Celebrating

I haven’t written for a while because my Nana died, and I didn’t know how or what to write about that.  I was able to travel to say goodbye to her, and I have to say that I know God is real when you can sit at your Nana’s kitchen table, silent and jumbled-up and with an aching soul—and simultaneously knowing and feeling that He is at the table with you, not because you’re doing or saying or thinking anything good, but because He is good and He loves you.  God has met me in some very interesting places over the years, and this is one I’ll always remember—not because a miraculous healing occurred or because my heart was overcome with joy or because I heard a clear message or suddenly felt equipped to do the hard thing in front of me, but because He was there, and that was enough.

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I could talk for a long time about the experience of saying goodbye to someone, but Nana directed our feelings when she shared with us, “Don’t be afraid. This was easy.  I know where I’m going, and I’ll see all of you there.”  It was a sweet time, and I’m so, so grateful I got to be there.

A few weeks later, I was privileged to join my entire family to celebrate her life.  There was fresh snow, a freezing graveside service, a beautiful and inspiring church service, tears, laughter, wine, coffee, and unexpected train rides, so the entire thing felt a little bit surreal-ly balanced between happy and sad.

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After saying goodbye to Nana and beginning to reflect on her legacy, I have a clarified outlook on what really “sticks” at the end of your life, and I’m freshly aware that I am responsible for living now as the kind of person I want to be.  Sifting through Nana’s life made me realize that I want to be more intentional about being a good friend, making family memories, and doing the things that I enjoy (instead of thinking “wouldn’t it be nice to…” and then shelving the activity for some unspecified date).  

Thus…

Zoe and I went on a breakfast-and-sunrise date last week.

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I’ve been taking advantage of the wonderful weather and taking my girls to the beach with friends.

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When we leave the beach, we often stop for a sweet treat.  I’ve decided it’s just going to be an official, regular thing now.  I want my adult children to say, “remember when we were little and we’d go to the beach, and we’d always get ice cream/a chocolate muffin?!! That was the best!!!” 

I went on a beach weekend with my own friends, too (and we left the kids behind)!!!! This should also be an official, regular thing. 🙂

I went to an international fitness dance expo with two similarly dance-crazed friends and danced for two hours.

IMG_0274Clearly, we looked just like the lead dance instructor. #not

I’ve been enjoying a walk or two on our treadmill each week once the girls are in bed.  I wear Zoe’s toddler headphones (which don’t fall out of my ears like the dumb iPod ones) and praisewalk/dance like a loon to random Christian music playlists.  IMG_0262

I have thoroughly been enjoying my little ladies and the daily adventures they bring into my life.

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I am trying to find the humor and universality in the little annoyances of parenting.

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And I am trying to soak up the little moments…because they add up to the bigger picture of my life.

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Thank you, Nana, for all you taught me, and for all you keep teaching me.

 

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Little Lessons, Big Impact

I just walked through my house, turning off lights in empty rooms, and a mental light turned on at the same time as I realized: I do this because my dad taught me to. 

There was a point in my adolescence where my dad explained that electricity cost money, and began fining us 25 cents for every unnecessary light we left on. We rolled our eyes and thought he was being ridiculous, but quickly adjusted our behavior when we had to hand over our precious quarters.

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BECAUSE I NEEDED THOSE QUARTERS FOR GAS MONEY.

And now, 16-or-so years and some blessed maturity later, I’m walking through my own house, turning unnecessary lights off.

I am in such a training phase right now with my kids.  I am constantly giving direction, redirection, praise, coaching, and enforcing do-overs.  My girls recently started fighting with one another for the first time; dual time-outs are a daily occurrence.

Ideally, I’d like to be promoting values and proactively teaching my kids, but I have to respond to behaviors so many times per day that it feels hard to move out of reaction mode and towards any “bigger picture” ideals.

I was listening yesterday to an interview with Sally Clarkson in which she said:

“A lot of women give up [on a certain ideal they want to have for their family] when they really are making progress, and their kids really are listening—they just haven’t gotten old enough to own it for themselves and to verbalize back to you how important it was to them.  I see so many people giving up at the wrong moment.”  

She explains that the verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6) doesn’t say your child will go the right way immediately; it takes time  and maturity for that training to sink in. When he’s young? He needs lots of coaching and reminders!

I loved these back-to-back reminders that all of this training is a process—a process that can, occasionally, develop habits and thoughts that last for a lifetime.

So here are three things I’m trying to intentionally teach my girls right now, knowing it might take a lifetime to soak in:

(1) “God made you so, so special.  He loves you just the way you are.”    

One of my girls is beginning to realize that she is different from others, both in how she copes with things (“why am I more sensitive than them? I wish I was brave like her”) and in her appearance.  Additionally, she has been dealing with some teasing from her preschool classmates about her beautiful hair, to the point that she asks for a ponytail every day that she goes to school so the attention to her hair will be minimized (this is where I want to cry a little bit, because seriously, 3 year olds? I thought we had a few more years).

We have spoken with the teachers about the teasing, have brought in books that celebrate black hair and read them to her classmates, and (already) read these books at home.  We also got her a doll with natural hair for Christmas, as this perceptive child pointed out that all of her black dolls had relaxed (straight) hair, which I hadn’t even realized.  This was her face when she pulled the wrapping paper off and found a natural hair doll:

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The first thing she said was “her hair looks just like mine!!!” I can’t help but think that seeing this beautifully-wrapped, fancily-dressed doll made her realize that she must be beautiful if someone would design a doll to look just like her.

I want my girls to know deep in their core that they are created on purpose by a master creator, loved for who and how they are, and wanted.  So I’m reminding them at every possible opportunity:

When they’re good at something: It’s because God made you special, and part of His special plan was to make you good at this particular thing.  

When something’s hard for them: It’s because God makes everyone special and different, and He made you good at something else, and likes to watch you try and try and get better at this! 

When they aren’t like a friend: It’s because God makes everyone special and different.  He didn’t make any two people exactly alike, but you’re both special.    

When they don’t like something about themselves: God still made you special, and He loves you just the way you are. 

(2) “Let’s talk to God about that. He loves to hear our prayers.”

