How Then Will You Raise Your Kids?

boys in dads shoesHow are you going to raise your kids then? In regards to faith, I mean.

It’s the question my publicist asked me early this summer on the phone. I took the call outside my favorite local coffee shop, and when he asked, I slid down against the brick of the strip-mall, my mind completely blank.

When I didn’t respond, he cleared his throat and carried on. People will ask you this question. You should think about how you’ll answer.

Four months later, my book is out, and I’m getting the question, just as he said I would.

And I still have no idea how to answer it.

*

First, you should know, I am Mama to two wild-hearted blonde boys. Dane and Liam are 4 and 2 respectively, which means I am in the high-intensity years.

It’s heady joy, a heart so full of toddler kisses and pre-school curiosity and arms flung-wide open, waiting for you to scoop him up, to hold him close.

It’s desperation and exhaustion and yelling in the soup aisle at Festival Foods to just GET BACK INTO THE CAR CART RIGHT NOW OR I WILL STUFF YOU IN THERE MYSELF.

And I want my kids to grow up with a healthy faith, with a steady beautiful picture of God. I want them to avoid some of the painful lessons I had to learn; I want them to feel free to question while knowing that they are still Enough for God.

But then, I always thought I’d be better at this Parenting thing. Each day the thin rope of patience holding my Crazy in frays and frays and frays some more until Mama loses her ever-loving mind.

The key to raising spiritually healthy kids is intentional parenting, someone tells me in an email, and the word intentional fills me with a rush of inadequacy.

Because some mornings, I wake early and pray thoughtful, heartfelt prayers for my boys and for the men they will become. I pray for Dane to be brave enough to love God and to love others and that Liam will learn the strength of gentleness. I hold my kids quietly in my heart before the God who loves them more than I could possibly ever love them. The God who knows them inside out, knows the people they will become and what they will have to endure to get there.

But on many other mornings, Liam wakes up at 4:15 and refuses to go back to sleep and I glare at him with the fire of a thousand suns while I hand him his juice cup and turn on The Incredibles.

Dane wakes up and throws a first-thing-in-the-morning tantrum because Liam picked out the wrong movie, and it’s not even 6am and I am yelling at my four-year-old to PULL IT TOGETHER DUDE. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!

Every now and then, Dane tells me that he’s afraid, and so we stop, right there in the car, and pray that God will help him to be brave. And then we talk about how God is here. God is here. God is HERE with us all the time.

We’ll forget to offer a prayer of thanks before dinner, and he’ll fling wide his voice of praise. THANKS GOD FOR THIS WONDERFUL FOOD! We’ll all echo his heartfelt sentiment, “Yes, thank you God!” and it’s the sweetest of gifts being handed across the table to the unseen Love hovering somewhere in us, among us.

But then there’s the hair pulling and the biting. The “I DON’T LIKE YOU MOM” screamed from the top of the stairs. The other day, he said dammit, in the car, and it shook me to my core. Because though I work very, very hard not to let my swear monkey out in front of the kids, I’m pretty sure it’s my fault.

How then will you raise your kids?

I want to laugh. I want to cry. I want to tell you to ask someone else – certainly there must be experts on this sort of thing. I can’t even get my kids to eat vegetables, let alone tell anyone how to help their kid learn to love Jesus.

I want to tell you I have no idea.

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But then there’s this:

Before bed tonight, Dane and I read the letters in his alphabet book one at a time. He’s learning to recognize them, and it amazes me when he picks a letter out of a lineup and knows what it is.

Though we’ve been reading to him since before he could focus his eyes on a page, I’ve spent very little time “teaching” him his letters. I pin every brilliant idea for pre-k reading activities that I come across on Pinterest. I have every intention of doing them…but then my 4am-wakeups catch up with me, and I have nothing left to give.

So instead, Dane and I snuggle on the couch and in front of PBS, him zoned in to Daniel Tiger, me dozing next to him. His thick blonde hair sticks to my cheek as we rest, and it’s not letters, not numbers, not intentional parenting in the least. Yet, also, somehow, I know these moments to be precious.

