Pre-School Rebels

I love school. I loved it through elementary, into middle school, and all through high school. College was a blast, of course (!), and I’m thankful school was always something fun and special to me. Heck, I loved school so much, I grew up to be a teacher! #nerdalert  More than anyone, I know education is important and a great basis for a successful life! However, my kids (thus far) have not gone to pre-school. Free (VPK) preschool nonetheless. Insert gasps here. Now let them out.

Pre-school just didn’t work for us. I work part time as a middle school teacher which means that I work every Thursday, Friday and every other Wednesday (best. gig. ever.). Caden, my oldest, was almost 4 when I started this schedule and 1 year later he was ready for his pre-school year. Much to my teacher-minded-education-is-everything dismay, we couldn’t find anywhere that we could get aftercare for just the days that I had to work. Our only option would have been to pay full time even though he would’ve only needed it 2 or 3 days a week. Obbvvviiiouuussllly working as a part time teacher also means I make half my pay which equals NOTHING. We certainly could not afford half my pay AND full time childcare. It just wasn’t going to happen. It took some time for us (me) to fully accept that realization and come to terms with it.

Then the doubts set in: What would everyone think? We were cheap? Bad parents? Irresponsible? Would my kid always struggle? Never learn to read? Fail the SAT? Drop out of HS? (ridiculous, I know)

A lot of people were super kind and supportive! I remember specifically my cousin Diana, who’s also an elementary teacher, talking me off the ledge often. She’d remind me that it wasn’t a big deal, that he was smart and, HELLO, he has a teacher for a mom! She was always a bright light when others would lead me down dark alleys of uncertainty (Thanks, Diana!!!).

I’ll never forget some of the other comments… “Are you SURE this is really the best option?????” “Can’t you just make SOMETHING work???” “Oh goodness, I think you’re really putting him at a disadvantage.” “All the student’s I’ve ever had that have failed Kindergarten have all ALSO not attended VPK” Oof… you wanna talk about feeling like the WORST parent???

But, you guys, I just DIDN’T feel like we could make it work. And I just DIDN’T feel like we HAD to. Even amidst all the naysayers, pre-school just DIDN’T feel right for our family. In that moment. In that season. For that kid. Selfishly, I also just wasn’t ready to let him go. I didn’t want to put him in an all day VPK (voluntary pre-school, which is also free, for all of you who don’t know what VPK means!) when I had finally just gotten the chance to stay home with him part time. I craved that extra year with him. My momma soul needed it, after years of praying for extra time with my first born.

 An extra year at home also meant an extra year for this brother & sister to bond <3

So, I wiped my wounded, doubt-filled, uneasy, humbled tears away, and we started the school year alongside all of his VPK-attending friends at home. I had grand plans of a legit homeschool curriculum, but we traded workbooks for packing boxes and drs appointments as we moved homes and had a new baby all in that same year! It was a super busy, full season for us and I had my big buddy and his little sis right by my side for it.

And you know what? I wouldn’t change it for anything. He entered Kindergarten that fall and SOARED. He soared so high our hearts could hardly handle it. He achieved goals and met standards, and by the end of Kindergarten he was reading at a Second Grade level. Our little buddy conquered Kindergarten without the help of preschool, and I’m thankful that we followed our gut and didn’t kill ourselves over figuring something out that just didn’t feel right for us. Just because someone else said so. Especially just because someone else said so.

Caden won 1st Place in his Kindergarten class spelling bee this past Spring.

Our daughter will be 4 in a few weeks (insert mommy sobs here) and she technically could be/ should be starting VPK this school year. But she’s not. Because it still doesn’t work for us. Quite honestly, we’re not even sure she’ll be starting Kindergarten next fall. She’ll be making the age cut off by 3 days and we’re not ready to make that decision just yet. We haven’t figured out what will work for her, regardless of what her peers are doing or the state says. Aaaannnndddd my selfish mommy heart may just want that 1 extra year with her, but that’s a different story for a different day 😉

The point is, it’s not going to work for us this year. And guess how many opinions I asked for this time? Z_E_R_O. Is that to say we may not change our minds mid year when we start to assess where Adalyn is academically? Maybe she’ll be one who really DOES need a school setting, and we WILL need to make that financial sacrifice. Perhaps our youngest, Bryce, WILL go to pre-school because I’m back full time, or because we think he’ll benefit from it, or because we found a way to make it work. We will decide when we get to it. We will. Us. Our family. Because in our family, we make our own decisions with lots of prayer, based on what will work for us, and for our current life’s season.

