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Gentleness and Firmness

Have you awakened from a dream so good, you wanted to stay in it? I’m sure you have, it was that way for me this morning. I went back to sleep and continued it. But it was such a good dream and so exciting that I couldn’t seem to stay in it for long. However, the repeat was enough to convince me it was true, and that was the best part.

I seemed to be on vacation with my husband and my whole family. The place was so beautiful, the weather so perfect, and the fun so surprising and special. God told me He was going to tell us some things, and not to discount the children’s input, and it seemed all my grandchildren the oldest to the youngest were there. It would be a Divine treasure hunt, each one supplying his or her piece to the instructions. We only got the first part before I woke up, But the feelings of it were so fun, so wonderful, I had to ask God if I could share them here because later I know they will fade.

I intended to finish this last weekend and never got back to it, and the feelings did fade. I don’t remember “the first part”–wish I’d written it, but when I read about the dream again, I thought of the prophecy in Joel 2. It is about a very dark time, after which God’s people turn to Him, and He pours out his Spirit on them causing their sons and daughters to prophecy and see visions.

I also thought about God’s love. I think about it a lot, but this time it was more analytical. I’m writing about Samson who didn’t seem to want his gifts and calling and kept turning away to do his own thing. And yet God stayed with him and blessed and helped him–until he sold out. And then he let his enemies take him. They were cruel, but his forced hard labor gave him time to think and get it all sorted out. And he turned to God for real, not just for help. And then when he got the opportunity, he asked for God’s help one more time to defeat his enemies, and it was given to him. It’s a sad story, one that went so differently than God would have liked, but it ended well.

What gets me, is the firmness and gentleness of God’s love. He is so steadfast, so constant, so gentle with our craziness, so gracious with our self-willed, do-it-my-way attitudes and behavior. And yet He is firm.

“You don’t have to be harsh to be firm.” I say that a lot to my clients. It’s taken me a lifetime to learn it. It’s just that our anger gets in the way!

Does God get angry? Oh yes, God gets angry, but His anger doesn’t make Him mean like our anger does. He gets sad, and steps back to let us have our own way–which we think is freedom and is really controlled by the dark side.

Freedom that fits us, that frees us, that revives us is only found in love. That is all through scripture, but especially in the story of Samson who just keeps insisting on his way, and God stays with him until He can’t. (Because He respects freedom, and we live in a war.) But as soon as Samson turns back to God, God is there.

It takes a truck load of strength to be gentle and firm at the same time–to give freedom with boundaries and hold them firmly even if you have to step back and let someone spiral out-of-control. It’s so hard to watch. So hard not to get angry. So hard not to lose faith. But our anger usually makes things worse. Usually, but not always, if it’s well-directed at evil. Even then, true love is not harsh. It just lets go.

I’ve talked quite a bit about boundaries here, and how important they are, how healthy they are. They undergird our security. They are necessary to protect freedom.

God is so matter-of-fact with boundaries: saying this works, this doesn’t. We get stirred up. If only we could take our personal feelings out of the equation–our feelings of being hurt by the other person’s choices. When it’s your children it’s hard to do. And if it is defiance, that is really hard and needs to be addressed, but still anger contaminates our response. God does come down hard on defiance, but again, He doesn’t hurt us; He steps back.

I don’t see God as punishing. Punishment comes from our need to hurt someone. God doesn’t have that. Why would He? He has no desire to hurt us, only to uplift us and see us thrive. Revenge is not in His character. I know Isaiah has God saying “Vengeance is mine. I will repay…” but that is because He can handle it without anger and we can’t. He does it by giving us the natural results of our choices, and since evil is alive and well on this planet, when He steps back, they jump in to cause suffering. They are cruel, their characters have become ruined and they love to hurt us and destroy us and all happiness. But that is the opposite of God. He has no pleasure in our suffering or death. I have gone back to the original words on some passages like the second commandment, where “visiting” or “punishing” could have been translated “overseeing” as in looking for a response to love in estranged children for four generations. It’s our bias that often determines the translation. So we have made God look more like us than He (They) should.

The more like God we become, the more we will be free from fear and anger. The more free we are the easier it is to be firm and not harsh. Gentleness and firmness do go together. They work together for good.

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Boundaries VS. Ultimatums

This has been a crazy, stressful week, and this will be a short parenting blog, so a short topic–a simple one. What is the difference between an ultimatum and a boundary?

A boundary describes your action. An ultimatum describes what another person must do. They can both have consequences, but in the boundary you don’t set up the defensiveness and pushback that the ultimatum does.

An ultimatum says, “You must… and sounds very controlling and demanding. A boundary says I’m going to… if you don’t honor my rule, my need, etc.