And here he is, less than two months into preschool, and he knows that’s a W. And that one’s a T. And that one’s an R for Reese. He is learning in spite of me and because of me all at once.

He’s learning because it’s time.

mom and liam hayride

I’m am learning too, in my own imperfect way. I don’t have strategies really. I have a bunch of books on parenting-type-things, none of which I have actually read.

This is learning is messy. It’s trial-and-error. This is failing and apologizing, sitting down next to my small boy, saying, I’m sorry I said that. I’m sorry I got frustrated with you.

What this is is reminding us both that words mean things, that God is here, that No, Halloween candy for breakfast is really not a great idea for Mommy OR Boys. We have to give our body healthy things.

And if I’ve learned anything from my on fire years, it’s that I can no more muster up perfect intentionality in my parenting than I could in my “quiet times” or in my “witnessing” or my “thought life.” My focus fails, my patience frays and breaks, my love, while always there, is sometimes inconsistent and broken. It doesn’t look like True, Perfect Love ought to.

And yet, God is here. He is working, moving in these boys’ lives through me and in spite of me all at once.

His Grace is stitching together the things I break in them with my inevitable failings. His Love is strong enough for them to stand on when mine is not.

So I pray for my boys some days, but mostly I pray that where my intentionality fails, Grace would sweep in like a wind and do its good work.

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I tuck him in, and he wants a friend. He’s lonely in his bed, and I know that this is a trick. It’s a ploy to stretch out bedtime, and some nights I am over it, and I lose it totally and storm out with heavy footsteps in the hallway.

But some nights I remember. Some nights, I touch his hair, whisper, “God is here with you Dane. He loves you so much.”

His lip trembles, “But I want someone real,” He says. “I can’t see God.”

“Oh Baby,” I say. “God is real, It sometimes doesn’t feel like it, and it’s okay to be sad that you can’t see him. But I want to tell you that he is real, and he is here.”

“He’s here, Mom?”

“Yes, Baby. Always.

And it’s not planned or scripted. There is no Bible study for this, no memory verse.  It’s not a moment of intentionality, but a moment of grace that I have found myself inside of.

I pull the blanket over him, kiss his head, and I know, somehow, that these moments are precious.

58 thoughts on “How Then Will You Raise Your Kids?

  1. Sweetness 🙂 Here’s a short post that may encourage you as it did me: http://www.beyondtheredchair.com/2013/10/14/confessions-of-a-not-so-perfect-mom/ The blogger is my cousin, so I know that her three boys turned out amazing, thus I find her words particularly meaningful. I think you’re doing the best thing–keep asking the questions, keep praying whenever you can, keep your arms wrapped around your sweet boys, and keep God’s grace ever in mind! 🙂

  2. so great. the other day ramona was in the grocery store hollering about how she wakes up in the middle of the night and says “GO AWAY HOLY SPIRIT. GO AWAY!” so . . . we have a ways to go.

    when i get really overwhelmed thinking about all of this, i remember anne lamott writing about teaching sunday school at her little church, and teaching the kids all the subversive parables of Jesus. and that made me really happy. I could do that.

  3. I can so relate. The word intentional makes me squirm. But the other day I noticed that my daughter always opens the blinds so she can watch the sunrise and I thought- Oh. Yes. I will give myself a day off from mother guilt.

  4. As someone who doubted to the core as a child and well into adulthood, I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a safe place to ask questions. That your son knows he can say this to you — “but I want someone REAL” — well, I think that’s huge. You’re making safe places.

  5. I love the humbling reality of apologizing to little ones – both for their sake and mine. So much of this parenting life is modeling. Thankfully God makes it impossible to model without us being changed as well.

  6. Beautiful! That is definitely one question my sister and I have talked a lot about. How do we not raise our girls to have all the baggage that we’ve taken years to get rid of? It will be a long process with a lot of talking, I’m sure. I remember reading a blog a few weeks back about “What if I do it wrong? What if I go too far the other direction in a desire to not raise my kids like I was and they don’t discover God?” (Was it your blog? Sorry, too early in the morning for me to remember who wrote it.) What stuck with me about that post was the message that God is bigger than my motherhood and He can redeem any childhood or church upbringing. I can’t make things perfect for my kids, so I’ve let go of that. It’s a process of teaching, and we’ll figure it out as we go.

