turning_thirteen

Mark and I always knew thirteen would be a monumental year for our children. We want it to be. The teen years are such a unique and sweet window of time, chocked full with beautiful and large changes––puberty! driving! hormones! oh my. There are umpteen reasons for parents to panic about these transitional years, and for the most part, it seems those panicked concerns receive the bulk of attention in the parenting world. Why not instead welcome the teen years, celebrate the closing of one period of life and the opening of another? We took notes from the Jewish Bar Mitzvah tradition, adapting the ceremonial part to our own faith and style.

We invited close friends and family to the evening, asking our parents to prepare a blessing and inviting friends in our community to do the same. Our home projects lurched into overdrive over the summer to finish painting the house and clearing the debris from the trees that came down this summer. Mark built tables for the driveway, and my parents came to help hang lights and fill the garden beds and window boxes my father made. My brother smoked brisket and several friends from our community brought sides and helped cut the cake. I completely forgot to pull out my camera, meaning I didn’t take a single photo, so I feel particularly thankful for these two images above that my sister took before everyone arrived, for the phone images friends and family have shared, and for the video my brother-in-law put together below.

I’ve often remarked that the longer I parent the less confident I feel as a parent. Perhaps it is age and wisdom, or simply the accumulation of small failures over thirteen years. What life has taught me so far is that grace and gentleness is necessary for everyone to give and receive, and also that perfection, whether in aesthetics or behavior, is an empty goal. Life is valuable because of the connection we have to others, both inside and outside of our family, both in giving and receiving. Although Liam directly received so many beautiful and encouraging words that night, Mark and I feel we quite possibly received the most. Our hearts feel weighted with gratitude by the ways those we are connected to loved on our son and welcomed him into his young adult years. Here’s a snippet of the evening below, including bits of the letters each member of our family wrote to Liam. We hope you enjoy.

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I imagine much of the comparison that happens between mothers begins simply and honestly, a way to observe and emulate other women we admire for one reason or another. We actually need one another in this way. We need other mothers in our lives to share experience or to bounce ideas and inspire us when we find ourselves overwhelmed or in a rut. We need to know that other women have endured sleepless nights or cleared poop from the floor or learned how to love their postpartum bodies. We need to hear various ways other mothers have taught their children kindness and how to share, or how they learn to clean up after themselves or where they go to school. These are the easy comparisons, the ones that remind us we’re not alone in the difficult choices and sometimes crappy parts of motherhood. Literally.

Perhaps comparison between us takes a downturn when in our estimation of others, we begin criticizing ourselves, nitpicking our own choices, style, and circumstances to fit in with another’s. We visit a friend’s house or scroll through our social feeds and feel it: we are not measuring up. We’re not organized enough, thoughtful enough, traveling enough, creating enough, thin enough, experienced enough, successful enough, strong enough. Our children aren’t dressed well enough or experiencing enough or playing enough or reading enough. Our homes are not clean enough or decorated enough or organized enough or environmentally-friendly enough. The list goes on and these thoughts, muddling our perspectives and vision, can be a slippery slope into doubt, shame, and even depression.

As mothers we need honest community, even if at times it is only one other person. We need someone with whom we can openly share our not enoughs, and one whom we trust will speak truth and courage to our darkest thoughts. Although I always write honestly here and do sometimes share bits of these personal hardships, these spaces are not the primary places I share the underbelly of our life. That said, know there is an underbelly. I wrestle with doubt and anxious thoughts. I regularly question my ability to actually do all I want to do. I sometimes find myself wishing for those illusive descriptors more and better. You are not alone. I encourage you, the next time you’re feeling ill-fitted for the task at hand or less than pleased with how your body fits in clothes, pause and begin listing gratitudes aloud, even if it begins with the simplest gift of being able to take a breath.

For those of you who need ideas or courage in finding community in motherhood, I wrote about that here.  For those of you who tend to guard your underbelly and struggle with perfectionism in motherhood, I wrote about that here.


