Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Power of Words--Guest Post by Becky Eanes of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond

Image credit: edenpictures on Flickr
The Bible has much to say about the power of our tongues. As parents, we have an incredible opportunity to build our children up and to speak blessings into their lives, but so often we fall into the habit of constantly correcting our children or having sharp tongues when we speak to them. When we nitpick, find fault, and criticize our children, we destroy their self–image, and with our negative words, we will open a door, allowing the enemy to bring all sorts of insecurity and inferiority into our child's life.  Such negative words will cause our children to lose the sense of value God has placed within them.

There are many verses in Proverbs relating to the power of our words.  Here are a few.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.  Proverbs 18:21

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. Proverbs 15:4

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  Proverbs 17:27

It’s interesting that Romans 12:14 tells us: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

If we are to bless those who persecute us, how much more so should we bless our children? I believe our parenting will be profoundly impacted if we study on these scriptures as it relates to how we talk to those whom God has entrusted us with.

Ephesians 4:29 (ESV) tells us: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Let us be reminded to encourage and build up our children, to intentionally look for and point out their good qualities. Let us be reminded to guard the words that come out of our mouths, that they may only be used to build them up and give them grace.

Psychology is catching up with what the Bible has already taught us, that if we continually speak negative words to our children, their self-concept will be adversely affected.  They see themselves as they believe we see them, and they behave according to that self-concept. 

If we choose to discourage our children, to speak negativity and destruction into their lives, we will give an account to the Lord.

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. Matthew 12:36 (ESV)

With authority comes responsibility, and we have the responsibility as the spiritual authority over our children to make sure that they feel loved, accepted, and approved.  Speak blessings over your children daily. Words are powerful both for the one who speaks them and the one who receives them.

Saying a blessing out loud empowers our children to step into their calling. This intentional act has the power to transform their lives and set them on the right path.  Ask God to give you the exact words to share with each of your children, and make time each day to speak this blessing over them. The blessing may look like this:

I bless your life as I know you will become a wonderful woman/man of God. I bless your mind to remain sound and for you to have wisdom and discernment in all decisions. I bless your mouth where words of truth and encouragement will flow. I bless your heart to remain loyal to God’s will for your life. I love everything about you, and I am proud to be your mother. You bless our family and your friends in so many ways.

When we start speaking this over our children, I believe we set them up for success.  No matter how young or old your children are, you can bless them with your words. You can bless them in the crib or bless them when they bring their families to visit you at Christmas.  As their parent, your words are powerful regardless of their age.


Becky Eanes is the founder of positive-parents.org and Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond on Facebook. She lives with her husband and 2 young sons. She is also one of my heroes.  My family and I have been incredibly blessed by the grace and truth in her writings, and I am so very honored to have her share this post.  <3

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The 10 Commandments for Parents: No Graven Image

I suspect that Jesus had colic.  That He didn't sleep through the night at 12 weeks, and probably not even at 12 months.  That He made messes and spilled things.  That He tantrumed some days.  It wouldn't surprise me a bit if He had difficulty meeting all the milestones that parents obsess over and struggled in school.  The Bible doesn't say, of course, but I am reasonably sure that He was not an easy baby, or even an easy child.  Nothing else about His life was easy.

I also believe He never sinned.  But for some parents, reconciling that statement with the previous paragraph is hard, because our society has created a graven image of the perfect baby/child.  A *good* baby or child is one that is convenient.  Who doesn't bother you or take away attention from more important matters (the more important matters being the parent's interests, free time, and above all, sleep).  Who only garners attention for cuteness and excelling in academics and athletics.  Who is quiet and plays independently, but is still socially sophisticated.

