How I Remembered to be an Encourager

My friend left her three little ones with me one morning. And suddenly, I remembered what it was like to: wipe the 31st runny nose for the morning, change nappies, wash hands and little fingers that seemed to get into everything, dive for precious things before they hit the floor… You get the picture.

I was also very glad when their mum returned one hour and thirty three minutes later because frankly…I was exhausted.

Their mum took them home with her for the next few years, and I went to the local shopping centre to relax and enjoy a Chai Latte.

As I luxuriated in the froth of my latte, another young mum went past with her two little ones; the elder in the stroller and the younger one, probably about two and a half, throwing a tantrum behind the stroller.

The mum calmly, gently and firmly took control of the situation. She whispered something into her now calmer daughter, and continued walking…with a quiet child who was not only settled but followed happily.

I felt the urge to run up to the mum and say ‘Well done!’ But the comfort of my Chai overwhelmed me and I continued to sit and sip.

When it was too late to be of any use, my conscience pricked me and reminded me of those times that my own little ones had thrown tantrums in public. Those were inevitably the same days that the car played up, one of the children lost a shoe, four litres of milk landed on the floor, and it was the last day to pay the electricity bill–and payday wasn’t until Friday.

On one particularly rotten day, we managed to get ourselves kicked out of both the library and the local store in less than two hours. Some well-meaning person in the store had plenty of words about how unruly my children were. As if I didn’t know that.

Later that afternoon I discovered that the main perpetrator of the mischief had yet another fever and accompanying burst ear-drum. So, I ended up at home with sick kids who I had to pack back into the car when they had just gone to sleep so I could pick up their big sister from school, and later, repeat the ordeal to collect their dad from work.

I don’t remember the words of advice that well-meaning person gave. But I know that as I sat exhausted, frustrated, angry and depressed, I wished that some-one would wave a magic wand and give me five minutes of peace and quiet and take all of my troubles away.

Foundation!

Funny, isn’t it, how we can all be parenting experts until we have at least three children of our own. I maintain that nobody who has parented more than two children ever sets themselves up as a parenting expert.

Yet, the advice flows doesn’t it? And me – I’m as guilty as anybody at handing it out.

So, instead of offering advice, I want to give a collective ‘SORRY’ to all of the parents I’ve judged unfairly, neglected to cheer when they were doing a good job, or felt too shy to offer  15 minutes time-out for a mum while I watched her two-year-old at playgroup.

On behalf of all of us who didn’t encourage you when we had the opportunity, here is some instant encouragement.

And for those of you who, like me, need to practice to be more encouraging, here are some ideas for what to say in the future.

You’re doing a great job!
Way to go!
Be gentle on yourself!
You don’t have to smile if you’re feeling awful on the inside!
We understand!
One day soon there will be more sleep!
Would you like me to hold your baby for a few minutes while you finish your cuppa?
How would you like me or my teenager to baby-sit this Friday night while you both go out for dessert?

Who knows? Maybe we can change our local communities into child and parent friendly communities: by encouraging rather than judging; by baking biscuits with the neighbourhood children to give their mum a morning off; by doing the dishes when we’re visiting;  by being realistic about life and it’s challenges; by standing alongside other parents instead of criticizing them; by reminding ourselves of what it was like to be tired with sick and cranky kids; and by standing up for parents of young children in our local planning committees.

We might just find ourselves sipping Lattes without the guilt – and discovering young friends in our old age.

 

Originally published in The Lutheran  as ‘Perfect Parenting’

 

Changing Shoes

As I passed a sports shop in my local shopping mall this morning, my favourite shoes were on display. My current shoes show that they’ve been much loved. Thread by thread, they threaten to reveal my big toe. Their replacements are long overdue.

I picked up a shoe and turned it over.

My current shoes became my favourites when our extended family was caught in a rain-storm in Brisbane. While I walked along the wooden esplanade through the down-pour, family members who were with me slid and skidded, performing balancing acts that should only be seen on ice, after practice—not by my mum in her 70’s.

