Piles of washing and mountains of love

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Piles of washing, still waiting.

I probably should have spent the morning at home. There are dirty dishes in the kitchen and piles of washing waiting to be put away on my bed. I haven’t even finished unpacking from our mini holiday last weekend. But this morning called us to something better.

Over the years our homeschool life has gradually grown from a very free, natural learning style to a more structured approach. This has suited our family well, and helped us continue to love learning whilst also maintain a forward momentum. We have a rough plan, which involves Prince and Princess completing all the work on their ‘learning fun’ chart each day, preferably in the morning. This is mainly self-directed work, allowing me to get housework and other chores done as well as encouraging Prince and Princess towards autonomous learning.

This structure and set work has many benefits. Even though it isn’t always as ‘fun’ as I’d like to believe, the kids both work at it with very little complaining. It is good for us all to have some discipline and work ethic, and I wouldn’t want to drop it all together at this stage of our lives. But at the same time I never want our homeschool to be school at home. In the midst of structure, we still have space for freedom and flexibility. We have the blessing of being able to look at a sunny spring day and throw everything else aside to delight in it! And because we can, we did.

As we walked around Nymans with friends this morning, I smiled. “No one ever regrets spending ‘too much’ time with their children – only too little,” I said.

Prince’s drawing of him and me; mountains of love.

We all know that children grow up fast. Way too fast.

So sometimes it’s best to leave the piles of washing and bask in the mountains of love we share on our journey, together.

It’s so much more friendly with two

Have you ever faced a challenge alone? Gone somewhere new for the first time? Tried to learn something complicated without help? Gone on a long journey with no companion?

It's so much more friendly with two.

It’s so much more friendly with two.

Being alone can be adventurous, at times. But when you are facing something difficult, something scary, something big – being alone can be daunting.

Life has many daunting moments for our children. The world is full of amazing possibilities, but getting to them can mean facing some tough challenges first. Challenges which can seem so big to their little minds. The dark feels frightening; sharing with friends seems impossible; the new class looks impenetrable; maths work feels lonely. If we leave our children to face these challenges alone, they can become overwhelmed.

The symptoms of an overwhelmed child are varied. Maybe he cries when maths is suggested. Perhaps she throws a tantrum at bedtime. He may be shy and clingy. She might become withdrawn around peers. The important thing is that when we see symptoms of an overwhelmed child, we don’t ignore them. They are a cry for help – and aren’t we our children’s primary helpers? We need to walk through the hard things with them, not leave them to flounder.

It doesn’t always take much. Often just a friendly smile can make the challenge seem smaller. Sitting with your son while he does that hard homework.  Holding your daughter’s hand while she stands up for what is right.  Encouraging words can give strength. A hug, a wink, a squeeze of the hand – just to let them know they are not alone, that we’ve got their back. Sometimes it takes more from us; issues can be deep-rooted and need long term understanding, care and encouragement before they can be conquered.

I am convinced that A.A. Milne knew what he was talking about.  It’s so much more friendly with two.

Little secrets

I sat there reading Little Lord Fauntlery aloud. Prince and Princess were listening quietly, and all thoughts seemed to be on the story. Suddenly, Prince interrupted. ‘Mommy – it seems to me that Francis Hodgeson Burnett wanted to make Cedric like a perfect boy. But…’ his voice took a crestfallen tone, ‘nobody can be perfect.’

I was struck.

Walking and talking together - what a blessing!

Walking and talking together – what a blessing!

It was the smallest of moments, but it contained a world of meaning. It was a glimpse into the heart of my boy; a revelation of something I had never noticed before. My Prince struggled with guilt? Suddenly several tiny moments of revelation over the past few months made sense, and I had become privy to a secret. A secret that Prince himself probably couldn’t even articulate and define, but which was causing inner distress. A secret which, now I knew, I could gently and lovingly resolve.

