Posts 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.

That Takes the Cake: learning what your child truly values

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“Ryder, what was your favorite birthday cake Mom ever made you?” Lincoln inquired as we were looking for ideas for his coming celebration. Each child only has a party every five years, but they are allowed to pick out a cool cake for their special day even if it will only be enjoyed by family.

“The sprinkle donuts! They were awesome!”
My jaw dropped. “Oh really? Better than the Paw Patrol or Transformer cakes?”

“Yep. I loved the sprinkles.” Ryder replied.

“I’m glad you liked them, Sweetie.” Inside, I was stunned. I am not a professional baker; I am just a mom. That means I have bent over backwards and traded many hours of sleep for some of the elaborate cake requests my kids have given me. I don’t usually like to post pictures of these things because I’m not trying to be a Supermom. I am just trying to make my kids feel special and loved. Anyway, to get the irony of his response, you have to see the cake line-up...

For Ryder’s first birthday, I ended up making three cakes in honor of my little guy’s party because he was always hungry and he scooted like a caterpillar…

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There was the year that every cake picture was met with a “No!” until the minion picture made him throw back his head and laugh… how could I resist?

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And the next year Paw Patrol was his absolute favorite, so he thought the lookout tower was pretty epic.

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Then Transformers became the new craze, so I labored to make that one happen too.

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Hearing that a funfetti cake mix poured into a donut baking pan beat out all my fondant handiwork was a little hard to swallow. This year Ryder’s birthday fell in the middle of a chaos storm for our family. Treats are his love language, and I felt awful that I wasn’t able to make his dessert more special. The result was so lackluster that neither his dad nor I thought to get a great picture of the donut tower, just a video of the birthday boy blowing out his candles. And here he was saying it didn’t matter to him…

It got me thinking. Why were these donuts so special to him? I didn’t even waste any calories finishing one, so it certainly wasn’t the taste! Perhaps it was because he helped me make them from start to finish. He made the donuts, and the glaze, and he poured the sprinkles. He has helped me make cakes in the past, but since I stay up way past his bedtime making them, I have opted for the morning grand reveal. Perhaps the process, and time spent with mom, is more important than the result for this kiddo--especially if there are taste tests!

A few days later was my youngest son’s birthday. He loves anything Cars and has food allergies, so I made him a homemade cake and put some of his plastic cars and sprinkles on it. He was thrilled with the results!

“Wow, Mom! Thank you! It looks great!”

Even my six-year-old, whose response to the Paw Patrol cake is still, “But where is the slide for the Lookout Tower?!”, was satisfied.

This was interesting for sure. Everett hadn’t helped, but because it had his favorite characters he was thrilled. (But don’t the fondant characters count too?!? Apparently not… ) After we went to a matinee with Grandma, and had a nice dinner at home, we opened presents. We had purchased him a large Lego creative set, so I suggested a family building time. We spend the better part of an hour all building what we could with our pieces and sharing them. It was so simple, but it was a special time as a family and my little guy was happy as pie. His birthday was a success in his eyes.

A few days later we had dinner with friends, and I had my sons create some cake decorations. We bought a little cake--something I never would have done in the past--taped their handmade drawings to popsicle sticks, and stuck them in the cake with a few toys. They were so proud of their hard work. Once again, I realized how much joy it brought my kids to be a part of the process/decision-making aspect of the birthday cake. And in the end it probably is more about spending quality time together than having sugar art that will be destroyed instantaneously. This may differ from child to child. I really do believe personalities affect what we appreciate most. However, listening to our kids about what is important to them is the key.

In the future, I still plan on making some elaborate cakes and desserts, but I don’t think I will hold myself to that standard every year. Instead I plan on creating a birthday experience in which my child’s input and values are key. And this is not just a concept for birthdays. It is for the everyday. Not creating a child-centered home, but creating an environment in which the child knows they are valued and loved is a worthy goal. Just as Betsy has always emphasized with the “Fifteen Minutes a Day” approach, we need to realize that having US is better than any treat or experience. Being present is what our kids long for, especially when we are in busy seasons of life. Simply do whatever you can, so you can lie down on the carpet and drive cars or sit down on that tiny chair and have a tea party. THAT is what they will remember.

I realized something else through this too. It isn’t about my kids. It’s about God. God knew I was at max capacity. He knew that phoning in a donut cake mix was the best I could do at the time. And somehow, He helped my little boy see the fun in it. Ryder wasn’t meditating on what he missed out, he was thankful for what he had. I believe it is evidence of God swooping in--yet again--to bring good out of hard times. As I strive to follow Him in my parenting in the future, I will trust He knows where my efforts are best spent. Seeking Him and being there are sure to top the list.

