Stages of Parenting: Living with the Ebb and Flow of Relationships

Stages of Parenting: Going with the Natural Ebb and Flow of Relationships

The only constant in life is change. Have you heard that before? Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on life, and you’ve figured out a good routine, and your relationships are on an even keel, something happens to upset that balance. Marriage has different stages. Jobs had different stages. There are even different stages of parenting!

This week I wrote a hard series on my blog: dealing with sexual dysfunction in marriage. So many women write to me torn up with the difficulties they have–difficulties they never thought they would experience. Things were going well, and then–BAM!
I’m glad that series is behind me, because it was hard to write. Yet that attitude–that life throws you a curve ball, and suddenly everything changes–is perhaps the root of the problem.

We expect things to stay the same. We think that SAME is the point of life.

What if it’s not? What if life is supposed to be about change, and adapting to new circumstances? After all, it’s only through change that we grow. And I don’t think God wants us to be all relaxed, with everything all figured out, with our perfect routines and schedules. He wants us to have to rely on Him, and that means that life will be in a constant state of flux. Perhaps if we expected that, and understood it, we wouldn’t interpret regular, everyday things as huge curve balls.

Let’s look at the different stages of parenting to show you what I mean.

Our relationships with our children change over time, and that is a natural thing.

When the kids were first born, they were definitely more mine than my husband’s, in many ways. I fed them. I was with them. He played with them, but not as much as I wanted him to, although he was a great dad.

My youngest even played strange with him (and he was around a lot). She just wanted me, pure and simple. It probably had something to do with that whole nursing thing. Daddy couldn’t do that!

Then they hit one, and could run and laugh and play, and they became Daddy’s Little Girls. They’d go to me if they had a boo boo, but they’d play with Daddy. He was the fun one.

When Katie hit two she decided she preferred me again, and wouldn’t let Daddy tuck her in. That was hard on all of us, but she grew out of that, too, and Daddy became the fun one again. She would wrestle with him, and sneak up on him to see if she could pinch him without him noticing, and things like that. I was still there for the daily things, like getting her dressed, and making her meals, and bathing her, and she always came to me with those types of concerns, but Daddy was her toy.

That isn’t to say he didn’t discipline the girls; just that when they were little, let’s say up to about 10, they preferred him to me when it came to having fun. They preferred me to him when it came to talking things over, but in general they liked him.

When they hit puberty, everything changed. So much of what Keith had done with them was physical: wrestling, hugging, tickling. All of a sudden he had a weird time tickling Becca, and he stopped. It took a few years to renegotiate the “new normal”. And now, as our oldest has a relationship of her own with a guy, Keith has had to learn to deal with someone else holding her hand. It’s quite the adjustment! I’m having a much easier time with it than he is.

Sometimes I get frustrated because I expect him to parent like I do, but I have to remember that first year of their lives, when he didn’t play with them quite as much. He was still trying to figure out where they fit in, and they needed me. I think we’re going through that again. He feels like he’s on the sidelines, because they have all these “girl issues”, and their relationship needs a kickstart. But it will get one; I just have to be patient with all of them.

If you’re wondering why you’re husband doesn’t play with the kids more, ask yourself: could it just be a stage?

Or what if one of your children is preferring you to him right now, and it’s really wearing on you? Again, it could be just a fleeting stage. Katie only played strange for a few weeks. She only made me put her to bed for a little while. And it usually coincided with something big in her life, like she was learning to walk or learning to use the potty. Once these stresses were over she was okay again.

It’s not just men who have ebbs and flows, too.

I have had periods in my parenting when I felt as if I preferred one girl over the other, and it always sent me through heaps of guilt.

But when I look back, I can see that one was going through a difficult transition time, and was naturally more difficult, or moody, or stubborn. And it’s not as if it’s always the same girl, either. Quite often I’ll feel naturally close to one of them for a year or so, and then it will flip. I try not to show favouritism, and it’s not as if I love one more, it’s just that there may be one that I find it easier to be with. As time has gone on, though, I find that it’s more because of developmental stages than it is with them as people. I really do enjoy who they’re becoming.

Looking back on my life I can see years when I’ve had more energy as a parent, and years when I haven’t. I can see years when I’ve been closer to God, and years when I’ve been farther. I think this is natural. Perhaps if we kept that view of life in mind–that it’s rarely a straight line, but more of a series of hills–we’d be easier on ourselves, on our kids, and on our mates. Let’s keep the long term in mind. In the long term, if we’re consistent parents, if we love our kids, and if we nurture them, they’re going to turn out well, most likely. They will be our friends when they are older. They will follow God. But in the short term we may feel like failures with one particular child, or we may resent our spouse because he’s not as involved anymore, or we may feel as if we are doing a bad job.