Um, I make muffins?  Does that count?
My mental models weren't limited to my children.  I was sure in the beginning that I would be a together mom.  You know the kind (well, maybe you do--I have never actually met her, but I have heard of her and seen pictures).  I would make sure to keep myself, my child and my home looking nice.  I would maintain the same level of availability and energy for all of my pre-motherhood relationships.  My child would always be perfectly behaved, and sleep through the night in her own room, because I would be the practically perfect in every way Mary Poppins mom who never tilted the wrong way from the perfect balance of kindness and firmness.   As she grew older and we had more children, I would competently make sure that their behavior was above reproach, and that no child ever felt left out. I would delightedly homeschool with creative and enjoyable lessons, always prepare delicious and healthy meals, and my darlings would never fight amongst themselves. I would be able to do it all, do it all well, and do it consistently. :laughs to the point of wiping tears. 

The other graven images I had?  That the Bible instructs parents to spank, that we must vigilantly guard against defiance and backtalk, that we must always be consistent and always present a united front.  That we are all sinners in the hands of an angry God.  They were all based off of popular opinion in our culture, but not real Truth.

Graven images are deadly.  They destroy relationships, leaving behind only an atrophied, hollow, wooden shell of the life that they are supposed to represent.  We are cautioned not to allow the world to squeeze us into its mold, to not conform to the graven images of our culture.   Trying to force ourselves or our children to fit into the little boxes we have created only brings shame and heartache.  But what about ideals?  What is the difference?

For me, the problem was in the priorities.  Relationship always needs to come first.  That usually involves a lot of stripping away of the outer things that we look at and measure by.  Another thing?  Convenience and long term goals are rarely compatible.  So we have to get rid of our little household gods and decide what (and Who) truly is worthy of our allegiance and our energy.

Knocking down those graven images is tough.  Nobody likes to admit that they were wrong.  But it is still worth the effort.  They need to be replaced with reality.  For religious misconceptions, it means examining the Scripture, studying to correctly handle the word of truth (which requires delving more deeply than a passing glance to make sure that it confirms our own biases.  A Hebrew lexicon--not concordance--can be very helpful.).  For other things, it may mean research into child development and mental health.

The beautiful thing?  Despite the messiness, the lack of airbrushed perfection of real life, it is just that:  real.  Not fake, hypocritical pretense.  Life.  Not a cold, empty statue of a false god.  My kids shattered the mold that I had envisioned for them.  I never attained all the standards I set for myself.  But that is OK, because it turns out that God is far bigger than the stern, tiny box I wanted to confine Him to.  He is full of mercy and grace upon grace.  He is a God of restoration, who lifts us and heals us.  A God of abundant Life.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Opening Up the GD Toolbox: Use Your Words

"Be careful."
"Be good."
"Be nice."

In this case, "Be careful!" means "Stay still."
What do these mean to a 20 month old?  If you stop and think about it, phrases like these are vague, at best.  Does "be careful" mean to walk slowly?  Avoid a hot stove?  Climb down from the furniture? Not spill the juice?  Touch the vase gently?  For a toddler, even an older child, it will probably require considerable experimentation to figure out exactly what it means in a given situation.

Sadly, that experimentation and desire to understand runs a grave risk of resembling disobedience or defiance.  I can picture a little one thinking, "Yeah!  I've heard 'be careful' before!  Maybe I'll get it this time.  Is it stop jumping?"  He turns to his mom with a grin and a twinkle--only to get scolded as the food slips from his plate.  And she sighs to her friends, "He grinned at me right before he did it.  I know he is defying me on purpose."

What about "be good" and "be nice"?  Do they mean to be quiet? To share toys? To stop fussing? How do they know? (And I will go ahead and say that I think all babies are good and nice, regardless of their behavior).

"No" is probably the worst of the examples, and one whose reputation is most grossly misunderstood.  I've heard parents who think that avoiding the use of "no" means to be permissive and indulgent.  That isn't what I am talking about.  I do believe that being part of our family means consideration in the way we set up our house, and that setting them up for success is important.  But there will be times when a child's will must be thwarted (although a wise parent can often find ways to meet everyone's needs in a pleasant way).  Anyway, my point is that saying "no" is generally poor communication.

Lip Service Production Photos (67)
Image credit binkle_28 on Flickr
For one thing, it is ridiculously overused, and that breeds contempt.  Much more importantly, a young child's ability to process language means that the "no" is often lost in whatever words follow it.  So a toddler hears "hitting" instead of "no hitting".  Even adults are susceptible.  If I say, "Don't think of dancing monkeys," what just popped into your mind?

