Category: Present Parenting

How To Be a Great Stepfather – Nine Tips

This article was written in 2011 but it covers a topic that many must grapple with, how to be a great stepparent.

I appreciated Kash’s insight and how wonderful he has been to his stepkids. His thoughts come from his real-life experience. Eleven years have passed, he is still doing a great job and they love him. His story is worth the read. You will also find nine tips from another stepparent, Dr. Phil. : )

“My kids are great! They are energetic, imaginative, loving, and occasionally ornery. I have three girls and one boy, whose ages range from three to eleven, and they have been my kids for exactly four months.

Being a “step-dad” is not something I expected a year ago, but it was not an idea that scared me either. I have five siblings that have 13 kids between them, and I have always enjoyed spending time with their children. Now that I have four kids to call my own, I have a different perspective on the relationships that I have with my nieces and nephews. The responsibility one has as a parent is enormous. An uncle can feed his nephews a bunch of sugar and then send them back to their parents; a stepfather does not have that luxury.

The important thing for a stepparent to remember is that you are an adult, and the kids are…kids. They have lost a parent, whether through a divorce or otherwise. Someone who has been there consistently for most of their lives is now only there occasionally. It is not your job to replace that parent. It is, however, your job to be a new parent, one that is patient, loving, and willing to teach the same qualities to your new kids.

Like all parents, a stepparent’s patience is tested on a daily basis. My philosophy, when faced with a new problem, is “Yield to the expert”. My wife knows her children better than anyone. So, I ask her opinion on almost everything. She is very patient and very willing to teach me how to be a good dad. I am very blessed to have the family that I do and love them very much.”

I did some research and Kash was on top of it and has been a great stepfather.

Nine tips on being a great stepfather

1. Don’t Plan to be the disciplinarian. There are boundaries to your authority. Be reasonable, and as much as possible show them that what you have to say is sensible. The stepparent, although not actively initiating direct discipline, should certainly work to maintain the normal boundaries that exist between an adult and a child. Support the decisions that are made by your wife. A stepfather is not simply one’s mother’s husband. He is in fact, an adult and an authority figure in the home.

2. Don’t ask them to call you “Dad”. Don’t be selfish and demand it.

3. Don’t ever bad mouth their dad, no matter what kind of person he is. Usually, they’ll side with dad, but even if they don’t, you have no right to interfere in that relationship.

4. Act responsibly, be there for the kids when they need you, share their joys and sorrows with them, build them up as much as you can, help them with their homework, offer advice, explain how things work, organize their day, and so on — all the things you’d do if you were their actual father, remembering that relationships take time to build.

5. Listen to the children.

6. Take cues from mom. Deal with major disagreements out of earshot of the kids; in everything else, follow mom’s lead.

7. Don’t try to win them over with gifts, trips to the amusement park, or whatever.

8. Share. Be open about your life, career, likes, dislikes, and interests — and make an effort to learn about theirs. Take part in their activities and involve them in yours. Not only will you find some common ground to connect on, but you’ll be able to take part in their development as people, which is what this is all about.

9. Forgive. Forgive them for being difficult, forgive mom for not always lending you a hand when you’re lost, forgive their friends for not understanding your new place in your kids’ home, and most of all, forgive yourself. You are going to make a lot of mistakes

“The key is to remember that the children are passengers on this train. They didn’t get an opportunity to choose whether they wanted a new family member, so great care and patience should be taken to help them adapt to the situation.” Dr. Phil

When we love first we can overcome many obstacles, even when stepparenting!

Kash is a native of Colorado and currently lives in Grand Junction with his wife, Marie. He has four stepchildren and he and Marie have had two children together. Kash grew up in a family of 6 children. He is the fourth child just like his wife, Marie. He was raised by his mother with the help of his grandfather and two of his grandmothers. Kash loves to read all kinds of books.

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.

When Do I Learn?

I had a mom call me in tears. She couldn’t figure out how to continue her education and still wear all the other hats that she must wear. She wanted some advice.

I could relate. I love learning, but I have difficulty even sitting through an online class for an hour without being interrupted. As a full-time caregiver, I am on call 24/7.

Going back to school isn’t realistic for everyone. There is a time and season for formal education. Even taking one class may not be something that fits your life right now. So, what can you do to keep your brain from turning into mush? I’m joking, but it can feel like that some days.

If this isn’t your time and season for formal education or even classes online, I suggest you read excellent books. When I gave that advice to this young mother, she replied, “I never have time to read!”

I know how that feels. Remember, I am a full-time caregiver in a four-generation home. It is a challenge to take a ten-minute uninterrupted shower. And reading, I have had to make some serious adjustments, and you will need to also.