This post is a part of the collaborative “Real Talks” series. To read more thoughts on comparison in motherhood:

Alexandra from Ave Styles | Rebecca from A Daily Something | Erin from Design for Mankind | Amy from Parker Etc. | Catherine from The Life Styled | Kat + Em from The Refined Woman | Hillary from Our Style Stories

 

not_to_yield

I gave Mark a wallet for father’s day in June with the last line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” I might have inscribed the last seven lines, if it would have fit, and so I inscribed the words on my memory instead, and of course here with you.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I do not know what it is to set sail onto the sea without knowing where I am going, as Ulysses and so many great explorers and adventurers across time have. And yet––metaphorically, I do. I know what it is to face a new homeschool year and wonder where our family might land, or what it is like to bring a new baby into the earth and wonder who they might become and whether I can stay the course. I know what it is to stare at a young business or a forgotten house and feel compelled to go and do something with it, even when I’m unsure where it might take me, or how it might remake or destroy me. Perhaps the point of living isn’t so much about where we are going, but the fact that we are going at all. To live purposefully in any manner requires courage.

Wherever you find yourself on this Monday morning, cheers to you, to your heroic heart. May you find strength of will to accomplish the things in your hands today and the courage to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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Childhood art is magnificent, isn’t it? Children have a way of seeing and coloring the world in the early years without the constraints of reality, without the pressure of perfection. I’m not exactly sure why or when the majority of us quit producing personal art, and I’m sure the response will vary. Although I imagine for many of us, we simply decided we were not good enough. This is the primary reason during our academic year, I aim to have the kids paint or draw a little something everyday––not that they become famous artists, but that they develop a habit of making time for creative work.

In those early years, I dreamed of creating keepsake books for each child with their childhood art, and so I kept an archival box for each of them and stored my favorite pieces, labeled with their name, the date, and the title if it had one. But nearing a decade later since beginning this endeavor, I have yet to scan or print one book. Which begs the question: when exactly do busy mothers find the time for scanning, organizing, and printing? Is it after children are grown or is it in the odd hours of the day, wedged between work and meals and books and errands? It’s hard to know sometimes.

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My children have always kept notebooks of some sort during their school years, often in partially lined composition notebooks, where they could easily write and illustrate what we’ve read through the practice of narration or copywork. But they grew frustrated with how paints would bleed through pages, and alternatively when they painted on thicker paper, I grew frustrated trying to keep random pieces of their work together in a cohesive way and off the floor and countertops. So last year, I moved to keeping their notebooks in page protectors in binders. Life. Changing. And I knew at the beginning of the year, I wanted to create a book for each of them of their work. Throughout the year, when they seemed sloppy or disconnected from their art or something they had written, I would remind them, “I’m going to print this at the end of the year, so do your best!” It was a simple way to encourage quality both in their writing and artwork.

In the spring, I began looking for printing options, when I discovered Plum Print, a company that would scan, design, and print for me. I knew I could scan everything and design a book on my own, but I returned to the time factor again and the fact that we already DIY most everything else in our life. For this project to actually happen, I needed to delegate a bit of it, even if it cost a bit more to do so. I wanted my children to see their work as valuable and to inspire them to have a different view of their work for the future. I also love having a simple way for them to share it with friends or family. More practically, I cleared the clutter that these sort of papers create in the home and made room for the new school year. Hello, empty notebooks.

The process was delightful. Since I was ordering four books, I received four different boxes on my doorstep, one for each child. From there, the instructions were simple:

  1. Load the art into the included bag (with the option to include 3-D art and photos)
  2. Fill out the brief instruction card: title for the book, instructions for pagination or selecting the cover, option for captions, etc.
  3. Close and seal the box with enclosed strips.
  4. Place the included pre-paid FedEx label on the box.
  5. Drop off at a FedEx location.

