Four Things to do When Life Isn’t Behaving …

Planner
My newly made planner for 2015. My 2014 Susan Branch Calendar sacrificed its life to make this wonderfulness a reality.

For list makers, goal setters and other planning nut jobs, this time of year is especially wonderful.  I start making my yearly “Goals Program” in December and hit the ground running in January.  I charge into a new year determined to be the Worlds Best version of myself.  It’s big fun.  I recommend insanity.  But there are millions of posts this time of year about goals and resolutions, so I won’t bore you with the details of mine … this post is about the things that happen that have nothing to do with your plan ….

The idea of “unplanning” my life a little bit came to me when I ran into an older lady at our church.  I don’t mean I saw her and approached her calmly because I hadn’t spoken to her in a while … I mean I ran into her.  I wasn’t paying attention and I almost knocked the poor woman over.  After I grabbed her to keep her upright, laughed, hugged her and sincerely apologized, she said something really wonderful to me.

“Oh, I’m so glad you weren’t paying attention!  It gave me a chance to hug you and say hi!  I haven’t seen you in forever!”  What a sweetheart.  Also, what a fabulous perspective on mistakes, detours, derailed plans, life.  I really needed it.

So I am switching my thoughts on goals and plans.  I will still make them, obviously, but here are things I’ve decided to do when they go awry.  Also a few thoughts on when something unexpected comes up that wasn’t even a missed plan, it wasn’t on my radar at all.

1.  Remember that most unplanned things aren’t a problem until we make them a problem.  

Of course there are exceptions to this, disease, car crashes … those sorts of things are a problem in themselves.  I’m talking about roadwork, getting cut off, traffic delays, missing a meeting, smacking face first into a 75 year old lady in your church hallway.  Your attitude determines whether or not these things will ruin your day.  My dad used to call them “adventures”.  If you see your life as an adventure, having to make a detour won’t upset you so much.  Life is what you make of it.  So make it great.

2.  Most mistakes can be fixed with just the right word at just the right time.

I have a problem with my mouth.  It is always opening and saying things.  I have learned that, while words spoken can’t ever be taken back, there are ways to mend the things you broke when you opened your mouth.  Recently I was on Facebook and in a super bad mood.  As a side note, it’s always a good idea to get on Facebook when you’re ready to spit nails.  I was following a thread about something non-important and noticed a friend’s comment had been taken poorly by the group and people were reacting negatively towards her.  I went into attack mode, defending my friend while eviscerating the person who had been unkind and thereby started an entirely new war.  Really.  Nothing is more vicious than a group of mommies with nothing to do but follow pointless Facebook threads.  The next day I noticed that the thread had exploded thanks to my hostile comment and one lady was even considering leaving the group.  Sigh. I apologized on the thread, promised them that I now had my head on straight (and had drunk several cups of coffee that morning, improving my outlook on life) and begged the poor woman not to leave the group based solely on my stupidity.  She accepted my apology, stayed in the group and I think she might even like me now.

If I had waited one more day to try and make amends, I doubt the story would be the same.  Sometimes everyone needs time to cool down, but sometimes the situation needs to be diffused immediately.  When broiling over words and tempers are involved usually a soft word is what’s needed, not days and days for the problem to fester and grow.  Stop the madness!  Apologize quickly and completely (even if you were partially right, now’s not the time!) and let everyone move on with their lives!  And when in doubt … just keep your mouth shut in the first place and stay off the internet when you’re a grouch.

3. Have a positive default setting for when things go really wrong.

Ever heard the phrase, “Bad hair days are good hat days”?  We all know that things are going to go wrong in our lives eventually.  If you plan your immediate reaction to the negatives in life, it will make them a bit easier to deal with.  For instance, when something upsetting happens to my mom, she buys chocolate for us all to eat.  No kidding.  Who doesn’t win in that scenario?  There are doctors who would call that an unhealthy relationship with food.  I call it delicious.

When Jason and I were first married we had two miscarriages in one year.  I took every test the medical world could offer and they all had “normal” results.  When I got pregnant for the third time, I made a plan for how I would react if I once again lost the pregnancy.  I actually made a list of the things in my life that would still be good even if I couldn’t have the baby I desired so desperately.  He was a boy.  Sometimes you don’t have to put your default setting to use.  That’s always nice.

JamarWeb-19
My oldest son, Jack. He’s six now.

