Ages and privileges: how does it work at your house?

After  getting a few questions about various rules and privileges at our house, I thought I’d put together a post answering some of those questions. As you might expect when folks have been parenting 20+ years like we have, there are rules that have changed and adapted with changing times. In some cases we’ve gradually gotten more lenient, and in other cases we’ve gotten more careful. In all these parenting decisions, I think it’s really important to look at the kid. Some kids simply are ready for things sooner than others. If you’ve dealt with these issues in your home, I’d love to hear what you do differently and what you do like we do.

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How old do kids have to be to stay home alone?

This varies from child to child, but in general by the time they’re 12 or so, I’ll occasionally let them be home alone for an hour or so.  By the time they’re 14, I usually feel okay about leaving them for an afternoon.  This summer for the first time ever, we’ve had to leave older teens home while we’ve been out of town.  It’s such a new/uncomfortable thing for us that we opted to have the teens hang out at my parents’ house for the nights and at least part of each day while we were gone.  Probably overly conservative there, but it is what gave us the most peace of mind.

What about babysitting siblings?

I will occasionally let a 12 year old stay home for half an hour or so with a younger sibling– for example if I am going running, or quickly driving a sibling to work.  Babysitting multiple younger siblings for any length of time doesn’t usually happen til the child is 14, and even then it depends on how challenging the younger set can be and how mature and patient the older child is.  As far as paying siblings to babysit younger ones, that happens infrequently, and usually only if the number of hours is substantial.

Do you give an allowance to your kids?  If so, is it tied to household chores?

We don’t do allowance at our house.  We consider an hour or so of chores each day to be a normal part of living in our family. All kids have jobs at our house, beginning in the preschool years.   Here’s another post I wrote about kids and chores and here’s another that I wrote about raising money-smart kids.

At what age do you start making the children pay for things on their own?

In general they start paying for wants when they’re teens, since that’s when they usually start babysitting and getting odd jobs helping out relatives.  But even elementary age kids will sometimes get the chance to earned a coveted item at the store by doing some extra yard work for me.  Depending on their effort, kids can earn $3-$5 an hour doing yard work any time they need to earn some money.


How do you handle internet/communication with friends?

This is such a challenging issue.  We allow internet use only on our living room computers, usually for 30 minutes a day or less.  They can get facebook when they’re 14, with passwords that I know, and the understanding that I can log into their account at any time.  We have Safe Eyes installed on all the computers in our home, with reports on every computer coming to my email on a daily basis. Kids can do internet searches for research as needed, with me nearby.  In general, any internet for kids under college happens after asking permission, and facebook privileges have occasionally been lost by kids who have gotten online without asking. Kids can buy their own computer when they graduate from high school, and college students can do internet-based homework in their rooms as needed, though we still prefer that social media stuff happen out in the living room. Kids younger than college don’t have smart phones, ipods, or any other device that accesses the internet.  They can use my phone to text friends as needed.  They can also use our house phone to talk directly with friends.

What about video games?

Kids can play x-box once or twice a week for maybe an hour or so– generally only on weekends, but sometimes on weekday evenings when everything else is done.  There are occasional video game marathons when friends come spend the night. Minecraft is a favorite at our houses these days with the under-teen kids.  Most of our games are marked ‘E’ (for everyone) or ‘T’ (for teens), with a couple carefully vetted ‘M’ (mature) games allowed for the 16+ crowd.  The teen/mature games are for times when no younger siblings are in the room.

How early do you get up? How do you structure your routine? 

I’m not a morning person, so I generally do not get up before 7 AM, and sometimes sleep in til 8. Here’s a homeschooling schedule from a few years back to give you an idea of how a typical day goes at our house.

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What do you do to take care of your self and have dates or time alone with your husband?

Since my youngest child these days is 9, I have more ‘take a break’ options than I used.  Usually we have some quiet time in the afternoons, and almost every night I stay up later than the kids for some quiet time.  Even teens are usually in their rooms by 10:30, though sometimes they stay up later reading.  John and I watch a TV show in our bedroom most evenings after everyone else has gone to bed.  (Lately we’ve enjoy White Collar and Royal Pains.)  We also go out to eat or to a movie once or twice a month.

What do you expect of college (or older) age that still live at home?

