12 Date Night Ideas on a Budget

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Remember those days when you first met your partner and everything in the world was seen through rose-colored glasses?  That person could do no wrong.  All you wanted was to spend every last minute with them.

Then you got married.

Then you had kids.

Then you realized being an adult requires more work, patience, and determination that you ever thought possible.

Where did all the romance go?  With the doctors’ visits, the football practices, the late-night homework sessions…oh, yeah, and the cooking, and cleaning, and the working two full-time jobs that sometimes take even more time.

This is particularly difficult for those who have children with special needs.  It takes longer to trust other people watching your kids.  If you are lucky to find someone qualified, they usually charge an arm and a leg for their services.  As one of our daycare providers in Maryland once said, “We charge more because we know we are the only ones in the area who does this.”

In the special needs’ world, it is extortion at its best sometimes.  According to MarketWatch, in America, 29% of people aged 18 to 34 are more than $500.00 in debt from overspending on dates spending an average of $1,596.00 a year on dates! Just dates.  For those math folks, that is $133.00 a month and $33.25 a week. 

Watching my parents, who married at age 16, had their first kid at 18, lost a child, had 7 more, and have gone to college (earning JD and PhDs) while raising us, I learned a successful marriage requires date night. My parents did it at least once a week – leave the kids and spend time with your spouse. So, when I married my husband, we agreed this is a requirement for our marriage too. Thank God, he agreed!

How do you find time for romance in the chaos without breaking the budget?  First – make a budget.  When you have a good budget, you can really enjoy things more.

Also, for those who qualify, look into your local Respite Care providers.  Respite care is short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center.  We use this to help with grocery shopping, errands, prepping for holidays and so much more.

Before You Get Started

Before you get started, make sure you are scheduling this and putting it on the calendar. This is a priority. Then take turns planning them – surprise each other. Use this time to talk to each other (not about work, kids, or household). No excuses – date night is a priority. Never make excuses outside date night. I promise you date nights in your marriage will help you in parenting, relationships, and life in general.

Here are 12 creative no cost dates that helped our marriage cultivate instead of breaking our budget:

Without a sitter

1.       Movie and Wine: When we first married, this was a great one!  We would move the couch out of the way, lay down some pillows and blankets, and start a fire.  The lights low, the cozy setting was perfectly matched with our favorite wine and a good movie. It is important the movie is something you both can enjoy.  Some of our favorites are The Princess Bride, The Greatest Showman, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future series, and Indiana Jones series. ***This is great because you get to talk to each other during the movie without bothering anyone else. Talking is essential.

2.       Craft night: This is one of my favorites! My husband got me a subscription craft kit for Christmas.  Instead of doing the craft alone, he does them with me.  We like Adults and Crafts.  For $33.00 a month, we get everything we need for a great date night.  Once the kids are in bed, we enjoy time creating together.  The nice thing about this date night is it can happen over multiple days sometimes.  Certain crafts require setting/drying time, so date night becomes date weekend.

3.       Themed movie marathons: This is a fun one that can also extend beyond the single night.  We like to do movie marathons.  Movies with sequels are great, but you are not limited to just this.  We did a marathon of watching all Disney Animated movies in order.  Our next one will be to watch all their live-action movies in order.  This is also a great time to binge your favorite shows! This is great because it lets link back to our childhood, and often springs great conversation. ***This is great because you get to talk to each other during the movie without bothering anyone else. Talking is essential.

4.       Play video games: So many times, I hear wives complain their husband spends his time playing video games instead of investing in them.  Use this.  Before I met my husband, I did not know video games had stories…like movies!  Apparently, they do – and some are really interesting.  Husbands, play the stories.  Wives, watch the story (and your beau) conqueror all cheering him on.  Not interested in the story, I paint or do a craft while listening sometimes.  I am with my spouse, participating with him, and learning more about him. 

5.       Game night: This sounds like a cliché, but there is truth in this.  Games have the power of sparking great conversation, building trust, and bringing the gift of laughter.  We particularly like this night when we find new or unusual games (but the classic Sorry, Boggle, Scrabble, and Chess is just as good).  Some of our favorite games are Shut the Box, Liars Dice, Vertell’s, and Qiddler

6.       Read books: I am an avid reader as it is, but it is so much more fun reading with my hubby.  I like things like novels where he likes ghost stories.  We have both really enjoyed historical pieces as well. This often has given us ideas for travel, routines, and date nights.   We often switch between the two.  Or, my favorite is when we start with his ghost stories and finish with my devotional or scripture reading. 

7. Karaoke: There is something special about getting crazy in front of a mic with your special someone. No matter your skill level, this is a great date. Not ready to show off in public, show off in the safety of your living room with those you trust the most. Laughter is guaranteed no matter what on this date.

With a sitter

Movies and dinner are great.  But search out happy hours, Taco Tuesdays, and specials first.  The occasional, movie, fancy restaurant and trampoline park are great.  But do not make these the go-to.

8.       Coffee/Brew dates: These are so much fun and cost as little as $5.00 a person. We like to find a local brew company or coffee shop and enjoy the local fare.  This is great for nights that have trivia or open mic. If nothing else, it is cheap entertainment supporting the local small businesses in the community to reminisce about for years to come.  

9.       Painting with a Twist: This is a great night out as a couple.  Creating art (with someone to help if needed) and some wine/beer of your choice.  You both get to be a little goofy and come home with a souvenir at the end.  This is usually a splurge night for us as a couples event can range from $15.00 per person to $50.00.  It is best to look in advance to ensure you like what is being taught to make in advance. We especially like to do this on fundraising nights as we know the proceeds help a local non-profit.

