My son reminds me so often to celebrate the little things. He gets excited for every holiday – EVERY holiday. From Groundhog’s Day to Battery Day (February 18) to the traditional New Years’ to Christmas Day. Need some fun creative days to celebrate, check out this fantastic calendar! He reminds me that each day has a reason to be celebrated.
But, he also reminds me daily how hard it is to be a parent. Some days, weeks, months (if you have that teenager), it is so easy to focus on the negative. “My kid isn’t…. (fill in the blank) and should be.” Grades are down, a call to the principal’s office, a truancy notice. Some days it can be hard to want to love on our kids.
But, this month of love, I think we can (and should) do better. Our kids need to know they are loved just as much as we need to know our spouse or significant other loves us.
Here are some ways to bring more love into your relationships with your kids:
Encouraging words. We parents are often so quick to bring to light the negative actions of our children. And there is a good reason for that (discipline is essential to growth and development). But how quick are we to bring encouragement? When was the last time you told your kid you were proud of them? Impressed by them? Complimented them? This month, I encourage you to try to do this once a day and see how much richer your relationship with your child gets.
2. Play. This is so hard! Most parents work and parent. By the time work is done, we are exhausted and tired and the last thing we want to do is get on the ground and play blocks or Lego with the kiddos. We don’t have the energy to play a video game or draw. When we spend time with kids, the adults typically chose the activity. I encourage you this month, to purposely set aside 30 minutes a day where your child gets to pick the fun activity and then pour heart into it. After all, aren’t they more important than a replaceable job?
3. Cook. It is amazing what bonding happens over food. The smells. The textures. The colors. Cooking together is a great way to get quality time naturally. Teaching how to cook or experiencing new recipes and flavors together invites conversation, laughter, and play into the home. Enjoy the mess. Enjoy the yummy product. Enjoy the time with these precious children.
4. Apologize. How often have we yelled at our kids out of anger? Frustration? Exhaustion? How often have we gotten on to them about disrespect? Self-control? The choice of words? Too often as adults, we do not practice this vital step in our relationships with our children. Then we wonder why the attitude doesn’t change or the disrespect increases. We must be willing to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness from our children when we respond negatively to them. They will practice what is modeled to them. Apologize. Talk it out with them like you would in the reverse. Grow together. Be stronger together.
5. Date night: We make it a priority in my home to have a date night with my spouse. But, I think this same tradition should be made with the kids. Quality one-on-one time with each child is essential. It allows the child the opportunity to speak freely, laugh honestly, and get needed coaching without an audience of siblings. It is a perfect time to pour in honest discipleship into the next generation – who loves you above all other people. Once a week, take your kid out or spend some time in, just you two, and see how they prosper.
What are you doing to fan the flame of love in your children?
In the dark of night, under the cloak of secrecy, she said, “I do” to the man who had walked with her through the pain and terror and the excitement and laughter of the past two years. Quietly, guided by the whispers of the Christian priest Valentine, he said, “I do,” with a silent prayer that it would not be for the last time. In the morning he would be headed off to war – to battle – called to fight for Claudius II Gothicus, one he does not believe in for a cause he does not agree with, at the penalty of death. His only earthly light was the love of this woman beside him. The least he could do was set her up to be taken care of should the unspeakable happen.
There are many stories behind the history of Valentine’s Day. Some say it was because St. Valentine performed secrete marital ceremonies against Emperor Claudius II Gothicus’s decree against engagements and marriages in Rome. Some say it was to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia (a celebration of purification and fertility).
Whatever the reason, the reality is we celebrate the day in practice as a way to celebrate those we love. The day has become one to celebrate your significant other. But, it is more than that.
For those of us who have to spend days like this apart from our “better-halves” or for you single parents who are widowed, left, or worse, it is a day to remind you that you are alone.
I do not think that is true. I think this day is a great way to remember those who love you and those whom you love. It is a day to act in love, mercy, and kindness. It is a day to remember that you are never alone. A day to count your blessings.
In a social distancing world, where we have pitted ourselves against the other because of a sniffle or politics or the way we dress, this is a great time to remind ourselves that we all bleed the same. We all cry, laugh, mourn and dance. This is a time to change our hearts and practice what we preach – love.
Here are some ways to bring more love into your marriage:
Schedule priority time together. I have said this again and again….dating should not stop just because we said, “I do.” Dating should just be beginning. We change so much as we grow. Dating helps keep us connected to the changes of the other person. This is valuable invested time in the marriage. Pull out your calendars and set a date every week or two—just to spend time together and talk.
