Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Public Mummy

Well, my recent comment about being an Angry Mummy, resonated with a few people (glad I wasn't alone on that one!).

This weekend I was able to think a little more about another aspect of mothering.

We were away this weekend with the young-adults congregation that my husband ministers to. It is the only time each year we spend time with this congregation together as a family - as the children & I do not attend the 7pm congregation on a Sunday night.

It is a weekend of potential high-stress: my kids hyped up, surrounded by adults who like them but do not generally much spend time with children, different food, different beds, Dad is present but not really able to play with them, etc. And this particular weekend, a lot of rain, preventing most fun activities.

However, I was surprised to find myself quite calm throughout the weekend and feeling relatively under control. Part of it is also because I went into the weekend knowing what to expect, knowing that I was managing most things with the kids, because it was work for Husband - so I knew the routine. But I do think it was more than that.

Which got me thinking - was I ensuring I was coping well because I was being watched? There were about 70 pairs of eyes watching us parent all weekend, so I was extremely unlikely to let myself become 'Angry Mummy' or any other bad connotation of her.

Now, if being 'seen' makes me a better mother, I will go out more! However, it's much more than that isn't it? Our Heavenly Father sees us always, and knows all of our thoughts and desires - good or evil. If I can be a better parent because a lot of 20-25 year olds are watching me, surely I should be a better parent daily, knowing that my Father in heaven watches too.

I am humbly reminded of Jesus' words in Matthew 6, talking about prayer, fasting and acts of righteousness:
6:1 "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven... [Jesus goes on to say, do them secretly]... 4b Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Let us all be parents who honour God in our public and our private parenting.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Treasuring God in Our Traditions

Book Review: Treasuring God in Our Traditions, Noel Piper

As we continue more and more on this parenting route, I am becoming a big fan of traditions. If you have been reading for a while, you will know that our family has established traditions for Christmas and Easter in order to ensure that we are actually celebrating Christ in both, rather than being dragged along by the 'traditions' of the world. These include reading bible accounts, doing activities, listening to music and just having fun learning more about Jesus and what he has done for us. Similarly, we also have traditions that have built up around other events: on your birthday you wake up to the family room decorated with streamers and balloons, we have pancakes for breakfast and you get to choose the evening meal.

This book by Noel Piper is a helpful way to think about why to have traditions in your home and what types of things you could consider doing. Noel starts off by talking about traditions and how we need to ensure we can explain why we do them - for 'because we do' is not an answer! She refers to Moses in Ex 12, when he says to parents that they must be able to explain the Passover to their children when they ask why it is celebrated:

Moses assumes children will ask why. And he instructs parents to give an answer that speaks of reality. This instruction is all in the context of laying out for children ceremonies that will portray the answer. He is giving them the answer, both spoken and displayed. And the answer is God - God saved us, and we honour him, worship him, thank him. We and our children need this kind of yearly repetition to impress us with the weight of what God has done. (p17)

What a helpful thing to remember when we think about the events we celebrate throughout the year and the traditions we want to develop. We want to be able to explain things, especially the things of God, in order to show who he is and what he has done for us. This was helpful to us this last Easter, as my 6 and 4-year olds understood that Easter for most people means chocolate. When they stated that they too would get lots of chocolate, I asked them "why?". Of course, they had no answer. I even pressed my 6-year old - "What does chocolate have to do with Easter?" Again, no answer. Now in the end, there was some chocolate around the house, which they enjoyed. But I am pretty confident that by the end of the Easter weekend they knew that this was the weekend that we celebrate that Jesus had died on the cross for their sins and was now alive again in heaven - and they also had a great time learning about it through the traditions we were establishing.

Noel had some definitions of tradition, 2 of which I quite liked:

1. Tradition is a planned habit with significance.

2. For a Christian, tradition is laying up God's words in our own hearts and passing his words on to the next generation.

She makes the helpful point, that "We are always teaching our children, whether we mean to or not. Our children come to believe, probably unconsciously, that whatever is repeated regularly has significance." (p34) & that "we must plan to reflect God and teach about Christ in the repeated events of our lives" (p35). I found this first quote especially helpful and a little challenging. If children come to see repeated behaviour as having significance, what else do they notice us doing and consider important. Is it that Mummy spends more time on her computer than talking to them? Is it that Daddy watches sport on television rather than playing with them himself? Is it that Grandpa always asks what grades they get? Is it that Mum & Dad always talk about money and how much things cost? Not only are traditions the things our children are noticing, but everything we do. They are learning our own values as we live them out. It does us well to remember that little eyes are watching, little ears listening and little minds remembering all the time!

