5 Simple Steps to Surviving Winter Break

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I loved winter break as a kid, a student, and as an adult.  I love the opportunity to take some time to reset, renew, and rejuvenate before the new year begins.

This time of year offers a great opportunity to reconnect with family and friends (something I think we all need more of this year).  It also offers the ability to slow down; remembering this time of year is not about us.

Winter break is also notorious for creating conflict with children, turn off our brains, getting out of routine, and all-around can be a formula for disaster (something no one wants more of this year).

We have learned for our winter refreshment some simple steps that decrease conflict and increase the quality time (all while keeping our brains fresh and working for the coming semesters).

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  1. Set a routine: It is really easy to let our kids run amok during school breaks.  After all, it is vacation time, right?  Ture, but when you plan a vacation to Disney World or on a cruise, you have an itinerary.  Why would you not have a similar concept for your stay-cations? We have found that even the littlest routine is in place, behavior and attitude are much better all around.  Our vacation routine consists of ensuring all chores are completed, some reading is done, some time outside playing, and perhaps a craft is done before turning to any computer or television screen.  For some more tips on screen time, check out my blog Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy?
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2. Join a Reading Program: Words have power. Books have power. For those who follow me closely, it should come as no surprise I incorporate reading into our lives – even on vacation.  A great way to incentive this (and keep our brains working), is to join a reading program.  This is a great way to keep kids (and adults) reading year-round, but especially during school breaks.  Many local libraries have winter break challenges.  We particularly like Beanstack.  This site allows you to find local reading challenges near you (or create your own).  Many challenges have tangible rewards.

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3. Plan at least 1 outing a week: Many are averse to this for money’s sake and others are adverse to this for COVID-19 sake.  I understand both of these.  However, neither should prevent you from getting outside and enjoying the beautiful world around you.  For those concerned about money, many zoos and museums offer great deals for the year for family memberships.  For those worried about COVID-19, a hiking trail is a great way to be outside, seeing nature and enjoying the beauty around you.  Either way, getting outside your home once a week during the break prevents Cabin Fever from setting in and taking over.

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4. Give a Project: This should be something they can do in the allotted time.  Projects offer a way to feel productive and successful at the end of the break.  More importantly, if you help your child with the project, it can be a great time for bonding and making memories.  Some projects to consider for winter breaks: rearranging the room and painting it (let them choose the color and help); painting a scene or picture onto a canvas, building a new bookshelf (or re-purposing furniture).  For those with younger children, some projects might be arts and crafts, sorting through toys they no longer want, writing a comic book, or a story with illustrations. If your child plays an instrument, this is a great time to give a new song to practice and then a recital at the end of the two weeks to celebrate.

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5. Schedule Active Family Time: I love family time.  My family tries to set apart an hour a day to just be with family – no screens, no phones, no distractions.  But, that can be difficult (especially with my and my husband’s jobs).  How do we manage?  We set a specific time and put our phones on silent or away (we do have to keep them out sometimes due to the nature of work). Then, we let our son pick the activity. Often he picks games (we like games a lot in my family).  Sometimes he picks art or going for a walk or bike ride.  Then we do that.  It is our time to invest in each other.  Some of our favorite family games are Shut the Box, Speak Out, Apples to Apples, Quiddler, Phase 10, Uno, Pictureak, Boggle, Scrabble, Concept, Clue, and Sorry.

We are hoping this winter break is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  May these simple tips be as useful to you as they have been for us. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good break! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our family to yours.

10 Tips to a Peaceful Christmas Season

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Quartine.  Sickness.  Riots.  Arguments.  Politics.  Tantrums. Deadlines. “I wants.” 

Kids home most of the year. Routines completely out of whack. Families apart for the holidays.

It seems like Christmas 2019 was a different world.  This year peace seems so much farther away than usual.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Here are some of the things my family does year-round to help us remain in peace.  May these simple tips help you and yours this Christmas season.