College kids are expected to tell us where they’re going and to be home at an hour reasonable for whatever outing it is that they’re attending.  In general they don’t do chores around the home, but are expected to pitch in occasionally when asked, have at least a summer job, and be putting good effort into school.  So far we haven’t had kids stay home after college, but we’ve told them they’re welcome til age 22 as long as they are employed full time, are respectful and fun to be around, and pay a small amount of rent if not attending school.

How do you handle things like bedtime and age appropriate movies when you have a wide range of ages in the house?

Younger children have earlier bedtimes than older ones.  If the teens want to watch a PG-13 movie, they wait until the younger ones are in bed.  We do sometimes try to choose movies that everyone can enjoy together as well.

How have you guided your children in the area of dating/courtship/preparation for marriage?

Our kids need to wait til they’ve graduated from high school before they can go on a one-on-one date with someone that we’ve met and that we feel comfortable with.  We believe that dating is not really just for entertainment.  It is for getting to know someone as a possible marriage partner, so it doesn’t make sense to begin that before someone is even a high school graduate. We talk on an ongoing basis about the various characteristics that make a good marriage partner, and of course bathe the entire situation in lots and lots of prayer.  We feel very blessed by the husbands that our older girls have chosen, and will continue to pray for God’s hand of guidance for our younger ones.

I think that answers all the questions that I got this past week or so.  I’d love to hear how other parents handle similar issues in their homes.  It takes a lot of wisdom and a lot of prayer and thought, doesn’t it?

Book giveaway: Waking Up White

Later this week I’m going to answer some parenting-logistics questions that I’ve been asked lately– things like what we do about allowance, how old our kids have to be to babysit siblings, etc. If you happen to have questions about how we do things at our house, will you shoot them to me in comments? I’ll add those questions/answers to Wednesday’s post.

Today, however, I am giving away an intriguing book called Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.  She grew up in a privileged white community in the 60′s and 70′s, and realized well into adulthood that, first of all, she was so uncomfortable with race issues that she was often nervous talking with black folks, and second, that she desperately wanted to be the type of person who works to break down barriers, rather than pretending they don’t exist.

I think a lot of white people would like to think that racism is a thing of the past, that everyone plays on an even playing field these days.  But the more she explored this, the more she came to realize that’s just not true. It’s a proven fact that black boys get pulled over by police more often than white boys. White women still cross the street when black men walk by.  And black men have to dress much more neatly than average to go shopping at the mall without being covertly watched and sometimes even questioned by security people.

Chapter by chapter, the author shares her own personal journey of racial awakening– of really understanding the privilege she gained simply from being born into a white family.  She also came to realize that the reserve and politeness she learned from her family of origin, were sometimes causing her to avoid the kinds of deep conversations that might lead to understanding another person’s point of view, to really imagine life in their shoes.

She talked about the different values in different families, and how some of those values might add layers of complication to how we perceive folks.  For example, a student  she’d labeled difficult and distractible because of her tendency to leave her seat and go chat with other students turned out to be from a culture that highly valued cooperation.  The child was honestly trying to help other students out.

Another time the author realized she was inadvertently offending black associates by being too quick to call them by their first names instead of honoring them by saying Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jones.  From her cultural standpoint, she saw it as a sign of friendliness. But many people, especially those growing up in the South, do not.

Yet another time she learned that calling a black person ‘articulate’  can be seen as an insult — a stinging jab often heard as ‘he’s unusual for a black person’– and not a true compliment at all.  Of course relationships between any humans can be complicated, even at their best.  But the overarching message of this book to me was how important it is to be honest and humble in our dealings with each other, to not assume that everyone is coming from the same frame of reference, and to be willing to hear and believe people telling you that life is very different for them than it may be for you.

As a mom to children born in several different countries, I read this book with interest and found it to be very worthwhile.  It left me with greater understanding and a renewed determination to be the type of person who builds bridges and grows relationships wherever I go.  As the author states in this book, we’re all different, but we all belong here.  We should treat each other as such.

If you would like to enter the drawing to win a copy of this book, comment below. I’d love to hear how you talk about race with your kids.  Do you encourage your kids to help all kids feel welcome in their classroom? How do you respond when your child points out someone of a different ethnic heritage in the grocery store?  If you are adoptive parent, how do you talk about race with your kids without leading them to expect bad treatment around every corner?



