On a Plane Flying Home

I’m sitting on an airplane, heading home from Phoenix, and going over all the pictures I took this week, feeling like I’d much rather still be sitting by the pool, instead of getting home at 2am tonight.

Nevertheless, our own beds will feel fantastic, and there really is no place like home, so here we go.

It was such a beautiful week – perfect weather, hours in the pool, and lots of fun adventures.

Everett was one year old the last time we went on a trip, so it was fun to watch him experience our flight down to Phoenix. While waiting for take off, he kept asking, “When are they going to take it off? When will we blast off?” He did fantastic for the whole flight and seemed to have a great time, but when we landed, he said, “I’m going to kiss the ground!”

We stayed with Ben’s parents, at the house they rent every November, and it was fun to have them show us around and introduce us to all their favourite things to eat and do in Phoenix.

Ben, his dad, and the kids went horseback riding in the mountains, and we went exploring at the top of the mountain afterwards.

We went for a hike in the mountains on our last full day, and it was one of those experiences that made me so thankful for how far my health has come. It hasn’t been that many years since a hike would not have been possible, and I loved being able to do it.

And now it’s time to get back to normal life, which is a bit hard to wrap my head around at the moment, but I’m such a creature of habit, I’m sure it won’t take long! So thankful for the beautiful bunch of memories we get to take back with us!!

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Anika Turns 15

Anika turned 15 this week, and it is fascinating. I’m seeing her grow up and figure out who she is right before my very eyes. Everything I’ve learned about her from the day she was born is all coming together in this girl who is almost an adult, and it is an interesting, exciting, hard, beautiful process to watch.

You guys, being/having a teenager is no joke. I remember the struggle at 15. It’s such a strange time of wanting to grow up, and yet not always feeling ready to. I watch Anika teetering on the brink of that, and I never know when to jump in to help, or when to quietly step back and wait while she figures things out on her own.

I’m trying to get better at the quietly stepping back thing, and as I work at it, she keeps surprising me, because she’s got a good head on her shoulders, and she contually comes up with thoughts and observations that seem beyond her years, because she’s smart, thoughtful, witty, and able to cut through a lot of mess and confusion in a straightforward, honest, no nonsense kind of way.

As a little girl, she was always cheerful, easy to reason with, calm, and very advanced in her vocabulary and conversational skills. It kinda made her a dream to parent. As she gets older, I find it so interesting to see how her childhood characteristics translate into the older version of Anika. Back then, we didn’t know who she would become, but now we can look back and see the beginnings of who she is now.

She’s still easy to reason with, because she can understand the wisdom in something, or get the thought process behind it, even if she doesn’t completely agree with it.

That advanced vocabulary has become a passion for reading and writing anything fantasy related.

Her hours of listening to Veggie Tales cd’s and singing into the window crank handle as her pretend microphone has turned into dreams of singing on Broadway.

And she still stays pretty calm, for the most part, because she doesn’t see the point in getting all emotional about everything.

She’s responsible, self-motivated, and aware of herself and what she needs in a beautiful way.

She still swings for hours a day, always smiling to herself as she dreams her dreams, and cooks up new ideas for the latest book she’s writing.

She’s gone through some tough stretches, as all teenagers do, but it has been amazing to watch her find her way through. She processes things carefully, and always comes out the other end, stronger for having gone through it.

It makes me very curious about what is coming in her future – what she will create, what she’ll accomplish, all God has in store for her, and who she’ll continue to become.

She has always been one of the greatest gifts in my life, and she continues to take me down interesting, unexpected paths as I learn how to mother her – to be there for her, staying available, but more and more from the sidelines.

Fifteen beautiful years with her. I like right now – making breakfast together, timing ourselves to see how fast we can empty the dishwasher, watching “Heartland” together, figuring our way through grade 10 math together, talks when she gets home from somewhere about everything that happened, the last minute makeup checks before she goes out the door even though she knows far more about makeup than I do and it’s really just a chance for me to admire how she looks, the books we’re reading together. I have huge lump in my throat as I write this, because I know three years will go by in the blink of an eye, and she has big plans for college. I know I can’t slow down time, but I can squeeze lots of enjoyment from the simple, everyday moments right now.

I love this girl so much! Happy, happy birthday, Anika!

When Grey Becomes the Colour of Courage

Last week, my hairdresser snipped off the last remaining tips of hair dye left in my hair. I used to think this would be a big deal, and I waited long and hard for it to come because I did not like the two-toned hair process of growing out old hair dye. But then somewhere along the way, I stopped caring, and the moment was fairly uneventful.

