Parenting

Keep Growing

I was reading a story I wrote a few years ago and wanted to share it with you. Although the setting was for leadership teams, I believe everyone is a leader in one way or another. A mom leads her children, a dad leads in his job. A woman leads by the example she sets for her neighbors, a young adult leads by holding back words they think but don’t say. In life, you are either a leader or a follower. Let me encourage you to be both. Enjoy this story today and be thinking about what areas of your life you are a leader. -Jennifer

I read an article on Leadership Freak by Dan Rockwell the other day talking about growth. Here is what it said, “Growth isn’t an accident. We grow on purpose or not at all. You’re stuck if you can’t identify the leadership behavior you’re developing today. If you can’t describe it, it isn’t happening.”

I think of how many times in my day and week I am just making it through. I am not aiming to grow, develop or invest in myself.  Dan’s words ring true to me today. If I am not intentional about growth, it won’t happen.  It is a simple concept and yet difficult to do at times. It is much easier to lead and develop others than it is yourself. I can think of several areas of my life right now that could use some tlc. How about you?  Are you growing in your leadership or just leading others?  

Here are a few of my personal favorite ways to invest in my own leadership:

  • Figure out who your favorite authors are on leadership and read.
  • Follow a blog or two on leadership.
  • Attend a local leadership conference.
  • Take advantage of any church conferences on leadership in your area.
  • Seek out a mentor to meet with periodically who can be honest with you and give input into your leadership.
  • Spend time with your closest circle of friends. Getting to know them and learning from them is a great way to grow your leadership. Let your friends push you and challenge you in new ways to grow. 

I am sure there are many more ways but these are just a few to get your mind thinking. You are a mighty force as is, but can you imagine all God could do if you continue to grow our leadership skills?  Praying for you today as you lead others and take time to invest in your own leadership. 

Living day to day-

Jennifer


Parent.Teacher.Conference

If you have kids, you are familiar with the phrase “Parent Teacher Conference”. You get a note home or an email asking when your preferred time to meet is within a few days they have set aside. You make your first, second and third choice. It is probably me, but they never were at a convenient time. Either way, I juggled after school activities with taking off work early to go by and hear about how well or not my kid was doing. This year is different and I couldn’t be more happy. I’ll explain in a moment.

At this point in my life, I’ve been eligable to attend for 17 years in a row. Let me pause for a minute to make sure and clarify (because we have to do that in todays society). I am very much a supporter of my kids teachers. I homeschooled a couple of times in my life with our oldest two and have the most respect for them. I believe they are underpaid and overworked. I think they have less of a voice in the system and still SHOW UP FOR WORK. I couldn’t do it and am so thankful they do.

Now, let me also say, parent teacher conference has always been a dreaded time for me. Not because I didn’t want to talk to the teacher, but because I never knew what I would need to hear. Some people call this a pessimist but I call it a realist. I really believe my kiddos are human. I believe they aren’t perfect and that neither am I. I also believe that learning to be kind, compassionate, Jesus followers trumps an ACT score. Do I want them to do well academically? Yes, of course. But to the detriment of their emotional health and confidence, no.

To me, each of my kids is different. That is good and that is how God made them. I want to celebrate and advocate for them to be who God made them to be.

A few years ago one of the twins, Izzy, had a teacher who was great at communicating with us but seemed more pressured or worried about test scores than we were. We had already been down a long road with Izzy. A story for another time but here we were with a diagnosis of Tourettes and always feeling the need to explain our child to every teacher and coach. We tried to send a letter and make note when we meet teachers at the beginning of each year. We also check in during these Parent Teacher Conferences to see how she’s doing with her peers. This one particular year though I had my last nerve pinched. I try really hard to be as compassionate and passive as I can but I was out of those words and had to lay out my honest feelings with this teacher. I debated sharing this but feel it’s part of me being vulnerable and also hoping to give encouragement to other moms out there just trying to do their best for their child. Here is what I sent the teacher after she requested her sixth parent teacher conference with me that year…..(name has been changed)

Thank you Ms. Smith for the update. We do want to be made aware when Izzy is not completing assigned tasks.


