Posted in family, identity, jesus, me, parenting

truly safe? (what we want for our kids: financial security)

My first post in this series, on wanting a great career for our kids, threw up a whole load of complex ideas and thoughts – so much so that I’ve broken them down into three main areas. The last post was on status, the next will be on gender roles – and, right now, I’m looking at financial security.

I think probably many of us are happy to admit we want ‘financial security’ for our children as they fly the nest and become independent – but when we stop and question what our definition of ‘security’ actually is, we might find ourselves becoming unstuck.

For example, we may think of things like: having a job which pays the bills, being able to buy a house, paying into a decent pension scheme or having a savings account. But are these things actually ‘secure’? The financial crash of 2008 is not so far into our history that we should forget that these things can and do go wrong. Financial ‘security’ in this sense can never be 100% secure.

However, when Jesus said “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19), I’m not sure it was so much a comment on how insecure these treasures are, but on how secure Kingdom treasure is. He goes on to talk about wordly treasures being destroyed by moths and rust, or stolen by thieves. Well, in this age of online banking and increasing numbers of cashless payments, the first two dangers aren’t so relevant, and the third is certainly a lot harder than it was in Biblical times – but the point here is that however secure we make our worldly treasures, however advanced our technology and alarm systems and police presence – still Kingdom treasure is way more secure. Why? Because it lives with God, untouched by any of the threats that could endanger earthly treasure.

So, if not placing our security in finances, then in what? I take “treasures in heaven” to mean a variety of different things, all with the common strand of being an ‘investment’ in our relationship with God. It could be an ongoing prayer relationship, a moment of revelation through Scripture, a word or a prophecy over our lives, a deepening of our walk with God, a powerful worship experience, a fresh idea for enabling God’s blessing to be poured out in a community, the unity of a group of Christians working together for good, the delight of seeing a friend come to Christ for the first time, or draw closer to Christ, the joy of addictions being broken, debts paid off, abusive relationships come to an end, the triumph of good over evil…and I could go on. Any investment in our relationship with God is safe forever – 100% safe, 100% secure.

So onto our children…do we really want them to have ‘financial security’? I certainly want mine to have security, but it seems that this probably doesn’t come from finances. Indeed, it seems that in trying to aspire to the wrong sort of security  for our children, we may actually expose them to more danger. Whilst we try to protect our children from financial failure, we may be opening them up to temptations and distractions which may draw them away from Jesus. Is that what we want for our kids? Or do we want them to know and enjoy a life thrown onto God the Rock, knowing His security and trusting in His provision?

At this point, the financially prudent amongst you will be saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all very well – but how does faith pay the bills?” Well, I could tell you about our friend who worked two years for our church unpaid. It was tough – but God sustained him through free accommodation and the occasional financial gift from others. I think this friend would tell you that one of the things God was crafting in him during this time was a simpler, more sacrificial lifestyle, and a greater awareness of the value of material things, having grown up in a fairly affluent home. I could tell you about my friends who raise their child on one less-than-full-time salary – but still make ends meet. Their story is one of rejecting what the world tells them their child ‘needs’. I could tell you about my friends who, due to great generosity throughout their adult life, entered their 70s in a rented property, unable to buy their own home for all they’d given to others. God provided them a fantastic home with low rent, guaranteed till they go to be with Jesus. Their story is that when you seek God’s kingdom first, ‘all these things will be given to you as well’.

Do you see? When Jesus asks us to invest in heavenly treasures, He doesn’t just abandon us to it, but comes good on His promise to provide everything we need. Perhaps the reason we don’t teach this to our children is because we’re not quite sure we believe it ourselves.

