Time With Our Children

TIME WITH OUR CHILDREN

A primary school teacher asked her pupils to write an essay on ‘A wish you want from God?’ At the end of the day, the teacher collected all the essays written by her pupils. She took them to her house, sat down and started marking.

While marking the essays, she sees a strange essay written by one of her pupils. That essay made her very emotional. Her husband came and sat beside her and saw her crying.

The husband asked her, “What happened? What’s making you cry?”

She answered, “Read this. It is an essay written by one of my pupils.”

The pupil had written: “Oh God, make me a television. I want to live like the TV in my house. In my house, the TV is very valuable. All of my family members sit around it. They are very interested in it. When the TV is talking, my parents listen to it very happily. They don’t shout at the TV. They don’t quarrel with the TV. They don’t slap the TV. So I want to become a TV. The TV is the center of attraction in my house. I want to receive the same special care that the TV receives from my parents.

“Even when it is not working, the TV has a lot of value. When my dad and mom come home, they immediately sit in front of the TV, switch it on and spend hours watching it. The TV is stealing the time of my dad and my mom. If I become a TV, then they will spend their time with me.

“While watching the TV, my parents laugh a lot and they smile many times. But I want my parents to laugh and smile with me also. So please God make me a TV.

“And last but not the least, if I become a TV, surely I can make my parents happy and entertain them. Lord I won’t ask you for anything more. I just want to live like a TV. Please turn me to a TV.”

The husband completed reading the essay and said, “My God, poor kid. He feels lonely. He does not receive enough love and care from his parents. His parents are horrible!”

The eyes of the primary school teacher filled with tears. She looked at her husband and said, “Our son wrote that essay!”

What do you think of this boy’s essay?

Encouragement for Single Parents

ENCOURAGEMENT FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Family Life Radio

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, “Hagar, what’s wrong? Do not be afraid! God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Go to him and comfort him, for I will make a great nation from his descendants.” Then God opened Hagar’s eyes, and she saw a well full of water. She quickly filled her water container and gave the boy a drink. ─   Genesis 21:17-19 NLT

Encouragement for Single Parents

It’s been called the hardest job on the planet—being a single parent. Well it can be overwhelming, but being a single parent is more than just a job. If you’re a single parent today, you need to know that you have more strength than you realize. You are going to make it. God is going to supply your need just as He provided for Hagar and Ishmael in the desert in our scripture for today.

Here are five things successful single parents think about:

  1. Forgiveness – it’s imperative for you to reach the point of forgiveness. We are to forgive one another just as Christ forgave us. Unforgiveness hurts you, and often harms your kids.
  2. Goals – start working toward new goals. Consider and pray about God’s intention for you as a single parent to raise your children His way. 
  3. Friendships – make sure the friends you bring into your life are healthy relationships. You need people who are going to take you to another level of growth in different areas of your life.
  4. Boundaries – establish healthy boundaries and enforce them.
  5. Expectations – set realistic expectations and dream new dreams if the dreams you had before you became a single parent are gone. Be open to new ideas and a new direction for your life.

As a single mom or dad, you are not stuck. It’s tough, but just as God opened Hagar’s eyes to see His provision, He will also show you His way. Stay positive.

How do you respond to your strong-willed child? Can you do better?

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. ─  Galatians 6:9 NLT

Today’s One Thing

Review the list above of the five things single parents think about and choose one area to focus on for this week. Spend time in prayer about it, and then take necessary action steps to move forward in that area.

The Exhaustion Is Real

THE EXHAUSTION IS REAL

Jessica Grose

While on a business trip in Chicago last month, I accidentally slept for 12 hours. I fell asleep at 9:30 p.m. local time and didn’t set an alarm, because I figured there was no way I would sleep past 7:30 a.m. Cue me waking with a jolt at 9:30 a.m., and only because housekeeping knocked on the door. I probably could have gone a solid 14 if left uninterrupted.

This sleep binge was unexpected, because I thought I had been getting good rest lately. My kids haven’t been sauntering into our bedroom at 3 a.m. for nonsense reasons, and though I don’t track it, I probably get between seven and eight hours of sleep most nights. And yet, when given the chance, my body told me I needed to sleep indefinitely.

The last time I covered why parents are so freaking tired, I talked about fragmented sleep being a big culprit of parental exhaustion — interrupted sleep can make you feel as tired as not getting enough sleep. But what if, like me, you’re getting uninterrupted sleep and your kids are not babies and you still feel like a fistful of crushed-up car seat Cheerios?

Anecdotally, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Being tired when you have kids is so expected it’s a cliché, and the subject of an estimated 40 percent of dad jokes. That’s why I was surprised to look at numbers culled from the American Time Use Survey — a Bureau of Labor Statistics data set that measures the way we spend our days — and see that moms and dads with young children are sleeping, on average, more than eight hours (480 minutes) a night, whether they are single or coupled. (Mothers tend to sleep longer, but their sleep is also interrupted more.)

