Archive for the ‘Parenting & Marriage’ Category

7 Promises I’m Making to My Kids This Summer

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

7 Promises I'm Making to My Kids This Summer

For the past several summers I’ve created a bucket list for my family. I’ve scoured local event calendars, scrolled through Pinterest, and subscribed to all the summer fun newsletters I can find. I’ve juggled schedules and friend groups and work projects and vacation days, and I’ve been DETERMINED to make each summer THE BEST ONE EVER.

Some summers have been more successful than others, but every summer ended with me realizing that bucket lists are not my friend. I love lists, and I function better in general with a list. But my summer bucket lists always end up feeling like goals or assignments, and I end up stressing out – and stressing out my family – to cross things off that list.

So this summer I’m taking a different approach. And instead of a whole bucket list of ALL THE THINGS TO DO, I’m making some simple promises to my kids.

7 Promises I’m Making to My Kids This Summer

1. I won’t sign up for every library program, since I know full well we won’t make it to 90% of them. Actually, this is a promise to the library, too.

2. I will take you to the library to get more books, even if you haven’t read the ones we already have checked out. Because, really? What does it matter if we have a giant stack of books at home? We love books in our house! And the library is fun. And I am not going to squash that with an arbitrary rule about not checking out new books until we finish the old ones. (Especially since a rule like that makes me a big, old hypocrite. Ahem.)

3. We will eat popsicles and drink lemonade. They may or may not be homemade. Here’s the thing: If we chop up some lemons and drop them into the came-from-a-mix pitcher of lemonade, IT WILL STILL BE DELICIOUS AND REFRESHING. And if I save my sanity by buying popsicles rather than making them and losing my mind when I try to get them out of the popsicle trays? We all win.

4. I won’t plan elaborate science experiments or field trips for every free day of the summer. I’m not saying we won’t go anywhere or do anything. We might do a science experiment or a craft project. We might go on a field trip or a road trip. But I’m not about to tell you about it weeks in advance and spend hours on details that will go directly down the toilet the minute my plans meet reality. Nope. Not gonna do it!

5. I will take you to the pool. And I will wear a swimsuit (and a smile) when I do it. We’re in a weird place right now, trying to sell our house and move. So I’m not sure if we’ll be going to the city pool (if we’re still in our current house) or the neighborhood pool (if we’ve moved into the new house). But we will go to SOME POOL, SOMEWHERE. And I will not let them hear me complain or see my grimace about the heat, the sweat, the sun or the swimsuit I’m wearing.

6. When I’m not working, I will close the computer and put down my phone. Because I work part-time from home, I have a lot of choices when it comes to summertime childcare. (And I promise that even when I’m stressed or frustrated or WHATEVER by my summertime childcare options, I am always aware of the privilege it is to have choices. And I’m grateful.) While it’s important that I decide between theater camp or a robotics class, between daycare or a babysitter, the most important choice I make each summer is what I will make most important. How will I prioritize? How will I balance? How will I make sure my kids know they are more important than work and chores and lists and rules?

That’s not to say my work isn’t important. That’s also not to say it’s not important for my kids to see me working. But it IS important to me that when I’m not working, I’m not working. When I’m with my kids, when it’s playtime, I’m with my kids for playtime. I’ve never been good at this, so I figure now is a good time to try again.

7. We will have fun, and we will like it. And speaking of playtime…we will have some of that! I will let go and laugh. I will relax and be refreshed. I will enjoy my kids and myself and this season and this life. I will have fun, with my kids, and we will like it!

At least once this summer.

What promises are you making this summer?

 

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Using Meaningful Places to Celebrate Your Marriage

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

Using Places to Celebrate Your Marriage

My husband and I are in the process of selling our first home and buying a new one. It’s not the first place we lived together; we actually lived in five different apartments in the first four years we were married. But it is the first home we owned and the only home our kids have known.

We’ve painted every single wall in this tiny house, and we’ve replaced the flooring in every room but one. We’ve sunk thousands of dollars into what we not-so-fondly call our money pit, and we are beyond relieved to finally sell our “starter home” after 13 years. But it’s not just 1,000 square feet of wood and plaster and whatever crawl spaces are made of (spiders and mud?). And it’s more than four walls and a roof over our head and a mortgage payment each month.

It’s where we have laughed and yelled and cried and cussed and prayed and loved and worked and lived. It’s where we have hosted countless parties and showers and small groups and barbecues and holiday celebrations. It’s where we have hurt each other and spoken so harshly, so regrettably, and it’s where we have healed and grown stronger and closer than ever. It’s where we’ve taken turns rocking our babies to sleep when the baths and the stories and the bottles don’t do the trick, and it’s where we’ve taken turns rocking each other to sleep when the world and the pain it brings us has been too much to bear.

Much as we have lamented the years we’ve been stuck in our little house, we also can’t deny its comfort over seasons of change. Jobs, friends, churches, family dynamics, opinions, even the culture and climate of our world: these things have all changed drastically and multiple times over the past baker’s dozen years. But our home, well, it’s stayed right here, waiting for us day after day.

I’m super excited about our new house and the changes this move will bring, but I’m glad to have a few more weeks before we leave this place for the last time. Of course I’m grateful for the chance to pack and pick out appliances and figure out how to get our mail forwarded to our new address. But mostly I’m thankful for the chance to give our old home a proper goodbye.

All this reminiscing has me thinking about the way places play such an important part in our relationships and our memories — and our lives, really. I think about how certain streets or states or benches or bridges remind me of moments and people and events that have mattered to me. And I think that our marriages can really benefit from this idea of place. Here’s how:

First, think about the places that have been significant to you and your husband. Answer as many of these questions as you’d like.

