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THE CHRISTIAN MAMA'S GUIDE TO THE GRADE SCHOOL YEARSEVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO SURVIVE (AND LOVE) SENDING YOUR KID OFF INTO THE BIG, WIDE WORLD
By ERIN MACPHERSON
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Erin MacPherson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGetting into the Big-Kid-Mama Groove
Surviving and Thriving as You Transition into the Grade-School Years
It's a little bit ironic that the first time (ever) that Joey slept past 6:00 a.m. was on his first day of kindergarten.
During Joey's toddler and preschool years, I had literally tried every possible strategy to get Joey to sleep in. We begged. We pleaded. We bribed him with chocolate chip pancakes on any day that he slept past seven. Which never happened. We even got one of those "Okay to Wake" clocks that glowed when it was okay for him to get up, which only resulted in him waking me up at 5:00 a.m. to check and see "if the clock was still working." It was.
Anyway, by the time Joey turned five, I had given up on turning him into a late sleeper. We made a rule that he had to stay in bed—reading or whatnot—until the sun came up. If he wanted to wake up at o'dark thirty and just lie there, then that was his prerogative. And so he did, morning after morning, month after month, year after year. Until that hot day in August when he had to go to school for the first time. On that day, he decided to sleep in. In fact, I had to drag him out of bed by 6:30 to make sure we made it to school on time.
The next day, he slept in again.
And on that Saturday morning, he slept until eight. Eight in the morning! And as he trudged down the stairs in all his bed-headed glory, he announced to me that now that he was in kindergarten, he was going to start sleeping like a teenager. (Because, in case you're wondering, teenagers sleep until eight. Or something like that.)
I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but your kid is growing up. And that means your parenting is going to have to grow up a bit too. You probably no longer have to worry that your kid is going to wake up at 4:42 a.m. and dump Cheerios all over your bed. Or have a potty accident at playgroup. Or have a meltdown in the middle of the Target aisle. (Unless, of course, a sugar-low coincides with a sale on sticker books, in which case all bets are off.)
Big-kid parenting is just different from baby or toddler parenting. Where before you were vigilant, now you have to be strategic. And where before you were black-and-white, now you can start to add some color to your parenting. You can add some orange ideas here and a bright turquoise discipline choice there. And before long, you'll discover a whole rainbow of possibilities with your big kid. Okay, enough with the cheesy metaphors—I'm sure you get it. Your kid is bigger. And that means you have to start parenting bigger too. I've written this book to help you do exactly that. But first, here are a few tricks and tips to help you get into the big-kid-mama groove.
How to Get into the Big-Kid-Mama Groove
1. Think before you act.
Back in your toddler-mama days, you had to think fast. Because if you didn't make a diving leap in front of your kid as he walked toward the mud puddle, he was certainly going to find a way to get every drop of water from that puddle into some place that it didn't belong. But now your kid is a big kid. And with that comes a measure of security. You probably don't have to worry that he's going to touch the hot coals in the fireplace or smear sweet potato puree onto the underside of the couch cushions. And that security buys you time to think a bit before you act. Nothing is as pressing as it was when your kid was small.
So what exactly does more-thinking, less-reacting parenting look like? It means instead of jumping to reprimand or reward your kid, you spend some time thinking about the best way to approach each situation. And—even more important—you allow your kid to spend time contemplating the best approach to each and every situation as well. So instead of jumping to your kid's rescue when he's struggling to figure out how to put together his Legos, allow him the space to ask for help. And when he misbehaves, don't intervene immediately, but allow both of you some time to cool off and consider things. Because the more you allow yourself—and your kid—to think, the more he's going to learn and grow.
2. Lean on God more than ever.
Letting go is hard. Remember that story I told you in the introduction about the day I dropped Joey off at kindergarten for the first time? What I didn't tell you is that after I pulled out of that parking lot, I had to pull my car over because I was crying so hard that I couldn't see. I sat there on the side of the road—within view of the school—and sobbed for a good twenty minutes. Because my baby took my heart with him as he walked into that school.
My motherly instinct is to hold on—to cling to my children as if they are mine to hold and protect. And while I know that God's purposes for my children require independence, my mother's heart still needs some convincing. Because when my eyes see big kids—kids who are ready to face the big, wide world and all that comes with it—my heart still sees those tiny, precious babies I once cradled in my arms. Tiny babies who have grown up way too fast.
