The Father’s Kiss – review and giveaway!

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No father is perfect, of course, but psychologists will tell you the benefits of growing up with a stable father-figure – someone who loves you unconditionally, is proud of your achievements, and helps to nurture you into a well-rounded, empathetic adult.

Sadly, many people haven’t had this experience. Their father was absent, neglectful, sharp-tempered, condemnatory, or abusive.

Besides the ‘obvious’ disadvantages suffered by those growing up with this kind of father (anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, and so on), any lack of fatherly nurturing will have implications on how someone can relate to God as their Father.

‘God loves you’. It’s so trite, isn’t it? So obvious, in a way. And yet do we really believe it, when we haven’t seen a human example of unconditional fatherly love?

Even when we have had a positive experience with our father – when do we ever really plumb the depths of God’s affection, outlined for us in the Bible? Do we actually believe that He not only loves us, but that spending time with us brings Him – the creator of the universe – such joy?

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I’m so excited that, today, The Father’s Kiss is released – a book which, I’m certain, will bring healing and revelation to so many Christians who struggle to believe just how much and how freely God loves them.

Tracy Williamson’s story is powerful. As a young child, she suffered an illness which affected her hearing and sight. Her birth dad died when she was very young, and her step dad abused her verbally and sexually. You can read a fuller account in this brilliant interview she did for Claire Musters.

She entered adulthood insecure, with little self-worth, but became a Christian in her first year of college.

However, the journey didn’t end there. Tracy’s whole life has been a journey of healing from past hurts, learning to forgive her abuser, and allowing her thinking to be changed when it comes to her Father God – the God who doesn’t abuse her, the God who doesn’t see her as a mistake.

Why not take a couple of minutes to watch Tracy’s video, which shares her heart for the book?

I so appreciated Tracy’s honest, vulnerable writing, and believe it has the power to help so many others on their journey of reshaping their thoughts about who their Father God really is.

Although I’m blessed with an amazing Dad, as I was reading this book my thoughts were so often with my younger two boys, and how they might cope as they get older with not knowing who their birth Dad was (I wrote about that here, ‘Can you imagine having no father?’).

And for me, too, the book was challenging. Although I understand that God loves me, I often think of it as a begrudging kind of love – a bit like me when I’m tired and grumpy with my kids. I do love them – but sometimes I wish they’d just leave me alone for a few minutes, or let me get on with something.

It’s so tempting to think of God like this, but Tracy helped to reshape my thinking by showing, very clearly, from the Bible, that God is not a grumpy or begrudging kind of God! He loves to spend time with us – all the time! He’d never prefer to be on His phone, or spend a quiet few minutes cooking away from us all, or any of the other things I crave as an imperfect parent.

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Tracy and her book!

Now I like my Christian non-fiction books to be structured, with several clear and easy-to-follow points that I can mull over, remember and act upon. This book is not like that, and I have to say it took me a while to adapt to the style.

But then again, with such a deep and abstract topic such as ‘God’s love’, I’m not sure how this book could have been written in simple bullet-points all beginning with the same letter! It’s not like someone can teach you the A-Z of absorbing God’s love, can they?

Instead, Tracy effortlessly combines Bible passages, teaching, personal stories, poems, songs, prophetic pictures, and opportunities to ‘pause and reflect’, in order to draw us further into the reality of God’s love. It’s not a book to be rushed through, but one to mull over slowly and gradually.

The prophetic insights, in particular, I found very powerful. Tracy has a real gift in this area (her ‘day job’ is travelling the country with MBM Ministries, leading retreats and conferences with the singer/songwriter Marilyn Baker), and I’ve never read a book which is full of so many “As I’m writing this, I feel God saying…” moments. Truly spine-tingling and awesome!

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The Father’s Kiss is a beautiful book, full of hope and encouragement, and I really hope that you’re convinced to go and order a copy right now for yourself or someone you know would be blessed by it!

But – as always – don’t order just yet, as Authentic have kindly given me a copy of The Father’s Kiss to give away to a lucky reader! To enter – as always – simply join my mailing list (you can always unsubscribe later if I start to ramble on) – or, if you’re already on it, leave a lovely comment here to encourage Tracy!

The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered, and well done to Kerry who won!

Affiliate links are used in this email, meaning I earn a small commission on any purchase made through this blog, at no extra cost to you. Tracy kindly sent me a free copy of The Father’s Kiss to review for this blog but, as always, you have my guarantee that I would never publish a review of anything I didn’t genuinely like.

