Something a Screen Can’t Do: Hug Your Child

Today guest author Arlene Pellicane, author of the new book Growing Up Social, shares what this generation is beginning to lose–physical touch. Let’s wake up to our children, the gifts that they are, and be present with them. Hug your child today!

Hug your childSamantha is a fifth-grader whose family recently moved to a new community.  “It’s been hard this year, moving and having to make new friends,” said Samantha.  When she was asked if she ever felt as if her parents didn’t love her because they took her away from her old town, she said, “Oh no, I know they love me, because they always give me lots of extra hugs and kisses.

Like many children, Samantha’s love language is physical touch*; those touches make her feel secure and let her know that mom and dad love her.  The language of touch isn’t confined to a hug or a kiss but includes any kind of physical contact.  Even when you are busy, you can often gently touch your child on her back, arm, or shoulder.  Although this love language is very easy to express, studies indicate that many parents touch their children only when it is necessary:  when they are dressing or undressing them, putting them in the car, or carrying them to bed.  It seems that many parents are unaware of how much their children need to be touched and how easily they can use this means to keep their children’s emotional tanks filled with love.

A man named Bob has two children in elementary school and one in preschool.  When the two older kids were younger, Bob would often put them in his lap and read them a bedtime story.  Reading together builds a sense of oneness, a sense of love for kids.  But life got busier and nowadays, the older kids read on their own and his youngest daughter Lisa, four, is used to reading children’s books on an e-reader.  Bob rarely puts Lisa on his lap to read Goodnight Moon.  She sits by herself on the couch reading with her device.

An electronic reader may save space, trees, and be convenient, but using one with kids short circuits something important – physical touch between a parent and child.

Sure a parent can put a child on his lap and read an e-reader or play a video game together on a tablet.  But typically, when a child is engaged with a screen, he or she is not touching a parent.  He’s not being held in a lap.  He’s not sitting close enough to touch mom or dad’s leg.  When family members get used to engaging with screens, they lose the physical touch dynamic which should be a normal dynamic in a healthy family.

If your child’s primary love language is touch, you will know it.  They will be jumping on you, poking you, and constantly trying to sit beside you.  I believe my youngest daughter Lucy, age 4, has physical touch as her primary love language because she always wants to sit next me and one of her favorite words is “Huggie!”  She tells me every day to scratch her back, and the first thing she does in the morning is come in my room for her hug.

When you put your arm around your child, wrestle, or give him a high-five, you’re communicating your love and interest in being together.

Physical touch communicates love in a powerful way to all children, not just young children.  Throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school, your child still has a strong need for physical touch.  A hug given as he leaves each morning may be the difference between emotional security and insecurity throughout the day.  A hug when he returns home may determine whether he has a good evening or makes a rambunctious effort to get your attention.  Older boys tend to be responsive to more vigorous contact such as wrestling, playful hitting, bear hugs, high fives, and the like.  Girls like this type of physical touch also, but they like the softer touches of hugs and holding hands.

Screens can’t do any of these things, no matter how advanced they are.

Children need loving physical affection from a parent in order to thrive.  So the next time you and your child are in a room together, put your device down and hug your child.  No app can do that; only you can.

*Read Gary Chapman’s bestselling book The Five Love Languages to find out more about the love languages.

Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven WorldAdapted from Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Arlene Pellicane and Gary Chapman. If you’ve ever felt like screens are taking over your family, or as if your children are losing the ability to have real-life relationships, you need to read Growing Up Social today! Reclaim your family. Don’t sacrifice it to a screen!

Arlene Pellicane 600x600jpgArlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife.  She has been featured on the Today Show, Family Life Today, K-LOVE, and The Better Show.  She lives in San Diego with her husband James and three children.  Visit Arlene at www.ArlenePellicane.com for free family resources including a monthly Happy Home podcast.

 

 

Reader Question: How Do I Talk To My Kids About Sex?

Reader Question of the WeekThis week I’m going full throttle, doing the final edits for my upcoming book, 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage. So I’ve asked some awesome friends to guest post for me. And I thought I’d start with this week’s Reader Question about talking to your kids about sex. A mom wrote in and asked:

I have an 3 kids under 8. We have had conversations about aspects of the relationship between men and women, how babies come out of the women’s body (not yet talked about how they get in there in the first place though) and other things like that. But we have not yet talked about the actual act of sex. I’ve heard reports that you need to have this conversation with your kids between the ages of 7-9, after that age they will have most likely gotten the information from friends or stumbling across it online.

So my question is, how do you start this conversation? I am very comfortable talking about sex with adults, but my 8 year old son is a whole other area! So I thought i’d see if you had any thoughts or advice on how you may have done this with your kids. Thanks so much!

Great question! And so I’ve asked Luke Gilkerson, from Intoxicated on Life, who has just come out with a book on this very subject to chime in. Here’s Luke:

Talking to Your Kids About Sex

“Why is my penis so big?”

This was the way my five-year-old greeted me one morning. Though he probably had experienced an erection hundreds of times before this, for some unknown reason, on that morning it confounded him. I explained to him, “That’s called an erection. Your penis is supposed to do that from time to time. There are special blood vessels in your penis that fill up with blood and make your penis hard and straight.” In the flurry of morning activities, that was all that was said, and that seemed to satisfy his curiosity for the time being.

Children are sexual beings—not in the sense that they are mature enough for sex but in the sense that they have sexual anatomy and curiosities. Their gender defines something important about who they are. For that reason, teaching our kids about human gender and sexuality is an important piece of their education, even from a young age.

Anxieties About Sex

Ever since I released my parent-child Bible study about sexuality, The Talk, I’ve received questions from many parents—some of them filled with questions and anxiety—about how talk to young kids about sex. I understand this anxiety. For many of us, sex has either burned us in the past or we were raised in a world where sex was never discussed. We remember the angst of puberty, first crushes, first kisses, discovering masturbation, discovering pornography, and perhaps specific sexual sins we regret. Sex is not a topic some relish talking about.

In some sense, the fear of talking about sex with our kids is normal because we know sex is a powerful force, and whatever we say to our kids about it, we want to say right.

Too Much Too Soon?

Some parents fear saying too much too soon to their young children. Won’t these conversations spark sexual curiosity in them too early?

I think it is important to dissect the question a bit.

  • First, what is meant by “sexual curiosity”?
  • Second, what is meant by “too early”?

For some parents, curiosity about sex, especially in children, is seen as somehow dirty. For these parents, sexual curiosity is intimately linked to sexual sin. In reality, this is far from the truth. Sexual curiosity includes a wide variety of interests: curiosity about sexual anatomy (one’s own and that of the opposite sex), curiosity about how babies are made and grow, curiosity about romance, and curiosity about sexual intercourse are all as natural as the day is long. None of these curiosities is an indicator of an unhealthy or premature desire to have sex.

Furthermore, the fear that we might initiate conversations about sex “too early” is often based on the assumption that our kids are living in a sexual vacuum. This is far from the truth. Kids are coming home from the playground learning about oral sex at age 6. Kids are seeing sexual themes in video games, TV advertisements, and in the grocery store checkout aisle. Even if you take away the overtly sinful examples, kids hear about sexual themes in the midst of wholesome activities all the time: listening to a sermon, watching you and your spouse kiss, and even reading the Bible. The reason why you, as a parent, need to start conversations about sex now is because you have the opportunity to shape and mold what they are already picking up from the environment they’re in.

You will not rob a child of his or her innocence by giving them biblical and biological information about sex. Focus on the Family’s Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care says it well:

Giving a child facts about reproduction, including details about intercourse, does not rob him of innocence. Innocence is a function of attitude, not information. A school-age child who understands the specifics of sex, while seeing it as an act that, in the proper context, both expresses love and begins new life, retains his innocence. But a child who knows very little about sex can already have a corrupt mind-set if he has been exposed to it in a degrading, mocking, or abusive context.

