Daddy’s Hands

When I graduated from high school, I gave my daddy a burned cd of “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn. Unbelievably, I was even more cheesy and sappy as a 17 year old than I am now. But even at 17, my Daddy’s hands were something special to me.


I still remember his hands–the way they were when he was young and strong and not sick. They were pale and had freckles where the little patches of hair grew on the backs of his fingers. His forefingers and thumbs were kind of wide and flat, as if he had used them enough in manual labor to flatten them and spread them out. They were calloused and hard…and not particularly smooth.


Daddy had huge wrists…the bones were wider than any others, I thought. His watch rested against the small ridge at the top of his hand and he always kept it turned just so. Because he was left handed, I remember being fascinated by the way that Daddy held his pen when he wrote, wrist arched up and over to keep the pen pointed downward so that he could see where he had been and where he was headed on the page. His signature had a very distinctive up-and-down scratch, as he quickly scrawled it over the page…Mark B. Merritt…all up-and-down strokes when he wrote it.

I remember how Daddy’s wedding band sat just a little crooked in the depression around his left ring finger and how he always kept his finger nails cut short. His palms were broad, solid and meaty; his knuckles big and often cracked. Strong hands. He could open all the jars, bend all the metal, tighten all the screws, play all the jokes, work all the puzzles, tie all the ropes, carry all the loads, solve all the problems…fix all the things with his hands.

“Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle but I’ve come to understand…there was always love in Daddy’s hands.”

Davy, Davy Crockett


Caleb is headed to my aunt and uncle’s place this week, to help feed cattle and play in the country, to go to the cattle sale barn and generally play at being a country boy for a few days. He’s been watching Davy Crockett and Swiss Family Robinson everyday, he says, “to get ready for being out in the country in case he needs to fight a bear or some Indians or somethin’.” He’s prepping for whatever may jump off when he gets there.


I was sitting on the couch watching Davy Crockett with Caleb and it got to the scene where Davy’s wife gave him a big mushy kiss. Caleb got all uncomfortable and asked me to skip that part. I just laughed and said someday, some girl might kiss him. I asked what he’d do then. Caleb wrinkled his little freckled nose and said, “well I’ll prolly like it then, I guess. But it’s gross now!!”




It’s a buzz word right now, I know. But as I look out over the unpainted canvas of this next school year, I think intentionality is the key.



We are on the precipice of one more year of the short 18 I get to spend with them. Time is ticking away and I don’t want to miss it. I get this one year only one time with these little lives and I’ve got to make it count.




I get one year with Jess, as he’s learning to talk and getting into everything and turning into a funny little personality all his own. I get this one year to see glimpses of the man he will be, through the fleeting lens of pudginess and unveiled curiosity. I get one year of uninhibited snuggles, before he knows he’s supposed to be too cool. I get one year to soothe booboos and kiss owies and be the one who really can make it better. I get one year to be his constant love.




I get this one year with Caleb before he starts school, while his heart is still solidly mine for the taking. I get one year to talk through character issues that are so much more than ABCs and phonetic sounds. I get one year to take his wild abandon and figure out how to channel it into learning and listening and respecting. I get this one year to learn the source of his passions, to see his warrior-heart yearn for heroes and bad guys, cowboys and Indians, braves and knights. I get one year to watch him challenge his body, to grow and stretch and learn his limits. I get one year to woo him with stories of God’s own wild abandon, to speak truth and honor and compassion and integrity into his life. I get one year to affirm that, yes indeed, his Daddy is the strongest and noblest around. I get one year of love and grace and mercy, that through me as his mother, he may learn to love the heart of the Father.




I get this one year with Merritt, my girl, as she’s learning more about the world than I wish. I get to stand beside her and guide her as she is beginning her own steps. I get one year to show her that kindness wins, even with mean girls. I get one year to say girls can do hard things and push themselves and know the answer and beat the timer and read the book and research what they don’t know. I get one year to say that I love her when she can’t or when she doesn’t; that her worth isn’t in the timer or the grade or the position in class or the girl who snubbed her. I get one year to explore books and characters and new adventures, to train her up in a love of good literature and greater knowledge. I get one year of dolls and crafts and cooking and sitting together to answer the hard questions while completing the mundane. I get one year to be a hard-working, valiant, honest and real woman whose worth is centered in Christ, that my girl may know her mama is growing and trying and failing and trying some more. I get one year to invite her to grow and try and fail and try right along with me.




