Category: Better living and Parenting

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!

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 – The Big Fail!

Years ago, I spent a great deal of time with my grands that live in Utah. We lived one block away. This was before we consolidated our two families into a three-generation home. My daughter, Jodie, was homeschooling. At that time, I was teaching and mentoring mothers who homeschooled. Then I made a transition. I realized that many of the excellent things I was teaching applied to a whole spectrum of parenting, not just those who homeschooled.

Over the ensuing years, I have shared many of the lessons I taught to those long ago homeschool moms and have demonstrated how they apply to every family.

One of those lessons was the idea of Sparks. I wrote my first article on this cool subject in April of 2010. Wow, that was a long time ago. I love the idea of Sparks and have written many articles on the subject since then. In that early article, Sparks Bring Learning to Life. I explained what a Spark is and how it can help you, as a parent, help your child love the idea of learning. This is certainly valuable if you homeschool, but equally valuable if your children attend public or private school. Life is about learning, and the best-lived lives happen when we continue to learn. It is helpful when we show our children how fun learning can be and that is done best when we respond to their Sparks, the things they are already interested in.

In my book Becoming a Present Parent  I wrote that the value of seeing your child’s Sparks is that it’s a wonderful way to get Present with your child. It’s powerful not only in helping them love learning but also in creating tighter relationships. So, what is a Spark? Simply put, a Spark is anything that a child says or does that lets you know they’re interested in something right now. The article mentioned above will teach you how to recognize a Spark and then how to use it to create fun, family-learning moments, and to solidify your parent-child relationship.

Over the next few months, I want to share some examples of how I, and other parents, were able to use Sparks to connect with our kids. They are fun ideas that you can incorporate with your children, even if they haven’t shown up as a Spark, because you can also ignite Sparks. Light a spark and watch it burn!

Besides, it’s nice to have a quiver of ideas in your back pocket, especially with summer right around the corner and the sometimes boring days it brings. Learning slows down and tech takes over. It is useful to have some fun ideas and then gather your kids around for some non-tech enjoyment. We are talking about kids under twelve, but occasionally teens will hang around and even join in.

One of the reasons I’m going to tackle this issue of Sparks in the next couple of months is because I’m going to be spending LOTS of time caring for my grands. I fly to Seattle for a week, mid-month, where my grands range in age from almost twelve to four. Then it’s on to Colorado for a week. These grands range in age from married with kids, down to age four. I need a reminder, because as I see Sparks, I can respond, and our time together will be more powerful.

The article I am sharing this week was written in late 2011 and is about an epic failure in the Sparks arena. It illustrates the number one thing to remember about Sparks – the younger the child the shorter the Sparks shelf life. So when a Spark pops up you need to be prepared to respond. When you do, the results are amazing. Next week I will share a success.

Oh yes, one other thing. When children know you care about what they care about, regardless of the age of the child, they will open up because they know you care and will respond. This goes a long way in the relationship department, especially with teens.


I go to the library once a month and get four weeks worth of material to share with my grands. On my last trip to the library, I got books about pre-math subjects. That’s where my focus was. However, Jack’s was on elephants.

Each week I visit my grands with my recognizable plastic bucket filled with interesting items. Two weeks earlier, when the bucket went visiting Jack said, “Hi grandma, you brought the bucket. I asked him if he knew what we were going to do that day and he got a huge grin on his face and said, “Yes, elephants.” I pulled out the contents and we had a fun afternoon, but no elephants were included.

The next week when I arrived, I asked Jack, “What do you think we are going to learn about today.” With a huge grin and a face that was lit with the sure knowledge that he knew, he yelled, “Elephants”. I knew right then that it should have been elephants. I had missed my opportunity to respond when the Spark was fresh.

When Jack said he wanted to learn about elephants he fully expected that he would find the materials available the next week. I could see his disappointment when it was something else. We had fun but I sensed he wasn’t fully enthusiastic because what he wanted to know about was elephants.

This last week I was prepared with information about elephants. Guess what – I had let the window of opportunity pass by! We did have fun, but I could see that the enthusiasm he had had two weeks earlier was not present. Imagine how joyous would have been our experience if I had materials about elephants the week before. It would have made a difference.

