Rescuing My Kids’ Childhood From My Fear

My eleven year-old carries a pocket knife.

He cooks his own eggs. He rides a bike without a helmet. He hangs out on the front porch alone and digs through his dad’s woodworking tools without supervision.

After 11 years of parenting and four kids, I have never “baby-proofed” my home. No outlet covers, no table corner pads, no baby gates. No hiding the kitchen knives. No carrying hand sanitizer on my keychain.

We are a bumps and bruises, trial and error kind of family.

This sometimes gives people the impression that my husband and I are careless with our children or negligent. But the truth is that I welcome a healthy dose of vulnerability to danger in my home because I need to, not because I want to. In fact, I want none of this.

Sometimes it sounds like a dream to have quiet, calm, safe children who think nothing of setting fires in the backyard or being left home alone before they’re 16.

But “safe” is not what most children are. Nor what they should be.

Left to their own devices, children are small madmen, conjuring experiments and fairytales while dressed in their father’s work coat. They are con-artists. They are magicians. They are storytellers and thieves and tightrope walkers. They dream big and believe everything and sometimes really do think they could fly if they tried.

And the more alive they are in their child-ness, the more vulnerable to danger they become and the more their safety falls outside my control.

I want control.
I want power.

So none of this “free range kids” stuff feels good to me, at least not at first, because it is a daily reminder of the frailty of life and the powerlesness of parenting.

It doesn’t matter how smart and competent my kid is or how well my toddler can climb the stairs. The truth is: I cannot protect them from all the dangers of the world. I obviously know this. But every time they make a small mistake that leads to a small consequence–they cut their finger, they trip running down the sidewalk, etc.–it’s like a reminder that they may one day make a big mistake with a big consequence. And then the reality hits me that, one day, they might get hurt. Hurt bad. Or hurt someone else. (Or both.)

The anxiety can sometimes feel crippling.

I worry for my kids all the time. I worry about both rational and irrational things. I worry about them being bit by angry dogs, being abused by a friend, or getting stuck on an elevator alone.

House fires, flash floods, bee stings, hiking accidents, infectious diseases, accidental poisoning. I worry about all of it.

“Then put a lock on the medicine cabinet, you idiot!”

Maybe. But probably not.

(Don’t take it personally; It’s okay if you lock your medicine cabinet.)

The lengths to which we’ll go to protect our children vary at different times, at different ages, and with different kids. Hard and fast rules don’t apply to most of this stuff. Every parent has to exercise wisdom and weigh which risks are work the benefits of taking the risk and which are not.

But, trying to ensure the absolute safety of your child with more elbow pads or a larger carseat is an exercise in futility if you haven’t first done the hard work of accepting that your children live in a world that simply not safe.

Safety–as least so far as it depends on you–is a bit of an illusion. You can wash your kids’ hands a million times and they’ll still end up sick eventually.

We often exact our control over our children in immediate ways as a way of coping with our fears about all of the things that are possible and yet completely outside our control–things like being in the wrong place at the wrong time, needing the one thing missing from the first aid kit, a freak accident, or a random act of violence.

But, the irony of making our kids “safe” and under our control is that, in these kinds of unforeseen and scary scenarios, our children’s best chance of overcoming is to conjure that mad scientist to life. (The mad scientist that some of us killed long ago with our “Be careful!” and “Slow down!” and “Stop taking my garlic powder into the backyard!”)

Our kids need to have a survival instinct as they grow. They need to be able to think on their feet, to come up with creative solutions, and to be confident enough to actually try them. Most kids start with those gifts. We need to make sure they keep and develop them.

How do we do this?

Well, it has less to do with how long their carseat faces backwards and more to do with our posture toward them and their desire to exercise their freedom.

It means training ourselves to replace the words “be careful” with “think about what might happen if you do that.”

It means no longer insisting on doing for them the things they are capable of doing themselves, whether it’s packing their lunch or putting on their mittens or leading the way to the library.

It means no longer interpreting their confidence and independence as an assault on my authority.

It means cultivating strength into benevolent leadership, pride into confidence, and strong-will into tenacity.

It means teaching them the difference between being willing to take a risk and being reckless.

It means letting them experience the power of cause and effect.

It means giving them many opportunities to solve a problem on their own.

The specifics of how you do this with your kids will look different from mine because every kid is different. (And their natural ability to navigate danger will be different, too.)

Just start somewhere and let it grow from the ground up.

What’s the pay off? Well, they grow up. And it’s awesome.

Case in point:

Last Summer, when we were at the pool, my son took my keys and ran home to grab something we’d forgotten.

Meaning: I didn’t need to pack up the four kids and all of our crap and walk back home.

Often, I’ll send my kids down the road for a loaf of bread from the bakery.

Meaning: It doesn’t ruin soup night anymore if I forget the milk.

Lately, my daughter (who is 8), has been asking if she can go spend time at the coffeeshop alone. (“When you’re ten,” I told her. And I meant it.)

Meaning: My daughter feels confident and brave and is excited to exercise those gifts.

When my kids are in a really lousy mood, I send the three oldest for a run around the block.

Meaning: They get exercise and I don’t have to deal with them when they’re acting like monsters.

