balance and intensity in family life

For many years while decision-making, I’ve fallen back on wisdom from my mom: “Moderation in everything.”

Often those sage words point me toward a path that will make sense for my whole family, whether I’m making out a learning plan for our school year, or trying to decide how clean the house really needs to be for my sanity, or monitoring my kids video games or phone time, or deciding how much time we can squeeze in on the beach this year. Wow, it can be tricky to decide where to go or what to do and how much of it will fit. But very often the best, most reasonable answer for our clan is not at the fringes of possibility but somewhere in the middle of that pendulum swing.

Balance in everything.Finding Balance in Motherhood

And yet, there is such intensity in family life, isn’t there? Those bedtime moments when everyone is losing it and you’re trying to bundle multiple little ones off to bed before the very.last.iota of your energy forsakes you.

Days where two or three or four kids need toting to all different places at the same time while also somehow you need to fit in grocery shopping and and a doctor’s appointment or a work meeting, plus laundry and dinner.

Days where a couple of different kids come off the rails emotionally and you set aside a lot that needs to be done for what really, really must be done right.this.minute. And the dinner burns.

Days where a child is sick and all you can do is rock and console and give baths and change sheets.  And the laundry piles high.

Times like that, there is no moderation or balance– or at least it doesn’t feel like it. It’s just triage –dealing with the very most pressing needs at that moment and letting the rest fall where it falls.

Those inevitable times of intensity in life can sometimes point out places where my family’s balance isn’t quite right. But not always. Sometimes they’re just signs of the season I’m in right at that moment.

When my house is full of tiny ones and I don’t yet have bigger ones to help, there will most certainly be times of day that feel chaotic and messy and not a bit scripted or organized. No matter how many systems I put into place (put the jammies and towels on the bathroom counter, set the sippies by the beds, follow a simple calm bedtime routine) there are just so many needs, and sometimes they’re gonna clash.

When my family is large and growing toward the teen years and I want to give each child opportunities and activities and time for friendships, I will be the car-mom in the afternoons and evenings, and sometimes I’ll wish I could split myself into two or three or four to meet those needs.September canning

When multiple teens are reaching lift-off phase, I’ll be spending lots of time talking through logistics and counseling regarding money, and doing practice-driving with kids, and showing kids how to write resumes, and coaching them to smile and shake hands and look potential bosses in the eye. It’ll take tons of mental energy and wisdom to think through ways to handle problem behavior while nurturing connection. I’ll be yawning late at night and looking at the clock and listening for cars to pull in the driveway and praying, praying, praying.

Then of course there are the times when projects create times of chaos. When painting bedrooms or canning tomatoes or sorting summer clothes takes up every speck of slack in your life and all manner of other things go by the wayside.

It doesn’t feel the least bit balanced in any of those moments of intensity, does it? It can feel like you’re just hanging by a thread, doing the minimum on most of life just to meet those most pressing needs.

Certainly the more balanced the underlying structure is, the more energy you’ll have to meet needs in those times of great intensity. A huge part of that balance is remembering my true priorities in life: faith in God and relationships with the people around me. But also I have begun to take comfort in reminding myself that in life, chaos happens. It just does. Doesn’t mean I’m doing a thing wrong. Doesn’t mean that I need to be casting about for some perfect fix to stop this from happening tomorrow.

No matter what I do, there’s gonna be time like this. It’ll all be okay in the end. And if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

So I keep breathing, keep praying, keep loving my people, and keep trusting that God has this all figured out.  That’s where the real balance is.

Come to think of it, my momma taught me that too.

Different perspectives

We’ve had a broken garage door opener for awhile, and today, thinking of fixing it, John dragged a box out of a corner in which was a hand-me-down garage opener, brand new in the box.  Trying to decide whether to risk installing the old thing, John broke open the sealed box and found this VHS, which should tell you a lot about just how old this garage opener it actually is.

