Questionnaire on parent-child relationships

If there’s one thing that’s being made increasingly clear to me about mothering, it is that my frustrations are not unique to me. We’re not as alone as we think we are.


The other day I wrote a questionnaire for my kids, out of vexation with a few of our relational rough spots. I made it with my oldest in mind – he is turning twelve next week – but then the other children wanted in on things too. My kids have always loved filling out stuff like this; I guess because I do.

The bulk of it was written on a Likert scale: On a scale of one to five, how strongly do you agree with these statements?

As children grow, parents should allow them increasing choice, even when their decisions are not wise.

If parents ask unreasonable things of a child, obedience is not required.

All children should be treated equally.

One parent is often more sympathetic than another, and more likely to agree with you.

I added a few open-ended questions. If you could choose five words to describe the relationship you’d like to have with your parents during your teenage years, what would they be?

I wanted the document to become a launch point for discussion after they filled it out, and it sure enough was. Their answers were enlightening. (Okay, I also wanted to prove a few points to my oldest. I admit it.) We each saw briefly from the other’s perspective, and had fun doing it.

I made a simpler version for younger children, questions like

Daddy and Mommy usually agree.

Yes? No? Or sometimes?

I feel like my family listens to me.

I feel really stressed out when…

I don’t know, maybe it was silly. I don’t model my home on what my children think, I already told you that. But sometimes I want to invite them to say what they feel about “us” – who we are as a family, and what they wish could change. I really loved hearing what they thought, even though it stung in a few places.

I’m sharing the questionnaire forms here for you, in case you want to use them too. They were written quickly, and have a few problems which I am not in the mood to fix. For me, this was about reaching to learn and grow; if you think it’s a sign that my children are deeply heard and perfectly cared for – well, meet them. They will have a few things to say about that.

Questionnaire for Parent-Child Relationships in our Home

Questionnaire for Younger Children

To all mothers in the trenches – Grab a coffee, give a hug, start that laundry. You’re not alone. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not either.

Glimpses of summer

Confession: I remember why I love and hate summer. This one is, as usual, an even mix of peaceful and chaotic.

My roses are blooming, their enchanted petals slick with rain and glory.

My children are home, and we have a break from all external worries like math and friendships. But someone is always talking, usually at high volume and tempo. Always.

I forget how much I need space to breathe and regroup, and how tricky it is during this season. I push my bedtime late, and later, like a beached fish straining for the oxygen he cannot access. Some days I love the chaos too: baby toys have been replaced, for the most part, by Lego, crafts, tools, library books strewn around the house. There are many appointments, and enormous evaporating stacks of groceries.

I never did get the hang of being a sacrificial-mother-who-picks-up-the-pieces-without-complaint as well as an intentional-mother-who-requires-children-to-be-reponsible-for-themselves. I try to hit the happy middle: I pick up after them while lecturing intentionally about their irresponsibility.

Together, we eat up the summer – the watermelon and sweet corn, sold cheaply in the grocery, surprisingly delicious even so early in the season – the swim sessions with a whiff of chlorine and new friendships, or the sand and sun at the lake – the ice cream, melting down our chins.

I tried to take a selfie. I think it might have failed, but I’m not sure.

Our greatest success of the summer so far has been assigning one child per meal. He or she helps me choose the menus, prepare the food, and clean up the kitchen afterward. One child gets breakfast, one lunch, one supper, and we switch every week. I prefer to manage one child at a time, or I burn everything.

Kelly says when Jenny gets older she will have to make SNACKS.

We made a schedule for daily snacks, because of all the phrases I can’t stand, the second worst is “What’s for snack?” The worst, in case you are wondering, is a tie between, “Mom, help!” [while running away from a pursing younger sibling, after having relentlessly goaded him or her into aggression] and “Mom, I’m bored.”

Some say that if your children are bored, you should intervene with chores. Some say that if your children are bored, you should not intervene, and allow the boredom to push them toward creativity. I try for the happy middle. I don’t want you to even ask what that is.

Anyway, we have been eating high on the hog: fondue suppers, kebabs, cheese wontons, maple-frosted cupcakes, gourmet omelets, and all our favorite dishes. The snack schedule works fine (Monday morning pretzels and cheese, Tuesday afternoon a popsicle) until we get to something healthy. They hate when that happens.

