You’re Doing It WRONG!

I read another one today, a mommy blogger who mixes all the perfect things together like fashion modeling and Jesus, telling all the leggin’s-clad, stained XL t-shirt-wearing, run down moms exactly how much we are all failing.

It totally worked.

Now I am going to LOVE every minute of motherhood.
Now, I am going to cook only homemade, organic, gluten-free food for my family.
Now I am going to finally BE that Proverbs 31 woman! (Let’s ignore for a moment that this woman never existed as a single entity, and that if she did she had domestic help.)


Reality–these posts tick me off.
Reality–I am blogging right now in my pajamas.
Reality–posts all about how women are doing it wrong when it comes to marriage, family, parenting, and all-things-domestic really only serve to grind women’s faces into the dirt while heaping more responsibility for unachievable perfection onto their already overwhelmed shoulders. (Check out the length of that sentence! I think a little of my personal feeling on this is coming through here.)

Can we bring it down a notch, please?

Modern life is hard. I realize that is such a #firstworldproblems kind of statement, but let’s examine the truth for a moment:

*300 years ago it was enough to keep your children alive and marry them off at 13 or send them to be an apprentice.
*150 years ago it was enough to make sure they finished the local school course which ended around 8th grade.
*50 years ago it was enough to see that your children were individual people (thanks Dr. Spock).
*Today, you have to know your child’s unique personality, temperament, love language, and spirit animal. You have to scrapbook/photo-blog every second of their life. You have to make sure they play a sport, play an instrument, and have sufficient playdates. You have to make sure they are challenged, but not too much; given grace, but still develop grit; have firm schedules and boundaries with enough flexibility to make their own decisions once they leave home–which may be never if the economy doesn’t rebound or if you chose the industrially farmed broccoli instead of organic.

What we all really need right now is another blog telling us how we are failing and ruining our children’s lives, not to mention tearing down our houses with our own hands like that foolish woman in Proverbs.

I want to say something to you, caregiver of small humans:
If you grew a human in your body, delivered them into the world, I recognize that you care about them. If you drove to the hospital or flew across the globe to pick them up and take them home, you want good things for them. If you wept and worried through fertility treatments, surrogacy, adoption, supported your partner as they grew a small human inside of them, I see that you would do anything to love them until you can’t breathe–they are so beautiful.

I also see the heaps of laundry, the piles of dishes, the disaster of a playroom, the incessant bickering, the insomnia, the teething, the talking back, the full-blown fits in the middle of Target. I see you tired and overwhelmed by all the demands. I see you struggling to realize that you shine at 6 month-old baby care, but suck at embracing the Kindergarten stage. We all have our sweet spots, maybe one of those super organized mom-bloggers could make a spreadsheet and then I would raise your 2 year-old and you could have my 11 year-old until the next phase hits and we could all trade again.

Parenting is hard. We don’t need someone telling us all the ways we are falling short, we need cheerleaders for those beautiful moments where we do smile at our children and mean it when we say, “I love you, sweetie, have a good day!”

You may not know that I have my own checklist for parenting success. I blogged about it last year, but I will condense it for you here:
1. Don’t kill them.
2. Do your best–whatever your best looks like in this moment.
3. Love them.
4. Trust God–if you are going to be a parent, you need a higher power.
5. Everything else can be worked out in therapy.

So if you didn’t score a perfect 10 this morning, don’t beat yourself up. Grab a cup of coffee, fold 5 minutes worth of laundry, call a friend and invite them to bring their kids to distract your kids so you can have grown up conversation. Give yourself some grace, it’ll go a long way toward your ability to offer grace to your kids as well.

Anne of Green Gables once said, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?

Grace for ourselves and others on this parenting journey.


Don’t Kill Them, & 4 Other Essential Parenting Rules

My 5 Simple Rules for Parenting

When my first child was born, I read the books and followed the developmental charts like they were blueprints for a nuclear power plant. I didn’t want anything to explode, and knew that if something went wrong it would be a) the most terrible-awful-horrible thing ever, and b) as the mother, it would all be my fault. 13 years and two more kids down the line, I can tell you that children are way less fragile and more resilient than we could have imagined when we drove them home from the hospital at 15 miles per hour.

Everywhere you turn someone else is telling you what you absolutely have to do in order to raise healthy, happy children. They’ll scream, threaten, cajole, and manipulate your emotions to get you to follow their advice. We all want the best for our kids, right? So why is it that many of the opinions we hear completely contradict each other?

My years of experience and seeing my kids survive (so far) have brought me to a place of simplicity when it comes to parenthood. Feel free to investigate all of the parenting options out there, but I’ve boiled my personal rules of parenting down to just 5.