  1. Where did you meet?
  2. Where did you go on your first date?
  3. Where did you first fall in love?
  4. Where did you first kiss?
  5. Where did you break up?
  6. Where did you get back together?
  7. Where did you meet each other’s families?
  8. Where did you get engaged?
  9. Where did you get married?
  10. Where did you first live together?
  11. Where did you bring your babies?
  12. Where did you have that fight?
  13. Where did you make up?
  14. Where did you go to counseling?
  15. Where did you go out with friends?
  16. Where did you celebrate a job offer?
  17. Where did you comfort each other after a loss?
  18. Where did you dream or plan or brainstorm?
  19. Where did you finish that project?
  20. Where did you make a big decision?
  21. Where did you go to church?
  22. Where did you cheer for the team?
  23. Where did you tell him you’re pregnant?
  24. Where did you have fun?
  25. Where did you laugh together?
  26. Where did you cry together?
  27. Where did you join something together?
  28. Where did you quit together?
  29. Where did you feel free?
  30. Where did you remember why you fell in love?

Second, find a way to honor your marriage by celebrating these places.

  • Create a scavenger hunt of your most significant places and literally walk down memory lane.
  • Take photos of each important place and put them in a scrapbook, photo album or frame.
  • Choose 12 of the most meaningful places to revisit over the next year.
  • Plan a date in a place you have gone on a date before. Talk about everything that’s changed since the first time around.
  • Take turns visiting special places to you as individuals and sharing their significance with each other.

Those are just a few ideas, but once you start thinking about all of your places, the possibilities are endless. Perhaps one of these ideas will spark your own creativity as you use the idea of place to improve your marriage! I know that, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m determined to work PLACES into my next date night (which just happens to be near my anniversary: a perfect time for reminiscing and celebrating!).

What’s an important place for you and your husband?

 

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4 Things Potty Training Reminded Me About Life

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

What Potty Training Reminded Me About Life

Even though she just turned two in January, we’ve been attempting to potty train my youngest daughter. She’s been fascinated by all things potty-related for months now, and the other kids that her babysitter watches are either potty trained or in the process. So when the babysitter asked for Pull-Ups, it only made sense.

Except – UGH. Potty training is kind of the worst. (I mean, not the literal WORST. I’m not clueless, you guys. But it’s up there on my list of Bad Things I Don’t Like At All right now.)

This lovely stage has its positives, of course, just like any stage in life. Seeing my toddler beam when she has a potty success is pretty awesome, and so is hearing her chant, “Mommy proud of me. Daddy proud of me. Sissy proud of me. Grandpa proud of me. Who else proud of me?” And as I talked about the torture that is potty training with some friends today, I realized that this annoying parenting project has reminded me a few things — things that are true about life in general, not just for parents and not just about potty training.

It’s reminded me of truths that are encouraging no matter what challenging season you’re facing, so I thought I’d share them with you today.

4 Things Potty Training Reminded Me About Life

1. A sense of humor goes a long way. I don’t care how old you are or how mature you fancy yourself, the truth is that poop is funny. And so are naked toddlers, potty dances, and all the many ways we beg and bribe our kids to just use the darned toilet.

But bathroom matters aren’t the only awkward or difficult things we can laugh about. When my husband and I can laugh together, we are automatically closer and less likely to argue (or more likely to resolve those arguments quickly). And sometimes when my oldest daughter drives me to the point of pulling out my hair, the only thing to break the tension is a joke or a funny face.

Sometimes life is hard and challenging and serious. It is. But other times we make things harder than they have to be, and a little humor can go a long way toward helping us get through a rough time.

2. Your kids are not the enemy. Just like I have to remind myself that my husband and I are on the same team, rather than fighting against each other, I occasionally need to remember that my children are not actually plotting against me. Yes, they often foil my efforts at organization, timeliness, cleanliness, being well-rested or having family fun time, but they are not the enemy.

Remembering that the people I’m dealing with – whether it’s my husband, my children, my co-workers, my friends or my extended family – are not out to get me is a game changer for me. When I step out of the role of victim and realize that, “Hey, they aren’t even THINKING about me, much less planning my demise!” I can see things much more clearly. And that’s the truth, you know? In most cases people are not sitting around, coming up with ways to ruin our days or our lives. They’re not making lists of ideas for irritating us or insulting us. They’re just living their lives — their lives that sometimes don’t look the way we want them to and might even affect us in less than ideal ways.

My daughter — brace yourselves for some TMI [too much information] here — is partially potty trained. She’s all over using the toilet for one bathroom function, but refuses to use it for the other one. [Is that too vague? Should I use the terms “number one” and “number two”? Oh my word, who thought it would be a good idea to use potty training as a metaphor for life???]

ANYWAY. The point is that, so far, she has not cooperated for the most disgusting of her potty business, and it’s made me so upset. But she’s not trying to hurt me. She’s not doing it to inconvenience me or gross me out. She’s just trying to learn how to be a person, and sometimes being a person (especially a little person who potties in the right way in the right place) is hard. She’s not the enemy, and we are in this battle together.

3. Everybody (and nobody) has the answer. Oh my, have I been reminded of this one! I knew I was feeling desperate about this potty training business when I resorted to asking for advice on Facebook. (I KNOW. Why would I ever do that?!) All the answers I received were actually kind, but WOW were they diverse! Everybody had an idea or an opinion or some insight, but at the end of the day, I’ve come to realize that absolutely nobody has the exact answer for my family.

Which is so true about every single situation we face. This world is not lacking for opinions. And crowd-sourcing is a great way to learn those ideas and beliefs, as well as to find some new ideas and suggestions that might help you out. But the truth is that nobody knows exactly what you need — so the best thing to look for are those friends who say, “I don’t know how to fix this, but I will sit here with you.” I love those kinds of friends, don’t you?

