Read an Excerpt
The Passionate MOMDare to Parent in Today's World
By SUSAN MERRILL
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Susan B. Merrill
All right reserved.
Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire. —Nehemiah 1:3
Nehemiah was born in exile but possessed the enviable position of cupbearer to a powerful king. At first, this job seems menial and possibly dangerous. After all, the cupbearer's job was to ensure that the king's wine wasn't poisoned—by drinking it himself. But the cupbearer had important advantages, including constant access to the king. It was common for a cupbearer to acquire influence and intimacy with the king.
So what was Nehemiah thinking at this point in his life? I picture him as a man of good standing, content with his productivity and position, and probably not looking to make a move. But, of course, God is always on the move.
One day Nehemiah received a visit from his brother, Hanani, and some friends. Nehemiah questioned his visitors, in search of news about their people who had survived the Babylonian exile and returned to Jerusalem. The news was not good: "Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire" (Neh. 1:3).
And then the waitress brought Nehemiah and his guests some dessert, and they discussed their upcoming holiday and vacation plans.
I'm kidding. But isn't that the way it usually goes with visits from our friends? How many times have I sat having coffee with a friend or phoned my sister and discussed the news? We talk about the lives of others, but do we really care?
When you hear of a broken marriage, a rebellious teen, or a financial misfortune, do you respond with interest, concern, and caring, shaking your head sadly over the tragic news? And what about bad news from your own kids' lives? Do you give them your undivided attention and respond with genuine empathy? Or do you thank goodness that the waitress came around again and allowed you to change the topic?
Could this possibly be the way it goes with your after-school discussions with your child?
"Mom, I saw something really weird on the computer today."
"Mom, my friend is having a slumber party, but I don't like spending the night there."
"Mom, my teacher said I make my nines and sixes wrong."
"Mom, I saw a girl picking on Sissy in the lunch room."
And then you pull in the drive and tell the kids to grab their stuff for ballet and baseball while you prepare a quick snack. Families are busy, and sometimes the providential hints about deeper issues get glossed over as we race through life.
Nehemiah did not gloss over what he heard from his brother. The city and the walls surrounding and protecting Nehemiah's people were a mess, but he did not move on to more pleasant topics. He listened. He perceived. The Bible says he questioned his visitors (Neh. 1:2). He assimilated and processed the information; he thought about what it meant to the safety and welfare of the people. He grieved their danger and their future.
The Israelites were in trouble, and what they needed was for someone to notice. They needed someone to rightly perceive the situation and take action. They had their man in Nehemiah. Do your children have their mom in you? Is there something going on in your child's life that she really needs you to perceive? Is she attempting to navigate some difficult waters without guidance because you haven't been listening?
Nehemiah had developed something every mom needs: depth perception. Perception is the vital ability to listen and process what is really happening in someone's life. It is not easy to force yourself to fully comprehend difficulties and to feel concern and even anguish, but for a mom it is necessary. So here is the first brick in building your own wall:
Brick #1 Perception
a Passionate Mom must perceive what is happening in her child's world.
My daughter Emily loved school until third grade. Then, out of the blue, she became increasingly distracted, grumpy, unorganized, and frustrated when she came home from school. Her grades were slipping. I jumped around a lot in my conclusions. Mostly, I blamed her. I thought she was goofing off because I had found lots of notes in her backpack that were being passed around in class.
The situation did not improve, and she was really getting frustrated with me getting frustrated with her. Then one day I learned that her teacher's health had been failing for months, and the teacher was leaving the class. Because the teacher didn't have the energy to teach, the class had gotten out of control. My daughter does not function well in chaos; she is easily distracted. The result was sketchy performance and irritability that were not her fault.
I had neglected to question her, listen to her, and assimilate the information I received. In other words, I had failed to perceive the situation and take appropriate action. Fortunately for my daughter, several other parents had better depth perception than I and had made the principal aware of the problem.
ALERTNESS, AVAILABILITY, AND ATTENTIVENESS
Nehemiah was miles away from his people when he heard the bad news, but he still cared about them and made it his business to know their world. He was alert to the cares of those he loved. Nehemiah was a very busy man, with a job that easily could have gone to his head and made him selfish, but it didn't. He was available to listen to his friends. Nehemiah put aside his busy concerns and inquired intently about the Israelites' welfare. He was attentive. Because Nehemiah was alert, available, and attentive, he got it. He fully understood the magnitude of the danger his people were in without a wall to protect them.
