Motherhood: Burden or Blessing? (Part 2 – The Practical Steps)

A few weeks ago I shared a question I’ve been wrestling with over the past several months — Do I see motherhood as a burden or a blessing? — and ended that post with a challenge-of-sorts to myself:

Like the Lord who loves me (and is, in all things, a perfect parent), I am trying to take great delight in my children, and to rejoice over them. More than anything, I’m writing to remind myself to daily choose to put on tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and to hopefully, one choice at a time, transform my wearing of motherhood from a burden to a blessing.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the original post yet, do that first, because this is the follow-up. It’s easy to say that I’m trying to do things differently, make better choices, and live in a new way, but we all know that if there are no practical steps in place, nothing will change. So here are a few things I’m *trying* to implement in my life, to help me transform the burden to a blessing:

 

  • Make time for myself. 

This is obviously not an original thought. Even though I’ve seen many inspirational images with this sentiment lately, I’ve found that it is much easier said than done. I have learned that if I take the time to do something for myself, by myself, I am much more patient and ready to meet my kids’ needs. For me, this looks like setting my alarm for 5:15 am, so that I can get up and have time to read my Bible and journal before my littles get up at 6. (This doesn’t always happen, and boy can I tell the difference in myself when I choose to sleep in instead!)  In some seasons, it has meant running or taking a bike ride in the afternoon. Sometimes, it means reading in my pool on the big flamingo float while the kids nap. Whatever and whenever it is, take the time to remember who you are outside of being a snack-providing, shoe-tying, problem-solving, carpool-coordinating mom.

 

  • Use my words. 

How many times have I said this to my kids? It applies to us mamas, too. I have scripture art in most rooms of my home so that on those days, I am reminded of who I am and whose I am. I also have a few key phrases that help me shift my thinking and allow me to respond to my kids with mercy and kindness, instead of frustration:

  • My child is not giving me a hard time, she is having a hard time.
  • Little people have big emotions.
  • Connection over correction. (Sometimes all it takes is a hug to set me and my kid(s) back on track).

 

  • Play more.

I have realized over the past few months how often my kids ask me to play with them, and how often I tell them “in just a minute,” “when I’m done with dinner,” “after I put the dishes away,” etc. etc. Play time with our kids is so important for so many reasons, but in our hectic lives, it often gets pushed to the back burner. Now, I’m trying to set aside time as soon as we get home in the afternoon/evening, just to play. I’m leaving the backpacks that need to be gone through and the lunchboxes that need to be washed on the counter, and going straight to play time. This is fully-engaged, phones down, lots of eye contact play time. Believe me, this is a struggle for my type-A personality when all I can think of is what needs to get done. But taking great delight in my children starts here, witnessing their delight as we play together. Mamas with older kids, your play might look different, but your kids still want you to engage with them in their interests!

 

  • Practice gratitude.

In the moments when I am most frustrated, feeling burdened and weary, I am choosing to name what I am grateful for instead of muttering things under my breath. It feels silly at first — when the kids are engaged in a screaming tug-of-war match over who knows what now, and I say, “Thank you, Lord, for children who are healthy enough to fight with each other.” It may seem contrived, but it helps me to exhale just a little, and find a way to help them through their craziness, instead of joining in.

 

These practical steps are helpful, but I have realized that they mean absolutely nothing if I am not first resting in the love of our Heavenly Father. He is the one who gives me strength when I am at the end of my human abilities. When I allow His love — His never-ending, reckless love — to fill me, then I can parent out of the overflow. So on days when you have no time for yourself, no words to use, no time or capacity to play and are struggling to find something to be grateful for, here is the promise that we can all rest in:

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” –Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Keep on mamas. Bring those burdens to Jesus and find rest. And tomorrow, with His help and in His love, try again.

 

Motherhood: Burden or Blessing?

This post has been a long time coming. The thought first came up while I was journaling at the end of last school year. Daily time in Scripture has a way of holding a mirror up to my face. Often, what is revealed is not what I want, or expect, to see, and that was certainly the case here. I needed time for this question to sink its way into my heart and start doing some work in my life before I was ready to share.

As I was journaling, I felt this question being asked: Do I see motherhood as a burden or blessing?

