Is the Christian Modesty Message Causing Women To Be Ashamed of Their Bodies?

Does the Christian Modesty Message inadvertently get it wrong? A look at healthy modesty messages for girls that don't teach shame.Today I’m beginning a 3-part series on how we should reframe the messages that we give young people about sex and Christian modesty. As a Christian sex blogger I get so many emails from women who grew up in the church whose marriages were really hampered by shame that never should have been theirs, and I think we simply need to take a good look at what we’re actually saying, and then figure out how to say it differently.

Heads up: I’m about to challenge the Christian modesty message: the one that says that women need to dress very modestly, because unless they do, they will encourage lustful thoughts on the part of guys and lead them into sin.

I think that’s a dangerous way to frame it–dangerous to girls, and dangerous to guys, too.

But before I do that, I need to point something out. Let’s look at a pendulum, with “Girls can cause guys to lust and so must cover up” on one side, and “Girls can wear whatever they want and guys should deal with it” on the other. The problem is that when you argue against the first premise, people think you’re arguing FOR the second. So if you’re not arguing A, you must be arguing Z. But what if you’re actually arguing M?

I’ve written before that modesty DOES matter, and I do believe that. So please don’t accuse me of saying Z when I’m really saying M!

Okay, now with that intro, here goes! I’m going to deal first with how the Christian Modesty Message errs, and then look at how we can reframe it so that we’re still honouring God, respecting ourselves, and respecting each other.

How Christian Modesty Got Off Base

The Christian modesty movement gets its starting premise from this statement by Jesus:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matt. 5:28)
 (NIV)

So lust is a really big deal! And if that’s true, then women should do what they can to reduce the chances of lust, right?

Well, let’s take a look at this for a moment. Why did Jesus say this? Basically, in those days if a Pharisee saw a woman coming down the street, they would avert their eyes and walk to the other side of the street. Women were seen as temptresses, as evil, as shameful.

And Jesus put the burden right back on the Pharisees: “It’s not her fault if you lust. Lust is YOUR problem.”

Jesus was trying to remove shame from women and replace it with righteous sorrow for sin. That’s a good thing.

And yet what have we done?

We’ve placed the burden back on the girl again when we start making rules for how women should dress.

I’ve sat through events aimed at preteen girls which told them how many inches below the clavicle their shirts can be. I’ve been at homeschooling track meetings where girls were given measurements about what they should wear to track meets, and I’ve seen some families requiring their daughters to run the 1 km race in a long “Little House on the Prairie” skirt. And I wonder: What does this do to the girls?

I asked that question on Facebook last week, and one woman wrote this:

I grew up covering my body and its curves to help men not sin. We had to wear skirts and dresses to the ankle (at least that’s what we preferred: that allowed to to play Little House on the Prairie and hide my unshaven legs.) sleeves couldn’t be shorter then four inches off the shoulder. The neck line had to fit two fingers from the pit of the throat. Anything that cut deeper into the chest was immodest and “oh my gosh! Fix your shirt!” Nothing could be tight so as draw attention to the chest or hips. We weren’t even allowed to wear smooth fitting skirts-they all had to have enough gathering at the top to just flow over the body and not stick to it. How ridiculous we must have looked to others when we played homeschool baseball or basketball on the driveway. At fourteen my mother accused me of looking at my father with a sexual eye and told me that all men only want “one thing:sex” and that it was on their minds all the time. The way I dressed would help them not to sin.

I know that is an extreme example, but I have seen it in real life. And I think even when Christian modesty isn’t enforced to that extreme, it still has some negative repercussions, like these:

Legalistic Standards for Modesty Teach Girls Their Bodies Are Dangerous

If your body can cause someone to sin, then your body is a source of shame. It’s something dangerous, lust-inducing, almost sinful, in and of itself. If the mere sight of your curves can cause someone else to err, then your curves must somehow be bad.

I know this is not the intention when people teach modesty. I’ve heard of the “secret keeper” approach which says that what you have is lovely, but it’s just yours, and it isn’t to be shared, and I think that approach can work. But often it’s laced with the message that if you don’t keep the secret, you lead others into sin.

What happens, then, if someone really does sin? Let’s say that you’re date raped, or someone says some derogatory things about your body. You now believe that it is your fault because you’ve grown up thinking that men cannot resist seeing curves, and so if they act inappropriately, it must be because they saw too many of your curves. It puts the burden for sin in the wrong place. And if women start feeling shameful of their curves, as if their body is the enemy, how in the world are they supposed to start liking their bodies and being comfortable sharing their bodies with their husbands once they get married? If you’ve been taught from the time you’re small to worry about your body, it’s really difficult to start seeing it as a good thing that can bring you and  your husband pleasure. The very fact that he wants pleasure from your body seems somehow twisted already.

When I was a teenager I worked in a Christian bookstore. A woman who had only recently become a Christian worked there part-time. She was 30, single, and drop-dead gorgeous. She could have been a Victoria Secret model. She dressed very fashionably, but also very modestly. No cleavage, lots of turtlenecks (it’s Canada, after all), and nothing too tight. Yet week after week the elders would sit her down and tell her that she needed to dress more modestly because men were lusting after her. Her clothes were not the problem–it was her beauty, and she could do nothing about that. They were calling her beauty sinful. She finally just went to another church.

Legalistic Christian Modesty Teaches Girls that Boys “Only Want One Thing”

The Christian modesty message also says that boys are basically helpless to withstand this onslaught of seeing girls’ curves. All guys, including all older men, will lust if they see you. I’m not sure how that message is supposed to make women like men.

