girltalk Blog

Mar 13

When Your Child Gets Left Out

2014 at 8:13 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Motherhood

My neighbor and I stood in our cul-de-sac, watching our kids ride bikes and try to fly kites without a breeze. “My son is having a hard time making friends at his new school,” she told me. “When I went to pick him up the other day he was standing all by himself. It was so hard to see him be left out.” Her mother’s heart was breaking for her child.

Few things hurt like watching your child get rejected. I’ve been surprised at the strong emotions that well up inside me at those times. I hurt when my kids hurt and often I hurt even more than they do.

With all those strong, mama-bear emotions we can lose sight of a biblical perspective. We forget to view the situation through the lens of God’s Word. But if we are going to help our child navigate these moments, we must think about them biblically, and we must help them to think that way too.

When your child gets left out, it is an opportunity for God’s grace to come in.

This relatively small trial brings with it big gospel opportunities for parenting our children. In fact, you could argue that there are more blessings than pain to be had, when we view being left out in light of biblical truth.

(Disclaimer: Although some of what I say may apply, this post is not about bullying or deliberate unkindness which requires appropriate parental action and protection for our children.)

1. An opportunity to develop character.

Often, being slighted or rejected is one of the first trials that our children experience, and as much as we hate to watch them hurt we need to maintain a biblical perspective. “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character,” it says in Romans 5:3-4. Suffering, even in small ways, helps to strip away the sin that “clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1), and it forges godly character you can’t get any other way. So while we will feel sad that our children must know pain, we can also rejoice in the good that pain will produce. Before he joined our family, my son, Jude, experienced the harsh realities of poverty as a very small boy. I often wish I could reach back and rescue him from those difficult experiences. But I also see how those early trials made him into the remarkably mature young man he is today. I’m not happy he had to go through those difficulties, but I delight in the thoughtful, strong, wise, and responsible boy that suffering has produced. In age-appropriate ways, we as parents can begin to help our children see some of the purposes of God in suffering: to produce endurance, which produces character, which produces hope in God. And hope in God does not (like people so often do) disappoint (Rom. 5:3-5).

2. An opportunity to become others-focused.

It may be the first time your child has been left out, but it almost certainly won’t be the last. We all, at one time or another, know what it is like to be rejected, uninvited, or lonely. These are unpleasant experiences in an unkind world. But they are also blessings in disguise. As parents we can turn these experiences into valuable teaching opportunities to help our children peel their eyes off themselves and live to serve God and others. Let’s help our children use the experience of being left out to look out for others instead. Feeling rejected can, with help from Dad and Mom, make them more sensitive to others who are lonely. They can learn how to reach out to the loner and show compassion to the outcast. The question is not, “will I be included today?” but “who can I include for God’s glory today?” Being left out is an opportunity to experience the blessings of serving others (Is. 58:10, Pr. 11:25).

3. An opportunity to escape the fool.

Every Christian parent wants his or her child to grow up to be a godly young man or woman. But sometimes we secretly (or not so secretly) want them to be popular too. If we learn anything from Scripture and experience, however, it is that popularity and godliness don’t often mix too well. Few adults can handle the headiness of popularity and fame, much less so children. It is a test of prosperity few can pass with flying colors. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to raise popular children or commended for wanting to do so. Instead, we are told to raise wise children who stay far away from the fool (Prov. 14:7). If the companion of fools comes to harm, then being rejected or left out by said fools spares your child (and you) all kinds of grief and consequences (Prov. 13:20). If our children are left out, we have to ask ourselves: do we really want them to fit in with that group in the first place? Far better that our children have no friends at all than have foolish friends. In other words, rebellion is worse than rejection. Of course we aren’t trying to raise loners. Godly friendship is a gift and we want to cultivate and encourage wise and helpful friendships for our children. But it is our job as parents to guide them toward friends who will point them to Christ. Any distance we can put between our children and the fool is a blessing from God.