At first, I was a little offended that this would even be on my mind. Of course, motherhood is a blessing. I have wanted to be a mom since I was little. I prayed for babies, rejoiced over little pink lines, and love my girls more than I ever thought was humanly possible. I would do anything for them, give everything to ensure their happiness in this world, and single-handedly take down anyone who wished them harm.

But then, I really thought about what the question was asking. Do I live my everyday life like motherhood is a blessing? Or do I really live like it’s a burden?

Do my everyday actions, reactions and interactions, my daily words and attitudes, even my facial expressions show that I believe motherhood is a blessing? When my girls encounter me, are they met with joy, love and patience? The answer to this question was a little, okay, a lot, fuzzier.

Because some days. Oooohh, some days. The days when I wake up to a face in mine before 6 am whisper-shouting, “I need breakfast!” The days when there’s a child on each leg, tugging each hand, yelling, “My mommy! No, my mommy!” The days when dinner needs to be cooked, lunches need to be packed, clothes need to be put away, floors need to be mopped, e-mails need to be sent, deadlines need to be met, and also, “Look at me mama! Watch what I can do mama! Do you see me mommy? Come play with me mommy!”

These are the days when I sigh and grumble and roll my eyes. When I answer every “Mama?” with a frustrated, “What?!” When I find myself yelling to my five-year-old in her room that she needs to stop YELLING AT ME SO MUCH FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE! These are the days when I long to go to the bathroom by myself. Just. One. Time. These are the days when I feel weary and frustrated and burdened, and like maybe I’d like to run away to a tropical island where no one knows my name is “mom.” Just for a little bit.

At first, I felt shame that my kids get so much frustration from me instead of the joy, patience, gentleness, kindness etc. that they should feel from me. I’m not even home with them all day, so why would I be so frustrated in the few precious hours before bedtime? I know that there are women who long to be mothers, who miss these days, or who are dealing with circumstances far more difficult than mine. What is wrong with me that when I have so much to be thankful for, I still feel so burdened?

As thoughts of shame and less-than-ness floated through my mind, I was reminded of a verse from Romans 8:1-2 (NLT). (Emphasis added is mine).

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.

None of this was brought to my attention because God wanted me to feel condemned. He wants to lead me to freedom, and part of that is through journeying to become a better version of myself. There’s a quote from Soren Kierkegaard that I wrote down in my journal around this time that speaks so clearly to this, “Now with God’s help, I shall become myself.”

So I looked squarely in the mirror, and admitted, first of all, that I do not actually have it all together. (Shocking, I know). And this area of my life, what my girls feel from me, how I act in my home, how I portray the amazing love of our Heavenly Father, is one that is very important for me to get right.

As I was praying and thinking about how to actually go about changing this, another verse came to mind.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12, NLT).

What I really love about this verse is the choice that is inherent in it. It does not say that once you start on this journey of following Christ you’ll immediately be filled with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, etc. Instead, it commands that we clothe ourselves with these things. I don’t know about you, but I don’t roll out of bed with my clothes already on (although, some days, wouldn’t that just be great?!) I go to the closet, step over all of the shoes that my two year old always pulls out, and choose an outfit.

Just like the choice I daily make of what I am going to wear, I need to choose to put on tenderhearted mercy, kindness, gentleness, patience, and all of the things that will help me wear motherhood as a blessing, and not as a burden.

Does this mean that every day now I am skipping through my home with a smile plastered on my face, an apron tied around my waist and answering my kids with a saccharine-loaded “Whatever you like my dearest child of mine!”? Of course not. There are still tough days. Still frustrated tones of voice. But I’m trying, each day, to choose to clothe myself with the qualities that will show my children how very deeply they are loved by me, because ultimately, I am called to portray the love of our Heavenly Father.

We don’t need to ever feel guilty or frustrated for not measuring up to this high standard either. We just take a deep breath, thank the Lord that His mercies are new every day, and try again tomorrow.

So one more verse, one that has been my favorite for years and is now what I am aspiring to in motherhood. Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT) says this —

For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Like the Lord who loves me (and is, in all things, a perfect parent), I am trying to take great delight in my children, and to rejoice over them. More than anything, I’m writing to remind myself to daily choose to put on tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, and to hopefully, one choice at a time, transform my wearing of motherhood from a burden to a blessing.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon of some tangible, practical ways I’ve been trying to do this in my family. And please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below!

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?