Recently, I was neck deep into cooking dinner when I realized I didn’t have any milk for the recipe. So, I gave my kids $5 (which I borrowed from my son who always has more cash than me because he’s like that) and sent them down the road for a carton of milk. They were $.50 short (organic milk, dang), so my son left his sister there with the milk and he hightailed it home for the two quarters he needed.

They both returned a few minutes later.

And it felt totally normal.

This freedom should be normal for kids. I know it has been a real game-changer for us.

And, suddenly, this free-range kid thing starts to make a lot more sense.


When Your Kids Miss Out (and it’s your fault)

I have a friend whose kids don’t eat refined sugar.
I have another whose kids aren’t allowed to play with toy guns.
A different friend always gets her kids to bed by 7:30pm, no exceptions.

Every family has a culture and part of what makes their culture distinct is the lines they draw between what they will and will not do, regardless of what other families decide.

Speaking personally, our family draws a lot of lines.

We aren’t into Disney.
My girls don’t have Barbies.
My son doesn’t play baseball on Sundays.
We don’t have a tv or play video games.
We also don’t celebrate Halloween. (And that’s what got me thinking about this today.)

The Fear of Missing Out does not go away when you leave adolescence. It’s not something you grow out of when you get married or turn 35 or buy your first home. I still feel it. I feel it for myself and I most definitely feel it for my children.

I want my kids to have friends, to be a part of the fun. I want them to look back on their childhood and remember it being full of joy and laughter and friendship. I don’t want them to be the weirdos that no one invites over anymore because they’ve never played Minecraft.

But what do you do, then, if your personal conviction about something that “all the other kids get to do” means your kids have to miss out? Is it destined to make your kids resentful and painfully socially awkward, or can this become an opportunity for growth and character development? Can “missing out” actually be a blessing?

First of all, remind yourself that kids are resilient and will survive a little social exclusion. Give them lots of attachment and security at home and among trusted friends and family. They’ll be okay.

Also, think about the future and remember that what you do now, when your children are young, sets the stage for the years to come. Your expectations for them and their expectations of you will follow you well past their early childhood. Reinforce now that a) popular opinion is not always the right opinion, b) it’s alright to be different and live by different rules, and c) it’s a sign of maturity to be able to graciously say “No, thank you,” and walk away.

You do not want a teenager who expects to always be allowed to do whatever everyone else is doing. If your children are capable of bending your convictions now, when they are 6 and cry about not going to Lucy’s sleepover that “every other first grade girl is going to,” then good luck influencing their discernment when they’re 15 or 16 and all the same kids (and their boyfriends) are going to Lucy’s parents lake house for the weekend.

Then, think more proactively. When you think about your hopes and dreams for your kids, think bigger than your few small lines in the sand. Don’t feel like having a family rule about a few things means you have to be strict about everything. A family’s culture is more than their “don’ts.” If you can focus more—and help your kids focus more—on the things you do, then the kids won’t care as much about Mom not letting them buy a Barbie.

When I was a kid, my brother and I had some friends around the corner who were homeschooled. Their family culture was so very different from ours and they could have been perceived as socially-awkward by the “average” family. But that friend once (recently) joked that he had always loved coming to our house because we could watch a lot of tv and movies, but my brother loved his house because his dad did stuff like freeze their backyard into an ice rink in the winter.

The point is: you don’t have to give your kids everything. Just give them what you have to give. And give them the best of it. If you have a hang-up about sugar or nerf or witch costumes, offer your kids something else instead. Something good. Something they will love.

My kids don’t get to play video games or watch Frozen, but they do get to climb trees and use real knives and build fires and write songs and visit museums and ride the streetcar around downtown for fun.

Sure, its a different life I’m offering them. But it’s a good life. And they aren’t truly missing out on much. (Say that over and over to yourself if you need to.)

Remember, too, that feelings of “missing out” can be an opportunity to shape your kids hearts toward empathy for others.

Exercise your children’s sensitivity toward other kids who may be excluded and cultivate a variety of skills and interests in them so they can find a way to have fun with anyone. Then, teach your kids to encourage other children toward obedience of their family’s rules. Model for them what it looks like to consider others before themselves and to respect another’s conscience. And never tolerate them mocking or shaming another child for obeying their parents or not doing something that makes them uncomfortable or uneasy. (Big kids are notorious for this sort of “OMG, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN BLAH BLAH BLAH…”)

At the end of the day, remember to put things into perspective. It’s not really about Barbies or baseball or trick or treating. In fact, you might change your mind about these things as time goes by. Worry more about who your children are becoming than what they’re wearing or what games they’re playing and the specifics will work themselves out. As refined as it may become, your list of “yeses” and “nos” won’t matter at all if your children never learn to discern right from wrong. They’ll eventually need to be the ones drawing the line in the sand for themselves. This is just the groundwork.

So, parents, don’t apologize for saying “no” to your kids. Even though it might mean they miss out on something with their peers. And don’t worry that their social status at 9 is going to follow them into eternity and they’ll never have any friends or get married or find a job. They’ll be fine. You’re doing great.

(Repeat, if necessary.) “They’ll be fine. I’m doing great.”

Every family is different and lives by different rules. It’s alright to be a little peculiar. If you play your cards right, your kids will grow into discerning adults who are able to glean the best from what you gave them and make the rest into some awesome stories to tell around the dinner table.

