Am I Doing This Right?

IMG_0470"Wow! You're Super Mom!" I looked up, startled, to see a woman walking toward the table at the supermarket where my four children and I are eating hot dogs, a lunchtime reward for a successful shopping trip. My children, their mouths full, are all eating quietly and politely, and nobody is throwing any food or whining about their ketchup. It's a good day. "I just wanted to compliment you on your well behaved children," says the women. "They've been eating so nicely and quietly. You're obviously raising them well."

"Haha! Thank you!" I stammer, an awkward joke at the tip of my tongue. I'm not sure what else to say. I'm never sure what else to say when this happens. Because, believe it or not, it's happened to me more than once. The couple at the restaurant, the old lady at the zoo, the man in line in front of us at the post office, and now this lady at Costco. All of these random strangers observing my family during a calm, peaceful outing, and complimenting my parenting. This should feel amazing, shouldn't it?

While it does feel a little nice to hear I'm "raising my children well," I'll admit my initial inward response when I hear this is defensiveness mixed with laughter. Sometimes I crack an awkward joke in response like "you caught 'em on a good day!" or "Yeah, they are being really well behaved. I'm starting to get suspicious." I want to tell these well wishers about all the times my family wasn't so well received by the general public. Like that time I tried to go out to breakfast with my three children under age 3 and the meal culminated in my 1 year old standing on top of the table and pouring an entire pitcher of syrup all over herself and the table while my baby and 2 year old screamed? Yeah, we did the walk of shame out of that one. I can still see the waitress's fake smile and gritted teeth as she eyeballed the syrup and deadpanned "have a nice day" while we high tailed it out of there. Or just last week, when my five year old threw an epic toddler-style tantrum about her shoes or her bike or something. She was kicking and screaming and rolling around on the sidewalk while we were supposed to be out on a nice family walk. The elderly neighbor out gardening who raised one eyebrow over her fence and muttered "oh my..." definitely wasn't paying our parenting any compliments.

It's funny how easily one kind word or raised eyebrow from a stranger can make or break my day. It feels so great to be admired and so awful to be scorned, that I find myself giving the desire for admiration undue attention. I will catch myself worrying over others' approval, even in instances where it doesn't matter! Will they like what I'm wearing? Ugh, this hair cut! I should have worn different shoes. Am I too underdressed for the occasion? Did the way I said that sound ok to them? What do they think of my kids? Am I doing ok? Maybe I should be stricter? Is that normal behavior for a four year old?

In truth, the only person I have to answer to and seek a yes or no from is my Lord. I spend so much time wondering and worrying over what other people think of me, whether I'm making the right decisions by worldly standards, when I can just take my concerns to the Lord in prayer instead! I can pray for guidance and help in my parenting, in my business, in my life as a homeschooling mother, in my marriage, in my friendships. I can look to Him for the model of how I should be acting and behaving on a daily basis.

"Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his face continually." 1 Chronicles 16:11

And I can confess those times I fall short, ask for grace, and rest assured that I'm forgiven.

"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16

Lord, am I doing this right? Are my kids alright? Did I respond to that situation with the right mix of love and discipline, Lord? Help my kids, Lord. Help me be the best mother I can be.  Forgive me for the times I've been short tempered, angry, unresponsive, or lazy with them and others. Thank you for the times you've given me glimmers of a hopeful future with them. Keep them always safe in your care, and help them to have a strong and healthy relationship with you as they grow. Amen.

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Sitting in Church with Kids: When There is No Nursery

When there is no nurseryI have gone to church for almost three years without a nursery... and I like it. Here's why.

I have learned that...

1. Churches that have a "nursery" may not use it like one.

One Sunday I was visiting a church and my 6 month old son was hungry and tired. It was near the end of church and I wanted to keep it quiet for him to fall asleep so I walked to the nursery to feed him. I sat down, began feeding my son, looked up and there I met the eyes of the congregation leaving church. The window for me to see worship was now a window for others to see me nursing! The door was open! Could I have closed it? Yes, but people walked in and out of the nursery with snacks & sat on the chairs anyway. I played a staring contest with a pre-teen boy. He lost. I slid my way to the stairs with baby attached to hide behind the wall but was then met with more church members that were coming from the balcony seating upstairs. This was no nursery my friends.

That story isn't unusual. I have seen nurseries used as a play room, hang out for teens on their iphones, Sunday school room, left over storage room, and a place for post-church snackers to eat and drink.

2. I can nurse in the church pew. Nursing in the pew is less distracting to those around me and to my other children. There is no need to pull out the circus tent (my nickname for the nursing cover) anymore if I have a blanket or trendy infinity scarf that can double as a nursing cover with ease. My circus tent is brown with red polka dots... yeah, now that's eye catching!

