Maybe Boys Need a Little Danger

Boys Need a Little DangerAre we making life too boring for little boys? What if boys need a little bit of danger?

I wrote a column about that a few years ago, and I thought I’d rerun it today. In my post where I recommended 10 different summer reads, I recommended the book Why Gender Matters, which looks at the hard-wired gender differences between boys and girls. And one of those differences is that boys naturally lean more towards danger and risk-taking–and too often we moms, and the schools, and society in general, are trying to eradicate that from boys’ lives. But what if they need it? Let’s talk about it today!

I have a little friend who, when he was only five, did a horrendous thing. He bit a boy at school.

This particular boy had been pestering him for months, and my little friend lashed out by sinking his teeth in.

A human bite, unfortunately, is not clean, and it sent the bully on a trip to the Emergency Room. Meanwhile my little friend was given quite the verbal lashing by the principal about how violence is never the answer.

His mother, a good friend of mine, was quite perplexed about how to react. Personally, I told her, I think his transgression was twofold: he used his teeth rather than his hands, and he did so at school where violence is never permitted. Other than that, was he really so wrong? Kids have been fighting back against bullies for time immemorial, and it’s often quite effective in getting bullies to back off.

Taking the publishing world by storm a few years ago was The Dangerous Book for Boys. It doesn’t give secrets on how to get your mothers to feed you chocolate or how to get your way with women.

It simply talks common sense about things that have been part of boyhood almost forever, until our generation forgot them.

Things like how to tie a knot, how to fish, how to jump from a rock into the water, or how to survive in the wilderness. These were the plotlines of most boys’ novels until relatively recently, when we started to believe that what boys truly desired was to share their feelings.

When places like schools try to curb boys’ natural impulses to be active, risk-taking, and even a bit violent, we run the risk that children will start acting out inappropriately in places with less supervision. If boys are told they must sit still and listen to books all day, they’re more likely to go off the rails after school. If boys can’t play tag at recess because it’s too competitive, or they can only play if everyone gets to be “it”, we aren’t going to curb their natural boyhood impulses. They’re simply going to express them in other ways.

Over the years we have taken all the danger out of childhood. We do this in the interest of safety, and few could argue against bicycle helmets for children, or against safe playground equipment, or for playing with matches. But there is a part of boys, and even many girls, that still yearns for risk.

Remember the playground equipment when we were young? You ran a risk every time you used the teeter totter because you had to trust the guy on the other end not to jump off suddenly. And what about that merry go round? They’re removed from most playgrounds today because if you get a few bigger kids creating momentum, a smaller child could go flinging off. Of course, that’s why many boys ride them in the first place—the flinging part is the attraction! But that’s all the more reason to get rid of these dangers.

As schools banish anything resembling danger, much of the adventure of childhood is being removed.

For all children, but especially for boys who tend to gravitate towards risk-taking more than girls do, this isn’t always a good thing. That’s why The Dangerous Book for Boys is needed. It’s a philosophy to bring adventure back into family life, even if the schools are squeezing it out because they’re afraid of being sued. And now that summer’s here, we’ve got a great chance to create some danger all on our own!

Most boys love seeing things explode, or collapse, or go bang. They love starting fires, sleeping outdoors, and even killing things. It’s time for some adventurous, adult men to step up to the plate and let boys be just a little bit dangerous. What else is childhood for?


Okay, everybody, true story:

When my girls were little, we took a yearly camping trip with another family who had two boys pretty much exactly the same age as our girls. The kids would love helping Derek (the other dad) start the fire at night. After the little kids went to sleep, we adults would play games late into the night. When the kids woke up at 6:30, then, we really didn’t want to get up yet.

And so I will tell you about one of the bad parenting things I did. I actually let Katie and her friend Liam start fires when they were about 6 and 7. It kept them busy for like half an hour so we could still sleep! And they would resurrect the coals from last night. When I talked to Derek about it (he’s a “dangerous” kind of man’s man himself) he always said, “the problem is letting kids PLAY with fire. Liam and Katie aren’t PLAYING with fire. They’re building a fire. And they know what they’re doing.” And they actually are really good at starting fires today! (Likely still shouldn’t have done it, but there you go).

Here’s a pic from the summer of 2000 when the kids were little–and enthralled by fire:

2000CampingPaulLiamBeccaFire

(That’s Paul at the fire with his older brother Liam on the right; Becca’s sitting down. Katie’s not pictured. She’s probably raiding the cooler for more chocolate to make smores).

And here’s Katie and Liam on Liam’s 4-wheeler last Sunday for Katie’s 17th birthday:

2014LiamKatie4wheeling

So now you tell me: what “dangerous” things do your sons–or nephews–do? What dangerous things does your husband do? And how do you deal with it?

Top 10 Things I’ll Never Like Doing

Vacuuming, Cleaning Toilets, Exercise: Things I Hate Doing, But I Do Anyway

I once heard that the definition of maturity is deciding to do things you don’t want to do because they need to get done. If that’s the case, then I’m super mature. Because I feel like I spend a lot of time doing things I have to psyche myself up for. In fact, I think that’s why I was so exhausted at the beginning of this summer–I feel like so much of my life for the last few months has been slogging through instead of doing things that I actually wanted. This summer I took some time to relax and go camping with my hubby and I feel ever so much better.

But I asked on Facebook last night, “what do you do that you don’t like doing?” And I got some great responses!

So today I thought I’d share ten things that we do that we don’t like doing, and likely never will like doing, but have to get done–along with some thoughts on how to get these things done faster and easier!

1. Cleaning the Toilet

The #1 answer on Facebook was cleaning the toilet. We just don’t like doing it. And when you have little boys (or several big ones) it gets even grosser. But there’s something about having a bright, clean white toilet bowl that makes you just feel better.

How to lessen the pain: Keep the toilet bowl cleaner right next to the toilet, and any time you notice that it’s getting gross, just squirt some cleaner in and move that brush around, and it won’t ever get to the disgusting stage. Also, little kids really love cleaning toilets. Maybe not every little kid, but enough that I’ve noticed a trend. If you can catch them when they’re around 5 or 6 and get them started, they may start to adopt it as “their” job. There’s something about scrubbing with that brush and making all those bubbles. So teach your children to clean a toilet! Leave a basket of rags by the toilet along with some safe cleaner so they can wash down the toilet seats, too. We may not like cleaners being visible, but I always figure, if it’s within reach, it’ll get done more often!

2. Vacuuming

Perhaps ironically (given the title of this blog) this is my big one! I hate vacuuming–especially vacuuming stairs. And I think the problem with vacuuming is that feeling that it’s never done. You know that as soon as you vacuum, someone’s going to trek through and make more crumbs.

How to lessen the pain: Invest in a quality vacuum cleaner that does what you need it to do! If you have mostly floors you need a different vacuum cleaner than someone with a bunch of rugs. You may find that you actually enjoy vacuuming if you have one you love. And those see-through ones where the dust whirls around are really fun for kids. So check out your vacuum cleaner options.

