Ten Truths About Emotionally Destructive Marriages

Emotionally Destructive Marriages: 10 Truths about marriages characterized by emotional abuse

If you’re in an emotionally destructive marriage, filled with emotional, physical, sexual, or spiritual abuse, I pray that this post will help you today.

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your HopeIn January I challenged everybody to the Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge–read one book a month all year, on a set subject. This month’s was on setting boundaries in your marriage. For those in marriages characterized by mutual respect, where this wasn’t an issue, I suggested the awesome book Ask It by Andy Stanley. Then I had several other suggestions for those in different situations, culminating with The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick. And today I’d like to share 10 truths about those marriages, using many of Leslie’s words from the book.

1. Most Marriages Are Not Emotionally Destructive

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages: The Little Things That Make a Big DifferenceIf you are reading this blog, chances are your marriage is NOT emotionally destructive. I took Leslie’s 50 question quiz to find out how my marriage ranked, and I answered “never” to every single question. I’m married to a great guy–as many of you are.

And as Shaunti Feldhahn showed in her research for Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, in 90% of marriages each spouse genuinely wants the best for the other spouse.

However, even though most marriages are not emotionally destructive, emotionally abusive marriages are over-represented on this blog, because so many of you land here in crisis after a Google search.

2. Emotionally Abusive Marriages follow a pattern

In every marriage people may say cruel things during a fight. They may act inappropriately and harshly. I’ve yelled at my husband (though I haven’t called him names). He’s yelled at me.

But this isn’t typical of our marriage. Leslie Vernick says that a good marriage is one characterized by mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom. We each try to make it better. If a rule applies to one person, it applies to both (for instance, if one person has to make account for the money they spent, then both do. In abusive marriages, often one person forces this on the other without any reciprocity at all). And both spouses feel free to express opinions, make decisions, and choose how to act–even if in bursts of anger we may occasionally do the opposite.

On the other hand, Leslie Vernick says,

An emotionally destructive marriage is one where one’s personhood, dignity, and freedom of choice is regularly denied, criticized, or crushed. This can be done through words, behaviors, economics, attitudes, and misusing the Scriptures…

It’s characterized by repetitive attitudes and behaviors that result in tearing someone down or inhibiting her growth. This behavior is usually accompanied by a lack of awareness, a lack of responsibility, and a lack of change…

Emotional abuse systematically degrades, diminishes, and can eventually destroy the personhood of the abused.

Eventually the emotionally abused spouse (and either spouse could be abused) no longer feels like “me”.

3. Emotionally Abusive marriages make you sick

The stress from living in an emotionally destructive marriage takes its toll.

Your body feels it. Your stomach churns, your teeth grind, your hands clench, your jaw tightens, your head pounds, your legs shake, and your blood pressure rises. You cry, you can’t catch your breath, and you throw up.

When your husband is near your body starts to shake. Almost all women in these types of marriages experience physical symptoms: ulcers, digestive issues, migraines. And it only gets worse.

4. Emotionally Destructive marriages make you crazy

Abusive spouses seek to control their mates through manipulation, anger, rage, and deceit. They play mind games. And then, every now and then they perform acts of kindness to keep their spouses ambivalent about leaving.

But when our personhood is systematically denied and we aren’t allowed to express, or even have, feelings, we feel as if we’re going crazy.

Leslie writes,

Our emotions always serve a purpose, like the warning lights on a car dashboard. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away, and often ignoring our feelings only makes the problem worse.

5. Most typical Christian marriage advice is exactly the wrong thing to do in an emotionally abusive marriage

To me, this is the most important point. I believe in biblical submission–with a firm emphasis on the word biblical. I do not believe in just plain submission. And yet over and over again in Christian blogs and in Christian books we’re told how submission turned their marriage around. How submission was the key to marital happiness.

That may be true–as long as you’re not in an emotionally abusive marriage. As soon as you are, acting in a typically submissive way only makes it worse, as I shared in this post about how not all advice is one size fits all.

Yet too often we in the church are told that the only proper response for a wife towards her husband is to defer to him–a  position that ignores the entire book of Proverbs, most of the Pauline epistles, and how Jesus Himself acted towards injustice.

In many emotionally destructive marriages, wives have spent years reading marriage books on how to make their marriages better. They’ve tried everything they can get their hands on–but nothing works, and in fact things often get worse, because the typical advice doesn’t fit.

I’ll let Leslie Vernick speak to this,

We’ve misdiagnosed a marriage that has terminal cancer and treated it as if it were only suffering from a common cold. We’ve also misplaced the responsibility for keeping the marriage alive by putting an extraordinarily heavy burden on a wife’s shoulders to somehow maintain a loving and warm relationship with a husband who treats her with cruelty, disrespect, deceit, and gross indifference. It’s not feasible, nor is it biblical…

When you are the only one in your marriage caring, repenting, being respectful and honest, sacrificing, and working toward being a better spouse, you are a godly wife, but you don’t have a healthy or biblical marriage…

In some marriages, trying harder does not engender a reciprocal response. It has the opposite effect. It feeds the fantasy that the sole purpose of your life is to serve your husband, make him happy, and meet his every need. It feeds his belief of entitlement and his selfishness, and it solidifies his self-deception that it is indeed all about him.

6. If you’re in an emotionally destructive marriage, be good, don’t be nice

In every marriage, our goal should be to encourage people to be more godly–and that should be all the more so in marriage because we are the helpmeet.

If we act in such a way that we solidify his self-centeredness (or her self-centeredness), then we aren’t being good or loving.

One woman said to Leslie,

I made our marriage worse by never speaking up, by being too nice, by not expressing my needs, and by accommodating Charlie even at my own expense. I went along thinking that this was my role as a godly woman, a submissive wife, a biblical helpmate.

7. To love your husband in an emotionally abusive marriage is to be concerned about his welfare and his soul

Leslie writes,

Biblically loving your husband doesn’t require you to prop him up in order to enable him to continue to hurt you. It involves something far more redemptive…

He needs a wife who will love him enough to tell him the truth and to respectfully challenge his selfishness, his self-absorption, and his self-deception.

What can you do to help your husband grow? You refuse to accept behaviour that is destructive and abusive.

When you put your foot down and say, “I will not allow myself or the kids to be treated this way anymore. It’s destructive to me, to them, and to our marriage,” you are not going against God by speaking the truth in love. You are standing for goodness, for truth, and for the healing and restoration of your marriage.

In an emotionally destructive marriage, you must learn to say no.

If you don’t know how to do that, Leslie lists some very practical examples of how you can set repercussions and boundaries for destructive behaviour while still making sure you and the children are safe. She talks practically about how to get a team around you for support, how to express to him what you will and will not accept, and how to start a process which can lead to him understanding what being a godly man is.

8. The Bible clearly says that if you are married to a fool, being nice only makes the fool worse

If people are doubting whether women have the “right” to put these kinds of ultimatums to their husbands, then I’d suggest you read the book of Proverbs and look at how God tells us to treat fools. Leslie explains in detail these Bible passages and how they apply to marriage.

