Sunday, 30 June 2013

Dear Nerf

Dear Nerf,

I am sure that you are very proud of your products and, indeed, many boys and young men enjoy the high quality nature of them.

Please spare a thought, however, for the mothers of your product users.

Not only are we ambushed from every vantage point in our home, but we also have to become expert war negotiators when smaller siblings are shot without warning. Nerf bullets collect in every corner of our houses, leading to difficulties in cleaning. Stairs become particularly dangerous to climb without becoming a target. We have to endure lengthy war tactics discussions and prolonged lectures on the benefits of each particular nerf product, often looking them up on the Internet whilst attempting to prevent out eyes from glazing over. If we take the guns and other paraphernalia out anywhere we have to spend a large proportion of our time searching for bullets to prevent grumpiness on the way home. And if we are accidentally 'shot', we are then the subject of much laughter.

Perhaps you could include a guide for parents with a health warning (WARNING -THESE PRODUCTS MAY INCREASE INSANITY IN PARENTS) with each product, just so that we are aware of the risks before purchase.

I would be most grateful if you would consider my suggestion.

From a war-weary Mother.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Whose Job? And How? Part 2 - Surviving the Tuts

I'm hot and sticky, trying to keep my toddler still and quiet while someone in the meeting prays out very slowly and softly. I see people straining to hear over the noise of my protesting child. He kicks his legs and accidentally knocks over his brother's blackcurrant squash all over someone's expensive bible. Could it get any worse? I feel the eyes on me and I see the mouths begin to tut and heads start to slowly shake. How come I am the only mother in here with the misbehaving toddler?

At least, that's how it feels.

The truth of the matter is, the toddler isn't (always) misbehaving. He's just being himself in a room not especially set up for small children. And he's probably not the only one.

As tempting as it is (and believe me, I have sat and sobbed my way through church meetings) we shouldn't just give up taking our small children to meet with the church family, because that is exactly what it is - family. We need each other, including noisy, small children who won't sit still. So how do we actually survive without going insane?

I don't want to give a list of 'do's and don'ts' here because each family is very different, but there are some principles that can be applied to most of us.

Firstly, know that God loves children. He WANTS them to come to him, even if they shout and have biscuit crumbs all over their faces and mud on their trousers from the park which you didn't notice before you left the house and then hastily tried to clean off with a baby wipe.

Secondly, having children around helps the adults who've forgotten what it's like to be a child to think about God's fathering of us. Seeing a little one run up to their Dad with open arms and then be swung around reminds us that God wants us to run into his arms so that he can delight in us. Children can often be a living statement of how God wants us to be.

Thirdly, go prepared. There is absolutely no way a small child who has just learnt to walk is going to sit still for an hour. They have new skills to show off! It is also impossible for even an older child to engage for that long (and let's be honest, I think sometimes it's tricky for us adults too). So we need to be prepared with activities, toys, crayons, paper - anything that you know will keep your child's attention for a short while. I used to sit right at the front with mine so they could see what was going on (and everyone else could see our parenting battles too...) and sing and worship from my place on the floor doing jigsaw puzzles or playing with play dough. As they grew older we would take instruments for them to play and join in with. Even now they are slightly older, I still find that they struggle sometimes to engage for the whole time. We always explain difficult words in songs and give them pens and paper and they often write out or draw their prayers so they are still joining in, but not necessarily singing.

Lastly, let's make sure that praying, singing and all the other things that happen when the church family meets together become 'normal' activities. If we are doing all these things at home, then our kids will naturally begin to join in when it happens somewhere else too.

Of course, church was never meant to be sitting in cold rows facing the front with everyone having to keep quiet until the music begins. Church in the New Testament was full of noise, chatter, excitement, hugs, tears, food and probably smells too. Children would have been welcomed and joined in with the fun as much as any adults. So, next time you begin to dread the tuts, remember that God is never tutting. Whilst your sons (and I speak from experience) are having a competition over who can make the best fart noises during someone's prayer, God is probably chuckling to himself, delighting in the sincerity and fun of the children who have been brought to him.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Morning Rush

Not being a morning person, I have been surprised to produce two little people who love to leap out of bed and face the world with fervour every morning.  This is very difficult to cope with for those of us who need a somewhat slower start to the morning.

Take this morning, for example.

In my non-morning state, I attempt to wake up the other non-morning person in the house.  I feel so sorry for him and hate waking him because I know just how he feels.  The other two are already dressed and downstairs, singing and making far too much noise.

