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15 Unexpected Benefits of Big Family Living

The Unexpected Benefits of Big Family Living | Loving Life at HomeI love children and have wanted a bunch of them for as long as I can remember.

Not surprisingly, this fact significantly narrowed the field of potential marriage partners back when I was in college.

“Want to grab a cup of coffee?” an interested classmate might venture.

“That depends,” I’d answer matter-of-factly. “How many kids do you plan to have when you get married?”

Subtlety has never my strong suit.

This line of questioning quickly scared off most would-be suitors, but I didn’t want to risk falling in love with someone who didn’t share my desire for a big family.

So I held out… and my patience eventually paid off. Mr. Right finally showed up a few weeks before graduation.

Not only was he interested (in me!), but he gave the desired response to all of my questions — and didn’t seem intimidated by my asking them.

The rest, as they say, is history: I married him 16 months later, got pregnant two weeks into our honeymoon, and spent the following quarter of a century either pregnant or nursing (or both).

Life as the mother of many has been every bit as blissful as I imagined. Sure, there have been lots of unexpected challenges, but there have also been plenty of unanticipated rewards. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Expanded Options
  2. There are so many beautiful names with wonderful meanings out there, it’s difficult to narrow down the list of favorites and pick only one. Having a big family completely solves that quandary – you can use them all! (Or in our case, almost all — we’re still hoping for a Hannah).

  3. Boredom Busters
  4. There is never a dull moment in a home filled with children, and there is always somebody to play with. Neighbors and schoolmates will come and go, but siblings are friends you can keep for life.

  5. Conversation Starters
  6. Big families invite all sorts of inquiries: “Are all these kids yours?” “Don’t you know what causes that?” “Are you going to have any more?” “Do I need to buy you a TV?” In our experience, most of the people asking such questions aren’t trying to be rude — they’re genuinely curious — so we answer as graciously and amicably as we possibly can. What a great way to meet people!

  7. Group Discounts
  8. A really big family can qualify for discounted group admission rates without even trying. And do we ever get our money’s worth on those annual zoo and museum memberships — especially the ones that offer reciprocal benefits at sister sites!

  9. A Deeper Admiration
  10. The love and affection I felt for my husband as a spouse, great though it was, increased manifold when he became the father of my children. I still enjoy watching him teach and train and interact with our preschoolers, adolescents, teens, and adult children, but there is something so specially endearing about the way he cuddles and cootchy-coos our babies, it makes me glad that for so long we’ve had one in the house to draw that tenderness out of him.

  11. Household Help
  12. A wise man once observed, “Many hands make light labor.” He was right. Of course, many hands make bigger messes to begin with, but when everyone pitches in to help clean up, household chores are knocked out in short order, and kids learn responsibility and other important life skills from an early age.

  13. No PMS
  14. Between pregnancy and breastfeeding, you can literally go for years without having a monthly cycle. I’m not gonna lie — that has really been nice.

  15. Pick Your Sport
  16. Depending on the size of your family, you can field your own basketball team. Or volleyball. Or baseball. Or soccer. The physical exercise does a body good, and the games give ample opportunity to practice good sportsmanship among other players who are held to the same standard.

  17. Social Security
  18. Contrary to what “Zero Population Growth” proponents will tell you, demographic declines are causing deeply troubling problems for societies worldwide, which is why many countries (Germany, Japan, and Austrailia, to name just a few) are now actually paying people to procreate. Big families are simply ahead of the curve.

  19. Youthful Beauty
  20. While pregnancy keeps you looking young (think thick, glossy hair and glowing complexion), the children themselves keep you feeling young. It’s a wonderful thing to see the world through the eyes of a child, so filled with awe and excitement over each new discovery. Their energy, enthusiasm, and laughter are infectious.

  21. One Less Excuse
  22. Being open to pregnancy allows couples to enjoy intimacy as God intended. No frantic search for a misplaced diaphragm. No mad dash to the drugstore when you run out of condoms. No having to compensate for the fact that the Pill completely decimates a woman’s libido. Just blessed spontaneity (although regularly scheduling time for said spontaneity is highly recommended).

  23. No Sour Milk
  24. In a house full of kids (especially teenaged boys), food seldom lasts long enough to go bad. That’s a plus! You can buy in bulk without fear of spoilage. And as an added bonus, dinner conversation never drags with so many different personalities contributing to it.

  25. Built-In Babysitters
  26. Our kids absolutely love babies and are always clamoring to hold our newest addition. As a result, they can all handle infants very comfortably and capably — experience that will come in handy someday when they start having kids of their own. As an added bonus, our big guys have discovered that nothing attracts attention from the opposite sex more effectively than toting around a new baby brother or sister (otherwise known as a “chick magnet”).

  27. Best Foot Forward
  28. Not only do children help refine their parents’ character qualities, but they polish one another, as well. Siblings have a way of knocking off one another’s rough edges, so they’re less likely to make fools of themselves in public. Corny jokes and lame pranks can be tested (then reworked as needed or altogether abandoned) at home, where the stakes are lower and the audience more forgiving.

