Posts filed under Building Your Family

Little Eyes Are Watching: Why my Choices Matter

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I’m finding myself more and more irritated with sitcoms and commercials these days. So many of them portray dads as bumbling fools who can’t be trusted to take care of their kids or share in the housework. And even if they’re respected in the workplace, at home they’re childish and selfish and their wives chastise them in front of the kids on a regular basis. I don’t know which causes me to get more upset: the way men are portrayed or how women react to the men.

Betsy Corning has heard George Barna speak many times and according to research done by the Barna Group, most kids have developed their worldview by age thirteen. A worldview is the lens through which we see life. It affects how we view the world, culture, family, church, God. My seven-year-old will have a well-developed worldview in less than six years! Realizing this has made me think more deeply about some things.

 Not only will my kids have developed their worldview about the world, culture, etc., but they will also have a worldview about the home and how it functions. So, what do they see in our home? How will my actions and my husband’s actions influence them? How do Jason and I treat each other? Do we show each other love and affection? Do we display core truths of the Bible? Do I honor Jason? Even in the little things, do I act in such a way that shows our kids that I love and respect Daddy?

 Overall, the answer is yes. But recently, I’ve done a few things that, in retrospect, are not a positive influence for my kids. Yes, they’re small and might seem insignificant, but those are the things kids pick up on! A couple weeks ago, Jason took the kids to school because I was sick. I let our three-year-old, Hunter, take his stuffed fox in the car on the way to school. He leaves it in the car and then it’s there when I pick him up after preschool. As Jason was getting the kids ready to go he told Hunter to leave his fox at home. I corrected Jason in front of the kids and told him that I let Hunter take his fox in the car. There have been a few other instances like this. Like I said, they’re not big deals, but I’m correcting Jason in front of the kids. I felt convicted about it so I apologized to him.

 As I’ve been pondering how my actions with Jason influence my kids, I’ve also become aware that not only are my actions with him significant, but my actions by what I choose to let our kids be exposed to are significant.

 I’m a Food Network and Cooking Channel junkie. I don’t like to cook, but I like watching others cook. So while the shows I have on aren’t an issue, the commercials can be. The kids will see commercials where wives and kids are rolling their eyes at Dad because he tried to fix the leaky faucet but made a mess or he forgot to pick up someone from soccer practice.

 Even these commercials, as short as they are, can be a negative influence as my kids are developing their worldview about family life. Granted, the kids are usually playing with toys or watching a video on our iPad so they’re not focused on the commercial. But it’s still there in the background.

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 I need to show my kids that I’m for Jason. That’s something Betsy focused on the last couple weeks at our Entrusted Bible Study. (If you haven’t gone through the study, find one or start one – you won’t regret it!) I need to let Jason provide, protect, and lead our family. I want to be like the Proverbs 31 woman – doing him good and not evil all the days of my life. Why? Well, first, the Bible commands it. Second, it strengthens our marriage. And third, it shows our kids what marriage should look like. It will help them develop a healthy and biblical worldview about family and home.

As with everything in my life, I will mess up. But even in those times I’m not the best wife I should be, when I apologize to Jason in front of the kids, that too will be a positive example of how the family should act and will help our kids develop a biblical worldview.

Posted on December 4, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

Creativity without Chaos

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Have you ever had God lead you to a solution that is so simple you are almost embarrassed it took you years to figure out? That’s the case with this revelation!
For years I’ve been battling how to encourage my kids to be creative without having to clean up the ensuing chaos of craft supplies.

As a homeschooling mom, this is an issue that keeps coming up over and over as my kids have lots of time for art projects and coloring.

Moms of little ones may experience this too, or even moms of older kids during summer breaks. Well, one day as I was cleaning up a messy school room table… again…. I uttered a prayer, not even expecting an answer, “Lord, how do I keep encouraging my kids to be creative and not have the mess?!” and suddenly God downloaded a great solution into my mind!

