Category: Family Culture

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!

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.

Are You Afraid Of Reading Hard Books?

Have you ever wondered how to read books that aren’t easy reads? This has been an issue for me. I LOVE reading but sometimes the classics are a challenge. History can be dry. Some books deal with tough topics. How do you manage those?

I just finished a book while at my daughter’s in Seattle, The Midnight Library. It’s a book I would recommend to others, but it wasn’t what I would call a ‘tough read.’ It was a thoughtful and enjoyable read. We all need those now and then but to learn and grow we occasionally need the tough read.

In May of 2023, I finished the book, Confucius – The Analects. Here is what I posted: “OK, this book was a tough read for me! I know exactly why I am not a philosophy major. I do not think deeply enough or abstractly enough. I had friends who read this and told me it was a must-read. So, I read it. Yes, the whole thing, but I confess, I didn’t get most of it.

I think it would have been helpful to me if I had read it in a class or with a book group so that I could hear what others were getting from its pages.

If you like deep thinking, if you like the past, if you like philosophy, then you will like this book. If you have read it I would LOVE it if you left a comment below and told me what you got from it. : ) Help me out. LOL”

The only response I got was from my cousin who said she would read it and get back to me. She hasn’t gotten back to me. : ) As I said, it is a tough read.

A few years ago, I was following a discussion online about the book The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I posted that I had read the book over 30 years ago and hadn’t liked it. I knew while I was reading the book wasn’t getting the full story. I had no one to talk to about it at the time. The online group gave me some great input. I still think about the book on occasion and wish that I had understood it better when I first read it.

In this same online reading group, the conversation turned to The Hunger Games. I hadn’t read the book. I recognized the title because I had seen a trailer for the movie. I decided from the trailer that I wouldn’t like this book. I decided that it wasn’t worth reading.

Then I talked to a friend, Olivia Votaw. She is a great storyteller herself and knows the value of a classic book, or those that are destined to become classics. I read Hunger Games on her advice and was appalled at the storyline, but with her help, I understood its value.


When I read East of Eden, I didn’t like the book and knew I was not going to get past chapter three. There were so many allusions to torrid behavior and so much conflict in the lives of the main characters. I was reading it because my son-in-law said it was one of his favorite books. How in the world could that be!? I called him. He pointed out that it was the best book on choice he had ever read. I kept reading. I never adjusted to the nastiness of some of the characters and felt bugged by the conflicts; however, I was absolutely mesmerized by the truth of his words. It is a powerful statement on choice; that we all have choices and can wield them for good or bad no matter where we come from, what our parents were like, or our life circumstances. The illustration of Cain and Able in the book was so striking that I had to copy the whole thing because I knew I would want to refer to it in the future.

So here is a book that I would never have finished; but good feedback from a family member kept me at it and in the end, I felt it was worth reading. This book changed my perspective on choice.

That is the point I am making. Without feedback from others, to get a different perspective, books about controversial subjects, history, world events, etc., may be difficult to understand. But with help, they can be life-changing, as East of Eden was for me.

If you want to tackle more classics or some of today’s big sellers that will become classics, how can you get the most from the book?


1. Find a comfortable place to read. Settle in. This will be different for each person. For me, it is a page or two at a time in the bathroom. I know it doesn’t sound comfortable, but no one asks me for anything when I’m in there. You may have the luxury of a soft chair or your bed at night. : )

2. Look up unfamiliar words. This is a must, so you don’t get discouraged and quit. Use a phone app. Your youth can show you how. : )

3. Avoid skimming or speed reading. If a book is dense or dry or deals with a subject, I find difficult, well, this is an option I have chosen in the past. I must confess this is what I did in much of Confucius – The Analects. But when you skim, or speed read you miss key points that add to your comprehension.

4. If you own the book, underline passages that seem important. Make notes in the margin of things you don’t understand and then talk to someone else and get their thoughts. Try keeping notes. For some people, this helps them pay more attention to what they are reading. These strategies help you when talking with others about the book, as you can find them more easily to share.

5. If what you are reading is emotionally challenging, or the material feels overwhelming, take a break. Stop reading. Give your eyes and mind a rest. Then take some time to think about what you have read before you pick it up again. That might be a five-minute walk to the kitchen for a glass of water.

