Six Ways Parenting is Like Math

I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “There is no way parenting is like math! There is no easy formula to follow, and no variables to plug in that equal a perfect child.” 

You’re right.

And some of you are thinking, “Yes! Parenting is hard! Math is hard! I get it!”

And you’re right, too.

So if you’re both right, then what in the world am I talking about? 

Just hear me out… 

One of the things I love best about homeschooling is watching the light bulb come on when something “clicks” for one of my kids. This phenomenon is not unique to homeschooling- all parents experience this with their children in different ways. Maybe you are helping them with homework, or teaching them how to shoot a basketball, or even teaching them how to talk when they are little. There is something special about that first time they say your name, make a basket, or solve the math problem. Their eyes get big, their face lights up, and something special passes between you. Success! It is an amazing moment to share.

But those moments are rare, like finding a single pearl hidden somewhere among an ocean of oysters. It takes hard work, perseverance, and is often overwhelming. And in my experience, they usually come about the time I have decided to give up.

I find parenting to work much the same way. There are moments when they get it, when the hard work of character training and spiritual investment align in some sort of magical moment, and we get to high five each other for a job well done. But if your house is anything like mine, before the party’s over, another issue or growth area pops up, waiting to be whacked, and the challenge begins again. Sometimes it’s even the same problem, the one we were just celebrating- apparently prematurely.  What’s a parent to do?

Which brings us back to math. I’ll be honest- I like math, I really do. It has a rhythm and a reason to it; it is logical. It’s like doing a puzzle; you keep the big picture in mind, but mostly you figure out how to fit things together piece by piece, until the picture finally appears. Sounds simple enough.

However, in teaching math to my children I have found it is not always that easy. Sometimes they don’t catch the rhythm, and often they can’t see the logic. So here are a few things I have learned that apply to both parenting and math:

1.  It takes more than one time to learn a lesson.

I’ll be honest; this one caught me completely off guard. I assumed once a child learned long division and experienced the “light bulb” moment, we could check the box, right? No. Apparently kids can completely understand something one moment and then forget everything they know three problems later. It’s a real thing- ask any teacher in your life. It takes more than one time to learn a lesson, even when you learn it well.

The same is true in parenting. “Obey the first time” is an ideal, not a reality. I mean, do you always obey God the very first time every single time? I certainly don’t!  Believe it or not, we will have to teach our kids patience and kindness more than once. We know hitting their brother or talking back is wrong every time, but in their mind, that lesson requires multiple applications to every possible situation before it sinks in. It is not personal against us or limited to only our child. It’s just like math; it takes more than one time to master a concept, which requires… practice and repetition.

2.  Practice and repetition are necessary  for mastery

The idea is that the more you repeat something, the easier it will become. In math, there are two parts to learning basic “facts,” such as addition and multiplication. One must both understand the concept (2 cookies plus 3 cookies equals 5 cookies) and memorize the equation (2+3=5). The first one takes practice, over and over, to truly understand the concept, applying it to different values. The second one requires repetition of the same equation, again and again, until the answer is instinctive. 

How does this idea translate to parenting? There are certain concepts our child will have to repeat over and over again, with a number of different variables, in order to truly grasp the character traits involved. There is no substitution for practicing; we simply must be patient and consistent and understand it is a process. There are other truths they simply need to hear repeated over and over again until they become instinctive. These truths are foundational to the building of their faith and character, just as math facts are foundational to algebra equations. Choose them carefully and repeat them often!

3.  Getting frustrated and angry doesn’t help

Let’s be honest- frustration is inevitable in both math and parenting. However, an angry, yelling parent is not any more effective than a child throwing his pencil in frustration.

One day several years ago, I was helping one of my daughters with her math. I was frustrated because she had “forgotten” a concept she already learned (see #1), and she was not responding well to my extremely calm, patient, loving instruction (in other words, she was being a sassy pants and I was reacting like a pre-teen girl). I said something like, “You would never treat a teacher this way, would you?” and she yelled back, “No, because a teacher would never treat me like you are!”

Ouch.  She was right.

So when you find yourself getting frustrated– in math or in parenting- the best thing to do is…

4.  Take a break and try a different approach 

Sometimes the best thing for everyone is a little break. Take a time-out, move on to a different subject, walk outside- whatever it takes to catch your breath and calm down. And then when you are ready, you can approach the problem again from a different angle. 

