five ways my toddlers are different from yours

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As the ‘at home’ mum of twin 3-year-olds, I spend a lot of time in the company of other parents and toddlers. We share our trials and joys – but largely the trials. We discuss what time our children are waking up, what they refuse to eat, how many times they’ve sat on the naughty step today, and all the latest misdemeanours – from drawing on the wall to hitting their siblings.

I join in these conversations with tales of my own frustrations with our toddler boys – and am often met with reassuring responses like, “Don’t worry – all children do that”, or “They will get through that phase”, or “My kid was exactly the same”.

While these reassurances are comforting and well-meant, I also have a nagging feeling that things are not so straightforward with my kids. On a daily – no hourly – basis, I feel like adoption rears its ugly head in each emotional response my children give to whatever is going on that day. Yes, they are toddlers, and on a surface level there is nothing to distinguish them from non-adopted toddlers. But, beneath the surface, there is something more complex going on – something which, nearly two years after our boys came home to us, I’m only just starting to piece together. Here are a few snapshots:

Our boys have two mummies.

I am their Mummy, in most senses of that word. They call me “Mummy”, and the reasons are obvious. I feed them, clothe them, play with them, care for them. I cuddle them when they’re upset. I put plasters on their cuts. I read stories to them and answer their (many) questions. God help me, I potty train them. They know no other person who is more deserving of the title “Mummy”, and so it gets transferred to me.

But I didn’t carry them in my womb, I didn’t give birth to them, I wasn’t around for the early feeds and sleepless nights, and I didn’t wean them. And that is confusing, even for children too young to remember the alternative mummies of birth and foster. Maternal bonding is not a figment of some psychologist’s imagination; in the womb, a baby is physically attached to mum, hears her voice, and feels her heartbeat. Separating mum and baby leaves an emotional scar, however young the baby was when separated.

Once or twice, I have heard one of my boys say “Mummy” and I know – don’t ask me how – that he’s not referring to me. More often, one of them is irrationally upset, and is calmed by looking at photos of “tummy-mummy” or talking about her.

This dual-identity is a struggle for any adopted child, not least before they’re old enough to be able to articulate it.

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Our boys regularly have periods of inconsolable sadness, anger or frustration.

My children aren’t comforted as easily or as quickly as my birth children were at the same age – or, indeed, as the other children I observe through the week. I think there are probably many reasons for this. One – obvious from the start – is that they simply weren’t used to us. Babies are tuned in to respond to their caregiver’s touch and voice – and if that caregiver changes, this becomes confusing. To start with, it wasn’t surprising that it took us a while to calm them down. But now, nearly two years on, things have not improved massively. Whilst there are times when we can calm them down in what might be thought of as a ‘normal’ toddler calming-down period, there are many times when their whining, shouting or screaming just will not stop. At these times, I suspect that the reason is that our boys have deep, deep hurt and anxiety which is brought to the surface by totally unrelated, ‘minor’ triggers, such as us saying ‘no’ to a cup of juice or a chocolate biscuit, or asking them to let us put their shoes on to go out, or any other request that toddlers usually rail against.

Our boys need to test us.

All children do this. They test the boundaries, they test what they can get away with to see at what point their parents will intervene. In addition to this, our boys test us. They love us as their parents – I’m certain of this – and yet they push us away. They repeat behaviours that they know are inappropriate for a lot longer than ‘normal’. For example, it took them a year or more to stop throwing their empty (or not so empty) bowls on the floor at the end of a meal. We don’t believe this is because it took them that long to understand that we didn’t want them to do it, and that it wasn’t an appropriate way to communicate that you’d finished, but because they had to test us, to see if we were going to abandon them should they not ‘perform’ as we were expecting.

This is one small example, but we see lots of this in daily life: negative behaviour patterns being repeated longer than is normal, physical pushing or hitting us, and (more recently) struggles with potty training, beyond what might be considered usual. Every day is a constant stream of such ‘tests’. Being steadfast, consistent and reassuring against this backdrop is one of our biggest challenges as adoptive parents – it is exhausting and stressful.

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Our boys struggle with daily transitions, and changes in routine.

Again – our boys are not the only toddlers to struggle in this area. But, whereas many toddlers will learn to become more flexible and accommodating as they grow up, our boys may always struggle with change. In this respect, I think our boys have something in common with children on the autistic spectrum, for whom any sort of change can be overwhelming, daunting and even frightening.