Prayer has never been my strongest spiritual practice.  I can praise God easily, but I like to bring my problems to God as a last resort, after I’ve pro-con-listed different solutions, maybe worried over it a little, and talked about it with a friend.  (I’m working on this.)

It occurred to me about six months ago that if I never show my children how to talk to God about their problems, my children will see me as their god.  If Zoe tells me, “I’m scared of being alone in my room!” and all I do is give her a list of suggestions to be less scared, I’ve taken away her power and His.

When I talk with her about her fears and then lead her to share them with God, I’ve taken myself off the throne and instead empowered her by giving her the tool to finding peace—and the chance to trust God and watch Him work.

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So I’m reminding all of us:

Let’s tell God that we’re scared and ask Him to help you calm down and sleep well.

Let’s ask God to help us not get so frustrated.

Let’s tell God that you’re nervous about going to school and ask Him to help you feel brave.  

 

(3) “There’s always a Plan B.  Let’s think of some ideas.”

I’m the queen of rigidity.  It’s really annoying, and I’m trying to spare my kids from having this be part of their personality.  So I’m trying to train them to think of a list of possible solutions and alternate ideas when their first idea doesn’t work, instead of freezing and/or melting down in frustration.  I want them to know that there are always lots of options if they can just get enough outside of their feelings to think creatively.

We don’t have time to go to the park because the sun is setting soon, but we can ride our bikes in our driveway before it gets dark, or do some water play in the bath tub. What are some other things we could do? 

She didn’t answer the way that you wanted her to.  What are some things we could say next?  

It is very frustrating when things break. We could hit our sister in anger and go to our room, or we could try to fix this together. Which do you think we should try? 

 

These are just a few of the “ideals” I’m holding up every day, and to be honest, sometimes I’m not sure I’m communicating them well or enough.  I’m not sure my kids are listening or watching.  I’m also not sure I’m the best messenger for ideals that I myself struggle with!

But I can tell you this: last week, my stroller broke while I was on a walk with Riley.  It was not my Plan A to sit on the sidewalk with Riley watching stroller repair videos on my phone before realizing that I needed a wrench to fix it, and then having to walk eight blocks carrying a 30 pound child and a stroller that I was holding in a perpetual wheelie.

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I felt all kinds of frustrated.  Plan A was good! A walk! Exercise! Why is everything so hard? This is exactly what I’m talking about—how can I create a strategy for communicating these big-picture ideals if I’m always responding to emergencies?! 

But later I saw what Riley was doing with her toy stroller.

img_0068She’s trying to fix it on the side of the road.  She’s doing what I so imperfectly modeled.

And now I know: in 16+ years, my little girls might find themselves turning off a light, or thinking of a plan B, or talking to God in prayer, or (I hope) smiling at themselves in the mirror knowing God made them.  So I’ll keep going with the training and the ideals, even in the imperfect moments. Because it does add up to a better person.  And one with a lower electricity bill.

And to my parents: thank you for parenting us so intentionally. I am only now beginning to realize how much energy and thought that must have taken! You are my role models! 

My To-Do List

If you’ve spent any time with me lately, you’ve likely NOT heard me ramble about work-life balance…because it’s so raw and I don’t know what to say.  My work-life balance has been changing a little bit after several years of being in bare minimum career maintenance mode, and it’s weird.

Since I ramped up my efforts to build my client list (a marketing effort which consisted mostly of prayer and not immediately screaming “NO” when someone made a referral), I have been blessed with a steady stream of clients and work. I am no longer working “very” part-time; I work part-time. This comes with increased client management responsibilities, more deadlines to keep track of, and some slight changes in personal identity.

For about two months, I’ve been saying “I probably need to start saying no to any new projects”—but in those two months, I’ve said “no” exactly 0 times.  Here’s why:

-I genuinely like the projects and am so jazzed by (most of) the work that I do. I take on my clients’ missions and invest in my students’ futures.  I love getting e-mails from students thanking me for helping them learn and grow, coming back from meetings with my brain whizzing with ideas, and getting lost in research as I write narratives for my clients’ grant proposals.  I didn’t have an outlet for my passions, I’m not sure that my life would feel as meaningful. I know that I am called to be a present and engaged mom, but I don’t feel called to push down all of the things that I know and can offer the world in favor of having empty laundry baskets.

-It’s hard to say no to new clients who want to work with me, or to existing clients who would be a great source of continued business when I have a long-term interest in building a small business (or at least a job for myself) in this field.

-My counted-on contribution to our family income is all I “need” to do. But outside of that, I have hopes and dreams for our house, vacations I want our family to go on, and 529 accounts that I want (“want?”) to fill up.  Contract/freelance work = $.

Coming back to reality, however: at this point, all of my scheduled childcare time for the fall is booked with projects…so any new “yes” I say to work is a “no” to time with my kids, family, and/or personal time.

It’s tough to figure out the right balance between “this project pays for a month of your preschool tuitions, freeing up funds for a family vacation that will build priceless memories” and “this project makes me miss time with you and/or takes up any time I have to recharge, resulting in memories of time with a babysitter or a cranky mom.”  And I’ve had to accept that I’m not going to make the right call 100% of the time, because actually saying yes is new.

Trying new things is messy.  Add that to a life that was already a little less than put-together and it’s…well, messier.
photo-on-1-20-16-at-7-48-amBut there’s fun in the mess.  And with every messy challenge comes opportunity.

And so: I think that the challenge for me at this intersection of my kids’ development and my business growth will be to clearly define and act from my values.  The time I spend parenting will change and fluctuate as my kids move towards school readiness, but the value of my parenting time will not decrease, and the quality of that time should not, either.

This challenge also means I have the opportunity to experiment with new projects, clients, and work styles and schedules—and the opportunity to learn more about myself, my family’s needs, and what my future could look like—IF I pay attention.

Also, I realize that I am SO blessed to have these opportunities and choices. When I was fresh out of college, I wrote a description of my dream job. I wanted to work for a nonprofit organization, write professionally, be an adjunct professor, have the flexibility to work from home and coffee shops instead of always needing to be in an office, be able to cook a hot lunch (LOLZ, clearly of the utmost importance), and have time during my day to exercise, play with my then-imagined kids, and invest in other people.  In other words, way too many things, some ludicrous things, and also essentially what I do now.

