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Save Your Marriage!

It’s been almost 16 years of marriage for us and I can honestly say that I love my husband more now than I ever have before. I look forward to our getaways and our time together. He’s not a huge romantic-and-big-gestures kind of guy, but he’s kind, thoughtful, hard-working and SO patient. I see marriages around me struggling or falling apart, and it makes me sad. Sad that they don’t have what I have. Everyone deserves to love and be loved unconditionally and treated well. I will tell you that there’s nothing spectacular about our marriage. We make mistakes, we drive each other nuts sometimes, there are a million things that each of us would handle differently with the kids, I’m sure. But at the end of the day, we are truly each other’s best friend and we would do anything to keep from hurting the other. How did we get lucky enough to find this? We didn’t. We CHOSE it.

See, sometimes I hear people wondering if they ended up with the right person. I hear people thinking about how their life might be different or better if they were with somebody else. In my mind, those marriages are doomed. If you even have a tiny bit of wonder in your mind, it tells me you didn’t actually make up your mind in the first place. I don’t believe in love at first sight. I don’t believe in a soul mate. I believe you choose the person you’re going to marry and you decide to make it work…or you don’t.

There’s no perfect person. There’s no perfect relationship. However, there IS mutual respect, love, compassion, teamwork, trust and fun. I think these are the keys to marriage.
If you’re doubting your marriage, figure out which one of those keys is the problem. Focus on it together and strengthen it. Just like you would do at the gym. If your arms are weak, you focus on them. If your endurance isn’t where it should be, you work on it. You know darn well sitting on the couch and waiting for it to improve won’t do a thing.

So how do you target each of those things? Some are easier than others. If respect is the problem, it’s probably time for a serious discussion. If you don’t have respect, it’s going to be awfully hard to work on the other things. Some outside help might be your best bet. I think trust might be part of the outside help, too. Usually something big has happened to damage that. It’s best to go to somebody who has experience. The rest, I totally think can be worked on together.

If you find yourself not feeling in love, you need to make a conscious effort and decision to fall back in love. Go on a trip or simply take a weekend and leave the kids with a trusted friend. Stay in a hotel so all distractions are gone. Find a new experience to do together. It might be awkward and feel forced, but keep doing it. Soon enough it will start to get easier and feel more natural. This would help if the fun factor is missing, too. If you’re not feeling compassion toward your spouse, I encourage you to make a list of all of the things both of you do in a day. Really try to think about what their day must be like. It might help you realize that they have a lot on their plate. This also a great thing to do if the teamwork piece is missing. Once you see it all in black and white, it’s hard to deny that one person isn’t doing their part. Don’t do it to rub it in their face or show them you’re right and they’re wrong. Do it so you can decide together what might be able to switch from one person’s list to another.

Do what you have to do to strengthen the part of your marriage that is showing weakness. Don’t ignore it and assume it will get better. It probably won’t. Love isn’t a magic thing. It is a choice that you have to continually choose as long as you want the relationship to last.

Parenting

“Don’t Stare!” (Spoken By Moms In Stores Everywhere)

Do you ever go out in public and get embarrassed because your kids stare at somebody who looks or acts differently than them? It happens to ALL of us. It can get embarrassing, but really, kids are just curious and trying to figure this world out! It’s not that they’re judging or trying to be rude. Your first reaction may be to tell them not to stare because it’s rude. When we tell them not to stare or look though, it makes them think those differences are taboo or that they should just ignore the person.

Instead of telling them not to stare, tell them to say “Hello!” It teaches them that even though that person might act and look differently than them, they’re still a person and we treat them the same as we would everyone else. It teaches them to be accepting of differences and even teaches them to engage with people who are different than them. Our world needs more of both of those things! It’s a simple change in our daily interactions with our children, but it’s one that can cause a completely different mindset as they’re figuring out this big confusing world!