6. Don’t stop reading for too long. This is a MUST for me. If I go days in between reads I lose the story. I forget things that help me make sense of the book. I need to read daily, even if it’s only a couple of pages in the bathroom. I just finished reading a history book about the Panama Canal yesterday that had 617 pages. I read it a few pages at a time in the bathroom. It can be done. LOL (It was a bit dry but fascinating to me because I LOVE history.)

7. Share what you are reading. Read with a friend. Join or create a book group. Talk to a librarian. Chat with someone who has read the book. Join an online reading group. Often another perspective can help you get more from a book or keep you reading when you’re tempted to quit. If I hadn’t talked with Olivia, I never would have understood the value of The Hunger Games. If I hadn’t shared my reservations about East of Eden with my son-in-law, I would have missed a powerful novel about choice, because I would have stopped reading it. Share what you are reading. Talk about it. You can do the same for your children as they read hard books. 

When you can tackle hard books, then you can help your children and youth do the same. It is a skill worth learning and passing on.

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.

Simple Techniques for Stress-Free Single Parenting

Photo via Pexels

Life as a single parent is a challenging journey, but it can also be filled with growth, resilience, and moments of joy. I have a daughter navigating this path, and it can be both painful and joyous watching her and her children as they move through this new territory. To manage well requires a blend of practical strategies and emotional fortitude.

Understanding how to manage as a single parent, either a mom or dad, requires support and resources. In April of 2023, I posted an article by a fellow writer, Laura Pearson, filled with resources to assist parents returning to school. Today I am sharing another of her articles with resources for single parents. If you are a single parent this will probably not be new information for you, but I hope the included links will be useful in helping you move forward in investigating these and other resources that may be just what you need.

Simple Techniques for Stress-Free Single Parenting by Laura Pearson

Set Aside Time for Self-Care
In the whirlwind of single parenthood, it’s easy to overlook your own well-being. However, taking care of yourself is paramount. Carve out moments for self-care activities that rejuvenate you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Whether it’s a brief yoga session, a soothing bath, or even a quiet moment with a book, these small breaks will help you stay grounded and resilient.

Building a Support Circle
You don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Reach out to your family, friends, and other single parents for support; you can also look for resources online. Building a strong support circle not only provides practical assistance but also offers emotional solace. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone in this adventure.

Involving Kids in Household Chores
Teaching responsibility from a young age can benefit both you and your children. Assign age-appropriate chores to your kids and make household tasks a family affair. Turn cleaning, decluttering, and organizing into a game guess how quickly you can finish! Involving your children not only lightens your load but also fosters teamwork and responsibility.

Establishing Consistency with Rules and Routines
Children thrive on routine and structure. Establishing consistent rules, schedules, and routines helps organize your day and provides your children with a sense of security. Predictability eases the challenges of single parenthood and fosters a harmonious household.</strong

Open Communication with Your Children
Maintaining open lines of communication with your children is a crucial aspect of single parenting. It’s important to encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings openly. This safe and open dialogue helps foster a deep sense of trust and understanding between you and your children. Ultimately, this approach makes navigating the complexities and challenges of single parenthood a more unified and manageable experience.

Financial Planning and Budgeting
Single parenthood frequently involves navigating financial constraints. To address this, creating a budget, meticulously managing expenses, and planning ahead are essential steps. Practicing financial savvy not only secures your family’s stability but also serves as an excellent role model for your children. These actions demonstrate the importance of financial responsibility and forward-thinking in ensuring a secure future.

Utilizing Community Resources
Don’t hesitate to tap into the resources available in your community. Seek counseling services for emotional support, join support groups for shared experiences, explore childcare services for convenience, and explore financial aid programs designed to assist single parents. Your community can be a valuable ally in this journey.

Pursuing an Online Degree for Career Advancement
Investing in your education can significantly improve your career prospects and income; you may consider this option by enrolling in an online degree program. The flexibility of online education, with its adaptable schedules and remote learning options, allows for a balance between your parenting responsibilities and your educational ambitions. This path not only enhances your qualifications but also opens doors to diverse nursing careers in education, informatics, administration, and advanced practice.

Life as a single parent may have its share of hurdles, but with these strategies in your toolkit, you can transform it into a fulfilling and successful journey. Remember, you are stronger and more resilient than you might realize, and your dedication to both your growth and your children’s well-being will lead to a brighter future for your family. Embrace the support around you, invest in your education and self-care, and maintain open communication.