The kicker is that when I left full-time work, I didn’t intentionally set out to achieve this life; I was just taking steps of obedience and looking, like, one foot ahead until I suddenly looked up and realized that I am actually living that dream (minus the daily hot lunch because it turns out that once I had more than one child, I began to struggle to even make a basic sandwich. If we could slightly tweak the goal to “making a latte after lunch,” though, nailed it). 

Even though this life is what I dreamed of, it’s not always perfect or easy or 100% fun.  It’s called “work” for a reason!  So when I begin to angst about the difficulty of balancing work and family and my soul, I have begun to tell myself: you are tired.  It’s time for a break.  Go for a walk with a friend.  Talk with your husband.  Watch a show.  Read a book.  Write a blog post.  Go to bed.  If your lifestyle can’t support Sabbath—something needs to change. 

In the morning, I wake up and journal and pray.  And towards the end of writing my honest reflections to God, I am always startled to realize that I didn’t have a situational problem; I had a gratitude problem, or was tired, or just needed to say no, or needed to set up an extra babysitting day but also plan a fun family activity to balance it out.  It isn’t actually that hard when you don’t carry all the burden of doing all the things perfectly all the time.

I don’t always know the “right” answer to the “should I take on this client/project” question.  And I won’t always get it right.  But generally, if I pause before responding, prayerfully consider a project, and move it through the filter of the important “to-do” list that I have developed below—I might.

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My to-do list: 

(1) Be an engaged and present mom and wife. I am there for my people when they ask me to be. I put down my thing/to-do and engage when they want to engage. I stick to clearly defined work times and don’t multi-task.  I work in my office or at my Starbucks office—not in the playroom.  I may leave things unfinished at times; this bugs me but I choose the better thing.  I’m there—fully present—for the big moments.

IMG_5178.JPG(Zoe before her first day of weeklong camp this summer! I was happy I could be there to talk her through nerves at drop off and see her excited face at pick-up.)

(2) Manageable and enjoyable work. I curate my projects/clients to a manageable list. As possible, I go for the enjoyable projects. I don’t need to “wow” on every project—meeting expectations is okay.

(3) Treat my soul with respect.  My life has time for quiet time.  I make time and space for a weekly Sabbath—a day or two with no “work work,” unless it’s one of my two grading hell weeks.  I make space for fun things with friends that seem like a waste of time from a productivity standpoint, because these friendships so greatly enrich my life and fun is actually important. I fight for alone time now and then.  I make time for reading. I pay attention to patterns in myself.  If my physical, mental, and emotional self all feel ragged—I talk about it and make some changes.  I “find rest in the incompleteness of the present moment as I learn to recognize the goodness of what is, [and trust] that what is needed for the future will be added at the proper time” (Sally Breedlove, Choosing Rest).

On that note, I’m going to go to bed!

What Motherhood Has Taught Me

I didn’t think God would trust me to take care of a girl.

After all, I hadn’t been able to take care of myself. My early adult years—the first chance I got to take care of myself—were overshadowed by an eating disorder, self-destructive choices, shame, and a persistent feeling of never being enough.

Thanks to the relentless love of the Lord and those around me, I finally broke away from the lie that I was small and worthless if I wasn’t perfect, and learned to care for myself. I found an area of the world that I wanted to impact, pursued it purposefully, and began to actually transform some very small corners of the world. Slowly, my view of myself changed. I could do imperfectly good things.

And yet, as I began to feel the pull towards motherhood, I never pictured a daughter. Although I worked with girls professionally, and did it well, I knew that parenting a girl would be a much bigger job and frankly, I didn’t think God would trust me with the chance to wreck a girl again. Surely, he’d give me a resilient boy—someone that society would prop up in the places I didn’t do my job well. Not someone that our world tears down little by little. Not someone who looks to me as their model.

So when the nurse came out and said “it’s a girl,” I was overjoyed to meet her—and terrified about how I would mess it up.

IMG_0035Little did I know that having girls would mess ME up—in ways I still don’t completely understand.

Having girls has taught me how little I matter. I don’t say that in a self-deprecating sense, but seriously—in the scope of the whole planet we live on, with all the activities and people and joys and sorrows, no one else is losing energy over how my stomach looks today versus yesterday. Having two precious girls has both allowed and forced me to take my gaze off of myself and to focus on things that are infinitely more important.

I read the news differently—with an eye for what the stories say about the world we are creating. I realize that I won’t have eternity here on this earth and I want to spend my time making this world more loving, more just, and more gentle for two special girls and other children like them.

When I cry and worry now, I’m angsting over others—not so much myself. Having daughters with active minds and bodies has kept me busy enough that there isn’t time or energy enough for a rabbit hole of self-concern. I’m often the last thought on my mind, which is such a relief. When I do have time “to myself,” I recognize it as the treasure it actually is, and usually spend it productively and positively.

And as I have watched my daughters’ chunky legs give way to thinned limbs and their toothless grins turn white and their words come where no words were before, they have taught me to appreciate time. I realize now that THIS IS MY LIFE. It is fleeting. I cannot grab the moments again; I have to spend them well and release them—onto the next.

IMG_2773Our last house had one full-length mirror; it was in my daughter’s room. I realized pretty quickly that she watched me every time I looked at myself in the mirror. Did I want her to see me body-checking and feeling inadequate, or did I want her to hear me say “blue looks good on me, now let’s go play?” When we moved, I didn’t even bring the full-length mirror, because I’ve taught my daughters that having clothes on our bodies and shoes on our feet is a gift…and I don’t want to waste time critiquing a gift.

Staying home with my daughters has involved financial changes. Out of necessity, I stopped shopping for confidence in the mall and started developing confidence that goes beyond my clothes. I’ve bought less than ten pieces of clothing in the last two years—and along the way God has demonstrated to me in a way I would have never been receptive to before that my appearance is irrelevant to my worth.

IMG_1012Having daughters has taught me how hard and how long I can work and how much I am capable of with God’s help.  It has strengthened my ability to find joy in tough times.  It has increased my creativity and flexibility and trust in God’s provision.  I used to crave achievement; now, I crave wisdom.

