5 Ways for Moms to Keep the “Christ” in Christmas

I taught my daughter’s Kindergarten Sunday School class at church a couple of weeks ago, and our topic was Advent—a special time when we prepare to celebrate Christmas. After asking the kids about the things they think of as Christmas approaches, I got many different answers: Santa, Rudolph, presents, singing Jingle Bells, reindeer, decorations, and the like. But no one mentioned the answer that I was specifically looking for—the fact that Christmas is Jesus’s birthday. That’s really not surprising, is it?

I understand and respect the fact that we are a world full of different cultures, beliefs, and religions. In our home, however, we believe that Jesus is the real reason that we celebrate Christmas. If you share this belief, you might be wondering about ways that you can emphasize this to your children during the often-secular Christmas holiday season. Here are five suggestions from Vicky Savage, our beloved children’s ministry director at West University Methodist Church (where we have attended church for many years):

  1. Make the first “gift” of the season a special nativity set. You may already have one. But if you don’t, consider purchasing a special nativity set—then wrap it beautifully and make it the first gift that you open together as a family when you begin to decorate for Christmas. Set it up in a special place each year. This will remind the kids of the most important thing they should be thinking about during the holidays: Jesus’s birthday!
  1. Decorate a “Christmas box.” This one is fun and easy. Just give each child a box, let them decorate the outside with stickers, pictures, and other fun items relating to the story of Jesus’s birth, and fill the inside with activities that reinforce the same theme. I filled Olivia’s box with stickers, bookmarks, coloring books, and do-it-yourself crafts that help remind her of the Christmas story.

angel

  1. Play the “I Spy” game while looking at Christmas lights. Everyone loves to look at beautiful Christmas lights. Next time you’re driving around “oooh-ing” and “aaah-ing” over magnificent light displays, ask your kids to look for special symbols of Jesus’s birthday. Ask them to find a star, an angel, a baby Jesus, or anything else that symbolizes Christ’s birth.
  1. Attach “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” gift tags to holiday baked goods. Incorporate the message into your holiday baking activities. Create cute “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” tags and attach them to Christmas baked goods. Then deliver them to neighbors, friends, or other individuals/organizations in need.
  1. Create an annual Christmas family service project. Sponsor a family who can’t afford to buy gifts, fill a basket with items for 25 days and donate these items to charity, feed the homeless on Christmas day… these are just a few of many ways to commemorate Christ’s love in honor of his birthday each Christmas. Don’t forget that a heart for service to others during the holidays could be the best reminder of Jesus for all.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year. As Christians, it’s up to us to teach our children why—because we’re celebrating our Savior’s birth! Thank you, Ms. Vicky, for reminding me of this, and for your thirty-plus years of service in children’s ministry at West University Methodist Church!

I’d love to hear about other ways that you and your family keep the “Christ” in Christmas… so please feel free to comment and share your ideas. Merry Christmas, friends!

Motherhood and Middle Age: Three Things I’m Doing to Cope

For many of us, it’s finally here. That formidable opponent called middle age. Mothers everywhere are turning forty-plus—and struggling. Marriages are crumbling behind closed doors, the fear of an empty nest is looming in the distance like an ominous storm cloud, and the motivation to get out of bed each morning is being crushed by the terrifying thought of what we’re really gonna do with our lives as we bid farewell to the promise of our youth. So how in the world did we end up like this?

Let’s rewind. I do recall having a career at some point (though it’s foggy). I remember crying fearful tears in the bathroom of my law firm after discovering that I was going to be a mother for the first time. I was twenty-six, just over a year-and-a-half out of law school, and scared to death to tell my boss. But I mustered the courage, finishing my announcement with something like, “Don’t worry, I’m going to balance it all perfectly. You’ll see.” It was as if I could picture the scales, with work on one side and motherhood on the other, equally balanced, everything nice and neat.

Oh, those best-laid plans. Not long after my daughter was born, the imaginary scales flipped over and fell straight on top of me. At one point, I was running through Walgreens with my screaming, feverish infant, trying to pick up a prescription while holding my phone against my ear during a conference call and trying desperately to close a deal. Then came the numerous “working from home” days, during which I would type maybe ten words per hour as I rushed back and forth between my computer and my daughter (who seemed to be afflicted by a fever, an ear infection, or the stomach bug at least once a week). Over time, I found myself issuing countless apologies to work colleagues and consuming massive amounts of homemade guilt, so I eventually decided to become a stay-home mom. And now, after years of diapers and playdates and chaperoning field trips and watching baseball games and volunteering at school holiday parties, I find myself a little bit lost. As good as I feel about devoting my life to my children, I often wonder where I’ll go from here.