You’ve got this.

Thoughts On My Wall

Last week, I shared my daughter’s journey from a traumatic brain injury to a life of love and service. I shared one of the secrets to her success – she had taken charge of what she focused on.

I, like my daughter, put ideas on my wall.

I post on my walls thoughts and ideas that I want to understand and incorporate into my life and way of being. I am a person who decries clutter. Order is the name of the game for me, so it hasn’t always been easy to put things on my wall. LOL However, I have experienced the value of this practice, and I embrace it.

I have shared that I was mad when I learned that I was 100% responsible for my choices. I didn’t believe it. It couldn’t be true. It took me ten years to accept the truth and begin living it. Giving up a victim mindset can be a challenge.

I have lived this truth for many years now, and I know from experience that it is life-changing when we know we are in control of our response. This one principle has made a significant difference in my life. One thing that I do to help myself stay out of victim mode and manage my stories and response to them, is to post on my walls things that help me maintain perspective. I choose ideas I want to understand more fully and live better, thoughts that buoy me up and give me solace. I also focus on things that are not yet part of how I am, because I know that reading them often will help me integrate them into my way of being.

I thought it would be fun to share some of what I have on my walls with you. If it resonates you may want to post it on your walls. If not, enjoy the read and then find what does resonate. I have many thoughts from spiritual leaders in my faith. You will find the same in your faith. I have quotes from people I trust or admire. Some come from books I have read. If it rings true or is principle-based, it can find its way to a wall in my home.

I apologize because I haven’t always put the source on the quote. However, I will share the source if I know it. : ) Even though I don’t always recall where I heard certain words and phrases, it doesn’t matter. They captured my heart in the moment, and I put them on my wall.

I will explain why some quotes are on my wall. It will help you going forward to find great thoughts for your walls.

25 Wonderful Thoughts

1. The picture at the top of this article was gifted to me by my granddaughter Mary, when she was ten. She said, “Grandma, you and I are the same.” I hung her drawing on my wall to remind myself that those I love are watching me, and I need to be careful to be worth watching and emulating. Also, the sentiment is true, there is beauty everywhere, even in the hardest times. There are days when I need to be reminded of this truth. (See Photo)

2. I have this painting on my wall, among the quotes, because it has deep meaning for me. The words came in a dream, and I held them in my heart for years. Eventually, I found a friend and distant relative who painted the dream. It reminds me of what I’m here to do. “Mission Statement – The Savior is healing me. I release old wounds and baggage. As I heal, I am healing generations. I feel satisfied bringing light to others.” Mary Ann Johnson

3. “Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well with my soul.”

I heard this in a story told on a Christmas program a few years ago. A father lost his four daughters in a tragic sea accident. He immediately sailed to his wife’s side. As he passed over the place, in the ocean, where his daughters were lost, he said these words to himself. This is how I want to manage loss and suffering.

4. I read the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben. As she suggested, I wrote my own happiness commandments. I pondered for many days and finally narrowed my personal commandments down to these three. This card has been on my wall for many years. These personal commandments have had a huge impact on my way of being.

5. “I like to think of waiting in terms of a waiter at a restaurant. In this sense, to wait on someone is to serve that person. A good waiter – or server – gives his or her customers excellent care and attention by checking on them often, learning their desires, and attending to them. When I adopt this attitude toward the Lord, it adds purpose to the time I spend awaiting a particular blessing. Time seems to pass more quickly when I am diligently working to serve God. Ironically enough, it’s through this work that I ‘renew strength.’ ” From a talk by Christy Nielson

6. “What is the great cause of Christ? It is to believe in Him, love as He loved, and do as He did.” From a talk by Dieter F. Uthcdorf

7. “God’s prosperity is the power to press forward despite the problems of life.” From a talk by L. Whitney Clayton 

Many years ago, I was in a very lean time, and I asked God, in prayer, to bless me with prosperity. He did. It was the most amazing year of my life and I felt so much abundance. Our income did not change. In fact, nothing changed except how I felt about my life. It was amazing. Years later I saw this quote and I knew exactly what it meant!

8. “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend…when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that is present – love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us happiness – the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.” Sarah Ban Breathnach

As I said in #7, I have lived this!

9. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16  From the King James Bible

10. “Life is incredibly unfair – in your favor.” Jennie Taylor

Jennie’s husband was killed in war, and she was left with a family to care for. I listened to her talk about navigating that terrible loss and I was moved beyond words. I was also chastened for my penchant to complain. Jennie taught me the power of these words and also these… “We want everything to happen for a reason. A better mindset might be to let God make reason of everything that happens.” Jennie Taylor

11. When I became a full-time caregiver and made the choice to let my career go, I got a lot of flack from people. Many business associates felt that I was taking the easy way out, business building can be a challenge. Others felt I could do it all if I really wanted to. I spent time pondering and praying. Eventually, I wrote this statement for myself so I would never again second guess the choice I had made. I have it on my wall because caregiving is stressful. It has many challenges and few of the perks of being a teacher and speaker. I must remind myself who I am, why I am doing what I do, and that it is right for me, at this time. Three years have passed, and this is as true today as it was the day it was written.

“So here is my clarity – It won’t be what you would usually think. I live in a four-generation household that is filled with active children and those who are ill. I am also a published author, teacher, and coach. I post daily on Facebook, a meaningful thought for the parents I write for. I write and publish an article each week, which always elicits comments of hope from my readers. My published book is fabulous, and the day will come when I will again promote it and speak and teach on the contents. I have a couple more amazing books in files on my computer which will wait patiently for me. But for now – I am caring for my mother and my ill husband, and helping my daughter care for her 14-year-old with special needs. This is my path, my mission for now, and my time to serve and patiently wait. It is enough for me.” Mary Ann Johnson

11. “Celebrate endings because they precede new beginnings.” Jonathan Lockwood Hule

When I read these words, I knew I had to post them on my wall because I balk at change. I knew that I needed more flexibility of mind and heart. I read these words often.

12. “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.” John 14:18 From the King James Bible

13. “You can’t wait until life stops being hard to be happy.” Jane Marczewski

Jane was known as ‘Nightbirdie’ on the show America’s Got Talent. She had cancer but decided to audition anyway. Simon Cowell gave her a Golden Buzzer. Jane died before the end of the season, but she had lived these words spoken on stage. I don’t watch TV, but my husband does and while doing dishes I saw Jane’s first appearance. Much later I learned she had died. I decided that her words would help me in the years to come and so I searched for them. They are now on my wall.

14. “We can feel heartbreak and joy at the same time.”

15. “Create a vision, present it to the Lord, tell Him this is what you would love, and then ask Him to help you identify your next ‘right’ step. You don’t even have to be totally confident that He is guiding you. If you do this exercise, then I assure you, as you give it your best shot to move forward with the next ‘right’ step, He is.”

16. “Be less worried about what you are doing and think more about who you are becoming.” From a talk by James E. Faust

17. I took a wonderful class on money stories from Erin Mathis Feik. I worked on my money stories for over fifteen years. I had made tons of progress, but Erin was a friend and I decided to see what she had to say. Here is what I distilled from the class. I read these words often and find them helpful, especially in these current, challenging financial times. (See Photo)

18. “Not what we give, but what we share. For the gift without the giver is bare, who gives himself with his alms feeds three, himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.” from The Vision of Sir Launfal by James R. Lowell

I have this posted next to a small picture of Jesus Christ, on my bathroom wall. I see it every day.

19. “God sometimes calls us into service at the most inopportune times. Often, we find a hundred reasons to say no…God wants our availability. He wants our hearts and minds and lives. He wants us to say in the words of Isaiah, ‘Here I am, send me.” God does not judge us by a set of standard performances. He makes a total claim on our lives and expects full use of all our talents. He judges us in terms of what we are capable of doing. In many situations, is not a call simply a realization of a need and an agreement that you have the ability to fill that need if you are only willing to do so?” Millard Fuller

When someone needed to care for my mom who has Alzheimer’s, I was traveling the country, speaking, guiding workshops, and really enjoying myself. I had just had a book published. My husband was already struggling with his health, and I was helping my daughter care for her special needs daughter. I knew the decision to take my mom into my home would come at a cost. However, I didn’t know the cost would be as high as it proved to be. Eventually, I had to let it all go, the speaking, the teaching, the traveling.

