The ABC's of Schooling

I’ve been asked to talk about how we navigated our kids through public school.  Well if I’m going to be quite honest it was hard and we certainly made mistakes along the way.  We had homeschooled for 17 years, with our oldest 2 going all the way through homeschool.  14 years ago, when we moved to Greenville, we put everyone in public school.  At the time, we were burned out from homeschooling so many children for so long.  We didn’t have good options or the finances to choose Christian School, so in a step of faith we put them in Greenville Schools.  In reflection on our 31 years of children in school, no school option is perfect, each has advantages and disadvantages.  Overall, the school and teachers are fine.  There are many quality teachers who supported my kids, cared about them, and worked hard to educate and cheer them on.  I am eternally grateful for their efforts.

The difficult part is the social influences.  The Mean Girl, Bullying, and Girl Drama are real, even at very young ages.  Coming from a positive homeschool community, these were the most difficult things for my kids to face.  With social media and cell phones, this garbage comes right into your home, right in the face of your child, and there is no escape. Our policy was that our kids couldn’t have a cell phone until they had a job and could pay for it.  Most of my kids didn’t have a cell phone until high school around 10th grade.  We however caved for our youngest and he got a cell phone in 8th grade, which was still older than most of his peers. After a year, he said he regretted that we let him get a cell phone that young.  I highly advise putting off getting a cell phone for your child as long as you can.  If you do decide to get them one, know what their password is, check the phone regularly, and you can put their apps on timers, so they have limited use on them.  I think this is a masterful thing to do.  Also, my friend has everyone put their cell phones on a common table at night so nobody has their phones beside their beds at night.  This is a good policy for parents AND kids alike.  I heard Mel Robbins say that the first 30 minutes you are awake should be set aside for YOUR dreams, not scrolling and reading about someone else’s!  Wise words.

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Two things I believe are key to help kids navigate public school:

1.       A strong family life. Having a close, loving family is one of the biggest strengths you can offer your children.  If the home is full of affection, warmth, lots of talking together, laughing, playing games or family activities together, this will give your kids a strong foundation to face the challenges that come their way.  This takes time and effort on the part of the parents. Rather than have everyone in their own rooms on their own screens, engage your kids and be with them.  Our kids often would walk in the door and head to their dad’s study to say hi and to catch up together on the day.  Make your children your priority, be present with them, when they talk, listen to them! (my post on Family Dinner has some good ideas about the importance of family meal time).

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       Kids should feel that home is a haven, a shelter from the storms of life, where they can just BE.  Your kids should sense that the people in their home are FOR them. If you are married, a strong, loving marriage is a powerful refuge in the lives of our children.  Without them even realizing it, our kids take  the security of a loving, intact family into their own marriages.  If you are a single Mom or Dad, you have a really hard job and my hat is off to you.  I know you must feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of it all.   God can give you the daily strength you need to make your home life loving and affectionate with your children.  I know many great single parents who are working hard and doing a good job of raising loving children.

 

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2.        The second thing I believe makes a huge difference as we help our kids navigate public school, is for them to be in a biblical church.  When our children sit under a Christ-centered preaching ministry, each week they are brought face to face with the living God.  They will know that God is holy and they must give an account to Him.  But they will also learn that in Jesus, we have mercy and grace to help in time of need.  As our children see Christ clearly, they learn to take pity, and pray for the person who bullied or made fun of them. We can encourage them to pray for those who are excluded or made fun of.  We teach them to befriend those who are outcast.  We can use these situations to teach our children a heart of compassion for others.  Our hope is that they will be able to stand against the crowd and stand up for what is right.  A biblical church is also an important place for our children to get grounded in the word of God and for God to show them their need of a Savior. 

     A loving church community will also accept kids as they are.  Some of my kids went through some tough times. Loving people in the church surrounded them, entered into their lives, cared about them, talked with them, and just loved them through the difficult stages. This was huge for us! When you have other adults love your kids and praying for them, God uses that in a powerful way in our kid’s lives.

A strong home life and being a part of a biblical church are the two big things you can do to give your kids the foundation to help them navigate public school.

However, I’m not going to sugar coat it, its going to be hard, at times brutal.  Things will be said to your child that no child should have said to them.  They will hear the foulest language in the hallways, the crudest jokes, degrading comments toward women and girls, disrespecting and talking back to teachers. Think Lord of the Flies. That pretty much sums it up.  Administrators have told us the amount of sexting by girls is at epidemic proportions, with very little they can do to stop it.  And then, every time you hear a siren during school hours, you desperately pray its not a school shooting. And each year it seems to be getting worse. With the breakdown of the family, and the lack of discipline among children, parents are too exhausted to put forth the effort to raise their children.  Often, they are working so many hours to make ends meet or to have that extra car or trip to Disney, the school is overwhelmed with trying to do the job of the parents.