Another one that people of all ages struggle with is being overwhelmed with too much at once.  Have you ever studied a foreign language?  Have you ever felt frustration mount as you frantically try to grasp the meaning of a word or phrase as the speaker just keeps going?  English (or Spanish or whatever you speak) is still a foreign language to little ones.  They are still working at comprehension of even basic terms (does your toddler ever mix up pronouns?  Use the wrong form of the past tense?), and too many instructions strung together are going to blur. 

The answer for all of these is the same:  give simple, precise instructions for what you do want.  Instead of telling a child what not to do and hoping that they magically invent a better alternative, focus on what you do want them to do.  Be specific and brief.  "Walk slowly."  "Feet on the floor."  "Freeze."  "Gentle touches."   It takes a lot of practice, for us as well as the kidlets.  And of course, as they get older, their understanding increases.  Even so, the way we speak makes a difference in their focus.

Tone of voice is an important tool, too.  Some parents use the right words but with a scary voice that distracts from the message.  Others seem to assume that gentle discipline means saying everything in a syrupy, sing-song voice (often with superfluous sprinklings of "sweetie," "honey," "darling," and "OK?").   That would drive me batty within seconds, and confuse my kids to no end.  It really is hard to hear ourselves, though.  Ask a partner to listen to how your tone of voice comes across, or even tape yourself sometime.  It can be very enlightening!  (Have you ever listened to your voice on an answering machine and thought that is sounds different?  It is even more true when you examine tone of voice and content!).

It is so easy to tell our children to use their words.  Honestly, though, we adults have a lot of learning to do when it comes to words, too.  It starts with giving clear instructions.  Keeping our directions simple and precise.  Telling what *to* do, not just what *not* to do.  Making sure that our tone of voice doesn't distract from the message.  As we practice, we will become much more fluent communicators.


[4/365] Handy Man
Image credit goaliej54 on Flickr
Moving away from punitive parenting requires a brand new set of tools.  Let's open it up together! For the rest of the series, click here.  And if gentle discipline is revealing areas where you need to work on yourself, see if any of these personal tools resonate with you.

Looking for more practical tips?  Check out my favorite post from the Hippie Housewife on The Hows of Discipline (and read through all the comments!),  Pearl in Oyster's 52 Tool Cards series and Aha! Parenting's blog.  Do you need inspiration and a reminder of why and how to do this?  Read Emerging Mummy's Practices of Mothering and Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond.  If you have other great resources or ideas, please add them in the comments.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The 10 Commandments for Parents: No Other Gods

The Ten Commandments in St Mary's Stanwell
Image credit Maxwell Hamilton
One of the best things about becoming a mom is finding new depth and riches in Scripture.  I have thought a lot about how the Beatitudes apply to parents, and last night I began to think of how important the ten commandments are in our relationships with our children.

The very first says, "You shall have no other gods before Me".  But idolatry is still alive and well within the Church.  When we hear about it, it is usually in reference to possessions, greed and general priorities.  That is important.  But there is another form of idolatry that many in the church actually encourage: setting up parents as idols to children.

There is a teaching that pervades Christianity that essentially teaches that children will never learn to follow God unless they first see their parents as gods.  Under this reasoning, children are expected to obey without question.  Worship Respect for parents is paramount, and even mere thoughts that might be out of line are considered defiance.

Some, like Tripp and Pearl, take it even further: by spanking a child, they are able to remove the child's sin and guilt (Jesus could have saved Himself a lot of hassle if He had just gotten more parents to hit their kids!).

Stated this way, it sounds kind of extreme.  But I have heard countless parents use these very arguments.  Children must learn to obey parents so that they will someday be able to obey God.  That a spanking absolves guilt, and that in fact, a child will ask for a spanking or punishment to relieve his conscience.  Not to mention all the times that I have heard parents claim omniscience and assume that they know exactly what is going through the heart, mind and emotions of the child.  I believe that this is setting ourselves up as idols for our children--taking a position that should only belong to God.