4. This season won’t last forever. It won’t. Just like our physical therapist assured me that my oldest daughter would learn to walk and that she wouldn’t crawl into her kindergarten class (she didn’t), I know my youngest won’t graduate from high school wearing training pants. And I know that someday I might even long for these days when she needed me so much — but let’s be honest; right now I’m just grateful this phase of lifting her onto the toilet every 20 minutes is temporary!

Side note: Tonight I pulled out the book I ordered to read with my older daughter. The one about the birds and the bees, you guys. CLEARLY the season of potty dances and pigtails did not last forever!!!

And this is one of the most encouraging lessons I have learned as an adult:

Our lives are made of seasons, and they do not last forever.

Each season has its beauty and its gifts, but some of those seasons are hard or frustrating or depressing or challenging or disappointing — or sometimes all of the above! But no matter how dark the days are, we can find a glimmer of hope by remembering that this season won’t last forever.

You might be a million miles away from the potty training stage of life. You might not have kids at home, or perhaps you have kids with special needs who will never be potty trained. Changing diapers might seem like the smallest of irritations compared to the challenge you’re facing today. I know. Maybe your tough situation is one I can’t even imagine, much less list out in a blog post.

Even so, I hope you are encouraged to remember at least one of these truths that I’ve learned from – of all things – potty training. This won’t last forever. You can do this. And when you do? When you make it through to the other side, when you see the sun again and begin finding the humor again? Go ahead and do the potty dance. It really does work for celebrating all sorts of success and survival!

 

How to Raise an Uncommon Kid Today

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

I am so happy to have the amazing Sami Cone sharing with us today tips to help us raise uncommon kids! She is one of my dearest friends in the blogging community and I know we can learn so much from her! 

How to raise an uncommon kid today

Everyone knows raising kids isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

But that doesn’t change the fact that we still hope to see change, improvement and potential in our parenting…and hope to see it quickly! The problem comes when we expect change in our children without first turning the mirror of change on ourselves as parents.

Before we can ever hope to raise uncommon kids, we must first be uncommon ourselves. (Click to Tweet)

The biggest issue I come across in parenting is that we somehow expect our kids to care about people and issues they know nothing about on the other side of the world, while not showing them how to love and care about the people right under their roof.

In my book, Raising Uncommon Kids, I share twelve characteristics that we need to embody as families before we can expect our kids to truly become compassionate. But how can we put these principles into practice? After all, speaking in theoretical terms only gets so far with our kids.

For our kids to care about others:

  • They need to know there are others to care about.
  • They need to understand the world doesn’t revolve around them.
  • They need to believe they can make a difference not just in the world, but in their neighborhood and most importantly inside their own homes.

Your kids may say they feel loved and I’d bet they’d even admit they love you and their siblings, but do they show it? Before we can be compassionate towards others, we need to practice within the fours walls of our home.

Actions speak louder than words, so let’s start today by learning 5 practical steps anyone can take to raise uncommon kids.

5 things you can do TODAY to start raising uncommon kids

1. Create a family mission statement. Once you do, display it prominently in your home where every member of your family can not only see it, but refer back to it often.

2. Re-design your home. Go through each room of your house and have each family member call out the thing they like most about that space, whether tangible or intangible. Strive to make everyone’s voice heard and represented in some way.

3. Parents switch roles with kids for a day. Want to help your kids experience what it’s really like to be you? Switch roles with them for a day. While children are typically thrilled at the prospect of ordering around their parents, the tides typically turn once they discover the new balance of work and play. Even if you don’t do this for an entire day, make sure to save time to celebrate the switching back of roles and debrief what everyone experienced.

4. Let your children deal with their mistakes. Don’t be so quick to clean up all your children’s messes for them. Think about it. It’s better to help your kids process their flubs while they’re living with you in their school years than to raise them in a bubble and then send them off to college without a hint of what the world will throw at them.

5. Encourage your kids to do one of their sibling’s chores one day. Explain how a simple act of kindness can break the battle cycle siblings often find themselves in.

Being uncommon isn’t quick or easy, but it is worthwhile. Knowing that you’re living life on your own terms not only allows your family’s heart to be full, but more importantly, fills you with the freedom for that love to overflow to others in need. When you model compassion in your own home, your kids will begin to understand what that could look like outside the walls of your home.

So what are you waiting for? Start raising uncommon kids today!

 

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

how-to-consume-more-books-5

(I like this skirt because it hides that knee brace right now)

I knew something was wrong over the holidays, but didn’t want to admit it to anyone. As I wrote the addresses of our loved ones on the envelopes, my hand would lose grip of the pen, cramp up, and spasm. What should have been a simple task done with joy became something that had to be split up over a week that resulted in embarrassingly scrawled envelopes that I resented. I also resented Tiny Prints for sending no back-up envelopes so I could throw out the really bad ones. I left our return address off, for the first time, because I didn’t want to see those cards again. Feliz Navidad.

A week later as I headed to the grocery store, I put my car into park, and my foot curled in and would not sit flat in its shoe. A painful cramping left me sitting in my car for twenty minutes so I could walk around and get the family groceries. As if I didn’t dread the task of grocery shopping enough, now I could barely make it through the aisles, dragging around this foot and worrying that it would happen again while I was trying to check out or while I was driving.

Then the pain started in my hands in such a debilitating way that I could not even type, shoot a camera, knit, flip a book page without pain, or do any of my usual routines that are expected of me as a mom.  Pain shot through my fingers so badly that I sobbed and called my Dad like a little girl again, hysterically sitting in a corner of our bedroom sobbing and wondering why this was happening again when I was doing all the right things with my health.

