Archive for the ‘On Being a Mother’ Category

Announcing the release of my Brand New Book!

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

A Gracious Space_Fall Edition 500x650CopyrightAll rights reserved

50 Daily Readings for Fall

Homeschooling can be a lonely road. You are at home with children, embarking on a task that changes every year (sometimes every month!) as your children grow and mature. The ability to sustain that commitment comes from sheer grit, idealism, faith, and trust. When in doubt, where do you turn? Some of us rely on close friends, homeschooling support groups, and Internet communities. These companions are important and must be nurtured and cherished.

In addition, though, it helps to refresh your philosophy of education and parenting. How do you renew your faith that you and your children will know what to do when you face challenges and obstacles to a harmonious home education?

A Gracious Space is a non-sectarian compilation of fifty essays about homeschooling and family life designed to encourage you, the homeschooling parent even on your worst day. Read an entry with your morning coffee or tea to help you focus on the principles and ideals that undergird your homeschool.

Essay titles include

  • It All Adds Up!
  • Content, not Conventions
  • Know Your Kids as They Are
  • Less is More, Really!
  • It’s the Relationship, Sweetheart
  • Prophecies of Doom
  • In Defense of the Disillusioned
  • How You Say it Matters
  • To Plan or Not Plan Your Lesson Plans
  • When Your Kids are Unhappy, What Can You Do?

This collection of essays currently comes in two formats: PDF and ePub (for iBooks). You will receive both of these formats when you order.

Purchase Price: $9.95

Order Today!

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You matter, too!

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Baby's Nursery - Jack in The Box by Caleb ZahndImage by Jamie McCaffrey (cc)

In the hurry scurry to be all things to all people, don’t forget to be there for you.

You deserve choices—what to eat, what movies to see, where to take a walk, how to decorate a room, what topics to study, what field trips to take, how to spend a holiday weekend, what to do with unexpected funds.

You are not merely the mirror for all the choices of the ones you love.

Not only that, your opinions, thoughts, and feelings can change. You don’t have to hang onto one idea or belief simply because you held it fiercely at one point in time. It’s okay to test a new belief, to try a new idea, to return to a discarded one and try it again.

You don’t have to agree with all the members of your household. You can disagree (even strongly) as long as you leave room for the others to have their own strong opinions too. You can contend for the ideals or values you are forming, while recognizing that these same ideals are incomplete/unfinished and can grow and change again (and likely will).

It’s okay to need time to yourself (even five minutes, behind the pantry door, to regroup and fight back tears).

Your feelings can be hurt. Your heart can feel torn in two. You will occasionally be genuinely annoyed by one of your children (worried about, embarrassed by, sick of).

You’re human. You get to be. You get to lose it occasionally, and you get to ask forgiveness, and to make amends.

You matter. Your life is not only about these other precious people you selflessly serve. It is also about you. You get one life. Be sure you are living it.

The best definition of co-dependency I ever heard was this:

“When you’re drowning, someone else’s life flashes before your eyes.”

Make sure your life is flashing before yours, now, while you can live it fully. Put something on the calendar for you—time, space, food, reading, exploration, a new goal.

Amazingly, everyone in your home will respect and admire you more when they see you enthusiastic about your own life. After all, how else do your kids get to understand the value of being an adult if they don’t see the wonderful stuff adulthood offers YOU?

Be good to you today.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

It's a difficult topic, but let's talk about it: Raging at children.

It’s a difficult topic, but let’s talk about it: Raging at children.

I sat with a cluster of women, each one sharing about her struggle with anger and control. One spoke of rage—how it came over her like a flash flood, and the next thing she knew, she’d be screaming bloody murder at her small children. All she could feel was the complete out of controlness of the moment, the thwarting of her much-better-plan, the awareness that how it should go was not at all how it was going. The fact that small children were cowering didn’t slow the lava flow of verbal assault. She’d give in to it until she had exhausted herself…and wounded her kids.

