Because we all have it. Maybe you experienced loss or hurt or abuse as a child; maybe you carry regrets from poor decisions you have made in the past. Sometimes our baggage can make us doubt ourselves as parents. We become tentative, insecure, inconsistent. We worry so much about hurting our kids—either by repeating mistakes other people have made with us or repeating our own mistakes—that we freeze up. Instead of leading our kids confidently, with a godly balance of firmness and grace, we hang back. We may become so afraid of coming on too strong that we back off altogether. And so our fear of hurting our kids becomes the very thing that hurts our kids! They are left feeling insecure, wondering why the boundary lines keep moving—or if they exist at all.
I don’t know what baggage you carry, but I hope you find encouragement from these Bible-based truths:
–Our children won’t get any other parents. We’re all they’ve got. Our kids need us—want us—to fill our God-given role.
–“Love each another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). If we are generous with affection and encouragement, our kids will still feel loved and secure even when we make mistakes. Children are wonderfully forgiving people.
–God is the only perfect parent; the rest of us make mistakes.
–It’s better to parent imperfectly than not at all.
–Our weaknesses and regrets can become wonderful parenting tools, teaching our kids about forgiveness, grace, and salvation.
–Never underestimate the parenting power of two simple words: “I’m sorry.”
“Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things. But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42, emphasis added).
Welcome to my world. I’m hosting Christmas for oodles of beloved family members, and the Martha in me wants to show my love by making everyone else’s Christmas perfect: Decorations? Check. Clean house? Check. Gourmet food? Check. (“Sort of. Wait. Let me run into the kitchen to prep a few things . . . I’ll be back in five hours.”)
But you know . . . the clean house, and gourmet food, and Pinterest-worthy Christmas decorations, aren’t what’s most important for our family holiday. A great holiday is about time spent together, about laughing so hard you snort egg nog through your nose, about the light of magic shining in our children’s eyes. So I hope you’ll join me in taking Jesus’ gentle words to Martha to heart this holiday season. Let’s “choose what is better.”
And what did Mary choose? She chose to be present. To be engaged. To be with—fully with—the people who had come into her home. To spend time sitting at the feet of the Lord, listening and learning. That’s what makes the holidays great. That’s what is “better.” So won’t you join me?
Let the dishes soak a little longer.
Let the pine needles rest on the carpet a little longer.
Let the meals be a little simpler.
Let’s just be there with the people—and the Lord—we love.
That, my friends, is better. That’s BEST. And Jesus will not take it away from us!
Merry Christmas to you and yours, from the Thompson Crazies! (Here’s hoping we don’t actually GO crazy.)
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(Let’s all take a moment to breathe into a paper bag.)
Seriously, though, I don’t know how this happened. I just got all the summer sand vacuumed out of the minivan! But ready or not, the mailbox is crammed with holiday catalogues, the Hallmark Christmas movies are marrying off princesses in disguise every night, and if your kids are like mine, they already have sugar plums dancing in their heads to the point of near insanity. Ready or not, it’s time to get ready.
So let’s talk about having a happy family life all December long… all holiday season long.
The trouble with the holidays is expectations. Your spouse or children expect one thing; you expect something entirely different—and the kicker is, you didn’t even know you expected it until it was too late. And before you know it, you’re all shouting “Fa-la-la-la-LAAAAA” at each other.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not this year.
With a little thought and planning and discussion ahead of time—yep, that means now, before December runs away with us—our holiday season can be every bit as holly-jolly as we want it to be. Yes really. It can. This year we can have less ho-hum, more ho-ho-ho. Less stress, more peace. Less Grinch-iness, more godliness. We just have to be proactive. Intentional. Thoughtful. How do we do this? Here’s a simple way to start: Grab a cup of egg nog, set aside half an hour to think through these questions about your holiday expectations and plans, and then sit back and reap the rewards all throughout the season.
Got your egg nog? Okay, here we go.
10 questions to ask yourself, to help you have the Christmas season you WANT to have:
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1. What is most important to you over the holidays? What are your priorities?
2. What do you want your holiday to FEEL like? (Think about words like fun, peaceful, unhurried, active, silly, relaxing, selfless, joyful, family-oriented, private, social.) Ask your spouse this question to find out if you both want the same thing—you might be surprised.
3. Who do you want to BE over the holidays? What kind of parent? Spouse? Friend? What kind of mood do you want to be in?
4. What things do you MOST want to do?Be as specific as you can. Think through all the big events and small activities. Do you want to throw a party? Go on a date with your spouse? Go shopping alone? Go out with girlfriends? Take the whole family somewhere special? Start a new tradition? Spend individual time with each of your kids?
5. What have been your favorite past holidays, and why? Is there anything you can learn from or repeat from those years to help to make this season great?