My advice is: be proactive, know what’s going on in your child’s school, classrooms, on the bus, etc.  Stay close to the teachers, ask for updates regularly.  Talk to your kids, pray for and with your kids.  Feel free to say NO to protect your child.  Many times our kids didn’t participate in dances that we felt were not appropriate at their ages, or co ed parties that we felt they were too young for.  Don’t be afraid to be the parent.  Girls sleep overs can wreak all kinds of havoc on young girls.  Beware and be proactive.  Our kids always knew they could call us or text us at a moments’ notice and we would be there to pick them up, no questions asked. We always told our kids blame it on us!  If they didn’t want to participate, tell their friends “my parents won’t let me” we were always happy to be the excuse to protect the kids from ridicule. One time I dropped my daughter off to a party at a new “friends” home.  She was in 6th grade and I wanted her to make some friends since we had just moved to the area.  Well from the moment I dropped her off, it was sketchy.  The whole scene gave me the creeps, but I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of the kids.  So I sat in the car in front of the house and I couldn’t bring myself to leave her there.  Within 10 minutes she was on the phone and she came right out.  She discerned this is a bad scene and she was out of there!

Ok so what if it doesn’t go as planned? What do you do if your child gets caught up in bad things?  I hate to break it to you but it WILL probably happen!  We’re not raising perfect kids, we’re raising sinners, who in the normal course of their lives are gonna screw up.  We’ve had calls from the principal, and yes even police at the door!  As difficult as these times are, they are teaching moments and opportunities to bring guidance and truth to our children.  I am always thankful if my kids are doing something wrong and they get caught.  It’s a mercy, that God didn’t leave them to themselves, but stops them in their tracks. I also always tell my kids, “Everyone makes mistakes, it’s what you do with those mistakes, and how you move forward and learn from them that determines your character and your future.

A word of caution if your child never does anything wrong outwardly.  It may make your life easy as a parent, but that child may be riddled with pride which is also a sin.  Remember the parable Jesus told about the Pharisee who entered the temple and raised his hands before the altar saying “Lord I thank you that I am not like that sinner over there.”  Then the sinner came in with eyes lowered and prayed beating his breast, “God be merciful to me a sinner”.  Jesus said the sinner went away justified.  It is hard to show a proud person their need for Christ.  Great sinners, once God gets ahold of them, are unstoppable for God.  To quote my friend Connie, when kids go through rebellious times, “They’re just working on their testimony!”  In Luke 7, a woman of questionable character came to anoint Jesus’ feet with costly oil and she was weeping. Jesus said to the Pharisee who was judging her, “He who is forgiven much, loves much!”  I have found this to be true with my kids a well.

One more thing about school is that we were always glad that our kids went through questions, struggles, etc. while living under our roof.  Such a blessing that we as parents can help them through these times, talk with them, give them guidance, etc. while living with us. God is big enough for their questions.  Questions never scared us as parents.  We have a lot of strong thinkers in our family so we welcomed their questions.   The one good thing was that by the time they graduated all of them had worked through a lot of issues and had come down on the side of God in their belief systems. Grappling with issues such as evolution vs creation, the existence of God, etc. led to great discussions. We would much rather have them work through this while in our home, so that by the time they got to college they at least have a bit clearer idea of their belief system.

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In conclusion, if you decide to place your kids in public school, have them in a solid church where they will hear the word of God preached clearly.  Stay close to your kids and talk to them.  Be aware of what’s  going on in their lives.  We recently had a meeting with the principals of the High School, to discuss what we felt was a very inappropriate book assigned in a class.  They appreciated us coming and caring enough to voice an opinion.  Don’t forget that the most powerful influence in your child’s life is YOU!  Your love for them, your values taught to them, and your life with God will carry them far in life.  When the soldiers were storming the beaches of Normandy, many of the men as they were dying cried out “Mom.”  I’ve been at funeral homes and children were looking over the casket of their deceased father and their comments were “That man was the most important influence in my life.”  Be the best, most godly parent you can be.  Lead them in the way they should go and you will be blessed and your children will be blessed.

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Mission Trips and Teenagers

One of the best things you can do for your teenage children is to get them on a mission trip. I believe it is worth whatever sacrifice you may need to make for that to happen. 8 of our 11 children have been on a mission trips with our church, while our oldest went to Uganda when in college, one son served in Iraq in the Marine corps, and one son lived in Germany. All of them have had life altering experiences by experiencing other countries and cultures.