Another thing: clean out the vacuum bag often, and if you have a central vac, clean out the unit. When I bought my first house I didn’t know you had to do this. I’m not sure where I thought all that dust went, but after six months of the vacuum not working I thought to ask my hubby where the central vac emptied. And sure enough, it was stuffed.

3. Doing Dishes

We hate dishes because they’re gross and they don’t go away. You wash a load and tomorrow there will be just as many.

How to lessen the pain: Have a rule that if you make dinner you don’t do dishes! Get kids involved. And here’s one that I’ve found works: aim to have the counter cleared before you go to bed. Even squirt some cleaner and shine it every night. If you see a clean counter, you feel so much better!

4. Making Breakfast

Probably the #2 thing mentioned on Facebook that people hated to do was cook. I hate it being 5:30 and not knowing what I’ll make for dinner. That’s torture. But I actually enjoy cooking–dinner, that is. I hate making breakfast. Mostly because I hate breakfast foods, and so does my youngest daughter, who is usually the only one home with me at breakfast time. But I know we have to eat! But if I don’t cook, I tend to head for the chocolate cake. Even this morning I ate one of Katie’s chocolate chip cookies she was given yesterday by a friend for her birthday (sorry, Katie, but you weren’t awake yet. So there). The problem is that we need protein at breakfast, but if we can’t think of what to make, we’ll tend to go for the simple sugars (which is what most muffins and cereals are).

How to lessen the pain: Think outside the box! You can eat leftovers for breakfast. And I’ve started making more “lunch stuff” for breakfast. I do hummus and pitas. I do those mini-pizzas on English muffins. And if you have any ideas for other creative breakfasts, I’d love to hear them. I’m just not an egg, pancake, oatmeal, or cereal gal.

5. Responding to Email

I get a ton of email everyday. Maybe some of you are in the same boat. And I hate it. For you it may not be email that you hate; maybe it’s paying bills. But it’s anything that is at the back of your mind, nagging you, saying, “you have to do this” and making you feel guilty. Email makes me feel guilty because there are always things I’m supposed to do. And I don’t like that.

How to lessen the pain: Whether it’s bills or email or other paperwork, set aside a specific amount of time you’ll spend everyday. Rather than leaving it in one chunk, do fifteen minutes a day (or whatever it takes). I find if I set the timer and try to get through as many as I can in that time, I’m quite productive. And then I can say, “well, if I didn’t get to that person today, it’s because other things took priority”. And that’s okay.

6. Getting that PAP Smear/Mammogram

Let’s go to our happy places, people, and put our feet up in those stirrups and try to ignore what’s going on. Or let’s go get squished!

As someone who has had to have an annual mammogram since I was 30 due to family history of breast cancer, I can tell  you it’s not fun. But it’s better than the alternative.

How to lessen the pain: I don’t think you can, really. For mammograms, take a Tylenol an hour before. For Pap smears, just live through it. Relax as much as you can (yeah, right). And remember that the new guidelines say that if you’ve only ever had one sexual partner, and he’s only ever had one, then you really only need one every three years (yay!). For those of you in that situation, you can tell your doctor it really isn’t necessary. Unfortunately, for those of you in the other camp it is, because cervical cancer is really dangerous. And it was through a Pap smear that they first found all the polyps and other things that were causing me bleeding issues, so it is important.

7. Exercising

I will never, ever like exercising, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the people who say they don’t feel happy if they don’t jog five miles a day are lying or deluding themselves. I have gone through periods of intense exercise in my life, and even then I didn’t like it. I just don’t. But I know it’s necessary.

How to lessen the pain: I’ve only found two things that work: listening to a sermon/speech/podcast while I jog or watching Netflix while I’m on the stationary bike, or else exercising with someone else. I bit the bullet and shelled out the money for a personal trainer for three months (had my first session yesterday!), because I just need the accountability. I also am starting to jog with my hubby again. Doing stuff together makes it more likely to get done.  I think admitting you’ll never like it, and stopping feeling guilty for not wanting to exercise, helps a ton. Just do it, and know you’ll hate it, but that’s okay.

8. Putting Laundry Away

I can do laundry. I just hate folding it and putting it away. It’s never ending.

How to lessen the pain: Fold it directly out of the dryer, rather than dumping it somewhere (or fold it as it comes off the line). Then you just need to deposit it in people’s rooms. Have older kids do their own laundry (or at least put away their own laundry).

9. Working Outside the Home

Here’s a sad one. I had a number of people on Facebook saying that they so wanted to be stay-at-home moms, but they needed to work for the income.

Sometimes we do need to work, and that’s still a service you’re doing your family.

How to lessen the pain: Learn as much as you can about how to save money on your big ticket items, like mortgages, insurance, cars, and groceries. Downsize as much as you can. Learn to live with less. Save as much of your paycheque as you can manage. Create a plan. If you can see that in five years you can start to work part-time, or that if you downsize you can afford to be home more, that can help tremendously. But get a plan for the whole family so that you can see how your work and your husband’s work contribute, and what you’re aiming for. You’re in this as a family, and you don’t need to feel like it’s all on your shoulders. And sometimes when you take a look long-term, you can see how it may not always be like this.

10. Battling in Prayer

I’m surprised no one, in the almost 200 comments so far, mentioned this one, but for me it’s a biggie. I know no one actually says online “I find doing my devotions hard” or “I find praying hard”, but I’m not afraid to say I do! It’s difficult to sit quietly and concentrate on reading the word. But I’m still way better at that than I am at praying. I can conversation-pray all day (and in fact I do). But you know that prayer where you’re going to battle, and you need to pray hard for something? Sort of like the prayer in Daniel 10 where Daniel prayed for 21 days, not realizing a huge spiritual battle was going on in the heavenly realms at the same time? I really battle with that. I can talk to God like He’s my Daddy for sure, but to get serious? It’s tough.
To Love, Honor and Vacuum

How to lessen the pain: Have a pen and paper handy so you can write things down as you pray. I find that helps me to focus and stops my mind from wandering. Have a different place you sit when you pray like this, so you’re not tempted to grab a book or glance at the computer. Use a prayer book, like the book of common prayer, as a guide for how to work through a prayer. And I’d love any suggestions you have in the comments section!

There’s my list of the top 10 things I hate doing! Many of these I’ve minimized by delegating to others, and if you find that you’re doing all of these yourself, you really need to get a hold of my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. Family is a team, a unit, it’s not mom doing everything while others do nothing. And if you feel like you get a bit of a break, your family will be a more fun place for all of you–while your kids also learn responsibility.

Now let me know: how do you lessen the pain of some of these things? Leave your one best solution in the comments (or more if you have them!)

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Genetic Curse?

Genetic CurseIs the genetic curse real–are we destined to copy our parents?

In my quest to take a bit more vacation this summer, I’m rerunning some older columns. This one, which addresses this whole “genetic curse” issue, first appeared January 14, 2005.

When I was a kid my mother was always telling me to stand up straight. I really wish I had listened to her. A few weeks ago I threw my back out yet again, and the chiropractor and the massage therapist (no, that’s not as fun as it sounds) both came to the general conclusion—surprise, surprise—that I need to stand up straight.

