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We Never Know the Impact We're Having

My mother spent her childhood living in the small, dilapidated rectory of a downtown Winnipeg church. Only a few dozen people filled the pews each Sunday, but my grandfather had a heart for the community anyway.

He and my grandmother had their children later in life, and at the age of 40 they had toddlers. Yet they had a heart for children. Before she was married, my grandmother used to read Bible stories dramatically on the radio in Winnipeg, and at her funeral a few years ago several people told me they still remembered.

My grandfather, for his part, felt that part of his job as minister of this small congregation was to reach out to the kids around that church. So every week they had a boys & girls club, where often 150 kids piled in for crafts, Bible stories, and games. My grandfather taught himself metal work so that he had something exciting to entice the neighbourhood boys with. There was never any money in their small family, but somehow this outreach always found enough pennies to scrimp by.

Most of these children who came through those doors did not come from churched homes. And few even started coming to church even though they came mid-week. But still my grandparents pushed on.

My mother remembers a family of three boys in particular. I can't remember their names, so we'll call them Billy, Tom, and Harry. They were handfulls. They were active, they played pranks, but they loved coming. Nobody ever knew if they were getting through to the boys, but the boys would memorize Bible verses nonetheless to get their prizes. For my mother, who was only around 10 at the time, these nights were always chaotic and a bit stressful.

A few years later the family packed up and moved to a rural Manitoba town called Steinbach, where they stayed for the next five years. My mother never saw any of those three boys again.

But a few weeks ago my aunt received an email from Harry, informing her that Tom had just passed away. He had managed to track my aunt down, because he thought that the family might want to know what Tom had done with his life. It turns out that Tom and his wife had spent the last three decades in Ghana, founding a ministry there. They had church planted, and spread the word, and had done so much for God.

My grandfather died ten years ago. He never knew in this earth what his chaotic metal-working club had done.

And yet I can picture the scene in heaven, when an angel calls him over. "George," the angel may have said. "There's someone here I want you to see again. This is Tom, whom you shared the gospel with many, many years ago. Tom took that gospel to Ghana, and from what you did, God caused much fruit." And I'm sure there was a wonderful reunion.

George planted the seed, someone else watered it, but God made it grow. And my grandfather George never saw that Tom accepted Christ. He never saw what Tom did with his life. But what George did was important.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared great works for us to do since before the foundation of the world. What it does not tell us is that we will see the fruit of these works, or even understand what these works are.

Perhaps the most important thing my grandfather ever did for the kingdom was that kids' club. And yet he may never have known that. Over the course of his life, he may have spent much more energy and time at his sermons, or his choirs, or some other ministry. But that kids' club mattered.

We should not become discouraged if we don't see fruit. It doesn't mean that God isn't growing fruit. The important thing is to follow God wherever He leads. And remember that we judge too much in terms of numbers and success, and not enough in terms of what God may be doing behind the scenes. We think of fruit in terms of people saved, and not necessarily in terms of character development. And yet two of the fruits of the Spirit are faithfulness and patience. God grows faithfulness and patience in us as we do what He has called us to. As we work out our purpose, He grows that fruit in us, and that is important, even if it doesn't seem flashy at the time.

I think my grandfather's story is far more the norm than the exception. Few of us will understand the impact the things we do on this earth will have until we leave this earth and see through God's lens. So stay faithful now. Talk and listen lots to Jesus. Listen to His promptings. Don't get caught up in successes. It's faithfulness and obedience that matter, not success, because we can't see the big picture.

But one day we will, and I think we'll be very surprised, and very humbled. I'm looking forward to that day!

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25 Marriage Tips
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's, which actually fits quite well with all the marriage talk we've had around here lately!

With June, the wedding month, peeking around the corner at us, I thought it was time to present you with twenty-five tips for a successful marriage. And so, in no particular order, here is my accumulated wisdom, little as it may be:

1. Talk to your spouse more kindly than you talk to anyone else in the world. Too often we speak the most harshly to those closest to us.

2. Remember that marriage is less about marrying the right person and more about becoming the right person.

3. Don’t forget to laugh. Most couples spend the majority of their time talking logistics: who’s doing the grocery shopping, who’s calling the repairman, who’s picking up the kids. A relationship can’t survive on logistics. Have a water fight instead.

4. She needs you to be her best friend. Everyday, talk to her and tell her what you’re thinking. Even if you don’t think you’re thinking about anything. She needs to hear your heart.

5. He needs you to be his cheerleader. Let him know you believe he can take on the world.

6. Find ways to say “I love you” that don’t involve sex.

7. When you dress up, make sure the main person you’re dressing up for is him. And put on lipstick.

8. Leave the toilet seat down.

9. Forgiving means not bringing that old infraction up every time you have a new fight. Let it go.

10. If it’s not solved at 2:30 a.m., it’s not going to be solved at 3:00 a.m. either. Go to sleep. You can deal with it tomorrow, assuming you even remember what the fight was about.

11. When you’re having an argument, listen to understand, don’t listen to find loopholes so you can win. Marriage is either a win/win or a lose/lose. You can’t win by beating someone else down.

12. Your kids come second, not first. Your marriage needs to be number one. Your spouse was there before the kids and will be there after the kids move out. Work on that relationship first.

13. If you haven’t fully committed to your marriage, it won’t succeed. If you’re always testing your spouse, your spouse will always come up short. No one is perfect.

14. You will never drift together. People only ever drift apart. If you want to grow closer, you have to be intentional about it.

15. Let her cry. She needs to every now and then.

16. Don’t bug him if he doesn’t cry. Some men just don’t show their feelings. That’s why they’re men.

17. Don’t say everything that’s on your mind. More marriages would survive if more things went unsaid.

18. Let her be your every fantasy. Keep your eyeballs off everyone else.

19. Let him be your every fantasy. Keep your eyeballs off romance novels.

20. Don’t think he’s gross if he farts. Don’t think she’s pathetic if she obsesses over paint colours. You married someone of the opposite gender. That’s what life is about.

21. Don’t run to your mom if your spouse does something you don’t like. You’re a unit now. Act like it.

22. Make one of your favourite topics of conversation how much you admire your spouse. Tell your kids. Tell your friends. And let your spouse hear.

23. Men would be ecstatic if women showed up naked and brought food. Most women need more than that. Men, make it your goal in life to figure her out. Woo her. She’s worth it.

24. Say yes far more frequently than you say no.

And finally, for you women:

25. Every now and then, jump him.

And may you all live happily ever after.

Which was your favourite? Leave it in the comments!

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When You Feel Very Alone in your Marriage

In the Christian wife/Mommy blogosphere, a lot of patterns are evident.

Many of us who write give very similar advice. Rely on God. Focus on being the best wife you can be, not on changing your husband. Care for your marriage & kids first. Create a nice home. Etc. Etc.

These things are all true, and I hope that people can come here for some encouragement in doing the most important job in the world!

I think most of you who do come here come to get help around the edges. In general, things are going well, but they could always use some tweaking!

Most of my posts, I think, are written with these types of readers in mind. You have a family you're committed to, and you're trying to work the kinks out. You love your husband, even if he does have faults (which you can obviously name!).

