Category: Parenting Skills

The Parenting Microscope

I was not a perfect parent! Of course, you know that because there are no perfect parents, any more than perfect people. However, it shocks me when I see a poor behavior from my parenting days that has crept into my grandparenting days. Being with children is like being under a microscope, where your strengths and weaknesses are enlarged for you to view.

That is why being a parent can be rough some days…because you are always under that microscope. It eases up a bit when you become a grandparent because you don’t have children 24-7, and when you do have them for longer periods, say overnight, well, you can hold it together. It’s when you have them for more than a few days that the microscope turns back on. That happened to me this month. I went to Washington to help one of my daughters for eight days, to give her mini-breaks, and to love on my grands.

A NOT Perfect Grandparent

My Washington grands are all under ten. They have friends in the neighborhood who match those ages. On some days we would have five or six kids. They can make a lot of noise. : ) I had to work at remaining calm and patient with the noise and the resulting chaos. You know the kind, chalk all over the patio and not in the bucket; water toys on the lawn, not in the pool or even close to it, scooters lying on the lawn, towels dropped on the ground and not hung up on the landing, and so forth.

Meals were somewhat challenging also. I recall that two of my boys wouldn’t eat anything green or red. Augh! My grands have their own picky way of eating. But the final meal was awesome. I lined up all the leftovers on the counter and said, “Pick what you want.” Then I added carrots or cucumbers depending on the child. It was much more enjoyable than being fussed that no one wanted to eat the same food

A ‘Really NOT Perfect’ Grandparent

I remind myself that I grew up in a far different time than my grands are growing up in. No one talked to kids, they just told us what to do. No one ever explored our feelings and what was causing us to behave in a certain way. I can find myself back in that parenting place. After all, it is familiar. What that looks like is me holding up my hand, and saying, “We aren’t going to discuss it further. You know what to do,” in my ‘strict’ voice. Not loud or angry, just absolutely firm.

This isn’t how I grandparent most of the time. But when I’m tired, hungry, or sleep deprived, well… It happened with one of my grands in Seattle. Elliott went to his room upset with me. I told his mom what happened, how he had responded, and how I responded. Kate went to talk with him. He said, “It makes me scared when grandma uses her strict voice.” Oh my gosh. Not how I want them to remember me. But I am still not perfect, even after seventy-two years of getting rid of the garbage and learning new skills.

Later, we were all outside and Elliott was riding his scooter. As he coasted to a stop I said, “Do you want to talk about it.” He said, “No.” I waited and then I used a helpful skill – mini-conversations. As he coasted down the drive and stopped by me again, I said something about scooters in my day. He was intrigued. As he coasted by me a third time, I asked him a question about his scooter. He answered me. The next pass I asked a question about scooters and school. He was even more animated in his response. The next coast down the drive, he asked me a question. I felt the energy change. I was forgiven for not being perfect, for being strict. We hugged at bedtime and had our goodnight talk. All was well.

So, what is the point of sharing these experiences that cast me in a less than stellar light? I am not perfect, and neither are you. I am not always as fun as I would like to be. Sometimes I forget to be the grownup. Sometimes I forget to take breaks and I get too tired. Often, I forget to ask for help with the load. The point is that you will be working on becoming a better parent and grandparent your whole life!

Not Being Perfect Doesn’t Erase the GREAT!

I had interesting bedtime talks with these three little people. I made a huge difference in my daughter’s workload and home. I was great to do chores with. I made them short, quick, and fun. Tessa and I shared quite a few laughs. Elliott, Gus, and I took some great walks. We chatted as we went. I baked with them. I drew chalk pictures with them. We waded in the ocean and collected shells. I solved problems. I laughed with their friends. I sat through the new Minion movie and laughed at what they thought was funny. I helped set up 2 lemonade stands, one for boys and one for girls. I hunted for treasures with Gus. I helped build a fort and cheered them on as they played. I served snacks. : ) I made sure they were safe, fed, dressed and cleaned, hugged and kissed.

Each morning, regardless of the good or bad of the day before, my grands gave me hugs and kisses. We are friends. They think I am a great grandparent. I am not a failure as a grandmother to them despite my occasional strictness, my annoyance, or tiredness. I am a grandmother doing my best and for them, it is enough.

