nine reflections from nine years of pre-schoolers

Something is brewing in the Robinson household.

After nearly nine years of raising pre-school children,  the third and last chabling is about to leave pre-school and prepare for the big wide world of PROPER school.

I’m not gonna lie: this season brings a whole range of emotions for me.

This week we attended our third and last pre-school graduation.

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And as I watched that last little chabling receive his graduation certificate, dressed in cap and gown and smothered in cuteness, I found myself trying hard to hold back the tears. And I wondered why with this one I was holding back the tears, when with the other two I sobbed shameless snot-faced-tears.

Maybe I was afraid that this time if I released the teary-floodgates I wouldn’t be able to close them.

You see, this time it’s different.

With this one I’m not just releasing him into a new season. I’m also releasing myself into a new season.

And that’s exciting. And a teensy bit scary as well.

Filled with highs and lows, moments of competence and many more of how-on-earth -am-I-supposed-to-do-this-parenting-thing , this pre-schooler season has been a rollercoaster. And I’ve loved the ride. Not every second of every minute of that ride. But isn’t that just like a real rollercoaster? You come off the ride exhilarated but in the moments when you dip down and your tummy hits the sky it feels more scary than fun. But overall you come off the ride and say that it was FUN.

And this pre-schooler ride has been challenging, and scary, and hopeless at times. But most of all I’m coming off this ride saying it was FUN. And I’m not the same person as I was when I started out on the ride.

So, as I often do in transitional times, I’ve been reflecting on what those years have meant to me and what I’ve learnt along the way.

So here you go… Nine reflections from nine years of pre-schoolers:

1. Change is constant

One thing I’ve noticed with pre-schoolers is that you’re just about getting used to one season just as the new one is ushered in. You’re just getting the hang of breast or bottle feeding and they start eating solids.  You’re just getting used to them sitting up and they start crawling. You’ve just about got the hang of looking after one kid and another one shows up. You’ve almost reached a place where they’re content in the buggy and then they go on a buggy board.

Knowing that change is a constant was helpful for me. It just meant I gave up trying to hold too tightly to a particular thing or season.  I love change but even for me I needed some constants in shifting seasons. For us the constants were the little routines that we put in place each day that didn’t change – how we did mealtimes or prayers, or bedtime routines. They became the constants in the ever-shifting world of pre-schoolers.

2. You’re never ready

You’re never ready for the emotions that children bring up. You’re never ready for those feelings of inadequacy when newborn crying just won’t cease. You’re never ready for that moment when your kid bites someone else’s kid. You’re never ready for the swelling-heart-pride as you watch them take those first steps. You’re never ready for the echo of their laughter in your heart.  You’re never ready. Even with the second and third child you’re never ready.

 

And yet, somehow, you have to be. And maybe that’s one of the biggest life-lessons for me in this season. I’m the kind of person that never feels ready for anything. I could always feel more equipped, more resourced, more informed.  And in most other things in my life I can make a choice to not do something because I don’t feel ready. But with parenting, you have to just choose to be ready.

Even when you don’t feel it.

Even when there isn’t enough information. Even when you feel wobbly. Because a small person is needing you to be ready. It’s scary and liberating all at the same time.

For me, this season has been about going to the One who is always ready. The One who always has enough wisdom, resource, love, forgiveness and patience. Thank you God that you are always ready.

 

3. You’ve got to walk the journey ahead of them

I’ve talked about this before.… our kids can’t win the ground that we haven’t already taken.  In this season we’ve been challenged first to think about how we relate to God when we’ve considered how we want our kids to relate to Him. And then we’ve tried to live and walk that way.  When we’ve considered the rhythms and routines we want our kids to walk in, we’ve had to walk in them ourselves first. When we’ve thought about how we want our kids to love others we’ve tried to model that to them. And when we’ve wanted them to see for themselves what it looks like to ask for forgiveness, and to say sorry we’ve had to be the first to do that. We’ve done it all imperfectly. But that’s ok, because integrity is not the same as perfection. We’re living examples not perfect examples.

 

4. Short-cuts don’t pay off. Nip it in the bud

A quick fix-produces a quick result. But it doesn’t produce a changed heart. There are quick and easy ways to get  children to stop crying, whining, shouting, or fighting. But sometimes they’re not the long-lasting ways. Genuine heart repentance and change is not the same as behaviour modification. The first is a long-road, and the latter is a short-cut. Behaviour modification is like trimming the weeds. But genuine repentance pulls the weed out at the root. Trimming the weeds can be done quickly and easily. Pulling out at the root takes longer, and takes a lot more effort.

I’ve tried both.

I know which one I find easier but I also know which technique I’d rather see the fruit of.

 

5. Every season is the best one…

Someone said this to me when the kids were young. I guess I’ve tried to carry it through with me over the years.

I’ve tried not to eagerly anticipate the next season or wistfully look back to a former one.