  29. Empty Nest Postponed
  30. When you are blessed with many children, you don’t have to give up all your favorite things about one stage of life to enjoy all the great things about the next. You’ll still have little ones at home to cuddle even after first ones move away. That’s a happy distraction during what would otherwise be a bittersweet time. Also, studies show that the older a couple is when their last child leaves home, the more likely their marriage will survive the transition.

I could go on (and on and on), but I’ll stop there. What are your favorite things about having children? Do you plan to have any more? Don’t you know what causes that? Do I need to buy you a TV?

19 Ways to Boost Productivity

Do you start every new year like I do, with a long list of things you want to accomplish in the following twelve months? Wouldn’t you love to look back on 2014 next December, having actually completed a large portion of that list? What follows are nineteen habits that can help those dreams become a reality:

19 Ways to Boost Productivity | Loving Life at Home

  1. Stop procrastinating.

    We tend to over-estimate the time required to do a dreaded task, and under-estimate the amount of work we can accomplish in incremental units. Stop putting it off and just do it. (James 4:17)

  2. Make a schedule.

    This needn’t be rigid and inflexible, just a barebones game plan for your day, a general idea of what you plan to do and when you plan to do it. As Alan Lakein so sensibly observed, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” (Proverbs 16:9)

  3. Eat breakfast.

    Never skip the most important meal of the day, as it will provide the energy you need to greet the day’s responsibilities with vim and vigor. Be sure to include complex carbohydrates, for staying power that will carry you till lunchtime. (John 21:12)

  4. Exercise regularly.

    Aerobic exercise increases your energy reserves, so get your heart pumping. You’ll expend a little effort upfront, but you’ll build your endurance and ward off fatigue in the long run. (1 Timothy 4:8)

  5. Preserve margin.

    Don’t pack your schedule so full that you leave yourself no time to rest and reflect and recharge. Such times of relaxation are vital to our health and well-being, which is the whole concept behind Sabbath observation. Margin also leaves room for unexpected interruptions and unforeseen emergencies. (Exodus 34:21)

  6. Review your goals.

    Zig Ziglar once said, “Don’t count the stuff you do, do the stuff that counts.” Make sure the goals you’re pursuing line up with your core priorities and values. Remind yourself of these things often, and stay focused on what’s really important. (Philippians 3:13-14)

  7. Work fresh.

    If you’re a morning person, get up early and tackle important tasks then. If you do better in the evening after little ones are in bed and the house is quiet, then be a productive night owl. When your energy starts to sag, take a break (or take a nap). Go for a jog, grab a cup of tea, or catch forty winks, then return to work with renewed vitality and clear thinking. (Proverbs 31:15-18)

  8. Rethink perfectionism.

    Perfectionism is often at odds with productivity. In fact, sometimes perfectionism can be downright paralyzing. I’m all for pursuing excellence, but some of our responsibilities warrant less attention to detail than others. We must tend to trivial tasks quickly and efficiently if we want to have the time and energy we’ll need to do our most important work well. (Matthew 23:23)

  9. Put On Some Music.

    For physical labor, tune into something upbeat and energizing; if you’re doing mental work, try something calming and classical. Listening to music in the OR improves surgeons’ job performance, and the same principle may hold true for you. (2 Chronicles 5:13)

  10. Forgive those who wrong you.

    Don’t harbor bitterness or nurse grudges. You’ll waste a lot of valuable time perseverating over past offenses. Fully forgive offenders: just let it go and move on. (Colossians 3:13)

  11. Turn off the T.V.

    The average American watches five hours of television a day. If you fall into that category, flip the switch. You can pack a lot of productivity into five hours a day. When you’re on your deathbed, I guarantee you won’t be lamenting, “Why, oh why, didn’t I ever watch that last season of Survivor?” (Psalm 101:3)

  12. Work offline.

    I don’t know about you, but I find it terribly distracting when I’m trying to work to receive a constant stream of bells, whistles, dings, and other alerts notifying me about new emails, texts, tweets, and Facebook messages. I make a lot more progress on my writing when I turn off the wireless connection to do it. Likewise, anytime I need to focus on a task at hand (like schooling my children) with minimal interruptions, I leave my iPhone on my nightstand, my laptop on my desk, and let the answering machine deal with any calls that come across the land line. (Hebrews 12:1)

  13. Brainstorm.

    Got a problem? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If something isn’t working, try a new approach. Don’t just keep doing what you’ve always done, expecting better results next time. (Wasn’t that Einstein’s definition of insanity?) What are you trying to accomplish? How can you make it happen? Unleash your creativity. Dream big. Then come up with a plan to accomplish those dreams. (Proverbs 16:1)

  14. Set a timer.

    Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work that needs to be done? Break it down into manageable chunks. Set a timer for ten (or twenty or thirty) minutes, delve in with gusto, and see how much you can knock out before the buzzer sounds. (Proverbs 13:4)

  15. Work ahead.

    If looming deadlines stress you out, pace yourself. Start early and give yourself plenty of time to finish the task without rushing. My sister has successfully used this strategy since grade school, and I’ve seldom ever seen her flustered. (Luke 14:28-30)