For the remaining chapters of the book, Noel outlines various aspects of life and the traditions that could be associated with them. Here are some:

1. Chapter 5 - 'Everyday' and the Ultimate - talks about traditions which happen (should/could happen...) daily. These include praying at mealtimes, praying as a family and as a couple, reading God's word as a church, & going to church weekly. It's a helpful chapter, but I found myself wondering how to start. We do not all read the bible together as a family, and we have not up to now, because we have always figured that at least one child is still too young. We read the bible with each child individually and pray with them before bedtime each night. I would like to get into the 'family devotion' pattern, but we have not managed to do it yet.

One idea that was very helpful is that each child had their list of things to do each morning (brush teeth, etc) and then each also had 'Bible Time' where they would have 15 mins on their own to either read their bible, look at bible storybook or listen to a tape. I really liked this idea - it sets a pattern early, and as Noel says: "It only takes a few seconds of thought to realise that it is smarter to get a three year-old started with good lifetime habits that to spring a new regime on a teenager." (p46)

2. Ch 7 - 'Especially' traditions - here Noel talks about birthdays, weddings and funerals. And another special day, which I loved the idea of, although not relevant for our family - 'gotcha day' - celebrating the day a child was adopted or perhaps fostered - what a lovely way for a child to know that they are loved.

3. Ch 8 - Especially Christmas - this was a helpful collection of suggestions for how to celebrate Christmas. To be honest, I am reasonably happy with the Christmas traditions our family has, but I will read this chapter again in November to think about it some more. She does give a helpful explanation of why they chose not to have Santa, which are pretty similar to reasons to our reasons, which I have previously talked about.

4. Ch 9 - Especially Easter - I found this chapter very helpful this year. Thinking about Easter was the main reason I read this book ahead of the pile of others on my shelf, and I was glad I did, because she had some good ideas, ranging from how to think about fasting in Lent, to having a resurrection tree (like a Christmas Jesse tree) and how to celebrate Easter week itself. I incorporated a number of these ideas into some of our Easter celebrations this year and plan to do even more of them next year.

Some of my hesitations about this book were:

1. It could seem awfully daunting to one starting from scratch. Like any book on this topic, one can be overwhelmed and feel inadequate by what your family does not do, or what her family does do. I suspect she is summing up decades of traditions in one book, which is certainly worth remembering when life seems a little hard.

2. It seemed very 'Piper-specific' - she has written a book about what her family does, which is a great resource. They are obviously a family that is creative with words, John Piper writes a poem (a good one!) to each of his children for their birthday, he seems to be the more expressive one. I think for myself it would be unhelpful for me to compare their family dynamics with my own, and I could not assume that what works for their family would also work for mine. I just thought if she had included some ideas of what some other families do, there could have been more suggestions which may have covered different types of families. You have to be able to read it with your own family in mind and think about what will work for them. Perhaps you all sing and play music together, or maybe special time centre around family cricket games in the backyard, or maybe movie nights with popcorn...

3. The final appendix (written by John & Noel) sat uneasily with me, although there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. They are of the opinion that all children, from about the age of 4 can learn to sit quietly with their parents throughout a church service and should be doing so. It seems, if I read it correctly, that their children did not go to a children's program, but rather sat in church with them. I may be mis-understanding the way their church runs (perhaps the children's program runs at another time?). When I look at our church though, I cannot imagine not sending the children out to the program - it is a great program, led by wonderful people with good material - why would I not want them to benefit from that? I understand their point about the value of worshipping together as a family, and how it is easier to teach these things to children when they are young than when they are older. And I do wonder if my strong hesitation is purely because I cannot stand the thought of dealing with wiggly, whinging children in every service. Perhaps though, if you don't set the goals high, you never reach them!

I am pretty sure that the Equip Book Club are planning to look at this book later in the year, and I will be interested to read the posts and the comments and see what others think. It could be a great forum for sharing traditions & ideas with each other!

By the way, this book can be downloaded for free at this site.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Now That You're Engaged (& if you are married)

Book Review: Now That You're Engaged, H Norman Wright

As I've mentioned before, we do marriage preparation with a number of couples and this year I'm reading a few of the more recently published books on marriage and engagement. Ours are all more than a decade old now and I can't remember any of them anyway

I really liked this book. I guess if you read a book preparing couples for marriage 10 years after your own marriage and still get lots out of it - it is a winner. Therefore, this book is for marrieds too. You can still learn from it if you are already married.

