Top 10 Things I’ll Never Like Doing

Vacuuming, Cleaning Toilets, Exercise: Things I Hate Doing, But I Do Anyway

I once heard that the definition of maturity is deciding to do things you don’t want to do because they need to get done. If that’s the case, then I’m super mature. Because I feel like I spend a lot of time doing things I have to psyche myself up for. In fact, I think that’s why I was so exhausted at the beginning of this summer–I feel like so much of my life for the last few months has been slogging through instead of doing things that I actually wanted. This summer I took some time to relax and go camping with my hubby and I feel ever so much better.

But I asked on Facebook last night, “what do you do that you don’t like doing?” And I got some great responses!

So today I thought I’d share ten things that we do that we don’t like doing, and likely never will like doing, but have to get done–along with some thoughts on how to get these things done faster and easier!

1. Cleaning the Toilet

The #1 answer on Facebook was cleaning the toilet. We just don’t like doing it. And when you have little boys (or several big ones) it gets even grosser. But there’s something about having a bright, clean white toilet bowl that makes you just feel better.

How to lessen the pain: Keep the toilet bowl cleaner right next to the toilet, and any time you notice that it’s getting gross, just squirt some cleaner in and move that brush around, and it won’t ever get to the disgusting stage. Also, little kids really love cleaning toilets. Maybe not every little kid, but enough that I’ve noticed a trend. If you can catch them when they’re around 5 or 6 and get them started, they may start to adopt it as “their” job. There’s something about scrubbing with that brush and making all those bubbles. So teach your children to clean a toilet! Leave a basket of rags by the toilet along with some safe cleaner so they can wash down the toilet seats, too. We may not like cleaners being visible, but I always figure, if it’s within reach, it’ll get done more often!

2. Vacuuming

Perhaps ironically (given the title of this blog) this is my big one! I hate vacuuming–especially vacuuming stairs. And I think the problem with vacuuming is that feeling that it’s never done. You know that as soon as you vacuum, someone’s going to trek through and make more crumbs.

How to lessen the pain: Invest in a quality vacuum cleaner that does what you need it to do! If you have mostly floors you need a different vacuum cleaner than someone with a bunch of rugs. You may find that you actually enjoy vacuuming if you have one you love. And those see-through ones where the dust whirls around are really fun for kids. So check out your vacuum cleaner options.

Another thing: clean out the vacuum bag often, and if you have a central vac, clean out the unit. When I bought my first house I didn’t know you had to do this. I’m not sure where I thought all that dust went, but after six months of the vacuum not working I thought to ask my hubby where the central vac emptied. And sure enough, it was stuffed.

3. Doing Dishes

We hate dishes because they’re gross and they don’t go away. You wash a load and tomorrow there will be just as many.

How to lessen the pain: Have a rule that if you make dinner you don’t do dishes! Get kids involved. And here’s one that I’ve found works: aim to have the counter cleared before you go to bed. Even squirt some cleaner and shine it every night. If you see a clean counter, you feel so much better!

4. Making Breakfast

Probably the #2 thing mentioned on Facebook that people hated to do was cook. I hate it being 5:30 and not knowing what I’ll make for dinner. That’s torture. But I actually enjoy cooking–dinner, that is. I hate making breakfast. Mostly because I hate breakfast foods, and so does my youngest daughter, who is usually the only one home with me at breakfast time. But I know we have to eat! But if I don’t cook, I tend to head for the chocolate cake. Even this morning I ate one of Katie’s chocolate chip cookies she was given yesterday by a friend for her birthday (sorry, Katie, but you weren’t awake yet. So there). The problem is that we need protein at breakfast, but if we can’t think of what to make, we’ll tend to go for the simple sugars (which is what most muffins and cereals are).

How to lessen the pain: Think outside the box! You can eat leftovers for breakfast. And I’ve started making more “lunch stuff” for breakfast. I do hummus and pitas. I do those mini-pizzas on English muffins. And if you have any ideas for other creative breakfasts, I’d love to hear them. I’m just not an egg, pancake, oatmeal, or cereal gal.

5. Responding to Email

I get a ton of email everyday. Maybe some of you are in the same boat. And I hate it. For you it may not be email that you hate; maybe it’s paying bills. But it’s anything that is at the back of your mind, nagging you, saying, “you have to do this” and making you feel guilty. Email makes me feel guilty because there are always things I’m supposed to do. And I don’t like that.

How to lessen the pain: Whether it’s bills or email or other paperwork, set aside a specific amount of time you’ll spend everyday. Rather than leaving it in one chunk, do fifteen minutes a day (or whatever it takes). I find if I set the timer and try to get through as many as I can in that time, I’m quite productive. And then I can say, “well, if I didn’t get to that person today, it’s because other things took priority”. And that’s okay.

6. Getting that PAP Smear/Mammogram

Let’s go to our happy places, people, and put our feet up in those stirrups and try to ignore what’s going on. Or let’s go get squished!

As someone who has had to have an annual mammogram since I was 30 due to family history of breast cancer, I can tell  you it’s not fun. But it’s better than the alternative.

How to lessen the pain: I don’t think you can, really. For mammograms, take a Tylenol an hour before. For Pap smears, just live through it. Relax as much as you can (yeah, right). And remember that the new guidelines say that if you’ve only ever had one sexual partner, and he’s only ever had one, then you really only need one every three years (yay!). For those of you in that situation, you can tell your doctor it really isn’t necessary. Unfortunately, for those of you in the other camp it is, because cervical cancer is really dangerous. And it was through a Pap smear that they first found all the polyps and other things that were causing me bleeding issues, so it is important.

7. Exercising

I will never, ever like exercising, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the people who say they don’t feel happy if they don’t jog five miles a day are lying or deluding themselves. I have gone through periods of intense exercise in my life, and even then I didn’t like it. I just don’t. But I know it’s necessary.

How to lessen the pain: I’ve only found two things that work: listening to a sermon/speech/podcast while I jog or watching Netflix while I’m on the stationary bike, or else exercising with someone else. I bit the bullet and shelled out the money for a personal trainer for three months (had my first session yesterday!), because I just need the accountability. I also am starting to jog with my hubby again. Doing stuff together makes it more likely to get done.  I think admitting you’ll never like it, and stopping feeling guilty for not wanting to exercise, helps a ton. Just do it, and know you’ll hate it, but that’s okay.

8. Putting Laundry Away

I can do laundry. I just hate folding it and putting it away. It’s never ending.

How to lessen the pain: Fold it directly out of the dryer, rather than dumping it somewhere (or fold it as it comes off the line). Then you just need to deposit it in people’s rooms. Have older kids do their own laundry (or at least put away their own laundry).

9. Working Outside the Home

Here’s a sad one. I had a number of people on Facebook saying that they so wanted to be stay-at-home moms, but they needed to work for the income.

Sometimes we do need to work, and that’s still a service you’re doing your family.

How to lessen the pain: Learn as much as you can about how to save money on your big ticket items, like mortgages, insurance, cars, and groceries. Downsize as much as you can. Learn to live with less. Save as much of your paycheque as you can manage. Create a plan. If you can see that in five years you can start to work part-time, or that if you downsize you can afford to be home more, that can help tremendously. But get a plan for the whole family so that you can see how your work and your husband’s work contribute, and what you’re aiming for. You’re in this as a family, and you don’t need to feel like it’s all on your shoulders. And sometimes when you take a look long-term, you can see how it may not always be like this.