My father and my grandfather were both very stooped. I get my body shape from them, and so I’m genetically predispositioned to slouch. Plus I’m at the computer way too much, which does very little for one’s posture.

I have two approaches to this problem. I could shrug, say, “what are you going to do?”, and go back to slouching, condemning myself to decades of intermittent pain. Or I can bite the bullet and cause pain now as I try to relearn how to stand up. I’ve chosen to go back to the toddler mode and boy, is it difficult. But at least I can walk again.

Our parents bequeath us many things, like hugs, smiles, love, and Christmas decorations we made when we were 7. But they also pass on a number of bad things.

Maybe it’s a tendency to gain weight just by looking at chocolate truffles. Maybe it’s a predisposition to alcoholism, health problems, or receding hairlines. Or perhaps it’s a personality issue: you’re too shy, too angry, too impulsive, too scared.

Unfortunately, at the same time as I have noticed the traits that my parents passed on to me, I have also noticed those that I have bequeathed to my own offspring. I am blessed with one daughter whom I love to pieces who is also the spitting image of me (minus the slouching), both physically and emotionally. All of the things that bug me about me I see in her, too. And I don’t want her plagued with my problems!

The funny thing about our personalities, though, is that our strengths are also often our greatest weaknesses.

For instance, my daughter Katie has a real ability to make people laugh. She’s a ham, and sometimes when you’re in the middle of disciplining her she comes out with something that is so funny you have to leave the room so she doesn’t see that she’s broken through your stern composure. At the same time, Katie is also the one who is hard to take anything seriously, or to work hard. While Rebecca is our little perfectionist, Katie would rather put on a ridiculous looking skirt, stand on a table, and twirl. I want Katie to learn how to be appropriate in different circumstances, but I don’t want her to lose her playfulness. In fact, I want to encourage her, because she has the gift of making those around her smile. But it needs to be steered in the right direction.

In the same way, my older daughter is a perfectionist, and takes life too seriously. Speaking as one who can identify, this is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you tend to be a high achiever. It’s a curse because you make yourself miserable in the process. Learning to give yourself a break, to allow mistakes, to see areas where you’ve stumbled not as huge personal failures but as simply being human is vital to growing up without giving oneself an ulcer.

As parents, we’re the ones who can best see where our kids may be heading in the wrong direction, especially if those weaknesses are also in us.

But when we do see those weaknesses, we often over-reach in our criticism because we’re so sensitive about them. We don’t help our kids grow; we just make them feel ashamed. Let’s resist the temptation to lash out and criticize. Remember that every fault that we see probably has a flipside that’s positive. The best way to break this “genetic curse”, for lack of a better term, may not be to purge it altogether, but to steer your child see towards the positive aspect of this characteristic. Then you can help them minimize the negative. And now you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve been sitting at the computer too long and I have to do my stretching again.

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A Testimony of Marriage, Anorexia, and Healing

healing in marriage battling anorexia

Today, please welcome guest reader, Alyssa, as she shares her story of healing in marriage battling anorexia, and how God and her husband are daily helping her.  No battle is too big for God!

I grew up in a small town in Australia. I loved life in the country, there is something so freeing and satisfying about the open space, the fresh air and creation all around. It brings a peace and happiness to my heart! I was one of four kids to two amazing God centred parents. For as long as I can remember, my mum and Dad taught us about God’s word, what it meant to forgive, serve and love others. Growing up in one of the only Christian families in our small country town presented its challenges though. I was a sensitive child and from the age of 9+ I don’t really remember a time where I didn’t feel pressured or even taken advantage of. Some days I would return from school in tears only to have my mother and father sit beside me, warm me with their hugs and gently tell me to keep on loving and keep on forgiving. So I did.

But not dealing with these emotions properly left me more emotionally scarred then I could ever imagine.

Our family was different, and I knew that… but there was always a part of me, just like everyone I guess, that wanted to be accepted and fit in. By the time I hit high school, I felt an immense amount of pressure to not just be like everyone but also please everyone. I felt very insecure, timid and ugly… Along with this I had a perfectionist personality, was very quick to forgive and show kindness to everyone and therefore was walked all over. Amongst the bullying and identity issues, I was also sexually abused by several different boys/men throughout my teen years. Not only did I neglect to tell people about it, I didn’t deal with it properly, I didn’t understand it and I chose to keep forgiving and loving. When I turned 16, I moved out of home, taking myself to live in Sydney to study music and dance. I wanted to sing more than anything. Those few years in Sydney, although holding some of the greatest memories of my life, also hold some of the darkest. In those three years in Sydney, I studied full time, worked in the office of the performing arts school I attended, and went to a church that left me feeling lonely and left out. I got in a serious relationship with someone who did not want to know God at all, I had very little to no money, and I lost all four of my grandparents, whom I loved very much.

At the end of the year I left that school. I felt lonely, very isolated, overwhelmed. This is where my eating disorder came in.

At the time I didn’t realize what was wrong with me, just that I was slowly losing sight of who I was. It is now eight years later….And those last few years are also a blur. I have been in and out of treatment, private hospitals, have seen countless psychologists and counselors. In 2011, I went into a Christian Rehabilitation centre for Women struggling with addictions. It was the only program that worked for me and for a whole year I was walking free of the illness. It was in that year that my now husband proposed to me. Matt and I dated long distance.

He knew I struggled with an eating disorder, but we spent little time with each other so he was unaware of its deception, struggle and the hold it can have on one’s life.

But he knew I loved God and that despite my illness and current troubles, I persevered to love God and serve Him the best I could. At the end of 2011 I ventured into the Christian Rehabilitation. The program required me being cut off from all things, I went and lived on a farm with a dozen other women. We had no phone, access to internet and we were only allowed to watch TV on weekends for a movie night, or the news in between 4-6pm on weekdays. I communicated to people through letters. I spent my time learning to enjoy life, all of God’s goodness and meditated on His word day and night. This is what I believe healed me. I spent the next year celebrating life, enjoying peoples’ company and being thankful for what our Great God had done and would continue to do in me. I don’t know what went wrong; I have maybe spent too much time thinking about it.

But 2 weeks after we got married in November 2012, I suddenly fell back into old habits.

It wasn’t a gradual fall, it was quick and left us both feeling lost and unable to comprehend it. We had moved to Sydney, left all the people we knew and who supported us, we had very little money and struggled getting jobs. Life had thrown all different things at us, when marriage in itself seemed enough. So what has the last two years been like? Well, as most of you who are reading this would know, an eating disorder is a life threatening, serious, destructive illness. It’s a tyrant, its based on denial and deception. It involves stealing, lying, wasting money, time and life. For those who do not overcome it, unfortunately it results in death.

I am 24 years old, I weigh 37 kgs and am 174cm tall. I have Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa. In my spare time, I live under the control of this terrible illness… I steal money, I steal food, I throw it up. Sometimes a whole day will pass and I will not remember any of it, under the trance of this illness. I have spent hundreds of dollars in days, all on food that no one ever got to see.