My feet stayed secure. The little round ‘lugs’ molded into the base of my shoe created mini-suction cups. So I stuck to the walkway like a gecko on a wall.

So, prompted by the display this morning, I picked up a shoe, tipped it over to press on the little molded lugs on the bottom, with the same delight as popping bubble wrap,

but…

the little molded lugs had gone: Replaced by inserted plugs of what can only be described as aerobic exercise mat.

‘Spongy,’ the shop assistant said to me.

‘Disappointing,’ I responded. ‘Those others stopped slipping. I don’t think these will do the same.’

I didn’t tell her that with my vast experience of sporting equipment (I can hear those who know me, laughing!) those little plugs are intended to fall out.

Change

‘Change.’ she said. ‘Change doesn’t have to be so scary. I think that manufacturers don’t change things to make them worse, but to improve them.’

My mouth (surprisingly) didn’t speak the ‘Yeah, right!’ that my face obviously did.

I saw her discomfort and said ‘It’s the little changes that are the most annoying.’

She laughed, then sidled up next to me.

‘See those track pants along there?’ She pointed at a clothes rack on the other side of the store. ‘Standard stock for years. This year they have elasticised ankles.

People hate them.’

‘Especially those who are 5’ 2” I reckon,’ said me, looking up at the shop assistant who had much longer legs than me. Her eyes looked puzzled and she shook her head. I tried another tack.

‘It’s like computer programs,’ I said.

She grabbed her hair at her temples,

‘Technology! AARGH!’

I smiled. ‘Yeah. It’s those little changes: Some bright spark decides a widget would look better in a different place, might work better a little differently, or should be removed because it doesn’t appeal to his personal taste. And we, the consumers, don’t get to choose what we want.

Big changes you are forced to accept. You have to adjust your mindset. Allow yourself to grieve. Get on with life.

It’s all the tiny changes that drive you nuts.’

We both paused. I put the shoe back on the bench and said, ‘I’ll go home and think about it’.

She didn’t make a sale. But I realized I have more in common with Gen Y than I had thought.

And I went home to discover another thread had pinged on the toe of my favourite shoe.

P.S. After I came home to write this story, one of my family asked me to pick them up from a different shopping centre. And there, on sale, was a new ‘old’ pair of my favourite shoes complete with molded lugs that stick like a gecko on a wall.

 

Family Recipes

My mother-in-law Ruth and her sisters are extraordinary cooks. So family get-togethers of our three generations are a great celebration of good, old-fashioned German cooking, with lots of cream, and belly-aches for the uninitiated who tend to be overfilled by too much great food.

At any family gathering, the aunties bring designated dishes. Auntie Audrey makes brandy snaps and pavlova. Auntie Doreen makes pink jelly cakes, with cream in the middle. Ruth makes jelly-slice. And Auntie Joy makes cream-puffs. But that’s just dessert.

Before then, home-made sausage rolls and little meat-balls with home-made tomato sauce are for entree. That’s where the newbys get into trouble. The rest of us know

‘Don’t fill up on sausage rolls because there’s an ocean of food yet to come.’

Then there’s Ruth’s soup: The best chicken noodle soup in the world. Main course provides mountains of turkey and duck, chicken, ham, lamb and corned beef with lashings of creamy coleslaw, potato salad, and whatever else the in-laws bring along as salad.

Cooking, like housework, is not my forte, and I struggled for years to find something I could happily contribute to my in-laws’ family table.

But, a couple of decades ago when we lived overseas, I asked their mother Ruby for her kuchen (German streusel* cake) recipe. When I was little, I watched my own grandmother making kuchen in her tiny kitchen, and helped her to use the same dough to make doughnuts and kitchener buns. So I wasn’t intimidated by the thought of cooking with yeast.

After Ruby died, when the family was facing their first event without her, I baked Ruby’s kuchen. The taste and smell that were faithful to Ruby’s original recipe brought back many happy home memories. I was really pleased to contribute in a very important way to the family’s memories.

Though all the sisters thought that kuchen was too difficult to make, it didn’t take Ruth very long to work out that if I could cook something, almost anybody else could!