When I was young, I could read as long as I wanted. I had an upstairs bedroom with a sizeable old-fashioned window. I would open it and then sit on the sill. It was on the north side of the house, and there was a border of tall trees. It was shady and cool on hot summer days. I would sit and read for hours.

I no longer have the luxury of uninterrupted reading time, and sometimes I mourn that loss. But I worked on ways to find time to do what I love, read, which keeps me from feeling buried! So here are four tips I shared with that frustrated mother.

Four tips to get your reading in:

  • I always have a book in the bathroom. In fact, I have a book basket, and it has the book I am currently reading and the next two or three I want to read. So, every time I go in there, which is at least twice a day, I read a few paragraphs. I know it sounds lame, but I get quite a few books read this way.
  • I listen to books on my phone. I listen in doctor’s offices, while waiting for a child to come out of wherever I am picking them up from, in traffic jams, and anytime I am driving anywhere, and I am by myself. You can listen while you work, fold laundry, make dinner, nurse the baby, etc.
  • I have a book by my bed. In fact, it is another small basket with my current book and one or two I want to get to. It doesn’t happen every night, but sometimes I can sit in bed for a few minutes before lights out.
  • Read to your kids. Some of my favorite books, that I learned the most from, were classics for children and youth. Learn together. If you are just learning to read as a family, try shorter things that won’t take much time–short stories, letters, speeches, fairy tales, etc.

You have probably noticed that I read more than one book at a time. This is a skill that I have perfected over decades while finding time to read. I don’t have trouble remembering where I am in each book. I don’t lose track of the storyline. If it doesn’t work for you to read more than one book at a time, then be content with moving your bathroom book to the bedroom and back. Experiment with a system that will work for you.

Would I like to read a book in a week like I did when I was a girl? Sure. Would I like not to take months to finish a book? Sure. But I am learning despite the challenges. I’m growing, expanding, thinking.

I love what Viktor Frankl said about situations that are not ideal. I have lived by these words for many decades now – “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

How is it working out you ask?

We are almost at the end of February, two months into the new year. In that time, I have finished three amazing books. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives, was one of the most profound books I have read in a long time. It took me months to complete, a few paragraphs at a time, while in the bathroom. The advantage was that at the end of each chapter was an exercise to try. I had plenty of time to work on it. : )

Another, The book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, was one I listened to while doing dishes, folding laundry, driving, waiting, etc. My only regret was that I couldn’t make notes in a real book. I did, however, pause every now and then and send myself a text because the information was so beautiful and profound. I know there is probably an easy way to do this on the phone, but as I said, find what works till you have something better. : )

The third, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Love and Freedom on Death Row, was finished in just a month in the few minutes I could grab just before bed; a few minutes, never more than ten or twenty at a time. It was one of the most unsettling and magnificently inspiring books I have read. I learned a great deal about charity and forgiveness.

We all know that parenting calls for adjustments. It calls for change. But it doesn’t require that we give up learning and growing. We can do it if we change our expectations and find a system that works for us. So, begin. Stick a book in the bathroom and challenge yourself to read one or two paragraphs every time you go in there alone. Trust me, one or two paragraphs may be all you get depending on the age of your kids. :

Don’t get discouraged. You will finish your book and then another and another. I know this is true from experience.

So, take heart and continue to learn.

Are You Up To Your Neck In Love?

Monday was my last day in Seattle.

The trip was a mixed bag, if I am honest. The kids and I had some great times, and I kept Gus worn out. : ) He had one nap and wanted another Saturday, but we were busy. This from a boy who has all but given up naps.

But as I said, it has been a mixed bag. I brought a deck of question cards which we used at meals and bedtime. It was hilarious and so much fun. BUT Sunday night, we had a zinger of a question – Tell me about an experience that helped you feel my love for you? Gus just laughed. Tessa said, “Well, you have let me snuggle with you.” She has slept with me every night. She wakes up in the wee hours and crawls in. You all know how kids spread out!

That has been part of the reason for Elliot’s answer –“Well, I haven’t gotten yelled at too much.” What? I don’t yell, but I have a stern voice that comes out when I am tired, frustrated, or at a loss about what else to do. My hormone replacement pills went missing for three days, which didn’t help, but he was right; I had some grouchy moments with everyone.

I went to bed that last night a little teary-eyed and thought about it. I mean, grandma’s want to be perfect, and frankly, I am not. There are moms who trust me and what I share here. I couldn’t let them think that I am super happy all the time, not ridged occasionally, always patient and upbeat, or that I don’t ‘yell.’ It wouldn’t be fair.