4. An opportunity to draw closer to God and family.

So often, God uses loss in our lives to draw us to himself. The same is true for our children. When our children are well liked and comfortable and have all their hearts’ desire, they don’t often have a hunger for God’s Word or his presence. It is when those things are taken away that they often (by the Spirit of God) are drawn to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Ps. 119:67). As parents, we must point the way. We must tell our children that God is using this trial to call them to himself and encourage them to seek his face. Also, seize the opportunity to strengthen family relationships. I’m so grateful for the way my parents insisted that my siblings and I always look out for each other. “Friends will come and go” they said, “but you will always have your family.” You may not have that relationship with your own parents or siblings but you have an opportunity, by the grace of God, to create a family where that is the case. Fill the empty social calendar with more family time. Eat meals together and make memories and have fun together. Teach your children to rally around and support each other. This doesn’t make all the pain go away, but it does make your home a haven from the pain.

5. An opportunity to learn courage.

More and more each day we realize that we are parenting our children through great cultural changes. The world they are growing up in is far different than it was ten or twenty years ago, and we must prepare our children to engage a hostile world with the gospel in a way that is loving and winsome but also bold and wise. Our goal is to raise, as John Ensor once put it, “non-conformists”: children who do not conform to this world but who are transformed by the renewal of their minds (Rom. 12:2). Being left out teaches our children how to stand alone. It teaches them what it means to live without the affirmation of others but solely on the truth of God’s Word. We have a tremendous gospel opportunity when our kids get left out. In fact, we should want them to get left out if the ticket to “fit in” is disobedience to God’s Word.

To seize these gospel opportunities we must be sympathetic and understanding toward our children. We must enter into our children’s pain before we can lead them to see the gracious opportunities it provides. “Those kids may have meant evil against you,” we can tell them, “but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20).

Feb 27

Raising Cookie Eaters

2014 at 3:13 pm   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Homemaking | Motherhood

In this insightful conversation between Rachel Jankovic (author of Fit to Burst) and her father, Douglas Wilson, Rachel explains where she wants her children to “grow up as cookie eaters instead of in the house with a cookie maker.”

Good stuff here about how to avoid falling into the ditch of resenting excellence in the home or the other ditch of pursuing excellence in the home for your own glory:

“Making cookies I’m all in favor of, but if you are making them about yourself and then trying to force them down everybody else’s throats “because I’m so good at this,” it doesn’t feed your children. But if you are making them because you want your children to be the kind of people who grew up eating cookies [and because] I want my children to have lived in a home that is ordered and pleasant to be in…if you are doing it that direction, I think it will feed your children.”

In the six minutes it takes for you to bake a batch of cookies you can watch this helpful video. Worth your time.

Motherhood & Work: Cleaning House and Cleaning Hearts, with Rachel Jankovic from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

Feb 6

Q&A: “I Feel Like a Mean Mom” Pt. 2

2014 at 9:30 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Motherhood | Q&A

Are you worried about how your kids will remember you?

Maybe you got angry at your child yesterday, or you’ve been irritable and impatient lately. Maybe you feel discouraged by your shortcomings: all the times you’ve been distracted or self-absorbed and so missed opportunities to express tender love and affection to your children.

The monumental task of motherhood often reveals our failures and shortcomings in vivid color. We worry that our children will remember us as a mean mom. In these moments we must remind ourselves of the gospel at work in our relationship with our children.

God is growing you as your children grow: A pastor with grown children once told us: “You finally figure out how to be a parent when all your children are grown.” How true! If I could start over now, I’d feel like an expert.

But that’s not the way God designed it. He doesn’t give us children when we are old and wise and mature, but when we are young and ignorant and need to grow. In other words, he gives us children in the middle of the sanctification process; and our children, in turn, become a significant means of producing growth in our lives.

I remember one of my girls telling me—in response to my asking if there was anything she wanted to change about Daddy and Mommy—that I hadn’t been smiling very much lately. She didn’t think I seemed very happy. Ugghh. She was right. I had not been smiling very much because I was so discouraged by my mothering, and her comment made me feel ten times worse!

Thankfully, I was able to apprehend the grace of God and take her comment as an opportunity to grow. I asked God to help me be a joyful mom. And today, I’m grateful that my daughter assures me that she does not remember me as an unhappy mom.

