Does God Make a Difference in Marriage Part 2

Does God Make a Difference in MarriageDoes God make a difference in your marriage?

Last week I made some observations that often Christians act like God doesn’t really make a difference in our lives, and everything is ultimately up to us. We just don’t really have faith that God will actually move.

I see that in marriage, too, and I want to see how two different trends–though they may seem like they have nothing to do with each other–actually show that we have a long way to go with marriage.

1. Christians Divorce at the Same Rate as Non-Christians–Right?

You’ve heard that stat, haven’t you? In fact, it’s even worse than that. I’ve heard the stat that 50% of marriages end in divorce–but that it’s even higher in the Bible belt.

Do you believe it?

Chances are you do because Christians quote it all the time. We announce it from pews. We use it to fundraise for family organizations–Christian marriages need all the help they can get! We’re in dire straits, people!

Yet think it through logically. Do we believe that having God in your life should make a difference? Do we believe that God works in people’s lives? If we do, then how could it possibly be that our marriages are as bad as everyone else’s?

I started to wonder that recently and so I did an experiment. I looked through my church directory to see how many were divorced. It was closer to 10%.  Then I wondered–maybe that’s skewed, because once people divorce they stop going to church? So I thought back on the couples I knew in university. I wrote out a long list of all my university friends who had gotten married. And of all of them (we knew each other from the campus Christian group), only 2 had been divorced–a rate of about 5%.

I read a study recently that said that in marriages where couples pray together daily the divorce rate is more like 2%. I believe that. It makes sense to me. And I’ve read critiques of that study that found that our divorce rate was just as high because they really didn’t define “Christian”. Practically everyone claims to be a Christian, and so that’s pretty meaningless. We want to flesh out what the divorce rate is among those who honestly believe and try to live out their faith. I want to write a post looking at all the accurate studies, but I haven’t done that yet. I’ve actually been talking to a major magazine about writing it, and that’s why I’m not linking to studies here. I want to make sure they’re accurate first and do my homework.

But the main question I have is:

why is it that Christians were so quick to believe that stat that God doesn’t make a difference?

2. Does God Make a Difference in YOUR Marriage?

Maybe the reason we’re so quick to believe it is because in our own lives we still really struggle with marriage. It’s an area that has brought us a lot of hurt and grief over the years, and we haven’t felt the “victory” or the “oneness” or the “intimacy” we long for.

I have to tell you that the last few weeks I’ve been really burdened by the emails that get sent to me. I had to turn off the Messages feature on Facebook because I couldn’t keep up with them all. And I’ve got Reader Questions of the Week now scheduled through to the end of June! But I started to keep track everyday of all the problems I heard about–really, really big problems–and then at the end of the day I’d show them to my husband. And we’d pray over them and I’d let them go. It helped me to realize how I was beginning to be changed by what I do, and I’m praying more for strength to really make a difference.

But the simple fact is that many, many of you are really hurting, and my heart breaks for you. Many, many of you are wondering, if we’re Christians why does my husband play video games for 6 hours a day? Why can he not get over this porn addiction? Why do I have no patience for him? Why am I always so frustrated with him? Why can I not motivate myself to show him love anymore?

From speaking at marriage conferences and talking to couples and to counselors, I completely believe that God can make a difference in a marriage. If you run to Him and you’re humble and you’re open to correction about the things that you have done wrong, and not just open to God correcting your spouse, God can do amazing things.

Even if your spouse isn’t turning to God, God can still work in your marriage. It doesn’t mean your marriage will always be saved; but He can work.

Yet often I see couples where both claim Christ, and where both go to church, and where both would say that they believe, and yet they are getting nowhere.

I don’t believe the problem is that you don’t have God. I believe the problem is that God doesn’t have you. (Click to Tweet this quote)

God is not like a mechanic where you can take your broken marriage and He’ll fix it for you. He doesn’t work that way. He’s not a mechanic; He’s a potter who wants to mold you into something better. But He can’t mold something that is hard and brittle; He can only mold us when we’re pliable, when we are humble, when we are open to be molded.

