Monday, November 24, 2014

The Key Difference between Surviving and Thriving

          
          As mothers, it can be hard to escape the barrage of constant requests and find time to clear our minds.   It can be hard to give proper attention to our own needs, like eating or getting sleep ourselves.  When you compound that with the necessity of meeting life's challenges that inevitably arise along the way, it's easy to worry and get overwhelmed.
That's why something strategic happens when we gather for mealtime at my house.  After wrangling my littler one into his seat, having lengthy discussions with my older one about why we aren’t having candy before the meal, and reminding both of my boys to put their food down until we’ve blessed it, we are ready!  We say a prayer, and then we go around the table and say three things that each of us is thankful for.  Every day.  
            I’m trying to foster a grateful heart in my family.  Thanksgiving is the best antidote to worry and anxiety (Philippians 4:6).  It's therefore an important life skill.  I recently read that anxiety is on the rise in our country, with the depression rate growing by about 20% per year.  Couple that with society's increasing pressure on our children to excel, and there is a dangerous crucible.  Teaching our children the value of thankfulness is a way of grounding them.  They are more inclined to see the larger picture of God's grace and orient themselves accordingly.
            A spirit of thanksgiving doesn't just equip our children to be stronger on life's journey, but it frees us up as moms to better enjoy our own.  I have heard many experienced parents say that the days go by slowly but the years go by quickly when raising children.  Even though the days can be slow - and frustrating and draining at times - they are also filled with beauty.  I want to nurture a heart that doesn't miss out on the good that God has brought into my life.
          I am convinced that a spirit of thanksgiving is the key difference between being a mom who is surviving versus a mom who is thriving.  It’s a difference in perspective.  When we are able to praise God without ceasing, no situation can get us down.  We can use our strength to meet life's challenges rather than wasting effort in anxiety or worry.  And we can better enjoy the present moment all the while.  A Christian who knows the power of thanksgiving is an unstoppable force.  And a mom who knows it - well, she's the kind of mom I want to be.
*****
HAPPY THANKSGIVING from Vocational Mothering!  If you liked this, I encourage you to check out last year's Thanksgiving post.  Also, are you new to this blog?  Don't miss a post by subscribing by email on the homepage and receive a FREE PRINTABLE of the five scriptural promises to live by today!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Special Interview: Moms Helping Moms Foundation


Motherhood is a time of abundance.  We experience the joy and privilege of new life, marvel at its innocence, and celebrate its triumphant milestones.  Meanwhile, God grows our heart in ways that were previously unimaginable.  

But motherhood can also be a time of lack.  We are stretched emotionally, physically, and even spiritually as we wrestle with the expected and unexpected difficulties of this sacred task.  All of us wrestle, but some do so more than others.  It has been my joy and privilege to make the acquaintance of a mom who is well aware of that fact.  

Bridget Cutler started The Moms Helping Moms Foundation because she wanted to do something to help fellow moms in need.  She noticed the poverty rate in her home state was significant and climbing.  Her work organizing supplies for moms in New Jersey has garnered her national attention -- She was named a CNN Hero this year. But I met her because our children attend the same Christian preschool.  

Watch this short CNN Hero video segment to meet Bridget:


Bridget, in your own words, how would you describe the work of your organization?

"I started this organization in 2011 after my first daughter was born.  I wanted to help local families who were facing financial hardship get access to basic supplies for young children. Over the years we have grown, and we were granted 501c3 status last year.  Our organization collects donations of new and gently used baby items from families who no longer use them.  Through partnerships with local service organizations, we distribute the supplies to local families in need.  It's a very simple idea, but it's very impactful!  We have been told countless times that our help has lifted a burden and allowed recipients to focus on being better parents."

I am grateful for Bridget's vision and work.  The beauty of it doesn't stop with the donations themselves, however.  It also has to do with the face to face assistance that moms receive when they "shop" for free at the foundation's store.  We all know that motherhood supplies can be overwhelming and baffling at times - what a gift to have experienced moms personalize that aid!  

Would you like to help the Moms Helping Moms Foundation?  Click here to learn how you can donate your time or items if you live in or around Union, NJ.  Union is in the New York metro area, and it's the location of their new store. Otherwise, they accept donations through their website and certainly welcome your prayers!  

The foundation models that there is power in community.  I love the solidarity of moms coming together for a common purpose, and I pray each of us is able to do so in our respective communities. God will do the nudging; we just need to respond.  When we embrace our role as the body of Christ, we can make a big difference by offering even simple gifts.  Sometimes it just takes:
  • one text to check in
  • one phone call to show concern
  • one carpool shift to lift a burden
  • one donation to make a difference
...And one act of kindness to start a movement that can change the world.

