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 their fears.

But the thing about bravery is, there’s a lot of psychology involved. There are fears that mess with our emotions and our psyche – and subsequently hold us back, shut us down, or make us want to retreat.

So if we really want brave children, we need to think about these fears. We need to remember ourselves at their age and consider what did or didn’t help build our courage.

There are many fears that can prey on a child’s mind, such as fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being different, and fear of embarrassment. But if you ask me, the most overwhelming fear of all for a child is the fear of losing your parents’ approval.

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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 to step it up because I have four kids to get to school in thirty minutes. I don’t have time for this.

But then I remember – I get tired, too. And like me, this child really needs her sleep. So instead of rushing her, I take a minute to let her wake up.

“I get it,” I tell her, remembering the many times I’ve struggled to get out of bed. “Mornings can be hard for me, too.”

It is Wednesday afternoon, and I can tell by the look on my daughter’s face as she walks toward my car that she’s upset. As she buckles her seatbelt, she blurts out what’s troubling her.

Once again she didn’t place in the school art contest. Once again her friend won first place.

With a bitter tinge in her voice, she complains that it’s not fair. Part of me wants to correct my child. I want to tell her to be happy for her friend.

But then I remember – I get jealous, too. And being jealous of a friend is the hardest kind to overcome.

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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 daughters were slowly outgrowing. With every baby tooth that fell out of their mouths, every hair bow they refused to wear, every Barbie they stopped playing with, I wondered if we were drifting away from something vitally important.

An age of innocence we’d never re-capture again.

I’m not sure when it happened, but it hit me one day that maybe I was looking at my daughters’ growth the wrong way. That instead of mourning their changes, maybe I should celebrate them.

Because the truth is, there’s something special about every stage of growing up. And if I spend too much time looking back, thinking about the little girls in French hand-sewn dresses whose pictures I used to hand-tint, and whose food I used to cut, I miss the beautiful scenes playing out in front of me, scenes just as important their overall life stories as the childhoods fading away.

I want my daughters to grow up as slowly as possible, but I don’t want to stunt their growth. I don’t want to cling so tightly to who they were that I leave no room for who they’re meant to become.

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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 her new book as a guide on creating a life of significance and strengthening relationships with your family and friends. 

A bright teenager wrote to tell me she found my blog using the following search words: “how to remind my mother I am a human being with feelings”. The young lady explained, “I could do a million things right, but my mom could still find the flaws, and that ruins the whole day.”

At that sight of those words, my eyes became wet. I cried for this young woman. I cried for her mother. I cried for my own little girl who used to pick her lip in the back of the car after our stressful departures. I cried for the woman who sat behind the wheel aching with regret for expecting so much of a six-year-old child.

For years I justified my overly critical behavior by telling myself I was doing it to help her—help her become more responsible, capable, efficient, and prepare for the real world.

I told myself I was building her up.

But in reality, I was tearing her down.

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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 this age group is for comfort and reassurance. I hear it in their voices and see it in their eyes whenever I speak to a group, a look of searching and a longing to hear something – anything – to help them make sense of things.

Please tell me it gets better, their faces silently plead. Tell me this isn’t it.

Well, middle school kids, I assure you that life picks up. There’s a bigger, more promising world beyond this rite of passage. In the meantime, I have 10 truths to center you. I hope they bring you peace and a little friendly guidance.

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Prepare the Child for the Road, Not the Road for the Child

Years ago, my friend’s daughter really wanted to be chosen as “Swimmer of the Week” at their country club. It’s an honor bestowed weekly to one child per age group in the summer.

Parents will sometimes call the club to request that their child be picked. But my friend didn’t want to do that. She wanted her daughter to win the award through hard work and perseverance. So she told her child, “When you get this award, you’ll know you earned it. You’ll know I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

It took her daughter 2 SUMMERS to be named “Swimmer of the Week.” As you’d imagine, she was so proud of herself when her efforts finally paid off. But the biggest surprise came at the summer’s end, when her daughter received the Coach’s Award at the banquet. This award is based on hard work, attitude, and performance.

To this day, this child still gets recognized for her work ethic by teachers and coaches. She receives honors like “hardest worker award” and team captain. And while I’m sure her work ethic is partly due to nature, I’m also certain that her nurturing at home has played a big role, too.

My favorite parenting motto has always been, “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”  The most popular article I’ve written – “10 Common Mistakes Parents Today Make” – was based on this philosophy, and given the response it received, I believe many parents embrace a similar perspective.

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The Woman Who Loves Her People Well

I have a friend who hopes to start a ministry. She’s equipped to do it, and her life story is pointing that way, but currently she’s in a season where she is waiting for God to reveal His plan and provide more direction.

