I usually invite my guests to sit with me (figuratively) on that comfy orange couch in my living room, but today’s friend agreed to join me (literally) at a conference, and I was so blessed by her wisdom and fellowship I wanted to bring you into our conversation.
Last week, Jerusha Clark and I shared a booth at The Great Homeschool Convention with my book, Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses rubbing shoulders with her most recent release, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent.
What I learned, as we conversed with moms both separately and together, is that teenagers can be a trigger in their very own category! However, like every trigger that Amber Lia and I address in our book, the more you know about your triggers, the less likely you are to be triggered by them. Same is true for the teen who’s pushing boundaries, talking back, and looking for their growing sense of autonomy and independence there in your home.
The more you understand their developing brain, the more grace and help you can offer them as they grow.
The Biological Trigger Most Parents Don’t Even Know Exists…
by Jerusha Clark
Ever heard of mirror neurons?
Neither had I, until I started trying to understand the teenagers living in my house, that is. Turns out, these tiny brain cells play a major role in parenting anyone from 11-25 years of age. Yeah, they’re kind of a big deal.
God created mirror neurons to help your kids (and you!) learn by example. They’re also crucial in developing empathy. When you watch someone laugh hysterically, drink a cup of steaming coffee, or burst into tears, the mirror neurons in your brain fire. Your senses vicariously participate in what you observe. This explains, in part, why women like me cry at sappy commercials (C’mon; I know I’m not the only one!) It also helps explain why, when your teen wigs out, you feel like wigging out, too (and vice versa.)
While scientists are still learning about these amazing brain cells, studies suggest that when mirror neurons activate, imitation of both positive and negative behaviors occurs. In other words, your teen’s brain is constantly watching, evaluating, and reproducing your emotions and actions. Talk about evidence that parents need to model appropriate behavior! Next time you feel like blowing your top at your angry teen, take a moment to let your mirror neurons calm down (more on this later)!
My husband and I have spent several years exploring scientific research and biblical wisdom about parenting adolescents. It’s been absolutely fascinating to witness how neuroscience is just now catching up with and proving the timeless wisdom of Scripture. Consider this well known verse in light of what you just learned about mirror neurons:
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare” (Proverbs 15:1).
God not only gives us “good advice” in the Bible; He actually designed our bodies and brains in concert with His truth. Mirror neurons are at play when you respond to your tweens and teens. It’s wonderful and wild, isn’t it?!
I know it’s tough raising adolescents. I’m right in the thick of it! But I’ve got good news for all of us: we don’t have to throw our hands up in defeat. I’d love to share two practical tips for anyone who wants to move beyond “getting through” their kids’ tween and teenage years and actually thrive during this season.
- Don’t be a diversion. When you lose emotional control, adolescents divert energy to evaluating your behavior rather than their own. You don’t want this. Instead, keeping your cool forces your teenager’s feelings and the heart motives behind them to the surface. In a fascinating series of studies, researchers determined that when adolescents fixate on someone else’s emotions, their ability to process other information weakens. In other words, your angry expression and tone of voice dulls your teenager’s capacity to hear the content of your message (those powerful mirror neurons are going crazy!) If you want to have an effective conversation with your adolescent, don’t allow your emotion to distract him from what you’re communicating.
- Take ninety seconds. Social neurobiologists study how brain chemistry impacts relationships. Their research shows that emotions follow a predictable ninety-second arc. This means that any emotion you or your adolescent feels will rise and fall within ninety seconds if proverbial fuel isn’t added to the fire. Here’s the practical application: If you know your feelings aren’t under control, remove yourself from the situation. Excuse yourself to get a glass of water, go into the bathroom (even if all you do in there is silently scream), or flat-out say, “Look, I need to take ninety seconds here.” Some of you may be thinking, “That may work for others, but I’ve tried the whole counting to ten thing, and my kid just pushes and pushes.” Fair enough. This may happen, and it may happen often. Remember, however: you are the adult. Despite what a teen does, you can communicate, “I am trying to get my emotions under control, so I’m not going to talk again for two minutes.” Chances are, the first few times you say something like this, your teen or tween may be annoyed or angered. Hold your ground. After seeing you take ninety seconds a few times, your kids may start to experience the same calming sensation that comes from riding out the neurological rise and fall. In a non-combative moment, explain the biology behind your ninety-second discipline. You may be surprised at your adolescent’s reaction. Flipping out doesn’t feel good. Unbridled anger and bitterness are poisonous emotions that leave us feeling worse than when we started. Your teen or tween may see the benefit in taking time to allow the heat of emotion to pass. Ninety seconds doesn’t solve the situation, but it puts out some of the emotional flames and lays the groundwork for healthier communication.