As we quoted John Newton here on the blog a couple of weeks ago:

“I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.“

God uses weak and sinful women who are being transformed into the image of God to raise children for his glory (2 Cor. 3:18). This is a comforting thought. He is working out his good plan in you and through you at the same time. As you respond to God’s grace and doggedly pursue growth in godliness, this is what your children will see. This is what they will remember. They will remember you as a growing mom.

God has given children a remarkable capacity to forgive. “When I was a child…I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” wrote the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 13:11), and while he was making a different application than I am here, the point holds true: children don’t think like adults.

Children are very much in the moment. They don’t tend to sit back and assess, evaluate and measure, or render judgments. They are generally slow to hold grudges and quick to forgive. And this is a great mercy to us as mothers.

Our children’s resilience does not excuse our anger. Of course not! But we can find encouragement in the fact that God has created children with a remarkable ability to forgive when we repent and ask their forgiveness.

I remember a time when my dad asked the family to forgive him for getting angry at a family member. Of course I forgave him! I was happy to forgive him! In that moment, all my anger at him melted away. I was filled with gratefulness and affection. Our relationship was restored. Even to this day, I remember that incident more because of my dad’s humility and repentance than because of the anger he expressed in the first place.

So, take heart, repentant mother. When you humble yourself and ask forgiveness, this will have a profound effect on your child’s soul. Not only can it restore your relationship, it can make your bond even stronger than before. Your repentance can serve as a profound display of the transforming effect of the gospel. By God’s grace, memories of your sinful anger will be overtaken by memories of your humility and repentance. This is how your children will remember you. They will remember you as a humble mom.

Related Posts:

Q&A: “I Feel Like a Mean Mom” Pt. 1

Feb 4

Q&A: “I Feel Like a Mean Mom” Pt. 1

2014 at 10:57 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Motherhood | Q&A

Recently I was talking to a mom who was worried about how her children would remember her: “I feel like all I do all day is tell my children to ‘do this’ and ‘stop doing that.’ Correct and command. Correct and command. I feel like I’m little more than a drill sergeant, and I’m so afraid my children will remember me as a mean mom.”

Oh, how well I remember that feeling, and I’m sure every mom can relate: especially if you are like me and don’t feel like a particularly fun or creative mom.

Moms spend all day picking up tantrum throwing toddlers off the floor, and telling older children to “pick up your clothes,” “stop arguing with your sister” and “close your mouth when you chew.” Then daddy comes home in time to play a game or read a bedtime story. Of course they are going to remember us as the mean parent, right?

It’s inevitable: we will probably feel like a “mean mom” if we are faithfully disciplining and correcting our children—especially because so few parents these days (even in the church, sadly) practice loving discipline—but that is why we must fortify our discouraged soul with God’s truth about parenting.

Here are two realities to keep in mind if we are worried about our mothering legacy:

1. Don’t underestimate the good fruit of faithful discipline.

God is the one who has tasked us to “bring [our children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6.4), and when done with patience and kindness, we are following the example of our Heavenly Father: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3.19).

Sure, it isn’t fun at the time, for the one receiving and the one giving the discipline: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant,” but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11) (emphasis mine).

When we command and correct we are sowing seeds for a harvest. We are teaching our children to obey God’s loving authority. We are protecting them from the path of the fool who “despises his father’s instruction” (Prov 15:5). We are raising them to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12).

One day, by the grace of God, we can anticipate a bumper crop of righteousness. We can anticipate the respect (Heb 12:9) and gratitude (Prov 31:28) of our children not in spite of but because of our faithful discipline. We can have great hope that our children will remember us, not as a mean mom, but as a loving mom.

After all, has not the Spirit of God led us to appreciate the loving discipline of our Lord? Is he not willing and eager to do the same for our children?

2. Don’t underestimate the power of tender affection.

My daughter Kristin has three growing boys and a toddler girl. So, as you can well imagine, she is “in the thick of it” when it comes to every day, all day correction and instruction.

Recently I babysat her kids so she and Brian could have a well-deserved getaway. Before bed on Saturday, Kristin’s son Owen asked if I would make them tea on Sunday morning. Apparently this was a tradition they looked forward to every weekend, and the boys were worried that with Mom away, they wouldn’t get their tea.

