Category: Parenting

30 Grace Filled Affirmations for When You’re “Doing it Wrong.”

Hi There Faithful Families Parents!  You’re the type of person who wants to create all of the meaningful faith-filled moments with your kids. (I know, because I’ve met hundreds of you.) You, like me, want to savor every moment because you know (because people like me are constantly reminding you) that children grow up way too fast and then, you blink, and they’re off to college. You work incredibly hard, both inside your homes and outside of them. A lot of you are completely exhausted. All the time. 

Lean in a little closer because I want to make sure to tell you this right in your ear:

Nobody does this parenting thing perfectly. We are all messing it up  a lot of the time.

We shout. We say something we regret. We are less present with our families than we want to be. We make an effort do do something meaningful and then it falls flat and everyone’s mad and crying. We say to ourselves “I can’t believe I let them eat that and watch that, and do that.” When trouble comes it gets worse. I’m the reason my child is anxious/struggling/jumpy/having a tantrum/sad/sick. We blame ourselves.

I know this. I live this.

I worry a lot about what it does to all of us when the bar is set so high for parenting. I worry about how I contribute to this as the author of a book on creating sacred moments at home. Am I just one more voice out there telling parents to do one more thing? Parents already have ample opportunities to mess their children up for life, and I creating another one? Even worse, what does it say when I end the day feeling exhausted and inadequate? If I can’t do it, how can I expect others to do it?

When we tune in and listen to the things we tell ourselves as parents, it can be pretty dismal sometimes. I’m not doing it right. Other parents are better at this. I should be doing different things. My children are going to be maladjusted and it’s going to be all my fault.  I’ve been thinking for awhile about some affirmations for all of us. Things we can say at the end of the day when the worry tapes start playing. I wrote them for me, but if they’re helpful for you, too, please enjoy them. I thought about making a little printable for you so you could print these out and tape them to your wall and then I thought Nope. If you want these in your life, take the time to write them or type them with your own hands. That way you might start to believe them.

Carry on, hardworking parents who want to do right by your children. You are enough.

30 Grace-Filled Affirmations for Parents When You’re “Doing it Wrong.”

  1. I have provided the basic needs for my children today. Food, shelter and safety. I can worry about “extras” another day.
  2. I am doing the best I can.
  3. Parenting is more than 18 years of hard work. It is impossible not to make some mistakes along the way.
  4. The more I learn and experience, the better I am getting at parenting.
  5. It is a good and smart thing to reach out and ask for help when I need it.
  6. When I lose my temper it is an opportunity for my children to see that I have limits, too.
  7. My children’s success and happiness in life is dependent on a lot of different factors. I can not control all of them.
  8. There are other people in my child’s life who can help shape and teach him/her. I don’t have to do it all myself.
  9. When I make a mistake, even a large one, God forgives me, every time.
  10. Children are resilient.
  11. It is appropriate to take time for myself. When I take time for myself, it helps me to be a better parent.
  12. There are other people who enjoy being with my children. By allowing others to help, I am giving a gift to them and to my children. It is not a sign of weakness to allow others to care for them.
  13. Children learn valuable life lessons when they are bored, sad, or working through a problem.
  14. I am responsible to work with my partner create a family environment that works for our family. It doesn’t have to look like other families we know or are related to.
  15. Parenting is difficult. All parents feel doubts and worries at some point. I am not alone.
  16. When I lose my patience or say something I regret, it gives me an opportunity to model what it means to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  17. I am known, loved, and seen by God.
  18. I am grateful for challenging moments because they help my family grow and learn.
  19. When I notice things aren’t going as well as I would like, I can make a course correction and change them.
  20. Some days are busier than other days and provide less opportunity for fun and connection. I remember this on less busy days and take advantage of that.
  21. I treat myself with the same level of kindness, dignity, and respect with which I would want to treat a friend.
  22. I trust my own instincts and abilities.
  23. Even experts who write books and provide advice on parenting sometimes have difficult days.
  24. When I feel frustrated or overwhelmed, this feeling is not permanent.
  25. I am not obligated to do the same thing other parents are doing.
  26. I am free.
  27. Children are not harmed by ______. (Eating the same meal two days in a row, drinking a glass of soda, watching age appropriate videos, wearing clothes that don’t match, whatever your “guilty” thing is.)
  28. Just because other parents provide ___, doesn’t mean my children are missing out because we don’t provide it.
  29. It is ok to stop doing an activity (or come home from a place) when we aren’t enjoying it or when it is not working.
  30. Every day provides new opportunities and possibilities.