Interested in my other reviews? I’ve read some stonking books this year!

How do I connect with my 8 year old son?

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A year ago, my son moved from Year 2 to Year 3.

I thought this was simply a matter of moving up a year, like Year 1 to 2. Apparently not. There’s been a noticeable change in my son’s attitude – and my friends say the same about their sons too. These 8-year-olds are displaying more sulkiness, stroppiness, rudeness and even aggression.

Mister’s teacher taught his class in Year 1. Although she’s enjoyed having them both years (and done a great job both times), she’s reported increased confidence and cheekiness. In short, they’re more likely to tell her when she’s made a mistake!

This change in attitude has given us a new challenge as parents. How do we establish boundaries? Should my son have his say in what he is and isn’t allowed? What discipline measures are effective?

But there’s another aspect to this. Just as I’m seeking ways to connect with my son, our interests are starting to diverge. His main two hobbies are football and video games – neither of which I have any interest in. (OK, save for the World Cup. That was pretty awesome. But otherwise.)

The fact that my son is not turning into me doesn’t come as a surprise – but I’m absolutely determined not to lose the relationship we’ve spent nearly nine years building.

For Mister’s first two years we did everything together. We went to groups, did baby yoga and massage, swam together, and made new friends. We hosted playdates, and went to play at others’ homes. We even hill-walked together on one occasion, just me and him.

Even with the addition of his sister, and later his brothers, I don’t think there’s anyone he’s spent more time with than me, nor I him, over the course of his life.

We have too much history, Mister and I. We were best buds from day one, and he taught me how to be a Mum. So – what do I do?

How do we connect with our sons when they start to drift away from being Mummy’s boys? How do we keep communication open so that boundaries can be discussed, negotiated and established? How do we stay close so that when adolescence hits, they still have a secure base to turn to?

I’ll admit I don’t have many answers. Please fire away in the comments, as I’d love to get some wisdom here! But here are a few things I’ve noticed in the last few months.

Shared rhythms

I’m grateful that, way back before we got to this stage, our family established daily shared rhythms. For example, we always eat our evening meal together at the table, and we always read the kids a bedtime story.

It might not seem like much, but these two simple acts ensure that, every day, I’m connecting meaningfully and positively with my son at least once or twice. Of course, we usually connect more than that, but for those days where we’re just not speaking the same language, at least we still have meals and story time.

Dad is important – but he still needs Mum

Mister has definitely made the switch from wanting me around to wanting his Dad around. He shares more interests with his Dad, and connects more easily.

For those of you who are single Mums to young sons, I encourage you to find some great male role models now so that, as your boy grows, he will have some people to relate to and let off steam with, when he can’t do that so easily with you.

But don’t delegate everything to Dad/other male role models! Even when he’s reluctant, I still make regular effort to converse with/hug/connect with my son. He won’t do it in front of his friends, but when we’re at home, he often asks to hold my hand, cuddle or kiss. Boys still need – and love – their Mums. Hooray for that!

Notice his positives

Yes, my son can be angsty and aggressive, shouty and rude. But, on the whole, he is a kind, thoughtful boy, who’s a great big brother and makes us proud every day.

If I’m not careful, I become the kind of nagging mum who no one wants to confide in. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t find ways of gently encouraging our boys to put their laundry in the basket or give us more than five minutes’ notice when they have homework due, but we can do this with grace and love, always remembering that our role is to teach our children these skills – they don’t just absorb them.

And the advice to ‘pick your battles’ is wise here too. I’ve learnt not to worry so much about the state of my son’s bedroom, for example, although I did intervene the other day when there was literally no floor to walk on. But, you know, other than that 😉

Don’t tease

Our family likes a bit of banter.

OK, we like a lot of banter. And we’re pretty sarcastic. We frequently have to check with each other whether we actually meant something for real, or were just using sarcasm.

But any banter at the expense of my son’s feelings is not good. Usually he enjoys being included in this way, and gives as good as he gets, but on occasion I’ve felt that we overstepped the mark in joking about something he’s passionate about.

It’s easy to make fun of how much Mister loves geeky football videos or Roblux – but the reality is that he’s trying to work out who he is (and who he’s not). If my wisecracks are purely about trying to score points from those listening, if it’s all about making me sound like I’m witty and quick and cool, at the expense of my son’s feelings, then this needs to be stopped. I’m effectively saying ‘Your identity is wrong’ or even ‘My needs override yours’ and that is really hurtful.