In the one you are demanding compliance; in the other you are informing of your possible forth-coming action pursuant to their action. For example, if you want your child to honor the curfew, stated as an ultimatum it is: “Be home by 10:00 or you won’t go out this weekend.” Stated as a boundary it would sound more like, “Remember your curfew is 10:00. If you don’t honor it, you won’t be using the car this weekend.” Not a huge difference, but it feels a lot different.

A boundary puts responsibility on the other person but takes responsibility for your action. It is more likely to evoke cooperation than an ultimatum, which usually makes people feel rebellious.

An adult situation where ultimatums are often used is affairs, “If you don’t stop seeing the other woman/man I’m leaving.” Stated as a boundary, “I can’t live like this; it’s too hard. If you want to keep seeing her/him then I have to go.” One produces angst and rebellion, the other will more likely elicit compassion and responsibility.

When it comes to children, yes, you want them to do what you want, and respect your authority and rules, so make it as easy as you can. It doesn’t have to be a test. In fact if you treat them respectfully, it will foster their respect for you which is the best way to parent.

If it feels like you are always challenging them to a dual, or at least a power struggle, you aren’t teaching cooperation but rebellion, sneaking, or defiance. Programming like that sets up a child to suffer poor relationships–likely having problems with authority (bosses, the law, and of course spouses). Teaching cooperation sets up good will and greases the wheels of social interaction. Modeling and teaching respect will help your child all through life–make it easier.

If you were set up that way–resisting and challenging everyone, expecting to be defensive, you will find it hard to parent differently. You will have to go back and look at where your tendency came from, have to forgive whoever taught you, and practice being mindful and doing it differently.

If you start young with your children, it’s easier. When they are young they truly want to please you  and win your approval. Every parent knows that if you could get them to want what you want, parenting is easy.  But they won’t always, and they have to separate, so make it as easy and respectful as possible. At the same time, do NOT let them do whatever they want to. As I’ve been saying for weeks that is really hard on kids.

I know it is in vogue not to say no to your kids, but it’s wrong.  I hear all the time how schools and preschools are not using no, that is so bad for boundaries which, I will say again, give children security. They want and need boundaries. No is a very important word to healthy child development. It creates a boundary of safety that feels loved, even when your teenager hates it.

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The Broken-Love Effect

Family systems says being the favored child is the worst position to have in a family. I only understood it theoretically, and through client stories, until lately, as I have watched the effect of it on my youngest grandson. The theory is: a favored position gives you way too much attention, too much pressure, and too much power. It makes you insecure because children can’t handle that much power–they aren’t capable, besides the fallout of making siblings resentful.

As I have shared here, I have lived how hard it is to be a step-parent: to be fair, to not express more affection to your own, to not take their side in everything; and I can’t imagine how much harder it would be when your own is the youngest! But I see the effects on both the favored one, and the older three. And it makes me sad. I love all of them, but the dynamics make me lean toward the older three.

It appears the favored gets all the affectionate words and gestures; to him it computes as power. He can do things, like walking around on the built-in bench during dinner, while his father seems not to notice. If the others even accidentally kick it while eating, a swift reprimand follows. They see the difference and it hurts, even while they try not to let it.

They love and admire their step-dad, more than I have ever seen, and I am afraid his favoritism, even while they try to understand, is going to cause them to disrespect him, and resent the little one–whom they now all love. In one sense they are getting the best fathering, but I see in their eyes the longing for the affection he gives the youngest. But what is the father to do? It’s the effect of bonding–it’s natural. Yet he does seem oblivious to the bad effects of it.

The weight of all this attention, without the boundaries, is ruining the three-year-old, and will make him into someone none of them like or respect. He is insecure and insolent, expecting to get his way, and throwing a fit when he doesn’t. His father can’t seem to say “No” to him. He tries to make it something he wants to do or at least needs to do, “mystification” is what it’s called. (More on that next time.) But the three-year-old easily says, “No” to him! And it’s not his fault. It’s the way he thinks life works. His dad bends to his will. How much he needs that simple “No” that stays solid and doesn’t change, every single day! Maybe twice a day.

I had just written the book on Jacob and Joseph when I began to see this, and it was certainly true in Joseph’s case but with enough variation that it’s easy to downplay. Obviously his brothers hated him because their father favored him. And his father, while he didn’t try to hide it, evidently was affectionate with all of them. Also, the brothers had four mothers! And they knew it was because his mother was favored.

It wasn’t until after she died that the favoritism became ugly. Joseph tells their father an awful thing some of them had done (we aren’t told what) and gets them in trouble. And after that it is on! They hate him. He seems oblivious to their feelings, or at least the extent of them, and treats them as brothers. His father doesn’t seem to realize the depth of their hatred either, or what they are capable of–which he had certainly experienced at Shechem.

Why didn’t all the favor ruin Joseph? Two huge variables: Suffering, and the stories of his father’s faith. The suffering of exclusion was made tolerable because he was so close to his father and spent hours talking with him, especially in the suffering of losing his mother. (Jacob told Joseph all the stories of his own mistakes and his relationship with God. Jacob had run from home because of what he did, and God had forgiven him and gone with him. He promised to be God’s man and God blessed him with his friendship, even though he suffered greatly at the scheming of the dark side.)