I know I still have a lot more letting go to do—I can't even imagine the tears I will shed when my tiny babies move on to middle school and then high school and—I don't even want to think about it—college. But now, while each tiny step feels like a rite of passage of its own, I'm learning to lean on Christ more than I ever have before. I cannot fulfill my job as a mother by clinging to my own understanding—because my human emotions and desires stand in the way of God's bigger picture. And only by turning to Christ will I teach my children that they, too, can turn to Him as they grow.
3. Rely on prayer.
I'm a fixer. If I could, I'd like to pave the road for my kids with rainbows and cotton balls so that if they ever hit a snag, they'll land on a cuddly cloud of softness. (I'm sure Joey will love it when I talk like that when he's a teenager. Especially in front of his friends.) Anyway, when Joey mentioned to me one day last year that a kid in his class—let's call him Mr. Meanie Pants—had called him a "wimp" at school and refused to play with him at recess, I wanted to call up Mr. Meanie Pants' mom and tell her exactly what I thought of her kid's bully tactics. That'd teach him to mess with my kid.
But I didn't call because I knew that part of growing up is learning to do things on your own. Well, that and I didn't have Mr. Meanie Pants' mom's phone number. Instead, I prayed. I prayed that God would give Joey the insight to stand up for what is right. I prayed that Joey would learn how to discern right from wrong on the playground without becoming a bully or a victim. I prayed that I would know the words to say to help him learn important attributes, like courage and kindness and respect.
I honestly don't know what happened with Mr. Meanie Pants. I have a feeling that by the time they hit the playground on the next day, both kids had probably forgotten about the incident and had moved on. Because Joey never mentioned Mr. Meany Pants again in a negative light.
I have to say that the incident with Mr. Meany Pants taught me a valuable lesson. (And no, it wasn't that playground politics should be left on the playground, although that's important too.) I learned that while my mama-bear instincts might tell me to toss gumdrops and lollipops at my kids, to make sure their days are happy, my Christian instinct should always be to turn toward prayer. Because while I won't always be able to fix things for my kids, I can always rely on God to stand in the gap for them.
4. Make quality time a priority.
Once your kid starts school, those easy-breezy days when you had nothing to do but sit around in your pajamas and read the same stories over and over and over are, well, over. And I'm telling you this because I know how much people love it when I state the obvious. But also because I want to save you the embarrassment that will certainly come when your kid shows up at school and tells his teacher that he spent his summer eating Cap'n Crunch out of the box because "mommy didn't have time to wash the spoons."
Schooling takes time—and whether you send your kid to school or homeschool, the amount of free time you have to just hang out with your kid will certainly decrease. But I'm a quality over quantity type of person. I mean, think about it: would you rather have a whole bag of M&M's or one really amazing piece of rich, expensive dark chocolate? Okay, forget that analogy, because the obvious answer is both. But my point is that even if you don't have a ton of time with your kid, you can still make that time count.
One thing I do is set aside after-school snack time as "us" time. I whip up a from-scratch batch of chocolate chip cookies—okay, I feed him Goldfish crackers—and spend a half hour talking to him about his day. I also try to do something fun as a family each weekend—go on a bike ride or go bowling—so there is something nonschool and non-chore related that we can do together at least once every week. Whatever we're doing, I make it a point to spend quality time with my kids every day.
Ready, Set, Invest
Throughout this book I hope to give you tips, ideas, and strategies to go beyond simply parenting your kids. Because I know that's simply not enough. Instead, I want to help you invest in your kids' Christian heritage—not their future success, their academic achievement, or that football scholarship you're hoping for—but in who your kids are in Christ. Because the truth is, as you send your kid out into the big, wide world, your ultimate goal is not that your kid will learn to stand on her own two feet, but instead, to learn to stand on the Rock.
Time-Out for Mom
For When You're Preparing Your Heart to Send Your Kids Out into the World
"Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments." (Deuteronomy 7:9)
Heavenly Father, I am so grateful for Your faithfulness! I know that You have a covenant of love with Your children, and that is such a comfort to me! I am scared right now, Lord. I am getting ready to send my baby away from the shelter of my nest and into the world. Guide my words and my actions, Lord, so I can prepare my child to be a servant, a disciple, and a follower of You. Help him shine bright in a dark world so Your love will be evident through everything he does. Amen.
10 Things to Remember as You Send Your Kid Off into the Big, Wide World
1. There's a reason that glitter glue and baby wipes were on your school supply list. And it's the same reason that you shouldn't send your kid to school in the eighty-dollar suit that your mother-in-law got him for Easter.
2. Make your kid memorize the following: I will bring my lunch box home from school every day. Because there's a hard-and-fast rule at my house that mommy doesn't pick moldy carrot sticks out of the cracks of lunch boxes.
