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Book Review: The Choice
Last October I was sitting at a conference organized by my agent, listening to a presentation by an acquisitions editor at one of the large Christian houses. She said that five years ago, roughly, she had urged everyone to start trying to find more authors on all things Amish. Beverly Lewis owned the Top Fiction category with her Amish novels, and nobody else was doing it.

Since then there have been an explosion of Amish novels, and my 15-year-old daughter has gobbled them up. She can't get enough of them. I like them, too, though I'm not quite as much of a fan.

But I can see the appeal. It's really about the lure of a simple life, when choices are obvious. It's either this or that. There aren't a lot of grey areas; it's about learning life lessons and integrating them, while still living with very defined rules. The choices aren't as difficult as they are in the "real world" somehow because you don't have the range of decisions we do. We have to decide what to do with our free time; Amish do not. They quilt or they can or they milk the cow, because if they don't, they have no food. It's a life of work, but satisfying work, and somehow the things that can drive us crazy don't enter into their world.

Instead, their big issues are the Big Issues: acceptance, forgiveness, dedication to God, love. They're the issues we wish that we could deal with, but we find hard because technology or school or jobs or politics get in the way. If we could strip away the confines of modern life, and live a simpler life, perhaps we would be able to focus better on these trials and decisions and life-changing moments that the Amish characters face in these novels.

The most recent one we read was Suzanne Woods Fisher's The Choice, the first book in the Lancaster County series. It was a lovely read, thick with tension between what others want you to do and what you want you to do. It had the characters you love to hate, and the ones you want so desperately to choose right. And, as most Amish novels do, there's always the secrets from people's lives in the outside world that intrude, and threaten to shatter the peace they have built for themselves. And then, at the end, the characters realize that peace isn't something you achieve by living by strict rules and cordoning yourself off from the world; it's something that is only achieved when one gives oneself fully to God.

In the book, Carrie Weaver settles into a marriage of convenience when her father dies suddenly, and she has no way of caring for her younger brother. As she meets tragedy after tragedy, she comes to recognize, too late, the love that she did feel for a complicated man with his own secrets. Then her heart has to choose whether to trust another, or whether to try to go on her own. And in the end, she chooses well.

Like most Amish novels, it's a great escape, and causes you to wonder afterwards if perhaps all this technology and modern convenience actually makes life more difficult. On the other hand, I don't think I could live off of my canning abilities, and I am rather fond of lipstick, so I don't think I could make it as an Amish woman. We live near a small community of Amish, and my closest friends live in the largest Amish community in Canada, where they work as doctors, so we've seen the culture close up. It's a very hard life for a woman, and they do look old before their time. But in the novels, you can forget about what people look like without moisturizer when you've had 11 kids by the age of 35, and just concentrate on the essential truths: what is the point of life? How do you find peace? Is it imposed by the outer rules and regulations, or is it something worth striving for yourself?

The sole downside of this novel for me is that it reminded me of a scene from Anne of Green Gables, when Anne is trying to form a story club with her girlfriends. All are to write short stories, and Diana Barry proves rather imagination-challenged. In the end, she just keeps killing off the characters because she can never figure out what to do with them. I felt that way a little bit reading this book. Too many people die, and I don't think all the deaths were integral to the plot. My daughter commented that she found herself scared to like anybody in case they were taken out soon, too. Personally, I would have preferred to see the love between Carrie and her first husband blossom, and help them both to face their demons, rather than the tragedy that did occur. But I can understand why Suzanne Fisher did it that way.

Fisher is a good voice for the Amish novel, and I'm sure you'll enjoy them. But perhaps we should all examine ourselves a little bit more and ask what the appeal is. If we really do yearn for a simpler life, maybe instead of reading so much about it, we should just do it. Concentrate on what matters. Get rid of technological distractions. Make the family hearth the centre of the family. Sounds good to me.


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Quick Weekend Intimacy Tip
Are you planning on having a romantic evening with your hubby tonight? Or maybe tomorrow night?

You have a nice dinner, put the kids to bed, rent a movie, and go to watch it, feeling all affectionate. Then the movie ends, and you feel...sleepy.

So here's a tip: make love before you watch the movie. Seriously! You're more awake, more alert, and more likely to enjoy it. Then relax and watch the movie afterwards.

Want more intimacy tips on how to get in the mood? Listen to Sheila's audio download, Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight! Filled with lots of laughs and practical tips to boost your marriage!
Download it now!


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The Exception to the Rule
Every Friday my "Reality Check" syndicated column appears in a bunch of papers. Here's today's, inspired by something that happened to me on Facebook. I posted a link to a new study showing the benefits of marriage, and some single people took offense to it. I never meant it that way, but I think sometimes we misunderstand the uses of statistics. So read on!

Human beings, in general, hate statistics. It’s not just because we fear that 69.4% of stats are made up on the spot; it’s because whenever we hear that cigarette smoke causes lung cancer, we think of Uncle Jim Bob who smoked two packs every day of his life until he keeled over at 102 from a bad case of indigestion. Those researchers obviously don’t know what they’re talking about!

Well, yes. And no. Statistics are very good at telling us about the general. They tell us nothing at all about the specific. Whenever we hear that marriage, for instance, tends to make one happier, we think of our best friend who has become a mouse since her wedding because her husband berates her constantly. But just because you can think of an exception doesn’t invalidate the study.

Statistics are only supposed to point to trends, and those trends are real, so it’s worth listening to their warnings. Waiting until you’re 37 or 38 to start having children, for instance, can lead to a lot of heartbreak. It’s just harder to get pregnant in your late thirties than it is in your late twenties. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you; just that you should be aware of the risk, and decide accordingly. Similarly, studies tell us that staying married for the kids, even if you aren’t happy, is still better for the kids than if you split up. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that your particular kids will do better, or that you should stay with a serial adulterer. But ignoring the stats just because you don’t like them can be awfully stupid. I remember talking to someone close to me who was about to ditch her husband to move in with her lover. “What about your kids?” I asked. She laughed it off. “They’ll be fine. They’re good kids.” I would have none of it. “I was a good kid, too, and I wasn’t fine.” I wish in retrospect she had listened to me. Society would be much better off if more people heeded those warnings.

While studies should warn us, though, they don’t need to limit us. After all, if I lived my life solely according to statistics, I shouldn’t be happily married with two great kids and a good education. I should have married someone distant, if I married at all, and ended up with a lot more chaos in my life. Children who grow up without fathers tend to end up in worse shape than those who grow up with fathers, and girls who grow up with abusive or absent fathers tend to marry abusive or distant men. Learning these facts early helped me to make much better choices about whom I dated, knowing that I’d probably initially be drawn to the wrong people!

Statistics can warn us, then, but anybody can buck a trend. You can decide not to be a statistic. You can decide to be that high school dropout single mom who works hard to complete her education and succeed. You can be that child who grew up in an abusive home who chooses your spouse well and then works hard at making your family stay together. You can be the child of a teen mother who decides not to repeat the pattern.