Having daughters has made me think about legacy. It has made me get detailed about the characteristics and values I want to bring to my everyday, intimate relationships. It has made me assess who I am and who I want to be—not with eyes of critique and self-flagellation, but with eyes of possibility and dreaming and excitement about who I could be for them.Zoe and Mom mountainI thought I understood grace as a scared 20 year old, eating huge plates of food and recognizing the second chance at life she had been given. I recognize now though that I never fully accepted the grace—only the mercy.

I knew God forgave me, but I was still on edge.  I had used my one screw-up, and He had saved me, but I better play it safe and not mess up again.

If I went back and told that 20 year old that she’d have daughters someday, she’d think “oh wow, God really gave me a second chance.”

Being trusted with these daughters, and learning how to walk with Him daily as I parent them, has taught me that there is no such thing as a second chance with God. Because grace isn’t a second chance; it’s a first chance over and over again.

He’s not slowly recovering from my last screw-up, reluctantly handing over the trust again—I am white as snow to Him. The old has gone; the new has come, and it comes over and over and over again.  He isn’t pacing while He waits for my inevitable fall; He knows I will fail and yet He trusts me.

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A decade later, I am shaped and moved and carried by this and only this: nothing I do can make Him love me more or less.  He loves me because He is love—not because of me.   

My flesh fits comfortably now because He made it and He loves it. And slowly I am learning that when He looks at me, He doesn’t see my actions or my efforts or anything else I do to “deserve” or “earn” his favor or “win back” His love after my mistakes.

He only sees me.  And He calls me good—because I am His.

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Last week, one of my daughters had a series of bad choices that led to an injury and a mess. As I washed her hands in her tiny bathroom she apologized over and over and over again: “I’m sorry, mama. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. ” 

“Honey, I already forgot what you did,” I told her, meaning it.  And all I could think of was the scripture—“you are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” 

We are clean—not because of our merit. Not because of our good choices.  Not because of our outstanding achievements.  But because HE LOVES US, and because He has decided that is enough.

Becoming a mama has put flesh and bones on the gospel message: He loves me enough to give me endless second chances.  He loves me enough to give me something important to do.  He loves me even though I mess it up.

He loves me because He is love.

And He trusts me to be a vehicle for His love on this Earth.

There is no greater privilege.


I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this blessing- and challenge-filled job without the support of my own mom, dad, mother-in-law, sister, partner, and group of wonderful friends.  Thank you to ALL of you for investing in me and my family and for being my friend on this journey.  And I am especially thankful on this Mother’s Day and on every day for my daughters’ birthmothers, who gave my girls the gift of life and who entrusted me with this job.

Oh, and here was our best attempt at Mother’s Day photos.  We should be models! 🙂

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My Goals for 2016

December was full of fun, laughter, and joy.  I wish I had time to recap all of it for you, but I wanted to share my annual goals with you, and I don’t have time to do both. 🙂

This year, I have 6 goals.

1 – To passionately pursue my marriage–pursuing intimacy and a relationship that is separate from our parenting relationship.  

WHY: My marriage deserves this attention.  I want to experience the joy of a thriving marriage and to share this joy with my husband and our children as well.  This goal involves a lot of “laying down of self” and intentionally choosing to pursue someone else’s needs over my own, which sometimes feels costly in the moment, but I want an amazing marriage–not just a good one.

2 –  To transition well from youth ministry to new ways of serving in summer 2016, keeping in mind that I won’t be “done” with existing mentoring relationships.  

WHY: The girls that I have been loving and serving since they were in 6th grade are graduating and moving onto college.  I have learned (much to my surprise) that youth ministry does not end when the students graduate; instead, you begin doing college ministry.  Right now, I mentor a few girls who have moved on to college and a group of girls who are seniors in high school.

When I started youth ministry, I had a dog and a youth pastor husband.  Now, I have two children with perpetual needs and an associate pastor husband.  It’s become a lot more difficult to do what I really want to do as a mentor.

For this reason, I have spent the last two years focusing on getting “my” girls through their seasons and not on building any new relationships.  This summer, all of “my” girls will be heading off to college, in college, or freshly out of college.

It’s a chance for me to switch gears.

This spring, I want to prayerfully consider what ministry will look like for me moving forward, keeping in mind that I’ll still be doing some long-distance and college-break mentoring.

I want to serve my church and world. I also want to be mindful of the constraints of my existing responsibilities, at the same time that I remember that I serve a God who turns a simple offering of loaves and fishes into food for thousands.

I’ve been thinking about how I could assist a ministry at our church by donating some grant writing services.  I am also open to other new ideas that God may share with me.

3 – Attend Jazzercise 3x week + do other frequent physical activity.  

WHY: The investment of my time into physical activity pays huge dividends for my ability to perform all of my other roles.  I am a better mom and wife and a happier Sarah when I take this time for myself.  I don’t exercise for vanity; I exercise for sanity!

Although in my dream world I would exercise most days of the week, 3x a week is the perfect amount of time for my kiddos to be in the childcare program and still look forward to going, and it will keep me in reasonable shape.

4 – Continue morning devotion time and begin doing devotions with Zoe. 

WHY: I love this time with the Lord and want to continue to grow in His image and gain His wisdom and strength as I seek Him. “What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45) and I want to put good things in my heart. I want to see the cumulative effect of patient study of God’s word.  I want to build Zoe’s awareness of God and His love for her and her ability to have a relationship with Him.  (Mini update: I’ve already started the devotion book with Zoe and she loves it!)

5 – Make $X amount this year, maintain a minimum of 3 income streams, and prayerfully and sacrificially give from my earnings to our friends’ YoungLives ministry.  

WHY: “Change a teen mom and change a baby.”  In 2015, I wound up exceeding my income goal by 11%.  In 2016, I want to continue incrementally growing my business, but I don’t want growth to simply benefit my family.  God is the source of any business that I get and I want to offer what I make back to Him.  Our friends in Washington are looking for support for their YoungLives ministry (Young Life’s ministry for teen moms) and I feel called to take a painful and scary leap of faith to commit to giving up some of the comfort and cushiness of my money habits to help teen moms get the mentoring and support that I benefit from as an adult mom plugged into a great family and church.

I still haven’t decided whether I will give a percentage monthly or quarterly or a one-time gift at the end of the year, but giving an amount that mildly scares me is a goal of mine.  Hold me to it.  🙂

6 – Spend one-on-one time with Zoe each week.  