IMG_20160825_145611Recipes are like that, aren’t they? Some of them are intimidating. Some of them call for ingredients we just don’t have in our homes, or are too rich to make too often. And some of them just don’t suit our tastes. But some of them are just right.

I’ve found that parenting tips are like recipes: Many are passed from generation to generation; some are intimidating; some leave a bitter taste; and some are just too yummy to use too often.

But some of them are just right: they fit us, our family and our situation. Once we’ve tried them a few times, we can’t imagine life without them – even though we may tweak them according to our own tastes.

I’ve had the incredible privilege of running parenting seminars, courses and groups. They include a collection of parenting ‘recipes’ that  I’ve learnt along the way, received from colleagues or acquired at a training course. Or they are a complete course, such as Toolbox. They’re all backed up by decades of research.

What I have found though, is that listening to me is not nearly as encouraging to the parents as discovering that others share their joy and frustration — and even their pain!

‘Oh, that happens in your house, too?’ is the most common question I hear. As soon as I hear that, usually within the first five minutes of a seminar, I know that somebody is going to go home feeling much more encouraged, knowing they are not alone in their struggles.

The best bit is to see a parent’s eyes light up as they hear about a different approach, another way of looking at what their kids do, and when they say ‘I reckon I can do that!’

Most of the time the camaraderie that comes from knowing somebody else shares your experience can be positive. But this can be ambushed by a sense of judgement or failure if particular styles or methods of parenting are imposed or implied as particularly better than others.

Because we have different circumstances, personalities and backgrounds, the way we parent will be different from the way others parent. And it will be deeply affected by the way we were parented. It may also differ among our own individual children.

Most of us have memories of promising, ‘I’ll never do that to my child’. But if we don’t find another way to deal with that particular situation, we may discover ourselves reverting to the only way we know how, especially in times of crisis.

2016-08-25 14.56.51

The good news is that we don’t have to stick to the recipes that don’t work or we don’t like. There are plenty of options.

So, where can we find healthy parenting ‘recipes’? How can we tell which methods are the best to follow?

Perhaps start off with a bit of basic biology. Books and dvds and websites are a great place to begin to learn basic anatomy and physiology. It’s great to be aware of how babies grow, what they need in order to develop and how best to meet their needs. Then you will be able to describe and understand anatomical features when you have a medical or child-health appointment.
It will also help you to discern good advice from the rubbish you might read.

With a little basic biology behind you, check out some child-development resources. Two good websites are www.raisingchildren.net.au and www.child-encyclopedia.com.

Find out what’s normal, so that you don’t get upset when your baby starts dropping things from their high-chair over and over again; your two-year-old says ‘No!’; your three-year-old asks ‘Why?’ three hundred times a day; or your eight-year-old argues against everything you say.

Knowing what to expect will help you to feel more comfortable when asking somebody how to work with this next stage.  That’s much better than believing that your child is rebelling against your parenting style, or worse, is attacking you personally.

My favourite place to find useful and practical ideas about parenting is www.theparentingplace.com. But like any recipe, there are bits I add or take out, according to the needs of my family.

Take a look at that site and others. Try them out if they seem like they might work for you. Tweak them as necessary. Ask others what they think. Observe other parents and try to see the cause and effect principle in action.

If parenting ideas don’t sit right with your tastes or ingredients, don’t feel obliged to stick with them. If something doesn’t work, try something else.

And remember, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

Perhaps the best way to measure parenting recipes is to hold them up against a popular list of ingredients found in the bible in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Add a dose of fun and you have the greatest recipe for warm and happy memories that your kids will want to pass on for generations.

*Streusel is a crumble topping made with flour, butter and sugar.

Previously published in The Lutheran

Remote Chance of Chores: Julie Hahn

I did it again this morning.

The first time I did it was months ago, when my beloved child was not contributing at all to the smooth-functioning of our household. Instead of doing his allocated chores, he spent his time and energy on playing x-box on our t.v.

When he went off to school one morning, I grabbed his x-box remote and put it away.

I can’t remember whether it was intentional or not. But after I put it away, I forgot where I put it.