”You think that’s weird? When I was a kid…”





Dating Advice for a New World

Almost 13 years ago, I met my husband and officially stepped out of the dating game. It’s a good thing, too, because I was never very good at dating.

I have always really enjoyed socializing with men, but found intentional dating emotionally confusing and frustrating. I have never been good at communicating my feelings. I have always been awkward in intimate situations, emotional or otherwise. And I have never been particularly interested in the game of “attraction.” In fact I think that, were I ever left a widow, I’ll probably die single. I’m not sure you could pay me enough to jump back in that game.

Some of my friends don’t have the luxury of sitting back and thanking God the dating game is over for them. Some of you are still in the thick of it and, from what I hear and observe, it’s a very frustrating time to be in the thick of it. The world of dating in 2018 seems a lot more complicated than it did 15 years ago.

From my vantage point:
Young people seem far too emotionally immature and over-sexualized. Older people seem far too casual in their long-term, unmarried monogamy. Everybody’s got baggage. Everybody’s been married before or has kids already.

Add to these complications the recent “woke-ness” of our culture about issues of sexual harassment and assault which, for all the ways it has empowered victims, has also created a debilitating kind of social anxiety about relationships between men and women. I would imagine that people everywhere–men, especially–just don’t know anymore what is and is not permissible in casual relationships, and what, exactly, constitutes “expressed consent” in intimate relationships.

The nuanced dance of flirting and the thrill of the pursuit is over, my friends. Things went and got complicated.

Where does that leave us (you)? Well, I said I was no good at dating. But I did date. And I watched my friends date. And I’m watching my friends date now. And I have four children who will, one day, want to date.

So whether you’re trying to find a mate or trying to be found–or if you’re my child reading this in 10 years–I have a few suggestions for how to survive this complicated (new) world of dating without losing your mind.

Learn to date without expectations for intimacy.

I think it’s time to reintroduce casual dating to the world, especially to the Church. And by “casual,” I mean truly casual–not casual in public and intimate in private. I mean something like meeting up for a concert or for a cup of coffee or inviting a friend to a work event as your date. I mean two adult people spending one-on-one time alone doing normal things that normal adults do to keep each other company and to interact in the real world together and to have conversations like normal people do so they can get to know each other better.

I think it’s perfectly appropriate to casually date more than one person, at least for a short time. But casual things don’t usually last forever and it takes a lot of maturity to know when it’s time to either move on or ramp up the intentionality of the relationship. This will happen naturally if you get more interested in one person than the other(s), but it might need a little help. This is where being an effective communicator comes into play.

Learn how to express intentions.

Communicating feelings and intentions is hard, at least for me. But there comes a point at which both people in the relationship will start to wonder “what’s actually going on here,” and somebody needs to take the first step to define things. Especially if you’ve introduced any physical intimacy.

My husband and I spent hours upon hours together for six months before we ever actually touched or had a defining conversation about our relationship. We talked about everything in heaven and on earth except our actual relationship. And it was confusing and it did seem like it took forever to have that conversation and I did cry and pray over our relationship many times during those six months. But I’m so glad I didn’t force the conversation because if I had, he probably wouldn’t have been ready.

Neither my husband nor I were interested in diving into a long-term relationship that didn’t end in marriage. We had both been there before and walked away heartbroken and wanted to avoid going there again. We used the term “courting” to define the next stage in our relationship because we had a goal in mind–marriage–and we fully intended to walk away if, at any point, marriage wasn’t going to happen. It was a decision to dive in and pursue something other than just a good time together.

I can’t tell you how long it should take to go from “we’re more than friends” to “let’s get married.” It took just over a year for us. And it was an intense year with a lot of hard questions and hard conversations and a time or two when I honestly thought it was all over and he was walking away. It may take you six months or it may take two years. (But I think it’s safe to say that if it takes five years, you’re probably doing something wrong or you’re doing it with the wrong person.)

Learn how to walk away.

If things aren’t working, it’s okay to walk away.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, for most married people, there was another person before their spouse, someone that they were head over heels for or someone who they thought was The One. Learning to walk away from a good thing, when you know it’s not the right or best thing, is harder than hard. It’s heart-breaking. But when the irreconcilable differences are big enough to cause recurrent problems or when, at the end of the day, you’re really just not that into each other, it’s okay to walk away. It can be done graciously and without irreparable emotional damage, especially if you learn to do this before jumping into bed together or tagging along on the family vacation to Jamaica. Again, honest (and kind) communication works wonders for this sort of thing.

Pursue marriage.

I don’t believe in the Perfect Mate myth, so I am comfortable encouraging people to date for fun and to get to know each other before becoming exclusive. But I also believe that long-term non-married monogamy is a lame substitution for marriage.

Marriage is good. It’s good for you and your spouse, good for children, good for the world, good for the economy, etc. Marriage is a good relationship goal. And if you spend your first fifteen adult years screwing around for fun, sowing your wild oats instead of looking for a good wife or husband, finding a good wife or husband will be much harder and your eventual marriage will be harder, too.