2. Laugh together. One of the reasons I married my awesome husband was he made me laugh. That sounds cliché, but in reality, it is really hard to get me to laugh – much less guffaw. Laughter truly is the best medicine and brings healing and bonding. When was the last time you shared a funny story and chuckled with each other? We like finding little jokes and sharing them with each other (especially when we are apart for work). As the song goes, “Girl, let your hair down.” Laugh freely – give yourself permission. Live lightheartedly!
3. Play together. I love this one. It is so easy to forget how to play as adults when faced with the reality of the world. We get stuck in bills, taxes, doctor appointments, and dinner we forget how to play. That childlike view of the world disappears. Another reason I adore my husband, he makes it easy to find that child again. We love to play together. We especially like crating together (and yes, I will watch the stories of the video games he plays…they can be quite good). I encourage you to find a hobby or activity you both enjoy: fishing, bowling, tennis, hiking, biking, crafting. It is also ok to take turns on things only one of you enjoys and spend time doing what the other likes. You learn a lot about your mate that way.
4. Be romantic together. It is no secret to those who know me well, I love words of affirmation. I love hearing compliments. I love quality time hanging out with Hubby. My husband, on the other hand, loves gifts and service. He feels most loved when something has been done for him or a special trinket arrives for him. Our love languages are different, but not incompatible. For my birthday I asked my husband to write a letter, poem, or story of why he loves me. For his Christmas present, I cleaned the garage and got him the gaming system he wanted. Send your spouse a note of encouragement in the mail every once in a while, just to say, “I love you.” (I keep a list and little sticky notes around my office and bathroom of the romantic and uplifting things he has said to remind me on days that feel distant). When possible, spend one or two weekends away each year just with your spouse. (No buddies or children allowed.)
5. Be grateful. I was reminded this week how much we take for granted in marriage and in partnership. It is easy in marriage to compare the circumstance of each other and think one has it harder than the other. In reality, it is just as hard for your spouse as it is for you. That is why love is a choice. Love is work. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love keeps no records of wrongs. So, say “Thank you” to your spouse. You know you are not perfect. They choose to love you anyway. They choose to work through your baggage with you. They choose to walk through life with you. So thank you. Purpose your days to see all the things they do that make your life better and acknowledge that.
While Valentine’s Day is a good time to put some spark into your relationship, the only way to fan the flame of a good relationship is for every day to have a Hallmark moment.
What are you doing to fan the flame of your marriage?
Marriage is a messy process. Hollywood would have us believe marriage is happily ever after all the time.
“We grew apart.” “We just wanted different things.” “We had irreconcilable differences.”
All of these things are often the reason for divorce. When they are simply saying the same thing – “We just didn’t invest in our marriage anymore; divorce was easier.”
Marriage is a choice. Daily. You must choose to love your spouse daily. Choose to put their needs above your own daily. Choose to see the good in them daily. Choose to work as a team daily.
There is a reason weddings have vows and licenses are needed for marriage. It is a heavy undertaking.
Once the “honeymoon” has worn off (and it will), and life really sets in (death in the family, sickness, special needs, pandemics), that is exactly when the marriage starts.
It is easy to “love” when people agree with you and life is going your way. It is a lot harder to love when you have been months out of work, or your spouse travels for work a lot, or your kids’ doctor’s appointments are never-ending and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
So how do you save your marriage before it fails?
1. Avoid parenting your partner: I think this is harder for wives sometimes. Often the comment about kids includes their spouse. When we parent our partner, we are saying we don’t trust them as peers. We actually disrespect them as adult humans. We create a separation between us. Instead, partner parent and see how that deepens your marriage.
2. Embrace differences: Remember when you were dating and you just loved how different your partner was? Being equally yoked is more than just a faith expression. A yoke was used to pair animals together to work together toward a common goal. It keeps animals moving in the same direction. But, it only works well if you pair the right animals together. A physically strong animal with a mentally strong animal is a great combination. Marriage is no different. You have been yoked together. Where I am weak, my husband is strong and vice versa. We pair well because we are different. Embrace this especially in the hard times (like when one wants to grieve a diagnosis and the other pushes forward or one is fighting post-partum and the other fights PTSD).
