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When Your Child Tells You He Wants To Be In Control Of His Life

“Mom, I have a very important question for you.”

I climbed in the bed, sitting as close as possible. Bedtime. The time they open up and want to talk about all the things.

“You know how I like freedom and independence right?”

I nodded. He continued, “Well, I wondered. Can I make all my own choices for my life from now on? Can I make my own decisions without you guys choosing for me?”

Because he was completely serious, I knew not to laugh or even chuckle. Anyway, I never want to belittle his ponderings.

“Well, Andrew, making choices and decisions for your life comes with great responsibility. It takes much practice and failure to learn.”

His question actually sparked an important conversation I hope he tucks away.

Andrew began to question why his 15 year old brother stays up so much later than him. Why he can’t choose his own bedtime. I explained that Jacob has established trust with us over the course of 15 years. He’s not perfect. He’s made mistakes. But he’s begun the habit of making wise choices. With wise choices comes greater freedom. With greater freedom comes greater responsibility.

“Andrew, you aren’t prepared to carry the load of responsibility that will come with so much freedom. Not yet. I believe one day you will. But we need some practice in smaller areas first.”

He nodded with a heavy sigh.

The following day, I shared the conversation with the older boys. I explained that Jacob has proven we don’t need to dictate a bedtime. He doesn’t misuse the freedom. I explained that when trust is built, it’s a beautiful thing. Freedom in the hands of someone who guards and protects how they walk that freedom out is lovely.

I believe it’s Dr. Kevin Lehman who never gave his kids curfews. He let them choose what they thought was acceptable and found they always came home earlier than he would have even required.

We all long for some breathing room.

Andrew was quiet for a moment. A moment is about as long as he can remain silent.

“Well, are there some choices I can make on my own at least?”

“Yes, I think we can come up with a few. Let’s spend some time thinking about it and discuss in a few days.”

Now I need to shift gears on you a bit. I can’t leave this post here and allow you to walk away thinking it’s merely parenting advice and a sweet story. God has been doing a very deep work in my heart lately. I can’t say I’ve handled it so well either.

But God in His kindness has allowed enough circumstances to press in on me to force me into a place of dealing with what’s easier to stuff in the the dark closets of my soul.

Shame lives in the dark. And it’s time I allowed His light to bring out areas I’ve never surrendered to Him.

Do you remember at the beginning of the year I shared how I didn’t want a word for the year but God gave me one anyway? It was surrender.

You see, Andrew asked a question that if I’m honest, I hold in my heart as well. And maybe you do too? I can resist God when I fight to maintain control. When I have to have my way. When I want to essentially be in control of my own life.

It’s pride. And the thing about pride is that is has so many faces.

I did something that was harder than I realized it would be. I made an appointment with a christian counselor. It is something I’ve felt God nudging me to do for a very long time. But I’ve become a master at telling myself everything’s good and I’m fine. To make that call, I had to admit that I’m actually not fine. I’m not ok.

But maybe it’s ok to not be ok? I’ve spent my life being dictated by an inner perfectionist, even as a child of God. I’ve felt a need to have everything right. And when it’s not right the controller inside me kicks in to make it all right. And then I leave no room for the Holy Spirit because I’m elbowing Him out of the way.

Man. What a gracious God we serve! So good beyond what we fathom. So patient. So kind.

The very day Andrew posed this question, I found out Steve and I would be teaching a lesson on pride vs humility to the kindergarten thru 5th graders at church. I laughed. This is so like God. The very thing He has been trying to refine from my heart is the very thing I’m going to have to teach on?

God didn’t place me in the role of teaching because I’ve figured out how to walk in humility. Nope. It’s so I can lower myself to student and learn. Surrender. Let Him teach me.

Lastly, He told me to get down. Literally, physically lower my physical body. On my knees, on my belly. Get low.

Humble myself before Him. Surrender fully to Him.

Lord, thank you that you love us too much to leave us in our selfish pride and arrogance. Thank you that you will go to extreme measures to shape and mold us into the vessel You desire. We open our hands to You in surrender. We love you, Lord.

 

Mom, you are always on your phone!

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Steve and I stumbled across videos from when Jacob and Zachary were about 1 and 3. We both sat mesmerized by the videos not believing how quickly the time has gone by and fully aware it will not slow down.

