I've been told that I live in a Phineas and Ferb episode. Or maybe Dude Perfect. If you know anything about these shows, you know that I needed to figure out how to be a brave mom to survive. But I had no idea that the best lessons would come from my boys.
I would love to talk to the moms who raised those men, because I’m sure they have unbelievable stories to tell.
How did you survive their fearlessness? How did you find ways to satisfy their endless curiosity? What was it like to send them to school and help them with their homework?
Here's the question I most want answered: what did you learn from them? It's a question I'm trying to ask myself more often because it impacts how I see my boys. It changes my perspective from frustration to curiosity and it requires me to talk less and listen more. So, what have they taught me? How to be brave.
1. BRAVE MEANS SETTING ASIDE MY PLANS AND FEARS
I have some crazy stories of my own, and we aren’t even officially in the teenage years yet! This was the scene in my backyard recently. It started like this:
And ended up like this:
My boys bought that blow up pool with their own money, and everything else came from the garage. No idea how they managed to get the yellow slide down from an overhead shelf...and I'm never going to ask
On this particular summer day, my plan was to prep my college classes for a new semester. I had banned the boys from devices, even though I knew that was a risk. When they’re on a screen, things are definitely easier for me--we’ve all been there!--but I had been way too lax about it. (We've since made a technology plan that's working well so far!)
My two boys have tested our limits since the beginning. Like when Sam (our youngest) was a toddler. I walked out of the room for a minute (that’s all it takes!) and heard Gabe giggling. I found Sam hanging from the chandelier over the dining room table, yelling “I swing! I swing!”
2. BRAVE MEANS SAYING YES
Before I began this parenting journey, I would have shut down their pool/net/slide/sled project the minute they asked to buy the pool. A few years ago, I would have refused to let them put the slide against the deck to go into the pool. And as I sat outside a few weeks ago and watched them bring out ladders, logs, shelf pieces and who knows what else, I wanted to put a stop to it.
I wanted to say, “You’re making a huge mess in the garage and you’re going to wreck the yard! Can’t you just use the soccer net to actually play soccer?”
But I didn’t.
When the old-school wooden sled came out, I wanted to scream, “WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH A SLED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER?”
But I didn’t.
Instead, I kept quiet and battled the internal voice that wanted to put an end to their fun. I did, however, ask if they were worried that the sled would slice open their pool.
Gabe’s response? “Mom, this is how legends are made!” (Thanks Sam Tinnesz.)
This was reminiscent of his response when I found him using that same wooden sled after a snowstorm: “Mom, you live and learn!” as he raced across the deck and slid down the steps, nearly crashing into a tree.
His life philosophy is SO very different from my own. And it still baffles me. But I’m intentionally trying to embrace it instead of fight it. Oh, there are plenty of times when I do need to put a stop to things, and when I need to say no.
But there are also times when I need to be more willing to say yes. Especially when my yes affirms who he is.
(For more about supporting and nurturing your child's passions, see this article from Dr. Susan Newman at Psychology Today.)
3. BRAVE MEANS LOVING THEM FOR WHO THEY ARE
I took this video when they were 4 and 2:
They were both fine--as you can tell by all the laughter--and I honestly thought he would roll down those steps the other way. I mean, we all know kids who have gone down steps in laundry baskets, right?
It has become one of my favorite videos because this is at the heart of who my boys are. Gabe is fearless, creative, curious, and determined. Sam is fun-loving, competitive, independent, and supportive.
The best way to serve my kids is to let them grow. To help them thrive.
To be honest, I think adoption has given me a perspective that I may have lacked if I only had biological kids. When we adopted Gabe, I had absolutely no preconceived ideas about who he would be. I didn’t hope for any particular character traits or wonder if he would follow in my career footsteps or my husband’s. I wasn’t looking for myself in him.
Instead, I was just looking AT HIM.
(Here's an insightful and honest look at a dad who learned to love his son for who he was--including great advice from parenting experts.)
Parenting Gabe has not always been easy, but there’s tremendous joy that I never would have experienced without the difficulty. And yes, I know there’s plenty more of both to come!
But here’s a glimpse of life so far. I’m working to see the good in everything--this has be a game-changer for me as a mom!--so you’ll see my positive spin after each one.
4. BRAVE MEANS EMBRACING CHANGE
I thought I was prepared for life with a baby. I did everything that was suggested by our adoption agency and social worker. I asked for help and advice from the moms I knew and those I met online in adoption forums. I remember one suggestion because we had a dog: practice walking your dog with a stroller because it will not be an easy transition for you or the dog.
Oh, sure. That won’t be weird at all. Who’s that lady--who is clearly NOT pregnant--walking her dog with an empty stroller?
This is really going to push me out of my comfort zone.
I didn’t get to have those first six months with Gabe, but I thought we could ease into things a little. Ha! He only slept 20-30 minutes twice a day and he took his first steps at 10 months old. He didn’t do anything slowly. Ever.
This is never going to be boring.
It took all the imagination I had to figure out how to babyproof our house because nothing from the store or suggestions from friends seemed to work. I resorted to yardsticks through drawer handles in the kitchen (worked for a while), stacks of boxes to keep him out of rooms while we moved in to a new place (he shimmied through), rubber bands around doorknobs on the pantry (he somehow managed to pull the doors open far enough and climb up inside).
