Top 10 Ways to Discipline without Spanking

Discipline without Spanking: 10 Other IdeasIt’s Tuesday, the day when I brainstorm 10 ideas about something. And today we’re going to deal with how to discipline without spanking.

Earlier this month I created a bit of a furor when I wrote about what abuse is (and what abuse isn’t), and the comments section went off on a bit of a tangent about whether or not spanking is abuse.

Personally, we never spank, though I don’t think spanking is always wrong.

But I do think that in the vast majority of cases there are ways to discipline without spanking that teach the lesson better.

That’s what one woman wants to know, who writes:

I am a mother of three and a proud grandmother of one beautiful little girl. Her mother has had a few problems over the years and when my granddaughter was two I took over care of her full time. She is a sweet little thing and a constant joy in this old lady’s life, but she does exhibit some of the regrettable traits of her mother. She is 6 now, and I am trying to instill discipline and common sense in the child early on so she can be spared some of the pain rambunctiousness can bring in adult life. To this end, I have been wrestling with how to punish the girl. When I was a child, my daddy whipped me with a switch and I could never bring myself to do the same to my own dear babies. I managed them with a firm hand to a bare fanny and that worked well for us. Now with my granddaughter I am just not sure what to do. Times have changed and there are multiple perspectives on child rearing. What should I do with my grandbaby?

Just one quick note before I launch into how to discipline. I know that in a situation like this it’s natural to think, “oh, there she is, acting like her mother.” But that’s a dangerous road to go down. Try, as much as possible, to see your granddaughter as her own unique person, and don’t read into her the fears or regrets you have about her mother. That tends to backfire, and isn’t really fair to the little girl.

As to how to discipline, my motto has always been that the punishment should fit the crime. It should be immediate, it should be in proportion to how serious the infraction was, and it should be consistent (if you punish for the behaviour once, you shouldn’t let it go the next two times).  And before you think of punishing your kids, make sure that you’ve got your own yelling and temper under control!

Okay, whew. With that long introduction, how would I punish a 6-year-old–or an 8-year-old, or a 10-year-old–without spanking? Here are some ideas:

Top Ten TuesdayTop 10 Ways to Discipline without Spanking

1. Use a Time Out

If the child isn’t playing well, is whining, or is acting up, you can remove the child from the situation and require them to sit still for about a minute per year of age. This often helps them calm down, since it gives them time to deal with their emotions. The first few times you use a time out you may have to keep plunking the child back in the time out seat, since they may not stay there. Reset the timer every time you do. They’ll learn soon enough!

To make this work well: Issue a warning first. Do NOT do a time out in their bedroom, which is often a fun place to be. 

Time outs are best used when the issue is one of attitude. Unfortunately, time outs have become the go-to method for discipline for almost all infractions, even though there are often better ways to deal with other problems. For instance:

2. Remove a Toy

Remember–the punishment should fit the crime. If your children have been fighting over a toy when you told them to stop, the best thing to do is to remove the toy, not put the child in a time-out. Put it in a box marked “jubilee box” and every Sunday it’s a Jubilee Day and they get the toys back. But they stay there until Sunday. If your child is using a toy inappropriately, like banging it or treating it in a way that it could break, they lose it. If your child has refused to clean up a toy, like lego, they lose it.

To make this work well: Do not take away a toy that is necessary for sleeping. If they have a bunny they sleep with, that’s their comfort toy. It isn’t fair to take that away.

3. Lose Some Technology Time

If your child doesn’t come for dinner when you call because they’re engrossed in TV or a video game (after you have given a warning or two), they can lose some technology time. If your child has been disrespectful and rude, you can take away TV privileges for a week or iPad privileges.

4. Leave

Is your child screaming in a store? Leave. Screaming in a restaurant? Leave. Sit in the car with the while the other people finish their food, and get takeout for you. The child won’t like being in the car. Don’t say very much to the child–a simple, “I’m sorry that we’re here, and I really wanted that lunch. But we can’t sit there if you can’t behave.” Then they can scream and yell, but you’re in the car and you’re not budging.

When you get home, you can then tell them that since they took some time from you and made you miss lunch, they have to “give” you some time by completing one of your chores.

5. Do Someone Else’s Chores

Any time a child causes someone else to lose time, the best punishment is to have to do something for them so that you “give them back” some time. If your child made you miss lunch, like above, they can do the dishes for you. If they made a sibling miss something, they can make the sibling’s bed for a week. If they made all of you miss something, they can do one thing for each person.

This is an absolutely crucial one. I firmly believe that children need to be taught that their actions have ramifications on others. This is also the problem with using the “time out” method, or even the spanking method, for every infraction. It doesn’t teach them that. A far better method of punishment is to say, “who was inconvenienced by what you did?” Think of all the people. Now you have to do one thing for each person. They’ll soon learn that what they do impacts others.

6. Miss an Event

If your child is habitually late for something, then they can miss it. If they wanted to go to a party, but they aren’t ready in time after repeated warnings, they cannot go (I wouldn’t recommend this for the first infraction, but if you have a child who will never get ready when you warn them, it may be worth driving this home).

How to make this work well: Don’t deprive them of church. Church isn’t a privilege; church is something we give to God in worship. Missing church should never be used as a punishment.

7. Miss a Sport

Here’s a tough one. What if your child has done something really bad, and you want to ground them and teach them a lesson? Missing sports is often seen as off-limits because other people are counting on them and they have made a commitment.

That’s true. But if your child is not keeping up with commitments at home, by perhaps not doing homework that needs to be completed before you go to a sports tournament, or never doing chores, then I believe that there are times that missing a team event should be on the table. The child has to learn that they need to meet their commitments, but the most important commitments are always the ones at home. If they don’t meet those ones, they don’t get the chance to meet other ones.

