Category: Present Parenting

What Does Chris Hemsworth Have to do With Being Stress Proof?

Don began watching a series titled Limitless.

Chris Hemsworth, of Thor fame, was concerned about his health and aging and went looking for answers as to how to maintain longer.

After Don watched the first episode he said to me, “Mary, I need you to watch this with me because I think it will help me.” I sat with him as he rewatched the first episode in the six-part series. Frankly, I was interested in this for myself because when you are a full-time caregiver and one of the people has dementia, well, there is stress. : )

I have studied stress, and I know it can cause disease and premature aging. It can wreak havoc on your brain health too. No one wants that. So, I have been working on managing my own stress. In the show, they repeated what I have learned – Controlling chronic stress responses in the body lessens the risk of poor health.

In the episode, Stress Proof, they put Chris into some ridiculously stress-filled situations, and I asked Don how in the world this would apply to a regular person. I’m not going to walk across a beam hundreds of feet above the ground or take drown-proof training. It wasn’t long before it became clear.

Chris was working with a well-known psychologist and as they went through the experiences, she taught him skills that would help him manage his stress better. None of them was new to me. However, it was fascinating to see Chris Hemsworth use them in the moment, to calm his heart rate and breathing. He wore a wired vest that allowed both to be recorded. Just fascinating.

When the psychologist asked Chris why he was willing to go through the crazy experiences she was putting him in he replied, “I don’t want stress to rule my life.” One example he gave was the stress of taking his three kids to a restaurant and them getting crazy loud. I had to laugh. Being a star doesn’t change parenting at all. In fact, according to what I learned as Chris talked and answered questions, he has as much, if not more stress than any of us.

Here is why my husband thought this program could help him.

His health issues require him to have MRIs. The cylinder they usually use is totally out of the question due to his claustrophobia and his anxiety issues. He was able to do it only once and that was in a special unit shaped like a hamburger, with a top and bottom that come together leaving the sides open. However, no matter how great the need, he has not been able to make himself do it again.

After the episode was over, we talked about it. Here is what my husband is considering.
• Setting a date for an MRI.
• Practicing the skills that Chris learned
• Doing the MRI using those skills to get through it

So, what are the skills?

There were four and they are simple and very doable. As I said, these are things I have already been using. However, I am determined to use them more consistently!

1. Positive self-talk. I have written articles on this – controlling my story about myself, and everyday circumstances is what I do every day. It is a constant practice. While Chris was working through the difficult experiences placed before him, he practiced saying and thinking these kinds of things: I can do it. I have what it takes. This is possible for me. I can see myself doing this successfully.

After he had finished a couple of days of seriously stressful situations and was ready to face the final challenge he said, “I am becoming comfortable in uncomfortable environments.”

2. Segmentation. Simply put this is a fancy word for breaking things down into small steps. For my husband Don, that might look like this. Walk to the machine. Get in the machine. Breathe for one minute. Breathe for one more minute and so forth.

At the end of learning about skill number two, Chris said, “I walk through fear. I don’t try to make it go away.” This is what Don is going to experiment with. This is what Chris must do the next time he is in a restaurant with his kids, jettison the fear of what people think and the photos they are taking and focus on his kids, a few minutes at a time.

3. Box breathing. Again, a fancy term for something simple. Box breathing, also referred to as square breathing, is a deep breathing technique that can help you slow down your breathing. It works by distracting your mind as you count to four, calming your nervous system, and decreasing stress in your body. You picture a box and count to four while breathing in. Then count to four along another side of the box while exhaling, and so forth. The point is to control your breath and stay centered in the present moment, to keep your mind from looking at worst-case scenarios and fear-based stories.

4. Mindful meditation. Mindful meditation is a practice that teaches you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body. I know how powerful this can be. About a decade ago I read a book called Eight Minute Meditation by Viktor Davich. You practice different types of meditation as you read the book and each last only eight minutes. I hated it!!!

Sitting and clearing my mind for eight minutes was more than I thought I could do. However, I found one that worked for me. It was breathing. : ) I focus on my nose and repeat in my mind Breathe in, Breathe out, over and over again. I have used this meditation daily for all these years. It is why I can go to sleep every night, no matter what has happened in the day or what may be coming in the morning. I meditate myself to sleep.

