Response to “The Peril of Princesses” by the Mom of a Preteen {Guest Post}

By Lydia Rueger | Twitter: @larueger

I recently read Leslie Verner’s blog post, The Peril of Princesses & ‘Passion and Purity,’ and though I’ve never read Passion and Purity, as a mom of a 12-year-old girl, I have some thoughts on the princess part.

Verner writes, “I don’t want her (my daughter) to worship Falling in Love, but I don’t want her to fear it, either. Instead, I hope she will know she is special, adored and valuable because she is made in the image of God.”

Me, too, for my daughter.

She also writes, “I also want to avoid being duped by the media and marketers targeting my three year old girl.”

Me, too, when my girl was three, and also now.

But I think she’s giving too much long-term credit to movie makers, marketers, and media, and not enough credit to the growing minds of little girls themselves, their hard-working moms, and other strong female influences in their lives.

As my daughter has grown up a bit, the things she likes and watches have become both more complicated and interesting than the love stories surrounding Disney princesses. Post-princess-era, my daughter met Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, who, in both book and movie form, is a girl who is best friends with two boys, and known for her intelligence and love of study.

And Ginny Weasley, thought to be “too popular for her own good,” by Ron and Harry in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is a quick-witted Quidditch player with mad wand skills.

And most recently, my daughter discovered the female characters Eleven and Max from the Stranger Things series—brave girls who overcome difficult circumstances and who were friends with the boys first. These four girl characters all grow to like certain boys in their worlds over time, but  their feelings for these boys are secondary to their strength, and to other things they have going on.

Another thing I’ve realized is that what I focus on in a certain movie is often not what my daughter will remember or even care about. I was a bit of a boy-crazy kid, so I understand what Verner means when she says she doesn’t want falling in love to be her daughter’s sole focus. But who’s to say that it will be, because it was for our generation?

I asked my own daughter recently who her favorite Disney princess was. I predicted she’d say Ariel. “No, she’s dumb,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “Because she just signs a contract without reading it first.” My daughter chose Belle, but not for the love story or her smarts: “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I just like her songs better.”

Often, for my girl, it’s the characters themselves and things they do that she likes most. Will this change? Most likely. But perhaps the good thing about today’s culture in which our daughters are bombarded with media messages is that they will need to be discerning enough to reject the messages that are not true, whether from Disney or elsewhere.

My prayer is that, with the help of God, me, her dad, and the other role models in her life, the positive messages will scream louder than the false ones, and she will choose honorably. And if she doesn’t, I pray she knows she is loved much more by God and by her family than messages from the world would have her believe.

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About Lydia:

Lydia Rueger is a mom of two, writer and editor for Colorado Parent (www.coloradoparent.com) magazine, and picture book writer pursuing publication. She’s other things, too. Learn more at www.lydiarueger.com

**This post includes Amazon Affiliate links.

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Thank you, Lydia, for sharing on Scraping Raisins today! Head over to her site to check out her writing!

Join me this month as we explore the theme of raising strong girls. I have way too many ideas and not enough time, but my goal is to post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this month. Shoot me an email at scrapingraisins (dot) gmail (dot) com if you’d like to guest post on this topic.

As it’s sex trafficking awareness month, I’ll also be sharing some resources on that topic. Sign up for my mid-month digest and end-of-month secret newsletter to stay updated on all the posts as well as to get links to interesting books, podcasts, recipes and articles I’ve come across this month.

Sign up for my Mid-month Digest and Secret Newsletter Here:

 

Interview with Author Beth Bruno {+ A GIVEAWAY of A Voice Becoming}

A VOICE BECOMING is written by a fellow sojourner, still in the middle of the journey, processing her own story as she casts a vision for her daughter to discover hers. Readers will join Beth in a yearlong journey of teaching their daughters that women lead, women love, women fight, women sacrifice, and women create. Moms learn how to use film and books, tangible experiences, volunteering, interviewing other women, traveling, and more in a creative and life-altering way to help solidify these important concepts in the mind and life of their young teen.

1. Why did you decide to write this book?
I did not set out to write a book like this. While my husband researched and designed the year that became the Man Maker Project: Boys are Born, Men are Made, I did my own research. Even less had been written about rites of passage for girls. And what I found felt insufficient given current culture and the realities youth face. My girls did not fit the archetype described in many existing books and I knew I would miss their heart if I employed those models. That, paired with the enormous expectations they had after my son’s “man year,” meant creation of our own journey was inevitable.

2. Tell us a little bit about you and your girls. What is your relationship like?
We are some pretty independent women! Once we got over the initial toddler Sunday school tears, my girls marched confidently away from me toward every new adventure. The youngest started overnight camp at age 7 (which I still can’t believe we did!) I’d say we’re close, but not intertwined. As in, I never struggled with being a helicopter mom. We share the passion gene and get fired up about strong women doing cool things. They play along with my quirky interests, but the older they get, the fiercer their sarcasm and teasing gets. I give them a lot of fodder, but down deep, I sense they love it.

3. Can you share about a difficult time parenting your tween daughter?
How to choose one? Lest you think all is easy and swell all the time in our household, believe me when I tell you I have been called “dictator of the universe.” My kids are still kids and I am still a very human and fallen parent. The biggest challenge for me is sustained empathy. There are a few themes on repeat in each child’s life and I tend to go through cycles of mercy and exasperation. In the Appendix, I write about Ella’s theme with friends and I have to tell you, this is one of those cycles for me. Deciphering between truth and perception, emotion and reason, makes it difficult to navigate problems with tweens. My challenge was to show up every time she needed me to. To be present in the pain and not checked out in fatigue. I did not always succeed.

