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Treating Motherhood as a Job
I'm in the middle of cramming for my book deadline for "The Good Girl's Guide to Sex", which is due at the publisher's in just a couple of weeks. I think you're going to like it!

But because I'm so frazzled writing, I thought I'd rerun some of the blog posts from two or three years ago that many of you, who joined me recently, may have missed. Here's one I really did like--edited a bit--and I hope you like it, too!

The worst thing a husband can do to a stay at home mom when he comes home after work is to look around the house with disdain and ask, "what did you do all day?".

Them's fighting words!

And we all know it. We tell jokes about inept men like that. We laugh at them.

And yet, ladies, I want to talk just between you and me right now. Hopefully no men are listening. Do we always work as hard as we can during the day? Or do we sometimes goof off?

I know I goof off a lot. Of course, that's only natural, because being home all day with kids is exhausting. We need our rejuvenating time, we argue. We need our time to ourselves. And that is very true.

But other than well-deserved breaks (and napping when the baby naps to catch up on sleep), do we put our 100% in?

Part of the problem, I think, is that motherhood is not a job. We're not getting paid, and no one is looking over our shoulder (except God! :) ). No one has made a list of all you have to accomplish today. No one is grading your performance. No one is going to fire you. So the only way to get things done around the house is by self-motivation.

What if you don't have any?

That's a tough one, isn't it? Now looking after little ones is a full-time job. I remember how exhausted I was when my children were little. And I decided that my primary responsibility was to them first, and the house (or apartment, as it was at the time) second. We would take outings every day, and I would read to them, and play with them, and make homemade baby food, and cook healthy meals, and make sure their laundry was done and their room cleaned, but the rest of the house suffered. I know that bothered my husband, but I figured he didn't have much to say about it because the kids were getting stimulated, and that was the important thing.

Looking back, I'm not sure what I would have done much differently, except perhaps get more organized at cleaning. But the kids were my primary responsibility!

What I wish I had had, at the time, was a more organized approach to housework. If I could have kept things neat, a lot of the chaos in our lives would have disappeared. And quite frankly, I did waste a lot of time. My children were wonderfully cared for, but the house was not. And with a little organization, it doesn't take that much time.

But as the kids grew older, my housework didn't improve that much, either. I just didn't like cleaning, and I found it overwhelming. It was a definite tension between my husband and me, because he wanted the living room neat, and I felt the children took precedence (or really, my right not to have to clean everyday took precedence!). When I finally realized how important it was to him, I made it a priority to have that room clean when he came home, as an act of love. And when I started doing that, I realized I did actually have quite a bit of time for cleaning, if you do it systematically.

When you treat motherhood like a job, you get things done. When you treat it like a big party with the kids, where you all get to goof off, you don't. I loved those years with my children when they were babies, and I was awfully young myself, so I'm not beating myself up about it. But today, now that the kids are older, I have to ask myself everyday: am I working today? Or am I goofing off?

My husband is working, and doing wonderful things for our family. I owe him some effort, too. That doesn't mean that I don't take time to myself; but it does mean that I need to start seeing some of the organizational tasks that need to get done around the house as my job. Not because I'm female, but simply out of fairness: if he works, I should work.

I know many homes where she stays home with the kids, but she doesn't necessarily "work". She has the TV on all day, or she's on Facebook as much as possible, or she's reading a book. Sure she plays with the kids, but stuff around the house just doesn't get done.

I don't think that's respectful of one's husband or one's kids. We need to set an example for the kids that we all have to do our share, and that means getting stuff under control. And we need to show our husband that we appreciate his effort by putting some effort in ourselves, too.

Now if you work outside the home as well, things are a little different. I'll address that in another post. But if you're at home, caring for the house, you should be caring for the house. I don't mean to make you feel guilty; I just mean to challenge you. It is so much harder to work when there's no one standing over your shoulder. We need to learn to be our own bosses!

One of the things that helped me was developing charts, that I talk about in my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum, that help me get work done more efficiently. Everything has its day, so everything gets done in its time. You don't have to buy the book to get the charts, though: they're available for free download !

Another thing that helped was just that mental switch: I am here to do a job. Am I doing it?

Besides, believe me, your house is so much nicer to live in when it's organized. So let's all get to work!

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How to Stop Temper Tantrums Before They Start

Bet you think this post is going to be about discipline techniques, right? Well, you're wrong. But before I explain, let me tell you a story.

Before we went on our cruise earlier this month, we stopped by the aquarium in Tampa. The teens, hubby, in-laws and I all walked around looking at the various creatures.

DSCN4878At one exhibit, Rebecca, my 16-year-old, stopped to admire the boxfish. Standing beside her was a little 4-year-old boy we didn't know. She started talking to him: "Do you see that funny looking fish right there? It's called a boxfish. Can you guess why?"

"Cause it looks like a box!" he said. "That's right!" said Becca. "But there are some fish hiding in the sand at the bottom. Can you find them?"

This conversation went on for a few minutes as the other mother and I watched. Becca would point things out, and ask him to find things, and he would jump up and down whenever he found something hiding, or noticed something new. And as I listened, it occurred to me that she reminded me of someone.

She reminded me of me.

Because everytime we went anywhere when they were babies and toddlers, Keith and I kept up a running commentary of everything, just like she did, constantly asking questions to the children and interacting with them.

As Rebecca was doing this, several other toddlers in the background were screaming. The parents were trying to get them to be quiet, to discipline them, threatening them "time outs" and "We're going to leave right now!"

But as Rebecca and I headed off, she said to me, "those parents weren't actually showing the kids anything." They were walking through this aquarium, talking to each other and their adult companions, and expecting the kids to behave without interacting with them at all.

Children tend to act up in public for two reasons: they are deliberately disobedient, or they are bored out of their minds. I personally don't think disciplining for being bored is appropriate, but often we confuse the two, because they look similar. The kids whine. They won't sit still. They might start a tantrum. But it's really our fault, not theirs. We've asked something of them that they are too young to give.

Have you ever sat in a doctor's office, when across from you is a mother with a toddler, and the child is swinging his legs. The mom is ignoring him, but every now and then she hisses, "Johnny, sit still." He becomes dejected, and increasingly starts wiggling, because he's bored. Why didn't she just bring a book to read him?

I've written a bunch about disciplining, and being consistent, and following through on this blog, and yet with all that, I have to admit that I rarely actually had to discipline the girls for what they did in public. Their worst infractions were fighting with each other. They were rarely bad or caused a scene, and I think it's because they simply were never bored.

Let me illustrate this with one of most people's least favourite activities: grocery shopping. We never had much of a problem shopping together, because I had strategies (I was also only juggling two children, not four or five as some of you are, admittedly!). Here's what we did:

1. Babies

Talked constantly. "Mommy's buying broccoli. See the broccoli? Yummy!" The whole time through the store I was talking to them and making eye contact. I'd get strange looks from other shoppers, but I didn't care.

2. Older baby, toddler

The first thing we did was buy 2 bananas or 2 of those dried fruit snacks. I'd pay at the express line, and then they had something to eat while we shopped (you couldn't bring food from home; they wouldn't believe you didn't just take it off of the shelf).

Then we'd play the colour game. Let's see how many things we buy that are yellow! What's yellow? Butter's yellow! Lemons are yellow! The wrapping on the spaghetti is yellow!

3. Pre-schooler; Kindergarten

We graduated to letters. How many things can we buy that begin with the letter "B"? Bread! Butter! Broccoli! They'd scan the shelves for things that started with the B sound, even if we weren't buying it. If I picked up popcorn kernels, I'd say, "does this begin with B?" And then they'd debate and try to figure it out, because P and B are awfully close.

And then all the way home, they'd scan signs for the letter B.

The next time we'd move on to D, or P, or M.

4. Elementary School

How much do you think this is going to cost? We'd round everything to the nearest dollar and they'd try to keep a running tally, and we'd see how right we were. As they got older, we tried rounding it to 50 cents. And we always had to guess on the things we paid for by weight!