It goes even further.  Most parents are far more harsh and demanding than God is.  First time obedience with a happy heart is very popular with them.  God, on the other hand, was more concerned about real, from the heart obedience, even if it took awhile.  Read the parable of the brothers in Matthew 21.  Consider times when Abraham and other heroes of faith argued with God and it was accounted to them as righteousness.  God actually had some pretty strong things to say about those who complied outwardly but whose hearts were far from Him.  I believe that there is even a blessing in wrestling with God, in holding tight until we can choose Him without any reservations.

When we tell our children that they cannot be forgiven without a spanking or other punishment, we are clearly violating Scripture.  We are forgiven through grace because of faith in Jesus--not because someone else punishes us.  Yes, I know that many have made God into their own image and claim that He spanks us.  I don't buy it.  And, even if He did, my point here is that we are not God.  He is all-knowing and just.  We aren't.  Vengeance belongs to God, not us. And He said and shows us that mercy triumphs over judgement.  What message are we sending our children?

This applies to shaming, as well.  It is one thing to teach our children about the consequences of their actions.  It is quite another to try to induce feelings of guilt and repentance.  Conviction comes through the Holy Spirit and leads to a wholehearted desire to make amends and change.  If I try to heap shame on them and make them feel bad for mistakes, to force them to be sorry, I am not only getting in the way of that, but actually taking on the role of Satan--the Accuser.  That is a sobering thought.

Another way that parents set themselves up as idols is through a pretense of perfection.  I struggle.  I make mistakes.  And I need to be honest with my children about it.  I apologize when I do something wrong (much more often than I wish!).  I let them know when I make mistakes, and do my best to make amends. 

Finally, we have the progression all wrong.  Obedience is a result of relationship, not a prerequisite.  As our children grow in grace and wisdom, the relationship and trust will produce the desire and confidence to listen to our instructions.  Demanding compliance in the hopes that it will eventually allow them to earn a relationship with us is backwards.  God lavished love on us even while we were sinners. 

I want my children to worship God, not me.  I don't want them to see me as the intermediary between them and God.  I want them to know Him for themselves.  To follow Him out of hearts full of love and trust.  To repent from wrongdoing because they desire to do what is right, not because I have burdened them with shame and fear.  I cannot, must not, set myself up as an idol to my children.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

For My Friends with Weaning Regret

When I post about breastfeeding older children, I expect criticism.  Hate mail, even.  What I didn't expect was to receive so many emails and comments from friends who regret weaning.

For many, it was a result of pregnancy.  Either misinformation or lack of information about nursing during pregnancy.  For others, it was simply too miserable to continue.  Some had health reasons for stopping.  Some found it too difficult to keep pumping.  Some simply reached the point where they were done.  The reasons are individual to each nursing dyad, but that doesn't make them invalid.

I want to make something clear.  I don't blame you for weaning.  I am not here to make you feel sad, or worse, like a lousy mom.  You aren't. 

You know why I post about the tender, mother-Mary-halo moments of breastfeeding?  Sure, they are frequent and real.  But I post about them so that I will remember and focus and not get overwhelmed by the teeth-clenching, stop-touching-me-PLEASE! moments.  The moments when I am fed up with food allergies and just want to eat what I like FOR ONE FREAKIN' DAY!  The moments when my toddler's latch got lazy again and I feel irritated and sore and will scream if she does that latch-and-lick-for-a-split-second one more time. Ahem. 

Breastfeeding is wonderful, truly.  Those blissful moments are real, too.  But I don't want to romanticize the whole idea of breastfeeding into some soft-focus commercial of a gently smiling earth mama gazing tenderly at her newborn as the way it is all the time.  That is *a* reality, but not *the* reality.

I love the idea of child led weaning or I wouldn't do it.  But I don't think it is for everyone, and that is OK.  I am not a better mom than anyone else because I breastfeed, although breastfeeding makes it easier for me to be a good mom. 

