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A Marriage Post, Part 2

My friends, first let me say thank you. I didn’t anticipate such a big response to my last post, but you have blessed me beyond measure with your encouragement. After pushing “publish,” I went to bed with much anxiety for being so transparent with you about our marriage. I’m so glad that we are not the only ones who have walked this road. Be encouraged that you are not the only ones who have walked or are walking it either. 

I thought it'd be fun to add pictures of us through the years to these posts. This is prom, circa 2003. Apparently I was really happy about it.

I thought it’d be fun to add pictures of us through the years to these posts. This is prom, circa 2003. Apparently I was really happy about it.

When Micah was an infant, he slept for 45 minutes at a time. All. Night. Long. Not only did he wake every 45 minutes, he only fell back asleep by being walked, bounced, or rocked and sung to, which often took about 25 minutes. Add that up to mean I slept in 20 minute segments all night until my son was six months old.

Once he slept for three hours straight, and when I woke up, I felt like I could run a marathon. And once, when he was nine months old, he refused to go back to sleep by screaming so much that he threw up all over the bed. And by that, I mean, he threw up all over my bed. Being the organized, prepared person that I am, we had neither clean sheets nor clean extra blankets to use, so we did what any other family in our situation would do – we loaded up the car and waited in the Cracker Barrel parking lot for thirty minutes until they opened at 6am.

But I digress.

You can imagine what the lack of sleep did to us as people. Now imagine what it did to us as a couple. It threw gasoline on our competition. It provided fodder for nasty under-our-breath comments and subtle accusations. You know, that’s probably where my Morning Monster persona began. In any case, sleep was a huge issue.

One day Davy got the brilliant idea of trying to pray for our son to sleep. What?! Pray for sleep?! It sounded too simple, but we were desperate. So we committed to praying together every night for his sleep. As I look back, that moment we came together before the Lord was the moment things started to change in our marriage for the better because we had both reached the end of ourselves. We had no more ideas, and we had no more fight in us to blame one another for something beyond our control. We relinquished the control, threw ourselves flat on our faces, and cried out in desperation. Here’s the miracle: it worked. Micah started sleeping better. No, he didn’t start sleeping through the night (the truth is that he never slept through the night until he was 2 and didn’t start doing it consistently until he was 4), but he started sleeping enough for us to recognize that God answered our prayers. And that was a game changer.

It almost sounds crazy, but when we get to an impasse in conflict or desperation in our marriages, the most effective thing to do is to stop talking to each other. The most effective thing to do is first get on our knees, side by side, and throw that disagreement heavenward. Because when we come together before God, both equally acknowledging our own individual need for God to intervene in our lives and work in our own hearts, we make room for Him to come work between us. It levels us. We are no longer two Inflated Egos with enough heat to incinerate each other. Instead, we are two people bowing before an Almighty and Sovereign God. And if you’ve ever experienced that, you know it’s sobering.

Here’s the thing, though. We have to be humble. Remember this guy?

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. (Luke 18:10-14)

Ok, so I’m going to just go ahead and admit it. When I’m reading a book or blog post and I come upon a long scripture like that, I usually skim it or skip it. Shame, shame on me! So if you’re like me and you just skipped over that verse, I’ll give you a second to go back and read it. We’re all about grace and second chances here. So…go ahead.

Ready? Good. Cause I wasn’t going to give you a third chance. I’m not holy enough to have that much patience yet.

It does us no good to pray together with self righteousness toward the other person like that Pharisee. He was so consumed with all the good he had done, and with all the bad that the tax collector must be, that God did not justify him. God knows I have tons of junk in my own heart to deal with, so why come before Him and put up a front like I’m so much better than Davy? No matter how much I’m putting in or how good I am, God knows that deep down I am still a sinner. In the same token, I’m neither responsible for Davy’s hangups, nor is it my job to stand before God and accuse Davy of everything I think is wrong with him. I’m responsible for my own heart, my own actions, my own choices. Like I tell my kids almost every day, the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control, not Micah-control, Norah-control, Davy-control, or control over any other person. So when we come together to pray, I have to use that self-control to choose to humble myself and acknowledge before God that I’m struggling, that I’m hurt, that I’m dealing with a bunch of junk, and let God work in me. 

