Category: Better living and Parenting

Dogs or Kids, Life is a Challenge!

I have a friend who has a tiny poodle named Isadore. When I last visited her, she complained that he is spoiled rotten. He wants to be held all the time. She said Isadore drips water from his chin when he drinks and so the floor is always a mess. She sighed in exasperation.

I have another friend who had two small, fluffy, white dogs. One is over ten and one is just a year old. The one-year-old constantly badgered the older dog who wanted nothing to do with romping and wrestling. My friend felt that she needed to provide a playmate for the one-year-old. She bought a third small, white, fluffy dog. This one is a puppy just a few weeks old.

I was at her home last week and she said, “Two was OK. But now I need a third hand. I just can’t keep up with them all.” Later she was telling me that the one-year-old was very jealous of the new puppy. She related how weary she gets by the end of the day making sure the puppy is safe while the one-year-old dog gets accustomed to the new family member. And housebreaking the puppy, we aren’t even going to talk about that stress! She complained that now that there are three dogs there is a lot more mess, toys, noise, and chaos.

Doesn’t that sound like your life?

Recently my daughter had a baby. When Clark was just weeks old her daughter, who is seven, came and sat on her lap. “Mom, I’m feeling sad. I liked being the youngest.”

Matilda had slept on a small bed in her parents’ room since she was born. Now she’s in a regular bed, in a room with her sister. Clark is in a crib in the parents’ bedroom. I watched as her parents tried to deal with the situation. They were finding it a bit of a challenge. To help with the transition my son-in-law slept on the floor by her bed for a week!

You see, it doesn’t matter if we have a family of dogs or children. Filling needs which constantly change is a challenge. Getting everything done is a challenge. Managing the needs of everyone we’re responsible for is a challenge. Life is a challenge.

But take it from me, having people or animals you love in your life is worth the work. So, smile. Laugh. Find moments of joy. Despite the challenges, savor it. Life with your family is brief and tender.

Know someone who is struggling?

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The 100% Devil is a Liar!

When my grandson, Jack, was three, Mary was just one and Maggie was five, I taught them about germs and hygiene. It was chaotic. Mary was on the table and into everything. Jack wanted his way. Maggie, of course, needs LOTS of help. Whew. Did they get any of that? Despite all my preparation and planning, I was sure that the whole thing had been a big fat flop!

A full three days later, a miracle happened at dinner in the Palmer home. Out of the blue, Jack said, “When you sneeze water comes out of your mouth.” He then proceeded to tell his mom and dad how to blow your nose the right way, how to throw the tissue away so others don’t get sick, and all about germs. AMAZING.

The 1% Principle

This brings me to what I want to remind you about today, the 1% principle.  I have written about it before, but it can’t be repeated too often. It’s a principle, which if understood and believed, can free moms and dads from the quilt they feel when they think they’re not doing enough; things aren’t going right, or their expectations are not being met. It can free them from perfectionism and allow them to enjoy being with their children.

Real learning, growth, and change come from building on a solid, consistent 1% improvement over time. However, we tend to live with and accept the 100% devil who says that if we aren’t doing it all now, in just the right way, then we aren’t going to get a good result. Don’t believe the 100% devil. Remember great things are accomplished 1% at a time.

Back to the germ example. It was chaotic. We moved through the items quickly because of short attention spans. There were lots of interruptions while I was telling them something. How in the world could this turn out good?

Even I, with all my experience, can still have some silly expectations sometimes. Kids are going to sit quietly and hang on your every word. They are going to put their hands on the paper correctly and put the stickers where they go and want to play all the games and sing all the songs. Please, let’s get real. That isn’t how it usually goes.

However, if you’re clear about the 1% principle, that great things are accomplished with small and consistent efforts, then it will be acceptable; you will know in your heart that they are getting it; just like Jack. Three days later is a long time for a three-year-old.

Another example of the 1% principle in action.

My daughter’s family has a family mission statement. When their kids were little, they said it every morning. One morning I got to lead the reciting of the family mission statement. The first line goes like this – “The Joyful Palmer’s are a team. Yeaaah.” As we began to recite that line the 16-month-old raise her little fist into the air and yelled “Yeaaah”. She is 16 months old and the 1% principle is already at work in her life. She is getting it through consistency and repetition. You can bet this one line, understood at 16 months, will make a difference in her life.