And I'd start sending them for some things themselves (but always together). I'd say, "can you two go get the milk?", or "can you two go get the chocolate chips?"

5. Today

Even today we still do a grocery game. Today it's more like: who can guess closest to the total cost? And the winner gets to choose what we have for dinner, or what game we play on family night.

Woman with Child at Check Out Counter with Blue Shopping Cart.
Photo by polycart

The vast majority of the time that I see small children screaming in the grocery cart, I think they are simply bored. The mom has not spent any time talking to them except to issue orders. "Sit still!" "No, we can't get that!" "Get your hands back in the cart!". She's exhausted. They're frustrated. And everybody HATES grocery shopping.

Children are naturally curious. Their job, as a child, is to learn about the world and how it works. That's what they start doing from the moment they are born. Our job is to help them. And yet sometimes I don't think we parents give room for our children's natural curiosity. If you can channel it into something healthy, then they're far less likely to start screaming in Wal-Mart.

My girls and I watch episodes of Nanny 911 and Supernanny on Youtube, and one of the things that we've noticed is that so many of the dysfunctional parents on these shows don't actually TALK to their children. They may carry their children around all day, but they don't say anything to them. And if their kids start whining or talking, the first response is to stick some food in their mouths, or try to deflect them with a snack.

I kept a running commentary up with my kids from the time they came out of the womb. I talked with them nonstop. I explained the world to them. I pointed things out to them when we were outside, so they would learn about the world. And the neat thing is that the more you interact with them and talk to them and spend time with them (even if it's just while you're on errands), then the more they give you free time at home. They'll play quietly without you for at least a few minutes at a time because they know Mommy loves them. They've already been talking to Mommy for hours.

I do believe in consistent and firm discipline, but I think if we started off, when the children are small, talking to them and really interacting with them, discipline would be much easier.

I don't mean to toot my own horn in all this; I think the reason that Rebecca knew to talk to that little boy was because I talked to her, and the reason I talked to her was because my mother did the same to me. It was natural, so I have no reason to take pride in it, as if it was something brilliant I discovered. It's just what I naturally did.

But I know that doesn't come naturally for everyone, because not all of us were raised that way. Nevertheless, you can learn it. And if you learn how to do it, then think of how your children will raise their children! You're setting a whole new pattern.

I have more I want to say on this subject in an upcoming post, but I think I'll leave it there for today and ask for your comments. Do you find it hard to talk to your kids? Or have you noticed the same phenomenon I have? Let me know!

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Have We Forgotten How to Parent?

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. This week's was based on a blog post I wrote a few weeks ago (many of them are!). So sorry if it's repetitive for my regular readers. I'm working on a really long post on parenting right now, which I hope to have up tomorrow. It's just busy around here with editing my book! Anyway, here's the column!

Ohio State University recently conducted a study on childhood obesity, and found three things that were most correlated to preventing it: eating dinner together as a family; reducing the amount of time children spend watching TV; and making sure they get regular and adequate sleep. It was the last one that was mildly surprising to me; I would have thought family exercise was more important than sleep. But no; sleep won out.

Then I began to think, what if there were some other factor at play, behind the scenes, that was actually the more important one? It seems to me that a family that eats together, that limits TV, and that enforces bedtime is one that puts emphasis on order, on family life, and on parenting. And few families do that today. Families that do will also be the ones that make sure children do not develop unhealthy habits.

Once I started thinking in this direction, though, I grew rather melancholy. After all, eating dinner together, limiting TV time, and enforcing bedtime may be rare today, but when I was a child, they were considered normal parenting behaviour. They were normal even for families one wouldn't consider that good.

I grew up in a lower middle class neighbourhood to a single mother. All around me were kids in similar situations whose parents were struggling to make ends meet. And yet I remember one of the big topics of conversation in third grade was who had the latest bedtime.

When I turned eleven, I took that opportunity to debate with my mother about moving my bedtime back half an hour. It had been 8:30, but Little House on the Prairie had new episodes on Monday nights at 8, and I wanted to see the whole thing. I talked strategy with my friends, who were all trying to extend their bedtimes, too, because everybody had a bedtime.

We seem to believe that only the "rich" have time to parent well, but it was not always that way. I am not saying that life was perfect in the 1970s; just think Saturday Night Fever and bellbottoms. But I do think there was this cultural pull to parent appropriately, and everyone seemed to share an idea of what appropriate looked like. It was really only the incredibly dysfunctional families who did not do bedtimes or mealtimes.

Today that dysfunction has become the norm. Few of my children's childhood friends had bedtimes, even those in families one would have considered ideal. Few today have chores. All the semblances of what would have been considered normal are gone.

Perhaps we don't parent well now as a society because the purpose of life has changed. While it once was to be responsible and support yourself, it is now to have fun and be entertained. We turn to technology instead of to each other.

Chaos is also much more of a factor in too many children's lives. When so many children don't grow up with two parents, it's hard to carry on "normal" family life. And with so many families struggling to deal with conflicting schedules with both parents working opposite shifts, eating together, or performing family rituals, takes a back burner to just getting through another day. Those old basic family rituals become rare.

Parenting isn’t rocket science. Our parents, even those with little education, knew how to do it. We have more education and we’ve forgotten. Provide structure. Provide love. Provide stability by loving your spouse. Care for your children’s bodies by feeding them and putting them to bed. Not only will that help prevent obesity; it may also help us remember that real purpose and joy in life comes from investing in relationships and responsibilities, not in stressing our own happiness above all. I’m glad my mother understood that.

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Wifey Wednesday: Recovery from the Guilt of Your Sexual Past

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!

For the last few weeks we've been talking about how to radically transform your marriage by focusing on meeting his needs--rather than waiting for him to meet yours. I issued a challenge to all of you to do these five things for six weeks, and see what happens:

1. Thank your husband once a day for something (try to make it something different each time)
2. Compliment your husband to your mother, your children, your friends, whatever, within earshot of your husband, every chance you get.
3. Do not nag.
4. Do not give the silent treatment.
5. Make love with relative frequency (say at least 2-3 times a week).

Today I want to talk to the women out there who find initiating sex, or even thinking about sex, hard because of guilt from their pasts.

I've been working on "The Good Girl's Guide to Sex" for the last little while, a book that will be out with Zondervan within the next year. I conducted several surveys for the book (if you haven't filled out the initiation one yet, PLEASE do so! It would help so much!)

One thing I've found is that less than half of Christian women are virgins on their wedding night. And more than 1/3 of the women who weren't virgins expressed major regret over that. It's really impacting their relationships now. (You'll have to get the book to get the exact numbers! :) )

I received an email this week from a woman who's living with this guilt right now. Here's a synopsis of her email (which I've edited to take out any identifying details):

I had a great number of sexual partners before I met my husband, starting in my early teens. I had a horrible upbringing. He didn't have as much experience, but he did have some bad habits when we met. Our engagement was short, but filled with pre-marital sex almost from day one. Our entire dating and engagement period, even our wedding feels like one big shame to me. I can't even look at pictures of us when we were dating because I feel so disgusted, knowing what we were doing. I don't like looking at our wedding pictures either. Ever since the honeymoon the sex has been strained, always. I feel that I can't trust him. He was willing to take anything he could before we were married. True, I wasn't stopping him, but that doesn't help now.

He once asked me why was the sex so great before we got married, as if to ask what he was doing right at that time. I told him we shouldn't have been doing that in the first place, and I have no fond memories of our pre-marital sex, although I suppose it was compelling at the time. It just makes me feel like he doesn't understand what happened. Very discouraging.

She goes on to say how she wants to initiate, and she wants to make her husband feel loved, but she just doesn't enjoy sex with him very much because it still feels wrong.

Can you relate at all? Even if you can't, please read on, because some of your friends probably might, and you may be called upon for some advice in this area one day! Most of us, after all, aren't virgins anymore when we marry. And that is really wreaking havoc with our sex lives now.