I think families are more flexible and forgiving than we give them credit for. When your children look back, sure they may remember that one time you totally lost your temper and said something mean. But they’ll also remember all the great times you had, and that will be their primary memory. In the long run, two years that Keith spends renegotiating his relationship with them in these tumultuous years, or several years that I spend trying to get out of a self-imposed wilderness, won’t matter so much. It’s the collection of memories that are important, not each individual one.

So remember those hills and valleys. It’s okay if you’re in a valley; a hill is up ahead. And it will get better. The only constant in life is change, and change is a good thing. So weather those valleys, and keep praying. Another change is up ahead!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of Technology Undermining the Dinner Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why It’s Okay to Think About Sex

Thinking about Sex: Hey, married women, maybe we should do this more!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! And today best-selling author Shannon Ethridge is joining us with an excerpt from her new book, The Passion Principles, where she shares about how thinking about sex is perfectly okay:

In the summer of 1999 we took our young children for an afternoon outing to the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas. As we entered an area called the “Texas Petting Zoo,” Erin and Matthew were thrilled over the thought that they’d actually be getting hands-on experience with the animals. Our first stop was the Longhorn cattle pen, where several dozen parents and children waited their turn to pet the new baby calf, which just happened to be tucked up underneath his mama’s udders for an afternoon snack.

My three-year old son watched this scene in amazement, then boldly inquired of me in his loudest outdoor voice, “Mama, did you do that to me when you was a cow?”

Every adult within earshot giggled, and I had to join them. It was an honest question, so I gave an honest answer and replied, “Matthew, I actually did feel like a cow when I was doing that to you!” The giggling turned to guffaws of laughter, and thus a precious memory was made that afternoon.

Not only did Matthew learn how baby calves and baby boys were fed by their mothers, he also learned how many baby animals are made. It seemed like every cage we encountered was filled with animals in heat. The giraffes were necking, the gazelles were horny, the camels were humping. It was like someone spiked the hay with some powerful aphrodisiac. And of course, there was always an inquiring child in the crowd wanting to know, “What are those two animals doing?”

Although humans are certainly on a much higher intellectual and spiritual plane than animals, our basic physical instincts are really not very different. We have four main activities that we naturally gravitate toward over and over—eating, drinking, sleeping, and sexually connecting with our mates. It’s simply how God wired us, and it’s a beautiful thing if you consider the big-picture purposes He had in mind.

Why did God wire us for hunger and thirst? So we wouldn’t starve to death or get dehydrated and make ourselves sick. So our bodies could thrive and manufacture the energy we need to function when we respond to these natural instincts with healthy food and water.

Why did God wire us for sleep? So our bodies and brains could rest and get reenergized for another day of living for His glory. So we could go about our days feeling refreshed, at least until our batteries needed to be recharged once again.

Why did God wire us for sex? Just to name a few reasons:

• to bring beautiful babies into the world,
• so our bodies and brains could experience intense physical pleasure,
• to release stress and tension,
• to medicate emotional pain,
• so our hearts and spirits would feel intimately connected and passionately bonded to another human being,
• so we would feel passionately loved, and have a powerful way of communicating to another that he or she is deeply loved as well.

Most of us can accept our hunger, our thirst, and our need for sleep as perfectly natural, but the fact that we’re sexual creatures can be hard to accept, at least not without a certain degree of guilt. But do we ever feel guilty for experiencing true hunger several times a day? Or genuine thirst? Do we ever feel sinful for growing sleepy every eighteen hours or so? Of course not. It’s how our bodies function, and, like those zoo animals, we don’t waste much time analyzing it at all. We just feed those needs in order to satisfy ourselves.

So why do we waste time and energy analyzing, justifying, fretting, or feeling guilty over our sexual needs and desires? Seems silly, doesn’t it?

I believe the reason we worry about our sexuality is because we have somehow bought the lie that sex is dirty, shameful, base, animalistic, and hedonistic rather than natural, instinctual, spiritual, sublime, and holy. As a result, some of us have lost our ability to accept, embrace, or celebrate that facet of our humanity. Instead, we may shudder with shock and embarrassment to seriously consider how often our brains entertain sexual thoughts. In fact, many of us wish we could just flip a switch and never think of sex at all. Some have actually mastered a variety of techniques that allow them to do just that—to ignore and neglect their natural, God-given sexuality altogether. While I’m certainly not trying to shame anyone, I think the fact that we’ve grown so adept at absolutely starving our natural sexual desires is, indeed, a crying shame.

But what if we learned to accept the fact that God has created us as sexual human beings, and a natural, healthy sex drive comes part and parcel with that blueprint? That sexual thoughts are as natural as a hunger pain? Or a dry mouth? Or sleepy eyes? What if we could grow as comfortable with and ecstatic over a delightful afternoon tryst in our marriage bed as we are with, say, a plate full of our favorite holiday foods, a cup hot cocoa or apple cider, and an afternoon nap to ease the calorie-induced coma? Yes, it is possible to enjoy sex as freely as we indulge in satisfying these other natural cravings!

