Author: Mary Ann Johnson

6 Tips for Talking With Kids

6 Tips for Talking With Kids

I have had some GREAT conversations with kids. There are always opportunities to practice this skill, and it is a skill. Part of the reason I have these great conversations is that I work at keeping the conversation going. I want to talk with them, I want to know what they think and feel about what is going on in their lives. I want to know them better. That is what makes a great conversationalist with kids of all ages.

How to keep the conversation going 

A conversation goes much farther with a child when we do not impart our judgments or opinions. There is great value in focusing on a child’s feelings or reactions in any given situation rather than sharing what we think or feel. When we can listen without judgment, it helps kids process their emotions.

I laugh when I think of a conversation that a friend shared. She was riding in the car with her teenage daughter, and it went something like this:
“Mom”.
“What?”
“I don’t think I should have a baby now.”
“Is this a consideration?”
“I thought about it, but now I’ve realized something.”
“What’s that?”
“I only really want to buy lots of cute little baby shoes.”
“Oh, that’s very different from having a real baby.”
“Yeah, that’s what I think too.”

When this mom listened calmly, without judgment or sharing her own opinion, she found out what was really going on. It was all about cute baby shoes and not sex. She learned something about her daughter. The conversation lasted long enough to know what her daughter was really thinking.

Here is another example of listening without judgment or opinion.
“Mom, I don’t like David.”
“Hmm, why not?”
“He is dumb.”
“What happened to make you think that?”
“He pushed me off the swing.”
“Oh really? How was that for you?”
“Not good! I really wanted to swing, and it hurt my leg.”
“You didn’t get to swing.”
“No, and that wasn’t nice!”
“You got hurt?”
“Yeah! I would never do that to someone!”

Right after the words, “Mom, I don’t like David,” this mom could have begun a mini-lecture on why it isn’t nice to talk mean about our friends, and then she wouldn’t have discovered what her son was feeling or had experienced.

6 TIPS FOR TALKING WITH KIDS

  • Ask open-ended questions. “How did that work out? How do you feel about that? What do you think you can do? How was that for you?
  • Don’t offer your opinion.
  • Give fewer judgments.
  • Say fewer words.
  • Help kids find their own feelings about their experiences.
  • Rather than tell, ask.

These tips will help your child develop emotional awareness and a strong inner compass. It will help them choose their behavior even when no one is there to evaluate and give them feedback. There is always time to revisit a conversation if teaching is needed, but for now, listen, be interested, and ask good questions.

When we practice talking with our children we are better able to be present and we parent more wisely.

Guess What Happened Last Saturday?

Last week’s article was vulnerable, and I got lots of emails from women who appreciated my candor. I am relieved. : )

Each week I need to get my article written, formatted, and scheduled, the newsletter written and formatted, and the podcast recorded by Friday night. That is because I NEED Saturday for myself, to do what matters to me. I work diligently to make this happen.

I want to share what I experienced on Friday night and Saturday morning just before that article posted at 9 am Sunday because it is precisely what the article was about. This will not be any easier to write than last Sunday’s article but you are all moms, grandmothers, and women. We struggle with many of the same things, and I know what happened will bring home the message from last Sunday’s article.

Ah, Expectations!

As I said, I work hard to make Saturday my day, as much as that is possible. On Tuesday, I told my husband that on Saturday, I planned to spend the entire day in the yard, and he would need to fix breakfast and lunch. We didn’t have any obligations or appointments that I knew of. I wanted to transplant a dozen plants out to the garden, clean the patio boxes, weed eat, cut down the tree-sized weeds by the chicken coop, and cut back the ornamental grasses.

I want you to know that I LOVE hard labor. I am a crazy woman, I know, but I like the sun, the air, the hoe in my hands, and even working on my knees. This was going to be an amazingly restful, rejuvenating, and satisfying Saturday, despite the work.

Thursday night things began to unravel. There were activities Saturday that would require either Don’s or my attention at home and in the house. But Don knew my plan, right!

Friday evening, I reminded Don that I was going to be in the yard all day Saturday, and he would need to watch Maggie from 10 until 3 and take care of breakfast and lunch. He said, “Wait, can’t I go to Jack’s football game?” I came uncorked. I stood up and strode across the room while yelling, “I told you I needed this Saturday for me,” and I slammed the bedroom door behind me.

The next morning I got up early because I had a lot to do. I thought about the night before. I had to ask myself, “Why were you so mad that you couldn’t respond like an adult.

I have been practicing controlling my stories for over a decade and I am very good at it. This was a chance to practice some more. LOL I wanted to blame Don for my anger because he had forgotten my Saturday plans but I knew that wasn’t the real reason I was angry.

I knew what it was. I mentioned it in Sunday’s article – if it’s to be it is up to me. I am on my own. I wasn’t going to get the support I needed to do what mattered to me. This is a very old story from my childhood. It rears its ugly head from time to time. It isn’t hard to ferret out.

I also know it is a LIE. My family loves me very much. My husband cares and does his best to be my friend and sweetheart. I have friends that would come to my aid if I asked.

So, what was really happening here? I realized I felt angry in that Friday night moment because my life is different than I planned. I take care of my grands. I care for my mom who can’t care for herself. I care for my sweetheart because he needs help. I don’t speak or teach much anymore. I stood at the sink and wanted to blame someone, maybe God, my circumstances, or others.

My Life is a Choice

However, I had to be honest, I have chosen this life. When Jodie moved 30-minutes away we knew we would not be able to help her as much. We thought about combining our households. I thought about it for 3 months and then I choose to move to Jodie’s home.