This illustration reminded me afresh of the outsized power of small expressions of affection. Kristin may spend most of her week prodding and corralling, but what do her boys notice when she’s gone? They remember that she makes them tea every weekend. And I guarantee you this memory will remain with them long into the future.

It doesn’t take a lot of money or big plans. The consistent expressions of love—the nicknames and the reading times, the hot tea and the “I love you’s”—will make a profound impression on your children. If you show tender affection to your children, in small but consistent ways, they will remember you as a loving mom.

“But what if I get angry at my children?” I can hear a mother ask. I’ll attempt to answer that question in the next post.

Jan 7

Q&A: “How do you get up early when your kids are up all night?”

2014 at 11:13 am   |   by Janelle Bradshaw Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Time Management | Motherhood | Q&A

The girltalk inbox has been a bit crowded these days with e-mails from exhausted moms asking how it is possible to rise early and get time with the Lord when they are up half the night with small children. It always encourages me to hear from you! I just finished a long stretch with Summer (11 months) and Hudson (3 years) waking up multiple times a night. Mike and I would laugh (more like a half-hearted chuckle from me) that they seemed to coordinate with one another, working in shifts to make sure that I got as little sleep as possible.

So how do I wake up early when my kids want to party all night? I don’t. I can’t.

A couple months ago, I sat across from Mom, Nicole and Kristin exhausted and crying (not for the first time in the last eight years) over my lack of sleep and inability to get up early. I missed my early morning times with the Lord, and my days felt more disorganized and hectic because I wasn’t able to get up before my children. They sympathized and encouraged me to remember that this was a season—yes, a long and tiring season, but not one that would last forever.

In the meantime, I needed to get creative and develop an alternative plan. If waking up early before my kids wasn’t possible right now, then how else could I feed my soul throughout the day? I downloaded the ESV Bible app, which has an audio feature. (FYI: Over at christianaudio.com, you can get the ESV audio for FREE during the month of January!) I loaded my phone with sermons, which I could listen to a few minutes at a time. I took time to pray while I was in the shower or emptying the dishwasher.

I also sought to be intentional about my children’s schedule. I trained Hudson to have “room time” (an hour alone in his room with a few toys) at the same time that Summer took her morning nap. This guaranteed (and I use that word loosely) me a slot of time where I could read my Bible or finish a project.

These ideas may not work for you, but the point is to get creative. What are small ways you can seek the Lord throughout your day? How can you free up twenty minutes in your daily schedule to sit and read your Bible and pray?

And take heart. You are not alone. And this season won’t last forever…right???

Dec 18

10 Ideas to Help Children Fight Greed at Christmastime

2013 at 9:18 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Fun & Encouragement | Girltalkers | Homemaking | Holidays | Motherhood

Christmastime puts parents in a tough spot. We love our children. We want to give them good gifts. We enjoy their eager anticipation and exuberant gift opening on Christmas morning. And yet as Christian parents, we know there is a dark side to gift giving: greed. All of the presents can seem little more than brightly wrapped packages of temptation. There are temptations to selfish delight or despair, depending on whether or not our children got what they wanted. Greed can take hold, turning what we intend as a blessing into what feels like a setback in our parenting.

So how do we give generously and squash greed at the same time? We girltalkers did some brainstorming and idea sharing and came up with ten ideas to get us all started.

1. Be Intentional. Greed won’t go away on its own; we’re gonna have to apply some parental elbow grease to this one. And it’s not a one-time thing, like “Do you remember the year we got rid of Christmas greed?” We’re going to be dealing with it for a while, so we have to resist the temptation to get angry or discouraged if it doesn’t seem like our efforts are bearing fruit right away.

2. Talk a Lot. Deuteronomy 6 is a great Christmas passage. We need to talk to our children about greed and gratefulness and what it means to glorify God at Christmas. It’s tempting to give up, because our instruction often seems to go in one ear and out the other, but we are called to be faithful.

