You’re Not A Prop {subtext series}

I’ll just start this post out by saying I’m going to step on your toes. And if you’re someone who gets the whole way through and doesn’t feel like I did that, please don’t email me to let me know that’s the case because I prefer to believe we are all equally guilty.

There are a million different ways we do this to our kids; some obvious and others really subtle. I think social media is one of the most blatant areas, and let’s face it; it has changed the face of parenting. If we call it anything other than a game-changer, we’re lying to ourselves.

For example.

When I was eight, a birthday party meant a paper crown and some friends with knee-high socks skating at the local rink.

And nobody expected any different. The only people who knew what it looked like were actually there, and trust me, they were too stuffed with store bought cake to care what my mom had hot-glued as part of the decor.

Moms weren’t uploading or applying filters. They were watching us skate. And I know that because remember them pointing and laughing as we rounded the corner for the millionth time.

There are parts of the existing photos that I wish I could change. For example, the fact that my mother was sporting a perm that made Richard Simmons look like a hair underachiever.

But I wouldn’t change the memory.

And it doesn’t get better because other people “like” it.

To be fair, she wasn’t under the same pressure we tend to be under now.

Kids, do you know we couldn’t even see those pictures that day? No. Seriously. We had to push the button and just hope they turned out when we picked them up from the drugstore a few days later.

So we had to rely on (wait for it…) the experience itself to satisfy us.

There’s a lot about social media that’s fantastic, and I for one am super glad I can check my phone to see if I captured an image the way I wanted to, but there’s a real danger that’s underneath it.

I’m not the first to talk about this, I know, but I want to say it in a way that maybe you haven’t fully considered.

Are your children convinced that the following statement is true?

The value of this moment is in experiencing it with you, not in what others will make me feel about it.

We aren’t fooling them. They see us click, click, click, and stare at our cameras.

It used to be that we were staring at them.

Social media doesn’t have to be bad, and it’s an amazing way of sharing glimpses of life. I’m not saying we shut the machine down.

I’m just challenging you to ask yourself this: Am I documenting or directing?

Please don’t fool yourself into thinking your kid doesn’t know the difference in a party thrown for her and a party thrown for Pinterest. Because you can spend all those hours holed up in the garage constructing what you believe will be the pinnacle of party success without stopping to evaluate whether a 2 year old is actually capable of appreciating a full scale recreation of a Parisian cafe.

The cafe is not for her, it’s for you.

Please close the cafe and find a roller skating rink.

I know I’m sounding harsh here, but I’ve had it up the top of my mother’s perm with people acting like this is all for our kids. It’s so ridiculous.

You can actually give your kids a good childhood even if you never put cake-pops in a mason jar or hang homemade bunting from one tree to another. I promise.

I’m not saying you should stop being creative if this is what you love and your passion comes from creating it and then letting your child revel in it. What I’m saying is that if you’re spending more time with your macro lens than you are hugging the birthday kid, you’ve missed the point. And they know it too.

I’ve been to a bunch of kids parties in the last few years that were done up to the NINES, but I watched the mamas laugh and play and enjoy it all. The kids loved it, and everyone was happy. I know it can be done-I just don’t think it’s the norm.

It’s not just birthday parties, we all know that. It’s life in general when you feel like people you don’t know are evaluating your skills as a mother based on a snapshot. And guess what? You now get to twist, crop, edit, and filter that sucker until it looks the way you wish it really had.

It’s a lot of pressure, that’s all I’m saying.

They aren’t props to make our stage look better, and you know when you’re acting like they are.

For those of you who don’t have any “online presence” because you’re “way above that” and would “never subject your kids to that” or “give in to the pressure,” I have bad news. You’re not exempt.

You can make your kid a prop in every area of life. How about your faith? Do you feel like you make them act certain ways in situations because it reflects how good of a Christian you are?

I don’t, but I feel like it might be a possibility for some of you less-holy folk.

Right.

Like the time Kate came running home from playing with a neighbor and I listened to enough of the conversation to decide that the other mom probably thought I was a bad person and decided to march her across the street to apologize.

“Hi Valerie. Kate told me a little about what happened and she really wants to say she’s sorry to Abby.” We both look at Kate anticipating her response. It wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.