So next time you hear a statistic that rubs you the wrong way, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Is there a warning in there for me? Should I change course?” And if you decide to plow ahead anyway, then at least you know the danger spots.

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Letting Them Fly Out of the Nest
When we were camping a few years ago, we paddled a canoe near a wall of rock that bordered Lake Mazinaw in southeastern Ontario. There, swallows had made their nests in the cracks in the rock, and we watched as several adolescents tried to fly. They'd flap madly and go a few feet before returning safely to the nest. The parents were squawking and yelling and flying and dipping and diving all over the place to try to encourage their little ones, who honestly were trying. Every now and then one of them would make it a little further out, but they always returned.

I'm having a swallow day like that today.

My 15-year-old is taking a train ride to visit a friend. She'll be on the train for five hours, transferring mid-trip in the huge Union Station in Toronto. I've given her my cell phone, I've packed her food (and her favourite, goldfish crackers), and I'm praying over her. But it's time.

I flew on planes by myself at age 7, because my parents were split up and my father lived on the other side of the country. I learned early on that if you cried, the stewardesses gave you chocolate chip cookies. I spent a lot of time crying. At 12 I was taking buses and subways on my own to summer camp or to school. I could navigate the Toronto transit system, find buses that went just about everywhere, and I did fine.

My kids don't have opportunities to practice that because we don't live in a big city, so I often worry that they're not as street wise as I was. I knew the right stance to take to give the message "I know what I'm doing; don't mess with me". My kids more look like they're so excited to be exploring the big, wide world. I've talked to Becca about how she should walk in crowds, and how to avoid unwanted attention. But it's something I had to teach; she didn't grow up just knowing, the way I did, because of my experience in the city.

I'm not really that nervous, because I know she'll be fine. She's a smart kid, and she knows how to protect herself. She's got my cell phone, which is something we never had when we were kids. So all will be good.

But it is time. Too often we raise our kids and they never get a chance to try anything by themselves. When you live in the country, or a small town, you really experience this first hand. In the city, there's always somewhere to walk to, and most kids walk to school. In the country, you get bused to school. In the country, you may learn to drive a car (or a tractor) on your property in the backwoods when you're only 12. In the city you can't. But you don't get to experience being alone among people, and navigating the adult world.

What you do get to experience in more rural areas is going alone in nature, skipping stones, exploring streams, climbing trees. And I think it's important to explore the world on your own, without your parents always there. It's part of growing up, and if we don't let kids do any of that until they hit 18, how will they cope?

So we do need to let go of our bubbles, just for a bit. I let my kids walk and bike to friend's houses that weren't that far away at age 9. Now that they're teens, they can do pretty much what they want outside, as long as they're in groups (they don't get to explore by themselves out in the country).

Is this dangerous? Perhaps. I think the rate of child abduction is actually far lower than we fear. It's just that we hear about all the random ones! But I think NOT knowing how to handle life on your own is even more dangerous. And the confidence that comes from being able to navigate your way around your own city, or handle public transportation and knowing that you can get somewhere and solve problems on your own, is an important part of growing up.

So I'll go to the train station today and hug my daughter good-bye and watch her leave. And I'll be proud of her. But I might still cry, just a little.

What do you think? What age is a good age to start taking buses on your own? What about biking in town on your own? Let me know in the comments!


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Wifey Wednesday: Changing the Dynamic

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and you all write on it on your own blogs and then put your link in here, or you comment in the comments!

Because I speak at marriage conferences, I get a lot of hard questions from people in marriages that are very difficult. Perhaps I'm a little jaded, then, when it comes to marriage, because I see all the problems that are going on behind the surface in many people's marriages that you would never guess from just looking at them. I think many of us are hurting more than we let on.

That doesn't necessarily mean that your marriage is bad. I went through about four really rocky years in our marriage. I never contemplated leaving Keith, but I wasn't happy and I cried a lot. But it's great now. So just because you're going through a rough patch doesn't mean that it will always be that way.

Today I want to share something I wrote to some people on an internet thread, where they were talking about verbally abusive or just plain mean spouses. Their husbands and wives never said anything positive, lectured them constantly, belittled them, even when they were highly successful and capable individuals. They were finding themselves completely contemptuous of their spouses now, and everything their spouses did bothered them, because of this verbal negativity that was always coming from them. It poisoned everything.

What do you do?

Here's my answer, and I'll edit it a bit so it's more generic.

Sometimes in marriage we simply are not getting our legitimate needs met. God gave us a need for connection and intimacy. Ultimately that's met in Him, but He also gave us spouses to help with that need. If you live with someone who is very negative, you're likely not getting that need met.

However, too often when we're in this negative cycle we actually start contributing to it by creating a pattern of negative behaviour. Your spouse is negative, and we sit there and take it. We perpetuate it.

But here's the thing about a pattern: there are two ways to change it. Either you can wait for the other person to change (which rarely happens spontaneously, unless they are knocked by a 2x4 from Jesus), or you can change yourself.

Now don't put your back up just yet; when I talk about changing yourself, I don't necessarily mean being what we would call "nicer". Yes, I believe in showing unconditional kindness. Yes, I believe in affection. But at some point in a marriage, that ceases working. In fact, it can become detrimental, because if the person has disconnected from you emotionally, and then you start trying to show them how much you love them, you actually end up looking pathetic (which turns them off even more).

So how do you change? James Dobson, in his book Tough Love, talked about letting a person experience the consequences of their actions. To truly love someone is to want the best for them. If you have a spouse who is very negative, that is not God's best.

It isn't God's best that your husband disparage you, or berate you in front of the kids. What's best is if both spouses learn to truly love each other intimately. So if you are committed to that--committed to loving your husband, committed to honouring the marriage, and committed to seeing that marriage become healthy--you have to make some changes.

These changes that I'm going to talk about won't work if you're angry or out to get your spouse. They won't work if you're thinking leaving is the better solution. If you keep that anger and that bitterness, the changes will create a "now it's your turn to see how it feels" pattern, and that's even worse. But if you dedicate yourself to God's best for your marriage and for yourself, you just may find that things change.

So have that out with God first, and let go of your anger so that your primary focus is on loving your husband, and your marriage, towards health.

Sometimes when you're the target of negativity, it's hard to imagine ever loving that person again because everything has become so negative. Little things they do now grate on you. Their personality grates. But what I've found is that personality issues are almost always directly related to relationship issues. My husband bites his fingernails. When I'm mad at him, and he does this in public, it drives me nuts. When I'm happy with him, it barely registers. Don't assume that because you don't like a lot about him that you never will again. Work on the relationship, and don't focus on his personality. Your perspective may actually change in time.

So let's deal with the relationship issues, not the personality ones. Have a conversation with your husband in which you tell him that you want your home to be a positive one--with your children, with your relationship--and because of that, you won't participate in conversations that aren't positive. You'll be glad to talk about issues as long as you're working towards a solution and not calling each other names. But you don't want negativity; you want love.