WHY: Some of my silence on this blog this spring and fall can be attributed to the fact that knowing how to parent one of my children is a perpetual challenge for me (and that actually parenting her is exhausting).    I don’t think it is fair to share much online about my children’s struggles, which is why I have been pretty quiet, but behind the scenes I have been learning how to best support the needs of a child with a temperament that is very different than my own and a set of needs that is more intense than many of my friends’ same-age children seem to have.  We have had some professional evaluation as part of this process and apparently, I am doing everything “right”—it is just exhausting.

I notice that I feel a lot less frustration with her when I spend special time with her—time dedicated solely to studying and appreciating her unique personality and to having fun together.  I want to love and know my child the way she deserves to be loved and known, and I want to enjoy and appreciate her personality—not just patiently endure it.  I feel convinced that one-on-one time together is a critical part of this.  This week, we start an 8-week parent/child gymnastics class that we will attend together—just the two of us.  My goal is to keep some special time each week (whether it’s a class, park date, cookie date, or simply running errands) to invest in our relationship this way.

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Well, I hear some naptime-ending-noises, so I’m going to pop this up without proofreading and hope for the best.  I’d love to hear your goals if you feel like sharing any of them with me!

Where I’ve Been

I didn’t mean to disappear for almost a month, but that’s exactly what happened.  Zoe was sick, my family came to visit for a week, and writing professionally and editing others’ writing professionally seems to kill my interest in sitting at a computer and writing during my spare time.  Lent also impacted me a lot more than planned (more on that to come) and oh yeah, I have two kids and they’re both MOBILE now.

AHH!

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(As a side note, this post will feature even more gratuitous photos of my cute kids than usual because I have a MONTH to catch you up on.)

To begin, I want to finally admit “out loud” that having two kids so close together is way more work than I ever thought it could be.  There are so many joyful moments, but I do not think I would use the phrase “tons of fun” to describe the last 8 months.  Perhaps “overwhelming,” “surprised I didn’t die,” and “just ordered powerful under-eye cream” sum things up better.  As each one of David’s and my parents have independently observed when coming to help, “wow, someone always needs something.”  

It has been hard to hang on to the Sarah that isn’t just a need-meeter, but a person with her own needs and interests.  Sometimes I have done a good job of planning and anticipating my own needs, and sometimes I have pushed past them and wound up angry at everyone else.

Thankfully, I am growing and learning at the same time as my girls, and I feel like I am getting a little bit better at taking care of myself.

Here are some of the things that have helped me be “Sarah” lately.

Sleep.  I mentioned a few months ago that we were starting to sleep train Riley.  I am overjoyed to report that after 6-7 weeks of effort, the plan worked, and my big girl has slept through the night almost every night since.  I go to sleep with a smile on my face now knowing that I will probably sleep from 9:30/10 until at least 5 am.  SLEEP IS THE BEST.

photo 1-11Kisses for sleep.

Joining the Jazzercise studio down the street (and using its childcare).  Zoe adores the kids’  room, prays for the childcare worker and asks to go every day.  Riley hates it.  Too bad. I’m going 3-ish times a week, which gives me 3-ish more hours per week where I don’t have to be in charge and instead get to listen to cool music and get my cardio dance on.  Awesome.

Walking the dog: Thanks to the later daylight patterns brought on by Daylight Savings time, I can now walk our dog alone after putting the girls to bed.  I watch the sunset, clear my head, enjoy the silence, and/or call a friend.  It’s a great 15-20 minute exhale.

Working.  I’m busy and I’m good at it, and it makes me happy.  As a bonus, David and I now meet at Starbucks to work together one afternoon a week (which reminds us of our sweet college selves and is a great investment into our “fun away from the girls” tank).  When I’m not at my Starbucks office, this is where the magic happens:

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In related news, I dream of a designated office space…

The girls’ babysitter.  She brings craft ideas for Zoe and even folds our laundry, which keeps our house going and lets me have some rest time in the evenings.  She is the best.

A continued break from social media.  I did not rejoin Facebook or jump into daily blog reading after Lent.  My free time is very limited, and I have realized that I want to spend the little time that I do have on activities that really, truly refresh me or that bring me a step closer towards the person that I want to be.

During Lent, I read 6 books and reconnected with my love of reading the news.  I made nice lunches for myself during nap time instead of eating Zoe’s leftovers.  I reached out to friends more often via phone or text because I couldn’t just open my news feed and know what they were up to.  I found myself more productive with my work time.

I want to be a lifelong learner, an aware citizen, a person who honors herself, an intentional friend, a productive and focused worker—and I feel GOOD and refreshed when I do these things.  Many people can use social media responsibly, and I may return at some point, but for now, it’s just too much information to process and respond to, and is not the most valuable use of my energy or time.

photo 4-9After all, it takes a lot of energy to direct this motorcade.

Riley’s nap time.  Thanks to the sleep training program, Riley now takes a 1.5-2 hour nap every morning.  At first, I resented this because it basically chains us to the house.   After complaining for a few weeks, I felt God pressing on my heart that these mornings are my best opportunity to teach Zoe and fill her little love tank with one-on-one attention.  With that perspective, I’ve grown to love and cherish this time.  We planted a few container gardens, and we water and check our seeds’ growth every morning.

Zoe gardenAfter checking on our seeds, we play outside, read, do crafts or a workbook that I got for her, clean the house (“mommy, I do dust pan”), play with her dolls, build roads for her cars, etc. Throughout our time, I engage her in uninterrupted conversations about her feelings and viewpoints.  I feel our hearts connecting, and I’m so grateful to God for giving me the perspective that this is a time to give my best to instead of wish away.  One of my biggest desires is to be an intentional mom, and this is my chance to do this with Zoe.

Honesty.  I’ve really been working on being more honest with myself and with God about my feelings.  More to come on this in a later post, but here’s one snippet of that honesty:

When I got married, I knew that marriage (and eventually, my role as a parent) was a commitment to something deeper than my personal feelings of happiness.  Parenting a toddler has challenged me to understand this principle on a new level! It is NOT all fun and it does not always make me happy.  But I am learning to emotionally detach from the tough moments—because they are fleeting and not intended as personal attacks anyway—and lean in to the good ones.