Regardless of my lack of strong emotions, it still seemed worthy of a blog post, because over these last two years, I’ve made some discoveries which seem worth sharing – it’s what I would have wanted to know when I first started the adventure of growing my grey hair.

Your filter changes.

Our definition of beauty can expand, which was one of the nicest surprises in this whole process for me. I used to think grey hair was completely undesirable, but I’ve gained such an appreciation for the unique shades, natural streaks and highlights that appear when women choose to expose their grey hair. It’s fascinating to see how different everyone’s hair is under all that hair dye.

Beauty comes in all different shapes, sizes…and colours. I never used to be able to see the beauty in grey hair, and I’m glad I can now.

It gets worse before it gets much, much better, and it will all be worth it.

Grey roots are just a bit rough to deal with. That harsh line and extreme contrast is all that a lot of women ever see of their natural hair when their roots start to peek out between hair appointments, and I often hear people say, “If my grey hair was a nice colour, I’d grow mine, too. But it’s not, so I can’t.”

Mine looked bad, too. It’s the most unappealing way to see your own hair. And then, if you’re brave enough to grow it out, it can look even worse as that line slowly inches down your head. It was truly painful for me.

But I read and reread Annika von Holdt’s guidelines for going grey, just to keep me strong, and she has awesome advice. She basically says there’s no good way of doing this – just plow through, and wait until you’re done before you make any decisions about the finished result.

This is so true – you won’t know how awesome it looks until you’re finished. Don’t decide to give up when you’re looking in the mirror with only half of it grown out. Go look up beautiful grey hair on Pinterest or Instagram, be strong, buy yourself some really good purple shampoo, and hang in there. It will truly be worth it in the end. Because….

There is no freedom like freedom from roots.

I go to the hairdresser when I feel like it. I got SO TIRED of being controlled by those dreaded roots, which take about two seconds to start showing in freshly dyed hair. I am so blissfully happy about being done with that phase of my life.

It is freeing, relaxing, extremely cost-effective, and it feels wonderful to be comfortable in my own skin. Or hair.

It’s about so much more than hair colour.

Maybe not for everyone, but there’s no denying that we’re dealing with an obvious sign of aging in a culture obsessed with youth.

This was a tough one for me, and I found that I had some emotional baggage to work through. I had to let go of a lot of ideas I had about what I “should” look like at this age and what it means to have grey hair. I had to work up the courage to see myself in a different way than I had before.

But it’s time to take back what God designed. That doesn’t mean I’m judging every woman who likes to dye her hair. It means I’m taking a stand against a culture that makes women feel like they have to dye their hair in order to look young, beautiful, and worthy of admiration.

There were many times along the way when I’d come home and cry because I felt like everyone got to be pretty except me. I felt ugly, and I was intentionally choosing to do it to myself!!

But I saw our most recent family pictures today for the first time, and there I was, in all my grey haired glory. I liked it. It’s taken a long time to adjust, but now it’s me, and I’m not afraid to be seen, the way I really am. It’s a good, good feeling.

When Grey Becomes the Colour of Courage

Last week, my hairdresser snipped off the last remaining tips of hair dye left in my hair. I used to think this would be a big deal, and I waited long and hard for it to come because I did not like the two-toned hair process of growing out my grey. But then somewhere along the way, I stopped caring, and the moment was fairly uneventful.

Regardless of my lack of strong emotions, it still seemed worthy of a blog post, because over these last two years, I’ve made some discoveries which seem worth sharing – it’s what I would have wanted to know when I first started the adventure of growing out my grey hair.

Your filter changes.

Our definition of beauty can expand, which was one of the nicest surprises in this whole process for me. I used to think grey hair was completely undesirable, but I’ve gained such an appreciation for the unique shades, natural streaks and highlights that appear when women choose to expose their grey hair. It’s fascinating to see how different everyone’s hair is under all that hair dye.

Beauty comes in all different shapes, sizes…and colours. I never used to be able to see the beauty in grey hair, and I’m glad I can now.

It gets worse before it gets much, much better, and it will all be worth it.

Grey roots are just a bit rough to deal with. That harsh line and extreme contrast is all that a lot of women ever see of their natural hair when their roots start to peek out between hair appointments, and I often hear people say, “If my grey hair was a nice colour, I’d grow it out, too. But it’s not, so I can’t.”

Mine looked bad, too. It’s the most unappealing way to see your own hair. And then, if you’re brave enough to grow it out, it can look even worse as that line slowly inches down your head. It was truly painful for me.

But I read and reread Anika van Holdt’s guidelines for growing out grey hair, just to keep me strong, and she has awesome advice. She basically says there’s no good way of doing this – just plow through, and wait until you’re done before you make any decisions about the finished result.

