What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Learning as you go

This week I’m finishing a book I started reading shortly after Christmas. It is a memoir written by a mother and daughter. The mother, Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees) and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor, wrote Traveling with Pomegranates. As they traveled to Greece, Turkey, and France together, they struggled to develop their individual identities as women, and their changing identities as a middle-aged mother and a young-adult daughter.

The references to Greek gods and sacred religious statues, sites and icons mostly go over my head. What made the most impact on me dealt with the defining and redefining of the relationship between mother and daughter. The mother, Sue, at the time of the events in the book is nearly the same age as I am now. Even though Ann is older than my daughter, her struggles to find herself and the life she was meant to live is very similar to the struggles I see in my daughter as she is looking at high school graduation (2012) and picking a college.

Sue and Ann spend time tiptoeing around each other, serendipitously watching each other, trying to figure out what to say and what not to say. Sue fears saying the wrong thing or intruding in Ann’s life and thoughts that will not be helpful. Ann struggles to figure out what she can and cannot share with her mom. As the mom in my relationship with my daughter, I am struggling to be and do what is appropriate for the changing relationship with my soon-to-be-young-adult daughter. I don’t get it right often, maybe even more often than not. My intentions are good. My expertise is lacking. It’s not the same as it was with my son at this juncture, so I’m in uncharted water.

For anyone who is reading this hoping for some answers, I will disappoint you. I’m carefully, and without trying to interfere, watching my daughter. Sometimes I still have to apply some discipline because she is still living in my house and certain behaviors are expected. But mostly I’m here, waiting and ready if she needs help (but she has to ask for it; she has to want my help.)

And, like Sue, I’m trying to figure out what life looks like apart from being a mother. I still ask myself what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve walked along several life paths, leaving one occupation or vocation behind as I move forward toward something else. I’m still going to be a mom, but what that means will continue to evolve as my children become adults and parents themselves. I don’t know what lies ahead or what life will look like on the other side of fulltime motherhood. All I can do is keep walking, climbing one hill at a time patiently waiting to see what is in the next valley. And still keep walking. No profound words here. Just keep walking.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

HOPE: God is looking for you!

This blog is called More Than Wishing because real hope is more than wishing. Today I read a passage from the Bible that gives me reason to hope.

"God sticks His head out of heaven. He looks around. He's looking for someone not stupid -- one man, even, God-expectant, just one God-ready woman."

God’s looking for me, a God-ready woman (or a woman trying to be God-ready.) In general I do not think I’m stupid, either. So God has poked His head out of heaven and is looking around, finding everyone who is seeking Him. In other places God is “on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to Him.” One place says, the “eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.” God is seeking me (us) out. We need to keep this in mind.

A little girl hid in her closet, trying to be invisible. The adults around her were scary and she didn’t feel safe, even in the closet. As she outgrew the closet, she still tried to remain invisible. She didn’t have many friends. As long as she did well in school and behaved, she went unnoticed. When she wanted to be noticed, she misbehaved and got punished. She was lonely and felt alone. She felt distant from everyone she wanted to be close to.

Her life experiences proved to her that she was not worth noticing, unimportant, invisible, bad to the core, alone, and worthless. Is it any surprise that she struggled with the concept of a caring God, a God involved in her life? However God was there. And God is here, too, whether or not we see Him working. He is seeking and saving those who are lost. That little girl was lost, but God was seeking her, looking for her. God is moving in her world to help her get to the point of believing the most important being is alert and looking out for her, supporting her, and answering her prayers.

God does this for me, too. Are you lonely, feeling invisible, and feeling distant and unimportant? Remember: God is sticking His head out of heaven looking for YOU!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Academics Is Not All There Is

Last week I wrote about being a mom with high standards and expectations for my kids. I want to clarify: I do not think using belittling language, accepting only perfection, and handing out physical punishments (like withholding bathroom use) are appropriate methods for getting the best out of kids. I also do not think kids should not be involved in extracurricular activities. Sports, drama/theater, music, art, and other clubs (SADD, Student council, Chess, etc.) are constructive outlets and can provide the foundation for a life-long hobby. Sports especially can jumpstart a life of fitness and health. It is nice if one excels in their hobby or sport, but it is not necessary. There is enjoyment in participating and in the social aspects of the activity.