Knowing, is the key thing. If we don’t know a problem exists, we might never solve it. Even worse, we might exacerbate it. How easy it could have been to miss this vital insight. If we never took time to read together, I would have missed it. If I always simply told him off without allowing him to discuss mistakes with me, I would have missed it. If I frequently missed our morning snuggle time, or rushed through it with no chance to chat, I would have missed it. All these little opportunities throughout the days and weeks could so easily have been wasted. Thank God they were not.

We have our children for such a short, precious time. I am so thankful for the chance to see their hurts and struggles, and minister to their particular needs. I am so thankful for time to reassure, build up, encourage when they are down. I am so privileged to spur on, inspire and watch as they pursue their passions.

All it takes is time – the gift of our time.

The secret of Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4

I love how the apostle Paul expresses himself. Here he is (in prison, no less!) telling the people of Philippi, “Be joyful in Jesus ALL the time. Did you get that? I say, be JOYFUL!” I think I get why he puts such emphasis on this point. I crave for my children to feel the joy of the Lord in their spirit. Because I know that once they’ve tasted real joy in Jesus, they will never want to let go.

Have you ever watched Veggie Tales’ DVD ‘Madame Blueberry‘? It’s about a lady (or rather, blueberry) who tries to buy joy. She knows it’s out there, but she doesn’t know how to get it. Until one day she sees a little boy rejoice despite his circumstances. Suddenly, Madame realises that joy is closely tied to thankfulness. She is well quoted in our house: A thankful heart, is a happy heart. Proverbs 17:22 tells us the same thing: ‘A joyful heart is good medicine.’

Paul tells us we should be joyful always. If joy is tied to thankfulness, that means we should be thankful, always. Not just when we live in peace. Not just when we are well. Not just when we get what we want. Always. We can be barren, threatened by terrorists, or plagued by illness, yet we can rejoice.  The secret is keeping that eternal perspective. ‘Joy in Jesus’ is because of Jesus, and not dependent on anything this world can or can’t give us. His sacrifice and victory and freely offered grace are the source of an eternal joy that we can know and live despite our circumstances. However saddened we are by the situations we are in, they cannot and should not rob us of true joy.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deut. 6:6-7

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deut. 6:6-7

The question is, how do we impart this joy to our children?  I have shared before some practical ways to encourage joy in our children. We also need to be living joyfully ourselves. On top of this, I believe teaching our children to live life God’s way will help them access joy, as it says in Proverbs 19:8 (emphasis mine):

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the
heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

Most importantly, we need to infiltrate their lives with the Good News. Grace should be woven into every conversation. We need to talk about it as we sit in our house, as we walk along our way, when we go to lie down and as we wake up to each new day. It should be inextricably bound up in our words and actions. It should be sprinkled throughout our home.

As our children go through life they experience all its frustrations, fears, temporary pleasures and empty promises. We must be there to help them see things from the right perspective. To help them grasp that yes – life will fail them. But this is not the same as God failing them. Because God looks at the big picture, the forever. And with regards to eternity, He has sorted it out on our behalf – eternal joy.

Education is not a god: part 2

Last week I wrote about how education is not the ultimate goal of childhood. All this was not to say that education is irrelevant. But we need to remember that education is there to serve us, not be served by us.

So what is education really, then? Here are some thoughts.

Education is a tool

Getting a good quality education is one of the tools which helps to shape our children’s future. The foundation of knowledge they build up though childhood is a platform they can bounce off to reach the heights of God’s plan for their lives. Equipping our kids with wisdom and understanding in academic, spiritual and practical arenas prepares them to use their God-given gifts to their fullest potential. A good education will open doors of ministry and enable our kids to take hold of any opportunities which come their way.

Education should teach children to approach work with an attitude of diligence. If we nurture their natural love of learning, if we show them how to solve problems effectively, and if we teach them to self-discipline and allow them to self-direct their studies, then their education will serve them well when they go out into the world. And the best education will teach our children good stewardship of their talents – helping to grow them, not bury them.

Education gives our wings to soar into all God has prepared for them!

Education gives children our wings to soar into all God has prepared for them!

