But for the past three years, I have had another "New Year" with which I mark time and that is the dotMom conference hosted by Lifeway. I have come home from this event changed every single year for the past three. I have started with new resolve and better intentions each year after the third weekend of September. I honestly believe my Christian walk and my role as a mother and wife have improved every year at this time.
I won't overshare (HA! Have you MET me? I am the QUEEN of the overshare) about every detail of the past two years except to say that last year I came home desperate. It was a culmination of the conference and some books I was reading and some things the Lord was telling me, but I came home so frantic to respond to a call. It was only one month after the conference that I was helping coordinate a 5K for a little city in Cambodia and only nine months after that first conversation that I was standing IN that little city in Cambodia. I love to look back and see the ways the Lord has moved in ways I never expected when I finally decide to listen. Who KNOWS what I will be writing about a year from NOW???
Mostly I wanted to write tonight and share my takeaways from this year. I want to share partly to get my plans down in print but also in case anyone else who didn't get to go might benefit from it.
(Sidenote, I take copious notes that are more transcript-like so if you want a copy of those, just email me and firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to send them to you (from any general or breakout session).)
My own takeaways and plan:
1. Parent the heart, not the actions. (My wording)
Literally four different people said this in some way this weekend. Jen Hatmaker said we have desire a code of morality instead of a right heart and that we focus on systems of behavior. Vicki Courtney worded it as "we focus more on behavior modification than heart evaluation". It was also reference in multiple breakout sessions. This convicted me, as a parent who cares very much about how they act (and, if I'm honest, how they are perceived by others). I know that our kids NEED to act right, but the actions are the fruit from the heart. Our biggest concern should be with their hearts and if they keep their hearts turned toward Him, the behavior will follow. I am really going to try and remember this and focus on it.
2. Be part of the details of their lives.
I am terrible about having kids over here. TERRIBLE. Partly because we are gone so much that I prefer for our nights at home to just be us and also because... I don't like to. I do feel badly about that. This is another point that multiple people made separately. John Croyle said, "If you don't know your daughter's five closest friends, you are too busy. Because next to you and your husband, they will have the biggest influence on her life." Angela Thomas continually emphasized that we should want them at our house with their friends so that we are able to monitor what is going on. I know that if I wait until my kids are older, in my position, their friends will never want to come over here because it will be too awkward when I am their teachers. I need to start establishing relationships NOW with their friends. SO, my plan is to make a conscious effort to have friends of theirs over at least once a month.
3. Just have fun.
I realized when Angela Thomas said something in her keynote that I spend entirely too much time... ticked off. She stated, "My laughter and my joy is a ministry to my children." Now don't get me wrong... I do laugh and have fun with them. Frequently. But I also spend a lot of time rushing them ("Hurry! Come on! We're late!") and just reverting to a default setting of soured-ness. I need to be joyful far more often. The amount of time they are mine is just so, so short. I have to spend it enjoying them. I plan to smile more, listen more, laugh more...
4. Anticipate the teen years.
I went to a session on parenting teens knowing full well that I don't have one yet. I went because I teach them but ALSO because I hoped to get some tips I can get a jumpstart on now. And boy did I! Sissy Goff made several really important points that I am planning to implement now. First of all, she said kids need other voices in their lives (not just ours). She suggested finding people whom our children trust and whom WE trust. There will come a time when they won't listen to us and likely also won't talk much to us. We need people who can tell them the same things we are but in a different voice. I called my sister when I got home and suggested that, though she already has a great relationship with my kids, she start taking Emma out every 3-4 months for some one-on-one time with her. I think establishing that now will prove to be a good thing. She also suggested asking kids questions about everything and really giving them a chance to talk. Women (especially the writer of this blog post) tend to jump in with the talking way too quickly. Give them space to talk. She also discussed boundaries and saying no and that we need to widen the boundaries a little every year so that at 18, they don't go completely crazy. If we loosed them a bit all along, we are there to pick up the pieces when they mess up rather than it happening once they leave our roost. This seems like a good plan to me.
5. Parent for the Kingdom.
I don't know about the rest of you, but Kraig and I yell too much. We say no way more often than yes. And sometimes it's just a matter of reframing things a bit. I absolutely loved something Jen Hatmaker said about letting them start to make their own choices and I decided to adjust it a bit and use it in discipline. She suggested asking your children, "What would 'well done' look like here?" "What would a 'good and faithful servant' do in this situation?" I want to use those things in reminding them in the midst of situations and afterward in discipline.
[In talking to them about this, I wanted to make sure they understood the context, so I asked them what God says to believers when they make it home. Kelsey, without missing a beat, fist pumped and said, "You LUCKY GUY! Get in here!" Probably should have disturbed me but FUNNIEST. MOMENT. EVER.]
She also emphasized again that they just simply have to see us living and doing Kingdom work for Him. We cannot just tell our kids about loving our neighbor. They have to SEE us doing it. She had two lines that got me right in the gut: "If my kids imitate me, what does that look like for the Kingdom in ten years?" OUCH. and "Whatever we have to do to follow Jesus into the Kingdom, just say yes."
Gems from the two days:
Vicki Courtney General
*You don't have to be so frantic to keep the pace of our crazy over-scheduled lives. Just show them Him, and that will be enough.
*"Only one life, twill soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last."
Intentional Parenting - Dave Thomas and Sissy Goff
*Don't feed the imaginary audience that all adolescents have.
*Discipline is an extended and carefully managed event, not a sudden, spontaneous reaction to the child's behavior.
*Brain research is starting to pile up regarding screen time. Between 8 and 13, their brains lock onto the things they do most. This is the time for imaginative play, reading, and playing outside-- NOT screens.
Angela Thomas General
*We are responsible for the boundaries of our home and we are accountable to God for keeping evil out.
Raising the Kids We Have, Not the Kids We Were- Jen Hatmaker (DO YOU HAVE ALL DAY? Because everything she said was perfect.)
*80% of kids growing up now will be gone from the church by age 29.
*Society has changed and what has always worked will no longer work. The words we have puppeted for years have lost their meaning. They need to SEE us live for Jesus in a very real, raw way.
*Is it beneficial to be so busy serving the saved that we have no time to reach out to the marginalized?
*Many people didn't expect the life they have. They expected more kids, fewer kids, bigger house, no divorce, etc. Be brave enough to let go of what you expected and embrace what you actually have. God does His best work in reality.
Grounded for Life- Vicki Courtney
*We are raising kids who have no idea what "Be still and know that I am God" looks like-- because WE don't.
*If you are always saying no, they will find a situation in which to do it but it will be without your guidance.
Back Door to Your Teen's Heart- Sissy Goff
*To the degree that kids can predict you, they will dismiss you.
*You can't be Jesus to your kids, but you can need Him in front of them.
Jen Hatmaker General Session
*We can give our kids a safe and happy life or cultivate in them a single-minded passion for the Kingdom.
*He has a whole world to save and redeem. Someone has to go. May we raise kids who will say, "Here am I, Lord. Send me."
*Live it or you have no hope of leading it.
*We can't possibly lead our children on mission if we aren't on mission ourselves.