Friday, November 26, 2010

The Five O'Clock Hour

I don't know what it is about Thanksgiving weekend for me but for the past number of years it has become my prompt to begin preparing for the resolutions I might make in the coming year. While others are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their Christmas tree, I am swarming with thoughts of the New Year. I relish the thought of the fresh start that January 1 represents.

Last year on Thanksgiving weekend I was contemplating reading the Bible throughout the year (OT once through, NT twice). I am thrilled that I am on track to reach my goal (I half thought I would not follow through).
It was a relatively small committment but it was important to me to make and stick to. It has been good for me to discipline myself in a small way, especially in a year that was so full of hard and good things.

This year my goal is a bit more ambitious. It involves seeing a five as the first number on my alarm clock, and NOT seeing a ten the night before. Here I add my caveate: "when it is reasonable." Because it is not reasonable to arise at 5-something when the night was full of sleeplessness. If I do go through with this, pray for Ryan. I have a terrible Snooze Button Addiction. He would frown on two hours of 104.1FM every 7 minutes. (I, on the other hand, find that rather dreamy...)

Why, oh WHY would I consider torturing myself in such a way? Bible Study. Regular, consistent studying of the Bible. I have racked my brain trying to come up with even 20 quiet, uninterrupted minutes in my day to make this happen. Honestly, it does not exist. Oh, it happens now and then - but regularly? 'fraid not. Since I don't want to spend those 20 minutes being grumpy at the kids for their interruption and distraction ("Leave Mommy alone! Can't you see I'M STUDYING MY BIBLE!?!!?" Nice witness, Mommy), I need to invent a new hour of the day. It is called "pre-dawn." I have heard of it, but rarely seen it on purpose.

And if I can squeeze in some exercise before the kids notice I am up, all the better.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Let Dad be Dad

Tip#15 Nurture a deep respect for your husband specifically as it relates to his role as father.

I will just be honest and say that I have been guilty all too often of thinking I know far more than my husband when it comes to parenting. The evidence I would point to? (And I point these things out with all sincerity and with as much respect as I can claim when formulating a somewhat disrespectful list of I'm-Better-Than-You-Are's.) For every 1 of his hours of parenting, I have 4; for every 1 parenting book that he has read I have read 8; for every 1 conversation he has had with another dad about discipline, I have had - well, I can't even count that one.

He would whole-heartedly agree that I am the PRDD (Parenting Research and Development Division) in this household. He actually prefers to default to what I know and have experienced when it comes to lots of parenting issues. The problem with me spending time down I Know All - You Are Clueless Avenue is that it goes no where good. My heart fills with prideful hautiness and disrespect toward by husband. Blech. So regardless of the fact that I have more information, experience and support, I must foster a deep and true respect for my husband who loves our kids as much as me.

Making this happen:

Pray for your husband, his fatherhood, his realtionship with the kids, and his relationship with the Lord.

When parenthood is new and fresh and frightening, allow him to learn how to be a dad at a slower pace than you are learning. You think about this child every.waking.moment. He works all day. And does not let milk down every 3.67 hours. And is not tending to every detail of every nap. And did not sprout "mommy ears" the morning of your child's birth. So be patient, kind, respectful and considerate, remembering that you and he will NOT, rather, CANNOT, learn parenthood at the same pace.

Let him have the type of relationship he desires to have with the kids. This might vary greatly from your idea of a perfect relationship between father and child. If you wonder what kind of relationship he wants, ask him. Let him talk and don't criticize. Encourage him, and don't sabotage!

Communicate a deep respect for this thoughts about all things, particularly when he comments on anything kid-related. You might initially think he is wrong on a point (and perhaps he is) but a respectful response does not include a quick "no" or dismissal. Respectful says, "I have never thought about it in that way." I have much work to do in this area. I am known for my quick "No."

Ask him what he would like to see you focus on  and make sure your priorities reflect his. I spend an enormous amount of time talking with other mothers, reading blogs and ruminating on how I will raise our boys - everything from how to get them to do their chores every day to how I will prepare them for college and the real world of pursuing the Lord. My tendancy is to come up with a wonderful idea, think of the 10 ways to accomplish that idea, decide on the best way, move forward with the brilliance I came up with and then - maybe - mention it to Ryan. Or maybe not. Like I said earlier, he prefers to defer to me with most parenting things anyway, so I can get away with this. But BOY does it get me into trouble in the end. Before I invest a mound of energy into my ideas, I have learned that I really need to get a clue as to what RYAN'S priorities are for the boys. I need to take the time to investigate what HE wants me to focus on and pursue those priorities first and foremost. EVEN IF IT MEANS DYING TO MY OWN PRIORITIES. The Lord honors a wife who respects her husband in word and deed. This has been the single most significant way I have gained great respect for Ryan as a father.

Oh, one more thing. Realize that progress in this area (especially if it has been an area of concern) is a long process. Don't strongarm your husband tonight trying to get him to tell you every parenting thought he has ever had. I can't imagine that conversation going anywhere productive in my home. Would it be different in yours? So do yourself a favor tonight and, instead, slip into something nice and light a candle in the bedroom. Atta' girl.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Study, Study

This is part 2 of tip #14, as I neglected to say the most important part.

After much studying of children...

It is not enough to merely know about my children. I must attempt to understand their needs and ACT. By way of example, here are my study notes, followed by how I hope to respond to what I have learned. In the past I have referred to this as a "Hope Check." Maybe my notes will be better inspiration and stir ideas in your head.
Davis: Perfectionist. Thrives on words of Affirmation. Feels the pressure of being the one with significant homework, realizing that he must do it while everyone else plays. Easily overwhelmed by homework load (perfectionism). Has a lot to say. Motivated by money and TV. Booksmart. Functions only in a black and white, right and wrong, true (not make-believe) world.

Jackson: Loves fun. Easily distracted. Loves to please me. Competitive. Playful. Loves his brothers. Loves to play with friends. Motivated by money. Enjoys same things his dad enjoys. Intuitively smart. Lives a bit in a make-believe I-wish-it-were-this-way world.

Weston: Comical. tenderhearted. needs a great deal of control over his environment. Wants to be in charge (regularly tries to put Mom out of a job). Feel "beat up" by little brother quite often. Sees little brother's ability to share and/or not wreck his trains and car set up as hopeless. Increasingly wants to be considered one of the big boys. Doesn't get enough sleep. Doesn't have toys of his own, or toys he has claimed as favorite. Is rejuvinated by alone time.

Drake: Delights greatly when he knows you understand what he said or wants. Playful. Loves to see others laugh. Physical  interaction (read: rough-housing) is favored activity above all. Recently landed in the world of "being two" and all the typical baggage that comes with that. Understands who is in charge and what submitting his will entails. Increasingly wants to do things for himself. Gathers toys to the point of his own frustration (try crawling up or down stairs with seven matchbox cars and two train engines - see what I mean?). Willing to risk a spank/crib time if it means getting a rise out of Weston.

After thinking carefully about what I am currently learning about each child, I pick one or two areas that I can concentrate on that will make a significant difference to that child so that they feel well loved, and hopeful about an area of weakness or frustration. This does not include enabling weaknesses or frustration, but rather is an opportunity for me to offer with great intentionality the grace, tenderness, understanding, and patience they need in that area. Sometimes my only goal is to avoid exaperating my kids: Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the teaching and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) I am pretty sure mothers are just as capable of exasperating...

Here are a couple of examples of my thoughts:

Weston: protect that relationship between him and Drake. Don't let them play together without supervision (the two goose eggs on Weston's forehead are evidence that Drake cannot be trusted!). Protect Weston and provide him plenty of opportunities to play without Destruct-o boy.

