Hodge Podge: Parenting

This week’s literary trail mix features books on parenting:

Our Mothers, Ourselves – Although ostensibly more about being a daughter than being a mother, I couldn’t help reading it with an eye toward what kind of mother I am to my girls. The book has helpful insight for both relationships. I appreciated the author’s balance between honestly addressing how dysfunction in relationships can impact us and our families, while presenting a hopeful perspective that it is possible and healthy to identify generational patterns and work through them to benefit yourself and future generations. This book was different, and thought-provoking.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings – “Peaceful” is not a word often applied to my family. We just tend to run toward intensity. But I do aspire to peace and calm, and thus I appreciated the tips in this book toward that end. Most of the advice is actually directed toward the parent—and I was challenged to think about ways that I might be communicating a sense of emergency or hurry to my kids, and how to combat that. As I am reviewed my notes to write this, I was reminded how much work I still need to do in this regard. So I printed the notes and added them to my Think File. Which is now really overflowing the banks!

The Danish Way of Parenting – Or, how to hygge for family unity. Riding the whole Danish fad, this book was fine, but not ground-breaking. I appreciated the reminders to reframe situations rather than feeling bowled over by them, and we can all use more cosying around, right?

Body-confident Daughters – I like the premise of this book—having deliberate conversations with your tween daughters about life changes and how to navigate growing up in a godly way. The delivery, though, left something to be desired. It could just be me, but the whole set-up of “dates” felt forced and fake, I bristled at the implication in one section that godly girls don’t wear makeup, and the already short book felt padded by unnecessary fluff (Like a smoothie recipe—really? Who doesn’t know how to make a smoothie and/or have access to the internet?). I think the whole thing would have been stronger as a series of five blog posts. Again, good ideas, but problematic presentation. I did make some notes but will be talking to my girls in my own way and without woo-woo smoothies.

Have you read any good books on parenting lately?

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Different

“What if raising [your different child] is an act of service [God has] called you to? Will you accept him as a gift? Will you submit to the circumstances he brings to your whole family because you believe God is in control? Will you humble yourself and accept God’s will and cease to fight against [your child]? Even if no one else ever sees the battles you have lived through or knows your quiet faithfulness to love him and to believe forward into his life? Your service of worship is not lost.”

I do believe that all children are gifts and special and made in God’s image, so they should be respected and treasured, both in families and the culture at large. But some kids are a little different in one way or another. And whether that’s because of mental illness or physical disability or giftedness or just eccentricity, whenever someone is different from the norm, there is conflict. As a parent, this can be a very intense and difficult thing to navigate.

Enter Sally Clarkson, whose books I have referenced before. People who write parenting books are generally assumed to be perfect, but in her latest volume, Sally took a different direction, writing about her son’s mental illness and how that impacted her life and perspective.

Different is eponymously not the same as Sally’s other books–she co-wrote it with her son, Nathan, who she describes as her out-of-the-box kid. If you have one (or two, or more) of these, you should certainly read the book. While the Clarksons were dealing with diagnosed mental illnesses, I found their observations equally helpful as a parent of intense/gifted kids who aren’t dealing with any particular medical conditions but are different in some unexpected ways. I appreciated Sally’s honesty and encouragement, and would recommend this book if you are parenting a kid who is different in any way.

 

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.

 

 

Mere Motherhood

“[Parenting] is a walk of joy that often includes the tearing off of the old dragon skin one painful layer at a time, made all the worse because you didn’t even know you were wearing dragon skin. No one ever does.”

How I loved this book! It’s an odd little book–sort of a memoir and sort of a parenting book and sort of a manifesto. It’s short, and yet jam-packed with striking observations and insights. It rambles, but in the best possible way. As I read, I really felt like I was having a conversation with the author. You know those wonderful talks where no one is being superficial and you move effortlessly from topic to topic soaking up ideas and connection? This book is like that. Cindy is a reader and a thinker and a mom of lots of boys (and one girl), who are now mostly grown up. I don’t know about you, but I need that perspective right about now. Cindy has such an arresting way of putting things, and a much-needed style that both embraces the depths of motherhood and pushes back on the idea that it’s the be-all-end-all.