With that said, we believe at the beginning of the year we tried to set you up with information that would help you understand Izzy and who she is. Compared to most of the children in your classroom, she has probably had the most early intervention and testing for diagnosing her syndrome. She’s had special education therapy’s in preschool, been tested multiple times in elementary and diagnosed with Tourette’s after two years of trial and error on different medications. We have been told she is average (from her tests).  We are okay with that.  We understand as a teacher you want the best for your students and for them to achieve the highest marks on tests and be able to learn the maximum amount required by the state in a year. We want the same for Izzy.  But what we want more is for her to be compassionate, humble, kind and respectful. We have worked very hard over the years to turn a very upset and frustrated child into who she is today. In fact, most people would not even realize she has overcome so much unless they have known her over the years. We see this but realize you have not had the opportunity too. We like to focus on her progress more than what she isn’t doing well. She responds much better to “catching her doing good” verses pointing out what she is lacking in. Does this mean we don’t have consequences? No. In fact, we try to be as consistent with discipline for the things we are aware of such as your email today.  She has consequences for not doing her homework and loses privileges. There are times Ryan and I are passing with our work schedules and may not be following up daily with signing her reading log. Ryan is in Little Rock serving on the Arkansas Board of Examiners in Counseling this week. I fly out for work next week.  We do our best but may not always check all the boxes with every child if they do not initiate it. At this point in her life, we are not concerned about her ability to be a successful student even if it’s just “average”. Could she do better having us sign a reading log? Yes, but we are not sure having a sixth meeting this year is going to be productive for either of us. If you feel she is lacking in a way that is holding her back from learning, then we suggest meeting with the principal to discuss our options.   

Sincerely,
Ryan and Jennifer Martin

I will admit this isn’t how I would prefer or have ever since addressed a teacher. But I know my child and I know what limits she can handle.

This brings me back to this weeks Parent Teacher Conference requests. Now that the twins are in junior high, I have 12 teachers that have sent me their google sign up sheets. And for the first time I have been able to reply that my husband and I will be out of town visiting our daughter at college during that week. So far all of them have said have a good time and the twins are doing great. Praise Jesus! This doesn’t mean I’ll be skipping out of them in the future but it does mean that right now, my kids are doing okay. They are thriving in a world that has been very chaotic this year and loving school. This is largely in part because of great teachers. Izzy is now old enough she took over the role of sharing this year with each of her teachers about her Tourettes. I can’t tell you how proud I am of her and how kind and receptive her teachers have been. I expect there are still bumps ahead but I am celebrating where we are now and a little victory dance for a well scheduled college visit.

God gave us the kids we have. Each of them with all their differences. I have doubts at times I am the best mom for Izzy. But God reminds me over and over He chose me to be her mom. Do you have a child that tests you or has an obstacle they may need to overcome for life? Guess what? God chose you to be their mom. These kids of ours shape up and grow us far past the first 18 years. Let them. Let them grow us and shape us into who God wants us to be. And along the way, tell someone else they are doing a great job. I promise, we all need to hear it.

Living Day to Day-

Jennifer


Four Losses

I’m 1 in 8 and 1 in 4.  Something I don’t think about daily anymore.  It was something I thought about hourly for a while. This week I have seen so much awareness for infertility and infant loss.  Something I am very familiar with. Some details have faded but the memory of the feelings don’t.  My first miscarriage came after we had our first child Morgan. New Year’s day I went to the hospital in immense pain knowing I was pregnant. I quickly learned the pregnancy was ectopic and had ruptured in my tube. I was rushed to surgery and in a blur was released the same day to go home. Three hundred and 364 days later, Katie was born. I’m not lost on the timing or the way this part of my year was bookended. What started with the greatest loss in my life at this point, ended with one of the greatest joys.