It took years before she could appreciate that her kids really had been harmed by the yelling, the screaming, the cursing.

The next one spoke of holes she’d punched in walls, “things” she’d hurled in anger that shattered menacingly in front of her trespassing offspring. This mild-mannered friend listed the ways she dressed down her kids when they got in her way—took my breath away. I would never have known.

Another mother talked about the obsessive nature of her need to know that her adult daughter was taking her medications. She found herself nagging and manipulating and finally yelling down the telephone line.


I was used to hearing about rage in marriages—usually men toward women. Or if in families, fathers toward kids. It was startling to listen to mothers, and painful, too.

The rager rarely notices the impact of the rages. The rager feels out of control and justified in venting it. When the children comply out of fear, the rager may even feel reinforced in the strategy. “If I yell and scream, stuff gets done and relieves my anxiety.”

The secret of many families is that volatile anger is a constitutive part of their family culture but no one talks about it. It’s as though we’ve all cooperated in this huge silent secret—we show smiling photos of our assembled families at holiday meals, and yet behind the smiles is the memory of screaming and yelling with insults and character evisceration five minutes before the camera shutter clicked.

I honestly don’t know how to cure rage. It must come from within the rager, it seems. Conversations don’t work. Some awareness of how damaging it is to the victims needs to get across the transom from wounded to wound creator. Then steps need to take place that help the rager reign it in and heal whatever pain in her causes the outbursts.

What I do know, however, is the devastating impact of cumulative experiences with rage. The victims carry that shattering experience inside—it’s as though they can come apart at the hint of criticism or raised voice. They take that pain into their adult relationships.

It’s bad enough when adults hurl insults at each other. They are peers, even when it doesn’t feel that way.

What is not talked about enough, however, is verbal abuse that is unleashed by parents on children. If a grown adult woman can feel as though she’s been beaten by the loud booming accusing voice of a peer (her husband/partner), how much more must small children feel fractured by the assault of anger and control, rage and cursing from a parent they love and want to trust?

When your home is the daily full-time residence of your children (they don’t go to daycare or school), preserving that space as the sacred, safe place to live is even more paramount. Everyone loses their cool occasionally, but a habit of using anger, rage, and shows of violence to control children is a step way beyond frustration or momentary anger. It’s our job as parents to protect our children from demonstrations of rage.

I know this is a more somber post than I usually write. I know that it veers uncomfortably into territory that is far afield from writing and language arts, or even run of the mill homeschooling issues.

Yet I can’t ignore it because it keeps coming up (in emails from customers, in phone calls, in in-person conversations). To thrive in learning, a child needs to trust the educator. Risks, missteps, failures, and childishness must be permitted and welcomed for homeschooling to thrive. Raging against children undermines everything. According to some experts (Stephen Stosny is one), a full recovery from being on the receiving end of a rage is a full year (12 months!). The victim carries the “anxiety” of the rage in their bodies and can’t let go of the need to “protect self” through fight, flight, or freezing for an entire rage-free year.

If a child is on the receiving end of rage several times a year, you are creating a condition for the child that is ongoing and doesn’t heal, even if they don’t tell you and appear “okay” on the outside. They live with rage-created anxiety.

My hope is that this little PSA will give you a moment to pause and reflect, to find support, to grow…if this is you.

It’s good to remember how vulnerable our little charges are and how much they do depend on us…for everything.

Image © Sergiyn |

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Behind closed doors

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

Sad woman at ChristmasNo one knows what happens in your house. You don’t know what’s going on in your friend’s home.

The rosy, twinkle-lit home down the street may hide the stale tension between parent and child, husband and wife, even without financial struggle or illness. The holidays are dreaded, but you would never know. The loneliness of transition from teen to young adult or middle-age to senior happens in multiple generations all at once, and shows up during the holidays—each person feeling misunderstood. It can be hard to get across that street to find each other in new ways. So normal, so rarely talked about, so deeply felt as failure.