The idea is two parts (plus a maintenance tip!):

1.     Simplify the supplies your kids have access to every day. I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of books lately. One topic that comes up over and over is of how kids thrive with simplicity. They do well with less. We all do well with less. I’ve seen this theory completely prove itself in the area of art supplies. I love giving my kids fun items such as scraps of cool wrapping paper, ribbons, and all the typical pipe cleaners, googly eyes, stickers--you name it. However, I realized having these items available all the time is overwhelming. I decided to take everything out of the school room and put in only the basics:

●      A stack of white paper

●      A stack of construction paper

●      Crayons

●      Markers

●      Colored pencils

●      Scissors

●      Glue sticks

●      Just a few favorite coloring books

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(Some of the items I put in $1 pencil boxes I found, and then placed them in the drawer.) All of a sudden, the supplies looked cute and organized! When I was trying to give them everything, I was really giving them clutter. It was amazing to watch their interest in coloring be renewed. Instead of getting out odds and ends and leaving them on the table, they came, colored, and created… without clutter. They even knew how to clean up after themselves so much better because there were fewer categories of items to clean up! And because I put everything at their level, it was easier to hold them accountable to cleaning up. When it came time to sort the projects into their dividers it was also easier because the pages weren’t 3D! The kids didn’t need to shove odds and ends into their shelf. Such a bonus! So what did I do with the other supplies?

 2.     Carve out a time for them to be creative with other supplies. I sorted through the other items and kept the coolest things. I put them in a bin on my laundry room shelf and labeled it “Creative Galaxy” (there is a show that has this name and my kids have seen it a few times,  but basically it is just a catchy title so we named our time after it). About a week after my kids had their “art supply minimalism makeover”, I got out the bin. I pulled out items and laid them out on the table. “Alright guys, you can use whatever you want! Let’s just be creative!” I put on music and sat down for a half hour with my kids. We each created a project. I wrapped a piece of cardboard in a fun wrapping paper, wrote a Bible verse on it, and added a coffee filter flower. One of my sons made puppets, one a picture of a ninja using ribbons and wrapping paper, and another a 3D fire truck out of a gift bag.

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Afterwards, we shared our projects with each other and I took a picture of them. I told them that they could keep their creations for awhile, but that we would recycle them eventually, and just make a photo book of our Creative Galaxy time. Then we will have all of our projects in one place. I’ve realized that the process of being creative is often much more important to my kids than the result. When I recycle my kids’ coloring pages, they very rarely complain or question where the pages went. (Tip: You may want to be careful with this if you have a child whose love language is gifts. They can tend to see each of these pages as their possessions, and they feel hurt if we take them without asking. Training these kids in letting go of material possessions is an important skill to train them in… and it will probably be a long process! So far it seems like all of my kids have gifts as one of their highest love languages. :/ Perhaps that’s just a normal childhood thing… or maybe they get it from me. :) )

-Doing this about every other week seems right for us. You can adjust the frequency to find what works for you. But I’ve found this keeps the supplies fresh and exciting without being overwhelming for me to keep up in our schedule. On the weeks we don’t do this, I usually have a painting time for them.

-After a few “Creative Galaxy” Sessions, I noticed that some items in the bin were not being used or even contemplated by my kids, so I recycled or tossed those items.

To maintain our new system, I have set a weekly reminder to sort through the art divider with the kids. I needed this reminder to stay on top of the paperwork. It takes 10 minutes, and it is a good training exercise for us all.

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This is an additional idea that is a huge win for kids with the love language of gifts: “printables”! About once or twice a week, I will sit down at my computer and do an image search with each child. (Understandably for their protection, I definitely do this with them!) For example, Lincoln may have me search for a picture of a baby cheetah. He will find one he likes, and we print it out for him to color. I let each kid pick 3-5 pages (and they need to decide pretty quickly!). It is amazing how much they prefer this over coloring books. For some reason the process of them picking out exactly what they want feels like they are getting a present. It is one of their favorite parts of the week, and it buys me about 30 minutes of peace because they are so excited to color when they have these! Since starting this practice, I have recycled or donated most of our coloring books. Even when the books were of their favorite characters, the kids still didn’t use them very much. Two exceptions are the giant character coloring books,and the large Melissa and Doug themed books. Perhaps your kiddos are similar and you can purge these too!

At the end of the day, it really is simple: our God is a God of order and He is creative. We are made in His image, so we should foster each of these traits. For most people, there is probably a bent towards one side or another. I think it’s great to raise our kids in an environment in which each quality is valued. I hope this idea helps you strike some balance! 

