Teaching Kids to Cook: Spending Quality Time while Teaching Life Skills

Teaching Kids to Cook Spending Quality Time while Teaching Life SkillsI’m a big believer in teaching life skills to kids. I think too many moms do too much for their kids, which ultimately does them a disservice. When they move out they don’t know how to fend for themselves, but they also grow up feeling a little entitled, since little is expected of them.

When Jillian St. Clair asked if she could sponsor this post to share about her new resource, My Very Own Cookbook, I agreed, because cooking alongside my girls has been one of my most fun memories of their childhood!

I grew up with three sisters and a brother. The kitchen in our home was not very big, so not surprisingly we were not allowed to do much in it. When I got married I was not confident with my cooking skills even though I majored in Home Economics in high school.

My mother, aunt and grandmother cooked many delicious meals that I don’t know how to prepare. I don’t want the next generation to follow in my footsteps, so I’ve created My Very Own Cookbook for parents to share time with their children teaching them how to cook. It’s also a wonderful record of time shared with loving relatives who will help them become capable, self-confident adults.

There are many “grown-ups” who have no experience in preparing nutritious, healthy meals for themselves or their families.

Together, parents and young children can create memories of learning useful, cooking and management skills. Perhaps you were given many gifts/presents as a child but lack the training and confidence to care for a home, keep up with the laundry, and prepare delicious, healthy dishes or even how to set a table.

If You Didn’t Learn These Skills, It’s Not Your Fault!

None of these skills come naturally to any of us. We must count on others to help us learn them and this learning can begin as early as 4-years old.  My grandchildren are 10, 8 and 4. When we’ve enjoyed family vacations, we’ve prepared recipes together. Sadly, many children don’t get to spend much time with their parents. This is something they especially crave when they are young. Time passes quickly; if we’re not careful, we may miss the chance to make an important impact in our children’s lives.

When we don’t cook from scratch, too, we tend to eat out more. Not only is that far less nutritious and far more expensive, but it also means that you lose the potential to really bond as a family the way families used to do around the dining room table.

Beware of Technology Undermining the Dinner Hour

Often when we’ve eaten in a fast food restaurant I see parents texting instead of sharing conversations with their children. My concern is that this pattern will go too far and when these children are pre-teens or teenagers, they will no longer want to spend much time talking with or listening to their parents. Cooking and eating together creates opportunities to share important daily events in our lives. Studies show children who share meals with their parents make better decisions and earn higher grades.

As parents, it’s our responsibility to expose our kids to everything we can that will help them succeed in all aspects of their lives. Good manners, respect for others, kindness, acceptance and patience are learned behaviors. Who else is best to teach these than the parents who love them?  Setting up this kind of relationship early will benefit both the children and their parents. Knowing your children can care for themselves is a huge blessing!

The Best Gift of All from Teaching Kids to Cook: Quality Time With Your Kids

Research shows that working parents spend only 19 minutes a day of quality time caring for their kids. Perhaps you have heard this scripture verse before:

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.

The Food Network has featured many young children taking an interest in preparing recipes and even full meals. This early training will be very valuable to them as they mature into adulthood.

My daughters were 7 and 10 when I became a single mom. I was a stay at home mom until that time and when going back to work, the girls pitched in and helped take care of the laundry, their rooms and the home we lived in. Today, they have careers and homes of their own. Thankfully, they spend a great deal more than 19 minutes a day with their children.

As parents, we can help our children become adults by teaching them many things they’ll need to know so they can care for themselves when they leave home. Most parents with grown children remember and cherish the special times they’ve spent with their children. Teaching children how to be independent and self-sufficient is a precious gift.

My Very Own Cookbook is a blank recipe journal encouraging children to share time with their parents and other loved ones. Filling in the details of a recipe being prepared with help from loved ones will be a cherished gift and record of special times spent together with loved ones and a timeless record for their future children to enjoy.

Want to start teaching your children to cook? Download Jillian’s FREE ebook: 15 Recipes You Can Make with Your Kids–and get started today!

10 Ways to Help Your Husband Stay Healthy

Help Your Husband Lose Weight

Today’s guest post is from personal trainer Jenni Kenyon.

Getting fit and staying healthy are often pushed to the wayside when life gets busy. It’s not unheard of for newlyweds to put on a few pounds or for couples to gain weight as they have kids and grow older. However, there’s no getting around the fact that maintaining a healthy weight is critical when it comes to preventing health issues later in life.

Top Ten TuesdayAlthough we don’t love our husbands for their bodies, there’s no shame in admitting that it’s nice when they take care of them. I’m sure that they would say the same about us wives! So here are ten tips to help motivate your significant other to start getting fit.

Remember our Top 10 Tuesday philosophy: We throw out a bunch of ideas, and from that smorgasbord you choose 1-3 to actually DO. Don’t try to do all at once; it won’t work. Pick the 1-3 ideas that resonate the most with you, and decide to embrace them wholeheartedly this week!

 1. Pray for him

 Obviously, Jesus can do much more to motivate your husband than you can. The power of prayer is much stronger than anything you can ever do or say.

 Pray that your husband will realize the importance of taking care of himself, that by staying fit he’ll be able to better care for his family and serve God’s kingdom. Intrinsic motivation like this lasts longer than the “I want to look good” type of motivation and is centered on pursuing a life he desires. God gave us one body to serve him through, so it’s important to care for it appropriately.

 2. Be an example

 If you are overweight as well, it does no good to order your husband to start working out while you sit back with the kids. If you’re trying to lose weight, be a good example to him. Show him that it isn’t that hard or depriving. Cook healthful meals, work out on a regular basis and form habits that last for the long term. Whatever you do, take care of your body. Weight loss from quick diets statistically doesn’t last because you don’t learn how to live a lifestyle at your new weight.

 Have a conversation with your husband about why you choose to be fit and healthy. Never tell him he’s fat, say that you are concerned about his health. Talk about what you can do or enjoy as a fit person. Be honest and open with him about your desire to lose weight and perhaps it’ll inspire him as well.