“Look at the 80’s hair on that girl,” John exclaimed. “And the shoulder pads.”

Stanley

A few minutes later our 12 year old came in the room and picked up the VHS to examine the picture. “Look at her selfie-muscles!”

 

 

Six Essentials in the Homeschool Day

If you’re feeling like you don’t get enough done in the average homeschool day, join the club! I have great news for you, though. It is possible to get a kid well prepared for adulthood if your homeschool day includes only six things. Here they are:

1. Time in the word. We fit this in at breakfast.  We take turns reading a bit of scripture while everyone eats.  It is  our hope and our help every day, and ideally guides all our interactions, especially in hard moments. Are we serving Jesus, or ourselves, with each decision?

6 Essentials in the Homeschool Day

6 Essentials in the Homeschool Day

2. Reading. This is the core of academic learning. If you have a child who spends time reading, you have a learner. Make sure there are plenty of good books in the home. I also like to alternate books of the child’s choice and books that I choose, to broaden the child’s reading horizons.  I often choose books that will teach a child a bit about a particular time in history– that way I’m covering reading and history.

3. Math. If you get a bit of math done each day, you are setting your child up for success with future learning. You don’t have to do tons each day. Just some.

4. Writing. In younger grades this can look like spelling or handwriting. In older grades you can assign creative writing, or essays on specific topics. Get kids comfortable with putting words on a page and you are setting him up to win at a huge variety of future careers.  Here’s a post I wrote about teaching essay writing.

5. Time to pursue a passion. Some kids might want to become fluent in Spanish. Others might be artists. Still others might be interested in creating a speaker for an Mp3 player or learning a new judo move. Not every child will discover a passion easily, but giving them space to investigate, to learn, or create will help them along that path.  (I think that limiting video games and screen time is a component of this as well, since it gives kids space to get bored enough to explore….)

6. Service. Some time each day should be spent doing something that benefits the family. In our house that’s usually something mundane like laundry or dishes or vacuuming. Maybe it doesn’t sound academic, but it’s teaching kids work ethic and skills for the future, and that’s every bit as important as math.

Are you able to fit those 6 things into your school day on a regular basis? Then you’re doing great!   Eventually as kids move into the teen years, you’ll need to make subjects like science and history happen more often, but even then you  can mix it up.  For example, cover physical science one semester and world history another.  Or do science a couple days a week all year long.  But don’t feel bad if your fallback position on crazy days is those basic six things.  Your kids are still learning!

For more real-world homeschooling advice, check out my latest book, Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families.

 

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Are you expecting?

Just wanted to quickly share some fun news from Stitch Fix this morning– they are expanding their line to include maternity and petite! Here’s my referral link if you’d like to give Stitch Fix a try.

 

To make their maternity launch even more fun, Stitch Fix is hosting a $5000 maternity/baby giveaway in March. To enter that giveaway, you’ll need to do three things:
1. Go like Stitch Fix on Facebook.
2. Nominate yourself or a friend on the Stitch Fix Facebook wall, and share about the new Stitch Fix Maternity line on your Facebook page.
3. Ask friends to vote for your nomination.

A winner will be announced March 30th. Good luck!

 

Frugal Friday

Last week I spent four days in Seattle with John, which was fun, of course.  But meals out and rental cars and bits of shopping all add up.  It was good to get back home where money doesn’t leak away quite as fast.

