What’s the Real Cost of the Manifesto Child Care Promises, and Who’s Really Going to Pay?

I really don’t like conflict and I really don’t know very much about politics – and even less about economics. So when I started blogging I didn’t want to write anything political and certainly not on anything controversial. Even as I write this I’m not sure if I’m going to post it, and I know that the knot in my stomach is not just Baby Lee #3 wriggling round! But I do think that we need to acknowledge that there is a very large and very vulnerable group, for whom the impact of the extended free childcare policies as laid out in the manifestos will be greatest. They have no vote, no campaign opportunity, no voice. And yet these decisions affect them the most.

The childcare manifesto policies see parties promising more and more: the number of free hours for pre-schoolers and wrap-around care for primary children just keep growing. And I have to question why. At the outset it might seem like a nice gesture to mums who want to go back to work – a move towards an equal society where women have as many career opportunities as men and are not hindered by their children. But I can’t help but wonder whether it isn’t a bit naive to believe that the government really actually cares about women and their opportunities. Of course, some MPs do – and it isn’t to tar all MPs with one brush. But, on the whole, and at policy level, isn’t it perhaps more likely that we’re all viewed as economic commodities who could be paying tax, and the most effective way to get the best return on these economic commodities is to remove any restriction on productivity (namely our children) and leave us free to earn a wage and pay tax?

This seems even more obvious when I hear of ideas to outsource these national childcare systems to voluntary bodies: I already voluntarily provide childcare for my children. Why does having another volunteer do it make any sense? Unfortunately, the answer can surely only be because it will reduce the ratio of volunteers (non-earning non-tax paying superfluous commodities) to children. I currently function at a ratio of 1:2 – in voluntary provided state childcare the government can have that function at a ratio of, say, 1:8 – suddenly that’s three more tax-paying commodities.

But what’s the cost? Well, economically, I’ve no idea. And, quite frankly, I’ve no intention of caring – all the debates and discussion around the economics and logistics conveniently manage to divert attention from the real cost of such policies. I don’t claim to be an expert on child psychology and I don’t intend to rehash the arguments from educational and psychological studies – there are those who can do it far better than I can. I’m just a stay-at-home mum. And what I know about is my children and their upbringing, so let me make my point from that angle.

Firstly, if my child, from preschool age, is in childcare for 30 hours a week, that’s 30 hours of somebody else’s morals and philosophy (actually, some-system else’s morals and philosophy) at an age when they’re deeply influenced by everything they experience and lack the ability to discern what they should be absorbing and what they shouldn’t. I have some very clear thoughts on how I want my children to grow up, about the morals they hold, about the world view they adopt, about the way they treat others. And those are things that my children need teaching – both directly and through observing me and my actions. And my children won’t learn only what I teach them, but what they learn in any child care setting – regardless of how it fits with my philosophies.

As a Christian, I believe it is my calling and vocation to ‘train [my children] up in the way [they] should go; even when [they] are old [they] will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6), but this becomes ever harder with each hour my very impressionable pre-schooler is in a system built on philosophies and beliefs which, at their very core, are often at odds to mine. 30 hours a week amounts to 6 hours 5 days a week – that’s a very significant chunk of my 3 year old’s week. Moreover, when I am charged to ‘teach [the words of the Lord] diligently to your children, and…talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise’, I struggle to see how I could do this if I bought into the wraparound care from 8am-6pm available to primary school children. When, in that morning rush, or the bedtime routine would I find time to truly fulfill my ministry? God has entrusted me with their care, and has called me to the ministry of motherhood, not the state.

Secondly, when, before 8am and after 6pm, am I to teach my child basic life skills? How to use a washing machine; to boil an egg; to do grocery shopping? When will they have the opportunity to develop essential working skills such as initiative, self-motivation, and hobbies outside of what is available under child care? I know that wrap around care does try and teach some skills such as cooking and washing up, and that I’d have the weekends available, but this still seems very little. I want my children to be able to pursue their own interests and learn things you can’t learn in a classroom (or child care room) and being in a bubble of national state child care from 8am till 6pm would seem to hinder real-life growth and development. You know – the type of growth where you might need to go off site, or do something that’s not been planned as an activity for that day.

Thirdly, what does it teach about consequences and responsibility? Already my children are learning that their actions have consequences and that they have to accept those. But, because I’m a woman, I don’t? I can have sex, have a baby and then reduce the impact of the consequence with ever-expanding free childcare. It would make me a hypocrite every time I tried to have them see that we have to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences, and not expect to be able to walk away from them.

