Category: Parenting

Boredom as a Spiritual Practice

Recently I’ve been actively working on making sure my children and I are bored on a regular basis. Yep, that’s right. I’m trying to be bored and to make sure the rest of my family is too. It all started a few months ago when I heard an episode of the RobCast called “The Importance of Boredom.” The episode is well worth your time, and it’s a reflection on what it means to be busy all the time, filling up every single spare second with something to do. Bell talks a lot about the time we spend doing things that don’t nurture our souls — aimlessly scrolling through social media, for example.  The episode reminded me of a sermon I heard John Ortberg preach one time. (tangental side note: Why you gotta leave the PCUSA, John Ortberg?!) Anyway, I can’t remember the exact topic of the sermon now, but I do remember he was talking about TV watching. At some point he addressed the congregation and said “Who here, after watching a few hours of TV leaps up from the couch and says ‘Man, I feel great! That was really energizing!’?” The answer, of course, is nobody, because TV isn’t energizing; it’s draining. Boredom, as defined by Rob Bell and by me in this post is the exact opposite of TV watching. Boredom done right can be very energizing. When we are bored our mind has a chance to rest and think, and we’re able to actually be creative and fresh. Sometimes it is in the stillness and silence of boredom where the best ideas are born.

Choosing to be Bored

What does it mean to try to be bored? In my experience, there are many times where boredom might creep in, but  a persistent voice urging me to “be productive!” or “Get something done!” stops it cold in its tracks. I have a tendency to do anything required to shut that voice up. So instead of just sitting in silence while I ride the elevator up to the eighth floor, or mindlessly browsing the silly headlines on the tabloids in line, I feel obligated to read  emails, respond to text messages and flip through my to-do list. Filling up the cracks of the day with stuff to do seems productive on the surface, (see how many things I get done, even while I’m in the elevator!) In reality, though, it just wears me down. After a full day of “productivity” the only thing I want to do is collapse in a heap and watch Netflix. Intentional boredom is a remedy for this way of living. The phrase”Not every second needs to be scheduled” has been my new mantra. Paradoxically, doing nothing is the thing to do. Here are times when I’ve been choosing boredom recently: 

  • In the car — I’ve not even been listening to music or podcasts recently — just silence (there’s a version of this in Faithful Families called “Silent Car Rides.”)
  • In line at the grocery store. No flipping through the phone or texting, or working on the meal plan, just looking at the extra large sized candy bars and thinking “why aren’t they called ‘King Sized’ anymore?” or pondering the crazy tabloid headings
  • While waiting for a meeting to start, or when getting somewhere early — Instead of sitting in the car and flipping through email or Facebook, I take a walk
  • In between tasks – I get up and walk around for a little while instead of scrolling social media or trying to squeeze in one more thing.
  • In the shower – Extra long shower for the win!

Making Room For Children to be Bored

There’s some fairly compelling evidence that boredom is great for children, too. Providing space for boredom in my home is not easy for me. Its easy to feel like I’m being lazy if I don’t have a structured activity for my children to do to do, especially since I don’t have a lot of time with them during the week. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m tempted, not by structure, but by formless screen time.  Sometimes it’s easier to just say “why don’t we turn on Paw Patrol” so I don’t have to think about it. The middle way is, what I’ve been calling “space for boredom.”  We turn off the TV, don’t plan anything to do, and see what happens. It’s not usually the first hour or two that are a problem. They happily play. It’s what happens after the playtime gets, well… boring. When I’m most tempted to say “Ok, let’s go to the museum now!” or “Ok, let’s turn on Paw Patrol” is precisely the time to say, “I know it’s hard to find something to do sometimes” and to go back to making muffins. I’ve been doing this for awhile now, and the results have been even more powerful than I originally anticipated.

Crayons have come out, on their own. Kleenex boxes have been sloppily taped onto Amazon boxes with proud declarations of “It’s an ambulance.” Comic books have been created. It’s magical, but certainly not easy. In order to get there, we’ve had to suffer through many rounds of “Pleeeeeeeeeease can we go to incredible pizza” and “This is SO BORING.” Well, when you’re bored you can think. When you can think you can be creative. Boredom is a gift. Not all the time, but some of the time. Too much boredom isn’t good, of course, but this not the danger for our family and a lot of families like us.

This “dance floor” was born after a long stretch of boredom

It seems to me that previous generations of parents understood this intuitively (plus there were no iPads or TV on demand to compete with.) Boredom wasn’t really something you needed to “make room” for in those days. It just happened. Now, if we want our children to be bored, we have to make sure it happens by intentionally blocking out the time and saying no to extra lessons and classes and enrichment opportunities and parties. We have to make space. 

 

Here are some times when I’ve been making room for my children to be bored:

  • In the car
  • On Saturdays (all day, not just for an hour or two)
  • Sunday afternoons
  • Days off of school
  • At the dinner table — Example: “May I be excused?” answer “In a few more minutes….”

Boredom Apps? Say what?