If it isn’t obvious why adopted children struggle with change, consider this: you are born to one person who, at some point during your childhood stops being your primary carer, and you move to a foster carer, eventually moving to an adoptive family. This scenario presents two major changes of carer (and all that accompanies this: home, locality, family, friends) – and this is one of the better case scenarios. Imagine that you’ve been moved between several foster carers before finding your permanent adoptive home (or, possibly, long-term foster home). These changes bring with them extra anxiety and heightened stress levels, as you have no idea how the new home will compare to the last. You have no security, and are not even sure of your identity anymore, as tied up as it is with what you know to be your ‘family’.

I noticed this summer that, when we were telling our children about our forthcoming holidays, we had to be very careful to reassure them that we would be coming back at the end of it. Our boys were also very keen to be reassured that Mummy and Daddy would be coming, and that their older siblings would be joining them too.

I’m just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of learning to manage change for my children, while they’re too young to manage it for themselves, but simply having identified it as an issue feels just a little bit freeing.

Most toddlers’ defiant behaviour will pass one day – but our boys will always carry their past with them – and this may present in a variety of different unhealthy behaviours as they grow up.

Our boys will grow out of being toddlers. They will start to get better at articulating how they feel instead of pushing or throwing, they will start to be easier to reason with, and they will stop being so bothered by the coat-and-shoes routine required for leaving the house.

But they cannot shake off their past so easily. The anxiety, the insecurity, the sadness, the anger – I hope all of this reduces as they grow older, but it’s unlikely to disappear altogether. As an older, wiser adopter once told me about her own grown-up adopted children, “They will always be vulnerable”. And, hence, we are prepared that this past may manifest itself in negative behaviours as our boys grow up – not the pushing and shoving of toddlers, but the withdrawal, sullenness, aggression and unhealthy addictions of teenagers.

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I write these things not to scare you or upset you or make you feel incredibly sorry for me, but to give you a little insight into some of the challenges of adoption. In fact, I think I usually write about adoption in very positive terms (take a look at my adoption posts here), so this is written simply to balance things out. It is hard work – but it is Kingdom work, I’m sure of it, and it is this that spurs us on when things get tough:

God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.

Psalm 68:6

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#shetoo – can i protect my daughter from being a victim?

Like many of you, I have watched the #metoo hashtag go viral on social media this week. I haven’t posted publicly about my feelings towards what I’ve read, but it has occupied my mind more often than not.

As one of the – alarmingly few, it would appear – women who hasn’t experienced sexual harassment or abuse in her lifetime, reading about such events in the lives of my friends – even when they’ve simply written “#metoo”, without wishing to go into the sordid details behind that simple phrase – has moved and discomforted me. I feel naive and stupid. Why was I not aware that this was so widespread?

Of course I’m not naive and stupid – I’m simply part of a generation of women who have covered up, made excuses, assumed that they must be partly responsible for the behaviour of the men around them. Friends sharing their experiences now on social media would not have done so to me when it happened because they would have assumed it wasn’t worth sharing, wasn’t as bad as it seemed, that it was somehow (at least in part) their faultThey didn’t want to make a fuss.

And this scares me.

It doesn’t so much scare me for me – but it scares me for my daughter. Can I protect her from being a victim?

The short, and sad, answer is no. Much as we would like to, none of us parents can protect our children from the effects of sin in our world. Our children will have many ills performed and spoken against them during their lives – some to do with gender, some not. They will suffer at the hands of those they study with, work with, live with, marry. They will be hurt by those they care about. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about that.

I cannot protect my daughter from being a victim, because the sin of abuse lies with the perpetrator, not the sufferer.

But are there ways I can educate her, raise her, so that – should she experience such behaviour in the future – she will know exactly what to do? And are there ways I can raise my sons to respect women, to fight for equality and kindness, to recognise and stand up to abuse?

As I was pondering these things, I read this tweet:

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It resonated with me. Yes, let’s raise our sons to be allies. But you know what? Let’s raise our daughters to be allies too. Some thoughts have come my way in the last 24 hours about how to do this – not a definitive list, just some thoughts. (I’d be delighted for you to add your own in the comments below.)

Respect starts with the basics. I’m regularly amazed by how blase us parents can be with regards to teaching our kids respect. It’s as if we think there’s some magic age at which it starts. WRONG. Like everything we teach our kids, it has to start from birth. When a kid pushes another kid at a toddler group, and the parent says nothing, I’m worried for that kid. When a parent makes excuses for his/her child’s attitude in class, I’m worried for that kid. When a parent doesn’t model manners to his/her kid, I’m worried for that kid.