Joseph’s suffering exponentially increased a year after losing his mother when his brothers sold him into slavery! He was 17 and from that crucible of pain came a man who determined to be God’s man, no matter what! God honored that choice and made him a huge success–after more suffering. It’s one of my favorite historical stories (episode three of Love’s Playbook) and is a great example of family systems. It was Joseph’s choice and the sharing of his father’s faith stories that made the difference. Joseph’s suffering helped him see things clearly. But would that have happened without the sharing of his father’s faith and stories?

So what can my son-in-law do? He’s a good man, and can be an awesome father to all of them. I believe it. Could he spread the affection around? (I didn’t. I just shut down, expressing little to all of them. It was easier because they criticized me. I tried hard to be fair. I didn’t know until recently that my daughter suffered from it. I thought she got enough. They all suffered.) 

Being a good step-parent takes a lot of awareness and presence and intentionality. It takes inviting dialogue and choosing. It takes time and listening and not discounting the feelings of the others. It takes being secure in yourself and open to others. It takes “liking” your step-children.

It’s a hard job, but it’s worth it. Our legacy is left in the characters of our children. It is the most important thing we do! And I don’t think You can do it without God. It was the sharing of Jacob’s stories of faith in God, and how it had helped him, that helped Joseph make good decisions and brought him through extreme suffering. We are all broken. We are going to make mistakes in parenting. Our love is broken, but it can still have good effects on our children.

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The Love Effect

Yesterday I was with friends who got into a discussion about love. We had just finished reading Love’s Playbook 2 and 3 on Genesis. And the gal leading our group said, What is Genesis about? She told about watching Roadmap Genesis and how good it was, but it never answered the why question.

After all the discussion, I had to say, “It’s about freedom. Freedom and love are so important to God, that They have taken 6,000 years to show it.”

Of course that will be an ongoing discussion because we are just starting the book of Job (episode 4). If you are around Newbury Park, CA, and are inclined, come and join us at The Place, 10:30 Saturday morning.

Afterwards the pastor asked, “What is the Bible about?” and he got all kinds of answers, but not what he was thinking of, “The Kingdom of God.” That’s a good answer. But I, of course, like Love’s Playbook better. (smile) There are many right answers!

This morning I’m thinking about love and the Love Effect. How does love affect us? How does it affect children? Do you see it reflected by yours?

We have a description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, but mostly what it has done for me is make me feel like a failure, not good enough, I’ll never be that! So I came to put God in place of love when I read it, and I really like that. It gave me a whole new picture of God! Sad that I needed one.

I’m finding two classes of people who believe in God. People who believe God is all-good and all-loving, but who don’t read the Bible. And people who see good and evil as both coming from God who may or may not read the Bible, and others who want to see God as good, but read the Bible and get messed up. They come away with all kinds of questions.

If you read it you understand. It happened to me.

That is precisely why I am writing it. We can’t get better than our picture of God. Writing Judges really challenges this–even from a cosmic war perspective.

One thing that has really helped me is my friend Jean’s explanation; she is an ancient (Biblical) languages scholar. She says that there are two voices of God in scripture. His preferred will, and his allowed will. Most of the time we are seeing His allowed will. God values freedom so much that They (all three of Them) are willing to suffer to establish it!

Why? Because love isn’t real without it. Love is a choice.

I talked last time about love being a choice more than a feeling. And that is definitely true. At the same time, I heard myself telling a client this week that like is probably more important to a good marriage than love. You can choose to love anyone. But to like and admire someone, which makes him/her much easier to live with, requires a lot of like.

What does this have to do with children?

You obviously don’t always like them, but if you have any health, you always love them. And even when you don’t like them you can choose to love them.

But what is the love effect? How are our children affected by our love?

Love should not make us afraid. There should be no fear in love. Respect? YES! Fear? No!

I have a grandson that usually looks at you from under his eyebrows. It’s hard to describe. But his eyes are “closed” while they are open, and he almost always looks like he’s waiting to get in trouble, or expecting to get yelled at. He has been yelled at a lot. They all have–all eight of them. What makes the difference?

Love should not make us hide. God doesn’t want us to hide. That is when shame grows. It comes between us and Him–between us and people. We hide when we feel not good about ourselves–and we all have those places.

We see the first result of sin (separating from God, separating from love) as hiding in Adam and Eve. Hiding and shame are the same thing. The way you kill shame is in sharing with someone who loves you and accepts you. Do you feel that way with God? Do your kids feel that  way with you?

Love makes us confident. We can always feel sure about  going to someone who loves us, no matter how badly we have blown it. Even if we know they will be angry or sad, we still feel better when they know.

