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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Encouragement Dare

It seems that on the most challenging days, one of the feelings that overcomes me is the thought that I am invisible.  Isolated.  No one sees how hard I'm trying.  No one knows how much I'm working or how much I have sacrificed.  The results don't show the depth of my effort and in the moment, it just feels like none of the effort is worth it.

Then, just when I can't muster the energy to continue what I know I must do, encouragement comes like a breath of fresh air.  I am lifted by when someone notices and validates my striving.  So great is the power of encouragement, that I am determined to offer the same boost to others.  I can name the great encouragers in my life, and I want to be named in that list for others.

The joy and return of positive energy is so worth the small effort to notice and lift up others.  Some ideas that I have found to encourage others are:

Smile!  It's my favorite and it costs me nothing.  But comments from my son's third grade buddy to the frustrated woman in the grocery checkout cashier have let me know that it's uncommon and welcome, especially in difficult circumstances.

Delivery!  When our family friend experienced a life-saving kidney donation...and his wife accepted a new job within the same week...they needed support.  As working woman, wife, mother and home manager, I didn't have the extra time to prepare a gourmet meal.  Instead, I ordered take-out and spent the time I would have cooked delivering the restaurant meal with paper goods and baked goods.  Win for both of us.

Surprise!  Perhaps the best, most needed encouragement comes when we don't overthink it, but just do something.  Send a card for no reason.  It's always a bonus to have "real mail" in with all the junk. Drop off your friend's favorite drink or milkshake at their work.  Bring surprise donuts to class.  Leave a note in the mailbox or with the teacher of your child.  What we often call Random Acts of Kindness are really intentional acts of encouragement.

Join a Conspiracy! Dayspring is hosting the first ever Encouragement Dare centered around September 12.  For the next two weeks, we are reminded to look beyond ourselves and notice who might need an extra dose of inspiration and comaraderie.  Everyone benefits from encouragement, some are desperate for the soul satisfying gift of encouragement.  Who might you encourage today?

Other ways to "Join a Conspiracy" might be to get together with a friend, small group, class, etc. and decide to encourage someone: pastor, family in need, public servants or other persons.  Joining together may allow a greater impact with greater resources.

To help you spread the love, Dayspring has created free e-cards.  Of course, they offer delightful cards in real life, too, along with little gifts and pick-me-ups.  But you don't have to spend money or think overly hard.  Just take notice, use what you have and go for it!

I can immediately name the Great Encouragers in my life: Mother, Daddy. Anita, Alice and more who intentionally refresh me - It means more than you will every know.

Please share if you do, I'd love to hear how encouraging others affected you.

Called to Encourage

Disclosure: This post is done in connection with Dayspring and does contain affiliate links.  Nothing was given to me in exchange for this post, however, if you purchase through a link here, this site will receive a commission.  Your cost is not affected.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

How to Support Your Partner in Challenging Times

As a mom, I tend to be a fixer.  When trouble enters the world of those I love, I really just want the difficulty to disappear!  But life is messy and we are bound to face sadness sometimes.  This week we sent my stepdaughter to study abroad for the fall semester...abroad being the other side of the globe!

I was so grateful to hear from her this morning that she has landed safely, but exhausted, in China.  Mr. Wonderful is thrilled for her, yet grieving the departure of his firstborn.  They have a unique and tight relationship.  Her absence in our home is glaring and he will miss her deeply.  It was tough for freshman move-in day last year, but the distance feels greater as she travels the globe.

Here are five ways to support your partner through a temporarily challenging time:

1. Be a partner, not a parent.  My partner is an adult and he will recover.  I don't need to fix him, he is fully capable and will move through this difficult time and into happier days.  As his partner, though, I want to walk through it with him.  I want to be there, even for the grieving and sadness.  My desire is to be supportive and encouraging.  I want to be the one to elicit the smiles, smirks and laughter when he's moving forward.  He has so often been my steady and supportive companion and it is an honor to be the one there for him.

2. Be present and physical with your affection.  Check in often but don't feel like you always have to say something.  Silence may be better than words to fill the void.  Practice parallel togetherness, your partner will talk when ready.

