Friday, March 29, 2013

GUEST POST: Becoming a Master Parent

You know what I'm really good at? Mothering a newborn.
You know what I'm not at all good at? Mothering a 6-year-old.
This is because I have mothered three newborns and only one 6-year-old (and I've only been doing that for a few months).
When my first child, Katherine, was born, I wasn't great at taking care of her. I was unsure and clumsy. I was awkward as I tried to hold and feed her. I meticulously researched every option for every decision and then still second-guessed myself. I didn't know what to do with her all day...after feeding, bathing, and changing. It was only mid-morning, and the day loomed ahead of us, teeming with question marks.

When Joshua was born next, I fed him more easily and changed him more quickly. He fit into our daily activities. I made parenting decisions with more confidence, because I knew what worked for our family. I felt more free and less confused as a mom.

Then Estel came along, and she was the easiest yet. Nursing her was second nature. Wearing her comfortably in my Ergo baby carrier made her a part of everything our family did. I thoroughly enjoyed the baby stage for the first time.

Now Katherine is 6, Joshua is 4, and Estel is 18 months. Estel is still easy to care for, because I've done 18 months twice before. I understand teething and climbing stairs and toddler food. Joshua is more of a handful but not impossible—I've done 4 once already, so it's not all foreign, but his personality is very different from Katherine's, so I am learning new things about parenting a boy, and an introvert.

Katherine is the hardest to parent right now, not because she is difficult (she is truly delightful) but because I am new at this. I have no experience as a mom dealing with drama and big-girl tantrums (so different from two-year-old tantrums!) and “Why aren't my teeth falling out like all my friends' teeth?” and “You don't know you're beautiful...” (WHO LET HER LISTEN TO ONE DIRECTION???) I don't know how to carefully increase her independence, like when she wants to ride her own bike to school instead of sitting in the kid seat on mine.

If it takes 10,000 hours for skill mastery, parenting oldest children is an un-masterable skill. A year has 8,760 hours (and hopefully you're sleeping for at least some of those) so you will never master parenting a certain aged child before their next birthday. You'll be well into parenting your second child before coming close to a sense of mastery.
By the time Estel turns 6, I think I'll have a good handle on mothering that stage of development. As an individual, she will offer unique challenges and opportunities, but I'll have a better grasp of the basics. But right now, I'm just figuring things out as we go along.

It's so easy to get overwhelmed as a parent and to feel guilty for doing things “wrong.” The next time you stumble in parenting, remind yourself that you're still learning. Like painting, or playing chess, or programming computers, parenting is a learned skill. Practice won't make perfect, but practice will make “better.” Keep doing your best, and it will come easier with time.

Becky is a writer and editor focused on helping women make better lives. She's an American expat living in Maastricht, the Netherlands. She blogs about women working toward their dreams while raising their kids at

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Break at Home

This week is my kid's spring break from school.  We're not packing up for the beach, although we did just get back from a weekend visiting friends another state away.  No, this year, we're staying at home. And why not?

Spring break at home is still a vacation, because:
  1. We can wake up at our leisure.
  2. We get a break from the normal hurried routines.
  3. Mommy can sit down and play Legos without feeling like she's not doing something else that needs to get done before tomorrow.
  4. The kids can play on the iPad, watch favorite TV shows, and play on the computer, since there's no homework.
  5. There's no homework.
  6. I don't have to pack school lunches. Mommy can cook one meal for everyone.
Who doesn't like a week of rest?
  1. Breakfast doesn't need to be rushed.
  2. Daily housework is more of a team effort.
  3. We love crafts, and now we have time to do them!
  4. Mom & Dad don't have to drive as much, taking kids to and from school.
  5. We can hang out in our pjs.
  6. Family field trips during the weekday- not so crowded!
  7. I am not my toddler's sole means of entertainment when brother & sister are around. 
  8. Playdates with friends can last all day...or night.
Come to think of it, we did a lot of these things when we were homeschooling!  Hmmm...

How are you spending your spring break?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Praying for Brothers to Get Along

I have two boys.
They are 5 and 2.
My sons are loud and rough.
It's hard to watch them argue.
Communication is a learned art.
Fighting, grunting, throwing, stomping, kicking- natural.
 I'm their mom.
The mom likes quiet.
She hates conflict and noise.
Watching their frustration tires me.
Peace-making and understanding, please.
Hugging, laughing, sharing, listening, forgiving- my desire.