Sometimes, though, people live in a much more desperate situation. I was talking to a friend who finally ended a very dysfunctional marriage last year. She said that sometimes she would read my blog and feel so sad, because it didn't matter how much she did what I said, nothing every changed. The typical answers and typical advice weren't cutting it.

A lot of women out there feel very alone in their marriages, and if you're in a marriage where you have found your soul mate, try to put yourself in these women's shoes for a moment. Here's a comment that was left yesterday, during my Wifey Wednesday post:

I still can't get myself to accept things. My husband does not have a physically demanding job. The past 4-5 months especially have been easy. He is admittedly not doing anything at work.

I cook, I clean. I care for the kids when they're sick, no matter what time of day or if he's off work. I run our special needs child to his three-days-a-week appointments; One of those days my other son has an appointment at the same place so of course he goes as well. Sick or not, I take care of the kids. I had the flu 2 years ago and the first day I was sick he dealt with the kids, but after that? He was pissed that I was still laying around and not doing anything so he got to slamming our bedroom door when he'd go out, not shushing the kids if/when they got loud, etc. That's one of many times where he's been less than considerate.

Of course if he has a headache and stuffy nose he's swearing he has a migraine and he take several different types of medication and sleeps for 10-11 hours straight, yelling if the kids are getting loud.

We're supposed to move and our house is nowhere near ready to put on the market. It should have been on by now but while he had 3 months to lay the new flooring in our house, he didn't finish. One room still needs to be done. I, on the other hand, have all of the daily issues on top of painting every room in the house, getting the outside painted, repainting our kitchen cabinets, painting the cabinets in the hall and bathrooms, redoing the tile in our hall bath, rebuilding our master bath shower that he gutted 2 years ago and never finished, tiling both bathroom floors, decluttering and organizing so that the movers know what is storage and what goes.. I don't have the money to hire those jobs out so I have to do it.

He occasionally mows the yard, and when our kids start a sport he's gung-ho in the beginning but by the 2nd week in he's sighing and rolling his eyes when I ask if he's taking one of our boys to practice. Inevitably they'll have at least one practice or game per week that coincides with the other's practice or game, and I count myself fortunate if they're in the same park or building. Many times they aren't and because he's oh-so-worn out and has computer games to play, I'm running like a headless chicken. Throw in an active toddler and I'm busy, worn out, worn down, and just plain beat.

Yes, I'm bitter and resentful,not to mention completely jealous of women who have husbands who help out even when the husband has a busy work schedule.

Don't suggest I have a talk with him because I have. Many, many times. And many times he's sworn he'll change and help out. The only reason I'm still with him is because when I left him a few years ago I couldn't get a job anywhere and began having anxiety attacks. Not to mention lack of support from family and being made to feel like we'd worn out our welcome and I needed to quit being a child and just go back to my husband. So here I sit.

I can feel this woman's pain. Can you? Honestly, what would you do if you were married to a man who did not care for your kids, played computer games all day, and didn't lift a finger to help you? Now, admittedly, we're only getting this woman's side of the story, but I have talked to women who are living something very similar. It happens. Very frequently.

So what would you say to her? I'm going to take a stab at it now, but I invite you to answer in the comments, too. Perhaps we'll have different approaches to it, but hopefully we can offer something that would be helpful.

First, let me say that To Love, Honor and Vacuum was written exactly for women going through this. In fact, I based the book on two women I was close to who were experiencing virtually exactly the same thing. So I know from whence I speak.

And let me tell you what I told them. You cannot change him; you can only change yourself. But you have a lot of power within you to change. God is there to help you create a godly home, where everyone respects each other and grows closer to Him. That is what He wants. Your job is to ask God to show you how to build respect and godliness within your home.

Part of that job may be to stop enabling others to act in an unChristlike manner. It sounds like you do all the housework, and he does very little. That means that you do a lot for him. You don't have to keep doing this. You could sit down and tell him that you are exhausted, and some things are going to have to come off of your plate. Offer him alternatives. But show him that some of these things will directly affect him. (Laundry, for instance, or making the kinds of meals he likes. If you can live on sandwiches & cereal, it's a lot easier to make, and it's still nutritious!). Then take some of that time that you save and use it to do your devotions, to have a bath, to knit, to relax, to do what you need to do to rejuvenate. Don't do it to punish him; do it to create a new dynamic so that you can keep going.

If you're busy running the children everywhere, and he won't help, ask him what it would take for him to start driving a child to soccer. Ask him if this is possible. Don't ask him when you're angry; ask him because you simply want help. If he can't give it, you're no worse off than you are now. But ask him what is keeping him from doing it? Is he not getting enough sleep?

Or take it from a different perspective. Ask him what are the most important goals he has in life. Share with him yours. Write them on your fridge. Now ask how he's meeting them. If he wants to be a good father, then ask him how you can help him engage with the kids during the week. Does he want to take soccer? Bathtime? Bedtime? If he doesn't, and he'd just like to play computer games, then ask him how he'd like the kids to think of him. Does he want them to remember him always being on the computer, or does he want them to remember him cheering them at games?

But if he just won't (and many men won't), you have a decision to make. Can you keep living like this? If you were a single parent, you could not do it all. You could not run a house and keep the kids in all kinds of activities and hold down a job. You couldn't. You would get help, or you would cut things out. So if your husband won't help, you basically are acting as a single parent. What will you cut out? Even if your husband has abdicated responsibility for the family, you can't. And you can't abdicate your responsibility to your marriage, either. I would suggest getting the kids out of activities as much as possible and making your schedule as easy as possible, so that you don't burn out and you can keep going.

Finally, make family fun. Cut down as much as you can so you can get enough rest and sleep. And then use that energy to make your home fun. Play games. Go for walks. Laugh a lot. When family is fun, he's more likely to want to be involved. When it's all chores, he won't. And the more unhappy you are, and the more you nag him, the more he will retreat.

Some people are just plain selfish. He very well could be one of these. Your job is to find peace and fulfillment in God, and then find ways to transfer that peace and fulfillment to the rest of those in your family. Don't always resent. Don't let yourself get bitter. Change your family life so that you do have more energy and things do get done.

Oh, and about the house: stop it. Don't move. Stay there. Don't put it on the market. So you lose money. I know that's tough. But if you are always stepping in and doing everything, he never will step up to the plate. Talk about what's reasonable for both of you to do, and then you do your part. If he doesn't do his, then you can't sell the house. Don't nag him about it. Simply do your part. Whether or not he does his is up to him. And if he starts to suffer financially for it, then maybe that will inspire a burst of energy. Right now, he's probably waiting for you to come through, like you always have in the past. Don't enable irresponsibility.

One other thing about how to act biblically in marriage: there are two sides to the Proverbs 31 woman. First, yes, she did a ton and cared for her family well. But second, she had help, as someone pointed out in the comments yesterday. She had servant girls, but she also had a husband who was engaged in the family business, too. He was in the public square, transacting business, where he praised her. Yes, we're to be the Proverbs 31 woman, but it's difficult to do all of this without at least some help. If you don't have that help, I think you need to readjust what's expected of you so you don't burn out.