Related story:  Raising Black Kids in a ‘White’ State

Teens and expenses: how we do it

The winner of last week’s book giveaway Tokens of Affection is commenter #1 Stefani.

Thrift store shoes

I thought it might be interesting to some of you to hear how we work all the ‘extra’ expenses that teens tend to have.  We have a moderate budget which allows us to supply all of our kids’ needs, but it doesn’t always allow us to fund the ‘wants’.  So that’s where they come in.  If they want something badly enough, they work for it.  Here’s how it currently works at our house.

I will often buy kids some new clothes for Christmas. They also have a grandma who gives them new clothes at birthday time. At other times in the year I will grab them items at the thrift store  or on sale as I find them and I see that they have need. When we go thrifting together, I will often tell them I’m game to buy them one item, and then they can buy whatever they find beyond that one item.

When it comes to shoes, the girls have so many, and get so many hand-me-downs that I don’t buy them much beyond what we occasionally find at the thrift store. In the photo you can see some thrift store shoe finds from a couple years ago. The boys wear out their shoes much faster than the girls, which I replace at the cost of up to $30. If they want to buy something that costs more, it’s up to them to pay the cost beyond that first $30.


We don’t really have a big entertainment budget these days, and our teens (like typical teens) have lots of wishes. In general if the activity is less than $5 or so, and we’re all going, we pay.  If it’s more than $10 or so, and/or if it is something they’re doing on their own with friends, it’s their deal. Some examples: a couple of our teens have done judo at our local rec center, which they’ve paid for themselves, though I have several times paid for a month or bought them a judo gi as a Christmas or a birthday gift. We are willing to spring for dollar theater movies every few weeks.  We also will pay for them to go to a couple other new-release (full price) movies during they year.  When we went to the water park this year, the teens paid their own admission.  But we had several half-price coupons, which made the cost a lot more reasonable.  A few times our kids have done paint-ball, which they’ve paid for themselves.  But we paid to take them all ice skating awhile back.  This seems to work pretty well, and it also makes kids think about how badly they want to do any particular activity.


We have a minivan that has been our ‘teen’ car for years.  We  pay those expenses and the kids can drive that vehicle for free to necessary activities.  Our daughter who currently uses the car most is doing a one-year dental assisting program at the community college this fall, and to assist her in that goal, we are letting her use the van for free, and will supply the gas.  Once she gets out of school and gets a job she will be able to save and purchase a car for herself. We have also been driving our teen sons to their jobs this summer, which has allowed them to build up enough savings to buy cars of their own.  Our teens typically don’t buy cars til they’re at least seniors in high school, but we currently have three 16 year old teens and one 18 year old.  There just won’t be enough car to go around between all four of them.  So it is actually a good thing that our boys are so eager to buy cars on their own. Once they have their licenses and their own vehicles (bought for cash– no loans allowed) they will be paying all auto expenses, as well as half the cost of insuring their vehicles.  My dad has typically helped us out by fixing broken vehicles very affordably.

College Expenses:

Some of the teens have taken college classes in high school, which they pay for themselves.  They’ve also been helped out by a dual-credit scholarship that our local community college offers to high school students interested in taking college credits during high school.  Once they are in college, they will continue to pay their own way.  So far two of our kids have graduated from college with no debt.  We are hoping it will work that way for the younger kids as well, and are encouraging them to apply for scholarships and keep grades up.  Thanks to our large family, the kids do also tend to qualify for Pell grants.

Housing for College and Beyond:

Kids can live at home for free as long as they’re in college and are being responsible about their studies.  Our current 18 year old is planning to stay home while she gets her one-year program done, but most of the other kids have opted for dorms and later apartments.  We are willing to let kids stay home beyond college for a small amount of rent, but so far all the kids have been eager to get out on their own and live independently.

Sometimes I wish we had the finances to afford this or that special activity for the kids– I’m a momma, after all, and want to give good gifts to our kids. But then I have to remind myself of the good growth that is coming from this; the limits of our budget are teaching our kids a lot about their limits of their own budgets.  I’m sure there will be budget stumbles for them along the way— we all have them.  But I think that having to work and pay for some of their own wants from an early age will help them have more realistic ideas about budgeting as young adults.