As the saying goes, if we do the same thing over and over again, we’re going to keep getting the same result. If something isn’t working, whether it is a math problem or a character issue, try something different.  

Once I quit focusing on how I wanted her to solve the problem and started thinking about how she was trying to solve the problem, I usually saw a new way to approach it. The same is true in our parenting. We can solve a multitude of problems by simply shifting our perspectives. 

5.  Go back to the basics

More often than not, when my kids are getting wrong answers in math, it is because they have forgotten their math facts (see #2). Those foundational truths have gotten rusty and are no longer instinctive, causing them to spend too long figuring out a problem or guessing at numbers. A quick review of the basics generally gets them back on track with minimal interference from me. 

The same is true with parenting. When our children were really little and we suddenly found ourselves with sleep issues or attitude problems, a friend suggested I simplify our schedule and focus on structure, consistency, and my own attitude- the basics. The issues almost always resolved within a few days. 

As they have gotten older, we shift our focus back to heart issues- character, prayer, time in the Word, honoring others over ourselves… all those things we spent so much time “repeating” when they were younger. Okay, and cleaning a toilet often helps, too!

6.  If all else fails, ask for help

Even with our best efforts, sometimes we don’t have what we need to figure it out. In math, that means reaching out to a teacher or a tutor- finding someone who can see things we can’t and who can provide outside perspective we are not able to see or give on our own. 

More than once as a parent, I have been at my wits end, having tried everything I knew to try (usually that was my problem- I was trying to fix something that was not within my power to fix! But that’s a whole different blog post!). Assuming you have already spent time in prayer, the best thing to do is get help. Reach out to a friend whose parenting you respect and admire. Seek godly counsel from a pastor or staff member at your church, or ask them to help you find a solid, Biblical counselor who can give you perspective on your situation. There is no shame in asking for help. People get tutors, hire personal trainers, and visit professionals in various fields all the time. Your children are your greatest investment on this earth. Seek help if you need it!

So… no, there is no formula to follow that will give you a perfect child. And yes, math can be really hard and so can parenting! Both are true. Therefore, instead of wasting time worrying about them, maybe we can learn something from one that will help us with the other, trusting that God will meet us in our efforts to draw their hearts towards Him. 

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” Luke 12:31 (NLT)

A Day in My "Mom Life"

“It’s going to be a great day. It’s going to be a great day. It’s going to be a great day!” I mumble to myself, pulling back the covers and forcing myself out of bed. I really need to pee, but apparently so does the puppy, so I head downstairs first and wait by the door with my legs crossed while she does her business. Fifteen minutes later, when I should be enjoying my tea and Quiet time, I load my middle children into the family chariot and make my way to school. My oldest daughter, who usually drives everyone to school, doesn’t have any exams today, so she is snuggled up in her bed at home while I play carpool mom with the rest of the city. My darling children are so concerned with their dreaded exams that they jump out of the car without even a hug or a thank you.

There is no time for breakfast when I get home, because Sleeping Beauty and the youngest prince are apparently both still under the influence of Maleficent’s sleeping spell. With the puppy bounding behind me, I climb the tower stairs and fling open the curtains in both their rooms, spilling sunlight onto their pillows. A few well-placed licks from the puppy wakes them from their slumber, and I help them make their preparations for the day. Back downstairs, there is no time for tea either. Schoolwork awaits, as well as a sink full of dishes and 13 different milk-stained cups scattered across the counter. When the kitchen is clean and the schoolwork is completed, I have just enough time for a quick rinse in the shower (no time to wash hair- it isn’t Saturday, after all!) before leaving the house again.

Princess #2 has finished exams and requested a lunch date with her besties, so of course, I am happy to oblige. Baby brother tags along, and we settle in at a long table after placing our order. My sweet friend, Liz, (the besties’ mama) arrives while we are still eating, and I begin to get excited- I might just get a few moments of adult conversation! See, it is a good day!! But alas, just as we get started, baby brother invites my sweet friend to join him in a game of digital beer-pong, and who can resist those dimpled cheeks? Shrugging off my disappointment, I gather up our belongings and prepare for the rest of our day. 