4. How did your daughter feel about the year during the year? After?
Ella ate up my intention toward her. Honestly, it made me realize how much she needed my attention. She understood it was a big deal to “become a woman” and knew to take serious each thing we did together. I even think she was proud to tell her English teacher the books she brought to class were “assigned” by me. Since completing the year, I’ve noticed a beautiful, albeit difficult, by product: She is more mature than peers. Recently, she articulated this by saying “I’m going to run for President and make it mandatory that all girls have a Becoming year.”

5. How does your work to prevent human trafficking intersect with raising strong girls?
I spend most of my time addressing two different types of girls: “at-risk” and overly active. With community service providers, I am working on intervention models with vulnerable kids, response protocols, and prevention tools for those most at risk of being exploited. In high schools, I speak to the whole student body, but it is often the overly involved, good students who want to take on leadership. These two groups have something in common however: girls who live small stories are often more vulnerable to traffickers. It doesn’t matter if she comes from a chaotic home or a church-going family, if a girl has a gaping hole in her heart and she fills it with whatever feels good at the time, she is easier to manipulate. My passion to cast a vision for a bigger story, to lift girls’ eyes out of the daily obsession with bodies, boys, and besties, to a life of purpose and passion is my antidote to exploitation and ultimately, human trafficking.

6. You write a lot about story. Why has that become so important to you?
My husband and I have taken to calling ourselves story ninjas. There is something sacred that occurs when you’re in conversation with someone and they pause, or their voice falters, or they look askance and you know, right there, in that moment, story is present. Sometimes, we say, “whoa! Go back. What was that?” and if they want to play along, beauty unfolds. We have found that naming the story-moments has helped our marriage and parenting to be more dimensional, more whole-hearted. Just recently, a hurtful episode happened among the siblings. When we processed it, Ella named her story of feeling chronically excluded by friends so that when her own brother and sister did the same thing, she felt especially sad. It wasn’t just a thoughtless act on their part, it was salt on a wound and it triggered much more in her soul. Understanding story has helped us understand ourselves and our people in more meaningful ways.

7. Why a bike? What’s the significance of the bike on the cover?
Bikes are a perfect picture of adventure and for me, a symbol of story itself. When we were living in Istanbul, we became desperate for a hobby that took us into nature and relieved us from the concrete congestion of the city. We heard of bikes being sold under an overpass on the other side of the city, the only place at the time, and we ventured out to buy two with a toddler seat on one. We lugged those bikes on the ferry that crossed the Marmara Sea to Islands without cars. We drove for hours to a park with trails through the forests. We clung to those bikes like canteens in a desert. And they came back to the States with us. As the years passed, that bike ceased to represent adventure and became utilitarian: it got me places. Function replaced passion. But recently, 16 years later, I bought a new bike – a fast bike my family calls the Ferrari – to reclaim desire. I am intentionally writing a new story.

Our bike adventure in Holland was also far more than just a physical activity. It captured our need for challenge and my search for metaphor. The journey also fulfilled a long held dream my mom and I had. As I framed the Becoming year around God’s questions to Hagar, where have you come from and where are you going, the bike became the perfect symbol for the epic rites of passage I sought to create.

8. What’s next for you in your writing, speaking, and nonprofit work?
If I did it well in A Voice Becoming, I left women with a sense of curiosity around the idea of “big story living” vs. “small storied lives.” But I fear that the natural assumption will play into women’s already existing insecurities and comparison: if I’m not doing that big thing or if I’m not growing something, I’m not living a big story life. I want to talk more about that. Because in a world that extols scale, how do we derive meaning from the small, yet still be caught up in a grander vision? I’ll be speaking about a storied life, a scaffolding of womanhood, and passionate, purposed living for women.

9. And how does how your nonprofit work tie into the book?
We all used to think only highly vulnerable youth experienced sex trafficking, but more and more we see children of dual parent, dual income, church-going families exploited. When any person has a longing in their heart seeking to be filled, they become more susceptible to the attention and manipulation of traffickers. Compound this with assault and many girls tailspin into destructive behaviors leading to exploitative relationships. In AVB, I aim to lift girls’ eyes above the small storied living of most teens, with the usual obsession with bodies, boys, and besties, to cast a vision for a greater story being told through them. Simultaneously, I hope to empower moms to engage their own stories and journey alongside their daughters, hopefully responding to the call of God on their hearts to offer the fullness of themselves to this world. With a vision like this, there is little time for unhealthy relationships and instead a deeper sense of self that cannot be shaken.

10. What do you say to people who say strong women/ feminism and Christianity are at odds?
I hope I don’t sound too cheeky when I question which Bible they’re referring to? I see strong women throughout scripture, on the pages of the Old and New Testament. I think of Hagar who returned to abusive Sarah with courage granted from an encounter with God. I see Ruth and Naomi who traversed the desert on their own and humbly won the favor of their kinsman redeemer. Esther need not be explained, nor Jesus’ mother Mary, nor sisters Mary and Martha. What about Phoebe? The first woman to be named a deacon. Or Tabitha, the only woman called a disciple? Strong women peppered Jesus’ lineage, birthed him, ministered alongside him, and have carried the mantel of the gospel ever since.

WIN A FREE COPY OF A VOICE BECOMING!!!

ThA Book Review of A VOICE BECOMING {plus, A GIVEAWAY!}is week, I’m giving away two free hardback copies of A Voice Becoming.