Education is a gift

I love to learn, and I want my kids to know the joy of learning too. Knowledge is a blessing! As children learn about the world, their minds begin to open up. They make connections between topics, and they start to grasp concepts which open up further new thoughts. With knowledge, kids are able to take part in meaningful discussions and feel that their contributions are valuable. They are learning not just to be part of society, but to be a useful part of society – contributing their gifts and understanding to help better the world around them.

One of education’s greatest blessings is the way it helps our children to connect with people of diverse opinions, beliefs, and cultures. As they learn about the world they begin to appreciate the common value of people as well as appreciate their diversity. Education breaks down barriers and misconceptions and stereotypes. Jesus reminds us that unconditional love for others is one of the most important things we need to grasp as Christians. Quality education helps our children to do this with ease and joy.

I pray that as we seek God’s will for the education of our children we will not lose sight of what is truly important. May our children be blessed with an education which encourages them to live a life of love, not gain.

Education is not a god: part 1

I want to give my kids an excellent education.

In fact, one of the reasons we home educate is because we believe that the smaller ratios, focused learning, and personally tailored curriculum that can be provided at home have the potential to produce a better quality education than that which can be achieved in an over-crowded, peer-dominated, test-orientated school setting.

But I want to be very clear about something which I think has become very unclear in our society: Education is not a god.

Our children need to know that while they should always strive to work to their personal best, grades do not define who they – or we – are. There is only one God, and our children have immeasurable worth in His eyes, and in our eyes, which is not defined by their academic or sporting ability, the career they obtain, or the number of extra curricular activities they attend.

Education is good, but it is not a god.

Education is good, but it is not a god.

It is easy to ‘know’ this. But do we live it out?

Before I go on, I want to make clear that I don’t think any of the things below make us ‘worthy’. God alone provides our worth, and it is not dependent on works or behaviour. I also think all of the activities below have a value, a place and a time. However – the fruit of our lives reveal the secrets of our hearts. It is worth examining our priorities honestly.

I believe that education is often worshiped as the ultimate goal of childhood. It is evident in a culture which prioritises academic achievement over character development. It is evident in the efforts to make sure our kids understand geometry, and yet neglect discussions on evidences and controversies of faith. It is evident when parents fear lack of education for their four-year-old, more than lack of compassion. It is evident in the way parents work longer hours to pay for a extracurricular activities, but leave no time for quality, relationship building.

I want to repeat – all of these things have good and right places in our children’s lives. Geometry, sports and academics are good things.  But the question is – do we let ‘good things’ take a higher place than the ‘best thing’?

There is only one thing of first importance, and we only get one shot at parenthood. Let’s make sure we don’t get our priorities confused.

In part two I will be looking at some of the things which education is, and how it can be used to help our children, not hinder them.

Attitude expectations

Have you ever received a compliment or word of encouragement that you really don’t feel like you deserve? I have.

“You are so good at…..”  Eeek!

Or “You really knows how to …..” Do I??!!

But I have noticed something very interesting about these kind of comments. They make me try to live up to their expectations. Think about it. If someone praises the way you solve problems peacefully, even if you honestly don’t think you are so good at it, you’ll more than likely make an extra effort to be peaceful next time a problem crops up. You see, you want to live up to that good expectation.

Having someone expect good things of you is nice. Sometimes a little daunting, but nice. Someone else’s confidence in your ability somehow bolsters your own confidence, and in turn this inspires you to try; you aim to do your best to deserve the praise already given. And I think this is a principle we need to apply to parenting.

Moment by moment we are shaping the attitudes our children will hold for years to come.

Moment by moment we are shaping the attitudes our children will hold for years to come.

I want to make clear that I am not talking about setting the kind of expectations which put negative pressure and stress onto a child. I don’t think we should say, “I expect you to win that race.” This can result in a fear-based effort. Not only that, but it is unfair – your child simply may not be the fastest runner in the race. We should not set expectations based on our children’s performance; we should set expectations about their attitude and character choices. Verbalizing your anticipation of your child’s best effort to win the race will spur them on with joy rather than fear.  And your praise at the end, no matter where they finish, will bring about positive results.