  7. “And yet, God is here. He is working, moving in these boys’ lives through me and in spite of me all at once.” I don’t have kids to raise yet, but this spoke to me today. I needed this reminder for so many areas of my life where I’m not sure if I’m doing anything right. Thank you.

  8. Oh sister. Oh, mama. You and me both. Tears on my keyboard right now. But you know what? You are doing great. YOU ARE DOING GREAT. And grace is for mamas, too.

  9. It’s all grace, Addie. Live real lives on our knees, say we are sorry, point to Jesus … and beg God to let them grow up to love Him, in spite of us. Absolutely.

  10. O man this is a question I ask myself a lot. As a Christian with some serious doubts and misgivings, what will I do? What will I tell my kids about God and Jesus? I can’t even tell myself the things I am supposed to be teaching them. It’s such a hard question, but I think we’ll probably make it up as we go along. So encouraging to read that I’m not the only one. Thanks for your heart.

  11. Oh Addie. As a mom of two boys aged 14 and 12, I love reading your stories about Dane and Liam and so often I resonate with your experiences, beautifully described. Other times I wish I could have been the kind of mother you are, just as you might wish to have done things differently. I can certainly tell you how to raise them – by being just exactly the creative, wild, intuitive, God-loving, child centred, crazy, beautiful person you are. I’m not saying there’s no place for “experts” – some of them have great ideas – but I firmly believe that if these are your children, you as the parents know best. Only as long as you love them unconditionally – of which I have no doubt – and that you never lose your own wild, precious self in parenting them, which if it hasn’t happened yet in these years of intensity, probably never will. And of course if anyone should ask you how to raise their kids, since you are now a “role model”, I hope you’ll tell them this same thing!

  12. Oh Addie. My gracious this was awesome. Bless you, Sister. You are not alone (and thank you for reminding me that we are not alone too). Isn’t it beautiful that through our children, Father shows us so much about His Life and Following Him and Faith and unending Love and how crazy it all is one Sponge-Bob day at a time…? Messy. Beautiful. Hair-pulling. Extraordinary. Sounds like Grace. Sounds like Jesus. If I may, I think you’ll get a kick out of my Halloween experience with my 5 year old, Delaney. So crazy. So good.

    Bless you BIG,

    Brandon

    http://brandonchase.net/2013/11/02/when-jesus-took-halloween-away/

  13. On my blog, mommylcsw.com, we talk about Good Enough Parebting, which is pretty much this. You don’t have to have it all together, get everything right, be intentional about every moment. You have a general idea of where you are headed, and course-correct when you get off track, with lots of I’m sorry and We can do better and counting on the Grace of God to fill in the gaps. I think you are doing just fine :). And as a family therapist, I would qualify as one of the “experts” you wish they would ask instead of you.

  14. Thank you. For parenting with all intentions and still being a broken mess. How then will you parent? As a beautiful mess in need of Christ. Every.Single.Day.

  15. Thanks for this, Addie. I can relate 🙂
    I occasionally feel this enormous pressure to MAKE my kids be a certain way,and then I get angry because I wonder that if I had them a decade later I’d be doing a better job. I’ll think, in those moments, that if only I’d had my twenties to myself, to figure things out, then I could pass my faith along more naturally to my children. Who knows if that’s true 😉

    I was so sad and angry when my oldest son, then five, came home from school and said he hopes he doesn’t go to hell. I SO didn’t want him getting someone else’s version of that, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to tell him about it either. That’s just one example of a time I had to take a deep breath and steer him toward the love of God while admitting to him that there are things Mommy’s not sure about.

    Maybe it’s a gift to our children to tell them “I don’t know”, to give them permission to have that thought safely. I don’t want them to flounder with no anchor, but I do think there’s an amazing peace that comes with being okay with uncertainty.