In fact, just yesterday, one of my clients said, “I saw some of your posts from Seattle. It looks like you had a wonderful time, and so did the kids. You are amazing.” And many Facebook comments were saying the same as if we had a perfect time and I was always smiling and fun and, well, perfect.

Those comments and what my client said stung a bit. Here is the truth – I am amazing, BUT I am also ordinary. I am just an everyday woman doing her best, and my best isn’t always enough. My best fluctuates.

Wouldn’t it be great to be perfect, to play all the time and like it, never to get tired and crabby, always to be cheerful and fun, never to use your ‘stern/yell’ voice. It would eliminate the worried nights when you know you haven’t been the way you want to be. But here we are, just ordinary people working to do the ‘extraordinary’ thing, caring well for others.

This doesn’t just happen to me when I wrangle three little kids at seventy-two years old. It happens at home, wrangling my mom and my husband and all the rest that goes with living in a four-generation household. I have been working on changing my way of being to be more charitable. That last night in Seattle, I felt as if I had made NO progress at all in decades. I mean, I still get grumpy, am impatient, and am not always long-suffering, kind, humble, well behaved, concerned with others rather than myself, grateful, not provoked, etc. I can list them off because I have them written on the first page of my scriptures. I look at the list regularly because, after all, it is my goal.

There is a space between stimulus and response. The thing that has changed for me over the years is that that space has gotten wider. I rarely go off now and wonder what happened. I know I am choosing. I see that space, and I feel myself making a choice. Sometimes that is harder and is a mixed blessing for sure, to know you chose to be uncharitable with those you love. Thank goodness God, and Christ love me despite my weakness.

Monday, my last day as caretaker for the kids, was good. I got them off to school with minimal chaos and lots of smiles and hugs. I managed Gus well, who was tired and a little grumpy. After school, we used our question cards, our goal was to ask them all, and we made it. : ) We had a great supper and laughed and talked. Then mom and dad came home, and happiness exploded all over everyone.

That last night in Seattle, as I lay in bed pondering the good and not so good times we had, I wondered how the grands would feel the next time I came to visit? It was a question mark in my mind. However, little kids are forgiving. They love unconditionally. A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about my grandma and the tough times we had because I was a bed-wetter. But I still loved her. I always wanted to go to her house.

I feel that is the case here because of what Tessa did on Sunday. We were in the kitchen, and I was fixing some food. She said, “Grandma, let me see how tall I am to you.” So we stood chest to chest, and she measured from her head to my body. It was right at my neck. Tessa laughed and said, “I am as high as your neck, grandma. You are up to your neck in love!”

I would rather not have written this article, but I cannot let my friends and fellow parents think I am perfect because I’m not. And neither are they. It isn’t fair to simply post pictures of smiling kids doing crafts, rollerblading, and all the rest. We have to support each other in our weaknesses and our strengths. So thanks for being here, reading what I write, believing my words, and allowing me to be honest. : ) I still work on my goal of a tender and softened heart, to feel charity every day. I suspect that I will get better and better. In fact, when I shared this experience with my daughter Jodie, she assured me that I was SO much different than when I was a young mom. Glad to know I am making progress even when it feels like I’m not.

So hang in there, keep working on yourself. Be consistent. It is a lifetime job. Don’t let discouragement get in your way.

Getting up when you fall, being consistent in your efforts pays off. Really!!

What I learned watching my 111-year-old friend

I have been thinking back to 2015. In February of that year, I had a friend who turned 111. You read that right, 111! She lived with her daughter, who was 87. Anna was in good health and could get around with her walker; she bathed herself, fed herself, and was as sharp as a tack. Anna is gone now, but caring for my mom, who is turning 91 in March, made me think back to some important things I learned about management vs. relationship from Anna and her daughter.

It was fun watching Anna. Sometimes when I was with her, it was like watching a slow-motion movie. She conserved her energy. She did everything slowly and with great thought. I guess in 111 years, you figure out that there is no need to hurry. There is time for anything that matters.

She also conserved her energy during conversations. She listened a lot. If you asked her a question, her answer was short and to the point. I guess in 111 years of living, you learn that you can get more from listening than from talking and that most things don’t need to be said.

My mom can’t do without help many of the things that Anna could. Mom needs more help because she has Alzheimer’s. However, she can feed herself, take short walks, help me in the kitchen, and have a good conversation.

Interestingly, I find myself in the same mess that I noticed Anna’s daughter got into. She and I both got stuck in management at the expense of the relationship.

What did that look like for Anna’s daughter in 2015?

Anna’s daughter was 87, no spring chicken herself. At that age, she found herself in charge of a woman aged 111. That could be hard. A considerable percentage of their conversations sounded like this:

  • Mom, please take your shower and don’t mess up the bathroom.
  • Mom, stop slurping your food. You’re going to choke.
  • Mom, why did you do that!
  • Mom, wake up. You can’t sleep at the table.
  • For goodness sake, get dressed. It’s already 10.
  • Mom, you’re wearing me out.