Now maybe you think there’s little to connect childhood bolshiness with adult harassment. Allow me to disagree. When we teach our kids to say please, thank you and sorry (even if it was an accident), when we encourage respect towards other children and adults, when we encourage them to think positively and to comment positively on their situation, we are pushing back the gender-focussed language we might otherwise, albeit unwittingly, encourage them into (boys are tough, girls are beautiful – that kind of rubbish). We are saying to both our boys and our girls, “Those around you are equal in value to you. You need to respect them. You need to expect respect from others. You can be grateful for the good friends in your life. You can revel in the beauty of your surroundings, rather than comment or act negatively. Life is precious.”

On the other hand, us humans are naturally sinful – we are naturally prone to bad thoughts, bad actions, bad motives. If we don’t take a handle on our children’s attitudes when they’re young, encouraging them to self-regulate their emotions and think of others, we are allowing them to be overwhelmed by any negative influence around them – a friend who treats women as objects; a boss who speaks disparagingly of a gay employee; a wife who gossips about other women. Basic respect is not everything – but it’s an excellent start.

Teach the importance of friendship

This is a tricky one, as we’re not usually around when our children are making and forging friendships. But we can sow the seeds by teaching the importance of friendship, and encouraging it to blossom before our kids start school, when we’re around a lot more for them and can help teach them how to make friends. And – for those of us who do this kind of thing – we can pray that our children will make good friends (both ‘good’ in terms of influence, and ‘good’ as in ‘close’).

The important bit about this is that, should our children (daughters or sons) ever experience untoward behaviour from another, their instinct should be to talk to someone – and having a bunch of understanding friends around will be critical. We won’t always be their first port of call. They need their friends – and their friends need them. Let’s teach our children to listen to their friends and take their concerns seriously too.

Over-drinking leaves us vulnerable

This is a sensitive one, so please hear me out. Some – not all – cases of harassment/abuse stem from drinking. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions and weakens our defences. If a girl is harassed/abused when she is under the influence of alcohol, it is still abuse – no doubt. And it is not any more her fault than if it had happened when she were sober – no doubt. But it is harder to spot, harder to remember, harder to make a statement, harder to convict the offender – and, therefore, I want to teach my children the dangers of over-drinking. There is a reason why Paul commands us not to get drunk on wine but to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) – and that is because the Holy Spirit heightens our sensitivity, whereas alcohol dulls it.

I’m not saying that if you’re tee-total you’re never going to be a victim of sexual harassment. I’m saying that if you’re not heavily under the influence of alcohol, you’re going to be able to think more clearly. In some cases, yes, this might mean the ability to pre-empt – and move away from – a situation where you’re feeling increasingly uncomfortable. In other cases, it might mean that having a clear head means that you’re in no doubt about what happened that night, whose fault it was, and you’re able to go straight to the police to make a statement.

And, in case it wasn’t clear, this will be what I teach my daughter and my sons. They all need to be responsible. Alcohol makes us act inappropriately on impulses which might be dodgy in the first place. Alcohol makes us less capable of supporting our friends on a night out.

Of course there will be the contingent who respond to this with, “You can’t tell people not to get drunk!” to which my response is I’d rather my kids were sober and clear-headed than drunk and victimised. And, if it really bothers you, get drunk in your own home. But when out with strangers? I hope I can teach my children how to know their limits when it comes to alcohol.

Communication lines need to stay open – especially when it comes to sex

Whatever we teach our children about sex, we need to make it very clear that we are open, and non-judgemental, and will not be shocked by anything our children tell us. I have little experience in this area, having not hit puberty with any of our kids yet, but I would like to think that, despite what my husband and I teach our children about sex (that it is designed for lifelong marital commitment), we will be able to communicate to them that we respect their decisions when it comes to sex and relationships, even if they differ to our own views. We will be teaching about consent, about what is OK and what is not OK. We will teach them that if something happens that is not OK, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way, they need to tell someone immediately. Not jump to an allegation, of course, but tell someone who will be able to advise on whether further action is needed.

Going hand in hand with this is teaching both our sons and our daughter what constitutes showing interest in someone they like. I honestly believe that some teenage girls are harassed by boys who simply don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know how to communicate verbally that they like a girl, and wrongly think that grabbing a boob will instantly make the girl feel valued and loved. Of course this is harassment – but some boys don’t know any better because they haven’t been taught. Which brings me to my next point…

Model what it is to give and receive love.

