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Parents Addicted to Technology: Guilty as charged

The other night after dinner when all the kids scattered in their various directions, I grabbed my cell phone to do a quick check of email. One email sends me to a website and that website sends me to twitter which sends me to another website and then of course, I have to do a quick Facebook check-in. You never know who might have “liked” my status updates. You know what I mean, don’t you?

 Then, my 11-year-old walks back into the room, but before he arrives; I quickly click off my phone, placing it down as I move toward to kitchen to start doing the dishes. DSC_0028 - Version 2

 As if I had been caught doing something wrong, my sixth grade son says to me, “You just put away your phone when I walked into the room, didn’t you? I heard you shut it off.”

DSC_0021 - Version 2Man, I had been had for sure. It’s like he knew I was indeed feeling guilty for being on my phone.

But what was my offense? Checking email? Texting? Facebooking? Tweeting? Reading something online? Why was I feeling guilty?

 I think because I really feel this technological device has become addictive to me, and that we as parents need to learn to shut off our electronics and be fully present with our children. The very bit of advice we are always drilling into our kids. Indeed, it’s not just kids who have the problem, but it’s adults.

I am six-months new to the I-phone-internet-at-your-finger-tips phenomenon. I seemed to be one of the last holdouts to this plugged-in-every-moment generation. Before I broke down and took the financial nosedive to own the I-Phone 5, I never quite understood how people could constantly be checking email and hanging out on the internet and posting on Facebook and twitter from their phones.

I’d mutter to myself, deep down, as I silently judged: “Can’t it just wait and who cares that you are in Starbucks getting a double macchiato with soy milk.”

But, now I am one of them and I see where it is so addictive.

I’ve always been a news and information junky since growing up in southeast Portland with Good Morning America during breakfast and the Wall Street Journal on our doorstep and the Evening News with Walter Cronkite while my mom was making dinner. And, now as a freelance journalist, news and information continue to be my world.

Yet, I also recognize that there has to be a limit, somehow.

Being on our electronic devices, updating our status and replying immediately to texts and emails can be annoying to those who are in our presence. Live. In real time.

Especially our children.

I think kids can feel lonely and alone and separate while in the company of their friends and parents and other adults as each is individually on their electronic devices.

So, I made a vow to myself to not be on the computer or my cell phone when my children walk in the door after coming home from school. All three of my children who are still at home are involved in sports so they do not get home from school until after 5 pm as it is. It’s important for them to know that I am fully present with them just as much as I insist on them being fully present with me — and off their cell phones — during key moments at home, like at dinnertime and in the car.  DSC_0010 - Version 2

We all need to have people’s full attention, and that is just not possible when people are staring at their screens 24/7, with the world at their fingertips.

My husband works as an engineer, and during a recent work meeting he noticed that many others who were at that meeting were looking down at their phones; he told me that at one point, the person who was running the meeting got fed up and politely but firmly asked everyone to please put their phones away.  

One writing friend of mine who is in her mid 20’s asks her friends, when she invites them over for dinner, to put their phones in a basket so they will not be distracted.

Our phones are just too addictive.

At my high school aged twin sons’ recent Back-to-School night, the parents of students had the chance to meet their children’s teachers and to hear a bit about what is going on in each of their classes.

Interestingly, my twins’ Advanced Placement English Composition teacher, Mr. West, before he began his course presentation, jokingly but actually quite seriously said to the group of parents gathered, “Okay, So, who’s got their phones out right now? Please hold them up.”

There was a bit of a chuckle as we all looked around and began guiltily raising our cell phones up in the air, as if we had been “had.” Man, I’d been had once by my 11-year-old and now by my 16-year-old twins!

My sons’ teacher then explained the background of those instructions. DSC_0013 - Version 2

“My students — your children — told me that you would all have your cell phones out tonight and that you might be distracted with them during this time that we are together, and so they told me to ask you to put your phones away.”

Wow, do our kids know us too well, or what? Our kids see our addiction to technology.

