Category: parenthood

The other night, I stepped out into the backyard with our dogs after dinner. The evening air was still warm, and they romped and gamboled around the grass, barking and nipping at each other’s heels as the sun set behind our neighbors’ houses. I didn’t even hear my youngest daughter slip out the back door.

A sunset in shades of purple and pink silhouettes the rooflines of neighboring houses.

But there she was, suddenly standing at my elbow, wearing her little pink-and-white-striped pajama set. She heaved a deep breath and her words tumbled out like blocks from a toy chest.

“Mom, there’s something I have to tell you and I’m afraid you’re going to be mad at me but I just have to get it off my chest.”

I turned to look at her and give her my full attention. “Okay. It’s okay. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

“I took a book off the downstairs shelf.” She looked at her feet. “I took it up to my room, and Susannah saw it and said it’s one of THOSE BOOKS and I’m too young to read it.” She glanced back up at me and her eyes were glistening with tears. “I didn’t know, though! I thought it was just, like, a science book.”

I was trying to keep up with this revelation, but I had to interject. “What book are we talking about, honey?”

She gulped. “The Girls Body Book.” 

Not Bad, Just Not For Right Now

I smothered a laugh. Okay. So we aren’t talking about anything bad here (because I was wracking my brain when she said “one of THOSE BOOKS.” It’s not like I own smut or erotica that she could have accidentally grabbed. We have a few books with mature themes I’d rather the girls not read until they get a little older, but nothing that would be truly out of line) –but the thing is, she really felt like this was serious, and I didn’t want to blow her off.

I opened my arms for a hug and said, “Hey, it’s okay. Come here.”

She crossed the space between us, and while we hugged I reassured her that she wasn’t in trouble and she hadn’t done anything wrong by taking the book off the shelf. In fact, if she was curious and wanted to read the Girls’ Body Book, she could – I would like to read it with her, or at least discuss it with her after each chapter or so. But there was nothing bad or wrong in that book. It was just meant for older girls, and so Mom kept it on the downstairs shelf so that we could read it together when it was a good time for it.

She was so relieved. And her tears flowed, and she told me, “I have been hiding it in my room for a really long time.”

“Hiding it?”

“Yeah. I took it off the shelf weeks and weeks ago and then Susannah said that, so I didn’t read it. But I was going to sneak it back downstairs and put it on the shelf so you would never know, but I never woke up early enough so I could do it in the dark. And when you helped me clean my room last week, I was afraid you would find it. And I felt so guilty. I had a stomachache every day.”

So we talked a little about guilt. And how guilt and shame are different, and how when we feel guilty then confession is the right thing to do.

What Comes Next

Her little mouth quirked from side to side, lips pressed together, thinking hard. “So. Um. What is my… punishment?”

I took her hand and we went to sit at the patio table. “There is no punishment.”

She started crying again. “I have been trying to come and tell you for days and days. But I was scared of my punishment. Tonight in the bath, I decided, ‘I just have to do it tonight.’ So I told myself, I would put on my pajamas first and then I would come and tell you and I would say, ‘I understand I was wrong and I will go put myself to bed until you decide my punishment.’

That’s when I started to cry, too.

Rehearsing

Do y’all remember the story of the Prodigal? Oh, sure, we know that boy. He wanted his inheritance and he squandered that inheritance and there was a part about pigs. But that’s not what I’m thinking of right now.

When the Prodigal realized he wanted to go back home, he didn’t think he deserved home.

He thought he’d have to earn it.

So he thought of exactly what to say to his dad, and he rehearsed it and rehearsed it. Then he set off for his dad’s house, planning to say it just so and convince his dad to let him in.

But you know what? He never got the chance to deliver his rehearsed speech. 

He didn’t have to earn his place at his Dad’s table.

The minute his dad saw him, he hitched up his robe and took off running to embrace his boy.

That’s grace.

