confessions graphic FINALAmy and I met our freshman year in university, and she has been one of my dearest friends ever since. We share a love for words, dodgy Chinese restaurants and country music (among other things). She is creative, intelligent, hilarious and thoughtful, a most wonderful friend, devoted wife and mom, and a deep thinker. It’s a pleasure to have her thoughts here about her own experiences with motherhood. When I read this piece a few days ago, my first thought was, “I so needed to hear this right now,” and I think you will feel the same way. 

Amy lives in Texas with her husband, Kyle, and 4-year-old Owen and 1-year-old Audrey.


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It was a few days ago that my 4-year-old, Owen, was playing in his playroom. The door was closed, so I can’t say for certain, but my guess is that it was show-time for his usual cast of characters: Hot Wheels cars and little Fisher-Price knights. I heard him through the door, bringing his toys to life with the low, gravelly voice he uses for all the battle scenes. There were Booms! and Ahhs! and the mighty clash of plastic against plastic. Then silence. Life is loud here, so the quiet made me listen.

“Haha, I guess we should stick to high-fives from now on!” one of the knights said, finally. Owen narrated with a self-confident chuckle I hadn’t heard before.

It’s funny, this person he is. The baby stage for my husband and me was relatively easy. It wasn’t not-complicated or not-frustrating or not-exhausting, but it was black-and-white. It was analyzing patterns and diagnosing cries and training new skills. It was a relief to {loosely} schedule naps, wake times and feedings, and we fell into rhythms.

But babies become toddlers who become little boys, and that is the thing that most births my stress and tears and second-guessing. The being I protected in my womb and nourished in my arms is now the boy-person who claims a portion of my heart. His emotions have in many ways become my emotions. I feel his insecurities; I see his fears; I stumble over his stumblings, because they are things I often can’t fix with milk or a hug or a word or a correction. And when I am depleted and my empathy is lacking, I turn to harsh words, or an unnecessary tone or a command to “just stop doing what you’re doing,” period. Which, to a 4-year-old, sounds an awful lot like “Just stop being who you are,” because he needs help navigating this world. He needs pruning, guiding and leading from trusted hands.

I wasn’t prepared for a lot of things about parenthood, but at the top of that list was the reality that my son is a person. I should study him. When he is insecure, I should be gentle with him. When he is afraid, I should speak words of courage and security. When he is persistent and stubborn, I should show him how to channel those qualities in positive ways. When he is disobedient, I should aim to impact his heart and not be satisfied with modified behavior.

Yesterday, a friend commented that Owen looks like me. I asked Owen how that made him feel, and he sucked in his cheeks, looked at me sideways and whispered in my ear: “Happy.”

I have his innocent devotion for a short time, and if I take that for granted – if I don’t take the time to earn his trust through love, patience and security now — one day he’ll be a man I don’t know walking through the door of what was once his home.

Today, it’s raining, and I listen to him just a few feet away in the next room. He’s looking out the window and playing with Super Sly and Zoom, two of his cars. Super Sly and Zoom are chatting about “giant raindrops.” One of them says, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m afraid of heights.”

Owen looks my direction and closes the door, and his voices are muffled and it’s hard to hear.

I pray that I never stop listening.

This post is Day 21 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.) 

confessions graphic FINALbook2

As part of this 31 Days series, I’ve been reviewing my favourite (so far) parenting books. It’s a saturated market, and I’m sure you have your own that you love, but these ones form basic guidelines for me as I go through the daily grind of parenting.

Grace Based Parenting” and “Simplicity Parenting” give me the foundations on which we build our parenting style, but “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is one I rely on for the practical side of communicating with my sons. I cannot say enough how outstanding this book is, easy to read (although a bit long), easy to apply, incredibly practical. Not everything will work for every child, but plenty of the strategies work even with my two-year-old.