If you’re a parent you’ve probably heard countless other (older)  parents say “make the most of it.. they’ll be grown up before you know it.” When you’re in the throes of sleepless nights or toddler tantrums it can take all your self-restraint not to throttle someone who gives you those well-meaning words.

But those words are true. Kids grow up. Faster than you think.

And so viewing every season as the best one has been my way of trying to enjoy every moment. Not in an everything-is-wonderful-denial kind of way. Because there are always crappy days and sometimes those days merge into weeks.

But there is good in every season.

6….. Having said that… three under-5’s was a little bit nuts

Yes. It was.

Those were the days when all 3 of them were at home because they hadn’t started school and life felt a little bit hazy. In that  pre-schooler-fog, I would wake up some days not really sure of who I was, what I was doing or how I would make it through till bedtime. But I did. And He was faithful.

 

7. Your reactions become their reactions.

You know that moment when your kid trips up and falls down and then they turn round to look at your face? That’s the moment when they decide how they will respond to the fall. If your face is one of distress and concern their cry will be one of distress and concern. We cottoned on to that pretty quick with our kids so that when they fell we tried to say in a positive tone “up-you-get”, and unless the fall was really bad, that’s what they’d do.

It’s easy to see how your reactions become their reactions in those circumstances. But then there are the more subtle moments. The moments when you’re not quite so aware that they’re watching your reactions. The moments where you feel scared or fearful of something and they’re watching to see how you respond. The moments where someone is unkind to you and they’re watching your face. And your words. And your body language.

It similar to point 3.

Your reactions become their reactions.

 

8.  Never underestimate the power of food, sleep, and cuddles.

When babies are little it’s clear to see that food, sleep and cuddles make all the difference. If they eat and sleep well, and have lots of physical contact they’re pretty much happy. If they don’t, they’re not.

But when they get older they stop just falling asleep when they’re tired, regardless of where they are, and they no longer bawl their eyes out until they’re fed or held. And so it can be easy to forget that the basics of sleep, food and cuddles make the world of difference to a small person.  And to a big person, for that matter.

I remember at church we used to talk about the acronym HALT. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. We’d say that the more of those you had on your list the more you were prone to make bad choices. It’s no different for kids. The first thing I do if I see difficult or angry behaviour in my kids is to do a mental checklist:

  • When did they last eat?
  • Have they had enough sleep?
  • Have they felt loved? (which may be cuddles, but as they get older it may also be words of affirmation, gifts, quality time, or acts of service to varying degrees depending on which child it is)

Basic needs may seem basic. But they’re needs, not wants, so we can’t underestimate the impact of these things on our kids when there’s an insufficiency in one of them.

 

9. Parenting has helped me to be a better leader.

When I started out on the parenting journey I thought that I might be missing out, as I focused my attention to the home. But this has been a season of growth for me, not stagnation. The skills you need to be a good parent are the same skills that make a great leader.  So this season has not only been about growing in parenting. It’s been about growing in leadership too.

As I look down these nine reflections so many of them are transferable to leadership. Because at the end of the day they’re both about discipleship.

 

So these are my pre-schooler reflections. How about you – what are yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

on “not forgetting”

Eventually he arrived after 2 long days of contractions and false-starts. But he arrived in the end. And we loved him so. I was 28 and my husband was 26; not that young, really, but we were the first to become parents among our peers, and so this wrinkled newborn was in the hands of amateurs. Complete amateurs. I’d never even changed a nappy.

In those early days one person helped me believe there was light at the end of that seemingly endless Continue reading

when our kids need to hear “sorry”

I’m on the top bunk, curled under the Angry Birds duvet and right next to the Bear Grylls pictures. I’ve been granted my own pillow these days. It’s green with dinosaurs on it and waits for me each night before prayer and slumber.

We look up at the glow-in-the-dark stars and he tells me about his day in these moments. The highs, the lows, what he’s learnt, what God’s teaching Him.

And tonight he recounts an incident.

He’d taken a special lego construction into school as a treat, and his friend had broken it.

“Sorry”, his friend said “Do you forgive me?”

“And what did you say” I ask him.

“I told him ‘Of course I forgive you. Christians always try to forgive'”

I smile and think how much I learn from this little Jesus-follower.

And then I remember an incident. It was years ago but it comes to mind as if it happened today. This same child, this one I’m learning from right now, was the one who was banished in his room for yet again another “episode”. Those days were long and difficult and I felt helpless. Sometimes I forget just how helpless I felt. And I remember how he wouldn’t stay in his room and so I pushed the door and his finger was trapped in the door. In all the hysteria I didn’t realise what was happening and his finger stayed trapped in the door for long seconds.

And this little person, he still remembers that incident.

So I tell him “I’m sorry about that day, the day when your finger got trapped in the door. Mummy was cross and you’d been naughty but I didn’t tell you off in the right kind of way. And I’m sorry your finger got caught in the door. It was an accident but I know how much it hurt you. I’m sorry.”

