princessemmablog

A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

The Glass Half-Full

glass

Last Wednesday was a really bad day.

It started off with a sobbing elder munchkin, distraught because the new hamster was gnawing his bars, which meant, according to her new Bible Hamster Book that he was stressed. And that obviously meant that she was the worst hamster mummy in the whole world and that he was going to get wet tail and die and…and…and….

By the time she had stopped crying and everyone was more or less calm it was 8.20 and we were all still in our pyjamas. Cue 15 minutes of frantic dressing, book-bag packing, hair-doing, squabbling, rushing, but we did at least make it to school on time.

And breathe.

At lunch time I discovered that a major Princess Project grant application that I had had high hopes of receiving had been turned down. This would have meant we had funding to ensure we could keep everything running for the next 6 months or so. But now…. it made me question all sorts of things. Were we doing the right thing? Where was I going wrong? Would we be able to pay the family bills in 6 months’ time?

I spent the afternoon preparing for a Princess Project Prayer evening, which is a chance for our supporters to get together and pray for the organisation, its direction and strategy, as well as for specific situations. I rushed to get dinner cooked, eaten, and cleared up, reading done with both munchkins, small munchkin in bed, big munchkin whispering sweet nothings to the hamster. All just about done and dusted in time for the advertised start time of 8pm. And then only one person showed up….!

Not a good day.

But that wasn’t the whole picture.

I texted my best friend in a fairly self-pitying fashion to say bleuurrghhh we didn’t get the grant application and everything is a bit rubbish. Like the wonderful person she is, despite being busy herself and with enough worries of her own at the moment, she phoned me almost immediately to see if I was OK. There’s one good thing, one blessing, right there. And as I was telling her about my day, a strange thing happened- I realised that actually it hadn’t been that bad after all.

Sure, Hamstergate was quite a stressful way to start my day. But together, my big munchkin and I managed to turn the situation around. I was able to tell her something that I hope she remembers and holds onto forever- that she never needs to face a problem or worry or anxiety alone unless she chooses to. I could reassure her that her daddy and I, as well as her Daddy in heaven, would always help her if she wanted us to, and would always support her and walk alongside her. We’re a team. We prayed together, and hugged a lot, and I dried her tears, and it was a special time that actually brought us closer together. After school we walked up to the pet shop in the sunshine, small munchkin, big munchkin and I, and laughed, and brought a ridiculously expensive new wheel in case the hamster was bored, and a fake log for him to munch on instead of the bars. (And prior to that, he and I had a tete-a-tete in which I calmly informed him that if he kept on stressing out my sensitive, oh-so-responsible big girl, I would take him back to aforementioned pet shop and ask them for another hamster that looked the same but behaves better. I think we reached an understanding).

When I found out about the grant application, I had just come back from looking at office furniture to put in our new Princess Project town centre office space. I should have said- looking at FREE office furniture, kindly donated by a firm shutting up their office to work from home, who were going to sell it on ebay but gave it to us instead. And I also should have said to put in our FREE office space, let to us at no cost by a charity that matches long-term vacant commercial properties with local charities needing space. We have a whole floor of an office building to share with two other local Christian charities, to use for storage, training, meetings, and whatever else we fancy. We may not have succeeded with procuring cold, hard cash, but God has been so amazingly generous in providing us with more than we could have ever asked or imagined! And I was reminded that God promises to give us what we need, when we need it, not what we want, when we want it.

When the email came through about the grant application, unlike most working days I wasn’t at the office alone- I was working from home, and hubby just happened to be between meetings and had popped home for lunch (this hardly ever happens!) So I was able to tell him about it, share my disappointment, and have him reassure me, dry my tears, give me a hug, just like I had done with my big girl a few hours before. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that same lesson- that I don’t need to deal with stuff on my own unless I choose to.

And what about the prayer meeting? Only one person came…. but it was just the right person. It was a lovely lady looking to get more involved with the Princess Project, and the fact that it was just the two of us gave us a chance to get to know each other better, and to have some really good prayer time. It was another reminder to me that in our results, outcome-driven world, it’s not all about numbers (as I’ve written about before). Jesus said

“When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” Matthew 18:20, The Message

It doesn’t matter whether it’s 2, or 20, or 200, the important thing is that we’re putting God at the centre of the Princess Project, and He’ll honour that.