Sometimes I’m blessed with a terrible memory.

To say that for a while I was not a popular mum would be the understatement of the year. However, I do remember telling him that, perhaps, if he did his chores, I might be prompted to remember.

Weeks went past.

Everyone in our house has their own chores to do. Everyone else had already taken on his job of feeding the dog.

Shelby the dog was a bundle of white fluff that you couldn’t actually see on her. Chris used to say that she shed more fluff than she could possibly produce. In the ensuing weeks white fluff carpeted the rugs, the floors and every surface in the house.

It was disgusting.

But we were at an impasse.

Stubborn mum refused to look for the remote until his jobs were done. And refused to do his jobs despite living in dog-fluff circumstances.

Son demonstrated that he can be equally stubborn. He inherited a double-dose of stubborn, with an added pinch of passive resistance.

Possibly prompted by an imminent houseful of guests I decided that, regardless of my intentions to stick to my guns, I needed to do the vacuuming. I went to the cupboard in the laundry, picked up the vacuum-cleaner…and there, behind the vacuum-cleaner, was the hidden remote.

I didn’t need to do the vacuuming that day.
I simply went to find the offending son and explained that I’d suddenly remembered where his treasure was. If he did his chores I could make sure they were reunited.

He looked at me with that look that asks ‘Should I believe you?’.

I walked away.

A few moments later, I heard chuckling coming from the laundry.
‘Fair call, mum. Fair call. I deserved that. That was well done.’

Phew! Not quite the reaction I anticipated. But it reaffirmed to me that logical consequences and ‘assisting’ our kids to take responsibility for their actions works – at least it did, that time.

I wonder if he’ll know where to look when he’s looking for his missing computer…

The Crystal Bowl

The crystal bowl
A wedding gift
too precious to be broken
too beautiful to be stuck at the back of a cupboard

So, placed on a bench
Where the sun shone through the window

Rainbows danced on the wall
As the sun rose and set and the clouds moved around the sky

 

The bowl sat

Proudly for a while

Dusted regularly

Occasionally washed
in hot, soapy water
atop a folded tea-towel at the bottom of the sink

It remained on the bench for years
Just out of reach of sticky, inquisitive fingers

But when the family grew
Taller and busier
The bowl collected paraphernalia

The reliable place to find the keys
and stray coins
and springs that pop out of pens
and washers that somehow manage to find themselves loose
and lolly-wrappers
and dead batteries

No more did the sun shine through it
It lay
Forgotten
Clouded in dust

Ugly dust-bowl in its emptiness

—–

When dust and teens overwhelmed her

Mother cleared it out
Washed it
In hot, soapy water

Rainbows danced in the bubbles
As she lifted the bowl from the sink

A sliver of sunlight caught a facet of the crystal

A rainbow danced on the wall in front of her

Reminding her

 

Restored to its proper place
on the cleared, dusted, polished bench

The crystal bowl gleamed

No room for emptiness

No lack of purpose

Full of fresh, nourishing fruit

A new depth of colour and fulfillment

 

The crystal bowl

Beauty in its design

Life in its purpose.

 

 

 

Focus on your Priorities: Julie Hahn

Focus on your priorities,  they say.
Clear your desk.
Sit.

Be still.

Concentrate on writing whatever comes into your mind.

 

My pen is poised for a fraction of a second and…

The phone rings.

It’s Mum. Mum has been neglected somewhat since we left for our month long holiday. She joined us halfway for a couple of days. But I haven’t spent much time with her since then.

‘I have an appointment with the doctor. I’ll see you afterwards,’ she says. Then turns up on my doorstep with a relatively clean bill of health, but a need for some loving.

‘Let’s go out for lunch’, I suggest. Lunch extends into an afternoon of shopping. With a new grandchild / niece / nephew due in the next few weeks, we have new and interesting shops and departments to check out.

She leaves at 5 p.m.

‘I don’t know how to make mashed potatoes,’  says No. 4 child who is rostered to cook dinner. Mashed potatoes might be on the menu but life is on his mind. He needs some loving.

