15 March 2024

Parenting pride, frustrations, and just (?) causes for temper flares

I'm so proud that my children are likeable.  Unless people are routinely lying to my face, the general consensus seems to be that all three Carlton nuggets are smart, cute, kind, well-mannered, attentive, and fun.  They seem to make friends easily, charm adults, and take super amazing pictures (evidence <--).

So why is it that I so often find myself infuriated by these tiny, amazing, human beings?

Why do I get so quickly irritated with them?  How many "last nerves" have they proverbially trampled to render me so easily frustrated?

Total transparency: bedtime is my least favorite time of the day, followed closely by time to leave for school and mealtimes that involve anything other than cereal, mac n cheese, hotdogs, or spaghetti.  My oldest moves only at "Carlton" speed (Tara's little inside joke, maybe a subtle dig at yours truly's laid-back nature, not sure if I should be offended, probably irrelevant if you're still reading this parenthetical).  My middle child moves only at lightning speed, with thunderous volume and passionate intensity, but also with a squirrel-like attention span.  My 5-month-old is super pleasant and smiley and chatty... until it's time to sleep, and then she only wants to complain and be held, NOT be put down.

Why is it that, with any one of these three cherubs, my warm adoration can shrivel into cold irritability?  Is it that my expectations haven't been met?  Is it that my authority has been challenged, or simply ignored?  Is it that I myself am constantly struggling not to be late and am frustrated with my own inability to be more effective with my time?  Is it that I crave uninterrupted time with Tara and have a hard time surrendering my wants to disruptions?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

My point in sharing this is not to rant or complain.  I'm not typing in a furious type of catharsis.  I actually don't want to write on this topic because it reveals far more about my heart than I'm honestly comfortable sharing.

The resounding theme: I want.  James wisely pointed out that our desires are at the heart of all our conflicts (Jas 4.1).  I want.  I want to be respected.  I want my kids to say, "Yes, Papa!"  I want them to stop what they're doing and answer when they hear my voice calling their names.  I want them to respect my wishes and instructions -- even when I'm not watching.  I want them to behave a certain way.  I want their reputations to shine (which really means I want to be known as a great parent who has clearly done everything right).  When I sit down to do some reading, to watch a movie with Tara, or try for the 36th time to finish a blog post and the interruptions begin... suddenly the children I love and adore become obstacles to what I really want.

These wants are all just symptoms of one singular, unhealthy craving in my heart for rule and dominion.  It's the sinful core of my problem.  My pride and self-interest tell me that I deserve to be treated in a certain way, and that if I am not receiving recognition or my expectations are not being met, then I have every right to be grouchy.  Tim Keller used to call pride "cosmic plagiarism."  Being proud invariably means I am taking credit for something that rightly belongs only to the Maker, the Ruler, the King and Lord over all.  All of my self-promotion and authority grabbing is just usurpation, insurrection, and failed coup de tat -- ultimately foolish, given the supremacy and of the one who is truly worthy of acclaim and adoration.

Me demanding my kids' respect is a little bit like a mote of dust drifting across the sun and being surprised it didn't generate a solar eclipse.

Me expecting uninterrupted time all to myself is a fatally flawed assumption that I deserve anything at all.

Maybe it's not wrong in itself to want respect or intentionally set aside time for your own purposes.  But when those good things become ultimate things, the ugliness of our hearts is exposed.  As parents, we must beware our tendencies or run the risk of seeing them rudely mirrored in little faces and voices.  I don't think of myself as being a particularly demanding person, but -- just like everyone else -- when what I really want is denied or delayed, all of sudden my heart begins clamoring for fulfillment.  Unchecked, that inevitably comes out in my attitude and language.  If I find myself sensitive to the demanding natures of my kids, chances are it's because I recognize the sound of entitlement all too well.

Seeing these things in myself, I am trying to practice three things with my children.  I am terrible at all of them.