We must grasp the fact that God placed these human desires in us for a reason—for many divine reasons, actually. If we had no internal compass pointing us toward food, couldn’t we starve to death? If we had no recurring thoughts of drinking liquids, we’d dehydrate within forty-eight hours! No natural gravitational pull toward a pillow means we’d become physically exhausted to the point of delirium within a few short days. Although individuals can live without sex for long periods of time, or even a lifetime if they so choose, let’s think in terms of the bigger picture.

What if humans in general didn’t have any sort of sexual appetite at all? What would happen? Not only would we become painfully disconnected and isolated from one another, but the human race would eventually die off within a century or so! Heaven forbid!

God gave us natural, healthy appetites for everything that our minds, bodies, and souls need. These appetites guarantee our optimum survival. As such, these appetites are certainly a blessing, not a burden. So let’s embrace, cherish, and celebrate them fully!

PRAYER: Thank you, God, for healthy sexual appetites, and for godly ways to satisfy them! May husbands and wives both find great pleasure in one another, and may our marriage relationships bring you great glory as we learn to love each other fully and unreservedly!


Shannon EthridgeShannon Ethridge is a best-selling author, speaker, and certified life coach with a master’s degree in counseling/human relations from Liberty University. She has spoken to college students and adults since 1989 and is the author of 21 books, including the million-copy best-selling Every Woman’s Battle series. She is a frequent guest on TV and radio programs and mentors aspiring writers and speakers through her BLAST Program (Building Leaders, Authors, Speakers & Teachers). Her most recent book is The Passion Principles. Find more information on Shannon here.

Christian Marriage Advice
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How Married Couples Can Help Single Moms

Today Latoya Edwards, homeschooling single mom and blogger, guest posts about how married couples can be a blessing to the single moms in their midst.

 

how married couples can help single momsI learned a lot about marriage when mine started to fall apart.

It’s strange how that happens sometimes. God uses our difficult situations to teach us important lessons.  I was blessed to have some very loving and supportive friends in my life during that hard time. I know that not everyone has that when going through a divorce.  People often ask me how they can best help/support single moms like me. Today I want to share four ways that married couples can be a blessing to single parents and those whose marriage may be in crisis.

1. Prayer

Prayer is one thing that you can never have too much of. There were many people praying for me as I walked the difficult path of divorce for 3.5 years. And there have been even more praying for me since.  If you know of a family that is in crisis or a single mom or dad pray for them. Pray for healing and restoration for all involved. Pray for peace in the home and comfort for the children.  If you have the chance to ask the family for specific prayer needs great! And don’t forget to pray about other ways to be a blessing.

2. Be a Mentor

One of the things that was sorely lacking in my marriage was a godly example of what a husband and wife were called to do. No one sat us down to walk us through the God required of each of us in our marriage. And no one was there to show us the godly way to resolve our issues.  If you know a newly married couple or a couple that is having some trouble consider mentoring them. Walk with them on the journey of marriage.

3. Continue to be a Source of Support

I can’t speak for single dads but as a single mom I need lots of help and support. There’s no man in my home or someone that is around on a consistent basis to be a role model for my boys.  There are things that I struggle with because I’m a woman and don’t truly understand all the inner workings of boyhood.  I have a friend that has adopted my little family. She and her husband pray for us regularly. They have us over for dinner and her husbands takes some time to pour into my boys spiritually.  There are no words that can express how much that blesses me.  Divorce is hard and the hard part isn’t over when the judge signs off on the final judgment.  Single parents need all the support we can get.

4. Be an Example

Invite a single mom and her children over for dinner. There are many reasons for this. You give her a night off of kitchen duty. You also have a chance to see if there are any needs that you can minister to. But another thing that is really important (and often overlooked) is that you have the opportunity to show the children in that family what  God intended a family to look like.

There are all those scary statistics about children (especially boys) raised by single moms.

Want to help with those numbers?

  • Be an example.
  • Give those children a chance to see a husband loving and supporting his wife and children.
  • Show them a wife serving her family joyfully.
  • Let them see children, who respect and obey their parents.

It makes a difference!

When my boys started asking me what a man was supposed to do, it was hard for me to answer. I couldn’t point them to their father at the time because he was not walking with God. But I was able to point to my friend’s husband and say, “You see how hard Mr. X works? He is providing for his family and he always makes sure to do fun stuff with his children even when he is tired.”

There are many other ways to for married couples to be a blessing to single parents. What would you add to the list?

Latoya EdwardsLaToya Edwards is a single, homeschooling mama of two boys. She writes about her journey as a single parent, homeschooler, special needs parent and more at  www.LaToyaEdwards.net.

Reader Question: How Do I Stop Yelling at My Kids?

Reader Question of the Week

Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Today’s question is a common one: “how do I stop yelling at my kids?”