10. Battling in Prayer

I’m surprised no one, in the almost 200 comments so far, mentioned this one, but for me it’s a biggie. I know no one actually says online “I find doing my devotions hard” or “I find praying hard”, but I’m not afraid to say I do! It’s difficult to sit quietly and concentrate on reading the word. But I’m still way better at that than I am at praying. I can conversation-pray all day (and in fact I do). But you know that prayer where you’re going to battle, and you need to pray hard for something? Sort of like the prayer in Daniel 10 where Daniel prayed for 21 days, not realizing a huge spiritual battle was going on in the heavenly realms at the same time? I really battle with that. I can talk to God like He’s my Daddy for sure, but to get serious? It’s tough.
To Love, Honor and Vacuum

How to lessen the pain: Have a pen and paper handy so you can write things down as you pray. I find that helps me to focus and stops my mind from wandering. Have a different place you sit when you pray like this, so you’re not tempted to grab a book or glance at the computer. Use a prayer book, like the book of common prayer, as a guide for how to work through a prayer. And I’d love any suggestions you have in the comments section!

There’s my list of the top 10 things I hate doing! Many of these I’ve minimized by delegating to others, and if you find that you’re doing all of these yourself, you really need to get a hold of my book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. Family is a team, a unit, it’s not mom doing everything while others do nothing. And if you feel like you get a bit of a break, your family will be a more fun place for all of you–while your kids also learn responsibility.

Now let me know: how do you lessen the pain of some of these things? Leave your one best solution in the comments (or more if you have them!)

Some of the links in this post are sponsored or are affiliate links. I just upgraded my server, which costs quite a bit, so these help to pay for the site so I can get you quality content!

My Daughter Being Hilarious–and More!

My youngest has an awesome YouTube channel, and here’s her latest installment:

What Books Taught Her (that the authors never intended). I dare you to get through the Twilight rant without laughing:

And now for Katie being more serious:

Last week she was one of 15 quizzers from the Eastern Canada district of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church sent to the international competition for Bible quizzing, which was held this year just north of Toronto (yay! We didn’t have to travel much. Next year it’s in Minnesota). They were quizzing on the books of Romans and James in the English Standard Version.

My daughter at internationals quizzing

Her team made it to the finals of the Consolation A division, and ended up winning that quiz. You can watch the whole thing here (hit the video that’s 79 minutes long–the times when Katie is featured are listed in the next paragraph). The first part of the video is a 20 question quiz. You get 30 seconds to answer a question, and most questions are jumped on after two syllables (in the district meets throughout the year you tend to get the whole question out–but this is internationals). To “jump”, the kids are sitting on benches with a sensor that’s hooked up to a board, and when you take your weight off the sensor, your light goes off. So that’s how they know who got the jump.

At 2:00 Katie leads in the national anthem. Katie jumps and answers 4 questions correctly–at 14:30, 28:15, 30:50, and 40:40–to win the quiz. It’s really pretty awesome to watch how well these kids know these books! Like I said, they have to be able to answer after just two words.

Katie (the captain) congratulating one of her rookie quizzers on pulling an answer out of nowhere.

Katie (the captain) congratulating one of her rookie quizzers on pulling an answer out of nowhere.

Katie can quote ALL of Romans and James, word perfectly. And she can tell you any verse. So proud of her!

Katie jumped on basically nothing, just said an answer--and actually got it right. Here's her surprised look.

Katie jumped on basically nothing, just said an answer–and actually got it right. Here’s her surprised look.

She ended up 6th out of 120 quizzers, and top Canadian. (But before you Americans get too proud, last year the top quizzer WAS a Canadian. Booyah!)


A Note About the Comments Section

I just want to take a moment and say something about the comments.

I want this blog to be a safe place where women can get great encouragement and inspiration for their marriage, their sex life, and their parenting. I’ve thought and prayed a lot about my perspective, and I’m quite comfortable with it, as are my publishers and the many people who hire me to speak.

However, I’ve run into trouble over the last 3-4 years with commenters who completely disagree with my stance on many things–specifically people who think that women don’t do enough in marriage; that most porn use is due to women’s refusing sex; that women should not set boundaries, since that is the job of the man who is in authority; that divorce is almost always women’s fault; and that the aim of marriage seems to be hierarchy rather than oneness.

In general, these commenters have been male, and they tend to comment critically multiple times on posts–and on multiple posts.

What I started to notice about two years ago was that my regular commenters–the women who come here day in and day out–were no longer commenting because the comment section was getting so nasty. My comment section was actually more dynamic 3 years ago than it is today, largely because of the negative tone that took over.

I didn’t want that, and I finally banned about ten commenters who were really spreading dissension. There is absolutely no problem with people having their own viewpoint, but I want this to be a safe place for the women who come here. And if my regular, faithful readers–who are the target of this blog–are being chased from the comments section, that isn’t good.

My eyes were really opened at the meetup I did in Ottawa a few weeks ago, because those women–who read me everyday–in general don’t read the comments because they either don’t care what other people think, or they don’t like it being so negative.

So once again, I think it’s time to restate my policy. I do not want to spread a view of Christianity which I feel is wrong, because 9000 people a day arrive here from Google alone–people who may have no Christian background at all, or who may be searching. For these people, in particular, I want to portray a positive image of what I believe Christ wants for marriage.

If people want to spread another view, they are free to do so on their own blogs.

Therefore, I will delete comments that I feel are harmful to the mission of this blog. I will let through contradictory comments, but, in general, I will only let through one from each person on a blog post. I won’t let arguments go on and on. And if certain people insist on criticizing me on every blog post, I will ban them, too. If I believe that comments spread a view of marriage that I think will turn visitors off of the church, I will also delete them, because I care very much about the witness of this blog and its chance to influence those who don’t know Christ.

And now I’d like to let my husband say something. Here’s Keith:

The main problem (it seems to me) is that these men are relentlessly putting forward the erroneous teaching that Biblical headship mean absolute authority.  In their view, women should not be permitted to set boundaries for their husband as he is “in authority over them” (as one commenter put it) and thus wives must submit without question to all the husband’s demands regardless of his attitudes and actions, be they sinful or not .  They further go on to characterize women who do not submit in this extreme sense as being disobedient to God and try to convince people that women (like my wife, Sheila) who teach a more moderate view are not following proper Christian doctrine.

Now I know there is a great deal of debate about what headship means, but I think we can all agree on one thing: our model as husbands is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  But a subtle (and deadly) error has crept into these men’s teaching. They feel they ARE Christ to their wives and demand the same obedience from their wives that she would give to Christ Himself. This is a gross misinterpretation of Ephesians.  In my mind, although Christ is my model as a husband, I fully recognize that (unlike Him) I am prone to sin, error and selfishness.  I have no problem with my wife “calling me” if I am slipping.  I believe the VAST MAJORITY of Christian husbands feel the same way.  And I think we all feel the same disapproval of men who demand this kind of absolute submission from their wives.

When Sheila first told me there were men specifically coming to her blog to disagree with her on issues of submission, I couldn’t believe it.  Do they honestly have nothing better to do with their time than troll around on women’s websites looking for fights about this issue?  That would just seem pathetic to me if it hadn’t been so hurtful.  So to all the women who have been hurt by what these men have said: Please know they are not the majority opinion and they do not have the monopoly on Biblical truth that they claim.

A successful Christian marriage works best when God is the one in complete authority and both husband and wife, in submission to Him, are seeking each other’s best interest. True, God has given a role of leadership to husbands, but the clear model of Christ is servant-leadership, not despotic-leadership.  Rather than proof texting from specific verses, we need to look at the whole teaching of Scripture in this area.  The clearest commentary I have is this: Jesus said you would know them by their fruit.  The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  To me it is very clear which sort of home is more likely to provide an environment for these fruits to flourish.

May God bless you in your marriages as you seek to honour Him.

Top 10 Reasons Women Feel More Like a Maid Than a Wife and a Mom

Taken for Granted Moms: Why you sometimes feel more like a maid than a wife and a mom--and what you can do about it.

Ever feel taken for granted? Most moms and wives do at some point.

TLHV New FB AdAnd that’s why I wrote To Love, Honor and Vacuum. I wanted to help moms who feel unappreciated rethink how they do family so that instead of feeling like a maid, she can feel like part of a healthy family unit that’s all working towards the same goal. And a revised and expanded To Love, Honor and Vacuum is being launched this week–and it’s only $2.99 in ebook format until Sunday! So pick it up today.