When I was 19 years old I went on a summer missions trip to Tunisia. It was very scarring for me, because every time we were on crowded public transport (which was quite a lot), men would literally feel me up. I could never tell which man it was, because we were jammed into buses, but I’d have hands all over me. When I got back to North America it was about  two months before I could look a man in the eyes again. I had tried so hard the whole time I was there to not catch anyone’s attention, and it didn’t work. Men became the enemy.

We’re doing the same thing. But let’s face it: If a guy will fall into lust because he sees a girl with a V-neck T-shirt on (even if there’s no cleavage), what in the world is he going to do if he walks through the mall?

Legalistic Modesty Teaches Girls that THEY Don’t Lust

I’m going to let my daughter explain this one. I think she does it very well:

Legalistic Christian Modesty is Just That: Legalistic

We’re told in 1 Timothy 2:9:

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

Dressing modestly is important. But notice that the text does not define what decency and propriety is. When we start to define it rigidly, then we are becoming legalistic. What is modest in one culture is not modest in another. There aren’t absolutes. When I was in Kenya, showing cleavage was less offensive than showing bare shoulders (though the children’s home where we were didn’t show either). Things vary by culture. The spirit is important: we all should be modest. How that is lived out, though, is ultimately up to the individual, and should not be imposed, or else you are adding to Scripture.

It’s interesting, but one of my friends pointed out that in the Old Testament, the dress that was criticized was unisex. It was very clear: men should look like men; women should look like women. Women have curves, and I think that’s okay.

 Let’s Change the Message!

1. Point to God, not rules.

Whatever we do, we are to do it to the glory of God. So when we dress, we should be glorifying to God. Teach young people, both guys and girls, to ask themselves that question: am I portraying myself as a child of God? If everybody asked themselves that question, a lot of problems would go away anyway. And having girls dress modestly for the wrong reasons doesn’t glorify God. He cares about the heart, not the outward appearance.

2. Don’t give a double standard.

Dress codes are fine, especially at teenage events, I think. Most schools have dress codes (no spaghetti straps, no low-rise jeans, etc.). But if you have a dress code, it should be focused on both guys and girls, not just girls. So say something like, “Girls, no string bikinies, guys, no speedos. When out of the water, T-shirts should be worn by all at all times.”

 3. Allow for beauty

Another woman on Facebook wrote this:

I too was taught that it was my responsibility to dress so that guys didn’t lust after me. Even if I dressed modestly but looked pretty that was a problem because when a much older guy made unwanted physical and verbal advances toward me it was my fault. After all, how could I blame him? I was told that If I wasn’t “so pretty” or if I wasn’t “so fun to be around” then none of this would happen. It was hard because I was never really taught how to enjoy my body. Things were either unflattering / too big or were “too sexy.” The line between the two extremes was not explained… I developed my own style and have loosened up, but even after a year of marriage, I still struggle with knowing how to be sexy at home and what is too sexy for out in public.

So many households and churches talk so much against what clothes to wear that they never talk about how to be beautiful. Most girls yearn to be beautiful. Let’s start talking about how all of us are fearfully and wonderfully made; how the urge to be beautiful for women is universal and God-given; and then show girls how beauty doesn’t need to mean sexy. You can be totally lovely without twerking, so to speak. Beauty is not the enemy, and we need to acknowledge that girls want to be beautiful, and guide them about how to be truly beautiful.

Tomorrow we’ll ask whether the purity culture contributes inadvertently to sexual hang-ups, and whether there’s a different way to frame it, too.

Now I’d like to hear from you: how did the Christian modesty message affect your view of your body (or did it?) How are you teaching your children? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Guard Their Hearts

Next Tuesday I’m starting a series on this blog that I’m so excited about–how we need to start reframing how we teach kids about sex, and how we need to watch the messages we’re inadvertently giving about sex. To get ready for that series, I thought I’d rerun this column from a few years ago on why we need to teach kids to guard their hearts. Too often sex ed is just about guarding their bodies, but it’s the heart that can really hurt.

Guard their heartsThis column was originally written for a secular audience.

When parents contemplate their teens having sex, pregnancy and disease aren’t the first things that come to mind. Instead, it’s panic, the mere thought causing us to jump into bed and pull the covers over our heads. In more rational moments we may work through these feelings so we can talk to our kids, but our first response doesn’t tend to be terror at the possibility of disease—it’s terror at the possibility of the act itself.

Most parents would prefer, to put it mildly, that their teens not have sex.

If they do, then somebody is going to know them in certain ways even more intimately than we do. But that intimacy, in the context of what is probably a fleeting teenage relationship, seems just plain wrong. After all, sex is so much more than just a physical act; it’s intrinsically connected with our psyches. Whether we intend it to or not, it forms a bond between two people, and using it cavalierly can be damaging.

The Redbook survey of 100,000 women showed this dramatically. It found that women who had been sexually active at 15 were far less likely to have happy marriages and satisfying sex lives later in life than those who had waited. In the wrong context, then, sex can shatter our spirits, and give us sexual baggage that will affect future relationships.

As columnist Rebecca Hagelin has said, there is no condom for your heart.

There is no way to protect yourself when you’ve given your body and your soul to someone and they’ve rejected you. It’s little wonder that up to two-thirds of sexually active teens regret not waiting for this very reason. These same teens are also more likely to be depressed and suicidal that their inexperienced peers.

Yet we have a difficult time articulating this to our children in part, I think, because we’ve been told that sexual experimentation cannot and should not be interfered with. If we tell our teens to say no, we may inadvertently teach them there’s something shameful about sex.

This reminds me of a story a male teacher friend once relayed to me. A 14-year-old girl asked him privately if she should have sex with her boyfriend. The teacher asked, “what did your parents say?”. She replied, “that I should do what I think is best.” He quickly extricated himself from this compromising situation, but here’s what he was thinking. If she had wanted to have sex, she would have done so. She would not have asked her parents, and she would not have asked him. She was looking for a responsible adult to tell her it was okay to say no. Instead, everyone was telling her they expected her to say yes, even though deep inside she didn’t want to.

