Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tiger Mother? Hmmm....

Mark and I were still awake last night when Nightline did an interview with Amy Chua who has come to fame recently for her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A review of the book was printed in the New York Times last week.

I am a woman who takes parenting very seriously. I try to be intentional and seek to approach this important work from a place that allows me to see that these four sweet children are gifts and that I have a limited time to help them grow toward the people they are going to become. Sometimes I do okay at that, sometimes I fail miserably. I have to admit, I listened to the interview carefully. The thought of a book that might tell the story of another momma like me will pique my interest every time.

I listened carefully to the stories shared by Ms. Chua, to the questions asked her by JuJu Chan. In short order, I became uncomfortable. There are a lot of ways to approach parenting... a lot of ways that can work... but when Ms. Chua spoke about expecting better hand-made birthday cards from her children, it made me a little sad. But, I needed to keep listening.

A lot of the conversation around Ms. Chua's book focuses on the difference between Asian and Western parenting. There ARE differences between these approaches but the truth is that there are differences between how I parent and how my friends parent and how my family living in and out of this country parent. We all approach this work in a way that is individual and unique. I have hopes and dreams for my family that really might not matter to you. So, I parent to meet those goals. You have your own thoughts about it all and seek to do the same thing.

In addition to this, I carry with me experiences from my own life that inform the decisions I make for my family. There are things I know, things I have lived, things that I feel are important for my children to either understand better or be protected from. You can judge my work here but because you have not lived my experiences, you may misunderstand my motives. We do that a lot to one another... I have done it, too. But in judging the mothering of another, we miss the opportunity to learn from what she is doing. We miss the chance to see a place where our own life with our families can be strengthened, stretched, supplemented by what someone else might know.

The Tiger Mother concept made me uncomfortable, this is the truth. But, as I felt a wall rise in my mind, I was missing a chance to learn something new. In this case, she was FAR more structured in her mothering than I am in mine. While I do not want to torture my children through music rehearsals, I do think that I could approach that in a way that is more "no nonsense" than I currently do. Necessary tasks happen in her home in a way that they do not in mine. Where I experience frustration, she has created an organizational, disciplined approach that works better than our family's way. I can learn from this and yet important point and let some other aspects go.

As we learn about other approaches, we can pick and choose elements that would benefit our families. Releasing our need to judge may allow us to see things in a different light. I can look at the story told by Ms. Chua and release some of it while incorporating other pieces into our life at home. I can respect her work and also remember that there are things that I believe are important to us. I can take her words as a challenge to adjust but remember that raising my kids in a warm environment matters, as well. My kids need to grow and develop into the people they will become, but I know that life is not a checklist of experiences as much as a journey stored-up. As they learn and struggle and mature, I may need to be strict but I also want to be loving. Pieces of Tiger Mothering might enhance what I offer my kids.

That said, I want to remember that it is HARD to grow up. It is hard to learn, to have limited choices, to be less powerful than the grown-ups that are always around. It is hard to become independent, hard to grow in faith, hard to find your way in a world that can be confusing at best. As my four sweet babies walk this path, a part of me wants to hold their feet to the fire and expect them to do well. But, as my four sweet babies walk this path, I also want to open my arms and pull them in close and love on them as they work it through.

In the end, the way I choose to parent my children has an awful lot to do with what I want them to know of the world. I cannot change the struggle they will face. I cannot save them from that pain. Both of these things have a purpose in their lives and keeping them from it essentially keeps them from themselves, from who they will grow to be. But, I can effect how they see it. I can effect how they feel when they find themselves lost and afraid. I can help my children know that when the path is rocky, when life is not what they thought it would be, they have somewhere to go to process that. I can help them to know that, on their very worse day, they do not have to walk alone. I can shower them with love and teach them daily about the The One Who Loves Them Best.

Last night, I learned that I do not want to be a true Tiger Mother, at least not to the extent that Ms. Chua is. That said, I am glad it worked for her and I am thankful for the nuggets of truth tucked into that book that can help me to do a better job. I am not sure what animal I would claim to describe the work I do... though in the end, I think I would rather not be limited by the characteristics of one creature. I would rather think of it terms of what is needful.... what my children need most right now. Today it might be "Teddy Bear", tomorrow it might be "Tiger"... and next week it might be another animal altogether. As a mom to my four, I want the freedom to give them what I believe they need right now. I want to offer structure, opportunity, education and affection. I want to look into their eyes and feel prepared to engage them where they are. Because not only do I love my kids, but I love being their momma, too. I love their sleep faces in the morning, their silly play in the day and their freshly-washed heads at night. I love catching glimpses of their gifts and watching them wrestle their weaknesses. I love the day-to-day walking through this world, the feel of their hands in mine, the knowledge that we do it together.

