We have just entered into a club we knew we would one day be a part of, but in the midst of parenting like a boss, seemed so far away. That kid that was blowing out diapers and slobbering for a living one day turned into a nearly grown person, and we had no vote. We know it was meant to be. We are grateful we’ve made it to this milestone. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard.
So, here we are now, that season of life we dreaded, if we are honest. We want them to grow. We want them to be independent humans. We also don’t want them to do either, because that means we no longer get to have them full time in our home. This is the rub of parenthood.
I don’t want to make this any harder on us than it already is. So I won’t.
This post is not let’s reminisce about how little they once were and now they grew up. Dear goodness, we’ve read enough posts about that. This post is me putting my arm around you and saying…I know. Me, too. We are kindred, so let’s talk about a few things that may help us both.
- I think it’s good to admit we don’t like the system: us parenting awesome crazy and then one day, “bye…please text me every once in a while and I’ll see you for the holidays.” Listen. I know it’s the very best one. I know it’s the way it needs to happen. But I do not like it. I repeat. DO NOT LIKE. And I just want to say to you that you have permission not to like it, either, instead of pretending for the sake of others that you do.
- Related to the last one but also, a next step kind of a thing. Though this moment is hard and yes, let’s take some time to mourn things…we can’t stay in the house and hold baby pictures and cry all day. Gosh, this has been known at times to be me. And sometimes an hour of this does a lump in the throat and personal sanity some good. But then we must dry it up and get up and get out of the house and keep doing life. Life is still really, really (mostly) good.
- This is a good time to find friends in a similar life situation if we haven’t already. I’ll be honest: right now I gravitate towards you, and I think that’s ok. I adore my toddler-mom friends. I adore my single and newly married ladies. But this is a unique life thing, letting the kid we have raised, go. We need the specific support of others walking through as well as the wisdom of those who have walked before. There will be a day we are able to do coffee with new moms and hear about their grand, fresh adventures in motherhood but this is probably not the day for that, as we are remembering and struggling with what it feels like to let go and hope and pray we’ve taught them enough. We’re in a unique season, and I think it’s ok to gravitate towards the safe and knowing kindreds right now.
I have two more things I want to tell you – one which I find a huge help and mind shift – the other I consider the real lifeline.
So I’m continuing this conversation on Thursday at 9am EST on my Lisa Whittle author page on Facebook to talk about these things. I’ll be live at 9am EST with my coffee and a cyberhug, so LET’S GET TOGETHER for a few more minutes then. And if you are not in this particular life season but know someone who is…by all means, invite them to join me. I promise, I’ll take good care of their heart. (p.s. Even if you aren’t in this life season, you can still join, too! Non-exclusivity alert.)
In the meantime, head over to any of my social media accounts (FB, Twitter, Instagram) and leave me a comment or question related to this subject, and I’ll do my best to include it in our conversation on Thursday.
Happy Monday, my kindreds. I know. Me, too. I love you.
This is the moment I tell you, first, that I do not have this parenting thing down.
In case you need proof, ask my children, who this morning are likely reeling from a heated conversation last night with the 5 of us I’m not at all sure was led by the Spirit. I woke up this morning, like I have many days in the past 18 years of being a parent: feeling like I have failed, colossally, and my kids will pay the tab.
So an expert does not write this post. Believe that.
Good thing perfection is not a requirement to share a few things I’m learning and have learned.
I have read many parenting books, of which I think are heart-in-the-right-place great…that tell me 8,000 things to do to parent these kids of ours…and yet no book has ever held me in the dark times. No book has ever been there to ask: what now? when an issue threw me for a loop, unique to my kid(s) and their exact situation. I’ve called my own mom in those times. I’ve read the Bible, even just for the comfort. Most of the time, I’ve just ugly cried. Ask my dog. She knows.
The reality for me is this: don’t tell me too many things to do or I will become overwhelmed and not do any. I’m simple. Spell it out for me. I suspect we make too many parenting things complicated. It’s true: parenting is complicated. But then, it’s really not. I think it’s mostly just hard. It’s really about trial and error, teaching the core, heart things, forgiving ourselves, being open and honest, and begging God for help.
If I boil it all down, there’s really only one thing I want to say to parents, particularly the ones raising kids a little younger than mine who ask me from time to time, what to do.
Parent hard and play hard.
This is not rocket science, my friends. (Thank goodness.) It’s my simple offer of parenting advice in my 18 years of learning.
Do the hard work of parenting and then play your guts out with your kids.
- Dive in headfirst and stay in the deep. There will be times you will be tempted like crazy to get lazy because you are so very tired, and not just in the bones (heart weary, too). Don’t go MIA and bail. Stay with them when they are gross. Stay with them when they are annoying. Stay with them when they don’t like you at all. Dive in the second you find out you are going to be their parent and STAY, forever.
