Category: Better living and Parenting

How Does Reading as a Family Impact Adults?

I am a BIG proponent of family reading because of its many benefits. When our kids were living at home, we read together. I wasn’t consistent, but we did manage to do it often enough that one of my daughters would say years later, “Mom, it was so great how you always read to us.” However, I wasn’t prepared for the HUGE impact reading together has had on our household of three, all of us over seventy.

Some time back, I published an article called I’ve Got the Tone. For many years, I have had a tone in my voice of irritation, frustration, annoyance. Over the years, it became a habit. Since we have been reading together, about a year now, that tone has dissipated quite a bit. The truth is I feel less irritated, annoyed, and frustrated. The feeling in our home is one of more charity, less contention, and a greater desire to connect and be cooperative. I think reading together will directly impact our health.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Don bought me a bag of veggie chips. I love veggie chips, but we don’t buy them often. I made yummy sandwiches for lunch. I thought about getting the veggie chips, but I didn’t. After the blessing, Don went into the garage where all the chips are kept and got some of the veggie chips for himself. When he came back to the table, I smiled and said, “Hey, I thought those were mine. You should have brought some for all of us”—end of conversation. However, the comment kept coming to my mind as I was reading to Don and my mom. My tone of voice had not been irritated, just matter of fact. But I worried that I might have made him feel bad.

So, I told him that what I had said wasn’t kind, and I should have said, “Good idea,” instead. He looked sheepish and replied, “I was trying to be sneaky.” Don isn’t supposed to have chips. I laughed and said, “Honey, you got them and then came back to the table with them. You aren’t very sneaky.” He replied, “I know; that’s what my meds do to my thinking.” I smiled and said, “I knew that’s what was happening. That’s why I should have said ‘Great idea’ instead of what I said.” We both smiled. It was a totally different feeling from what would have happened a year ago. The feeling was conversational rather than confrontive, even when my first comments weren’t as well thought out as they could have been. There was a sense of connection.

One of my warmest memories is of my mother reading to us. She didn’t read to us often, but when she did, it was magical for me! As I think back on those reading moments with my mom, I know what made them so special. I knew my mom loved us. This same feeling of love and concern has come from the reading we have been doing in our family. I knew this was the case for kids, but I wasn’t prepared for how impactful it would be for a family of adults. Reading together has established an intimate experience filled with feelings of warmth and belonging.

Most of my readers still have kids at home. It doesn’t matter whether you have a bunch of littles or a group of teens. Both teens and littles like to read as a family. From Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report, we learn only 17 percent of parents of kids aged 9–11 read aloud to their children. Yet 83 percent of kids aged 6–17 say being read to is something they either loved or liked a lot (Scholastic Inc. and YouGov 2014). There are excellent reasons to read together.

WHY YOU SHOULD READ AS A FAMILY

A. Physical closeness—Reading aloud allows you and your children to achieve physical closeness. Small children enjoy sitting on your lap or draping themselves across your body. You may snuggle less with older children, but this is not a given. If you’re open to having older children sit next to you or lay a head on your shoulder, the chances are it will happen often. That has been my experience.
B. A sense of security—Gathering together as a family and reading create a sense of security and safety—a feeling of ‘all is right’ with the world. When children feel secure and safe, they function better out in the world. Love is essential to a child, but feeling safe is crucial and often even more critical.
C. A sense of belonging—There’s a sense of belonging which comes from everyone being in the same room, snuggling and listening to the same story, having a shared experience. This sense of belonging can be beneficial as our children begin to mature. They’re trying to figure themselves out as well as figure out where they fit in the world. This process of personal growth can bring a sense of isolation. Reading as a family is one of the ways parents can create a sense of belonging.
D. A chance to tackle complex subjects—Reading as a family allows you to introduce difficult topics to your children and have safe discussions. I’ve read books to my children dealing with honesty, integrity, kindness, bullying, God, social issues, beliefs, and feelings. It made it possible to bring up ideas and thoughts I wanted my children to consider and ponder. It was a safe and comfortable way to experience essential life lessons.
E. A shared language and a sense of intimacy—When families read together, they often create a unique language. It can provide inside jokes. I read an article that described the experience of a family who loved the Mercy Watson books. In their family, they frequently heard the call at breakfast for “Mercy Watson toast, please!” (Johnson, “Why You Should Read Aloud to Older Kids”) It is fun and bonding when families share a phrase from a good book that means something to all of them. It creates a sense of intimacy.
F. It can strengthen struggling children and youth—When one of my daughters was fifteen, she made unwise choices. She knew it, but she was struggling to make changes. At the time, the youngest two children read with me. We read in the middle of my bed before lights out. Although my daughter wasn’t usually home, I noticed that when she was, she would come to my bedroom door, lean against it, and listen, no matter what the book was. This time together did not resolve her issues, and she had a tough road, but I’m confident it helped her stay connected to our family in a way that was vital to her eventual success. If you’re struggling with any of your children, for any reason, the closeness generated by reading together can go a long way to keeping you connected while issues are worked out.