And, finally, what will the long term impact be on my child’s sense of worth and their self-esteem? What would I be telling them about what I value and what my priorities are? The reality is that we do have to make really tough decisions when we have children, and the choices I make do show something of my priorities to those around me, including my children. Even the best of motivations for accepting extended childcare to the extent promised in the manifestos will surely cause my children to question where they fall in the pecking order of my priorities, or what their value is in comparison to other things in my life. And, the thing is, I may have genuine motivations for accepting the child care promised, but I’m really not sure that there is much good in the motivation of the parties in offering it. Unfortunately, I think they value our tax-paying ability far above the wellbeing of our children.

I can’t help but wonder, have we become so desensitised to being treated as commodities that we’ve actually bought into the lie that ever expanding free or subsidised child care is a great step forward for women? Hurrah, we too can now be a productive cog in the tax-paying wheel! Have we become so attuned to that way of thinking that when government policies don’t see our children as blessings, a calling or a ministry, but simply a risk factor to our value as commodities that need to be managed and minimised, we somehow find ourselves going along with it?

What’s the cost of the child care policies? I fear far greater than we might be being led to believe. And who is going to pay? Those with the smallest shoulders and the least voice will be required to bear it all.

Standards of Beauty and My Three-Year-Old

Am I over thinking this? I’d love for someone to tell me ‘yes’ because I’m not ready to be dealing with this already!! My son is only 3 and the other day was looking at pictures of fish in his Bible and telling me which ones were girl fish and which ones were boy fish. When I asked him how he knew, he told me that it was because the girl ones have long eye lashes and the boy ones don’t.  I really don’t know where this came from – and despite my husband’s and my best efforts to show him that boys and girls both have eyelashes he remains convinced that only girls do. Has he started absorbing what society tells him is beautiful already? Has he already started to have (unrealistic) expectations about what he can expect of his future wife? Have I already missed the boat to help him view women as God sees them and not as the media and society objectify them?

The other day he took my pony tail, put it over one shoulder and said ‘Look mummy, now you’ve got Elsa hair’. Which leads me to wonder – how long until he notices that I don’t have an Elsa tummy (and not just because I’m pregnant!) or Elsa eyes, or indeed, Elsa anything else?! And will he expect that, just like he could with my hair, I should somehow be able to create these features for myself? There’s plenty of research and writing out there already about the damaging effects of this socialised notions of beauty on our children growing up. And I’ve read lots about how we can help protect and prepare our girls from young age, and how we can help our boys once they get a bit older – but what can I do now for my three-year old boy?

So, I’ve thought of a few ideas, but please do add to them! Like I said, I certainly wasn’t prepared for having to deal with this insidiousness tainting of my child’s mind already! I thought I had at least 5 more years – apparently not!

Accept a compliment

When my husband compliments me or tells me I’m beautiful I’m pretty good at just shaking it off as irrelevant and untrue. But I need to be accepting these, and thanking him for them in front of my children. I have many flaws, but I’m also normal, and having flaws does not mean that I should not be able to accept compliments given to me. I am not perfect, but beauty does not require perfection (or even a photo-shopped version of it) and I need my boys to know that.

Be open and honest

There are opportunities to discuss what’s ‘normal’ with my children from a young age: we went swimming the other day and Boaz wanted to know what the holes in my legs were. I told him quite openly that they were cellulite and that nearly all women have it. I wasn’t embarrassed about it and I didn’t make excuses for it as though I shouldn’t have it. Hopefully, as these questions come up it will give me the opportunity to combat what society will be telling him.

Avoid talking about diets and weight

We hear about this a lot for girls but perhaps we need to be as conscious about it for our boys, and ask people to support us in it. If our boys grow up expecting that women should always be worrying about their weight or on a diet or not having second helpings, then presumably they’ll also grow up thinking that this is the correct way to think and that, unless they’re a size 0, there’s something not right with a woman. Of course, talk about healthy eating and good habits – but because we want healthy bodies so we can best serve the Lord, not because we feel in some way inferior because of our weight.

Wear make-up IF you want to

I have no problem with wearing make-up and if I have time I like to pop a bit on. But if I don’t then that’s ok too. By all means wear make-up, but only if you want to – not because you feel you ought to, or because you don’t feel confident to go out without it. I don’t want my boys thinking that there’s something wrong with a natural face in public, or that all women (including female fish) have long fluttery eyelashes as per Boaz’s Bible!

Turning to the Perfect Parent when you feel like the worst parent

This morning my husband took both our boys to a toddler group specifically for dads and their children, so I took myself and a book to a coffee shop! It was glorious! I was reading a book about homeschooling and it was discussing a theory by Alice Miller (who sounds fascinating – I’d love to read more about her thoughts). My book said this:

“Alice Miller has long been a rare voice in the field of psychology to recognise that deciding what is good for a child and then forcing this so-called good on them by any coercive means possible is highly damaging to personal integrity and rational thought. Miller defines abusive behaviour against children very broadly to include many of the more subtle forms of manipulation which children experience. She posits that since there is a wide conspiracy to redefine this abuse as ‘acceptable parenting’ for the child’s own good, the child, in order to survive, has no choice to repress his or her feelings and idealise what is actually a painful situation.”

