Did you get to be a child in your childhood? (Gina Butz)

Today’s post is from Gina Butz: a writer, mom, campus minister, world traveler, and fellow Redbud.

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13 years ago, I was exhausted. The mother of two preschoolers living overseas with a husband who was in increasing demand, I was coming to the end of my resources. We had just moved to Singapore, which meant I lost the local maid who had kept me afloat in our previous location. At the same time, both our kids decided that naps would no longer be part of their daily schedule. It was like I’d lost six hours of every day. Did I mention exhausted?

Six months in to our time there, my husband and I participated in an intensive coaching program. Part of our preparation for the time was to write out a life map, detailing the highs and lows, influences, and significant moments of our lives.

While meeting with some of our coaches during the program, one of them told me that when I shared my life map with our next coach, I had to ask him this question,

“Did God give me a place to be a child in my family?”

I thought it was a strange question, but I was willing to comply. I was sure the answer was yes, anyway. How could it be otherwise?

So after sharing my story, I threw out my question, “So, did God give me a place for me to be a child in my family?”

He looked at me with tears in his eyes, and gently said, “No.”

I was furious. Not at him. Not at my parents. Straight to the source – I was irate with God. He was the one who didn’t give me a story where I was a child. He didn’t give me that place that I needed. What kind of God would do that?
I marched back to my hotel room and raged against Him. When I finally stopped enough to hear Him respond to my, “Why?” his reply was, “Because I wanted you to be Mine.”

What followed was months upon months of searching out what this meant. What does it look like to live as His child? And how had I not been doing it?

I grew up as the 2nd of three children. My older sister is mentally challenged, which functionally made me the oldest. I took my role seriously. I became the kid you didn’t have to worry about, the one who took care of herself. After all, it was easier for everyone that way. In many ways, I wasn’t a child in my family because I chose not to be, but it was God who orchestrated the background in which that was the most natural response. How could I have known how that would change the way I related to God, to myself, to others?

I was exhausted 13 years ago in part because I had been an adult for so very long, trying to be put together, to be the person no one had to carry, the one who was strong for everyone else. I lived in fear that failure would surely make me unlovable, and in contempt for the child in myself who desperately needed to fall apart and be held.

My search began with reading: Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning, and The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for starters. Over time, I read so many books in my quest to ground myself in identity as His beloved child that I started a journal where I collected quotes from all of them. On the days when I found myself feeling insecure, unknown, tempted to look elsewhere for the security I needed, I would spend hours poring over that journal, repeating to myself, “This is who you are. This is who you are. This is who you are.”

Over time, something shifted internally. It felt like I was discovering a solid place in the core of my being. As Henri Nouwen puts it,

“There is a place in me where God has chosen to dwell. It is the place where I am held safe in the embrace of an all-loving Father who calls me by name, and says, ‘You are my Beloved child, on whom my favor rests.’”

I would love to say I fully embrace this position as His child, but I still struggle. It is so easy to wander from that truth. Like an orphan, I can doubt my place in His family, and run back to my own resources, wary of trusting others. But He keeps calling me back to this solid place inside of who He is and who He says I am.

I am so grateful for that question 13 years ago. It awakened me and invited me to a deeper, more true identity than the one I’d been living.

Gina ButzGina Butz has served in full time ministry for over 20 years, 13 of them spent overseas. She and her husband are raising two third culture kids and an imported dog in Orlando, Florida, where they serve in Global Leadership for Cru. Gina considers it a good day if she can create something with her words or her hands. She blogs at www.ginabutz.com about being wholehearted, and loves to connect with others on twitter @gina_butz

The Ministry of The Happy Chicken

Not long ago, I met with a vivacious young woman who is just entering into vocational ministry. We shared parts of our stories as the ice clinked encouragingly in our lemonade glasses. Towards the end of our time together—which had started out with the awkwardness of strangers but then blended into story-telling and a host of “me too” moments—she seemed to remember herself and why she was here and, squaring her shoulders and getting back into “ministry-mode”, she asked me how I’d seen God at work through me recently.

It wasn’t so much the wording of the question as the timing and the tone of it, but I laughed (I can be rude that way). I told her that it had been a long time since I felt like I needed to give an accounting for my ministry. There was a time when I sat down at a computer and labored over a monthly report back to those who were supporting me financially and in prayer, and while I know none of them expected a graph chart with numbers of students converted and bibles distributed, in truth I did feel that I needed to give an account. Which sometimes might include numbers.