So You Like Being a Hypochondriac

I was in denial that this was coming back. In college, after a routine dental procedure that went bad (as all procedures with me do), my parents had a battery of tests ran on me that included the usual blood work and more serious tests like a spinal tap for Lyme and MS. Everything came back normal, but I was anything but a normal college student when it came to my health. Muscle cramps, spasms, and numbness plagued me, particularly when I was overworked or tired…and I was constantly tired.  I later saw a rheumatologist who gave me the diagnosis of fibromyalgia and treated it with antidepressants that aided in muscle relaxation, but I knew that I had never really been satisfied with that diagnosis.

I could go on and on about all the weird and quirky things in my medical history like being a klutz and chronically tired child covered in self-created bruises from walking into things. Every medical surgery that never went as expected. Weird scarring on my body from things that never healed correctly. A shocking placental abruption with the birth of my child that was like a really bad crime scene in our home. Menstrual bleeding that made me finally seek relief through an ablation procedure (that also went badly).  Poor recovery from every routine procedure and struggles with anesthesia. Reacting to all medications. Dental issues and excessive gum bleeding.  A recent hearing loss that lasted for months and months and months that threw off my balance.  The snap, crackle, and popping of bones shifting each time I would go up the stairs and worries that something was going to pop out with all the sound effects. The stomach issues that plagued me my entire life. Old lady back pain that had me seeking relief at the chiropractor. Constant dislocations of random joints that left me rocking a brace on some joint on my body almost weekly at my gym classes.

I headed to the doctor with my hypochondriac list again and the routine tests were all performed along with an EMG to rule out radial tunnel syndrome.  The follow-up visit revealed that, other than a few minor things, all was normal.

Of course.

“How are your hands and fingers today?”

“Well, they are feeling a little better, but now my knee. My knee is out and it hurts really bad too.”

We had double booked our doctor for the morning and my son sat on the examining table for his routine ADHD follow-up. I requested that while we were here, he take a peek at the poor circulation in his hands. As the doctor began to examine him, Ethan said the magical question that started the ball rolling on the real answers.

“Are you going to ask him about our flexibility, mom?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I wonder if he has EDS. I have a friend that was diagnosed and it sounds like us.”

eds-test

The doctor started giving us The Beighton Score test and we, of course, could do all of this and more. You should see us at parties or just a fun night at our dinner table showing off with our bendy fingers.  After we passed this test with flying colors,  he pulled my son’s skin on his neck and watched it stretch to an unnatural amount.

“Look at the stretch in his skin.”

“Oh, I think mine is like that too,” and I pulled out skin farther than Ethan’s.

We finally have our answer.

We had Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

Oh, and my kid had scoliosis and Raynaud’s syndrome.

And the other one, she should be looked at too since she is bruising all the time and run down.

My head was spinning as I clutched a million handouts, appointments were made, tests duplicated for the specialist, x-rays done…in two hours I felt like our entire life had changed.

ehlers-danlos-syndrome-causes

What is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome? And How Quickly Can We Get Over This?

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a group of inherited connective tissue disorders, caused by various defects in the synthesis of collagen. EDS is known to affect men and women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

There are six distinct types of EDS currently identified. All share joint laxity, soft skin, easy bruising, and some systemic manifestations. Each type is thought to involve a unique defect in connective tissue, although not all of the genes responsible for causing EDS have been found.

These six types are defined according to the signs and symptoms that are manifested, in a set of major and minor diagnostic criteria for each type. Each type of EDS is a distinct disorder that “runs true” in a family.

Different subtypes of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome are associated with a variety of genetic causes, some of which are inherited and passed on from parent to child. If you have the most common varieties of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, there’s a 50 percent chance that you’ll pass on the gene to each of your children. Thus, the demonstration made by my crew means that we will all need a diagnosis to see if we all have it.

To receive a formal diagnosis of what type we all have and the treatment required for that type, we have to seek the help of a specialist and one of the leading people in this field just so happens to be rocking a practice in our town. Her research on EDS and how it relates to our GI system really helped to explain why I have had so much relief from removing gluten from my diet, as all of this is connected to our connective tissue. Instinctively, I had been doing many of the recommendations to seek relief for my numerous issues, never knowing how much I had been helping my body. It is probably why I have been doing so well for so long.

Dr. Collins counseled our doctor on the new regime we should follow until we could see her.  It involves a really ungodly amount of supplements that should help with joint pain and digestion. You can see her recommendations for diet and supplements that have worked so successfully for many of her patients, diminishing symptoms with this disorder.

Unfortunately, we can’t get over it. It’s something that we will be dealing with our whole lives and that was devastating to me especially in the middle of a bunch of injuires.

ehlers-danlos-syndrome-diagnosis

We Have Answers And I’m Sad & Still in Pain

I would have loved to skip out of that office with prescriptions for us all and immediate healing to my body. That doesn’t happen though and it takes some time to figure out exactly what will work for me and for our kids.

I have wept more tears than I can count for the pain that I have been in this week and hearing that we have this is heartbreaking for us all.  I told my mom yesterday, as she came to be with her weepy daughter, that  I could handle all of it if I wasn’t in so much pain with my knees, hands, and fingers. If it would have come when I felt strong and fit, I would have done the whole pull myself up by my bootstraps routine and just killed it like I always do, but right now I feel really broken.

I’m heartbroken our kids may have this and I feel like a crappy mom for passing down such crappy genes.

I’m sad how this has impacted my workout routine of hitting my dance class each week. It was the one class that brought me inexplicable joy and I know that it is the worst thing I can do for my joints right now. I miss the routines and love I get from each of those ladies in that dance crew. They have become like a family to me and I hate not being there.

I can’t knit to curb the stress because of hand pain and the need to brace things to help relieve it.