Love makes us relaxed. “Ah the comfort of feeling safe with a person…” said the poet. Intimacy is safety. When we know we are loved, we relax.

Love makes us secure. Security is the number one love factor for a woman. For children, boundaries make security–knowing what is expected is comforting.

Love gives us delight. God delights in you. Is that a crazy thought to you? He really does. Scripture is full of it–one of my favorites is Zeph. 3:17.

Love should give us love. When we are loved and feel it, it makes us more loving. Love is energy, it comes to us by receiving love. Think of it as electricity–you have to plug into the source.

Love should make us free. When we love someone, we leave them free to make their own choices. God does that  with us. We are absolutely free to choose against Them, and They are always hoping we won’t. They want to save us from the natural result of our brokenness, but they will respect our choice.

We can die if we prefer deathstyle to relationship.

So we need to train our children, help them make good choices, but leave them free to choose when they are adults. Just like God does with us.

 

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The Importance of Respect

Next to love and freedom, respect is God’s biggest value! We can teach respect while we don’t think of teaching love because we think of love as a feeling. Actually love is more commitment (decision) than  feeling, but it does usually include feeling–at least compassion.

How do I know this is so huge to God? I’ve believed it for years. But after finishing the book on God’s law ( Love’s Playbook 6, Exodus 24-Deuteronomy) I’ve had it confirmed for me. My favorite quote from the whole book is “If you love Me, My commandments will keep you,” which is a literal rendering of John 14:15 always translated, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”

My husband and I were on a mission in Chile, and using our interlinear Greek and English New Testament (smaller and easier to travel with.) And for the first time I was focused on the emotion of the disciples while reading. Jesus has just told them one of them will betray him, told Peter he will deny him three times, and then says He is leaving them. They are a mess!

And chapter 14 begins with Him comforting them. So He is saying all these comforting words and then suddenly says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments”? That seemed so out of place, downright odd! It didn’t fit the context. And as I read the next line, He says, “And I will ask Abba and He will send you another comforter,” back to comforting them again. I thought It doesn’t fit! So I went to the interlinear side and sure enough, I read “If you love Me, My commandments will keep you.” That made sense. Why had no one ever seen this before?

I asked everyone I could for the next six months, and no one knew; it was just Greek syntax. Finally a friend of mine gave me an answer that made sense, “They couldn’t think like that.” Of course, the collective consciousness hadn’t evolved that far! They were all about religion being rules they had to keep. No one would ever have turned it around to be God’s rules keep us. And yet doesn’t that make more sense with everything you know about God and parenting? You give your kids rules to keep them safe, healthy, congenial, and happy. Yes, even happy. Bedtime protects their happiness as well as yours.

And that is exactly how God started teaching the Israelites who had been slaves with no choices for 100 years. He gave them His laws. When Moses says it in Deuteronomy, and David says it in Psalms, it’s as if they can’t believe that God would do such an awesome thing, “He gave them HIS LAWS!” As if it was a total condescension for God to give us His laws!

Every law of God is based on respect. And respect is the basic form of love. First respect for God, second parents, and then everyone else. Even His ordinances were all about respecting others. The plan was to make life easy and happy. Not that it is easy to go against your natural inclination and reaction. But it does make for easier, happier relationships.

I don’t remember being taught respect. I’m sure we were–all I can remember is “Chew with you mouth closed, don’t talk with your mouth full, because I said so,” etc. and to be sure my parents modeled some respect (they had been raised Mennonite), but I don’t know that I was taught respect except at school (especially in religion class).

But every place you are in touch with people, there are rules governing whatever you can do and can’t do. Driving is one of the most natural. If you’ve ever driven in a place like Haiti you understand: rules prevent chaos and death. It’s much more sane and pleasant to drive following the rules.

When you give slaves freedom what do they do? Either go crazy doing whatever they want, or sit still in fear, afraid to make choices and mistakes. So of course, God gave them rules.

There is a slight difference the way we use the words laws and rules. Laws are more likely to refer to natural law like gravity, and rules are more likely to adapt to organizations. Rules are more changeable than laws. Laws are just the way things work. If you defy natural laws, they break you; you can’t really break them. If you choose to jump off of a tall building you probably won’t succeed at defying gravity, unless someone has a net set up. Rules you can break, and maybe you will get away with it, and maybe not. The point is God gave laws and rules for protection and comfort and happiness.

When you have 2,000,000 people camping in the wilderness without bathrooms and running water and refrigeration, you’d better have some rules if you don’t want disease epidemics! That is so obvious to us now–but it wasn’t to them. It is so obvious to God that relationships require the same common-sense rules–but it isn’t to us. We think backwards because of the paradox of life on this planet: We were created to run on love, but we don’t anymore. It is not our first and most natural impulse or reaction. If you hit me, I want to hit you harder. If you hurt me, I want to hurt you more.

