Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mommy Guilt

I'm basically an over-achiever with insanely high aspirations and very poor follow through, which has led to years of mommy guilt when I couldn't meet all of these lofty and unrealistic goals for my family. The thing is, now that I've been doing this for 24 years, I've started to realize that the things I felt so guilty about are not the things that my kids really cared about anyway. I was disappointed that I didn't paint that amazing mural on their wall that I had promised, or been able to pay for taekwondo lesssons or build them a treehouse or bake awesome cookies for line leader day, but really what they appreciate most are the times I take one of them to the store with me and we just enjoy being together, or when I stop to play a game with them, or when I take the time to give my 7yo a "hair salon" when I wash her hair (pretend we're in a spa, give her a scalp massage, etc.). It's these things that are so easy to do and take so little of my time or effort that really matter in the long run.

This morning when I woke up, I was being squished between my 7yo and 4yo. At first I was annoyed, I started thinking about all of the things I had to do today and felt frustrated because I wasn't ready to wake up yet, but then I remembered... this is probably one of the last times I will ever get to do this. My older kids are teens and adults, before I know it these two little ones will be too big to want to come snuggle in mom's bed. I spent 15 minutes rubbing my son's soft little hand and snuggling my nose into my daughter's silky hair and thinking about what is really important.

The most important thing, in my experience, is just letting your kids know how much you love them. Yes, it's great to want to help them achieve great things in their lives, but it's more important for them to know they are loved. It is awesome if you can do special stuff with and for them, but it's more important to just love them in the ordinary times. As long as you are doing that, the rest of the big stuff will sort itself out. What my adult kids remember most about their childhood is not all of the big stuff I tried (and failed) to do for them, it was the silly little things we did together during the course of a day, like singing loudly in the car to the radio on the way to the grocery store or reading to them before they went to sleep. They aren't upset with me for not building the bunkbed or buying them a cool swingset, no piano lessons, no big expensive vacations. I didn't screw up, I did my best with what I had, and that's all you can do.

Today I lay in bed thinking of all the ways I can let my kids know how much I love them. As long as I keep doing that, I have nothing to feel guilty about.

Monday, March 18, 2013


Ok, now that I've jumped into blogging, let me back up a little and introduce myself.  My name is Stephanie, I'm a 44 year old mom to seven kids, ages 24 down to 4 years old.  I started my parenting journey using very punitive methods, and about 10 years into it, finally had to admit that they were not working for me.  I started hearing about "positive discipline" and reluctantly and skeptically decided to give it a try.  Thirteen years later, I am so glad I did! 

My original parenting choices were based on the teachings I was getting from my parents, my church, and popular Christian parenting authors like Dr. Dobson.  I have done a lot of scripture searching over the past 13 years, and I have learned that the Bible really does not support a punitive approach.  I have found that grace-based methods more closely line up with what the Bible teaches about God, sin, punishment and grace.

So why The Shepherd's Apprentice? Because that's how I see myself, my job is to try to imitate the Good Shepherd and treat my little sheep the way he treats them.  I also realize that I'm not ever really going to be a shepherd, I'm just an older sheep myself.  The best thing I can do for my lambs is to do my very best to follow the shepherd as closely as I can and show them the right way to go by going there myself.

I think Paul said it best... "Follow me as I follow Christ".

My blog is just to share my experiences and what has worked for me... usually following a lot of things I have tried that do NOT work.   I don't claim to know all the answers, I don't think there are any answers that will fit every child. I believe God is a lot more specific than that, and he tells us what is best for each child individually.  That said, I do believe that there are certain things that are harmful or that do not line up with the character of God.  There is no "right way", but there are some very definite "wrong ways" to parent.  (ie. abuse, neglect, etc.)

So welcome to my blog, I hope you enjoy reading, and please feel free to comment!


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sin: how to get what you want

Just a few more thoughts on "sin nature" and children....  

I was talking with my friend about this, and I kept going back to what Paul was talking about when he said AFTER "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?"

What is the answer to sin and how to we transmit it to our kids? The Bible says:

"but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." James 1: 14-15

The problem is in WHAT WE WANT. We sin because we are going after something we want. The key to changing our nature is to find a way to CHANGE WHAT WE WANT. It is like what you do as a parent when you are learning to control your own frustration and impatience, you have to focus on how much you LOVE your child, and not how much you want them to be less difficult. When your focus is on LOVE, it changes how you respond. Human nature is essentially self-centered. The natural man wants to find ways to make himself happy. It is not always natural to want to help others or make them happy. That is the part of us that is like God, but the other side of our nature is constantly at war with this.