10.       Dinner at a bar: This can also be a splurge night.  But we like to go during happy hours and specials.  With the right happy hour and special, we can spend less than $50.00 in total.  This is a great way to sample new places.  It is also fun to re-enact the first date or enjoy the simple pleasure of trying something new on the menu together.

11.   Fishing/hiking: We love the adventure of the outdoors.  A great hike (even in the winter with some hot chocolate) or sitting on the side of the bank with a book while he fishes are perfection. This FREE activity lends itself to experiencing nature, getting much-needed vitamin D, and feeling like you accomplished something together. Fish at the end of the day is also a great FREE meal.

12.   Beach day: There is something about the sound of the waves crashing onto the sand that brings a peace in the sole.  The sun, surf, and sand are a great way to get out and be silly.  We like to pitch a tent and then enjoy playing in the water, watching dolphins, and building sandcastles. 

13.   Bonus Sex: I debated putting this here, but I think it is vital to all marriages.  All marriages.  Going too long without sex is detrimental to the foundation of the marriage.  Many marriage counselors, pastors, and your parents (who are still together after decades of marriage) will all say sex is essential to the relationship.  Sex reinforces the foundation, reconnects intimacy, rebuilds, and strengthens relationships and so much more! For more on this, check out this great article on healthy sex in marriage, and this article on why married sex is the best sex.

5 Tips for Teaching Kids to Be More Independent

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COVID-19 has brought parents and children of all ages closer together than ever before.  Working from home while being parent, teacher, entertainment, psychologist, and a doctor can be overwhelming and exhausting. 

Parents are tired. Parents are short-tempered.  Parents are at the end of their rope.

How do we move from exhausted to active parents?  We teach #independence.

According to a Psychology Today article, the difference between independent children and contingent children is simple. Contingent children are dependent on others for how they feel and think.  Independent children believe themselves to be capable and competent themselves. 

How do we set our children up for this success?

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1.       Evaluate: Take stock of your situation.  How old is your child?  What environment are they in (sibling versus only child)? What age grouping is in the house? What abilities do they have?  What are the limitations?  How much time do you have to spend on a task?  Are you doing more as a parent than is needed?  Take honesty inventory of where you are as a family. Make sure all parents are on board.  This will fail if one or the other does not support the new plan.

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2.       Target Priorities: If this is a new change for you, it would be really easy to give all the tasks over to the child right away.  I caution you away from this.  This will fail.  Target your priorities focusing on one thing at a time.  A younger child should focus on things like getting dressed on their own (yes, let them pick their own clothes and dress themselves) and brush their teeth.  Young elementary should focus on things like cleaning their room and cleaning up their messes. Older children can learn how to do laundry, do the dishes, sweep and mop.  (Later this month we will talk more about chores).

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3.       Forget perfection: You will always do the chores in your house better than your child.  You have had years more practice.  This is not the time to point out all the flaws and imperfections.  Use this as teachable moments.  If milk spills, teach how to clean up and remind the child it happens to everyone.  They put the dish in the wrong place, remind them where it goes without criticism.  The time for constructive criticism is when they have been working on the task and “mastered” it; not while they learn it.

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4.       Praise Something – but not everything: Teaching responsibility is hard.  It is even harder on the child who thinks all a parent does is point out the failings. Praise goes a long way.  Authentic appreciation goes a long way. Americans, in particular, believe that we get praised for everything. A trophy for participation.  An “A” for effort.  But this leads to self-entitlement and arrogance.  When we praise everything, praise means less.  Praise success.  Praise hard work.  Those things will get repeated.  This positive re-enforcement will help with accountability, responsibility, and follow through as you increase the workload or the difficulty of the task.

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5.       Circumstance Matters: Sick, tired, stressed affect adults’ quality and production. Expected this from our children too.  Let them take a day off if they need it.  Help out with a task if they need it.  Don’t rush to solve minor problems.  Let them problem solve.  Give them a chance to figure out a solution.  This shows them you have faith in their ability. 

Independence is essential to becoming a productive adult.  Our job as parents is to raise kids into quality members of society.  We will not always be there for our kids.  Let’s use this time to teach them they are capable of. Let’s teach them they are confident.  Let’s teach them it’s ok to fail, but not quit.  Let’s teach them perfection is not the goal – success is the goal.

Find Something Worth Dying For

“You can’t trust kids these days.”  “They never do what you ask.”  “Kids always talk back.”  “Kids today don’t know how to follow through.”  “If it doesn’t require a social media post, don’t count on your kid to do it.”

Sound familiar? 

I have worked with youth and their parents for more than 20 years.  I hear the same things time and time again from parents, youth leaders, coaches, and the like.

But, in my experience, kids act this way because of the models they have.  In my experience someone meaningful in their lives is absent (maybe spends 60 hours a week at work or just not there at all).  Someone may be in their life but has broken promise after promise.  That weekend promised to teach them to ride a bike or go see them in the school play comes and goes with an apology only.

Children are taught how to behave by adults in their lives. Great children are taught to be great adults by adults who invest in them. It is that simple. 

I was lucky to be raised by a man who worked long hours during the day and went to school at night.  But, every school play, every graduation, every school assembly growing up, if I asked, Daddy would be there.  

Daddy taught me three significant lessons that have instilled in me the very foundations of who I am and how I raise my little one.  These lessons are at the very core of what it is to be me.  These lessons are what I hope to pass on to all those young kids who come into my life.