Parenting

No, I really DON’T want to play…

“Mommy, can you play with me?” It’s like kids have a radar and they know exactly when you need to accomplish something. That’s when they strike and ask you to play. When my oldest was a toddler, I dropped what I was doing every time he asked and subjected myself to playing cars, trucks, trains…whatever he wanted. I. Wanted. To. Poke. My. Eyeballs. Out. Seriously, I love my kids, but I wasn’t great at pretend play when I was a kid, so doing it as a grown-up is rough. I hate it. Maybe that makes me a terrible mom. But if it does, at least I’m an honest one, I guess!

After my oldest got a bit older and started asking me to play things like Ninjago or Transformers or whatever these characters were that I knew nothing about, I couldn’t even pretend anymore. Luckily, by then, our second son was old enough that they could sort of play together. It was more like the oldest was telling the next one what to do and how to play, but they were mostly happy…for a little while. And it was then that I realized it was okay to say “no thanks” when they asked me to play. Not only were they learning independence, they were actually becoming more creative without me stifling their play with my non-creative self! I wasn’t hearing “I’m bored” by my oldest as much anymore. AND I was getting things done during the day, which made me way less stressed and better rested. That meant I was a more patient and understanding mom. It was like all of a sudden, things were falling into place!

I thought back to when I was little and realized my mom and dad rarely played with me. My friends’ parents didn’t sit and play with them all day. That’s not how it worked! Don’t get me wrong, I had wonderful parents that gave me plenty of love and attention. But they did NOT sit and entertain me all day! If I asked them to play a board game or something like that, they often would. However, it was one game and then they went back to whatever it was that they were working on. No endless rounds of CandyLand like I felt like I had to do when I was just starting this mom gig. For some reason, nowadays, moms are made to feel super guilty for not sitting down and entertaining their kids from sun-up to sun-down. You’re made to feel like that’s the way to teach and enrich them and if you don’t, they will be behind. It’s like you’re supposed to leave every single thing you have to do in a day until after bedtime and your kids should have your undivided attention. Guess what. I tried that. It’s awful! I was so tired when my oldest kids were little because I’d be bored to tears playing all day, then they’d go to bed, I’d do a million tasks and then crash before waking up and doing it all again the next day. I don’t think that’s actually supposed to be how this parenting things works, you guys.

As a teacher, I see problems with students who have no attention at home. They don’t have supervision and they sit on screens all day. I’ve blogged about that and got “Amens” from most of the teachers I know. BUT, the kids that are entertained by parents all the livelong day come with their own set of problems! These kids don’t know how to engage with teachers that aren’t sitting right in front of them talking directly to them…you often have to call their name to get their attention before speaking to the class. They don’t know how to initiate play. They often don’t have the same set of play skills that the other kids do (because theirs is more like an adult pretending to be a kid…that’s all they’ve seen). They don’t keep themselves engaged in a task because they’re used to somebody pulling them through it. They don’t know how to wait for attention, help, etc. because they’ve always had attention on-demand. They don’t know how to be bored and live through it! There are SO many skills that kids learn when they have to entertain themselves. Independence depends on it. And let me tell you, kids NEED independence when starting school!

Now before a whole bunch of people jump all over me, I am not saying you should ignore your kids. I’m not saying you should never play with them. What I am saying though, is they need to have a balance. Obviously, they will learn though play with you, so it is a wonderful time to model skills, slip in some practice with colors, shapes, counting, etc. It’s a great bonding experience (even if you’re bored to tears!) and shows them that you care about them and are interested in what they are learning. It can give you great insight as to their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, you need to play with them. But not every time they ask and not all day long. If you are working on a task and they ask, it’s okay to say “no” or “not right now”. It’s okay for them to not be able to play what they wanted. It’s okay for them to not get their way! It’s actually really very healthy. When you do play with them, set some limits for yourself. Play one or two rounds of the game, build with Legos with them for 20 minutes…but set a limit. Then go work on your to-do list. It’s good for kids to see that you have household jobs to do, that you want to sit down and read a book, that you have work to do at home. This is your reality and someday will be their reality, too. Most of all, it’s good for them to see that the world does not revolve around them. Even though they may be your entire world, once they step foot outside of your door, they’re just one piece in whatever world they are a part of (school, daycare, sports teams, etc.). It’s a hard reality to face when the world has always revolved around them. From experience, I know it is a hard reality to get them to accept without them (and their parents) thinking you’re completely against them. When bedtime comes, you’ll be less stressed and have time, patience and energy to give them. You’ll have time to be more than a stressed out mom after bedtime is over. Seriously, everybody wins!!