I invite you to learn more about your adolescent’s brain, because understanding it can make you a better, gentler parent! If you’re ready to forego those knee-jerk reactions when your teenager is acting like a teenager, check out Your Teenager Is Not Crazy, available from Baker Books at bookstores and online.
Jerusha Clark co-authored four books with her husband Jeramy, including three bestsellers, prior to launching her own writing and speaking ministry, focused on helping others glorify and enjoy God, one thought at a time.
On quiet days, you can find Jerusha body-boarding, reading, or singing around a bonfire at the beach, her absolute favorite place. Jeramy and Jerusha have two amazing teenage daughters and love ministering together at churches, retreats, schools, and conferences.
Say Yes to Reading
by Kelli Stuart
We pushed open the door and a bell chimed over our heads. The shop smelled musty and old, but somehow that only adds to the nostalgia of this particular memory. My mom would set me loose into the shop with a bag to fill with the treasures I found, and off I’d go, wandering through the shelves like I’d entered a new land.
We were in a used book shop.
Mom would take me to this old shop at the beginning of every summer and let me pick out a stack of books to get me through the coming days. We’d go just before our vacation, when long stretches of time in the car provided ample, uninterrupted reading time.
Ten dollars went a long way in this old book shop, and I’d come home with stacks of treasured books, begging to take me away to far off places.
Mom would usually give me one book and tell me to savor it. Then she’d hide the rest until it was time to leave for vacation so that I wouldn’t tear through all of them before we left.
Sometimes I long for those carefree summer days again, when I’d come in from the pool all sticky and tired, and I’d curl up under a blanket by the window and read. There weren’t the distractions of social media, or television, and I certainly wasn’t responsible for anyone else but myself back then. I could just sit and read. All day.
As an adult, I still get a similar flutter of joy when I walk into a bookstore. Walls lined with books sends my pulse into spasms of delight, but there’s a conflicting emotion that accompanies the thrill: frustration.
Finding the time to read has become exceedingly difficult as the number of children in my home has expanded, and their ever-present needs have increased. Add to that the fact that I’m now one of the people who writes the books, and most days if I’m not caring for children, you will find me tapping away at my computer.
But I miss reading. I pull out books each night before bed, and I read for a few minutes, but my eyelids droop, and sleep calls loud, so the books sit stacked on my nightstand as I slowly make my way through them.
I miss the thrill of sitting down at 2:00 on a summer day and cracking open a new story.
I miss that feeling of wanting to read just one more page because you simply have to know what happens next.
I miss reading.
So this summer I’ve given myself permission to enjoy a few good books. I’ve reminded myself that reading is a worthy passing of my time and, in fact, sets a better example to my children in how to fill quiet moments than Facebook, email, or even working does.
I’ve said yes to reading, and maybe you would like to as well?
The key to sitting down and enjoying the process of reading is in finding a book that you can’t put down. It just so happens I have the perfect book for you.
My first novel, Like a River From Its Course*, releases June 27. A historical fiction novel set in World War II Soviet Ukraine, this book is the culmination of over a decade of research, of writing and re-writing…and re-writing again. It is based on the true stories of over 100 veterans that I personally interviewed over the years, and it’s receiving rave reviews.
“I couldn’t put the book down.” Amazon Review
“Gritty and Touching.” Publisher’s Weekly
“This is a book I won’t soon forget.” Amazon Review
“Powerful and Engrossing.” Library Journal
“I didn’t expect this book to sear white-hot into my soul.” Amazon Review
These are just a few of the reviews the book has received, and I’d love to have all of you take this journey into the unknown stories of World War II Soviet Ukraine with me.
Like a River From Its Course is now available for purchase on Amazon. For more information on the book, and on the many stories that inspired it, please visit my website.
Give yourself permission to get lost in a good book this summer. Say yes to reading, and remember those carefree days of being swept away into a new world.
*affiliate link included
Today is an exciting day! We’re flinging wide the doors of our new online home for creatives — LifeCreative.me!!!
