Want to Like Other Parents? Presume Positive Intent

It happened when my daughter was 9, and I knew immediately by the look on her face that something was wrong.

While the kids around her were all smiling and running – thrilled that school had ended early – she was trudging toward me with her shoulders slumped and a defeated expression.

Before I could ask, my daughter told me that a girl in her class had invited all her friends except her to eat lunch down the street. Pointing over my shoulder, she showed me the pack, and my heart ached as I turned around and indeed saw all her friends giggling and huddled tight as they waltzed away together.

As my daughter tried not to cry, the Mama Bear in me woke up. I was angry at this girl and her mom, and when my daughter said, “This makes me want to plan something and not include her,” part of me agreed.

Deep down, however, I knew that was an immature reaction. And since I was the adult, I needed to think like one.

So I took a deep breath and tried not to assume the worst. I didn’t know how this lunch had transpired, and trying to guess would be speculation. Rather than go there, I focused on comforting my daughter.

I told her we’d do something special too, and maybe this was an oversight, not an intentional act of meanness. Maybe we should give this girl and her mom the benefit of the doubt.

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Be Real and Know Who’s Good for You

I’ve never been a fan of pretense. Even as a little girl, if I sensed that a person was acting fake or a little hoity-toity for my taste, it made me want to run the other way.

I suppose that’s why I’m glad for the cultural shift in recent years where being “real” is a popular idea. Words like transparency, vulnerability, authenticity, and truth telling have gained buzz, and while pretension is still alive and kicking (thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to put on a show), there is also a mass of people who are tired of pretending and so exhausted by the quest to impress that they’re officially over it.

The irony of being real, however, is this: While we love for other people to pull back the curtain on their lives, we hesitate to do it ourselves. We’re afraid that if people knew the real scoop on us – our insecurities, flaws, and struggles – they wouldn’t like us anymore. They’d be unimpressed or disappointed.

This fear keeps us on the hamster wheel of pretending and putting on masks. It creates internal strife as we waffle between wanting people to think we’re a big deal and wishing to kick superficial stuff to the curb and live real, honest, and simple lives.

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The Gift of Christmas Grace

It was a simple task, really, and one that many families had successfully carried out before us.

Our church had asked our family to take care of baby Jesus in the week leading up to Christmas. On the last Sunday of Advent, we set up the Nativity. We then brought Jesus to our home for safekeeping, swaddled in a purple blanket.

It was thirty minutes before the start of Christmas Eve Mass, as I was rushing to get ready and sweep everyone out the door, when the accident occurred. One of my daughters was carrying Jesus around in the swaddle when suddenly He slipped out of the purple cloth.

The wooden figure broke in two places, around the ankle and the wrist.

I couldn’t believe what had happened – but then again, I could. I’d worried all along that this might happen, but even my worst scenario didn’t play out like this, right before the service.

As my family drove to church, I was upset and tense. I wondered why we couldn’t be normal and handle this sacred assignment.

Naturally the church was packed, and as we walked into the vestibule, the two priests leading the service waved me over.

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20 Tips to Help Your Teen Use Social Media Wisely

Whenever I speak at mother/daughter events, the Q&A at the end often leads moms to ask questions about one particular topic.

Social media.

As the first generation of parents dealing with social media, we don’t have much advice to go on. We don’t have parents ahead of us who have pioneered a path and can tell us exactly how to best prepare our kids for digital interactions.

We are the pioneers – which means there’s a lot of trial and error. There are also a lot of conversations as we converse with other parents, share what works/doesn’t work, and try to learn together how to keep our kids safe online while helping them use social media wisely.

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A New Book for Teen Girls!!!

When people talk about teenage girls today, the conversation often turns to how addicted they are to their phones..

But what nobody seems to ask is “Why?”

Why are girls addicted to their phones?

Why do they obsess over Instagram “likes” and social media numbers?

Why can’t they put their phones down, even in the company of friends?

If you ask me, there isn’t one explanation, but rather a combination of forces. And to truly understand the dynamic, we should first consider the heart and the mind of a teenage girl, and think about what’s important at that age.

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What Middle School Girls Should Know About Friendship

A woman in teen ministry once shared with me a term that describes the state of female friendships in the middle school years.

Fluid.

In other words, friendships can change a lot in this stage of life. They may ebb and flow as everyone makes new friends, explores new friendships, and sometimes grows apart.

The growing apart may not be intentional; it’s often a matter of not having classes together or the same extra-curricular activities. 

We typically become close with the people we see the most, and as teenagers evolve in their passions, personalities, and circumstances, their relationships evolve too.

This is a tricky thing to navigate for girls and their moms. While I’ve been really proud of the friend choices my daughters have made – and I feel certain that many friends, including old friends from elementary school, will be friends for life – it’s hard to see an old friendship slip away and wonder what ever happened to that cute girl you used to see all the time.