How to make this work well: Tell the coach why you’re doing it. Warn the child beforehand. This isn’t a one-warning thing; over a period of days or weeks let them know that if they can’t get their act together, they may have to miss sports.

8. Write a list of what you like/admire about someone

Do you have siblings who squabble? Whenever our kids fought or called each other names, we would make them each tell the other 3 things they admired or liked about the other. And they couldn’t be the same things!

I’m a big believer in having children do this rather than having them say “I’m sorry.” I absolutely believe in apologizing, and I do think that children should ask for forgiveness. But I also believe that this should be done out of a truly repentant heart. Honesty is so crucial. God looks at the heart, not at the actions. So if your child is still angry, telling them “you have to apologize to your sister before we can go get ice cream” isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. What if your child isn’t sorry? They have now lied in order to get ice cream.

On the other hand, there is something to admire or like about everyone. You can be totally angry at someone and still come up with things that you admire and like. So have your kids say these things to each other. It changes the tone of the relationship.

And yes, work towards having them apologize. Model it. Pray with them about it. But I wouldn’t force it. That’s really between them and God.

9. Work it Out with a Sibling

If sibling squabbles are a permanent fixture in your house, and most of your emotional energy is spent refereeing, decide to throw in the towel. Tell your kids they have to go into the room and they’re not allowed out until they have reached an acceptable solution–that you believe is acceptable (in other words, the older one can’t just force or pressure the younger one to agree to something). Having to work it out takes you out of the equation so you’re not as aggravated, and makes your children learn problem solving skills.

10. Pay Restitution

Finally, if your child has damaged something that belongs to someone else, they should have to make up for it. If they have some money, they should pay an appropriate amount. They may not be able to afford to pay everything, but they can throw in some money. They can do chores for someone. They can fix it. But if they have actually damaged someone else’s property, just saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. They need to learn, again, that their actions impact others.

So there you go! As you see, I would use different strategies to discipline without spanking depending on what is happening. Each parent should have multiple strategies that they use, because using just one–like a time out–really doesn’t teach them. Remember, disciplining a child is about teaching them important lessons, it’s not just about punishing them. So make sure that you use some methods that teach them, “what I do impacts others”, “I can’t act up in public”, “I need to respect other people’s belongings”, “I have to live up to my commitments.” These are all such important things, and if we’re consistent with discipline, we’ll find that our children internalize these lessons.

Let me know: what techniques did you use to teach your children? How did that work for you? If you used discipline techniques other than spanking, what did you try?

Standard of Living vs. Quality of Life

Standard of Living vs. Quality of LifeEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week let’s talk about organization and about the things we value.

Summer may be a glorious season to sit and relax and soak up some sun, but I can only relax in small doses. To me, summer screams, “organize your house!”. Summer offers me a much-coveted stretch of time to finally accomplish some major housecleaning tasks. My children do not understand why a guest room which has been used as a storage room for the last two and a half years is now assigned the This Must Be Defeated Or the World Will Come to An End status, but that’s just how I am in summertime. I figure sun covers over a multitude of obsessive behaviours.

And so it is that for the last week my girls and I have rooted through boxes and jewelry racks and shoe racks and even the laundry room, shooing dust out of places I didn’t think it could accumulate, and relegating many long forgotten treasures to the charity pile.

As I gaze at this ever-expanding pile by my door, it occurs to me that each item there represents not just money that I once parted with, but time. We perhaps do ourselves a disservice when we value things only in terms of money. Sure that restaurant dinner out for four was only $65, but if you consider it by amount of time spent working, it takes on new significance. If you earn $13 an hour after taxes, that dinner out represented five hours of your life. Was it worth five hours?

When my oldest daughter started working full-time last semester she began to count things in terms of hours. That new hair straightener? Four hours. That’s worth it. That new dress? Not so much.

Little purchases can add up, but it’s perhaps the bigger choices of how we will spend our time and our money that set the tone for our lives. Perhaps we spend too much time worrying about our standard of living and not enough time worrying about our quality of life. We tend to measure things in terms of monetary value–we aim to earn the most income, have the nicest home, and accumulate more gadgets.

Yet when we make those choices, we’re simultaneously choosing to work harder and to be away from home more. Quite often standard of living and quality of life are trade-offs. When our children were small, for instance, my husband and I chose for me to stay home, even though it meant we rented an apartment, didn’t own a car, and bought everything second hand. We didn’t have a high standard of living. We did have a high quality of life.

Life is ultimately a choice–a choice of what we will value, and what we will sacrifice. If we choose to spend more time with our children, that may mean a much smaller home. If we choose to work for more vacations, a bigger home, or a summer cottage, it may mean less time to pursue hobbies, or simply to relax.

My fear is that too many of us get caught on this conveyor belt and we don’t realize we can make a choice to get off. There is no law saying that we have to keep accumulating stuff, keep earning more money, or keep buying the latest gadgets. We are allowed to choose what we will value.

Personally, I really value the chance summer offers to reorganize my life and drive my children crazy. It is a blessing. I just hope that this season reminds me that what I really want in life is more time–time with family and friends, time to knit; time to serve. And I can do that without as much stuff.

You can find Sheila cleaning house at www.Facebook.com/sheila.gregoire.books.

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Reader Question of the Week: My Husband Won't Help at all Around the House

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
A reader wrote in recently quoting on of my posts:

“We tend to clean the house when we see what needs doing. Men don’t work the same way. So if you ask him for a specific task, he’s more likely to do it.”