Breakfast is a tricky affair.  The non-morning boy sits at the table half dressed with his duvet wrapped around him, staring.  The lively littlest boy takes large gulps of his drink to see how long his burps can be.  The oldest boy tells me facts about the history of KFC.  How can their brains actually function first thing?  It's not a pleasant breakfast and although I strive to be cheerful, the best I can manage is listening to them and giving them the odd smile.

After breakfast, I 'race' (think snail) around the house trying to find a clean short-sleeved shirt for now grumpy non-morning boy.  Apparently he hates long-sleeved ones, but all the others are in the wash so I am faced with the living-on-the-edge decision of upsetting him by making him wear a long-sleeved shirt (and therefore scuppering any chance of getting him to do anything else all morning) or giving him a dirty short-sleeved shirt from the bottom of the washing basket.  I'll leave you to imagine which choice I made.

Littlest lively boy is attempting to wash out his lunchbox, although 'wash' is not really an apt description.  'Playing with water' would be better, and water play in the morning before school is not a great idea.  Still, he's happy and not arguing with anyone, even if he is singing 'bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey'.  So I leave him be.

In the lounge a complicated negotiation over the wii is happening.  I listen for a while to see if they can work it out but when I realise things are going to quickly turn nasty, I intervene.  Unfortunately for me, the result is that 'Just Dance' is played, complete with blaring music.  My non-morning brain is now having a meltdown.

Eventually it is time to leave.  At least, that's what I think.  The boys clearly have other ideas and after I have asked them to put on their shoes a million times (and we have had a small compromise over which shoes will be worn - it's the end of the summer term and my standards are slipping extremely low), we can finally leave the house.

I breathe a sigh of relief.  We have conquered yet another morning.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Whose Job? And How? Part 1

I've had lots of lovely comments after my previous blog about our role as parents discipling our children. Afterwards though, I realised that it's all very well to preach away about whose job it is, but it might be helpful to provide some practical application so that we know how to do it! So, today's blog is the first part in the 'how'. And be prepared, it's not what you might expect.

Last weekend, my husband's job took him to an activity weekend with the charity 'Care for the Family' for parents and their children. On the first morning, they all went canoeing. My husband likes to think he is a bit of a pro and whilst everyone else went in canoes with four people, he persuaded the instructors that he was very competent and decided to 'go it alone'. Of course, this left him open to 'attack' and when it came (in the form of a friend pulling at ropes around his canoe)and he tried to sort it out, his canoe capsized and he fell in (much to the amusement of everyone else, I imagine). According to him, it wasn't his fault. Perhaps not, but if he hadn't been so macho and gone with others, it might never have happened!

And what is the point of this story (other than to laugh at him - which is always a good ending to a story)? The point is that when we try to 'go it alone', we fail. If we want to be the best parents we can be, we need to admit our weaknesses and ask for help. This is so very hard to do in our culture today when the competition for 'who can be the best parent' is ever knocking at our door, but if we don't let our defences down then when attack comes (in the form of a difficult day with the kids or at work, or a particular issue with our child) then we will capsize.

Who do we ask for help?

First and foremost, we need to ask our Father in heaven. As we parent our children, He Fathers us and He is the fount of all wisdom and grace when it comes to parenting. He has the best ideas and can inspire us with them. He gives us strength and energy when we feel like we have nothing left. We can be weak because He is strong. When we make mistakes we can come to Him and find His grace, and then carry on in the knowledge that He is with us. He is enough for us. As David in the bible says, He is our portion - just enough for all we need.

Secondly we need to be part of a community. We weren't made to be on our own. In the past, families lived close to one another and enjoyed the benefits of relationships with older and younger relatives. Family wasn't the two adults and two children locked away in different rooms watching different screens. It was enjoyment of one another, support from each other and time well spent together. Whilst we often no longer have that in our society, the church is the perfect 'replacement' for family. In the church we find people different to us who can offer us community. Our children may find surrogate Grandparents, Uncles, Aunties and cousins. We can find support from those who have walked our path before us. When our oldest boys were smaller, we were so very blessed to have a couple in our church who had grown up children who looked after us and supported us in our exhausted state. We will never be able to repay them for what they did for us, but they became such an important part of our family. If we never admit our weaknesses to others, they will never know our need for help.