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I did not include every piece my children created this year in their books, but again selected their best work, including at least one sample from each book or person they studied––a practical choice for sticking to a budget, as the price varies on the size of the book and the amount of pages. I also chose to have my kids’ books assembled in a specific order, since I wanted their nature studies together and their scientists together and so on. This took a bit more time but was as simple as deciding the order and then paginating each piece on the back in pencil. I should note, you also have the option to have your child’s artwork returned to you for an additional fee. I didn’t opt for this, but that might be helpful for parents who aren’t quite ready to part with the original pieces. You can also include images within the book, ad I selected one image from the school year of each for their title page. The rest of the book I reserved just for the written and illustrated work.

Plum Print sent me an email when they received my boxes and then another one when each book design was ready for preview. I tweaked a few things, like fonts, background design, and a couple of pages that were in the wrong books. They promptly made the changes and the books went to print, arriving at our door a couple of weeks later.

The kids LOVE them! I wish I had had my camera ready when they first flipped through them, with bright eyes and giddy expressions. Olive squealed “this is the first book I’ve ever made!” And I can relate. There’s something about seeing my own work printed onto a page and bound professionally that makes my heart soar, too. It feels weightier, and somehow more precious.  I love how they flip through one another’s books, too; one reading the other’s words or admiring their sibling’s artwork. As we begin notebook-ing again next month, I hope this will inspire them.


This post is in partnership with Plum Print, a small business encouraging parents to make beautiful archives of their children’s creativity. Cloistered Away readers can enjoy $15 OFF of each order until September 30 suing the code ‘CA15’. As always, all thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep this space afloat. 

cultivating_kindness_children
A simple act or word of kindness can be a light for the soul, so can be a listening ear. From personal experience, the two are not entirely separate. During those playful and harrowing toddler and preschool years, it didn’t take long for me to notice, when my children were acting out with unkind words, gestures, or attitudes, it was often caused by a need for sleep or a need for more attention. It might surprise you to know, it doesn’t change as they grow. Children feel and think deeply, often beyond what they can articulate. It seems simple enough, that if we as parents are kind to our children then our children will naturally be kind in return. But rarely is it that simple. Our tone and words certainly impact our children, but they are also their own persons. They have their own thoughts, feelings, impulses, and perspectives––even the exact moments we share with them are experienced differently. This means some days kindness may trickle off of them like rain, with ease and effortlessness; on other days (or seasons or years), kindness will need to be filled and drawn from them like a well.

Our children have been squabbling more often with one another, and as result, we’ve had many conversations about kindness, about honoring one another with our words and actions. We often encourage our children that learning these skills now will help them learn how to love and treat others kindly outside of our home. Here is a brief list of how we work to cultivate kindness in our home, in case you find the same conversations spinning in yours.

watch and listen / So many things I’ve learned about my children hasn’t arrived through a book, but instead by observing and listening to them. Most children (even into their teens) are not articulate enough to explain their emotion, nor are they aware enough to see connections between thoughts, feelings, and actions. Parenting is a patient process in helping them learn to connect dots. For instance, “I’ve noticed when you feel angry, you do/say ___, which is hurtful to ___. It’s important to recognize and share when you feel angry. Can you think of a better way to tell them/me you’re angry?” If you are struggling with consistent unkindness in your home, look for patterns when it shows. Is it around a specific environment? Person? Activity? Does it happen more often when your children are left to independent activity too long or when they are indoors or with others for too long?

carve out space for more quality time / I noticed very early in parenting, when my toddlers or preschoolers were consistently whining or throwing tantrums, it was was typically a sign they needed more quality time with me. I can assure you, with older children (and teens, I’m expecting), it doesn’t change. Even as an adult, I can act grumpy and unkind when I haven’t taken time for myself. Children want positive, quality time with you, and it needn’t be heavy or deeply conversational either. Watch a favorite film or read a favorite book together, snuggled up and undistracted. Sneak away for an errand and stop for a coffee together. In some instances, life is too complicated or difficult to just sneak away with one child. In that instance, plan time at home to enjoy a treat  together while the others are occupied. In our home, I let the other children know when this is happening so there are fewer interruptions. In short, time shared with loving words and physical affection go a long way in teaching kindness.