A reader writes:

I yell at my kids too much. I’m just really busy and I don’t want to be this kind of mom but I find myself often yelling at them when they don’t listen to me. I don’t want to be like that, but how do I stop yelling at my kids? What should I do to calm down?

That’s such a common problem, and I hope I can offer some helpful thoughts!

How do I stop yelling at my kids? Thoughts on strategies to keep calm--that actually work!Are you Yelling at Your Kids Because You’re Too Busy?

Most of the time I yell it’s because I’m aggravated. And the reason I’m aggravated is because I have plans, and things need to get done, and other people aren’t getting with the program. So there are two elements to this problem:

1. I have plans that aren’t getting met

2. Other people aren’t getting with the program

We yell because we think the real issue is #2. But what if it’s actually #1?

Let’s take two scenarios and see how this could play out:

You need to leave to pick up the older kids from school at 3:45. Once you get them you’ll be going directly to karate lessons, so you need all their gear. Because you’ll be at karate so long, you really need to have dinner ready to go when you get home, so you have to have something ready to go. Before you go to school, then, you plan to cut up all the veggies for the stir fry you want to make, marinate the meat, and get the rice cooker on. That way dinner will only take 15 minutes once you get home.

Your younger two go down for a nap at 1. Instead of getting dinner ready, you decide to check Facebook. They wake up at 2:30, but they’re playing relatively well, and so you start browsing the news about the Olympics and other things. At 3:10 you realize you really need to get going. You jump up from your computer and start cutting vegetables. At that moment the kids, who had been playing well for forty minutes, start whining about wanting a snack. You’re annoyed. Then you realize that you never switched the wash into the dryer. You spend the next twenty minutes yelling at everybody as you run around like a chicken with her head cut off.

Here’s another scenario:

10-year-old Ben has basketball practice tonight and 12-year-old Jessica has hockey practice. You have to be at one rink for practice at 6:15 and the other one at 6:35. You won’t be home from everything until 8:30. You need to have homework done and dinner made and consumed before you leave the house at 6:05. But your husband doesn’t get home to help until 5:45, and you don’t get home until 5. While you’re making dinner you’re trying to get the kids to do their homework, but they’re being really slow. They’re whining. They’re waiting for you to fill in the answers, and you can’t do that and brown ground beef at the same time. You’re really aggravated because you’re only taking them to sports to be nice to them, but they won’t cooperate. You lose it.

Do you see what’s happening in both of those scenarios? The children are behaving perfectly normally. The problem is not that the children won’t get with the program; it’s that you have made decisions which makes it virtually impossible for the children to cooperate.

In the first instance, you chose to use time when you could have been getting things done to browse the computer; in the second, you’ve overscheduled the kids’ lives, and after a long day kids don’t always want to do homework right away.

The problem, then, isn’t that the kids aren’t being good. It’s that what you’re asking them (and what you’re asking of yourself) may very well be unreasonable.

Suggestion: Take a look at the last 3 times you really yelled at your kids. Analyze the situation. What was going on? Were you in a hurry? What was your schedule like? Can you trace it back? Is there something that YOU can do differently to prevent getting annoyed with everyone and everything?

Are you Yelling at Your Kids Because You’re Afraid of Something?

Anger is often a secondary emotion. We often feel anger because it’s “safer” to feel than some of the other emotions–insecurity, fear, guilt. So when someone pushes a button that triggers a “scary” emotion, we often react in anger, sometimes without realizing what the real trigger is.

Look at this scenario:

You’ve been teaching your 7-year-old letters and phonics for several years now, and he’s not getting it. He has a little book from school that he’s supposed to read to you at bedtime, but he couldn’t care less. He won’t even try. You’re frustrated and scared that he’ll never read, and you blow up at him when he won’t put in the effort. You want him to grow up to get a good job, not be stuck in some go-nowhere job.

In the meantime, you and your husband are having money issues. Your husband never finished his education, though you do have some college. And you’re scared your son will repeat the pattern. You’re scared, and you yell.

Or perhaps the house is always a mess and the kids seem to squabble a lot, and you find yourself yelling constantly. But if you analyze your feelings, it’s really that you’re scared you’re a failure. All you ever wanted was to be a wife and mom, and now you can’t even keep a house under control. What kind of mother are you?

Suggestion: Next time you find yourself yelling at your children, ask yourself: what am I really feeling here? Am I scared of something? Am I feeling guilty about something? Pray about that feeling instead.

Dayspring Peace Mug

Run “Yelling Interception” by Taking Time to Talk to Your Kids

You’re trying to feed the baby and your toddler is trying to crawl up in your lap and is making the baby cry. Or maybe you’re trying to talk on the phone and your 4-year-old is constantly pulling at your leg and asking for something. It seems as if you can never get any time alone, away from constant demands!