These days, I told her, when it comes to seeing God at work, I’m taking a longer view. Like moving from the narrative arc of a Pixar short movie to epic full-length features. “I have no idea whether what I’m doing is successful or fruitful,” I confessed, “it’s really hard to take an account of that when you’re in the day-in and day-out of it with kids, and when you have no idea who reads your stuff and whether it makes any difference. So I’m aiming for faithfulness. To be kind today. To tell the truth today. To show my neighbor the gospel today, perhaps by taking their trash bin in or watching someone’s kids while they are at the doctor. That’s about all. I really wouldn’t have much to put in a monthly ministry newsletter.”

Friends, even to me this answer sounds a little like a cop-out: should I not be more strategic? intentional? make the most of every opportunity? Maybe. I have certainly trained others in ministry to be strategic in their goals over the years. But then again: I myself have been under the tutelage of the Happy Chicken.the ministry of the

Meet my Happy Chicken.

This hot water bottle was a gift from my sister nearly twenty years ago. I think it was a birthday present, but I can’t be sure. But I remember thinking it was hilarious. My sister and I had joked for years about a Far Side Cartoon in which a forlorn man sits on a bed while a chicken looks on from the window sill. The caption read: “the bluebird of happiness long absent from his life, Ned is visited by the chicken of depression.”

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Of COURSE when my sister saw the hot water bottle chicken, she had to have it. (She’s always been one excellent gift-giver.) And so, the chicken of depression made its way into my home. Within a few years, I was finding my way into ministry, and found an increasing number of people sitting on my couch sharing their stories with me. Some were very, very sad; and armed as I was my newly-minted-theological-education, sometimes I tried to help with comforting explanations. But as we all know, this was almost never the right thing to say or do. For even if the hurting person’s lips are asking why did this happen, their hearts are asking who will be with me in this? And so, slowly, I learned to shut up and listen. It became something of a formula: tears would spring up, and I would offer tea, a pair of socks, and the chicken… because it helps to have something warm to hold, and the kettle was boiled anyway. (It didn’t seem appropriate, somehow to tell people that this was the Chicken of Depression, after all.)serious_chicken_by_sandra_boynton_canvas_print-r1f5f44ee6a7b480d9bf43daad7546afa_wt7_8byvr_324

Over time, friends who got to know my chicken re-named it: the Happy Chicken. And years later, when I discovered the wonder of all things Sandra Boynton and met her happy chicken characters who bore a striking resemblance to mine, the name was formalized.

I think, in some in-my-bones kind of way, the Happy Chicken taught me that the simplicity of listening and welcome offers Christian comfort in a way that even my best theology does not. Jesus did teach many truths about God, and God had been speaking comforting, true words for a long, long time before that. But Jesus came. He sat in the mess. He touched the unlovely. He listened. He ate with people. He ate dinner with the heartbroken and received their tears without needing to fix it right there and then.

But still, sitting quietly while people weep and marriages end and children starve and girls are sold and refugees drown in the Mediterranean feels desperately ineffective. And despite the fact that the quiet ministry of neighbors has brought me comfort more times than I can count, I still occasionally panic and think I should be doing more. We should have a plan here. If, after all, I was still writing a hypothetical newsletter updating people on God’s activity in and through my life, what on earth what I say? And if all I had to say was “I made tea and introduced people to the Happy Chicken”, would it make God look bad? Or Christianity insipid?

517SjSiMdxLIt was this taproot of fear that made D.L. Mayfield’s new book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith such a gift to me. Mayfield has such a writing gift: she crafts simple sentences with simple words—so easy to read—and yet the result is breathtaking. Reading her is like marveling at Leonardo daVinci’s finest work done on an etch-a-sketch.

But more than her beautiful writing, the message of this book spoke to me, and will speak to anyone who’s earnestly wanted to do great and beautiful things for God but then floundered when real life and messy relationships happened, making the monthly newsletter which was meant to sing of all God’s glory seemed so hard to write.

In a series of short, highly readable essays, Mayfield tells of her teenage zeal—holiday clubs! short term missions! seminary!—and her deep love for the displaced refugee communities in North America. And then she writes about what really happened next. She writes about failure: her awkward attempts to Jesus-ify conversations, and the skepticism with which her goodwill was sometimes (rightfully) regarded. She writes about the deep humbling of realizing people don’t change on our timeline or according to our well-intentioned western ways, and of learning that God has made something beautiful in every person and every culture – no matter how different and broken- and she tells of how, after all was said and done, she re-found (is re-finding!) faith in learning to sit and be a witness to all that God is doing, and to just love as she has an opportunity. She writes:

“I used to want to witness to people, to tell them the story of God in digestible pieces, to win them over to my side. But more and more I am hearing the still small voice calling me to be the witness. To live in proximity to pain and suffering and injustice instead of high-tailing it to a more calm and isolated life… To plant myself in a place where I am forced to confront the fact that my reality is not the reality of my neighbors. And to realize that nothing is how it should be, the ultimate true reality of what God’s dream for the world is.

Being a witness is harder than anything I have ever done. And he is asking all of us to do this task, to simultaneously see the realities of our broken world and testify to the truth that all is not well. To be a witness to the tragedy, to be a witness to the beauty. Jesus, the ultimate witness of the love of the Father heart of God, shows us the way…

He is asking us to drop everything and run, run in the direction of the world’s brokenness. And he is asking us to bring cake.”

He is asking us to bring cake. Mayfield’s love language is cake. And I’m thinking mine might be the Happy Chicken. Today I’m facing the broken world with eyes wide open and ears perked up. Who will God send my way today? I’m ready. The Happy Chicken and I are as ready as we can be.

 

5 Things Outlander Has Taught Me About Married Sex, My Body and Sexuality

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled Let’s Hear It For Hot, Married, Older People Sex, and gave a shoutout to the Outlander novels. An anonymous reader sent me her story of how Outlander has helped undo some of the damage done by Christian purity culture and reclaim a healthier view of married sex. 

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I grew up in what is commonly known in evangelical circles as “purity culture” —a reaction to the free love movement of the 60’s and 70’s our parents grew up in.

Purity culture was focused on avoidance, and it was fueled by fear and shame—fear of the opposite sex (girls were too tempting and boys had no self-control), fear of your own body (my body is dangerous because it causes other people to sin, and it causes me to sin), fear of your natural physiological sexual feelings (because sex, or really any kind of arousal, was wrong, wrong, wrong and evil, evil, evil).

I got married in my early 20s, woefully uneducated about sex. Being a “good Christian girl,” I saved my first kiss for my fiancé, and I was a virgin when we got married. I had learned some stuff from my married friends, but even then, Christian women didn’t talk much about sex other than to say men needed it, and it was a wife’s job to give it to them joyfully, without reservation, so the husbands wouldn’t be tempted by other women in the workplace. Apparently, even after marriage, boys never grow out of not being able to control their bodies, and it will always be the women’s job to manage that for them.

I read all the Christian sex books I could get my hands on. I tried to prepare myself for sex based off the books’ advice. I was afraid of the pain I’d read about, so I just focused on doing all I could to make it not hurt. Sure, the books were full of “sex is good. Sex is from God, and you will love sex” propaganda, but I had been taught to fear sex my whole life. And I was still afraid of it on our wedding night.

You can’t instill fear into people for decades and then expect them to flip a switch on their wedding night when sex goes from something to be avoided at all costs to the only thing that will keep a man faithful.

Truth is, there is no switch. After this kind of conditioning, you have to completely deconstruct the motherboard and rewire the system.

In our many years of marriage, my husband and I have had some fantastic sex. But the vice-grip of shame and fear from decades of wrong beliefs are hard to break. For years I was very disconnected from and ashamed of my own body, and I was repulsed by the way our bodies were meant to function—especially together. I have often thought, I must be getting something wrong. There must be more to this than I am experiencing. I found an answer in the most unlikely of places.

A couple of years ago, I discovered the fantasy series Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I read the first book in a matter of days. I couldn’t put them down. Although it isn’t strictly considered a romance novel, it does have a central romantic story woven throughout the eight books in the series. I was never allowed to read racy novels growing up, so even though I’m married and nearly 40, the explicit sex scenes in the book took me by surprise, and I initially felt hesitant about reading them. But in the end, I fell in love with the epic love story of Jamie and Claire. And something unlocked inside of me.

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There was something more to their sex—something different, deeper, and healthier. I am currently re-reading the series, and I feel like I’m getting my first real dose of healthy sex education. There are some sex ed lessons in Outlander I wish I had learned decades ago.

1. There is no shame in the human body. The human body—with all its forms and functions—is a good thing. It’s beautiful. The modern world is ashamed of women’s bodies whether it’s in the form of fat, stretch marks, cellulite, wrinkles, menstrual cycles, ovulation, or breast milk. We talk about these issues in hushed tones. We hide them with pads and special underwear. We spend ridiculous amounts of money trying to conceal and change how we are made. God forbid if we leak blood on our clothing during our periods (this was one of my greatest, most debilitating fears as a teenager), if breastmilk leaks onto a shirt, or if we talk about our period with men.

But I loved how matter of fact Claire and Jamie are about these things. A woman’s “courses” are a natural and normal part of life. Breastfeeding was not a novelty or something to be hidden or hushed. It was a beautiful part of giving life to another human being. Men’s anatomy and bodily functions were talked about as something normal, not something shameful. I found this extremely enlightening and refreshing.

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You cant tell, I said, at last. Its much too soon to be sure. 

He snorted briefly, and a tiny flicker of amusement lit his eyes.

And me a farmer, too! Sassenach, ye havena been a day late in your courses, in all the time since ye first took me to your bed. Ye havena bled now in forty-six days. (A scene between Jamie and Claire from Dragonfly in Amber)

And whats wrong wi the way ye smell? he said heatedly. At least ye smelt like a woman, not a damn flower garden. What dye think I am, a man or a bumblebee?(Jamie from Dragonfly in Amber)

To see the years touch ye gives me joy, Sassenach,he whispered, “—for it means that ye live.(Jamie from The Fiery Cross)

2. Sex is a normal part of a couples life together. I remember walking in on my parents having sex. It was awful. I was horrified and angry and embarrassed. But sex was a normal part of their routine, yet our family wasn’t able to openly talk about it with me. Therefore I received mixed messages: if sex is good and natural in marriage, why were they acting so awkward and ashamed?

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In Outlander, there are beautiful glimpses of what it looks like to be “naked and unashamed.”There are passages where Jamie and Claire are intimate with one another while in the presence of others (their teenage nephew who sleeps in the same room in a small cabin, fellow soldiers when Jamie is out with his men, etc). Of course they wanted privacy, and others wanted to give it to them, but in the end, it was understood that sex was not only a normal and expected thing in married life, but also a good thing.

“But you think he thinks I’m angry with him?”

“Oh, anyone could see that you are, Auntie,” he assured me earnestly.

Ye dinna look at him or speak to him save for what ye mustand,” he said, clearing his throat delicately, “I havena seen ye go to his bed, anytime this month past.”

“Well, he hasn’t come to mine, either!” I said hotly, before reflecting that this was scarcely a suitable conversation to be having with a seventeen-year-old boy. Ian hunched his shoulders and gave me an owlish look. “Well, he’s his pride, hasn’t he?” “God knows he has,” I said, rubbing a hand over my face.

“Ilook, Ian, thank you for saying something to me.” (A scene between Claire and Jamie’s nephew Ian in Drums of Autumn)

His aunt and uncle lay on the other side of the smoored fire, close wrought together as to look like one log, sharing warmthfHe heard a whisper, too low to make out the words but the intent behind them clear enough. He kept his breathing regular, a little louder than usuallIt was hard to fool Uncle Jamie, but there are times when a man wants to be fooled. (Young Ian’s observations in An Echo in the Bone)

3. Sex was a means to an end—the end being deep, soul connection. I have often perceived sex as a transaction, duty, or “par for the course” of marriage. But what if I started to view it as a means of soul connection, instead?

There is usually a scale in the back of my mind when my husband wants sex. Various thoughts will come crashing in: Has he treated me well? Do I feel like it? What else do we have to take care of? Often after a big fight, he would want to come back together. I never understood the appeal of “make-up sex.” I think I get it now. He is trying to reconnect. He needs to reconnect. I need to reconnect, too, but I right now I’m out of tune with my body and soul and can’t recognize this need. I’m working on it.

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Our lovemaking was always risk and promisefor if he held my life in his hands when he lay with me, I held his soul, and knew it.(Claire from Fiery Cross)

And you, my Sassenach? What were you born for? To be lady of a manor, or to sleep in the fields like a gypsy? To be a healer, or a don’s wife, or an outlaw’s lady?”

“I was born for you,” I said simply, and held out my arms to him.(Claire from Outlander)

But when I lay wiiEmilyfrom the first time. I knew. Kent who I was again. He looked up at her then, eyes dark and shadowed by loss. My soul didna wander while I sleptwhen I slept wiiher. (Young Ian from A Bre
ath of Snow and Ashes)

4. Intimacy is even hotter than sex. The depth of intimacy that Jamie and Claire have is stunning. And it is more attractive (and hotter) than the steamiest of sex scenes. The sex comes from this place of intimacy, and the intimacy is strengthened by the bond of sex. I can’t help but believe that this is very much what God intended, what He desires for us when He created mankind to be “one flesh” together.

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To have ye with me againto talk wi youto know I can say anything, not guard my words or hide my thoughtsGod, Sassenach, he said, the Lord knows I am lust-crazed as a lad, and I canna keep my hands from youor anything else—” he added, wryly, but I would count that all well lost, had I no more than the pleasure of havin ye by me, and to tell ye all my heart. (Jamie in Voyager) 

I kissed his cheek, damp and salty. I could feel his heart beating against my ribs, and wanted nothing more than to stay there forever, not moving, not making love, just breathing the same air.(Claire in Outlander)

When the day shall come, that we do part if my last words are not I love youyell ken it was because I didna have time.(Jamie in The Fiery Cross)

5. Sex is redeeming and healing. According to purity culture, you have one shot at having a guaranteed good sex life: remain pure before marriage. If you followed the rules, you were told you would have a wonderful, successful marriage and sex life. If you messed up, you were “chewed up gum.” Who would want that? I can’t help but grieve for the many people sitting around me in my youth group and summer camps who walked away internally branded with the scarlet letter of shame for their past mistakes and choices.

What I love about Jamie and Claire’s overarching story is that they were not perfect. They made mistakes, big ones. They made wrong choices with devastating consequences. But, they fight to regain the connection and depth of their bond. They fight for each other and work to draw close. And sex is always one of the ways they redeem one another.

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Dye ken that the only time I am without pain is in your bed, Sassenach? When I take ye, when I lie in your armsmy wounds are healed, then, my scars forgotten.(Jamie from The Fiery Cross) 

Come to bed, a nighean. Nothing hurts when ye love me. (Jamie from An Echo in the Bone)

You are my courage, as I am your conscience,” he whispered. You are my heartand I your compassion. We are neither of us whole, alone. Do ye not know that, Sassenach (Jamie from Drums of Autumn)

 I am not delusional enough to think that everyone has or will have a “Jamie and Claire” love story. Yes, I know it is fictional. But through my love of all things Outlander, I have connected with fans from all over the world who have fallen for this epic story. I have read “my Jamie” stories from women in their 40s and 80s. There are other Jamie and Claire’s out there.

Although I would love to have my own “Jamie and Claire” story, I don’t get bogged down by the fact that I don’t. I’m still learning so much about myself, my husband, and the possibilities for marriage through this story. And the healing that has come, personally, through this unlikely sex re-education—this re-wiring—his invaluable to me.

So from now on when someone asks me for a “good book on marriage or sex” for a new bride-to-be, I won’t be sending them the latest Christian celebrity author’s book on the topic. I will be sending them Outlander, and a bottle of scotch.

Pick of the Clicks 7/21/2016

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Hi friends, here are a few worthwhile clicks for you this weekend!

Sam Allberry with Why Single is Not the Same as Lonely – with great insights on our need for both depth and breadth in our relationships.

I deeply appreciate Katharine Welby’s piece on the severe mercy of Dependency. While I don’t struggle with chronic illness as the author does, I am someone closing out my thirties who has been unable to work for pay through most of this decade and at times, the feeling of vulnerability at always having to rely on the kindness and stability of others gets me very down. Her words were water in a thirsty spot for me.

A reader wrote in this week with a question about how to prepare and protect children from sexual predators, starting with how/when to discuss their bodies and sexuality, and how to handle entrusting our kids to others in child care. One reader linked to this VERY helpful resource: The Super Ten Play-It-Safe Rules (for Kids and Grown-Ups). This is one to print and keep in your house!

This made me laugh out loud: 40 Things Everyone But you is Doing This Summer (I know. I’m sorry. I have the WORST sense of humor. and Kelly Catchpole is brilliant in this.)

My brilliant friend  Corrie made a comic featuring my precocious middle child: it’s been two years since this conversation and it STILL makes me laugh out loud – Mac n Cheese.

And then, I just started reading Katelyn Beaty’s newly released book A Woman’s Place. It is WORTHWHILE food for thought, and so well written. For a taste of the conversation, read this: 5 Truths Stay-at-Home and Working Moms Can Agree On. (And I promise I’m not just recommending the book and article because I have a confession quote in it!)

This was INCREDIBLE (and recommended by my sister who is a physical therapist who specializes in neurology, as well as a lover of dance)… watch and be inspired <3

From me:

Just hang the darn curtains. Open the wine. Call that friend you haven’t talked to in a year.

Children have Feelings. Just Like Grownups.

At Aleteia For Her: In defense of public displays of affection in church (and everywhere). (It has since come to my attention that Lore Wilbert, who wrote about this here, and I are theologically and pastorally like-minded in our views on this… but the overlap was coincidental.)

That’s all for this week, friends. Thank you for following and a special thank you to those who take the time to comment here or on Facebook or to message me: I LOVE hearing from you 🙂 Happy clicking!