Things started to change in our marriage after we began praying for Micah to sleep because we humbly began to allow God’s work in our own hearts. He answered our prayers for sleep, but He went beyond that and answered our hearts’ cries for wholeness and health toward each other. In those moments of bickering and anger, we allowed exhaustion to take the blame for our problems toward one another. But the truth is that we had selfishness and sin in our hearts. Coming together on a platform of praying for sleep opened the door for us to actually get healing and for God to begin to cleanse that ugliness from the inside out.

So here’s the point of this post. A praying marriage is a strong marriage. It may not be strong immediately. It may be an uphill climb, but consistently coming before God humbly and agreeing with one another that we can’t move forward without His help and guidance, will produce a strength that is unparalleled. I can’t tell you how many times we have seen tangible change in our relationship and our circumstances by committing to pray together every day. By recognizing together that we need God, that we don’t have all the answers, that we can’t come to a resolution or have any solutions on our own, we have seen God work incredible things in our lives. Like when we couldn’t, for the life of us, get Norah to stop trying to scratch Micah’s eyes out when she got mad. Like when we were in a job crisis and had to decide if Davy should dissolve his company and look for work elsewhere or move forward in his business on faith. Like when I was experiencing some troubling health problems and we couldn’t find a doctor who could give me answers. Life has thrown us some scary and interesting and confusing things, but God consistently comes through when we pray together. It has left us in awe.

Who needs candlelight when you have computerlight?

Who needs candlelight when you have computerlight?

So here’s my challenge to you: for the next thirty days, commit to praying together with your spouse for one thing. It can be small or big. It can be an issue in your relationship, with your kids, in work, in health, whatever. Come together humbly, acknowledging your need for God to intervene, and see what happens. He may not answer your prayers like you anticipate, but I know that He will meet you. He is good, and He is a rewarder of those who seek Him will all of their hearts.

(Feel free to take this challenge or leave it, but if you take it, I would love to hear how God has moved in your marriage!)

Like I said in the beginning, I am only an expert on my own marriage. Everybody’s relationship is different, and I can’t even begin to understand all the intricacies and history of your own story. But one thing remains true for all of us: God is faithful, and when we humbly bring our relationships to Him, He can work beautiful miracles.

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Almost 15 years later…

Davy and I are coming up on our 9th anniversary tomorrow, June 10. This is amazing in itself, but we also had five and a half years of dating behind us before we tied the knot. You know, at the ripe old ages of 20 and 21.

That’s a lot of numbers in just a few sentences. So for those of us who do not like math, Davy and I have been together for 14 and a half years. This is half of my life. From this year on, I will have been with Davy longer than I will have been without him. And you know what? That’s exactly how I like my life. I don’t always brag, but when I do, it’s about my incredibly awesome husband.

This is our first date, Homecoming 2001. The only reason I was allowed to go was because we "promised" my dad we were only going as "special friends."

This is our first date, Homecoming 2001. The only reason I was allowed to go was because we “promised” my dad we were only going as “special friends.”

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Wedding day, June 10, 2006. The “special friends” thing worked out.

I’d like to think we’re particularly suited for each other. Like things are easy for us because we just naturally go together. Or like we were destined for each other – the one, my soulmate, made for each other. And while personalities play a part in how well you get along, I have to be real with you: sustaining a marriage is hard work. It’s not like the love feelings just magically carry you through, especially in the sleepless nights of colicky babies and kids throwing up, or the stress of going overbudget, or the past baggage of mistakes, lost trust, and hangups. Sorry, but there’s no such thing as a good marriage being carried by feeling in-love. But, good news! There is such a thing as a good marriage being carried by commitment to each other and to Jesus. And while I’m definitely in no way an expert on any one else’s marriage except for my own, I thought I’d share part of our story of how we came from pain and anger to real unity.

I’ve written about this before, but my favorite marriage advice came from my mother in law. It goes like this, “Remember you are on the same team.” Oh! How easy it was to be on the same team before we had kids! There was a lot less to fight about, and a lot more time to do our own thing. Being a non-confrontational person anyway, I let a lot of things slide because, hey, it wasn’t that bad. And then we had kids. And being “on the same team” was more like,

“Davy, we are on the same team, so get up and do things this very specific way that I will be completely controlling about.”