Afterwards we found ourselves struck by the same observation. He and I were 100% in the moments we watched on tape. We both seemed so relaxed, wearing contentment on our face.

Something was different about us in those videos.

We were distraction free. Completely.

We didn’t own smartphones. We had no devices. When we were together, we were all in, and the outside world wasn’t invited to crash the party.

We took video for our private viewing, not for the world to like.

No dings, alerts, or alarms chimed barging in on our time.

Whatever crisis took place in the world, we found out about hours after the kids went to bed. No worry and doom lingered over us forcing us to plaster smiles on our faces while our thoughts were miles from the moments.

All the moments were all in moments.

When we were with the kids, we were with the kids. I wish I could say the same is true today.

I continued thinking of those tapes long after they were stored away again.

I’m so glad smartphones weren’t around when my kids were babies.

What might I have missed along the way?

Maybe I would’ve missed:

the way his little hands clapped hard at the bubbles in uncoordinated attempts.

the moment he held the lady bug and tried hard to find her smile.

the time he accidentally kicked that boy’s shin and how he reached down and patted his back until he knew he was ok.

the first time I saw him hold a door for a little lady.

the time he swept the garage and I noticed the proud smile he wore unaware.

the time he, shy and scared, joined the group and the fleeting moment when his face showed the relief of acceptance

I have the opportunity to record millions of small moments that create one amazing journey of life. I have an opportunity to be both an observer and participant in the trivial moments of their days.

Sometimes the trivial moments of the day become the ones they remember most.

I can watch the life in front of me, or I can watch life partially through a screen. I can catch glimpses and not realize how much I’m actually missing. Only when I put down my phone completely am I fully aware of all I’ve missed with eyes darting up and down.

I’ve told myself I don’t have a problem with distraction because I’ve justified my need for screens. My excuses range from ‘I don’t have a home phone, so I need to have it with me at all times in case of emergency.’ Or ‘I don’t want to miss a photo, so I need it close by in case they do something worthy of a capture.’ Or ‘someone will be contacting me and I can’t miss it.’ Or…..the list goes on and on.

In all honesty, I do have many valid reasons I’m on my phone not simply distracted. Life is pretty much completely online now. My work is on the computer, my bills are paid on the computer, I communicate with people on the computer. It is necessary for me to be on a screen at times. The problem is that it never seems to stop. And it creeps in and takes over without us even realizing it.

I find myself out loud telling the kids what I’m doing on my phone. I want them to know I’m not checking out on them but that I’m doing things that must be done.

The other night I followed Andrew up the steps to tuck him in and read stories. As always the phone came along. Because….Steve might need to reach me….or an out of state family member might need something….or a classmate might need to reach one of the boys….or….

And because phones simply never respect my desire to spend time with my children, my phone alerted me to two texts while we headed up the stairs. Andrew was mid-story, I checked my messages, and out of instinct I began to type responses. Andrew stopped talking for a minute then said, “You are always on your phone!”

I halted, dropped the phone, then my flesh became defensive. (Not sure about you, but when I become ultra defensive, it’s because a nerve has been struck, and I know there is likely truth behind the words.)

I began defending myself and explaining all the important reasons why I have this phone attached to my fingers all the time. Then I stopped. I put the phone hidden away in my bedroom, and I continued about our evening.

Andrew’s comment haunted me. How many years have I been blogging about making the most of the moments we have been given? How many posts have I written about the intrusion of electronics on family life? How passionate have I been about protecting our family in a screen driven world? And how little by little I’ve allowed it to creep in. Quietly and slowly.

My kids don’t compare my electronic consumption to the rest of the world’s. All they know is they want my time. They want to know I’m actually listening to their stories. They want to know I actually saw with my own eyes their accomplishment. They don’t care if I missed a photo. We have 100 others we’ve captured this week to make up for it I’m sure.

The world shouldn’t revolve around my kids. And they don’t need to think that they come before everything in life. But when they are away from me 7 hours a day, I need to capitalize on the times I have with them. I care about what they will remember about how I spent my time with them.

When my kids draw a picture of mommy, I don’t want to see a phone in my hand.

