From downstairs, I can hear Claire’s voice.  She’s learned to say, “Hey Daddy!”  and then Daddy says, “What?”  and she says, “I luh you!” and Daddy melts into a big puddle of sappy.

If you say it back, “Hey Claire!” she’ll say, “What?” and you say, “I love you!”  she’ll say, “I luh you too!”  It’s so cute and none of us ever get tired of hearing her say it.  From the oldest sister down to Lila, they all love to hear it.  Because LOVE is a common thread in the culture of our family.v

I look around this room I’ve been in since Sunday and I see echoes of Lila and Claire everywhere.

In our house, it’s not at all unusual to find plastic animals basically anywhere. (Examples: the refrigerator, the snack basket in the pantry, any windowsill, your purse, John’s desk, the toilet) Lila sets up these intricate scenes and Claire comes along and destroys them.  It’s not unusual to step painfully on a Littlest Pet Shop creature in the night or to trip on someone’s shoes or backpack at the bottom of the stairs.

In our house, it’s not all unusual to find books all over the place either.  We all love to read.  The older girls are always reading their Bibles or the Hunger Games or Jane Austen and they’re always leaving their books everywhere.  I’ve read two books since I got my Nook on Wednesday.  (I can’t leave those laying around though.)  John has eleventy million books and they are in piles and on shelves and all around.  The little girls love their books too and never tire of being read to.  I like that books are part of the culture of our family.

In our house, people don’t always remember to put things away, stack their dishes in the sink, return things they’ve borrowed.  It’s not uncommon to find water glasses on bedside tables or discarded jewelry on end tables, shoes in the hallway.  It’s not uncommon to have to search three bedrooms to find your hairbrush…or make up brush…or the good mascara.  It’s not uncommon to see big girls going from room to room searching for a shared article of clothing.

In our house, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise and it’s hard to hear the tv over voices talking and cracking up.  In our house, you might hear up to three instruments being played, one to five voices singing, or three girls squealing over Bollywood and K-dramas.

In our house, it’s weird and strangely quiet in those rare moments when just John, Claire and I are home.

Claire looks for the chaos when that happens.  She wanders the house saying, “Lila?  Aub-bee, Ju-ja, Duh…Bubby?”  She’ll try the next tier of loved ones, “Nonnie?  Gunkie?  Meema?”

I love that the culture of our house is relational and people oriented, that we worry more with loving well than having a super clean house.  That you can’t hear yourself think because everyone is buzzing with chatter and laughter and conversation.

I told a friend who came to visit yesterday that I’m happy as long as the house is at about a level six or seven and that’s really true.  I’d rather have a Calico Critters village in my bedroom and books everywhere and the shoes of teenage girls all over the place than a clean and empty home.

I listen to Claire, she’s singing now….”I luh you….you luh me….” and I think we’re teaching her something good.  That love comes first. That relationship comes first. That sometimes sitting in the kitchen floor with four teenage girls until 1:00am is more important than finishing the dishes.  That reading the Blues Clues pop up book for the nineteenth time today is nothing but a pleasure.

Our kids may not be spectacular housekeepers (well, except Deanna but we can’t take credit for that, she came that way) but they know how to love well.

Our household motto is “Love Well”. What’s yours?

How to Be the World’s Best Mom

I often get compliments on my wonderful tribe.

I hear that Julia is so artistic and witty and so fiercely in love with Jesus. I hear that Aubrey is so grounded, hardworking, that she is such a wonderful performer and that she puts her all in to everything she does. I hear that Chase is so great at putting people at ease, that he is able to talk to anyone, young and old…that he is so great at including younger kids. I hear that Lila is clever and imaginative and that it’s beautiful how she prays. I hear that Claire’s red hair is beautiful and she is so spirited and smart. People say to me, and this is my favorite one of all, that they love to sit behind us in church and watch us all worship. That there is beauty in our love for Jesus, that we worship whole hearted.

We do and it is my biggest joy. That my older children have chosen Jesus for themselves, that my younger ones are learning to hear His voice…it’s my greatest joy.

And sometimes, people ask me for parenting advice. And that’s when I’m dismayed because…I’m still just figuring all of this out. And the thing about it is this, there are few black and white areas in parenting. No one way is the best way. I’ve managed to figure out some basics that work with my personality and the personalities of my kids…but I’ve also managed to screw up a lot of things.

I tried to sum up my parenting philosophy and this page of craziness is what I ended up with.