This reminded me of a conversation I’d had with Boaz only a few days earlier, and sent me into a total crisis of confidence about the way I’ve been parenting him. The conversation had gone something like this:

Me: Boaz, I think you’re quite tired. Let’s go for a nap.
Boaz: (going as slowly as possible up the stairs) Mummy, I saw a boy today who didn’t trust his mummy.
Me: What makes you think he didn’t trust his mummy?
Boaz: He wasn’t being obedient.

I nearly burst into tears right there in the coffee shop. Had I parented such that Boaz had now reached a point where obedience and trust were one and the same? Have I being coercing and manipulating him into doing what I think is good for him by making him believe he does it out of trust? Do I qualify as an abusive parent? What have I done?!

After a few deep breaths, a slurp of cappuccino and some chocolate brownie I was able to think a bit more rationally and see that my initial reaction was probably wrong. Actually, sometimes I do know what is best for my 3 year old, and sometimes he does need to trust me, even though it might not be what he wants to do. Like the other day when, having decided he wanted eggs for lunch, I asked whether he wanted boiled egg or scrambled eggs. He answered he’d like chocolate egg. Now, I know that that is not a nutritious lunch and is not going to be good for him. And, even though he might disagree and still want chocolate egg for lunch, I need him to trust me that I, at this stage, understand more about nutrition and so he can chose between boiled and scrambled egg only.  I don’t think this was damaging to his personal integrity and rational thought because I explained to him why I need him to trust me on this. I don’t ask him to trust me on everything, and if I do I explain why. And I don’t expect him to trust everybody – I hope that he is able to use his personal integrity and rational thought to determine who he can trust.

But I don’t suppose I’m the only one to feel wholly inadequate as a mum and enter into a total crisis of confidence every time I read a parenting book or article. Nor do I suspect I’m the only one to lie in bed at night listing all the ways I’ve failed and possibly hurt my children that day. There are two solutions to this. The first is we can ignore it and take a ‘meh, actually I’m doing ok’ approach; or we can turn to and trust in God the Perfect Parent.

The first approach is embodied in the phrase ‘you don’t have to be a perfect mum, you just have to be a good enough mum’. My dislike of this phrase is two-fold. Firstly, our mission as mothers is God-given. We should be aiming to continually serve God and fulfill our calling and vocation the best we can. In every other area of life we’re told ‘be the best you can be’, ‘strive for more’, ‘aim high’, but when it comes to motherhood we’re told it’s ok to languish in mediocrity. Secondly, ‘good enough’ isn’t actually mediocrity – being a ‘good enough’ mum means being a ‘perfect mum’, because our children are the children of God entrusted to our care. But we can’t be perfect. Any suggestion that we can is a lie, because we are sinful people and we cannot parent as God the Perfect Parent does. But we can turn to God the Perfect Parent in our failings and shortcomings.

One of our children is called Josiah, and this serves as a constant reminder to me that God’s sovereignty is so much bigger than my failings as a mum. If you recall, Josiah’s father Amon was a wicked and evil king (2 Kings 21:19-22), but of Josiah it is said ‘Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.’ (2 Kings 23:25) Humanly, Josiah should not have been a great king, but he was, because God’s plans were greater than Amon’s wickedness. And I hold onto this often: God’s plans for my children and His love for them far surpass my weakness and failings.

But in turning to the Perfect Parent, we find more than an assurance that our parenting is not the only defining feature in our children’s lives. Paul says of sin and grace: ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life’. (Romans 6:1-4) Parenting to anything less than the best of our abilities is sin (often manifest in my case as selfishness or idleness) – should we continue to parent like this so that the grace of God and the perfection of his parenting may abound? Paul says not. The sin of mediocre parenting is also to be buried, as we walk in newness of life.

And, as with all other aspects of life, God does not leave us stranded in coming to understand what it means to walk in newness of life as a mum. Those parenting books that leave us feeling useless? We should note those convictions of the Holy Spirit, rebuke the lies of the devil that say we are useless, and seek a way forward. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to highlight those areas of our parenting which we need to make a priority for study, development and prayer. Titus 2:3-5 reads: ‘Older women…They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and their children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.’ We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern which of these we most need help with now (I defy anyone to have nailed all, or any, of these!) and seek out Godly women to help us.

I’m not the worst mum in the world. But neither am I a perfect mum, or even a ‘good enough’ one. That place is reserved for God, and that liberates me from the fear that otherwise comes hand in hand with my failures. But I am also called to mother three of God’s children – it is a great privilege and a great mission. We cannot simply settle for mediocrity. With the convictions and guidance of the Holy Spirit we can identify the areas of our parenting that need to most immediately be a priority and seek the provision that the Perfect Parent has made for us.