On my table this week

 

SUCCESSES

  • I bought some spring flowers and planted them in containers that I already had for some spring color on the table.  Also found just the right color in a scrap of fabric for a bit of a table runner.  I love doing different things on the table from month to month.
  • This week I found several types of produce for reasonable prices, including pears, sweet peppers,  and apples.
  • Looking through my pantry, I’m realizing I need to serve pickles and applesauce more often, since we still have lots of both.
  • I found the boys shirts that they like, on clearance, again at Fred Meyers.
  • I returned a couple boxes of markers that turned out to be dry, brand-new.
  • I remembered to print a 10-pg tutorial for a kid in ‘draft’ quality to use less ink.
  • I combined a bunch of errands Tuesday evening to save on gas.
  • I went and did a consumer survey-thing at Hewlett Packard  (critiquing their website in a guided way) which earned me $100 for 2 hours of work.  Not bad.  And actually kind of fun.
  • When the Keurig broke, we resisted the urge to buy a new one (refills are spendy, and so is a new Keurig) and instead just brought the old coffee maker back inside from where it had been sitting in the garage. I figure every week we resist the urge to buy a new one, we’re probably saving $8 or so in refills alone.
  • My hipster son finally managed to find glasses he LIKED at the Walmart optical center for quite a reasonable cost.
  • I’m going thrifting this afternoon with a 20% off coupon.  Sweet.

SPLURGES

  • We got home from Seattle at around 1AM Sunday morning, but still wanted to have our kids over for dinner.  Since I was pretty tired, we went for   takeout pizza instead of something homemade.
  • I bought a new blouse (on clearance) that I probably didn’t really need.  Clothes are my Achilles heel.
  • I brought our four youngest girls to see The Drop Box (which was excellent) and also splurged on a quick meal of Ethiopian food before the movie.  Lots of fun, but it made for a spendy week in the entertainment budget.
  • And finally, a bit of gratuitous grandbaby darlingness.Wilona1

 

Focus and distraction

I had a job interview on Monday, my first official one in many years.  I haven’t been offered the job yet– and who knows, maybe I won’t be. But the interview went well enough that it has me thinking seriously about how a job would affect our kids. John and I are hopeful about the idea of getting our Ethiopia trip fully funded, getting the house paid off quicker, and working toward some other retirement-related goals.  Raising 10 kids tends to make present expenses feel more pressing than those in the nebulous future, but hey, we’re both 48 this year.  It’s time to think more seriously about some of this stuff.

And yet, in all this thinking about finances and dreams and goals, the last thing we want to do is short-change the kids.

So.  As we ponder all these things, we seek a sometimes-elusive creature called Balance.

The job I applied for is night shift, two nights a week in obstetrics.  Two nights away (of course) means 5 nights still AT home, which is great.   But still, it’s 24 hours a week that I’ll need to shift around– to decide what I’m not going to do so I can have time to do this new Something Else instead.

Since it’s night work, obviously part of what I’ll give up is sleep, at least on work days. (Yawn.)  No doubt I’ll need an earlier bedtime on  other days, to make up for that.  That means a little less Netflix, I’m afraid.

Other obvious things to delete or drastically diminish include Pinterest and Facebook– fluffy time-sucks that they are–totally non-essential. I’ll be doing them much less frequently even on my days off to keep home-time balanced as it should be– toward parenting.

Then there’s email.  Despite my current habit, I don’t really need to check it twice an hour. Once or twice a day really should be plenty.

Blogging may need to happen a bit less– tho I’m hoping if I just spend my very first computer moments each day on the blog, it can still happen fairly routinely.  Except then instead of footle-ing around on the internet endlessly, I’ll need to SHUT my computer and walk away and spend focused time with my people.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve come to see that my current life has a fair bit of padding that has allowed me a lot of sloppy time-wasting.  A regular job will make it necessary to be wiser  and more intentional with my hours.

John has been thinking along those lines too.  He says when I’m away (or needing to sleep), he’ll focus in on the kids– work out in the shop less and make sure he’s available to help with school or arrange lunch or whatever the kids need.  And since he currently only works 3 days a week– and opposite the shift I’m applying for– there will really only be a few hours a week where neither of us is home.

Though it’s only a part time job, it’s been so long since I’ve worked away from home that it feels like kind of a big deal. (All of you full-time-working Superwomen have my awe– this is just not the arena I’ve lived in for the past 15 years.)  But I really think we can do this.  It just comes down to being intentional, and reminding ourselves routinely of what’s really important.