When we have arranged to go out and be with people, I end up cancelling, either because I am too anxious about what they are going to think of me or because secretly I have been binge eating on food and cannot go anywhere because I need to throw it up. My husband has continuously forgiven me, time and time again. He has done nothing but love me with unconditional love. He has held me, both in tears and prayed. He has bought me flowers just to see me smile, he gave up an excellent job so that I could be closer to people for support, he has filled rooms full of balloons and filled them with tiny messages to remind me that he is here and isn’t giving up. He deliberately hops into bed before me to warm my side up, as I feel the cold. During a fight, I was still upset going to bed so I resided on the couch, half way through the night I felt someone’s arms pick me up and carry me to bed.

I heard a small whisper, ‘The only time we will ever sleep in separate beds is when we are apart and cannot be in the same bed together.’

He then wrapped his arms around me and held me until I had fallen back asleep. He has put up with the mood swings that come with the illness. Sometimes I say the most terrible, heart breaking and mean things, and he will sit there and simply respond with ‘Alyssa, I love you and I am not going anywhere.’ Matt has been so sacrificial. He has stayed with me through this, when most men in our day and age would probably walk away. He has been a wonderful witness and example of Christ’s love for us. He is a beautiful man. God has been so good to me.

My husband without a doubt is the greatest gift, other than God’s grace, that I have ever been given.

When we moved this year, I decided I didn’t want this illness any longer. I want to be free of it. It has been a hard journey so far, but by God’s grace I am very slowly getting there. We take each day as it comes, and we thank the Lord for the good days and the bad days. We are so grateful and see so many blessings around us and we want to focus on those things. Please keep us in your prayers as I learn to lean, whole-heartedly serve and depend upon God and find my satisfaction, worth and contentment in him. Please keep praying for my husband, Matt, that he will continue to find the strength he needs from God and that he would have wisdom to know how to love me best and look after me best.

When Are You a Grown Up?

Grown UpWhen are you grown up? That’s a question I’ve always been mildly plagued by.

And so today, as I’m taking the summer a little bit more lightly (and catching up on some knitting!), I thought I’d rerun this column I wrote back in September of 2009 that takes a stab at answering that question.

I was not a happy teenager. I didn’t particularly like the high school scene, the ridiculous courses, the boring teachers, and the regimented schedule.

I used to dream of finally being a grown up and being allowed to make my own decisions.

I idolized adulthood.

Then I hit eighteen and nothing magical happened. Surely I’d feel like a grown up in university, though, right? Or maybe when I landed my first full-time job?

Nope.

Many of my friends seemed comfortable in their skin. They knew who they were, and they weren’t afraid of letting others know where they stood. But I was still waiting for some magical writing from heaven to appear and label me, once and for all, an adult, so that I could feel capable, mature, and competent, too.

Unfortunately the writing failed to materialize. And yet, sometime in the last few decades, I must have crossed an invisible line. It may not have been accompanied by thunderous applause, but I definitely passed from mini-me to fully-me. Even though I can’t define the precise mode of this miraculous transformation, I can tell you the results.

I knew I was a grown up when…

I knew I was a grown up when it came to men when I could stop asking, “Does he like me?”, and start asking, “Do I like him?” And when the answer was yes, I married him.

When it came to children, I knew I was a grown up when I stopped worrying what other people thought of my kids’ behaviour or development and just concentrated on being the best mom I could be.

I was a grown up, too, when I stopped pulling out the makeup and the mousse to impress other people, but just started doing it to make myself feel pretty. When I started prioritizing feeling good in my body, I felt like a grown up in it, too.

I was a grown up when I could calmly talk to a salesperson about what their establishment had done that was beyond the pale, instead of letting them walk all over me.

I was a grown up when I could invite people over for dinner and not worry about whether they’d like what I prepared. I’d just cook what I liked, and figured everybody else would make do.

I was a grown up when I called my mom for her advice, and not her approval.

I was a grown up when the fact that my father didn’t understand me became a cause for pity for him, rather than for angst, anger, or introspection on my behalf.

I was a grown up when I started letting myself dream dreams, instead of living out the dreams other people thought I should have.

I felt like a grown up when I acted like others were my equals, instead of feeling insecure around those who were of higher rank or status than I was.

I felt like a grown up when I could run into an acquaintance and have a conversation and not remember until the next day that I was supposed to be mad at them. I guess I don’t carry grudges the same way anymore.

And I knew I was a grown up when I stopped worrying about whether or not I was one.

I don’t have to wait for my life to start; I have to make my life what I want it to be. This is my life; it’s up to me to live it. After all, I am a grown up, even if it’s been a long time coming.

Wifey Wednesday: Are Boundaries Biblical?

Setting Healthy Boundaries is BiblicalSetting healthy boundaries: Is that biblical? Or is it modern psychology given a Christian-sounding twist?

That’s a question that’s been asked a lot on this blog lately when I’ve talked about the importance of setting healthy boundaries in marriage and in our extended families. I’ve had several commenters say that boundaries are not biblical, a position that I find a little bit strange. If boundaries aren’t biblical, what is the alternative?

This is the launch week for my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum (the revised & expanded edition), and in it I talk at length about the importance of maintaining healthy boundaries. And so I thought today it might be worth going over why boundaries are so crucial in our relationships.

Boundaries tell us what is our responsibility and what is someone else’s responsibility

Here’s Galatians 6:2-7, which talks about boundaries:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

We’re supposed to carry each other’s burdens, but we’re also supposed to carry our own loads. Think of a load as something which is manageable–your daily to-do list. But when something out of the blue hits someone that they can’t handle themselves, then we’re supposed to help them. We aren’t supposed to carry each other’s loads–only their burdens. And you won’t be able to help someone with their burdens if you’re simultaneously trying to carry your family’s loads.

Here’s something else about boundaries: we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to others, and we’re not supposed to worry about other’s opinions. We need to test our own actions, and only rely on God. And finally, and perhaps most importantly,

A man reaps what he sows.

God set up the world so that our actions have consequences, and we are supposed to bear those consequences. If you take responsibility for things that aren’t yours–by not having boundaries, for instance–you put a roadblock into one of God’s best teaching instruments He has for His children. Let’s say your husband is prone to rages. He’s sowing discord and anger. But if you and the kids walk on tiptoes around him, trying to placate him, and then when he does yell, you apologize and try to repair the relationship, you’re the ones who are reaping that discord, not him.

TLHV New FB AdWe aren’t to carry each other’s loads, and we’re supposed to let people bear the consequences of their actions. We are each responsible for our own stuff.

Boundaries tell us our limits

In Exodus 18:14-23, we read this interaction between Moses and his father-in-law Jethro:

14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

I love what Jethro says: “what you are doing is not good…You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.” You cannot do everything.

Similarly, Jesus set limits on Himself. He didn’t heal everyone all the time; often He left areas where there were still people who needed His help because it was time to move to the next place. He carved out time to pray, away from His disciples, to spend time with God. He carved out time away from the masses, just with His disciples, to train and minister to them.