This weekend we are celebrating the biggest event of human history–besides creation. We are celebrating that Jesus lifted natural law for us by living as our “Do-Over”–the second Adam, or the second unbroken man–this one  was successful at keeping God’s law. Then He gave us the choice to accept his death as our death to the law of sin and death–our ways, and choose His life, maintained by living His laws–His ways. We won’t do it perfectly. He of course has to teach us those. And He is happy to do that with our permission. Putting them into our desires (called “writing it on our hearts” in scripture).

I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of respect. Satan introduced our world to the law of sin and death–disrespect, or do as you please, that ends in death–also called the curse of sin and death. It all pivots on respect. Not that we have to worry about learning it, we just have to be willing to. As Paul says “From first to last it is the work of God.” Our work is choosing.

And teaching our children respect will make it easier for them to love.

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Love is Helping Build Identity

I love the quote by William James that says, If the young knew how soon they will become walking bundles of habits, they would take more care to make good choices while in the plastic state. That isn’t verbatim, but it’s close. (Have you seen the commercial of the 14-year-old boy vaping and saying “It’s just what I do”?)

James goes on to say one of the best things parents can do for children is help them set good habits, so they are free to be creative, not having to waste energy on making decisions about getting enough sleep, exercising, eating good food, brushing their teeth, washing their hands and faces, manners, not vaping etc. It makes life much easier, happier, and more creative. And that means confidence.

But this is important: helping your kids is not doing it for them! Or in the other ditch, assuming they will learn what they need. Love is helping them gain skills to build a foundation, a confident identity.

I had a client years ago who was helping her daughter with her homework–mostly doing it for her. When I learned how much she was really doing I confronted her about what she was doing to the child. “You aren’t really helping her, you are crippling her. She isn’t learning what she should be learning and she isn’t building confidence. Unless you want her handicapped for the rest of her life, you need to apologize that you didn’t realize what you were doing to her and stop. She’ll whine and plead for awhile and then she will adjust.”

The mother immediately took my suggestion and implemented it. A year later, the daughter was doing much better. And two years later was thriving and three years later excelling. The mother is grateful; the daughter, now a woman, is even more grateful for her confidence and independence.

We love our children and want to make life easy for them, and that is natural, but helping is such a tricky arena. A healthy two-year old says, “I do it by self!” and hopefully we let them try with guidance. We are teaching them to harness their energy, and gain skill. This is critical. They all get bumps and bruises.

Later on we will teach them to choose. Good choices make a good life. People who haven’t developed the skills for making good choices have difficulty. But we don’t start by letting them choose what they eat or if they wear a jacket when it’s 50 degrees. We make decisions their brains aren’t prepared to make.

My daughter now has her first teenage son who has his first girlfriend. Now there’s a delicate situation for parenting. She’s doing a lot of communicating–listening and sharing. There are few life skills that are more life-determining than learning how to treat the opposite sex, and the choices you make while dating. She has been aware for years that what they see at home, and her relationship with them sets the tone for how they treat girls and the girl they will choose to marry.

Writing the Bible has been very revealing about the importance of identity and foundations. Now finishing Joshua, I can feel the angst he feels in dying and leaving these people, fearing they still aren’t ready to make good decisions when he is gone. Will they follow Adonai? It takes more than two generations to overcome the effects of Egyptian slavery. He would feel so much better if he knew they would follow God’s plan to take out all the inhabitants in their country. But they take the easy way, and it takes many of them out.

Adonai tells them He will fight for them but He doesn’t make them take their land. He lets them choose. They evidently rationalize that mercy is better. But it didn’t prove better for them. Most lost their identity as His people–and His protection. So sad.

God knows what we need. He wants the best for us. Doesn’t want us to miss being  our true selves. That’s what it means to be jealous for us. Too bad we don’t have the confidence to listen.

While proof reading this, I heard a great quote on KLOVE, “Be weird, be random, be who you are, because you never know who would love the person you are hiding.” C.S. Lewis

 

 

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Love is Not Perfection

My mother never had a question that her children would be perfect! Yes! Really! She really told me that once.

She said it in answer to my question, “Where did your perfectionism come from? Was Grandma a perfectionist?” It didn’t seem like it to me, but then…

“She taught us the right way to do things, and when I learned there was a right way and a wrong way, I wanted to do them the right way. And I never even thought about my children doing anything other than that. I was just sure you would all be perfect and do things right.”

I was amazed. Because I could relate to wanting to be perfect and always do things right, but I wasn’t very old before I disagreed with her that her ways were right! In fact at nine years old I was sure her ways were not right.

I had mopped and waxed the kitchen while she was at work, and all she had asked me to do was the dishes. I was so excited I couldn’t wait for her to get home. I must have always been seeking praise or approval by then, because I was sure I would get it.

The rub came because I didn’t see any reason to dry dishes that would dry by themselves if you gave them a little time. That was a waste! (I guess I thought I needed to prove it. Why wouldn’t I have figured out I should put them away before she got there?)