So I’m learning to raise up and encourage my son – particularly in front of others.

Try and show an interest

Even if it kills me (and it hasn’t yet), if I have a few spare minutes when the other kids aren’t making demands I’ll sit with my son while he plays Minecraft or watches football, and ask questions and try and learn about his hobbies.

This is kind of obvious good advice, I guess, and yet it’s so hard to actually put into practice when football is SO BORING and video games are SO NONSENSICAL.

But have you ever been on a walking tour led by someone passionate about what they’re showing you round? I think we all catch someone’s excitement when their eyes light up and they explain a new idea to us enthusiastically.

It’s like this with my son. If I listen carefully to what he’s saying, I’ll catch his excitement. Football, video games, or whatever he’s into that week, won’t be the boring stuff it used to be. It will be exciting, because my son is excited about it, and he is making me excited about it!

Learning from our kids is actually really great, because they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our love and nurture – and now look at them! Teaching us all kinds of things we’d never have known otherwise!

Parenting Mister is a little harder this year than it was last year – but it’s us who need to adapt, not him. He is simply doing the hard work of growing up. We are here to love, support and guide him as he discovers the person he was made to be.

Do you have, or have you had, an 8 year old boy? Does any of this resonate? What’s your advice?

And, for those of you with girls, do you face challenges similar to these, or different, or is it much easier?! (Please tell me it is!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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5 reasons I’m grateful not to own a home

hiking.jpgOne of the perks of being married to a vicar is free accommodation.

If I’m honest, the insecurity of not owning our own property has started to bug me over the last couple of years. I won’t say it ‘concerns’ me or ‘worries’ me, because I have no reason not to trust that God will provide everything we need in the future. But it does bug me.

As friends move on to their second, third, fourth property, gradually moving up the ladder, gaining space, building extensions and increasing their investment, we live fairly comfortably in a house which won’t be there when my husband retires. I sometimes wonder if we should be living on more of a shoestring than we do, and paying off a mortgage on a tiny holiday property somewhere in the sticks.

We did own a house, once. In fact we were amongst the first of our friends to buy a place, thanks mainly to the fact that we’d moved to the North and could afford something small. But when we relocated, we rented the property for a year then sold it. It didn’t seem right to keep it, as it wasn’t a natural rental property – but nor did it seem right to purchase a different property elsewhere.

It was the hubs who felt strongly about not re-investing in property. I wasn’t convinced at first, but after a fair bit of submitting the issue to God, I came to the same conclusion. And we still have no regrets about what we did (or didn’t do). But that doesn’t make it an easy decision to live with!

However, to counter any jealousy I may feel when others are moving into gorgeous homes, to which they can do whatever they like, I thought I’d write down five things to be grateful for about our situation – not with gritted teeth, but because I’m convinced this is where God wants us, and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). I’m trying to practise this truth!

We don’t pay maintenance costs.

While we cover the costs of the garden and (most) interior decor, all the essential maintenance is sorted out by the Diocese. If the boiler breaks, we don’t have to worry about finding the money to fix it. If there’s a leak, we don’t have to spend ages ringing round companies that might be able to come and sort it out immediately.

Sometimes there’s a tension between what we think is urgent, and what the Diocese thinks is urgent – but, on the whole, one call to their housing people, and things are sorted out pretty efficiently.

We get to live in a house that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

Vicarages have to have at least four bedrooms, plus two reception rooms (so that one can be a study – a vicarage is a work-place as well as a home). They tend to be generously-sized.

Not only would we not be able to afford the size of this house if we were in different jobs, but we also wouldn’t be able to afford the location of this house. While we’re not in a particularly affluent area, the fact that it only takes 15 minutes to walk into the city centre whacks on another few thousand to the value of our home.

Another advantage specific to our home is that houses like ours just don’t exist in our area. Usually if you want to be close to town, you sacrifice a garden. Or you move out of town to get a garden – and sacrifice convenience. We are fortunate to get both.

Obviously not all vicarages are exactly like ours, but they will all have their unique quirks and advantages which add value – value which most of us wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.

It’s a constant reminder that our home belongs to God.

If you’re a Christian, everything you are and have belongs to God. But how easily we can slip into selfish ways with our homes, our money, our possessions and our families!

I totally do this all the time with the things I own and the people I love. But one thing I’m not so selfish with is our home. A vicarage is owned by the Diocese, and it’s supposed to be used to bless your church.