When it became obvious that my mother was no longer able to care for herself my sisters and I had to decide, whether we would put her in a nursing home or one of us would care for her. We had many conversations. In the end, I decided to take her. I had learned to be flexible, so I felt I could deal with what comes with Alzheimer’s. I was self-employed, so my schedule was my own. We lived on a mini-farm and she could have her chickens and dog. Again, I put a lot of thought into it and made a clear-headed decision to bring her to our home.

After the first year, I needed to make some decisions about traveling, teaching and speaking. It wasn’t an easy decision and didn’t come overnight. It took me some months to determine how I felt. I decided I could write weekly and that would be enough to continue impacting moms I had come to love.

This year I took on a couple of things that I wanted to do but they have caused me work and stress. I have done well and learned a lot, but the feelings of worry and stress that come with new things joined the fray in my mind and heart Friday night and Saturday morning.

All this thinking, pondering, and being honest happened in that first early morning hour on Saturday as I stood at the sink cutting fruit to dry. However, knowing the truth didn’t take my angst away. I knew I wasn’t done, even though I had sorted out the story. I knew I needed outside support. I didn’t want to call the person I knew could help me the most because I was so emotional, and I didn’t want to bother them. I was fighting the inner battle I wrote about last Sunday.

Then the contents of the article I had written for all of you came into my mind. I made the call. After all, you have to live what you preach. : ) It was a helpful half hour. My friend said, “Thank you for letting me talk you off the cliff.” And there it is. I know what I know, and I share it with you, but I, like you, must decide to use that knowledge.

Let’s Be Wise

That is the definition of wisdom, using what you have learned. Let’s all be wise and reach out for support and help when we need it. Let’s control our stories. Let’s seek the resources we need to heal and grow.

This last week my daughter texted this photo to me. She said, “I thought you would like this picture of a tree making the best of its surroundings. I thought of you right away when I saw it.” That is a legacy I am proud to leave my children. They have seen me learn to search out what I need so I can thrive in difficult circumstances. I have some adult children in that process now, and I am very proud of them!

Let’s not be afraid to be vulnerable, to let others know we don’t know it all and we are not perfect. Allow yourself to find the resources you need to become a better, more whole human being.

Be wise. It will make you a better parent.

If You’re Wise You Seek What You Need

Years ago, I spoke in a church meeting. I had a thoughtful presentation ready. As I sat on the stand waiting my turn, I had a clear thought, “Mention that you were sexually abused as a child.” I was horrified and replied in my mind to that still, small voice, “I don’t want to.” The thought came again, and I replied, “When you tell people stuff like this, they look at you differently, they treat you differently.” Again, a third time I had the same thought. I sat there resisting. I had no intention of sharing that bit of information even though it would fit in with the topic I had chosen to speak on.

When I stood to speak, I reached the place where the information would fit perfectly and be applicable. I did as the voice had suggested. I worried for the rest of the meeting. These were people that I saw weekly and whom I spent time with. How would this impact those relationships?

As we adjourned the meeting, a woman stopped me at the door. She had tears in her eyes. She said, “Thank you for sharing what you did. I have been struggling and have felt so broken because of my experience. But I know you, and you live a good life. You seem healthy and whole. I realized today that if you can heal, I can heal.” I was grateful I had listened to that still, small voice.

Today’s article is like that experience. In fact, it has lain partially written in a file for over a month. I wondered if I would ever share the contents. When I opened my article file this week, I saw the title, opened it, and began writing. I worried for a few days as I wrote and rewrote. However, if this helps even one mom parent better, with more presence and confidence, then that is all I need.

My Story

I lived much of my life thinking if it was to be, it was up to me. That is, in part, because I was the oldest of nine, my dad was an over-the-road salesman and was gone a lot, and my mom was emotionally distant because of her childhood sexual abuse.

That is one of the reasons I married my husband. He felt like a safe place, I could trust him, and I knew in my heart he would be there for me. After only a few dates, I told him about a health condition I had, a kid thing, easily treated. My cousins all suffered the same condition but none of our parents ever took notice, even though they knew about it – pinworms.

At eighteen, I was still suffering. I hadn’t been allowed to make many decisions for myself, and if I did, found myself in trouble. In my final year of high school, I bought my first deodorant. Up until then, we had one deodorant for the whole family. I got a lecture from my dad about my extravagance. Consequently, it never occurred to me to take the initiative and find out how to get rid of pinworms.

Imagine telling your new boyfriend that. Don truly was my safe place. He immediately drove me to the pharmacy and spoke to the pharmacist who sold us a small box of purple pills and in a couple of weeks, I was worm free.

The other complication to healing my worm problem was boundaries and the fear of being in trouble. When you aren’t allowed to make decisions, you grow up lacking boundaries. I began working on boundaries when my neighbor, a registered nurse, brought me a pamphlet on anger management. I was shocked and began looking at my life, my responses, and the past. I prayed about my situation, and resources began to appear – books, articles, a friend who had conquered some of my issues, classes, and some counseling.

Imagine raising seven kids if you felt you were on your own and no one was going to help you, and you lacked boundaries and were always afraid of being in trouble, but that is where I began my parenting life. During the next fifty years, I learned that people cared and that I could ask for help.

After a great deal of work, I developed boundaries. I stopped being afraid of getting in trouble. I’ll never forget the day I heard the wail of a police car behind me. Normally, this would have sent my heart racing and my forehead sweating. However, on this day I pulled over without any rush of emotion. As I realized what was happening, a huge smile spread over my face. That policeman was probably confused by the overly happy woman he had just stopped. It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. I realized I was not afraid. My boundaries are darn good at this point, and they get better all the time.