create tighter boundaries / Sometimes my children simply need tighter boundaries, a little more structure to our day or to be watched a little more closely. Anytime I am trying to redirect behavior, especially in the little years, it is best to set aside a few days to watch them more closely, correct and bless. It helps with my consistency as a parent and also to give immediate feedback when they handle a situation well.

speak to their identity / When I am correcting my children for unkindness (which has sadly been happening more often the last few months), I take a moment also to speak truth to their identity, to who they really are. For instance, I might say, “I know it feels good to speak unkind words when you are hurt or angry, but that is not who you are. You are kind. You are gentle. And as you grow into adulthood, I am here to help support and protect that part of your heart.” Even when I’m correcting them or grounding them or telling no, I try to give a positive blessing so they have a glimpse of why it matters, why they matter.  Daniel Siegel notes in the book Brainstorm, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.” Although I am not perfect and sometimes blow it in this area, I aim for my own corrective words to be delivered kindly, elevating them to see beyond the moment at hand but who they are capable of becoming.

practice kindness / Most of us learn best through practice, and one of the best ways to help cultivate kindness is through giving them opportunity. This might be as simple as a handwritten note or sharing a baked good or bunch of flowers with someone. Also consider volunteering regularly somewhere together. Working together for common good always builds character, and tends to also cultivate gratitude and kindness.

seek help / I am not a medical or psychological professional, I am simply sharing what I have learned through my effort and education as a parent and person. If you feel these tactics are out of reach for you or your child, or if your child is destructive to him/herself or others, please consider seeking help. There are so many wonderful ways to to help children through play and art therapy, and there are plenty of professionals wanting to help mothers and fathers, too. There’s no shame in ever asking for professional help.

 

gift_of_boredom-2gift_of_boredom I’m not quite sure how or at what point the word bored enters a child’s vernacular, but it has here. In the last six months I’ve heard the word more than ever, and I find myself sorting through reasonings, attempting to connect dots, as to why. Boredom is such an entitled word if you think about it, and few words frustrate me more as a parent. In one swift syllable, it communicates discontent and complaint. It infers that someone else is somehow responsible for it, to blame for it. Often I feel the sentiment directed at me. Regardless of how this lull of activity might feel to a child, boredom is not an empty void; it is instead an invitation to ingenuity, to re-creation.

Children need time in their days to create their own worlds and play, time that is not pre-determined by someone else. Artists and designers alike understand the power of negative space in visual arts, how nothing can sometimes be more powerful than something. As adults, we often realize the same is true with time: less activity can be more for the soul, for thought, for restoration, for creativity. Whether we would phrase it this way or not, boredom is a gift, a cue even. If one has grown tiresome with an activity, boredom signals a need for change. If one is lacking activity at all, boredom requires a change in environment or even the creating of an idea or activity. Boredom is not itself a terrible thing to have to sort out, for adults or children alike.

When any of my children tell me they’re bored, it’s best that I first take a deep breath (or two or three), give them my full attention, and listen, instead of immediately badgering them with a mom-lecture on the gift of boredom. Obviously, in the moment, they disagree with me on point, and I’ve learned–although sometimes the hard way–that when I feel somehow accused by their sentiments, it’s best for me to first bite my tongue. Even when we cannot reach a point of agreement on the matter, in the very least, they will feel heard.
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Since context is everything, my response to claims of boredom change. Here’s a few thoughts from our home to gently nudge or re-direct boredom:

say no to screen time /When my children reach a place of boredom or need a new stimulus often begin asking to watch a film or to play video games. Although my children do play video games and watch movie films (gasp!), I rarely allow it in response to boredom. Boredom is simply a lack of stimulus, and I want them to begin recognizing it’s their brain’s or body’s way of telling them, I need more.  This is not an anti-screen issue but rather an effort to help them stir up curiosities instead of merely pacifying them.

