Mixed Messages

Sometimes I need a dose of my own medicine, specifically, the “I’ve already told you this 1,000 times” white, chalky spoonful that’s hard to choke down.

I have finally figured out a truth about parenting and it’s this: You have to continuously recalibrate yourself.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was an idealist. I had dreams of how we would bond, what traditions I’d pass down from my family, what new traditions we would implement. I subscribed to Parents magazine and clipped out ideas of fun, memory filled activities and I kept them in a binder…and then she was born and I never opened that binder. In fact, when I was cleaning out a closet a few months back and came across it, I tossed it. Why?

Because, life happens. And when it happened for me, I realized that babies and small children are definitely not my thing. There’s a reason I taught middle school and high school students for 11 years! I’d rather deal with a sassy-mouthed teenage gorgon than make believe a tea party. It’s how I’m wired.

But deep down I knew I wanted to be a purposeful mom, even though it didn’t come naturally to me. So, when my daughter was about 2 years old, I ordered Dobson’s Bringing up Girls and devoured it. I passed it along to my husband who read it as well.

I then bought Revolutionary Parenting, and an assortment of other books to help give me some insight and instruction on this crazy, try not to fall off a cliff hike known as parenting. But, it didn’t take long after I was done reading and taking notes for the practical information to become fuzzy in my brain. In fact, I can’t really tell you anything I learned from any of those books from 4 years ago.

Because, life happens.

I hear a lot of mommies who wish their children would “stop growing up,” but when Elizabeth was born, I just wanted her to move from one phase to another, on the expressway, so she would get to an age that I was comfortable with. I spent a lot of her younger years dreaming of her bedtime. And now I’m looking at my daughter who is 6 years old, and I already wish I could steal some of our time back.

But here’s the thing. I have a picture of what I’d like my relationship with my children to be like when they are older. I have a picture of what I’d like their values and character to be. I have a picture of a family who is bonded and loves each other deeply. But…painting that picture starts now. As a teacher, it was always fairly easy to tell which of my students had parents who were active, intentional participants in their lives, and those whose parents were on autopilot. And over the past 6 years, I’ve been guilty of stretches of autopilot. I assume we all are at some point.

Last night before I went to bed, I sat down to read, but kept thinking about this intentionality and what it looks like, because I realize that in order to be an intentional mommy, I can never stop learning. I can’t go to one class or read one book or watch one video at a single point in time and be done. I have to continually encourage myself in this way. Never stop reading, never stop listening, never stop doing life with families in our faith community.

So I logged into and started searching for parenting studies. I clicked on one and only watched about 10 minutes of it (it was a little bit of a snoozer), but the speaker said something that struck a chord with me. She said, “you are sending messages to your children all day long.” This comes in the way we interact with them, the way we react, the way we ignore or put them off. Even the things we do that aren’t interacting with them (the way we respond to others or talk about situations with our spouses in front of them sends them a message). Everything we do sends a message. They are constantly absorbing and studying us. Not what we’re saying, but what we are doing.

Wow! I immediately felt convicted. While I’m really starting to enjoy the age at which Elizabeth is at, I specifically thought about all the times she has approached me to ask a question and I’ve been in the middle of doing something on my computer or phone, and I told her to wait. And while I believe parents don’t need to put down everything every time their child has a request, there are so many times I’m doing something trivial with technology that I should put my device down and cancel the message that says, “my phone is more important than you.”

And then I started thinking about my device usage in general, even when she isn’t vying for my attention. My husband and I don’t let her use electronics or watch TV during the school week, but how much time does she see me spend on my laptop or phone when she’s home? Sometimes it’s not the length at which I use it, but rather the frequency at which I pick it up. What am I modeling for her? If I don’t want her to become a teen who is glued to her phone, I have to put limits on myself, because what I model has more of an impact than what I say.

I also have a habit of checking my phone while I sit at red lights. When my daughter is old enough to drive, I don’t EVER want her looking at her phone, even when she is temporarily stopped. But what I DO has more of an impact than what I’ll teach her with my words.

I realize this post is a bit scattered. When I sat down to write it, I had the intention of listing multiple different ways in which to be intentional, but I wrote myself into thinking about the impact technology has on family units these days. And getting it under control is a tough hurdle to jump…I’ve eaten dirt way too many times. Because even though I’m having this epiphany now, I’d be lying if I hadn’t already had this epiphany multiple times over the past 6 years. (Remember that time I read Notes from a Blue Bicycle and wrote this post here?)


But life happens. We forget. We need to be told that 1,000th time. We need to constantly learn and relearn. A regular spoonful of medicine helps us be intentional.

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