Remembering Who My Kids Are (and letting them be that)

We’re refinishing our basement.

When we bought this house, it had a finished basement. Sort of. It was sold to us that way, but I now recognize how we purchased this house kind of like Tom Hanks and Shelley Long did theirs in The Money Pit. 

There were no light bulbs in the basement fixtures. Stacks of clutter and piles of laundry conveniently hid cracks in the walls and tears in the carpet. Pillowcases draped over windows prevented natural light from revealing holes in the ceiling tiles or broken closet doors. Regardless, we loved the house and paid more for it than we should have.

Six months after closing, the basement flooded.

With eyes wide open (and adequate lighting) we could see what a big job it would be to fix the basement. So we did what we do best: procrastinated. We pulled up the damaged carpet, removed all items of value from the pooled areas and proceeded to use the space as an unfinished storage room.

Three years later, we decided to bite the financial bullet and finish the job. This brings me to the present: a week in which I am packing over 1000 books (literally) and close to 9827 craft supplies (likely under-estimated) into boxes to store until the job gets done. (I removed most of the toys a couple weeks ago.) The contractor arrives on Tuesday.

All that is a really long back story to this: I found an old book that reminded me who my kids are.

Tanya Dennis

Parenting Overload

You may remember that our two kids are very close together. Both of them are surprise miracles. We were told we couldn’t have children and then got two back-to-back! Well, knee-deep in dirty diapers, sleepless nights and alternate feeding schedules (not to mention severe food allergies), I was overwhelmed. Add to that the strong, opposing personalities of my toddler cherubs; I was nothing less than fully exasperated. Desperate might be a better word.

Well-meaning friends and family members insisted that I lacked authority. I was too permissive. I needed to be a stronger, more forceful disciplinarian. My children were, at the time 1 and 2, so it should have been an easy task. It wasn’t. I was barely surviving motherhood and growing more discouraged with each day, with each judgmental piece of advice.

And then came this book. I don’t know who recommended this book to me, but that person deserves an award. A grand, opulent one with a lifetime of luxury and peace and comfort and all things glorious. This book equipped me to thrive in motherhood.

It’s not a book about discipline, but about temperaments. It’s not about how to control your children, but how to foster their God-given attributes into assets. It didn’t teach me how to create a neat, orderly home, but it did show me how to build a home that works for our family.

Okay, so now I’ve regaled you with a story of real estate woes and spent significant time praising an as-yet unnamed book, but neither of these are the point of this post.

Lost and Found

While emptying shelves and filling boxes, my fingers brushed this old book. I remembered that I had promised to lend it to a friend, a young mother who is now where I was six years ago. I flipped open the cover and smiled at all my notes. Post-Its and flags protruded from nearly every chapter. Red lines and marks peppered the tea-stained pages. As I began to read the notes, I remembered who my children are.

parenting book

When my children were young, I was desperate to learn what “worked.” My life revolved around them. Every book I read, every daily activity, every prayer was about them and for them. I reveled in discovering who they were and what made them tick. What motivated them? What tickled them? What frustrated them? How had God wired their precious little brains and emotions?

At some point over the last few years, I came to the conclusion that I knew them. Not only did I conclude that I knew them, I decided that I knew what they needed and what they needed to be. I stopped observing and investigating and started prescribing.

Worse: I started projecting. As my kids grew, I noticed so much of me in them. Determined, I began working to stamp out those negative traits before they suffered and became fully me. I had forgotten who my kids are.

They are not me.

They are not some Christian psychologist’s idea of what a child should be.

They are not their cousins or friends or the shadow of some media-generated ideal.

They are mine and they are God’s. They are unique. They are spirited, full of passion and energy. They are sensitive and sweet and kind and persistent and funny and …

They are exactly what God created them to be.

“Certainly you made my mind and heart;
you wove me together in my mother’s womb.
I will give you thanks because your deeds are awesome and amazing.
You knew me thoroughly;
my bones were not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret and sewed together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb.
All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll
before one of them came into existence.
How difficult it is for me to fathom
your thoughts about me, O God!
How vast is their sum total!”
— Psalm 139:13–17

Sure, they have things to learn. They can be molded and fostered, but I cannot change who they are. I cannot make them into something they were never created to be. Attempting to do so will only frustrate and exhaust all of us.

Sadly, I’ve seen a lot of that lately.

I yell more than I’d like. My kids cry more than I’d like. I hear echoes of “Everyone expects me to be perfect!” and “I never do anything right.” The peace that I cultivated when they were younger seems to be slipping away. Why? Because I stopped working with who they are and starting plowing my way against it.

Embracing our Diversity

We are not all created same. Isn’t that wonderful? God purposefully designed us with a variety of strengths and weaknesses, even within the same gene pools! And what’s really cool is that things work better when we work together. When we move within an understanding and acceptance those strengths and weaknesses, everything seems to progress smoother. Healthier. Happier.

It’s time for me to remember all this all over again.

Now, some of you may toss your arms at this citing the necessity for parental authority and adult-led schedules and homes. Please understand I am not negating that. My husband and I absolutely exhibit parental authority, we’re just not dictators. We are leaders. We are mentors.

With two very spirited kids, that is exactly what we need to be … so that they can grow to be exactly what they were created to be.

TALK TO ME: Have you ever forgotten something you worked so hard to learn? How do you keep those uber-important truths at the forefront of your mind?


If you’re interested in the book … Raising Your Spirited Child: a guide for parents whose child is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persisitent, engergetic  was written by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and originally published in 1991. (My edition is from 1998; the most recent edition is 2009.) It is not a faith-based book, but a tremendously helpful tool towards understanding temperaments, personalities and tactics for harmonizing extreme passions under the same roof. You can also find workbooks and study guides to accompany the text or to supplement parenting support groups.



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