“When we grow up, we’re going to be the next Barbara Walters”.
That’s what my high school best friend (Amy) and I used to always say. We had it all figured out. We would graduate high school, go to college and major in public relations (because that just seemed like a cool thing to major in). We would then move to New York (because, every romantic comedy where the lead girl has a bad ass job, and an even more bad ass apartment, EVER), and instantly be offered Baba’s job.
Well, exactly NONE of that panned out, but today, I did get to conduct an interview, with a person who I find to be VERY fascinating.
Lori is her name, and she is fascinating because she raised the MOST mother-freaking amazing daughter of all time. Actually, she has raised FOUR mother-freaking amazing kids, but the one I am most closely acquainted with is her daughter Alyssa, who has been our babysitter for the last six years (and by “babysitter” I mean, she may as well be my children’s second mother, that’s how often she is at our house).
When it comes to parenting, Alyssa is #goals. I’m telling you. I could write an entire blog post dedicated to describing what is so amazing about her, but for now, I will just say this: when my sons are 17, if they exude all the same attributes and characteristics as Alyssa, my husband and I will pat ourselves on the back and say “Holy crap. We did an amazing job with this one”. (And then probably cry, because they are seventeen, and we are done raising them. Sob).
Alas, my kids kids are not 17. They are currently 7, 3, and 1….and I have SO MANY questions about how to raise them right. Let’s just say, right now anyway, they ain’t lookin’ a whole lot like Alyssa.
So I scheduled an interview with this fascinating lady, who is so very wise, and she graciously obliged me. It may have been one of the top 5 best hour and a halves of my life.
I thought I would share it all with you, so let’s get to it:
Hayley: Alright, here we go. Ever been interviewed about your parenting skills before?
Lori: Only by CPS (ha)
Hayley: Ok, question number one, and if you need a few minutes to think, we can come back to this one, because it may be hard to just come up with this spur of the moment, but…..if you could summarize your “parenting strategy” in just one to two sentences, what would you say?
Lori (barely missing a beat): Implement the “funnel concept”. Have you heard of that before? It basically means to maintain TIGHT control while they are young…hold those reins tightly..and then gradually release them as they slowly gain trust. If you ever want to get to the point though where you CAN gain trust, and release the reins, you have to REALLY rein it in tight while they are young.
Hayley: Yup, I basically completely suck at that. Next question.
Hayley: What is one thing you KNOW you got right, in your parenting?
Lori: I am so glad that we got our children involved in D-groups [at our church, a “D-group” is short for “discipleship group”, and it’s basically a bible study followed by small group discussion]. I’m grateful that they had other people to talk to besides just us. I’m glad we kept such tight reins on them when they were little. I think another thing we “got right” is emphasizing to them the importance of investing in EACH OTHER. I see our oldest daughter, who is now in college, pouring into Alyssa, and Alyssa pouring into her younger siblings, and that is the way it should be. We have always prioritized family time, and that’s another thing I think we did right. We know how to do vacations. My husband is not above blowing a huge wad of money on a GOOD vacation, because we have always believed in the importance of making good memories.
Hayley: What aspect/choice/decision/ of parenting was incredibly difficult in the moment, but you kept at it, and see now with certainty that it paid off?
Lori: Spanking. We spanked a lot. I remember calling my mom crying when Alyssa was little, saying, “I just can’t spank her one more time today!”. But I did, and I stand by it. It was hard though. And then that “funnel concept”again. It’s hard to maintain such tight control when they are little, and to be consistent with it, but it’s so important. Oh, and by the way…just as important as it to tighten the reins when they are little, it’s just as important to loosen them as they grow. Just last weekend, our 14 year old daughter got invited to a party. I got all the important details about it. Parents would be home, the kids would be well supervised. I still didn’t feel completely comfortable with it though. Also, I really just would have preferred that she stay home and be part of the family night we had planned with her older sister who was home from college. She has earned our trust though, so I gave her the freedom to choose what she wanted to do. She opted to go to the party. A half hour later, she called us and asked if we could pick her up, as it turned out some things were happening at the party that weren’t appropriate. We were able to have a good conversation with her once she got home, and it was rewarding for us to see that she had chosen wisely for herself.
Hayley: Fill in the blank with this sentence “Younger moms, you need to worry more about ___________ and less about __________”
“Easy. Worry more about first time obedience, and less about your child’s feelings”
Lori: Easy. Worry more about first time obedience, and less about your child’s feelings. They need less choices. Don’t worry about their feelings. Even with something like choosing their own clothes…..not because it really matters what they wear, and not because you should be concerned with what other people think you or how your children look, but mostly just because they need to know that YOU are the boss. Also, they don’t need to “only drink from the blue sippie cup.” Take the cup you are given. Explanations are important when they are older, they’re NOT IMPORTANT when they are younger. “Do it because I said” is reason enough while they are still young. If you leave your kids with sitters or grandparents, and your list of instructions is seven pages long because your children are so particular with their preferences..there is a problem. Although I totally did that with my first two when they were young. In hindsight, I realize that that was dumb, and that the seven pages of notes were probably thrown away by the grandparents the second we walked out the door anyway
Hayley: In your opinion, if parents get EVERYTHING ELSE wrong, they better not get this ONE THING wrong…go.