He structures the books around the idea of commitment - highly relevant for approaching marriage.
"Your level of commitment is the most vital factor in determining the success or failure of your relationship."
 Each chapter deals with a particular focus, for example:

  • commitment to be free from the past 
  • commitment to change
  • commitment to love
  • commitment to evaluate expectations and develop goals
  • commitment to making wise decisions
  • commitment to listen
  • commitment to resolve conflicts
  • commit yourself to control anger
  • commitment to build positive in-law relationships
  • commitment to forgive and pray together

Some of the more helpful things this book contained were (be prepared, there are lots!!):

1. The Commitment to be free from the past chapter covered a lot of 'family of origin' issues. He includes a questionnaire, encouraging each to think through the details of their relationship with their mother and father, and how it has shaped them. This was a helpful resource, both for personal reflection and also to enable an engaged couple to talk through some of the family background issues that each has.

2. The Commitment to Love chapter. He challenges each to be able to answer the following 3 questions:
i. Why is this the right time to marry?
ii. List 10-12 reasons why you want to marry this person.
iii. Describe why you love them and the type of love you have.

It sounds dry and a bit contrived, but it's not a bad idea. If you can't articulate why you want to marry now and marry this person, that should at least make you pause. Having said that I can't imagine if I had been asked these questions prior to marrying Husband that I would have come up with an especially coherent reply.

He provides a helpful list of character traits that we should look to remove and what we should replace them with, eg. put off pride and put on humility, put of ingratitude and put on thankfulness. Each includes bible references. I intend to type it up for myself - it's a list of character traits all of us should desire, married or not.

This chapter includes 10 things to check whether you really love each other. eg. Do you respect each other? Have you spent enough time together? (eg summered and wintered together). Are you growing as Christians together? This chapter had a number of helpful practical tools.

3. In the chapters on Change and Understanding Yourself, Wright talks about some of the different stages of life that many couples face and starts a couple thinking about how they may deal with those times.

4. The Commitment to build positive in-law relationships chapter was also helpful and wise. You should treat your in-laws the way you treat your friends (in Australia it might be wise to add - with a bit more respect though). He encourages couples to think about what issues their parents are facing at any given time. Much tension can be relieved when each understands the other's fears and worries.

5. The most helpful chapter for me was the Commit Yourself to Control Anger. For me it is not  related to marriage issues, but rather parenting ones. I have commented on that in another post here. However, this is a helpful chapter for anyone dealing with anger issues.

6. The Commitment to Evaluate Expectations and Develop Goals chapter covered how we can often have unrealistic and unfulfilled expectations in marriage, how to be aware of them becoming issues and how to talk about them, being honest and willing to change. As dear Husband has said to me throughout our marriage "I cannot read minds" - therefore if I have an expectation of him, I have to actually say it, not expect him to guess. It took me years to realise he was right.

There are many other positive things I could say about this book. Of course I had some hesitations with it, as with almost anything. However, it's a book worth having, for engaged couples and those who are newly married. I suspect it is worthwhile for those of us who have been married a little longer too, however, since the two books for engaged couples by Wright that I have now read have been so good, I will perhaps venture next into some of his books for marrieds.

Update in 2020
After a re-read of this 11 years later, it is still a helpful and solid book, but it's feeling a bit outdated now, and seems at times a bit more complicated that it needs to be. I think he overplays the different types of love (agape, eros, philios). The chapter on a commitment to control anger probably needs more comments about when to withdraw for safety and when professional help with managing anger might be needed. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

Angry mummy

I have been reading a book of late (on preparing for marriage of all things*) and came across a chapter on anger, entitled Commit Yourself to Control Anger.

I never would have (prior to children) considered myself an angry person. But I have certainly found, that since having children, I can get angry. Not hitting angry, but certainly yelling angry. I do not want to be an angry mum and I do not want to be a yelling mum - but there are times when I feel sorely tested in this area.

What I read in this chapter sounded at me like a trumpet call.

Who makes you angry? You do! Situations and other people cannot make you angry... You create your own anger. (p198)

What happens outside of us - external events - do not make us angry. Our thoughts do, whether they are automatic thoughts or ones we choose to think. Realising that you are responsible for your anger is to your advantage. You have an opportunity to take control of your thoughts and your emotions. In most situations, your anger will work against you and not for you. It can cripple you and make you quite ineffective. Anger can limit your capacity to discover creative solutions. If no real solution is available, at least you can free yourself from being dominated by the situation and give up resentment. Can joy, peace and contentment reside side-by-side with your anger? (p204-5)

I was struck dumb. The excuses that fill my mind "they are so disobedient", "but that behaviour is so annoying", "they should know better" - are only that - excuses to allow me to fuel my anger.