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Honor Those Who Came Before You

There is no one in the entire history of the world who accomplished great things on their own.  Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Martha Tereasa all built on pioneers like Martin Luther, Thurgood Marshall, and John Weasley.

Women today have the right to vote, to work in respectable jobs, and to be educated in the United States because of people like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

American freedoms, the very foundation, were built on the hard work and determination of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson who tirelessly worked together writing not just the Declaration of Independence, but researching every known government in preparation for the Congressional Congress created our Republic.

Great-great-great Granddad John Adams, though admittedly opposed to the rule of law of the day, represented the British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre to ensure they received a fair trial successfully negotiated the Treaty of Paris (ending the American Revolutionary War), and went on to be the first American Vice President, Second President and his son became the fourth President. 

These men denied everything, fighting for life and liberty, for a world that NEVER existed before.  In fact, it took over 20 years, war, and near collapse of a nation under the Articles of Confederation from the Declaration of Independence to the signing of the US Constitution and the birth of American freedoms.  Our nation, imperfect as it is, was the first in the world to allow basic human freedoms to the average citizen. 

When I look back at my accomplishments (graduate degrees, excellent job, published, author, award-winning public speaker), I know that those accomplishments are a direct result of those who invested in me.  My parents, my coaches, the amazing adults who poured into me through Youth Focus, Inc. all impacted not only my success, but the trajectory of my life.

Daddy taught me, not only to be aware of this, but to thank and acknowledge those who invested their time, money, and energy into me.  Thank you, Coaches, Mr. & Mrs. S; Mr. and & Mrs. G, Shim, and Brandy, Florence, Carl and Mary Carol, Patty, and most importantly, Mom and Dad. Your efforts have helped create the amazing life I have.  I could not have done this without you.

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               Let Your Yes Be Your Yes and Your No Be Your No

Daddy taught us, no matter what, yes is yes.  Sounds easy.  But in a world where we glorify a social hierarchy that loves self-image, self-entitlement, and immediacy, this is a hard thing to grasp as a kid.

Simply put, if you make a commitment, follow through.  If you said you would help you kid sister learn to ride a bike, but the lead cheerleader invites you to a party, you help your sister.  If you said you would watch your little siblings so Mom and Dad can have a date night once a week, you do that instead of going to the weekly football games.  It means, if you said you were committing to the school play, track team, debate team (pick a team), you follow through with your best the entire season long – especially when it gets hard.

This allows everyone to trust your word – the very basis of integrity.  People will know they can count on you in the big things because you showed up in the small things every day.

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               Find Something Worth Dying For and Go Live For It

The most important lesson Daddy taught me is to “Find something worth dying for, and to live for it.”

That has been Daddy’s motto for as long as I can remember.  And when you think about, it is perfect for finding and understanding your calling.

A key characteristic of leadership is the belief in the cause.  The causes that pass the 24-hour news cycle, are those whose leaders are willing to walk the walk, and lay down their life, if need be.  IF we want to raise excellent leaders, we need to know what their passions are and help teach them how to cultivate them for good.

As our children grow, we often ask them, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” or “What are you going to study in college?”  But these do not get to the root of a person’s passion.  Passion is what will keep one motivated through the dark woods of real life.  Passion is what will change a weak leader to a strong leader.

Instead, let’s ask our children, “What excites you?” or “What gets you fired up?”  “What are some things that you want to change?”  When they tell us, regardless of what we believe about those passions, celebrate them.  Help them cultivate them. Because they will find a way with or without your help. Use the opportunity to help lead and teach them to be the best at whatever they chose.

These questions will start leading our kids to find their passions so that they may LIVE for them. 

This #fathersday week, let us honor those who came before us.  Let us stay true to our word.  Let us find those things worth dying for, and go live for them.  Let us be the beginning of positive change for our children. 

Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

Loitering. Looting. Larceny.  The streets are full of people making awful choices.The headlines read of significant disruption.  It is scary – regardless of race, religion, political affiliation or health.

We live in a society where we wonder, where have all the good men gone, as a popular Bonnie Tyler song puts it?

We wonder how we have come to a place of violence over diplomacy, hatred over love, and narcissism over selflessness.

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It starts with our dads.  It takes a dad to teach manhood. 

Moms are great teachers of academics, compassion and mercy, but, sorry moms. There are somethings we women just cannot do as well as men. One of those things is teaching a man how to be a man. 

What our society is calling out for is for dads to be recognized for their importance and necessity. 

Before you read this and think, “I am single mom, I don’t have a choice,” or “my son’s dad walked out on us,” or “that is just not an option;” let me encourage you in is.

There are so many ways to be a father figure to the next generation that does not require biology.

There are so many ways to be a dad to those in your neighborhood, community, and churches.  All it takes is the willingness to pour into the hearts of kids and the effort of setting aside an hour a week, a call a day, showing up to the milestones.  Be a coach.  Be a mentor. Be a Big Brother.  Be a youth leader. Be willing to answer the call.

There are men who want to help. Men who want to teach and mentor; all they need is someone to ask. A group of 600 men answered a call to come to a breakfast at school. The results were astounding!

My brother and his beautiful family

One dad who has really epitomized this heart for love and mentoring is my brother, Jason Black (if you have time, check out his story of surviving two near death experiences and rising above it; you won’t be disappointed). 

Jason spent his years growing up helping take care of us (there are seven in total).  Having spent this time investing in us, we were not surprised he delayed having children.  What did surprise us was that he had four biologically and found he still had more love to give.  He then adopted two more. 