Posted on November 14, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

Give the Man a Fish: Being a Wife that Helps Her Husband Take the Wheel

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To be perfectly honest, I am the “go-getter” when it comes to family matters in my home. I have been envisioning this phase of life since I played with my dolls as a toddler and named myself “Mrs. Judy Davis” after a Tide commercial. I love being a mom. My husband always knew he wanted kids, but that was as far as the daydream went. He pursued a career, he prayed for a wife, God answered…. And then seemingly all of a sudden four kids were clamoring to sit in his lap.

If he doesn’t get poked or prodded upon every encounter, he is lucky. Then the pour guy got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that zaps his energy. If he makes it to the kids’ bedtime without falling over, we are winning. This may not be your family situation, but perhaps your husband isn’t the CEO spiritual leader you were expecting.

What does it look like when the wife tends to have a more strategic vision for the family? Does it mean my husband isn’t our spiritual leader? No. I think we have a very narrow-minded view of what spiritual leadership looks like. God created a lot of different personalities, and His order works with each and every one of those. Sometimes our expectations of what it “should” look like are not from God’s Word. I challenge each of you to pray for your husband to lead biblically. In the meantime, if you have unmet hopes for him taking the wheel, try to discern if they are rooted in biblical truth. If you are seeking wisdom in this area, Entrusted With a Child’s Heart: A Biblical Study in Parenting, truly is based on the biblical standard. This is an excellent resource to guide you. Perhaps you have a husband who isn’t there yet… Keep praying, and maybe he is more ready than you think.

As you set your heart to seek the Lord, I want to give a few tips I’ve discovered that have set my husband’s personality up to lead. Perhaps they will help you as well:

  1. Give the Man a Fish.

We all know the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I must confess that I have been waiting for my husband to learn how to fish, when he just needs me to throw him some snapper. Sometimes we want our husbands to do the whole process of leading, but what our families need is his engagement and willingness. I want to propose that we act like the helper we were created to be, and we throw those guys a fish instead of always expecting them to “learn to fish.” Right now it looks more like, “Get that frozen fish out of the freezer, cook it, and hand it to your husband.” And he’s a good eater, so I’m giving it to him. Let me share some examples.

Because I homeschool, I read a devotional with my kids every day. (Ideally we would do that at breakfast time together, but we have a 5-year-old trapped in a teenager’s body and he.doesn’t.even.wake.up.for.natural.disasters. He rolls out of bed after Dad is at work.) Should I stop the devo because I’d prefer my husband to do it with them? No, it is a great part of our day. Instead I am going through a book, somewhat like systematic theology for kids, and I have my husband read the devotional at the dinner table. Here’s how “holy” this interaction was:

“Hey Travis, You know how you eat faster than everyone else in the family, and then you often get up and start doing the dishes? Would you mind reading this devo to the kids before you get up?”

“Sure.”

And he does it. Later I asked him if he felt I was bossing him around to ask him to do that. He didn’t think that at all. He was thankful for the opportunity. It turns out that most men do not stand around and talk about what Bible stories they are reading to their kids lately. As Christian women, we are flooded with great options… sometimes we have too many books to pick from and we are overwhelmed! Is it wrong to provide our husbands with a great book so our kids can see him leading? I don’t think so. If he has it in his heart to lead, don’t force him to complete the whole process. Sometimes your gentle “nudge” will get you where you want to be faster than you wishing and hoping he’ll be someone he isn’t.

Here’s another example:

“Hey, Travis, I feel so overwhelmed by everything our family is going through. I think we need to commit to praying as a family each night at bedtime.”

“Okay, great idea.”

It was typical for us that whoever put the kids to bed would pray over them. Now we sit in a circle most nights,  and we each take a turn praying. Travis closes the prayer for us. When my sons hear their daddy honestly approaching the Lord on our behalf, they are learning to be prayer warriors and spiritual leaders. Does it matter that it was my idea? No. Not.at.all.

And another:

Before we left for our recent road trip to visit family,

“I’ve been wanting to read this parenting book. Should I download the audiobook so we can listen together?”

“Cool. Sounds good.”

It wasn’t complicated, and we had some great discussions along the way. I also got to see Travis’s heart in wanting to lead… and he heard from someone else how crucial his influence is. Mwahahahaha, Mastermind Steph strikes again.