For a week in August and again in September, I will be with other grands while their mom has two surgeries. Most of it will be wonderful but we may have a moment because I am not perfect. But they will love me, and I will focus on the successes.

Parenting, as I said, is like being under a microscope, seeing all your strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on our weaknesses and forget about our strengths.

I have a lot of strengths and I no longer beat myself up over my weaknesses but instead remember that anything can be changed. I am still alive and that means there is time for growth and that while I am working on whatever isn’t quite right yet, I need to celebrate what is. And so do you!!

Doing that one small thing, celebrating your successes and growth, will ultimately move you forward –

Not toward being a perfect parent, but a parent worth loving and emulating.

 

Every Mom is a CEO

I have a friend, Nicole. She was a solopreneur, and a single mom, who homeschooled her two boys. That was a load to carry, however, Nicole manages well. That wasn’t always the case.

I recall when she was feeling overwhelmed with the load she was carrying. Nicole is intelligent, and she had numerous ideas that would make her business even more successful and give her the income she needed to raise two children on her own, but time was always an issue. There just wasn’t enough of it.

She couldn’t do everything by herself, but she kept trying. She felt bad asking for help. I mean, she should be able to manage, right? This ‘doing it all’ led to days when she wasn’t her best with the boys. She would struggle to remain calm, school felt like a huge weight, and she let her clients infringe on time with her family. She couldn’t say no. She carried on like this for several years.

This might sound like you. It was certainly me for most of the years I was parenting. It took me decades to understand systems and to be willing to get help. Eventually, Nicole learned some valuable lessons. These were the same lessons I had to learn. If you are overwhelmed and not managing as well as you want, you will have to learn them also.

First, Nicole began talking to other moms who had been where she was. I was one of those moms. I had never been a single mother, but I had a husband on the road, and money was always tight. We had seven kids. A load is a load even if they are not the same. As we talked, I was able to help her see that she had systems, but they weren’t very effective. We came up with ways to make her days flow better, to give her time for work, and to have more present time with her boys.

Then she hired a retired businessman who helped her develop better systems in her company and convinced her to hire some help. Team meetings made a big difference in her effectiveness and in her ability to manage time. It made a WORLD of difference in her ability to put her excellent ideas into practice which helped her gain new clients. Her income increased substantially. Her mentor helped her manage those clients more efficiently and with better boundaries. He taught her how to stop being a self-employed, overworked mom, and how to become a CEO.

That is an interesting acronym meaning chief executive officer. The CEO is the highest-ranking person in a company or other institution, ultimately responsible for making managerial decisions. That was definitely Nicole’s role in her newly structured company. It was also her role as a parent. Isn’t every father and mother a CEO? In two-parent homes, they are a team ultimately responsible for making decisions. In my friend Nicole’s case, she was the sole CEO.

Before Nicole got her systems in order and her thoughts out of her head so she could organize them and bring them to fruition, she was successful as a businesswoman and a mom. BUT and this is what I want you to take away, she struggled every day to feel successful. Nicole was overwhelmed much of the time. She felt she failed in many areas. She was overworked.

After Nicole began accessing wise counsel and good resources, she began talking to her kids. They were young, but they were still part of the solution. She got them to buy-in to doing things a new way. She helped them feel important and part of what was happening, not like pawns that were being told what to do. They began having regular family meetings. She accepted that her children were capable of greater executive function, and she started giving them more responsibilities.

Executive function refers to skills that help us focus, plan, prioritize, work toward goals, self-regulate behaviors and emotions, adapt to new and unexpected situations, and ultimately engage in abstract thinking and planning. This increase in trust and responsibility increased her children’s willingness to participate.

Things began to feel better; Nicole’s children became more involved and helpful. Her business expanded relieving her financial stress, she enjoyed working with others, and she felt supported.

There isn’t any way to remove the weight of parenting – the actual physical work, the mental work and the decision making, the responsibility. But there are ways to manage all this better so that you not only perform at a higher level, but you feel successful more often.

Tips to feeling successful and less overwhelmed.