If interrupted sleep is not the only reason for exhaustion, what else is going on for parents? Leah Ruppanner, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Melbourne, said part of the issue might be that during the day, parents feel more “time pressure” — which she describes as “not enough time, too much going on.”

Time pressure means that even though some parents are technically getting adequate sleep at night, they still feel exhausted. “Kids bring an intensity of demands that makes people feel time poor,” she said, and she has described the time pressure that mothers, in particular, feel as “a chronic stress that slowly deteriorates their health.”

Another reason parents might be feeling tired after eight hours of sleep is if they have wildly different wake-up times on different days. “If your schedule is shifting back and forth, you’re unlikely to feel refreshed or have good quality sleep,” said Dr. Christine Won, medical director of the Yale Centers for Sleep Medicine.

Here’s the bad news for those of us who like to sleep in on the weekends and let our children zombie out in front of the television: If you’re waking up early during the week because of your kids, you “have to settle for that as a permanent wake-up time,” Dr. Won said. If a never-ending 6 a.m. wake-up call makes you want to die, Dr. Won recommended 30-60 minutes of bright light therapy right after you wake up, either from a light box (Wirecutter has recommendations for good ones) or from daylight.

Dr. Won said strategic caffeine use is fine if you have trouble waking up, but keep it to the mornings, and no more than two cups a day — otherwise you’ll have difficulty falling asleep, or suffer from sleep fragmentation.

For parents whose children are still having frequent night wakings that cause sleep fragmentation, Dr. Won said a power nap can do wonders. Limit your cap nap to 20-40 minutes, and you should not nap less than six hours before going to sleep — so if bedtime is at 10 p.m., the power nap should happen before 4 p.m. This seems more realistic for me than waking up every day at 6. If you are getting solid, regular sleep at consistent hours and you still feel worn out, it’s worth getting a checkup, Dr. Won said, to rule out other health problems.

Finally, Ruppanner has a theory she has not yet studied, but that makes a lot of intuitive sense to me: Parents may feel exhausted because the quality, not just the quantity, of their leisure time has diminished. There is research showing that parents take less leisure time than non-parents, and that mothers take less leisure time and have more fragmented leisure time than fathers do. But Ruppanner theorized that even time parents are reporting as leisure is actually used productively. For example, parents aren’t just watching TV, they’re also folding laundry and filling out school forms and thinking about the grocery list (that good ol’ mental load).

Though weekday power naps may be in my future, I have no regrets about the half-day sleep marathon I took in that hotel room. I felt like a superhero afterward.

Even Without a Home, We Always Had a Family Meal

EVEN WITHOUT A HOME, WE ALWAYS HAD A FAMILY MEAL

Misha Collins

Actor Misha Collins remembers a nomadic childhood grounded only by his mother’s cooking.

If you’d met me at a party 10 years ago, I would have told you that my childhood had just been one great adventure after another. When my family lived in a tent in the woods, we used an old galvanized tub filled with cool water as our refrigerator. We fashioned pantry shelves from corrugated sheet metal lashed to two young maple trees, and my mother developed a method for making her signature mushroom frittata in the coals of our campfire.

Times were often lean, but one luxury we always had in abundance was food — even if it came by way of a five-finger discount. My mother taught me how to steal peaches from the Stop & Shop grocery store when I was 4. (The secret, in case you’re wondering, is to look relaxed, not guilty.) Our backpacks heavy with purloined groceries, we’d distract the cashier by casually buying a few inexpensive items with food stamps — a loaf of bread and maybe a carton of milk. We were stealing from “the man”; it was a justified rebellion against an unjust system.

Misha Collins with his children, Maison and West
Misha Collins with his children, Maison and WestCreditMichéle M. Waite

We’d make our escape in a battered black Chevy Nova. When reverse stopped working, my mother started parking on hills so gravity could pull us out again. Then we lost third gear, then first, and finally we abandoned the car in a ditch on the side of a rutted dirt road. After that we hiked through the forest to the school bus and rode our bikes down to the river with a bar of soap to take our baths. When we needed to go the distance, we’d hitch a ride.

Mom took me, my brother and our dog hitchhiking from Boston to Seattle the summer I turned 6. We rode high up in the cabs of 18-wheelers and slept in a sun-bleached canvas tent in Midwestern wheat fields. We saw black bear and bighorn sheep and Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Instead of passing the time with Play-Doh and papier-mâché crafting like other families, we made cardboard signs that read “No Nukes” and carried them proudly at marches all along the East Coast from Washington, D.C., to Seabrook, N.H.; along the way, we learned about the Cold War and civil rights and chanted, “Power to the people!”

