Family Care

“Good bye. I love you. Don’t do drugs or kiss boys.”

modesty

“Talk to the children,” the experts always tell parents. “Talk to them about sex. Talk to them about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.” “Open lines of communication are healthy,” they claim.

So I talk to my kids like the experts want me to. Most mornings when I drop my kids (and Abby, our wonderful friend who rides in with us each day) off at the back of the school, I yell, “Good bye. I love you. Don’t do drugs or kiss boys.”

I figure it covers it all, right? I’ve bid them a warm adieu, confirmed my love for them, warned them of the dangers of drugs, and affirmed my desire to not become a grandmother at age forty.

Done, done, and done.

The kids roll their eyes. Well, Abby politely rolls her eyes without actually rolling her eyes, because her parents have raised her to respect other adults. My kids slam the van door and run away, wishing their father could drop them off instead.

Some days I’ll roll down the window and yell it across the parking lot, just to be extra convincing.

They really, really love this.

There’s nothing funner in the whole world than messing with your middle schoolers, I tell you. Pure delight.

These girls are strangers (thanks, unsplash.com) but the looks are exactly the same as the ones my kids give me. Ha!

Now that the children are eleven and thirteen, they can outwit me. “What about Caleb? Can he kiss boys?” Audrey demanded.

“Fine. No kissing girls or boys,” I amended.

“Are we assuming gender? We can’t just be assuming anyone’s gender,” she shot at me recently.

And while I personally will continue to assume gender for every human I encounter until the day I die, I don’t have time for this fight in the middle school parking lot, so I yell, “Fine. NO KISSING OTHER HUMANS.”

And they giggle and run away, off to the relative sanity of the school building.

I’ll be the first to admit that these open lines of communication are about to kill me. We really, really do want our kids to talk to us about anything, especially since we’re a Christian family in a very secular school. We can’t assume that any teacher or administrator shares our beliefs, ever. And while quite a few key adults at the school do indeed share our beliefs and the rest of them have been very respectful, it’s still up to us to make sure we verbalize what the kids need to know.

They are loved. Drugs are dangerous. Kissing is only slightly less dangerous than drugs.

But talking about it can be so uncomfortable. Like, shoulders-up-to-my-ears, full grimace, wanting to die while I explain that every single song by Maroon 5 is about sex and the song “Sugar” is not, in fact, about sugar.

[…brief pause while your blogger takes a moment to watch the video to “Sugar”, which she quite enjoys…]

But at least we hope that one day our kids will be enjoying sex at a proper age, with a nice marriage license and ceremony before God and everyone to sanctify it.

Sex, sure. Eventually. But drugs are another story. We don’t evereverevereverever want them to mess around with that menace. Our mental health is a precious gift. It’s the one thing we have to survey the world properly and then respond in a healthy way. Why would you trade a clear mind for one addled with addiction and despair?

One day, when my kids are at the inevitable party and someone offers them a joint or heroin or the recipe for meth, I want my voice in their ears yelling “Don’t do drugs!”  Trust me, they’ve heard it enough times now that my face will pop into their view even if I’m 800 miles away.



And this is precisely my goal. Listen, I get it. I can’t watch my kids’ every move until I die. One day they will go out into the world and make their own decisions, and they’re already doing that every day. I’m sure I’d be horrified if I knew everything.

But they know they’re loved. They know that drugs and kissing have immense consequences. And they know we’re always willing to talk about it.

But, please. Your father will be explaining the lyrics to “Animals.” I just can’t.

I blush.

 

 

Let me explain how this marriage works.

A casual observer into my marriage would assume, because I’m the noisy one, that I run the show. They’d see me flapping my lips and my arms and hopping from room to room, coming up with all manner of ideas for our family and also shouting my opinion rather ceaselessly.

They’d see Eric calmly watching the circus that is his wife, and might incorrectly assume that he’s passively letting me do whatever I want.

No.

Not even a little bit.

The man is a ROCK. He is IMMOVABLE. I could pick up my van with my bare hands and heft it to the next city before I could get Eric to do something he doesn’t want to do.