On that vein, I thought I’d share the top 10 things that we wives and moms do that we think are helping, when really they can actually make our family situation worse. Be sure to read through to #10, because that’s the most important one–and it’s the root cause of all the other ones.

I asked on my Facebook Page last night, “when do you feel most like a maid instead of a mom?”, and many of these 10 things were mentioned! Now, of course, you could answer that question with “when my husband ignores me” or “when my husband sits on the couch all night and does absolutely nothing”, but I think it’s more helpful to give women strategies they can use to actually change things. We can’t change someone else; we can only change ourselves. So let’s look at the things that we women do to undermine ourselves, here on Top 10 Tuesday:

1. Doing all the housework yourself

One woman on Facebook says that she feels most like a maid when she’s doing the dishes–for the fifth time that day. I totally get it! Housework is exhausting. It’s never ending, it’s tedious, and no one really says thank you. So why are you doing it all yourself?

You cannot keep a perfect home and raise kids who are active and engaged all at the same time. Something’s gotta give. And one of the best ways to help you not feel like a maid is to make sure that from a very young age kids are doing chores, too. Tie the chores to an allowance when they’re young. If it’s a struggle with teens, change the password on the wifi everyday, and don’t give it out until they’ve completed their chores. Require your kids to work.

A 3-year-old can dust a coffee table and can clean the bottom kitchen cabinets. A 5-year-old often LOVES cleaning toilets with that toilet brush thingy. An 8-year-old can clean a bathroom well and can certainly do the dishes. So don’t do it all  yourself.

Here’s an article on age appropriate chores for kids.

2. Not asking your husband for help

Many men do very little housework if they work outside the home and you stay at home. My husband always worked long hours, and when he got home, I didn’t want him doing dishes. I wanted us spending time together as a family. So I didn’t ask him to do housework (though he always picked up his clothes and took care of his own messes). But if you both work outside the home, you’re definitely going to need some help. Even if you do stay at home, you still will need help with the childcare (and men need to spend time with their kids) and you’ll certainly need help on weekends.

But too many women don’t ask for help. They assume that the men should know what to do, and if they’re sitting playing a video game or if they’re goofing off, they’ve actually decided not to help you. That may not be the case. I asked on Facebook a while ago how many women had actually asked their husbands for help, and I received story after story of women saying, I stewed for ten years about how insensitive he was, and yet when I finally asked him to do the dishes after dinner, he did them no problem. He just never knew I needed help!

Try asking. It doesn’t always get you the results you need, but don’t be resentful if you’ve never even asked. Men often think that because we have systems for things, we would find their help more of a pain than anything else. If you want help, don’t expect him to read your mind. Ask.

3. Allowing your children to treat you rudely

From an early age, make your children say “please” and “thank you”. If they talk back, discipline immediately. If they ask for anything rudely, they never, ever get it. Do not let them treat you with direspect.

When my oldest was five, another five-year-old once stayed with us for a week. That little girl whined all the time. It was her default setting–and I can’t stand whining. So I stopped giving her anything if she was whining. “Can I have some mi-i-i-lk?” she’d whine. And I would say, “when you can ask in a proper voice.” After three days she had stopped whining. I honestly don’t know how her parents stood it. It would have driven me beyond the bend if my kid talked like that all the time. Within a few seconds of her mom walking in the door, though, the whining had started again. Don’t ever reward whining or rude behaviour, or they’ll just keep doing it.

4. Picking up after everybody

Do you spend your life putting stray socks in the hamper and picking up toys? That’s exhausting–and can easily fuel resentment.

But people will keep leaving stuff everywhere if you keep picking it up.

If your ten-year-old comes in the house and drops his coat on the chair and his backpack–with his lunchbox inside–on the floor, and you pick those things up and clean out his lunchbox, you’ve taught him to treat you with disrespect. But not just that–you’ve also taught him to ignore the mess he’s making, so that he likely doesn’t even realize that he’s inconveniencing you.

Don’t pick up people’s stuff. Require them to pick it up–and have consequences if they don’t. For husbands, have a corner of the bedroom/house where you can put stray items if they drive you nuts, so that they can be his responsibility again.

Here’s an article I wrote on how to get kids to pick up their stuff!

5. Rescuing everybody

You’re running late, you’ve got to get to work, and you get a text that your 13-year-old forgot his lunch at home. So you drive back to get the lunch and drop it off, making yourself even more frazzled. Or  you mentioned to your husband that he really needed to send that birthday card to his mom, and he didn’t, and you notice it on the counter the morning after it should have been sent, so you run to the post office and send it express. You had to squeeze it in between appointments, but you did it–and you were only mildly late for the kids’ piano lessons.

Do you rescue everybody? There’s no problem with doing it occasionally, out of love. But if family members start assuming you’ll rescue them, they also stop taking responsibility or even making an effort. They’ve taken you for granted. That’s going to make you feel like a maid, too.

6. Overscheduling yourself and your family

If you’re busy and exhausted, you’ll feel like a maid. If your life is spent chauffeuring everybody, but rarely in the things that feed our souls, like down time with those we love, we’ll go through life with this chronic malaise like something’s wrong.

Beware of overscheduling your family.

Here’s an article on the time crunch with extra-curricular activities

7. Being disorganized

Are you the kind of laid back person who goes along life just fine for about five days, letting the messes get worse and worse, but having fun with your kids, until you finally realize OH MY GOODNESS THIS PLACE IS A PIGSTY and you go ballistic? And then you feel like you need to spend twelve hours in a row cleaning?

Sometimes the best way to feel less like a maid is to get a little more organized, so these crises don’t happen!

8. Asking your children to do things instead of expecting it and following through

When you ask your kids something, do you make it a firm command? Or are you wishy washy?

Compare this:

Johnny, it’s getting to be time to clean up your toys, okay? It’s almost time for dinner.

To this:

Johnny, start cleaning up your toys now. You have five minutes before we eat, and I’m setting the timer now.

In the first case, you haven’t actually asked Johnny to do anything. You’ve just made a statement about the time. You may feel like you’ve asked him, but you haven’t. And so he’s unlikely to listen and do anything, and you’re likely to get your blood pressure boiling! If you want them to do something, make it very clear. Ask firmly. Set a deadline. Expect follow-through.

9. Eating in a rush–and not at the dinner table

You’ve spent an hour making a great meal, but everybody sits at the table, rushing through it, with their phones on. Or else someone grabs it and heads to their room. Perhaps you all sit at the table, but the kids are whiny and picky and don’t like it and the meal is over in five minutes.

Make dinner a family time. Keep conversation starters at the table. Ask trivia questions. Have everyone say their “high” and “low” for the day. Start some family traditions where you really connect and talk over dinner. It’s an important family time–don’t waste it.

Here are some tips on getting picky eaters to eat!

10. Thinking that the goal is to make your family happy

Finally, here’s the most important one: You think that your job is to make sure your kids and your husband are happy. In fact, that’s likely why you do each of the nine things already mentioned. You want them to enjoy life. You want them to smile. You want to avoid unpleasantness. But in doing this, you’re likely inadvertently causing your own unhappiness, because you’ll feel taken for granted. But even more importantly, you’re missing the point.

To Love, Honor and VacuumGod’s priority is not that your kids are happy; it’s that they look like Jesus. And He wants that for you and your husband, too. If you set up your family in such a way that you’re enabling selfishness, laziness, and ingratitude, you’ll be miserable because you’ll always feel put upon, taken for granted, and like something’s off kilter. But the rest of the family will also not learn what it is to look like Christ.

That’s what To Love, Honor and Vacuum is about–it’s to change our perspective so that in everything we do, whether it’s housework or childcare or paid work or even how we do marriage, we’re encouraging Christlike behaviour from ourselves and those around us, rather than encouraging people to take us for granted. It’s amazing how the way that we do the little things in our home, like chores and dinner and school, can have such spiritual ramifications.