God designed marriage to be a genuine partnership. Sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it's very lopsided. Now if your spouse isn't much of a partner, that doesn't absolve you of the responsibility to live up to your partnership. We're to care for our homes and our kids and our husbands regardless. But that doesn't mean it's easy, and it doesn't mean that we should do everything for those who persist in laziness, enabling very unChristlike behaviour.

So that's what I've got to say. What about the rest of you? Any thoughts on how to help her? Am I being too easy? Too harsh? What do you think?

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Wifey Wednesday: Is There "Women's Work"?

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Recently a woman commented on an older post of mine talking about children's chores, and getting adult children to do more around the house. I talked about the importance of securing your husband's support for insisting that children do chores, because it's so easy to be undermined if you're not on the same page.

A woman left this comment,

I have one of those husbands who expect women to do "woman's work." He's willing to to "man chores," like throwing out the garbage, cutting the lawn, shoveling snow, changing lightbulbs, and such. But do dishes? sweep? cook? shop? No way!

Interestingly, we shared chores up until our eldest was born. Then he went into "man" mode.

For five years I tried to talk with him about it and got almost nowhere, and it didn't matter much to him that I worked parttime earning money or that I cared for our child all day long. He wanted me to do what his mom did. This was his template.

So I had a decision to make: resent him or accept things.

I chose to accept things.

It got me thinking quite a bit, and I thought today we could talk this one through.

I am not a big believer in "women's work" and "men's work". I do think it's better if a woman stays home, in general, with the kids, simply because she is, after all, the one who breastfeeds, and so she's going to have that primary bond. However, I have known families where they have taken turns staying home, or where he has stayed home because she has made more money, and these families work fine. I know some women who comment here will be upset by that, but I think each family must figure out what works best for them. If the children are cared for within the family, I think that's wonderful. And one of the best six months of my life was when the girls were small and Keith and I were taking turns after he had finished his residency and he was preparing to start a practice. We were "between" jobs, so he would take one week of shifts at a hospital, and then I would take one week programming computer databases. We both made the same money, so it didn't matter who worked, and the girls got to know both of us. It was a lot of fun.

However, that's not realistic for most families, and so in most homes, the woman stays home and the husband works (or both work). And then we're stuck with this problem of "women's work" vs. "men's work". In the post that this woman was commenting on, I was talking about adult children who had never learned to contribute around the house, and were now driving their mothers nuts. The primary reason that most of these adults don't learn to contribute is that the dads don't expect it. Mom is there to do the work, so the kids shouldn't be made to. It's mom's job. And usually the adult child in this case is male.

Many cultures grow up with the idea that only women do certain types of work, and only men do others. I've never really bought that. For years I did the finances in our home, though Keith recently took that over. Keith never cut the grass because of allergies, but he's recently started gardening (he thinks it's a mid-life crisis, but I'm all for it). He always sweeps because he can't stand the way I do it (he thinks I'm wimpy and miss a lot of crumbs because I do it from the wrist and not the shoulder). He changed diapers and looked after babies. He even cooked a lot when the kids were little, but as I got better at it, he backed off, and now I do most of the cooking (also because I enjoy it).

I Heart CleaningImage by Valerie Morrison - Four Thirds Photographer via Flickr

One of the benefits of marriage is that you can each do what you're best at.
If he's better at earning money, he can focus on that, while you focus on housework. There's no point in you both working 50% of the time and both doing 50% of the housework if another arrangement works out better. So you can figure out what works out. It's not so much about women's work vs. men's work as it is about what works in your family.

The problem comes when people don't feel it's equitable, and that's what's happening in this case. She's doing some "men's work"--earning money--but he's not doing any of her chores. And she's tired.

One comment she made stuck out to me--she said that they shared chores until the children came. That is very common. After children come, roles tend to revert to gender stereotypes, even if they weren't like that before. Men start to earn more money. Women take over housekeeping. Very common.

But what should she do? I think her attitude is actually quite healthy, because she's realized that she can't change it, and you don't want to nurse resentment. So good for her.

Nevertheless, I want to explore this scenario a little further, because it's one that many women live through. Personally, I think what matters is the hours one puts into a day, not the work that one does. As long as you're both putting in roughly equal effort, then I don't care what you do. So if you're looking after kids all day, that counts. However, if you get 45 minutes to watch TV while you're bouncing kids, realize that you are getting time off while your husband is not. If you get an hour to work out at the gym, then realize that you're not putting in a full 8 or 10 hour day. If you go to a women's Bible study and someone else cares for the kids for 2 hours, you're not working a full day, either.

I think many of us feel like we work all day when we don't. I know caring for kids is exhausting, but honestly, working outside the home all day is exhausting, too. I was way more tired at the end of the day after going into an office and programming databases all day than I was looking after my toddlers, because with toddlers I could control things.

I'm not saying we have it easy; I'm just saying understand that he likely genuinely is tired.

If, however, he doesn't lift a finger all weekend while you do everything, that can be a bit of a problem. The way I would address it is to institute something my grandmother did, which was brilliant, and which I've always followed. She had a rule that "if momma's working, everyone's working", where on Saturday mornings, or for half an hour right before dinner, everyone would clean up. Then, once it was done, they would have great fun together as a family because she wasn't busy anymore.

Talk to your husband about starting "work hours" on Saturday, where everyone does chores (maybe he cuts the grass while you clean a bathroom), but then afterwards everyone does something fun together. If he can see the benefits of you being free from chores, he's more likely to participate.

Another tact that might work is to talk to him about how he would like his children to turn out. Many men have an easier time thinking about what they want the future to look like than what they want the present to look like. Does he want his sons to know how to make a meal? Does he want them to know how to clean a toilet? Does he want them to be able to do a load of laundry? When he sees that this is likely important, then ask how the two of you will ensure that this happens. If he sees that it's important for his sons to know these things, since they are unlikely to marry at 21, and are likely to live on their own for a time, then he's less likely to think of it as "women's work".

What about you? Have you had these conflicts with your husband over chores? How did you resolve them? Leave a comment and let me know, or write your own Wifey Wednesday post and link up with the Mcklinky!


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The Big 4-0!

Novelty candles may be used.Image via Wikipedia

Happy birthday to me!

I have officially entered my 40s. And life has not come to a screeching halt.

I have approached this birthday with a little bit of trepidation. Somehow crossing 40 seems like a real threshold. In one's 30s one is still a "young adult", so to speak. If you're in your 30s, you're considered too young to run for major public office, usually. You're not experienced enough.

But lots of people in their 40s can run, because when you're 40, you have all the experience you need. You're not "too young" anymore. I kind of liked being "too young" for a lot of things.

Nevertheless, I don't really mind not being young anymore, primarily because I didn't particularly enjoy my younger years. With each passing year I have become more at peace, more fulfilled, and happier. As a teen I was so focused on finding a boyfriend or finding people to love me. In university I was tortured by the quesiton, "will I ever get married?" Once I did marry, I was worried that we'd never work out our problems. And then, as I began having babies, I was exhausted, I was worried about their health, I wondered at times who I was.