Sometimes there are no easy choices.  Sometimes we choose the less than ideal because it is still the best alternative.  Sometimes we learn things later that we wish we had known then. 

My goal is simply to do all I can to support moms and babies.  I speak out a lot about nursing beyond infancy and tandem nursing because I think more people need to hear that it is normal.

One thing that has interested me is hearing from several moms who are interested in allowing their children to resume nursing after they have weaned for awhile.  I admit, I don't know much about it, although I have heard some beautiful stories.  I want to hear more!  If you have had a nursling begin to nurse again after weaning, would you please share in the comments?  My own daughter tried a few times after weaning, but was never able to latch again. 

My favorite resources for breastfeeding are:
www.kellymom.com and their Facebook page
and of course, La Leche League 

I also have some fabulous online communities where I can get encouragement and advice from other moms.  You are a part of that.  Thank you for being supportive of breastfeeding relationships.  Regardless of whether you breastfed or not, or whatever age your child was at weaning, your attitude towards breastfeeding is making a difference in countless other moms and children.  You may not see it, but I do.  Thank you.  You rock!

ETA: After posting, a friend of mine shared this story of coping with breastfeeding loss, and I was in awe of the wisdom, encouragement and support.  Please read it.  <3

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Letter To My Divorced Friends

Dear Ones,

You already know that I stink at small talk, so I'm just going to jump right to the heart of it.  You are not a failure.  I hurt for you, for all the things that you went through in the marriage.  I am mourning with you the death of the dreams that you had when you first got married.  I am sorry.  And I applaud your courage for getting to a safe place.

Among all the platitudes in churchianity, the idea of a spouse who patiently endures has been romanticized until any truth was pretty much lost.  It is a religious Barbie doll.  I know you.  I know that you did not take your marriage vows lightly.  You didn't divorce him because he snored.  When one partner has violated their vows and is abusing you (regardless of whether that abuse is blatant physical abuse or more subtle emotional abuse), that is what destroyed your marriage. 

You did the right thing.  If you had stayed, there is no way that you could ever have been *enough*.  No amount of submission, of trying harder, of yielding your rights, would have made it right.  What they were doing is blatant, unrepentant sin, and you are not called to enable that. 

I am thankful that you didn't listen to the lie to stay for the kids.  The truth is that your children learn what marriage looks like from you.  They will internalize what they see and hear and sense.  Even if you don't think that they are picking up on it, they are.  For them and for any children yet to come, a healthy single parent is much better than two unhealthy parents.

I know that you have had it pounded into you that God hates divorce.  What many Christians fail to explain with that is that divorce is more than a piece of paper.  God doesn't gasp in shock and horror when a divorce is finalized because all of a sudden a marriage has been destroyed.  He knows it was destroyed long before the papers were signed.  He knows our thoughts, our innermost beings.  He hates that echad is destroyed and broken.  He hates that His precious daughters are hurt.  He hates the lies, the crushing of heart and spirit, the anger, pride and cruelty of sin.  He doesn't hate you, and He is not disappointed in you for not sticking it out and subjecting yourself and your children to more in hope that somehow, someday it would change--or even worse, falling prey to the idea that you deserve to be treated that way.

You are loved.  Cherished.  Wholly and completely.  He will never abandon you, never stop loving you, never stop liking you.  He delights in you, for exactly who you are.  He will always keep His promises to you.  He wants you.  He enjoys you.  Shame off you! 

I love you and admire your strength and honesty.  And I believe with all my heart that your future is full of hope, because I like who you are right now.

With all my love,

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I Gave Up Spiritual Mountain Climbing

Bear Creek Spire
Image credit jfdervin on Flickr
God has been real to me since childhood.  I can't remember a time when I didn't know He was there.  Even as a child I knew He listened to my prayers.  And I wanted so much to get to know Him better.  I prayed.  I read my Bible.  My parents and grandparents were pastors, so church was a given.  I soaked up teachings by Elisabeth Elliot and others.  I meditated on large passages of Scripture in the best tradition of Bill Gothard.  I read most of the books in the extensive libraries that my dad and grandpa kept--Bible stories, missionary biographies, devotionals, even theology books.   They grounded my soul.