Mommas & Daddys who work so hard to make every last best decision for your babies… you do YOU. You decide what’s going to work, what will benefit your family for that season in time, what your still, quiet Voice leads you to. Don’t let the naysayers make you doubt yourself, or feel less than. In YOUR family, you make hard choices, and then stand by them. We did, and we’re thankful for it.

Back to School Traditions

It’s back to school season and although this is the first time in thirty years that I don’t actually have a first day of school (after teaching for eight years, I’m trying the stay-at-home mom gig!), I can’t help but get caught up in the excitement and anticipation. But, I am new at this whole school traditions thing. And in the world of posing, posting, and Pinterest, I am way out of my league.

Picture me at the end of last school year. My 3-year-old son was concluding his time with Miss Ann, our dearest friend who had watched him since he was 12 weeks old. After I made the irreversible mistake of going onto Pinterest late one evening, I found myself digging through Declan’s bookshelves by the light of my phone. I was looking, of course, for none other than Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss’ old classic that has more recently been propelled to the forefront of graduation gifts. As a teacher, I have signed countless copies for students that will then be passed on to future teachers and eventually gifted to the child when he or she graduates.

Why then had I not begun to prepare adequately for my own child??

When my husband found me frantically searching through my then six-month-old’s room for a book, I realized I had perhaps taken the tradition thing a bit too far. Now, traditions are great. They can actually really help our kids feel secure in their family identity, especially around holidays and yearly rituals like going back to school. But to risk waking a sleeping infant? Well, that might have been a bit much.

I decided several things that night that I hope will help me (and maybe you!) think through the tradition choosing more carefully this year. And remember, it’s never too late to start!

1- Start with what you know. I stressed myself out because I felt like if I couldn’t do it all, I shouldn’t do anything. But don’t get so overwhelmed that you miss the fun in commemorating a special day! Think about what you value in your family and what you’re good at. Then run with it!

2- Don’t be afraid to check out new ideas. Better yet, don’t get overwhelmed by different ideas. Pinterest has great ideas, ranging from adorable signs and backpack poses, to teacher gifts and happy back to school songs. What are you good at? If your love language is gifts, you and your child can prepare simple first day of school gifts for your teacher. Let me tell you from experience, you’re getting an ‘A.’ (Just kidding. We don’t even have grades any more!) If you’re a bookworm, choose a book that your child’s teacher can sign and pass on from year to year. Photography your cup of tea? Choose a fun pose for your child to start a tradition of growth each year.

Jessica’s family celebrates by making a cake with the new grade level on it. Jen rings in the new year by taking a picture with the class of 20- shirt on the first day of every year.

 

3 – Move forward with a plan. It’s not too late to start something new or change it up according to your kiddo’s interests. Nothing needs to be permanent, praise the Lord for that- as my 3 year old insists that his first tattoo will be Spider-Man. On my back, Mom. The key is to keep it fresh and interesting, so your child will enjoy this tradition, too! Because let’s face it- freshly sharpened pencils and new school clothes don’t exactly trump summer days in the sunshine. We want to be excited about the new season we are entering, not annoyed by one more item on the checklist.

We finally landed on having teachers sign You Are Special by Max Lucado for Declan, and are now ready and excited for this new year to start. And isn’t life just that? Just the right amount of excitement about what tomorrow might bring without flying through today! Whether you are the type to celebrate back to school with intricately created photo booth props, or the one who takes a pic two weeks late or not at all, think this year about what a meaningful tradition might be for your family to start. So strap on the backpacks, lace up your PF flyers, and say cheese… cuz FY 18-19 is going to be a great one!

Need some extra ideas? Check out a few cute traditions here.