She then added, What about when you give him something specific (like “take out the trash” or “unload the dishes”) and it doesn’t get done until it gets out of hand (and then you end up doing it because you can’t stand stepping over the trash anymore, or having the dishes pile up in the sink)?

I think this is a connundrum many women have, and I’d love if we could discuss how to help! Now one warning: Often when I throw out questions like this, someone will say, “you need to recognize how much he DOES do, how hard he works outside the home, or how much yard work he does, etc. etc.” I completely agree. Many men do a ton of work that isn’t housework, and do contribute a ton of hours to the household.

But let’s assume for a minute that she does, too. And what she is saying is, “I don’t want the house to be 100% my responsibility. I think a person can clean up after themselves, or can contribute a little bit when we all live in the same house.”

Then what?  Any thoughts?

T-shirts vs. Sheets: The Control Freak Rises Again

Are you a control freak?

I certainly have those tendencies.

A few weeks ago I posted a review of Karen Ehman’s Let.It.Go book, helping us to let go of that need to control and learn to trust God.

Recently, when doing laundry, I had a vivid reminder of how dysfunctional being a control freak is. You see, it really bugs me to no end how my oldest daughter folds T-shirts. She kind of just balls them up. I know they have to be straight and even so they don’t have wrinkles, and so they fit so nicely on shelves once they’re folded. And they look so pretty that way!

Here are T-shirts that we both folded: hers on the left, mine on the right:

Tshirts

At times I really get on her case about this. “Why can’t you just learn to fold T-shirts right?” She rolls her eyes and sighs and tries again.

But below allow me to show you two sheets, one folded by me, and one folded by her:

Sheets

Guess which one is hers?

Yep. The perfectly flat one.

See, I don’t really care about how sheets are folded. It’s not my thing. So I don’t even notice that my sheets are all balled up, and her sheets are pristine. But she doesn’t care about T-shirts.

Often when we are control freaks that’s what happens. We freak out about the things that matter to us, and fail to notice that we may be less than perfect in ways that matter to other members of the family. We’re so sure that our priorities are the right ones, and theirs are not.

When I was putting sheets away the other day, after feeling annoyed at Becca for the T-shirts, I glanced her folded ones in the linen closet. And it was definitely one of those “a-ha” moments.

What are you not seeing? Maybe it’s time to give our family a break and agree that everyone’s priorities should be valued, not just our own.

I wrote a column on a similar theme a while ago–Do I See What You See?


Let It Go: Losing the Control Freak Inside You

There’s a great scene in the movie Date Night where the married couple, Phil and Claire Foster, played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey, are fighting in the car. Tina Fey’s character explains that she is just so tired, and the only fantasies she really entertains are of checking into a hotel and sipping a Diet Sprite all by herself, with no one to hang off of her. Because all day, everyday, she does laundry, she cleans the house, she gets the kids ready for school, she goes to work, she makes dinner, she gets the kids ready for bed (It’s always a surprise that we have to actually put on pyjamas!), and then she starts all over again. And she’s exhausted.
Steve Carell isn’t really that sympathetic.

“I know you have a lot on your plate, but part of the reason is because you never let me share the load. You have to do everything. You should let me do things sometimes. I might surprise you.”

I think there’s a little bit of Tina Fey in all of us moms. We’re control freaks, and we do run ourselves ragged because we so much want our kids’ lives, and our husband’s life, and the lives of those around us to go well. We have this dream of what things should look like, and we run after that dream, full speed ahead.

Karen Ehman knows what that’s like. I had the privilege of reading an early copy of Karen Ehman’s amazing new book, Let It Go. When she sent the email out asking if anyone of us were interested in taking a look, I jumped at the chance (though I often say no to other such requests) because I knew I needed this. I suffer from major control-freak tendencies.

Do you?

Karen starts the book by recounting a time when she was completely OUT of control. Pregnant with her third child, she suffered horrible nausea all day and was laid out flat. Teens from the church came to clean her house, and instead of feeling grateful, she felt physically ill–even more so than she did before! Can you relate? Do you have a hard time when you CAN’T control things?

She realized what the heart of the matter was: the realization that she was dispensable, and that when she wasn’t in control, she couldn’t get her own way.

We try to control in a myriad of ways: we’re passive aggressive, steering things the way we want them to go. We cover up for everyone’s faults or mistakes. Or we become the drill sergeant, trying to get everyone to fall into line.

But no matter which way you manifest your control freak tendencies, the root cause is the same: if you’re trying to run things, then you’re not trusting God. And seriously, trying to be in control is tiring.

Honestly, though, I’ve read lots of books that say “you just need to trust God more”. It’s a common message, and to tell you the truth, if I can say this without getting blasphemous, sometimes the books bug me. I’m not always certain the author really understands where I’m coming from. I KNOW the answer is that we’ve got to trust God more. Seriously, that’s the answer to just about EVERY problem in our lives. That’s the central issue of humanity. The problem is not that I don’t know I need to trust God more; the problem is that I can’t seem to do it.

And that’s where I found Karen’s book refreshing, because she was sympathetic about why we are the way we are, and she gave some great insights into some of the reasons that we as women have these control freak tendencies. I really enjoyed her section, for instance, on the problems of choice. One of the reasons that things are harder today is simply that we do have so many more choices. We’ve lost simplicity.

And because of that we have the illusion of happiness–a favourite theme of mine when I speak. Because we have so many choices, it naturally follows that if we just make the right ones we’ll be happy. And thus we get all wrapped up in choosing the right things. It was much easier when your choices about work, and childcare, and even what you were going to make for dinner were much more limited. We have the problem of excess.

The book is easy to read, peppered with one-liners. There are exercises at the end of each chapter to help you figure out where you’re at.

I want to leave you with one example of an error that she feels many moms make, and then tell you the three personal takeaways I had from the book.