I want my kids to interact with other kids as they pursue similar interests. From the earliest age it is the social interactions that teach cooperation, turn taking, empathy, compassion, teamwork, and even helps in developing a sense of humor.

Other possible social activities can take place outside of school. I like the fact that my children have been involved in our church’s youth group and teen Bible studies. They have served with other youth as “missionaries” on various mission trips (Katrina reconstruction in Alabama, children programs in poor rural areas, assisting the elderly, serving meals at a homeless shelter). Shared spiritual interests and beliefs can develop a sense of community, of belonging, of purpose, and a sense of inner wellbeing. As they see and meet the needs of others, they have gained a greater appreciation for what they have and a sense of compassion for those with fewer opportunities.

Balance. Academics. School related activities. Service projects. Spiritual growth. It’s not as simple as a seesaw because there is more than one fulcrum and each activity has a varying amount of weight (value, priority.) My job is to help my kids learn to balance, giving the right amount attention to each aspect of their lives, while I (and my husband, of course) model ways to navigate a complex, and ever changing, schedule.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Am I a Tiger Mom?

Many of us are getting tired of the Tiger Mom phenomena. The line between abuse (especially verbal abuse) and healthy, productive challenge has been blurred. Describing good parenting behavior has never been a black and white issue, but the gray area was largely left alone. The Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, (Time Magazine, January 31, 2011) has brought some of the gray issues into the open and many “American parents” are disturbed by the possibility that the Tiger Mom’s parenting style may produce “smarter” children.

I agree with Chua on several points. First, kids need to apply themselves to their studies to be as prepared as possible to succeed in whatever they want to do. Settling for satisfactory achievement limits future opportunities. There are some things (many things) they will be unprepared to deal with. For instance, computer knowledge and skills are needed for cashiering and for nuclear physics. Public education has given Americans a good (but not always great) start. I believe students should work hard in order to, “Get all the education they can from their free education buck.” I have pushed my children to take higher-level courses (usually honor classes and/or Advance Placement courses.) I think they are better prepared to succeed in college and beyond.

Next, Chua notes that Americans protect their children from having to deal with discomfort and distress. But, Chua, and the research in psychology and cognitive science, indicates protecting children from the tough stuff limits their ability to gain mastery in any area. Protecting children does not give them the chances to learn “that they’re capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.” (Time, p. 39) Eventually everyone hits a hard spot in life. Will my children be overwhelmed or confident in dealing with life’s hard times? I hope I’ve been tough-enough on them.

Third, there is too much empty praise given to children. Even my daughter recognizes “empty praise” on her school report card. She actually told one of her teachers to stop using the comment “Demonstrates excellent effort.” She knows she did not do the best she could (although good enough for an A grade.) She is frustrated by having everyone tell her she’s “Above average” or “Excelling” and not making comments or suggestions that will enable further intellectual development. In other words, if all her teachers think she is doing “A” work and do not offer suggestions for improving or going beyond expectations, she is not learning anything.

I remember having several conversations with my kids’ teachers throughout the years. In the five-minute parent/teacher conferences some of those teachers would freely and abundantly throw around the word, “awesome.” Awesome is a little over the top in my opinion. Kids know when they did not do their best work. Telling kids that they did great work when they know differently leads to “skating by,” doing the minimum required for a desired outcome. It does not involve excellence. My idea of excellence is “doing the best you can with the time and resources available.” Obviously, my daughter did not consider her work to be excellent.

I sometimes find it a losing battle. Is my kid going to believe me when I challenge him/her to do excellent work when his/her teachers are telling him/her she’s awesome? My kids, as I did in high school, take the easier way, because they can meet their teachers’ expectations with little effort. I try to encourage my kids to strive for more, even talking to teachers about increasing the expectations for my kids. Sometimes that gets results and sometimes not.

I do draw the line at calling my children negative names or making derisive comments about their intellect or abilities. Some research I read somewhere says that for every hurtful comment a parent makes, it takes ten loving and self-esteem building comments to balance the scale. I try to do this but it is hard work. And, just like my kids can determine the empty praise from their teachers, they can detect insincere comments I make in an effort to say something profound.

I won’t go to the extremes, withholding bathroom use or doing hours and hours of homework excluding other activities, but I will press my kids to have excellence as the measure of their success or failure.