So be careful that happiness doesn’t become your goal. If it does, you’ll almost guarantee that everybody will be miserable. Raise a family to be responsible, though, and you’ll likely find that peace and joy you really want.

If this is resonating with you, pick up To Love, Honor and Vacuum! It’s available in paperback, too, but the ebook version is on major sale for $2.99 until Sunday. Don’t miss it!

Now tell me: when do you feel most taken for granted? What have you tried to do about it? Let me know in the comments!

 

Reader Question: How Do I Stop My Child’s Meltdowns

Reader Question of the WeekWhat do you do when your child has meltdowns that disrupt the whole household?

Every Monday I like to try to answer a reader’s question, and this week we’re going to look at meltdowns in children. I’ve written before on how to handle temper tantrums in toddlers, but this is a little different because this reader’s child is older. She writes:

I have read a couple of your articles but wondered how you would approach meltdowns when things are simply not playing out how my daughter had envisioned. She is 5. For example, she had been wearing a particular t-shirt all day and it had gotten really dirty. Grandparents were coming over for dinner and we decided to bathe the kids before they arrived. I threw her t-shirt in the hamper on top of some already wet clothes. The problem started here because my kids normally put their own clothes in the hamper and so it may have been an indicator to me that she planned on putting the t-shirt back on. Anyway when it came to get dressed the t-shirt was not an option. (I am normally quite lenient when it comes to my kids picking their clothes) There was moaning and rolling on the bed. I tried to identify with her disappointment, identify what exactly about the t-shirt she liked – there may be one similar etc. but then also have her understand she needed to push though and choose another t-shirt. My question is – what is my goal? Ideally I’d like her to name the disappointment – help her figure out what she needs to press through it and move on. I know she is young but I feel that ‘coaching’ in the early years will make her able to coach herself later. Any thoughts? I should also add that these meltdowns–the moaning episodes and sobbing–can completely break the peace in our home and I want her to acknowledge this, too. Perhaps you have written on this?

I can picture what that’s like, because my oldest daughter used to find it difficult to control her emotions, too, though perhaps not to this extent. It does totally wreck your household, and it is absolutely infuriating and exhausting. So what do you do?

To Love, Honor and VacuumThis is launch week for the second edition of my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and I thought this was an excellent question to start with, because the premise of that book is quite simple: too many women feel like maids rather than wives and mothers because we’re always working FOR people who take us for granted, rather than working WITH people to create a fun and nurturing home environment that points to Jesus. This mom sounds exactly like the kind of moms I’m talking to: you want to do a good job and raise great kids, but there are times that you just don’t like your kids that much and when you’re absolutely fed up.

Here are some thoughts on handling meltdowns in kids:

1. You cannot reason with a child in a full-blown meltdown

This woman is asking how to help her name what she’s feeling and thus help to work through the disappointment in a healthy way. I understand the desire to do this, but I don’t think it will work when the child is in the midst of throwing herself on the ground and screaming and sobbing. She isn’t thinking clearly, and trying to talk to her will likely escalate everything. You’ll get frustrated, she’ll get more mad at you because you’re giving her attention without giving her what she wants, and it will all get louder and give you a migraine.

2. Stop giving the child any attention

Tantrums are caused essentially by a combination of two things: kids can’t control their emotions and their emotions overwhelm them, and they get attention. That combination is so dangerous, because it can mean that the more that you acknowledge the tantrum or pay attention to it, the more tantrums they have.

How to stop your children's meltdowns (and bring peace to your home again!)Some children DO have an issue controlling negative emotions, and they do need to be coached through it. However, that coaching can’t be done at the time, and often being taught that tantrums are not acceptable is the first step. If they learn that they can’t just scream and cry when they’re upset, then, and only then, can they learn alternative things to do.

So I’d do this: if she starts to cry and flail and scream, pick her up and remove her from other family members. Put her in the bedroom and say, “I see that you’re upset, but the rest of us don’t want to hear this. When you’re calmed down you can come out again.” And then shut the door. Another option is to leave her where she is and then tell other family members, “Jane is being loud and rude, so let’s go somewhere else that’s quiet until she calms down.”

This doesn’t need to be said loudly or with a mean tone, but you need to give this impression:

What you are doing is NOT acceptable, and absolutely NO ONE will pay any attention to you while you do this.

If you are at a party and she does this, you either leave or you pick her up and put her in the backyard or the car until she calms down. You can even stand outside the car while she screams. If you’re in a store, same deal. Be absolutely unwavering in this: you cannot scream in public.

Then, when she is finished, tell her she should apologize to you and her siblings for creating a scene. (I don’t force apologies because I think they should come from the heart if we’re to teach real repentance, but I would seriously recommend that she apologize, and I would require her to acknowledge that she hurt the peace in the house.)

3. Make sure there is not an underlying issue

One caveat: meltdowns are a common feature of many conditions like autism or Asperger’s, because children just can’t process things not going the way they thought they were supposed to. Children need absolute order for the world to feel safe, and if the order is broken in some way, they don’t know how to handle it. It may be a good idea to see a physician to make sure there isn’t some sort of processing disorder going on.

4. AT A DIFFERENT TIME, coach your child on how to work through difficult emotions

When your child is calm, that is the time to help coach them on how to handle disappointment. Talk to them about identifying what they’re mad about, and about taking deep breaths, and about saying, “I’m sad” rather than screaming. Teach her to pray and say, “Jesus, help me to not be so mad.”

But I don’t think this can be done at the time well, and it is such an important skill to learn how to self-soothe (to talk yourself down from a tantrum). Making children do this isn’t being mean to them; it’s forcing them to learn to act appropriately, and actually is giving them control over their emotions. They have to calm themselves down, which means that they have to get control of the anger.

5. Be careful of letting your child set the tone for your house

To me, this is perhaps the most important and also most forgotten point. It is YOUR home. Your children should live by your rules. You have the right to enjoy being at home, and I’m afraid that all too many parents don’t enjoy it at all. I remember a couple I knew when my oldest daughter was 6 who had their 6-year-old in six (!) different after school activities–one for every night of the week, and one on Saturdays. And the reason? When their daughter was at home she was a terror, so they tried to keep her busy out of the house as much as possible to wear her out so that she wouldn’t have meltdowns.

But they were wearing themselves out, too!

We need to get back to the idea that adults have the right to expect certain behaviour from their children. You shouldn’t dread coming home. You shouldn’t dread having hours with the kids alone. You should be able to laugh at the kids, not mentally prepare the day so that nothing will happen that will set your child off.

This is your role. Your children should not hijack it, so don’t let them. You don’t have to apologize for wanting your life back. You don’t have to feel guilty for saying, “I can’t handle when my child is acting like this, so I’m just going to disengage when they do.”

Your child is acting inappropriately, and you have the right to expect them to act otherwise. You really do.

Now go, and set the tone yourself. Don’t let your child do it for  you!

In To Love, Honor and Vacuum I talk a ton about how we’ve gotten mixed up about what our role is at home, and we women often wear ourselves out while everyone else has a relatively easy life. If you’re having trouble creating a good tone in your home, pick up To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!

And please stop by my Facebook Page tonight at 8 p.m. EST for a special announcement!

Are Children Worth It? When People Forego Parenting

Kids Are Worth It: What happens when society decides that remaining childless is better?

Are children worth it? That’s a question many adults are asking today, and as they look around at mortgage debt and popsicle mess and day care woes, many are deciding they’re not. I think kids ARE worth it–and if society doesn’t agree, we’re in trouble.

I talked about this back in a column in 2005, and I thought I’d rerun it now. I understand some women don’t have children, even though they desperately want to, because of infertility issues, and this column is definitely not directed at you. I know how painful that is. But more and more are choosing not to have kids, and I wanted to address that today.