Pro tip: Our world is increasingly more okay with shunning the institutions of marriage and parenthood. So if you know, for a fact, that you want to be married and have children, don’t be afraid to say so when you meet someone you’re interested in. Don’t be weird about it and make it a big deal. And don’t show him your dream wedding dress or anything bonkers like that. But mention it when it comes up if it comes up. If they go running, bid them good riddance.

Expect sexual brokenness.

Let’s be honest, friends. We live in a broken world. There is a high likelihood that the person you date and/or end up marrying will have some sort of emotional or physical baggage about sex. Either they’ve been abused or have been an abuser. Maybe they have had a lot of sexual partners or are afraid to have one. They may have been happily married before and you may feel insecure about their expectations. They may be addicted to sex or porn or you may be addicted to sex or porn.

Screw the taboos. Maybe don’t discuss your sexual history on Day 1. But, when things get serious, get serious about being honest. Your future spouse deserves to know your whole story, even if the details or the depth of the effects takes time to unravel. Sexual brokenness can heal and marriages can thrive amidst the brokenness, but not so long as there are secrets and unaddressed fears or insecurities. A healthy sex life requires openness, vulnerability, and trust. Don’t wait until after you’re married to tell it like it is.

Limit your alcohol and be wary of being alone.

This bit of advice, especially, will be a constant refrain spoken to my children.

First, I’ll say this now so you know I said it: sexual assault is never justified. It is not okay. A victim is never to blame.

Now, let’s also be honest about what environments make sexual assault–or uncomfortable relationship scenarios of any kind–more likely. My guess is that many assault situations involve a) drugs or alcohol and/or b) being alone in a compromising situation.

I can’t tell you what to do, but my advice to my children will be straight-forward:
Do not drink alcohol in mixed company, with a group of people you don’t know and trust. Do not spend time alone, in private places, with someone you do not know and desire intimacy with–especially with alcohol involved. Do not push the limits of sexual desire and self-control with someone you do not know and trust, especially if he/she seems more or less interested than you do. If you don’t know what someone wants or is really asking for, ask them. And do not hesitate to call me or your father or any other trustworthy person within reach if or when you feel vulnerable and need help.

Yes, assault and abuse can absolutely happen in marriages or in friendships, at the hands of people you trust. But I think this “don’t drink / don’t be alone” advice is a good start and could save a lot of people from unnecessary baggage later on in life and relationships.

But, really, my best piece of dating advice is this:

You’re great.

Lots of people think you’re great.

But not everyone is going to want to date you or marry you and that’s okay.

Marriage is awesome and I recommend it and I think everyone should do it. BUT. Marriage is not the end goal of life and it’s not a sign of success. You can be a million awesome things without being married.

So, while you wait or while you look for a mate, find good work that makes those around you and your world better. Surround yourself with people who support you and whose love for you makes you an even better you. Do the hard work now of becoming the kind of person you’d like to marry. And then even if you never end up married, you’re still super awesome and have amazing friends and have made the world a better place to boot.

And, lastly, marriage is 10% magic and 90% doing the dishes and “Honey, can you bring me a roll of toilet paper?” So, when you meet someone who’s a good catch, don’t wait for the magical moment to ask them to hang out. Even if you’re already friends and it might be awkward. Even if they aren’t really your type or you’re afraid you might not be theirs.

Maybe grab a coffee. Maybe go for a walk.
And maybe skip the cocktails until a few months in.

Godspeed. (I think you’ll need it.)

So The Hurricane Got Me Thinking…

Some people like haunted houses; I like to prepare for emergency evacuations. (To each his own, I guess?)

I’ve written before here and here about disaster preparedness. What began as a coping mechanism for some of my chronic anxiety became a bit of a hobby for a while. And though I’m not stockpiling rice and beans at this point, I still enjoy the act of emergency preparation.

Right now, our government is issuing evacuation orders for residents along the Southeast coast. People are weighing the options of whether or not it’s worth the fuss to evacuate, whether or not they can afford to leave, where they could possibly go, and what they should take with them.

I’ll probably never need to evacuate my home. I know that. But I’ve read too much apocalyptic fiction to not at least entertain the idea. Plus, emergencies really do happen, especially extreme weather. So whether it’s a snow storm that could mean no milk on the grocery shelves for three days or a novel-worthy economic collapse, it doesn’t hurt to visit the issue as a family and do some basic preparations “just in case.”

First of all, it should be said that there are emergency situations wherein the best plan is to stay put. Preppers call this “bugging in” and the government calls this “sheltering in place.” Most of us have done this at some point in our lives for a few hours or overnight during a snow storm or power outage. And, unless you’re talking about a mass-damage scenario like a city-leveling earthquake or a hurricane, it’s probably short-term. As long as you can keep yourselves warm and fed for three days, you’ll be quite alright. (Long-term survival gets a bit trickier. I’m not going to get into that right now.)

But what if you can’t stay home? Or if you’re forced to leave? I have three bits of advice for those interested in better preparing their family for an evacuation or other emergency scenario.

Have your things in order.

A few years ago, I created a comprehensive Emergency Binder for our family and I (try to) update the info once or twice a year. The binder includes current family photos of us as well as close extended family (for identification purposes), plus personal and legal information, medical information, home and mortgage info, financial info, details about and photos of valuable personal items for replacement, etc. It is stored in a safe place (I ain’t telling where) with other things I’d like to grab in an emergency like hard drive backups of our computer and family photos, hard copies of important documents, etc.