During these years of personal healing and acquiring better skills, I was tempted to feel like a failure, a broken person, unworthy. However, I had numerous experiences with that still, small voice that assured me I was enough, I would get better, and all would be well. Looking back, I am grateful for prayer and a power greater than myself that helped me resist whipping myself, calling myself names, etc. even when deeper layers of the same lessons had to be learned, and the skills practiced.

One of the most challenging things as a parent, actually for any adult, is realizing you need help and then being willing to honestly seek the resources you need without condemning yourself or being afraid of not looking perfect to others.

What I Need Now

At seventy-two, I realize I need help and improved skills in this new place I find myself.
I am a full-time caregiver. I care for my mom who has dementia. My husband has many health challenges and needs help. I assist my daughter with her sixteen-year-old who has severe cerebral palsy.

It’s like parenting in some ways but in others it is different. It’s hard watching someone die and that is what I have been doing for years. However, my husband has turned a corner, and we have hope. I think he will be here a while longer. Now, instead of watching him die, I am watching him learn to make personal commitments and practice the skill of consistency.

It is hard watching someone you love deteriorate. However, my mom is also doing better despite her dementia.

Even with these weight-lifting events, it is still stressful. Did you know that 30% of caregivers die before those they are caring for? Some studies show the deaths are higher. Illness that doesn’t lead to death is rampant – depression and auto-immune diseases are high on the list.

Because of this, I have had to do what I have done in the past – look at my life, be honest, and determine what help and skills I need now. I have had to stop ignoring the fact that I don’t have everything I need, I don’t know everything necessary, and I am not always doing what I know.

I sleep and eat very well and get plenty of water. But I struggle with resentment and occasionally anger. I feel frustrated often. I know I am not managing my stress as well as I need to even though I have been mentoring other moms on that very thing for well over a decade. I realize that I need help managing my story and doing what I know how to do to stay emotionally and physically well. Taking control of your words, thoughts, and the resulting stories are vital to a healthy life.

In November, I will do a short stint of counseling to get these things in order. I didn’t want to accept that I needed help. I sure didn’t want to tell all of you because I am supposed to have it all together, right? Even after I made the decision, I drug my feet. I had second thoughts. I’m ok. I’m doing all that needs to be done. I can manage. I know how to do this.

Fortunately, I had a short conversation with a woman I admire at church. I was brave, and the topic came up. I told her I had decided not to move forward in that direction. She replied that every few years she does a short stint of counseling. My friend told me, “It makes my life work better.”

I took heart, got real, managed my boundaries, and made the call. I’m glad I did. I will have a less stressful winter season. : )

Needing mentoring, counseling, a break, help with anger management, or any number of other resources doesn’t mean you are a failure, broken, a bad mom, no matter how often in your life new stuff comes up. It means you are ready for support and new lessons. It means you are prepared to grow.

So, take heart and go for it! Be your own best friend. Talk to yourself kindly. Be willing to be honest and open, and accept the resources that come. Practice what you learn. You will be a better, more present parent for it.

If you’re wise, you seek what you need.

Two Secrets to Better Parenting

When I was a mother raising seven children, I learned some hard lessons. I wish I had learned them sooner but learn I eventually did. I haven’t forgotten these lessons and I live what I learned back then. It is still making a difference.

I want to introduce you to what I learned by sharing my garden with you. : ) I love gardening, weeding, watering, the harvesting. It can be a ton of work and I must admit there are times I am tired. But I still love gardening.

I used to worry about it much more than I do now. When I was a young gardener, I would go out to the garden in the heat of the day and some of the leaves on my plants would be wilted. I wondered, “Are they dying?” Then to my novice relief the next morning the plants would have revived and looked beautiful, full of life. What was happening?

These wise plants, when the day got hot, pulled their moisture down into their roots and took water from the ground so they could manage the heat of the day. Then as the sun set and the temperatures cooled, they ‘slept’ and awoke ready to begin again and grow.

Mom’s Are Like Garden Plants

Moms are a bit like the plants in my garden. Some days get hot! You know what I mean. A child has a meltdown. Work seems overwhelming. You forget to remain an adult. Yes, we all have hot days, and we wilt. There is no way around hot days. They happen and can happen often. Do you have a plan like the plants in my garden for managing those hot days so you can wake revived the next day? Do you take in enough water, and do you get enough sleep?

When I was a younger mom, I would stay up late reading. After a long day, I would draw a hot bath and sit and read, sometimes till midnight or later. I deserved this time to myself, right? I had just put in hours managing my family and all the work that goes with it. I needed and wanted a break. Many of you probably know how that worked out. The next day I would still be wilted and have another hot day.

Water was another struggle for me. I was so busy that I would let hours go by and forget to drink water. I was lucky to get 8 oz down in a day. I didn’t allow myself to take the time to take in enough water. This was another contributor to my wilting during the ‘hot’ days.

Over a thirty-year span of time, I went three times in prayer to God and asked him why I couldn’t manage better. Each time I got a very clear answer, “Go to bed earlier.” What! How rude. I wasn’t about to do that. After all, I deserved my night hours for myself.

Life never got easier. Parenting never got easier. I just got older and more tired. The third time I asked this same prayer, “Father, what can I do to be able to manage myself and my family better” I got the same response. It was clear, “Go to bed earlier.”