While I’m so grateful for the moments I had in their baby years that my phone didn’t steal from me, I can’t put my guard down now. I didn’t want to miss the baby years, and I sure don’t want to miss the preteen and teen years either.

When my boys were small, many wiser women told me to learn to step over the mess so I wouldn’t miss the moments with my babies. Times have changed. Now we battle less learning to step over the laundry piles, and we battle instead the need to put down the phone instead. Lots exists on my phone that is as important as the laundry and dishes, but if I thought it was important to leave some housework undone, then I need to apply the same logic in the digital age.

It all seems urgent and pressing. But sometimes we actually get more done when we put it down, are all in with our families when we are with them, and pick up the phone when we are apart.

It’s time I take a personal offensive position against the invasion of screens in our family life. Even the necessary uses of them. And that doesn’t mean throwing them out the window.

I’m taking the advice I gave my kids. If we want to protect ourself from temptation, I need to decide ahead of time what I will do. We must set our boundary lines before we find ourselves having to fight for self-control.

Social media, phones, news feeds, the latest coolest gadgets, they are all here to stay. But my kids aren’t. And there is nothing my phone can feed me that will take away the regrets of missing some of the sweetest moments of my life.

Yet it is more than missing the moments. If I allow electronic distractions into my life on a daily basis, I miss the call God has placed on my life in this season. What has He called me to that I’m missing because I’m on my phone? Even on my phone for good things.

I’m called to love Him above anything else. Above staying current on the news or up to date on the lives of everyone I know.

I’m called to be a wife. I’m called to be a mother. I’m called to raise my children to love and fear the Lord. I’m called to ministry in so many different venues – we all are.

Without self control, I will miss fulfilling my callings to the best of my abilities. My phone is just one small area I need to practice self-control. But it’s a good place to start.

Last night I pulled the covers snug up to Andrew’s chin. I looked in his eyes and realized he is still young enough that he looks at me with complete adoration. He pulled his arms out of his covers, squeezed my cheeks, kissed all over my face, then pushed my face away so he could look in my eyes.

In that moment, I remembered all over again that there will come a day where he will not look at me like that or kiss all over me like that or give me butterfly kisses with his eyelashes. He will be too old, too big, too mature.

It is worth it to put my phone away so I can be all in when I’m in.

No more excuses, no more justifications, and no more comparisons. Today I choose to be with my people when I’m with them. For me that means that my phone isn’t invited into these times. My people are more important than my feed.

I’ve written many posts on electronics and the family. On the sidebar of my blog, click the electronics category to find them.

The most popular is a letter to my boys on why we limit electronics and has been viewed over 3 million times. You may also enjoy:

 

Dear Kids- A Little Secret About What Electronics Is Stealing From You

How To Rob A Childhood And Miss The Sacred Of Parenting

Why Shutting Off Electronics Is Good For Kids

Exploring Limiting Electronics With Kids

5 Benefits Of An Electronics Fast

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How To Help Our Kids When They Just Want Freedom

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Night after night he lamented, “Mom, it’s not fair, everyone goes to bed so much later than I do. Why do you make me go to bed so early? I’m 11 years old.”

I attempted to explain the why behind our bedtime policy, though my best efforts failed to ease his frustration. I tried to explain that he wakes earlier than his friends, that his body actually functions better on more sleep, that some kids stretch the truth to impress each other. Wasted words. What he really wanted wasn’t a later bedtime. He wanted freedom.

He felt constrained. He was so focused on the one thing that we withheld from him, he lost his ability to see the abundant freedoms we showered over him daily.

In his 11-year-old world, his vision focused on what he convinced himself he was missing due to the limits we placed on him. Limits for his own good. Boundaries to protect him because we want the very best for him.

The desire for freedom is nothing new.

Would you join me at my dear friend, Jeannie Cunnion’s blog to read the rest of today’s post?

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The Unexpected Secret to Parenting We Are Searching For

[box] When I “met” Jeannie Cunnion via email for the first time, I knew we would be fast friends. Her authentically sweet spirit testifies to the grace she writes about. When I opened her book and began to read, the highlighting and underlining began. I felt she was living my life. Her book is a gift to parents to let go of the expectations of perfect parenting and embrace grace instead. I’m so thrilled Jeannie is sharing with us here today! [/box]

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by Jeannie Cunnion

With three young boys who would rather play tackle football in the kitchen than get ready for school, mornings can get a bit challenging in our house.