If you are hesitant to read as a family, give it a try. Be patient. In my book Becoming a Present Parent, chapter Four covers touchpoints. Touchpoint 7 is reading together. You can read that chapter free. Touchpoint 7 shares a real-life experience of a troubled family, how they made family reading work, and their eventual success. There is a section called Making Family Reading Work. With the tips found there, you can read together, and it can be successful.

Share the reasons that you read with your family. If you don’t yet read as a family, why not?

Intentional Systems Make All the Difference!

When I mentor moms, I hear about all the things that aren’t working. That is what they come to me for – for perspective, to see with new eyes. I enjoy this process of sorting it out. We often begin with family systems, so things start to work better.

I have had this type of conversation hundreds of times:
Mom – I can’t stand dinner time. It is always rushed, and then everyone goes and does their thing, and I am stuck in the kitchen with a big mess.
Me – Well, tell me about your system for getting dinner done.
Mom – We don’t have a system.
Me – Yes, you do. You figure out what to fix at the last minute. You cook the meal. You set the table; you serve dinner. You clean up. You are filled with resentment. It isn’t an intentional system, but it is your system. There is usually shocked silence on the other end of the phone.

Here is another example.

I worked with a mom who hated her bedroom. Her bed was always covered by unfolded laundry. What she wanted was a retreat but what she had was resentment.

When I asked her what her system was for the clean laundry, she told me she didn’t have one. But of course, she did. Here is what it looked like. She would do the laundry, and then the clean laundry would be piled on her bed. She would coax the kids to fold their stuff and put it away. It often didn’t get done before the end of a busy day, and then mom would move the laundry to the window seat. It might stay there a few days while she felt cheated because she couldn’t sit in her room, in the window seat.

When she explained what happened on laundry day, I pointed out that she did have a system. It wasn’t a system that got her what she wanted, it made her feel resentful, but it was her system. We talked about how she could better manage her laundry to stay out of her room and be taken care of by all the family. It worked. She got her private space back, and her children became more responsible. Everyone was happier.

The women I talk to are always astonished to realize that they have a system by default, and it stinks. Then we talk through what she would like to have happen, what could reasonably happen, and then come up with an experiment designed to intentionally set up a system that accomplishes what she wants. We talk about getting the family to buy in because when people buy in, they take ownership, and things work better.

Here is an example of a default system in my life that whacked me out for months!

I am a very orderly person. I am also very self-directed. However, for many reasons, I found myself in a mess. I wasn’t getting up on time; I wasn’t getting my studying done; I forgot to pray; I was distracted. After nine months of suffering, I did what I should have done far sooner. I prayed and then thought through what was not working. What did my current system for managing these things look like?

I realized that the system I had used in the past had fallen apart. I didn’t have a morning routine. I sat down, thought through what I needed, then wrote it down and taped the paper to the bathroom wall. This experiment was better, but I was still distracted and not getting these important things done daily. I know that consistency is essential, so I went back to the drawing board and prayed again. I was missing something.

I have kept my morning routine quite simple for a long time because I am a full-time caregiver. I get up at 6:15 on many days, dress, feed, and groom my 15-year-old special needs granddaughter. Then I get the other three off to school. In the summer, I am on deck with these kids for a few hours most days. By nine Don and possibly my mom are up and want breakfast. Mom needs her hair done, and twice a week, she needs to bathe before I can move on to anything else. Noon would come and I wouldn’t have gotten what set me on a solid path for the day completed. The time would rush on from there and frequently late evening would come, and I never got to my ‘stuff.’ The question was how I do the things that matter to me and still take care of all these people.

When the answer came, it was so simple as answers from God often are.

I had the thought to put my scriptures and affirmations in the bathroom, in my reading basket, and hang my clothes for the next day on a hook the evening before. Then each morning, I would get up, go into the bathroom, dress, and prepare for the day. I would sit on the toilet and read my scriptures and say my affirmations. Then I knelt and prayed. I know God forgives me for praying at the side of the toilet. : ) The whole thing takes 20 minutes, then I am out in the fray, but the things that matter to me and my well-being are complete. The system for my mornings that I have intentionally designed is working well!

Systems matter. If there is a place in your life that feels out of order or things aren’t happening, look closely at your system. What is it? What does it lack that would feel better or help you manage better? If you don’t think you have a system, and that is why it isn’t working, think again. You do; it just stinks. Come up with an experiment. Try something new with intention. You will be surprised at what a difference it can make.

Got a great ‘systems’ story. Please share. : ) 

Creating a Refuge for Your Family

My sister flew to Philadelphia to see her son and his family. Michael picked her up at the airport, and they drove to New Jersey. He is in the military, and she was very anxious to see them all.

Here is the catch – my sister has terrible claustrophobia and can’t fly. She has never been on a plane and has anxiety just thinking about it. But she wanted to see Michael and his wife and kids. Watching her prepare for the flight and all the effort she had to make to even get on the plane, let alone stay on it, was a miracle.