 

Back to School – the Real New Year

Happy August! I can’t believe it’s already time to trade bathing suits for school uniforms, and movie nights for early bedtimes. As much as I dread the ending of summer, I’m also ready for school to begin. I confess — I love back to school time. I love new lunch boxes, sharpened pencils, and full crayon boxes. I love choosing colorful folders and deliberating over the perfect planner for the year. (I also admit that I will be doing this with a kid for the first time this year…so I’ll let you know in a few weeks how joyful the experience really was).

August always feels more like the “New Year” to me than January 1. Maybe it’s because, as kids, we spent so many years living by the school calendar. I continued that through college and then as a classroom teacher for six years. Every year as August approaches, even now that I’m out of the classroom, I find myself wanting to organize, set routines, and start new rhythms that will carry us throughout this school year.

So as we think about and move into this new school year, I wanted to share an exciting announcement with you!

Our team is expanding! (No, I’m not pregnant.)

We’ve added two new writers to our blog team! I wholly believe that it is not possible to parent without a community, and so I asked two members of my own “Keep me sane” team to begin contributing to this blog. Christine and Jen are both committed to raising their kids well and parenting with the end in mind.

Christine and I have been friends since the 7th grade when we bonded over an assigned group project in social studies. We’ve made it through the awkwardness of middle school, so you know we’ll be lifelong friends. Christine has taught first grade for the past 8 years, and has chosen this year to start a season of staying home with her kids. She is raising spunky Kinley, who is not quite 1 and is already running (literally), and Declan, almost 4, who knows everything about the Incredibles and loves to fish. Christine challenges me to play more with my kids, and to enter into the world around me looking for adventure. If you want to know anything about working out, raising little learners, or traveling the world, Christine’s your girl!

Couldn’t resist the middle school pic… Sorry Christine!!

Jen and I have been friends for several years now, although it feels like forever. We mother each other’s kids, eat each other’s food, and talk each other off of the parenting ledges we all find ourselves on. This will be Jen’s 10th year of teaching middle school. She works part time and spends the rest of her time with her littles – Bryce, a little over 1, who has the cutest two little teeth that have earned him the nickname “heepo!”, Adalyn, almost 4, the spiciest, sweetest little ballerina you’ll ever meet, and Caden, almost 7, who teaches me about animals and loves exploring in his own backyard. Jen helps me remember to let my kids be little, and to celebrate everything, every day. If you are looking for ways to make memories with your kids, for fun projects to make, or delicious meals to cook, you will love learning from Jen.

Here’s Jen and I with our hubbies!

To learn more about Jen and Christine, check out our new “About Us” page! I know you will enjoy the new perspectives that they bring to this blog as we all try to figure this parenting thing out together.

So let’s begin this school year together with renewed purpose. Let’s choose to do things differently in our families. Let’s make an August resolution to do our best to parent with intentionality and raise kids who will change this world for the better.  

Let’s be a community of parents…. Changing the way we raise our kids, so we can raise kids who change the world.

It’s not going to be easy, but nothing in parenting is. Who’s in?

Summer Book Club

Happy almost Summer everyone!

There are some exciting changes happening with the blog that will be launched in August, so for this summer we are going to focus on building our community. We all know parenting is not easy. If we are really serious about changing how we raise our kids so that we can raise kids who change the world, then we need all of the support we can get.

So, let’s learn together!

I’ve chosen Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch as our book for the summer for several reasons.

  1. I’ve been following Kristen Welch (the author) for a few years now, and her blog is one of my favorites. She lives what she writes and her family is definitely a family of world changers. Check out the story of Mercy House for proof. (She has a new book out that I would love to do in a future book club as well!)
  2. Each chapter ends with practical suggestions for parents, toddlers/preschoolers, elementary, and tweens/teens. There’s something here for kids of all ages and the ‘parents’ section challenged me too.
  3. In my own home, not two hours ago, I told my sweet, eldest child that I had a surprise for her to celebrate the end of summer. She opened the bag, pulled out her new sundress and responded with, “Is that it?”. Please reference the title of this book. ‘Nuff said.

So here’s the plan. There are 4 sections of the book. We will discuss each section via Facebook live in this group throughout the summer. When we finish the book, we’ll plan a live meet up to celebrate! If you miss a week, no worries.