Drake: Be careful to distinguish playfulness and defiance. Only discipline defiance. PLAY with his PLAYFULNESS! Find him a little sack or box or something to carry his load in - will that delight him or further frustrate? Laugh with him. Be quick to discipline misbehavior toward Weston - keep a close eye!

The point is to find the needs (by studying!), think through how they might be met, and then give it a try!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Be a Student

Tip #14 Study Your Children

It is astounding to me how often I am just plain wrong. I think I know what I am doing, or how to do something only to discover that I am a fool. This was especially true when I had only one child. He was a pretty easy little guy and I had him trained to obey well by the time we celebrated his second birthday. I knew I had a good kid, but I also had to give myself SOME credit for being consistent. So you can imagine how I felt when the same training tactics FLOPPED with child number two. Not only did they flop, they backfired. That second child of mine bucked every system I had. He was not about to cater to my desires to have TWO well-behaving children. No-sir-ee.  I had to eat a lot of crow with that kid. Sorry if you are one of the people I gave parenting advice to prior to February 25, 2004. I was clueless, discompassionate and not helpful. But I sure was confident!

I say all this to make the point that just because you have one child figured out, don't assume you have parenting figured out. Also, don't assume that just because all your children share the same DNA that they are to be parented the same.

What's that? You already knew that?

Anyway, because each child is so different, we should be studying them. Learn what makes them tick, what their needs are, what their love language is, how their little brains work, what their propensities are. Some answers will stay the same over the years, while others will change depending on age and stage. So the studies never end for a mom! Learn learn learn!

Study materials:
1. Your child at play. What kinds of play does he enjoy? Does he use his imagination? What real-life experiences does he act out? Does he want to play next to someone, or with someone? Is the fun in putting a puzzle together or taking it apart? Does he focus on gross motor or fine motor right now? etc, etc.
2. Your child in frustrating moments. What kinds of situations does he find himself in that frustrate her? Is there a situation that comes up time and time again that gets the better of her? Does she like help? Does she hate help? Does she need to cry? Does she respond with anger?
3. Your child and how they relate to their siblings. Is he always following the lead of an older sibling? Is he leading the play? Is he hopelessly in love with the sibling? Does he aim to please? Is he excluded? Does he seem to gravitate to the older siblings and their play? How do the older siblings respond to his desires?
4. Your library: When I want to just understand what's going on inside the mind of a typical child at a certain age I go to the series by Louise Bates Ames. There is a title for every age: "Your One Year Old," "Your Two Year Old," etc. NOTE: I do not recommend her parenting advice, per se, but rather the scientific observations she makes (usually at the beginning of a section). It is so useful to get inside the brain and understand what is physiologically going on in a child's body.
5. Your bookshelf: Start bulking it up when you can with great references like The Five Languages of Children, Don't Make Me Count to Three, Grace-Based Parenting, Parenting with Love and Logic.
6. Your mother-in-law. If a child is not like you, he might be like your husband, so ask what he was like as a kid and how they dealt with it. Even if it seems like terrible advice, it is still valuable because it will give you a window of understanding into that child you otherwise don't get.
7. Your Loving Father in Heaven.This should have been much higher on this list, obviously. It never ceases to amaze me how much wisdom the Lord gives when I ask it. So, ASK!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Parent in Your Weakness

Tip #13
When Times Get Rough, Give Up Your Strong Suit

We start our parenthood journey fairly polarized, I think. God seems to build into each of us a propensity toward either grace or truth - that is, we are either compassionate or a careful observer of rules and laws. I am strong in the latter. It is where I get the phrase "Obey Mommy the First Time" (swat, swat). This strength of mine gives me a pair of glasses that first and formost sees behavior as either obedient or disobedient, nipping bad behavior in the bud before it becomes an issue. On the other side, my sister is naturally compassionate. She ponders and considers the heart motivation behind her children's behavior before deciding how to handle her girls. (What is your propensity?)

In my life it has been my inexperience and insecurity that has driven me to spend most of my parenting moments perfecting my strengths. There comes a point when I needed to consider living moments outside the comfortable zone of strength and instead treading the dangerous waters of my personal weaknesses. I remember the moment I realized that it was time to put my toe in these treacherous waters: Davis, my oldest and only child, was pushing the line of disobedience in new and improved ways. His usually sweet disposition had disappeared and the child I was now parenting was whiney, disobedient, and an all around pill. Where did my Davis go?!

I don't remember if I had received wisdom from a fellow mom, my own mom, or if it was the whisper of the Holy Spirit but I remember standing in my kitchen, seeing Davis pull some of his "new normal" antics on me. it was everything I could do to not discipline him for his disobedience. But instead of staying in my comfort zone, I parented (as it turns out) like my sister. It was less than a day and I was already seeing the old Davis again. I quicly concluded that I had perfected my strength to the point of turning it into a weakness!

It is a strange way to think about it, but when you are out of ideas with that one kid that is driving you to drink, do the exact opposite of what your gut tells you, and just see what happens. Who knows - it just might work!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Privileges and Responsibilities

Tip #12
Teach your kids the principle of responsibilities before privileges

We do our homework before we watch TV. We get our chores done before we play. We take care of  (AKA "play with") a younger sibling before we do our own thing. Teaching this principle comes pretty intuitively, but on the other hand it is not always articulated into a child's ears. It can easily sound like Mom is just being a big wet blanket on a kid's fun so take the time to talk about it:
  • "I want to be sure you and we get to play a game of Uno later today like you wanted. Let's go look at the chore chart to see what our responsibilities are so that later we can have our privileges."
  • "Mom, can I watch a TV show?" "You can have that privilege when your responsibilities are taken care of. Is your room clean like I asked?"
This principle can be modeled by mom beautifully, too. As moms, we have a mountain of tasks to accomplish in a day. We can help our kids understand that we can't always drop what we are doing and play dollies because WE have responsibilities, too. Using that same language to describe "the life of a mom" will help them catch the idea all the more. "Let me finish my dinner prep responsibilities and then I can enjoy the privilege of playing, ok?" I have to stop a moment for my own benefit (since these are tips I give myself) and say watch out that YOU DO STOP and actually play that Uno game. You know all too well that a mother's work is never done so don't go using a neglected floor as an excuse to neglect the bigger responsibility of nurturing your children.

When the older kids were younger (like ages 2 and 5) was when I first heard about instilling this principle. It was quite easy for me to come up with a healthy list of responsibilities for the older child but the list of privileges for him was terribly short. It was a good exercise to go through. I had to ask myself if I was being reasonable and balanced. You don't need a one-to-one ratio, but when the only privilege in a day is one 30 minute show but the list of responsibilities is looking more like a wedding registry at Bed Bath and Beyond, it begs the question: could I stand to lighten up a bit on one side or another? What is more, I had to ask myself if I should be looking to increase that 5-year-old's list of privileges to be broader than the 2-year-old's since I asked next to nothing of the younger one but they BOTH got the same reward for their hard work.

Rights verses privileges: Is it a right or a privilege to play alone (for a season, my oldest craved time away from his younger brother)? Is it a right or a privilege to have a room full of toys? Is it a right or a privilege to have mom read to me at night? Is it a right or privilege to join the family for a night out? is it a right or a privilege to have a morning snack? Is playing without adult supervision a right or a privilege? I won't answer the questions because in some homes I think the answers will vary. My point is that it is something to think through.

Teach kids that we work before we play and they will learn a work ethic that will truly be useful all the days of their life.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Food Issues

Tip # 11
Do What You Can to Quell a Picky Appetite

I think everybody ends up with a set of foods that totally grosses them out. For me as a child it was peanut butter (so sorry about that one, Mom!), tomatoes, mushrooms and chili. I think that a short list of refusal foods is reasonable. Don't you? This post could hit some hot buttons so let me say right out of the shoot that we all go through seasons in life where we have to select our battles carefully. When you have multiple preschool children and it is all you can do to make it through the day, this might not be the battle you pick right.this.very.moment.