 3. Encourage him

 Even if your husband isn’t pursuing a healthful lifestyle right now, you should still encourage him every day in any matter. Make him feel like he’s the protector and man of the house. Tell him how much you appreciate what he does, who he is, and how happy you are God has matched you up together.

 It’s hard to motivate yourself to be fit or exercise if you are depressed or down. Boost his confidence when he comes home from work, make him feel good about himself and he’ll be much more likely to choose exercise instead of zoning out on the couch.

 4. Talk about the future

 It’s scary when your parents get old, especially if they didn’t take good care of themselves when they were younger. It’s probable that there’s someone with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or some other type of ailment caused by excess weight in your family. There’s plenty of other diseases or conditions that could be relieved with exercise too, including osteoporosis, high cholesterol, or cancer.

 If you’re worried about following in the same footsteps as someone in your family, talk about it. Tell your husband that you exercise so you can play with your grandkids. Ask him if he wants to start getting healthier and listen to him, his reasons, and his experience. Your husband most likely had a lot of life before you came around, so perhaps you don’t know about his grueling wrestling practices as a kid or other bad experiences with working out.

 5. Schedule a checkup

 How long has it been since he’s been to the doctor? Getting a blood workup and a physical isn’t a bad idea if it’s been a while. In fact, some doctors recommend it every year. If your husband is as stubborn as mine, you’ll know that he may not listen to you, but a doctor can be hard to ignore.

 6. Find a hobby together

 Did you and your husband have an active hobby together before the kids came along? Perhaps you should try to resurrect it! Finding time can be hard, so volunteer to trade off babysitting with a friend once a week so you and your husband can get back to salsa dancing, hiking, or golfing together. Join an adult soccer league or start a church softball games. There’s nothing like a competitive sport to help your husband realize that he needs to start exercising more often in order to perform like he used to!

 7. Bake fewer cookies

 The kids might like cookies when they get home from school, but your husband doesn’t need the temptation. Start serving the children healthier snacks like apples and peanut butter, cheese and crackers or healthier baked goods so there isn’t an abundance of dessert lying around. It’s an easy way to help him lose weight. He might not even notice that he’s eating less!

 I will make a note here to say that food policing doesn’t work and can become a point of contention. Just keep less sugary treats around the house instead of telling him what he can and cannot have. Keep the fridge well stocked with ready to eat to produce like cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, diced pineapple or honeydew as snacks to replace the sweet stuff.

 8. Sneak in more veggies

 This approach is a little more sly, but just as effective as decreasing the amount of treats in the house. Vegetables have a lot of fiber and necessary vitamins and nutrients. They’re also very satiating when added to meals, which is why weight loss is so successful with them. If you aren’t a vegetable lover, start experimenting with them! It’s usually a mind-set issue when it really comes down to it. They can taste good, but you need to figure out how to cook them

 There’s plenty of online recipes that use grated or blended vegetables in cooking or baking. Start making more stir-fry’s or fajitas, use blended cauliflower in mac-n-cheese to decrease the fat and calories, and add chopped bell peppers to enchiladas to boost fiber and satiety. I promise that you won’t sacrifice flavor by using this approach to cut calories of your meals as long as you do a little searching on the internet.

 9. Hide the snacks

 Studies have shown that when food is out of sight, you are less likely to feel hunger or a desire to have it. Start by taking all the unhealthy chips, cookies, and crackers off the countertops and storing them in the pantry. If they’re already in the pantry or cupboards, rearrange so they aren’t front and center, so that it takes a bit of looking to find the not so healthy options.

 If your husband specifically requests snack type food that you know are really bad for him – think chips, most crackers, twinkles etc, perhaps you should discuss the food budget. I’m serious- those packaged types of food cost a lot more than basic veggies, fruits, canned goods, milk, meats, and carbs like pasta, rice or bread. You might have to give up a few things too, but in the name of good financial stewardship and physical stewardship of your body, it’s probably worth it. You don’t have to throw out every single high calorie snack in your cupboard, but only storing a few (less than three) is better than not taking any action.

 10. Plan more active activities

 Start planning more active outings with the family. Go sledding with the kids or practice soccer with them at the local soccer field. If you and your husband go on date nights, ask if you can take tennis lessons, a bike ride or kayak together. If that much activity is too far of a jump right now, start with walks. If it’s beautiful outside, ask your husband to go on a walk with you. Fresh air is rejuvenating and can do a lot to decrease stress, so a short walk to enjoy the evening might be just the thing to kickstart the desire to move.

 Ultimately, it’s not your responsibility to get your husband to lose weight. You can’t badger and guilt trip him in to it because that won’t work in the long run. He needs to know that he is loved at any size (just like you need to know that) and that you support him. It may take a long time for him to realize that he needs to get healthy, and once that happens you need to support him through it.

headshot-FitzalaJenni is an NASM certified personal trainer and loves helping women find balance in health and exercise. She and her husband live in Central Washington and spend as much time as possible outdoors. Find her on her blog, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.


Reader Question of the Week: My Husband is Inconsiderate

Reader Question of the Week

It’s Monday, which means it’s Reader Question of the Week Day! Today we’ve got a question from a woman who asks, what do you do if you have an inconsiderate husband, but you don’t want to nag? How do you put up appropriate boundaries?

Are there “consequences” that I can give to my husband when he’s been inconsiderate for lack of a better word? I know he’s not a child, and he’s truly a wonderful man. We’ve been happily married for over a decade and sex is great! The only major issue I have is the fact that he has no sense of time at all and this has lead to a few occasions where I’m at home worried sick wondering if he’s had an accident.