6.What are your specific hopes for your family time? Do you have certain expectations or an agenda that you didn’t realize you had?
7. What do you want your marriage to be like during the holidays?
8. What do you want your walk with God to be like over the holidays?
9. Is there anything you want to do differently than last year or previous years?
10. Okay, now get practical: What specific things do you need to do or plan or coordinate with your spouse/family in order to make these things happen?
I have used this list for the last few years to help me think and pray through my holiday season, and it makes a huge difference all season long. I feel better prepared mentally, emotionally, maritally, maternally, and calendarily (no, that’s not a word, but it should be!). (Also, I should add that nothing can prepare you for battling lice over Christmas…NOTHING. Sighhhhhhh.) Anyway, besides the Bug Incident that Shall Not Be Named, this list has helped me to be more intentional about everything, all December long. To stress less and play more. To be purposeful in how I spend my time, and to make time for the things (ahem, the people!) that mattered most. I hope these 10 holiday questions help you as much as they helped me, and here’s to our best Christmas season ever!
I’m haunted by this nightmare where you come to me as an insecure preteen and ask, “Mom, can I see my baby book? I need some dates and things for a school project.”
Choking back tears of shame, I dig out a dusty blue and yellow book. You pluck it from my guilty hands. A few souvenirs and ragged coloring pages slip out. To you, they look random, unimpressive, disorganized, but I remember: That’s the first time you drew a circle. That smiley-faced blob there? The picture you drew of me on our third Mother’s Day. That thumbprint collage? Your first preschool art project.
You flip through, and I know what you’re seeing: A handful of haphazard photos, too many half-empty pages. I try to distract you with the highlights: There’s an ultrasound photo—that grainy peanut is your very first picture . . . There’s a coming-home-from-the-hospital shot; you’re swaddled, pink and scrunchy, in the striped hospital blanket . . . Look, twenty-six pictures from your epic first birthday party . . . A few play dates at the park . . . And then we skip ahead to your first day of preschool (that stain there? definitely raindrops, not tears) . . . er, one blurry shot from preschool graduation . . . Okay, let’s keep moving.
In the margins, you’ll find a few handwritten notes:
Seven weeks:Still not sleeping, but oh, that smile!
Five months:You must be teething. You drool through four outfits a day.
Eight months:You love bananas, your daddy, the dog, and screeching at the top of your lungs.
Eleven months:You lunged forward today, trying to pinch the dog. First step? Maybe?
Twenty-two months:You got into the magic markers. I need a new kitchen table.
Twenty-nine months:I wish I could give your pacifiers back. You miss them so much.
Three years:You got your first princess dress today. You smiled so big, I thought your cheeks might pop.
You flip to the back pages. The tooth chart is woefully empty. I managed to jot down the month when your first tooth came in—not the day, I couldn’t remember which day—and then I drew a sad little frowny-face when it came back out again, five years later.
The how-we-celebrated-your-first-five-birthdays section? Well, I did a killer job on the first birthday—see the pictures? see the cake I spent three days researching on Pinterest and sculpting in the shape of Elmo?—after that, the birthday party pages are all blank.
Worst of all, I picture you flipping to the chart of firsts, that page where I’m supposed to write down every first from your First Year of Life, and even some milestones from your toddler years. Your baffled gaze runs down the page, finding only a few scattered notes. You’ll never know the exact date you spoke your first word, or which day that first pointy tooth poked through, or how much you weighed at your eighteen-month doctor visit.
And I picture your expression crumpling in confusion, an accusation etched in your eyes as you glare at me, mystified and hurt: You don’t love me enough. If you really loved me, you would have made me a baby book I could be proud of. You would have written down all of the things so we could remember them. Didn’t you care?
And I’ll try to explain, to help you understand:
I didn’t write down exactly which day you spoke your first word because I was too busy clapping, too busy savoring the sweet sound of that voice I’d been trying to coax out of you for so long. You were so excited, so proud of yourself, and you wanted me to listen. And I did.
There wasn’t time to mark down which day your first tooth came in because you were so fussy that you wouldn’t let me put you down. You just wanted me to snuggle you and rock you and sing to you. And I did.
I forgot to record how much you weighed at every doctor visit, because after all the prodding and shots, you were always tired and grumpy, and so was I. And so I got my coffee and you got your chocolate milk and we called it a day. We just cuddled on the couch and watched Elmo until we both felt better. And we did.
I didn’t write down what we ate at your second birthday party, because I’d learned my lesson from the first party—a blur, the whole grand cake-sculpting affair—so for the next few years, I got a store-bought cake, inflated balloons with my own breath, blew some bubbles, and crazy-danced with you and a few friends. I put down my camera and watched joy twinkle in your eyes while you played silly games and tore open gifts. When it was all over, you wanted to ignore your presents, ball up the wrapping paper, and have a wrapping-paper fight. And we did.