Are you physically affectionate with your kids? Can you show your love with words? Do you give them quality time? Can you demonstrate how much you love them by what you do for them? Or with small gifts?

The chances are that we don’t all match up in all those areas. I certainly don’t! But making sure our children not only feel loved, but are able to show love in appropriate ways is just so important. As they grow into adults, they need to feel comfortable with the concept of love – both platonic and romantic – and when/how it is appropriate to show love. If we never show our children physical affection, for example, they may crave it from inappropriate people in unhealthy ways.

It also feels important to me that my kids are able to love a variety of different important people in their lives, to understand how the love for a parent, for example, differs from the love for a grandparent. Or how love for a sibling differs from love for a friend. Do we allow and encourage our children to build strong, loving relationships with each other? I know this is hard work – siblings love to bicker! – but are we reminding our kids that actually, deep down, they are called to love and serve each other?

In addition – are we modelling healthy, loving partnerships to our children? Those of us who are partnered with the parent of our children – are we demonstrating the equality, respect and support that we hope they will look for in their choice of partner? Those of us who are parenting on our own, are we teaching our children that our value doesn’t come from being in a romantic relationship? Those of us starting to date again, are we teaching our children how to pick a partner who respects and values us?

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My prayer is that my sons grow up to respect women for their inner beauty, showing love to those around them in healthy and appropriate ways. And that my daughter grows up with a secure sense of her own identity, and a rock-solid awareness of how she should and shouldn’t be treated.

But my prayer is more than that, actually. It is that my sons would also have a secure sense of their own identity – which means that they never need to walk over others in order to pursue their dreams, nor that they allow others to walk over them. My prayer is also that my daughter grows up to respect men, able to love them for who they are, and not just pursue them for romantic gain.

To all those who’ve bravely shared the #metoo hashtag, thank you. I pray that your bravery will ensure that things are different for the next generation.

what we want for our kids: gender equality

This blog post is part of a series, considering what we want for our kids. If you haven’t read the previous posts, then please click here for the first post, which will take you to the others, as what follows will make more sense in context.

Oh, and here’s a disclaimer (I could have written a few): this is not a complete theology of gender! It is deliberately and unashamedly focused on how we as Christians raise our children to promote gender equality.

This is perhaps the most sensitive of the three ‘sub-heading’ topics I’ve written after the seemingly controversial post about whether it was OK for my daughter to aspire to being a mum. I decided it was wise to break that one down into the three areas I felt were potential sticking points: status, financial security, and now gender equality. And, let’s face it, most of us get more than a little bristly at the thought of women being expected to fulfil stereotyped roles, so it was no surprise that, at face value, my words were challenged. But as Christian parents, how should we aspire to, and encourage, gender equality in our children? What is the basis of this equality? And what does it look like in practice?

1) Gender inequality is an outcome of the Fall. Sexism can work both ways, but as the issue usually involves the dominance of men over women, it is this that I’m going to focus on. And the fact that there has been such dominance throughout history should come as no surprise to any Bible-believing Christian:

To the woman he said,

“…Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”(Genesis 3:16)

In other words, gender inequality is not ‘just because’. It is a direct consequence of our sin. God designed us to live as equals, side by side, with a joint mission to accomplish (Genesis 2) but sin brought an inequality to the relationship between the genders that will never be resolved until the new heaven and new earth. And this was not just a curse on women. The suppression of women throughout history will have undoubtedly lost the world a whole host of strong female political leaders, breakthrough female scientists, wise female strategists and inspiring female artists – it is men, as well as women, who have suffered this loss, and therefore the curse is felt by both women and men.

2) The curse of gender inequality will always be present in our world. For every win of the feminist movement, there are a handful of ‘new’ and discriminatory practices taking root in all corners of the globe. Some are old practices recently brought to the attention of the media (FGM for example) – others are new. Twenty years ago the pay gap between men and women may have been larger – but at least women didn’t have to worry about social media trolls and increased online sexism based on how they looked or what they believed in. One demon is abolished, and another is birthed. It’s because, quite simply, gender inequality is a product of the Fall, a result of our sin – so, as long as humankind remains sinful, it will remain discriminatory.

3) The belief that gender inequality is part of living in a fallen world is both sobering and hopeful. Just because discrimination will remain till the end of this life doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight against it. On the contrary – because it is not of the Kingdom, therefore we do not subscribe to it. We have been saved, and life in the Kingdom starts NOW – so, just as we fight against poverty, war, racism, hatred and other results of the Fall, so we must also practise a different way when it comes to gender discrimination. We go about our lives as equals – and teach our children to do the same – challenging any discriminatory behaviour when we encounter it – not because of a secular feminist agenda, but because equality is a characteristic of God and His kingdom.

This is all well and good if it actually ‘works’ – but, of course, because we live in a gender-biased world, our children will be subject to all sorts of influences outside our control, and even we as ‘gender-aware’ parents probably imbibe some of the unhelpful gender-skewed culture around us without even realising. So how do we remove our blinkers and start to teach our children God’s way when it comes to gender? Here are two important perspectives which have been important to me while thinking through this issue:

  • Godly feminism is about who we are – i.e. children of God, rooted in Christ – not what we achieve. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Gal 3:28. Are we teaching our children that they are valuable, not because of gender or achievement or subversion of gender roles, but because they are made and loved by God? Realistically, it is highly unlikely that my daughter will ‘just’ be a mum when she hits adulthood – real life usually demands a salary of some sort, and besides, I have every belief that God has given her the most incredible gifts to contribute to wider society, as well as her own children (should she have them). But if my opinion of her is based on what she ‘achieves’ according to the world’s views, this doesn’t show her the God who loves her because of who she is. It also devalues the role of motherhood, every bit as important as fatherhood, and not something to campaign against just because there are ways in which some families and societies are ordered which do constitute a form of female suppression. Nowadays, investing in motherhood can be a true feminist option: a ‘right’, a ‘choice’ that many have the freedom to make to whatever extent they like. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – but, rather, let’s be willing to think creatively and boldly about family, work, vocation and the Kingdom of God. It may not look as we imagine.

 

  • Godly feminism is not about trying to get one over everybody else – and those of us who call ourselves Christians must resist a worldview of unhealthy competition and ladder-climbing. The Bible’s teaching on equality is radically different: it is that, rather than compete with one another, we all submit to one another. The problems come when this submission is not equal. The Biblical model is that women submit to men, men submit to women, and we all submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:21 says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.) The world says we reach equality when we strive to equal the achievements or status of the opposite sex – but the Bible says we reach equality when we self-sacrificially serve each other’s needs. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” This – not aspiring to be better than everyone else, but serving each other’s needs – is how true equality is achieved, and will be achieved in the new heaven and new earth. Are we teaching our children to respect others, of all genders and backgrounds? Are we teaching them to serve sacrificially and without reward? Are we teaching them not to think less of themselves, but to think of themselves less?

Drawing these perspectives together, we see that the Biblical model of gender equality is based on healthy amounts of self-worth and humility. A distortion of the former leads to oppression of others – a distortion of the latter leads to being oppressed by others. Neither results in equality.

As Christians, we have a unique basis for these two qualities. We have self-worth through knowing that God made us, that He has entrusted us with caring for the world, that He so desperately wants a relationship with us that He sacrificed His only son in order that we could enjoy life with Him forever. We have humility because, in light of these truths, we realise that our skills and knowledge, our passion and vision, are so small in comparison to the God who gave us life. And we are aware of all the ways in which we hurt this God, this ever-loving, slow-to-anger Father – how we don’t deserve to sit in His presence, yet are able to do so through grace alone.

So, in light of this, with regards to our parenting:

1) Let’s affirm our children’s self-worth as much as possible. Christian parents, this is an easy job if you’re reading the Bible with your kids, as there’s so much packed in there about our identity being in Christ. We are so totally precious and loved by God that our gender is not even a consideration when totting up our value. When my kids do things that make me proud – winning ‘Star of the Week’ or getting full marks on a spelling test – I praise them, but always make a point of telling them that even if they were the worst behaved that week, or got 0 on their test, I would still love them just as much. It’s a little crass, and I always cringe as I say it, but I’d rather do crass than raise children who associate their value with their achievement.

There is plenty of gender discrimination in the world and, sadly, in the church – but I think much of it stems from how women are seen and treated in their families. A woman who has a secure base – parents and/or a husband/partner who believe in her – will find it easier to overcome discriminatory obstacles in everyday life and in the workplace. Raise your girls (and your boys) to be confident in the abilities God has given them. And raise your sons (and your daughters) to honour the gifts God has given to the women (men) around them. If you’re married, model a positive relationship of mutual respect and division of labour – your children will model their future households on this. Show your children how they deserve to be treated – and show them to recognise signs of ill-treatment.