  16. Harness adrenaline.

    If you work well under pressure, capitalize on that fact. Tack as many extras onto your “to do” list as you can think of, then race the clock to see how many you can finish before time is up. I do this whenever we host a party. My “must do’s” (send invites, clean house, prepare food) are invariably followed by a slew of “want to’s” (paint kitchen, redo landscaping, sew curtains, clean attic). I never finish everything on the extended list before the guests arrive, but I usually accomplish far more than those few items on my short list. (Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 3:20-21)

  17. Multi-task wisely.

    Sometimes doing two things at once is smart and efficient: If you have a long daily commute, it makes good sense to listen audio-books or language tapes while driving. If you’re facing a long wait at the doctor’s office, by all means bring along a book to read or some knitting to do or some papers to grade. At other times, however, multi-tasking is foolish, dangerous, or just plain rude: Texting while driving? Not smart. Checking stocks in the middle of church services? Don’t do it. Perusing Facebook during family dinners? Think again. Pocket your phone and connect with the people seated around your table instead. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)

  18. Be Polite.

    Show kindness and consideration to everyone. Be as helpful to others as possible. Be generous with your time and money. It may sound counterintuitive, but showing uncommon courtesy is not only right and good from an ethical standpoint, it is also smart and savvy from an efficiency standpoint. Sure, it requires a little extra time and effort upfront, but it pays off in the long run. When you are terse and rude and cold toward others, not only are they disinclined to help you, but they’ll often work actively against you. You will be thwarted at every step, and everything you try to accomplish will be undermined by your own insolence. By contrast, when you are warm and caring and helpful toward others, that kindness will neither go unnoticed nor unrewarded. What goes around, comes around. We reap what we sow. (Proverbs 19:17; 2 Corinthians 9:6)

  19. Say a prayer.

    Although I’m ending my list with this, prayer should really be our starting point. Martin Luther’s approach to an unusually busy day was not to skimp on his quiet time with the Lord, but to extend it: “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.” He knew his only hope for accomplishing everything on his agenda was divine empowerment. I don’t think in all my life I’ve ever spent three continuous hours on my knees, but I can testify that my days do go more smoothly, and far more gets done by the end of them, when I begin my mornings with Bible study and prayer. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Those are my tips for being more productive. What helpful hints would you add to this list?

A Mother’s Job Description

A Mother's Job Description - 4 Habits that Will Help You Raise Happy Children| Loving Life at HomeIt’s really something we all should be doing. But when I came across this verse in my Bible reading a couple of weeks ago, it dawned on me that 1 Thessalonians 5:14 provides a particularly apt job description for mothers:

“We urge you [to] admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

Doesn’t that about sum it up? Aren’t these the very things that God calls and expects a mother to do each and every day?

  1. Admonish the unruly

    Children of all ages can act a little headstrong and ill-behaved from time to time. When they do, a mother should stand ready to admonish them — not out of anger or irritation or exasperation, but out of love, always keeping her children’s best interest at heart. She must correct, counsel, and caution them against continuing in that vein. To do otherwise is to be guilty of negligence.

    “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)

  2. Encourage the fainthearted

    Growing up is hard work, and children need a lot of motivation and morale-boosting. As a mother, we should be our child’s first and best cheerleader, offering a healthy balance of enthusiasm and empathy. We should view every day as a new opportunity to invest in our children’s inner lives and to inspire them to greatness.

    “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

  3. Help the weak

    Women are nurturers by nature. Helping the weak is what we do. This is especially evident when it comes to mothering. But we must be mindful to help in a way that doesn’t perpetuate weakness, but builds strength. Our goal is not to raise big children, but mature, responsible adults. We help our kids best when we teach them to help themselves and empower them to help others.

    “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10)

  4. Be patient with everyone

    Be patient. With everyone. Did you notice the exception clause? Neither did I. The Bible doesn’t say we should be patient with everyone except the toddler who’s pitching a fit or the teen who’s copping an attitude or the son who’s begging to play on the computer after you’ve already told him “no” ten times. Neither is impatience excused if we’re dog-tired or running late or stressed out or stuck in traffic. No, our goal — even when admonishing the unruly (see #1) — is to maintain patience at all times, toward all people, in all circumstances. Period.

    “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

While these four principles sound simple enough, it’s a challenge to live by them consistently, isn’t it? Yet the latter part of this passage provides a clue as to how we might do so. It bids us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17)

This, I believe, is the secret to success in parenting (or any other endeavor): Stay positive and stay on your knees. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. That is key.

So what sort of things would you add to the list on a mother’s job description? Did any of those requirements throw you for a loop when you first became a mother?

50 Life Lessons I’ve Learned the Hard Way

50 Life Lessons I've Learned the Hard WayKnowledge gained through trial and error may be the hardest earned, but it’s usually the longest remembered.

Last year I posted 7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned from My Husband, so now I’d like to share a few life lessons I’ve learned on my own. Some of these truths were acquired by accident, some due to ignorance, some because of stubbornness, but each and every lesson was learned the hard way.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the mistakes I’ve ever made. These are just the ones that immediately sprang to mind when I sat down to write this post. I’m normally a quick study — once was enough to convince me I didn’t want to make most of these mistakes a second time — but I confess it took a few repetitions before I got the message on a handful of the following maxims.

