12 Date Night Ideas on a Budget

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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.

10 Goal Setting Steps to Success

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Lawrence J. Peter
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There is something about the cooler weather and beauty of the leaves turning colors that bring a refreshing change in perspective. Nature is discarding the old to make way for the new.  There is a fresh beginning in the atmosphere as school starts across the country and fresh excitement builds.

Starting a school year is a great time to re-evaluate your goals.  Remember those New Year Resolutions?  If you haven’t checked in on them yet, now is a great time.  Never made a resolution?  Now is a great time to set some realistic goals.  This is a great time for students and parents alike to set up goals for the year.   This is a great time to set up a vision.

Where do you start?  How do you set goals that will make a lasting impact? Should they be long term or short term? 

Let’s demystify the practice of great goal setting.  Here are 9 simple steps to goal setting and achievement.

Why the secret to success is setting the right goals | John Doerr

1.      Evaluate/Discover Your Why: Goals, by nature, are to help you become a better person, better at something.  They are a progression toward success.  Before setting a goal, it is essential you discover your strengths and weakness.  What are you good at?  What are you not good at?  What skills do you have?  What skills do you need?  What are your fears?  Weaknesses? Passions? Values? Knowing where you are starting from is essential to know how to get where you are going.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail Big, To Dream Big – Denzel Washington | Goalcast

2.      Dream Big: Life is short.  What is the point of goals if we are not dreaming big!  Some questions to ask might be if today was your last day, what three things would you like to do? What legacy do you want to leave behind?  Why is that important? What does success look like in 3 months? 12 months? 5 years? Make a mission statement.  Have a word to ground you this year. Put that mission statement and word in a place you see it daily.  I use my planner and have the mission statement and word as my wallpaper on devices.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

3.      Triplets: Setting goals takes utilizing little action steps.  I use the triplet technique.  What three things will I do every morning and every evening?  What three ways will I connect with my family and friends?  What three things will I avoid? What three ways will I reward myself for success?

Everything About Vision Boards – How to Create and Use a Vision Board

4.      Vision Board: I love a good vision board!  I also, love one that is easily changeable.  A good vision board should show the END GOAL.  This will serve as motivation on those days you have no energy or desire to put in the work.  Those days will come. I use magazines, art, leaders, and celebrities I would want to immolate, and quotes on mine.  I have a financial advisor that had a voided check written out to him in the amount of $1,000,000.00 on his board with a glamourous house.  I have a friend who wanted to go to Harvard.  Her board had a picture of the school and the campus colors.  Once you have a board, put it where you will see it all the time.  My son has his in his room.  I keep mine in my planner (so I can see it no mater where I am).

SMART Goals – Quick Overview

5.      Set some realistic goals: Often I am asked if a student for school should focus only on academic goals.  I say no.  A student is a person; a person should focus on all aspects of their life when goal setting.  When setting goals, consider setting personal goals, family/friend goals, and academic/professional goals.  Each goal needs to be clear.  Have a purpose behind the goal.  The reason for doing something is essential to motivation to succeed.  Set the action steps up right then.  Set target dates to achieve.   I like to start with three goals in each category for the year.

Target dates are flexible, but help give a deadline to work toward.  These should be specific.  The key to goal setting success is specificity and motivation.  The more specific the goal, action steps, and target date are, the more likely you are to succeed.

Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

6.      Monthly focus/Action Steps:  Each month, I choose a new word to focus on that supports my yearly word.  I start the month looking at what I need to do more of and what I need to less of.  This helps me set my monthly smaller goals in each category (personal, family/friends, and professional/academic.   I also use this time to break each goal down into tangible smaller action steps I can reach in a month. 

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

7.      Track Progress: It is easy to get discouraged when you do not see progress.  Good progress is slow progress.  Those who follow me, know I love tracking progress in all aspects of life. I bring this same practice into my goal setting.  Each month, I use the Habit Tracker for each goal I have.  This lets me know which days of the month, how often I am succeeding, and how often I am not succeeding at my goals.  This is a quick look at where I have succeeded and failed. I use this simple document (free download below). Each goal gets its own monthly tracking grid.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