That’s how this marriage works, dear reader. It’s my job to come up with a terrible, ridiculous idea (or two) literally every single day.

It’s his job to deflect that terrible idea every single day. On a weekend when we’re both together and I have more free time, he might literally have to tell me no or stare me down from sunrise to sunset, which is when he finally hands me a glass of wine to quiet me down.

For example, I tried to move our family of four into a tiny house. This assault lasted over a year.

Seriously. Now I want one all over again! (Photo courtesy of hgtv.com)

For example, I tried to talk him into moving to Dubai last month.

Come on, honey! We could get a camel! (Photo courtesy of tripadvisor.com)

For also example, I also tried to talk him into buying a $400,000 lake house when he refused the Dubai idea.

I present my ideas and flutter my eyelashes and wait for him to acknowledge that I’m a genius. He waits a moment, phrasing his answer just so, and then gently points out the logic that renders my plan unworkable. “Your logic is ruining my day!” I shout in his direction. He smirks.

I’m sure the man must be exhausted. But I also think he’s amused and finds this circus endlessly entertaining, so he lets it roll onward.


And here’s the thing– I don’t actually feel bad about this dynamic in our marriage. If I didn’t come up with a hundred terrible ideas, I probably wouldn’t get around to the sparkling, amazing, stupendous ideas, either. One of us needs to be dragging us forward, and the other one needs to be the brakes so we don’t run straight off the cliff into a tiny lake house in Dubai.

I know that from outward appearances, my attempts at being a wife probably fail every litmus test for submission, quietness, gentleness, or self control. But deep on the inside, I know my husband. I know when I’ve crossed the line from fun-wife to poopy-head-wife. Out of respect for him, I try to stay on the fun side of that line.

And out of love for me, he does occasionally concede that an idea might be a good one, and we move forward. Cautiously. Oh, so cautiously.

I firmly believe there’s no one perfect kind of marriage. Just like with good parenting, there are lots of ways to have a great relationship. And really, outward appearances count for little. What goes on during the quiet afternoons, the early mornings, and the long car rides– when it’s just the two of you working it all out together– counts more than failing to live up to standards that have nothing to do with you two as people.

“You be you,” as our thirteen year-old says. Your marriage is what you make of it, good and bad, just like we individual humans are what we make of ourselves. Even if what we make of ourselves is kind of crazy, with really terrible ideas.

This is how a marriage works. May our relationships flourish and grow as we care for one another in our deeply individual ways.

 

 

 

Dear Parents: It’s okay if you’re making it up as you go along

Eric and I are parenting two kids in middle school, so basically we’re making stuff up as we go along. Minute by minute, we literally have no idea of what we’re doing.

This is no different than any other stage of parenting we’ve experienced thus far, but what IS different is that the kids now know this. They no longer trust everything we say or blindly believe we’re geniuses who happen to share a house with them.

 

To be fair, I can no longer help with their math, band homework, or technology. Their lack of faith in me is sort of justified and it’s not like I’ll ever understand negative integers, so I’m going to have to live with it.

Technology and algebra aside, recently Eric and I have bumped into a few situations where our guesses and hopes aren’t enough to cut it. We’ve had to share our concerns with friends (who all have kids the same ages as ours) and ask what they’d do in our situation.

Now, we picked our advisors wisely. These friends have all known us for two decades and are parenting with the firm desire to raise children who love God, know the Bible, and one day go out into the world to make a difference for the Kingdom. Their insight was very, very helpful.

Turns out there is no easy answer

But this is what I’m learning– their insights are gleaned from their own situation. Every family has a particular dynamic that comes from a bunch of individual personalities jammed into one living situation. Every family has different goals, strengths and weaknesses, and hopes for their kids. We’ve chosen different educational options and houses of worship.

This means every family gave us a different answer. This isn’t what I wanted– I wanted one clear, correct answer. A foggy, stressful situation became even foggier.

Until this morning, when I realized there isn’t any such thing as one clear, correct answer in parenting and the fog suddenly dissipated. I’m responsible for these two kids I have. I have to choose their schools, church, and neighborhood because that’s what parents do. What our friends do is great and helpful and often helps me keep my sanity, but in the end, Eric and I get to choose.