You see, in just a few years, that same infant that I toted through Walgreens will graduate from high school, and she will (hopefully) go off to college. While preparing to fund what could be a six-figure college education, I can’t help but wonder if she’ll eventually end up like me—many, many years of expensive school, a professional degree, a short stint in the working world, and staring mid-life in the face with no real career in sight, scared that my time has come and gone. Is this a good thing? I’m supposed to be her role model, right?

Please understand that I feel extremely blessed and thankful to be a stay-home wife and mother, because I truly believe that family is everything, and that God’s primary purpose for me is to be the best wife and mother that I can possibly be. But at the same time, I’m jealous of my friends that have cultivated their careers and have something in place for themselves. As hard as I try to unselfishly focus on my family, I must admit that I still have these thoughts.

So now what? Honestly, I don’t know the answer. I’m just praying for guidance as I enter midlife, and as God slowly opens the door to the next chapter—whatever it holds—here are three small things that I’m going to do to cope:

  1. Spending special time with girlfriends. We know the importance of date night with our spouse, but what about time with our girlfriends? As we get older, we give so much of ourselves to our families that we’re often unable to invest time and effort in good friendships. Isolation is a huge danger in the aging process. Perhaps we should make it a point to reach out to friends and schedule more quality time together, even if it’s just once a year. I always feel rejuvenated after a girls’ trip. There’s just something about sitting around with the girls on the back porch in your pj’s—laughing, drinking coffee, and catching up—that’s good for the soul. Especially the middle-aged soul. Girlfriends are a special gift from God.
  1. Listening to the right voices. The world will tell you that you’re worthless once you get a single wrinkle or age spot or gain a single midlife pound. God will tell you that you’re on a journey that He created for you, and to embrace the next phase. Listen to the Godly voices. Tune out the others. The people that you really want in your life as you get older won’t care how you look.
  1. Picking one thing I love to do and doing it often. We all have a God-given passion for something. For me, it’s writing. So I started a blog. The fear of failure almost talked me out of it. But I didn’t let it. And now, here I am, writing this piece and getting a tremendous sense of joy by doing so. Don’t be afraid to try something new if you have a passion for it. You never know where it might lead you.

Yes, for some of us, middle age is here. And it’s discouraging at times. But we’re not done yet, moms. Our families need us to be our best. Let’s not forget to lean on good friends, hear God’s voice, and pursue our God-given passions as we navigate through the thick uncertainty of what’s yet to come.

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Pack My Teenage Daughter’s Suitcase

It’s tempting, yes. But make no mistake about it—I absolutely, positively refuse to pack for my teenage daughter. In a world full of “helicopter” parents, (i.e., hovering, control-driven sticklers who would rather eat a cockroach than allow their children to publicly flounder), I know that my stance is likely unpopular. However, as an on-again, off-again member of this perfectionist sect, I wonder… if we do everything for them, what is this really teaching our kids?

Last year, my daughter took a school trip to Europe. Her teacher-chaperones gave out packing lists and other important information to parents. I knew several moms who (after cheerfully gaining possession of these lists) set out with tenacious tunnel vision to find each and every item needed, checking every box at least twice. And, in the end, with smiling, satisfied faces, they produced perfectly-packaged suitcases for their children that were full of all travel necessities, and then some. Not me. I simply handed the packing list to my daughter, told her to take an inventory of her possessions, to make note of anything she didn’t have, and then helped her buy what she still needed. I told her where to find the suitcase and announced that she would need to pack everything and survey the checklist herself to ensure that she had it all. After the initial shock wore off, she announced that “so-and-so’s mom packs everything for her” and made comments to the tune of “What if I forget something?”

Well, now. That’s a good question, isn’t it?