- Let them know their place. These kids are so entitled now, we, the condescending adults say. But who gave them this permission? Surely we must look in the mirror. Since when were our kids, yes, these precious humans we would die for, supposed to be our entire world? Since when were they supposed to come before God? This is a tough one, parenting friends. I preach to myself. Perhaps they will not expect the things they do from this world (and us) if we feed them this message from the beginning: I love you. I am your parent until the end. But God will always come first. This is parenting hard, parenting well.
- Correct and realign. Correct and realign. Repeat. As a mom, I am officially a broken record. I say the exact things, over and over, again. Sometimes I hate the sound of my own voice, saying them. But this is my job. I say the same things, even when I don’t think they are getting it. I preach the same messages about the same things because I know, I can either preach about many things or I can preach about a few that really matter. My husband and I have chosen to preach the few, tirelessly. I’m not sure if it’s worked, but we can sleep at night knowing we’ve taught the important lessons. From day one, let them know they live with a standard and keep that standard in place (while flexing with discernment by the help of the Holy Spirit in the million little different circumstances), no matter the cost.
- Fight to the end. You are your kid’s pit bull. Never let them go and never let give up. Be relentless. Be the advocate. Fight for their pure mind and heart. Fight for their integrity. Fight for their kindness and responsibility and reputation. Fight and never stop fighting. This does not mean you take on their every issue…please, parents, let them fight, too. It just means never secede to the enemy. Draw a line in the sand and let him know: you can’t have my kids.
- Deny the urge to make it about you. As my son is nearing graduation in a few weeks, this principle has come into heavy play. (I’m writing about that soon, so look for it.) This is tough love and tough truth for all of us: we make so much of parenting about us. Parenting hard is denying to make the urge about us, even when we can or desperately want to.
I just want to be their friend = our desire to have a buddy at the detriment of their growth and development as a person. If you parent hard now when they grow to be an adult, you will get to be friends. It’s worth the wait.
I just want them to be happy = our misunderstanding of life which causes them to have self-focused life goals. So much heartbreak and compromise has happened in this world, in peoples lives, all in the name of just wanting to be happy. This can’t be the goal, lest our kids spend their life on an empty chase.
I just don’t want them to go through that = our selfish desire to rescue so we can feel better. Sometimes, you let them fall. Sometimes, you let them find out for themselves. This is hard. This is where they learn and we don’t cripple them. This is good parenting.
I just don’t know anything about social media = our lazy parenting which exposes our desire to live in denial. But I don’t know what I’m doing, we say. Doesn’t matter. Join the crowd. Learn. Become an expert. We can’t afford not to know. (Refer back to being a pit bull.)
- Warrior through with prayer. Parenting hard is praying hard. You won’t survive with it. The end.
And thank the Lord, this is not where parenting ends. We do the hard (it’s a lot of hard, to be honest.) And then, with equal fervor, we play hard with our kids.
- Laugh. Laugh, a lot. Laugh, freely. Your kids are funny, life is funny, the family is funny: laugh. Our kids need to see us laugh and they need us to laugh with them. No parent who parents hard will negate their parenting role by letting down and laughing. Laughing makes us all human. It puts it all in the same space. It unites a family. Have inside jokes between the family: trust me, if just for the fact you would be horrified anyone else knew, it will bond you.
- Be weird. I have no science to back this up. All I can tell you is my kids know I’m weird and I suspect they like it a tiny bit. (They will not admit this, so do not even waste your time asking.) I see it in their eyes: when I call them a million weird nicknames, talk in my weird voice, kiss the bottom of their big feet. I think it’s amazing to embrace the weird. It helps us all not take ourselves to seriously and wind up in a straightjacket.
- Take trips together. Listen. I know it’s expensive to take trips. I know raising kids is already expensive. But we spend money on a million different things, and I think trips need to be a priority. (Think back to your childhood. What do you remember but maybe the trips?) I’m not talking extravagant trips, here. Those are nice, but so are trips to the nearby lake where you skip rocks, old school. Pack a picnic. Tell your favorite things about each other. There’s a lot of love and wisdom between you. It’s amazing what happens when you get away from the grind and routine and play and explore in a new place, together.
- Play games. Yes, the table kind. Yes, the outdoor kind. Yes to scavenger hunts. Yes to tag. Yes to Uno. Yes to Mexican Train. Yes to a puzzle. (My kids say no, but yes.)
- Have both conventional and unconventional traditions. Some of our family traditions you would expect and some would make you look at me with side-eye. Some are spiritual and some are most definitely not. But they are all ours. And this makes them special.
By the grace of God, parents, we are all on the growing up journey. We fail, we fall, we rise, we risk, we love, we play.