Here’s the tentative schedule:

  • Monday, June 18 @ 8:00p – Discuss Part 1: Launch (Chapters 1 & 2) on Facebook live
  • Monday, July 2 @ 8:00p – Discuss Part 2: Undertow (Chapters 3, 4 & 5) on Facebook live
  • Monday, July 16 @ 8:00p – Discuss Part 3: Resisting the Current (Chapters 6 & 7) on Facebook live
  • Monday, July 30 @ 8:00p – Discuss Part 4: White Water (Chapters 8, 9 & 10) on Facebook live
  • Friday, August 3 – Book Club Social – Time & Location TBD

So grab a copy of Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World — it’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and anywhere else that they sell books. There’s also an audio version available to purchase. AND if you use Hoopla, a free borrowing app using your library account, the e-book and the audio book are available for free. So no excuses!

Invite some friends and join us! See you there!

p.s. please join our facebook group and events and RSVP to help us know who to expect! 🙂

Struggling to Surrender

I’ve been working on this post for awhile, sure that God is wanting me to share this, but not quite knowing exactly what to communicate. I realized this morning as I was rereading my drafts, that maybe the reason I haven’t been ready to share it yet is because I’m not on the other side. I haven’t figured out the neat and tidy solution. I’m not sharing an inspiring “what I’ve learned” lesson. But this is where I’m at, and maybe some of us can encourage each other in this struggle together.

Surrendering control is not my strong suit. That probably does not come as a surprise to most of you, especially those who know me well. I like to know exactly what is going to happen, plan what is going to happen, and have a thorough check-list prepared to ensure that it happens with all details accounted for. (Bonus points if it’s color coded).

But in life, as we know, things do not always go as we plan or imagine. Young adult me was sure that after marriage I would work for a few years and then have babies. I would stay home while I raised my always obedient children in a peaceful environment that cultivated each child to be their very best.

As I write this, my 21-month-old is on the back porch, sitting in her Little Tikes car wearing only a diaper and shoving a donut in her mouth, which I’m pretty sure has been licked by at least one dog. So, the reality is, obviously, slightly different. I’m a full-time working mom and I’ve had to let go of control of a lot of things. For four days a week, eight hours a day, other adults are loving on my kids–teaching them, singing to them, and hugging them if they’re sad. I don’t see every milestone or know everything that has happened in their days and that is sometimes a hard truth to swallow.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love my reality and all of its messiness. I am so grateful for where God has called me. I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am where He wants me to be. I love that my girls see me pursuing God’s purpose in my life. I love the daily challenge to increase my leadership capacity and reach families for Christ. And I have had this conversation – this argument – with God many times, and always hear the same answer. You are where you need to be. Trust me. Most days, I’m good with that.

Then, I hear phrases like these:

“You work full time and have kids? I don’t know how you do it! ”

“That’s so great she’s staying home with her kids. That’s the best thing for them.”

“They grow so fast. You’ll never get this time back.”

My heart sinks. I spiral into my head and start doubting all of the choices and decisions we have made about our family. Should I be staying home with our kids? Am I robbing them of a childhood they deserve? Are they suffering without having access to me 24/7? Are they deprived of love? Are they not getting enough one-on-one attention? Do they doubt how much I love them? Did they even eat any vegetables this week?

Just like that, I take back the burden.

God has been challenging me on this a lot lately. I have laid this burden, this guilt about not being at home, at His feet a hundred times. Each time I revisit something that God has so clearly given me an answer on, I’m essentially saying, “I don’t trust you.” Each time I give it any mental or emotional space, or spend any time worrying or plotting to change the situation, I’m saying, “I think I could do a better job of this than you.”

But, why would I want to put my trust in someone who thinks like I do? God has an eternal perspective and a never-ending, reckless love for me, my kids, and my family. He knows what He’s doing! I love these verses from Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV)

Like I said, I don’t have the answer. I just know that I’m choosing to surrender daily. I am holding my life, my girls, and our family with open hands. I’m asking God to do his Holy work here, and resisting the urge to control with every type-A bone in my body. Who’s with me?

Chats with Charlee – Part 2

Another little listen into our family..

Convo #1

Charlee: Do you remember when I was at Ms. Shelly’s house and she made me sleep in my crib?

Me: You mean when you were a baby?

Charlee: Yes, in the olden days.

Convo #2

As I’m getting dressed for work…

Charlee: You look like a man.