Take Micromanaging Mama: Does that describe you? You give the child dishes to do, and you focus on the fact that they’re doing it WRONG because they aren’t doing it the way you do. I loved this example of a different way to handle it:

Say to him, “I love how you make chores fun. I wish I were more like you.” And then, at a different time, teach him when YOU’RE doing the dishes why you wash the glasses first and not the pots.

What Karen eventually realized was the Two Plus Two Equals Four lesson:

“I just tell mysef, two plus two equals four. three plus one equals four. Seven minus three equals four.”

They all get to four. They just get there differently! I needed to hear that today.

Here, then, are three quick lessons I learned, that perhaps you need to hear today, too.

1. Giving up control should feel foreign. I think many times I’ve believed that I’ve relinquished control when all I’ve really done is put a smile on my face and tried to be nicer. If it doesn’t feel foreign, it wasn’t real.

2. Second, I do emotionally manipulate my family without realizing it. I’m great at guilt.

3. And third, I have a hard time accepting Keith’s love for me because at heart I’m too busy trying to be in control to settle down and just let him love on me, so to speak. I’m always thinking about what I SHOULD be doing.

I need that Steve Carell lesson.

What about you?

Let. It. Go is a great book which is also available as a DVD study. You can find Karen at www.karenehman.com. Karen is doing a blog tour with her book which is almost wrapping up, and one person who comments during this blog tour is going to win a Kindle Fire! So leave a comment explaining why you have a problem with being a control freak (or how you conquered it) to enter to win.

Parents Don’t Have to Be Perfect

The Good Enough Mom: A Pep Talk for Exhausted Moms

Are you working hard to be a perfect parent and exhausting yourself in the process? Maybe “perfect mom” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. So today, I’m going to give you a pep talk–and tell you that “good enough mom” truly is more than good enough.

Last week I wrote my column on the benefit of having young grandparents, urging people to consider having kids at a younger age. An interesting discussion started in the comments, and one woman said that she and her husband have hesitated to have children because every parent they know complains constantly about their children. The reader says:

Most of my siblings and friends already have children, which is why kids are not on our radar just yet. We aren’t even sure we want them after hearing time and time again, “I love my kids, BUT…” To me, it often sounds like children are more trouble than they’re worth. To date, we have 7 wonderful nieces and nephews that we can love…and send home.

Those she knows with kids aren’t exactly advertisements for parenting. That’s a lesson to those of us who are parents to speak more carefully about our kids.

But I think there’s more going on here. WHY do parents feel so inclined to complain? Maybe parenting has gotten too big. Now, it’s basic economics that the more expensive you make something, the less you will have of it. On the other hand, the easier that you make something, the more you will get of it.

Are we making parenting too expensive?

I’m not talking about just the money—although I did read a study that it now costs about $240,000 per child. I think it’s that we’ve made parenting require too much effort. Maybe we should get back to what’s good enough as a mom–not what would be ideal.

A few years ago I was asked to write an article on how to keep your children busy when the weather’s lousy. I came up with some various ideas, from a board game tournament, to making a fort in the living room, to getting out the video camera and taking tapes of kids singing little songs. I sent it in. I thought it was good.

Then the editor called. She wanted to take the video tape idea one step further. What if I were to host an indoor Olympics, inviting all the neighbourhood kids over? You could play shot put in the hall, and have an obstacle race in the basement, and then you could have the parents in for a medal ceremony and hand out commemorative DVDs of the day!

I thought the editor was off her meds, because no one is going to want strange kids in playing shot put in their hall.

But that is now what we think mothering is. It is huge. We have to chauffeur our kids to every activity. Every spare moment must be spent reading to our kids and playing with our kids and talking with our kids. They must now consume every bit of our lives.

That’s the expectation.

No wonder we never feel like we’re a good enough mom!

We do it largely in isolation. We expect our kids to excel at everything. And so they take up all our energy. We have no time to ourselves. And we expect ourselves to be perfect, because we know that if our kids are messed up it will be our fault.

What if that’s making parenting too big? I’d like to give you permission to be a “good enough” mom:

1. It’s okay to enforce a bedtime so you have evenings to yourself.

Sure, it means a few nights of lots of tears if kids aren’t used to going to bed at a decent hour, or are used to you lying down with them. But it is okay to want “Mommy Daddy time”. And that goes for when the kids are teens, too. It’s okay to say, “be in your room at 10. We want the house to ourselves.”

2. It’s okay to not have your kids in every activity under the sun.

It’s okay to keep control of your schedule. It’s okay to say no to hockey, even if everybody else is in hockey. It’s okay to say “we don’t have the money for that right now”, or “I just want to have time as a family.” It is okay to not live your life in a car pool.

3. It’s okay to live in an apartment.

Kids do not need their own rooms. They do not need a ton of toys, and they do not need a ton of space. Think of how small the post-war houses were, and many families lived there with four kids. It’s okay to live small.

4. It’s okay to not throw huge birthday parties

There is no law saying that you have to invite your child’s entire class to a birthday party (and if that is the rule at your school, then don’t throw a birthday party!). It’s okay to invite one or two special friends and just do something low-key and fun. Come to think of it, you don’t need to do anything big at Christmas, either. It’s more important to spend time together and have fun than it is to spend a ton of money.

5. It’s okay to insist that kids clean up after themselves

You were not put on this earth to do endless laundry. You were not put on this earth to clean up after everybody else. It is okay to insist that people learn how to clean up after themselves at an early age. My kids started chores at 4. They can now be left for a weekend on their own and they will be able to cook their own meals and do the laundry (they’re in their mid-teens). You are not a slave.