In our house I have a rather complicated set of parameters that I have to cook around - these parameters involve health concerns for a husband with Crohns and allergy concerns for the baby. You can perhaps appreciate the fact that I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR PICKY EATERS when it comes to the people I regularly cook for. I will gladly short-order cook for any child that visits my house but as for my own kids, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit."

Each of my kids have gone through picky stages - some more resolutely than others. Here are some of the techniques I have used to quell pickiness in the earlier years:
1. Introduce new foods over and over and over again. I introduced my babies probably 20-30 times to the same food (at 20-30 different meals) when there was one they refused. I did not push, but I did not let early refusal mean much.
2. Put only 3 bits of the undesired food on a plate, and then ask them to eat "just two."
3. Take it slow! Place that tiny piece of lettuce on the plate every day at first. Don't require them to eat it, but let them become accustomed to it being there. After a while ask that they just touch it to their tongue (make it a game you play too, even!). After several days of that, ask them to chew up one bite. Nice and slow progression. I use this with veggies, because I see a healthy appetite for veggies as a life-long grow-into-it thing. I want them to actually develop a taste for them, not just "eat them cuz they have to" habit.
4. Offer only healthy options for all meals and snacks so that no matter what they fill up on, you are pleased with it (they did not leave the table with a tummy full of buttered bread).
5. Put only one to two pieces of the food you know they enjoy, plus one or two pieces of the less desired food on their plate. If they ask for seconds of their desired food you can say, "sure, after you eat your chicken you can have another strawberry!"
6. Remember preschooler's tummies fill fast so keep portions really small. If given a plate of food that looks like a ton to them, they will feel quickly overwhelmed. Hopelessness will set in ("I will NEVER be able to eat all this") and they will have a tendency to not even try.
7. Rather than forcing a child to eat something they don't want to eat, give the control over to them saying something like, "No sweetie, you don't have to eat your chicken, but everyone who DOES eat their chicken get to enjoy ice cream for dessert," or "If you want another handful of grapes you can have that, but you need to eat another handful of chicken first. Let me know what you decide."
8. Remember that resolving picky appetites is more like running a marathon. Don't think it will resolve itself in a month. Several months of introduction and reintroduction. Lots and lots of food and phrase repetition.
9. I have chosen to not offer milk at meals. If you do, limit milk to 1-2 Tbsp. After that, its water, baby! (We live in a culture that is habitually dehydrated anyway, so you could look at giving them a thirst for water as a gift not a punishment). The goal with limiting milk intake: nutrition comes from food not drink.
10. Keep snacks between meals healthy and small: 3 carrot sticks or apple slices with water or two crackers.
11. Cut a plate of veggies up before preparing dinner so that when your little ones come nosing around the kitchen looking for something to eat, you have something good to offer them (you would be amazed at what a hungry child is willing to eat when he is truly hungry!). I know one mom who has a veggie-loving, meat-detesting child so maybe a better option for her would be to always have come slices of cold well-seasoned strips of chicken out for this purpose instead.
12. Toddlers are by nature snackers so often times there are no big meals. When they eat like birds, remember its quality not quantity. If all they are going to eat is a few bites here and there, don't offer fishy crackers, you know!?
13. Suppress the temptation to feed convenience foods. You are developing their palate - develop it to prefer healthy, non-processed foods. (Think chicken breasts cut into strips and broiled, rather than breaded chicken nuggets.)

The one pervading thought I have had in my head is this: I did not run into many picky eaters when I visited a Mexican orphanage. It is a lavish thing to be picky, you know? We don't need to be frustrated at our children for becoming picky, but we do them a tremendous service when we subdue it where we can.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Nurture Independence

Tip #10
Nurture independence as much as possible.

As much as I can't wait for my kids to relying upon me less, I catch myself all-too-often shooting myself in the foot, not allowing them to make steps in that direction. They want to try to buckle themselves in their booster but I am in too much of a hurry and do it for them. They want to get themselves a drink of water but I don't want to clean up a water spill so I get it for them. They want to use the apple slicer to cut their own apple but I already know they cannot possibly succeed so I find myself struggling to let them just try before I insist we do it together.

Obviously, taking the time to allow the kids to try things is well worth the time. It would be ridiculous to say otherwise but if that is the case, why do I find I must convince myself of this over and over again? It requires me to slow down, be patient, and watch them struggle even to the point of frustration. That is no small task!

My husband challenged me on this topic earlier this year. He did not appreciate how much the kids expected of me and did not like the way they were treating me (I had not noticed... too busy pouring water and slicing apples, I guess). He made the point that we are raising men and that men need to be given the chance to figure things out, to struggle some, and to ultimately become independent of me. So I took his advice to heart and have been focusing on NOT DOING THINGS FOR MY KIDS THAT THEY THEMSELVES CAN DO. In addition, when I hear them subtly asking for my help without actually asking - like for instance complaining that "I'm thirsty!" rather than asking politely for a drink of water - I use that as another opportunity to nurture independence by asking "How are you going to solve this problem?"

I love putting the thinking back on them. And I love that they are catching on that they are good problem solvers and that there are lots of things they don't actually need me for!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Let NO mean NO

Tip #9: Let your NO mean NO

Piggy-backing on Tip #8, where I encouraged you to use the word no sparingly, I want to be sure to address the other side of the coin: don't say No unless you mean it but when you mean it, be sure to stick to your guns. (Bonus feature: when you have it in mind to make sure you follow through with your No you might find it easier to say Yes more often. Because it can be difficult to enforce a No and even more exhausting to enforce a No you did not have a good reason to give.)

Again, let your No mean no. Don't let begging, pleading or fit throwing cause you to cave in. I have been addressing this issue in my own family quite often. Little Weston has turned begging into an artform. He does not take no for an answer. He asks again and again. He gets cute. He gets ugly. He flops into a heap a screaming tears. He gives up and then 15 minutes later starts it all over again. I think all my kids did something like this at about Weston's age (nearly 4). It drains the life out of me and sometimes I want to give in just to get him to stop.

Of course I can't do that, now can I?

I am using this "opportunity" to teach him that Mommy's No is what it is: silly to argue with. I whip out this handy phrase (with a smile and sweetness): "Oh, remember? I already answered that question." If that phrase sounds familiar it is because I mentioned it in Tip #4 as well. It's a handy phrase.

But on to my next challenge: the almost 2 year old. Drake has some pretty atrocious eating behaviors right now. I will shamefully admit to two of them because if you have ever eaten a meal with us, you already know about them. No sense hiding them: He stands up in his high chair (just to get a rise out of us) and mommy and daddy in the eye with a sly grin. He also enjoys a food-throwing routine when he does not want it. (And 95% of the time the food makes to to the sink, which has been convenient enough for me so as to mostly ignore the food-throwing behavior...I was going to but it in there anyway, right? (A weak "Drake, don't do THAT," an eye roll and then on to the next thing.) I have been remiss at teaching him all about how No means No (obviously!) when it comes to these two behaviors. (Remember how I said I did not know what I was doing on this parenting journey? Well, proof text right here!)

A Love and Logic podcast I was listening to yesterday taught me about the "Uh-Oh song." I will thy this when we have dining issues, I think.

From a Love and Logic blog, cleverly named Love and Blogic:
. Always adding to my parenting toolbox...because you KNOW I need it!
For Parents of young children: Try the steps of the "Uh Oh Song" for at least TWO WEEKS following these steps exactly. (Before you try this technique the first time wait until a day when you are well rested and have practiced it well in your head)

1.  Instead of making threats or giving warnings say, "Uh Oh, Looks like a little bedroom time!"
2.  Gently carry, lead or guide the child to their bedroom. (Make the room safe ahead of time - remove anything you don't want broken)
3.  Give your child a choice about the door - "Do you want the door shut or open?" If they come out before you say so, make sure the door is shut and stays shut. You may have to wedge it shut or lock it on the outside if you don't want to stand their and hold it shut. (Of course, stay nearby and don't leave the house for safety sake.)
4.  Say, "Feel free to come out when you're acting sweet."

What if they throw a major fit? This may be harder on you then it is on them but keep reminding yourself that in the long term this will give you a happier and more well behaved child. Be careful that you are not angry and that you don't use too many words. Let the consequence do the teaching.

For more great parenting help check out Love and Logic's resources for preschoolers and elementary kids

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Don't Say No

Tip #8 Use the word "no" sparingly

I fall into the trap of using the word "no" too often. Am I the only one?

Can I have a piece of gum? No. Can I have a snack? No. Can I do play dough? No. Will you play a game with me? Not now. Can I keep my light on and read for 5 extra minutes before I go to sleep? No. Can we have grilled cheese for lunch? No. Can I build a fort? No.

There are legitimate reasons for saying no to all of these questions. Absolutely there are. And when the legitimate reason exists, by all means ban, freeze and preclude it. But there exists a list of lousy reasons to say no as well. I pull the "no" card sometimes because I am being lazy or feeling cranky or stressed or because I don't want the inconvenience. Sometimes I say no for absolutely no reason at all, just because I can.

But really, why say no when you could delight your child with a yes? There are so many times during the day when you really do need to say no. So save it for those times, when you have a good reason.

Although it will be an eyesore for a few hours and the blankets will not be folded back to perfection, for heaven's sake, Jenne, LET THEM BUILD ANOTHER FORT!

Friday, October 15, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Supervise them

Tip #7 Playing unsupervised is a privilege to be earned

Don't leave siblings together without your supervision until you can trust that they will treat each other well. Think of all the head bashing and biting that can be averted. Think of the opportunities to teach and train them how to love their brother. Think of the long-term impact on their relationship!

I wrote about this some time ago, here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Parenting Tips Interrupted

It strikes me as ironic that of the 15 parenting tips I have penciled out to add to this blog, none of them is particularly helpful to the parenting situation I find myself in right now. One of my children who honestly has not caused me much grief throughout his life is, well, causing me grief.

I better come clean: I am causing him an equal amount of grief, I think. Okay, more grief.

His sudden scatter-brained mind has turned my responsible child into Mr. Unreliable. This ordinarily obedient one is pushing limits - not direct defiance, just delaying or being silly a moment too long or not attending to my voice. The one child that I count on to NOT need much discipline now needs guidance of some sort or another. Further complicating matters are the struggles he is having with homework. He toils over that dumb weekly packet! His attempts at perfectionism drag homework out sooooo long. He has come to that place in his education where he has concluded that school is not actually fun but rather is just a bunch of hard work. And all I can think to do is raise my voice or tell him to hurry or lecture, lecture, lecture!

All that to say, I am clueless. Clueless and frustrated. And at the end of the day, I know two things: first, I know that if I continue in the way I am behaving toward him it will be certain disaster for his heart and our relationship. The second thing I know is that I don't know what to do instead.

And so this interruption in Parenting Tips is an admission. I don't know what I am doing any more than anyone else does. I have learned a boat load about parenting all along this journey but its the tip of an iceberg, a drop in the bucket. When it comes to days like today (and yesterday, and the day before), I end the day with a pit in my stomach knowing that I messed up again. Even worse, I knew better and lost my self-control anyway. I do what I do not want to do and don't do what I ought. At the end of the day I want to wake my sunny little boy up and ask for forgiveness just one more time. At the end of the day I am begging my Savior for forgiveness and wisdom and strength.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1John 1:9)

Purify me from this unrighteousness! Please, Lord. Please. Give me a heart like Yours. Give me a gracious spirit. Fill my mind with Your creativity as I encounter these situations over and over again. Be merciful to our family in this season.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Let them wiggle!

Tip #6 Let Wiggly kids WIGGLE!

Of those four wonderful boys of yours, Jenne, you have two major wigglers! Don't be fooled into thinking that wiggling necessarily means his ears are turned off. You know better - sometimes when you demand stillness, THAT IS WHEN THE EARS ARE THE MOST CLOSED!

So I say, let the wiggly kid wiggle. He can learn to be polite and look in the eyes of a grown up who has spoken a word to him, but when it comes to about 85% of communication, a wiggly bottom is just fine.

I laugh at myself sometimes when I need my 6-year-old wigglebottom to listen and I insist he hold still and LOOK IN MY EYES. I see what immediately happens: his big browns get bigger and browner and he is focused - FOCUSED - on I can almost hear his internal dialogue: look in her eyes lookinhereyes lookinhereyes lookinhereyes lookinhereyes lookinhereye slookinhereyes lookinhereyes. Yeah. He's not listening. He is too busy trying his best to attend to the demand. I have shot myself in the foot.

No wiggle, low brain function so it seems.

And at church, when wigglebottom appears, don't get all caught up in stillness. I mean, don't go crazy or anything, but remember he hears better when he can swing his legs.

I have a friend, a homeschooling mom, and she has her wigglebottom practice math facts while on a trampoline. Brilliant, I tell you!

And lastly, wiggle with him. Its good exercise.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Bedtime expectations

Tip#5 Set and stick to bedtime routines and expectations

Bedtime is a blessing and a curse sometimes. So, Jenne, remember to establish bedtime routines and stick to them as best you can. Oh, but more important: explain the expectations to your sweet soon-to-be-snoring child. This is especially important with the three and four year olds who are no longer in cribs and have a long list of reasons to make their bedtime extend dangerously close to Mommy's bedtime.

With that wonderful almost-three-year-old, I do the typical: Jammies on, go potty, brush teeth, read books in bed...oh and then one last sip of water, and a kiss and mommy whispers this week's memory verse in his ear. We smile. I do a "nosy-nosy," he kisses both my cheeks. I kiss both his cheeks. I take time to enjoy him and let him know he is precious to me.

Then before the light goes out, the expectations are set: "When I turn this light out it will be the last time I hear your voice, right? What does bedtime look like? Your head is on your pillow, right? And your mouth is quiet, right? And your body is still, right? Right! And what happens if I need to come in after this? Yup. Mommy has to spank you. That will be sad, huh. Sure hope we don't need to do that. But don't worry, I will if I need to. Love you and goodnight, sweetie!"

And then I follow through, just like I said I would. Because being a mom means doing just that!

Friday, October 8, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Don't Argue

Tip #4 ...
Don't give in to the temptation to argue or have the last word with your child.

Kids invite us to argue with them all day long. The type of argument I find myself in most often comes when a child asks over and over again to have or do something. I have already given them the answer: "No, you can't have a cookie right now" or "We are not going to the Library today." Yet they do not take no for an answer and ask again and again and again.

So I have begun training my 3 year old that I answer questions once (grace is gladly given if you simply have a bad memory!). I use a sweet voice when I am training, trying hard to not be sarcastic or show frustration/impatience and I say, "Oh, I already answered that question, huh?" and they ask again and I say, "Mommy gave you the answer to that question already. Do you remember what mommy said?... that's right! Good memory!" and they ask again and I might say, "I have heard that question already. Do you have any OTHER questions for me?" I try to rephrase the same basic point again and again, CAREFUL to not accept the invitation to answer the question again. To accept this invitation is to enter into an argument!