This happened again this evening: he left home at 7:15 to have our van checked by this mechanic who works out of his house. He should have been back within an hour. After 2 hours, I think, ok, they’re chatting. I text him. No answer. I call. His phone appears to be off (highly unusual). 3 hours later, I’m starting to worry a bit, but keep reminding myself of his track record. By 11:45 I’m in a full fledged panic, picturing him dead. Finally he comes home and says he’s sorry, his phone was out of range and he just totally hit it off with this guy and had no clue what time it was. Really?!? You didn’t notice 4 hours went by?!? My husband can be so inconsiderate!

That’s a tough one, and I would have been worried, too. So how do you make sure this doesn’t happen again, when he’s the kind of person who Living with an Inconsiderate Husband--How to Problem Solve Togetherdoesn’t think of you sitting at home, worrying? A few thoughts on how to deal with an inconsiderate husband.

Make Sure this is a Personality Issue, Not a Relationship Issue

This likely doesn’t need to be said in this particular instance, because this woman seems very confident in the relationship, and the sex is great. But when a husband is consistently gone for long periods and you can’t get a hold of him, and he doesn’t have a good reason, it’s likely good to make sure that it is simply because he’s forgetful or inconsiderate at times, and not that something else is going on behind your back.

I’m not trying to see adultery when it isn’t there, but many women have been blindsided, and it’s likely good to make sure.

If Your Husband is Inconsiderate, it May Be More that He’s Spontaneous and “In the Moment”

Taking this note at face value, and assuming nothing more nefarious is going on, some people just are more spontaneous and go with the flow than others. Many inconsiderate husbands, for instance, are actually just spontaneous husbands. For them, they throw themselves into the here and now and pay total attention to what’s in front of them. On a Myers Briggs personality chart, since we were talking about that last week, they’d be Ps rather than Js. Combine that with extroversion, because they like being with people, and you have someone you can easily label inconsiderate, because it’s easy for them to get carried away in the moment.

Likely this is a trait you enjoyed when dating. When he was with you he was completely with you. It was as if you captivated him. He’d drop everything and do something crazy with you. It was fun! But once you’re married, what seemed spontaneous and fun can also seem inconsiderate. So just remember that this trait in him also has a beneficial side. It does make him more fun, and it does make you feel more the center of attention when he is home.

Think Strategies to Solve the Problem so You Don’t Feel Like He’s Inconsiderate

So what do you do to stop the problem so you won’t worry? Nagging or yelling at him won’t work, but you can sit down and problem solve together.

Figure out a way to HELP him do what you need him to do, rather than to punish him for not doing it. That way it’s not “You’re being inconsiderate and selfish and you’re the problem”, it’s more “we have a problem because I feel nervous when I don’t know where you are”, and you can then work on that together. It’s just a different dynamic.

So what are some possible solutions? Maybe it means every night YOU plug in his phone to make sure it doesn’t run out of battery. Maybe it means that he sets reminders on his phone to ding every two hours to call you or text you. Brainstorm together! This way you’re helping him remember to contact you and tell him where you’ll be, and you won’t worry because it’s easy to get a hold of him.

Setting Consequences if Inconsiderate Behavior Continues

If being late is hindering you in other ways than just causing worry–ie. he’s never home for dinner, or you’re consistently late for appointments and events, you can certainly implement consequences for that. The family can go ahead and eat at 6:30 whether he’s home or not, unless he’s texted you to tell you when he will be home. You can put his food in the fridge to heat up when he’s home.

Boundaries in MarriageIf he’s not there and you have to leave to go to an appointment, you can leave without him. In Boundaries in Marriage, Cloud and Townsend describe it like this: one of the main ways that God put in motion to teach us things is the adage “you reap what you sow”. The problem in many marriages, though, is that one person is sowing confusion, but the other person is reaping it. So in this case, one person is sowing inconsideration, but it is the wife and kids who are bearing the burden by being late, or by not eating on time, etc. etc. To right the situation you just have to make sure that the one who is sowing the bad seed reaps it by instituting these consequences. It’s not about getting angry or punishing him; it’s just about setting proper boundaries.

So those are some quick thoughts. Recognize that if your husband is inconsiderate, there’s likely another side of that personality trait that you actually enjoy. Make a point to notice that! Try to problem solve together so the particular issue doesn’t rear it’s ugly head again. And if it’s a consistent problem, implement consequences so the right person bears the brunt of the behavior.

I hope that helps! Now let me know: have you ever dealt with an inconsiderate husband–or a husband who seemed inconsiderate? What did you do? How did you solve the problem? Let’s talk in the comments!

When Your Kids are Picky Eaters: 8 Ways to Stop Whining at the Table

How to Deal with Picky Eaters: Stop Whining at the Table!

Do you dread dinner time? Do you spend an hour making a decent meal, one that you’re going to enjoy, and then your kids sit down and whine and play with their food and make everyone miserable? Today let’s talk about how to deal with picky eaters!

When my kids were little one of my daughters decided that anything that looked like an herb was obviously poison. So if anything had any parsley, or basil, or flecks of anything at all–meaning that if anything had any actual taste–she would refuse to eat it. It was quite the battle.

We finally won it by instituting the “Rice and Beans” rule (elaborated below), but I thought today I’d take off my Marriage Hat (since I usually talk about marriage on this blog), and I’d don my Parenting Hat and give us some tips on how to deal with picky eaters.

1. Distract Picky Eaters by Making Dinner Fun

Picture this:

You’re at a dinner party with food you’re not totally sure of. It looks like something foreign. You want to eat it and keep smiling, but all around you people are talking about something you have no interest or knowledge of. You feel left out. You’re wondering how much longer you have to sit there for, and how long before you can politely excuse yourself. You’re definitely not enjoying the meal.

What was the main problem? Was it the food, or the conversation? I know for me the problem would be the conversation. I can eat food I don’t particularly like if I’m having fun with those around me. But if I’m miserable to begin with, the food’s going to seem even worse.

I think we do the same thing to kids. We sit at the dinner table, but then the conversation is one of two things: it’s either us talking to our husbands, or it’s us yelling at the kids to eat or getting up from the table to fetch something they need. We’re not actually engaging them in conversation!