We can't do it on our own. We need those around us and most importantly we need our Father in heaven. When we depend on Him and bring our family to Him, asking for his help and strength, we are modelling to our children their need for Him and for the community around them. We need to show them this otherwise, in their 'know-it-all' state, they will get in the canoe alone and will be in the perfect position for capsizing. Teaching them to go to God for all they need, even admitting their failures and weaknesses, is the most important lesson we can give to our children. We must model this to them, and I promise, it is the better way.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Whose Job?

I love serving the children in our church. I love the way they ask questions that adults would be too embarrassed to ask. I love their simple acceptance and faith. And I love the way they snigger about burps and farts one minute, and then pray the most eloquent prayers you will ever hear the next. They are inspiring, refreshing and harder to please than the average adult who sits in a sermon. Sometimes I learn more when I am with the kids than I do when I'm listening to a preach (If you are one of those who preaches in my church, sorry, but it's true!).

But 'Sunday school', 'kids club' or anything else you want to call it, whilst beneficial and a lot of fun, is not actually where our children grow in their faith. It's not the responsibility of the children's worker to teach our kids about God, it's ours.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say 'Children's workers, thou shalt take on the burden for growing the children in your groups to be followers of Jesus'. In fact, in Bible times, Children's workers didn't even exist!

Rather, we as parents are told to impress these truths on our children. "Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deuteronomy 6). I think God knew that children aren't very good at listening when they are sitting still. That's why He suggests that we just bring truth into everything we do. We can walk to school and chat about God. We can eat a meal and discuss spiritual truths. We can think about what it means to follow Jesus when we lie down at night. This isn't the job of a Children's worker, it's the job for a parent.

It's our job to disciple our children. It's our privilege to introduce them to Jesus. It is our role to model following Him. If we don't do this, our kids will never know how to work out their faith in real life. If we don't admit mistakes or ask God for help in front of our children, they will never know that it's ok to show weakness. If we don't actively feed ourselves on God's word, our children will find unsatisfactory nourishment from elsewhere. If we are not full of the Holy Spirit, and teaching our children of their need for Him, they will not be all they can be in God. If we are not passionate about making disciples of others, and being people who will 'go' then our children will settle for less than they were made for. If we don't introduce our tweens and teens to wholesome and inspirational role models, they will look up to those who do not have the same values as us. Raising children is one of the most challenging environments to live out our faith in. They watch everything we do and hear everything we say. Scary, but true.

This is possibly the most important thing we will ever do in our lives. Let's not make excuses or pass the buck anymore. Let's 'man up' and serve our church and our community by raising radical disciples of Jesus who will follow Him whatever the cost.

Monday, 10 June 2013


One of our most memorable family moments, retold again and again, is our jet boat ride off the coast of Pembrokeshire. Fitted with life-jackets, we clambered into the boat and set off around various islands to spot seals. Much to the boys delight, and my terror, the boat driver decided to make it a more interesting trip by speeding into the open waters, circling round in 'doughnuts' so that the boat tipped up and bumping through crashing waves. Every time the boys re-tell the story, they laugh at my screams to them of 'HOLD ON!!!'. It really was terrifying (for me). But the worst of any ride in a boat for me is stepping on and off the side. Despite my utter relief at the end of the trip, I still had to make that climb off the boat.

Peter, in the bible, stepped off a boat too. His was a step of faith as he saw his friend Jesus walking on top of the water towards him. But as Peter decided to take the step, what did the others inside the boat feel? The boat was already being buffeted by the winds and Peter was about to make it a whole lot worse by stepping onto the side. You can't climb out of a boat without first putting your weight onto the side. When you do this, the boat rocks. It becomes unsteady until you are over the other side. What happened in that fishing boat, the moment the Peter stepped into the side? What did the fishermen shout to him? We will never know, but I can imagine that they were horrified that he was not only putting his own life in danger but theirs too as he rocked that already unsteady boat.

Sometimes taking a step of faith means we have to rock the boat. Peter cared about his friends, but he also knew that obeying his Master was of greater importance. Peter rocked that boat, and perhaps the faith of his fellow fisherman, by stepping out but the end result was that everyone in the boat worshipped Jesus and knew he was the Son of God.

How much are we willing to be boat-rockers in order to move ourselves and others forward in our faith? When we know that we must obey our Master, but everyone else in our boat is shouting at us to stop, what do we do? We fix our eyes on Him and we take that step. We wobble and we face uncertainty, but we put our faith in the One who has called us. We step out into the unknown in the knowledge that rocking the boat, whilst only the beginning of the journey, will bring about much-needed change in our lives and the lives of those around us.