Or “We are on the same team, but I’m keeping count of how many diapers I’ve changed and how many hours less sleep I got compared to you, and since I’m putting in way more work , you owe me.”

Or “We are on the same team but I was home all day with this crying child and didn’t even have a chance to change my clothes and I can’t remember if I brushed my teeth. And you got to shower today, so already that means I generously watched the baby, so now I’m going to hold this over your head when you want to have half an hour to play video games.  And I know we are on the same team but I am totally begrudging the fact that you go play tennis, even though I really don’t want to exercise. But am holding it against you that I have this baby weight because I never have time to exercise.”

You know, we were on the same team. In a completely unfair, conditional, selfish, and accusatory way. For a long time we refused to see the best in each other because somehow it seemed that would lessen the importance of what we were putting in individually. As though recognizing what my husband does well means that all my work is worth less. And in the middle of all of our begrudging and accusing and fighting, we forgot that marriage is not a competition.

Marriage is not about pitting ourselves against each other and seeing who measures up the best. It’s not about holding a success stick up and showing how I rank higher than he does. See, we were being really good parents to our babies, but we were being really terrible people to each other. When things get tough and you have to continually put forth your best, it’s easy to take out your ugliness on the people close to you. That meant the only thing I ever showed Davy was the ugliness inside my heart, and part of that ugliness was engaging in an impossible competition.

Remember why you married your spouse? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because you thought, “Hey, this person is pretty great because I can totally beat him/her in everything, always.” And I’m pretty sure they didn’t marry you because they thought, “Hey, this person is pretty great because I’ll be able to win every time. Guaranteed success!” But after we had kids, that’s exactly how we were acting. He took out the trash and fixed the garage door? Obviously that means he doesn’t have to change the next poopy diaper. I did three thousand mountains of laundry and cleaned up all the spit up on the couch? Obviously that means he HAS to change the next poopy diaper. Obviously.

One day Davy said to me, “I really wish that when you asked me to do something, I would be happy to help you.” It’s like a light bulb went on in our hearts that showed us what we were doing. Instead of sowing value and blessing into each other’s lives, we were actively working to destroy each other and come out on top. Why would anyone ever want that? Nobody wants discord in their home.

Every relationship is about choice. You can choose to engage and invest or choose to be aloof. You can choose to love or choose to distance yourself. You can choose to be offended or choose to forgive. You can choose to compete or choose to support. The point is, you can choose. Yes, there is history. My friend, there may be heart wrenching pain, there may be terrible ugliness. But the beautiful thing is, God is a God of redemption, and He is actively waiting to help you. To redeem you and redeem the time that you have been at odds. He wants to restore you. Making choices toward life and forgiveness and love doesn’t justify past hurts from your spouse. But it can start you on a path toward reconciliation.
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Davy and I started choosing to support each other instead of competing. I started expressing happiness for him when he or his team won their games. Thankful that he is so committed to showering everyday and not being smelly, even if I was smelly. Glad that he works hard for our family, even if that means he’s late for dinner. I even started letting him talk about website programming, even though I don’t know what the heck he’s saying…and wonder of wonders, when I listened, he started doing the dishes with me as he talked. He began asking me how I was doing and listening to me in all my long-winded glory, and let me tell you, it is long-winded. (But glorious, of course.) He started putting in more effort with the house and yard and kids. He started asking me how he could pray for me.

And the little things began to turn into big things. Our expectations of each other began to change from being demanding to being understanding. Instead of looking out for how the other person was failing, we began to appreciate each other and, wonder of wonders, even safeguard specific areas of each other’s lives. We knew we had come very far when, after Elena was about 10 months old, I willingly let him sleep in and he willingly changed her diapers, even though I’m usually a monster in the morning and sometimes he gags when he changes diapers. Plus, now that I’m not exerting so much energy being angry that I had to get up before him and calling up a thousand other reasons why I’m angry at him, I actually have the energy to wake up and just be half a monster. So, you know. Everybody wins.