I also keep track of where important keepsake items are so we can take them with us if we needed to. As of now, this stuff is not accessible enough to take within minutes, but definitely within a few hours. On my list of home projects is consolidating some of my most precious keepsakes and heirlooms into one single bin for this reason.

Know what to bring.

Because my family is into the outdoors and camping, we have a lot of the kind of gear that could keep us alive in an emergency and I keep it all together and organized. This means that tents and sleeping bags and camping stoves are all clean and tidy and packed in an easy-to-find place so I can take what I need when I need it. There is one particular small (water resistant) plastic bin with things like our walkie-talkies, emergency weather radio, extra flashlights, batteries, are fire-making tools. (Most of this stuff would be more likely used for bugging in, not evacuating.)

But, on the same big shelf as our gear are both A) emergency bags for each person in our family for a quick evacuation and B) emergency bins for longer-term evacuation.

These emergency bags–“72-hour packs” or “bug out bags” if you’re into the lingo–are backpacks packed with basic comfort and survival gear, enough to last a few days. This is the sort of thing you’d grab in a super urgent situation like a home fire or any other “Quick, we need to leave now!” scenario. Everyone I’ve seen online has a little different spin to their bags but ours each include both survival gear (like water, snacks, a pocket knife, headlamp, safety whistle, poncho, emergency blanket, first aid, etc.) and comfort items (like a sweater, socks and underwear, a toy and/or book, toiletries, etc.). Every family member also has a laminated emergency info card with important names, phone numbers, addresses, etc. Our toddler has a few cloth diapers and covers (because they can be washed and reused unlike disposable diapers).

Yes, these emergency bags would save our lives if the situation was that severe. But, in most situations, these bags would simply provide a little bit of comfort and security for our kids if they were suddenly separated from home. (The emergency info cards, for example, also include a few family photos.)

The emergency bins are just packed with our normal camping gear like flashlights, cooking tools, etc., but also include extra items like a change of clothes for each person, extra non-perishable food and snacks, water filtration, and comfort items like books and comfy blankets. These bins build on what’s already in the emergency bags and the intent is to always have everything packed and ready to grab so that, if we ever decided to load up the car and leave town in a rush, we could just throw on our backpacks, grab the bins, and have everything that we need.

What we bring depends on the situation and urgency so I’ve made myself a checklist to take out the guess work. It starts with “Immediate Evacuation” and expands into a larger list for a 30 minute evacuation, a one hour evacuation, and an impending evacuation. It is laminated and I keep a copy next to my bed on the third floor, on the fridge on the second floor, and also on the first floor. As the list gets larger, things are organized first by the things the kids can do themselves (put on socks and sturdy shoes, grab a favorite stuffed animal, etc.) and then by the levels of our home so I know what to grab from each floor of the house as we head toward the door. (Every family’s list will be different but I can share one to get you started.)

Know where you’re going.

Depending on how long we need to stay and how far we need to travel, we have a few options of where to go. I’ve made it a point to know how to get to places like my mother in-law’s house (a likely place for nearby relocation), using multiple routes, without using a phone for directions. I even know the best walking routes if things got really bonkers and we had to load up our strollers and travel on foot somewhere (roads were blocked, etc.). Part of our emergency binder includes contact information for family in other parts of the country for longer-term relocation. (And, Lord helps us, if we had to walk across Indiana to find my brother in Michigan, we could do it. Ha!)

If walking across the country like The Road seems overwhelming, start realistically. Print out copies of phone numbers and addresses so you aren’t crippled if you lose or can’t use your phone. Keep a decent amount of gas in your car, buy a road atlas, and know how to use a compass. Also: make sure your car always has basic emergency supplies like first aid, a blanket, and snacks (which is a good idea even if there’s never a large-scale emergency). Then, no matter where you are when there’s an emergency, you can just continue on to your destination.


But, really, what are the chances of needing to enact your emergency plan? It really depends where you live. Are you in flood or hurricane zone? Tornado alley? Near a fault line? Is your home vulnerable to forest fires? Do you need to be prepared for civil unrest?

And what you prepare really depends on your family makeup. Elderly, children, and pets all have particular needs. When my babies were really young, for example, I always kept a can of baby formula in the house because, even if I was exclusively breastfeeding, there was always a chance I’d be separated from my baby in an emergency. The formula samples came free in the mail. It cost me nothing.

Maybe this sounds expensive or overwhelming. Well, it doesn’t need to be. The best way to start is to start small with things you already have in the house and building up from there. Designate a single closet or shelf or drawer for emergency supplies you may need at any time. Find a few old backpacks to pack as evacuation bags and replace them with nicer bags when/if you can. Keep a little extra cash in an envelope to use if computers are down or banks are closed or you need to pay someone for a favor. Organize any camping or survival gear so it can be accessed quickly when needed, rather than pulled out from a crawlspace somewhere.

If you have kids, introduce the idea of preparedness in ways that are realistic and non-threatening. Let them pull out their emergency bags and bins and see what’s inside, but let them know they are not for play (because they need to stay intact). Let them help you trade out the clothes every year when they outgrow them. They’ll be happy to eat the snacks every six months when you replace them with fresh ones. If they are old enough to follow directions, prepare them for the possibility that you may need their help if there is ever an emergency, even if it’s just to watch the baby while you pack the car.