Kids invite us into arguments all the time but we might not realize that we mothers send out invitations, too. One way we invite arguments with our children is that we hang around to make sure they actually do as we have asked them. As Diane Moore once said, be sure you keep yourself as far away from the lawyer's table as possible. A lawyer makes a case for his side of the story and then sits down, ready to hear the rebuttal. A judge, on the other hand, says his peace, drops the gavel and then leaves. Even if you felt like arguing the decision, you can't because he has already left the room. 

So, Mom, ask your child to clean his room, "I'll see you in 20 minutes. That gives you plenty of time to get the job done right." AND THEN LEAVE. Don't stand over then waiting to see if they obey and harping on them the whole time. Just leave. And then come back ofter 20 minutes just like you promised and congratulate them on a job well done, or dole out the appropriate consequences for the disobedience.

Another reminder I give myself is to use those wonderful Love and Logic phrases when kids are really upset with us. They suggest using short simple phrases with as little energy and emotion as possible that give you something to say that will not escalate the argument. Like when a kid yells furiously at you, "But Mom!! That's not fair!" You can stay away from Lawyer-land by saying things like, "Probably so," "I don't know" and "I guess."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Be the boss the first time

Train your child to obey your words the first time.

Here are several posts to remind you how on earth to do this:
Teaching only obedience
Crack Down
Would you please just obey me?!
Helpful reference: Raising Godly Tomatoes. Whole book is online. Don't be totally spoon fed though: be a thinker as you read it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Be the boss early

Tip #2
Introduce your authority over your child early.

I read somewhere that "waiting until the ripe old age of 2 or 3 is too long to wait." I have found great success in a child knowing what "no" means before they can run away from me. And before 16-18 months - before their will really kicks in - is the perfect time to train them to respond appropriately.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Be excited!

Tip #1
Be excited about what excites your child.

When your child raises up his chubby little arm pointing to the light above for the ump-teenth time that day, delight with him. He is thrilled with so many things in this moment! The light is cool, but even more, HE KNOWS WHAT TO CALL IT! And he can USE THE WORD ALL BY HIMSELF! Be boisterous in your response back to him, "Yes!! LIGHT!!"

When the chatterbox in the backseat has been talking non-stop since you buckled in, let your voice communicate delight. Be thankful that he wants to share every thought WITH YOU more than anyone else. And if you must quiet him, do it with grace: "I LOVE hearing all about this, but can I stop you for a moment? It's time to order my coffee and I need a moment to think first."

When the distracted one wants to tell you something RIGHT NOW, even though you just asked him to go clean his room, pause a moment and listen and enjoy his thoughts. He knows just as well as you that this thought will be fleeting and if you make him go clean his room first and THEN tell you all about it, there is no chance he will remember what was in his head 15 minutes prior.

Matching the excitement of your kids is good, but it is also so helpful to kids to mirror other emotions as well. So when he is frustrated that he STILL can't tie his shoes and he pounds his fists on the floor, don't get mad at his anger. Instead be frustrated alongside him, "ARRG!! Tying shoes is SO HARD!" And when little brother hits bigger brother for the 100th time and he falls on the floor crying - not because he is hurt physically but because it is SO HARD TO PLAY WITH A TWO YEAR OLD - be sad with him! There is nothing more soothing than having someone to share your strong emotions with! Be that for your kids sometimes!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Autumn Hope Check

Hope is the most powerful force we can nurture in our children. It is one of the deepest needs a human has: the need for hope. Without hope comes hopelessness - a terrible state of being. What do kids hope for? Small things like "someday I might have that special toy" and medium things like "I have hope that I am smart enough to do my schoolwork" and big things like "I have hope that my parents cherish me."

Periodically I try to do a "Hope Check" for each of my kids. Am I nurturing hope in their lives? Or am I contributing to a sense of hopelessness in their soul? As a parent I am either doing one or the other. I have yet to be convinced that this is an area in which a parent can be neutral.

Without Further Adue, here is my Hope Check
Drake, 1.5 years old, tries with all his might to communicate, but it is a struggle for him to be heard and understood. I can nurture hope in Drake by taking extra time with him, saying aloud what i think he is communicating; mimicking his great enthusiasm, frustration, or other driving emotion.
Pray: that he would use his mouth to one day proclaim the gospel from the mountaintops!

Weston, 3.5 years old, often finds himself creating strife with Drake. Drake is hard to play with and has become quite good at provoking Weston. While Drake is in this phase of life, being difficult to play with, I can nurture hope in Weston by taking his side, even when he did have some blame in a sibling conflict with Drake. I can be quick to come to his rescue, and I can be careful to not leave Drake unattended with Weston. I can be quick to praise him for little strides toward kindness, generosity and maturity.
Pray: that the Lord would cause him to be a gifted peacemaker.

Jackson, 6 years old, lives in a good place right now. His love tank is full of soccer and PE. He loves school. He loves playing with each of his brothers. In this season of great hope I can nurture our relationship. I can use this quiet season to deepen our bond by being patient as he explains his world to me (I usually don't catch it on the first telling), and look him in the eyes more, and smile at him more, and kiss him more. What great hope that will bring to both of us as we see our mother-son relationship deepen!
Pray: that he would grow in his relationship with his Heavenly Parent.

Davis, age 9, has brought homework home - and tears to go along with it. His perfectionistic tendancies drag him down as he struggles to make sure every single letter in cursive is just right. He searches for perfect word after perfect word in writing a fiction story. He quickly panics when spelling lists feel too challenging. He is sad when homework assignments prevent him from joining in playtime with his brothers. I have been nurturing hope in his little heart by encouraging him to NOT write every cursive letter so carefully, and talking about how its OKAY to miss a spelling word. No one is looking for perfect... I can also breath hope into him right now by helping him to gain perspective on school life: that the work load won't always feel overwhelming.
 Pray: that Davis would experience God's grace on his life at an early age.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Turning 35

I have always said that I look forward to turning 40 because it feels like that is an age where people of many ages (perhaps not all!) respect your thoughts and opinions. I remember being 20 and in college, longing to be 40. OK, not LONGING but not dreading. Anticipating. Now that I am mid-way through my 30's I wonder if it will be all I have anticipated. I must be honest and say that I didn't much care for turning 35 this month. Really, though, it does not much matter if I like it or not. Thirty-five is here, and 40 is near. No amount of pondering will change that!

I listened to a John Piper sermon today that incapsulated one primary lesson I have been learning for the past decade. In speaking of Romans 12 (of course!), he made the point that what the world wants to see from Christian believers is ACTION. And MERCY is what will blow them away. Very simply, says Paul, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

Being a wife. Mothering children. These are extremely physical occupations: Pulling my head off a pillow to take a little boy potty at midnight. Wrapping my arms around a crying boy who is too upset to verbalize anything. Kissing a boy good night. Reading aloud another chapter of a book that delights a boy's ear and imagination. Tossing a toddler in the air. Changing the diaper of a squirmer. Cooking another meal. Bagging up groceries. Sweeping crumbs. Making sack lunches at nine at night. Offering up myself to my love. Packing and unpacking countless bags. Holding my tongue when my love arrives home later than promised. Offering a smile instead of scorn.

My wilingness to do these things has become less about "doing what I ought" and increasingly about and motivated by my love for the Lord. I desire to present every part of my body as a living sacrifice.

But it is not a "poor me" sacrifice. The verse disallows that! See it there? The sacrifice must be ACCEPTABLE to God. He is not pleased with a woe-is-me attitude. So I note that the change in me over this decade has NOT be an increased willingness to put myself last. The gradual change in me has been a real desire to see each opportunity as a way to use my body for righteousness - in order to glorify the Lord.

My ego-centric self would like to see a day when what I say and do is respected by all. But what rubbish it would be to long for and strive for such a passing reward. Instead, I will look forward to 45 and 55 and 65 and 75 with eagerness and with great hope that the Lord would increase in me the Mercies of God as I worship the Lord with every part of my body.