And this brings me to the next huge change we made in our relationship: prayer. I started writing all about it and ended up with a novel. You would have experienced first hand my long windedness, and though it would have been quite glorious, I dare not put you to a test like Davy has been through. Pray for him, friends. He deals with me daily.

So be on the look out for part two. There may be a part three and a part four…depending on how deep a breath I can take.

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Grocery Shopping Day

I really dislike grocery shopping. There’s just something about going to a store, loading up my cart with a bunch of food, paying shocking amounts for this food, and then next week going back to the store and buying the same food again. I mean, something about this feels like insanity. Why does this food have to be “used up”? Why, oh why, must I go buy it again in just a few days?

Everything about grocery shopping makes me feel like I should grow my own food. Oh! I have such fond ideas of gardening! So peaceful, just me and the lovely greens basking in the sunlight, growing to sustain my family with wholesome goodness. Until I am face to face with the dirt. There is one thing worse than grocery shopping, and that is feeling dirt getting under my nails. And the thought that there might be bugs in that dirt where my hands are going.

So, I’m back at the grocery store. Today, as with most weeks, I had all three kids with me. Elena is strapped to my body because this leaves one less child who will attempt a cartwheel in the aisle. My usual go-to strategy is to pack enough snacks to stuff my older kids’ faces so they have less time to see all the beautiful packaging of the junk I never let them buy. This cuts down my “No, we will not buy that” repetition to about half. Even still, they’re getting smarter as they get older and know what kinds of things I’m a sucker for.

“Mom, can we buy more tea so we can have a tea party with you when we get home?”  A tea party! They played the tea party card! So we buy more tea.

Today was an exceptionally long trip, despite my enthusiastic encouragement of “Let’s make this the shortest shopping day ever!” Not only have they completely rearranged the store so that I am totally lost, I have to endure the half smiles of the re-stockers who have seen me eight times in the span of four minutes.

“We must be really lost in this store, Mom. Aren’t we lost? Oh! Samples! Wait. We already got those samples a couple times. Nevermind.”

I’m thankful that my older kids have learned well the rules of shopping, which go something like this: If you throw a fit, we go home. If you run away or do karate at the cereal or a person, you’re confined to the cart. Eat your snack.

Elena hasn’t learned these rules yet, which is mostly ok because she can’t really walk or talk anyway. Except that today she decided she wouldn’t use her baby sign anymore and that screaming at me for more snack is a way better choice. I didn’t really agree with her, and unfortunately for the other lady in the baking aisle, we parked by the flour and Elena and I had to get down to business. An 11 month old is not an easy contender, but I am happy to report that she miraculously remembered her baby sign after several minutes of not being able to reach the puffs herself. (This isn’t the first time Elena and I have parked in this store. Last time we spent about fifteen minutes next to the chips while I bounced up and down and sang her to sleep. I get a lot of looks when I’m shopping.)

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In any case, despite being slow and circular, our shopping trip was pretty uneventful until we reached the coffee. To my utter delight, there was a sale on my coffee, and to my great despair, they were out of it! Is there any crueler fate? After all this work to go shopping in the first place, to return without coffee is like a punch in the gut. After much agitated looking for someone who worked there (“Quick, Mom! There’s someone who works here! Run after her!”), we had to wait almost 30 minutes for them to discover if they had more in the back. But wait we did because, um, coffee.

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As we stood there, it was all I could do to keep my patience. I was hot and hungry, extremely done with shopping, and frustrated at how long they were taking. Norah put her head on my hand and said, “I am so so so tired of this.” Micah started singing a song very loudly about eating blueberries in a shed, followed by even louder yawns and equally loud declarations of all the tricks he would play on me to get me to make coffee for him, should we ever be able to get coffee again. And I realized that with all the frustration I was feeling, my poor kids must be feeling it more. I’m a grown up, after all, and have had many opportunities to wait through frustration. And while I don’t always have the best attitude, I have a little more experience to deal. But looking back over the day, I recognize the good that moments of frustration like this one add to our day. It wasn’t fun (and I confess to sending text messages to my mom along the lines of “I HATE GROCERY SHOPPING.”), but it made us practice our patience. It gave me the opportunity to share with Norah that no, she may not pull her brother’s hair because she’s bored, because Jesus wants us to be kind even if we are bored. It carved space into my day to listen undividedly to Micah’s excruciatingly long dream about Mario. It gave me time to caress Elena’s hair while she slept on me. All in all, today gave me moments that I otherwise would not have taken advantage of. It gave me a chance to remember that my kids are people too, and to treat them like people who matter, not just gloss over them in the midst of my frustration.