Husband arrives home. He needs some loving. The Olympics give us an excuse to snuggle on the couch – until my eyes demand to be closed.

I climb into bed – with no words written.

 

The next morning arrives.

Pen poised.

SMS from No. 1 child.

‘Do you have time for a mum-chat?’

Fifty-two minutes later, she smiles through the phone and says that she always knows I’ll help her get grounded and put life back into perspective. Thanks Mum.

I grab a cup of coffee and head to my office.

Pen poised.

Phone rings. I do all I can to answer politely.

It’s my sister – the one who’s about to present my new niece/nephew within the next few weeks.

‘Soothe that belly. Try some ginger’, I say, trying to reassure her. She needs some loving. And I enjoy a chat that I’ve forgotten we can do at waking hours now that she’s back in the country. Gotta get used to that.

43 minutes later, she decides she’d better do some housework.

I go to wash my coffee cup and No. 3 child returns from her morning classes. I ask how they went, and she smiles for the first time for weeks. ‘Great!’ I say and turn in the direction of my desk.

Okay if we sort out the Centrelink stuff? she asks. She needs much more than loving. She needs an income, and someone who is much more practiced at handling people who may or may not enjoy working for the government.

Three hours later I sit at my desk, which I cleared while I was on hold to Centrelink for 37 minutes. And all I can think of is how life as a mum is unpredictable, disrupted, and full of loving.

It doesn’t matter how many motivational speakers, self-appointed leaders, organizational experts or preachers tell me that I’ll never achieve unless I prioritize, life as a full-time wife and mum is exactly that: deciding moment by moment which is my biggest priority.

And my first priority will always be… to love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice Makes Better: Julie Hahn

Some people have told me how talented they think I am, and inside I laugh. The most important lesson I’ve learnt in the process of writing is that practice makes better.

Very occasionally, writing these articles happens easily. I wake up very early in the morning with a thought in my mind, get dressed, grab my glasses and my car keys and head to a coffee shop, and voila, 40 minutes later an article is born.  But more often, they are a slog—an enjoyable slog.

I became a writer quite accidentally … well, so I thought, until I took a look back at how it happened.

Our little family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when our children were four, two and not quite one. Even before we were married we’d planned to move overseas for Chris to do post-doctorate research. We figured that I would be stuck at home with little kids during this time, so it didn’t really matter where we were.

But we had no idea how homesick I would be, being so far away from everybody we knew. It was before the age of computers in homes. These days I can communicate with my sister in the UK using Skype or Facebook.

In Memphis, I wrote letters. Ten pages of letters per day, every day. And in the process of writing letters,
I learnt to write.

My mother kept all the letters I wrote to her and presented them to me in a large folder only last year. The letters stopped after about 18 months, by which time we’d settled into the Memphis community and I was no longer so homesick.

After we came back to Australia, moved houses, had another baby and settled all the kids into school, I went to university and learnt more about writing … and word limits. Writing essay after essay helped me to learn to be more concise, and reading article after article, book after book, I learnt to be more discerning about styles and word choices.

‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’

Being surrounded by toddlers in my work reminds me of their persistence. Toddlers are determined to get to where they want to go. They get up and fall down, and get up … and fall down. They keep getting up, over, and over and over again. I’m sure that whoever it was who said ‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’ had been watching a bunch of babies.

Younger children just want to learn and keep doing, over and over and over again. They don’t seem to care how well they do anything. They just keep at it

But as children get to school age, that determined endeavour seems to disappear in some of them.

Children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something

Chris and I attended an excellent ‘Family Wellness’ course a number of years ago. The kids were dragged along for a couple of sessions, too. A key idea of the course was that children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something.

With a new perspective from the course, I looked at the people I knew who were confident and accomplished in what they did. Whether they were artists, engineers, architects, cooks, farmers or athletes, every one of them had worked hard to be where they are now.  Talent had very little to do with their success.

