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

Stay at Home Mom Blues

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten Tuesday1. Think Outings, not Hibernation

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

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

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

2. Enforce Quiet Time

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

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

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

3. Get Adult Stimulation

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

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

4. Start a Hobby

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

5. Learn Something

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

6. Give Yourself a Sense of Accomplishment

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

7. Get Organized

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

8. Clean Everyday

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

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

Top 10 Ways to Banish the Stay at Home Mom Blues

 

9. Have Something Special You Do with the Kids

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

10. Do Something Wild and Crazy

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

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

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

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

 

My Blind Spot of Shame: Admitting Your Mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody likes admitting your mistakes.

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

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

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

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

Hi Sheila,

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

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

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

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

Sometimes Job Stress is Inevitable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Job Stress Life or Death?

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

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

Does the Job Stress Just SEEM Life or Death?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Recruit Others to Help

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

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

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

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

Get Out of Town Regularly

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

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

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

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

How Do You Reclaim the Evening When Job Stress Strikes?

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

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

 

Finances in Your Twenties: Don’t Waste the In-Between Years

Finances in Your Twenties--Don't waste these years, even if you're single!

Did you ignore finances in your twenties? Or did you meticulously budget?

If you chose the latter, you’re in a very small group, because most twenty-somethings don’t worry much about finances–especially if they’re still single. I remember speaking once at a women’s event, and a representative of a Christian financial company had sent a guy to come give a quick talk and a draw for a prize. He was only 22, but he was married, with a kid, and he had his finances in order. I was super-impressed.

So I wrote this column about him, and I thought I’d rerun it here today.

Let me give you the stories of two men. One we’ll call Jim. He married straight out of high school—rather an anomaly today. He didn’t go to college, but immediately took a job at a financial planning firm in Windsor. He became certified in investments, and worked his little butt off building his own client base. He looks about 12, but he always dresses impeccably in suits.

Jim’s first child was born two years ago, when he was about 20 or 21. Today his family is still doing quite well, despite the economic downturn. They’re saving up for a downpayment on a house, building their little nest egg at a time when most men his age are still living in their parents’ basement. At one point Jim would have been quite typical; today he sounds like a dinosaur.

Now let’s talk about Bob. When Bob was Jim’s age, marriage was the furthest thing from his mind. He concentrated on working as little as possible so that he could play as hard as possible. He took extended vacations to the Caribbean so he could scuba dive, renting apartments with other twenty-somethings. He lived a carefree life until well into his late thirties, working odd jobs, minimizing his income and maximizing his fun.

At 38, though, he met the woman of his dreams and settled down. They’ve since had three kids, and while both he and his wife are working, money is tight. They’re starting almost twenty years after Jim did, and neither of them used those in-between years to shore up any sort of nest egg.

Many people just don’t worry about saving when they’re single.

But in the long run they do themselves a disservice, because when they do marry (if they do), they’ve lost about a decade or so of good earning years and saving years.

Now 44, Bob is juggling saving for a house, putting money aside for his kids’ education, and contributing to a retirement savings plan. He’s in a really difficult bind, because time is no longer on his side. He has to put money into a retirement savings plan if he’s going to have anything at retirement, but he also has incredible family expenses right now, too.

One thing Jim teaches his financial clients is that if they save $2000 a year in a retirement account from ages 19-26, as he is planning to do, they can then afford to stop for a bit and save up for a house. If you wait like Bob did, though, and don’t start contributing until you’re in your late thirties, putting in $2000 a year until you’re 65, guess who has more money in the end? Jim does, even though he actually contributed far less. That money has more time to accumulate and grow! It’s starting early that makes all the difference.

If you’re in your twenties right now, even if you don’t have a family of your own, chances are one day you will.

And if you want the rest of your life to be much less stressful, squirrel away money for a house and retirement now, before you need it, to avoid feeling the crunch later.

I know cash is short when you’re in your twenties, but you don’t need a big-screen TV. You don’t need to eat out every night.

You don’t need all the latest gadgets. It may seem like responsibility is a long way off, but think instead of these years as the breather years. You don’t have any major expenses, so now is the time when saving is actually the easiest. Don’t just coast through life until responsibility hits. Act responsibly now, and you’ll be so much more comfortable in the end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Know your triggers.

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

3. Don’t be like the Israelites.

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

4. Remember where your strength comes from.

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

5. Get on the same page.

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

6. Don’t be afraid to fight.

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

7. Have fun.

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

8. Reclaim your intimacy.

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

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

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

10. Have a truckload of patience.

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

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

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

 

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Top 10 Things I’ll Never Like Doing

Top 10 Things I Hate Doing--can you relate?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!)

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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: If My Mom has Alzheimer’s, Do I Have to Give Up My Life?