And she looks at one example we have of a woman who was married to a fool–Abigail who was married to Nabal in 1 Samuel 25–and how she went against his wishes and was not submissive because she put God first.

9. We are to obey God, not man–especially an emotionally abusive man (or woman)

Following your husband into sin may be submissive, but it is not biblically submissive. Allowing him to berate you and your children may be submissive, but it is not biblically submissive.

As Peter says in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than man.”

10. God cares about the individuals in your family more than he cares about your marriage

Finally, if you’re in an emotionally abusive marriage, know that God sees you and grieves for you. In her book, Leslie shows through Scripture how God feels when His children are physically and emotionally hurt. He cries with you.

And she shows how the verse “God hates divorce” is often used against women in abusive marriages, rather than against the husbands who have made the rift–which is who that verse was directed at in the first place!

Leslie writes,

Maybe you think that God is more interested in preserving your marriage than the well-being of you and your children, but that is not true…

Joanne realized that her marriage, although important to her, had become idolatrous. Keeping it together was what controlled her, not the love of Christ…

A wife is not a body to use but a person to love.

And finally, let me leave you with this:

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: We Need to Learn God's Heart

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your HopeMost of you reading this are not in emotionally abusive marriages–but some are. And I want you to know that God cares. That you are not alone. And that He wants you to get help. Maybe that first step is picking up a copy of Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, which outlines how to identify your marriage, how to seek help, and how to do the hard work of seeing if the marriage can be saved. I encourage you to get it–it will give you hope!

 

Why One Size Fits All Advice Doesn’t Work

Marriage Advice: God cares about us looking more and more like Him far more than He cares about rules. So be careful of black and white advice, even about submission and respect.

The problem with giving marriage advice is that I can always think of about a million different exceptions where the advice may not apply.

There’s rarely a one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to relationships.

In fact, I think that’s why Jesus told stories so much–so that we could glean the principle, not just the law.

Let me give you an example.

Good Girls Guide My SiteWithholding sex is wrong. Sex is an integral part of marriage, and we should not deprive our spouses. I’m quite adamant about that; I have a whole chapter in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex about why it’s so important to make regular and frequent in  marriage, even if we don’t always feel loved or don’t always want it.

But, as I pointed out last week, that piece of advice, while generally true, isn’t always true. If your husband has just been watching porn, or is all aroused because of watching some heavily sex saturated TV show, having sex with him right then enables sin. Saying, “I will not have sex with you after you have looked at other naked women” is a perfectly legitimate boundary that supports the sanctity of marriage and does not enable sin. After all, as Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (NIV)

Nine Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage: Because a Great Relationship Doesnt Happen by AccidentThis was my basic issue when writing my new book that’s coming out this summer, 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. Too often the Christian advice that we’re given can actually hurt, rather than help, our relationships if we lose sight of the broader principle behind it.

And what is the broader principle that God wants for us?

I’d say  God wants  these two primary things: It’s not His will that any should perish, so He wants all to come to know Him, (2 Peter 3:9), and He wants us to be transformed into the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29).

He wants us to come to salvation, and then He wants us to be sanctified and made to look like Christ.

Those are God’s goals for us–the ENDS, as it were. And the means, the way we get there, are all of the teachings that we’re given in Scripture. But those teachings are not ends, in and of themselves, and too often we confuse them.

For instance, one of the means that God gives us for achieving the ends (growing like Christ) is to submit to our husbands and respect our husbands. But are there times when these MEANS would actually achieve a different END than God wants? Absolutely.

In the story of Ananias and Sapphira that we find in Acts 5, that couple owned a piece of land that they sold, and then they brought part of the proceeds to the apostles to go towards helping in the work of the church. So far so good. But they decided to tell the apostles that the money they gave was ALL the money they got. They wanted to look better than they were.

Ananias came in first, lied, and God struck him down. Sapphira came in afterwards, and Peter gave her an opportunity to make things right (she did not know Ananias was dead). He gave her the opportunity, in other words, to be unsubmissive–to disagree with her husband. She didn’t take it, and she was struck dead (Larry Crabb would argue that doing what God wants instead of following your husband into sin IS being submissive, not unsubmissive, and I agree with him. But that’s a bigger point for another post).

When I bring up that story, I get people arguing that it doesn’t show that you can go against your husband, because it could be that Sapphira was actually the instigator. But it makes no difference whether she plotted the whole thing (was the instigator), planned it with him (was equal), or just went along (was lesser). Peter gave her a chance to do the right thing apart from her husband and she did not take it, showing us, and wives forevermore, that God does not want us to participate in sin with our husbands. When sin is involved, we are to stand separately.

And what about the story of Abigail and Nabal from 1 Samuel 25? Nabal had put his family in danger because he had not compensated David and his men for the help they had given him. And Abigail intervened, apart from her husband’s wishes, to save the family. When your husband is dangerous and unreliable, you do the right thing. You don’t follow him to disaster.

Too often we preach the rule and forget these ends–that God wants us to look more and more like Him.

For instance, I received this letter recently:

My husband and I lost our house five years ago when my husband lost his job. We’ve been moving from house to house, staying with relatives, until we get kicked out. And we always get kicked cause my husband refuses to look for a job. He’s qualified for a bunch of jobs (he’s even been offered some), but he always says something better is coming. We have two small children, and I’m working part-time, but it won’t pay the bills. My husband spends all of his time on the computer looking up new jobs and how to start his own business, but he doesn’t actually do anything. I know my sister is getting sick of us living in her basement, but I don’t know what to do. I’m trying so hard to respect my husband? I encourage him and tell him he’s awesome and that I’m so proud of him, but I’m so angry right now.  He refuses to get a job, and I need him to. I know I need to respect him, but it’s just so hard.

The real issue here is that her husband is not acting responsibly, and he needs to step up to the plate. By framing the issue as respect, she’s missing the boat. And unfortunately, far too often in Christian circles if women are having issues in their marriage they are told that the only answers are to be more submissive and to respect more–which assumes that the problem is caused in the first place because they aren’t more submissive. “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

And I have often heard wives told to submit as if submission is the ENDS–that what God wants, more than all of us looking like Christ, is to have the right order in relationship.

Should we respect our husbands? Of course! But let’s not forget that the ENDS matter more than the MEANS.

That’s what Jesus said in the stories found in Mark 2 and Mark 3. In Mark 2 the disciples were hungry, so they were picking grain on the sabbath. The Pharisees criticized them since this was unlawful. But Jesus points out that David did something unlawful, too, when his companions were hungry. He concludes in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” And then Mark 3 opens with a story about Jesus healing on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees were so focused on the rule–keeping the sabbath–that they forgot the principle–God wants our best.

And in your marriage, God wants your best–which includes both of you looking more and more like Him.

That’s why it’s not about rules. It’s about aiming for God’s best for you and your husband. Let me give you two quotes from our books from The Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge in January. Gary Thomas, in A Lifelong Love, says this:

A Lifelong Love: What If Marriage Is about More Than Just Staying Together?For instance, in a real-life scenario, a wife told me that her husband said, “Quit throwing away my pornography. I need it. If you throw away my pornography, I’m throwing away your Bible.”

