Another Mile to Share

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, or at least my posts, I’ve shared the journey that I’m on with my oldest, Ethan. He’s my prodigal son. I am the father left waiting to carry on with business. Each day, I watch the road.

It’s time for another update. In sharing my story, I hope to give hope! I hope to encourage! When we read these amazing stories of families who raise strong men and women of God, who finish their schooling with kudos and prizes and scholarships, it can be sad and disheartening to those of us with children who’ve gone a different direction.

We celebrate with you, moms and dads of those kids! But, our hearts hurt.

When last I wrote my blog post, The Prodigal, Ethan had left home, telling us that he didn’t want to live like he’d been raised. He loved us, but wasn’t interested in anything having to do with God or religion.

In fact, one conversation he and I had several months after he moved out had me questioning whether he had a mental illness. He was reading a book by a guy named David Icke (don’t even Google it — it’s awful) and according to him it was his new “bible” that he carried around everywhere. He demonstrated this by showing it to me.

David Icke proposes, among other things, that the government is run by an oligarchy comprised of inter-dimensional lizard people who brought the moon with them when they took over the world.

No, I am not kidding.

Yes, my heart was breaking as I listened to this intelligent, thoughtful young man speak so passionately about these new beliefs of his.

At this moment in time, I pause to allow one of three reactions:

  1. Ho hum…my children are babies and will never ever do anything like this. I’ll do my best to do things mostly right and we’ll live happily ever after. OR, a subset of this group is, “My teens are busy and involved in church and set to graduate at 16 years old with honors.”
  2. Good grief! I’m so thankful for my kids and the problems I am dealing with, with them! Perhaps I should just take a chill pill and realize that things aren’t as bad as they could be!
  3. WOW! I’m so thankful to know that I’m not alone! I thought it was only my kid that had gone off the rails!

If you’re in one of the groups that have no idea what it is to struggle with a child, at least not yet if your children are young, then you might not have even gotten this far reading! I know I wouldn’t have when Ethan was five and teaching himself to read and wise beyond his years!

My word to you is, “Enjoy it! Be thankful for it! Count your blessings!” And perhaps even, “Remember to pray for those of us who have more challenges!”

If you’re still reading, you probably have a measure of OCD and feel compelled to finish since you’ve gotten this far. Or, it seems like a train wreck and you just can’t look away! Well, stick around! You never know what you might learn!

To those in the second group, my advise to you is, “Take a chill pill!” Okay, I’m mostly kidding. It’s hard to relax when it’s your child and your struggles. You might possibly read to the end. Because there is hope! And, the struggle is real!

My brothers and sisters in the third group, you need to settle right on in, grab a cup of whatever you enjoy drinking hot, and take a deep breath! We are in this together and this is the “keeping-it-real zone!” I’ll share my story, warts and all, and somehow, someone might find hope and blessing from it!

The first time Ethan and I talked, he shared all about this guy Icke’s ideas, and I sat there with a mildly-interested look on my face, a stone in my heart, and a roiling in my stomach. I didn’t challenge, I didn’t argue, I didn’t reason. I simply gave him the gift of listening quietly but engaged. I didn’t ask him any questions because I didn’t want to hear the answers!

What I’d learned about my son is that if I disagreed, he would become more solidly lodged in that opinion. If I questioned or challenged, he would hear disapproval. I was going to give him neither of these things.

And so we talked about this and that as if it were the most normal thing in the world. And, my heart broke and I wanted to weep.

The second major conversation we had, I did the same while his behavior was, again, very odd and left me thinking that perhaps I was dealing with some kind of a mental illness. What a hopeless feeling; even if he were, what could I do? He wasn’t living with us, and should I do anything at all, it would likely put a wedge in our relationship that might be irreparable!

Our interactions, though infrequent, went much like this over the course of the next six months or so. Never once did I disagree with him or challenge him. I simply listened and smiled and nodded and left him with no doubt whatsoever that I loved him more than life. Period.

At a certain moment in time, I can’t pinpoint when, he stopped talking about Icke. He didn’t look up at the stars suspiciously. He stopped insisting that oil wells were not what they seemed. And, he referenced the Bible. He referenced it like, “The Bible says so too…” And though it wasn’t completely accurate, I thought it interesting that he brought it up at all.

While relaying my story and my struggles, I’ve always tried to propose that there is a different way to approach things than makes logical sense. In dealing with soon-to-be-adult children, it makes sense that we resist behavior that we feel is wrong. It makes sense to argue with someone who seems to be making poor decisions or entertaining beliefs that are not in line with what we’ve taught.

What I’d like to put out there for consideration is that we drive our children away with our rightness, our arguments, even perhaps our subtle emotional blackmail or manipulation. I’m not talking blatant blackmail or manipulation. Many times it is much more subtle and harder to see, especially when our intentions, our motives, are only for their best!