Mere Motherhood inspired and perplexed me, and made me cry. Twice. Highly recommended.

 

Note: Mere Motherhood is not available on Amazon, although the Circe website notes that it’s coming soon to Kindle. For now, you can get it from Circe (not an affiliate link), but shipping is high and makes the book really pricey. I happily found it at my library, and would love to own it, should it ever be offered for a lower shipping cost. 

A basically revolutionary tool for work/parenting/educating/adulting in general

Have you ever tried something that other people swear by, only to find out that it doesn’t work like that for you? Or tried to handle a conflict at work or home and can’t figure out why the other person is responding so oddly?

Personality. People are alike in a lot of ways, but we’re not wired exactly the same. I think the biggest lesson of adulthood, for me anyway, is that I have to be careful not to blindly accept other people’s prescriptions as universally applicable, nor blithely assume that what works for me will work for everyone/anyone else.

ppp-coverThis is why I really like Mystie Winckler’s personality posts and was intrigued by her Practical Personality Portfolio. To be honest, I hesitated over it at first, because I own and have read several books on personality typing and I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the money to spring for a digital resource on the topic.

Friends, it was so worth it. In fact, if I had to do it over again, I would gladly pay twice as much, because it’s an incredible resource. A few reasons why:

  • It’s not organized around a test. I’ve been testing ENTJ ever since college, but I always felt that the description was a little off. For a while I thought maybe I was an ENTP, but that didn’t exactly fit either (I’m way too much of a list-maker/planner to be a P). After reading the portfolio, with it’s organization around functions and struggles and motivations, I was floored to see that I actually fit the INTJ profile much better than anything else. I hadn’t ever considered that since I tend to be a verbal person and am not our culture’s stereotypical introvert. But because the portfolio broke away from the test mode, I could see the difference more clearly and consider a different angle.
  • It focuses on functions. Why does it matter what type you are? Because different types of people work, learn, struggle, stress, and cope differently. Once I started looking at the INTJ materials, I was floored by the fact that many of the ways I was trying to deal with stress were actually causing me stress. I also noticed that some of the things that really discourage me are common discouragements for INTJs–and that was the first time I allowed myself to wonder what would happen if I just…stopped doing things that discourage me? What if I work to my strengths and relax in ways that are truly relaxing to me? Game changer.
  • It illuminates relationship issues. Josh and I were both surprised at how helpful the portfolio is for understanding our children. We were able to easily type even the three-year-old (which we hadn’t been able to do previously, even with Nurture by Nature) and were shocked by how helpful it is to know things like what makes each child stressed, what a stress reaction might look like for that child, and how to mitigate it. I can’t tell you how helpful this has been, especially with school work and with several ongoing sibling conflicts. The portfolio is worth it for the parenting/educating insights alone.
  • It takes a hopeful, positive tone. If you’ve read many personality references, you know they can get a little terrifying. You’re reading about your own type, or how your type interacts with your spouse’s type, or the dire prospects of your child’s type, and you feel tempted to panic. In contrast, the portfolio takes a really helpful, upbeat tone. Yes, every type has conflicts and weaknesses, but you can work through those and work with your strengths rather than kicking against the goads all the time. I really appreciated that aspect of the work.

The Practical Personality Portfolio comes with a handbook, workbooks on learning styles and teaching, typing kids, and functions, and, most critically, a comprehensive reference on each type (mind-blowing–simple, but super effective). I’d get it just for the type reference, but the rest of the pieces were helpful, too. Also, if you get the portfolio, you get access to a members page that has additional resources, FAQ, a discussion forum, and audio and video about personality typing–including one personality chat Mystie did with me!

I’d highly recommend the Portfolio, even if you’re not someone who’s normally into MBTI personality typing. More insight never hurts! And if you don’t love it for some reason, there is a money-back guarantee.