Talking to Young Kids About Sex (Ages 4-7)

1. Get used to it.

I have a friend who routinely speaks to groups of parents at churches addressing hot-button sexual issues like pornography. He’s a dynamic speaker and well-loved by all the audiences he addresses. He gets one complaint everywhere he goes, however: “It was a little uncomfortable when you said words like ‘testicles’ and ‘clitoris.’ Next time you do this talk you should really censor some of your words.” Good grief. If you can’t get together in a room with other adults—adults who have all chosen to gather in a room to hear a talk about pornography—and you can’t stand to hear basic anatomy terms, no wonder you can’t talk to your kids about sex.

For some, sex is embarrassing. They can’t picture saying words like “penis” and “vagina” in the same sentence—let alone talking about how they go together.

If this is you, you have three choices: push through the awkwardness, get comfortable with it, or be silent. If you don’t speak, the world will be more than happy to fill the void.

2. Teach it like you would any other subject: according to what they can grasp

You need to talk to your kids where their cognitive abilities will allow them to go. For the same reason you don’t teach your child their times tables at age 4, you also don’t have a long chat with them about the birds and the bees at age 4. Toddlers are in what is called the preoperational stage of child development. Though their language skills are maturing, they do not have logical reasoning skills. They think very concretely. Concepts like cause and effect are unknown to them.

During this stage of life, talks about sex should be brief and very concrete. My brief conversation with my son about his erection is an example of this. It was not a no-holds-barred everything-you-need-to-know conversation. It is about giving them little bits of information about sexual biology and sexual norms over time. Sometimes, time will permit you to have longer conversations, but remember to keep things focused on one subject at a time.

3. Teach it like you would any other subject: progressively over time

Don’t feel the need to have a single talk about everything sexual. Not only would this take far too long, these conversations and themes work best when they are repeated over and over, progressively over the course of a child’s life. In the early phases of life (0-3), give them correct labels for their body parts and confidence that their bodies are created by God. As they start to notice gender differences, explain some of the obvious outward differences between boys and girls. Affirm them in their gender identity. Help them practice modesty. Model how your child should joyfully react to things like pregnancies and weddings.

As your child gets older (4-8), you can unpack more information about human reproductive organs (male and female). Model the importance of privacy when it comes to nakedness. Warn them from time to time about pornography: tell them that if they see images, cartoons, photos, or videos that show naked people that is not healthy to see. Especially as they get closer to 1st and 2nd grade, children start to enter a new phase of development where they can reason more logically and can start to understand things from another’s perspective more easily, making more detailed conversations much easier.

These do not need to be sit-down, fire-side chats, but they can happen in the context of daily life as questions are asked or opportunities arise.

4. Let the Bible break the ice for you

For more formal discussions about sex, the best context is during conversations about the Bible.

First, get into the habit of opening the Scriptures together as a family, reading from the Bible, praying together, and talking biblical truths. This is Christian Parenting 101: establish a routine in your home that communicates the importance of the Bible to our understanding about God and human beings.

The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical SexualitySecond, use specific passages from the Bible to break the ice on these sexual topics. I recommend texts like Genesis 1:24-31, 2:18-25, Exodus 20:14; Psalm 139:13-18, and 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. These texts cover major themes like the creation of male and female, the command to procreate, the mystery and beauty of life in the womb, the evil of adultery and sexual sin, and the importance of honoring God with our bodies.

If you need help with this, my family Bible study, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality, gives you a script to walk through these texts with a child

5. Let real life break the ice for you

Sometimes the most natural conversations about sex happen in the context of real life—all the way from the very wholesome or mundane to the perverse.

  • Some kids are naturally inquisitive and will be forward about their questions, like, “How do babies get in your belly?”
  • If you are around farm animals or wildlife, or if you have pets, your kids might catch animals “in the act.”
  • If your pastor preaches something with a sexual theme, your child might become curious about what is being taught.
  • If you see a pregnant woman, you can always stoke their curiosity about how God makes a baby grow in the womb.
  • If your child sees something inadvertently on TV or in a movie that has a sexual theme, don’t be silent. Ask them, “What’s wrong about the way they are portraying this?”
  • If your child comes home from school or a play date and relates some bad information he heard about sex from one of his friends, take time to correct the error.

Encouragement to Parents

The book of Proverbs, written especially for the young, warns its readers many times about the seduction of lust and easy sex. But the readers are promised they can avoid the snare of sexual sin. How?

…keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you. (Proverbs 6:20-22)

Be encouraged. Your words have power. Your commands are life giving. Your teachings are critical. In years to come, the echoes of your voice will watch over your children even in the darkest corners of temptation.


Luke GilkersonThe Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical SexualityLuke Gilkerson is the Educational Resource Manager at Covenant Eyes, where he teaches others about staying pure online. He blogs about adventures in parenting at IntoxicatedOnLife.com with his wife Trisha.

You can buy his book, The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality, on Amazon in paperback or get a digital version in his online store.

Is the Christian Modesty Message Causing Women To Be Ashamed of Their Bodies?

Does the Christian Modesty Message inadvertently get it wrong? A look at healthy modesty messages for girls that don't teach shame.Today I’m beginning a 3-part series on how we should reframe the messages that we give young people about sex and Christian modesty. As a Christian sex blogger I get so many emails from women who grew up in the church whose marriages were really hampered by shame that never should have been theirs, and I think we simply need to take a good look at what we’re actually saying, and then figure out how to say it differently.

Heads up: I’m about to challenge the Christian modesty message: the one that says that women need to dress very modestly, because unless they do, they will encourage lustful thoughts on the part of guys and lead them into sin.

I think that’s a dangerous way to frame it–dangerous to girls, and dangerous to guys, too.

But before I do that, I need to point something out. Let’s look at a pendulum, with “Girls can cause guys to lust and so must cover up” on one side, and “Girls can wear whatever they want and guys should deal with it” on the other. The problem is that when you argue against the first premise, people think you’re arguing FOR the second. So if you’re not arguing A, you must be arguing Z. But what if you’re actually arguing M?

I’ve written before that modesty DOES matter, and I do believe that. So please don’t accuse me of saying Z when I’m really saying M!

Okay, now with that intro, here goes! I’m going to deal first with how the Christian Modesty Message errs, and then look at how we can reframe it so that we’re still honouring God, respecting ourselves, and respecting each other.

How Christian Modesty Got Off Base

The Christian modesty movement gets its starting premise from this statement by Jesus:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt. 5:28)
 (NIV)

So lust is a really big deal! And if that’s true, then women should do what they can to reduce the chances of lust, right?

Well, let’s take a look at this for a moment. Why did Jesus say this? Basically, in those days if a Pharisee saw a woman coming down the street, they would avert their eyes and walk to the other side of the street. Women were seen as temptresses, as evil, as shameful.

And Jesus put the burden right back on the Pharisees: “It’s not her fault if you lust. Lust is YOUR problem.”

Jesus was trying to remove shame from women and replace it with righteous sorrow for sin. That’s a good thing.

And yet what have we done?

We’ve placed the burden back on the girl again when we start making rules for how women should dress.

I’ve sat through events aimed at preteen girls which told them how many inches below the clavicle their shirts can be. I’ve been at homeschooling track meetings where girls were given measurements about what they should wear to track meets, and I’ve seen some families requiring their daughters to run the 1 km race in a long “Little House on the Prairie” skirt. And I wonder: What does this do to the girls?

I asked that question on Facebook last week, and one woman wrote this:

I grew up covering my body and its curves to help men not sin. We had to wear skirts and dresses to the ankle (at least that’s what we preferred: that allowed to to play Little House on the Prairie and hide my unshaven legs.) sleeves couldn’t be shorter then four inches off the shoulder. The neck line had to fit two fingers from the pit of the throat. Anything that cut deeper into the chest was immodest and “oh my gosh! Fix your shirt!” Nothing could be tight so as draw attention to the chest or hips. We weren’t even allowed to wear smooth fitting skirts-they all had to have enough gathering at the top to just flow over the body and not stick to it. How ridiculous we must have looked to others when we played homeschool baseball or basketball on the driveway. At fourteen my mother accused me of looking at my father with a sexual eye and told me that all men only want “one thing:sex” and that it was on their minds all the time. The way I dressed would help them not to sin.