And I’m a big believer that the most effective discipline is to stop the bad behaviour before it has the chance to start–simply by engaging kids.

Dinner time is not couple time. Talk with your husband at another time. At dinner, involve the kids!

Once kids are 3 1/2 or so, they can participate in dinner time conversations. So here are some quick ideas:

1. Keep a trivia game near the dinner table and ask questions.

2. Get a game of “conversation starters” and use a different one each meal.

3. Memorize some Bible verses (I’ve got a list of the 50 Best Bible Verses to memorize here, along with some cards you can download).

4. Talk about nutrition and money–what food groups are here? What’s in each food group? How much did this meal cost to make? These are all great things for kids to learn!

5. Go around the table and play the Hi-Lo game: name the highpoint of your day, and the low-point of your day. Especially good for involving all family members, even the little ones!

6. Or you can do a different kind of game–like choose a utensil. Everyone uses chopsticks for one meal, or everyone gets an odd thing to eat with, like a spatula, a whisk, or an ice cream scooper. Or once a week you can have “backwards day” where everybody wears their clothes backwards to dinner. I wouldn’t do this every night, but periodically do something special that makes everyone laugh.

When we talk at the dinner table, then dinner becomes more fun, and kids are more likely to want to be there! Make sure you eat dinner at a table, too, so that it’s an event. Make the table pretty. You may think it doesn’t matter with little kids, but kids see when something is special. Treat dinner like it’s something special, and even picky eaters will start to feel that way, too.

2. Involve Picky Eaters in the Set Up–and the Meal Planning

Have your kids set the table. Leave it to them to make it pretty. You can ask them to make a centerpiece earlier in the day. It can be their job to fold napkins–any way they want! This way your picky eaters can start anticipating dinner and taking pride in it.

And if you plan your meals the week before, you can ask for their input. Even name a day for each person, like “Mommy’s Day” and “Brian’s Day” and “Katelyn’s Day”. That way everybody has their day of the week where they’ve chosen the meal. On that person’s day, make them feel special. Pray for them especially at the meal. Talk about what you love about that person. And the deal is: if we honor Brian on Brian’s Day, then we have to honor Mommy on Mommy’s Day, too.

3. Give VERY small portions of everything to Picky Eaters.

Okay, we’ve set the stage for them to look forward to dinner. Now let’s talk about what to do about getting them to eat the actual food!

When you put the food on plates, give extremely small portions of everything–the minimum that you would accept them eating of everything. So if they love mashed potatoes, but hate carrots and meat, put the minimum amount of everything, including the mashed potatoes.

Then if he wants more of any one thing he can have it, but this is the minimum that he has to eat. That way it’s not overwhelming.

4. If a Picky Eater Whines, give a warning.

Tell the child firmly, but without yelling, “you cannot whine at the dinner table. You need to eat your food. If you choose to whine, you’ll have to get down from the dinner table and sit in time out until the rest of us are finished.”

Time Outs Work! Stopping Whining at the Dinner Table

5. If he whines again, have him sit in a time out, away from toys, until the rest of the family has finished.

Don’t let him just go to his room, or he’ll see it as an escape. I whine, I get to go play! Instead, have him sit in a time out where he can see  you having fun, but he isn’t participating. If he wants to come back up and eat his food that’s fine, but no whining.

Most likely a child won’t sit nicely in a time out. You may have to physically get up and keep returning the child to the time out, or take away another privilege, like a toy or something. But speak firmly without yelling, and let the child know you mean business. This is far harder the first two or three times than subsequent times. So stick it out!

6. Keep his plate in the fridge. If he gets hungry later, reheat it.

Don’t give the child any other snacks. Some pediatricians even recommend saving the food for breakfast, though I wouldn’t necessarily go that far. But they have to learn to eat what you serve, especially since you’re only putting out a very small amount of everything–like three small bites of everything. No overwhelming the child!

7. Offer Picky Eaters a Once-A-Week “Out”

I’d suggest keeping hot dogs or something easy in the house so that once a week the child can choose to have an “out”–but only once a week. That way, if the child doesn’t like what tonight’s dinner is, he or she has to decide whether it’s likely that something else later this week will be served that he or she hates even more.

8. Africa Week Cures Many Picky Eaters

When we were in Africa on missions trips, the girls quickly learned that most people have beans and rice 3 meals a day. Actually, most people eat something closer to a maize meal, and beans and rice were actually a luxury. But the point is, in most areas of the world, people eat the same thing every meal of the day. There is very little variety.

So when our kids got really whiny, we threatened Africa Week, where all we would eat, three meals a day for a week, was beans and rice. We never had to follow through; they got the picture. But it’s always good to remind kids that we are fortunate to have variety!

The good news is that kids do eventually outgrow this. Very few kids end up leaving for college eating nothing but spaghetti noodles. Both my girls now eat lots of foods, including sushi, Indian food, and anything that’s normally thought of as “British”. They even eat parsley! So you just have to get through those whiny years, and you will one day enjoy a wonderful family meal around the table–with no one whining or falling out of chairs or spilling their milk.

What about you? How do you deal with picky eaters? Let me know!

Dine Without Whine offers kid-friendly meal plans! Get some great meal ideas that kids are more likely to eat:

Dine Without Whine Instead!

Does Your Kids’ Schedule Make Life Too Busy?

With the school year starting up again, I started thinking about something I’m very passionate about: some families are just too busy. A few years ago, before my blog really took off, I wrote a three part series on creating a kid’s schedule that contributes to sanity and family time, not detracts from it. Most of you haven’t seen it, and so I’m going to tweak it a bit and run it again today, tomorrow, and Thursday. It’s so important that we think about the big picture–and what we really want for our families.

Does Your Kid's Schedule Squeeze Your Family Time?Do you feel like your family is too busy?