Life Hacks, Parenting

One Easy Trick = One Tidy House

There are times (like this very second) where my house is not the tidiest. It’s a snow day, so all four kids are home with me for the day. Toys are out and the kids are playing. But the toys are a quick and easy thing to clean up if you keep them pretty organized. You know what becomes overwhelming though? ALL of the little things that stack up and makes it seem like a daunting task to try to get your house back in order. Wiping the table. Sweeping around the table. Putting shoes away instead of leaving them by the door. Wiping the crumbs off the counter. I have one tip that will make it MUCH easier to stay on top of things and keep the tasks from stacking up.

As you’re moving throughout your house during the day, don’t leave the little things undone. I know it sounds ridiculous, and may seem like it’s not all that helpful of a hint. Hear me out though. Every time I come to a task that needs to be done, I ask myself if it’s a job that would take a minute or less. If it is, I don’t leave it undone. I’m trying HARD to instill this in my kids. My teenager gets it and his room stays incredibly neat and tidy. He never leaves his things around the house. The other three? Let’s just say it’s a work in progress!

Think about it though. You can do pretty much anything for a minute, right? Even things you hate. I am a TERRIBLE runner. Like, I pretty much want to die before I even start. But even I could run for a minute. (Don’t ask me to though. Please don’t!) A minute…60 seconds…its tolerable. If a task takes less than a minute, don’t leave it for later. Suck it up, take a minute and get it done. What are some of the jobs that might take less than a minute? Replacing the toilet paper roll, unpacking your child’s backpack, loading dishes into the dishwasher, washing the pan you used to make dinner, wiping off the table, changing a lightbulb, cleaning the bathroom mirror. They’re endless. By themselves, they’re all easy tasks, but if you let them wait, you end up with a really long to-do list full of annoying little tasks that seem really tedious. By knocking them out as you see them, you leave your house relatively neat and tidy with a few bigger jobs to be spread throughout the week. There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Spending even 20 minutes knocking out 20 little jobs seems like a drop in a bucket, doesn’t it? Your future self will thank you when she has time to sit and watch The Bachelor that night!

Parenting

Cut The Cord

Okay, not literally. I’m talking about the cord to our kids’ electronic devices…phones, iPads, tablets, etc. I don’t actually want to cut the cord completely. I love my phone and couldn’t live without it. I know my kids feel the same about their devices. Plus, the cord isn’t what actually makes it work, but you know what I mean! We need to pull away and realize the harm that they are doing to our kids. It might seem like it’s easiest to just let them play. It’s quiet, peaceful and you can get things done. I get it! I promise it’s having its impact though.

As a kindergarten teacher, I know my mom-view on use of electronics or technology has been greatly impacted by what I see in the classroom. It’s changed as I’ve seen kids come through that have had iPads or tablets in their homes since birth. People say that kids are kids and they haven’t changed, but they’re wrong. I’ve watched it happen before my very eyes and it has greatly changed the job description of a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, my kids have their fair share of screen time. On the weekends, it’s more than during the week. At Grandma’s house, it’s more (not my jurisdiction…I’m just thankful for the help!). I don’t hate technology and I know that my kids need exposure because most likely these skills will be necessary in their lives. However, screen time is something that I am fighting hard to control at home. I’ve even tightened the reins more in the past couple of months as we get to the toughest part of the school year. In the classroom, we are STRUGGLING, people. We are drowning in the results of too much time spent on electronic devices and not enough time spent socializing, learning to play, strengthening character traits…or really just kids figuring out who they are!