Here’s the truth: kids like to “check in” and know that they’re secure and safe. They know that when they have your undivided attention. If you can give your child some undivided attention throughout the day, even if it’s just in short spurts, they’re far more likely to let you have some of your own alone time later, as I wrote in this post on how to prevent temper tantrums.

Suggestion: Before you start something where you need the kids to leave you alone, take some 1-on-1 (or 1-on-2) time with them. Need to nurse the baby in an hour? Pull the toddler up on your lap now and read a story. Need to clean the house today? Before you start, get on the floor and play a few games with the kids. Make it a habit of giving your kids some attention before you need them to leave you in peace.

Set Consequences for Bad Behavior, and Let the Consequences Do the Work–Not the Yelling

Yelling is not a punishment, yet when we’re mad at our kids, often the first thing we do is yell at them. If that’s all we ever do, though, kids often learn to drown it out. It doesn’t phase them. You yell; you vent some steam; but nothing really changes.

How do I stop yelling at my kids? Try doing something way more effective! It’s better to have consequences for bad behaviour that are immediate, that are known, and that are obvious. So, for instance, if you tell kids to clean up, and then you give another warning, and they don’t, they lose their iPod for a week. You don’t have to yell; you just take the iPod away. (Here’s a bunch of effective discipline techniques for children that won’t induce yelling).

I’d suggest having three simple levels of punishments that will work for a variety of things. You could take away iPods or other electronics; you could take away video games and TV; or you could take away outings or fun things. If they’re younger, they could lose a toy. But just have three consequences for each child that work, and put them on the fridge. You can decide then if it’s a Defcon 1 situation or a Defcon 3.

When you start following through with consequences, kids usually start listening to you, and listening to the warning, better.

Practice A Serious Voice–not a Yelling Voice

Have you ever noticed how little kids especially are more inclined to listen when dad says something? My husband, a pediatrician, says it’s because dads have deeper, and thus scarier, voices.

We moms often have this sing-song voice. And we spend our lives saying things like this:

Okay, guys, we’re going to have to go in twenty minutes! So you’re going to have to start cleaning up your stuff, okay?

5 minutes later:

Guys, it’s really time to start putting things away and getting going.

5 minutes later:

I don’t see anyone cleaning up their stuff! Come on, we’ve got to get going!

5 minutes later:

(Yelling) I said to clean up!!!!! Why do you never listen to me!!!!????

But what did that sound like to a child? You’re likely using the same voice that you use for everyday conversation. Most women don’t vary our voice tones very much.

Suggestion: If you have something you really want your children to do, use a lower voice and fewer words. Instead of saying, “Okay, guys, we’re going to have to go in twenty minutes! So you’re going to have to start cleaning up your stuff, okay?”, try “Children, Please start cleaning up now.” In a deep voice. Change your tone, and issue a command, don’t make a statement. Let kids know you mean business, and it may not escalate like that. It will feel unnatural, like you’re being mean, but try it! Kids need to know the difference between you talking to them and you asking them to do something.

God Wants to Help You Stop Yelling at Your Kids

I hope some of those suggestions resonate with you! We all yell for different reasons, and often different triggers set us off. Recognizing those triggers, and seeing the cause, can help us substantially.

But I also want to reassure you that God wants to help you with this. He doesn’t want you yelling at your precious children, since they are also His precious children. He says in Ephesians 4:29,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

But He also says that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. You can do this because God can strengthen you and help you! So when you feel weak, ask Him to help you be a great mother to these kids. Ask Him to give you patience. Seek after patience in other areas of your life, too. Seek after peace and affirmation from God, so you don’t need it from your kids. And know that even this struggle can help bring you closer to God, and through that He can open the window onto some things in your heart, and can help healing you and your whole family.

Dayspring I Can Do All Things Plaque

Now let me know: If you’re trying to stop yelling at your kids, which scenario do you most identify with? Feeling busy? Feeling fear? Finding that kids just don’t listen to you? Which suggestion spoke to you? Or do you have other ones for us? Let me know in the comments!

Why Do We Have Middle School Dances Again?

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I tackle the ridiculousness of middle school dances.
Middle School Dances are Ridiculous on so many levels. Read on...

Love is the Air.

Drug stores are selling boxloads of cards so that 8-year-olds can tell all 23 kids in their class, “You’re special!” Flyers are reminding men that they had better show up with a gift. Engagement rings are selling like hotcakes.

Yet perhaps love shouldn’t be in the air for everyone.

When it comes to middle schoolers, for instance, love is definitely better off waiting.

In fact, a study reported in USA Today found that the age that kids start dating is highly correlated to the age at which they first have intercourse. Ninety-one percent of kids who started dating at 12 had had sex by high school graduation, compared with just 20% of kids who started dating at age 16. Delaying pairing off pays off. And a huge 2012 University of Texas study found that delaying sex until your twenties meant better romantic relationships later. People who wait for both dating and sex tend to end up happier.