I was privileged to live with this family right after grad school for a couple of years.  I got to see firsthand the heart of this father.  He faced challenges of multiple kids, finances, and the strange looks as people saw his two children of color and one child with special needs.

Never did he let these challenges affect how much love he poured into his kids.  Each child, with different needs, are loved the same amount.  They are held to the same standard of excellence.  They are encouraged, challenged to be their best, and taught how to stand up for what is right and excellent while accepting responsibility and accountability for their actions – good or bad.

Khristian – the Strong and Confident

My nephew was adopted from the foster system at eight.  He struggled with identity, self-esteem, and accepting love – for good reason.  He had been in the system his whole life, in more than five foster homes by the time he came into our family life, and the stories he could tell you would astonish the most hard-hearted.  He had lived a hard life no child should have to live. 

When Jason and Tausha took on this opportunity to love someone more, they knew it would be a challenge (what kid isn’t).  This actually disrupted the birth order in the family making my nephew the oldest; it brought in anxiety and frustration to the house as everyone transitioned to a new normal.  They had been warned about having a child of color and the stigma, racism, and anger that would follow them around the rest of their lives. It would have been easy to quit or say no from the get-go. 

But they did not. They chose to love instead of ignoring.  They chose to accept this little guy the way he was.

Khristian is now a star athlete on the high school football team.  He was featured as an upcoming athlete to watch as he begins embarking on transitioning from childhood to adulthood and the college world.  He has grown from a shy child into a confident, loving, intelligent man.  This was possible because he was invested in by a man who was not genetically tied to him but is now tied for life through the bond of love.

Khristan and his three younger brothers

Khristian is a man who steps up in times of trouble and anxiety.  When his younger brother was bitten by a Western Diamondback Rattle Snake and spent two weeks in a hospital having multiple surgeries and treatments, Khristan stepped up at the house as a leader to his younger five siblings. While his parents took shifts at the hospital, he helped with homework, calmed nerves, and helped with all the little things that often get missed in times of great stress. He took the leadership learned from his dad and invested love where it was needed.

When I look at this family, I see exactly what our society needs.  We need more men to pour into the others. We need more Jasons who are willing to step up where there are holes in the community.  We need heroes.  We need to celebrate men and the importance of them. 

We can do better than looting in the streets.  We can do better than ignoring men.  We can do so much more than accepting the narrative women are better than men.

Let’s celebrate how much men have, and continue, to do for our children, our communities, and our nation.   Let’s spend this week leading up to #FathersDay remembering how important the family unit is.  The father unit is.  Let’s celebrate #DadsMatter, #BackLivesMatter.

Get involved. The nation has spent the past two weeks calling out for dad’s, mentors, and leaders to step up. The phone is ringing. Are you going to answer?

An easy way to celebrate dads this week is to join a youth group, coach a sports team, volunteer with a literacy program, or join Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

Don’t let genetics be what stops you from being the mentor and coach so many of our youth are hungry for.  Let me know what you did. Send me you stories and be sure to use the #dadmatter.

For more resources on how to get involved, check out Mentor, The National Mentoring Resource Center, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.  

Why Dads Matter

“It is the primary task of every society to teach men how to father.”

Margret Meade, Anthropologist

Women are superheroes.  Women have, and continue to, change the world.  Women have been changing the world since the dawn of time.  Women’s suffrage, flying across the Atlantic, serving in politics on cabinets, supreme courts, scientific revelations, and Nobel prizes and incredible sports achievements are just some of the incredible feats women have contributed to bettering the world.  

It is easy to get drawn into the rhetoric that women do so much and should have equal rights (if not outright better treatment) with men.

Although I am all for women’s rights, equal pay for equal work, and representation in political fields across the world, I fear we are devaluing the very crucial role men play in developing not only society but our children.

Our children are bridges to the future. I do not believe there is anyone out there who feels there is nothing left to improve in our world. If you want a better future, we need to pour into the next generation.  We need to teach them lessons from both women AND men.  We need to take back the narrative for men and celebrate how very important they are.  Men, dads, and those in dad-like roles offer valuable teachers to our children. 

I am not saying women and mothers are not important to raising kids.  We are.  But in bringing attention to the value of women, we have diminished the value of men.  We celebrate when a woman gets a job, she is unqualified for, over a man.  We take little boys’ heroes like Thor and Iron Man and make them women.  We encourage women to “wear the pants” in a relationship. 

We wonder why men today and young boys can’t step up when the time is right. Don’t know how to treat a woman with respect and dignity. We wonder why little girls grow up to be in a relationship with bad and abusive men.  We wonder why women have low self-esteem and self-worth.

Fathers are so essential to teaching children to grow into wonderful adults who contribute to society and the family.  Science has shown involved, active fathers help have a positive impact on both the dad’s mental and physical health and the child’s ability to positively interact with society.

Recent research on the value of dad has shown some interesting correlations to the success of children. The involvement of dads in a child’s life has so many positive outcomes on the child.  Positive outcomes that then affect society in positive ways.  The presence of an active father changes the the world in four significant ways.

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1.       Less likely to be criminals: According to Dr. Kyle Pruett, a child psychiatrist and clinical professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, kids without attentive fathers are three times as likely to find themselves in the juvenile justice system before the age of 18 compared to those with involved fathers. This is echoed in Kevin and Karen Wright, in their paper Family Life and Delinquency of Crime. Children who are disciplined by both a father and a mother are better problem solvers and less aggressive resulting in decreased delinquency.