Some families are heart broken at this time of year over a young adult child in prison, or another addicted to drugs or alcohol, or the failure of yet another child to wait until adulthood to start a family.

In other families, fifteen+ years of marriage reveal the deep flaws in both parties—not everyone navigates the challenge of overcoming them well. Not every marriage weathers the storm of familiarity and accumulated hurts.

The holidays are sold as a guarantee of nostalgia and family-centered joy. If your family is suffering (for any reason), television advertising and your friend’s Christmas letter may be just enough to put you over the edge into despair or depression.

I like this reminder:

“Nothing is what it seems.”

Behind the “good” are layers of challenge and personal pain points tolerated, stood, endured, resented, and not always overcome. Each family has its own distinct blend of wonderful and terrible. The holidays often accentuate both.

Behind the “bad” are the threads of what was imagined, hoped for, and loved—both aspiration and realization, loss combined with gain. A mixture of goodnesses survives “in spite of,” which mitigates the “bad.”

If this year is tough (not how you wanted it, not how you imagined it, not how you expected it to be!), hold on. It’s only one year. I liked what a friend said about Thanksgiving. She said if you are struggling through the over-burdened-with-expectation event, call Thanksgiving by its other name: “a Thursday.”

You can do that with any holiday this season. You get to let one go in your lifetime, if you have to, if that helps.

In the meantime, you can hold out for glimmers of good. Finding the good in a year gone wrong takes persistent attentiveness. You might be too tired. I know I’ve been some years.

I like to tell my day: “I don’t have the energy to make today good. Instead, surprise me.”

Then, a tiny part of my heart looks for the surprise. When it comes, I pause and am grateful (to the extent that my energy affords me). It doesn’t always work, but even in my darkest years, the surprises showed up sometimes. They made a difference (stuff like a satisfying phone call with a friend, an early bloom, finding my favorite chocolate on sale, a long hug from my teen at home).

If you feel alone in your “behind closed doors” shames, I wanted to throw out a life ring into that sea. You’re not alone. Hold on. This too shall pass. You can get through it. You will find a way. Maybe not today. Maybe not this December. But you will, eventually.

Be good to you.

Keep going. It’s just “a December.”

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image © Citalliance |

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From me to you

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Thank YouImage by Katharina Friederike

Thank you…

…for making the grocery list, shopping, finding discounts and deals, remembering to buy gluten or lactose free, selecting the sparkling cider for the kids, and buying two kinds of whipped cream.

…for cleaning the house, even the bathroom you usually ignore, in time for company or family.

…for getting up early on the holiday to start the turkey while everyone else sleeps in.

…for making a huge mess in your kitchen and then cleaning it up on what is a day off for most people.

…for the lovely table setting, the well timed coordinated finish of all the dishes.

…for hosting or being hosted and not minding either.

…for bringing your best pie or side dish to your mother-in-law’s, and driving on the busiest travel day of the year.

…for stopping to help a sad child, for changing a diaper, for putting up with grouchiness and hungry tummies while the real meal is cooking, for being taken for granted.

Thank you for being the glue of the family, the backbone of tradition, and for the cheerful way you hunker down to create memories and meals.

Thank you for what is hidden from view (how you let the insult slide, how you held back a snappy retort, how you stood up for yourself inside).

Thank you for doing what is expected, even if you wish it weren’t expected of you.

Thank you for caring and carrying on tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving week!


Cross-posted on facebook.

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Planet life

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

earthImage by Beth Scupham

Years ago on a planet called California, on a too-busy day with messes accumulating like tangles in a toddler’s hair, I let fly my scolding voice in front of my mother. I aimed my angry zingers at the child who spoke the best English, despite the fact that the up-ended half gallon of juice had been the result of a still wobbly, not-yet-speaking 12 month old grabbing for a table leg to steady himself. The precarious carton slipped over the edge and doused the tan carpet in orange.

I had been lecturing about pairs of shoes that needed to be Out. Of. The. Hallway. I’d been pointing and directing other short people to pick up Legos and get teeth brushed.