Really, the truth is: I get this one day. I’m not even guaranteed this one year, much less 18.

A sink full of dishes or a basket full of laundry, more or less, will not affect the outcome. In each one day of the next one year, I pray that I will seek intentionality to choose the best over the good. The relationship over the appearance. The child’s heart over the frenzy. The truth over the acceptable. The grace over the perfection. The eternal over the temporal.








Jared’s Big Daddy

Jess Newton Turner, Jr. passed away last week and I’ve been thinking of all the many lessons Jared and I learned from him over the years.  So many wonderful memories and lessons that we have to take with us…but mostly…

Big Daddy and the Kids

When I think of Big Daddy, I think of breakfast.

A sweet old kitchen with wall-to-wall (immaculately kept) cushy carpet that felt so good on bare feet.

A stooped and gentle man who had carefully folded paper towels into napkins and set the table in the evening to prepare for the big breakfast he would cook the next morning.

A coffeepot with premeasured coffee, little cups lined up beside it, just ready to hit start.

A ranch oak kitchen table that provided intimate seating and deep conversation for just a few…or opened up to accommodate the loud laughter and stories of the whole family.

A broad variety of choices for breakfast…the sugary, girly pastries or the manly eggs and sausage and biscuits…it was all available.


Jared always woke up early, when only Big Daddy was awake, and crept quietly into the kitchen without waking me and the kids, to get his alone time with the great man he revered. I don’t know exactly what all they talked about in those early morning sessions but I know it involved a heavy dose of the Bible and Popular Mechanics, with many an old story thrown in. Those morning breakfasts fed Jared’s soul and I know he will miss his Big Daddy’s wisdom at that ranch oak table more than anything else.

This morning, I read 2 Timothy 2:1-2 and I just can’t stop thinking about it, in terms of Big Daddy and Jared. “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

You see, Big Daddy had learned to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” and he loved others well. He was intelligent and hardworking…a driven man by all accounts. He provided for his family and protected them fiercely. He took his community roles and responsibilities very seriously and was faithful to serve on various boards and committees, to serve the people around him and to lead them in what he thought was right. But above all of those things, Big Daddy was a man of grace. He recognized the free and unmerited favor he had received from God and he bestowed that same favor on the people who were blessed to know him.

Big Daddy spent years of breakfasts, sitting at that ranch oak table, telling stories to Jared, correcting him when he was wrong, teaching him to love his wife well, being honest about the struggles of parenting, listening to his dreams, studying his plans and answering his questions. I can just hear Big Daddy paraphrasing 2 Timothy 2: “you’ve heard me say it all a million times. I have told you all the things I’ve learned the hard way. Now go live it and teach it to your kids and be sure they are qualified to teach it to others.” Goodness knows Big Daddy retold the same stories enough times…Jared ought to know them by now. And in the retelling of his stories, Big Daddy’s character and integrity and priorities were etched on Jared’s heart.

An Abundant Harvest

***If you were at the FBC Rec Team Reunion today, be warned…I’m stealing Kelly Burkhart’s sermon. I’m not even repentant. It was that good.***

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but from the strength of an ox come abundant harvests. (Proverbs 14:4)

We can have clean, sterilized barns and stalls…with no hope of a harvest. Or we can have messy, excrement-filled stalls…with an abundant harvest. Those are the choices.


image source

This is a generality that can be universally applied. We can make life sterile and safe. We can keep our children pristine (well I can’t. I have Caleb, after all. But maybe some can). We can keep life pared down to only the things we can manage easily. We can end relationships with all the people who annoy us. We can only pursue dreams we know we will attain. We can minister to people who fit our little molds. We can do church how we are comfortable doing it. We can ask only the questions we know we can answer. We can create rules and parameters and structures and processes. We can make sure we have oxen-poop-free lives.