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2.       Do better in school: Who doesn’t want their child to do better in school except for the parents of Matilda?  School is where kids learn socialization and self-worth alongside academics. A study published in Sex Roles in 2016, found that U.S. teenagers with supportive fathers had higher optimism and self-efficacy which transferred to doing better in school. These results even occurred when the father figures had little education and limited English.  Daughters, in particular, performed better in math. Sons did better in language.

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3.       Stay at jobs longer: Commitment is a huge deal in life.  Everything from an RSVP to knowing your job will be there in the morning is critical to a functioning society.  It used to be, not even two generations ago, people worked for a company for forty years and retired.  Now, a company is lucky to keep an employee for three years.  Research is showing dads are critical to teaching commitment to their children. Involved dads tend to raise children who are more committed. 

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4.       Less likely to gender stereotype: My dad taught me how to change a tire, mow the lawn, and install an electric switch (all traditionally male chores).  He also taught me how to study, how to do laundry, and make an excellent stew. When a father is involved, children see how men and women handle situations differently.  They lose the idea that only one gender should do a particular task.

It is unsurprising the value of dads in shaping our children and playing a significant role in changing our society for the better.  Sometimes we just need a little reminder. 

This #FathersDay let’s remember to thank Dad for all he does.  Take a little extra time to think about him and maybe get him something more than a tie or new pair of socks.

Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing on some of the valuable lessons Dad’s teach us as children and showcasing some of the stories you have shared about your dads.  Send me stories on how you were taught, or your spouse was taught, one of these lessons for a chance to bring some positive light on these awesome men.

Click here for more resources on fatherhood and being and becoming a better dad.

The Power of Words: Or How to Create a More Positive and Productive Environment

“My kid has too much autonomy. I just had to calm her down from a screaming fit,” my manager told me as we have a one on one monthly meeting via Skype for Business.  “I am so tired.  A day feels like a month and a month feels like a day.  I can’t even keep track anymore.”

“I can’t wait to get back to normal when my kid can get out of my hair for once,” a friend expresses over a virtual cup of coffee.

“Can you believe the curriculum they are teaching?  Who comes up with these questions?” A post repeated on social media.

“I can’t wait for my spouse to go back to work so I can get back to routine with my child.  My spouse just gives in to any whim.  I am going backward,” said spouses across the world who are not used to 24 hours 7 days a week contact.

 Sound familiar?  Maybe you have said one of these? Thought one of these?  Posted one of these? 

If you have, you are not alone.  What do all these things have in common?  They are all complaints

MRI scans of the brain and complaining
Images of the Brain Complaining
CREDIT: How Complaining Rewires Your Brain

What Complaining Does to the Brain

According to Travis Bradberry, Co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President at TalentSmart,  a typical person complains once per minute in a typical conversation!  This is very unhealthy because our brains are creatures of lazy habits.  When we repeat our pattern, our brain takes less work to repeat than learn. 

Think of teaching your kid to tie a shoe.  When we first begin the process there is push back, frustration, a lot of concentration.  But once it is learned, and repeated (usually multiple times a day), it becomes second nature, and the child no longer thinks about the process. 

The same is true with our words.

Images of D. Emoto's research on the power of words on water crystals.
The pictures show the observations of Dr. Emoto. The nice words of affirmation create beautiful geometric shapes while the negative words create damaging shapes.

Words Have Power

On Solomon Island giant beautiful trees sometimes need to be cut.  When this is a particularly challenging task, the locals perform a special curse. They join together and yell insults and other derogatory words at the tree, and according to local legend, the negative energy transfers to the tree which then falls within a couple days.

In his book, The Hidden Messages of Water, Dr. Masuro Emoto, reports on his studies on the effects of words on water crystals through high-speed photography and found water crystals formed beautiful geometric shapes when words of love and gratitude were spoken near the water, but destructive shapes when evil words were spoken.

If this is what happens to plants and crystals, how much more does words affect the human mind and health?

According to Stephen Parton, complaining actually KILLS YOU.

Try the Complaint Zapper

How to Move from Complaining to a Gratitude Attitude

Solomon, credited as the wisest man ever to live, said “the soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit,” (Proverbs 15:4) and “the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit,” (Proverbs 18:21).  Did you know there are over 126 passages in the Bible discussing the tongue? 

It appears, in this matter, faith and science agree.  Stop complaining!

But how do we do this?

There is a lot of research on behavior showing numerous ways to modify behavior from eating too much to not sitting down while doing school work. The same theories and practices apply to our minds. Here are three simple ideas on how to move from complaining to a gratitude attitude.

From the mouths of babes: How to use positive words

1.      Replace your focus: How many times have you watched a movie or show and fixated on the message, the scenes, the story long after it ended?  Read a book you just couldn’t put down?  Where you focus is where your brain will go.

When I was learning to drive, my mother told me, “Where your eyes look is where the car will go.”  I have learned this principle applies to my mind as well. 

If I focus on negative, my tongue is negative.  If I focus on what is wrong with the world, my tongue reflects that. But, when I focus on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable– anything excellent or praiseworthy—my entire world changes from all things against me to peaceful, strong and enduring.

2.      Replace your behavior: It is easy to say think about good things and entirely different to actually do it. One way I have replaced my tendency to complain is (as trite as it sounds) is to count my blessings. 

In our family discussions of the day, for every bad thing we say, we must say three positive things for the day.  If I had a bad day at work, I am now forced to think of blessings (that car that let me in before the light changed, my son getting his school work done early, lunch at the table with my hubby).  Suddenly, what seemed like the worst day has transformed into a really good day.   

3.      Practice. A great way to do this is by keeping a journal.  There are a lot of calendars and planners that actually have recording your blessings as part of planning for the day; our favorite one this daily planner.