Keeping Holy Week Holy For Your Pre-Schoolers

holy week

It can be really difficult to keep our children focused on the meaning of Christian festivals, like Christmas or Easter. But as Christian parents we have a duty to keep these festivals holy for our children, and ideally without making them feel like they’re missing out on what their non-Christian friends get to have (usually lots of presents or chocolate!). Somehow it seems a bit easier at Christmas – churches and organisations work hard to provide a whole host of child friendly events to help children remember that Christmas is about the birth of Christ.

Holy Week on the other hand is quite a different story. To start with, you’re trying to walk your child through a mingle of sorrow and hope – emotions that they’re not always ready to deal with. Secondly, there are plenty of quiet, reflective Holy Week services – but my 4 year old 2 year old and 7 month old are certainly not suited to quiet, reflective communion services! This means that, if our children go to church on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, they miss out the critical bit about the Cross of Christ – unless my husband and I are intentional about ensuring that they don’t. I wholly believe that responsibility for my child’s spiritual well-being falls with us and not the church, but at Holy Week, more than ever, it is absolutely critical that we remember this! These ideas are ones I’m hoping to use with my boys. They’re still really young, so my aim is primarily to walk them through the story in ways that they can understand. I get that the Passion narratives are steeped in symbolism, but at 4 and 2 I think it’s probably wisest to stick to teaching the story in ways that help it come alive and answering any questions they might have.

Eggs and Bunnies

easter eggsLet’s deal with this at the outset. They can’t be avoided at Easter, and I don’t think that keeping Holy Week holy means my boys (or, indeed, me!) can’t indulge in a few chocolate eggs. There’s some symbolism to be drawn out about new life, but I just don’t think my boys will get it yet. So, for this year, I’m going to *try* and turn a blind eye to the bunnies, but use plastic eggs to store little bits of the story in (kind of like resurrection eggs) so that hopefully when they see Easter eggs they draw an association with the Easter story…it might work!

Throughout Holy Week

As far as is possible we’re going to have a candle lit throughout Holy Week (I’ve managed to find some LED ones in Poundland which makes it easier). The idea is that, come Good Friday, we’ll turn it out when Jesus dies and not relight one until Resurrection Sunday. I know I said we weren’t going for symbolism, but I think this might provoke some interesting questions and discussions, and it will help in explaining the emotions we might be feeling this week.

easter buntingWe have Easter story bunting up throughout Holy Week – partly decorative, partly a great opportunity to tell the Easter story often. To make ours I bought two copies of The Very First Easter (you’ll need two because there’s writing on both sides of a page), cut the pages out (much to my husband’s dismay!) stuck them on some card and used them to make bunting.

Holy Week Activities

So, for each of the days I’m going to put a little hint as to the part of the story we’re on in a plastic egg (I picked up a pack of 8 in Poundland) – a bit like an advent calendar. Then there’ll be some kind of activity to help the story feel more real for them. For each day you could either read the story out of their Bible for them, or read it from your Bible, or just tell it in your own words – it really doesn’t matter.

Day 1 – Palm Sunday

egg 1In the egg : a paper leaf  If you’re particularly creative go for a miniature palm leaf, but if you’re like me something green and vaguely leaf shaped will do.

We’ll be off to church for our Palm Sunday service, so hopefully the boys will get to experience the story in a different way there.

Then in the afternoon we’ll try out making own palm leaves (again, vaguely leaf shaped paper cut outs, but a bit bigger). If the boys feel like it we might get the glue and glitter out and decorate them, but the main part of the activity will be playing ‘Jesus riding on a donkey’. Now, we do have a pretend donkey, but I suspect daddy will probably end up giving donkey rides to both boys while I somehow play the entire crowd! But you could always ‘make’ some kind of donkey using a picture of a donkey’s face stuck to a broom or something – children have a fantastic capacity for imagination, so no need to panic if you don’t have access to an actual donkey (and far less cleaning up!)

Monday – Cleansing of the Temple

egg 2In the egg: play money  If you can get hold of pretend notes rather than coins, that might help distinguish it from Wednesday’s egg which has coins for Judas’ plan to betray Jesus. I managed to pick up a selection of play coins and play notes in Poundland.

This story is about Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple in anger at the traders there and whilst I’m sure my boys would delight in an excuse to overturn our actual tables, I’m less keen. So I think we’ll try building tables out of Duplo (though anything that you can build out of would work fine) and discuss the story while we build them. Then enjoy a good destruction session imagining we’re Jesus and really angry.

Tuesday – Jesus’ teachings

egg 3In the egg: a verse from Jesus’ teachings We’ve gone for Matthew 22:37-40, but pick whichever verse or passage you like from Jesus’ teachings between the Triumphal Entry and the Passover Meal.