8.      Reflect and Review: Achieving goals is a process.  We learn through reflection and review.  Without evaluating where we have been and where we are, there is no way to achieve accomplishing what we set out to do.  Weekly, my family reflects on what we are grateful for.  Life is hard and failure is a part of the process.  But focusing on this can be debilitating in a number of areas.  Finding one to five things a week you are grateful for, helps change that process.  Each month, we look at the top 5 things we accomplished.  Then we look at where we failed to make progress (or flat-out failed).  The Habit Tracker helps us evaluate.  But, we also discuss how we are feeling about our progress and WHY we failed or succeeded. I know I am pushing knowing the why, but reasons we do things helps us understand our success and failures. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

9.       Revise: Reviewing and reflecting on goals is not helpful if you do not take action on what you learned.  Use this time to re-evaluate and revise your goals.  Life moves at a fast pace.  What may have seemed doable a month ago, may not be impossible in that time frame.  You may need to move your action dates.  Or maybe, you realize a goal is not for you.  This is the time to see what needs to change in your goals, your life, and action to make success a reality.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

10.       Reward: I love rewards!  I am a firm believer in rewarding yourself for achieving the difficult.  Knowing there is a reward at the end of the line, is great motivation to keep moving when things get hard.  Sometimes it is a simple matter of making a deal with yourself. When a goal is achieved, or a significant milestone, reward yourself.  Lost weight? Get new clothes.  Learned a new instrument?  Set up a concert or video share? Mastered the sewing machine?  Share the product with your family and friends.  Rewards can be big or small. 

Goal setting is so important to self-growth, growth in business, growth in our relationships and so much more.  Teaching our children how to set and achieve goals is a life lesson that will benefit them in more than just academics.  Doing this together as a family will strengthen your bond.  Goal setting as a family also gives an added benefit of built-in accountability partners. 

6 Steps to the Right Balance of Independence and Growth

"Nothing is #impossible the word itself says I'm possible." #AudreyHepburn
“Nothing is impossible the word itself says I’m possible.” – Audrey Hepburn

What do toddlers, pre-teens, and teens all have in common?

They cry out for independence.  “Don’t help me!” “I can do it myself!”  “I’m not your little girl/boy anymore!”

Sound familiar? 

They are not wrong.  Kids can do so much more that we think they can.  So how do we know when to step in and when to let failure happen? How do you teach accountability and responsibility to children who think they know it all already?  Here are 6 tips I use in my household.

Photo by Gladson Xavier on Pexels.com

1.       Pick your battles:  I hate messes.  Call it a pet-peeve or OCD or what you like, but I like a clean, neat and tidy home.  My siblings (sorry guys) growing up and kiddo now, have other ideas of what home should feel like.  I learned early on as a parent, to pick my battles with my very strong-willed* child.  Now, when the room doesn’t get cleaned, I shut the door (out of sight out of mind) and my kid knows he doesn’t get to watch TV, play video games, play outside, create anything until the chores are done.  It has created a much more harmonious environment.

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

2.       Offer Choices:  When I was younger, my parents divided chores by age (ignored gender rules).  Occasionally they would re-arrange as family dynamics changed.  I liked this.  But recently came across a “Chore Market.”  (This works very similar to Silent Butler). What is that?  Much like the Stock Market, a Chore Market is when your children bid on chores they will do.  The catch?  Lowest bid wins and that is now their allowance. This is a great way to start teaching financial responsibility, family responsibility, work ethic, and start the conversation on investments as they get older.

Photo by Valeria Ushakova on Pexels.com

3.       Provide Flexibility:  Flexibility is a key to success.  This prevents kids from thinking they must be perfect all the time.  Perfection can be rehabilitating.  So, teach flexibility with deadlines.  One of my favorite practices in home school is offering a Fun Friday – this is a five-week school scheduled offered to be completed in four days, at their pace.  We do not set days for subjects to be taught, my son gets a weekly schedule and he can finish it at his own pace.  Some very motivated weeks, he does two weeks in one, and some weeks there is carry over to Fun Friday.  But, he has the flexibility to finish his tasks as he needs.

Japan’s Independent Kids

4.       Support Growth: This one is hard.  We always want to be the protection for our kids.  It is nature.  Reality is – we will not always be there for our kids.  We must support them.  When I was five, my mom took me on a mile walk from my house to my kindergarten class.  That was it.  After that walk, I was on my own for getting to and from school.  As my younger siblings joined, I became responsible for them as well.  Different times, I know.  But, really, not all that different.  Teaching kids how to play in the neighborhood, get to and from school, and ultimately fail at school or chores teaches independence and that we are all human and make mistakes.  

Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

5.       Encourage healthy risk:  My son loves to cook!  But, he is also easily distracted.  But, when he asked to learn to cook his own breakfast at age seven, who was I to stop him?  So, he learned (first very closely supervised) how to make his own eggs.  This has now become gourmet eggs, sausage, and fruit in the morning.  After six months (I could have let go of the reigns sooner), he took over his own breakfast.  He knows makes all his meals except our family dinner.  But he also catches our family dinner often – taking responsibility for providing for our family.

Einstein was a Failure?

6.       Embrace Mistakes: We are not perfect!  Your kid will be less perfect than you.  Embrace the mistake.  Everyone spills milk.  Everyone burns a dish here and there.  Everyone skips to the back of the book at least once for the answers.  The trick is not to dwell on the negative and failure but to use that to encourage growth and learning.  As Einstein put it so well, “Failure is success in progress.”

Our kids are miraculous beings.  Our job is to help them see that – without inflating their ego. Finding a balance between independence and responsibility is hard.  But possible. The more we practice these steps the easier they become.  The more we encourage independence in a healthy way, the more our children will learn problem-solving, critical thinking, and fundamentals of life. 

How have you found this balance? What has worked?  What has failed? 

RESOURCES:

*If you have a strong-willed child, like mine, I really found Parenting a Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven 5 week for parents of 2 to 6-year-olds by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long to be very insightful.

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.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

               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.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

               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. 

Failing the Apocalypse on Easy Mode

Abandoned grey brick building ob blue sky day

“I can’t seem to find a groove.”  “All the doors keep shutting in my face.”  “If schools don’t open back up, my kid and I might not be on speaking terms till graduation…eight years from now.”  “Last night I ate an entire bar of cookie dough and hid in my closet for an hour just for some peace and quiet.”

Sound familiar? 

Parenting was hard before COVID-19, but at least there was a break with school and playdates.  At least there was a distraction with school projects and team sports.  At least it did not feel like you were in this on your own with no instruction manual.  Can you relate?

Countless friends of mine who were so excited for a “forced stay-cation” with their spouses only a few weeks ago, are now praying diligently for their spouse to go back to work and leave them alone.

Work, for those who are blessed to be employed, has begun to feel like every move is the wrong move.  Teams no longer work like well-oiled machines.  The discord and frustration have heightened as plans to re-open and get “back to normal” seem to be weeks away or worse ill-advised.  Minutia seems to be the focus instead of quality production.

Design desk with woman head in hands

Emotions are high. Patience is low.  The threads of relationships have started to fray. As a friend jokingly stated a few weeks ago, “We are failing the apocalypse on easy mode.”

Before those emotions take over, think about what that statement means.  We are not combating corpses that have come to life to eat our brains.  We are not fighting Thanos.  We are not fighting aliens who want to take over the planet. 

We are fighting a virus invisible to the naked eye. We are fighting our own selfish desires to have what we want when we want it how we want it.

The playbook for this fight?  Be in the comfort of our homes, watch Netflix, eat bonbon, and enjoy a walk outside with the people we love the most. 

So why is domestic violence growing at an alarming rate globally?  Why are we finding ways to yell at each other?  Why do we feel like we are alone in the fight?

 “Why” is the wrong question.  We know why. 

It’s time we ask what are we going to do to change this behavior and emotional state?  In ourselves.   For our families, friends and coworkers. 

Data Charts and Bar Graphs

1.       Metrics:  Anyone who has worked a single day in any industry hears the word metrics and knows their bottom line will be affected by this one six-letter word.  Those in production industries work diligently to get their metrics up and keep them up.  Metrics are great for giving us an insight into how we are doing and where we need to work a little harder or differently.  This is a successful model in businesses across industries.  Let’s use this model in our personal lives. 

Set a metric for the production of quality family life.  How much time do we spend investing in our families compared to watching that Netflix show?  How often do we have to nag/ask our teenager to do their laundry versus them doing it themselves?  How often are we serving others versus serving ourselves?  These key metrics can give a great baseline for significant growth in our personal and professional lives. 

One Small Positive Thought in the Morning Can Change Your Whole Day

2.       Change your Focus: The most impactful leader in history, once stated, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Another way to say this is where your focus is, there your heart will be also. 