My 12-year-old daughter has recently started intense figure skating lessons. She’s never taken lessons before, and she’s learned quite a bit on her own. But she decided it was finally time for lessons, so we signed her up for one night a week.

It was then that I felt like I had entered the twilight zone. When we showed up for lessons, there are about 25 other children there, with various coaches. One coach immediately grilled me, “why only one night a week”, in a rather judgmental tone. Turns out everyone else is there for at least two nights a week, if not more (and this costs a fortune, too!)

Now these lessons are two hours long. They interrupt the dinner hour (they’re 4:30-6:30). But I felt that it was okay to do once a week, since we’re together most other nights. It was important to Katie.

But she’s starting to question it. She said to me this week that nobody there actually smiles. They’re not practising so that they can have fun and learn a skill; they’re practising to be the best. In fact, many girls are only there because their mothers want them to be. Watching them this week I felt like standing up and yelling, “Take a chill pill, everyone! Nobody here is going to the Olympics. So just have fun!”. But I didn’t. I didn’t want the other mothers attacking me.

And the other mothers are strange, too. They seem nice enough, but everyone I’ve talked to has every child in an activity–or multiple activities. I talked to one mom who is out with the kids four nights a week. I gasped and said, “when do you eat dinner”? She laughed and said, “we don’t! We just grab it on the run, or eat in shifts.”

On the surface everybody looks like nice, middle class families, but I really feel when I’m entering that place that the whole world has gone mad. No child should be away from their family that much. Families need to be together. And stressing sports over family life gives a mistaken idea of what’s really important. I have seen so many nice kids grow up in a particular sport, working like crazy at it, and not having a life. Or, when they’re older, not being particularly attached to their families. Even though they were good kids, they didn’t spend that much time with their families. They did school, did the sport, and did their homework. And that was it.

How can you raise a child to be a Christian like that? You need time to just sit around and do nothing. And you need to eat together.

Before You Let Your Family Get Too Busy, Take the Long-Term View

So let’s take the long-term view and figure out what we’re really aiming for as a family. Let’s focus on one specific goal, and one very general one. First, the specific: we want our kids to develop fitness habits. After all, one of the reasons that we put our kids in sports lessons is so that they can stay fit! We live in a very sedentary society, and we need to encourage all the exercise we can, right?

Do Kids Need Extra Curricular Sports to Stay Fit as Adults?

I’m not so sure. I took ballet as a child. Two nights a week when I was 13 and 14, one night a week from 6-13. I actually was quite good. And you know what? I can’t do any of it now. I took adult ballet lessons when I was 30 for fun, and wrecked my knee because I tried to do the “turn-out” as much as I did at 14, and found my body no longer cooperated. Ballet isn’t the type of thing you can just keep doing. It doesn’t keep you fit. Sure it keeps you fit then, and it does help your posture (and it taught me to suck my stomach in, which I still do today), but you can’t keep it up. There’s no natural place “just to do ballet” in your life. So it doesn’t encourage long-term fitness.

What about sports? Hockey and soccer are almost the same. Some men are involved in leagues as adults, as are fewer women, but it’s not widely done as an adult. So you can’t rely on those things to keep you fit. You may love them, but if you’re only playing hockey as an adult once a week over the course of four months, it isn’t going to cut it.

Skating or gymnastics? Don’t even get me started.

There’s really only one sport that I can see that does have the potential to keep you fit, and that would be swimming. (And, of course, track and field, but few children do this as an extracurricular activity.) So you may have your child in some sport for 5-10 hours a week, and that sport will do diddly squat for them when they are adults. It isn’t going to encourage fitness. It’s simply going to keep them fit right now. There is some benefit to that, of course, and those kids who like being fit are more likely to adopt other fitness activities, but the sport itself won’t do much.

If you really want your children to be fit, they need to develop habits that they can continue easily as an adult. Biking. Walking. Playing soccer and frisbee and touch football with family. Working out at the Y together (if they have kids’ programs). Swimming together. Cross-country skiing. Jogging. As kids get older, these are all things you can do with them, which will keep you fit, too. They contribute to family time, they don’t take away from it. And they’re more likely to meet your goals of raising a child who is healthy than putting that child into hockey 10 hours a week. Even more importantly, if your child is in extracurricular activities multiple nights a week, you won’t have time to develop these activities as a family. So they won’t get done.

How Do Extra Curricular Sports Impact Kids’ Values?

Now let’s look at something more general. I believe that children who are most likely to adopt their parents’ value systems are those children who most identify with their parents and their family as the primary influence in their lives. They’re kids who enjoy their parents, enjoy their family, and want to remain close. Kids who primarily identify with peers do not tend to adopt their parents’ value systems, as Judith Harris’ book The Nurture Assumption showed.

How, then, do you get kids to identify with the family? You have fun. You hang out. You spend time together. You make the default in their lives “being with the family”. So many times kids are in so many activities that their primary relationships aren’t even with siblings anymore. And if you stop identifying with your siblings or your parents to such a great extent, it’s unlikely that “family” will be considered your first priority. Besides, most sports now require practices or games or tournaments on Sunday mornings, and so many of the Christian parents I know are missing more church than they’re actually attending. Fill up your kids’ schedule with sports rather than church, and what message is that giving kids? It’s saying, “your primary identity is in sports, and Christianity is something extra,” not the other way around. I think that’s dangerous.

Kids need to put first things first in their schedules. Besides, you can’t just have fun on a schedule. You need downtime for that. You need time for people to laugh. You need time for siblings to decide that spending time together is actually worth it. Often kids need to get bored before they will do something together, but if everything is hyper scheduled, they’re never bored, and they don’t turn to each other.

There’s nothing wrong with boredom. It’s the birthplace of many a great idea or great game. Kids get bored, so they need to find something to do. That’s when they reach out to little, bratty brothers or sisters. That’s when they make up games. That’s when they use their imagination.