I’m really not sure why I had children, except that I was supposed to. I wanted someone to love me, and I wanted to love in return, but I didn’t think about it much beyond that.

Fifty years ago, that would have been true for just about everybody. Today it’s not. More and more people are choosing to remain childless (and more are childless not by choice, but that’s another story). In Canada our birth rate now hovers around 1.6, far below the replacement level needed of 2.1. And it’s not because families are getting smaller; it’s because more people, even those in committed relationships, are choosing not to have families at all.

While for an individual couple this may be the best choice, for a society it certainly isn’t.

If we want Canada as a nation and a culture to survive, we need a higher birth rate. So why is it plummeting?

I read recently on Steve Janke’s blog the proposition that it’s because children no longer have value. Before you jump all over me, let me elaborate. At one point, Janke explained, children were your retirement savings plan and your health insurance. They took care of you if you were old or sick. Once the government stepped in into these roles, we didn’t “need” children in the same practical way we did before.

I would even go one step further and say that in those glorious “olden days” when people walked to school uphill both ways, children would have added economically to your household. They were expected to help on the farm or the business. Having children enabled you to have a larger house, a larger farm, and generally prosper more than you would have otherwise. Today it’s the opposite. Children don’t add; they subtract. We live in a child-centred world where it is us who are expected to work: we must drive our kids to lessons; sacrifice time to help them with homework; save a fortune for their education. When we have kids, we have more work, not less work.

And so I think there’s something else going on. If you’re a young adult surveying the parental scene, you see harried parents chronically short on cash because hockey costs so much this year. You see them tying themselves in knots because their toddler won’t sleep through the night, their seven-year-old can’t read, or their teenager has gotten into the wrong crowd. It looks like a recipe for an ulcer.

The one thing you can’t see is what’s going on inside those parents.

You don’t see what happens in the heart the first time you hold your baby. You can’t see what being a parent does to you; how it makes you love life so much more, care about the world so much more, or brings a richness to your life you never believed possible. I am not saying that non-parents can’t experience love; only that being a parent is a joy like no other, and cannot truly be comprehended until one experiences it.

There once were enough societal and economic pressures to have children that people tended to make that choice, and so they did experience that joy. Today, with those pressures gone, how many will decide not to procreate, and in so doing lose the joy that we only realize once we’ve already taken the plunge?

At one point parenthood was one of the experiences that we all had in common.

We had all gone through labour in some form or another, or stayed up all night with a child with croup, or kissed a boo-boo. Even if language or religion or culture or class separated us, we were all parents. When we lose these shared experiences we lose a shared culture. Parenting is hard work, and it requires more sacrifice today, perhaps, than it did a century ago. But it is still worth it. I know some will always choose to remain childless, and that’s okay. But I hope our country as a whole does not turn its back on parenthood. Babies are our future, and they really are irreplaceable.

After this column was out, I was interviewed on CBC radio and asked on a TV show to talk about why kids are worth it. You can see a little clip from that TV show here.

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Fatherhood Material

Here’s a reprint from a few years ago that I think fits in really well with this week’s posts on 10 things I wish I knew before I got married and how to prepare for marriage–not just the wedding. Let’s talk today about what makes good fatherhood material.

Fatherhood MaterialIn the recently released movie Knocked Up, professional journalist Alison discovers she is pregnant from a drunken one-night stand with loser Ben. She doesn’t want to raise the child alone, so she chases Ben down and tries to turn him into fatherhood material. I think Alison’s onto something. Single parenthood is a rough road, and Alison knows that her baby will need a dad.

Unfortunately, Alison did everything backwards. She got into a relationship without realizing that this guy may end up being the father of her children. It’s better to make sure a guy will make a good dad before you wind up pregnant. For many young women, though, fatherhood material is the last thing on their minds. They’re looking for cool, popular, even a little dangerous, or simply someone to like them. None of those things ultimately holds up.

So to prepare for Father’s Day, I thought I’d explore what makes a guy a good catch.

My friend Richard, who has four daughters, has imprinted the following qualities into his girls’ heads, and they’re so good I wanted to share them with everybody.

Number one: a guy should be a Provider.

Now I know that sounds sexist and many of you are ready to line your birdcages with this paper right about now. But think about it: if you want to stay home with your kids, at least for a while, you need to be with someone who can pay the bills, not someone who will sponge off of you. That doesn’t mean he has to be rich! It simply means that the guy should have a good work ethic, should be motivated to find a job, and should take this responsibility seriously. It also means that he can’t have any major addictions that are going to keep him from working. Alcoholics, chronic drug users, or gamblers should be disqualified immediately. You’re relying on this man to help keep your family together, so choose well.

Next, he needs to be a Protector.

You’re giving him your heart; how is he going to treat it? Will he be faithful, or will he think only of himself? Will he be kind, or will be constantly berate you? And how does he treat your body? Does he value that, too, or does he pressure you into things you’d rather not do? That’s not real love, and that’s definitely grounds for dumping him before the relationship goes too far.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he has to be a Pearl.

Don’t marry the grain of sand expecting that one day a pearl will emerge. Find the pearl first. Many of us women marry the sand—the potential that we see inside our guys. But what if that potential stays hidden forever? You can’t change someone, and it could be that your sandy guy actually likes his rough edges. If you want to marry a good guy, then only date good guys.

That may sound like a pretty tall order, but I think too many girls give up, figure such a thing isn’t possible, and date losers instead.

Treat yourself, and your future children, with more respect. Once you’re in a dysfunctional relationship, it’s much harder to get out, and, like Alison, you may find yourself tied to this guy forever. It’s better to be alone than with someone who will end up being bad for your kids. And ironically, the more we treat ourselves with respect, the more likely it is that we will start to attract these Pearls.

If we’re going to wait for the Pearl, though, we also have to make ourselves Pearls, too.

That means building a good life so we have something to contribute, and it means valuing the steady guy more than the dangerous guy who seems so cool. I don’t think such great men are as few and far between as we sometimes believe, and settling for less only hurts your future children. This Father’s Day, I’m teaching my kids to look for the Protector, the Provider, and the Pearl. They have a great example in their dad, so they have a leg up on other young women. But regardless of family background, a girl can ensure the next generation is stable and happy if she saves her heart for someone who truly deserves it. It’s worth the wait.

If you like Sheila’s social commentary, don’t miss Reality Check, the book! It’s chock full of her musings on where society is headed–and what we can do about it!

Roses, Chocolate and Lots of Love: How to Throw a Blessing Party for Your kids

Today I want to talk about how to throw a Blessing Party for your kids!

I’m in full-blown writing mode, since my manuscript for 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage is due in at Waterbrook on June 20. I thought I’d publish this older column from 2008, talking about the blessing party we threw for Rebecca, who had then just turned 13. I thought of the column because I’m writing this in her townhouse right now. She’s working on a book proposal for the blog post she wrote on Why She Didn’t Rebel, and I’m trying to get my manuscript done. We did point her in a good direction when she was 13, but God held her in her teen years, and Becca has always clung to him.

A few months ago I published a guest post on how to bless your kids. I loved it! And here is my contribution to the same idea: 

How to Throw a Blessing Party for Your KidsOn top of my friend Jill’s piano used to sit a dried bunch of roses. They weren’t particularly breathtaking, but they were special, for they were the first roses her daughter Pam ever received.

Pam’s dad gave them to her on her thirteenth birthday, because he wanted to make sure that when Pam got her first roses, they would be from him.

He loved her first, and he figured that anyone else that she would love better be willing to love her just as much. He set the standard.

Bob wasn’t there to give Pam away at her wedding last year. He died two years too early. But when Pam walked down the aisle to her husband Andrew, she walked towards a man who did truly love her, just as her father had modelled. Bob was not a perfect father by any means, just as none of us is a perfect parent. But he really got that right.

That story has stayed with me, and so when my daughter Rebecca turned thirteen last month, she answered the doorbell to receive a dozen roses from her dad.