Parenting Rule #1: Don’t Kill Them

This is a vital piece of advice if you want them to live to adulthood. This includes things like feeding, clothing, and providing for their obvious physical needs. It also covers the very real temptation that might arise around the age of “I can do it myself” and re-emerge when the eye-rolling starts. Take a deep breath. If you don’t kill them, they will probably grow up and have children who also go through these maddening stages. Don’t we all want to see that day?

Parenting Rule #2: Do Your Best

Mismatched socks on their feet, their clothes wrinkled, and you don’t know if that jacket has been cleaned since they dripped ice cream on it last month? If that is the best you can do today, great. They are covered, and trust me their teacher has seen worse. Some days my best includes locking the bathroom door with the fan on so that I can’t hear them when they whine at me outside the door. Five minutes of solitude in the toilet just might help you follow Rule #1. You aren’t going to be parent of the year every minute of every day. Give yourself a break and just determine to do your best with what you have.

Parenting Rule #3: Love Them

I know you might be thinking this rule should probably be #1, but realistically I think not killing them wins for purely practical reasons. Love your kids. Love them sticky or clean. Love them hair combed or with rats nests. Love them with their precious gifts of art you couldn’t decipher if you were a master of cryptology. “Is that a dog? Oh, it’s mommy. Thanks, sweetie.” Just love them. Love covers over a multitude of parenting mishaps, and it will most likely help them not become psychopaths. It’s true.

Parenting Rule #4: Trust God

There are so many things in your children’s lives that you have absolutely no control over. You can’t keep them from every danger, or every bully, or every dumb idea they might decide to try out while your back is turned. If you are going to raise children, you need a higher power.

Parenting Rule #5: Everything Else Can Be Worked Out in Therapy

You know that all parenting theory is just that, theory. Someone has a good idea, it looks great on paper, but then in practice it just doesn’t work for your child. Besides, look at how much has changed in the years since you were a youngster. Could we ever have predicted that our kids wouldn’t know how to dial a phone? (I mean a real phone, selecting Grandma from the contacts list does not count.) So much will continue to change in our world, society, and in the understanding of young minds. You are bound to mess up. Besides, therapists are nice people and we should want to support their industry.

As parents we are under so much pressure to be perfect, but none of us were raised by perfect parents. (If you write to tell me your parents were perfect, I don’t know if we can be friends.) All of us are here, walking around as (mostly) productive members of society. Give yourself a break from perfection based on someone else’s theories. You will be a more peaceful parent, and your kids will need less therapy. That’s a win-win situation in my book!

Keeping it simple

On Bad Days

Sometimes I have a bad day. I know, amazing, but true. It doesn’t even have to be a big deal, like flood, fire, or famine, to get me feeling off-kilter. Sometimes it is a passion I have that doesn’t seem to be shared. Sometimes it is injustice. Sometimes I just feel tired, and sad, and frustrated.DSC01706

And I’m learning that this is ok.

I fall into that category of people who cope by stuffing emotions deep down inside. Truthfully, emotions are powerful and sometimes that power feels dangerous. Letting emotions out can seem like a lack of control or a loss of the ability to process through things logically. Coping mechanisms are great for life or death situations, but most of my life doesn’t take place on a literal battlefield.20150810_085430

As a positive, the ability to set aside emotion for a time to handle crises with a cool head is awesome. I have kept my cool while driving loved ones to the hospital. I have faced down angry people who would have only fed on any emotional energy I allowed to escape. I have been able to get through some tough personal and professional challenges without falling apart. My coping skills are great.

But when we function in non-emergent situations like they are life or death, when we walk through life on high alert, our coping skills become barriers that keep others at bay. If I shut down my emotions, it can take some time to open back up to process them. If I walk around without feeling while interacting with my kids, or my husband, or the people I am in ministry with, I become a hard stone wall. Inflexible.

Vulnerability is crucial to building relationships and community. If I can’t open up about my experiences, my feelings, my needs, then no one ever gets to know the real me. I have walled myself off from anyone who could help me build other skills or who have their own wisdom to contribute to the challenges I face.DSC01422

Giving myself permission to feel–even on bad days–is my key to unlocking the gates, and bringing down the walls.

I am not perfect. (Another blog for another day!) I need other people to walk through life. Defenses are great when you are under attack, but for all of the other situations I face on all the other days, those walls just get in the way.

Truth & Honesty.
Now that’s ReFreshing.

‘Twas a Clutter-free Christmas

‘Twas the week before Christmas and throughout the house,
All ’round clutter abounded without many doubts.
There were papers on tables, receipts on the floor,
It made me plum crazy, couldn’t take any more!

The children had piled up their jackets and socks,
Just to run off to play with their trains and their blocks.
My husband and I, sadly complicit, too,
Had been walking away from my purse and his shoes.