And I love that they know all of that... that they can go to sleep tonight knowing I am in it with them, for the good and the bad, for the easy and the hard, for the laughter and tears. They do not walk alone.

Hmmm... I guess that explains it best. Today, I choose to be a human momma to my human babies. I choose to be a creature who values and nurtures relationship... not to the exclusion of structure or discipline... but in a way that allows those things to blossom. I choose to discipline and teach my babies with my arm around their shoulders and a tear in both our eyes. Because it is that very thing that sets us apart from so many other creatures.

I have a lot yet left to learn... but I am grateful to have this place to stand. I am momma, hear me roar? Naaaah... Not me.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rambling: God's Unfolding Plan

Sometimes I wish I could see a bigger glimpse of God's great plan.

I wish this when:

-One of my kids begins to struggle with an issue that seems overwhelming... like when we found out one had a hole in his heart or another had sensory integration disorder or another became painfully shy...

-Our finances remain strapped for years and years, caught in an economy that has squashed any sense of monetary security we might have thought we had...

-Job tensions build for my husband and his long and positive work history may end up not meaning nearly as much as someone else's bottom line...

-Things just don't make sense. Sometimes this plays out in ways that are horribly negative and sometimes it shows itself in happy occurrences that make me scratch my head....

Sometimes, I wish I could see a little more of God's big plan... and then, sometimes, just for a minute or an hour or a day or two, I do.

Like when:

-The very thing that has been a struggle for one of my kids becomes an asset in his or her young life...

-Our difficult financial season allows me to look at things that matter far more than nickels and dimes...

-Job insecurity encourages a season of healthy dreaming that might blossom into brand new plans...

-A friendship that may not have made sense is not only a blessing in my life but a chance to be a blessing back...

I have thought about this an awful lot this weekend... how God has plans that reach far beyond what we see right now. I have been reminded that what seems clear today might be pretty foggy down the road. And that very thing might be clear again another day to come. As I think this through there is comfort in knowing that what hurts and what makes me smile might have a point that reaches far beyond where I stand right now.

This weekend, as I watched my kids talk and laugh, as I sat with a friend and her daughter, as I moved in and out of all the familiar places in my small life, I caught grace-filled glimpses of God's Great Hand. This weekend, as I laughed and cried and thought and prayed and hoped and dreamed and wondered and wandered, I was reminded again that there is a purpose to it, even when it is not seen. Even when He is not seen... it is true nonetheless. For me and for you, too.

A rambling post, I know... but maybe you hear my heart.

Blessings on your day.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Weary Weekend, A Basement Cleaned

The place was TRASHED. There is no other way to describe it. From one wall to the next, there were toys and pieces of toys literally everywhere. We could not walk through freely and the kids had begun to take over other parts of the house in their search for a place to play. Our basement was out of control.

I am a woman who likes things neat. I think I can handle some clutter and I certainly do not walk around with cleaning products in my pocket but I like my house to be neat. The truth is that each day my four sweet children traipse off to school and I want to feel like there is a place where I can relax and not be overwhelmed by whatever it is they have left behind. And truly, it seems like a reasonable request. Pick up what is yours and I will do the same. If we all do this, the house will be clean, right?

I wish.

Here is the reality...

-My garage is half full of things we have not had time to unpack... in years...

-Some days... okay, most days... my kids' rooms are cleaner than mine. After working to clean common areas, the last thing I want to do is clean another bedroom.

-Keeping the living room, family room and dining room neat often feels like all I can do in a day.

-And in terms of the basement, we gave up. We gave up on that area and it took on a life of it's own. It was using that life to hold us hostage... from having kids over to play or friends over to visit.

So this weekend, we reclaimed our home and dared to dream about what it could become if we managed it instead of the other way around. We all had a three-day weekend and so we chose to hold our kids accountable to their mess and draw a line in the sand. The basement had to get done.

Immediately, we were bombarded with parent-guilt about this crazy use of time. Shouldn't we be doing something fun? Don't we owe our children some fantastic experience with the extra time we all had off? Surely we can't make THEM clean it all?

