Raising Grateful Kids

Recently I was reading a book which talked about how hard it is for millionaires to raise good kids.  The author interviewed wealthy men who had all grown up in working class homes, and they learned so many valuable lessons as they worked hard, overcame the odds, learned resiliency and the value of the dollar, as well as how to succeed and fail.  And then they all made it big.  Now they are raising their own kids in a totally different world.  They own mansions, drive fancy cars and go on lovely vacations.  Their kids attend private schools and lack for nothing.  And these men who had grown up with so little longed for ways that they could teach their own kids some of the invaluable things they had learned because of lack.  When they were growing up they often heard, “No” to their requests because their families simply couldn’t afford them.  The rich kids, however, rarely hear “No,” because their parents can afford almost anything, and many parents had not learned to say  “No” for other, more complex reasons, like “No because you owning a Ferrari at 16 is not consistent with our values.”  The problem is, the parents had not taken the time to figure out and teach their values, and so their kids only really value money and the toys it can buy.

These stories struck a nerve because I’ve often thought about this.  Now, we are far from being millionaires!  But the truth is, we have more money than our parents did and as a result, our kids have more stuff.  They travel in nicer cars and experience fewer discomforts.  And I actually look forward to the day when we can give them yet more.  But I am sure Marvin and I learned things that they might not be learning.  My husband, for example, grew up in the West Indies, and learned how to make kites out of old sheets and the veins of palm leaves.  He learned the patience of catching butterflies and dissecting bugs.  These were the toys.  For him, family outings were an occasional treat, whereas our kids go to fun places all the time.  Boredom was an occasional dilemma, but our kids express boredom almost every day.

Surely the answer is not to be less successful or to wish poverty on them so that they will learn character.

No, the answer is deeper than that.  We have to be clear about our values and then pray for ways to teach them to our kids. If we fail to do this money can easily slip to the center.  We cannot allow the lack of it or the abundance of it to become the engine of our lives.

So what do we want?  We want them to fear and love God.  By fear, I mean respect and awe, a sobriety about who He is, and knowing the importance of obedience.  We want them to know that He is at the center and that He is the Creator and the Giver of all things good.

We want them to love people – all people – and to show compassion to those who are in trouble.  And so this means having people in our home: people of every size, shape and color.  We have rich friends and poor friends; friends with more toys and friends with fewer toys.   And we have friends whose accents are so thick our boys lose most of what is said.  But they hear and see that God made variety and we’re hoping they see the beauty in that.

And we want them grateful.  Grateful for a piece of candy and grateful for a trip to the Caribbean.  Grateful for cold water in July and grateful for an Italian soda from Starbucks.  Grateful mostly to God but also to people who bless them in little and big ways.  Thank you Thank you Thank you; Lord, let that be the mantra of our home.

We want them to know that money is a blessing, and it is also a tool with which to do good.

So what do you value?

I feel like I fail more than I succeed at teaching our kids these standards, so I’m depending on God’s grace to make up for my failures – and other people to take up the slack.  I’m realizing we have to be deliberate about instructing them, because sometimes, at the end of a hard day, it’s just easier to say, Yes.

Introducting: The Wait!

I am pleased to announce the release of The Wait: Encouragement for Single Women.  If you’ve heard my testimony, you know that I didn’t get married until I was 40, and for me, waiting for the right man was HARD!  I doubted myself, I doubted God and I doubted the existence of a good man who would love me.  But God was faithful, and He really did give me more than I asked for or imagined.  God taught me a lot during those twenty years of waiting and this book reveals those lessons.

If you are thirty, or forty or fifty and single, you are not alone!  Fifty percent of American adults are single and single people make up the majority of some congregations.   If you are content, that is wonderful!  But if you are not, get this book.  It will encourage you, give you direction and put wind in your sails.  If you’re married, get a copy for a single friend, sister or daughter.

May God use it to awaken passion for His Kingdom and faith to pray for the fulfillment of the desires of your heart.

My friend, Lee Grady, wrote an awesome Forward.  Through his ministry, The Mordecai Project, thousands of women all over the world have been empowered and released to pursue the call of God on their lives.  Check out www.themordecaiproject.org.

To purchase, click on the Buy Now on the Home Page.

Adventures in Jamaica

We just got back from visiting Marvin’s parents in Jamaica.   We spent ten days at their home and three days at a resort; it was a great trip.  The boys experienced some invaluable things, and I thank God for His provision that made it all possible.

The boys picked mangoes from a mango tree and limes from a lime tree, both in grandma’s front yard.  At home and along the road they saw colorful trees laden with ripe fruit.  They learned that fruit and flowers are abundant in the tropics.