I have never regretted the decision, but resentment can come knocking, and maintaining perspective can be a challenge. When I read these words, I had to post them on the wall because this is where I find myself today. They help me stay in a good place so I can better love and care for those I serve.

21. “Being a widow is uncharted territory. It is a place of paradox-empty/full, heartbroken/healed, etc. Sometimes I miss so much I can’t breathe. Yet, having him helping from the other side of the veil has been incredible. Soooo many blessings.” Kim Gleason Davis

I have worried about losing my husband since the day we married. That is because he has been a truly safe place for me. I have talked to dozens of widows over the years to hear their stories, so I could be prepared for the day that this safety left. I know it is silly, but there it is.

However, I have known for a long time now that there are some things you can’t prepare for. When I read this post from my friend, Kim, I had to save it because I will need it in years to come. It resonates with me so powerfully because for decades I have said, “Don is my breath. How will I breathe when he is gone?” Kim reminded me how.

22. “Intelligence isn’t in you; it exists around you and you are to connect with it. Answers don’t have to be in your mind. You don’t have to be able to recall everything you read. You just trust that you are an intelligence in a sea of intelligence and answers and information will flow into you. When you begin pondering something and start talking about it, information flows in.”

As I have aged, my ability to recall details has diminished. I was frightened at first, but then I read this, I believed it and I hung it on my wall. I always seem to find the information I need whether it comes readily to my mind or not. Information, when I need it, does flow in!

23. “Nothing in nature lives for itself. Rivers don’t drink their own water. Trees don’t eat their own fruit. The sun doesn’t shine for itself. Flowers don’t spread fragrance for themselves. Living for others is the rule of nature.”

I come from a time when this was lived more than now. I have watched the world become more selfish and self-centered. I need this reminder to remain as I was taught, to take good care of yourself so you maintain your strength and then care for others.

24. “The Lord has a plan for me, and it will be a gift.” Mary Ann Johnson

After I quit speaking and teaching, I wondered if I had made the best choice. One day while coming in the back door I had this very clear thought flash into my mind – This will be a gift. I immediately came into my office space and wrote these words down and hung them on my wall. I wanted to remember what I had just been told. Five years have passed since that day, and I am seeing the gift being created!

25. “Charity – Patience is a reverence for the agency of others. The Lord’s commitment to agency is deeper than even your own. When we are patient with others, we are giving them space to use their agency, even if it complicates things for us or is different from what we would do. Patience is cheerfully doing all things as required by God. The fruit of patience is love unfeigned. We must have patience in order to withstand pain and grief without complaint or discouragement, which detracts from the Spirit.”

I asked for the gift of charity over a decade ago. As I began studying it, I realized that charity is made up of multiple ways of being. I have since begun studying the parts of this gift I desire. I have many quotes about charity and its parts on my walls. I cannot become what I don’t understand and practice.

I have so many other wonderful thoughts and ideas on my walls. I mean, I have been collecting them for years. : ) It is only possible to take one down if I have become the words or if they don’t apply anymore. There was no way to share them all with you, but I hope you have enjoyed these twenty-five and the stories that go with many of them. I am sure you can tell what my focus is at this season of my life. : )

Take the time in this coming year to find words that will help you stay on track and keep working towards who you want to become. Take charge of what you focus on.

It will elevate your mind, heart, and life.

You Are What You Think About and Focus On

In 2003, my world turned upside down when my daughter, Jenny, was hit head-on by a drunk driver going the wrong way on a California freeway. Five years later, I wrote an article about Jenny’s journey and how she turned a major head injury into a life worth living. Another eleven years have passed, and I have watched my daughter live these words – You are what you think about and focus on.

Jenny’s sixteen-year odyssey is powerful. If you find yourself frustrated, angry, discouraged, resentful, sad, feeling less than, or any number of other difficult emotions, then this is a true story for you.

After a struggle with drugs, Jenny got clean, changed friends, and was one semester shy of graduating with a bachelor’s degree. All that came to an abrupt halt when she was hit by the drunk driver.

In May of 2012, Jenny’s first five years as a brain trauma survivor ended when she graduated, not just with a bachelor’s, but with her master’s degree in speech therapy, a skill she had learned to value as she regained her ability to speak after her accident. She set out for a new life, in a new city, at a new job, helping other people put their lives back together.