The quickly expanding circle of orange stain flipped my switch and I found myself screaming: “I said now!”

My mom, grandmother of the hapless human beings startled into cooperation, quietly observed the scene to me: “Just look at them. They’ve been on the planet fewer than five years. There is so much to learn about living here.”

Crash. Shut down. Reboot.

I’m the adult in the room, I reminded myself.

I’m the one with experience.

I’ve lived on our spinning orb for decades.

Even today, when a 20-something forgets to double check or doesn’t know to follow through or get more information or is surprised by an interruption to plans carefully made, I go back to my mom’s comments. 20 years is a very short time to figure out all the stuff adults are expected to know, do, and be.

A little grace for the newbies on planet earth may be in order today. A little grace for you—newbie to parenting on this glorious good globe.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Pamper yourself

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Reading aloud

It’s easy to list the things typically suggested for pampering:

  • a glass of wine
  • bar of chocolate
  • a massage
  • a manicure and pedicure
  • a new hair style

Here’s my alternative list:

Think a new thought

Consider an idea that tugs at you when you’re alone, and allow it room to expand. Let it become a fantasy and live into it a bit today. You don’t have to overhaul everything in light of it. Just let your mind play with the idea, like a toy.

Indulge the artist within

Doodle, paint, use colored markers in your journal, snap photos, draw on your windows, arrange a few flowers in a vase, pin magazine cut outs on a bulletin board, scroll through Pinterest. Add color and images to your day.

Read whatever you want

The news, sports, a poem, People magazine,, that big novel you started and put down due to busy-ness, the racy romance, a “how to” manual, Real Simple, your spiritual devotional… you pick.

Love what’s in the mirror

Today you are younger than you’ll ever be again. As Nora Ephron says, “Gaze lovingly at your neck.” Notice you blue eyes, your happy smile, your goddess-like curves, your spray of freckles, the way your teeth line up. You’re gorgeous. Say so.

Spoil your nose

Wear a fragrance. Light a vanilla candle. Deeply inhale the lavender you crush in your hands. Breathe in the scent of a bunch of fresh mint. Dab oil of essence, such as lemon, on your wrists. Aromas change your mood!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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That thing called regret

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

UntitledI made a decision early on to live in a way that I would have no regrets. Maybe we all do that at some point. I felt good about the choices I made, the conscientiousness with which I researched before I made those choices. I trusted my worldview and I adopted an outlook about my life that felt solid, reliable, and responsible.

I also committed myself to reevaluation—to question my assumptions.

For instance, I remember when Noah was small and I was pregnant with Johannah, I lived in missionary housing (an apartment building) with a slew of other missionary families on furlough. I remember seeing all these moms running around with their kids while I formed judgments about their parenting. I was in my 20s! That’s what you do in your 20s.

But one day it dawned on me: If I have judgments about those parents, they must have them about me and how I parent too. I can still remember where I was standing when this flash of awareness dawned on me.

I screwed up my courage and went to my favorite friend in the complex and told her: “Kris, we judge each other’s parenting. I just realized that you all must have opinions about how I’m raising my kids. Would you mind sharing with me what you see that I’m not seeing that would help me be a better mother to Noah?”

Kris paused, “What a great question! I want to take it seriously. Let me think for a day or two and then I’ll tell you what I’ve observed.”

And she did. I took her comments to heart. I tried to apply her advice. In hindsight, not all of what she shared worked for my kid (her kid turned out to be a very different kind of person than my kid, as I’ve learned 24 years later, though both are wonderful young adults). But what I felt in that moment with Kris was that I wanted very much not to be in a prison of my own making, blind to my blind spots.

As my children got older, I read all kinds of books (the most helpful for conversational style and tone were the two by Faber and Mazlish—How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and Siblings without Rivalry), I went to therapy, I joined online discussion groups, I attended parenting classes, I sought advice from friends, I consulted my mother, I watched other families and often determined I did not want what I saw there, and in some instances, very much wanted what I saw there.