Girls in the backyard

An older woman once walked by as I loaded a defiant Zoe into the car while wearing Riley and said, “I remember when my children were exactly their ages.  Those are such great memories!” I literally cried right then and there because I was so glad that someone who had been in my shoes looked back and remembered the good things first.

That’s my goal!

The last 8 months have felt hard, but I can see where I have grown and gotten it right, too.  I can’t go back to a stage of life where things felt easier and I can’t skip ahead to a time when my girls’ needs will be less intense; instead, I’m doing the hard and worthwhile work of learning to be Sarah where God has planted her now.

IMG_4207And I’m thankful to have been planted here.

What I Do

I have been trying to write a variation of this post for a few months.  Every time I sat down to write it, the words that came out were academic, impersonal, distant.  I had a truth I wanted to share, but somehow, it was getting stuck.

Start with the personal.  The answer came tonight as I made pizza for my family.  As I spread the pesto and washed the mushrooms and grated the cheese, the words began.  And as I am learning to do, I baked the pizza and plated the food and praised the toddler and put the pajamas on and sang the goodnight song, holding off the flow of words but not losing the spark.  And now I sit down to write these words, that once were choked and now are loud:

I am finally proud of what I do. 

So here’s the personal: when I first became a stay-at-home-mom, I was proud of myself for making the decision to stay home, but I felt mixed about the decision itself.   I was proud that I had made the decision based on my values instead of societal pressure, but I still felt societal pressure.  Additionally, my success at work had become a huge part of my self-worth, and taking it away left some definite holes (this actually prompted some positive growth, but growth isn’t always easy).

On a day-to-day basis, caring for my daughter and seeing the benefits of my work with her took away this angst.  I knew I had made the right choice for her, and honestly, I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, so it felt like the right choice for me as well.

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But when I had to admit to other adults what I did full-time, it was a different story.

For about a year after leaving my full-time job, I dreaded the “so, what do you do?” question that people would ask at parties and networking events.  I didn’t know what to say.  Did I tell them what I was capable of, or what I was currently doing?

After a few social events fraught with these instances of panic and pause, I asked David, “what do I say when people ask me what I do?!”

He mildly replied, as someone who was not experiencing an existential crisis would, “maybe say what you do?”   

But to me, the answer “I’m a stay-at-home mom” somehow reflected “I am June Cleaver and hoped and dreamed that I would find fulfillment in the home as a homemaker.”

I knew people who had dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom since second grade.  These are the same people who spend lots of time on Pinterest and who can make pie crusts from scratch.  THOSE people were the stay-at-home moms.

I was not.  I hadn’t spent my whole life waiting to be a wife and mother; I was surprised when I wanted either.  I liked working and advancing professionally.  I’ve only made two pies ever, and both burnt.  And so even though I found myself happy as a stay-at-home mom, it didn’t seem like enough. 

So, “I used to be a —–” is what I would settle on, feeling like a fraud, “but now I’m a (hurriedly under my breath) stay at home mom and I do consulting work part time on the side too.  Man, this bruschetta has a kick! Gotta go get some wine! I hope I never see you again and that you don’t remember this conversation at all!”

It’s hard to put into words exactly why this role was hard to own, but I think some commentary from our culture will help:

From an article on depression among executive women: 

“Choose a female-friendly employer, said Harriet Greenberg, a partner at Friedman LLP, an accounting firm in New York City. Its open-door policy and flex-time option help women cope. If a woman stays home for a few years to chase kids, ‘she’s welcomed back,’ she said.”   (Source, emphasis mine.  The semantics kill me! We couldn’t possibly be imparting anything of VALUE during those times with our kids…nope, just chasing them).

From a conversation last Friday with a new colleague: 

“So, what did you do before children interrupted your life?”

From a conversation with a man (who has children!) two summers ago: 

Him: “So, you left your job? Do you actually find that spending your day caring for your child is fulfilling?
Me: “Yes, I do.”
Him: “Really??”

From a conversation with a recent (female) college graduate: 

“I bet you can’t wait to get back to work, huh?”

I’m not trying to be overly sensitive, nor am I skewering anyone quoted above for their word choices.  These comments and excerpts reflect a larger debate in our culture over the value and necessity of a stay-at-home parent.  I understand why we have that debate, and from a sociological and historical perspective, I think it’s important that we keep discussing it.

But I hope that conversation evolves a little to say this: act from your values, ignore the critics and “shoulds,” and make yourself proud.    

As a woman, I’ve been told everything from you should of course stay home with your kids; how could you leave them? to if you don’t go back to work, you’re betraying all women. How do you ever expect your daughter to respect you if you don’t?

On that spectrum, I’ve experienced everything from congratulations, you’ve made the best decision for your kids! to rolled eyes at a university faculty meeting when I said that I was a mostly stay-at-home mom and an abrupt silence at a professional luncheon when I mentioned my kids.

But I’m learning to be okay with it.  Because it’s my life, and I’m acting from my values.  Yes, they are values that surprised me, but it’s okay to be surprised by the evolution of your life. Accepting that evolution is called “growth.”

Since becoming a mostly stay-at-home mom who works an average of 5-8 hours a week, I’ve earned $40,000 in grant funding for nonprofits, taught college classes, trained youth professionals, nonprofit employees, youth, and parents in our area, and helped a nonprofit organization completely recreate its evaluation plan to better measure their impact, to name a few projects.

But the most important thing I do? Undoubtedly, is care for and nurture these two girls.  

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Now, truth: it’s sometimes the most boring thing that I do.  It’s often the most thankless thing that I do.  It’s not sexy and it doesn’t look great on a resume (or apparently, to a female-friendly accounting firm).  But in my core, I know it’s the best thing for my family now, and honestly, I find so much joy in it.

And admitting that latter part? Is huge for me.  Because I’m finally admitting that what I do as a stay-at-home parent matters, and that it’s okay to have made this choice—and to enjoy it.

Our culture doesn’t always value it.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

So what do I do?

I’m a stay-at-home parent.  And I’m finally proud of it.

My Lent So Far

For Lent, I have given up Facebook, reading blogs, and looking at Instagram accounts (I don’t actually have my own Instagram account, so I mostly just creep on others’).  The following are some stream of consciousness notes on the experience thus far.