I enjoy doing this as part of my daily meditation when I work out.  Using that last little bit at the end of a work out (when endorphins are naturally high) to focus on good, re-sets my brain. 

4.      Accountability:  We are only as strong as the team we have around us.  The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%.

Share your desire to change focus with your spouse, friends, and family.  Then ask them to hold you accountable to this. 

May family around the Liberty Bell in Disney World.
What I am most grateful for: my family who can spending time together.

It is easy, especially in quarantine, to focus on the negative.  It is easy to want to vent this to your spouse, friends, the world.  But, I caution too much of this will physically and emotionally destroy. 

I encourage you to make shifting your focus from negative to positive a priority. Ask for an accountability partner in this.  And remember, this is a daily discipline.  This will not become second nature until you make it a discipline.  Like all disciplines, it grows with you and molds to where you are and what you do.

Let me know how this works for you.  What is working for you?  What strategies have you used?  What did not work?  I love hearing from you. 

Silent Butler

Frustrated parent at work, home, teleworking, homeschooling at the same time.  Arms on head looking frustrated.
Frustrated parent at work – teleworker -home

Most of the world has been operating within the realm of the same four walls for the majority of the year.  Those in America have been at this at least a month, some longer. 

Day after day I hear the same exhausted frustrations of parents: “My kids are driving me crazy!  I keep repeating myself.  I feel like all I do is nag!”

Well, you are not alone.  We all get there (even in the best of circumstances).  The question is do we stay there or do we something to fix it?

For my family, we do something to fix it. 

Let me introduce you to one of our best friends and colleagues – Silent Butler.

Male servant preparing a bath at luxury hotel
Butler preparing a bath

Before you freak on the price tag, this friend has given his services for FREE.  This is so simple it will shock you.

How many of you have asked your kid to clean their room, only to find it hasn’t been completed or everything has been shoved under the bed/in the closet/crammed into drawers?

Out of exasperation, you now beginning the powerplay of taking things away, the battle of either teaching to clean (or, be honest) doing it yourself. By the end of the day, everyone is tired, you don’t want to be around each other and you just feel defeated?

Enter Silent Butler.

Man sneaking a peak behind white shutters
Man sneaking a peak behind white shutters

Instead of going through that battle, hold your child accountable.  An easy way to do that is a large plastic laundry basket (we use this one).

When your child says the room is clean.  OK.  Great.  Go play.

Then take the basket, and fill it with all things left on the floor, under the bed, in the closet, out away incorrectly.  (NOTE: You must have taught the proper way to clean a room and what Silent Butler prior is to implementing Silent Butler).

All those toys, books, TABLETS, video games, etc., that they claim to love so much, but do not treat as though they do, are now in the possession of Silent Butler.

But don’t worry, this is not forever!

When your child does something good, unexpected, helpful, you just ring the bell for Silent Butler.  Things like helping a sibling with homework without being asked, picking up the dog poo or doing the dishes, (for those on the spectrum) having a good playdate or losing a game without a single reminder of good sportsmanship all can trigger Silent Butler. 

The important thing is that it matches where your child is (age, mental ability) and it cannot be a chore already assigned as part of their daily routine.

When you ring that bell, Silent Butler rolls out once again.  Only this time, instead of taking, our Butler is giving.  The child can take one toy out of the basket. They have earned it back.

TWIST * TWIST * TWIST

Girls at desk looking at notebook helping with homework
Girls help each other with homework

For those with siblings, this becomes particularly effective.  There are no rules on whose toys are picked when Silent Butler rewards.

This means if Suzy left her tablet on the floor in her room when she was told to put it away, and Johnny earned a Silent Butler reward, Johnny can pick Suzy’s tablet. 

What does this teach?

I know you are wondering why use this method?  It seems sneaky and rude.  Well, that is true.  But so is the world. 

As parents, we are tasked with raising children into quality adults who contribute to society in positive ways and are aware that the world is not rainbows and butterflies.

This teaches so much:

1.       Responsibility: Whose tablet?  Whose responsibility?  Whose homework?  Whose responsibility?  When you shirk your responsibilities, someone else will swoop in and fix it AND get the credit. Silent Butler begins as Positive Punishment/Negative Reinforcer.

2.       Teamwork/Family building: Working in a family is the first practice of teamwork.  We are teaching children what it means to be on the team by showing them responsibility falls on everyone.  When we reward good extra behavior, it acts as a positive reinforcer that modifies the negative behavior.  Silent Butler is now a Negative Punishment/Positive Reinforcer.

3.       Integrity: What is done when no one is watching will be seen.  What is done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops.  All secrets come out.  That is why integrity is so important.  It is who you are when no one is watching (or you think no one is watching) that ultimately defines your character. 

4.       Accountability: Teaching accountability starts with parents.  I have said this before practice what you preach. You must hold yourself accountable to follow through, kind words, and tones, working as a team.  Once this is done, Silent Butler teaches that all kids are held accountable for their actions all the time.  Silent Butler is ALWAYS in play.  Both the good and the bad.

Before and after: messy room to clean room and ready to play
Before and after Silent Butler – now it only takes 20 minutes to clean a room not a day.

This is a simple idea that when put into practice can help SAVE MONEY on those reinforcers, help create a POSITIVE and HARMONIOUS environ for everyone in the house, and ultimately, help create HONEST, RESPONSIBLE adults to help create positive change in the world.