What about you?  If you have teens, do you pay for all their expenses, or do you encourage them to pay some of their own?

If you’re interested in reading more about teens and money, you might enjoy our $20 Grocery Experiment



Frugal Friday: Teen Car Edition


This week was a big one for one of our teens.  After a couple years of working and saving, he was able to buy his first car.  He found this 1995 Cadillac for the princely sum of $1100.  Of course that didn’t include the new battery and oil change it immediately needed, or the price of that first tank of gas. He’s feeling pretty broke right now. But we are pretty proud of our boy for saving and working to buy this car on his own.

How did frugality go at your house this week?  I’d love to hear some of the ways you’re teaching your kids about wise spending.

Which three words would you choose?

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Recently the adoption community was rocked by the news that an adoptive mother of many children was killed in a car accident.  It is so hard to process news like this.  That’s when faith has to come in, I guess– faith that the God who knows everything knows better than we do.  But oh, it’s hard to trust that God really does have a good plan for those precious children.

My friend Carrien recently wrestled with a similar issue when friends of theirs died, also in a car accident.  She talked about how a lot of times no matter how hard we try, we can’t change everything we’d like to change in this world, and how futile that can sometimes feel.  When she shared those feelings with her husband, here’s what he said:  “You are a very minor drop in the bucket, just as I am, just as we all are. We have no ability to predict the outcome of our actions, positive or negative. We do what we do, because it is who we are, not because we are changing the world.”

She said that for a long time she’s made choices in life in this way:  “I ask myself who I want to be, and then I act the way that person would act.”

Isn’t that a great thought??  I love it.  It’s taken me years to truly understand that I can’t really change other folks. I can’t solve all the problems I want to solve. But I can work on myself.

Who do I want to be?

My friend Tisha, a fellow adoptive mom, has also been doing some thinking about life-legacy.  When she heard about that adoptive mom who died, who left a tremendous legacy of love to her family, Tisha decided on three words that she most wants to represent her.  She chose brave, reflective, and impactful.  Aren’t those great words? She even asked her children to choose words of their own– you really ought to go read the whole post for a fuller picture of her thoughts about all this.

After reading her words, I just had to choose some words of my own.  I hyphenated to get a bit more in there, but here’s my three.  Joyous. Grace-filled. Giving.

Oh, I want to be all that to the ones around me. What about you? How would you like to be remembered when the time comes for you to leave this world?

“…being confident in this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Philippians 1:6

Down by the river side

This past weekend we took some of the kids camping in the mountains. ‘Some’ because with three teens working and one taking a summer class, it’s becoming just about impossible to find a time everyone can get away. This weekend we left two teens home with my folks, and took four kids with us, which felt like a ridiculously small number of kids in our big ol’ van. We missed the ones who couldn’t come, but we had fun with the ones we brought, and ended up feeling like it was still worth going. My mom and dad had fun visiting with the other kids, and then they were able to go to work and school as they needed to do. Still, it felt sad to think we’re past the era of being able to easily pack everyone up and take off on an adventure together.

In the summertime we almost always camp on John’s mom’s land, which has been John’s family’s summer gathering place since the 1970′s.  It’s along the edge of a sweet little river where we go fishing and swimming. Both John’s parents and his grandparents have owned land along that river.
John’s granddad built a a big open shed to shelter their travel trailer so they could leave it there on his land year round.  For years after he died, that old trailer stayed there under the shed.  Then a couple years ago someone outside the family expressed an interest in the trailer, and so off it went to a new home, leaving the shed empty.

But not for long.  We discovered the space was just right for our own travel trailer, so for the past couple summers we’ve parked under the shelter for the summer. Parking is tricky–we (meaning, John) have to get everything lined up exactly straight, because there are literally only inches to spare on each side.  But once it’s in, it’s like the shed was made for our trailer.  The most delightful bit of the shed is the little deck that granddad built along one edge, with its perfect view of our beloved river. 

Our family place

Our trailer is few feet shorter than grandma and granddad’s, leaving a bit of unused shade under the cover behind our travel trailer. This year, at the tail end of our stay, we decided on the spur of the moment to get some lumber and add just a bit more deck in that empty space behind the trailer.  John built the framework, then set the kids to pounding nails.  Within a couple hours, we had a whole new addition to the space that has been so very well loved for so many years.