Skyscrapers, bridges, planes and ships are not designed by people who suddenly decide to build them. Great buildings begin with wooden blocks, Lego, meccano and piles of sand being moved from one spot to another. Great artworks begin with painting dots and squiggles, and experimentations with shade and light, correction and starting from scratch, over and over again.

Admittedly, some people are born to be more athletic or musical or artistic than others. But without determined, intentional, frequent practice, people do not become great at something.

Attempting to get good at something
Attempting to get good at something

Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes

I recently heard an interview on the ABC with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the world-famous singer. She said,

‘You never stop learning … The moment you think you can’t learn anymore, I think you’re dead. Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes … If I did two hours a day on vocalese, seven days a week, it would never be enough. Think of the tennis player. How many times has he hit that little ball? It’s a lifestyle, not a job.’

So, armed with our new perspective on parenting 5–12-year-olds, Chris and I looked at our parenting. We were familiar with our kids beginning new ventures: joining a basketball team, learning a musical instrument, playing a game.

They were eager starters.

Everything was new and interesting.

For a while the practice was a novelty, but soon it became a drag with its repetition. Being part of a team was fun, but it also became tiresome when it required early morning starts or missing out on parties or fishing trips.

With our new perspective we began to help them to ‘hang in there!’ We explained the plateau that happens when you learn something new: You learn eagerly and quickly for a while, but then you don’t seem to get any better; the kids in the team won’t throw to you because you keep dropping the ball; the clarinet refuses to give you that particular note and it squeaks precisely when you are trying your hardest; you keep coming ‘second’ every time you play chess.

It’s at the plateau that most people quit.

It’s at the plateau that most people quit. That’s the time that we as parents, coaches and encouragers need to get in there and be the cheer squad.

Forget about ‘constructive criticism’! Research by the Gottman Institute demonstrates that, particularly in children, criticism is not constructive.

Instead, stress the positive:

‘What a great catch! Now, do that again!’

‘See what happens when you do that: It’s strong!’

Describe what you see. Describe how you feel.

Give your children the words to express what they’ve done.

Encourage positive steps and celebrate small successes as well as big ones.

Every positive effort is a success, regardless of its outcome.

A few years ago I was part of a school chaplains’ meeting. One of the chaplains shared a story about a teenager who was constantly in trouble with the police. He kept breaking into cars and stealing them.

When the teenager was asked by the chaplain, ‘Why do you do it?’, his reply was,

‘I just want to be good at something, and that’s all I know’.

Everybody needs to get good at something.

Everybody needs to get good at something. Natural talent and ability play only a small part in a person’s success. For each of us, in everything we do, practice makes better.

 

First published in ‘The Lutheran’ 2012. 

 

For more stories about people who practiced to achieve, read Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’.

 

Sex: You need to talk about it with your kids – Julie Hahn

One of the mothers of our Year 7 class was teaching her daughter about sex. Every lunch time her daughter gave us a little bit more information.  We listened, snickered and stuck our noses up in the air, as Year 7 girls tend to do. We made remarks such as ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Nobody would ever do that!’

I got the job of going home to ask my mother to validate the latest gory details. After all, my mum was a nurse for three months, so she must have known something about sex. So I’d go home, ask her direct questions and receive direct answers. And I’d report back to the girls.

Whether mum figured out that there was a whole class-full of girls clinging to her every word, I’m not sure. But I’m glad she was open enough to answer questions.

There were no books available to our family back then. Any book that might have been useful in the school-library had been coloured in by a censor. No wonder the kids of the day thought you had to be a doctor or nurse to know about sex.

When our own children were little, things were much different. The impending birth of our son when the kids were 5, 6 and 8 years old gave us a fantastic opportunity to give information in a matter-of-fact way.

We found some books that were helpful, especially our favourite called ‘Who made me?’ by Malcolm and Meryl Doney, and illustrated by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. ‘Who made me?’ had simple language, cute pictures and analogies that the kids could relate to: bits that fitted together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and fruit and vegetables that illustrated the size of the baby as it grew inside mum’s tummy.

Sex was described as the most fun game that mummies and daddies can play. This book spoke about sex as a beautiful gift within the context of marriage…Bonus! That gave us the opportunity to place a lock on our bedroom door – and explain to our kids that if the lock was in operation, we might be playing that game so, best for them to leave us alone.