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Stress and Love Can’t Co-exist

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about connecting daily with children. I mentioned that random touch was one of the most powerful practices I knew for connecting multiple times a day.

She laughed and said, “I come from an Italian family. We’re snugglers and kissers. When I read about random touch in your book, I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got this covered!’”

As we continued our conversation, she mentioned she found it hard to touch her kids when she was involved in her business. She’s a work at home mom and often feels stretched and overly busy. There were other times too, when she wasn’t reaching out.

Here is where I stepped back into the conversation

I want to share with you what I shared with her.

I love random touch! It’s an effective tool for connecting in astounding ways with children. Random touch helps reduce the need for discipline, opens pathways to mini conversations, melts stony hearts, and bonds children to parents. Reaching out and touching your kids is practically magic for connecting. BUT there’s an equal, if not even more important reason, to do it. It’s for you!

Random touch doesn’t just help your kids know they matter. It’s also a prescription for stress reduction in your own life. Kids are like batteries. They’re filled with energy and light. The younger the child, the truer this is. When I’m stressed, I work at remembering to stop and grab my grandchild in a big hug as I say, “I love you!”

If you’re down, you can get up by accessing your child’s energy. They’re up more often and are far more energetic than you are. It’s a gift of being young.

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”).

A wonderful story and example!

After I shared this information with my friend, she told me this story. “One day, when I was helping one of my boys with his math, I felt irritated because he was dawdling. Then I touched the back of his neck and ruffled his hair. I felt less irritated. My energy changed.”

Touching your child makes a significant connection that strengthens your relationship. But it also helps you ground yourself. It helps you change your energy dips from negative to positive.

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5 Tips To Put Family First in a World of Distractions

I saw an insurance commercial in which the adults (portrayed by kids) were being treated like children by the insurance company. They felt helpless, undervalued, and frustrated. When I saw this commercial, I, like most of you, could relate to those feelings. At the end of the commercial, a rival insurance company helped a woman (portrayed by a child) with her needs. She stood there smiling, feeling good.

Then I had a second thought. Why would they use children to illustrate what all of us have felt as adults? It’s because this IS how children are frequently treated. They are not seen, heard. They don’t feel they matter.

What Does Being on the List Look Like

Let me give you an example of what it looks like when we treat our children in a way that leaves them feeling like the adults in this commercial, helpless, undervalued and frustrated.

One day I was sewing, and the project had a deadline. I’m pretty good but sewing would be on the bottom  of my relaxing and fun things to-do list. I was feeling some pressure. My 3-year-old daughter, Marie, kept coming into the sewing room and interrupting me. This and the sewing were wearing on my nerves. I was ready to spank her. After all, she was bugging me, and she could see perfectly well that I was busy! I decided if she interrupted me again, I was going to swat her.

Of course, you know what happened. She came in again and I was ready to carry out my intention. Then I had a thought, “Why not hug her instead!” It wasn’t my thought! Remember, I had a firm intention to swat her. It took me by such surprise that I STOPPED what I was doing.

I turned my chair away from the sewing machine and I looked at my daughter. I picked her up and I hugged her tight. I hugged her for 15-20 seconds. I said, “Marie I LOVE you!” Then I put her down and off she went as happy as a clam.

She didn’t come back. Why! Think about that insurance commercial I described and it will be clear. When they were being ignored the people in the commercial were frustrated and feeling undervalued. The woman at the end of the commercial was smiling and feeling good because someone cared. She was on the list.  She felt valued.

This is what happened to Marie. All she wanted was to be on the list, to be valued. Our children want to be on our list, and in our busy lives we sometimes erase them off. Oh, we cook meals, clean and maintain order and manage our family, but our children and our relationship with them are not on the list. We often don’t make time to let them know that we see them, hear them, and that they matter.

5 tips to help you let your kids know they have a place on your list.

1. Take a hard look at your calendar – We all have good things on our calendar. However, are there so many goods that there isn’t room for the best – time with our children? Can you pare down the classes, lessons, team activities, and community and church responsibilities? Time at home matters to kids. Ask yourself, “What happens if I/we don’t do this?” If you’re doing a task out of guilt or habit, take it off your calendar. Figure out what your priorities are and pursue those. Something must give.

2. Involve the kids – I know, I know, it’s simply easier, faster, and more efficient to do things by yourself. But there are advantages to including your children a few times a week. Gardening together, folding laundry as a group, and tidying up the yard as a unit are ways to kill two birds with one stone. If you make it fun it won’t seem like work, it will seem like a family activity.

3. Turn off your digital devices, ditch technology – just for a while. Have technology-free moments every day. For example, have a TV, computer or no phone hour just before bed or while eating dinner. When you’re willing to let go of technology for even short amounts of time, you’ll be surprised at how much time you can open up for the family.

4. Make a date with your family and then keep it. When things are planned, they tend to happen. When they aren’t the world crowds in, and they get put off. If you have a family evening once a week then consider that sacred time. If you decide to have a game night, don’t let anything else interfere. If you plan to walk one evening a week, make sure it happens. It doesn’t have to cost money, take a lot of time or preparation but you do need to be consistent. That will go a long way to saying, “You are on my list.”

5. Realize you won’t get everything done. A to-do list is unending. It will never get done. Laundry is forever, so is cleaning and cooking. The yard always needs to be mowed and snow must be shoveled. So, lighten up a bit. Let some things go, short term, and make space for your family. 

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Can Everyday Moments Be Miraculous?

The windows are fog-covered from soup steam and the air smells of baking bread. It’s cold outside on this wintry Montana day. I hear the children clattering through the gate and up the back steps, coming home from school. “Don’t bang the screen door”.

The kitchen is filled with bodies, wet coats, boots, and mittens strewn about. “You guys pick up those coats and hang them up. Put your mittens away.”

What made me think of this ordinary moment in my past with such an ache? It was the shower. That’s where I think, random thoughts about what I need to do, what the day was like, the book I’m reading – random thoughts in the quiet of the evening. This memory pierced my heart fiercely. It moved me. How could such an ordinary memory cause such emotion?

Why would I even remember it?

It’s because it wasn’t ordinary, it was miraculous. That’s how the moments of our days with our children really are, they’re miraculous. We rarely perceive it as so because we’re busy taking care of the business at hand. We don’t see the beauty.

Forty-nine years ago, I was twenty-one, a new mother just starting out. Since that day so long ago how many ordinary, miraculous days have I missed seeing. Was today miraculous? In twenty years will I remember today with such happiness and nostalgia?

That’s how it is. We move through life taking care of business. We worry too much. We hug too little, smile not enough and push away the joy that we could have had. We get confused about what matters most. Maybe that is the state of man, blindness to the magic of the ordinary days and moments. That was the message of Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town” – that we miss so much. That we need to look at people, really look at them, see them.

We should forget about the screen door, the boots and gloves and gather our precious children up and smell their wetness, kiss their cheeks and just be glad they are home…and ours!

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Would You Turn Back Time?

On a mature dating site commercial, a giddy woman said, “It’s just like being back in high school.” YIKES! I liked high school. It turned out okay. In my yearbook, I’m listed as “The most typical girl”. But I wouldn’t want to go back!

When I got married, I was happy. Our children were born; we loved them and learned a lot of things. Some of it was great and some was hard, but all in all, it evened out and we had fun. I was happy. But I wouldn’t go back!

There isn’t a single point in my past life that I would willingly return to. You know why? Because today I’m a better person. I know more. I’ve learned to value now what I couldn’t value when I was younger. This is the natural course of life; with experience comes wisdom.

Relationships are valuable

Last week I mentioned one of the pivotal moments in my life, playing Emily Gibbs in the play Our Town, when I was sixteen. It was pivotal because Emily learned the hard way that going back isn’t always good. Going back showed her that often we can’t “see” one another because we’re too busy doing all the things that we think matter – laundry, cooking, education, church duties, work, making money, changing the world. Emily understands for the first time that all that matters are the relationships we have.

When I’m making a big decision, I ask myself, “How will this affect my ability to nurture my current relationships?” I recently asked that question as I considered some important life choices, and I ultimately made different decisions than I might otherwise have made.

That’s the great perk of aging. We have a clearer perspective on what really matters. That’s why grandparents can be so great. That’s why they have so much fun with grandchildren. It isn’t really because we don’t have to discipline or manage our grandchildren. It’s because we truly want a relationship with them. We like them. We “see” them.

Maybe it’s because the sand is running out of our hourglass faster and faster. We’re aware that we don’t have all the time in the world. We just have now, today. That’s all. It’s all anyone has. We can fill it with “busy” or we can simplify and make room for relationships. It’s a choice!

Tips to Make Room for Relationships

  • Simplify your calendar.
  • Simplify your activities.
  • Stay home more.
  • Read as a family.
  • Turn off all the electronics and play a game.
  • Fold laundry together.
  • Eat together.
  • Talk and listen.
  • Laugh more.
  • Let stress go.

Ask yourself, “What could I let go of today to have more room for what matters most?”

One day you’ll be older. Your kids will be older. You won’t care how clean your house was, how spectacular your yard, if you homeschooled or public schooled. You won’t value the amount of money you made, how often you went to Disneyland, if your kids got a new bike every year or what college they got in to. You won’t care if they were carpenters or lawyers. You won’t care if you impacted thousands of people. What you will think about more than anything else is the condition of your relationships. That, my friends, is what you’re going to treasure most. Take time now to make them sweet.

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What Is The Best Gift?

When we moved to Laurel, Montana over 3 decades ago it was a jolt. We had lots of little kids and we didn’t know anyone. We had no family in Montana and no one we knew had ever lived there.

The second week in our new town we got a visit from an older woman who was part of the religious community we would be joining. We hadn’t even been able to attend yet. To our knowledge, very few people knew we had moved to town. But here on my doorstep was Millie Giovetti, a woman who was destined to become our dear friend. In her hands, she held two homemade pies. Not one, two! She had taken the time to find out a bit about this new family who had moved into her neighborhood and church. She knew that there were seven of us. She understood that two pies would definitely be better than one. I had felt overwhelmed with this move and her gesture of kindness was amazing to me. But even more, was the message it sent –   I see you; I hear you; you matter to me.

While we lived in this small town, I found a best friend. I hadn’t had many of those in my lifetime, so it was a wonderful gift. Linda Brannon, like Millie, took the time to find out about me and my family, she paid attention. We were more than just a name on a church roll or people who lived down the street.

Every year at Christmas Linda made hundreds of cookies that she gave to friends and family. She would wrap them beautifully in one and two dozen. But every December would find her on my doorstep with a platter of cookies. Not one or two dozen but at least 8 dozen to bring joy to our family which had swelled to nine. It wasn’t the cookies that meant so much to me but the message they sent – I see you; I hear you; you matter to me.

This is the message our children need and want to hear from us – I see you; I hear you; you matter to me.

In Highlights magazine’s annual State of the Kid Survey, a nationally representative sample of 6- to 12-year-olds were asked, “Are your parents ever distracted when you’re trying to talk to them?” Sixty-two percent of children said yes (Highlights, 2014). That’s a lot of kids feeling as if they might not matter.

Take the time today to let your children know that you see them; that you hear them; and that they matter to you.

• STOP what you’re doing. Put your cell phone down, turn away from the computer, turn off the vacuum
• Get on their level. Kneel if you need to.
• Look them in the eye.
• Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying.
• Listen with patience and interest.

This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Give them 3-5 minutes. If they need more time and you need to do something else, tell them honestly. Set a time to get back with them and then do it.

Kids measure love primarily by our attentiveness to them. When you stop what you’re doing to listen to what they want to share, look at a picture they made, or touch them with intention, it says I see you; I hear you; you matter to me. Knowing that they matter is the best gift we give to our kids.  

I appreciate it when you share. Thank you!

You Can’t Know Until You Get There

Sometimes parenting seems like a thankless job. Many things must be done. Often, it seems, those we serve aren’t aware of, resent, or push away our efforts. I’ve learned that you really can’t know until you get there. That’s the problem in a nutshell. Our children don’t deliberately set out to be ignorant of the blessings, help, and support we give them. But it can seem like it because we expect them to see through our eyes and our experience. But they can’t because you can’t know until you get there.

I remember a conversation with a teen of ours who was struggling. She couldn’t understand why we were so worried and up in arms. She was fine! Then she had a child and that child became a teen. Then my child understood and talked to me about all we had tried to do for her and how grateful she was. You can’t know until you get there.

I recall dragging my kids to prayer in our bedroom each morning. Oh, my goodness, the fussing, snoring, and resentment. Later, much later, one of those same bleary-eyed kids told me that those prayerful moments had meant so much later when she was away from home, alone, and in trouble. She said the memory and practice was a lifeline. It gave her the courage to seek divine help which changed her life. You can’t know till you get there.

As a mother of seven, meals were HUGE! I made meals that were attractive and varied. They took time to make and then people didn’t want to eat what was served. Getting the response I got, year after year, was exasperating. Recently, one of my daughters said, “Mom, I don’t know how you did it. You made such great meals. I struggle every day to figure out what to cook and then to get it done.” She has finally gotten there. She appreciates my efforts, but it came over 2 decades after the fact. You can’t know till you get there.

A few years ago, one of my sons in his forties, embarked on a challenging educational path. He would call home looking for support, someone who would tell him how wonderful he was and that he could do it. This is the same son who resented our efforts to guide him along an easier path when he was a teen. But here, a few decades later, he was reaching out for that very thing. It mattered to him and he knew the value. You can’t know till you get there.

There isn’t a timeline for getting there. Just this last week I was talking to a friend who’s an expert knitter. She’s in her 80’s and has a daughter in her 60’s. She was showing me a sweater that she’d just finished that you could have bought in any high-end store. It was gorgeous! She said that her next project was a sweater for her daughter. I replied that her daughter was lucky to have a mom who could knit a sweater that would cost a few hundred dollars. She replied, “I don’t think she knows or feels lucky.” There it is again. You can’t know till you get there. One of these days the mother who knits will pass away and then her daughter will miss the sweaters and she’ll know how lucky she was all those years.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our children to appreciate their blessing. We should. However, sometimes you’ll feel invisible and unappreciated. When that happens remember they’ll understand and be grateful when they get there. This is a useful practice because just knowing that it takes time to get there helps as we do what must be done for those we love. Knowing that they will eventually get there and that it will matter to them then, makes Now better.

A Casserole is NOT Romance

Time and Attention are Rare

and Valuable Gifts

Don and I have been married for almost 50 years. One day I mentioned that I thought we needed a little romance. We’ve had plenty of romance in our marriage, just not lately.

A few days later Don spent a couple of hours in the kitchen making a terrific casserole for lunch. He set the table and we ate together. It was nice and we had a fine conversation. We both enjoyed it. As we were finishing, he looked at me and said, “This is how I’m romancing you.” Hmmm.

Later romance came up again. Don said, “Gee, honey, I made you a casserole.”

“Don, a casserole is not romance. It’s nice, it’s kind and it’s serving but it isn’t romance. I think you’ve been married too long and need to look romance up in the dictionary.”

“Then I don’t get any points for romance, right.”

“Right, no points.”

I wasn’t getting what I needed, and Don was disappointed because he took two hours and did something nice for me and got no points for romance.

Parents find themselves in this same situation, not getting what they feel are their well-deserved points. Didn’t you cook and serve a wonderful meal? Didn’t you take your kids across town to their ballet lessons and don’t you do that every week. Didn’t you wash the clothes and clean the house. Didn’t you sit with the whole family while they watched Benji?

Because you’ve invested so much time you equate that with being present with your children, just like Don thought investing time equated to romance. But doing the work of parenting doesn’t equate to being present.

An Example of Presence

I have a friend who had nine children, all under 11, living with her. One day she was distracted, interrupted and overly busy. As the day wore on the children began fighting, were noisy, and making messes. Finally, just before dinner, she stopped what she was doing, and they spent some time together. She listened to them, read to them, engaged with them, and had fun with them. It wasn’t a great amount of time, only about 30 minutes. Nevertheless, she said it made a difference in the rest of the evening. They calmed down. Things were more peaceful. They enjoyed eating together and being with each other.

Being present is giving our children our whole attention, even if only for a short time. This’s what children need and want.

And by the way, that is what is ultimately needed in most relationships. So, save yourself some time and tune in, really tune in, if only for short amounts of time. It will get you points. : )

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