Throughout the end of this week and into the next, we’ll be celebrating the launch with a digital party on our Instagram page — check over there later this afternoon (6/16) for the details of our first giveaway (you won’t want to miss it)! We’ve also got a sweet free gift for you if you sign up for our email list, but more details on that at the end of the article.
First, I want to share the heart behind this community and how it all began…
The Start of Life Creative
15 years ago this actress from Los Angeles met and quickly married a pharmaceutical salesman from Dallas. After just a few short months of our long-distance romance we tied the knot on a beach in Southern California, and my new husband swept me off my feet and carried me to Texas, as The Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces played like a soundtrack over the honeymoon phase of our marriage.
Though I left my career in Hollywood I quickly signed with a theatrical agent in Dallas and booked more commercials in the Lone Star state than I ever had in the saturated, star-studded industry from whence I came. For the first time in my acting life I felt like a big fish in a small pond, rather than a little fish swimming up against sharks. And because I wasn’t a “starving actress,” picking up waitressing gigs to help cover rent, I entered a season of rest as well as spiritual, emotional, and creative renewal.
Not only did I have a creative outlet as a steadily working commercial actress, I also had a brand new home to decorate. I created a “wedding wall” full of pictures from our beach celebration, I planted an herb garden, and planned multi-course dinners served on our wedding china. I even wrote my first spoken word piece and performed it at our local church, and I wrote an entire screenplay – hidden somewhere deep in the bowels of an old hard drive. Needless to say, I was flourishing like the herbs in my garden. The only thing missing was a sense of community.
One Tuesday night, my young husband came home from a men’s Bible study and told me that he’d met a man named Lee that he really liked. He said that Lee’s wife was a writer and a singer and liked to go out for tea… Basically, my husband was hooking me up with a new friend.
The next day I gave Kelli a call. When she answered the phone (she swears) I said, “So, I hear you like to take tea.” And thus began our friendship.
photo credit: Bethany Potent
Over the course of the next 12 months we’d meet together at the Starbucks cafe in our local Barnes and Noble. Enveloped in a cloud of steamy chai latte, with a plate of maple scones between us, we shared the stories and dreams of two creative lives. She told me of the novel she was writing, and I explained the screenplay I was working on. We even dreamed up projects to work on together… someday. We threw a tea party or two, a baby shower for a friend, and an Easter feast for a host of other newlyweds. She made cookies that looked like miniature Easter bonnets, and I created a multi-layered cake with marzipan and fondant.
photo credit: Bethany Potent
Kelli and I learned early on in our friendship that we weren’t simply writers or singers, actresses or poets… we were creatives. No one label was able to contain the totality of our inspired, “in His image” lives, and the discovery was liberating as we found self-expression in those garden parties and backyard barbecues, and a perfectly made cup of tea.
photo credit: Bethany Potent
Then Lee and Kelli moved away. And we moved too. They had babies in St. Louis, we had ours back in California, and all of those face to face teatime conversations about creativity, turned into phone calls about breast feeding and potty training.
After 6 years and 6 children between our two families, I gave Kelli a call and asked if she wanted to revisit some of those old inspired pieces of our hearts, long buried chasing busy little babies. I suggested a long weekend with a handful of other creative moms, writers and photographers and cooks. She said yes, and so we sent invitations to a select few and our annual creative retreat was born.
Over the years we’ve experienced a sort of Renaissance within our little community of creative mom friends – a reawakening , rebirth.
Kindling, fanning, and encouraging one another to use our inspired lives smack-dab in the midst of motherhood – in our home lives, our local communities, and even out into the world in this digital age. A couple of years ago, over another cup of tea, Kelli and I dreamed of a way we might bottle this creative community and share it with other Renaissance Moms…
In a few short months Kelli Stuart and I will be releasing our book, Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom out into the world. Today we’re giving away a digital gift of scripture art for you to print up or use as your computer’s desktop wall paper or lockscreen on your phone. Swing by Life Creative’s new landing page for more details. Our brilliant design partner, and fellow Renaissance Mom, Alle McCloskey of Finding Eden Media, has created a place for you to come and learn a bit more about our community and book, as well as your free gift. Though we haven’t opened up our formal launch team just yet, there will be a place for you to leave your email so that we can reach out to you when the time is right.
photo credit: The Huffington Post
Carrying fresh towels out to the pool I caught my youngest in the midst of a precious moment. All eight years of him looked up, wide-eyed. Flexing outstretched, sinewy arms, he hollered, “Mama, look at my boat. It’s a real boat and it’s mine!”