When Don, with my support, practice, and reminders, overcomes his inability to get an MRI it will translate into his being able to manage other challenging things in his life.

Parenting is stressful. Being married is stressful. Ill health causes fear and stress. Some work in very stressful environments. Relationships of all kinds cause stress. Learning how to manage these everyday and unavoidable stresses can lengthen our life, reduce illness, and help us enjoy the moment more often.

Here is an example of a stressful situation and how these skills could have helped.

Don, mom, and I had an appointment. We left in plenty of time because my mom and Don cannot walk far distances or with any speed. When we arrived the facility was redoing parts of the parking lot. There was not a single handicapped parking space open. I dropped mom and Don off and then went looking for another parking place. I can walk fast and far when needed. : )

However, on both levels of the parking area, there was not a single space. Besides that, I was behind an older woman driving very slowly and stopping frequently, for every small thing. I felt my heart rate rise and negative thoughts filled my mind. Lady, move it! Augh, I’m going to be late. They will make us reschedule, and so forth.

I did find a space to park across the street, on another side of the facility, that had been put together for this eventuality. However, there were no signs advising anyone of this lot. When I exited my car, I walked as fast as I could to the building, breathing hard, and worried we would miss the appointment which would have caused some problems for us.

We made it with one minute to spare. As I sat puffing away and feeling stressed, the skills I just mentioned came to my mind. For someone who understands these and uses them, I was mortified that I hadn’t used a single one in this instance. Here is what I could and should have done:
• Used the breathing technique that I use every day that helps me stay calm and go to sleep.
• I could have talked positively to myself.  You will make it. It is going to turn out alright. Don’t worry, you got this. And I did have it, we did make it, and it did turn out ok.

When you are ready to explode at one of your kids or your spouse, practice box breathing or another type of breathing that works for you. When you feel fearful or overwhelmed, practice segmentation. Break whatever it is down into small steps in your mind and then take them one at a time.

When you find yourself in a place or with people who are making you feel uncomfortable or less than or if you have behaved in a way that has you angry at yourself, practice positive self-talk. Trust me, this works!

And if you are wise, you will learn how to meditate for at least five minutes a day, or as many days a week as you can manage. I used to do it every day for eight minutes. When we moved, I stopped. That was five years ago. I realize I have cheated myself. I am in a stressful place with people I love, but nonetheless stressful. I have determined to get back on the meditation wagon. I know I do it every day to put myself to sleep but I think I need to do it every morning to stress-proof myself for the day.

If this information intrigues, you even a small amount, I highly recommend you watch the six-part series called Limitless with Chris Hemsworth. At least watch segment one – Stress Proof. You will find it on Disney Plus, Hulu, and Netflix. You can watch the trailer HERE.

You are going to enjoy Chris’s comments about his own stresses and his family.

You will feel so normal. LOL

6 Tips for Talking With Kids

6 Tips for Talking With Kids

I have had some GREAT conversations with kids. There are always opportunities to practice this skill, and it is a skill. Part of the reason I have these great conversations is that I work at keeping the conversation going. I want to talk with them, I want to know what they think and feel about what is going on in their lives. I want to know them better. That is what makes a great conversationalist with kids of all ages.

How to keep the conversation going 

A conversation goes much farther with a child when we do not impart our judgments or opinions. There is great value in focusing on a child’s feelings or reactions in any given situation rather than sharing what we think or feel. When we can listen without judgment, it helps kids process their emotions.

I laugh when I think of a conversation that a friend shared. She was riding in the car with her teenage daughter, and it went something like this:
“Mom”.
“What?”
“I don’t think I should have a baby now.”
“Is this a consideration?”
“I thought about it, but now I’ve realized something.”
“What’s that?”
“I only really want to buy lots of cute little baby shoes.”
“Oh, that’s very different from having a real baby.”
“Yeah, that’s what I think too.”

When this mom listened calmly, without judgment or sharing her own opinion, she found out what was really going on. It was all about cute baby shoes and not sex. She learned something about her daughter. The conversation lasted long enough to know what her daughter was really thinking.

Here is another example of listening without judgment or opinion.
“Mom, I don’t like David.”
“Hmm, why not?”
“He is dumb.”
“What happened to make you think that?”
“He pushed me off the swing.”
“Oh really? How was that for you?”
“Not good! I really wanted to swing, and it hurt my leg.”
“You didn’t get to swing.”
“No, and that wasn’t nice!”
“You got hurt?”
“Yeah! I would never do that to someone!”