Then, next time he starts lecturing, put your hand gently on his arm, tell him you love him, but tell him that you won't participate in this unless he wants to talk, rather than lecture.

Sometimes we get into this dynamic where we never set boundaries, and then other people walk all over us. That's not healthy. Jesus has boundaries, after all! Show love, yes. Pray for the person. Show kindness to them. But don't encourage them to act in an ungodly way, which you do when you perpetuate negative communication patterns.

Instead, suggest that you spend some time talking about the positive things in your day. If he starts bad-mouthing an acquaintance, tell him you would prefer not to hear negative things about someone else. Keep that up for a while and you've now changed the dynamic in your marriage, and possibly gained some more respect.

When people respect us, they tend to value us more. When they walk all over us, they don't value us (and often that's why sexual attraction goes). Become the person that you want to be, and that God is calling you to be. Then act out that person within your marriage--loving him, but also setting limits. As you do that, you just may find the dynamic changes.

I hope that helps. I know this is really tough. But I don't think just chucking the relationship is the answer, either. Often people chuck the marriage before they realize that they do have within them the opportunity to change the way you relate. So shake things up a bit. Set boundaries. Set limits. Learn to treat yourself with respect, and go to God to help you be the kind of person others will respect. As you do that, you just may find your relationship changing.

My book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, talks a lot about how to regain respect in a marriage. If you're battling with this, I know To Love, Honor and Vacuum can help!

Now, do you have a word of wisdom about marriage? Or a question about marriage? Write your own blog post and put the link in our Mcklinky! We'd love to hear your thoughts!


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Blessed Aroma 2009
Now that all my wonderful readers helped me to win The Top 10 Christian Blogs for Life Coaching for Women, I'm wondering if all you wonderful readers could nominate me for another?

I won in 2008, but I'd love to get listed in Blessed Aroma 2009! There's a bunch of different categories (last year I was in Best Caffeinated Blog), but you can nominate a whole bunch of your favourite blogs! Or just this one, if you want, but why not share the love?

It's really easy. Just go here and then enter "To Love, Honor and Vacuum" in Best Caffeinated Blog category.

Thanks so much! I really appreciate it!


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Erring on the Side of Love
Probably like most of you readers, I've always been a sucker for disaster stories. Everytime I watched TV as a teen and a story about some massacre came on, or some typhoon, and I saw children suddenly orphaned, my heart went out to them.

I wanted to adopt a ton of them. I wanted to go there. I wanted to help.

Today, I'm in a position to help, at least financially. We've travelled to an orphanage in Kenya several times, and we're going back this year to help with medical work and with microbusinesses. I believe in trying to help people.

But, at the same time, I'm quite aware of the complexities of aid. I believe, for example, that giving money to corrupt governments only makes governments more corrupt, and actually ends up worse for the people in the country. I think most charitable giving should be through NGOs that train people how to care for themselves.

That being said, I've also read a ton lately about how some areas of the world are just write-offs. They don't do the basic things for themselves, and then expect people to come and help them. They make it harder for aid workers. They become violent, and then put the aid workers at risk. We're seeing it in Haiti right now, where many people are shooting doctors and aid workers and creating such a risky security situation that some aid workers have to pull out.

And I've read a number of articles (and been sent a number of articles by email) about how Haiti really is a basketcase, and what it needs is tough love. It needs to smarten up and take care of its own problems, because it's never going to get better when other people keep rescuing them. I've read the same thing about Africa: we should stop helping, because by helping, we're making it worse. We're enabling Africans to stop caring for the orphaned children, because they know we'll step in. So we're absolving them of all responsibility, and we're perpetuating the cycle. And not just that: we're allowing a society to continue that in all likelihood will become a threat to the Western world in a number of decades.

Isn't that depressing?

I mean, honestly, I've been heartbroken by the earthquake in Haiti, and I have given money. I have friends in the military who are there right now.

And I find it very difficult to read these essays saying that we should make them look after their own problems. Now, to be fair, in the case of Haiti, most are arguing that we should tend to the basic medical needs, and then get out. They're not saying we shouldn't help in the immediate aftermath. They're just saying that's all we should do. That at some point the nation needs to learn to care for itself.

I understand this. I really do. But it seems to me that what this fails to take into account is that people can't just care for themselves and improve things when there honestly isn't any money and worse than that, their fellow countrymen are oppressing and abusing them. What is an 8-year-old child, alone on the streets, supposed to do? The answer I get when I ask people that question is that it's tough to leave that 8-year-old, but we must, because the more we step in, the more we absolve adults of responsibility and perpetuate the cycle.

What makes them think, though, that if we left the country alone, it honestly would improve? I don't think it would at all. I think it would disintegrate into horrible war and genocide. But they think that's okay, because the people are doing it to themselves.

I've never been able to live with that. It seems to me that if someone is hurting, and we have the capacity to help, we have a moral obligation to do so. God has given us these resources for a reason. And yes, they may grow up to be horrible people. They may grow up to be very anti-Western and to pose a threat to us. But how do you stand by and let children be raped, or abused, or starved?

To me, it's analogous to an abused child here in North America. We wouldn't leave them to fend for themselves, arguing that when they grew up they'll likely be violent anyway. We try to help them because it's the right thing to do. And the reason it's the right thing to do is because it's the loving thing to do. And I would always rather err on the side of love.

I do know it's complicated, and much aid that's been given to the world over the last few decades has exacerbated the problem. But I think the people complaining about aid to these places don't see the changes that are occurring, especially in Christian ministries. The focus of most aid, and of the missions teams I've been involved in lately, has been to build indigenous businesses; to help people with microbusiness loans, and teach people how to support themselves. It's not just giving money away; it's training people.

It doesn't always work, because the culture in many of these places has to be changed away from pessimism, irresponsibility, and, dare I say it, laziness. But the churches on the ground are doing a great job of that. I heard some of the most amazing sermons in Nairobi, berating the congregation for not getting involved in politics, for not trying to change things, for not staying faithful to their spouses, and getting too caught up in materialism. It was great!

Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. We will never solve poverty. We will never solve these natural disasters that occur with amazing frequency and severity. But perhaps the reason the poor will always be here is to remind us that we have an obligation to love. And we need to love. We need to love strategically, and we shouldn't do anything that exacerbates problems. But I do believe in love. And when I'm standing before Jesus, I don't want to give Him all the reasons why I didn't love--because it was such a basketcase it deserved it, and it was to teach the people a lesson, and it was to let the state fail because it was already a failed state--I want to simply be able to tell Him that I did what I could, because I knew I was His hands and His feet here on earth.

Maybe that makes me naive. Maybe it makes me part of the problem (I've been told that numerous times lately, too). But I'd rather err on the side of helping children than err on the side of being disengaged because it makes me feel intellectually superior.

I hope that makes sense. And right now, I will say a prayer for the children of Haiti who are lost, and without parents, and hurting. It is too much pain to bear, I believe. I'm glad we have a God who does not turn His face, and who does not treat us as our sins--or our nation's sins--deserve. We have a God who loves and cares, and may He always be our model.