2. Leave.

Sometimes I worry about my baby getting diaper rash because Travis forgot to change her while I was gone. Or maybe he’ll give my son a food he’s allergic to. Or maybe they’ll all starve because every time I get back home the kids famishly greet me and say they haven’t eaten. (I hear this is typical for men, so I’m not husband-bashing, just being real.) They are always still alive when I get home, and they are probably learning valuable life lessons about not having their needs met immediately.

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Once I was away and my husband sent me a picture of his three “Mighty Men of Valor.” One of them was struggling with fear, and Travis was teaching them a Bible lesson. I didn’t set it up. And it probably wouldn’t have happened if I was home. Another time, and another moment of fear struck while I was away. Upon calling to check in, I found out that Travis was teaching our oldest Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” I don’t think this would have happened if I had been home to “take care of everything.” If we want our husbands to lead, we have to get out of the driver’s seat.

Now whenever I leave, I give clear instructions for dinner and snacks… and sometimes it feels like I am prepping for a babysitter. But it’s okay. I didn’t marry the man so he could make gourmet meals for our kids. If setting out an easy dinner frees him up to build into them, microwave away those chicken nuggets, Babe.

The win for me is that we have now decided I will leave for a couple hours every few weeks to go get tea, read my Bible, and plan for homeschooling. I am getting refreshed, and my kids are getting more time with their dad.

3. Daddy Dates.

As a mom of four I work really hard to pour into my kids as individuals. It is a lot of work to make sure no one fades into the background. I like to take them on dates or errands as much as possible. Recently I realized they do need individual attention from me, but they need it more from their dad. As much as I’d like to be the one to take Ryder out for ice cream and 20 Questions, he needs a strong relationship with his father. This revelation came right after I had created a brand-new schedule for our season of life. I had adjusted everything around the baby’s naps, homeschooling, co-ops, etc… It turns out that Saturday mornings are the best time for Travis to have dates with the kids. Good-bye free morning with errands… I realize that I need to move my errand time to a weeknight after the kids go to bed (or take the other three for all my errands which happens a lot but is not nearly as efficient!). It’s not my preference, but I think the end result is so worth it to me. Now I plan on cleaning the house on Saturday mornings while the baby naps, and I will be teaching the other two boys to clean. Honestly it is a lot easier training two kids to clean than three, so it’s okay.

Here are some ideas for Daddy Dates that don’t break the bank:

  • Go out for cheap ice cream cones.

  • Do a workshop at Home Depot.

  • Go to library and let the child pick out their favorites.

  • Go play at a park.

  • Go out for breakfast (the cheapest meal of the day!).

  • Look for sports opportunities through the rec center that allow for a parent and a child to participate.

Also, we have the boys have “Work Dates with Dad” too. Maybe they help weed or go to the hardware store for supplies. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, and it’s okay to have them have a realistic view of life. They need to contribute to your family too.

I also asked my husband if he would like me to print out some questions to ask the kids to have in his wallet. Instead, Mr. Technology prefers to use his phone. :) I may still remind him to use the list, but he is willing and set up for intentionality!

4. Give him credit in front of the kids.

My kids may not see one of the most pivotal ways Travis leads our family. He is a rock when I am anxious. When the kids are in bed, and I pour out my worries to him, he prays with me, and he often helps guide me to make decisions that are rooted in faith. When the storm of my fear passes, and all my kids see is a calm mom, they need to know their father was part of the solution.

Also, Travis falls asleep every night listening to God’s Word. I want my kids to know that. These are things I can tell them about because they may not see it otherwise.

How is your husband leading your family? Is it emotionally, mentally, physically, financially? Ask God to give you eyes to see who he is and who he was created to be…. And then give him grace in the transformation.

Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” God is challenging me to give myself grace and live by the mighty work of the cross. I need to extend this grace to my growing husband too. How about you, Mama?

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Photo Credit: Red Sweater Photography

Posted on September 26, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

Memories for the Long Haul: The Value of Establishing Summer Family Traditions

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July was one of my favorite months when I was a kid because it was when we took our annual trip to Winona Lake, Indiana. My dad worked at Moody Bible Institute and part of his job was running sound for the sessions at their annual summer conference. For more than ten years, we knew that every summer we would stay in the same hotel, in the same hotel room, and we knew we would spend our mornings with Frank Buckley who, along with his family, put on a fun, biblical program for all the kids. I loved this trip. And I loved that we got to do it every summer. It was a family tradition.

 my sister and I with Frank Buckley and his puppet, Daniel. Frank ran the kids program at the conference we went to as kids.

my sister and I with Frank Buckley and his puppet, Daniel. Frank ran the kids program at the conference we went to as kids.