She’s a great mom – to her kids and other people’s kids, too. My children adore her and look up to her. She’s also a terrific friend, the kind who you will drop everything to help you.

Here’s an example: A while back when I had an unexpected doctor’s visit, I called to see if she’d pick up my child from Mother’s Day Out. I spoke quickly because my cell phone was dying. She said she’d pick up Camille and bring me a phone charger to the doctor’s office because I didn’t need to be there with a dead phone.

I never thought to ask for that favor, and the fact that she did speaks volumes about her nature.

Recently, she and I talked about the ministry she hopes to start. I could tell she’s a little restless in this period of waiting, and I can relate to that. As I was leaving, I told her, “What you’re doing right now, being really available for your family and friends, is just as important as what you hope to be doing two years from now. I want you to remember that.”

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Loving & Letting Go

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever

to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone

Years ago, I was at the dentist’s office getting my teeth cleaned when I heard some parenting advice that’s stayed with me.

My daughters were young at the time, and as the dental hygienist talked about her 16-year-old daughter, I quizzed her about that stage of life.

How do you handle the growing independence?

How do you know how much rope to give?

How do you deal with the fear of bad things happening when she’s away?

After all, it’s one thing to send your child off to kindergarten or even summer camp…quite enough to send them off to college or a Friday night outing with teenage friends.

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8 Lessons I Learned from My Daughter’s Cheer Tryouts

(Originally posted March 2015)

Well, we made it. We survived our first big tryout week. Honestly, it was better than I expected. Even if my daughter hadn’t made the 7th grade cheer squad, I’d still say that.

I was nervous going in, mostly because of the crazy cheer momma stories I’d heard about people freaking out over their child’s competition and pulling sneaky moves. I didn’t want to be like that, of course, nor did I want to fall in the category of being so obsessed with the outcome that I spent the week being strung-out, stressed, and overly invested in conversations about which girls have an inverted toe-touch, and who can do a back tuck.

After all, every girl who tries out for cheerleader is somebody’s daughter. Their parents love them like I love my child. And while I certainly hoped and prayed my daughter would make it, I didn’t want to wish misfortune on anyone or secretly delight in fantasies of girls messing up so she would look better.

So I prayed to keep my head and heart in the right place. I prayed for my daughter and the other girls. Most of all, I looked hard for the life lessons I needed to learn.

Because win or lose, I knew there were insights God wanted me to gain from this experience to help me grow as a parent and a person. 

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Helping Kids Build a Thick Skin

Some of the best advice I ever received came after my first big job promotion.

I was 23 years old, and the newly tapped executive speechwriter for a large company. My primary responsibility was to prepare notes for the CEO’s speaking engagements. Since he was a terrific speaker, he often spoke off-the-cuff. What this meant for me was that I might spend three weeks working diligently on a speech – only to have him use a sentence or two.

As my boss prepared me for what would come, he emphasized one thing in particular: “You need a thick skin if you don’t have one already, because he might use all of your speech or none of it, and you can’t take it personally.”

He was talking about the job, of course, but what I’ve realized in the years since then is how relevant this advice is to life in general.

You see, I’m sensitive by nature, and while I’ve come to appreciate this about myself, I’ve also come to see how important it is to have a thick skin when living in an imperfect, unpredictable world.

When you’re sensitive, life affects you deeply. While your highs can be really high, your lows can be really low. Since you empathize well, you tend to be a good friend. You can recognize when someone is hurting and know when to offer encouragement.

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What’s So Great About Marriage?

When my sister got engaged years ago, she made an observation that I’ve since realized is very true.

“So many people are negative about marriage,” she said. “When I say I’m engaged, they want to tell me how terrible it is.”

Now, I know marriage is hard. I understand there’s a vast difference in the mindset of a new bride and a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. I’m aware that some people have a reason to be down on marriage because their spouse put them through a nightmare, and when their marriage ended, it was a blessing.

But oftentimes, the negative mindset prominent in our culture is caused by looking at marriage the wrong way. Magnifying the bad instead of the good. Listening to people complain about their spouse and deciding we should complain, too. Blaming our spouse for everything that goes wrong and unloading frustration on them because the promise of “til death do us part” makes us feel safe enough to do so.

What gets lost in this negativity is the spiritual aspect, the understanding of how marriage – as the deepest, most intimate relationship possible with another human being – is meant to draw us closer to God. How marriage is a vehicle to discover not only earthly joy, but also heavenly joy, a taste of what’s to come. How the real goal is to help each other become better people and grow into God’s image.