Here's what I said to this woman, and here's my message of hope for you who are in the same situation:

First, you're right that what you did before your marriage was wrong--both with him and with other guys. God didn't want you to do it, and you did it anyway.

But that is in the past--and when you married, you became one person, not two different people anymore. You are different in God's eyes. And remember that He has already paid for all the things that you did. He has erased it; it's time for you to erase it. Yes, you did something wrong. Yes, people seriously took advantage of you (and sounds like they hurt you in the process). But please do not let that become your identity. You are more than that. You are precious. You were bought at a price.

If you keep feeling shame and keep feeling that anger at yourself, and at your husband, for what you've done before, then you're not really giving that sin over to Jesus to cover. You're saying, "What Jesus did isn't big enough for me." And it is.

You will always have regrets about your wedding night (I do, too, for different reasons.) It is a letdown. It is a disappointment because you had tainted it before. But nonetheless, that is in the past, and you don't want the past to impact your future.

You need a clean break, where you start allowing yourself to associate sex with something completely new. The problem when we give ourselves to people that we're not married to is that sex becomes something which is dirty, shameful, and focused solely on the physical. There's no commitment, and so the only reason to have sex isn't to say "I love you", it's to say "I want to feel good". And yet we know that's not right. So that whole idea of "feeling good" becomes something shameful.

You need to rediscover what making love really is. When we give our bodies away as teenagers, we teach our bodies that sex is solely physical, and that it's something cheap, that we give to try to get something in return (a boy to love us; someone to tell us we're beautiful). It's a commodity, not an expression of love.

So how do we make it an expression of love? We need to make it about the connection far more than it is about the physical rush. That doesn't mean you don't experience the physical rush; indeed, most people find that when sex becomes about that connection, the physical rush is deeper. But work on the connection first.

Try to make sex into something that is new and beautiful. Take baths together and just touch each other. Lie naked together and talk and explore, just with your fingers. Cuddle naked and talk--about memories, about dreams. You can even read a psalm together! Make nakedness and intimacy something that is beautiful, rather than dirty.

Try to spend some time, in bed, just kissing, rather than "getting to the main event". You take the initiative rather than him, and focus on trying to kiss him to show him that you love him, rather than just to get him aroused (you'll likely find this gets you far more in the mood, too). Practice touching him to say, "I love you".

And tell him what you're doing. Pray about it. Go before God and tell God that you're sorry for what you did before your marriage, but you want a new start. And ask God to help you get that new start.

Then walk in it. Think everyday, how can I tell him "I love him" in a new way? Challenge yourself like this. Do it inside the bedroom and outside the bedroom. As you start focusing on your connection, you'll find that sex life takes on a new turn. It's not just about that physical rush; it's about cementing a bond. Don't focus so much on "I have to have sex with my husband" as much as you're focusing on, "I have to find new ways to feel love for him and show him love!"

This change won't happen overnight. It takes work to retrain your brain to think of sex in a new way, especially when you have a lot of scars. But Jesus is big enough for your scars. And He wants you to enjoy your husband. Don't let sin which has already been forgiven rob you of a great marriage now. Commit yourself to moving forward, and ask your husband to commit, too, and then make it into a game to find new ways to express how much you love him. Kiss him a bunch of different ways and ask him which one makes him feel the most loved. Ask him to do the same to you. Make it fun! And you just may find that your body reawakens!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had to confront your fantasies and throw them aside? How did you do 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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When Does a Teen Need a Cell Phone?
Cell phone teens
Photo by K. Kendall

My oldest recently turned 16. It feels so weird to have a 16-year-old! I still remember the day she was born so vividly, and if I close my eyes I can still feel what she was like as a baby.

But she is developing into her own person, and that has meant certain changes in our family. To understand some of those changes, you have to understand our different personalities.

I believe there are three types of people in this world: people who are late, people who are early, and people who show up at 1 minute past the designated time.

I am the latter. I am never early because what's the point? There's too much to do! So I time everything down to the last detail, so that I can leave at the last possible moment. Hey, you can always throw another load of laundry on, right?

I know the schedule for all the traffic lights in the area. I know which ones to avoid at what time. I don't even take the same route around town, depending on the time of day, because it may shave off a minute or two. I'm a little bit neurotic.

But I'm also rarely very late.

My daughter is early. She is always early. She has friends to see, and she wants every minute she can have with them! It drives her nuts that I don't want to leave when she is ready, even if I'm ready, too. This throwing one last load of laundry on is completely beyond her comprehension.

So she is extremely responsible. Nevertheless, that does not always stop her from being late. When she's with friends, she doesn't want to leave. Such is the lot of teenagers.

Let me explain.

Recently our girls were both out for the evening. Our junior high daughter was with friends at church, but our senior high daughter wanted to go with friends to the mall (they were accompanied by an adult). We said sure. They said they'd be back at 9:00. We should have known better.

So we dutifully showed up at 5 to 9 to collect said senior high daughter, but she wasn't there. We waited for a while, and then decided to go get gas. We got back, and still no Becca.

Then Keith's cell phone rang. They were running late, and she gave us instructions on where they were. We picked her up. No problem.

It wasn't that she was in any danger, it was just aggravating. We knew she was with responsible people.

But nevertheless, we decided that, since she was now 16, it was time to get her a cell phone to ensure that these late things no longer aggravate us. We bought a cheap plan that allows unlimited texting, and the deal is we pay half and she pays half. That way I know she's safe, and she can call or text me when she wants to spend that extra twenty minutes with friends, so maybe I can even get a load of laundry folded, insted of waiting for her in some parking lot.

Obviously this will be easier on me to let her have a cell phone--and I do think that as teens age, and are out on their own more, it's a matter of safety. Nevertheless, I can't say I'm happy about it. It seems that so many people spend their lives texting, and a phone becomes a big time waster--and an expensive one at that.

I'm not particularly fond of cell phones. I have one and I hardly ever use it. We never use up all of our minutes. I just use it for emergencies, or if I need to check in at home while grocery shopping. Only about three people even know the phone number.

I think that's mostly my generation, though. When I'm out of the house, I'm AWAY from the phone. That's the whole point! I don't want to be receiving phone calls on it. When I'm out doing errands or riding in the car, I spend time thinking and praying. I'm away from my usual head space. I don't want the phone interrupting that.

Teens, however, as soon as they have them, seem to be on them all the time. They text people constantly (HIYEEE :) :) :)). It gets really annoying. And I absolutely hate seeing teens text during church.

What do you think? Are you ambivalent about cell phones for teens, too? Do you have rules about phone use within the home (or at church)? Let me know!

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Do Kids Grow up Too Slowly?

I have two dear little friends who call me "Aunt Sheila". On Facebook I'm listed as their aunt (not in my main account, which many of you are on, but on my personal account where I only have all my teenage friends from church and my children, who I don't want seeing all the links to all the sex posts here on Wifey Wednesday :) ).

Anyway, these two girls are sisters, the third born and fifth born of fourteen children. They are lovely, and good friends with my own girls.

A few weeks ago they took off to South Dakota to attend the marriage of one of their best friends, who, at the time, was only 17 (it was just a few weeks before her eighteenth birthday). She was marrying someone she had known all her life. They had only been courting for a few months, but they were sure that they should marry. And so marry they did.

This whole thing caused a great deal of discussion in my household. Is it okay to marry at 17? She hasn't even seen the world! What if she doesn't want that kind of life, but only discovers it when she's 25?

I don't know the girl, I don't know her circumstances, and I really don't want to judge. But my initial reaction (which most of you will rebel against, so be forewarned), is that I don't think it's that bad.

Here's a girl who loves God, and a man who loves God (he's in his early twenties). They know each other well. They've lived in ranch country their whole life, and want to have a ranch themselves. He has a house for them. He has a steady job. And that's the life she wants.

But that's not the only reason I think it's all right. It mostly boils down to this: She has been doing the work of an adult since she was 12 or 13. She's one of the oldest in a very large family which has adopted a ton of kids. She has learned how to manage a farm. She has learned how to feed a ton of people at a time. She knows how to clean a house. She has organized chores, looked after money, budgeted, and cared for children.