We all get to choose

And so do you. You know your kids. You know your family’s needs and hopes and strengths. So you get to choose what’s best for your kids at the end of the day. Pray over it, make the best decision you can, and rest in the fact there will always be a lot of ways to raise a great kid.

Your friends will do some things better than you. Your friends will do some things worse than you. Their kids might turn out great or really terrible. In the end, all our kids will make decisions we have no control over anyway, which means that we can parent them until the end of time and still get totally wonky results. We’re dealing with humans here, not robots.


We’re all making it up as we go (even our kids!), so let’s just do the best we can, support one another, and enjoy long talks over the table where we confess that we have no idea of what to do next.

All my teenager needs is a pound of butter

I thought parenting teenagers was going to be full of angst and fights and possibly weeping.

Turns out it’s mostly full of butter, with sudden outbursts where I yell about practicing instruments or taking out cat poop. Hardly what I expected at all, frankly.

“Mom, I think we used too much butter!” Audrey called down the stairs to me on Saturday morning.

I was in the middle of a project in the basement, taking out our unused craft desk and sorting through scraps of paper I’ve saved for (I’m not kidding) seventeen years, while Audrey and her friend Lydia were using up all the baking supplies in the whole house, lightly coating everything in powdered sugar and gluten free flour.

By the time we had this conversation it was too late– the cupcakes were already in the oven and there was no repairing the butter issue. “It’s fine, they’ll just be extra delicious!” I yelled up the stairs as I hefted a box full of old glitter glue and rubber stamps from 1999. I hoped I was right, but there was no guarantee.

The cupcakes, I’m glad to announce, are indeed delicious. The girls soon moved from the cake to the frosting, working together to make sure the color of the frosting was just the right shade of yellow. There was lots of giggling and joking. I think I have frosting on my kitchen ceiling. Whatever.

I poked my head upstairs and started a sink of dishwater for them, gently ordering them to clean up their glorious mess, then headed back downstairs with the vacuum to suck up ancient glass beads that had escaped their container. The laughing and giggling continued in the kitchen, with some occasional swishing of hot, soapy water.

After I’d taken four loads of junk to the dumpster and another four loads of donations to the van, the craft area was finally empty and ready for our new addition– a snack bar for the kids and their friends. Eric has this grand idea to make our basement welcoming to the kids, so we can be the place they want to hang out in in the years to come.

Our friends, Tall Caleb (not to be confused with our son, Short Caleb) and Megan, pointed out that the teen years were, oh, right now, which is a solid point. Aud and her friends will be in high school next year.

HIGH SCHOOL.

And with high school comes heroin and pregnancy, I’ve been led to believe. We’d like to avoid both of those at all costs, so if this means we need to make some changes in the basement and buy a metric ton of butter, then so be it.

cupcakeButter and powdered sugar are much cheaper than heroin and rehab, I believe.

We already have the old comfy couches and carpet that won’t mind teenagers. We have plans for a larger TV, a way to play music, and the aforementioned snack bar. What else to do we need? If you have suggestions for us, we’d love to hear them.

More butter, less heroin. Amen.

 

Romantic Ideas for Every Budget and (Every Kind of Couple)

Dearly beloved, Valentine’s Day is nearly here again, and of course we’re panicking. We have no idea of what to get our loved ones and we’ve saved no monies. This means we’re clueless AND cashless. We need some romantic ideas and they need to be very, very inexpensive.

Every year I ask Eric what he wants for Valentine’s. Every year he responds with the same answer, and I will leave you to your imagination because this is a family friendly blog and I cannot type that sort of thing out.

So I guess we’re not completely out of ideas when it comes to special, romantic events. But sometimes we’d like to spruce up the usual festivities, yes?

Yes.

And this is where a normal blog would give you a list of great ideas for your special night. But I’m not a normal blogger, honestly. Assuming I could come up with a hundred romantic ideas, they could all be terrible for you.