The whole INTJ epiphany is making a difference. Just this morning, when things were nuts and I was getting wound up, what I learned from this resource popped into my head and I could see the situation for what it was–me getting stressed–as well as what I could do to work through it. In the past, I might have eventually realized the stress, but my coping mechanisms were not that effective. The situations didn’t magically disappear, but my ability to handle them gracefully certainly improved.

If you go through the portfolio, I’d love to hear what you learn!

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

A Little Extra Math For Fun

 

Math pedagogy can be overwhelming, whether or not you homeschool. Is this the right curriculum? Am I doing too much? Too little? Am I boring him or pushing him too hard? What if she misses something important? How can I help my child enjoy math even if I’m not “a math person” myself?

I think math is beautiful and fascinating and exciting, albeit somewhat mysterious once you get past calculus. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m conveying those feelings to my kids, or if I’m pushing them to dislike math by boring them or over-drilling. Recently, I read a couple of books that helped me to relax about math, try some new things, and aim in a slightly different direction for pre-algebra.

mathematical-mindsets
In Mathematical Mindsets, Jo Boaler examines research about how children learn math and what makes a successful mathematian to suggest the ways in which traditional education is failing students and how we can change outcomes as parents (or homeschoolers). Whether you have your child in a brick and mortar school or you homeschool, this book would give you a lot to think about.

Topics like how to create problem solvers (versus calculators or test takers), how to help children develop a growth mindset, and how to best challenge kids with math are well-presented and highly practical, while also backed up with good research.

I found Mathematical Mindsets incredibly helpful and would highly recommend it to all parents, whether or not they are teachers, and all teachers, whether or not they are parents.

playing-with-math-book-210x300
I also read the inspiring and encouraging collection of essays in Playing With Math. The book chronicles efforts by really invested teachers in a variety of school settings, homeschoolers dedicated to teaching math well, and leaders of math circles (groups that get together to do problem solving). I got so many helpful ideas, insights, and reassurances from this book. Most of the essays end with a math problem to solve individually or in a group. I really liked the inclusion of those problems, and was inspired to add math games/group problem solving/logic puzzles to our Table Time each day.

Most of all, I am glad to have read both of these books for their vision. I think my kids had gotten into the habit of thinking of math as just a problem set to get through, but what I really want is for them to catch the excitement of how neat math is, and to learn to be problem solvers. While I wouldn’t say I agree fully with everything in either book–it’s not practical to implement every idea in every setting–both were instrumental in shifting my focus and in making math more enthusiastic in our house.

If you’re interested in adding math games for a range of ages to your family time (whether in homeschool or just for after school fun), I’ve also been using some of the suggestions in the following books:

And, since I mentioned pre-algebra, I’m looking at switching over from Saxon to Art of Problem Solving when Hannah finishes Saxon 7/6. If any of you have thoughts on that, I’d love to hear what you think!

What are your favorite problem solving, math, or logic games?

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The Bookmarked Life #15

2The Bookmarked Life is my take on catch-all posts–a record to help me remember this season of life.

Right now I’m:

…Considering

I’m thinking about seasons and rhythms and the original purpose of the liturgical calendar. How might we do Advent and Easter and our school terms differently to renew focus and reduce the way holidays tend to breed frenzy? I like the idea of longer seasons and a contemplative approach to the year. We have to be careful not to get caught up in meaningless rituals, but in our milieu I think maybe there is more danger in meaningless seasons if you hew to the culture than if you follow some version of a church calendar. This is tied up in more thinking and reading about liturgy and habits and may wind up shifting how I schedule the next school year.

…Furnishing My Mind

IMG_5642Margaret was baptized in early May and we celebrated by having a picture that actually included all of us. It turns out that it’s really, really difficult to squeeze a family of seven onto a loveseat.

