I am aBIGproponent of family reading because of its many benefits. When our kids were living at home, we read together. I wasn’t consistent, but we did manage to do it often enough that one of my daughters would say years later, “Mom, it was so great how you always read to us.” However, I wasn’t prepared for the HUGE impact reading together has had on our household of three, all of us over seventy.
Some time back, I published an article called I’ve Got the Tone. For many years, I have had a tone in my voice of irritation, frustration, annoyance. Over the years, it became a habit. Since we have been reading together, about a year now, that tone has dissipated quite a bit. The truth is I feel less irritated, annoyed, and frustrated. The feeling in our home is one of more charity, less contention, and a greater desire to connect and be cooperative. I think reading together will directly impact our health.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Don bought me a bag of veggie chips. I love veggie chips, but we don’t buy them often. I made yummy sandwiches for lunch. I thought about getting the veggie chips, but I didn’t. After the blessing, Don went into the garage where all the chips are kept and got some of the veggie chips for himself. When he came back to the table, I smiled and said, “Hey, I thought those were mine. You should have brought some for all of us”—end of conversation. However, the comment kept coming to my mind as I was reading to Don and my mom. My tone of voice had not been irritated, just matter of fact. But I worried that I might have made him feel bad.
So, I told him that what I had said wasn’t kind, and I should have said, “Good idea,” instead. He looked sheepish and replied, “I was trying to be sneaky.” Don isn’t supposed to have chips. I laughed and said, “Honey, you got them and then came back to the table with them. You aren’t very sneaky.” He replied, “I know; that’s what my meds do to my thinking.” I smiled and said, “I knew that’s what was happening. That’s why I should have said ‘Great idea’ instead of what I said.” We both smiled. It was a totally different feeling from what would have happened a year ago. The feeling was conversational rather than confrontive, even when my first comments weren’t as well thought out as they could have been. There was a sense of connection.
One of my warmest memories is of my mother reading to us. She didn’t read to us often, but when she did, it was magical for me! As I think back on those reading moments with my mom, I know what made them so special. I knew my mom loved us. This same feeling of love and concern has come from the reading we have been doing in our family. I knew this was the case for kids, but I wasn’t prepared for how impactful it would be for a family of adults. Reading together has established an intimate experience filled with feelings of warmth and belonging.
Most of my readers still have kids at home. It doesn’t matter whether you have a bunch of littles or a group of teens. Both teens and littles like to read as a family. From Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report, we learn only 17 percent of parents of kids aged 9–11 read aloud to their children. Yet 83 percent of kids aged 6–17 say being read to is something they either loved or liked a lot (Scholastic Inc. and YouGov 2014). There are excellent reasons to read together.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ AS A FAMILY
A. Physical closeness—Reading aloud allows you and your children to achieve physical closeness. Small children enjoy sitting on your lap or draping themselves across your body. You may snuggle less with older children, but this is not a given. If you’re open to having older children sit next to you or lay a head on your shoulder, the chances are it will happen often. That has been my experience. B. A sense of security—Gathering together as a family and reading create a sense of security and safety—a feeling of ‘all is right’ with the world. When children feel secure and safe, they function better out in the world. Love is essential to a child, but feeling safe is crucial and often even more critical. C. A sense of belonging—There’s a sense of belonging which comes from everyone being in the same room, snuggling and listening to the same story, having a shared experience. This sense of belonging can be beneficial as our children begin to mature. They’re trying to figure themselves out as well as figure out where they fit in the world. This process of personal growth can bring a sense of isolation. Reading as a family is one of the ways parents can create a sense of belonging. D. A chance to tackle complex subjects—Reading as a family allows you to introduce difficult topics to your children and have safe discussions. I’ve read books to my children dealing with honesty, integrity, kindness, bullying, God, social issues, beliefs, and feelings. It made it possible to bring up ideas and thoughts I wanted my children to consider and ponder. It was a safe and comfortable way to experience essential life lessons. E. A shared language and a sense of intimacy—When families read together, they often create a unique language. It can provide inside jokes. I read an article that described the experience of a family who loved the Mercy Watson books. In their family, they frequently heard the call at breakfast for “Mercy Watson toast, please!” (Johnson, “Why You Should Read Aloud to Older Kids”) It is fun and bonding when families share a phrase from a good book that means something to all of them. It creates a sense of intimacy. F. It can strengthen struggling children and youth—When one of my daughters was fifteen, she made unwise choices. She knew it, but she was struggling to make changes. At the time, the youngest two children read with me. We read in the middle of my bed before lights out. Although my daughter wasn’t usually home, I noticed that when she was, she would come to my bedroom door, lean against it, and listen, no matter what the book was. This time together did not resolve her issues, and she had a tough road, but I’m confident it helped her stay connected to our family in a way that was vital to her eventual success. If you’re struggling with any of your children, for any reason, the closeness generated by reading together can go a long way to keeping you connected while issues are worked out.
If you are hesitant to read as a family, give it a try. Be patient. In my bookBecoming a Present Parent, chapter Four covers touchpoints. Touchpoint 7 is reading together. You can read that chapter free. Touchpoint 7 shares a real-life experience of a troubled family, how they made family reading work, and their eventual success. There is a section called Making Family Reading Work. With the tips found there, you can read together, and it can be successful.
Share the reasons that you read with your family. If you don’t yet read as a family, why not?
When I mentor moms, I hear about all the things that aren’t working. That is what they come to me for – for perspective, to see with new eyes. I enjoy this process of sorting it out. We often begin with family systems, so things start to work better.
I have had this type of conversation hundreds of times:
Mom – I can’t stand dinner time. It is always rushed, and then everyone goes and does their thing, and I am stuck in the kitchen with a big mess.
Me – Well, tell me about your system for getting dinner done.
Mom – We don’t have a system.
Me – Yes, you do. You figure out what to fix at the last minute. You cook the meal. You set the table; you serve dinner. You clean up. You are filled with resentment. It isn’t an intentional system, but it is your system. There is usually shocked silence on the other end of the phone.
Here is another example.
I worked with a mom who hated her bedroom. Her bed was always covered by unfolded laundry. What she wanted was a retreat but what she had was resentment.
When I asked her what her system was for the clean laundry, she told me she didn’t have one. But of course, she did. Here is what it looked like. She would do the laundry, and then the clean laundry would be piled on her bed. She would coax the kids to fold their stuff and put it away. It often didn’t get done before the end of a busy day, and then mom would move the laundry to the window seat. It might stay there a few days while she felt cheated because she couldn’t sit in her room, in the window seat.
When she explained what happened on laundry day, I pointed out that she did have a system. It wasn’t a system that got her what she wanted, it made her feel resentful, but it was her system. We talked about how she could better manage her laundry to stay out of her room and be taken care of by all the family. It worked. She got her private space back, and her children became more responsible. Everyone was happier.
The women I talk to are always astonished to realize that they have a system by default, and it stinks. Then we talk through what she would like to have happen, what could reasonably happen, and then come up with an experiment designed to intentionally set up a system that accomplishes what she wants. We talk about getting the family to buy in because when people buy in, they take ownership, and things work better.
Here is an example of a default system in my life that whacked me out for months!
I am a very orderly person. I am also very self-directed. However, for many reasons, I found myself in a mess. I wasn’t getting up on time; I wasn’t getting my studying done; I forgot to pray; I was distracted. After nine months of suffering, I did what I should have done far sooner. I prayed and then thought through what was not working. What did my current system for managing these things look like?
I realized that the system I had used in the past had fallen apart. I didn’t have a morning routine. I sat down, thought through what I needed, then wrote it down and taped the paper to the bathroom wall. This experiment was better, but I was still distracted and not getting these important things done daily. I know that consistency is essential, so I went back to the drawing board and prayed again. I was missing something.
I have kept my morning routine quite simple for a long time because I am a full-time caregiver. I get up at 6:15 on many days, dress, feed, and groom my 15-year-old special needs granddaughter. Then I get the other three off to school. In the summer, I am on deck with these kids for a few hours most days. By nine Don and possibly my mom are up and want breakfast. Mom needs her hair done, and twice a week, she needs to bathe before I can move on to anything else. Noon would come and I wouldn’t have gotten what set me on a solid path for the day completed. The time would rush on from there and frequently late evening would come, and I never got to my ‘stuff.’ The question was how I do the things that matter to me and still take care of all these people.
When the answer came, it was so simple as answers from God often are.
I had the thought to put my scriptures and affirmations in the bathroom, in my reading basket, and hang my clothes for the next day on a hook the evening before. Then each morning, I would get up, go into the bathroom, dress, and prepare for the day. I would sit on the toilet and read my scriptures and say my affirmations. Then I knelt and prayed. I know God forgives me for praying at the side of the toilet. : ) The whole thing takes 20 minutes, then I am out in the fray, but the things that matter to me and my well-being are complete. The system for my mornings that I have intentionally designed is working well!
Systems matter. If there is a place in your life that feels out of order or things aren’t happening, look closely at your system. What is it? What does it lack that would feel better or help you manage better? If you don’t think you have a system, and that is why it isn’t working, think again. You do; it just stinks. Come up with an experiment. Try something new with intention. You will be surprised at what a difference it can make.
Once there was a woman. She was strong.She moved to a new home that she loved. It was on a large parcel of property, and it was beautiful. When she moved to the property, she knew it would take work to get it into shape. She was happy to do the work because she had dreamed of living in a home like this one, on a piece of land like this. She had planned on it all her life. It was her dream and her great desire.
There was an empty field. She didn’t pay much attention to it for a few years because she was so busy planting flowers, mowing her lawn, tending the chickens, playing with the children, and serving those around her. It was a happy life, but eventually, the field began to bother her.
It wasn’t a massive place but large enough. It had a forest of thistles that grew over six feet high, and there were large patches of grass, waist-high. The number of nameless weeds that flourished was in the dozens. The ground was littered with the carcasses of all these weeds from a decade at least. Just looking at that field could make one blanch at the thought of entering in and, Heaven forbid, cleaning it up. It was simply overwhelming.
However, one morning as she gazed at the field, she felt in her heart a knowing that she needed to deal with it. She didn’t want it taking over all the work that she had done in her yard. She didn’t want the flowers replaced by thistle trees; the lawn replaced by that waist-high grass. That field produced millions of seeds!
That day she decided to wade in and clean out the mess. At first, she thought she could weed eat it down. She soon discovered that made the lot worse. Weeds and grass littered the ground, hiding the decades of dried debris. The thistle stems just laughed at her puny attempts to slice them down. The woman realized with some trepidation that this was going to be more work than she planned, and she wasn’t sure if it could be done at all.
The next day found her in the field with her gloves on, on her knees. She began pulling the weeds and grass one plant at a time and piling them up behind her as she went. She took a long-handled pruning shear and cut the thistle plants at their base, one by one. At the end of a couple of hours, she had cleared a 4 ft by 4 ft section. “Oh, my goodness,” she thought. “This is going to take all summer.”
She was right. She spent 2-3 hours in that field six days a week for eight months. She took a lot of flak from her neighbors and friends. They said it couldn’t be done. It was a waste of time. It would only grow back. That what she needed was a tractor, but she didn’t have one, and she knew if she did, it would only knock the weeds down and clutter the ground more. In her heart, she knew that she wanted the weeds gone. She wanted the debris gone. She wanted bare ground.
One day a man from church came by with some friends to help her out. Word had gotten out about this crazy project she had going, and although they thought her foolish, they were good men and came to help. They cut down sapling trees; there were groves of them. They cut down the thistles. As they prepared to leave, one said, “I think you’re crazy.” Realizing his words, he stammered, “I don’t mean crazy; it’s just a big job.” The woman replied, “Yes, you meant it. It’s Ok. I know how it looks, but I have to try.” It was like this all summer, the doubts of others, the disbelief, her doubts.
Some days, as she knelt in the field, she wept because it seemed so useless. Even if she did accomplish this monstrous task, how could she keep it cleared the following year? Wouldn’t it just grow back, and the mess would begin again. Weeds do not disappear; they produce thousands of seeds. They are tough, and they return, sometimes with a vengeance.
As she wept, she prayed, and in her mind, she would hear these words, “Take heart, daughter. I am here. I am helping you. You can do this. You were made for this.” So, she kept on. Sometimes it felt as if someone else was helping her pull a stubborn lump of grass or a well-rooted weed. She knew help had come.
Another day she had the thought to use a hoe different than she was used to. She had seen it in her sons-in-law’s shed. It was shaped like a horseshoe, cut the tops off the plants, and dug the roots with a back-and-forth motion. This hoe was so much easier than hacking with a blade.
One morning as she was pulling the grass, she thought, “There has to be a better way. This work is slow going and so hard.” In her mind, she saw a tool. She had seen this tool before, but she hadn’t ever used one. She didn’t know its name. “Hmmm, how interesting.” For the next few weeks, this little scenario would repeat itself. She would ask if there wasn’t a better way, and then she would see that tool in her mind.
Finally, she opened her computer and looked for that tool. She found it, a thatching rake. She bought one that day. The following day, to her astonishment, she could rip weeds and grass out of the ground with far less effort than on her hands and knees. She breathed a sigh of gratitude and relief. She also gave herself a swift kick that she had let so much time go by before investigating and buying the tool.
From then on, things went faster and took less effort. The woman was happy and grateful. Then one day, as she surveyed the field, she realized that she had accumulated over 40 piles of dead weeds and sapling branches. The piles doted the space and were four to five feet high, and some were five feet across. How in the world was she going to clear out all that debris? She realized that she would have to ask the very people who had scoffed all summer, her friends and neighbors. However, being friends and neighbors, they came and helped. Her family helped. They gave up their time and loaded the truck and made many trips to the dump.
The weather began to change. Spring had passed, and summer had gone. The fall was almost over. The woman worried that she wouldn’t finish in time, that the snow would come and cover the remaining piles. But in the end, it all worked out. As the woman stood, her back to the sun and hands on her hips, she surveyed the cleared land. Not a weed in sight. Not a blade of grass. Not a locust sapling. She felt a deep sense of gratitude for the help she had received, both seen and unseen.
During the winter, in the early mornings or late evenings, she would think about the field. She worried, “How can I keep it clear. I cannot do again what I have done. And weeds, well, they grow even under the melting snow.” She worried because she couldn’t let it go back to the way it was. She couldn’t. She had paid a dear price to clear the field. She had fallen backward off a truck, and she would never be quite the same. The eight months of work had taken a toll on her physically. Someone had told her she had aged ten years, and when she looked in the mirror, she knew she had.
As the snow began to melt, her concern grew. She prayed about what to do. There had to be a way. This great work had to matter. It couldn’t just be foolishness on her part, as so many had told her. There had to be a way.
She pondered this often and prayed even more. One day, she had a thought that she knew wasn’t hers because she had been feeling overwhelmed and hopeless in the face of the task before her. “Fifteen minutes. Six days a week, for fifteen minutes.”
Would that really be enough? Could such a great work be maintained in only fifteen minutes a day? But she had been able to do the great work of clearing the field the first time by listening to this kind and gentle voice and so she began that day.
Snow still lay in parts of the field, but where it had melted, the weeds were growing. Somedays, she couldn’t believe it would work because the tiny seedling looked like a carpet in spots. But she was consistent. She spent 15-20 minutes every day beginning in late February.
One day, in mid-May, after she had spent her 15 minutes, she looked around and realized that there wasn’t a weed anywhere. No saplings were growing, and the field was clear. Her work was holding. Neighbors and friends had commented on how great it was not to have a field full of weeds, how nice it all looked. Gratitude filled her heart, and she realized that she had learned valuable lessons from her field.
• Have faith in yourself; you can figure out hard things • Don’t listen to those who do not share your vision • Listen to God. He has a vested interest in your success • Be willing to do the work even when it is overwhelming and hard • Ask for resources and then use them • Remain grateful • Above all, be consistent
This story is true. The woman is me. Today, May 21, 2021, as I spent my 15 minutes in the field, I had a conversation with God. He let me see that the field was a representation of my life. And so it is. I want to share this conversation with you because it may also be a metaphor for what you are facing.
I always wanted to get married and have a large family. I thought I would like twelve boys. I know, I know, what was I thinking. LOL I married the perfect man. Oh, he wasn’t perfect, but what he brought to the relationship was perfect for me, and I learned a great many lessons as I lived with him.
I enjoyed being a mom, and I liked keeping my home. I did other things outside of my house because I am talented and a leader. I couldn’t help myself. It was a happy life, a good life. But one day, I began to see the weeds. They had been growing for some time, and I just hadn’t paid attention. There were many of them, and they were taking over my family. As I thought about clearing them out, I realized I didn’t know how. I didn’t have tools. It felt so overwhelming. So, I just began metaphorically, on my hands and knees, after some false starts with the weed eater. It was grueling. The weeds just kept growing and getting worse.
I am talking about all the trials my family experienced. From the introduction to my book, Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with your children in five minutes or less –
“As a young woman growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, I didn’t contemplate any other occupation than motherhood. It was so much a part of what I expected to do that I didn’t give it much thought. It was what everyone did. I looked forward to it. I expected to sail along, doing what was required in the best way possible because I was made for it. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t know what to do and how to manage.
Raising my family was “the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
These words from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities describe my parenting experience rather perfectly. In fact, in 1996, at the height of our family problems, that is what I wrote under our family photo.
I remember the fun we had: breakfast on the tailgate of our old pickup truck at the park, a block from our home one early Saturday morning; quiet conversations with whichever child’s turn it was to help me weed in the early dawn hours; canning while lots of kids snapped beans and peeled carrots; reading to our children; dinners together, a daily occurrence; bath time; night time cuddles; sitting together at church, filling a whole pew, while tickling backs and squeezing shoulders. These were memorable and satisfyingly ordinary days. These were the best of times.
I also have seared on my mind the struggles we shared as a family of nine—a husband who traveled for a living, drug abuse, premarital sex and a child born out of wedlock, thoughts of suicide, failure in school, smoking, alcoholism, lack of belief in one’s value as a person, quitting school, abandoning church, a mother who raged and yelled, managing feelings of despair, and coming to terms with same-sex attraction. These were the worst of times.”
Yes, we had weeds, a field of them.Don and I brought a lot of baggage into our family. It was a bit like that debris of dead weeds in my field. It cumbered the ground and made everything more complicated. We all have baggage. It is inevitable.
But resources did come. Sometimes I wouldn’t pay attention for a time, but then in desperation, I would accept help, good counsel, the right book, etc., and it would make a difference. I would be able to work another thing out.
And we did have to deal with the naysayers. I’ll never forget the day a man, a friend, a spiritual leader for my sons, stood in my kitchen as I shared my hopes for my boys. He laughed and said, “That will never happen!” And the day I sat on the front steps with my ecclesiastical leader. He looked at me with sorrow and said, “I just don’t know what to say.” Or the day that I walked into a room of friends, and the conversation stopped. I knew they had been talking about our family and not kindly.
How do I feel about all these friends and neighbors who thought our field was too messy to conquer? Well, I love them. They were where they were. They had their lessons to learn just as I had mine.
I aged visibly, as did my husband. Those were long, hard years. Our children also paid a price to learn the important lessons. But learn, we all did, and, in the end, it was a price worth paying.
Here is what made the difference.
I NEVER stopped believing that I was made for mothering and that I could do it. I NEVER doubted that I could do hard things. I NEVER gave in to what others believed because of what they could see. I HELD ON to hope because I believed in what I couldn’t see. I LISTENED to my heart and other wise souls. I ALWAYS knew that there was a God and a Christ, and they wanted our success. I KNEW they would never desert us no matter how tall or choking the weeds. I KNEW this with my whole soul. I NEVER stopped trying, even when it appeared that our family couldn’t be fixed. I was WILLING to keep going even when it was hard. I LOOKED for information, help, resources. And finally, I was as CONSISTENT in my efforts as I knew how to be. I got up every day and began again doing the best I could until I had something better. I wanted to heal my family, to pull out the weeds. I wanted us to grow and thrive.
One day, as I sat at the top of the stairs writing in my journal, a habit that saved me many times, I wrote, “What have I done to deserve to be in Hell?” That is how it felt some days. Not because of what was happening, as much as what I feared would happen. But even then, I wrote about how grateful I was, that I wasn’t alone, that I had help. I have learned a great deal more about gratitude since then. Now I would write, “Despite being in Hell, I am grateful because I will learn more than if I spent all of my time in Heaven.”
That has proven to be true. Again, from my book –
“When it’s all shaken together and poured out, how did we fare? Well, far better than we expected or than you might expect. Don and I had done just enough right, and with a full measure of the grace of God thrown in, we all survived and, strangely enough, thrived. We are connected and bonded in amazing ways. We look out for one another. The kids support and lean on each other. We’re still a family!
Life isn’t perfect and trouble-free for any of us, but we’re all growing, contributing, and learning. The last four and a half decades have been the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness, the epoch of belief, the epoch of incredulity, a season of Light, a season of Darkness, a spring of hope, and a winter of despair. Family has been all of this for us.”
In my life, I have cleared two fields. One mattered a great deal because lives depended on it. The other matters only because it confirmed all the lessons from the first.
If you are struggling in any way, take this story to heart. Please pay attention to the lessons I have learned and implement them into your situation. If you do, although it may not be perfect, you cannot fail.
My sister flew to Philadelphia to see her son and his family. Michael picked her up at the airport, and they drove to New Jersey. He is in the military, and she was very anxious to see them all.
Here is the catch – my sister has terrible claustrophobia and can’t fly. She has never been on a plane and has anxiety just thinking about it. But she wanted to see Michael and his wife and kids. Watching her prepare for the flight and all the effort she had to make to even get on the plane, let alone stay on it, was a miracle.
She managed to get to Michael’s in one piece. Everyone had a wonderful time, lots of good food, fun activities, and hugs and kisses. She loved it. But in the back of her mind was that trip home. Again, lots of worries and getting control of self-talk, using natural nerve remedies, etc. On the flight to her sons, she used an entire bottle of Ashwagandha.
When Rozanne got home, she said that it was such a comfort. She said, “Home is a refuge. It is a safe place to be. The place where you can rest and feel peace.”
That is so right! We all want to go home to be safe and at peace. It’s what our kids want too. For parents, that is part of our job – creating a refuge where it is safe and there is peace. That is a significant part of the job.
There is a skill we can learn and then practice that will help our homes feel more like a refuge. It helps kids feel valued and heard.
When we actively listen, it is to connect with the speaker and to understand how they feel about what they’re saying. It’s active and engaged and seeks to hear the words and, more importantly, to hear the heart.
Because this type of listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to develop steps to make it happen more often. They may be helpful to you also.
A. STOPwhat you’re doing. Turn away from any technology, book, or project. If you genuinely can’t stop, tell your child you can see this is important to them, and you want to hear what they have to say. Set a specific time when you’ll be free and keep it. Saying “we’ll talk about it later” is not specific and sends the message you’re not available to them, that whatever else you’re doing is more exciting or more important. If possible, stop and listen now!
B. Make eye contactwith your child. I remember reading that an infant can tell the difference between a face in order and one with jumbled features.
From my experience, I know babies are interested in their parent’s faces. They look at their parent’s faces constantly and reach out to touch them. Infants want us to look back at them. As we grow older, the desire for eye contact with the people in our lives that matter to us remains.
Eye contact is looking directly into your child’s eyes and not looking away at other things or looking down. When we look at our children as we listen to them, it sends a powerful message that we care, we hear them, and they matter.
C. Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. When you’re actively listening, you’ll respond to feelings more quickly and more accurately. This type of response helps your child feel heard. You can say things like, “Boy—how maddening!” or “You didn’t like that, did you?” or “How did you feel?” This helps your child know that you view their feelings as valid and important.
D. Listen with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind that will help you maintain interest and patience.
For example, you can think, “I sure love this kid. They’re so interesting, funny, kind, thoughtful,” whatever. Hold thoughts that allow you to embrace fully the moment you’re sharing with your
Avoid interrupting. Ask only those questions that help clarify. Your job at this moment is not to teach, reprimand or fix. It’s to listen.
Listening to your child is an end in itself. It isn’t about a resolution, teaching, making progress, none of that. It’s about connection, pure and simple. You can always teach later. Right now, actively listen.
During a day, there are dozens of opportunities to stop and listen. We can’t actively listen in every situation. But if we can increase those times we do, it will significantly impact our relationships.
When you practice listening to really hear your child, even if they have made a mistake or you are angry at them for something, it creates a safe place. When kids feel safe, they will come to you more often, even when they know they are in hot water. And as our children grow older, this will be a gift to us.
Practice active listening as much as you can and make your home a refuge.
Are you ever faced with a situation that needs a resolution but the choices you see seem unfair or damaging? If you choose one despite not liking either option, that is called The Suckers Choice, and when made, it will inevitably leave someone feeling wronged. The Suckers Choice is almost always bad for relationships, including the one with ourselves.
Here is an example of what I am talking about:
When my daughter, Jodie, had her fourth baby, she suffered postpartum depression. To combat the effects, she decided to exercise by taking a walk with the kids in the morning. How do you think that went?
Let me share a walk I took with them just before the new baby was born. Jack and Mary took off running! This walk will be fast, I thought. Soon they reached our neighbors home with a ramp. It was up the ramp and down the ramp at a full run. Then it was up the ramp and down the ramp rolling over and over again. Good thing we were friends with this neighbor.
Next was the cement retaining wall. It had to be climbed on and then carefully followed by little feet. If anyone fell off, they felt they had to go back to the beginning and start again. Next was the yard with all the kids. Stop and chat. Let’s see what they are doing. Let’s join in!
And dogs! Every dog had to be spoken to and, if it was a happy dog, petted. EVERY dog! I never realized how many dogs we had in that neighborhood!
Then there were the treasures. Every walk is all about the treasures that have to be picked up, examined, and then stowed in the stroller, stones, sticks, leaves, torn paper cups, etc.
About halfway around the block, Mary’s little legs began to wear out. Remember, they have covered the first half at a full run (disregarding all the stops). So, it was into the stroller. The key to knowing when she wanted in the stroller was the phrase, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT!
Then we would press on for about 2 minutes (I do not exaggerate here), and then she would need to get out to see something or to run. The key phrase to know when she needed to get out was a clear STOP, STOP, STOP!
Did you get the timing on this little exercise that lasted for the second half of our walk? Into the stroller for 2 minutes or less. Out of the stroller for two minutes or less. Sigh! Can you see how frustrating this walk would have been for my daughter, who needed some sustained exercise?
Jodie had a couple of obvious choices –
• Don’t walk with the kids making taking a walk inconsistent
• Walk with the kids but be frustrated and angry
A Creative Problem-Solving Activity
How can we avoid making the Sucker’s choice and develop creative solutions to real and frustrating situations?
• Work on yourself first. You are likely to benefit by improving your approach, and you are the only person you can work on anyway.
• Make sure your heart is in the right place and stay focused on the matter at hand.
• Do NOT make the Sucker’s choice. Believe that there is always at least a third option.
• Determine what it is you want to happen. Ask, “What do I want here.”
• Ask the question, “What do I want for the other person?”
• Then ask this question “What do I want for the relationship?”
• Finally, ask a very telling question “How would I behave if I really wanted these results?”
• Search for the elusive AND. Present yourself with more challenging questions which turn the either/or choice into a search for the elusive AND. Clarify what you want and clarify what you don’t want. Present your brain with a more complex problem by asking the questions posed above.
“When we present our brain with a demanding question, our body sends precious blood to the parts of our brain that help us think, and away from the parts of our body that make us want to fight.” (from Crucial Conversations by Kerry Paterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler) The Sucker’s Choice presents our brain with problems that are easily solved with restricted blood flow. They don’t require creative thought. The Sucker’s Choice keeps us stuck in ineffective strategies.
Now back to the story
How did Jodie solve the situation she was facing? First, she looked at her motives. Jodie needed to exercise to return to good health and did not want to be frustrated. She realized that she did not want to jeopardize her relationship with her children by being angry with them for natural, childish behaviors.
She knew that if she really wanted health and not to be angry with her kids, she would need to find a way to help them understand her need for a walk while still allowing them space and time to walk the way a child would take a walk. (Her kids were aged two mo. to 6 years old)
Creative Problem-Solving List and Process
Jodie asked the pivotal questions posed above and set her brain to develop at least a third alternative. She made a list.
• Get a babysitter
• Trade exercise days with another mom who also wanted to exercise with a sustained walk
• Walk when her husband got home and could watch the children
• Get up before the children and walk. (They are up at 5:30 sometimes!)
None of these options were realistic for her family situation for many reasons. She kept thinking, and here is what she finally came up with – Mom’s Walk and Kid’s Walk.
If it was a Mom’s walk, everyone stayed in the stroller, and mom would walk fast. If it was a kid’s walk, then everyone could get in and out of the stroller, and they would go slow. This is how the walks played out. Every morning was Mom’s walk. And if they walked in the afternoon, which they did at least twice a week, it was kids walk. Her children were happy with the arrangement. She was not frustrated, and her health and outlook improved significantly. Family relationships grew. They experienced joy.
As you recognize the Sucker’s Choice and work at creative solutions to your parenting problems, don’t expect perfection:
1. Aim for progress.
2. When you come up with a solution that succeeds, celebrate your success.
3. Take pleasure in knowing that you and your family are improving.
Here is a short video that will give you more information on avoiding The Sucker’s Choice.
Share your experiences with solving your parenting situations creatively while avoiding the Suckers Choice. I would love to hear about them.
I have a friend who was also my daughter’s friend in high school. We have known each other for a long time! We talk about stuff – family, running our homes better, being kind, writing, you know, stuff.
Bethany said that she couldn’t understand how you wouldn’t have time for yourself when she was a teen. She couldn’t see the problem. I mean, she had lots of time to do what she wanted to do – take a bath, sit in the sun, read, etc. Even with school and a job, there was time.
Now she has two small children, and she gets it. It makes me laugh because I always say, “You can’t know till you get there!”
One of the tricks I learned decades ago was to turn the bathroom into a refuge. I wasn’t going to get a day or even an hour, but I could read a paragraph or two. Bethany told me that when she read that in my book, she laughed because as a teen, she thought having books and magazines in the bathroom and reading in there was gross! Guess what? The last time we talked, Bethany said that reading in the bathroom is like a resort. You can’t know till you get there. LOL
Another thing I do and have done since I was 15 is lotion my feet every night. It felt good back then, in a home with eight other kids, to sit on my bed, in the quiet darkness and lotion my feet. I suggested it to Bethany, and she reported that it is lovely. She likes how nurturing it feels, and she likes the few moments of quiet aloneness.
A lot has been written about self-care. Recently I saw a headline – Self Care is More than Reading in the Bathroom. I laughed. Reading in the bathroom has been part of my self-care for fifty years. It works. I hope you get away occasionally. I hope you go out to lunch with friends. I hope you take a day off now and then. But I also hope you learn to care for yourself right where you are – in the middle of your busy family.
Four Reasons to care for yourself in the thick of things
There are some stellar reasons to find ways to care for yourself right where you stand, amid family: • You can remain calmer for more extended periods. • It facilitates patience and helps us not take our frustration out on our kids. • It allows us to stay free of resentment, exhaustion or feeling depleted. • It keeps us healthier.
Self-care benefits not only us but also our whole family. It’s an investment in our family relationships rather than a selfish indulgence.
Here are four ways to care for yourself during your busy, child-filled days and nights. They aren’t new. You have probably heard them said many times. But they work. As you implement them, you will feel better and less stressed. I consider them the best kind of ongoing self-care:
1—TALK NICELY TO YOURSELF
You need to be your own best friend, no matter how you’re doing presently. Best friends speak kindly to each other, are honest, and support one another, even if one of them is floundering. It’s self-care when you treat yourself like your own best friend.
Sleep is one of my favorite subjects. I’ve had tons of experience with this one thing! Periodically, over 30 years, I would go in prayer and ask how I could better handle my life. I would always have the same thought, “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” And just as regularly, I would dismiss the whole idea. I didn’t want to follow that counsel. I wanted my house in order, and I wanted alone time. I was convinced the only way to get either one was to stay up late. So, I resisted. Years passed, and I got desperate. I asked a final time, but the impression was the same. “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” But this time, I didn’t resist.
Going to bed earlier and getting up earlier is doable! It’s possible even if your kids get up at 5:30. You get up when they do and it is early! You probably won’t have a quiet morning routine alone. These are the hard facts. What will make this trade-off worthwhile is how you’ll feel during the day. You may not get much more alone time, but you’ll find it easier to be with your kids. You’ll find yourself feeling happy more often. You will have more energy and lose your temper less. You’ll like yourself and your children better.
I recommend you begin going to bed at least 30 minutes earlier than you do now, an hour if you can commit to it. Don’t get on the computer or phone after 10 pm. Staying tech-free an hour before bed will absolutely help you get to bed earlier! Some days it just won’t work out but do it as often as you can. Going to bed earlier will change your days! It won’t be easy to make this shift, but if you remember that simple things, consistently done over time, make significant differences, you’ll be able to persevere as long as it takes to make this your new habit.
Can I say, stop eating over the sink! Stop calling the crusts of your children’s sandwiches lunch. Stop. Make a better choice. Fix your food and sit down with your kids and eat. Have a mini conversation. Laugh a bit. Savor that sandwich. It takes five minutes! Value yourself enough to sit down with a plate and eat even if it is with kids and only for five minutes.
If you work away from home, take a lunch. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but if I can learn it, you can learn it. It’s a decision, and I’ve made it, to care for myself by eating well.
Don’t eat at your computer, either at home or at the office. I know you’re busy, but if you want to feel cared for, leave your desk. Turn on music as you eat. Sit outside if the day is warm. Even the break room and a coworker trump your desk.
Eating well should be at the top of your self-care list. It’s something you can do while in the thick of parenting. Taking time to eat is one way you maintain the energy to do the job you’ve taken on—the job of raising a family.
Oh man, I don’t like to exercise. I can’t think of any exercise I like except swimming. But that requires a drive in the car and wet hair. Ick! Frankly, I also believed I didn’t have the time. But as I’ve said, when we take full responsibility for our lives, we stop using the time excuse.
I know half a dozen women who walk their kids to school daily. They’re in a big group talking, laughing, and making it work. I can think of another three women who get up early and walk together. They’ve made deals with their husbands to get kids fed so they can have this half-hour before they need to send them out the door to school. They walk five days a week. I recall one mom who did her exercising in front of the TV with a child on her back. You do whatever it takes. : )
None of this is easy. You just need to decide to do it. It’s a choice that, when made, feels nurturing. Talk to your spouse. What can you do? How can you make it work? Now do it.
You’re going to spend far more time with your children than you’re going to spend without them, so it’s imperative to learn how to self-care while you’re in the thick of parenting. It’s simple, it’s doable, and it takes small amounts of time and virtually no money; but it can and will pay huge dividends.
Self-care can be as plain and straightforward as having a cup of herbal tea while you read to your children. It might be taking a few deep breaths while soothing a screaming child. You could turn on your favorite music and dance in the living room with your kids. Add laughter!
Self-care can be taking a walk with your children to take the edge off the day. Sitting in the swing and watching your children play can give you fresh air and a breather from all that you’re feeling pressed to do. Go to the bathroom more often if that’s what will buy you a few moments alone. When you’re on the edge of losing your temper, getting irritable, or feeling resentful, ask yourself what you need to stay in control. Pay attention to yourself.
One of my oldest friends had licorice drops hidden in a drawer. When she needed a break, she would sneak to her room, grab a licorice drop, and then head back into the fray with a smile on her face. Hey, you do whatever it takes. : )
Do something that will feel nurturing to you. Give yourself space to get it together. When you pay attention to how you’re feeling, to what’s happening in your body, that’s self-care. You can do this while you’re in the thick of parenting.
When you care for yourself, you care for your family. Share the truth with someone you care about.
Is It Possible To Raise spiritually Resilient Teens?
As a mother of seven, I have experienced the struggles of raising teens. As a mentor to hundreds of parents, I know that this challenge is not unique. It can be even more intimidating to contemplate raising spiritually resilient teens in this chaotic and confusing world.
So, I am delighted to introduce you to a new book by Sharla Goettl, Spiritual Resilience: Leading our Youth to Go and Do. It is an excellent resource for any parent who is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ~ or who lives a Christ-centered life.
As many of my readers know, our family’s journey was not always easy. So, I resonated with this statement by Sharla found early on in the book – “Every member of Nephi’s family reached the promised land despite grave challenges and faithless missteps. That fact alone should bring us some hope, peace, and reassurance. Each of them certainly made mistakes, some very serious, yet still reached the promised land through repentance, forgiveness, and repeated efforts to be humble. It was a long process—a journey. (p. 9)
This quote came from the chapter on parental success. This chapter is a must-read for any parent who feels like a failure because not all their family members are spiritually in the same place. It puts a new perspective on parenting success. All those challenging years ago, this would have helped me.
I can’t count the number of times I have assured my readers that there is hope despite a sometimes rocky parenting path. Sharla’s book is filled with information and stories to give parents hope that they can raise spiritually resilient children if they stay the course, despite the challenges.
Yes, You Can Find Time For This Book – Such An Easy Read!
And for all you busy moms and dads, this will hearten you – Sharla’s book is easy to read and well constructed. I loved the chapter summaries at the beginning of the book, which help determine which sections are most applicable to your family right now.
Each summary consists of a few straightforward questions covered in that chapter. For example, Chapter one –
• How can I spiritually prepare for a future I can’t predict?
• How did Nephi’s parents support him in becoming what the Lord needed?
And I loved those found in Chapter 8 –
• What is it you want the very most?
• Do you know a better way to get it than through Christ?
The end of each chapter has its own summary and an area for notetaking. There is a quote before the note-taking section, which helps stimulate thoughts and impressions on moving forward. Experience has taught me that narrowing your plan of action down to a few simple, clear steps is vital to success when doing something new. This end-of-chapter summary helps the reader do just that.
I would encourage everyone wanting a more robust and better relationship with their children and their Savior to read this book and apply the principal’s inside.
Meet Sharla and hear her story:
* EVERYONE can get a FREE gift atwww.sharlagoettl.com Click on the link for “The Goal Maker”. This FREE gift will make the book even more valuable for your family.
My alma mater has a Facebook page. Recently someone asked this question: What life hacks are helping you kill it right now. For me, at this busy stage of life, as a full-time caretaker, I find that a morning and evening routine makes ALL the difference.
I use my morning routine to get myself on track for the day and my evening routine to slow myself down for sleep. Much of the content of these routines is about caring for myself. They are, for the most part, things that fill my soul.
What my morning routine looks like –
• I get up as close to the same time each day as possible. For me, that is between 5:30 and 6:30. The later I get up, the less likely I will be able to do my thing.
• I make the bed (at least my half of it. LOL)
• If there isn’t any activity in my room, I pray. If Don is still in bed or dressing, I head to the bathroom for prayer.
• I dress and get ready for the day in the bathroom. My clothes are already on a hook, ready to put on. No distractions here!
• I read my affirmations/truth statements. I begin every day by reminding myself what a spectacular person I am and what a wonderful life I have! Some days I know I’m really going to need the reminder. LOL
• I read from my spiritual cannon.
That’s it. I take about 30-40 minutes on a good day, and if the day is going south already, it gets fifteen. But it fills my heart and sets me on a positive path for the day.
Here is my night routine –
• I have a set time to STOP. Otherwise, I would work till I fall into bed. It’s my way of being. : ) I STOP at 8:30. 8 pm is better but, again, I do what I can.
• I plan the following day using a simple form I created after a few years of trial and error. It is working for now. : )
• I take a shower. I have been doing this since I was 16, and it isn’t about getting clean. It feels nurturing to me. While showering, I think, I sing, and I get warm enough to sleep.
• If we didn’t have family prayer after dinner, I make sure that happens.
• If I have stopped soon enough, I read. Reading is my favorite pastime.
• Then prayer and bed. My bedtime goal is 9:30 pm, but I don’t always make it. It is a work in progress.
Here is what these routines do for me on the crazy days, and I have plenty of those. When I go to bed, if I have done my morning and evening routine, no matter how many other things are still undone on my list, I feel satisfied that I have done my best.
And that feeling is worth a thousand bucks!!
Who do you know that needs to feel like a thousand bucks? Pass it on!
Recently, my grandson Elliott was super busy in his room. He wanted lots of tape and privacy. I was happy that his mom gave it to him.
He may have been recreating a spider’s web or he may have been taking a stab at an obstacle course like his dad had made during their self-imposed quarantine for Covid a year earlier. It really doesn’t matter because there is great value for kids in being allowed to create even if it uses supplies or creates a mess.
Not everyone agrees with me, but my experience tells me it is true. If we are opposed to a mess, that is about us. If we think materials are wasted unless the end result is some usable item, that is also about us and our story.
My children were creative, so we used lots of paste, glue, rubber bands, construction paper, paper tubes, and egg cartons. We used thousands of crayons, gone through a few dozen pairs of scissors, innumerable pencils, and pens, not to mention compasses, rulers, and other drawing devices. We used rolls of paper and tape and gallons of paint and brushes. We used pounds of flour, butter, and sugar. I can’t even imagine the number of eggs we’ve used. We burned through lots of gas going from place to place to do this and that. In short, we consumed a lot of resources.
Thinking about this makes me happy. Let me share two experiences I’ve had that demonstrate why I’m happy when children use resources and how I know whether they were well used or wasted.
When my youngest daughter was seven, we purchased an item in a large wooden crate. Of course, a large wooden crate is a kid magnet. Kate and her friends were all over that crate.
One day Kate came and asked for paint and brushes. When I questioned what she wanted them for she said it was to paint the boat. So, I gave her lots of poster paint. I never went to see what was happening. I knew they were painting the wooden crate and that now it was a boat. They hadn’t asked for my help, and I was pretty sure they didn’t want it either.
Next, Kate came and asked me for a piece of material to make a sail. I got a sheet for her. She asked if I could help her figure out how to get the sail to stay up. I went out to the boat, gave her directions, and she and her friends went to work. Throughout the day, they came in and asked me for this and that and I got whatever they needed.
I didn’t go out to the boat again until they came to say they had finished and for me to come and see. Wow! It was an amazing boat for a bunch of 7-year-olds to have created. They played with the boat for a long time. I think they loved it because they had made it themselves.
They had used a lot of paint and glue, material, and other items. The boat didn’t last more than a month or so, but I can tell you they played with it daily, and it brought a great deal of pleasure to those seven-year-olds.
A few summers ago, Jack, my then six-year-old grandson, came in and asked me for a couple of empty paper towel tubes and glue. He said he needed real sticky glue. That meant my good tacky glue. I asked Jack what he was making, and he said, “A robot.” I gave him the glue.
Later in the day, I went upstairs and out to the car. As I went out the back door, there was Jack busily working on his robot. It was a square piece of plywood lying flat on the ground. He had used half a jar of my really sticky glue to adhere two round balls on the board and a length of broken necklace. He had used half a roll of tin foil to cover things, robot style. Hmm, what in the heck was that? When I went back downstairs, I told my husband Jack wasn’t making a robot, he was gluing stuff to a piece of board with my expensive, very sticky glue and lots of duct tape.
The next day as I left for work, I stopped dead in my tracks because right there, at the bottom of the back steps, was a perfect robot. Jack had envisioned a robot from a square piece of board and over the course of half a day had assembled all the materials he needed, and he had created it. I was amazed. It had looked like a junky piece of board covered with glue and odds and ends the day before, but Jack knew what he was doing. He had created a perfect robot.
The robot lay at the bottom of the back steps for four days until it rained. Then the pieces were gathered up, and it went to the junkyard in the sky. Jack’s robot couldn’t be played with or hung on the wall. So, the question I ask you is, “Was it a waste of materials for Jack to build the robot?” My answer would be a resounding “No!”
The boat had an obvious use, but the robot seemed useless. However, in both cases, the child had to conceive an idea. They had to determine what materials they needed to bring their idea to fruition. Next, they had to take the initiative to gather the materials and organize them in order to bring their vision to life.
In both cases, since I was somewhat involved and observed the process, those kids had to problem-solve to make things work out. They worked independently, for the most part, trusting they could figure it out and get the job done. At the same time, they had to determine when they needed to ask for help, and exactly what help they needed.
In Jack’s case, he had to figure out how to get the job done with two younger siblings getting in the way. Yelling or hitting wasn’t an option. He had to use diplomacy. In both cases, the child was able to look at the finished product and beam from ear to ear because they knew they had done a spectacular job. They both felt proud for many days. Their belief in themselves was stronger and their ability to do increased.
When I look at the results from the use of the materials in both cases, I think those materials were used perfectly. They accomplished what paint, glue, junk, brushes, rubber bands, scissors, pencils, pens, and all the rest were designed for—to help people problem solve and create. The use of the materials assisted these children in feeling more capable and able than when they began; to feel the pride of having done something that mattered to them.
If I’d been more involved, or if I’d been worried about how the materials were used, we could have saved paint, glue, tape, and so on, and we would have had less mess. But I hope you can see that what the children experienced would have been far different.
The Value of Using Supplies and Making a Mess
As adults, we do have to pay attention to the use of supplies because children need some guidance, but we should worry less about waste. Think instead of what they gain by creating on their own:
• Increased vision
• The ability to bring the vision to life
• The ability to gather what’s needed
• The ability to problem solve
• The ability to work independently
• Learning when to ask for help and what help they need
• Learning to work well with others
• Developing leadership skills and attitudes
• Learning to use diplomacy
If you decide to see your children’s projects differently—how they feel to your child and what the process of creating is teaching them— you can better evaluate the right use of materials. You’ll be able to let it be about them and not you. Couldn’t we use a few more adults who aren’t afraid to turn their dreams into reality because they spent their childhood doing it?
Recently I was at a funeral and an old friend from my high school days was there. We haven’t seen each other for many years, but she reads what I post on Facebook.
We had a delightful time visiting, reminiscing, and then she said, with a sigh, “You are such a good grandma. You do so much with the kids, and you are always so upbeat and cheerful.” Nice, right?
Wrong. I heard what my friend was saying, and I appreciated her words. But I also knew what she was thinking – “You are doing so much better than I am.”
That is the problem with social media. In a digital world, your neighbors multiply, and you can’t see that, yes, they have a messy house too. They sometimes lose their tempers, have their own judgmental and irrational moments, feel down, and go to bed.
I have had to work to become cheerful and optimistic, to be grateful for hard times. It hasn’t come easy. I have taken a ton of classes, read a boatload of books, and practiced my head off. I am beginning to be reasonably good at some of it.
I am just learning some things you may already know and do. On the other hand, I know and do some things you have yet to discover. You can’t get out of childhood and youth without some baggage. It is what it is, no matter how great your family. Our job in life is not to compare ourselves with others. It isn’t to try and reach some standard that society sets. It is to let go of our baggage, heal, become ourselves, and then help others do the same. That is my mission in life – to heal and help others do the same.
I have a painting on my wall made by my third cousin, Celestia Whitehead. It is me flying free as boxes, bags, and trunks fall to earth. It represents my work to shed baggage, heal, learn, and then share that growth and healing with others.
That is why my posts are upbeat, happy, and optimistic. It isn’t because I am better than you, have less bad days, or am perfect in any way. I am just practicing and sharing what I have learned, and I am jettisoning baggage. That can’t be accomplished by complaining and comparing.
If you think I am perfect, please think again.
My sink is filled with dishes. The dog peed on the clean laundry, and Don and I had a spat. Although I am going to be babysitting this afternoon, I do not have a craft prepared. However, I did my daughter’s laundry, and I plan on serving a great dinner.
My writing and posting goals are to highlight each day’s joy, growth, and opportunity, to feel gratitude. I want to share what I am learning because it may help you do the same. You may get a new perspective that will help you let go of some baggage of your own. You may learn something new, that when implemented, can be life-changing. As imperfect as I am, I am working on my life’s mission. : )
I’m not perfect, but I’m growing, and I am sharing that growth with you. Please let someone else in on the secret.
Mary Ann Johnson | Relationship Transformations for Busy Parents, 2017