The next few hours are a whirlwind of carpool pick ups and drop offs, snacks and dinner, jackets and shoes and scripts and basketballs. Finally, I drop the monkey boys off at basketball and head over to the Coffee Lodge for a few moments of quiet and leisurely Facebook scrolling. I can already taste the hot chocolate with extra whipped cream… until I notice that the doors are locked and the “Open” sign is the opposite of glowing. Ugh. Back to the smelly gym I go, empty-handed and heavy with resignation. I spend the next two hours trying to plan a Small Group lesson while entertaining each monkey while the other one practices. Finally they are done, and we hurry through the freezing rain to our car. 

Once home, it is more snacks, a second dinner, baths and prayers and tears and I need another blanket, until finally, FINALLY, the monkeys are in bed, and the sisters are not far behind. 

With an exhausted breath, I sit down to spend a few minutes to myself at the computer, when I remember the King is home from his trip and awaiting my company for our nightly TV viewing. The bell rings, and I have been summoned. 

With a little laugh, I roll my eyes and smile to myself. This is what I always dreamed of… a family to serve, a family to love. 

It’s been a good day.

This Moment…

(Author’s note: I wrote this several years ago on New Years Eve, but thought it was appropriate to post today, on Mother’s Day. Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of allowing me to be a mom! It is, by far, the hardest and best role I’ve ever had. Oh, and the 10 year old is a teenager now and takes FOREVER in the shower. How quickly things change!)

 

This moment.

Our 12 year old daughter comes bounding down the stairs in her Disney Princess baseball T-shirt and converse shoes, ponytail swinging behind her, smile full of metal, as she heads towards the piano to play, yet again, that crazy fast run in “Let it Go” that she has worked so hard on for the past few weeks.  And she nails it; only this time she keeps playing the rest of the song, and I can feel her radiating with confidence and pride at the accomplishment and satisfaction that results from really hard work.

 

Our 10 year old daughter interrupts our dinner conversation to tell another random story about something that happened in a 90’s sitcom episode which has nothing to do with anything. After dinner, she chases her brothers around with a marshmallow blaster gun and their new bow and arrow set until we force her to take a shower (and have to remind her again to use soap. Seriously??).  From her room, I can hear her singing about “Taylor, the Latte Boy” at the top of her precious 10 year old lungs.

 

Then there’s the 6 year old. He’s trying so hard to be a big boy, to not cry when he gets hurt and not transform into the Incredible Hulk every time something makes him so mad that he feels like he’s going to explode, which is every other minute.  He thinks so hard about every decision because he just doesn’t want to make the wrong choice.  He is still a little bit timid and nervous in new situations, but he is slowly coming into his own.  I see him stand a little taller when he says something he knows is going to be funny, and that little grin peeks out the corners of his mouth when everyone laughs at just the right time.  In no time, he has convinced his little brother to strip down to his underwear and run around the house with him, as they try desperately to escape from the marshmallow-shooting monster in the minion shirt and ponytail.

 

And my sweet baby. Four years old, almost five; chubby cheeks, dimpled like his daddy’s, and a smile that melts the heart of everyone within a 10 mile radius.  These big words and phrases pop out of his little preschool mouth with uncanny timing, cracking us all up and causing us to temporarily forget the 2,397 messes he has left randomly around the house.  He sneaks another piece of candy off the week-old gingerbread village and scampers away in his bare feet and ninja turtle underwear, his round tummy poking out from behind the couch. A scream of laughter escapes from his lips as an arrow bounces off his bottom.  The big-sister-minion-monster is suddenly tickling him, much to his dismay and delight.  But have no fear; big brother quickly comes to his rescue, and they are off again into the hunt!

This moment. 

Prayers whispered, covers pulled up to their chins, messes remaining all over the house, nightlights glowing softly, and stuffed animals tucked in all cozy-like, too.

Eyes closed, a soft kiss brushing their foreheads, a last look, and the realization that this is the last time I will tuck them in this year.  Another whole year has passed.

My, how time flies!

It has been a regular year with ups and downs; exciting, frustrating, endearing, exhausting… blessed.  I was given another whole year with these precious little ones (and some not so little anymore. Sigh.). And 12 months later, we are all still here.  Another day, another breath, another chance to love and laugh and learn.

Oh, how grateful I am, Lord!

Thank you for the gift of this moment– the opportunity to reflect on all the other little ordinary, everyday moments that have made up this year, to unwrap them and turn them slowly in my mind, treasuring them in my heart like Mary did all those years ago.

