When You Have to Get to Know Your Kids Again

IMG_2825

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in New York City while my family is still asleep. I just noticed the last time I published a post on Repurposed was March 20 — almost three months ago. When I grow up, I’d like to blog for a living. But I do believe living a purposeful life sometimes involves pressing “pause” on dreams, rolling up your sleeves, and living the life in front of you.

dreams
(J.K. Rowling)

We’ve been going hard for the past three months, and while I’d like to attribute my silence to our busy work/play/sports schedules, in reality my quiet season is due to something deeper than a crazy calendar. You see, we came up for breath the week of Spring Break, and I realized I hardly knew my kids anymore.

“The days are long, but the years are short,” my friend Jennifer cautions. Indeed. Where has the time gone? I felt like I was keeping up, soaking in every new stage of their childhood. I actually enjoy entering new stages, and I don’t grieve the passing of time. But somehow, this school year swept my son and daughter away and brought back a teen and almost-teen that hardly resemble the kids I’ve been raising the past several years.

It’s rather humbling. If you like control, this experience can really rock you. And if being the most amazing parent has been one of your goals, you have to wrestle with some deeply buried idols. You wake up in the midst of your kids’ middle school years and discover parenting is not about you at all.

Gone are the days when choosing your kids’ outfits tells the world what your sense of style is. Gone is the season when you plan a fun day of activity and everyone goes along with enthusiasm. (And the affirmation you give yourself vanishes, too.) Gone are the moments when you can predict what your child’s response will be. (This might be the hardest one to let go of, for when they surprise you with unforeseen preferences, you feel like you don’t know your kids as well as you used to. And that’s kind of scary. And sad.)

Back to the blogging silence… When you’re humbled and realize how little you know, you sort of don’t have much to say. We’ve all heard how listening is usually better than talking, and these new identities have given me reason to be quiet. I have way more listening to do because I’m getting to know my children again.

I recently attended my school’s Arts Extravaganza, and the choir sang the sweetest poem:
A wise old owl lived in an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard:
Why can’t we all be like that bird?
– Henry Hersey Richards

Um, yes. The more he saw the less he spoke; the less he spoke the more he heard. Their little voices sang this phrase over and over and this middle-aged mommy was quite convicted.

When you bring your kids through the elementary years, you talk a lot. At least I did. When I carry on this tradition with my middle schoolers, they don’t sit there like sponges anymore, waiting for my next insight. Instead, my words are met with stiffened backs and faces that silently say, “You’re not hearing me. You’re not even trying to listen.”

And they’re right.

“Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 esv

I used to read this verse through a me-centered lens, almost as a guarantee to cling to when the going gets rough. I wanted it to say: Train up your child in the way that will help her make respectable choices (spiritually and morally), and when she’s old, she’ll still be living that dream of yours for her life, making you look good.

But slowly, and sometimes reluctantly, I’m choosing to read it through another lens: Parent your child, accepting the way God designed him and helping him discover the story God has written for his life. And when he’s older, he’ll still be living a life of purpose, in sync with God’s plan from the beginning of time.

This refreshed interpretation, well, it’s a lot harder because I don’t get to work hard when I’m frustrated or irritated or down right angry. (Have you noticed we don’t sit idle when we’re angry?) It’s a difficult interpretation to swallow, for it calls me to trust and not do.

What would it look like if we listened more… not just to be polite or to avoid looking overbearing? What would it look like if we listened with the intention of learning and discovering and understanding?

Are you with me? As I parent a middle schooler and rising high schooler, I need to learn God’s story for my children’s lives. I must discover what they would have told me the past several months if I would’ve just stopped talking. And I absolutely have to understand what passions are there beyond those teenage faces staring back at me.

What about you? Who do you need to listen to more? What topics do you need to hold your tongue on for a while, with the intent of learning and discovering and understanding more? You might not be parenting teenagers, but I know you’re wrestling, too. It’s the world we live in — whether you’re trying to be intricately engaged with your local community, or you’re yearning to be a global citizen, or you’re somewhere in the middle.

Your active listening might need to take place in your workplace, or your yoga class, or as you research and write a book. For me, I’m simply going to start at home as I get reacquainted with my kids.

Trust.

IMG_2848There’s heaps of awesomeness about raising teenagers, too, like snapping this selfie at the top of the Empire State Building at 10:44pm.  🙂

Table Talk: A Little Parenting Advice

IMG_1593

We saw A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room with our kids last weekend. In short, the off-broadway play speaks to the dying culture of the upper-middle class WASP in the United States.

Numerous scenes unfold around the same dining room table, portraying different families who owned the house throughout the years. Their issues overlap and intertwine while touching on realities many wish were not true even today — controlling mothers, manipulation, comparison and choices made to keep up with others, strained conversations in which family members don’t feel safe, infidelity.

Sadly, the dining room is a place of irony. Boasting of potential dialogue and possible connection, it sometimes serves as just a hope for too many families to mention.

What culture have you created around your table?

In one scene, a woman and a craftsman are under the table, looking at how it’s constructed, surmising exactly what needs to be repaired.

Dare we look and examine, really examine, what needs to be repaired around our table?

What would my kids say if I asked them?

That scene uncovered a memory for me. It uncovered a question, too. My godfather, a hobby carpenter, built me a hope chest when I was a teen. If you open the lid to the tangible dreams, you’ll find Proverbs 3:5-6 carved into the corner:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Not bad advice for a girl on the edge of adulthood.

But the table? I wonder… did he etch something under there, too?!


As a wedding gift, “Uncle” Al promised to craft us whatever I desired. It was an easy decision. I ripped a page from a Pottery Barn catalogue and mailed it to his Ohio home.

Post-honeymoon, we drove from the east coast to Indiana, stopping to pick up our treasure. We marveled at the work of my godfather’s hands. Only in my dreams could I have owned a Pottery Barn table, but he made reality better with love and intention carved and sanded and polished throughout.


So did he? Did he etch something under the table, too? Had I missed it for the past twenty years?!

Late last Friday night, we arrived home from the play, and I crawled right under that table.

Sure enough… My goodness… How had I missed this?

IMG_1582

Phil 4, Uncle Alan Gratz, July 13 1996

Philippians 4? All 23 verses?! He must have known a lifetime of marriage and family-ness would require an entire chapter of truth. Would demand heaps of direction. I understand that now.

I grabbed my Bible, wondering what wisdom I should have been heeding all these years. But it was perfect timing. Our timeless God gave Uncle Al a message for me twenty years ago, knowing I’d need it at this season of life… at this stage of parenting.

5 Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. Philippians 4:5-9


To every mom and dad out there —

5 Clothe yourself with gentleness, for you’re reflecting the Maker to your children… even on weekday mornings before school.

Get real about your anxiety regarding your children’s path. Talk about it and surrender your fear to your Rescuer. Admit you need to be rescued and accept that your kids will need to be rescued, too. 

Don’t resent how God has created them. Don’t apologize for this to others, either. Be grateful your sons and daughters are already fulfilling God’s purposes for their lives (even though they might not know it yet).

It’s hard to believe, but you can actually experience peace in your thought-life and in your emotions. Jesus Himself is standing guard over your minds and hearts.

Pursue beauty and truth. Walk away from the comparison game and don’t lean into lies. Choose to fill your mind (and eyes and ears) with what is right and true and good… even when posts that breed insecurity pop up in your social media feed.

Live your story — not someone else’s.


Maybe you’re not a parent. Maybe your internal drama doesn’t happen around the dining room table but in trendy eateries with friends. Whether you’ve chosen your community, or it was chosen for you, there’s more than enough grace.

There’s grace for yourself, too.