This past weekend at the adoption retreat, we did kind of a neat exercise where we were given a plate and a sharpie onto which we could write down the name of something we wanted to release or get rid of or end– something that held us in bondage or didn’t add joy to our lives.  See all the plates heaped at the front of the auditorium?

Then we had the chance to SMASH the plate to bits in a big bin that was full of cement blocks, as a way of making a statement about that thing– drawing a line in the sand.   And say, enough. It was kinda crazy, kinda cool, to see hundreds of people smashing plates, and releasing something that had not been a blessing to their lives.  Many people were releasing impatience, unforgiveness, fear, and all sorts of negative emotions.

the things we hold onto

I was one of many who wrote about forgiveness, but I also wrote ‘distractedness’.  Always in this world there are things vying for my time things like facebook and blogging and this new job possibility .  But always, no matter what, I want to focus most of all on my people– the ones I love who are entrusted to me.

Releasing the old

 

And honestly, that’s one thing just thinking about this job has done for me.  Sure, it’s a great chance to (hopefully) get the house paid off a little faster, and invest in the future, and to minister to women at a beautiful, transformative time of life (oh, I love seeing new babies born).  But it’s also a great juncture at which to examine my life, and make sure I am intentionally and lovingly mothering my precious ones in a way that will cause no regrets ten short years from now when they’re all grown and gone.

So prayerfully we wait to hear about this interview.  And thoughtfully we will go forward, through whichever door God opens.

Refreshed

Over the weekend John and I had a really sweet getaway to attend the Refresh Foster and Adoption conference put on by Overlake Church near Seattle.  It’s always a little nervous-making to leave the kids at home and take off for a weekend.  But with a combination of teens supervising and a variety of friend/grandma/adult sibling visits, and a few LONG phone calls home from me, everyone seemed to have survived our absence and not starved.

Blue sky over Seattle

Refresh was just as good this our second year as it was our first.  We love the church family there, and the chance to visit with old friends and meet new ones, and play a tiny part in encouraging other families.  Always when I am getting ready to share with a group, I become so aware of my own imperfection and inadequacy.  I so much want to bless others, but I feel certain that others could do it much more eloquently.  Which certainly is true.

Seattle SunshineBut you know what? The weekend I was reminded in many ways how important it is to reach out and connect honestly and share hard and offer hope to the ones God places before us– even when, especially when, we don’t have it all together ourselves. Even if our voices sometimes quaver as we speak truth.  Because when it comes down to it, it’s not about us speaking perfect words. It’s about allowing the light of Jesus to shine into the heart of another fellow traveler.  And certainly that happened so many times, in so many ways this weekend.  We really did feel the presence of Jesus everywhere.

Last fall I met a neat group of adoptive mommas at a tiny retreat on Camano Island.  It was a sweet weekend of bonding and refreshment.  At the tail end of that lovely weekend, Darlene shared a bit of wisdom that an older lady had once shared with her:  “We’re all just dumb sheep, but we have a really, really good Shepherd.”

We all laughingly christened ourselves the Dumb Sheep, and this past weekend we had the chance to reconnect. Thanks to Refresh, some of the husbands are getting to know each other too– so neat. I think that sometimes husbands have a harder time making connections with other men and the fact that the Refresh conference gives men that opportunity is a real blessing.

Refresh

The photo above is of some of the ‘dumb sheep’ Saturday morning at a breakfast where we chatted with a delightful group of earlybirds about nurturing passions and friendships amid the busy-ness of motherhood. (Toni, Tara, me, Jennie, Lisa, Darlene and Jen are in the photo.)  I’d never met Jennie before, but it was a pleasure to make her acquaintance.  She also did a fabulous job sharing encouragement and telling her adoption story in one of the general sessions on Friday.