What affirmations would you add? I’ll maybe add them to the list! Leave yours in the comments.

Birthday Tradition: A Birthday Plate!

 

Somehow, inexplicably, we woke up yesterday and our baby boy was six years old. How is that possible? How often I wish it would just slow down (a la Nichole Nordeman’s beautiful song, guaranteed to make you cry.)

I believe tradition, spiritual practice and ceremony can be a way to add meaning to our days, that we might capture them and engrave them on our hearts. When I talk to groups about this, it’s the traditions people can relate to the most. I love hearing stories about special traditions shared on holidays, birthdays and other special days. Traditions can be so comforting and act as an anchor for the soul.

Traditions need not be complicated to be powerful, and the tradition of the “Birthday Plate” is one of the simplest traditions of all. Have a special plate dedicated to birthdays and bring it out for each person, young and old, when it’s their birthday.

Here are three easy options for a birthday plate:

  1. Paint one at a pottery place (Google “paint your own pottery”) – This is how our Birthday Plate came into existence. My husband Elias and I painted one while I was pregnant with our oldest child. Doing a larger item like a plate can get expensive at a place like that, but for a plate that is to be so special, it’s worth it! Take your time, pick a design you really like, and paint over each letter several times to make it dark and vibrant.
  2. Make one using a plate from the dollar store and permanent markers. This is my new favorite way to make a gift for someone. I have used THIS TUTORIAL with great success. My children made gifts for their teachers using this technique, and we made plates for Father’s Day as well. Unique, simple, and fun. If your family doesn’t have a birthday plate tradition, get everyone involved in working on a plate together that can become the new tradition.
  3. Buy one! Etsy has a great selection.

Does your family have a special birthday plate? Post a picture in the comments or tell us about it!

 

If you like creating traditions, spiritual practices and ceremonies at home, check out my book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home which has dozens of easy to implement ideas!

 

 

Fun Father’s Day Gift – Wearable Race Track

This weekend, I saw this great idea for a race track shirt and realized we had all of the supplies needed to make it. The boys were super excited for Elias to try it, and I wanted to share it on the blog so we went ahead and gave it to him a little early. This project is SO easy, inexpensive, and lots of fun. The boys had a great time testing it out on Elias, and he seemed to enjoy the little back massage from mini cars rolling all around!

 

Here’s how I made ours:

Materials 

  • Fabric markers – Whatever you have will do. If you need to buy some, they’re good for a lot of other things besides this. We use them to mark clothes, make costumes, etc. THESE are the ones we have, and the brush tip works really well. You could also paint this, and make it look even more awesome.

 

  • Plain white shirt – Again, whatever you have. If you get brand new ones, I would wash and dry first, though I don’t know if that’s a requirement. In our case, we just pulled out an undershirt from the drawer. Don’t go expensive or fancy here, the thin undershirt type works great because you can see through to the template.

 

  • Template – I used the template from THIS TUTORIAL which prints out on four pieces of paper, taped together

 

  • Piece of cardboard large enough for template

 

  • Tape

 

Procedure 

  • 1. Print out the template and tape together. As you can see, I did not take the time to perfectly align the edges, and it was fine. 

 

  • 2. Tape the template to cardboard. I used a flat rate priority mail box.

 

  • 3. Slide the cardboard between the front and back of the shirt so the template shows through. Note: As you can see from the photos, the road “bunches up” around Elias’s shoulders. If I were going to do it again, I wouldn’t have the image go up so high in the shoulder.

 

  • 4. Trace with fabric markers and paint if desired. We may work on this some more and color in the houses and add other details, or we may just leave it alone!

 

  • 5. Give to Dad and enjoy!

I love this as a homemade gift option. It’s not hard at all, and a great thing for children to be excited about sharing with their dad. Enjoy!

Original source: http://thebluebasket.blogspot.com/2011/09/tutorial-car-shirt.html

For many more simple and easy ways for family and children to create meaning together, see my book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home

 

What fun and creative Father’s Day gift ideas do you have? Comment below with your ideas!

