Extras to Earn, Not Expectations to Receive :: A Week of Boundaries

leaving the house and boundaries

I read Boundaries with Kids in February (which feels like so long ago!).

While I felt like I understood the concepts, I floundered on the follow-through. I could see the issues described in the book being played out in my home, and like the true brainiac that I am – I just watched and I couldn’t seem to connect the dots.

I felt like I couldn’t come up with consequences that made sense. My kids would cross boundaries and disobey while I just watched, feeling paralyzed.

Instead of being constructive, I lectured and over explained how their actions made me feel. I saw their little eye glaze over again and again. Here she goes again… I reacted with words which doesn’t help at all. (And now I know better. This is explained in detail in the book.)

For a couple weeks, I felt like a train wreck.

So I did the only thing that made sense: I prayed.

Help me, Lord! I am so broken and needy. I know what’s right but I can’t do it! I keep repeating the same mistakes. I want to love my children by creating and maintaining loving limits but I honestly don’t know how.

For weeks, I felt like my prayers were going unanswered.

I was grasping at straws.

Then I saw our routine chart (you know, the one we never use and have visually learned to “not see” anymore – yeah, that one), and I realized that I had already done the work of creating boundaries. No reinventing the wheel necessary.

So, now I had my boundaries clearly laid out, but what about consequences for crossing the boundaries? Because as the authors said “It’s their job to cross the boundaries.”

And then I realized that the consequences should be the loss of the regular, weekly extra activities that we enjoy. In my desire to shower my kids with comfort and joy (great things!), I made the “extra activities” in our life the expected activities or dare I say the entitled activities. For example, a trip to the library is great! And when you take due dates into view, a trip is a need. But do we need to go there or do we want to? For us, the line between needs and wants in our schedule was blurred.

Not only was our schedule a blur, but our household chores were getting muddy too. Because there weren’t consequences for failing to follow through on tasks, I was turning to money to motivate them to obey. When I would engage with my older kids (7 and 9 years) to train them in some personal responsibility, they were beginning to expect monetary rewards instead of just doing the tasks for the sake of obedience. So, I allowed my lack of boundaries to fool me into the mindset that I should try to bargain, bribe, or beg them to obey.

And I’m not joking! The words: I’m begging you! Were becoming a part of my weekly vocabulary.

(Whoa.)

I took a hard look at my own life: why is this behavior so important to me? What is most important to my kids? How can I move them from consuming our schedule, home, resources, etc. to contributing to these? What will motivate and correct?

I already learned that money didn’t work. Like a cupcake with too much frosting, they bit a little and then scraped the extra off and continued without changing the behavior I was trying to change.

So, I considered my life again but more practically. If I want to enjoy something, what has to happen? If I want to have a peaceful morning, I put in the work the night before to wash pans, tidy up, and write the plan.

Plain old life requires work, but there are natural rewards in that work too – like peace!

(Lightbulb.)

I decided that I needed to train my kids to see life’s rewards as extras to earn not expectations to receive.

And this week has been so different.

Monday: I wanted to follow the routines. Now hear me, I’m a flexible person. I’m not hyper strict about most things. I enjoy my Type B personality (or my adult ADD) most of the time. So to reward my kids for their participation in our daily responsibilities, I said that I would take them to a new play place by 2pm as long as we each put our responsibilities first. I built free time into the schedule too. There was no need for anyone to feel burdened, just loosely guided.

One additional condition was kindness. No out of control arguments. I’ve been working for months on training my little people to treat each other with kindness and respect, to see and anticipate the needs and feelings of each other.

They were on board and super excited to go and play! What a treat. Usually Mondays are “stay home” days.

But they argued – again and again. I had to correct and redirect. I warned without lecturing or showing any emotion, until finally I had to say “You’ve lost the privilege. We will not be going to the play place.”

Boy, was it hard to stick to this consequence! They straightened right up, got back on track, and asked again if we could still go. Considering the fact that we actually hadn’t fallen behind in our routine. We could still make it – no harm, no foul. But I couldn’t give in or change my mind.

This is vital to establishing real boundaries. Boundaries that are consistent.

I told them that we could find another time in our week to add in this fun extra, but that they would have to continue to show me that they could respect the routine.

Tuesday: Library day. They couldn’t keep it together. Squabbles and dawdles robbed them of their “need” to go to the library.