Her desire is that her husband not keep a stash of pornography. That’s what she wants. But it’s also what will most bless her husband. So she doesn’t give way and allow him to maintain a separate sexual life apart from their intimacy. Sh blesses him by saying, “No, I won’t stand for this.” Sometimes what we want can also be a blessing to our spouses, even if they don’t want it. To bless other people is to seek their ultimate good, and their ultimate good is what draws them to God.

And John and Staci Eldredge, in Love & War, say this:

Love and War: Find Your Way to Something Beautiful in Your Marriage[Staci speaking]: For years I think we both thought that to overlook your spouse’s issues was the most loving thing to do…By all means, we overlook their little quirks; we even overlook the ways they wound us, if by overlook we mean we forgive them. But this doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to issues that will eventually harm them, or the marriage, or the children. God doesn’t.

It is not love to ignore your spouse’s sin, or brokenness, or immaturity. It is not love to let something wrong carry on. It is not right. Truth be told, it is a lack of love that lets it all go on for years. When you let your own fears keep you from bringing something up with your spouse, that is self-protection. Or indifference. God loves until what he loves is pure.

We work for our spouse’s ultimate good. That is the ends.

But that’s murky, isn’t it? We’d rather have a black and white assurance of what w should do. But isn’t murky God’s modus operandi? Jesus dies and rises from the dead, and the only method He left of telling the world about it is a motley crew of fallible disciples, guided by the Holy Spirit.

That’s how God works–we have to walk by the Spirit! That makes us pray, and listen to God, and stay close to Him. And He’s also given us mentors in the church to ask. And if that doesn’t work, and there’s still a big issue in your marriage, there’s also taking it before the church leadership (Matthew 18).

There is no one size fits all advice, because we’re all different.

But we all have the Holy Spirit, and our church community, and hopefully mentors.

And so, whenever you read a piece of marriage advice, put it through this lens:

Will acting in the suggested way make me grow more like Jesus, or make me look less like Him? Will acting like this make my husband look more like Jesus, or less like Him? What should I do right now to encourage all of us to look and act more and more like Jesus?

That’s what it’s about, people. It’s about being Christlike. So go deeper with God and with His word. And then love and respect in integrity, truth, and grace.

 

Rebuilding Trust After a Porn Addiction

Rebuilding Trust After a Porn Addiction

I get a lot of reader’s questions like this one:

I found out about my husband of 5 years had been addicted to porn and caught him by innocently searching through his photos on his phone while nursing my son in bed one morning.  I regularly asked to use his phone, so my looking through it was nothing unusual at all. The difference this time is he forgot to hide his stuff apparently this time. We have had MANY hard conversations since then. He’s been getting help, hasn’t looked at it since July (when I caught him) and has been genuinely turning his life around and back to the Lord.  Here’s my issue.  I still don’t trust him yet. I’ve forgiven him but trusting him again is something that takes a lot of work and time. We aren’t at that point yet. Is it possible to respect him without trust?  I do try but he doesn’t feel it anymore. I know it’s incredibly important to show respect and even biblical. I guess maybe I don’t know what respect truly is? I’m being the best I know how to be while feeling so broken but it doesn’t seem enough. Please help, I’m so confused.

And here is one woman’s answer to rebuilding trust after a porn addiction…welcome Jen Ferguson from Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood

I was in my bed sobbing uncontrollably.  The revelation hit me in the gut and never have I felt so alone as I did in that moment. The reality of my life hit me: I cannot trust anyone not to let me down.

Thankfully, with the new morning came new light into my darkness: No one is infallible. Everyone makes mistakes, including me. People will fail me, but this does not make all relationships destined for failure.

That wisdom right there seemed to right my sinking ship. Suddenly, I had gone from shipwrecked to being fortified with a grace I hadn’t known I was withholding from people in my life, primarily from my husband. For years we had battled together against his porn addictionNever did I consider divorce, but looking back at it, never did I consider living into the fullness of marriage again, either. For years I could not bear to think about trusting Craig again.

Could I ever stop my suspicions he would one day return to porn?  Would I ever be able to talk to him about his addiction without accusation and fear?  The truth was, I could give him my body in the bedroom, but could I ever truly again give him my heart?

Realizing my own fallibilities was the first step in helping me to rebuild trust in my husband. How many times had I hurt him over and over in the same manner?  I was not a white lamb in this relationship. My blemishes, though different than his, were still sins for which I needed forgiveness and grace. It was me that was placing his sin on a grander scale than my own. This was certainly not how God saw it.  Sin is sin.

Rebuilding trust was a dual effort for us. Yes, he had betrayed me by using pornography and needed to show me that he was actively pursing a life without it. But, truthfully, I had lost some of his trust, too. When I first discovered his porn addiction, I went into “control” mode. I watched over his every move. I accused him before listening to him. I became a parent instead of a spouse. I let my anger rule my words.  We both had to come to a place of acknowledging our own needs for forgiveness and recognize our marriage wouldn’t thrive without a foundation of trust.

Four Steps to Go from Ruin to Reunion

1. He communicates with me and I listen.

One of Craig’s major triggers that would propel him into his porn addiction cycle was stress.  When things felt too hard or too much, when he felt as though he was at risk for failing or rejection, he would shut me out and get lost in the world of porn for release and escape.  Before he really became invested in freedom, I would ask him questions, knowing something was wrong, and he would simply give me a pat answer like “things are busy at work.”  Now, he knows I know when something is bothering him and he is willing to sit down with me and be real and honest with what is happening and how he is responding to those situations.

2.  I respond with wisdom and he listens. 

One day, Craig’s friend invited him over to watch the TV show, Game of Thrones. I happened to see part of one episode the previous season and I knew there was nudity in it.  When I saw the invitation on Craig’s computer, my first reaction (that thankfully, I kept in my head) was “No! You can’t do that! It’s not good for you!”  If I had said that, I would have regressed back into my fear-based, parenting-like behavior, where he felt disrespected.  Instead, I simply told him how I thought the show might trigger him back into porn and asked him to pray about whether or not he should view the show. He ended up not going, not because I demanded him to stay home, but because God led him to the conclusion that watching nudity on TV would not be conducive to his walk toward freedom. He felt respected by the fact that I asked him to fully consider the ramifications and seek God instead of shouting at him about what he should or shouldn’t do.

3.  He accepts accountability.

I know the password to all of Craig’s electronic devices and have permission at any time to view anything on them. There is a password on our cable account that restricts adult entertainment access and MA-rated television shows and movies that only I have (which he asked me to put on). He has a regular group of friends he can count on to pray for him and from whom he seeks counsel. All of these things give me tangible ways to see that he is trying to keep himself safe from things that could easily ensnare him.

4. We forgive each other continually.

We must make it a practice to forgive and extend grace. We will both mess up in a variety of ways, but instead of using these mistakes as ammunition against each other to try to prove that we are not trustworthy, we choose to use them so to practice the character of Jesus, who always extends forgiveness.