Posted on April 18, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

How to Prepare Financially to be a Stay-at-Home Mom

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When you have a baby, there will be plenty of changes to cope with...lack of sleep, a completely new body, emotions, lack of sleep, figuring out how to change a diaper...lack of sleep. Not to mention that you’ll be responsible for raising a human being! The last thing you want to worry about is finances, so planning now will help that to be less of a concern when the time comes.

Every family will need to decide whether they are going to have one parent stay home, or whether they will need to afford childcare. Either way, caring for your new baby is going to be a large financial hit. I always knew that I wanted to stay home with my kids, but even if you aren’t sure yet, planning now will allow you the freedom of choice when you finally become a mom. Here are 5 things you can do, starting today, to prepare financially for full-time motherhood:

1.             Start Living on One Salary (As Soon as Possible)

My husband and I began living exclusively on his salary from Day One of our marriage. Having talked about our goals for me to stay home when we had kids, we knew right away that this strategy was going to ease the pain of transition when that change came. And it’s certainly a huge financial change! You will go from being a 2-income-0-kids household to being a 1-income-1-kid household overnight when you decide to stay home. It is best to get used to living on that one income now so it won’t be painful after baby comes.

If you haven’t yet begun to live on one salary, make the transition as soon as possible. Take a hard look at your budget and see what discretionary expenses can be cut. Make the lifestyle changes that are necessary and make a plan if you can’t start immediately. Again, even if you aren’t sure that you want to stay home with your baby, you’ll simply be allowing yourself the freedom to choose to do so, if and when the time comes.

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2.            Bank Your Salary While You Have It

Now that you’ve figured out how to live and cover your expenses on one salary, begin saving the other spouse’s salary in the bank (assuming your debts are paid off first. Most financial experts will probably advise you to start there, but consult your financial planner if you have a lot of debt to address).

You’ll be amazed at how quickly it will accumulate, and believe me, you’re going to need it! This will become your all-important emergency fund, so that when your furnace goes out or another unforeseen expense arises, you can stick to the plan. If you’re able to save enough of a cushion, it can also be the account you draw from for an occasional splurge, like Disney World or a new minivan. (I know, I know, you’ll never drive a minivan. That’s what we all said.)

If you’re committed to staying home for the long haul, it could easily be 10 years or more before you are ready to re-enter the workforce. Your youngest child won’t be in school full time for 5 or 6 years, so having a savings account with a large enough cushion to last that much time will be ideal. It could only take 1-2 years to save a very large chunk if you’re banking your entire salary.

3.              Keep Some Money Just for You

When you decide to give up your job, it is interesting how you’ll feel like the balance of power has shifted. No matter how much both spouses are on board or how supportive they are of each other, it really feels bad not to have “your own” money. I was surprised how affected I was by the loss of my income. I felt like I wasn’t contributing, even though as a stay-at-home mom we definitely carry our share of the load. I also felt like I shouldn’t buy things for myself, like new jeans or a pair of Spring flats. So, I think it’s important to have a small amount of fun-money set aside, within your savings account, that is all yours. Maybe it’s only $2,000, and maybe your husband can have his own slush fund as well to keep things fair. But the rule is that it’s for you to do what you want with. Trust me, it’ll feel good to have that.

4.              Keep Retirement in Mind

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I’m certainly not a financial expert, so please consult one on this point. But one of the things we made sure to do when I left the workforce was to keep my retirement account active and receiving contributions. Don’t let your spouse’s be the only IRA to keep accumulating, because 10 years is a long time to be losing compound interest. Again, ask the expert, but I’ll caution you to not neglect your own retirement.

5.              Choose a Mortgage Carefully

When couples are ready to begin a family, they often start by buying a bigger house. Be careful that you stick to the one-salary rule when you make this choice! Only purchase a house that you can comfortably afford on one salary. There is nothing worse than being forced to go back to work when all you want to do is stay home and hold your baby. This is one of the most critical decisions that you’ll make to allow yourself the freedom to choose to stay home. So don’t get caught up in what is bigger and prettier. Choose a good house for your family, but be practical and don’t say yes if you can’t afford it on one salary.

I hope these tips will be helpful as you consider how to set yourself up financially to be a stay-at-home mom. I know that not everyone plans to make that choice, but the idea is to give yourself a choice in the first place. Good financial planning will give you that freedom.

Posted on April 11, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.

Family Fun For Homebodies

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I asked my daughter, who is 9, the other day, “What do we do as a family to have fun?” Blank stare. “I know!” I said, “I couldn’t think of anything either!”