My husband likes to have little Q&A sessions with the kids and throw in a ridiculous answer to make it memorable (broccoli often makes an appearance in these little conversations). Thus our Christmas Catechism sounds something like this:

Q. What is better than Getting?

A. Giving is better than Getting

Q. Why is it better than Getting?

A. Because that’s what Jesus did.

Q. What is better than Getting? (raise volume here)

A. Giving is better than Getting

3. Make Christmas Memories. Christmas traditions help direct a child’s anticipation toward activities and memory making and not only gift getting. This is one reason we love to celebrate Advent: it is a daily reminder that we are waiting for more than presents under the tree. Cookie baking, Christmas light viewing, and story reading all serve a similar purpose.

4. Make Christmas Giving Lists. In addition to Christmas lists for Mimi we have our kids make lists for what they want to give to family members. Then we let them loose in the Target dollar section to buy presents for their siblings and Daddy and Mommy. This is one of their favorite Christmas traditions, and it is fun to see their excitement channeled toward giving and away from getting.

5. Read Christmas Giving Stories. A great addition to Christmas story time: books that highlight the joy giving such as Little Women, The Gift of the Magi, If You’re Missing Baby Jesus, Christmas Day in the Morning and many more. Powerful stories can help awaken children’s imaginations to the magic of giving.

6. Give to People in Need. Involve your children in giving gifts to those who are in need or who are suffering at Christmastime. We enjoy buying presents for newly adopted children or contributing to a family’s adoption, but there are countless opportunities at Christmastime to give locally and around the world. Giving to others helps children take their eyes off themselves and understand how much they have to be grateful for.

7. Give the Gift of Experience. Along with toys, you can include gifts of experience under the tree: books, magazine subscriptions, memberships to a local museum, tickets to a special event, lessons for art or music, or (my favorite) a family trip or outing. Over time your children may come to anticipate these gifts most of all.

8. Minimize Temptation. In other words, hide the Christmas catalogs. Avoid spending long hours in the toy section at Target with your child. Limit exposure to holiday commercials. Redirect conversations that begin, “Do you know what I want for Christmas?” But don’t mess with the grandparents. Do the hard work of parenting so that Grandma and Grandpa can have the joy of being as generous as they desire.

9. Develop a Gift Opening Strategy. We like to open gifts slowly, one person, one gift at a time. This takes a while, but the slow pace helps restrain greed and promote gratefulness. We are training our children to pay attention when someone else is opening a gift and enter into their joy. And we also insist that our children give hugs and kisses and “big thank you’s” after opening each present. Having a strategy for gift giving that encourages patience, gratefulness, and a focus on others can counteract the greed that wants to own the day.

10. Cultivate Christ-like Character. We may have outgrown a childish greed for presents, but we as parents are still tempted to approach Christmas selfishly, for our own comfort or gratification. We need God’s grace to help us serve selflessly, give generously, parent patiently, and grow in passion for our Savior at Christmastime. As we grow to be more like Christ who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28) we will encourage our children to do the same.

Dec 13

Christmas Gifts for Children

2013 at 7:10 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Homemaking | Holidays | Hospitality | Motherhood

For all you last-minute Christmas shoppers, here are a few gift ideas for the kiddos:

Sing the Bible with Slugs and Bugs

We are huge Slugs and Bugs fans around here and we’ve been waiting a long time for this album. Eighteen Scriptures set to some great music.

Bake Through the Bible

My parents gave us gifts that would make memories long after Christmas and this gift does just that. My girls are going to love trying some of these recipes.

God’s Great Plan

This book is beautifully written and illustrated to tell the storyline of the Bible. I plan to re-read it regularly to my children.

The Wingfeather Saga

I’m assuming you already know about these books from Andrew Peterson, but just in case one or two of you haven’t heard of them, I mention them here. My son has worn out books one through three and is counting down the days until the release of book four.

The Ashtown Burial Series

I’m also buying this series for my oldest, but to be honest, it’s really for me.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing

From the beloved author and illustrator Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrator Jago comes this exciting new book.

Dec 11

A Letter to an “Expectant” Adoptive Mom

2013 at 9:56 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Fun & Encouragement | Girltalkers | Motherhood | Adoption

A few days before Thanksgiving, I received a message from a soon-to-be adoptive mother with the good news that she and her husband had recently accepted a referral for a five-year-old boy in Ethiopia. She asked me for advice on bringing home an older child, as she already has several children at home. I thought I would share my letter with you.

