Well, as you might imagine, it is impossible to cover this entire topic in only one article.   It is my intent to make each article this school year about different parenting choices you can make that will help your children say, “I know my mom and dad love me.”  They will not only cover the “whats” you can do, but also the “hows” of doing them.  And you may be surprised that it is not just all about hugs and cuddles and “I love yous” (though there is some of that, too!) 

So for now, I suggest you begin with the simplest way to communicate love to your children.  Stop what you are doing.  Look them in the eyes and say, “I love you.  I am so happy God made you just the way you are and then gave you to me.  I don’t know how I got to be so blessed.”  I don’t care how old they are or even if they react with an eye roll and a “whatever;” you will make an impact.  You will send a little of that feeling in your heart into theirs.  And they need that, because they love you, too.

Back Seat Conversations…

“Mama, I have a question.”  I hear that statement just about every time we are on our lengthy drive to and from school.  Sometimes I hear it 5-6 times in one trip!  I’m not sure what it is, but when we are riding in the car my children get the urge to contemplate life’s mysteries, and that inevitably leads to questions.  I have gotten everything from “What does that song mean?” to “Where did Ripley’s (our dog) body go when she died?” to “Why did God let there be diabetes?” to “How does a baby get in a Mommy’s tummy?”  to  “How did that Mommy get a baby in her tummy when she is not married?”  Yikes! 

Obviously, some questions are easier to answer than others, but I LOVE hearing these questions.  First of all, they give me a window into my children’s worlds.  I get a picture of what they are experiencing and how they are processing it.  Secondly, I get the opportunity to share not only what I know, but my values and beliefs.  I can make sure that the information they get is accurate, developmentally appropriate, and rooted in the faith that I hold dear and want them to hold dear.  Finally, I know that when my children ask these questions, they are saying they trust me and that what I have to say matters to them.  The more I am open to their questions now, the more likely they are to keep asking questions as they get older, and the more likely they are to keep listening.  I want that as much as possible, especially since I know the day will come when they think they and their friends know more than I do. 

Most of the time, I can answer my children’s questions immediately or with just a few moments of thought.  Sometimes they do manage to throw something my way that I’m not sure how to handle.  It is ok to say, “Hmmm.  That’s a good question.  I need to think about it.  Let’s chat tomorrow.”  The key is always making sure to follow through.  Also, I know that there are some things my children do not ask questions about that I need to make the effort to bring up.  Things that they have not yet encountered in life, but need to be prepared for.  I pray to God that they never have to experience someone attempting to touch them inappropriately, but I will make sure they know exactly what to do should it happen.  I have seen the repercussions of NOT doing that, and I want to spare my children that experience.  I also want to make sure that as my children grow and develop, that I take the time to prepare them for what their body is doing and will do.  Yes, I am talking about puberty and sex. 

I know some of those conversations can feel scary for a parent.  I know some parents fear that somehow they are compromising their children’s innocence by talking about such things.  The reality is that it can be pretty scary for your children to encounter things (especially things in their bodies) that they did not know to expect.  Knowledge is power.  Children with a good understanding about how their bodies work are actually more likely to make better choices about their bodies in the future.  I do not propose dumping all of the information on them all at once, but in small doses.  I actually have those conversations with each child separately, as they are 3 years apart, and have different needs.  And often, the kinds of questions I start to hear give me a good sense of what they need to know next.

So as summer approaches, I know there will be a temporary decrease in the frequency of the questions coming from the back seat.  I’m going to miss them, but I will be looking for other opportunities to listen and share.  Oh, and I know some of you are left wondering, “So HOW do I answer all of those tough questions, anyway!?”  I will make sure to cover it in another article after summer break.  Sorry to leave you hanging, but if you just can’t wait, send me an e-mail, or give me a call.  I’m always happy to answer questions.

Blessings in the Rain…

We had a very interesting and adventurous start to our day one cold and drizzly morning this February.  We were on our way to school when we suddenly found ourselves sitting in the shoulder of the George Bush Turnpike with a flat tire.  Not fun!  Surprisingly enough we were back on our way within 30 minutes and we only had to stand in the rain for ten of those.  As we were on our way again I made the statement, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”  My youngest immediately responded with, “What do you mean, Mom?! That was HORRIBLE!”

Ah, that’s my girl.  She is a bright and bubbly thing, but she also has a flair for the dramatic and a tendency to focus on the negative.  Part of it is her personality, but I want to help her learn that how you think makes a big difference in how you feel.  It means the difference between having a HORRIBLE morning that leads to a BAD day, or having a bit of a challenging start that also had many hidden blessings in it.  So I took that moment to model some optimism. 

First, I acknowledged how she was feeling: “Yes, baby, that was not fun, and I wish it hadn’t happened.”  Then I moved into showing her the good things that happened to us even in the challenge: “But you know what, I noticed that God was looking out for us today.  Let’s say a quick prayer to thank Him.  Lord, thank you for sending us that gentleman who took the risk to drive in the shoulder to tell us we had a problem so our tire didn’t blow out.  Thank you for giving us a nice big piece of shoulder to pull off on so we were safe even in the traffic.  Thank you for sending the Tollway Authority person so quickly and with all of the tools needed to help us so fast.  Thank you, Lord, for looking out for us, even in the rain.”

There are a few very important things to remember when doing this, so as not to have it backfire on you.  Remember, I am talking about MODELING optimism.  It is about showing your children how you handle the difficult situations that happen to you, NOT about telling them how to look at the bright side of something bad that has happened to them.   In those situations, it is most important to start with lots of empathy, and little advice, or you run the risk of being insensitive and shutting down their willingness to share.  (It’s like telling a stage 2 cancer patient that at least it is not stage 3.  They may be thinking that, but they don’t need to hear it from you.  Not cool.)  Hopefully, once they feel understood they will start to look for the blessings on their own, and that is much more likely to happen if you have been regularly modeling it for them. 

There will be times in your life when it is going to be really, really hard to find anything positive to model for your children.  That moment came for me 2 years ago when that youngest daughter of mine was in the hospital with a new diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes.  There were some days early on in the diagnosis that seemed like there were no blessings left to find.  In those moments I could still show that I knew God was with us and that I would trust Him to see us through.  In that moment, I was able to realize that there was at least one blessing left after all.

So you see, it is really important for us to show our children that we can find blessings, even when things are hard.  Not only is it good for them, but it is good for our outlook, too!  My youngest still tends to jump to the worst, but I’m hoping that over time she will start to step back and try to see things from a new perspective.  So even though some rain showers in life cannot be avoided, maybe she will see that without them there would be no rainbows (and, that in the meantime, God has packed her an umbrella.)