***Disclaimer:). This is how WE have been led–and what WE are learning. EVERYONE is led differently–so this is just our story and works for our family. We will all be led in different ways as we seek and trust and follow Him. So…that’s my disclaimer for what it’s worth. I get emails asking how we parent–and this is just a sneak peak into our hearts…not at all what is “right” for all–but what is right for us…for now:). Here is a little glimpse into what we’ve learned in our very few 7 years of parenting…and so far to go…***
My almost 7 year old walked in the room last night and said, “Momma, can I tell you what I really want for my birthday this year?”
“I would really love to spend my birthday at Nana’s house. That’s all I want for my birthday mom. Can I do it? Can I go to Nana’s for my birthday?”
I think back to almost 7 years ago…bringing this sweet boy of mine home from the hospital. I was nervous and so worried about doing the wrong thing or learning how to do the right things. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many parenting books I bought–and I’d sit and read them one by one by one during his naps during those newborn days. I bought a 3-ring binder where I charted his naps, feedings and diapers. At the end of the week–I’d make a graph. I’m not kidding. I really did this (and I bet some of you did this too!)
The months passed, and I was on top of it. He was always on a perfect schedule…and then when he was just 5 months old–we discovered we were expecting again. I was immediately worried about nursing–if and how I could continue while being pregnant and quite sick. This wasn’t quite to my perfect schedule planning, and very soon I no longer had time to read the parenting books. I was tired. Many times desperate for time to myself. And the ONLY book I continued to read was the Bible. And I felt I had to be creative in making time to find time to rest in Him and seek Him for guidance.
While I did receive a few golden nuggets from some of the parenting books–one thing I quickly realized that much of what was in those was American culture and not so much anything about how to just LOVE and ENJOY the moments. In fact, reading them often taught me instead how to attempt to measure myself to others or meet an impossible standard of creating clockwork little ones who often disappointed me when they didn’t fall in place with the norm. And one of the absolute BEST things that ever happened to me–was the Lord blessing me with another little one when I wouldn’t have scheduled it myself. He knew the path I was headed down–and He wanted to teach me to love my babies and simply enjoy the moments.
I so often get questions from new moms about which books to read or how to get their babies on schedules or this or that–and it is such an honor to encourage them to simply enjoy their little ones and not get caught up in the culture but rather seek the Lord in how to best raise, care for and love their babies. Having a second child right behind a first was my first revelation of putting up the schedule and discipline books that oh so often put kids in a box rather than teaching us how to rely on His Word and to really communicate with our kids and love them. My second revelation that I needed to take a step back from culture, dig in the Word for parenting and follow my mommy heart as He guided it happened while I was in Africa 4 years ago. Thankfully, Parker was 2 and Laney was 1–and while I couldn’t go back and change those years of parenting beforehand–my eyes were really opened and I could start fresh that day.
I was sitting with Kunda in Ndola, Zambia telling her what life was like for Richard and I in America. Being in a small village, she was fascinated that our children had their own rooms. I was telling her Laney had just turned 1 (at the time) and how her nursery was down the hall and she slept in a crib. She burst into laughter at how absurd this was. And truly it was absurd to African culture. “But Andrea! What do you do when she needs you? What did you do when she was a baby and needed to nurse? Do you keep getting up and going back and forth down the hall to feed her? This is so interesting! Your little ones sleep in rooms all by themselves? Are they sad? Do they get lonely?” Kunda continued to ask more and more questions about this American way of life–and as we reflected on how Zambians and truthfully most of the world parent–and how most cultures have more of an attachment parenting lifestyle while America tends to say successful parenting is having a child on a 3 hour schedule, kids who sleep through the night, little ones who never come in your bedroom, etc. I began to think about WHY I valued different things relating to parenting, and I began to question what was really important to us–and what we really needed to do to get where we wanted to take their hearts.
I wondered what Jesus’s humble home was like. If he like, most of the world, shared a room with his parents. I began to question what were considered normal discipline tools in America–from time-out to spanking to this and that…and just take things back to scripture. I began to see that even many Christian parenting books will focus on 1 or 2 verses and even take them out of context, assume what they mean and write entire books on their opinion instead of challenging parents to go back to scripture for each problem and take each and every thing before the Lord (for example like “spare the rod spoil the child”–oh the books written on this! But the rod–as you study Hebrew you learn what it was used for by the shepherd to direct the sheep…Psalm 23:4 “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”)
There are definitely times when we have to discipline our children–but each year I am learning more and more how to go to Him and seek His ways instead of anothers. You can’t write books about this–because the Lord leads us in different ways for different circumstances. We don’t follow a program or book or anyone other than taking it before the Lord and praying for guidance in how to redirect and guide the little lambs that He has entrusted to our care. There have been times in our parenting that I feel we were misguided, naive or just didn’t know any better and allowed others or books to influence us over HIS GUIDANCE.