We’ve All Been Prodigals

And every single one of us has, at some point or another, been a Prodigal. We’ve been stuck in the mud of a far-off country, longing for home, but maybe half-believing that home will never let us back in. Thinking we’d have to earn it. Practicing our return speech and hoping if we say it just right, they’ll accept us.

And every single one of us, if we’ve repented and come back home to our Father, has been embraced and celebrated simply because we belong to Him.

Back to the patio on that summer night. I told my daughter that story, how she’s not the only one who ever practiced a speech and thought they had to work really hard or suffer a punishment to get to forgiveness. And then she had another confession, although she didn’t know it was a confession.

“I keep a list,” she said.

“What kind of list?”

“Every day, I keep a list of the things I’ve done bad. And I try to make them right. But this–” the book she took and hid, “has been on my list for weeks and it made me feel really terrible. Every day I would say, ‘I’ll fix that one tomorrow.’”

My heart broke a little, learning that my sweet girl keeps a list of her own wrongs and works so hard to make them right. The way she’s been holding herself to an impossible standard of getting everything right, always, every day – and writing down every mistake along the way.

And I started thinking. . . a lot of us probably do the same thing.

Keeping A List

Your list might not be scrawled in big second-grade printing on loose-leaf paper and tucked under your pillow.

Maybe your list reverberates in your head, in the voice of someone from your past. Or it could sound like your OWN voice, condemning and berating you.

All the things you’ve done wrong. All the ways you’ve let someone down. All the ways you didn’t measure up, dropped the ball, couldn’t manage, said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing or kept silent when you should have spoken up…

So I want to tell you the same thing I told her. Picture us at my patio table, bathed in the pinkish light of sunset.

“If making a list works like a prayer, where you write down the things you want to confess to the Lord, then go ahead and make your list. If some of those wrongs might have hurt other people, and you can go to them and talk or take action to help make amends, then you go ahead with that.”

“But, honey, if making that list only gives you a stomachache and a headache… if that list makes you feel crummy… if that list makes you feel like a terrible person and if it makes you believe lies about yourself, like that you’ll never get it right or that you don’t deserve forgiveness or that you aren’t worth very much around here then, sister: rip that list up. Burn it. If it’s inside your head, you talk back to it and tell it some truth.”

“When the Holy Spirit prompts us, pokes us, convicts us about sin, we feel motivated to confess and to turn and walk away from the sin. But when our Enemy whispers in our ear about our sin, he just wants us to wallow in it and feel beaten up and sick about it. That’s how you know the difference. And if your list makes you feel sick and bruised and yucky and miserable, then the enemy of your soul is using it to torment you, and you have to stop making a list.”

“Jesus said that when we confess our sins, He is faithful and full of justice. He forgives us and cleanses us. He doesn’t look at us and see the stains of the mud and much left behind. He sees us, covered in His righteousness.”

That was in pretty simple language because the first time I said it, I was talking to an 8-year-old. But friend, how I wish I could hold your hand and tell you this same truth over and over until you believe it. 

If you have trusted that Jesus the Christ made the only sacrifice that could ever be enough – that his death on the cross paid the price for your sin and that his resurrection defeated death and offers you eternal life, that his coming return will bring a perfected new heaven & new earth – then PUT DOWN YOUR LIST and don’t let guilt and shame eat you alive one minute longer.

No more impossible standards. No more berating self-talk. No more never-ending list in your head and your heart.

Confess and release, because your Father is waiting with open arms. He loves you just because you belong to Him, and you don’t ever have to earn that.


P.S. Have you signed up for my mailing list yet? It's the easiest way to make sure you never miss a post -- and I promise, you'll never get annoying spam. Just click the banner at the top of the page!

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on how the shutdowns in Kentucky were impacting our family and a few tips for parents who are trying to make the best of the situation alongside the Children’s Director at our church.

What’s working for you? What’s been your biggest challenge?

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

Official art from Disney's Zootopia in theaters March 4

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen Zootopia yet, you may want to come back and read this later.