"We are raising the next generation"

“We are raising the next generation of this world”

Children are perceptive little people. They observe and absorb much more than we realise. And I’ve noticed that as adults we are almost constantly giving off impressions of the expectations we have of our children, perhaps unaware that they are soaking up and internalising these messages.

You can see it in all kinds of places. In the t-shirts we buy our toddlers: “I’m the boss”, “I’m a little monster”, “Mischief maker”. In the TV shows which model “normal” teenage behavior: arrogant, more concerned about appearance than character, self-absorbed. In the tone of voice and choice of words with which we communicate to them: “You’re so naughty! You never listen to me.” Or the way we talk to others about them, “He’s such a nightmare. He really knows how to wind me up.” All of these set negative expectations, and they tend to result in one of two scenarios: a child who lives up to these poor expectations and becomes the “nightmare” he is called; or a child who strives to please but deep down is broken and depressed.

We need to think more carefully. We are raising the next generation of this world. If we want them to be kind, compassionate, healthy, competent and respectful adults then we need to set those expectations now, while they are children. Why do we think we can call them “a little monster” yet expect them to behave well? We need to set them good standards which they delight in reaching, by highlighting the good they are capable of achieving. We need to find things to praise them for – not to build pride, but to remind them that everyone is valuable no matter what. I can tell you from first-hand experience: commenting on the good your child has done – no matter how small – inspires them to achieve more.

In the book of James chapter 3 we are told that the tongue has the power to set the course of a life – for good or for bad. Let us use that power to set our children on the course for greatness. In Titus 2:7 Paul says “In everything set them an example by doing what is good.Let us use every moment to model high standards. And when we talk to or about our children, let us keep every conversation “full of grace” (Col. 4:6), that they may be inspired to become the best version of themselves they can possibly be.

And above all, let our unconditional love flow through our words and actions.

Comparison vs. Inspiration

One of the biggest killers of joy in parenthood is the feeling of failure. And one of the biggest causes of this feeling comes from that deadly enemy – comparison.

You know how it is. You go to Jenny’s house for a play date, and get talking. She tells you about how she gets her five children dressed by 7:30 am every day, then they all sit down and have an hour-long Bible study looking up original texts and reading the Greek together. By the time you leave, you are feeling like a complete failure – and you’re not too sure you want to visit Jenny again any time soon.

Looking for inspiration

Search for the inspiration in every situation.

But here is what I want to tell you: God doesn’t want you to take a guilt trip. I’m convinced that people like Jenny are placed in your life to inspire you, not drive you to unhealthy comparisons that leave you helpless and dejected.

In Proverbs 31 we read about that amazing woman – the wife of noble character. Note how it opens by saying “who can find” such a woman. She is rare. It’s quite likely that you, the reader, are not such a model of Godliness as she is – but read on anyway. Why? Not to make you feel like a failure, but so that you can be inspired by what is good, noble and right.

Here are some definitions of being inspired:

  • To be filled with enlivening or exalting emotion
  • To be stimulated to action; motivated
  • To be affected or touched
  • To have something drawn forth; to have something elicited or aroused
  • To have energies or ideals stimulated

Imagine if you left Jenny’s house feeling this way, instead of allowing yourself to feel beaten up by comparison. What a blessing that visit would have been to you – and Jenny too.

Being inspired does not mean that you then have to go home and start your own Greek studies – though this might be just what you want to do. Rather, it means that you see how great it is that Jenny has found a way to bring God into her home that works for her, and you are eager to find something that works for your family, too.