My encounter with Africa and reflecting on how much we can be influenced by our culture made me put the books away–trust Him more–and tell my children things that were really just common sense. If you are ever scared, come to me. I’m always here. You can come and snuggle with momma and daddy–and you’re always safe here. We will always protect you…and you have no reason to fear as the Lord is the Lord of our home.” THIS many of the authors in those books would shake their heads to–but in our hearts…we knew it felt more like the picture of who our Shepherd is to us.
There was a season many years ago that I looked to other Christian parents and allowed them to influence me more than Him. For any act of disobedience–children would go to timeout or get a spanking–and I would watch how robotically perfect their little ones always seemed to be…how quiet their homes always were…maybe there was something to this. While this might work and be okay for some, for us–it just didn’t feel right. I watched how ashamed my children felt when I would send them to time-out…and I wondered does HE ever send me to time-out?? Does He ever cast me away?? OR does He hold me when I realize I’m wrong? Does He lead me to truth? Does He guide me and love me through it? SO–this is what we felt right about…so I join my little ones in time-out. I sit there with them…I hold them. I love on them. We talk about the wrong that was done…and amazingly–unlike shame–tears begin to fall as we talk…true and real repentance. The Word says in Psalm 51:17 “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” (Living Translation). Then we talk about forgiveness…and they go to their sibling or the one they have wronged and seek forgiveness…which is so much sweeter, real and changing after we have talked it out together and experienced true repentance.
We’ve never let our little ones cry themselves to sleep…hence, they’ve learned to love napping–so our 6 and almost 7 year olds even still enjoy naps…just like their momma. My dearest friends know never to ring our home after lunch time as the babies are always napping–and I’m normally curled up with the older two reading aloud and then we all three drift off together…if you ever see how we spend our mornings to the fullest we all can use an afternoon nap together on most days too. Our discipline isn’t what others would call strict–I never let my little lambs stray far (I love the picture of a shepherd with his sheep)–and we deal with things right when they happen. Things aren’t perfect by any means–but there are lots of hugs–lots of kisses–and lots of love…and even lots of direction and redirection.
As we have sought Him for day-to-day parenting, I have realized more and more just how much I ENJOY being WITH my children. They go EVERY WHERE with us. I’m dreading leaving them in 2 weeks to go to Africa (the only place I don’t take all 4 of them right now;). Richard and I take turns going–and their hearts are being shaped knowing that when mommy and daddy go away that we are going to love on and serve little ones just like them who do not have mommies and daddies to love them. They often collect their toys for us to give–and this is something those books and programs or methods just can’t do for you in parenting. I am learning the Lord will still call me to do radical things even as a parent–and some times it will require even my going across the world or planning something crazy like a retreat for other moms–but they are also radically shaped as they watch us follow Him no matter what. THIS is something the books and programs can’t teach you…and something we might have missed if we were too preoccupied trying to fit our family in a box.
We’ve decided not to compare ourselves to others–and to not worry so much what others think of how we parent. We do not worry about tomorrow–because today has enough of it’s own…and we have a firm commitment to ENJOY EACH DAY TO THE FULLEST…which often means…the laundry can wait, it’s okay to have dessert before dinner, there is joy in taking care of one another and loving one another, and life is just too short not to have a lot of fun every day.
We have a lot of gatherings in our home–and try our best to create community and teach our kids to love others too. I’ve seen how much they learn by simply watching us–and they have taught me so much about simply enjoying the moments and not getting caught up in all the stuff that our culture throws our way, says we need to do or teaches what makes perfect parenting. Just today I was telling a friend our kids often climb in bed with us…so there was plenty of room here if they ever needed a place to stay. (WHAT? she said.) Yesterday I saw on a friends Facebook status a debate form over moms choosing not to nurse for whatever reason. THIS is all completely the culture of the world too–to look down on what others are doing if we don’t do it ourselves instead of simply LOVING AS HE LOVES and ENCOURAGING ONE ANOTHER IN ALL THINGS. The greatest thing we can do against our culture–is to simply not go with the flow, not compare ourselves to others and to seek the Lord’s best for our own family day by day by day (and speaking of…His Word encourages us to not be conformed by the patterns of this world.) I’ve only been parenting for 7 short years–and I have a LONG way to go and A LOT to learn…but I’m thankful that in this short time I have learned that the culture will not be the influence for our family but HE WILL–and we will take each day as a GIFT and enjoy this perfect gift from our Father in Heaven.
May you SEE HIM in your days. May you be drawn to follow. And may your children be guided by His overflowing love through you.