After we had Katie, we needed a break. She was spit fire and 100% energy. When we did decide to try for one more, we instead lost three in a row. Crushing blow after blow. To complicate the whole thing we almost always had to use fertility drugs to get pregnant. The routine had become familiar but the emotional rollercoaster was draining and expensive. When I had lost all hope, Ryan said, “let’s try one more time”. My reply was, “you better make it a good one”, too which we now see the results of our twins, Gabby and Izzy.

A big part of my story after I had Katie was finding like minded friends. Moms in the same season, going through the same thing. None of us had it all figured out but we were doing our best or wanting to do our best. Those friends in that season were the hands and feet of Jesus for me. They jumped in with flowers and meals during those losses. They knew I would be sad and loved me anyway.  Their company was a soft place to fall when everything else around me seemed to be spinning. Those women knew me and my desire to have more children and walked the journey with me.

We each have a story about how we became a mom and the variations are all different. Being a mom in and of itself is a binding factor. It might be through adoption, through In vitro, through a surrogate or all natural childbirth. Mine included an ambulance ride, emergency c-sections and long stays in hospitals. (That’s the part I leave out when talking to a pregnant mommy!) But it is all what makes us a mom. The joy, the pain, the love and the loss.

You have a story too. One day God might place on your heart to share your story in just the right moment when a friend needs help and encouragement. How to love someone through loss is hard, but what an opportunity you have to love and minister to someone who doesn’t know Jesus or the hope he can bring them. They just might need a little help learning how to share their story too.

Reflecting day to day-

Jennifer


Pause and think twice

Remember when I told you all about our drop off for college kid #2 this year? (See: 1000 miles) Okay, it really was only two weeks ago. As I was sitting down to continue discussing parenting adult kids and actually answering the questions I posted last week, the phone dinged. As it has gone the last two weeks, I hear from Katie most mornings. It’s usually a quick chat as she goes to class or grabs breakfast. This was different. Whether it’s distance, change, loneliness or just plain not feeling well, she was more down. As with any time one of our kids call, we have options.

First, let me just go back to last weeks blog post. (See: Control or Influence) Did you catch last week how I really didn’t give any practical advice on parenting adult kids? I gave one of the keys that gives us the ability to parent them, influence and trust. You may have been left scratching your head and thinking, this wasn’t helpful at all! I believe a foundation is always necessary to build anything of substance. The beauty of relationships is it’s never too late to invest in them and to build or rebuild upon the foundation. Now before we get too much further into this story, let me just say, I have not gotten it all right. In fact I have missed the mark in parenting and how I’ve handled situations with my adult kids more times than I like to admit. It gives me though the first piece of advice I would give anyone for their kids.

Tell your kids how you’ve messed up or missed the mark.

I feel like I have built more credibility by admitting my shortcomings and failures and asking them for forgiveness. I don’t do it often enough and if our kids (and us) can’t learn from them, then what is the point? This requires sometimes we share with our kids the less flattering sides of ourselves. Now this doesn’t mean you dig up all the dirt you can and have a uncomfortable conversation but try to remember what it was like when you were their age and use your experiences to share in God given moments.

This brings me back to today and college kid #2. Following a few texts we got the phone call. If you have ever sent your kid to college you probably know the call I’m talking about. It’s not the “I can’t find my class” or “Where do I wash my clothes?”, it was the tone of her voice and what wasn’t said.

Immediately, I made myself pause and think twice.

More than anything, brains or beauty, I want and prayed my kids would love Jesus, follow His will for their lives and be kind. I want them to work hard and have compassion. I want them to be independent but humble enough to accept help. When Morgan went to college I knew I would need to back off and be quiet. Encourage her, yes, and even give her a nudge once in a while. She swam since she was 8 years old so her transition to college included being on the swim team. For me, that meant I knew she would have an instant group of friends. She would have routine and be busy enough to keep her going through the adjustment of going away. Or so I thought. She called crying over FaceTime several times a week. Who created that anyway? SOOOO painful to see her cry so much and watch her struggle. And that’s what we did. We didn’t call her, we waited. And when she did call, we watched and listened. Sure we would encourage her to hang in there and tell her it would be okay but we didn’t go rescue her. I always paused and thought twice before and during our conversations. Why? Because I am a fixer. I want to rescue you from danger (or anything perceived as such) and make things all better. There were even times (sorry Morgan) that I didn’t answer the phone and handed it to my husband Ryan. It was so hard on my momma heart.