  1. Deep Breathing: Breathing is essential to life.  Deep breathing is essential to self-control and calmness.  Along with regulating blood pressure, helping relax muscles, deep breathing decreases the stress hormone cortisol – and who doesn’t want less stress? When things seem out of control, take a deep breath.  Recite a favorite verse or proverb and remind yourself, this too will pass.  Here is a great article for Harvard Health on how to make deep breathing a routine.  this more a routine.

2. Go to bed on time (maybe even a little early): For my followers, you know how much I value sleep and the many benefits it gives.  In addition to improving concentration, lowering health issues (like heart and diabetes), sleep is good for emotional response. A study done on this by the Mental Health Foundation found that people that didn’t get enough sleep were four times as likely to suffer from lack of concentration, have relationship problems and 3 times more likely to be depressed, and 2.6 times more likely to commit suicide.

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3. Go outside: Something is calming about being out in nature.  Seeing the colors, feeling the warmth of the sun, or the comfort of a cool breeze, it a sensation unlike any other.  More that, being outside lowers depression and stress, is social, and increases short-term memory and concentration.  But, more than that, it gives the brain a minute to take a break and process the day.  For those who need it, it is also a safe way to take a break from family members or use it as a way to talk through a situation.

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4. Make a list of things you’re thankful for: I am a big proponent of counting blessings. There is something about writing them out that does help shift the mind from a “Woe is me” to a “Blessed is me” attitude.  Gratitude helps physical and psychological health and is a benefit to getting good sleep.    

Reading

5. Read/watch something uplifting:  What we put before our eyes affect what we think and feel.  Ever walk out of the theatre after watching a suspense movie and take extra precaution walking to the car?  This year there has been so much negative news and more movies and shows of intense drama, fear, and, call it what it is, poor behavior.  When I talk to friends and family who have been reading and watching these things, their anxiety and fear are much higher than those who have chosen to spend that same time watching and reading positive and uplifting things.  Positive words are healthy for one’s body and mind.

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6. Listen to uplifting music: Some of us do not have time for books and TV shows.  Instead, we spend our days working and running the household and driving kids to this appointment or that.  But, during that time, we are still taking in messages.  Use this time to listen to what is uplifting.  In the car, limit how much news and talk radio you listen to.  Set a specific time frame and then move on to uplifting audiobooks or music.  At work, create a playlist or station on Spotify or Pandora that is designed to help focus and still brings in good vibes.

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7. Write down your worries…then burn them:  This is one of my favorite things to do.  There is something powerful about writing down the worries.  It gives them a concrete feeling.  And concrete can be destroyed.  Once they are written down, it allows me to see the worry as a challenge with limits.  Once there are limits to the fear, that means there is a way to conquer the fear.  Once I can see the worry is not abstract, I then pray over them and then – burn them. 

8. Spend time with a close friend: When we are busy (or quarantined), it is easy to forget to invest in other relationships.  We forget to do things that bring us joy and help us relax.  But something is refreshing about spending time with people we love.  As a military family, we have lived all over.  It is still my favorite thing to screen time family and friends, not near us.  The apps Marco Polo and Whatapp are particularly great for this because you can send video, text, and audio no matter the time of day for them to open when it works for them.  But, there is something wonderful about sharing a cup of Joe and playing a game or watching a movie together (either in person or on a Zoom). This also helps us carry each other’s burdens and reminds us we are not alone in this. 

9. Enjoy a delicious, nutritious meal: I love food! I also believe it has a major impact on our health, behavior, and attitudes. Health food helps my body to operate better.  But, more importantly, I feel better.  When I feel better physically, I feel better mentally.  I also respond to information with more logic and less emotion. When we are pressed for time and/or overwhelmed, it is easy to let good healthy habits fall by the wayside (especially with the holiday goodies at every turn).   However, taking a little time to eat nutritiously, will change the impact on your life and the life of those in your household.

10. Be playful and laugh a lot! This year, more than most, it has been easier to forget to laugh and play. But these two things are so important to our relationships, heart, and mental health. Adults need recess too! Play is both fun and motivating. Studies show that people and leaders who laugh are more composed in the face of adversity and have a “bright side” mentality.

This Christmas and holiday season, as we are celebrating with new traditions, different people, and face the coming New Year, let’s remember we can be at peace in the face of adversity.  May these tips help you, as they do me and mine, this season and year to come.