(1) I am trying to create intentional time with them.  Psalm 90.12 reminds us to seek the Lord's eternal perspective, learning to "number our days" by His kind instruction, so that we may gain a "heart of wisdom."  Time in general is fleeting, and time with young children is even more so.  I distinctly remember thinking, when Zeke was approaching his first birthday, that we still had four more long years of him at home until we had to start figuring out the school thing.  Well, it's 2024, and he's halfway through his kindergarten year.

Intentionally choosing time with my kids doesn't guarantee they won't still demand more of it or automatically honor my schedule, but it does check some important boxes for my heart.

  • It forces me to remember that "my" time is not really mine anyway.  I am merely a steward of the minutes and hours God has kindly chosen to allot for me.  If I can surrender the audacious concept of "me time," I can be much more free in giving time away.
  • It softens my heart toward my children.  In fact, the more time I choose to give them (before they even ask for it) makes me less inclined to be irritated with them when they demand more.
  • It provides me with some of the most important life-on-life, teachable moments.  I can lecture my kids in passing, on my way to do whatever seemingly more important thing I need to do... or I can choose to be fully present with them, modeling behaviors and language that I want them to emulate, and just enjoying the little people that God has given me to love.
  • It helps me learn about my kids and understand them as unique image-bearers.  Lingering is a learned skill in western culture.  How can I appreciate the God-given personalities each of my children possess if I don't linger long enough to appreciate them?
  • It causes me to be cognizant of what being "fully present" with them actually means.  If I say I'm going to play with them and then spend half of that time on my phone, they will quickly let me know that they're "waiting for me."  Intentional time is different than halfhearted time.

(2) I am trying to be clear and firm in my instructions.  As intelligent as my children are, I can't really be upset with them if I've done a bad job communicating.  I can't assume they should just know intuitively what I expect of them, or go nonverbal when I'm frustrated (which I have a tendency to do).  If I'm hoping they will read my mind or pick up on my body language, I'm setting all of us up for failure.  "Clear and firm" doesn't imply domineering, condescending tones, nor does it excuse threatening language.  I simply want to do better at patiently and directly communicating to my children God's priorities, Mama and Papa's rules, age-appropriate responsibilities, and the privileges we want to enjoy as a family.

Some might argue we're just setting the bar too high and bringing frustration upon ourselves.  To the contrary, we've learned that giving small humans lanes in which to run helps them to learn and flourish.  It would not be loving them well to tell them the world is their oyster and boundaries don't matter.  By contrast, clear and firm instruction -- given humbly and compassionately -- creates a safe environment with no hidden expectations and standards that keep children AND parents accountable to one another.

(3) I am trying to be gracious and humble in both granting and asking forgiveness.  I can't hold grudges against my children and still believe the best of them.  Even where there are patterns of sin and disobedience, I can't just expect them to fail, and then let them know that I knew they were going to fail when they do.  Granting forgiveness even to repeat-offender children truly means giving them a blank slate, partnered with the proactive and instructive wisdom of gently helping them learn where their potential pitfalls will be in the future.  On the flip-side, if I'm not willing to ask forgiveness of my kids (or my wife) when I myself screw up, I have no right to counsel them to do the same with one another, or to demonstrate remorse when I am correcting them.  Can I demand repentance of them when they break the rules if I don't show them how to do it by my own example?  And, frankly, if I can't choose to overlook some wrongdoings on my children's part and give second and third chances to get it right, have I myself really understood the unfathomable grace of Jesus Christ?  Showing and seeking grace are practices that help keep me soft in the face of disobedience and defiance.

To be completely honest, I don't know if these three things are making much difference in me at present.  But they are long-term areas of focus that, Lord willing, will bear mature fruit in me and in my children as we continue to grow and change.

To be clear on my title for this post, I don't have any just cause for being quick to anger.  The Scripture clearly counsels me against that (Jas 1.19), even when it feels natural and proportionate.  My wrath does not bring about God's justice on my behalf, make my children behave any better, or impute to them any righteousness before God.  Pride and frustration do make for effective but dangerous kindling, however.  The faster I root them out and expose them for what they are, the more effective the cleansing waters of the Spirit's sanctification in dousing sin's potential conflagrations.

Besides, time's too short to stay angry with those nuggets.  I know... they ARE pretty darn cute.