Rebuilding trust does not happen overnight and it can feel like an impossible goal, but with God, anything is possible. Trust is a crucial piece to your marriage and it will not thrive without it. God knows this and He will actively help you rebuild it. You’re not in it alone.

 

Jen FergusonJen Ferguson is passionate about Jesus, her husband, and her two girls. She is the facilitator of The Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood and loves to encourage women to bring their true selves out into the light.  She is the co-author of Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography.  

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Have some marriage advice? Leave a comment, or link up a URL of your own Wifey Wednesday marriage post in the linky below!

This Wifey Wednesday we talk about how to rebuild when he’s the one who has sinned sexually. Next Wednesday we’ll look at how to rebuild trust when it’s been you–especially if you’ve been withholding sex, and now you want to change but your husband doesn’t trust you yet.



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Standing up to Adult Bullies

I’m sorry my post is late today.

I’ve had a sleepless night, thinking and praying about something I’ve been involved in. And I’ve been wrestling with my motivations, and my commitment, but most of all my WHY?

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I knew a girl who was being abused. No one would believe it because her dad was an elder in the church. And I tried to help and I tried to counsel, but I was just a kid. And the abuse went on. And I felt like I had let her down.

In later years, I had kids in my extended sphere of influence that I knew were sad and dejected. And I tried to fix it. I had a neighbourhood girl who from age 6-12 practically lived at my house. I fed her most of her meals. I tried to teach her how to resolve conflict and act appropriately. I introduced her to Jesus. Most of all, I loved her.

But as she grew up she started to pull away, and I was desperate to keep her. What would happen to her without us? What if she went down the wrong road?

And then I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. I was wearing myself out trying to be this girl’s mother, when her actual parents didn’t care. And no matter what I did I couldn’t make up for the lack of parenting in her life. I stopped and let her go. We still saw her every now and then, but I did all I could do.

For a while now I’ve had a similar motivation about another group of kids. I see how they’re being treated. I see how the parents don’t understand that what is being taught them theologically is wrong. I see how they’re getting a warped view of God, and I desperately want to fix it. I love these kids. I want them to know Jesus.

And so I have poured my heart and soul and much time that I really don’t have into loving these kids, even though doing so puts me in the same path of the bullies that hurt them.

Last night I was finally released. I let it go. I can’t fix things, as much as I want to. And I can’t keep opening myself up to adult bullies.

I feel sadness this morning, but a great weight off of my shoulders.

And I woke up thinking about this column I wrote two years ago. I liked it then; I thought I would rerun it now.


Adult Bullies: Do you know how to deal with them?Anti-bullying campaigns are all the rage in our schools today. What we often fail to remember, though, is that bullying behavior doesn’t stop the moment one dons a graduation cap.

Have you ever encountered an adult bully?

I’ve been in social situations when someone has said something so outrageous and mean-spirited that I was temporarily rendered mute, a state which drove me absolutely bonkers as I was lying in bed later that night thinking of all the things I should have said. They eluded me at the time because the situation seemed so bizarre.

I think that’s why adult bullies can be so effective: the behavior is just so out of the ordinary.

Sure, we may talk behind people’s backs (which is terrible, too), but in general we try to be polite to people’s faces. When someone violates that cardinal rule, we’re often so shocked that we say nothing. Perhaps it’s the residual British culture in us, but we’re not programmed to make scenes; we’re programmed to avoid scenes.

Bowling over people, then, becomes an awfully effective way at getting what they want. And adult bullies may genuinely not realize they’re pretentious jerks, although I think more likely they don’t care. They have such an inflated sense of their own self-worth that they keep at it.

We’ve been busy teaching children how to deal with bullies, but perhaps we need a refresher course for adults.

You’re being bullied if someone constantly demeans you or says snide remarks about you. You’re being bullied if someone is constantly yelling at you or criticizing you. You’re being bullied if someone deliberately isolates you in social or work situations. And you’re being bullied if someone is constantly making helpful “suggestions” and laying guilt trips if you don’t take them.

I often find that adult bullies tend to be older, especially in families. They think they have the right to tell other people how to live their lives and demand things a certain way. And we tolerate it, because “that’s just Grandpa Joe.” Or we do our best to compensate, running interference if anyone opens their mouths and says something that may set him off. We spend our energy trying to placate or distract Grandpa Joe so nothing bad happens. What kind of family life is that?

Sometimes bullying, especially in families, is more covert.

If you call out an adult bully, they reply with incredulity, “I was just asking questions! I can’t believe you took it that way,” putting the blame back on you. And then you start to wonder if you’re the crazy one. Yet even if you turn yourself inside out to try to please the bully, you never will, because bullies thrive on the feeling of instilling fear. Meet one demand and they’ll come up with another.

Maybe it’s time our British, don’t rock the boat culture learned something from the Italians, who say everything. So let’s practice: “You are being inappropriate.” “I won’t sit here and listen if you talk to me like that.” “You are a guest in this home, Mom, so you should treat us with respect.” Or, better still, stand up for someone else. “Dad, you owe Jennifer an apology. You were completely out of line.” And if they start yelling or criticizing you, just repeat it. Then stand up and leave the room. There is no law requiring you to sit in a chair and be insulted.

If more of us just spoke up, bullies would lose their shock and awe power.

And it’s time the rest of us had some shock and awe on our side instead.


For all of you who are staying in jobs where the culture is killing you, but you don’t feel like you can leave because then who would protect the other employees or the clients–I understand. For all of you who are sticking it out with extended family, even though they are toxic, because if you leave, who will care for your nieces or nephews or siblings or grandkids–I understand. For all of you who are staying in toxic churches or toxic schools because what about the kids? I understand. I hear you.

And I know that what you need, more than anything else, is for other people to just speak up. For other people to support you and to say, “this is not right.” In most situations 90% of people will agree with you–but it’s the toxic 10% that are the ones who speak.

So let’s all speak. Let’s all call a spade a spade. Let’s end this, especially within the church, because it is wrong. Jesus would never yell at people, belittle people, or berate people. And it needs to stop.


I have been watching Natalie at Visionary Womanhood go through her year of standing up to adult bullies, and I’ve so appreciated her posts. Here are just a few on deprogramming from Christian lies–which include calling a spade a spade.


Now that I have more time on my hands, I’m going to celebrate these two! I have about 5 months left to plan the wedding. Here’s one of their engagement photos. So proud of you, Rebecca! And so love you, Connor!

Engagement Photo

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Wifey Wednesday: Putting Your Husband First

Today, welcome guest author Kate from Making Space, a mom, wife and reader from the UK, who like many of us asks an important question, what comes first, children or marriage? Here’s what she says about putting your husband first.

Children or Marriage: Putting Your Husband First

This is what a normal day in our household looks like.