If you are interested in Piper's sermon (it was really great!) here is the link.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Retreat Lives On

Weston somehow blew up his floaties and got them on his ankles. I cracked up when I saw him and he said, "Now I wook wike da CANDYMAN!"

Also, in true Jenne form, I took two pictures the whole weekend. Actually, that is two more than usual when we go fun places.
Can't wait for next year!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Life Lessons

"Let's go show Daddy how brave you are," I say, to my crying Weston-child.
"Yeah," he says between sobs. We walk down the stairs to where Daddy is working and he shows him his finger that is now covered with a baking soda and water paste.
"What happened, Weston-day?" (That's Daddy's pet name for him.)
"I was tryin' to catch a bee that was on a flower and I caught him but then he stinged me."
"Oh buddy! that's too bad! What did you learn?"
"Well," he says, with tears still in his eyes, "I learned how to catch a bee."

And we probably shouldn't play with bees, too. Right little guy? Right? (It only took his biggest brother eight times before he decided he better be fearful of bees. Let's hope this child is a quicker study.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

WorldView 102

My most favorite thing about having to take Davis downtown every week to get allergy shots (desensitizing his bee allergy) is that I have 2 solid hours of just him and me time. It will not always be just the two of us, but while it is still new and unknown I wanted to be able to focus on him. On the care ride there we asked dozens of questions about how allergies work, what desensitization is, and why it works. It was a fairly intelligent conversation. When it seemed like the questions about allergies were coming to a close I broached another intellectual topic that I have wanted to cover for some time now.

Thus far, he is completely unaware that the public school system can be hostile to the Christian worldview. I have been hesitant to bring it up with my black-and-white thinker because the truth is that there are very good teachers that I trust and am thankful for that disagree with our views. It does not seem appropriate to drive an unnecessary wedge between my child and their school. On the other hand, he made a comment the other day that startled me. He said, "Jackson, school is the safest place you can be." On the one hand I am thankful he feels so safe. He should feel safe. On the other hand, I think that it reflects a belief that what is taught in school is equivalent in authority as what we teach at home or in church.

Thus far, we have not come up against many things that directly oppose our faith. Thank goodness, since we are only in the second grade here. But I know it is coming and that it will come faster than I realize. I desire my kids to be strong, independent thinkers and so I began telling him about how he has a "detective role" to play while he is in school.

Your teacher is a believer but the people who tell her what she is supposed to teach might not be believers. Did you know that? So whenever you are in school, you should always be asking yourself, "Does this thing that I am learning right now AGREE or GO AGAINST what the Bible says?" And then, if you figure out that it is against what the bible says, you have to decide which one you are going to believe.

We talked about some examples of things he is learning that fall on both sides, asking him what the bible says about each issue I brought up. He asked some good questions. My favorite question came when we were talking about taking care of the earth. We have always taught the kids that it is very important that we take good care of the earth because starting way back in Genesis, God gave the earth over for mankind to care for, so we need to take that responsibility seriously. I made a comment in this present discussion to the effect that some people who feel very strongly about taking care of the earth have rejected God. He said, "But that doesn't make sense! Why would they care about the God's creation if they don't care about God?"
     "I know. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you put it that way. But it is sort of like they have chosen to worship the earth instead of God, the creator of the earth. The earth can be an idol and..."
     "I know why. They have been deceived," he responded.

I am hoping that this conversation builds a foundation for him that allows him to think critically about what he is learning in school. The bigger challenge will be balancing the critical thinking with lessons on how to respectfully, kindly, appropriately respond to things that go against what he knows about God and His Word. I am invigorated by the challenge and excited to see how the Lord develops this aspect of my kid's intellect!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

mom's day

Our associate Pastor, Joel, made this video on Friday and showed it at church today, in honor of mothers. Davis got to star in his very own "Movie." I was in stitches during church, watching it. SO FUN. Hope you enjoy it too!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Blessing or Bravery?

I get a lot of wide-eyes and knowing looks from people when I am out and about with three or four of my boys. You know, the kind of wide eyes that say, "That's a lot of kids!" and the knowing looks that say, "my-oh-my you've got your work cut out for you!" And with those expressions usually follow a comment of some sort that goes something like, "You are so brave! I stopped at two. I can't imagine FOUR!" or "Four BOYS. Your hands are FULL." And you can imagine the tone: these are not meant to be encouraging statements.

These comments are not new to me and I have had lots of time to process the best response. For a while I just gave them equally wide eyes and agreed with them. Not because I agreed with them, but because its always nice to get sympathy from strangers. It occurred to me a couple of years ago that I am not the only one within earshot of these comments. I did not want perfect strangers to define any part of my children's psyche. They have no right to impress upon my children that they are a burden. Not only is it is lie, it is the opposite of the truth. My children are not burdensome; they are a blessing.

So my answers morphed into something that would make sure my kids knew I disagreed with the sentiment. "I love every one of them!" or "I feel blessed," I would respond.

Our culture teaches that children are a heavy weight to shoulder. Even common parenting experience points to how difficult it is to "deal with" children. That is such a sad state of affairs. Raising children IS a challenge, especially when there is not a Guidebook on the nightstand. Parenting is a puzzle without a great group of fellow moms walking alongside you, to commiserate AND celebrate with. Motherhood is trying and exhausting, especially when she is expected to live with one foot in full-time work, and another foot in full time mothering. The sentiment these onlookers express is their reality (or their imagined reality). And that really is sad - so sad!

In light of these considerations, my answers are ever-so-slightly changing again. Each time a "sympathetic phrase" is uttered my direction, I see it as an opportunity to share another perspective. "My, you are brave," they say. I can respond with a genuine smile and light in my eyes and say, "I'm not brave, but I am blessed." "I see you have your hands full," they say. To which I get to say, "Yes - delightfully full!" I like to try and pause for a half-second longer to look in their eyes with a smile so they can see my joy.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Kitchen is Closed.

There is a point in a baby's life when the Three Squares come at reasonable times, and there also comes a time when the kids can deal with eating dinner at 7pm, when Daddy is home and hungry. Alas, we are living in the days when
Lunch for the kindergartner is just shy of 11am (gotta catch that bus!)
Lunch for the toddler is at 10am (to get that belly full before nap) and
Dinner for the toddler is at 3pm (in preparation for his 5:30(!) bedtime).
Dinner for the three big kids is at 4:30 (before baseball practice!)
Dinner for the husband is significantly later
Throw in a morning and afternoon snack and what have you got? A mother that does nothing but prepare for and clean up after meals. No wonder I'm not losing those last 6 pounds.

I am largely over the seizure I suffered when discovering the allergy list I needed to learn to cook around. But pair that with the (temporary) everybody-eats-at-a-different-time business and I gotta' admit: I am a little tired of thinking about food. But my children do not seem to be tired of asking to eat every time my hands near the countertop. Which is why I have instated "The Kitchen is Closed" policy.

So, My Little Grazers, don't even ask.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Living in the Real World

I got a dose of real encouragement in my email inbox this morning. I must share!

Parent with the Real World in Mind

By:Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
Crosswalk Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mark Matlock's new book, Real World Parents: Christian Parenting for Parents Living in the Real World (Zondervan, 2010).

There's no magic formula you can use to make sure that your kids fare well in this fallen world. So you don't need to feel guilty if you don't keep up with certain behaviors, such as regular family devotions. And you don't need to feel shame if your parenting sometimes falls short of what of what it should be, and you find yourself saying or doing something wrong with your kids.

What matters most is for your kids to see you living for Jesus in a real way - simply doing your best to live faithfully. If you do that, your kids will learn what real faith in action looks like in the midst of the world's sinful realities. They'll witness the ultimate reality that faith can overcome anything the world throws at them.