Last year when my husband and I decided to start our own summer family tradition, we knew that we wanted family camp to be our thing. We both love the camp atmosphere and experience: staying in a cabin, worship services in the tabernacle, Lake Superior (the camp we go to is in the UP of Michigan), meeting families from all over the country, speakers, all of us falling asleep in minutes from blissful exhaustion, and (a very big deal to me) not having to meal plan or cook for a whole week. This July was our second year of family camp and we already have our reservation for next summer! Our kids are three, five, and seven. The older two remember many experiences they had a year ago and are already excited about going back next year. They told us that they like knowing they’ll get to go back again.

 My sister and I on swings near the hotel.

My sister and I on swings near the hotel.

Another summer family tradition we’ve started is going on an outing the weekend before school starts. The first year we went to the zoo. Last year was our second year and we went bowling. They’re not over-the-top outings, but they have a specific purpose: to kick off a new schedule for our family. We celebrate the great summer we’ve had and talk about what we’re looking forward to as fall approaches.

Family camp isn’t everyone’s preferred vacation. And maybe your weekend before the kids go back to school is already packed with buying school supplies and getting in those last-minute doctor appointments before your youngest starts Kindergarten. My point is not so much about the kind of trips or outings you do or when you do them, but the act of establishing summer family traditions. Maybe your family loves exploring new amusement parks, going to baseball games in different cities, or the visiting local or out-of-state fairs. You know your family and what kinds of trips and activities will appeal to everyone. Pick a couple and make them your non-negotiables every summer.

Why? Because kids aren’t likely to remember what they got for Christmas when they were eight but they’ll remember the trips or outings they did every summer for five, ten, or fifteen years. And those experiences might be things they’ll want to do with you after they have their own kids. Last summer at family camp, we were fortunate enough to have my parents and my sister and her family all together for the week. We were only missing my younger brother. It was a dream come true for me to have us together at camp and reminisce about the similar experiences my sister and I had when we were young.

There are a lot of things I don’t remember from my childhood. But I remember going to Winona Lake every July. I remember the smell of the lake and knowing that sometime during the week I’d get to buy copious amounts of Atomic Fireballs® from the local pizza place. Each year was a little different but it was also the same. I think that’s why it means so much to me now that I have kids.

The emotions that my memories of our family tradition evoke are the kind I want my kids to have when they’re talking to their kids about their annual trip to family camp. And when they’re getting ready to send their kids back to school, I want them to think back to the beginning of each school year and recall how we celebrated the end of summer and the start of new routines together.

It’s the end of July, but there’s still time to establish your first annual _______________. What trip or outing will become your family’s summer tradition?

 My three kids at the Bible camp we go to each summer. 

My three kids at the Bible camp we go to each summer. 

Posted on July 19, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

Becoming My Parents

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I’ve watched my parents be parents for forty-one years. And now that I’m married, have kids of my own, and am more mature (some days), I’m keenly aware of how fortunate I am to be their child. They’ve created a legacy for my sister, brother, and me, and they’re helping us create a legacy for our kids. And you know what? I hope that I become my parents because they raised us (which was no small feat) and we would all say that we are who we are because of the Godly example they have given us.

They put family first.
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” Deuteronomy 6:6-7.

My parents always put us first. They made many sacrifices so my siblings and I could go to Christian schools. I didn’t understand the depth of the sacrifices back then, but I do now – and I’m happy to do the same for my kids. My dad worked full-time in addition to getting as many freelance jobs as he could get to make ends meet. Right now, my husband works 50+ hours a week between his full-time job and part-time job and I work from home as an online faculty member for a Christian college as well as getting every freelance job I can so we can keep our kids in a Christian school. Why? Because my parents believed God wanted us in a Christian school and we believe the same for our kids. We do what we have to do.