I am going to spill it and tell you why I didn’t have things going well when it came to elephants. Frankly, the first week I missed it. I heard him say elephants and I let it pass right through my head. I didn’t want to go to the library again, I wanted to use what I already had prepared, and I was excited about the pre-math stuff. Then I forgot about elephants until the next week when Jack’s happy, anticipation-filled face reminded me. I had been thinking about my needs and not Jack, so I had completely missed the Spark.

When I did show up with elephants in the basket on the third week it was fun, but Jack wasn’t as engaged as he sometimes is, and we didn’t do half of what I had prepared. The younger the child, the more important it is to hear and respond to a spark quickly. They move from one interest to another fast.

Tips to help you respond to your child’s Sparks

  • Have a consistent place to make notes to yourself. When Jack mentioned elephants, I should have written it down or noted it in my phone, so I wouldn’t forget. If the Spark requires a trip to the museum etc., you need help to remember because it will require planning. Although we should respond to a Spark as soon as we can, occasionally time will pass so have a way to remind yourself.
  • If you can’t make it to the library for books, then use the internet. It will only take 10 minutes max to print off a page of info. that you can read and prepare in your mind, as well as a few pictures. You can also all gather at the computer. Then while you share the pictures you can ask questions and slip in some facts. There are always craft ideas and cute lunch and snack ideas online for just about any subject. There are free worksheets and color pages online for any topic you can think of, including elephants. Add another 5 minutes and you can have those downloaded and printed.
  • Take another 10-15 minutes to gather your materials for crafts and plan snacks so that you can introduce something fun over the next few days. I always use what I have. I rarely make a special trip to the store. I am averse to buying when I can make do. So, if I need a straw and I don’t have one I call my husband and he stops at Wendy’s after work. If I need a feather and I don’t have one, I make one from paper. If I need sliced turkey and I don’t have it, I figure out how to make peanut butter or tuna work. In 30 min. or so, you can have wonderful ideas that work for a week or two, that help you respond to your child’s Spark. They will love that you noticed. And this works in reverse. You can use this 30 minutes on something you would like them to be interested in and they may be Sparked.
  • If you have things to do and don’t we all put them on hold for 30 minutes and respond to the spark, even if it’s only a short conversation, reading a short book online, or asking them questions. Your child will be excited and much more engaged.
  • Most of all, remember that seeing Sparks is about seeing your children’s interests and needs. When you begin using these strategies you create magic and children learn to love learning.
  • Catching Sparks is usually easy, but responding to them is a skill we develop over time. So don’t become discouraged when you have a fail like I did with the elephants. Just keep practicing.

‘Light a spark and watch it burn!’

Do You Have a ‘Family Thing’?

Every mother struggles to bring all that she has to the family table. We all want to teach our children to be kind, to have manners, to be honest, to do their chores, to share, and on and on. We also want to teach skills that can help them as adults. We desire to encourage them to develop talents for the joy of it. It can feel daunting.

But there is something else that many of us struggle with; we want to have meaningful ‘family learning’, where our families connect and where the connection we create is passed down. That can often seem even more challenging because of the time and effort it can take. This is not something that we can give to our children by our example or our way of being.

I am talking about what we do as a family that is uniquely our own, that is passed on because we did them together and they became part of us. Today we are going to tackle this sticky wicket and see how it can be done, even if you have felt that you are failing at this or if you don’t even get what I’m talking about. : )


I want to introduce you to my friend Quincy Magalei, a homeschooling mom. We met via the internet. Years ago, Quincey discovered my blog and then bought my book, Becoming a Present Parent. She signed up to receive my newsletter and followed me through the years, reading what I wrote.

Quincy has seven children. Last year she and her husband took over the care of two newborns with severe special needs. They require a vast amount of time and need willing hands and hearts to care for them. That is when I heard from Quincy in person. She knew it was going to be more than she could manage alone and felt she should set a few things in place so the chances of success would be greater.

Quincy knew she and her husband would be very short on sleep and time. The babies were needy and on oxygen. There were going to be lots of doctors’ appointments and therapy. How to do this and still homeschool? Quincy reached out to me for friendship, ideas, and a safe place to talk.

This last December, in one of our conversations, Quincy mentioned a concert that she and her children were giving in Heber City, Utah. That would be an eighty-minute drive from my home, into the mountains, and at night. : ) But there was no snow, which was unusual, so I decided to attend.