Whether it’s New Year drinks to say thank you to the people who lead at church, our weekly parents’ house group and creche, or (yet another) World Cup barbecue with the 20s group, our family has a wonderful opportunity to live in a space which is designed to bless others. How cool is that?!

(For the record, yes there are boundaries that need to be set, and we take these seriously. After all, we’ve been through the adoption process, where we had to justify the use of our home from a safeguarding perspective. But that’s another blog post!)

It helps us to empathise with those around us.

Many of the people we see regularly at the school gate, at church, or round and about, don’t own their own home – and, whilst some of these people are hoping to buy in the future, many won’t even entertain this notion, as there’s absolutely no way they’ll ever have a chance to get on the housing ladder.

It’s tempting to think that owning a home is a right, but actually it’s a luxury, and it’s only enjoyed by a minority across the world. Even in the UK, it was only 40-50 years ago that people started to buy homes en masse. Renting a property owned by someone else has generally been the way that people kept a roof over their head throughout history.

Not owning a home, and realising the many, many people around us who don’t own one either, reminds us that it’s a luxury. If we ever do buy a home, we certainly won’t take it for granted.

We have more security than many.

And finally, whilst in many ways we’re in a similar situation to those around us, we’re also very different. We have earning potential. We have savings. We have financial support from our families. We’re in a much more secure position than many, and may one day have the option of buying a home.

Again, not owning a home reminds us of the great security we do have: a landlord who’s not about to kick us out with a month’s notice. A decent place to live which is kept in good order. A guarantee that we can live here until the hubster’s job ends. And that, when it does, we’ll have another home provided for us.

Compare this to friends living in social housing with no proper flooring, private-rentals with dodgy landlords, or in communities which are unfriendly and antisocial, and we feel pretty grateful.

I won’t pretend this is an easy journey, but it’s the one the Lord has us on for now. Maybe He will guide us to buy a house in the future or maybe we’ll spend our retirement renting, but one thing I know for sure is that His ways are best.

We don’t get to take our homes to heaven, after all!

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Eleanor Oliphant, pulled pork and a sexuality conference (What I’m into – June 2018)

Books

Wow. Just wow. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine certainly lived up to its hype.

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This was our Book Club’s choice this month, and I was delighted as it’s been on my list for months. Eleanor Oliphant lives an isolated life, devoid of any meaningful relationship, hobby or interest – beyond drinking vodka on her own all weekend to get through the gap between her working weeks.

Without giving anything away (because you really do need to read this book for yourself!), it’s fairly apparent from the start that there’s something unusual about Eleanor – but what it is unfolds gradually throughout the book.

I loved the hopeful way the book ended (not to mention the exciting twist in the last few pages), and I found the whole thing immensely enjoyable – laugh-out-loud funny at times, as author Gail Honeyman captures Eleanor’s straightforward, literal thought processes perfectly.

Again, without giving too much away, I particularly enjoyed this book from an adoption perspective. Although adoption isn’t a theme in the book, the impact of trauma, neglect and abuse is explored, sometimes making for difficult reading, but always sensitively and wisely handled.

In short – read this book! Seriously one of my favourite books ever.

It didn’t take me long to finish, but everything else I started this month didn’t get finished, so you’ll just have to wait till next month for more books!

Food

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Of course there were plenty of BBQs, and general al fresco eating this month – BECAUSE EATING OUTDOORS IS SO MUCH MORE FUN AND LESS HASSLE. And because – look at the weather! Even in the North!

My personal favourite was the yummy pulled-pork recipe you see above. It’s a great one for a busy day, because it takes about 10 minutes to get all the bits together and whack in the oven – then when you get home from your busyness, you’ve got a fabulous meal waiting for you with very little else needed except buns and coleslaw (although we did chunky chips – also easy – and some cooked veg for fussy little eaters).

And I successfully made canneloni for the very first time! I realised the problem was in the piping bag – so, in the month where I tried to reduce plastic usage by buying a shampoo bar instead of a bottle, I offset this by buying a roll of 100 disposable plastic piping bags. Eek. Sorry, world.

It did help, though. The result was amazing (this is the recipe I used). Sadly, I don’t have a pic of the finished article, so (just for evidence, so that you believe me that I actually pulled this off) here’s a pic of the cannelloni, all neatly piped and ready for some sauce, cheese and a half-hour in the oven.