Thursday, 6 June 2013


Today was supposed to be a writing day. The only problem is that I can't think of anything to write. I know, it's hard to believe.

Last week I had two rejections. I tried to stay positive, but I'd worked really hard on those pieces and given alot of time to them. Now, when I try to write again, I just see all the brilliant articles that are out there already and all the wonderfully skilled and talented writers and wonder if I will ever have a 'breakthrough moment' like they've had.

And this is where the joy-stealing enemy 'Comparison' comes marching on in.

I should be pleased. I've had three articles published this year. But I'm not satisfied because other people are writing the things that I want to write. And, very irritatingly, they are doing a good job of it too. If I could put their smugly perfect one-liners and those heart sinking 'no thank-you' emails to the back of my mind, I might be able to focus. But I can't.

Why do we do this to ourselves? It doesn't matter what it is. Maybe there is someone whose children willingly eat five portions of fruit and veg a day. Perhaps you know a perfect mother whose baby sleeps all night (or so they say). Or it could be one of those families who doesnt face a screen battle every hour of every day. Maybe you are a working mum who would like to stay at home, or vice versa. Or do you race around attempting to keep your children sitting still in church while other families seem to have waxwork children? Whatever situation we find ourselves in, we manage to find someone who is doing it better than us.

Comparison robs us of our confidence in our own ability and contentment in our situation.

And so, I battle through the fog of 'everyone else' being better than me and hope that soon enough I will come out the other side in bright daylight.

Or, perhaps it's just me. Maybe none of you compare yourselves at all.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

You've Been Framed and Why I'm Not Banning Scooters

It's been an interesting couple of days in our household. Yesterday morning I dispatched the two biggest boys off to the skate park with their scooters and prepared to join them with Jonah later on. I arrived to find a wailing Max, blood pouring out of his finger and an anxious big brother. To cut a very long story short (which I know you will appreciate), he had a very mangled finger which required surgery. Last night, I watched my boy falling asleep in record time (could do with that at bedtime most nights) and then left him in the hands of the surgeons. It was a long, exhausting day of trying to keep calm when everything in me wanted to scream, cry, cuddle him and tell him off for being so silly all at the same time.

Later on, I discovered the reason for the accident. When Max told me the story, he helpfully omitted the part in which they had decided to practice stunts to send in to You've Been Framed. Apparently Toby had his camera with him and they were about to film, when the inevitable happened. Words fail me, they really do. (And this will come as a surprise to you, I'm sure.) Perhaps one day we'll be able to laugh about it, but not today.

And so, it led me to thinking about our adventure-fuelled lifestyle and the 'risks' we allow our boys to take. With the hours of waiting and wittering (from Max) in the hospital, I had plenty of time to question myself. Have we made mistakes? (Plenty) Is it right to let them climb so high up in trees that the branches sway? Should I have let them go to the skate park without me yesterday? Should we sell the scooters and the trampoline? Is it time to rein in the risks and wrap them up a bit more?

I thought long and hard yesterday. When I held in my tears whilst locking eyes with Max while he was being put to sleep, I wondered if we had just let things go too far. How could I let this happen to my boy? Surely my job is to protect him and shelter him.

But then I realised that, for our family, adventure is what we do. Although I am hoping this accident might have just instilled a healthy fear in Max (he has previously had absolutely none), I am resolutely not going to sell the scooters. My job isn't just to protect them, it's to bring out the best in them. My role is to promote courage when life is scary and to be their encourager from the sidelines. I can't hold them back and suffocate them in cotton wool just because I don't want to see them hurt. I have to teach them how to deal with that pain; whether it is a mangled little finger, a broken foot or a broken heart. It wouldn't be fair of me to send them out into the big, wide world without preparing them for this and although it is one of the most difficult things for a mum to watch, it is my job. I need to equip them to know what to do when things go wrong (and yesterday, Toby did exactly the right thing and for that, I was extremely proud of him). I have to cheer them on and shout 'yes!' when everyone else is shouting 'no!'. I am not going to give up in my quest for courageous young men, and it starts with scooters, trampolines and trees.

And so, You've Been Framed filming or not, the scooters will not be banned. The skate park, the bike rides, the trampoline stunts, the tall trees and the murky ponds will still be regular haunts for our family while we teach and train our boys for life. It's a risk I'm prepared to take.