Friday, April 10, 2015

MOP Day 8: 8 Foolproof Steps for Raising Perfect Children

Just kidding about the title.

So Emily and Jenny and I decided to do this Month of Posting experiment to motivate ourselves to post more.

To our surprise, my posts about conscience and respecting beliefs got shared a couple dozen times on Facebook, and then Jenny's hastily-slapped-together post featuring her Mennonite Disney outfits went crazy overnight, hit-wise, and suddenly there was a new scent in the wind, a whiff of competitive fever.

And it was my turn to post today before the day was done.

Knowing how we all click on how-to's, and on parenting articles, and on numbered steps, well, there you are.  A shameless gimmick, sorry. But maybe you might actually find it helpful, who knows?

I have a bunch of amazing children.  If you read my posts and column at all, you know that. Or, at least, you know that that's what I think. In my Amish background we didn't get praised much for fear we'd be proud.  You know how ex-Amish ladies sometimes go a bit crazy with colors and prints and belts and earrings and heels and glammy purses, all in one outfit, because they can, at last, and between you and me it kind of looks like a rummage sale exploded?  Well, I can now brag about my kids without being accused of sinful pride.  If people hear me talk and think about verbal rummage sales exploding--or sinful pride--that is not for me to worry about.

My children are no longer little children, of course.  They're young adults out there learning and making friends and doing wild creative things.  They are clever and responsible and oh so witty.  They pay their bills and cook and brush their teeth every day and do not hit people and I think they apologize without being told to.

It is astonishing.

None of my children are in prison!  I think that is just so wonderful, because back in the day I would lie in bed and cry because I was sure that one in particular, and maybe all of them, would end up there.  And if they weren't in prison they might all be lawyers, the way they could argue, and I wasn't sure which was worse.

I don't have a clue how we did this.  As Paul says, "I'm not sure it was anything we did." Honestly, sometimes I was so sick with the next pregnancy that I couldn't mother to save my life.  Sometimes I was depressed and hormonal and I got angry and I made them cry.  I was stressed a lot. We didn't have much money so they did without a lot. I have so many regrets.

Other parents around us were just so exhaustingly INTENTIONAL.  They read Shepherding a Child's Heart and scheduled the baby's feedings and used the Only Right Way homeschool curriculum and knew why they did what they did.  We kind of groped our way through, befuddled and overwhelmed, and whatever we figured out for one child seldom worked for the next one.

But our kids turned out fine, so far.  Here are my best guesses how this happened, bearing in mind that this is one of the Great Mysteries and I really don't know.

Oh--and if your children are in prison, I don't know why and I'll bet you don't either and you have my sympathy.  It is terrifying how children make decisions for themselves, and young parents want Guarantees and Lifetime Warranties.

Well, sorry, ain't gonna happen.  They are people, not L.L.Bean boots.

But anyway, here we are, and these are a few things we did, and you can take this as 8 simple steps, if you want.

1. I chose a good man to be their dad.  And by good, I mean he was steady and responsible and he was faithful to me and he worked hard.  That is the minimum.  He was a lot more of course, but he was never one to say the deep spiritual feely things or do the fun pranks that the cool Focus on the Family dads did, but believe me when I say that steady and unselfish and responsible WINS THE PRIZE.  My children never questioned his love for me or them.  He was and is a solid rock of security in their lives.

2. We read to the children.  Paul read bedtime stories to them for YEARS.  I read a lot to them otherwise, especially before they could read for themselves.  I admit that sometimes I got so sick and tired of their favorite books that I thought I would rake my fingernails down my forehead and scream.  I recall that Big Bird Follows the Signs got quietly dropped behind the couch when I couldn't take it any more.  But hey, it all worked out, and it was great incentive for me to teach them to read.  At a very young age.

3. We were the mom and dad.  The mom and dad are the ones who are in charge and make decisions and pay the bills. They decide when the kids are old enough for their own decisions.  They expect the children to do the right thing.  They don't endlessly bribe and negotiate about going to bed or jumping or not jumping on Grandma's couch or eating marbles.

4.  We made them work.  They washed dishes, packed their own school lunches, folded towels, mowed the yard, and peeled potatoes.  I sometimes (often) felt guilty about how scattered and inefficient I was, and how much I needed their help, when all the cool efficient moms did everything themselves while their lucky daughters played with American Girl dolls in the bedroom.  Well.  In recent years I've started hearing comments about how my kids, especially the boys, [since people don't expect this from boys] are so capable with housework.  So I saw God's redemptive plan there.  And Matt, who reaps praise for his work ethic in the Navy, credits me with teaching him to come back and say, "What shall I do next?"