We hopped into slow-moving, empty boxcars on freight trains and scored hot meals at soup kitchens. Occasionally, on our journeys, the kindness of strangers would bring unexpected bounty. I remember being awestruck at our good fortune once when a lady in a pickup stopped at our tent on the side of a road to give us a $14 gift certificate to Abdow’s Big Boy. We feasted.

CreditAdrian Mangel

“We’re gypsies,” my mom would whisper — as if our constant migration was part of a long heritage, full of mystique and magic. I went to a different school every year, sometimes two schools in a year, but class was always optional, and I skipped school often for “mama-and-Misha days” to play pirates or make pickles or pick Concord grapes for jam. When we didn’t have a home, we called it “camping out” — we didn’t think of ourselves as homeless.

My upbringing taught me that you didn’t need money to be happy, that you didn’t have to play by the rules and that the whole world was just begging to be explored. But now, from the hindsight of fatherhood (and from the comfort of a therapist’s couch), I see that while my childhood had been rife with adventure, it had also been lonely and frightening and wanting.

When I became a parent myself, I started to recognize the hidden costs of the adventures in my early years: I had grown up surrounded by danger. At 9 and 7, my kids still find most Pixar movies too scary, but when I was 10, I was getting sunburnt working on a cucumber farm and was haunted with recurring nightmares about nuclear holocaust after watching apocalyptic movies at the art-house theater with my mom. A trucker once propositioned my mother for sex — and left us standing in the rain on the shoulder of the highway when she refused. I notice I’m reluctant to tell these pieces of the story that might tarnish the rosy picture of the past that my mother has painted.

CreditAdrian Mangel

Mom didn’t have money for babysitters, and sometimes when I was as young as 6, I was left alone to watch my little brother. We survived, but in truth, 6-year-olds make pretty terrible babysitters. I once sent my own 6-year-old downstairs alone so I could get another half-hour of sleep, but I was soon awoken by a high-pitched scream. My daughter, set on making me breakfast in bed, had coated the kitchen floor with olive oil so that she could rollerblade more swiftly while making waffles. It did not end well.

My kids are living a distinctly different childhood from my own. They’ve had the same friends since preschool, a posse that moves together sure-footedly through lost teeth and first crushes and learning how to read and ride their bikes. My family had moved 15 times by the time I was in high school. We changed towns so often that I more or less stopped making friends for fear of losing them, and I never really grew to know any place to be a home. I was too ashamed to bring schoolmates home — at 10, I would never have considered letting the other fifth graders into the strange-smelling, windowless, shower-less room that we sheltered in that winter.

But, even when we were squatting in an office space or hitching across the country, my mother managed to create a sense of home around meals. Whether she was cooking chicken soup on an electric hot plate or we were sitting on a log eating eggplant parmesan prepared on a campfire, Mom fed us with thoughtful attention. She showed her love daily through the food she cooked. Dinner was our anchor — consistent and soothing, it knit the three of us together, it made our little world feel safe.

CreditAdrian Mangel

I recently found an old journal in a box in the back of my closet. And on the page from a decade ago where I had taken inventory of the good and bad of my upbringing, the word “cooking” is circled and underlined with urgency in the “+” column as if I was thinking that food had been the cornerstone of happiness in my youth.

My children came at a time when my acting career took center stage. I was traveling almost weekly, working almost constantly. Swept up in the whirlwind of just-discovered celebrity, I was often gone, and when I was home I was sometimes only there in body, with my mind elsewhere. Needless to say, family meals took fourth fiddle, and my wife and I fell into a pattern of convenience. We fed the kids what we thought they’d eat (the greatest hits of bland and beige) and then fed ourselves after they finally went to sleep.

One morning, just home from 10 days of publicity travel in Europe, I was up at 4 a.m., jet-lagged, and a cold kept my daughter, Maison, awake, too. We were downstairs together when she stopped sorting her rock collection to interrupt my iPhone-addled trance. “Dad, you’re away so much that sometimes it feels like I just have one parent,” she said. Hearing her say that, I felt like I was failing at fatherhood — I wondered if I had become an incarnation of my own often-absent dad.

I wanted to tell my youngest child that there was no place I’d rather be than with her, that I was here and that I always would be. But instead of saying those words, I set down my phone and I told her I loved her in the clearest way that I know how. “Maison,” I said, “if you could have any breakfast this morning, what would it be?” And before sunrise we had finished a feast of cheese and spinach omelets and raspberry waffles with whipped cream and peppermint tea.

How To Deal With Your Kid’s Annoying Habits

HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR KID’S ANNOYING HABITS

Jacob Towery

You might want to nag or scold, but positive reinforcement is more effective.