Lori: lots of communication…especially as they get older. Being available as much as you can. Our eleven year old son may not say “mom can we talk about something”, but as I am sitting there beside him as he’s working on homework…he’ll start talking. As for the girls…if I’m here, they’re talking. I try sometimes to be intentional about leaving the other kids home, while I give one of the children a ride somewhere, just to get SOME one-on-one time. If I’m making dinner….I let them be around. Not even initiating conversation….just being in the room with them, and letting them talk.
Hayley: Give me three of four words that you think should be the “theme” of parenting?
2) Serving: not as in “you lay on the couch and watch TV while I bring you popcorn and sodas”. I’m not going to be their servant. But maybe more like “thoughtful”. Showing them that I care. Anticipating their needs. Recognizing that their day at school has probably been tiring, and not bombarding them the second they walk in the door with tasks and to-dos.
3) Consistent: especially when you have 3 or 4 kids. You kind of find that you have about 18 good years of parenting in you, and then you start to get lazy. But you have to stay consistent, even with your youngest ones.
Hayley:One important thing for me, is to raise children that have their own, true, authentic, relationship with Christ. I see that in your children….what did you do to instill that in them?
Lori: Well, I will start by saying that you can’t take credit for the good ones unless you take blame for the bad ones. God at work in them has a lot to do with it. But the things you can do? Model. Talk about YOUR quiet times. We ask our kids questions sometimes like, “Have you been in the Word lately?”. Expose them to church, D group. Consistently going to church no matter what. They have to make their own choice though…at some point a switch will click…or not..and their faith will become their own. Pray for your children. A lot. A strong father is a really important part of the equation, too. Bob’s influence on the kids life is invaluable. He doesn’t let them make decisions based on feelings…he emphasizes that a lot…..he encourages them to make their decisions based on TRUTH and what is RIGHT. On a side note, can I make a book recommendation? “Strong Fathers Strong Daughters” by Meg Meeker.
Hayley: Another important thing to me is to raise children who take initiative, take responsibility for their choices, and who are independent. I see that in your children as well…what did you to instill that in them?
“Life is not fair. Everything does not have to be fair”
Lori: Oh gosh. I don’t know. I already said a relationship with Jesus. That’s huge. We did foster care for a few years, and that was huge too. The kids had to step up a lot. That was a good experience for a lot of reasons. Having to take responsibility through necessity.
The older our kids get, the more they become responsible for buying their own things….I’ve never purchased makeup for any of my girls. We buy them their necessities. Soap, shampoo, deodorant. But even with that, it’s not the end of the world if they run out of something and have to go buy their own. We feel zero obligation to pay them back if they have to use their own money to pay for something that THEY need. You want to get your friend a gift? Go for it. Use your money. Basically just start to gradually give them financial responsibilities. Even our ten year old….if he gets invited to a birthday party, we will tell him how much money we are willing to chip in for a gift. If he wants to get his friend something that costs more than that, he is welcome to use his own money to cover the difference. They need to learn how to operate in the world as adults. Bob [her husband] tells them he does not hold fairness as a high value. Life is not fair. Everything does not have to be fair. Just because I take one daughter out for ice cream today, does not mean I have to take each of them out for ice cream. Life is not fair, and the sooner you can learn that, the better.
Hayley: Bob is so wise. Maybe I should be interviewing him. Ha.
Lori: You probably should be. He’s much smarter than me.
Hayley: What is your single greatest parenting regret, and how would you have done it differently?
Lori: I would have played with my kids more. How many times over the years have I heard “will you play a game with me?”. Now it’s kind of become a joke..my kids all laugh about how much mom hates to play games..but I know I’m gonna look back later and be so sad I didn’t play more games with them. Also, while Bob and I both believe in, and emphasize, the importance of one-on-one time with God, if I think back, I hear myself more often saying out loud to them, “is your homework done?”, or “do your homework”, and I wish the amount of times I’d said out loud, “have you spent time with God today?” outweighed that.
Hayley: What is the key to maintaining a thriving (not just surviving) marriage while raising kids?
Lori: Lots of sex. I’m serious. I want him to know that the most fun person to be with is ME, and he’s not missing out on anything. Also, having nothing “off limits” that we can’t talk about. Nothing off the table. No converation is too hard or too awkward. We talk about ALL of it. We get away together a lot, too. Actually, we’ve never really done frequent date nights, but we have always done plenty of “get aways”.