God isn’t really interested in fixing your spouse nearly as much as He’s interested in having your heart. And if we are humble before Him, He can transform us, which can start to transform a marriage. If your spouse is also humble before Him, He is then free to do a beautiful and amazing work!

But we have to stop making excuses. We have to stop pointing fingers. And we have to do the work!

I’m really burdened by a relationship issue in my extended family, and it’s causing me to pray like I never have before. That’s the beauty of relationship issues; they drive us to God. My instinct is to get on the phone and try to force the issue and make it all better, but like Calm Healthy Sexy wrote in a post she linked up to Wifey Wednesday this week, we have to wait on God’s timing. She says:

The devotional book I’m reading, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, reminded me this week to “stop trying to work things out before their times have come.”  That idea really spoke to me; it made me realize that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  Even though I believe in God’s timing in my life, I haven’t been operating as if I believe in it at all.  I’ve acted as if everything depends on me, as if I just need to keep charging ahead and things will fall into place exactly as I’ve planned.  The only problem is, it’s not working.

We have to pray and then honestly walk in faith. We have to wrestle. We have to cry. And we have to believe.

Yesterday I took a day to fast and pray with a “blogging buddy” of mine from the other side of the continent. We prayed for each other all day and for ourselves and then at the end of the day we called each other and prayed on the phone together. We were both burdened by something similar and we needed God to lift that burden. But that meant also emptying ourselves and fighting for it. It meant giving God more of us, not just asking for more of Him.

If you believe in God, He should be making a difference in your marriage. If He’s not, the problem is likely not with God. It’s likely that He wants to bring you deeper, or bring your husband deeper. Of course you can do everything right and lean on God and your marriage may still not be saved, but even in that God wants you to lean and trust, because He does want to make a difference even in the brokenness. But maybe, instead of getting angry at our spouses and feeling defeated and feeling lost we need to throw ourselves more on God and get back to the only source that can bring real healing.

Do we believe God works, or not? I fear too often we really don’t, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of Technology Undermining the Dinner Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Screen Time Robbing Your Marriage?

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! Today please welcome Arlene Pellicane, author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife, as she shares great insight into how we choose to spend our time as a couple (and as a family).

is screen time robbing your marriageA few months ago, I was speaking at a youth event about keeping your family relationships alive in a screen-driven world.

A father came up to me afterwards, not to talk about his teens and their love of technology, but his wife’s.

His wife is a ministry leader at church and social media has really allowed her to expand her reach to encourage wives, no matter where they live, at whatever time of day.  It all started very innocently.  A text, a tweet, a Facebook message.  But as she began to engage more with women through social media, she discovered she was really meeting a need in the lives of many friends.

The only problem was her love for social media was leaving her husband out in the cold.

This man talked about how his wife was constantly on her phone.  If they were in the car together, she was texting.  When they were sitting face to face at a dinner date, what was she doing?  Yes, you guessed it…she was using her phone.  It was driving him crazy!  Her husband tried to tell her that she needs to put down the phone and engage with him, but so far, nothing has changed.  And he doesn’t want to nag because otherwise, he says, she’s a perfect wife.

Technology, while bringing this wife closer to many of her friends, is driving a wedge between her and her once-happy husband.

It really could happen to any one of us, couldn’t it?  The phone makes us carry around the “urgent” inside our pocket while the “important” sits across from us at the dinner table waiting for when you have a spare moment.

I don’t know about you, but there is nothing smart about a phone that alienates you from the ones you love most.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s not the phone that’s the problem.  It’s the way we use our phones which can get us into trouble.  And we don’t only have phones that compete with quality time with our spouses; there’s television, Pinterest, DVRs, and much more.

So here’s the question for you to consider today:  Would your marriage relationship improve if you and your spouse unplugged from your devices more often?

According to a Nielsen report, the average American spends more than 34 hours a week watching live television, plus another three to six hours watching taped programs.  Think of all that time that could be spent in more meaningful ways.  You could pick up a new hobby with your mate, go out to dinner, walk in the park, or snuggle up on the couch together with some great books.