3. Be proactive: Don’t let resentment build. I have so many people talk to me about how their partner doesn’t help parent, or clean, or spends too much time in front of the video game and not with their child. But, these same people do not express that to their partner – the person who needs to hear it the most. Ask for help sooner. If the laundry is becoming an issue, ask for help. If mopping is your downfall, ask for help. If you have to reschedule or re-order your schedule, ask for help. The point of marriage is to have a help-partner for life. When we stop being helpmates and instead, become roommates, we invite separation and seeds of divorce to be planted.
4. Argueand Debate: Hollywood has ingrained in western society that arguing is wrong and harmful to a romantic relationship. Hollywood is stupid. Healthy arguing leads to creative solutions and stronger bonds. I don’t recommend daily arguing, or insulting, or physically arguing, but a healthy argument and debate can lead to a deeper understanding of your partner, stronger family bonds, and some incredible solutions. Two different people are becoming one unit. Change takes works, time, and is painful. The orange tree doesn’t start with fruit. It must stretch and go through growing pains, fight off insects and strong powerful winds, and more before it has a single fruit. A good harvest is still years off at this point. Marriage is no different. Work. Argue. Learn. Grow.
5. Get creative when it comes to romance: My husband and I have been on a handful of dinner and movie dates in the past six years. We have a weekly date night. It is easy to get comfortable and complacent in your date life. Don’t. Be creative. Think about the other person. Take turns planning it. Enjoy being silly or dressing up or just playing a game. Dates do not have to be dinner and a movie. Sitting in front of a movie where you can’t talk with your partner surrounded by a bunch of strangers is the farthest thing from a great date in my mind. I much prefer creating something together or playing a game. Check out these ideas for some creative date nights that won’t break the budget.
6. Appreciate each other’s efforts: Share responsibility. Before we married, we discussed the division of duties. I dislike yard work. He dislikes laundry and mopping. We simply divided the chores. His domain is outside and mines inside. He is an excellent cook and I am a great teacher. He does dinner and I do homework. It is about balance, an equal yoke. No one should feel they have all the responsibility all the time. Remember, they are doing work and investing. Thank them. A “thank you, you are appreciated and valued,” goes a long way. Recognize the effort. Give a thank you card, or surprise present for no reason, or simply send an “I appreciate it when…” text to your partner and see how your marriage strengthens. The Love Dare is full of great ideas and resources for this to become a regular practice in your marriage.
7. Sleep: Sleep is hard to come by the older you get. The lack of sleep leads to irritability, memory issues, anxiety, lower immune system functions, and so many other effects. When I have not been sleeping well, it shows in how I treat my spouse more than anyone else. Study after study, show the importance of sleep for our health. This translates to the health of our marriage as well. Don’t argue when tired. Table it. Don’t express frustration when tired. Table it. Don’t let yourself become sleep deprived in the first place. Talk about the quality and amount of sleep you are getting with your partner regularly. This will help them better understand you and may lead to some insight into the reason – ultimately leading to solutions that help you, your marriage, and your family completely.
For more ideas on how to strengthen your marriage, take a look at my Facebook page.
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. BonusSex: 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.
September is a magical time in our house. The leaves are changing. The temperatures are cooling. The sweaters and warm blankets come out. Apple, cinnamon, and pumpkin scents are everywhere you go.
September is also a magical month because it is my wedding anniversary.
As I ponder our marriage this month, I am so grateful for my husband. The partnership we have grown together. The father and mentor my husband is to our son. The way he knows how and when to be our family rock and jester. We are truly blessed by him.
In this spirit, I thought I would address some of the many times I have been told parenting is a one-person job. The numerous times I have been told, “My significant other doesn’t help with the kids,” or “it is just easier for me to do it all then get my spouse involved.”
I understand this mentality. It is really easy for one parent to take on all the responsibility of school, playdates, doctor appointments, therapies, homework, extracurriculars, etc. This is especially easy if one is working and the other stays at home or both are working, but one has more work flexibility.
I remember one of our son’s medical team once sat us down (one or two years into our marriage), and said, “You know, people with special needs children divorce at 80% more than parents without.” That was a scary number! So, we became even more intentional with our marriage and parenting to avoid this.
I appreciate the difficulties of raising a child, especially one with special needs, I find this mentality of a single parent responsible for children’s development to be limiting, exhausting, and disrespectful.
You chose your partner, yes partner, because of the many good (and sometimes bad) qualities they have. When you said, “I do” it was not just for a day, a week, or a year. You chose to take that person in sickness, health, richer, poorer, good, bad, and (honestly) sometimes ugly.