What I can tell you is that he’s no longer talking about lizard people. He’s starting to comment about how events seem to be pointing to all the things found in Revelation. He’s beginning to talk about praying. In fact, he alluded to the fact that the new job he had is making him work on Sabbath when he preferred to work on Friday and Sunday. He’s still working on Sabbath, but being aware of it? That gives me hope, right there!

Just last month he texted me this picture, excited about his thrift shop find. I about fell over! Of course, responding to him I played it cool, “That is cool! Great condition!”

I can’t tell you how this story ends. He’s still living with his girlfriend and making dubious choices; I don’t point them out. He still believes that the earth is flat. Sighs.

But, we’re a mile further on and I thought I’d share.

National Day of Listening

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” James 1:19.

Today, November 23, is the (unofficial) National Day of Listening in the United States of America. Today, I want to encourage everyone, no matter where you may live, to take part in this as well. Modern times have us so busy we often don’t take time out to just listen and to be actively involved in listening. What makes this so special for us homeschoolers, is this can really clue us in to our surrounding family and friends, and can be a great ice breaker and guide to interviews, including community outreach.

Questions you may want to ask yourself today:

  • What is “active listening”? Active listening is the involvement of both verbal and non-verbal listening skills. The listener will listen with all five senses. The key is that you are responding and paying attention to the speaker. Non-verbal responses can include smiling, eye-contact, posture, and nods of the head. Verbal responses can include remembering, questioning, reflection, clarification, and summarization.
  • Am I an active listener? If you do most or all of the above, you could consider yourself an active listener. Active listening promotes positive relationships with others, and helps you to feel better about yourself. Sympathy and empathy can be reflected in emotional times as well.
  • How can I become a more active listener? Listening doesn’t “just happen.” When you use your senses, you become involved and seek to understand what is being said. Some helpful tips: Don’t take sides (stay neutral), have patience, don’t jump in with questions or commentary every time there is a bit of silence. As a pastor once told me, “Be sure to hold the heart of the other while listening.” Also, be careful of too much eye-contact, as it can appear intimidating. You will also find that when you successfully listen, that you will naturally mirror the speaker’s emotions as well (excitement, sadness, etc). Also, be careful that you refrain from being distracted while listening, as it can appear that what the speaker is sharing with you is unimportant and not interesting.
  • What are the benefits of active listening in the homeschool environment? When active listening is used in the homeschool environment, it deepens the student/teacher (parent) relationship. When a student feels they are being really listened to, they will feel cared for and connected. The student will become emotionally connected to their environment, and have a deeper desire and motivation to learn. Active listening is a huge motivator. The skill will help the student gain self-understanding, improve relationships, feel understood, feel cared about, build trust, and overcome poor-listening habits. Poor listening habits interfere with learning and feedback. Active listening will promote learning and feedback, and may also improve study skills.

To help you be an effective listener, these tips can help:

  1. Look at the person.
  2. Listen to words and feeling content.
  3. Be sincerely interested in the speaker.
  4. Restate what is said.
  5. Ask for clarification, when needed.
  6. Be aware of your own feelings and opinions.
  7. If you must state your views, don’t forget to “hold their heart” and use words carefully.
  8. Above all, don’t forget to ask God for guidance!

Active listening can be hard sometimes (it is a learning curve in my home), but with God, all things are possible. I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me!

 

Sources:

https://www.thoughtco.com/active-listening-for-the-classroom-6385

https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/active-listening.html

 

Thanksgiving Reflection

What are you grateful for this year? What are you reflecting on as you quickly entertain your kids while you fret over a Thanksgiving meal? What, besides the endless list in your mind, are you working so hard for? For whom are you working so hard…to thank? That’s on my mind this morning. That’s what I’m trying to narrow down, because I have so much to be thankful for.

Last year we were so focused on bringing our second, H, into the world, that Thanksgiving was simply a hi-and-bye holiday. Reflection wasn’t even an option at the time of rushing through our days. But this year, it’s full of reflection, reflection of where we started as a family. The one person it circles back to is my husband. He’s the one I’m thankful for this year, or every year actually, and every day of the year, down to every second of the year. The Lord has blessed us — from the start of our dating days, to marriage, to knowing when the perfect time for us to start a family would be; from enduring miscarriages, to finally getting our Ollie, and repeating the events to get our H, to surprising us with our number three.

The journey has been amazing no matter the event. We sometimes overlook how things go, how long it takes, how difficult a path is, how frustrating, and mind-numbing the challenge can be. But, once we hit the end results, we don’t consider how we arrived at the end. I’ve spent so much time lately focused on “what’s next,” that I forget to look back sometimes and be grateful at how far we’ve come as a family. Until this week. I’ve happily set time aside each day to see our past journeys and see how grandly the Lord has blessed us through each and every one of these journeys, how simply you can see Him playing a part through all of it, how He’s used each and every one of our event as a way to strengthen us as partners, and how us becoming stronger set us up for being the parents we are today and the parents we always will aim to be.