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I'm in the Top 10 Christian Women Blogs!
At the beginning of the year I asked all my faithful readers to nominate me for the top 10 Christian women's blogs, and I won! Thanks so much! Click on the link to see other great blogs!

But if you're just joining me from that page, I thought I should introduce myself. I'm Sheila Gregoire, an author of several books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum, and Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight. I have two girls, aged 12 & 15, and a son in heaven. I speak frequently at women's conferences and retreats, and also do speaker training.
But mostly these days I blog. Everyday, pretty much. Wednesdays are dedicated to marriage, and the other days are dedicated to whatever happens to be in my head!

A couple of my favourite recent posts:
Just Do It
Do You Praise Your Kids Too Much?
Discipline in the Toddler Years
And my Top 10 Posts for 2009!

Have fun looking around! And do subscribe the blog if you like it!


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The Ripple Effect
I know very little about popular culture since we don't have a TV. I was in the grocery store yesterday glancing at magazine covers, and one was of a bunch of girls named the "Kardashians". Obviously they are important for some reason, but I have absolutely no clue who they are.

But some stars are hard to avoid, and I have to admit that while I ignore about 95% of what's in tabloids, I do read the headlines on the Brad and Angelina fiasco.

I think it's because when Brad originally left Jennifer Aniston it really bothered me. He felt he could just break his marriage vows because he found someone else, and he did it so publicly. I have no idea what is going on in her head, or what did go on in her head, but it seemed to cruel to me. (If you're a celebrity hater, please read on. I know this seems like a shallow point for a post, but I bring it all together, I promise!)

Now it turns out that Brad and Angelina have signed papers to split their fortune, and he has bought his own house. So I guess they'll announce it's over soon. Yet I'm not particularly happy (not that it has anything to do with me), because they have six kids together. Whether it was wrong or not for them to be together in the first place, they do have children. And those children's lives will be even more chaotic now.

The whole thing just strikes me as so sad: the kids lose out; Jennifer lost out; and now the two of them aren't happy either. The question that will be all over the tabloids for the next year, of course, is whether or not Brad and Jen will get back together. I'm an agnostic on that subject. Really don't care. But what strikes me is that if they do, she is now 40. Has she lost her chance to have children?

Of course, she could have had them earlier, while they were together. But she was working on her TV show, and didn't want to interrupt that. So she waited, and now she has no babies.

It seems like everyone in this situation made really, really bad choices, and now nobody is happy.

What it shows me is that you have to keep your first priorities as your first priorities if you want to be happy in the long run. If you want children, don't let a job keep you from having them. Don't keep putting it off. If you are married with someone you love, and you're secure in that relationship, have kids. (Of course, if Brad and Jen had had kids, they would have been left without a father, too, but perhaps things would have turned out differently).

And put your marriage first. If you're married, you're married. You need to work on that marriage and make sure that it remains your number one priority. Nurture the relationship. Keep sex exciting. Work on your friendship. Nothing is worth more in this life than your marriage, because without it, everything else starts falling apart. That doesn't mean you can't rebuild after a divorce, or that God won't be with you. On the contrary; often God is closest to those who have been heartbroken. But it takes such an emotional toll. How much better to work on the relationship in the first place! (And, if it doesn't work, at least you can be satisfied that it wasn't for lack of trying on your part.)

But celebrities can also tell us a little bit about how NOT to be married. I think one of the reasons that celebrities break up at such astounding rates is that they are rarely together. One is filming a movie here, and another there. Brad and Angelina got together on the set; by all accounts, Brad and Jennifer were very happy before that. So we need to keep close PHYSICALLY to our husbands, too.

For some of us that's not easy. I have two friends who are leaving for Haiti as we speak for two months' tour of duty with the military. Another is leaving for Afghanistan for six months in just a few weeks. That is so hard on a marriage. But they have plans for how to keep in touch, and for how to keep their marriage going even in such difficult circumstances. And they are honest about the difficulties, and have prayed through them. Marriages can survive these types of separations with the right prayer and preparation. And the REASON for these separations is also important--when it's military duty, it's different. Military duty means something. You're away for a purpose. Sure, it's your job and you signed up for it, but that doesn't mean you WANT to go. It's just that you accept that you are asked to make sacrifices.

For celebrities, and other high powered executives who spend their lives away from home, being away isn't something you do sacrificially because it's meaningful; it's the whole POINT of your job. Nothing is driving you to be gone except for you. Some jobs, like truckers, will be on the road for a while, but it's not extended the way it is when you're filming a movie. And families can adjust, even if it's hard. But as much as it is in your control, choose a profession, and help your husband choose a profession, that keeps the two of you close together.

In situations where you must be separated, keep your spouse still as your main priority. Maintain absolute faithfulness. That's harder than one may think, even on tours of duty, because of all the porn that's available (though the Canadian forces, at least, try to limit it. I'm sure the American forces do, too, but I have no direct knowledge of this). But faithfulness is encouraged, even by the military.

It reminds me of a story Kirk Cameron told about filming the movie Fireproof. In the final scene, he has to kiss his "wife". But he firmly believes in marital faithfulness, and didn't believe that he should kiss someone, even if it was just acting, who was not his wife. So they shot the scene in silhouette and had his wife Chelsea stand in for the actress who had played his wife throughout the film. I respect him for that. I don't think I could kiss another man, either, even if it were acting. I think it's very dangerous. And I often wonder, when I watch movies, if I'm actually promoting the undoing of these actors' marriages by watching them kiss people they're not married to. It hasn't stopped me yet, but it does give me pause!

When you look at this disaster of a story, no one ever set out to have it be a disaster. But they didn't put their main priorities as their main priorities. They valued career over marriage; they valued career over kids. They valued personal happiness over fidelity. And now everything is a mess. These small decisions we make can have huge consequences later on.

So today, what can we do to value our marriages? What can we do to boost our fidelity? Maybe if we all concentrated on boosting our marriages rather than boosting our careers or focusing on what we want, we'd actually end up far happier in the end.

If you liked this post, you'll love Sheila's audio download: "Protect Your Marriage". We all want strong marriages, but if we don't tend them and protect them, outside influences can easily steal our joy and intimacy. Download it now!


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The Real Big World
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers. Here's this week's! It's really directed primarily at my newspaper audience: those who live in the smaller towns all over southeastern Ontario. If you happen to live in a big city, forgive me! But here's my ode to small towns:

When I first moved to my “smaller” town I was pretty stupid. I didn’t understand certain basic facts of small town life, such as that barbecuing is mandatory, hunting is not considered barbaric, and grocery shopping is for socializing, not just for shopping. In fact, my first grocery shopping experience here was rather traumatic. As I emptied my cart contents onto the conveyor, the checkout woman started talking. I glanced nervously around to see to whom this conversation was directed, but when I verified that I was alone, I naturally assumed that she was off of her medication.