Related to the loveseat: people often ask why on earth I have white couches when I have so many kids. The truth is, these couches were super cheap at Ikea and the slipcovers are fully removable and washable. They hold up really well–I did not stain treat them and I only wash them 2-3 times a year, sometimes tossing the seat cushions in more frequently. We use the couches all day long and they do sometimes get a little grubby, but nothing a soak in Oxiclean can’t fix. IMG_5558Overall, I feel like they make me happy and are much easier to maintain than a couch you can’t wash.

My parents came to visit for the week of Eliza’s third birthday and Margaret’s baptism, and we had a nice visit as well as a mini-break from school.

IMG_5791Jack turned nine at the end of May and had a “Lego Inventor” party. It was a madhouse but he seemed to enjoy it. He made the cake topper himself, and it was nice to just go with it and not try to do some fantastical thing with fondant. Chocolate cake with lots of chocolate frosting (the Hershey’s recipe is easy and way, way better than any store-bought version) is good regardless.

Jack is very creative, loves to read, and is super intense about everything he does. Parenting him can be a wild ride, but he’s interesting and fun and very affectionate.

 

…Living the Good Life

IMG_5671We joined the Children’s Museum and Zoo this spring and have enjoyed frequent trips to both as I attempt to justify the cost with lower cost-per-visit averages.  🙂 So far we’ve done the museum nine times and the zoo five times. As you can see in the picture, the zoo has a cool exhibit going right now of giant animal sculptures made of Legos.

For some reason it often feels easier to take the five kids out than to stay home. It sort of diffuses the noise and energy! We’ve also been going to more parks and finding interesting new parts of the city to explore (that is a nice way of saying, “Mama often gets lost but then enjoys the scenery.”)

…Teaching

We finished our required 180 days of instruction last week, but don’t tell the kids since we will still be doing school through the rest of June (after a break this week for VBS). It works better for us to take July off and then have more flexibilty throughout the year for term breaks rather than having one long summer break. To the surprise of no one, I have changed some things up this semester, so I’ll do an end-of-year wrap-up later in June.

…Boosting Creativity

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I think it’s so great to be creative in different ways.  Somehow being creative in a totally different medium can help with creativity in my usual tracks.  A couple of times lately a friend of mine has hosted a painting party–a local artist comes to her house and we all learn some techniques and paint a small picture. This one is a sprig of balsam fir.  I really like the way the colors in the background turned out.

When I was reading The Irrational Season, I was struck by Madeleine L’Engle’s schedule–she always made time for a walk outdoors, an hour of study and reading, and an hour of practicing piano in addition to writing and caring for her family and whatever else. She felt that the outdoor exercise, study, and piano were part of her creative process, and she was unabashed at saying that was what she needed for her creative life. I was inspired to pick up some of my old piano music and have been tackling Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor.

…Building Fitness

IMG_5771 We are boldly embarking on hikes! I don’t know what it is about having five children that has made me delve into all of the things there are to do around town. Obviously it’s TONS easier to tote five kids to attractions, right? But in any case we have now met up with a friend and her two kids to do two hikes at state parks nearby. Surprisingly, Eliza (age 3) has been able to walk pretty far. And Margaret does well in the baby carrier. The big kids got these nifty water bottle holders (the friends we hike with introduced us–they are far more outdoorsy than we are!) and are allowed to eat granola bars whilst hiking, so they are all in.

I moved my regular workouts to the evening after the kids go to bed, and am now mostly doing my own circuit of heavy (for me anyway!) weights. I got this idea from Crystal, which led me to this free e-book (salesy, but informative), and so far it’s a nice break from routine.

…Seeking Balance

Work (the paid sort anyway) has been lighter this past couple of weeks, and that has been good in its way. It’s funny how the older kids, while not requiring the same hands-on vigilance as the littles, seem to be in phases that require more time and emotional energy right now, so it has been good to slow down and be able to focus on those needs lately. I’ve been doing more personal writing too, which is restorative and fun. I still have no idea how to work the schedule to include paid work, personal writing, study time, school, and intentional parenting all together. But if I look at things from a weekly or monthly perspective, it does all fit in.