Right after the words, “Mom, I don’t like David,” this mom could have begun a mini-lecture on why it isn’t nice to talk mean about our friends, and then she wouldn’t have discovered what her son was feeling or had experienced.

6 TIPS FOR TALKING WITH KIDS

  • Ask open-ended questions. “How did that work out? How do you feel about that? What do you think you can do? How was that for you?
  • Don’t offer your opinion.
  • Give fewer judgments.
  • Say fewer words.
  • Help kids find their own feelings about their experiences.
  • Rather than tell, ask.

These tips will help your child develop emotional awareness and a strong inner compass. It will help them choose their behavior even when no one is there to evaluate and give them feedback. There is always time to revisit a conversation if teaching is needed, but for now, listen, be interested, and ask good questions.

When we practice talking with our children we are better able to be present and we parent more wisely.

Helping Children Be Free to Learn

In September, I took a rest. I had traveled to Colorado in late August to help a daughter having surgery and was repeating that trip for the same reason early in September. I knew I was going to need a rest. The truth is I would like an even longer rest. You are moms so you know what I am talking about. LOL

However, consistency is a hallmark of my life. I have found that it is a principle of power. I also keep commitments to myself and others. I told you I would be back the first Sunday of October. : ) With that in mind, I am back.

Today I am sharing an article I read years ago, written by one of my favorite authors. It had a powerful lesson to teach – it is the parent or teacher’s job to establish an environment where children can learn and grow (even experiment) without fear of being in trouble.

I was not this kind of mom, and it took me decades to begin to scratch the surface of this lesson. I want you to receive the lesson, even though it is still a work in progress for me at seventy-two, although I have made long strides in the right direction. It will hearten you, challenge you, and, if internalized, help you be a more present parent. I hope you enjoy and learn as much from Kerry Patterson’s story as I did when I read it back in 2008.

“It Is Rocket Science” by Kerry Patterson

“When I woke up that bright and sunny morning, I never suspected that I’d burn down my bedroom. But some days just don’t go as planned.

It was a Sunday morning, and this meant that later that evening the entire Patterson clan would plop down in front of their fifteen-inch black-and-white DuMont TV and worship at the altar of the Ed Sullivan Theater. For those of us living at the far edge of the U.S.—and at the far corner of Puget Sound to boot—Ed Sullivan provided a lifeline to the bigger world of hip happenings and top-notch entertainment. Who knew what menagerie of singers, dancers, acrobats, and comedians Mr. Sullivan would bring us! Would it be Elvis or even the Beatles? Surely the ventriloquist Señor Wences or the puppet Topo Gigio would grace the stage. It was Sunday, it was sunny, and all was well.

And then came the bomb. Mom sat me down and explained that she and Dad would be attending a volunteer meeting that evening and that I’d have to chaperone in their stead. Chaperone? I was a fourteen-year-old kid. Whom was I supposed to chaperone?

It turns out that a friend’s daughter, who was attending the local college, wanted to buy her first life insurance policy, and Mom had volunteered our living room for the sales presentation. Unfortunately, since Mom and Dad would be gone, I’d have to hang around. Without my dampening presence, who knows what lecherous shenanigans the insurance agent might attempt? And, as if listening to an insurance salesman wasn’t going to be bad enough, the meeting was to take place during the sacred time slot of the Ed Sullivan show!

When the appointed hour finally rolled around, I squirmed impatiently while the insurance fellow yammered on about “contingencies” and “risk aversion” until I could take it no longer. With one swift move, I slipped unnoticed into my bedroom adjacent to the living room. This put me out of range of the insurance talk but left me with nothing to do. After carefully studying the skin on my elbow for a couple of minutes, it hit me. Under my desk was a large bowl of rocket fuel I had recently concocted and set aside. Now would be the perfect time to turn it from a dry powder into a solid mass by melting it down and then letting it solidify.

I had never performed this operation before, nor did I have the necessary equipment on hand, but I had heard that transforming the powdered fuel into a solid block gave it more stability. I quickly fashioned a Bunsen burner out of materials I found in the bathroom. A Vaseline lid, a wad of cotton, and a couple of jiggers of my dad’s aftershave lotion—and voila! I was ready to cook. Next, I poured a generous portion of the fuel into a Pioneer chemical container that consisted of a cardboard tube with a flat metal bottom and a pop-out metal top. The cardboard would provide me with a safe place to grip the container, while the metal bottom would take the flame and melt the fuel.