Clean stalls.

But there will be no harvest.

Or we can choose the mess. We can let our kids learn things the hard way. We can let life get slightly crazy, in an effort to accomplish the tasks before us. We can choose the relationship over our own comfort. We can go for the crazy dreams. We can minister to the ones who really need it, for whom there is no easy answer. We can seek to share the hope of the gospel through church, at all costs, even at the expense of our traditions if God so calls us. We can ask questions which can only be answered through divine intervention and direction. We can seek to commission the unlikely, unpopular, unpolished, unqualified among us. You and me. We can do our best and ask God to use us. We can get in and muck out stalls and do the work in front of us, regardless of what kind of oxen poop gets on us.

We can have an abundant harvest.

But we have to choose.

Doing justice, choosing mercy, walking humbly, pressing onward, loving people, serving neighbors, discipling others…it’s all messy work. We’ve got to desire the harvest more than the sterility. We’ve got to believe in the calling enough to work though the junk.

If we are going to get to the harvest, we are going to have to muck some stalls

Where do we start?

520a9a1a443c2_imagePhoto from Midland Reporter Telegram article

I have gotten several phone calls and emails today from people asking me how I think the Chin community needs should be handled. Let me be the first to say that I know I don’t have all the answers! This overwhelms me too. However, I do have some strong opinions that are born out of my experiences with the Chin people.

1. We need to be facilitators of success and independence for the Chin. No one will benefit, long term, from traditional charity or ongoing benevolence ministries that allow people to stay right in their difficult circumstances.

2. Our response should be more relational than financial. We think we can throw more money at things and that we will see improvement but that is just not true in this case. We could “buy them out of their poverty” but they would still lack the skills to be independently successful. Instead, we should focus on life-on-life relationships with Chin community leaders, who can then translate their success to their community. Money will also be a factor but it shouldn’t be our primary response.

3. We should work towards reciprocal relationships and genuine friendships with the Chin people. Guess what! It’s really awkward to make a new friend, particularly when you have trouble communicating with them. It isn’t comfortable but it is worth it. They have stories and wisdom and insight into the world that we need too! We aren’t the only ones with something to offer here!

4. Taking a kid from a hard place and bringing him through to academic and social success is a hugely difficult prospect. We shouldn’t expect many over-night success stories. It is going to require much commitment of time and a willingness to be frustrated.

5. We need to intervene before an American Poverty Mentality can take hold. Most of the Chin came to the US with a desire to work and save and improve themselves and their children–a totally different mentality than we see in local systemic poverty. If we don’t jump in quickly to teach healthy money-management and other necessary life-skills, we will find ourselves fighting a different battle than we currently face.

I have been researching to find other cities who have successful efforts to help Chin refugees. The best one I have found so far is the Chin Refugee Ministry in Lewisville, TX. I would like to work towards a similar system here in Midland and I think we have the resources and man-power to execute this ministry with excellence. I encourage you to look through the Lewisville Chin Refugee Ministry site and begin to look for ways that you can affect positive change, here in Midland with the Chin community.

***Update: My friend, Carrie McKean, has just made me aware of two other organizations who are ministering well to their local refugee communities. The Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services and the World Relief mentoring and ESL classes for preliterate students are both excellent resources which we should investigate more fully. 


79707…Our Jerusalem

Let’s quit acting like we are confused about what God wants us to do.

He said to serve the sick, poor, orphaned, alien, subjugated, afflicted and downtrodden among us.  He said to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth.  Well, the way I read that, Jerusalem is Midland; the place is here and the time is now.

Did you know that there are hundreds of Burmese Chin people living in Midland, Texas right now? Did you know that most of them fled their home country of Myanmar because of religious persecution, threat of human trafficking and complete lack of education for people professing to be Christian? We cannot even wrap our minds around the horrors they have experienced and yet, they are living in extreme poverty right here among us today.