Children spend hours away from their moms—eight hours at school, two or three more hours in activities. They live a vast majority of their day in a world different from ours. How is your perception? Do you know this world well? Are you alert to the dangers present there? Are you available to talk when your kids are in the mood to share? Do you have an open rapport with them so you'll have the opportunity to hear about what transpires in their daily lives?
And what about others who live their lives in your children's world? Are you attentive to all who may be a source of information about your kids? Do you take opportunities to seek news from teachers, other parents, and coaches?
Alertness, availability, and attentiveness are traits that a mom must possess. They are necessary ingredients in the mortar that will hold the brick of perception in the wall.
When my nephew and niece were just two and four, my sister, Kathie, started using a new babysitter. The sitter was highly recommended, and Kathie was thankful to have a regular sitter for Saturday nights.
Neither of the children had ever fussed when my sister and brother-in-law left them with previous sitters, but after just one occasion with the new sitter, four-year-old Maggie, who is normally very independent and outgoing, became shy and clingy when the sitter arrived. By the third Saturday night, Kathie had a feeling something was not right. There were subtle changes in my niece's personality and sleeping habits. There weren't any bruises or other signs of mistreatment, and the kids responded well to the sitter when they saw her in public, but Kathie's "Mommy senses" were on alert. Her husband told her she was being paranoid and attributed the changes to a "mommy phase," but Kathie could not let it go and set up a hidden video camera.
The video explained everything. The sitter and the children watched television the entire night—graphic, crime-solving TV shows that were frighteningly inappropriate for a two- and a four-year-old. The video also showed the sitter having dinner, but she never fed the children. Instead, she put them to bed and ignored their cries. Needless to say, this sitter never returned, and my sister learned to stay alert to those subtle changes in her children's personalities.
Do you have a chatty child? I have some who chat and some who don't. The former require that you make yourself available for hours. For every five thousand words they speak, there will be those fifty that you really need to hear—but you only hear them if you make yourself available to listen. Some time ago my most romantic child wrote this about the countless hours she needed my availability:
Then there is the subject of L.O.V.E. Love can mean so many different things. But young love can be confusing. I, unfortunately, am the kind who falls in and out of "love" as fast as you take on and off your shoes. I like to think I'm a lover, not a liker. I couldn't begin to count the times I cried to my mother, swearing that this guy was the one of my dreams! I realize it could have gotten a tad bit annoying, but one thing I am so grateful to my mother for was her patience. She gave me her time and allowed me to grieve. After all, it is a tough world out there—especially for impressionable girls like me. We meet a boy, then like the boy, then—whoa—we suddenly love the boy! It just happens—we can't help it. Unfortunately, it most often doesn't work out the way we want, and our heart gets broken. My mother gave me the best gift when this happened to me. She let me grieve. She let me have feelings and let me express them to her. She didn't scold me and tell me to get over it! No, she just held me and explained, "Honey, it happens ... I had to wait a long time until I found your daddy. And when I finally did find him, I had to wait a lot longer until we were together." Love takes patience, and I thank God that my mom was patiently there for me.
A lot of little children just babble about their days, and most multitasking moms can listen while still executing a few little tasks. It can become a dangerous habit, though, and may result in you tuning out your children. Nancy, a friend and coworker, is wonderful about putting everything else aside and listening to her children (and me) because she values people. She has made it a commitment to sit down with her children at the table after school during their snack to fully participate in conversation that usually evolves into a length of time because she is engaged.
For me, attentiveness means staying up until my children come home—following them into their rooms and hanging up clothes as they change and brush their teeth. It may sound as though I am catering to my children, but having small tasks to do is a natural reason for me to be with them, and they will often open up and chat about the night while I'm helping out.
TWO KINDS OF PERCEPTION
Perception can be both offensive and defensive. Let me explain.
Sometimes perception can be used offensively to help us encourage our children. For example, you may perceive through observation that your child has a gift. Offensive perception can further help you assimilate information about that child's abilities and giftedness and how best to foster them.
When our first two children were very young, they went to a wonderful, very structured school. Our firstborn, Megan, fit right into the structure and did very well. We loved the program.
Two years later Emily started school there too. After her fourth day, she jumped into the car and announced that she had been sent "to the wall." The wall is where you had to stand if you were in trouble. Megan had never been sent to the wall in two years, but Emily was sent there after just four days. I was alarmed.
"Why were you sent to the wall?" I asked.
"Ariel Mermaid was playing in my head, and I just had to sing her out," she proudly exclaimed.
One week later Emily informed me—a bit more hesitantly because she now knew that I would not be excited about her announcement—that she had been sent to the wall again. Yikes. "Why?" I asked.
"I ate some Play-Doh," she sheepishly answered.