I know that is an extreme example, but I have seen it in real life. And I think even when Christian modesty isn’t enforced to that extreme, it still has some negative repercussions, like these:

Legalistic Standards for Modesty Teach Girls Their Bodies Are Dangerous

If your body can cause someone to sin, then your body is a source of shame. It’s something dangerous, lust-inducing, almost sinful, in and of itself. If the mere sight of your curves can cause someone else to err, then your curves must somehow be bad.

I know this is not the intention when people teach modesty. I’ve heard of the “secret keeper” approach which says that what you have is lovely, but it’s just yours, and it isn’t to be shared, and I think that approach can work. But often it’s laced with the message that if you don’t keep the secret, you lead others into sin.

What happens, then, if someone really does sin? Let’s say that you’re date raped, or someone says some derogatory things about your body. You now believe that it is your fault because you’ve grown up thinking that men cannot resist seeing curves, and so if they act inappropriately, it must be because they saw too many of your curves. It puts the burden for sin in the wrong place. And if women start feeling shameful of their curves, as if their body is the enemy, how in the world are they supposed to start liking their bodies and being comfortable sharing their bodies with their husbands once they get married? If you’ve been taught from the time you’re small to worry about your body, it’s really difficult to start seeing it as a good thing that can bring you and  your husband pleasure. The very fact that he wants pleasure from your body seems somehow twisted already.

When I was a teenager I worked in a Christian bookstore. A woman who had only recently become a Christian worked there part-time. She was 30, single, and drop-dead gorgeous. She could have been a Victoria Secret model. She dressed very fashionably, but also very modestly. No cleavage, lots of turtlenecks (it’s Canada, after all), and nothing too tight. Yet week after week the elders would sit her down and tell her that she needed to dress more modestly because men were lusting after her. Her clothes were not the problem–it was her beauty, and she could do nothing about that. They were calling her beauty sinful. She finally just went to another church.

Legalistic Christian Modesty Teaches Girls that Boys “Only Want One Thing”

The Christian modesty message also says that boys are basically helpless to withstand this onslaught of seeing girls’ curves. All guys, including all older men, will lust if they see you. I’m not sure how that message is supposed to make women like men.

When I was 19 years old I went on a summer missions trip to Tunisia. It was very scarring for me, because every time we were on crowded public transport (which was quite a lot), men would literally feel me up. I could never tell which man it was, because we were jammed into buses, but I’d have hands all over me. When I got back to North America it was about  two months before I could look a man in the eyes again. I had tried so hard the whole time I was there to not catch anyone’s attention, and it didn’t work. Men became the enemy.

We’re doing the same thing. But let’s face it: If a guy will fall into lust because he sees a girl with a V-neck T-shirt on (even if there’s no cleavage), what in the world is he going to do if he walks through the mall?

Legalistic Modesty Teaches Girls that THEY Don’t Lust

I’m going to let my daughter explain this one. I think she does it very well:

Legalistic Christian Modesty is Just That: Legalistic

We’re told in 1 Timothy 2:9:

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

Dressing modestly is important. But notice that the text does not define what decency and propriety is. When we start to define it rigidly, then we are becoming legalistic. What is modest in one culture is not modest in another. There aren’t absolutes. When I was in Kenya, showing cleavage was less offensive than showing bare shoulders (though the children’s home where we were didn’t show either). Things vary by culture. The spirit is important: we all should be modest. How that is lived out, though, is ultimately up to the individual, and should not be imposed, or else you are adding to Scripture.

It’s interesting, but one of my friends pointed out that in the Old Testament, the dress that was criticized was unisex. It was very clear: men should look like men; women should look like women. Women have curves, and I think that’s okay.

 Let’s Change the Message!

1. Point to God, not rules.

Whatever we do, we are to do it to the glory of God. So when we dress, we should be glorifying to God. Teach young people, both guys and girls, to ask themselves that question: am I portraying myself as a child of God? If everybody asked themselves that question, a lot of problems would go away anyway. And having girls dress modestly for the wrong reasons doesn’t glorify God. He cares about the heart, not the outward appearance.

2. Don’t give a double standard.

Dress codes are fine, especially at teenage events, I think. Most schools have dress codes (no spaghetti straps, no low-rise jeans, etc.). But if you have a dress code, it should be focused on both guys and girls, not just girls. So say something like, “Girls, no string bikinies, guys, no speedos. When out of the water, T-shirts should be worn by all at all times.”

 3. Allow for beauty

Another woman on Facebook wrote this:

I too was taught that it was my responsibility to dress so that guys didn’t lust after me. Even if I dressed modestly but looked pretty that was a problem because when a much older guy made unwanted physical and verbal advances toward me it was my fault. After all, how could I blame him? I was told that If I wasn’t “so pretty” or if I wasn’t “so fun to be around” then none of this would happen. It was hard because I was never really taught how to enjoy my body. Things were either unflattering / too big or were “too sexy.” The line between the two extremes was not explained… I developed my own style and have loosened up, but even after a year of marriage, I still struggle with knowing how to be sexy at home and what is too sexy for out in public.

So many households and churches talk so much against what clothes to wear that they never talk about how to be beautiful. Most girls yearn to be beautiful. Let’s start talking about how all of us are fearfully and wonderfully made; how the urge to be beautiful for women is universal and God-given; and then show girls how beauty doesn’t need to mean sexy. You can be totally lovely without twerking, so to speak. Beauty is not the enemy, and we need to acknowledge that girls want to be beautiful, and guide them about how to be truly beautiful.

Tomorrow we’ll ask whether the purity culture contributes inadvertently to sexual hang-ups, and whether there’s a different way to frame it, too.

Now I’d like to hear from you: how did the Christian modesty message affect your view of your body (or did it?) How are you teaching your children? Let me know in the comments!

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re struggling with understanding sex, enjoying your body, and not being ashamed of it, please take a look at my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It’s a fun book, and it explains in detail how God made sex to be intimate emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I think you’ll find it really helpful in dispelling some of the negative things you were taught!

 

Other Posts in The Healthy Sexuality Series:
Does the Christian Purity Message Make Women Ashamed of Sex?
Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin?

 

 

Wifey Wednesday: When You Blow It

Perspective in Marriage: Why Us Matters More Than Me

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage–and then I give you a chance to link up your own marriage posts at the bottom. Today I want to talk about perspective in marriage by being a little vulnerable and telling you about how I blew it this week–and how a birthday party reminded me what was important.

My husband and I have been tired, stressed, and apart quite a bit lately, which is never a good combination. We both have too much on our plates (I’m doing the final edits for 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and booking four speaking tours, and he’s working hard at the hospital), and Keith has been away at a conference and on call a lot, so we’ve seen each other maybe 3 nights in two weeks. It’s not normal, this too shall pass, but it’s tough. It’s a season of distance in a marriage. It’s inevitable, it’s no one’s fault, but it can impact you.

The root of a lot of my stress is that I’m naturally an extroverted person living an introverted life. An extrovert isn’t just a “people person” who is the life of the party (I’d often rather hang back in large groups); an extrovert is someone who processes things by talking about them, not just by thinking about them. Yet I spend my day making little decision upon little decision, by myself at my computer in my living room. When Keith does get home, I’d love to fill him in, but it would take so much time, and quite frankly I’d rather put it behind me and just be US.

But what that means is that I sometimes feel like there are few people in the world who understand all the things that are on my mind. So it’s a little isolating.

And when you’re feeling isolated, hurts are magnified.

The other night a hurt was magnified. It was an old hurt, and Keith did nothing to magnify it. It was something that happened a long time ago that Keith is sorry for, but that still affects me quite a bit.

It was not even something particularly awful; it was just something that happened that hurt me. And I fixated on it again and couldn’t sleep.