It’s not just happiness, though, that improves if you wait. It’s also academic achievement. Kids who remain virgins throughout high school are one third as likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to graduate college. Other important findings: kids who remain virgins in high school are less than half as likely to suffer from depression and less than half as likely to go on welfare as adults.

If you want a society with predominantly productive citizens in stable relationships, then, we’ll want to encourage kids to wait to have sex, which includes encouraging them to wait to date. Whether you’re looking at it from an economic standpoint, a moral standpoint, or a public health standpoint, it just doesn’t make sense to encourage kids to date at early ages.

All of this leads me to ask: why on earth, then, do we have middle school dances, all put on by our Boards of Education?

Are we out of our collective minds? We’re taking kids as young as grade 6 and holding dances during school hours. Why encourage kids that young to pair off?

I got my first “boyfriend” because of a middle school dance in grade 7. I’d never even thought of dating him before, but he asked me to dance, and all of a sudden we were “going out”. Looking back it was embarrassing, but then all I felt was pressure. All the girls were wondering, “is anyone going to dance with me?” And all the boys were wondering what the girls would wear. Kids who had never thought of “asking someone out” suddenly got fixated on it.

Ask a school principal and they’ll likely say they only hold these middle school dances because parents insist on it, and that’s probably true.

Too many parents think “it’s so cute” when little Jenny has a boyfriend at ten.

But even if this starts out as clean fun, the younger kids start to date, the more they’ll experiment as they age. Do you really want your child going down that road?

Maybe some parents want middle school dances, and likely a lot of the kids do, too. But that doesn’t mean other parents have to stand for it. You could suggest a square dance caller instead. You could offer to host a party with hula hoop contests and limbo contests instead of a traditional dance. You could pick up your kids early and take them home that day. Or better still, you could ask at the next PTA meeting “what advantage are we getting from asking 12 and 13-year-olds to pair up?” Because unless you can tell me the benefit, I’ll never believe that it will outweigh the potential harm.

The Talk(s)Do you want to open up conversation with your child about dating? I’ve got a great resource–Barrett Johnson’s book “The Talk(s)”, about how to keep those conversations regular and natural. Get the ebook or get it in paperback. It’s the best book of its kind that I’ve seen!

Have your kids attended middle school dances? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

We’ve Got Cooties!

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column was really just a shortened version of yesterday’s post, so instead I thought I’d run a column from back in 2007, that I really enjoyed. We’ve had some heavy posts this week, and I thought we needed something lighter! So my daughter does not have lice RIGHT NOW; it was back in 2007!

We've got CootiesRecently, a friend warned me that one of my daughter’s playmates had lice, so before Katie went to bed that night, I called her over to take a peek at her scalp. As I parted her hair, I was greeted by a bug running for cover.

I did what any normal mother would do. “Keith,” I shrieked, “get over here!” He ambled over, not too worried, and gazed at the offending creature. “Huh,” he said. “Look at that.” He’s a pediatrician, and pediatricians have no sympathy unless someone is coughing up a lung.

I insisted that he leave right that instant and get some lice killer shampoo. He asked if it could wait until morning. I gave him That Look. Off he went.

We stayed up until midnight as I picked eggs out of my daughter’s hair. We changed everyone’s bedding, even mine, because she likes to crawl into bed and wrestle in the morning. We banished all stuffed animals to garbage bags in the garage for two weeks. We vacuumed the sofa. Basically, I overreacted. But let me reiterate: my kid had something crawling in her hair. I think I was entitled.

The next day, I ran an internet search for information about lice, and found a very comprehensive site put out by Harvard University. But the more I read, the more I felt that these people had far too much education to understand the real world.

First, Harvard went to great pains to declare that having lice is not a big deal.

It doesn’t cause any illness or infection, and it’s not nearly as transmissible as a cold or flu virus. They went on to say that kids with lice should be allowed in school, because we let kids in who have colds. And colds, to Harvard, are far worse.

Obviously no one at Harvard has ever done laundry.

But here’s the thing, Harvard. I knew Katie wasn’t going to die, or get a debilitating illness, or be disabled. I was not worried about her health. But I was worried because my kid had bugs in her hair. Bugs. In. Her. Hair. Pardon me if I think that’s a big deal, but I think having insects crawling on one’s scalp is enough to cause most mothers to go into panic mode.

Harvard then went on to explain how lice tend to like clean hair, so there should be no stigma attached to it. Again, I understand. I know that it was not Katie’s fault that she got it.

But it would be my fault, I think, if she failed to get rid of it. While clean kids get it, dirty kids rarely get over it. It’s not easy to fight the little buggers; you have to comb those eggs out, and they’re sticky little things. You have to kill all the little babies. You have to wash your child’s bedding and toys. But some parents don’t do all this. And then a few weeks later the child has a full blown case again.