At this point, I could see that I was really getting through to them. Not only was I being firm on the limits of their behavior, but I was being loving! I was calm, compassionate, and willing to listen to them. I wasn’t willing to compromise or change my mind. I asked for the routine to be followed without fighting (little arguments and disagreements aside – they are kids for heaven’s sake), and I meant it.

Wednesday: we got out of the house and enjoyed a little perspective from the outside, which brings us to Thursday and the picture of us leaving the house!!!

We enjoyed the library and the play place! We got out of the house (easily!!) by 9am with chores done and no fighting!

Am I being too strict? Is it fair to cancel plans and make they follow the routine? (Side note: we [my older kids and I] created this routine together, so this isn’t just a “my way or the highway” plan. It’s a collaboration.) I don’t think so.

This is parenting. 

 

*I am not a parenting expert. This post isn’t written to diagnose or treat any parenting issues. If you see yourself in my experience or my kids’ behavior, I pray this post will encourage and not discourage. I would love to connect with you personally too! Click here to read my previous post reviewing the book on Boundaries with Kids.

Boundaries with Kids :: A Brief Book Review

Boundaries with Kids

Very few rules with very great follow-through.

That was my parenting motto before reading Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I felt like a pretty good parent with the exception of the occasional hormonal outburst when I felt like my brain and my mouth weren’t connecting very well.

I wasn’t sure how much I was really going to learn about parenting from this book, but I was given a copy and encouraged to read it. So, I did even though I usually avoid all parenting books.

Why?

Well, it definitely isn’t because I came naturally to motherhood or boundaries.  And I’m sure pride does play a major part in my previous avoidance of all books in the “parenting” category, but the bottom line for my aversion was fear. Fear of knowing more than I could do.

For me, consistency is huge. Follow-through is one of the foundational building blocks for trust, and I want my children to trust me almost more than I want them to love me (or maybe real trust is real love).

Selfishly then, I try to do my best on my own with what I already know so that I’m not over burdened by all the wonderful opinions and advice contained in all the popular parenting manuals. Because if I know better but can’t perform better then I’ll be too discouraged to even try.

Not to mention the confusion of conflicting messages contained within the top 5 books. Each book forms an “exclusive club” – spankers, praisers, behavior modifiers, etc. I didn’t want to feel conflicted by the pressure to be a purist in any single method.

But Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend was a lot more than just a parenting method book. This resource contains a wealth of information on how to define healthy boundaries, how to unpack the principles of healthy boundaries, and how to execute the principles.

Often when we are speaking on the topic of kids and boundaries, a mom will ask for help with a problem: “I set the boundaries for behavior for my child. But she keeps crossing them. What do I do?” The answer is, “That’s what is supposed to happen. You are the parent. You have a job. You job is to set the limits and enforce the consequences in love. She is the child. She also has a job. Her job is to test the limits many times with her active aggression and thereby learn about reality, relationship, and responsibility. It’s the divinely ordered training system.”

This quote contains the main concept of the book. The authors did a thorough job of answering my top questions: Why do we need boundaries? How are boundaries different than “rules?” What does it look like to set and maintain boundaries? And will there be growth and fruit in the parent-child relationship because of boundaries?

I discovered that I over empathize with my children’s emotions. The scenario of a crying three-year old when mommy leaves the house really hit home with me, and I had to take a hard look at some of the ways I project my feelings (adult size) onto my child. Doing this isn’t fair to the child and it isn’t helpful for building reliable (and loving) limits.

Speaking of “loving limits” – this reminds me so much of the children’s program in BSF. If you want to find a Bible study that has child care, check out Bible Study Fellowship. Their children’s leaders follow such beautiful guidelines for working with and training children that I often felt like this book and their manual could be complimentary. (BSF children’s leaders are some of my very favorite people!)

The other major wake up call for me was in identifying that my children are often passive boundary crossers. Oh my, isn’t it so sneaky how our bent towards self and sin can be masked by being compliant? This section is contained later in the book and up until this point I was reading along with a (slight) chip on my shoulder, thinking we were doing pretty good. I don’t have the kid that throws a WWIII level tantrum in the grocery store – so I’m good!  

Ugh. Nope.

I now think that how my children behave (and how I’ve trained them to behave) is harder to correct than a child who needs to be redirected in their active boundary crossing.

{Groan.}

While this has created more work for me and has opened my eyes to see the change that needs to happen, it has birthed enough hope and desire for healthy relationships that I feel motivated to work on establishing healthy boundaries. Besides, this is the year of GROW, right? It all fits.