“I didn’t say that and I’m not sorry.”

Luckily, Valerie and I got a great laugh out of it, and I got a lesson I will never forget.

When you’re making your kids a prop, your play is going to get rotten reviews.

She wasn’t sorry, and she shouldn’t have been. In fact, she wasn’t wrong. But I wasn’t as concerned about that as I was about looking right. Now that’s an attractive quality, isn’t it?

I’m not proud of it, but I’m owning it because I want you to as well. I don’t do it perfectly, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned areas where I really needed to grow and for the sake of my kids, I’ve been diligent about working on them. For us, that means that as far as social media, I don’t post anything without their permission. Obviously Charlotte is too young for that, but the others have to tell me it’s okay for me to put it online.

I also keep kind of a “running tab” in my head of what I’m presenting. I try to make sure I’m being honest about the mess as well as the beauty of life, and it’s not for completely unselfish reasons. I love when people “like” a picture of my kids holding hands and singing a praise chorus, but it means the world to me when they see the underbelly a little and say “I get that. Because I’m in it too.”

And here’s something really important to understand as far as being props. What makes them work is the feeling that they’re essential and they’re valued outside of what they offer your little production.

I thought about this analogy with regard to the way the Lord loves and sees us, and it fell short of being a perfect reflection. The truth is, we are props in His play. Not useless, unmoving trees or teeth (you would think that a random choice here unless you know that my breakthrough theater performance was as a bicuspid molar in my third grade play. I don’t want to sound egotistical here, but I basically redefined the role of molars in school productions for years to come. It was that good, and you can ask my dad if you don’t believe me.), but it’s His stage.

We dance around and breathe life in and out because we want to make the Director known. And it’s spectacular.

He delights in us.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if I made up a new filter name like “washed by the blood” and tried to make a profound statement about the way He sees us? Yeah, I didn’t think so either, so I won’t.

But it’s true.

He loves us in a way that should inspire us to love our kids-not because of what they offer our image or our status, but just because we like watching them skate.

I’m tempted to go back through this and soften the edges, check the grammar, and make sure I said what I wanted to, but I’m not going to.

So if I missed a comma, please accept my apologies.

And know that they’re missing for a good reason.

Four good reasons, to be exact.

Go love well, and don’t wait for anyone else to tell you you did.

You never know for sure how many times you have left to see them skate around the bend, and I wouldn’t want you to miss it.

:)

Love,

A

 

 

Rushing & Pausing {Subtext Series}

Well I hope your evaluation period has been as eventful as mine was. Or maybe I don’t. I don’t know what the win is on that one:)

I’m not necessarily going to post these in any particular order, but I’m going to start with something that I saw a lot in the comments because it was one of my first realizations as well.

So, category one: Life is not a crisis.

And when I say that’s the category, what I mean is that it’s supposed to be what I’m teaching, but upon further investigation I realized there was a serious disconnect between that idea and what I was conveying.

Let me break down some of my popular phrases.

Hurry up!

Right now!

Come on!

Let’s go!

Now. NOW!!!!!

Like, all the time. All. The. Time.

And my tone is typically closer to, “We are being chased by an escaped convict” than “We are running 5 minutes late to a play date at Chic-fil-a.”

Researchers refer to this as “chronic overreaction mode,” and identify unhealthy patterns we are beginning to see in children who are growing up in a constant “fight or flight” mode. Everything is treated as an emergency.

Not too long ago I walked into my bathroom and saw Charlotte playing with my high heels, holding a purse. She was fumbling with getting the second shoe on and kept saying things like, “Okay, go. Alright. Let’s hurry. Almost done…” while acting like her entire person was on fire.

Apparently panic is the new tea party.

And here’s the part I found the most ironic. A good percentage of the time (at least half, I  would guess), there was actually no time constraint that would lead to comments like this. It’s like I have an internal clock that tells me I need to speed things up even when there’s no external reality demanding it.

The bottom line is that oftentimes I create an atmosphere of stress and perceived need when there is none. I’m really feeling like there’s not a positive outcome by insisting that every moment in life serves to make you feel like you’re late for the next one.

