On Making Our Toddlers “Kindergarten Ready”

My 3-year-old loves baby dolls. Very rarely do we leave the house without one hooked under one little arm, a diaper bag dangling from the other. She wants to be a “mommy” when she grows up so that she can “go to the grocery store all by [her]self” and “do the dishes.” Girl’s got ambition — which I fully intend to exploit in 5-13 years. Taking care of her babies is just about the only activity that keeps her interest longer than five minutes.

I remember being alarmed at her early disinterest in learning … or at least what we think of as learning. Charlee had always loved to read, but early on, Hattie would slam the cover shut any time I even tried to crack a book. And the few times I attempted to teach her sign language as a baby, she would scream at me and yank her hands away, as if she was trying to tell me, I do not have time for silly things like this. There’s a whole world out there to explore.

While she can now engage long enough to complete a book or even a few (though she asks approximately 18,000 questions per page, some completely irrelevant), she’s still not interested in sitting down and working for long stretches.

Occasionally, against my better judgment, I get anxiety about the fact that she doesn’t know many letters or how to write her name or that she still gets that eleventeen-17 range jumbled when counting. I drive by the Montessori Preschools that I cant afford and think, “I should really work on preschool curriculum with Hattie so that she has a chance…”

But then I think back to my education degree and remind myself that Hattie just turned THREE, and this pressure that has been created to have my kids literate by the age of 4 and performing long-division by 5 and composing symphonies by 6 WAS NOT created by teachers or child development researchers but by the pressures of a flawed system and competitive parents.

I remember one of my professors discussing the new environment into which we are sending our students. This is no longer a world in which students who “know the most” will be the most successful. Information is now immediately accessible, so education is less about “knowing stuff” and more about creative thinking, application, cooperation, leadership skills, and all of that other intangible, “outside of the box” stuff.

Guess what!? These are things cultivated in free play, not rigorous preschool curriculum.

Then I think about my biblical duty as a momma: to make little, tiny Jesus impersonators. That changes things. Because Jesus is not remembered for his smarts but for his wisdom. He’s not remembered for his SAT score or for how many multisyllabic words he used in the Sermon on the Mount. He is remembered for his desperate pursuit of outcasts, his passionate cry for justice for the oppressed, and his counter-cultural inclusiveness — EVERYONE can be part of his club.

What if we taught our kids that while academics are important, because working hard at everything we do is important, school is not just a means to a good career but an incredibly convenient mission field? They have an awesome opportunity to desperately pursue outcasts, passionately cry out for justice for the oppressed, and be counter-culturally inclusive — make sure EVERYONE is a part of the club. They get to BE Jesus to the lost and lonely every single day. And if schools are anything like they were 4 years ago when I taught, there are PLENTY of lost and lonely.

When we push academic success at such an early age (or at any age), not only do our children lose valuable time to play and learn through osmosis, but we can unintentionally put SMART on a pedestal, high above KIND, SELFLESS, or COMPASSIONATE.

While at a bible study on motherhood, our incredibly wise mentor mom said, “When I walk into a parent-teacher conference, I push all the papers aside, and say, ‘I don’t want to know about grades. I know their grades. We can fix grades. I want to know what kind of person they are when they aren’t with me. I want to know if they are kind. I want to know if they play with the lonely kids at recess. I want to know if they sit with the lonely kids at lunch.”

In the long run, are we just dying for our kids to be rich and famous? To be the CEO of a company? Is financial success at the top of our priority list?

If not (or even if so), let’s just let our three-year-olds play. Let’s all just calm the heck down about Kindergarten readiness, because if you’re worried about your baby being ready, that’s a good sign that he will be ready. Instead, let’s make sure they know that sharing is JUST AS important as counting, cooperating is JUST AS important as phonics, that we care more about them being like Jesus than we do about them knowing a lot of stuff.

Let’s show our kids that we care more about them being the kindest than we do about them being the smartest.

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While I was agonizing over this article and trying to figure out how to say what I wanted to say, I flipped over to Facebook for a second so that I could stop using my brain for a hot second and THIS was the first thing that popped up:

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It was as if God was saying, YES. THIS is a message that you need to share. Thanks Jenn for posting — you were unknowingly encouraging me.

 

 

If this topic interests you, click to read this interview with my kindergarten teaching momma, Jody. She discusses what she she has identified as the most important characteristics in incoming kindergartners… and those that aren’t.