We talked about it (it’s often a bad idea to talk about things late at night; they totally get magnified), and I got overly emotional and it was rather embarrassing looking back now. But at one point Keith in utter frustration said something important. He said:

I just need to know that US matters more than YOU.

He wasn’t trying to get me to see his point of view; he was trying to get me to say OUR point of view. I had a right to be hurt, but I had to stop thinking about what was best for me and start thinking about what was best for us. And he was completely and utterly right. It isn’t about what’s fair; it’s about what brings oneness, and focusing on how Keith loves me now is far more important than looking at a series of hurts that I experienced earlier (of which he was only a part).

That was Incident #1.

Now I’d like to give you Incident #2.

It’s a Friday night, and the banquet room in the restaurant is full of laughter and clinking glasses and loud greetings whenever someone else enters the room. It’s my father-in-law’s seventieth birthday, and certainly family is there, but also friend after friend after friend.

I looked around that room and my mind went back to their twenty-fifth anniversary, just a year or two after Keith and I married. Keith and I had hosted that surprise party and had invited all of their friends, and pretty much everyone in that room had been at that party. In fact, I remembered pretty much everyone in that room from when Keith and I married. My in-laws are loyal friends, and their friends stick around, even twenty years later.

But what really struck me was not that they had all these individual, loyal friends. It was that these friends were all couples.

There were Bob and Sheila, who took my kids fishing one year when we were camping; Jack and Marilyn, who let us borrow their canoe (and Marilyn taught my kids to quilt!); John and Marie who were adopted grandparents for my husband (and I still remember Keith sitting up with Marie one night in the hospital when we almost lost John a few years back); Linda and Karl; Paul and Cheyenne; Willard and Shirley; and the list goes on and on and on. In fact, I can’t think of a single couple friend that I knew twenty years ago who is not still a couple today (except for Tony, who is now remarried, because Claudette, my mother-in-law’s best friend, passed away a few years back. But everyone is so happy for Tony!).

Last week I wrote about The Good News About Marriage; how the divorce rate is not, and never has been, anywhere close to 50%. It’s actually closer to 28%. And looking around that table, it looked close to 0% for these people–these couples who had had euchre parties and done midnight walks for cancer and had been at each other’s kids’ weddings and baby showers for years. And lately, increasingly, they’ve been at the hospital, holding one half of a couple’s hand as they made it through a stressful night after a heart attack or a mini-stroke.

I’m sure those couples had tiffs in the middle of the night, too, especially during inevitable occasional seasons of distance.

But they all learned something important: US is more important than ME.

May "Us" Always Matter More than "Me" in our #marriage - Sheila Wray Gregoire

It’s not even that YOU are more important than ME; it’s that US is more important than ME. We fight for the “us”, so that years later we will still have a best friend, a confidante, a gem.

It’s easy to lose perspective in marriage because it’s so hard to get our eyes off of “me”, especially when you’re tired and stressed. But what good does it do to hold on to ME if you lose US? Us is such a gift, and I will fight for it. Just not necessarily again at one in the morning.

Christian Marriage Advice

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10 Ways to Banish the Stay-at-Home Mom Blues

Stay at Home Mom Blues

I have always been a stay at home mom, but if you judge by the comments of many, I have the personality of a pea. If you’re a stay at home parent, you know what I mean. People constantly remark, “I don’t know how you do it. I would go stir crazy if I had to stay home with my kids.” I wonder if people who say that realize how insulting it can sound? The inference is that I am some sort of mutant sub-species that requires far less intellectual stimulation than normal, and can survive for days on end with the praise from Barney—”I love you, you love me”.

It’s time to challenge this notion that staying home with your kids is akin to a prison sentence with an awfully whiny jailer.

Certainly it can be tremendously difficult, draining and exhausting, especially since you usually walk around with banana mash on your jeans and spit up on your sweatshirt. But that’s not the whole story.

Many parents choose to work for a host of different reasons, and only you know what is right for your family. I know that for many, much as you may long to, staying home isn’t financially feasible. I don’t mean to leave you out of today’s post, but I do want to share with my readers who are at home how to make sure it doesn’t get overwhelming.

And so today, I’d like to share with you the Top 10 Ways to Beat the Stay at Home Mom Blues.

Top Ten Tuesday1. Think Outings, not Hibernation

We go about stay at home parenting all wrong. We start by buying tons of equipment (ExerSaucers, swing sets, trampolines) to ensure that we never have to leave the house. But what happens if we’re home alone all the time? Our kids may go stir crazy and whine, cry and vomit. Then we cry. Probably we whine, too. And if we’re pregnant, we definitely vomit. So let’s take a step back and approach this stay at home thing differently.

Instead of spending all day cooped up with the kids, plan for a daily outing, if possible. When my kids were little, we went out every single day. We went to the library. We went to a playgroup. We walked to a nearby park. We went to the museum (it was free on Thursday mornings).

The benefit was that the kids had fun, but they were tired out, and then they would nap better for me later. And if we were out, I could focus completely on them, so when we got home, it was easier to get them to give me time to myself.

2. Enforce Quiet Time

We count the minutes until we can put a child down for a nap. We rejoice when more than one child manages to nap at the same time. Sometimes we even grab a nap, too, wondering how long it will last.

And then an older child stops napping, and it all falls apart.

When a 3-year-old stops napping, enforce quiet time. Have them stay in their room for half an hour with a book or a toy, and let this be “quiet play” time. That gives you some time to yourself, and helps them get some rest (and thus not get so whiny).

3. Get Adult Stimulation

We aren’t meant to do motherhood alone, and you need adult conversation. Take your kids to a playgroup, or organize one yourself. Join the local YMCA or another fitness club that offers baby-sitting. Best of all, join a women’s Bible study or a MOPS group. Just make sure you do something at least once a week that gets you talking with adults.

And talk to your hubby at night, too! Share the burden with him, don’t just retreat to a screen and hand the kids over to him because now it’s his turn. It’s tempting to want to just watch a movie or collapse at the end of the day, but do try to spend some time talking. You need that connection, and he does, too.

4. Start a Hobby

Adult stimulation isn’t all we need; we also need intellectual stimulation–something that gives our brain a creative outlet. Did you love knitting when you were a child? Start knitting again, even if it’s only at night when the kids can’t get to the yarn. Start crocheting. Start painting. You don’t have to do it all the time, but if you have a hobby to research and plan and dream about, it helps.

5. Learn Something

And now it’s time to grow! Learning keeps life fresh. So pick a topic this year that you want to master. Maybe it’s more in-depth Bible knowledge (Kay Arthur or Beth Moore studies are great for that). Maybe it’s nutrition. Maybe it’s cooking. Maybe it’s investing. Maybe it’s politics. Maybe it’s building a blog! Choose something that you’ve always wanted to know more about, and jump in! Research on the computer, start with small projects, and try. You can do it in 20 minute spurts while children play, or take an hour on the weekend that’s “your time”. One new blogger I know goes to Starbucks every Saturday morning while her husband watches the kids.

6. Give Yourself a Sense of Accomplishment

At work we get praise for finishing something. At home we get whines and piles of laundry that never get folded. If you want to feel like you’ve accomplished something, volunteer. Meet your neighbours and see if you can lend a hand to some older people or other struggling parents. Invite people over for coffee. They won’t mind the mess nearly as much as you think they will! And the more connection you have with your community, the more you’ll realize the difference you can make in people’s lives.

7. Get Organized

I love schedules, and kids thrive on schedules, but I always found that as soon as I figured out a schedule that worked, the kids would change it again. Their sleep patterns would change, or their eating patterns would change, and it was all up in the air again. I know that this is difficult. But as much as possible, create a schedule for your week. Know when you will go where. Go grocery shopping the same day each week. Go to the library on the same day. Try to keep naptime to the same time. When kids know what to expect, and you know what to expect, there’s far less whining.

8. Clean Everyday

Don’t let the house get out of control, because that’s just depressing. I remember visiting a friend’s home when my kids were 2 and 5 and being amazed at how clean it was. She had kids the same age as mine, but her home was spotless. Then I realized that the kids were in day care from 7-5, and the parents didn’t spend much time at home, either. When you’re all home, all the time, the house has time to get messy.