One will be to those who comment on my Instagram post by midnight (MT) of January 18th and tag friends you think would be interested in this book. I’ll enter you one time for each new friend you tag!

Another will be for new subscribers to my newsletter between now and midnight of January 18th. Sign up for my mid-month digest and end-of-month SECRET NEWSLETTER here:

On January 19th (my birthday, just FYI;-) ), I’ll announce the Instagram winner in the comments section of that post and email the winner of the newsletter sign-up!

 

You can buy A Voice Becoming here:


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

BETH BRUNO traded the Blue Ridge for the Rocky Mountains after two decades in mega cities. Upon graduating from Northwestern University in Chicago, she and her husband moved to an even larger city, Istanbul, where they led campus teams with Cru. Ten years later they moved to Seattle where Beth received an MA in International Community Development and launched a nonprofit aimed at preventing domestic minor sex trafficking. Beth regularly speaks and trains around the topic of trafficked youth, including interviews with local radio stations and lots of coffee with the FBI, Homeland Security, and local law enforcement.

This post includes Amazon Affiliate links.

An Interview with Beth Bruno, Author of A Voice Becoming

My Children are Not Just “Little Sinners”

I have a confession that may or may not shock you. As much as I once longed to be a mom, I spend the majority of my days looking over the shoulders of my constant companions—my three tiny children—wishing I were anywhere but here. Highly educated, I feel largely unqualified and wholly unprepared to be a mother to tots and preschoolers. I often fall into the “just wait it out and survive” camp instead of the “thrive and delight in your circumstances” camp.

But the Holy Spirit snagged me in a few traps recently as I randomly opened the Bible. Not once or twice, but three times in ten minutes, I turned to passages where Jesus talked about children. In each one, he gently stood a child in front of his listeners as an object lesson and bade them look and listen.

“Welcome this child, and you welcome me,” he said in Luke 9:48.

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven,” Jesus said in Matthew 18:10.

And the kicker: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” he said in Matthew 18:3.

Sitting in the last quiet moments of the dark morning before my three year old would crack open my door, climb into my lap and ask to watch a show, I cocked my head, thinking about my children. Surely God wasn’t talking about my children?  Didn’t he know how selfish, loud, ornery, hyperactive, rude, irrational, impulsive and sinful they are?

I studied culture in college. Other cultures often followed strange social rules, communicated differently, and could even hold an alternate moral code. We were taught to enter new cultures as learners, asking questions instead of bringing solutions. One class assignment led us to laundry mats, train compartments, and third grade classrooms to simply sit, watch, and take copious notes in order to learn how to do ethnographies and prepare us for our six-month long internships in developing countries.  We were taught to approach new people and places with a holy curiosity. Our professors urged us: before judging, observe; before speaking, ask; before asserting, listen.

As I read Jesus’ words that morning, something shifted and stirred in me, challenging me with these questions,

What if I became a student of my children, studying them as I would study a foreign culture? What if I stopped seeing them as little sinners, and started seeing them as little Christs?

As mothers, we are journalists and anthropologists embedded in the country of children. And if we take the posture of a student, what will we learn there? Assuming Jesus didn’t mean for us to take on the negative characteristics of children, what did he mean?

Seeing is not a new concept, but seeing—truly seeing, appreciating, and even revering—my children is a new concept to me. Barbara Brown Taylor makes the distinction between the “language of belief” and the “language of beholding.” We have our beliefs, but are we ready to see God trying to tap into all of life as we “behold” our children?

This year, my goal is to take advantage of the privilege of spending day and night in the company of the little people Jesus commanded us to emulate. I want to enter the country of children with the posture of a person who does not have all the answers, but suspends belief in order to behold.

What can our children teach us about kingdom living?

Children dwell in imagination land and conjure up mystical, magical worlds. They believe in a jolly, bearded man who flies around to houses delivering presents made by elves just as easily as they believe there are monsters in their closets. The lines between sacred and secular are marvelously blurred in the eyes of a child. They notice everything and model holy astonishment with hundreds of questions a day. They give extravagantly of their emotions—both good and bad. They love to be loved. They are silly and squirrely and come programed with giggle buttons.

Their little hands thrive on creating—cutting, gluing, weaving, drawing, sculpting and painting. They are novice artists, uninhibited by criticism or fear of failure. No one expects them to be “good” at anything yet, so they create with the wild abandon of the unshackled and unafraid. And they are utterly and unashamedly dependent.

It’s no mistake Jesus came to earth as a baby. In the Bible, small rarely equals insignificant. Instead, small represents latent power, potential and promise. Manna, mustard seeds, yeast, fish, and bread were divine symbols in ordinary form. The majesty, splendor and radiance of God hide in an infant nursing at the breast of a low class woman.

Incarnation chooses small, ordinary objects in which to veil the divine.

So when Jesus grabs a child and says, “see him,” “see her”—“welcome this little one and you welcome me,” he is pointing to the majesty of God hiding out in our tiny children.

Studying my children will take intentionality on my part. I am usually more intent on molding them into my image than seeing how they already reflect the image of God. I rarely consider them as the tiny priests and priestesses they are, with a direct line to God, unencumbered by adult burdens. Their air is still clean and unpolluted by sin and all the shame it delivers. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Does this mean I will stop teaching, guiding and modeling what it means to be a rational, god-fearing adult to my children? Of course not. But instead of seeing my children as a nuisance or as soiled and in need of cleansing, I will welcome, respect and revere them as little Christs. I’ll take the posture of one who enters other cultures to learn: before judging, observe; before speaking, ask; before asserting, listen. I may just see more of Jesus than I have ever seen before.