She's ready.

But it's not that she's ready BECAUSE she knows how to be a housewife. I didn't know how to cook and clean well when I married, and I figured it out afterwards. That's not the important part. It's that she's been treated like an adult since she was quite young, and she's matured faster than most teens today.

My own girls, for instance, will probably not be ready for marriage at 17 (oh, please, don't let them even think about it, Lord!). They haven't led the kind of life this girl has. And they want more out of life than to stick to the confines of their family. But when one is treated like an adult from an early age, I think one acts like an adult.

Once again, I'm not saying I absolutely approve of this marriage; I don't know the girl, and I don't know the guy, and I don't know the circumstances beyond what I've shared, so please, let's not get into a debate about this particular marriage, because that could be hurtful to the parties. I'm just saying that I think it's POSSIBLE for a 17-year-old to be an adult, if they are treated like an adult. After all, two centuries ago girls were routinely marrying at 17 or 18. Even a few decades ago it was happening. It's only been in the last fifty years that we have extended adolescence into the early twenties, or even late twenties.

I read an interesting article in Newsweek recently that addressed this issue. Po Bronson, writing about Joe Allen's book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, says this:

As Allen writes, “We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality.” And we wonder why it’s taking so long for them to mature.

He goes on to address the issue that teen brains are not the same as adult brains with this:

But Allen speculates that our parenting style may indeed be causing their brains to be this way. Brains of teens a hundred years ago might have been far more mature. Without painful real-life experiences, modern teens’ brains never learn to tell the difference between what they should fear and what they shouldn’t. Without real consequences and real rewards, teens never learn to distinguish between good risks they should take and bad risks they shouldn’t. “We park kids on the sidelines, thinking their brains will develop if we just wait, let time pass, as if all they need is more prep courses, lessons, and enrichment courses. They need real stress and challenges.”

Perhaps we are hampering our kids from growing up appropriately because we don't treat them like adults.

One thing my children can do is navigate airports. We've been in so many, including third world ones from our missions trips, that they can go up to any counter and demand service, ask for a change in flight, ask just about anything. They're good at airports. And I take every opportunity, when we're out and need to figure out something, to have them go and ask. I want them to feel mastery of their own world.

But that's such a small thing. The big things are the things Allen talked about: taking risks, being productive, having meaning, having real work. Most kids do not have this. And it's no wonder, then, that they don't grow up.

I know many of you reading this blog don't have teenagers as I do. You're still in the baby years of parenting. But if I could offer you any important advice, it would be this: do not be afraid of demanding from your children everything they are capable of. And they are capable of far more than we think.

We are not put on earth to coddle our children or to give them a great life. We are put on this earth to equip them for a life they are to lead FOR GOD. We are not equipping them if we keep them from maturing, and much of life conspires to do that, from the media, to school, to recreational activities. Do not leave it to the schools or the church to help your child mature. You do it. Give them chores from an early age. Teach them to manage money. Teach them to be comfortable talking to adults by giving them lots of opportunities to meet interesting people. Teach them to cook and clean so they feel independent and capable.

Start when they're young. A 3-year-old can put his/her toys away. A 5-year-old can handle an allowance. An 11-year-old can make spaghetti and baby-sit siblings. A 14-year-old can have a part-time job or figure out a business to start for the summer. Make sure your children act as maturely as they can at each stage of their development, and for this they will require you steering them in the right direction. As you do that, their brains will develop. They will think on more mature lines. And it might just be that they are ready for far more than is commonly expected when they are 18, 19, 22, or 23.

Even if they don't get married at 17! (And I do hope the vast majority of them don't even think about it!)

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Bleach vs. Peroxide
I need your opinion, ladies. I received this email in my inbox, and googling it, it seems that the email has gone far and wide. So I want to know what you think, because this is intriguing. My grandfather swore by peroxide, and I just went and picked up a bottle after reading this to use as a mouthwash. This article seems to have originated here. Let me know what you think of her info, because this seems interesting!

I would like to tell you of the benefits of that plain little old bottle of 3% peroxide you can get for under $1.00 at any drug store. What does bleach cost?

My husband has been in the medical field for over 36 years, and most doctors don't tell you about peroxide.

Have you ever smelled bleach in a doctor's office? NO!!!

Why? Because it smells, and it is not healthy! Ask the nurses who work in the doctor's offices, and ask them if they use bleach at home. They are wiser and know better!

Did you also know bleach was invented in the late 40's?

It's chlorine, folks! And it was used to kill our troops.

Peroxide was invented during WWI in the 20's. It was used to save and help cleanse the needs of our troops and hospitals. Please think about this:

1. Take one capful (the little white cap that comes with the bottle) and hold in your mouth for 10 seconds daily, then spit it out. (I do it when I bathe.) No more canker sores, and your teeth will be whiter without expensive pastes. Use it instead of mouthwash.

2. Let your toothbrushes soak in a cup of peroxide to keep them free of germs.

3 Clean your counters and table tops with peroxide to kill germs and leave a fresh smell. Simply put a little on your dishrag when you wipe, or spray it on the counters.

4. After rinsing off your wooden cutting board, pour peroxide on it to kill salmonella and other bacteria.

5. I had fungus on my feet for years until I sprayed a 50/50 mixture of peroxide and water on them (especially the toes) every night and let dry.

6. Soak any infections or cuts in 3% peroxide for five to ten minutes several times a day. My husband has seen gangrene that would not heal with any medicine but was healed by soaking in peroxide.

7. Fill a spray bottle with a 50/50 mixture of peroxide and water and keep it in every bathroom to disinfect without harming your septic system like bleach or most other disinfectants will.

8. Tilt your head back and spray into nostrils with your 50/50 mixture whenever you have a cold, plugged sinus. It will bubble and help to kill the bacteria. Hold for a few seconds, and then blow your nose into a tissue.

9. If you have a terrible toothache and cannot get to a dentist right away, put a capful of 3% peroxide into your mouth and hold it for ten seconds several times a day. The pain will lessen greatly.

10. And of course, if you like a natural look to your hair, spray the 50/50 solution on your wet hair after a shower and comb it through. You will not have the peroxide-burnt blonde hair like the hair dye packages but more natural highlights if your hair is a light brown, faddish, or dirty blonde. It also lightens gradually, so it's not a drastic change.

11. Put half a bottle of peroxide in your bath to help rid boils, fungus, or other skin infections.

12. You can also add a cup of peroxide instead of bleach to a load of whites in your laundry to whiten them. If there is blood on clothing, pour it directly on the soiled spot. Let it sit for a minute, then rub it and rinse with cold water. Repeat if necessary.

13. I use peroxide to clean my mirrors. There is no smearing, which is why I love it so much for this.

14. Another place it's great is in the bathroom, if someone has been careless & has peed on the floor around the toilet and it’s begun to smell of urine. Just put some peroxide in a spray bottle and spray. In the blink of any eye, all the smell will be gone and the bacteria eliminated!

I could go on and on. It is a little brown bottle no home should be without!

With prices of most necessities rising, I'm glad there's a way to save tons of money in such a simple, healthy manner! '

This information really woke me up.

I hope you gain something from it, too.

Pass it on!

So, what do you think?

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Look Me In the Eyes
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

In downtown London, England, the city government has installed padding on the lampposts so that texters don’t bash themselves while walking and texting at the same time. Tokyo has painted footprints on the sidewalk to direct texters where to walk. I’m sure chiropractors will be pretty busy over the next few decades dealing with all the people who spend their days texting, chins bowed against their chests.
All too many of us have adopted the habit, but that can’t be good for your spine.

As a society, we have forgotten how to look up. We have forsaken eye contact in favour of paying attention to such all-important text messages as “wassup?”. We’re spending all our time communicating inanities with all our pseudo-acquaintances, rather than smiling at strangers. That little bit of courtesy that brightens people’s days is becoming all too scarce.