My mom and dad were always faithful church attenders. But they didn’t just go to church; they lived out the truths of the Bible every day. By making their faith a priority, they made us a priority. We learned that God comes first, then family, then everything else. And we learned how to serve. My dad’s motto is that when he serves, he arrives early and stays late to make sure that everything is done well.

They protected us.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” Psalm 127:3.

They knew where we were and who we were with all the time – and this was before cell phones were around. We had to tell them what was going on and they would then tell us what time to be home. It varied based on what we were doing, but we were usually with our youth group or kids from our Christian school so they were ok with us being home around 10:30 or 11. But we were never allowed out past midnight. Why? Because my dad says that nothing good happens after midnight. He’s right.

My parents didn’t drop us off at the mall unchaperoned. That made me so mad because everyone else got to walk around the mall without their parents – at least it seemed like everyone else did. But they said no. And now that I have kids, I wouldn’t drop my kids off at the mall either. I understand why they said no. Kids are precious and there’s no reason to take an unnecessary risk.

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While there were times when it felt like they just didn’t want us to have fun, I now understand that they were protecting us. And my husband and I will protect our kids the same way.

They’re givers.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” Lamentations 3:23.

My parents were and are givers. They give of their finances, their time, their resources. They give so much to me even as their adult child. They help us send our kids to a Christian school. My mom will ask what I need at the store and pick up things for me while she’s shopping for herself. They’re our babysitters – or as my mom likes to say, they’re our grandsitters.

My parents have set the ultimate example when it comes to tithing. Even though money was tight, my parents tithed. Faithfully. And now I see how God blessed them because of their faithful giving. They drove older cars, but I’ve lost count of how many of those cars were given to them or they purchased cheaply. My dad knew how to fix cars so no car was too far gone that he couldn’t resuscitate it. They gave faithfully and God faithfully provided for them in countless ways.

My mom says that people don’t stop being parents when their kids get married and have their own kids. They learn to parent in a different way. But they’re still always parents. I pray often that I will emulate to my precious kiddos the same love, devotion, and faithfulness that my parents have shown me. I pray that I will become my parents.

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

Posted on June 20, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

Tips for Success: Potty Training Little Ones

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After I had several children I realized something. When one of my children struggles with something, it is possibly a reflection on my parenting. When a few of my kids struggle with an issue, it is probably due to my lack of training or consistency. Right now my boys are really struggling with picking up toys right after they play with them… yep, I have not been consistent enough there, and I need to be more intentional.

The same rule is true for positive traits. All of my kids LOVE to read and look at books. This is something I took great effort to foster in them. I can take a little credit for that in my kids. Another area my kids have done amazing at is the potty training phase. I have potty trained three boys… all by 27 months.

My oldest son began potty training at 26 months. He nailed it. Finally--his strong will was helping me in an area! He was motivated, and it was a breeze.

I assumed my second son would be more challenging. He has always been the one that likes to drag his feet a little on milestones. He is just more laid-back and doesn’t usually feel the need to prove himself. However, he was showing some interest at 25 months, so we gave it a try. I was blown away at how quickly he picked it up.

My third son was 23 months when we tried to potty train him. He exited the womb wanting to be like his big brothers, so it was a quick process.

And I’m not just talking day-trained, they were set for nights pretty quick too. Have they all had instances that they get their underwear wet at playdates because they are having too much fun to stop and use the restroom? Yes, but for the most part, my work was done early on. (Releasing that fact into the blogosphere makes me a little nervous that my fourth will give me a run for my money…. :) )

*This is not a “How To Potty Train” post, but rather a resource as you are compiling ideas. I don’t know exactly why this was so successful for me, but I can tell you what I consistently did that seemed to help my kids.

Just as with many parenting phases, you have to decide whose will is stronger and if you will buckle when it gets hard. When parents say “I just don’t think he’s ready yet,” sometimes they are saying they aren’t ready to do what it takes. I’m not saying that’s wrong; it’s good to know yourself and what you are ready for. And just as with other parenting decisions, you and your spouse need to be a united front. When it gets hard, you don’t want your husband saying, “Do we really have to do this now?” You’ve started. It is confusing for your child if you stop. (Although I know there are rare circumstances that you may need to turn back because of a medical issue. For example, my pediatrician told me that occasionally when children with normal development have an unusual amount of difficulty potty-training, it can be because of an ENT issue. This is just something to consider if you face this challenge.)