Jonas wakes up, if I’m organised enough I will have woken up before him to shower and get myself ready. I put him on the potty (and continue to do so regularly for the rest of the day), get him dressed, we go downstairs, I make him breakfast. I wash up all the dummies and beakers he used last night. I empty the dishwasher, and then load it, whilst talking to Jonas as he has breakfast. I get him down from the table, he plays whilst I have breakfast. I quickly load the washing machine and prepare his changing bag. A neighbour might knock on the door and come in for a quick chat. We quickly rush out the door trying to get to a toddler group on time, but often running 30 minutes late. We stay there until lunch and then walk home super quickly to get back in time for Jonas to have a quick lunch and then nap. He wakes about 2 or 3pm, leaving me a couple of hours to spend some 1-1 time with him, do cleaning, hang the washing, prepare dinner and do any other chores around the house for which there always seem to be many.

Engagement

Before Children

Around 5 or 6pm I am so happy to see Alan’s car pull up in the driveway. Honestly, not because I am excited to chat to my husband or give him a kiss for all his hard work in the office enabling me to be a stay at home mum, but because seeing him walk through the door means he can assist me in looking after Jonas, or sorting bits in the kitchen, or putting Jonas on the potty for the 20th time that day, or just lending a helping hand. Just doing anything which enables me a couple of minutes to breathe and have some time off from being a ‘mummy on duty’. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mummy, but I think most mummies will understand, some days it is relentless and there is such freedom in being ‘off duty’ for even 5 minutes.

As I started writing this post, I was going to write about juggling things in motherhood, something I’m sure I will write about soon, but as I started typing I realised something. Sometimes, and probably often, my focus in my day is so much on my son, and my long list of chores or jobs to achieve, that I forget something equally as important. I forget something that was here before any of these ‘to do’s’ or ‘priorities’, I forget my marriage. I forget to give myself to my husband.

I spend so much of my day giving my best to my son, that when Alan walks in the door and we go through the strict paces of the dinner/bedtime routine for Jonas, there is very little of my best left to give.

By the time 7pm on a good day, or 8pm on a not so good day comes, and Jonas is asleep in his cot, this mummy is knackered. Desperate for some me time, just to do something other than give of myself, longing to chill or zone out. I don’t really want to hear about his day, because surely it can’t compare to the importance of him needing to hear about the events of our day, the laughs, the new developments, the tears or tantrums, the accidents or successes of potty training, surely my husband’s tale of the day can’t compare to this, right?

As I type this I am reminded of something one of my close friends once said:

Our husbands were there before we had kids and they will still be there after.

I guess the state of our marriage will be dependant upon the attention we give it during these years when it’s hard to give again when we have done so all day.

I think this will probably be a challenge for a lot of mums, especially in those early years when our little ones are so dependant on us. We can feel like we have literally given so much that we have emptied ourself of all energy, that there is none left to find.

If this resonates with you, I challenge you, like I challenge myself, to remember the one that was there first. To remember our husbands who have given us these precious children. And on those days when we literally feel like we have given above and beyond for our babies, to somehow muster up something else, to give to our husbands. To remember that when they walk in the door, although you may feel desperate for them to help, to take time to give them a kiss. Or when you feel like you have to tell them the events of the day because you haven’t had any other adult conversation within the last 4 hours, to remember, maybe they want to share their days events with you first. And when you hand them a list of ‘to do’s’, perhaps stop to think what this type of welcome might feel like to them as they step in the front door. Perhaps think that they may have had their own challenges or stress that day, and they may need a breather too.

And then remember this: we give to our children firstly because we love them, but also because we are investing in their lives. Don’t allow yourself to lose your love for your husband, but on the days that maybe you don’t feel it because you are so exhausted, remember you are investing in them too. Investing in your marriage, and when your babies have grown up, and flown the nest, your husband will still be there. And the success of our relationship will depend on what we put in now and how much we give to them now.

If this seems impossible, because you can’t possibly think of anyone else other than your little bundle of joy that is also a bundle of a lot of hard work, ask God for help. Ask Him for strength. Ask Him to show you little ways you can bless your husband, or help you to organise things so you have more time. Because the same is true of our children and our husbands; what we put in in the early years, most definitely affects what we get out in the later years.

Decide that what you get out of your marriage in years to come will be good!

Me-and-My-Boy-150x150My name’s Kate. Two and a half years ago I became a mummy. My life massively changed! I left my career, fell madly in love and started the biggest learning curve of my life. I have learnt many things since then but the biggest by far is that by the grace of God all things are possible. God has given me wisdom when I’ve needed answers, given me strength when I’ve been overwhelmed and given me capacity beyond my natural ability. I write a blog because honestly some days we all need something to read where we can find hope, encouragement or just a space to hear, it’s normal! You can find it here: Making Space.

The Appeal of 50 Shades of Grey–and Why We Should Fight

Why 50 Shades of Grey Appeals--and what our response should be

Fifty Shades of Grey is coming to theaters everywhere next Valentine’s Day. It’s become the highest advanced ticket sales for any R-rated movie ever. Groups of women are going to see it together.

What should our response be?

It’s sold as a series that can reignite women’s sex drives, boost their libidos, and even enhance their marriages. But is that true?

Today all over the online world bloggers are uniting to talk about this movie and why it’s a bad idea. I’ve written several posts on the book before, including:

I want to take a bit of a different approach in today’s post and talk about why the movie appeals–and then what we should do about that.

Why Are Women Drawn to 50 Shades of Grey?

Honestly, I’ve read a lot of Christian commentary on 50 Shades of Grey, and the response is often something like: “it’s wrong, period!” People see the whips and the chains and the awful language and we’re horrified.

I agree that reading erotica is wrong and that it will harm your marriage. And this particular series glamourizes what is essentially a violent, abusive relationship (with shades of pedophilia in there, too).

Nevertheless, many women are drawn into the sexual fantasy about it.

But here’s the complicating factor: a lot of sin in our lives isn’t caused by sinful hearts as much as it is caused by brokenness–by deep places of hurt within ourselves. Remember when Jesus warned people not to be a stumbling block to one of his little ones and cause them to sin? He wasn’t denying that the little ones were sinning; but he was saying that the cause of that sin was not some evil on the part of the little ones, but some way that they had been hurt or harmed by someone else.

Brokenness is as much a cause of sin as our own sinful nature. Brokenness is dangerous.

And just like many men (and women) are tempted towards porn because they feel lonely and it gives them a sense of control, so there is something inside of many women which draws them towards this kind of erotica.

Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman's HeartDannah Gresh and Juli Slattery do a great job in the book Pulling Back the Shades to explain why 50 Shades of Grey is so alluring to so many. But I want to take it even farther today. They talk about how women are looking for more excitement in their sex life; how they’re sick of being bored (among other things), and that’s all true. But that would apply to any kind of erotica or any kind of sex toys, etc. The simple fact is that there is something unique about this particular brand of erotica–this particular story of bondage and sado-masochism that has captivated millions. What is it? That’s what I want to figure out today, because I think when we understand the root we’ll understand the response.

Root #1: Feeling Alone

The Fantasy Fallacy: Exposing the Deeper Meaning Behind Sexual ThoughtsIn her book The Fantasy Fallacy, Shannon Ethridge looks at how we all have sexual fantasies, and those fantasies are not all bad. Some, however, cross a line. But where do those fantasies come from? Our sexual self is very rooted in our identities, our fears, and our deepest longings. And those are shaped especially by our brokenness. So it’s hardly surprising that our sexual fantasies often say much about the state of our hearts.