I change shirts.

Charlee: Now you look like a human.

Convo #3

C: Who’s coming to my Christmas show?

M: Grammy & Poppy and Grandma & Grandpa Alan

C: Oh great, all my customers.

 

And a few more one-liners for your enjoyment!

#1

In school we learned we shouldn’t talk to strangers. That’s why I don’t talk to turtles.

#2

Remember the time we went to Grandma’s house and we clinked our glasses and had chicken parade lunch?

(Eventually we realized this was in reference to Thanksgiving!)

#3

What’s dilly bread?

(After we have been saying our meal-time prayer for months — “daily bread.”)

 

 

A Letter to My Five-Year-Old

My sweet Charlee girl,

I cannot believe that you are five. It seems just yesterday that we brought you home in newborn clothes that you were absolutely swimming in. I feel like I was just doing the rock/swing/bounce/shush dance of new mothers, pacing the halls and begging you to sleep. Surely it was only a day ago that you were army crawling around the house, and then taking wobbly steps into my arms.

In the midst of sleepless nights, endless nursing sessions, countless diaper changes, and exhausting toddler tantrums, I blinked, and here we are. Now you are a little girl. You sit next to me on the bar stool at the counter (your feet still swing above the ground), and ask me for a cup of “warm tea”. You tell me about your friends at school, and how you’re going to be a “rock star at church” when you grow up.

My sweet girl, you want to go everywhere with me, dress like me, act like me, talk like me, and oh boy! that’s a lot of pressure. I hope that I don’t let you down too often. And when I do? I pray that I apologize to you quickly, and point you to Jesus as your true role model.

You want to marry daddy, and have told me that I just need to share him with you. You have told us multiple times that you are going to live in our house when you grow up. You hold your little hand up and tap each finger as you name all of the people who will live in our house — Mommy, Daddy, Charlee, Evie, and Charlee’s two girl babies.

You are so imaginative and creative. You sit for hours at your desk and paint, draw, cut, paste, color, tape, and use any other office supply you can get your hands on. (We have to hide the scotch tape from you!) Then, you present each proudly to us to be displayed on the wall or the fridge. You dance around the house and belt out songs of your own creation, and tell us when it is the appropriate time to clap.

You are a sweet big sister and friend. When Evie is upset, you rub her back and sing to her. You go find her lovey, or blanket, or paci, to try and make her feel better. You read books to her, share your favorite toys, and try to teach her to do what you are doing. You draw pictures and write notes for your friends, and are always asking to invite someone to come play with you.

You have such a sensitive, caring heart. You think deeply about everything you are told, and remember details of events that even I have forgotten. You get so invested in books and movies, and cover your ears (eyes still open) when you are worried about a character. You are intense and intelligent, and I know that God has huge plans for you, my little one.

Charlee, on your 5th birthday, I have two simple prayers for you:

I pray that you always know that you are loved, no matter what. Mommy, Daddy, Evie, your grandparents, your friends, your church family, and above all, your Heavenly Father, love you. That love doesn’t hinge on anything. We love you because you are you.

I pray that you learn that God has created you for an adventure. He did not make you the way you are by accident. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and He has big plans for you! I can tell you this: a life spent following Christ is never boring!

I love you, Charlee Jo, and I am so thankful for all you bring to our family.

Love,

Mommy

Gifts that Give Back

I know, I know. We haven’t even eaten the turkey yet. Santa has not yet come in the Macy’s Day parade, which we all know is the official start of the Christmas season. However, I wanted to stop in before all of the craziness of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. Have I forgotten any other days that are created for spending money and buying things?

I have always loved buying gifts for people. As I’ve learned more about fair trade and working conditions around the world, I’ve realized that where I spend my money can actually have a big impact. I have started to make a conscious effort to buy gifts that are unique and special, and that also do good around the world. Here are a few of my favorite places to shop! Hope these make completing your Christmas lists a little easier!

 

Preemptive Love Coalition  

The Preemptive Love Coalition works in Iraq, Syria, and the United States, to “unmake violence and create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” They provide relief for refugees on the frontlines of conflict including food, water, and medical care. Then, they go into refugee camps and provide jobs through small business grants and coaching, to empower these families for a better future.