It seems counterintuitive to think about using technology to find rest and create boredom, but there are actually some tools I’ve found that work remarkably well for this.

Forest App: I’ve mentioned this one before, but the forest app helps plant virtual trees to keep you off of your phone. The more time you’re away from your phone, the more trees are planted. Plant enough virtual trees and forest will plant real trees in your honor. Pretty great. I go through seasons where I use this app a lot. 

Forest App is one of my favorites. Grow trees instead of looking at your phone!

Do Not Disturb Mode: I’ve not had to use this in awhile, but there have been times when I’m so fried and so overloaded by texts and emails that I need to not know that they exist. In order to get in to true do not disturb mode, I need to adjust my phone settings to turn off all notifications for email (I turned them off for social media a long time ago) and also put the phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode (this works well for iPhone. I’m not sure how to make it work for Android, but I’m sure Google will help!) iPhone will kick out of Do Not Disturb mode if someone calls back immediately.

News Feed Eradicator for Facebook: This extension for Chrome has been a huge game changer for me. I love using Facebook for a lot of things, including keeping up with folks in my congregation, keeping connected in clergy communities, and connecting with friend who don’t live in the same city as me. At the same time, it can be a huge way to fill up empty time that should be used for boredom or true rest. The Newsfeed Eradicator removes the newsfeed. You can still get notifications, still check on groups, still update status, etc. It eliminates the phenomenon whereby I log in to Facebook to check on something and 20 minutes later I’m clicking through photos of people I don’t even know because they’re there. HERE’s a link for Chrome. Also available for phones, I believe. 

Boredom has been a gift recently. It’s been the difference between exhaustion and a little room. It’s not been easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

What about you? What do you think of boredom? Is there a place for it in your life or home? Share your stories in the comments!

Creating Your Own Traditions (Not Somebody Else’s)

This morning I was cleaning out some “miscellaneous drawers” (aka “junk drawers” aka “drawers with the following things: a paperclip, hundreds of multiplying art projects and worksheets I couldn’t throw away at the time, books I meant to read but only read the first chapter or two, and assorted half burned candles.”) Also, a bird ornament.

As you can see, the wing broke off. It was in the drawer because (since Christmas) I’ve been planning to glue it back together. There’s a deeper story behind it though. See, I heard a story of someone who, when she moved out of the house, got a box of ornaments from her mom that were labeled with every year of her childhood. It seemed like such a beautiful idea. I thought to myself “I’m going to do that when I have children.” And so I started to do it, sort of. In practice, it’s been a big mess. The ornaments are all in different boxes, some of the labels have fallen off, and the bird one with the broken wing was shoved in the drawer. If you know me, you know this project was probably doomed from the get go. It’s got a lot of steps that I’m not good at, and it requires things like cataloging and organizing and labeling and storing things in the same place for 18 years in a row. This is not me.

I think I knew in my heart this tradition was not a good fit for me when I set about it, but there was a part of me that wanted to be a different person. I wanted (want?) to be the type of person who can easily keep track of ornaments every year and add to the pile and catalog them and then effortlessly turn them over after 18 years. The truth is, I’m not that kind of person. The fact that this ornament was sitting in my drawer, broken, for almost a year was a pretty good indicator. And so, I threw it away, along with the whole idea. “I’m not going to do that,” I said to myself. I felt lighter when I threw that ornament away because I freed myself of the burden of having to stress out about this for another 18 years. (My youngest is still a baby, I would have had to start with her first ornament this year.)

You know what? It’s totally fine. My children will grow up decorating the tree, like I did. They’ll pick their favorites, like I did. They’ll leave home with a box of those ornaments, like I did. They won’t have a neatly organized and categorized box of ornaments that are labeled by date. Oh. Well. They never knew this was my original plan, and I don’t think their lives will be fundamentally different because of it. Good bye birdie ornament! Good bye unrealistic pressures and expectations!

Here’s the thing: a full 1/3 of Faithful Families is traditions. I love traditions, but I also believe they need to work for you and your family. What’s the use of a tradition if it’s going to stress you out, feel forced, or cause frustration? I fully embrace the idea that some families will read some of the many tradition ideas in Faithful Families and say “No way. That will not work in our house.”

Sometimes giving a tradition the boot is the best thing you can do. If the whole family is moaning and groaning over something that’s supposed to be fun or meaningful, it needs to go. If nobody can figure out why you do it, it also needs to go.

It reminds me of a story I heard one time. It’s one of those stories that gets passed around from preacher to preacher so I’m not sure of the original source, but the idea is something like this:

A child is watching his mother make the Christmas ham and notices she cuts off the ends before putting it in the pan. “Why do you do that?” he asks.

The child’s mother (or father as the case may be, certainly moms aren’t the only ones who prepare the Christmas ham, right? RIGHT?!) replies “I don’t know, go ask your grandmother.”

Off the child goes to ask grandma. “Grandma, why do we cut the ends off the Christmas ham?”

“I don’t know, ask great grandma.”

Off the child goes to ask his great grandma. “Great grandma, why do we cut off the ends of the Christmas ham?”