Here's me at 26, sharing some of my special days with my son before he left us:

And here's me two weeks ago, with no makeup, at a youth retreat with my kids:

Now I sleep all I want (primarily because my oldest is not yet old enough to drive. I hear sleepless nights begin again with the advent of a driver's license). I truly enjoy my children. I love my husband. I have found my niche in life. I'm no longer insecure about relationships, or about who I am, or about my calling. I'm more at peace with just being me.

I have been told, too, by countless people that the 40s is way better than the 30s, because you're far more confident, and I do believe that. I'm also relatively healthy, so I don't see any reason necessarily why I should not be just as active in the next decade. So it's not like I'm getting "old".

I did a bit of a shock last week while visiting another church to speak. On the wall was a poster for their seniors' group, which they called "50 plus". And I thought, "I'm only 10 years away from being a senior!" That was weird.

But then it hit me: when I'm 50, I'll likely have grandchildren. And I am so looking forward to grandchildren. At 50, Rebecca will be 26. Katie will be 24. Those will be fun years.

I think you hit an age where you stop measuring yourself by the years that you have passed, and you start measuring yourself by how old your children are, and what stage of life you're at. I'm looking forward to the Grandma days. I'm looking forward to the days when my husband can cut back from work a bit, and we can go overseas for a bit more of an extended time to do some ministry work. I'm looking forward to having more time to devote to speaking.

Perhaps we're scared of getting old because we're really scared of dying. I don't think about that much. I figure when my time is up it's up, and God's waiting for me. I'm more scared of slowly deteriorating, as I watched some of my grandparents do, but perhaps that's just another period of one's life when one learns grace and patience.

So today I am celebrating 40. I am confident. I am happy. I so love my family, and I'm grateful that God has given me so many to love. And life is good.


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A Little Etiquette, Please
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's, based on a blog post from a few weeks ago:

I am not one of those people who rejoices in the intricacies of etiquette. I avoided certain distant relatives for a decade after my wedding in mortal dread that I had forgotten to send a thank you card. I'm committed to etiquette enough to feel guilty when I don't do it, but not committed enough to follow through on all the details. It's the worst of both worlds.

Nevertheless, I do believe that simple politeness is one of the cornerstones of our society. Saying please and thank you, deferring to those who are older than you, or offering to help a young mom struggling with a stroller are all basic things that keep our society functioning.

I must admit to getting a little bit teed off when clerks who are waiting on me won't make eye contact, don't say thank you, and treat me as if I'm an inconvenience. An older gentleman I know recently expressed his dismay that teens, hanging out on sidewalks near high schools, often don’t vacate that sidewalk while he walks by, forcing him into the street. At one point, younger people made way for older people. We gave up seats on trains or buses, and we let them through the doors first. Now it’s a dog eat dog world.

Politeness, on the other hand, reminds us that others are worthy of respect. Vacating the sidewalk sends a mental note to our brains that other people are important, too. Staying there sends the opposite message: we are the only ones that matter. And that’s not healthy, either for society’s smooth functioning or for the moral and emotional health of our families. Etiquette reminds us that we are not the centre of the universe. Others deserve our deference simply because they, too, are people. Etiquette keeps us humble.

Recently, while out shopping, my youngest daughter said, "thank you" loudly to the cashier as we left, and then rebuked me, saying, "Honestly, Mommy, you never say thank you." She took me aback. I thought I always said thank you. But I guess sometimes I mumble, or if I'm in a hurry, I don't. As our culture has forgotten etiquette, I guess I’ve started to let it go, too.

We are growing increasingly lazy about matters of etiquette, at the same time as we are becoming an increasingly callous and self-focused society. Those two things are connected. We only break rules when we think they no longer apply to us. When thinking of others and treating them well is way further down on our priority list than doing what we want, etiquette falls by the wayside, and with it, all the things that brightened our culture.

Saying “please” and “thank you” can seem like a throwback. Hand written thank you notes? So blasé. Holding the door open for others? Neanderthal. Maybe we need a dose of Neanderthal to jerk us out of our selfishness. I want to make it a practice to say "thank you" more. I’m even going to start writing notes--even to people that I don't always particularly appreciate (in fact, perhaps especially to those I don't always appreciate when I see that they have done something worthwhile). I’ll thank them for being cheerful, for helping my child with something, for making a meal. It's part of recognizing the good in others, and recognizing the lack in ourselves.

That's what healthy societies are built on. When we forget that, and just focus on
what we can get out of others, we become boors. And nobody wants to live with a boor.

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Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
Excuses, excuses, excuses.

CULVER CITY, CA - JUNE 11:  Actors Michael Dou...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

We can always come up with excuses.

I was reminded of that recently when reading about Michael Douglas' 31-year-old son being sentenced to 5 years in prison for drug trafficking. At his sentencing hearing, Catherine Zeta Jones, Michael's wife, wrote a letter, saying in part:

'My stepson is a caring, considerate, worthy human being, but never the less, the disease, that for years he has tried to combat, did take over again.

And when his son was sentenced, Michael Douglas, who I'm sure was genuinely heart broken, said that he knows what it is to try to find your own identity when you have a famous father.

Yes, it can be tough. It's also hard to find your identity when you have no father. Or no mother. Or no money. Or too much money. Here's the problem: life is always hard. And it always will be, unless you decide to take responsibility on yourself.

It sounds in the news reports that we are supposed to feel sympathy for this man, because he grew up in a privileged home with famous parents and grandparents. How difficult! He could never live up to expectations. But he had everything he ever wanted handed to him. Think of the good he could have done in the world with his social position, his money, his standing. Instead he chose to sell drugs.

It seems to me that logically we should not have MORE sympathy for the children of the rich and famous; we should have less. Certainly they came from dysfunctional families, but they had every opportunity, and the money, to rise above it. I know money can be a curse probably more often than it is a blessing, but I still believe in the Spiderman creed, which I think is actually rather Christian: "From whom much is given, much is expected."

Nevertheless, I do believe that God sees everyone as equals, and does not play favourites. And as such, He has sympathy for all and His love extends to all. God can reach this man in prison, and I pray that God will.

However, I am still quite amazed at our culture's propensity to come up with an excuse for just about every pathetic behaviour. Our first instinct is to try to excuse ourselves or wash it away, as if it really doesn't matter. And it's celebrities and their ilk for whom we're supposed to have the most sympathy, according to the media.

Perhaps I'm on sympathy overload, and don't feel particularly empathetic right now, but I wish we could get away from the excuse-mongering and back to owning up to our responsibilities. I find it really difficult when it's celebrities who are being such poor role models. I know they didn't necessarily ask to be role models, but the fact is that for many they are. And they wanted the fame, or they wouldn't have gone into that business in the first place.

I once read a biography of the Kennedys, and one thing amidst all that dysfunction stuck with me. Joe Kennedy, the dad, instilled in his sons that they had great responsibility because they had been given so much. "Now what will you do with it?", he constantly asked them.

