Friday, October 22, 2010

day 279: “only by comparison” part v of v

MORE tips for NOT sliding into the “only by comparison” parenting model:

7. Beware of verbal comparisons in front of the children. This is a fine line as we have used other children’s good and bad behavior as learning tools for our children for twenty-five years. It is not uncommon for us to ask the kids on the way home from something (after serving at disability ministry, for instance) to each tell us two instances of godly character and one example of poor character or Christian living. We have done this not to compare our kids with others or cause our children to put others down—but to help them recognize Christ-like and non-Christ-like behaviors. However, if we constantly talk about how bad other families are or how bad a certain child is, we will fall into the comparison trap quickly—and so will our children. (And their behavior will reflect this—as they start to feel superior to that child—but not expect much more from themselves.) Thus, handle these discussions carefully. Use them if they help, but not if they hurt. (Ray has made it a habit to ask for two good and one bad example of things. This helps the kids to focus on others’ good traits too.)

8. Raise expectations! Do not settle for absence of bad. Instead, expect good—no, expect great! You can begin doing this by discussion. (Can you tell we like to talk at our house? ) Discussions of going that second mile. Of giving more than what is expected. Of leaving a place better than it was when we came. Of helping someone more than they even asked. It is not uncommon for us to discuss high expectations as we travel somewhere: What can you do to encourage Grandpa today? (Not just don’t be bad at Grandpa’s.). How can you lift others up this week at drama camp? (Not just don’t talk when the teacher is talking.)

We have found out through the years that the only by comparison parenting mode does not result in good parenting—or well-behaved children. However, our second mantra, if your behavior had really been good, somebody would pay for our dinner, eventually did pay off. When Joshua turned fourteen, he chose Red Lobster for his birthday dinner (back when we could afford sit down restaurants for birthdays!), and we enjoyed the meal together—only to be approached by a couple who commented on the children’s behavior and slid Ray a $100 bill* for our food. The kids were ecstatic—and we were pretty happy parents. The children felt they had finally done it—they had, had good enough behavior to earn a free meal. And we were not out the money for an expensive meal. I wouldn’t want to get in the habit of paying my kids for good behavior—but I sure enjoyed this windfall!

*Coming soon: The $100 Pay It Forward Award Winner Announcement…we continued the blessing!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

day 278: “only by comparison” part iv of v

Tips for NOT sliding into the “only by comparison” parenting model:

1. Prayerfully seek God on your current parenting approach. Is it based on how children around you act? Are you basking in the fact that your kids’ behavior is better than another family’s kids’ behavior? Do you relish the idea that compared to other young people, your teens are not “really that bad”?

2. Do you treat others whose parenting skills are not as well-established (or whose are different) as yours in a condescending or “holier than thou” way? I think we would be surprised how what we see as “confidence” or “certainty” in our parenting approach can appear to others to be pride—and actually hurt them (and unnecessarily cause them to suffer from the “comparison syndrome”).

3. Do you feel yourself slipping into a mediocrity or “only by comparison” mentality? Purpose to measure your parenting—and your children’s behavior---by God’s Word and character, not by those around you. You know in your heart of hearts that absence of bad does not necessarily mean good. God wants us to strive to live our lives fully for Him—and raise our children to do the same, not just to live in such a way that we avoid “the bad.”

4. Try to steer clear of the “putting out fires” approach to parenting. Yes, we do have to solve problems, but we should be teaching, training, and discipling all the time—not just correcting negative behaviors. Use teachable moments to instruct in righteousness, such as pointing out how others feel (empathy), discussing helpfulness and opportunities to serve (selflessness), talking about taking the high road (decisiveness), illuminating good morals (virtuousness)--encouraging godly character in our kids’ everyday lives.

5. Focus on our children’s interactions with each other and us. The way our children treat their parents and each other will eventually be the way they treat others in their lives in the future. If they are consistently selfish or hateful to a brother, they will likely not have good relationships with co-workers. If they are disrespectful to us, they will probably not respect their future spouse. All relationship and character training begins at home. It is a constant magnifying glass to show us parents exactly what our children are becoming.

6. Fill their lives with stories of good—not just stories of absence of bad. We have made it a practice to read biographical material aloud nearly every school day for the past twenty years. Reading about how Hudson Taylor gave up his daily comforts of a soft mattress and rich foods or how Amy Carmichael put her own life in danger to save children or how William Borden gave up great riches to bring people to Christ will eventually leave their mark on your children. (They also give us points of reference for discussion: Remember how decisive Hudson Taylor was before he ever left for China? What did William Borden discover about worldly riches?)

Final installment tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

day 277: “only by comparison” part iii of v

Continued from yesterday….