Just one little warning here for the evangelicals who read this blog (skip to the following paragraph if you’r not interested, this is a major digression) – one of my only complaints about books that aren’t written from a faith perspective is that there is no appreciation or respect for the individual’s (and a child’s) ability to sin. So that is never taken into account, so this is not a book I rely on when it comes to the need to discipline for disobedience. But I part ways from the majority of the evangelical “go-to” parenting books (I’m thinking of “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” in particular) because of its singular focus on discipline for disobedience and its singular offering for what to do for disobedience. I still wish that non-faith books recognize that children aren’t innately good and able to “just choose” the right thing if parents line up all the right circumstances for them. But I wish that evangelicals and the evangelical books had an understanding and respect for child development, psychology and communication. These are not things to be dismissed – we need to understand, respect and listen to experts in these fields because they have something valuable to say to us about our children.

For me, I am constantly trying to find middle ground between these two camps, drawing from both what I appreciate but casting aside the things that I do not believe have relevance for our family.

Digression end. Moving on.

So this book, which I will now refer to as “How to Talk” – amazing. I love reading it, the style is conversational and easy, with lots of real examples of how parents apply the techniques. Each chapter also has questions for parents to answer and reflect on, an easy summary of the chapter, and questions from parents about the practices.

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But the best part is that there are so many different ideas. I’ll just list now a few things that were helpful for me.

Helping Children Deal with Feelings (chapter 1)

After Little Boy turned one, I remember the moments when he became more willful about certain things, and as much as I knew there was a problem with the behavior, I could also recognize that there were feelings in his heart – feelings that needed to be respected. I also began to see that as I go through my own life, it’s a lot easier for me to deal with patterns of negative (sinful) behavior in my heart if I first begin to acknowledge me feelings, instead of just dismissing them or “controlling” them.

They give this sample conversation in the book.

Child: Mommy, I’m tired.

Me: You couldn’t be tired. You just napped.

Child: (louder) But I’m tired.

Me: You’re not tired. You’re just a little sleepy. Let’s get dressed.

Child: (wailing) No, I’m tired!

I hope I’m not the only one out there who has had a similar conversation with their child. It became so clear to me that many of our conflicts with Little Boy stemmed from me disregarding what he was trying to tell me and disregarding his feelings.

I can’t tell you how much easier some of our moments are now because I stop talking, listen, feed back to him what he is saying, give his feelings a name (“It sounds like you’re angry, kiddo”).

Engaging Co-operation (chapter 2)

Here are the main points:

  • Describe what you see or describe the problem – I did not realize how much I was prone to assuming he knew what was wrong instead of first communicating what was “wrong” with a situation.
  • Give information – This is one of the points that stuns me still today, even my two-year-old appreciates reasoned information. We have stairs that curve up, so at the curve the stairs are quite narrow. From our first day here, I’ve told him “big side for the big boy” when we walk up and down. Only in the past week has he started wanting to defy and walk on the narrow side. Finally yesterday I realized I had never given him any information, so I stopped, got down to his level, and said: “Kiddo, do you know why I don’t want you to walk on the small side? Look at the size of your feet, it’s too big for the small side, there’s less space for you to walk, so you might fall down, and I don’t want you to fall down. See there’s a big space on the big side, and it’s big enough for your feet, that’s why I want you to walk over there.” Zero issues with him trying to walk on the small side after that for the day (let’s see what today holds). I have been amazed at his ability to listen to these kinds of information-giving moments, and honestly I think it’s because he feels respected that I’m taking the time to inform him about something.
  • Say it with a word – again, this one is like a magic trick. Instead of a long explanation (although it’s sometimes needed, see above), I’ll just say “Shoes,” and he knows he has to go get his shoes. Or “Toys” when I want him to pick up his toys.

There were other points, but these were the most helpful for me. The book becomes more and more applicable as children get older, but the first two chapters alone had many helpful ideas that work well for me with our toddler.

This post is Day 19 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

confessions graphic FINALHe was a gruff, Greek man who gave driving lessons in Melbourne, Australia, and I needed lessons because my driving test was only a few weeks away. I was feeling woefully unequipped to take the test and feeling insecure about my ability to parallel park, among other things. He came to our house in Noble Park, asked me to drive around for 10 minutes, and then told me to pull over.