The concert was held at the Wasatch County Senior Center, which also houses the library. A perfect place. There was a good crowd on that night because of the lack of snow. : ) The concert was amazing. There was audience participation, amazing vocals, musical numbers, and good-hearted joking around. Quincy played the piano, as did some of the children. Her husband played guitar and ukulele. The children played guitars and violins. Her twelve-year-old son, Ezra, did some beatboxing and he was good! He began learning this skill at age nine. Asher, one of the 6-year-old twins sang with the Bigs because he loves singing. Ehli has a natural talent but is not yet as engaged. However, he participates because this is a family thing, it’s what they do!

I enjoyed myself thoroughly, as did my mom. I will attend other concerts they give because it was worth the drive. It was wonderful to observe a family doing their thing together. It was moving to see them connecting. It was hopeful to see what a father and mother can do together when they want to share something with their kids, despite the odds against it.

After the concert, I asked Quincy how in the world did her children learn to sing like this, play instruments, and perform together. I really wanted to know. I didn’t think I had done anything like this with my family. Why not? I could sing. My husband played an instrument. Did we fail?

She said the whole idea was born years ago because she wanted to give her children a chance to learn music and then provide a place for them to perform. But how? It was intimidating and would require time and effort. Then she saw another family singing together and was astonished. She had no idea that was even possible, all the littles to bigs, performing together. This pricked her heart and gave her hope and 20 years later her family is doing the same. It wasn’t easy. They were homeschooling seven children. Her husband worked. But the desire to do something as a family was strong, they loved music, and it helped them overcome the barriers.

When they lived in Oregon they performed in the homes of widowers/widows and for older couples they knew from church. When they moved to Utah, they continued the tradition. Then they were asked to sing at the senior center. Quincey began setting up concerts. They honed their gifts, talents, and skills as a family, over time. I want to tell you they are GOOD and sang one song that was so challenging I couldn’t believe they were doing it!

Quincy said that this concert, where all her family was together, was the highlight of her life and worth the time and effort. She told me she was proud of what they had accomplished as a family. I loved these words from her – “It demonstrates the synergy of working with God and trusting yourself; then watching the results while being sustained by grace in every moment.”

Despite the uphill battle and the addition of two special needs babies as they began working on last year’s concert, she said her efforts were magnified in a way she had hoped and prayed for. As she said, “God makes us more than we are alone and fills our hearts and souls in the process.”

But what about me and the fact that I didn’t teach my children to sing or play instruments when Don and I could have? I was a self-taught professional cake decorator too. I made fabulous wedding cakes which were my specialty. But I never taught my kids. Two of my daughters went on to teach themselves and I am proud of them. I was also a terrific seamstress, but I only taught my last two children to sew. Hmmm, did I fail my family? This is a question I have heard other women ask themselves when they see what other families have accomplished. This is a question we each need to examine.


Every Sunday for many years, after church, I would take my children to the care center to visit the elderly. They would read to the people, tell jokes, and visit. I took them to the homes of older people and visited. We served in this way as a family often. Today, none of my children are put off by where people are at, special needs, elderly, ill, homeless. They can talk to anyone, and they do. They have hearts that are tuned to those in need.

That is why my son, Seth, is one of my granddaughter Maggie’s, favorite people. Maggie has severe cerebral palsy. She can’t walk or speak. But Seth knows how to talk to someone who can’t talk back. He isn’t the least put off by her situation. He knows that every person wants to laugh and be seen. In fact, every member of our family, even those who have come in by marriage, knows how to spend time with Maggie.

My daughter Jenny, despite a brain injury, has a master’s degree in communication science and disorders. She works with the elderly helping those with communication impairments, swallow deficits, and cognition. She has told me that her experiences at home moved her in this direction after her accident.

My daughter Jodie regularly takes her children to help the homeless. They pass out cocoa and cookies. They smile. They shake hands. They listen.

All my children serve the underprivileged, the needy, the elderly, and the ill. It was a family thing, and I didn’t even realize it at the time. It was the connecting family activity that left home with our children and is being passed down.