Always, whenever we stay here, I think of the previous owners and creators of that space.  How Granddad lovingly thought of every little detail to make his beautiful bride comfortable when they came to the mountains to rest and relax and visit. How Granddad would zip around on his motorcycle, and Grandma would sit fishing at her favorite little fishing hole.  How John as a little boy would walk through the woods from his parent’s cabin to visit the grandparents and to play with them.  How they’d all gather together around the campfire in the evenings and laugh and swap stories. How one year just before we were married, John brought me along and showed me around the place too. How we’ve come all these years too, first with tiny babies and toddlers, then with school kids and teens.

Even in this busy phase of our life, it is precious to me to think that our children all have sweet memories of this place, of spending time with us and with siblings and grandparents and cousins. Of riding motorbikes and carrying fishing poles and splashing in the river and occasionally chopping trees or hammering nails to keep everything together and functioning well. I can only imagine that Grandma and Granddad would smile to see us here.

Maybe that river of ours does too– that ever-changing but also somehow changeless river– trickling along, watching our family growing and living and loving our time together here.



The Pharisee in me

On the water

Funny thing about life before parenting, and even life before you’ve had the chance to parent a challenging child. You can be really smug thinking you’re a pretty decent person, that you’re good at loving and good at forgiving. You may glimpse a bit of less-than-awesome lurking in there, but it’s still possible to fool yourself that most of the time all is fairly decent inside that heart of yours.

And then. Challenge comes.

Maybe it’s a defiant kid. Or a wounded one. One who struggles with anxiety, and shows it by trying to control everything, including you. Or maybe it’s not even a child. Maybe it’s a teen. Maybe it’s a spouse who hurts you, challenges you to the core. And you find yourself looking at a person in your life whom you’ve promised to love, whom you’ve been called to love, whom you desperately WANT to love.

But instead of love, if you’re being honest, you sometimes feeling pretty much the opposite. Sometimes you’re even acting pretty much the opposite.

And all of a sudden you’re face to face with just how bankrupt that heart of yours can be, when you’re running on your own power.

Because real love isn’t the kind that only loves someone who’s smiling sweetly back at you and agreeing that all your ideas are stellar. Real love carries on, reaches out, gently directs, shows kindness, even in the face of rejection. Yes, there is a place for limit-setting too– some situations where you legitimately need to say, ‘No more’.  But real love keeps seeing the struggling soul inside that person who’s hurt you.  Real love keeps being willing to go to the cross daily for that person.

I can’t love like that on my own.  I can only do it with the power of Jesus in my life.  And even then, imperfectly.

In the past, there were times I judged people who were struggling to love those around them. It seemed so obvious to me what they should be doing.  Lose that grudge. Love your kid.  Love your spouse. Forgive your friend.

Except, wow, that job is exhausting some days.

These days, thanks to the hard bits of my own life, there’s a new compassion in me for folks struggling to love well. Life is hard.  Relationships are hard.  We’d all be better off if we judged less and forgave more.  Offered grace more freely, especially when folks don’t deserve it. We’re all going to hit those hard moments when we need someone else to reach out with more grace than we deserve, and love us in spite of ourselves.

And sometimes the person I most need to forgive is myself. Yes, I can do all things, but ONLY through Christ who strengthens me.  And the wonderful thing about Jesus is that He’s always there to pick me up when I get foolish and try to walk on that water all by myself.

Thoughts on a life lived looking down


When our oldest daughters became teens a decade or so ago, none of their friends had cell phones. Since then electronic communication has exploded.  These days most young teens have cell phones, along with many elementary school kids.  And most of these phones have internet access built in right along with calling and texting. Everywhere I go, I see kids looking down at screens.  Walking down the road.  At stop lights. In restaurants. Even tiny children clutching screens sitting in shopping carts as their mothers shop. This is one trend we’re trying hard not to encourage with our kids.

Our 18 year old waited til 18 to get her first ‘dumb’ phone, and til high school graduation for a smart phone.  Our two 16 year old sons would love phones, and when they get their driver’s licenses in September, it would probably be really convenient.  But we really, really don’t want them to have the terrible temptation of internet any time, anywhere.  And we really don’t want them to live the last years of their childhood looking down at screens.  We’ve opted to charge one old ‘dumb’ tracfone with minutes, to be shared by both of them at times when it would be good for us to easily communicate with them.  Other communication can happen, in moderation, on our home phone and on facebook for 15 minutes or so most days. But not constantly.