I have taken a similar tack with my kids, although I've put a Christian spin on it. I've told them, "God has given you so much. You have a good family. You live in one of the richest countries in the world. You have money, a home, and opportunities. So many kids in the world have none of those things. God has trusted you with these things for a reason, and it's not so that you can hoard them all to yourself. It's because He trusts you to share them."

God trusts you to share what you have.

The reason that you have what you have is because God trusts you to share it. God has given it to you because He believes that you will use it well. In other words, we have responsibility, not excuses.

We need to raise our kids to understand responsibility. We are so blessed in this country, and no one should indulge in gratuitous self-pity because they don't have everything they want. We have such a privilege in that we live in a country where having virtually everything you want is actually attainable, which is why, I think, our kids live in such self-pity. If they knew everything they wanted was out of the question, they'd be more easily satisfied.

But because we think we're entitled to this perfect life, we start feeling put upon, just like Douglas' son did. The antidote to this entitlement and self-pity is responsibility. Say what you want about the Kennedy's: they had lousy morals when it came to family, and Teddy Kennedy certainly made the United States a worse place with his ultra-liberal policies, but all the boys did feel a sense of obligation because they had been given so much. Perhaps if they had better understood that what they were given came from God they would have made better choices, but even so, at least we can be happy that they tried.

Don't let your kids grow up to make excuses for why they can't try, can't work, can't succeed, can't be happy. Don't let self-pity thrive. Instead, concentrate on responsibility and gratitude, and then maybe fewer of us would have to pen such pathetic letters to judges.


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Wifey Wednesday: What You Are NOT Responsible For

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Today I want to give a bit of balance to what I think is often misunderstood when it comes to marriage. Lots of marriage books, and especially certain Christian circles, really emphasize the idea that wives are pretty much solely responsible for a husband's sexual satisfaction. They should understand that it is a need that he has, and thus they should go out of their way to fulfill it.

To a certain extent I agree with this, and indeed it's something I talk about frequently. I don't think women always understand that sex is something very different to men than it is to us. They do have biological drives that we don't have in the same way, and they do often experience love through sex far more than they do through a hug. So we do need to confront our sexual in securities, deal with our sexual baggage, and as much as possible jump in and have fun!

BUT. And here's where I want to insert a big BUT. I have read some of the Every Man's Battle series of books, and some of the ones written for women made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. If sex is dirty, or if it is damaging to you, or if you have a lot of issues that need to be dealt with sensitively, you don't have to satisfy him whenever he wants it. You are not a receptacle. The passage in 1 Corinthians 7 where it says that the wife's body is the husband's also says that the husband's body is the wife's. Therefore, if what he is doing is hurting you, that's not right either.

I know when I was first married, sex was very difficult. I had a lot of trust issues, and even some physical issues with sex. To jump in and make love whenever he wanted it, with no thought to what I was going through, would have been very psychologically and emotionally destructive to me. I needed some understanding. I needed some love, and I needed some space. And when I did receive that, most of the problems went away (others went away later, but that's another story).

There is a thread in a lot of this literature that sex is somehow all about him, and so we need to adjust and make it fun for him. Use lingerie. Do what he wants. And I'm sorry ladies, but I just don't buy that. Not completely.

Yes, we need to think about him. Yes, we need to be sensitive to the fact that he probably needs sex more than we do. Yes, we need to initiate. But when we start talking about how we need to satisfy his sex drive, we're making the same mistake with sex that the world makes. We're pigeon-holding sex so that it's all about the physical, and not about the spiritual or emotional connection that it's supposed to encompass as well.

Sex is not only physical. It also needs to be a deep way that we connect on other levels, too. If we're just into "meeting his physical needs", then we start to think of it that way. It's for him, and it's about satisfying him, as if he's some sort of an animal. Sex doesn't become something that brings the two of you together; it becomes something that almost dehumanizes you. And that is not what God intended.

Unfortunately, part of the Christian church buys this. They think that because we were created to be his "help-meet", we have to help him in this area, and that should be our main task. But if we go in with that attitude, we miss the potential that sex has to be something that binds us together beautifully. And we can do some serious damage to some new wives' sexuality.

Sex is something beautiful; it's not a duty where you just have to act as into it as possible so that he will have a good time. It's meant for the two of you together. So instead of thinking of something that you have to do to satisfy him, think of it as a journey of exploration that you take together, where you get to know each others' bodies, explore each other, kiss a lot, and look into his eyes. It's not just about his release; it's about the bond that needs to come between the two of you. That bond is not going to happen if it's all about just satisfying him. Sex needs to be mutual.

So mutually you need to decide on frequency. If he wants it twice a day, you don't have to do that. You really don't. I would suggest several times a week, but that's something that needs to be between the two of you. And when sex does happen, make sure that you tell him what you want, too. Don't see it as a chore, which is how so many of these books seem to describe it.

There are also soem books that tell you that if he's addicted to pornography, you can break that addiction by simply being better. If you're sexier, and more fun, he'll lose the interest. That's totally a misunderstanding of how male sexuality works. The reason he's addicted to porn is because he's addicted to fantasy and to an image. He isn't addicted to a relationship. And you can't break that addiction by becoming sexier and more outlandish; in fact, if you do that, you'll cement the addiction because you'll let him act out his weird fantasies, and then you'll become part of his porn habit. You are not responsible for him becoming addicted to porn, and having sex constantly will not break that addiction. He needs to decide it's wrong, he needs to go to God, and you both need to find a way to make love in order to forge a spiritual connection, instead of just to find the next weird physical thing you can do.

I hope that this provides some balance. Women need to challenge ourselves to make our husbands' sex lives the best that we can. But the way sex is best is not when we just have sex all the time; it's when we embrace everything that sex should be, and that includes a deep emotional and spiritual connection. Work on forging that bond, and sex will be great. Think of sex as a chore where you have to act all excited or your husband won't feel loved, and you do great damage to your own sexuality. You feel cheap, used, and resentful. Don't fall into that trap. Embark on a sexual journey of discovery that's fun and mutual, and you'll be a lot better off.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had really bad marriage advice that has left you cold? What did you do about it? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

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Three Ways to Help Sore Losers

Paul Cézanne - The Card Players, 1895Image via Wikipedia

My husband comes from a very competitive family. I love playing cards with them, but as a child Keith remembers a lot of tension around games, so he stopped playing after a while. My mother experienced something similar. Sometimes people are such sore losers, and take winning and losing so seriously, that it wrecks it for other people (and can even be quite disruptive).

I read a post recently by a mom who is worried that her son is getting too caught up in winning. The mom reports:

My almost 7yo boy likes to play games. However, if he makes a wrong move, answers wrong, or loses the game, his face is immediately red and the dam breaks with floods of tears. He is an only child, so no siblings to help him with this.

I’ve tried lately to play more games with him to work on his attitude but I am at a loss. We’ve talked about winning, losing and having fun playing the game, it’s okay to want to win, but it’s important to be gracious whether you win or lose, etc. etc. – but nothing works. His personality is dramatic and emotional “I can’t believe I missed that!”. Human pride at its peak. He bounces back quickly, apologizes and wants to play another game – but I’m at my wit’s end.