So I offer you fifty gems of practical wisdom, all gained through firsthand experience. It’s less painful to learn from someone else’s mistakes instead of making your own, so if you want to spare yourself unnecessary anguish, take note:

  1. Don’t say anything in front of a five-year-old that doesn’t bear repeating.
  2. In the eyes of a police officer, a “rolling stop” does not count as a stop at all.
  3. Never use your teeth to pry the cap off a coke bottle.
  4. Listen to your mother. She’s lived longer than you, and she’s not just talking to hear herself speak.
  5. Don’t sit down in a cow pasture without first checking the ground for fresh patties.
  6. Never play Twister with a full bladder.
  7. Pack an extra change of clothes for slumber parties (especially if you’ll be playing Twister while you’re there).
  8. Don’t ignore the engine light. If it comes on while you’re driving, pull over immediately and call your dad.
  9. Don’t circle your answers if the teacher told you to underline them.
  10. It may not seem fair, but you can actually fail a test for not following instructions, even if you get all the answers correct.
  11. If a baked potato has been sitting at room temperature for more than three hours, don’t eat it.
  12. When biking down steep hills, don’t apply the front brakes without simultaneously applying the back. And wear a helmet.
  13. If you’re no good at gymnastics, pick something else to do for the fifth grade talent show.
  14. Fair-skinned redheads should wear sunscreen at the beach. Or a turtleneck. Or both.
  15. When you jump off the high dive, check to make sure your swimsuit is still covering everything it’s supposed to cover before you climb out of the pool.
  16. If all the boys in your sixth grade class are at the deep end watching, stay away from the high dive altogether.
  17. Confirm that your ice maker is plugged in and turned on before calling a repairman.
  18. Don’t take an antihistamine when you’re nursing, if you want to keep nursing.
  19. Don’t teach a three-year-old how to operate the paper shredder.
  20. If your spouse teaches your three-year-old how to operate the paper shredder, lock up all important papers or irreplaceable files immediately and hide the key.
  21. Make sure your three-year-old doesn’t see where you hide it.
  22. Lift with your legs, not with your back.
  23. Never tell a lie, even if you know the truth will get you in trouble.
  24. Going eighteen months without getting pregnant does not mean it’s time to cancel your maternity coverage.
  25. Never store your maxi pads where your toddler can reach them.
  26. Always double-check the bathroom before letting a guest use it (especially if your toddler knows where you store your maxi-pads).
  27. If you find yourself in a turn-only lane, turn.
  28. Don’t hang all the ornaments on the same side of the Christmas tree.
  29. The longer your hair, the more important that you put it up while preparing food. Especially if a gas grill is involved.
  30. Anytime you go anywhere with children, call roll and count heads. Twice.
  31. When pulling forward out of a parking space, don’t turn too early. Let your front tires clear the car parked next to you first.
  32. If your pediatrician’s nurse tells you to leave your baby undressed until the doctor comes in to examine him, go ahead and put his diaper back on while you wait.
  33. Be careful what you pray for.
  34. Don’t assume a person who works at a beauty salon has any haircutting experience. She may normally just shampoo, so check.
  35. Those adorable shoes on the clearance rack are no bargain if they’re two sizes too small. If you don’t want blisters, leave them for someone with smaller feet.
  36. Chain-link fences are no match for a two-year-old determined to get on the other side of it.
  37. Always read the fine print.
  38. Butter toffee peanuts are not your friend, even if they do come packaged in sturdy, square, reusable containers that fit perfectly in the rack on your pantry door. The extra pounds will remain on your thighs much, much longer than the makeshift canisters will stay in your kitchen.
  39. Turn off the electricity before replacing a light switch.
  40. Never feed fried mozzarella to a two-year-old. Or cake donuts.
  41. Don’t jump in the deep end unless you know how to swim.
  42. Before leaving home for church, restaurants, or extended vacations, check your children’s feet for shoes and socks. Just because they’ve piled into the van and claim to be ready to go does not mean they’re not barefoot.
  43. Make sure the dishes in the dishwasher are clean before you put them away.
  44. It is physically impossible to separate two dogs in the act of mating, so don’t bother trying. Your children (and husband) will be much more traumatized by watching your failed attempts to get that stray mutt out of your yard than by observing nature take its course.
  45. After eating anything with poppy seeds or peppercorns, check your teeth before smiling at your date to the drama banquet. Or at his ex-girlfriend who’s seated across the table from you.
  46. Never wash a load of laundry without first checking all pockets for gum. Or Sharpie markers. Or advance purchase movie tickets. Or cell phones.
  47. Don’t let your three-year-old play with your iPhone if your Twitter account isn’t password protected (or if she’s wearing jeans with deep pockets).
  48. Don’t make your husband wait until you’re in the mood. For many women, the mood rarely hits until we’re in the middle of the act, and we’d miss out completely if we made that a prerequisite.
  49. Never use a ballpoint pen to write 38 pages of notes in the dark on the legal pad you keep beside your bed for brainstorms that come in the night. The pen could run out of ink halfway through, and you wouldn’t know it until daybreak. Use a pencil, instead.
  50. Preferably one with a lead.