You don’t need to go all out Prepper to feel prepared for an emergency or natural disaster. Just think more realistically about how chaotic things can get as emergency situations roll out and how quickly you may need to get your act together. Do the work of preparing now so that, if you need to, you can just grab the bags and go.


(P.S. This is not comprehensive information. Our government, The American Red Cross, etc. all have great info online about how to prepare for an emergency. Just google it. You’ll find all sorts of wise and wack-o advice. Heck, you might even learn how to build your own underground bunker or properly filter urine for drinking. It’s a wild prepper world out there, folks.)


Ten Years of Marriage (some thoughts)

A peek at what a decade of marriage has been like for me:

Years 1-5
I wouldn’t call these our “honeymoon years,” exactly, because we never really got any sweet, idealistic years of basking in marital bliss. I found out I was pregnant three weeks into our marriage and everything after that was a blur. We launched into ministry, helping with a new church plant. My husband closed down his business to get a more stable income while we waited for our son’s birth. I tried to navigate my own career and creative aspirations while the quick, urgent life changes of motherhood begged my attention.

We survived our first few years alright and have a lot of stories to tell. Some of it was really super fun. But as far as the health of our marriage, most of what was happening in and between us was happening quietly or was completely hidden. There was a lot we were both feeling and thinking but never talked about. There were a lot of unmet needs and expectations, a lot of confusion about roles and responsibilities. A lot of surprises. A lot of loneliness and disappointment.

Years 5-7
How long does it take to really know a person? I’d say it takes as long as it takes you to figure out what you really hate about them. For us, I think it probably took us about 5 years to start seeing the ugly side of each other. Or at least choosing to see the ugly side of each other more than the ugly side of ourselves. These are the years we started blaming each other–silently, of course–for all that was wrong in our marriage. This is where bitterness sets in. Resentment. And detachment.

You see, I’m not much of a fighter, at least not about personal things. I fight about ideas. I fight about issues. But I don’t want to fight about the thing you did to me that made me want to throw you out the window. I’d much rather suck it up or stew in it and pretend I’m above being hurt or angered by you.

My husband, on the other hand, is a fighter. And every time we fought during those first half a dozen years, I walked away feeling secretly small and powerless in our marriage but also cocky and proud of how I’d maintained my composure and never let on how small and powerless I felt. (“Ha! I won!”)

But Years 7-9 were the years I learned how to fight.
I learned how to yell back. How to allow myself to be hurt. How to let someone else see me cry. How to defend myself if I had been wronged. How to say things like “I feel…” and “it feels like…” and also “we need to talk about…” How to face it all head on and let it all out in the open. I learned how to give him space to be mad and frustrated and disappointed with me without shrinking under the weight of it all. And I learned to walk away from a fight trying to understand what was really happening under it all.

These were, coincidentally, the years between our third and fourth child. And this time in our marriage was like a gritty, get-your-nails-dirty Spring cleaning; like shaking the dust off a rug you should have been vacuuming for the past seven years but were too busy to take the time. It was sort of like a huge, deep gasp for air after a long, exhausting run. And it was pretty ugly but also pretty liberating. And when we decided to go ahead and have a fourth baby, it felt like a really big leap into what we knew was another emotional and relational abyss (because pregnancy and babies can be like a marital black hole). And the truth is that we weren’t really ready to do it again, and we knew it, but we were okay with what we knew it would do to us and to our marriage.

Because sometime in the past few years, Years 9-10, I learned how to let marriage (and motherhood) do its job. And I use the word “learned” loosely because I’m still nowhere near completion. But much of the work of the past few years started with a small but conscious decision to allow this work of womanhood–being a wife and a mother–actually make me a better woman. And that means looking harder at myself than at others. And that means trying to root out some of the things in me that have not only contributed to my marital problems, but also my problems with my family, my church, and my friendships.

And, let’s be honest here, it has not been fun. Maybe some woman somewhere falls into marriage and motherhood with grace and competence and only becomes more of her perfected self as she does. But, geez, as I get further and further along into this wife and mother thing I only become more aware of how bad I am at it.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know I’m a good catch. And so does my husband. So I’m not saying that all of our marital problems are my fault or that I’m a hopeless mess.

What I’m saying is that a good marriage exposes us for who we truly are and, if done well, makes even the best people better. And, now ten years into marriage and 9+ years into motherhood, I have a good grip on the worst parts of me and I’m ready to get better.

The nature of intimate relationships–relationships like marriage, motherhood, etc.–is that they reveal our deepest desires and hopes and longings either in the way they fulfill them and make us feel more alive and more ourselves or the way they leave them unfulfilled and leave us disappointed and dejected. (You can quote me on that.)

Making a marriage work for the long haul seems to require, first, working through these longings and expectations to find what is good to desire and reasonable to expect. And then building a marriage where the right desires and expectations of both people are happily met. Some of this is work a couple does together. Some of this is work that needs to be done alone. I’m guessing all couples are at a different place on this spectrum. Maybe some start off the bat with all their longings and expectations met in each other and then they ride off into the sunset on unicorns to find the gold at the end of the rainbow. (For the record: we are not those people.)