So what does she do?

Personally, I wouldn't make an overly big deal out of it yet. He's 7, and part of being young is learning how to (a) identify your emotions and (b) deal with your emotions. Many people are competitive, and that, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Apparently boys who are competitive tend to do much better in school, and schools that encourage competitiveness tend to bring out the best in boys. Especially with males, it's often wired that way!

The problem, as this mom has identified, comes when they start judging themselves in terms of "works", or start feeling proud of themselves for it. Here's a way out, for those of you who are having the same problem!

1. Praise effort. After playing a game, I would reinforce what you know is true about your son, and reward him for TRYING, not just for accomplishing. In your house, keep the language of trying more positive than the language of winning. So say "congratulations for putting in such an effort". We do that in our homeschool, too. If they try at math, but don't do well, they get praised much more than if it was an easy lesson they breezed through.

Do this in every area of your child's life. It's effort that counts. To God, the heart matters, and then He's the one who brings the fruit, not us. So we should never take credit for our successes, but only for the effort we put into it. Try to do the same thing with your child!

2. Keep talking about how God sees your child. Just keep talking about how God sees us. I wouldn't lecture him at 7 on the psychology of winning, because I don't think kids that age get it. I would, however, surround him with truth. Tell your children that God made them for a purpose. Tell them that they are the way they are for a reason. Tell them that God put them together in exactly that way because they are perfectly made for what He has planned. Not everyone has to win at everything. But even those who are amazing card players or basketball players or Monopoly players lose at life if they don't live out God's plan. That's what counts. Talk about that all the time, and as your children grow up, they'll get it!

When they're teenagers this often hits even harder. Kids who don't feel good at things get very despondent. They don't see what they're worth. Fill your home with stories of ordinary people that God used simply because they were willing. Talk about how what matters is not ability as much as willingness and obedience. The world is full of talented people who have made a mess out of their lives. Mother Theresa wasn't particularly talented at anything. She just made herself available. Praise these things.

And for that reason, don't make sports a huge deal in your home. If your husband is a sports fanatic, I suppose that's okay (though I don't understand it :). But remember that sports can reinforce the wrong message. Our heroes are not athletes; our heroes should be those who use what God has given them (athletes can do this, of course, but that's not usually what we pride in them).

game board - trivial pursuitImage by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

3. Teach your child to handle disappointment.
Many children have really violent emotions. It hits them so hard they scream, or pick up the board and fling it across the room. It's not that they're bad; it's that the feeling is so overwhelming they don't know what to do with that. They're born with anger issues.

Part of your job as a parent is to teach the child to identify when they're entering into these angry phases so that they can stop the process before it gets going. Say to him or her, "You look like you're angry. Time to go kick the soccer ball around!" Give them an active way to blow off steam. But do identify the emotion, so that they can put a name to it (when I feel this way, I'm angry). It helps later on in life. So teach your child how to redirect those feelings.

I wouldn't punish a child for acting out when they lose. I'd try these things first. Remember that a child is not an adult. They don't yet know how to handle these strange emotions. And emotions, in and of themselves, are not bad. It's what they do with them that matters. So teach them not to sulk and not to become violent. Teach them instead truth about who they are. Reward effort, not achievement. And teach them to redirect negative feelings.

And you just may find that you enjoy playing games as a family much more!

Has anyone in your family had issues with anger? Anyone a sore loser? How did you deal with it?


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Updates on My Life
In this blog I write mostly about parenting, and marriage, with a bit of social commentary thrown in.

But today I just have to get a little personal. My two daughters are 15 and 12, and we just had the most amazing weekend of their young lives.

Our church does Bible quizzing, which sounds very geeky, and is very geeky, but it's also fun, and it's kind of like a youth group for kids who really love God. Every year we memorize much of different books of the Bible. This year it was 1 & 2 Corinthians, and then we have four meets where the kids compete on their knowledge. About 200 kids from our district go, and my girls have gotten to know so many of those 200 over the last 3 years.

The top 10 go to internationals, which this year is in Calgary. And both my daughters, plus two other girls that I coach, made it.

I am absolutely flying high right now. I know this won't mean much to most of you, but my girls studied so hard to make it, and they are just so happy. They had some very stressful quizzes this weekend, and some heartbreak when some friends didn't make it, but I'm so happy for them.

I was wondering all year if I was trying to live through my girls, just a little bit, because I know I would have loved this had it been around when I was a teen. And I so wanted them both to win, but then I start second guessing myself, wondering if that's just because I wanted the satisfaction of it, rather than that I was really thinking about them. So much in parenting gets mixed up.

But I don't think so. I'm honestly thrilled.

And I have a few other things going on in my life, too. Today and tomorrow are the two last speaking engagements I have for a month, so I'm going to take a few weeks and bang out three chapters of my new book, so I can get my book proposal ready. It's a long process, but I've got to speed it up, so I'll be writing a ton soon.

I'll still post here, but I'm excited about actually sitting down and getting a new book out. It's time, and I have a lot to say, and when I can, I'll let you in on what it's about. I think you'll love it!

So for right now, rejoice with me and my girls. They did so well, and one of the most fun parts for me is seeing them make such great friends from other churches who are just as passionate about God as they are. And now I have to go get ready to leave for another speaking engagement. My mind's in a million different directions, but overall I'm just thrilled today. The sun is shining, the robins are hopping, and my daughters are smiling. I'm in a good place.

I hope you are, too. And if you're not, just remember. Everything in life is a series of mountains and valleys. If you're in a valley right now, it won't last forever. I've been in those before, and right now I'm basking in the sun. You will be soon, too. Just hang in there!

Regular blog posts will resume tomorrow. Gotta go iron my outfit for speaking! Take care!

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Belting out Worship
Wouldn't you love to praise like this? Just keep watching:

I just love the innocence of children, and how much they really do love God.

When Katie was 2, she used to love singing in the backseat. She wouldn't pay any attention to us in the front, she'd just belt it out, too. One day I was very sick, and had to ask an older friend to take Katie for the day (Katie was still infectious and so couldn't go with any other children). So my friend, who was about 45 at the time, drove around with Katie on all her errands that day. And when she dropped her off the next day, she was chuckling, explaining how Katie sang "Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children" at the top of her lungs, all the time.

Rebecca, when she was 3, used to make up songs on the subway. She was my little evangelist. Whether I wanted her to or not, she'd sing loudly, with her own words, "Jesus died for you. And He loves you. You just have to believe in Him. Because He died for you!" I got some looks, I tell you!

Children praise. They don't think about what other people are thinking. They don't look around to make sure they're doing it right. They just sing for His glory.

Tomorrow, when you go to church, how will you worship? Will you just sing for His glory, or will you think of what the woman is thinking who is sitting two rows up? Will you wonder what others are thinking of your clothes, your kids, your car, or will you just think about Jesus? Will you listen to the sermon and think about God, or will you plan your grocery list?

Tomorrow, let's just fix our eyes on Jesus, and worship!