I could go on… but considering my pencil lead was broken and I didn’t know it, I think I’ll stop there.

What are some lessons you’ve learned the hard way? Please share. I’m in the mood to learn from somebody else’s mistakes, instead of my own.

Best Breastfeeding Practices for New Moms

Best Breastfeeding Practices for New Moms
My littlest one celebrated her third birthday today, and it has me feeling a bit nostalgic. Although she weaned over a year ago (and is such a big girl now!), I’m over at our family website today sharing some of my favorite things to do while breastfeeding a baby. I hope you’ll come visit me there!

25 Ways to Raise Capable, Confident Children

25 Ways to Raise Confident, Capable ChildrenThe fourth of our twelve children will be leaving the nest in another couple of months, and it has my husband and me reexamining the job we have done (thus far) raising our children.

Of course, we’ve made lots of mistakes (that’s another post for another day), but by the abundant grace of God (and by following the great example that our own parents modeled for us), there are many things we’ve done right — things we want to make sure we continue to do as we train up the remaining eight children still under our care.

And so I offer you “25 Ways to Raise Capable, Confident Children.” These are in no particular order, beyond the first, which should be our starting point in every endeavor:

  1. Pray without Ceasing:
    Parenting is one of the most demanding (and most rewarding) jobs any of us will ever do. As such, it requires an extra measure of wisdom from above, as well as strength, endurance, and consistency. Pray for yourself, but pray also for and with your children. The best parenting practices in the world will fall flat apart from God’s blessing. Pray that He will soften your children’s heart, that He’ll give them a teachable spirit, that He’ll begin this work early, and that He’ll be faithful to complete it, as He promises in His word. (Philippians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:17)
  2. Clearly Define the Rules:
    Make sure your children know what you expect of them, then oblige them to obey cheerfully and completely. Well-established and consistently-enforced boundaries are both a protection and a comfort. Do not allow children to disregard the rules without consequence, or to speak to parents (or anyone else) in a disrespectful manner. Bad behavior should be penalized and good behavior should be rewarded. (Ephesians 6:1)
  3. Teach Them to Listen:
    Everything in life comes more easily to a child who knows how to pay attention. Fortunately, listening is a skill which can be practiced from infancy — train your baby to track your voice as you call his name from one side then the other, play “Simon Says” with your toddler, insist that your energetic grade-schooler stand still and make eye contact when you are giving him instructions, call your teen by name and use a key phrase (such as, “Listen to my words…”) to communicate the fact that what you are about to say is important and should be taken to heart. (Proverbs 4:1)
  4. Bid Them Be Happy:
    Cultivate contentment in your children, and you will all live happily ever after. No whining allowed! If you make certain your child’s whining is never rewarded, he will cease to do it. Conversely, when you give in to whining, you reward and reinforce the very behavior that drives most of us crazy and thereby encourage your kids to whine all the more. Of course, it should go without saying that we need to maintain a happy, positive attitude ourselves. The irony of an enraged parent screaming at a child, “Why can’t you just be happy?” is not lost, even on very small children.(Philippians 2:14)
  5. Nurture Your Marriage:
    One of the most important things a father can do for his children is to love their mother, and vice versa. If you are married, do all that you can to invest in and safeguard that relationship. Let your children know that you are 100% committed to making sure your marriage lasts. Kids who are given cause to doubt that fact spend a lot of emotional and psychological energy worrying that their parents may divorce (then feeling somehow responsible when they do). This can completely undermine a child’s sense of stability and security and will often sidetrack the normal development of confidence and competency in multiple areas. (Mark 10:7-9)
  6. Show Them You Care:
    Dr. Anthony Witham once said, “Children spell love T-I-M-E,” and it is true. Spend time with your kids, individually (use errands as an opportunity for one-on-one time) and as a group. Get excited about the things that excite or fascinate them. Take delight in their company, and let them see that delight in you eyes and your smile and your manner. Children need quality and quantity time, so give them plenty of both. There is no substitute for your intentional, fully-invested presence in the life of your child. (Isaiah 49:15)
  7. Put Them to Work:
    Assign household chores. Give them real and increasing responsibility from as young an age as possible. Kids who do chores grow up to be more successful than those who don’t. One of the most important lessons you can teach your child is to work hard and to take pleasure in a job well done. (Colossians 3:23)
  8. Enjoy Them at Play:
    Regularly enter into your child’s world of play. Take pleasure in relaxing with your children, especially after they’ve spent time working alongside you. Get up a rousing game of catch or tag or Spoons or Scrabble. Shoot hoops in the driveway or toss a frisbee at the park. Work a puzzle together. Teach your child how to play chess or bridge or dominoes. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
  9. Encourage Them to Try New Things:
    Expose your children to as broad a range of experience as you are able: music, sports, travel, missions, charity, social and cultural events, etc. This will furnish them with a more well-rounded view of the world and will hopefully make it easier for them to find their place in it. Give them the freedom and the tools to pursue the things that pique their interest. Let them know that by God’s grace, they can do anything they set their minds to. (Philippians 4:13)
  10. Point Them to Scripture:
    Let the Word of God permeate, influence, and inform every facet of family life. Read the Word of God to your children. Teach it to them diligently. Memorize it as a family. This is something that comes especially easy to children, so take advantage of that fact! Hide God’s Word in your heart. (Deuteronomy 11:18-21, Psalm 119:11)
  11. Protect Them from Harm:
    Vigilantly guard your kids against harmful influences, as well as physical threats. This is fairly easy when they are little, while you still enjoy complete control over their schedules, you pick all their friends for them, and they have not yet discovered a way around those child-proof locks (a skill some kids acquire at an exasperatingly young age). This task becomes more challenging, though no less important, as children grow older and begin to make most choices themselves. Even then, parents should be aware of the company their children keep, the movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the websites they frequent — not for the purpose of micro-managing or being legalistic (that plan will backfire, for sure), but in order to discuss freely and frankly any potential hazards of which parents are aware. (Ezekiel 33:6, Proverbs 4:14-15)
  12. Help Them Stay Healthy:
    Work to establish good habits in the areas of diet, sleep, exercise, and hygiene. Feed your children square meals, and if you want to nourish their souls as well as their bodies, preserve the family dinner hour. Use it as an opportunity to discuss and dissect the day’s events, both within your family circle and in the world at large. Teens whose families eat dinner together at least five times per week are far less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or engage in other risky behavior. They also tend to eat more fruit and vegetables then children in families who do not consistently dine together.
  13. Give Them Good Manners:
    Common courtesy and respect are no longer as common as they ought to be. Teach your children to say “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” “you’re welcome,” “yes, ma’m,” and “no, sir.” Well-behaved kids are such a novelty these days. Good manners make a young person stand out in a crowd in a more memorable way than the wildest tattoo or body piercing can ever do. (1 Timothy 4:12)
  14. Read Them Great Books:
    Read well-written and beautifully illustrated picture books aloud to your children when they are little, yes, but continue to read engaging novels, inspiring biographies, and thought-provoking non-fiction aloud, even after they grow too big for your lap. Children are never too old to be read to, so choose well and discuss at length. Sharing books together this way is the surest way to foster in your kids a lifetime love for reading, which itself opens whole new worlds of knowledge and experience to them. Thanks to public libraries, this is a practice even the poorest of families can afford.
  15. Equip Them to Lead:
    Stress the importance of integrity, humility, self-discipline, and willingness to stand alone. Model servant-leadership, and challenge them to follow Christ’s example, who came not to be served, but to serve. Encourage them to take initiative and do things that need to be done without being asked. (Mark 10:45, Philippians 2:3-8)
  16. Treat Them with Understanding:
    Kids are people, too! Be patient with your children and treat them with kindness. Do not be unnecessarily harsh with them, and be quick to forgive when they repent of wrongdoing. Be sympathetic. Try to remember what it was like to be in their shoes.(Ephesians 6:4, Ephesians 4:32)
  17. Turn Off the TV:
    Set reasonable limits on screen time of any sort, including but not limited to television, computers, smart phones, tablets, and video games. It would probably be both unrealistic and impractical to attempt to eliminate all electronic media usage from our homes, but any child who spends 53 hours a week staring at a screen could probably find something more productive to do with much of that time. (Psalm 90:12)
  18. Inspire Good Sportsmanship:
    Teach them to lose with grace and to win with humility, conscious that their natural talents and abilities are gifts from above. Stress the importance of always playing fairly and if you must err, err in favor of your opponent. Better to lose the game than to be thought a cheater. (Philippians 2:15)
  19. Lead Them by Example:
    Model for your children the character and behavior you wish them to exhibit, but do not pretend to be perfect (or expect your children to be). Be honest about personal flaws and quick to admit mistakes, apologizing and asking your children’s forgiveness when you wrong them. (1 John 1:8-10)
  20. Train Them to Think:
    Education is more than regurgitating facts; our kids must also learn to reason and to think through things on their own. We can ask questions of them to help the process along (Socratic method), but we must not shy away from their asking questions of us, as well. Anticipate, encourage, and answer their inquiries in a way that is intellectually honest, morally upright, scientifically accurate, and neither defensive nor overly-dramatic. And for those questions for which we have no good answer? Admit you don’t know, then pray about the matter and search for a solution together. (Jeremiah 33:3)
  21. Grant Them Some Space:
    Beginning with letting your two-year-old choose what she wants to wear, allow your children to make their own decisions whenever possible, and be supportive of their choices. You can offer your kids guidance and encouragement without smothering and micromanaging them. But be forewarned: Their thoughts, tastes, and values may not always line up with yours 100%, which is okay. They are individuals and are entitled to have their own hopes and dreams and opinions. Parents can reserve the right to overrule younger children whenever they deem it necessary, but as your kids grow, look for ways they can express their individuality in a manner that is acceptable to both of you. (Romans 14:5)
  22. Bless Your Children:
    Let your sons and daughters know that you are proud of them. Don’t get so focused on correcting your children when they do wrong that you forget to praise them when they do right. Our kids never outgrow the need for approval and affirmation, so give it freely. (Genesis 27:34)
  23. Don’t Overreact:
    Whether your toddler takes a spill while learning to walk or your grade-schooler makes a C on his spelling test or your teenager makes a wrong turn while learning to drive, swallow your fears. Remember that we ALL have mishaps and we ALL make mistakes — surely this one is not the end of the world. Don’t be negligent and reckless, but don’t be hovering and over-protective either. Keep calm and carry on! Take failures in stride and don’t give in to worrying.(Philippians 4:6)
  24. Entrust Them to God:
    Instill in your children a clear vision of what they can accomplish for God’s glory. Do your best to give them an eternal perspective. Pass them the baton. Our kids are in His hands: only by His grace do any of our efforts succeed.
  25. Let Them Grow Up:
    Our ultimate goal is not to raise oversized children, but to raise mature, responsible adults. This will not happen overnight. Neither can you expect to cling tightly until the day your child turns 18 (or 21 or 30), and then let go all at once. It is a gradual process, like the letting out of kite string. Keep a firm hold on the end while they are younger, yes, but be willing to spool out the thread smoothly and steadily as needed. (Proverbs 22:6, Luke 16:10)
  26. So that’s my list. Is there anything you would add? Leave off? What types of things have you found most helpful in raising capable, confident children?