I encourage you test this out in your own homes.  Give it a couple weeks.  Track your progress and setbacks (there will be setbacks as with all changes).  And let me know how this works for you.  Don’t be afraid to share this blog with others you think might benefit from the simple induction of my friend Silent Butler. 

You have this. You are good parent.  You are a good teacher.  You are a good coach.  You are good leader. 

***Disclaimer: I did not come up with this idea AT ALL.  I was raised with this. The credit all goes to my parents who successfully raised 7 children and numerous “family friends” with to the sum of all six entrepreneurs, a lawyer, two opera singers, (one lawyer waiting taking his first bar), over fifteen degrees, all are fully employed, and the creation of two non-profits. 

Celebrate the Extraordinary: Moving into a New Normal

Neon Sign - Think About Things Differently
Neon Sign – Think About Things Differently

The phrase “Getting back to normal,” has been used a lot lately as we start to look forward to the end of #quaratine and #socialdistancing.  We can’t wait to sit next to that annoying coworker, drive a car, get coffee with a friend. 

As a parent in the special needs community, I hear a lot of people wishing for their child to be “normal.”  If only they could play ball with their boy or go to a dance recital with their little girl.  So many times, they start sentences with “If only…” or “I wish…”

We live in a generation where everything is instant.  We compare ourselves, our children, and our lives to the fake world broadcast on social media.  We use social media as a tool to measure “normal.” 

But we do a disservice to ourselves, our children, our communities when we use this measurement.  No one is normal.

I’ll say it again – NO ONE IS NORMAL.

Your spouse is not normal.  Your child is not normal.  You are not normal. 

Those who think you are normal – HAVE NOT MET YOU.

What #socialdistancing is teaching us is patience.  Patience with our family.  Patience with our community.  Patience with our governments.  #Socialdistancing is teaching us the value of time.  Time with family.  Time for self-growth.  Time for laughter.  Time for love.  #Socialdistancing is teaching us who we are – at our core when no one else is watching.  We are learning who we are without the world telling us who we should be.

So, instead of wishing for normal, why don’t we celebrate the EXTRAORDINARY and look forward to what can be an amazing new normal.

The four youngest in the family: May look the same, but very different personalities.

1.       Different Children with Different Needs: I have said it before, and will say it again.  Our children are different from any other child – even siblings.  What makes this world so special is the differences.  Different, by definition, means NOT normal.  Let’s celebrate these differences and not a world of cookie-cutter sameness. That world lacks depth, color, and beauty. That world will also never truly come to pass.  It is about time we realized and embraced that. 

Spencer overcomes his fear of heights!

2.       Overcoming challenges: We all have challenges in life. Every one of us has overcome something – sickness, depression, addiction, self-esteem.  That is a HUGE accomplishment.  We should celebrate that not dwell on the past of “normal” where we lived in those things.  Every kid has challenges – whether they are on the spectrum, have a special need, or are labeled “normal” or “neuro-typical” by the world.  Every kid is beautiful.   We should celebrate the bravery of facing those challenges.  Celebrate the hard work that goes into overcoming challenges.  Celebrate the stronger, more compassionate, more confident individual who comes out on the other side of those challenges.

Daddy son time - investing in the future. The men walk on a pathway through the woods in Gettysburg, PA.
Daddy son time – investing in the future. The men walk on a pathway through the woods in Gettysburg, PA.

3.       Craft a new normal: As the discussion of how to “return to normal” after #socialdistancing and #quarantine start, I encourage you to stop.  Stop thinking about returning.  Start thinking about the future.  Why would we want to return to world measured in likes, memes, and insincerity?  We have been offered an amazing opportunity to do radical change in our personal lives, our community, and the world.  Let us craft a new normal.  A normal of Love.  A normal of Compassion.  A normal of Encouragement.  Let us stop measuring normal and start celebrating the uniqueness, bravery and beautiful creature that is the individual in the mirror, sitting next to us, across from us, or passing by.

I know it is easy to crave “normal.”  We want to have a routine, to have a semblance of balance, to want what we know.  But humans have NEVER been called to accept the status quo.  We have never been called to be complacent.  We are mechanisms of change. 

Family of four walk the street
Family of four walk the street

We have been offered an unprecedented opportunity to cultivate incredible change for good. It is our responsibility to let go of the “old normal” and embrace the “new normal.”  Let us re-prioritize our life to honor this opportunity.  Celebrate the gift that has been so lavishly poured out upon us – time with family, getting back to basics, being real with each other and ourselves.  As we move forward to “new normal,”” I pray we keep this in mind and look forward to the incredible change for good in how we treat each other and ourselves.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Friendship is forever.  Child with stuffed Teddy on a wooden bridge.
Friendship is forever. Child with stuffed Teddy on a wooden bridge.

Hello from the inside – of the house.  It seems to be the same mantra every day these days.  Don’t leave the house.  Don’t visit friends.  Don’t be routine. 

It is easy to fall into the habit of leggings and bonbons if you are not careful. But this would be devastating to both health and wellness. 

So how do we have a community when we cannot leave the house?

As a parent in the special needs community, I know firsthand how essential it is to have a community – and how hard it is to find.  People hear the word special needs, autism, ADHD, blindness, deafness, cancer (take your pick) and give that sappy smile and gracefully bow out of every invitation.

Now we cannot leave the house and we are still supposed to have community? This seems like an impossible task.

But there is hope!

Some simple steps to a strengthened sense of community that will lighten the atmosphere at your home and remind you that your community, neighborhood and good friends are still there…on the other side of the glass.