Now then school was dismissed, our work loads were shifted.
The time was now here for these piles to be sifted!
I surveyed the big mess, my heart sank in my chest.
“There’s too much!” I confessed. “This stuff’s making me stressed!”

Now Rina! Now Bella! Now Teddy and Richard!
We can’t let these stuff piles grow up and get bigger!
Clean dishes, sort papers, report cards and projects,
Fold laundry, then stow it, don’t have to be perfect!

Collect it, and stash it, and clean all the corners!
Recycle, or trash it, no time for disorder!
Christmas is coming, it’s a time for good cheer!
“No you can’t simply move that from there to right here!”

The stuff piles were growing now smaller and smaller.
No more did I fear that the bell was a caller.
Now our friends could come over, not breaking their legs
Tripping o’er errant Legos, and dollies, and trains.

Come celebrate Christmas, sip coffee and chat.
Don’t need fancy jackets, or ties, or new hats.
Our house it is cozy, the corners fresh dusted,
but it still isn’t spotless, now that can be trusted!

So long, panicked cleaning, and sorting and such,
It seems all that was needed was a firm human touch
‘Til next year we bid you a not fond, “Farewell!”
Merry Christmas, to all, think I’ll rest for a spell.

One Day at a Time!

SO, my house is going to be open for Christmas Day, we are hosting a dinner at 2pm for any of our local friends who don’t have family gatherings to attend. We want to build community and spread the love and joy we feel at the holidays.

This sounds super, right?


But my house is not company ready. It is only company ready when we have company. It isn’t like that all year long. I know this is shocking. Take a deep breath and blow out all those shattered expectations. I’ll wait.

Now that we are all in reality, here is my trouble. Normally, procrastinator girl would take over and we would hang out in denial city until THursday, Wednesday at the earliest. This would for sure bring on an avalanche of PANIC! And rapid cleaning.

It would get done, but I would be frazzled and fried for Christmas.

Here’s my plan. Today I cleaned my stove. I scrubbed the top. I took down the spice rack. I wiped greasy dust off the nick-knacks and thew away the wooden salt and pepper grinders that I never use anyway. I put new drip bowls in and threw away the old ones.

I was ruthless.


Ruthlessness is part of my plan.

Every day this week, I will ruthlessly attack one (or more) messy, ridiculous, evil-clutter-filled spaces. I will clean them. They will stay clean, at least until after Christmas.

This is a doable plan. If I were to, say, plan to keep every one of those spaces clean next year as a New Year’s resolution, that would be terrible folly. But one week, we can do one week.

I hope.

So, I am recruiting fellow house cleaning procrastinators to join me on a glorious quest to have a clean house (cleaner house? clean-ish house? sane house?) for Christmas this year. Maybe it won’t bring peace on earth, but let’s face it we aren’t the messiah.

One thing every day.

Potentially, very ReFreshing!

My Areas to tackle:
Kitchen to Dining Room Pass Through CounterCube Shelf where Everyone has a Bin
Desk & Office Room
Under the Couches
Tables in Living Room
Stairway & Hallway
Counters & Top of Fridge
Bonus: Bathroom Decluttering (We’ll see if this one gets done)

6 Ways I am totally depriving my modern kids…

Image by mzacha

1. No cell phones
My kids go to school 5 blocks from our house. They do not drive. They come right home after school. So even though “All their friends” have cell phones, my kids (11, 7, & 2) do not. I am not against cell phones for kids, especially if there is a reasonable expectation that they will need to contact parents during the day. We have not set an age or year of school when they will get cell phones, instead we will issue them when the time is right.
Pros–Our cell phone bill is under $100 a month.
Cons–Sometimes I think I would feel safer if they had them.
2. No personal computers/tablets
On the heels of their cell phone deprivation, we also force them to share the family computers and tablets. We have two PC’s, mostly because we haven’t totally transitioned to the new one we bought at the beginning of the year. This is convenient because we can allow kid use of one computer while the adults can use the other. We have a Kindle and on Christmas day will add a second tablet into the mix. These all will have to be shared. Pros–We are never all screen-faced at the same time. And it encourages good turn-taking habits, and hopefully the development of patience.
Cons–We are never all screen-faced at the same time. And taking turns is hard. And growing in patience is hard.
3. One activity at a time
Since I am a pastor, our free time schedule can fill up pretty quickly. I limit myself to 3 church activities a week, even then I often feel swamped. When our kids got to the age to start activities outside of school, we decided they would have to choose one at a time. That means our oldest had to say no to orchestra in order to say yes to Emporia Children’s Choir. If our middle child wants to play soccer, she will have to say no to other options.
Pros–A semi-sane schedule. Teaching priorities early.
Cons–Making hard choices.