Thanks to The MOB Society, I have ways to pray specifically for the hearts of my boys now (you can follow them on facebook to receive a verse/prayer for the day).  I can't just hope they will grow into compassionate men.  I ask God to help me teach them and do what only He can do in showing them the way to love others.

And when I find them pushing trucks around on the soccer fields together, I freeze time with my camera.  This is a precious moment.  I want to remember that friendship is possible, that kindness is growing. With God, all things are possible.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Teaching Kids: Giving & Saving Money

Recently, our family re-instated a system of payment for the jobs our kids do around the house.  Some chores are expected of them, like keeping their room tidy, taking their dishes to the sink, and picking up toys they've taken out.  We don't hand out an allowance, because their work is inconsistent, and we think there's a better way.  You can read the original post here: Teaching Kids: Work Pays.

So, the kids have been busy lately trying to make money every week (and Mommy's getting a lot more help around here)! I love seeing how proud they are when they count up the quarters. They're learning the real-life lesson that money isn't free.  You have to work for it.

But now, we have to extend the lesson by teaching our kids the best way to handle their money. If all they do is spend their precious, hard-earned cash on bubble gum every week, they're not learning how to make the money work for them long-term.  They also don't realize how much good they can do, by giving a little away to others.  So, we need to show them how to save and give money. 
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. - 2 Corinthians 9.7
 A tenth of the land’s produce, whether grain from the ground or fruit from the trees, is God’s. It is holy to God. -Leviticus 27.30
This week, we were so excited to receive a box on our doorstep containing three new Giving Banks:

This is a new twist on the classic piggy bank (There's also this version).  It has three compartments: a bank (saving), a store (spending), and a church (giving).  Dave Ramsey has a set of three piggy banks, but I needed to simplify our system.  We had used small Mason jars with our oldest before.  However 3 jars for 3 kids = 9 jars to keep up with!  And my kids had fun putting the stickers on the "houses." It's a great visual.

So now this is what our kids' money-earning, job-doing, financial-planning setup looks like:
It works great for Mommy, because I can see what jobs the kids have completed and can pay them when I get around to it.  I use one jar for each kid to put "Pay Day" money in until we can divide it up into their banks.  

How do we decide how much to save, give, and spend?  
  • Saving- 10% or as much as they want.  When they reach $100, we open a savings account for them to gather interest and help them earn their first car (Also a Dave Ramsey idea)!
  • Giving- 10% or as much as they want for church or any other good causes that arise.
  • Spending- 80%.  For now, this goes towards whatever googly-eyed kids dream about, but when they grow up, it's for all the expenses they concur, as well.
What are ways you teach your kids the value of money?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Quieting our Souls

"Be still and know that I am God." -Psalms 46.10

I don't know about you, but my house is only quiet when the kids are sleeping...or when they're not here at all.  

A lot of times, it's like a three ring circus.  One kid is singing at the table; another is trying to get my attention by repeating something over and over again, louder each time; and the third child is mad that they weren't treated to the same amount of computer time than their sibling.  Meanwhile, the T.V. serves as background noise, the parents are trying to have a serious conversation, and the oven timer is beeping...

In this season for our family, LOUD is normal.  We can try to run to the bathroom, lock the door, cover our ears, squeeze our eyes shut tight, and mentally escape for a few minutes.  Or we can minimize the crazy by turning off the television and save the grownup talks for a better time.  But those small little needy humans are still going to interrupt, no matter how many times you remind them of their manners. 

For all these reason, I have made a brave choice to set my alarm 30 minutes-1 hour before my kids wake up in the mornings.  Not everyday- but most days.  And I make myself get out of bed. 
Crazy?  Maybe.  But not crazier than the rest of my day.
I have learned that I NEED quiet.  It is so incredibly difficult to think with all of the distractions at times. It's like my brain short circuits.

The verse in Psalms reminds me that only when I make the intentional effort to quiet myself, will I best hear from God and remember what’s true and important. It's how I refresh myself and regain strength for the next day's battles and activities. Inwardly, I repeat the words when I’m feeling stressed or confused.

So, while the house is dark and my family is sleeping, I tip-toe downstairs to start the coffee, snuggle under a blanket, and read, write, plan my day, or scroll through my favorite iphone apps.

Because for just a little bit, I can finish a thought, process shaky emotions, focus my heart and attitudes, and wake up slowly.  