Your problem, he said forcefully, is your RUSHNESS! Where do you need to go? Why are you in such a hurry? 

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I wasn’t speeding, but he saw impatience in the way I drove. Maybe he knew he was talking about much more than just my driving. For as long as I can remember, I have always been in a hurry to get things done, to be at the top of a line, to get off an airplane, to be on time or even early. I rarely ever walked or strolled through parks or shopping areas. I was on the move, on the go, needing to get somewhere even if there was nothing really to be done. Getting somewhere, getting things done, these were like necessary, daily accomplishments, the little ways in which I felt good about myself at the end of a long day.

Having children has given me many gifts, and one of them is this: my boys force me to slow down

I can’t even squeeze a lemon at my own pace anymore. Little hands want to help. Little hands need to help. It is good for him to squeeze a lemon and learn how to cook, it is good for me to step back, enjoy the way he enjoys lemons and slow down. 

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Trips outdoors don’t happen without a good 20 minutes worth of chasing a little boy around the house to get a jacket, rain boots and other outdoor gear on. When we are out, I rarely come home in the time I think it will take. We are usually out much, much longer. It is good for him to stay outside, to learn about nature, to soak up the sun, to delight in the beauty of the natural world, to just be in it. It is good for me to learn the same lessons. I can’t do it without slowing down, letting go of my plans for the day, releasing my need to stay in control of a schedule. 

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Wearing Baby, oh this is one of the most inconvenient, slowing means of newborn care I’ve ever encountered. It’s like being in a third trimester all over again, it makes it harder to play with Little Boy, it’s tiring. But Baby loves it, he leans back, looks in my eyes and grins. He knows he is safe, loved, protected, nurtured. It is good, right, perfect for him to know these things, and it is good for me to love him in a way he understands even when it’s inconvenient for me. It is good to be forced to physically slow down, to be limited, to know the truth – I have limitations. I cannot do it all. 

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A home with children in it has lots of messes – lovely messes, the messes of little hands that want to help, that want to explore, that want to create. So we take a big cardboard box, put it in the middle of the living room, cut windows out and a sun roof. The paint comes out, drips on the floor, but he puts his pots and pans inside and makes me an egg. It is good for him to know that in our home he is free to explore, to learn, to create. He is free to make messes (and clean them up) and be as messy as he wants. Our house is a place where imperfection is celebrated. And it is good for me to know that I am not the sum total of a clean, orderly home, that there is much more to having things “look good” and “look right.” It is good for me to slow down, let days unfold and let the messes unfold for behind every one of his messes and mine, there is a nugget of gold, the little glimmer of what he was made to do, who he was made to be. What I was made to do, whom I was made to be. 

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Slow down. There’s no rush. You can be late. These are words I tell myself regularly at home, in the car, when we are out. I give myself permission to slow down and do less, and in doing so I find that my soul lives with more freedom and my children do as well.

This post is Day 18 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

confessions graphic FINALI don’t know you, your story, your past, your dreams and your longing for the future, but whomever you are, there is one thing I know about you – you deal with accusation about who you are and the work that you are doing with your children. You deal with it daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. It may be so normal to you that you don’t even recognize it when it happens because it seems like it’s you talking.

I’m talking about those words, those thoughts, the ones that creep and crawl through your ear, into your mind, then deep into your heart where they live.

You didn’t spend enough time with your kids today. 

Your kids don’t eat enough veggies.

You haven’t showered in three days. What’s wrong with you? 

You’re wasting time, you should be doing more, be productive. 

You’re a bad mother. 

These are accusations, and all of us hear them.

I’ve written parts of my story, I’ve written thoughts and ideas, I’ve written a lot about the process of motherhood for me in the past weeks, but today’s topic is different. Today I want to warn you because whatever your gender, your stage, your family or work situation, whomever you are – I want to tell you that an accusation left alone is the small fire that will burn down a house, it is the tiny vial of poison that will take a life in an instant, it is an unseen pest that will destroy a whole field of crops before harvest.