The more we focus on God, getting to know him, loving him, the more HIS desires become OUR desires. His goals become our goals. If we are actively pursuing a relationship with God, it is very difficult for sin to get any hold in our lives, because the only way sin can get in is if we WANT something we shouldn't want. You have to have a desire for sin before it can do anything to effect your behavior. If a man is so deeply in love with his wife, he is not going to be thinking about wanting another woman, not even in his heart... and where there is no desire, there is no sin.

So how do we translate this to our kids? Well for one thing, it does no good to tell a small child that having desires are wrong. They are not. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be happy. The problem is in how you go about making yourself happy. So showing kids how to meet their own needs in appropriate ways leads them AWAY from sin. Sin is just trying to make yourself happy in inappropriate ways. Hitting your brother because you can't have his toy is an effort to get the toy to make yourself happy. Showing a child how to share, how to take turns, how to ask nicely, and even how to be content with something else for awhile are all ways to "turn off" sin. If they are getting their need met, where is the desire to hit their brother going to come from? Sometimes it is going to take TIME for them to learn, because of their own immaturity. Teaching a child how to find better ways to get what they want/need is not going to happen overnight, but if you are sowing gentleness and patience into them by your own behavior, then it WILL happen eventually.

Using impatience, frustration and even anger to correct a child sows all of those things into them and teaches them that the proper way to respond to someone who does something you don't like is with frustration, impatience and anger. You reap what you sow. If you have a frustrated toddler, you want to give him the ANTIDOTE to anger, not feed it with your own. The antidote to anger is patience and love.

"Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind". Changing the way you think about things changes who you are and how you respond. So how you renew the mind of a toddler??? "Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up." Deut. 6:7 Show them by HOW YOU LIVE YOUR OWN LIFE how to respond to things in theirs. The best way to teach is to be an example of what you are trying to teach. Love is attractive, it garners respect and honor. When a child lives with an adult who is consistently living the way God wants them to live, they EARN that child's respect simply because of WHO THEY ARE.

We have gotten a backwards view of this from too many teachers who tried to insist that children need to honor their parents FIRST, that parents were to DEMAND honor from their children... instead of focusing on BEING SOMEONE HONORABLE YOURSELF.

If you want your kids to turn away from sin, you have to give them something valuable to substitute for the wrong things they want. If you are angry and frustrated and miserable and stressed out... what is there to want to imitate there? Who wants to be like that?

If you focus on your OWN relationship with God and dealing with your OWN areas of sin in your life... you will automatically become a beacon in that area. This is why God says "First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye." Matt. 7:5 and "if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch." Matt. 15:14

If you can't figure out how to deal with the sin in your own life, you will never be able to help your children deal with theirs.

As a parent, the best way to deal with sin nature in our children is to FIRST deal with the sin nature in ourselves. Then, as we master sin in different areas of our lives, we can share what we have learned with our children in a HUMBLE way. "if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted"

If you see your child getting caught up in sin (the desire to get something they shouldn't have or getting what they want/need the wrong way) you should restore them (correct and steer them in the right direction) GENTLY, always being aware that you are not above falling for the same type of temptation yourself, and are really no "better" than your child.

Demonstrate God's love and how to conquer the desire to sin in your own life, stay humble, be patient. Sin doesn't stand a chance.

Selfish babies?

More on babies, original sin, punishment, and grace...

A very commonly held belief, especially in christian circles, is that babies are inherently selfish (having that rotten sin nature from birth). 

The problem with that is, selfishness is knowing how others feel and intentionally deciding you don't care, or you just care about yourself more. A baby CANNOT be selfish, they have no idea that anyone else exists. To a baby, mom is just an extension of himself, like a hand or a foot. Eventually he starts to understand she is separate, but it takes awhile before he can figure out that she has feelings that are separate from his. Then it will be awhile before he develops the skill to be able to see things from another person's perspective. Until a child gets to the point where they can understand that people are separate from themselves, that they have their own feelings, and the ability to put themselves in someone else's place to see things from their point of view, they are not capable of understanding empathy.