How I Finally Got a Handle On Water and Sleep

I wanted to continue resisting this advice but I knew that I had to commit to doing something different if I wanted a better outcome. I decided that I would go to bed by 10 as often as I could. It was HARD and for a full year, it was hard. However, I had made a commitment to myself, and God, and I went to bed by ten and I got up by 6-7. And you know what, it finally did get easier, and my life got better. I managed my responses better. I was an adult more often. I felt more compassion for the learning curves of my children because my cup wasn’t always empty.

As for the water, I eventually learned enough to know how vital it was for my health and well-being. Again, I realized that I was going to need to make a commitment and then keep it. I began by using a quart jar. I knew how many of those jars I had to empty each day, three. That was my goal. I know, I know, there are really cool water containers and thermos bottles out there, but I didn’t have one and I needed to begin. That first quart-jar helped me keep my commitment to myself.

Twenty years have gone by, and I am still holding firm to these commitments. I promise you that they have made a huge difference in my ability to manage stress, frustration, and the ups and downs of parenting and grandparenting in a four-generation household.

If you are struggling these are two things you might consider. You may feel resistance because you are giving up your alone time. I get it. Some days it is a struggle to find time to sit and read. But I have lived both sides of this coin and I would never go back. Give it a try. Make time for sleep and water.

I promise it will make a difference in your ability to parent well

and with more presence.

Helping Children Be Free to Learn

In September, I took a rest. I had traveled to Colorado in late August to help a daughter having surgery and was repeating that trip for the same reason early in September. I knew I was going to need a rest. The truth is I would like an even longer rest. You are moms so you know what I am talking about. LOL

However, consistency is a hallmark of my life. I have found that it is a principle of power. I also keep commitments to myself and others. I told you I would be back the first Sunday of October. : ) With that in mind, I am back.

Today I am sharing an article I read years ago, written by one of my favorite authors. It had a powerful lesson to teach – it is the parent or teacher’s job to establish an environment where children can learn and grow (even experiment) without fear of being in trouble.

I was not this kind of mom, and it took me decades to begin to scratch the surface of this lesson. I want you to receive the lesson, even though it is still a work in progress for me at seventy-two, although I have made long strides in the right direction. It will hearten you, challenge you, and, if internalized, help you be a more present parent. I hope you enjoy and learn as much from Kerry Patterson’s story as I did when I read it back in 2008.

“It Is Rocket Science” by Kerry Patterson

“When I woke up that bright and sunny morning, I never suspected that I’d burn down my bedroom. But some days just don’t go as planned.

It was a Sunday morning, and this meant that later that evening the entire Patterson clan would plop down in front of their fifteen-inch black-and-white DuMont TV and worship at the altar of the Ed Sullivan Theater. For those of us living at the far edge of the U.S.—and at the far corner of Puget Sound to boot—Ed Sullivan provided a lifeline to the bigger world of hip happenings and top-notch entertainment. Who knew what menagerie of singers, dancers, acrobats, and comedians Mr. Sullivan would bring us! Would it be Elvis or even the Beatles? Surely the ventriloquist Señor Wences or the puppet Topo Gigio would grace the stage. It was Sunday, it was sunny, and all was well.

And then came the bomb. Mom sat me down and explained that she and Dad would be attending a volunteer meeting that evening and that I’d have to chaperone in their stead. Chaperone? I was a fourteen-year-old kid. Whom was I supposed to chaperone?

It turns out that a friend’s daughter, who was attending the local college, wanted to buy her first life insurance policy, and Mom had volunteered our living room for the sales presentation. Unfortunately, since Mom and Dad would be gone, I’d have to hang around. Without my dampening presence, who knows what lecherous shenanigans the insurance agent might attempt? And, as if listening to an insurance salesman wasn’t going to be bad enough, the meeting was to take place during the sacred time slot of the Ed Sullivan show!

When the appointed hour finally rolled around, I squirmed impatiently while the insurance fellow yammered on about “contingencies” and “risk aversion” until I could take it no longer. With one swift move, I slipped unnoticed into my bedroom adjacent to the living room. This put me out of range of the insurance talk but left me with nothing to do. After carefully studying the skin on my elbow for a couple of minutes, it hit me. Under my desk was a large bowl of rocket fuel I had recently concocted and set aside. Now would be the perfect time to turn it from a dry powder into a solid mass by melting it down and then letting it solidify.

I had never performed this operation before, nor did I have the necessary equipment on hand, but I had heard that transforming the powdered fuel into a solid block gave it more stability. I quickly fashioned a Bunsen burner out of materials I found in the bathroom. A Vaseline lid, a wad of cotton, and a couple of jiggers of my dad’s aftershave lotion—and voila! I was ready to cook. Next, I poured a generous portion of the fuel into a Pioneer chemical container that consisted of a cardboard tube with a flat metal bottom and a pop-out metal top. The cardboard would provide me with a safe place to grip the container, while the metal bottom would take the flame and melt the fuel.

Within minutes, I gingerly held the jury-rigged beaker above the Aqua Velva flame and was merrily melting the powder. Sure, I’d be missing Ed Sullivan’s guest star, Richard Burton, as he performed a number from Camelot, but I was advancing science. What could be more important?

Then, with no warning whatsoever, the powder hit its ignition point and burst into a frightening torrent of smoke and flames, scorching the wallpaper above my desk and burning a hole in the ten-foot ceiling. I couldn’t drop the blazing tube, or it would have careened around the room and set the drapes and other flammables on fire.

So I gritted my teeth and held the flame-spitting cylinder firmly through its entire burn. For a full minute, the fiery tube charred the wall and ceiling while dropping blazing bits of debris on my arms and legs—burning holes in my shirt and pants and leaving behind pea-sized scars.