So, with us parents holding up our phones, Mr. West then said, “Okay, now we need to do just that, all turn our phones off and put them away while I share with you the curriculum of your child’s Advanced Placement Composition class.”

All the parents in the presentation that Mr. West gave listened and shut their phones off as they put them away while smiling just a bit.

Kids! Got to love them. Indeed, they see through us and are point-blank honest.

May we listen to their wisdom.

 Which they probably gleaned from us.

Posted in balance, Children, Communication, Community, Culture, Family Life, Kids, Life, Live the Questions, Moms, Motherhood, Parenting, Real LIfe, Real-Life Mom column, Real-Life Mom column - The Oregonian, Teaching Moments, Technology, Technology Free, West Linn, Writing.

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God was a perfect parent and look what happened with his kids

I met with two long time friends of mine, a husband and wife, this week; they’ve been mentors to me and my husband since we were in college where we met through the university ministry CRU. I love it when mentors become friends which is the case with these two. They have three daughters in their 20’s. The two older daughters are doing really well. One earned her accounting degree, met a cute boy and is now married and working in town. They go to church and hang out with their parents and do good. The other daughter finished her degree as well, and works for a non-profit; she’s also gone on mission trips, rescuing girls out of sex trafficking, and is very much in touch with her parents and a wonderful giving person.

The third and youngest daughter is a spirited girl, very outside the box which is such a fun trait. She’s always been eclectic and down-to-earth, and she never seemed to fit in with the usual crowds. I can relate as can so many people. This youngest girl tried to find a place of belonging,  IMG_1461she reached out and her parents reached out to help connect her with some good kids.

But, inevitably, this youngest daughter of my friends found community in a different kind of group. A group of friends who had time. Friends who made the time. For this sweet girl, those were the outsiders. This happened not just at school but at church and in other social settings. This sweet girl struggled in school and she began making friendship choices that took her to difficult places in life. Now, my dear friends do not see their youngest daughter and it is so very painful.

It is hard to watch your child go down a path that you know is not the best. You do everything you can as a parent. You love your kids, you provide for your children, you pray with them and for them, you read to them, you take them to church, you coach their soccer teams, you have coffee with the other moms and dads to be a part of other families as a way to make sure your own child is connecting. You try to help them connect, to fit in, to be a part of a positive community. You make dinners and share meals around the family table, you take them to church, you tell them you love them IMG_8242 - Version 2and go on vacations with them and you pray your heart out for them. You try to be available for them, to care for them, to write them cards and notes and throw birthday parties for them to make sure they know you love them. And you connect them with their grandparents and extended family so they realize they have roots, so that even when the world caves in on them, they have family.

And when your child still chooses a different difficult path, you are devastated. You weep, you mourn, you pray, you beg God, you ask yourself, what did I do wrong? You trust and believe your prodigal will come back. They have to come back, you say to yourself.

And you ask yourself, “What could we have done differently?” This question haunts my friends.

I think to myself, as I look at my dear friends, my mentors, and I think, absolutely nothing. You are amazing people, wonderful parents, loving parents. You’ve provided a stable home, you’ve given up so much for your kid, you are fabulous. You are in ministry, you’ve given your life to minister to others and to your children. You’ve done all of those things that  DSC_0323make for good parenting and being amazing people in the community. You’ve been there for your children in 100 million little ways. And most importantly, you’ve given them your heart.

Then, something occurs to me. I think of God. I think of how we know He is perfect and has always been perfect. That’s why He is God. And, when he formed the first person out of the dust of the earth we walk on, that first person and the second person, whom God formed out of the first person, eventually both made bad decisions.

So, I ask moms and dads whose kids have had a difficult time, who have chosen a difficult path, who’s the most perfect parent in the whole wide world?

And it takes them a while sometimes, but they finally get my question and they will answer, God.

And then I will note that God’s first human creation, his son, the first human that was created, messed up the world big time. For the rest of us. Adam and Eve. And, Adam and Eve’s children messed up even more. Their twin sons, Cain and Abel. One twin murdering another.