 

 

 

 

Okay. Are they gone? Let’s dig in.

We took our crew to see the new Disney movie Zootopia  this weekend. It was bright, gorgeously animated, funny, and engaging. There are a couple of rather intense attack scenes that scared our youngest, but it wasn’t so bad that I’d caution others not to take their 4-year-olds.

The movie follows a young rabbit, Judy Hopps, as she becomes the first-ever rabbit police officer in the big city of Zootopia. All the other cops are large, fast, mammals – and most of them are predators. The film sets the stage for great discussions about bias with your family. (No one expects Judy to be able to make it on the force because she’s small, female, and prey.) Her carrot-farming parents make some sweet and befuddled statements about giving up on your crazy dreams and doing what’s expected of you. There’s so much there for kids to easily see.

Judy gets to work on her first real case when she learns about a missing otter. He’s got a wife and kids, and no one else is listening – so Judy sets out to find him. She ends up needing help from a hustler named Nick Wilde, a fox. Nick challenges Judy’s preconcieved notions about foxes as the pair works to uncover who or what is causing an outbreak of predator attacks all over the city.

What I found really fascinating, though, was the possibility this film gave us to talk about intersectionality. There are several times when the Deputy Mayor, a sheep, says something to Judy about “us little guys have to stick together” or “looking out for each other.” We watch Judy fight against anti-prey biases and we root for her to prove everyone wrong and finally become a cop.

(You can see how easily this can allow us to ask our kids if they’ve ever felt like certain jobs or activites are off-limits to themselves or others. We then get to guide them to see how equal opportunity is supposed to work: that all jobs, all sports, all interests, all hobbies – should be open to everyone.)

After she cracks the case, Judy stands at the microphones giving her press conference and she states a few things she has believed to be ‘facts’ her whole life – that predators might not be able to control their animal urges, that their biology is to blame. Even though Judy has been fighting against the system that’s prejudiced against her – saying that she shouldn’t be discriminated against simply because she’s a rabbit –  she still harbors prejudice against predators… particularly foxes.

(This is where as parents we can lead our kids to what may be their first thoughts about intersectionality. If you become the first {whatever} to join the {group,} but that {group} still actively excludes {others,} then the fight isn’t over. If we are willing to speak up on behalf of one group of people, but not on behalf of another, then we’re being biased.)

It’s only when she sees the hurt in Nick’s eyes that she realizes her instincts –actually her biases– have been wrong. That’s where, in my opinion, this movie serves as a great jumping-off point for conversations with our kids about bigotry, bias, prejudice, and most importantly the ways that sometimes we become so passionate about fighting for the rights of one group with which we identify – that we forget to fight for the rights of all.

Remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Many people only come to an understanding about fighting for the rights of excluded groups when they are either part of an excluded group, or when they love someone who is. I’m thrilled that Zootopia is an accessible story for helping parents explain this big concept to kids who may not be in the midst of a civil rights fight yet – because the earlier we learn the importance of seeking justice everywhere, for all people, the better.

 

*****
I’m not the only one who sees this theme in Zootopia. For further reading:
Petra Halbur at The Mary Sue

Sabina Ibarra at Legion of Leia

 

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

Self Care for Moms

I woke up this morning thinking about self-care, and how different that looks now than at any point in my adult life.

For one thing, I now know and use the phrase self-care and I don’t even feel too awkward or embarrassed about it. Well. I still feel a little awkward, to be honest. Taking care of my self has not always been easy for me.

Briefly: when I was in college, many of these things came very naturally. Part of that can be attributed to the environment I was in (I was surrounded by friends, literally living with my best friend, and living in the middle of a place where I felt valued and respected. My academic career, my campus jobs and volunteer opportunities, and my sorority all packed those years chock-full of caring for myself – but back then, I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening.

Which meant that as adulting hit break-neck speed (we got married, Chris started chemo, I started my first job, we moved, he started medical school, we had miscarriages and then eventually a baby and another and another), I didn’t realize some of the things I needed to do to nurture my self.