It took me a long time to realise that Bible study with my children did not have to be the same format every day. Now, that might sound obvious to you, but to me it was a revelation!  If you’ve read my post on the phase-eeze you’ll know that I have trouble sticking with something very long-term, but prefer to go through phases of intense focus on one topic at  a time. Whilst I think this tendency needs to be balanced with dedication, I also know that in some way it is a deep part of me, and I must learn to work with it. So the realisation that we could do a different type of Bible study each day was a dream come to true to me! We now have a rota of different study types for each day of the week, and for the first time I’ve found it easy – and JOYFUL – to stick to!

For you, this might look quite different. Maybe you’re an art buff – bring drawing into your Bible time. Maybe you’re a history nut – excite your children with the historical accuracy of the Bible. Maybe you just can’t get up in the morning, but manage to get everyone in one place at bed time – read then! What it looks like in my family is not what it has to look like in yours. It’s okay to “do it your way”! So long as you are seeking the Lord in every choice, you really can’t go wrong.

So next time you are tempted to compare your efforts with someone else, decide instead to look for inspiration.

Loving discipline

I recently wrote about the necessity of both grace and discipline in effective parenting. As a follow up on this I thought I’d share ways we have implemented this in our own family, in the hopes that what works for us might be helpful to you too.

Showers of love

I am a great believer in showering children with love. Obviously this takes many different forms, but some of the things you would see everyday in our house are:

  • Lots and lots and LOTS of hugs, kisses, snuggles, high-fives, lap-time, and other positive physical contact.
  • Praying for each other, thanking God for the gift of family and asking God to help each child when they are struggling.
  • Random exclamations of “I love you SO much!”, “I love spending my days with you.”, “You are so precious.” etc.
  • Praise and encouragement, for little and big things.
  • Speaking gently and gracefully.
  • Doing things together – especially if this is a child’s love language.
  • Listening to children.
  • Laughing and joking together.

There are many more ways to express love to our children, but the important thing is that it IS expressed. This constant outpouring of love develops security in the parent-child relationship which is essential for discipline to have the right effect (heart-changing rather than simply behaviour-changing).

Firm boundaries

I love the journey of parenthood with these two blessings.

I love the journey of parenthood with these two blessings.

In my experience it is vital to set the expectation of obedience early on. Children need to know that the parent is in charge, and that they must respect that authority. In our house we often talk about the chain of command: children must submit to parents and parents must submit to God. This has two implications: Firstly, children should obey parents because God said so. Secondly, parents are responsible to God for parenting in obedience to His will. Some of the ways we set firm boundaries in our house are:

  • Zero tolerance for disrespect. Lack of respect for others – especially authority – is one of the biggest problems I see in children and youth today. It is also a heart issue, which is why we place such importance on it. In my experience dealing with this effectively makes every other discipline issue easier to resolve.
  • No time for ‘one, two, three’. I know parents who believe the counting technique is a good and helpful way to help a child obey. To my mind, however, this teaches children two problematic ideas: One, that obedience should only be done at the last possible moment, rather than as a response of a heart which delights to obey. Two, that obedience is only required to avoid punishment. This second idea is the most damaging, as it subtly undermines the principle of saving grace. However, I do think there is a difference between “We’re going. Get off that swing now!  One, two, three..” and “We need to leave, darling – I’ll give you five more seconds on the swing and then we’ll go. One, two, three, four, five.” The first teaches that ‘now’ doesn’t mean ‘now’.  The second shows consideration for the child’s feelings and gives time for them to move from one task to the next whilst still requiring obedience at the time it is required.
  • Careful use of ‘no’. Sometimes it’s easy to say ‘no’ without thinking. Sometimes it’s hard to say no when it’s necessary. A carefully considered balance is what is required. If a child hears ‘no’ too frequently they can become frustrated, so we try to say ‘yes’ often. However, it is also vital that children learn to deal with ‘no’ appropriately, so on issues of importance we must be brave to say ‘no’ even if it means tears in the middle of the store. A child’s character development is more important than our own embarrassment.