We also had the opportunity to accompany our children to sex-ed nights at school. The guest speakers gave the audience the facts about anatomy and physiology.  Then they directed each child to ask their parent who was sitting next to them ‘In your family, what do you call this bit?’

These were informative nights that answered the questions that most children ask, and most parents get embarrassed about. We liked them – apart from the question-time at the end, where we would hope and pray that it was not our child who put up their hand to ask more questions that embarrassed parents.

Our youngest had a different up-bringing to his older siblings, largely because issues that the others were dealing with were often discussed quite freely around the dinner table. The girls were having a discussion about periods one night while I kept trying to change the subject. Acknowledging defeat I asked their little brother, as casually as I could, if he knew what periods were. His answer… ‘When girls get grumpy!’

In our church we have a resource library for parents, available to the whole community. One of the resources available is a cd called ‘The Big Weekend’. Produced by the parenting place.com it is specifically designed for parents and their child (aged about 11 years old) to play in the car’s cd drive while they go for a weekend trip.

‘The Big Weekend’ talks about sex and other issues that kids may face, such as self-esteem, bullying, sexuality and depression.

It’s really engaging and is presented in a way that is non-threatening for either parent or child and invites discussion through its use of humour. Chris took Noah on a ‘Big Weekend’ and they found it great. It enhanced their relationship and gave them some great memories that they can share together.

As our kids faced senior school, each of them came home with stories about class-mates who were pregnant. Too often, these young people were from devoutly religious homes. I’ve read books that tell Christian parents to use a flower as the way to teach their adult child about sex … and that’s it!  No other information offered!

If Christian parents can’t recognise that God has given us the gift of sex for our marriage relationship, and pass that on to our kids, who will?  If we feel too embarrassed to speak about sex with them, they will find out in other ways – and the results can be traumatic. Knowing about sex and practicing protective behaviours keeps our kids safer, and gives them the vocabulary to talk about it if ever necessary.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’*. People usually learn the values that are associated with sex from the context in which they learn about sex. If people learn about sex behind the school shed; in the context of sexual abuse; in a marriage or relationship where sex is expected but not explained; from lobby groups who have their own agendas; or more than likely from television, movies and the internet, they will also take on board the values with which it is presented.

Is what the kids see on MTV the way we would like them to look at their sexuality?

If we as parents teach about sex, we earn the right to teach our values.

If we are too shy to speak about sex, do we have the right to expect our children to adhere to our values. Or do we think that they will know our values by a simple process of osmosis?

In the context of sexuality in our world, future generations will need to be able to communicate clearly and openly about sex among other issues. How can Christians ever be invited to take part in open, frank, respectful conversations about marriage, relationships and sexuality if they are perceived as never talking about sex?

The most powerful mechanism by which we can change that perception is by parents being open with their kids.  Parents need to intentionally pass on their values openly, frankly and respectfully, in word and through modelling behaviour.

As parents we have the privilege of being able to influence our children’s attitudes to sex. Whether we are embarrassed or shy doesn’t take away our responsibility to teach our children about sex and the values we have about it. After all, if we don’t, somebody else will.

 

Previously published as ‘Bye-Bye Birds and Bees’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2012.  

*The Parenting Place

 

Home again, home again…

We’re home again. Arrived at the airport at lunch time Thursday with peace in our hearts and minds and only a little anxiety at how things would be at our house.

This morning, I’ve spent my first few hours checking out some photos, my journal, and planning for where to begin this next phase of our lives.

In my  journal I was reminded about a sermon I heard while we were away, by Casey Treat. A phrase he said hit home to me and has been playing in my mind ever since. He said that some miracles are spontaneous and have instant effects.

‘But most times’, he said, ‘you’ve got to walk into your miracle every day’.

When we began our trek around the beautiful Northern Territory, I was unfit and felt sorry for myself. For the past couple of weeks, my mind has replayed ‘You’ve got to walk into your miracle everyday!’ Walking into my miracle has worn out my new shoes and given me a new attitude.