In his book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling gives an excellent realistic view of the world using stats and studies from his years as a physician and academic.  Rosling uses global trends in health economics to show how much better the world is than we allow ourselves to believe.  Understanding stats and metrics are so much more important than the number.   Let’s use stats as therapy.   Change the focus from the negative to focusing on the positive and the progress made and keep moving forward.

Enjoy the Little Things

3.       Be Grateful: We are not fighting zombies!  We are not fighting aliens!  We get to spend time with our families.  We get to have a home-cooked meal at the kitchen table.  We get to get back to our roots.  1950’s America has been idealized for decades.  Now is our chance to get that back; only this time we are working from home on a more flexible schedule. For more ways to shift to a grateful attitude check out my blog on the power of words

New Years Resolution Quit Making New Year’s Resolutions

4.       Work on that New Year’s Resolution: Did you know 80% of New Years Resolutions fail?  There is a lot research into why this is.  Time. Thinking not doing.  Doing it alone.  Not tracking progress.  Forbes, BusinessInsider, and Psychology Today all address this.

We have been given the opportunity to not only have the time to work on these resolutions, but to do it in an environment with our best support system – our family.  Want to lose weight?  Use the time you would have been commuting for a work out with your partner.  Want to get better in your industry? Read together for one hour a day.  Want to know what is really happening in your teenager’s life?  Get on the video game with them.  You get healthy, spend quality time, and invest in each other.  For more ideas check out my blog on surviving social distancing

Woman pointing a viewer to be the solution

5.       Be the Solution: We know there is a problem.  Instead of complaining about the problem, choose to be the solution.  Find ways to get involved.  For some great resources on how to get involved in all aspects of the community including first responders, teachers, religious leaders and more, check out my articles on ways to give back and Captain Corona and the 19-COVID Warriors by @MelissaGratia.

 This is not the apocalypse. There is time to redeem 2020 and really begin to change the world, our world, our communities, for the better. We don’t have to fail quarantine and social distancing.  We have everything we need to use this time to reset and refresh.  It’s time to choose.  Where is your focus?

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. 

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.

Finding Balance: Telework and Home School

photo-of-women-using-laptops-
photo-of-women-using-laptops

In most American schools, and the average day at school is six hours.  Add in travel time, lunch, extracurriculars and this can easily become a ten-hour a day event.  This is a great balance for working parents.  Children are educated while parents bring home the bacon.

But this is no longer a reality.

With more people teleworking from home, and schools across the nation closed for the year, many are asking “How do I work full-time and teach my child?” 

As a two-income working house, and I work 40-60-hour weeks, I understand first hand the struggle of education and income.  We are a tenured homeschool family who has been schooling well before #Coronavirus or #COVID-19 were household words.  So, is it possible to do both?    

YES.  It is a combination of art and science, but completely doable.  Here is what has worked for us over the past year. 

1.       Meditation:  We are a praying house.  But not everyone is.  We have found when we start our day with prayer, mediation, and/or work out (I love Yogashred), our moods are elevated, our focus is keener and our bodies are in alignment.  The extra benefit is our health is taken care of prior to the health of our company.  Companies are only as good as the health of their talent.

grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field
grayscale-photography-of-man-sitting-on-grass-field

2.       Start Work Early:  My work day starts well before most people are out of bed.  This allows me a solid 3 hours to get uninterrupted and focused work completed.  The earlier the start the more productive I am. 

3.       Have a set work time: Set hours of work where the school cannot interfere.  This might mean breaking your workday into 2 two-hour segments, or 4 two-hour segments.  The trick is to ensure when you focus on work, your attention is on work.  When you focus on school, your attention is at school. Closing your “office door” or taping a “Do Not Distrub” sign up can be visuals for your family to stay away while at work.

writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy
writings-in-a-planner: Today is the Perfect Day to be Happy

4.       Plan a Routine: We all know routine is healthy for our mentality.  That is true for children as well.  We give our son a weekly assignment list.  This includes all worksheets, lessons, quizzes, tests he will need to complete to stay on track.  This allows the kiddo to know what to expect and begin to take some independence and responsibility for their own education.