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I plan on delving more into this topic in the new year, so sign up for my newsletter to be sure you don’t miss the discussion!

Advent in Spite of Christmas (Christmas with Littles Edition)

Christmas is meant to be magical, right? Starry nights, mistletoe, crackling fireplaces and soft snow falling outside while we are snuggled up under blankets with tea inside, watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the 80th time. And it still is—magical, that is– except that for this “brief” (10 year) blip in time, we have a child in our home under five years old. As a mom, perhaps this is what Christmas looks like for you:

1. Pull out the decorations. Unload and figure out where to them put so the kids can’t pull them down and smash every one. Wish you had cleaned the house before decorating on top of the clutter.

2. Set up the nativity set, Advent wreath, Advent calendar, and Advent book and wonder if you are over-doing it in an attempt to be a Good Christian Mother.

3. Give the kids the Little People nativity set to keep them busy while you put brightly colored lights on the tree (you like white lights, but your five year old won the battle this year). You glance over and see that Mary is in the back of a dump truck with the angels in hot pursuit.

4. Day 3 of decorating: allow the kids to “help” you put ornaments on the tree. Eighty percent of the ornaments end up on the bottom fourth of the tree, though you know that by December 23rd, there will be NO ornaments there.

5. Curse whoever thought it was a good idea to decorate trees with toys that kids aren’t supposed to touch.

6. Advent day 1. Begin the Advent ritual: light a candle, read page one of the Advent Book, move the first figure out of a felt envelope and Velcro precariously onto the manger scene at the top (swatting at hands that try to grab all the other figures tucked into other day’s pockets). Tell kids to stop picking their noses, hitting each other and grab the one year old who is throwing ornaments down the stairs because he likes the sound.

7. Figure out how to answer a tiny person who has no concept of time when they ask you, “When is Christmas?”

8. Do all shopping online from the comfort of your own home while drinking a glass of Merlot in the evenings. You forget about the steep shipping and handling fees, but decide it is still worth it not to schlep three children to stores to shop. Your brothers will get one less candle because of this.

9. Advent day 2 : You try and untangle the theology that mashes up Santa, Bethlehem, the North Pole and frosty the snowman, yet this doesn’t stop you from showing your kids the Christmas cartoons you loved as a kid.

10. You decide not to send Christmas cards this year and feel like a Bad Person. You wonder if you should ask people for their address when they ask you for yours, making them believe they’ll get a card in return.

You reflect on how nutty Christmas with small children is. And yet you remember loving being around kids at Christmas time when you were single. The excitement, energy and wonder is beyond what most adults are capable of exuding. And kids take this ridiculous Christmas story of a young woman getting pregnant with God and they BELIEVE it. They dig into the darker parts of the story we hadn’t thought of excavating. And they draw magic out of the dust, the grit and the grime.

So, yes, this is exhausting, but seeing this season through the prism of small people gives you a unique perspective on a familiar story. It forces you to audibly speak what you believe and why you believe it.

Children escort us through the story of Christmas straight back to Jesus.

 Because after another year of appointments and disappointments, moves, job changes, politics, personal and world tragedies, decisions, new friends, old friends and ordinary life, we are ready for a reset.

Advent whets the appetites of our souls for the Jesus who was born in squalor and later turned water to wine, then thundered from the grave. Advent is the pixie dust we sprinkle on our normal lives to remind us that God was there all along.

Life is not as it seems: a teenage girl isn’t a teenage girl, a star isn’t a star and a baby isn’t a baby. Something within us aches for more and Advent reminds us our ache is not for nothing. There is more–and Advent uses the most childlike among us to bring us back to the sacred ordinary of God-as- squealing-baby lying in a stable.

12 of My Favorite Books on Parenthood (with a cross-cultural spin)

Though mentioning “parenting book” sometimes elicits groans and eye-rolling from many in society these days, I am the type of over-achieving ex-teacher who tried to read every book I could on parenting BEFORE I even gave birth. Needless to say, there are many books that did not make the cut.  The books below are less practical, more spiritual, less “do do do” and more about learning to have grace with yourself.

Many of the parenting books also have a cross-cultural element. One of the most freeing revelations I have had in my four years of parenting is: They do it differently in other countries. Several of the books on this list give a glimpse into how other cultures tackle some of the major parenting issues in ways that are often overlooked or even criticized in the western world.

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (now with Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting), by Pamela Druckerman  
From Amazon: “When American journalist Pamela Druckerman had a baby in Paris, she didn’t aspire to become a “French parent.” But she noticed that French children slept through the night by two or three months old. They ate braised leeks. They played by themselves while their parents sipped coffee. And yet French kids were still boisterous, curious, and creative. Why? How?”

Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood, by Rachel Jankovich
From Amazon: “Fit to Burst is a book of parenting “field notes” written by a mom in the thick of it all. It is chock-full of humorous examples and fresh advice covering issues familiar to moms, such as guilt cycles, temptations to be ungrateful or bitter, enjoying your kids, and learning how to honor Jesus by giving even in the mundane stuff. But this book also addresses less familiar topics, including the impact moms have on the relationships between dads and kids, the importance of knowing when to laugh at kid-sized sin, and more. A thoughtful follow-up to Loving the Little Years, Rachel’s first book.”