Accusations require immediate and total action – these are not simple, harmless words, they are words that undermine the core of our being. 

The first accusations I remember hearing in my own heart were when I was young, under 10, usually they came through the words of other people in my life, adults, school mates, influences, You talk too much. You’re not beautiful. You’re too dark. You’re not nice. You’re not kind. You’re selfish. So many words, so many ways in which they took root in my soul, I grieve every day of my life that I believed those words.

Please understand that an accusation isn’t the same as something in our life that really does need to change. One of the many differences between Husband and I is the amount of uncleanliness we can tolerate. He likes a clean living space. I do, too, I just don’t like staying on top of cleaning projects. When we talked about it, he never made any comments about my character, who I am, or my work ethic, he only respectfully asked me to keep certain areas of our apartment a bit cleaner than they were (and I was usually the one responsible for the messes).

It was constructive, helpful and empowering – it provided a path forward for me. The conversation helped me to know what he needed and what I could do to help. 

But accusations are different, for me usually they come in the form of “you” statements, here’s what the cleaning accusations sounded like:

You can’t keep a clean house. You’re husband is disappointed in you. You’re a bad wife. 

These are words about identity, and they do not offer a solution. 

Brene Brown is a shame researcher who is one of those “it” people right now. One reason I appreciate her work is that it is based on research, and her conclusions are startling (read more about her on her site and watch the TED talks). I’ve started reading “Daring Greatly” and it has been an outstanding read, and I loved this TEDx talk of hers. Her talk offers a helpful distinction between words of guilt and words of shame – words of guilt indicate that there is a problem, words of shame say “I am the problem,” put in a different way, one gives us the ability to change, and the other offers no room for change because if who we are is the problem, then what hope do we have (my paraphrase). 

Everyone deals with accusations, but I find that women deal with them in a totally different way, and once you start having kids, the accusations – for me, anyway – just go through the roof.

You’re not breastfeeding, you’re a bad mother. 

You had an epidural – you missed out on what childbirth really feels like.

Your child doesn’t nap – you’re a bad mother. 

You let him cry too long – you’re a bad mother. 

She doesn’t sleep because you won’t let her cry – you’re a bad mother. 

Your child is screaming in the supermarket – you’re a bad mother. 

Did that muffin have sugar in it? Your child is destined for bad health. And you’re a bad mother. 

Your husband is away for the week – you will not be able to survive taking care of two kids while he’s gone.

The only way I can get through my day and not be taken under by these accusations is to tell them to stop.

Stop. 

You will have no control over me.

This is not true. 

And then to speak words of life, words of truth, words of strength over myself.

I make good choices about what my children eat, and it’s fine for them to have a bit of sugar. 

This week won’t be easy, but God knows what I can handle and will not give me more. I can do it. I can do this. 

My child can scream if he wants – it means nothing about what kind of parent I am. 

I will make wise, informed, compassionate, gentle choices about how my babies sleep – this is part of my role as their parent. 

The way my children were born does not determine the kind of mother I am. 

I am the only mother these two boys have. I’m not perfect and do not strive to be perfect. But I will love them, serve them, enjoy them, teach them to the best of my ability. Yes, we will have amazing days, and yes, there will be days I wish to forget, but those days are not an indictment on me or them as people. 

I am a good mother. 

And I say it, out loud sometimes, other times in my head, but I have to keep this tape of truth playing all the time because if I don’t, it will only be a bunch of lies and accusations that fly around in there. There isn’t enough time, friend, to spend the little that we do have listening to what is false.

Every day, every moment spent listening to accusations will only drag you down as a person, as a parent, as a spouse, and the irony is that it will not motivate you toward any kind of change. No, this is wasted time spent in self-doubt, self-pity and worry – don’t do it. Don’t go there. 

Listen to the truth. Speak the truth. Believe the truth. And put yourself around truth-telling people. 

What accusations are you entertaining today? What words of truth can you use to deal with them? 

This post is Day 17 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)