5. We let them ask questions.  Oh my word, the discussions they had.  Like I said, I used to think that if they didn't end up in prison, the whole lot of them would be lawyers.  I often let Paul take over the conversation because I found it so intimidating.  And sometimes their friends couldn't BELIEVE we let them openly question church and Biblical and parental doctrine.  But believe me when I say you want to send young people into the world who have thought through what they believe and can defend it.

6. We let them know we loved them.  My family wasn't much for affection [see above about Amish and pride] so I went through my childhood always wondering if I was really loved.  My children never seemed to need as much assurance as I gave them-- "YES, Mom, I KNOW."  But at least I knew they knew and it made me feel good.

Amy always had an unusual way of looking at the world.
7. We let them figure out their own entertainment.  And we found that if you make children work, their minds will be humming the whole time about what they want to do when these chores are done.  And as soon as they're done, WHOOSH, off they go to build a rope swing into the weeping willow or catch tadpoles in the ditch or set up a Little People village.  We didn't have play dates or fun excursions or all these things young moms plan for their kids that I find completely exhausting to even think about.

Here Emily and Ben are being divers.  Yes. Divers. This phase lasted surprisingly long.
8. I stressed out about things like belittling each other and kicking the dog and getting pneumonia and too much anger.  There is a very long list of things we did not stress out about.  It was ok for them to be at home a lot and have a kind of boring life and be a little bit weird and to wear mismatched clothes and to be slow to walk or read or go potty. Does this sound like we didn't stress out much?  I stressed out about dumb random stuff like the phase where Amy compared me to all her friends' moms--as I recall I was supposed to wear corsage pins in my head covering like Aunt Bonnie did and be organized like Rita.  Paul never stressed about anything.

And there you have it.

Actually, I could think of at least that many things you absolutely should not do, ever, and I still wilt with regret at the thought of some of them.  Dear me.  We should have asked for help.  We had a lot of issues.

And yet, there they are, six young adults, loving and clever and successful, all of them, and they talk to me and indulge my foolish whims and we laugh a lot and God's mercy just overwhelms me.

It's going to be ok, you young parents.  Just chill, ok? And love them.  You have what it takes, and so do they.  If you worry about anything, worry about the fact that just as you are becoming shockingly like your mom already and this will reach alarming levels after age 40, your children are most likely going to turn 40 and be JUST LIKE YOU!!

Quote of the Day:
Me: I need ideas for my column.  I want to write about praying for Sophie's cat but I don't know where to go with it.
Emily: Well, "Animals are people too," might go over well.


  1. I really like this. Often, at the end of the day, I convince myself that my children are going to grow up to be Hollywood atheists who work for a certain political party and shill for Planned Parenthood, because I just feel so inadequate. So I needed to read these words. :-)

  2. Thanks for your really uplifting post. I have three young adults who are all reasonably well-adjusted members of society but I have so many regrets when I look at some of the directions they have chosen, especially in matters of faith. I'm glad I'm not the only one :)

  3. Dorcas you have said it right! At age 65 I have regrets as well but our six children have made me realize we must have done something right! I can identify with the Amish way of not wanting to make them proud and I regret that I didn't praise them more. Thanks for this honest and wonderful post!

  4. Great article as always- love to read your stuff. Enjoyed talking to you last night at the Tea. I thought afterwards" I would like to know her better":) Maybe this Summer we could have coffee. I would like that. I think about raising my boys and wished too I could of been a better mom. But God has been so gracious to me and they are all such amazing young men - as I wrote that I thought young men help one is 53 today. How can that be:) Anyway keep up the good work and want to say I love you have in your bio " Follower of Jesus " That is where it is and that is where our help comes from.
    LeeAnn Rawlins

  5. Ithis was a good read! Most of it sounds so much like our parenting years. Our six children are grown now too. I'm so grateful to God - how He redeemed so much of where we failed. And for wonderful relationships with our adult children now - even the one who still needs the Lord. We never stop praying!

  6. I have three children, ages four, two, and six weeks. After a day in which the oldest son gobbled up the whole world and everyone in it, so the middle child would have no people to ride in his toy tractor, then oldest sat on a pillow under which was middle child's head...well I needed to read this. Laughed and cried. Thanks for the encouragement that perhaps someday they WILL grow to responsible, mature adults not bent on world wide destruction. -CG

  7. This is encouraging!Just today, i had the 'This one might end up in prison." thought as i dealt with the third temper tantrum/time out session by noon, for the same child. And later, in a sane moment, realized this is normal for for an anger prone 3 year old. Not every day is that bad. So on the days i feel like a drill sargent, barking commands left and right, and my children, all six of them, BTW, :) tell me at some time or other that they love me, then I know we are doing something right.