I have another long time friend and she’s struggled with her teenage kids and she shares regrets and “wish I would’ve” and “if only’s” and “what did I do wrongs” with me as well. And, while I think it is always good to be introspective about our lives and parenting patterns, to know that we can do things differently from a certain point onward; but, when our children get to a certain point in their lives and have made particular choices and are on a certain, perhaps difficult path, we have to sometimes let go. At least for a while, until they come back.

And to remember, that we cannot always pinpoint an exact moment when a child decides to travel a certain path. They have free will,  just like God gave to us.

I remind my friends and myself, that the best parent in the whole wide world did not mess up at all. God was, is, and continues to be perfect. He’s the perfect parent. I know he was heart-broken to see his child — children — mess up and He continues to be heart-broken with humanity. But he continues to love us as well.

I think of the parable of the Lost Son in the Bible.

One of the sons in this story wants his inheritance early on, but then squanders it and he comes crawling back to his father. The father, I am sure, has regrets and questions his own parenting practices, and wonders if he should have given his son the money. But, none of those questions come up. Instead, the father receives the fallen son back, and lavishes his love on his son, fully accepting him for where he is. Grace to the core.

I think in the end, as a parent, you do everything you can to raise your children right. You love, you nurture, you pray, you provide, you cherish. And, then, you entrust your children to God. If they choose a certain path, you don’t brag or pat yourself on the back. You just give thanks to God. And, if your children choose a different path,  that might be difficult or destructive, you don’t beat yourself up either. Instead, you continue to love your child.

There are times when we do realize that we should have done something differently in a particular moment. It can happen in a blink, in a moment, in a setting. Maybe we yelled when our child spilled their milk, and we see the look in our child’s eye that is really hurt, and as a parent we regret what we have done. We want to take it back, to have a do-over, but we cannot. Or maybe we’ve been too easy or too hard on our kid, and then realize we truly should have done something differently. And we go to our child and ask for forgiveness or tell them we messed up. That is another situation altogether. We are so hard on ourselves at times, we are human. My mom used to raise her voice at me while I was growing up and I appreciate that she was able to say she was sorry.

Man, this parenting journey is hard and it is complicated and there are no parenting manuals. I remember meeting a lady who had been married for seven years and she had no children. When she found out how many kids I had, she said, “Oh my goodness. I never want kids. No way.” When I asked her why, she said to me: “Because this world is such a hard world to live in, look at all the crime and pain and what if your kids don’t turn out and they are so much work and I’d be worried I wouldn’t be a good enough parent.”

Wow, how profound and telling and all of her worries and fears and thoughts are true. Indeed, this is a hard world in which to raise kids and there are no guarantees.  But, there is so much joy and beauty to be had, in the midst of the trials that we sometimes face.

Do we live in a perfect world? Nope. Are there perfect parents? Nope. They do not exist. Except, if you’re God. And, even his kids messed up.

Posted in Faith, Family Life, Kids, Life, Moms, Motherhood, Parenting, Real LIfe.

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Do you know where your teens are tonight – yep

My twins, age 16, individually texted me yesterday asking if they could have their friend Tyler over, to spend the night. I was in downtown Portland with my friend Michelle at the First Thursday Art in the Pearl event, and they were at Rosemont Ridge Middle School tossing a Frisbee with their friend Tyler on that warm, summery evening.

One of my twins had also tried to call me but my phone was pretty much out of juice when I realized it. My friend Michelle smiled at me and said, “I’ll be your new best friend- check this out, it’s an automatic iPhone charger.” Home sweet home- 1c6e432bf357fd42c63429d7e892c312

Magic. So, there I was, with a phone that worked, so I called my sons back.

Then came the question.

“Can Tyler sleep over?”  IMG_9438 - Version 2

Now, in normal circumstances, this may not seem like a huge deal, this question, my kids asking for a sleepover on a lazy summer night.