She managed to get to Michael’s in one piece. Everyone had a wonderful time, lots of good food, fun activities, and hugs and kisses. She loved it. But in the back of her mind was that trip home. Again, lots of worries and getting control of self-talk, using natural nerve remedies, etc. On the flight to her sons, she used an entire bottle of Ashwagandha.

When Rozanne got home, she said that it was such a comfort. She said, “Home is a refuge. It is a safe place to be. The place where you can rest and feel peace.”

That is so right! We all want to go home to be safe and at peace. It’s what our kids want too. For parents, that is part of our job – creating a refuge where it is safe and there is peace. That is a significant part of the job.

There is a skill we can learn and then practice that will help our homes feel more like a refuge. It helps kids feel valued and heard.

ACTIVE LISTENING

When we actively listen, it is to connect with the speaker and to understand how they feel about what they’re saying. It’s active and engaged and seeks to hear the words and, more importantly, to hear the heart.

Because this type of listening doesn’t come naturally, I’ve had to develop steps to make it happen more often. They may be helpful to you also.

A. STOP what you’re doing. Turn away from any technology, book, or project. If you genuinely can’t stop, tell your child you can see this is important to them, and you want to hear what they have to say. Set a specific time when you’ll be free and keep it. Saying “we’ll talk about it later” is not specific and sends the message you’re not available to them, that whatever else you’re doing is more exciting or more important. If possible, stop and listen now!

B. Make eye contact with your child. I remember reading that an infant can tell the difference between a face in order and one with jumbled features.

From my experience, I know babies are interested in their parent’s faces. They look at their parent’s faces constantly and reach out to touch them. Infants want us to look back at them. As we grow older, the desire for eye contact with the people in our lives that matter to us remains.

Eye contact is looking directly into your child’s eyes and not looking away at other things or looking down. When we look at our children as we listen to them, it sends a powerful message that we care, we hear them, and they matter.

C. Respond to what your child is feeling, not only what they’re saying. When you’re actively listening, you’ll respond to feelings more quickly and more accurately. This type of response helps your child feel heard. You can say things like, “Boy—how maddening!” or “You didn’t like that, did you?” or “How did you feel?” This helps your child know that you view their feelings as valid and important.

D. Listen with patience and interest. Whatever you’re feeling, your child will know! They’re like energy magnets. If your energy is inwardly impatient, they’ll know. If you’re dying to get back to your stuff, they’ll feel it. If you’re bored out of your mind, it’s coming across loud and clear. It may all be on a subconscious level, but they know. Hold thoughts in your mind that will help you maintain interest and patience.

For example, you can think, “I sure love this kid. They’re so interesting, funny, kind, thoughtful,” whatever. Hold thoughts that allow you to embrace fully the moment you’re sharing with your
child.

Avoid interrupting. Ask only those questions that help clarify. Your job at this moment is not to teach, reprimand or fix. It’s to listen.

Listening to your child is an end in itself. It isn’t about a resolution, teaching, making progress, none of that. It’s about connection, pure and simple. You can always teach later. Right now, actively listen.

During a day, there are dozens of opportunities to stop and listen. We can’t actively listen in every situation. But if we can increase those times we do, it will significantly impact our relationships.

When you practice listening to really hear your child, even if they have made a mistake or you are angry at them for something, it creates a safe place. When kids feel safe, they will come to you more often, even when they know they are in hot water. And as our children grow older, this will be a gift to us.

Practice active listening as much as you can and make your home a refuge.

Share ‘how to’ with a friend.

Self Care – A Bathroom or Not? The Debate Rages On

I have a friend who was also my daughter’s friend in high school. We have known each other for a long time! We talk about stuff – family, running our homes better, being kind, writing, you know, stuff.

Bethany said that she couldn’t understand how you wouldn’t have time for yourself when she was a teen. She couldn’t see the problem. I mean, she had lots of time to do what she wanted to do – take a bath, sit in the sun, read, etc. Even with school and a job, there was time.

Now she has two small children, and she gets it. It makes me laugh because I always say, “You can’t know till you get there!”

One of the tricks I learned decades ago was to turn the bathroom into a refuge. I wasn’t going to get a day or even an hour, but I could read a paragraph or two. Bethany told me that when she read that in my book, she laughed because as a teen, she thought having books and magazines in the bathroom and reading in there was gross! Guess what? The last time we talked, Bethany said that reading in the bathroom is like a resort. You can’t know till you get there. LOL

Another thing I do and have done since I was 15 is lotion my feet every night. It felt good back then, in a home with eight other kids, to sit on my bed, in the quiet darkness and lotion my feet. I suggested it to Bethany, and she reported that it is lovely. She likes how nurturing it feels, and she likes the few moments of quiet aloneness.

A lot has been written about self-care. Recently I saw a headline – Self Care is More than Reading in the Bathroom. I laughed. Reading in the bathroom has been part of my self-care for fifty years. It works. I hope you get away occasionally. I hope you go out to lunch with friends. I hope you take a day off now and then. But I also hope you learn to care for yourself right where you are – in the middle of your busy family.

Four Reasons to care for yourself in the thick of things

There are some stellar reasons to find ways to care for yourself right where you stand, amid family:
• You can remain calmer for more extended periods.
• It facilitates patience and helps us not take our frustration out on our kids.
• It allows us to stay free of resentment, exhaustion or feeling depleted.
• It keeps us healthier.
Self-care benefits not only us but also our whole family. It’s an investment in our family relationships rather than a selfish indulgence.

Here are four ways to care for yourself during your busy, child-filled days and nights. They aren’t new. You have probably heard them said many times. But they work. As you implement them, you will feel better and less stressed. I consider them the best kind of ongoing self-care:

1—TALK NICELY TO YOURSELF
You need to be your own best friend, no matter how you’re doing presently. Best friends speak kindly to each other, are honest, and support one another, even if one of them is floundering. It’s self-care when you treat yourself like your own best friend.

2—SLEEP
Sleep is one of my favorite subjects. I’ve had tons of experience with this one thing! Periodically, over 30 years, I would go in prayer and ask how I could better handle my life. I would always have the same thought, “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” And just as regularly, I would dismiss the whole idea. I didn’t want to follow that counsel. I wanted my house in order, and I wanted alone time. I was convinced the only way to get either one was to stay up late. So, I resisted. Years passed, and I got desperate. I asked a final time, but the impression was the same. “Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.” But this time, I didn’t resist.

Going to bed earlier and getting up earlier is doable! It’s possible even if your kids get up at 5:30. You get up when they do and it is early! You probably won’t have a quiet morning routine alone. These are the hard facts. What will make this trade-off worthwhile is how you’ll feel during the day. You may not get much more alone time, but you’ll find it easier to be with your kids. You’ll find yourself feeling happy more often. You will have more energy and lose your temper less. You’ll like yourself and your children better.

I recommend you begin going to bed at least 30 minutes earlier than you do now, an hour if you can commit to it. Don’t get on the computer or phone after 10 pm. Staying tech-free an hour before bed will absolutely help you get to bed earlier! Some days it just won’t work out but do it as often as you can. Going to bed earlier will change your days! It won’t be easy to make this shift, but if you remember that simple things, consistently done over time, make significant differences, you’ll be able to persevere as long as it takes to make this your new habit.

3—EAT WELL
Can I say, stop eating over the sink! Stop calling the crusts of your children’s sandwiches lunch. Stop. Make a better choice. Fix your food and sit down with your kids and eat. Have a mini conversation. Laugh a bit. Savor that sandwich. It takes five minutes! Value yourself enough to sit down with a plate and eat even if it is with kids and only for five minutes.

If you work away from home, take a lunch. This was a hard lesson for me to learn, but if I can learn it, you can learn it. It’s a decision, and I’ve made it, to care for myself by eating well.

Don’t eat at your computer, either at home or at the office. I know you’re busy, but if you want to feel cared for, leave your desk. Turn on music as you eat. Sit outside if the day is warm. Even the break room and a coworker trump your desk.

Eating well should be at the top of your self-care list. It’s something you can do while in the thick of parenting. Taking time to eat is one way you maintain the energy to do the job you’ve taken on—the job of raising a family.
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4—EXERCISE
Oh man, I don’t like to exercise. I can’t think of any exercise I like except swimming. But that requires a drive in the car and wet hair. Ick! Frankly, I also believed I didn’t have the time. But as I’ve said, when we take full responsibility for our lives, we stop using the time excuse.

I know half a dozen women who walk their kids to school daily. They’re in a big group talking, laughing, and making it work. I can think of another three women who get up early and walk together. They’ve made deals with their husbands to get kids fed so they can have this half-hour before they need to send them out the door to school. They walk five days a week. I recall one mom who did her exercising in front of the TV with a child on her back. You do whatever it takes. : )

None of this is easy. You just need to decide to do it. It’s a choice that, when made, feels nurturing. Talk to your spouse. What can you do? How can you make it work? Now do it.

Daily Self-Care

You’re going to spend far more time with your children than you’re going to spend without them, so it’s imperative to learn how to self-care while you’re in the thick of parenting. It’s simple, it’s doable, and it takes small amounts of time and virtually no money; but it can and will pay huge dividends.

Self-care can be as plain and straightforward as having a cup of herbal tea while you read to your children. It might be taking a few deep breaths while soothing a screaming child. You could turn on your favorite music and dance in the living room with your kids. Add laughter!

Self-care can be taking a walk with your children to take the edge off the day. Sitting in the swing and watching your children play can give you fresh air and a breather from all that you’re feeling pressed to do. Go to the bathroom more often if that’s what will buy you a few moments alone. When you’re on the edge of losing your temper, getting irritable, or feeling resentful, ask yourself what you need to stay in control. Pay attention to yourself.

One of my oldest friends had licorice drops hidden in a drawer. When she needed a break, she would sneak to her room, grab a licorice drop, and then head back into the fray with a smile on her face. Hey, you do whatever it takes. : )

Do something that will feel nurturing to you. Give yourself space to get it together. When you pay attention to how you’re feeling, to what’s happening in your body, that’s self-care. You can do this while you’re in the thick of parenting.

When you care for yourself, you care for your family. Share the truth with someone you care about.

A Feeling that’s Worth a Thousand Bucks!

My alma mater has a Facebook page. Recently someone asked this question: What life hacks are helping you kill it right now. For me, at this busy stage of life, as a full-time caretaker, I find that a morning and evening routine makes ALL the difference.

I use my morning routine to get myself on track for the day and my evening routine to slow myself down for sleep. Much of the content of these routines is about caring for myself. They are, for the most part, things that fill my soul.

What my morning routine looks like –

• I get up as close to the same time each day as possible. For me, that is between 5:30 and 6:30. The later I get up, the less likely I will be able to do my thing.
• I make the bed (at least my half of it. LOL)
• If there isn’t any activity in my room, I pray. If Don is still in bed or dressing, I head to the bathroom for prayer.
• I dress and get ready for the day in the bathroom. My clothes are already on a hook, ready to put on. No distractions here!
• I read my affirmations/truth statements. I begin every day by reminding myself what a spectacular person I am and what a wonderful life I have! Some days I know I’m really going to need the reminder. LOL
• I read from my spiritual cannon.

That’s it. I take about 30-40 minutes on a good day, and if the day is going south already, it gets fifteen. But it fills my heart and sets me on a positive path for the day.

Here is my night routine –

• I have a set time to STOP. Otherwise, I would work till I fall into bed. It’s my way of being. : ) I STOP at 8:30. 8 pm is better but, again, I do what I can.
• I plan the following day using a simple form I created after a few years of trial and error. It is working for now. : )
• I take a shower. I have been doing this since I was 16, and it isn’t about getting clean. It feels nurturing to me. While showering, I think, I sing, and I get warm enough to sleep.
• If we didn’t have family prayer after dinner, I make sure that happens.
• If I have stopped soon enough, I read. Reading is my favorite pastime.
• Then prayer and bed. My bedtime goal is 9:30 pm, but I don’t always make it. It is a work in progress.

Here is what these routines do for me on the crazy days, and I have plenty of those. When I go to bed, if I have done my morning and evening routine, no matter how many other things are still undone on my list, I feel satisfied that I have done my best.

And that feeling is worth a thousand bucks!!

Who do you know that needs to feel like a thousand bucks? Pass it on!

I’m Not Perfect But I Do Have a Mission

Recently I was at a funeral and an old friend from my high school days was there. We haven’t seen each other for many years, but she reads what I post on Facebook.

We had a delightful time visiting, reminiscing, and then she said, with a sigh, “You are such a good grandma. You do so much with the kids, and you are always so upbeat and cheerful.” Nice, right?

Wrong. I heard what my friend was saying, and I appreciated her words. But I also knew what she was thinking – “You are doing so much better than I am.”

The Problem

That is the problem with social media. In a digital world, your neighbors multiply, and you can’t see that, yes, they have a messy house too. They sometimes lose their tempers, have their own judgmental and irrational moments, feel down, and go to bed.

I have had to work to become cheerful and optimistic, to be grateful for hard times. It hasn’t come easy. I have taken a ton of classes, read a boatload of books, and practiced my head off. I am beginning to be reasonably good at some of it.

I am just learning some things you may already know and do. On the other hand, I know and do some things you have yet to discover. You can’t get out of childhood and youth without some baggage. It is what it is, no matter how great your family. Our job in life is not to compare ourselves with others. It isn’t to try and reach some standard that society sets. It is to let go of our baggage, heal, become ourselves, and then help others do the same. That is my mission in life – to heal and help others do the same.

I have a painting on my wall made by my third cousin, Celestia Whitehead. It is me flying free as boxes, bags, and trunks fall to earth. It represents my work to shed baggage, heal, learn, and then share that growth and healing with others.

That is why my posts are upbeat, happy, and optimistic. It isn’t because I am better than you, have less bad days, or am perfect in any way. I am just practicing and sharing what I have learned, and I am jettisoning baggage. That can’t be accomplished by complaining and comparing.

If you think I am perfect, please think again.

My sink is filled with dishes. The dog peed on the clean laundry, and Don and I had a spat. Although I am going to be babysitting this afternoon, I do not have a craft prepared. However, I did my daughter’s laundry, and I plan on serving a great dinner.

My writing and posting goals are to highlight each day’s joy, growth, and opportunity, to feel gratitude. I want to share what I am learning because it may help you do the same. You may get a new perspective that will help you let go of some baggage of your own. You may learn something new, that when implemented, can be life-changing. As imperfect as I am, I am working on my life’s mission. : )

I’m not perfect, but I’m growing, and I am sharing that growth with you. Please let someone else in on the secret. 

It Isn’t Enough to be Inspired!

Inspired to What End?

One day, after church, someone said to me, “I am so inspired.” In my heart, I responded, “Inspired to what end.” It isn’t enough to be inspired. We must be moved to action.

Over the years, I have read many books, articles and attended events that have inspired me. Just as often, I have let that inspiration lay dormant until it died away. I watch this happen to others. It’s sad because we desire to grow, change, and create. That is how we were made, and when inspired, these desires roar to life.

Why do we so often let inspiration to change and grow, die?

Why aren’t we moved to action and then achieve results? I can only speak from my own experience, but it has been extensive on both sides of this coin.

There are so many things that I am inspired to do or change that I burn out.
I hurry home and begin tearing my life’s fabric apart to insert this system or that program or a new way of managing. Then what happens? In a couple of weeks or a month, maybe two, I’ve quit. I’m back to being and doing what I did before. I’m burnt out.

• I feel that I must do some BIG thing to have any real impact.

• I am inconsistent, and when I don’t see the results I want as quickly as I want, it is easy to quit.

• I let myself get distracted by the many other pressing issues of my daily life. I get up every day determined to put my one step into action, but there are kids to chauffeur, food to cook, dishes to do, and I have a job. It sucks up the time until there is nothing left, and the one-step is on hold.

Those are not all the reasons inspiration dies, but they are right up there at the top of the list. Here is what I have learned to do when I am inspired and want to see results.

Nine Ways to Achieve Results

1. PICK ONE thing that you will work on out of all that has inspired you, just one thing.
The workbook that accompanies Becoming a Present Parent helps readers distill the entire book down to one thing. That is key—only ONE thing. Ask, “What’s the one best thing I should work on first”—what is the one thing you feel you need to do?

2. BREAK what you want into smaller steps.
We need to isolate one small thing that we can implement to move us in the direction we want to go. When we multiply small amounts of time consistently, we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change our part of the world.

Whenever you hear that a person has achieved an extraordinary goal, rarely, if ever, are you told the process they used—that is, the everyday actions they took consistently. You only hear about the outcome. So, begin with one small step.

3. COMMIT to being consistent for as long as it takes.
Some of our family goals will take many years to come to fruition, as will many of our personal goals. “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses – only results.”—Kenneth H. Blanchard

4. REMEMBER being consistent is not the same as being perfect.
James Clear reported in the magazine Entrepreneur that research shows, regardless of the habit you’re working to build or change, the character trait you want to develop, or the family culture you’re working on, missing a single day has no measurable impact on your long-term success. He wrote, “Daily failures are like red lights during a road trip. When you’re driving a car, you’ll come to a red light every now and then. But if you maintain a good average speed, you’ll always make it to your destination despite the stops and delays along the way.” Change takes time. Growth takes time. Perfect is not the goal; progress is!

5. Make space.
Create a system for getting your small step done each day. For example, every day, I make my bed immediately upon arising. Sometimes I can only make my half. But I do it every day. It isn’t about the bed. It is one of the steps I take daily to practice consistency and make space. Then while in the bathroom first thing in the morning, I pray. If I leave the bathroom, I may not get to it because life has a way of interfering. Determine how you can fit your one step into your life every day and then keep that commitment. When I was working on controlling my temper many years ago, I had to create space for reflection, make time to get help from others who had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, and find ways to nurture myself as I did the work. Whatever your one-step, make space to do it every day.

6. KEEP your word.
Do what you’ve decided to do. Be as consistent as possible. No matter how long it takes, don’t quit. Keep your word to yourself!

Keeping your word is essential. The more you do it, the more you learn to trust yourself, others begin to trust you, and it builds trust with your children. When your kids see you being consistent for as long as it takes, it tells them, “You can trust me!”

8. FOCUS on today—it’s all you have to work with.
As you focus on one day at a time, you will be able to persevere. Do your best today. If
you don’t do well today, then when tomorrow is today, begin again. Once today is yesterday, let it go! Don’t quit!

9. BELIEVE the result will be exponential growth.
When you make a change, create something new, or adjust your way of being, it has a domino effect in your life and other things that matter to you, that you aren’t focusing on, begin to change. Even though you are only working on one thing at a time, taking one small step at a time, hold in your mind that more than one item will set itself right in your life. I know this is true because I have experienced it.

As you work on the one best thing, as you move forward one small step at a time, and as you commit to making space for this step in your life and then remain consistent, you will be amazed at the marvelous things you can accomplish.

Let those who matter to you know that you can move from inspiration, to commitment, to results.

My Magnificent Gift

I received a gift on my Birthday

that I want to share with you, but first, I want to share a portion from the introduction of my book, Becoming a Present Parent, because it will help you appreciate the beauty and value of the gift.

“As a young woman growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, I didn’t contemplate any other occupation than motherhood. It was so much a part of what I expected to do that I didn’t give it much thought. It was what everyone did. I looked forward to it. I expected to sail along, doing what was required in the best way possible because I was made for it. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t know what to do and how to manage.

 

Raising my family was “the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These words from the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities describe my parenting experience rather perfectly.

 

Don and I didn’t talk much about family and parenting before we embarked on this grand adventure. He was the second child of two children, and I was the oldest of nine. He assumed I knew what I was doing, and I thought I knew what I was doing. We never discussed how we would discipline, how we would manage chores, meals, vacations, schooling, the budget, etc. Frankly, it didn’t occur to us we might not agree on everything, that we might not have all the information we needed. After all, we were in love, we shared the same faith, and parenting is what everyone did. It couldn’t be all that complicated.

 

But it was complicated!

 

Don and I had seven beautiful and amazing children, four girls and three boys. I recall with great fondness camping, fishing, sewing, cooking, crafts, Christmas, Thanksgiving, dance recitals, band concerts, baseball games, wrestling competitions, and speech contests.

 

I remember the fun we had: breakfast on the tailgate of our old pickup truck at the park, a block from our home one early Saturday morning; quiet conversations with whichever child’s turn it was to help me weed in the early dawn hours; canning while lots of kids snapped beans and peeled carrots; reading to our children; dinners together, a daily occurrence; bath time; night time cuddles; sitting together at church, filling a whole pew, while tickling backs and squeezing shoulders. These were memorable and satisfyingly ordinary days. These were the best of times.

 

I also have seared on my mind the struggles we shared as a family of nine—a husband who traveled for a living, drug abuse, premarital sex and a child born out of wedlock, thoughts of suicide, failure in school, smoking, alcoholism, lack of belief in one’s value as a person, quitting school, abandoning the church, a mother who raged and yelled, managing feelings of despair, and coming to terms with same-sex attraction. These were the worst of times.

 

When it’s all shaken together and poured out, how did we fare? Well, far better than we expected or than you might expect. Don and I had done just enough right, and with a full measure of the grace of God thrown in, we all survived and, strangely enough, thrived. We all live fully functional lives. We’re connected and bonded in unique ways. We look out for one another, and the kids support and lean on each other. We’re still a family! 

 

The story of our family is the story of an imperfect family. You won’t and, frankly, can’t do everything right. Your children will struggle as they grow. You’ll work to do all that’s required in your chosen vocation of ‘parent.’ It’s part of the process of being human, of being in a family.”

 

This year, I received cards, letters, and a few videos from my children for my Birthday. Each one gave an example of something I had done that made a difference in their lives. I was surprised at some. I hadn’t realized that they were paying so much attention to my efforts to grow, change, and be better. But they were.

 

 I want to share the contents of one gift I received, a video from my oldest daughter, Jodie.

 

“Mom, I am so happy to celebrate you. This morning, I was thinking about my mothering, the worries and challenges I face, and the potential regrets that I am thinking about already. Then I thought about where we are now, and I felt a deep sense of peacefulness that the story and the arc of family and parenting are long. I feel so grateful that you are our mom and that we get to celebrate you. I’m letting that gratitude steep in my heart today. Happy Birthday, mom.

 

Can you think of a more generous, more moving gift than words like these? As I have said many times, if we give it all we’ve got, learn a little here and a bit more there, and then implement, if we remain consistent and speak kindly to ourselves as we change and grow, then it will be enough. We will give our children the legacy of watching another human being engage in the process of becoming better. There isn’t much that we can provide them that is more powerful.

 

Here is something I do not share lightly.

During the years that our family struggled the most, I was despondent one day. As I washed dishes I thought about what a terrible job Don and I had done and were doing. Tears fell from my eyes. I looked heavenward and said out loud, “You should have sent these kids to another home. They would have done better.” Then clearly into my mind came these gentle and peace-giving words, “I knew how you would parent and that it would be enough.”

When you begin berating yourself for how imperfectly you are parenting, STOPwords matter. Your words to yourself matter the most. They will make it easier or harder for you to let go of old baggage, come up with solutions, find the resources you need to garner new information and get better at what you do. So, speak kindly. Be gentle. Give yourself charity, knowing that if you stay the course and keep learning, changing, and growing, it will be enough. It will! I know because in my family it has been enough!

Never quit. Never berate yourself. Keep working on you and loving your children, and it will be enough!

Who do you know that could use the comfort of knowing that it will be enough!

NO ONE has ever called me optimistic

I come from an extended family of

complainers and criticizers.

I never knew that because how we were seemed ordinary to me. We weren’t mean to each other. We could be generous and kind, but there was a lot of complaining, and we were critical.

There isn’t enough sun today. The snow is too deep. The car is nice, but I wish it were red. These eggs are okay, but next time could you… Thanks for folding the laundry, but I would like… Hamburger keeps going up in price. I’m so glad you got a C in math, but I know you could do better if you worked harder.