In all my years living in Toronto, no one had ever spoken to me in line at a store. In fact, we had lectures in high school on how to avoid making eye contact with anyone so as to prevent unpleasant situations, such as people starting up a spontaneous conversation about the weather.

I have thankfully assimilated to my foreign environment, and now I’m the one to chat up people in grocery stores, commenting on various soya sauce brands, the exorbitant price of red peppers, and of course complaining about the latest snowfall. I love my small town life.

Why do we assume that it’s life in Toronto that is civilized? Personally, if I were down on my luck, I’d much rather live here where you can turn to a neighbour than live there where you have to double bolt your door. Southeastern Ontario, where we live, is considered the most self-reliant area of the country, even ahead of Alberta. We’re hardy folk, and we can withstand most anything, as long as you leave us alone to do what we do best. And even though I’m a recent transplant, I still love saying “we” when it comes to this part of the country, because I feel more at home here than I ever did anywhere else.

After all, what’s so great about the big city? It may have a greater variety of restaurants, but it takes forever to get to them and then you have to fight for parking. Your friends live at least fifty minutes away by public transit. Commuting is a hassle. Grocery shopping is a hassle. And nobody ever, ever talks to you.

Unfortunately, young people don’t always see the appeal of living in a small town. They’re lured by the restaurants and night life and culture of the city. What they don’t realize is that it’s hard to drive a mini-van to hockey practices when you live in a highrise. It’s hard to be essentially Canadian when your life is reduced to a few stops on the Yonge subway line. The big world isn’t in Toronto; it’s out here.

I went to school with teens who had never seen cows. Few of my classmates drove, even in our senior year of high school, because their parents didn’t own cars. It was too cumbersome downtown. They knew everything about the city, and nothing about constellations, or flowers, or fresh-picked corn. They didn’t make snowmen because there were no yards. We didn’t ride bikes. Our lives were reduced to metal playgrounds and after school specials on TV.

The biggest horizons in life aren’t in the big city; they’re where the sky stretches the farthest. They’re where you can step outside your door and cross country ski. You can taste venison stew because you have a neighbour who hunts, not because you frequent some exotic restaurant. You can go fishing. You can talk to people in the grocery store. It’s a great life, and I hope our twenty-somethings realize it, before they chuck it for the small life I used to live in the big city.

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Ways to Enjoy Life More
Sometimes I think the job of blogs is not to inform people of new things, but to give you a kick in the pants about stuff you already know, but haven't put into practice.

Isn't that the case with most things in life? We know what we should be doing, but we don't want to do it. So we try to figure out excuses to get around it, until someone shows us an easier way of doing what we should be doing in the first place. So to speak.

I woke up this morning with a headache. I hate waking up with headaches because I usually have them all day. And so this morning, I've been asking myself, what should I have been doing that I haven't been doing to make my life less stressful and make me sleep better?

And every now and then I come across lists on the internet that encapsulate a lot of our wisdom. Here's a good one on 25 Ways to Make Sure You Enjoy Life! Some are corny, but I like this first three:

1. Take a 10-30 minute walk every day. And while you walk, smile. It is
the ultimate anti-depressant.

2. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day. Talk to God about
what is going on in your life. Buy a lock if you have to.

3. When you wake up in the morning complete the following statement, ‘My
purpose is to__________ today. I am thankful for______________’

They're simple, aren't they? And if we did them, wouldn't it make a difference? I find often, for instance, I just don't get enough fresh air during the day. I'm stuck at home in front of the computer, and then I get in my car to run errands. Rarely am I actually outside, especially in the winter. But I need to be more. Just buy warm clothes, bundle up, and get out there! It does feel great.

And sitting in silence and asking God to let you know His purpose for the day can make the whole day so much less stressful, too.

I do like #16 as well:

16. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: ‘In five years,
will this matter?’

If every teen could remember that, we'd have far fewer depressed teenagers, too!

Anyway, I can't post too much more today because I'm going to go try to drink a whole lot of water and take things easy to see if this headache dissipates. But today, ask yourself, how can I make sure I enjoy life more and feel more joy? And don't forget to ask God, too!


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Wifey Wednesday: Developing Habits

It's Wednesday, the day that we talk marriage! I write a post, and then the rest of you either write your own Wifey Wednesday and then come back here and enter your link, or you leave a comment!

So today I want to talk about habits, to go along with my post earlier this week, "Just Do It".

First, a little bit of background. My husband and I teach at marriage conferences across Canada, and on February 6 we're giving one at our local church in Belleville, Ontario (it's always a little scary doing something at your home church, but I'm sure it will be fine).

Anyway, one thing that I've noticed about couples in trouble is that they didn't start in trouble. At the beginning, there may have been one or two things that weren't great, but really the marriage didn't need to end up that way. And rarely does a marriage disintegrate overnight. Something happens over a period of time.

And that something isn't always something horribly sinful. It's usually more because we become lazy. He gets home from work and he's tired, so he grabs dinner and then collapses in front of the TV all night. He didn't mean to, but he did. And soon he's doing it every night and you're not communicating. You didn't mean to stop communicating, but you've developed habits that make a good marriage hard to maintain.

Likewise, she loves having kids and throws everything into them. He wants to leave them with a baby-sitter so they can go out, just the two of us, but she can't picture who to leave them with. So she says no. And soon he stops trying to spend any time as a couple, but she rebuffs him. The kids start climbing into bed, and they stay there. There is no "couple", there's only the family. And that's not healthy.

It isn't that we ever meant for the marriage to get bad. It isn't that we ever made a conscious decision to push our spouse away. But often we develop habits--the way that we spend our time, the way we do things--that work directly against couple intimacy.

And these habits WILL come automatically unless you take proactive steps to stop them. It isn't that you need to decide to love your husband more, although that would help. It isn't even that you need to decide to put him first, although that will help. What you really need to do is make conscious STEPS, and not just conscious thoughts, to put your marriage first.

A marriage will not grow on its own. It will not enrich itself by itself. It needs you to do something to kickstart it in the right direction (and hopefully it needs your husband to do the same thing).

So ask yourself today: with the way that I spend my time, organize my life, and parent my kids, am I enriching my marriage or jeopardizing my marriage? Am I working towards closer intimacy, or am I pushing him away (even if I don't mean to)? And if the answer is the latter, change it now. If you don't, ten years from now when a crisis hits, you'll have no marriage reserves to draw on. That's why couples break up.

They've developed these habits that push them away from each other, and then they can't handle the stresses of life.

So what steps can you take today to reclaim your marriage? Can you feed the kids early and eat dinner as a couple once a week? Can you take a walk together after dinner? Can you kick the kids out of the bed? Can you give them an earlier bedtime, even if they need to play in their rooms, so that you can spend some time with your husband? Can you consider getting rid of the TV?

Think about it! And if you have any ideas to share, or any questions for the rest of us, leave a comment or write your own Wifey Wednesday post and link it up in the Mcklinky below!


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Discipline in the Terrible Twos

Last week a number of you asked me to write a post about how to discipline a toddler! I have so much to say about this I don't know if it will fit all in one post, but let's give it a try.