But two days before this, my husband had said no more sleepovers for a month, as he got frustrated during the last sleepover with a different friend; they had been in our backyard on our trampoline and had had a hard time falling asleep. Both my husband Chris and I had to tell the kids a couple of times to go to quiet down, once at 1 a.m., 1:30, 2 a.m. My husband got tired of it and grounded them for a month.

A month is a long time, but a month is a really long time in the summer.

So, the kids do what they usually do when they want something.

They ask me.

They’re 16, not 6.

My husband and I usually try to back one another up, but I don’t have a hard-nosed response to questions from my kids. I try to take circumstances individually.

When my twins asked me about the sleepover, I asked them what their dad had told them about future sleepovers, and they didn’t answer directly. Chris had made it clear to me that he wanted no sleepovers for a month, but I wasn’t comfortable with this. It is summer and I want our home to be a place where our kids can bring their friends.  But, I still needed to talk to my husband about it so I told my boys that I’d call their dad, again grateful to my friend’s charger. (My twins should be grateful for my friend’s charger!)

When my husband answered the phone, he was watching a movie with our youngest child, age 11.

“Hi Chris, the twins want to have Tyler over for a sleepover; I know you said you didn’t want sleepovers for a while, but it’s Tyler and Tyler’s a great guy, and he’s a good influence on our boys; he’s a strong Christian and we need to help our kids be surrounded by good kids. Can we make this exception to your month long ban?”

My husband wasn’t moved by my argument.

I don’t want chaos, I’m tired of the chaos, I’m tired of the interruptions, and I’m tired of no sleep.”

Though I acknowledged that those were valid issues, I had my counterpoints based on my parenting philosophy, and added that I never signed on the dotted line regarding the month-long ban on sleepovers.

IMG_6649 - Version 2“It’s summer, Chris, I think we need to reconsider,” I reasoned. “Our kids want to be in our home, to have their friends over. Yeah, it breaks our perfect pattern of a non-chaotic life, and there might be some interruptions and it might be noisier with an extra kid, but life is messy. Our kids want to be home,” I emphasized.

Welcome to parenting, welcome to real life, welcome to having teenagers. Our kids could be out partying or just hanging out at Wal-Mart or staying out till all hours of the night, but they are not. They want to be with us, to have their friends over, they feel comfortable here.  We should be honored. Teenagers will not go to bed at 9 pm. That’s just not the way it works.

I believe we need to think of our home is a ministry, as an outreach, as a place of belonging and security. It is a place where there is love and we can be real and we can be ourselves, even if that means loud. Our home is not ours to hoard but instead it’s ours to share.

When my husband and I were first married, we were involved in youth ministry at our church. Kids came over to our apartment all the time to hang out. It’s what kids do. I reminded my husband of this, and that we have to at the same time view our kids that way, with purpose, as a ministry. I believe that if we don’t help our kids hang out with good kids, they will find others. Kids will find community.

Yeah, it’s messy and tiring and chaotic, but that is part of our parenting calling. But, our home is our ministry and it is our gift and it is our calling. Home- somewhere to go-32c8ffe6217e5167b72984aecb37d1b6And it is a place where our kids go and belong.

We have friends whose kids never get to have friends over because of the hassle factor. They just don’t go there because of the interruptions and the mess it creates during and afterwards. No doubt, it gets messy, but isn’t the best part of life messy?

So, with some prodding, we allowed the twins to have their friend Tyler over that night.

Yeah, it’s an interruption and yeah they’ll keep you up and yeah it’s chaos but family life is messy and opening up your home to kids is oh so important. They want to be in your home with their friends, how cool. Make your home that kind of place. Stock the fridge with food, offer them popcorn and ice cream and homemade cookies. Sit and be there with them, ask them questions, care. Be glad your kids want their friends in your home, be glad that your kids see your home as their home, and a place to gather.

I had texted them before returning home and also asked if I could bring them some ice cream home and they said yes, Tillamook Mud Slide, please. And, I did ask them to definitely keep in mind their noise level with their dad needing some rest, and I asked them to not sleep on the trampoline.