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between)), by Mei-Ling Hopgood
From Amazon: “A tour of global practices that will inspire American parents to expand their horizons (and geographical borders) and learn that there’s more than one way to diaper a baby. Mei-Ling Hopgood, a first-time mom from suburban Michigan, now living in Buenos Aires, was shocked that Argentine parents allow their children to stay up until all hours of the night. Could there really be social and developmental advantages to this custom? Driven by a journalist’s curiosity and a new mother’s desperation for answers, Hopgood embarked on a journey to learn how other cultures approach the challenges all parents face: bedtimes, potty training, feeding, teaching, and more.”


Instant Mom, by Nia Vardalos
From Amazon: “In Instant Mom, Nia Vardalos, writer and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, tells her hilarious and poignant road-to-parenting story that eventually leads to her daughter and prompts her to become a major advocate for adoption.”

Long Days of Small Things, by Catherine McNeil

You can read my review of this book here, but here is an excerpt: “If you are a mother looking for a book that throws open the windows and invites pure, fresh, breathable air into the room of your soul, then you need to read Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read books on motherhood like I was cramming for a test. I was determined to do it right. Now that I’m five years in, I’m realizing I don’t need to read books that add more for me to do, but books that validate me for what I’m already doing.”


Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, by Rachel Jankovich
From Amazon: “Loving the Little Years is a bestselling book of thoughts for mothering young children. It’s written by a mom, for you moms — for when you are motivated, for when you are discouraged, for the times when discipline seems fruitless, and for when you are just plain old tired.”

Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother’s Heart and Hope, by Desiring God authors
From Amazon: “Are you mom enough? The cover of a popular magazine asked this haunting question in bold red letters that hung over the startling image of a young mother nursing her four-year-old. When the issue hit newsstands, it re-ignited a longstanding mommy war in American culture. But it turns out this was the wrong question, pointing in the wrong direction. There is a higher and more essential question faced by mothers: Is he God enough? This short book with twenty-four short contributions from seven young mothers, explores the daily trials and worries of motherhood. In the trenches, they have learned how to treasure God and depend on his grace. The paradox of this book is the secret power of godly mothering. Becoming mom enough comes as a result of answering the burning question above with a firm no.”

The Mother Letters: Sharing the Laughter, Joy, Struggles, and Hope, compiled by Seth Haines
From Amazon: “After his wife Amber had given birth to three boys in three years, Seth Haines saw that she needed encouragement in the day-to-day drama and details of motherhood. Secretly collecting nearly six hundred wise, honest, and sometimes hilarious letters from other mothers across the world, Seth compiled these “mother letters” as a gift for her. Amber and Seth have chosen the best of those letters–including letters from some of the most influential writers and bloggers online today–to include in a beautiful book perfect for the mother in your life.”

The Mystery of Children: What Our Kids Teach Us about Childlike Faith, by Mike Mason
From Amazon: “Just as Mike Mason’s best-selling The Mystery of Marriage explored the parallels between marriage and our relationship with God, so does The Mystery of Children illuminate key spiritual truths modeled in the complex parent-child relationship. More than a manual on parenting, this book is for everyone who wishes to become childlike in heart or to be closer to children-two desires that are intimately and wondrously entwined.”

(The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason is my husband and my favorite marriage book, though it is definitely more abstract and spiritual than practical.)

Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, by Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D
From Amazon: “Research reveals that American kids lag behind in academic achievement, happiness, and wellness. Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not? This book takes us across the globe and examines how parents successfully foster resilience, creativity, independence, and academic excellence in their children”

Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls, by Gary L. Thomas
From Amazon: “Parenting is a school for spiritual formation, says author Gary Thomas, and our children are our teachers. The journey of caring for, rearing, training, and loving our children profoundly alters us forever…even when the journey is sometimes a rough one. Sacred Parenting is unlike any other parenting book on the market. This is not a “how-to” book that teaches readers the ways to discipline their kids or help them achieve their full potential. Instead of a discussion about how parents change their children, Sacred Parenting turns the tables and demonstrates how God uses children to change their parents.”

(Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas is another one of my favorite marriage books)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne
From Amazon: “Today’s busier, faster society is waging an undeclared war on childhood. With too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time, children can become anxious, have trouble with friends and school, or even be diagnosed with behavioral problems. Now internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne helps parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish. Simplicity Parenting offers inspiration, ideas, and a blueprint for change.”


Plus one documentary:  

Babies
From the film’s website: “Babies simultaneously follows four babies around the world – from birth to first steps. The children are, respectively, in order of on-screen introduction: Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco.”

What are your favorite books on marriage or parenting? 

**This post contains affiliate links.

The People Who Write Books

The crazy people write books, that’s who. Trying to write a book after spending two years as a writer of 800 to 1000 word blog posts is like running a marathon after training to be a sprinter.

I’ve been attempting to wake up and write at 5 am. Giving up our usual method of grinding beans and waiting for French press coffee, I pulled out the 12-cup automatic drip coffee maker. The smell of coffee yanks me out of bed, down the stairs and into my chair.

But as a mom to three young children, the time is too short. Just as I begin to swim away from the shore, out of the shallow end into the deeps, and finally start writing something real, it is 6:30 am. The children whine for breakfast, the baby needs to be nursed, it’s time to go out on a short run, or the laundry needs to be transferred from the washing machine to the dryer. I struggle to break out of the writing trance to get back to life as usual.

But on my run today, I thought about the small work that gets us to the end. Every morning that I wake up and pound out my 500 words, is like a notch in the wall, a foothold taking me higher up to the summit. Some weeks I feel depressed. Self-doubt and loathing threaten my resolve. My inner accusers challenge me, critiquing my every word, every sentence, every groggy minute spent away from my family, friends, or hobbies. Why are you wasting your time? they say.

