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Dear Momma | Parenting With Courage and Saying No

Somehow, in our world, we’ve gotten the idea that saying “no,” that disagreeing, is a bad thing.  We forget that when our babies are little, saying “no” to playing with the electrical outlet, to running into the street without us, to going in over over our heads when we can’t swim, is necessary for survival.  We begin to think, early on, that being “friends” means nodding blithely to everything our children ask.  We don’t want to upset them, we don’t want them to think we’re not their allies, and we definitely don’t want them to think we are “strict” compared to other parents.  Somehow, we start to believe that parenting with courage  is a bad thing.



We get scared that telling kids no is bad parenting.


I’ve written before about fear in parenting.  I think it’s our own insecurity raising its ugly head, when we hesitate to do the hard thing because we’re afraid of our children being upset at us.  But what is it that makes us think, in our world, and even within the realm of those who claim to be Christians (meaning, proclaim to follow Christ, using the Bible as their authority for life), that “saying no,” or drawing a line in the sand, is a bad thing?


My dad and I have a wonderful relationship.  As adults, both my husband and I can call on him for wise advice, and we can also be sure that he will challenge us when he disagrees with us, or believes we are making a decision that will bring us, or someone else, harm.  My dad and I also thrive on the occasional good-natured debate.  (Not everyone in our family does, so sometimes it’s a source of irritation!)  Not long ago, we discussed for a second time our decision to go through a “Whole 30” challenge as a family, including talking with our then-7-year-old son about choosing not to have a traditional, refined-sugar-sweetened, artificially-colored birthday cake.  We made a modification and made him a naturally sweetened dessert with a very small list of ingredients.  It was an emotional decision for us as parents and for our little boy, but it led to some beautiful discussion with him, and as a family, about self-control, about choosing restraint for long-term good, and about how sometimes “saying no” is an act of love.




It’s ok to say no to the child you love.  In fact, telling kids no can sometimes be the best way to love them.


My dad disagreed with our “Whole 30” decision, respectfully.  A year after that birthday, we were again discussing our choice to say no to our son, and my dad’s grandpa-heart firmly opposed what he thought might have been a wrong decision.  He and I talked at length about our reasoning, and we came to one mutual thought:


It is odd that making healthy decisions, or decisions for their protection, in our childrens’ lives is sometimes viewed as deprivation.


Think about it!  Why in the world would my fellow mom think it was bad for me to tell my child no to a treat that could damage his immune system, cause tummy distress, cause behavior issues, and interrupt healthy eating patterns?  Please, don’t get me wrong.  We choose “junk” plenty of times.  We hit up a local fast food joint last night on the way home from a weekend at the shore, and my kids were as happy as clams.  I chose to wait and make my own meal at home, but the occasional splurge is a choice we can make.  And in other situations, why would another parent think I was “weird” for saying no to an activity for our teen that we knew held risk for their heart and moral character?


I think the root of criticism for other parents is often that when another person makes a decision different from ours, it somehow makes us doubt our own choices.

Instead of then questioning our choices in a healthy way, we feel threatened and want to attack the one who parents differently.  Or, instead of standing firm in our choice to parent our child in a given situation, in what we know to be the wisest and most loving way, we doubt ourselves, for fear of what they, or another parent, may think.

Criticizing other parents is a huge problem on its own, but I’m talking about daring to do the hard things for the love of our children, and not letting ourselves be bound by our own fear.  While of course we all know that we have to FIRMLY teach our children to keep their fingers (and other objects) out of the electrical sockets, we have to hold fast to our confidence as parents (and as Christian parents, to the confidence we have in the God who has given us instruction through His word), even as our children grow.



Our own parenting is adapting by the day in our current season.  We have children ages 8-19, and in seasons from grade school to work-and-higher-education.  We are constantly having to shift and adjust to parenting them with varying levels of authority.  But no matter what ages our children are, we cannot parent them from fear.


No matter what season of parenting we are in, we have to be courageous to parent our children with love and truth.


Sometimes, parenting with love and truth means saying just plain “NO.”


Do you ever struggle with fear as a parent?  Do you worry what other parents might think, or do you tend to criticize another parent when they make a choice different from your own?  Be encouraged, friend.  You haven been called to parent your children, and in Christ, you have all you need for the wisdom to do that in grace, with courage, and in love.


I’d love to hear how you walk this season as a parent, or how you’re being challenged as you do!  Would you share in the comments?


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Courage. {New Adventures and an Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike}

Last year, I wrote a series I called “Undaunted.” I wrote about a period in my life when God broke down everything familiar to me, every single thing I considered a “strength,” and worked through my own brokenness to show me just how “God” He is.  This week, I watch Him working in a new way, as once again He removes what is familiar and “safe” from my perspective, and dares me into a new place of trusting and courage.  He’s got better views, harder climbs, and deeper love to introduce me to.


My second son begins a tru-hike of the Appalachian Trail next week.  After three years of study, preparation, and straining against the “yoke” of still being a child while becoming a man, he sets off on half a year of adventure and agony, of hard work and infinite reward.  He and a friend, with whom he made a pact shortly after they met as boys to take this journey together, will set off on a walk that may transform everything they knew about hard work, and sacrifice, and loyalty, and hearing from their Creator through the magical artwork He’s placed all around us, if we only open our eyes to see.  Practically speaking, he’s throwing off the expectations of those who love him and even of his own mind, to dive into an experience of a lifetime.  It’s the culmination of an early education in which we tried to instill a sense of value for learning, of attention to the Truth as expressed first through God’s word and then through His creation, and of being willing to go against the grain for a higher calling.  When we named our boy, I prayed and hoped for a man of courage to grow from that baby, and he is taking steps to flesh out that prayer in a way I couldn’t have imagined.  He will have the opportunity himself to yield to the shaping of His Papa, to listen and learn what He has to say through this walk.


courage and the appalachian trail


When I wrote about our journey to the east coast, I dug into the story of “Sarah, Abraham’s wife, as retold in 1 Peter 3.  Most telling to me was the mention, as it applauds her honor of her husband, that we will also be lauded if we “do what is right and do not give way to fear.” (1 Peter 3:6).”  I thought, “How the writer must have known that desperate, raging desire that simmers ever, to either control our circumstances to our standards, or else give up and run and hide.”  I still struggle with that desire, as I suspect we all do, to either take matters into our own hands, or to duck and run when things seem too hard.