You’ve probably guessed the rest of the story. She came home and asked me why I hadn’t finished the dishes. (It’s so what I did with my kids–it kills me! I always noticed what was wrong before I noticed what was right.)

I had to point out that I had done the floor, but I don’t remember if I did that right away; I was so deflated and so angry that I vowed never to do anything nice for her again. (That’s why I think I was an approval seeker–to get so crazy so fast, I must  have had some need I was trying to fill or some lie {false belief} I was trying to manage. “Not- good-enough” was a huge one of mine.) And if you think that reaction was over-the-top, you are right. However, I don’t find it is all that rare.

And the dark side loves vows we make in anger. That’s great software for them to play with, emphasize, make spin-offs of, and manipulate for their use. Also get other people to trigger! I just learned that this is called “soul play.”

Expecting perfection is a real relationship breaker, emotional crippler, and way to set up failure or over-achieving in your kids. I probably don’t need to say anything more, but you may need to look hard at yourself to know if you expect perfection from your kids. We have such blinders when it comes to ourselves. Ask your kids–kids are usually great responders and sources of truth if they aren’t afraid of you.

And then there is the opposite. You may have thought this blog doesn’t pertain to you at all because you are laid-back and non-demanding. But there are two other ways this affects your kids.

The mom or dad who demands perfection from themselves may let there kids get by without helping and try to do everything themselves. After all if you want something done right, do it yourself is a fairly common thought. Or it’s easier and quicker to do it myself than to fight with them, is another common parental pitfall. They need to learn basic life skills. They need to feel needed and important to the family. It’s important to their development and success.

Or perhaps you are the parent who didn’t learn to help at home. Didn’t learn how to make your bed, or keep your room neat, or pick up after yourself, or do your own laundry, and you are cool living in a mess. It doesn’t bother you and probably isn’t important to teach your kids. But has it caused stress to you or your relationships, or your spouse? Your children? And you don’t know it!

There is a happy medium, a middle of this road. Give your kids chores, but don’t fight with them or yell at them or abuse them over chores. You are the parent, the authority, you don’t need to yell or fight.  Just make reasonable consequences and follow through. No need to get emotional  and stressed, just enforce consequences, every time, before you get angry.

Structure, boundaries, skills and community are important things to learn and teach. Orderly life makes everyone feel better and function better. We see that in God. Families who are healthy enjoy each other’s company. They actually enjoy being together, and they build each other up. But it is definitely something that is taught and modeled.

Don’t expect perfection. You aren’t perfect, and they aren’t going to be either. Grace is more important. God doesn’t expect perfection. He knows there is no way we could ever meet his level of rightness. We don’t think like He (They) do. And there is no way we can, we are broken. But His covenant with us is to put His (Their) ways into our hearts so we want to think like Them. Someday They will heal our brokenness and then right will become natural to us.

I can’t wait! But until then. Love is not demanding or expecting perfection. But neither is it expecting nothing. As long as they are under your roof, you need to offer structure and education. It makes love and happiness easier.

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Love and Affection

While being too soft, as in permissive with your children, is a bad thing, there is another kind of softness children require and thrive on, and that is affection. You don’t have to be continually hugging and kissing them, though kisses and hugs are important;  everyone needs touch in order to thrive. Babies need it to survive. Failure to Thrive Syndrome is from an absence of touch and attention. Infants have died from it. But another important kind of affection is the reflection children see of themselves in your eyes.

Eyes are great communicators. They are how we know and are known. Amazing how important connection is. Eyes are our first connection along with smell and sound. Even before our brains recognize Mommy and Daddy, are senses do. We come out of a normal birth revved up with hormones for bonding. Isn’t that just the coolest thing! We are made for connection. Programmed for love relationships.

A poignant illustration of this came to me through a graduate teacher. We became friends and stayed in touch until she died. One day we were on the phone and she asked me what I thought about a girl she had met. Her mother was blind, and this poor girl had no sense of self–she hadn’t gotten the reflection of herself in her mother’s eyes. (I don’t know where her dad was.) How sad. She had a mother who loved her and cared for her. But she couldn’t see that she was loved, couldn’t get a sense of who she was from looking into her mother’s eyes–through no fault of her mother.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “The eyes are the windows of the soul.” Maybe he wasn’t the first to say it, but he brings to mind lovers gazing into each other’s eyes. Eyes are important for children too. I have worked with clients whose mother’s were Narcissistic Personality Disorders, and they also struggle to find a sense of self. I’ve also seen it come from a narcissistic father or an alcoholic father, and a mother who is so preoccupied with him, that it makes her emotionally unavailable. Her children struggle with identity. Both boys and girls are affected, but a girl is even more so because women are more relationship-oriented than men.

