Tag Archives: contentment

Tuesday Triumphs: Sibling love

I love how much my boys love each other! They have their squabbles (what siblings don’t), but they play so well together and usually turn to each other when they’re looking for company. One day, when I was researching school options for William, I asked him about homeschooling and how he would feel about not seeing friends every day. He said Lucas would be his friend. So sweet.

I can think of so many more examples that demonstrate my kids’ love for each other. But in the spirit of this Tuesday Triumph, I’ll keep it to this week. A few days ago, Lucas was in my room with me, and William called his name from downstairs. What was Lucas’ response? He didn’t ignore him. He didn’t say “what?” He didn’t start going downstairs. He said, “yes, William?” He’s got the “yes, mommy” thing down pat and is now using it with his brother.

Of course, the parent in me is a little worried that it might elevate William to the level of a parent, which he would be more than happy about. We have the “third parent” syndrome already. But I’ve decided to let it go. I don’t want to discourage Lucas from saying “yes, mommy” and he knows that when he says it, he gets a positive reaction.

And just this morning, I saw more evidence of brotherly love. Most mornings, when Lucas wakes up, he says, “mommy, mommy, mommy” over and over until somebody gets him out of his crib. (Yes, he’s still in his crib and loves it.) Well, this morning, I heard him on the monitor and instead of calling for me, he said, “William, William, William.”

This brought a mixture of joy and sadness to my heart. The joy comes from the strength of their bond. The sadness is from the fact that my babies are growing up so much that they don’t need me as much as they used to. Lucas is a mama’s boy to the core, and even he is starting to show signs of independence.

My boys are each other’s best friends, and they would regularly choose to play with each other over any other friend. And despite their extreme differences (two different sets of genes there), they play so well. They are three years apart and they do play differently, but that doesn’t stop them from playing together. Lucas looks up to William. And William takes care of Lucas.

I haven’t seen a relationship like theirs in many kids or adults. But I can compare their bond to my relationship with my sister. My sister and I are very different and always have been, but we are very close. I can’t say there has ever been a time when we haven’t gotten along. Even through high school when most annoying little sisters (like me) are cast aside, my friendship with my sister was stronger than ever.

I can only hope that my boys are this close when they get older. If what I see today is any indication, I don’t have anything to worry about. 🙂

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Maturity in children

Have you ever received a comment from a stranger that validates your parenting? Amid the daily ups and downs I have with my kids, I occasionally get such comments. I got one just last week.

Someone told me that William, my oldest, seems particularly mature for his age. Mature. We have our struggles, especially when his SPD (sensory processing disorder) rears its ugly head. If we get basic good behavior, I call it a good day. So why did this word strike me? I can think of a slew of other characteristics that I’d rather be complimented on:

  • Well mannered
  • Confident
  • Selfless
  • Respectful
  • Smart

But the word mature is especially flattering. Mature is how I would describe the children of the parents I most respect. When a child is mature, it means to me that they have all of these qualities and more. When a child is mature, it tells me the child has been taught how to confidently navigate his way through this world.

When a child has been taught how to navigate the world, he is given the foundation that allows him to develop confidence. With that foundation, the child is free to learn and grow.

What is that foundation built upon? Obedience. Yes, everything circles back to obedience.

“Freedom is not found in autonomy, it is found in obedience.” (Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp, p. 27)

I’m reminded of a story my contact mom once told me. She said she and another mom were on a hike with their kids and reached a particularly treacherous area. The path was surrounded on one side by water and on the other side by a steep drop-off. It was a dangerous spot. The other mom held her children’s hands tightly to keep them from running away and to keep them safe. She couldn’t trust them.

Meanwhile, my contact mom had taught her children to obey her word. She was able to tell them to stay near her while still letting them walk freely. Because of their characteristic obedience, these children were given the freedom to appropriately explore their world. They could be trusted to keep themselves safe, and because of this obedience, they were allowed more freedom.

So do I want my children to be happy, respectful, confident and a host of other qualities? Of course. But will I strive most for obedience and maturity? No doubt.

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The marriage priority

What does your marriage have to do with parenting? Everything. If you have read any of the Ezzos’ books, then you are no stranger to the idea that the marriage, the relationship between you and your spouse, must come first. As Ezzo says in On Becoming Childwise, “Great marriages make great parents,” (page 43).

There is this pervasive idea in our culture that everything we do is for our children. We will sacrifice our health, our happiness and even our marriage as long as it’s what’s best for the child. Among some moms, it’s a competition to see who can be the biggest martyr. These moms equate martyrdom with love, in effect saying that the more you sacrifice, the more you love your child.