And then we came to our senses. They made the mess. They did. I never went down those basement stairs and dumped containers of creative toys willy-nilly all over the floor! I never popped some doll's head and arms off or left Legos laying about.

I did, however, work with my husband to choose a house that fit our needs. I did, however, buy said house and move into with my crazy kids. So, when did I decide that it didn't matter what happened to that space? When did we actually give up and allow children to be children and have say over a fifth of our home?

I have no idea when that happened... but it did. Yep, we gave up and gave in and in doing so, taught our children nothing. Nothing about responsibility. Nothing about accountability. Nothing about consequences.

So this weekend, we looked parent-guilt in the face and laughed out-loud. No fun trips. No hours of screen-time. No. Instead, we put on our grown-up pants and sent our kids to the basement to undo what they had done.

I probably should have taken before pics. Except I would never want to show them.

After three days of warning them that The Great Clean-up of 2011 was going to occur (during which no one even thought about getting a head start...), we began on Saturday morning. I think they thought we were kidding. In the past, we have helped them out. In the past, we have done it ourselves. But, it always ended with the basement a mess again. We knew we needed a new plan.

Now, I know you are thinking that either:

1. You would never let your basement become such a mess.


2. Your kids wouldn't clean it up.

But please understand, they did not go quietly into this work! No, they fought. They cried. They told us we had no right. They snuck up the stairs to get out of the work. They hid things under furniture. They worked lightly so others would have to work hard and they complained without ceasing for hours on end.

After each of the kids had left the basement way too many times (I need a drink. I need a snack. Elizabeth is not helping. Noah is being bossy. Josiah is playing, not working. Benjamin won't throw anything out.), we told them they would have to stay downstairs til we saw a significant change. This, they did not like.

It was horrible.

More crying. More carrying on. We were weary and frustrated, too.

Then, they had the guts to complain that we were not helping enough. Not a good move. We explained to them that the mess was theirs. That we had helped before. That this happens again and again. And then we went upstairs. The truth is, Mark and I had things to do. I had meals to plan and Mark had plumbing to tend to and the banister was broken and all of it had to be done. So, we left them to their mess and went on to what we had planned.

It was not fun.

By bedtime on Saturday, one third of the basement was like a wonderland of toys. The floor had been found and vacuumed, the dog took up residence in a nice, clear spot. My kids literally rolled around in the space they had cleared and all had smiles on their faces. Utopia... short-lived.

Mark and I called a family meeting. We used the newly cleaned area of the basement to gather our children around and tell them what they didn't want to know.

"You are not done."

We explained that Sunday was the Sabbath and so we would not be working on the basement on Sunday. Now Monday... that was a different tale.

:::Resume wailing and carrying on:::

One even said, "I cannot believe you are doing this to us. I had so looked forward to this weekend!"

(Sometimes, when my kids try to make me feel guilty, I am all the more determined to feel nothing of the sort. )

So Monday morning, they returned. And no one was happy and it was awful and I was tired and I hated the whole of it. Sometimes, being a grown-up is like that. Sometimes, being an adult and being a parent means I have to do what I don't want to do... because it is needful or because it is best. Or both.

We took a break for breakfast and we took a break for lunch. But, somewhere in the midst of it all, I think they began to understand that the basement was going to get clean and that they were going to do it. Somewhere between meals, I think they began to understand that the mess they were cleaning was theirs and that picking it up was not some cruel punishment but instead, a logical consequence. And so they cleaned.

We finally hit a point where we knew adult help would be needed. At that point, Mark and I stepped in to help. After hours and hours of working, there was actually a sense of gratitude when that decision was made and I was aware again that my children learn what I teach them. If everything is easy, if everything is taken care of on their behalf, there is no reason to be thankful because it's just the way it is. But, if they know that work is hard and they know that messes get cleaned and they know that getting it done takes time and effort... they come to appreciate a hand in a whole new way.

By dinner-time last night, our basement was under control. We still have things to work on. But, the space is usable. It is clear. It is inching toward organized. And my kids are THRILLED.

They know now to appreciate the wonder of that space. They remember now the joy in having room to move. And we do, too.

Mark and I have learned that it makes no sense to hand a portion of our home to children without holding them accountable for what will happen in that space. Even as I type that line, I know there will be people who disagree. But, this is our family home and allowing our kids to rule that roost had rendered a portion unusable. For us, that is not okay.