Mostly, we just live in a space of grateful for the opportunity to mold humans into really great people.
Let’s parent hard and play hard and when we do: rest in knowing we’ve done our best.
I announced my son’s commitment to play football at Furman University last Monday to my family and friends via social media. Overwhelmed is not a big enough word for how I felt reading all the congratulations. How does one describe how it feels to be loved?
But there’s a backstory to the whole thing, and I think you should know it. Because in it, there are some nuggets I believe may mean something to you, too.
When Graham was little, he loved to draw. He would spend hours sketching and shading and imagining and coloring. Favorite super heroes, animals, you name it…the boy would bring it to life with his hands. Many days I stood in awe of the talent and hung up as many of his pictures as would fit on my wall.
But in that admiration there was also a tinge of sorrow. Because I had dreams for my oldest son and in retrospect, they were mostly about me. I bought into the silent expectation that in order for boys to be manly they needed to be all about sports and my son just wasn’t. He never knew, but inside, as silly as it sounds, I mourned the loss of a dream I didn’t have a good reason to want.
But over time, and after some tears and prayers, I put the dream away. And I fully embraced the new dream of seeing him use his artistic talents for the glory of God. I even got excited. I stocked him up on all the pencils and pens and paper and watched him create amazing things, day after day.
You can imagine, then, my surprise, when years later he comes home to tell me he’s playing football at recess. I like it, he says, and I can see the eyes gleam. More and more, he plays football outside, while the art sits on the table waiting patiently for him to return. Soon he no longer picks up the pencils. The artist inside him never leaves but it grows quieter and quieter until one day, he draws no more. And I must, once again, change gears. And I must, once again, mourn another dream.
But this is parenthood, is it not? The sweetest slow death to me.
Graham became quite an athlete.
I could tell you all the things, because I have them memorized: the plays, the catches, the touchdowns, the interceptions: I remember each one. But I memorized the tears, too, and sometimes their memory is stronger. I memorized the days he lived some challenging things in a changing environment throughout his high school football career. I memorized the sound of a coach’s voice that did not believe in him, the smells and sounds of grueling days of summer football practice, the day he told his teammates he was leaving his senior year to go to a different school. The dream felt especially bad that day.
And as any good cheerleader would, I stood on the sidelines and watched and cheered. I watched him thrive, and grow and learn. I watched him do hard things with determination. I watched him earn the respect of new teammates and coaches and earn the right to start the game and play both sides of the ball. I watched him be interviewed for the paper and send me joyful texts about how he was highlighted again in the news as a player to watch. And as with every other time he chased a dream in all of his 18 years, I fought to make the dream not about me.
And now here we are with a grown up young man and his dream to play college football, which has unbelievably become real. And I realize really all of it has been a leap: to risk, to rise, to change, to obey the voice of God, to cheer from the sidelines. There has been hard work and there has been inexplicable favor. Crazy God things that are too long to write in this blog that I wish we could sit down over coffee and let me tell you.
But I want you to know this, about your own life, too:
- Sometimes dreams don’t die but they go dormant for awhile and then God gives them back to you. Just always be ready to change gears.
- Sometimes people won’t believe in you. It’s ok: it doesn’t change you having the goods.
- Follow leads, walk through doors, take risks, if no other reason…so you can never say it was because you didn’t even try.
- Pray and trust God. Pray and trust God. Pray and trust God.
- (Parents) Don’t make your kid’s dreams about you.
You never know when God may dream up something better or give the old dream back.
In the meantime, just cheer.
The husband and I have just finished Francis Chan’s book, You and Me Forever, a marriage book but really not. It’s a wanting God most book- the kind that seeps into bones and positions for holy change.
Chapter 4 has stayed with us, gotten us talking about living with a mission. We are mission-minded people at the core — GIDS (get it dones) our mentor, Monty, calls us. But too often, and this is just real talk, the mission revolves around us. It involves the getting more and going on vacation and working towards something big and fun. The God mission is always there but life often pushes it to second. We minister solo but not as often, together. And we both know: it’s time for more team.
Because there is nothing more powerful than a family on a mission.
We start with prayer, more of it, because what else when you don’t know where to start? We begin to turn off tvs and phones for one hour every Wednesday night, which seems small compared to the hours of the day, but never feels small in the moment because tvs and phones tend to be persuasive. The first 30 minutes we spend in different parts of the house, alone, hearing from God, solo. When we get back together in a few minutes, bring the words, verses, and phrases God speaks to your heart to share, we tell our 3 kids. We wing this. We don’t have a lot of experience.
Open. Bless others. Light. One. These are some of the words we bring back. And trust. Yes, that one comes up a few times, I notice.