Image by mzacha

Image by mzacha

4. Making them walk to school, even when it is cold
As mentioned in #1, we onlylive 5 blocks from school. They can walk in 10 minutes or less. When it is really cold, or raining, I will drop them off 2 blocks from school on my way to drop off their dad at work. Hardly anyone walks to school these days no matter how close they live. Therefore, since I have a car and do not drop them off I am the meanest mom ever.
Pros–They get at least 10 minutes of exercise a day. Teaching self-reliance….
Oh, and missing out on the drop off traffic jam that forms around the school.
5. Forcing them to make their own lunches…and other chores
Our kids do chores. I try to make it fun. Check out my Summer Chore System. I do my best to make it fair. I incentivize whenever I can. They are still chores. One they do almost every day is make their own lunches. PB, raisins, carrots, juice, sometimes extras. It isn’t hard, or time-consuming, and they get to make it the way they want. We still get copious requests for school lunch. Oh, the inhumanity.
Pros–I know what is going into their little bodies. At least when they go to college they will have mastered the PB sandwich and how to do dishes/take out the trash/clean their bathroom.
Cons–Sometimes redoing the chores they just did because while 7-year-old clean is good, 35-year-old clean is better.
6. No elf on a shelf or dinos in their drawers or other super-awesome parent-energy-intensive activity.
I.Just.Can’t.Do.It. If other parents can manage the time and energy to do these activities, that is fine. It is all I can do to keep up with my work and their chores, homework, and one activity. I am hoping that they don’t even know what elf on a shelf is, and will keep it that way until they grow up and move out.
Pros–I have less to photograph and post on facebook, twitter, and pinterest. Sanity.
Cons–I am a creative person, and it looks fun, but I know I would lose my mind trying to keep up.

So there you have it. Evidence that I am totally depriving my modern kids.
And I think I am ok with that.

Self-acceptance, now that’s ReFreshing!

Kids, a.k.a. In Summer!

It is already summer vacation here. The last day of school was May 22nd and so we now have 3 children again. All. Day. Long. I know at least some of you out there are feeling my pain with 10 weeks of summer break, the need to work from home, and a spouse who is working and going to school. This summer was looking to be a huge panic-inducing mess until I had a moment of divinely inspired brilliance (let’s face it, where else would it come from?) and created an activity system for our girls to use that basically allows them to manage their own time and chores, and guarantees that something will be accomplished at the end of the day (even if it is just enough to save my sanity).

We have all done chore charts, right? In our house, countless chore charts have been created, strictly followed for a week, and promptly abandoned. I can see several reasons for this, the top being that it requires parental initiation and we are not great at staying on top of it all while juggling our schedules. Also, chore charts, no matter what kind of stickers you use, are just boring. No one likes them, ok, probably someone out there loves chore charts. We are just not those people.

We need a system that will run itself, that is highly motivating, and fun. And fair. Let’s not forget who we are dealing with–a 7 year old and a 10 year old–sisters. So, I got the idea to make magnets with daily chores, activities, and extra chores. We’ll call this the “Pick-5” system. There are 10 daily chores, of which the girls can pick 5 to do on any given day. When they complete a chore, they move that magnet to the “Done” zone. They can do these chores whenever they want, which means my oldest has gotten up several mornings and promptly done all five. When daddy gets home from work, he’ll holler “Pick-5” and if they have not completed five chores it is time to do so. We have not had to do this yet, because of the motivation factor.

There are also activity magnets on the fridge. These range from self-directed activities like reading for 20 minutes using the kitchen timer, to adult-intensive activities like going swimming. The self-directed activities give them ideas for what to do and when completed these also go into the “Done” zone. Some activities, like reading, are renewable as many times as they want. Others, like watch a tv show and 15 minutes of computer/game time, have to be redeemed.

Here is where the motivation comes in! In order to redeem another tv show or computer time, they must have all 5 chores completed as well as their reading. Then they can pick an *Extra Chore*. These are chores like picking up sticks in the yard, wiping down window sills, sweeping, mopping, doing a load of laundry. They are challenging and not something I would expect them to do every day, but are good training for life in general, and let’s face it, they are the chores that I would pay someone to do so that I don’t have to do them myself. So I do, I pay them in extra tv time.

What this has produced in our house in the past week is a pair of girls who do their chores on their own, without complaining, and come back for more! Why didn’t this brilliance strike years ago? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter because I am taking full advantage of it now!


Sorry for the poor photo, the real camera is waiting for a new charger, I just couldn’t wait to post my new source of sanity!

I am attaching the pages for chore and activity cards below if any of you parents out there want to use this system for your kids. It is not proprietary, I will not charge you to use something that came so easily and has been such a blessing already.

Chores And Activities

Happy Kids, Happy Mom, Sanity, All a part of the Refreshing Life!