I didn’t actually forget to take pictures of your preschool graduation. It’s just, my eyes were so cloudy, I couldn’t focus the lens right. But I tried.
And every time I found a spare rainy afternoon and thought to myself, “I could catch up on the baby book today,” a chubby fist tugged on my pant leg, a sunbeam smile flashed up at me, and a little voice lisped, “Come play with me, Mommy.” And I did.
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This article first appeared on The Huffington Post.
“Life is what’s happening when you’re making other plans.”
The way we picture our morning going:
We’ll wake up early, feeling rested. In a dark, quiet house, we’ll savor a few peaceful moments alone with God. Once our happy cherubs awake, we’ll make a healthy organic all-whole-food breakfast. The children will eat every bite, smiling and saying, “Thank you, oh wonderful Mommy, for this delicious AND nutritious meal that looks and tastes even better than the Pinterest pin.” Then the kids will dress in adorable, spotless outfits (that coordinate but do not match) without one word of complaint; they’ll happily buckle themselves into their car seats, and we’ll all head to the park where we’ll laugh and romp and hold hands and take some Instagram-worthy pictures of familial bliss. We’ll come home, eat another healthy organic all-whole-food lunch, and everyone will nap at the same time, so Mommy can also get some rest.
What we pretend motherhood looks like
The way our morning actually goes:
What motherhood actually looks like most of the time
After a sleepless night when someone wets the bed and someone else has a nightmare and the baby cries periodically FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER, we “wake up.” (But does it count as waking up if you never actually slept?) Before we stumble out of bed, we attempt a prayer, something along the lines of, “Herlubalub,” which we hope God is able to translate as “Help.”
We inhale two cups of coffee just to be able to remember the kids’ names. We rally, summoning courage and motivation we didn’t know we had, and make oatmeal with fruit. No one eats it, including our husband. They cry, moan, and wail, begging for sugar-coated cereal. We offer the oatmeal to the dog; he snubs it, too; we try not to cry. We wrestle our children into clothes—when they see our choices, again they cry, moan and wail, and beg to put on their stained and holey favorites. We give in.
Just when we have finished wrestling all the hungry children into their car seats, someone screams that they have to go to the bathroom NOW. Frantically, we unbuckle the ticking-time-bomb child and race to the bathroom, but it’s too late. We cordon off the disaster zone and run back out to the car to unbuckle the other children, hoping the neighbors haven’t reported us for leaving kids in a car in the driveway for sixty seconds. Then we spend half an hour cleaning up the mess, biting our tongue so we don’t say something that gets us kicked out of heaven.
At last we get everyone back into the car, and they cry, moan and wail with hunger. Feeling like the World’s Worst Parent, we hand them snacks full of high fructose corn syrup, just to keep them quiet. High on sugar, they sing silly songs at the top of their lungs on the way to the park, and we laugh. It’s raining when we get there, so we sit in the car for half an hour, singing and playing “I Spy” and car-seat-dancing, giggling till we all get the hiccups.
As soon as the sun shows up and we get out of the car, someone else has to use the bathroom, and the baby has a diaper that smells like death. We sprint to the park bathroom—it hasn’t been cleaned since 1973—then hold a squirming child two feet above the toilet while she tinkles, change the baby’s diaper on a makeshift changing table made of paper towels spread out across the bathroom floor, resist the urge to bathe our children in bleach, and head for the swings.
The swings are full. More crying, moaning and wailing. We head for the slides and enjoy ten gloriously happy minutes. We post one picture to Instagram of a smiling child with the hashtag #mysweetangel, even though our “sweet angel” was only smiling because he was about to throw mulch in his sister’s face. Mulch flies. The crying, moaning and wailing resumes at fever pitch. We give up and drive home.
On the way home, we sing, clap and shout, trying to keep the baby awake, knowing that if she sleeps for even one minute in the car, it will ruin her nap.
The baby falls asleep.
There will be no nap for Mommy, unless . . .
We head for the McDonald’s drive-through. The baby snoozes, looking like a cherub with her sun-flushed cheeks, her head tipped sideways in the car seat; the kids watch a movie in the car, happily munching on Happy Meals while we pull into a parking space and doze with our head on the steering wheel.
Here’s to enjoying the life we do have—junk food, sleepless nights, steering-wheel naps and all. There is no “perfect day” with children. It will never go according to plan. It’s messy, unpredictable, chaotic, loud, and inconvenient . . . and somehow, it’s the best kind of wonderful. As Psalm 118:24 (sort of) puts it, “This is the day—the dirty, disorganized, never-a-dull-moment, teetering-on-the-edge-of-disaster-but-somehow-still-delightful, perfectly imperfect day—that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
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