“Oh for pity’s sake” great grandma replies, “It was just because I didn’t have a big enough pan.”

[cue knowing laughter]

It’s ok to retire traditions that are out of date and not of use. Traditions can also be good for a season. Perhaps there’s one that resonates while children are young. Conversely, why not pick up new traditions when children are older? One of the things I hear a lot when I speak about Faithful Families is “I wish I had this book when my children were younger.” I understand why people say that: it’s fun to think about “starting over” and trying something new. At the same time, it’s never too late to start a new tradition. When I was in Seminary my parents hid Easter Eggs for all of my friends. We were in our early 20s, and it was a blast.

What about you? What traditions are you ready to retire? Which ones feel like they’re more “trouble than they’re worth?”

Back to School Traditions!

Yesterday we all piled into the van for the annual school supplies shopping trek. I feel like not much has changed there since I was a child. Some of the exact same items are on the list, in fact. First, there’s the “mostly easy to find but one or two impossible things to find” item. in our case purple pocket folders with brads in the middle. Plenty of red, blue, yellow and green, but purple? Nowhere to be found. Next there’s the famous “thanks for being so specific, but I’m not getting that” item. For us two boxes of two hundred-count unscented Kleenex fit the bill. The 180 count boxes will have to suffice. Who can forget the  “We’re not getting that because it’s not on the list” item? In Clayton and Sam’s case, many things items including (but not limited to) Skittles, office chairs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pencil sharpeners, and post-it notes in the shape of arrows fit this description. Ah the joys. Although some parts of back to school shopping are a drag, it’s also really great. I love the tradition of it all, the reminder that something new is about to happen, and the hopefulness that comes with the start of a new year.

Obviously, I love traditions. A full 1/3 of Faithful Families is dedicated to them. The back to school tradition in the book is included at the end of this post. Before we get to that, though, I thought I’d give a shout out to a few other traditions that I think are really great.

Back to School Benedictions

This idea comes from writer and podcaster Osheta Moore who runs the great website Shalom in the City. Her entire post is on this topic is so lovely and heartfelt and you must read it in full to appreciate the idea. Basically, you come up with a benediction for the school year with your child, write it down, and photograph it. Head over to the post for full details and photos of Osheta’s lovelies. I absolutely love this idea, and think it’s a great way to frame the new year with your children. I enjoy Osheta’s work, and think you will too!

Back to School Pictures

These are becoming pretty popular, and I think a nice back to school picture on the first day is a great idea! (Warning: one thing that’s wrong with them is that they can contribute to a sense of “I’m doing it wrong” among parents when the first day doesn’t go as planned, the child doesn’t sit still for the picture — or doesn’t want a picture — or when something just doesn’t feel “picture perfect” in life. If this feels like you this year I urge you, in fact I challenge you to ditch the first day of school picture! Your child will not be scarred for life if he/she does not have a neat and tidy photo from the first day of school for every year. It’s fine!) There are plenty of places online to get free printable signs to hold up that say “First day of Kindergarten” and so forth. It’s fun to see folks taking their back to school pictures by the same tree or whatever. When I was little, we always took photos in front of the fireplace.

Back to School Breakfast

If you can swing it, having a back to school breakfast is a fun idea. If parents are able to go in to work late, or if a special guest can come over or Skype in (hi grandma and grandpa!) it could make the first day extra special. Perhaps having something a little indulgent (donuts?!) in addition to healthy brain food could be a good addition to the first day of school. 

Back to School Acts of Service

I think it’s always fun to think about a way to do something kind or nice in connection with a special day like the first day of school. I’ve been wondering about some acts of service that might work well for back to school. If you’ve got a tradition that your family does around this, I’d love it if you shared it in the comments. For our family, it’s going to be to make up an extra bag of school supplies for each child’s classroom (and add a little gift card to Office Max or Target). We’ll write a note to the teacher telling him or her that the gift is intended for anyone who needs them. If we’re really lucky, we’ll track down some more of those purple folders with brads for others who weren’t able to find them!  I think it’s a good reminder not to take school supplies for granted, and I got the idea from a former counselor from my child’s school who told me they have resources for students who need supplies, but can always use some extras so they don’t have to come out of the teacher’s pocket.

Back to School Footprint Tradition

This is the tradition in my book Faithful Families. My son Samuel and I made a video to explain it. Check it out if you haven’t seen it already:

I’m very excited that Chalice Press is allowing us to offer the back to school practice from the book as a PDF for you completely free. Just download HERE!

What are your back to school traditions? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these as well as ideas for others. Please feel free to share in the comments!

30 Grace Filled Affirmations for When You’re “Doing it Wrong.”

Hi There Faithful Families Parents!  You’re the type of person who wants to create all of the meaningful faith-filled moments with your kids. (I know, because I’ve met hundreds of you.) You, like me, want to savor every moment because you know (because people like me are constantly reminding you) that children grow up way too fast and then, you blink, and they’re off to college. You work incredibly hard, both inside your homes and outside of them. A lot of you are completely exhausted. All the time. 