My family doesn’t get cable but that doesn’t mean we’re not tempted to succumb to screen time during all our waking hours.  My husband James and I realized that after we put our three kids to bed in the evening, we would retreat to our computers and answer emails, browse headlines, check Facebook, and watch YouTube videos.  One night James said, “I’m on the computer all day, why am I wasting time at night on this thing?”  So we decide to try something new.  When the kids went to bed, we would power off our devices.

Turning off the computer earlier in the evening has been rejuvenating.

Not only is it a much better way to get a good night sleep, it gives space for my relationship with James.  We can talk, snuggle, read together, pray, or kiss…and all of these options are better than updating my Facebook status!

So the next time you are aimlessly flipping through channels, clicking through websites, or texting like a wild woman, stop yourself and ask:

What could be a better use of my time right now?

Does this activity help or harm my relationship with my husband?

Would anybody really care if I missed this program or didn’t engage in social media right now? 

When you turn off your electronic devices more often, you’ll turn on better things like red hot monogamy (as my friend author Pam Farrel calls it), quality time, and a stronger connection with the one who matters most – your husband.

Let’s make sure our husbands know they are more important than texts, tweets, pins and posts.  Not just with our words, but with our daily actions.

So it’s okay ladies…I give you permission to be unreachable and turn your phone…off.

More Screen Time Equals Less Marital Satisfaction

Arlene Pellicane 600x600jpg31 Days to Becoming a Happy WifeArlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife.  She and her husband James live in San Diego with their three children.  You can learn more about her ministry at www.ArlenePellicane.com

 

 

Now, do you have any advice for us today? Link up the URL of a marriage post to today’s Wifey Wednesday, and get some traffic back to your blog!



When Are You An Adult?

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week let’s talk about what it means to be an adult. This week we’ve been talking about how to raise great kids, and my own daughters have chimed in with my 16-year-old explaining why she’s not dating in high school and my 19-year-old explaining why she didn’t rebel as a teen. I thought this was a good way to finish up the series.

When are you an adult.Canadians rejoiced loudly last week when we were victorious in Olympic hockey. Facebook was taken over for 48 hours by a constant barrage of “Way to Go, Canada!” while #WeAreWinter surged on Twitter.

In the midst of the revelry, though, an American story about freestyle skiing halfpipe gold medalist David Wise caught my attention.

Wise is 23-years-old, and has been married for several years to his wife Alexandra. They have a two-year-old daughter together. NBC reported on his win like this: “David Wise’s alternative lifestyle leads to Olympic gold.”

Being married with a child in your early twenties is now an “alternative lifestyle”, and the statistics actually bear this out.

According to Stats Canada, the average age of first marriage in Canada is now 29 for women and 31 for men.

Even more telling to me, though, was that NBC also added this line: “At such a young age, Wise has the lifestyle of an adult.”

The lifestyle of an adult when you’re 23 and–how shall I put this?–an adult! The fact that we can be so surprised that a 23-year-old is behaving like an adult makes me a little sad.

I was married at 21; when I was 23 I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, who is now studying in second year at university. I raised my kids while I was in my mid-twenties, and still in great shape to lug babies and strollers up flights of stairs in the subway system in Toronto. When Keith and I were first married we started saving like crazy. We budgeted well and managed to scrounge together enough for a small downpayment on a house when we were in our late twenties. It wasn’t a large house, and back then neither of us had very well paying jobs. But we figured out how to stretch our money, and we made it work.

When we announced our engagement back in 1991, many were a little incredulous. How can we be so sure when we’re that young? You need to live more, see more of the world, try more things before you settle down! In fact, “settling down” was portrayed as something bad, as if life ends once you make a commitment. Yet for me, that was more when life began. In fact, happiness studies show that satisfaction comes not from living a carefree lifestyle, but instead from finding meaning and belonging while also feeling productive. Maybe younger people have trouble “finding themselves” because they’re looking in the wrong place.

I’m not arguing that people should get married younger; most people, after all, really aren’t ready.

But maybe that’s the root of the problem: we are raising people to not be “adults” until they reach thirty.