Reader Question of the WeekHere’s the situation: you have young kids. You’re really busy. And now your mom has Alzheimer’s (or someone else in your extended family does), and people need you to drop everything and run. Do you do it? And what if the situation persists–so that you have to give up your life? What do you do?

Every Monday I post a Reader Question and try to take a stab at answering it. Last week I linked to an older post about setting boundaries with parents, and a reader wrote in with this really tricky problem:

My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. My husband is one of 3 kids, and one of his siblings moved the mom in to his house. But they said that they’d look after her during the week, but on the weekends they want a break, so the other siblings have to care for her 24 hours every other weekend. I’m a stay at home mom; I could look after her during the week easier, but if I give up every other weekend, my family will hardly ever have any time together. We’ll only go to church together every other week, and the kids are really involved in church. We already have very little time. My husband thinks we should just do it, but I’m so afraid of losing my family. What do I do?

That’s a really tough situation, and there’s so much guilt involved. I’ve had other readers write in with similar problems. One reader had a sister-in-law with schizophrenia who lived in another city. She refused to sign any authorizations for the physicians to talk to her family about her condition or to have power of attorney. Yet every time she got into trouble and ended up in the hospital, my friend would have to drop everything and go to the rescue.

Here are just some general principles that I think need to guide us when we’re trying to decide thorny issues like these:

When your mom (or another relative) has Alzheimer's: Sorting our your responsibility to older relatives who need you.

1. Clarify: What Are Your Main Responsibilities?

Just because someone needs you does not mean that you have to meet that need. Lots of people have needs; the real question is:

What needs has God specifically assigned to you?

In most cases, those would include your children’s and your husband’s emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. We also must honour and care for older parents. Any community that we are a part of, though, also does have the right to expect certain things that come from being part of a community. When friends, extended family, or our church family has a legitimate need, then we are to step in. As it says in Galatians 6:2,

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

So likely you have a hierarchy of those whose needs you are wholly or partly responsible for: your immediate family; your extended family; your friends; your church community. As the circle gets wider, then those responsibilities should be shared with more people. So while your own children have a high demand on you, and your parents have a demand on you, someone at church would be the responsibility of a wider number of people.

2. Clarify: Is this a Temporary Blip, or a Permanent Thing?

I once received a phone call from a panicked mom from my church. She had taken her child in to the doctor’s office that morning because he just didn’t seem “right”. The doctor sent the child for tests and within a few hours that little boy was admitted to the ICU with problems stemming from diabetes, which had not been diagnosed. She had to stay at the hospital with him.

But she also had kids arriving home from school, and she had no clothes for tomorrow, and her husband wouldn’t be home for a few hours.

I dropped everything, put some of the dinner I was making in a Tupperware container for the mom, headed over and picked up the kids from school, got them some pizza, left them with a friend, collected some clothes for the mom and the boy, and went to the hospital and delivered dinner and clothes–and a novel and a crossword puzzle book. I spent some time sitting with her and talking with her before coming home.

That was a temporary emergency, and I would hope that most of us would drop everything and run for that. But what my two readers are describing isn’t temporary; it’s something which will be a long-term responsibility. And that requires a different response.

3. Ask Yourself: What Am I Capable and Willing to Do While Still Fulfilling My Main Responsibilities?

The problem with decisions like this is that we have the wrong starting point.

We begin with: “My mother-in-law needs someone to care for her full-time, and there is no one else, so I’ll have to do it.” Or we say, “My sister needs someone to rescue her, and she has no friends or relatives except for me, so I’ll have to do it.”

We’re starting with the need.

If you do that, the need will suck you dry. And I do not believe that God wants you exhausted, and unable to tend to your main responsibilities (your kids). You can only do so much. He only gave you so much time, so much energy, and so much money. You need to be a wise steward of those things.

So instead, ask yourself: what am I capable, willing, and called to do?

BoundariesI believe that there are times where we are definitely called to sacrifice–especially for our parents. However, even this does have its limits. There are times when you just can’t do it all.

The woman with the mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, for instance, is willing to do some work on the weekdays. She’s willing to give some weekends–just not every other weekend. And it’s okay to take a look at your life and say, “I’m able to do this much, but no more.” It’s called setting a boundary, or setting a limit, and the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is excellent at explaining how to do this and showing how healthy boundaries are actually part of a healthy Christian life.

Sit down with your husband and say, “this is what I can do. I can give one day a week during the week, or one weekend a month. But that is all, because I think any more than that will exhaust me and harm our own family.”

He can choose to spend more of his time; that is his choice. But you are being clear about what you can do and still be emotionally healthy and able to raise your children well.