As a child psychiatrist, I have spent eons in school studying developmental psychology and human behavior. Learning this, you might assume that I would know all the research on effective parenting techniques and be a perfect parent myself. You would be wrong on both counts.

There was a question that I wanted to answer, for me as a father as well as for the parents whom I counsel in my private practice: “If your child is doing something that is not harmful, but is also not especially adaptive or appropriate, when and how often should you correct her behavior?”

For example, your 5-year-old is eating peas with her fingers; she’s not hurting anyone, but the grandparents are coming over in two weeks and you’d like to show them that you’ve instilled some basic table manners. Or, when my 9-year-old greets an adult while staring at his shoes, when and how often should I remind him about the importance of eye contact to increase the chances that he’ll actually start attempting it? In my field, the consensus on certain parenting techniques is clear: Repeated studies have shown that spanking is damaging and ineffective, for example. The harmful effects of yelling and shaming, too, have been widely publicized. But what does the research have to say about the mild, low-level scolding and nagging that so many parents engage in?

[Read our field guide to taming tantrums in toddlers.]

After many hours spent reading studies on this topic and interviewing experts, I concluded that I was asking the wrong question. When I asked Alan Kazdin, the director of the Yale Parenting Center and the author of over 700 articles and books on child-rearing, when you should correct behavior you’d like your child to change, his answer was straightforward: “Never!” According to Dr. Kazdin, it is never helpful or effective to scold or nag a child about behavior that’s not harming anyone. “Don’t attend to the eating of peas with fingers,” Dr. Kazdin said. “If you give attention to something, the behavior you don’t want could actually increase.”

Hearing this, I was surprised and a little embarrassed. I can think of dozens of times that I have reprimanded my son (usually gently) for behaviors that were socially inappropriate or merely annoying. When I dug into the research on this topic, though, I learned that Dr. Kazdin was right: Not only is scolding ineffective for long-term behavior change, it can actually make certain behaviors worse.

Some small studies suggest that certain approaches — standing close to the child, maintaining eye contact and speaking softly — may increase the effectiveness of a scolding. But if you want permanent change in the behavior, the evidence is lacking for scolding as an effective technique.

So, if we are looking to decrease behaviors that are socially inappropriate, instead of asking when you should correct your child’s behavior, the better question is probably “How should you modify a child’s behavior to be more appropriate?” Daniel Bagner, a professor of psychology and the director of the Early Childhood Behavior Lab at Florida International University’s Center for Children and Families, told me that after identifying the behavior they want to change (a child looking down at her shoes when greeting an adult, for example), parents should “identify the positive opposite of the behavior, such as making eye contact, and consistently provide positive consequences, such as praise, when the child displays the positive behavior.

“Additionally, it is important for parents to implement the positive consequence immediately after the child’s behavior.”

This idea is also sometimes referred to as “catch them being good.” There is ample evidence that positive reinforcement — providing something positive right after a behavior — is very effective in increasing how often that behavior occurs. What Dr. Bagner is saying is that instead of focusing on the behavior you don’t want, find times when your child is exhibiting the behavior you do want and give that behavior lots of attention.

Dr. Kazdin gave me a very similar message, but I asked him, “What if your child never does the positive opposite behavior, such as making eye contact when greeting people?” Dr. Kazdin said that the secret in that case was to use something called “differential reinforcement.” This is where you find a behavior that is close to the behavior you are trying to get and positively reinforce that behavior. For example, Dr. Kazdin said, “In the example of your child avoiding eye contact, when you go in a room together, ask them to look up. Or say ‘I bet you can’t look up.’ Then, when they do look up, say something like ‘Nice job looking up, that was great’ and smile and give them a pat on the shoulder.” If you keep doing this every time your child looks up, Dr. Kazdin said, he will start to do so more often. And any time you “catch” him making eye contact, positively reinforce that, too. Eventually, you will have more eye contact and less looking at shoes.

Another technique that experts agree on is that, since children tend to enjoy games, it is possible to use games to improve behavior in a fun way that still gets results. In the example of a child eating peas with her fingers, Dr. Kazdin proposed turning it into a contest. “Tell them ‘we’re going to have a game. The winner is the person who can put one pea on their fork and put it up to their lips the slowest. I’ll show you.’

“Then playfully model slowly lifting a pea to your lips on the fork. As soon as your child does it, praise them to reinforce the behavior. Then after the game is over, don’t mention it the rest of dinner.”

I reached out to Jane McGonigal, a best-selling author, game designer, and the director of games research and development at the Institute for the Future. “As a parent, when I’m trying to influence my child’s behavior, I would leverage one of the phenomena we see in gaming, which is that kids love being better at their favorite video games than their parents,” she said.