It’s almost guaranteed that there will be at least one child per classroom who has chronic lice, and I know some parents who make sure their children’s hair is not “clean” at school as a precaution. It’s not that they swear off shampoo; it’s that they pile on the gel and hair spray. Apparently the bugs don’t like goop, so it’s like putting a “No Trespassing” sign on your children’s heads. We’re going to do that from now on, even though Harvard failed to recommend it.

They did, however, try to put a positive spin on the lice thing in general, proving once again that academics are overpaid.

“A few lice on the head should not cause alarm; rather, they present an opportunity for parents to spend the needed time with their children in order to find and remove the offending insects.” What a great bonding opportunity!

If any of you would like such an opportunity, we saved a few eggs in a plastic bag to use in a science experiment later. I’d be glad to give them up. Personally, though, I’d suggest a game of Monopoly or a walk around the block. But then, I don’t have a Ph.D., so you’ll have to make that judgment yourself.

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Planning Now for Normal Christmas Disappointment

Avoiding Christmas DisappointmentToday’s post is a Guest Post by my good friend and frequent commenter Cheri Gregory, writing about dealing with disappointment at Christmas.

For my nephew’s 3rd birthday, my sister-in-law, Karen, ordered a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cake. Her instructions for the baker were crystal clear: NO FLOWERS.

But when she went to pick up the cake, the plastic figures of Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael stood–in all their Ninja fighting glory–in the midst of blue, yellow, and pink icing roses.

With no time for a re-do, Karen improvised Plan B. She smeared all the frosting flowers together into a brown puddle atop the cake and stuck the four Ninja Turtle figures in the middle.

Little Justin’s first response to seeing his cake was,  “Eeeeewww!  What’s that?”

When Karen replied, “It’s sewer slime!” Justin was thrilled.

And I was in awe of her ability to flex instead of fume.

To Avoid Christmas Disappointment, Plan Your Attitude Now

With so much happening during the holiday season, there’s a lot we can’t control. Yet I often act as if I do. And it starts with an attitude of how things “have to” turn out.

  • I have to find the obscure ingredients for this one exotic recipe
  • The kids have to be well-behaved during photographs.
  • She has to be excited about the gift I I give her.
  • He has to be in a good mood while gifts are being opened.
  • We all have to have fun together.

Now don’t get me wrong: It’s wonderful when everything goes smoothly. And I always hope it will.

But I also need to recognize that nothing has to happen the way I want it to. I’d prefer if it did. But it doesn’t have to.

The sun will still rise on December 26 if none of the above happen.

The opposite of the “it has to happen” attitude is the “it will be what it will be” approach, which I’ve always found rather fatalistic.

I prefer a “We’ll make the best of what we’ve got” perspective: proactive yet flexible.

Make Your Back-Up Plan(s) Now

Aside from all the unnecessary stress and anxiety that an “it has to happen” attitude can cause, it can also delude us into thinking that we don’t need any back up plans.

But what if…

  • …someone (or everyone!) gets sick? (1992, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009)
  • …the food turns out awful?  (2003, 2010)
  • …someone’s in a bad mood? (every year since 1988)
  • …the power goes out? (2005, 2009, 2011)
  • …the car needs 4 new tires? (2012)
  • …the cat almost gets killed by a coyote? (2013)

Without any contingency plans, the only fallback reaction is “This can’t be happening.” Which is not particularly useful when, in fact, “this” actually is happening.

Here’s a starter list of Plan B preparations:

  • ___    Water bottles
  • ___    Staple food items
  • ___    Medications (pain, allergy, cold & flu, stomach, etc.)
  • ___    First Aid kit
  • ___    Baby/Toddler needs (bottle liners, baby food, diapers, Pull-Ups, etc.)
  • ___    Feminine supplies
  • ___    Power bars
  • ___    Flashlights & batteries
  • ___    Back-up meal(s) in the freezer (or ingredients for a throw-together rescue meal)
  • ___    Other:  Add your own based on your own location, circumstances, and family needs!

Plan Your Non-Negotiables Now

What’s the one thing that really says “Christmas” for you?

For me, it’s sitting in front of the fireplace, with all the lights out (except, of course, for the Christmas trees) and listening to Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, especially “Silent Night.” For Daniel, it’s watching Miracle on 34th Street. For our kids, it’s listening to us read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever aloud on Christmas Eve.

Find out what the one most important thing is for each member of your family. Make those your priorities. Even if plans have to flex and change, make sure everyone gets their one thing at some point during the holiday season.

Trade Christmas Expectations for Christmas Hope, Starting Now

One word I learned not to use when our children were little was “promise.” As in, “I promise that we will…” They took it so literally that when life happened, I had to choose between looking like a liar by breaking the promise or tying myself into pretzel bending over backward to fulfill my foolish promise.

Although expectations can build anticipation, they can also lead to Christmas disappointment when things don’t turn out. The dictionary definition for “expect” includes words like “necessary” and “require”…rather inflexible terms.