The rest is a blur. When it was finally safe to set the container down, I bolted from my bedroom and threw open the front door to vent the house. A fire truck loaded with highly animated firefighters rolled into our driveway and it wasn’t long until several of them were screaming at me for being so stupid as to—well, cook rocket fuel in my bedroom. Apparently, not being able to swing their axes or shoot a single drop of water into our home had really ticked them off. One angrily threw open the parlor windows when I asked him what I could do to get rid of the smoke. Another glumly stared at my bedroom and shook his head while muttering, “Boy, are you going to get it when your folks come home!”

And then my folks came home. As the fire crew backed out of our driveway and the insurance salesman and frightened college girl bolted from the scene, Mom and Dad slowly approached. Watching a fire crew pull away from your home is never a good sign when you’re the parent of a teenage boy; however, it did give my folks a hint as to what lay ahead. As the two walked stoically into my bedroom and surveyed the damage, Mom stated, “You realize, of course, that you’re going to have to set this right.” I did. I paid for the repairs out of my college savings.

And then, Mom said something that was so quintessential “Mom” that I’ve never forgotten it: “What did you learn from this adventure?” Most parents, when faced with the smoldering shell of a bedroom would have grounded their careless son through social security. Or maybe they would have hurled threats, pulled out their hair, or perhaps guilt-tripped their soon-to-be-jailed juvenile delinquent into years of therapy. But Mom simply wanted to know what I had learned from the incident. It wasn’t a trick on her part; it was how Mom treated debacles. For her, every calamity was a learning opportunity, every mishap a chance to glean one more morsel of truth from the infinitely instructive universe.

So, I talked to Mom and Dad about ignition points, research design, precautions, and adult supervision. I meant most of what I said. I even followed my own advice and avoided catching any more rooms on fire. In fact, save for one minor screw-up a few months later during a routine rocket test where I accidentally blew off my eyebrows (leading to an embarrassing few days where I was forced to darken my remaining forehead hairs with eyebrow pencil—not cool for a guy in high school), I averted further disasters of all types.

But what I didn’t avert was the bigger message. Mom wanted me and my brother to be full-time learners—ambulant scholars if you like. It was her central mission in life to turn us into responsible adults who learned at every turn. While the masses might bump into the world, take the occasional licking, and then endlessly complain, she wanted us to bounce back with the question: What does this teach us? While others carped about effects, she wanted us to find the causes. Our classroom was to extend beyond the halls of academia and down any path our journey took us—even into the occasional charred bedroom.

The implication of this message to parents and leaders alike is profound. It’s the adult’s or leader’s job to establish an environment where their charges can learn and grow (even experiment) without fear of being grounded through social security. This isn’t to suggest that either the home or the corporate learning environment should allow individuals to run about willy-nilly—heating up rocket fuel without a single thought as to what might go wrong. I had been irresponsible, and I was held accountable. But I had also been experimenting with rocket science, and Mom didn’t want to stifle this part of me. She wanted me to experiment, and this called for calculated risks. She saw it as her job to teach me how to make the calculations, not to set aside my test tubes and chemicals.

So, let’s take our lead from the ambulant scholar. Should our best-laid plans run afoul, may we have the wisdom to pause, take a deep breath, and ask: What did we learn from this?

You Never Know Your Impact for Good

You don’t always know the impact for good you have on your kids and others, even when you aren’t perfect. Just a couple of weeks ago this was brought home to me. I went to my sister’s home and her daughter was there with her son Jordan.

Jordan is nineteen. I hadn’t seen him for a few years. But when he was four and five, he came to my home to be babysat now and then. Deidra, his mom, reminded me of this. I had totally forgotten that I cared for Jordan. She also reminded me of something else.

A Safe Place

When Jordan came to my home, he fell in love with a chime I had. It had a lovely bell on the end. He would stick it in the back pocket of his shorts and prance around to hear it ring. I gave it to him as a gift. Jordan was standing there as his mom related this story to me. He smiled. What his mom said next blew me away. “You still have that chime in your room, don’t you Jordan.” He nodded yes.

WHAT! It has been fifteen years. Then Deidra said, “When he knew he had to go to a babysitter he would say, “I only want to go to that Mary place.”

As I think back, I can’t recall why he would have found our home so inviting. I had one daughter left at home, but she was in her teens. Our apartment was bright and clean. I was working from home and very busy but my guess is that Jordan felt safe in our home. Isn’t that wonderful? And this isn’t the first time a youth has reminded me of what my home and I meant to them.

Even in Dark Moments, You Can Be a Light

As you know we had some children use drugs. It was a hard time. But in the last few decades, I have received messages from some of my children’s friends. They talk about how wonderful it was that I was there, that there was food, that our house was a safe place. My oldest son, who hadn’t liked us for a while, said in his late forties, “Mom, you will never know how many people you touched,” or words to that effect.

Truth is, I never knew that our home was a haven. I felt that because of how things had worked out, Don and I were failures. I have written about our struggles over those thoughts. But there it is, even in that darkness, in our obvious imperfection, we were a light. Our home was a light.

Last year I got an email from a young woman that I had taught in a church class when she was 16 and 17. She told me that my lessons had had a huge impact on her life. REALLY! She slept through the class! I felt I was doing a terrible job and asked the leaders to get a new teacher. I knew I was giving it all I had but, well, she and others appeared to be so bored.

AND THERE IT IS!

When we do our best, even when it is terribly imperfect, we can be an influence for good. You never know the impact you have on the lives of the children and young people in your life. So, hang on, mom and dad. Don’t throw in the towel. Stop beating yourself up and fearing the worst. Just keep doing your imperfect best and you will get better. In the meantime, you will impact your children and others for good.