Here’s the thing about being in a relationship– what counts as romance and caring varies wildly from person to person. What speaks love and delight to me might make a normal woman throw her husband out of the house for the week. I’d probably clap my hands with joy if Eric came home with the vacuum I want.

(Note to Eric: don’t actually buy it. It’s $500 and once I’m done being happy I will take that thing back to the store for a full refund.)

So we’ll skip all my crazy ideas and get right to the point where you find what your spouse needs, without my interference.

How to find romantic ideas for your beloved:

Sit down casually with a magazine or two. Be near your dear one.

Casually peruse the magazine and pretend like it’s full of very interesting articles.

Say something like, “Picnics. Such a nice idea,” like the magazine has an article on them. (See how tricky I am?)

Notice how your lover responds. If he wrinkles his nose and starts lecturing on ants and food spoilage, then you know he’s not into picnics. Move along. Find another “article” and gently murmur something about trips to San Francisco, the temperature at the top of the Hancock Center, or how delicious the new restaurant in town sounds.

(I found this blog post, and it actually has some pretty good ideas if you have zero of your own.)

Continue suggesting completely random things until your help mate finally, finally indicates some interest in a subject/event/activity.

You are now getting closer. You’re discovering what this wonderful creature in front of you finds exciting and romantic. Now you just need to dial it back until you can afford it this year.

But wait. We’ve already determined there’s no money this year.

Okay, maybe you can’t actually get what your beau wants this year. But you at least have an idea, the slightest direction, to head. If nothing else, you can say, “Honey, I love you so much. And I’d love to buy you a monster truck for Valentine’s Day, but it’s not in the budget. Here’s an adorable toy version!”

Of course this isn’t as good as a real monster truck, but it’s waaaaaaaaaaay better than a tie he doesn’t want.

But wait again! Now you know what he loves, and you hate it!

Ah, here’s the terrible truth about being in a relationship. Sometimes you literally loathe what they adore. This is where the love comes in. The love part goes with what makes them happy, not you.

I know. It’s painful.

You may mail me hate letters when you’re out in a deer blind, freezing off your toes because your husband wanted a “romantic” hunting date. Or, feel free to mentally shoot darts at a photo of my face while you hold your wife’s purse and wait outside the women’s dressing room at Macy’s.

I’m sort of sorry. But the whole point of this exercise was to make our loved ones feel loved, right? Some times that means you freeze your butt off in a deer blind or have to go shopping. But here’s the thing– if we do this right long enough, then eventually we become those sweet old couples who hold hands and walk through the park. It takes lots of sacrifice to get there, but I’m pretty sure it’s worth it.

Eventually. Maybe not today. But a thousand small choices on their behalf will eventually lead to a life of love.

I want to do better for my own kids

It is possible to do better than our parents did.

It’s possible to erase generations of wounds, raising our own children in homes of love, support, and stability. If you fear your kids are destined for a life of the same pain you grew up with, let me be clear. You can do better. Your family can have a different story. 

I know because I’m living proof.

My own parents both had difficult childhoods, and together they made specific, conscious choices to raise us differently than they had been raised. While our own family life was far from perfect, we grew up with love, laughter, encouragement, and grace.

I don’t mean to demean my grandparents or air sixty year-old dirty laundry. My four biological grandparents have long since passed, so I can’t ask them what caused them to make the choices they did. I have a feeling they were doing the best they could for their time, financial ability, and education. Nevertheless, things were difficult and my parents were not about to make the same mistakes.

Don’t you love the retro-hipster dad? He cracks me up.
Some days I think it cost Mom and Dad nearly everything they had– money, time, and sanity. But they stuck it out, no matter how grim things became, and now my siblings and I can still call the same phone number we’ve been dialing all our lives. Our two parents still pick up the phone in the house where we were raised.

Not many people can say that anymore, and that speaks to their dedication. Also, their pure stubbornness. But that’s another story for another time.

Here are the choices that changed our family’s future, plus a few I’ve seen work miracles in other families:

Get your family in church, and get involved.