If a person does not have the ability to be empathetic, then they are not truly "selfish". They are responding to the world in the only way they can.

The ironic thing is that parents often try to teach a baby to be "unselfish" by behaving in a selfish way towards them by refusing to respond to their cries or meet their need for closeness. If an adult did that to another adult, they would be considered "selfish"... I don't feel like responding to you right now, I have decided your needs are not important enough to earn my attention. I will get to you when I feel like it. You need to learn how to wait. I don't care what you want, you can only have it if I feel like giving it to you.

Think about it, if we can't be generous, selfless, giving, and patient with someone who has no idea how to be these things... just how do we expect them to learn?

I think that the biggest problem is that people don't stop to think these things all the way through to their logical conclusion. They can only see the desired outcome and what they can do to achieve it, not how their methods may otherwise impact their child. You may very well teach a baby not to cry so much by ignoring their cries, and it may look like you have taught them "patience"... but you have also taught them to ignore the cries of others.

That is not selflessness, that is indifference.

This is my first blog post, so I thought I would just jump in with both feet with something I have been writing about on a parenting message board.  (Gentle Christian Mothers)

These are some of my thoughts on the idea of what it means for a baby/child to have "original sin" or a "sin nature".   Punishment is very often a parent's first response to seeing their child do something they consider "sinful",  the goal being to make sin so distasteful and painful that the child will try to avoid it... but is this really how God wants us to respond to sin?

What is sin anyway?

Sin is what happens on the inside, it is not what you do on the outside. If a child wants to hit his brother, but he does not because he is afraid of being punished... you have not dealt with the sin, which is the DESIRE to hurt his brother in the first place. All you have done is kept the sin from being seen on the outside. If you focus on replacing that sin with love, by teaching compassion, empathy, patience, forgiveness, then you are dealing with the sin. Love extinguishes sin the way light banishes darkness. Where there is love, there is no sin, it just cannot exist. The way to deal with sin is to sow LOVE. You cannot do this with punishment.

Christian parents often punish what they see as "sinful behavior" because they think they are making their child more pleasing to God. It might be a good idea to find out what God actually wants from us in the first place. The most important command God gives us is to LOVE....  LOVE HIM and LOVE EACH OTHER... and he tells us that everything else hangs on these two things, so if you do not LOVE, then nothing else you do means anything. I Cor. 13 tells us that no matter how GOOD your behavior is, if you do not LOVE, it is completely worthless. So if you are making your child behave in a way you believe is pleasing to God, but this behavior is not motivated by love, God is not impressed. You have accomplished NOTHING. So what if your son jumps to obey at your every command... if he is not obeying out of love, it is nothing. So what if your daughter never talks back or argues, if the only reason she is "respectful" is because she knows that if she is not, you will punish her? This does not please God, either.

If you truly want to make your children pleasing to God, you have to teach them how to love him. Punishments cannot do this. The best way to teach your kids how to love God is to demonstrate his love towards them. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Rom. 5:8  "We love him because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19 "he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities." Psalm 103:10

My biggest hang-up when I was learning about gentle discipline was that I could not figure out how to make my kids "not sin" if I was not punishing them. Paul ran into that, too. "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?" Basically, if God isn't going to punish us, can we just do whatever we want?

Paul's answer was that because we were set free from the law, we are also free to CHOOSE to obey, not out of fear of punishment, but because of our relationship with Jesus. We learn through building our relationship with Him to make better choices, and when we DO miss the mark, we are told to "come boldly to the throne of Grace to find mercy and help in time of need".

So if we are going to model that relationship to our children, we have to treat THEM the way God treats US. We need to show them how to make good choices, and when they inevitably make poor ones, we extend grace and show them how to fix their mistakes.

THIS is how you deal with the sin nature, you irradiate it with the Love of God. You, as the parent, make love the foundation of your life, to the point that everything you do is directly motivated by your love for God. This is what will draw your child to God, not fear of being punished, but a personal understanding of what it means to be loved so fiercely and unconditionally. We love Him because he first loved us... LIVE God's love to your children. That's all he asks you to do. "Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself". THIS is the core of the Gospel, this should be the core of every Christian home. If you love, you will not hurt others. If you love, you will not lie. If you love, you will not steal. If you want your kids to act this way, put love into them. " If you LOVE ME, you WILL keep my commands".

The love has to come first.

more to come....