Consistency is Key

Establishing New HabitsLast January, I wrote about the different approach I was trying for my 2012 New Year’s resolutions. I purposed to work on one new habit at a time and allow it to become firmly established before moving on to another.

Although I never got around to blogging about my progress as planned, it’s not because the experiment didn’t work. It did. But I stayed so busy plugging away at those goals that little time was left for documenting my success.

I may not have built all twenty-four habits I was aiming for, but I achieved many of them, and made decent progress on the others, as well: I read my Bible every single day and finished it in a year. I lost 30 pounds and kept them off for six months (so far) through daily exercise and calorie tracking. I invested daily in my marriage (which really makes our whole family happy, but especially my husband). I taught two more of my children to read. I’ve gleaned and tried lots of new ideas online for projects, crafts, recipes, and organization. I remembered family birthdays in time to get cards or packages signed, sealed and delivered on or before the big day. And I tried to economize in every way I could (although other family members sometime work against me on that one :-)).

The key to developing any new habit is consistency.

When we chip away daily at our goals, little by little, the results add up over time. Today’s technology makes it even easier to make steady, measurable progress. Here are seven eight online aps and resources that helped me stay consistent last year in the above mentioned areas:

  • Bible Reading Calendar – I love this free one-year Bible reading plan. It gives you a variety of passages all week (history on Mondays, poetry on Wednesdays, gospels on Saturdays, etc), so that you don’t get bogged down in the book of Leviticus for a solid month. You can even sign up to receive each day’s reading delivered directly by email.
  • Lose It! – This free app makes tracking calories almost effortless. It lets you scan barcodes, search for restaurant or brand name items, choose from previously eaten foods, or add recipe ingredients to create your own food. And if you, like I, tend to eat the same foods over and over, you can duplicate the calories consumed in an entire meal with a single click. The program calculates how many calories you should consume based on your current weight, age, activity level, and weight loss goals, and also keeps track of calories burned through exercise.
  • TTapp – After reading how a fellow homeschooling mother of twelve lost 100+ pounds by doing TTapp, I knew I had to investigate. And am I ever so glad I did! It only takes 15 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week to see amazing results. I lost 30 pounds last year using Teresa Tapp’s Total Body Core DVD and hope to lose another 40 this year. You can see Teresa’s signature move, the “Hoe Down” on YouTube. I know it looks deceptively easy, but just do a couple of sets and see how quickly it will get your heart rate up. My little 2-year-old likes TTapping, too. She looks so adorable doing hoe downs and lunges!
  • Love Your Husband on Facebook – This is a page I manage on Facebook, packed with marriage-building how-to and encouragement in the form of marriage quotes, interesting statistics, beautiful graphics, handy printables, thought-provoking polls, and links to helpful articles from across the web. We’d love for you to come join in the conversation. Just click the “Like” box in the righthand margin of this page to sign up.
  • Funnix Reading – I got a free beta-copy of this program for an old computer two years ago and enjoyed immediate success with it. It is based on the same program we used for our older children (TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ IN 100 EASY LESSONS), but is much more colorful and fun. When we changed computers and I had to purchase a new copy, I was pleased to see how reasonably-priced it was, but would have paid even more for it as by that time I’d seen how well it works. I even bought an extra copy for my daughter-in-law to use with my grandsons. It is easy to teach two or more children simultaneously using this program, which cuts down on my instruction time as well. Funnix gets six thumbs up from us!
  • Pinterest – If you’ve never checked out this virtual pinboard, you should, if only to bookmark sites you wish to revisit or articles you’ll want to re-read. There is a wealth of information available on Pinterest. I love the fact that I can find detailed tutorials for doing just about anything I want to do on Pinterest? My girls and I have gleaned great ideas and completed countless Pinterest projects this year.
  • Birthday Alarm – I’m sure there are lots of this kind of reminder service available online, but I like Birthday Alarm because it’s free and it allows me to plug in the birthdays I want to remember manually, so I don’t have to pester my friends and family with email requests to fill out forms (and don’t have to divulge anybody’s email address but my own to use the service). Reminders are sent one week, then again three days in advance of each birthday, enough advance notice to drop a card in the mail or a gift ordered and delivered. To add dates by hand, click on “Add Birthdays,” then choose “Other Options” at the bottom of the page, then scroll to the very bottom of the next page and choose “add birthdays manually.”
  • Ebates – This is a free shopping portal that will pay you cash back on almost every online purchase you make. Shopping with Ebates was already a well-established habit in my own life, but I’ve been trying to train the rest of my family to use it, too. Simply go to Ebates and click through from there to the merchant you want to shop. Unfortunately, Amazon books does not participate, but just about every other store our family shops online does, including Target, Walmart, Payless Shoes, Office Depot, Eddie Bauer, 123 Inks, Home Depot, Linens ‘N Things, etc. Cash payouts are made quarterly.