I set the towels down on the picnic table, keeping my eyes on his thin lips, curled in a smile, every bit of him living out an inspired summertime adventure. It was all so stinkin’ beautiful! There he was, with his brilliant boy imagination, splashing around our pool at 9:56 in the morning on a perfect summer day! My heart swelled with pride as I watched his body strain under the pressure of paddling. Then up came his “spear” and he slayed the monstrous eel that swarmed ’round his boat. His face contorted and I knew it was all real.
And a tear pricked, because this boy fought tooth and nail just a few short days before. “It’s not fair! It’s summer! All of my friends play video games and watch cartoons as much as they want!” He invited me to fight him then, and I refused. “Sorry son, this isn’t a consequence, you didn’t do anything wrong, but you and your brothers aren’t playing video games and watching tv all day. It’s the choice your dad and I have made. You boys can do it every afternoon after you’ve played yourself into a happy stupor and rested with a book for a while, then you can have some screen time then. But, no, that’s not how our family does summer.”
That’s not how our family does summer.
He wanted to fight me then, but I refused to make it a fight. One of the main lessons I’ve learned in my career as “mom,” is that I don’t have to fight my children. Though they try to argue with me, I don’t have to engage in the argument. Because I’m in charge.
And you can be too, Mom.
I’m not suggesting a proud, unyielding, authoritarian sort of power, but a calm, collected, and kind sense of oneself. “Son, I’m not going to fight you. God gave you to me, and I’m here to help you make the best choices this summer. One day, when you head to college, you’ll have to make most of your choices without me… until that time, I’m here to help.”
I’ve said it enough times now that they know. They know I’m not going to fight them. I’ve dropped the rope, so to speak, and no child can play a game of tug-o-war when their opponent has dropped their end of the rope.
I refused to fight my children over summertime boundaries or summertime boredom!
I remember the forts of my youth, and the friends who met me deep within their leafy rooms. Some friends were real, others imaginary. I’d ride my pink bike with the white basket to Kerry’s house three blocks away. I don’t have one memory with her inside one of our air-conditioned homes until we were 12 and started sneaking stealth into her mother’s living room to watch her sordid soap operas. Life was lived outside in our youth, with change in our pockets in case we came across the jingling song of an ice-cream truck.
Then there was the “dump” down the street, where our local school discarded old desks, pieces of machinery, and the deflated red rubber balls I played handball with over the course of the previous school year. My neighbor Michael and I would squeeze through the chain linked fence and gather what we could for our summertime inventions. We’d throw cardboard boxes over the fence before squeezing back through and carrying our loot home to his house or mine.
It was a successful day, a memorable day, the day we made our first “Crap-Mobile.” Using blue painting tape and silver duct tape, yellow masking tape and clear scotch tape, we strapped boxes to our skateboards, decorated them with markers, and pushed one another down the middle of the street.
But the day I count even more a success, even more memorable, was the day my boys pushed through the discomfort of their boredom and constructed their own cardboard fun.
When we let our children work through the discomfort of not being entertained, they have a shot at brilliance.
Dear Mom, knee deep in summer, don’t give in! Let them to be bored a bit, for boredom breeds brilliance. You are a good and kind mom, stay calm and collected, you don’t need to engage them in battles over screentime or morning movies, or their whiny pleas for a trip to target for another toy. They don’t need toys today, they need your loving hand, opening the back door and giving them a gentle shove.
God did a good job when He made you their mom… find your authority there, and drop the rope. Go ahead and drop it… and let them be bored. I double-dog dare you!
If you’ve engaged in the battle and find yourself fighting your kids each long mothering day, (winter, spring, summer, or fall) I encourage you to grab a copy of Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses. And sign up here for more conversations about dropping the rope and picking up grace!
When your children were young, you spoke words of life into their little beings. They cooed and you cooed back. You whispered blessings over them as they slept and told them “you are SO BIG” when they were so tiny. You had no intention of ever berating your babies. Even if you yourself were raised in a home full of heated arguments, explosive and loud, you never intended to pass that legacy down. And so you sang Scripture promises and memorized the golden rule. You were proactive in using tender words and shared the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And through it all you held great hope that your family would build each other up with lips dripping honey.