…Listening To

The kids and I are listening to The Chronicles of Narnia books on audio (unabridged, not dramatized) in the car–what a great series to listen to one after the other! This is perfect for summer car trips or just for going around town. Highly recommended!

…Keeping In Mind

“May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time, and cherish each day as an extra grace.” –Andrew Greeley

What are you bookmarking this week?

 

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Toward flourishing

I find my core callings deeply contradictory. Faith, marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, writing, and my paid work are not easy for me in every respect. I am fascinated but exhausted, comforted but confused, fulfilled but frustrated. The things I value most are, by and large, difficult. I say that the past year has been hard and it has. But even in the best of times I tend to do life in a fairly intense fashion.

Some of my intense life is circumstantial, but much of it is choice. So I don’t want to waste my story in rush and resentment. I want to savor hard days and difficult phases and flourish in the midst of it all. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I want to live deeply and joyfully instead of getting mired in discouragement and burnout, I need to keep my vision refreshed.

I have a feeling sleep might also help, but I will have to get back to you on that once I don’t have a baby and chronic insomnia.

irrational seasonCertain writers are my go-to mentors when I need to reconnect with the bigger picture. Madeleine L’Engle is one. I recently read The Irrational Season and was once again inspired by L’Engle’s refreshing viewpoints on faith, creativity, love, and motherhood–this time in the context of her thinking through the seasons of the liturgical year. Weaving in thoughts on language and mystery and memory, L’Engle writes with simplicity and profound insight about the way that the rhythm of temporal time enhances our understanding of depth, truth, and the unknowable greatness of God.

I don’t always agree with L’Engle, but I never fail to find food for thought and encouragement to think, write, and live with more clarity and honesty. I’d recommend all of her non-fiction, but I’ve addedThe Irrational Season to my favorites along with Walking on Water and A Circle of Quiet.

mission motherhoodSally Clarkson more recently joined my shelf of visionaries. In the past I think I misunderstood her platform and thought she was in the motherhood-is-woman’s-only-calling camp so I didn’t really connect with her. However, what I have found after several months of reading Sally’s books and listening to her podcasts is more of a vision for wholehearted living–of being all in as a mother even if you also do other things (she started and ran a business, wrote books, and homeschooled, for example). I love Sally’s vision for flourishing even in trying circumstances, and her encouragement toward excellence without making an idol out of motherhood.  There is a way to be wholehearted in parenting while also nourishing your soul and mind and creativity and I think Sally’s books The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood are excellent resources.

ministry motherhoodIn both books, I appreciated Sally’s ability to cast a thoughtful vision and give practical ideas while acknowledging that families and children and life stages are different and so methods may differ even as principles stay the same.

All three of these books are the sort I wind up purchasing so I can re-read them–and I fill them with sticky tabs and take reams of notes (I got nine single-spaced typed pages of notes fromThe Mission of Motherhood alone!). I have intense kids, I homeschool, and I work and write in the margins. If you have naturally calm kids and send them to a brick-and-mortar school and work full-time as a chemical engineer your take-aways may be different than mine. However, no matter what your circumstances, if you’re the sort of person who leans in to your life and longs to flourish in the midst of it, I don’t think you could go too far wrong with any of these volumes.

What books have most refreshed and inspired you lately?

 

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Raising Grateful Kids

Raising-Grateful-KidsRaising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World contains lots of helpful advice about how to accomplish the task named in the title, but I also found wisdom on several seemingly unrelated topics that the author skillfully tied to her main premise.

Kristen Welch does a good job of diagnosing the problem of ungratefulness and establishing some of the cultural circumstances that foster it in kids. Some of her solutions are what you would expect–don’t spoil kids, give them boundaries, expand their perspective, teach them to be thankful for the pancakes–while others were surprisingly and helpfully different.