“Blink and she’ll be 24….” Thoughts on how fleeting it all is + a free practice from #FaithfulFamilies

not little for long!

This morning I was at a cafe getting some work done while my four-month-old daughter Marina Lynn was sitting beside me in her stroller. When her smiling and cooing turned to fidgeting and crying, I picked her up out of the stroller and started to pace around in the cafe. Two women caught our attention. “We’re grandmothers” one said.

“She’s gorgeous!” exclaimed the other  “I don’t suppose you’d let us hold her while you finish up your work.”

“Actually,” I said, “I would love it,” and I plopped Marina into their laps and hurried back to what I was doing.

I listened with one ear as they doted over her, and I finished up my emails as quickly as I could. When it was time to go, one of the grandmothers looked at me, teary eyed and said “I know old people say this all the time, but enjoy every minute. It goes by so, so fast.”

I recognize there are problems with that statement. One does not enjoy every moment of parenting. I did not enjoy it when one of my older children learned to remove his diaper and “made a mess” in his room (I promise you, whatever “mess” you are imagining, the reality was worse). I did not enjoy the dry heaves and vomiting when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. I do not enjoy trying to balance the pressures of work and writing and parenting. I do not enjoy having to apologize when my child causes someone to trip in the grocery store because he’s not watching where he’s going. And so when these two grandmothers told me to “enjoy every minute,” it would have been tempting to say, “Yeah right! You forgot how it really is!” but instead I said, “You’re right,” because they are.

Whether we enjoy it or not, these years will fly by. Our children are four months old. We blink and they are four years old. We blink again and they’re fourteen. Blink one more time, and our children are having their own children. I know this is true because I have experienced it myself, and because my elders have told me it is so.

So how will we live out these precious few years we’ve been given? I’m a strong believer in tradition and ceremony. We ought to try and make these days count. My book Faithful Families is an attempt to create sacred moments at home. In between the chaos of daily living we can carve out moments of connection. A prayer here, a ceremony there.  Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and many of us will shower our mothers with candy and cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. And yet, my suspicion is that many of the mothers you know are longing for something deeper than this. We’re longing for connection. We want our days to count. We know they’ll be gone too soon.

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home is a book of simple practices designed for mothers (and fathers) who want to create meaningful connections with their children. On this Mother’s Day our gift to you is the gift of gratitude. Download the free gratitude practice, and enjoy these moments, fleeting though they may be.

Ten Essential Children’s Books about Grief for Church and School Libraries, and Home Use (+ Additional Resources)

I’m often asked, both in my role as pastor and also as an author of a book on faith and family about what resources I recommend for children who are grieving. In this post I link to ten books I recommend for children and families. Check out the age recommendations as well as a short sentence or two about the style of the book. Read to the end to find general suggestions about using the books as well as additional resources.

Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney

Ages: 4-8+

Speaks of death via analogy and transformation. Ugly bugs turn in to shiny dragonflies. This book leads the reader to hope and hopefulness. It reads like a parable. Waterbugs and Dragonflies is probably the most recommended book on the topic of death and dying that I’ve seen. If you’re getting only one book from this list, this is the one to get.

 

 

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst

Ages: 4-8+

Talks about being connected to the ones we care about through love (the invisible string.) Could be used to talk about all kinds of separation, not limited to death. (Moving, divorce or other transitions as well.)

 

 

 

 

Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert

Ages: 8-12+

Geared more toward older elementary age children, Tear Soup talks about the recipe for grief. It affirms that there are many different responses to grief and opens the door for in-depth discussion about grief and grief responses.

 

 

 

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story for All Ages  by Leo Buscaglia

Ages: 4-8+

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf speaks about death in a sort of “circle of life” type way, talking about the different stages a leaf goes through. Perhaps particularly helpful for those who live in climates where the trees change in visible and obvious ways.

 

 

When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie Krasky Brown and Marc Brown

Ages: 4-8+

Instead of being a book with a storyline or plot, When Dinosaurs Die is sort of a guided tour through all different questions about death.  Because the illustrations are dinosaurs, it is able to convey the terms and concepts in a meaningful way that connects with children. Straightforward, and very helpful when navigating all different types of death from infant loss to war. There’s also a helpful glossary in the back.