In contrast, the definition for “hope” includes the far less rigid terms “wish” and “possibility.” And Romans 5:5 says that “hope does not disappoint.” That’s because while expectations are about what we want to do, hope is about what God has already done: “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas­­–whether or not you end up using your back-up plans!

FREE Resources to Help You Expect Less & Hope More:

  • Free eBook: Top 10 Priceless Gifts for Each PURSE-onality that Don’t Cost a Dime
  • Audio: De-LIGHT-full Giving in a Weighty World
  • Videos: “Personality Puzzle for Parents of Preschoolers” and “You’ve Got PURSE-onality!”

Gregory_Cheri_Photo_Square

Cheri Gregory is a Certified Personality Trainer; contributor to half a dozen books, including Wired That Way (by Marita Littauer) and 21 Ways to Connect With Your Kids (by Kathi Lipp); and frequent speaker for MOPS groups, women’s retreats, parent workshops, and educational seminars. She holds an M.A. in Leadership and is working on her PhD. Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, a pastor, for over a quarter-of-a-century; they have two college-aged kids. She blogs about expectations, “baditude,” and hope at CheriGregory.com/blog.

A Treat for All Moms

If I were to ask you to describe yourself as a mom, what would you say? “I try, but I find I’m not as patient as I want to be.” “I lose my temper too easily.” “I’m just not fun anymore.”

But what if we asked your kids?

This is just so sweet, and brings tears to my eyes:

Now go hug your kids! They love you. Maybe it’s time you saw the good God has done through you, too.

Coming on Monday:

I’m so excited that the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle Sale is starting on Monday! 86 ebooks, tons of bonuses, and free membership to a mentoring program. And it will be here at 8 am EST!

Take a look at what’s in the bundle:

See that little blue book under the red banner, 31 Days to Great Sex? That’s me! But there are tons more. Please come on back on Monday for the sale! You don’t want to miss it.

Have a great weekend! I’m busy at a Bible quizzing competition with my daughter. She’s got all of James memorized. I’m praying she does well, but I’m praying that for all the kids, too.

The Right to Act Like Your Child’s Parent

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column encourages parents to take back their responsibility and right to train up their children.

The RIGHT to BE a PARENTI often gaze wistfully at that fashionable fall outfit: an oversized tunic with a belt over leggings. It looks so comfy cozy. But even though I like it, I can’t quite bring myself to buy it. Leggings on someone on the wrong side of forty doesn’t quite work for me, even if the tunic does cover a multitude of flaws.

Yet increasingly leggings aren’t working even for those on the right side of forty, namely because people aren’t pairing them with long tunics; they’re wearing them with shorter shirts. What was once fashionable becomes floozy. It’s not even flirty; it’s just gross. There are some parts of one’s anatomy which should never be covered in thin, skin tight fabric.

As terrible as it is when adult women commit this fashion faux-pas, it’s worse when teen girls do it, because it means some parent somewhere has allowed a child to dress in public like that. One mom I know is heartbroken about her daughter’s clothing but feels rather helpless. Her daughter refuses to wear anything except tights as pants.

I do not understand this helpless attitude, whether it’s about clothing choices or other teenage behaviours, and I would like to tell parents, loudly and clearly, you are the parent. You have the right–indeed the obligation–to set standards. If you do not exercise your right to act like a parent, then you are abdicating your responsibility to our culture. Our culture is the one that adores Miley Cyrus’ new persona. Do you really want to turn your child over to that?

Parents should not feel guilty for acting like parents, and yet so many of us are insecure. Do we even have the right to tell our kids what to do, or what to wear? The insecurity is understandable. In 2008 in Quebec, a 12-year-old girl took her father to court for grounding her from a class field trip. She had been using the internet inappropriately and sending inappropriate texts, so he put his foot down. She sued. And the Quebec courts, even on appeal, have decided the girl was right.

With this sort of ridiculousness around us it’s easy to feel like we don’t have a right to demand things of our kids. The schools should raise them, and if our culture has decided that Miley’s antics are the new normal, who are we to say they’re wrong? We may be uncomfortable with all the texting, and with all the explicit shows kids watch, and with the sexual activity, but these things are normal today. To fight back is like trying to hold a tsunami at bay. It’s too much.

Yet is it really?

What does it matter what the rest of our culture says? It is not our culture that is going to have to deal with the repercussions of a teenager dropping out of school, or feeling great shame for something he or she has done, or getting hooked on drugs. It is you, the parent. It is not our culture that will have to pick up the pieces, patch a broken heart, or help someone detox. It is not the school that will be there when a girl derails her educational future because she gets pregnant, or a boy decides to waste his life on video games instead of investing in college. It is you. You are the only one who loves your child more than life itself. You are the only one with a vested interest in how your child turns out. You’re the only one, then, that really matters.

So do something! You have power. You control the wifi, the television, and the money that pays for the cell phone. Use that power. Say no. Be a parent. And please, no tights.

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