Let me tell you about another mom that I just met a couple of months ago, Emily. She cuts my hair in her home studio. At one appointment the Magalei family came up in our conversation and Emily lamented that she wished she had time to do something like that for her kids. She is a very good seamstress and felt like a bit of a failure because she hasn’t made time to teach this skill to her children. : ) Then our conversation moved on.

I discovered that this family hikes. She said that even her three-year-old is a great hiker. They have hiked in many places. They do it whenever they want to be together as a family. They all love it. She and her husband have taught their kids how to enjoy the outdoors and be safe. I told her that this is a legacy as powerful as what Quincy has given her children or what I gave to mine. It just happens on different stages. Quincy’s family is on a stage in a community center. Emilie’s is on the side of a mountain, and for my family, it is in the halls of the ill and afflicted.

Another mother I know has a son who was obsessed with rocks. It became their family thing. They went to digs and planed vacations around where rocks could be found. They collected, sorted, and displayed them. They spent time in mineral and geology museums. They had constant family conversations on the subject. This is what they did as a family.

Another family I know skies together. They spend whatever time they can every winter skiing. And when possible, do it on the water in the summer. This is their family thing.

I didn’t realize what our family thing was at the time. It would have been helpful to me to have figured that out. I would have been more confident in the job I was doing. It was helpful to my hairdresser, Emily, when she realized that they did have something that was a family thing.

So, I am asking you. What do you do to connect as a family? It is there if you look at where you spend your time together. Is it something that bonds and connects you as a family? If not, then what would accomplish that? As you can see it doesn’t need to be 20 years of teaching your kids to sing and play on stage. So don’t be intimidated. That was Quincy’s dream. Mine was more modest, but in the end, just as meaningful.

What matters is that we have something we do regularly as a family that we all enjoy, that bonds us and helps us connect. Bowling. Skating. Sewing. Baking. Hiking. Reading together. Fishing. Hunting. Serving at nursing homes. Science. What is your family thing? Begin observing your family and your regular activities. What do you do to connect?

When you can see it, you will be comforted, that yes, you have a family thing, and it matters. You’re doing good!

Harness the Power of Focus

I have a friend that I admire very much, Alysia Humphries. What got me thinking about her this last couple of weeks was that tonight (Saturday) I am going to a special event for caregivers. She and a handful of other women are giving some nurturing to caregivers. I fit into that group and so Alysia asked me to come. I am going to have some foot zoning done and Alysia is giving me some light therapy. Restful!

That got me thinking about Alysia and a letter she sent to me after an event I participated in over a dozen years ago to help mothers learn to be present. Today Alysia kids are twelve years older, but being a present parent doesn’t change even when your kids are adults. I thought you would enjoy her letter and the tips that she came up with for herself to manage better. Enjoy Alysia’s experience and I will enjoy my light therapy. : )

The Power of Focus or Being Present by Alysia Humphries

“Recently at our Mama Mastermind, I got to learn from an amazing Mom and Grandma, Mary Ann Johnson, about the power of Being Present ie. the power of focus. She gave us a challenge that has been, well, challenging for me. It is a simple one, and I really needed it, but it has been harder so far than I expected. Here’s what it is. You’ll laugh, it sounds so easy.

‘Commit to Be Present with one person each day for 3 minutes. Totally focused on them, no multitasking, thinking about other things, no other agenda, no looking into the future, just looking into their eyes, listening to them, and letting them know you value what they feel, say, and who they are by the way you are with them. 3 minutes.

Anyone can do that for 3 minutes, right?

‘Well, it turns out it’s not so easy for me. I have gotten really good at doing 3 or 4 things at once, which has served me well in some ways, but it often means I am missing things that matter the most, opportunities to connect and teach and understand my kids better, and powerful moments together. Nursing a baby, while typing an email, while half listening to a child’s request, or trying to mediate a quarrel from the kitchen while washing the dishes and thinking about what I am making for dinner all at the same time, have become a normal way of life for me. And it doesn’t only zap my energy, it zaps my power to touch my children and be touched by them. Yes, I really needed this exercise. I want to learn to harness the power of focusing!

‘It’s only been a day and a half, and here’s what I have noticed so far.

1. Old habits are hard to break, so I really have to concentrate on being Present! I guess there is a reason why Mary Ann started with such a short period of time. Baby steps.

2. It really helps to physically remove myself from my distractions. If I am reading something and I want to be present when my child wants to tell me all about their latest Lego creation, I need to physically remove myself from what I was reading, get up and go see what they are talking about, or go sit down with them on my lap and turn my whole self toward them. Otherwise, it is too easy to sneak a peek at what I was looking at before and get distracted again.

3. Three minutes really can pay big dividends! I have had better conversations with my kids in the past few days than I have had in a long time, and I learned a lot about them! Sometimes it only takes one minute, to have a moment that is meaningful together, that satisfies a need and makes them feel loved, and they go skipping away happily like I just gave them the world. It really doesn’t take a lot of time; I just have to be willing and not put it off. There is power in focusing!

4. I enjoy my kids more when I am present with them. Making time with them my purpose rather than a distraction means I get more satisfaction out of spending time with them. And they do, too.

5. I DO have time to be present! I don’t have to rush around getting tons of things done at once. And it’s something I can’t afford to miss! It’s funny (and sad) how it’s the things that you can’t get back, like making memories with your kids, that seem like the easiest thing to put off in favor of things that will always be there, like dishes and phone calls and errands. That exact moment might not ever come back no matter how much you try to recreate it when it fits in the schedule. Taking 3 minutes to stop, turn, and take in your child completely means capturing something irreplaceable. I need to remember that when I’m tempted to put the kids off.

‘I’m very grateful for this exercise and I think it will carry over to other areas of life as well, being present with my husband, being present with God when I am talking to Him, and being more open to the people around me and the beauty that is everywhere.

‘Being Present helps us be more Joyful. It helps us see more. It helps us be more effective in the things we do. It might seem like slowing down means accomplishing less, but I think by being present I will actually accomplish more of the things that matter the most.”

Empowering Action:

Take the 3-minute challenge. Give each child 3 minutes of your focused presence this week and see what a difference it makes.

Some things NEVER change! Kids or adults, just 3-minutes this week, for each one! Let me know how it goes.

HELP! I Need Activities for Small Children

I enjoyed the time I taught and mentored mothers and fathers. I was able to share stories, experiences, and resources. I met many parents who wanted to create strong family cultures and tight relationships with their children. The years that I did this work were sincerely fulfilling.

I recall getting an email from a very harried mom with a three-year-old. I laugh about it still because I can relate!

“YIKES!! My three-year-old wants me to help him with everything!! I need some activities and games for small children!”

Not long after, I got an email from a mom who was homeschooling. She loved working with her eight-year-old, but she had two littles who made it difficult to give her older son the attention she wanted to. She needed some diversions for those little ones. She planned for all of them to be in the same room, but she needed her littles to be able to play happily without her help for short periods.

Small children want their mom or dad to be with them. It’s all about “being present” and frankly, their little hands need more help figuring things out so they can keep going. So, what’s a mother to do when she needs to help an older child or wants to keep a little one entertained while she does dishes, folds laundry, or works from home? And then there are times a mother wants to do some learning or reading of her own. We are so good at multitasking that if we can keep the littles happy at our feet, we can do some of our own work and study.

At that time, I put the question to my readers and was amazed at the wonderful answers they gave. If you have littles and need them to learn or play on their own for bites of time, give some of these ideas a try. Most of them came from moms who have mixed ages in their homes, some school at home, and some work from home. They are tried and true. : )