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Ages: 3-6+

The Goodbye Book is the book most appropriate for the youngest children among us of any of the books in this list. With compelling illustrations and very simple statements like “You might be very sad” and “You might not know what to feel,” the book is extremely simple, but also effective. It uses a fish who has lost his/her companion as a jumping off point.

 

.
 I Miss You: A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas

Ages: 4-8+

I Miss You opens the door a direct and straightforward conversation about death using the expertise of psychotherapist/counselor Pat Thomas who wrote it. I Miss You is a lot like When Dinosaurs Die in that it has less of a plot and more of a discussion about what happens in death.

 


Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman

Ages: 6-10+

A workbook rather than a storybook, Help Me Say Goodbye is a book of art therapy exercises to work through to help a child deal with loss. This book is a great companion to one of the other story/picture books listed.

 


  I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

Ages: 3-7+

Particularly useful in dealing with the loss of a pet, I’ll Always Love You talks about how we show love for someone we love while they are alive, and then grieve them when we die.

 

When A Pet Dies by Mr. Rogers

Ages: 4-8+

Another one that deals with the loss of a pet, When A Pet Dies has the  straightforward and sensitive approach associated with Presbyterian Pastor Fred Rogers. The photos look dated, but the message is timeless.

 

 

 

Bonus Recommendation

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home by Traci Smith (hey, that’s me!)

Ages: 5-12+

I included my own book in this list, though it’s not a book to sit down and read with children like all of the other books. I like to say that Faithful Families is a recipe book for creating sacred moments at home. There are a ton of activities to do with children that create sacred moments. The activities are divided into traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. There are several activities in the book relevant to grief and grieving: a pet funeral to mark the passing of a pet, bubble prayers to mark the loss of another family member, a memory box to mark an infant loss and more.

General Tips for Selecting a Book on Death and Grief to Use with Children

  • Read the book through in its entirety, at least once, before reading it with your child(ren). Just because I (or some other resource) recommends a book doesn’t mean that it’s the right book for your family or situation. You know your family situation and children’s personality best. Return books that don’t suit your needs.
  • Consider whether you want a straightforward “nuts and bolts” book or one that takes more of  a sideways approach: Of the books above, When Dinosaurs Die and I Miss You are both very straightforward about death: what it is, what it means to die,  what happens to our bodies, etc. Books like The Invisible String and Waterbugs and Dragonflies are more metaphorical and indirect. I recommend reading books from both “camps.” There’s no “one size fits all” book for this.
  • Don’t put too much weight in to the age recommendations: Ages are listed as guidelines. As you’ll notice, though, in each case I’ve put a “+” at the end. Who among us can’t benefit from a story designed for a younger child? I tend to think there is no upper limit to the ages for each of these books. As for the younger end of the spectrum… that’s variable too. Read the book in advance and decide what’s best for your child. The book in this list that’s the simplest for very young children is The Goodbye Book. 
  • Supplement with your theological perspective: You might have noticed that none of these books is an overtly spiritual/religious book. This is for a few reasons: 1. There’s considerable variation among religious beliefs about life after death depending on a person’s religious/spiritual tradition. 2. Too much talk about heaven/angels/life after death can be very confusing to young children who understand things quite literally. 3. All of the books listed above are appropriate for those of any spiritual tradition (or none at all.)
  • Follow up with practice: Either Faithful Families  or Help Me Say Goodbye provides activities that can be done to help the child further process his or her grief. There’s also a photo activity included in I’ll Always Love You for use after a pet dies. Oftentimes just reading a story doesn’t provide the closure or interaction that can be so helpful to healing.

Additional Resources For Further Exploration 

When Families Grieve   – An online resource from PBS with links to games and parents guides, as well as other resources.

Maria Papova’s of brain pickings has a delightful list of other children’s books on death, grief and mourning, along with detailed reviews of each.

 

Note: Links in this article are affiliate links meaning that if you purchase on Amazon after clicking on the link, I receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!

On Marina Lynn, Fetal and Maternal Health Worldwide, and Other Musings

Well, well, well… look what’s been going on around here! A little over a week ago, we welcomed little Marina Lynn into the world. She came in to the world at 6 pounds and 4 ounces of pure awesome, and I can’t wait to see what adventures she takes us on. I’ve had so many thoughts this last week, and with so many friends, family, and readers to share them with, it seems like a little reflecting and updating is in order. Here goes…

On her name… 

I love names. I love hearing the story of people’s names, the ways people come up with names for their children, and the story of their nicknames. Names in the Bible are a huge deal, too. In the Bible, people give their children and even places names that are significant to them. Often God or an angel tells them what to name the child or the place.

In this spirit, Elias and I put a lot of thought and discussion behind what we would name each of our children. The name Marina Lynn was “on deck” as a girl’s name for both Clayton and Samuel, and this time we finally got to use it!

Marina was Elias’s mother’s name. Marina raised her two children, Elias and Mavit, all on her own. She worked very hard and taught them the value of working hard, too. Marina loved roses and beauty. Unfortunately for the children and I, we never had the opportunity to meet her, because she died when Elias was just 17 years old.

Lynn is my mother’s name. She’s spunky and energetic and fun and compassionate. She loves her grandchildren like nobody’s business. She blesses our lives and the lives of her grandchildren in immeasurable ways.

We love that this little one is named after her two grandmothers, and the name suits her.  Marina Lynn: it has a nice ring to it, we think! We are excited for her to have two great role models always before her as she goes through life.

On her birth… 

Each of my children has had a birth story as different as they are! Clayton was born after two days of labor, a whole lot of “off script” interventions, and hours of pushing. Samuel came flying out 18 minutes after we left for the hospital. (Elias nearly missed his birth because he was parking the car.) Marina Lynn, too, has a story we will love to tell her as she gets older.

We went to the hospital for her to be induced on Tuesday night, January 17th. Our midwives felt induction was necessary because she had a two vessel cord, and also because she was diagnosed with IUGR. They told us we had every reason to believe and assume that the birth would go well, but we were, as you might imagine, very nervous and ready to get on with it. Soon after we got there, they gave me a medication that was supposed to get things prepared for the next day. In my case, all it did was give me horrible and annoying crampy contractions I could tell weren’t doing anything, and so I asked to be taken off of it so I could sleep and be prepared for labor the next day. Since this was baby #3, they agreed and I got a little bit of sleep. (After watching just half of Bridget Jones’s Baby with Elias. Note to self: re-rent to see how it ends!)

Wednesday morning was when it got really interesting. At 8:00 a.m. they put me on Pitocin, the medicine that starts contractions, and by 9:00 a.m., I was huffing and puffing and crying like nobody’s business! I had been mentally prepared for a day’s worth of laboring and felt so defeated and heartbroken that I was already feeling exhausted after just an hour. Elias (correctly) called it by saying “I think it’s so intense because you’re about to have the baby!” The midwife came in at 9:20 a.m. and agreed that the baby was on his/her way. She said that if she broke the baby’s water, she thought we would see him/her within an hour. She was absolutely right, and by 10:07, little Marina Lynn came out, pink and squirmy and crying loudly. Her one minute Apgar score was 8 and her five minute score was 9. Healthy, happy baby! After all the worry and scare about potential complications from labor and birth, the NICU nurse that looked her over gave her a clean bill of health and she was allowed to stay with us the entire time we were in the hospital.

During the short (and challenging) labor, the things that got me through the most were looking at the “It’s a surprise!” sign the nurse had written on the whiteboard and listening to this song, a song that has helped me through so many challenging times. I also couldn’t help but think of Kelly, my soul friend and the first friend I told when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. Kelly is another person I hope and pray Marina Lynn has always before her as a role model and example of fierce, principled and warmhearted living.

 

On complications shortly after her birth… 

The morning after we got back from the hospital, Marina’s weight had dropped more than the doctor was comfortable with. We talked about how to get her weight up and she told us to make sure and monitor her wet and dirty diapers throughout the day. Throughout the day Marina was more and more lethargic and her diapers weren’t wet at all. On Friday night we called the on call pediatrician who told us to take her in to the hospital. When we did, the doctors put in the teeniest tiniest IV you will ever see, gave her fluids and ran a variety of blood tests. Thankfully the blood tests revealed that her sugar and electrolytes were good, and there were no other infections or abnormal markers in her blood. The wonderful and compassionate ER doctor listened to all of our questions and spent a ton of time with us. He said there was no reason to think she wouldn’t be able to pick up where she left off after this new “reboot” of fluids and sent us home.