go outside /Children do not need heaps of toys and electronics to be happy, although I do not think either are inherently bad. Sometimes what they (or we) need is found outside of our home. Sunlight, air, even rain can wake up an entirely different part of us. There is much to do with a stick, a box, or a ball. Last week, the girls seemed restless indoors, so I casually opened the front door and told them they could return indoors for snack, drinks, or the toilet. They gladly left the house. When I peaked out a few moments later, I noticed them carrying the garden trellis and a few blankets. Within a few minutes, they had created a play tent for themselves. I brought out drinks for them and noticed them “trimming the grass by the front porch [with scissors].” They stayed out there most of the day, bringing their dolls and packing an art box for a suitcase. They even left a hole at the top for a sunroof, to let in the light and air.

form loose routine / Every night, as I say goodnight to my children, one will inevitably ask, “what are we doing tomorrow?” Children love some amount of predictability. Keep a loose, but similar routine to help guide your children into how to use their time (even if you’re not planning specifics for them), especially with younger children. For instance, form a morning ritual with your children, a way that works for you all to begin your day together. Plan rest time or independent play/reading time or excursion time for roughly the same time-block daily. You get the idea. This helps me nudge children with the complaint into a direction, “this is the time for independent play. I know you prefer playing with everyone and you’ll have time for that later, but right now, I need you to find something on your own, like ____.”

take a spontaneous outing / Since we spend a lot of time around our home, I love surprising my children with a spontaneous trip. It’s not always fancy, but some days, it’s exactly what we all need. These can be a trip to the bookstore or coffee shop, a drive to nearby city, or a walk on trail.

meet with friends / I’m grateful my children have one another to play with and enjoy, but they (like most children) love when we meet up with friends to play. Make this a part of your weekly routine, too–especially if you homeschool. If you don’t have many friends, head to a local park or children’s museum, where other children are sure to be.

read books / For books I recommend that encourage imaginative play, see here.

How do you handle this topic? With summer soon arriving, I think several parents would love to hear.

 

celebrating_mother's_day

Mother’s Day is this weekend in the US, and although it seems there is now a day to celebrate all sorts of things, of course this one and Father’s Day feel most precious. As both a daughter and a mother, I love that we have a day set apart to say thank you, to remind these precious women in our lives that they matter. I’m not quite sure what this weekend will look like for us yet, but if you’re looking for a few ideas in how to celebrate (or pass along to someone else–wink), here’s a few favorite ideas below. Happy Mother’s Day!


 

for the foodie

If mom is generally the one feeding others, it will certainly gift her to have someone else prepare something tasty for her instead this Sunday morning. For most any mother, breakfast in bed with a favorite book or magazine will feel luxurious, more like a bed and breakfast than a typical morning at home. Consider sesame toast with a poached egg and greens or  lavender french toast or a grain-free cherry crumble or of course my favorite blueberry scones. For a simpler option, run to get her favorite coffee or make a mimosa. Family brunch is another popular idea, and a fun way to include all the kids in preparation. For this option, consider something simpler to eat, like banana-blueberry pancakes or yogurt-granola parfait. Of course, even a morning out at her favorite eatery can be special. Check ahead to make a reservation as it’s a popular option.

last-minute gift ideas | this book | this subscription (use CLOISTEREDAWAY for $10 off) | this handmade kettle | these wood nesting bowls

for the gardener 

For the woman who appreciates nature and plant life, plan to spend the day outdoors. Pack a picnic and head to a local flower garden or park. Consider these secrets for the perfect picnic or take this simple idea and create a beautiful spread in the backyard. Last year, I spent the day planting flowers in our beds on Mother’s Day, so possibly a trip to a local greenhouse or giving her time to work in the garden at home (alone or together, depending) might be a gift, too.

last-minute gift ideas | these scissors | this book | plants for the garden | gardening hat

for the adventurer 

Some women feel most at rest playing outdoors. Consider places you don’t typically go together. Would she love a day trip rock climbing or hiking or kayaking? Consider taking a family bike ride or offering her a day to herself to hike or ride on her own.

last-minute gift ideas | If there isn’t anything specific she needs, give the gift of experience here. Wink.