Within the 79707 zipcode, people have ice on the inside of their apartment in the winter and sweltering heat of over 120* inside their apartment in the summer, not because they don’t pay their bills, but because their landlord refuses to repair their AC/heating units. I know this because one such individual is my dear friend and I have personally been inside her apartment in both extremes. Because she is my friend, I have held off writing about her circumstances out of respect for her dignity. I do still value her dignity but I have just learned today that she is facing some other, more serious concerns in her life and I feel that if my influence among our church and friends is able to do anything to alter her family’s circumstances, I am bound to give it my best shot.

The Chin people are facing huge challenges, right here in our midst. Their children are failing and being held back in school because their parents don’t know how to help them and our schools don’t know how to reach them. My friend’s son will repeat the 2nd grade for the second time and my heart breaks for all the ramifications that has for her family. Another Chin, a pastor of our acquaintance, has been here in Midland, pastoring his church for almost a year and sending all his extra money back to Malaysia where his wife and child are stuck in a refugee camp, awaiting admittance to the US and trying to save money to make the trip.

Chin Luncheon

Several of our Chin friends are completely uneducated…as in, they have never sat in a classroom situation and at the age of 50, have no knowledge of any alphabet or even the most basic skills by which to learn English. On the other hand, another of my Chin friends arrived in the US at 14 years old with only three years of prior school experience and no English. She graduated at 18, from Lee High School, with honors, and now attends UTPB as a biology/pre-med major, with the hopes of serving her people as a physician as soon as she can.

The apartments and neighborhoods where the Chin are forced to live, as a result of our inflated costs of living, are deplorable and unconscionable by any standards. There are drugs and weapons and all manner of unsafe conditions, where these sweet people are doing their very best to raise children to be kind and productive citizens. My friend told Jared, just today, about a guy walking through the apartment complex waving a gun around in front of her kids and speaking in a very frightening manner, much too fast for her to understand what he was saying.

This is MIDLAND, people! It is less than a mile from the house where I grew up!

We have got to wake up!

We are sending money to Lebanon and Vietnam and Uganda and Haiti and…you get the point. I am not saying that we should cease sending support to other places, where the needs are also very real. I just think that we have got to open our eyes to the needs of people right here on our doorsteps. People who want to be upstanding citizens, who work for a living, pay taxes and support their families with honest jobs. They don’t want our handouts and our broke-down furniture and cast-offs. They want to learn how to do life in Midland.

The Chin people whom I have met are highly intelligent and very hard workers, but they are mostly ignorant of our systems and structures. They don’t know anything about building credit or how to go about buying a house or car. They don’t understand the concept of being upside-down on a car payment, the second they drive off the car lot. They don’t understand that most kids aren’t successful in our school system unless their parents’ are invested in their success, communicating closely with the teachers and administration. They don’t even have the language skills with which TO communicate with the schools.

These people have been told that the US is a land of opportunity and that Midland has more jobs available than anywhere else…and yet here they are, falling through the cracks in many ways.

The Chin population in Midland, based on our investigation, is approx. 95% Christian. They don’t need evangelism. They need mentoring families, education, friendships with local Midlanders and they need help educating their kids. They need people who love them enough to explain how we do things. They need us to care as much about educating poor kids in Midland as we do about educating kids on the other side of the world. They need friends who will love them and their customs, not attempting to Americanize them, but who will simply show them how to be successful here.

We can do this! We just need to wake up!

***Update: if you would like to join the conversation about possible next steps in a Chin Refugee Ministry, please check out this post and please feel free to comment and share new ideas!

A Subversive Message of Mediocrity

So I wrote that blog post yesterday and I’ve written about 4 more since then…none of which will I post because they are all just long rants and I try to avoid letting people hear me like that. 😉

Here’s the deal, though. Jared feels confident that God has called him to this new business, to the point that we’ve got everything riding on it. And that’s just dandy. I’ve worked/prayed/struggled through to a place where I get it and I fully support him in that decision…really…I mean it. I am learning and growing with him, in the context of a business start-up, in ways that I never could have predicted.

Jared is doing the big thing he feels called to. But what am I supposed to be doing? Besides wiping noses and hineys, breaking up fights, picking up messes and doing my best to parent three little hearts? I mean, obviously I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. I could do nothing but cook, clean, parent and grocery shop all day every day and never have a free minute. But surely that can’t be it, right? There’s got to be something bigger and more meaningful, right?