There were a few things that I didn’t love about the book though, and it took a lot of concerted effort to finish this book. (I was often tempted to put it down in favor of lighter, more entertaining reading.) But I want to FINISH what I start this year. I want to follow through on even the little things that I start. This is part of how I measure growth in my own life.

Here are the ways I feel like the book fell short of being the “perfect” parenting book:

  • There aren’t enough stories. The stories that are included mainly focus on working out boundaries and consequences with teenage kids. Some of the most powerful applications of consequences were dependent on the child having to stay home alone while the rest of the family enjoyed an outing.
  • The conversations included from their own younger children didn’t feel organic. I felt like I was reading “staged” material.
  • When scripture was included, it was used to support their principle without much context or explanation of the verses. I felt like they could have developed the connection using scripture as their starting point.
  • I was hoping for more practical ideas for consequences. I’m not creative enough to figure out a consequence that will really teach. A “time out” sometimes is exactly what my 9 year old introvert wants! Win win for her, she disobeyed and got alone time too! I was looking for ideas on how to correct without being too complacent or too strict.

I do recommend this book, especially for anyone struggling with discerning where their identity stops and where their child’s starts. It’s all too easy to get emotionally tangled up in doing our very best for our kids. But like it was pointed out in the book, my parenting is temporary. The goal is to raise an adult with healthy boundaries.

Check out Boundaries with Kids. And check out what I’m reading this year!

Read and Grow.

Photo credit.

It’s happening again. And I’m so utterly excited and thankful. Life has presented me with a challenge, and God has birthed in my heart a craving to grow.

The desire and motivation are a gift. I didn’t design it nor can I contain it.

This happened once before, a little over 7 years ago. I wrote about my desire to change, to fix a character flaw. It was truly the beginning of my blogging journey as well. I had no idea that writing my way through that year would serve to fundamentally define me as a writer.

Isn’t that just the way God works? Those mysterious ways that come upon us, altering us in areas beyond imagination.

Last year, I tried to manufacture my growth by setting up a reading challenge full of deep and delightful titles. But even while creating the list, I could feel my own distance – reluctance that I ignored because I wanted to teach myself a lesson in discipline. I was tricked by my own success with growing productively into believing that I could force growth in any area. I didn’t honor my limits, I wasn’t being gracious with my weakness, I over estimated my strengths.

I was sick of being held back. I thought pushing through, trying harder, and thinking big would free me from my own struggle with my brain.  

Dealing with my ADD brain can be tricky. Sometimes I do need to “sit myself down” and “obey the list.” I’m learning that I can only make progress through this type of firmness in the area of productivity not the area of contemplation. I need to budget my energy to fuel these two parts of my mind (there’s a post brewing on this topic…). I’m realizing again that God gave me this brain with all of it’s limits and talents for His purposes to be used in His timing. 

So, I’m excited for this year and the growth I can see up ahead, but I’m not ashamed of last year’s “failure” because I recognized an important, personal limitation and learned to respect it. More on this later.

For now, I can see that the challenge in my life is CHANGE. There is change all around me. My kids are all coming out of a coasting season. Their interests, competencies, and complexities are on the rise. Taking just this area of change into view, I see that I will have to change in order to rise to the occasion of being the kind of mother I want to be for my loves.

Questions: How can I rise to the occasion on my own? What strength or talent do I possess that will allow for personal growth? Can I contain or conjure up a motive that will sustain growth over a long period of time?

Answers: I can’t. Nothing. No.

What gives? Why am I excited if I can’t do this on my own? Exactly because the desire, strength, motive aren’t coming from my decision, I can trust that I won’t have to worry about controlling or maintaining them.

It’s like the “Field of Dreams.” I feel like the Lord is showing me how much great change is ahead of me, and all I have to do is pick up the book and read. He will grow me from the inside.

And He already has. Since the beginning of 2017, I’ve been reading. I’ll do my best to share the most of what I gain from the titles this year. And I’ll keep the list here as a reference.

Books read in 2017 (I’ll link the ones I review):

  • BFG by Roald Dahl*
  • Gifted: Raising Children Intentionally by Chris Davis
  • Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
  • Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
  • Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier
  • Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook by Pearl & Serene
  • Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sally Clarkson and Sarah Mae
  • Managers of Their Homes by Steven and Teri Maxwell
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Unveiled Wife by Jennifer Smith
  • Currently reading: The Life Giving Home by Sarah & Sally Clarkson, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, Gameplan by Sarah Harnisch 

Are you interested in following me in this process of change through reading? I’m ready to really GROW. Let me know in the comments what books you’re reading and what you recommend! Who doesn’t want to GROW their TBR list even more? ;)

Here’s my Amazon list for easy reference. If you make a purchase, Amazon thanks me at no cost to you.