I often see teens outside the local high school during breaks, texting nonstop, while simultaneously chatting. Some believe this is a badge of multi-tasking honour. I wonder, though, about what kind of relationships are being formed, when one is never giving 100% of one’s attention to another human being? How does this bode for future relationships? Will our children grow up to be able to look their spouse in the eye when they rarely look anyone in the eye now? Not just that, but are we losing the ability to pay attention to one individual at a time, if conversations in real time have to be punctuated by checking for new text messages?

Tuesday nights are our technology free family nights. No computers, no televisions, just our family, huddled around the table, playing board games. I have to admit I didn't really want to participate this week, because I was busy. But we had decided at the beginning of the year that nothing would interfere with family night, and so I took a deep breath and shut down my computer. And I have not laughed as hard in a long time. That night, while playing the Game of Life, I landed on the square which required me to shell out $5000 to decorate the nursery, even though I spent the rest of the game driving around the board without ever actually having a child. I held out hope for the twins, but it was all for nothing. Nothing, that is, except a new inside joke in our family, and tons of laughter, culminating with various individuals falling out of chairs.

It’s that same atmosphere that makes me love family dinners—minus the falling out of chairs part, of course. When we sit down, even if it's just for ten or fifteen minutes, we all connect. Looking straight into my loved ones’ faces, I see any tiredness that's there. I detect sadness. I can see excitement or triumph. And we share and laugh. How can this happen if people bring cell phones or iPods to the table? You're not connecting. You're ignoring, even if there is conversation going on.

We are losing the ability to look people in the eyes, and as we do that, we give the message that "I only pay attention to what is important to me. And you are not important." Modern communication seems to have little to do with common courtesy, or kindness, or respect anymore; it is simply about entertainment and my own personal desires. That makes for an extremely selfish society.

Yes, cell phones and iPods are fun. But it’s ever so much more rewarding to spend time with real, live people, eye to eye. Let's not forget that, and let's make sure our loved ones are forced, at least during some of the day, to look us straight in the eye.

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When the World Isn't Safe for Women

Did you see the news report about Lara Logan, the foreign correspondent for CBS news? She was covering the Egyptian protests when she was separated from her crew, carried off by about 200 men, and brutally beaten and sexually assaulted before being rescued by a group of women and some members of the army.

My heart just goes out to her. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be? I was in Tunisia when I was 20, which is a far more educated and moderate country than Egypt, and yet I have never felt so vulnerable. On buses I was constantly groped. In public I was stared at and hissed at. When I came home, it took me two months before I could look men in the street in the eye again, or stop crossing the street when I saw a man coming towards me. And I wasn't even assaulted!

I think sometimes we forget how vulnerable women can be. I am not saying that Ms. Logan acted foolishly; she likely knew what she was risking, and CBS likely did, too, and she chose to go anyway. That is what reporters do, and it is a risk they are willing to take. Male reporters and cameramen have been attacked, kidnapped, beaten, and killed, too, in the Middle East this year. It's a dangerous job, but a lucrative and rewarding one, and I guess she took a risk that in retrospect was too much.

But women do bear a disproportionate risk than men. And if you've never been in the middle of a group of men who are all leering at you and reaching for you, I don't know if you understand how scary it is. We're insulated from that in most parts of North America because we don't have mobs, and we don't have that kind of society. The only thing that might compare is being black and walking through a group of whites (or vice versa). But I don't think the fear approaches what is the Middle East. What was weird about Tunisia was how many places were simply empty of women. When our team went walking through parts of the city, I and a friend were the only women in sight. That doesn't happen here. It's common there. And it's not a nice feeling.

It's also why I don't think we should kid ourselves about women in combat. They aren't safe; they just aren't. And women are at a far greater risk when they are in combat than men, because if we are captured, far worse things are almost guaranteed to be done to us than will ever be done to a man.

Should a country allow women to be raped or killed, when there are able bodied men not serving in the military? Even if those women are willing to take the risk?

That's a tough question. Lara Logan was willing to take the risk, and it didn't turn out well. But it was still her decision, and to say that she can't go because she's a woman seems paternalistic. It's like saying that a woman can't decide to be a missionary in a dangerous land, even if she feels called to do so, because it may be dangerous. We applaud women who risk their lives for the sake of the gospel; obviously no gospel is involved in what Ms. Logan was doing, but I don't think we can say one is wrong and the other right. In both cases, women are taking the responsibility for themselves on themselves.

When it comes to women in the military, though, I see a difference, because those women are fighting on our behalf. They are not just accepting risk; they are doing so in our name. And I think to allow women to accept the risk of rape and torture and murder on behalf of able bodied men seems wrong, especially when so many women in the military are single moms.

Of course, there's also the issue of military effectiveness when women are in combat, and how that would affect the men in their unit, but I see that as a separate issue. I'm just asking here: should we allow women to take on inordinate risk? Because there's no doubt that the Middle East is inordinantly risky for women.

I want to leave you with one more news story that has my blood boiling. In Bangladesh, a 14-year-old has been murdered for being raped. Andrew McCarthy reports:

A 14-year-old girl named Hena had been killed by fewer than 80 lashes of the 100-lash whipping local sharia authorities had ordered her to suffer. It’s difficult to contain one’s anger at the details. Hena had been raped by a 40-year-old Muslim man, described in news accounts as her “relative.” The allegation of rape got the authorities involved, but that turned out to be even worse than the sexual assault itself.

Under sharia, rape cannot be proved absent the testimony of four witnesses. Rapists tend not to bring witnesses along for their attacks. In any event, moreover, sharia values a woman’s testimony as only half that of a man, so the deck is stacked and rape cannot be proved in most cases. Yet that hardly means the report of rape is of no consequence. Unable to establish that she’d been forcibly violated, the teenager became in the eyes of the sharia court a woman who’d had sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Thus the draconian lashing sentence that became a death sentence.

Islam's founder, Muhammad, married a 6-year-old girl. He consummated that marriage when she was 9. That is just simply sick and evil. The Qu'ran says it's okay to beat your wife if she is disobedient. That is disgusting.

Can you imagine growing up in that religion, believing that God hates you because you're female? Believing that you deserve to be raped, that you should not be protected, that you aren't important?

We serve a God who loves women. He didn't stone an adulteress; He pardoned her. He had long conversations with another. He appeared first after His resurrection to another. He knew women, and He loved them, and He honoured them. And in Galatians 3:28, Paul wrote, "There is no male nor female...for we are all one in Christ Jesus."

My heart hurts for the girls who grow up thinking God is distant, angry, and cruel. God is not like that.

But in the part of the world that believes that this is what God wants--that it's okay to kill 14-year-old girls who are raped; that it is okay to marry 9-year-old girls; that it is fine to rape women, as long as they are not Muslim; that it is good to kill your daughter if she is defiled, then that is not a safe place for women. It just isn't.

I will never go to the Middle East again unless God specifically asks me, because being in Tunisia scarred me, even though nothing like what happened to Ms. Logan happened to me. But such things will keep happening until the pathology that is the radical Islamic view of women is ended. Any women going there must know that there is a huge risk. And because of that, I am very reticent to change our rules to allow women to serve in combat. I don't want any woman raped or murdered "in my name".

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Wifey Wednesday: When His Habits Drive You Nuts

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!

Does your husband do something that drives you nuts? Something you wish he would quit?

Maybe he's on the computer constantly. Maybe he watches too much TV. Maybe he eats way too much or he eats the wrong stuff.

You don't want him doing all these things. So what do you do?

Well, we're in the middle of a 6-week challenge to transform your marriage by meeting his needs. You may think that sounds sexist and unrealistic, but give me a chance and hear me out! Do these things for 6 weeks, and you'll find your attitude changing, and your husband changing!

1. Thank your husband once a day for something (try to make it something different each time)
2. Compliment your husband to your mother, your children, your friends, whatever, within earshot of your husband, every chance you get.
3. Do not nag.
4. Do not give the silent treatment.
5. Make love with relative frequency (say at least 2-3 times a week).