This moment…

Real Life Interrupted

*Note: This was written 2 years ago during the last week of school

This was not exactly how I had planned for the last week of school to go. The kids had already completed several subjects, so their lesson plans were much lighter than usual. Noah had lots of fun activities planned for his last week of preschool, leading up to his graduation on Friday. My goal was to finish our school work, and then use our extra time to organize our work from the year, pack away our books, and clean up our schooling areas. With any luck, I’d get caught up on laundry and start packing for the beach as well!

Instead, as I was in the middle of securing Abby’s bun for her dance pictures, Noah came running in complaining of a tummy ache. Fortunately, the trash can was near by and little man made it just in time. Needless to say, Abby didn’t make it to her pictures. After a turn on the potty and with his tummy still hurting, little Noah climbed into bed, where he slept through dinner and didn’t wake up until 6:45 the next morning.

The next few days left little time for any of the things I had planned.

The laundry piled up. And up. And up.

Lesson plans were half-heartedly completed.

The year’s school work lay scattered in piles around the house.

The books remained unorganized and desks remained cluttered.

Packing? Yeah, right.

All my efforts were focused on trying to get Noah well enough to participate in his graduation ceremony. After all, he’s our baby! I couldn’t let this milestone pass us by. By Friday morning he was up and running around again (Thank You, Jesus!). So, with the house a disaster and my to-do list a mile long, we loaded the whole family in the car and watched tearfully as our little man closed the door on the Preschool chapter of10464015_10206909151271494_3834277550112502004_n our lives and stepped confidently (and a bit comically) into the world of School-Age children. Wasn’t he just born yesterday? How did we get here??

I decided to take Friday afternoon off. After all, I was emotionally drained from watching my baby grow up before my eyes that morning! Yes, the house looked like a tornado had torn through it and the there was much that needed to be done before we could leave for the beach, but this momma needed a break. So I ran some errands, snuck in a quick dinner date with my hubby (a huge advantage of having a Pre-teen daughter!), and went to bed with prayer for good sleep and a list in my head of all that needed to be accomplished the next day…This morning, however, I was awakened by Eli complaining of a tummy ache, and well… Round 2 has begun. Will it ever stop? Will life ever go as planned? Being a mom has got to be the most unpredictable, interruption-filled job there is!

Oddly enough, I read a C.S. Lewis quote on Sunday night that prepared my heart for what was to come:

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day.”

C.S. Lewis, The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis

Thank You, Lord, for this crazy, messy, unpredictable, exhausting, real life.

Now, I’m off to do some laundry…

*Note: I wrote this many years ago when I first had the idea for a blog. I share it now as a glimpse into my life when I was feeling the tremendous responsibility of raising 4 little ones to somehow love the Lord, when in reality I was doing good just to find their shoes and wipe their noses…

Dear God,

Did You give me these 4 children just to leave me here, overwhelmed? I feel alone, bewildered, disorganized! I begged You for these children. I LOVE these children. And yet, I feel like I am drowning. The responsibility is so great and the stakes are so high. If I mess this up, well… I can’t mess this up, Lord. I can’t!! These are little people, who will one day be grown up people, making their way in the great big world.

Life livers. Love givers. World changers.

You have big plans for them. You are depending on them. Their character, their faith, their talents- somehow it all has to turn out just as You planned for them from the beginning. That’s a LOT of pressure for a parent!! And in the meantime, there is dinner to make, clothes to wash, laundry to fold, baths to give, school work, field trips…

The truth is, I’m dying here, Lord. Starving. Thirsty. Gasping for air. I need the plan, the curriculum, the format You want me to follow. I feel like every day I take one step forward and two steps back. I’m scared to let go, to quit pushing it all forward, to relax for a bit. Every second lost is lost forever, every opportunity missed will never be regained!

Help me, Lord!! I need you!!

What?

Manna??… What is that?

What do you mean it’s enough? It’s small and simple and short-lived.

I can only gather enough for today? Seriously?? That’s not enough! I need more! What if something happens? What if I need it and there isn’t any?

Trust you? Seriously?? But…

But…

Yes. You are trustworthy; I know this to be true. I really do want to trust You, Lord. I choose to trust You! It is refreshing to not have to be responsible for the future for a change. It’s so nice to not have to wonder each day if I will have the right answers or do everything right, but to know instead that You will provide exactly what I need- no more, no less, just enough.

Enough.. YOU are enough.

Today, I have enough.

Thank You, Lord, for this manna.