6. It’s okay to leave your kids sometimes

Your children do not need you with them 100% of the time. Will they be sad if you go away for a night and they have a baby-sitter? Perhaps. But it’s okay to be sad occasionally. This will not scar your child for life. And it is okay to need to still do adult things. It’s okay to take some time to yourself.

7. It’s okay to not be perfect

Finally, here’s the most important one: It is okay to not be perfect. I messed up with my oldest daughter in a big way this year. We laugh about it now and I say to her, “When you’re a speaker and writer when you’re older, just think of the fodder I’ve given you now for how tough life can be!”. I have made mistakes. Big ones. And the kids know it.

But I’ve also done a lot of things right. And in the end, what the kids remember is how much you loved them, and how you tried to live authentically and godly, even if you didn’t always succeed in getting everything right. Kids are far more forgiving towards us than we are towards ourselves. They want you to be the loving good enough mom, not the stressed perfect mom.

Perhaps if we gave ourselves more grace, and allowed ourselves to still have adult time, and still have fun, and not break the bank parenting, we’d have less to complain about and more to laugh about.

So let’s go, people! Parenting is wonderful; it’s only the expectations on parenting that have become ridiculous. Let’s lower those expectations, and then maybe fewer people would see parenting as a dead-end trap.


Wifey Wednesday: Smiling Socks–Love from the Dresser Drawer

 

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up! This summer I’ve asked a few people to guest post to give me a bit of a break, and this Wifey Wednesday is brought to you by Cari Kaufman from Strings Attached Ministries.

This week our Marriage Champions discussion group focused a very heavy topic, you ready?….duh-duh-dun….household responsibilities. And while at first, it may seem like small potatoes in the land of marriage enrichment (I mean we are discussing difficult topics like communication, conflict management and sexual intimacy here), what we discovered is that “neglect of home and family” is second only to “mental cruelty” as a stated reason for divorce. That’s right, household responsibilities are no small potatoes in marriage.

I don’t think that revelation came as a surprise to most of the women in the room. I pray that it didn’t come as a big surprise to most of the men. Get this: it is estimated that 86% of all marital conflicts are over division of labor in the household. 86%! More than money, or disciplining kids, or sex- more arguments are over who is going to do the dishes tonight. I knew it was a big deal, but I was kind of floored by the numbers.

As we were sharing about the common stumbling blocks that interfere with a healthy relationship, there were several that caught my attention. But I think my own personal revelation as I was telling a story about socks really drove home what this whole Marriage Champions thing is all about in a nutshell. It’s about how we show love. I know, deep epiphany, right? But hang with me here.

137/365: Disappointmentphoto © 2010 Madzia Bryll | more info (via: Wylio)
Early on in our relationship, Charlie and I had a huge fight about laundry. This one was a yelling, screaming hissy fit (for my part anyway).

Over socks.

Yep, I almost walked right out the door of the home that God had made for me….over socks.

It shouldn’t have been a big deal. Charlie approached me very gently with a pair of socks in his hand. A pair of socks I had carefully smoothed, rolled and folded together with the happy little smiling face shining out at him. He said calmly and sweetly, “Hey, Sweetie, do you think that you could not fold my socks like this? It stretches the cuff and they don’t stay up as well.”

To Charlie, this was a reasonable request. He was even helping me out by lightening my load a bit…he certainly didn’t expect the total meltdown that ensued.

“I guess the way I fold socks is not good enough for you! Do you know how long it took me to do that!?”

The conversation just went downhill from there. Then I proceeded to dredge up all the other recent discussions on laundry we had had in the last few months. (He and I do it very differently, to this day.) Charlie, for his part, reeling in the shock of my explosion, disengaged. Ugh! Not a good move. Disengaging only fed my anger and we began a vicious feedback loop which only went away after a four-hour cool down period.

My point to my ramblings is this. None of that was about socks.

It was about love.

You see my Daddy was a navy man. From the time I was a little girl, I had learned to fold socks with little smiley faces. It was how he taught me, and how he liked (and still likes) his socks folded. I don’t know if my mom likes to fold socks that way, I just know that she does. Because it is not about socks…It’s about love.

When Charlie rejected the way that I folded socks, in my mind, he wasn’t rejecting the socks…he was rejecting me. My love. My service. My smiley faces. He had no idea. To him it was just a sock that wouldn’t stay up because the cuff was stretched out. To me, it was an act of love. You see, it wasn’t the tip of the iceberg (doing laundry) that sank the Titanic. It was the huge hunk of ice beneath the surface of the water (my emotional attachment to that task) that ripped the hull in two.

Of course, at the time, neither of us understood that the laundry wasn’t the issue. It wasn’t until we started to do research on healthy marriages and put the effort into understanding our relationship that we were given the tools to identify the real issues behind the seemingly little things that can hurt or build a relationship. I encourage you to do some research and soul-searching in your own marriage. You’d be surprised how many tiny little things your spouse does everyday to say, “I love you!”

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you struggled with differences in doing household tasks? Or do you have something else to share with us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

From Army officer to stay-at-home mom to professional speaker, Cari Kaufman’s experiences give her a unique perspective into everyday life. Cari is using her ministry, Strings Attached Ministries, to bring groups and teams together to common ground to build up women’s ministry groups all over the world. Cari lives with her fabulous husband, Charlie in the heart of Northwest Arkansas and they have two amazing children, Alexander and Elizabeth.

Follow Cari on Facebook, Twitter, or visit her website for more information on booking her to speak to your group.

Treating Motherhood as a Job

Motherhood is a Job--there are things to accomplish that are really important. But do we give it the time and energy it needs?Motherhood is a job–or at least we should treat it that way. We have things to accomplish. We have a limited amount of time to accomplish them in. And what we’re doing is important.