3. Your kid may say he understands the book checkout system in the library. He may even think he understands the book checkout system in the library. But you should probably go over it again before the next class library day. Because twenty confused kids equals one frustrated librarian and the chance that your kid won't be able to check out the new Fly Guy book until next week.
4. "Because I said so" is a perfectly acceptable answer to the question, "Why can't I bring my pet lizard to school?" But that doesn't mean your big kid won't try to find out why exactly it's such a bad idea for himself.
5. The desire to be clean apparently must develop post–elementary school. So that battle you've been doing to get your kid to bathe, well, it will continue for the foreseeable future.
6. It's still okay to kiss your kid good-bye. Just do it quickly, before his friends see.
7. Even if your kid can read to himself now, he will still love it when you read him a bedtime story.
8. Just because you pack kale chips and a sprouted hummus sandwich in your kid's lunch, doesn't mean he's going to eat them. Chances are—smarty pants that he is—he'll find a way to swindle the girl next to him out of her Twinkie by saying that his quinoa bake is "a princess pie."
9. Your kid is watching you. And that means that your little meltdown over the fact that daddy is coming home late again will not only be stored in his little brain under "appropriate ways to react when frustrated," but will also probably be reported in full detail to his teacher, friends, and guidance counselor tomorrow.
10. Your kid may be a big kid, but he still needs his mommy. Make room for those gangly legs on your lap, and give your kid the time and space just to be with you. Because no kid is ever too big for mommy snuggles. Except for maybe a teenager.
Chapter TwoThe Fifteen Factors
Doing What It Takes to Help Your Kid Succeed
I've never actually seen or tried a magic potion, but I imagine that if I did, I'd really like it. Imagine how simple life would be if you could take a swig of some chocolate-covered-cherry delight and your stress instantly disappeared. A gulp of peach-cinnamon smoothie and that pile of laundry on your bed is folded. A sip of sparkling lemonade and suddenly you and your husband are whisked back to your honeymoon phase (and you'd still be able to pull off that hot-pink bra you bought way back when—I'd plunk down a good five hundred bucks for a bottle of that).
But I'd trade a lifetime supply of all of the aforementioned potions to get a bottle of Success-Guaranteed Juice for my kids. I imagine it would be some rainbow, sparkling, chocolate chip concoction that the kids would guzzle every day when they came home from school. And that concoction would guarantee that my kids would not only be successful in school—but also in life. In their walks with God. In their relationships with people. In their financial and work-related endeavors. What mom wouldn't want that?
Alas, there is no such potion. But the good news is that we as Christians have something better—God's perfect love for our kids. One guarantee we have as Christians is that God loves us (and our kids) in a way that surpasses all understanding. Which means God is working behind the scenes to bring His perfect plan into fruition—a plan that is exactly perfect for each and every one of our kids.
You see how I just used the word perfect three times in one paragraph? That wasn't an editing mistake (or my inability to use a thesaurus), but simply my effort to explain to you that God's plan is—you guessed it—perfect. Which means we can trust that our kids are in His hands and that He has a plan. And His plan is better than any magic potion for success.
Now that I've reassured you that God is in control, I want to remind you that God has called us to be active participants in the stewardship of our kids. Which means you can't just sit around sipping magic lattes while waiting for God to act. Instead, we imperfect parents are called to team up with our perfect God to lay the foundation for success for our kids. But before we go any further, I have a little confession to make: I don't really know what I'm doing. I can't give been-there-done-that advice because I simply haven't been there or done that. My oldest kid is six. He has never won the Nobel Peace Prize or led a team onto the mission field. He has yet to ace a spelling test. He was wearing diapers fewer than four years ago, for goodness' sake! And so, with this in mind, I feel very inadequate standing here telling you what you need to do to help your kids succeed in school and in life. I'm just a mom—a mom with young kids and a busy schedule, who is just trying to figure it all out as I go.
But I have discovered a magic potion, if you will, and that miracle is my mom, Ellen Schuknecht. I consider her a master educator and parenting expert—not only because she raised such an amazingly hip daughter (ha!) but because she has more than thirty-five years of experience working as an educator and parenting advocate. She was an early childhood teacher for more than fifteen years before she became an elementary school principal, leading two large elementary campuses to academic success. Now she works as the family ministries coordinator at a Christian school where she counsels parents and teachers on how to help their children succeed. Kind of makes you want to hire her to come live next door and help you raise your kids, doesn't it?
Excerpted from THE CHRISTIAN MAMA'S GUIDE TO THE GRADE SCHOOL YEARS by ERIN MACPHERSON Copyright © 2013 by Erin MacPherson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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