Transitioning to Tween Years

If there’s one topic that’s almost absent in the self-help genre of books, it would be the topic of raising tweens. This title was coined several years ago to describe the years right before our kids become teenagers. It’s a confusing age for kids. Their bodies are changing in weird ways, and they flip back and forth constantly between wanting to act like a young child and wanting to act like an adult. They don’t really fit anywhere, often feeling like outcasts because of it. And we parents sit on the sidelines all like, “What? The? CRAP???”

And there are basically no good articles or books to help us. Woohoo.

So, I’m about to write an article that isn’t going to be all that helpful either. You’re welcome.

But from much trial and error and a plethora of tweens in the house, here’s the one thing we’re learning the most: These years as parents are mainly about transitioning from hands-on to overseer.

A couple of years ago, Liam made the comment that it must be really hard for me to raise eight kids. I told him that physically, it was actually much harder when I had four kids. At that time, none of my kids were even school aged. It was me who had to prep all food, do all cleaning and laundry, dress my kids, strap them in car seats, carry them to and fro, teach them everything new, and make all decisions, usually with a baby on my boob. Now, I only prepare one meal a day (with a cooking helper I might add), do minimal cleaning, only fold my own laundry along with Bill’s, shop for kids clothes that my children dress themselves in, walk myself to the van where all kids are strapped in and ready to go (many times with lunch packed that I had nothing to do with), listen to them tell me about what they’re learning from reading on their own, and often get creative ideas from my kids to help me make decisions. And, well, there’s still a man who occasionally sucks on my boob, but never while those other things are going on… [oh to be a fly on the wall so I can see my poor, mortified mother’s face as she’s reading this].

The little years are the years your hands are literally full all the time! You never stop doing, and it’s physically exhausting. For us, this has changed immensely. Even with the amount of children I have, I don’t need to be nearly as active as I once was because my kids share so much of the load.

However, I’m not less exhausted.

My exhaustion has simply transitioned from a physical (though I’m still plenty active here, too, as a mom!) to a mental exhaustion.

These are the years my kids want time, time, and more time with me. They want to talk about everything from the newest Super Mario game (it’s Odyssey, if you didn’t know–I do now!) to feeling left out with friends in the neighborhood. They get extremely vulnerable late in the evening, ready to spill everything. Their slap-happy gets more ridiculous and funnier all the time. They tell me that I’m their best friend.

I’m loving it!! And it’s so incredibly hard because I would almost rather give my energy to physical work than that much emotional work. But the times I give myself up to listen, really listen, and simply talk as friends to my tweens have truly been some of the most blessed moments of my life.

Here are a few ways Bill and I have changed our parenting focus with this age:

  • Instead of us doing most of the physical work around the house, we watch over the kids work, giving them instruction and letting them learn by trial and error. We also inspect what we’ve expected. If you’re still doing most of the work here and your child is at least ten, I can almost promise you they’re able to do almost all the work you do.
  • I push myself to stay awake later at night. Even in college, I cried if I had to stay out after ten. I figure since I’ve acted like an old person for so long, it means I’ll be the best grandma ever.
  • Bill and I really try to carve out time for each other and give the kids most of the rest. The two of us really really love talking to each other, so we find every excuse under the sun to do so. Family walks–let’s hold hands and talk. Working in the kitchen–let’s talk. Family games–time to talk to Bill. Great quality in a relationship, not so great if it means the kids rarely get opportunities to talk to you because of it. We have time set aside as a couple every day and other times throughout the week, month, and year. And we push ourselves to be patient in the other times to wait for each other (cause true love waits–ba dum bum) so we can be free for the kids to talk our ears off.
  • We have weekly time set aside just for our tweens. We call it Dude/Chick Time. After everyone else is in bed, we split into guys and girls to talk about tons of things relevant to their lives.
  • As they enter this season, we take them on an individual weekend trip to talk to them about the changes that are coming up for them, how our bodies work, and sex. Every year after that, each of these kids get a day trip with one of us for some individual time and to continue these conversations.

We’d love to hear other ways you guys pour into your tweens. And we’d love your list of resources, too. Though we haven’t had great success finding quality ones we love, we still have hope they exist.


Skipping the Conversations

“Bill, I don’t know what to do. Every time my son needs correction, I try to sit him down, talk to him about his heart, read to him from the Scriptures and instruct him, ask him heart questions, then discipline him, pray with him, and assure him of my love. But every time I do, he just won’t listen and he fights against me and sometimes just leaves in the middle of it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!”