The next day I was leading a parenting course, and our group discussion turned to how it’s all too easy to focus on the bad rather than the good in our children, too.To pay more attention to the blazing row my children are having rather than the hour of harmonious co-existence that had gone before; to the 2 wrong spellings as opposed to the 18 right ones; to the spilled drink rather than the effort my daughter made to fetch it herself.

What we focus on the most will assume the greatest significance in our minds. If we choose to focus on the positives rather than the negatives, on what God has done rather than what we think He should have done, on what we love about our partner rather than their flaws, on our children’s good behaviour rather than the behaviours that press all our buttons- then I have a feeling we may find we have more good days.

Wednesday really wasn’t so bad, after all.

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Dream your own Dreams

Message StonesThis last couple of months have been even more of a roller coaster than usual. I stand poised to make a major life decision, and swap financial security and social standing (through ‘professional’ status) for something less finite, less certain…. and infinitely more exciting. I am aware that calling time on my veterinary career and stepping out in faith into what I believe God has prepared for me will raise a few eyebrows; it will affect those around me, specifically my husband and my children; it may cause us to tighten our belts for a while. I trust that what God has called me to, he will equip me for. But that’s not what this post is about. Recently I have started to hear a little nagging voice saying “But isn’t that selfish? Shouldn’t you be concentrating on your children, on their dreams and ambitions and not yours?”

This got me thinking. Am I being selfish? Am I relentlessly pursuing God’s purposes for my life to the detriment of my children? Shouldn’t it all be about them?

These thoughts came at an already testing time of conflict and discord and things generally being a bit pants. That’s usually when these sort of things rear their heads. I worried about it a bit, had it lurking at the back of my mind, not fully explored or dealt with, just a dark brooding shadow.

Then I realised (belatedly) that I was carrying around all sorts of worries and stresses that weren’t mine to heft around, and made the conscious decision to give it all to God. Praying it through I realised that actually there wasn’t a conflict at all. God is the only being who loves my family even more than I do; His purposes for me include them. As a family we’re all part of a whole, a symbiotic unit, and His purposes for all of us are intertwined.

I also realised that it is OK to have dreams of my own. Parents- mums especially- need to hear this. We can have dreams for ourselves as well as for our children. Indeed, I think that it is healthy to do so.

It’s good for our children to see us dreaming, trying, achieving, perhaps failing. We are role models for them- they may not dare to dream big, life-changing, maybe world-changing dreams if we don’t show them how. They may not all come to fruition- we need to help them understand that, too- but one thing is certain: if we don’t entertain the dreams in the first place, they definitely won’t come true. And I’m not just talking about paid employment- having ambitions, interests, dreams and plans of our own is equally vital whether we are paid to work outside the home, do it in a voluntary capacity, or are stay-at-home parents.

If all our dreams and ambitions are tied up in our children, that can put immense pressure on them. Our dreams for them may not be the same as their dreams for themselves.  They may end up taking a direction that they would never have chosen themselves, just to please us. They need to know we believe in them, no matter what life choices they make- that we love them for who they are, not what they do. We need to help them to discover God’s plan for their lives, not teach them to live out our plans for them, otherwise they may go through life feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

So I’m going to continue along the path I believe I am meant to be walking, but not alone. We will all walk it together, and hopefully learn together, laugh together (and no doubt share some low points together, too). It’s not all about me- but it’s not all about them, either. It’s all about us, and I can’t wait to embark on the next leg of our journey together as a family.

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Good Girls (and why we shouldn’t always try to be one)

 

A few years ago I attended a seminar about working with teenage girls. I was hoping for some useful tips, inspiration and new ideas, and I came away with all of those. But I also came away with something a little more unexpected- a revelation about myself.

This seminar introduced me to the concept of the ‘Good Girl’- one I instantly identified with. Good Girls like to please. They tend to overachieve. They don’t like getting into trouble, and care very much about the opinions of those around them. And this behaviour is held up as a model, something to aspire to. Compliant teenagers?! The Holy Grail! But of course, scratch the surface, and underneath lurk the same swirling mire of complicated, hormone-driven emotions that are an integral part of growing up. Good Girls tend to suppress these emotions, rather than display them. Rebellion may be internal, or (as was in my case) concealed; they aren’t looking for the attention that confrontation brings, but seeking to avoid it at all costs. Parents of Good Girls may drift along in blissful ignorance, unaware of the double lives their apparent model offspring are living. And of course, the danger then is that if Good Girls do derail, they do so in spectacular style.