Lean in a little closer because I want to make sure to tell you this right in your ear:

Nobody does this parenting thing perfectly. We are all messing it up  a lot of the time.

We shout. We say something we regret. We are less present with our families than we want to be. We make an effort do do something meaningful and then it falls flat and everyone’s mad and crying. We say to ourselves “I can’t believe I let them eat that and watch that, and do that.” When trouble comes it gets worse. I’m the reason my child is anxious/struggling/jumpy/having a tantrum/sad/sick. We blame ourselves.

I know this. I live this.

I worry a lot about what it does to all of us when the bar is set so high for parenting. I worry about how I contribute to this as the author of a book on creating sacred moments at home. Am I just one more voice out there telling parents to do one more thing? Parents already have ample opportunities to mess their children up for life, and I creating another one? Even worse, what does it say when I end the day feeling exhausted and inadequate? If I can’t do it, how can I expect others to do it?

When we tune in and listen to the things we tell ourselves as parents, it can be pretty dismal sometimes. I’m not doing it right. Other parents are better at this. I should be doing different things. My children are going to be maladjusted and it’s going to be all my fault.  I’ve been thinking for awhile about some affirmations for all of us. Things we can say at the end of the day when the worry tapes start playing. I wrote them for me, but if they’re helpful for you, too, please enjoy them. I thought about making a little printable for you so you could print these out and tape them to your wall and then I thought Nope. If you want these in your life, take the time to write them or type them with your own hands. That way you might start to believe them.

Carry on, hardworking parents who want to do right by your children. You are enough.

30 Grace-Filled Affirmations for Parents When You’re “Doing it Wrong.”

  1. I have provided the basic needs for my children today. Food, shelter and safety. I can worry about “extras” another day.
  2. I am doing the best I can.
  3. Parenting is more than 18 years of hard work. It is impossible not to make some mistakes along the way.
  4. The more I learn and experience, the better I am getting at parenting.
  5. It is a good and smart thing to reach out and ask for help when I need it.
  6. When I lose my temper it is an opportunity for my children to see that I have limits, too.
  7. My children’s success and happiness in life is dependent on a lot of different factors. I can not control all of them.
  8. There are other people in my child’s life who can help shape and teach him/her. I don’t have to do it all myself.
  9. When I make a mistake, even a large one, God forgives me, every time.
  10. Children are resilient.
  11. It is appropriate to take time for myself. When I take time for myself, it helps me to be a better parent.
  12. There are other people who enjoy being with my children. By allowing others to help, I am giving a gift to them and to my children. It is not a sign of weakness to allow others to care for them.
  13. Children learn valuable life lessons when they are bored, sad, or working through a problem.
  14. I am responsible to work with my partner create a family environment that works for our family. It doesn’t have to look like other families we know or are related to.
  15. Parenting is difficult. All parents feel doubts and worries at some point. I am not alone.
  16. When I lose my patience or say something I regret, it gives me an opportunity to model what it means to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  17. I am known, loved, and seen by God.
  18. I am grateful for challenging moments because they help my family grow and learn.
  19. When I notice things aren’t going as well as I would like, I can make a course correction and change them.
  20. Some days are busier than other days and provide less opportunity for fun and connection. I remember this on less busy days and take advantage of that.
  21. I treat myself with the same level of kindness, dignity, and respect with which I would want to treat a friend.
  22. I trust my own instincts and abilities.
  23. Even experts who write books and provide advice on parenting sometimes have difficult days.
  24. When I feel frustrated or overwhelmed, this feeling is not permanent.
  25. I am not obligated to do the same thing other parents are doing.
  26. I am free.
  27. Children are not harmed by ______. (Eating the same meal two days in a row, drinking a glass of soda, watching age appropriate videos, wearing clothes that don’t match, whatever your “guilty” thing is.)
  28. Just because other parents provide ___, doesn’t mean my children are missing out because we don’t provide it.
  29. It is ok to stop doing an activity (or come home from a place) when we aren’t enjoying it or when it is not working.
  30. Every day provides new opportunities and possibilities.

What affirmations would you add? I’ll maybe add them to the list! Leave yours in the comments.

Birthday Tradition: A Birthday Plate!

 

Somehow, inexplicably, we woke up yesterday and our baby boy was six years old. How is that possible? How often I wish it would just slow down (a la Nichole Nordeman’s beautiful song, guaranteed to make you cry.)

I believe tradition, spiritual practice and ceremony can be a way to add meaning to our days, that we might capture them and engrave them on our hearts. When I talk to groups about this, it’s the traditions people can relate to the most. I love hearing stories about special traditions shared on holidays, birthdays and other special days. Traditions can be so comforting and act as an anchor for the soul.

Traditions need not be complicated to be powerful, and the tradition of the “Birthday Plate” is one of the simplest traditions of all. Have a special plate dedicated to birthdays and bring it out for each person, young and old, when it’s their birthday.