When we finally got the coffee, Micah hugged it and declared he would drink the whole bag when we got home, and I silently declared the same. And I might have also made chocolate crepes to go with our tea party because, um, grocery shopping day.

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Live!

“Easter is the most important holiday we have.”

“It is?! More than Christmas?! WHY?!”

Micah couldn’t believe me. Mind blown. Easter is the most important holiday for us because without the resurrection, our faith is worthless. Jesus died for our sins, but if He had stayed dead? We would also die in our sin and everything we believe about God would be for naught. Don’t take my word for it. Paul said:

14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
and
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
(1 Corinthians 15)

Without the resurrection, there would be no power in our faith, no grace for our weakness, no salvation from sure death. Without the resurrection, evil wins.

But because Jesus rose from the dead, good triumphs. After taking every evil onto Himself and dying so that the evil would also die, Jesus, in perfect and complete power, triumphed over death itself by coming back. He gathered everything terrible that had ever happened, was happening, and would happen, gave Himself as the absolute necessary blood sacrifice to pay for all of the horrific evil, and then returned in ultimate victory. For you. For me.

Because of the resurrection, we can be cleansed from our sin (or the “yuckies in our hearts,” as Norah says)

Because of the resurrection, we can receive grace to have full relationship with God again.

Because of the resurrection, we can receive power to overcome sin.

Because of the resurrection, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can live in us.

Because of the resurrection, we can live in freedom, from sin and habits and hurts, because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Because of the resurrection, we can live!

We can live, my friends. Jesus died so I don’t have to. Jesus died so you don’t have to. He took our punishment and instead handed us life, and life abundantly. Our Savior is alive, and He invites us to live with Him!

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Living Grace by Grace

“Mom? Is Jesus bigger than monsters?”

Norah and I usually have important conversations like this when she’s sitting on the toilet.

“Yes, honey. He is.”

“Then why does He always look like…regular size in the Bible?”

Looking back, I really should’ve taken the opportunity here to reinforce that monsters are not, in fact, real. I didn’t. Instead I launched into a big, theological explanation about spiritual bodies and how God took on a man body when He came to save us so that He could identify with us in all things. Hmmm…Well, in any case, she was happy with my answer because we ended by singing He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands.

Lately I have felt like our life is in upheaval. Scratch that. I’ve felt like that since we added another child to our family and we became a circus act. As I’m sure so many of you can identify, some days it’s all I can do to get the kids dressed. What the heck am I doing with the rest of our day? I’m not sure…except it may include one of the following: pulling out my hair, crying or holding a child who is, singing Elena’s name to the tune of thirty different songs, enthusiastically encouraging them to SLOW DOWN or CHILL OUT, fishing unknown and slimy objects out of my baby’s mouth, or playing Octonauts (“the one where Barnacles is asleep and it’s Tweak’s birthday” *Disclaimer: this episode doesn’t exist. I always play it wrong because I have no idea what is supposed to happen because it is not a real story. But apparently the story is real and the same in both of my kids’ minds.*). In any case, there is one thing that is the same every single day. The grace of Jesus. I cling to it like my life depends on it. Because it literally does. I cannot step forward in my day, my home, my relationships with my family unless grace has made a stepping stone for me first. The days that I try…whew. Those are bad days.

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And I think that’s why we’ve been having more conversations about God lately too. As I’m clinging to Jesus in every single second, it seems that He broadens the grace stone to include my children, and our atmosphere becomes safe to explore questions. Yes, I’m clinging to Him for a bucket load of patience and wisdom, desperate for His presence because I’m only human in a home with three “silly souls,” as Norah says. His presence comes with His gift of grace, and I can see them being drawn to Him.