I’m heartbroken to see my husband so sad and feeling helpless about what is happening to us all. To be honest, that hurts almost worse than the pain.

debbie-downer

Silver Lining? Maybe Someday!

I am not in that silver lining stage and I cringe when people try to put a positive spin on this. My body and heart are in terrible pain right now. I guess the silver lining is that it could always be worse and there is always someone suffering and struggling with something bigger than something this minor.

As the four of us curled up on the couch together on Friday night, all on a single couch, I wrapped my two in my arms as tight as I could and alternately kissed each of their heads while we watched an episode of Shark Tank and chatting about if we would invest in people’s inventions. It was a simple moment, but we all needed it and craved it in this mess, the comfort that can only be found with one another. This situation is another team building exercise together and I’m glad I have this team and these people.

I’m also thankful we have an incredible village who are letting me be the weepy mess that I am and still want to be with me in spite of being the Debbie Downer of friends right now.

I’m ready to take the next steps towards healing.

In the meantime, the site may suffer, my workload will need to be lightened until I can get the hand pain under control, and I’m sharing this to buy some grace if things feel off here or if I don’t respond to your emails.  I’m not myself right now, but I’m thankful we finally have an answer.

If you want to learn more about EDS check out the Ehlers-Danlos Foundation page!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to Do When Date Nights Aren’t Possible

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

What to Do When Date Nights are Impossible | MomAdvice.com

“And, whatever you do, make sure you have regular date nights with your spouse.”

Has anyone else ever read an article or listened to a speaker or even chatted with a friend or mentor, heard everyone’s favorite marriage advice (“Go on dates! Regularly!”), and just rolled your eyes? Or felt defeated or depressed, because clearly you will never have a healthy relationship without those magical date nights? Or wondered where everyone else is finding the extra money, time and energy it takes to make Date Night happen?

Yeah, me too.

Last week my husband and I sat down with our marriage counselor. When he asked what we wanted to talk about, I hesitated. What I really wanted to talk about was not feeling connected enough to my husband over the last several weeks, a particularly busy season in our lives. But I didn’t. Because I knew we’d just circle around the fact that we don’t schedule enough date nights and how date nights are important and blah-blah-blah DATE NIGHTS.

Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong. Our counselor is great (evidenced by our now infrequent visits with him), and I’m all for date nights. But I don’t think they are the only solution for every marital bump in the road; I don’t think they are a magical formula for preventing divorce or relationship stress. And I know without a doubt that they are not nearly as simple to schedule as the world of marriage advice-givers would have us believe.

[Side note: I realize that I have, in the past, been one of those marriage advice-givers touting the benefits of date nights. Here, here and here for starters. That’s because it’s a good idea and I believe in it. I just know it’s not always feasible. So there. And yes, maybe I’ll go on a date by myself now. “Hypocrite, party of one…”]

ANYWAY. The truth is that we all know spending time together is crucial for relationship success. And regular date nights are clearly a fun way to do this and the thing we all aim for. But sometimes, date nights just aren’t an option.

Sometimes you can’t afford a babysitter.
Sometimes you can’t find a babysitter.
Sometimes you’re tired. Or sick. Or busy.
Sometimes your kids are sick.
Sometimes you have to work. Or he does.

Sometimes the thought of finding a babysitter, making a reservation, looking up movie times, digging out a pair of shoes that are going to make your feet hurt, or even just finding a shirt that isn’t stained or stretched out and still fits IS JUST TOO MUCH.

So what then? What do we do when date nights just aren’t possible? Do we give up? Collapse on opposite sides of the couch with one eye on Facebook and another on the clock because bedtime can’t come soon enough? Do we give up on leaving the house together and take turns hanging out with friends? Separately?

No way! I mean, yes, sure, occasionally we might do all of those things. But, for the love, we cannot give up completely on the idea of date nights with our husbands. We simply need to redefine “date night” and make those sweet times of connection work for us.

If you’re finding it hard to “go on regular date nights,” here are a few things you can try instead.

 

Movie Night: Rent a movie and curl up on the couch to watch. (Or save a few episodes of “your show” – the one you only watch together, no matter how many episodes are backed up on the DVR or waiting on Netflix.)

Do Lunch: Meet for lunch or go out for breakfast or grab coffee – anything away from the norm (and the kids and the house and the to-do lists) is a chance to connect with your spouse! It doesn’t have to be on a Friday or Saturday night.

Play Games: Break out the Monopoly board or challenge him to a few lightning rounds of Words with Friends.

Get Cooking: Feed the kids some mac and cheese, put them to bed, and then head back to the kitchen – for fun, this time. Try a new recipe together. Pick out a few ingredients and play Chopped at home. Make a copycat version of your favorite restaurant meal.

Ask Questions: Buy a stack of conversation starter cards or look for lists of “get to know you” questions online. Take a personality test and read each others’ results.

Go to Bed Early: Don’t make me elaborate here. You know what I mean.

The point is that we need to connect with our spouses. But if we aren’t able to dress up and go somewhere that requires reservations or tickets or a long drive or whatever it is that makes this whole plan feel impossible, we can still connect. Date night can be whatever you make it – whenever, wherever, whatever!

What do YOU do when date nights feel impossible?

 

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3 Ways to Find More Joy This Year

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (4)

No matter how many posts and articles I read (or write) about not making New Year’s resolutions and setting realistic goals and starting a new diet (or organizational system or meal plan or reading challenge) on any day other than Monday, I can’t help but start the first day of the first week of the first month of the new year with some degree of expectation.

When I woke up yesterday, I literally began the day with a smile on my face. And, as anyone who’s ever witnessed my reluctant rising can tell you, this night owl does NOT usually wake up happy! But it was a big day, the first “real” day in the new year! A day full of so much opportunity, a day destined for fresh starts and productivity and greatness.