Here’s why it’s important to do this: Often until we say, “I cannot meet all of these needs,” we don’t find the solution that God actually wants for us. We throw ourselves totally into it and we make ourselves exhausted, but perhaps God had another option. Maybe you could pool your money and pay for a week of relief in a home every month. Maybe you could see if there’s a volunteer agency that could send him help once a week. Maybe there’s a government program she could qualify for. Maybe there are other friends who might be willing to help on a rotating basis if it was manageable, like once every two months. But you don’t start exploring these options until you say, “I can’t do this.”

4. Accept that Others May Not Be Happy

It’s messy to say no. Other family members get mad. Sometimes our spouse gets mad.

In this case, one family member has taken on a HUGE responsibility by having her live there, and it’s easy for that family member to turn around and say, “I’m doing all this, the least you can do is every other weekend.” Put like that, it does seem selfish to refuse.

But here’s the thing:

You never asked her to take the mom in to live full-time.

Part of having boundaries  is also letting other people have their own boundaries. This other family member needs to be told, “What you’re doing is wonderful, and we thank you for it. But we can only help this much. If that just isn’t enough, we would be happy to sit down with you and try to figure out a better solution, since it doesn’t seem as if we can do this.” Just because someone else has decided to give X amount does not mean that you are likewise required to give X amount. We are each solely responsible for our own choices.

Just because someone has a need does not mean you need to be the one to meet it. It means you need to run to God and pray and listen and wrestle and seek His calling for your life. It will be uncomfortable. And sometimes we are asked to sacrifice so that we can care for a relative. But the answer isn’t the same for each family, because each family has different schedules and different demands. So pray about it, and then draw a boundary. Say, “This is what I’m able to do. If that isn’t enough, I’m happy to throw my energy into finding another solution.”

There always is a solution that will not require you to burn yourself totally out, because I don’t think that’s God’s will for you. So seek it. Run after Him. And ask Him to show you and give you wisdom. Don’t let guilt make you do things that aren’t yours to do.

Wifey Wednesday: Division of Labour with Your Spouse

Chores with Your SpouseHow do you approach chores with your spouse?

It’s a tough question in most marriages, and today I thought I’d run an article I wrote for Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family magazine last year.

Early in our marriage, our apartment often suffered from lack of attention. One morning, in frustration, I worked myself into a cleaning frenzy. Unbeknownst to me, that afternoon while I was out, my husband had the same impulse.

Over dinner we simultaneously announced, “I cleaned the whole place today!” Neither of us was amused at the other taking credit for our effort. Our misunderstanding soon became clear. To my husband, Keith, clutter mattered. To me, dirt mattered. I could walk past clutter as long as the faucets were gleaming. He, on the other hand, didn’t notice marks on the mirrors as long as the towels were neatly folded.

All of us start marriage with different ideas about what goes into running a household, and our natural tendency is to value the work we do and minimize the work our spouses do. Throughout the stages of life, our situations change and require us to renegotiate the division of chores. Each time we try to divide responsibilities, there’s potential for anger and resentment. But with the right attitude and some planning, chores don’t need to be something that drives us apart.

Don’t aim for a 50-50 split

One landmine to avoid is the 50-50 split. A 2012 study done in Norway found that couples who split housework evenly were also more likely to divorce. The problem isn’t housework per se, but rather the dynamics of splitting it down the middle. Kurt Bruner, pastor and author, says, “If you are keeping score on such things, you have already lost the relational battle.”

A better model involves both spouses putting 100 percent effort into creating a well-organized home. Fawn Weaver, founder of the Happy Wives Club, spent six months traveling the world interviewing couples who have been happily married for more than 25 years. She says, “Each couple, no matter their culture or socio-economic class, had this in common: They worked together as a team. There was no my work or your work. It’s our home, so it’s our work.”

Honor your spouse’s preferences

Happy couples also realize that housework can be a way to demonstrate love. Amy and Brad Saleik have been married 15 years. They inadvertently found a perfect way to organize household tasks. Amy explains, “We had only been married for a month or two when I offhandedly asked my husband what chore he hated. He quickly said, ‘Laundry. What about you?’ I replied, ‘Dishes.’ Ever since, I’ve done all the laundry, and he’s done all the dishes.”

Another strategy to honor your spouse is to ask each other, “What’s one thing I could do to make you feel more ‘at home’ when you’re at home?” I learned that strategy the hard way. When my children were 6 and 4, I was very active with them. We hosted playgroups in our home. We made crafts. We baked. Our home was fun, but it was also always a mess.

One day Keith told me he was tired of arriving home to a disaster. He could handle a little clutter, but he wanted to be able to walk through the kitchen without stepping on Polly Pockets. I didn’t take that well. I think the words maid and Neanderthal escaped my lips. But later, I realized that was a selfish response. While Keith wanted a place that reflected his beliefs about what a home should be, I was more interested in what I envisioned for the family. Eventually, I realized that spending 10 minutes tidying up the front room before he arrives home costs me little, yet offers a priceless opportunity to show my husband I care about him.

