Parenting Success?

The nurse checked the car seat to make sure she fit safely inside, handed us our discharge papers, and wished us well. Just like that, we were on our own as first-time parents. I panicked a little. “Shouldn’t we have to take a test or something,” I asked my husband. “We don’t know what we’re doing. How do they know we’ll do right by her? How can we possibly have enough knowledge to parent someone else? Are we ready for this?”

MickairportThat was almost nineteen years ago. Today, I watched that baby fly the nest as she boarded a plane bound for the Pacific Northwest. I felt the very same way I did then. Shouldn’t she have to take a test or something? How do we know we did right by her? How could we possibly have had enough knowledge to parent someone else? Is she ready for this?

She is. In spite of us, she is.

I’ve been reflecting on parenting in general a lot in the months leading up to this as we still have seven more children to launch. In some ways, I feel like I know less now than I did all those years ago leaving the hospital with the very first one.

Parenting is humbling. These gifts we’re entrusted with for a season are simply immature people with their own wills, ideas, personalities, and preferences. There is no formula or right way to shape them into perfect grown up versions of our dreams for them. No parenting book gets it right for every child or every family.

As much as we want to cling to the right way to parent, there is no such thing. What works for one heart, fails miserably for another. And as much as we like to plan, and prepare, and control, this is one area that all the research in the world pales to trial and error, and even that fades next to relationship.

We need to redefine our vision for success in parenting.  Everyone assumes if your children turn out okay, you’ve done your job well. On the flip side, there is a lot of judgment for parents whose children take a dark turn. We need to understand how little control we really have in the outcome of our children’s lives.

Our daughter will spend the next year with Serve Seattle, an urban missions institute, working in the inner city and training for urban missions. We are very proud of her. The temptation is great to receive the congratulatory pats on the back from our fellow parents, to revel a bit in a job well done. We are so happy for her and the choices she’s made, but we are under no illusion that our stellar parenting is the impetus for it all.

Because we know better. Based on our parenting alone, it could’ve gone either way. She could’ve just as easily gotten in with the wrong crowd and be heading in a very different direction. Because she has a free will, her choices have so very little to do with us.

We’ve all seen it. Siblings all raised by the same godly parents, but one is “the black sheep”. They loved him well and were faithful to point him to Jesus, but there he is. He’s spoken of in hushed tones by those outside the family. Other parents shake their heads and wonder what his did wrong.

Maybe nothing. Probably everything.

We all have. If we’re honest, we’d recognize and realize that we all do everything wrong. We all make all kinds of terrible mistakes in this parenting gig. We take the wrong approach. We’re harsh when we should give grace. We let things slide when we should take a stand. We’re quick to lecture when we should listen. We’re often selfish and lazy.

No one does it right all the time. Most of the time, we don’t even know what right is.

Parenting success is not evidenced by the people our kids become. Our success in parenting is based on our obedience to love our kids and point them to Jesus. It is not based on what they choose to do with Him. That is a choice only they can make. We can neither glory in their achievements nor wallow in shame over their failures.

Those parents whose adult children are on the wrong track didn’t screw up any more or less than the rest of us.  We all do it terribly wrong and remarkably right. I read recently that if you worry about being a good parent, you probably are.

Moving forward with our kids still in the nest, we’ll continue to love them, to point them to Jesus at every opportunity, to pray for wisdom constantly, to screw up frequently, to apologize often, and to afford them grace to do the same.

Because we want what’s best for them, we hope they choose to follow Jesus passionately and to love others selflessly. We want them to be responsible and productive members of society. But if that is not the course they decide to follow, it will not make us failures as parents. We are successful every time we choose obedience in showing them love and Jesus.

Anything else, regardless the outcome, and there is grace for that.

When Little Outgrows Big

EonKJI worry about the day she outgrows him. They are best friends now, two peas in a pod, attached at the hip. She pines for him during his long school days and waits eagerly for the bus at the end of the day. He is always delighted to see her. She understands his limited speech and doesn’t mind that he calls her only “J” and not fully “KJ” as is her given nickname.KJ&Eoncornhole

He is big brother by only 21 1/2 months, but they help each other, she by zipping his jackets and other fine motor tasks and he by flipping light switches or door locks out of her reach. I’ve noticed other ways she’s starting to help, though. Turning on his show because he can’t yet master the complicated remote is one. Taking the lead in what games they will play is the more concerning other.KJ&Eoncow

As she has passed him in speech, fine motor skills, and tech savvy, she will pass him in maturity, as well.

And I worry. Will she still adore her big brother? Will her face still light when she sees him? When her friends replace him as a confidante, will he be heartbroken?