This is so true – you won’t know how awesome it looks until you’re finished. Don’t decide to give up when you’re looking in the mirror with only half of it grown out. Go look up beautiful grey hair on Pinterest or Instagram, be strong, buy yourself some really good purple shampoo, and hang in there. It will truly be worth it in the end. Because….

There is no freedom like freedom from roots.

I go to the hairdresser when I feel like it. I got SO TIRED of being controlled by those dreaded roots, which take about two seconds to start showing in freshly dyed hair. I am so blissfully happy about being done with that phase of my life.

It is freeing, relaxing, extremely cost-effective, and it feels wonderful to be comfortable in my own skin. Or hair.

It’s about so much more than hair colour.

Maybe not for everyone, but there’s no denying that we’re dealing with an obvious sign of aging in a culture obsessed with youth.

This was a tough one for me, and I found that I had some emotional baggage to work through. I had to let go of a lot of ideas I had about what I “should” look like at this age and what it means to have grey hair. I had to work up the courage to see myself in a different way than I had before.

But it’s time to take back what God designed. That doesn’t mean I’m judging every woman who likes to dye her hair. It means I’m taking a stand against a culture that makes women feel like they have to dye their hair in order to look young, beautiful, and worthy of admiration.

There were many times along the way when I’d come home and cry because I felt like everyone got to be pretty except me. I felt ugly, and I was intentionally choosing to do it to myself!!

But I saw our most recent family pictures today for the first time, and there I was, in all my grey haired glory. I liked it. It’s taken a long time to adjust, but now it’s me, and I’m not afraid to be seen, the way I really am. It’s a good, good feeling.

Parenting Truth #3: It’s only your problem if you think you need to fix it.

I was standing beside our van in the busy parking lot at Superstore, trying to get all of my kids settled so we could drive home (during rush hour) and try to throw supper on the table as fast as possible, but one of my darling children was LOSING IT.

The entire situation was bad enough on it’s own, and the last thing I needed was somebody wailing because the item I’d promised to buy at Superstore was not in stock. We’d spent far too much time searching for it, and I’d promised numerous times to get it the next time we went shopping, but nothing was helping, and the wailing continued.

At this point, I was starting to lose it, too, because the thoughts running through my mind went something like this:

“This is ridiculous. Have we raised our kids to be so materialistic and entitled that they can’t even handle waiting a few more days to get what they want??!! MY CHILD SHOULD NOT BE CRYING LIKE THAT OVER SUCH A SMALL THING!!!!!”

But exactly at that moment, something I’d been reading popped into my head.

In her book Parenting Without Power Struggles, Susan Stiffelman suggests a powerful technique for understanding your child’s emotions: Whenever you think your child should not do something they are, flip it in your mind and force yourself to come up with three reasons why they SHOULD do whatever you think they should not.

When I first read that suggestion, I thought it was completely terrible. How could that possibly help? And if I think my kids shouldn’t do something, then of course they shouldn’t!!!

But in that moment in the Superstore parking, thinking my kid shouldn’t be wailing, the question popped into my head: “Why SHOULD my child be freaking out right now?”

It is hard to think that way, because it goes against everything in my head to give reasons in favour of annoying, out of control behavior. But I did it anyway, and it took about two seconds to realize that it would be disappointing to think you were going to get a fun, new item, and then not get it after all. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that even I was feeling a little disappointed about it!

So I had a good start, but I needed two more reasons! I thought some more, and realized that it had been a long, overstimulating afternoon, and everyone was feeling tired and ready to go home. On top of that, we were all sick with colds. For a kid, those are enough reasons to lead to a Superstore breakdown.

And just like that, I felt compassion instead of annoyance and frustration. The very moment I started to give my child a few comforting words to let her know I understood, the crying stopped, peace was restored, and we headed for home.

All it took was some assurance from me that she was heard and understood, and the problem disappeared. It was shockingly magical.

A few days later, I was listening to a podcast by Janet Lansbury about tantrums and preschoolers, and she shared this tidbit of wisdom: “It’s only your problem if you feel you need to fix it.”

She shared how so often, preschoolers can explode for no reason, but we take on all those emotions, and think we need to do something to fix it. Our child is a Problem, and we need to do something.

But she talked about how emotions aren’t really a problem to be fixed – they just are there, they need to get out, and the best thing we can do is make space for them, acknowledge them, and remove ourselves from being so personally involved. We don’t need to “fix” our children or their problem. We just need to provide a calm, safe space, and usually things will dissolve on their own, once the child has let off some steam.