They slept in 90 degree heat with no air conditioning: sticky sheets, fans on full blast.  That’s what summer nights were like for me growing up in Brooklyn, and yet my suburban boys had never tasted that discomfort.  Surprisingly, they didn’t complain but learned the value of cold showers in the morning to cool off.

They saw the beauty of a coral reef and squealed at a live lobster, before the poor ugly thing was roasted on the beach.  They ate it, and put their snorkel masks back on to find more treasures in the sea.

They got to blend into a nation of brown faces.  Almost everyone was black, from the policemen to the beggars, from the owner of the resort to the wait staff.  Marvin’s family is very dark; his father boasts direct descent from the feisty Maroon tribe.  But in this world, though so different from our upstate New York suburb, the boys were comfortable and happy.

They squinted, trying to understand the fast, sing song Patois of their uncles; they gave up but enjoyed the attention, playfulness and love.

They saw poverty: tin shacks and beggars on the street.  And I had the perplexing task of explaining it to a six year old: “What does poor mean?”  “Are we poor?”  “Why are they poor?”  I responded in a way that would hopefully inspire both compassion and motivation.  You’d better believe I took the opportunity to make a big plug for doing well in school!  I wonder how long I can use those tin shacks as a motivator for completing math sheets.

They had to wait, A LOT and learned, indirectly, that not every place on earth values speed and efficiency as much as America.  This agitated their flesh most of all.

They endured scores of mosquito bites, chased lizards and learned that in Jamaica, dogs are not pets, but guardians.  You don’t pet them or talk to them; they live outside and they eat scraps from the table; there is no dog food at the store.

Isaac learned that Legos are the universal language of boys, as one boy around his age stopped to admire his new Lego truck and talked about the one he just completed at home.

They received a lot of positive attention from adults everywhere they went, as children are, though firmly disciplined, generally loved and valued there.

I’m so grateful that our boys got to be immersed in such a different culture for a couple of weeks.  We hope to go regularly – to bond with family and to expose them to things that will expand their world.

“Mommy, Why?”

Mommy, why didn’t God make me an animal?

Because he wanted you to be a boy, a smart, handsome boy who will one day be a big, strong man like daddy.

Our 5 year old son has been asking all kinds of questions lately.  The infamous Whys.

Why did God make me brown?

Because brown skin is beautiful and He wanted you to have it.

Each question brings a 3 second struggle as the gears in my mind grind to find an answer appropriate for a 5 year old: short, true, encouraging and comprehensible to a growing mind.

I’m never very happy with my answers. They always seem inadequate.  But after these 2 questions I realized with delight that the questions started with, “Why did (or didn’t) God make me…” He knows that God made him!  That in itself is profound, life giving and good.  He knows that he didn’t just happen by human design.  He knows that he originated in the mind of God.  That knowledge alone is a most excellent gift.

Parenting is an awesome, overwhelming thing.  The way we answer the questions that begin to percolate up in elementary years are more important than the food we feed them.  We are helping to form their minds, their incredibly growing, complex, innocent minds and that feels weighty and huge.

About a month ago, I broached the, “Never get in the car of a stranger” talk.

When you’re playing outside, if someone stops their car and calls you over, NEVER go to their car – unless its mommy or daddy.

Why?

Because there are some bad people who will want to hurt you.

You mean they say, “Shut up?”

Oh my, the worst this beautiful mind can think of is someone who says, “Shut up.”  To him, that’s as far as evil extends.

And then I had to hide the tears forming in my eyes as I realized that the days will come when we have to tell him just how bad people can be.

He’ll start to learn history in school, ugly history, with all the wars, hatred and strife.  He’ll hear about things in the news.  He’ll see something on TV that is not rated G.  The bigger his world gets, the more ugliness he’ll see.

We’ll have to teach him that not everyone will find his brown skin beautiful and about that part of American history when boys were sold away from their mommies and forbidden to read.  He will learn about it in school, but before then we will have to think of a way to teach it redemptively at home.

And how to treat girls and how to discern danger and how to seek God in tough times.

Overwhelming.

Thankfully, most questions right now are delightfully fun.

Mom. how many stars are there?

When we go in the airplane, can we touch a star?

Why can’t we fly like the birds?

Can I be a Nascar driver when I grow up?

Lots of little discussions that make me smile and cry happy tears.

I am thankful that we have an eternal source of Wisdom from which to draw.  I can’t imagine parenting without Him.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 NIV)

We parents need wisdom above all else.