But going to camps and conferences and mission trips?  That is when I soared.  I started when I was about 10 or 11, I think.  These were the old fashioned, Pentecostal-style church camps with at least two services a day, lengthy altar calls and emotions rising higher than the heat of an Oklahoma summer.  By the second year, I knew the pattern well.  The daytime services were usually just OK.  Mildly boring sometimes, like most regular church services, or kind of dumbed down for kids.

The evening services were much more intense.  The preaching was usually a bit livelier, the music a little more emotional.  The altar services crescendoed from a few kids praying briefly the first night to hours-long sessions full of tears, manifestations of several different spiritual gifts, and the ultimate spiritual high by the last night.  I didn't actually go to the camp from the Jesus Camp documentary, but I went to its country cousins, and in my teens I attended camps in Colorado with New Life Church (Ted Haggard was pastoring at that time) that had many of the same elements, but with a much more polished result.

If you haven't experienced it, no description can fully convey it.   A large gathering of preteens and teens pouring their hearts out in worship, striving to enter more fully into the presence of God and doing anything they can to get to that spiritual mountain top.  We would tearfully confess sins and repent.  We begged for the Holy Spirit to fill us, for God to speak to us, to transform our hearts.  And He did.  We were sincere, and God met us in amazing ways.  (And yes, there were also some pretty unhealthy things going on at times, too, but that is probably for another post).

We would come home with stars in our eyes, hearts vowing that we would keep the fire burning.  We wouldn't let it die down until our hearts were lukewarm.  We would pray and read our Bibles an hour each day.  We would witness to all of our friends.  We would destroy any rock music or anything else could cause our hearts to grow cold.  But it didn't work.

Inevitably, the spiritual high would wear off.  We would slip off that mountaintop.  And then we would laboriously begin the climb again.  The guilt was a heavy burden.  Every trite, well-meaning cliche (God doesn't move away--if there is distance in your relationship, it must be your fault!), added another stone to the pack of shame and guilt.  I would resolve to try harder.  But there was a hollowness there.  No matter how much I would strive, the emotional feelings just weren't the same.

I began a pattern of spiritual mountain climbing that would last for years--earnestly seeking a way to maintain the same high from the last camp or conference or mission trip, trying to recapture the ease of hearing God's voice, seeing His power, and feeling His heart beat.

What if it was never meant to be that hard?

I know we are called to seek Him with all our heart.  I am not advocating lazy faith.  I've simply learned to rest in His love.  I am not afraid of His rejection anymore.  I don't have to be enough, because Jesus is.  I always believed that about salvation, but not about actually living life as a Christian.  I kind of saw it as Jesus paying the down payment, but I was obligated for the periodic payments from that point.  And I gauged how well it was working by the consistency of the peaks.

Funnily enough, I still experience those mountaintop moments.  Even more often than before.  In prayer time in the middle of the night as I nurse a sleepy baby.  In the frazzled moments when I am losing my temper and suddenly breathe in peace.  When I feel His smile as we talk about the day.  In that perfect tingly buzz of transcendent worship.  When we catch our breath at the lovely colors of His sunset sky-paintings, or the clouds that are the dust of His feet.  When I hear His whisper in Scripture.  When I pray.

The emotions haven't disappeared at all.  But they aren't my altimeter, measuring how far I have climbed.  They aren't something I try to reach for. They are just nice.  If they aren't there, I am not wracked by guilt or fear or shame.  It isn't an endeavor.  It is just mercy, grace and relationship that is made up of every moment of everyday.  I gave up spiritual mountain climbing, but somehow, the view is even better from here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wifely Submission, Part III: The Fall

Untitled (Temptation in the Garden)
Image credt Cliff1066 on Flickr
Part I and Part II talked a little bit about God's original design.  The Biblical account of creation paints a picture of the husband and wife as members of an equal team.  Both were made in God's image, both were given dominion over creation.  The Biblical term for Eve is that of "ezer kenegdo"--an equal, opposing power; a valiant ally who meets her husband face to face with a shared vision.