I hope you know of stories like this in your own life, or the lives of your friends. If not, perhaps you need to make a few new friends! In any case, as I raise my kids, I know I need to be very careful about what sort of ‘security’ my lifestyle promotes. Here are some ideas to avoid this:

  1. Read the gospels. OK, so I’ve said this before. But there’s no counter-attack to the values of our society than Jesus’ radical lifestyle and claims. As we get to know better the Jesus who had nothing, yet wanted for nothing, and as we read about the topsy-turvy generosity of the Kingdom (a young boy giving his packed lunch for a crowd of thousands, a widow giving her last remaining coins), we can’t help but be transformed into Kingdom-investers.
  2. Practise these values with your kids. Consider carefully your material purchases for them. Kingdom kids will not have everything their friends have. Model this yourself, and nurture it in your children. My kids see me wearing second-hand clothes, and know that there’s no shame in preloved!
  3. Tell, and re-tell, the stories of God’s generosity in your life – to your kids as well as to yourself.
  4. Hang around with others who have faith-filled stories to share. Let your kids see that Jesus is 100% secure, and totally unshakeable. He will not succumb to a financial crash!
  5. Practise generosity. Kids are SO good at this – they just can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t give all their money away to kids who need it! (They don’t have to pay the bills – this probably has something to do with it!) Research charities and missions around the world. Watch the news with your kids, so they can see true suffering. If opportunities arise, take them to places where they will experience those who are suffering, first-hand. I was shaped by such trips in my teens.

Friends, we do this together. I fall into the trap of wanting salaries, savings and pensions as much as the next person. These things are not sinful in themselves – of course they are often the main way God provides for us – but they’re not what we prioritise. I’ll say it again, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). We don’t need to worry – He has it all in hand.

Posted in family, identity, me, parenting

what we want for our kids: status

One of the wonderful things about blogging is the buzz of excitement when people really engage with something you’ve written. The first installment of ‘What we want for our kids’, dealing with the concept of ‘career’, attracted a lot of discussion, not least because the example I chose (my daughter aspiring to ‘mummy’) raised several gender questions.

I’ve re-read the post a few times to check it said what I meant – and I’m satisfied that it did. So I’m not about to qualify what I wrote – but the dialogue that ensued made me realise that I needed to cover ‘career’ in more depth. So, instead of racing on to other topics, I’m going to break down ‘career’ into three related blog posts: status, financial security, and gender roles – starting with status.

These are not easy blog posts to write, and I suspect they’re not easy to read, but I feel so strongly that we parents need to have these conversations. Thanks for the comments – please keep them coming!

 

Status 

There is a difference between what we aspire for our children and what their futures will actually look like. Perhaps the difference will not be so great, or perhaps we won’t struggle to adjust our aspirations as their future starts to pan out differently to how we expected. I mentioned here that part of our adoption training asked us incisive questions about what we wanted for our children’s future. Why? Because, after years of experience, social workers know that parents can be massively disappointed if their children don’t achieve what they were hoping. And the same children can experience guilt and/or a sense of failure. And all these feelings can manifest in a wounded parent-child relationship as the child grows into adulthood – or, worst case scenario, a broken relationship.

So it is vitally important that any status aspirations we have for our children are founded on the right principles. For me, and I know many of you, these principles need to be Biblical – but whichever faith or philosophy you get your principles from, they need to be fluid and broad enough to allow our children to find their own way in life, whilst also clinging to the knowledge that things might not turn out that way, and being prepared to prioritise our relationship with our child over any differences of opinion. Love must always win.

The example of Missy aspiring to parenthood was not the whole story. I deliberately left out the other aspirations she has (to be a teacher, to run Londis!) because the point is not “What will she do besides being ‘Mummy’?”, the point is “Am I OK with her status/salary being less than what I’m expecting it to be?”. And I need to be. Why? Because we all know people for whom life has not turned out the way they (or their parents) planned. I know adults who haven’t been able to pursue their first-choice careers because they’ve found themselves caring for a disabled child or partner. I know adults who are plagued by mental and physical ill health, and cannot fulfil the demands of a paid job – even if their gifts and intellect are striking. I know adults who have sacrificed their own careers in order to support the demanding career of a partner – some have taken jobs well below their capability, some have stopped paid work altogether. For the sake of their families, many adults do not do anything that the world sees as impressive or boast-worthy – even if they could have done, given another set of circumstances. If all my daughter did as an adult was be a mummy, perhaps because she encountered ill health, or married someone with a demanding career, or (God forbid) her life was cut short, would I be OK with that?