If there’s anything I’m learning in this season, it’s to seize the moment to talk about Jesus. I need His grace moment by moment, so why wouldn’t they? And why not teach them to turn toward Him or think about Him in connection with every day things? By infusing our day with references to Jesus, saying things like “Oh, the Bible talks about that too!” when they bring up things about nature or people, or even showing them in the Bible what God says about their sin provides fodder for their thoughts. You’d be amazed at how much kids think about things and mull over them if you talk about them often enough. They aren’t too small to begin to understand and to begin to come to conclusions about God on their own.

The other day I got really mad because Norah was picking fights with Micah and knowingly pushing his buttons just to make him cry. I had tried disciplining and talking and having them reenact the fight with her doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing, but nothing worked. Finally I sat her down and showed her in Proverbs where it says God hates when people knowingly cause strife with each other. It was kind of a last resort, I’m-outta-ideas-here, plan. But, surprisingly, she really listened to me. I could see that she heard me and she realized it was serious. It hasn’t completely stopped the behavior, but she has brought it up to me several times. Taking the time to infuse the moment with Jesus helped her realize that her actions affect others in a bigger way, not just that she’ll get into trouble with Mommy if Mommy hears her being ugly.

But infusing the moment with Jesus and His grace extends beyond discipline. I overheard Norah all alone in the bathroom singing about why we worship Him, telling all her barrettes to worship too. It inspires beautiful conversations about what God is like and how He has brought us freedom from sin, though sometimes the questions they ask can be hard to answer. I love knowing that Jesus has grace with me when I am confused or struggling with something, so I can extend that grace to my kids when they bring up something they don’t understand about God or about why we have sin or why bad things happen. I don’t have to have all the answers, but I also don’t have to feel stressed or pressured to “set them straight” when they have genuine questions. Grace for all of us means that I can be open that I’m still learning and growing too, always pointing to a good God who willingly and gently teaches us.

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I’m not gonna lie, though. Sometimes the questions stump me or make me realize I better up my game. Like when Micah asked tonight, “Mom, how can Jesus like, hold the world in His hands and still be inside it?” And sometimes…well, sometimes we have conversations like this:

Me: The armor of God is the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness —
Micah: The breast milk of righteousness?!?

And I think God and I have a pretty good laugh. So when I’m singing Elena’s name, I sing that Jesus loves her. When I’m playing the mystery Octonauts episode, sometimes they pray for help to accomplish their mission. When we’re struggling through “BIG EMOTIONS”, we remember that God also has big emotions, but He helps us control them. And when some of our conversations turn silly, we laugh with Jesus because He has a sense of humor too. We are learning to live moment by moment, grace by grace.

PS. Here’s another picture of my cute baby.Why yes, those are pants hanging out of the Duplo bin. And no, I’m not totally positive as to whether they are clean or dirty.

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Let’s Make a Deal

I’m about to tell you one of my most favorite parenting decisions I’ve ever made. No, it’s not the hidden sock basket, though that is one of my favorites. (FYI: Kids don’t put dirty socks in the laundry basket. But they DO put them in the secret hidden sock basket in the living room. Because it’s a secret basket. Like a treasure chest…but with dirty socks.)

One of my most favorite parenting decisions is to make a deal. Have you ever tried letting your kids in on the discipline/consequence process? I don’t do it with everything, obviously, but there are certain issues that are resolved much easier and quicker when I let my kids in on creating the consequences.

One day awhile ago I was extremely tired of Micah’s whining. I had tried everything to stop it, and my ears were bleeding. Finally, quite by accident, I said to him, “Micah, I can’t handle your whining anymore! What are we going to do to get you to stop?!” And he replied, “Well, Mommy, maybe I just have to hop around the circle every time I do it.”

I honestly didn’t think it would work, especially because none of my very smart and perfectly thought out consequences had helped. But I was desperate, so we tried it. Every time those whinies came out, all I said was, “Hop the circle” in response, and he immediately got up, hopping like a rabbit all the way through the kitchen, down the hall, and back to me. It didn’t matter what he was doing, he dropped it and hopped. Let me tell you what, it worked like a charm! By the time he got back to me, not only was he out of breath to even try whining, but he couldn’t remember why it was worth whining about to begin with. Plus, it made me laugh.