*****

If you want to be a part of a community of moms who are looking to infuse God into motherhood, and receive spiritual support for its sacred task, consider becoming an email subscriber to this blog!  Those who do will receive a free printable - it's a beautiful rendition of the 5 scriptural promises to live by!

Monday, November 10, 2014

7 Expert Tips on Parents Talking Sex


Let’s be honest.  We live in a world in which sex is used to sell – you name it. 

The issue of sex concerns me as a parent, and I know I’m not alone.  The world is so intensely sexualized.  And instead of sex being portrayed as the beautiful, biblical gift that it is, it's used as a marketing tool and means of exploitation.  Further, children are encouraged to experiment with it earlier and earlier.  

I recently heard youth culture and sexuality expert Jason Soucinek give a lecture to empower wary parents.  Although this topic is a bit down the road for me with young children, I am always up for information gathering on important issues. And I'm excited to share this information with you - whether you are in the information gathering phase too, or if you have teenagers and need some workable advice now.

Sadly, the internet is currently children's number one information source on sex.  As parents, we know that we need to appropriately restrict their access to inappropriate material.  One source said that the average age of introduction to pornography is now only four years old due to the nature of public advertisements and computer pop ups.  But censoring is only part of the solution.  We have to be willing to talk about sex too.  

Why talking is important

The number one thing that Jason advocated is that parents be willing to talk to their children about sex.  Statistic after statistic proves that parents are simply the most influential in shaping their children's views.  This is true even if you think it isn't.  Even if you think your children aren't listening, even if it appears they are blowing you off - they're still influenced.  The key is to be willing to meet them where they are, really listen to their perspective, and be willing to "go there" in communicating our own.

What do I mean by being willing to "go there?"  Jason talked about how a parent's elliptical treatment of sex is often passed down.  If our parents didn't really address the issue with us, then we're likely to do the same with our children.  He was adamant that sex education is not the primary responsibility of schools or the church; these institutions should build upon a framework that parents have already established.  A direct line of communication between children and parents is essential.  

It is this direct line of communication that can save our children from unnecessary pain and provide them with valuable instruction.  It also encourages children to go to us first with questions.  Because the issue is so relevant and pertinent to our children’s formation, we should guard our role and create a safe and protective space for our children as their primary resource.

Framing the issue

Jason provided a helpful metaphor to breach the issue of sex with our children.  Sex is like an iceberg, he said.  Did you know that only 10% of an iceberg is above the water?  Yes, 90% of an iceberg is actually hidden underwater, and that’s what sunk the Titanic.

Like an iceberg, when people approach the issue of sex, they often think of the visible 10%, which is the physical act.  But sex is much more beneath the surface.  It also has social, communal, emotional, and spiritual components.  To neglect that would be to put ourselves at risk.

In an age when puberty is happening earlier and marriage is happening later, children must wrestle with the issue of sexual restraint more than any preceding generation.  Educating our children about the gravity of the act with its various components helps to balance out the pervasively superficial cultural view.  It’s also an entry point for a biblical discussion about sex - one in which sex is certainly celebrated, but framed as well.

7 Talking Tips

Jason had seven important tips for parents who are ready to talk with their children:

1.  Remember that talking about sex is more of a process than a confrontation.  This can remove tension on both sides and invite meaningful dialogue.

2.  Statistically speaking, we need to communicate important messages over 7 times.  Just having one good talk about sex isn't enough to ingrain the message.

3.  In order for the message to really hit home, a teenager needs to hear the same message from 5 different adults.  This is when cultivating relationships with other families who have similar values can be helpful.  

4.  We can't parent out of our own pain or our own shame.  Sexuality can be a constructive or destructive force.  If we have experienced pain, we need to be able to separate our experience from that of our child's - but that doesn't mean neglecting to appropriately share our wisdom.

5.  Don't shelter yourself.  Parents need to educate themselves.  Have your children play their music for you, listen to conversations when driving carpool, and read school newspapers – do “field research” so that you can give poignant advice.

6.  No age is too young to start answering questions.  Gear your responses to your child's age, and if they are on the younger side, invite them to tell you when they have heard enough to satisfy their curiosity without feeling uncomfortable.

7.  Be sure to use the proper names for body parts in your discussions too; this simplifies the communication line and allows any adult to understand your child should there ever be a concern.  (This is an important step in combating child abuse.)

On an issue this prominent in our culture, it’s a sad fact that the church has often been a lacking voice in the conversation.  As influential as the church might be, however, Jason’s research shows that parents are more successful in transmitting values.  So instead of pointing fingers, we as parents need to accept our own responsibility on the front lines.  It’s an important first step.

*****

Are you interested in learning more about navigating hot parenting topics from the Christian perspective?  I invite you to become an email subscriber to my blog and receive a free printable today!  In the past, I have covered topics like worldly success and eating disorders.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Parents, Is Success a Dirty Word?