“Remind me again how old you little guy is.”

“He’s two.”

“Ah, yes, I know what the problem is: he’s two. All that talking and instructing and asking questions–he’s just too young. A time will come for that, but you’re just not there yet!”

I remember having this conversation with my friend several years ago. I was a few years ahead in parenting and freely felt I could tell him that while those steps are great, his son was simply not old enough and developed enough. I felt then (and still do) that there’s really not much conversation that needs to happen in those younger ages. You just don’t reason with a toddler. I mean, seriously. It’s painful to try. They certainly need instruction, correction, and assurance of love, but there’s not usually much more to it until they grow older.

The problem is that I had this conversation six years ago. And I said it knowing that “there would come a time” when conversations would increase and discipline would involve more dialogue than it ever had in the past. But now I have an eleven-year-old and somewhere along the way I missed my exit, still cruising on “How to Raise a Toddler” highway.

Which means that a whole lot of my parenting is a whole lot of my talking and my kids doing a whole lot of not talking.

Honestly, I’ve not transitioned well. And I really like that my kids are hitting that tween phase. But the reality is that I’ve transitioned poorly to having intellectually and emotionally capable kids who want to talk and process, and I don’t afford them the opportunity.

So, what does that mean? It’s funny, because it’s still in many ways new territory for me. Like Hermione Granger, when at loss I turn to books! I’m slated to read Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp soon and hope to follow that up with Everyday Talk by Jay Younts. And in these opportunities for talking and discussing, I know there are a few goals I want to accomplish:

  1. Hear from my kids and help them learn to talk through their sins, temptations, and troubles. This is something I’m particularly poor at even as an adult, so I want to train my kids how to speak openly and plainly about the deep matters of their hearts.
  2. Help them go to the Scriptures and understand how they apply to them. I’m certainly capable of doing this for them, but they’re at the age where I need to start handing them the reins. I want them to start making the link between their attitudes and behaviors to God’s Word, because I can’t meditate on the Word for them.
  3. Teach them how to process their sin against God and against others, and the appropriate responses for those sins. While this would certainly include seeking forgiveness from the one sinned against, what I’m particularly thinking about here is determining if any restitution needs to be made. I always find this tricky, because I don’t want the kids thinking they can atone for their sins (they can’t). Rather I want them to see that all sin has temporal consequences in addition to eternal ones–and they have a responsibility for those temporal consequences, whether that’s replacing something or offering a service or whatever. But I want to lead the kids into figuring this out instead of simply telling them.
  4. Begin the process (slowly!) of treating my kids like the adults they will be. Even though they’re not adults yet and still have years to go, there will come a day when they are neither under my watch nor under my authority. I want my children to see that my authority has always been derivative. Self-discipline and self-assessment will be the tools to remind them to follow the authorities that will come after me, and much more the authority of the triune God himself. This is really just a fancy way of saying I want them to learn obedience apart from my presence–because God is ever-present.

What about you readers out there? Those of you with tweens and older, how have you found ways to connect with your kids? What have you done to train them for the day they won’t be under your roof anymore? Do you have any resources you’d recommend?

Loving the Unlovable

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

The richness of this passage is one of the main reasons Bill and I began the adoption process. While were still his enemy and completely deserving his righteous judgement, Christ died for us. After his death was the resurrection, giving life to those who put their hope and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. With that life comes almost the most unbelievable part–we are now joint-heirs with Jesus, adopted as sons and daughters of God himself. So now, the enemies of God inherit the very kingdom of that same God, as his beloved children.

If that’s been done for me, how can I possibly not turn around and adopt children far more innocent than I am? How can I not give them an inheritance, a family, and a true belonging they wouldn’t have otherwise?

So we adopted. We were excited. We love children, wanted more, and couldn’t wait to add to our numbers. It was going to be great.

Except it wasn’t.

As much as we love children generally, we quickly realized just how much we prefer our bio kids to other kids. Our two new children looked different, smelled different, sounded different, and acted very, very different. And to be completely honest and put myself out there in a terrifying way, we didn’t and still don’t love them in the same way we love our original six.

I hate saying it more than almost anything else. Because they’re beautiful. Because they can’t help the way they were raised or the terrible things that happened to them. Because I should be able to extend the same grace and love to them that’s been extended to me. But as of today, my heart still isn’t there. I’m a sinner who doesn’t really believe the truth of the passage quoted above. I think I deserve my inheritance because I’ve worked so hard to earn God’s love, and in the same way I expect my children to work hard to earn my affection, too.