“So, I would create a game where I would ask my kid to help me do the thing I want them to do. I would ask them to try to spot me not using my fork and eating with my fingers, or to notice if I’m not looking someone in the eye,” she added, “and I would enlist their cooperation in this way and turn it into a multiplayer game where they know more than me and they are helping me. This would give me the chance to model for them why the behavior matters, by thanking them and explaining why I want help remembering.

“Basically, instead of trying to directly change the behavior and telling them what to do, let them experience the fun of ‘owning’ the behavior and being in charge of telling me what to do.”

Since learning more about the science of behavior change, I have been hesitant to give up scolding because it’s easy for me and automatic. But I have been trying positive reinforcement more with my own children and have been thrilled with the results.

Following Dr. Kazdin’s advice, I made a game out of eye contact for my 9-year-old son. I said “I bet you can’t look me in the eye for 10 seconds straight.” He proudly proved me wrong. Now, each time he makes even two seconds of eye contact with me, I smile and touch his shoulder and say something like “Great job making eye contact!”

This approach takes a little more attention and self-discipline on my part, but my son’s ability to make eye contact has been steadily improving, with no more scolding or nagging from me.

I’ve Never Given Birth – But I’ve Done My Share of ‘Parenting’

I’VE NEVER GIVEN BIRTH – BUT I’VE DONE MY SHARE OF ‘PARENTING’

Angely Mercado

In communities like the one I grew up in, nannies are a rarity, but a ‘village’ of neighbors and relatives can be counted on to pitch in with child care.

At 27, I’ve never given birth and I’ve never been pregnant. But I like to joke that I have “children.” I didn’t intend to spend my preteen and teenage years helping to raise several of my neighbors’ children. But somehow, children always found me.

My first baby was J, whose mother moved into the apartment next to ours when I was in elementary school in Ridgewood, Queens. I helped her clean her apartment some Saturdays, and she’d help me bake brownies. We watched ’90s telenovelas together – it was J’s mother, and not my own, who explained the plotline of “La Usurpadora” to me.

When I was 11 she told my family that she was pregnant. My mom explained that the situation behind our neighbor’s pregnancy was complicated, and that she would need our support. So I looked at sonograms, helped her carry heavy bags, and painted the baby’s room. My siblings and I pitched in to organize and set up the baby shower. And right after J was born, I slept on my neighbor’s couch, getting up at 2 a.m. to help fix his bottle and feed him. I almost fell asleep at school that first week, but I liked helping out. J was tiny and warm and he smelled like milk, and I loved sitting in my neighbor’s living room, rocking him to sleep. I used to wonder what kind of job he’d want in the future, if he’d look like his mom, or if he’d be tall.

My neighbor fainted when she went into labor and broke her leg, so she was put on bed rest to help her recover. During this period, she struggled with severe mood swings. I didn’t know what postpartum depression was at the time; all I knew was that after someone had a baby, they became sad and tired and would sometimes wear the same house dress for over a week.

I couldn’t comfort my neighbor like her relatives or my mom could, and I certainly couldn’t understand why having a baby seemed to have made her so stressed out and unhappy. But I could help her care for her son. I was excited to finally meet J. I talked to him while I changed his diapers, I marveled at how tiny his toes were, and I practically cried when he started trying to gurgle responses to my questions.

I was there when J started learning how to walk and talk, and I was there when he started drawing recognizable pictures of things like airplanes and cars. I pushed J in his stroller while I followed his mom around grocery shopping, at doctors’ appointments, and on beach trips. My house name, Anga, was one of the first names J learned to pronounce. When he learned to read, J and I would help each other pick picture books. J liked anything to do with airplanes and animals so I always made sure to help him find those in the piles of books his mom had in her bedroom closet. I’d walk him to activities when his mom couldn’t and, as my parents often babysat J too, he was around pretty often.

But his early grade-school years were hard. J had trouble behaving, and I often had to mediate between him and his mother. I was still just a high schooler myself, but J and his mom had always felt like family. I wanted to do anything I could to make sure they would be O.K., even though I was really frustrated with his behavior, too.

“I don’t want to do laundry,” I remember him yelling at his mom. “I’m not going to the laundromat.”

I handed him his sneakers and walked with him to the laundromat. He complained and cried the whole time but I just kept handing him clothing to sort. Some days he’d refuse to get ready for school, or to leave the front steps of our building. My parents and I would help get J to school, convince him to do some chores, and talk to him about listening to his mom.

When I was in college, I’d drop J off at summer camp before heading to my summer class or summer job. On days when I was too busy to drop J off, a family friend whose daughters attended the same camp would take him. But his mom would tell me that he’d cry whenever I wasn’t there.

“The other girls are nice too, walking with them isn’t so bad,” I told him.