Here’s my suggestion: not that we avoid aspiring for ‘status’ for our children altogether, but that we consider carefully what ‘status’ we are talking about. The world defines status in terms of prominence, fame, achievement, awards, qualifications, management level, responsibility and so on. But if we call ourselves Christians, we’re subscribing to a totally different idea of ‘status’, because our very aim in life is to allow God to transform us into His likeness, and we see what this is in the person of Jesus Christ, who had the highest status possible – and yet rejected it for the sake of his calling. Paul talks about this in my favourite Bible passage:

“[Jesus], being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2: 6-8)

Are we prepared for our children to take the ‘very nature of a servant’ as they grow up? Or are we encouraging them, however subtly, to use what God has given them ‘to their own advantage’?

At the dedication services for each of our children, we have answered this question, “Do you dedicate ___ to God, so that even if God were to call them to a life of great sacrifice, you would neither complain nor hold them back but seek only God’s will for their lives?” I’ve previously imagined this ‘great sacrifice’ to mean some exciting and dangerous missionary role overseas, something where my children are esteemed within the Church for their great faith and courage. But that, in itself, is still a type of ‘status’ which is an unhealthy aspiration for my children. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see my children do that with their lives! But what if God called them to patiently endure MS, or depression, or recurring cancer? There would be no medals, no accolades, not much ‘on paper’ to show what they’d achieved – and yet, by God’s standards, they would have achieved ‘status’. James 1:12 says:

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

Friends, the choice is there. Will we aspire for our children to receive the crown of status in this life, or the crown of life in the next? I’m praying, for myself and my own children, that the crown of life will be the status we prioritise as we raise them – in our speech, our actions, our encouragements, our career advice. There is nothing better!

Posted in identity, me, parenting

am i ok with my daughter aspiring to ‘mummy’? (what we want for our kids: a great career)

img_20170223_211934Every once in a while a familiar article sweeps its way through the press. From whichever angle it’s coming, the premise is that children whose parents ‘don’t work’ are less likely to work when they grow up.

Although I know that the article is mainly referring to a demographic of which I am not part, it still makes me bristle and ask a thousand questions. What is ‘work’? Does work have to be paid, in order to make it worthwhile? Why must we all do paid work? What is the value of parenting? What if the work of a stay-at-home parent is more visible to their children than if they were going out ‘to work’?

Last year my daughter came home from Nursery with a smiling photo of herself holding a chalkboard saying ‘Mummy’. Apparently, the teacher had asked them all what they wanted to be when they were older. I expect I should have felt honoured that my daughter had watched me at work and wanted to replicate. But largely I felt like I’d let her down. Here was a sharp, articulate, opinionated, creative, funny and thoughtful little person, with a huge range of talents. Why was she not aspiring to ‘more’? Later on, I was able to see the full display of children’s photos in the classroom, with all the chosen careers of a bunch of 4 year olds. They ranged from ‘cleaner’ to ‘teacher’ and ‘doctor’, with the odd ‘pirate’, my personal favourite. My daughter’s response, however, was in the minority.

Of course the irony was not lost on me, and within seconds I realised my double standards. Here I was, having made a deliberate decision to break my paid career in order to raise our children myself, never feeling like I was wasting my education, intelligence or talents in doing the demanding job of crafting small people into becoming confident, happy, selfless members of society, shouting about the pros and pros of this lifestyle to anyone who would listen – and yet, for my own daughter, this same decision was apparently going to cause me a lifetime of disappointment.

The truth is, of course, that none of my children could ever be a disappointment to me – but, if I’m totally honest (and this series is about just that), then I would love them to discover exciting and satisfying careers – and motherhood just doesn’t seem to cut it. Money is not my motivation, although it is for more parents than would like to admit it. (My husband, a former student pastor, was always shocked at the number of students from apparently Christian homes whose parents were putting pressure on them to enter well-paid professions.) For me, the career thing is about finding yourself, discovering what you’re good at, and learning how to contribute your gifts to society. I suppose that what it eventually comes down to is my need to know that I’ve passed on valuable talents to my children. They reflect me – in genes, in upbringing, in the experiences I’ve opened up for them. If they can’t do anything brilliant with this cocktail, then I’m frightened for what it says about me.