    I think you described beautifully how grace slips in, how it’s really not about us making anything happen. With kids, it seems that all the best moments are unplanned.

    1. Emily – you beat me to it. Allowing our kids to safely enter the cloud of unknowing, allowing them to accept the mystery of it all, allowing them to be vulnerable encourages them to feel empathy toward others and freely accept the Sacred Love that we all hunger for.

      They may never see God in the room, but they will know his presence in the same way we know that Love is in the room.

      My mom never taught me a single Bible verse, never prayed with me, and yet I grew up with her leading Bible studies in our living room. I grew up watching her study her enormous multi-volume Interpreter’s Bible. I grew up listening to both my parents sing in the choir, and volunteer, and serve, and give.

      I have known God for as long as I can remember. I was probably four when I emerged from the woods behind our house declaring joyfully to my mom that I had found God’s garden.

      I am still exploring it.

      That fire of the Spirit within me has never left. It poured out into my daughters. The Spirit leads their lives. And it is now rushing, clean, fresh, and copiously into their children.

      And somehow, in all this messiness, it works.

  16. Oh Addie, I’m right there with you, (which you probably already know from the fact that I heartily agree with you in the comments any time you talk about feelings of failure about mothering.)

    And this was very timely since I’m having an epic-fail sort of mothering morning. This morning it is not my kids. I’d like to blame my morning on PMS, but I’m afraid that that’s just the catalyst that’s amplifying all my impatience and grumpiness today. SO today it’s me that’s in need of much grace. And you know what? My little children are giving it to me MUCH better than I’m giving it to them – which is this very moment making me think that maybe I need to get myself off the “I need to fix this” pedestal and let myself be the recipient of God’s and other people’s grace. Even if the other people are the ones I keep thinking I need to be the example for. 🙂

    (And tell Dane that sometimes my lip trembles and I say, “But I want someone real,I can’t see God either.”)

  17. This was just a beautiful and comforting thing to read. I am dealing with the same question, not posed by people who are talking about a book I’ve written, but one I keep asking myself. I have 4 children–2 who were brought up during the time when I was ON FIRE. We were in the church every time the doors were open: they went to Sunday School, Awanas, VBS, and anything else that was offered. They were baptized after professions of faith in their elementary years. And yet, as they have approached adulthood, they have both decided to question the existence of God. My younger two have been exposed to my later years, which could probably be called “Ice Cold,” or “Slow Simmer.” My theme during this period of my life is “I Don’t KNOW, OKAY?!” For someone who thought they had all the answers, both spiritually and in regard to parenting, it has been a hard thing for me to admit, but it also feels more genuine than always having the pat answers I had in earlier years. In this process, my younger two have not been in church every Sunday. But somehow, I still see God’s light shine through in spite of my doubt. Will the younger two fare better, faith-wise, than the older two? It is a question that haunts me daily. But then I remind myself of my favorite verse, one that hangs on the fridge perpetually: “Yet I will call this to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23)

  18. Holey moley, Addie – look at these responses. This is such a huge and important area, one that needs grace breathed all over it. And you’ve done that right here, haven’t you? We blow it all the time (I wrote about a big blowin’ it experience for me over at A Deeper Family this week) – and yet. . . God is there, in and around and through. Your boys will survive and thrive, they will ask hard questions, they will make you crazy, they will learn to love well. All the things you touched on here – yes. YES.

  19. Hi Addie. I read your book last week and loved it. My children are 2 and 5. I often feel like I should be “doing” more with them and their faith. Then I realize that, like learning the alphabet letters, the learning comes in many messy tiny steps, day by day. I yelled at my son yesterday and hated myself but then I realized afterwards that the only way to teach forgiveness is to learn how to get it AND give it. If we as moms are perfect in our children’s eyes, how will they learn that it’s ok for them to mess up too? Come and visit my blog sometime. 🙂 http://www.murphymusthavehadkids.com

  20. You had me in tears. I’m a mommy of four. Two girls 9 & 7, and twin boys 3 1/2. Some days I’ve got it together, some days I fail miserably. Some days I’m full of wisdom and patience, and some days I’m lucky if I can count to three before I say something I’ll regret. I love how you’ve written this. God’s grace weaves through my children’s lives, fixing the things I’ve messed up. Thank you for this reminder. For being real and vulnerable.

