I’m blessed to know author Jennifer Grant and am so happy to introduce you to her. Jennifer’s insights about family life and parenthood will bless you. So keep on reading!
Jennifer, can you tell my readers a bit about yourself?
I’m a writer and the mother of four children: daughters ages 10 and 12 and sons who are 14 and 16. As long as I can remember, I’ve loved to write. I was the kid who read incessantly (from The Great Brain books to Beverly Cleary to Narnia), wrote stories, and created paper dolls with complicated backstories. I studied creative writing in both college and graduate school and have been a professional writer for about twenty years. Since becoming a mom, I’ve written primarily about parenting and family. For more than a decade, I wrote columns and stories for newspapers including the Chicago Tribune. I’m the author of two books: Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter (published August 2011) and MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family (published May 2012).
It’s summer time! So this month we’re focusing on the theme of “family.” Quick: What’s been one of the highlights of your family’s time together this summer?
In June, we drove from Chicago to Sanibel Island, Florida. Now that my oldest is a driver, the six of us aren’t all strapped into one car as often as we once were. Although the kids moaned a bit beforehand that we weren’t flying, we all truly enjoyed the long car trip. We sang songs, confided in each other, played silly games, and practiced our best Southern drawls as we drove down to Florida. All of that time together afforded me the chance to gain a renewed sense of who each of my kids is and the people they are growing to be. I’m also aware that my oldest chid, Theo, will be going to college in two years. That reality helps me to savor our time together in a new way. It’s been a sweet summer.
You’ve written a book called MOMumental exploring the tough realities and delightful joys of family life. What do you most hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope that when people finish the book, they will feel refreshed and less likely to be drawn in by inflammatory headlines and news stories that aim to make us feel “less than” as parents. I hope they’ll come away from MOMumental with the knowledge that there’s no one “right” way to raise kids. We all bring specific gifts, histories, weaknesses, and personalities to raising our children. Most of all, I hope they’ll focus more on connecting authentically with their kids after reading MOMumental. A few readers have written to me and said that they feel like the book gave them permission to enjoy their kids. I love hearing that!
As Christian moms, we have so many ideals and goals – and sometimes the reality of parenting can get tiring and discouraging. What encouragement can you share with moms who feel burnt out, frustrated, or stressed?
It’s so important to take care of ourselves as moms and not to pursue unrealistic goals in our parenting. Our kids won’t be perfect. We won’t be perfect moms. In MOMumental, I write at length about “Mom Burnout” and suggest that women invest in their friendships, take time for their spiritual lives, and stop judging themselves so harshly. Your family doesn’t have to look like someone else’s. Your kids aren’t mini-adults, but growing and changing every day. You don’t have to do it all right — in fact, you can’t! I recommend the work of Kirk Martin, the creator of “Calm Christian Parenting.” He sends out a weekly newsletter that offers great tips on being a calm, intentional parent.
Parenting is also full of opportunities for joy – for laughter, delight, and fun memories. How has plain old “fun” helped your family bond and grow closer?
When my kids were much younger, I read Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. The book encouraged me to be more lighthearted in my parenting – in everything from assigning chores to communicating expectations to discipline. I believe reading that book allowed me to enjoy my kids in that exhausting period of life in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. Of course, I had plenty of days when I second-guessed myself and lost perspective, but when I’d remind myself about the importance of play and found some out-of-the-box ways to interact with my kids, I often regained equilibrium. Play is so important to kids’ health overall (emotionally, physically, and otherwise) and taking a “playful parenting” approach to raising children helps us parents better enjoy the journey. I also love the work of Jim Gill, a child development expert and children’s musician whose CDs and videos are all about parent/child play. I’m grateful that, as a new mom, I was exposed to the research Cohen shares in his book and Gill’s truly silly, playful songs.
I find that parenting often serves as a mirror, revealing to me areas in which I need to grow. In that way, God uses parenting to shape me as a disciple. Have you had similar experiences? What’s one way you feel parenting is stretching you to grow in faith or character?
Again and again, I find myself re-learning the lesson that I can’t control, protect, or insulate my kids from pain or from making mistakes. So much of parenting is letting go — raising kids to be independent, letting them make more of their own choices as they mature, and trusting that God is working in their lives. In Love You More, I tell the story of waiting for my daughter’s adoption to be finalized. I would pray — almost obsessively — that God would take care of her until I was able to do it myself. I’d given birth to my three older children and knew how important those early months are, but her adoption was delayed and as the months passed, I worried that we wouldn’t be able to bond. Or that she’d get sick. Or that someone might abuse her. At one point, I finally heard the message from God that He was already protecting her and even after she came home to us, He would be the one who was taking care of her. My prayers changed. Instead of obsessively begging God to keep her safe, I thanked God for doing so and released the false idea that somehow I could control whatever was happening with her.
God is the ultimate parent. What’s something God’s been showing you about himself through your own experience of parenting?
When I became a mom, I began to see the world as a parent. Strangers — especially younger people — looked more familiar to me. The gangly teenaged waiter, the kids on the playground, and the child living in poverty across the globe. They suddenly all seemed more significant and valuable to me because they were children of God and reflect the image of God. I don’t want to be a person who discounts the worth of anyone and, increasingly, being a mom has changed my perspective. I think of Matthew 25: 31-40 and Christ saying, “Whatever you did for my brothers and sisters, you did for me.” This causes me to look to God for direction about my life and how I spend it. In what ways am I being God’s hands in serving His children?
Parenting is quite a journey, with amazing “ups” but also plenty of “downs.” I’m so glad there’s grace every step of the way! It takes a lifetime to figure out this parenting job, doesn’t it?
I continue to grow and evolve as a parent. I still make all sorts of mistakes and have to take a breath, apologize, regain balance, and begin again. I wrote about that recently, about my own parenting fails this summer and within the hour of sending that newsletter, I received several responses from moms who were relieved to hear that they weren’t alone. Telling the truth about our weaknesses and failings frees us from feeling controlled by them. I encourage moms to take risks, tell a trusted friend when she is discouraged or has messed up, and then start fresh. No one is a perfect parent, and we are all learning as we go.
Thank you, Jennifer! Readers, be sure to check out Jennifer’s books and web site for more.