Yet are we always able to give it the energy it deserves?

The worst thing a husband can do to a stay at home mom when he comes home after work is to look around the house with disdain and ask, “what did you do all day?”.

Them’s fighting words!

And we all know it. We tell jokes about inept men like that. We laugh at them.

And yet, ladies, I want to talk just between you and me right now. Hopefully no men are listening. Do we always work as hard as we can during the day? Do we treat motherhood as a job? Or do we sometimes goof off?

I know I goof off a lot. Of course, that’s only natural, because being home all day with kids is exhausting. We need our rejuvenating time, we argue. We need our time to ourselves.

And that is very true.

But other than well-deserved breaks (and napping when the baby naps to catch up on sleep), do we put our 100% in?

Part of the problem, I think, is that motherhood is not technically a job–or certainly motherhood is a thankless job.

We do have tasks to do, but we’re not getting paid, and no one is looking over our shoulder (except God! :) ). No one has made a list of all you have to accomplish today. No one is grading your performance. No one is going to fire you. So the only way to get things done around the house is by self-motivation.

What if you don’t have any self-motivation?

That’s a tough one, isn’t it? Now looking after little ones is a full-time job. I remember how exhausted I was when my children were little. And I decided that my primary responsibility was to them first, and the house (or apartment, as it was at the time) second. We would take outings every day, and I would read to them, and play with them, and make homemade baby food, and cook healthy meals, and make sure their laundry was done and their room cleaned, but the rest of the house suffered. I know that bothered my husband, but I figured he didn’t have much to say about it because the kids were getting stimulated, and that was the important thing.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I would have done much differently, except perhaps get more organized at cleaning. But the kids were my primary responsibility!

What I wish I had had, at the point in my motherhood journey, was a more organized approach to housework.

If I could have kept things neat, a lot of the chaos in our lives would have disappeared. And quite frankly, I did waste a lot of time. My children were wonderfully cared for, but the house was not. And with a little organization, it doesn’t take that much time.

But as the kids grew older, my housework didn’t improve that much, either. I just didn’t like cleaning, and I found it overwhelming. It was a definite tension between my husband and me, because he wanted the living room neat, and I felt the children took precedence (or really, my right not to have to clean everyday took precedence!). When I finally realized how important it was to him, I made it a priority to have that room clean when he came home, as an act of love. And when I started doing that, I realized I did actually have quite a bit of time for cleaning, if you do it systematically.

Motherhood is a job, and when you treat it that way, you get things done. When you treat it like a big party with the kids, where you all get to goof off, you don’t.

I loved those years with my children when they were babies, and I was awfully young myself, so I’m not beating myself up about it. But today, now that the kids are older, I have to ask myself everyday: am I working today? Or am I goofing off?

My husband is working, and doing wonderful things for our family. I owe him some effort, too. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take time to myself; but it does mean that I need to start seeing some of the organizational tasks that need to get done around the house as my job. Not because I’m female, but simply out of fairness:

If my husband works, I should work.

I know many homes where she stays home with the kids, but she doesn’t necessarily “work”. She has the TV on all day, or she’s on Facebook as much as possible, or she’s reading a book. Sure she plays with the kids, but stuff around the house just doesn’t get done.

I don’t think that’s respectful of one’s husband or one’s kids. We need to set an example for the kids that we all have to do our share, and that means getting stuff under control. And we need to show our husband that we appreciate his effort by putting some effort in ourselves, too.

Now if you work outside the home as well, things are a little different. I’ll address that in another post. But if you’re at home, caring for the house, you should be caring for the house. I don’t mean to make you feel guilty; I just mean to challenge you. It is so much harder to work when there’s no one standing over your shoulder. We need to learn to be our own bosses!

One of the things that helped me was developing charts, that I talk about in my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum, that help me get work done more efficiently. Everything has its day, so everything gets done in its time. You don’t have to buy the book to get the charts, though: they’re available for free download  when you subscribe to my parenting newsletter (just choose the parenting option, and you’ll get an email with a link to the charts).

Another thing that helped was just that mental switch: I am here to do a job–and that job is being a good mom. Am I doing it?

Besides, believe me, your house is so much nicer to live in when it’s organized. So let’s all get to work!

Winning the Chore Battle

Winning the Chore Battle
I know in most homes cleaning is a major source of conflict–or at least frustration. There’s a never-ending list of things that need to be cleaned, and yet there seems to be a shortage of those who are willing to pitch in. In fact, most moms find themselves cleaning alone, and when we do get others to help, it’s often more trouble and frustration than it’s worth.

That’s why we women often feel more like maids than wives and mothers--we feel like we work FOR people, and no one helps, and no one is grateful.

Many Saturday mornings when the children were younger I remember getting all excited about carrying out my chore plan. The kids knew what to expect, we all knew what was on our lists, I put on music, and we got to it.

Or at least I got to it. I cleaned, and the girls bickered. They fought more when doing chores than they ever did at any other time–even though they weren’t doing the SAME chores. Rebecca would get mad if she thought she was putting in more effort than Katie. Katie would get mad if she felt that Rebecca was telling her what to do. And I would yell and threaten and tell them nobody was getting their allowance if they’re going to make my life even more miserable!

We’re over that stage now, and I wrote what I learned in my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum. But here’s a condensed version:

I’ve learned that getting involved in their emotional squabbles aren’t worth it for me. It just makes me mad, and it doesn’t actually get anything done. Waltzing in and saying in a sing song voice, “Looks like nobody’s getting allowance unless you both leave each other alone in the next two minutes and finish your chores“, and then waltzing back out, works much better. Sometimes I’ve had to follow through and not given an allowance, and then they’re in a lot of trouble. I won’t drive them somewhere they want to go that week, because they made my life miserable. And slowly but surely they’ve stopped bickering.