But if it’s ultimately about gifts and talents, why can’t I reconcile myself with the idea of my daughter (or my sons, for that matter) using their innate abilities to become wonderful parents, crafting the next generation as I’ve taken pride in crafting theirs? Perhaps I’m actually more concerned with status than I’d like to let on.

Can you relate? Do you hope and pray your children find careers which fulfil and satisfy them? Do you long for them to achieve financial prosperity through their hard work? Or status and recognition in their field of expertise? Would you be ever-so-slightly disappointed if ‘all’ they chose to do was a voluntary job, looking after young children or a sick partner? If they chose a low-paid job for a church or charity? If they went overseas and lived by faith?

Let’s try and pull out a few ideas which might help us overcome these unhealthy leanings towards our children’s careers:

  1. Read the gospels and allow yourself to be changed by them. I don’t need to tell you how unconcerned Jesus was with status. Listen, if my son was Jesus I’d be the proudest Mum alive – and yet he had no academic qualifications, no impressive CV, no management role, no salary. And he invested time in others who had little or no status when it came to their jobs. He also lost patience with those who were successful in the world’s eyes. What do we really want for our kids? Success with man or with Jesus? Success in this life or the next?
  2. Admit it’s your problem, not your child’s. This is huge. Say it out loud to God. Admit it, repent, ask for His help going forward.
  3. Confide any fears you have regarding your children’s future to a close Christian friend. Being accountable to one or two others is such a great model, found in Scripture, not least because it removes the blinkers in our own lives. As well as admitting your fears to God, admit them to your closest Christian friend so that they can pray for and with you about these issues too – they probably won’t disappear overnight, so we can do with all the help we can get.
  4. Pray, pray, pray that your children would become knowledgeable of, and confident in, the gifts God has given them as they grow older. Pray that they would end up in jobs which used these gifts. As we pray, God changes us, so I strongly believe that if we pray for what we know we should, then eventually we find ourselves praying for it because it is what we want.
  5. Spend some time with those you know who do ‘alternative’ careers – whether that’s something unpaid, or low-paid; a caring job or administrative role; something which the world does not deem ‘valuable’ enough to assign a salary to. Talk to them, listen to them, hang out with them – how do they see themselves? Why have they chosen this path? Are they any more or less satisfied? Do they crave money, power, responsibility and status? Opening our eyes to the varied ways in which people work will give us broader perspective as our kids grow and we help them navigate their own careers.

Your child is also God’s child. Like you, He wants the best for them. Unlike you, He created them and designed them to be the way they are. If we would only learn to trust Him with our little people then we might discover all sorts of new definitions for ‘great career’.

This is part of a new series called ‘What we want for our kids’. You can find the introduction here. Please share it on your social media channels if you’ve found it helpful. Ta!

 

 

Posted in book review, family, food, me, recipes, school

what i’m into – january 2017

This is a first for me.

At first, I thought this sort of post was incredibly self-centred – why would anyone be interested what I’ve been into each month? But having spent a couple of years reading other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, linking up with Leigh Kramer’s blog (give it a read here), I’ve realised that I’m just a little bit nosey. I love seeing what others are reading, watching, listening to. It gives me ideas for the future, things to look into or try out. So, here’s my offering, for any similarly-nosey Desertmum readers. Who knows? You may go away with a killer book recommendation or at least a laugh at how ridiculously geeky I am. And you get to check out other bloggers’ “What I’m into” posts, all linked at the bottom of Leigh’s, if you so wish.

Books

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I am hopeless at reading. There is precious little time to read, and when it does turn up, I read very slowly. Remember when I did that book-a-month thing, two years ago? It lasted till about April, when my friend Kirsty lent me a wonderful but long non-fiction book in tiny font. Guess she didn’t get the memo. I finally completed it around Christmas 2016, a mere 20 months after starting it. This momentous occasion opened up all sorts of delights in my ever-growing reading pile. I settled on Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist which I’ve been enjoying more and more with each chapter. I love her gracious storyteller style, her acknowledgement of the full scope of feminism (rather than simply up-front leading), her love of Jesus, and her adherence to Scripture. I suspect her book is not meant for people like me, who have never questioned the role of women in Scripture or in modern day church life – but it’s tying various strands of theology together for me in a very helpful way.