Take 15 minutes before each meal and do a quick tidy. Set the timer and have “clean up time”. If everyone cleans three times a day, you’ll find that you stay on top of it better.

Top 10 Ways to Banish the Stay at Home Mom Blues

 

9. Have Something Special You Do with the Kids

Nobody likes kids pulling at you or whining at you all day, but often that whining is caused by two things: loneliness and boredom. The boredom can be cured by daily outings. The loneliness needs some focused Mommy time. For me and my kids that meant reading. We spent hours cuddled up in someone’s bed reading books. That helped them feel the physical connection (they were touching me); it helped them rest (it was quieter time); and it helped give them security (I spent time with them). Then they would go and play together and I could have some time to myself. To expect a child to entertain themselves all day, though, is unrealistic. Plus you miss out on the bonus of staying at home–that amazing bonding time!

10. Do Something Wild and Crazy

Every now and then, do something completely out of the ordinary. I’m all for schedules and naptimes and all that, but some days, I’d wake up and say, “who wants to go to the zoo?” Who cares if it’s a one and a half hour drive, and we’d only be able to spend three hours there? It would be memorable! Or we’d head to the beach. You have freedom as a stay at home mom; use it. Create those memories and laugh with your kids, and you’ll find the busier days easier to bear.

I do not have the personality of a pea. I’d say it’s more like a bunch of grapes (the seedless kind), with many different things in my life that are all interconnected. It was, and is, such a privilege to stay at home and watch my children grow. They are my reward. But I could not have survived without acknowledging that though I love being a mommy best, I am more than that. Plan for success when you stay at home. Don’t settle for exhaustion. Your life will be richer for it.

Tell me: what’s your biggest source of stress as a stay at home mom? What do you do to relieve the stay at home mom blues? Let me know in the comments!

To Love, Honor and VacuumIf you’re having trouble finding peace and encouragement staying at home, my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, can help! I wrote it just for moms who feel more like maids than wives and mothers, and it helps you set priorities, find joy in your life, and create relationships where everybody respects each other. Check it out today!

 

My Blind Spot of Shame: Admitting Your Mistakes

Admitting Your Mistakes: why sometimes it's hard--because we don't even notice them!

Do you have a difficult time admitting your mistakes? I do–and it’s not always a pride issue. Sometimes it’s because I have a definite blind spot.

On Fridays I like to run my columns–or my short pieces that sum up what I think about family, love, and society. Here’s a piece I wrote back in 2008 about the difficulties I have remembering appointments. Considering the school year is upon us, I thought many of you organization-minded mamas could relate!

Next time I go to the orthodontist’s office I will have to wear a paper bag over my head. I just forgot yet another of my daughter’s appointments.

It was easy to rationalize away the first one we missed. Keith had the girls that day, and we just didn’t share information in an appropriate way. In other words, I forgot to tell him. The second time, though, was entirely my fault, and I didn’t have a fallback excuse.

Feeling very badly, I promptly instituted a new fixture in our house: the calendar on the fridge. All our appointments were dutifully recorded, so that none could escape our notice.

However, the fridge door is not the most ideal place for a calendar that uses wipe off markers. People constantly rub against it as they stare, mouth gaping, into that appliance, in the process obliterating our appointments forever.

The third one I forgot, though, is still easily forgiven, because my mother’s best friend had died and we were rushing out of town for the funeral. How can an orthodontist compete with a funeral? In my moments of honesty, though, I admit that I would have forgotten anyway. It’s become a habit.

The strange thing is that I don’t forget anything else.

My dentist, doctor, and optometrist have nothing to complain about. I’m at every committee meeting, every family meeting, every church meeting. But when it comes to my daughter’s orthodontist, I have a blind spot. I just can’t seem to keep appointments in my head.

After the fiasco with the funeral we told Rebecca it was now her job to remember, since I was obviously not up to the task. She said she would. And she did remember, right after I yelled, in a panic, “Becca, when’s the orthodontist appointment!?!?!”. She checked her little yellow card, which she had helpfully stowed deep in her closet, so that she could find it if she ever had the urge to look for her old winter snowsuits. “Yesterday,” she meekly replied.

My husband once operated a full-time pediatric office, and I remember how we used to feel about those parents who continually missed visits. They’re scatter-brained, irresponsible, and pathetic excuses for mothers and fathers. And now I’ve joined their ranks. I feel like a slug, especially when I stare into my empty wallet and realize how much my lapses of memory are costing us. But we all have blind spots, don’t we?

And often our blind spots are exactly the things that bother us in other people.

I get so annoyed when people fail to show up to meetings I’ve called, but here I am doing the same thing. Similarly, I’m forever thinking critically of parents who feed their offspring junk, but to be honest, if my girls ask, “can we have chocolate before breakfast?”, my response is usually, “Is your father gone yet?”. And if the answer is in the affirmative, we all partake together, if just a little, because it’s common knowledge that the chocolate you eat before your day really begins doesn’t count.

Perhaps you have blind spots. You get mad because your spouse keeps the house in chaos, but every time your anniversary rolls around the significance of the date bypasses that part of your brain which reminds you to buy a card. Or your mother’s overindulgence of your children drives you crazy, but you fail to see how taking them to McDonald’s because you can’t be bothered to cook is proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Nobody likes admitting your mistakes.

It’s far more preferable to blame the rest of humanity for being worse than we are. Unfortunately, my orthodontist bills are making it harder and harder for me to do that. I have considered obtaining affidavits from my dentist and my doctor attesting to my exemplary record of attendance. (I did forget the time of a dentist appointment once, but I still had the date right, and that has to count for something.) I don’t think, however, that this will heal the breach. Only groveling is going to do it. I wonder where we keep the paper bags.

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Top 10 Reasons for Marrying Young

Top 10 Reasons Marrying Young Can Actually be Good--for You and for Society

Our society frowns on marrying young. We want people to be established, be educated, and play the field first.

Personally, I think marrying young can be a very good thing. Tonight my daughters and I will attend the wedding of a 19-year-old woman named Emma. She’s a sweetie, and she’s so happy, and I’m excited for her.

So I thought I’d write about the pros of marrying young. But first, a few caveats:

I do not believe that everyone should marry young.

In fact, in many cases young marriage doesn’t work. If the couple really is not very mature, they could be making a very bad decision. I get nervous when a 19-year-old chooses to marry who hasn’t really seen the world much or expanded their social circle at all. If all they know is a very small corner of the world, they may not know themselves very well yet.

Finally, many young people marry to escape. They want to feel grown up, and they want to get on with their lives, and marriage seems the easiest course.

In almost all these cases, these young marriages will not be good ones.

I’m also fully aware that many people will not meet anyone suitable to marry until they are a little older. I have a good friend who married for the first time at 42 a few years ago. She would have loved to marry earlier, but her love didn’t show up until she was older. I in no way mean to shame people who have not married young. I know often being single older is not by choice. I have frequently told my daughters that while I firmly believe they will marry, no one knows when that will be, and they need to work at being comfortable on their own and with God instead of thinking their lives are only complete once they are married.

Nevertheless, none of that means that young marriages can’t work, and so here are 10 reasons why I think marrying young should come back into vogue. We’ll start with the benefits to society, and then look at the benefits for the couple themselves:

Top TenWhy Marrying Young is Good for Society

1. Drifting Through One’s Twenties Can Waste a Key Decade

When people expect that they’ll marry at thirty (the average age for first marriages is now at around 27 for women), then they tend to see their twenties as their time to explore, not their time to settle down. Everything gets delayed. You can spend a few years experimenting with different careers (or lack thereof), or traveling with no purpose, or hopping from relationship to relationship. As I talked about last week, though, your twenties are an important decade financially. If you can start saving then, you really set yourself up well for life.

And the earlier people start saving and maturing, the better off and more productive society is.