But it’s not easy. And often chore systems get complicated not because the system itself is hard, but because we let our emotions get involved, and we get wrapped up in the mind games they’re playing. So here are several tips on how to recruit help for chores, and maintain your sanity in the process!

1. Accept the fact that you care about the house more than other people do.

Many kids don’t care if the house is a mess and if the only meals cooked are Kraft Dinner. Lots of husbands may not notice a dust bunny until it impedes their view of the television. So we don’t share values when it comes to keeping the house clean.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t work towards everybody pitching in. The key is just to realize that they’re not going to do it automatically, because they don’t share the commitment to it. Expecting others to want to do it is to set yourself up for major disappointment.

Approach it another way, though—that nobody really likes doing this, but it’s something that needs to get done—and you can make a difference.

2. Talk about chores as if they’re everyone’s job

Start with the idea that they’re not “helping” you if they clean; it’s everybody’s job to clean, not just yours. And then just talk about what a fair division of labour is. Of course, different family members require different strategies (you have no authority over your husband, for instance), but you can make a difference, once you stop doing everything and start leaving room for others to help!

3. Stop doing everything

They’re also not going to start pitching in if you keep doing everything. Don’t clean and then fume that no one’s mopping with you. You need to stop some of what you’re doing before others pick up the slack.

4. Find a chore system that works for you

Magnetic responsibility Chart

When my daughters were small, we put stickers on the fridge when they did their chores. Since they’ve been five we’ve paid them an allowance, and that’s worked well. When they were small, I also did the chore with them or checked up right then. Now we use a checklist and I expect it all done by Saturday night.

You just have to find a system that works for you. People could choose their favourite chores, and stick to those, or you could put chores on pieces of paper and stick them in a basket, and everyone “chooses” their chores for that week. Or you could rotate. It really needs to be something that works for your family. One suggestion, though: make sure every child knows how to do every chore, even if they don’t do them very often. One day, when they have their own household, they’ll have to do it, so this is part of their training for independence.

The main thing, though, is to be consistent. If you want the chores done by Saturday night, enforce that rule. If you are giving an allowance, actually give it out. Don’t forget, or it loses its appeal. And if you’re tying chores to allowance, then stop buying them chocolate bars everytime you’re out. Make them have a reason to want to earn their own money!

5. Reward cleaning, not attitude

Disrespect is obviously not tolerated. But if a child is dawdling, and cleaning as slowly as possible, is this really worth getting into a fight over? After all, they’re going to have to finish the chore before they can go do something they want to do. If they decide to be slower than molasses, they’re only hurting themselves.

My suggestion? Ignore behaviour like that. Tell them firmly but happily that they have to get it done, and then leave them alone. Don’t start fighting about attitude, because then you end up arguing about intangibles, and you can’t win. You start arguing about whether or not someone’s really trying, and they insist they are, and then where do you go? They start crying, you try not to yell, and it’s ugly all around.

You require the cleaning to get done. That’s non-negotiable. If they want to flop on the floor every now and then, or work slowly, or scowl, then leave the room so you can’t see them.

If they start fighting with siblings, as mine often do, I just tell them that they’re not allowed to make my life miserable and start taking away allowances. Or I just make sure that they’re cleaning on two different floors of the house.

6. Negotiate in good faith with your husband

If your husband is just not interested in cleaning, I don’t think this is worth getting into a huge fight about, personally. What’s more important to me is that the man spend some time with the children, not necessarily that he mop everything in sight. Everyone should be doing some work for the family, but if it works out fairly that Mom does most of the housework while Dad does most of the paid work, I think that’s okay. Every family needs to come to its own equilibrium.

If, however, you both work full-time and he still does little to nothing at home, you need to talk about it. Tell him how you’re feeling, and ask him to pitch in. If he just won’t, because he doesn’t have the time or because he’s already doing a lot of other chores, like maintenance or yard work, ask for his support in getting the kids to help. Some men still believe it’s the “woman’s” job, and thus it’s none of their concern, and shouldn’t be the kids’ concern, either.

Most men, though, are firmly committed to raising children who will be independent and responsible. If you talk to him about how teaching children chores is part of helping them to be independent, he’s more likely to see the value in it, and less likely to just expect mom to do everything. So have a date and plan for the future. Ask him what he wants the kids to be like in 5 years, in 10 years, in 15 years. How are you going to get the kids to that point? What chores should they have? How many? What do they need to know how to do before they move out? You may just find you have an ally after all!

Tomorrow’s Saturday, the big chore day at many people’s homes. Are you ready to go? If you want to talk to your family tonight about changing the way you do things, you can download my free chore charts here!

Featured Products in this Post
To Love, Honor and Vacuum
Melissa and Doug’s Magnetic Responsibility Chart

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Sheila Wray Gregoire is the author of The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.

Childhood Should Not Be Eternal

 

Tones
Photo by Dan Foy
When children are two and parents are attempting the toilet training feat, there’s a phrase that we all seem to say: “Look at what a big boy/girl you are!” We encourage kids to want to think of themselves as “big”. And they love it! They walk up to complete strangers and announce, “I’m a big boy!”

What happens to that pride in growing up?

It somehow disappears. Several commenters and emailers suggested I was being harsh in my Halloween column, when I said that teenagers should not be trick or treating. I know many trick or treaters in my neighbourhood last night were well past my expiry date for revelers, so I don’t think that my interpretation of the etiquette of the evening is very widespread.