  • “Compassionate parents raise their children to be prepared for an uncertain future.” Welch writes about not assuming that our children will be in a better financial situation than we are, but this idea extends to making sure your kids can choose a vocation or location regardless of whether it can sustain their habits of consumption.
  • Kids need to be taught how to use social media carefully. Since platforms change all the time, it’s better to establish general guidelines to help kids be wise online, especially since the online world tends to present unrealistic pictures and foster discontent.
  • “The most important thing we can teach our kids is self-control.” Welch does a fantastic job of outlining why the habit of self-control is foundational for so many aspects of gratefulness. This section gave me a lot to think about.

Although most people would probably say that gratitude is important, actually living in gratefulness is countercultural in ways you may not have thought about before. If you’re interested in raising kids who are characterized by gratitude rather than entitlement, I’d recommend Raising Grateful Kids as a strong resource.

 

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

 

On reading with other people

parent's guideI recently had a chance to be part of a SENG parents group in my area. We read A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children and discussed one chapter per week.

Initially, I signed up because I thought it might be helpful to meet other parents who might be having similar issues to what we’re dealing with (and it was).  I’ve read a lot of books on giftedness (check this, this, and this for lists), so I figured the book part would be stuff I already knew.

As it turned out, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children was one of the most helpful books on the topic that I’ve read. Primarily, I’d link that to the fact that it covers so many parenting issues (versus a heavy classroom management focus) but I also think I got so much more out of it because I was discussing each chapter with a group.

In the book clubs I’ve been part of, we’ve always discussed one book per month. That’s great for overall themes and usually seems like a good approach, especially for fiction, but I found that meeting more frequently and discussing individual chapters was a fantastic way to read a non-fiction book. It gave us time to dig deeply into each topic, share strategies, and talk through issues in a way that would not have been possible had we attempted to discuss the entire book in one fell swoop.

This got me started thinking about how or if I could do more book discussions this way.  Of course, living in the suburbs as I do, the immediate objection will be that no one has the time to meet once a week to discuss a book (sigh), but maybe I should ask around anyway.

Back to the book for a second: If you have gifted kids, I’d highly recommend A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, whether you read it alone or in a group.

Have you ever done a book discussion chapter-by-chapter?

 

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Teaching From Rest

teaching from restI have had Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching From Rest on my wish list ever since it came out, and this Christmas I received a copy.  Y’all, I read a lot of books.  I don’t want to own most of them.  But I am so, so glad to own a copy of this one.

Teaching From Rest is ostensibly about how to homeschool with peace, but it’s also about how to do life with peace.  Homeschooling is a major part of my life, but it’s not the sum total, and I found so many pieces of this book helpful to me as a parent and as a person too.

I tend to do a lot of things, and get caught up in analyzing all the things, and often wind up getting overwhelmed.  The past several months have been even more overwhelming than usual.  But something Sarah wrote in this book stopped me in my overwhelmed tracks and completely changed my viewpoint about my days.

“Bring your basket.”

Sarah points out that often in homeschooling (and parenting, and life) we feel overwhelmed like the disciples faced with 5,000 people who needed feeding and only a few loaves and fish to get the job done.  We feel like we can’t possibly do this with the resources we have.  And we’re right as were they.  We aren’t making it up, life is hard. But whatever we are facing, we can bring our basket–whatever skills, abilities, and time we have–and trust God for the rest.

This visual helps me so much.  I have the phrase written on my desk and in my goal sheets. I remind myself to bring my basket several times a day.  It really changes my perspective and reminds me to pray over more things.

Teaching From Rest is full of things like that.  I had several tabs to make a note on almost every page.  I can see re-reading this book again and again.  If you read Sarah’s blog, some of it will feel familiar to you, but it’s more than enough new and expanded content to be well worth it.

If you homeschool, I think you really, truly, and immediately ought to read this book.  If you don’t homeschool but tend towards bustle and overwhelm as a parent in general, I think you’d get a lot out of it too.  It’s an excellent read for any time of year, but particularly helpful in the New Year/fresh start season.

As a side note, I have the hard copy version of the book, which is revised and expanded from the original e-book. 

 

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