That’s become the culturally accepted norm.

Instead of the teen years being the decade in which you grow up, it’s now the twenties. Is that healthy for a society?
I always believed you were an adult at eighteen, but for that to happen an 18-year-old has to be ready to launch into the adult world. That means they have to know how to maintain a household, including knowing how to cook and clean. They have to know how to manage money. They have to be employable (or at least in school to become employable). They have to be responsible. And few 18-year-olds can accomplish all that unless we as parents start raising them to be adults earlier.

I’m not sure we’re doing favours by extending childhood until people are thirty. Perhaps we’d all be better off if we expected people to act like adults once they were, actually, adults.

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On Those Who Deserve Fame

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I wanted to address what it means to be a True Hero.

On Those Who Deserve FameI recently served on a committee looking for leadership for a nonprofit organization, and we joked that one of our criteria was that the people we would ask would not want to do it. People who don’t want the spotlight often end up being better leaders.

People who crave attention usually don’t deserve it.

I was reminded of this when I read the story of Nicholas Winton. Winton grew up in a British Jewish family that later converted to Christianity. In 1938 he decided to forego a ski holiday in Switzerland to go to Prague to help a friend who was involved with Jewish refugee work.

After Kristallnacht, when the Nazis started overt persecution of the Jews, Winton single-handedly set up an aid organization to transport Czechoslavakian Jewish children to Britain, arranging for families to look after them once they arrived.

Most of those children’s parents later perished in Auschwitz, but 669 children made it to Britain. Tragically, the last train that was scheduled to leave, full of 250 little ones, never made it. Those children were sent to Auschwitz instead.

Winton had to contend with physical danger in Czechoslavakia, red tape in Britain, and trouble in the Netherlands to get the kids to safety, but he persevered with no resources except his own determination.

What hit me most about his story, though, other than the amazing heroism, was the fact that he never told anybody.

In 1988, his wife Grete was rooting through the attic when she came across his famous ledger where he had taken painstaking notes about the identity and whereabouts of all of the children. She went public and he has since been honoured by the British government, the Czechoslavakian government, and the Israeli government. He was even touchingly reunited on a television documentary with dozens of the children that he rescued.

At 104 years of age Winton has outlived many of the children that he saved. And yet he never desired fame or recognition. He did it because he felt compelled to. He couldn’t NOT do it.

I wonder, though, if one of the reasons he couldn’t come forward was that even though he saved 669, the 250 who didn’t make it still haunted him. I remember the end of Schindler’s List, when Oskar Schindler was overwhelmed with the thought that if he had just sold a few more possessions he could have saved dozens more. Or there is Charles Mulli, a Kenyan who opened a children’s home initially for a dozen children, and now cares for more than 3000. When he goes into the slums, though, he’s still overwhelmed by the need.

Real heroes don’t look for fame, because real heroes pay the price. It’s not a game about fame or fortune; it’s a real life struggle to do what’s right, to stand up to evil, to make a real difference in the midst of heartbreaking circumstances. It means opening yourself up to true tragedy. That is never easy.

Winton was and is a real hero, and his story deserves to be told, far more than whether or not Jennifer Aniston is pregnant or whether or not another Kardashian is getting a divorce.

The things that our culture cares about are a measure of that culture. We are a petty culture, and yet amongst us there are still calm, quiet giants. It behooves us to wade through all of our silly noise and take time listen to their very important stories.

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UPDATE: I made an error in the original version of this column and said that he rescued the children from Austria. It was really Czechoslavakia. I’m sorry for the mistake; I’ve corrected it now.

Why Do We Have Middle School Dances Again?

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

Love is the Air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Kids’ Sports Teams Worth It?

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. I know a bunch of you are going to want to throw tomatoes at me when you’re finished reading this column, so I’m prepared.

Scared of Reaction

I don’t know why I write stuff that I know will get people riled up, but I guess I was all riled up myself on Monday when we wrote this, because we’ve had snow like you wouldn’t believe here. The major highways have been closed. There have been tons of accidents. And still people are driving their kids to sports tournaments. It just seemed so unsafe to me, and so I went off on a tangent.