Please don’t just drag your people into a pew at 10:30 on Sunday, then drag them back to the car at 11:32. I mean really go to church. Get to know your congregation. Sign up for ministries and a small group. Be part of the solution, not just the crabby people who gripe in the back row. Make daily Bible reading and prayer a part of your life.

The Holy Spirit has been mending broken families and relationships for a long time now, and your family is offered that same healing and love. If you have no idea of how to find that, a good, Bible-teaching church is the first place to look.

Get yourself help if you need it.

Do you struggle with depression or anxiety? Get some help. Your mental health is key to parenting well, and you aren’t doing this for you– you’re doing it for them. Your community has counselors, pastors, and psychologists who are trained and able to help you sort things out. Wouldn’t it be great to get through a day without the clouds of gloom or the shredded nerves of anxiety?

When you do get the help you need, follow through. Take the meds; keep going to counseling. Mental health is just like our regular health– it falls apart really fast if we don’t pay close attention.

Make your marriage a priority.

Our spouses cannot (and will not) survive decades of neglect while we focus on the kids. At best you’ll grow apart and find yourself sharing the house with a shocking stranger when the kids go to college. At worst you’re looking at years of fights, affairs, deceptions, and divorce.

Look at your spouse. Really look at him or her. Do you know what matters to them? What makes them sad, happy, or furious? Now ask yourself– do you even care anymore?

You will be doing your children a huge favor if you care, and then actually do something about it. Love your husband or wife for the person they are, not who you are determined to force them to be. Finding things in common, reasons to laugh, and joy in the daily drudgery will be something your children will take with them into their own marriages.

And do not underestimate the importance of time away together. Your kids will survive with Grandma or a friend while you go out to dinner or away for the weekend–lo, even a whole week. Do it, please. Your kid may scream a little while you leave them at the door, but a crying fit never killed a kid. But many a marriage has died because the kids became the priority.

Relentlessly prune selfishness.

I am a firm believer that all pain we cause others begins in one place: “Me first.” It’s the relentless kudzu of our souls, causing us to idolize ourselves, our comfort, and our personal happiness.

And listen, I’m the last mom on earth to advocate becoming your kid’s slave. We’re the parents; they’re the kids. We’re not here to meet their every whim until they become self-centered monsters who demand the world to fall at their feet.

Everyone needs time to themselves, a moment to drink a cup of coffee in peace, and time alone in the restroom. I’m not denying my love of tinkling in private.

mom spending time with kids

But selfishness is a greedy, destructive beast. It’s really the reason marriages fail, parents speak words they never should have uttered, and Child Protective Services will never run out of clients.

Before you:

  • speak– consider the effect it will have. Are the words kind, gentle, and true?
  • react– consider the experience of the person in front of you. What could they be facing right now that needs grace, not fury?
  • choose– consider the consequences. Is the decision wise, mature, and the best for all members of your home?
  • buy– consider the family finances. Will this be a blessing to everyone now and in the future?

You get the idea. Every choice has a consequence, and we get to choose our family’s experience at our hands. We have the ability to bring blessing or curses, joy or pain.

Your kids are watching you closely, and they’re directly feeling the fruit of your choices. You can do better for them. Your good decisions can rewrite their future, giving them the tools they need to be happy, successful adults.

Step by step, day by day, your family can have a wonderful, grace-filled life. I have all faith that you can give your kids the life they deserve.

(And I’ll be praying for you.)

 

 

 

 

Some Bad News About Your 2017 Goals

goals for the new year2017 is going to be a great year for you and your family, I just know it.

You’ve written down your 2017 goals, right? Maybe you’ve even come up with a spreadsheet to carefully lay out your entire plan. Month by month, you know what steps stand between you and Goals of Fabulousness.

That’s a real thing, you know–Goals of Fabulousness. And you shall reach them! I have all faith in you!

If your 2017 goals include lowering your debt and freeing yourself from financial bondage, I know that by December you’ll have made headway. Of course the unexpected might happen and you might not be able to totally reach your initial goal, but it’s okay– you’ll still be better off for having a plan and doing your best.

Maybe your 2017 goals include buying a new house or having a baby. We call these goals HUGE LIFE CHANGES. Good for you, sister. Go get ’em.