When we stop feeling like we need to fix the problem, we don’t feel so helpless and frustrated anymore. We don’t have an annoying, impossible situation to act on, we are simply observing our child dealing with some tough stuff. We can be there for them, but we don’t actually need to DO anything.

You guys, this is true not just for preschoolers, but for middle schoolers, teenagers, adults, EVERYONE. I’ve been experimenting, and I’m fascinated with the results. I even feel it working in me! When sad or angry feelings rise up in me, I try to switch myself from thinking I need to fix something, and instead just observe it. I watch it, write about it if I have to, pray about it, but mostly I just let it be. And then often it just goes away. I can’t believe how often seeing it, naming it, giving it room and just allowing it to be sad or hard can make it disappear.

THIS IS SO HARD! It’s hard to let it be! And sometimes there truly are actions that need to be taken, but it’s much easier to see those actions after the steam is let out.

Most of the time, my kids don’t need much help from me. It really isn’t my problem to fix. I make space for their strong emotions, I try to keep my mouth shut instead of giving advice, pray like crazy quietly in my head, let them feel heard, rub their back while they cry, and then they work it out. (*See last week’s post about the power of a good cry!)

It’s really amazing to see how often the problem I thought needed fixing is actually just some pain or emotion needing to get out. It’s harder and simpler – harder to go into the painful places without jumping to a solution, and simpler because it’s returning to the basic desire in all of us: to be seen and heard and loved unconditionally.

When I look at it that way, it’s an opportunity to embrace, instead of a problem to be fixed.

BONUS: This expression keeps popping into my head in all kinds of situations far beyond parenting. Anytime a frustrating situation comes up, and I start to invest energy and emotions into a problem I don’t have any control over, I keep thinking, “It’s only my problem if I think I need to fix it!”

It’s amazing what burdens disappear the second I realize it’s not my problem to fix. Give it a try – I’d love to hear if it helps you to release some loads you don’t need to carry!

Parenting Truth #2: Healing Happens When We Welcome Tears

I had to break some hard, hard news to my sweet, sensitive middle girl last week, and it was rough. The whole time, I had this thought running through my head. “Tears are good! Tears are healing, and exactly what she needs right now.” Everything in me wanted to cheer her up, and skip the hard part, but I kept holding it back, and let her cry.

This is new for me. As I shared in my last post, I’ve been putting myself through” parenting school”, and situations like this are my homework. Before, I would have jumped right into all the positive ways to view the situation, but I’ve been reading an AMAZING book called Parenting Without Power Struggles, and it’s about making room for your child’s feelings, which is making a ton of sense to me.

It has to do with the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Far too often, we get the message in our society that not all emotions are acceptable, and we don’t allow room for grief. Or another issue is that our kids get stuck in the angry and bargaining phases, but what they really need is to move past into the depression stage, where they will allow themselves to feel sad instead of mad.

“Our challenge as parents is to interpret for our kids what we sense is contributing to their anger. We need to try to speak on behalf of the fury underneath our children’s words or behaviour….This sometimes means gently guiding children to the Wall of Futility when they’re frustrated, so they can offload their feelings of discouragement or disappointment and move on to adaptation.”

The Wall of Futility means the point at which a child moves past anger, arguing, and bargaining, and moves into hurt and sadness, which is the true cause of all the other emotions.

Susan Stiffelman writes that as long as children stay in the arguing phase, they can’t move into dealing with the sadness, and therefore can’t adapt to difficult, painful, or disappointing experiences.

When we respond to their anger and arguing with logic and reason, we KEEP them in the stage that doesn’t allow them to grieve. And once they hit the stage of grieving, it is healthy and GOOD for them to get it all out in the open, without us trying to cheer them up right away, or even shaming them for their sadness.

If we respond with gentleness and compassion, even when they’re angry and arguing, and try to nudge them along to feeling the sadness and tears, they will get over the hardship sooner.

When they hit the stage of sadness, it’s super important for us as parents to welcome it, and hold space for it – to allow our kids to feel all the sadness, and to let them know that all the feelings are safe with us.

Just a couple of hours before reading that, I made the exact mistake of skipping over the healing tears. One of my kids came in upset, and I thought I was using good parenting when I immediately went into “Let’s look at this from a different perspective” mode.

It did not go well.

When I picked up my book later that evening, I could not believe how accurate this is! I completely missed the opportunity to draw out the hurt and disappointment, and it turned into a long, drawn-out, angry discussion about how my child felt it was NOT POSSIBLE to see things from a different perspective.

If course it wasn’t!! My timing was terrible.

I love how Stiffelman refers to it as “Act I” and “Act II”. Act I is all the outpouring of emotion, and it is most definitely not time for dealing with the problem. The kid should not be quiet, or reasonable, or see the bright side. They should just get it all out.