There’s not really an activity today, but just being intentional about trying to talk about Jesus’ teachings and especially the verse or passage you’ve picked. I’m really excited to see what Boaz draws out and the questions he asks.

Wednesday – Judas plans to betray Jesus

egg 4In the egg: silver coins I confess, the ones I have aren’t silver – but I don’t think Boaz will mind!

This is a tricky one – trying to explain trading a person’s life for money with a 4 year old! We’ll have a go at playing ‘shops’ or go to the shops and pay in cash for things, and talk about how we can buy and sell things for money. Try and draw out whether they think it was a good thing for Judas to ‘sell’ Jesus to the people who wanted to hurt him. If your child asks ‘why’ Judas did it – feel free in joining me in feeling totally at a loss as to how to answer! I suspect they won’t be asking for a full theological summary of all the interpretations – I’m hoping to be able to go with the explanation that it was part of God’s plan and see where we go from there.

Thursday – Last Supper, Gethsemane, Jesus arrested

egg 5In the egg: a piece of cracker or bread

There’s quite a lot of story to tell today and so quite a few activities that you could do. The primary activity today is the Passover supper. We don’t do this properly – we just have some unleavened bread and grape juice (it’s our personal decision that our children at too young for wine) and tell the story of the last supper. We begin with foot washing. We also have a sandpit so might try and persuade the boys to stop around in that for a bit, so they get an idea of just how dirty the disciples feet might have been. After the enactment of the last supper we’ll go out into the garden to read the rest of the Gethsemane story (hopefully – this is England and weather permitting etc – but if you can’t, perhaps just turn down the lighting to create a bit of an atmosphere).

Interestingly, we did just the last supper with Boaz when he was 2 and nearly a year later we moved the table to the middle of the room for something else and he said ‘Oh, that’s where we have the bread and the grape juice’ – so I think more sinks in that I may realise!

Friday – Crucifixion

egg 6In the egg: nails

This is a really emotionally complex day, and we need to tread carefully, taking care to be sensitive to how emotionally mature our children are and what they can understand and process.

In the morning try making an Easter play set. This’ll help you to tell the story, but also help you be able to see what your child has understood by how they play. Consider including the angels and empty tomb now because, although not technically till Sunday, we do know the end of the story and I think that can help get us through Good Friday. Our children, especially if they’re particularly sensitive, may need the rest of the story explaining today, so that they too can experience the sorrow mingled with hope.

Then build a cross using Duplo (or something similar). If your child can understand the concept, write or draw things we want to seek forgiveness for on small pieces of paper. At noon, put a picture of Jesus on your cross, followed by the pieces of paper, explaining that forgiveness is only possible because of the Jesus taking our sins upon the cross. At 3 o’clock blow your candle out, take Jesus and the pieces of paper off and put in them all in a tomb (this can be your play tomb or one you’ve built from Duplo too). Hang some black material or paper over the cross and explain that, even though we know the end of the story is good, we’re still all really sad because Jesus died and was separated from God for all the sins we’ve committed and will commit, so that we don’t have to be.

Saturday – Waiting

egg 7In the egg: nothing This was a day of mourning that first Easter, because they didn’t know what was happening. As far as they thought the story had ended: there was nothing more. But we do know that there is much more to come, so though we do still mourn today, we are also waiting, and preparing to celebrate. Don’t light your candle today.

Today would be a good day to recap on the whole story in some way. Perhaps watch a film like Miracle Maker or the Gospels volume of What’s In The Bible as a family, or there are plenty of other possible options out there.

Get ready for Easter Sunday. Bake some hot cross buns together (or go and buy some) and talk about the cross on them, and how they’re round like the stone of the tomb. You could make some resurrection napkin holders to help you retell the story the next day. Just before bed, perhaps make some Easter cookies to help reinforce the sorrow of the story with the anticipation we have for the next day.

Sunday – Resurrection

egg 8In the egg: cloths Any bit of white fabric (or even a bit of toilet roll) will do to show that Jesus has left the tomb and all that’s left are the cloths!

Today is a day to CELEBRATE!!!! I’m talking hot cross buns, chocolate and champagne (maybe!) for breakfast, music, party clothes (especially if you have little girls who love party dresses). Take down the black material, put up some white and yellow or gold material if you have it. Get a MASSIVE candle and light that because Jesus is ALIVE. Just sweep your kids up into the excitement with whatever you might use to celebrate.

Churches up and down the country will be putting on their best celebration this morning – go and join in one! Later in the day you could do an Easter egg hunt by refilling your eggs from the week, plus perhaps some chocolate. Then send your children on a hunt to find them in order. Open each egg and see if they can remember the story. You could have your Easter gifts at the end too.