If Jesus had let His schedule be determined by what people needed Him to do rather than by what He was called to do and what He was able to do, His ministry would not have been as effective. He needed time alone to rejuvenate and time alone with God, and He took it. He knew that He couldn’t do everything–even if other people needed Him. He had His limits.

Boundaries show us where the moral line is

Boundaries are also necessary to show us where we have transgressed. Indeed, the word “trans-gression” literally means to “cross” a limit.

Moral boundaries allow us to make judgments about what is right and what is wrong. They let us say, “what you are doing is not right and we need to deal with it.”

If we have no moral boundaries–let’s say because we believe in a mistaken idea of submission where we must obey our husbands completely–then we will follow them into sin, or we will end up enabling sin. On the other hand, Matthew 18 clearly tells us that if someone sins against us (and that could be your husband, or your friend, or your mother), you’re supposed to go to them and tell them that they have crossed a boundary. If they refuse to repent, then you’re supposed to go and get one or two others involved. The Bible is clear that we don’t ignore moral transgressions of those close to us. We confront them and we urge them on to more godly behaviour. As James 5:19-20 and says,

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

It is neither emotionally healthy nor moral to live without boundaries.

When we do that, we push ourselves too hard and often exhaust ourselves. We allow wrong behaviour to continue. And we enable people to act selfishly by becoming a cover for their actions.

When people join Al Anon, or the support groups for other family members of those suffering from other addictions, one of the first things they are told is that you can only change yourself, and you must not take responsibility for changing another person. But at the same time, you must also allow that other person to reap the natural consequences of their actions, or they will not have impetus to change. You must stop enabling bad behaviour.

To Love, Honor and VacuumAl Anon gets it–and they aren’t even Christian (though the founder was). Why is it that Christians now think that being a pushover, or letting others get away with wrong behaviour, is Christlike? It isn’t. In Romans 8:29, Paul wrote,

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

God’s will is that we look more and more like Christ.

And so I want to challenge you today: In your family, are your actions encouraging others to look more and more like Christ, or are they covering up and enabling others to look more and more unChristlike? If you aren’t setting healthy boundaries of responsibility, then it’s quite likely that others will be looking less and less like Christ, rather than more and more like Him.

That’s the message of To Love, Honor and Vacuum (the book), though it is of this blog, too! And if you’ve really struggled with this, I encourage you to check out the book, where I help you see how we can live out God’s design that all of us look more and more like Christ–not that we serve so much so that we give others cover to act poorly. And remember–the ebook version is just $2.99 until Sunday! So pick it up today.

Christian Marriage Advice

Top 10 Reasons Women Feel More Like a Maid Than a Wife and a Mom

Taken for Granted Moms: Why you sometimes feel more like a maid than a wife and a mom--and what you can do about it.

Ever feel taken for granted? Most moms and wives do at some point.

TLHV New FB AdAnd that’s why I wrote To Love, Honor and Vacuum. I wanted to help moms who feel unappreciated rethink how they do family so that instead of feeling like a maid, she can feel like part of a healthy family unit that’s all working towards the same goal. And a revised and expanded To Love, Honor and Vacuum is being launched this week–and it’s only $2.99 in ebook format until Sunday! So pick it up today.

On that vein, I thought I’d share the top 10 things that we wives and moms do that we think are helping, when really they can actually make our family situation worse. Be sure to read through to #10, because that’s the most important one–and it’s the root cause of all the other ones.

I asked on my Facebook Page last night, “when do you feel most like a maid instead of a mom?”, and many of these 10 things were mentioned! Now, of course, you could answer that question with “when my husband ignores me” or “when my husband sits on the couch all night and does absolutely nothing”, but I think it’s more helpful to give women strategies they can use to actually change things. We can’t change someone else; we can only change ourselves. So let’s look at the things that we women do to undermine ourselves, here on Top 10 Tuesday:

1. Doing all the housework yourself

One woman on Facebook says that she feels most like a maid when she’s doing the dishes–for the fifth time that day. I totally get it! Housework is exhausting. It’s never ending, it’s tedious, and no one really says thank you. So why are you doing it all yourself?

You cannot keep a perfect home and raise kids who are active and engaged all at the same time. Something’s gotta give. And one of the best ways to help you not feel like a maid is to make sure that from a very young age kids are doing chores, too. Tie the chores to an allowance when they’re young. If it’s a struggle with teens, change the password on the wifi everyday, and don’t give it out until they’ve completed their chores. Require your kids to work.

A 3-year-old can dust a coffee table and can clean the bottom kitchen cabinets. A 5-year-old often LOVES cleaning toilets with that toilet brush thingy. An 8-year-old can clean a bathroom well and can certainly do the dishes. So don’t do it all  yourself.

Here’s an article on age appropriate chores for kids.

2. Not asking your husband for help

Many men do very little housework if they work outside the home and you stay at home. My husband always worked long hours, and when he got home, I didn’t want him doing dishes. I wanted us spending time together as a family. So I didn’t ask him to do housework (though he always picked up his clothes and took care of his own messes). But if you both work outside the home, you’re definitely going to need some help. Even if you do stay at home, you still will need help with the childcare (and men need to spend time with their kids) and you’ll certainly need help on weekends.

But too many women don’t ask for help. They assume that the men should know what to do, and if they’re sitting playing a video game or if they’re goofing off, they’ve actually decided not to help you. That may not be the case. I asked on Facebook a while ago how many women had actually asked their husbands for help, and I received story after story of women saying, I stewed for ten years about how insensitive he was, and yet when I finally asked him to do the dishes after dinner, he did them no problem. He just never knew I needed help!

Try asking. It doesn’t always get you the results you need, but don’t be resentful if you’ve never even asked. Men often think that because we have systems for things, we would find their help more of a pain than anything else. If you want help, don’t expect him to read your mind. Ask.

3. Allowing your children to treat you rudely

From an early age, make your children say “please” and “thank you”. If they talk back, discipline immediately. If they ask for anything rudely, they never, ever get it. Do not let them treat you with direspect.

When my oldest was five, another five-year-old once stayed with us for a week. That little girl whined all the time. It was her default setting–and I can’t stand whining. So I stopped giving her anything if she was whining. “Can I have some mi-i-i-lk?” she’d whine. And I would say, “when you can ask in a proper voice.” After three days she had stopped whining. I honestly don’t know how her parents stood it. It would have driven me beyond the bend if my kid talked like that all the time. Within a few seconds of her mom walking in the door, though, the whining had started again. Don’t ever reward whining or rude behaviour, or they’ll just keep doing it.

4. Picking up after everybody

Do you spend your life putting stray socks in the hamper and picking up toys? That’s exhausting–and can easily fuel resentment.

But people will keep leaving stuff everywhere if you keep picking it up.

If your ten-year-old comes in the house and drops his coat on the chair and his backpack–with his lunchbox inside–on the floor, and you pick those things up and clean out his lunchbox, you’ve taught him to treat you with disrespect. But not just that–you’ve also taught him to ignore the mess he’s making, so that he likely doesn’t even realize that he’s inconveniencing you.

Don’t pick up people’s stuff. Require them to pick it up–and have consequences if they don’t. For husbands, have a corner of the bedroom/house where you can put stray items if they drive you nuts, so that they can be his responsibility again.

Here’s an article I wrote on how to get kids to pick up their stuff!

5. Rescuing everybody

You’re running late, you’ve got to get to work, and you get a text that your 13-year-old forgot his lunch at home. So you drive back to get the lunch and drop it off, making yourself even more frazzled. Or  you mentioned to your husband that he really needed to send that birthday card to his mom, and he didn’t, and you notice it on the counter the morning after it should have been sent, so you run to the post office and send it express. You had to squeeze it in between appointments, but you did it–and you were only mildly late for the kids’ piano lessons.

Do you rescue everybody? There’s no problem with doing it occasionally, out of love. But if family members start assuming you’ll rescue them, they also stop taking responsibility or even making an effort. They’ve taken you for granted. That’s going to make you feel like a maid, too.

6. Overscheduling yourself and your family

If you’re busy and exhausted, you’ll feel like a maid. If your life is spent chauffeuring everybody, but rarely in the things that feed our souls, like down time with those we love, we’ll go through life with this chronic malaise like something’s wrong.

Beware of overscheduling your family.

Here’s an article on the time crunch with extra-curricular activities

7. Being disorganized

Are you the kind of laid back person who goes along life just fine for about five days, letting the messes get worse and worse, but having fun with your kids, until you finally realize OH MY GOODNESS THIS PLACE IS A PIGSTY and you go ballistic? And then you feel like you need to spend twelve hours in a row cleaning?

Sometimes the best way to feel less like a maid is to get a little more organized, so these crises don’t happen!

8. Asking your children to do things instead of expecting it and following through

When you ask your kids something, do you make it a firm command? Or are you wishy washy?

Compare this:

Johnny, it’s getting to be time to clean up your toys, okay? It’s almost time for dinner.

To this:

Johnny, start cleaning up your toys now. You have five minutes before we eat, and I’m setting the timer now.

In the first case, you haven’t actually asked Johnny to do anything. You’ve just made a statement about the time. You may feel like you’ve asked him, but you haven’t. And so he’s unlikely to listen and do anything, and you’re likely to get your blood pressure boiling! If you want them to do something, make it very clear. Ask firmly. Set a deadline. Expect follow-through.

9. Eating in a rush–and not at the dinner table

You’ve spent an hour making a great meal, but everybody sits at the table, rushing through it, with their phones on. Or else someone grabs it and heads to their room. Perhaps you all sit at the table, but the kids are whiny and picky and don’t like it and the meal is over in five minutes.

Make dinner a family time. Keep conversation starters at the table. Ask trivia questions. Have everyone say their “high” and “low” for the day. Start some family traditions where you really connect and talk over dinner. It’s an important family time–don’t waste it.

Here are some tips on getting picky eaters to eat!

10. Thinking that the goal is to make your family happy

Finally, here’s the most important one: You think that your job is to make sure your kids and your husband are happy. In fact, that’s likely why you do each of the nine things already mentioned. You want them to enjoy life. You want them to smile. You want to avoid unpleasantness. But in doing this, you’re likely inadvertently causing your own unhappiness, because you’ll feel taken for granted. But even more importantly, you’re missing the point.

To Love, Honor and VacuumGod’s priority is not that your kids are happy; it’s that they look like Jesus. And He wants that for you and your husband, too. If you set up your family in such a way that you’re enabling selfishness, laziness, and ingratitude, you’ll be miserable because you’ll always feel put upon, taken for granted, and like something’s off kilter. But the rest of the family will also not learn what it is to look like Christ.

That’s what To Love, Honor and Vacuum is about–it’s to change our perspective so that in everything we do, whether it’s housework or childcare or paid work or even how we do marriage, we’re encouraging Christlike behaviour from ourselves and those around us, rather than encouraging people to take us for granted. It’s amazing how the way that we do the little things in our home, like chores and dinner and school, can have such spiritual ramifications.

So be careful that happiness doesn’t become your goal. If it does, you’ll almost guarantee that everybody will be miserable. Raise a family to be responsible, though, and you’ll likely find that peace and joy you really want.

If this is resonating with you, pick up To Love, Honor and Vacuum! It’s available in paperback, too, but the ebook version is on major sale for $2.99 until Sunday. Don’t miss it!

Now tell me: when do you feel most taken for granted? What have you tried to do about it? Let me know in the comments!

 

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

commit to staying in the fight

Today Rajdeep Paulus talks about how in marriage, we need to commit to staying in the fight with our spouses. There are rich rewards to be discovered!

Standing at the ticket counter at Miami International Airport to check in for our return flight to New York City, the Jet Blues Attendant shakes his head several times before saying, “I’m sorry. There’s no record of your names booked on this flight. Or at all for that matter.”

Words hubby and I don’t exactly want to hear when the plane takes off in less than an hour. It has to be a mistake. I’m just not ready to admit that it was probably my mistake. “Can you double check?” I say, watching hubby’s eyebrows raise in disagreement.

But then he says, “Yes, could you please double check? I’m sure this is just some kind of error.”

“Nope. Oh wait…” A flicker of hope. “I see that you did book a different flight. Out of Orlando. But you cancelled that one.” Hope extinguished.

I’m starting to wonder if I only thought about booking the alternative leg of our return flight, and didn’t actually do it. Even though in my memory, I followed through and finished the job.

Hubby looks at me and I know what he’s thinking as he shakes his head, but in a moment that could have gotten Walking Dead bloody, he says nothing. Several grueling minutes later, the gentleman working on our situation hangs up the phone and smiles. “It’s your lucky day. My boss agreed to rebook your family at the original price, but this flight’s full, so you’ll be on the 9:00PM one out of Gate C-8. Will that work for you?”

Umm…yes to the yes! Anything besides paying astronomical prices for a last second reservation or staying in Miami when we need to get home will work. Hubby exhales a sigh of relief, and brushes a kiss across my lips, saying softly, “Thanks for keeping quiet while he worked it out.”

Which I wanted to take offense at, because I’m the girl who screams when I’m upset.

I freak out, and I’m good at it. But I refrain from saying anything, because I’m in a different sort of shock. We, hubby and I, in the middle of a Bermuda-Triangle sized crisis, did not freak out and enter a blame game tennis match that never ends well. And as much as Hubby wanted to say the obvious, that it was most probably my fault that the tickets were never booked, he didn’t. He could have. He would have been right. But in that moment, the fact of my careless oversight would not have changed a thing. We, as in he, I and the kids, were in this mess together, and never once, in the middle of a mud pile has throwing mud made the situation less messy. If anything, it makes matters worse. Much worse.

And then the other night, we’re driving away from a lovely anniversary dinner at Prime in Huntington, and Hubby says, “So I accidentally booked three movie tickets instead of two when I bought the X-men seats on line.”

I took a deep breath, wanting to ask the obvious. “So you didn’t try to reverse it? Call Fandango? Cancel the transaction and book it over?” I refrained, and in that moment, when the matter of a fifteen dollar oversight could cost us a fifteen hour angry end to a near perfect date night, I Google’d Fandango and asked myself. They directed me to call the movie theater.

And a guy at Regal Cinemas in Westbury said, “No worries. Just mention the problem when you come up to pick up your tickets and we’ll refund the difference.”

Really? That was fun. But it might not have been. So often, hubby or I put on our boxing gloves and lash out verbally, throwing plenty of punches before we recall that we’re on the same team. In this life together. Trying to make it through this mess of a world. Together.

Three days later, we’re on route to a picnic with the kids on Memorial Day weekend, and we get into the classic driving fight.

Because I rarely drive, and Hubs wants to be my driver’s Ed teacher, my dad, and my GPS, all wrapped in one. So it gets ugly. Fast. And we’re only half way there when I pull over on a side street, throw on the brakes and exit the car. “I can’t. I can’t do this. I refuse to drive.” Slam.

Hubs pulls his baseball cap over his eyes and slouches down in the passenger seat. He’s getting over the flu. And from the looks of his non-verbal communication, he isn’t driving either.

So I blow off some steam outside the car, get back into the driver’s seat and spin the car around. Rather unsafely, I’ll admit, but I wasn’t planning to drive my family off a cliff, Thelma and Louise style. I was just having a road rage moment for about fifty feet of quiet side street. Hubs did not approve, sat up in his chair, and demanded I stop the car. With a few choice words. I did. We switched places.

He drove. I cried. And in the midst of the madness, my ten-year old passes me my phone with a text message she typed for me. “No one’s mad at you, Mommy. We love you. And we can still have a great time at the picnic. Okay?” I cry some more.

And we get through the day. Hubs walked to the beach with the girls. I grilled up some food. The festivities carried on with friends. Then I drove home, and the day was over. And when all the girls went to bed, hubby says, “That was not cool today.”

I want to say, “You. We’re not cool today.” But I just wait.

“I’m sorry for screaming at you like that in the car,” he says. “If you would just listen to me…”

And that’s when I tune out, because it doesn’t feel like an apology any more. I apologize for slamming the car door. But then I add, “You know, you could have said sorry a little sooner,” to which he pushes back his chair, rises from the table, and says, “I’m not you, okay. I never have been, nor will I ever be. You can do that. Roll with it. Jump back into life right away. That’s not me.” And he storms off.

That went well. And then I thought about it. I wasn’t asking him to be me. I was asking him to acknowledge that it wasn’t just me who screwed up. He can take all the time he needs to forgive me. But I don’t think it’s fair to take his sweet time to say sorry. That was my point.

We talked some more as I explained my side. And told him how I don’t want our girls to grow up thinking a man can just run them over with words and walk away, never admitting that he spoke disrespectfully. He shot me a glare. “You have no idea what I talked to the girls about when I walked with them to the beach.” That’s true. I assumed he didn’t talk about it. “I apologized to them for the way I spoke to their mother.”

But, and this is the part that hurts. “But, you took all day to say sorry to me. That kinda sucks.”

And he acknowledged that. And we went to bed in each other’s arms. Life was fine again. But, sheesh, is it hard some days.

Like it takes all of you just to commit to staying in the fight.

And that’s the part that makes us stronger the next morning. We stayed. We chose to stay, even when we didn’t feel like it. We pushed through another mud pile, and in the end, we helped pull each other out. And believe you me, I know there are plenty more in our future to wade through.

But it’s the moments at the airport and on route to the movies that remind me that we don’t always resort to our bad habits. We don’t always forget how hard it is to mess up and wait for grace’s rescue. Sometimes, we remember the sweet hand held out to us in the moment of disappointment, hurt, or failure, and we offer a similar hand to our loved ones. It’s a life long quest, but it’s worth every step.

And that’s probably why I love to slow dance with my Sunshine. Sure, sometimes we step on each other’s toes.

And many times, we are out of sync, he turning right and me spinning left, but those tender moments when my head rests on his shoulder, his heartbeat pounds against mine, and the lyrics to a love song stream into my ears, I’m reminded once again that he’s worth it. We’re worth it. And worth fighting for. Marriage.

 

Rajdeep PaulusswimmingthroughcloudsRajdeep Paulus, author of Swimming Through Clouds and Seeing Through Stones, is mommy to four princesses, wife of Sunshine, a coffee-addict and a chocoholic. As of June 2013, she’s also a Tough Mudder. To find out more, visit her website or connect with her via FacebookTwitterPinterest,Tumblr, or Instagram.

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Reader Question: If My Mom has Alzheimer’s, Do I Have to Give Up My Life?

Reader Question of the WeekHere’s the situation: you have young kids. You’re really busy. And now your mom has Alzheimer’s (or someone else in your extended family does), and people need you to drop everything and run. Do you do it? And what if the situation persists–so that you have to give up your life? What do you do?

Every Monday I post a Reader Question and try to take a stab at answering it. Last week I linked to an older post about setting boundaries with parents, and a reader wrote in with this really tricky problem:

My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. My husband is one of 3 kids, and one of his siblings moved the mom in to his house. But they said that they’d look after her during the week, but on the weekends they want a break, so the other siblings have to care for her 24 hours every other weekend. I’m a stay at home mom; I could look after her during the week easier, but if I give up every other weekend, my family will hardly ever have any time together. We’ll only go to church together every other week, and the kids are really involved in church. We already have very little time. My husband thinks we should just do it, but I’m so afraid of losing my family. What do I do?

That’s a really tough situation, and there’s so much guilt involved. I’ve had other readers write in with similar problems. One reader had a sister-in-law with schizophrenia who lived in another city. She refused to sign any authorizations for the physicians to talk to her family about her condition or to have power of attorney. Yet every time she got into trouble and ended up in the hospital, my friend would have to drop everything and go to the rescue.

Here are just some general principles that I think need to guide us when we’re trying to decide thorny issues like these:

When your mom (or another relative) has Alzheimer's: Sorting our your responsibility to older relatives who need you.

1. Clarify: What Are Your Main Responsibilities?

Just because someone needs you does not mean that you have to meet that need. Lots of people have needs; the real question is:

What needs has God specifically assigned to you?

In most cases, those would include your children’s and your husband’s emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. We also must honour and care for older parents. Any community that we are a part of, though, also does have the right to expect certain things that come from being part of a community. When friends, extended family, or our church family has a legitimate need, then we are to step in. As it says in Galatians 6:2,

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

So likely you have a hierarchy of those whose needs you are wholly or partly responsible for: your immediate family; your extended family; your friends; your church community. As the circle gets wider, then those responsibilities should be shared with more people. So while your own children have a high demand on you, and your parents have a demand on you, someone at church would be the responsibility of a wider number of people.

2. Clarify: Is this a Temporary Blip, or a Permanent Thing?

I once received a phone call from a panicked mom from my church. She had taken her child in to the doctor’s office that morning because he just didn’t seem “right”. The doctor sent the child for tests and within a few hours that little boy was admitted to the ICU with problems stemming from diabetes, which had not been diagnosed. She had to stay at the hospital with him.