Here are three easy options for a birthday plate:

  1. Paint one at a pottery place (Google “paint your own pottery”) – This is how our Birthday Plate came into existence. My husband Elias and I painted one while I was pregnant with our oldest child. Doing a larger item like a plate can get expensive at a place like that, but for a plate that is to be so special, it’s worth it! Take your time, pick a design you really like, and paint over each letter several times to make it dark and vibrant.
  2. Make one using a plate from the dollar store and permanent markers. This is my new favorite way to make a gift for someone. I have used THIS TUTORIAL with great success. My children made gifts for their teachers using this technique, and we made plates for Father’s Day as well. Unique, simple, and fun. If your family doesn’t have a birthday plate tradition, get everyone involved in working on a plate together that can become the new tradition.
  3. Buy one! Etsy has a great selection.

Does your family have a special birthday plate? Post a picture in the comments or tell us about it!

 

If you like creating traditions, spiritual practices and ceremonies at home, check out my book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home which has dozens of easy to implement ideas!

 

 

Fun Father’s Day Gift – Wearable Race Track

This weekend, I saw this great idea for a race track shirt and realized we had all of the supplies needed to make it. The boys were super excited for Elias to try it, and I wanted to share it on the blog so we went ahead and gave it to him a little early. This project is SO easy, inexpensive, and lots of fun. The boys had a great time testing it out on Elias, and he seemed to enjoy the little back massage from mini cars rolling all around!

 

Here’s how I made ours:

Materials 

  • Fabric markers – Whatever you have will do. If you need to buy some, they’re good for a lot of other things besides this. We use them to mark clothes, make costumes, etc. THESE are the ones we have, and the brush tip works really well. You could also paint this, and make it look even more awesome.

 

  • Plain white shirt – Again, whatever you have. If you get brand new ones, I would wash and dry first, though I don’t know if that’s a requirement. In our case, we just pulled out an undershirt from the drawer. Don’t go expensive or fancy here, the thin undershirt type works great because you can see through to the template.

 

  • Template – I used the template from THIS TUTORIAL which prints out on four pieces of paper, taped together

 

  • Piece of cardboard large enough for template

 

  • Tape

 

Procedure 

  • 1. Print out the template and tape together. As you can see, I did not take the time to perfectly align the edges, and it was fine. 

 

  • 2. Tape the template to cardboard. I used a flat rate priority mail box.

 

  • 3. Slide the cardboard between the front and back of the shirt so the template shows through. Note: As you can see from the photos, the road “bunches up” around Elias’s shoulders. If I were going to do it again, I wouldn’t have the image go up so high in the shoulder.

 

  • 4. Trace with fabric markers and paint if desired. We may work on this some more and color in the houses and add other details, or we may just leave it alone!

 

  • 5. Give to Dad and enjoy!

I love this as a homemade gift option. It’s not hard at all, and a great thing for children to be excited about sharing with their dad. Enjoy!

Original source: http://thebluebasket.blogspot.com/2011/09/tutorial-car-shirt.html

For many more simple and easy ways for family and children to create meaning together, see my book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home

 

What fun and creative Father’s Day gift ideas do you have? Comment below with your ideas!

“Blink and she’ll be 24….” Thoughts on how fleeting it all is + a free practice from #FaithfulFamilies

not little for long!

This morning I was at a cafe getting some work done while my four-month-old daughter Marina Lynn was sitting beside me in her stroller. When her smiling and cooing turned to fidgeting and crying, I picked her up out of the stroller and started to pace around in the cafe. Two women caught our attention. “We’re grandmothers” one said.

“She’s gorgeous!” exclaimed the other  “I don’t suppose you’d let us hold her while you finish up your work.”

“Actually,” I said, “I would love it,” and I plopped Marina into their laps and hurried back to what I was doing.

I listened with one ear as they doted over her, and I finished up my emails as quickly as I could. When it was time to go, one of the grandmothers looked at me, teary eyed and said “I know old people say this all the time, but enjoy every minute. It goes by so, so fast.”

I recognize there are problems with that statement. One does not enjoy every moment of parenting. I did not enjoy it when one of my older children learned to remove his diaper and “made a mess” in his room (I promise you, whatever “mess” you are imagining, the reality was worse). I did not enjoy the dry heaves and vomiting when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. I do not enjoy trying to balance the pressures of work and writing and parenting. I do not enjoy having to apologize when my child causes someone to trip in the grocery store because he’s not watching where he’s going. And so when these two grandmothers told me to “enjoy every minute,” it would have been tempting to say, “Yeah right! You forgot how it really is!” but instead I said, “You’re right,” because they are.

Whether we enjoy it or not, these years will fly by. Our children are four months old. We blink and they are four years old. We blink again and they’re fourteen. Blink one more time, and our children are having their own children. I know this is true because I have experienced it myself, and because my elders have told me it is so.