Jenne's note: here are my two favorite tips the author offers in the article... all the tips are well taken and I encourage you to jump over to the article (link at the end of this post):

Consider what story you're telling. Every day, you're telling your kids a story by the way you live your life, even when you don't speak a word. What story are you telling your kids about the world, and especially about the way you live with and for God over time? It's crucial that you're communicating God's worldview to your kids, instead of telling them to believe what the Bible says but then living according to the world's values rather than what God values.

Ask God to give you His perspective on every part of your life so you can recognize how the world is influencing you in unhealthy ways. Confess and repent of each way that you've been living the wrong story, and pray for the power you need to live the story God wants you to live. Love God with all of your heart and invite Him to change you from the inside out. Then your life will communicate the right story to your kids.

Let go of broken strategies for competing with the world's story. Trying to isolate your kids from the real world won't ultimately protect them, because they're destined to grow up and experience it for themselves someday - and need to be prepared to make wise decisions for themselves when encountering harsh realities. So whenever your kids are exposed to something you wish they weren't, use that opportunity to help them discover how God views the situation. Attempting to regulate the world's influence on your kids in certain areas - by telling them what they can't do - can create a mindset in your kids where they just follow rules without understanding the big picture of God's story and how it relates to each situation. Your goal shouldn't be protecting your kids for the sake of keeping them innocent; it should be teaching them how to think about the world's values so they'll be able to turn away from wrong values on their own. Trying to compartmentalize your family's life - going to church and doing other Christian activities, while allowing your kids to live just the same way as non-Christian kids - will also fail. Rather than conforming to the world, God calls you and everyone in your family to be transformed by inviting the Holy Spirit to renew your minds regularly.
Here is the full article, found on

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This Means War

Here are the tools. A laundry basket turned upside down, a hanger with a rubber band extended across, and a handfull of Zoobs (a tinker toy of sorts).
What could four little boys possibly do with this strange set of equipment?
Open a dry cleaning business?

Oh no. This is WAR!

Here are the barracades - one for each boy.
The hanger and rubber band is transformed into bow.
Zoobs? Arrows of course!

And here are the soldiers.

Fight strong. Fight well. Protect your land and defeat the bad guys!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Organization Ideas

I received an email from a dear friend about a year ago. I read it and then "organized it" into my email inbox. Clearly I need to actually heed some of the advice in this email because the helpful advice was lost all this time. For lack of a better place to put it, it lands here. Hope you find these tips (that I did not come up with, mind you) helpful. I can't wait to implement some of them!

(Ginger, maybe you could forward me the link to your friend's blog that gave you this help. I would like to give credit where credit is due.)

Here are a few tips that help keep the Rexine six-pack organized and working as a team.

* In the kitchen I keep five stacked paper trays each labeled with a name. Mom on top, Riley next and so on. When the kids get home from school, they unload papers for me into my bin and things like spelling words or weekend homework into their bins. We also store things like Valentine lists, school project information, and library books in their bins. My bin usually contains information on fieldtrips, school parties, school and sports pictures/schedules and other things that I need to remember FOR my kiddos. Brady's bin has a few coloring books and scratch paper so he can reach and do a "project" all on his own. He has learned to put everything away in his bin when he is finished and used paper goes into the recycling bin. He takes a lot of pride in doing this. I know you are a year or so away from all the homework, etc...but it may be helpful to get this system in place early. No searching for the missing library book or the dog ate my homework excuses.

* Four colored laundry baskets (labeled) on a cheap shelf in the garage. Kierstyn and Riley's on top, Julia and Brady on bottom. These contain all of their shoes. No more searching. They go in as soon as they come off.

* Four large printer paper boxes (labeled) to hold those special art projects/stories. When I have to put things in a box ( I am going to try to have only 1 per child for their entire school career) I am very choosey about what I save. I have 4 files in the file cabinet in which all questionable artwork goes into, and every 3 months or so I deposit the most precious into the printer paper boxes. The rest is discretely recycled.

* Large cork board hung vertically in the hallway. (I actually found an old picture at Goodwill, cut the picture out of the frame, hung the frame and filled the center with cork tiles.) Everyone can reach to put up those special drawings. When the board is full, some pictures have to come down in order to put others up. The kids chose one of their own to replace with a new one. They then put the old piece in my bin mentioned above. When I go through it, I put the special ones in their file, which will later go through the selection process with hopes of making the big box. See the process in action :)

* Book Basket Basics.....My children all LOVE books. We have a basket of book downstairs, 3 upstairs and even one in their bathroom. This helps keep a mess from being dragged from room to room. They also actually look at all the books, not just the same ones on the top.

* Laundry room....tubs for a garage sale. I keep masking tape and a sharpie in the laundry room. When items are too small and can no longer be passed down, I launder, mark and store them. I hate wasting time on handling items more then once. Every spring I have a garage sale and then use the money for the next seasons clothes. I don't feel overwhelmed, because everything has already been gone through and marked. All I have to do is pull it out and viola!

* Start those memories now.....Every year school year I save a pair of jeans from each child. I mark their name and grade (starting with preschool) and store in a tub. They will each get a quilt made out of their jean squares for graduation. A great way to use jeans that look worn or have holey knees. Some of the squares will contain pockets, others zipper and the girls have some pink jean in their collection.

*BINS BINS BINS..... I just love them. After Christmas, you can get them cheep. They may be red and green, but who cares. Plus they are easy to spot :) In our pantry I have one with games, one with easy bake oven ingredients, one with play - doh and one with puzzles/flash cards. It makes it very easy to find what we need and still organized. (I also stock up on Dollar store shower curtains. They make awesome mats for play-doh, cooking with the kids, shaving cream art, carving pumpkins. If I can clean them up great, if I don't have to...even better :)

* Next year Anessa will have to bring her own snack. On the weekend we make 5 labeled zip lock baggies for each kid for the week. Some sit in the pantry and others in the fridge (like carrots). It sure makes packing a snack much easier and what's good for one works for all. They can chose which one they want on which day.

*Plastic drinking glass drawer.....low cupboard right by the fridge. The kids can get their own glass of water. It's amazing how much time we spend getting drinks when in reality, with the right tools, most of them can do it themselves. If you don't have a water dispenser on the fridge, small sports bottles kept with water in the fridge work awesome.

*Chores...all of our kids have chores ( keep in mind...ours are older :))) They all make their own beds and pick up before they move onto the next activity. They all have daily chores, like making their beds, putting away their clothes, picking up toys. Riley helps clear the table, takes out the garbage and cleans the litter box. The girls empty the dishwasher, and fold laundry, and help set the table and Brady feeds the fish, and helps clear the table. I know family's that give allowances and it works well for them, but we really don't want out kids looking for a return being part of a family. They do, however, know that because they help out, it gives us much more "fun" time with them. A pedicure with pretty polish for the girls or tossing the ball with the boys is really what makes our kids the happiest. As your kids get older, the advantages of a large family really start to show themselves. We have grown into a wonderful team.

*Meals...I usually plan 2 large meat dishes and 3 leftover dishes. I.e. Ham dinner.....then scalloped potatoes and ham, and Hot ham and cheese melts or ham and bean soup. Chicken dinner....chicken pot pie, and chicken with penne pesto pasta. I do the big meals on Mon and Wed. and fill in with the leftovers. It really makes my meal planning a snap, not to mention I save a lot of $$$$. With our busy schedule, I usually put everything in the crock pot right after lunch and then when the 2:30 rush of children, snack and homework begin, I am prepared. I can relax into the afternoon routine still knowing that a great meal is on it's way.