From “Give me” to “Give them”: 4 Simple Ways to Get Back to Christmas

It is the most wonderful time of the year. Hot cocoa. Chestnuts on the fire. Family and friends and loved ones.

Kids around the world have begun shouting at commercials, “I want that!” Toy catalogs are being circled with hopes and dreams of young and old.

But, for many, this year has brought heartache, fear, and darkness. Families and friends seem farther away than ever before. Fear clutches the hearts of even the most stoic.

But, it does not have to be that way. We can embrace the real and true meaning of Christmas – the greatest gift of all time. To celebrate this gift, my family has incorporated one of my favorite holiday traditions.  I thought I might share with you how we have changed our house from a “Give me!” to a “Give them” household.

  1. Elfing: It is better to give than receive – especially when you go out elfing.  This is similar to “Booing” (a Halloween tradition).  Many do this for friends and family, but my family likes to find those in need.  We like to find the families struggling to get by, but would never ask for help.  We like to find the families that feel so overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, that the simple act of love changes their life.  Some years we choose a single-family and “elf” them weekly for the month of December.  Some years we “elf” a different family in need every week.  But, it is a weekly part of our Christmas tradition. All you need is a goody bag – or – stocking. Fill them with Christmas fun! Things like coloring sheets, crayons, candy, card games, elf hats, and ornaments are great. Cookies are a favorite of ours. **Tip: The Dollar Tree is a big money saver for small trinkets and fun children’s toys.  Have the kids help choose the filling.  Then wait till dark, load up the kids, and leave the gift on the porch.  Ring the bell and RUN! RUN! RUN!  The best part of “elfing” is no one “knows” it was you.

2. Christmas Caroling: Music is powerful!  I spent years studying how music is used to create culture.  But, of all music, there is something unique about Christmas music.  The way it brings peace, hope, and love to even the darkest places is incredible.  This year, with so many shut-ins, senior citizens, and families in quarantine, it is easy to think this tradition is out date.  But, it doesn’t have to be.  We have traditionally caroled with our Rotary Club and church groups, but this year, we are doing things, well, differently.  We are caroling via the internet.  Simply record yourself singing and send it to the same places you would normally go in person. If possible, make this a family event – my family loves singing together.

3. Give: This time of year is always a bombardment of “give me” from charities the world over.  Having spent more nearly 15 years in the non-profit sector, this is often the time of year where most of the budget comes in.  It can seem like everyone wants something.  We have learned to use that as teachable moments.  We present the different ways to give to our son, then we let him pick which ones should be a part of our giving.  He also saves all year a tithe (see my article on finances for more) and this time of year is when he chooses where to put it.  I highly recommend you look at the charities and non-profits in detail to know how they will spend that money – we ensure a majority of giving goes to the need (not the CEOs).  Charity Navigator is a great place to start.

4. Out with the Old: As a military family, we move a LOT. In 15 years alone I have moved 13 times.  We have discovered in moving, there is a lot we don’t use or need.  So, about five years ago we started a new practice (partly out of wanting to make moving easier and not having to purge a lot).  We decided that for every Christmas and birthday, for every 1 thing in, we donate 1 thing out.   This helps keep our house manageable but also allows our little to understand that the needs of others are year-long – not just once a year. 

So, whatever way you celebrate this beautiful time of year, I hope you find these simple ways to give away to remember what Christmas is all about.  May it help take off some of the “keeping up with the Kardashian” mentality at bay and bring us back to the heart of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

6 Steps to Building Your Family Relationships This Holiday Season

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I love the holidays.  I love the crisp air.  I love the tradition.  I love the colors.  I love the music. I love the time with my family.  I love spending hours trying to find the perfect gift.  I love the smells of great food only served during these special occasions.

But, I hate traffic.  I hate to travel.  I hate crowds.  I hate the demands of my family time.  Add in some COVID, a touch of election discussion, a dash of natural disasters, a splash of special needs, and the longer nights, and I find my exhaustion can (and sometimes does) lead to an attitude of complaining. I can lose focus on the good; I can (if I am honest), sometimes, even ignore those blessings right in front of me.