Sometimes I think that if “The Annual Most Boring Family Award” was a thing, my family of 5 would win it every year. We do really enjoy each other’s company...it’s just not in a splashy or exciting way.

All of us (with the exception of our adventurous 5 year old, poor guy) are homebodies of varying degrees. My husband and I are content at home, and increasingly so the older we get. Every time I go out, there’s a part of me that wishes I could just stay in. My oldest is the most extreme. He utterly hates leaving the house for almost every reason, and must be coaxed to even go for a bike ride. My middle child is happy to go out but just as happy to stay in. The youngest is just biding his time until he can escape the hostage situation.

I was convicted to make a list of the ways we do have fun (do we??) and then to think of some more things that we can do to spend intentional time, and create happy memories, together…even if we don’t leave the house.

And yes, I am resolving to start doing a better job of getting that little guy to the playground and the laser tag zone (ugh) more often. Promise!

Here’s a list of ways that those of us who are, or who are raising, homebodies, can still have fun together as a family:

Play Dress Up
This is surprisingly fun. Raid your closet and old Halloween costumes, break out the face paint and the make-up, and play dress up. Take some selfies (essential!) and do it again. You’ll feel like you’re a 9-year-old, and it’s wonderful.

Crescent Roll Bake-Off
I have a theory that absolutely anything will taste delicious when wrapped and baked in a Pillsbury Crescent Roll. Host a family bake-off where everyone chooses a different filling and you vote on a winning treat. We’ve tried apple slices with cinnamon and sugar, cherry pie filling, and of course, little sausages. (Tip: Serve the dessert varieties with vanilla ice cream. Ohhh yes.)

Movie Night
I embrace that I’m boring. And this is my favorite thing to do with the kids. We love to make a big deal out of movie nights, so we really don’t have them too often. (Plus, it’s hard to find good movies!) When we do it, we pull out ALL the blankets. Popcorn and candy are must-haves. And we turn out all the lights and turn up the sound bar so it’s truly an experience. (Tip: Check movie reviews at Plugged In before you commit. I can’t tell you how many times that wonderful ministry has saved us from watching something that no one should!)

Read Aloud
There are a handful of great books that every family should read together. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was the start of it for us. Snuggles and coziness and Mom reading...it’s like going back in time, and it’s just the sweetest.

Play Games
I’m not really a fan of board games, but we’ve really gotten into charades recently. We’ve never laughed so much! We also like cards. With my 5-year old, we make an entire game out of seeing who draws the highest card, over and over again, until the deck is gone. Whoever has the most cards in their pile at the end wins. He’s obsessed.

DIY Ice Cream Sundae Bar
You can do this with any assemble-your-own food, like pizza or tacos, as well. But since we’re partial to ice cream, we like to break out the sundae bar from time to time. Sprinkles and toppings have a long shelf-life, so they can stand at the ready in the pantry for spur-of-the-moment treats. Or you can really do this up, with crumbled brownies, syrups, whipped cream, chopped nuts, fruit topping...the sky's the limit. Just make sure the kids help you clean up before they run away to jump on the furniture and scream like banshees on a sugar high.

Camp Out in the Living Room
Easiest camping ever, and you can cook in your own stove. Set up a tent in the family room, pull out every blanket and pillow you own, and have a sleepover complete with flashlights.

Make a Time Capsule
I saw this idea recently and my kids would LOVE it. Make your own time capsule! Gather photos, handwritten notes, schoolwork, artwork, and some newsworthy items of the time, and seal it in a waterproof, durable container. Set a date 20 years in the future to reunite and open it! (My only conundrum is where to bury it...since I’m not sure we’ll be in the same house for 20 years and if I “bury” it in our basement it is sure to be lost forever…)

Dance
We dance. Alot. We have a bluetooth speaker in the kitchen and almost inevitably dinner clean-up becomes a dance party every night. Even the dog has been trained to do some moves when he sees us start up. I think this is a great thing for families. Who else can you bust a move in front of without worrying about looking like a goof?

Play Hide-and-Seek
My oldest is 11, and the days are coming soon when he’ll be too old for games like this. I need to capitalize on his youth while I still can and break out the old-fashioned fun a few more times. Plus, how fun is it to jump out from behind a shower curtain at someone? Hilarious every time.

Arm Wrestling Tournament (Spoiler: Dad always wins)
A friend of mine texted me this week that her daughter (now 8, and apparently freakishly strong) had somehow just beat her at arm wrestling. Baffled, I immediately challenged all of my children. I’m thankful to report that none of them could beat me, but they all had a blast trying. It’s now their goal in life to take down their parents in this sport, and my dedication to lifting weights has been renewed! Double win.

Posted on March 7, 2018 and filed under Building Your Family.