On that amazing day, it was wonderful to sit in the auditorium and watch her walk across the stage. It was overwhelming to see all the people who had come because they loved our daughter and wanted us to know what a successful job we had done raising her. It caused me to do some serious introspection. We did do a good job of raising our children; not a perfect or pain-free job, but the best job our knowledge allowed. We know this from the fruit – seven loyal, kind, adults with integrity.

But when I think of Jenny, I know that her recovery from an accident that left her unable to walk, think of the word for shoe, orange, etc., track conversations, manage social cues, or remember anything, was due to her preparation for life. Let me share her secret for living well, no matter the circumstances.

Take control of your thoughts!!

When I was at Jenny’s home the week of her graduation, I noticed quotes on the walls in every room. They were the fodder for her recovery; they showed the core of who she had decided she wanted to be long before her accident. She had begun choosing her thoughts in her late teens. This didn’t prevent her from taking a hard road to adulthood, but it helped her stay alive and hang on to values on how to treat others until she could put into practice what she wanted her life to look like.

After Jenny’s accident, these thoughts, which she had seen and read every day of her growing up, got her through. They had become part of the fabric of her thinking. Brain trauma is hard. It makes normal living a lot of work, but to finish college and go on to have a successful career helping others, well, that was a miracle of persistence, faith, and the beliefs she had fed herself for decades.

Let me share some of what Jenny had posted on her walls.

  • If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.
  • Life is not about finding yourself; life is about creating yourself.
  • “When I started counting my blessings, my whole world turned around.” Willie Nelson
  • When we strive to become better than we are, then everything around us becomes better also.
  • Live generously, love passionately, and be all that you want to see in the world. Shine your awesome love and light on all around you with no strings attached. Do it just because it’s who you are. Love is your nature. Sow it in your mind. Plant it in the world and enjoy the thrill of seeing love multiply and spread. All for love and love for all.
  • I’d always heard that your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all – it stretches on forever like an ocean of time. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad in a world where there’s so much beauty. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much; my heart fills up like a balloon that is about to burst. Then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold onto it, and the beauty flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure, but don’t worry, you will – someday. (From the movie American Beauty)
  • “I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.” Martha Washington
  • Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you. A Maori Proverb

During my almost 74 years, I have learned that we have a choice in life. We can choose how we are going to react in any circumstance. I recall reading Victor Frankel’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, as a teen, and I have never forgotten him saying “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Despite facing an addiction in those early days, Jenny had chosen to look at life through a lens of light. She was working diligently to get control of her life by choosing to embrace happiness no matter how hard the day. She was making every effort to control her thoughts!

Jenny didn’t engage in negative conversations. She wouldn’t verbalize the bad but chose to talk about the good. After the accident, she would not say an unkind word about the other driver. She said that she wished him well, that she hoped for joy in his life. She knew the struggle he was facing, one she was conquering. She wasn’t going to waste one minute on anger. She embraced what she had posted on her walls.

Change your thoughts, change your life.

Controlling your thoughts can change your life completely. We all can choose our response in every situation. Accepting personal responsibility for our lives and not blaming others, money, time, or circumstance makes all the difference in the quality of our lives. When you give up being a victim, you free yourself from whatever has you bound.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Choose your words because they become actions.
Understand your actions, for they become your habits.
Study your habits, for they will become your character.
Develop your character, for it becomes your destiny. Lao Tzu

Jenny has proven this to be true!

I, like you and my daughter Jenny, must work daily to maintain this way of thinking and living. It is a practice, and it takes work every day. My walls are hung with things I want to understand and live better. Next week I will share some of those thoughts, beliefs, and quotes with you. I hope you will take some of the words of wisdom that Jenny and I choose to look at each day and put them on your walls because what you surround yourself with, what you choose to think about and focus on, does make ALL the difference.

You Are What You Think About

and Focus On

Today Jenny works in senior and rehab centers helping others who have experienced trauma learn to speak again. She and her husband, Brett, have an online Christian ministry, Humans of Surrender, helping those who struggle with addiction to find help and embrace God. They have a beautiful church on their wooded property called Grace Wood where everyone is welcome. From traumatic brain injury to a life of service and love is an amazing journey proving once again, that when you control your thinking you can change your life. Jenny is adamant about one other thing and I agree – When you add God and Christ to the mix of managing your thoughts, you have better outcomes. : )

How To Enjoy Life More, Even When It’s Hard

Today, although there are things I could share that would be less time-consuming to write and less emotionally draining, I am telling you about my morning. I am sharing this experience for a reason. After several decades of working on two principles, they can still trip me up. They are also stumbling blocks for many moms I talk with. I have written about them often, and I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is pivotal for our happiness and our ability to parent and relationship well.