When you look at the root of the fantasy appeal of 50 Shades of Grey, you can see a lot of brokenness.

Let’s start with this: The book centers on a naive 21-year-old who is alone in the world and just beginning her adult life.

Do you remember those years?

I do, and they weren’t pretty. They were the loneliest and scariest of my life. I didn’t know what I’d be doing. I didn’t know who I’d marry (or if I’d marry). I didn’t know if I’d be alone my whole life.

I have two daughters aged 17 and 20, and so I’m surrounded by them and by their friends. And this is a hard, horrible time for many of them. It’s just really unsettling. I wouldn’t want to go back at all.

And so, in the midst of feeling naive and unprepared for life, she meets this strong, confident billionaire (yes, billionaire. Good, realistic plotting isn’t exactly what this series is known for). She gets someone who will take care of her (even in a warped way). And that can be really intoxicating.

 Root #2: Feeling Like You Don’t Have To Be In Control

A lot of women are control freaks. It’s not necessarily because we want to be in control, though. It’s because there are so many things we’re desperately worried about, and because we’re multitaskers, we think about them all the time. We can’t get away from them. And because we worry so much, we feel like everything rests on our shoulders. If we don’t do all the right things, everything will fall apart.

That’s a heavy responsibility.

We feel responsible for making the right decisions about our kids. We feel responsible for our marriages, for our parents, for our friends. We feel responsible for keeping ministries going at church. We have so much on our shoulders.

Doesn’t being free of the burden of control sound intoxicating?

A while back I had some health scares and I had to go through a number of tests. I posted a Facebook update that I had had an MRI–and despite all the banging (MRIs are really loud) I almost fell asleep. It was one of the most relaxing times I’d had in ages! I got to lie there, and there was absolutely nothing I was allowed to do except be still. It was heaven. And all kinds of women echoed similar things.

So perhaps it’s no wonder that the whole idea of bondage and someone else being in control and making all the decisions appeals in a deep way to women. Many of us are wounded because we are carrying around burdens and cares that cannot and should not be our own.

Root #3: Dealing with Shame

Many of us are just plain ashamed of our sexuality. We equate being aggressive in bed or even enjoying ourselves with being slutty or being “bad”. It’s hard for us to initiate sex, or to tell our husbands what we want in bed.

Having a man that takes the choice out of it, then, is freeing. If he’s doing something TO you, and you can’t resist, then you’re free to enjoy yourself without having to admit that you’re somehow bad.

So those are many of the roots. They aren’t the only ones, but they’re the obvious ones. Do you see yourself in any of them? If you can understand why you may be drawn to these things, then it’s easier to fight against it. You don’t need to beat yourself up; you need to deal with the underlying brokenness.

Dealing with the Ugly Fruit

Remember, the root just shows us what our heart issues are. But when we let that root take hold and we let that grow, we can bear some awfully ugly fruit.

And that’s what happens with erotica like this. We may have reasons to be drawn to it, but when we read a lot of erotica, or watch it in movies, it clouds our fantasies. It starts to pair our sexual response with a fantasy rather than a person (our husbands), and just like porn does, it makes it harder to stay present with our husbands. We’re not making love with them; we’re using them while fantasies are going through our heads.

And those fantasies are hard to remove. Soon you need them even to get aroused. Not a good thing. And that’s when we cross the line from brokenness into sin.

Then there are those who will eventually start to act this stuff out. There’s a reason demand for bondage gear is growing. But when you start living this out in real life, you cement a relationship which is the farthest thing from truly intimate you can find. You create a violent, degrading relationship instead of a healthy meeting of two equals.

What Should Our Response to 50 Shades of Grey Be?

If you’re drawn to 50 Shades of Grey:

Recognize the reasons. Try to identify the roots of the appeal of the fantasy. Is it that you don’t want to be alone? Don’t want to feel in control all the time? Want to enjoy sex without feeling shame? If you can identify the root, then you can help heal any brokenness that’s there. You can run to God to work out your insecurities. You can work with your husband on how to feel more comfortable with your sexuality. You can start wrestling with God about how to trust Him in faith and not having to be so in control.

That’s a tall order, I know, because for many of us these roots run deep. Many porn addicts suffer from a similar thing. Their roots are often things like never being properly affirmed (in porn the women are always there and ready and eager), or never feeling like  you’re powerful enough. Sometimes a big part of defeating the temptation of these things is seeing the root.

If you’re talking with someone who is thinking of seeing the 50 Shades movie:

Explain the chemical process of how we start to pair sexual arousal with fantasy, and then we can’t get aroused in a relationship anymore. Tell her it’s a very similar physiological response as men with porn. And here’s what else happens: once we start using erotica, we tend to want more–and different. So we read weirder and weirder stuff that we would never have been drawn to before. It changes you in ways you don’t want.

Emphasize this rather than just “it’s sinful”. The “it’s sinful” doesn’t always help. Yes, it is, but sin has repercussions. If you explain the repercussions, it’s easier for people to see the danger.

The Pull for Porn & Erotica for Women Is Going to Escalate

Porn is a problem for men today in a way it never was before the internet. It was always a temptation, but it was never this widespread.

This is going to escalate for women now, too. We’re the next target. And it’s an easy progression from erotica to full blown porn.

So let’s start realizing that not all porn users are male, and that females struggle too. And let’s protect ourselves (and our daughters). Talk openly with your friends so that we make talking about this mainstream. Get filters on your computer. And fight against it!

Sex Can Be Fun–and Healthy!

So let’s spread the word that we don’t need bondage, whips and chains to have fun in bed! What we need is greater openness, less shame, and more intimacy.

31 Days to Great SexAnd that’s why on this Fight Back Against 50 Shades of Grey weekend I’m going to put 31 Days to Great Sex on for just $2.99 from my store (in .pdf) and on Kindle at Amazon.

I want to give you EVERY REASON to pick up this book. Seriously, it’s only 3 dollars! And it’s got 31 challenges you and your husband can do together to help you talk about sex again, explore more, flirt more, be more affectionate, and spice things up. And I have several days where we deal with all the junk that’s holding us back, too.

Already have it? Pick up a copy for a friend, or a sister, or a relative that is thinking of going to see the movie. Show them there’s another way!

31 Days 50 Shades Sale

Wifey Wednesday: Why to Work Out as a Couple

Workout as a CoupleIt’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! Today welcome Jenn Faulk, who is sharing the life-changing effects and benefits that working out as a couple has had on her marriage. At the end, Jenn has a special gift for all my readers!

Four years ago, my husband was told that he needed to get fit… or else.

It was a doomsday diagnosis for us, a young pastor and his homemaker wife struggling to make a difference at a very difficult church. Stress levels were high but not nearly as high as my sweet husband’s blood pressure. When his doctor discovered this problem during a routine checkup, he told Wes there were two options — get fit or go on medication.