Another thing I’m hopeless at is any sort of regular devotional time. Timothy Keller is kindly sorting me out on that one, with his excellent My Rock, My Refuge, which takes the reader through the Psalms in one year. My prayer/accountability triplet are going through this during 2017 and it’s been a blessing to all three of us. Short, encouraging, thought-provoking, and the Bible passage is written out on the page, so it couldn’t be easier. I’ll say that again: the Bible passage is written out on the page. It literally takes NO EFFORT to read this devotional guide, but the outcome makes me think, leads me to Jesus and propels me into prayer.

I’ve been getting more and more excited about the Suzuki method of learning music, and the twins’ Suzuki teacher kindly lent me Everything depends on how we raise them (by Shigeki Tanaka, trans. Kyoko Selden). I’m not too far into it just yet, but it’s proving an interesting foil to my years of secondary music education experience. I’m planning a blog post on Suzuki and adoption very soon – watch out, this is the year I’m being super-motivated on the blog (remember??) so it may actually happen.

Food

In 2016 I challenged myself to cook without recipes for an entire year. I managed it more-or-less, and taught myself how to bake cakes and brownies from scratch. (Sadly, I never mastered cookies. Sob.) This year, I’m much enjoying the stimulation of new ideas from recipe books (and although I haven’t yet baked any cookies, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them anytime soon). So what have I been cooking?

img_20170207_134951

Simply Nigella was found in a charity shop just before Christmas, when I should have been shopping for others, but who can resist a one-year-old hardback recipe book for £3, eh? During my year of recipe books, I discovered that Nigella’s recipes just really work for us. They’re tasty, most likely to get eaten by the majority of our family, and not too fussy (or, where they are, they can be easily simplified). So it was a joy to properly delve into a new (to me) book. We enjoyed her Chicken Traybake with Bitter Orange and Fennel, and Chicken and Wild Rice. The adults, not the kids (unpredictably), enjoyed the Sweet Potato Macaroni Cheese, but I was the only one who enjoyed the Cauliflower and Cashew Nut Curry.

Martha Collison’s Twist has just been brilliant. A Christmas present from my Mum (technically ‘+ Dad’ but, come on, we all know who actually chose it), this has been wonderful in leading me on from last year’s recipe desert to a place where I can take a recipe as a starting point, then add my own flavours and ‘twists’. OK, so I haven’t done that yet, but that’s largely because Martha’s own flavours are so damn enticing – and, as well, there’s 7-5-2-2 to consider. I’ve made the Route 66 Rocky Road (think rocky road made with popcorn, cranberries, peanuts and marshmallows), Bollywood Bars (white chocolate rocky road with cardamom and chilli) and the rather scrummy Carrot, Orange and Blueberry layer cake.

If you were reading desertmum in 2015 you may remember how brilliant Jo Pratt’s Madhouse Cookbook was – well, it still is, and I spent January trying to find the few recipes I haven’t already tried: only Corned Beef and Sweetcorn Hash, and Vegetable and Beany Gonzales Chilli were attempted – but, predictably, the latter was eaten by ALL 6 of my family, with one (fussy) child demolishing it in seconds!

Mince was great in reminding me about meatloaf – essentially meatballs (which I cook often) but in a different shape. Genius.

Articles

Here are some online articles I found particularly wonderful this month:

How to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence  was an interesting and challenging read, especially the bit about not using screens to pacify small children. Ouch. But good ouch.

Dear Women’s Ministry, Stop telling us we’re beautiful I’m very grateful that the women’s ministry I enjoy locally doesn’t patronise our intelligence or our theology, but this was still an interesting read, and a warning too.

How to live under an unqualified president Of all the things I’ve read on Trump, this was the best by far…I either see incredible Trump-bashing, or (less often) right-wing Christians being sympathetic to him. All American citizens should read this. Honestly? It’s a brutal condemnation of all the ungodly, un-Biblical behaviour of America’s new president BUT it’s written with so much love and grace, and an unshakeable faith in God to work above and beyond world leaders, that the whole thing filled me with hope and assurance.