I’m finding that we have this subversive little falsehood that has infiltrated the collective subconscious of young moms in my circles. It is never boldly declared but perhaps that is why it is so damaging. It is a message that is common to stay-at-home-moms and working moms, alike. It is a message that, on the surface, goes something like this: “Oh honey! You are in a wonderful stage of life right now! Don’t wish it away! Soak it all in! Your job is so important! You are shaping young lives and discipling little hearts, raising children who will someday do great things and have the ability to change the world! You are supporting a husband and encouraging him in his various efforts! It’s really so important!”

Every single one of those statements is true and I don’t mean to mitigate or make light of the awesome blessing and responsibility that we have as young moms. But do you hear the undertone to the message–the little guilt trip that lies just beneath the surface–the cop-out that lets us off the hook of finding greater ministry and calling within our churches and communities?

There are some of us who have a deep desire to find something more…to discover a stronger relationship with the Lord…to form a more meaningful connection with people who are different from us…to find a place of ministry where we really make a difference…to show our kids that there is more to life than toys and sports and iPads…to remember what life was like before our intellect and grown-up words dried up between midnight feedings and laundry mountains. There is something inside of us that is screaming that we are so caught up in the junk that we are missing the big thing to which God has called us.

And then there are some others in our mommy groups who hear the subversive message and say “well thank goodness! I’m off the hook! I’m too tired and not worthy. I’m scared and I’m already failing at laundry and organic cooking…how could I possibly do something bigger. Stuff is falling off my plate on all sides. Thanks for telling me I don’t have to add anything more.”

My point of struggle is reconciling the undertone of this subversive message with what I read in scripture. God didn’t provide a parenthetical clause, allowing young mothers a 20+year hall pass for mediocre Christian lives. I don’t find a Biblical distinction between men or women, parents or no, married or single, in the hundreds of New Testament commands to go and make disciples, to take in the sick, hungry, poor, orphaned, or alien among us or to otherwise give a defense for the hope that lies within us. If we listen to the subversive young mommy message, we can watch 20+ years go by and fail to live out an active, meaningful ministry because we are too busy folding underwear and practicing spelling words and telling ourselves that is all there is for us.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I realize underwear must be folded and spelling must be practiced…but we need to seek our own hearts, lives, giftings, interests, talents and take what we find God has given us to impact the world around us.

So here is what I propose: let’s take these birthing hips the Good Lord gave us and forcibly shift some stuff out of the way. Let’s create some space in our lives for Biblical study to find our callings. Let’s speak to our husbands about the deeper needs in our hearts…and walk away from those marital conversations as co-laborers for the Gospel, rather than nagging wives and browbeaten husbands. Let’s make each grocery trip and adult interaction count, as we seek out the broken, poor and hurting around us. Let’s search the corners of our lives and ferret out the excess so that we can streamline the necessary chores, leaving space for the eternal work to which we are called.

I don’t have all the answers but I am resolved to stop accepting the bill of goods that we’ve been sold. A mediocre Christian walk is not acceptable, even when it is marketed under the heading of “young mom”. Will you join me in finding the greater ministry in-between the parenting and the chores?


The Process

Starting our own business is hard.

I’ll just put that out there.

Jared has been working on this business start-up for over a year now.  We have staked our savings and our lives on this company, with the conviction that this is what God has called us to be doing.  And…news flash…I am Jared’s harshest critic and biggest cheerleader, all rolled into one ball of anxiety over what the future may hold for us.  To use his terminology, I am “all up in his mess kit” every day about what he has done and what phone calls he has made, which deals are progressing and how he plans to handle the next step.  Jared has never had an employer who has so micro-managed him, as I have done every day for the past year.  I am stressed completely out and doing my best to convey that to him constantly.