For the rest of us, this means not only sorting through our own needs/desires and expectations but also responding to those of our spouse (or our children). I struggle with both ends of the equation. Maybe I always will.

This is all fresh on my mind because last night we celebrated our tenth anniversary.

Making it ten years felt really, really big and important and also really, really ordinary. It felt big because I know that a lot of marriages don’t last this long. And ordinary because ten years is small potatoes compared to twenty or fifty and we still have a lot of work to do to last that long. I wonder how many seasons we’ll pass through these next few years. I wonder what thoughts I’ll be sharing ten years from now.

Until then, here are ten quick tips for those who are newly married or not so newly married but are really struggling through a difficult season like one we’ve been through:

  1. When you’re angry, do the dishes. Or scrub the bathtub. Or fold laundry. It spends your angry energy, gives your mind time to work through the anger, and it gets something done that needs to be done anyway. There have been a lot of nights when a midnight load of dishes was just enough to get me to bed in peace.
  2. Practice speaking positively, both to/about your spouse and about your life together. I am notoriously negative, so this is hard for me. But affirming what is good and going well really makes the hard stuff a lot easier to work through.
  3. Take sex seriously, but with good humor. My experience is that most couples have at least some sexual issues to work through, whether it’s small stuff like how frequently you have sex or big stuff like sexual addiction. My advice is to be as open and honest as humanly possible. Call it like it is. Get help if/when you need it. If you don’t, it will ruin your marriage. But don’t give sex more power over your marriage than it should have–it’s supposed to give life, not steal it.
  4. Be okay with unresolved problems. I am learning to let a little conflict still linger in the air if it needs to. Some fights don’t end before bed and that’s okay.
  5. Let it take a while. My guess is that most couples who last 50 years didn’t solve all their marital problems in year 5. Or year 25, for that matter. Being in it for the long haul means expecting that each season of life will bring new challenges. There will be new issues to address when your first child is born. When you make decisions about jobs and houses and churches. There will be new conflicts when the kids are out of the house. Don’t be surprised by it.
  6. Touch each other, even if just in simple small ways–a hand on the back, a small kiss goodbye, a squeeze on his arm in bed. It does matter. We all need to be touched.
  7. Have kids. Don’t wait forever. Have more than one. Fall in love with your kids. And then pray that God would use the refining fire of parenting to make you worthy of being their parent.
  8. Learn to clarify the things your spouse does and says that hurt you. Learn the difference between what he says and what you hear, between what he does and what you perceive. Ascribe to each other the best of intentions rather than the worst. Let him explain himself before you allow yourself to be offended.
  9. Let your husband grow and change and take care of himself. Be cool about it when he turns 40 and buys a skateboard or starts building a gazebo in the backyard. Encourage him to pick back up the guitar or join a softball league or write a book; don’t mock him if he wants to start training for a marathon or start a new diet. Go with him to see that band he’s suddenly into or just be excited for him when he wants to go with his buddies instead. So long as he’s not neglecting you or your kids or doing anything destructive, give him space to re-imagine himself and his identity and interests as he grows older. You will want the same from him.
  10. Do something fun. I tend to be overly serious, but laughter goes a long way in healing wounds and cultivating affection. Find something you enjoy doing together, whether it’s coffee in the morning or long drives to nowhere. Maybe it’s card games or watching weird sci-fi movies. (Bonus points if it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Then you can do it as often as you want.) Are you having a particularly hard week? Have you been fighting more than normal? Hop in the car or pull out the deck of cards. Enjoy each other. Chill out and remember how you ended up married in the first place.

Submitting to the Work of Motherhood

There is a recurrent theme in many of the blogs and articles my female peers share online: I’m a mom and I’m tired.

I like these articles. They speak to my own experience and I find them refreshingly honest. But, ladies, are we really surprised? Why is it that my generation of women is so disenchanted by the amount of investment and the physical, mental, and emotional work required of motherhood, especially of the stay-at-home variety?

Part of our problem is that, somewhere along the line, the popular narrative of womanhood starting painting motherhood as a side gig, something we could do in our spare time. Parenting and educating our kids–even our newborns–became something we could outsource to a professional while we pursued other work.

Can we outsource our mothering? Sure. For the right price. (I mean, the wealthy have done it for generations.) But it’s a price many of us are not willing pay–even if we could.

I, for one, like seeing the increase in public acknowledgement of the work of motherhood. It validates what we all know: motherhood is work. It’s damn hard work. The women I know who do it full-time (in place of working outside the home) are exhausted. And the women I know who are mothers on top of another career are exhausted in maybe a more profound way. And it’s good that we’re admitting it.

For my part, I strongly affirm a woman’s decision to stay home full-time with her children. In fact, I strongly encourage it as the “Plan A” for all mothers of young children for many reasons–economic, spiritual, emotional, etc.. I know that, by saying this, I run the risk of offending some of my friends who have chosen another plan or feel like Plan A just didn’t work for them. But my goal is not to shame those women. (In fact, it took me 7.5 years of motherhood to finally stay home full-time and, even now, I still take freelance work on the side.) My goal, instead, is to validate the work of motherhood and affirm those who have submitted to it as such.