2. Having Babies Younger is Better for Society

Physically, the best years to have babies is in your early twenties. Yet few people are married or ready today at that point, largely because we have extended adolescence so far. While most people had babies young fifty years ago, today having one’s first baby after age 30 is the norm in many circles.

Yet while socially we’ve changed, physically we haven’t. And as fertility rates drop, perhaps it would be better for society to prioritize maturing younger rather than prolonging the years when you “find yourself”, especially since those years really are so valuable.

Why Marrying Young Can Be Good For You

3. You “Grow Up” Together

When you marry at 20 or 21, you haven’t always figured out what you want in a house, or how you want to organize a kitchen, or how you want to pay your bills. You don’t know what you want in a church or where you want to live. But you can grow up and make those decisions together, and it’s kinda fun!

When Keith and I married at 21 we had no idea about how we wanted to spend vacations or what kind of house we wanted, let alone how we wanted to do housework. We just figured it out ourselves. And because we hadn’t had our own routines for so many of these things, it wasn’t hard to merge.

4. It’s Easier to Merge Two Homes when There’s Not Much To Them

Imagine you’ve been doing your finances on Quicken on the computer for ten years, and then you marry someone who keeps all receipts in shoe boxes. That’s tough to find a new way of doing it, when you’re both so set in your ways.

Imagine you’ve had ten years since you moved out of your parents place to set your own traditions for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Now you have to do it all over again, when you’re emotionally wedded to the things you’ve already done.

It’s just tricky to merge two households. It’s easier to start off together.

5. You Can Be a Younger Parent

I remember being 27 years old and having one toddler on my back and one baby on my front and getting on the Toronto subway for 45 minutes, with 2 transfers, to get to the zoo, where I spent 6 hours with the kids, only to reverse the whole process.

There is no way I would have had the same energy to do that if I were 37 instead.

And here’s the thing: so many people say, “I want to travel before I settle down! I want to see the world!” But my youngest will be leaving home next year when I’m just 45. (I’m still tearing up at that a little, by the way). Keith and I are going to do some major traveling! We’re going to buy an RV and start seeing the world, little bits at a time. We’re heading to Australia for a conference. It’ll be wonderful (and hopefully take my mind off of my kids being gone). We’re still young, we’re still energetic, but best of all, we have some money now. We didn’t have any in our twenties. We can travel way more now than we could have then.

6. You Can Be a Younger Grandparent

I think a lot of people forget this one: my mom became a grandma at 51. She was so energetic with my girls. She’s 71 now, and she’s still active, but the girls have such strong memories of her being much younger. They remember when she was still a career woman. They remember her doing really fun trips with them. They will always have very clear memories of her.

On the other hand, my grandparents were 62 when I was born. While I have great memories of one of my grandparents, my maternal grandfather had a massive stroke at 64. He was a really strong, active man, yet I only remember him in a wheelchair with impaired judgment. My maternal grandmother, apparently, was just like me. She was opinionated, extroverted, and great at public speaking. Yet most of my memories of her are post-dementia.

My mom has many friends her age who are just becoming grandparents now. I actually hope my girls have kids young, because I’m looking forward to piling grandchildren in our RV and taking them around North America.

7. You Resist Temptation

If you’re with a guy you totally love when you’re 21, and your parents say, “you have to wait until you’re 25 and that graduate degree is finished before you marry”, how in the world are you supposed to resist the temptation to have sex? Sure it’s possible, but it’s awfully hard.

When you love someone and feel close, you’re going to want to make love. It’s natural. Physiologically for men especially, the sex drive is highest from 18-25. It’s really, really hard to wait, and when I hear Christian parents saying, “I hope my son doesn’t marry until he’s done med school and residency when he’s 27″, I wonder what they’re thinking, frankly. Walking down the aisle to meet the only one you will ever make love to is such a beautiful thing and a gift. But if we start telling hormonally charged teens that they have to wait 15 years post-puberty to get married–fewer will wait for marriage for sex.

8. You Avoid a Lot of Heartache

If people married young, perhaps we’d have fewer “exes” and fewer regrets. So much of the problem in marriages is caused by past baggage. If we put the expectation on kids that “it’s fine to get married at 21″ rather than “you had better not get married until you finish your degree and you have a good job”, then people would treat relationships at 20 more seriously. They wouldn’t think, “this can’t go anywhere, so let’s just have fun!” Often that “fun” ends up causing a lot of tears.

9. You Can Focus Your Goals Earlier

Once you’re married, you can start making real plans. Where do we want to be in 5 years? In 10 years? When do we want to buy a house? What education do we need? Where do we want to live? Certainly you can do those things when you’re single, but it’s often tricky since you don’t know where life is going to take you. Once you’re married, you can nail these things down. And if you do marry at 22, then you will start thinking about buying a house. If you don’t marry until 28, you’re often not worried about buying a home at all, and so you rent for years.

Case for MarriageResearchers have found that marriage boosts one’s income and one’s net worth, all on its own, even controlling for class, race, and education. Being married makes people hunker down and treat life more seriously. And that’s good, because it means that ultimately you’ll be financially better off.

10. You Have Decades and Decades Together

I am so looking forward to growing old with my husband, but I am also looking forward to years and years of having fun together before we do get old. He is my best friend. He is my lover. He is my favourite person in the world. I am so blessed to be able to be with him, and I am so blessed that we do have all these years together. Why would you not want as many years as you could with the man that you choose?

Again, I know that not everyone will meet their marriage partner young, and that’s okay. There’s nothing inherently wrong with marrying later.

My problem is that we’ve started to see marrying young as inherently wrong, and I think young marriage actually has a lot of benefits–probably even more than later marriages.

My dream would be a society that focused on helping teens mature faster so that they would be ready to marry younger again. I personally think that would be a healthier society overall.

So I’d encourage all of us who are parents to stop hoping our children marry later, and start preparing them to launch into life younger. It’s okay to marry in college. It’s okay to marry in your early twenties–as long as you’re sure of your faith, you’re sure of yourself, and you’re sure of your relationship.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

UPDATE: Oh, my goodness, I forgot about sexual temptation!!! So I changed out #7 since I first published it. How could I have forgotten that?!?

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Reader Question: When Your Husband’s Job Stress Wrecks Your Sex Life

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do when your husband’s job stress wrecks your sex life?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it. As a doctor’s wife, I could really relate to this question from a woman whose husband’s job stress sucks the romance out of their marriage:

Hi Sheila,

I just had to write and say that hands-down, your book “a good girls guide to great sex “has been the most useful book I’ve read all year. My husband said there has been such a difference that he owes you a box of chocolates. (Sheila says: tell him truffles are my favourite!)

Speaking of my husband I have a question. He’s a youth pastor and my biggest challenge now is how do I change the mood at night for us? It’s common for him to get texts/calls from teens at night who are cutting or dealing with eating disorders or drunk parents. The mood goes from light-hearted and me being excited to having quality time with him in the bedroom to heavy burdened for these kids. Besides praying together any suggestions?

I have to admit that this is something I’ve struggled with and I don’t think I have an easy answer.

On the one hand, people would be quick to say, “you need boundaries! Just turn off the phone at night.” But when there are such horrible things happening that’s hard.

Sometimes Job Stress is Inevitable

My husband is a pediatrician who often has to respond to life and death emergencies at our small town local hospital. When we first moved here fifteen years ago, there weren’t enough pediatricians to cover the call schedule. There were often days that were completely uncovered.

And then, if an emergency happened at the hospital, what would the hospital do? They would phone Keith at our house because they were desperate, and he had a very hard time saying no, because a child could actually die.

I remember my daughter Katie’s second birthday party. We had family over, and it was a day that we had looked forward to for weeks. And just as I was lighting the candles the phone rang. A baby had been shaken and was unresponsive in the Emergency Room. Could Keith come?

He rushed to the hospital and stabilized the little boy for transport. He died a month later, and Keith testified at the trial that put the step-father in jail.

To this day I still remember that little boy’s name: Tyler Barriage. I write it here because I don’t want that poor little boy to be forgotten. He was only a little younger than my own daughter, and we were celebrating her birthday just as he was being killed.