So I’ve been rethinking my take: am I wrong on Halloween? Perhaps. I’ve never been enamoured with the holiday to begin with, so I may be being a bit grumpy about it. But I’ll tell you why I think it’s important: too often we deny our children the chance to grow up.

Our society is suffering from an epidemic of overaged adolescents. College graduates move back in with their parents (though much of that is the lack of ability to find a job). People don’t marry; they live together. They become addicted to video games. Teens are often very rude. They don’t know how to hold down a job, even if they wanted to. They don’t seem in a hurry to hit the milestones I rushed full tilt to: finish school, get married, have a baby, get a job. Those things are to put off as long as possible, so we can still “have fun”. And fun is described as anything that does not require responsibility.

We live in an adolescent society, and I see that as a bad thing. Thus, in my parenting and my writing I have taken every opportunity possible to encourage children to grow up, in age appropriate ways, of course. Here are a couple of random thoughts on how to encourage kids to “grow up”:

1. Talk About the Next Milestone

From the time they are little, talk “up” the next milestone. We do it when they’re toilet training; let’s keep doing it. See responsibility and increased ability as something to look forward to. “Soon you’re going to be able to stay in the house by yourself! What a big boy!” “Soon you’re going to be able to read chapter books!” “Soon you’re going to be able to go to youth group!”

And then, when those milestones happen, get excited about it! Have a mini-dinner party about it! It’s not hard; just at your regular sit down family dinner wear paper hats and toast the child who has reached another milestone. Talk about growing up as if it’s a good thing.

2. Give Increased Privileges

I remember at each birthday for a while I was allowed to stay up 15 minutes or half an hour later at night. I was so looking forward to birthdays because I’d get to go to bed later!

That’s hard to do, though, if kids don’t have a strict bedtime. Parents today aren’t as scheduled as parents were when we were growing up, and because of that it’s hard to make distinctions between different ages. If you’re already letting your 8-year-old stay up until 9:30 at night, or go to bed whenever he wants, how do you give him increased privileges when he turns 9?

Try to keep some elements of your home structured, like bedtime, play dates, how many extracurricular activities they do or what type of extracurricular activities, or what TV shows they can watch (if you have a TV). Then, when they reach the next milestone, you can let them do more things.

So don’t let all children do everything. I know that’s hard when you have a whole pile of kids, and you’re just trying to keep things working, but distinguish between the ages. Give the older one more privileges, and then growing up will be seen as a positive thing.

3. Grant More Responsibility

At the same time, give children more responsibility as they get older. Increase the number of chores they’re expected to do. Help them learn to run a household, whether it’s ensuring they know how to cook a few meals by the time they’re 13 or teaching them how to clean well. When kids feel capable, they tend to act more mature and think of themselves as older.

Then, with that responsibility give increased allowance. Don’t give every kid the same amount of spending money; increase it as they age so that they want to get bigger.

4. Put an Age Limit on Some Activities

Here’s where my Halloween strategy comes in. You may not agree with it for Halloween (though I definitely do), but think long and hard about this. We don’t want children to grow up thinking that they can still act like children, even when they’re in their late teens. We want to raise children who, once they’re 18, will want to get a job, will want to become more independent, will want to plan for the future.

To do that, we have to encourage our children to stop thinking of themselves as kids. We have to encourage them to think of themselves as being “beyond childhood”, and to see that as a badge of honour.

So take some things in your family and call them off limits once a child hits 13 or 16. I would put Trick or Treating in this category, but you may add something else, like going to a particular summer camp, or doing a certain extracurricular activity. Whatever makes sense for your family.

Just make sure that as your children age, you are distinguishing between childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and that there is a progression. Don’t assume that children will one day wake up and think of themselves as adults and be happy that they’re adults!

5. Mark Milestones

Last summer we threw a blessing party for my 13-year-old. I had a mini-spa set up in my dining room and living room, where we were doing pedicures, manicures, and facials. It was great fun.

Then, afterwards, I invited twelve women and several teenage girls who Katie looked up to to say a blessing over her, and to affirm something that they saw in her. We did the same thing for Rebecca when she was 13, and it was wonderful.

This winter Rebecca is turning 16, and we’ll celebrate another milestone. Our society doesn’t do that as well as they did in the past. We don’t have ceremonies marking the fact that “now you are an adult”, because it takes so long, with education and training, to function as an adult today. But I believe that’s all the more reason that we should mark milestones and congratulate our children for growing into the adults God made them to be. Help them to see themselves as growing older; help them to see themselves as being made for a purpose; help them to see themselves as capable people, whom God will use to live out that purpose.

Their life, in other words, is bigger than just them. You can’t live life as an extended adolescent; we have to embrace the fact that God has called us to something, and is now equipping us for it.

One last warning: The new Superman graphic novel has radically changed the Superman character. Education writer Joanne Jacobs explains, “He’s still super, but he’s not happy about it. DC Comics’ new Superman is a sullen, brooding and angst-ridden 20-year-old who prefers a hoodie to a cape”. They’ve turned Superman into a brooding adolescent, instead of a hero who wants to fight for justice and for what’s right. Even our cultural icons have started to glamourize this extended adolescence. If you don’t want that for your child, you will have to fight against it, and that means making some things off limits for teens, giving them more responsibility, and marking milestones.

That’s why I believe teens shouldn’t trick or treat. Perhaps it’s only a minor thing, but it’s part of my bigger strategy to help my girls grow up. I don’t know what stage your children are at, but it starts in the early years, encouraging them to look for the next milestone, giving them increasing responsibiliity and increasing privileges, and congratulating them when they reach a certain skill level or responsibility level. Let’s talk about growing up as if it’s a good thing; let’s remind them that it’s part of God’s plan.

If we all did that, I bet we’d have fewer brooding Supermen.

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