* Audio book

Photo credit.

What if her interests aren’t “good” enough? (How I’m raising an independent woman.)

IMG_0798 - Copy

My daughter and I were watching TV together over the Christmas holiday. A commercial came that was glorifying new cars.

(Side note: I’ve trained my kids to analyze and pick apart commercials. Their critiques of products sold on TV are hilarious.)

JoeAnna (9 years old) looks at me and asks, “What’s the big deal about buying a new car? Why do people get so excited about it?”

“Well, it’s kind of the same feeling as getting your driver’s license when you turn 16. Learning to drive is exciting, and some cars are more fun to drive than others.” I reply.

“Is it illegal not to have a driver’s license?” She asks.

“If you’re driving and you don’t have a license, then yes. You’ll get in big trouble.”

“But what if you don’t drive, do you have to have a license?”

“Well, no. You do not have to get a driver’s license.”

“Oh good. I think I’ll just roller blade where I want to go. I could get a job as a waitress and live here when I’m an adult. I think I just want an easy life.”

“That sounds good to me!” I say while trying not to laugh.

***

My dear Joe is a hard nut to crack. She lives in her own mind so much that it’s often difficult to get her full attention. Example: “Joe, please brush your hair.” I find her brushing her teeth. Only the word “brush” penetrated her brain.

In her mind, she is constantly creating big plans for expanding upon her latest obsessions: Legos creations, Daily Prophet articles, MLP collections, etc. She dreams big, plays big, and feels big. As she navigates late childhood, I’m watching her try to categorize everything. Black or white. Good or bad. Easy or hard. As she processes this information, she’s making her own connections that aren’t always reliable. Like, everything hard is bad (or should at least be avoided).

And I can’t blame her. Who doesn’t want to avoid pain at all costs?

While I recognize the importance of teaching her to stretch and reach for personal goals, I believe it’s more important at this stage in her development (forming categories of safe and unsafe things) for her to know that I’m always, unconditionally safe. I want nothing more than for her to grow into a woman who confidently believes that her mother supports and loves her no matter what.

But she won’t grow in believing that I am truly safe if I don’t value her current plans for her life. If I hear her statement that she wants to live with me forever, and I refuse to affirm that, then I am not listening to the cry of her heart.

She can’t grasp the reality that as she evolves into an adult and ages into her unique self her interests will change. Right now, she believes that because her feelings are big, her feelings won’t change.

If I correct her feelings and try to tell her that she will change her mind (because I’m sure she will change her mind), then I am pushing her to spread her wings too quickly. I do not want her to be scared by thinking that I want her to be independent of me too soon. If she doesn’t feel ready to be independent of me, then any thought of a future where she isn’t in the comfort of a safe place will be avoided.

The truth is she will become independent of me – that’s the whole goal of parenting a child into adulthood. Healthy independence is gained through embracing personal responsibility and identity, and it should not be confused with individuality.

So, I am fighting to keep her heart safe while fueling her individuality, honoring her feelings, expanding her personal responsibility, and praising her attempts at doing what she views as “hard.”  

To put these goals into action, I’m designing a life project for her that I believe can do 2 things:

  1. Reassure her that the life she wants (an easy one) is fine by me. I want her to be affirmed that I love her just because she is and not because she does. I know that her heart craves security, so I vow to be her safe place by offering her loving words and deeds.
  2. Curate opportunities outside of our home for her to see and experience what her future could hold. I want to give her a taste of a loftier future. By seeking out other caring adults who have similar interests to hers, I believe she will see that trying and reaching are worth it.

I’ll write more on what this “Life Project” will entail as we get further into it, and I hope that if you have a child who feels stuck or avoids work that you will not approach them with a “get going” attitude.

Maybe they don’t need to be motivated.

Maybe they need to just be accepted.

Maybe my Joe just needs to hear:

I am for you, and I will be with you. If being a waitress is truly what fuels you and causes you to come alive, then I will be your biggest cheerleader (and biggest tipper too).

 

*** I’m sharing this story with Joe’s permission.