As with everything, the grace-discipline balance is something we are constantly fine-tuning. And in our turn we are shown both grace and discipline from God. I find myself frequently praying for wisdom to teach Prince and Princess how to live in His ways whilst dependent on His grace. But as they are growing we have begun to see the fruit of firm discipline blended with grace-filled love, and I can tell you – it is SO sweet. I am humbled and delighted by the joyful obedience my children show every day, and I thank God for the love which fills our home.

I will leave you with this encouragement from the book of Proverbs, and pray you will all be filled with delight in the children God has blessed you with.

“Apply your heart to instruction
and your ears to words of knowledge.

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.
Punish them with the rod
and save them from death.

My son, if your heart is wise,
then my heart will be glad indeed;
my inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.

Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.
There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.

Listen, my son, and be wise,
and set your heart on the right path:
Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat,
for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

Listen to your father, who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.
Buy the truth and do not sell it—
wisdom, instruction and insight as well.
The father of a righteous child has great joy;
a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.
May your father and mother rejoice;
may she who gave you birth be joyful!”

Proverbs 23:12-25

Grace vs discipline? It’s not a dichotomy!

“For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Ephesians 6:1

I have been blessed to observe many wonderful examples of parenting amongst my friends and family. I am always seeking to learn how to become a better parent myself. When I see children who are full of love for God and others I look carefully at how they have been parented, hoping to find some wisdom I can apply in my own family. There is nothing so important as the job of a parent, and we only get one shot at it. I desperately want to get it right!

It is a combination of my own experiences, observations of others and study of the Bible that has lead me to believe that grace-based parenting and parenting with discipline are two pivotal parts of the parenting puzzle. I believe they must work together, and that when they do the result is beautiful to behold. Yet so often grace and discipline are seen as opposing perspectives – an either/or choice. My experience is that to show grace without discipline leads to stress, strife, and sadness. To insist on discipline without grace leads to fear, shallow faith, and distant family relationships. The most successful parents I know apply both of these principles, balanced in just the right way – and their children are a delight and an inspiration. Let’s look at these two aspects in a little more detail.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

So blessed I get to parent these two precious kids.

It is abundantly clear in the Bible that we are saved by grace, and that NO amount of good behaviour or Godly virtues can get us to heaven. It is essential that we teach this to our children. We need to model grace in our daily interactions with them, and we need to show them that we, too, are in constant need of grace. Our children should know in their innermost being that they are part of a messed up humanity, AND that they are loved beyond imagination by a God who wants to freely offer them salvation. This truth is vital. We need to talk about it and live it out openly at every opportunity. It is foundational.

Secondly, we need to parent with strict discipline. I include the word ‘strict’ here because I think most parents discipline to some degree. The type of discipline I’m talking about here is the kind that requires obedience and respect. This is where I begin to hear some dissent. Within the Christian parenting circle we talk a lot about grace. It is generally agreed that grace, unconditional love and forgiveness are central parts of parenting. But when discipline comes into the conversation many people begin to look wary. It’s not that parents don’t want their children to be obedient – but many seem to be afraid of enforcing it. They appear to feel that being strict is at odds with offering grace. But if we look at the Bible, I think this idea is unfounded.

The Bible  shows us two very clear aspects of who God the Father is, and how he relates to us as his children. Firstly, he is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8.) Yet at the same time we are told – no, warned – that “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31.) Also, that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6) We can see here that despite our free access to God’s grace, he also disciplines his children and is not afraid to punish those who reject him. That seems very much like a balance between grace-based parenting and parenting with strict discipline.

Proverbs 13:24 is pretty straight forward on the topic of parental discipline: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” This verse tells us that avoiding discipline equates to hating our children. Yikes. In fact, if you really love your child (and most people say they do), then you will prove this by being careful to discipline “diligently”, or “promptly”, as the NASB and NKJV put it. Why? Because living according to God’s principles will bless your child, their family, their friends, their neighbours, their country, and the world. Hebrews 12:11 sums it up perfectly: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

So YES – it is by grace, not works, that we are saved. This is the foundation we absolutely need to teach our children to live upon.  But let’s not allow that wonderful truth to prevent us from disciplining our children – for their own good.

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