It has gotten to the point where I genuinely have trouble just enjoying the calm because I feel like there must be something pressing that I’m missing somewhere.

And they feel it, no question. They feel shuffled and controlled and, well, like they need to get on board mommy’s crazy train or else they might just get left behind.

All aboard, kids. Don’t mind me driving with the trunk open-we HAVE TO GET TO PUBLIX BEFORE THEY SELL OUT OF APPLES AND CEREAL AS THEY OFTEN DO.

I was curious how many times Jesus told people to hurry; want to take a guess?

Technically, there was one time. He was talking to Zacchaeus and told him to hurry and come down from the tree so He could go have dinner with him, but the original Greek word implies something more than just “speed it up.” Namely, that Jesus wanted him to listen right away and be convicted…not so much that He was worried the grits were burning. It was an urging to move, make haste in pursuing goodness. Not exactly what I mean when I say it.

I don’t want my children to grow up feeling like they were always hurried. Yes, there will be times when we need to, umm, make haste, but that doesn’t need to be the standard protocol.

On the other hand, I’m pretty good about doing the opposite when they are on the asking end. Here are my other frequent “time-related” comments. See if any of them sound familiar.

Not right now, honey.

Maybe in a minute.

Just a sec.

Hang on.

Give me a minute.

Later.

Again, why? Because I really can’t do it right that second? No. Not usually. More likely it’s because it’s my knee-jerk response. I’m not kidding when I say I caught myself using those words in completely illogical situations, simply because they so frequently fall out of my mouth. Telling my children to wait is like breath to me. And it’s a proud moment, let me tell you.

Now, of course there are times when these are appropriate, but “Could you pass the broccoli” is not one of them. Oh, you want to color with me? Maybe later. (2 minutes pass) “Hurry and come here girls! I need to run out real quick…

It’s a tug of war, and nobody wins. And the fact of the matter is, the heart response is the same for them: “I am the priority, and my schedule is boss. Work around me.”

Ouch.

I’m painting a rough picture here, and I don’t want it to feel like we’re signing up our kids for therapy just because we’ve done this, but I do think we need to assess it.

What’s the reason I do that? I guess because at the ugliest level, I want to be in charge of the hours. I get frustrated when it’s not done the way I want it to be. And have I conveyed to them that they are to squeeze themselves into the gaps according to my preferences?

I hope I haven’t, but I could feel the Lord showing me my own sin in this area right away. Don’t misunderstand me-I am in charge of them, and they are to respect me. The issue is that I have put too much emphasis on a non-issue, and have often missed the big picture of teaching them to love and serve one another.

Jesus doesn’t tell them they need to work their way into His demanding schedule. He doesn’t tell them they’re in the way of His more important stuff. He doesn’t keep typing when they wander in, telling them He’ll be out in a minute.

He doesn’t hold up a “shushing finger” while talking on the phone, explaining that He’ll be right there.

I know. We can’t be Jesus.

But the goal is to be as much like Him as we can be.

Parenting has the potential to teach us to die to self more than almost any other relationship, and assessing our failures has beautiful fruit-for us and our children.

So, the challenge for this week is to watch the rushing and the pausing. If they’re legitimate and necessary, sure. But you might be surprised at how often they aren’t.

Or at least it would be nice if you could tell me that was the case.

Assuming that you recognize any of these tendencies in yourself, I’ll tell you what I’ve done to try and combat it.

I sent them to boarding school.

Sorry. Kidding. It’s been a long day.

No, actually what I’ve found is that every time I use an uneccessary “NOW!” phrase, I apologize. I tell them I shouldn’t have acted like it was so dramatic. And we laugh about it.

So much of good parenting is about making life a safe place for grace.

I’ll tell you this too: when I do tell them it’s time to go, they are a whole lot more likely to come running than they were a few months ago. It’s not a perfect science, but I’ve seen a difference. And in retrospect, “running” wasn’t the right word. I meant “meandering in a semi-dressed and quasi-obedient manner.”

On the other end of the continuum, and because it was really something I felt the Lord impressed upon me, I have drastically reduced my usage of the “hang on” type comments. If I’m asked a question, I try my best to respond in a gracious, honest way. If it’s something I can’t physically do, I explain that. But I’ll just go ahead and tell you it’s pretty rare that I’m duct-taped to my chair, incapable of coming to look at the newest member of Kate’s earthworm collection.