As you might guess, some of our kids don’t love it.  They’re itching for more access, more ability to communicate with friends. And yes, we’re fully aware that once they’re out on their own, they’ll be making their own choices. When that time comes they may live for awhile constantly connected, heads down, tapping away at screens, forgetting to look up. But I don’t want that time to come just yet.  I want them to have a few more years to facing up and out, looking the ones around them in the eye, and sharing thoughts face to face.

Our hope is that more time in real life as kids will make it easier  for them to find a good and healthy balance later as adults.  To be the type of person who can use tools as they were intended, but also be able to set gadgets aside, maybe even for hours at a time, so that they can really live and breathe and inhabit the one precious, wild wonderful life that is theirs.

Other writing on this topic

The real reason I say no to electronics

What that ipad is doing to your kid

Are we starving the hearts of our children?


family time

Family time

I’m still here, kinda.  On Tuesday we got home from a really nice family vacation at the beach with all our kids, my parents, and my sister.  Lovely fun.  I’ll post more of the pictures below in a sec.  At the moment, however, I’m propped up on pillows in bed with quite a nasty flu, one that one of the grandbabies had on the trip, but that most of our kids haven’t gotten.  Yet.  Might be a bilious next week at the Owlhaven.

Before I post pictures and lie back down for another nap, I wanted to announce the winner of that lovely book The Nesting Place.  It is commenter #43 Tina who blogs at the Miles Clan.  Congrats, Tina!

And photos.  It truly was a precious week with all our kids around us. We took close to 1000 pictures, but here are 40 of my favorite.

Yachats (6) Yachats (2) Yachats (9) Yachats (38) Yachats (16) My momma Clamming Yachats (36) Yachats (15) Yachats (19) Yachats (10) Loving the water Yachats (17) With my sister Sophie Ben Yachats (25) Yachats (14)  Stories and naps Keisha Yachats (24) Yachats (5) Heceta Head lighthouse My baby Yachats (3) Emily Yachats (13) Yachats (11) My dad Moody models- and a photobomber Everyone was there, from A and Z Your face is MINE Yachats (31) Yachats (12) Yachats (28) Yachats (26) Yum Doing their best modeling poses

All 21 of us

grace, guidance, and grudge-holding

parenting during frustrating moments
I’ve been hashing over a dilemma that has plagued me to a degree ever since my first kid told me no, and continues to challenge me these days as we parent many teens.  In nearly every parenting journey, there’ll be times when a kiddo looks you in the face and blows a big fat raspberry, whether you’re asking him to pick up his blocks off the floor or reign in a sassy tongue or walk upstairs to get something.  Obviously that kid is immature and needs some re-directing. Usually the first time or two it’s not too hard to look him in the face and say, “Answer me with respect, please.” But along about the 4th or 14th or 44th time that the same old junk rears its nasty head, it can be darned hard to keep the tone even yet firm, with eyes that are loving instead of flashing your own personal brand of flames.

Kids can be relentless.  And some are just plain more hard-headed than others. How do you act in love toward them when they are choosing wrong? How do you keep your own frustration from clouding your judgement (not forgetting that ALL of us have a great need for grace and love exactly in our hard moments) while also lovingly addressing the very real issues that parents are called to address?

I do it so imperfectly. But one of the things that I was reminded of recently in Bible study is this: though God calls me to guide and direct and speak truth to my kids, He doesn’t call me to sanctify them. I can’t stop them from sinning, or from struggling with their fallen human nature. All true growth and change is between them and God. And even when I handle things well, there will be times when the middle of their struggle can look really messy. My job is to be faithful to the best of my ability. But the outcome belongs to God.

Another thing that I was reminded of by a friend is that God’s grace is there for me too, even as it is there for my kids. Yes, even when I get impatient and zip out angry words I instantly regret. That very forgiveness that I’m so grateful to have myself is also the forgiveness I need to keep offering my kids. We all need grace.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about balancing grace and guidance, and avoiding frustration when a child is being hard-headed. How do you encourage stubborn kids in a better direction?