But then God inevitably gives me a sign. Like the sun bursting through the spruce tree branches into the window over my kitchen sink in the morning, he creates a constellation out of the ordinary.

This autumn, Colorado experienced an uncharacteristic three weeks of dreary cloud cover and rain, which eats away at my soul more than other people since I suffer from seasonal affective disorder. It didn’t help that my three children, five and under, seemed bewitched.

So one night last week, I escaped the house at dusk, abandoning my husband to stories about talking animals, tooth-brushing, toileting, singing and prayers. I wandered the streets of our suburb, which was probably very attractive in 1979, gazing into windows and wondering how I got here.

I considered quitting writing.

I passed a yard with a small, green wooden box constructed on top of a pole–one of many little free libraries that have sprung up across the nation that invite the free exchange of magazines, literature, and trashy novels. Rifling through, I found a book. A strange, slim stranger among ordinary friends, it was a book so niche that I wondered if my husband had slipped in it in the box. It was exactly the book I needed for the next notch in the wall I am climbing towards writing this book proposal. I took it as a sign that I am on the right road.

Lately, my three year old daughter has been flapping her arms, running round and round the kitchen island, singing, “I fly through the sky and land on the ground!” over and over and over again. It is the mantra of a writer. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying through the sky, with words and images elevating me almost effortlessly, but most times I just feel like I’m walking with my feet firmly on the ground. I crunch dying leaves, get hit in the face by stray branches, act as referee for my children at the park and wipe oatmeal up off the floor that my daughter has dumped out.

“Look! Look at those geese!” my five year old son said earlier this week, pointing into the grey sky. Turning like he does to mansplain to my three year old daughter, he said, “They spell out words in the sky, like our last name, ‘Verner.'” I imagined all the things the geese would write if they could spell out messages for those of us on the ground to read.

I keep trying to quit, but God keeps sending new North Stars to guide me along my way. I am caught in the river current and swimming back is impossible. Earlier this week, Annie Dillard pushed me along, with these words:

“Why do you never find anything written about that idosynratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands?

Because it is up to you.

There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin.

You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.” —The Writing Life (p. 68)

So I’m showing up. I’m writing what only I can write. I’m giving voice to my own astonishment every morning at 5 am–even if it means I only end up with one decent paragraph. I’m walking with my feet on the ground, but trusting God to lift me up every once in a while and set my ordinary words to flight. Perhaps my words will speak to someone on the ground.

When Your Kid is the Bully

I watched with horror from a distance as my 5 year old son stalked two children much younger than he was and poured water on them—and their mother. For thirty seconds, I actually pretended he wasn’t my son. The museum was crowded and I had my other child with me. Maybe the mom would never know that little boy was my son. But when he started throwing wet straw on them, I knew I needed to intervene.

Another day, I looked across the park to find my son throwing mulch at two boys probably three years older than him. The boys had sticks taller than they were, and the boys were creeping closer to my son.

“WHAT was that all about?” I demanded, marching him away from the park.

“I told them I wanted to fight,” he said.

Shaking my head, I inwardly vowed to never go to the park again.

A few months ago, my two year old daughter pushed another girl off of the play structure that was higher than I am tall. I happened to not be on my phone, cooing at my baby or gabbing away with another mom and I caught the girl by her dress—just one foot off the ground.

What’s worse than having your child get bullied at the playground? When your child IS the bully.

The best advice I have received as a parent happened one day as my kid was losing it at the grocery store. I don’t remember which child, though it could have been any one of the three. A woman pulled her cart up to mine, looked me in the eye and said this,

“Just remember, it’s their age, not their personality.”

Thank God, because at this rate my children will be horrible, selfish, out-of-control human beings. OR they are acting exactly their age.

Growing up, we must have watched the movie Overboard a hundred times. In it, Goldie Hawn’s children are especially terrible. But when the teacher at school begins to complain about them, her character, Annie, jumps to their defense. “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE,” she says.

A bad week of feeling like a failure as a mother demands that I spin this story towards the spiritual. Because for my sanity, I sometimes just need to dig around in the mud for meaning in mundane life. Here’s what I got:

As unruly, loud, obnoxious, disobedient, frustrating and obstinate as my children can (often) be, God has just as much a right to label me as “rotten” to my core. And yet just as I cannot really walk away from my children (though I’m tempted to pretend they aren’t mine), God doesn’t disown us just because of bad behavior. Again, thank God.

God loves bullies just as much as he loves the bullied. The Bible says it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. To all who condemn God’s children, he responds, “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE!”

Perhaps my children acting out is forcing me to wrestle my own perfectionism to the ground. Because sometimes I care more about other people thinking I’m a good mother than I do about actually being a good mother. And God won’t let me get away with that attitude.

So while I am tempted to confine my children at home for the remainder of their days as children, staying in our safe playground in our private backyard, I will continue to risk badness at our neighborhood park. My children leave me open to attack by other bystanders who have their phones out, ready to mom shame. Or, more likely, out of the ashes of my smoldering pride, a new friendship may be born out of the many “me, too” moments shared only by parents who have been there.

So, yes, my child just hit your child. I am sorry and I am doing the best that I can to teach them to be decent human beings. But before we label them, let’s wait and see what the next twenty years will do for their impulse control. God knows I’m still a work in progress, so I’m trusting my children are, too.