Zoom call with most the family - spanning three states across the country and 6 cities
Zoom call with most the family – spanning three states across the country and 6 cities

ZOOM Dates – the New Play Date

Over Easter, we usually have a lot of people over for a feast and egg hunt.  My son will create some form of costume for everyone.  This year he made jackrabbit hare ears for the older kids and snowshoe hare ears for the younger.  We had prepped and told him this year there would be no guests at our Easter table – but he did it anyway. 

When the time came for feasting, he said, “We can’t.  My friends are not sick.  They are coming.”  To which we had to explain again, thank you #COVID-19, that this year was a celebration with just the family.

But this was eye-opening. 

Our normally social only in scheduled events kid was really asking for a play date. So we did what any parent would – Zoom play date with his best friends.

This is an easy way to see faces, hear voices, and laugh with friends. Near and far. It can last as long or as little as you wish.

Battle black blur board game of chess
Battle black blur board game of chess

Make It A Game

During any phone call, it is easy to not want to chat after a few minutes.  It is important to make the play date just as fun as you would if it were in your own home.

Play some games. We used dry erase boards and played Pictionary. Some other great games would be Hedbandz, Speak Out, Bingo and good old fashioned Hangman.

Some other great apps are HouseParty and FacebookKidzMessanger.  The nice thing about FacebookKidzMessanger is the a parent is in control the whole time, and the kids can text between calls.

Spencer writes letters
Spencer write letters

Old Fashioned Letters

It is so nice to be able to see people’s faces and hear their voices with technology like Zoom, Google Video, and Facebook. 

But there is something to be said about getting a letter or card in the mail. 

You know when you get mail (that is not a bill or junk mail), your heart skips a beat and you think to yourself, “Someone thought of me! How nice.” 

Kids get that feeling times 100!  My son sees a piece of junk mail advertising a car and immediately states in excitement, “Guess what!? We are getting a car?!”  (Yes, he missed the fine print). But the excitement is real!

Our son writes to those in the hospital, in nursing homes, his aunts, old teachers and pen-pals. 

There is nothing like seeing him open his mail and immediately want to write back. 

So take a minuet and remember the thrill.  And encourage letter writing all around.

Brothers play with dog in the sunlight
Brothers play with dog in the sunlight

I know it seems like a neighbor and community are things of the past right now.  I know it feels like you are alone in a new world of parenting never seen before.  I know you feel lost, anxious and confused.  We all do.  But these little changes can really impact your health and wellness.  These changes will remind your child (and yourself) you are not alone.  You are never alone. 

Take a minute this week and try one of these things.  See how it changes your perspective.  Then let me know how it worked out for you.  I would love to hear your stories. 

TGIF FUN Friday and How It Changed Our Homeschool World

girl-playing-with-bubbles
girl-playing-with-bubbles

For those new to homeschooling, it can be very intimidating.  Do we know enough?  Can we have the patience?  How do I balance everything?

You have come to the right place.

The last elementary school our son went to in Maryland implemented a FUN Friday routine.  (Thank you, Tara, for all you do!) 

When we decided to home school and work from home, we chose to implement this same thing. Using this incentive routine has been so beneficial in helping our son take responsibility for his own learning – and chores – throughout the week.  For more on how to use incentives, check out this blog Let’s Make a Deal). Here is how it works:

happy-coffee
happy-coffee

1)      Monday Start: On Monday have a checklist created of the school tasks assigned for the week.  If you missed how to do this, check out last week’s blog Finding Balance: Telework and Homeschooling. Upfront, the student knows what is expected.  This helps them plan their own week (a key executive function).  It also reminds them their education is their own.  You cannot be there all the time.

2)      Four Day Week:  No one wants to work more than they need.  We spend two to three hours a day at school.  With great focus, this is all we need for the entire week.  The most we have ever needed was to spend four hours in one day. Whatever is not completed Thursday will roll over to Friday.

3)      On Friday:  Just because it is Friday does not mean our responsibilities cease.  In the “real world,” we would still have family obligations (sometimes work depending on the schedule), and regular household tasks.  The same is true for our son.  The following must be completed PRIOR to FUN Friday commencing:

a.       Chores complete: Who wants to play in a messy house?  No one.  All chores must be completed.

b.       Thirty minutes outside:  Sun is essential for healthy bodies.  Imaginative play is essential for healthy minds.  Time playing outside is a requirement.  Thirty minutes is our minimum.

c.       Read a book:  If you have younger kids, a single kid’s book is fine.  If you have older kids, depending on the book, at least one (sometimes two) chapters must be read. 

d.       Be Creative: Imaginative is play is important to development.  Art and play are vital to many engineering skills, communication skills, and sometimes give insight into emotional health for a parent. Our son must be creative.  Sometimes that is writing a comic book, building Lego, painting, or playing in clay. The options are limitless!

4k-wallpaper-adorable-blur-boy
4k-wallpaper-adorable-blur-boy

4)      FUN Friday is here: This part of the day consists of whatever the child wants (within reason).  Our son does not get a lot of screen time (see how we use it in this blog Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy).  He usually asks for a movie.  But sometimes, we use this time to go to a zoo, the aquarium, or another outing.  During #socialdistancing, we do games, movies with popcorn, build forts, and so much more.  The day is limited only by imagination. 

We discovered this small change to education, has increased focus during school, allowed us to start teaching a new language, build on social skills, and increased our family connection in a positive way. 

Now that homeschool is becoming a norm, I encourage you to try FUN Friday in your home.  See how it goes for a while.  Remember, you earn income, paid vacations, flex work hours for your hard work and focus at work.  Let’s extend that to our children who need incentives just as much.