Three years later and here I am again. Katie’s on the other side of the phone and I paused and thought twice. I suggested a walk and Starbucks (because doesn’t that make everything better?) but I held back asking leading questions like “are you unhappy” or “do you want to come home”.

My job now as a parent is to let my kids live their lives. Encouraging them while pausing long enough to think twice before I speak to them. Am I telling them what I want them to do or am I guiding them to help them make the best decisions for their lives?

Our kids know how we would answer most questions. Sometimes they are looking for an out and other times they need us to parent them in a way that encourages their independence and affirms what feels so daring to them in that moment.

Build a foundation of influence and trust, admitting and apologizing when you make mistakes, and pausing to think twice. For anyone sending off their kids to college, these are the lessons I’ve learned and things that have helped me to along the way.

Living day to day-

Jennifer


Are you trying to control or influence?

Parenting adult kids. Those three words together seems a little odd. Parenting kids, yeah, that makes total sense. Parenting adults, not so much. I mean, how much can you really control when your child turns 18 and goes off into the world?

I’m in this in between season of having two kids leave the nest, so to speak, and two who I’m still buckling up for the teenage years. There is a little bit of common sense in parenting adult kids and then there is a whole lot of questions that begin with “how much”.

How much to do you call them once you’ve dropped them off at college? How much advice do you give them? How much do you still ask where they are and if they are making good choices?

I had so many of these when my first, Morgan, went to school. Bless her, she’s the firstborn and who I called our experimental child. Everything we did first and right, we did with her. Everything we did first and wrong……we did with her. So as I found myself navigating questions like, “Did we do enough to prepare her?” and “Is she ready?”, what I really was saying, was, I don’t feel like I did enough and I’m not ready. Can anyone else relate?

I asked the question at the beginning, how much can you really control when your child goes off into the world? Let’s just clear something up, it’s not really about control. I’ve learned this year in a big way, I have control issues. In January I did a 30 day fast and focused my prayer on what I felt God needed me to work on that was keeping me from him. Funny thing about God, if you ask and listen, he will answer. Over and over, he said I needed to work on control. What I have learned is it’s an illusion. The more I try to grasp control, the more I realize it’s not something I can attain. There’s not an end to the hunt and pursuit. The more I tried to gain control in my marriage, my parenting and even launching my adult kids, the more I realized it was crippling me with anxiety and fear.

So if it’s not about control, you might be asking what it is about? It’s about influence. We can’t control our kids but we can have influence. We have 18 years to lay a foundation of trust with our kids. That foundation opens the door and gives us the ability to speak into our kids lives when they become adults. If you can build trust and grow your influence, you don’t need the illusion of control. Guide them, yes. Give them advice when they ask, yes, and continue to teach them when needed but not control. And while every child tests the waters (some more than others), some are known to test them when they launch. Listening to their parents may seem….optional for a season. Some do, some don’t and some will test their new independence by departing from you not just physically but emotionally. I wish I could say one size fits all but kids are not cookie cutter. They are each different in the way they respond and spread their wings no matter if you think you parented them in the same way. See what I said there? We want to believe we are parenting each child equally and the same but because our kids are different, often times we parent them accordingly. Our personalities either do or don’t mesh all the time and they will or won’t flourish how we think they should. While I can’t control my kids, I can pray for them, I can talk to them and more importantly listen to them. One of the biggest ways I learned how to parent adult kids and develop my influence with them was watching and learning from those who have gone before me.

I learned to listen to wise women but not listen to everyone.