Music

Not being at all gadgety or Internet-y, I was absolutely delighted to discover that Spotify was indeed as wonderful as everyone says it is. I bought a 99p 3-month trial so that I could put together a soundtrack for our Summer Fair (see below), but within an hour or listening for my own benefit, I was totally converted that THIS IS HOW I WANT TO LIVE FOREVER, THROWING OUT ALL THE CDS AND NEVER USING ANYTHING OTHER THAN DIGITAL MUSIC EVER AGAIN.

Until the hubs reminded me that our car only plays CDs. Oh well.

Through Spotify, however, I discovered Lily Allen’s latest album – I’ve kind of lost touch with her since her first album, but this one was perfectly accessible and just brilliant. I like how her music’s grown up with her, exploring different territories lyrically (divorce, being a working mum, etc.) but musically having the same quirks and emotional sweetness of her earlier stuff.

My personal favourite on the album was ‘Three’ but, honestly, there’s not really a dud song on there.

Stage and screen

download (2).jpgWell, having read it last month, our Book Club had to watch The Light between Oceans, didn’t we?! It’s good, and well worth watching – obviously not as good as the book (did I really need to say that?), predominantly because so much detail has to be left out – detail which changes how you view the secondary characters – but it’s a powerful film none-the-less.

download (3).jpgWe finished the UK House of Cards (the old one), and, much as I’d enjoyed the three series, I was hugely disappointed by the finale, which felt like a cop-out along the lines of “…and then they woke up to discover it had all been a dream”. I really felt that, with the clever plots and dialogue thus far, the writers could have come up with something better. Anyone seen it/share my views?! Feel like I’m kind of on my own here in 1990s British drama territory.

Articles

Some great stuff this month!

I’ve started to think a bit more about transgender and sexuality issues (and no, this is not my way of announcing my impending transition).

I absolutely loved Living Out’s Identity conference (see below), and interestingly I’ve started to find a few non-religious voices speaking out against the ease of gender transition (not against it per se, but concerned particularly for under 18s, and their vulnerability when it comes to their gender, and decisions which could have an impact they’re not expecting). This article is long but well worth a read – it’s one mother’s story of her daughter’s desire to transition.

Not on my watch is Krish Kandiah at his best, using Fathers’ Day to ask men whether they’ll step up to the challenge of caring for the most vulnerable. Adoption and fostering are two ways to do this, obviously, but they’re not the only ways. Our society has one particular definition of ‘real men’, but the Bible may be calling you guys to something different…take a read!

This article, about some fiery female missionaries who were practising Christian feminism way before the #metoo movement, was fascinating.

How disability makes a church strong spoke right to my heart about how vital inclusivity and diversity are to our church communities. I’m becoming so passionate about this!

And I’m really enjoying Abby King’s blog at the moment. She’s a fellow ACW member and writes a really thought-provoking devotional each week. I’m finding it so relevant and considered. Have a read of Why it helps to know what you really want.

On the blog

I was privileged to review The Mermaid who couldn’t, a fantastic book aimed at adopted children.

For Fathers’ Day, I published two pieces: some musings on the idea of having no father, and a tribute to my husband, who’s a wonderful father to our four kids.

In response to 5 Valuable Work Lessons from Maternity Leave which I mentioned last month, I wrote about five valuable work lessons I’d learnt from my nearly nine-year ‘maternity leave’…

To celebrate National Writing Day last week, I took up this writing challenge (“I feel most free when…”) – and then shared a few thoughts having watched the wonderfully thought-provoking ‘Gone Fishing’, featuring Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer.

Elsewhere

Whilst I still feel like a blog novice (after six years?! How can that be?), people have started to ask my advice when thinking about starting their own blogs. So I put a few thoughts down in my ACW More than Writers blog this month: “Why and how should I start a blog?” Do have a look if you’re in this position.

Other

* I went to the beautiful wedding of a lovely new friend – it was down-to-earth, simple, and God-centred.

* We finally found a Fathers’ Day gift for DD that he liked and didn’t complain about (he doesn’t like ‘commercial festivals’ and never knows what he wants for the non-commercial ones):

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God bless Pinterest.

* I went to watch my boy play cricket for his school (having no idea whether he knew the rules or not). It was a lovely, relaxed tournament for Years 3&4, with the Years 5&6 matches clearly taking on a bit more formality (read: they had rules). Our school did really well, winning our group and progressing to the semi-final where I think we came 3rd (?). Anyway, it was a great achievement for a school which doesn’t have loads of kids paying for additional sports coaching. We were all very proud!