  21. “I pull the blanket over him, kiss his head, and I know, somehow, that these moments are precious.”

    I wonder if the Holy Spirit thinks this about me when He pulls the blanket of grace over me.
    My two kids are on their own now. And as an recent “empty nester”, I’ve had several conversations with myself on my failures as a father. Though I’ve fought those lies they have come back at times to try to regain ground in my mind.
    This post has brought to me a strong sense of peace. I’ve taken a step back in time and replayed the old black and white films of my past as a father. They are scratchy and grainy at best due to all my imperfections but I see the thread of Gods hand in my fatherhood. It was in all the times I read to them and sang silly songs. It was in the times I helped with the homework or made them help me do yard work. But mostly, when they saw my weakness as a man. It was then when I could tell them about my only hope. My only chance of full redemption. My only chance of wholeness. It was in these moments I could share the true story of God’s grace.
    This post has reminded me to let go of the lies and that I did better as a father more than I care to admit.
    Thank you.

    1. I love this idea of the Holy Spirit and the blanket of grace. Beautiful connection. Thank you for commenting and for the kind words. The fact that you wrote this assures me that you are/were a fantastic Dad.

  22. Dearest Addie,
    What gets to our hearts more then our kids? It always amazes me how I can experience every emotion known to mankind, and a few that I am sure that I have invented myself, in a matter of a few minutes. I heard a man on the radio right before halloween talking about how you can relate the parts of carving a pumpkin to Jesus – “when you carve the ears you pray that you will hear God”, etc. I didn’t even buy pumpkins this year let alone carve them and now I find out that I missed another theological opportunity with my kids! Your posting was beautiful – I am printing it and hanging it in the kitchen to remind me of the beautifulness of not being perfect but being loved beyond belief.
    love you girl,
    barb

  23. Don’t feel bad about the ‘swear monkey’. When my now 20 yr. old daughter was 5, and I was having a really bad day, she did that “one more thing” that pushed that very last button in me, and I yelled at her to “Stop doing that right now, dammit!”. That sweet little face looked up at me, and in her soft little-girl voice, she said, “My name’s not ‘dammit'”. After a very stunned moment, I just started giggling, then laughing. She laughed along with me, and then said, “Well, it’s true, Mommy!”. And yes, I did apologize to her.

  24. “I pray we learn to stoke the fire of that unknowing in our young children and encourage them to keep those darling eyes wide open well into adulthood. I pray we teach them to doubt, to be comfortable with “I don’t know.” And to accept other perceptions of what cannot be known as equally valid, equally beautiful as their own.

    I pray we teach our children that different is not wrong.”

    https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/northern-lights

  25. Are you following me around? I’m just wondering because I just blogged this the day before you posted yours: http://evieloucronin.com/2013/11/06/how-deep-the-fathers-love-for-us/
    This is a beautiful post, and I thank you for it.

    I am struggling these days as a mom – with anger, from somewhere… and the fact that when my (just turned) 5 year old tells me that she doesn’t want to go to Heaven and she doesn’t want to follow Jesus – I want to blow up and then cry instead of whatever I’m supposed to be doing.
    I’m 90% sure she’s saying it to get a reaction out of me, but the 10% is looming large and I don’t want her little tiny soul to not GET how much God loves her. How “here” He really is.
    I bought your book on my kindle a couple weeks ago – still have read it yet, but it is there waiting. I grew up as a preacher’s kid ON FIRE. My youth minister called me “Steady Evie” because he know I’d always show up.
    Thank you for your honesty – and this safe place I’ve found for me… I thought I’d be awesome at this “mom” stuff, too, and instead, I find myself always struggling to keep my head above water.
    I’m gonna read your book this week. Your description of it made me want to read it right away – I just got distracted.
    Anyway – Thanks for being out here in the big wide internet. For voicing fears, concerns, strategies, contemplations, etc that others might be too afraid to share.

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