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Three Steps to Great Friends

Me with my two besties of over a decade and spanning three states and four time zones.

Transitions are hard. From deployment to moves to the “new normal” after COVID-19 quarantines, you can expect challenges to come at you left and right. Sometimes it feels like us versus the world. Sometimes that is true. But there is a way to push through, fight back, and end up on the other side better, stronger, and happier.

I watched a great movie with my best friend and husband recently, TAG. I laughed so hard! But, more importantly, it reminded me of my great friends who developed across the country and for years. It helped me realize the importance of friendship in transition (be that deployment, move, health diagnosis, or something else entirely). Here are three things I have learned about creating friendships that last a lifetime.

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Strength in Community

In life, support makes or breaks you. Without it, you walk a tight rope with no safety net. With it, you walk a tight rope with a smile. A good support system includes people who are willing to walk with you in your best and worst moments; people who know when to check in because they know you; people who know when to let you figure it out because they know you and when to hold you accountable.

Ever notice how the most influential leaders surrounded themselves with a quality support system? Abraham Lincoln had his wife and Joshua Fry Speed. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his wife and Ralph David Abernathy. Gandhi had Charles Freer Abernathy. Jesus had the twelve, but within the twelve he had the inner circle of three. If they could not face the challenges of this world alone, why do we think we can?

As we walk through life, we must remember we do not do so alone. Every part of our life touches another’s. It is ok to ask for help. It is ok to let people in. It is ok to spend the afternoon enjoying a cup of tea with a friend. Do life together. For more ideas on community, check out my blog on thriving during transitions.

Build a strong community

I won’t fool you – building community is hard. Letting someone in to see the real you is difficult. But it is SO important to a quality life. But there are so many people out there in it for themselves, how do you know where to start?

  • Start by choosing the people you want in your community. This could be family or friends. Church, community organizations, and volunteer groups are a wonderful place to start because you know the values and things that interest people from the start.
  • Serve. Serving is a terrific way to see people for who they are. Are they someone who genuinely cares about the cause or people? Or are they someone who wants the limelight? Is Instagram selfies how they spend time or do they invest in the people in from of them? Is this someone you want to invest in or have invest in you?
  • Spend time with people. My favorite way to spend time with people is by strolling a farmers’ market, playing games, or having a nice cup of tea/coffee/wine (depending on circumstance). It is in the conversation you get to know people. If you cannot do these things, write letters (I love getting mail that is not a bill) or Zoom/Skype someone. Just take the time. As for plants and a good wine, time makes relationships sweet.
  • Don’t tell everything about yourself at the very start. Take time getting to know each other. Be honest (but smart). Not everyone is going to be quality; not everyone is going to be in your life forever; not everyone is going to safe with your information. If you wouldn’t want it blasted virally on social media, keep it to yourself until trust and need-to-know have been established.
  • Don’t think a no is a no forever. Sometimes people are just busy (or stressed). They want to hang out and invest but have no idea where to start in the chaos of their mind and life. Keep the door open for future invites and be sure to check in on them to see if you can serve them. Sometimes knowing someone is out there who cares is just as important as spending time over a cup of Joe.

Be the Person You Want to Be Friends With

I have lived everywhere from CA to MD, in big cities and small (having moved 25+ times in 20 years). I can say (without hesitation) people are guarded, wary, and skeptical. They have every right to be. Today’s world is infested with social media telling us what we should look like, act like, be like. Let’s face it: magazines are photo-shopped -NOT REAL. Let’s own it: we put on social media the best of our lives and hide the not-so-great. Let’s take accountability: We prefer looking down at a screen than straight across at the face of who we speak to because…here is the killer….it is easier. Then we complain we have no real friends.

Tough love, but true. If we want genuine friends, we must, as Jesus said, “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  What that looks like is different for everyone (because we are all uniquely and wonderfully made). But the basic principle is the same: treat people with respect and you will have respect. Treat people with love (thinking of them above yourself), and you will be surrounded by love. The best part of this, when you treat people the way you want to be treated, it opens doors to new people, possibilities, and brings so much joy. So, why not?

Friendships enrich your life and improve your health. You can find so much strength in quality communities. Building strong communities can help in transitions from life-changing moves to life-changing diagnoses. They provide places to laugh, cry, and be real in. Being wise in developing community and friends can ensure you have lasting friendships for life.

For more on developing friendships and community, check out my Facebook page.

5 Easy Steps to Socializing Your Home School Kid

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“I am worried about sending my kids back, but I concerned about socialization if I homeschool.”

“I loved the flexibility of homeschooling this last semester, but I am concerned about socializing.”

“I really want to homeschool, but I am concerned about socializing.”

Sound familiar? 

This is actually the number one “concern” I hear when people learn we homeschool.  It honestly makes me laugh – more so now that I know the changes districts across America are making.