Lisa and meI also had some precious visiting time with my dear friend Lisa, who recently lost her precious daughter Kalkidan in a car accident. Of course there is still much sadness in their home, but the light and strength of Jesus is also showing so clearly there in her whole family.  Her children shared at the conference and their precious sweet hearts were very evident.  Do keep praying for their family, will you?  It is a hard path they are walking.

A few other core highlights of the weekend:

~Relationship is central to this parenting journey– we need to keep reaching out to our loved ones even when, especially when growth is slow.

~God is the instigator of all growth and change, so we need to hold on and stay close to Him and trust His perfect will and His perfect timing, even in the middle of suffering, especially when the road is rough.

~Giving all our children voice is a powerful and important thing.  We need to keep checking in, keep connecting, to find out how they’re experiencing life.

~ Community is a gift from God– we need to remember the importance of reaching out to others, finding ones who are safe, and sharing honestly so that they can encourage us and that we can encourage them.  Yes, even in our weakness we can bless others.

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Refresh next year is once again going to be the last week in February.  I’d encourage you to save the date and attend if you’re an adoptive or foster family anywhere near the Seattle area.  You will be blessed!

When you’re parenting teens

This weekend I am at the Refresh adoption conference in Seattle, speaking about older child adoption and about hanging onto joy in hard times.  Here’s just a taste of what I’m talking about in the older child session.

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I started this post two and a half years ago, at which time I stared at the blank screen for a few minutes before deciding I wasn’t enough of an expert on teens to write a blog post about parenting teens.  These days– bad news–  I am still not remotely an expert.  The good days come only by the grace of God.  And there are definitely plenty of hard ones to go along with the good.  But here are some things that do seem to help, when I can just remember to do them!  I thought I’d write a few of them down here in case some of you might be like me– working hard to make this time of our kids’ lives as good as we can help it to be.

Get good at apologizing.

Even if you’re sure the problem is 80% your kid and only 20% you, there is huge power in humbly admitting that you had a part in an interaction that didn’t go well.  I am continually amazed at how soft my kids will get when I am willing to say, “Hey, I’m really sorry I lost my cool.  I should have been kinder.  Will you forgive me?”  Often a kid who was quite angry a while ago will at least accept my apology graciously, sometimes even adding their own apology.  This is SO hard to do, but so worth doing.

 

Try not to assume that your way to solve a problem is the best way.

Again, this is something that is very hard for me.  And I still don’t believe that every conversation should turn into a negotiation, but when a discussion with a teen isn’t going well, I’ll sometimes say, “How do you think we can solve this?” Or, “I want x and you want y. I’d love to hear your ideas for a compromise.”

 

Say yes as often as possible.

Sometimes we as parents get in the habit of a default no, just to simplify life. (This is a big problem for me as a mom of many– I can only handle so much complication, after all). But, wow, yes is a great word to be able to give a kid, even if sometimes it needs to sound like ‘yes, after you clean the bathroom’ or ‘yes, if you’re willing to be home by 10,’ or yes, let’s do that next week.’  Especially in the teen years, we should be thinking of ways to give them more freedom AND more responsibility (in finances, time management, work skills, etc) so that when they do head out into the world, instead of it being a bone-jarring thud, the leap will be as graceful and as prepared as is possible.

 

Ask yourself if a consequence or a decision will build relationship or hinder it.

This is a fabulous question to ask yourself when you’re wondering how to handle disobedience and rudeness. Certainly there are times when kids need consequences for their actions. But almost always there are options to choose from– and some will build relationship, and others may hurt it. You can have a teen skip an activity as a consequence for disrespect to you, or you can offer him the chance to redeem himself by redoing an interaction with you kindly and appropriately and also doing an extra task alongside you.  The former may lead to more resentment, and the latter is a chance to have a good interaction AND reinforce what should happen next time. I would much prefer connection than a young person whose heart is far from me.  Tho I don’t always succeed, I try to aim for connection, and I trust that kindness will have results later even if they’re not evident in the moment.