 

 

 

 

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Parenting Prophetically

I wasn’t always the best student in college. I probably would have benefitted from taking a few years off after high school because I didn’t really understand the whole concept. Like, hey 18-year-old Jordan, this is training for the REST OF YOUR LIFE so please pay attention and put in some effort. I was admittedly more interested in writing ridiculous (though well-illustrated) poems about inappropriate things than taking notes, never mind the thousands of dollars my parents were shelling out.

You are judging me so hard right now. And I also feel like I need to ask for your forgiveness.

Anyway, I somehow remember one term from my Sociology class freshman year: self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the only thing I remember from that class; for some reason it stuck with me. The whole idea is that the things you believe about yourself, even if those things are initially untrue, become true, because there is such a strong connection between belief and behavior.

Let’s say I believe I’m an idiot. I have no proof of this, and am in fact very smart, but was once told by a sibling or parent, “You are so stupid,” and that statement became glued to the front of my brain. Now I don’t like school because I’m afraid the “truth” will come out — I’m an idiot. Learning becomes impossible because it’s linked to overwhelming stress, and I consequently begin falling behind academically. What was once a false statement, is now prophetic.

Our minds are insane. Words are so powerful. They form beliefs. And beliefs form behaviors.

 

My oldest child feels things with a far greater depth than I understand. The best word to describe her is sensitive. She experiences the world differently than me because she experiences it emotionally, rather than pragmatically. It’s both beautiful and terrifying, her greatest asset and her greatest struggle.

For me, on the other hand, sensitivity has been learned and developed over time. It doesn’t come naturally to me. So in the past, when something upset her deeply, I just. didn’t. get it. I would get frustrated and annoyed. All I could think was, THIS IS NOT A BIG DEAL. Why are you acting like this? And that attitude showed. She is able to read people incredibly well, so through my reactions to her, I was subtly, and consistently, sending her this message: You are TOO MUCH. Stop being SO dramatic. Be different!

And if we were in public? I would lose my patience so fast because STOP EMBARRASSING ME… which is a whole lot less about her and her issues and a whole lot more about me and my issues.

Then, my husband would get home, and I’d tell him the drawn-out story in great detail (not in front of her) and would throw in words like “crazy” and “out of control” for emphasis.

It didn’t take long (or actually wayyy too long) for me to realize this dangerous dynamic. I was speaking about her and to her in ways that were shaping her, that would surely negatively influence her self-image, and thus her future self.

Oh my goodness, y’all. WORDS. REACTIONS. TONES. The words we speak over our children are prophetic, for they will determine who they become.

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I am a prophet. We, we parents who dismissively mumble words out of weariness and exhaustion, we are prophets. We are piecing our children’s souls together, one irritated word at a time, creating a mosaic of phrases, remarks, and feelings. What do we want them to act like? Who do we want them to be?

In one of my education classes in college, (because I was always paying attention) my professor told us to “stay out of the Teachers’ Lounge.” The Teachers’ Lounge, she explained, was where teachers went to complain about their students. “The more you complain about your students, the less you are going to enjoy them. The more you tell stories about how awful they are, the more awful they will be because you are expecting them to be awful.”

In regards to raising children, we have to stay out of the metaphorical Teachers’ Lounge: our spouses, our families, our friends, and dare I say social media. Are we constantly complaining about our kids? Are we constantly ranting about how terrible they were today? In the name of “authenticity” and “being real”, are we sacrificing the dignity of our little ones on social media? Are we expecting them to be terrible? The way we speak about our children, even to our spouses, influences our behavior towards them, which in turn influences their behavior toward us. Seeking wise counsel is one thing but complaining and ranting is another. I cannot speak negatively about my children and NOT expect that to affect the way I treat them. The things we say mold the way we feel and act.

 

So the question is, how do we use the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies to our advantage? What behaviors can we cultivate in our children via diligent lip-service?

 

I want my children to believe they can do hard things…

so I will speak words of perseverance into them.

I want them to believe they are strong…

so I will speak words of strength into them.

I want them to believe they are adored…

so I will speak words of love into them.

I want them to believe they are wanted…

so I will speak words of gratefulness into them.

I want them to believe they (and their eccentricities) were created purposefully…

so I will speak God’s words of truth into them.

 

I never want my daughter to think she’s too much or that her sensitivity is somehow a shortcoming. She is not perfect. But I will spend this next year, this last year I have her at home with me all the live long day, making damn sure she knows she was created exactly as God intended her to be.