In the media today, there are examples of parents choosing divorce and saying that it is what is best for the child. Jon and Kate Gosselin from the reality show Jon and Kate Plus 8 is one example. I think the Ezzos would agree with me that if you really want what’s best, you should work on your marriage and heal that relationship—for your child.*

Ensuring stability and security
The reason the Ezzos say to make your marriage your first priority is not to satisfy your own selfish desires. Nor is it to put your spouse on a pedestal. It is for the sake of the child that we put our marriage first. Your child’s whole world is dependent on his parents. He depends on you for his health, safety and emotional well-being. Your marriage is the ground upon which your child stands. You are his foundation.

Ezzo says it best: “Where there is harmony in the marriage, there is stability within the family. Healthy, loving marriages create a sense of certainty for children. When a child observes the special friendship and emotional togetherness between his parents, he feels secure. He doesn’t wonder about his parents’ commitment to one another. There is no disconnect between what his parents say about their love for each other and what he sees and senses in daily life. Successful parenting flows out of this rock-solid bond,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 36).

Think about what happens during a divorce. Your child’s DNA is made from both of his parents. He is equal parts of the two of you. When your marriage suffers, he suffers as well. When the two parts that make the whole child are split into two, the child is, in essence, torn into two.

Here’s an analogy. Imagine your child standing on a sheet of ice with his weight evenly distributed on both feet. Now imagine that the ice gives way, and a wide crack splits the ice right between his feet. What happens to the child? He either falls through into the ice or he must jump to one side of the crack and run to safety. If your marriage is the ice splitting in two, your child’s stability and safety is in jeopardy. Add to that his need to jump from one side to the other. In that split second when the ice is cracking, he must choose which parent to jump to for safety.

Creating a family identity
One phrase you will hear in Ezzo circles is that the child is a welcome member of the family but is not the center of it. Putting your marriage first not only creates security for your child, but it also creates a sense of togetherness. It builds the family identity.

Here’s another analogy for you. Imagine yourself on your wedding day holding both of your spouse’s hands. There you are, looking into each other’s eyes, standing close together and feeling loved. When you bring a child into the family, where does he go? Do you continue to stand there together still holding your spouse’s hands and let the child stand between you? If so, what happens when the child gets bigger? What happens when you have more children? Eventually, you find that you can barely touch each other’s fingertips much less hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes.

Rather than putting the child in the center, let your child stand next to you with the three of you holding hands in a circle as a family unit. Look into each other’s eyes. Talk to each other. And let your family circle grow as you bring new children into it.

Setting an example for love
When your child is raised in a home with two parents who visibly love each other, the child learns how to love. As in all aspects of parenting, we are models for our children. We set the example that they are to follow. Show your child what it means to have a healthy, happy marriage so that he can grow up to achieve the same for himself.

Feeling loved allows you to give love
When your marriage is happy and healthy, your spouse shows love for you on a regular basis. You feel loved. As a result, you are better able to express love to your child. If you feel depleted, then you have nothing to give. As they say on the airlines: put your own oxygen mask on first. When you are happy and healthy, your child will be happy and healthy.

In my next post, I’ll discuss some practical ideas to help you make your marriage a priority.

*A little caveat here: staying in an abusive marriage is not what is best for the child (or you).

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Cultivate a loving relationship with your child

Yes, it’s a given that you love your child. But do you maintain a loving relationship on a daily basis? Is your relationship with your child characterized by love and fun or is it all discipline, frustration and loneliness? Do you take the time to have fun with your child or are you constantly trying to “fix” him?

I bring this up for a couple reasons. The first is that there is the perception among the anti-Ezzo community that we Ezzo parents don’t truly feel connected with our children. We let them cry. We make them play in their rooms. We don’t put them in the center of the family. We discipline them. We are not their peers. All of these things are true, but they don’t mean that we don’t love our children or have a loving relationship with them.

I do believe, however, that it can be too easy to fall into a parent-child relationship that lacks fun and affection. Here are some clues that you might need to reevaluate your relationship with your child:

  • On a daily basis, you worry that you aren’t doing things right or following the books as closely as you should.
  • You tend to be legalistic in your parenting.
  • You are on a constant mission to fix your child’s problems.
  • You don’t laugh at least once a day.
  • Your child seems stressed out and angry.
  • You don’t hug or snuggle with your child at least once a day.
  • You expect your child to misbehave.
  • You feel like all you do all day is discipline your child.
  • You feel like your child is trying to frustrate and anger you.