I think that last sentence has shaped not only my parenting but every aspect of my life. You can read all the books, listen to all the podcasts and talk to every girlfriend but often end up as confused and frustrated as when you began. You only need to sit by the feet of those who have shown they are modeling what you are looking for. Pray for discernment and then use it when God gives it to you. Choose wisely whom you will glean from. While most people are very well intended they don’t know your child like you do. God loves relationship and puts people in our lives for a reason. They are there to help us walk this road and to show us what it’s like to live through the defeats and celebrate the victories. I believe we all need a few good women that allow us to come along for the ups as well as the downs in parenting.

Oh how I wish someone had told me years ago to work on parenting with the mindset of building trust and influence. There’s a window of time in your kids lives where you want to give them room to make mistakes but it be under your roof. You want to start letting go without giving up on them. You need to speak to them, and often but at the same time listen, with your heart. Parenting is not for the faint at heart and neither is sending them off into the world.

While I’m not an expert and still have two to launch, I am learning. I am also thankful for the wise women in my life whom have shaped my parenting and helped me build influence in my kids lives. If you are looking for and need women in your life to help shape your parenting and influence, I encourage you to start with one step. Pray. Ask God to put into your life those whom are the best for you to watch and learn.

Living day to day-

Jennifer


1000 miles

I wasn’t ready to let go.

Three years ago we took a short drive three hours from our home and dropped off our oldest, Morgan, at college. Since this was pre-covid, there were plenty of college kids there to welcome, distract and immediately plug Morgan in. She was going to the university my husband and I met at so there was comfort in knowing the school, the town and even friends who still lived there. While it was hard to leave her, she was close and I knew her surroundings.

Jump forward three years and here I am again. The original plan for our second daughter Katie and her first choice school was to be five hours from home. This changed when God said, nope, not going to happen. I say it was God because we did all we could humanly possible to make it happen for her. So into this summer we found ourselves shifting……to 1000 miles away. Let me spell that our further. It’s a 17 hour drive. Two days of caravanning across the country with packed cars. This kid isn’t going to have the luxury of driving home on a weekend. She’s going to settling in for 12 weeks.

While in my mind I have known the distance, the length of how long she’ll be gone, it really didn’t hit me until the day before we left. As we were all sitting at church in one long row and eating lunch afterwards, I thought, this was it. All six of us together again won’t happen for a little while.

Each child is different in personally, resiliency and interests. Katie is no different. She’s strong, independent and knows what she likes and wants in life. All these traits made me think this was going to be easier than Morgan. While Morgan was ready, I wasn’t as confident as a parent. This time I thought it would be different.

Thanks to covid, everything feels “off”. Not only is Katie going far away, the day we moved her in her dorm this week was the first time we had been in the city or stepped foot on the campus. Ever. Everything is new, we didn’t know our way around and all I could think was, this is a big mistake. I probably shouldn’t say that out loud but I’m sure I’m not the first or last parent to have these emotions and thoughts. I kept thinking, what have we done? What are we doing? There’s still time to pack her back up and bring her home.

Don’t worry, we didn’t do that. Instead we decorated her room, made a trip to Walmart for all the things she needed/wanted and said “see ya soon”. Yes I cried but by then both Katie and I felt better about it. Her confidence was reassuring and her smile let me know it would all be okay.

I’m pretty sure going to college is harder on the parents in some ways than the kids. Have we done enough to prepare her? Is she going to be safe and okay?

Here’s the deal, she’s never been mine. At least not completely. She’s a gift. A gift from God that He allowed for me to take care these past 18 years. I dedicated her to Him and as much as I love her, there is someone who cares even more for her. Trusting in that is the only and best thing I can do right now. God has been teaching me lately that I am not in control. I try. Really hard. But ultimately when I surrender and let God lead the way, things always turn out the best. So today I am reminded that though 1000 miles seems far away, Katie is never without the Lord. He is with her always. To guide her, comfort her and direct her if she chooses herself to trust Him and give Him control.

Living day to day-

Jennifer

P.S. I may have already planned a trip to see Katie during parents weekend. 9 weeks and counting…