For soon, my family will open their eyes too, and it will be still no longer.

How do you refresh and make time to quiet your soul?

Monday, March 18, 2013

You are not a failure!

I never got around to making that hand-stitched Valentine's Day garland for my fireplace.
I forgot  to cook green eggs and ham for Dr. Seuss' birthday.
I still haven't hung an Easter wreath on the door or plastic eggs in the tree in our front yard.

That's when the thought hit me: "I have FAILED." I mentally kick myself and hang my head in discouragement. 

Have any other moms felt that way?  Because we weren't the "hostess with the mostess" or didn't bake every dish from scratch, that we are not enough?

Wait.  Do we really go that far?  Do we, as moms, discount all of the good work we have done because there was something else that we didn't get to?  Not baking homemade four leaf clover cookies makes me a failure?!

It just isn't true.  All of that fun stuff that I sometimes manage to produce- ideas from Pinterest, holiday crafts, and so on, are just for fun.  They aren't really that important, are they?  Not anything major to lose sleep over, right?

Are the kids fed?  Bathed? Dressed?  Did they make it to school on time?  Did they get enough sleep?  Were you there when they cried to you in disappointment over not getting the school solo?  Did you watch and cheer when he kicked his first soccer goal?  Were you around to help them with that unsolvable math problem? Did you kiss them "Good night" and hug them "Good morning?"

If you did all of that and still got the dishes washed, then you WON!  You have succeeded in the ever-demanding role of mother.  You loved and you cared. That is far from failing.

Replicating the living room design you saw in home decor magazine can wait. 
Any time you spend on your family is something to be proud of.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Still Dating

Today is mine and my husband's 10th wedding anniversary!  

Get ready for some throwback pics. We take fabulous self-portraits :-)

We didn't start out like a lot of couples we know.  We dated for less than a year, got married, and had our first baby in year one of marriage.  After 5 years, and two kids, we got a dog...then had one more baby, just for the fun of it. I think we did things a little backwards from a typical newlywed's perspective. Generally, you get married, practice your parenting on a puppy, THEN after a couple of years together traveling and establishing careers, start a family. 

We've just never been big planners.  We seem to, kind of, go with the flow of life, and it seems to work for us. If anything, we have learned to trust God even more than if everything had been planned OUR way.  And we tend to work harder on our relationship, because it has never really been "just us."

Because that "us" time is hard to come by, I have never felt guilty for leaving my kids to spend time with my husband. I know that this is hard for other moms.  They don't want to leave their children out or have a problem trusting others to take care of them.  Honestly, I still get nervous and a little over-prepared when the grandparents or babysitters take over (like 3 typed pages of information), but I  know (and pray a lot) that they'll be okay without me for a few days.  Our kids actually have fun hanging out with different adults and enjoying a change of pace.  It's good for them too (I cautiously hope that they'll appreciate me more when I get back as well).
It's important to get away, because my husband and I cannot have good quality time together with our kids' needs constantly interrupting. They will always need our attention- but what about our marriage?  Will it stay strong if it doesn't get the attention it also requires?  We have to make time for both.

Regular date nights are a MUST for us!  Our kids know it.  My husband and I have always been intentional about getting away together, at least once a year, in addition to two or so date nights a month.  I'm not too proud to say that I still cry when I leave the kids sometimes, but I recognize how important it is for all of us when we give our relationship attention. And we can't wait to hug the children when we get back, strengthened and refreshed, as a team, doing this parenting thing together!

If we never separate from our roles as parents, and stop nurturing our roles as husband and wife, I am afraid that our paths would divide and "together" would become only "he" and "I." That is something I hope will never happen.
Family business and marriage survival aside, I actually LIKE dating my husband!  He still tries to impress me and knows how I love surprises.  I always want him to know that I'm his biggest fan and look forward to a lifetime of adventures with him.  Plus, he makes me laugh and lets me talk his ear off in the car, when we're alone.  Those trips and discoveries build new memories that only we share as a couple. They add to our story. 

Forget the mom guilt.  I believe it's worth the time and effort to find a babysitter, to mark a date on the calendar, to sacrifice a little money, and keep dating.  Keep winning each other's hearts.  Keep supporting for and cheering for each other. Keep making memories together.

I am so proud to say that ten years after the "I do," I'm still dating my husband...
I love you, Jason! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Because God Said So!