But before long, the honey grew rancid, and began tasting more like vinegar on your tongue. Within only a few short years, your toddler proved defiant, difficult, and demanding—as is their job at two. And you grew angry.
Since the start of those “terrible twos,” a battle of words has raged between you and them; amongst siblings in backseats, and teenagers with backtalk. It started with simple “No, Mommy, no…” when changing diapers or serving peas, but before long, toddler lips pursed in negative words grew into loud yelling matches. And you’re plain worn out from the warring and the shame. You want to retreat, but their constant bantering sets you off faster than anything else. It’s your trigger —Kaboom! You bring out the big guns and end the skirmish with a few choice words, because your voice is the loudest.
The problem with this battle strategy is that when we attempt to discipline them with our own aggressive voices, we usurp the teachable moments. In other words, we steal the show with our own fit throwing. Think of it this way: When our children do wrong and we stay calm and controlled, they know that they’ve done wrong. They do! They know it down to their convicted little cores! There is power when we bend down, touch their shoulders, and look them in the eyes. “That wasn’t a nice thing to say; can you try again?” However, when we exchange angry words for angry words, nasty face for nasty face, slamming door for slamming door, and tear them down with our words because they tore us down with theirs, they will never feel remorse for their own actions. We have hijacked that teachable moment. It’s simple, but it’s true!
I think this is what God means in Romans 2:4: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” When we learn to parent like God parents us, out of a calm and stable sense of our own authority, our children have the holy opportunity to experience true repentance. They feel a healthy heartache over it and take ownership of their sin in the quiet spaces that we don’t demolish with our loud and constant nagging. What a gift we give them when we stay in control. What a gift they forfeit when we blow up and talk back to their backtalk.
Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!
(Proverbs 15:23 NLT)
Yelling back at them when they yell is never the right thing at the right time. And so today we are slowing down in the quiet of these words to make a plan, that we might see the moments when they backtalk not as invitations to fight, but as opportunities to lead them kindly to repentance.
Before you react, consider the right response.
I have chosen, in moments void of conflict, a few phrases to use when their words are full of venom. Words like, “Son, I know that you don’t want to fight with me. When you are ready to talk, I am ready to listen.” Of course, this doesn’t immediately quench their anger, so often I firmly tell them, “I need you to spend some time in your room so that you don’t hurt our relationship with your words. Please stay there until I come to you. Then you will have a chance to tell me what’s on your mind in a kind way.”
Of course, because they’re all amped up and ready for a fight, they often push through our gentle firewall with more back-talking reasons why they won’t go to their room. Or they go and come immediately out with equally loud reasons why they are right and I’m an ogre! But I’ve made a commitment to The Lord, to myself, and to my family to not engage in the battle any more. So I walk them back to their room and repeat myself, “I will not fight you. I will talk with you in a little bit. Please wait for me.”
In the quiet that follows, I remind myself that my children are allowed to make wrong choices; God calls this freewill. It is not my job to strangle them into submission. I am responsible to navigate my own free choices, not control theirs. I can only hold captive my own tongue, leading by example, training them to do likewise, but I cannot badger them into repentance. Lord knows I’ve tried!
Which leads me to prayer. Only the Holy Spirit can meet my children in these quiet times, convicting their hearts, and in His kindness lead them to repentance and lasting change. Moms and dads, we have the awesome privilege to pray for our children. Pray for their hearts and their words.
I have received letters from exasperated moms, confessing to actually cussing at their young children and teenagers. They are shocked by their anger and the ease with which curse words and shaming blows flow out of their hearts. Parents are desperate for change—more desperate to change their own hearts than to change their children.
Do we want to see our children obey? Of course! Are we prayerful that their words will be gentle and honoring? Absolutely. But we can’t force peace to well up within them and spill out over their lips. That’s not our job. We can only control our own tongues, as we yield to the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us.
Today’s post is an except from the new book Triggers: Exchanging Parent’s Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses. If you struggle with anger in your home from the sheer effort of it all, if you find yourself yelling at your children, I want you to know you’re not alone. There’s a whole army of moms and dads pursuing better, more Christlike ways to respond to their children. Join us.