You can purchase items made by refugee women in Iraq and Syria. They get paid for their work and can provide food for their family, and you get a beautiful gift for a loved one! I gave my grandma this soap and washcloth set last year.

 

And I’m eyeing these blue mosaic candles for someone on my list this year.

 

Prodigal Pottery

Prodigal Pottery is a ministry of King’s Home, an organization with over twenty group homes across the state of Alabama. These homes provide housing and restoration to women and children who are fleeing domestic abuse, homelessness, or other difficult circumstances. Prodigal Pottery employs these women and teaches them job skills, but more importantly, gives them a sense of worth and a place to heal.

I bought my sister-in-law a mug similar to this beautiful one for her birthday this year and she loved it.

How sweet are these little ring dishes for only $10?

I love that you can customize most of these pieces by choosing the color of the paint, and the glaze on the top! Check out their shop for a wide assortment of Christmas ornaments, plates and platters, mugs and more.

COUPON CODE: FAIRTRADE for 10% off any website purchase

 

Noonday Collection

Noonday Collection partners with Artisan Businesses in vulnerable communities around the world. They help develop these businesses through fair trade, and create dignified jobs for those who need them. They also support families pursuing adoption through “Adoption Trunk Shows,” in which 10% of the profits are donated to the adopting family.

I love their wide variety of jewelry and accessories. I’ve purchased necklaces and earrings as gifts from Noonday before, and when they came, wished I could keep them for myself! I am loving this Sea Change necklace.

And I think these braided tear drop earrings would go with everything!

 

If you can’t make a decision, grab a few gift certificates so your people can shop for themselves!

 

Mercy House Global

Mercy House exists to engage, empower, and disciple women around the globe in Jesus’ name. They empower women and teenage mothers around the world through partnerships and sustainable fair trade product development. Mercy House also entirely funds Rehema House — an organization with two maternity homes in Kenya. They rescue pregnant teen girls and teach them life skills to create a better future for them and their children.

I love the mission of Mercy House and have been keeping up with their work for a few years now. I purchase from their store whenever I can. I love their jewelry, but I also love that they offer a wide variety of products including home decor, seasonal, gift boxes for teachers, new mommas, and more.

Check out their guys’ fair trade options (men’s stuff is always harder to find!)

There are sweet options for kiddos, too.

Still not finding the perfect thing? Purchase a membership to an earring or bracelet of the month club, or a gift certificate!

COUPON CODE: FTF15 for 15% off the winter collection (valid until November 26)

 

More Great Gift Guides

If you haven’t found the perfect gift yet check out these two extra resources:

  • Mercy House’s Fair Trade Gift Guide with 26 companies to shop at and a coupon code for each one. 
  • Jamie Ivey’s gift guide on the Happy Hour podcast, also with coupon codes! 

 

Merry Christmas shopping, friends!

 

What I Learned Playing “Hooky”

Last weekend, I looked at my calendar for the coming week and saw something that is very rare. A weekday off! The girls could go to school, or I could choose to keep them home. I weighed my options carefully. Eight hours of a quiet house to myself? It sounded blissful. Oh the Netflix I could binge on! Oh the food I could eat without having to share! As tempting as that sounded (and still does), I realized that what we really needed was a day off together with nowhere to be and nothing to do. So, we played hooky.

Charlee, of course, was beside herself when I told her we were going to have a special “Girls’ Day!” (Pro Tip: Do not call a day off from school a ‘vacation day’ unless you want to begin said day off arguing with a four year old about why you are not going to Disney World.) Once we got past the technicalities, our day was off to a great start.

We had cinnamon rolls for breakfast and lounged in our PJs while we watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I let Charlee direct most of the agenda. We played at the mall playground, rolled around in the fake snow at the Santa spot, and got smoothies. We got the race-car cart at Publix, and Charlee got to choose her own lunch — a lunchable with oreos, obviously. Pre-schooler heaven. Then, Evie went down for a nap and Charlee and I watched Christmas movies in bed.

You guys. Charlee was like a different child. The last few weeks (months?) have been trying. Lots of arguing. Talking back. Fighting with her sister. Deliberately not listening. It felt like 80% of what I said to her was a reprimand. But on Monday? We laughed, we played, she listened quickly, and I genuinely enjoyed all of our time together. I saw how she belly-laughed at Donald Duck’s mishaps, how she made sure Evelyn was safe at the playground, how she looked to me for approval, and how she smiled so much wider when she saw me smiling at her.