Like most young pastors and their wives, we doubted we could afford the medication, so we decided to go with the other option and get in shape together. Neither one of us could run a quarter of a mile at that point, so it was with great faith, anticipation, and even a little bit of fear that we signed up for our first race (so that we had a looming deadline on the calendar to keep us accountable) and began training, one tiny step at a time.

What we learned in the process was that getting in shape together, as a team, would do a lot for our health and abundantly more for the health of our marriage.

Here are just a few of the benefits we’ve discovered in working out as a couple.

1.  It makes you better teammates, on and off the pavement.

Communication is crucial in marriage, but it’s so easy to fall into patterns where we don’t adequately express ourselves or completely listen either one. In putting together a plan to work out together and actually making it happen, you’ll find that you’re more deliberate and intentional about communicating. I know that I’m never more communicative than when we’re eighteen miles into a race and I feel like dying. The freedom I feel at that point to say all kinds of things to Wes (some good, some not) honestly carries over to real life, where mundane tasks sometimes lull us into a routine that strangles real communication. Because we’ve learned to express ourselves in cheering one another on and supporting each other through physical challenges, we’re better able to keep our communication open in our everyday lives.

2.  It gives you goals to work towards together.

Remember when you first married and you had crazy dreams of all you’d do together? Everyday life and the routines we find ourselves in can sometimes rob our marriages of this wonderful practice. By tackling a fitness goal together, you’ll find yourselves dreaming big again! That first race we put on our calendar years ago gave us a definite goal to work towards together. It was such a blessing to us to have this common ground to keep coming back to and looking towards, even when life was, at time, difficult and challenging. As you work together to meet your goal, you’ll go through tough situations, challenging times, and celebrations. This only makes you better prepared for the very same experiences you’ll have in life as well.

3.  It gives you more time with one another.

When we started running, we had two preschool-aged children who sounded more like thirty preschool-aged children when they got worked up. (More like thirty wild chimpanzees. True story.) Time together where we could have coherent thoughts much less conversation was a challenge, but we loaded our girls up in a double jogging stroller packed with sippy cups, snacks, and toys and fought for those precious few minutes where we could run together. Now that our girls are older and more self-sufficient, life is still crazy busy, and the time we get to work out is sometimes the only time we get to be alone together. We guard it jealously and can honestly attest to how those miles covered side by side have been foundational in our marriage. That time alone together, even now, away from the demands of a busy home and the responsibilities that come with it, is priceless. (And the weekend trips away to go and run a race out of town, while the grandparents watch the girls? Bliss!)

4.  It makes the bedroom more exciting.

Speaking of those trips away (ahem), getting fit together makes for an all around boost in intimacy. If Wes had known this, he’d have gotten us into running much earlier, honestly. The confidence that comes with being in shape combined with the endurance that results from pushing your limits physically… well, need I say more?

5. It gives you another opportunity to glorify God together.

When we take the time to take care of our bodies as God calls us to do, we’re better equipped to serve Him. Getting in shape and adopting a healthier lifestyle alongside your husband benefits your health and his individually, making it far more likely that you’ll have more quality, healthful years ahead with which to serve Christ. We pray for daily health and strength to give back to Him as an offering, and staying in shape together has made it possible for us to do more than we could have imagined we’d be able to do this far into our ministry together.

This past year, Wes and I celebrated ten years of marriage by running our tenth marathon together.

One of the sweetest times of our marriage thus far has most definitely been the time we’ve spent running together, working towards better health alongside one another, putting our minds and hearts to a shared goal, and celebrating every finish line hand in hand.

In this season of fresh starts and new resolutions, let me encourage you to consider beginning to dream about, work towards, and meet fitness goals with your husband. It doesn’t have to be something huge to count. Start where you are and do what you can do, trusting that the effort you put into it will be of great gain down the road for your health, your life, and your marriage.

ResolutionsAs a special gift for all To Love, Honor and Vacuum readers.  She is offering her book Resolutions FREE on Kindle for January 14, 2015 only!

Check out her Amazon book page for other books Jenn has written, too.

Jenn FaulkJenn Faulk is a full time mom and pastor’s wife in Pasadena, Texas.  She has a BA in English-Creative Writing from the University of Houston and an MA in Missiology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  She loves talking about Jesus, running marathons, listening to her daughters’ stories, and serving alongside her husband in ministry.  You can contact her through her blog www.jennfaulk.com

WifeyWednesday175Now it’s your turn! Do you have some advice for us today? Link up the URL of your own marriage post in the linky below, and then remember to link back here so that other people can read these great marriage posts!

The Good Girl's Guide to Great Sex

Marriage isn't supposed to be blah!


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O Christmas Tree

O Christmas TreeWhen I was in Canadian Tire a while ago I saw an absolutely stunning Christmas tree.

It was decorated in silver bows and balls with purple accents. It was my ideal tree.

Such a tree, however, will never grace my living room. No matter how much I want a purple and silver one, I have too many other decorations that render a consistent colour scheme impossible. I have a family Christmas tree.

First comes the gold heart embossed with “Keith and Sheila, 1991″ that we received at our wedding. Then there are all the Christmas decorations we made as children which our parents thoughtfully gave us our first Christmas together (were they trying to get rid of them, I wonder?). There’s the canvas stitched candy cane Keith made, and the decorated styrofoam balls I did. Other decorations full of childhood memories hang beside them, like the angel candle holders that were on my Baby Jesus birthday cake when I was six.

And now, of course, we have added our children’s decorations. At first they were fairly innocuous ones, like “Baby’s First Christmas”. They have since become more ambitious. One year the girls and I made dough Christmas shapes and then glued little pictures to them. Katie, who is living proof that you can survive your second year of life eating only dried play dough (believe me, it wasn’t my choice), actually left nibble marks in some as she tried to eat them, too, despite the salt content. Add the decorations the girls make at Sunday school out of little paper doilies, and there’s no room for those classy purple balls.

Our lives are very much like these Christmas trees.

We spend so much effort trying to have the perfectly decorated life, with the right kids, the right jobs, and the right promotions. But it can be exhausting to live that way. Our work is never done. We’re always on the go, and when we do sit down it’s only to plan how to drive our kids to more lessons, run some more errands or throw on yet another load of laundry before we make dinner.

The family Christmas tree, with all its imperfections, is better because it is uniquely us. Anybody can have a perfectly purple Christmas tree. Not everyone can have the one decorated with your own white doily angels and pipe cleaner reindeer.

Christmas anchors us and reminds us of whose we are and of what’s important.

A sign at a local Dry Cleaners recently read, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”. Many of us are stuck on some sideroad of endless errands and work because we need a road map to get us home, a map that can only come by slowing down and reflecting, if just for a little while. With the busyness of life, we often ignore our spiritual side, never taking time to think about life, death, parenting or our purpose on this earth. Christmas can be our roadmap, a time to take stock of our lives and consider if we’re heading in the right direction.

Whatever your spiritual background is, the challenge is the same: let’s take the time during the holidays to honour it. At my house this week, we’ll have a “Baby Jesus Birthday Cake” (chocolate, of course), to remind us that Christmas is when the all-powerful God became as helpless as a baby so he could live among us and die for us, so we could live forever with him. I don’t want that just to be my Christmas message; I want to live it through the rest of the year. But if I don’t take the chance now to see whether my daily life reflects my spiritual priorities, I may not have time once the daily grind starts anew.