In our coming back together time, on more than one Wednesday night around our family room’s leather ottoman, tears drip onto its top. We are a good family. A solid one. Our kids say grown-up prayers. But we don’t usually pray like this and the walls feel it. We are asking God for why we exist and what He wants us as a group to do – something, I’m convinced He finds precious in a family.
Tell us. Show us, we pray. What are the Whittles supposed to do? We ask Him.
Because when a family finds its mission it finds its pulse and we want ours.
Let me be honest. I’m initially thinking it’s a quote – a Chickfila type mission statement we can hang on the wall and of course, I know just where to hang it. I’ll call my favorite artist. She’ll make me a beautiful print. It’ll be a reminder for years to come, what the Whittles exist to do. Words on canvas. Awesome. Neat.
(I should tell you some back story, quickly. My husband and I have had a dream for awhile, and it started with taking a young man into our home his senior year of high school to live with us a few years ago. We sort of knew at that moment, in the way your gut tells you, that this was part of who we always wanted to be: housing people…missionaries, aging parents, college students, whomever God sent. We’ve had the plan: to build a smaller home with an apartment addition, and we’ve had the land to do it. What we haven’t had was the money. With 3 private school tuitions every month and all the 5 people expenses, our dream has had to wait.)
p.s. God dreams never die. But sometimes they wait.
At the time we start this move towards mission and team, we have issues. Marriage ones, financial ones, and we determine to work at both. (As you know, issues can be great catalysts for change.) We share this with our kids, openly, yet appropriately in the Wednesday night gatherings. I tell them about my personal shopping fast. The hubs tells them about his work modifications. We ask them to pray for us, for strength.
And life goes on like normal. Until June.
I’m left wondering when, if ever, the mission for the wall print will come. My husband and I again pray, this time committing to 40 dedicated days, and in 4 short ones our world turns like a rollercoaster on crack. It’s sudden, but not.
Too many details to share – you’ll have to just trust me that they are huge. God things. Unexpected things that happen without our permission and look like the worst for a few moments but turn out to be inexplicably the best. (The God best things often look bad, yes? And sometimes things blow up before they become beautiful. ) Major changes. Kids exercising faith. Saying yes. Looking with great anticipation to the future. Giving things over to God. Laying things down.
Living our mission.
We now know: our family mission won’t be a slogan to hang on our wall. It will be lived in real life.
~My son, a rising senior in high school who has gone to the same safe, familiar Christian school since kindergarten (please sit with this for a moment) will be moving to a large public school. He’s at peace and already thriving on his new football team. Honestly: thank you, Jesus.
~My daughter will be homeschooled for a year. (Pause. Never in my wildest.) She’s happy about some travel with me and getting really smart in Spanish, which will (ahem) not be taught by yours truly.
~Our family of 5 will be moving from a 3700 square foot house where we have lived for 10 years to a 1500 square foot house built in 1945. My big boys will share a room for the first time since they were toddlers, big hairy man feet and all. Call us nuts. We are all excited.
~We will work to save for one year to pay off our land and begin building the home to house us and anyone God sees fit to send our way. Our finances to God, on a new level. Actively working towards another piece of our family mission and slightly daunted yet exhilarated at the thought.
So if you see me selling furniture online, you will know it’s mere math: 3700 to 1500. Some things don’t fit.
And if you see me posting before and after pics of a 1945 house we are painting, you will know it is my effort to make a new/old home more cozy so give me a cyber hug and tell me it looks amazing.
And if you hear me struggling in the words I choose to share some days because so much change all at once and I’m way human, remind me that it’s always worth the mission. He’s always worth the mission. The end.
And please: we aren’t heroes. Our mission is so much smaller than others. But this is our offering and our yes. This is where we’ve been led at this moment. It’s our family team sacrificing for the bigger mission, being GID’s together. We don’t just want to talk about God. We want to experience God. I don’t just want to write books. I want to write in people’s hearts, starting with my own kids. (We think we mess them up when we make them change. I suspect the truth is we mess them up when we don’t.)
This is not an experiment for a new book. I love people who do cool things like that, but we are not that cool. It’s not for blog posts. I may not even talk about it anymore. This is about wanting God. I want God in my finances. I want God more than a big house. I want God more than I fear change for my children. A mission helps with that.
So in case you can relate to my words and for your family, long to find your own mission:
1) Want one. Everything starts with desire.
2) Pray. Your first and next best step. And then the next, and the next and every best step after that.
3) Respond. Be ready to move in whatever way that looks when the mission becomes clear. (And even when the mission is not exactly.)
Because a family that finds its mission finds God.
Trusting Lord, for it to be so.
(**I’d love to hear about your family mission. Or pray with you to find one. Or hear your encouraging words for our journey. Ain’t too proud to beg. :) Come see me on social media and let’s talk about it, there: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)