I’ve written so many blog posts in the past few months but I have posted almost none because, while this start-up has consumed my thoughts and prayers and life…and given me plenty of fodder for writing, I have kept things close to the chest. I don’t want to cast doubt or cause anyone to question Jared and his ability to make this work. If something is going to screw this up for him, I sure don’t want it to be me and my big mouth! In the start-up process, I have found Jared to be, on the one hand, supremely capable, hardworking, diligent, committed and devoted to his task, and on the other hand, to be entirely at the mercy of “Big Oil Men”, private equity firms and various other groups who are outside our realm of control.  In the last 24 hours, however, something has been made clear to me and I think it is now time to share.

The end-game of this company remains to be seen and we have learned that it will not be forced into existence by more phone calls, consistency or a great business prospectus.  If hard work and stick-to-itiveness could get the job done, we would have already made hole on the first well. Jared is providing for our needs, paying our bills and the bills of his employees.  We are not in crisis or struggling to make ends meet…so please don’t hear desperation in my words.  But this is really hard work, and so much more personal to both of us than any J.O.B. we’ve ever had.

Jared and I remain convicted that we are where we should be right now. He feels called to this company and I support him in that.  But I no longer feel like the call to this process is for the end result.  I think we are called to the process, to learn the lessons in the struggle. We cannot do this by ourselves.  There is no magic formula or new PowerPoint presentation or contact that will make everything click and go.  And, in truth, we are not at the mercy of “Big Oil Men” or private equity companies.  We are at the mercy of a loving, benevolent God who has numbered our days and the hairs on our heads.  God thwarts the plans of men and causes nations to rise and fall.  Who are we to think we can ramrod a company into existence?

Jared is not accountable for “making this deal go”.  He is accountable for his integrity, his work-ethic, his love and service to others and for his humility of heart in the way that he conducts his affairs. I am accountable for using my time and our money wisely, to ease things for our family in the meantime, and to stand behind and beside my husband as we work out our faith with fear and trembling.

So, while I don’t promise to “get up out of your mess kit,” Jared, I do promise to love and support you in the process as we figure out where God is taking us. I promise to pray with you and for you as you discern the next steps and the ministry that God has for you in the midst of a business start-up. I promise to be poised, at your side, on the balls of my feet in a three point stance, ready to jump into the thick of whatever God brings up next.

And let’s pray God does it quickly…cause I’d really like a pedicure…if we are all just being honest.  😉

How to Succeed at Letting Your Child Fail

I really liked this article by Shelley Hawes Pate and wanted to save it to read again later:

“I would look good in a Porsche, Mom. I’d like one for my 16th birthday,” Kay Wyma recalls her teenage son remarking nonchalantly on an ordinary day carpooling down Preston Road. The Highland Park mom of five hit the brakes. What had she done to sow such entitlement? Was it that she had, in fact, done everything to ensure a happy childhood for her brood – a cake-and-eat-it fairytale of achievement without struggle? Wasn’t that what every other parent does?

“I couldn’t believe he said it. It cut me to my core,” she says. “Then I walked into a house full of breakfast dishes, beds unmade and clutter everywhere, and I realized they are looking to me to serve them for everything. Something is really wrong here.”

Ask any family therapist, and they’ll tell you the Wymas are not alone. In today’s über-competitive parenting environment, Mom and Dad will do anything to race in and spare their children from the trials and tribulations of life. From helping with homework (sometimes even doing it for them), intervening with a bully at school or lobbying a teacher for a better grade to calling about a birthday invitation not received, pursuing every interest their offspring mentions (letting them quit when they don’t like it) and filling out college applications, nothing is too sacred when it comes to protecting our greatest assets. Some parents go as far as shielding their young ones from the death of a family member or friend.

All of these actions come from a genuine place, says Marla “Malkie” Schick, MSSW, LCSW, clinical social worker at Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas. “Parents love their children and want to provide the best for them in every way,” she says, but the fallout is an affliction of irresponsibility. “These kids grow up and don’t know how to manage without their parents stepping in to save them.”

Bessie Ann Christenson, M.A., LPC-S, sees children who’ve had everything taken care of for them by doting parents in her role as clinical program manager at The Parenting Center in Fort Worth. But instead of being content and well-adjusted, they’re often struggling with emotional issues or even depression.

Could it be that in our quest to create a happy childhood at all costs, we’re setting our kids up to be the opposite: unhappy and unequipped?