Thankfully, since then we’ve been back to the Dr., her weight is up, and she’s eating (and filling her diapers) like a champ!

On my stitches and recovery… 

I’ve had stitches after each of my babies. Who would have thought that the teeniest baby would have had some of the most painful and challenging stitches of all? I learned from my midwife that sometimes small babies can cause as much (or even more) tearing than larger babies because they don’t smoosh and stretch. In Marina’s case, because her labor was so fast, things were even more problematic in this regard. The stitches I had after Marina’s birth were incredibly painful (worse than the labor itself) and, because I didn’t have an epidural or other pain medication, I felt them in excruciating ways.

As I was stitched up, we realized the local anesthesia wasn’t working.  Having Marina in my arms to look at and snuggle was the only thing that got me through. That experience has been rolling around in my brain a lot this week, which leads me to…

On fetal/maternal health worldwide, giving back and making something beautiful out of all of the challenges… 

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about women, particularly about fetal/maternal health worldwide. I’m mindful of the fact that all of the excellent medical care Marina Lynn and I have had — from the prenatal care and diagnostics that allowed us to know what was happening with her before her birth, to the stitches. (Painful as they were and are, without stitches, my life would be changed forever, just as the lives of so many women worldwide are forever changed by tears and other birth complications that are routine in the US). I have been remembering the book Half the Sky that talks extensively about how women are affected by complications in childbirth and lack of access to healthcare. Though Half the Sky is several years old, there’s a ton of great information, and I absolutely adore the phrase “Women hold up half the sky” from which the book gets its title.

When we got back from the ER with Marina Lynn, I was praying for her continued healing and made a promise to not let all of this pass by without doing something concrete for pregnant women and newborns worldwide. I decided to make a printable for everyone who wants to put this beautiful, empowering message on her wall, or refrigerator, or message board. You can find it in the Etsy store HERE.

100% of the proceeds of this printable will go to the organization Every Mother Counts. For the first 100 sold, I’ll kick in the Etsy fees so your entire $5.00 purchase will go directly to Every Mother Counts. After that, the fees will be discounted, which means that $4.22 will go to Every Mother Counts and .78 will go to Etsy for the fees. Cool minimalistic poster for your wall and helping mothers and babies around the world in honor of Marina Lynn? Yes please! 

On “other musings” 

There’s something about those late night feedings and hours upon hours inside the house that makes a person super pensive and reflective. I’m not sure how all of these thoughts will make it in to the blog or other writings, but I’m very thankful for this time. I think I’ll leave you with this amazing spoken word poem by Sarah Kay. If you haven’t heard it, it’s definitely worth your time, both the beginning

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

and the end

Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Links:

Every Mother Counts 

Half the Sky Printable 

If I should Have a Daughter 

No Woman, No Cry – a great documentary about women’s prenatal care in the US and Worldwide

 

 

A Quick Thought About Santa Claus, Jesus and Unconditional Love When You’re “Naughty”

“Mama, does Santa bring you presents if you are bad?” My five year old asked me that question this week with a worried look on his face.

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s not what I heard. I heard that if you’re bad you don’t get anything at all.”

“Well, in this house, we don’t believe in that. We believe that Santa is like Jesus and that Santa knows what is in your heart, and if you do something bad, you say you’re sorry and you do better next time. Santa knows that you are a good person, even if you make mistakes sometimes.”

That answer satisfied him, and we moved on to other things, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week. Apparently my child has been too, because today in the car he said “Mama, Santa and Jesus and mama and papa are all the same, aren’t they?”

“Um, what do you mean?” I asked.

“All of them love you, even when you make mistakes.”