When we give kids the “safe sex” message, we’re essentially saying, “we know you’re going to do it anyway, so use a condom”.

We give kids the impression that the pull for sex can’t be resisted, so everybody must be doing it.

Even adults I respect expect me to say yes! I’d have to be a freak to say no.

Yet it’s a myth that teenagers aren’t able to wait. Our grandparents’ generation largely waited until the wedding night. We may believe that older people never fought these hormonal urges, but I bet the senior citizens out there could tell us a different story.

Counselling teens to wait isn’t teaching them to be ashamed of sex; it’s teaching them to give it the honour and importance that it deserves.

It’s elevating making love, not maligning it. After all, little in life will have more long-term physical, emotional and spiritual consequences than what you do with your body. It may be uncomfortable to talk about such things with teens, but we need to try. We can’t control our children, but we can make it more likely that they’ll choose a certain path. Remember, that path is better. It is more fulfilling. And our kids deserve to have us point the way.

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Top 10 Reasons for Marrying Young

Top 10 Reasons Marrying Young Can Actually be Good--for You and for Society

Our society frowns on marrying young. We want people to be established, be educated, and play the field first.

Personally, I think marrying young can be a very good thing. Tonight my daughters and I will attend the wedding of a 19-year-old woman named Emma. She’s a sweetie, and she’s so happy, and I’m excited for her.

So I thought I’d write about the pros of marrying young. But first, a few caveats:

I do not believe that everyone should marry young.

In fact, in many cases young marriage doesn’t work. If the couple really is not very mature, they could be making a very bad decision. I get nervous when a 19-year-old chooses to marry who hasn’t really seen the world much or expanded their social circle at all. If all they know is a very small corner of the world, they may not know themselves very well yet.

Finally, many young people marry to escape. They want to feel grown up, and they want to get on with their lives, and marriage seems the easiest course.

In almost all these cases, these young marriages will not be good ones.

I’m also fully aware that many people will not meet anyone suitable to marry until they are a little older. I have a good friend who married for the first time at 42 a few years ago. She would have loved to marry earlier, but her love didn’t show up until she was older. I in no way mean to shame people who have not married young. I know often being single older is not by choice. I have frequently told my daughters that while I firmly believe they will marry, no one knows when that will be, and they need to work at being comfortable on their own and with God instead of thinking their lives are only complete once they are married.

Nevertheless, none of that means that young marriages can’t work, and so here are 10 reasons why I think marrying young should come back into vogue. We’ll start with the benefits to society, and then look at the benefits for the couple themselves:

Top TenWhy Marrying Young is Good for Society

1. Drifting Through One’s Twenties Can Waste a Key Decade

When people expect that they’ll marry at thirty (the average age for first marriages is now at around 27 for women), then they tend to see their twenties as their time to explore, not their time to settle down. Everything gets delayed. You can spend a few years experimenting with different careers (or lack thereof), or traveling with no purpose, or hopping from relationship to relationship. As I talked about last week, though, your twenties are an important decade financially. If you can start saving then, you really set yourself up well for life.

And the earlier people start saving and maturing, the better off and more productive society is.

2. Having Babies Younger is Better for Society

Physically, the best years to have babies is in your early twenties. Yet few people are married or ready today at that point, largely because we have extended adolescence so far. While most people had babies young fifty years ago, today having one’s first baby after age 30 is the norm in many circles.

Yet while socially we’ve changed, physically we haven’t. And as fertility rates drop, perhaps it would be better for society to prioritize maturing younger rather than prolonging the years when you “find yourself”, especially since those years really are so valuable.

Why Marrying Young Can Be Good For You

3. You “Grow Up” Together

When you marry at 20 or 21, you haven’t always figured out what you want in a house, or how you want to organize a kitchen, or how you want to pay your bills. You don’t know what you want in a church or where you want to live. But you can grow up and make those decisions together, and it’s kinda fun!

When Keith and I married at 21 we had no idea about how we wanted to spend vacations or what kind of house we wanted, let alone how we wanted to do housework. We just figured it out ourselves. And because we hadn’t had our own routines for so many of these things, it wasn’t hard to merge.

4. It’s Easier to Merge Two Homes when There’s Not Much To Them

Imagine you’ve been doing your finances on Quicken on the computer for ten years, and then you marry someone who keeps all receipts in shoe boxes. That’s tough to find a new way of doing it, when you’re both so set in your ways.

Imagine you’ve had ten years since you moved out of your parents place to set your own traditions for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Now you have to do it all over again, when you’re emotionally wedded to the things you’ve already done.

It’s just tricky to merge two households. It’s easier to start off together.

5. You Can Be a Younger Parent

I remember being 27 years old and having one toddler on my back and one baby on my front and getting on the Toronto subway for 45 minutes, with 2 transfers, to get to the zoo, where I spent 6 hours with the kids, only to reverse the whole process.

There is no way I would have had the same energy to do that if I were 37 instead.

And here’s the thing: so many people say, “I want to travel before I settle down! I want to see the world!” But my youngest will be leaving home next year when I’m just 45. (I’m still tearing up at that a little, by the way). Keith and I are going to do some major traveling! We’re going to buy an RV and start seeing the world, little bits at a time. We’re heading to Australia for a conference. It’ll be wonderful (and hopefully take my mind off of my kids being gone). We’re still young, we’re still energetic, but best of all, we have some money now. We didn’t have any in our twenties. We can travel way more now than we could have then.