It’s despicable, and I have no defense.

But I want to be real. I want to let those of you who are considering adoption in on the secret I didn’t know beforehand–most of the adoptive parents I’ve talked to feel the same way in the beginning, some for years. The biggest exception here seems to be newborn adoption or adoption before the couple had biological children. Otherwise, most (not all) have struggled in this area at least for a time.

Honestly, though, even if I’d known, I’m sure in my pride I would have believed I was better than all of them. I know the gospel, unlike them. I have a ginormous heart for children, unlike them. I’m a better parent than they are. I have more experience. Yada yada yada. Once again, I’ve gotten to eat a big slice of humble pie.

My love for them is growing on the graph. You know the graph that dips and rises all over the place but is slowly rising over all? That would probably best describe it. At one point early on, I almost wouldn’t have been upset if something had fallen through and they wouldn’t have ended up as official Bells (yes, I’m determined to keep it real as hard as this is to type), but now I’d be devastated. Some days I feel like I could eat them up or hold them for hours on end. Some days mama bear comes out if one of them has had their feelings hurt. All this is confirmation to my heart that God is still working and perfect and loves them and loves me and won’t stop knitting us together.

But it’s a daily battle. Truly the hardest thing I’ve experienced. I can’t stand loving them differently. I’m impatient and want all the lovey dovey feelings to come now.

But I’m also more grateful than I can say that those feelings have yet to come.

I’m grateful because the passage above has hit me harder than ever before. If I’m having this difficult of a time loving little ones who have done nothing to be my enemy, how much greater of a love have I received from a God I have denied, spit upon, hated!? He made me his beloved child, adopted me as his own, while I hated him. He’s lovely, I’m unlovable, yet he loved me in a far deeper way than is possible to imagine. And he did it according to the pleasure of his will.

And because of that vast unfailing love, I can trust that he won’t abandon me, won’t stop growing me up to look more and more like him, won’t let his girl continue in sin. I can trust that he loves all my children perfectly where I love imperfectly, and he’ll grow them, too, in spite of their mother’s failures. He’ll even use my failures they see to show them more and more to never put their hope in anyone or anything besides him. And he’ll continue to show all of us that even the sin that stops us from loving well has been paid for on the cross, that we’ll never be able to do it on our own, and he’ll give us reason to rejoice in him once again.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

New Year Preparation

I love fresh starts. It seems like most people do. And obviously many use the good ol’ January 1st for that purpose every year. I don’t claim there’s anything magical about that day in particular, but our family does join with the rest of the country to do some re-evaluating and goal setting. It’s a quieter time when the craziness of the holidays is dying down, and it’s the middle of the school year. So why not?

Here are some things we do to prepare for the new year:

  • Go through Don Whitney’s “10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year or on Your Birthday.” Psst, there are actually 31 questions… This just gets the good ol’ noggins going regarding priorities.
  • Clean out our file folders. It’s a great time for it since we’ll start getting new tax forms in the next few weeks.
  • Evaluate our budget from the previous year and rework it to suit our needs.
  • Plug into our calendar a long (7-day) and short (extended weekend) family vacation, four personal retreats for Bill and me (two each), a weekend getaway for Bill and me, and a dudes’ weekend and a chicks’ weekend (for Bill and our boys and then me and our girls). These get planned to intentionally set aside time for memory making, reconnecting, rest, and evaluating.
  • Prioritize big purchases we plan to make.
  • Make one overall family goal (this year it’s prayer), and one goal for Bill and me (this year mine’s doing one thing at a time, no multi-tasking; Bill’s is moving more slowly, not being too quick to act).
  • List books we’d like to read in the next year.
  • Take a fresh look at our daily and school schedule, deciding what needs to change.
  • Come up with blog goals (these will be posted tomorrow).

Getting Back into Blogging

Blogging is a bittersweet thing for me. It takes more time than I feel like I have or want to give to it, and it tempts me to feel like I need to perform, making everyone think I’m oh-so-wise and have it all together. On the other hand, it challenges my mind, gives a woman who doesn’t scrapbook a way to record memories, encourages me to expose my sins and failures so I can shout to the world my continuing need for a savior.

Since Josiah was born, we haven’t blogged. I have never felt more out of control as I have since moving to Indy, and blogging was the last thing I wanted to think about. This has been one of the most difficult years I have known with more transitions than I care to go through again. The last two weeks, however, I’ve finally started to feel slightly settled, a sensation I haven’t known since January.  The last two weeks have also proven to be my most emotional. You know those times when your adrenaline kicks in and you totally keep it together, then fall apart when it’s all over? You now have your visual of my current state.