  8. As a mom of a 9yo, 7yo, 6yo, 3yo, almost 2yo, and a 5mo ... this was a really great read.

    We are also bumbling our way along. :)

    I told my husband last week, that I think I take my goals too deadly serious, and I'd rather not finish a job and be cheerful about it, and work together, than to be grumpy and get it done. (This is a very big step for me as I'm a go-getter!)

    These first 9yrs have went sooo fast. I'm scared about the next 9!

    I say if they turn out well, it will be God's grace, not my parenting ability, for sure!

    And no taboo topics. I try not to be threatened by questions! And I try to admit when something is just a preference! LOL :)

  9. Thank you. As we wade through paperwork to add #6 to our home, I'm bombarded by the realization that I'm not all that great a mom to the 5 I currently have. Just maybe there's hope for my disorganization after all. Maybe they won't spend their future salaries on therapy after all. God's grace is sufficient, eh?

  10. I could have written this post- with the exception of how things turned out. Our oldest two found men that want nothing to do with us- they are liberal, postmodern, God loves us with no expectations or standards type people without much ambition. They are not in jail, but they are also morbidly selfish and have broken our and our younger kids hearts. I with the end of my story was like the end of yours. Thank-you for your honest transparency.

  11. You made laugh and tear up-all in the same post. Parenting is the one of the hardest and most fun and rewarding jobs on the face of the earth!

  12. Wonderful post. Your words are encouraging and reassuring to me, as I have yet to embark on the parenting journey and love hearing from wise women who have been there and done that, successfully.

  13. Oh, I love this post. It gives me courage. Number eight describes my husband and I so well it made me laugh. Thanks for remembering how it feels in the training years, all the fumbling to find the way, and for the lift today. (I hope the list title gathers you lots of shares. :) )

  14. I can't even express how spot on this was for me. A friend sent me a link because of the conversation we had after church today. Neither can I count how many times I've wondered how often I will be visiting prisons in the future. Thank you for giving me hope.

  15. Thank you so much! You have no idea how refreshing this is right now! Our kids are 15,13, 11 & 9.
    I was feeling very discouraged this morning. Feeling like we are failing utterly! We don't know how to do this stage of teenagers.
    I worry too about how they will turn out.
    So is this fighting and acting like lawyers thing is normal?! I thought that in a Christian home everyone was loving and sweet....but we ain't hittin the mark!
    Thank you so much for the encouragement!

  16. Oh, this was so encouraging and Lso good! I especially loved the line, "Other parents around us were just so exhaustingly INTENTIONAL." :) Not that I don't think being intentional is wrong, but sometimes it feels like everyone else is about 10 times more intentional than we are and it just adds that inadequate feeling.

  17. Oh dear oh dear, this is so echoes my thoughts. As I read this at age 60 after raising 6 wonderful now, not so much at the time, kids. Life was just one big crazy hurry of never enough time, energy, money, love to go around. So many regrets but thankfully none ended up in a dentention home. I was convinced several would for always sassing their mama.My 3 girls and 3 guys are follwing Jesus and making their parents look like we did a few things right.Thank you for saying it so well and with a Godly dose of humor!

  18. Great Post and Nice Article.Photo looking so good.I like it.Thanks for sharing.

  19. As a mom of 4 who is currently groping my way through, befuddled and overwhelmed, I appreciate your perspective and priorities. Thanks for this post. And the other comments.
    One day recently I said to a friend on this subject, "Sometimes we just ask God to make up for our failures; we have so many."
    4yo playing nearby piped up, "You have four!"
    Well, that too, some days. :D

  20. Dorcas, thank you for your words today. How I needed them! We are in the throes of raising our five wonderful kids and while it's very rewarding, we often feel like we're floundering in this parenting thing. This encouraged my tired heart and bless you for your faithfulness, honesty and awesome writing. God bless you!
    Mary Landis

  21. Great article, loved it! With my 8 kiddos I sometimes feel that guilt for not doing more exciting things. ..thanks for the okay on a slightly boring life;). I'm also inspired to read out loud more and praise them to their little faces more intentionally.....maybe I'll even let them go back to pushing each other down the lane in the stroller at a high rate of speed!

  22. I needed that today. I have 3 in college, and 3 at home. Sometimes I wonder how it will all work out, but I have seen God work miracles where man would not see anything but a bad future for that child. Praise Him! You have a beautiful family. Thankyou for the encouraging word! Christina

  23. Being in prison does not automatically equal a bad child or failed parenting. A father whose son is scheduled to enter prison very soon said, "I'd rather have a child in prison who is living for the Lord than one outside prison and not living for the Lord." How true!

  24. Esther Zeiset5/06/2015 7:05 AM

    As always, Dorcas, you said it so well. I love your humor woven in with lots of good common sense and encouragement.