Eventually, I started to realize I needed care because I was starting to crack. And over the years, I have figured out a lot of ways to take care of myself – and over the years, I’ve been all over the board in terms of how much time, money, and energy I’ve had to devote to self-care.

I thought that it might be helpful to share some of what has worked for me, in case you:

  • are pretty gosh-darn broke
  • are a  single mom or a “work widow”
  • are knee-deep in the baby stage with a little one who can’t be left for long
  • are up to your eyeballs with multiple kids at multiple ages
  • finally have a little bit of fun-money to spend
  • just got out of the baby stage and have a few minutes to yourself now and then

…because I’ve been at ALL those places. Each of those circumstances have their own challenges, but self-care can still happen.

**********

What does self-care mean, exactly?

Self-care is anything you do that feeds your spirit. It recharges your batteries and connects you to who you really are. It may involve caring for your physical body, your mental health, your emotional state, or your spirituality.

I think I get it. But I need examples! 

Okay, good. That’s what this post was supposed to be about, anyway! Here we go. A quick guide to the notations:
$ (when you’re super broke)
$$ (when you have a little cash)
$$$ (when money’s no object)
SW – single mom or work-widow mom
NB – newborn nearby
MK – multiple kids
FT – finally have a little free time

 

Coffee/Tea
$ – A quick cuppa can be crazy-cheap if you do it at home. It’s more about the time and the ritual of slowing down and enjoying it.
$$ – With a little investment in a French press and a beautiful mug that makes you smile, you can upgrade those just for you moments with some sparkle.
$$$ –  Get yourself your favorite treat from your favorite place. Bonus points if you manage to go in the coffeeshop and sit down for a few minutes.

Mani/Pedi
$, NB, MK – Grab a new color while you’re at the grocery store, and DIY. With a baby, either schedule your nails for the MOMENT your little one falls asleep, or as soon as they hit that happy spot after a meal and you know you’ll have ten calm minutes. Resist the urge to do something you “have to” do. You know what you have to do? You have to take care of yourself! With multiple kids, try running a bubble bath (or have an indoor pool party – throw them in the tub in their swimsuits, if you’ve got kids spread across genders and ages that don’t work for community baths anymore) and paint your tips while they splash a little.
$$ – A monthly trip to a salon? If you’re the extroverted type, take along a friend or sister and double-up the self-care by getting a dose of chatter. If you’re an introvert, take along a book to your pedi so the manicurist won’t feel the need to talk and rob you of the energy you’re trying to find!

Exercise
$, NB – Try walking in your neighborhood. Bonus points if you get a little vitamin D while you’re at it. This is another option to do solo if you’re introverted and need alone time, or with a pal if you’re extroverted and need to connect.
$$ – Pick a gym or a boutique fitness spot and get a one-month membership. Sometimes new members get great introductory rates, and you might learn a few moves you’ll be able to continue to do at home. If you’re a single mom, look for a place with in-house childcare. If you’re a married mom but your spouse has a challenging schedule, look for a place with accomodating hours (5:30 a.m. boot camp or 7:00 pm Zumba – it’s out there!)
$$$ – Hire a personal trainer, and target exactly the fitness issues you want to focus on and the types of exercises that really work best for you. Because your body is a temple.
Blanche Devereaux treats her body like a temple

(And note: if the idea of exercise is not a JOY to you, but instead is something you HATE, don’t put it on your list. Your own personal list is going to be filled with things that make you happy and cared-for. Don’t write down ‘exercise’ because you have to. Promise? Okay, moving on.)

Professional Care Appointments

$ – Your insurance may cover a certain number of visits with a chiropractor or counselor. That can make those visits free or very nearly so.

$$ – Services like babysitting, hair appointments, massage therapy, or chiropractic out-of-pocket.