Within minutes, I gingerly held the jury-rigged beaker above the Aqua Velva flame and was merrily melting the powder. Sure, I’d be missing Ed Sullivan’s guest star, Richard Burton, as he performed a number from Camelot, but I was advancing science. What could be more important?

Then, with no warning whatsoever, the powder hit its ignition point and burst into a frightening torrent of smoke and flames, scorching the wallpaper above my desk and burning a hole in the ten-foot ceiling. I couldn’t drop the blazing tube, or it would have careened around the room and set the drapes and other flammables on fire.

So I gritted my teeth and held the flame-spitting cylinder firmly through its entire burn. For a full minute, the fiery tube charred the wall and ceiling while dropping blazing bits of debris on my arms and legs—burning holes in my shirt and pants and leaving behind pea-sized scars.

The rest is a blur. When it was finally safe to set the container down, I bolted from my bedroom and threw open the front door to vent the house. A fire truck loaded with highly animated firefighters rolled into our driveway and it wasn’t long until several of them were screaming at me for being so stupid as to—well, cook rocket fuel in my bedroom. Apparently, not being able to swing their axes or shoot a single drop of water into our home had really ticked them off. One angrily threw open the parlor windows when I asked him what I could do to get rid of the smoke. Another glumly stared at my bedroom and shook his head while muttering, “Boy, are you going to get it when your folks come home!”

And then my folks came home. As the fire crew backed out of our driveway and the insurance salesman and frightened college girl bolted from the scene, Mom and Dad slowly approached. Watching a fire crew pull away from your home is never a good sign when you’re the parent of a teenage boy; however, it did give my folks a hint as to what lay ahead. As the two walked stoically into my bedroom and surveyed the damage, Mom stated, “You realize, of course, that you’re going to have to set this right.” I did. I paid for the repairs out of my college savings.

And then, Mom said something that was so quintessential “Mom” that I’ve never forgotten it: “What did you learn from this adventure?” Most parents, when faced with the smoldering shell of a bedroom would have grounded their careless son through social security. Or maybe they would have hurled threats, pulled out their hair, or perhaps guilt-tripped their soon-to-be-jailed juvenile delinquent into years of therapy. But Mom simply wanted to know what I had learned from the incident. It wasn’t a trick on her part; it was how Mom treated debacles. For her, every calamity was a learning opportunity, every mishap a chance to glean one more morsel of truth from the infinitely instructive universe.

So, I talked to Mom and Dad about ignition points, research design, precautions, and adult supervision. I meant most of what I said. I even followed my own advice and avoided catching any more rooms on fire. In fact, save for one minor screw-up a few months later during a routine rocket test where I accidentally blew off my eyebrows (leading to an embarrassing few days where I was forced to darken my remaining forehead hairs with eyebrow pencil—not cool for a guy in high school), I averted further disasters of all types.

But what I didn’t avert was the bigger message. Mom wanted me and my brother to be full-time learners—ambulant scholars if you like. It was her central mission in life to turn us into responsible adults who learned at every turn. While the masses might bump into the world, take the occasional licking, and then endlessly complain, she wanted us to bounce back with the question: What does this teach us? While others carped about effects, she wanted us to find the causes. Our classroom was to extend beyond the halls of academia and down any path our journey took us—even into the occasional charred bedroom.

The implication of this message to parents and leaders alike is profound. It’s the adult’s or leader’s job to establish an environment where their charges can learn and grow (even experiment) without fear of being grounded through social security. This isn’t to suggest that either the home or the corporate learning environment should allow individuals to run about willy-nilly—heating up rocket fuel without a single thought as to what might go wrong. I had been irresponsible, and I was held accountable. But I had also been experimenting with rocket science, and Mom didn’t want to stifle this part of me. She wanted me to experiment, and this called for calculated risks. She saw it as her job to teach me how to make the calculations, not to set aside my test tubes and chemicals.

So, let’s take our lead from the ambulant scholar. Should our best-laid plans run afoul, may we have the wisdom to pause, take a deep breath, and ask: What did we learn from this?

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.