* We had our school Summer Fair! Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while will know what a big deal this is – our PTA only started last year, and this is our second Summer Fair. We were aiming to improve on last year’s £1000 profit by a couple of hundred, but I was sceptical about actually reaching it. In actual fact, we made over £1400 – smashed it!! It was also just such a lovely afternoon, with great weather, and a brilliant atmosphere amongst all the families who came.

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* The most exciting thing for me this month – and possibly this year (you can tell I don’t get out much) – was a child-free 24-hour trip to London with my good friend Izzy to hear Tim and Kathy Keller speak on Identity and Sexuality. Oh my goodness, they were superb! The first hour was like an undergraduate Sociology lecture – the second was a brilliantly packed sermon. After lunch Kathy stormed it with some practical guidance for churches, then there was a brilliant panel made up of the Kellers and a couple of LGBQTI+ Christians. I couldn’t type my notes fast enough! I hope to be able to share a few thoughts with you on this blog over the next month or two…let me know if you’d be interested.

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The man my kids are blessed to call Dad

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I’m not one for gushing.

But today I feel compelled to write a post honouring my husband, affectionately known on this blog as DesertDad. Perhaps it’s because he’s been away most of this week, and has therefore gone up in my estimation, or perhaps it’s because tomorrow is Fathers’ Day – although, to all intents and purposes, this day functions like any other Sunday in our household, as he’s not a fan of what he calls ‘commercial festivals’.

I don’t know.

But recently I read this (celebrating the real men in our lives), this (speaking life to our spouse), and then this (how to show him he’s a great dad), and was challenged that our marriage is so full of banter and sarcasm, that to say uplifting, honouring things about each other (certainly in public) does not come easily – and maybe I need to change that.

The problem, of course, is that this type of post is likely to sting for those who have a poor, or non-existent, relationship with their fathers – or those who, for whatever reason, are raising their kids without a father. Others of you, I know, mourn the fact that, although your kids do have a Dad, he doesn’t fulfil his role with any sense of commitment.

So I want to be honest. I want to tell you, straight-off, that my husband is not perfect. To illustrate this, I just wrote a paragraph of his character flaws – but thought better of it and deleted it. But please promise me you’ll read the following in the context of knowing he can’t possibly be superhuman – just in case what I’m about to write makes him sound made-up.

Agreed? Then we’re good to go.

For someone who, in another life, would have been perfectly content as a childless bachelor, DesertDad has grabbed parenthood by the horns, and is fully immersed in the parenting of each one of our children.

He does the practical stuff.

After long days at work, when he’d be justified in collapsing in front of the telly, he doesn’t shy away from the grotty jobs, but willingly feeds, bathes and clears up the toileting accidents of our offspring.

It makes me very happy that he’s been able to spend today at the Stag Do of an old friend, because most of his days off are entirely child-focused. There are loads of hobbies that he’d love to do, yet building relationships with his kids remains his priority.

He’s also proactive with housework. Perhaps we don’t have the same ideas about which jobs are the priority (and we definitely both see ‘mess’ differently), but if he sees something which needs doing, he does it without being asked.

He willingly takes charge of the kids so that I can do things which stretch my brain. Governor meetings, PTA commitments, church events – he readily switches roles so that I can have a break, even though it might mean him having to play catch-up at his work later on.

He does the emotional stuff.

He’s amazingly pastoral and non-judgmental – and this isn’t just me, people say it all the time. A friend once said to him, “I feel I could tell you anything, and you’d never be shocked”. Our kids will benefit from his empathy more and more as they grow up, but already he is a great listener to our kids, often picking up on stuff that I’ve missed, even though he spends a fraction of the time that I do with them.

Our church feels like a family, and I think this is partly because he leads it like he leads our nuclear family: with love, grace and gentle nurture. He teaches his ‘flock’ with passion and authority – whether it’s his flock at church, or his flock of kids at home. He sets boundaries and he disciplines with love.

He does the spiritual stuff.

He shares his faith with our kids, reads the Bible to them and explains aspects of theology. I do these things too, but I worry about the impact on children who’ve only had spiritual leadership from their mother, and it makes me so grateful to have a husband who acknowledges his role in bringing up our kids to love Jesus too.