Why don’t you have Isabella over anymore? I don’t hear much about her – is everything okay? The response is often something like, “Yeah, I love Isabella, I just never see her.” Nothing specific happened; it’s just that life is busy, and there isn’t enough time in the day to spend time with everyone you like.

Sometimes girls drift apart for a reason. Sometimes a falling out triggers sudden mistrust. A girl who your daughter thought was a friend (in my book I call them 50/50 friends) does something hurtful or mean. Or a group of girls may gang up on one girl because she made the leader mad. The scenarios are endless, and the lesson to be learned is that girls sometimes must learn the hard way what true friendship looks like.

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5 Things Your Daughter Should Know About Chasing Boys

There are certain things in life worth waiting for.

A really awesome guy is one of them.

Unfortunately, our world has devalued the art of waiting. We want our heart’s desire now. And for teenage girls eager to fall in love, that eagerness can get the best of them. They may chase the boys they like instead of waiting for the right boys to chase them – and then wonder why their relationships are empty, short, and shallow.

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10 Thoughts for My 10-Year-Old Daughter

There are certain people in this world who soften me when I look at them.

My daughter Marie Claire is one of them.

Maybe it’s rosy cheeks. Or her starry eyes. Or her lyrical voice as sweet as honey that reminds me of a fairy.

Then again, it could be what I know about Marie Claire that isn’t readily apparent. Like how kind, tender-hearted, and compassionate she is. How she knows what to say to a friend who’s been hurt by another child. How she listens before she speaks and often makes remarks that grab me and make me think, “Wow, that’s really wise.”

Clearly, there are many qualities that I admire and love about my girl. But if I had to pick a favorite, I’d choose her joyful spirit.

It doesn’t take much to make Marie Claire happy. It really is the simple things – like having a dance party in the kitchen, or jumping on the trampoline with friends – that make her radiate.

I want her to keep that light. I want her confidence and self-esteem to last for years to come. Where Marie Claire is now, fast approaching her 10th birthday, is the sweet spot before adolescence.  As I think about what typically happens to girls in adolescence – how studies show that confidence and self-esteem often begin to erode starting around 5th grade – I want to hug my baby tight, reaffirm who she is, and point her to the truth.

Because only the truth can help her as she wrestles with life’s big questions and finds her place in this world.

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When Other Parents Love Your Child

Years ago, I heard of a high school principal who shared with a room of educators an experience from her personal life.

While speaking with her neighbor one day, she mentioned how her daughter was interested in art. The next day, her neighbor appeared on her doorstep with an unexpected gift: paint, paint brushes, and art supplies so her daughter could get started.

Obviously, this principal was moved. She couldn’t believe what her neighbor had done for her daughter. Her message to the room of educators was this: That is what it means to be an educator – to make a personal investment in someone else’s child.”

I love this story because it applies to parenting, too. It’s what “the village” is all about. After parenting for 14 years, I’ve learned how the best gift you can give any parent is to genuinely love their child. This means caring about their well-being, recognizing what makes them special, and sharing your time, talent, or treasure.

While speaking to young moms at my church recently, I sensed a village camaraderie. I could tell it was in force as they laughed and bounced babies on their laps. I encouraged them to keep it up, because as kids grow older, the village tends to shift. The “we’re in this together” mentality that helps moms survive the toddler years can unexpectedly weaken as parents get competitive and start seeing other people’s kids as threats or competition.

After all, loving a baby or snaggle-toothed child is easy – but loving a teenager who may be more talented, successful, or celebrated than your child isn’t always the natural response. Same goes for loving a teenager who just made a bad mistake and now everybody is talking about them.

In regards to my village, it differs a little from child to child. While some faces are constant, like family members and close friends, each daughter also has certain adults who have a soft spot for them.

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Be Awesome and Make History

Recently I asked my nine-year-old daughter what she wants to be when she grows up.

She eagerly replied, “I want to be awesome and make history!”

Exactly how she plans to make history is up in the air, because at her age, that part is irrelevant. All she knows is that she wants her life to count. She wants to matter. She wants a life of significance that people will remember.

And if we’re being honest, don’t we all feel the same way? Don’t we all long to leave a legacy that outlives our time on earth and keeps our memory alive?

Our desire for a meaningful life is good because God planted the desire in us. He created each of us for a special purpose that will leave the world better than we found it.

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Parenting Your Teen in an Age of Social Media

As a writer, I like social media. I can appreciate the benefits it offers because it has opened up doors for writers by offering a quick, easy, and free way to connect with readers.

As a parent, however, I have mixed feelings toward social media. I hear stories about kids who have misused it, been hurt by it, or made a terrible mistake that went viral, and I panic because I’m raising daughters in a generation that’s still figuring out how to be smart with a smart phone.

It’s a complex challenge, to say the least.