Not only is this unhealthy for you and your child, but a relationship like this can actually cause all the behavior problems you are trying to fix. Imagine it from your child’s perspective. He is the student and you are the teacher. He is constantly getting bad grades, never gets a pat on the back, and doesn’t even get to relax after a long day at school. Your child wants to please you, but if you require too much of him and don’t give him love and affection, he will stop wanting to please you. I know of a couple who completely changed their lives for this reason. They were living a fast-paced life in New York City and gave up everything to live in a small, rural town. They had one reason for doing so: their son had stopped trying to please them. You lose this and you lose everything.

On a more positive note, bringing more fun and affection into your relationship with your child can not only lower your blood pressure and improve your disposition, but it will improve your child’s behaviors. If you think that you tend to be legalistic in your parenting, try easing up for a few days and see if things change. Follow your child’s lead for a little while and see where it takes you. If his behaviors get worse, you can quickly go back to your old ways. But I highly suspect his behaviors will improve and you will be no worse off for experimenting with it.

Here are some ideas to bring some fun and love into your relationship with your child:

  • Go out for ice cream and order the same thing he orders. Who knows, maybe choco-peppermint bubblegum ice cream really is good.
  • Go for a walk and follow him. Allow him to stop at every twig and rock. Try to see the fascination that he sees. Allow him to stop and sit on the sidewalk just to watch the cars go by. (My son actually does this.)
  • Go out for a one-on-one “date” with your child.
  • Tickle, hug, wrestle or snuggle with your child every day.
  • Make chocolate chip, smiley face pancakes.
  • Trace patterns on your child’s bare back with your fingers and have him guess what it is.
  • Go to the park and play like a child. Swing on the swings. Go down the slide (head first!). Go on the teeter-totter with him. Play tag.
  • Sit and watch your child play. Don’t think about the million things you need to do. Just sit and watch.
  • Get messy with your child. Jump in puddles. Play in the mud. Dig in the dirt.
  • Play dress-up and act out funny characters. Play the “what animal am I?” game by making animal sounds and acting like your favorite animal.
  • Order happy meals for both of you.
  • Play hooky on a school day and eat donuts for breakfast.
  • Get creative with your activities. Go to the pet store just to look at all the animals. Go to the home improvement store to sit on the “tractors”. Fill a bucket with water and use paintbrushes to “paint” the house. Feed the pigeons.
  • Use your imagination. Make “soup” with a little water and leaves. Turn a stick into a magic wand. Throw out your arms and fly like an airplane.
  • Go camping in the backyard, marshmallows and all.
  • Dance in the living room.
  • Get silly!

These are the experiences that childhood memories are made of and that will make your child feel loved. So be sure to fill your lives with them!

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Holiness vs. happiness

One fundamental philosophy behind the Ezzos’ parenting principles is that of holiness vs. happiness. Many parents, especially in today’s society, put their child’s happiness above all else. They figure that if their child is happy, their job is done. The Ezzos believe that helping a child achieve holiness, or moral contentment, should be a parent’s true goal.

Growing Kids God’s Way teaches that a child’s holiness is more important than his or her happiness…. Get the holiness and you give your children something far greater than happiness; they learn a lifestyle of moral contentment.” (p. 90, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition)

When we strive to make our children happy, we feed into their inherent selfishness. Their happiness is fleeting and momentary, yet we attend to their every desire and whim. We curb all actions that produce tears or other discontent. We build our world around our children rather than teaching them how to behave in the world as it truly is.

On the other hand, when we strive for holiness, we help our children build a moral sensibility. We teach them how to behave in this big world we live in so they are comfortable in it and not fearful of it. This moral holiness takes the form of “honesty, empathy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, respect, honor and self-control.” (p. 64, On Becoming Childwise) Read this sentence again slowly and take the time to consider each and every word.

While those of us who strive for holiness do want our children to be happy, we find a different route to get there. I believe that by teaching our children to treat others with honesty, empathy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, respect, honor and self-control, we give them much greater happiness over their lifetimes than if we were to not teach these character traits at all. If we focus on their happiness at the expense of their holiness, we do them a great disservice.

And while happiness is great, contentment is even better. Our culture perpetuates a romantic ideal of happiness that is difficult to truly achieve. I would prefer that my children strive for contentment. I certainly wouldn’t want them to settle for less than what they are capable of achieving, but I wouldn’t want them to be in constant pursuit of a romantic ideal of happiness that just doesn’t exist. By pursuing this romantic ideal of happiness, they may never be happy.

The pursuit of contentment–achieved through a holy moral foundation–will serve them well for decades to come.

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Filed under moral training, parenting philosophy