 Children need relationships to grow up healthy, and relationships built on love and trust, affection and boundaries are the best. Especially when the parents are healthy and their children can see love in their eyes.

Parents who are emotionally unavailable are often too busy to look into their children’s eyes. Or they are too uncomfortable themselves, or too shut down to reflect love. A child given minimal or no eye contact arrives at adulthood with crippling deficits.

Another parent who often fails to give eye approval is one who feels badly about herself or himself. One who has what I call “walls behind the eyes”–eyes that can see but are afraid to let anyone see inside them. These eyes don’t reflect love or admiration either. We sense that people can see into us through our eyes, and so we avoid eye contact. We don’t want to be vulnerable. But vulnerability is good.

Sometimes the love is there but we are afraid to have it seen. I developed this as a child. I had an older brother that I thought was the best! This was after my little brother came along, no doubt. My dad had a new baby to hold; I was four and I was looking for approval elsewhere. But my open-faced, wide-eyed expectation of approval didn’t get what it was looking for. This was about the time my sister and I became friends and he was left out. So I became the object of his rejection or anger. And my eyes began to close inside.

I could feel it as an adult, but had no idea where it had come from until I began to do my own internal work. Sadly, I was already a mother. Gladly, she was still young. I know I had enough self to give her the love and eye contact when she was tiny. I remember being so in love with her. Those God-given hormones that prepare us for bonding are amazing! They can overcome a lot!

But as children become more challenging it takes much more thought and choice to be present with them, especially in meaningful ways that build in healthy self-worth. They still need affection, even when it gets harder to give, and they become harder to love. And with step-children you can’t rely on the bond established by early hormones. They take more choice and commitment and thought. But that’s love. It is commitment more than feeling.

We can ask God to give us love for the people around us so they can see the love they need in our eyes.  Think of it! God’s love flows through your eyes! Yesterday we were celebrating our loving pastor we lost to cancer. God had healed her so obviously, and then He allowed it to come back and take her. I mention her because she had such a gift of love and it seemed to come through her eyes so naturally to young and old alike. What a gift! There is nothing to be afraid of here. I believe we can ask for that gift and get it.

 

 

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Love is Kind


Kindness is making a comeback for people who care. We  are thinking about it, maybe because we have had so many mass shootings and school-shootings this year, that they are happening every week. I heard a stat on their frequency that I didn’t even believe! People are becoming traumatized, scared, desensitized, and sensitized towards kindness.

We can think this evil comes from people with big issues, whose minds aren’t working properly, and dismiss finding a reason. And say if we weren’t closing mental hospitals and institutions, it wouldn’t be happening.

Some of that may be true. But I’ve started to wonder about kindness in families. Are we taught it? I’ve already talked about how permissiveness is not love; it is weakness. There may be more desire for kindness, but kindness has strength.

Kindness is a choice, just like love is a choice, and tends more toward giving what is needed than what is wanted. And I think our permissive parenting from the past 20-50 years comes from weakness more than strength; and it has produced adults who value independence, but don’t necessarily value kindness, and don’t have the strength to carry it off.

Did your parents make sure that your siblings were kind to you? Did they teach you to be kind to each other? Did they stop rudeness and meanness? Did they value kindness? Were they kind to you?

Don’t confuse kindness with permissiveness. There is a big difference. A permissive parent doesn’t want to deal with the hard stuff of teaching values, and giving appropriate, respectful discipline by setting and holding boundaries. They want you to learn by trial and error, and only discipline when they are angry (punishment). A kind parent cares what you value and realizes that we aren’t born caring about others, we have to learn it. We are born with both good and evil tendencies through our epigenetics.

If we are loved well, we get it. If we have personalities that tend toward kindness we are fortunate. But most of us at least need modeling in kindness. The opposite can bring it up too–we see evil happening in meanness and it pulls up kindness and justice from deep inside.

Kindness can be excited by unfairness, and that is why it is a strength and needs strength. But it must be balanced. It is not rushing in to rescue someone who needs to work through their own process of learning. That kind of rescue is called enabling and it is not kind. But neither is letting kids be mean to each other as a way of learning to stand up for themselves. One of my adult clients struggles from the pain of childhood because his dad pitted them against each other.

I wasn’t “taught” kindness at home. It wasn’t modeled between my parents, however, they were kind to others, especially my mother. But I was so picked on by an older brother, and so afraid of being taken advantage of, that not much of it was “caught” either.

It is such a deficit to grow up not consciously valuing kindness! And I know I was taught it in church and school! Being bullied can make you defensive or kind–it can go either way. I organized my identity around self-protection.

I still remember the shock of reading in scripture (when I was 40!) that God didn’t value self-protection. That He wanted me to trust Him and be vulnerable. He might as well have said jump over the moon! But I couldn’t get away from it. It was everywhere. And it became very important for me to see that God is kind. (I just realized that might be why I am writing the Bible as a story of God’s goodness in Their family. My master’s project was seeing Him as a parent. Wow! Never realized this before.)