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On the first day of this year, I woke up long before the sunrise, seized with anxiety. The same thoughts were spinning circles through me again, doubting my abilities as a mother and educator, doubting my work here, doubting whether I’m good enough at any of it. Overwhelmed, I laid there staring at the lines of street lamp light crossing our bedroom walls, my husband sleeping deeply beside me. Why do I have such a hard time doing the same? Why do I run myself through an analysis, looking for fault and unfinished work instead of simply celebrating all that has been accomplished? Why is it so hard for me to do my best and let go?

I quietly slipped out from my sheets and began to write. I wrote to release the tightness in my chest. I wrote to find the woman buried in my thoughts and soul, the one who I am always comparing myself to and yet never measuring up with somehow. I needed to meet her. I began with these two lines.

I am deeply perfectionistic. I say this not with pride but with a tinged face of embarrassment, a confession that I’m hoping to release a bit more even if simply by writing it out.

Perfectionism. Damn. This was about perfectionism. I’ve always known I’m a perfectionist. Always. I have handfuls of childhood stories in how I learned to walk or ride a bike, form my letters or even save/spend money.  Honestly, I’ve always thought of this part of myself without much weight, much like handedness or style preference. If the topic ever came up in a conversation, I might have even felt a sense of pride. Yet when I wrote those first two lines, I noticed something deeper for the first time: embarrassment and an inferred shame about this part of myself. Somewhere deep within me I know perfection is illusory and unrealistic. Embarrassment arises by my striving for it anyway.  Shame reminds me I’m never measuring up.

I wrote for an hour that morning, describing the woman  in my head among other things. I wrote her out as honestly as possible, every standard that I hold myself to in parenting, marriage, writing, self-image, wellness, and so on. At times, I laughed at myself, recognizing the absurdity of my expectations. At times, I cried, recognizing the burden of my ideals. With every line, every word something in me began to release. Sometimes writing out my thoughts can be the most tangible way to recognize the lies, the expectations, the disappointments, the standards.

Motherhood touches every part of us, even the parts we didn’t know yet existed.  I’ve often heard people say having children is like having your soul/heart forever walking outside of your body. While often used as a sentimental line used to demonstrate the amount of love we carry for our children, I will also note it is true about our insecurities, too. Motherhood releases a deep capacity for love. It also reveals our deepest fears and failures. Motherhood and marriage have been the most vulnerable journeys for me. They require me to bare my heart again and again in the best possible way, even when its ugly. And sometimes, it is ugly.

Since the first day of this year, my heart has continued to unfold. I have never felt so undone, so seen. I won’t discuss all of it here, because I’m not sure this is the place for that, although I imagine bits will trickle through my writing in various ways anyhow. But I can say this: I’m am seeing–I mean really seeing–parts of my heart for the first time, and it’s so good. It’s hard. But it’s good. The kids and I are talking about our own interactions in a new way. We’re having more conversations about shame, about hurt feelings, about conflict. I want them to have tools as they grow into adult years. I know I’ve mentioned it umpteen times here and on Instagram, to friends and family alike. Go and get yourself a copy of Rising Strong.  I began reading it not far into the new year, and it is wrecking me in the best possible way. It should have been on my parenting list, although I would retitle it as a parenting book, “how to deal with you sh$t, so your kids know how to deal with theirs.”

At the end of last year I read Big Magic, a nicely dove-tailed book to Rising Strong, concerning fear and the creative process. But Elizabeth Gilbert notes this, words I have returned to again and again the last few months:

I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”

Perfectionism is a particularly evil lure for women, who, I believe, hold themselves to an even higher standard of performance than do men. Holding back their ideas, holding back their contributions, holding back their leadership and their talents. Too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism.