  • Ask for help. Maybe you have systems by default, and they stink. : ) Find others who are managing what you aren’t managing, and ask them what they are doing.
  • Be willing to experiment without feeling like a failure. That is what scientists do. Take what you have learned, then with some thought and a willingness to experiment, design something similar that you hope will work for your family. If it doesn’t, go back, take another look, and design another experiment.
  • Be consistent in using systems that work. It’s funny, but research shows that when we find something that works, often, we will eventually go back to doing it the old way. We must decide to change and then practice consistency in the new way of managing.
  • Get your family to buy-in. When people feel they are part of the decision-making process, when they feel some ownership, they perform better.
  • Allow your children to become active participants. Give them opportunities to practice executive function skills. Trust them to be able to do a bit more than you think they can. They will probably surprise you.
  • Model this way of living for them. It is stimulating. They will learn more and be prepared to go out on their own. What they see you do is far more powerful than what they hear you say.
  • Celebrate successes. You will feel better, and your children will stay in the game better. We all like to feel successful. Life is more enjoyable when there are goals and rewards for meeting them.

Nicole and her boys are managing life better. I manage my life better, and you can manage yours better too. This doesn’t mean you won’t have bad days, weeks, months, or maybe even a year.

Things happen, but when you can, get up and get back to consistently doing

what you know works.

“Mom, You Matter Too!”

When I was sixty-three Don and I lived in a two-bedroom apartment. Jodie and her family came to live with us while they waited for their home to sell and another one to come into their lives. I had forgotten this event until I was reminded while reading an old article I had written. It was hysterical and not a much different story than what my life looks like now, full-time.

Here is a snippet:

“Tonight, I cooked dinner with a baby riding on my hip and a three-year-old helping me brown onions and hamburger on the stove for “jelly” sauce (spaghetti sauce). It was a bit cumbersome trying to keep a three-year-old out of harm’s way while allowing her to help and an almost one-year-old grabbing for everything he could reach.

I did this while trying not to step on anything that would send me crashing to the floor, seeing that the baby on my hip had emptied the utensil drawer, which is why I had him on my hip. I could hear the four year old making lots of noise from the living room. He was running his trucks through the maze he had made in a random pattern on practically every square inch of the living room floor. All’s well here, back to the “jelly” sauce.

Meanwhile, the six-year-old was yelling for help with her iPad. Maggie has cerebral palsy and has a way of letting us all know when her iPad is not cooperating with her limited hand movement. Right now, she was letting me know…loudly.

“Jelly” sauce simmering, noodles boiling, and three-year-old slopping melted garlic butter on a tower of French bread while I helped Maggie with her iPad. I heard Mary say, oops, never a good sign. Seems as if some of the garlic butter has found its way down her chest and onto the fabric-covered chairs. No problem, just mixing with the strawberry ice cream drops from the night before.

Then I smelled scorched bread. Our garlic toast is going to be a bit crisper and darker than I had planned. I holler to the almost-four-year-old, “Jack go tell Grandpa that grandma needs him…NOW!”

I know you are laughing – not at me but with me. You have probably had your share of days just like this one! Back then we had Jodie and her family for a few months but since then our families have combined permanently. We are a four-generation home and trust me, even though the kids are older, we have many days just like the one I described above.

Parenting is no joke. It’s a lot of work, time, and effort, and requires that we learn and practice new skills. I have experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly of parenting and I survived. Better than that our children survived all that we didn’t know how to do and all the mistakes we made. I’m sure you sometimes wonder if you will survive and if your kids will.

A text of great worth!

I received a text from a dear friend. We have mentored together on and off for several years. Every now and then I reach out to see how she is. Often, she will send me a random text letting me know how it’s going. When times get rough, well, we work together again.

As I was saying, I got a text from her that I knew you would all LOVE because it is so how parenting is. I asked her if I could share.

My friend and I had been talking a few months before about taking care of ourselves in ways that are actually manageable when you have kids. She has three boys, five, two, and, a baby.

She sent a photo of her cluttered counter. A candle was burning in the center of the mess. These were her words – ‘I thought you might appreciate this picture. I am home-bound today with a sick child and no car. I got very little sleep But I am still taking care of me. The candle is lit, despite all the clutter. Lol This is life.”

This is life for moms and dads. But Bethany is in the process of finding ways to nourish herself when there isn’t a way to leave ‘parenting’ behind for a lunch date, a nap, or even a walk.