And from the moment my boys woke up, I could already tell this particular morning would be harder than most.

I’ve heard it said that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words in any given day, but I can assure you I came close to hitting that number before 8 a.m. – mostly with words of training and correction. And I was quickly running out of patience and grace.

When it was finally time to leave for school we huddled together for our morning prayer, which, on this difficult day, was mostly about how much we need Jesus and how thankful we are for His forgiveness, and we headed out the door.

But things only deteriorated during our five-minute walk to school.

Brennan, my middle son, who is usually a bundle of joy and wonder, began to downward spiral. (I know you know about the downward spiral!) His list of complaints was long – He didn’t have a play date scheduled after school, he didn’t like what I’d packed him for snack, and he definitely didn’t want to go to T-ball practice that evening. It was one of those mornings when he felt like the world was his enemy.

When we arrived at school, I gave my oldest son, Cal, a big hug, whispered “I love you, God bless you” in his ear and sent him on his way.

And apparently, Brennan saw this moment as a fine opportunity to kick me (albeit gently) in the ankle.

I turned to Brennan, shocked, as he’d never done anything like that before.

I was fully prepared to address his actions with corrective words, but before I opened my mouth, the unexpected happened.

Grace found me.

And different words, words that were not my own, began to flow from my mouth.

I got down on my knees, looked Brennan in the eyes and I said, “Honey, you have to go to school now. There isn’t time for us to talk about what’s happening in your heart that’s causing you to complain and show such disrespect to Mommy, but before I send you into the building, I want you to know this very important thing: I have a feeling that when you get into your classroom, and you sit down at your desk, you are going to be sad and feel bad about the way you just treated Mommy. I know this because I know your beautiful heart and I know you love me and don’t want to treat me this way. So when that sadness hits you, I want you to remember that I love you and I have already forgiven you.”

Then I prayed in his ear, “Jesus, please bless my beautiful son today, whom I know you love even more than I do.”

And when I was done praying, my son immediately melted into my arms.

Grace found him too.

His hard heart was broken with grace, and no more words were spoken.

I held him for a moment while tears streamed down his cheeks, and then he walked into the building, but before he turned the corner, he turned to show me his face. We smiled at one another. My heart was full. We were both thankful for forgiveness and restored relationship.

As I walked home, hand in hand with my three-year-old son, Owen, I was overwhelmed with the goodness of God. With His faithfulness. He’d answered the prayer that we just prayed at our front door for more of His heart of grace and forgiveness.

Please trust me when I tell you that more often than not, my sinful and fallen nature wins. This was only Jesus in me, allowing me to be a reflection of His heart for His glory.

I stumble through parenthood, and make mistakes daily. But then there are these precious moments. These moments where God reminds me that He is still at work in me and He is not finished with me, with us, just yet. (Phil 1:6) These moments where grace breaks in and surprises me.

And what I’m learning, what God is teaching me, is that the more I reflect on my own brokenness, the more compassionate I am toward the brokenness of my children.

Brennan Manning says, “To be alive is to be broken and to be broken is to be in need of grace.”

We are all in need of the extravagant grace of God – His love that has no limits and no breaking points.

And showing one another this kind of love and forgiveness is only possible when we reflect on our own need for grace and the great mercy we’ve been shown through Christ. (Romans 3:22-24)

The more honest I am about my own flaws and imperfection, the more amazing God’s grace becomes to me, and the more able I become to give it to my precious kids.

His grace is more than enough for both of us!

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Jeannie Cunnion is the author of Parenting the Wholehearted Child. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work, and her background combines counseling, writing, and speaking about parenting and adoption for organizations such as Bethany Christian Services and the National Council for Adoption. Jeannie also serves as the Council Co-Chairman at Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT, where she enjoys leading parenting groups and Bible studies when she isn’t cheering on her boys at one of their sporting events!

You can find Jeannie at www.JeannieCunnion.com
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[box] If you enjoyed today’s post, consider subscribing here to receive posts via email. You will receive a free Christmas ornament download that accompanies Seeking Christmas – Finding the True Meaning Through Family Traditions.[/box]