And again, I reflect upon how amazingly lucky and blessed I am for my one and only husband. Without his support I wouldn’t be the person I am today. He’s made me stronger and wiser. Without him I’d never know the unconditional love and security I have in him when things get tough, or have the opportunity to relish my daily joys — from simple events to grand homeschooling home runs.

Every day I’m grateful for my husband; every day I pray to God to bless him and our home. Every day I thank God for him, because without the husband, our home would be quite bare, our boys wouldn’t have a wonderful role model, and without his hard work we definitely wouldn’t be homeschooling. Being able to homeschool because of the hubby’s hard work is what stands out the most these days. Yes, it’d be nice at times to drop H off at a daycare, send Ollie off on a school bus, and get all my errands, chores, and cooking done before they are due back, but those “yearnings” only last for a split second…and then they’re gone because I see the wheels turning in Ollie’s mind connecting the dots, I see H discovering something new and looking at me with excitement. I treasure these moments because I know they’ll be gone soon.

Then, the hubby comes home, and before launching into his day and after giving kisses and hugs all around, he turns to me and asks how my day was. Did the boys and I have a good day? How is H doing, anything new? How am I feeling? Am I overwhelmed? Where can he help? What can he do around the home to help to make my burdens easier? The list goes on and on, and he never complains when I add to his work hours when he comes home. He just keeps going, even when he’s exhausted and the boys hang on him like little monkeys. He never complains as he puts both boys to sleep, knowing soon he’ll be adding a third to the bedtime routine. He never complains when I toss in the towel after a hard day and simply don’t want to lift a finger. He jumps in and takes over, and I’m beyond relieved to have such a helpful partner.

I never take for granted my other half, and I thank him almost daily for his help and support, just as often as he thanks me. Be grateful for your supporters of homeschooling. Homeschooling isn’t an easy avenue. Every day is met with challenges, new or old, but it’s also met with amazing results, knowing our kids are in the best possible situation. From having a gifted child to one who’s struggling in school, we all have our reasons for this journey and we all know it’s the right path for our kids — not the easiest at times, but the right one. I know not everyone may see your choice as the “right one,” but thank the Lord for the ones who support your journey, who cheer you on; thank the Lord, and thank them also. We always need the cheers, comforts, and understanding; otherwise, we probably would toss the idea of homeschooling aside and give up on the path. I sure wouldn’t be on this path without my husband’s support and encouragement. We need the support from each other, from friends and loved ones. But, most importantly, we need it from God Himself. Without feeling God in my heart when we homeschool, I wouldn’t be so certain that is the right path for us. But, I see Him and feel Him in everything we do, and now He plays a hand in us being able to do it.

Reflect on your time homeschooling, reflect on your journey, be thankful for how far you’ve come, don’t think of how far you still need to go, just think of where you are today and bask in it. Victories and failures have taught not only you and your kids so much, but they’ve helped you bond and become closer as a family. Thank your spouse, your best friend, your parents, whomever it is in your life that knows you’re doing an amazing job. Be thankful for them and their support.

Be also thankful for you, yourself! You are doing amazing things, you are working harder then anyone sees, you are doing something to better the lives of your children. You’re giving them a life, childhood, and education all in one swing, and you’re doing a fantastic job at it! Reflect on your journeys. You’ll certainly see your blessings.

Family Traditions Create a Family Story

My boys love stories. When one of the boys seem more demanding, more whiny, or is asking me to help them with something I know they can do, I know they are wanting my time and attention. So, we take time out together with a story. We do the same at bedtime. My boys have a hard time slowing down and going to sleep. Once again I turn to taking time to read several stories to help them calm down.

Stories are a way to create a cohesive and positive family experience during the holiday season. Stories are also a way to introduce children to the family spiritual belief system, long before they are ready to make a cognitive commitment of belief. Using stories during the holiday season is a way to meet both goals — create a shared family story, and share the parent’s spiritual beliefs. A family story, including spiritual beliefs, is shared among parents and children through family rituals and traditions. “The existence of and the participation in family rituals also seem to contribute to the individual’s identity within the context of the group. Through these rituals an individual may receive affirmation of his/her group membership, while at the same time being esteemed as a unique and special being,” (Smit, 2011). The desired outcome is that, through the experience of these rituals and traditions, each person in the family will experience a sense of belonging, of how precious they are, and will begin to incorporate these rituals and traditions into their life story as well.

During the holiday season we are with my extended family, and we will take the time to have a family game night. This is a way to include grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles in our family story too.