You will! I have lived this, and I know!

Do You Have An Indicator for Your Life?

Recently, I was sitting at my desk in the corner of my bedroom. My husband was sitting on the bed watching me. Then he said, “Looking at you in your corner is an indication of your life.”

That was an interesting comment. I asked, “In what way?” He said, “It shows your willingness to change and grow. Most people don’t have a corner like that.”

That short conversation was thought-provoking. The fact is I have been challenged this summer in many ways. Caregiving two adults, full-time, has its ups and downs. Living in a four-generation home and caring for four kids, one with severe cerebral palsy has its perks and pits. You all know what I mean because as moms, you are caregiving a bunch of people, both adults, and kids. : )

At seventy-two I need hormone replacement, and this year, from February until now, they have been incorrect. I have been on a roller coaster of emotion, tears, anger, and brain fog that would down a jet! You all know what that is like. Some of you are pregnant. Now, that does stuff to your hormones. Some of you suffer from depression. Some of you are pre or post-menopausal. Need I say more?

I have thought on and off this summer, “I hope I live to see the fall.” Yes, it has been that hard some days and, in fact, some weeks. You are probably commiserating with me because, I dare say, you have been here in one way or another.

So how have I managed this year? By paying attention to that corner Don mentioned and a couple of other places in my home. What I have in these spaces keeps me upright when my world isn’t as settled as I want it to be.

My Office Corner

My office corner is one of those places. Let’s look at what is on the walls. I have a beautiful painting of me shedding baggage. It was a dream I had decades ago, and a cousin painted it for me. I am a seeker, a learner, and a changer, just like Don said. I always have been. This dream came at a hard time in my life and was given as a gift to remind me that I could heal, grow, change, and impact others for good.

I have thoughts and quotes that I read when I enter my office corner that are uplifting and challenging.

Here are a few:

My Happiness Commandments
• Be a Pollyanna
• Clean the ditch-remove garbage thinking
Let go of suffering

We all need to believe that what we desire in righteousness can someday, someway, somehow be ours. Jeffery R Holland

What is the great cause of Christ? It is to believe in Him, Love as He loved, and do as He did.

God’s prosperity is the power to press forward despite the problems of life.

Intelligence isn’t in you; it exists around you, and you are to connect with it. Answers don’t have to be in your mind. You don’t have to be able to recall everything you read. You just trust that you are an intelligence and answers, and information will flow to you. When you begin pondering something and start talking about it, information flows in.

You can’t wait until life stops being hard to be happy. Aldrin Manimtim

I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you. John 14:18

I have so much to do today, I’ll need to spend another hour on my knees. Martin Luther

What I wrote to remind me of my current mission, to help me have clarity when days are hardMy CLARITY – It won’t be what you would usually think. I live in a four-generation household filled with active children and those who are ill. I am also a published author, teacher, and coach. I post something enjoyable or meaningful daily on Facebook for the parents I write for. I write and publish an article each week, which always elicits comments of hope from my readers. My published book is fabulous. The time will come when I will promote it, speak, and teach on the content again. I have more amazing books in files on my computer that will wait patiently for me to write them. But for now – I am caring for my mother, my ill husband, and helping my daughter care for her 16-year-old with cerebral palsy. This is my path, my mission for now, and my time to serve and patiently wait. It is enough for me.

There are more quotes, but this will give you an idea of where I want my focus to be each day, how I want to think, and who I want to be.

I have my ‘Who I Am’ poster. Two decades ago, I wasn’t sure who I was. So, I picked a picture of a girl, nothing like me at the time. She was happy, bright, and smiling. Then I free-wrote inside her body what came into my mind. For over a year, I would stand in front of this ‘me’ and recite all the wonderful ways of being that are mine. It was life-changing!

I have a chart I made from reading my core spiritual cannon. I love it! It reminds me of who God is, what He is like, and His promises to me. I am proud of that chart. It took some real thought and work. I enjoy reminding myself about my relationship with God and Christ.

Books 

There is a stack of books on the desk, those I most want to read soon. In my bathroom, by my bed, and on the corner of my table are three I am currently reading. I LOVE reading but I have very little reading time, so I have become creative. I read only a few paragraphs at a time, and I still read many books a year. I have written a lot about this.

 

My Vision Wall

On the wall, by the side of my bed, I have my goals and dreams. They used to be things like a home, car, or vacation. Now, for the most part, they are how I want to be. But there are still a few things. I want to make a CD. I am determined to get that done this year. I want to give away 20 pounds of weight and free up energy. (How we phrase a thing matters LOL) I want to be debt-free. These are a few of the dreams I have posted on my wall. They are the last thing I see each night as I turn out the light.

My Morning Routine Basket

I have a basket by my dining table. In it are my gratitude journal, my daily affirmations folder, and my core spiritual cannon. I write 3 things I am grateful for every day, I read in my spiritual cannon, and I recite my affirmations. Do I get it done every day? I wish I could say yes but, on a day when I have to get Maggie, my granddaughter up, feed and dress her, brush her teeth and hair, and give her meds, I might not. But I work to get to it even if it is just before bed. If I don’t get to it, I do it the next day.

What these indicators accomplish

Does having these spaces of positive thought, goals, and dreams around me stop the bad days? NO! This morning was VERY hard. I cried for a few minutes, and I am NOT a crier! I wondered If I would be able to say anything of value in the article I had yet to write.

But here is what these indicators of my life accomplish – they remind me of who I am and the life I am building. They remind me that I matter, that I am strong, that I am not alone, and that I can do great things.