You see what I mean. I mentioned this to a friend one day, and she said, “Well, that’s just normal.” It is normal, but it isn’t helpful if we want our lives to feel more joyful and successful.

I’ve seriously worked on the issue of watching my words and thoughts for close to two decades now. I have used many tools to move into the place where I manage my stories and responses better. I’m making progress.

Then last fall, I put a rubber band on my wrist

after reading a little book called A Complaint Free World by Will Bowen. The challenge was to go 21 days without being critical or complaining. Sigh. I have yet to hit day six. I have had many five-day streaks, but when you mess up, you start over. It has been almost six months. I would be discouraged, except I know that there is no timeline for change. It takes commitment and consistency for as long as it takes!

However, now and then, you get a perk that keeps you going. I got one on my birthday from Ben, who is almost nine. He said, “Dear Grandma, you are so caring and optimistic.” WHAT!!!!! Is that the coolest thing you have ever heard? NO ONE has ever called me optimistic.

This little compliment is going into my “I am enough bin” in my brain. From now on, I know that I am an optimistic person. I am so happy because I am making progress in a decade’s long pursuit.

This is the process of change and growth – line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. We must be careful not to shut down and quit when a goal for growth takes more time and effort than we want it to take.

Parenting is a big job.

We don’t enter it with all the knowledge we need, and we bring baggage from our own growing up. As we parent, it will take years to get the experience we need and to jettison the baggage. Yes, our kids will suffer, but our children will be compensated as they observe our quest to be better, do better, and understand more. They will be blessed as they watch us remain consistent and immovable in our desire to grow and improve.

How do I know this? Well, I am 71. I carried a ton of baggage into my family, as did my husband. We were undoubtedly ignorant about how to do what we had taken on. Our seven kids occasionally suffered because we didn’t do things the best way. It was a long road with some significant bumps and a cliff or two.

But now our kids are adults; one turns fifty this year. And do you know what? I get cards, letters, texts, and videos telling me about this or that thing they observed me doing that has blessed their lives? WHAT? Yes, even when we are imperfect, if our goal is to learn, grow, and do better, it will bless our children when they are adults.

Stay tuned.

Next week I am going to share an absolutely exquisite gift from one of my children to their imperfect parent! You can, in time, be rewarded in the same way if you stay the course, do the best you can, keep learning and growing, and be an example of change.

Let someone else know that their efforts Will Be Enough!

Simple Isn’t Always Easy

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a friend and mentee. We were talking about some concepts found in my book, Becoming a Present Parent. She said, “The problem with your book is it’s so simple. I loved it when I read it, and it was all so doable. Then two months later, in an overwhelmed moment, I asked myself, ‘Can it really be this simple.'”

I laughed. I have asked myself the same thing over the years. It’s natural to feel that we have to do some great, fantastic, out of the ordinary thing to fix whatever is causing us overwhelm or pain in our families.

Just this week, I read an article on how to better manage irritations in marriage. The writer gave a simple and straightforward example of how we can get into trouble when someone falls short of our expectations. It was laughable when I considered the angst the couple was feeling and the simple solution the writer proposed. But there it was. I knew that if the couple followed the proffered advice, they would manage better. 

The author didn’t suggest learning to communicate better, going on weekly dates, getting away without the kids, etc. No, he suggested they forgive one another their failings. I have been married fifty years, and that counsel rang true to me because I have experienced its truth.

Here is the rub – simple does not always equate to easy.

Forgiving someone for not being perfect or not meeting our expectations isn’t easy, but it certainly is simple. Far simpler than figuring out how to get away for a few days without the kids. More doable, long term, than going on a date every week. And frankly, more effective than talking, no matter how good we are at communicating.

That is what my friend was really saying – “I know it is simple, but it isn’t always easy. I have to bend a bit. I am required to think differently. I must change.”

That is what my book is all about – making subtle changes in how we see what we already do every day—making use of those moments when we would typically have contention and instead create a connection. When we approach chores, bedtimes, homework, and meals together with a better story, we get a better result. We do. It is that simple.

But it isn’t always easy because rather than blaming the kids or our spouse, we have to come face to face with ourselves. We need to do something different. We must change. Irritating, isn’t it. We would rather have someone else change. But the truth is, we only have control over one person, ourselves.

I first learned this concept when I was sixteen and reading Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. He said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves…Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I didn’t understand it then, and it took me decades to understand, but I never forgot.

Here is something else I have learned from my own experience. When we are willing to change how we think, see, or behave, the results are successful and worth the effort. It is always worth it!

It’s FREE

If you want to understand what I am talking about when I say you must come face to face with yourself and then make a small shift in how you think, read Chapter four of my book. It’s FREE, and it is one of the best and most enlightening chapters in the book. I did that on purpose because if that is all you ever read and implement; it will be life-changing!

Why not share this FREE chapter with a friend who could use a lift, a reason to change, and simple information on how to do it. : )