2) Let’s encourage humility in our kids when relating to others – and let’s model it ourselves. We often think that we need to raise our girls up to believe they can do anything – but it’s equally important to raise our boys to understand what it might mean for them to allow girls to do anything – a stepping aside, a demotion, a position which holds little ‘status’ in the world’s eyes. Far from the arrogance and ladder-climbing we see in misogynistic cultures (and, occasionally, in some secular feminist writings too), teach your boys and your girls to follow Christ’s example, “who, 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…” (Philippians 2:6-7).

The most humble person in history was a man – Jesus Christ – and, if we look to him, we will find enough self-worth and humility to serve one another as equals. I relish the day when gender discrimination will be a thing of the past – but, for now, let’s be encouraged by the work of the Holy Spirit in us and our children, shaping us to be more like Jesus, who stood for equality right up to death.

 

For the first time in five years of writing this blog, I’ve received editorial help from another, so feel it only right that I should credit her here. Thank you, wonderful friend, for reading this through, for your gracious comments and wise alterations, and for articulating on my behalf where I was getting tangled in knots.

 

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.

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!

Find the next post in the series here.

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 and the next post can be found here. Please share it on your social media channels if you’ve found it helpful. Ta!

when the waters recede: who will still show up?

Recently my beautiful city flooded. There are two rivers here in York – the Ouse floods every year, sometimes several times, but, because the city is built for this, with nearby housing designed on the first floor upwards, the damage is limited. This time, the floods were so bad that the flood barrier had to be raised in order to let out some of the Ouse’s water into the Foss. This is the river near us and, whilst we are fortunately high enough above the river not to be affected, several friends had to evacuate their homes, with damage which will take several costly months to repair.

We were away at the time, and could only sympathise from afar via social media. As news of the events unfolded on local Facebook groups, it became apparent that a mammoth volunteering force was springing up – locals from all over the city (and non-locals from all over the country) were jumping to the aid of those they didn’t know: donating cleaning supplies, baby essentials, food and furniture; cooking and delivering hot meals to volunteers, the emergency services and the army; coordinating drop-off points, collections and deliveries. It was, by all accounts, an incredible example of the desire deep inside us to be generous, kind, sacrificial.

One guy posted on Facebook something which stuck with me. The gist was that his Christmas hadn’t turned out the way he’d expected – he’d ended up helping out in the donation centres – but that this had been the highlight of his Christmas, being able to help, and seeing so many others prepared to give of their time, energy, money and possessions.

It wasn’t a surprise to me that he felt more fulfilled helping others than indulging in chocolate or wine or whatever he might have been doing on Christmas Day. We’re designed to live in community, which means that we each have a desire to help those around us. Of all the ways we could spend our time, helping others is something which never disappoints, never leaves us dissatisfied. I’m not sure we will ever reach our full potential if we’re not actively engaged in serving those around us – it’s part of who we were designed to be.

One of the glossier round-robins we received at Christmas left me a little uncomfortable. For a few days, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was – and then the penny dropped: there was no mention of any activity designed to serve someone else’s needs. There were paid jobs, and there were indulgent hobbies – and that was it.

I’m not going to pretend that it is pure altruism which motivates people to give voluntarily of their time and energy, although of course that is a big part of it. Actually, people who spend some of their time volunteering have recognised that something in us lights up when we serve others. We’re made to do it, and when we do it we discover a little more of the people we were designed to be.

Friends, York is in need 24-7, 365 days of the year – and your locality is too. There are people who are addicted to all sorts of things, living right near where you live. Families are breaking down. People are living on the streets, or in carpet-less council flats, with barely enough money to feed their families. Pushing back evil with good is necessary all year round.

However, the good news for stressed-out parents, busy career types, elderly folk with declining energy levels, is that we don’t have to do this in our own strength. We don’t even ‘have’ to do anything. The battle is won, God is victorious – we simply show up and take part on the winning side. The question is: where are you showing up? Are you showing up at a toddler group each week, which could do with a hand welcoming new people or clearing up afterwards? Are you showing up at a school gate, where some of the parents are going through hell and need your listening ear? Are you showing up at a lunch for older folk who really need to know something of God’s hope? Are you showing up at work, where colleagues need to know their work is valued and respected?

Or are you just showing up and going home?

I know I said 2016 was not about resolutions (actually I’ve been a hypocrite and made one – more on that later) BUT perhaps it should be the year for Showing Up – proper eyes-open, ears-alert, hands-ready Showing Up. Who knows where God will take us?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)