With my first child I wasn't nearly as experienced of a nurser as I am now so I spent a lot of sermon time sitting on the ivory throne (the toilet) nursing my baby. I regret this. If you have a church without a nursery and don't feel comfortable nursing in the pew ask the Pastor if you can sit in his office. Maybe your church can set up some audio from a speaker or a TV that shows worship in a meeting room?

These days I snuggle my baby close, pull the blanket over his head, and discreetly nurse in the pew not missing the sermon or letting my baby's cry escalate which would draw more attention. The majority of the time others do not even know I am feeding the baby!

3. My kids should not get rewarded for their poor behavior. Have you ever thought that kids disobey in church just so they can get to the nursery? I have sometimes prayed that we had a nursery for me to let my kids (and myself!) just hang back while they play with toys as I try to listen to the sermon over the fuzzy speaker. It would be easier to just let them dig in the germ infested bin of toys, flip the puzzles over, and pull the books off the shelf than to discipline them and sit back in church. Is it really? In the long run - I disagree.

When my children act up in church we leave out the side and they have to sit on the church stairs that lead up to the balcony or down to the basement for a few minutes before we return to church again. Do they enjoy it? Not really. Would they rather get back in church with their busy bags and worship? Yup! That's the point I'm after.

4. You can always laugh later & you get to tell some fun stories! One church that didn't have a nursery did have a baby changer in the bathroom. But there was a catch. There was a sign above the diaper changer that read..

Please take soiled diapers along with Yup! You had to take "soiled" diapers and stuff them back in the diaper bag. No dumps allowed. Literally. And you can safely assume that my 1.5 year old would fill his diaper during sermon. If something smelled in bible study it was likely coming from the diaper bag. The jokes on them!

5. Less is more. Less is more. Less is more. Have you seen the mom with the kids that stand and sit at the correct times in worship, join in prayer, sing or hum along the hymns, and listen to the sermon? It's not me! But when you do sight one look and see how many toys and snacks she has. Most likely it is none. One of our readers, the Simple Homemaker, commented that her children have one writing utensil during worship and that's it. I'm not sure if our family will ever get there but it's nice to know it is possible. :)

6. Keep consistent and have clear (but low!) expectations. Don't exasperate the kids. If they didn't get a nap or good night sleep expect the morning to be a little more rough. Your child's heart is more important than them "looking" obedient in church. Worship can be enjoyable but not necessarily entertaining. When we bring them to worship the Holy Spirit works faith in their hearts. The mornings feel long but the consistent efforts can be rewarded.

Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. I Corinthians 15:8b

7. Snacks after church are a great reward! When we used to hand out snacks during the sermon my kids would whine and cry for the food leading up to the sermon. "Is it sermon yet mommy?" "I'm so hungry!" "Grooooan" accompanied with pretend faint on pew.

And of course the sneaky one tried to unzip the contents of the bag to find any snack, crumb, or old apple core to eat in their desperation.

One of the churches we went to had fellowship snacks afterwards. This I found was a great alternative and a reward for good behavior during worship.

8. Your toddlers and babies are listening! There will always be distractions that seem more appealing than worship. Even as your kids grow into adults! There are toys and ipads now and in the future there are iphones, sports, and relationships outside of the family. Training our children the value of God's Word and the gift of God coming to us in worship is priceless!

... continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,  and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:14-15

Share! If could choose, what would you have in your church nursery? What do you like about your church's nursery? 

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For further reading about kids in church, take a look at our other posts in this series –

Sitting in Church with Kids: When We Feel All Eyes Are On Us

Sitting in Church with Kids: 5 Ways to Help the Single Parent

Sitting in Church with Kids: 10 Church Bag Ideas

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Olympics Lessons

I'm a huge fan of the Olympics. I can remember as a kid spending the weeks during the Olympics making up figure skating routines, pretending to mogul ski down the stairs, and making huge luge runs to sled down with my siblings.

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I'm not going to lie, during the two weeks the Olympics are on our family goes from one that never watches TV to one that temporarily puts one up in the living room just so we can watch the events as a family each night. There is something about the incredible things the athletes have been able to accomplish, the patriotism of cheering on the USA, and the fun of good, clean TV that keeps us all hooked.

It also seems that companies come out with some pretty great commercials during the Olympics and I've already found my favorite this time around. While I'm not claiming to support P&G, I love their commercial this year about falling down, getting back up and mom's role in it all.

I can't help but see the similarities in our own lives as Christians. We start off our journey with the desire and will to do big things, but the truth is we are immature, sinful, and have much to learn. Yet God knows our abilities. He knows the purposes and plans for which he created us, and he knows what it's going to take for us to be able to serve him to our full potential.

Many times, what it takes is letting us fall over and over and over again.

While each fall hurts and the sins we find ourselves caught in can have painful consequences, each time God lifts us back up we learn and we grow. God knows us better than we know ourselves and while he uses our mistakes to teach us and make us stronger, he never leaves us alone. He stays by us, calling us back to him, calling us to get back up and try again, teaching us to stay on track, and showing us time and time again that he can be trusted.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 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. - Hebrews 12:7-11

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What If My Children Don't Sit Still in Church?