Attention to your spouse’s needs builds good will. Sarah Mae, co-author of Desperate, a book for overwhelmed moms, explains that stay-at-home moms also crave consideration. She says, “Without space to breathe or a little help here and there, you can feel like you’re drowning.” Even if both spouses are working all day fulfilling different tasks, at night one spouse may especially need a break — and quite often it’s the spouse who has been chasing the children all day. Holding down the fort while Mom has a bubble bath can bring peace to her and the home.

Finally, honoring your spouse involves honoring his or her opinion of what constitutes clean. If your spouse thinks it’s clean, it’s considered clean, even if it would never pass your aunt Mabel’s white-glove test. You both live in the house. You both should have a say.

Fostering a selfless attitude makes identifying practical ways to divide chores much easier. Before you split them, though, agree on what they are. It’s all too easy to focus on vacuuming or dishes and dismiss doing the finances or mowing the lawn. So sit down and list all the things that go into running a house, from supervising homework to cleaning bathrooms and even buying Grandma a birthday present. Then you can decide who does what. Allocating those jobs, though, can be a bit tricky. Here are two models for how couples can manage chores.

Model No. 1: Embrace Specialization

Personally, my husband and I have always lived by the adage “The man should have to kill the bugs.” Other than that, we’ve been flexible regarding household responsibilities. Pam Farrel, co-author of Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, says, “Instead of dividing up chores along stereotypical lines, we have seen it works best to give the responsibility to the person who is most passionate about that task.” If you really care about the lawn, you get to do the lawn. There’s one more caveat from Farrel: “The person who has the task gets the authority to do that task his or her way, in his or her time, and the spouse just commits to saying, ‘Thanks!’ “

David and Kelli Campbell have been married for 10 years. Both work full time. David enjoys cooking, but last-minute meals aren’t his specialty. So Kelli prepares a two-week menu plan to help things run more smoothly. David cooks, vacuums and cares for the exterior of the house, and Kelli does the rest of the interior cleaning and the laundry. Knowing who’s responsible for what helps them navigate their busy schedules.

Model No. 2: Establish Work Hours

Nothing irks me more than doing dishes or vacuuming when the other three members of my family are on their computers. So our family adopted my grandmother’s golden rule: If Momma’s working, everyone’s working. If you’re a family who thrives on flexibility rather than defined tasks, this model may work better for you, too.

Assigning chores to individuals isn’t as important as everyone simply doing whatever needs to be done — all at the same time. You can even turn it into a game: Set a timer for 15 minutes and see how much mess each of you can pick up! Kurt and Olivia Bruner have the whole family draw straws with chores on them when a chore day is needed. If you’re all working at the same time, you can later relax at the same time.

Recruit help

Finally, if you need another pair of hands, follow the Bruners’ example and recruit the kids. Rather than running ragged making your children’s lives easy, you can involve the kids in daily chores. In fact, we should involve the children. Kelli Campbell reports being forever grateful to David’s mother for rearing a son who knows how to cook. What an investment his mother made in his future marriage! With children heading back to school, now’s a great opportunity to create new routines to involve kids in caring for the home.

After working out responsibilities, someone — or everyone — can still feel overwhelmed. You might want to re-evaluate and possibly trim your list of chores. Perhaps not everything on the list needs to be done — or done as often as you’ve been doing it. Do you really need to dust the picture frames every month? Perhaps you can clean the bathrooms every other week, instead of every week.

If you try these strategies and find chores are still causing conflict, consider hiring outside help. Shana Bresnahan is a full-time consultant, and her husband, Casey, is a full-time teacher. Shana says, “After cleaning came up in counseling sessions one too many times, our counselor said, ‘Can you make room in the budget for a cleaning lady?’ For the last year we’ve invested in a semimonthly visit from a maid service. We call it marriage insurance.”

Chores need to be done, but they do not need to cause a wedge between you and your spouse. Instead, chores can be one of the vehicles that help you feel and function more like a team. Together, choose a system that works best for your family and commit to honoring each other through it. You’ll feel more valued and loved, and your floors may just stay cleaner, too.


Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! It used to be a linkup party day, but for various reasons I’ve decided that instead I’ll share my “best of” suggestions from other marriage bloggers on Wednesdays. Unfortunately, this week I didn’t have time to fetch any, so I’ll just put up some that are here on the blog.

Getting Kids to Pick Up their Stuff
My Husband is Lazy!

And if you didn’t read my post yesterday, please check it out:
10 Ways to Initiate Prayer with Your Spouse

Now let me know in the comments: How do you split chores with your husband?

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!