So how will we live out these precious few years we’ve been given? I’m a strong believer in tradition and ceremony. We ought to try and make these days count. My book Faithful Families is an attempt to create sacred moments at home. In between the chaos of daily living we can carve out moments of connection. A prayer here, a ceremony there.  Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and many of us will shower our mothers with candy and cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. And yet, my suspicion is that many of the mothers you know are longing for something deeper than this. We’re longing for connection. We want our days to count. We know they’ll be gone too soon.

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home is a book of simple practices designed for mothers (and fathers) who want to create meaningful connections with their children. On this Mother’s Day our gift to you is the gift of gratitude. Download the free gratitude practice, and enjoy these moments, fleeting though they may be.

Ten Essential Children’s Books about Grief for Church and School Libraries, and Home Use (+ Additional Resources)

I’m often asked, both in my role as pastor and also as an author of a book on faith and family about what resources I recommend for children who are grieving. In this post I link to ten books I recommend for children and families. Check out the age recommendations as well as a short sentence or two about the style of the book. Read to the end to find general suggestions about using the books as well as additional resources.

Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney

Ages: 4-8+

Speaks of death via analogy and transformation. Ugly bugs turn in to shiny dragonflies. This book leads the reader to hope and hopefulness. It reads like a parable. Waterbugs and Dragonflies is probably the most recommended book on the topic of death and dying that I’ve seen. If you’re getting only one book from this list, this is the one to get.

 

 

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst

Ages: 4-8+

Talks about being connected to the ones we care about through love (the invisible string.) Could be used to talk about all kinds of separation, not limited to death. (Moving, divorce or other transitions as well.)

 

 

 

 

Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert

Ages: 8-12+

Geared more toward older elementary age children, Tear Soup talks about the recipe for grief. It affirms that there are many different responses to grief and opens the door for in-depth discussion about grief and grief responses.

 

 

 

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story for All Ages  by Leo Buscaglia

Ages: 4-8+

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf speaks about death in a sort of “circle of life” type way, talking about the different stages a leaf goes through. Perhaps particularly helpful for those who live in climates where the trees change in visible and obvious ways.

 

 

When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie Krasky Brown and Marc Brown

Ages: 4-8+

Instead of being a book with a storyline or plot, When Dinosaurs Die is sort of a guided tour through all different questions about death.  Because the illustrations are dinosaurs, it is able to convey the terms and concepts in a meaningful way that connects with children. Straightforward, and very helpful when navigating all different types of death from infant loss to war. There’s also a helpful glossary in the back.

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Ages: 3-6+

The Goodbye Book is the book most appropriate for the youngest children among us of any of the books in this list. With compelling illustrations and very simple statements like “You might be very sad” and “You might not know what to feel,” the book is extremely simple, but also effective. It uses a fish who has lost his/her companion as a jumping off point.

 

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 I Miss You: A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas

Ages: 4-8+

I Miss You opens the door a direct and straightforward conversation about death using the expertise of psychotherapist/counselor Pat Thomas who wrote it. I Miss You is a lot like When Dinosaurs Die in that it has less of a plot and more of a discussion about what happens in death.

 


Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman

Ages: 6-10+

A workbook rather than a storybook, Help Me Say Goodbye is a book of art therapy exercises to work through to help a child deal with loss. This book is a great companion to one of the other story/picture books listed.

 


  I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

Ages: 3-7+

Particularly useful in dealing with the loss of a pet, I’ll Always Love You talks about how we show love for someone we love while they are alive, and then grieve them when we die.

 

When A Pet Dies by Mr. Rogers

Ages: 4-8+

Another one that deals with the loss of a pet, When A Pet Dies has the  straightforward and sensitive approach associated with Presbyterian Pastor Fred Rogers. The photos look dated, but the message is timeless.

 

 

 

Bonus Recommendation

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home by Traci Smith (hey, that’s me!)

Ages: 5-12+

I included my own book in this list, though it’s not a book to sit down and read with children like all of the other books. I like to say that Faithful Families is a recipe book for creating sacred moments at home. There are a ton of activities to do with children that create sacred moments. The activities are divided into traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. There are several activities in the book relevant to grief and grieving: a pet funeral to mark the passing of a pet, bubble prayers to mark the loss of another family member, a memory box to mark an infant loss and more.