Recognising this trait in myself was the beginning of a journey of discovery for me; realising that other people’s opinions of me are not the be all and end all, and realising that God’s opinion of me does not change according to how I behave- He loves me unconditionally, for who I am and not what I do.

I’ve been reminded a lot about this recently. For one thing, my girls and I have been watching Frozen (a lot). And listening to the soundtrack (on loop in the car, much to my husband’s dismay. Although he does do some good Sven impressions. But I digress.) Readers of this blog will be aware that I am a big fan of the movie (see previous post Fearless not Frozen ) and every time I watch it I find more in it that makes me think. At the start of the film Elsa, one of the principal characters, is an archetypal Good Girl. She has been taught from an early age that she must hide her powers away from the world, and protect her little sister at all costs:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see,

Be the Good Girl you always have to be,

Conceal don’t feel, put on a show…

Make one wrong move and everyone will know…

But (spoiler alert- if you live on another planet and have not yet seen the film) this does not turn out well. Unsurprisingly, trying to suppress who she really is and constantly put on an act for everybody else eats her up inside; consumed by fear she is unable to harness her powers until she embraces who she is, and is accepted for who she is by those she loves.

Another reason this has been at the front of my mind is that I have the makings of a Good Girl myself. A compliant, eager to please, academically gifted child to whom expressing her emotions does not come naturally. I am trying to encourage her to share how she feels, and to reassure her that getting angry is not always a bad thing. To tell her often that no matter what she does, her mummy and daddy (and her Daddy in heaven) will love her just the same. To make sure she knows that she won’t be able to please everyone, all the time, and that that’s OK. That being herself, knowing herself, standing up for who she is and what she thinks is right is more important than keeping the peace.

My hope and prayer for both my girls is that they would feel able to be themselves, wherever they are and whoever they’re with; that they may be thermostats that influence the environment around them, not thermometers that merely reflect it. And that they would realise that ‘Being Good’ is often not all it’s cracked up to be.

 

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Raising Risk-Takers

Caution children s

A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are for.

(John A Shedd)

My Big Girl and I have been talking a lot about taking risks recently. As someone unused to failing or getting things wrong, this is a concept she struggles with. The issues now may be small- trying something potentially dangerous (using the kettle) or embarrassing (reading aloud in public) for the first time, for example- but they will only get bigger.

It is a natural instinct for parents to protect their children. But do we sometimes go too far? Do we sometimes insulate our children so much from the physical and emotional dangers of the world they live in that we teach them that ‘playing safe’ is what is most important?

I want to raise daughters that are willing to try something new for the first time, and not worry too much about whether they’re going to be any good at it or whether they’ll look silly. Daughters who invest in relationships that go beyond the superficial, who are prepared to share of themselves and be vulnerable, even if that may sometimes result in hurt and rejection. I long for my daughters to dream, to fly;  not to be intimidated by anything other than the familiar and mundane. Nothing world-changing (or life-changing) ever happened from staying in your comfort zone.

Easier said than done. For me, I think it means being prepared to let go a little, loosen the reins, let my girls get on with things even if none of us are sure how it’ll turn out. Maybe I need to stop thinking “But what if they get hurt? What if…. What if…”  and realise that- yes,  maybe they will, but that’s not the end of the world. It’s life; it’s normal. I won’t be able to protect them from everything forever. Far better to teach them how to handle hurt, failure, rejection. To show them that whether they succeed or fail, how I feel about them will not change- that they are loved for who they are, not for what they do. To praise the efforts, not the results. And to be there to pick up the pieces and reassure and comfort if it all goes belly up.

It also means leading by example- to walk boldly in God’s purposes for me and my life, tackling the rapids head on where necessary, not just pootling along in calm but insipid backwaters. Allowing my daughters to witness my failures as well as my successes, and to see that getting something wrong is not the worst thing that can happen; that it’s possible to come out the other side, perhaps a bit bruised and battered but hopefully a little bit wiser, too.

For those of us who try to walk where Jesus leads this represents a particular challenge as he often seems to delight in leading us far past where we feel comfortable and at home, stretching us, showing us that we are capable of so much more than we would ever have believed possible. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is this:

For I can do anything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13

If we can do anything, then surely doing nothing, never risking anything, never being prepared to try and fail and fall and get up and start all over again, is not an option. I pray that my girls and I will continue to learn together that some risks are worth taking.

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Mother’s Day: A Bittersweet Celebration?