Parents often say they wish they could do away with social media for kids, because the problems outweigh the benefits. While I understand this, we all know it’s not going anywhere.

With new apps constantly being introduced, and teens growing increasingly reliant on online communities, we parents are forced to deal with this reality and develop a game plan.

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Connecting With Your Teen Daughter

When I began writing my first book for teen girls, I was writing for mothers. So when I sent two sample chapters to my editor for review, she offered pivotal advice that helped shape me as a writer and a mom.

She said, “This is a good start, but if you sound like a mom, the girls will stop reading. Write it instead from the voice of a wise big sister. Channel your teenage self.”

What her advice forced me to do was to put myself in the shoes of today’s girls. It forced me to go back in time and dig up memories of myself at their age – even the unpleasant ones I really don’t like to remember.

And when I combined my experiences with the realities of today’s teen culture (way harder than the environment I grew up in), I softened up toward these girls. I grew a heart for what they’re going through and the pressures they’re bound to face.

Instead of seeing myself as a parent with so much wisdom to impart, I began seeing myself as their sister in Christ, someone to walk beside them with compassion for what they face and hope for what God has in store.

I share this because I now understand how the approach we take in talking to teen girls determines whether or not they listen. Without compassion or empathy, they’ll inevitably tune us out. 

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12 Back-to-School Prayers for Your Child

It’s that time of year again, time to pull out the backpacks, get haircuts, set up alarm clocks, and make 20 trips to Target because school is about to start, and Mom is on a mission.

Wherever your heart is this season – whether you’re jumping for joy because you’re ready for some space, or crying on the sofa because you aren’t ready to let your kids go – you probably have mixed emotions about the school year ahead.

You hope it will be a great one, but what if it’s not? You want your kids to excel and be happy, but what if they fall and struggle in ways you never saw coming?

We moms like control, and not having control of the next nine months can make us feel a little, well, anxious. And since my favorite cure for anxiety is prayer, I’d like to share some prayers that might calm an anxious heart.

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The Key to Great Parenting? Consistency

My sweet father-in-law, Nestor Kampakis, passed away unexpectedly this past New Year’s Eve. Although he had Alzheimer’s, his death was a shock, altering the landscape of 2016 for our family.

Papou was a good soul and everything you’d hope for in a father: kind, loving, protective, wise, honest, committed, and faithful. He adored his family and loved anyone whom his children loved, because if someone was important to his child, they were important to him too.

After Papou died, I sat down with Harry and his two sisters to help Harry with his eulogy. We cried and laughed as we recalled our favorite memories of Papou, from famous words of wisdom like “If you go to bed with dogs, you’re going to wake up with fleas” to stories of him patiently teaching his kids to water ski and pulling them all day on the boat.

As Harry wrote his eulogy, he noticed a theme to his father’s life. What made Papou a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, and friend could really be summed up in one word.

Consistency.

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Character is More Important Than Winning

Several years ago, I heard about a 5th grade boy who showed character during a summer all-stars baseball game that was intense and high-stakes.

Both teams were determined to win.

The boy, named Michael, made an amazing stop at short stop. Everybody in the stands thought he’d caught the ball for an out, but it was questionable whether the ball touched the ground before landing in his mitt.

The umpire asked Michael if he’d caught the ball. The crowd grew silent as everyone leaned in and listened closely. Michael knew that if he said yes, he’d be the game hero. His team and their fans would be thrilled.

But Michael chose to be honest instead. He admitted that the ball hit the ground before landing in his mitt. Immediately you could hear the crazy parents in the stands grumbling about the call and the missed catch.

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Big News: I Have A New Book Coming!

For about a year now, I’ve been pouring myself into a project that is near and dear to my heart.

And I’m thrilled to finally announce that this project is a second book with Thomas Nelson that releases this fall and will be available everywhere books are sold!

The book is called Liked: Whose Approval Are You Living For?and the official release date is November 15, 2016. Like my first book, it targets teen and tween girls, yet the message is relevant for all ages.

The purpose of Liked is to empower girls through faith. It’s designed to help them focus on their audience of One – the God who created them – and discover a life of confidence, courage, and purpose.

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Raise the Child You Have, Not the Child You Want

I have a friend who learned that her daughter had cancer after going to a routine 2-year-old pediatrician visit several years ago. Her blood work was off, and this led to testing and a diagnosis the next day. As you can imagine, they were shocked and very frightened.

Her daughter is doing fantastic now, and last year we celebrated her five-year remission. One thing that’s always stuck with me, however, was a realization my friend had shortly after learning about the cancer.

She told me that when her daughter was a toddler, her spirit, spunk, and strong personality could drive her up the wall sometimes. She wanted her to be calm and easy.

But after the diagnosis, she realized how God made her tough for a reason. He gave her daughter a special armor on purpose, because He knew she’d need that armor to handle the grueling and aggressive treatments she’d face to fight cancer at a remarkably young age.