For many reasons too long to explain in one post, part of the solution to my insanity has been Bill encouraging us to get back to blogging. Today I looked at Bill once again in desperation and simply repeated a phrase I know well, “I don’t know what to do!” Bill looked at me and told me that if someone else were sitting in my living room saying the exact things I were saying, I would most likely know how to encourage them. Once again I heard the words, “I think you should write about it.” This time his words are sticking. I want to write again. I want to expose myself, messes and all. I want to be reminded that the question is not, “What do I do?” but “Who has done it?” We both want this blog to serve its original purpose–to share our footnote in the One Great Story and help ourselves others learn how to look to Jesus in both our failures and successes.

Life With a Preemie

This post is more like a journal entry, but there are many thoughts that can run through your head when you’re sitting in a hospital day in and day out waiting for your son to simply develop the skill to suck, breathe, and swallow at the same time.

Our sixth little babe, Josiah, was born on the 26th of June. He’s gorgeous. He was also born at 33 weeks, our first premature baby. I feel like a first time parent again. And I’m an emotional roller coaster. Of course, Bill would probably say that’s pretty much true of me all the time. 🙂 The following is simply a list of thoughts with no summary statement. Just one mama being transparent.

Things I’m grateful for:

  • Josiah was big for a preemie (5 lbs.) and is doing remarkably well
  • The delivery was great, in fact it was the easiest delivery I’ve had (except for a little placenta issue that will be told on our other blog)
  • I couldn’t be happier with the care we’ve gotten at this hospital, both the nurses and doctors who took care of me and the ones who are caring for our little man
  • The kids love their new baby brother
  • God used my hospital stays to connect us with some sweet new friends and believers–one nurse is part of a church that is generally doing the same thing Bill and I came to Indy to do (inner-city stuff)–this same nurse wants to set up meals for us when we all get home; another nurse has invited our whole family (yep) to her farm
  • Josiah latched on today and took in 10ml of milk from me–I cried and laughed at the same time (did I mention anything about being an emotional roller coaster?)
  • We still are being loved on by our friends in the Louisville area–one sweet sister drove up to Indy yesterday with the plan to take care of our kids as we need her–Bill will be driving them down to her tomorrow to stay for the rest of the week
  • Bill has been blessed again with a flexible job and an understanding boss, so he’s had a bit more freedom with hours and some ability to work from home, making him more available for the five kids at home and the wife and baby in the hospital
  • I feel great, really great, better than I usually do after having a baby
  • I’m always reminded during these times how gracious our parents are–Bill’s parents took all five kids to their home in Murray last week, all week, so we could focus on Josiah; my parents came in this week with the plan to stay with the kids “as long as it took”–we had to force my mother to go home when we realized she was unwell with some kind of inner-ear issue after flying home from Liberia last week (yep, she’s a rock star)–otherwise she would have stayed on and suffered silently through the whole week
  • My faith is being challenged and grown bit by bit every day
  • I can now say I’ve done it all when it comes to birthing babies
  • Bill and I decided Josiah would be the last baby I would carry a few months back after realizing with some medical advice that my body was shutting down to having babies–this was confirmed by the doctor who delivered Josiah based on the complications that came along with the delivery–it gave me more peace about calling it quits in the pregnancy department
  • I’m getting some planning done in my down time
  • Josiah will most likely only be in the hospital 2-3 weeks–I have known people whose little ones have been in the hospital for months–my heart suddenly hurts for them much more

Things my sinful heart is tempted to complain about:

  • When I’m with Josiah, I desperately miss my children at home; when I’m home, I desperately miss Josiah
  • My heart stops every time Josiah’s oxygen levels go down, even though it’s perfectly normal for a preemie and the nurses have it totally covered
  • I’m emotionally and physically exhausted
  • It’s lonely to be here in a new city without the huge friend support we’ve grown so accustomed (aka been undeservedly blessed) to have–I hate my sinful, selfish flesh
  • My kids at home are going to go away again to be cared for by other people–I want to care for them
  • Everything is unpredictable right now–I don’t do unpredictable well
  • I miss cuddling with, reading to, and playing with the five at home–pattern anyone?
  • As Bill said today at lunch around our table, “One of our places is empty right now. Let’s pray that little Josiah gets to come home soon to fill it.”
  • I want to be all alone and with a million people at the same time