They come to kindergarten without really even an identity. They don’t know what they enjoy or what they dislike. The only thing they can tell us that they like to do is play video games, play on their tablet, watch TV, or something similar. These options aren’t available at school when it’s recess or play time and they don’t know what to do. They almost don’t really even know how to play with toys anymore. Often times, I see kids resorting to acting out video games when it’s play time because that’s all they know. They need somebody to teach them how to play because they’re about five years behind where some of the more well-rounded students are. Sadly, our play time during the school day has dwindled to almost nothing (this is NOT a teacher’s choice, so please don’t blame us!), so there’s not time to make up for that five year deficit.

That means that not only is the little bit of play time during the day a struggle, but their learning is majorly impacted. They are used to only paying attention to something that is continuously flashing, moving and grabbing their attention. They aren’t even used to commercials anymore, so they don’t know how to sit through and watch something they consider “boring”. When it comes time for learning, teachers make it as interesting as we can. Though even that can be difficult depending on the instructional techniques that may be mandated by their district. No matter what though, we can’t compete with the graphics and fast-pace of the video games. This is real-life, not a digital world. The kids don’t know how to learn. They don’t know how to wait for something because their electronics are brought out the second they don’t have something to do. They don’t know how to make themselves pay attention to something that isn’t immediately interesting to them. They don’t know how to keep their thoughts to themselves because they’re so used to people narrating their video game playing, thanks to YouTube. I’m positive they narrate while they play video games themselves. We struggle to even watch a PBS Kids show in the classroom without kids trying to narrate what’s happening or letting every thought pop right out of their mouths. On top of that, curriculum and more rigorous standards are being piled and piled and piled on our plates. There’s more and more each year. We. Are. Drowning.

So fix it, right?? I know that’s what you’re thinking. “Well, it’s your job now to teach them not to do all of those things, You’re the teacher!” Here’s the problem: we take five steps forward during the week and then they take two steps back on the weekend. Christmas break?? Fourteen steps backward. Summer break? Ninety steps backward. We can never get ahead. Every day that we spend re-training their little brains and habits is one step forward. Every day that parents let their kids play endless amount of video games, tablet time, watching YouTube…that’s a step backward. They’re out of school more days than they’re in school. We need help and support of parents.

I have many parents who think their child is just fine in the classroom and their teacher has no idea their kids spends so much time on Xbox, Minecraft, YouTube, etc. They’re wrong. I can tell in their social skills, their processing speed, their vocabulary, their fine motor skills, their gross motor skills…we know. Nobody’s kid is immune to this. Not yours, not mine! Electronics aren’t a bad thing. There is actually a lot of learning that can be done with them. However, my kids have to give me a plan before they can hop on. They need to tell me what they’re planning on doing and how long they think it will take. We set a timer for that long (if I’ve agreed that it’s an appropriate amount and an acceptable task!) and they do what they planned. Then when the timer goes off, they know they need to go do something else. But endless amounts of time? It’s not happening here. I love my kids too much for that!

I’ve watched amazing teachers walk away because it’s more than they can do. They go to a different school or district, hopeful that it will be different. Or they retire as early as possible because they feel like they can’t fight the battle anymore. We’re talking master, phenomenal teachers. A huge loss to the field of education. We just aren’t equipped to deal with kids coming in the masses without social skills. We don’t even have the time to do it, even if we had the training or resources because the curriculum is more rigorous than ever! I see education changing right in front of my eyes. The teachers that care enough to do a good job are struggling because they know they’re not getting the job done. The ones that don’t care whether they’re doing a good job will stay. So what does that do for our kids? Leaves them with huge social problems, harder things to learn than ever expected before AND teachers that are only there for a paycheck. I’m scared, you guys. Something has got to change. I’m begging you. Unplug your kids’ devices, at least a little.