Self -Care is a skill you can learn

This is a vital skill to learn and practice and it is a skill. Anyone can take care of themselves better. I know because I have had to do this. It hasn’t gotten any easier at seventy-two. I have to keep practicing but I am far better at it than when I was thirty! Yesterday when I sat down to write this article my twelve-year-old granddaughter decided to sew something for her hamsters. Over the next hour and a half, she came into my office at least five times needing help. This is what living with children is like. So how do you manage life with children and take care of yourself?

You’re going to spend far more time with your children than you’re going to spend without them, so it’s imperative to learn how to self-care while you’re in the thick of parenting. It’s simple, it’s doable, and it takes small amounts of time and virtually no money; but it can and will pay huge dividends. Self-care can be as simple and plain as having a cup of herbal tea while you read to your children. It might be taking a few deep breaths while soothing a screaming child. You could turn on your favorite music and dance in the living room with your kids. Add laughter!

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

Do something that feels nurturing to you. Give yourself space to get it together. When you pay attention to how you’re feeling, to what’s happening in your body, that’s self-care. This can be done while you’re in the thick of parenting. On this day, for Bethany, it was lighting a candle just to say,

“I matter too!”

Tips for preparing to Be a Father or Why Take Care of Your Wife : )

As I said last week, in 2011 I asked a few fathers and grandfathers to share their parenting experiences. Well, one of the sweetest responses came from a yet-to-be father. Brady Houston is my son-in-law, married to my youngest daughter. At the time he wrote this they had been married just a year. Enjoy.

It’s still hard to believe that I’m finally at a point in my life where becoming a father is an imminent reality. My wife, Kate, and I have had many conversations during this first year of our marriage about parenting, and I have often thought about how I can prepare to become a father. All those parents out there are surely scoffing, “Preparation? No such thing.” I am the first to cede that no amount of planning can truly prepare me to be a dad, but I have learned a very valuable lesson during this first year of marriage that I believe will greatly help my wife and me.

Kate and I went to dinner with my parents a few months ago, and we asked them about their preparation. Among the answers they gave us was a comment my mom made to me, which I hope to never forget, “Take care of your wife, and she will take care of your kids.” With that simple phrase, my mother taught me that first and foremost, I need to make sure my wife feels loved and appreciated, and she in turn will nurture our children.

Since then, I have redoubled my efforts

to make my wife feel like she is special to me by doing things like:

  • planning weekly meaningful dates
  • voicing my appreciation for her
  • serving her in whatever ways I can

I hope that learning to take care of my wife’s needs now, will allow me to continue when we have children and that by so doing my children may receive the nurturing that they need.

Brady and Kate now have three kiddos ranging in age from ten to three. Life can be busy and chaotic. Brady has been working to follow his three tips. Because he works at home he helps out and Kate can plan time for herself. Of course, he plans time just for the two of them. This last weekend they went to Las Vegas. He is doing his best. Way to go Brady!

Now a few comments from the mother-in-law. : )

This couple was wise because they:

  • They thought ahead about the prospect of parenting and particularly for Brady, fathering
  • They asked for advice from those who have gone where they are going to go
  • Brady and his wife are jointly making plans
  • He has implemented some of the good advice he received

I think that Brady is in the process of being a GREAT dad!

Brady Houston is married to Kate Johnson Houston. Brady works for Amazon and Kate is back in school. They have a very busy life. 🙂

Balancing Family and Work Time for Fathers

In 2011

I asked some fathers and grandfathers to share some of their feelings and experiences about fatherhood. My friend Darrell Hendriksen shared this story with me. I think this is where many busy fathers find themselves and it will be instructive. After all, parenting is about being present despite our busy-ness. Here is his story:

My wife and I own an older home that we have been remodeling one room at a time. A few years ago, in early spring, we decided that it was time to remodel the long-neglected front porch. Knowing that I would only be able to work on it during the warm months, I planned to work on it every Saturday from sunup to sundown, trying to beat the deadline of autumn weather.

As a father of three, I have always tried to be conscious of and involved with spending quality time with my children. To this end, I determined that to complete the porch by autumn I would need to devote each Saturday in its entirety to remodeling work, which would allow me to dedicate weekday evenings to my children.