He smiles at me, and with a gentle hug he says “It’s OK mummy, I forgive you.”

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on parenting and foundation-laying

The parking space was available, and mine to take.  But as I glanced behind me into the emptiness I realised the space was in fact no longer mine.There were no small people seated behind me. Really, when I thought about it, the journey had seemed deafeningly quiet; there was no pointing out of tractors, or cranes, or mixers. No halting of the car to referee a fight. No attempts to pick up dropped hot-wheels cars whilst trying not to crash the car. So really, it should have dawned on me before this moment that Continue reading

what if we allowed our kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

Robbos08_1When I first had kids my introverted self had a mild panic attack. It seemed like all my quiet moments had been hoovered up in an instant by one incredibly small person. I found myself clambering for quiet and especially for solitude with God. I needed those moments to reflect. Those moments to pray, to read my bible. Those moments just to have s..p..a..c..e.. Alone. With God.

Slowly I began to adapt and to grab those moments when I could. And I’ve written about this before. But over the years I’ve been asking, and seeking to answer the question “What if we allowed our kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle in the way that we relate to God?” An obstacle is something we either have to remove or find a way round to get to our destination whereas a channel can be a conduit, a gateway – a point of access and grace.

It strikes me that our culture, and specifically our western Christian culture is individualistic. We place great emphasis on my individual relationship with God, my individual intimacy with him. So is there any wonder when small people enter our world that our relationship with God feels a little challenged, or even a little impossible.

Often our response as new parents is to look to find the ways to have our time alone with God. That is good and right. But what does it look like to relate to God with our children, and even through our children instead of despite or away from our children.

Today in church as we sang songs of worship with our kids I was teaching my daughter the words to the songs and then trying to explain the meaning. I don’t always do this. Sometimes we just sing together and that’s both good for us as parents to connect with God in this way, and good also for our kids to see that modelled. But as I read and explained the words to my daughter I believe it was as much part of my worship as if I had been “uninterrupted”. I was sharing with her what God has poured into me. As disciples of Jesus we’re called to make disciples: the overflow of our covenant relationship with God is to disciple others, and our kids are God-given disciples. If you’ve ever discipled somebody you’ll know that as you give and share your life with that person you receive far more than you give. It’s just the way it works. And it’s no different with our kids. So as we choose to disciple our kids what would happen if we started seeing it an opportunity to draw closer to God. Together. Rather than feeling like it’s another place where we’re “giving out” which then requires that we “fill up” elsewhere, aside from our kids.

There are some verses in the bible where some little kids try and make their way to see Jesus and the disciples try and fob them off, pushing them away. Jesus cottoned on to what was happening and called the kids over. He then told his disciples “No matter how big you grow, never grow up so much that you lose your child’s heart: full of trust in God. Be like these children. They are the most important in my Kingdom.”

Be like these children. They are the most important in my Kingdom.

As parents, that means Jesus says we should be like our kids. So if we’re blessed enough to have these experts in trust, these people that are most important in God’s kingdom- these children – living in our homes then maybe we might have something to learn from them.

So, what would happen if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than  an obstacle?

Well, when we read our bible stories together at night, those times can be my devotional time as well as theirs. Those can be times when we all hear God’s word to us. There have been many times where I’ve welled up as I’ve read bible stories to my kids . As they express their simple faith, their simple trust and their insightful observations it can be a time when my faith is challenged and stretched. If I allow it.

What if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

Every night, when I snuggle up with my oldest boy and we pray for each other, can be an opportunity to grow in prayer with our Heavenly dad. They’re not complicated prayers. They don’t need to be. These are straight-from-the-heart- beautiful-prayers. In those precious times we’re both learning how to pray, and growing closer together to our Father.

What if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

Well, when they’re fighting with each other they can teach me again how to lay down my life. If I allow it they can usher me towards Jesus as I recognise my own limitations, my own inadequacies, my own short-comings. And in that place, as I lay a little bit more of me down, I can pick up a little bit more of Him.

What if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

When they spontaneously decide to give a friend one of their favourite toys I can allow myself to be challenged to give away the possessions that I love too. I can be challenged to share what’s been given to me; something that costs me to give away, not just my “reject toys”.

What if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

As I parent my kids and and try to love them as unconditionally as possible it gives me an access point to receive and understand the unconditional love the Father has for me. Kids just naturally know how to receive gifts. As I watch how freely my kids receive God’s love it’s a reminder to me of how He wants me to receive his gift of free love too:

God’s love is a gift and, as anyone will tell you, the whole thing about a gift is, it’s free. All you have to do is reach out your hands and take it. Some people who knew all about getting gifts – in fact, you might say they were gift-experts – had come to see Jesus. Who were they? They were little children.

(“The Friend of Little Children” from the Storybook Bible)

I know we have so far to travel on this journey but I want to keep asking and seeking to answer the question:

What would it look like if I allowed my kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?

What about you?

What would it look like if you allowed your kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle?