Author: Mary Ann Johnson

Be Careful Not to Put Management Ahead of Relationship

I had a funny conversation with a single dad. We were talking about how to keep things clean and how to get our kids to clean. I noticed he wasn’t an efficient housekeeper. He felt he was doing ok, and it was ok, just not very clean. : ) This comes from someone who was a professional housekeeper for almost two decades.

Despite having a master’s degree and being a speaker and a writer, I did this work because I like cleaning, I got paid well because I am terrific, and I was my own boss and had time to write, teach, and speak. I know clean. Trust me that can be a blessing and a curse. You can’t imagine how often I have had to force myself not to offer my services to clean someone’s restroom, especially at gas stations and fast-food places. LOL

This dad told me they have a long-time family friend named Steffanie. She is a natural-born cleaner, like me. When he asked the kids to clean anything they would respond, “Dad’s clean, or Stefanie’s clean.” Gotta love kids!

Some of us have a knack for cleaning and we find it satisfying. I’ve been this way since I was a kid. Nobody had to tell me to clean my room. But what happens when your kids are not born cleaners? How do you get the chores done without breaking the relationship bank?

When I was a kid the only consequence for not doing your chores was a spanking. I got my share of those. All parents have some form of consequence that we hold over our kids to get them to do their work. This is because we not only need them to pitch in, but we also want to teach them to be responsible adults. It is our job. But again, getting it done without breaking the relationship bank is important. If we are always yelling, grounding, or spanking, well, relationships will suffer.

Can I share a truth with you that you won’t know until you get there? No matter how clean your home is, no matter how fabulous your system for chores is, some of your adult kids will be neat and tidy as taught and some won’t. I have seven adult kids and I am there. LOL Knowing this makes it easier to not blow a gasket over chores. That is helpful to me now, as I live with four teens.

Two Successful Systems We Used for Management & Relationships

My goal in this article is not to discuss different systems for getting kids to do chores. This article isn’t even about how to get kids to do chores. It’s about keeping home management and teaching in place and reinforcing good relationships at the same time. I’m going to share two things that I did that worked for a time and helped build relationships. One is truly radical. It will leave some of you speechless and others of you laughing. I’m sharing them because they illustrate the importance of relationships over home management.

1. One successful thing we did was put a card above the light fixture in each room that a child might be called upon to clean. This card itemized each thing that had to be cleaned in that room. On any given day, before you could go out to play, you had to do your assigned chore. When your chore was finished the only requirement was that you had to come and tell me personally you were finished, and I would come check it out.

If needed, I would point out the one or two things that required a bit more work or say, “Ok, have fun.” I made sure that despite my overly orderly personality, I kept my expectations age-appropriate. Please note, that this was well into my parenting. I had been required to learn to stop making chores the most important thing because, in my mind, cleanliness was at the top of the list for a time.

I loved this system because I didn’t need to yell. Now and then I would have to track someone down and remind them that their chore came before play. Then we would walk home together and have a mini-conversation on whatever we saw so things stayed calm.

One day, my pre-teen son Barry, came and told me his chore was done. He had been assigned the upstairs bathroom. I smiled and said, “OK, I’ll come and take a look.” Barry‘s face took on a thoughtful expression and he replied, “Just a minute. I’ll be back.” Then he took off up the stairs. About ten minutes later he returned and let me know he was ready for me to see his job. It was well done for a pre-teen boy. : ) I hugged him and off he went to the field to catch snakes.

This system was awesome and worked for a few years. Then we had older teens and that changed everything!

2. One of the most common chores for kids is cleaning their bedroom. There’s the weekly ritual of saying, “Go clean your room.” Then we spend the next few hours cajoling and possibly yelling to get our kids to behave responsibly and get the room cleaned. In our world, this was true with my three boys as they moved into their teens.

Here is the very unconventional thing I did.

I told my sons that they oversaw their rooms, and I wouldn’t interfere if the mess wasn’t spilling into the hall, and I couldn’t smell it. I know, crazy. Then I added, “However, every six months your room must be cleaned well. You must sort your junk, order your drawers and closet, and clean under the bed. Either you do it, or I will. There will be no argument. If you don’t want me in your room, then when I tell you we are at the 6-month mark you clean it. If you need help, I will assist you.”

If you choose not to clean your room by the specified date, then I will. However, if I clean your room then I decide what stays and what goes, clothes, toys, games, whatever.” This worked for me because if you recall, I LOVE cleaning and am very proficient at it.

I told you this was unconventional. There had been too much arguing, consequences, many of which couldn’t be enforced, and yelling. Their rooms were very messy with dirty clothes on the floor for days or weeks, and clutter all over the place. At this point, the boys were in charge of doing their own laundry. Wash it or wear it dirty. We also had a hook in each room, and you got one towel a week. If it was left on the floor and smelled, you were out of luck. My kids knew by then, that what I said I meant, and laundry and towels were never an issue.

Clothes were shoved into drawers unfolded folded. OK, if you don’t mind wrinkles then I don’t either. They all knew how to iron and on occasion, would if it involved a girl. But for school, no way. These were the 80’s after all.

Barry and Seth left their rooms for me to clean every six months. I got rid of so much junk! I LOVED it and they couldn’t have cared less. However, Andrew always cleaned his room and did an excellent job because he didn’t want me sorting his junk. He never needed any assistance. LOL This crazy system stopped the yelling, pouting, sneaking off, and all the rest. It allowed these almost-adults to make decisions about how to manage themselves and their space.

As a very orderly person, who was an excellent cleaner, it was a challenge for me. But the upside was that I learned to be more flexible, allow others to make decisions different than mine, and to turn and walk away. These lessons came in very handy during our families’ hard years.

Most of you will not think this is a very good system but it worked for us, for a time. I am sharing it because it is just one of many systems we used throughout the years, that were designed to get the job done and keep relationships intact.

As a parent running a household, you have a million things to think about and manage. You have all the physical tasks required to maintain the home both inside and out. You have all the jobs that keep the people in your home cared for—meals, laundry, housekeeping, and chauffeuring kids from place to place. Managing all of this is a big job. However, this is the “doin’ it, doin’ it, doin’ it.” To be successful in your family relationships, you need to stop “doin’ it” all the time and put effort into working on your family. That’s the relationship part of the job of parenting.

I know the system I used with my teen boys was odd and wouldn’t be found in any parenting book. My two boys who let me clean their rooms are now adults. They know how to clean and organize. Barry is part owner of three businesses and Seth managed two separate businesses and created a training system for one of them. Andrew, the one who always cleaned his room at the 6th-month mark, is a father, a good husband, and a hard worker. Their homes are orderly and clean.

We need to teach our kids to clean. They need to learn to manage their responsibilities. You will try many systems. Some will work for a time and others won’t be successful at all. It is all an experiment.

But ultimately your relationship with your children matters more than whether they clean well or not. The dad I talked with had a lot of fun with his kids and they loved him. They spent time together and they were learning to clean, sometimes Dad’s way and sometimes Stephanie’s way. As adults, they will decide where they fall, and it will be OK.

There are payoffs when we learn to put relationships ahead of home management.


PAY OFF 1—Reduced Stress and Increased Energy
Sharon Silver has expressed this perfectly: “Focusing on love and creating a connection causes unseen properties to magically eat up stress. It’s as if stress and love can’t exist in the same space. When a stressed-out parent takes a few minutes to sit and lovingly reconnect to their child, heart to heart, it’s like a key has been inserted and the stress begins to dissolve” (Silver, “4 Minute Way to De-Stress”).

When we put systems in place that put relationships over management, we will be less stressed. I have lived on both sides of this coin.

PAY OFF 2—Extended Patience
When we stop managing things and look at our children, when we see them and hear them, our patience level increases. Remember one of those moments when you felt angry or frustrated but stopped and reached out to your child lovingly, and you felt the negative feelings dissipate? It may not happen often but I’m sure it has happened. It magnifies the feeling of success as a parent. These moments of extended patience help you stay in control when things are heating up in your life.

PAY OFF 3—Reduce the Need for Consequences
You saw how it worked with my first system. I didn’t need to repeat myself or nag. They could take all day but couldn’t go play till done. And Barry understood what was needed to get the go-ahead. No grounding. No yelling. No spanking. And in today’s world, no need to take away the tech. Truth is, sometimes one would choose to stay home all day and not do the work. They also knew it would be there waiting the next day. LOL

PAY OFF 4—Children Who Know They Matter
As adults, we’re end-product driven, and it can become a challenge to not get caught up in management over relationships. We tend to focus on the job at hand, how it should be done, and how it turns out in the end.

This keeps us out of relationship mode. Parents can care too much about the outcome and too little about the relationship. When we take the time to work on our parent/child relationship we allow them to know and love us, and we let them know they matter more than whatever job or task is at hand. This can happen while teaching responsibility.