As the weeks passed and the project dragged on, I became increasingly concerned that I wasn’t going to get the job done before the summer ended. If the porch wasn’t painted in time, the wet and cold winter was going to cause extensive damage to the newly installed wood porch. Notwithstanding my supposed balance between home remodeler and devoted father, I found myself more and more answering my sons’ requests for my attention with, “Not now, son- I’m really busy”, or “I will as soon as I’m finished nailing these planks”.

I remember going to bed very late one Saturday night, having once again missed our nightly family ritual of brushing teeth, reading a bedtime book, reading scriptures, singing, praying together, and tucking the children into bed with kisses and hugs. This nightly ritual had long since become a cornerstone in our family traditions, and I felt awful that I had missed it again. In my mind’s eye, I saw them with sad expressions on their faces, asking my wife, “Where’s Dad”? This, coupled with my increased frequency of choosing work over my sons, had me downright depressed.

I felt like an absent father, and the last thing I wanted was for my children to have even a hint of a feeling that they wished I was with them more. They are the most important thing in my life. I knew it, but I didn’t know if they knew it.

I could have said “I’m doing this work for you” all I wanted, but if they didn’t feel like I was available for them, all my work would’ve been meaningless. What good is a fancy remodeled house if all it’s good for is a place for a disconnected family to eat and sleep? A house is a house no matter how old the carpet or the color of the paint. What I wanted was a home- the kind that comes from absolute family unity and love. As ‘head of the home’, I knew it had to start with me.

That very minute I committed that my new rule was to never be “too busy”. Whenever my children come and ask me to read them a book or push them on the swing, or whatever– I say, “Yes”! When I put down what I’m doing right then and there, I immediately let them know by my actions that they can approach me. When we’re finished, I invite them now, to come and help me.

Regardless of age or capacity, there are four distinct fruits of this conscious effort to be more present in my children’s lives:

• My children know that they are paramount in my life
• I now have a direct opportunity to teach my children how to play and work
• My children and I, and therefore the entire family, are closer to each other
• Spending time with my children is FUN!!

When I ask my children to help me with a work project, they react as though I told them we were going to Disneyland. They are so excited to spend time with me- they love just being around me. But rather than simply being in close physical proximity to each other, parents must take advantage of these opportunities to consciously engage with their children. We need to ask them about things happening in their lives, that are important to them. We need to take the time to teach them about the world around them. These are the moments that combine to form a child’s character. The word parent is a noun, but too often we fail to seize the opportunity to use it as a verb- actively rearing them by loving, guiding, teaching, and showing them the way.

I don’t believe my children had really regarded me as ‘too busy’ but I had been, and that was enough to cause a problem. This feeling has long since dissolved, and I now revel in the opportunity to genuinely rear them, not just provide a place for them to live. Initially, I feared that my remodeling progress would slow, but it hasn’t. In fact, it has increased because my children are a bit older now and are confidently learning these skills for themselves.

It is so important that we consciously schedule time with our children, just as we would any other appointment or meeting. If we want our children to know we love them, we must show them by giving them our time and affection. We must also tell them we love them. Life is full of things to do, but our children deserve more than to be regarded as a task or burden. Since our children are our most important responsibility, let them be at the heart of our lives.

Let us regard everything we need to do in life as an opportunity and a venue for accomplishing this, the most important position in our lives- that of a parent. If you want to know what they’re thinking- ask them. If you want them to become something- teach them.

Do not assume they know you love them- tell them. Show them.

Darrell Hendriksen lives in Salt Lake City with his wife Heather and their three boys. He enjoys running, hiking, camping, gardening, making music, and doing handyman work- none of which would mean much without his wonderful family by his side.

Love, Dependability, and Trust

  Life doesn’t always go as planned!

When our oldest son was young, he became involved in drugs. Don and I were totally out of our element and didn’t know how to respond. We took a parenting class.

Eventually, Seth, at fourteen, left home and moved to the riverbank for the summer. For the next few years, he was home and then gone again. We tried contracts, and tough love, making him earn back his possessions. If it was out there and we could access the information, we gave it a try. Remember that this was before in-home computers were widely available, so resources were harder to come by.