To me, she might say:

  • Mom has really been naughty this week.
  • I’ll tell you, I am so worn out.
  • I think that mom is having a pity party. She just wants attention.
  • Sometimes I think she pushes my buttons on purpose.

What does this look like for me, today?

Because my mom has Alzheimer’s, I can’t make the kinds of comments that Anna’s daughter made. But here is my confession, I think the thought and feel the emotion that goes with it.

  • Mom, it’s eleven. Get up. It’s bath day, and I have a lot to do!
  • Mom, that house dress is not a blouse.
  • Do you need a personal invite to dinner?
  • For crying out loud, hang up your robe.
  • Man, I need a BREAK!

Does this sound familiar to you? Of course, it does. It sounds like Anna’s daughter, and I are talking to or about a three-year-old, a nine-year-old, a twelve-year-old, etc. When I had kids living at home, I spoke to them as Anna’s daughter talked to her mom. I thought the same kind of things I think about my mom. Here is the crux of the matter – when you are in the position of custodial care for another person, you can spend a lot of your time in management and only a fraction in the relationship.

Anna’s daughter loved her mom a lot, and I love my mom a lot. But we both oversaw the health and well-being of another person. That is a great weight of responsibility. There is food to cook, clothing to wash, floors to clean, beds to make, and on and on. It doesn’t matter if you are 20 years old and have a one-year-old, are 35 with seven children, 87 with a mother who is 111, or 72 with a mom in her 90s with Alzheimer’s; there is a lot to manage! Add to this, if you are a parent with kids at home, your need to teach and direct your kids to grow into able adults.

You can see why the above types of conversations and thoughts are so common and why the conundrum of management vs. relationship exists.

Five Simple Tips to Increase Our relationship Time Regardless of the Work Load

1. When you walk through a room and see one of your children, touch them on their back, arm, or shoulder. Don’t say anything. Just give a squeeze or a pat. You can do this a hundred times a day and use up only a few minutes.

I have begun using this tool with my mom. I call it ‘random touch.’ Neither my mom nor I are natural touchers. I have to think about it. I make sure I hug her goodnight now. I touch her shoulder when doing her hair or sitting by her. She is beginning to hug back.

2. Have mini conversations while you are in the car, waiting at the doctor’s, etc. Just say something random and then listen. For example – “When I was a kid, I loved red socks.” Or, when your child makes a statement, ask a question about it. For example – “Look at the sky. Not a cloud in sight. Isn’t it beautiful?” Question – “Why do you like that?”

My husband asked my mother this very question today when she commented on the sky. He is a master at this. I am still practicing. : )

3. When a child comes and asks a question, stop what you are doing and make eye contact, smile. Then answer. If you feel interrupted, keep it to yourself. This is called ‘active listening.’

I must practice this with my mom. She will come and ask the same question repeatedly. For example, “Are we going for a drive?” “Yes, mom. In a few minutes.” Her memory is about 2 minutes long. It can be wearing answering questions, but I have learned that when I stop and look up at my mom and manage my irritation, she smiles back, feels heard, and our relationship is enhanced. Here is something else, when she smiles, my frustration lessens.

4. Have family reading time, even if it’s only once a week for 15 minutes. Be consistent with whatever you can do. The number of days in a week and the amount of time per session matter far less than being consistent. While reading, cuddle up. Lots of pillows and blankets.

In our family of old folks : ) we don’t cuddle up, but we do sit at the kitchen table and read. It isn’t easy. Although my mom and husband have lots of time, I do not as a full-time caregiver. Therefore, I must make this a priority. I can tell you that it does make a difference in the feeling in our home on the days we get it done.

5. Have dinner conversations no matter who spills milk, slurps their soup, or tips over their chair. You can get it going by saying, “Guess what I saw today,” or “Do you know what my boss did,” or “Hey, did anyone have anything fun happen today?” Coming back from your fifth trip to the kitchen to get something for someone – smile and say, “Guess who I saw today,” you know what to do. : )

This can be a challenge. In our home, we can eat a whole meal and not say a word. Having a conversation is something that both Don and I must think about for it to happen. Recently, I got a deck of cards with questions on them. Picking one out of the deck is helpful. LOL

Listen, I am practicing these tips just like you will have to do. It never gets easy because there is so much to manage in a family. But from experience, on the ground, ‘right now’ experience, I can promise you it is worth the effort and will go a long way in cementing your family relationships.

Don’t allow management to override your relationships!