And the message he wanted to send? You’re precious. Don’t hang out with others who don’t believe that.

I didn’t let Keith have all the fun, though. I decided I wanted a chance to speak some words of wisdom into my daughter’s life, too, but I did it in a very girly way. I threw a chocolate-fountain-spa party, with the important girls and women in our lives. And I asked twelve women—aunts, grandmothers, friends, mentors—to say something either affirming what they see in Rebecca, or giving her advice on growing up. It was a lovely party, as most interactions that involve chocolate turn out to be, but this was even more special because of the timeless truths my daughter heard.

Our girls get so many negative messages in this culture.

They hear that looks are all that matters, that our worth is best judged by our sexual conquests, and that feeling good is more important than being good. I wanted this to be an opportunity to counteract this garbage in a real and meaningful way. And so let me share with you some of the things Rebecca learned that night.

One aunt reminded her that 10% of life is what gets thrown at you, while 90% of life is how you react to it.

One of her best friend’s moms gave a rah-rah speech: “your generation is the first of the new millennium. What will you make the world?” One of her favourite baby-sitters whom we watched walk down the aisle a month ago still had marriage on her mind, as she told Becca that when it comes time for men, “don’t settle! You deserve the very best in a guy!”. A woman we travelled to Kenya with reminded Becca to remain humble, and remember that everything we have is simply a gift.

My cousin commiserated with Becca since they both suffer from perfectionism. She told her, “Don’t let the need to be perfect stop you from trying things. The important thing is to try your best, and whatever your best is, remember its good enough.”

My mother told her how impressed she was by Becca’s creativity and compassion. My mother-in-law echoed how proud she was of Becca, and admonished her to always keep her word. Be someone others can trust. A family friend who has watched Rebecca learn to ride a bike, learn to swim, and learn to start fires—in our campsites, that is—said, “My deepest prayer for you is that you will continue to have a heart for God.” And on and on it went, with women sharing some of the greatest lessons they’ve learned.

Maybe you have a child approaching a milestone—13, 16, graduation. Why not take that opportunity to bless them and launch them well?

That night my daughter heard, keep your word. Keep trying. Don’t settle. We love you, you’re special, and we can see so much in you. All of that, and a dozen roses from Daddy. Now if her life can live out those values, we will be very proud parents indeed.

10 Ways to Stay Close as a Family

For Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, Dayna Bickham shares some great tips to stay close as a family.  It’s never too late or too far gone to build relationships–or rebuild them even! Here’s Dayna…

10 ways to stay close as a family
My family was not always close. It was an “us versus them” universe: a cosmic battle between parents and kids. I was a young mom who made lots of mistakes along the way. I thought that meant I would be stuck raising the products of that bad parenting for years to come. But there was hope.

Slowly we made changes that grew us closer as a family, gave my kids room to develop into productive teens, and relieved a mountain of stress from off of our shoulders as parents. Here are ten suggestions to make your family closer. They are all inexpensive and (fairly) easy to do.

1. Take an honest survey.

Ask your kid how you are doing. Make sure you ask both open ended and yes or no questions. Be prepared for whatever they may say in response. For example, I ask my kids things like this: “How do you know Mom/Dad loves you?” or “Can you name a time when I gave you good advice?” or “Am I a good listener?” followed by, “How can I be a better listener?” These are just suggestions, but kids will generally tell you what they need if you know how to first ask and then listen. Don’t bombard them with twenty questions all at once. Make these casual moments. Just listen closely for the answer.

2. Stop parenting from the couch.

I used to sit on the couch giving instructions to my kids from there as if it was a throne and my house was a fiefdom. I established my territory and soon my kids just stayed away altogether. They found their own sanctuaries – their rooms, a friend’s house, or in front of a computer. There was disconnectedness between us. When they weren’t showing up when I bellowed from the couch I started parenting via text. “Cln ur Rm” equaled clean your room and “DYH” meant do your homework. I realize that there are times when communication must come in other forms than face to face, but limit these as much as you can. Once I began entering their space and taking the time to “find” them in the other room our relationship began to grow closer. They also stopped yelling from the other room for me (wonder where they got that?) and that was a pleasant consequence I could live with.

3. Date your kids.

Each child has special interests, hobbies, and quirks. Spend time with each one doing something meaningful to them. Is one kid a science geek? Then go to the Natural History Museum. Is one an artist? Take her to a gallery opening. Does one live, eat, and breathe hockey? Go to a sports shop and check out the latest gear or go watch a local team practice. Not every “date” has to be super expensive or extravagant. Sometimes a trip to the local drive in and an ice cream cone are enough. Taking the time to spend time with them speaks volumes.

4. Eat as a family.

I know everyone has busy schedules. Practices, study dates, work, and other busy events pull at our time. But if we do not give priority to the things that matter then we end up with a life void of matter – otherwise known as emptiness. One meal a week. If the average family eats 3 times a day for seven days that is 21 meal times. Surely at least one of those times can be a coordinated effort to sit around a table together eating at the same time. During Tuesday dinner, Saturday breakfast, or Sunday lunch find time to talk to each other about your day, your plans, projects, or current events. Make it less about the food and more about the togetherness of it all.

5. Have a pizza night.

This is different than eating as a family at a table because first, it can happen less often (once or twice a month makes it routine, but special enough to take time out for) and secondly you don’t have to cook. Win – win. Rent a movie, order the pizza, and just spend some time relaxing together as a family.

6. Create an activities bowl.

This is super easy to do and gives your family ideas for inexpensive (often free) activities. I’ve got a downloadable list of 30 activities to get you started right here! If you’d rather do it yourself, just write activity ideas that are budget friendly down on strips of paper, fold them over and toss them in a bowl. If you are a more scheduled and structured type of household you can pre-assign one activity a week together at the beginning of each month, or if you are more spontaneous you can draw one out every Saturday morning and do whatever it says to do. Some ideas are seasonal, so you can throw those to the side when they are out of season – you can’t go snow sledding in July. (Maybe you Canadians can, but here in Texas, snow is never really an option.)

7. Check in face-to-face once a day.

Face time may be a new feature on your latest gadget, but it isn’t anything new. We all need to know we are seen and feel like we are being heard. Seeing each other face-to-face is one way we do that. If we are constantly ships passing in the proverbial night, then soon our lives become independent from one another and we drift farther apart. This is all about growing closer. So take the time to see your loved one’s face every day.

8. Figure out your kid’s love language.

Love languages are the way we hear or receive love in our lives. Some feel more loved when they are held, some when they are given gifts and others when you wash and fold their socks. There are 5 love languages altogether. This is a concept written by Dr. Gary Chapman and the wisdom in this approach to communication has borne out in my life over and over. You and your kids can take a test here.

9. Hug once a day for eight seconds.

This can be a part of your face time, but I highly recommend it. We hold the things we value close. We wear our favorite earrings, we feel at home in our favorite sweater, and we cozy under our favorite blanket when we feel under the weather. Holding these things makes us feel better. Apply that logic to your kids. Mom’s arms are special. They are where we feel the most loved. Dad’s arms are special too. They are where we feel safe. Our body language changes when we are hugged. We bond when we hug. We relax when we hug. You may not be a touchy-feely person, but every human needs physical touch to thrive. So hug your kids every day.

10. Stop yelling at one another.

I left this for last on purpose. The volume with which we communicate is as important, if not more important, than what we have to say. “I love you” is hard to believe if the rest of the communication you have is several decibels higher than average. I do not care how many times you say it. I used to yell (mostly from the couch) at my kids all the time. We fought constantly. They thought I was a nag and I felt like no one listened to me. There was no easy way to stop yelling. I just had to stop. At first I still wanted to, so I stage whispered through my teeth. My kids say when I did this for the first time it was one of the scariest moments of their lives. We laugh about it today. But it made them have to strain to hear me. Over time I lost the scary talk-through-the-teeth-like-a-crazy-woman look and the volume came down on a regular basis. The kids noticed. It took a few months of consistent effort, but it did work. We are better for it and have grown closer because of it.