First, a bit of perspective. I firmly believe that the more you discipline a child up until the age of 3 or 4, the less you have to discipline a child around ages 15-17. And it's at 15-17 when they can get into some serious trouble! That's why it's so important that toddlers are taught to respect your authority and to obey.

I know "obey" is a dirty word. We don't want to impose our wills on these bright, impressionable children. But let's not forget that they are "children". They are not adults. They don't know everything. And they need to be taught to channel their energies in the right direction. Besides, it gives them a feeling of security when they realize that they are not in charge of this big, huge world. When they know there are checks and balances, and that Mommy and Daddy will stop them from doing something bad, they actually feel freer to explore this world than when they are given no limits at all.

So let's move into how to discipline.

1. Schedule/Routine works so well. If you can institute a schedule or routine so that the children know what to expect, you are less likely to need much formal discipline. One of the reasons kids act out is because they are confused or overwhelmed because they don't understand what is going on. That's why kids are more likely to act like brats in a new situation meeting all your relatives, for instance. It's an unfamiliar situation.

As much as possible, then, kids thrive with a schedule. Up at 7, play until 7:45, then breakfast. Play until 10, then outing. Home for lunch. Do a craft. Take a nap. Etc. etc. And try to make outings have similar themes! Have toys that you only take on outings. Go to the library at the same time on the days that you go. When kids know what to expect, they are far more likely to relax and enjoy it than to get upset and start acting out.

2. Make Allowances for Them. Kids are kids, and often we expect them to be able to behave better than perhaps we should. When my girls and I used to grocery shop when they were babies and toddlers, I would stick them into the grocery cart and then head immediately to the produce department, where I would buy two bananas. Then I'd go to the checkout and pay for my two little bananas. I'd keep the receipt handy, in my pocket, and I'd let the girls eat the bananas while we shopped. That kept them from fussing or from trying to touch all the food. If they already had food, they were far more likely to enjoy the experience.

It's unrealistic to expect a 2-year-old to sit calmly in a grocery cart in the middle of all that food for half an hour or 45 minutes while you get a huge shop done. Buy them a healthy snack at the beginning, and you get away from a lot of trouble.

Similarly, if you're waiting at a doctor's office, or if another appointment, it's unrealistic to expect them to sit calmly there, too. I always kept a few small toys and several books in my bag, and whenever we were out at stuff like that I'd whip them out and keep them occupied. It works well at restaurants, too.

I know it doesn't look like the first two have much to do with discipline, but I believe that if we aren't unreasonable with our children, and if we have a routine, kids in general will behave better. Now let's turn to the times when they don't behave.

3. Determine the root cause. My oldest daughter, for instance, threw temper tantrums like there was no tomorrow when she was 2. She'd get upset about something--like we had to leave the park--and she'd start screaming. The problem was she couldn't stop. She'd get to the point where her temper tantrum had nothing to do with what set her off. She was just screaming now because she was overwhelmed with her emotions.

It's frustrating as a parent, but much of life as a 2-3 year-old is learning things, and one thing you have to learn is handling emotions. Becca just couldn't do it at the time (she's still working on calming herself down when she feels panicky or upset, but she's much better at it at 15).

If you can see that it's not that she or he is being defiant, but it's just that they're tired or overwhelmed, that can at least perhaps temper your anger. It doesn't mean you don't discipline; it just makes you a little more sympathetic.

I would take Becca, in the middle of these tantrums, and talk quietly to her but make it clear that she couldn't be with the family or with other people if she was going to scream and thrash like that. We'd either remove her from the room we were in, or, if she was thrashing too much, I'd hold her on my lap, not talking to her, until she was able to calm down.

I never bribed her or tried to get her interested in something else. She needed to learn how to calm herself down. That's the main lesson she needed to get out of her temper tantrums, and if I calmed her down by giving her something, like chocolate, than the lesson was thrown out the window. It was frustrating because it's hard to listen to her screaming, but we'd either put her in a room and let her cry on her bed or I'd hold her on my lap, keeping her arms down, so she wasn't a harm to anybody.

4. Keep Discipline Immediate and Quick. Kids don't have long attention spans, and they don't always understand things when there's too much time between infraction and punishment. If they've just bitten somebody, then you must respond right then. If my children were at playgroup, for instance, and they did something horribly inappropriate, like biting or throwing a tantrum, we would leave. They were very upset about that, and it often made the tantrum worse, but they had to learn that they couldn't act that way in that setting.

Kids need to learn that in public there are certain things you can't do, like screaming, or hitting, or being violent. If they were, they lost their chance to play.

If you're going to institute something like this, don't lecture them or be mad. Just treat it like it's natural. "It's too bad we have to leave now, but that's what happens when you bite. Maybe we'll be able to come back tomorrow if you decide not to bite again." Then don't yell at them. You've already punished them. Let them understand that it was their choice to leave, since they did the biting. Next time, if they make a different choice, then you can stay.

But it must be immediate. Don't dilly dally and wait around and second guess yourself, or you've lost the chance. You can always come back another time, and it does help kids learn to control themselves when they see that they lose something important to them.

5. You Must Be Consistent. If you are going to make it a rule that everyone tries two bites of everything on their plate, for instance, then you have to make them. You can't do it one night and not the rest, or you'll have to start from scratch all over again. They'll know they can push the limits.

That's why it's better NOT to discipline or threaten if you're not going to follow through in the same way all the time. If you're going to let it go sometimes, but not others, you just confuse kids, and you actually put yourself in a worse situation. It's better to have small consequences that you always enforce than some big ones you're haphazard about, because you just confuse kids about the rules.

So don't threaten something in anger. Ask yourself, "can I really follow through? Can I follow through like this on another day, too? Is this something I can regularly do?" And if it's not, don't do it. When kids feel there's a CHANCE they can get away with something, they're more likely to push the limits than if they feel like there are no limits at all, if that makes any sense. It's better not to do anything than to do it halfway.

So with toddlers, choose small things to discipline about. Remove a toy. Have them stand in time out for 3 minutes. Take them out to the car if they're acting up in a restaurant. Leave a playgroup. As for spanking, you can do this if you want to, but I never recommend it because some people do spank in anger, and that's dangerous. If you don't spank in anger, and you're controlled and calm, then that's really up to you. I just don't want to get involved in that decision-making chain of yours!

Let me tell you, though, that some research has shown that spanking is much more effective for boys than for girls. Girls often react badly. Boys often react well. Nevertheless, you know your kids, and you choose what is best for them.

One more thing: try not to yell. If what you're doing is just enforcing consequences, you can do it in a nice voice. "It's too bad you can't play with bunny anymore today, but Mommy warned you, and I have to take it away now." Yelling scares kids and undermines your authority. It's not nice, it creates a horrible environment in the home, and it's not necessary except in really bad circumstances. Kids are far more likely to accept a consequence when you announce it in a firm but normal voice than if you go off the deep end.