-I am such a rule follower that I honestly have not been tempted to cheat yet.  Noteworthy: I do not have a smart phone.  IMG_0196

This post needed pictures, so baby Zoe will be helping me out.

-I didn’t realize how much pressure social media created for me to “respond” and “be up to date.”  Within two days, I realized, “hey! This is pretty amazing…the only people I am conversing with are people who actually seek me out or whom I intentionally put effort into initiating conversations with.”   It’s like an introvert’s dream.

As I reflected on this, I realized that in between my roles as professor, consultant, friend, and family member, I already have two email addresses, one online learning system, and a phone to stay on top of.

Facebook and blogs initially felt like my “fun escape,” but removing them from my life made me realize that they still add that pressure to “stay on top” of something.

-I didn’t realize how much I used Facebook messaging to communicate.  As soon as I de-activated my Facebook account, I realized that I had made plans with a relatively new friend this week via Facebook message.  I am still trying to figure out how to get her number or email address to confirm our plans.  Oops!  IMG_0204

-I also realized that there are a few friends who don’t actually have my number or e-mail because we just use Facebook messaging to communicate and plan, and that a lot of my mom friends use “group message” on Facebook to plan play dates.  In all honesty, some of these friends may not chase me down if it’s not as easy as just adding my name to a message, and that’s okay.  In between sleep training, giving up my stroller workout class (which is during Riley’s naptime now), and giving up Facebook, I think I am basically bowing out from some social scenes…which actually gives me more space to focus on those close friends who wouldn’t let me bow out.

I LOVE making new friends, but sometimes feel a tension between my love of making new friends and maintaining those really life-giving relationships with my closest friends.  Giving up social media is making some of this tension go away.

-Without social media, I focus a LOT better.  Sometime along the way, my “starting work” ritual had become, “sit down, make work plan, check e-mail, check Facebook, THEN get to work.”  Now, I skip steps 3 and 4, get right to work, and stay focused the whole time.  This right here would be reason enough not to go back.

-My e-mails are so boring.  Seriously.  I do NOT get the dopamine hit from my e-mails that I got from Facebook.

-For a while now, I have relied on social media and blog reading as one of (if not the) main tool for my “relaxation,” but I haven’t felt like it was very successful.

Since Lent began, I have read one book in its entirety.  I found time to go on our library’s website and place a bunch of book requests.  I have watched two episodes of Gilmore Girls.  I have also had more nighttime conversations with my husband (who gave up espn.com for Lent).  All of these activities have successfully helped me relax, and have made me feel more peaceful and better able to focus on my purpose.

Peace trumps relaxation.

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-I don’t know why (Satan testing me?!! JK) but ALL THE FUNNY THINGS have happened since I quit Facebook.  Apparently I am supposed to just muffle the hilarity instead of broadcasting it to a wider audience?!  Oh wait.  I still have a blog.  So you all get to hear that:

  • in the last two weeks, I joined Jazzercise, wrote my last will and testament and advanced medical directives, and bought a minivan.  I doesn’t even need a closing quip to make this funny.
  • today, one of my daughters had a hysterical fit because she didn’t want to share a book with her sister.  The book? Sharing Time.  

There were others, but I respect your time (and am thankful you didn’t give up reading blogs for Lent).

Okay, email subscribers and those who access this blog by typing the URL of this blog into your navigation bar instead of lazily waiting for me to put this on Facebook…it’s been real.   Thank you for spending your time with me!

Life Lately

I’ve been writing a lot lately, but almost none of it has made its way onto this blog because when I proofread it the next day, I sound about as articulate as Chris Soules.

In related news, Riley’s in sleep boot camp.  Mama cannot function like this any more.  I mean, I love a good early morning party after not sleeping through the night as much as the next guy, but 6 months of it?!!

Photo on 1-12-15 at 6.18 AM

Not sure why ZOE is the tired looking one in this photo,
as she’s the only one who slept through the night.
Drink that coffee, girl.  

The training needs to actually, you know, WORK before I can think (much less say) something profound again, but since I have the itch to write, I’ll settle for sharing a few fun tidbits from our family life these days.

 

-Zoe: Hilarious

My sweet Zoe cracks me up every single day.  Some of her recent gems:

“I need a ponytail.  I have a busy day.”

Scene: Me, trying to put R to sleep in her darkened, sound-machined-up room.
R, screaming hysterically.
Z bursts into the room and says to me, as if to say come on, you’re missing an obvious cue here: “Riley no like dark.”  To Riley:  “Light, Riley?”
Duh…why didn’t I think of that?

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She has also started going behind her kitchen set in the morning and saying “soy latte please” while passing me a pretend cup (she says “medium mocha!” for David).  She also likes to pay for “soy latte please” with her pretend credit card at her toy cash register.  I have no idea where she picked that one up.   No idea…

She got to meet Elmo at a recent toy store grand opening.  She was transfixed.  She now prays for Elmo at night.

photo-77   Don’t mind David’s wardrobe choice.
He looks like he just got back from a funeral because…he had.
#OOTDpastoredition

At least once a day, she likes to pretend to be Mr. Frank, the oddly charismatic man who leads our local library’s story time.  She switches into her Mr. Frank persona by putting glasses on, putting a ball under her shirt to simulate his “bump bump” (her word for belly), telling us “I’m Mista Frank,” and leading us in a series of songs.

I really hope Mr. Frank does not read this blog.

 

-Riley: She doesn’t sleep.  But she does other things well, like be cute.

Photo on 1-28-15 at 2.31 PM #3

I soak up every sweet cuddle and giggle from this precious little gift.

In addition to snuggling nonstop, she is also rolling everywhere, banging toys with determination, nearly toppling over with excitement when I read her books, and eating purees (well, spitting them out…tongue thrust is a bit of a challenge for her.  I had an informal consult at the playground with a feeding therapist and got some new ideas to try, and am ready to get more help if things don’t turn around in the next week or two).   

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These girls make me the happiest mama around.

 

-Bestie time

My best friend/old roommate/basically sister Becky came to visit for 5 days this last week. She brought her husband and 1 year old daughter along for the ride and we had a blast watching our girls play together!

10959381_783643375825_4633402131181552879_nWe also had a blast leaving our children and getting pedicures.  Amen.