I know that there are good things about team sports, but I do sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it. I’ve written about the usefulness of some of these extracurricular sports before. But believe me, I know some families who balance it all wonderfully.

If that’s you, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m not saying you’re a bad parent. Please believe me. But I still wonder, when I look at the time and money commitment (let alone the safety issues in weather like we’ve been having) if it’s always a good idea.

So I wrote this column.

You can commence throwing tomatoes now.

are kids sports worth itI’m the wrong one to write a column called “Are Sports Teams Worth It?”, because I was the kid who hyperventilated whenever we played soccer in gym class. I hated team sports; other people would be looking at me and relying on me.

So when I see parents in my social circle spending most weekends on the road to sports tournaments, and forking over huge amounts of cash in the process, I just don’t get it. It’s almost like I’m watching a foreign movie without subtitles. It doesn’t compute.

Once upon a time, of course, sports were easy.

In the 1950s, my father-in-law and his friends would lace up their skates on a pond and play hockey all day. Soccer was just kicking a ball around in the local field. But now everything is so regimented and expensive and complicated. And instead of being just a fun, informal thing, it becomes a Very Big Deal.

Certainly hockey is the Canadian birthright, and one shouldn’t question it, but have you ever done the math? If you have your child in a hockey league, it can easily cost $3000 a year per child. There’s the hockey equipment and the team fees, which can often be $1000. But the real kicker comes with all the travel. Driving to games, paying for hotels, paying for food and grabbing a drink while you’re out really adds up. Even a relatively cheap sport, like soccer, can run into several thousand if the kids have to go out of town for games. Then, to add to the indignity, the clubs spend their lives fundraising, and as a parent you’re stuck selling 100 chocolate almond bars or bags of Florida oranges to everyone you work with.

But it’s not just the cost. It’s the time.

I see families with two or more kids on different teams, and almost every weekend they’re heading out somewhere, often separately. Practices and games eat up multiple nights a week. When do you have dinner as a family? When do you do homework? When do you just relax?

I was at a friend’s fiftieth birthday recently where a bunch of grandmas sat around the table comparing stories. One shared about her daughter and son-in-law’s schedule with three boys in hockey. She was flabbergasted at how much money they were spending (they’re just racking up debt, she said), and how their lives were so chaotic. I asked her, “When do the parents get any time together alone?” “They don’t,” she chuckled ruefully.

Then last weekend the skies opened up and dumped so much snow on my community that I can hardly see over our snowbanks. Police warned motorists to stay off the roads. There were over 1700 collisions in Ontario on Saturday alone. And yet I know of several local sports teams where parents drove their kids to out-of-town tournaments–and all the kids showed up. Facebook was littered with, “It was a really stressful drive, but we made it!”

Really? Parents risked their children’s lives in the worst weather we’ve had all year, with highway closures and whiteouts, just for a game? And the organizers didn’t cancel? I can understand heading out if your job depended on it, or if it was a major life event.

But perhaps we’re taking this too seriously.

That’s the only explanation I have. I know parents who do a great job with sports, and they love it, and the kids are thriving. It certainly can be done. But when I look at the financial outlay, and the time commitment, and the fact that you have so little time at home, I just find it hard to think it’s worth the cost. Maybe I should relinquish my Canadian citizenship for even daring to suggest it, but I don’t get it. Am I the only one?

Ending the Power of Bullies

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I want to talk about bullying and how we can reduce its effects on our kids.

Ending the Power of BulliesAnother horrific case of online bullying recently hit the news. Twelve-year-old Rebecca Sedwick climbed a water tower and jumped to her death after being taunted and attacked by a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old. The sheriff in Florida arrested the two instigators and released their pictures. While the charges have since been dropped, the bullies’ parents have done the news circuit.

As I watched a bit of the media circus, it became clear that these bullies were absolute losers. They weren’t going anywhere in life. And while the victim’s mother appears eloquent, these kids’ parents (one of whom has since been charged with child abuse herself) show that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

We think that the way to battle bullying is holding character classes in schools, monitoring our children’s Facebook, and encouraging intervention by school officials. But I think we’re missing a key ingredient about why bullying is so devastating: to these kids, their peer group–pathetic as it may be–is their whole life. When peers turn on them, they feel completely alone and useless.