Maybe you just want a tidier house or a less crazy schedule. Fine! No one says your 2017 goals have to include a whole new life. Small goals are usually achievable, which makes them my favorite kind.

Okay, but here’s the bad news about your plans.

You can’t do it all. You can’t expect miracles, either. And this is okay.

Repeat after me:

My plans for the new year are just helpful guidelines to get me to the next place in life. It’s okay if I don’t experience a total life change. I will be kind to myself when things go awry.

Because let me assure you– things will go awry. Unexpected bills will show up, the pregnancy test might come back negative (or positive, which can be equally upsetting), and the house purchase might fall through.

Reaching your goals is going to require sacrifice in some areas. If you want to run a marathon this year, you’re probably not going to have as much time to build strong friendships at your church. If you have twins, you’re probably not going to be able to finish your MBA this year. You might want to be able to manage everything you’re already doing plus add in these new plans, but something is going to have to give. Something will need to be cut out.

And this is okay.

Goals are great, don’t get me wrong.

They’re awesome and give structure to our vision. They help us build the life we dream of having. But sometimes we forget that our plans are there to serve us; we don’t have to be enslaved to them.

For years I thought that failure to reach a goal meant that I was a personal failure. I was enslaved to my own plans.

This was stupid and terribly, terribly misguided.

Of course I wanted to build up the savings account and pay down the debt and keep a perfect house and build blanket forts with my children, all while having a perfect marriage. But I am one human.

After many years I realized New Year’s resolutions don’t really mean a whole lot. You know what matters much, much more? Consistent self discipline. That’s the thing that really moves us from the lumps we are right now to the glorious future we envision for ourselves.

You were probably hoping for something much shinier, right? Something sparkly and exciting? And I give you consistent self-discipline as a guide. Bummer.

But please listen to this old woman’s many years of wisdom– it’s far better to have a small, reasonable goal and slowly, diligently meander your way there. The alternative is to drive yourself and everyone around you crazy while you strain for some unattainable perfection.

Please. I beg of you.

Be reasonable, be consistent, be diligent. I’m willing to bet your year and your life will be far better off this way. I want you to succeed and I know you can do it. I just want you sane at the end of the year. Sane and successful!

Before I leave you, let me give you a few recommendations. These are all books or products I have found to be helpful as I move from one place in life to the next. (All are affiliate links, beeteedubs.)

  • Start, by Jon Acuff. This book will help you “do work that matters.” Plus, Jon is hilarious.
  • The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. I can feel a new session of decluttering coming. This house is driving me mad. Marie to the rescue– she’ll give us the step-by-step directions to get it all done.
  • Bullet Journal: This link takes you to a slightly different list maker than I use, but the premise is similar. Bullet journaling is a way of keeping all your papers and things in one place. I started one this summer and it has changed my life. No more yellow notepads all over the house!
  • Debt Proof Living, by Mary Hunt. Yes, you can totally revamp your family’s finances this year. Try Mary’s way. She’s smart and learned the hard way.

I know you can do it. Your 2017 goals are going to be fabulous. Let me know how it works out!

Jess

 

Dear Ladies: Don’t Forget Yourself This Christmas Season

Christmas for women

As I write this, Christmas is just a few breaths away. Women everywhere are on their last nerve.

Children are hardly able to eat, sleep, or concentrate at school with the looming holiday. I’m sure teachers are counting the milliseconds before they can release the little darlings into their parents’ care for the break.

Husbands are darting in and out of stores, finishing their shopping.

But the rest of Christmas is really up to us women, isn’t it? I don’t mean to sound resentful, but there would be no decorations, no food, no presents for Great Grandma, and no stocking stuffers if it wasn’t for us.

Let’s not get me started on Christmas cards. Is there a man on the planet who has ever said, “Gee, let’s pick out our outfits for our Christmas card photo shoot!”?

NO. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

It’s up to us, dear women. Christmas is up to us.