Marriage is a life partnership. It is a daily choice to walk through life as a team. And, trite as it might be, there is no “I” in “team.”
There is a reason two parents are ideal for raising children. Both have different roles to play. For example, I am not going to have “The Talk” with my son if my husband can do it. My hubby isn’t going to take his little girl bra shopping – that is on me. However, although we have different roles, those roles work in tandem with each other not against.
So, how do you make raising these awesome kiddos a team sport? How do help your significant other become a player and not a spectator? Here are six rules we live by in my house.
1) Be on the same page: If you are trying to implement a new routine, discipline, or change in the home, it means nothing if the parents in the home are not consistent with each other. Dad cannot say no to something only to have Mom say yes two seconds later. If a parent implements discipline, both parents have to support it.
Don’t argue discipline in front of kids. We disagree on how to discipline like any couple. Whichever parent implemented the discipline is supported by the other. Take the discussion behind closed doors. After discussing, sometimes nothing changes. Sometimes the discipline is modified. Regardless, discipline happens and a clear discussion of why there was a change (if any) is presented. We discuss it as a unified front and implement the consequence as a team.
2) Divide and conquer: A family is multiple people with different personalities, needs, likes, and routines all operating under the same roof. The household is a mini economy and city (things break and need fixing, services need to be rendered, and relationships built). In a home with special needs, in addition to the traditional routines of school, playdates, sports, and extracurriculars, there are doctors, specialists, therapies all need to be addressed. It can be overwhelming.
Both parents need to know these routines, doctors, therapists, teachers, and be able to jump in and do it at the drop of a hat. Divide responsibility. I have a more flexible schedule working from home, so I do school, therapies, and playdates. My husband takes care of meals, all outside yard work, fixing EVERYTHING that breaks (cars, garbage disposal, washing machine, etc.). My son takes care of dishes, his room, bathroom, and feeding the animals. We all fill in the gaps. We work as a team. No one person on the team is more important than the other.
3) Fill the Void: We are a military family and my work occasionally requires me to travel. Sometimes one of our team is MIA due to work obligations for days, weeks, months at a time. When this happens, it is important to know how to fill that void. When I leave, my husband has a schedule for our son, where to go, doctor’s names, etc. When he leaves, I know he has taught me to fix somethings and where I should go if I cannot. He also has ensured I have the tools I need for all the tasks he does in tip-top form and ready for use (he made sure I know how to use them too!) While he is home, he will often take me aside to teach me something – like how to change my oil in the car. We are all responsible for filling the void when there is one.
4) Invest in the fun: My husband is great at having fun, acting like a goof, and making everyone smile and feel comfortable. I am more serious by nature. For the first few years of our marriage, it seemed like one of us had to be the serious one and the other the fun one. But that is not so. In fact, it was detrimental to our kiddo. He learned I was the one to go to for school, clothes, and chores, while he went to Dad for anything else. It caused a divide in the relationship with our son that took time to mend. Having fun is SO important. Find something fun to do with your child (even on hard days). We do LEGO, art, science kits, dance parties, karaoke, you name it. If your child finds it fun (even if you don’t), join in, plan some time for this, and enjoy it. This will be the foundation for a healthy relationship in those teen years and beyond.
5) Argue: This sounds counterintuitive, but it is so important. Remember two become one. That means two completely separate people with their own likes, dislikes, thoughts, and opinions come together to become one unit. Simply because you said, “I do,” does not mean you magically agree on everything and life is perfect, happily ever after. No. To become is a process – a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. Arguing is part of the process. It is ok to argue in front of your children. I think this is particularly important for those kids who have a hard time processing social cues.
Arguing is life. You argue with your spouse, siblings, classmates, friends….pretty much everyone at some point. Knowing how to argue in a constructive way is essential to social success. To not show your child you disagree with each other does them a disservice both socially and, eventually, as they view marriage (more to come on arguing this month).
6) Date each other: This is a particularly hard one for any marriage with children. It is particularly difficult for marriages with special needs. Babysitters are hard to come by. It may feel like there is never going to be a date in your marriage again. I tell you from experience, that just isn’t so. If possible, find someone who will watch you kid while they sleep. Or get creative with date nights at home (movies by a fire, game night, wine or beer tastings, craft projects). If you can and 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.
Marriage is not easy. But partnering in it should be. Let me know what steps you use to keep your marriage fresh, healthy, and growing daily.