None of this is prescriptive in any way – just some suggestions of ways we’ll be trying to keep Holy Week holy for our boys this year. But they’re not a list of ‘must do’s’ – the point of Easter is that Jesus has saved us and set us free. We are no longer at the mercy of the wrath of God, because Jesus bore that wrath and annihilated death. The war against sin and death which had held us captive has been won.  So don’t tie yourself down to set activities and schedules, but ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you and your children this week, to show you afresh they joy of Easter. Sometimes the unexpected teachable moments that come our way are far more formative than any planned teaching or activities we have. So have a holy Holy week and praise God that, because of His great love, He sent His only Son, so that all who believe will not perish but have eternal life.

Something You’ll Use, Something You’ll Muse, Something You’ll Choose, Something You’ll Lose.

2014-12-24 22.01.27Just before Christmas I read a blog post in which the author talked about the way they give gifts to their children in the form of

“Something you want,
Something you need,
And something to read.”

I’ve scoured the internet trying to find that particular blog post, but it seems to have got lost somewhere in cyber world! However, it looks to be a pretty standard concept (though not one I’d come across before stocking up on piles of gifts for my boys!!), and sometimes includes ‘Something to wear’ as well.

This really got me thinking about how I buy gifts for our boys: I know they have so much, and I struggle to think about what it might be good to get them – and then we still end up with piles of gifts waiting for them on Christmas morning. Now, I’m absolutely not averse to giving gifts – I think it’s a wonderful thing to do. And there’s so much teaching that can come out of it: at Christmas we give gifts because Jesus is God’s gift to us; at Easter because we remember the gift of Grace freely given to us; and at birthdays because we remember children are a gift from God. But I want to be more intentional about how I’m giving gifts to my children, and so, based on the above idea, this is what I’ve come up with (one gift for each category):

Something you’ll use,
Something you’ll muse,
Something you’ll choose,
And something you’ll lose.

As you’ll see from the descriptions below, I may have stretched the semantics of the words slightly – but it’s all in the name of rhyming! So I think that makes it justifiable…

Something you’ll use

I couldn’t bring myself to use the word ‘need’. In a sense, my children do ‘need’ things – Boaz and Josiah are outgrowing their clothes and ‘need’ some more and Samuel ‘needs’ nappies. But, in another sense, they absolutely need for nothing material. If a holiday or birthday came and went with no gifts at all, they certainly wouldn’t be without. ‘Need’ seems to me to be a word that is overused and does not apply to my child’s material requirements at all.

So, I’ve gone with ‘use’ – and this can cover anything like clothes, toothbrushes, shampoo, nappies: anything practical that we’d probably end up buying in day to day life anyway.

Something you’ll muse

This is born of the ‘something you’ll read idea’ and absolutely includes books. I love books. My boys love books. But they have LOADS! So it also includes anything ‘educational’ or for home-schooling. In time it might start to include educational computer games or DVDs, but we’ll see.

Something you’ll choose

So, this is the ‘something you want’ idea. Grammatically, it’s not quite right as they’ll have already chosen some ‘wants’ for a list – but poetical (or not so poetical) needs must! This is a wild card – anything goes. The boys can make suggestions as to things they might like, but it’ll still be a surprise on the day.

Something you’ll lose

This is a gift, but not for them. It’s something they’ll open, but won’t have. I think it’s important that they don’t get swept up into a culture of wanting more and neglecting to consider and serve those who truly do ‘need’ something. I’m amazed at the capacity of small children to empathise and show compassion. Last Christmas, Boaz really understood that a little boy who wouldn’t otherwise get any presents would get some through the ‘Operation Christmas Child’ shoe box appeal and he was very concerned for that little boy. He took great care in picking what to give him, and wanted to know more about him and, even after the shoe box was done and sent away, still asked about the little boy who he had sent presents to. There are many places you can get a gift for someone else – Tearfund and World Vision are two possible ideas.

So, this is my plan for giving gifts. And I’ve blogged it now, before going shopping, so I can’t just cave in and buy all the nice things I see in the shops! Wish me luck!



‘Big Fish’ Style Discipline

big fish disciplineAt the moment Boaz is into Octonauts in a big way. For those of you yet to experience this joy, it’s a children’s TV programme all about sea creatures and the adventures of the Octonaut characters as they seek to ‘Explore, Rescue, Protect’ the oceans and said creatures. So perhaps that is why the story of Jonah has been on my mind recently! But I’ve found it’s actually had some pretty helpful insights to offer on the subject of obedience and discipline in parenting.

I find obedience a really hard balance to strike when parenting. I want my children to grow up able to question authority and not to fall foul of peer pressure. I want them to be able to discern when to be obedient and when, actually, it may be appropriate not to be. I’m also aware that I can be quite impatient – if I ask Boaz to go and get his shoes on, I want it doing right then. But, if I’m in the middle of something, and someone asks me to do something, I’m not usually that inclined to drop everything and jump to it. So I know I need to be careful that I am respecting my children as individual people and giving them fair warning of instructions, and teaching them about compromise by modelling my willingness to sometimes compromise with them.