Who said the easiest path is the best?
Fueled by her son’s unrealistic request, Wyma ­– also a blogger writing about mothering tweens and teens at TheMoatBlog – and her family, ages 14 to 3 at the time, began a yearlong experiment to replace entitlement with empowerment.

She’s the first to admit it wasn’t easy. “To think about turning a ship that big was almost too much to bear,” Wyma says. Like any other mom, her enabling was paved with good intentions – for her children to be joyful and free of what she deemed unnecessary pain. Now she knows that her attitude was a detriment to their well-being.

So they started small: making beds every day. Eventually they progressed to more challenging responsibilities, such as shopping for groceries and making dinner on their own. And they were allowed to experiment with trial and error (mostly error) in the secure confines of their home.

Wyma, who wrote a book about their journey, Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement, recalls her own reluctance to stick to the plan (not to mention the kids’ initial pushback). “When I first saw the bed unmade, I had to fight the urge to make it,” she says in the book. Her psyche fell back on familiar territory – making excuses for her beloved son. “He just forgot. He has such a good heart. I’m sure he meant to make it; he has a lot on his mind.”

But the moment served as a turning point. “We all know it’s easier to do it ourselves than make the kids do it,” she says. “But who said the easiest path is the best one?”

Wyma, who worked for Roger Staubach in real estate and Dan and Marilyn Quayle in the Bush 41 White House before her stint in “home management,” got a revelation: “When I step in, fix problems and do those little household chores or homework, I send the message that they can’t do it themselves. And if they can’t do the small things, how will they ever attempt the big things?”

Along the journey, a wondrous thing started to happen. Her kids began seeking out new tasks they could tackle on their own and expressing a bona fide sense of pride and accomplishment. That’s not to say the whining isn’t still there, because they’re normal kids, Wyma says, “but now they embrace opportunities rather than see them as stumbling blocks or look to me to get through it.”

Failure to launch
Several other authors are sounding the same battle cry as Wyma. Dan Kindlon, child psychologist and lecturer at Harvard University, rallies against what he labels our “discomfort with discomfort” in his book Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age. The result of this unprecedented obsession with childhood happiness is parental over-investment that leads, ultimately, to a snowballing of narcissism that is damaging our kids’ chances of long-term success.

Tony Wagner, an expert in residence at Harvard’s new Innovation Lab, cautions that just because we do everything for our kids, from sending them to the right school to ensuring good grades, there are no guarantees they’ll do well in life. In his book, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Wagner notes that more than one-third of all recent college graduates are living at home today ­­– either unemployed or underemployed. What they’re lacking is the capacity to be innovative and entrepreneurial; they’ve never developed the drive. Yet innovation is the skill in greatest demand in the workplace and the one least likely to be outsourced or automated, he says.

Arminta Lee Jacobson, Ph.D., with the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of North Texas, sees this lack of motivation and creativity firsthand. College and graduate students often struggle with indecision because their parents always told them what to do. Parents want to control the strings even in college; faculty report instances in which students, or worse, parents, complain when a student doesn’t make an A. In fact, some parents are accompanying their adult children on job interviews and eagerly attending social networking site LinkedIn’s recently contrived “Bring in Your Parents [to Work] Day.”

“As our kids age, the youth entitlement problem leads to a needy society, incapable of critical thinking; incapable of making decisions; incapable of problem-solving, creating, deducing or finding cures,” Wyma says. “Being over-served leads to atrophy of personal initiative. No wonder our kids opt out rather than dive into responsibility-laden opportunities.”

Christenson adds that if kids aren’t prepared to adapt to less-than-perfect situations, they’re going to have a “failure to launch.” In other words, they will be psychologically encumbered and possibly still living in your basement when they’re 40.

It’s critical that parents take a close look at their own motivations: Is this for them or for you? Often The Parenting Center sees moms and dads who want to be their child’s best friend, but there is a fine line between selflessness and selfishness. “It’s inevitable. You have to let them go at some point,” Christenson says.