When I walked through the door, Tillamook Mud Slide in arms, they were quietly playing some x-Box games and hanging out. I offered them ice cream and I hung out and talked with them about how they are doing.

It felt relaxing and welcoming and nice. But, sometimes it is not. It just feels good to have my kids home with their friends. Or alone.

I’ve heard that saying from the past, that question that asks, “Do you know where your kids are tonight?”

Yes, I do.

They are at home. Our home. Their home. With their friends. Kids Home Quote- blog 7-8-14 - f3fd46abe848b667fefe175540a587d2

Home. A place to be. A place where there is love and acceptance and fun, and where our kids can bring friends to hang out. Home.

Posted in Kids, Life, Ministry, Moms, Motherhood, Outreach, Parenting, Writing.

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The art of breakfast- It’s what they remember

I love making breakfast for my kids during the summer and on Saturdays off during the school year, and when their friends have spent the night. Crepes are my specialty; crepes smothered in whipping cream and Nutella IMG_9356or sprinkled with lemon and powered sugar or in the summer, topped with fresh Oregon strawberries or raspberries and whipped cream. IMG_9392

I love gathering with my children, with the table nicely set with my good German porcelain and the pretty containers for the lemon juice and the Nutella and whipping cream and strawberries and plenty of napkins. And we say a prayer to thank God for our meal, and it is pure joy. It’s a great way to start our day together before everyone goes his or her own direction. We have grounded ourselves together. IMG_9389

When my kids write me Mother’s day cards and birthday cards, they thank me for making me crepes for them. They remember the crepes. Of all the things I do for them, they talk about the food I craft for them. From scratch. Wild. And my kids friends talk about eating crepes at my house and the my tell their friends  when they are spending the night that their mom makes crepes and their friends want to eat breakfast in the morning with our family. And while I am making them, the house is filled with the aroma of butter and fresh thin pancakes frying on the stove top and that is what they wake up to. And it makes me feel good, if I do nothing else I day long, if I’ve made homemade breakfast for my kids.

But crepes are a mess to make. My kitchen turns to shambles and greasy butter flies everywhere and the batter splashes in nooks and crannies of the stovetop and my kids eat the crepes in minutes then dash off to do other things for hours and there is still the mess.

IMG_9382But it’s oh so worth it.

My husband on weekends when he is home used to never join us for breakfast. He’d eat his granola with cold milk and take off into the yard or to the garage to get his work done.

“Takes too much time. I have too much to do,” he’d say to me about eating breakfast with us as he meandered off.

But I said to him, this is an important part of life, taking the time to have this breakfast together; it’s so simple, yet so profound. This art, making breakfast for my kids; it reaches the kids in ways that I cannot explain but it just does. Crafting crepes is an art. It cannot be measured with the word “Accomplishment” and “check it off your list of things done today.” Art is not a check-off list. Yet, like good art, it’s what matters in the end. It’s one of the things that our kids remember.

Sounds so simple. It is.

My kids once in a while get to go to their grandparents’ house, which is about 15 minutes from our house. Their grandpa makes a mean pancake and they say, “Grandpa makes the best pancakes,” and when I make pancakes, they tell me they are not as good as grandpa’s. That is what they remember about grandpa and it is fabulous. And we tell grandpa this and it makes him feel good. He has a secret recipe and he’s proud of it.IMG_9358

My husband is starting to recognize the importance of our weekend and days off morning breakfasts together. One day recently, it just hit him. He began sitting down with us to join us eating breakfasts together. And, he also began making pancakes as well. And bacon and buying good syrup to smother on top of the pancakes. It takes him away from his weekend projects for a few hours in the mornings and it is a mess and he only has so much time off and I totally understand that.

But, he realizes now that it is important to share that time with our kids.

Now, we argue over who gets to make the breakfast on a Saturday morning.

 

 

Posted in Art, Family Life, Home, Life, Moms, Motherhood, Summer, Writing.

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