6. You Can Be a Younger Grandparent

I think a lot of people forget this one: my mom became a grandma at 51. She was so energetic with my girls. She’s 71 now, and she’s still active, but the girls have such strong memories of her being much younger. They remember when she was still a career woman. They remember her doing really fun trips with them. They will always have very clear memories of her.

On the other hand, my grandparents were 62 when I was born. While I have great memories of one of my grandparents, my maternal grandfather had a massive stroke at 64. He was a really strong, active man, yet I only remember him in a wheelchair with impaired judgment. My maternal grandmother, apparently, was just like me. She was opinionated, extroverted, and great at public speaking. Yet most of my memories of her are post-dementia.

My mom has many friends her age who are just becoming grandparents now. I actually hope my girls have kids young, because I’m looking forward to piling grandchildren in our RV and taking them around North America.

7. You Resist Temptation

If you’re with a guy you totally love when you’re 21, and your parents say, “you have to wait until you’re 25 and that graduate degree is finished before you marry”, how in the world are you supposed to resist the temptation to have sex? Sure it’s possible, but it’s awfully hard.

When you love someone and feel close, you’re going to want to make love. It’s natural. Physiologically for men especially, the sex drive is highest from 18-25. It’s really, really hard to wait, and when I hear Christian parents saying, “I hope my son doesn’t marry until he’s done med school and residency when he’s 27″, I wonder what they’re thinking, frankly. Walking down the aisle to meet the only one you will ever make love to is such a beautiful thing and a gift. But if we start telling hormonally charged teens that they have to wait 15 years post-puberty to get married–fewer will wait for marriage for sex.

8. You Avoid a Lot of Heartache

If people married young, perhaps we’d have fewer “exes” and fewer regrets. So much of the problem in marriages is caused by past baggage. If we put the expectation on kids that “it’s fine to get married at 21″ rather than “you had better not get married until you finish your degree and you have a good job”, then people would treat relationships at 20 more seriously. They wouldn’t think, “this can’t go anywhere, so let’s just have fun!” Often that “fun” ends up causing a lot of tears.

9. You Can Focus Your Goals Earlier

Once you’re married, you can start making real plans. Where do we want to be in 5 years? In 10 years? When do we want to buy a house? What education do we need? Where do we want to live? Certainly you can do those things when you’re single, but it’s often tricky since you don’t know where life is going to take you. Once you’re married, you can nail these things down. And if you do marry at 22, then you will start thinking about buying a house. If you don’t marry until 28, you’re often not worried about buying a home at all, and so you rent for years.

Case for MarriageResearchers have found that marriage boosts one’s income and one’s net worth, all on its own, even controlling for class, race, and education. Being married makes people hunker down and treat life more seriously. And that’s good, because it means that ultimately you’ll be financially better off.

10. You Have Decades and Decades Together

I am so looking forward to growing old with my husband, but I am also looking forward to years and years of having fun together before we do get old. He is my best friend. He is my lover. He is my favourite person in the world. I am so blessed to be able to be with him, and I am so blessed that we do have all these years together. Why would you not want as many years as you could with the man that you choose?

Again, I know that not everyone will meet their marriage partner young, and that’s okay. There’s nothing inherently wrong with marrying later.

My problem is that we’ve started to see marrying young as inherently wrong, and I think young marriage actually has a lot of benefits–probably even more than later marriages.

My dream would be a society that focused on helping teens mature faster so that they would be ready to marry younger again. I personally think that would be a healthier society overall.

So I’d encourage all of us who are parents to stop hoping our children marry later, and start preparing them to launch into life younger. It’s okay to marry in college. It’s okay to marry in your early twenties–as long as you’re sure of your faith, you’re sure of yourself, and you’re sure of your relationship.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

UPDATE: Oh, my goodness, I forgot about sexual temptation!!! So I changed out #7 since I first published it. How could I have forgotten that?!?

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Reader Question: How do You Prepare for Marriage Long Distance?

Reader Question of the WeekCan a long distance engagement work?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and then take a stab at answering it–and invite my readers to chime in, too. Here’s one from a woman in a long distance relationship wondering about engagement:

A few years back I met a guy from several time zones away. We got to know each other through facebook/skype/texting/etc, and saw each other in person for a month or so each year. The last visit (3 months ago) we both admitted that feelings had developed beyond that of “just friends”, and we want to try a relationship with a purpose (neither of us want to just casually date).

What kind of advice would you give to those in a long-distance relationship? We are neither young nor desperate, and are willing to take our time. Even so, I don’t want to miss a huge red flag (or HIM to miss one!) that would be completely obvious if we were living close to each other.

This is such a common scenario today, and here are a few thoughts I have on having a healthy (and productive) long distance engagement:

Long Distance Engagement: Making it work

Long Distance Engagement = Skyping with a Purpose

This reader has hit on something really key–when your relationship consists mostly of Skype dates, how do you make sure you’re not missing red flags? When you see each other on a regular basis, you can figure out if they’re lazy, if they’re good with kids, if they’re kind to strangers, if they take care of their home, and other things like that. When you don’t, then all you see is the persona that the person uses online. How do you get past that?

You Skype with a purpose!

And by that I mean that when you do Skype, you aren’t just talking about “safe” things that make you feel close and all luvey duvey. You don’t just bond over childhood memories or favourite movies or things like that. You actually have to ask the hard questions and make an effort to get to know each other. That can be a difficult thing to do, and the first step is doing exactly what this reader did–clarify the expectations of what this relationship is.

What Are We Doing?

One of the problems with long distance relationships is that, especially in the early stages, you’re always guessing about what the person feels about you. You text and they don’t text back for a day. Does that mean they don’t care? You were hoping to Skype tonight but he’s too busy. Does that mean you take the relationship more seriously than they do? And because you can’t really see body language in the same way, it’s inherently insecure.