4. Use the opportunity to help someone else.

This entire world is broken.  That is just a fact.  I love to see the positive and silver lining, and I wear rose colored glasses on purpose, but sometimes even I have to get real.  People need help, healing, love, hugs … us.  If you’re thinking, “How am I supposed to deliver healing when I’M so sick?!” I have some fabulous news for you!  God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the things that are mighty.  It’s awesome.  So many times the things we look at as a struggle and a heart ache, someone else can look to as a light at the end of their very dark tunnel.  If you have health problems, use them to help others with the same problem. If you’ve lost a parent, you can now reach out with empathy to others who have suffered the same loss.  If you have a child who is making terrible choices, other parents may one day look to you to figure out how to live through their own precious child’s crisis.

Many of you are probably well aware that the current and effective “Amber Alert” system grew out of the greatest tragedy imaginable.  I was a teenager when the beautiful little Amber was snatched from her street by a psychopath and the manhunt that ensued was brutal and heartbreaking.  On the other side of it, Amber’s parents took their horror story and turned it into something that has given hundreds of parents back their children.  Can you imagine that? Heartache will happen anyway.  We might as well help each other through.

I do realize this isn’t a typical “Happy New Year!” post.  But since our year definitely will not go as planned, we might as well have a plan for it … see what I did there?

2015_new_year

And really, Happy New Year!  I hope all of your lists work out.

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Generation X and Y Raise Children … from our iPhones

Lils

There are distinct advantages to parenting now days.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when our kids are sick.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when we need birthday party ideas.  We have the internet to look stuff up on when we need stocking-stuffer ideas. There are real disadvantages too.  We have the internet to tell us about GMO’s and high-fructose corn syrup.  We have the internet to feed all our children’s symptoms into when they’re sick and find out that they match up with either cancer, ebola or the common cold.  We have the internet so now we have to buy three different softwares just to protect our children from its content.

The bigger disadvantage to raising kids coming from our generation is that the vast majority of us don’t use our heads any more even though we have the bulk of the world’s knowledge on a palm fitting device in our purses. I personally cannot hold one single phone number in my brain.  I don’t even know my husband’s number by heart.  The only number I remember is my friend Jennilyn’s and that’s only because it hasn’t changed since my childhood and it has a very nice rhythm to it that stuck in my head like a commercial jingle.

Also, we’re not good at heeding actual human advice. Since we are children of the eighties and nineties, constantly told that “no one has the right to tell us what to do”,  we now all get on our tablets and get THEM to tell us what to do. Instead of calling our moms to discover how to fix a behavior issue with our children, like our mothers did, we now ask a million strangers in cyberspace what to do.  The good news is we avoid cluing our mothers in on the fact that we are ignorant of something.  The bad news is, we have no human contact and may all shrivel up and die.  But we probably won’t notice, we’ll be looking at cat pictures and arguing with a stranger on the internet up until our last dying breath.

The wealth of info at our fingertips would truly be awesome if it came from fabulous sources, right?  But, how many of our doctors in recent years have heaved enormous sighs when we admitted that we looked up our symptoms on WebMd before we came in … and that’s why it took us so long to come in … and that’s why it has now developed into bronchial pneumonia.  I’m sorry, Dr.  I was afraid you’d tell me I had lung cancer, so I was treating this dreadful cough myself.  Essential oils are a real thing … I swear.  I read it on the internet. (Just kidding, I actually use essential oils with some success).

But I digress.

A disturbing trend I’m seeing in modern parents comes from a mixture of inexperienced moms who write about their lack of experience as if they really know what they’re doing, and equally inexperienced people who “share” these writings on all social networks.  Here are a few recent “gems” the popped up in my newsfeed/twitterfeed, “Why I Didn’t Make My Child Share” – the sage advice of a parent with a three year old who uses 2000 words to explain why her child should never have to share anything they like … because they are the king of the planet and every other child should bow down to them.  “Why I NEVER Tell My Child She is Naughty” – this one was a well-meaning mom trying not to damage their child’s fragile self-image by saying “you are naughty”.  Instead she would affirm her daughter by saying “what you just did was inappropriate.”  I’m sure the subtle nuance totally got through to her toddler.

I have no problem trying out new parenting techniques.  And I certainly have no problem with people sharing blog posts on Facebook.  I learn from them.  I like them.  I HAVE a blog, so I definitely love that it can be shared!  But humans have a weird brain thing when it comes to things we see in print.  Especially things with swirling, beautiful pictures all around them, in professional looking font.  I’m as much of a sucker as anyone.  I read these posts and then wonder, “are my kids scarred for life?  I definitely said Lily WAS naughty the other day instead of saying her actions were inappropriate.  And I made Jack share his toys with his cousins who came over yesterday … and now they’re going to grow up and be ax murderers.”  And then I get a grip.