There are myriad problems with the only by comparison way of thinking. The first, and obvious one, is that we are told in Scriptures not to compare ourselves among ourselves: “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (II Corinthians 10:12 KJV). This version says that when we do this, we are not being wise. Other versions say we are being fools when we do so.

Besides the Bible’s take on that, something extremely unhealthy happens to our spiritual lives (or our character or our parenting, etc., whatever the area in which the comparison is made) when we start measuring ourselves against others. We either feel bad about ourselves because we think that we cannot measure up to someone else—in the case of measuring ourselves to someone who is more spiritual, more noble, more disciplined in their parenting, more character-filled, etc. Or we feel good about ourselves—because the party that we chose to measure ourselves against happens to be lower than we are (in our eyes, anyway) in that area of comparison.

It is such a common malady that parents have told their children forever and ever, “Don’t worry about what Johnny said about you. He just puts you down to make himself feel/look better.” Then as adults we do the same things to ourselves—compare with someone weaker in some area to make ourselves feel better (even if we don't make the comparison verbally).

The problem is widespread in Christianity—and it has invaded our parenting, forcing our parenting standards to go down lower and lower—lower than they were, but still a notch above the person or persons we are comparing to! Too often Christian parents base their performance in parenting on how poorly someone around us is parenting—and we try to at least hover above that level.

This ought not to be! Christian parenting should not be about looking, seeming, or feeling better than those around us. It should be about excellence. It should be about high expectations. It should be about pleasing God in our parenting—not others, and certainly not ourselves!

I have a list (of course!) of suggestions for those of us who seem to be sliding down into “normalcy” or “sub-par” parenting due to false and unhealthy comparisons. (And even after nearly twenty-eight years of “doin’ the Christian parenting stuff,” I still fall into that trap myself at times!)

Join us tomorrow for these suggestions on how to not live in the “only by comparison” gutter…

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

day 276: “only by comparison” part ii of v

Continued from yesterday….

Our kids might fight and say mean things to each other, but at least they aren’t doing what the neighbor kids do—cussing each other out and squealing out of the neighborhood at twice the posted speed limit. Our kids might not listen and respect the pastor as much as we would like for them to—but at least they’re not texting other teens and playing games on their cell phones during the service like the kids two rows up are doing. Our kids might not work as hard as we think they should on their chores and household responsibilities, but at least they do a job or two each day—unlike a nephew or niece who never does anything around the house. And on and on it goes. And yet it is all only by comparison.

Case in point one: A couple of years ago Josiah (then ten; child #6) had a bad case of strep throat and ended up dehydrated and very sick. He was admitted into the hospital for eighteen hours to rehydrate, gets some iv antibiotics, etc. He went in at eight pm and came home the next afternoon. In the course of eighteen hours, for some reason still unknown to us, Josiah received an award—patient of the week. Now, remember he was only there for eighteen hours—and at least ten of those were spent sleeping. During the eight hours he was awake, I had to tell him at least a dozen times to quit asking so many questions when a nurse came in the room. (“Where does that lead to?” “How does that give fluid?” “What’s in that fluid?” etc. etc.) What did Josiah do in eight hours of precocious questioning that warranted him the “patient of the week” award? Nothing—that’s the point. He didn’t do anything bad. He didn’t complain, fuss, fight with me or the nurses, throw fits, argue, or disagree. He got an award not because he did anything great—he got an award because he didn’t do anything bad. Talk about low expectations! Josiah is a great kid with tons of character; however, this award didn’t make us especially proud of him. We would have been proud of him if he had gotten an award for helping the nurses straighten the parent room or for encouraging another sick child or for cleaning up his toothpaste in the sink. But he got an award simply because he wasn’t bad. Only by comparison.

More recently, I was editing at McDonald’s (my favorite editing spot, believe it or not) with Jacob, then age nine (child #7). He was taking a “recess” from his school work and went to play in the play area. After a little while, he came back out to me with an elderly lady following close behind him. He said, “Mom, this lady wants to meet you.” I introduced myself, and the lady said that Jacob was being such a good boy in there that she had to come out and find out for herself what his mom had done to raise him that way. She went on and on about well-mannered he was, how he didn’t fight with the other kids, etc. etc. Then she questioned me about how we “kept him from being like the other kids in there.” She then shook both of our hands and left, telling us that she was going to tell everyone she knew about this little boy and his homeschooling mommy. After she left, I asked Jacob what he had done to earn him such accolades, to which he replied, “I didn’t do anything, but the kids in there were really bad today, so maybe I just seemed good because they were being really bad.” Only by comparison.