He’s fiercely outspoken about aspects of secular culture that most of us Christians accept too readily. He questions the things people take for granted about their children and planning for their futures. He’s not irresponsible, but he’s prayerful and godly, and wants our children, above all, to cultivate their own relationship with Jesus, knowing that nothing else completely satisfies.

He does the awkward stuff.

Like parenting ‘someone else’s children’.

I know some men who wouldn’t consider adoption, even though their wives might be keen, but this one willingly gave up his right to have more biological kids, in order to become the father that our twins would otherwise not have. He’s every bit their father, and gives them the same love, kindness, security and boundaries that he gives our birth kids.

In doing so, he leads by example. He shows our little family, our wider family, our friends and our church what it means to father the fatherless. What God’s priorities are when it comes to relationships. That a family which doesn’t reach out to others is poorer for it.

He is the father of my children, and they are so blessed to have him.

Read my first ever blog post – about Fathers’ Day 2012!

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Can you imagine having no father?

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I can’t imagine how it would feel to have no father.

I can imagine a remote father – detached, preoccupied, no space in his life for children. I can imagine his regret and guilt at having been talked into a family he never really wanted – or, perhaps, the absence of regret and guilt, as time starts to justify the distance that’s grown between him and his kids. I can imagine the loss, the sadness, the shut-down, the self-preservation of the children who long for his time and know they will never get it.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an absent father – living in a different town now, perhaps with a new wife, new life, new kids – remembering birthdays (or not), sharing a week together every summer, occasional weekends. I can imagine the awkwardness for a child struggling to fit into a different family every now-and-then, having to adapt behaviours and routines for different sets of parents.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine a neglectful father – leaving everything to Mum, putting his own needs first, not noticing the children who require his help to regulate their emotions, because he can’t yet regulate his own. I can imagine the children who grow up thinking this is what family life is like: Mum raises the family, Dad does what he likes.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

I can imagine an abusive father – letting his anger control him, free-flowing with the insults, the lies, the manipulation, the fists. I can imagine – although it pains me to write it – a father who cannot control his lust, who does the unthinkable, who abuses the trust of those who have no one else to rely on.

But I can’t imagine no father at all.

No father? Obviously, at some point, there must have been.

But was that a father? Or was that a few drops of bodily fluid, moving from one body to another? Two lucky sperm which made it, which kick-started two new lives, unbeknownst to the person who ejected them from their being?

And now, somewhere, that person walks free, unaware of the lives he has created. He may pass them in the street – or he may be living on the other side of the world – and we will never know. Was he old or young? Tall or short? Does he have other kids? A wife?

I can’t imagine – because the possibilities are infinite.

What was his ethnicity? Was he unemployed, or was he a CEO? Was it a romantic liaison, or a one-night stand? Did he pay?

Okay, so maybe I am imagining. But imagination usually starts with reality – and here, there is no reality to know of. No clues, no evidence, no memories and no one to ask. With endless possibilities of what this sperm-donor may have been like, I’ll likely never guess the real him.

And the kids – how will they respond? Not just knowing little, but knowing nothing. Future Fathers’ Days, when they’re old enough to understand. “Best dad” cards taking on a new meaning. Adolescence, and wondering whether emerging character traits come from him. DNA tests when they meet their future partners.

There wasn’t really a father. What might have turned into one was actually just a couple of seeds, fertilising a couple of eggs.

But God likes seeds. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. Seeds planted in good soil will produce a healthy crop.

And a seed from a man can fertilise an egg, creating a life which God dreamed up many millennia before it happened.

You see, there is a Father after all. A Father who was intentional and loving from the start. A Father who wanted these children to be born into his world, to take their place in family life, to come into relationship with Him.

Yes, it matters that there is no earthly father. But no, it’s not the end of the story.

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Could I be a single parent?

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Image credit: Pixabay

If I’m honest, this is the week I was dreading most in 2018. My husband, who usually works from home and hardly ever goes away, has been enrolled on a leadership course which involves a couple of residential weeks. This has been the first of them.