Summer is lovely. We soak up the sunshine and hold new kittens and go see hot air balloons and argue about the hammock I got for Mother’s Day. The kids think I am being a pig because I won’t let them jump on it or push each other out of it. “You just want to keep it all for yourself,” they accuse.

You got it, honey.

I get tired of being the bad guy though. So we plan lots of fun stuff and do it. That helps to balance out all the times I say “no,” and “that’s not what our family does” and “get in here and empty this dish drainer like I told you.” They still think I am a big old meanie, and for me that is the most wearing thing about this stage of mothering.

We have more trouble getting in sync.

“Mom, what are you doing on the computer?”

I am sitting outside typing. “Writing.”

“Well, I’m bored. And now a bunch of dandelions will grow in your flowerbed because I just threw a big bunch of seeds in there.”

{See? Untreated boredom breeds creativity.}

“Is she actually writing this down? Everything we say?”

This is the hard part, and I hate how quickly it came – they don’t think I’m god anymore, and I require things that are painful for us both, and sometimes my ideas look to them like the stuff they sneeze out of their noses on dry winter mornings. Ugh, mom.

“You’ll thank me someday” hardly cuts it.

I wish there were a way to know that I’m doing it just a little bit right, but mothering as far as I can tell is mostly in the dark. Others’ mistakes are clearer; my own are deeply felt, but not easily corrected until it’s too late, indistinct until they appear with blinding clarity in the rearview mirror. Mothering is driving down a country road at high speeds after midnight, the potholes extra painful because I didn’t see them coming. The trajectory veers first one way, then another, because even when I know where I aim to head (which isn’t often), the roads are confusing and it takes a while to get there.

There are good things too. Sometimes we love each other very much, especially when I say yes to a spray painting project and am, briefly, the best mommy in the whole world. Then I pass around some more cupcakes, chocolate-frosted this time.

The delightful part about this stage is always having comrades, game for adventure. I am rarely alone. I have a salad-eating buddy, a shopping helper, a joke lover, and an enthusiastic gaggle of partners in reading, picnicking, boating, exploring, pretty much anything I name that does not involve work. It’s fun. They are fun. They are starting to have thoughts of their own, and can tell a good book from a mediocre one, and spin insights that make me laugh for the intelligent feelings behind them.

“You know what people in Middle Earth the Mennonites remind me of? The Ents. Because we don’t really pride ourselves on being that much to look at, you know? And we’re slower to take opportunities and get on board with new things. But if something we love is threatened or destroyed, you have to reckon us in.”

How did we get here? I couldn’t tell you. I thought he was busy with Play-Doh just yesterday.

“Mommy, I really like how you sleep with your fists. It makes you look like a baby. It makes you look sweet.”

Okay? I don’t know how we got there either. Whatever.

This is summertime at the Zooks. What’s yours like?


And thanks for your delightful comments and confessions on marriage. I enjoyed them very much.

How we met

One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about marriage so much is that I was asked to write a guest post on Bethany Eicher‘s blog about “How We Met” – the story of Ryan and I.

So if you’re in the mood for a romantic story, not too sappy I hope, and not without its fumblebumbles, pop over to About My Father’s Business and read it.

Story here.

(Okay, well it is a little sappy I guess.)

What I’ve *not* learned in marriage

  1. How to make firm decisions in his absence
  2. How to enjoy giving him gifts of really-boring-guy-stuff-that-he-knows-he’s-getting-because-he-picked-it-but-he-still-wants-badly
  3. How to stop talking when we’re on a date
  4. How to spend without guilt the money he earned for us
  5. How to make excuses for his family as easily as I do for mine
  6. How to accept his (rare) corrections without excuses, anger, or tears
  7. How to live without him, even for relatively short periods of time
  8. How to graciously allow him to change
  9. Or not change
  10. How to know when the joke is not funny

So yeah, I still have my work cut out for me.

The End

What I’ve learned in marriage: to worship

Confession: It took me a long time to circle around to the most basic marriage secret of all. I don’t mean here on my blog. I mean in actual living.

If my marriage is to be successful (radiant, life-giving, and permanent), I have to believe my husband is the best thing since sliced bread.