Dear Friend,

I am thrilled to hear your news! Your message brought a smile to my face, because it was almost exactly two years ago that we first met our Jude and Sophie. We’ve been reminiscing a lot as a family this week and rejoicing in God’s goodness. I am so excited as I think of the joy you will soon experience as you welcome your new son into your family.

While I’m hesitant to offer adoption advice—after all, I am only one mother who has adopted two children less than two years ago—I am eager to pass along the wise counsel we received from our parents and godly adoptive parents that was of immeasurable help to our family. Here are a few very brief thoughts:

1. You won’t always be this tired. You will arrive home, jet-lagged from an international flight, fresh off one of the most emotional experiences of your life, with a child who needs moment by moment care and attention as he transitions to a new family, home, language, and culture. Not to mention that his sleeping pattern doesn’t correspond to this time zone, and that you have other children at home who need your love, care, and guidance through this new season. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel this tired (and I wasn’t a first time mom, either!). These were certainly the most exhausting days of my life, but also the most exhilarating. Jude and Sophie were finally here, in our family, wearing the clothes we had bought them and sleeping in the beds we had made. Sitting at our table. Holding our hands. Steve and I kept looking at each other like, “Can you believe it? They are really here!”

My counsel is first to pray for wisdom and strength, because you will desperately need both. Accept all offers of meals or house cleaning you receive. Keep things very simple (paper products from Costco are a great investment). Don’t plan on going anywhere for a while, except church and the doctor’s office. Enjoy these weeks of intense focus on your precious family. And remember that it won’t always be like this. You will feel rested again. Life will feel normal again. Just maybe not as soon as you expect.

2. Love to feel (and not the other way ‘round). Your task is challenging and glorious, but it is also clear: to love your child according to God’s Word. Lavish him with affection and encouragement. Serve him with cheerful sacrifice. And don’t waste time examining your emotions, worrying about how you feel, or grasping for an ideal experience. It was not hard to fall in love with my children, and you may feel an instant connection and deep bonds of love with your child; or your motherly emotions may come more slowly, as you love and sacrifice for your son. It helps to remember that our feelings are not the measure of true love or of the success of our adoption. In fact, by paying too much attention to how we feel, we can get tangled up in a mess of anxious wonderings that leave us feeling confused and distract us from genuinely loving our child. As C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “An obligation to feel can freeze feelings.” (HT: Sally Lloyd-Jones). The question is not: “Do I feel motherly love for this child?” but “How can I show motherly love to this child?” If we choose to love our children, we can be sure that loving feelings will follow.

3. Consistency is key. Steve and I wanted our children to feel safe and comfortable and to know what to expect from life in the Whitacre home. So we tried to be as consistent as possible in our speech, our habits, our affection, our rules, and in particular, our daily routine. As soon as they got home, we began to establish a general daily and weekly routine that paralleled what they were familiar with in Ethiopia. Following a simple daily schedule enabled us to stabilize as a family much faster than I expected. It didn’t take long before our children adjusted to the rhythm of life in our home and we were able to start adding activities such as sports or time with family and new friends. This may not be best for everyone, but it made a huge difference for our family’s peaceful transition.

One of the many blessings of adoption is that it can help you to become a better parent. You can’t take anything for granted and so you have to be more intentional and proactive. You have to listen more carefully, observe more closely, express your love more consistently, maintain your authority more clearly, and—in order to do all of these things—pray more intensely. Adopting an older child intensifies your focus on your family, which makes you a better parent to all of your children. In an age of distraction and the dissolution of the family, adoption can greatly strengthen your family bonds. This is a precious gift indeed.

4. Choose one thing and hold steady. Everything is new for our adopted children, so it doesn’t help to throw a bunch of new rules at them too. Together with your husband, consider what is most urgent or will most serve your child, and make this your one priority. For example, our son, Jude, really bucked the daily routine at first. When it was time to sit at the table for meals or coloring, he sat with both feet off to the side, ready to bolt. He threw fits at rest time and expressed strong disapproval (some things don’t take words!) when we wouldn’t let him watch TV until the end of the day. But we had decided that this was the one area where we were going to hold the line and begin to teach him to respond with joy to our loving, God-given, authority. We let many other things go for a while, but remained cheerfully resolute in this area. Today, Jude not only thrives on our daily routine, but is happy and obedient in so many other ways as well. I’ll be honest: there were many times I was tempted to give up. I wanted my new children to love me, or at least like me a little, and with my husband back at work, I was the primary enforcer. I needed a lot of encouragement from my husband and mom to persevere, but I’m so glad we did. Today Jude and Sophie cheerfully obey, and our bond is stronger as a result of having clear and loving boundaries in the home.