Long distance relationships for just that reason have the capacity for a lot of heartache. I’ve seen my girls and other kids I know agonize over long distance relationships because it’s just not clear where it’s going. One person may just have fun chatting while the other is really invested in the relationship. And how do you take it to the next level?

It isn’t worth obsessing over someone long distance for too long. I think we owe it to ourselves to clarify what we’re doing. So once you have some degree of confidence, ask, “what are we doing?” And it’s fine to set some ground rules, like, “if we’re going to talk long distance, I don’t just want to be someone you turn to when you’re bored. I expect that we’ll connect twice a week to get to know each other. If you’re not comfortable with that, I’d like to move on…”

Many women assume they’re in a long distance relationship because they have a guy that they like that they skype with every now and then. But he may not see the relationship the same way. So you do have to talk about it, and be prepared to move on if he isn’t that into you.

Once it’s apparent that you both do want to date with a purpose, then it’s time to do some interesting things while you talk online!

Do Some Personality Tests

Early on in your relationship I think it’s fun to take some personality tests online and figure out some basic things about each other. What is your love language? What is your MBTI type (this is my favourite personality test!).

Ask Some Hard Questions

If you’re moving towards engagement, you have to really know each other. But it can be tough and awkward to ask the hard questions. So I’d recommend getting a book, like 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged, that you agree to work through together. That way if a question’s awkward, you can say, “well, we did agree to work through the book….”

Some people have found the book a little negative–like he’s giving you all kinds of reasons NOT to get married, which can solidify someone’s decision who is commitment-phobic. Perhaps I’d agree in some cases, because I do think commitment is one of the hugest issues in marriage, and you’ll never find that “one perfect person”. However, because of the inherent riskiness of long distance relationships, I’d really recommend a book like this, because you do need to discover those red flags.

Some of the key things you’ll want to know: how does He serve God? What has God been saying to him lately? What is his relationship like with his family? What are his career goals and how is he moving towards them? How do you handle money? When’s the last time you looked at porn? Yes, they’re tough, but you need to know!

Get Other People Involved

As much as possible, use Skype to create some interactions that you would normally have. Meet his parents. Meet his friends. In fact, as often as possible Skype with other people involved, too. You want to become part of his social circle and he should become part of yours.

Once the relationship has become serious, it may be good to set up a Skype meeting between a pastor and the two of you.

And take other people’s concerns seriously. When you’re in a long distance relationship, it’s easy to think of the two of you as living in your own little world, but if you get married, it won’t be just the two of you. It will be your friends, your family, your co-workers. You have people who care about you–listen to what their instincts (and even the Holy Spirit) may be telling them.

Set Up a Schedule to Talk

If you’re moving towards engagement, then you should be skyping/texting/interacting regularly–I would say at least 2-3 times a week for an extended period. If you only talk once a week, then it’s easy to just put on your best face. You want to see them in real life as much as possible–and they need to see you like that, too.

Do A Bible Study

Read and study the Bible together and pray together. Now, some people aren’t really comfortable with in-depth Bible study. That’s not their way of relating to God, and that’s okay. But you can still read a Psalm together. You can agree that “this month we’re going to read through the book of Acts”, even if you don’t do a word study on it. And you certainly can pray together! Make sure that your spiritual life is part of your long distance relationship, even if you can’t go to church together.

Plan for “In Person” Visits

I know it’s expensive, but you simply must spend the money and be together in person several times before you get married. It’s cheaper to do that than to rush into a relationship that’s wrong. Ideally these visits could be for a few weeks, but even a long weekend is better than nothing. Meet his family. See where he lives. Go to church with him (do people know his name? Do they greet him?). The hard part, of course, is where do you stay, since you likely don’t want to stay overnight with him. That’s where meeting some of his friends on Skype beforehand can be good. Or perhaps you can stay with his parents! It may be awkward, but it’s actually good to get to know his social circle and his family anyway.

Once you do get engaged, I think it’s important to move to the place where he lives, or have him move to where you live. Obviously sometimes immigration issues may make this impossible, but if it is possible, be with him on a daily basis before you actually tie the knot.

I know many couples who have married after a long distance engagement, and they’re all still married and still happy. My daughters did the hair for one wedding last year that was just a blast–she was from Pennsylvania, and he was from Saskatchewan, and they met in Bible quizzing. I’m not against long distance relationships at all. I just think you have to be super careful and super wise, and go in with your eyes wide open. But in this day and age when technology makes long distance engagements possible, it opens up a whole new world, and I think ultimately it’s a good thing.

But I’d like to hear from you–what would you add to this list? If you married after a long distance relationship, what’s the one best thing you did while dating? Let us know in the comments!

Good Girls Guide My SiteAnd, of course, if you’re getting married, I can’t recommend The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex highly enough! I wrote it for any engaged or married woman, but it’s really my prayer that more engaged women will read it, because I think if you understand sex better from the beginning you’ll save yourself so much heartache–and you’ll have so much more fun. I’ve got a special chapter in it for the wedding night/honeymoon, so please read it before you get married!

Reader Question: How did YOU Homeschool Through High School?

Reader Question of the WeekI don’t talk about homeschooling much on this blog. I have homeschooled both my children from kindergarten to high school, but I know that most of my readers don’t homeschool.

But every Monday I like to answer reader questions, and I’ve received a number of questions lately about how I homeschooled. One, in particular, asked what I did through high school. So I thought I’d take a day to dedicate to homeschooling, talking about two things: homeschooling through high school, and then an AWESOME deal for homeschoolers that’s going on just this week.

If you’re not a homeschooler, forgive me, but “regular programming” will resume tomorrow.

