what i learned, parenting resources, reading

This fall has been full, and I’ve got a long list of lessons learned to go with it:

1.) I need help with parenting.

Yep, this is where I am. I feel like I did when I first became a mom, desperate to get my hands on resources that can tell me how to do this thing. Back then, I remember thinking that surely by a decade or so in, I’d become one of those experienced moms who knew what they were doing. But now? You certainly figure out many things that work for your family and there’s a period of mostly walking in what you know instead of trying to consult all of the experts all the time; but really, we’re all just first-time moms of whatever stage our firstborn is in, and right now that stage – the pre-teen years – are kicking my tail. Combine that with parenting four kids through a whole lot of life transition, and I’ve been humbled and often overwhelmed by the calling of motherhood. It’s beautiful and exhausting all at the same time.

That internet, it can be such a pain. Telling us what we’re doing wrong. Setting some high standards, tricking us into thinking our performance is where our identity is found. Urging us to make unfair comparisons. But with discerning hearts and focused vision, that internet can be full of helpful ideas, and I’m feeling pretty blessed lately by the resources it’s led me to. A quick list of its gems I’ve found timely for parenting in this season:

  • This God-centered Mom podcast episode (#141) on Raising Girls. It’s so good, and it grew my books-to-read list even more. I’ll have to get on those reading recommendations she gives. I especially like the part about teaching our daughters to be gracious friends while also setting healthy boundaries: “Strong and Kind” as both a guiding light and a practical tool of phraseology for operating in friendship that blesses.
  • Celebrate Calm has developed a list of phrases you can use to help diffuse anger when addressing issues with your kids. Sometimes it helps the kids with their anger, but most of the time it helps me get a handle on mine. I also discovered this ministry from a God-Centered Mom podcast episode (#139) and I highly recommend listening to it before reading through the phrases. There’s something powerful about hearing these phrases said out loud, and you’ll get a better idea of the reasoning behind them.
  • Nonsense at its Finest is a blog I recently discovered, written by a lady I just love learning from. Check out her recent series where she shared pieces of her parenting perspective each day in October. I appreciated her opinions on the best timing for conversations with our kids, and I know I need practice discerning the right moments for serious talks and when it’s best to keep it light. My favorite posts from that series: Don’t Be the First One to Stop, Stop Talking, and Parent Small.
  • Cleaning House: One Mom’s Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. I finally finished reading this book I mentioned recently on Instagram, gleaning a few practical ideas for helping the kids take on more responsibility – something I don’t teach well. I feel inspired to have them practice areas of work they’re not used (like cooking dinner together), and the author’s perspective encouraged me that the kids’ attitudes in the work aren’t my primary goal. This endeavor is a journey that will last a long time, and I just need to give them opportunities to learn and practice work and then leave their hearts up to the Lord to change. It’s more important that they become capable, unselfish adults than it is for them to react with joy in their hearts right now every time I ask them to complete a task. Now that I think about it, “think long-term” is probably the perspective I need for all of the parenting things.

2.) Choosing a new church home is a lot harder than I expected.

It hasn’t been a simple decision for us, and while I think we’re close to knowing for sure which community of faith is meant to be our home here in Dallas, I’m beyond ready to commit to a church family and invest our time, gifts, lives into lives of other people who love Jesus too. We need that community. Remembering what it’s like to be new somewhere, I’ve learned a lot about how to welcome new people. Though it’s never just on one side to initiate (even as newcomers, we have to participate in building community), the impact is huge when the present community is willing to move towards the new people. Saying you want to get together and then following through with an actual invite is crazy-encouraging to the people desperately craving Christian community. These are simple things that I already knew but have certainly failed to do before. It’s just fresh on my mind now that I’m the person on the outside. I don’t want to forget this later when I get more comfortable.

3.) Reading really is my favorite.

My love affair with reading has been reignited this past year. Moving to a new city and waiting to make friends will do that to ya. In the hard transition times, books become your friends. And the podcast What Should I Read Next? has given me all the recommendations and book talk I crave. I’ve read more books this year than I’ve ever accomplished in a year, and the addiction is strong. This was me as a kid; it’s just that the busyness of adult life squeezed out the habit, but now that I’ve learned to carve out time again for reading, I can’t imagine going back. It’s impossible to shut my brain down for sleep at night without reading at least a chapter of a book, and I love it! This Gospel Coalition article says perfectly what I feel (plus more) about the importance of reading fiction. Now I’ve just got to plan that book club I’ve been meaning to start, and finish setting my 2017 reading goals.  (Hmm….could a reading coach be a real job? I’m not sure, but maybe this could be a thing??)

4.) I’ve finally figured out how to grocery shop in this city.

My best bet for saving both time and money in my grocery shopping combines monthly curbside pickup at Walmart and quick in-between trips at Trader Joe’s and my neighborhood Kroger. I’d also like to try Aldi again. I was a little unsure of how to shop the right things there, but I’ve been researching and I think I have a better idea of how to tackle that strange store! Not the typical material I write about on this blog, but it’s definitely been life-changing to figure all of this out.

5.) I’m ready to celebrate Christmas – simple and guilt-free and the way it works for our family.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Advent and praying about how to warm our kids’ hearts to the True Story of Christmas, and we’re finally gaining clarity on how the Estes family will approach Advent this year. For four out of the last five Christmases, we’ve had an infant or one year old, which forced us to simplify our activity and examine whether our Advent reflected the gospel or an accomplishment-driven mindset. The baby years have never been seasons of high energy and performance for me. Actually, it was impossible to get done all the things I used to think a good mom did for her family at Christmastime. Daily family Advent activities went out the window, as did the baking and fun outings. All I did was survive.

But God taught me in those seasons that serving the little ones in our home was the most worshipful Christmas response I could give him (because that’s where he asked me to be), and I had to accept being called to live out Christmas spirit in ways I hadn’t planned, in much simpler and harder ways than I wanted to. I had to learn it spending Christmas Day in the hospital with our son Lincoln the first December we fostered him. I got to practice it again in a tired, sleepless December, parenting someone else’s tiny new baby while my heart hurt like crazy. Don’t think that I always offered this up in a worshipful attitude. I struggled, wishing I could provide a more Pinterest-worthy holiday atmosphere and do all the fun, sparkly things I preferred. But over time, I understood that serving out of my brokenness brought a lot more joy than fighting it to accomplish the tasks the world told me were important.

Recalling these memories, I want to embrace the gift of this season, investing its slightly increased energy level and breathing room into creating fun opportunities for my family, adorning my home with Christmas cheer, and intentionally teaching the Story of Christmas in a consistent way. However, those simpler past Christmases remind me that remaining flexible is key, as God could, at any point he wills, ask me to live out Advent in a different way. Whether your season calls for doing less or doing more, the gift of the Savior’s birth makes all the difference for both.

What have you been learning lately?