You may or may not use all ten of these suggestions, but even small stones thrown into the water eventually make big ripples. You may think of some suggestions I might have missed. So tell me about what does and doesn’t work for your family? Leave your comments below.

Don’t forget to download my Family Activities Ideas!

Dayna BickhamDayna is a writer and speaker. She is also a wife, mother, and part-time missionary. She loves great music, food, and laughing. Above all she loves laughing. Dayna blogs at daynabickham.com. During the summers she leads mission trips around the world. Her passion is teaching people to hear the Lord for themselves and to pursue whatever He says with their whole heart. You can friend her on Facebook and Twitter. Dayna is the author of Chosen for Purpose: Overcoming Giants and Living Your Dreams, available at online retailers everywhere.

10 Ways to Make Your Birthday Meaningful

Top Ten“It’s my birthday! Now what?”

Ever felt like that? You want your birthday to be special and meaningful, but sometimes it can be a bit of a letdown. You had expectations of what other people would do for you, and those expectations didn’t always come to pass.

My birthday was on Sunday, and I had a great day! Perhaps more importantly, though, I have other things that I’m putting into place to make sure that the year ahead of me starts out on solid footing. So I’d like to share with you today, on Top 10 Tuesday, 10 things you can do to make your own birthday special and meaningful.

These include a few ways to make sure you enjoy your actual birthday, but also several ideas about how to use your birthday as a springboard for taking stock of your life and making sure that you’re on the right path.

Remember our Top 10 Tuesday philosophy: you don’t have to do all 10 things! Find 1-3 ideas that really speak to you, and put them into practice! That’s the way to make your life better: read a bunch of things, but then actually DO the few that you know would make the most difference in your life.

So here we go: 10 Ways to avoid the “It’s my Birthday!” disappointment, and start your new year right instead:

It's My Birthday! 10 Ways to Make Your Birthday Meaningful

Make the Day Fun for You

1. Plan Your Own Day

If you have certain things you want to do, or certain presents that you want, tell your family. If it’s vitally important to you, then don’t take the risk that it won’t come to pass. My husband is relieved when I tell him exactly what I want for my birthday or exactly what I’d like him to do, because then he doesn’t have to plan it or risk choosing the wrong thing.

Doesn’t that make it less romantic or less special?

Perhaps. But I’d rather have the guarantee that we’ll do what I actually want to do! If you don’t have a clue what you want to do, or if you have a family member who is really good at thinking up the most fun surprises, then by all means just go with it. But if you have something specific you’d like, let them know. Don’t expect them to mind read.

2. Get Outside

Think back to your most meaningful memories over your life. How many of them are spent inside, in front of a screen? Likely few. How many of them are spent outside in nature, or in a car heading somewhere special, or browsing through new shops? Probably many more. We remember things that are special.

So try to get out of the house on your birthday and do something special! Explore a quaint little town near where you live with some friends. Take your children to a special park and giggle with them. Visit a zoo.

3. Let Yourself Splurge on One Thing

Have you been depriving yourself of something? Maybe you’ve cut out all chocolate, or you’ve cut out coffee, or you’ve cut out pop. Maybe you haven’t let yourself read a novel for a while because you have too much to do.

Let your birthday be the one day a year when you’re allowed to partake in ONE thing that you’ve been saying no to. Obviously this won’t work if it’s a major addiction to something bad, like alcohol or smoking, but sometimes this can work wonders! I told myself when I quit Diet Pepsi in December that I could have as many as I wanted once a year–on my birthday. So at 6:30 a.m. on my birthday I cracked open a Diet Pepsi for the first time in 6 months–and found out I hated it. I’ve been craving it for months, and now I think that craving is over because my tastes have changed. So I’m glad I tried.

But knowing that I could have some once a year made it easier to give it up. I wasn’t saying “never again”, after all!

Take Stock of Your Health

Every year, on your birthday, you’re supposed to change the batteries in your smoke detector. In my neck of the woods they’ve been trying to push this as a new habit for years, and it does make sense. We never forget our birthdays; if we think of birthdays as a time to change those batteries, they’re more likely to get changed.

So why not think of birthdays as a time to take stock of your health, too?

4. Make Sure You’re Healthy–or Do what the Doctor Says

This time last year I had a blood test requisition hanging on my fridge door. I had been to the doctor in April, and she had said I should probably get some blood work done. But I had two issues with that: I figured I was perfectly healthy, and besides that, who likes needles?

That requisition sat there, until finally, last November, after almost collapsing from exhaustion after a speaking engagement, it occurred to me that there might actually be something wrong. I went, and discovered I was severely anaemic. And now I think I’m on the road back to health.

If I had just gone and had that test this time last year, my blood levels would probably only have been slightly low, and I could have avoided a lot of misery this year.

My mother had breast cancer at 43. I’ve been going for yearly mammograms for over a decade now.

I’d like to be here for my grandkids, and I’d like to grow old with my husband, but that means taking care of my body now. Let each birthday be a reminder to you to check in with the doctor, and make sure everything is okay.

5. Check Your Weight–and Your Measurements

I know this doesn’t sound like fun, but making a birthday meaningful isn’t just about having a pile of fun. It’s also a reminder that life is fleeting, and we want to be able to enjoy it and serve with purpose for as long as we can. I make it a point to check my weight and my measurements (waistline, hip measurement, etc) every birthday, just so I get a sense of where things are going. I’m perfectly at peace with getting a little bit bigger. That’s part of aging. But I’m not at peace with growing by 10 pounds a year, because if we do that every year, suddenly we’re up 100 pounds in a decade.

Making sure I have something to measure against every year is helpful. I have a special notebook for that, and I just pull it out every year to look at the direction I’m going. That way I know if a course correction is urgent, or if I’m doing well.

Take Stock of Your Purpose

Birthdays are great times to reflect on the year that has past and get inspiration for the year ahead. Here are some of the things I’m thinking about:

6. What’s Your “One Word” for the Year Ahead?

Have you heard of the “one word” challenge? People pray for one word that encapsulates what they want to work on this year.

I definitely know my one word for the next year. It’s PASSION. I’ve felt lately that I need more passion in my life: passion for God, passion for nature, passion for my husband, passion for my family. I’ve been living my life lately too much by rote, pushing myself to do what needs to get done, and I’ve forgotten how to be passionate about it.

Now that my health is getting better, I want to find that passion again in all areas of my life.

When you think of what God is trying to teach you, what word comes to mind? Pray that God will give you a new word.

7. What’s Your “One Song” for the Year Ahead?

I also ask God to give me a song. I don’t want to share all the details here, but God so often confirms things to me through certain songs being sung at key times. And so I often ask Him–what’s the song that you’ll speak to me with this year?

Last’s year’s song for me was “Enough”, originally written by Chris Tomlin. Here are the Barlow Girls singing it:

And guess what song was sung at church on my birthday? That was a cool God moment.

So I’m asking God for a new song this year, one that I will listen to everyday, and sing in the shower, and meditate on. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m asking!

8. What’s Your Verse for the Year Ahead?

Last year the verse that kept coming back to me, over and over again, was Philippians 4:13:

I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.

Perhaps it was because I was so tired, but I needed that verse.

This year I’m asking God for a different one, one that will help me orient and keep my eyes focused on His purposes for me this year. And when will I get that verse?

9. Plan a Yearly Retreat

I know my “one word”, but I don’t know my verse and I don’t know my song. How am I going to figure them out? I’m planning on taking a weekend by myself to pray through decisions I need to make, relationships, and work. I’m bringing some heavy duty planners so I can look at all my responsibilities and ask, “do I want to keep doing this particular thing?” I’m going to figure out where I’m too busy, what I need to cut, and what I need to add (I haven’t been knitting enough lately. For my own mental health, I need to knit more!).