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Grown Ups and Financial Reality
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Last week, in New York, the Staten Island Ferry collided with the pier, sending passengers hurling towards the deck. That scene is about to be replayed, all across the Western world. Our ships are coming in, and it’s not going to be pretty.

For many years, we have been living the high life. Our governments have promised us free health care, abundant retirement income, beautiful roads and parks, and all kinds of goodies. And it’s all paid for with borrowed money! But what happens when the money runs out?

We caught a glimpse of it in Greece, where workers have been rioting, throwing Molotov cocktails into banks, and killing several employees. What got their ire up so much? Greek public workers have been living quite high on the hog. Many can retire in their fifties or early sixties. They’re given bonus pay equal to an extra two months of work each year, and that pay is a lot higher than private sector workers get already.

When Greece inevitably approached bankruptcy, and had to be bailed out, countries like Germany, who were footing the bill, demanded austerity measures. Instead of retiring at 61, Greek public employees would now have to work until 63. And their pay would be frozen, too. Germans, it should be noted, can’t retire with full pension until 67. But for some reason Greek rioters don’t feel ashamed that Germans have to work longer to pay for Greek salaries.

Canada’s not in as bad a shape as other governments. But that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear. Baby boomers are set to retire, and that will cause an earthquake on government balance sheets. Whether it’s CPP or health care, we’re going to be on the hook for billions, at the same time as the proportion of Canadians actually working and paying taxes will fall. Yet politicians won’t talk about the crisis that this will inevitably cause. Instead, many parties just keep proposing even more sweeping social programs.

During the British election, where the Conservatives recently won a very unstable minority government, nobody talked honestly about their looming financial crisis, either. Honesty apparently doesn’t win you votes.

Maybe, then, the problem is not solely with politicians. Perhaps the problem is also with us voters, who continually allow politicians to bribe us with tax dollars. They promise us largesse from “Other People’s Money”, and we obediently check the box next to their names. Meanwhile, the world financial situation grows more dire from bailout upon bailout until the entire house of cards falls down. Relatively better off countries are now borrowing money to save countries who have borrowed too much money. Anyone feel like Alice in Wonderland?

Recently my daughters and I watched a movie set on the western frontier in the 1800s. Everybody saved and worked so hard to build a better life. It reminded me of the farmers I know today; up before the sun, rarely taking vacations, and working as hard as possible to have something to leave to their children.

We have lost that mindset. As the government does more and more, we start to expect it to do more and more. Then, when governments have to announce that the party is over, people protest by destroying stuff, like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Adults don’t have temper tantrums. They sigh, feel sorry for a while, but then they pull up their boots and get to work fixing stuff.

We’ve become a world of children. And kiddies, our ship is coming in. Are we going to set fire to it, or are we going to get to work trying to put everything back in order? It’s a choice all of us are going to have to make soon. I sure hope we choose right.

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Worth Sharing...
Today I thought I'd offer a hodgepodge of stuff that I like from around the web for you to look at!

1. We must use our knitting powers for good, and not for evil. Take a look at these hilarious knits for men that probably were largely responsible for the acceleration in the divorce rate during the early 70s! (Warning: some language in the text, but it's mostly the pictures you're looking at!)

2. Someone had way too much time on their hands. But if your kids like gummy bears, they'll like Gummi Bear Transplants!

3. For some reason I just love this craft idea! Paint old baking tins for storage. I've asked my girls to do this for me for my birthday, so I have a place for my Bible, pencil crayons, a pen, and my journal for when I do my devotions.

4. An amazing "last sermon" by a pastor: Ten Great Lessons from Great Christian Minds, including Luther, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and more. Sure to cause discussion!

5. Interesting recipe for homemade liquid laundry soap. I'm actually thinking of trying this! Anyone else do it?

6. Bribery strikes out. They tried paying parents to be better parents. Didn't work.

7. This really is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. It's a video of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" with the words being the literal version of the picture on the screen. Warning: There's one really bad line. But I just can't help laughing at the rest of it. I wish they'd just left the line out (it's near the end, if you want to just watch the first three minutes).

Have anything else you want to share? Leave it in the comments!

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Wifey Wednesday: When you Don't Discipline the Same Way

It's Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!

Yesterday we were talking about disciplining kids, and one of the most difficult parts of marriage is agreeing how to discipline. When one parent is more lenient, and one is more harsh, often parents fail to back each other up, and instead form emotional bonds with the kids. Here's how it may typically play out:

Johnny and Jimmy are yelling at each other and hitting each other. Mom tells them to stop, and they laugh at her and keep knocking things over. She feels helpless and starts to tear up because they don't listen to her.

Meanwhile Dad walks in. He sees Mom's condition, takes one look at the boys who are acting up, and lets it all fly. He yells, sends everybody to their rooms, and threatens to ground them for at least a week.

Photo by Jen SFO-BCN

Mom, who was upset at the boys, is now upset at Dad for overreacting. She just wants a peaceful home, and Dad has now guaranteed that everybody will be mad at everybody all night. Why can't he stop yelling? So she goes into Johnny's room and strokes his back as he cries, telling him that Daddy didn't really mean it. "Daddy just gets mad sometimes," she says. "You know what he's like."

Dad knows she's doing this, but he doesn't say anything. He just heads to the living room, plops on the couch, and turns on the TV. When she comes out of Johnny's room, she sees him sulking, and gets even more mad herself. Now he's being mean to her, when he should be apologizing!

That's one scenario. Perhaps it's the opposite in your house. Perhaps you're the disciplinarian, and your husband is always joking with the kids, telling them they're not really grounded, or trying to make them laugh when they're supposed to be being punished.

Or here's another situation, one that happened in our family recently. One of our daughters, who had been very compliant, hit puberty, and things started to really bother her. She'd even snarl at her sister sometimes, and become quite bossy and miserable. My husband handled it by becoming very firm. He didn't want to put up with any of that and reinforce it, so it was better to nip it in the bud, he thought.

While on the whole I agreed with it, I also saw that sometimes when said daughter became upset she had legitimate reasons. But instead of trying to see those reasons, my husband reacted to everything the same way: punish her for sulking. For several months they were at loggerheads.

From my perspective, I was stuck in the middle. I saw when my husband was right and she was being unreasonable. But other times she was just upset and needed help working through something. But they both started digging in their heels, refusing to really communicate well with each other.

Finally I went out for a walk with my husband and just shared my heart. I didn't blame him. I didn't say "you are treating her all wrong." I said, "I am scared that you aren't connecting with her anymore." (and they used to be closer than I was with her). "Why do you think that is?" We talked for a while, and then, when the opportunity was there, I told him that I thought that at times he was overreacting, and gave a recent example. He got defensive at first, but I asked him just to listen to me for a few minutes and agree to try to do things differently. And he did, and today they have a great relationship.

I should note, by the way, that there are other times when he has had to do the same with me. I remember about five years ago he had to sit me down and talk to me about how I wasn't being firm enough with our other daughter. I disagreed. I thought he was too mean. But in retrospect, he was right, and after a while I took his advice to heart and did something about it.