“Yeah, but I want to walk with you, not them,” he said.

J eventually started getting help for some of his behavioral issues, which made hanging out with him and his mom easier. As he transitioned into middle school, I didn’t have to watch him as often, but we’d go for walks sometimes and we’d hang out on my old block and talk about comic books and fan fiction.

I think of J as my “first baby,” but he wasn’t the only one. After I started high school, my nephews were born, and I graduated from one kid to a set of three. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I’d remember what I did with J and it helped me through my auntie shifts with diaper explosions, middle-of-the-night bottles of milk, and the terrible twos. I’d take my nephews to the park, help watch them when my brother and sister-in-law ran errands, and I’d get them to finally go to sleep by telling bedtime story after bedtime story.

As I started meeting more people outside my community, I learned that affluent people didn’t always rely on neighbors and relatives and would hire nannies or babysitters. Most people from working-class communities don’t have nannies. But they have people like me.

Around that time, I learned that my mom had also helped care for her nieces and nephews, and the children of close friends, before having her own kids. My dad, who grew up as the middle child of 13 on a mountainside in Puerto Rico, practically raised his last two siblings. His older sister was taken out of school to help raise him. My maternal grandmother helped raise a lot of my mom’s younger cousins. She also helped raise me, and I helped take care of her for a while after she had a stroke when I was in high school. I’ve just carried on the tradition of “adopting” kids and and keeping them safe.

When I finally moved out of my parents’ home, I made sure to find an apartment in the same neighborhood so that I could still visit my nephews and still stop by to visit J and his mom. My nephews are in middle school now and tell me about their crushes and the teachers they like. They come over to my apartment and we sing Bad Bunny lyrics, make snacks, or go hang out on their front steps.

J is a teen now. He’s taller than me, really tan, and has a headful of beautiful curly hair. He likes video games and anime T-shirts.

“Were you my main babysitter?” he asked me a few months ago. “I remember seeing you around all the time.”

We were both sitting on my bed hanging out and catching up.

“I was always there,” I reminded him. I had missed seeing him around thanks to my crazy schedule when I was freelancing and working two jobs.

J watched the Fourth of July fireworks from our rooftop with me and my family this year. We talked about anime series that we both liked, and he told me about school and asked me about freelancing. We compared classic series and he nagged me about not finishing season three of “Attack on Titan.” We walked around after the fireworks and looked at stupid memes on his phone. It felt like hanging around a much younger brother again.

“How’s high school?” I asked him.

He rolled his eyes and then laughed.

“It’s not so bad actually.”

“At least it doesn’t suck as much as middle school,” I told him.

He asked to hang out again, and I told him I’d shoot him a text and that we’d go get lunch soon. We’ve messaged a few times, and if I go for too long without hearing from him, I reach out again or stop by to visit J and his mom. I’m proud that J is growing up and learning how to be comfortable with himself. And I like to think that hearing him out and doing my best to be patient helped him grow up to be the teenager he is today.

I’m still part of J’s village. And he’s part of mine.

A Faithful Woman

A FAITHFUL WOMAN

Os Hillman

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:28

She was the Vice President of Household Affairs for her entire adult life. She had a husband, four daughters, and one son whom she managed. Her calling was not to the workplace; it was to the home. It was a calling that she fulfilled well. She often went beyond her job description to fulfill menial tasks like sewing clothes for her twin girls, playing dolls, and even playing catch with the only boy in the clan.

Things were going along well until midway in life a telephone call came that changed everything. The caller informed her that the love of her life had been killed in an airplane crash. She was in her early 40’s, still beautiful, with five kids to raise on her own in spite of the fact that she hadn’t worked in the business place for nearly 20 years.

The death of her husband removed their steady upper middle-class income, and she was now faced with the greatest test of her life. At her lowest moment, wondering how she was going to make it, she cried out to God. God answered, “Trust Me, Lillian.” Those audible words became the strength that she needed to care for her family for the next 40 years.

From that moment on, she came to know her Savior personally and shared Him with her family. Her children came to know Him as well. Grandchildren became the recipients of her prayers, and they came to know Him too. She was building an inheritance in Heaven, one prayer at a time, one soul at a time. She never remarried; Christ became her Husband.

Whatever wisdom and encouragement has come to you through these devotionals, it is only as a result of one who answered the call to the greatest and most important workplace there is: the home.

You can thank my mom, Lillian Hillman, for whatever grace you have gained from these messages throughout the year, because she remained faithful to the call to invest in those she was called to love and serve. “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.”