 

When Your Marriage Goes Through a Busy Season

 

A couple of days ago I was unbuckling Charlee when she looked up at me and said, “Daddy’s never coming back.” “What?” I was so confused. Then through tear-filled eyes, she whispered, “He’s always at work.” My heart broke into a million pieces. It was true. He had just worked a 90+ hour week and she was usually asleep by the time he got home. I promised her we would take him lunch the next day at school so she could see him. She nodded her head and said, “Okay. That sounds good.”

Clark and I are in a hard season. We knew it was coming, but this kind of thing is hard to prepare for. You can say, “This is going to be hard” a million times but when life is actually BEING really hard, it’s tricky to know how to make it un-hard.

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cred: myfabulesslife.com

Being a football coach’s wife has its plusses. You become a part of a network, a family of coaches and their wives, something of a club. You watch your husband spend thousands of hours pouring motivation and encouragement, wisdom and strength into young men that may or may not ever have a positive male presence in their lives again. You experience the high of a win as if you were actually padded up.

But most days are not characterized by these things. Most days are just me. All by myself. Or scratch that. With three little hoodlums that I have to take care of … all by myself.  During the day, I am not thinking of the excitement of playoffs or the impact my husband is making on his players, but mostly how my 1-year-old keeps waking up at 5 am coughing and how my three-year-old won’t take a nap and whether or not I should call a therapist for my four-year-old or when I’m going to make dinner because I can’t afford not to cook. Again.

The grand things — the lessons and the friendships and the influence and the being-apart-of-something — they make it so worth it. But the daily grind blurs my vision sometimes.

I know I am not the only woman (or man) with a spouse that has a demanding job. Spouses of military, pastors, firefighters, police officers, lawyers … I see you. I know you understand this internal battle. Your spouse is doing something that matters, that demands so much of him, so much of her, so much of their soul, that sometimes it doesn’t feel like there’s anything left for you.

And sometimes your leftover life, everything he has left behind, the slack that you’ve had to sacrificially pick up, the cross you didn’t necessarily choose to bear, demands so much of you, so much of your soul, that you don’t have much left for him either. I get you. I get you so much. You are both drained. You are both exhausted. You can only do so much.

And sometimes you get used to life without that person. You adjust your schedule to fit the needs of the rest of you, not him, because that’s what survival looks like. Life goes on, incomplete, but it goes on.

And sometimes, it’s harder when he’s there. Everyone has gotten into a routine. Expectations have been set based on the ones that are always there, so things get confusing when there are new expectations present.

And you can creep into a really scary place. Wives become head of household. Husbands become outsiders in their own home.

We have so been there. And while we were there, I learned a few things.

Let him lead. Not because men are better than women at leading their families, but because in the depths of a man’s being, he craves respect. He needs it more than anything. So he has been at work all day where people look up to him and follow him and think he’s really good at what he does, and then he comes home and feels incompetent, like he can’t do anything right… where would you rather be? We show him respect and assure him that we trust him by letting him lead our family.

Just because that’s the way you usually do it, doesn’t mean that’s the only way. “But Mom! You always let me!” “But what did Daddy say?” “He said no.” “Then the answer is no.” This is so hard. I tend to think I parent better because I parent the most, and therefore think I should be in charge of all things parenting. But I cannot contradict his yeses and nos (and vice versa). You have to show a united front, lest your children get the idea that what Dad says doesn’t matter.

Go to him. Be a part of his world. Go to practice. Go to the field house. (Obviously, this is specific to coaching… insert appropriate places here). Go to pep rallies. Take him lunch at school (if you don’t work). He can’t leave, but maybe you can. Even if he doesn’t say it, he needs to see his family. He needs to feel supported and cheered for and being present is a good way of showing that.

Communicate. Text him. Email him. Send him pictures and videos of the kids throughout the day. Tell him you’re proud of him and you love him. Give him those compliments you’re too awkward to say in person. The beauty of this day and age is you can still talk to him even if you never see each other.

Make your minutes precious. We are so bad at this. We are so dead at the end of the day that the only thing we want to do is nothing. But this is your ONE CHANCE to connect without having to order commands and instructions on who needs a bath and who needs a meal. Put away the technology. Stop looking at your phones. Make what little time you have together matter.

 

I have learned that for me, this is a season of sacrifice and service, which is incredibly draining. And it’s so hard because I am naturally a selfish person, and the refining process is a very painful one. It’s like God is taking a huge torch (called football season) and burning away all the crust that has coated my heart (called this-life-is-all-about-me). Which also means my husband better not think this life is all about him, either. It goes both ways. We are both being refined. We are both learning what it looks like to be more like Jesus.

And at the end of the day, I know he is showing Christ to a couple hundred men every single day, and that makes it so worth it.

When Your Family is Your Idol

Are we giving our kids any opportunity to actually SEE GOD WORK? In all of our protecting and in all of our keeping them separate what if we are not only protecting them from all the bad but we are preventing them from ever seeing God DO ANYTHING GOOD. They never experience any moments that make them say, “HOLY CRAP. Did you just see that? This God is AMAZING. Heck yes I believe!”

A couple of years ago, I was driving to my parents’ house down a neighborhood street. Charlee and Hattie were in the backseat, whining I’m sure. As we approached my parents’ street, I noticed a dark-skinned elderly woman, probably in her 80’s, walking down the street the same direction as us. In each arm, she toted a grocery bag, presumably from the convenient store a couple of blocks back. She was noticeably exhausted, walking with a limp, pausing ever few feet to catch her breath.

Since we were going pretty slow, I had a good 30 seconds to make a decision. She clearly needed a ride. Buuut I had my 3-year-old and 1-year-old in the car with me. What if she’s dangerous? What if that’s not really milk in her bag but a bomb? What if she’s pretending to walk with a limp but she’s actually a 25-year-old man in disguise? I have kids in the car. My kids’ safety always come first.

And I passed her. You guys. I passed an 80-year-old woman with a limp carrying two bags of groceries. Because of my kids.

Thankfully, God grabbed me by the neck and screamed, “ARE YOU SERIOUS??? Turn around, woman. She is 80 years old. Turn. This. Car. A. Round.”

I ashamedly swung a U and invited her into the passenger seat. She was so grateful and so precious. I took her about a half-mile down the road to a little shack, couldn’t have been much bigger than my living room, the grass taller than my kids. She gushed her thank-yous and crept to the door.

That was the first time I realized I loved my kids more than I loved Jesus. More than I loved bringing his Kingdom down to this Earth.

That was the first (but not last) time I realized my family was my idol.

 

 

Isn’t the gospel the story of a man who lived in the middle of an affluent neighborhood and hung out with mostly Jews? I mean, he was still pretty nice to the Gentiles, but wouldn’t have pursued a deep relationship with them. Isn’t it about how he REALLY loved all the religious people who went to church all the time? They were his faves. And I’m pretty sure he tried not to associate with too many people who would “ruin his witness”?

Or is it about a man who that calls for us to SELL OUT. Sell everything. Leave our family. To LOVE HIM MORE than our mother, father, sister, brother. More than our FAMILIES. To not let anything get in the way of spreading this incredibly GOOD news. To make fishers of all men, not just our own men.

What does it mean to raise children, to grow a family, in light of THAT kind of gospel?  When my instincts scream, “COME HERE LITTLE FAMILY! EVERYONE JUST HUDDLE TOGETHER SO THAT WE CAN BE SAFE FROM ALL THE BAD, SCARY THINGS!!” and I just want to tuck them under my wing and protect them from the whole world.

 

Should I protect them from all the outsiders, the no-gooders, the “least of these”? Should I shield them from the destitute, the addicted, the desperate? Should I just surround them with “Christian” people who listen to “Christian” music and send them to “Christian” camps?

Raising children can be terrifying, not only because this world is scary and the responsibility is HUGE but because at some point in the last couple of decades, Christian parents got the formula wrong. Kids aren’t buying it anymore. Why are young adults leaving the church in droves? What did we miss?

Maybe, they realized they couldn’t believe in something they’ve never seen. And maybe, just maybe, they’ve never seen God. Sure, they’ve seen church. They’ve seen praise bands. They’ve seen Bible Bowls. They’ve seen preachers. But they’ve never actually seen God. How could they? They’ve been tucked under our wing the whole time.

Are we giving our kids any opportunity to actually SEE GOD WORK? In all of our protecting and in all of our keeping them separate what if we are not only protecting them from all the bad but we are preventing them from ever seeing God DO ANYTHING GOOD. They never experience any moments that make them say, “HOLY CRAP. Did you just see that? This God is AMAZING. Heck yes I believe in Him!”

 

On our way to my parents’ house that day, Charlee rattled off question after question about that sweet old woman. Who was she? Why did we pick her up? What was wrong with her? Why didn’t she have a car?

I got to explain to her that this is what people do when they follow Jesus. Sure, we’d read bible stories about it. We had talked about taking care of people who needed help. But that was the first time she got it. That was the first time it meant something to her.

And I’d almost let it pass me by. For her. Because I’d rather her be safe than saved.