But one of those ones you may be struggling with is #3: do not nag. What if he does something which is absolutely awful?

Well, let's talk first about attitudes and what you don't do. First of all, your job is not to change him. I've written about this a lot before, and if you click on the Wifey Wednesdays link at the bottom of this post, all the other Wifey Wednesday posts will come up and you can read some of this advice. But if you're expecting your husband to change, and withholding love and acceptance from him until he does, you're dooming your marriage and yourself.

Men thrive on appreciation, not condemnation. If they feel like you don't accept them, they're going to retreat into work, or into the computer, or into sports, or something. And remember that if you're waiting for him to change to be happy, you're placing your feelings in someone else's hands. You need to take them back. Make yourself happy. Go to God. Find things you love doing. Don't depend on him for that.

Okay, now that that's being said, let's look at this bad habit again. What if it is something that hurts him, like eating too much? You obviously want him to stop, even just because you love him. But our tendency in this case is to nag. We tell him he should stop. We buy him books on how to stop. We remind him what he promised. We start sulking. Why isn't he listening to me when I love him so much?

Get off that roller coaster, honey. It's not a good place to be. Nagging shows a man that you don't think he's capable. And it drives him nuts. So keep your mouth shut.

Now you're probably thinking: if I can't nag him, and I have to accept him, then do I just have to live with this problem?

No. Not at all. But you have to look at it differently. What you've been doing up until now, likely, is expecting him to change on his own. If this is a habit he has, or an addiction, he likely can't. It's become ingrained. So if he's going to quit, you need to break that chain. And here's how you do it.

When it comes to food, you probably do most of the cooking, right? If he doesn't eat well, stop buying junk. It's really very simple. Learn how to cook healthy, low-fat meals. I make amazing chicken dishes that taste wonderful that my husband loves taht really aren't bad for you. Use skim milk in your cooking instead of whole milk. Reduce the salt and use garlic and herbs instead. Don't use so much oil. Put applesauce in your muffins instead of margarine. He won't know the difference. But it's better for him.

And start serving vegetables inside your dishes, rather than just as a side dish. Make stews and casseroles. And then stop buying cookies and pop. Buy low-fat ice cream or sherbet for dessert. Buy lots of fruit.

You have more power than you realize. So you take control, and he will eat better.

Now what about the other things, like computer use? Again, you have more power than you realize. The reason he's on the computer is because it fills a void. It helps him relax and it fills his time. But if the time is filled by something else, he won't be on the computer as much. So fill up the time.

If you want more family time, plan it. Plan for a movie night with your husband and kids, and make it fun. Pop popcorn, get lots of blankets, and choose a fun movie. Get out board games and play with the kids. Go for a walk. Go skating. Go bowling. Once a week, do something as a family! As long as you're together as a family at least once a week, it may not even matter if he's on the computer so much. But don't expect him to take the initiative and turn the computer off and suggest something to do. Plan it, something that he would find fun!

Or, better still, start inviting people to dinner. People that he likes. When they come, chances are they stay until 8 or 9. (Or later. Once, when the girls were babies and getting up at 6 in the morning, we had friends over and it was 12:30 and they still made no effort to leave. It was really awkward).

So you can all socialize and get to know each other and have fun and laugh and your husband is a part of it.

Take the initiative yourself. Make your home life fun and healthy, and don't wait for him to do it. You just may find his habits don't bother you as much, and you're getting that needed family bonding time in!

With most things that bother us, the solution is not to convince him to change; it's to change the dynamic in our house ourselves, and he will likely follow along. That's what our six-week challenge is about; changing the dynamic. Don't do what you usually do. Show him appreciation. Show him acceptance. And then see what happens!

If you show him that acceptance and appreciation, and then you take the responsibility to change things you don't like (rather than waiting for him to change), the whole interaction in your marriage will shift. You won't be expecting things out of him anymore; you'll be expecting them out of yourself. And he will feel much more appreciated.

So can you do it? Whatever it is that he does that bothers you, can you change yourself so that it isn't as much of an issue, rather than constantly nagging? Or can you decide to set it aside, recognizing that in the bigger scheme of things, it's great just to be married to this man, even if a few habits he has are annoying?

I pray that you can do that! Because life would be so much better if we freed ourselves just to love.

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Have you ever had to confront your fantasies and throw them aside? How did you do 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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When I Find it Hard to Pray as a Family....

Have you ever met a family that you are just in awe of? That seem to radiate Jesus? I know some of them--chief among them my friend Ann Voskamp, author of the Amazon bestseller 1000 Gifts, who would be so embarrassed at being described that way.

I love God. My children love God. My husband loves God. We talk about Him a ton. We talk about missions, and about purpose, and about the Bible. We memorize Scripture together. We think through theological doctrine. But one thing we struggle with is prayer.

Everytime I go to a conference, or speak at a marriage conference, my husband and I come away with the same conviction: we need to pray more as a family. I firmly believe that victory comes only through prayer, and that we cannot do anything in our own strength well.

And yet, perhaps because I am more of a logical/intellectual person, I struggle with prayer. Interestingly, my younger daughter, who is the only one in the family who tends towards the touchy/feely side of the spectrum, has less trouble praying out loud and for an extended period of time than the rest of us. I wonder if it's the difference between logic/feely type people?

It is not that I DON'T pray. Indeed, I often think of Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God, about how we need to capture every thought and take it captive to Christ, and try to focus on God throughout the day, claiming every part of our lives for His kingdom, rather than just the "Sacred" times. I often think I spend hours in prayer everyday, but that's because my whole life is like one big, endless prayer to God. As I'm writing, I'm asking, "is this true, Lord?" "Is this what you want me to say?"

So it's not conversing with the Almighty that is awkward; it's that sitting around, all four of us, holding hands, closing eyes, and talking all together.

Yet why is it awkward? And is this a condemnation of us?

I know my oldest daughter prays a ton on her own, too. She has a prayer diary she keeps, and she writes in it at least 15 minutes a day, writing out her prayers. She also spends other time just talking to God. She has blogged about it and talked to me about it. Here's a post where my analytical daughter, for instance, talks about how God is not only an emotion.

So why do 4 people who all pray quite a bit individually have difficulty praying together? I do not know. And I'm confessing this because I want you to know that I am not perfect. I, of course, do not assume that you think I am. I probably frequently write things you disagree with. But I want to be transparent, and tell you I struggle, too, and this is an area where we are struggling.

I want to change it. I want to pray meaningful prayers, and not just go around the circle and pray for friends who need God, or the things that we often fill our prayers with. But I know that my kids will only learn to feel comfortable doing this by example, not just because I lecture to them that it's important.

And that means it has to start with me, and with my husband. I have no problem praying in public; I do it often when I speak. But somehow prayer has become something very private to me, that I have difficulty sharing with others. But it's important to me that we pray as a family. It's important to me because I think that's when God works best. And so we will try a little more.

I brought this up with my husband tonight, and he agrees that we need to emphasize this more, though he's like me: he doesn't know why it's so hard for us. God doesn't need specific words or formulas, after all. He just wants us to talk to Him.

So I'm going to suggest this method for our family:

1. Read a Scripture passage or two.
2. Pray short prayers focusing on who God is.
3. Asking for specific things for people we know.
4. Asking for specific things for ourselves.
5. Thanking God for what He's done.

It doesn't have to take long, but it should be heartfelt. And we need to pray more.

I remember when the girls were young, and I vowed that I would make sure they grew up to feel that prayer was natural. I don't feel as if I've done that, and my one daughter is within two years of leaving home. I have more to do in this area.

And so I want to know: do you struggle with prayer as a family? What do you do to help? Does it come naturally to you? I want to know!

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The Valentine's Day Fuss

My blogging buddy Terry, who helped "moderate" the comments last week when she noticed I wasn't chiming in (because I was away), wrote an interesting post this morning about her ambivalence towards Valentine's Day.