What We Used to Homeschool Through High School

We used Saxon math right through to the end. They finished with Algebra 2 (the green book). One thing I really liked: the marking keys are all there, so it’s easy to go over the problems with the kids.

For Bible/English, etc., we used Omnibus from Veritas Press. They have six different Omnibus books. In Omnibus I you look at books from the ancient world and study the way the ancients (Greeks and Romans) thought. In Omnibus II you look at the Middle Ages, and in Omnibus III you study modern literature and history. My girls really liked Omnibus III; it started with Pride & Prejudice. Omnibus IV-VI redo all the historical periods, but with different texts.

Omnibus I starts in grade 7; you finish all six by grade 12. We did the first four and then started university online (see below).

I loved it because they read the classics, and the questions and exercises are very well designed. I really felt like I had an understanding of how history and thought flowed after reading through Omnibus. There was a big emphasis on American history, so as Canadians we did substitute a few books, but not many.

It is extremely rigorous, and many seventh graders likely couldn’t handle Omnibus I. But I did the readings with them (which, yes, was time consuming), and we really enjoyed it.

Homeschooling Through High SchoolI tried Sonlight curriculum one year, but found it much harder to understand in terms of what you’re supposed to do on what day. Omnibus was laid out better, and the study questions and exercises were better. We went back to Omnibus by mid October.

For Science, we tried a variety of things. We tried the Apologia science, but it didn’t work well, and Keith, as a doctor, didn’t think it was that rigorous. It was written as a conversation, and Science isn’t a conversation. It’s more like Math. The textbooks are written so that kids can do it on their own, but our girls found it just odd and they couldn’t get into it. We tried Alpha Omega Science, but that was a little off, too.

Finally we put them in an online school offered through our board of education, and that was all right. I didn’t like Grade 9 & 10 Science, because so much was wasted time, but once you got to upper years Biology and Chemistry it was done very well.

Once the kids were 16, everything changed. Athabasca University, out of Alberta, is an “open” university, meaning that anybody 16 and over can take their courses as long as they pay the fee. Every University in Canada (and in the U.S., I believe) accepts them as transfer credits. Since I didn’t learn anything in first year university that I hadn’t already taken in my final year of high school, I figured that university courses basically are senior high school courses, so why not get credit for what you’re doing?

The plan was for the girls to take their first year of university online, and then to enter university as a transfer student into second year. That’s what Rebecca did last year, and that’s what Katie’s in the middle of doing (she’s finished half of her first year, while she also takes other courses at home). So they did 2-3 courses a semester, which ends up being 10 courses over two years. Then when they’re 18 they go to university.

Athabasca is A LOT of work. I hate that they don’t have online lectures. You teach yourself out of the textbook and then you do the assignments and write the exams. I have a lot that I wasn’t happy with, but at the same time, they do get university credits, and it makes that whole “getting accepted to university after homeschooling” thing no problem. They don’t go in as homeschoolers; they go in as transfer students. Becca even got a scholarship to the University of Ottawa!

So that’s what we did. Now some general thoughts.

Considerations When Homeschooling High School

Don’t stay away from courses you don’t like/aren’t good at

I dropped Science after grade 10. My husband, of course, didn’t, but he wasn’t home to homeschool the girls. I was. And I couldn’t mark the science or teach the science. I tried with Physics; I figured I could do the course alongside Katie and learn it that way. But that didn’t work either, because eventually I got confused, and when trying to mark her stuff I’d have to wait for Keith to get home.

That’s why we eventually went online.

I’ve seen many homeschooling families give up on the things that the parents don’t do well, and instead just do the stuff they enjoy. And then they end up not being academically rigorous.

We switched Science curricula about four times before finally giving up and putting them in a course online. Sometimes you have to do thatEvery child should at least have an introductory knowledge of basic areas of study–at least to the level they’d get in school. Here kids aren’t allowed to drop Science until grade 10, so all students should have at least a grade 10 Science background. And this goes all the more for Math.

Be realistic about marking and get others involved if necessary

The hardest part of high school is checking up on your children’s work. I know one boy who was given a textbook in September and told to work through it, but his parents never checked. He’d always brag that he was done his work by November.

I never bought it.

Katie is great at Math, but when marking her daily work, she’d often only be getting 70%. If I didn’t mark it everyday, after a week she’d be getting 55% and skipping lots of questions, because if you don’t properly understand a concept, it snowballs.

If you stay on top of it, though, you can explain the issue right away, and then her marks would go up.

You have to mark everyday or you don’t know if they’re getting behind or if they really understand it. If you can’t commit to doing that, then it’s better to get your children to take some courses online. Veritas Press offers Omnibus online; Apologia offers Science online; Write at Home offers Essay Writing online (my oldest did this; it was great). And, of course, as we found, some Boards of Education offer normal high school credits online.

Make sure you have a plan so your child is qualified to continue in some way

When homeschooled properly, I believe that children end their education with a better knowledge level than if they went to school. My kids know way more than I did when I graduated high school, and I was top of my class and got scholarships to university. Omnibus was wonderful for that. They actually learned more important things than I did even through four years of university.

However, it’s all too easy to be lax when you’re homeschooling. Especially when you have a large family, it’s easy to leave the oldest to do their work on autopilot while you tend to the younger ones, and then the older ones may not work that hard or really get an education. I’ve seen families I know where the kids finish homeschooling but aren’t qualified for anything, and can’t even pass the GED (the equivalent of the high school diploma). If you’ve homeschooled through high school and your child can’t pass the GED (and also doesn’t have a learning disability), then you’ve done them a grave disservice. They can’t even get into community college!

Homeschooling should expand horizons, not limit them. My girls were able to take advanced piano and lifeguarding and worked a ton through high school, something they couldn’t have done if they were in school. That’s where homeschooling is good. But kids must be qualified at the end to be able to move into more schooling or to move into a job/business where they can earn a living.