However, what I ultimately hope and pray for my children is that they will know and love the Lord, that they will be able to discern His call on their life, and that they will be obedient to that call. And the last of these, obedience to that call, is going to take some practice. And it is my job to train them up in that obedience to God. To help them practice obedience now in the minor things of washing hands, sitting at the table and saying please and thank you so that, when the time comes, they are able to obey God in the plans He has for their lives for His kingdom.

And the account of Jonah seems to give us a reasonably clear model that can be applied to most situations of childhood disobedience (I don’t want to say all because I find that there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting!)

Step 1 – Make your expectations clear

This is pretty obvious when I’m sat at a computer typing. God clearly said to Jonah “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2) But when I’m rushing to get out the door and everything feels a little chaotic, it’s easily forgotten. In my experience, you simply cannot say to a 3 year old “Can you please get ready to go out”, and expect to find them at the door 10 minutes later fully dressed, shoes on and bag packed with any toys they want to take (not that it stops me foolishly trying). At this age each step needs explaining, and usually not all at once. Clear and reasonable expectations for your child that you have clearly communicated are key. It’s simply not fair to discipline for disobedience when they never had a fighting chance to be obedient in the first place.

And also notice, God gave Jonah a ‘why’: He told Jonah why he had to go and call out against Nineveh – ‘”for their evil has come up before me.” (1:2) Perhaps I need to be more intentional about explaining that I’d like Boaz to get his shoes on quickly because we need to leave so we can get to the doctors on time and we’re running a little (or a lot!) late.

Step 2 – Consequences clearly following on from the disobedience

Jonah disobeyed and boarded a boat to Tarshish, so God sent a storm which threatened to break up the ship that Jonah was running away on. If our children disobey, there needs to be a consequence that they know is related to their disobedience. If they won’t get dressed because they won’t stop playing with a toy, perhaps that toy gets taken away. If they won’t help with their particular jobs around the house, perhaps you don’t help with something they need, like a lift to get somewhere.  Sometimes the disobedience will bring with it its own obvious consequence, which is sometimes fine. However, I’m not about to let my 3 year old experience the logical consequence of running into the road! I’ll grab him before he gets into the road and set a consequence that he has to hold my hand the rest of the journey.

Step 3 – Give them the opportunity to repent and obey

God sent a big fish to swallow Jonah, and whilst he was inside the fish, Jonah chose to repent. God didn’t either leave him to drown in the sea, or frog march him to Nineveh. He left Jonah to come to the conclusion that obedience to God was the best option. In our house we use the ‘step’ for this. Boaz is told to sit on the step until he is ready to apologise for his disobedience and to then obey. And then God gives Jonah the instruction again – and I suspect after the ordeal of getting this far your child may well have forgotten what it was he or she was supposed to have been doing, so a reminder might be kind (if, indeed, you can remember what it was by this stage!)

This might also provide a good opportunity to discuss with your child why they disobeyed. Firstly, it helps to ensure that they know that we don’t just think of them as our little robots and that we respect them as their own people. And though the reasons might seem insignificant now, there will come a time when we really want for them to be able to open up to us and share what’s on their hearts and I don’t think you can ever lay too much groundwork for that. Secondly, I’m not God. My decisions are not always right and my judgements are not fair and just. So by talking to my child I could well come to the realisation that the expectations I had or requests I made were unreasonable. If this is the case, then we need to be apologising to our children too. We might also need to apologise if we acted in a way that doesn’t meet our expectations of our parenting: did we shout, or use words that were unkind and demeaning? In our house at least, it’s very unusual for only one party to need to seek forgiveness in any situation!

And, if I remember, and if I’m not completely pulling my hair out by this point, I try to explain to Boaz that the primary reason he needs to obey mummy and daddy is not because whatever I’ve asked him to do is so important, but because we are practising for obeying God.

Step 4 – Forgive and show grace

God doesn’t mention it again. He forgives Jonah and sets him on his way to Nineveh. Even when Jonah moans at the mercy shown to Nineveh, God doesn’t bring up the mercy He has shown to Jonah. He doesn’t remind Jonah of his sin and how, by rights, he should be somewhere on an ocean floor. He uses a new example of a plant giving shade to Jonah, and teaches using that. Forgive, forgive and forgive again. Yes, I want my children to obey God. But I want them to know a God who is forgiving. I want them to know that when they disobey God, which they will, He will forgive them. That though their actions and disobedience have consequences, Jesus bore the ultimate consequence. Forgive. Don’t bring it back up. When they do the same thing tomorrow, don’t remind them how they did it today.