I am not perfect. I have bad days. I occasionally leave important things till the last minute. I get angry and must apologize. I become weary. I am just a mother and grandmother doing my best, but my husband was right, you can tell about my life and me by looking at the thoughts and practices with which I have surrounded myself.

Do the work

Today, I want you to look for the indicators in your home of who you are and how you are growing. If you have them celebrate and then keep using them. If you don’t have spaces that remind you who you are and who you want to be, create some. If you see a quote that moves you, write it out and tape it over your sink or on the bathroom mirror. Begin to surround yourself with how and what you want to be. Let God and the universe know your intention to become more.

If I spoke about a practice that intrigues you, write to me, and I will share how it is done so you can incorporate the practice into your life. If you have a question, ask it. I didn’t heal my wounds and grow to where I am in a vacuum, and you can’t either.

Take the time to create a space that is an indicator of who you are

and the life you are building!

The Parenting Microscope

I was not a perfect parent! Of course, you know that because there are no perfect parents, any more than perfect people. However, it shocks me when I see a poor behavior from my parenting days that has crept into my grandparenting days. Being with children is like being under a microscope, where your strengths and weaknesses are enlarged for you to view.

That is why being a parent can be rough some days…because you are always under that microscope. It eases up a bit when you become a grandparent because you don’t have children 24-7, and when you do have them for longer periods, say overnight, well, you can hold it together. It’s when you have them for more than a few days that the microscope turns back on. That happened to me this month. I went to Washington to help one of my daughters for eight days, to give her mini-breaks, and to love on my grands.

A NOT Perfect Grandparent

My Washington grands are all under ten. They have friends in the neighborhood who match those ages. On some days we would have five or six kids. They can make a lot of noise. : ) I had to work at remaining calm and patient with the noise and the resulting chaos. You know the kind, chalk all over the patio and not in the bucket; water toys on the lawn, not in the pool or even close to it, scooters lying on the lawn, towels dropped on the ground and not hung up on the landing, and so forth.

Meals were somewhat challenging also. I recall that two of my boys wouldn’t eat anything green or red. Augh! My grands have their own picky way of eating. But the final meal was awesome. I lined up all the leftovers on the counter and said, “Pick what you want.” Then I added carrots or cucumbers depending on the child. It was much more enjoyable than being fussed that no one wanted to eat the same food

A ‘Really NOT Perfect’ Grandparent

I remind myself that I grew up in a far different time than my grands are growing up in. No one talked to kids, they just told us what to do. No one ever explored our feelings and what was causing us to behave in a certain way. I can find myself back in that parenting place. After all, it is familiar. What that looks like is me holding up my hand, and saying, “We aren’t going to discuss it further. You know what to do,” in my ‘strict’ voice. Not loud or angry, just absolutely firm.

This isn’t how I grandparent most of the time. But when I’m tired, hungry, or sleep deprived, well… It happened with one of my grands in Seattle. Elliott went to his room upset with me. I told his mom what happened, how he had responded, and how I responded. Kate went to talk with him. He said, “It makes me scared when grandma uses her strict voice.” Oh my gosh. Not how I want them to remember me. But I am still not perfect, even after seventy-two years of getting rid of the garbage and learning new skills.

Later, we were all outside and Elliott was riding his scooter. As he coasted to a stop I said, “Do you want to talk about it.” He said, “No.” I waited and then I used a helpful skill – mini-conversations. As he coasted down the drive and stopped by me again, I said something about scooters in my day. He was intrigued. As he coasted by me a third time, I asked him a question about his scooter. He answered me. The next pass I asked a question about scooters and school. He was even more animated in his response. The next coast down the drive, he asked me a question. I felt the energy change. I was forgiven for not being perfect, for being strict. We hugged at bedtime and had our goodnight talk. All was well.

So, what is the point of sharing these experiences that cast me in a less than stellar light? I am not perfect, and neither are you. I am not always as fun as I would like to be. Sometimes I forget to be the grownup. Sometimes I forget to take breaks and I get too tired. Often, I forget to ask for help with the load. The point is that you will be working on becoming a better parent and grandparent your whole life!

Not Being Perfect Doesn’t Erase the GREAT!

I had interesting bedtime talks with these three little people. I made a huge difference in my daughter’s workload and home. I was great to do chores with. I made them short, quick, and fun. Tessa and I shared quite a few laughs. Elliott, Gus, and I took some great walks. We chatted as we went. I baked with them. I drew chalk pictures with them. We waded in the ocean and collected shells. I solved problems. I laughed with their friends. I sat through the new Minion movie and laughed at what they thought was funny. I helped set up 2 lemonade stands, one for boys and one for girls. I hunted for treasures with Gus. I helped build a fort and cheered them on as they played. I served snacks. : ) I made sure they were safe, fed, dressed and cleaned, hugged and kissed.

Each morning, regardless of the good or bad of the day before, my grands gave me hugs and kisses. We are friends. They think I am a great grandparent. I am not a failure as a grandmother to them despite my occasional strictness, my annoyance, or tiredness. I am a grandmother doing my best and for them, it is enough.

For a week in August and again in September, I will be with other grands while their mom has two surgeries. Most of it will be wonderful but we may have a moment because I am not perfect. But they will love me, and I will focus on the successes.

Parenting, as I said, is like being under a microscope, seeing all your strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on our weaknesses and forget about our strengths.

I have a lot of strengths and I no longer beat myself up over my weaknesses but instead remember that anything can be changed. I am still alive and that means there is time for growth and that while I am working on whatever isn’t quite right yet, I need to celebrate what is. And so do you!!