This is the message I want my children to grow up with their whole life long. It’s not that there’s no room for making mistakes or improving or getting better, but don’t we need our children to know, I mean really know that they are loved unconditionally, all the time? I have a hunch that as we grow and move through life we are prone to doubt this simple truth that we are loved without condition.  For those who are worried about what will happen to children who are taught about both Jesus and Santa Claus at Christmas time, I have this thought to offer: make sure Santa and Jesus are both agents of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Similarly, see: No Elf on Our Shelf by Lee Hull Moses

 

 

5 Advent Calendar Ideas that Focus on Family Time, Kindness and Service

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that really thinks the best Advent Calendar idea is something that gives the child a toy every day. I’m particularly eying the Lego City calendar, the Plamobil calendar, and the Thomas the Train calendar. They’re cool, right? Getting a toy every day from the first day of advent through Christmas sounds pretty fun, and magical. I had some years like that where I got a treat every day, and it was fun. Some year, I think I’ll do one of these toy based advent calendars for my boys. I don’t think they’re all bad. (Side bar: If someone wants to buy me an adult version like this one or this one, I will definitely not complain.) That said, I really want advent to be a time for family and kindness and togetherness, and I know a lot of minister friends want that for their congregations, too, so here are five advent calendar ideas that de-emphasize gifts and buying.

paperchain

  1. Traditional advent chain.  I made one where each “link” on the chain has a very simple advent activity related to the advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. Very easy and fun. You can buy it here for your family for $4, or you can get a license that will permit you to print up a whole bunch of them for a school or congregation here. OR, if you don’t want to buy one, you could take the idea and run with it. Make up your own activities, write them on the paper chain and you’re in business. One final way to use the paper chain is to not have it be connected to any activities, simply start with 25 links and take one away each day until Christmas. So easy!

actsofkindness

2. Acts of kindness advent calendar. Each day has an ornament with a very simple act of kindness on it. You can make this yourself by making different shapes and coming up with an act of kindness for your family to do each day, or you can buy one here (also available for churches).

3. A “reverse” advent calendar — Instead of getting something each day, try giving something each day. This idea has been floating around the internet since last year, and I think it’s great. The original idea was to put a food item in a basket each day and give them all to the food pantry at the end of advent. A similar idea might be to collect toys or clothes or other goods each day and donate at the end of advent.

adventbooks

4. Advent Books Calendar – This is the one my family is going to do this year. We have 15 Christmas books already I’ll need to either borrow or buy ten more and then I’ll wrap them up and number them to read each day. I think this is a great option for those who have a lot of Christmas books. I could see it being a neat tradition year after year as children get used to the books. In a couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing one of the neatest and most exciting books in our stash Christmas Love Letters from God, written by an author friend, Glenys Nellist. If you have any “must read” children’s advent books, I’d love to hear about them so I can buy or borrow for our advent! Tell me about them in the comments or on Facebook!

5. Jesse Tree – Jesse trees tell the Christian story from creation through to Jesus’ birth with ornaments hung on a tree and a devotional to go with them. There are endless variations of them. One year I’ll pick my favorite and talk about it in detail, but if this is a route you want to go, I’d suggest browsing all of the ideas on Etsy. There are completed Jesse tree ornaments complete with the guides that you can purchase as well as much more affordable and simple patterns for making your own or printing them out.

 

 

 

Making Time and Space For Gratitude

rainbow

Walking through Target and the grocery store this week, I’ve noticed something: Thanksgiving seems to be missing from the shelf. Pumpkins and ghost napkins are 50% off, and the empty space that’s left is being filled with stockings and gingerbread. Out with goblins and pumpkins, in with Santa and stockings.

On the one hand, this is rather refreshing. After all, it’s kind of nice that Thanksgiving gets to slide in under the radar of “things you need to buy in order to celebrate.” On the other hand, it feels like the culture simply can’t be bothered with a culture centered around gratitude. There’s a lesson in there. If we want to foster a practice of gratitude, we’ll have to work to make it happen.We can’t just pick it up and put it in the cart, we’ll have to do some actual work.

November is a great month to focus on gratitude. Not only is Thanksgiving toward the end of the month, but the culture seems to be dumping glitter and evergreens on us, even if we’re not ready. Focusing on gratitude in November provides a slowing rhythm to our days. It gives us the opportunity to say “Not yet… not yet…” to all the twinkle lights and jingle bells.