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Setting the First Tracks: How to Have Hard Conversations with Your Kids

Imagine your child at the top of a ski slope. They’re about to ski down for their first time, but for now, they’re relishing the view.

A blanket of snow just fell, so the view is fresh and pure. The fluffy white snow is completely blemish-free. It’s a wondrous sight, but it’s temporary. Because pretty soon, skiers will start sailing down this hill. Each one will set tracks in the snow that impact your child’s perspective.

Whoever skis down first, setting the first tracks in the snow, will leave a particularly deep impression because chances are, your child will remember it.

This ski slope is a lot like your child’s mind. And as parents, we instinctively protect their mind. We keep our kids in safe environments and guard their innocence to the best of our ability.

And though this is a great instinct, we must remember that our kids will be exposed to things sooner than we tend to believe. In mere seconds, their pristine view of the world can be interrupted by a peer, a Google search, or some random event that leaves a negative mark.

“Setting the first tracks” is a term that Gil Kracke, a counselor at Covenant Counseling and the Church of the Advent in Birmingham, uses to encourage parents to have those uncomfortable yet necessary conversations. As parents, we want to set the first tracks. We want to ski down first and impress the truth in our kids’ minds so that when other skiers come behind us, our kids know which tracks to trust.

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In the THICK of Parenting

It occurred to me recently that my husband and I have reached an interesting midpoint in parenting.

We’ve been parents for 13 years. We have 13 years until our youngest child leaves for college. We’re halfway to an empty nest. We’re in the thick of parenting.

Our busyness today is different from our busyness when the kids were little. While we’ve certainly hit a sweet spot (with our daughters ages 13, 11, 9 and 6, we can enjoy them without being physically exhausted and sleep-deprived), we’ve also entered a new stage with moving parts than I expected.

These days, parenting is a game of mental gymnastics. We have 4 kids with 4 distinct personalities and 4 sets of needs. They go in 4 different directions and make 4,000 requests a day for our time, energy, and money.

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It’s Okay (and Good) to Feel Your Pain

My father-in-law passed away one week ago today. As you can imagine, there’s been a lot of tears and sadness.

And what I’ve learned about grief is, there is no need to hide it or deny it. Crying over a person isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather proof that you really loved them. Tears are tangible evidence that their life mattered to you, and their absence from your life will be deeply felt for many years to come.

It’s hard being the age that my husband and I are now – 43 – because it seems like everyone is losing parents. It’s become a common conversation among friends and an up-and-rising theme in my Facebook feed, posts about unexpected deaths, heart attacks, physical ailments, and health scares among the generation that raised us.

And the truth is, it stinks. There’s no trick to avoiding it or getting around it. We want our parents to hang in there as long as possible – to watch their grandkids grow up, graduate, get married and have babies – but having them hang in there also means watching them grow older and seeing their bodies weaken, their spirits get broken, and their mental capacities decline.

Our Papou was an incredible man. He loved hard, worked hard, and fiercely protected the people he loved. He was a patriarch, a protector, and a provider. And though he wasn’t himself in recent years due to the onset of Alzheimer’s (a cruel and terrible disease), I can vividly remember him at his best, lighting up at the sight of his grandkids and watching them light up too as they ran into his arms.

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Raising a Brave Child

“A word of encouragement during a failure  is worth more than an hour of praise after success.” – Unknown I believe it’s fair to say that most parents want to raise brave children. We want them brave in doing what’s right. Brave in chasing their dreams. Brave in saying “no” when necessary. Brave in facing []

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3 Words Our Kids Need to Hear

It is Monday morning, and my daughter drags into the kitchen.  She sits on a bar stool, slumps her shoulders, and casts her eyes down at the bowl of Cheerios I slide in front of her. She moans and groans and tells me how tired she is. Part of me is irritated. I need her []

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10 Things I Love about Having a Tween Daughter

When my daughters were all little, I dreaded adolescence. It seemed like all the comments I heard about tween and teen girls were negative, and the way some people put it, I was in for a dismal ride. On top of this, there was the sentimental sap in me who wanted to mourn the childhood my []

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How a Critical Mom Learned To Connect With Her Child

Friends, today’s post is written by my friend Rachel Macy Stafford – also known as Hands Free Mama – whose highly anticipated new book Hands Free Life releases September 8th. Rachel is a gifted writer with a heart of gold, and her beautiful insights on intentional parenting have touched millions across the globe. I highly recommend []

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10 Truths Middle Schoolers Should Know

It’s rare to hear anyone say they loved middle school. Even people with positive memories never tout it as the best years of their life. Simply put, it’s an awkward season. It’s a time of constant changes, social shake-ups, swinging emotions, and intense pressures. If I’ve learned anything from working with adolescent girls, it’s how hungry []

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