What is so challenging to manage?

1. You are 100% responsible for your response, regardless of circumstances or other people.
2. Control your story. You are not a victim!

Yeah, they make me feel annoyed, too. : ) A few decades have passed since I learned about number 1. After learning this principle, I was angry for ten years because how could I be totally in control of my response when my husband and kids kept doing and saying stupid stuff? And then there were the neighbors, the government, and a chaotic world.

I didn’t know anything about number two for at least fifteen years after learning the first principle. I had lived as a victim most of my life, from childhood, when I was a victim, right into my late fifties. It was frankly, if not a happy place to be, comfortable. Figuring out how to change my thinking in both areas was going to be a lot of work, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

This morning is a perfect example of the two principles above, the work required to live them, and the result of both living and ignoring them. I hope you won’t be bored. I also hope it may ring a bell or turn on a light. : )

It has been a whirlwind at my home since the beginning of December. I got all my Christmas baked, wrapped, mailed, and delivered, including the friend and neighbor gifts. Then I helped two very old and ill friends get theirs done. I have a 53-year-old special needs friend who needed me to help her with a couple of things. I was glad to assist her, but it took time and effort. On Wednesday, Don and I traveled from one end of the Salt Lake Valley to the other and from one side to the other to connect with dear friends we only see every few years. It was a delightful but completely exhausting day.

During these early weeks, we all had the flu, and you know what that entails for the women in charge, sick or not. : ) Jodie’s kids were all ill, as was she, but she still had to work, so I was on deck for a portion of each day. I had to care for Mom and Don. We have all recovered, for the most part, but it has been a long two weeks. By this Friday, I was done in and ready for a break.

Friday night I dropped into my chair at about 8 pm to look over the Saturday schedule, only to discover that we had a church Christmas Breakfast at 9 am, and I had promised to take a family of older people who would normally not attend. We care very much about this family, but seeing this on the calendar, I came unglued. I felt so angry. I yelled that it was too much.

What frustrated me was that in my mind, I thought I was done and that today, Saturday, was going to be free, except for writing my article, which I hadn’t even started on. This is something I try to avoid by writing a little each day but here I was, not only going to need to write an article, create a newsletter, and record a podcast, but now I was going to have to get my own family up and out of the house by 9 am, pick up another family, do a lot of smiling and talking and then come home and do this big job I had left to the last minute!!

Well, I sat there fuming that my life was too hard, I had too much to do, nobody else did their share, and on and on. However, it was bedtime, so I had to shut it down and move on. Fortunately for me, I have a system to ‘dump’ the stuff out of my brain and I know how to meditate myself to sleep, so fifteen minutes after lying down, I was asleep.

When I woke up this morning, I was still ticked off. Why me? Why another big day? It wasn’t fair. I didn’t want to feel this way, but I did, and I didn’t have the energy or time to work it out. I got my family into the car, picked up our friends, and drove to the church.

It was going to be OK though, because I could at least sit and eat, right? I could rest since I wasn’t in charge of anything and wasn’t doing any cooking or serving. It didn’t turn out that way. The event was very well attended and the line to serve yourself breakfast was long! I got my plate and my mother’s and helped my older friends. After about twenty minutes, we all sat down, and I ate a grape. All I had was fruit and yogurt because the main dish was filled with pork, a food I cannot eat. Another thing to be bummed about. However, I like grapes. As I picked up my second grape, Jodie asked me if I could sit by Maggie so she could get a plate.

If you think the line was long when I went through, it was double that for Jodie. Over thirty minutes later, she finally returned. By that time, I had fed Maggie my yogurt, rolled her over to watch the movie Polar Express, and tracked down Santa so she could get a photo with him. Jodie finally came back with a plate. However, neither of us got to eat!