PAY OFF 5—Enjoyable Relationships
To have fulfilling and enjoyable relationships with those in our care, our children, we need to stop managing so much and give more time to building the relationship. I am laughing because this is how it is with me and my mom. I can get caught up in the ‘doin it’ and forget that how she feels matters more. My boat is your boat. : ) Relationship is everything, and ultimately it depends on you!

PAY OFF 6—The burden of Parenting (or caregiving LOL) is Lightened
Not much feels better than laughing with your child or getting a sloppy kiss and hug when you’re feeling frazzled. Oh yes, and a silly smile and an eye roll from your teen is awesome. : ) It’s sublime hearing the words “You’re the best Mom/Dad.” There’s a feeling of renewal and peace as you rock quietly, holding a child. This is how I felt as I hugged Barry after I checked out the bathroom and then sent him off to hunt snakes.

In the end, relationships will surpass just about everything else in their ability to bring happiness, peace, and satisfaction to your family. It makes the job of parenting lighter.

We all want to prepare our kids to be out on their own. I have been in that place. I have also seen how it worked out as the seven of them became adults. My daughter Jodie who kept her room clean as a kid, often has a messy living room and kitchen. I live in a 4-generation home, and I know. However, she can clean it up and do an amazing job when there is an opening in her busy day as a single mom with four teens, one with severe CP. Often, she chooses to work on relationships rather than cleaning the kitchen and living room. It always amazes me when she gets off work and then takes Mary to do an errand, drives Ben to a friend, or helps Jack with the horses.

Before I knew better, I would have let all this go in order to clean my home, and I would have done a lot of scolding in the process. Despite my early ignorance, my children have learned well.

Ninety percent of people on their deathbed say their biggest regret is they didn’t get closer to the people in their lives and almost all parents whose children are grown say they wish they’d spent more time with their kids. I am right there with them!

One day you’ll be older. Your kids will be gone from your home. You won’t care how clean your house was, how spectacular the yard is, if you homeschooled or public schooled. You won’t value the amount of money you made, how often you went to Disneyland, or what college your kids attended. You won’t care if they’re carpenters or lawyers. You won’t care if you impacted thousands of people as a writer, speaker, or teacher. What you will think about more than anything else is the condition of the relationships within your family. That, my friends, is what you’re going to treasure most.

Take time now to make them sweet.

You can learn more on this subject and read other wonderful examples and stories in the book Becoming a Present Parent: Connecting with Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. See Chapter 9 ADJUST YOUR APPROACH 

Managing What Is and Where You Are

I had a conversation last March with a young friend. Yes, it has taken me over a year to figure out how to share our conversation. The topic is challenging, and I am busy caregiving. This last comment leads us into my conversation with my friend.

She was overwhelmed and felt like a parenting and personal failure. She wanted to know how to identify the essentials and have some control. : ) I could relate to everything she was feeling and suffering. Frankly, I was in the same boat but for different reasons. She was asking me something I was just beginning to get a handle on myself. That is probably why over a year passed before I could share the conversation.

Let me fill you in on our situations. My friend has a baby, a toddler, and a child in preschool. They were living in a multi-family situation and preparing to move. She was also dealing with the trauma of a miscarriage. Her basket was overflowing.

Six years ago, after a year of putting it off, I left my speaking and teaching business and became a full-time caregiver to my mother, who is 94 and has dementia. My husband is also unwell and needs help. On the side, I assist in the care of my 18-year-old granddaughter, who has severe CP. I feel as if I am standing in my young friends’ shoes, in a way.

I have wonderful women in my life in all stages of parenting. Some have small children like the friend I had this conversation with, others have teens, and some, like me, are grandmothers. We talk informally about managing the craziness life can throw at you, how to be better people, and how to care for ourselves while still taking care of the important things. We also grapple with what are the most important things and how to keep them on the top of the list. None of these are easy subjects. It helps to bounce ideas off those you trust. Hence, my young friend and my conversation. I will call her B.

B. wondered how to prioritize. How to do what is needed before her energy runs out. Her productivity lessens as she moves through the day. She wondered about systems to help her get the kid things done, the household things done, get her writing done, and find space for rest. Yes, she is a writer too. : ) See, I am sorta in her shoes. LOL

When I responded to her video this is what happened. I made a 20-minute response only to discover that I hadn’t been recording. I redid the whole thing and began, “I just made a 20-minute video, and the recording wasn’t on. That’s how my days go. That’s how yours are going. I can relate to where you are because that’s where I’m at.”

Each stage of life has its challenges. After 74 years and trying many things I have learned that you need to allow where you are to be OK until you can move to a new place. And you will move to a new place because life isn’t static. If it’s hard now, there will be a time of relief, and then it may be hard again and the cycle repeats. So, what is vital, in my opinion and experience, is to have some tools for managing what is.

Here are some tools that I use, and shared with B.

1. Recognise and manage your story – I know I have written about this often, but it is the number one thing I look at whenever life is hard, sad, confusing, or am angry or weary, in conflict with someone, or my day is going south. What I tell myself about what is happening matters!

My first suggestion to my friend was that she had to get a handle on her story. This is what it was – I am failing. I can’t get stuff done. Other mothers manage better than I do.

As I said, I am standing in her shoes in a way. Here is the story I have been dealing with for seven years – I must get as much done as possible before 3 pm or the day shreds apart and I don’t get to my stuff.

When I feel the day getting out of control, I remind myself this is a story. I want you to know that this year I have begun to get a handle on this story and my days have had a better flow despite challenges, interruptions, or not getting it all done before late afternoon. Getting control of a story can take time. You must keep working on it. Old stories do resurface, especially when we are overly tired. If a story returns it isn’t because you haven’t done the work. It’s because that happens, and you are wise if you keep practicing story management without beating yourself up!

When you are overwhelmed STOP and ask yourself, “What is the story I am telling myself right now?” Then work on story management.

2. Make a plan and promise to do your best. I do this through prayer. When B. and I had this video conversation I was taking a class on emotional resilience because I like learning new things and improving my skills.

In one of the classes, they talked about time, and I felt the triggers going off. Remember my time story? They showed a video of a woman in Africa. She was sharing with a young man how she managed time. I wrote what she said down. This notebook sits on my table where I eat, and I see it every day. Watch the video HERE.

I use this notebook when I say my morning prayer and night prayer. My prayers are short because I often need to help Maggie or another family member. During one morning prayer, I had to stop and let the cat out. Then I had to stop to get the dog to cease barking, and I had to answer the door for one of the kids. Prayers are not always peaceful, and I know that God understands the life of women. That is why what the African woman shared was so valuable.

Each morning she prayed:

  • I promise to do my best.
  • I ask for help with all that I cannot do.
  • Where and whom do I serve today?
  • I ask for help in ordering my daily task list.
  • Then I listen (and I would add, for what time I am allowed before the next interruption LOL).

I have added this to what she taught the young man:

  • Then I go to my list, read it over, add what comes to mind, occasionally take something off that is no longer important for that day, and then number my tasks.

This simple system has made a huge difference in the flow of my day and how I feel at the end of the day. If I only got one thing done, but I did my best as I served and dealt with the interruptions, then I am OK.

If prayer is not your thing, then take time to ponder. Think about what would be best. Ask yourself the questions and then review your daily task list. Make needed changes, and then determine the order to do your tasks.

3. Have simple systems. My morning prayer routine is a system. I know it doesn’t seem like prayer can be a system, but for me and the African woman, it is. It is what helps us manage our busy lives.

In a recent article, I shared my daily worksheet. It isn’t for everyone, but it works for me and was compiled over seven years of experimenting with different systems. It is simple. It helps me remember and gives me a way to order what matters most. I can’t possibly get everything done but when I find myself drifting or off-center, I have a system that helps me return.

My friend B. needed help getting herself ready in the morning. Her baby is often up at 6:30. I asked what was essential for her to feel put together and she replied, “Wash my face, brush my teeth, get dressed, pull back my hair, and put on mascara. I suggested she put her brush and mascara in an easy-to-access place in her bathroom, not with all her other makeup. I also suggested that she hang her clothes for the next day on the bathroom door.  I have found this essential to get myself together in the mornings.

It helps because I can dash into the bathroom, run the brush through my hair, throw on my clothes, brush my teeth, and run to whatever is next. This simple system of having my clothes on the bathroom door and a brush on the shelf has saved me more than once, and I can go into the day reasonably prepared.

Now when the baby wakes at 6:30 B. can nurse him. Then B. takes him and herself to the bathroom where her clothes are hanging, and her brush and mascara are handy.

Prayer and simple systems, used with consistency help me stay out of that dark place of feeling like a failure and they will help B. also. We don’t need to feel like crap because we will have done our best, God will make up the difference, we will be reasonably presentable for the day, and there will be another day to do the rest.

4. Make Space for what you need – B. was dealing with moving, trauma, and three small children. I am constantly taking care of other’s needs. We are each in a season and it is what it is. There are physical and emotional consequences to each season. We must learn to accept our season and manage the consequences until we move to a new season.