On the surface it sounds like a premise no-one could take issue with: a day to celebrate mums, and all they do for us. A time to thank those we often take for granted. A chance for mothers everywhere to put their feet up and enjoy some well-earned pampering.  For some, it’s a happy day, and that’s wonderful. But for some- I would even go as far as to say most- it will be tinged with slightly less positive emotions.

Those who have lost their mums, and wish they were still with them.

Single mums of young kids who have  no-one to affirm them and tell them they’re doing a good job.

Those who long to be a mum more than anything else in the world, but can’t be.

Those who’ve lost a child.

Those who lack that wonderful relationship with their mum that on Mother’s Day it seems like everyone around them enjoys.

Those for whom motherhood is a daily struggle, and at the moment feels like nothing to celebrate.

Those who feel unappreciated in their role as a mother.

Even for those fortunate enough not to fall into any of those categories, it can be another day when the commercial hype sets us up for a disappointment. We are bombarded with things to buy and places to go in order to show our mums how much we love them.

Make Your Mum Feel Special This Mother’s Day. Shop Today. Hurry!  (Tesco)

Show your mum how much she means to you, with a Mother’s Day gift to remember.  (Argos)

Make this Mother’s Day completely perfect by shopping with Thorntons.

Show your Mum how much you care with our mothers day gifts… (Matalan)

These are just a small selection of this year’s advertising slogans. It’s difficult to avoid them; it’s easy to feel like we’re falling short, or being short-changed ourselves, if we’re not part of it. But we all know that there are many other ways to make people feel loved and appreciated than just buying them stuff.

Let’s celebrate mums for who they are: normal people who have been blessed with children, for the most part trying our hardest to carry out the role of mother as best we can. We’re not the super-saints and paragons of virtue that we are somehow portrayed as on Mother’s Day. It is not a role that everyone is able to have, or that everyone wants, and on today of all days we should be sensitive to that.

Why not say something encouraging today, be it to your mum, someone else’s mum, or someone you know will find the day difficult, and celebrate those that have mothered and mentored us, whether they are related to us or not. And let’s not allow ourselves to be made to feel guilty (or guilt-trip those we think should be treating us!) if we haven’t spent a fortune on gifts and cards. We’ve got the rest of the year to make the mother-figures in our lives feel loved and appreciated- it’s not meant to be a one-day wonder.

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Mum vs IPad

baby-and-ipad

I have a confession to make. I really don’t like IPads. Before you start throwing things at your computer screens or writing me off as an out-of-touch Luddite allow me to clarify a little. I would quite like an IPad for myself- you can’t help feeling a little left out when other people use them for everything from supermarket shopping (me: shopping list and pen), cooking (me: recipe book with actual pages), meetings (me: notebook stuffed with lists and scraps of paper) to church services (me: Bible, notebook, pen). If nothing else it would mean my handbag was a lot lighter. This French advertisement could actually be about me (even the same name!):

No, where I have the issue with IPads (and other portable devices like them- I’m not just singling out Apple) is when they are marketed for, and used by, children. Two news stories in particular have highlighted for me the problems associated with the increasing use of handheld electronic devices, especially those that can access the internet, by our kids (I’m mostly thinking of those of primary school age or younger).

Firstly, a recent report found that less than half of seven-year-olds get the recommended one hour of physical activity a day, and only 38% of girls (Click here for article). It’s not rocket science- the more time our children spend sitting down looking at a screen, the less time they have to be physically active. We adults are not the only ones with finite amounts of time at our disposal. Our children are living increasingly time-pressured lives as well, and they have to make choices about how they spend their time, just like we do. And we need to help them to do that. They might think that at seven they know what’s best for them- but I think we would all agree that they probably don’t. Computer games can be very addictive, for adults and children alike. Sometimes, we may need to say ‘no’, or ‘no more screen time today’, or ‘turn it off and go outside’.