You know what I love about God?  Okay, a lot of things.  But one of the parenting devices I often pull out of my Mom Tool Belt is the phrase,
"Hey, Jack!* God said it, not me."

Look at those sweet faces. How could they do anything wrong?
This works for the following scenarios:
  • Your son keeps annoying his little brother, his little sister, and well, EVERYONE.  Mom response?  "God calls us to be KIND and LOVING (Colossians 3.12-14).  Were you being kind just now?" See?
  • One of your kids just WILL NOT LISTEN.  Take from your tool box: "You are not obeying me.  Do you know who says you should obey your parents?  GOD does (Ephesians 6.1; Colossians 3.20)!" BAM.
  • This one doesn't like anything that's good for him.
  • Your middle child won't eat his vegetables or decides that he would rather have something other than water to drink.  "Water is so good for you," I say.  "Tell me, who made the broccoli?" You've got it. God gets all the credit (Genesis 1)!
I am being somewhat smug with my Mommy quips, but the Bible does refer to God's words as weapons, "cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what (Hebrews 4.12)." So using God's written commands as a part of our parenting and discipline process, can only help build up our Mommy defenses.  He "protects you from every side (Psalm 139.5 CEV)." In other words, you tell those kids what is right, and God will back you up!

Bonus: Not only does allowing God to help enforce our family rules  take the stress off of us, but it somehow shuts down some of the talk-back factor too.  I mean, who can argue with GOD?!

In what parenting situations do you find strength in God's Word?

*Duck Dynasty fan reference.  Thank you, Uncle Si.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Friday, March 08, 2013

Teaching Kids: Work Pays

We don't give our kids an allowance, because

A.) They already have everything they need, plus extra.
  • What would the kids spend OUR money on?  Candy, tiny forgettable toys, and arcade games. Since it's not really THEIR money, it's easily taken for granted and thrown away.
B.)  They don't earn it.
  • An allowance just slaps a couple of bills in little, entitled hands without teaching kids what a gift it is.  Someone had to work for it.  It doesn't just drop out of the sky. Even if they did a chore or two that week, it usually isn't even.  Someone always did more work than someone else.  It's hard to grasp how much the work/money is truly worth.
C.)  They aren't very responsible.
  • I find quarters everywhere.  Kids lose things, forget things, misplace things.  Giving our kids money with no strings attached is like tossing it out of a window. They need to feel a sense of ownership for money to hold value to them.
So per, Dave Ramsey, we have always set up commission-based opportunities.  This is an easy real-life lesson to teach even the little ones! You don't work, you don't get paid!

Our kids have understood this for a while now, but as parents, we're not always consistent in implementing a system.  So after a couple of weeks of my oldest daughter whining about not having any money, I finally got around to starting fresh.  Believe it or not, I got this idea from a random viewing of Wife Swap (must have been an exciting night on T.V. ha!):

Our Job Board: Proverbs 14:23 (pardon the duct tape.)
 Our Job Board uses craft sticks with various jobs to choose from.  Every time one of our children completes a task, they can put the appropriate stick into their cup.  This allows Mom and Dad some time to check the validity of their statement without having to remember every time someone shouted, "Daaaad!  I cleaned my room!  Can I have a dollar?" Then the parents can add up the commission allotted to each job performed.  

Here are some of the job opportunities our family delegates to the kiddos:
Each job has a specified payment amount you can earn.
  • Fold 1 load of laundry
  • Take dirty clothes to laundry room
  • Wash 1 load of laundry
  • Straighten closet
  • Empty 1 trash can
  • Sweep 1 floor area
  • Pack school lunch
  • Put clean clothes away
  • Clean out van
  • Donate 1 box of toys
  • Straighten 1 shelf/desk area
  • Unload dishwasher
  • Set the dinner table
***Breaking down bigger jobs in smaller, do-able tasks, helps the little people feel accomplishment for each job finished, instead of overwhelming them with giant chores*** (this is true for Mommy too!).  We assign payments to $.25-$1.00 for task, according the size of the job.  It all adds up!  The more work they do, the more money they earn!
By setting up a commission based chore system at home, not only do our kids learn an important life lesson, but the parents get a little help too!  And our children learn to grow up into self-sufficient adults.  It's a WIN-WIN-WIN.

Now, if only my kids could keep their hard-earned money in one place...

 Do you have a system like this at your home?  What does it look like?  What other jobs do your kids help out with? SHARE!