Over time, a core philosophy grew in me. But it came at a price. I often wished I knew “then” what I had just adopted and learned “now.”

Regret is born when you revise your primary assumptions.

Let me rephrase that.

You feel regret when you shift paradigms, when you discover that what you have been doing (even with resolve, commitment, and good intentions) turns out not to have been as good for you and the rest of your clan as you had originally believed.

Regret doesn’t only come from bad choices or even failure to live up to your ideals.

Regret comes from discovering that what you knew then wasn’t as good as what you know now, and you wish you could go back and have a “do over.”

But you can’t go back. There’s no time turner for life.

As my local running store slogan reminds me every day: “Live life in forward motion.”

You can only do what you know to do now. You can repair through apology, but the most powerful way to get out of the cycle of regret is to enthusiastically embrace the new insight and live into it. Drop the self-recriminations, be glad you have a chance to change, and move into the new paradigm with alacrity.

One benefit to regret: you become human. People like you better when they know you’ve been through a few things, like they have, and are still going, still trying, still learning.

No one gets it right on the first try, or the last try. We all operate with the insight of today. The worst thing to do is to cling to what isn’t working to avoid regretting it.

Be gentle with yourself. Be open to change and growth. Embrace the adventure of living.

Peace. ♥

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Guilherme Yagui

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Are you a Type A mom?

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Day 2 - Trip Packing List - just the essential items.Do you find it difficult to operate without a checklist? Do you find yourself worried about getting it all done?

On the flip side, do you wish you could be more relaxed, but each time you try, the anxiety rises and you don’t quite relax?

It’s difficult to battle who you are—how you naturally interact with the world. Messy people buy the manuals of the naturally organized thinking they can change if they just have a system. Type A parents want to find a way to relax without feeling like they are lazy.

I say: Work with whatchu got! It’s too hard to do a personality-ectomy! Better to suit your aims to your style.

For instance, if you want to be a more relaxed mom—one who puts the warm fuzzies ahead of the workbooks, change the checklist. See if that helps.

Self-awareness is the first step. Each time you are tempted to push your kids toward what feels like work rather than delight, breathe. Feel your face. Are you smiling? Are your brows furrowing? Get back to connection with your children. Measure your day (checklist) with a new “Type A” criteria.

Check these off as you do them.

__ Hugged each kid

__ Made eye contact with one and had a conversation for 3 minutes

__ Asked questions of my quiet child to find out more about her process, not her work completed.

__ Played a game.

__ Took a walk.

__ Cultivated silliness (silly voice, body, jokes, puns, dance moves).

__ Put on music.

__ Smiled at my children, each one, at least once.

__ Gave 5 compliments.

__ Ate tasty foods and noticed the flavors.

__ Let everyone stop “working” sooner than they expected.

__ Did someone’s task for them.

__ Sat next to my child during her hardest subject until she finished it, offering encouragements.

__ Gave myself and kids permission to NOT do a boring chapter of the workbook.

__ Left a mess so my children could return to it later to finish the art project or the Lego build or the play fort.

What if you had a check list like that? Would that help you be a Type A mom who is also more fun?

Try that for a couple of days and see if you find a new groove for your careful personality—one that measures and values connection, over work completed. (You are likely to still get all the work done – that’s who you are! But now you’ll make room for the other stuff you wish you would do more spontaneously.)

Good luck!

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image by Betsy Weber

In the middle of the muddle

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Joy of Love: Love to Hate (05)Image by Nori

I had a conversation with Joanna in private message after I posted about my dislike of the word “obedience” in parenting. It was fruitful. I told her that I like hearing from mothers who are “in the middle of the muddle,” because it’s too easy for mothers with older kids (like me) removed from those toddler years to get a bit glassy-eyed about those struggles.