Let’s stop making our kids live a hectic schedule that denies all of us family time. They may enjoy it at the time, but in the long run, what is the most important goal for your family?

Some families may be able to squeeze everything in, and more power to you! But I have seen families who have thought they were doing it well, only to find fifteen years later that their kids weren’t following God and weren’t overly involved with their families. It’s a big risk. It may be one you want to take, because your child is gifted or really wants to do something. Just realize it’s a risk. Count the cost first, so that you can be sure that you are doing everything you can to preserve your family life in the time you have left. But I hope most of you may choose just to hang out at home and maybe, occasionally, throw a football around together. I think, in the long run, that may be more valuable.

Other Posts in this Decluttering Series:
Declutter Now
Family Time, Opportunity Cost, and Kids

PSSSTTTT….Did you hear?

My book 31 Days to Great Sex is available as part of the Christian Marriage Ebook Bundle of the Week! 5 awesome marriage books for just $7.40! They can be yours in under a minute. Check it out… (but only available until next Monday morning!)

Reader Question of the Week: Healthy Tug-O-War

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Every weekend I like to throw up a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. This week a reader asks about conflict in marriage and cooking healthy meals.

My hubby and I are on totally different sides right now when it comes to food- I’m trying to change our diets to be healthier, but he just isn’t having any of it. He wants to keep eating junk, so I cook healthier versions for me and the kids and make him the junk, or I make the healthier stuff and listen to him complain. The tension between us is palpable, and it’s been like this for several weeks. I *know* I should submit, but I feel like I’m serving a death sentence with every bowl of pasta (he’s diabetic, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.). I’ve made some concessions (more gradual changes, “cheat” meals), but with all the hurt between is, they don’t seem to be helping. I’m struggling right now, our marriage is struggling on every level, and I’m just lost.

What advice would you give?

Don’t forget: The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex makes a great gift for any woman!

My Summer Grocery Cart

'My Summer Grocery Cart.' photo (c) 2009, zoovroo - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s was more political in nature about the Olympics, so I thought I’d reprint one from 2004 about grocery shopping that I kind of like. Here you go!

I hate grocery shopping in the summer. The shopping itself is not the problem. It’s the possibility of meeting somebody I know in the checkout line. You know that little routine; you probably do it yourself. There you stand, with your cart filled with chips, hot dogs, ice cream, popsicles, and pop galore, and you try to arrange the one bag of romaine lettuce so it hides the Twinkies. “It’s for the kids, you know,” you say, knowing full well you’ll consume more than half of the stuff yourself.

I eat horribly in the summer. So does my family. It’s not intentional, exactly, it’s just that when you’re at the beach, or out camping, or going on a picnic, it’s so much easier to grab a bag of chips than it is to make a fruit salad.

My kids absolutely adore summer, and it’s not just because of the swimming. For once they don’t have to beg for the Fruit Roll Ups or the ice cream sandwiches to no avail, because I actually say yes. I know you can pack healthy foods for a picnic, and two or three times in the summer I actually try. When we go camping, we do start out with a lot of fruit and vegetables, but by about the third or fourth day these are all gone and the chips are popping out again.

During the school year I am preoccupied with those 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruits a day we all are supposed to eat. I count fibre grams on the cereal boxes. But I love summer and cracking open bags of granola bars with marshmallows and chocolate chips in them that the kids usually only get from their grandma.

Naturally, I feel a tad guilty about this, but I figure the kids are running around so much they’re at least burning off a lot of calories. What really amazes me, however, is how expensive my summer grocery bill is. It’s not just the chips and pretzels, either; cooking with Hamburger Helper or store bought marinade packets, our camping staples which I never buy normally, sure make that bill add up.

I simply do not know how people afford groceries if you buy prepared foods all the time. I once heard that for a healthy diet, you should spend 90% of your money on the outer aisles of the grocery store: the bread, the dairy, the fruits and vegetables, and the meats. Normally I never venture into those inner aisles, except for flour or to feed my Diet Pepsi craving. And that’s probably why we usually only spend about $90 a week on groceries for the four of us. It’s not expensive if you’re making food from scratch.

Increasingly, though, people don’t do this. First, many of us were never taught how to cook from scratch. We simply don’t know how. Yet even if we do know, it can be hard to find the time or the energy. The other seems so much easier. And it is. But it’s not healthy, and it’s sure hard on your wallet.

This year I’m starting to teach my 9-year-old how to make some simple suppers, including spaghetti and chicken pie. Neither is difficult, and she’s feeling very grown up knowing that she can actually cook. The next step is to make twice as much and freeze half, so that when we are pressed for time, we’re not tempted towards those other aisles.

My husband, when he had his pediatric office practice, often had parents complain that a healthy diet was just too expensive. That, however, is a common misperception. Certainly fruits and vegetables can seem expensive (although they’re never cheaper than they will be right now during the summer), but think how much more two apples will fill you up than a whole bag of chips. You don’t need to buy as much food if you’re eating healthily as you do if you’re depending on starches to fill your diet.

I’ll try to remember this when I’m stocking up for my next camping trip. But I probably won’t completely return to my winter ways just yet. So if you happen to see me in the grocery store, and I pretend not to notice you, just don’t look in my shopping cart.

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Mothering on a Weak Stomach

'Tickled Pink' photo (c) 2011, Stuart Richards - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Every Friday my column appears in a number of newspapers around the country. This week’s actually is a shortened version of Monday’s blog post on parenting, so I thought that I’d run a Mother’s Day column from a few years ago instead in this space!

I have often marvelled at the fact that my youngest daughter is so healthy. At first I chalked it up to homeschooling, since we shelter her from germ factories. But thanks to Austrian lung specialist Dr. Friedrich Bischinger, I now have the real answer. It turns out that picking your nose and eating it boosts the immunity.

This is one of those things that, as a parent, you would rather not know. And as I was pondering this piece of research, a few questions occurred to me. Does Bischinger have nothing better to do with his time than worry about nose picking? Perhaps he should come do a shift or two at Canadian hospitals and fill in for some of the overworked internists here.