Listening to the story in Florida, I found myself wishing that Rebecca could have had some perspective. I’m a relatively happily well-adjusted forty-something woman (notwithstanding those hormonal surges), and I never, ever talk to anyone I knew in middle school or high school. If I were to see them on the street, I doubt I’d remember who most of them were.

In school you’re thrown together, through no choice of your own, with kids of the same age. As an adult, you don’t have to restrict your friends to those born in the same calendar year, and you’re free to choose friends that you actually like. Most adults I know do not hang around with people they knew in school. Those kids, who wield so much power over you at fourteen, are forgotten at 34.

If teens could just understand that their current tormentors won’t matter at all in just a few short years, then perhaps we’d have fewer kids devastated by bullying.

What we need more than character classes, then, is to give our kids perspective. I survived high school by simply not bothering much with my peers. Although I had pleasant conversations with many classmates, I walked home for lunch everyday so I didn’t have to sit in the cafeteria. My life revolved around my church youth group and my two part-time jobs, where I worked with people of a variety of ages. I spent most of my social time outside the school, so school really didn’t matter.

Part-time jobs can help students feel confident while giving them exposure to other adults who take an interest in them. Getting involved in a place of worship helps kids get plugged in with others who were not all born in the same birth year, while also introducing them to other teens who perhaps don’t go to their school. Cultivating an area of excellence outside of the school, whether it’s in sports or music or a craft, can help kids have something else to concentrate on that can give them a sense of self-worth.

School is so unimportant in the broader scheme of things, but it’s hard for kids to see that when they’re in the throes of teenage angst. Anything we can do to enlarge their world now will diminish the power of bullies to aim those arrows. Yes, words will always hurt, but if teens know “there are other people who care about me”, “I know I am good at something”, or “these kids’ worlds are so pathetic compared to mine”, then much of the sting will be gone.

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I Need a Wife

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I talk about how margin can easily slip away with busyness.

I have always been a stay-at-home mom, but with my writing I’ve moved more and more towards “working from home”, and it’s eating so much of our margins. My husband and I are taking a weekend retreat in two weeks to pray about how to do life differently, because this isn’t what we want. At the same time, it’s difficult because we’ve felt that God was moving both of us in the direction we are now. So we’re going to put all options on the table and ask God to help us find the win-win. Sometimes all couples need to do that! And if you could pray for wisdom for us, that would be great.

I need a wifeI love to-do lists and organization planners. I have Excel spreadsheets for household chores and the business tasks I need to complete on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. On good days, when I don’t hit the snooze button, I actually get most of those things done.

There’s only one problem. I have no margins in my life. If I’m super organized and super energetic, it is possible to keep my house clean and to get all my work done and, hopefully, to head to the grocery store before we’re stuck discovering that all we have in the cupboards are tins of cranberry sauce and tuna. But if an emergency comes up, I’m in trouble.

My husband works more than full-time, and my writing and speaking require my full-time attention and too much travel. Because I write primarily on marriage, it’s also really hard to neglect mine, or that “hypocrite” word might get tossed around. And with my oldest now flown the coop, I’m trying to spend as much time as I can with my youngest before she leaves, too.

Life is simply busy. Pretty much everyone feels that way. But I think one of the biggest sources of stress isn’t the amount of work on our plate; it’s that nagging feeling that one more straw is going to cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

We used to have some buffer in our lives. At one time women were home to bring dinners to friends in the hospital, or to take parents to doctors’ appointments, or to care for a sister’s child if said sister caught a disgusting intestinal bug. Today few of us have people we can rely on. And what’s perhaps even worse is that we aren’t able to be there for those that we love, either.

When my cousin had a baby recently and needed help, I wasn’t in the position to go. What kind of life are we leading if we don’t have the room to be there for those that we love?