I have the luxury of being able to go away for a weekend because my children are older now. If you still have little ones at home, maybe this sounds like a fun activity for your birthday? Gather all your planners and go to Starbucks, or better still, pick up some snacks and head somewhere outside. Get some extended peace and quiet by yourself so that you can plan, focus, and clarify.

I can’t do my retreat on my birthday. My book 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage is due at the publisher June 20, so I’m frantically editing until then. But I’ve already set the date and put it in my calendar.

Take Stock of Your Relationships

10. Thank Your Family, or Make Amends

You’re getting older. And over this last year you’ve either grown closer to your family members or grown further apart–or perhaps a combination.

It’s a good time to think about the key relationship changes you’ve had this year. Have you had a particularly difficult year with a sister? Have you reconciled with a mother? Have you been sharp and critical with your husband?

Pray about it, and if God brings someone to mind, write a letter or arrange a special date to either make amends or say thank you. Personally, when I need to say thank you, I like doing it in a letter so people can have it as a keepsake. When I need to apologize, I like doing it in person, face to face. Don’t start a new year without making your relationships right.

I know we don’t tend to think about these things as “birthday” issues, but then, changing the batteries in  your fire alarm aren’t birthday issues, either. Yet it needs to be done, and I believe all of these things need to be done, too. If we can start seeing birthdays as a time to take stock and make sure that we’re heading in the right direction, then I think birthdays can be a source of inspiration, energy, and peace for us, rather than a day of expectations that everyone else has to do everything right.

I’m planning my Retreat right now. I hope that you all can take advantage of your birthday, too, so the passing of another year can actually be something meaningful!

How God Used a Leaky Faucet to Fix My Attitude

how God used a leaky faucet to fix my attitudeToday’s guest post is from Shaylah Coogan from There Once Was This Girl, where she shares her life-changing story about her laundry room and choices that helped fix her attitude.

I am not particularly proud to admit this, but I had a bit of a breakdown this past weekend.

It was the last weekend of Spring Break, and I had the morning to the evening of every day planned out.   I was doing the breakfast dishes Friday morning, and as I opened the cabinet below the kitchen sink, I noticed water where it shouldn’t be.  I pulled out the dish-washing detergent and some other junk I had in there. Lo and behold everything was covered in water.  Not only that, but the wood cabinets and the back wall had really soaked in the water draining from the sink…or I should say not draining through the pipes as it should.

The sink, the pipes, the faucet…all old.  We had a small leak at the faucet for some time now that we became comfortable with–ignoring since it wasn’t really causing any damage.  And about a year ago we noticed a few drips from the pipes below, but it was nothing a bit of patch work couldn’t fix up.  We should have known better that small, simple signs of damage are actually signs of impending doom to your budget.

Oh the budget!  I can’t very well leave that part out.  My husband and I have been on a kick for a few years now of paying off our debt.  We are making much headway with the exception of the house, two credit cards and my glorious student loan (I used the word “glorious” in an extremely sarcastic tone in order to refrain from the other words I would like to use).  In order for us to reach our financial goals, we stay on a fairly tight budget and it works!  For a good portion of the year, we are a one-income household which is nothing new to me as a former single mom.  

So over the years, I have learned to stretch a dollar in many, many ways.

Like using coupons, menu planning, stockpiling, creative cooking and freezing and also finding ways to cut costs around our home and in everyday expenditures.  This gives us more money for the fun things to do as a family, vacations and saving money.  We pay cash for things and if we don’t have the cash then guess what?  We don’t buy it.  It’s a simple philosophy that really works but really took some getting used to on my part.

I was a financial mess (did you think I’d say guru?!) as a single mom.  I didn’t know how to budget or save and I seemed to make dumb mistake after dumb mistake with my hard-earned money.   My philosophy was if I don’t have the money to pay the bill AND I don’t see the bill then the bill doesn’t exist.  Don’t judge me….I never claimed to be the smartest mom in the world especially when full of stress and anxiety.  For me single motherhood created this massive and overwhelming amount of stress that many times I couldn’t see the forest for the trees…if you know what I mean.

So…God blessed me with a budgeting genius for a husband.  Funny how He knows just what I need.

Lets go back about two hours prior to the “kitchen catastrophe”.  We are halfway through the month, the budget was already set and we had a trip planned in there for the end of March.  As I was checking my emails, I had two emails reminding me of two different upcoming invoices due at the end of this month.  One was a complete surprise to me and the other I had forgotten about.  So needless to say, neither were budgeted for.  The stress, anxiety and past emotions from my years as a single mom were starting to fill up the machine that releases my tears.  I fought back telling myself that these are things to not worry about.  Rely on God and give Him my stress, anxiety and worry.  And I did…and it worked.  Thank you Jesus.

“Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks.  And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

The only way I can make sense of what happened next is that the enemy heard my voice give this worry to God.  The enemy felt my mind erase my past experiences and emotions and felt me relax in peace of His presence. An hour later and we have a kitchen disaster.

I didn’t panic or stress out.  At least not right away.  At first it looked as though it was an easy fix then we discovered that the previous owners shoddy repairs and cheapness topped by our band-aids now meant a brand new sink, facet and plumbing.  I think many women might get excited about that prospect.  And I would have, IF the expense had been planned for, budgeted and saved for.  I began to think about the weekend plans wasted, the budget ruined, money gone and my mind quickly took a left turn and hurdled into my past struggles.  If only I could run that fast AWAY from those thoughts.  I lost my “Christ center” as I like to call it.  It’s my stillness where only He can calm the waves and helps me weather my storms.

With my “Christ center” far, far away, I became short-tempered with everyone.  Now I was the one ruining the weekend.  This was spiraling out of my control.

So I went to the one place where I was certain and with out a doubt, guaranteed to be alone with my tears, my anxious thoughts and worries.  A place where I could attempt to restore Christ at my center.

The laundry room.

No one touches that room.  I often wonder, do they even know how to find it?  Everyone goes out of their way to avoid the laundry room at all costs for fear of me popping my head out to say “hey come help me.”  So it’s become my sanctuary…all that’s missing is a comfy chair.  I don’t like to break down especially in front of others.  I refuse to be weak, is what I began to tell myself.  Once those thoughts passed and my toughness was breaking through my tears, I realized this was the enemy at work again and was pulling me into a prideful mindset that kept me in trouble so many years ago.

I remembered the Lord said “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing, now shall it spring forth; shall you not know it?” – Isaiah 43:18-19

The reminder of my past financial mistakes and the enormous consequences of those mistakes were creating roadblocks in my mind, once again adding distance from God.  He tells me in this verse that in order to look forward with joy in all things (even a small kitchen disaster), I must first let go and not dwell on my past.  Doing so will keep my focus on my past failures and the emotional turmoil of those failures and off of what God has in store for me now.

I felt as though God was telling me it is okay.  This is not a big deal.  You are stirring up old emotions and worries that have no place here.  My acceptance of this truth caused me to turn to leave my place of refuge and in walks my husband.  Straight into the dreaded laundry room to hug me and say this is not a big deal.  Don’t worry.

God is so awesome.

This “new thing” God suddenly sprang on us was lots of time together focused on solving a problem.  We messed up the plumbing and install a few times, learned from our mistakes (thank you YouTube!) and yes it messed up our budget a bit but that’s okay.  If there is one huge thing I have learned from my single motherhood days is that worry and peace cannot coexist and that every minute given to me each day is filled with choices.  Choices of peace, prayer, worship and thankfulness which bring me closer to Him.  Or choices of worry, stress, anger, resentment and anxiety to push me further away from Him.   It’s an easy choice.

shaylahShaylah Coogan is a Christ loving, 40 year old mom of two and a wife to a very patient and loving man.  As a former single mom, she has been following her purpose and calling by providing encouragement, support and guidance to other single moms in hopes that none of these amazing women have to live a life on the verge of breaking. Find her at her blog, There Once Was This Girl, or on Facebook.

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