The truth is perfectionism–whether in my mothering or home or marriage or work–distances me from others. It secretly whispers that I am never measuring up. It keeps me tucked away from other people’s stories and experience, from realizing I’m not alone. Through sharing experience with one another, through writing out or discussing (or in the hardest times, crying) about these fears or burdensome areas where we don’t measure up, we leave a place for truth. We leave room for light and connection and encouragement with one another. Ultimately, vulnerability with people we trust, even the most uncomfortable bits, leaves space for healing.

favorite_parenting_books-2 favorite_parenting_books

Weekends are always the best time for personal reading. On Saturdays, I tend to stay in my PJs longer and often meander back into my bed with coffee and a book, a small gratitude with having older children. A couple of people have recently asked me about my favorite parenting books, so I thought I might share a few here for those of you interested in the books that have helped shape the strategy and heart in our parenting thus far. Truly, my mother and other dear friends have been my favorite resources, although I know not everyone has parents they can trust for advice, or friendships nearby with whom to share a drink and swap parenting joys and woes. On a brief side-note, if you are in the latter group, please don’t be  discouraged. I have found myself in similar places after moves or in new transitions or simply due to the fullness of our family life, and there is a sweetness, too that comes with seasons alone with your children. You might find a few ideas for meeting friends in what I wrote here last year.

Parenting books are wonderful for hearing ideas and strategies outside of my immediate circles, especially when I have felt in a rut of routine or simply defeated. Let’s agree now: no book is entirely perfect or will match one family or child exactly. But I’ve learned if I’m willing to listen and observe my own children and habits and not assume I have to know everything or get it right all the time, it’s easier for me to hear just the right lessons anywhere. Also, prayer matters. Taking time to bless my children (and husband), to ask God for wisdom in how to lead them, is a bold act of humility; it also shapes my own heart. I digress again. As we grow nearer to the teen years, I’m looking again at these books and turning to a few new ones. Of course, I’d love to hear any of your own favorites (and so would other readers), so feel free to share in the comments.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson | I want to read this again as an older parent. This book covers a broad range of topics and is written in a way that explores and exposes research than gives didactic steps for parents to practice. It’s smart and narrative-drive, and the writers have clearly titled and sub-titled each chapter for quick reference or if you’re simply interested in reading a part. The book is intriguing for exploring some of the common social beliefs/stereotypes about children and teens.

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne | I mentioned this book here, so you might have known it would appear on this page, too. It is a “less is more” book on parenting and is clear, gentle, and well-written. I should also note that although it addresses the clutter of toys and routine, it’s truly a deeper philosophy, one that if begun in little ways while children are small will be a gift in upcoming years, too.

Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk | This book is written from a Christian perspective about loving and empowering your children with self-control over punishment-driven tactics. It is narrative-driven, brief, and easy to follow. Although the ideas are his own, Silk often references Parenting with Love and Logic, another reference I’ve heard other parents rave about over the years, although I have never read it.

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The Seven Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation  by Becky Bailey | I read this when Olive was a toddler, when I found myself exhausted of strategies to nurture her emotional self while setting boundaries that worked for my other children. This book is clear and highly practical, and always address the parent’s heart/thoughts first before addressing the children. The seven basic skills are clearly outlined with sub-titles (for skimming or reference as you need it). I wish I could put one in the hand of most adults, who it seems could benefit from learning these skills as much as children.

Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey | This book has little to do with parenting and much to do with understanding people. We all know our partners and children are different than us, and yet it’s still difficult to resist making them like us. This book, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), has been so helpful over the year for noticing the nuances of temperament. I don’t limit myself or family member to their boxes, as some might fear, but rather use it as a tool to see, “you’re not doing this to frustrate me, you truly experience the world in a way that doesn’t value or see this.” It leads to all sorts of interesting conversations.