And since then, whenever there is a non-serious issue that I can’t make a breakthrough in, I invite them to help me. We strike a deal: you help create the consequence, I help enforce the consequence, we all abide by the rules of the consequence. See, it seems to me that when I hand over some of the control in creating the rule, they take more ownership over it and more initiative in following it. They also seem to follow it easier and quicker when I’m not there to enforce it because part of it has come from their hearts.

For example, Norah loves her long hair. Loves Loves Loves. But she HATES when I brush it or pull it up, or wash it, for that matter.
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This is an old picture, but this is her real bed head, my friends. This is real trouble. So we struck a deal. IF she lets me wash her hair the night before, she gets to wear it down. IF she doesn’t let me wash her hair, I pull it up, and she gets to pick the barrette. We both follow the rules of this deal, and she gets all the choosing. No more struggle.

Another deal we have is Pennies at Dinner. I’m not sure if this happens at your house, but dinner chairs at my house apparently contain secret springs that shoot my children out of them as soon as they sit down. No amount of convincing keeps my kids sitting. So we struck a deal. It goes like this: you, child, get five pennies. Each time you get down, you give me one. If you go through dinner with all five pennies, you get to buy a candy from me. If you lose all five pennies, you get to have trouble.

“Pennies! CANDY!” yell my children.
“SIT!” yells their mother.

And they sit. And to date, Micah has never lost a penny, and Norah has only ever lost two. (And for the record, a candy is equivalent to one chocolate chip or one miniature candy cane. My poor, poor children. They have no idea how minuscule that is.)

I’m really into teaching my kids responsibility and obedience from the heart. I want them to know that rules are for reasons, like keeping them safe or keeping the family running smoothly, not just because mom likes to be mean. So in handing them partial control for non-serious issues, they get to evaluate the situation, be creative in coming up with possible solutions, and recognize the need for the rule to begin with. When they do this, it helps them to feel the responsibility for follow-through on their own. They’re not just going to get in trouble for disobeying, they’re actually letting themselves down because they know internally that they are doing something wrong. They get to experience the natural consequences of not following the rules.

The wonderful thing for me in all this is that I get to simply follow the rules too. It takes the power struggle out of it because we came up with it together. When Norah lost those two pennies, she didn’t want to give them to me. I geared myself up for a battle, but when I said, “Norah, that’s the deal, remember? Every time you get up, you give me a penny. That’s just how it goes with Pennies at Dinner,” she begrudgingly gave me two pennies, without a fight.

Sometimes the deals don’t work, so we throw them out. But when we hit on a good one that helps solve an issue that’s causing everyone frustration, we all win. And we all grow through the issue, eventually coming out of needing it all together. Micah never hops the circle anymore, and I’ve stopped saying, “Hop the circle!” in my sleep.

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It Just Isn’t A Thing.

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So we’ve been doing this three-kid thing for about six months now. And let me tell you what has become one of my main goals in the day: minimize the drama, man. For reals, though. The drama around here can get pretty deep. or steep. or something.

Now I’m actually all about walking through feelings with my kids. I try to make time for that in our day so that we learn how to communicate well and they feel like we are a safe place to express themselves. But here are some “feelings” we’ve been feeling lately.

Me: Ok, go brush your teeth.
Child who shall not be named, bursting into tears: IT HURTS MY FEELINGS WHEN YOU TELL ME THAT!

Child A: I’m pretending to be a super hero!
Child B: I WANTED TO BE A SUPER HERO!
Child A: OK! YOU CAN! DON’T YELL AT ME!
Child B: MOM! I’M BEING LEFT OUT AND THAT HURTS MY FEELINGS!

If you hadn’t noticed, we use a lot of caps around here. One day, out of partial craziness, I made up a song that says, “If you want to cry, poke yourself in the eye. But don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” They think it’s hilarious until I sing it to them, at which point it makes them cry. And sometimes one kid will recommend that I sing it to the other kid during a meltdown…which often makes it worse.

