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Look Them In the Eye

Yesterday I spoke to a moms group on a subject I all "Meeting Needs and Taking Names," what I believe are the two essential aspects of mothering. Based on lots of research, both secular and Christian, these are the things that will help our kids form healthy relationships, emotional maturity, and an appropriate sense of their worth.

Meeting Needs: The need for secure attachment, which involves presence with, attunement to and comfort of our kids.

Taking Names: Being willing to do the hard work of boundary formation: limit setting, consequences, and discipling (which is teaching through fair discipline)

For Mother's Day week, I want to share my four steps to Meeting Needs with you. Taking Names, coming soon.

One: Look your kids in the eye. (This is me and my youngest 10 years ago.) Put down your phone. Turn off the T.V. Look at and really listen to your kids. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to see your kids as they really are, not as you imagine them to be, nor as you wish they were. Being attuned to their behaviors, emotions, words and ways will help you do what Scripture says: Train them up in the way they should grow, which is according to the natural bent given them by God. (Proverbs 22:6)

Two: Look in the mirror. Self awareness is key to all healthy relationships, especially parenting. Seek to understand yourself and your emotional triggers so you can be an active parent rather than a reactive parent. This is a life-long process that for many of us requires some professional counseling. But reading a book like How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovitch or Dan Allender's How Children Raise Parents: The Art of Listening to Your Family can help you understand how our kids can bring up wounds from our own childhoods. We want to give our kids what they need, not what we needed. And we want to respond to their emotions wisely rather than in ways that will calm our anxieties.

Three: Be a comforter rather than a cheerleader. This is a picture of me trying to help my youngest overcome her fear of our new front-loaded washing machine. Seriously. It terrified her. So I sat with her while she watched it until she was no longer afraid. It's not our job to talk our kids out of their "negative" emotions like fear, sadness and anger. We're tempted to cheer them up rather than comfort, because, frankly, kids are a handful when they're feeling these feelings, especially when it happens in the middle of Target, or on Christmas morning, or in church; it's inconvenient. And sometimes, on a deeper level, we fear that paying too much attention to their emotion will turn them into overly-emotional, out of control people. But the opposite is true, say researchers. Helping kids name emotions and offering comfort actually helps their brains develop neuropathways that will allow them to self soothe as they mature, and also to seek healthy relationships as a means of comfort. Lack of attunement to emotions leads to immaturity, avoidance, anger, depression, and even addictions later in life.

Four: Look at your other relationships. Mamas, do you have friendships and family relationships that comfort you? Do you see God as "the God of all comfort" who equips us to comfort others "with the comfort we ourselves have received from God"? (1 Corinthians 1:3-5) You can't give out what you don't have. Adults need people who are attuned to us too! If you're spending too much time with people where conflict and chaos is the norm rather than the exception, I want to lovingly challenge you to see yourself as someone worth protecting, and worthy and in need of comfort and support. Motherhood even at it's best is grueling, exhausting work, both spiritually and physically. And it's too important to do on an empty tank. Spend time with people who fill your tank.

My heartfelt love and prayers go out to all of you mothers out there; to those of you who wish you were a mama and aren't yet; to those of you who have lost children; to those of you who are mourning the loss of your own mother or craving a different kind of relationship with her. May the God of all comfort be real and present to you this day, and every day.

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