I like to think of myself as fairly independent – a ‘coper’, I guess. And while this week has gone more smoothly than I could have hoped, it’s certainly had its challenges. Experiencing single-parenthood for four days has got me thinking…

I’ve had to be super-organised. Those who know me know I love my lists, my highly-detailed schedules, my reminders and systems for getting through family life (relatively) unscathed. But this week has tested my organisational skills to the limit. For a three-hour period on Monday, my actions were as follows (and yes, it was all written into Google calendar so I wouldn’t forget an activity or child):

  • 3.00 Collect Mister from school.
  • 3.30 Collect Monkey and Meerkat from preschool.
  • 4.15 Collect Missy and her friend from school disco – and drop Mister at his school disco.
  • 4.45 Take Missy and friend to Rainbows.
  • 5.30 Collect Mister from school disco.
  • 5.45 Collect Missy and friend from Rainbows. Drop friend home.
  • 6.30 Return home for a tea I’d cooked in between ferrying everyone around, which three out of four children rejected, at a time when really the youngest two should have been getting ready for bed.

I guess if I were parenting on my own, I wouldn’t have the money or the time to allow each child to do as many extra-curricular activities as they currently do, but this schedule was particularly gruelling without another adult involved. It’s made me grateful for the role DesertDad plays in supporting our children’s interests – taking them to activities, or staying home with the others while I go.

There’s been a lot to fit in. Of course sod’s law has dictated that this be the week where I have a governors’ meeting, governor link visit (and follow-up report to write), a Bible study to prepare for my housegroup, a story to prepare for toddler group, people to liaise with for a Good Friday family event, several blogs, articles and book submissions to write, as well as the usual number of increasingly-outstanding admin tasks that mount up quickly in a family. This would be a busy week even with hubs around, but the fact that I’ve had to add in all the bathtimes, bedtimes, and general clearing up has definitely stretched me.

If I ever felt like moaning that my Other Half wasn’t as involved in domestic chores, I take it all back now. Not only is he hands-on around the home, but he gives a level of support which allows me to pursue interests away from my (wonderful, but demanding) children. If I were solo-parenting, I would need to be much more cautious in my commitments outside of the home.

I’ve had to go easy on myself. I’ve worked hard these last few days, being Mum and Dad. I’ve tried to keep the house reasonable, and tried to spend at least a few minutes of quality time with the kids each day. But it’s exhausting. Many of the projects listed a couple of paragraphs ago (mainly the writing ones) haven’t happened – and I have to remember that that’s OK. I have to remember that I have four well-fed, well-nurtured kids tucked up in bed right now, and that is enough of an achievement for one day.

When you have the luxury of a partner, you have someone to gee you up, to tell you to relax, to watch TV with, chat to, play games with. Single parents need to become sooooo good at telling themselves to switch off! They deserve a break – and no one is going to force this on them apart from themselves.

It’s OK to ask for help. A friend popped in on Tuesday to take Mister swimming, so that I didn’t have to take all of his siblings (cue: half an hour of chasing 3yo twins up and down the balcony with sod all else to do apart from prevent them falling to their death in the deep end of the pool). It was a simple gesture, but I’m glad I asked – it was so much easier to be able to stay at home with the younger three.

Likewise, if you’re parenting on your own, you need to find (and use) this kind of support network. Don’t be afraid to ask – people want to help.

The kids have mucked in. In many ways, the kids have stepped up this week. Not so much in clearing up (more’s the pity), but in the way the older ones have played with/helped/mediated for their siblings has been much appreciated when I haven’t been able to come to their aid immediately.

Children growing up in single-parent families have such an amazing opportunity to learn life skills as they support their parent in running a household. I’m sure this is often incredibly challenging – for both child and parent – but, ultimately, that child has the potential to grow into a very capable, independent human being, knowing how to cook/entertain small children/clean/tidy up or whatever.

We have a few simple tasks we expect our children to help with, but this week has got me thinking – are they the right tasks? Are there ways we could better equip our children by teaching them important skills in running a home?

They miss Daddy. Actually, only one of them has regularly said this – and it’s mainly been when I’ve told him off! But still, the absence of Daddy has been very noticeable, and often talked about in our dinner-time conversations. I guess in long-term single-parent-dom, this feeling of missing the absent parent fades somewhat – or at least it doesn’t get verbalised as often. But it reminded me how hard it is to be both Mum and Dad – in fact it’s impossible, because although you might be doing the tasks of both parents, you can never be the absent parent. And that hurts. For the child, and for you, as you sense their pain and can do zilch about it.

Could I be a single parent?

I don’t think most single parents have the choice – some do, but the majority are flung into it by circumstance, and have no option but to cope. So, if I were put into this situation, yes of course I would cope – for the sake of the kids.

But it wouldn’t be easy. This week I’m learning that.

So, to all my wonderful single parent friends, and any other lovely single parent who may be reading this: hats off to you. You do a fab job and you are noticed.

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