We do sleep training, but co-sleep out of desperation some nights.
I breastfeed…but only for as long as it works for baby and me. This means anywhere from never to one full year, in my five cases.
I love baby wearing but some of my babies did not.
I don’t care at all about what type of birth I have- I prefer vaginal over c-section because of recovery time, but I’ve done it every way you can think of and if you line up my kids in a row…you can’t tell which one was 100% natural, which one was complicated and which were heavily medicated.
I believe in teaching independence, but I want them to know I’ve got their backs.
I don’t believe in “clean your plate” but I regulate snacking.
I’ve been a stay at home mom, a work at home mom and a working mom. I listed them in order from my very favorite to my least favorite. Mostly I like having the freedom to wear my pajamas all day long.
I’m all about the right carseat and following the rules and guidelines but I do turn a baby forward facing by fifteen months because I can’t stand the screaming anymore.
I want them to do well in school but consistently forget to check Edline, the homework folder or even (this has happened more than once) parent teacher conferences.
We vaccinate on schedule, partly because I believe strongly that vaccines are important but just as much because I don’t want to have to scramble when the school says they need this vaccine or that.
Our kids go to public school even though I have a romanticized dream of homeschooling and a less romanticized dream of private Christian school. Public school is what we can afford and they have all done just fine.
I don’t care if the tv is on, but I know I should.
I don’t even much care if they eat junk food, as long as it’s moderate.
I encourage playing outside for two reasons- it’s good for them and they’re out of my hair.
I don’t condone disrespectful speech, to me, to each other or to anyone else. But I don’t mind their smart alecky jokes one little bit. (In fact, I take a special pride in a well placed smartie pants comment.)
I encourage them to do scary things but sometimes secretly hope they’ll still chicken out.
I use time out liberally, spankings when necessary, logical consequences (which seem to work best) and long lectures way more than I should. Especially since the latter does not work at all.
I’m a scheduled sort of mom but only very loosely.
I believe in bedtime but if we’re doing something interesting…I might forget to check the clock.
I love kid activities- amusement parks, birthday parties, the zoo…sometimes more than the kids do. Oh, and I’m be paranoid the entire time that someone will get lost, kidnapped or injured.
I will bring my camera to every single thing we do.
I believe in being consistent but letting something go if it’s not working.
I don’t sweat the small stuff and offer almost no input on their wardrobe unless we’re going to a wedding or a funeral. Same for the hair styles of teenagers.
I’m phobic about freak accidents.
I require my children to say Please and Thank You but could care less about Ma’am and Sir.
I don’t allow anything zombie related in the house, but we love Harry Potter.

See, I’m all over the place and I don’t have it all figured out. Sometimes, when someone points out a trait that one of my kids have…I just have to give credit to God, because it’s literally NOTHING I’ve done or it’s something that developed in spite of me.

I think what I’m bottom line trying to say is this:

I’m just doing my best, like most moms.

And I think what I’m also trying to say is this: We have to stop debating about what’s best for kids. We have to step out of the battle, stop participating in the Mommy Olympics because no one is going to win.

There is no medal for doing things all “right” or for doing things best. Because the truth is, there is really no “right” or “best”. You use your judgement because you know your treasures and yourself best. What’s the perfect solution for one family may be the worst solution for you.

Besides, any time I’ve judged a mother by her child’s behavior, I’ve guaranteed myself that one of mine would be behaving that same way within the week. Likewise, any time I’ve patted myself on the back for my good mothering…that very thing that I’ve congratulated myself over has gone south.

Stop going to war, stop letting the Mommy Olympics divide us.

I find it always comes back to this:

Love Well.

This is our family motto and this is what I filter all things through. From parenting choices to defending my choices or to offering advice to others…am I loving well?

In the book of Matthew, Jesus is asked what the greatest two commandments are.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Jesus said it. We must first Love God and then we must Love Others. We must Love Well.

And that’s all most moms are trying to do…trying to love their children well.

I’m learning a lot lately about encouraging others…about how little these debates really accomplish. I’ve had to ask myself why I get so angry when someone claims that her particular approach to mothering is the one good and true way. I’ve had to ask myself why I feel defensive when someone gets on their soapbox about a parenting decision that is not the way I’ve chosen to go. I asked myself frankly, “Is it because I’m insecure about my choices?” And no, it’s not that. It’s because it’s not loving. It’s not loving to judge one another, it’s not loving to participate in the mommy olympics.

Because, as another blogger recently said, We’re All Mom Enough and because, you know what? Some things are even more important than the choice between cloth and disposables. Where is the mommy war for the motherless child?

It all comes back to love and the choice to love well.

So here is my advice about how to raise kids as awesome and interesting as mine:
Be consistent but flexible.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Pray for them and with them.
Teach them to honor God, themselves and others.
Love well.