Discipline vs. Punishment

DISCIPLINE VS. PUNISHMENT

Richard Innes

1956, London, England, UK — Seretse Khama, later the first President of Botswana when it gained independence, with his wife Ruth, and children in the garden of their Croydon home. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

God said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV

Nine-year-old Al had disobeyed his father who, as a strict disciplinarian, sent him with a note to a police station in London. When Al came in late after curfew, his father met him at the door and handed him a note and said, “Take it to the jailhouse.”

Al was terrified.

“The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods,. ‘Follow me.’ He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door, and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. ‘This is what we do to naughty boys,’ he explains and walks away…. The jail sentence lasts only five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him the rest of his life.

“The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.” (From UpWords from Max Lucado, www.maxlucado.com)

True, discipline is important, but it always needs to fit the crime. Some children are impaired for life because of severe punishment as a child. Others are left terrified if they were beaten severely or abused. It is imperative that parents never discipline out of anger because that is punishment, not discipline. Discipline always needs to be in love. 

Those whom God loves, he disciplines in love—not punishes in anger. We need to do the same with our children.

Suggested Prayer:

“Dear God, thank You that when You discipline me it is always out of Your love for me and for my good. Help me to do the same when disciplining my children. May it always be in love and never out of anger. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus’ name, amen.”

Gay Fathers, Going It Alone

GAY FATHERS, GOING IT ALONE

Avichai Scher

As the traditional concept of family continues to evolve, single gay men having children through surrogacy are beginning to emerge.

Dennis Williams and his 4-year-old son, Elan.
Dennis Williams and his 4-year-old son, Elan.

Julius Ybañez Towers was taking a walk around the Harlem Meer in Central Park with his twin 10-month-old sons and two dogs. A woman stopped to compliment him for giving his wife a break.

“There’s no wife,” he told the woman. “I’m a single gay dad from surrogacy.” He smiled at the confused look on her face.

Mr. Towers, 40, is still rare, but he is part of a growing movement. Surrogacy agencies across the country report a surge of interest from single gay men in the last few years.

Shelly Marsh, a spokeswoman for Men Having Babies, a nonprofit that helps gay men navigate the surrogacy process, said that the increase in interest from single men is part of a broader surge in gay families.

“Our volume has increased substantially over the last few years,” Ms. Marsh said. “But more so, single men are learning that they do not need to wait to find someone to fulfill the dream of having a biological child.”

Most single gay men pursue what is known as gestational surrogacy: the surrogate is implanted with a fertilized embryo taken from a separate egg donor. The surrogate is not genetically related to the child. She also has no maternal rights, so intended parents are legally protected from her keeping the baby.

For that legal protection however, the birth must happen in a state where it’s legal to pay a surrogate and that recognizes the contract. New Jersey recently approved compensation for surrogates; Washington State’s announced it would do so in January. New York, along with Michigan and Louisiana, are the only states where it remains illegal to pay a woman to be a surrogate mother.

Where it is legal, the total cost of the procedure — from paying the agencies, the donor, the doctors, the surrogate and the birth — can be anywhere from $80,000 to $200,000. None of this is covered by insurance.

Julius Towers with his twin sons, Galen and Asher. After a first try at pregnancy with a surrogate failed, doctors implanted two embryos with the surrogate mother; nine months later, Galen and Asher were born.
Julius Towers with his twin sons, Galen and Asher. After a first try at pregnancy with a surrogate failed, doctors implanted two embryos with the surrogate mother; nine months later, Galen and Asher were born.
Julius Towers and the twins and the dogs in Central Park. The family's nanny is never far, at least until evening, when Mr. Towers is on his own.
Julius Towers and the twins and the dogs in Central Park. The family’s nanny is never far, at least until evening, when Mr. Towers is on his own.

But for Mr. Towers, having biological children was a long-held dream that he was willing to work toward.

He grew up in what he called a humble home in Palm Bay, Fla., where he said he was bullied at school. “Growing up gay in a homophobic town, and in tough financial times, it was hard to see how I’d have my own kids,” he said.

His parents strung together several low-wage jobs, and he’s the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He put himself through law school at University of Pennsylvania. He was a corporate attorney in Manhattan for 15 years and is now pursuing a master’s in public health at Columbia University.

Gradually, after the death of his mother, a failed relationship and two dog adoptions, he realized that he was ready to take on fatherhood, even by himself.

“I wanted to have children more than I wanted a partner,” Mr. Towers said. He viewed being single as a positive because he alone would control the decisions about surrogacy and parenting. Yet control was still an illusion.

Because it is illegal to pay a surrogate in New York, Mr. Towers’s quest to become a father began all the way across the country. Through an agency in Portland, Ore., Northwest Surrogacy Center, he found a woman there who was willing to carry a fertilized embryo. The embryo itself was made with the eggs of an anonymous donor from an agency based in California. These eggs (which, according to the agency, came from an astrophysicist) were fertilized at Oregon Reproductive Medicine, a clinic in Portland.