There are many ways to incorporate gratitude in to the month of November (or, frankly, any month) but one of the easiest and most important is to simply ask “What am I thankful for?” Ask your friends or your spouse or children. Be surprised at what they say. We rotate family prayers at dinnertime and one of them is “Let’s all go around and say one thing we are thankful for.” Our oldest son, Clayton (age 5) often chooses that one. Last week when he did, his four year old brother said “I’m thankful that kids have kid scissors.” I asked what made him think of that and he said “I don’t know, I just like them.”

November starts in three days. Ready to take the challenge? 

 

 

 

The Shocking Solution to Your Child’s Disrespect: Guest Post by Nicole Schwarz

father and daughter in the park

“You’re not the boss of me!” your child yells as they stick out their tongue and run away.

Furious, you yell back, “How dare you talk to me like that! You little…”

This pattern is nothing new. Your child has a bad habit of disrespect.

It’s something you’ve been trying to nip in the bud for a while now, but no matter how many times you try to “set them straight,” send them to their room, or take away their video games, the behavior continues.

The disrespect is not OK. And your kids need to know you’re serious. So, how can you put an end to this once and for all?

The shocking solution.

You.

Yep, you!

But not the sarcastic, condescending, criticizing you. (You’ve tried that already and it hasn’t worked.)

This solution calls for the calm, confident, empathetic you.

The YOU who doesn’t panic when their child acts immaturely because you understand their brain is still in development, and there will be times when it is hard for them to make a good decision in the heat of the moment.

The YOU who isn’t worried about “showing them who’s boss” because you know you’re in charge. You don’t have to give harsh punishments or empty threats to prove it, you set reasonable boundaries to help your kids feel safe and secure.

The YOU who responds with love because you know that conflict is inevitable in families, and you want your kids to feel safe enough to share their feelings and know that you will listen, even if the two of you don’t always agree.

This YOU can put an end to disrespect from your kids.

Why this solution works.

Think about it. Imagine your favorite teacher when you were in school…

This person probably knew much more than just your name. They knew that you hated sitting in the front row, that you needed a little extra time to complete word problems, and that you had a cat named Mr. Pickles at home.

But, this teacher wasn’t all fun and games. They had rules for the classroom, expectations for their students, and graded fairly. When the class became rowdy or loud, they didn’t have to stand on their chair and yell or dole out extra homework as a punishment, they were able to direct the class back to order with calm confidence.

Why?

Because you respected them.

Did you respect them because they DEMANDED respect? No! The respect was built out of the  relationship. This teacher KNEW you, they treated you with firmness and empathy, which led you to want to give it back in return.

It’s the same with your children.

When your kids feel connected and respected by you, they are more likely to respond in kind.

Three tips to decrease the disrespect from your kids.

  1. Engage and Connect: Spend quality time with your kids on a daily basis. Ask questions about their life (and listen to the answers!), play games they enjoy, or simply be together without nagging, correcting or directing.
  2. Model the Behavior You’d Like to See: Take note of the words you use, listen to your tone of voice, and watch your body language.  If you don’t want to see or hear it from your kids, eliminate it from your own posture and vocabulary first.
  3. Embrace Learning and Imperfection: Old habits die hard. Apologize when you make a mistake, allow “do-overs” in which you or your child are able to restate a phrase in a more respectful way, and problem solve together.

These strategies may seem uncomfortable at first. You may feel like it’s “not working” because you don’t see an immediate change in your child’s behavior.

Give it time.

Everyone wants to be respected, even kids.

And when they start to feel respected, they will let you know by giving you respect in return.


Nicole SchwarzAbout the Author notes from Traci Smith: Nicole Schwarz is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and owner of the website Imperfect Families, a parenting website that includes a ton of  common sense advice on parenting. I find her tone to be positive, non-judgmental and straightforward. In addition to the blog, you can join the 10,000+ people in the Imperfect Families Facebook Community or follow her very helpful Pinterest board.

 

Special Offer Right now! Nicole is starting a class called Communication for Imperfect Families, a seven week course that looks absolutely phenomenal. Check it out and consider investing in your family this summer!

Fun Fact! Though we share very similar philosophies and professional goals in adulthood, I actually know Nicole because we were childhood friends! One of my favorite memories of our friendship is spending hours (yes hours) passing notes back and forth through a laundry chute. We would take turns being upstairs (to me, the preferred position!) So fun. Congratulations on the success of Imperfect Families, Nicole, and thank you so much for stopping by!