Anger and injustice My wonderful friends moved to rural Ethiopia last year, and I just love their blog, when there is time or Internet connection to update. In particular, this article was thought-provoking – some reflections of our friend as he looks back on the first few months teaching in an African theological college.

Doing Well Another friend writes so articulately about life as a bereaved parent with MS that I feel my understanding rockets in the few short minutes I take to read her blog. Please read this, it’s important.

Screentime

Image result for la la land picture

January was the month I decided I was fed up of making excuses why I never made it to the cinema, so when a friend recommended La La Land, I immediately made plans to see it with a different friend. I really enjoyed it – she wasn’t so sure. I think enjoyment involves, to some extent, lifting off any expectations based on the Rodgers & Hammerstein golden era of musicals – and also more recent offerings like Moulin Rouge and the various Disney musicals. This is definitely a musical for the 2010s. I didn’t find any of the songs memorable or catchy, but the feel of the whole thing is so glorious that it almost didn’t matter. Bizarrely, whilst I couldn’t hum any of the tunes after the film had ended, I had the general musical tempo/instrumentation/rhythms in my head for some weeks afterwards. So it does get under your skin.

I always enjoy spending January catching up with things I taped over Christmas when I was too busy to watch. One was The lady in the van, Alan Bennett’s fantastic re-telling of a rather eccentric woman in his life. Maggie Smith is so good that I forgot she was Maggie Smith until half way through. AND this film made it into the small overlap of films that both I and Desert Dad enjoy. No small feat. Saving Mr Banks didn’t quite make it into the centre of this Venn diagram, so the hubster trundled off to bed – but I found it so engaging that I watched into the wee hours, not daring to switch off.

I couldn’t get into Northern Soul, though, despite trying for the best part of an hour. One of the few films I haven’t finished.

Games

We’re big fans of games in our household, particularly strategy ones for the adults. My Christmas present from DD was Splendour, which we’ve enjoyed countless times this month. Its advantages are: you can play with just two (but we have had a few games of four with friends, and it works equally well), the games are short for this genre (half an hour or less), it’s simple to pick up – but, like the best strategy games, has a vast number of different strategies you can use to win. Also – strategy game fans will know I’m not being shallow here – the game is made so nicely! Beautiful pictures, proper, weighty coins, and the box fits everything perfectly. Nice!

jacket, Dobble

With the kids, we’ve enjoyed much Dobble, and a new one for Christmas: Blink (readily available on eBay, once that link expires). If you have primary-aged children in your home, or you buy presents for some, I highly recommend both of these.

In other news…

I managed to keep the downstairs tidy (by my standards, i.e. a little lower than average) for an entire month! Woohoo!

I think I saw the bottom of a laundry basket at some point, but the memory quickly faded.

The kiddoes, as usual, went to more parties than I did.

We caught up with American friends we hadn’t seen in 3.5 years, a British friend we hadn’t seen in over a year, a cousin we see intermittently, and made a trip to the in-laws for a special birthday.

I enjoyed an afternoon’s training in Dalcroze Eurythmics, knowing this means nothing to about 99% of my readers, but throwing it in there anyway as a proud moment.

Oh…and our school which was in Special Measures? It got a GOOD from Ofsted! Just about our proudest moment for the month, and possibly the year!

…and that’s about it for January. What have you been into?

 

Posted in adoption, family, parenting

adoption: fourteen months on

img_20170105_112556It should say enough about our experience of adoption that this blog post was supposed to be titled ‘adoption: six months on’. Being around eight months late with everything has become a feature of the past fourteen months.

There you go, enough said. We’ve adopted kids, and now we have no time. Job done.

The end.

***

What? You want a refund? Blog not long enough? Oh go on then, ye of much time to spare.

Actually, unplanned though it was, the timing of this blog post is apt. Monkey and Meerkat were fourteen months when we brought them home – and it’s now been another fourteen months. This feels significant to us: they’ve been with us as long as anywhere else.