Parenting

Picky Eaters

Does anybody struggle with picky eaters at their house? We certainly do. With four kids, it seems like no matter what meal I make, somebody is unhappy. It’s the most frustrating thing EVER!

With our first, we really didn’t know what we were doing and there was only one of him, so we ended up making a meal for ourselves and then something for him that we knew he would eat. When #2 came along, we started to realize this was not going to work, especially since we knew there would be more kids in the future. Our pediatrician had a great idea for us and we’ve used it since then.

Have you ever read the book “Green Eggs and Ham”? Please tell me yes. If not, you need to get on that immediately! The moral of the story is that you can’t possibly say you don’t like something unless you’ve tried it. The majority of my kids’ dislikes of food come from it just being unfamiliar and they assume it will be gross. Enter the idea of the the “no thank you bite”. Before they can say they’re done, they have to take a bite of each thing on their plate. If they don’t care for it after trying it, they can simply say “No thank you” and be done. No more fighting, begging or pleading. No more kids saying, “Disgusting! Gross!! I’m NOT eating it!” They don’t have to eat it. They just have to try it. It’s the rule, and it’s non-negotiable.

I’ve noticed that without the struggle of me forcing them to eat things, they are more willing to admit that they like things after trying a bite. The power switches from parent to child when they know they can choose to finish it or not. Try it! I’d love to hear how it works in your home!

Parenting

The Childhood Art of Talking Back

As a mom and teacher, I’ve dealt with backtalk A LOT. Honestly, usually it’s just a vicious habit that you have to break, especially when they’re younger. Teenagers are a whole other story. Luckily my only teen is compliant and easy right now. I’m sure I’ll get more experience on that in a few years. But back to the elementary aged kids and even toddlers. It’s enough to make you want to scream and it is certainly NOT fine for them to talk back. But how do you get this to stop?

It’s actually MUCH easier to stop it before it starts, but it’s hard to see it coming. One day, you have an inquisitive 3-year old and then you blink and you’ve got a sassy 7-year old or a 9-year old telling you “no”. Unfortunately, it was probably happening along the way and you didn’t even see it. As kids are learning to talk and starting to understand their independence, the habit starts to form. You tell them to do something and you get an innocent, “Why?” It’s cute because they’re little and you think they’re brilliant because they just want to know more about the world around them. Unfortunately, feeding into this “Why?” will start a very bad habit that will eventually make you crazy! The “why” will turn into moans and groans or just flat-out refusal to comply.

At our house (and in my classroom), when you are told or asked to do something, you may only say, “Okay”. No questions allowed. Answering with “why” gives them the ability to challenge your authority. That’s all they’re doing. Very rarely do they actually want to know why you’re asking them to do something. My kids know that if they truly have a question about why they were asked to do something or need to seek clarification, they can always ask me about it later. Or they may seek clarification after they’ve said “Okay” and started toward the task. But never may they challenge what they’ve been asked to do by us. We are the authority in the house (or classroom!) and it is our job to lead and manage.

Of course, they know that with strangers or people they don’t know or trust, this is different. They know that being asked to do something that makes them feel icky or that they know is wrong is a different story. But when it comes to parents and teachers, they are to say “okay” and do it right away. Moaning and groaning is essentially the same as talking back to us. If I ask them to go put their shoes away and I hear, “Awwwwwww.” I answer with “I think you meant to say, “Okay”. Let’s try that again…” and I’ll give the direction again. If they don’t answer appropriately, I’ll interrupt and say the exact same thing over and over and over again until they give the correct answer. Like I said, it’s much easier to prevent the habit from forming than it is to correct it after it’s been a habit for several years. By the time they’re in school, you may have to repeat it many MANY times to outlast them. You may need to assign a consequence if they are really resistant, but it will be totally worth it.

Remember these words: I think you meant to say “Okay.”

And use them. Use them often and immediately and you will see change. Your life will become easier. Your kids’ teachers will thank you. Their future employers will thank you. Someday, THEY will thank you for loving them enough to command respect!