Doing that one small thing, celebrating your successes and growth, will ultimately move you forward –

Not toward being a perfect parent, but a parent worth loving and emulating.

 

Let the Gifts You Have Mastered Count

Yesterday, after an hour’s drive, I spent the day helping a friend clean and organize her garage. Wow, it was a hot day, punctuated by a downpour, in the afternoon. I got to work with her sons which was a treat. They did good. : )

At one point, my friend asked me if I ever got tired of being called on to clean and organize other people’s messes. Fair question. She felt bad for asking me to help her. But I responded with this. “Would you feel bad asking if I played the flute? Would you ask me to play at a funeral, a wedding, or in a parade? Would you be hesitant to ask? No, because it would be my talent. What I do is no less a talent, and I am glad to share it when possible. What I do isn’t any less valuable, just less showy. So, when asked, I use my talent to clean and organize.”

I have thought a lot about this conversation. Here it is in a nutshell. I am excellent at three things that make me a superior organizer and cleaner: consistency, focus, and a sense of order. I can’t take any credit for these three things. I was born with them. I know you will want to argue this point, but I have lived in my skin for over seven decades. I was this way as a small child. I was born with these gifts. I can’t take credit.

Here is what I can take credit for.

I practiced every day, for decades. Sometimes I did better than others but over time, I became a master. I can take credit for that.

That is how talents are. We have a natural propensity for something – fishing, dance, playing an instrument, comedy, gymnastics, football, cleaning and organizing, planning, listening to another’s grief, gardening, cooking, caring for the old or ill, connecting with children, the list is endless. Some take this natural gift, and they use it regularly, they practice, and they become masters. Others don’t and although they have a gift, they don’t become masters.

Case in point

I was a very talented dancer. I thought about going to Europe to study. I read books about dance, and I danced my little heart out. One of my teachers said I was gifted, and I was. I could have pursued this goal. However, I discovered that as good as I was, it wasn’t the thing I valued most. So, I let it go and I’m glad I did. In dancing’s place, I have a family of seven accomplished children. I have a marriage that is filled with love after 51 hard and sometimes brutal years. I have learned much about charity, humility, and a generousness of spirit. It has been these other things that I pursued that have led me here, to who I am today.

What natural gift have you honed? Look closely. If you think you have let your life slip away and that you haven’t pursued your dreams, look again. What gift have you perfected over the years that serves you and others and feels more valuable than what you let go of? Celebrate that! Stop feeling like a failure.

I am a success. I change people’s lives; not in a way I thought I might, decades ago, but in the way that has lifted me and others, that has changed me and deepened my soul.

Let the gifts that you have devoted a lifetime to perfecting count!

5 Creative Writing Exercises for Kids of All Ages – Perfect for Summer

I have had the privilege of working with moms all over the country who are helping other mothers do a better job. These women have written and spoken on just about everything mothering.

A few years ago, Jenny Wise wrote an article for my homeschool site on how to help kids enjoy writing. Enjoying writing is essential no matter how your children are being educated. As a mom of seven, I had a few that weren’t keen on writing, and Jenny’s ideas would have been helpful.

No matter what age or writing skill set, your child is, age-adaptable exercises refine communication abilities. Here are five creative writing methods children will enjoy while honing their writing talents. You can use them when traveling in the car while on vacation, for family activities, or on a rainy afternoon. Summer is a perfect time to begin honing writing skills for the upcoming school year. If you have no-tech time in your home, which is a good idea, then that open space is the perfect time for some creative writing. : )

1. Prompt Them to Think Critically
Present a unique situation to your child, have them analyze how they’d act in the situation, and ask them to write down their thoughts regarding what they’re presented with. Use writing prompts that ask children questions such as, “If you were a superhero, what would be your kryptonite? Why?” challenge them to evaluate their personal life and effectively communicate it to a reader. Thought-provoking questions paired with writing exercises may also incite positive behavior changes depending on the question.

2. Have Them Feature Characters They’re Familiar With
Have your children write a story starring their favorite movie or television character. Stories could range from a “day in the life” tale, to a letter written from that character’s perspective back to your child. Another option is for your children to write a narrative featuring multiple characters they’re familiar with and have them describe their interactions.

3. Use a Word Jar to Spur Ideas
Put dozens of age-appropriate words into a jar. Choose three at random, and have your children write a story that is inspired by and must use all three words. You could also segment multiple jars with different word categories, such as people, places, and objects, and choose one word from each jar to use.

4. Get Them a Journal
More than 20 years of journaling research reported by The University of Texas at Austin found daily journaling about emotions strengthened immune systems, generated better grades, and improved mental health. Journaling may also benefit working memory, decrease anxiety and enhance sleep and social connections. Shop together with your children so they can pick out a journal they want with lines that allow them to write comfortably. Guarantee its confidentiality and empower them to write outside the confines of reality and explore how they imagine their future.

5. Put Them in Charge of the Tale
Search for popular titles of films, books, or songs your child has never encountered, and ask them to write a story conveying what the title is about. Encourage creative expression through various methods, such as poetry or songwriting. Play them instrumental music and have them write song lyrics based on what they’ve heard.

Participate in these activities with your children, so they have a supportive, creative writing mentor as they’re working. You could also create stories together, taking turns adding to the narrative. Remember, creativity is the focus. While pointing out errors such as spelling and grammar can be beneficial for accuracy, consider spotlighting the creative elements to encourage them to have fun and embrace creative writing as a hobby that benefits their education.

Make a place in your family activities for writing and help your children

succeed as adults.