When Your Kid is the Bully

Why We’re Not Doing Preschool this Year (and Are Doing a ‘Gap Year’ Instead)

I sent my first son to preschool two days a week before he even turned three. In spite of a twinge of grief and guilt as I dropped him off that first day, I know we both did a little skip when I left—him running to plunge his hands into the sensory bin filled with items I wouldn’t let near my house and me rushing home to put my daughter down for her nap and a glorious hour and a half of silence.

As an educator myself, I don’t need to be convinced that preschool is a good idea. It is fabulous. Structure, another adult to listen to and obey, friends to be made and exposure to more of life outside of the sphere of our home. Preschool is a wonderful way for kids to learn, grow and be socialized.

But this year, we are opting out of preschool.

I recognize that even having the option of sending or not sending my child to preschool and being a stay-at-home parent is a result of my privilege. I erased my last fourth-grade homework chart off the dry-erase board of our school nearly five years ago–just weeks before my first son was born–and I haven’t received a paycheck since (*sob*). But I want to acknowledge that I am a privileged person simply because I have the choice to work or not work.

For the most part, preschool in Colorado is not free, so money is a large factor in why we aren’t doing it this year.

But I also suddenly realized that unless I homeschool (which I’m not planning to), we will be bound to a school schedule for the next 18 years.

But we have this one year before that happens.

Just one year before we will be racing around in the mornings to get a child out of the house. One year before the school supplies, fieldtrip permission slips, picture money, parent conferences and other parent-child-school responsibilities begin. A week into madly researching a viable preschool option for my three and almost-five-year-olds, wondering how I’d juggle drop-offs and pick-ups with a one-year-old, the thought occurred to me…

What if we did something crazy, and just took a free year—a gap year? A year to be a little tribe and explore, play, learn and grow together?

Before kids, I was an upper elementary and middle school teacher—early education was not my thing. But I’m hoping by surrendering to the mess, stress, slowness and simplicity, I’ll fall in love with these little years. And perhaps we’ll build a strong foundation together before they begin to totter out of the nest into public school.

Here are some ideas I have for the coming year.

Play

This one is hard for me. It is nearly impossible for me to sit on the floor with my children and not start organizing toys. But I’m going to attempt to let go, give in and learn to play with my children this year. This year, I resolve to:

  • Allow lots of free play. I finally surrendered the couch cushions to the minions. They have their own pile in the sunroom now.
  • Visit all the parks in our city.
  • Sing and dance. My son has a CD player and all the CD’s are scratched, but they can really break it down.
  • Get outside every day—spend time in the front and back yard, go to parks, go on walks around the neighborhood or visit nature areas around town.

Explore

We are in a new city, so there is much to explore. But you might be surprised what you’ll find when you become a tourist in your own town.

  • Visit all the Little Free Libraries in our city. We always have a stack of books to give away. We’re going to ride bikes or drive around to visit all of these we can.
  • Go on hikes and nature walks. My kids whine the first fifteen minutes of a “hike,” but usually find rocks, bugs and flowers to distract them pretty quickly. The baby rides in the ergo for this one.
  • Attend free festivals and concerts. Denver is just an hour away, but our city has plenty to keep us busy year-round.
  • Go to the children’s museum, zoo and other museums in and around our city. Instead of blowing all their grandparent Christmas and birthday money on gifts that just get lost and clutter up our house, I usually use 70 percent of it on museum or zoo passes.
  • Visit a fire station or create our own fieldtrips.
  • Find out about other languages and cultures. We’ll be attending the international women’s club on a weekly basis, so this helps with that. We’re also hoping to have an international student live with us this year.
  • Visit the grandparents in the mountains.

Read

  • Go to the library once a week and attend library story times.
  • Intentionally read some books each week with people of color as the main characters.
  • Read books together daily—big books and little books. We just finished James and the Giant Peach and are doing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory next.
  • Listen to audio books. My son has enjoyed Magic Tree House so far.
  • Have them read quietly at certain times of the day (ha).

Create

I don’t do well with messes. This is one of the things I loved best about preschool—the teacher did all the messy things with my son so I never had to feel guilty about not doing those things. But this year I’m going for it. We bought an easel at Ikea, lots of washable paints and markers, rolls of paper and all kinds of random objects at Hobby Lobby to glue onto paper to make collages. We’re doing it. The goal is for all of us to have glitter, paint or marker on our bodies at all times just to prove we are artists (okay, maybe not glitter).

  • Draw
  • Paint (my kids hate finger painting, but we’ll probably try again)
  • Make necklaces
  • Glue things to paper—like pasta, tiny pieces of paper, feathers, nature items,
  • Bake
  • Do one pinterest craft a week (*slight cringe* #notapinterestmom)
  • Make puppets and masks
  • Play with sand (LOVE this crazy sand–as long as it’s on a sweepable surface), water, playdough, clay and other sensory items

Serve

  • Bake something for a neighbor or homeless person and deliver it once a week.
  • Visit a nursing home.
  • Attend the international women’s club each week at the nearby college.
  • Visit with elderly neighbors.
  • Have people over for dinner and have the kids help make it.
  • Practice random acts of kindness together.

Relax

  • Stay home at least one day a week.
  • Take our time going places.
  • Throw out schedules every once in a while—allow naps in the car, stay up late and have movie nights, wear PJ’s until 2 pm, take baths in the middle of the day.

 

Notice I don’t have a “learn” category. This year, I want to focus on my children learning experientially. Will we do letters, numbers and reading? Of course, because those things happen organically in life and we’ll talk about them when they do. But I am not planning on having a structured “school time” each day or week other than my kids attending Bible study and church each week.