Allowing time during the holiday season for each person to share what traditions they enjoy, and then incorporating them into the family plan, includes each person in the family narrative. To revisit and participate in the traditions each year provides the potential for each family member to continue to experience a sense of belonging. Taking time, like on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, for each person to share their experiences, their story, of what it is like to live in their family, also allows the parents to hear what experiences of being in a family the children remember. This is particularly powerful as it helps address issues regarding belonging and exclusion in the family, and gives the opportunity for parents to make changes in order to increase a sense of belonging in a family.

However, the more frequently the traditions occur, the more likely a child is to remember them and include them in the narrative of their family experience. Finding ways to include daily, or weekly, or monthly traditions is a way to increase family cohesion, even if children are argumentative or don’t want to cooperate. Simple ways to emphasis rituals include the following:

  1. Have specific rituals upon arrival and departure of family members. When families greet each other and bid farewell to each other consistently, with affection and love, in spite of the presence of negative emotions, an increased feeling of belonging is created.  
  2. A family experiencing change or trauma can ensure children feel safe and a part of the family by following an expected daily ritual, such as a bedtime routine that includes time with Mom and Dad before bed.
  3. Traditions and rituals, such as Friday night worship, to welcome the Sabbath and to talk about their week, can be helpful to each family member as they try to find meaning in their shared experience.
  4. Having a weekly event such as the Sabbath — including time together, food, and maybe even other friends and family — is a respite from the mundane, and creates “sparkling moments” that create a shared history among family members that is easier for each person to remember.

Shared rituals help to provide an anchor for the relationship, reminding each family member they belong. “The structured parts of a ritual anchor us to our past, whether that is our personal past or that of our family of origin, community, culture, religion, or humankind,” (Imber-Black, 2009). It’s never too late to start traditions. Even if you have children who are teenagers, you can start new traditions, maybe by asking an adolescent what is important to them. Responding to a child’s idea, by allowing it to change your plans, to include them in your rituals or traditions, is a powerful way to demonstrate a child belongs. By making these changes, parents are providing a safe haven. In fact, through the use of positive and inclusive rituals, the family is able to create a shared narrative and experience transformation, even where chaos or trauma may have occurred.

The simplicity of a shared history allows each person to experience the strengths of the family. As the family experiences a shared narrative, each person has an idea of where they came from, who they are, and what their future may look like.

 

References:

Smit, R. (2011). Maintaining family memories through symbolic action: young adults’ perceptions of family rituals in their families of origin. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, (May), 355-367.

Imber-Black, E. (2009). Rituals and spirituality in family therapy. In F. Walsh (Author), Spiritual resources in family therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. (Original work published 2009)

White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.

Remembering

In Canada, November 11 is the day we celebrate Remembrance Day. It’s the day we honour our war veterans and those still fighting in wars. It’s a solemn day of reflection.

Their great-great-grandfathers memorial – Remembrance Day 2016

It’s important to take note of past events, of historical memories, of horrible atrocities and terrible actions. It is only in remembering the devastation they caused that we will find healing and pursue a different path. We need to view current events with an eye to historical events in order to make better choices for our future. We, as homeschoolers, must not ignore the difficult portions of history, the ones that make our country look bad, or the ones that make our hearts cringe. We must face these difficult topics head on, explore them fully with our children, and help them to critically think through the cause and effect of history and current events.

We make a big deal out of Remembrance Day in our home. My great-grandfather is buried near Flanders Field, and my grandfather fought in WWII. I firmly believe that by teaching my sons the history of war, they can learn to critically think through current political issues. I believe that by teaching our children even our most horrible history, we are taking a step towards preventing it from being repeated.

But, the  most horrible history is not always war. It is not always political. Sometimes, it is personal. The war between good and evil is just as real and needs to be told just as much as political history. We must speak of the hard topics.

Along with remembering those who have served and died in war on Remembrance Day, my family also remembers those who have lost the fight against evil. Remembrance Day falls between the birthdays of my siblings, both of whom are deceased. My brother died by suicide. My children know this family history. We discuss it regularly for a couple reasons: 1) so they can know a bit of who their aunt and uncle were; and 2) because they need to know suicide is not an option, that there are better choices.

Speaking of suicide has not opened the door to the option for my boys. Rather, it has opened the door to the conversation. With an ongoing discussion about the hard topics, I hope they can critically think through depressive periods in their lives and make a different choice than my brother did. I know they will experience depressive periods. Varying levels of depression can and do attack every person; no one escapes. We must open the door to these tough topics before they are relevant for our children.

Before another political leader tries to take over the world like Hitler during the time my grandfather fought in WWII, we must recognize the warning signs and say “no.” We must not allow it to happen again.

Before we lose more children to suicide, we must open the conversation, recognize the warning signs, and say “no, this is not an option.” We must not allow it to happen again.

Please open the conversation with your children. It’s tough, but it’s important.