I must admit, I have felt truly chastened and repentant, as well as challenged. Challenged to stop myself becoming angry, and challenged to ensure that it is joy, peace and contentment that my children see in me daily. A challenge certainly, but a worthy one! I continue to pray that God may give me the grace to do so.

* The book is Now That You're Engaged, by H Norman Wright (I highly recommend it!)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Families and fathers...

In a fit of nostalgia this week, I recorded and watched Father of the Bride II. I have always loved these movies - both I & II.

I first saw Father of the Bride at the movies with my family when it was released in 1991. My sister and I were 14 and 15. For those who may not have seen it, it is the story of a father and how he 'manages' when his daughter becomes engaged and then married. It's a comedy with a reasonable amount of slapstick humour, but also has a lovely message. He loves his daughter, wants to ensure that this man is going to love her and care for her, and he is not sure he is ready to 'let her go'.

I still remember when the movie finished and my sister & I turned to our parents (having all enjoyed it) to realise that my father was moved to tears imagining us, his own daughters, growing up and marrying. Both of us were very touched at the time (and I still am whenever I think about it). In fact, we watched it again the night before my wedding, and felt the weight of it even more.

We happily saw the sequel in 1995. In the sequel the daughter is now pregnant, and so, unexpectedly, is his wife (as they approach their late forties). Again, lots of gag humour, but a lovely story. While it's a spanner in the works, new life is cherished even at this 'unexpected' stage of life.

As I watched II again last night, I realised why I like these movies so much. They have such a positive outlook on family. Here is a man, who cherishes his wife - "I love her as much as the day I married her" (he says) and he loves his children protectively and wants the best for them. And while much of the humour is based around his inability to cope with change, he is not cast as a useless man who gets nothing done. He is the man of the family and takes care of them all with love and dedication.

It's only 15+ years since these movies were made, but I cannot recall many movies since then like this. I presume this is a reflection of the times and what sells at the box office, but have you noticed that today:
  • Almost no movies portray healthy long-term marriages. Rarely do we see couples who have stuck together for decades through the ups and downs of life.

  • Similarly, rarely are families shown as being stable, loving and supportive, with a mutual care and love between the parents & children.

  • The father-figure these days is rarely a man of honour and strength with a desire to protect his family. Especially rarely is the depiction of a loving healthy relationship between a father and a daughter.

  • Most parents are maligned in the movies - the interfering mother wanting grandchildren, the absent father, the abusive parent, etc. There is rarely a parent illustrated that one would want as a role model.

  • These days unexpected pregnancies in movies all deal with the 'whether or not to keep the baby' question. Here it was just assumed and even though it would be hard, there was no question of continuing on with the pregnancy. (Which is very different I might add to recent similar themes in the Australian drama Packed to the Rafters, that may warrant a post another day!)
For me, in the end, the main reason I love these two movies is that it reminds me of my relationship with my parents and especially my father. While he is nothing like Steve Martin in this movie, my father loves my mother, cares for her deeply, and loves my sister & I very much. He has always wanted the best for all of us, and has done his best to provide it. And, now I have the privilege of seeing how he must have been with us as young children, as he plays with my children.

Let's have more positive role of models of families and fathers out there - we all benefit!

And thanks Dad - for everything.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Easter series #3

Ahh, the best laid plans of mice and men... sometimes all come to nothing!

I had planned to think a bit more about the Easter bunny, easter eggs, etc.

Here we are Easter Thursday, and I have pretty much run out of time!

(for those that care to know what I have been doing instead - I will summarise with the following equation: 3 children + 6 bible studies + 3 talks + 2 hands with unexplained pain = little time to blog!)

As a short, but perhaps not very sweet, summary - I am no fan of the Easter bunny. He appears to serve no purpose except to divert us from Jesus (perhaps he learnt the trick from Santa?). Nicole has done a helpful background to the Easter Bunny, which emphasises the uselessness of him!

We are using little eggs that open to look at our 'Preparing for Easter' things, and there is a good point that eggs can symbolise new life. Why they need to be chocolate is less certain!

Quite honestly, my problem with chocolate is much more practical - we do not need any more rubbish food in our house, and if we choose to have chocolate we have the quality stuff, not the cheap nasty stuff pretending to be chocolate! I don't think my children need anymore chocolate in their lives, so why do it? They are excited every day to open the egg and see which part of the Easter account we are reading for the day, I would much prefer to make that the focus rather than the treat.

We are planning to have our simple 'Passover' meal tonight, so I will blog about that and whatever else we ended up doing after the weekend.

I hope you all have an Easter that remembers Jesus' death and celebrates his resurrection for Christ indeed is risen!