General Tips for Selecting a Book on Death and Grief to Use with Children

  • Read the book through in its entirety, at least once, before reading it with your child(ren). Just because I (or some other resource) recommends a book doesn’t mean that it’s the right book for your family or situation. You know your family situation and children’s personality best. Return books that don’t suit your needs.
  • Consider whether you want a straightforward “nuts and bolts” book or one that takes more of  a sideways approach: Of the books above, When Dinosaurs Die and I Miss You are both very straightforward about death: what it is, what it means to die,  what happens to our bodies, etc. Books like The Invisible String and Waterbugs and Dragonflies are more metaphorical and indirect. I recommend reading books from both “camps.” There’s no “one size fits all” book for this.
  • Don’t put too much weight in to the age recommendations: Ages are listed as guidelines. As you’ll notice, though, in each case I’ve put a “+” at the end. Who among us can’t benefit from a story designed for a younger child? I tend to think there is no upper limit to the ages for each of these books. As for the younger end of the spectrum… that’s variable too. Read the book in advance and decide what’s best for your child. The book in this list that’s the simplest for very young children is The Goodbye Book. 
  • Supplement with your theological perspective: You might have noticed that none of these books is an overtly spiritual/religious book. This is for a few reasons: 1. There’s considerable variation among religious beliefs about life after death depending on a person’s religious/spiritual tradition. 2. Too much talk about heaven/angels/life after death can be very confusing to young children who understand things quite literally. 3. All of the books listed above are appropriate for those of any spiritual tradition (or none at all.)
  • Follow up with practice: Either Faithful Families  or Help Me Say Goodbye provides activities that can be done to help the child further process his or her grief. There’s also a photo activity included in I’ll Always Love You for use after a pet dies. Oftentimes just reading a story doesn’t provide the closure or interaction that can be so helpful to healing.

Additional Resources For Further Exploration 

When Families Grieve   – An online resource from PBS with links to games and parents guides, as well as other resources.

Maria Papova’s of brain pickings has a delightful list of other children’s books on death, grief and mourning, along with detailed reviews of each.

 

Note: Links in this article are affiliate links meaning that if you purchase on Amazon after clicking on the link, I receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!

On Marina Lynn, Fetal and Maternal Health Worldwide, and Other Musings

Well, well, well… look what’s been going on around here! A little over a week ago, we welcomed little Marina Lynn into the world. She came in to the world at 6 pounds and 4 ounces of pure awesome, and I can’t wait to see what adventures she takes us on. I’ve had so many thoughts this last week, and with so many friends, family, and readers to share them with, it seems like a little reflecting and updating is in order. Here goes…

On her name… 

I love names. I love hearing the story of people’s names, the ways people come up with names for their children, and the story of their nicknames. Names in the Bible are a huge deal, too. In the Bible, people give their children and even places names that are significant to them. Often God or an angel tells them what to name the child or the place.

In this spirit, Elias and I put a lot of thought and discussion behind what we would name each of our children. The name Marina Lynn was “on deck” as a girl’s name for both Clayton and Samuel, and this time we finally got to use it!

Marina was Elias’s mother’s name. Marina raised her two children, Elias and Mavit, all on her own. She worked very hard and taught them the value of working hard, too. Marina loved roses and beauty. Unfortunately for the children and I, we never had the opportunity to meet her, because she died when Elias was just 17 years old.

Lynn is my mother’s name. She’s spunky and energetic and fun and compassionate. She loves her grandchildren like nobody’s business. She blesses our lives and the lives of her grandchildren in immeasurable ways.

We love that this little one is named after her two grandmothers, and the name suits her.  Marina Lynn: it has a nice ring to it, we think! We are excited for her to have two great role models always before her as she goes through life.

On her birth… 

Each of my children has had a birth story as different as they are! Clayton was born after two days of labor, a whole lot of “off script” interventions, and hours of pushing. Samuel came flying out 18 minutes after we left for the hospital. (Elias nearly missed his birth because he was parking the car.) Marina Lynn, too, has a story we will love to tell her as she gets older.

We went to the hospital for her to be induced on Tuesday night, January 17th. Our midwives felt induction was necessary because she had a two vessel cord, and also because she was diagnosed with IUGR. They told us we had every reason to believe and assume that the birth would go well, but we were, as you might imagine, very nervous and ready to get on with it. Soon after we got there, they gave me a medication that was supposed to get things prepared for the next day. In my case, all it did was give me horrible and annoying crampy contractions I could tell weren’t doing anything, and so I asked to be taken off of it so I could sleep and be prepared for labor the next day. Since this was baby #3, they agreed and I got a little bit of sleep. (After watching just half of Bridget Jones’s Baby with Elias. Note to self: re-rent to see how it ends!)

Wednesday morning was when it got really interesting. At 8:00 a.m. they put me on Pitocin, the medicine that starts contractions, and by 9:00 a.m., I was huffing and puffing and crying like nobody’s business! I had been mentally prepared for a day’s worth of laboring and felt so defeated and heartbroken that I was already feeling exhausted after just an hour. Elias (correctly) called it by saying “I think it’s so intense because you’re about to have the baby!” The midwife came in at 9:20 a.m. and agreed that the baby was on his/her way. She said that if she broke the baby’s water, she thought we would see him/her within an hour. She was absolutely right, and by 10:07, little Marina Lynn came out, pink and squirmy and crying loudly. Her one minute Apgar score was 8 and her five minute score was 9. Healthy, happy baby! After all the worry and scare about potential complications from labor and birth, the NICU nurse that looked her over gave her a clean bill of health and she was allowed to stay with us the entire time we were in the hospital.

During the short (and challenging) labor, the things that got me through the most were looking at the “It’s a surprise!” sign the nurse had written on the whiteboard and listening to this song, a song that has helped me through so many challenging times. I also couldn’t help but think of Kelly, my soul friend and the first friend I told when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. Kelly is another person I hope and pray Marina Lynn has always before her as a role model and example of fierce, principled and warmhearted living.