She started with this:

10 years’ ago, I viewed Valentine’s Day the way most (not all) other American women viewed it: as a chance to manipulate my husband into buy me flowers and/or candy, woo me with “spontaneous” romantic gestures, and give me a night off from the daily drudgery of housewifery. In other words, 10 years ago I didn’t think about it too much. If I had I would have seen the inherent silliness in the farce that Valentine’s Day has become.

And after writing about the commercialism of Valentine's Day, she concluded with this:

If a fellow feels undue pressure to produce a grand gesture of affection on February 14th, it means one of two things. The first is that he hasn’t flexed a romantic muscle for his wife all year. The second is that his wife has fully bought into to the high pressure marketing that kicks off every February. It could mean both. Either way, the fact remains that his gesture of love may be a gesture of many things: fear, pressure, unfulfilled lust, or his being brainwashed by the marketing machine. Short term the payoff might be worth it, but if things go back to the distant, disconnected state they were in before Valentine’s Day, it was a waste of good money.

Read the whole thing.

Here's what I commented:

Terry, I’m with you here. I just don’t make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day, and neither does my husband, because to us EVERYDAY should be Valentine’s Day. It seems to me that the emphasis on buying romantic stuff on ONE day makes it seem like you’re making up for a lack in the other 364 days. A marriage or relationship can’t survive on one day; you need that constant care.

I guess the other thing that bothers me is that we women tend to think that Valentine’s Day is for US. We get mad at our husbands if they don’t get us anything, but what do we get them? We don’t put great thought into how we should seduce our mates, because they’re the ones who are supposed to put the thought into it, because they’re seen as such louts the rest of the year. It doesn’t seem healthy to me.

I would much rather have a low-key romantic marriage than one that is punctuated by major gifts and cards on one particular day. And I feel that it is my job to make my husband feel loved, too, not just his job to make me feel that way.

So that's where I am in this whole Valentine's Day mess. I'm with Terry. I think it's too commercial, and it shouldn't really be used as a test of one's love.

That being said, I know there are a lot of my readers who are going to be sadly disappointed today, because they want some sort of recognition of love, and their husbands aren't going to provide it. Perhaps it's easy for me to say that I don't care either way about the holiday because my husband is romantic on the other 364 days. If your husband isn't, then for you, Valentine's Day probably takes on special significance because you're hoping that today, at least, he'll be sweet.

That kind of disappointment is hard. And all I can say is, don't set yourself up for it. Instead of expecting a ton from him and then being disappointed, why not plan a nice evening for him yourself? Make a candlelight dinner, even if it's only pizza, to eat after the kids are in bed. Rent a movie HE'D enjoy and then watch it together, snuggling under blankets. Plan a family games night. Go for a walk after dinner. Plan how YOU can show him love, rather than waiting for him to do something.

I know it would be nicer if he stepped up to the plate, but for some of us, it's not realistic. And if you want to rescue the day, take action yourself. Plan a nice evening, and show him that you love him, no strings attached. If he truly felt that, maybe he'd show more love, too!

Let me know in the comments: do you find Valentine's Day hard because your hubby isn't romantic? How do you deal with it?

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Where I've Been....

Hello everybody! Happy Monday!

Are you all excited it's a Monday? Likely not. who likes Mondays? But I must say that I'm feeling more invigorated than usual, because I just got back from vacation yesterday. We went on a cruise with the four of us, my husband's parents, and my nephew, who turned 16 while away. We had a great deal where the kids almost sailed free, so it was just such a blessing to get away and have some time with each other.

I didn't announce I was leaving before I went because I have known a blogger who announced it, and then got robbed while she was gone. Yelling to everyone on Facebook and your blog that you're leaving seems too much like placing a "Come rob my house! It's empty!" neon sign above your door. So if you're wondering why I didn't jump in in the comments last week, that's why. I even had some blogging buddies email me asking where I was, and expressing concern, which I thought was so special! It's great to feel like we're making real friendships through this.

So yes, I was more than fine, and I'm more than fine now that I'm home, because I feel rejuvenated (and, to be honest, it was so relaxing to be away from the computer for a week). Next time maybe I'll just say that I'm busy for a week and I won't schedule posts!

Anyway, as wonderful as the vacation was, I came home to the very sad news that a friend of mine's 15-year-old daughter passed away last Thursday. It wasn't a surprise; Katie had had cancer for several months, and it had gone into her lungs. I didn't know Katie, but I did know her grandparents and her mom a bit. It wasn't like I am very close to the family. We followed her journey on Facebook, and I prayed a lot for them, but I don't KNOW them.

Yet I can't convey to you the sadness I felt, sitting in the Tampa airport yesterday and checking Facebook. I feel sad for her family that is left behind. I feel sad for Katie's older sister Jacqui, with whom we are a little more acquainted. I think of my own two girls, and how they would be if either of them passed away. It would be a hole you never, ever filled this side of heaven.

They are a wonderful family of faith, and God has really sustained them, yet that does not make it any less sad. Death is just awful. It was never meant to be this way.

Katie's funeral will be huge this week. They are very well connected in our small little geographical area, involved in so many community things. It will be a big comfort to the family, I think, to see how many people support them. And yet I can't fathom how many tears will flow.

It seems such a juxtaposition, to get back from a wonderful family vacation, only to hear that another family has been so wrenched. It is not that I am sorry I went; on the contrary, I think I'm even more glad. We don't know what the future will bring. A year ago Katie was a track star, active in her high school, surrounded by tons of friends and a promising future. Today she is singing with Jesus.

My nephew is 16, and we wanted to do something to show him that we really do care about him, and so we took him with us. It was really a bonding time again, and we needed that. When he grows up, I want him to look back and know that his aunt and uncle love him. I want my girls to have memories like that, too.

And so this week, as I get back into the business of blogging and editing my book and homeschooling, I will say a prayer for Katie's family.

I have this song on my iPod, and I've been singing it to myself for the last few months, thinking of Katie everytime. She had her leg amputated about a month before she died, because of the cancer, and I always think of the "Dance with Jesus" verse for her, and now the "Fly to Jesus". I'll just leave it with you, in case you've never heard it. It really is beautiful.

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Chivalry on Life Support
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Today's is for Valentine's Day, and it's really aimed at men. But I think you'll appreciate it (and you can always show it to your husbands)!

If you want a chick flick to make your wife swoon this Valentine’s Day, guys, Kate & Leopold is an oldie but a goodie. Leopold is an English duke from the 1800s who is inadvertently transported in time to modern day. He holds chairs for women. He stands up when they leave the table or enter a room. He rescues maidens in distress. He is chivalry personified.

My husband has always held the door for me, but after watching that movie, I suggested that perhaps he could start standing when I left the table, too. He said he certainly would, as soon as I stopped talking about politics in public and started speaking only when spoken to. So we let that one go.

Chivalry, though, is largely a forgotten virtue. While we may not want to return to the days of males popping up and down at the dinner table, aiding and protecting women is actually quite sweet. I travel frequently for speaking, and figuring out how I will transfer my carry-on suitcase from the floor into the crowded overhead compartment always causes stress. The suitcase does not seem to want to levitate on its own, and my biceps certainly aren’t sufficient to stuff it up there. Despite a multitude of males among the plane’s passengers, though, rarely does one proffer a hand. I am stuck fighting with this decidedly overweight bag on my own.

A few decades ago no self-respecting male would stand by while a female struggled with suitcases. We believed that men should protect women—an injunction only slightly ahead of “men should have to kill the bugs”. So eighteenth century men protected women from the filth that flew out of second story windows every morning when the chamber pots emptied. Nineteenth century men protected them from the seedier side of life, smoking and swearing only in the presence of other males.
Then that came to a screeching halt. I don’t think it was the fault of the male gender, though; I think my own gender is mostly to blame. We wanted to be treated like equals, and thus we labelled all attempts at emulating Leopold’s kindness to be sexism. Men who held out a chair or who took a woman’s coat were glared at, shot down, and insulted. And so chivalry died.