Eventually, we had three other children become involved in drugs. We faced some challenging things. Kids who came home after curfew. We couldn’t let them in because they knew the boundaries. Those clear rules didn’t make listening to them call out to us any easier. Phone calls from kids late at night who were miles away from home and wanted to be picked up. We couldn’t because they knew the boundaries but that meant a lot of knee time praying for their safety. There were the moments when we, as adults lost it and behaved like children. And then the grief over having to tell friends they couldn’t come to our home because of drug issues. Sometimes we were all the family they had. These were really tough times. 

Our kids didn’t always like us, and we worried about someone dying or going to jail. We had some narrow escapes on both counts. Some parents don’t escape these painful outcomes.

Here is why I am sharing some of the darkness we experienced. I want you to know that even in the darkness if we are doing our best, we are a light for our children. What does that even mean? Let me share a message that I got two years ago from my oldest son, who is closing in on fifty. It filled my heart with peace and gratitude.

“Mom, when it comes to all the kids that hung out at our house, even though you didn’t see it, you were a mom to 150 kids. Our home life was so different than everyone else’s home life. That’s why people liked coming to our house because it was such a safe place. Even though we all had our issues, it was a safe place. I still hear it from so many of my friends. It was that you were a mom. It was a safe and secure place for more people than you’ll ever realize, mom.”

So there it is. Our lives weren’t perfect.

Don and I had a ton of baggage. We were inept at parenting. I have talked about that before. We didn’t know how to respond. We tried stuff, most of which wasn’t helpful. Our kids suffered. We suffered.

BUT here is what I want you to hear, we stayed the course.

We remained loving adults in our children’s lives and unknown to us, in the lives of countless other youth. We were home, and we had dinner together. I read to the kids, not consistently, but enough. We attended church together and went on trips to grandma’s. We went camping. We weeded the garden together and did some family canning. It was all ordinary, no big fancy anything, just plenty of family time.

Don and I made a boatload of mistakes. But we were there. Our kids could count on our being there. They could count on boundaries that didn’t change just because we were tired, angry, sad, or afraid. Our kids could trust us. This is all we really brought to the game: love, dependability, and trust.

I have shared some dark memories. Let me share some of the light from today that lets me know our children are OK. A few years ago, they began having a sibling call once a month. Anyone available got on, and they shared their lives. All seven of the kids made time for this call.

Later it was a video app. We have two video groups. The whole family is on one. The grands see and hear us, and we see and hear them. They see and hear their uncles and aunts. Everything gets shared: grades, holidays, mini-disasters, work, sports, etc. There are always videos to watch.

The second one is for the adults, us, and our children. The talk there is more personal: lost jobs, new jobs, illnesses, relationships, etc. Deep feelings are expressed.

Every other year we gather for a reunion. Rarely does anyone miss. Two years ago, we had to cancel our reunion because of covid. Last year we held it and our breaths hoping that everyone would be healthy and safe. We couldn’t wait any longer. The videos were filled with a longing to be together. On the last day, our youngest son asked us to do it again this year. The ‘yes’ vote was unanimous.

Early last spring, I decided that I needed a shed. I wanted to clean out more space in the garage for my daughter’s family, and well, I am a handywoman, and a handywoman needs a shed! : )

I found what I wanted and bought a kit. Then I headed out to Washington to help one of my daughters. While I was gone, a miracle occurred. I was worried as to how that shed was going to get built. Both my daughter and her husband work long hours. Then there are four kids to take care of after that, one with severe CP. I couldn’t do it alone, and my husband’s physical abilities and health made it impossible for him.

When I returned to Utah, there was a finished shed. Jodie had called Seth, our oldest son, and he took some time off from work, drove ten hours one way, and helped her and her husband, Doug, build the shed. Later, I painted it with the help of my nine-year-old grandson. I call it ‘The Shed that LOVE built.’ I can’t look at it or go inside without feeling loved.

How does that happen when a family is in so much pain and danger for so long? How does it come right? When you stay the course, when you keep parenting the best you can, when you keep learning and growing and changing, well, that is what helps it happen.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your family’s life. It may be a dark place, and you may feel hopeless and helpless. But you are not. Pray for help. Seek resources. Never give up. Stay the course. Be the parent you promised to be when you began, as best you know how.

Be there. Be dependable. Be trustworthy. It can and will make all the difference.