Tips:

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  1. Start “potty training” way before they are ready.  One way I prepared my kids was unintentional, but extremely effective. I used cloth diapers. If you’re reading this, it’s probably too late for you to jump on that train, but it worked really well for us! Cloth diapers don’t stay as dry as disposable diapers, so these kids love the feel of the dry underwear. It makes them very motivated to stay dry! This next tip will sound weird…. but for awhile before I started potty training my oldest, I would “encourage” my husband when he went to the bathroom. He would leave the room, and I’d say things like “Good job listening to your body, Daddy!” Then Lincoln was really excited to be like his daddy in this way.
     
  2. Set proper expectations. This will be hard. Even if it’s only hard for 3 days, it will most likely be a hard three days. There will be stain treating, accidents, and you’ll probably question yourself. With that said, don’t add any chaos to that recipe. Clear your calendar for the week as much as you can. Put your phone away. Be all there. You will be more successful if you aren’t distracted by other commitments. If possible, ask for help with your other kiddos.
     
  3.  Be ready for lots of quality time! Be prepared with activities. Gather age-appropriate puzzles and games, and play dough. You may be thinking--Ewwww! Play dough in the bathroom?!?!?!?  Some people prefer to camp out in the bathroom for a time. I actually got a large tarp to cover my living room floor so we could do life while my little guy was learning. This was largely due to the fact that I did not have a bathroom on my main floor… so you take your pick. I did really like that we had plenty of room for playtime while he was sitting on his little potty. Maybe you’re still thinking I’m gross, but I stand by my choice… and my essential oil disinfectants! Also consider renting some potty training videos from the library. I allowed a lot more screen time than I usually did to make sure my son stayed on that potty!
     
  4. Water, snacks, water, juice, and more water! You will be pumping that kiddo full of fluids so they can be successful. The more they drink, the more they need to go, and the quicker they understand the connection.
     
  5. Have a reward system in place. I bought fun underwear for my boys to start the process, but I also started a sticker chart. They needed something tangible to see their progress. I discovered a tricky part right away with this, however. Do I give a sticker for staying dry for a certain amount of time, or for going in the potty? Both are reward-worthy. My middle son can hold his bladder much longer than my other kids. I didn’t want to punish him for it. I decided I would reward him for every half hour that he stayed dry as well. To be honest, I can’t remember what my kids got when they filled up the sticker chart…. I think they were pretty excited about the stickers themselves! Whatever it is, you don’t want to make it too amazing because you want them to be intrinsically motivated to keep up the pattern.
     
  6. Foster an atmosphere of family encouragement. If you have older children, make sure they are supportive. Let them share how why they like being a “big kid” now. Also, commit to staying positive. It is important that you don’t shame your child when they aren’t successful. Be ready to explain something that was hard for you to master right away.
     
  7. Have a Scripture to meditate upon. Ephesians 4:1-3 says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Sometimes this is my challenge to myself when I’m in a tense parenting moment. If I can allow the Holy Spirit to reign in my flesh, and walk with humility, gentleness, patience and love, I know I have been successful. Write your verse where you can see it so you remember to be gracious even when you are exhausted or frustrated.

I encourage you to ask friends and family for tips before you begin. You want to start out well-informed so you can be faithful! Godspeed, Mamas! You got this!

Posted on May 30, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

5 Habits of a Healthy Marriage

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My husband and I are fast approaching our 14th anniversary. That’s pretty hard to believe. It’s also hard to believe that, aside from the occasional misunderstanding, we’ve had a really happy and peaceful life together so far. As I analyze why we get along so well, I keep coming back to the same things.

We treat each other gently, communicate openly, pay attention to each other’s needs, spend time together, and have common interests. I don’t remember anyone giving us the formula, or even being very conscious of keeping to it. But these 5 simple things have, in a compound way over the years, deepened our friendship, love, and dependence upon each other in exponential ways. Conversely, I’ve seen marriages where the lack of these practices erodes friendship and love, as years pile upon years of neglect and regret.

1.             BE GENTLE WITH EACH OTHER

I am careful with my husband’s feelings. I try to speak to him as kindly as I would any other friend or acquaintance. That’s not to say that I would ever withhold the truth or hide my true feelings from him, but that when I talk to him I don’t take him for granted. It’s easy to lash out at those closest to you when you’re frustrated or having a bad day, but we really try not to fall victim to that temptation. We’re respectful of each other’s feelings and we are gentle in the way we say things to each other.