I will gladly take my Baby Jesus birthday cake angels and little dough hearts over purple balls any day. That’s who I am, and who I want to be. Christmas is one of the few times of year when we can contemplate life without someone telling us to move on to the next task. Let’s make sure that this year, we take advantage of the opportunity.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Go to Your Room! Why Kids Should Hang Out in the Living Room Instead

For my column today I thought I’d rerun a Christmas column from a few years ago where I talked about computers in kids’ rooms. It goes along well with our discussion yesterday about protecting kids with all the new gadgets at Christmas!

Computers in Kids Rooms
Disciplining children is a minefield for parents today. You’re not supposed to spank. You’re not supposed to yell. So when a 13-year-old child is tormenting his 9-year-old brother, parents utter the greatest threat that’s still acceptable: “Go to your room!”

Yeah, that’ll teach him.

Here’s a kid who obviously does not want to be with the family, and, in punishment, you send him to a place where, according to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 50% have their own television, and another 25% have a computer. “Go to your room!” is no longer sentencing a child to hours of boredom; it’s sending a child to a place where they have access to the outside world, with no parental interference, and often no parental guidance.

Traditionally, the living room was for living; the bedroom was for sleeping. Being banished to the bedroom was harsh indeed. Today, many children prefer to cocoon in their rooms, which they’re trying to turn into entertainment central. It’s not unusual for most kids’ Christmas lists to have “electronics” highlighted right at the top. The Santa in you may be tempted to oblige. The Scrooge in me is asking you to reconsider.

After all, what happens when kids have a television in their bedroom? According to a University of Haifa study, middle schoolers with TVs in their room sleep thirty minutes less a night, on average, than children without a television. The Canadian Pediatric Society calls televisions in bedrooms one of the biggest factors in childhood obesity. These children also score lower on reading and math tests. And perhaps most importantly, they’re twice as likely to start smoking and get involved in other delinquent activities, even controlling for all other factors.

While the health and educational detriments of television are important, it’s that last one that concerns me most.

When kids have televisions and computers in their room, they are more likely to make lifestyle and moral choices that parents don’t approve of because their lives have now become more and more independent.

Kids with TVs in their rooms live in their rooms, not in the kitchen or the family room, where they can hang out with their parents. And perhaps just as importantly, they tend to live solitary lives, not lives with their siblings. If you’ve ever wondered why kids squabble so much, perhaps it’s because they aren’t forced to play together or cure boredom together. Instead, they just retreat to their rooms to be entertained on their own.

I really can’t think of anything much more destructive in a family than encouraging your child to cocoon. Kids need input from parents. They need conversation. They need meal times. They need to have fun! But we’re letting them grow up by themselves, in their wonderfully decorated rooms with every little gadget. It’s wrong.

If your lives consist mostly of gathering the children for the practical functions of life, like putting food on their plates or collecting homework or ascertaining everybody’s schedules, and then you separate during your leisure times, I doubt real conversation or sharing will happen.

If your children hang out in their own rooms, rather than in the family room with siblings, I doubt great friendships will develop.

Before you shop this Christmas, then, ask yourself: what values do you want your children to have? Do electronics in their bedrooms contribute to your vision? Probably not. So maybe the Santa in you should invest in board games for the whole family or comfortable furniture for the living room, rather than for bedrooms. Your kids may think you’ve turned into Scrooge, but they’ll be better people for it.

If your kids have gadgets, computers, or phones in their room, make sure you’ve taken steps to protect them online!

My 3 Gifts of Christmas

Yesterday, I mentioned my 3 Gifts of Christmas, so I thought I would re-run it, in case you missed it previously. This column is a special one to me. For the last few years I’ve mentioned our method of gift giving, and inevitably people come up to me on the street, months later, telling me how much they appreciated it. Perhaps it will be something that will bless you, as well!

My Three Gifts of ChristmasApparently I buy really lousy Christmas presents. I had always mildly suspected my shortcomings, but recently economist Joel Waldfogel confirmed them. In his book Scroogenomics, he showed rather indisputably that if you ask Christmas gift recipients to assign a value to the gifts they receive, they inevitably quote a number less than the actual cost, leading to a waste of $963 million a year in Canada. And the gifts that are valued the least? Those from aunts, uncles, and grandparents, who apparently only get 75 cents of perceived value for every dollar spent.

I do have trouble buying for the nieces and nephews and various other younger people in my life. I don’t always share the same interests, and being the incorrigible aunt that I am, I refuse to pander to hobbies that don’t suit me. Instead, like many millions of aunts and grandparents and in-laws all over this nation, I buy something lousy instead. My preference is always books. Unfortunately, most younger Canadians don’t share my passion, and thus they consider these types of gifts with about the same amount of affection that I consider most X-box games. And thus we reach the gift-giving impasse.

One of my nephews announced rather brazenly that this year he’d rather just have cash. Doling out money, though, seems so crass. If gift giving is going to degenerate into passing along cash and gift cards, then Christmas becomes a season of greed, rather than a time to express our love.

Nevertheless, Waldfogel’s news isn’t all bad. We actually do quite well on certain gifts. The closer we are to people, the better the gift giving becomes. Siblings value gifts at about 99% of their value, and spouses do even better, at about $1.02. I’m pretty sure my children tend to like their gifts from me, as well.

Even if I buy my girls good gifts, though, is that really the point of the season? According to most of the seasonal flyers that pass through our mail slots it certainly is. Shoppers’ Drug Mart, for instance, in their 36 page “Gifts Made Easy” flyer managed to talk about the “Top 10 Gifts They’ll Love” (though I’m sure my nieces and nephews wouldn’t like those either), and lots of things to “Rock your Holiday”, or go “Twinkle Twinkle”, while only mentioning the Christmas word three times.

If Christmas is only about gifts, then we are in trouble.

It has become a big waste, whether we’re successful gift givers or not, because all we’re doing is breeding greed. I know it’s difficult when children are young and they desperately want the latest toy, but parenting is about identifying teaching opportunities, and I think this is one of them. Life is not about accumulating stuff with as little work as possible; life needs to be about giving, about making a difference, about family, and values, and faith, and love, or life becomes very empty indeed.

That’s why several years ago we started a new gift giving tradition with my children.

We call it the “Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh” ritual, where they each get three gifts, and nothing more. The gold gift is something they want. The frankincense gift is something they need, like socks. And the myrrh gift is something to nurture their souls. It could be a journal, or a book, or a CD, or a movie. It’s something that reminds them of their purpose here on earth, or encourages them to think, to write, and to pray about what’s important. It’s always the biggest challenge to find such a thing, but it’s a challenge I’m up for, since it reminds us of the reason for the season. And I’m pretty sure, despite what the flyers might say, that reason should not be greed. Pass it on.

Need to come up with ideas for “myrrh” gifts–Christmas gifts to nurture the soul? I’ve got a whole bunch, divided by age and gender, right here!