We sat with our kids in that open space and dreamed about what it could become. We dreamed of a day when we could afford a TV for down there, a few simple pieces of furniture. We dreamed about having "teen-space" and "play-space" for all our kids to enjoy. We dreamed together about the things that a bit of neatness buys us... not in pride of ownership but in ways that it might benefit relationship. We talked about having space to entertain friends, room to build Legos with siblings, a place to go and hang out. Because for us, that is what it is all about. I may be a woman who likes things neat, but it is not for neatness sake. I want order because it buys us so many options and affords us so much time... time spent this weekend on cleaning might have been used in other ways...

I don't think this weekend will go down in history as one of my children's best. But, this I know for sure: Last night, I sat upstairs and listened to Noah and Benjamin hanging out in the newly cleaned basement. They had started a game of chess. Noah was coaching his brother on moves that make a difference and extending him lots of grace. They were both laughing and talking about things that brothers talk together about... and it was good. Two boys in their own spot, doing what young boys do.

Two days of cleaning bought us that time... and so many moments like that, to come.

And just like that, it was worth it after all.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Blog Rewind: Dry Erase Markers and Passive Programming

It is a brand new year and yet some of the same old things must be done today.

It's a cleaning day in our house... not my favorite way to spend a morning. Mark is at work and all the kids are busy at school. I am walking, room to room, with a plethora of cleaning supplies and scrubbing bathrooms, bedrooms, hallways and such. I wish I liked it more. I wish I was better at it all. Truth is that it is discipline for me and most of the time I end up feeling a little bitter that I have so much to do. All my kids have chores and all those chores are done every day. But in the end, someone has to scrub it all and that someone is usually me.

Today, as I moved from room to room, I decided it was time for me to think about ways to see this work as an extension of my parenting. While washing a bathroom floor, I found myself thinking about the years we spent as residence directors at Trinity Christian College. It was my job then to come up with ways to extend the education being offered in the classrooms by creating and offering programming for the resident students.

We lived and breathed programming and came to understand that there are many ways to teach students. One way was active... getting them involved in doing something that taught a life lesson that they would need somewhere down the road. The other way was passive... leaving the information behind in places where students would gather in hopes of them finding it themselves. While the latter is less sure, truth be told, it was more effective. When students found themselves in contact with educational material that was not being pushed upon them, they eagerly soaked it up. Is there a lesson there for my parenting? How can I apply passive programming to what I want to offer my children?

In the midst of my cleaning chores, I found myself lost in thought. Grabbing a pack of dry erase markers, I got to work! What do I need my kids to hear from me today? Here is what I did:

We keep a dry erase board near the bedrooms for posting reminders to the kids. Instead of nagging and crabbing at all my sweeties, I can leave the information for them to find. Here is our board today:

All my kids share a bathroom and are in there many times a day. With common culture brewing a sense of entitlement and discontent among the Millennial Generation, I want to find ways to foster positive thinking in the Friesen Four. Here is what is written on the mirror in their bathroom:

(Where do you see God's blessings today?)

Raising a girl is a big responsibility... especially today! It worries me that a whole generation of girls are being encouraged to set aside standards and often disrespect themselves. I want to raise a strong, smart girl who knows that she is beautiful and intelligent. I want her to have a connection to her Creator that leads her to find her own value in Him. Here is what I wrote on the mirror in Elizabeth's room... the very place she stands every day to brush her hair.

(God made you smart and beautiful!)

Mark and I are not exempt from losing our way. Frustrating days and a loud, busy house can lead us to a place where we forget to find value in what's in front of us today. On the mirror in our bathroom, I wrote this:

(You are gonna miss this...)

The downstairs bathroom in our house is used by visitors to our home as well as by our family during active times. Can I remind us that in this place, in this home, we are all deeply loved? Here is what I wrote on the mirror downstairs:

(You are loved in this place...)

My friends, this job of being a wife and mother is big. It can feel overwhelming. We can feel eternally behind or frustrated or stressed. We can lose our way and find ourselves falling short of the goals we set for our time with our kids. But, we must remember this: Powerful moments in mothering our babies are found in the minutiae of our ordinary days. It is the truth we pass to our children. It is the minute we spend with a child on our lap. It is the reminder, again, that they are loved and valuable and seen. It is the tiny things we do that pour into the hearts of our babies every, single day. It matters. All of it matters to them.

What can you do today? What tiny thing can you offer to those you love best that can help them to learn what you know matters most? It doesn't have to be something you say. What can you give them today?

Blessings on your day.