Speaking as one with a graduate degree in Sociology, I, too, used to be insulted when men did small things for me. Did they think I couldn’t manage life on my own? Then, one day, it occurred to me: why would I want to?

Whatever feminists may say, chivalry was not meant to denigrate women; it was meant to elevate them. It was an acknowledgement that men, though they are stronger, have a responsibility to protect the fairer sex. A man is stronger. He has the ability to push women around simply because of his size (and, in days gone by, his economic dominance). For him to care for a woman instead meant something. It was saying: you’re different from me. You’re worth pursuing. You’re worth taking care of.

What woman doesn’t want to feel that?

Today men and women are supposed to be exactly the same, but we’re not. Acknowledge those differences, and we feel feminine. Treat us the same, and we become mere buddies. And if you’re interested in doing stuff with your wife you wouldn’t do with your best friend, then maybe this Valentine’s Day you had better start treating her as if she is special. Get her those flowers. Open the car door for her. Kiss her hand. Treat her with gentleness and respect, even if you don’t have to. In fact, treat her that way because you don’t have to. And then watch her melt for you.

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Wifey Wednesday: When Sex Causes you Pain

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! Today I want to talk about something that can cause many women an incredible amount of loneliness.


Photo by Cia de Foto

Fibromyalgia. MS. Migraines. Chronic fatigue. Chronic pain. Back problems. Even pregnancy. All these things can cause us to feel horribly, and definitely lower our libidos!

So what do we do if we're honestly feeling horribly, and yet our husbands still want to make love? He wants to get pleasure from something that seems to be causing you pain. That just seems wrong, and slightly disgusting. You want to be honoured and loved; and he wants to feel loved in a sexual way. But how can sex be good if it results in you feeling pain?

Unfortunately, you're essentially at loggerheads: he wants something that you feel that you can't give him, and so you don't feel loved; and you don't want to give him what he feels he needs, and so he doesn't feel loved. Both of you have legitimate problems, and neither is going to win by getting into an argument as to whose needs are paramount. Both of you require the other to give something that seems too large to give.

What needs to happen is not that someone gives in and just gets rid of their needs; what needs to happen in order for true oneness to occur is that a big mindset change happens.

First, let me give a little background on women's sex drives. We are largely in our heads. In order for us to become aroused, our heads have to be engaged. Men aren't like that. Men are very body-focused, so for them to be ready to go, they don't have to think much at all. But because we are mostly in our heads, we're also extremely distractible. If a stray thought comes into our heads, we can lose any amount of arousal we feel. Thus, the "not tonight, honey, because I have a headache" is very real for most women. When we are feeling pain, it's supremely hard to get in the mood because something else is intruding.

Nevertheless, that's often the best treatment. Researchers have found that one of the best cures for migraines is sex. The sudden release and euphoria often stops the pain, and frequent sex seems to prevent them. So even though it's counterintuitive, sex often helps with headaches.

The same is true with other kinds of muscle pain. Sex allows muscles to relax, and is a tremendous physical boost. And it helps you sleep better!

I know it's hard to see it like that when you're in pain, but pray that God will show you that sex can be something that helps with pain and exhaustion, not something that can contribute to it. When sex becomes all about something you do for him, it's a chore, and it's only going to contribute to your pain and your exhaustion. When sex, on the other hand, becomes something you can share which can help you relax and help you feel less pain, then you've got a stake in it, too.

The key is to get to the point where you can actually physically enjoy sex when your body itself is in great discomfort and very tense. Instead of looking on it as a chore, though, why not look on it as a challenge as a couple? It may be that you need to spend a lot of time relaxing first, in a hot bath together, or with a massage. You may need to work at finding a position that feels the most comfortable for you. You may even need to work at achieving orgasm for you some other way than intercourse (even if he achieves orgasm through intercourse), since it's orgasm that's most likely to help you relax.

Explain to your hubby that you want to see if you can start connecting physically and sexually so that you feel better together, but also so that your body finds new ways to relax and get some sleep. That means that sex has to be something, for you, that is gentle, drawn out, and low-pressure. But it also means that, for him, it is something that should be rather frequent. It means that he's going to have to learn a lot of foreplay, and learn to do a lot of massage. But the good part is that you get to connect a lot more and feel a lot more intimate.

Maybe with this being a new year you can try to turn over a new leaf and pray that God will help you see sex differently, as a potential to make you feel more physically safe and comfortable, and more intimate with your husband.

And perhaps, instead of sex being something you fight over, sex can become something which helps both of you feel better!

Have you ever struggled with pain? How did you resolve it as a couple? Let's talk!

This post was cross-posted at Adding Zest to Your Nest.

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Entertaining vs. Hospitality

I received a book to review on this blog a few months ago that I was actually pretty excited about. It was talking about entertaining for people who didn't really like to entertain or didn't feel like they knew how. And I thought, that's for me! I'm not a detail person. I find it hard to put on a party, because when people come I get so caught up in talking to them I forget about little things like oven timers and when food has to be turned on.

So I thought: this can help organize me!

Instead it just depressed me. It was all about how to make your home beautiful, and how to do gorgeous place settings, and how to make canapes. I'm never going to make canapes.

Now maybe you have the gift of entertaining, and you find this sort of thing fun. But what I find fun is having a pile of people over, serving something easy like chicken fajitas with lots of fixings, and then eating wherever you can find a chair while you talk nonstop, and then playing board games afterwards while the kids scatter.

In fact, after reading this book, I began to think that maybe I'd never actually thrown a dinner party in my life! I've had tons of people over for dinner, but I've never thrown a dinner party! I've only ever "had people over". I had thought I had thrown dinner parties, but my table never looked anything like the tables in that book.

Please understand; I am not saying there's anything wrong with that kind of entertaining. But I just don't know if I have the time to put in that kind of work in order to have people over. The author of this book gets her kids involved, and it's a family affair, and that's wonderful. But I'm not that kind of person. I'm a lot more laid back. I like a lot of laughter, not quiet music playing in the background. I like big debates, not tame conversation. So I'm not a dinner party gal.

I worry that if we expect that anytime we have people over for dinner it has to be a big production, that we will stop inviting people over. One of the best things you can do to encourage friendships for your children (and yourself) is to have people over. Invite other families over. Talk. Instead of watching TV tonight, talk to friends! Share food. Have people bring something and contribute. Let's function more like a community.

But will we do that if we think that we must have elaborate place settings for people? Or we must plan a menu to reflect the seasons, or the fall colours, or the summer bounty? What if I just want to clear out my freezer?

I'm not saying I don't put any effort in; I guess it's just that I see a difference between hospitality and entertaining. Hospitality says, "come and share my life". Entertaining says, "I will do something out of the ordinary and extraordinary for you". Hospitality says, "I'm not really making extra effort; I just value you and so I want to include you in what we're doing because you make it better by being here." Entertaining says, "I went out of my way for you."

One isn't wrong and one right, it's just a different philosophy. I would rather just share my life, and so I don't do the whole "posh" thing. But some people are very good at posh, and it comes naturally. So by all means, go ahead!

But let's not think that in order to have people over we have to be posh. No, you don't. Do you know how rare a home cooked meal is today, even if it's just spaghetti? Anything you do is probably impressive. So don't be afraid to share, even the little you do have. Remember the five small barley loaves and two small fish? They weren't much, but they fed a ton of people and everyone had a big party. You can take the little you have and give people a memory.

I figure that what people remember is the feeling of community and the interaction. Others who focus more on entertaining may feel they remember the beauty, and the grace, and the effort. Both are fine. But that beauty and grace and effort, while lovely, is not necessary. Don't let fears that you can't entertain stop you from having people in. Just share who you are, and laugh, and talk, and play, and have fun, and people will remember, even if it's not a traditional dinner party. And if we all got back to inviting people in once a week, rather than hibernating in our own homes watching TV, we'd be a much healthier society.

Do you have people over? What's your favourite thing to make? How do you make it fun? 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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