I could have gotten angry at Keith for going into the hospital, and plenty of times I did–when it wasn’t as life and death. But that ultimately wouldn’t help.

So I don’t just want to say “get better boundaries”, because I really do understand the pull of these difficult jobs. But let me still give you some “big picture” strategies that perhaps you can use to reclaim your marriage in the midst of job stress.

Job Stress and Marriage: When job demands intrude on your relationship

Is the Job Stress Life or Death?

Some men (and some women–I can be guilty too) let their work intrude on everything. Often business owners are especially guilty of this. We have started a business and so we want to have control and make sure everything is okay. When people call at night, or when we have some spare time, we immediately respond to these job demands, and often family life falls by the wayside.

Is this life or death though? Certainly there are seasons when a business is in trouble and it needs more attention. But a relationship can’t sustain a workaholic spouse. This isn’t really the issue I’m addressing today, but I know that it is a very common one, and if your husband has a hard time putting his work away at night, perhaps you can leave some comments and I’ll try to write a follow-up post that addresses workaholism.

Does the Job Stress Just SEEM Life or Death?

What I do want to talk about today, though, is what to do with the job that actually IS life and death. But sometimes what looks like life and death may not actually be life and death.

In the letter writer’s case, I wonder if this is what’s happening. Let’s face it: if teens know that if they threaten to cut themselves that the youth pastor will drop everything and talk to you for hours, what’s going to stop them from keeping threatening to cut themselves?

If you are always at everyone’s beck and call for everything they deem a crisis, then crises will multiply.

My husband faced this, and finally the pediatricians sat down with the hospital and emergency doctors and obstetricians and said, “if you call us for everything we will burn out, and then you won’t just have 5 days a month with no one on call; you’ll never have anyone on call. So from now on you can’t call us unless it is truly life and death.”

So perhaps you can set up some systems so that people are still able to get a hold of you in emergencies, but only in emergencies.

Here’s one idea: turn off your cell phone outside of business hours, and let people know that if they have a crisis, they will have to actually phone. People text without giving it much thought. To pick up a phone and have to call someone’s house is different. You realize that you’re calling a family. You realize that it may be dinner hour. There’s more of an inconvenience aspect. And to teens who text all the time, having to phone may slow them down.

With my husband, we also got into the habit of me answering the phone. That way I could screen his calls if necessary. If you set up the expectation that “I am available all the time by text during the day, but in the evenings I’m only available in emergencies”, perhaps some of these calls will lessen.

 Recruit Others to Help

If you are in a job, especially a ministry position, where people are constantly in crisis, then you should not be the only person handling this. It isn’t healthy for the church, for you, or for the people you’re ministering to. What happens if a dozen teens rely on you for everything and then suddenly you’re in an accident or you quit your job from burnout? They have to be connected to the church, not just to you.

So set up a system where several adults become “buddies” for several friends. Or in a churchwide situation set up a system where certain elders in the church (it could be an actual position, or it could be volunteers with great wisdom) divide up the church phone book between them, and everybody knows who their own person to call is. That way the expectation is that you only call the pastor if it’s an actual emergency.

I went to a church like that almost two decades ago now. If I had an issue to talk about, I called a woman, and she was wonderful. But when my son died in the middle of the night, we called the pastor and he came down and sat with us. Now, if we had called him for everything, he would have been so burnt out he couldn’t have come the night we really needed him.

So perhaps having a talk with the leadership team at the church, or the hospital, or the police station, or wherever, and talking about how to divide up the task so that others are also responding to crises can work.

Get Out of Town Regularly

Finally, you can try all of these things and sometimes they just don’t work. With my husband’s job we managed to certainly minimize the intrusions, but they were still there.

What saved us was that we left regularly. We camped a lot in the summer. We took trips. We visited friends for weekends. And when we were away, Keith wasn’t able to help, so they didn’t call him.

Sure, there were still life and death situations, but Keith didn’t feel responsible if he wasn’t actually able to help.

For people who are always being bombarded with requests, physically removing yourself regularly throughout the year may be the only way to get some breathing room. Yes, people will still be in crisis, but you can say, “I can’t help you this weekend, and my cell phone is off, so you’ll have to call Mr. Smith instead.”

How Do You Reclaim the Evening When Job Stress Strikes?

There are some ideas about how to set some limits, but the letter writer also wanted to know: how can we reclaim the romance after a horrible phone call? I don’t have an easy answer. Certainly you can pray and try to leave it at the foot of the cross, but I know it can still ruin the mood. And that’s why I think it’s better to deal with the root of the problem and limit the requests on your time.

But if anyone has a good, practical answer to this part of the question, please leave it in the comments. How do you turn your brain off of your job and back onto your spouse after a crisis? I’d love to know!

 

Get Out with Your Husband–and DO SOMETHING!

Do you know what kills love in marriage faster than anything else? Boredom. When we get bored with each other, it’s all too easy to start ignoring each other’s needs, and to stop being kind. Contempt all too easily follows.

The key, then, is not to get bored, and the way to not get bored is to actually do things together! Even weird things.

How often does the whole evening go by after the kids go to bed with you on Netflix, watching movies, or playing video games? It seems fun at the time, but if you try to remember some great, fun event 10 years ago, I can practically guarantee that it didn’t have to do with television or computers or games. It had to do with something you were actually doing together.

Making memories means you have to be doing something memorable.

I know on Tuesdays I usually do a top 10 post, but I’ve been on vacation a lot in August and taking it easy, and I thought instead I’d share with you something kinda funny that happened to my husband and me while we were camping.

One week last month my husband and I decided to set up our tent trailer at a campground just north of the city where Keith works. He commutes everyday, so it took 40 minutes off of his commute, and let us enjoy the great outdoors. They had internet in the main building, so I could walk there every morning and tend to the blog, but then we could “switch off” and just have fun at night (and I could read and knit a storm during the day!)

I made these socks:

Homemade Socks

But then I had a bunch of pairs of handknit socks that were wearing through (like the one on the right), so I cut off half of the food and reknitted it (like the one on the left):

Socks Fixed

Anyway, that’s not the fun part. I just wanted to show you my knitting!

We booked in from Saturday to Saturday. And on Thursday I became very alarmed because a bunch of new RVs were setting up. And almost every single one of these RVs had dogs. Lots and lots of dogs.

We went for a walk that night and I saw a big dog (maybe a sheepdog?)–the prettiest sheepdog I had ever seen. But it was a little startling, and I said to my husband, “I think that dog has been blow dried.”

DogShow4

And sure enough, right across from us was an RV with a mobile dog blow-drying and grooming facility. Dog after dog was lining up to get so groomed. And all because, as we found out, there was a dog show on Friday and Saturday at this particular campground.

DogShow1

All I could picture was dogs barking all night and keeping me awake. But thankfully, these dogs were actually well behaved and the night was silent.

And so, my anxiety over, on Friday I decided to go see what all the fuss was about.

I wandered over to the “big top” tent and saw different breeds being led around the ring by their intrepid owners.

DogShow3

DogShow7

But, as I was informed by a rather nervous man from Montreal, whose corgie was about to compete against 29 other corgies, some of those people leading the dogs weren’t owners. They were “ringers”, hired for the purpose to help the dogs win.

Seriously? They have ringers for dog shows?

I thought this was a riot, and I went back to my camper, grabbed a canvas chair and my knitting, and plopped down next to an older couple who had also just been camping and decided to watch the show.

DogShow2

By the time Keith came back from work that afternoon I had a feel for what was going on, and he joined me and took pictures and we laughed and had an amazing time talking to some of the “junior trainers”, the kids who would be competing later, and many of the owners. And we saw this poodle (and a black one just like it that won “best of fair”. Seriously. I thought people made this up, but they really do look like this):

Dog Show 2

I kept trying to ask the competitors, “what do you get if you win?” Is it prestige? Is it money? Can you charge more for breeding your dogs if you win? But I never did get a satisfactory answer. It’s like people just enter to win because they love it. This was their life.