 

 Avoid assumptions and communicate clearly. 

Often hard moments come when you expect something that seems obvious to you, but turns out to be not so clear to your teen.  For example, I assume a 10PM curfew means the kid will be in the house no later than 10.  If a kid thinks 10:15 is close enough, that could make for some unhappiness. I still sometimes slip up and forget to clarify details, but just taking a minute to talk through assumptions and ask a few questions before a teen drives away makes for lots less misunderstanding.

 

 Ask your teen, “Who are you pleasing? Yourself or God?”

When a teen has a serious attitude problem, this question sometimes helps him see his motives more clearly.  We can all get so intent on our own desires that we forget our responsibility before God, and teens especially can be prone to selfishness.  Another question to ask when selfishness rises is, “Are you being a good friend?”

 

Find something you like to do together.

I have a daughter who doesn’t seek time with me, but she will offer opinions on clothing, and she enjoys looking at clothing on Pinterest with me. It’s not huge, but it is one thing we can do together and that’s a win! Speaking of individuals and interests, remember to praise your teens for any special strengths or skills that you notice.  This is especially crucial for kids whose talents are non-academic.  They need to hear they’re good at things!

 

Memorize the Word Together!

Our family spends maybe 5 minutes at breakfast on school mornings reading a section of memory work and usually within a month or two, everyone knows it pretty well. This spring we are memorizing a couple chunks in 2 Corinthians 4.

2 Corinthians 4: 7-9, 16-18  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

My hope is that these words will stay in their hearts forever, and (like the words of praise I also try to speak), I know God can call them to remembrance in hard moments throughout their life.   I may fail daily in parenting.  But God never does.  I’m so glad this is not all up to me!

 

I’d love to hear ideas that you have for making life easier while parenting teens.

 

Winning family movies

One thing that’s almost inevitable when you’ve been a mom for a few years, is that you’re going to watch and re-watch a lot of kid-movies. This week we happened to watch a couple movies that are a few years old but that I still enjoy after multiple watchings. It got me thinking about the rarity of a decent family movie that’s still fun for both kids and parents even after you’ve seen it half a dozen times. Here’s my short list. Have any to add? I’d love to see your additions in comments.

Winning Family Movies

 

 

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Ramona and Beezus

 

Follow Me, Boys!

The Karate Kid

 

We Bought a Zoo

 

 

The Incredibles

Eight Below

 

 

National Treasure

 

Mary Poppins

 

The Adventures of Tintin

 

Fly Away Home

 

Jump In!

 

 

Aladdin (with Robin Williams)

 

Akeelah and the Bee

 

 

Treasure Planet

 

 

 

Several of my kids have assured me that Big Hero 6 belongs on this list too.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m adding it because it went on sale yesterday!

 

Have any to add?  Add them in comments below.  Do you find lists like this helpful?  If so, I’d love a pin on Pinterest!

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(This post contains affiliate links)

Monday news

I only have a minute to check in today, because I’m hard at work getting ready for the two talks I’ll be presenting at the Refresh adoption conference in Seattle at the end of the month.  So excited to be going for my second year.  I have no idea how to pick which breakout sessions to attend– there are so MANY good ones!  Overlake Church does an amazing job at orphan ministry, and I’m so honored to be a part of their plans this year.  Are you going?  I’d love to hear from you.

I did want to tell  you who won the free samples of the Drain Wig– I had no idea so many people would be interested in this gadget!  According to random.org the winner is commenter #47, Alea.  Alea, email me your address and I will get your Drain Wigs to you.

And for those of you who buy (or who have bought) Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families (my just-released e-book!), remember to email me to request the 5 free bonus pages of transcript-writing info.  I’d love to send it your way.

I’ll check back in with you Wednesday– hopefully I’ll be all prepped for Refresh by then and have a bit longer to write!  Thanks, as always, for reading here!