Sometimes I think typos happen on purpose. Maybe they are what we’re really thinking, deep down. As I was typing the title for this post, I called it “The Circus” instead of “The Circles”. I had to laugh, because that’s really what this raising kids thing is – a circus. Sometimes I’m taming lions, hoping I don’t lose a hand in the process. There are moments when we are total clowns. Some days I’m a graceful trapeze artist, maneuvering each parenting trick with ease. Of course, most days I’m face down in the net while the crowd gasps at my latest blunder. My son is typically shooting himself out of a cannon while my daughter is balancing on the back of a running horse. I can’t possibly convince either one of them that their escapades are unsafe, especially while I’m busy juggling flaming torches in the air. Yes, a circus is the perfect way to describe this.
This circus circle contains the relationships I have been stressing over ever since I saw those two pink lines 14 years ago. Raising children feels monumentally important. Staggeringly important. We’ve all heard the horror stories from psychiatrists’ couches around the world. Every issue is always a result of how the parents screwed up. With that fear hanging over my head, it’s no wonder my perfectionism is constantly in overdrive when it comes to my kids.
I have been all sorts of crazy with them. They change and grow so quickly, my chameleon goes completely spastic! Overprotective? Check. Risky? Check. Strict? Check. Lazy? Check. Best friend? Check. Disciplinarian? Check. I have been on freezing cold Girl Scout campouts. I have been the soccer mom yelling in the stands. I have traipsed all over the Midwest to attend cheerleading competitions. I have helped out at school parties. I have hosted multiple slumber parties that resulted in zero slumber. I have even directed a funeral for a gerbil. Was all this skin-changing actually making a good impact?
First I took a look at what I had been doing. Not surprisingly, it looked like a 5-ring circus.
- Trying to be “the cool mom,” their favorite parent, and their friend.
- Trying to protect them from every bad thing out there, from kidnappers to scraped knees.
- Trying to do everything for them.
- Trying to give them everything.
- Trying to give them every experience.
Now that I’m seeing life in a whole new light, it’s time to put the chameleon away (again) and re-evaluate what my true role needs to be. Because this is quite possibly my most important job on this planet, and I’m not always sure how to do it. It continues to shock me that the hospital let me walk out of there (twice!) to bring these children into the circus of my life without some sort of instruction manual.
Thankfully, I already have an instruction manual to consult. What does the Bible have to say about this? What should I be doing?
“Start children off on the way they should go and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” ~Proverbs 22:6
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” ~Ephesians 6:1-4
It seemed like a tall order with very little instruction when I first read these verses. But this is why I continue to go back to the fact that the inner circles must be in working order. I first need to be tight with God so I can understand the way my children should go and bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. I need to know what it means to obey the Lord, so I can provide a solid example for my kids on how to obey. Because I want it to go well for them and I want them to enjoy a long life.
I also needed my spouse circle to be in working order, which showed me that one of the reasons I was so exhausted from parenting was because I had been trying to do it all alone. My control issues had pushed my husband right out of the mix! We had to have some serious conversations about what we wanted our parenting team to look like, and we each had to compromise on some matters for this to work best for our children.
So how do we attempt to turn this 5-ring circus in to the best show on earth?
- Be an example. This doesn’t always make me “cool,” their favorite parent, or their friend, but the truth is I was never going to achieve those statuses anyways. So instead, I’m trying to be an example of Christ. Kids are like sponges. And parrots. They are parrot-sponges! Even when you think they are not listening or watching, they are. We’ve all had those moments when the kids have said something embarrassing that we know all too well came directly from us. Let’s use this power for good, shall we? If I want them to eat healthy, I need to eat healthy. If I want them to read the Bible and pray, they need to see me reading the Bible and praying. If I point out when I see miracles, they start looking for miracles. Gandhi got it right on this one – be the change you wish to see in the world. One of the most powerful examples of this happened just yesterday when my son came up to me and asked me to show him how to write a blog. He said he wanted to write about what he was learning in church. My jaw dropped! I haven’t pressured him to do what I do at all, yet his inner parrot-sponge was busy absorbing! And praise the Lord that parrot-sponge caught me doing something right for a change! So I put everything else on hold and got him started. My jaw dropped again when he later showed me what he wrote (what should we give in return). If I had any doubt about why I should be sharing my faith or why I need to take my kids to church to sit through a sermon, it was all completely erased by this encounter with a super cute 10-year-old parrot-sponge.