If your child can’t, then please, put them in school online or send them to school for their senior year so they can get a diploma or something that will open doors. Don’t close doors for your kids.

An Awesome Deal!

This week, Build Your Bundle has created an awesome opportunity for homeschoolers!

Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition Sale - Up to 92% Off!

You can purchase a bundle of homeschooling curriculum that you build yourself–targeted to the ages of your kids or to themes. And you can even get 3 for 2–so if you purchase three bundles in different age ranges, you only pay for two!

They even have a high school bundle! So check it out and see how this great “Build your Bundle” sale can get you just the materials you want–at 92% off.

Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition Sale - Up to 92% Off!

Reader Question: How Much Do I Tell My Kids About My Past?

Reader Question of the WeekHere’s the scenario: you have quite a past–whether it’s drug use or alcohol or past sexual activity–and then you got married and you cleaned up your life. But now your kids are growing up, and you’re trying to teach them to do the right thing. How do you start telling them about your past?

Every Monday I like to post a reader question and try to answer it, and today’s is one I’ve heard many variations of:

I have two teens (14 & 15) who like to push my buttons and test boundaries. They’re good kids, but I there’s a lot of tension with them. So now I’m wondering: what should I tell them about my past?

I’m not embarrassed by it because God did an amazing transformation of my life, but I already told my son just a little bit–that I smoked when I was a teen–and now whenever he wants to do something we don’t want him to do, he says, “but you smoked and you turned out okay.” And that was just smoking! What if I told him all the other things I did? It’s like he now feels like he has permission to do the things I did. How should I handle this?

That’s tough, isn’t it? Telling your kids about your past does open a huge can of worms. So here are a few of my thoughts, but I’d really like yours, too! So after you’ve read some of my thoughts, please leave yours in the comments as well!

How Much Should You Tell Your Kids About Your Past?

1. Secrecy Doesn’t Tend to Work Well

I’ve never found that secrets work well in a family. The kids pick up on it anyway, and you’re always tense that they’ll find out.

So I tend to be a big advocate of telling kids your story–at age appropriate levels, and with only the necessary detail (if you went too far with a boyfriend when you were 14, for instance, you don’t have to say EXACTLY what you did–only that you did too much.)

2. Remember that Your Story is Really God’s Story

I think we’re often embarrassed to tell our kids our story because it wasn’t pristine. Yet this is really a problem the early church didn’t face. In the early church (at least with the Gentile converts, not the Jewish converts), EVERYBODY had a past. Nobody had had a pristine pre-Christian life, and so they were able to say, “Thanks to God who saved me from so much!” They knew the difference between having God in your life and not having God in your life, and they were grateful.

And because everybody had the same messed up past, it wasn’t a big deal to talk about what God saved you from.

The problem today is that we’re trying to raise our kids to make good decisions from the start, and then if you didn’t, it’s like you’re giving them permission to do things you’d rather they wouldn’t.

But perhaps that’s because we’re still seeing living a Christian life in terms of our strength rather than God’s strength. Maybe we need to get back to the mindset of the early church, which basically said: it doesn’t matter what kind of past you had; what matters is what God did with it and how He redeemed you! If we frame our whole lives like that, then our stories become God’s stories.

I have a dear friend that I’ve known for several decades. I knew her when she first became a Christian–rather dramatically. She had hit rock bottom with drugs and relationships, and swore to God that if she made it through the night she’d follow Him. And she did! She stopped her lifestyle and did the most dramatic 180 turnaround I’ve ever seen. She is the most transparent worshiper in church, because she truly knows the meaning of grace.

She married a wonderful Christian man who DIDN’T have much of a past, and is raising a whole pile of teens now.

But she had never really shared with her teens the details of her past until someone else, who did know her past, asked her for advice. It all came out in front of her oldest, and her oldest really grieved. She knew that her mother had “a past”, but she didn’t know what it was. And she wanted to know the details. “How many men did you sleep with? What did you do?” Etc. etc. There were a lot of tears, and her daughter grieved for what her dad had missed out on, too.

It was an emotional time, and my friend didn’t share all the details. But she did bring it back to God. “That’s why I love Jesus, because I know what He did in my life, and He helped take away the shame.”

It’s not easy when your kids no longer see you as this perfect person to look up to. But maybe they were never supposed to in that way.

3. Let’s Always Talk About What God Has Done

If we frame it in terms of God–He rescued me, He helped me live with my scars, He gave me strength to quit drinking–then we do our kids a favour. We teach them, “Christianity is about a relationship, not rules.”

Then your story can’t give them permission to follow in your footsteps. If your child says,

But, Mom, you did all this stuff, and you turned out fine.

You can say,

No, I didn’t turn out fine. I still have scars. God has healed me, but the scars are still there. It leaves a mark on you. I suffered. And I don’t want you to do the same. God came and brought me out of the life I was in, but that doesn’t mean that I would have much rather avoided it altogether. I saw what it did, and I don’t want that for you.

And you can tell them about the scars. I think once a child is old enough–say 16 or 17–you can say, “it was really hard in our marriage to feel free sexually because my old boyfriends were always in the back of my mind, and I felt dirty,” (or however you want to word it or whatever sexual baggage you struggled with). I think telling our kids the truth is perfectly fine and healthy. And then you can say, “But God has worked in me and I understand the difference between real intimacy and just sex. And I know why God wants intimacy for us, and that’s what I want for you.”

The whole “you turned out fine” argument seems powerful, but it really does fall apart if you look at it. My mom had cancer 25 years ago, and she’s okay now. But she went through a lot of pain and a lot of fear and she still has physical struggles. Sure, you can turn out okay, but that doesn’t mean you’re as good as you could have been otherwise. So tell your kids the truth–and show them that God saved you anyway.