Then sin entered the picture, and distorted everything, especially marriage relationships.  Eve was deceived and listened to the Serpent.  Adam went along with it, then started shifting blame to Eve when God confronted them.  Then comes the curse on the ground and the Serpent, and God explains what some of the ramifications will be: much harder work for everyone.  Men will have to work much harder in the fields, women will have to work much harder in childbirth (it is exactly the same word as used to describe Adam's toil--there is no mention of pain in the original).  And they will have to work harder in marriage, as well--now man (who wouldn't even accept responsibility for his own choice to eat the fruit) is going to take over woman's choices and rule over her.

There is a very interesting discrepancy in the interpretation of these verses.  Many view the idea of man ruling over woman as a command.  I have even heard some claim that women should never have epidurals or other forms of anesthesia during childbirth because it would be avoiding the pain.  Somehow, though, I have never heard of anyone teach that men should never use any tools or machinery that might make farming easier.  Regardless of their views on wifely submission, all the guys I know seem to feel no pangs of conscience whatsoever at using tools of any sort that make their lives easier.  Even--gasp--riding lawnmowers!  Oh, the depravity!

Isn't one as ridiculous as the other?

Seriously, though, we are left with an extremely important question.  Despite the results of the the Fall, we are Christians, redeemed from the Curse.  With all of the other horrible distortions in our world created by sin--such as sickness of both soul and body--we feel justified in fighting against the darkness.  Christians are taught to pray for healing, and to seek health and restoration.  Why then would we believe that we should fight to uphold and strengthen sickness in marriage relationships?  Why should we want to further the results of the curse in our lives?

What does the rest of the Bible say?

Read the whole series :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Opening Up the GD Toolbox: Big Emotions

A boy crying because he is sad his hot dog fell
Image credit david shankbone on Flickr
One of the most revolutionary aspects of gentle discipline in my life is learning that happy isn't the only acceptable emotion. Consider the rather ridiculous contortions most of us have gone through at one point or another to get a child to stop crying--everything from callous dismissal (That didn't hurt.  You're fine.) to shaming (Don't be a baby!  You're too big to make such a fuss.  Look at so-and-so: he's not crying!) to outright threats or bribes (Stop or I'll give you something to cry about!  Here, sweetie, it's OK--let's go get a cookie.).  Regardless, the message is pretty clear.  Our society only wants quiet smiles (even happy can quickly get too boisterous for our liking!).

This is unhealthy and inauthentic--carried too far and we become dishonest and emotionally crippled.  But at the same time, we want to teach our children healthy ways of expressing their feelings that won't result in harm to people or property, and to demonstrate self-control.  It isn't impossible, but it does take awareness, empathy and intentional teaching.

First of all, we must listen.  The real need behind our child's behavior is to be understood.  And most of us will try harder and harder to express ourselves if we aren't being heard.  Even if your child is nonverbal, doing the best you can to convey understanding (without feeding drama) is essential.

We need to be able to recognize different emotions and label them for our children.  It is important for them to have words to describe their feelings.  We may start with just a few basics, like happy, sad, angry, scared, frustrated, but I think we should give them as many precise words as we can.   

happy india
Image credit apdk on Flickr
Nonviolent Communication lists nearly three pages worth of feelings. Some of the emotions we feel when our needs are being met are: absorbed, adventurous, affectionate, amused, animated, appreciative, blissful, buoyant, calm, carefree, cheerful, comfortable, confident, contented, curious, delighted, eager, encouraged, exultant, fascinated, friendly, fulfilled, gleeful, gratified, interested, jubilant, mirthful, refreshed, relaxed, relieved, satisfied, secure, tender, trusting, zestful.  

When our needs are not being met, we might feel: afraid, aggravated, agitated, angry, anguished, ashamed, bewildered, confused, cross, dejected, disappointed, edgy, embarrassed, exasperated, exhausted, fidgety, forlorn, frustrated, furious, heavy, helpless, horrified, jealous, lonely, mad, miserable, mopey, nervous, overwhelmed, resentful, sad, troubled, upset, weary, worried. 