After a failed transfer of a single embryo, Mr. Towers and his surrogate decided to transfer two embryos in hopes that at least one would take. They knew it could mean twins.

“I realized I couldn’t control everything,” Towers said. “I left it to fate at that point.”

Nine months later, he traveled to Portland for the surrogate’s scheduled C-section and held his sons, Asher and Galen, for the first time. Asher had a short stay in the intensive care unit, so Mr. Towers stayed in Oregon for three more weeks, until the twins were ready for the long flight home to New York.

As unpredictable as the medical prospect of surrogacy may be, some gay men prefer that to the possibility of facing discrimination in adoption.

Dennis Williams had his son, Elan, via surrogacy four years ago. Mr. Williams, who is 46 and black, said he chose surrogacy because the prospect of persuading a woman to allow him to adopt was daunting. “As a single, gay black man,” he said, “I figured I’d be at the bottom of the list for most women.”

Mr. Williams and his former partner had a failed egg donation from a woman they met through a friend. After he and his partner broke up, Mr. Williams still wanted to be a father. The donor, a black lesbian who didn’t plan on having children, agreed to try again for Mr. Williams.

Mr. Williams on the sidelines of Elan’s soccer practice.
Mr. Williams on the sidelines of Elan’s soccer practice. Credit: Sara Naomi Lewkowicz for The New York Times
Elan and his father on a museum visit with Mr. Williams’s friend Alexis Bittar, who is also a single gay father, with his twins Ivan and Sophie.

Once he became a father, Mr. Williams said, he felt as if he finally fit in with his big family in Kansas, where he grew up. “I was no longer an anomaly to them,” he said. “Once I had a son, it drew me closer to the tribe.”

For Mr. Towers, the race of his twin sons was more difficult to control. Both his parents are mixed race: his mother half-Filipina, and his father part Native American. He hoped to find a multiracial egg donor, but most of the donors, he found, were white.

“Some accused me of whitewashing my kids’ skin,” Mr. Towers said. “In the end, I don’t care about skin color. I’ll just have to work harder to make them understand their multiracial roots.”

One son, Asher, has the blond hair and blue eyes of the donor, while the other, Galen, has the dark brown hair and complexion of his father.

During the surrogate’s pregnancy, Mr. Towers enrolled in a twins class, did a daddy boot camp and took a baby-dog home-integration class. Even though he has a nanny seven days a week, he is on his own nights and mornings. Like any new parent of twins, he’s overwhelmed at times.

“I don’t like the feeling that I can’t do it all on my own, but sometimes I need help, even with a nanny,” he said. “Because I signed up to be a single father of twins, some people tell me I can’t complain. It contributes to the feeling I’m alone in the wilderness.”

The little moments keep him going.

After the walk around the Harlem Meer, Mr. Towers, with the help of the nanny, returned home and put the boys in their cribs.

He leaned in to kiss each of his sons on the forehead. “Daddy loves you,” he whispered.

As the boys drifted to sleep, he exhaled and stood watching them. He mentioned that he just renewed another year of storage for his remaining frozen embryos. Through a genetic screening test, he knows one embryo is female.

“Who knows?” he said. “One day, when the boys are out of diapers, maybe I’ll have a little girl.”

Do your children feel led or pushed?

DO YOUR CHILDREN FEEL LED OR PUSHED?

Do your children feel led or pushed? Or asked another way, are you as a parent dominated by love or frustration? The two questions are inexorably tied together. Leading is born out of love and pushing is born out of frustration. Too often as parents we tell our children that we demand obedience and speak sharply because we love them and only want the best for them. Most likely our children are not buying this explanation. It feels to them as if they are being pushed into doing what mum and dad want.

In contrast, notice the sequence of thought and actions in Deuteronomy 6:5-7: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

First, you are to love God with every fiber of your being, with all that you have to offer as a human living and being sustained by the grace of God.

Second, the commands of God are to dominate your inner being because of your profound love for God.

Third, these commands are to be deeply implanted into the lives of your children during every event and opportunity that God brings to you each day.

So, you as a parent are to deeply love God with all that you are as a person. This love is expressed by drinking deeply of his commands so that your heart is permeated with them. Then, this love for God and his commands is to overflow from your heart into the everyday situations of life that you and your children encounter.

It is this combination of loving God and living out His commands that will allow you to impress the love you have for God into the lives of your children. In this sense no pushing is required. This is what it means to lead. Even as you embrace this deep love for God that Deuteronomy requires you to have, your children will be still the same sinful creatures that desperately need the grace of God. The difference will be that you will not be pushing them to grasp what remains elusive to you. Rather you will be leading them to the same place that you long to go – to the cross.

Are you pushing or leading? Think about it.