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A Word to Girls about Sexting & Setting Standards

When you write a book for teen and tween girls, you learn a lot about teen culture. Much of what you learn will absolutely break your heart.

And while I don’t love controversy – or being one to initiate awkward conversations – I do love girls. Because of that love, I’m venturing out of my normal blogging zone to address an issue that parents and adolescents should discuss.

And that is, sexting.

Now, some parents assume that only “wild” girls sext. They’ve told their daughters to never-ever-ever send a provocative picture to anyone, and having had this conversation, they don’t worry about their child joining the party.

But what many adults don’t realize is how today’s teens are being told that sexting is normal and no big deal. Everyone does it. Sexting may be prevalent, but it’s not healthy. It isn’t right or good either, and it certainly won’t lead girls to the one thing they want most…love.

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The Child Who Makes Me Brave

Do you have a child who’s the opposite of you, and when they’re little you don’t know what to do with that, but then they grow up and you realize what an extraordinary GIFT you’ve been given?

That’s how I feel about my Sophie Bear, who turns 10 this month.

While I’m a scaredy cat, Sophie is fearless.

While I’m sensitive, she is tough.

While I’m an introvert who loves to stay home and nest, she’s an extrovert, always up for an adventure and any excuse to get out.

Sophie’s courage and passion for people and life inspire me every day. When I grow up, I want to be more like her.

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5 Words for the Weary Mother’s Soul

If you ever have days when you feel tapped out, exhausted, or tired of feeling like you don’t measure up, then prepare to fall in love with my friend Jeannie Cunnion. A mom of three boys and author of Parenting the Wholehearted Child, Jeannie has a gift for helping women find peace and freedom through God’s lavish grace. I’m thrilled to host Jeannie as a guest blogger today so her words of wisdom may inspire you and remind you of how deeply loved you are.


It was 8:30 a.m. and I had just landed at the Atlanta airport, picked up a rental car and began the two-hour drive to South Carolina for a three-day conference.

I turned on the radio and found the local Christian radio station so worship music could fill the car. And I began to cry.  Sob, actually.

I was in a painful season in life, and I was feeling particularly vulnerable.  I was aware of how hard this life can be and how much I need Jesus to navigate it.  I was empty.

Jeannie Cunnion

So I did the only thing I know to do when I am overwhelmed: I began to pray. Honest, raw prayers about the pain in my heart and the fear in my bones.

“I can’t handle this Lord. I feel broken. I am weak. And I think I’m letting everyone down.  The pain is deep and wide and I have nothing to give.”

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The Secret to a Meaningful Life

All of us want our life to mean something.

We want to leave a mark.

We want to make a difference.

We want to be remembered long after we die.

Yet far too often, our efforts are shortsighted. We focus on this world instead of the next. We measure success by wealth, notoriety, and living the American dream. The bigger the bank account, the greater the legacy, we naively assume. The more perfect our family appears, the better we’ve done as parents.

But what looks impressive and important on earth often doesn’t carry over into heaven. Because up in heaven, there are no autograph lines. There are no awards for perfect families, no trust funds for the next generation, no monuments, empires, or family dynasties.

As the country song says, you’ve a never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch. When we die, we can’t take our stuff with us. Regardless of what we accumulate on earth, or how powerful we become, we all leave this world the same way we enter it – naked and alone.

There’s only one thing that can follow us into heaven, and that’s people. So if we really crave a life of meaning, the place to start is with relationships.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

She wasn’t part of my plan. And for that reason alone, I couldn’t wrap my head around her.

I took the pregnancy test for peace of mind. I knew I wasn’t pregnant…yet I had to make sure. A missed cycle had stirred doubt in my head. That doubt bothered me. I wanted it to go away so I could get on with life.

When the test turned positive, my heart sank. A tsunami of emotions swelled inside me, and while I couldn’t pinpoint every feeling, I could tell that the predominant one was disbelief. No. This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening. I don’t want a baby. We’re fine as we are. Go away…

In my head I counseled myself with a few basic facts: You have three children already. You adore them and your husband. You’ve been down this road before. You have a happy home. Why are you so freaked out?

Logistically, I knew this could work because we were already knee-deep into parenting. What I couldn’t accept was what this meant for ME. With my children ages 6,4, and 2, I was just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was just reclaiming my body after six years of pregnancy and breastfeeding. I was just starting to enjoy my children as little people.

Now I was pregnant again?

It felt like a major setback. We were complete and content as a family of five; never had I sensed a void that only a child could fill. In fact, whenever I heard of moms I knew getting pregnant with an “oops” fourth baby, my initial thought was, “Good for them, but I’m glad it’s not me.”

Why would God give me a baby but not the desire? What kind of mom could I be to a child I didn’t want?