Here’s the hard thing I’m realizing. It wasn’t Charlee that was different. She didn’t miraculously change into an obedient, compliant child over night. But you know what was different? Me. I made a decision that morning to spend the day making her feel happy, valued, and loved.

Why don’t I just do that every day? Isn’t that how I always want her to feel? Of course, but life gets in the way. I get caught up in the tasks I need to complete, the e-mails I need to answer, the dishes I need to do, the meeting I need to get to in time, the meals I need to plan, and more often than I’d like to admit, my kids can get pushed to the back burner.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I need to take them out of school and spend every day letting them direct what we do. Obviously that’s not how life works. Whether you’re a stay at home mom or a working mom, we all have stuff that actually does need to get done if we want to live in a functioning household. But, there are a few things that I learned from playing ‘hooky,’ that I’m going to try and start implementing on a daily basis.

Say yes more than no. I decided on Monday morning that I was going to try and say ‘yes’ to as many requests as possible. Does anyone else feel like you just say ‘no’ all the time? For me I think it’s become a reflex. I say no, sometimes before I even think about the question.

Charlee: Can I feed the dogs?    Me: No, I’ll do it. (Why did I just say no? I would love for her to start feeding the dogs!)

I’m not suggesting that we say yes to everything, or give our kids everything they ask for. But, I’m going to start actually listening to the question, and I’ll say yes if it’s reasonable. There are enough people in this world who are going to tell our kids no. I want to be on the yes team! (In case you were wondering, this explains why Charlee has four different colors of nail polish on her finger nails and toe nails. Because what is it hurting if she has four colors instead of one?)

Fully engage. We live in a world where multitasking is a necessity. As moms, we are never doing less than three things at any one time. But when I decided to slow down and spend the day focusing on my kids, I realized how often I am half-listening and “uh-huh”-ing instead of fully engaging. I even realized how infrequently I actually look Charlee in the eyes while she’s talking. Generally, she’s narrating some elaborate story and following me around the house while I get stuff done. How am I showing her that what she has to say is valuable? I want to slow down, sit down, and listen to her. Most of the time, anyway. She’s pretty talkative. I would never get anything done if I fully listened all the time. Just sayin’.

Be aware of my own emotions. I know it was not any coincidence that Charlee was pleasant and happier on the day that I focused on being positive with her. She generally reflects my emotions back at me. So when I get snippy to her, and she gets snippy back, we enter a cycle that neither of us enjoys. The thing is, I’m an adult (at least that’s what I’ve been told) and she is four. I need to be aware of how I am feeling, so that I can teach her how to manage her emotions in a healthy way, and not add my emotions to hers. One of my favorite thoughts about this is from parenting expert and author L.R. Knost, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join the chaos.”

 

We’re back to real life now. Playing hooky is not for every day, but these little lessons are helping our everydays be a little more enjoyable. And when you have a rough day? A rough week? Nothing a little day off hooky can’t fix.

Six Things to Start Saying in your Family

Language is a huge part of our world and of our daily experience. We encounter words all day long: in early morning talk shows, podcasts, books, newspapers, social media, conversations around the dinner table, and especially in 4 year old girls who don’t take breaths in between sentences or talk about topics that are linked together in any logical way. But I digress.

Words are powerful. As parents, we have often heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Our examples matter greatly to our kids, absolutely, but that doesn’t mean we can discount the impact of our words. Especially when we are intentional about them. I love this reminder from author Peggy O’Mara: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

Here are six phrases that we strive to use intentionally in our family.

1) Everyone makes mistakes.

This one’s a no-brainer, for adults. Obviously we all make mistakes. To kids, however, mistakes can be a huge deal and can trigger frustration, anger, and embarrassment. Right now most of the mistakes in my house require paper towels and some sort of cleaning solution. However, there will come a day where the mistakes are bigger than crayons on the wall and milk splattered on the floor. When those ‘big’ mistakes happen, I want this phrase to be ingrained in our family’s DNA so that my kids know they always have a safe place to make, and share, their mistakes.