5. Take the long view. One of my greatest hopes was that all four of our children would become close friends. But things did not start off well at first. Jack and Jude couldn’t play together for more than five minutes without getting into an argument. They are both oldest boys, both used to taking care of a younger sister, both used to winning. After several months of what felt like constant arguing, I despairingly told my mom that I thought it would never get better. She encouraged me to be patient. Keep helping them. It takes time. And she was right: it took a good year or more. Today my sons are really good friends. Sure, they have the usual brotherly spats, but they also genuinely love and respect each other. It makes me so happy to hear them laughing in their bunk beds at night or to watch them play football in the backyard (and I don’t have to go out once!). So, resist the temptation to despair too quickly, as I did. Progress may seem painfully slow, and certain issues will always remain (as they do with all of us!), but if you patiently persevere, you will look back one day and be surprised at how much progress has been made.

6. Begin with the Bible. Adopted children, to one degree or another, have all experienced traumatic circumstances early in life, many unimaginably severe. My children probably experienced fewer traumas than most, so I am generally unqualified to speak on this topic. If your child struggles with significant trauma or extreme behavior, I would encourage you to seek advice from your pastor, medical professional, and if necessary, a biblically informed counselor. So I’m speaking very personally here, when I say that, for our family, we have been slow to psychologize, and have found that the best advice for parenting our adopted children is still plain, old-fashioned, biblical parenting advice. When I see my children as individuals, created in the image of God, with their own personality, strengths and weaknesses, and a life-history that has been sovereignly ordained by God, it helps me to be more sensitive and understanding of their weaknesses, and more hopeful for their future growth. On the other hand, when I have been quick to slap a label on a certain behavior or say, “that’s what adopted children do,” I tend to get off track. I begin to see the behavior as much more unique than it really is, and thus more difficult (or impossible) to resolve; and as a result I can easily grow irritated or discouraged. But many times I’ve had to laugh as I’ve described a “unique” adoption problem to my family, only to have them remind me of how I exhibited similar tendencies when I was a child.

7. Remember, you are a mother. When we first brought our children home from Ethiopia we took them out for injera and doro wat at a local Ethiopian restaurant. Our pediatrician had put us in touch with the proprietor, a lovely Ethiopian woman, who took the time to come to our table and talk to the children in Amharic. I asked her if she had any advice for me, thinking that she might share an important aspect of Ethiopian culture that she hoped I would pass on to our children. Her answer surprised me: “You are a mother, right? Then you have a mother’s instinct. You will know what to do.”

Of course, she was right. And her answer encapsulated the most helpful advice I have received from other parents. Adoption may be difficult or complicated at times, but it is also beautifully simple. You are adopting a child, a unique and precious human being, with his own experiences and difficulties, strengths and struggles, gifts and talents, joys and pains. And God has called you to be this child’s mother, which is both utterly daunting and yet entirely doable by the grace of God. As an adoptive mother, you are not outside God’s sovereign plan, Scripture’s wisdom, or the Holy Spirit’s help for this task. Remembering this—that adoption means I am a mother—brings it all into focus: all of the privileges and joys, all of the responsibility and commitment, all the confidence and the hope we have in God as parents.

It really is as simple and as wonderful as this: be his mother. That is my advice to you, and more importantly, Scripture’s counsel to you. God, the Father, models adopting love for us and through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, we have been given all we need to be our children’s mother.

My friend, this letter is already too long. There is so much more I could say. But most of all I rejoice with you. Children are a heritage and a reward, and God has been mightily good to you and your family. I am praying for much peace, wisdom, blessing, and grace as you welcome this precious boy into your lives. I can’t wait to see pictures!

In Christ,

Nicole