So how do you foster innovation in children, helping them prepare for a successful future in a demanding world? Through struggle, risk-taking and failure, experts say. This is how students build self-confidence and a strong work ethic, two qualities that can lead to achievement and that our students are seriously lacking, especially compared to students in other parts of the world, Wagner reports.

What failure is … and isn’t
Christenson is quick to point out that allowing your child to be a failure is different from allowing your child to learn through failing (the goal). Parents need to support their children and help them learn from their mistakes – not accuse them of not being good enough.

She notes that in her experience, parents are hesitant to dole out “tough love” because they fear the child will suffer from low self-esteem. That’s faulty thinking. “Criminals have high self-esteem, but they don’t make good choices,” Christenson says. “Self-esteem is not as important as self-control.”

Wyma learned that she was actually fueling low self-esteem by sending an implied message to her kids that they weren’t capable. “The entitlement attitude, seemingly a sign of self-importance and arrogance, actually conceals a cavern of insecurity,” she says in her book. “So much for my ‘you’re so great’ kudos when they’re rarely backed by actions to prove I believe it.”

Ownership is key, experts say. Jacobson and Schick bristle at the term “failure” and prefer to use words like challenges or opportunities when discussing children. “Failure for young children is often the result of developmentally inappropriate expectations,” Jacobson explains. “They may be given toys and games for older children that result in failure and discouragement. They may be challenged with academic tasks they are not ready for, like reading, which makes them not like reading in the future or be afraid to try.”

Alternatively, she encourages parents to have ongoing two-way communication with their children and teens. Instead of the goal being “make sure they don’t fail,” listen to their feelings and encourage them realistically instead of showering them with empty praise. Give children choices they can own along with guidance and clear consequences.

The professor of development and family studies recalls her own experience as a high school student. She was about to miss out on an opportunity for recognition because of procrastination. “My mother offered to help me make a schedule to complete the project,” Jacobson says. “We sat down together and made the schedule, and I completed my project on time. My mother didn’t remind me about my schedule or do it. I had the choice to succeed or fail and clearly understood the consequences.”

Success is motivating for children, youth and adults – if it is their success, she stresses.

Never too late
It may be difficult to acknowledge, but Christenson stresses that the best window to allow your children to fail is when they’re very young, even toddlers, when the consequences are minimal.

Obviously kids can’t take care of their own physical needs at such a tender age, but it’s not too soon to consider whether they can start meeting challenges on their own. For instance, if your son forgets to bring his homework to school, can he and his teacher solve the dilemma instead of you running up to the school? If a child steals a toy from your daughter, are you comfortable letting her work it out?

“You can still be there when they’re experiencing a challenge and discuss it together, but the important thing is you are not always solving it for them,” Schick says.

Even if you miss the boat while they’re young, it’s never too late to start training for independence, insists Ana Homayoun, founder and director of Green Ivy Educational Consulting, who works with teens to help them take charge of their lives through organization, time management, personal purpose and overall wellness.

Homayoun, who penned The Myth of the Perfect Girl: Helping Our Daughters Find Authentic Success and Happiness in School and Life and That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in Life, encourages parents to begin collaborative conversations with their older children. Start slowly by letting the adolescent take over two things that Mom or Dad are doing for him. After he masters those, pick two more.

As a teen expert, she also advises parents to sit down with their teen and ask what she really wants for her future and work together to find solutions for accomplishing her goals. In addition, help the student design an organizational system that is easy to use so she can hold herself accountable; then meet once a week to discuss her progress.

Wyma admits that it’s much easier training her younger children than her oldest, who is 17. Recently, he accused her of “bad parenting” because she didn’t help him register for the SAT “like everyone else’s parent.”

“Will my younger son ask for the same help in a few years?” Wyma says. “No, because he knows he can do it.”

While the Wymas are garnering attention for their family changes, not everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. Wyma has encountered captious comments such as, “Well, your house must be all put together and nice now.”

Just the opposite, Wyma says. “We are real, and we struggle.” But the best thing about experiencing failure for this family of five? They get back up – and that’s an essential life lesson.

“It really isn’t about making the beds. It’s about equipping and empowering our kids,” Wyma says.

Published February 2014