Activities and Games for Small Children

  • Building blocks activity – my kids LOVED magnetic blocks and my grands still do. Any type of blocks will work.
  • Lego’s. “Throw a sheet on the floor and dump the whole caboodle in the middle. They can swim in them if they want to so long as they keep them on the sheet. When it’s time to clean up, fold the four corners together and dump the lot back into the container.”
  • A marble shoot game…”Use tubes that create a tall tower. They drop the marble at the top and watch it go through the tubes down to the bottom.” (Make sure your child has reached the age where they won’t put the marbles in their mouths. : ) You could have an older child create one for the littles. Here is one created by a mom in minutes. If you don’t mind a bit of noise this is fun. You would have to make it lower on a wall and wouldn’t need as many parts.
  • Play-Doh activity – Provide an old rolling pin and have them play on the floor with a variety of cookie cutters.
  • Geo-trax. There are so many different versions of this. If you have one, use it.
  • Try a shoe box for each day of the week. “In each box, there are a variety of toys to play with that day. When you are done, close the box…next day is a new box with new things to discover. (It could be anything…not just toys, but nesting Tupperware, spoons, rocks…anything new can be exciting.)”
  • A pile of stacking cups and a pile of math manipulatives “(1×1 inch tiles in the same colors as the stacking cups) make a great learning activity for young children. This worked for my two-year-old as long as she could sit in the middle of the kitchen table with them. She did it every single day the whole school year pouring, sorting, and making piles of those little tiles.”
  • Mr. Potato Head game.
  • Lacing cards.
  • Large beads to string.
  • Painting! “Before you run screaming, let me tell you they can paint quite happily with water. If you give your little ones some colored construction paper, a big paintbrush, and a small cup of water, they can “paint” to their hearts’ content. If they spill anything, it’s just water. Put them on the table with a vinyl cover and put a towel over that.”
  • Pegboard and big plastic pegs.
  • Buy a package of paper cups and let your children play with them. They can nest them, stack them, build with them, etc. If they get mashed, no loss. In fact, if you’re like me, you might want to take a few at the end of playtime, place them upside down along the floor, and then jump on them. Kids LOVE this. It is the reward for playing quietly for a while, alone.
  • Nesting cups.
  • An indoor sandbox? “When my children were small, we had one of those turtle sandboxes, with the cover, in the house. We put some plain white rice in it, and some appropriate toys: scoops, shovels, containers, etc. They LOVED it! If you don’t want an entire sandbox, you can fill a smaller container with rice, and let them play in that. Place it on a sheet for easier clean up.”
  • “If you have time to make some materials, you can make fun matching games from posters. Dollar stores often have education posters. Buy two posters, cut up one of them, attach Velcro to the back of the pieces, attach the other part of the Velcro to corresponding areas on the intact poster, and voilà! You have a lovely matching activity for them. Do this with colors, shapes, numbers, letters, or anything that lends itself to matching. Hang the posters on the wall. This is a great learning activity for young children.”
  • Board books. You can find books that have textures, which are nice for the little ones. You don’t have to buy them new.
  • A small folding dryer rack, some washcloths, and a few clothespins.
  • A little spray bottle of water, a sponge, and a table they can “clean.”
  • Plastic rubbing plates, plain paper, and crayons.
  • Plastic food is always a hit, especially if you also have plastic plates upon which to serve it.
  • Stuffed animals and some blankets or baby clothes.
  • A magnetic dry-erase board and a fun set of magnets.
  • “If you have room- a train table with bins underneath is great because they can do so much on top of it, and everything stores beneath it.”
  • Audiobooks – When they were small some of my grands loved this activity.
  • Simple art supplies: crayons, paper, pencils, clay, etc.
  • “Deliberately leave things undone–kids at that age love to help with the right encouragement. Whenever you notice that attention fading, send your little one to go ‘do something’. Leave your shoes in a silly place for example. If approached with the right cheerfulness, a 4-year-old will certainly hunt for 30 min. or more for Mother’s sweater, not just because she’s cold but because it is so funny to discover silly mom left it in the soup pot again!”
  • Make a game of chores: “Folding laundry is one–sure you may have to re-fold it, but it does work. Feeding pets, setting the dinner table (does it matter if you won’t eat for a few hours?), cleaning baseboards (because no one really cares what they look like), making lunch or a snack–a 4-year-old is quite a gracious host if given the responsibility. They can do all kinds of things with fruit and veggies and dip and even make sandwiches.”
  • “Montessori websites have great suggestions for toys, games, and learning activities for young children. The best book on making your own Montessori materials is Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years by Elizabeth Hainstock.”
  • Find a workbook for preschoolers.
  • Cutting, pasting, and tracing.
  • Mini trampoline.
  • Plastic balls in a big pot. You can go cheap and fill up a kiddie pool with them if there is space.
  • Make a fort with sheets or blankets.
  • You may not believe it, but some little children love to sort socks.
  • Big cardboard boxes will keep any young child busy for hours. I used this and they played for hours. They really liked decorating them with crayons.

How do you keep your “littles” occupied and happy? Got a GREAT idea.

Share in the comments.