B.’s kids will grow, and her trauma will lessen. But a season of older children will also have consequences on her physical, mental, and emotional self. My mom will eventually pass away, and I may not always have Don and Maggie to care for. Those changes will have consequences that I will need to manage. It will be a new season.

B. felt bad because when her son went to preschool and the baby went down for a nap, she wanted a nap. She thought she should buck up and get stuff done. As we talked, she could see that at this season it would be OK to take a short nap. It is what her body and mind need.

I don’t nap but sometimes I must leave. I take a short walk or go on an errand alone. My mom loves to go in the car, and I usually take her but sometimes I need to be alone and sometimes B. needs a nap. We need to let ourselves have what we need now and then because when we make space for ourselves, we parent, and care give better.

B. worried because she couldn’t get her exercise in. She couldn’t go for walks or make it to the gym. I shared that sometimes we need a different system. Here is an article about how my daughter got exercise with three small children, one with Cerebral Palsy. Going to the gym wasn’t in the cards or walking alone. Her third option was brilliant and would work for B.

I used to sit for hours and read. It is my favorite pastime. But caregiving three adults doesn’t leave me hours to read. I had to find a new way to satisfy this need. Here is an article that shows how I let my bathroom conquer the reading time shortage problem. Do what you can and let it count, even if it is sitting in the sun for 5 minutes!

5. Take responsibility – I am a writer. I do it because it brings me joy, but it is a challenge to get it done. I allow many things to get in the way. Did you notice that I said, “I allow…

One week I didn’t make giving myself time to write a priority. I left the whole thing until Saturday. I try not to write or have any appointments on Saturday. It is my day. That doesn’t mean I don’t cook, clean, and care for other’s needs, but I want the day to be flexible. It feels almost like a rest no matter how busy it is if the day is flexible.

But I had left the whole thing till Saturday morning. Writing an article, rewriting it several times, editing it, formatting it on the website, and creating and formatting the newsletter can take 4 to 6 hours or more. Can you see the problem? I hadn’t followed my simple system for finishing by Friday evening and I found myself in trouble. Systems require consistency!

I got upset with Don several times that day because I was still caregiving, making meals, etc. I was grouchy and my tone was not generous. I finally had to look at my way of being and take charge of my story. No one was making me write. I could choose not to post an article on Sunday. No one had kept me from doing a little each day. I had made choices that left it till the last minute.

I went to Don and confessed that I had been treating him poorly. I told him I wasn’t mad at him; I was angry at myself because I hadn’t followed my system. Don felt better and believe me, I felt better. Then I had to have the same conversation with my mother. Then I finished my writing, hit schedule, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Part of B.’s struggle was that she didn’t have systems in place, and she didn’t always have a plan for her day. She wasn’t allowing what she could do for herself, in the time available, to count. Consequently, she felt upset with her husband, the kids, and life. As we conversed, she could see the value of taking responsibility. When I say responsibility, I do not mean to beat ourselves up. I mean to correct your story, get simple systems in place, use them consistently, and make a plan. Then follow the plan the best you can. Do your best and let God take care of the rest.

I am learning. Imagine at 74 I am in B.’s shoes, in a way. I have more experience and knowledge than she does but I can still drift off the path and blame others. The difference is I know and can correct. Now B. is practicing the same. We are 100% in control of our response. When we know this truth we can take responsibility for our part, and it is liberating!

My personal belief is that God has great respect for his daughters. He knows my burdens and he knows yours. He can and will help us as we implement simple systems, use them consistently, plan ahead, give ourselves space to care for our needs, manage our stories, and take responsibility.

Be kind to yourself. Plan, have systems, tell a better story, and take responsibility.

Choose The Scenic Route

I have the privilege of having a granddaughter with severe cerebral palsy. Whenever anyone finds out they always respond with, “Oh, I am so sorry.” They don’t need to be sorry. Maggie is one of the happiest human beings I know. Her mother loves her and magnificently cares for her. I have the privilege of living in a four-generation home and I see what having a special needs child can entail. There is no getting around how challenging it is, but there is also no getting around how rewarding it can be, how you are changed and privileged to grow.

I have a dear friend who has special needs and is a brittle diabetic to boot. She and I go to our temple once a month. I have had to learn how to manage if she has a diabetic episode and that has worked out well. I have had to learn how to help her when I take her shopping because, although she is 54, she shops like a ten-year-old. Not one large container of kitty litter but four, because you don’t want to run out. : )

Michelle usually stops at my home once a week when she walks her dog, Max, in winter, or summer. It’s fun having the mini-conversations that occur, while constantly telling Max to sit. : ) I have had her in my home teaching her to make treats that are wheat and sugar-free. My husband is a diabetic, so I have had lots of experience. I have taught her to make ice cream bars, cheese crisps, and granola, to name a few. Again, it has been rewarding and I have changed and grown just knowing and serving, Michelle.

I had a friend years ago who had six children and will remain anonymous, per her request. Their special needs ranged from autism to dyslexia. From anxiety to cerebral palsy. From nut allergies to regular growing-up issues. She said, “Being the mother of special needs children is an honor and a privilege. The blessings that have come to our family cannot compare to anything else. We are blessed to see life through a unique perspective.”

Life is Full of Difficulties and Challenges for Every Family, Special Needs or Not.

My friend often said when you are working and teaching children with special needs you need to learn to think outside the box, inspire in simple ways, and continually re-group and re-focus your efforts. This is true. I have watched Jodie learn to do this. I saw Michelle’s mom doing it. And I had to do it with my seven children. This mom called it taking the ‘scenic route’, when you find joy and beauty despite the difficulties you encounter along the way.

Most of you who read my articles have children without special needs, at least not the kind I have referenced above. However, is there any child who doesn’t have special needs? Is there any time we don’t have to re-group as each child grows and changes how they think and feel? Parenting is all about thinking outside the box, inspiring in simple ways so that individual children can move forward to their destinies, and re-grouping and re-focusing as we go along. It can feel intimidating, but with prayer, thoughtful pondering, and eyes that see, it can be done.

Practice Out of the Box Thinking

My friend who made the above comment told me she always felt like an out-of-the-box sort of girl. Once, she told her mom while doing chores differently than her mom had taught her, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” While raising her children with all their special needs, she realized how powerful this way of thinking was for her. She had to think out of the box. She had to let go of the sucker’s choice and seek the third option. She had to look for what was needed, not what was considered normal or expected.

My daughter Jodie and Michelle’s mother had to let go of the idea that everyone learns the same, needs to understand the same information, and needs to BE a certain way in the world. I’ll bet you have kiddos who are square pegs trying to fit into round holes.

My dad believed there was only one way to do a thing. Being obedient, I did it his way. But when I left home the world opened for me and I began making different choices than my peers. I didn’t always fit in. I worried I would miss out, and be shunned, but I wasn’t. Learning to think out of the box, and it took time, has made a world of difference in my life!

Begin thinking outside of the box and helping your children do the same. It isn’t comfortable. I am a bit controlling like my dad. When my grands mow the lawn, do their laundry, or make food I want to tell them to do it my way. That is the best way. But I DON”T. I know that as they learn to think out of the box they will fare better in the world.

Every Family Has a Mission

Every family and every child has potential. When Maggie was small it was assumed that her mental age was moving along as it should. Jodie was looking for ways to help her so that she could eventually go to college.

When it became clear that Maggie’s mental age did not match her chronological age it felt deflating. What could Maggie do with her life? Well, here is what she has done. With minimal hand movement, she has learned to use her iPad better than I can. With a controller, she can manage the TV. I don’t even know how to work their TV. And with these skills, she has learned to ‘speak’ with her iPad. She says wise and funny things. After I used the lift for the first time she said, “Grandma did good.”

She was in her high school talent show two years in a row, telling her favorite jokes to a standing ovation. She makes videos for her friends and our family. She brings joy to our hearts. There is nothing like having a bad day and going to the family video site to see Maggie laughing and sharing her favorite joke, or telling someone she is sorry they are sick or struggling. Her mission is magnificent – to bring joy into the lives of those around her; and to bring hope to those who are struggling and think they can’t go on. They look to Maggie and know they can.

I live with three other grands, and I have lived with them since they were toddlers. They are now all teens. There have been times when we have wondered what would become of that unruly child, that messy child, that child getting the D’s. But they are blossoming because their parents know that every child and every family has a mission.

When you know this there is room for failure. There is room for stupidity. There is room for tantrums. There is room to grow and change. There is room for unconditional love despite your worries, fears, and sometimes anger, at the process a child or your family may be in.

Be Patient with The Season You Are In

When hard things come into your family learn to stop and breathe. Take a moment to evaluate the season of life you are in. Be patient with yourself and allow the season to run its course. Take having a new baby for example or when your first child enters puberty. And what if you go to work? Be patient with the season.

Keep Learning

My friend shared another interesting thing with me. “I am learning something important about myself. I find that chaos ensues, and peace is threatened when I don’t make my own study a priority. You can’t fill your children’s cups when yours is empty. No matter the twists and turns life throws me, I have to make a priority. I have to keep reading my personal canon, which includes scriptures and other important works. When I allow myself to forget this principle then chaos takes over.”

This is true for any person or family. Doesn’t this make you think of the article I shared last week – Read, Learn and Bless Your Family

Understand That Family is about Creation

Plant your feet and bloom where you are planted. I heard my grandmother say this, as did my mother. I didn’t get it then because I wanted life the way I wanted it to be. But now, at 74, living in a four-generation home, giving full-time care to two adults, and helping with my special needs granddaughter, I think I understand what it means. LOL

I believe this statement has great application to our lives and the health and well-being of our families and children. We need to trust ourselves and believe we can know what our children and family need. That what we lack can be learned and practiced. We need to let go of looking over the proverbial back fence to see how we compare to our neighbors. Social media has made this a challenge. It doesn’t matter what your neighbor is doing in their backyard. The goal should be to create a backyard that works for your family’s needs. When you do this, it will be unique, because your family and its make-up are unique. This is true for special needs families, and it is true for all the families we think of as ‘normal.’

Life is constantly changing. Children with special needs have medical issues and new challenges. Families with toddlers move from that place to the world of childhood, preteen, and finally the teen years. Parents lose jobs or get one for the first time. Families move. Systems become outdated and need to be revamped. Nothing stays the same and how we manage must change with our family. Hence the need for that out-of-the-box thinking.

As my wise friend said, “This means that we often find ourselves standing on new ground. So…we plant our feet, and bloom in the fertile soil of that season of life until that season is over, and we find ourselves on a new plot of land. It’s all about attitude and enduring to the end. It’s important to speak with the Master Gardener about our children! He knows what they can become and how best to inspire greatness within them. I know He can provide every resource necessary for their proper growth and survival. Whenever I feel myself start to worry about what they know and don’t know, I ask Him to remind me of His plans and purpose for them.”

I love this because I lived it while raising my own seven. We suffered through drug addiction, a mother who raged, a father who was on the road, and many other hard things. But through it all, resources came. Knowledge was provided. Growth happened and we not only survived, but we also thrived.


The path for each family is different. If we choose, we can take the scenic route to get there. It requires that we:

  • Find what works for our family. Stop comparing yours with someone else.
  • Seek resources.
  • Be willing to learn, change, and grow.
  • Think out of the box.
  • Have great conversations with your children.
  • Continually re-group and re-focus.
  • Know that your family and each member have a mission.
  • Be patient with the season you are in and with yourself.
  • Keep learning.
  • Understand that a successful family is about creation.
  • Seek help from your Higher Power or someone you trust.

As my friend so joyfully put it – “In the end, we will reach our potential and help our family members reach theirs. And while we are at it, we just might become experts in the field of Changing Seasons and Soil Exploration…if there is such a thing.”

Choose to take the scenic route despite the challenges, worries, and fears. You can do it!

Read, Learn, and Bless Your Family

In 2011 I wrote an article on what it takes for parents to carve out time to read and study for themselves. There are many adults, my husband included, who do not read. But when children see adults in their lives reading and studying, it sets them up to do the same.

As I read what I had written, I realized that my knowledge base on some things had expanded and I had adjusted my thoughts on others. Interesting.

At any rate, it was worth sharing again. If you homeschool, then this is a must. If you want your children to enjoy reading and learning, regardless of how they are educated, this is a must. If you haven’t been a reader or a learner as an adult, this will help you grow. : ) It is powerful and can be life-changing. Learning can become part of your family culture.

The Scripture That Triggered the Thought

Back in 2011, I read a verse of scripture that sparked this article. “I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth. . .therefore, First, set in order thy house” Doctrine and Covenants 93:43 On this day, I read it in a new way. I focused on “First, set in order thy house”. It brought to my mind another verse of scripture. “For now we see through a glass darkly”. 1 Cor. 14:12

Seeing through a glass darkly is an apt analogy when we are sharing knowledge with our children. If the windows to our home are dark, we cannot see out of them clearly. Everything we see will be dimmed by our own darkness. We will not be able to give more light to our families than we possess. We must be enlightened first, and then we can share with our children.

It caused me to think of the classics I have read and my spiritual canon. If we are unfamiliar with good literature and that which informs our belief system, then we cannot call them to mind when a quote, verse, or thought might enlighten a child, illuminate a teaching, open a new learning adventure, or ease a soul. These quotes and teachings won’t be in us because our house is empty, and our windows are dark. As parents, we want to do and say the best thing when it is needed, so we can give help, comfort, and knowledge to our children. Having light in our own house, so to speak, is vital.

Reading good books and our spiritual canon or other writings that inform our belief system is like washing our windows and filling our house with light. As we enlighten ourselves, we see more clearly. We see our children and their needs more clearly.

So, how do busy parents find the time for self-education, reading, and reflection?

Here are some ideas that helped me while I raised seven children and continue to assist me now that I live in a four-generation home.

1. Decide that you want to learn and that you want to expand your knowledge base in old and new areas. Make a personal commitment to read, take classes, and learn, so when it is difficult you can and will follow through. And it will be difficult. That is the nature of parenting. There are many demands. However, committing yourself to reading and studying will help you do it when it isn’t easy or comfortable!

2. Have a book available all the time. When I had children, I packed one in the diaper bag. Later, I had a small bag by the front door with a book, pencil, and paper in it. I could grab and go at a moment’s notice.

If needed, have a second book, which you will read more often, available in your home so that when the rare moment occurs, you can read.

Today, I keep a book in a basket in my bathroom. I visit that room at least three times a day and I can read a few paragraphs before I am interrupted. You all know what that is like. LOL Declare your intention to learn and grow by being prepared.

3. Give up perfection. I know that having quiet, focusing on one book fully, and taking notes is the best way to digest information. Your season for that will come but may not be now. And if you are like me, at 74 in a four-generation home, it may come much later than you anticipated. LOL

At this point in my life, I thought I would be going back to college and getting my doctorate in education. In Montana, when I still had most of my children at home, I had a full-ride scholarship for a doctorate. But it wasn’t the season. I had to content myself with learning how to parent better by reading and counseling with those who knew more than I did. It eventually led to a career spanning 13 years, speaking, teaching, and publishing a book.

Now, here I am, back in the traces and I, like you, must be content to read in the bathroom or while waiting in a doctor’s office. Be ok with learning in whatever way you can manage – reading while nursing, cooking, waiting for the washer to fill, snatching a paragraph or two while managing a toddler at the doctor’s office, or grabbing your 30 seconds of private time on the toilet.

Occasionally, I can retreat to my office to study my spiritual canon or read. I take notes. I do research on the computer. However, I know that I will be interrupted repeatedly and that I may only get a few focused minutes. For now, I am letting that be enough. Give up perfection and you will learn, change, and grow. Who knows where it will eventually lead you?

4. Talk about what you are reading at dinner. Throw out a thought and see who responds. Let the conversation flow naturally. You can even do this with a 3-year-old. “Jenny, what would you do if someone wanted you to be mean to someone else.” (Maybe you have been reading Lord of the Flies) You and your spouse can have a discussion which the children may join. If not, they will hear what you are learning.

I do this when my husband and mother of 94 years, sit to eat. Often, I am the only one talking. : ) But it helps me think about what I am reading and Don and Mom don’t seem to mind.

Occasionally at our meals, I read to them. I eat fast and then I read. It doesn’t happen every meal or even every day but occasionally, we read at a meal.

5. Call a friend on the phone and share an aha. They do not have to have read the book. The best way to cement what you are learning is to share what you have discovered while reading. This is why talking at dinner or phoning a friend is useful. : )

6. If you can, give yourself 10 minutes before bed to read a few paragraphs. You may have great thoughts and ideas upon waking.

7. Have a pad and pen by your bed. When you wake up sit on the edge of the bed, quietly, for a couple of minutes, and ask your brain what it came up with in the night. See what ideas flow and write them down. If the baby is crying, take the pad and pen with you. While changing a diaper or nursing, ask your brain what it has come up with in the night and then write it down.

Currently, I have my pad and pen in the bathroom window. My nightly caregiving, prayer-filled shower is when I have many thoughts and I write them down so I can ponder them before bed.

8. Consider reading with your spouse for 10 or 15 minutes every day. If you set a time and then are as consistent as possible, you will read together more often. Don and I used to read in the evening. He likes Westerns, doesn’t read himself, but enjoys it when I read to him. This worked for many years. Now we have had to adjust. My mom lives with us and so we read at lunch, most days.

Reading as a family is a powerful way to share knowledge and information with your children. Reading as a family allows you to read books with tough ideas because you can talk about them as you read and help your children navigate the difficult decisions they may face as they grow.

If reading to your kids seems too challenging because of a wide range of ages, then here are a couple of articles that can help you navigate it successfully.

Don’t worry if it takes time to finish a book or if you only get a few paragraphs in. It is the reading consistently that matters, whether you are reading to your spouse, your family, or by yourself.

9. Cast out discouragement because you cannot read and study for long periods of dedicated time. Everything has a season. Your current season is parenting. Mine is four-generation grandparenting, with a special needs granddaughter, and full-time caregiving for two older adults.

Keep in mind the old example of how to fit more in a jar. Begin with the rocks. Then add small gravel. Then comes the sand. Finally, add water.

Your family and children are the rocks. This goes in the jar first. Housekeeping, preparing food, work, and all the rest are the small gravel that we sift in after the rocks. Church, community duties, etc. are the sand that follow the gravel. Reading and learning are the water. There is always room for the water when we put the rocks in first.

Remember everything has a season, be content with your season.

Mary Ann – Cleaning – For the List Makers

Mary Ann’s Daily worksheet

This is the last article in the series on cleaning systems. This is the system I use today. Let me give you the back story.

I have tried many cleaning systems, but I always returned to ‘THE LIST.’ I am a list maker. It seemed the most useful and satisfying way to manage my daily work. However, I am also a finisher. This and list-making can be a combination for failure. It isn’t that you fail, but you always feel like a failure because you can never finish the list.

In real life, you never finish the list. Part of the reason for this is, that not everything you have to do in a day is on the list – dishes, meals, laundry, running kids to friends, that extra trip to school when someone is ill, and so forth. This list/finisher combination caused me grief for most of my life. If I am not careful and follow my current system, it still can be. Just being honest. : )

When I found myself in a four-generation home, just as busy as when I was raising seven children, I began praying about the issue. God knows me well, and he likes me how I am. But He also knows there are ways that I can manage my natural way of being/energy better. So that seemed like the best place to go for help.


The sheet I posted in this article is the result of seven years of experimenting and revamping. Yes, it took that long. I would come up with a plan, use it, and then have thoughts on how to change it for the better. I would make the change and begin again.

Here is what that looked like. At first, all the things I did to get my day going well, i.e., prayer, scriptures, gratitude book, etc. were on the to-do list. More things to get done!

Then they were labeled separately as – Morning Routine and Evening Routine. Still, a bunch of stuff to get done. It felt heavy.

One day, as I was looking over my Daily Worksheet, I had the thought to relabel both the night and morning routine items to AM for ME and PM for ME. I am big on paying attention to the story I tell myself. Suddenly, they weren’t just more things that any well-developed and in-charge person would do. With the new label, they went from being more stuff I needed to take care of, to how I nurtured myself. A HUGE change in how they felt. I wanted to do them first and last because I love me, really, I do. I like who I am, and although I have lots of work to do on my way of being, I care about myself as a person and as a daughter of God. AM and PM went from stuff a wise person should do, to what I do to love and care for myself.

The AFTERNOON FOR ME section was added a few years later. I can’t always get to many of these items, but I try because they require me to sit, think, rest, and care for myself for a few minutes. In truth, many of these items get done throughout the day, but having them on the list helps me remember that I need breaks and rest.

Not everything gets done every day in these three sections, but what I do manage is helpful, and I feel satisfied when I can cross one of them off.


I separated appointments and special events from my daily list. At times, this section can override the whole list.

Take yesterday for example. June 11 was my husband’s birthday. We had a temple appointment at 12:30. That would take 2 hours. Then a stop at Costco for his weekly watermelon purchase and gas. Then a trip to his favorite store, Backyard Birds, to spend his birthday money. Then eating out at a Mexican restaurant he was dying to try.

Can you see how this special event would trump whatever else was on my list? I got my AM and PM for ME done. : ) I got a couple of things off the list before we left at noon, and I got a couple done after we got home at six.

Separating appointments and special events from my daily list has helped a ton. If I don’t get much done on the list, I can look at the Appointments/Special Events section and know why. No failure, just a busy family day, lots of outside appointments, or a serving others day.


Next is the to-do list. There weren’t numbers at first. Then there were 12 items. It changed to 10, and now it is 8. What 8 things are the must-dos today, above and beyond the appointments and special events? I must force myself not to add more! It is a challenge, and on some days, I break the rule and write down 10-12 things. I always regret it because I have many people to care for in my 4-generation home, a job in my church, my writing, and neighbors I help. Each time I break the rule I remind myself why it is the way it is. Then I smile, give myself grace, and know I did well today despite not getting everything crossed off.


Of course, every day I have more than eight things I need to do! So do you. This is where they go. It satisfies my need to write down too many things. If I do get the main eight finished, I can see what is in this section. For example, a few days ago, 4 things out of my main eight were calls to doctors and the insurance company. These calls can take up lots of time but needed to be done that day. Fortunately, they went smoothly and didn’t take all day. : ) I was able to look at my IF TIME section and get other important items completed.

Honestly, items in this section, rarely get done that day. But that is ok because it is an ‘if I have time’ item. I can move it to the next day or the next week.


I love the section. I got the idea from my friend and business guru Janine Bolon.

This little section is a lifesaver. I have big jobs I want to do such as, clean the whole kitchen, sort all the drawers in the bedroom, you know the dumb stuff that finishers love to do. LOL I can write one or two floating goals here. If they get done in a week, awesome. If not, they move to the next week and sometimes I decide it doesn’t matter and they drop off completely.

For example, I began deep cleaning in March. I got the living room done in one week. But the kitchen has floated for a couple of months. I have cleaned cupboards and drawers. I only have the oven and two cupboards left but I haven’t been able to get to them. It doesn’t matter because it is a floating goal and helps me keep track of the ‘extra’ things I am working on. I LOVE this section.


Last year I added the EVENING SECTION. I know I am going to cook dinner, but by this time of day, I am tired! I want to cross it off because it is a small energy lift. LOL The other things are what I want to be reminded to do with my family and for myself at this more tired time of day. This is the little push I need. This section has been very useful, or I would frequently forget my vitamins, hormones, and other health regimes I have. Even if we don’t read until 9 pm I feel happy crossing it off.


A few years into working on my daily worksheet I added two more sections. One is the To Journal section. I don’t journal consistently. I should be better, but it is what it is. That being said, in the last fifty-plus years I have written 17 notebooks of memories and feelings. Nevertheless, I tended to lose memories I wanted to remember and share with those who come after me because I wouldn’t get the writing done, and days would pass, and so would the memory. Now, if something noteworthy happens, I jot it down. It might take me a week or two to get it written but eventually, I do. I need this section to remember the miracles in my everyday life.


I used to carry too much stuff in my brain. So, I created a place to dump before bed or as I moved through my day. I used to use sticky notes, but they got lost or made a mess on the desk! This section helps me remember what is on my mind without carrying it around and ruminating on it.

Here is what is currently in my Miscellaneous section:
•get a date for activity girls to help them with family history
•have Seth show me how to use the food-saver
•go to a class at the family history library
•learn to use the LDS app

These items have been here for many weeks. I don’t see them moving to the IF TIME or TO DO sections anytime soon. However, there were ten other items in this section a couple of weeks ago, and they all moved up and are finished.

This place is useful because it helps me remember what I don’t want to forget but can’t do or think about now.

Although I love writing on paper, sometimes my Miscellaneous list is long. When that happens, I snip it off and tape it to the next day. There have been times that I have moved this taped piece for over a week. LOL It is what it is.


This system is NOT for everyone. You must like writing things down. You need to enjoy crossing things off. You have to find value in tracking yourself. And you must be ok with moving items from today’s list to tomorrow’s list for as many days as it takes.

If these are things you feel good about or that speak to your way of being, then give my system a try. Over time adjust it. As I said, I have made adjustments for over seven years. In fact, I just made a mini-adjustment last week. I added several health items to my AM FOR ME section because I kept forgetting them. : ) It is an ongoing process that changes with me and my circumstances.


This system has forced me to learn a few things. One is to take smaller bites. Instead of putting CLEAN KITCHEN as one of the 8 items, I put clean out one drawer or one cupboard. Instead of clean off desk, I put take care of one or two papers on the desk. This is a challenge for a finisher. I just want to do the whole thing now! But being put into a position to have to learn how to break things down into manageable bites and then consistently move forward has been valuable. I have lived my belief that small steps, done consistently, get big projects accomplished. The operative word is consistency.

Also, the slash marks at the top of the worksheet help me track how much water I have consumed during the day. My goal is 6-16 oz. glasses. I have never made six yet, but I have reached five. : )

You can download a copy of the worksheet at HERE.

I hope this series on Cleaning Systems has been of value to you. My goal was to give you a place to begin and for you to experiment until you find what works for you. : )

Cleaning – An Experiment for Fun

I read an article my friend Donna Goff wrote called Trade in Your To-Do List. A few weeks ago, I shared a cleaning system she currently uses that helps her stay on top of things. The article was called Donna Goff – Cleaning – A System for Staying on Top. 

The article I read, resonated with me because my daily worksheet can feel overwhelming. The problem is, I rarely get each item on the list finished, even if I am running circles all day long, Donna had experienced the same thing. And no matter how much you accomplish in a day, if there are unchecked items left on your list it can leave you with a sense of not having done enough. It shouldn’t. I know better. You probably know better. Donna knows better. But occasionally it does.

A Paper on the Fridge

In the article, Donna did a cool thing for fun. She stuck a paper on her fridge and tracked each thing she did that day. Her goal was to list things after she did them and not have a prewritten list to work from. The list on her fridge grew longer and longer. Here is an example from her article:

  • Sorted Laundry
  • Started a white load
  • Ground Wheat
  • Mixed Bread
  • Put Two loaves in pans to rise
  • Put four formed non-risen loaves in the freezer for my next baking day
  • Loaded and started the dishwasher
  • Put a white load in the dryer
  • Started a dark load in the washing machine
  • Wiped Counters
  • Baked bread
  • Swept kitchen floor
  • Dusted living room blinds
  • Folded and Hung up whites
  • Put whites away
  • Put darks in the dryer
  • Started a towel load in the washer
  • Buttered bread loaf tops
  • I read aloud with my daughter
  • We took a walk

Does that list look anything like your list would look? Mine wouldn’t have bread baking on it. In place of bread baking, there would be making no sugar/flour crackers, pancakes, or cookies. LOL My list would also include things like:

  • Read to Mom and Don
  • Said morning prayer
  • Took my vitamins
  • Did my stretches
  • Watered the garden
  • Helped my neighbor with her yard

I decided to experiment with this idea, and it was FUN!!! You can’t imagine how many small and large tasks were done that wouldn’t have been on my daily worksheet. Of course, you probably can imagine. LOL  A child calls and needs a ride. Your son brings you the dirty shirt he needs for a special event. You chase the dog because someone left the gate open. You decide to take a walk with a neighbor and so forth.

The Result

I engaged in this activity for three days. Each night as I showered and said my prayer, I felt good because I had done so much and many of those items had to do with relationships and loving service, not just family management.

Here is the difference between Donna and me. She was able to toss her to-do list. As fun as the experiment was, I realized I could not give up my daily worksheet. I will tell you all about that and how my worksheet came to be next week.

I still use a daily worksheet. It can feel overwhelming, but now I write down stuff I do that isn’t on the list and cross it off. Then just before my shower, I look at my worksheet. I can see why my list got done or why it didn’t. It is never about me not doing enough. It is always about me doing some management and a lot of the more important things. This is the reward I give myself for all the unplanned activities I do that weren’t on my worksheet, the feeling of having done enough!!

If you are overwhelmed trying to find a system that will work for you, to help you stay on top of your work and family and still do the most important things, then why not take a break? At least for three days. Stick a piece of paper to your fridge and write down each thing you do that day. I bet you will find it fun like I did. It will give your mind a break and you may be able to revamp your current system or try a new one.

At any rate, you will see how well you are really doing.

Anne Murdock – Cleaning –Why Am I in Such a Mess

Anne Murdock just retired from decades of working with special needs children. That is our big link, as I have a special needs granddaughter. We met in church and became fast friends. Although I moved, we have stayed in touch. Recently we began meeting for lunch. We each drive about 30 minutes and it has been fun.

A few months ago, we discussed a cool system Anne uses to help women stay on top of their work at home and have fewer moments of feeling like they can’t manage. It’s called Household Bingo. You check off the boxes as you finish jobs until you have a bingo. Take time to reward yourself, read a book, take a walk, listen to music, etc. Then you work for the next bingo. Eventually, you will have crossed everything off the card. Then you create a new card by asking the question, “What is most pressing right now?” Sounds interesting, doesn’t it!

It is a simple system using the principle that small things, done consistently, make big things happen.

The first image is the template for the game. Looks like a bingo game, right. : ) Anne has given several printed grids to friends who then write 20-minute tasks in the boxes.

The second image is the card Anne is currently working on.

These are “bigger” tasks, maybe more than 20 minutes. She designed this card with ‘things that are bugging me’ in mind.

Occasionally you will be called to work on something that isn’t on your card. You still make it count! When Anne accomplishes something big that is not on her card, she turns it over, writes the item on the back, and crosses it off. When she has 5 items crossed off on the back, she treats herself to some personal time. Don’t you love that! I know I do.

This is basically how it works. There are options so you can experiment. : )

You write rooms you want to keep up or a space you want to conquer across the top. Of course, there is a free square because we all need a free moment. Then in each square, you write down jobs that will take 10-20 minutes to accomplish. You give the room or space 20 minutes a day. If your card is for spaces you want to conquer then you list steps you can take to get the whole job done, over time, that require 20 minutes.

If we use our card to maintain, the goal is to keep the room in order, so we don’t become overwhelmed as things pile up. If we use the card to conquer a space, the goal is to get it in order over time. And it always takes time because these spaces are usually very out of order. You know, spaces like the garage, the laundry room, the storage room, and so forth.

I asked Anne to give me some examples of jobs she puts in the squares when she is working to maintain a clean home. She said that she usually has a row called COMMON AREAS. These are hallways, foyers, living room, etc. One 20-minute job she has in this row is ‘dust all the windowsills’. She writes the things that constantly get put on the back burner so that we can get to the next meal or meeting, but that bug you when they don’t get done.

Another example she gave was in the BEDROOM row – ‘Organize two drawers’, or ‘clean the upper shelf in the closet’, or ‘organize the clothes that hang in the closet’. These are the types of jobs that we close the door on and over time wonder why we are in such a mess!

An example of a 20-minute chore she gave for the BATHROOM was ‘really clean the floor’ or ‘spray and wipe down the shower’. Again those chores we close the door on until they are so grungy we must do them. But in the meantime, they are an emotional weight we carry.

Here is an example from her “conquer a space” chart. She has a storage room as most of us do. In this room, she has six free-standing sets of shelves. In one of her squares, it says to clean two shelves in one set of shelves. The goal is to clean them all in a week or maybe a month, depending on how much organizing is required. You get to set the timeline. If it is a job that can be done in a week great. If not, then you give yourself 20 minutes a day for a month. Whatever it takes. But over time the storage room is in order, and it stays in order.

Anne shared some experiences she and her friends have had, and I think you will find them interesting.

Success Stories

Story 1: Anne got herself some quilt squares a few months ago. When I called her today to have her explain some of the fine points of Household Bingo, she proudly told me she finally finished one square. How did she finally do that? She put it on her Bingo Card. Then she broke down the steps that needed to happen. First, she had to get the correct type of ruler. This had been holding her up. You see, this game can work on any project that is holding you hostage. : )

Story 2: Anne has a friend who is a bit of a hoarder. She has a space in her basement she has dubbed the dungeon or the pit. She has collected a lifetime of stuff from her parents and numerous moves. She recently told Anne, “I haven’t gotten very far but I give myself a star for every 20 minutes I spend. So far, I have 20 stars and I am making a dent.” She has been able to work on the stuff she has from her mom, her dad, and her collection of fabrics. It feels good!

Story 3: This same woman has an older, special needs daughter. Her capacity is around age 9 or 10. Her room was driving her parents nuts. So, they taught her to play Household Bingo. With repetition, her room is now in order, and she can keep it in order, in just 20 minutes a day. Her parents are relieved, and she is happy.

Story 4: Anne has a friend with children in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. The children were struggling to do daily chores. Charts were made based on age, one for the elementary kids and one for the teens. Each child selected a chore each day on the bingo chart. The children marked the chart using their initials/color marker to indicate it was complete. When the child got a bingo, the reward was to take the next day chore-free. Getting 4-5 chores done daily 5 days a week made weekends more available for family fun.

Anne told me that the game can be very effective with children and 10-minute chores. As you can see the game is adaptable for ages and stages. Children are motivated to get a bingo when the reward is to not have the chore the next day or to spend 20 minutes with mom or dad doing an activity of their own choosing, playing a game, talking, making a treat, etc.

Story 5: Anne’s husband has an uncle who has a very large, immaculate yard. His family members are always telling him to slow down because they think he is spending hours keeping that huge yard in such amazing order. Recently he posted this on their family site – “You all keep saying I shouldn’t work so hard in my yard, but I don’t. I putter here and then I putter there. I give it a short amount of time and then I go in the house. I just consistently take small bites. I look to see what needs the most attention right now and then I do some of that. Then I go into the house.”

I don’t know how many times I used this phrase in my book Becoming a Present Parent Small steps, taken consistently, bring BIG things to pass. This principle is true, and it can help you keep your home in order and clear out the spaces that make you feel powerless and unsuccessful. It can help your children manage themselves and their chores.

If you need a system and this one speaks to your heart, then engage in an experiment. It may be just the thing for you and your family.

P.S. Nothing works forever. Even good systems occasionally need to be revamped. That is important to keep in mind. It isn’t a failure, but time passes, and circumstances change.

Do another experiment. : )


Donna Goff – Cleaning – A System For Staying on Top

I have the wonderful privilege of having wise and dear friends. When we can be together, we talk about the things that cause us trouble and what we are doing to ease the way. The issues the mothers we work with come up. I make notes and I share our thoughts with you. Sometimes the thoughts get buried in life for a time and then reemerge.

That happened a while ago. I was searching for something on my computer and found notes from an email conversation I had with Donna Goff. It had been incorrectly filed. : ) Then I discovered another set of notes from Ann Murdock who I had lunch with a couple of months ago.

In the next two articles I am going to share their ways of managing the daily work we all have and then on week three I will share my system and some thoughts. They are very different. One may appeal to you and then again, none of them may strike a chord. We all must find what works for us, but this might be a step toward helping you come up with a system that works for you.

Donna is an amazing person, mentor, and mother. She has a beautiful website called Mentoring Our Own – Helping Homeschool Moms Succeed.  I share her articles in my newsletter on occasion. I have spoken on stage with her, and we have had some joyful conversations.

Sometime back I wrote a few articles on emotional weight. Then Donna talked about emotional stress on her site. Guess what? Some of that stress comes because we get so involved that our work at home gets ahead of us and we begin to feel like failures. Our daily lists get so long that it seems we will never get done, which adds to the emotional weight we already feel.

I reached out to Donna because I was interested in how she managed. I had worked for over seven years to develop a system of my own and was interested in hers. She sent me a detailed reply filled with great information. Today I want to share her system with you. Donna is a woman who can mentor you online and help you manage yourself, and your family, and if you are homeschooling, that too.

Let’s begin with her reply to my query –

Mary Ann,

What can I say, but thank you? When I read your newsletter, I can see that we think alike. I guess when you are raised in an era when cleaning is a habit, it is what we want. When we work with younger moms, we can see how not having a clean space and all the training that it involves, plays out in their lives.

Let’s start by looking at Donna’s ‘refuge haven’ routines. She came up with them over a decade ago and there were seven dailies.


1. 30 Minute Personal Devotional
2. Walk
3. Shower, Dress, Groom
4. Laundry. Start and see-through.
5. Breakfast, Dinner Prep
6. Home Learning
7. 30 Minute Clean

A few weeks later she added ‘zones’ to her 30 Minute Clean. There were seven zones. She took #7 from her refuge haven routine, ‘the 30 min clean’, and turned it into 30 minutes of ‘Power Clean’.

This wasn’t just your regular surface cleaning. It was deeper than that. BUT she only worked until the timer went off. Then she was back in that same room for 30 minutes the next day and eventually, it was all managed. The first time through takes weeks and weeks. But once done, the next time through takes less time. As a person who LOVES deep cleaning, this sang to my heart. So much easier than trying to deep clean an entire house once a year!


1. The Sanctuaries (our bedroom retreat, and other bedrooms)
2. Lumber Rooms (storage areas where things lumber about, you can’t put things away if it is a mess)
3. Creation rooms (sewing and shop where repairs are made)
4. Curb Appeal (from curb to porch to foyer).
5. Living Rooms (areas where we spend most of our day and receive people)
6. Sustenance Rooms (Where we prepare food and where we eat).
7. The Necessity Rooms (bathrooms)

I loved her words to me, concerning the enormity of this work of keeping a home in order “So, yes, I do have the bathrooms last, but for the 30 Minute Power Clean, I can handle what bugs me the most, and I love a clean smelling bathroom. Whatever bugs me the most, means I prioritize, and the important things are not sacrificed to getting a list done and then migrating the important things to another day.

If you have 14 things on a list and tackle the easy stuff first, just to Dump the list, the harder thing gets passed on and it is easy to feel like you are never done. But if you handle the hard thing first, the other things on the list move up in priority, but they get done. Each day is cleaner.”

This has certainly been my experience. I have written about cleaning what you see, right when you see it. I didn’t think of it in terms of a 30-minute power clean but if I am in the bathroom and the space between the tank and the toilet lid has grunge, I grab a cloth or wipe and clean that one thing. Then the next day I hit the floor right at the base of the toilet, and so forth. What delighted me about the 30-minute Power clean was that it was a plan. I love planned work. : )

Here again, I want to share her words from our email –
“Each day feels more productive. Lots of baggage gone, it gets addressed. I used to do my room last. No, I needed a sanctuary. Isn’t this true for all of us? We need a place to go to rest and rejuvenate.”

You all know the bathroom is my rejuvenation space. It’s where I read and sit behind a locked door and no one bothers me, well, at least not for five minutes. LOL

“I do lumber rooms next. They are like the plug to the house. If storage areas are clogged, then rooms are clogged with seasonal stuff. So, clean the lumber areas and it works like a funnel, in cleaning the house.

“If creation rooms are in disarray, then fixing things stacks up and does not get back into use.”

I know this happens because it is one of my sister, Nanette’s, challenges. She has a whole room for creating things and it often gets out of order. Working for 30 minutes in the creation spaces is a good way to make sure the rooms you use often don’t go undone until it takes days to put them back in order. : )

“Then I go to curb appeal or the entry from the curb to the foyer, then the main living areas. That is where most people start. They start with what people see first. But for the sake of smoother running home and less baggage, it is not the first for me.

“Then the sustenance rooms. That area takes the longest to deep clean, cabinets and drawers. Yes, I did place the Necessity rooms last. They are the rooms that are kept smelling nice and are easiest to keep clean each week. They are also my smallest rooms. I have three, two on the main floor. It takes less than 15 minutes to clean a toilet, wipe a counter, clean a mirror, clean the floor, and remove the trash. The combination of a 30-minute power clean, and zone cleaning can get me through. But when things get really chaotic, I live on minimum maintenance, and then as they settle, I hit the rest, and then after the lion is tamed in a few weeks, the zones get added back in.

I do want to thank you for all you do and for sharing my stuff with moms.”

Mahalo nui loa,

Isn’t this fun, thinking about cleaning in a new way? When I put my system together, which I will share in a couple of weeks, I had to think differently. It was rejuvenating. A new way of looking at your household work may be rejuvenating to you also.

Just remember that everything is an experiment. You must give it a try and then adjust. Part of Donna’s plan may work splendidly for you and other things may require an adjustment. And then again, you may need something totally different. So, experiment.

Don’t stay bogged down in what isn’t working.


P. S. You can check out more of Donna’s home management strategies HERE.

Recharging – Do You Know What Works for You?

This last December I was able to spend three days by myself in the home of a friend. She was away and gave me the key. Can you imagine how fabulous that was for me? No one to worry about, or care for. No pills to manage or porta potty to empty. I was happy, but I didn’t do what everyone else might do. I had what I called ‘My Vacation List.’ I had to laugh because there were 22 things on the list I wanted to get done. It didn’t include watching movies, taking long baths, or going out to eat, although I did all three. : ) No, it was things such as writing 5 Facebook posts, writing a book review, cleaning up the photos on the phone, taking a tour of my MDM class, and deciding what classes to take at the Family History Library. Doesn’t sound much like a vacation, does it? But it was!!! These are the kinds of activities that recharge me. I LOVE getting on top of all the nitty things I never get to. : ) Order is restful and satisfying to me.

That reminded me of a time in 2011 when I stepped away from my business for four days after Thanksgiving. Back then I was deeply into speaking, mentoring, and teaching classes. The things on my ‘2023 Vacation List’ were part of my business life back then. It would not have felt like a rest. However, again, I didn’t do what many of you would do.

In 2011, before full-time caregiving, I loved my work, but it was fraught with hard things. Running a business entails many tasks I was just learning to do. Technology was often baffling. I had an article to write and mentees to work with. Then there were presentations to prepare and give. I had to navigate airports and hotels by myself. I needed to reboot!

So, what do you think I did for the four days after Thanksgiving? I cleaned like a crazy fool. I rearranged both my kitchen closets. I mopped and moved furniture and scrubbed and… I know this doesn’t sound like much of a vacation to many of you. But I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to do something so normal, that I was totally familiar with and very good at. Cleaning and organizing recharge me BIG TIME. I love doing this stuff and back in 2011, I wasn’t getting enough of it. There was too much business and many presentations and classes to give.

At the time I thought I might be the only woman in the world who would opt for cleaning to reboot or recharge. Then I read an email from a mentor of mine, Leslie Householder. She said, “In my rebellious moments, I derived tremendous pleasure out of cleaning a toilet, or reorganizing a cupboard.”

Later, I read this in The Pioneer Woman – “Looking at the calendar, I keep trying to schedule a break. I want to go shopping with my mother. I want to have lunch with a new friend in Houston. I want to get back to walking in the morning. I want to teach my children how to clean a toilet…” I had to laugh. : )

Many of you who are still in the trenches with a house full of kids, piles of laundry, dishes to do, and owies to kiss may be thinking that no way would cleaning toilets or organizing a closet refuel you.

That’s the point, it is important to know what recharges your tank. Is it a late-night hot bath, a good read, taking a walk, calling a friend, getting out of the house for an hour, a date, someone else cooking dinner, or cleaning a toilet and organizing a closet?

Find Ways to Take Regular, Short Breaks

During one of my parenting workshops, a mom said she didn’t know what would recharge her. I could relate! I had been stuck in that same place; things that used to work weren’t working anymore. So, I did what I usually do when stumped for an answer. I prayed. The answer that I got surprised me. It went something like this, “Take more breaks. Play music while you work. When it is getting to you, take a 10-minute walk.” Simple isn’t it and this from a trustworthy source. At the time it was just what I needed but wouldn’t have thought of myself.

Most of us cannot take a four-day break on any kind of regular basis. In fact, most of us don’t know how we can take even a 10-minute break. However, it is important to find simple ways to recharge.

One day, in my business building years, I had been at the computer for many hours writing and learning how to manage the technology. I hadn’t taken any breaks except to hit the bathroom. My neck was beginning to hurt. I had angry feelings building up. I felt stressed! The bad thing was that my husband was due home in about an hour and you can imagine the possible end to this story except, I took God’s advice. I stopped! I took a ten-minute walk. When I got home, I turned on music and drank some water. Then I went back to work. It was amazing to me how much better I felt and how much I was able to accomplish. I was also aware that I had derailed some angry, frustrated feelings that would have leaked onto my unsuspecting husband! They didn’t and we had a pleasant evening.

If we take the time to know what recharges us and then take regular, short breaks we will feel less stress and less frustration; we will be happier, our children will be happier, and life will feel better.

You need to know what recharges you, regardless of what others do and this will change from time to time. When you know what works find ways to incorporate it into your days, ten minutes at a time if that is all you can get. This exercise in listening to and caring for yourself will pay dividends in your feelings of happiness and contentment. Your energy level will rise, and your stress level will decrease. You will manage your emotions better. When you take care of yourself in ways that work best for you, you will take better care of your family and your relationships.

Postscript – My daughter informed me that a shower at night can’t be considered self-care, it is a necessity. She read this in a book. Hmmm, I have been using this tool very effectively for well over sixty years. For some, recharging or caring for self must be out of the daily walk we are usually engaged in – days away by yourself or with your spouse, shopping with a friend, lunch at a restaurant, a movie… I cannot accept this definition, just so you know. I have lived a long seventy-four years. I was a stay-at-home mom with seven children. I had children living in my home for thirty-nine years. Now I live in a four-generation home and care for my mother who has dementia, my husband who has many health issues, and I help my daughter who is a single mother of four, one with severe CP.

I try to get away once or twice a year if I can. I have lunch with a friend every 3 months. But what I need most are ways to recharge in the chaos of daily life. I know that order and physical work are what do that for me, no matter how crazy it may sound. My nightly shower with a candle and prayer is a staple. These things work for me!

I have become very good at finding ways to recharge and care for myself in the thick of things. It has been a necessity. If you can get away regularly, great. The point I am making in this article is that you must discover what replenishes you daily, whether cleaning a closet, taking a walk, or hitting the store. Then when it stops working, and it probably will, go back to the drawing board. What wouldn’t have worked for me in 2011 was just what I needed in 2024.

It doesn’t matter how you recharge. When you know what works, do it daily and the heat of the day will be less intense.

SPARKS = Loving to Learn

In the last two weeks, I’ve given you some information on Sparks and how to use them to connect with your children. In the article on March 10 – SPARKS – The Big Fail, I mentioned that when we learn to utilize Sparks, we can help our children love the idea of learning.

Kids have a lot to learn, and often, whether we homeschool or use public or private schools, the love of learning can get buried. We can’t prevent times when school is boring or too hard. But we can keep the desire to learn alive, as we utilize our children’s Sparks.

When I was speaking and teaching, I spent many hours helping parents use their children’s Sparks. I wrote LOTS of articles on the experiences actual families had. I wasn’t the only one experimenting and learning. Today’s article was written in 2012, the same year I had my big fail and many big wins.

My friend, Leah, was taking her family to Florida and wanted them to LOVE the trip and to LEARN a lot. She took the time to think it through and prepare her family for the trip. She got their minds going. Her children were older than my grands but her use of Sparks worked as well for her, as it had for me. We both knew what I wrote in the article two weeks ago – Life is about learning, and the best-lived lives happen when we continue to learn. Leah wanted this for her boys.


Here is an email I received from Leah and my response. Then I will share what Leah did with the information and how the trip went.

Hi Mary Ann,
I have a favor to ask. I really need a “jump start” and I knew you could help me. I feel a little like I am in a brain freeze right now…We are taking the kids to Orlando for a huge Disney World trip. I want to inspire some Florida learning…but I need a tiny little jump start. Off the top of your head…could you walk me through some first starts? Just to get me motivated and the juices flowing. Just a few quick ideas of how or where I could start! Thank you! Leah S. (shared with permission.)

Here is what Leah was really asking – We have this terrific trip coming up. How can I get my children on board, be excited to learn, and have a great time too?

Here is what I came up with in just a few short minutes, seriously just a short time:

1. Start with a map. It’s fun for children to see where they live in relationship to where they are going. Attach the map to a wall and run a piece of yarn from your state to the one you visit. If you have older children, they can rubber cement the string along the major roads you will be traveling. (Just today, 3-19-24, my husband asked me to show him on a map where a relative lived, in relation to our daughter who lives in MO.)

When I was in school one of my favorite things was to make my own maps. You can print a map or draw one. Let your children find the information to complete their maps or do one map as a family.

Here are some things you can put on your maps– state capitol, the state abbreviation, the largest city, major rivers, and lakes, and major industries (find out what part of the state the industries are found and then draw a picture or glue a miniature to that area), state nickname, motto, and song.

Now you can draw a picture on the side of the map of the state flag, state bird, state tree, state flower, state mammal, and state water mammal, etc. This will not appeal to all children, but I would have loved it and so will others, especially if it is done as a family.

2. Know up front where you are going. States are big places and usually varied in their topography. So, plan ahead. Then you can go online and find out what fun things there are to do where you are going and what the landscape is like.

3. Get some great books from your library, with pictures and information about the state you are visiting. As you know from last week’s article SPARKS -The Big Win, I love books and so do my children and grands. When I have opportunities to learn with them, we begin with books.

4. Read a chapter book as a family. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings loved and wrote about the people of Florida. She wrote The Yearling which takes place in Florida. There is also a state park in Florida called the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park.

5. Get some books about the odd and wonderful animals you can find in Florida: dolphins, manatees, panthers, alligators, etc. Play charades using only the animals and birds found in Florida.

6. Learn about some of Florida’s famous sports teams.

7. Give each child a journal, rubber cement, etc. so they can write about the trip, and capture photos, postcards, and other mementos, rather than waiting until they’re back home. In the moment there is more excitement and enthusiasm for the job.

These fun ideas make learning about any state interesting and exciting. When you have a family trip coming up you can do many things to interest and excite your children. Begin talking weeks before the trip. Have mini-conversations and dinner conversations. Have conversations in the car, driving from one appointment to another. Get the fire going.


The next day Leah emailed back and confirmed what I had been teaching moms and dads for years. When you step out and start, resources (thoughts) show up no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. I want you to see what happens when you start, even if you are scared, don’t know anything, or feel unable. Here is Leah’s email. (Shared with permission.)

Hi Mary, I emailed you during some feelings of doubt in my efforts and frustration (you may have been able to tell). My 9-year-old, Miles, was looking over my shoulder reading my email, so I was a little embarrassed that he may have seen it. I tell you that because I wanted to start TODAY with Florida stuff. So, I did just that…just stared…started with a map.

labeling, tracing, and coloring. We traveled from Utah on the map state by state. We looked at all the states we would fly over and talked about what we might see out the window.
Then we got into the explorer Ponce de Leon for a while, and are getting more info on him and his explorations. We talked about the American Revolution and how Florida was under Spanish rule.

Then we got to the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys; now we are studying bridges, how they’re constructed, and even building a bridge for our hot wheels out of popsicle sticks. got us cars came about because the original bridge wasn’t necessarily designed for automobiles. What was it like to live without cars, when in history did they begin to have cars? Then we went into boats and how they cross these bridges. We built a bridge out of Unifix cubes and tried at dinner to use our spoons and forks to understand how they could anchor pillars, or the like, into the ocean to sustain a seven-mile-long bridge!

Then we got into how long seven miles is and the running race held on the bridge every year. I could go on and on, ALL in ONE day. And we could have done more.

I was exhausted though and ran out of time! : ) Now I have so much more to go on, thanks to you. The kids are thrilled and say it makes more sense when they know about the place they’re going. Thank you, thank you for your quick response. I do have a lot of faith in you and always will! Love, Leah”


These kinds of activities and conversations went on for the few weeks before the trip. The kids were so on board. They loved learning all this cool stuff. There were awesome dinner conversations and car conversations.

When Leah and her family returned from their trip to Florida, she told me it was AMAZING!! One of the things that made it so amazing was planning ahead, creating a Spark and then a roaring fire, teaching, and being with her boys. The process had them very excited and created great anticipation.

When you watch for Sparks, and then respond, it can be magical for your family and help children have a lifelong desire to learn, no matter what happens in their schooling.

Sparks – Watch and respond. It makes a difference.