It was time for the children’s nativity play, and Maggie was the Heavenly Star, so Jodie put her costume on and got her on stage. I had gotten some more yogurt, but the family I brought were ready to go home, as was Don and my mom. So, I drove them home.

Here is the important part of this morning’s story.

There I was bringing an older, ill couple to the party and Don and my mom. Saint, right? Then I stood and fed Maggie my yogurt. Feeding a child who eats mostly from a tube in her stomach isn’t the easiest thing to do. Saint, right? And I didn’t get to eat, but made sure those older people I brought got home when they were done in. Super saint, for sure.

Well, as I was helping everyone up and out to the car, my friend, Bunnie, leaned over and said, “You are such a wonderful person. So gentle and kind,” or words to that effect. I looked at her and replied, “Don’t give me too much credit. I am feeling angry and annoyed.” Another friend at the table, who also helps care for these elderly friends, looked at me quizzically and said, “Angry?” I replied, “Well that isn’t the right word, more like irritated and annoyed.” Then I smiled lamely and shepherded everyone out to the car.

I responded the way I did because the whole morning, I was continuing the very negative conversation from the night before, in my head. You know, the one I mentioned before – Why me? Why another big day? It isn’t fair. I should be able to eat. Why do I have to get up early and go to bed on time? Why can’t I be a lazy bum? Why can’t someone else be kind and do this stuff? I have too much to do, nobody else does their share, and on and on. Bunnie’s comment, which was meant as a sincere compliment, was a punch in the gut.

Doing The Work

Now, to be honest, the whole mental conversation wasn’t negative. I was making an effort to get a grip on my story. At one point, while feeding Maggie, I went over the things I had managed in the last two weeks and I asked myself questions, “Did anyone make you do this? Could you have not done it? Why did you? Were you afraid to say no? Was your self-esteem on the line? I answered each question honestly, as I have practiced for decades. Ultimately, I knew I chose each of these things because I wanted to. It’s my way of being and I like how I am. There was no one or any circumstance to blame. I had consciously made choices that fit with what I wanted my December to look like. Ok, I was making progress with number 1.

Nevertheless, it was a back-and-forth, emotionally challenging mental conversation. I knew when I got home, I would need to do some more work to manage number 2, controlling my story. I could go for a walk and yell until I was done yelling. I could smile, even if I didn’t feel like it, because it still releases endorphins. I could go home and do a dump write and then crumple it up and throw it away. What I choose to do is the tool that works best for me. I prayed. I dumped on God because I knew He wasn’t mad at me when I acted lame. : ) Then I began asking God to help me sort out why I felt distressed. I had helpful thoughts. I had been ill. I was overly tired. I did need a rest, but I still had work left to do, write to you. : ) I got my story straight.

As I finished my prayer, I knew I still had emotions to manage and I spent the next couple of hours, as I cooked a wonderful lunch for my family and began working on this article, doing just that.

How do I feel now, at 4:45 pm? I still have lots to do to finish this article, the newsletter, and the podcast. But I feel OK. There isn’t anything I have done in the last two weeks that I wouldn’t do over again, by choice. I know that I have done my best to care for myself. I went to bed on time more days than not. I got up early and did as much of my morning routine as was feasible. I dumped the junk before bed and slept well. I took a day off when I was ill.

I’m not angry, irritated, or annoyed anymore. I know who I am. I know why I was emotionally challenged. My story is straight. I’m not blaming anyone or anything. Tomorrow is Sunday, a Sabbath for me. I will rest, and then I will prepare for next week.

You can see the work I had to do over an evening and much of a day, to get my head straight about my story and my responsibility. It took work, but I got the work done.

Here is the result.

Last night and this morning I felt angry and annoyed. I couldn’t enjoy my friends or being with people. Now, I am at peace. I feel happy with myself and the kindnesses I have been able to share. I feel somehow rested, even though I am facing a few hours of editing and recording. I am at peace with myself, my family, my friends, and the world.

When we choose to accept responsibility for our responses, when we let go of blaming anyone or any circumstance; when we ask honest questions and get our story straight, we will find ourselves happier and more at peace. This allows us to parent from a better place and to manage our relationships with better outcomes.

Each of you has had a couple of days, weeks, or even months like mine. Each of us must learn how to control the story and how to take responsibility for our responses.

As we do, we will enjoy life more, even when it is hard.

A Response to This Article and a Tender Mercy