We also make a point to name our own mistakes, so that our kids learn that we are not perfect (duh) and don’t need to try to be, either. Proof that using this phrase is becoming a part of our family’s narrative? When my mom was visiting last weekend, she spilled barbecue sauce on the floor. She started to apologize and Charlee immediately said, “It’s okay, Grandma! Everyone makes mistakes!”

2) I’m sorry because…

This one goes in all directions in our family: grown-ups to grown-ups, kids to grown-ups, grown-ups to kids, kids to kids…you get the idea. There is no question of if we are going to do something that requires an apology; it’s simply when and how often. (See above!) And when those things happen, we apologize. We all expect our kids to say sorry to us, and to each other. How are they going to learn to do that if they don’t see it modeled first?

We also make a point to say more than the cursory “I’m sorry” which can be said so easily (and often without sincere emotion). When Charlee apologizes to Evelyn, or to us, we have her say, “I’m sorry because I didn’t use nice words” so that she actually links her action with the apology, and we do the same for her.

3) I love watching you __________________.

I read an article suggesting parents use this phrase with their kids a few years ago, and I have found it very valuable. We can inadvertently put a lot of pressure on our kids to perform in a certain way, simply with the language we use. For example, if your child plays soccer and they score a goal, you naturally want to focus on their great accomplishment. “That was an amazing kick! You scored a goal for your team! I’m so proud of you!” While this is absolutely positive and will make your child feel good in the moment, it can also convey the message that you are happy because of what the child did.

Using the phrase “I love watching you ______” takes the pressure off of the kids. A simple “I love watching you play soccer!” makes your child feel affirmed whether they kicked the game-winning goal, or spent the game picking dandelions in the field. We say this to Charlee and Evelyn often. “I love watching you sing/dance/dress-up/draw/ride your bike!” tells them that we enjoy seeing them do what they enjoy, whether or not they are “good” at it. (::cough:: singing ::cough::)

4) You worked really hard.

I love using this phrase because it praises effort instead of a fixed attribute such as intelligence. For example, when Charlee completes a task such as a difficult puzzle, I would say “Wow! You worked so hard on that puzzle, and kept going even when it was tricky!” instead of saying, “Wow! You’re so smart!” (Of course, I only say this if she actually was trying hard, so that it’s not empty praise.)

When we focus on effort, kids realize that they can affect their outcomes by how hard they try, and the strategies they use. If intelligence is praised, they just think they are smart; which means if they fail, they believe they are not smart. There is a lot of research and buzz around this concept of “growth mindset” right now, and it’s being implemented in many schools. Here’s some more info about how parents can help their kids develop a growth mindset.

5) I love you when ________ …..and God loves you MOST!

Whenever we are having a discipline conversation, this is the phrase we start with. (Try to start with. Discipline is always a work in progress.) More than anything else, I want my girls to always know that they are loved, regardless of their actions. This does not mean that I always love the way they act, or that they will not have consequences. In fact, giving consequences is actually a really important way that we love our kids, but that’s another post.

So if, hypothetically, Charlee were to be sent to her room after not sharing with her sister (purely hypothetical), our conversation would start like this. “Charlee, I love you when I’m frustrated. I love you when you’re upset. I love you when you don’t share. I love you even when you’re not being kind to your sister.” We’ve done this enough times in our house that at this point she usually chimes in. “And God loves me most!” Then we discuss the issue and the consequences.

6) In this family we ________

Okay, this one is not just a shameless plug for the name of this blog, we actually use this phrase often! Having a strong family identity helps kids to be confident in who they are and lets them discover their own place in the world, from the safety and security of their families. This is the base level of beginning to develop a family identity, as we name for our kids what we do, or do not do, in our families.

We use this in many different contexts. In this family, we use kind words. In this family, we help each other. In this family, we don’t say “_____.” This is the first way that we, as Christian parents, start to teach our kids that our families are going to be different from others they observe or interact with, without pronouncing judgement. As a bonus, it’s also a great way to remind a kiddo of appropriate behavior, without engaging in the power struggle of a direct command. Try “In our family, we sit in our chairs at the dinner table,” instead of, “You need to sit down in your chair!”

What else do you say in your family?