I don’t really need a minute.

They, on the other hand? Do.

I’m praying for all of you mommies out there as you evaluate yourself in light of this stuff-and as always, I sure would love to hear any thoughts you want to share.

 

Remember, friends-life is not a crisis :)

 

 

 

 

 

The Subtext

I know, I know.

It shouldn’t really be called a blog when I come over so infrequently.

I gave up guilt for Lent so I’m just not going to make a big thing out of it. Actually I didn’t think ahead enough to give up anything for Lent. And now I kind of feel guilty about that too.

I got a sweet message on Twitter the other day from a gal who wanted me to know she still checked over here every day, and it was the sweetest thing to me. I have had a lot going on in my world these past few months and I think I just kind of checked out of my blog until I could get through it. So, for the few of you still hanging out, thank you! I’m going to write more and try to be interesting and spiritually deep and funny. But it’s entirely possible that I will fail on at least 2 of those at any given point. What can I say? I set the bar high.

I am writing, though. And it’s absolutely wrecking me.

Pretty sure it’s the hardest book I’ve ever worked through, and I can only pray that I still have a publisher when I get to the end of it. If I get to the end of it. Kidding! I totally probably will.

So, there’s that. I’ll go ahead and be selfish for prayer at the front end…because I need it.

{Thank you:)}

I spoke at the dotmom conference recently (the link will take you to details about the next dotmom conference, and it’s going to be AMAZING-I’m trying to go to it myself because I love it so much:)), and my topic was “Evaluating what the sub-text of your parenting is teaching your children about the way God loves them.” Because that sounded easy and non-invasive. Awesome.

I can tell you this with certainty-it was an area the Lord wanted me to work on in my life, and it’s been pretty rough. It’s also been great, which is why I want to spend a little time on here chatting about the process with you, hoping it will bless you as a momma like it did me.

As I prayed through it in the weeks prior, God challenged me to take an active stance in my own home in ways I had been failing to do so. I want to continue to flesh out the places He revealed as weak, and I want to invite you to do the same. I’m going to put a couple of these posts up and I’m going to be honest with you about my shortcomings. It was a lengthy talk and there were a lot of different things that I didn’t even get to because, well, it turns out that understanding you are a representative of the Gospel to your kids is kind of a daunting realization. It’s easy to feel ill-equipped and bury our heads because we’re overwhelmed with the responsibility.

What I noticed as I prepared for the conference was the way I subtly expressed a message (often totally unintentionally) that wasn’t in agreement with my “main message.” Here’s an example: What I tell my kids in words is that I value them as individuals, but I often parent them as if they are a group. I took note of how many times I used the word “Girls,” and it was pitiful.

I started taking notes on myself throughout the day and I was shocked by the frequency of sentences that conveyed a subtext that didn’t line up with my heart for them. Obviously this is a work in progress, but I will say I have made changes and have already seen results.

So, before I get into the details, I want to encourage you to spend the next few days making notes as you parent throughout the day. Write down the words you say the most frequently, the things that surprise you, and anything else you feel like the Holy Spirit leads you to consider. It’s the first step in what will be a long journey, but you have to start somewhere.

I know the comment system on the blog is pretty involved, and we’re looking into ways to make conversation easier. I would love for you to share anything you are noticing in the next couple days, so if you’re willing to, please leave your comments here or shoot me an email. I just know that others are blessed when we’re walking in humility, and it’s good to be reminded that none of us have it all figured out.

I have plenty of stories to share about what my little experiment taught me, don’t worry :)

So, if you’re game, start today. There’s no exact science to it, but I believe God will bless your efforts to live more like Him. Let’s be diligent students of ourselves as mothers, and allow the Lord to speak wisdom into the gaps. It’s important that you write it down in some way that will help you look back and categorize, but don’t worry about organization right this second. We’ll get there:)

I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and I would welcome thoughts from ladies who have already raised their children as well.

Ready? I hope so. I’m really looking forward to digging into it with you :)

Love,
Ang