And yes, I have found that God is kind–even when He appears not to be. There are two words in Hebrew for God’s will: one is Their preferred will, and the other is Their allowed will. Guess which one They get to use most often?

Right! Their allowed will. All through scripture, most of the time, They are deferring to human will. That is why it is so important to look at God’s story from a cosmic perspective with the backdrop of a war between good and evil–especially with our broken viewpoints!*

But Spirit heals our brokenness–makes our hearts whole–helps us manifest God’s character of kindness–gives us joy! Many of us talk about Spirit and Jesus, but don’t receive help because we want to be in control ourselves–we never surrender. And surrender gives us ability to receive!
But if we want to manage ourselves, God will let us.

 

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Love is NOT Getting Everything You Want

So here is the rest of my story. Alone, and adjusting to a divorce, I knew a small group was what I needed. Somewhere to feel safe and loved. So I called a friend and we started one.

One night we met at my friend’s house, and afterwards he took me aside and said, “You are turning your daughter into a monster. She is obnoxious and it isn’t her fault. You give her all your power, and very soon no one will want to be around her.”

Ouch! But I knew Herb to be caring and honest, to say what he thought without glossing it. Of course I said, “You don’t understand…”

But he replied, “She needs to know that you are in control.” I actually don’t remember what else he said or how long it took me to change my behavior, but I know his words had a profound effect.

I remember telling her (I think she was five) that from now on things were going to be different. That I had made a mistake, and I was sorry and was going to correct it, that I would be making our decisions and she would be expected to obey, so she could relax and enjoy being a kid.  And from then on I really struggled to make all of our decisions.

What scares me now is that in doing that I think I changed our relationship. I must not have known how to stay affectionate, available, and loving while setting and holding firm boundaries. How sad.

I think that because a couple of weeks ago, before leaving her house, I asked her (now 38) what feelings she has of her childhood. She said almost none–a scary thing. But she did remember me feeling distant. So I shared what I have just shared here, and she said “Maybe that’s when it started.”

I know when I became a stepmom five years later that I tried very hard to be the same with all three of them, so they wouldn’t be jealous of her. Of course they were anyway, so all I did was rob her. Too bad I couldn’t have just shown more affection to all of them. I didn’t know how then. I came from a non-demonstrative family, and my processing and decision-making took me to self-protection instead. But I thought I was protecting her and them! Sad!

I’d been noticing a distancing in our relationship, and had learned over the past two years that I hadn’t taught her how to be sweet and affectionate. I guess I just always thought she knew what I felt. I only just realized this. I backed off of everyone.

But what I saw at her house was a three-year-old painfully favored and in need of boundaries from a dad doing the same as I had as an early parent, unfortunately getting the same results. However, he was doing the opposite of my behavior as a step-mom, and I thought well, I’ll get to see how this works.  I confided in my daughter and they are addressing it.

I am so glad our relationship is a sharing one. At the same time it was very scary to ask the questions I needed and wanted to ask about our relationship. And it was hard to hear, but nothing changes until it becomes real. And the reality of seeing yourself, especially in parenting, often comes too late to spare the damage to your child.

I hope you have a friend, mom, spouse, you can ask, who will confirm your need to change, if you are on this same trajectory and can’t see it. And God will give you the strength and wisdom to see yourself. Your child deserves it.

It is way too hard on a child to have all the power in a system. Your limits or boundaries provide them with security. They can relax and develop the way they are meant to, and with respect. By seven we need to realize that we are no longer the center of the universe. Some people never do. We call them narcissists. It’s so sad for them.

I actually witnessed a mother asking her three year old if she could visit us, and confirming it twice that he was ok with it. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut–not the place or time to correct. I felt sorry for that three-yr-old too! It is way too much responsibility to be responsible for your parents! It makes children crazy.

And we are seeing more and more of it. Poor parenting tends to duplicate itself becoming either harder or softer. The ditches on either side of the road are very full. The road is love that is both hard and soft–firmness with gentleness.

Firmness and gentleness provide a great balance. It allows all the affection they need and requires the respect they also need to develop. You are the parent, you make the rules, and you follow through. You don’t have to be harsh, that is not required or desired, you only have to make sure that your word is law. No anger is required either. You shouldn’t allow yourself to discipline in anger. They are learning, they will make mistakes, even defy you. But you matter-of-factly hold the boundaries, letting the consequences follow naturally and appropriately for learning not hurting. The best consequences are losing something they want and making the connection of cause and effect. Delight follows obedience.

Obedience should be established by two years old. It is important to their growth and development. And it hopefully comes from a desire to please you so that it is forever linked with delight. God defines obedience as delight. And only asks it of us to protect our happiness. A broken world offers many confusing choices to inexperienced people. And being in a war between good and evil where deception is rampant makes it even harder.

Till next time…

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