 

On complications shortly after her birth… 

The morning after we got back from the hospital, Marina’s weight had dropped more than the doctor was comfortable with. We talked about how to get her weight up and she told us to make sure and monitor her wet and dirty diapers throughout the day. Throughout the day Marina was more and more lethargic and her diapers weren’t wet at all. On Friday night we called the on call pediatrician who told us to take her in to the hospital. When we did, the doctors put in the teeniest tiniest IV you will ever see, gave her fluids and ran a variety of blood tests. Thankfully the blood tests revealed that her sugar and electrolytes were good, and there were no other infections or abnormal markers in her blood. The wonderful and compassionate ER doctor listened to all of our questions and spent a ton of time with us. He said there was no reason to think she wouldn’t be able to pick up where she left off after this new “reboot” of fluids and sent us home.

Thankfully, since then we’ve been back to the Dr., her weight is up, and she’s eating (and filling her diapers) like a champ!

On my stitches and recovery… 

I’ve had stitches after each of my babies. Who would have thought that the teeniest baby would have had some of the most painful and challenging stitches of all? I learned from my midwife that sometimes small babies can cause as much (or even more) tearing than larger babies because they don’t smoosh and stretch. In Marina’s case, because her labor was so fast, things were even more problematic in this regard. The stitches I had after Marina’s birth were incredibly painful (worse than the labor itself) and, because I didn’t have an epidural or other pain medication, I felt them in excruciating ways.

As I was stitched up, we realized the local anesthesia wasn’t working.  Having Marina in my arms to look at and snuggle was the only thing that got me through. That experience has been rolling around in my brain a lot this week, which leads me to…

On fetal/maternal health worldwide, giving back and making something beautiful out of all of the challenges… 

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about women, particularly about fetal/maternal health worldwide. I’m mindful of the fact that all of the excellent medical care Marina Lynn and I have had — from the prenatal care and diagnostics that allowed us to know what was happening with her before her birth, to the stitches. (Painful as they were and are, without stitches, my life would be changed forever, just as the lives of so many women worldwide are forever changed by tears and other birth complications that are routine in the US). I have been remembering the book Half the Sky that talks extensively about how women are affected by complications in childbirth and lack of access to healthcare. Though Half the Sky is several years old, there’s a ton of great information, and I absolutely adore the phrase “Women hold up half the sky” from which the book gets its title.

When we got back from the ER with Marina Lynn, I was praying for her continued healing and made a promise to not let all of this pass by without doing something concrete for pregnant women and newborns worldwide. I decided to make a printable for everyone who wants to put this beautiful, empowering message on her wall, or refrigerator, or message board. You can find it in the Etsy store HERE.

100% of the proceeds of this printable will go to the organization Every Mother Counts. For the first 100 sold, I’ll kick in the Etsy fees so your entire $5.00 purchase will go directly to Every Mother Counts. After that, the fees will be discounted, which means that $4.22 will go to Every Mother Counts and .78 will go to Etsy for the fees. Cool minimalistic poster for your wall and helping mothers and babies around the world in honor of Marina Lynn? Yes please! 

On “other musings” 

There’s something about those late night feedings and hours upon hours inside the house that makes a person super pensive and reflective. I’m not sure how all of these thoughts will make it in to the blog or other writings, but I’m very thankful for this time. I think I’ll leave you with this amazing spoken word poem by Sarah Kay. If you haven’t heard it, it’s definitely worth your time, both the beginning

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

and the end

Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Links:

Every Mother Counts 

Half the Sky Printable 

If I should Have a Daughter 

No Woman, No Cry – a great documentary about women’s prenatal care in the US and Worldwide

 

 

A Quick Thought About Santa Claus, Jesus and Unconditional Love When You’re “Naughty”

“Mama, does Santa bring you presents if you are bad?” My five year old asked me that question this week with a worried look on his face.

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s not what I heard. I heard that if you’re bad you don’t get anything at all.”

“Well, in this house, we don’t believe in that. We believe that Santa is like Jesus and that Santa knows what is in your heart, and if you do something bad, you say you’re sorry and you do better next time. Santa knows that you are a good person, even if you make mistakes sometimes.”

That answer satisfied him, and we moved on to other things, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week. Apparently my child has been too, because today in the car he said “Mama, Santa and Jesus and mama and papa are all the same, aren’t they?”

“Um, what do you mean?” I asked.

“All of them love you, even when you make mistakes.”

This is the message I want my children to grow up with their whole life long. It’s not that there’s no room for making mistakes or improving or getting better, but don’t we need our children to know, I mean really know that they are loved unconditionally, all the time? I have a hunch that as we grow and move through life we are prone to doubt this simple truth that we are loved without condition.  For those who are worried about what will happen to children who are taught about both Jesus and Santa Claus at Christmas time, I have this thought to offer: make sure Santa and Jesus are both agents of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Similarly, see: No Elf on Our Shelf by Lee Hull Moses