But she also had kids arriving home from school, and she had no clothes for tomorrow, and her husband wouldn’t be home for a few hours.

I dropped everything, put some of the dinner I was making in a Tupperware container for the mom, headed over and picked up the kids from school, got them some pizza, left them with a friend, collected some clothes for the mom and the boy, and went to the hospital and delivered dinner and clothes–and a novel and a crossword puzzle book. I spent some time sitting with her and talking with her before coming home.

That was a temporary emergency, and I would hope that most of us would drop everything and run for that. But what my two readers are describing isn’t temporary; it’s something which will be a long-term responsibility. And that requires a different response.

3. Ask Yourself: What Am I Capable and Willing to Do While Still Fulfilling My Main Responsibilities?

The problem with decisions like this is that we have the wrong starting point.

We begin with: “My mother-in-law needs someone to care for her full-time, and there is no one else, so I’ll have to do it.” Or we say, “My sister needs someone to rescue her, and she has no friends or relatives except for me, so I’ll have to do it.”

We’re starting with the need.

If you do that, the need will suck you dry. And I do not believe that God wants you exhausted, and unable to tend to your main responsibilities (your kids). You can only do so much. He only gave you so much time, so much energy, and so much money. You need to be a wise steward of those things.

So instead, ask yourself: what am I capable, willing, and called to do?

BoundariesI believe that there are times where we are definitely called to sacrifice–especially for our parents. However, even this does have its limits. There are times when you just can’t do it all.

The woman with the mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, for instance, is willing to do some work on the weekdays. She’s willing to give some weekends–just not every other weekend. And it’s okay to take a look at your life and say, “I’m able to do this much, but no more.” It’s called setting a boundary, or setting a limit, and the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is excellent at explaining how to do this and showing how healthy boundaries are actually part of a healthy Christian life.

Sit down with your husband and say, “this is what I can do. I can give one day a week during the week, or one weekend a month. But that is all, because I think any more than that will exhaust me and harm our own family.”

He can choose to spend more of his time; that is his choice. But you are being clear about what you can do and still be emotionally healthy and able to raise your children well.

Here’s why it’s important to do this: Often until we say, “I cannot meet all of these needs,” we don’t find the solution that God actually wants for us. We throw ourselves totally into it and we make ourselves exhausted, but perhaps God had another option. Maybe you could pool your money and pay for a week of relief in a home every month. Maybe you could see if there’s a volunteer agency that could send him help once a week. Maybe there’s a government program she could qualify for. Maybe there are other friends who might be willing to help on a rotating basis if it was manageable, like once every two months. But you don’t start exploring these options until you say, “I can’t do this.”

4. Accept that Others May Not Be Happy

It’s messy to say no. Other family members get mad. Sometimes our spouse gets mad.

In this case, one family member has taken on a HUGE responsibility by having her live there, and it’s easy for that family member to turn around and say, “I’m doing all this, the least you can do is every other weekend.” Put like that, it does seem selfish to refuse.

But here’s the thing:

You never asked her to take the mom in to live full-time.

Part of having boundaries  is also letting other people have their own boundaries. This other family member needs to be told, “What you’re doing is wonderful, and we thank you for it. But we can only help this much. If that just isn’t enough, we would be happy to sit down with you and try to figure out a better solution, since it doesn’t seem as if we can do this.” Just because someone else has decided to give X amount does not mean that you are likewise required to give X amount. We are each solely responsible for our own choices.

Just because someone has a need does not mean you need to be the one to meet it. It means you need to run to God and pray and listen and wrestle and seek His calling for your life. It will be uncomfortable. And sometimes we are asked to sacrifice so that we can care for a relative. But the answer isn’t the same for each family, because each family has different schedules and different demands. So pray about it, and then draw a boundary. Say, “This is what I’m able to do. If that isn’t enough, I’m happy to throw my energy into finding another solution.”

There always is a solution that will not require you to burn yourself totally out, because I don’t think that’s God’s will for you. So seek it. Run after Him. And ask Him to show you and give you wisdom. Don’t let guilt make you do things that aren’t yours to do.

Where’s the Dad?

Child PovertyI’m taking life a little easier this summer, so I’m rerunning some columns I wrote a few years ago. Happy July 4 to all my American friends!

As I write this, two teenage girls are on trial in Toronto for murdering their mother.

Entered into evidence was a taped conversation in which the older girl explained that murder was really the only option since her mother wasn’t a mother anymore. So, with the knowledge of her younger sister, she allegedly drowned her in the bathtub to free them and their brother from the nightmare.

To kill one’s mother is obviously wrong; and yet, as I read the account, I felt little sympathy for the woman. By all accounts she was a hopeless drunk, and her daughter got one thing right: she wasn’t a mother anymore. Yet as I thought about this sad scenario, one question kept haunting me:

Where’s the dad?

Immaculate conceptions aren’t common, so there’s a man—or men—somewhere who is responsible for these kids’ creation. Would their lives have turned out differently if he had stayed on the scene?

Obviously we know nothing about this particular family, but all too frequently dads are out of the picture long before any labour pains. They spend an evening, if that, as part of a woman’s life, and they’re gone.

While this may not have much of an impact on these men’s lives, it certainly has an impact on the children’s. For years governments have been vowing to end child poverty, but it’s doubtful they can make real headway until we change our behaviour. Over 52% of children in single parent homes live in poverty, compared with 11% of children in two-parent families. Child poverty is not an economic issue as much as it is a family issue. When men leave, their kids grow up poor.

And their kids may also grow up with unstable parents, as these kids certainly did. In a home with two parents, if one starts feeding an addiction, becomes abusive, or exhibits a mental disorder, there’s another parent to step in. When there’s only one parent, the kids are held captive to that parent’s whims. But it isn’t just having a dad that makes these kids better off. Dads, you see, bring something else to the equation. With a dad often comes another set of grandparents, along with various aunts and uncles and cousins, and chances are at least a few of these relatives will have their heads on straight.

It seems this family lacked those safety checks, as far too many families do.

I can’t help feeling, in reading stories like this, that our society takes the act that creates these children far too cavalierly. If you’re not willing to commit to look after any children that may come out of a brief relationship, then you should not be having a brief relationship. It’s incredibly selfish to put your own fleeting pleasure above the well-being of children you may bring into a rather desperate, and grim, situation.

Many men, I believe, have lingering doubts as to whether there are little juniors running around out there. To investigate, though, is a big risk that could disrupt their lives and their bank accounts. However, don’t we owe something to honour, loyalty, and duty? Why not pick up the phone? You don’t have to become a super dad if you don’t want to, but at least make sure the kids are okay, and that they have enough money to get by. Some women, of course, may resent the intrusion or fear your motives, but your kids still deserve to know they are valued. Their lives may have started off by accident, but they don’t need to be defined that way.

If we treat kids, and the act that creates them, with the care and respect they deserve, we’ll all be better off.

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