Once they have emptied out all that emotional angst, had a good cry, calmed down, and finished Act I, THEN it is possibly time for the logical thoughts of Act II – if the parent first asks the child if they’d like to hear a different perspective.

I tried this recently, and was told most decidedly that my child did NOT wish to hear my perspective. Since I’m new at this, I ended up telling her anyway, which went very badly. I reminded myself that I still need some practice! We’ll try again next time.

But all of this makes so much sense to me – I’ve seen it go the wrong way many, many times in the past, and wish I would have left more room for all the strong emotions to get out.

Growing up, I wanted to be a “good girl” so much, I ended up stuffing a lot of things inside. I wanted to be quiet and compliant, and didn’t want to cause any problems. I believed the best way to do that was to hold it all in. The issue with that is when the pressure eventually builds up too much, everything just explodes.

Janet Lansbury says that three year olds are often seen as having issues with emotions, because they cry and scream in the moment, but she said in reality, they are actually incredibly healthy emotionally, because they don’t hold anything in. They let it all out, and move on.

Now of course, a world full of people acting like three year olds would be outrageously terrible, but there are healthy, mature ways to release emotions. What I’m trying to do (with my kids and myself!) is to encourage privacy to be mad, cry, write it out, draw a picture, whatever it takes to get it out. The emotions usually aren’t the problem, it’s the expression of them that is. So the goal is healthy expression and release of the emotions, rather than holding it all in.

Because this goes against what I’ve spent most of my life doing, I have to admit, it’s taking some time to make the switch in my mind and responses. But as I work at it, I feel such a wonderful shift within myself. I feel space opening up inside for my own emotions, and I feel much less frustration over my kids’ emotions.

It’s even helpful just to be able to identify what’s going on in my children – I can silently check off the stages in my head as I watch them unfold before me, and it helps me hang in there with more patience, because I know that as soon as we hit the grief stage, and the tears start, we’re almost there, and things will be okay.

It’s really hard as a parent to watch your child suffer, but it helps to know we can be a safe place for them, and the tears are a sign of healing.

Parenting Truth #1: Even God Doesn’t Have Perfect Kids

There was something about Anika starting Grade 10 this fall that made me freak out a little bit inside. I thought I’d feel differently at this point in the parenting game – I thought I’d know more, and have a few more things figured out by now.

But here we are, with three years left until she graduates, and I realized that I needed some more tools in my parenting tool belt to be able to do this well, so I went to work. I began searching out some great podcasts, collecting some books I’ve been meaning to read for a while, and I took the time to dig in, because I realized that parenting is what I want to specialize in. This is what I want to be really good at, and so it deserves the effort, time, and attention it takes to learn how to do it well.

I’ve been at it for a couple of months now, and the result is a collection of truths that I’m hanging on to – bits of wisdom from others that pop into my head in the heat of the moment, slowly changing my approach to life with my kids, causing me to replace old ideas in my mind about what this is supposed to look like, and how I want it to go.

Since I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels the need for some good tools when it comes to parenting, I’ve made a list of my favourites to share over the next few weeks, with the hope that they can bring a little bit of peace and clarity to all of us in the trenches. It’s a great, messy, beautiful, challenging time, and I know we all want to do this well. So here’s what I’m hanging onto :

Parenting Truth #1: Even God doesn’t have perfect children.

In her book “Creative Correction”, Lisa Whelchel writes,

“Sin has less to do with our parenting ability and more to do with the state of our kids’ hearts. After all, I would venture to guess that God was a good Father – yet both Adam and his wife, Eve, disobeyed Him. So don’t feel guilty if your children aren’t perfect. “

Ben often tells me I’m too hard on myself, and when I came across this quote, I realized again how right he is.

How many times do I mess up and make bad choices, even though I have the most perfect Father? And how, then, can I be hard on myself, or judgmental of anyone else, for having human, sinful children?

There is so much grace – for the parent who is struggling to lead well, and for the child who is struggling to behave well.

Someone wise once told me, “There is no junior Holy Spirit – the same Spirit is at work in us as in our children.” The same Spirit who convicts me and nudges me to change is also at work in my kids. And yet all of us make mistakes and need a lot of grace.

Today in Sunday School, a parent shared how so often, people look at a teenager who’s struggling, and blame it on the parents, no matter how hard they’re trying. It made me think about how it’s just hard for everyone, including the teenager who’s struggling. They’re not perfect. Their parents aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect.

But all of us are covered by the same Spirit, loved by the same Father, who stays with us, showering us with love and mercy.

Thank goodness He’s not finished with any of us yet!