29 January 2024

State of the Union... (Or a series of overdue updates)

Hi, there!  In case we haven't been previously acquainted, my name is Justin and I am a sometimes writer whose creative juices ebb and flow, sometimes to the point where a certain blog languishes for more than two years without any updates.  Major life events worth writing about sail by... and no posts.  Suffice it to say that, for the last 24 months, life has been very full, and while I've had time now and again to sit down and do some intentional reflecting, my energy expenditures and resting rhythms are just different now than they were when I began Häxprocess back in 2011.  Hopefully that's more reason than excuse, but either way I've lapsed and I'd like to get back to sharing more regular updates and ponderings.

If you're still here reading this, then you must be interested!  I'll start with the most recent talking points and work backward.

22 September 2021

Album #2 Studio Updates

For those of you who have been looking for an update on our progress for the new Twenty Committee album, here are a few belated snapshots of our progress to date.

We came home from New York at the end of May with finished drum tracks and plenty of scratch material to build off of in order to track the other instruments.  For a few weeks, we listened back to rough board mixes, getting our bearings and formulating the direction we wanted to go.

In mid-June, Richmond began re-tracking bass parts.  The perfectionist in each musician always says, "Let me play it again -- I can do it better!" but there were also some really great bass tracks from our NY sessions that would have been difficult to top.  Some of them we cut again anyway, in search of more pop or resonance, and the results sound great.  However, some of what you'll hear on the final record is Richmond playing live at Rave's while we were also laying down the drum takes we wanted.

Through the rest of the summer, Geoff reworked his established keys.  He also began addressing some introductory and postlude content, and introduced some new layered synth ideas to the mix.  FYI, Record #2 is another concept album, so there will be recurring musical themes and sounds that we want to incorporate throughout its duration.  Some of this we'll still have to wait for the final mixes to be complete, in order to properly layer the effects and ideas during post-production.  But we can't really help ourselves from fooling around with ideas that we'll revisit later!  Geoff and I have also been occasionally trading lyric ideas for the songs that were last written as we move steadily toward recording vocal parts.  Some big themes the lyrical content of this album will address are as follows: human creativity and its purpose in relation to societal advancement, the ethics of conformity/nonconformity, true productivity, the relationship of individual parts to the whole, human pride and ambition, the quest for self-perfection...

In short, the record will cover life, the universe, and everything.

Joe's mostly been in an observing, cheerleading role, since he did the lion's share of the recording work in NY.  His performance truly shines on this record -- there are so many cool rhythmic things he does that I can't wait to hear with the final mixes.

In the last few weeks -- since the end of August -- it's been my turn to plug in and tune up my guitars.  Some of my parts I'd primarily worked out on the electric in the rehearsal space, but we'd always envisioned them on the acoustic.  So I re-recorded some of the things I did at Rave's on the electric, this time using both regular 6-string tuning and also "high-stringing" a second acoustic guitar to create a more nuanced 12-string sound by blending the two together.  While this method is less efficient than just playing a 12-string guitar, the approach creates dynamic sounds with far more voicing clarity than a traditional 12-string can provide.  The strategy also gives us greater ability to mix and manipulate the final takes.  I still have some more electric guitar work to do on a few of there complex passages of "Forevermore" and "Sparks in the Mind" as well, but other than that it's almost time for me to move on to my auxiliary keyboard sections.

Once we've completed all the instruments, it'll be time to move on to the vocals.  We've (I've) gotten quite a few chuckles from the scratch vocals that Geoff put down to simply direct traffic while we were in NY.  I might actually miss him saying, "Coming up on double chorus!" in the final mix...  That said, I can't wait to start working the actual parts.

Yes, we're taking our time with this project -- in part because we can (I mean, it's been eight years since we released A Lifeblood Psalm, so why rush now?), and in part because all of us are insanely busy.  I'm thankful for Jeff Bishop's expertise at the console, the modern technology that allows us to punch and splice takes without having to endlessly repeat the whole song until we get the perfect take, and for the amazing experience of writing and recording music.

Looking forward to the final product!