5.       Work First.  Play Later: When we present the weekly school task, we operate by a Fun Friday mentality (check out next week’s blog for more details).  If all school is completed prior to Friday, you get Friday off.  This is also beneficial for parents who work because that means Fridays your attention is not torn between work and school during “school hours.”  We operate under no games, screen time, etc. until schoolwork is complete.

woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing
woman-in-grey-sleeveless-top-with-girl-on-her-lap-playing

6.       Turn on music:  There is tons of research on how music is both good for the soul and productivity.  We use classical music or whale sounds quietly in our home while we work.  This is an aural clue work is to be done. We leave the Anamainics and Lego Music for playtime.

Homeschooling is intimidating (we actually debated it for four years prior to taking the leap).  Homeschooling while working is even scarier.  This week, remember, this doesn’t have to be perfect.  And it won’t be perfect. There will be adjustments.  There will be times of frustration. There will be times of feeling like a failure.

Find what works for you and go for it.  Be encouraged.  You are not in this alone. 

Is Screen Time Your Friend or Enemy?

There is something special about cuddling on the couch, snacking on popcorn and watching a new release (or an old favorite).  Bonding over a laugh or squeezing tight during a scary scene.  Priceless. 

And yet, there seems to be a yin to the yang. 

Behavior changes when we sit in front of a screen too long.  Studies have shown too much screen time increases obesity, decreases the quality of sleep. My son seems to regress with each half-hour of TV.  His attitude reflects what he watches.  And, unfortunately, even educational shows like Wild Kratz displays negative behavior.

So, in a homeschool world, how do you balance the screen time? 

Here is the good and bad of screen time. 

animation-cartoon-cartoon-character-disney-mickey-mouse-piano-light

The Good

Children learn a lot from the screen.  There is a great documentary, Life Animated, which follows a child on the spectrum who learns to speak by watching Disney movies. (Our personal experience reflects this method works).

There are numerous benefits to screentime.  Children learn about social norms and cues.  Film and television provide authentic and varied language that many would not pick up in a peer relationship.  And most importantly, for children on the spectrum who think and see in pictures, television and film give a visual context.

The Bad

Unfortunately, there are lots of negative results of screen time.  We copy what we see and hear.  Kids learn and pick up so many things from the screen about dating, relationships between boys and girls, how to speak to parents and when to exercise independence.  Often, this is done in a way causing harm to the cognition of the child.

Too often in American culture, we celebrate the celebrity and choice of stars and then complain about why our children act like them.  We relish the drama and excitement of the racy, poor decision filled scenes; discuss and glorify them when they are not on. We wonder why our ten-year-old girls want to wear short-shorts and our boys want to curse up a storm.

HELP

So how do we find balance in the crazy that is homeschool?  When our education is turning to the screen?  Our free time is playing on a screen?  Our family time is sitting in front of a screen?  Here are three steps we use in our home that seem to work for us:

  1. Use it as a reward. There is no reason a screen has to be on in every room for every person every day.  Ensure school work, chores, playing outside, and being creative are completed prior to any screen time. 
  2. Limitation.  Limit what they watch, when they watch, how long they watch.  Limitations are good in all aspects of life – from what we eat to what we watch.  We do not let any screens in our kiddos bedroom and use Google Chrome Cast which is mirrored from our phones to ensure we know what is watched and when it is over.
  3. Model.  Practice what you preach.  If your rule is to finish work, exercise, reading, and creativity first, but your child never sees you do that – you are asking for trouble.  What rules you put in place for the screen should be reflected in your own actions.  Other than numerous benefits of opening up time for productivity, this allows you to show your child there is so much more to this wonderful life than the big (or little handheld) screen in front of them. 

Screen time can be a wonderful tool and entertainment resource.  However, it can also be the bane of your existence.  May we all find balance in the world of homeschool and homework in this strange and ever-developing global situation.

child-hiking-black-jacket-with-hood

No Showers and Bad Dreams

There is a scene in Patch Adams when Robin Williams portraying Patch Adams character is helping an in-patient go to the bathroom.  The patient had an illogical fear of invisible squirrels that prevent the patient from leaving his bed to use the bathroom.  Adams plays into the fear and helps “fight off” the squirrels so his roommate can finally relieve himself.

This is an excellent example of life with children.

Our son has been bathing himself for years.  About age eight there was a time he would not go into the shower – hygiene been damned.  When he asked him why, he was adamant a shark was going to attack him.  

Continue reading “No Showers and Bad Dreams”