Monday, October 18, 2010

day 275: “only by comparison” part i of v

This week I am going to run a lengthy article that I wrote a few years ago about comparing our children’s behavior with others’ behavior—and the results of that comparison. If you have read Training for Triumph newsletters or articles at our TFT website, you might have already read this. I will give it in five “digests” since it is lengthy.

Even though it is long—and is a “re-run”—I think it’s worth repeating. As Christian parents, we can get caught up in the comparison game very quickly, without realizing the dangers of it—the dangers from thinking we are inferior AND the dangers of thinking we are superior. Thanks for joining us!

                                 “Only By Comparison”

                                                                        By Donna Reish

Many years ago I found a comic strip that became our family’s mantra. In it, Blondie and Dagwood sat at a restaurant with their four children. The kids misbehaved mildly—spilling drinks, bickering over the orange crayon, and asking for something expensive. However, in the background of the Bumstead’s restaurant booth, other little ones were out of control everywhere—swinging from the chandelier, standing on the table, throwing food from high chairs, and screaming. A couple approached Blondie and Dagwood and commented on how well-behaved their children were, to which the tired parents smiled and then turned to their offspring and said those words that ring too true: “Only by comparison.”

Through our years of parenting seven young children (especially once we had four or more eight and under), we were often stopped in public (as many large families are) and told that our children were behaving well. They sit so nicely. They don’t talk in church. They aren’t fighting when they get in or out of the van. And through the years we have told our children two things: Only by comparison and If your behavior was really good, someone would pay for our dinner like they did for the Prides. (Mary Pride, homeschool and family author, wrote in an article over twenty years ago that someone paid for her family’s meal not once, but twice, on the same vacation, due to well-behaved children.)

Those two lines became our family’s jokes through the years—we only look like we have well-behaved children because compared to biting, screaming, thrashing kids, you guys are great! People only think you are being quiet because compared to the noise level around us, you kids are practically whispering. And the old—when you guys are really, really good in a restaurant, we’ll know it because someone will pay for our meal.

Without even saying (or thinking) the phrase, Only by comparison, Christian parents today often pat themselves on the back, rejoice, and sometimes, dare I say it, even gloat—because compared to much of children’s behavior that is permitted today, our kids are doing okay. And we develop a false sense of security in our children’s Christian development and a Pharisaical attitude about our parenting.

Continued tomorrow....

day 274: kayla’s amazing chocolate chip cookies

Our first daughter, the missionary, has always loved baking and cooking. One of the things Kayla always does for me when we go visit her or when she comes home is make me chocolate chip cookies. She has it down to perfection!

I will share her recipe below—along with some tips that she has gleaned along the way for the most amazing chocolate chip cookies ever!

Kayla’s Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

1 cup butter, melted

1 whole egg

1 egg yolk

2 ¼ cup flour

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 ½ to 2 cups chocolate chips

1. Melt butter in micro until just melted (do not overheat).

2. Stir in both types of sugar. Mix thoroughly and let sit for a few minutes until sugars are fully dissolved in melted butter.

3. Stir eggs slightly (just enough to pierce yolk but not enough to make whites frothy).

4. Add eggs to sugar mixture. Mix thoroughly.

5. Mix dry ingredients.

6. Fold dry ingredients into sugar mixture, mixing well.

7. Fold in chocolate chips carefully. Be sure cooking dough is not “hot” from the melted butter before adding the chocolate chips. (We add cold or “frozen” chocolate chips to be sure they keep their shape and do not melt.)

8. Make in 350’ oven for about ten minutes, rotating cookie sheets half-way through.

9. Drop cookie sheets on counter for cookies to “fall” after you remove them from the oven.

10. Let cookies sit a minute or two then remove onto cooling racks.

11. Be sure cookie sheets are cooled between batches. Do not drop cookie dough onto hot cookie sheets.


(1) She no longer uses a combination of shortening and butter—butter only!

(2) The melted butter approach dissolves the sugars much better and makes the cookies chewier than not melting the butter.

(3) The ration of brown sugar to granulated sugar is different in this recipe than some. Trust us, it makes them yummier!

(4) Be careful not “whip” the eggs. Whipping egg (esp whites) is for light, high products. That is not the goal here.

(5) Start cookies on bottom of oven then move up. Do not start any on the top shelf as the tops melt immediately that way. (This takes staggered baking times, but is worth it…and gives cookie sheets a chance to cool in between while you are preparing another one, too.)

(6) Do not add chocolate chips to “hot” dough—the chocolate chips will melt into your dough.

(7) Dropping the cookie sheets on the counter makes the texture perfect—not high and fluffy.

(8) Placing dough onto hot cookie sheets makes the dough spread out and melt before the cookies begin to bake. Cool cookie sheets before dropping another batch onto them.