 

Hobbies
It’s hard to break these down by the codes, because people’s interests vary so widely, but I’ll say this: what do you like to do, just for fun? Just because it makes you happy? Just because it lets you stretch your creative muscles or feel playful and young again? Find a way to do that again. For example:
-reading (free via library, cheap via e-reader, spendy via hardbacks to fill your shelves)
-sewing or knitting (we all know you can make these as expensive as you want, but if you need to save pennies you don’t have to quit altogther – bargain shop! Thrift stores and garage sales can be your secret weapon.)
-scrapbooking (cheap if you make it all digital, various degrees of spendy if you print an album or do classic albums with pics and ‘need’ a million stickers)
-singing, dancing (cheap via community choirs, churches, and boogie-ing in your PJs, more if you take classes or join performance troupes)

 

Naps
Always free, but I know: challenging if you are a S/W and have NB or MK.
With a baby and being solo, I’ve always loved the idea to make one room in your house totally baby-safe. Close the door, lay down on the floor with a pillow and blanket, and let baby crawl around and explore happily while you doze. It won’t be deep, solid sleep – but it can be surprisingly restorative.
If you have a partner or a pal, asking for help is okay. Someone else can play with your kids (bonus points if they take them out of the house!) while you get an hour’s rest.

 

Bubble Baths
This is the one thing I feel the most stupid about forgetting, back when I was neglecting self-care. When we had no pennies for splurging and I had babies to care for 24/7, I still could have managed to fit in one or two bubble baths a week. If it’s been a long time since you’ve indulged, I beg you: as soon as you finish reading this post (because I don’t want you to drop your phone into the tub!) go have a long, bubbly soak. Chandler knows what I’m talking about:
Chandler Bing relaxing in bubble bath

 

Laughter
What makes you laugh, mama? Good, deep, hard, belly laughs that bring tears to your eyes? Whatever it is, go after that.

I’ve got a “Humor” board on Pinterest that cracks me the heck up. Sometimes I just lock myself in the bathroom for ten minutes and stare at those videos and memes. It lifts my spirit and reminds me that I have a sense of humor – and sometimes that’s all it takes to get through a day, am I right?

Maybe you’re an in-person laugher. You might need a regularly scheduled girls’ night out with your best pal who always has you in stitches.

Or if you like quirky jokes or pratfalls or adolescent potty humor, there’s a Netflix category for that, I promise! Stream a movie or a comedy special. Yuk it up!

 

**********

Okay, hopefully a few things from my list have helped you start to imagine what a life filled with self-care might look like. I don’t do all of those every single day. But, I’m at a stage right now where I have a little pocket money; I have multiple kids but due to school and parent’s morning out I have six child-free hours per week; I’m still a work widow but not as drastically as a few years ago. So I try to do at least three things for myself every week – time with a hobby, time with a friend, exercise, a care appointment, reading a book while ignoring the laundry…. Sometimes I spend money (now that I can) but sometimes the best, most restorative things I do are still the freebies.

 

So how do I get started?

Step One: Reflect

Not all of my suggestions will sound comforting or energizing to you. Some of these would be torture and you’d run away screaming for the hills. That’s okay. A few of these will work for you, and maybe they’ll help you think of other things that recharge your batteries. Craft your own personalized list.

Step Two: Reserve

Your list of things that give you warm fuzzies won’t be worth the crayon it’s scribbled in, if you never make the time to do something you wrote down. Reserve a few minutes for yourself.

Now, it’s a Self-Care Law of the Universe that saying YES to yourself will require saying NO to something else. (Remember that law of the universe from science class about how one bit of matter can’t occupy the same space as another bit of matter? Or something like that. I wasn’t great at sciencing. Anyway, it’s just like that.) The 24 hours in your day can only accomodate so many to-dos. Reserving time means that you have to prioritize. Feed your kids and make sure your house isn’t a health hazard, but let the rest go for fifteen minutes or an hour. It’s okay.