3. Relieve the burden of some everyday tasks and responsibilities.  Provide space to process by taking care of the details for a while.  Decision-fatigue is real and can drain emotional resources that are already taxed.  Step and do the small stuff until your partner is feeling stronger.

4. Tell your partner how they can help you. While taking care of some things can be helpful, be aware of the line between supporting and enabling.  Simple phrases like, "I know you're hurting, are you up to driving the car line today?"  "It's been a rough week, I'd like to check out at the movies for a couple of hours, how about you?"  Letting him know that he matters and life moves forward can help pull him from a negative focus.  Remind of the good things in life, practice gratefulness, suggest activities he loves.

5. Take Care of Yourself.  Do a quick self-check to see if you are depending on your partner for your own well-being. Be content, non-demanding and offer grace.  Free your partner from the guilt of taking care of you caring well for yourself.  Sometimes I become a bit too enmeshed and allow the emotions of others' whom I care about to define my own.  It is crucial that I spend time in the ways that nurture me: nature, quiet, spiritual refreshment and the camaraderie of friends.

Let's be honest, life is hard and at times it's really hard.  Allow your partner to walk through difficult times with dignity.  There is no need to rush or placate him.  Avoid the temptation to make it about yourself and turn to others for your own support, if needed.  Let you partner know you are confident there are better days ahead and that you are loving him, praying for him and cheering for him through a difficult journey.

Loving someone means we can all survive the messy times and the relationship can be stronger because of the mutual support shared.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Talking to Tweens About Sexting, "Nudes" and Privacy

Recently, I heard an interview with author Nancy Jo Sales regarding her book release - "American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers."  Much of her material is known already by antidotes and general assumptions, but the details and numbers to which she refers are staggering.  A majority of girls are being asked for "nudes" and there are social consequences to saying yes and to saying no.  My children haven't encountered this yet, but I decided it time to start the conversation.

We have had difficult conversations before.

So, as we went about our preparations for heading back to school, I talked with my ten and twelve year olds about online safety.  It's a different conversation for girls than it is for my guy and already I notice different gender-related behavior.  My girl wants to look good online.  She is more about what she posts and how she looks.  My guy is more of a consumer and seeks stimulating material.

My guy says the other boys at school talk about what movies they have seen this summer, including suggestive parts.  Then he wants to look those up online.  He needs to know that I'm monitoring his online activity so that he knows he's not on his own out there.  I reminded him that it is his job to guard his eyes and to walk away when conversations turn inappropriate.  This year, the school issues laptops and I wonder how much "looking" will be done during the school day.

My girlie watches and creates amateur music videos.  He profile is darling and her songs are sweet.  Yet I know the same app hosts less uplifting material. She needs to know that I'm monitoring her online activity so that he knows she's not on his own out there.  We discussed how cute her videos are and that I like seeing what her friends and cousins post, but a quick search shows that some put up content that is inappropriate.

Electronic access is so complicated. There are so many good things along with fun ways to connect to friends and family.  Yet the darker and sinister aspects are always lurking and little hearts aren't prepared for the onslaught.  It's my job to prepare them.  Today, I'm revising our online/screen policies since summer screen strategies have faded into a new school year.  This week, I'm talking about access, accountability and responsibility that goes hand in hand with privileges.

The first exposure to inappropriate online material usually happens between ages 8-11.  It happened in my home and I'm doing all I know to protect and eliminate the risk without totally eliminating access.  My children need to learn what to do if they see something while they are still home with me, because once they are out from my protection they will be confronting with a great deal of confusing material.  I want to be the one to shape their views on sexuality, privacy, and modesty.

Related Articles
This is What A Guidance Counselor Shares (About what your teens know about sex)

Porn is both a Conservative and Liberal Issue

Lifelong Dangers Related to Porn Use

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Friday, August 5, 2016

What My Middle Schooler Should Know on the First Day

It's "Back to School" time and we are gearing up for the return to routine and responsibility.  I'm sad to see this summer go.

Last year, I felt our whole family was a little blindsided by the middle school experience.  I considered switching schools.  I considered home schooling.  I consider letting him drop out...well, not really.  But it was tough for both sixth grader and mom.