Ask Me: How Can I Protect My Kids From Sexual Abuse?

How can I protect my kids from sexual abuse?

Dear Bronwyn,

How and when do you start talking with your kids about their bodies and being safe around other people? My son is 2 and talking more, and we are wondering when to start talking to him about his body being only for him, about not keeping secrets from us and to tell us if anybody tries to touch him inappropriately. What’s age-appropriate in content? Any ideas on how to say it? Is this conversation different for sons and daughters?

Related to this is the question of what we can do to prevent sexual abuse happening. I have a great deal of fear about this. I had no idea child molestation was so common until I volunteered with an inner healing prayer team at my church and have heard so many stories from women who endured abuse. I am horrified for my children, and this translates into a deep fear about how to handle child care with our kids. Is there any way to know whether my caution is healthy or over-the-top? My husband and I have had some disagreements abut what we’re comfortable with when it comes to babysitting, but I really am having a hard time trusting anyone, really, primarily men. 

Please help,

Cautious Mama

Dear CM,

I totally identify with these questions and fears, and if I had a guaranteed formula for things to do and say which could prevent them from happening, I’d be a millionaire. This is one of the deep and terrible burdens of parenting: knowing there is evil in the world and wanting desperately to protect our children from them, and yet knowing that, in truth, we probably can’t. I don’t know that there’s anything which so reveals how little control we have in life as parenting.

Still, that doesn’t mean we are totally helpless, and so the question is really what can we do. I think your instincts in this are better than you realize, so I’ll add my few thoughts to things  you’ve already mentioned.

Talking to our kids about their bodies and touch

We taught our kids the words for eyes, ears, fingers and toes very early; and so it seemed logical to teach our kids the names for the private parts, too (I’m refraining from typing them here not because I’m prudish but because I don’t want the internet’s auto-search features to identify those words and send you ads to match that content!!) From a young age, we talked with our kids about privacy though: certain body parts (and conversations about them) were nothing to be ashamed about, but they were private – which meant for ourselves and family only.

We have always let our kids bath together and get dressed around us, but they are not allowed to touch anybody else’s private parts. I would say most of our conversation about body-touch and privacy has happened in the context of bathing and getting dressed, and these have often been our most hilarious but also our most honest conversations: for example, my not-yet-two year old cornered me as I was getting out the shower and asked with a mixture of curiosity and horror: “Why don’t you have a pen1s? What happened to it? Does it hurt?” I assured him that I’d never had one because I was a girl, and that no, it didn’t hurt. He expressed some sympathy, and then wanted a closer look at these curious girl parts. I shooed him away and told him those were private and so he couldn’t touch or look closer, just like no-one else should be touching or looking at his private parts unless they were a doctor or a parent helping with self-care.

These quick, at-home conversations have provided the bed-rock of our conversations about our bodies and privacy. Stop It Now has a very helpful website with a guide to what conversations are age-appropriate, and there are also a bunch of books out there to help families talk about these things: one of those is The Story of Me (God’s Design for Sex, Book 1), which might be the kind of thing you’re looking for in talking with your preschooler.

Teaching Our Kids What NO Means

I’ve written about this one before. From the youngest age, we have wanted to teach our kids that their “no” matters. If they didn’t like tickling, and said no, we stopped. If a kid yells “no” when they’re building blocks, we swoop in and insist that they respect other people’s no. We have made it a point to never turn those kinds of play into a game: it is never okay in our family to keep teasing/tickling/chasing if someone has said “no”, even if that person is laughing and doesn’t appear to be distressed (because I know that fear and discomfort sometimes manifests as nervous laughter… so we teach our kids that laughter doesn’t always mean a person’s having fun). If they’re saying no, and someone keeps doing it – they are always encouraged to enlist an adult’s help. We want our kids to SAY their own “no”, and to respect the “no” of others, too.

Not Keeping Secrets 

I wish I’d realized this one earlier, but just last year a friend told me their family policy has always been that there are no secrets in the family. They have allowed “surprises” (for birthday presents or trips to Disneyland, for example), but surprises always have a “tell-by” date. Secrets don’t.

Building Trust To Hear The Hard Things Without Freaking Out

As my kids are getting older, I’m realizing more and more that I need to be a safe person for my kids to tell things to, even when they’re afraid I might not like what they are saying. This has meant a lot of me learning to just listen and delay my reaction to things instead of swooping in with my Mom-fixit-hat. (More about this here). I try to say this to them with words as well as model it with actions: you can tell me anything and I will still love you. In practice, this means I am having to learn to not freak out when they confess mistakes (of their own or of their friends). My “play it cool” face is getting exercised.