4. Swallow Your Pride

For a lot of us, this is the big issue. We like being that mom to look up to, and we’re worried that we’ll lose that if they know the truth. But there really isn’t room for pride in the Christian life. It’s about what God has done, not what you have done. You don’t really want your kids to think of you as this amazing, wonderful, perfect mom, as much as you want them to look at God and see a loving Father who wants to protect and guide them, do you?

Let’s let our kids want to walk in Jesus’ steps, not in our steps.

Those would be my thoughts, then–from an early age, let your kids know that God rescued you from a lot. As they get older, fill in some details (but not ALL. Your kids really don’t want to picture you in bed, for instance). And always, always say that it was God who rescued you, and it’s because of God (not your effort) that you have turned your life around.

But I’d love to hear from someone else who has to go through this. What did you tell your teen? And when? Let me know in the comments!

Lizard Instincts: How Sexually We’re Going Backwards

Lizard InstinctsMy lizard is either gay or extremely stupid.

We bought him a few years ago as a birthday present for my daughter, and as my luck would have it, my girls decided it would be fun to have baby Spotty’s. Once he reached sexual maturity (don’t even ask how we figured that out), we dutifully borrowed a female leopard gecko from a friend and put them in the same cage.

It was then that Spotty’s lack of normal lizard instincts became apparent. Lizards don’t have much of a brain, but there are two things they’re supposed to be able to do: catch live crickets and mate. He seemed more interested in hiding. In desperation we consulted a lizard specialist (yes, there is such a thing) who suggested that we borrow another male gecko and put him in the cage, too. If Spotty felt the competition, he would perform. That wasn’t exactly the lesson on reproduction I wanted to teach my daughters, so we just told them that the lizards weren’t in love and left it at that.

It occurred to me afterwards, though, that our society increasingly treats sex as if we’re lizards. The wonderful thing about human beings is that sexual intimacy takes place within relationship. For women, especially, that feeling of closeness is necessary before anything else is attempted.

It’s one of the things that separates us from the animal kingdom: the fact that sex is not purely instinctual, but imbued with relational and spiritual components.

Yet on the covers of Cosmopolitan, on reality TV shows, and all over the media women are depicted trying to attract men, with most of their thoughts going towards biceps and other physical traits rather than character or personality. Pornography, of course, takes this to the extreme, but it’s all part of the same continuum. When this is how we frame sex, though, sex becomes something purely physical, rather than relational. We lose out on all the wonder that it can embody. And when our kids get this message, even if it’s inadvertently, it’s even more dangerous.

When we were young, if we wanted to have a glimpse of pornography we had to find our dad’s—or our friend’s dad’s—stash of Playboys. That’s not the case anymore. You just need to know how to use a computer or rent a video. However, to put it mildly, it is not good for a young teen to have his or her first experience with sexuality to be pornographic. It can be very, very harmful. When kids are exposed to pornography at the same time as they are just starting to experience sexual feelings, they’re going to associate those feelings with pornography, rather than with a relationship. They actually can wire their brains to think of the paper image or the computer screen as sexy, rather than relationship, making it more difficult to become attracted later on to your chosen life partner. Relationship isn’t sexy; anonymous stuff is.

As parents, then, we need to keep control of the computer, especially in children’s vulnerable years in their early teens. Put it in the kitchen, rather than a bedroom. Install parental control software. And, perhaps most importantly, be careful where your children hang out. Make your house the preferred hang out by providing lots of snacks and fun, or your kids may gravitate to someone else’s house where the computer is far more accessible.

Finally, let’s make sure we, too, don’t rewire our brains inappropriately. One of the best things in life is feeling that closeness to one’s spouse that derives from true intimacy.

If we need to distance ourselves mentally to feel sexy, then it’s as if we’re not interested in our spouse, but just in a body. The whole relationship is threatened, because it’s clear you’re more interested in a paper image than in the person we’re supposed to love. That kind of rejection can devastate a relationship.

The sexual revolution was supposed to free us by allowing us to explore. I think it actually made us go backwards. Don’t throw something precious away with pornography. Love your spouse, the one relationship where you can be yourself, make mistakes, and have years and years to work on intimacy.

Don’t be a lizard. The crickets are gross, and the sex isn’t much better.

Fatherhood Material

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

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

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

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

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

Number one: a guy should be a Provider.

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

Next, he needs to be a Protector.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Ways to Stay Close as a Family

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

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

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

1. Take an honest survey.

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

2. Stop parenting from the couch.

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

3. Date your kids.

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

4. Eat as a family.

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

5. Have a pizza night.

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

6. Create an activities bowl.

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

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

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

8. Figure out your kid’s love language.

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

9. Hug once a day for eight seconds.

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

10. Stop yelling at one another.

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

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

Don’t forget to download my Family Activities Ideas!

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

The Science of Internet Porn–And What It Does to Sons and Husbands

Happy Saturday, everyone, and to my American friends–happy long weekend!

It’s my birthday weekend. I turn 44 tomorrow. Wow.

Anyway, I thought I’d leave you with a 16 minute video that is SO IMPORTANT to watch. Seriously, just put it on while you’re doing dishes or something today. But please watch it.

It explains the science behind what happens when men watch porn, and traces how porn causes low libido, erectile dysfunction, addiction, depression, and passivity.

And it offers hope for how our brains can change.

It also explains the impact, especially on young teenagers.

So many of you have husbands who watch porn. I think if those men could watch this video, they may finally understand why it’s a problem. And all parents need to see this:

I know it’s heavy, but I hope that gives you something to think about as you’re gardening and spending some family time this weekend!