Why I love Mother’s Day

Presentation1Mother’s Day is one of those funny things that seems to have been through some sort of cultural metamorphosis so that it is now means something it was never originally intended to – a celebration of mothers. Usually, such misuse of significant days irks me, but as a mummy, I’m willing to run with this one!

Cuddles with MummyWhen our first baby boy was born, I struggled to come to terms with my new role as a stay-at-home mum. I had only 9 months previously finished my Oxford degree, and had only been married just over a year. My whole life I had heard ‘get an education, a degree, experience for your CV and the world can be your oyster – all opportunities are equal now for men and women’. And then I had a baby. And it wasn’t. It felt like everyone else was carrying on with their lives, but mine was now dictated by this very small person who slept (or didn’t) when he felt like it, ate when he felt like it and was sick everywhere when he felt like it. For a task-focused person who loved to achieve, it was really difficult when the only task I set myself in the day was to get dressed and I often failed in even that!  I became bitter against my husband and my friends who still went to work, and angry at the system that had told me that this didn’t have to be my life – because I didn’t want it to be, but believed (and still do) that motherhood is a vocation and a ministry that God called me into when he blessed me with children (not that it really felt like a blessing at the time).

So, when we reached my first Mother’s Day (nearly a year after our first child was born) I was determined that it should be used as a day to celebrate what I did. To acknowledge all the things I had sacrificed and to thank me for all the dreams and ambitions (and full night’s sleep) that I had given up. Thankfully, by the grace of God, my heart has been (and still is being!) changed, and as we approach my fourth Mother’s Day I love it for quite a different reason.

Rachel Jankovic writes in her marvellous book ‘Fit to Burst’:

“…there is a difference between giving something up and having it taken from you. If you still count the things you lost with resentment, then you did not give them. You need to let go of those things that you no longer have. Lay them down. If you find yourself in bed at night tallying what has been lost to you, you need to let go of that list. Lay them down. Give them freely. Don’t count them as stolen.”

The Holy Spirit used those words to hit like a double-decker bus. Never mind tallying in bed at night – every time my friends invited me out and I couldn’t go, every time our house felt too small, every time someone got a new job, every time anything happened that could possibly cause me to count my loss, I resented both my husband and my baby. I hadn’t made any sacrifices at all. I was having my old life ripped from my hands, whilst I held on kicking and screaming and all the while making sure everyone knew what an overwhelming sacrifice being a stay-at-home mum was.

It hasn’t been an overnight transformation – but, thank God, the Holy Spirit has been working to convict and transform me. Yes, I’m a sinner, and I sometimes still revert to my old way of thinking when our house seems too small, or when friends start getting mortgages, or when we can’t afford the car that would be perfect for our growing family. But, at least it’s no longer the norm. When people pass comment about the ‘luxury’ of being a stay-at-home mum, or how it’s a ‘lifestyle choice’ I no longer want to strangle them (at least usually – on some of the more difficult days I still might!).

And so this, finally, brings me to my actual point – why I love Mother’s Day. Not only does it give me a marker, a time, to reflect on the work God has done in my heart and to thank Him for that, but what an amazing opportunity to dwell on the ultimate sacrifice – that of Christ. These well-known verses from Philippians 2 sum up, for me, what we should be remembering and celebrating on Mother’s Day:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 3-8, ESVUK)

Fellow mamas, what an awesome calling we have. The sacrifice that Christ made, for us, we are called to emulate for our children. Of course we were never equal to God and we can’t save them, but I suspect that, in society’s eyes, we have taken on one of the lowliest roles there is and, rather than humbling ourselves, have humiliated ourselves. But, we are to consider our children more significant than ourselves – and they certainly provide ample opportunity for us to do this any hour of the day or night! We are not to look only to our own interests, but also to the interests of our children. You know that phrase ‘If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy’ – these verses from Scripture show this to be totally ridiculous. I certainly don’t get the impression from reading the Bible that Jesus delighted in his mission to the cross. But despite the pain and suffering, He didn’t say in the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘Actually, Lord, I think that I need to be happy for your children to be happy, and the cross doesn’t make me happy so I think I’ll try something different.’ The consequences of that don’t bear thinking about.

Jesus went to the cross for us. He gave us the ultimate example in sacrifice. Because of His pain and suffering, we can live new lives in Christ Jesus. Just maybe, if we can, as mums, follow this example we can bring some good to the lives of our children. We can point them to the ultimate sacrifice through our sacrifice. We can show them a shadow of the truest love in that we show them true love by laying down our lives for them. What a privilege. But it is only made possible because of Christ. We can only know this because of what He did. So yes, I love a handmade card and a cup of tea in bed, but let’s not forget to use Mother’s Day as an opportunity to remember the sacrifice Christ made for us, and to ask for His help in pointing our children to that through the way we love them and lay down our lives for them.