Here’s one of her comments that I thought helpful:

“You’re right, I am in the “middle of the muddle” (I like that) — I have five kids, 3-14 (straddling preschool to 8th grade). I think you do an amazing job “remembering” motherhood, but yes… perhaps the earliest years are pleasantly fuzzy, those years when any mom will tell you that a battle of wills is just par for the course. It’s being patient and empathetic in the midst of it that makes the difference, I think. Tonight, in our house, it was “I want to go bed without brushing my teeth.” Well, it’s not a matter of impossibility, danger or hurting someone else… but the answer is still “no” and I didn’t feel badly about that. There was a short melt-down before he came around (this time the tactic was distraction… Blueberries for Sal awaits, hurry!).

“This is the thing… if I thought that his meltdown was evidence that I hadn’t adequately built a bridge of trust, I would feel condemned — just as condemned as if I felt it was due to my unfaithfulness with “the rod.” I think part of sensible little-kid parenting is just embracing that sometimes (lots of times, because preschoolers excel at making requests/demands) you have to say no, that sometimes your sweetheart will be angry/devastated as a result, that sometimes your wills will clash, but that at the end of the day, love can win and you can come out friends. I love the vision you communicate of coming alongside, of coaching, of understanding and empathizing and saying “yes.” I think it works with older kids and I think it works with schooling. I’m just concerned that it has the potential to create more condemnation when applied (without qualification) to little ones — and I know that’s the farthest thing from your heart.”

I responded to her and want to develop those thoughts.

The key is being mindful and attentive.

I don’t know what you’re like in your home, but what you share here is careful and kind. I agree about the love covering the “no’s.”

One of the things I had to learn (as a highly empathetic mother) was how to support a child in taking greater and greater responsibility. What happens for less empathetic parents is they have to learn how to let go of more and more control.

These are the two axises of mothering—either too much “control” or too much “understanding.”

One of the tricky parts of reading about parenting is the tendency of all the advocates of any one style to act as though a “pure” system will cover all personalities and family dynamics. That turns out not to be true.

What works is to be attentive, to be willing to be wrong, to trust your hunches, to at times let things go (after a day at Disneyland with a burnt out child, skipping the toothbrushing is not a big deal one night), to support consistent practice to develop a habit (expecting toothbrushing most every night and finding a way to help that happen)… Parents offer strength (the backbone of good practices) and tenderness (the compassion for childishness and the perspective of maturity).

That balance is one that gets tweaked throughout childhood.

I like to recommend that everyone start with compassion—getting behind the eyes of the child to see the world as that child is currently seeing it. This takes a pause – you have to stop your own racing thoughts to enter into that empty space of observation, without prejudgment.

Once you are there, it’s easier to see what the child needs and what your role should be. If your heart is pounding and you feel anger rising, you are not there yet.

But even when you are being the backbone on behalf of a child who is struggling to take ownership of his responsibilities (no matter how big or small these are), you can be kind.

“We’re going to register for the ACT test now. I’m standing here until you open the browser and I see you logging in.”

That’s different than anger shouted from another room:

“Hey I told you six times to register for the ACT. The deadline is today. I’m not paying for that late fee. It will come out of your paycheck. Now stop that darned game and register!”

Empathy helps you to keep your attitude in check—to realize that childishness (even in big kids!) runs against emerging personal responsibility. You can remember this feeling, if you tap into it. That helps you determine how you will support the growth necessary without caving (“Here, I’ll do it for you”) versus punishment (“You can’t have the car this weekend if you don’t do it”).

Even small children benefit from this kind of empathy + backbone strategy.

“Toothbrushing happens every night. Sometimes we’re going to go into the bathroom singing and laughing and sometimes I may have to carry you in. But I promise to be gentle with your teeth and as soon as you get the hang of it, you can do it all by yourself.”

I’d like to discuss parental anger in another post. For now, I’d like to open this topic up for your experiences and discussion.

How do you create a balance between empathy for your child’s perspective/stage of development, and support (being the backbone) for a child’s growth, success, and independence?

These ideas all factor heavily into both homeschooling and the teaching of writing, by the way.