2.              SAY WHAT YOU NEED

I think this is a particular struggle for a lot of women. They expect the people in their lives...their mom, their friends, and especially their husbands, to be mind-readers. No one can read minds, and no one, no matter how well they know you, really knows exactly what you need when you need it, all the time. (And as someone who is terrible at reading a room or sensing felt needs, I have to implore you on behalf of my fellow ignorants. Just tell us what you need!) More than likely, your husband wants to take care of you and meet those needs. You’ll have to be brave, and express them. Yes, you open yourself up to rejection if he says no, or refuses. But won’t you feel better, and more confident, having said it out loud? Be done with the cycle of disappointment in someone who wasn’t even given a chance to know how you would have liked to be helped.

If your husband isn’t hearing it the first time, try writing it down for him. My husband is a spectacularly bad auditory learner, but if I put something on a list it will be done within hours. Other husbands would balk at being given a list...so, learn your husband’s communication style and express yourself in the best way for him to truly hear you. Writing it down is one way to ensure he knows how important this is to you.

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You also have to be specific. You can’t just say “spend more time with me,” because that’s vague and unattainable. You’ll be setting yourself up for more disappointment, because he still has to read your mind to know how much or how often you expect. Instead, say (or write!) “Have breakfast with me every Monday from 8-8:30.” This is something he can check off a list.

3.              TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER

Now since we can’t change our husbands, we can only be responsible for how well we perform in each of these categories. But hopefully, if you’ve been gentle with him, and if you’ve openly communicated your specific needs to him, he will rise to the occasion and meet them. But even if not, you need to find ways to take care of him. I am not advocating for a woman who’s already drowning to put more responsibility on her shoulders. Don’t enable him to carry even less of the load by doing more to pick up his slack. But, assuming all things are equal, then be his helper. My husband is kind enough to do all of our grocery shopping. But I make sure to jump up from what I’m doing and help him unload the bags when I hear the garage door open. When he’s working on the house, I will be in charge of the kids and make myself available to help measure or carry a load. And if he asks me for help, I always say yes. If he was brave enough to ask for something, I’m going to give it.

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4.              SPEND TIME TOGETHER

It’s very easy for life to get away from you, and to feel like ships passing in the night. There are three major things that come between married couples: work, house, and kids. That last category is especially dangerous, because it feels like you’re focusing on something noble. You are...just not when it’s at the expense of your marriage. I’ve seen this many, many times, especially from dads. They’ll plan a family outing or take the kids for a bike ride, but the kids are just a shield from the wife that he should be investing in. His guilty conscience is assuaged because he’s being a “good dad,” but his wife is left lonely and starving for his attention. Not ok. Family time is wonderful, but husband-and-wife-alone-time has to be a priority. Women do this (and I’m guilty too!) when we spend all night putting the kids to bed, or falling asleep with them while tucking them in, only to have nothing left for our husbands. It’s totally fine to do that once in a while (or when they’re babies, because seriously, #itsaseason), but if you’re spending every night with your kids and never meeting up with your husband at the end of a day to debrief, then some habits need to change. You’re teaching your kids that they’re your priority, and your husband is not.

5.              FIND COMMON INTERESTS

This is really hard for women, because really, guys like the dumbest stuff. Basketball, superheroes (ok, just mine?) golf (the worst!) or cars...whatever the guy thing is, I know it’s hard to get interested in it. But can we just admit for a second, they have it worse? Vintage shopping? Crafts? Snooze! The reason you got married is because you were best friends, and best friends have common interests. They do things together and have fun together. You have to try to find them, and if he isn’t budging, then you’ll have to cross over to his side. It won’t be hard forever. As it turns out, if you can find a team to get behind, basketball isn’t boring. And thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, superheroes are fun now too. I am proud to admit that I was with my husband on opening morning of the Avengers at 8:30 AM (kids dropped off at school), wearing his Spiderman shirt. And after all this time, I was every bit the excited nerd about it that he was. I know that married couples can find this kind of common ground, and they’ll be stronger for it. Go have fun together!

Posted on May 9, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.