The main lesson: as far as it depends upon you, do not get in the middle with a child and your spouse. Here's some key pointers:

1. Present a united front with your children. If you feel that your spouse is disciplining (or failing to discipline) appropriately, do not take this up with the children. Take it up with your husband afterwards, when the children are out of earshot. It is so important for kids to see their parents in agreement with one another, so that they know they cannot play you both against each other.

2. Never use your child as a sounding board for your disappointment in your spouse. If you think your spouse was too harsh, and you're mad at him for it, don't tell your child that you get frustrated when Daddy gets angry. Don't tell your child that you don't like it when Daddy is sulky, too. It sets up a weird relationship where you have an emotional bond with your child where Daddy is excluded, and it's not healthy. If you're upset with your spouse, take it to God. Take it to a close friend or mentor. But do not take it to your child.

3. Talk to your spouse frequently about how you should discipline. Discipline changes every 6 months or so as children age. What worked before may not work now, nor is it necessarily appropriate. Have conversations when there are no major crises about what behaviour you should expect, and what appropriate consequences should be.

4. If you don't agree with how your spouse is disciplining, talk to him at a time when there is no crisis. Go for a walk. Go on a date night. Have breakfast on Saturday. Share some time when you also show him that you love him, so that you can really talk.

5. If you still don't agree, and it's a big issue, talk about having a third party, preferably a mentor couple who has children older than yours, in to talk about discipline. Usually outside people can see problems, even when we think they can't, and chances are couples would love to help you with this! Find a couple whose children you admire, and ask them to come and talk to you. But don't ambush your hubby with this! Talk to hubby so that he agrees, and find a couple that you both agree on.

If you aren't on the same page when it comes to discipline, ask yourself this: am I going to my children for emotional support? Am I undermining my husband in front of them (even if he is wrong?). If the answers to this are yes, you have some major changes to make. A family can't function well if you are not a unit. Work at being a unit first, and then deal with the problem. Don't think that his disciplining mistakes justify you undermining the relationship.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had to confront your spouse about discipline? Or do you have something else to tell us? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!


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Analyzing Supernanny
As many of you know, we don’t have a television. But we do have the internet! And we recently found, to our joy, that you can watch episodes of Supernanny on YouTube! So every homeschooling lunch, my girls and I have been watching a new episode. It’s great fun!

In general, I think the show is very positive. In each episode, the nanny, Jo, shows the parents two things (because I think that’s all you have time for): how to get the kids to go to bed, and how to use the “Naughty Chair” (or naughty room, or naughty stair). She goes into great detail on the bedtime routine, which we used long before we watched Supernanny, and which worked. We started when the girls were babies, and by the time they were a year old they went to bed easily and always have. But here’s the routine:

1. Cuddle, read story, bath, pray, say good night to them. Leave them in their own room.
2. If they come out, hug them, tell them it’s time for bed, and take them back to their room.
3. If they come out a second time, say “It’s bedtime”, and take them back again. Do not say anything else.
4. If they come out again, say nothing, but take them by the hand and put them back in bed.
5. Repeat until they’re asleep.

And on the show, the kids are asleep within an hour, even if it used to take several hours to get kids to sleep. And that’s been my experience, too. It really does work. Kids just need to know you’re serious.

It’s the Naughty Chair I have more issues with. It’s the only real discipline technique she uses (likely because it’s only an hour long show, so you can only show one thing). The routine goes like this:

1. Issue a warning.
2. If the child continues the behaviour, put them in the time out place, where they must stay for a minute per year of age. Tell them in a deep, authoritative voice (different from your normal tone) why they are there, and what they must think about.
3. If the child leaves the area, take them by the hand firmly and put them back, reinforcing why they are there.
4. At the end of the time out, they must apologize and then you hug them.

It sounds good in theory, but if you have a child who refuses to stay on the chair, or in the corner, then it’s still something that takes an hour or so. I never spanked my kids, but I watch this show and often think, “a spanking would be a lot faster”. Because allowing that child to get off of the chair and scream at you is still allowing them to be disrespectful.

What do the rest of you think?

Last night, when I was out for a walk with my hubby, we were talking about this in general, and we mentioned two things.

First, when our children were little, we didn’t use time outs that much. We only used them for tantrums or for absolute disrespect, which was actually quite rare. Instead, we tended to take away toys, or dessert, or other privileges (but toys was the big thing), because usually the reason they were being disciplined had something to do with a toy. They weren’t sharing, or they were grabbing it from another child, or they were hitting someone with it. It’s more immediate, and it’s more effective, I find.

I just think you need a combination of techniques for different infractions. The main thing is this: don’t get in an argument about it. Just do it. And do it immediately. We watched so many families on the show let things go by just by yelling at the kids or telling them that’s wrong, but then not doing anything about it. A child doesn’t care if you’ve told them they’ve done wrong without any consequence, but we magically think that if we express disapproval, that’s the same thing as disciplining. It’s not.

The second thing that occurred to me is that in many families, life has become so chaotic that the only conversations that parents have with their children have to do with logistics: who has to go where when, who has to pick up what toys, who has to stop hitting their brother, who has to be quiet, who has to get ready for bed, who has to stop crying and eat their food. Everything is about telling a child what to do.

You could easily be with a child all day, and never really talk to them. Words are coming out of your mouth constantly, and words are coming out of the child’s mouth, but it’s as if you are always at loggerheads. You’re always telling them what to do, and yet you never really have fun together.

In every family we’ve watched so far, the children have called the mother some variant of “poopy head”. My children would never have DREAMED of calling me that. I never experienced that in the least. And I think one of the reasons is that my daughters and I had FUN together. We always did. Certainly I told them that it was time to get dressed, or to get their breakfast, but in general, we always did fun things together everyday. I wasn't great at getting down on the floor and playing dolls or Barbies. My husband was much better at actually playing with them. But I'd read books, or set up crafts, or most of all, take them out for walks, or to the playground, or to a play group. And we'd sing and talk the whole way. We had a relationship.

When you have a close relationship with your kids, and they know you love them, they have less reason to act up to get your attention. There's more goodwill, and they're less likely to be disrespectful.

That's why I think that while discipline is important, learning how to have fun again as a family is just as vital. Learning how to talk around the table at dinner, or how to go outside and engage your children. It can be hard, because we adults usually don't enjoy doing what children want to do, so we find it boring. But you can concentrate on the things you do well, like going for walks (hey, it gets exercise!), running around a park, singing, reading books, playing airplane with them up on your feet while you're lying on the floor, and things like that. Laugh with your kids everyday. Laughter covers over a multitude of sins.

Many families are out of control because they have allowed the children to take the reins in the home. And then they spend their lives responding to the kids' behaviour by yelling and ordering the kids around, and all fun is sapped out of their lives. We need balance back. If your children are out of control, learn to discipline immediately and effectively. Don't just tell your kids they're wrong; do something. Speak in a deeper voice so they know you're serious. But then start having fun again, too. Play with your children. Enjoy your children. And you just may remember why you had them in the first place!

What do you think? Any observations on Supernanny? How do you handle time outs, and do you find them effective? Let me 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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