The main challenge for us has been the increase in family size – not the adoption. Did I mention that tasks run just a little bit overdue nowadays? That we have zero time for anything we need, or want, to get done, other than just keeping going from day to day? I’m sure the sadder sides of adoption will rear their multiple heads many times over the coming years – but during this last year-and-a-bit, it’s mainly been about just coping with two more kids, not to mention learning how to parent toddlers again. I mean, it had been a whole THREE YEARS since we had a 1-year-old and, you know, parent amnesia and all that. You remember the first steps, the cute giggles, the trips to the park and the holidays. Funnily enough, our brains are wired to forget about the crayon graffiti, the electronic gadgets destroyed, the items you always thought were too big to be flushed down the toilet. So we’ve been re-learning all those useful things like the lengths a 2 year old will go to in order to obtain some E numbers, or how to re-set your laptop screen when it’s been rotated 90 degrees.

The four kids thing has been massive. I both love it and feel ill-suited to it – in equal measure. “How do you do it?” people ask. I either shrug my shoulders and say, in a resigned sort of way, “I have no choice” or answer, matter-of-factly, “Well, I don’t iron and I don’t sleep”. People think I’m joking.

Of course, adoption has been a subtext of the last fourteen months. Things happen, and you ask “Is this because of the change in carer?”, “Is this because they know I didn’t birth them?” “Is this an effect of their experience in utero?”. We’re not totally oblivious to this. But, largely, the year has been about the usual sorts of parenting things: nurturing, loving, setting boundaries and expectations, planning, and trying to do the best for each of the four tiny individuals in our care.

img_20161124_130401The fine line between empathy and boundaries has been a tricky one to navigate. To start with, I think my approach to any difficult behaviours or stubborn refusals was empathy. Then it became short-tempered impatience. Then the guilt came, then I did a combination, then I didn’t know what to do.

I still don’t get it right each time – who does? But as I’ve got to know my boys better, I’ve been better able to sense when a cuddle or some reassuring words are needed, and when a firm re-iteration of the expected behaviour (and/or consequence) is needed. It took a wise friend to remind me that kids need a consistent approach. Yes, they’re adopted, but they’re also 2 years old, with all the important boundary-pushing behaviour that comes with this age. They need to know where they stand, what’s acceptable and what’s not – and perhaps I’ve shied away from this in the past year, not knowing quite when to parent them according to my adoption training, and when to parent them according to my experience with the older two.

The sibling attachment took much longer than the attachment to us – but oh gosh, when it finally arrived it took my breath away! From the start, the boys attached well to us, their parents – of course attachment is a gradual process and, month-by-month it got stronger, but we certainly don’t feel the boys have had any issues here. And I’m sure it was a gradual thing with Mister and Missy too – the boys never disliked them, and the older ones always doted on their younger siblings – but Monkey and Meerkat didn’t instantly attach to their big brother and sister. If physical affection was refused then the older ones either didn’t notice, or were too patient with their new brothers to get upset.

But in the last few months, there has been a noticeable change. Monkey and Meerkat now take the initiative in giving physical affection to their older siblings. They are keen to say long, effusive goodbyes when Mister and Missy head off to school in the morning, they chat about them all day long, and get excited to go and pick them up each afternoon. The amount of wrestling, chasing, role-play and general trailing them round the house has been so fun to watch. At least for the moment, genes don’t matter one bit to any of them. They’re three brothers and one sister, having fun growing up together.

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Because this is what happens when you have a big sister.

It’s not just us who adopted. I’m so grateful that our friends and families have welcomed our boys into their lives on the same basis as Mister and Missy. I wish I could put into words how amazing it’s been to witness the bond developing, for example, between Meerkat and his Nanny – no words for why or how the two of them click, they just do. It’s like the boys have come into their new extended family just expecting to be loved – they’ve given out love, and been richly loved in return. Why would they expect anything else?