- Loosen my grip. These children ultimately belong to God, not me. Even if I could keep them in a cushy bubble that would protect them from all the danger and heartbreak of this world, I wouldn’t do it. I’d consider it for sure! But in the end, I wouldn’t do it. Yes, it terrifies me to think of anything horrible happening to my precious baby angels. And I become a fierce mama bear if anyone tries to hurt them. But their freedom is more important than my comfort. In the words of Garth Brooks, “If they’re not free to fall, then they’re not free at all.” And if I get in the way of life, I risk getting in the way of God’s calling for them. How do I let go enough for them to freely live and not go into cardiac arrest? I pray. A lot. And I focus all my energy on raising them as Christians. Because if they know Jesus, they will make good decisions and be protected even if bad things happen. And if the worst happens, we’ll all be together again, and Jesus will see us through it. And if the best happens, they’ll go out and do great things, and we’ll still all be together again someday.
- Teach them not just to survive, but to thrive on their own. Without me. One of my favorite mentors always reminds me that we are raising our kids to leave us. So true. And if I’m ever going to be successful at loosening my grip, I’m going to need to feel comfortable that my kids can handle the big wild world. This one is especially hard for me, because I love to show love by serving others. This manifested in my parenting as me doing literally everything for them – right down to buttering their waffles and cutting them into perfect little squares. They are in double-digits! So I need to balance my role of serving my family with teaching my children how to serve as well. For some unexplained reason the parrot-sponges don’t like to mimic doing chores and eating healthy like they do everything else, so we’ve had to get tough and set some expectations around the house. Setting these boundaries has helped us teach them obedience, and doing it with kindness keeps us from “exasperating” the children (mostly). Once they can take care of a household without burning it down, we can move on to taking care of God’s world. One waffle at a time!
- Give them love and attention, not things. I don’t know how I got so crazy about showing love that I thought it happened through the act of buying toys and electronics, but I was way out of control on this one. After learning the hard way and getting rid of mounds of toys that were never even touched, I finally realized that giving them my time was way more rewarding for all of us. We now go on bike rides and walks which creates opportunities to talk about their lives. They are actually very interesting little people! Sadly, I never knew this while they were locked in their rooms with their piles of toys and I was working late to pay for it all. But now, my son is teaching me how to play basketball and video games, and my daughter is teaching me about art and how to hunt for the perfect seashells. We’re teaching them about using money wisely instead of buying everything in sight. And I thank God every day for waking me up before their entire childhood slipped away.
- Give them experiences, but not every experience all at the same time. There is an epidemic going on in children’s sports. It’s like there is some secret message that has been planted – you must find your calling by age 3, practice that calling for hours at least 3 times a week, and give up all your weekends to travel for that calling. Not a calling to save the world. A calling to be the best at a sport. And if you don’t know that calling, you must try every sport in rapid fire, simultaneously, until you find that calling. And make sure they are involved in lots of school activities. And scouts! And church youth group activities, too. And they really should know how to play an instrument! And they need to spend lots of time with friends. And family. Homework? Not sure if there’s going to be time. And when you need to escape from all that, make sure they experience theme parks so you can stand in ridiculously long lines in the scorching heat to get on rides they are actually scared of and buy souvenirs you can’t afford and they will never use again. Why, why, why do we do this to ourselves? It really had to stop for my family. For our sanity. We backed way off of all this craziness and have never been happier. I still think sports and activities and theme parks (I totally have tickets to go see Harry Potter at Universal Studios!) are fun and necessary – but in moderation. Say it with me – one thing at a time and it is okay to say no.
This circle requires constant awareness because kids change so fast. As soon as I have one stage figured out they have grown into the next stage, with a whole new set of issues. But it is SO worth it. Getting a hug from my kids is enough to erase anything bad in my day. Seeing them mature into caring, loving, productive, Christian people is the best reward.
Parenting is the hardest task I’ve ever encountered. Molding lives is supernatural business. Please don’t attempt it without Jesus. There is just too much at stake. But if He’s our Ringmaster, it really can be the greatest show on earth,and all the way to eternity.
This post is dedicated to my two favorite parrot-sponges. I love you both so much more than you can ever imagine. I am so blessed that God lets me spend my days on earth with the two most amazing, intelligent, funny, beautiful, loving children. I adore watching you grow and learn. Knowing that you know Jesus brings me more comfort than I thought was possible. I am so excited to spend eternity with you.