Because! There is a fascinating corollary to the Self-Care Law of the Universe! Whenever you say YES to something from your list, something that only exists because it cares for your self, you will reap energy you were missing before, and that usually means that you can accomplish so much MORE than you could when you were telling yourself no and operating in a depleted state.

Step Three: Review

After a few weeks, check in with yourself. Get somewhere quiet and observe:  do you feel calmer in your own skin? Have you found yourself smiling for no reason? Are you happier and sweeter with your family members? If the answer is yes, then it’s working. Keep doing what you’re doing. If the answer is no, then go back to step one. Maybe the things you picked were self-care tasks that “sound good” but don’t feed your spirit. Maybe you wrote a self-care task on your to-do list every day for a week but never actually got around to it. Take stock and see what you need to change.
I’d love to hear from you. Are you in a phase of life where you’re struggling with self-care? Did I leave your favorite one off my list? Please drop me a note in the comments!

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

But it might not be “The Talk” you’re thinking.

“When we drive to At-a-lanta on Saturday, are we going to see that police again? Remembah last time we went to Georgia we see’d a police?”

“Well, we will probably see at least one police car because it’s a long drive. But it probably won’t be the same police officer we saw last time.”

“Yeah, but when we see’d the police the last time I was SO scared and I thought, ‘Oh no, oh no, are we gonna go to jail?’

“You don’t have to be scared, baby. I will drive us safely and follow the rules. We won’t go to jail. You know, it’s the job of police officers to help keep everyone safe.”

“But dey don’t!”

“What do you mean they don’t?” (Now, I was thinking, I know of several instances where police officers have failed at their sworn duty to keep everyone safe, but I didn’t think she did.)

“Remembah when that girl, that poor girl was so sad, and she had long hair and that police was hurting her on the ground? And she was cryin for her mama. She wasn’t keeping safe.”

*****

And so my heart broke a little. But, at the same time, there was a glimmer of rightness in having this conversation with my baby. Because she was watching and she was listening that day the McKinney, Texas pool party video went viral. She heard that young girl’s cries, and my outrage and my sadness about the whole incident.

See, I believe that white moms need to have The Talk –not the birds & the bees talk, the police talk– with their white children, too. For far too long, black and brown parents have had the conversation with their children while, in ignorance and bliss, white parents sat in privilege and just… never even thought about it. But that has to end. It ends for Mike Brown. It ends for Tamir Rice. It ends for Sandra Bland. It ends for John Crawford.

Here’s the really important thing, though. If you’re one of my white friends, and you’re reading this and thinking about this subject, please don’t just listen to me. You need to listen to Black voices. It’s not my place to speak for the people who are really on the recieving end of the trauma and terror of police violence. You need to tune in and listen: listen online, via Facebook and Twitter and great blogs and websites, listen in person. And then you need to have this conversation with your kids, too.

*****

So Abi and I talked a little more, in the car on our way home, about how most police officers are wonderful, conscientious, courageous men and women. It’s always important to be respectful and polite when we speak to them. But sometimes, even police officers make mistakes or even do things out of anger. Sometimes, like in the video she remembered, one might even hurt someone just because of what they look like.

I admit, I felt really inadequate to the task and I worried how much she was ready for. But like every important parenting conversation – it’s not a one and done deal. We’ll revisit this, again and again. I have the chance to get it right. I’ll go over it with her siblings.

And I hope you will, too.  (In fact: if you’ve already started having The Talk with your kids, I’d love to hear what you said at various ages. Please drop me a note! Comments go to moderation, so if you’d rather yours stay private please just say so and it won’t be published publicly.)

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

I overhear some cute conversations. Tonight, S helped A fall asleep. (I have NO idea why this worked, but apparently it did.)

Abigail: [sad string of baby babbling]
Susannah: Abi?
Abigail: Yeh?
Susannah: I can’t get you out.
Abigail: Yeh.
……..silence……..

Share with a friend!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email

Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

subscribe

Categories

Categories

Archives

Archives

Latest tweets