When we chose to pull our kid from public school (for so many reasons), we were “concerned” about socializing as well.  This was particularly concerning for a parent of special needs children who need the stream-lined socialization for more than just play.

The fears of the “weird home school kid” label and, worst, it becoming true, were a serious battle for my family.  I did what any data-loving person would do – I calculated all the time he spent “socializing” at traditional public schools.  There is no talking in class (unless a team activity, which was once a week at best). There is no talking in the hallways (too and from PE, lunch, and recess or assemblies).  There was no talking on the bus to and from school.  So, I was left with the 20-minute lunch, 15-minute recess, and 20-minute PE class on average most days.  I added in another 20 minutes of “team activities” for grace.  All in all, my son was “socializing” 90 minutes a day – at best.

From what teachers are telling me, with new COVID-19 measures, children will not be allowed to socialize with those outside their class, dividers will be put up between students at their desks, team projects are out the window, and oh, PE, recess, and lunch will likely be in the same room with the same kids they are not allowed to go within 6-feet of.

Then I considered WHO he was socializing with.  Daily we were informed of bullying (my son was actually bullied by students, teachers, and aides).  Daily he would come home with stories that would break your heart. 

The kids he could hang out with without being bullied, well, their morals were questionable at best.  Parents allowing elementary kids to watch movies like Saw and other horror movies, or who believed kids should not be held accountable for behavior because they are “kids and need to figure things out on their own.”  The lessons he was learning from his peers were not love, kindness, and mercy, but hate, selfishness, and worry.

Weighing the pros and cons, we obviously decided to pull our son.

So, how do we get that 90-minute social activity?  How could we as parents fill the role the state has been doing so mediocrely? Could we do it better? The answer was a resounding YES.

Our son winning the Gold at Florida State Championship

1.       Team Sports: Many parents say they are exhausted between school and the numerous activities they do after soon.  Homeschool actually offered less time “in the books” and more time to have fun.  Our son joined a community team – first flag football and then track and field.  He is held accountable, taught self-discipline, and has so much fun!  He has been a state champion in flag football and in track and field three years running. I addition to some great local teams, check out Special Olympics – for streamlined and special needs kiddos. 

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2.       Play-dates: I don’t know about you, but I love play-dates (even as an adult).  The beauty of homeschool is I get to pick who my child spends his time with.  Gone are the days were every kid in a 30-student classroom has to be invited to every party and play-date.  Now, we got to know who he was spending time with, the values those kids were pouring into each other, and not have to do the obligatory invitations to kids we knew our son did not want to hang out with. Don’t rule out co-ops, small groups, youth groups, and Sunday School.

Community Serve Day making cards for senior citizens

3.       Volunteering: There is so much emphasis in high school to do community service.  A lot of schools now require this to graduate.  But, why do we wait so long to instill that into our children?  Volunteering is so important to the community and developing young hearts into compassionate passionate adults.  Some great places to get involved are your local church, food closets, and community centers.  We love working with senior citizens, writing cards, calling, video chatting!  Our son has now started helping lead the young children at our church in Sunday School activities.  I love it when my son gets to help out our local Rotary club serving meals, helping in supply drives, and more or helping Habitat For Humanity.  See what your community offers, I bet it is more than you think.

Exploring the Florida Cavarns

4.       Field Trips: Our son was lucky enough to go on one to two field trips a year.  Field trips are so important for hands-on learning and socializing.  People are more themselves when not in a traditional classroom.  Since we pulled for home school, my son goes on at least once a month (COVID-19 aside).  There are so many places to go for free and a lot of places have openings for homeschool groups.  For biology and ecology, we took a trip to the Florida Caverns, for history we went to a live re-enactment of the Spanish colonies in Florida.  There are so many possibilities!  Even before homeschool, we would travel somewhere at least once a month just to see the world and new cultures.  These are perfect outings for playdates, other homeschool families to join in on, or just fun for the whole family.

Photo by Rodolfo Quiru00f3s on Pexels.com

5.    Extra-curriculars: Just like any kid, homeschool kids need extracurriculars.  Our son has enjoyed learning dance and guitar.  These are great ways to introduce other teachers while also helping encourage friendships to grow in unlikely places.  Many community centers offer these classes for free or cheap. Don’t rule out acting, dance, art. Scouts are a great way to teach volunteerism and socializing.

It is easy to be concerned with socializing your child.  I think we should be concerned about what that looks like regardless of where they go to school.  As the old adage says, bad company corrupts good character.  Homeschool offers an ability to know what is happening in your child’s life, offers more opportunity to grow and learn in a social environment, and allows you the opportunity to invest in the lives of those who hang around your child.  

Whether you homeschool or not, I hope you consider these tips and how they can help your family grow together in love, laughter, and learning.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is hope!

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

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

ZOOM Dates – the New Play Date

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

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

But this was eye-opening. 

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

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

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

Make It A Game

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

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

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

Spencer writes letters
Spencer write letters

Old Fashioned Letters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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