We’ve got to wake up and see, that the people we are flocking to for this advice are A) people we don’t know. B) more importantly we don’t know their KIDS?  If they aren’t ever taught that they are naughty and they have to share, I’m pretty sure they’re not delightful.  I absolutely don’t want my child to be in their vicinity. And C) they are people whose kids are only 3 and they really have no idea what the results of these ideas will be.

There are a trillion different parenting styles and my kids are still little, so I don’t judge.  What I’m saying is, perhaps, getting all our ideas from a very untested future is not the answer.  I always thought that finding a nice couple at my church, with children who are grown up and lovely and asking for their secrets was the way to go.  Unfortunately, these people usually don’t write blogs.  They either think computers are too “newfangled” or they’re too busy with their grandkids … or the worst one yet:  They have fabulous grown children who are successful and happy and they tell you, “Whatever you do, don’t do what we did.”  “If I had it to do over again, I would never yell at them.”  “If I had it to do over again, I would have prayed more and worried less.”  “I wouldn’t have spanked them … ever!” Wait what?  How is this helpful?  Your kids went to Harvard!  They are confident, brilliant and still manage to be sweet and compassionate.  Why do good parents do this, you wonder?  It’s because of a little thing I like to call, “the grandparent phenomenon”.  They aren’t really the people in those houses raising those currently fabulous people.  All the sudden they are afraid their grandkids will be yelled at, or grounded, or won’t be allowed to play with the new iPad they’re buying them for Christmas.  Now, as Bill Cosby would say, they are just old people trying to get into heaven. We are sunk.

So if we don’t trust the internet’s toddler parent offerings, and every old person tells us to do they opposite of what they did, what ARE we supposed to do?  If we’re smart, aware of the source, and paying attention to the results of our own attempts, then there must be an algorithm we can follow.  For instance, every time my child cries and screams for something and I tell them that they must stop or go take a nap, they stop crying.  Voila!  That worked … at least that time.  The sad truth is, there is no perfect trick to parenting.  Growing up I was taught that there are various promises in the Bible apparently like a magic spell (except magic was a sin,) that if we only lean on them, our children will all be doctors, or missionaries in Ethiopia.  The truth is, God Himself, the perfect father, still allows people their own free will.  Even your little people.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” is a principle, not a promise.  How could God possibly make a promise about the condition of the human heart when He Himself, refuses to dictate its actions?  My pastor pointed this out a few weeks ago, it’s not my own insight.  But it’s definitely a relief.  God doesn’t let parents off the hook.  We are supposed to train up our children in the way they should go.  But the results are not in our hands, they lie in the hands of free-willed human beings.  And free-willed human beings make mistakes sometimes.  Mistakes that lead to disaster in some cases.  My mom always says not to judge people who are in desperate situations because of their choices.  “We are all just three bad decisions away from disaster at any given time.”  So true.  Sometimes just one decision.

Are our children doomed because we yell occasionally?  I certainly hope not.  If we tell them they’re naughty?  Come on?  Really?  How many times did your mom tell you you were naughty?  You lived.  I’m pretty sure, if your child has any real problems, and any brains later on, a tiny change in syntax will not destroy them.

Jason reading

Maybe if we give them too many hugs.  Tell them we love them too much.  Spend more time with them than is strictly necessary they will do well in life.  My husband is good at stretching time especially when reading to them.  Books that I skim through as quickly as possible, sometimes skipping words for efficiency, he reads slowly, with big voices.  He points out shapes and colors, and spells the words with them.  He is awesome.  I usually can’t get the mound of dishes in the sink off my mind.  To his credit, or perhaps detriment, the dishes don’t come into his mind at all.

To make a short story longer than it should be, the real thing I lean on is love.  You can’t go wrong with love. I don’t mean doting on your children, giving in to every little thing they want and not ever forcing them to do something they don’t like.  I mean true love.  If you look up the definition in a dictionary it will suffice, but I prefer 1 Corinthians 13, because it is beautiful and full of poetic words that sound like music to me.  Love is patient, kind, long-suffering, keeps no record of wrongs … it goes on and on and if we take just this chapter and used it as our guideline for life, and teach our kids to do the same, I think our they will be just fine.  This is tested parenting advice.  It came from my mother, and my grandmother, and her grandmother… and I can’t get a single one of them to write a parenting blog.

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