I reminded her that we had already explored Play-Doh and that it was not flavored; every color tasted the same.
"But, Mommy," she said, "it was a new color, and I wanted to be sure."
I made an "offensive perception" about Emily at that point. Based on her first few weeks at school, I perceived that this child had a creative bent, and I had better find an outlet for it so she could control her creativity in school! Offensive perception can give a mom vision about her child and help her take action to encourage that child in his or her area of giftedness.
Other times perception can be used defensively to protect our children. You may perceive that your child is making unwise choices and getting into trouble. Defensive perception can help you protect and redirect that child. This is particularly true during the middle school and high school years. These are times of extreme flux for a child, and you never know exactly what may happen.
One of our children spent the first twelve years of life in an impoverished country. When we adopted her, she had a hard time with food. Its abundance and availability were a distraction for her and invoked the early signs of a potential eating disorder.
She started her education here in a tiny private school where everyone brought his lunch and there were only five children in her grade. The school was the perfect fit for her, and because she was extremely bright, she quickly caught up to her grade level. Then she moved to a much larger middle school.
It was a big jump, but not academically. She was up for the challenge in that category. What overwhelmed her was going from the lone picnic table at her little school to what equated to a food court at her new school. There were too many choices of food to buy, and too many people to share food with or receive leftovers from.
As we chatted during the first few weeks, I focused on her social adjustment because the school was much bigger, and I was concerned about her adjusting to life there. She had a new friend whom I asked about often. The girl was quite small and shy, but so was my daughter, so I thought they might forge a unique and empathetic bond. But from bits of conversation here and there, I learned that the new friend was very thin and was required by her teachers to leave class to eat snacks at certain times. She had a disorder, and I was troubled to realize that my daughter was enjoying far too much of the food that her friend desperately needed to eat but didn't want.
I made a "defensive perception" about my daughter. She was tempted by food and was not, at that point, able to withstand the temptation. Her friendship was not healthy for her or for her friend. She was happily overeating food that was meant for a child who needed to eat it. Defensive perception helps us see situations that require action to protect our children from temptations that they are not mature enough to handle and to train them in ways to overcome weaknesses.
These two forms of perception work together. When we adopted our son, he was already nine years old. Grant had lived in a village in Siberia, where he had never gone to school and pretty much had always done what he wanted, when he wanted. This meant that he was used to bouncing around like a Ping-Pong ball at every hour of the day and night.
The overactive Grant hit the limit at about month three into the adoption. It was Christmas break. All the kids were home all day. In Florida, that means playing outside. Grant was out of control, and my kids weren't the only ones complaining. He was driving the neighborhood kids crazy. He was so out of control that he hit our neighbor in the face with a broom. The neighbor was a high school football player three times Grant's size. When the mother of a defensive lineman politely mentions to you that your son is being rough, you can't help perceiving you have a serious problem.
My defensive perception: Grant had a problem with self-control that stemmed from too much energy. So I had Grant get out my bike; then I hopped on and pedaled away. "Come with me," I yelled over my shoulder.
He happily ran after me, and we continued for about half a mile before he said (and I wish you could have heard it in his little Russian accent), "Mom, what are we doing?"
I explained that from that day forward he had to run around the block whenever he did something wrong. I then told him that he had seven blocks to run for the seven misdemeanors so far that day.
"Okay," he said, "what is this block for?"
"This block is for knocking your sister over."
And around and around we went. He chattered for 3.5 miles. He hopped on and off the curb, leapt over puddles, and jumped to swat tree branches. He wasn't even remotely out of breath. He was only nine. After that he usually had to run almost every day.
Months later I had an offensive perception: I could use Grant's energy problem as an opportunity. It was a week before the Gasparilla 15K, an annual nine-mile race in Tampa. I asked a friend of ours who was running in the race if he would let Grant pace behind him. He was fascinated with Grant's story and agreed.
At mile eight in the race, my friend, amazed that Grant did not even seem winded, cut him loose. He pointed to the finish line ahead and said, "Run, Grant, run!" Grant bolted for the entire remaining mile and won the race for his age group.
To this day Grant is still running, but not as a consequence for disobedience. He is running for pleasure in high school and winning at state competitions.
I perceived that Grant had a problem behaving because he had too much energy. Defensively, I had to do something to help him so he wouldn't get in trouble or fail in life. So I required him to run. Then I perceived that Grant was good at it and that his problem could be used offensively as an opportunity. I had to help him use his gift of unlimited energy to succeed.
Excerpted from The Passionate MOM by SUSAN MERRILL Copyright © 2013 by Susan B. Merrill. 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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