DogShow5

DogShow6

It’s probably going to be one of the highlights of my summer. I’ve never seen people actually blow dry a dog before, and I’ve never seen that many dogs behave so well. And I’ve never seen people so nervous about whether or not their beagles will properly run in a circle.

And we never would have seen it if we hadn’t have been camping at the right campground.

It got me thinking: there’s a lot of fun to be had just meeting people and doing crazy things.

People have all kinds of neat hobbies–arts and crafts, model trains, model planes, gardening, wine making, tons of stuff! You may not be interested in any of those things yourself (I don’t even own a dog and never will; I travel too much), but going to community events can teach you something new and give you a ton of laughs. How many things do we miss because we’re afraid to do something impulsive, and do a little bit of exploring?

Why don’t we try making memories more often?

Why is it that we turn to Netflix out of boredom, rather than check out the community section in the paper and see what’s actually going on?

I would bet that if you opened it up you’d see some neat contest or show or event that would end up being fun! Old movies in the park. Jazz by the beach. A train show. A dance recital.

Pick one this weekend and just go. Put the kids in a stroller if you have to. It’s those memories that make your marriage fun–and push boredom away.

Making memories with your husband: shut off the computer and do something!

Tell me: What weird and quirky things have been going on in your community this summer? What strange things have you done that ended up making the best memories?

Top 10 Tips for Transitioning After a Long Absence with Your Spouse

Transitioning Back with Your Husband--when he's gone a lot for workIs your husband a pilot? A trucker? In the military? A business manager? Maybe, like many, your husband travels for work.

Lots of us are married to men who need to be away for long periods of time, and making that transition home can be quite difficult. Today guest poster Liz Millay shares what she’s learned about renewing that bond when your husband arrives home. Here’s Liz:

I have come to learn that spending time away from a spouse is much more common than I would have realized prior to entering marriage. I have a friend whose husband  travels for work for weeks at a time regularly. One of my husband’s best friends spent the first two years of marriage living in a different state than his spouse.

Sometimes life just doesn’t pan out the way you had hoped, and you find yourself having to spend a significant portion of time away from your better half. Times like this are so very difficult–but while it may seem that the time apart is the hardest aspect, the tougher transition may be right around the corner, as the transition back to living together can bring a whole new set of challenges.

So what can you do to ease into this transition? Now that my husband has been back with us for the last couple months, I’ve looked back on the experience and have come up with my top ten tips for transitioning back together after a long absence from your spouse.

1. Begin to prepare yourself as soon as you part ways.

Stay involved in each other’s lives as much as possible. Do things for each other whenever you can. Keep each other updated on what’s happening in life and stay on the same page in regards to finances, plans, dreams, etc. For more ideas on surviving your time apart, check out this article I wrote here.

2. Know your triggers.

Before we even reunited I already knew exactly what would be the most difficult aspect for me: my independence. I like doing what I want, when I want. I like being in charge of my own schedule. Transitioning back to bending to someone else’s agenda and desires after a time apart is always difficult for me. I knew it could easily become a trigger for tension and arguments. I had to be prepared to let go of always getting what I wanted. When you’re married both parties have to put each other first day in and day out. Although we weren’t without bumps, recognizing this trigger ahead of time helped greatly.

3. Don’t be like the Israelites.

Do you remember what happened with the Israelites after they left Egypt? It didn’t take long for their excitement to fade into bitterness. They started complaining and in no time they were wishing they were back in Egypt. In slavery! What a 180! So how does this relate to reuniting with your spouse? It is very easy to go from “over the moon excited to be back together” to “oy, life sure was easier when you weren’t here doing xyz.” Excitement fades and real life starts to grind away. He leaves his clothes on the bedroom floor. She never remembers to put away her hair dryer. You can easily get lost in the excitement of reuniting and be blind-sided by those annoying day to day things you’ve forgotten. I’m not saying it’s bad to be excited about your reunion, but if you’re not careful you can go from an emotional high to bitterness and frustration in 6 seconds flat. Keep your expectations in check and stay focused on the positive.

4. Remember where your strength comes from.

Especially towards the end of our time apart, I remember just wanting to be with him again. I wanted someone who would hug me after a bad day and then go get me a bowl of ice cream. I was tired of being lonely. When you’re apart, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking everything is going to be better when you’re together again. However, even though it’s definitely nice to have someone at your side to go through tough times, your husband is not your Rock. God is. The same God who got you through your time apart is the same God you need to lean on in the day to day once you’re back together.

5. Get on the same page.

Don’t withhold any reservations you’re feeling as you transition back together. Take it from a self-proclaimed, bottling introvert—you need to put everything on the table. Knowing each other’s concerns and struggles helps you encourage and build each other up, and give a little extra grace. My husband was aware that I was going to struggle with losing my independence. Knowing this made it easier for him to extend an extra dose of grace in those bumpy moments.

6. Don’t be afraid to fight.

Yep, you heard me. Fight. I’m not saying be mean and nasty; however, knowing that there are going to be some bumps in the road as you readjust to life together helps you take those arguments in stride. Shortly after being reunited with my hubby, we spend around 30 hours in the car together in the span of less than a week. At times we found it hard to keep a conversation going. At one point during the drive, we had a fight. It wasn’t ugly, but we were both frustrated. We were misunderstanding each other. But, you know what? We worked through it and got on the same page, coming away with a deeper understanding of where the other was coming from. After it was over, I found myself glad that we had gotten into the argument, as it was much more productive than just sitting in silence!

7. Have fun.

Be silly. Do something interesting together. Go on a date if you can. At least sneak in some alone time. Snuggle a lot. Enjoy each other. Spend some time just getting to know each other again. Be proactive in making sure you are having more positive moments than negative ones.

8. Reclaim your intimacy.

After spending an extended period of time away from each other, the intimacy you’ve built as a married couple is bound to suffer to some degree. You might find yourself wondering “who even is this person I’m married to?” Honestly, there is no easy fix for this except to just start doing it again (pun intended). Open up and be vulnerable with your spouse. The best place to start this is in the bedroom. I don’t want to speak for all men, but there’s probably a good chance your husband is feeling deprived in the sex department. Don’t think it’s just for him though, the benefits extend to both of you! See some of Sheila’s posts on intimacy here, here, here, and here.

9. Be understanding of changes that happened while you were apart.

Especially if you spend a very long time apart, there are bound to be some changes that could possibly take you off guard. There were two big ones for us. The first was that while my husband was away our son transitioned from a baby-like toddler to a 2 going on 20 toddler. You parents know what I’m talking about, the change that happens between two and three – the whining, the stubbornness, the “where-did-my-sweet-baby-go”? It totally threw my husband off guard and it was tempting for him to wonder what in the world I did to our kid. He had to take a step back, give me the benefit of the doubt, and realize that the changes were normal. The second thing was that for our last five weeks apart my husband had officers training for the Air Force. Being in such a strict, rigid environment changed him. I had to make sure I was understanding as he adjusted back to family life.

10. Have a truckload of patience.

For me, this was probably the most important thing. Once we were back together it was tempting to feel like everything needed to be perfect RIGHT THEN. I had to realize that we didn’t need to fix every single problem in our marriage overnight. Honestly, that realization alone relieved the pressure and made things so much easier. Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. On those days when it feels like your feet are dragging and the finish line is nowhere in sight, remember that it’s okay to slow down, just keep moving forward, loving and giving grace along the way.

We are a military family now, and while my husband’s position isn’t likely to experience frequent or extensive periods of deployment, the job will definitely lead to times where we are apart. So, I would love to know, if your husband travels for work, or if he’s in the military what life lessons have you learned?

LizMillayLiz is a twenty-something wife, mother, and jack-of-all-trades. When she’s not reading books, cooking, or crafting, this chocolate lover can be found outside. She admits she’s a nerd and maybe a teensy bit stubborn too. Liz blogs about faith, family, and life’s adventures at Simple Life. Messy Life.

 

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