This fall, my oldest son started kindergarten.  As he pulls his homework out of his backpack, I watch him sound out words, sort shapes, and draw pictures with crayons.  He tries his best to complete each task.  I find myself wanting to try my best too.  I want to try my best as a parent to balance challenging him and shielding him from our culture’s anxiety.  I want to provide him with every appropriate resource to excel yet protect his right to simply be a kid.  I realize each of these pressures rub up against how I – and we as a culture – dare to define success.

The fall is therefore a great time to reexamine our approach to it.  The most provocative article I read on success this year was featured in the Opinion section of The New York Times back in January.  The article, What Drives Success?, was co-authored by the Tiger Mom.  Amy Chua’s controversial, matter-of-fact style has made her a parenting icon that people either love or hate, but always have an opinion on.  Because of the article’s popularity, and because it reflects a cultural ethos that some would argue should inform parenting, it’s essential to revisit it from the Christian perspective. 

Financial Success

First, it is clear that Chua defines success as strictly monetary.  Although she admits that “material success cannot be equated with a well-lived life,” those who are successful are top-earners in her article.  Her view is therefore consistent with culture. 

It goes without saying that Christianity would not endorse an end goal of strictly financial success.  Instead of focusing on amassing material wealth, we are to seek and nurture the intangible blessings of this life.  With eyes fixed on Jesus and a drive to further his kingdom, we have the invitation to be a part of something bigger than our own selfish gain.  It is this ability to refocus contrary to culture that actually brings the true fulfillment all desire.

But if we stop there, we miss something.  There can also be an aversion to wealth in Christian circles that proves counterproductive.  Certainly, the sole pursuit of wealth is a hollow enterprise that’s contrary to the gospel.  But we cannot forget how God used the wealthy patriarchs of the Old Testament, or how Jesus commended the servant who wisely invested and skillfully multiplied his talents either.  Financial gain, if obediently accrued and generously given, can undeniably bring glory to the kingdom of God by funding ministries and aiding God’s people.

Ultimately, God cares about the heart.  As Christian parents, our goal is to best equip our children to wisely guard it and answer his call.  Success is therefore a measure of obedience and passion, not financial gain.  Some calls will naturally involve more influence and larger paychecks.  But if we teach our children intentional stewardship and the value of shining God’s light in their respective industries, we are doing our job. 

The “Triple Package”

Second, Chua asserts that there are three traits that together foster success.  The three traits form a winning “Triple Package,” and those who manifest them have this:  “The first is a superiority complex – a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality.  The second appears to be the opposite – insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough.  The third is impulse control…”

Certain cultural and even religious groups, like Mormons and Jews, have been better at manifesting the “Triple Package” than others.  It’s therefore interesting to consider how they resonate with Christianity and our parenting goals.  Going in reverse order, the third trait is an easy fit with the Christian faith.  Impulse control and the ability to resist temptation is not only something Jesus modeled, but it is a byproduct of the sanctification process.  We gradually die to the flesh to augment the Spirit.  Applying this scriptural tenant to our vocational obedience to God is natural.

Second, the trait of inferiority has some resonance.  We are mindful of our innate sinfulness and the scandalous grace of Christ.  We serve God not to attain salvation through our own merit, but in utter gratitude for his blessings.  Our life effectively becomes an ongoing doxology.  Teaching our children this principle to fuel their respective ministries is being faithful to the Christian message.

It is the trait of superiority that might leave our head spinning, but perhaps not necessarily so.  After all, we cannot forget that we are God’s chosen people.  This scriptural principle is not license for belittling – it is not that we are superior to others, but that God’s gifts to us are superior to what the world can ever provide.  When we claim the gifts of our faith – an unshakable trust in God, for instance – we can unlock a boldness to risk and be faithful, a confidence that is not conditioned by the circumstances.  It’s a valuable resource that’s sorely lacking in our often frantic, anxious, and short-sighted society.

Looking at my kindergartner, I don’t want him to be afraid of worldly success, but I don’t want it to be his sole driving force either.  I don’t want his life to consist of desperately trying to keep up on society’s hamster wheel, but rather to be an exciting adventure of call and response to God.  Toward that end, we can best guide the heart of our children by honestly examining our own.  We need to look inward and parse our own desires before inadvertently teaching them.  For nurturing a heart that’s focused on God, is emboldened to risk and faithfully utilize every available resource for his kingdom – that’s the kind of success a parent can be proud of

*****

If you liked this post, then check out Tiger Mom and French Musings.  These articles help you examine other global parenting models and find out what you can take away as a Christian parent.

Also, don't forget to sign up for my blog's email list to get a free printable!  The printable is a lovely rendition of five scriptural promises you'll want your children to live by!