All blogs and op ed articles aside, we don’t do a good job of encouraging women in the work of motherhood. Instead, among my peers, we praise young women for pursuing professional degrees that will take 5-10 years of their child-bearing lives before they then commit to another 5-10 years of career building. And conversely, even if we claim otherwise, we perceive stay-at-home motherhood as a pit stop for women, something they do only while their children are very young, before they get to the fulfilling work they will do outside of the home once their children are in school (as if the work ends when our children turn 6).

Now, obviously, no good mother “turns off” her mothering. I know many fantastic mothers who are trying to balance both a career and home life and even a woman who works 50 hours a week outside of the home is never not a mother. Motherhood is a 24/7 job and the nuclear family is the single-most influential institution in a child’s life. This is only more affirmation that we need to respect the work of motherhood as not only hard work in and of itself, but an entirely different kind of work than all other work that a woman could choose. And we need to treat it as not equal but actually paramount to whatever other work she does.

Do I mean to say that women cannot or should not pursue professions that require investment outside their home? Maybe. Maybe not. Asserting either would be beside my point. I’m more interested in exposing our double-standard in the way we affirm other work above motherhood so that women who do choose motherhood to be their work feel validated in that decision.

And then I’d like to encourage mothers to submit to motherhood as work the same way they would any other career or vocation.

To illustrate my point: A medical student knows that she is going to have to invest the next 7-10 years of her life in pursuing her career. The road is long and will require many sacrifices. Her social life, her financial security, her 8 required hours of sleep, her diet, even her sex life. They will all take the back seat at some point to her pursuit. But is it worth it? To her, yes. There is a goal at the end: a medical career and the professional, ideological, personal, and social perks it brings.

But what about a woman’s 7-10 (or 20+) year investment in motherhood? What does she have to look forward to at the end of the road other than a ten year void on her professional resume and weird looks from the other people at dinner parties when she says she’s “just a mom?”

Motherhood supplies no PhD. No paycheck (though we could argue the financial benefits of staying home vs. working). There is no guaranteed social capital or respect among peers.

But there are the children.
Are they not enough?

Is it not enough to invest our lives in producing a handful of mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy kids? Kids who have been disciplined and educated consistently by people who know them and love them? Kids who are emotionally secure and attached so they can go into the world and continue to produce likewise healthy and secure children on and on into the future?

And what about the personal benefits of motherhood?

What about the way it pushes us physically, mentally, and emotionally? What about the things it teaches us about our own limits and capacity to grow and change? What about the way it exposes our best and worst selves and sanctifies us over and over again? What about the way it brings a part of us to life that doesn’t really exist when exercised any other way? What about the way motherhood binds women together across cultures and generations?

Is that not worth “taking a few years off?”
Isn’t that a kind of work worth submitting yourself to for a while?

Let me clarify what “submitting to the work of motherhood” does not mean:

It does not mean you will only be a mother. It does not mean that you stop being a wife or a friend or a teacher or a marathoner or a bird watcher. It does not mean that, when introduced in public, you have to always list your role as “mom” first. This does not need to be the only thing people know about you.

It does not mean you cannot find work on the side to help pay your family’s bills. It does not mean you should never get paid to write or to babysit someone else’s children or to sell beauty products. It does not mean saying “no” to offers to consult professionally if you have the capacity to do so.

It does not mean your husband should never help clean the house or that you can’t pay a babysitter to watch the kids. It does not mean you have to homeschool the kids or bake your own bread or knit them all winter hats. It does not mean you may no longer order pizza on Friday nights after a long week.

It does not mean you have to have six to eight kids. And it does not mean you have to have them when you’re a newlywed 22. And, it does not mean you’re less of a mother if it takes until you’re 45 and become a foster parent instead.

Lastly–submitting to the work of motherhood does not require you idolize motherhood. You need not obsess over your children. You need not talk about them constantly. And you need not lose sleep over how frequently you fail and screw it up. (Because, yes, you will surely screw it up. No one is good at all motherhood requires. I humbly submit myself as evidence of this.)

What this does mean:

Submitting to the work of motherhood means walking into the job expecting it to be hard and committing to do it well the same way–or more than–you would any other job. It means letting motherhood be the kind of work that your children are worthy of. And it means letting motherhood make you a better woman for it.

It means that, when you meet a woman who is a stay-at-home mom, you should not pity her as if this is all she could have done and you should not shame her for not having a profitable career. Instead, you should validate her decision the same way you would validate any woman engaged in valuable work–like a woman who you can learn something from.

Husbands, it means validating your wives for the hard work they do and how much easier it makes your life. Your wife lives a world that is still waiting for her to find a “real job” and she needs to know what these sacrifices mean to you and your kids. It means reminding her that her work will bear fruit (because she won’t always believe it). Practically-speaking, it means helping her find solutions that streamline and ease the labor especially since, out of necessity, most of the daily maintenance of a home will probably rest on her. (This also means ensuring she gets a legit Sabbath when–or before–she needs it.)

I hope that, if you are a mom (or wish to be), you will stop selling yourself short. The work is hard and the value of motherhood is immeasurable. It’s okay to be tired.

Mothers, do not be ashamed to commit a long, hard 5 or 10 or 20 years to working at this like it’s your job. Because it is.