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Recently, an article popped up on my newsfeed for the seventh or eighth time since last summer. Shared by many a mother thrilled to have found a simple solution to a common problem, the article is entitled “No Fuss Parenting - Teach Kids to Sit Still,” with one of the first pictures further expounding, “How I Taught My Children To Sit Still in Church.”

“Teaching my kids to sit still is the best thing I ever did as a parent,” the writer gushes at the beginning of the article, and then goes on to detail her simple solution to achieving these results: just practice sitting still a lot with your children at home. They will get used to sitting still for long periods, and then will have no problem sitting still in church! Voila!

I have read many such articles meant to encourage parents with tips and tricks as they raise their children. Sometimes, I gratefully absorb the advice in parenting blogs or books. I will be struggling with a particular issue at home, and that advice or tip will make all the difference. Implemented, the issue is resolved, or at least improves greatly.

Other times, however, these articles fill me with nothing but guilt and frustration. This was my gut response to the “teach kids to sit still” article. Why? Because my kids have never, not once, in the 4 years since I have become a parent, sat still for an entire church service and I am already implementing all of the tips and tricks!  My kids sit still at home all the time! They can sit for hours reading or listening to books. I almost never have a kid try to escape the table during dinner time. We have quiet time for 2 hours every afternoon where my kids are required to stay still and quiet in their beds, whether they want to sleep or not. And yet, they are unable to make it through a church service, EVER, without losing their minds at least once during the sermon.

Granted, at ages 4, 2, and 1, my children are still young. Perhaps they are still works in progress. Maybe if we continue practicing self control at home, they will reach an age where they have mastered it. Then maybe I, like the mother in the article, will be able to parade my children around town with full faith that they will behave like perfect little angels. I, too, will not bat an eye at bringing them to a long graduation ceremony, or enrolling them in preschool. With just a little more work, we will arrive at perfection in this area. I’m sure of it. Time to buckle down, work harder, and mold my children into the shapes I know they can become. It will be the best thing I will ever do as a parent.

Am I the only one who has thought this way about raising my children? Keeping always some dim “arrival point” in the forefront of my mind, I chase the illusion of “someday perfection” in my children. SOMEDAY my children will learn self control. SOMEDAY they will obey me perfectly. SOMEDAY they will be polite, well-mannered, patient, peaceful, kind, generous, loving, joyful, good, and gentle. SOMEDAY a veritable fruit tree will erupt where I have planted a seed and toiled at the soil, and I will sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor as a parent. “These are my kids,” I will think. “It was hard work raising them, but they are just about perfect now, so it was worth it. Aren’t they awesome?”

I look to other, older, or more disciplined parents and mistakingly think they’ve "arrived." They’re in the blossoming fruit tree stage of parenting, right? They’ve sewn all their seeds and toiled at their soil and are sitting back, reaping the benefits of well behaved, perfect children. I’ll get there some day, if I follow their lead.

I read parenting books or blogs and believe they hold the key to achieving “someday perfect.” If I just implement the correct behavioral strategies, prevention methods, consequences, rewards, time outs, spankings, lectures, chore charts, or logic, the books tell me, I can achieve perfect children. If they’re not perfectly behaved yet, it’s because I’m doing it wrong. I have more work left to do, but we’ll get there, if I just stay consistent with the recommended strategies.

In all of this struggle to raise my children to be amazing human beings, to achieve the elusive “someday perfect,” I lose sight of one important detail:

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My children are not perfect. In fact, they are broken; imperfect since conception. This is the human condition, and no amount of behavioral strategizing, practicing, or preventing will erase this condition in my children. Even if I am able to teach them to understand right from wrong, their sinful nature will deliberately and repeatedly ignore right and commit wrong. As human beings, they are sick with sin, and will be until the day that they die and are made perfect in heaven with Jesus.

So why do I get hung up on believing that the “best thing I could ever do as a parent” is teaching my kids to sit still in church? Or to say “please and thank you” at the appropriate time? Kindness, gentleness, and self control, these are good things that we all want our children to exhibit, but they are not the end-all-be-all of Christian parenting. We forget that these things are fruits of the Spirit. They are what happens as a natural result of the Spirit working within us, not the other way around.

Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

As a Christian parent, I need to revamp my focus. My ultimate goal isn’t to force the outward behavior of my children into a mold of perceived perfection so that my life will get easier or so that other people will admire my well-behaved family. Rather, my main goal as a Christian parent should be to spiritually uplift and fortify the inward hearts of my children toward Christ. The “best thing I could ever do as a parent” is to teach my children to know and love Jesus as their Savior. If the day ever arrives where they make it through an entire church service without fidgeting (Lord willing!), I hope it's because they're engrossed in celebrating the beautiful relationship they have with Jesus.

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