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Making Peace with the Holidays

One January several years ago, I was having coffee with some moms when the conversation turned to Christmas — and how differently women and men handle the holiday.

A story one mom shared essentially summed up the gender gap that tends to appear this time of year.

It was a busy Saturday, and as she ran circles around the house, her head exploding with things to do (buy a tree! decorate it! decorate the house! bake! buy gifts! wrap gifts! prepare Christmas cards!), her husband was kicked back watching football. Every time she passed him in the den, her irritation rose. With a drink in hand and a crackling fire, he looked completely and annoyingly at PEACE.

Her husband was too relaxed to notice how busy she was, much less offer to help. With her hard work going unappreciated, a fire of another kind started inside her.

Around her fourth or fifth trip, this mom stopped moving. She looked at her husband and, with three simple words, shared her frustration:

“Quit enjoying yourself!” she told him.

Every mom having coffee that day burst into laughter at the story’s punch line and nodded emphatically. It was one of those, “Right on, sister. I know exactly what you’re talking about!” moments we all related to.

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It’s Release Day!

Dear friends,

Let me begin with THANK YOU!

Thank you for reading my blog and newspaper column. Thank you for sharing my stories. Thank you for making this blog post for teen girls go viral and setting in motion a dream come true when Thomas Nelson, one of the world’s largest Christian publishers, asked if I’d be interested in turning that post into a book.

Clearly I said, “Yes!”, and because of you and that yes, we’re celebrating today.

Because today is the official launch for 10 ULTIMATE TRUTHS GIRLS SHOULD KNOW, a book for teen and tween girls! Today I get to share, with anyone who’s interested, 200 pages of what I want my daughters and their generation of girls to know.

Do I have all the answers? Of course not. But I do have a passion for girls and a genuine desire to point them in the right direction. And through writing this book, it’s become my mission to help girls discover their best life possible through Christ and understand how unbelievably and unconditionally loved they are. 

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Why I Don’t Want Perfect Daughters

A while back, I had a conversation with a beautiful 13-year-old girl in which the name of a popular teenager came up. With starry eyes and her face suddenly aglow, this 13-year-old exclaimed:

“She’s so pretty! She’s so perfect! I want to be her!!!”

I understood her remark, because I once thought this same way. I once considered perfection the holy grail, the ultimate goal a girl should strive for.

But due to my history in chasing perfectionism, how I still struggle with the mindset at times and now understand the damage it does, her comment put a pit in my stomach.

I wanted to reply, “No! Nobody’s perfect! If you believe that about her you’ll only be disappointed, and if you make perfection your goal, you’re in for a lot of grief,” but I didn’t. To be honest, all I could think about were the number of times I’d seen teen and tween girls on Instagram use the word “perfect” in their comments:

Your life is perfect! I’m so jealous!!

You have the perfect wardrobe! Can I have your closet?

Your hair looks perfect!

Whoa, perfect body! Can I be you?

OMG! You’re perfect!

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Dear Girls: Your Body is BEAUTIFUL

There’s a certain reality to being female that no one can deny.

And that reality is, the better you look, the more compliments and attention you receive.

It took me a long to realize how powerfully motivating this is for teen girls in particular, approaching their physical peak. When adults talk about teen girls today, the conversation often revolves around how vain and beauty-obsessed this generation of selfie-takers has become. And while that’s generally true, the one thing nobody seems to ask is why these girls worship their appearance and why it’s so hard for them to quit chasing physical perfection.

If we really want change to occur, we need to dig below the symptoms and consider the root of the problem. We need to think long and hard about why.

I’ve reflected on this subject a lot in raising my four daughters and working with teen and tween girls. And through all my thinking, remembering myself as a self-absorbed teenager, talking to youth ministry leaders, and reading up on the subject, I’ve concluded that why boils down to this:

The prettier and thinner a girl becomes, the louder people applaud. 

And once you hear that applause, you naturally crave more.

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What I Appreciate MOST from Parents Raising Boys

A while back, I was at dinner with my friend Jacki when she shared a story about one of her three sons.

Their family was at the high school for a game, and without consulting his parents, their sixth grade son walked from the school to the neighborhood grocery store with three girls. Because it was dark outside, his parents weren’t happy about it.

One thing Jacki’s learned about raising boys, however, is that when they do something against her wishes, there’s usually a lesson to be learned. And what this incident led to was an important discussion she and her husband, Danny, had with their son later that night.

They asked him, “Do you know what your role was walking with those girls?”

No,” their son replied.

“Your role was to be a protector and a leader,” they told him. “If someone had tried to hurt one of the girls, your job would have been to stand up for them.”

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