I hope that helps! Leave your comments and other ideas below, and maybe I'll leave a follow-up post on Thursday!

If you want to hear more just like this post, you'll love Sheila's audio download, "To Love, Honor and Vacuum"! Do you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother? Do you wonder how to get your home under control--and how to raise your kids well? Listen in to this hour long talk!

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Just Do It!
It's Monday morning, and I'm tired. I haven't been sleeping well, and it's driving me crazy. But I am trying to wake up by getting some thoughts down that have been running through my head all weekend.

Religion is a great motivator for change. When we honestly know God, and want to do what He asks us to do, we're far more likely to head in the right direction.

But within religion, and especially the Protestant stream of it, there's a danger to the over-spiritualization of problems. Let me explain what I mean.

Let's say that you're struggling with gambling or something. You go to a church and you hear a great message on how we need to repent of any sin we're committing and get right with God. We're touched. We feel that God is calling us. And so we go to the altar and we hand it over to God.

Then what?

I think there's a reason that Alcoholics Anonymous has been so successful with helping people defeat addictions, and why churches often refer people there. They don't ONLY spiritualize the problem (although the spiritual is a big part of the treatment); they also give you very practical steps of what you should do.

I'm thinking about this in relation to a marriage conference that my husband and I are teaching at in three weeks. It seems to me that quite often at these types of conferences you hear a lot of talks on how marriage is not about what you want; it's about what God wants. You need to put your spouse's needs first. You need to love your spouse. You need to forgive your spouse. And it's a moving experience.

But Christianity is not just about getting our hearts right; it's about walking, everyday, in little steps that get us in the right direction. And I think God would rather have one individual who struggled with her marriage but who made concrete steps to love her husband more than one who completely surrendered her marriage but didn't make any real practical change.

The problem is that too often, within the church, we focus on the heart change, and not the foot change. We look at how our hearts must line up to God, but we fail to give people hope of how their feet can start walking in a different path.

I'm not saying the heart change isn't important; and I do believe people can often change simply because of a heart change, because the Holy Spirit directs you. But let's face it: often the reason we get in ruts, whether it's in our marriage, or with alcoholism, or with watching too much TV, or with being on the computer too much, or with failing to relate to one of our children, is because we develop habits that are counterproductive to how we should be living. And habits are very difficult things to break, even if you have had a heart change.

In order to break them, you need to develop different habits. You need to change your walk, and not just your talk.

That's one thing I really try to focus on in my books and in this blog; I do believe the heart and head change come first. When we get ourselves right with God, and start looking at our lives through His eyes, we're now pointed in the right direction. But just because you're pointed there doesn't mean you're going to move forward unless some small things change.

And they can be small things. They don't have to be big ones. If God is working on one area of your life with you, then let me suggest something: ask what SMALL changes you can make today to make yourself go in the right direction. It doesn't have to be a huge thing. Often, small things add up and change the focus of our lives. If you're battling with TV or computer time, for instance, why not simply try developing a habit that every night, after dinner, you take a 15 minute walk to connect with your family? If you're battling with loving your husband, why not find one small thing you can do for him everyday, just to show him that you love him. If you're battling with your weight, why not change to a lower fat version of milk and cheese?

It's not rocket science. But too often, when we struggle, I think we focus on the heart rather than the feet--as in where we're going. We fall again into the same trap, and we end up praying that God will stop us from going there, when maybe what we need to do is stop praying for the right ATTITUDE and simply start praying that God will give us a new HABIT. I think we expect ourselves to magically change when all the pieces of our lives are still exactly the same. It doesn't work that way. Change a few small pieces, and suddenly life becomes a bit easier.

So we're at the beginning of a new week, and that's the challenge I want to leave with you: what is God working on you primarily about? Is it time management? Addictions? Food? Your relationships? Whatever it is, pray that God will give you a new attitude. But most importantly, pray that God will show you one small change you can make to get you going in the right direction. And then just do it. Life will be so much better!

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Mourning Common Sense
Every Friday my syndicated column goes out all over southeastern Ontario. Here's today's:

If I were to pick one hundred random passers-by and asked them what they thought about spanking a 4-year-old who was swearing at his mother and refusing to obey, I’m pretty sure a healthy majority would say it’s a-okay. On the other hand, ask those same hundred people whether spanking a 12-year-old in the same circumstances would be acceptable, and I’m pretty sure the vast majority would say no. That’s because people, in general, have common sense.

Marjorie Gunnoe, a professor of psychology at Calvin College has just published a study confirming what the vast majority of us already know: spanking young children to discipline them is not harmful, but spanking older children is. Of course hitting can be abusive, but most of us also know that spanking is not the same as abuse. And in her study, she found that those who were spanked before they were six actually ended up happier and more successful as adults than those who were not.

It’s perfectly logical, really. Those who were spanked likely had parents who believed in discipline, consequences, and enforcing boundaries. Thus, they grew up to be more obedient and respectful, more responsible, and better adjusted.

On the other hand, a good parent realizes once a child reaches a certain age that there are more appropriate discipline techniques than spanking, because the child can now reason better. Those parents who continue to spank, then, even as the children grow, likely aren’t as functional as others. Their kids will turn out worse, which is also exactly what Gunnoe found.

Sometimes we need research to remind us of the obvious, because in many instances legislators, media figures, and societal leaders have forgotten it. Here’s the hard truth: you can’t legislate common sense, and often when we try to pass laws to prevent something we know is harmful, we end up interfering too significantly in the lives of families who are just going about their business in a perfectly appropriate way.

Last week France waded into this dangerous territory, too, though this time it’s even more of a farce. From now on, in France, if you tell your husband in the middle of an argument, “You’re a lazy good-for-nothing!” you could be arrested. Psychological violence in marriage has been outlawed.

Research, you see, has shown that name-calling is just as psychologically harmful to people as physical abuse. I agree wholeheartedly. But here’s the rub: just because it’s harmful doesn’t mean that we should make a law about it. How do you identify what is “psychological violence” and what is just a couple getting into too heated an argument?

Nevertheless, make repeated rude remarks about a spouse’s expanding waistline, and you could be hauled before a judge. Accuse them unfairly of having an affair, and you could be prosecuted, too.

Unfortunately, modern society believes that things like bad behaviour, inequality, unfairness, and poverty can actually be defeated if only we enact the right laws. Legislators have forgotten that many problems, as bad as they are, just don’t have easy solutions because human beings are awfully messy creatures. And I would rather trust a society run by common sense—where people say, “I’ll know abuse when I see it”—than one run by people who think they can force us all to act properly. You can’t. Laws aren’t the answer; reaching out to our neighbours, and forming a closer community so we can help those in trouble, probably does infinitely more good than any number of pieces of paper outlawing criticisms of one’s spouse’s housekeeping skills. Life will never be easy, and will never be fair. The sooner we realize that, the better.
UPDATE: I'm getting a lot of grief on Twitter and in email about this one, so let me make a few things clear. I never spanked my kids. We used time outs, and I didn't think spanking was necessary. That being said, I know many good parents who have used it, and to call spanking abuse is, in my mind, ridiculous. I'm not trying to say that all parents should spank; after all, I didn't. What I am saying is that IT ISN'T WRONG. And the criminalizing spanking movement needs to give it up, because in the countries where it has been implemented, rates of juvenile delinquency have increased as has child abuse.