As our second-born stretches his wings and prepares to leap from the proverbial nest, I’m feeling dared, too, to do some stretching.  I’ve long sensed an urge to write harder things, with more boldness.  To address thoughts and conversations both in our family and in the world itself, the faith-world in particular, in a way that comes from the deepest place in my heart that wrestles with them.  I’m inviting you, if you’re reading, to come with me on an adventure, where we’ll traverse hard roads that have twists and turns, steep pitches and deep caverns.  It’s my desire always to continue that “dancing with my Father…” to seek His wisdom in understanding hard questions.  I’m painfully aware that I’m the girl who will often get it wrong, so I’m hoping for a conversation (with my Papa and with you, friend!) that challenges me when I do, and for humility to admit it and to go deeper for more answers along the way!  But I’m longing to make the conversation bigger, and braver, and in so doing, inspire others to be brave, too.


So if you notice a turn to more daring things, will you come along with me?  Will you answer back and ask more questions; will you dare me to go deeper as hopefully, I will dare you?  I’d love for you to share thoughts you’ve had, questions that make your brain spin, and issues that make your blood boil.  I’d love to still giggle together at the wild and wonderful moments that make up this life, and the small celebrations that give it light.  To that end, I’m also starting a second blog called Sal et Lux, where I’m planning to share recipes, home-making, and ideas for creative hospitality.  I’ll still do that some here, but I’m going to listen to what I think is a call to the next phase in being undaunted.


And if you pray, would you lift up my second son, as he does so in an even more tangible way?  His Papa loves Him more than I do, so I know He will only allow what is best for his good and His own glory.  But still, this mama-heart aches in a good-hard way to open my arms and cheer for my boy as he runs, in the way we’ve always prayed he would, to what is hard and wild and bravely-wonderful.


Much love, friend!  (And please do share your thoughts below!)

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sometimes i’m afraid of my kids. {parenting teens}

sometimes, i’ll admit, i’m a little afraid of my children.


whew.  i said it.


although i’m gut-level honest when i say that i 100% believe they belong to their Creator and they’re His to do with as He wishes, i also have to say that lots of times, i feel the responsibility completely lies on my (and, yes, my husband’s) shoulders.  i start to panic inside that if i get it wrong, they’ll fall apart and it’ll be all. my. fault.  no pressure.


i want them to be not just good people, but successful.  sometimes i really want that to be by the world’s standards.  because, yeah, to some extent, their success reflects on me.  (i will have devoted decades of my life, after is all said and done, won’t i, to their upbringing and education?  i do hold some responsibility.)  and deep down in my heart of hearts, i want them to be happy.  carefree, and smiley, and self-fulfilled, in the sense that they’re not looking to others to continually affirm or fulfill them.  (happy isn’t bad – it just can’t become an elusive idol that thrives on self-gratification at the cost of calling.)  and happy, in my mama-mind, means that they like me.  because again, it comes back to me.


sure, i’ll pooh-pooh modern child-rearing patterns that focus on providing every little whim of a desire to kids, on spending all your efforts becoming best friends with them instead of allowing them the gift of having a close confidant who is also their first, most loving authority.  but deep inside, i want them to like me.  a lot.  and sometimes, that desire for my own affirmation makes me hesitant to give them what they really need: strong, consistent, yes, steeped-in-love, but fearless and no-holds-barred discipline.  and if i do something they don’t like, they might not like me.  horror.


tampa family portraits a


recently we’ve had a character struggle with one of our older children.  he’s an awesome kid, and people compliment him often on his kindness, his politeness, his maturity, his self-discipline.  he has all those things, in spades even, compared to lots of kids.  but he also struggles with some heart issues that we don’t want to let go unnoticed.  in his quest for independence, he may work to manipulate a situation to get his way.  when he’s pressed, like a cat caught in a corner, he may lash out ugly, disrespect spewing from him.  and he doesn’t admit to it easily, making him unteachable in the moment.


i too, often behave the same way, fighting for my own wants and working life to get what i think i deserve from it.  and i’m an actor, so i can do that while looking good on the outside to the untrained eye.  so he comes by it honestly.  but i can’t dismiss my responsibility to call it out in him, to challenge him higher by recognizing and dying to it.  and worse, (and yes, i have!) i can’t shirk my call to confront him because i’m a scared little girl inside, not wanting my kid to be mad at me, just like i didn’t want the cool girls to not like me way back in junior high.  or more to the point, not wanting him to feel about me, the way i once felt about a parent who treated me unjustly.


so yes, i have to question myself.  i have to dig deep and be sure that i’m not calling out in him a behavior that’s just inconvenient or might “look bad to the neighbors.”  i have to seek unity with my partner in parenting and not react with emotion to an ugly seeming-attack on me, hurting my feelings and my pride as a parent.  but when the rubber meets the road and truth needs to be spoken in love and faithfulness, i’ve gotta “woman up.”  i have to work in team with the dad of these arrows we’re sharpening to pierce the heart of their world with love and passion and justice and right-ness, and stand up for them, even when it means doing the scary, the hard thing.


do you have teens?  i’d love to hear what you’re learning in the trenches…


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