I’ll add this: now that my kids are further into elementary school, I have explicitly started to say to them that sometimes there are people that will warn them not to tell parents things (or else they’ll get hurt, or things will get worse etc). I’ve told my kids this is almost ALWAYS a flag that they should tell me. I’m assuring them that I know more about people, sex, danger, and consequences than any of their friends.

Being Wise About Childcare Arrangements

It is our family rule that we don’t do sleep-overs, unless they are whole family affairs (e.g. all your kids can come camp out with all our kids over night so parents can come out etc) My eldest is at an age where kids are starting to have sleep overs and I’m the kill-joy Mom who will come and get you at 10pm. Sorry, honey. That’s how it is in our family.

As far as baby-sitting goes, we generally have people we know care for our kids in our home, rather than sending our kids elsewhere. We do allow our kids to have play dates at other people’s houses, but visit first and the first play dates are always pretty short in time. We talk to our kids a lot about who was there, what they liked and didn’t like, whether they felt comfortable there etc, to try and keep a pulse on things. For what it’s worth, the people I am most suspicious of are the ones who are very extroverted and touchy-feely with our kids IN OUR PRESENCE. After reading more and more stories of predators, I’m learning that many of those who would “groom” our kids are not the quiet ones but the ones who work hard to establish themselves as safe, fun people in front of the parents…. so, one of the things I look out for with adults who are affectionate with our kids is that they demonstrate a respect for the kids (and our) boundaries in our presence (for example, they ask “is that okay with your mom?” when offering lemonade).

I have a hard time with the “should I trust men less?” issue, given that most sexual predators are men. But I don’t believe that most men are sexual predators, and I most certainly balk at the idea that my husband, or other dear Christian brothers, should be viewed as untrustworthy by nature simply because they are men. In fact, we really want our children to have a community of healthy, safe relationships with adult men and women around them. But it’s tricky: because how will we know??

We do have friends who have made it a policy to not allow any men to care for their children if they are unaccompanied by women/their wives. This was awkward for us at some point because they wouldn’t let their kids play with ours at a park in my husband’s care… but at the end of the day we respect that rule and try not to take it personally. It’s not our rule though, although we are always mindful of how many adults/which adults will be present when we say yes to an invitation for child care.

The unnerving thing is that, like all people, we hope to rely on our intuition to discern whether a person is trustworthy or not, and the terrifying thing about stories of child abuse is how parents tell the same story that they trusted this adult, and had no idea what was going on. That our gut feelings can’t be trusted to protect us in this is probably the most unnerving thing of all. For sure, if your instinct tells you not to trust a person – by all means pay attention to that. But instinct alone can’t tell us whether a person is trustworthy – that’s why predators are so successful, and why their evil is so insidious.

I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop deceitful people being deceitful, but I don’t think the solution is to “trust no-one”. Rather, the line we are taking is to try and keep conversation open, to pay attention to when our children or others indicate discomfort or reluctance and not to “shoo” those away, and to maintain a connection to a community of people who will help us be eyes and ears for the welfare of the children around us.

These are not guarantees, but it’s the best I know how to do.

And for the rest? As with all things: we learn to entrust our children to God. Worry ends where faith begins.

Love,

Bronwyn

Got a Question? Send it to me here. You can ask me anything. 

 

Just Hang The Darn Curtains

Our home is currently the site of an aggressive marketing campaign. Every door in the house, as well as the headboard of our bed and several walls are sporting hand-crafted posters, all bearing the same message: We want a dog.

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Apparently our children feel they have been in pet-limbo for long enough, and the Betta Fish–beloved as he is—is not meeting their snuggling and playing needs. Hence: Operation Wear Down The Parents. With Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs met, they are tackling their Hierarchy of Wants, and in their vision of what makes a house Home, a dog is high on the list. We’ve been putting it off for years.

Nearly four years, to be exact.

This Fall will mark four years since we bought our first house. Before then, our reason for not having a pet is that we were renting, and our lease agreements forbade pets. Then we bought a house, and found a new reason: we had two kids in diapers, and There’s Only So Much Poop Mama Can Handle. “Not until you’re potty trained,” we told the kids (a process that took YEARS longer than expected). But it finally happened, and with the potty-training obstacle removed, the real reason for our reticence was exposed: a dog is a long term commitment, and we didn’t want to make it. Not here, and not now.