Except, as it turned out, it was just another day.

Another MONDAY at that.

I had to remind my older daughter 17 times to brush her hair and her teeth – and to put her empty banana peel in the trash can, please and thank you. I had to change my toddler’s diaper and convince her that wearing her coat was a good idea, given the 20-degree air blowing around outside. I put on my sunglasses as we walked out the door, only to take them off again when I realized it was actually quite cloudy. And as I backed out of the driveway, I noticed that the recycling truck had knocked over our trash can, spilling bags of garbage all over the street and yard.

It was just another day. Another day we have chores and arguments and projects and appointments, another day with clouds and trash and cat hair and dirty dishes.

But you know what? It was also another day full of beauty and hope and joy. It was another opportunity to choose my outlook, to determine my attitude, to make a difference – even if it’s just for me, even if it’s just for a moment.

See, I believe that we can find joy – true joy! the kind that can’t be stolen by cloudy skies or spilled garbage (literal or figurative) – every single day of the year. I believe it’s possible and even necessary for our mental health and our relationships and our productivity and success. And I believe that just a few simple steps can help us find a whole lot more of this crucial, beautiful joy this year.

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (1)

3 Steps to Finding More Joy in 2016

1. SAVOR YOUR MOMENTS.

My friend Sara said once that moments are her favorite things. Not Oreos or the fifth Harry Potter book or the color purple or spicy queso, but moments. Much as I love all those other things, I’d have to agree. After all, capturing and savoring moments is why I used to scrapbook years ago – and why I love Facebook now. It’s why forgetting my camera is reason for turning the car around, no matter how far from home I’ve driven.

And it’s why I’ve been known to tear up at random times when I look around and realize this – THIS! – is beautiful. This life, this family, this conversation, this laughter. Even when it’s loud or messy or awkward or weird, a moment sometimes strikes me as so beautiful that I can’t contain my ridiculous tears.

Every day – the regular days, the cloudy days, the hardest days – has sweet moments. Even on days that come with banana peels and mountains of laundry and overdue bills, we can find something to savor.So when you’re struggling to find a silver lining or a glass half full of anything, look for those moments: your favorite song on the radio, the first sip of that cold tea or hot coffee, baby giggles or a side hug from a tween, rain showers or sunsets, an encouraging text message or inspiring quote posted on Facebook at just the right time.

Find those moments – and then savor them. Take a mental picture, close your eyes and bask in the joy for a few seconds, and save it for the next “just another day.”

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (2)

2. EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE.

I know, I know, this is nothing new! When she writes about how listing out the things we’re thankful for can be truly life-changing, Ann Voskamp boils it down to this: “Being joyful isn’t what makes you grateful. Being grateful is what makes you joyful.” Just like that – even when it’s hard to find something to be thankful for.

Sara, my friend I mentioned earlier (and, as it happens, my co-author in a book about joy), suffered from an extremely painful, debilitating disease. And yet, throughout her life, she learned to choose joy anyway. She wrote about that after spending another Thanksgiving holiday alone:

“I’m not in the least bit bothered to be here alone on the holiday of gratitude, because it’s the same as any other day. I am simply grateful. I appreciate my life because it’s the one God has given to me, and I don’t want to waste a moment of it wishing for anything else.”

She was simply grateful – every day, good or bad, no matter what. Wow! Personally, I’m still working on making that kind of gratitude such an ingrained habit. But I believe we can take strides toward this in 2016.

Perhaps for you it will help to keep a written journal of your thankfulness. Or maybe, like me, you need to commit to verbally thanking someone each and every day. I try to send my husband a text message every night before bed (he works nights), thanking him for something – even on days we argue, even on days we don’t see eye to eye. The habit of gratitude that leads to an attitude of joy is something I’m pursuing big time this year.

3 Steps to Finding More Joy (3)

3. MAKE YOUR CHOICE.

Sara’s and my book is called, Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts. It was named after Sara’s mantra and mission: choose joy. That’s what she named her blog, and it’s what she painted on a wall in her condo. When she shared a picture of that painting, she pointed out that the biggest word, the most important part wasn’t JOY; it was CHOOSE.

If we’re going to make this year different than the last one, we have to make a choice. We have to choose to pursue joy, just like we will commit to health and love and hard work and fun. We must make a choice. We must draw a line in the sand, step over it and never look back. No matter what 2016 brings us, it will bring us moments of joy and opportunities for gratitude.

Let’s choose to find them and savor them – and to enjoy the beautiful picture they create!

Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver was released by the Hachette Book Group in 2016. It is a must-have for those searching for meaning and beauty in a world full of tragedy. Sara’s words breathe with vitality and life, and her stories will inspire smiles, tears, and the desire to choose joy. To learn more about CHOOSE JOY, visit TheChooseJoyBook.com.

 

Dora Band-Aids for a Hurting World

Monday, December 21st, 2015

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When my daughter was small, I remember that each and every hurt required some type of medical treatment. We had a constant rotation of ice packs and tiny bandages, often for nonexistent wounds. It was as though the act of putting that Dora Band-Aid on her superficially scraped up knee was enough to close the floodgates of tears and make the world right again. She needed me to see her hurt, to echo how awful it was to be hurt, and then to show my efforts to repair it.

Last week I discovered that a family I had been working with, through a volunteer opportunity I am involved with, had fallen on some particularly hard times and had been living without things that I would consider basic human needs.  The gas in the home had been shut off, the stove was not in working order, medical needs couldn’t be addressed through their insurance, and there was not even a washer to care for their family’s clothing.