Here are a few things mission trips do for young people:

1. It broadens their perspective on the world. When my kids got out of their corner of western Pa, their eyes were open to how people who have very little can be so happy. When you experience a Haitian village where people live in homes made of tin, or pallets, have outdoor toileting, and may eat 1-2 meals a day, this grows compassion toward others. When you realize your shed in your backyard is the size of some people’s homes in a poor country, it changes the way you see your life. 

2. It gets kids out of their comfort zone. When the young people have to paint houses, play with children, help with songs and VBS, help older people get glasses for the first time, and take cold showers at the compound, these things help to grow them up. It puts them in a situation where they have to give to others, and it gets them out of their self absorption. Our culture is good at producing teens who are self absorbed.

3. They meet people from other youth groups and sometimes make life long friends with people from other areas of the country.  Centered around a common task, they grow closer by working together to complete projects like laying bricks or building a church. My daughter Hannah went to Mexico and built a home for a family in a week. The team grew very close during that week focused on a single task requiring people to encourage each other and work together. Then at the end of the week to meet the family who would live there, and the joy it brought them, left a lasting impact on her.

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4. It matures young people to be on a mission trip.  Its empowering to know that you can do hard things. Teens bring their energy and their exuberance to mission trips, and that is contagious.  Plus they go back to their home churches with a passion for the poor and needy.  They get a missional vision for Christ’s work in this world and want to be a part of it.  Getting a global perspective is a maturing experience.

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5. If Mission Trips are done right, a young person can have a deep interaction with God. It can help them realize God’s love for them, and that God has a purpose for their lives.  Many teens look to mission trips as the time they dedicated their lives to Christ, and His call on their lives. It can be a deeply significant experience.

6. Even if my kids don’t become missionaries themselves, because of their experiences, they have a vision for Christ’s work in the world at home and abroad. As they’ve become financially able, they support the missionary endeavors themselves.  That, dear friends, is how we multiply ourselves.  May God be glorified as we seek to raise our children with a global perspective for Christ’s work in the world.

 

Please share if your kids have been on mission trips and what benefits, if any, you’ve seen.

Sleep Glorious Sleep

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I’ve been asked by one of my readers to talk about sleep habits and children.  In the first few months of life, baby is adjusting to life outside the womb.  This is quite an adjustment and sticking close to mom, being carried, snuggled, and hearing mom’s heartbeat are all soothing things for your newborn.  Don’t worry about spoiling a newborn by holding them too much, carrying them around too much, taking naps together etc.  Babies need their mamas and you can try to fight against that as much as you like, but it’s going against nature in my opinion.  This is a God-born instinct for babies, and I believe children feel secure when they can be connected to their mommies early in life.

There are two aspects of sleep: one is children’s’ sleep and one is parent’s sleep. Parent’s sleep is easy:  your sleep will be ruined for years.  I’m not gonna sugar coat it.  I love this quote:

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 Fortunately, our hearts are so connected to our kids and they’re so cute it’s worth the sleep deprivation!  I asked my chiropractor once when I wouldn’t be so exhausted, his reply, “When your youngest is about 12 years old”.  He pretty much nailed it!

The next area I will address is children’s sleep.  The first thing I want to say is that children’s personalities play a part, BUT I believe your EXPECTATIONS in regard to sleep are far more crucial.  Children live up to the expectations of the parents.  Consider the following true example:   I have a friend who started rocking her first baby to sleep every night and the child expected this up till the age of 2 years old.  This was exhausting and taxing on the mom.  Baby 2 came along, and the mom learned her lesson the first time around and was determined not to have to rock this baby.  Well baby 2 learned to go to sleep in her bed, and no big issues arose.  Was baby 1 different genetically from baby 2 and needed this?  Not at all.  It was the parental expectation, and what the parents allowed that made the difference in the two children.   If you are having sleep issues with your child, it’s because YOU have allowed patterns to develop that are not healthy for the child or yourself.

My view of sleep is that parents should be strict and merciful.  Here is what I mean.  I believe that you should decide what time you want your child’s bedtime to be.  My personal feeling, others can disagree, is that children should be in bed sometime around 7 – 8:00 pm for younger children, and as they get older, increasing that time somewhat but up to Jr. High should be in bed by 9:00 pm.  Granted, there can be flexibility in this, especially if the father’s schedule doesn’t allow for him to be home until later, then you will want to work in some time for the children to see their father daily if possible.  I also recognize that some cultures have different habits too.  When we lived in the inner city, for example, many families kept later hours and slept later in the morning.  There is freedom within form, so you have to work out what’s best for your family.  Regular, earlier bedtimes for our children worked best for our family.  It gave me a little bit of quiet time or time with my husband.  I want to give full disclosure here though, I will tell you the ideal didn’t always work.  There were many a night in the throes of raising our tribe when I was nursing or pregnant or both, that I would go to bed when the kids went to bed because I knew I would be up during the night nursing, etc. I will also tell you my husband and I are both morning people and have always been early risers. In addition, I never had children who slept more than 10 hours.  My hat goes off to mom’s who have 12-hour sleepers but that was never me.  Until they were teenagers, lol!