Secondly, a news item earlier this week reported the prevalence of online grooming and cyberbullying amongst children and young people in the UK. According to figures published by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, nearly half of known victims of cyber sexual predators worldwide are here in the UK, with children as young as eight years old being targeted. It is right and proper that the authorities concentrate their efforts on finding the paedophiles targeting our children, but parents have responsibilities in this area too. In my opinion, no child of primary school age should be accessing the internet unsupervised, period. We would not leave our children alone in a room full of strangers to talk to whoever happens to walk up and strike up a conversation with them. Why, then, are we content to let children as young as eight access social media sites and chatrooms? Children are not naturally cynical; they inherently tend to take people at face value. It is a very difficult and abstract concept to explain to a child that in the virtual world people may not always be who they say they are. That, to my mind, is the main problem with devices such as IPads that have internet access. It is precisely because they are so portable and easy to use that they present such a temptation, and a potential danger, to our children. One wrong click or swipe of the finger and they can end up seeing something that they wish they hadn’t; something that can never then be unseen.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-technology, or anti-internet. There is a wealth of information and entertainment there at our fingertips that can be a great resource for our children. The problem comes when we use IPads and the like as electronic babysitters and leave our children to their own devices. I believe we need to take the time to enter this world with them whilst they are still children, to teach them internet safety, to put boundaries in place. What works for our family is to put our laptop in a public place, which my daughters can use to access certain websites that we have agreed and explored with them in advance.

There is a lot of peer pressure at work in this area, for both children and parents. Pinterest and twitter posts about ‘best apps for your child’ abound. By labelling them as ‘educational’ we let ourselves be fooled into thinking that they are necessary, and that we are doing our children a disservice if we don’t give in to the hype. One mother I met on holiday last year suggested to me I was putting my children at a disadvantage by not allowing them to play with electronic gadgets. Yes, they may well have great educational value- but I would argue that spending time with our children, reading with them, adventuring with them, finding things out together, even looking things up online together, will be of even greater benefit.

As I’ve said many times before, each family is different; there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to parenting and family life. It is not my place, or anyone else’s, to pass judgement on the choices that other parents make. I do think, though, that it’s right and proper to question our choices; to realise that we have a responsibility to make informed decisions on behalf of our children, and not just to unquestioningly follow the herd.

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You Can’t Kid the Kids

“Mummy, why did you lie about liking Mrs Davies?”

Whoa, hang on, what?!

“Er… what do you mean? I do like Mrs Davies!”

“Then why were you talking about her with Sarah’s mummy behind her back? It didn’t sound as if you liked her.”

Oh dear. Rumbled by a 7-year-old with big ears and a highly developed sense of justice.

One thing I’ve learned since becoming a parent is that children’s noses are phenomenally good at sniffing out inconsistencies in our behaviour. They may not remember us asking them to make the bed or put their school uniform away but they will definitely remember something that you’ve said that you wish you hadn’t. They will also run this regrettable utterance through their database of our previous sayings or actions to see if they match up. And if they don’t, they will notice. We underestimate the attention they pay us- what we say, what we do- at our peril. Carry on reading…

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Worried about the problems our children are facing? Don’t panic!

barbie

I have read a lot of articles recently which have the apparent aim of putting the fear of God into parents everywhere. If they are to be believed, our children are in for a terrible time. They are growing up too quickly. They spend all their time in front of a screen of some sort or another. They are inactive and overweight. Once they hit their teenage years (or even before that), they will inevitably be drinking too much, watching porn online, having sex with each other (a lot), and being pressurised into doing things they don’t want to do. They will have no respect for themselves or other people.

Depressed yet?! I was starting to feel somewhat helpless and despondent when reading the latest diatribe on this subject from some journalist or another. That same morning I walked to work as usual along the footpath that runs along the side of our local secondary school. As usual, I shared the path with a gaggle of teenagers on their way to school. As usual, I nearly passed out from the heady fumes of Lynx, testosterone, perfume and hairspray as they passed me. But then I was struck by a thought. These teenagers looked pretty happy. Most of them were smartly dressed and talking amicably to one another. Some of them even smiled at me and stood aside to let me past. Granted, a few dropped litter on the ground and I’m fairly sure that a group of girls were laughing at my animal-print rucksack, but then I probably would have done if I was them. Carry on reading…

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Free to Fly- The importance of loving our children unconditionally

Pretty much all parents would agree that they’d like their children to be happy. Many would say they would like them to be successful, too. But how do we define success? I think we need to be careful about over-emphasising the achievements of our children. Let me explain what I mean by that.

If we focus too much on their achievements, be they academic ones or in the field of music, drama, sport or anything else, they can start to believe that that is what defines them. We so often pigeon-hole them- ‘She’s my brainy one’, ‘he’s my little budding footballer’, ‘she got all the looks in our family’, ‘he’s the funny one’. If we’re not careful they start to adopt these titles for themselves and thus place limitations on their expectations of what they are capable of. Carry on reading…

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