Opting out of preschool is a slightly terrifying prospect to me, and yet I’m excited for margins in our days to lean into life.  Because we are not paying for preschool, we can afford a sitter one morning a week so I can write, but the other days (thanks to my husband who works full-time), our time is flexible. And as much as I would have loved a few hours with a few less kids a week, the thought of a year of freedom to live, explore, create, read, serve and relax sounds pretty amazing, too.

I’ll be writing about our experience periodically and sharing reviews about the books we check out at the library, so subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch!

Here we go. Let the adventures begin.

Leslie

*Includes Amazon affiliate links

Why we're not doing preschool this year--and all that we'll be doing instead.

 

Doe, a Deer, A Female Deer {for SheLoves}

I published this earlier this month at SheLoves Magazine. Click over to read the full article!

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” –Mother Superior, The Sound of Music

Currently, I am in a season with many walls, few doors, and quite a few windows to the outside world—taunting me by what I’m allegedly missing. I’ve been here before—as a teenager trapped in my parent’s home, as a college student waiting for my life to begin, as a thirty-year-old single woman (with a sex drive and ticking biological clock) surrounded by families, as a teacher going on to the next year because it was expected. And now I’m here as a mother to three littles, walled-in by naptimes, temper tantrums and mind-numbing routines.

Perhaps you’re here, too, though your walls may look different than mine. Illness, job insecurity, infertility, a sick parent or another impossible circumstance may leave you feeling trapped against your will, walled-in and alone. You have underutilized gifts, unfulfilled callings and pent-up passions.

Part of what I’m realizing is that just because strength, intelligence or giftings are harnessed for a time doesn’t mean they are weakened or disappear. In fact, Old Mother Maturity is still at work on our juvenile souls, training us by her delays and uncomfortable restrictions.

Last week I eased my minivan out of our driveway into the cul-de-sac and caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. Poised like a queen was a huge doe, beaming her gaze directly at me. But the most alarming part was that she stood trapped inside my neighbor’s fenced yard.

How did she get in there? I thought. And how will she get out?

The image haunted me all day long. It took a while to decode my emotions, but when I did, I accepted this living parable as a gift to me in my current season. It was as if God was saying,

“I see you.

Yes, you are fenced in right now, unable to travel far or do so much of what you thought you would do with your life. But the fact that you are restricted does not diminish your strength. And it does not mean you will be here forever.”

That doe was strength under control. She was choosing containment just as I am choosing it now for the sake of my little people.

And through forfeited freedom, I am learning the richness of soulful living.

Science calls this “potential energy.” Potential energy is the energy an object has because of its position, rather than its motion. It is a bicycle perched on a hill, a nearly poured-out pitcher of water or a book balanced on someone’s head. It is a doe behind a fence. It is harnessed energy, ready to explode into action. It is doors slammed shut, waiting for windows to be thrown open …Continue reading at SheLoves …

Small Sticky Hands Lead Me to Jesus {for The Redbud Post}

Last summer, hugely pregnant with my third child, I took my 1- and 3-year-olds on a walk every afternoon. I’d saunter along behind them, absently resting my hand on my taut belly, hoping to receive some communication in the form of a heel or shoulder blade in my palm. My head ached from the dry Colorado heat, and every joint and ligament protested at being stretched to capacity. I had no delight left in me, so I drank in the delight of my children, filling my own empty reservoir with their joy.

We spent over an hour on a half mile stretch of concrete path that wound behind our neighborhood. The path only extended another half mile beyond that and was barricaded by a chain-link fence, though there were rumors the city planned on extending the path one day.

On these walks, my kids would lie on the sidewalk, watching ants and poking roly-polies until they curled into a ball. They’d pick dandelions by the fist-full and stuff their pockets with ruby red berries I hoped weren’t poisonous. Wild, brown bunnies would dart out of bushes and skitter away as my son and daughter chased them under fences.

For once, I was glad to roam at the rhythm of my children. The first four years of motherhood had been a constant tension: my kids wanted to go slow; I wanted to go fast. They wanted to savor simple pleasures; I wanted the adventurous life I had lived before children. They wanted to play; I wanted to be productive.

But last summer, I finally surrendered. My children won the battle for slow, small and simple.

So now, instead of resenting them for weighing me down, holding me back, and stunting my growth, I’m starting to accept that my children are not a burden. In fact, they are teaching me how to live.

My children are my wonder-catchers. They are my sieve—capturing every small, insignificant, glorious life particle before it can slip away. Like getting eyeglasses for the first time, my children magnify life, bringing every bug, spider web, sparkly rock, quirky person, and familiar place into sharp clarity. We do not go far or fast, but they are teaching me to marvel at the mysteries of a God hidden in plain sight. As a writer and worshiper of God, slowness is a gift, for I am honing the ability to notice and delight.

I’ve had these prophetic words by Madeleine L’Engle scribbled into my prayer journal since my pre-kid years. I never knew their fulfillment would come in the form of motherhood:

“Slow me down, Lord … When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening” (Walking on Water 13).

In my former life, I was a doer. I led, organized, taught, and planned. I lived in other countries, got my masters, traveled alone on 27-hour train rides across China, and spoke other languages. But it turns out God was not impressed. Instead, he wanted to teach me how to be nearsighted again. He wanted to slow me down. Not just so I could see his work in the world, but so I could hear his still, small voice …

Continue reading at The Redbud Post

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