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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.)

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There are musicians that partner with you in the different stages of life, and for me Sara Groves is one of those. My little sister gave me “Fireflies and Songs” before I left for Geneva to be with not-yet-Husband.

He and I started our three months in the same city by getting engaged and ended it with our civil wedding. It was packed three months, let’s say. The majority of our relationship was long distance, so these months were virtually the only time we had to understand the daily ins and outs of each others lives.

I used to sit in my apartment – a friend’s that she generously shared with me in her own last months in Geneva – listening to song after song from “Fireflies,” writing in my journal, staring at the Jet D’Eau and the lake, trying to come to grips with what was happening in my life. It was a happy time, yes, but it felt so deep, so serious, the process of getting ready to commit my whole life to another person, and I found comfort in the raw honesty of Sara Groves’ words about the difficulties of marriage.

A few weeks ago one Saturday morning, I got out of bed and walked down with Baby in my arms. Husband and Little Boy were in the kitchen making pancakes, and this CD was playing through our sound system. I wasn’t fully down the stairs before the wave of memories took me back to the couch from Pakistan, the fireplace, Anna’s little speakers on the floor.

We’re looking for the music in the music box, tearing it to pieces, trying to find the song… 

I had almost forgotten the order of songs on the CD because when the next song started playing, I heard season after season of the past three years of babies and bellies, marriage and changes and life. I read somewhere that Groves wrote “From This One Place” about her struggle with the onset of anxiety in her life; she didn’t have it before but one day it started when she was about to go on stage and play (I’m working off my memory for this one so it might not be correct).

Maybe one of the reasons why I struggled so much was there was never a real diagnosis, no one ever thought I was depressed or anxious. I was functioning, and in a lot of ways I was more than “just” functioning. We ate well, our apartment was in order, the boys were always taken care of. I didn’t shower often, but you know. There was never anything technically wrong, but it didn’t change the sadness of soul that was permanently there.

From this one place, I can’t see very far… I hear her singing from our white curving staircase in the yellow house in Stockholm 2013, and it’s the words I want to go back and tell my 28, 29, 30-year-old self.

All I could see was breastfeeding that would never end, never having my body to myself again.

All I could see was never having a full night of sleep again.

All I could see was the mountain of work that childcare is, the physical, emotional and spiritual work that seemed to never ever end.

All I could see was time I no longer had with the husband I loved and with myself.

All I could see was that hobbies, friends, the things I loved were changing, disappearing.

All I could see was a new version of myself, a version I could not recognize, a person I did not know.

From this one place, I can’t see very far. From this one moment, I’m square in the dark. 

My outlook was one of total lack – I did not have enough, I did not have what I needed, I did not have what I wanted.

But the truth was so much simpler.

From this one place, I could not see very far. 

Difficult times always feel desperate, and it’s these seasons when we are most tempted to make declarations about our lives. “I will never _______, it will always ________.” It wasn’t the time to judge, to have expectations, to whine, to complain, to try to change people and control. It was the time to grieve and to wait. 

I walked into the kitchen where Husband was making pancakes, and Little Boy was screaming excitedly waiting for his. We sat down as a family at our Saturday morning table, pancakes with maple syrup with two boys that we adore, Husband holds my hand, Little Boy holds the other one and we pray.

We thank God for giving us our daily bread, butter and maple syrup.

And I move on from this table with life, with confidence, with peace, with security, with joy overflowing, and truly I cannot believe it because I can remember how deep the pain ran these past three years, the bitter taste still on my tongue. But I know the battle I waged against insufficiency, I can recount every fight with the demons of insecurity and disappointment, and I know that when I look at my open hands today and see beauty and good and joy and safety and peace, I know that these are the fruits plucked only from the tree of suffering.

From this one place, I can’t see very far…. these are the things I will trust in my heart: You can see something else. 

What are you facing in your life today? What declarations are you making about this time? Is it the time to judge? Or the time to wait? 

This post is Day 15 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.) 