Even more importantly, how does one measure this particular experiment? You have to compare the pick-and-swallow kids with something. Do you arrange for a group of pick-and-stick-it-on-the-side-of-Grandma’s-couch? Or a group of non-pickers? In our family the question may be moot anyway because we have actually cured my youngest of this habit, at least in public. According to Bischinger, of course, we should just let her rip. Somehow I just don’t think I can find the stomach for it.

Stomach fortitude, though, is something I have discovered in a whole new way since becoming a mom. Grown women venture out with other grown women, only to find the conversation turning to the consistency of toddlers’ fecal matter. Two or three years earlier many of us wouldn’t even admit we had fecal matter. Kids, of course, don’t share our squeamishness. They know body functions are taboo, but these still cause gales of laughter. They are the source of the most outrageous insults and humour they can imagine. (Typical joke told by a four-year-old: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Fart!”, followed by everyone collapsing on the floor laughing). Recently, when our family was considering renting a particular movie, I refused since it had swearing in it. Rebecca, our oldest, leaned over to her younger sister and whispered, “that means it has bum words.”

The odd thing is that children have no concept of what actually is distasteful. They think nothing of barging in to the bathroom at that particular moment when you really want privacy, but should they see you and your spouse kissing, well, the screams you hear are enough to think we had been the ones nose-picking.

Meal times are perhaps the worst for these expressions of disgust. I actually enjoy cooking, but my meals usually have vegetables and meat—I know this will be hard to believe—mixed together. This is a major faux pas in my children’s eyes, and worthy of several choruses of “eeeewwwws!”. If everything is not confined to its own hemispheres on the plate, it’s not worthy. And don’t even get me started on sauces.

Yet I am not the only source of squeamish stomachs in our family. My daughters cause plenty of nausea, too. One of them, who has never met a sauce she likes, thinks nothing of picking up the gum she stuck on her dresser before dinner to finish it afterwards (we’re working on curing her of that, too). And why is it so hard to get kids to remember to flush the toilet?

It seems that motherhood is an inauguration into new challenges for the stomach-challenged, which is probably why it begins as it does. When I was pregnant with Rebecca the only thing I thought of, for the first five months, was food. I dreamed about food. I daydreamed about food. The only thing I didn’t do was eat food. I was so nauseous that every waking minute was dedicated to trying to picture some food that would stay down—an apple? A hard boiled egg? Definitely nothing with sauce.

One day I will have the bathroom to myself, I will be able to kiss my husband whenever I want, eat whatever I want, and ignore the consistency of everybody’s toilet habits. I think I’ll miss these days. And that’s why I still cherish the mushy kisses and mushy cereal I’m presented with every Mother’s Day morning. I hope you all had a wonderful day Sunday, too.

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Thanksgiving Looking Forward

'Thanksgiving 2010' photo (c) 2010, tinaxduzgen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

To all my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve been having some deep thoughts about traditions lately, and I’d like to share a picture with you.

The first Thanksgiving was truly gratitude for getting through a hard winter and gratitude for a harvest. It was looking back and seeing how God had provided. But I don’t think it was ONLY looking back. It was also looking forward. “We’ve come this far, people! God will take us further! Look what He has given us! He will continue to provide for our families.”

And that’s what it was–it was this dream that God would provide for the families that He has given us.

I think, by and large, that many of the generations have forgotten that dream.

Let me paint you a picture of the generation that came before us, and then conclude with a warning for ourselves.

The Baby Boomer generation had the best parents in the world. They had parents who had lived through the Depression. They had parents who had defeated evil in World War II. They had parents who had clung together and fought against all kinds of hardship. And those parents wanted to pass on benefits to their children. Unfortunately they did that largely without passing on faith, which was a big mistake.

Now the Baby Boomers have proven to be the most selfish generation in history. They abandoned faith and embraced humanism. “It’s all about me!”. Free love, free sex, everything is about being true to yourself. Even if that meant throwing out your marriage–or never getting married at all. You shouldn’t stay with your spouse or kids if it doesn’t feel right to you. The worst thing you can do is to not honour yourself.

And so they threw off the trappings of family, and the divorce rate skyrocketed (I know; I was one of the early victims). But being out for yourself didn’t just impact what they did in their families; it also impacted how they voted. And how did they vote? They voted for tons of money for seniors. They voted for tons of social programs. They voted for high public pensions. They insisted on unsustainable pensions in their own industries. They tapped into unions, which fought based on seniority, not merit, making sure that future generations wouldn’t enjoy the same benefits they did.

And now, when governments are completely cash strapped becuase of all of these things Boomers voted in for their own benefit, Boomers are continuing to vote for those programs, so that the country (and my own country of Canada) can’t have a reasonable conversation of how we will cut spending. In the United States, the debt per every man, woman and child is now at almost $50,000. And Baby Boomers will largely receive the benefits of that money; the rest of the generations will pay it.

Because they vote in such large numbers, there is really very little that we can do to reverse this. Their generation was spoiled by their parents, raised to throw off their faith and look out only for themselves, and they did a very good job doing it. They eradicated morality. They rejected marriage. And they tried to get all the money they could, even if it hurt their kids.

We are their kids (at least I’m assuming most of my readers are). Now, I know that not all Baby Boomers were awful. Of course not. Many of us have wonderful parents. But as a generation, this is what happened. And so we are the next generation. We are the ones who will have to pay for the Baby Boomers, while still trying to maintain a life for ourselves and our children. What lessons should we learn?

First, trying to benefit yourself, at the expense of others, ruins society. It ruins families. And it ruins your own soul. The quintessential movies of the Boomer generation, like Wall Street, or Pretty Woman, are very empty ones.

We should not try to gather everything for ourselves. We should share it. Isn’t that what the natives did on the first Thanksgiving? We should look not to how much we can get, but to how we can be responsible and generous.