Don't spank your kids if you don't want to. I didn't! I'm just saying, "stop judging parents who do". I know abuse when I see it, as do you, I'm sure. But the anti-spanking movement is really an anti-authoritarian movement. It seeks to undermine parental authority and family sanctity. And when parents are told they can't discipline by spanking, they often stop disciplining altogether (which is also what has happened over the last few decades). Couple that with yesterday's post about self-esteem, and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

My husband is a pediatrician, and he routinely advises against spanking in his office because too many parents do it in anger. But if you are controlled, and if you are careful, I really don't think it does lasting harm; and, as this study shows, it can actually have lasting benefits. Personally, I preferred other ways, and there is research showing that spanking girls can backfire, while spanking boys can be necessary. We had girls, so spanking wasn't an issue for us.

But blanket condemnation against spanking, and calling it "violence" and "abuse" is the problem that I was trying to get at in this column. If you call spanking abuse, then abuse loses its horror. I would so much rather have a child in a loving family that is spanked than a child who is never disciplined. To me, the latter is far more "abusive" than spanking. That said, I still chose not to spank. But I refuse to judge those who do, and in fact, in many cases, I think those parents were right.

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To Love, Honor and Vacuum
Did you know you can read To Love, Honor and Vacuum with one hand?

Apparently that's a big plus!

For those of you who don't know, To Love, Honor and Vacuum is not just the name of this blog; it's the name of my first book. It's for all of you out there who feel more like maids than wives and mothers, and want to figure out a way of running your household so that people respect each other, are kind to each other, and help out. It's about changing the way YOU do things, instead of waiting for others to change. And it helps you focus on God's priorities, rather than our own.

Anyway, I got this email earlier this week and thought I'd share it with you:

I just bought a couple of your books "To Love, Honor, and Vacuum" and "Honey, I don't have a Headache Tonight." Right after I ordered my copies I recommended your blog entry on Doormats or Housewives to a good friend of mine who, after reading it, decided to order "To Love, Honor, and Vacuum" as well. She has a 3 month old baby and a husband who goes to work and comes home to play computer. She had just been telling me how stressed she was about her house and husband (I am actually going to help her out with housework but it's tough because I live almost 1.5 hours away). My husband isn't quite as addicted to the computer as hers is is but also spends a lot of time on the computer instead of with our toddler and me (though my hubby has a more relaxed work schedule and tries to help out around the house).

Anyway, I recieved my books last night and started reading the first one this morning (reading about housework when I should actually be doing it lol!). I sent my friend a text to say that I had started reading it and that it was really good so far and I could totally relate to everything you were saying.

She sent me back a text: That's cool. I'm excited. Hey, how big is the book? Like can you read with one hand or do you need both? Weird question, I know lol!

Me: Not a weird question at all. I am playing trains with Caleb with my other hand, It is most definitely one hand readable.

Her: Very nice, that's exactly why I was wondering. I have other books I would like to read but you need two hands and how often do you get both of your own at the same time!

So I just wanted to shoot you off an email to thank you for making sure that the book is one hand readable. I'm sure that many moms appreciate it!

There you go. If you need to, you can read it with one hand. Want an autographed copy? Order it from me. Or you can get it at Amazon here:


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Do You Praise Your Kids Too Much?
Yesterday I was listening to the radio and was reminded of that fact that the people with the highest self-esteem tend to be those on death row. Those who feel best about themselves are often criminals. Indeed, that's WHY they're criminals. They think they are the best, that they are special, and thus they don't have to live by other people's rules.

Our society has become completely sideswiped by the self-esteem movement. If kids are having problems, it must be because they don't feel good enough about themselves, the argument goes. So if they're having trouble learning their multiplication facts, let's work on helping them feel special, rather than helping them learn that 7 * 8 = 56. (do you know the trick to remembering that? It's just 5-6-7-8).

Schools have courses on boosting kids' self-esteem. All over elementary schools you see posters saying, "I'm special!". But I'm reminded of that awesome line in The Incredibles, spoken by Dash, complaining after his mother is saying that all kids are special. "That's just another way of saying that nobody is." And he's right.

I once knew a single mom who had pictures of her daughter all over the house. Now I have pictures of my kids all over the house, too, but this was almost pathological. They were often set up as if they were shrines to this girl, who was definitely not special. I don't like to be mean, but she wasn't bright, she wasn't athletic, she wasn't musical, she wasn't pretty, but most of all, she was a downright miserable and annoying child to be with, especially as she hit 10 and 11.

I'm not one who believes that everybody has to be extraordinary in some area. I think we all do have strengths, but I think character is far more important than innate giftings. Develop love and compassion and integrity and responsibility, and you will be a special person. And anyone can develop these character traits. A person who is motivated, hard-working, and kind, even if they're not extraordinarily bright, will go further in life than a person who is brilliant but lazy, mean, and arrogant.

How we raise our kids, then, needs to take this into account. Don't always go telling them they're special or they will stop trying. If every tiny bit of effort they put in is amazing, then how will they ever strive for more? New York Magazine wrote an article about this a while back, looking at why kids who were bright often underperformed. Here's what researchers found:

For the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia (she’s now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise on students in a dozen New York schools. Her seminal work—a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders—paints the picture most clearly.

Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

The most important thing you can instill in your kids is character. So praise character issues, not innate abilities. They didn't do anything to achieve those innate abilities; the praise should come with what they then do with it.

As a homeschooling mom, I know that if my kids don't try hard, they don't get rewarded. If they try and still can't do it, that doesn't matter at all to me. The important thing is the effort.

Be careful of what you praise your kids for. Don't praise them for being "smart", or they may easily stop trying. Don't praise them for being "beautiful", because then the emphasis in their life is misdirected. Praise them instead for being honest, for trying hard, for showing creativity, for being polite.

All of this, of course, is in moderation. I do tell my girls they're beautiful (as does their father), because that's important when teenage girls hit puberty. But they know that's not their main characteristic.

The idea of praising kids just for WHO THEY ARE is nonsense and makes no sense theologically. We are fallen creatures. Anything good in us is from God. Let's instead praise kids for WHOSE they are and for what they've done about it. Tell them God loves them. Tell them God chose them for something great, and that He has a plan for their lives where they can show others His love. Praise them for acting in godly ways. And if they happen to be brilliant or gifted at something, reinforce that that gift is from God, and with the gift comes the responsibility to use it for Him.

If we all did that, our jails would likely empty out, because we wouldn't be raising narcissists. We'd be raising good kids with an accurate opinion of their abilities. Wouldn't that be better?

Tell me what you think! Have you been overwhelmed by the self-esteem movement at your child's school? What do you praise in your child? I'd love to know!


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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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