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Little Boy and I both fell down the stairs today. We were walking to the kitchen from his room; he had just woken from his afternoon nap. We were talking, the moment was light, then my socks slipped and I went down from stair to stair to stair, hot pain in my back. Little Boy was holding my hand, and I have no idea what happened to him, but I turned around only to see him face first on the bottom two stairs, sobbing his eyes out.

My back was aching, stabbing pain just starting to throb, and I can feel my lower back heating up as all the blood rushed to the place of impact, and the truth is it was so painful I wanted to just sit there at the foot of the stairs, sit there and cry, sit there and wonder where my mother is, where Husband is, where someone is who can take care of me. But I couldn’t because just behind me is a two-year-old who is screaming in pain and shock and has no idea what just happened to him. So I will myself not to cry, reach out to him, make sure he’s not bleeding or seriously injured, pick him up and hobble to our glider, where I sat down and prayed while Little Boy cried in my arms.

These are my most difficult moments in parenting, the moments when I so desperately need care but there is no one to care for me, and on top of that, I have to find it in me to care for my vulnerable, needy child.

And these are the moments where I am drawn closer to and deeper in to the heart of God.

Because as I sit there in pain comforting my son but needing something myself, I can hear his voice, I’m here. I am carrying you. 

This has been my story day after day, moment by moment.

When Little Boy was only two or three months, I went to something that should have been a beautiful moment in my life, something special, sacred, exciting where I should have left feeling loved and affirmed, but something happened at the hands of another woman. Words were said, and I left instead with pain etched in my heart. I tried to process with Husband that night, exhausted he fell asleep in the middle of what I was saying, and I lay there and thought, I have no one. 

Little Boy woke up between 4 and 5am, and I sat on the red couch in our office, watching the shadows of a sunrise in the sky behind the Jura mountain, and I remember pouring my heart out to God, holding my tattered blue Bible in my hands, trying to hold on to something that would tell me everything would be alright.

And the morning brought me word of his unfailing love. I am with you, you are not alone. People fail you, but I have never failed you. 

There were the days of reasoning with a baby, of trying to explain to him why it wasn’t bath time yet, how I was setting the water temperature, making sure the level was right, so it would be a perfect bath for him, a concept he could not understand because he could not wait.

And sitting on the toilet next to the bathtub watching him splash and play, his little desires fulfilled, I hear His voice, Five minutes. Wait a little bit longer. I have not left you. I am with you. Wait a little bit longer. 

When I wake at 11:30pm, 1:30am, at 5:30am to feed a crying baby, when sleep is impossible to come by, when I am exhausted out of my mind, there he is. I never sleep, I am awake before you are. I wake first, Devi. I don’t need to sleep because I am strong, and I am holding you and caring for you. 

For the days when I am dry with no more love to give, no more energy to spend, and my will wants to only choose my way, I have power, and I give you power to do what you can’t do, know what you wouldn’t know and feel what you couldn’t feel without me*. 

Babies and children are the most needy creatures I’ve ever encountered. I love that my sons turn to me moment by moment to meet my needs because it tells me that there is trust in our relationship. But let’s just say that their neediness has led to a deep neediness of my own.

I have never needed more love, affirmation, respect, time, pampering, you name it, I need it, and truly there is no one in the world who is able to meet the depths of my needs, and believe me I have tried to coerce, manipulate  find a person or people who could fit this bill.

For every need and want, for every moment of can’t-do-it-anymore, for every desire and dream, I have stood at the foot of a cross where blood runs red and grace flows free, and I have found my peace, my answers, my hope and my home. 

I found it in Jesus, the one who loved me with an unfailing love, the one who created my inmost being, the one who paid it all so that I could be free, the one who parents me moment by moment, the one who gives me everything I need, the one who allows me to experience hard things so that I have no option but his strength.

I don’t know who you are, how you found this blog or what you are dealing with today, but I can promise you this – there is answer far better than you could ever imagine, there is a promise greater than anything you can dream, and there is someone who knows you more deeply than you can know yourself. There are needs in your soul that only he can fulfill.

Talk to him.

Ask.

You will receive. 

*From Beth Moore’s study, “Living Beyond Yourself.”

This post is Day 14 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.)