 

My life as a hermit

Becky arrived at the perfect time.  Not only had I not had a pedicure since July 2012 (a disgusting realization I arrived at mid-pedicure…don’t worry, I left a large tip), but our 3 weeks of sleep training have made me a near-hermit in desperate need of social contact.

With our new schedule, R takes two naps and Z takes one.  Typically, they aren’t at the same time, which means I have about 45-60 minutes during the “work day” to go anywhere, if I’m lucky.  Good times.

(And by “good times” I mean FREE ME FROM MY PRISON).

I have always said “I’m a stay at home mom who doesn’t like to stay at home.”  But as the cruelties of fate would have it, home is where you’ll find me now, all day, every day (unless I decide I’d rather endure a ragefest/meltdown/car nap that negates an actual nap and results in psychotically cranky child/etc. in favor of some contact with the outside world).   

I realized that my home detention was getting to me the other day when I was THRILLED when some JROTC kids who were collecting donations for their program came to the door.  I happily handed them dollar bills in exchange for conversation.

This is my life now…

 

-On the upside: 

I am loving the 1-on-1 time with each girl that their non-synchronized nap schedule provides.  I’m a great mom of two when one of them is sleeping.

Fun with the girls

 

-Learning vs. doing:

For a few months this fall, I had a difficult time feeling engaged in my faith.  Historically, I’ve felt most engaged in my faith when I’m learning through reading, journaling, attending church, listening to sermons, etc., but with two kids, lots of distractions, and little brain power thanks to sleeplessness, I felt frustrated and told my friend Jeanette, “I just feel like I’m not learning anything new.”

Her response was awesome and has helped me so much.  She said,

“I don’t think God’s always teaching us something new every moment of our faith walk.  I think there are times for learning, and times where He just wants us to put into practice what we’ve learned.”

This is definitely a time for me to take the three minutes, five minutes, whatever I wind up having and yes, try to learn about faith and God…but it’s also the time for me to just practice DOING those foundational things that I already know He calls me to.

This morning, R and Z’s sleep schedule meant I would miss all of our church services, so I made pancakes with the girls, danced to worship music with them, and cleaned the dishes and wiped the noses and sat on the floor and played with the dollhouse figurines, remembering we can do everything for the glory of the Lord and that He can use anything we give Him.  And it was just as great and edifying as church.

 

Valentine’s Day:

Is this week.  I realized yesterday that I had V-Day plans with my toddler, but not my husband.  This situation has since been rectified (holllllla to my youth group babysitters).  

I really don’t write much about my biggest and first love—but I thought this post summed up everything I would say.  In the beginning stages of two under two, I wondered if we would lose something special in the insanity of our daily tasks…but as the storm settles and the tasks and kids get a bit easier, I realize how much we gained.  I love him more than I ever did.  I feel so blessed to have him as my best friend, love, and partner in all of this.

Now: important question! What are your V-Day plans?!! 

What “Parenting First” Should Look Like

I’ve heard a lot of buzz this week about this Similac ad.

In case you haven’t seen it, the ad caricatures our culture’s “mommy wars” by depicting parents making snide comments about others’ parenting choices at a playground.

“Oh look, the breast police have arrived,” says a bottle-feeding mom.

“One hundred percent breast-fed, straight from the source,” another mom says.

“Water birth…dolphin assisted,” a woman proudly volunteers.

The parents wind up getting so agitated over their differences that a physical fight almost breaks out— until a child is in danger and all of the parents race to try to rescue the child! As the cloying music crescendos, Similac reminds you: “no matter what our beliefs, we are parents first.”

Judging from the conversations I’ve had and observed on social media this week, it seems like most moms that I know relate to this ad.

Adoption gives you a different perspective.

Breastfeeding or formula feeding? I had no choice in how to feed my daughters, so it’s not an emotionally charged issue for me.

All natural childbirth, water birth, Bradley method, elective C-section? My birth plan was “show up at hospital, leave with baby,” so again, not really something I’m particularly invested in.

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How should you eat/drink during pregnancy? I sat down and ate with my daughters’ birth moms a few weeks before my daughters were born, and they washed down their lunch meat with soda.  My daughters are fine.  I’m not saying that the dietary recommendations for pregnancy have no merit, but honestly, I don’t have a strong emotional reaction to your decisions.  I’ve learned not to.

Working mom or SAHM? If you’ve put in the time and money to adopt, you may want nothing more to stay home and pour into that child you’ve been waiting for.  You may need to go back to work because you just spent a year’s salary making that child part of your family.  Or you may need to stay home because your child’s traumatic history means that it’s best for them that you stay home and focus on bonding and/or assimilating them to a new language. Whatever your choice, I’m sure that you have based your decision on what is best for your whole family, just as a biological parent should, so no judgment here.

Do you feed your child all-organic foods?  My daughters were placed with our family in part so that they could have ENOUGH food.  I can’t imagine the humility and sacrifice it took to make that decision.  My kids’ birthparents are seriously my heroes, and we’re theirs, because we’ve partnered to make sure that our children have the best life possible.  Feed your child whatever you want, and be thankful that you have the ability to feed them.

I hate this ad—not just because I can’t relate to it, but because it critiques the “mommy wars” without elevating the conversation.  Sure, it clearly tapped into a nerve and went viral, but what does it actually contribute? The strongest “call to action” is to “stop judging and feeling guilty (and hey, buy our formula!)”

To me, a more share-worthy message would be, “hey parents, y’all clearly have a lot of passion and energy, and care that kids’ needs are being met.  That’s great! Now let’s channel that energy towards issues THAT ACTUALLY MATTER, like ending food insecurity among kids in your community, giving homes to the 101,666 children in the foster care system in the U.S. who are eligible for adoption, mentoring at-risk youth alongside your own kids, or supporting organizations who are fighting sex trafficking of minors.”

As Kristen Howerton said, “all of these petty wars about the choices of capable, loving mothers is just a lot of white noise to me…let’s stop quibbling about what competent mothers are choosing for their kids, and step it up for the kids that don’t have one.”

Let’s debate the best ways to help others—not these relatively innocuous choices.  Let’s care about others in our community—not about how others feel about our parenting style.  Let’s stand with others in our community—not on our own positions.

We are parents first.