Yet my problem doesn’t stop there. What if, in all of our chaos of making more money, we’re actually missing out on a “good life”? A “good life” has to involve little touches of creativity and beauty: that home-cooked meal instead of the barbecued chicken we picked up on the way home; those refinished dressers instead of the Ikea assemble-yourself plywood; the crocheted baby afghans. One of the things I miss most lately is the joy of friends coming for dinner, an event which is quite difficult if you’re never home to cook dinner, let alone to clear a path to the dining room table.

My business started off extremely part time, but it has mushroomed, for which I am grateful. My husband is doing well at his job, for which I am proud. Yet I am not certain that this is the life I want. If I have no room for emergencies, and little room for beauty and hospitality and fun, then what is the point?

The dual income family is now the norm, and that won’t change. Certainly we could all lower our expectations and work less. The reduction in stress is likely worth the reduction in income. Yet that is not always easy to do. And in the meantime, there is no one left to “keep the homefires burning”. We women felt undervalued when we were “just housewives”, but gradually, as most women work, more and more of us are realizing just how valuable having someone at home was. That spouse didn’t just care for the kids and do the housework; that spouse gave you that buffer, that margin, that made life liveable. I can’t give up a business I’ve spent years creating, but in the meantime, I could really use a wife.

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Letting Kids Admit You’re Not Perfect

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. I had a week off this week, so I’ve decided to rerun a column from 2010 that I really liked, about the difference between a healthy family and a perfect family.

Let Kids Admit You;re Not PerfectI have incredible vision. I can see things that nobody else in my family can. If clean, folded laundry is sitting on the stairs, waiting to be transported into the owners’ rooms, I am the only person residing in our home who can detect that laundry. If there are dishes in the upstairs hall, waiting to be transported into the kitchen and then placed into our very convenient dishwasher, I am also the only person whose eyes pick up on the presence of these glasses and plates. My children missed that genetic trait, as my husband apparently also lacks it.

I find it easy to see the things that my kids miss, and if you’re a parent, you probably can name a ton of things your kids do that bug you, too. And because we’re the parents, it’s easy to order our kids around to fix these flaws. We’re louder, we’re bigger, and we control the chocolate. What’s harder is allowing our kids the freedom, with respect, to call us on things that we do wrong.

In our house, everybody knows my biggest fault. When I’m stressed, I believe it’s my God-given right to make sure that everybody is stressed right along with me. I take that “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” saying to ridiculous extremes, interpreting every smile as an affront to me if my blood pressure happens to be elevated. In my more lucid moments, I allow everyone to laugh with me about this. And that makes my dysfunctional behaviour, when it occurs, a little easier to take.

I don’t think perfect families exist, but I think healthy families do. And that’s one of the key criteria of a healthy family: being able to speak the truth. The real test of a healthy family doesn’t lie in parents’ 20/20 vision, but in whether parents help their children develop good vision, too. Sure we notice the things they do wrong, but do we let them acknowledge that we, their parents, aren’t perfect, either? Unfortunately, many families like to maintain the illusion of perfection, even if that means denying the truth.

In families where children aren’t allowed to notice flaws, it’s not as if the kids suddenly grow blind to them. They’re just not allowed to do anything about it, or parents subject them to the silent treatment, yell at them or belittle them. Most kids, when experiencing this kind of rejection, run in the other direction, deciding to never question their parents again. They want to be loved, and if being loved means not noticing when others are wrong, then that’s what they’ll do.

Children in families like these grow up learning not to trust their own instincts. To make it even worse, they often have very conflicting feelings about their parents which can never really be resolved, because until you can admit that your parents did wrong, you can’t forgive them for that wrong.

That’s why we need to let our kids work on their vision. They need to be allowed not just to see our imperfections, but also to name them. Of course kids still need to respect us and defer to our authority, which is legitimate. You are the parent, not the best friend. But to imagine that kids will idolize us and never notice anything wrong is doing them a grave disservice. It’s asking them to pretend the world is different from the way it actually is. It’s raising our kids to be liars. And as the old saying goes, it is the truth that sets us free. Even if the truth hurts.

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