This year, I feel we are more aware and prepared for what he will face.  He is more mature, more equipped and more confident!  Still, here's what I want him to know as he walks into hostile territory:

1.   You can tell me anything.  I promised not to act shocked (even if I am) or to jump to blame and judgement.  I will always be on your side and we will work through tough situations.  If you're embarrassed or in trouble, I want to walk through it with you.

2.   It's going to be difficult to determine who is really your friend.  One day you're laughing in class with someone, but then they leave you isolated at the lunch table.  The same person asks for your help on a project but then laughs at you with a group of others.  This is not friendship.  You will learn whom you can count on and who has your back.  There are others who are need you to be a friend as much as you need one.
3.   The teachers are on your side, usually.  Teachers really want you to succeed, because that reflects well on them.  When you aren't grasping a concept, or don't understand an assignment it's okay to ask for help.  You can go to them after class, or email the teacher.  Show them respect and they will respect you.  Be sure they know how bright you are by being actively engaged and doing your best in class. Occasionally, you will find a teacher with whom you really connect and brings the subject to life.  Find a way to let this teacher know they matter to you.
4.   No one peaks in Middle School, and really that's a good thing.  This is a time when you are still discovering who you are and what you like.  It's a weird mix of trying to grow up and still trying to hold onto childhood.  Most days will feel uncertain and you will experiment with what kind of person you want to be.  You're going to be awesome, but most days it won't feel that way.  Still, I think you will learn something every single day and it will be just a part of this journey in life.  

5.   You are not alone.  First off, you have me and your whole family including an extra stepmom and stepdad who are on your team.  Secondly, you're not the only middle schooler trying to figure all this out.  Others feel left out, clueless, bullied, lost in class and overwhelmed with responsibility.  You can survive hard things and you're going to make it!
And just to prove that life does get's a photo of me from my own wild and wooly middle school era:

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Kids in Blended Families Need a Culture of Peace and Respect

I am at the tail end of a long time without my children being home.  I'm so grateful that they were able to go to spend a week with my family in the Midwest.  When family lives far, time together is a gift.  I am so glad they could spend time deepening the relationships with my parents and their cousins.  Our older girls, my step daughters, also went to spend time with their grandparents.

Following this, my younger ones headed out on a last minute trip to the beach with their dad.  I know they are having a fabulous time.  Mr. Wonderful and I are getting things accomplished at home and enjoying lots of snuggles.  I went one whole week without cooking!  But, I'm really ready to have our home full once again.

When my children return from time spent with their father, there is a great deal of activity, noise, and general upheaval of the family flow.  It feels chaotic for them to move between homes, attempt to keep track of items they carry back and forth and to adjust to the nuances that are different in each location.  In short, kids who move between homes have much more stress than children who have a single, permanent residence.  Co-parenting works to give the children access to both parents, but it is not an ideal setup.  Then again, seven people in one house isn't a naturally peaceful setup either.  Because of this, it's so important for us to maintain a culture of peace and respect in our home.

The concepts speak pretty well for themselves.  Peace. Respect. Calm.  Here's how it looks in our home:
  • When possible, we practice routines so that everyone knows what is happening next.  Bedtimes, mornings, after school, etc.  We create rhythms to our day. Predictable is peaceful.
  • We vigorously guard our calendar. We plan ahead and communicate well about upcoming activities. We strive for as few commitments as possible while maintaining our values regarding education, extracurricular activities and our faith community. 
  • For the most part, we keep the noise levels low (major exception for big movie nights). We remind each other to speak softly...often.
  • We speak kindly.  We ask, not tell our requests.  We listen to each other.
  • We allow individuals to retreat into private space, when needed.
  •  I value clear spaces, so we pick up the clutter and purge often. We have cleaning routines in place and regularly pick up the floor.  We make our beds (for the most part).
  • I fight the urge and try not to make a big deal out of things that are not big deals.  This takes great effort sometimes.
We are far from perfect, but in our home we aim for peace and respect at all times.  Yes, we watch our movies with the volume high and sometimes the squeals and giggles reach high decibels, but the overall tone of our home is calm.

What are some other ways to bring calm into the sometimes chaotic world of co-parenting or of children living Between Two Worlds?

Five Unique Needs of Blended Homes

Let's All Agree to Be Less Complicated

Remarkable Parenting