 I am so grateful for a husband who has helped me see this reality and the tips and tricks he has taught me to overcome this. I also know this is a year-round problem.  This is a lifestyle choice.  This is a daily choice.  So, here are some things my family uses to be grateful for the family and build our relationships.

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Count Your Blessings: The first step to having a gratitude attitude is to count your blessings.  As the old adage goes, name them one by one. For some tips on how to make this a daily practice, take a look at these simple steps.  Recognizing that, even though this year has been exhausting, challenging, and all around, awful for pretty much everyone, there is still so much to be grateful for. Take some time to name all the reasons you love your family; how they help; how they have grown; how far you have come toward goals.

Building Lego Airplane and Airport

Spend Quality Time with your Family: We make it a practice to spend at least an hour a night hanging with our little one.  It doesn’t always happen, but we try to make it a priority most nights.  This is the time our son picks what we do (the things that interest him).  We get down on his level.  We laugh with him. We celebrate with him.  As he has grown, this time has become more and more essential.  We often spend time cooking together or doing art together.  This is an intentional time we spend learning who he is and how amazing he is.  It is a reminder, especially on harder days, that there is so much light, love, and life to give to him and that he gives to us.

Family Game Night

Family Fun Night: These are my favorite nights!  My husband is usually in charge of planning these nights.  And he is so good at it!  Of course, we do the family game night, but my husband doesn’t stop there.  Having the same routine can become monotonous if that is all you do all the time.  So, we build Lego as a family or spend a night reading to each other.  Around the holidays, usually the first week of December, my family loves to read The Best Christmas Pagent Ever.  But here is a list of some books we have enjoyed reading together as well. 

Community Serve Day: Sending cards to those in senior homes

Family Work Days: I have a love-hate relationship with these days.  I hate getting started and how some tasks take WAY longer than they should do to teaching and training.  I love how we accomplish things as a family, I love seeing how my family grows in communication, strength, and bonds.  We set a goal for the day. Sometimes it is getting the garage clean.  Sometimes it spring cleaning (dusting, wall cleaning, re-organizing).  Sometimes, it is a community volunteer day where we volunteer at a local organization for someone else.  We really like these events being able to do things from helping the elderly to yard work for a non-profit.  We love being able to serve together.  This opens the door to so many life conversations that get missed in the daily chaos.

Family Work Out Night: 2 mile run and Card Deck Strengthening Game Night

Family Work Outs: I know what you are thinking…“No way!  Working out is for me to have a break from my kids” or “Nope, I don’t do that.”  Although there are numerous reasons to work out for your health and wellness, there is something more rewarding when you work out together as a family.  love to long-distance run together.  I am slow…very slow compared to my family who can run 2 miles in under 17 minutes.  But, we start as a family, and when they are done, they come back and finish with me – as a family.  I love the deck of card nights.  We use a traditional deck of cards and shuffle.  Each draws a card.  The number on the card tells us how many of the activity, the suite tells us what activity (hearts are abs, diamonds are pushups, spades are squats, and clubs rotate burpees, heavy ropes, punching bags, kicks).  There is so much variety with this, and it becomes a game.  We are completely out of fun ideas or need to get out of a rut, we find a new workout on Tubi, Amazon, or Youtube.   

Family Fun Hiking Day

Family  Fun Days:  My husband and son are as manly as they come.  They love to fish, hike, dig in the sand, and play in puddles.  I am as girly as they come.  I love to read, write, and paint.  We could not be farther apart on the spectrum.  But I love these days.  My boys will take me hiking into a beautiful wood, then stop for hot chocolate and smores before hiking back.  They have taken me fishing, while I bring a book, and enjoy watching them bring home dinner.  I love it when we go to the beach and play in the water, build sandcastles, and attempt to catch fish with our hands.  But, they love me too.  So, sometimes we find the free days at the museums and aquariums and learn about history and art for a day.  Zoos are great places to go as a family and spend time out in nature able to talk with each other.   Check out next week’s blog for more ideas on how to build your family relationships on a budget.

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.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

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.