V is for…


I’ve been asked to be on the Vacation Bible School committee. I sort of hate VBS. Not quite sure why… canned curriculum? wondering how I would feel as a non-Christian to have a church inviting my kids to be evangelized? assembly of identical crafts? I don’t know.

I’m not quite sure what being on the committee would entail. Not teaching, though. But if it involves having to call people to ask them to teach or serve in some other way, or call people to invite their kids, I will run away fast.


Kids need unconditional love. They need to feel sure that they are loved no matter how they behave, how they feel, what they think, what they choose, what they say.

So do I.

1. Crying, whining, and yelling are not pleasant to listen to. If someone I love needs to cry, whine, or yell once in a while, I can usually be there with them in love. If someone cries, whines, or yells a lot, multiple times in a day, every day, I get to where I don’t want to be with that person very much, and also I get to where I’m so sensitive to it that even the least hint of crying, whining, or yelling will set me off.

I understand that this is true for me with other people, too. That the more I cry, whine, and yell, the less my friends will be able to be with me in love.

Only God can tolerate my crying, whining, and yelling to the fullest extent that I can dish it out. He never feels threatened, bored, or frustrated by it. It never makes him want me to go away.

It’s not that I need to stop crying, whining, and yelling, nor that I need to stop feeling the feelings that make me want to cry, whine, and yell. But I do need to choose wisely when and how I express these feelings, and not put a God-sized burden on my friends and family.

I would like Amy to know God this way. To know — in a real and satisfying way — that God does not share those limits and is not provoked in that way.

I would also like her to know how to manage the expression of her feelings — I’m not really sure how to go about teaching this to her. She isn’t an adult and shouldn’t be given adult-sized affect management teaching. But she isn’t a baby anymore either, and I don’t think it’s fair to expect us as her parents to just let her cry, whine, and yell whenever she feels like it — and for us to sit there and take it all in.

In most of my therapy, it’s been emphasized that feelings are not subject to moral judgment. What you feel is what you feel, and that’s okay. The expression is a different story — there are appropriate times and places for certain kinds of expression of feelings.

Is it really true — entirely? Some writers and speakers talk about how we ought to feel, not in an effort to get us to change our feelings, as if we could in our own power, but to show us the extent of our fallenness. Mark points out that, in a marriage for example, it’s not enough to do the right things — what husband or wife would be satisfied with a spouse that didn’t have any feelings for him or her? Again, not that we should expect the infatuation stage to last, but that there should be something more than mere duty. One hopes that by practicing duty, and by asking in prayer, the proper affections would grow.

How much “right” does Amy have to be so terribly upset when it’s time to get ready for bed? (Despite advance warning.) Or about other things that happen quite often, like getting “no” in answer to a request? Is there some magical age or stage when she’ll make peace with these things? How can we help her best — I don’t think it’s helpful to just allow unlimited crying, whining, and yelling about it. And I don’t think it’s helpful to allow her no expression of feelings or no feelings at all. How can we help her feel secure in our love, understand and accept the painful reality of bedtime and “no,” feel her feelings without pressure to deny or squelch them, and make steps toward more appropriate expression of those feelings?

(This is one of the reasons it’s so difficult to have helpful conversation about parenting or so many other things — it’s so easy to identify and avoid extremes, and identify and affirm ideals (like unconditional love and firm boundaries), but much harder to articulate and know how it all works out in practice.)

And? One more little thing?

Can someone teach her to hurry when it’s time to hurry, to focus on a task when it’s time to do something — to understand and accept the difference between play / free time (when I love to notice everything and follow distractions with her) and time when we need to move quickly or do something with focus?

Oh, and I almost forgot — can I have a week off, please?


8 thoughts on “V is for…

  1. πŸ™‚ Sending some virtual hugs and waves of understanding for now and a promise to comment more later. Feel free to hunt me down if I don’t. Got to go deal with supper and my own overtired whiner at the moment. I needed this post. I do my share of not expressing feelings well too.

  2. Oh my. Let me tell you…1 to 5 is hard. After that 6-11 are wonderful years. They finally get some control over their feelings and emotions and they think their parents are wonderful. They also are not so needy. Then you get teens… oh my. But we can discuss that later, lol. I homeschooled my last two because I realized that for me it was silly to send them off for 8 hours a day just when they had become such civilized little people!

  3. Oh, yeah, hurry when it is time to hurry! This line speaks volumes!!! I agree, God and my beagle are the only ones that are left to hear my whine about my back! Well said…

    You made me think, I perhaps need to hold back a bit. I’m frustrated and may be whining a tad to much! Thanks for this post; it was well said and to the point! It gets easier, hang in there! Some days I would love to go back to that age, then I think, nah, I paid my dues! Just life was a bit more peaceful;
    mine are 21 and 14.