When you have a platform like this to work from, you can often make swift work and can create fast resolutions to problems, simply because of the large circle that comes with this type of job. In a matter of 24 hours, I found I could meet all of these basic needs for this family between our family’s resources and many, many generous givers that I reached out to who helped me close the gap through material and financial donations. If there is one thing I feel proud of, it is is the company I keep.

As I shared those gifts with this family this weekend  I had a flashback of being that mom sharing a Dora Band-Aid again- I was so unequipped. This wound was so beyond the reach of the tiny offering that I had.  I could see so very clearly that there were many other needs that were there and I knew that the gift I offered, while appreciated, was just a small bandage on a problem bigger than I could fill. 

I left my humble bandage for this wound, I echoed the hurt, and I hugged those people and gave what I could.

Those bandages though, those are mine to give out and sometimes I have a whole box at my disposal and sometimes I just have a couple to share that I can sprinkle around. This box is mine to do with what I choose, and yet,  I was surprised at some of the commentary that came from what others said about those bandages.

“Did they deserve them?”

“Were they working?”

“Why had they fallen on hard times in the first place?”

“So many people working the system….”

You have probably heard a few of these before, am I right?

Here’s the thing.

My family?

We worked the system. 

My husband lost his job for a year and we became part of the system that people refer to with that shake of their head.  We found ourselves unable to make ends meet, unable to find employment, and the seeker of any government gift that we could qualify for. My husband and I went without health insurance (a gamble that kept me up every night), we placed our son on a healthcare plan funded by the state, and we eagerly waited for those unemployment checks so we could do things like get groceries and pay our mortgage.

What helped us get through those times were those tiny bandages that so many giving and kind people shared with us. They knew they couldn’t heal the gaping wound we had…it would have been impossible!  Yet, they were happy to share the smaller bandages that made each of those dreary days in my life better.

They brought us meals, they watched our baby, they gave us gift cards to have nights out, they even bought a pizza for the volunteers who later had to move us out of our very own home that we could no longer afford.

I could not even have purchased that pizza for them as a thank you.

Our debt situation?

Well, we needed a full-body cast at that point, not a tiny bandage.

But those bandages made such a difference and I still reflect on the generosity of the people that got us through such a depressing time in my life. 

And now, I’m the lucky one who has a box of tiny bandages to help those in need.

The bandages are often the smallest gifts, but not only are they my gifts to give, but it is their gift to do what they need to do with it. I don’t worry about if that bandage is going to someone working hard enough or if they are deserving of my tiny bandages.

I know God will figure all of that out.

He has a way of sorting things out for me. 

I only hope that other people are sprinkling them in some of the same spots that I am so we can close the gap on those hurts in the world together. When cobbled together, incredible things happen like the small Christmas miracle I got to witness this weekend as we met these basic needs for a family I love.

As we close out another year here at MomAdvice, I hope you will find a way to share your gifts with others, whether they are big or small. Just as I did with my daughter,  I am acknowledging these hurts in the world today, I echo your hurts because I think about them too and pray for resolutions, and I share a tiny bandage with those of you who are hurting.

I am also hoping you are one of the lucky ones holding a box and you won’t forget to share a few Dora Band-Aids of your own, even if the wounds seem too big for such small offerings.

They all matter.

And so do you.

xoxo

Why New Year’s Day is the Most Romantic Holiday

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

How to Make New Year's Day the Most Romantic Holiday

Even though Christmas seems to be campaigning for “most romantic holiday” with its flirty, “Santa Baby” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” its wistful, “Merry Christmas, Darling,” and its determined, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” I’m not buying it.

Everyone knows Valentine’s Day is a manufactured holiday, and let’s be honest. There’s nothing romantic about stuffing ourselves with turkey or mopping up sweat and fighting mosquitoes while we wait for the fireworks display to begin. Obviously, the only choice for Most Romantic Holiday is New Year’s Day.

Wait – what? Didn’t I mean to say New Year’s Eve? With its fancy parties and bubbly champagne and midnight kisses? WITH ITS WHEN HARRY MET SALLY RACES ACROSS TOWN AND DECLARATIONS OF LOVE?

Um, no. I really did mean New Year’s Day.

I believe New Year’s Day is the most romantic day of the year. The first day of the calendar year is a time for you and your husband to celebrate what’s happened over the previous year – or maybe to close the door on a tough year. Maybe even a little bit of both. But more importantly, it’s a time to look forward together, to evaluate what has worked and what hasn’t, to make plans for the best year yet.

It can also be a time to get to know each other better, as you reflect on what was most important, most challenging and most rewarding over the past year. New Year’s Day is not naive; it remembers what’s come before. But it’s hopeful and full of potential for what you can do and become, together, from here on out.

So how can you take advantage of this oh-so-romantic day and celebrate the beginning of a new year (and the end of an old one!) with your husband? I have three suggestions.

How to Make New Year's Day the Most Romantic Holiday

3 Ways to Make New Year’s Day the Most Romantic Day of the Year

1. Look back on the past year together.
Did you and your husband struggle to communicate this year? Did you make a record number of date nights happen? Was this a year you reconnected – or one where you drifted apart? Did you break some habits or slip into some old ones? Did you fight a battle together and win, or fight for each other (which is always a win)? Take an honest look at the last 12 months as a couple, so you can decide which parts you want to duplicate in the coming year and which ones you want to leave behind.

This can also be a fun time to create a time capsule. Make a list of questions to answer together – or take turns answering – and record those answers. In the last year, what was…

…the best meal you ate?
…the best movie you watched?
…the best book you read?
…the catchiest song you couldn’t get out of your head?
…the most fun you had as a couple?
…the hardest you remember laughing?
…something new you learned to do?
…something new you learned about each other?