KJ&EonblocksWhat happens when she is given more freedom than he as her maturity exceeds his? How will I soothe that injustice for my boy and still allow room for my girl to find her wings?

I try not to let myself go there. The anxiety wraps it’s tendrils around my heart like a vile weed. I need to cut it off, to pull up the roots, and enjoy the now. For now, it is a love fest, a tight bond, an amazing friendship.

It is enough. There will be grace for later when later comes. 

KJ&Eonpicnictable

Go Forth, Guinea Pig

Every mama blogger faces the disappointing times when she has so much material, but alas, it’s all related to her teens and tweens and she must shelve her desires for the greater good. (The greater good being the hope to one day meet her grandchildren.)

MicksittingMy oldest is now an adult, a high school graduate. Our relationship, often tumultuous, has given me some material over the years that I have dutifully shelved. I am beyond certain that she also has tons of material to share with her therapist should she ever take me up my offer to employ one to aid in her recovery from life in this, her childhood home.

We call her the guinea pig child. Let’s face it. It’s not like she came with a manual or anything and clearly we’d never done any parenting before, although before she came on the scene we did fashion ourselves parenting experts as most childless couples are wont to do. But really, we did not know what we were doing. Parenting was a grand experiment and she was the unfortunate guinea pig.

I read loads of books and did my best to implement the advice of the expert dujour. Unfortunately, I’m a fast reader and there are a lot of books. Poor kid probably thought she had whiplash from how quickly I changed the rules and my parenting style in those early years. I relaxed as more kids came along. Probably too much.

It can’t have been easy for the child who is a typical first born, type A, organized temperament to be raised by a creative, spontaneous, hippy mom like me. She picked up my slack, a lot. I can’t remember at what age she started taking the lead when we were out in public, but I remember admonishing many times over the years, “Stop leading when you don’t even know where we’re going.” I knew early that she would never be a follower. All we could do was pray without ceasing that she would be a follower of Christ and learn to be a servant leader of others. As the oldest of many, the leader (aka, bossy) part came easy. The servant part required much training over the years.

Until she has her own guinea pig child, she’ll never fully know how much we prayed for her or agonized over every decision related to her growth and development. From schooling choices, to television viewing habits, to diet, to the appropriateness of church youth group (Yes, really. Parents of first borns can be really uptight!).

And, although she was very vocal in her displeasure of many of our parenting choices, I never really knew where she stood in matters of faith or deep things of the heart. While we play, and joke, and tease, and shop, ours is not a relationship of midnight soul baring. Unlike her free-spirited, always wordy mother, this one holds things close to the vest.

knowbyloveAnd so I watched her life.  In her teen years, a picture began to emerge and I began to hope that maybe she’d blossom in spite of us.

Asked what she wanted for her sixteenth birthday and she was very specific. She wanted to get a group of friends together to complete sixteen random acts of kindness she had already written out. And so we went downtown and passed out gloves and sandwiches to the homeless, distributed cups of hot coffee to parking lot attendants, dropped off previously collected donations to the food bank, gave candy to workers waiting at the bus stops, and so much more. It was amazing, exhilarating, and totally outside my comfort zone. Once again, my child was leading me.

When we first brought Bo home from Serbia, Michaela was sixteen. Just two years shy of graduating, we all knew she wouldn’t be living in our home much longer. It would be nice if she cultivated a relationship with her new brother, but she really didn’t have to. He came to us a tough nut to crack, full of behaviors, and difficult to love. He painted with poop at every opportunity, threw food at the dinner table, broke everything he could, and pinched, hit, and kicked.

She dove right in. It wasn’t long before they shared a special bond and she became one of his trusted few.Mick&Bo

So, even though we’ve not talked about this for hours on end, it’s no surprise to me that she has chosen to serve as her life’s work. Specifically, that she is taking a gap year before attending college and leaving instead for a year in Seattle, WA. She will be working with Serve Seattle, a ministry of Urban Missions Institute, which trains young people through hands on internships, Bible study, and coursework for urban ministry. It is a boots on the ground experience and, we believe, will well prepare her for the ministry she feels called to do.

While she will serve in all areas of urban ministry, she has chosen to specifically focus her attention on homelessness, human trafficking, and prison ministry.

Like all missionaries, even those in training must raise their own support. She has been selling off all she owns, and working hard all summer, and still she is coming up short. If you are willing to invest in the future, not just for our girl, but for our world, please give directly to Serve Seattle (tax deductible) here. Be sure and find her name, Michaela Lakes, by clicking the “I would like to support” box so it will fund her training specifically. Or, you can give directly to her gofundme account here.