The boys are not just our sons, they’re grandsons, nephews, cousins, godsons and friends to a much bigger group of people. Perhaps, like us, our families never thought it was possible to develop a family bond with people who didn’t share the same gene pool. Well, I think we’ve all learnt something. Some day, I guess, the boys may suffer identity issues relating to their adoption. They will want to know more details about, and maybe meet, their birth family. We’ll support them wholeheartedly, but it’s good to know that however this turns out, they’ll always have a wide and supportive base in this family.

img_20170130_085416Love doesn’t stem from pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding. On a basis which is so regular I feel almost ashamed to admit it, I stare at Mister, all 7 years of him, and can’t believe he’s the same Mister as the big red baby I held in my arms after my first labour, laughing in disbelief that this tiny being could now exist outside of me. When Missy is bossing her brothers around or articulately disagreeing with some aspect of my parenting, I can’t believe she’s the same Missy as the screaming missile who flew out of me five years ago, and took some calming down from the shock…so much so that I thought I’d never be able to calm my own baby.

But when I look at Monkey or Meerkat, I don’t tend to think of their entry into this world – not that I don’t ever think of this, the bits I know, of course I do. But that part of their existence belongs to someone else, and I would never take it from her. No, I think of the day we met them, how curious Monkey commando-shuffled through to the hall of his foster home to see who was at the door (is it the postman? or my new parents?). How Meerkat was content to sit and play and wait for us to come and join in. How they both belly-laughed when their new dad put a toy on his head and made it fall off. I think of them then, and I see them now, and I feel equally proud of how far they’ve come, how confidently they walk and run, talk and listen, sing and dance. I didn’t carry them, birth them or breastfeed them. It doesn’t matter. It actually doesn’t matter. They are loved.

When I first felt God’s prompting on adoption I blurted out, “But I can’t do it, I don’t have that much love”, to which the answer came frustratingly clearly, so clearly I didn’t have an excuse. “But I do. And I will give you all the love you need.” And He has done.

They are loved. So loved. And I know this hasn’t come from me. I’m weak and powerless, and my own ability to love is so flawed and self-centred. No – this love has to have come from a Higher Being, the One who created love and is love, the One whose own beautiful love story centres around adoption, the only One whose love is entirely and unreservedly self-sacrificing. What a privilege to receive and give this love.

Posted in me, parenting

what we want for our kids (surely just health and happiness, right?)

Going through the adoption process was a massively reflective time for us as a family, and one discussion which I find myself mulling over even now, two years on, is that of parental expectations. Of course when you have a birth child, you can think what you like about that child. You can dream away, and have high expectations, and no one’s going to stop you.

To give them their due, the assumptions you make may well be based on genetic evidence. If you and your partner both went to University, for example, then chances are that your child will do also. If you’re particularly sporty, or musical, or dramatic, or business-minded, then it’s not entirely out of the question to expect that your child might have these traits as well.

As we were preparing to adopt, however, we were challenged to dissolve any expectations we might have about the sort of child or children we might parent. They would not share our genes. They might struggle academically, they might suffer from mental health issues which hindered them in life, or in their career, and they might not meet our expectations. So, the conclusion was: drop those expectations!

Er…easier said than done.

I go through life believing that if I say “I love my kids just as they are” loudly and often enough, then that will quell any sky-high expectations for them or their futures. But then I realise that, deep-down, some of these expectations are so entrenched that they’re near impossible to shift, much as I want to.

Cue a shiny new series for this blog in 2017: “What we want for our kids”, where I want to continue this discussion, attempting to remove the blinkers from my own fuzzy parenting, and hear from you fantastic lot on your experiences too. Some of the areas I hope to cover are: financial security, marriage and kids and a good education. It’s all very well saying we just want our kids to be happy and healthy – but do we mean that? Wouldn’t a small part of us be just a little disappointed if they flunked their GCSEs, or never met The One, or didn’t have kids?

I find this all really challenging stuff, and it won’t be easy to write – or read, for that matter, so if you want to stop following me right now, here’s your get-out clause. But I know it’s important to start the conversation, to say these hard words, to feel God’s gentle nudge as I’m reminded, once again, of my own selfish tendencies in parenting.

I’m aiming to start in the next few days with the first installment. Please comment – here or on Facebook – I’d love to know it’s not just me who struggles with these things.

(Oh, and I’ll try and do Funny, to save it all getting a bit heavy. This post hasn’t had any Funny, and I apologise. Praying friends may wish to intercede on my behalf for the Funny to return. Thank you.)