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Hannah Grace

Once YOU decide what time bedtime is, having a consistent nighttime routine will teach your kids the expectation, it will let them know that things are moving toward bedtime.  An example of a peaceful routine is to take a bath, read books, prayers, into bed.  You may want to add a small snack in there before or after bath.  If your child knows this is the routine, they will look forward to it.  Of course, there will be nights this doesn’t work. Evenings out visiting friends, special events etc. will get them off schedule but as much as possible, let there be a consistent routine.  You should let your child know that when you put them to bed, they are to stay in bed and not get out.  Kids are smart.  What happens next will set the tone for your bedtime with your child for possibly years.  If the child has gone to the potty (should do this before tuck in ), and all is well,  if they get out of bed they should be disciplined.  You are the parent and part of child training is to help guide your child to have good habits.  If you believe that good sleep habits are important for children’s health, growth, and emotional well being (there is research to support this), then it is imperative that you let your child know what the expectation is and if they disobey there will be unpleasant consequences.  That is where the strict part comes in and believe me, even though it will be difficult to be consistent it will be well worth the effort.  When they are 1 ½ its cute when they get out of bed, but when they are 4 it’s not cute anymore, it’s exasperating.  With child rearing in general, if you take the time when they are little (age 18 months to 2 ½ years) to be consistent and set the tone and expectation, there will be very few issues when they are 4 – 5 years.  By you setting boundaries for your young children, you are helping them to be secure and setting yourself up for years of enjoyment of your children.   All of us have experienced the out of control child in Wal-Mart yelling and hitting their mother, telling her no.  The poor mom is at her wits end and wonders how her little angel could have gotten so out of control.  Children are not equipped to have no boundaries.  They don’t have the maturity to know what is good for them.  God gave children parents to guide and teach them. 

I have set the framework to developing good sleep routines and habits.  Now I’m going to give you a couple things to consider.  This is where the mercy comes in.  Children at times experience real fears.  Haven’t you ever gone through a time of insecurity or fear?  Children are no different.  Perhaps they heard a scary story, or develop a fear of monsters under the bed, or like my 4-year-old grandson right now has a fear of the Big Bad Wolf! If our child was going through a fearful time, one thing we did was to sit in the doorway of their room with the door ajar and the hall light on. Normally we had a night light in their bedroom.   We made them stay in their beds but we reassured them that we are near, they are safe, and we were willing to sit with them for a bit. This was a good time to catch up on reading for us.  This worked 100% of the time. Knowing we were near and they didn’t have anything to be afraid of, soon they’d drift off to sleep.  These never developed into continual habits.  They would grow out of the fear and they would no longer need us to sit there.  But we did always leave the door ajar and a dim light, so they weren’t in the complete dark.  Other times I would sit for a few minutes then tell them I’d come back to check on them.  And I always did.  After a couple minutes I’d look in on them, maybe go in and rub their head gently, reassure them and tell them I’d look in on them again.  Doing that made them feel safe and they’d drift off to sleep. 

What about the child who comes into your bedroom in the middle of the night?  My husband and I had a full-size bed for the first 30 years of our married life.  A toddler in the bed, thrashing around, putting cold feet on you and waking you up, didn’t make for sound rest.  So, what we did was keep a small sleeping bag under our bed.  If a child came in during the night, first I assessed if they needed to go potty and get tucked back in which was often the case.  Easy peasy.  But if it was obvious they had a bad dream or were afraid, I pulled the sleeping bag out and they slept beside me on the floor. I would hold their hand or rub their backs and they went back to sleep.  It was reassuring to them and was a good answer for us, we still were able to get some sleep.  Todd often said if we had a room full of mattresses and everyone slept in there, we’d probably all get a great sleep every night!

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That is how we handled most sleep issues with our gang.  I’d love to hear your ideas too.  My daughter will be co-sleeping with her baby that is coming in June, so we’ll have her share with us all about that once she sees how that works for her.  I’m excited to hear about it!  I hope being strict and merciful will be of help with you own littles and sleeping.  God bless you and sweet dreams!

 

New Beginnings and Fresh Starts!

New Beginnings and Fresh Starts!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  I love each New Year!  Being the self-improvement junkie that I am, the New Year holds endless possibilities for me to continue to work on being my best self.  I know some people get depressed with the New Year because its just setting themselves up for failure by not following through on their resolutions…

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