I look at all the social justice arenas that break my heart for which I feel powerless to make real change, and I am filled with hope. There are young people like my girl with drive, passion,  strength, and smarts who are willing to be led only by the One who matters into the heart of it all to make a difference. Change will be made through them.

mickmeMostly, I am filled with humility and gratitude that He took all our mistakes and failures, covered them with grace and mercy and allowed our daughter to find Him in spite of us. Her presence will be keenly missed in our home. My heart, quite frankly, will be ripped in two when she gets on that plane. But, as true with the last eighteen years, I know with certainty, there is grace for that.

To My Son With Anxiety

My Dear Son,

Anxiety is a thief. It sneaks in and robs us of peace, and the overall sense of well-being. It steals sweet sleep replacing it with hours of clock-watching worry. Sometimes it captures actual breath, replacing oxygen with a flood of adrenaline and a racing heart. 

Anxiety is a bully. It lies in wait, patiently watching for a revelation of weakness before pouncing and exploiting the vulnerability. It twists the truth and leaves us confused and wretched in its wake. 

Anxiety is an enemy, forcing us to draw up battle plans and research medicinal weaponry. It attacks from behind, slamming us to the ground leaving us gasping, clutching, writhing, and terrified. 

Anxiety is a liar. It magnifies the mundane, convincing us monsters really do exist, the end is near, the crack is ever growing. It turns shadows into beasts, joint pain into cancer, whispers into pink slips.

In our home, there are two of us who struggle with anxiety disorder. 

But it affects us all. 

I struggle with panic attacks that often visit in the middle of the night if I’ve been awakened for any reason. After I reign in my breathing and convince myself that my pounding heart and aching chest are not the beginning of the end, I lie awake for hours and listen to the ticking of the clock. I mitigate the night wakings with a white noise machine, a silenced phone, black-out shutters on the windows, and strict instructions to you children to wake Daddy if you have a bad dream instead of me. Inconveniences that add guilt to the worry cocktail I find myself sipping in the throes of it. 

You, on the other hand, struggle with outbursts and anger when you feel out of control or ill-prepared for some new event or change in routine. We’re often lulled by our own complacency and are caught unaware when a meltdown occurs, usually when we are pressed for time and ill-equipped to deal with the fall-out. The whole house is up-ended and you are left exhausted, sullen, and scared. We try to mitigate the meltdowns with calendars, daily schedules, and verbal notification of what’s to come. But, sometimes we forget. 

We get busy and forget to put the checks in place. We set you up to blow. And blow, you do. As soon as your anxiety builds and the bomb is triggered, I realize what we’ve done and how we’ve failed you. I am so sorry, son. I have no excuse. The guilt washes in like a wave, triggering my own anxiety, and the cycle continues.

I want to warn you, honey. As you get older, there are those who will tell you anxiety is due to sin, some personal moral failure on your part. Others will be convinced your faith is weak. If you spent more time praying, seeking, reading the Bible, rebuking the enemy, repenting of sin, singing praises, and memorizing Scripture, surely you could lick this.

You’ll want to believe them. Sometimes you’ll think maybe they’re right. Maybe you’re not doing enough. Or, maybe you’re just not enough. It’s discouraging and demoralizing to think about. You’ll feel the weight of it becoming heavier, the shame of it almost as paralyzing as the condition itself. 

The temptation is to minimize and pretend, to act as if you have conquered this. A past struggle is acceptable fodder for conversation, a testimony, a celebration. No one wants to be reminded of a continued thorn they’ve already prayed with you about a hundred times. The clear message will be that your inability to overcome must be your fault. 

But it’s not. 

It’s not your fault, son. In the words of Carlos Whittaker, those who would tell you otherwise should “Read the Bible. It’s filled with crazy people like me killing it for God.” Striving to do enough or be enough to vanquish your anxiety only keeps you focused on yourself and renders you ineffective. I don’t know why we do that to one another. Frankly, you don’t have time for that. Wallowing in the why and being ashamed is counterproductive to your purpose and a distraction you can’t afford. 

Don’t let them steal your time. 

There is a whole community around you with gaping wounds to be healed, people who are desperate to know the God who gets you through. Because God will get you through this. His grace is sufficient for you. His strength is perfected in your weakness. He has not forgotten you. He loves you. He knows you and He is on your side. 

I hope this nemesis fades away as you leave childhood behind. I hope this letter is never needed. But if you do find yourself with anxiety as your foe, I hope we will have provided you with the tools you need to cope, to find peace, to love well, to leave this world a better place, and to shine. More than anything, I hope you know this: 

There is grace for that.

Love,

Mom