2. Make resolutions or set goals for the year.
Okay, okay, we all know that making New Year’s resolutions is often an exercise in futility – or, at least, frustration since we usually break them all before February rolls around. But what about setting one or two goals for your marriage? We talked about this last year, and this year I found a great list of suggested marriage resolutions that you can check out. I especially love the way this list recommends only picking THREE of these goals and then focusing on them.

I haven’t talked with my husband yet, but I’m hoping we can agree on #2, #15 and #16: regular date nights, inviting friends over for dinner once a month, and trying something new together.

This can also be a time to share with each other your individual goals, hopes or even dreams for the next year. Wouldn’t it be easier to reach your goal of running a 5K with your husband cheering you on? And if he shares his dream of finishing his degree, that gives you the opportunity to talk about how you can support him and make it happen together.

Honestly, my husband isn’t very good at the traditional romantic gestures like flowers or gifts or candlelit dinners he planned. But when he looks me in the eyes as I share a dream or hope from a hidden corner of my heart – and then he says how much he believes that I can make that dream come true? Well, I might just feel a little like swooning, friends!

3. Plan a year of dates.
Last but not least, take an hour on (or near) New Year’s Day to come up with a Date Night Plan. How often will you spend focused time together this year? What will you do? How will you budget for the babysitter? Who will make the plans? And then – this is my favorite part! – brainstorm some ideas for date night activities.

We did this last year, and even though we barely made a dent in that list of things we wanted to do together (because we leaned on our traditional dinner-and-a-movie agenda more often than we thought we would), it was still fun to think up new date night ideas! And, since we weren’t all that successful trying new things in 2015, I’ll be pulling out that list for next year, too.

Okay, friends. Tell me: What do you think is the most romantic holiday? And how will you celebrate the new year with your husband?

 

Circle With Disney: The Only Cyber Deal a Parent Needs

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Protect Your Kids

Sometimes it is difficult to share here and keep a sense of privacy  around certain issues that we have in our family. We have been dealing with a personal struggle with our kids and creating a good balance of online time and offline time with them. Our biggest struggle though has been protecting them from the internet and potentially harmful content as well as monitoring the amount of time they are spending on their devices.

There are a few things that I became aware of over the past couple of years about my loss of control as a parent.

One was that one of my children was getting up in the middle of the night to play online games while we were sleeping because we were monitoring the amount of technology hours they were allowed online. We found out that this child had been getting up at 3 in the morning every day, slipping on their uniform, playing Minecraft until I needed to wake them up, and then pretending to read in their room, absolutely wowing me that I did not have to pull them out of bed. Of course, the routine started to slip when they became an absolute disaster at school and emotional mess when they came home. We checked our internet logs to discover what was happening and realized it had been a routine for quite awhile before we realized they had been doing it.

The second was that one of our children left open their Google searches on our computer and a peek at their open search history yielded a serious discussion we needed to have about sex and the potential that their search could yield pornography or put them at risk of child predators. We should have had the talk sooner- it felt like a parenting fail to see what they were looking for.

The third were some unsavory jokes at our dinner table that apparently had been found on YouTube skits. 

Clearly, we had lost our control.

The Only Cyber Deal a Parent Needs

We started locking down the internet in as many ways as possible. No one could get on during certain hours, their Kindles had every parental restriction we could set, and we blocked any potential sites that we could that might pop up in their searches. We became police monitors of their behavior as best as we could, but still situations arose where we felt we lost control. My husband did hours and hours of research on what we could do to make this better, but we couldn’t find anything that fit our family’s needs. These blockers for our kids created blockers for me all day trying to do my job and I didn’t know how to reset the blockers my husband enabled. Potential monitoring systems would not work with our router so this is the crappy “block you from everything,”  solution that we had come up with for now.

Until THIS.  It’s called Circle. The company reached out to me to help spread the word about their service for the holidays. Honestly, I almost cried when I watched the video because this is what we needed.  THIS is what our family has been waiting for. THIS is the answer to our issues and I am so excited to show it to you today. I am over the moon excited that we are implementing this system in our home to help protect our kids and I can’t encourage you enough to consider the same system especially if you are having these struggles too.

I received a beta unit this week and would love to walk you through it. Even though I am a blogger, I can admit that I am not very tech savvy.  Watch the video to see how easy it was to set up for our family!

Every family needs this in their home.

Don’t believe me? Here is another video clip of it in action! 

Best part…

It’s only $99 FLAT (meaning no monthly fees!!)

Are you tired of letting the Internet dictate what your family is exposed to? Not Anymore! With Circle, you are the boss!

Here are 4 Awesome things you can EASILY do with Circle:

1. Set appropriate filters for EACH DEVICE. Use the pre-designed ones or customize your own.

iOS Screen 4

2. Track where your family is spending their time online. iOS Screen 3

3. Give your devices a BED TIME! iOS Screen 2

4. PAUSE the internet! Yes. you. can. iOS Screen 1

If you are still not convinced, read what these Circle customers are saying about it:

“As the father of four kids from elementary through college age, I am not exaggerating when I say Circle is EXACTLY the device I have been looking for to control the internet in my house. Circle truly is peace of mind in a little white box.” – Wayne Stocks

“Circle has literally changed our lives and how our family spends time on the internet. My worries of what my children could be exposed to online has changed overnight by the use of Circle. I can pause the internet anytime making getting chores or homework done much easier these days.” -Terra Nyce

“Circle makes it easy for me to protect my kids online, monitor usage across all our home’s devices, and create conversations with the entire family. It’s rare that something is simple and effective, but Circle is both.” — Michael Lukaszewski

We are so excited to finally have control again. Get control of the Internet and give your family this gift of Circle on Cyber Monday.

*This post contains an affiliate link, but I only promote things I believe will add value to your life.