Avoiding the Sucker’s Choice

Can Everyone Be Happy, Ever?!

As a parent, have you ever wondered how you could resolve issues in your home more creatively, so everyone was happy? Sometimes, to get what we need, it appears that someone else has to give up what they need, and often it is the parent. That can be so maddening!

I know because it happened a lot when I was raising my seven children. It caused me to feel frustrated and, often, angry. Not good for my relationships with my children.

When a situation arises that needs to be resolved, and we are faced with two choices that seem equally bad or unfair, that is called the Sucker’s Choice, and if one is chosen, it will inevitably leave someone feeling wronged.

Don’t pick one of them. There is always a third alternative, and you can find it with a bit of creative problem-solving. I know, I thought just what you are thinking, no there isn’t. If there was, I would have thought of it. When I first heard about the Sucker’s Choice, I didn’t believe it either, but I have learned that it is true. There is always a third alternative in every situation and often more.

Eight Steps to More Creative Problem Solving

Some years ago, I made a video discussing eight steps to help you become a more creative problem solver. I shared a perfect example of what a sucker’s choice looks like in real life. You will smile and probably say, “Oh man, I have been in situations like that!” It is worth a listen, and I hope you will take the time.

Here’s to a better solution,

happier relationships,

and greater peace as a parent.

To Waste or Not to Waste – That Is The Question

A mother asked me how I handled it when my children wanted to make something that I knew wouldn’t be used after it was created. How did I feel about the waste of resources and the mess that would be left? That is a great question. In fact, this same question comes up often when I am working with moms, and I have put some thought into it and decided that an even better question would be:

“How do we determine when materials are being well used and when are they being wasted and if the mess will be worth it?”

When my youngest daughter Kate was seven, she and a friend created a boat out of an old wooden crate. They spent a few days on it and used a lot of paint, brushes, nails, and other materials. When they were finished, they had a creation that delighted them. They played in that boat all summer. But it did require a fair amount of resources and when seven-year-olds paint and hammer, there will be a mess. 

When my grandson, Jack, was seven he created a robot out of a piece of plywood, tin foil, empty paper roll tubes, and tons of glue, expensive ‘real sticky glue’ as he called it. It turned out spectacularly, but it didn’t have any use. It was too big and not sturdy enough to hang on a wall. It lay on the concrete at the bottom of the back steps to be admired by the whole family until it rained. Then all the pieces were gathered up by an adult and taken to the dump.

Both children learned a lot from their experiences. They utilized skills they would need to hone to become well-rounded adults.  Here are some skills they had to use to make their creations.
They need a vision
It took initiative
They had to bring the vision to life
They needed to gather the needed materials
They had to problem solve
They worked independently
They had to decide when to ask for help and what help they need

These important skills, which they were able to practice, made the use of the materials perfect and justified the mess in my mind. Seriously. : )

Today, let’s explore one of the reasons why parents have so much trouble letting their kids waste, i.e. create, with paper, glue, paint, and so forth, and why it’s tough to face the clean-up afterward.

Adults are End-Product Driven while Children are Process Driven

The end product is what matters to adults, how it looks, and its usefulness. To children, it is all about the process. Children care about how it feels to create. They aren’t as concerned with the usefulness of the finished project or in fact, how ‘perfect’ it looks. They don’t worry about the mess they are making because they are so caught up in the creative process.

Because you care about the end product, you will be viewing your children’s activities through those lensesunless, of course, you will consciously take those glasses off and see what your children see.

Don’t manage your children’s efforts in an attempt to make the project turn out the way you think it should. Don’t worry so much about waste or mess. Think instead of what your children are gaining while creating. 

When you decide to see your children’s projects differently, you will better evaluate the ‘correct’ use of materials. It will be more about them and less about you.

In our communities, we could use a few more adults who aren’t afraid to turn their dreams into reality because they spent their childhood doing it.

What Does it Take to Have Our ducks in a Row?

I love working with moms.

I suspect that part of the reason is that I can almost always relate to where they are. Been there, done that. For example, I am a ‘get my ducks’ in a row sort of gal. I know what that looks and feels like.

One day in a mentoring session, a homeschooling mom with multiple children, who had one of her grown children’s families moving in with her, said to me, “I want all my ducks in a row. You know, to be on top of my game.” So I asked what being on top of her game and having all her ducks in a row would look like.

She quickly laid it out for me – The whole house clean and in order. All the food purchased for the huge breakfast spread she was planning for the two families as they merged. Making sure that everyone was well fed and entertained on this special day. The list went on like this. It wore me out just hearing the list. I know that thinking about the list was wearing her out. It was in her voice. She wanted to know how to get it all done, still educate her kids, and stay sane.

I then asked her, “Well, what do you think God would say if you asked Him what it meant to have all your ducks in a row and to be at the top of your game.” That stopped her in her tracks, and she had to think. It was a very different list she gave me – hug everyone, talk to each other, be calm, smile a lot, feel peace, enjoy my family…a very different list!

We brainstormed how she could be at the top of her game and have her ducks in a row God’s way and not worry so much about her way. I am happy to report that she and her family had a wonderful time. It was peaceful, fun, and restful. She talked and laughed and hugged a lot.

Here is an example of what that actually looked like.

The morning of the previously planned HUGE breakfast spread, she got up, made coffee, poured a cup, and went into the living room where her daughter-in-law was. She sat down beside her, and they had a long and lovely conversation. No HUGE breakfast spread, just a simple breakfast shared with family.

I have learned from long and sometimes bungled experience that what our families want is us, our time, our face, our heart, our ears. They want us. Hash browns, pancakes, eggs, toast, and the most beautiful fruit plate cannot compete with smiling eyes and our Presence.

Let’s get our ducks in a row and be at the top of our game, God’s way more often.

Let’s give our families the gift of Presence and Peace, the gift of US.

The Most Important End Product – Relationship and Memory

This month my grandson, Ben, turns 10.

He is very excited about this birthday, which has gotten me thinking about our experiences together.

We had a fun day experimenting with baking when Ben was just two years old. I was baking gingerbread cookies. Baking over 2000 gingerbread men is a yearly tradition in December in our home. It is a BIG project! I was deep into the project when Ben came down the stairs into our part of our three-generation home. When he saw the flour, eggs, and partially made dough, he was desperate to help.

I am a very competent baker because I have been doing it for over fifty years. However, when you add a two-year-old to the mix, the whole thing changes.

Ben was interested in everything. He wanted to stir the dough. Ben tried rolling the dough, patting it, and cutting it out with the cookie cutter. He ate dough and dropped flour. He was having a GREAT time! I, on the other hand, felt a tad fussed. I hadn’t anticipated his ‘help.’ I just wanted to get the job done as quickly as possible because I had other pressing projects.

And there it is; adults are end product-driven while children are process-driven.

It would have been so easy to say, “Benny, grandma is busy. Run upstairs, and I’ll let you know when the cookies are baked. Then you can have one.” As a young mom, I had done that in the past, and I was sorely tempted.

Here is what I did instead.

I let him help and I watched him for a few minutes as I kneaded my ball of dough, and he kneaded his. I saw his sheer delight in doing something new. I observed as he “floured” the counter and the floor so his men wouldn’t stick. I listened to his laughter as he rearranged my utensil drawer. I watched him stack up the Christmas packages into a tower and then watched as they came tumbling down; our small tree was on the counter. And guess what, my heart softened. I loved watching him. It was fun, and he made the whole project even more worthwhile.

It did take longer, and my floor was a disaster. I had to eventually re-do the utensil drawer. The packages had flour on them, and the corners were a bit flattened. But Ben and I made a memory.

The best gift we can give to our children is to be Present with them and make them more important than the project. We and our time are the very best gifts.

Today when I showed Ben the photo of us baking together, he yelled out in an excited voice. “I remember that!” He was smiling from ear to ear. I also had a photo of him sleeping on my couch at the end of our project, and when he saw it, he said, “I even think I remember getting worn out!”

It doesn’t matter if Ben can really remember that experience or not; he was only two. What matters is that he remembers how he has felt around me, his grandma. He has felt seen and heard. No matter what we are doing with our kids or grands, it is all about relationships and making memories. Let’s make our kids more important than projects as often as possible. We can’t every time, but we can more often. The effort we make will improve our relationships

It isn’t always easy but it is simple.

Think about your child and

let the project be secondary.