Hayley: How do you raise kids that are “in the world but not of the world?” (“In the world” meaning, “relevant, accepting of others, social, etc. “not of the world” meaning “not conforming to the standards of the world, but instead, aiming to be like Jesus”)
Lori:. My opinion? Just my personal opinion? Public school. But we do tell our kids, “you’re GOING to be different. You are there to be a light, and so you ARE going to be different.”
Hayley:. The great debate…”the dishes can wait”, vs “there are things that need to be done”. How in the WORLD can you enjoy your kids, slow down…all of that…but still get things done? How can we avoid the constant tension of that?
Lori: It’s just going to be constant tension (she says with a smile). As much as possible, live in the chaos during the day, let the kids help and be present with you, and then make the most of naptime. It’s gotta be both. Pick and choose when you are going to be available and when you aren’t. Decide what to do, and when, to make the very most of your time.
Alyssa comes home now, and is puttering around the kitchen, while I continue to talk to her mom. About her.
Hayley: do you guys have a family motto? Family goal statement? Anything like that?
Lori: No! I’ve never been into that sort of thing. We don’t have a family bird, or flag, or flower either. Ha!
Alyssa: Not true!! We have a ton!
Lori: Really? Enlighten me.
Alyssa: “Be real and raw”
Lori: True. That is one.
Alyssa: How about Dad’s Five Rules for Isaiah?
Me: (frantically start writing, as I have met Isaiah many times, and he is an awesome kid, so I’m thinking maybe we need these same five rules at our house)
Alyssa: 1)Love Jesus 2)Love Mom 3) Protect Girls 4) Kill the Bad Guys 5) Don’t Hurt the Dog
Alyssa: Here’s a few more. All from my dad. “Alive, Alert, Awake, Enthusiastic” (that’s apparently how he wakes the kids up each morning). “No whining, no crying, no bleeding, no dying”. “Don’t feel”.
Hayley? Don’t feel? That’s pretty hard-core
(Lori and Alyssa laugh)
Lori: No, that’s not what he means. Feelings are good. It’s just his short way of reiterating what we talked about earlier. In our home, we do not make decisions based on feelings. We make decisions based on facts, and what God says to be true.
Hayley: Family dinner? A must?
Lori: Eh. Nah. These days it’s a treat if we GET to do that, but it’s never been something that we think HAS to happen, and it’s definitely not something that happens every night.
Hayley: With multiple children, all at different ages and stages, how do you make sure all of your children get everything they need from you?
Lori: They’re not going to. It’s impossible. But…again..communication. Feeling like they can talk to you. Make yourself available, and look out for the one-on-one times. You can do that with a five year old, even if a one year old is in the room, because the one year old doesn’t really talk. Tuck your kids into bed at night. Isaiah is 11 and I still do. Even if a five or 10 minute chunk of one-on-one time is all you can do that day, that ABSOLUTELY counts. Look at the ages they are, and give the time accordingly. Honestly, a baby doesn’t really need one-on-one time with you. Look for the chunks of time as they present themselves, but also be strategic. For some reason, I feel like one-on -one time while driving in the vehicle is SO important. It’s just the perfect opportunity for conversation.
Alyssa chimes in and says that her best conversations ever were in the truck with her dad. That’s when she decided she wanted to go to nursing school. She also says she valued one-on-one dates with either parent. She says her dad never does an errand alone. If he has to go to Home Depot, one of the kids is going with him, like it or not. He tells them, “being with dad, is always a win”. Alyssa said sometimes that “win” means getting an ice cream on the way home. Other times, the “win” looks more like using the tools they just bought together to come home and fix something. Together 🙂
Alyssa: Oh, and they may deny it, but they definitely both have favorite kids, and I’m not either of theirs (laughs)
Lori: Well, at different points, different ones of you are our favorite
Alysssa: Then why is [one of their daughters names] the password for EVERYTHING in our house?
Lori: Well, we said we don’t value fairness, after all..
At this point, it’s been an hour and a half, and I had only asked her to give me an hour, so I regretfully wrapped it up (in spite of the fact that I had at least 15 more questions for her. And they were GOOD. Maybe a Part 2 needs to be in the future?)
Lori: Can I just say one more thing? When you write this, can you emphasize that Alyssa, ultimately, is not a great kid because of Bob and I…God gets credit for that, and ALYSSA gets credit for that.
I’ve made really great choices over the years, and really bad choices over the years. The bad choices were made when I was living in the flesh, the good choices where made when I was walking in the spirit, by God’s grace.
Thanks Lori, for sharing your time with me. Thanks Alyssa, for being the best kid we know (yes, that includes our own).