The dog conversation has been tabled, but it raised another question for me: what else have I been putting off because I didn’t want to commit? As it turns out, a whole lot. Grateful as we were for our house, we have never thought it was the place we would stay in long-term, and as a result didn’t want to invest in it too deeply. Improvements—if any were to be made—were for the purposes of resale, not for our own enjoyment.

We’ve done things that needed to be done (like replace the A/C and the carpet which got doused with the neighborhood cat’s pee), but not much more. We have done no landscaping. We never hung curtains. The few artworks we own remain in the same places we put them when we first moved in, saying “it’ll do for now”. Part of this decorating malaise is certainly attributable to a my having 0% of Martha Stewart’s design genes and a pathological fear of Pinterest. But that’s not the deeper issue.  Thinking it wouldn’t be long until we moved house again, we didn’t commit to making this our home – a subtle but not insignificant reflection of our general tendency to find excuses to delay living fully in the moment.

We save a bottle of wine for “a special occasion”, and in doing so let multiple small but real opportunities for rejoicing pass by unnoticed. 

We buy a beautiful dress and keep it on the hanger, letting season after season go by without pulling it out and enjoying it just because we can.

We think of a friend we haven’t seen for a while and, wishing we could spend hours catching up, fail to send a text or call for a few minutes just to maintain connection. Months and years go by, and friendships wilt under our silent good intentions.

We see something that needs doing and, fearing we might not do it well enough, leave it undone.

We move into a house and, knowing we won’t want to live there forever, fail to live there well now.

This weekend I called a friend I haven’t spoken to in over a year, and while we were on the phone, I hung curtains. It took several trips to the store to get the right combination of mounting hardware and fittings, and the curtains aren’t perfect, but as we tumbled into bed last night after a weekend of team work, I looked up at the newly hung drapes in our room and couldn’t help but smile. The room that had felt like a workable “transitional bedroom” until we found the “home we really wanted” all of a sudden felt a lot more like our space.

Hang the darn curtains because THIS IS YOUR HOME RIGHT NOW. Break open the bottle of wine BECAUSE YOU’RE HAPPY. Wear the nice outfit just because it’s TUESDAY. Invite over the new person even though your house is messy BECAUSE WARM HOSPITALITY IS ALWAYS WELCOME. Call that friend, even if you just have five minutes: because never mind birds and bushes – A BRIEF TEXT IN THE HAND IS WORTH TWO IN THE DRAFTS FOLDER.

There’s value in investing in life now, even if our efforts are impartial and imperfect. As G.K. Chesterton said: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

Which includes my half-baked efforts at hanging curtains.

(But we’re still not ready for a dog.)

Children Have Feelings. Just Like Grownups.

girl-person-human-femaleMy eight-year old curled up under my arm and sighed an old-soul sigh. “You know, mom, grown ups sometimes think that kids don’t feel things like they do. But we do.”

I was about to correct her: of course I know that kids have feelings. That day had seen no less than three full-blown wailing fits of our youngest Feeling All The Feels about being told no/having to share/not being allowed (another) snack. What is the preschooler life if not Full of Drama?

But that’s not what she was saying. Or maybe, that’s exactly what she was saying. Because I, like other grownups, have a tendency to dismiss the drama and in doing so, sometimes invalidate the real emotion underneath there. “Tantrums get you nothing,” we’ve been telling our kids since they were little. “Whining doesn’t work.”

But my eldest kid has a point: she feels anger. She feels grief. She feels loneliness, and injustice, and jealousy. She feels joy, and compassion, and generosity. Kids may not have language for all those feelings (many adults don’t either), and they may not express them appropriately (again, many adults don’t either) – but I’m making a mistake if I treat my kids as if their responses are attention-getting-behaviors without acknowledging the real emotions that underlie them.

I’ve been trying to pay attention to what my daughter said—that little truth that everyone, no matter how small, has feelings—and the strangest thing has been happening: I’m growing in empathy. My whining preschooler is whining, and the whining is not okay, but somehow it has helped me to think that he might be lonely or frustrated or feeling invisible. My kids are fighting and doors get slammed, and somehow it helps to remember that I also feel irritated and frustrated when I have to share space with others all day long and that this squabble is not just about our kids forgetting polite manners or the house-rules about slamming doors. And, later in the day, when a telemarketer calls just in the middle of the dinner rush, it helps to remember that this person’s sole goal in life is not to sell me a product, but that they have a life and that they have feelings, too. “No, thank you, I’m hanging up now” are better words than what I was tempted to say…

Kids have feelings. Just like grownups. I feel like I should know that, but as with so many things in life – I’m learning it afresh in the real-world of child-raising. And just in case you find the reminder as helpful as I did, I’m sharing it with you.