Hmmm…where was I to begin? I was thinking that, if you can’t do this by yourself now, you will never be able to do it by yourself. You are not three, you are thirteen, and it’s officially time to start taking responsibility for your own life. I am here to support, to guide, to help with things you still can’t do alone (such as taking your own credit card to the store to purchase things you need). But I will not… let me repeat… will not… micromanage you to the point of creating unnecessary weakness. For in the end, my goal as your parent is to raise a strong, independent, capable human being who can successfully adapt to life’s ever-changing circumstances…. and figure it out on your own. Mommy simply will not be there to pack your suitcase, to do your history project, to wash, dry, and fold your laundry, or to manage your life as you get older.

But even as I sat on my high horse and continued my imaginary rant, the question remained… what if she forgets something?

Let’s fast forward. A young woman attends college and receives her first big assignment. She walks into the library—on her own—not knowing exactly where to go or where to begin. Fear takes over, the pressure mounts, her insides begin to crumble, and the first thing she wants to do is… call Mommy, because she’ll tell me exactly what to do. A difficult professor pushes her to take on new academic challenges. Wait, I have to call Mommy first. Eventually, she graduates and interviews for a job, but can’t decide which company to work for. Call Mommy, she’ll even call the company and decide for me. And the pattern becomes that, if she can’t call Mommy and do exactly as she’s told, who knows what she will do? Statistics have clearly shown higher levels of anxiety and depression in children who have been “over-parented,” and therefore lack the inner wherewithal to make decisions for themselves.

It is true that our children need us, and that they are, in fact, a direct reflection of our parenting. It’s only natural that we want them to succeed. But, as someone once told me, you can do everything possible to be a great parent; however, you will ultimately find that even great parents cannot take away their child’s free will. Why not begin to let them exercise that now, starting with the small things, like preparing and packing their own suitcases for their teenage excursions? Yes, they may fail. Actually, let me rephrase that. They probably will fail, in some capacity, at least. And failure can be embarrassing. It can make kids and parents look incompetent and foolish, and can even be expensive, both mentally and monetarily. But that’s okay. For without failure, children will never learn how to bounce. And the sooner they learn how to do this, the better off they’ll be, because resilience is key to successful survival. Who knows, they might even do it better than we as parents can…. Imagine that! (Note: Of course, I’m not suggesting that you don’t double check for potentially life-threatening oversights, such as forgetting essential medication.)

So how does this story end? My daughter read the checklist, packed herself, and somehow made it to and from her destination. I’m certain that she forgot at least something. But she managed to have a great trip, and the confidence she built in her own ability to prepare will be something she will carry with her for the rest of her life. I’m pretty sure that whatever she forgot, she will always remember in the future.

“What If I Don’t Get In?” How I’m Answering This Tough Question

In this season of school application deadlines, I am frequently reminded of our society’s bittersweet love affair with achievement. It pushes us forward, drives us to set goals and meet them, and keeps us going. Achievement is attractive, and it feels good. My daughter is convinced that if she constantly achieves and gets into the school that she wants to attend, then her life will be perfect. This is yet another example of how our culture has led us to believe that a child’s worth is wholly defined by achievement—grades, awards, popularity, athletic prowess, and acceptance letters. As I think this through, I can’t help but ask myself, “Where is all of this going? What if she doesn’t get in?”

I’m forty-one years old, and if I had to name one moment in my life that impacted me the most, one thing that truly transformed me and began to define who I really am, it wasn’t a shining moment of achievement or “success.” It wasn’t a spot on my high school’s homecoming court or an acceptance letter to a top academic university or a great job offer, or closing a big transaction at work or buying a nice new car or house. It was the minute I realized that I had failed on a monumental level. The time my life fell apart—when I was so broken that I was convinced I wouldn’t survive. The moment that all three of my children were standing in the living room crying and expecting me to fix the unfixable, and I just stood there, realizing that my past decisions had not just affected me, but would affect generations to come. In this moment, I was overwhelmed by guilt, shame, and isolation, and imprisoned by the secrecy of things that people didn’t know. Suddenly, all of my “achievements” were profoundly overshadowed, and I had to dig deep to find a way to keep going. Fueled by my mother’s love and my faith in God, I pressed on… one day at a time, following a path that I certainly hadn’t planned—but one that has been filled with many unexpected blessings.

So… if my daughter doesn’t get in, it’s okay. She’s a valuable and wonderfully-made child of God who is loved and cherished by her family. I want her to know that I don’t love her because she achieves, and her worth is not based on a resume. “Failures” should be propellers, not roadblocks. They just move us on to the next thing that God has planned.