* Laundry...1 light load and 1 dark load a day. I have 2 separate baskets, so everyone separates their own laundry when they drop it off. A colored basket for colors and a white basket for lights/whites. I wash during the day and then the girls and I sit and visit as we fold.....and our meal is cooking itself :)

* Breakfast....set the table for breakfast right before you go to bed. The kids love to come down to a ready to go table.....and SO DO I!!!

* Shoe Boxes.....The girls each have a shoe box of treasures under their bed. They got to decorate it with stickers and markers. This is where they put all of those things that really don't have a place and yet they don't want to get rid of. Birthday cards from Grandma, rock collection, glittery chap stick, beaver bravos etc. They are happy and I don't have to get anything caught in the vacuum cleaner.

*Stair basket or bag....Hangs on the banister or sits on the bottom step. This bag/basket (I love the reusable Fred Meyers box shaped bag) and gets filled with the collection of upstairs items that seems to walk downstairs throughout the day. I bring the bag up before bedtime and everyone is responsible for putting the items that belong to them away. If I need to ask them more than once, the bag is put away until the next day and they will not be allowed to play with the items within the bag. They will have another chance the following evening. Julia once had to go to dance without her ballet slippers and explain to teacher Tammy what happened. Needless to has never happen again. They have all learned the consequences and comply with a smile. I just love smiling :) :) :)

* And my final tip is cleaning aprons.....The girls and Brady love this....Riley is a little too cool at this point:) I found in-expensive aprons with pockets and stuffed them for cleaning day. A dust rag, a few paper towels, small water spray bottles with Windex, ponytail holder for the girls, and a plastic Freddie's bag which I loop through the tied belt for garbage. Turn on a little music and we are off on a mad yet fun cleaning spree. Brady is quite the baseboard duster.

additional tip from Ginger:
Another thing I've heard from a Megan, who runs a businss called Disorder 2 Order. She said, Horizontal is Hidden...Vertical is Visual. I had these ominous stacks on my desk of papers and 'stuff', and there would always be some bill that would inevitably get sucked in and lost at the bottom and we'd get a late fee on it. argh!! So she said sort things into one of three piles. To DO(bills,forms to be signed, etc), To READ(magazines, articles, research), and To FILE. So I got some cute pee-chees? sp? and a magazine holder thing and everything goes into one of those three folders. I have an extra folder for Anessa's artwork that keeps showing up everywhere. It's nice because it sets a limit: When the File, or Read folder gets full, I have to take care of it, it can't get any fatter. So I take it upstairs to the office and file away, or sit down and read and toss. It's nice because papers aren't being carried up one-by-one to get lost before they reach the office.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Forcing a Smile

Lately my kids have done a copious amount of bickering. What's all the fuss? Oh, monument things, I would say: little brother is not facing his plate; big brother does not have all four chair legs on the floor. Big brother is not singing the right words; little brother is looking at me. Little brother won't share; big brother won't either. Big brother won the race; little brother pushed me.

Not surprising to any mother, I can't stand the sound of my children fighting with, purposely annoying, or lording over one another. The quibbles (which are more than usual right now) have been a good "opportunity" for me to think through and practice how to tread the quarrelling waters. And since I have short term memory issues (comes with the motherhood territory), I thought it best to write some things down.

I have a few good one-liners in my pocket that I pull out when a scrape ensues ("Let me be the mom, and you can be the encouraging older brother" and "If you continue arguing you will lose the privilege of playing together.")

Generally speaking, I don't permit arguing between the brothers. If I cannot trust them to treat each other well then they cannot play together unsupervised. (More on that notion here.) That does not mean that we are spat-free around here. Quite the contrary! But I grew up with a sibling and we just did not dispute. Part of it was personality, but I think part of it was that our parents taught us how to get along and they did it in a way that worked. My experience tells me that it is possible for siblings to learn to treat each other well. So that is the expectation in our house. I hope it will better prepare them for life, work, and marriage someday!

Here are some of the way that I am teaching my kids how to get along with each other.

1. I know in my heart that my facial expressions and tone of voice DIRECTLY IMPACT how my kids relate to each other. If I am sternly reprimanding their bickering, I have set the example of sternness and impatience. If I respond to their tiff with a soft voice and a smile (even if it IS forced), they have seen an example of how to respond even when they are irritated. (LORD KNOWS how irritated I get!)

I did an experiment in the car today, amid a battle over who was right about the words of a particular song. I put a smile on my face and empathized with the child who was actually right (we both knew he was right) and told him: Since you are the older brother you DO know more things than your little brother, huh? But part of knowing more things is being patient with those who don't know as much. So, if he is wrong and he does not believe you are right, be wise! Know in your head that you are right and just say "Oh well" and move on. That child did not much care for my thoughts on the subject and the scowl on his face remained throughout the miniature lecture - and beyond. My permi-grin remained as well, and I joined in singing the song and acting like I was having a good ol' time, even though one child was glowering and little brother still did not sing the right words. I winked at the scowly face in my rear-view mirror a couple of times but did not let on that he was irking me. It was not long before his countenance changed and he was singing again. As I had hoped, my countenance impacted his and he was finding himself enjoying himself despite the fact that he did not get his little brother to admit he was wrong about something.

2. When I suddenly find my kids have gotten into a cycle of scraps I take note! I spend time thinking about their arguing and try to name what I am hearing. If I can't yet name it, or don't know how best to handle it I default to my standby and send the kids to different rooms or regions to sit quietly and look at books or something. That at least buys me some time until the next quarrel. (And yes, there will be a "next time.") So anyway, rather than react and respond in foolishness I think and pray for wisdom. After some thinking and praying, I have discovered that the types of arguments we are having lately involve 1.) mostly one boy lording authority over another boy and 2) I hear a fair amount of "right fighting" which basically means that a brother cares more about being right than anything (that's the definition of an idol!). Of course the other typical source of quarrels stem from selfishness in one child and impatience from the other. In nearly all bickering, both kids are in the wrong: Right-fighting and lording over from one child usually creates a stubborn heart in the other.

3. If I have spent time thinking about the bottom line of the arguments then when the bickering starts I pretty quickly can identify what's "really" going on, which gives me the opportunity to use my prepared response. Yes, I brush up on my acting skills and prepare what I will say next time.

4. I spend time teaching (a bit in the moment and a bit more, later, when they are more prepared to learn!). Rather than focus on what to stop doing or acting like, I try to focus on teaching them how they should act: how to react; what words to use; what tone of voice to adopt. I might say to one child, "Rather than yell at at your brother to quit, please say, 'will you please stop..." When I give them a better phrase I try my best to force a smile and keep my tone pleasant. When it it really hard for me to maintain control over my tone and words, it is actually a good reminder to me that what I am asking of them (to control their anger or frustration) is a very difficult thing!

I also try to help them see the situation from the younger one's perspective. For instance I might say, "Honey, I know he is bothering you and that you would rather he leave. But do you know that he just loves playing with you so much? He just wants to do what you are doing because you are so fun to be around." Pointing out that fact usually stops the older one in their tracks and gives them a dramatically different level of patience with a younger brother.

5. I also try to take note of how I have been speaking to the kids and my husband in other situations. Has my tongue been quick? Have I exercised great patience and self-control? Am I giving them the benefit of the doubt? Have I smiled at my kids? Have I respected my husband? Am I nit-picking? Am I being inconsistent in my discipline? Am I asking the kids to do things that I, a grown woman, am not modeling? I am surprised at what I usually discover. Ugh.

Probably the most agonizing thing about controlling the caterwaul is owning up to how I have contributed to the problem.  I think I will forever need to be humbled in how I use my tongue and tone. But when it is all said and done I am pointed to my Savior, who is the only one who can help. I love the reminder in Ephesians: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph 4:29-32)

This verse is a good reminder for me and my kids!

(For other sibling-related posts click here.)