Second, we need to see that it is family and faith that holds the country together, not money. We’ve been trying to hold it together with social programs, and government intervention, and it doesn’t work. We need to return to family and faith. When you believe in family, when you are tied to your children, when you believe there is a God, then you will look to the future. You will care about what happens after you. When it’s all about you, then you don’t. And you wreck society.

Our generation should not turn around and try to exercise payback on our parents, or try to get everything we can for ourselves, either. We shouldn’t respond by being greedy. We should respond by being responsible. What have the Baby Boomers wrought? So, so many will live lonely lives in retirement, separated from children, on second or third marriages, with little but their pensions.

I would rather sit around a big table and thank God for His provision, even if it wasn’t as huge as we had wanted it to be. Because when we are with family, that provision is always enough.

Thanksgiving doesn’t just point us back. With its emphasis on faith and family, it points us forward. Our generation must pick up the mantle and remember that, because our parents’ generation has forgotten it. Let’s not copy them. Let’s forge a new path, and reclaim what was good–and what still is good–about the life God has given us.

I would like to end with a very short video made from someone in my children’s generation. It sums up this whole dilemma beautifully. PLEASE watch to the end.

Is There Laughter in Your Home?

Is There Laughter in Your Home?
When I first had my babies, I thought about what I wanted our family life to look like. And one of the first things on my list was laughter. I wanted our family to be a place where people laugh. I think love and laughter and memories all go together; it’s difficult to have any of those things without also having the other. Does your home ring with laughter?

I read one study that teens laugh twice as much as adults in their fifties. And once we pass fifty, it’s all downhill. We stop laughing. That’s a tragedy. But perhaps we wouldn’t stop if we fostered laughter in our homes! So here are some random thoughts on how to foster laughter, in no particular order:

1. Give kids permission to laugh at you.

This starts when they’re toddlers. Whenever I did something stupid, I’d go running to wherever my kids were and I’d say, “Look how Mommy put my shirt on inside out!”, or “Look how Mommy spilled!” And we’d all laugh. Children like to laugh. They like to feel that they can laugh at their parents, too, because while kids want to feel safe, they don’t want to feel like their parents must be perfect. If you give your children the impression that they must always think you’re perfect, then your children will feel disloyal and dishonest when they realize that you’re NOT perfect. So give them safe ways to talk about your foibles!

And if Daddy does something funny, too, tell the kids about it, and laugh! Of course, you don’t want to tease, and you certainly don’t want to allow your children to tease each other. There is a difference between healthy laughter between people and laughing at someone, and you should teach your children the difference. But it will be easier to learn if you model it from the beginning!

2. Play a lot.

We laugh when we play. We laugh when we talk. We laugh when we’re simply together and things happen. We don’t tend to laugh when we’re alone in our rooms doing our own thing. If you want to encourage laughter, you have to actually be together! And sometimes the things that you will end up laughing about are the things that you were absolutely upset about at the time.

I remember I once took my children camping, along with three of their friends. In one day I managed to break the tarp on our trailer, drench a child with water while trying to get the water off of said broken tarp, burn dinner, and then have the roof leak on us. At the time it was a tragedy because we had to leave camping early. But it’s one of our funniest memories. In fact, those friends even drew a picture of all the things that went wrong, and it’s still on our fridge, five years later. But we wouldn’t have laughed about it if we hadn’t been spending time together!

3. Do out of the ordinary things.

And when you do spend time together, do it in out of the ordinary ways! Don’t just watch TV or movies, even if they are funny (though we still have a riot quoting Shrek). The things that are funny tend to be the things that happen in everyday life that you’re paying attention enough to to see the humour in them. When you’re trying to hurry up and get to all the practices or get dinner on the table you often don’t have time to see the humour. So try to do strange things with your family!

Don’t always watch TV; sometimes play board games, or go for walks, or play soccer in the park. Last spring the girls and I laughed for three weeks straight over “Fernando”, a humongously obese baby robin that hung out on our fence posts because he couldn’t fly. He would bleat all day and his much smaller mother would bring him worms. Every now and then Fernando would topple onto the ground and wobble down there for a bit. He was just a riot. They sometimes invited friends over to watch our pathetic robin. But we noticed him because we went for a walk; we didn’t hibernate.

We also do really strange things at the dinner table. When the kids were younger, we’d have trivia questions after dinner. We’d ask Canadian trivia, and you couldn’t leave the table until you got something right. My nephew, when he’d visit, would answer “Charlottetown” for every single question, and inevitably by question 12 or 13 he’d be right and he’d get to leave. It’s been a running joke ever since.

A few years back I also purchased this little booklet of “graces you can sing” to the tune of hymns, and everytime we have company I pull them out. All the teens complain and moan and groan, but if they’re ever over the first thing they’ll ask is “are we going to sing grace?”, because it’s so strange and kinda funny, because most people don’t know the tune.

Most of the humour in our lives isn’t some side splitting joke; it’s just everyday life that happens when we’re alert enough to notice. So spend time together out of your regular errands, doing weird things, and you’ll inevitably laugh!

4. Enforce technology free time

Finally, while movies and TV can be funny, and YouTube videos can make tears run down our faces sometimes, the best humour comes when we’re just with each other. So have technology free nights, say from 6-8, where there is no TV or iPods or Facebook. Just spend time with each other, and you will laugh.

Sometimes we laugh just doing the dishes together–bubbles can be funny! Sometimes we laugh at memories while we’re talking. Sometimes we laugh at my oldest daughter falling UP the stairs (I didn’t know anyone could consistently fall UP the stairs until she hit puberty a few years back).

Having fun in your home means that other people will want to hang out with you. Your friends’ kids will want to have dinner at your house. Your friends will enjoy being there. And so will your husband! A house filled with laughter is really a home, so don’t drown it out by being too busy, too proper, or too plugged in!

How do you laugh in your home? Let me know!