NO DUH. That’s why I married him, right? But sometime soon after the honeymoon sea breezes (and sometimes during), there’s an entire boatload of reality checks waiting for both of you. You can’t live for weeks and months and years with another human without plunging deep into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

She doesn’t like to be told what groceries to buy. He can’t stand when she uses his tools. She wishes to goodness that he’d dress up like he did when they were dating, and think about something other than sex. He wonders if she always leaves socks strewn around like this, and what’s to become of the tub with all that hair going down the drain.

Marriage is hard work. Marriage is exactly designed to rub the bloom off the romance and make that lovey dove sit up and face the music. The loud, annoying music at 3 am. (Oh wait, that’s him snoring.) The hardest work of all is to keep believing in love, to keep polishing it fresh and clean and sweet, to keep remembering that you are the luckiest kid in the world to be waking up every morning beside this amazing person with a bedhead.

I’m not trying to be flippant. I know what I’m talking about, and it’s not easy. Our marriage has had times so painful that I didn’t know if we’d make it through, months when love felt like death. I know what it’s like to wish you’d never given your heart to this man to hurt.

One of the best wedding sermons I’ve heard was in Washington state, by a preacher whose name I’ve forgotten. He stood before the bride and groom and talked about the impossibly solemn vows they were about to take – to really do this thing – “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.” It’s CRAZY, he said. It’s the kind of thing you would shiver to bind yourself to under normal circumstances. But while she’s loopy with love and has no idea what she’s getting into, she’ll look into his eyes and giggle, “Of course I’ll do all those things.”

Infatuated feelings of love are like training wheels, he said. They help you learn to drive right.

Those first giddy feelings won’t last the marriage, but after a while you’ll get the hang of this thing. There are entire levels of stunt driving that the newlyweds haven’t dreamed of. We don’t say “it gets better” just to trick them. It really. gets. better. There is nothing so exhilarating and satisfying as living with love for years and years – past the stress points and into the joy again, never giving yourself to another, putting all your eggs in this one basket forever, and being full-on certain that you are safe and known and beloved. It is riotous; there is nothing like it, folks.

But you must keep your balance, and you must keep peddling.

So when the marriage is a little wobbly and you’re not sure you remember how to steer, pretend you’re back in love kindergarten. Lay down all the scorn and the defenses. Meet him at the door with a hug. Take a little time to talk. Change the light bulb yourself. Write a sweet note. Cook his favorite food. Hide a chocolate on his pillow. Give him the better shovel [wink]. Anticipate your evenings together. Brag him up to a mutual friend. Take some extra minutes to iron that shirt. Scent the house with fresh coffee when he comes home. Use less words, more touch. Buy the kind he likes. Make it all about him.

I know, I know what I’m saying and how psychotic it sounds when you’re walking through disillusionment or pain. But someone has to start this process, and Jesus said that when you lay down your life you find it. Fake it till you make it, honey; the happiness will come back.

Once you have given yourself to this man before God and these witnesses, your path to joy lies through reverencing him, and it is best done with your body. I am talking about romantic intimacy, and I am talking about it as a conduit for more, and I would appreciate if you don’t pass out on me. Act out your love in ways both of you can see and feel and taste and hear. Put some sparkle in your eyes. Above all, give him access to you. He needs to know he’s accepted, and enough. You need to know you’re beloved to the core. The more completely you offer yourself to him, the deeper your love can grow.

There is pain that damages intimacy, and for it there are no easy fixes. But lovemaking is an integral marriage-building device. It is the highest act of human devotion, next to worship and inseparable from it, one of the portals where humans access the divine. It requires the mind and spirit to participate in what the body is doing: to give unselfishly, entirely, unequivocally, until death do us part. It heals holes in the heart. It teaches the emotions to dance again. It shows how the abdication of self and the fulfillment of self are one and the same. If you belong to Jesus, every act of love for your husband is an act of worship for Christ.

Love with abandon. And soon you’ll remember why you thought he was amazing. He’ll be that amazing, and you’ll be the luckiest kid in the world.


* If you could not read this post without pain because of loss, betrayal, or loneliness, please x out of this blog and call up a friend you trust to listen well. You don’t have to walk your path alone. xo

* On a lighter note, and just for the record, my man doesn’t snore. The other examples given about groceries, tools, socks, and drains are likewise purely fictitious; any resemblance to real persons either living or dead is highly accidental and probably a figment of your imagination. I would be happy to share our own factual examples with you, but regrettably, they are protected by the Official Secrets Act of 2003. Sorry.