And that about sums up my list of favorite apps and resources. What sorts of things have you found helpful in maintaining consistency and working toward your goals? Leave a comment below and tell us about them!

New Year’s Resolutions We All Should Make

New Year's ResolutionsI’m all for making lists of specific goals, but sometimes general reminders are in order, as well. Try posting these objectives on a bulletin board and reviewing them daily until they become automatic responses. (For a free printable copy, click here.)

1. Smile More

2. Spend Less

3. Stay Active

4. Don’t Worry

5. Eat Smarter

6. Pray Harder

7. Hug Your Loved Ones

8. Count Your Blessings

9. Listen Before Speaking

10. Admit When You’re Wrong

Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and productive New Year. Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you’ll visit often in 2013!

7 Reasons to Prioritize Sex in Marriage

Here’s a handy chart that details just a few of the myriad benefits available to couples who choose not to neglect marital intimacy. I’ve addressed these remarks to wives because (1) I am writing to women in the spirit of Titus 2:3-5 and (2) when evaluating the importance of sex in marriage, women have historically required a little more convincing then men.

Of course, there are exceptions to almost every rule, so if you’re dealing with a disinterested husband, show this list to him, since rekindling that fire will benefit him as much as it will you.

It should also be noted that when sex is pursued outside the context of marriage, many of these benefits are negated or even reversed. Promiscuity and infidelity increase your susceptibility to disease, cause premature aging, erode trust and stability in marriage, and promote unhealthy attitudes towards sex and marriage in children, to name just a few.

You’ll find details on all the studies cited above (and more!) in my book, LOVE YOUR HUSBAND/ LOVE YOURSELF.

Which of the seven benefits mentioned in this infographic do you find most appealing? Most convicting?

7 Life Lessons I’ve Learned From My Husband

I’m telling my age to admit it, but my first computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100. Back in the early 80′s, all incoming freshmen at Dallas Baptist University were required to buy one and to take a class that would teach us to use it.

Nevertheless, it was not until I met my future husband (three years and countless computer-printed assignments later) that I learned anything about the machine’s text-wrapping capabilities. For six long semesters, I’d kept a furtive watch on the LCD display and hit “return” every time the curser got close to the right-hand side of the screen, a holdover habit from years spent using a manual typewriter.

Within days of our first meeting, however, Doug observed my unusual approach to word processing and gently informed me that, if I would just keep typing, the text would automatically bump down to the next line without my doing anything to make it happen.

That one little pointer saved me massive amounts of time, completely revolutionized the way I did homework, and contributed even further to my rapidly growing affection for the guy I’d eventually marry.

What’s more, this was but the first of innumerable things he would teach me. Subsequent lessons have ranged from the practical (how to change the oil in my car, how to serve a volleyball, how to fend off an armed attacker) to the profound (how should our faith influence our actions? what does it mean to serve God with our whole heart? how can we most effectively communicate His love to others?).

Some of these concepts are just too good to keep to myself, so I’ve decided to publish seven of my favorites in a series of posts devoted to the “Life Lessons I’ve Learned from My Husband.” You’ll find a brief synopsis of each listed below:

  1. Keep Your Eyes on the Ball -
    You must stay focused on your goals if you ever hope to reach them.
  2. Laughter is Good Medicine -
    A sense of humor makes good times more pleasant and bad times more bearable.
  3. You Can Learn a Lot by Reading Fiction -
    I used to think that reading fiction was a waste of time; now I know otherwise.
  4. Perfectionism Is a Trap -
    There are lots of areas in life where “good enough” should be good enough.
  5. Always Tip Your Waiter Well -
    Good service deserves it; poor service will be improved by it.
  6. God Wants the Whole Pie -
    He’ll never be satisfied with a single piece, no matter how big or promptly offered.
  7. It’s Only Money -
    Our security rests in God, not in the numbers on our bank statement.

I hope you’ll come back to read the full post for each point (which I’ll be publishing weekly), and that you will be as richly blessed as I have by these life-changing lessons.

If you’d prefer to have these posts delivered directly to your inbox, you may sign-up for a free email subscription in the the sidebar on the right (scroll up to see it). Please do :)

Go to LIFE LESSON #1 >>