In any case, being up to the ceiling in drama, I’ve been trying to think of ways to bring it down. While some tears are legitimate, some of them are over things that aren’t really…well, Things. So I’ve been trying this lately, “Oh, babe, that’s not actually a Thing.” Like when I say it’s time to get shoes on to leave the house, and they start to fight me, I say in a totally pleasant voice, “oh, that’s not really a Thing. We aren’t actually going to fuss about that.” And I move on. And you know? Maybe it’s because they’re so surprised (or maybe it’s because I use The Force), but they move on too.

I’m not really recommending that you try this (but if you do and it works for your kid, let me know!), but I’m more writing about it because I think it’s hilarious that it works. Of course, if there’s a real issue, then we definitely take the time to work it through. But I’ve decided that those non issues are no longer Things.

For example, I’ve stopped asking my kids to clean up and help me set the table. They kept turning that into a Thing, and I was tired of fighting. So instead, it’s not a Thing anymore. I just call them to me and start a conversation, and in the course of the conversation, I hand them dinner plates and forks and cups, or piles of laundry and toys, casually directing where they are to go. And the times they’ve stopped talking long enough to fight with me, I simply tell them, “Oh this isn’t really a Thing. Take this to the table while you tell me more about Mario.” The art of distraction. Like a Ninja.

They’ve been fighting a lot lately too, and partially I think it’s just because they don’t know what to play next. Obviously there are fights I have to mediate. But doggone it, the fights born of boredom or plain old pettiness aren’t worth it, and learning all the sides doesn’t really help anything because they just want to be dramatic. So when that happens, it’s just not a Thing anymore. I’ll tell them, “Guys, we don’t treat each other that way in our family. We just don’t. It’s not ok to fight, and this isn’t going to be a Thing anymore. Don’t do it again.” And sometimes, like a miracle, it works. Sometimes it works just long enough for me to leave the room. But sometimes it really does work.

And eating. OH. MY. GOSH. One of my children has started crying, “I don’t like this! I never like this!” before I even have a chance to put it on the table. The list of vegetables I could use could be counted on one hand. I started missing them. Dreaming of them. Longing for them. So, it’s no longer a Thing around here. I cook with every vegetable that sounds good to me. Take that, tiny people! And when the whining starts about what they see on the table, I tell them, “Oh, we aren’t going to make this a Thing. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” I do have a stipulation here, though, which is I only cook one dinner, and yes, peanut butter sandwiches count as cooking. Oh, and dinner time is family time, not whiny, go away and play time. So they gotta sit with me while I thoroughly enjoy my food. Now, I know this may sound harsh, but I’ll tell you how it’s worked for us: they eat dinner every night. With me. With minimal whining. Sometimes there is a pile of unliked vegetables on a napkin next to their plate (but not ON their plate. Because that is sacrilegious). But they eat, and actually hardly any one complains anymore because they know my answer: Oh, this isn’t going to be a Thing. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.

Trust me when I say I’m not flippant about my kids’ feelings. But I realized that I’ve been feeding some drama through my responses, and often these are the dramas that don’t need to be Things anyway. And honestly, through saying this to my kids, I’ve realized some of my own Things that I have had to give up. Like the pouty attitude I get when Elena doesn’t nap as long as I’d like. Instead of getting grumpy and mulling over how much I couldn’t get done, I have to put my grown up pants on. This just isn’t a Thing, Kim. Or how unbearably long it takes us to get through a store. Sometimes I just want to sob all my feelings to the cashier because we’ve been there for three hours and I stood through a long line with three crying kids and I just realized I forgot the celery that my kids will pick out of their soup tonight. But I have been telling myself, “This doesn’t have to be a Thing, Kim.” Because it doesn’t. There are enough Things in life that are inevitable that I don’t need to make anymore for myself. And there are enough Things that my kids have to learn and grow through that I don’t have to allow unimportant stuff to become more Things.

I’ve been working to pare down our lives to what’s important and not. Fighting isn’t. Drama isn’t. Showing patience and boundaries is. So even if I refuse to take up some of the Things that my kids want to cry over, placing that boundary around us for next time is good for them. And good for my sanity. Because my sanity….well, that should be a Thing.

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