  4. I’m back. πŸ™‚ I am learning that I can be a much better mommy when I am able to take care of ME. I can handle much more whining and grumpiness when I am not overtired, or hungry, or stressed out. Unfortunately, I struggle with the taking care of me part… and the reality is that it is just not always possible. Especially when I don’t get a break all. day. long. (Or when I waste said break on things that don’t really help me but are a time suck). I’ve really struggled with what you are asking here. On the one hand, I want Andrew to understand his feelings, know those are valid, and feel like he can express them. On the other, I want him to express them “properly”… and in order for him to learn to do that I have to demonstrate it to him. I don’t always do that. And even if I were perfect, he is FOUR and definitely still learning. For bedtime, I have no advice. It is a huge struggle here, even more so now that it is light outside so late. (And I remember protesting that as a child a few years older than Andrew is now). As for hurrying, I’ve found a few things that have helped along the way. If we need to be somewhere in the morning, I ask Andrew to get dressed and ready to go right away (and offer the incentive of PBS Kids, which he likes to watch in the morning, AFTER he is ready. I’ve also been known to offer a doughnut for breakfast for occasional early morning trips to the grocery store, or something else I know he likes like strawberries) Outside of that I try to intersperse errands, etc. with fun time (if we get finished shopping in time, we will go to the park/library/etc; if you help me clean up until the timer goes off, we will read a book; things like that). And, wow, I needed your comments on how much whining/complaining/yelling affects other people… because it is so easy to think of how theirs affects me and not how MINE affects them. I know I can’t be perfect and I’ll never have as much patience as God has with me… but I need to be working towards it more than I do. Thanks!

  5. I can certainly share your frustration! My twin daughters are 14 now, but we also have another daughter who was born when they were 4. πŸ™‚ Sometimes, after we had put them all to bed, my husband and I would go outside on the porch and just cry. True story. So I have been there and completely understand. I think one of the very best things we did for our little ones was to let them have their fits and sit by them while they did it. You know what I think? I think it’s all about language. They stop doing all that stuff when they get a little bigger and develop the vocabulary to express their feelings and ideas more comprehensively with words instead of fits. In the meantime… it’s really rough. The stuff I write usually covers other topics, but I enjoy reading the adventures of the sweet little Amy, so I will share a couple of stories here, just especially for you.

    My littlest was constipated for a while as a toddler and I guess I hounded her much too often about going potty. One day she got sick of it and screamed at me. She said, “You are not the boss of my butt!” Being the kind of person that I am (rebel, pro-little kid, good sense of humor), it took EVERYTHING I had not to fall down on the floor and laugh like a crazy person. Because here was this tiny little girl telling me off. In spite of my inner comedian, who was on the floor laughing inside my head, I was able to see her point and ask her WHO IS the boss of her butt. She said that SHE is the boss of her butt and I agreed that she obviously is and sincerely apologized for usurping her authority. The poor baby. Then we had a chat about how she can communicate with her butt and encourage it to do the healthy thing (by consuming more of the apples, applesauce and apple juice that I so *constantly* provided). This was the end of the constipation. It came to an end almost immediately. And I’m not so sure it had much to do with apple products.

    When I was hugely pregnant and exhausted with the littlest, I still had to shop for my family when my husband was at work. I was very worried about not being able to chase twin toddlers in a parking lot and was afraid they would break away from me and be hit by a car or something. I bought a toddler harness for each of them. The next time I took them to the store, I put a harness on each of them before getting them out of the car. One of them sat down right there in the parking lot and refused to get up. When I asked her why she would not get up, she threw me an accusatory look and tugged on the harness in a dramatic fashion and said sadly, “No me a doggie. No me say woof woof.” Yes, the great big pregnant lady sat down on the pavement with two ticked off toddlers and negotiated the rules of shopping, streets and parking lots and then we ditched the harnessses. And no, they never did get hit by a car.

    There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We just keep doing our very best in the most fair, commpassionate and validating ways possible…

  6. My husband and I do VBS…partly because there are never enough volunteers…and its always a rewarding experience. Rather than looking at the curriculum, look at the interaction. For some kids, this VBS experience, will be their only contact with a christian or church. There as one boy who was really kind of quiet the whole time, on the last day, in small groups I asked him if he wanted me to pray for anything…he started sobbing and told me his mom was dying.

    Stupid crafts…yes.
    Bad skits…yes.
    Cranky kids…yes
    The chance to touch a littly hurting heart with the power of love…maybe. I put that squarely in the ‘pro’ column.

  7. Raquel, good point, especially for an all-or-nothinger like me.

    Ethereal, thank you for your stories. I’m heartened to hear the example of you sitting in the parking lot and talking through the issue with your little one. Even if you’d decided to be firm about using the harness, you would have explained about safety and about not being a dog, and just to have taken the time and attention to talk about it would have meant so much.

    As for language, Amy’s been a great talker since quite early — so for her it’s not really about language. Or if it is, it’s not about lack of vocabulary, but lack of impulse control, lack of the ability to find the calm in which to use the words.

    I really do love the idea of sitting close by for fits — especially as opposed to ridiculing them, trying to reason during them, or punishing them. But I can’t handle sitting close by for all the fits — I need some distance.


    Self-care IS so hard! Even with a hundred people among our friends who tell us how important it is, it only takes one accusation of selfishness to start crumbling the idea. Good reminders about motivating quickness. I think we’ve tried those sorts of things, and not had much success — she would still dawdle, feel pressured but not motivated, and then lose whatever the reward was to have been, and have a fit. But perhaps it’s time to try that some more, and hope that the lesson starts sinking in.

    Thank you, also, Jan and Ellen. And Ellen? Of course! How could I forget about my cat?

  8. Hi, I have done VBS for many years but no longer can for many reasons. I always enjoyed it, though, and felt blessed for having done it. Last did VBS in 2006 at the age of 73. I decorated the room and taught a group of ten 7 year olds. It was fun, and so rewarding. Other teachers are always glad to help, too.

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