He refuses to give up.
When we stayed with friends for a few days, Gabe kept wandering over to the bank that had a pretty big drop off. We repeatedly told him to stay away from it and were closely monitoring him. The minute we looked away, he drove a toy car right over the embankment and crashed at the bottom. And then got back inside that car and continued playing like nothing happened.
He always brushes himself off and tries again.
We were packing to leave a condo where we’d stayed for a week when he decided to swing on the towel bar in the bathroom. Part of the wall came down with it.
He’s endlessly curious.
5. BRAVE MEANS HAVING A SENSE OF HUMOR
One of my college students watched the boys--then 8 and 6--while I taught a class. She took them to the lake on campus (which no sane person would ever touch) and Gabe caught a fish. With his hands.
He’s lightning fast.
When he was 8, I found the following in his pillowcase that he slept on every night: stuffed animals, Pokemon cards, Legos, pieces of duct tape, nails, a hammer, and his string art project that's on a 12x12 piece of wood.
Things that would drive other people crazy don’t faze him.
A text from a neighbor that same year, received while I was inside folding laundry: “Hello there. I thought you might like to know Gabe was just outside running on your roof. It scared me because he was only in his socks. Everything ok?”
He’s willing to take risks.
At ages 9 and 7, I asked what they would like for Christmas. Sam said: I really want a Dallas Cowboys jersey and Star Wars legos. Gabe said: I'd like a life size Storm Trooper and a blowtorch.
This one’s hard...he thinks big??
And the Easter egg hunt with some friends when Gabe was 10. The dads hid the eggs, and I think momentarily forgot who was participating. He scaled the basketball hoop and was looking over the backboard before we knew what happened.
A year ago, Gabe got stuck in our deck and I had to call 911. We moved into the house two weeks before and announced our presence with sirens and an ambulance in the driveway. The EMTs had to tear apart a section of the deck to get him out, but Gabe was perfectly fine.
He has a big presence.
This spring, I was ready to place an order on Amazon. (love Prime!) The price looked a little too expensive, so I thought I better check my cart. I would have lost my mind if those “live hatching eggs” would have shown up on my doorstep.
He loves animals.
Earlier this summer, Gabe had fishing line in his bedroom. Why? No idea. But it was hidden under his bed and as my husband was sweeping, it picked up the fishing line and unraveled most of it because he didn’t realize it was happening. Do you have any idea what that does to a vacuum?? I told Gabe he better figure out how to fix my year-old Shark vacuum. I had to leave the room as he was working because he had screws and parts strewn haphazardly all over the carpet. It made me crazy because it's definitely not how I would have tackled that project. I was convinced he’d never be able to put it all back together. But he did.
When it comes to fixing things or understanding how something works, he doesn’t stop until he figures it out.
He managed to set our toaster on fire last week when he thought he’d save time by putting cheese on his bagel and then putting both into the toaster. His comment? “Huh. I guess that wasn’t a very good idea.”
He is able to brush things off and move on.
Which brings us to the sled/slide project.
He’s a creative and determined problem solver.
And because of him there will never, ever be a shortage of stories. Or laughter.
6. BRAVE MEANS GIVING THEM FREEDOM TO CHOOSE
So I can choose to do my best to rein him in, or I can give him the freedom and permission to discover, to decide, to try and to fail.
That’s how I can serve him, and serve my future self because I’ll be able to look back and know that I did my best to raise him into the young man he was created to be.
I can also introduce him to new experiences and allow him to explore in ways that may not interest me at all. This fall, he’s going to a new school with a STEM focus. As my husband and I discussed school for Gabe, we knew we needed to at least consider some other alternatives. School is not his favorite thing and it’s a battle for every homework assignment, so we gave him the option of staying in the current district or trying this new school. (For more on helping kids make better choices of all kinds, see this article from author and educator Matt Levinson.)
I wish I could explain how hard it was to give him the freedom to choose.
But I also wish I could explain how proud I was when he made the decision that required stepping out of what was familiar and into something completely unknown.
I’ve taken a cue from him in my word for this year: Brave. And my verse is "But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength." Judges 5:13
7. BRAVE MEANS PURSUING MY OWN DREAMS
I’ve been embracing it in every way I can. Starting this new business is one the bravest things I’ve done in a long time. It was a terrible time to start something new, but I did it anyway. And when I asked Mary to join me, she didn't hesitate.
Now that I think about it, maybe I have my boys to thank more than I realized. They are so good at taking risks. That’s scary in so many ways, but I pray they will use it for good.
And I’ve seen them understand more about the world because I took this risk. I’ve seen their perspectives begin to change. And they are more grateful. (Here's our ultimate guide to raising grateful (not just happy) kids--it includes excellent articles and resources.)
We’ve served in more different ways than we’ve ever done, and we’ve had deeper and more meaningful conversations as a result.
- Honoring veterans at an airport
- packing and taking lunches to kids in underserved areas
- planting flowers in our backyard
- sharing courageous moments for kids battling life-threatening illness.
Yes, we are serving other people and making a difference in our community. But I’m also serving my kids by helping them thrive and inviting them to serve with me. I never know what might ignite a passion, so I’ll keep providing opportunities to learn. It’s not a perfect solution to all the problems in the world, but it’s the best one I have.