Even the most accurate words are not always enough when you are in the grip of an intense emotion, though.  I speak two languages and still have difficulty articulating my deepest feelings!  It is unrealistic and unhelpful to always expect children to "use their words".  Sometimes we have to use our whole bodies.

Image credit waponi on Flickr
Dances are a brilliant way to convey emotion.  They might do a wild dance with exuberant twirls and jumps.  Perhaps an angry dance with lots of stomping and arms swinging.  A sad, swaying dance.  Often my kidlets ask to play the pushing game.  Jumping on a trampoline, punching a pillow or bag, or running around might help to channel some excess tension.

When my daughter was going through an anxious time, it helped her to be able to squeeze her palms together or press them against her knees as part of a calm-down ritual.  Sometimes just have a couple of familiar steps can be very soothing: a deep breath, squeezing palms, a cup of tea.

I want my children to feel free to seek connection with us when a feeling is too big for them.  As a huge introvert who often prefers to be alone, though, I respect their desires.  Setting up a comfort corner where they can cool off or retreat and relax in can be extremely helpful.  A nice beanbag or favorite pillows, a calm down jar, maybe a little hideaway where they don't feel scrutinized, or even a warm bubble bath can provide a chance to unwind.

Do you have little artists?  Let them go to work with fingerpaints or other materials to show you exactly what they are thinking and feeling! If they are old enough to write, they may want to pour out words in a journal or letter.

This next part may seem like a bit of a tangent, but it is important: fear exacerbates all other big feelings.  One of the toughest jobs (at least for me--I am a bit of a coward here) is teaching them how to create and maintain boundaries, and backing them up while they do it.  If someone has wronged them, they may need your help in navigating appropriate ways to respond.

For parents, the easy way out is to suggest that the child "forgive" and pretend it didn't happen.  That protects us from any messy confrontation.  The problem?  At best, it is damaging.  It prevents our children from learning healthy ways to deal with conflict.  At worst?  It is devastating when our children absorb the message that we would rather have other people mistreat them than face any discomfort.  I'll spell it out further: I have heard personally from several adults who were sexually abused as children and never even told their parents because they were afraid of being rude or believed that their parents would side with the abuser.  Please, please, take them seriously and teach them how to courteously but firmly stand up for themselves.  Back them up, even in little things, so that they will trust you with the big ones.

Finally, the most important way that we can equip our children to deal with their intense emotions is by letting them see how we handle our own.  Be honest about what you are feeling.  Even if you have to coach yourself through a response aloud, let them hear what you are doing and why.  Consider carefully the tools that you use for yourself (and if you need to add or discard any), and show them what healthy emotional responses look like.

I confess, there are days when this seems pretty daunting to me.  I am still learning so much, and so often I fall short.  But seeing us make mistakes and learn from them, and how we gently correct ourselves is vital.  They will make mistakes, too, and will also learn from us how to treat themselves when that happens.  Should they mentally flog themselves, or thoughtfully consider how to make things better? 

Big emotions are challenging at any age, and the truth is that many of us are still learning how best to handle them.  By working consciously with our children, we can give them a stronger, healthier emotional foundation.  That is one of the greatest legacies I can imagine.


[4/365] Handy Man
Image credit goaliej54 on Flickr
Moving away from punitive parenting requires a brand new set of tools.  Let's open it up together! For the rest of the series, click here.  And if gentle discipline is revealing areas where you need to work on yourself, see if any of these personal tools resonate with you.

Looking for more practical tips?  Check out my favorite post from the Hippie Housewife on The Hows of Discipline (and read through all the comments!),  Pearl in Oyster's 52 Tool Cards series and Aha! Parenting's blog.  Do you need inspiration and a reminder of why and how to do this?  Read Emerging Mummy's Practices of Mothering and Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond.  If you have other great resources or ideas, please add them in the comments.