My husband heard the same sermon. Before the sermon he encouraged me up and over and through King’s Canyon. He sat with me when I conked out on the way to the Mirray lookout at Kakadu, and helped me get to the top…eventually.

2016-07-12 16.57.27He taught me about where to place my feet, to take the smallest steps possible to conserve energy. He held my water bottle and my camera. And held my hand when I was scared.

Since the sermon he’s been encouraging me to ‘walk into my miracle everyday’, pointing out my progress.

I need to add here that the kids were almost placing bets as to whether we would come back liking each other more, or ready to throw each other off a cliff. I think they’re happy.

We’ve had lots of coffee. We’ve eaten lots of camp food and many take-aways, especially if there were markets available. We’ve even helped to cater for several meals for 80! We’ve spent time with our daughter and some dear friends, and made new ones.

We’ve laughed a lot. We’ve talked a lot. We’ve held hands a lot and learnt more about each other. We’ve also realized how much we’ve rubbed off on each other over the past 28 years. The past month has refreshed our relationship–another miracle we’ve walked into every day.

2016-06-18 14.50.14Now we’re home again and I guess there’s the temptation to get back into the same life we left a month ago: which would seem to destroy the purpose of having ever left.

My hope is that the good things will continue – spending time together, less television and news interrupting our day, our increased communication with each other.

But what I’ve learnt during this trip is that hoping to do well in anything doesn’t bring the miracles. It’s walking into those miracles everyday that makes the difference.

It doesn’t matter where we walk. What does matter is that we consciously and intentionally continue to walk into the miracle of a great relationship, together. And wherever we are will be home.

 

 

 

Go Jesse! A lesson in encouragement: Julie Hahn

The Sunday school we belonged to in America ran a family day at the local roller-skating rink. So, our family joined in, as usual.

I had just settled into my viewer’s chair when I heard that the races were about to start.
OK,’ I thought. ‘This will be fun.’
Then… I saw him.

My son.  The four year old with the blonde hair, cheeky grin and eyes that spelt mischief. Jesse, who had his mother wrapped around his little finger.

 

As I screamed, I felt a very firm but gentle hand grasp my leg. I turned to see Miss Irene the Sunday School director seated next to me. Her hand held my leg and she screamed much more loudly than me

“GO JESSE!”

Jesse did not win the race…in fact, he probably spent more time down on his tail than up on his skates. He finished – not shamed, as he would have if he’d listened to me and stopped, but triumphantly, with several hundred people cheering him on.

What a lesson in encouragement.

How many opportunities do we take to encourage others – especially when they are trying something new, or are struggling in their attempts?

As Aussies, our culture tends to knock people who try – and especially those who don’t excel. Even worse, is that we often use sarcasm against others in attempts to make humour. Especially in children, we refer to this as “teasing”. Perhaps we could begin a new culture shift, encouraging instead of telling people ‘Don’t’ or ‘You can’t’.

Encourage one another and build each other up

 When babies begin to explore, we can make sure they are in a safe but interesting environment that encourages them to explore – not a sterile one that does not enable them to learn, or one that’s full of breakable objects or things that might hurt them.
 When  toddlers recognise pictures and symbols  we can encourage them with ‘great reading’
 When a child runs, skips, jumps or hops, encourage them with ‘Great job!’ instead of ‘Don’t do that… you’ll fall.’
 When a child makes a mess in the middle of showing independence, we can coach instead of scold
 When a teenager shows interest in taking more initiative we can encourage and give them more responsibility and freedom
 When musicians play, we can encourage – and offer help with administration, or babysitters during practice or performances
 When pastors preach and speakers teach, we can let them know what we learnt through them
 When the neighbourhood kids are rowdy, we can encourage them with a smile and a wave

When our footy team is struggling, we can cheer them on, rather than leave at three-quarter-time
What would happen in Australian homes, schools, churches and workplaces if Aussies chose to encourage, rather than discourage or tease?
What can you do to encourage somebody today?

 

First published in The Lutheran magazine