It’s not that our families don’t care, it’s just that they sort of think these things appear magically. You know, maybe Santa brings them down the chimney with the gifts. It’s no surprise that we’re a little exhausted and cranky. We’re taking care of our normal activities, plus we’re trying to bake five special dishes to take to five different potlucks.

Lady friends, let’s show ourselves some grace this season. Let’s give our families the present of our very best selves– the rested, happy, not-crazy version of us.

It doesn’t have to be this hard.

So let’s go ahead and cheat a little for the potluck. Bring something from the deli. We’ll put it in a nice dish and smile mysteriously when they ask for the recipe.

When we get sick of wrapping presents, let’s stop. Hide those suckers, unwrapped, all over the house and tell the kids it’s a scavenger hunt.

When we run out of money, let’s give ourselves permission to STOP SHOPPING. It’s okay to have limited resources. It’s not okay to bankrupt ourselves in the name of Christmas joy.

The little kids probably want to sit next to us and look at the Christmas tree. They probably would enjoy making a snowman or decorating cookies together. They do not need professional level gingerbread villages or hand sewn pajamas.

The older kids want more time to nap and watch YouTube videos, so that’s easy enough. We can nap when they nap, just like when they were babies!

Women, sit down with a mug this Christmas

The husbands and the rest of the family would probably appreciate it if we’d stop snapping their heads off. So let’s sit down with a nice mug of something warm and give ourselves a break.

(If it’s been an especially long day, a wee glass of wine might not hurt, either.)

Let’s go back two thousand years.

Remember back to the original Christmas, when Mary had the most beautiful experience ever. It was held in a literal barn. There was no potluck or Christmas tree or ugly sweater contest. She did not festoon the manger with twinkle lights or hand-embroider stocking decorations.

Mary had a quiet, holy night, contemplating God’s gift to the world. She held Salvation in her arms and nursed him at her breast.

Let’s not miss the beauty of the season by trying to make everything beautiful. It already is. It’s already the most blessed, holy holiday we have, partly because a woman was willing to allow God to work through her.

We still have the opportunity to let God work through us in this season. May we be open, willing, and rested enough to follow where he leads us.

 

Set Goals for Your Family: 5 key factors in making great decisions

“How do we set goals for our family? It seems like we have so many things we want to do, and we don’t know where to start!”

Last week I posted about the Tightwad Gazette, a book that encourages families to set their most important goals and then gives them frugal tools to reach them. A friend of mine had some questions about the goal-setting aspect of the post. She told me they have a ton of things they’d eventually like to do as a family, but they can’t do all of them. She isn’t sure what goals need to be thrown out and what ones need to be made a priority.

I gave her question some thought all week, and these are the five key ideas we’ve found helpful to set our own goals over eighteen years of marriage:

Pray about your goals.

There are obviously a million good things your family could do, but who’s to say which ones you should attempt?

I like to give God a voice in the proceedings. He has a vested interest in our lives, and he also has the clear vision of where we’re going.

Our family lives in this town, in this house, and in this school district because of questions we asked God more than thirteen years ago. Slowly and gradually, we’ve built a life here. Some days I wonder why, but deep in my bones I know we’re supposed to be exactly where we are.

There have been lots of times I’ve prayed about something and it seemed like God was asleep at the wheel, honestly. But now, looking back, I see his hand. His answer might not come quickly or audibly, but hindsight makes his presence and involvement clear.

Pay attention to recurring themes and dreams.

Good goals come back to you over and over again. They make an impression on you that grows a little deeper each time. You’ll begin to watch the people in your life, and you’ll notice when their choices result in disaster or blessing. You’ll start to notice a theme in what appeals to you and what it takes to reach those goals.

Maybe you want to be able to travel extensively when the kids are a little older. You may notice that families with five or more kids almost never travel further than the next county. Also, one income families probably have a hard time getting to Greece over the summer.

set family travel goals
Exhibit A: Here we have our sum total of two children, standing on a castle top overlooking the Irish countryside.

Or, maybe you want to homeschool your kids. You will probably notice that families who do this successfully rarely live in houses on Lake Michigan. Or, you may also notice their distinct lack of imported sports cars and wine cellars. You would correctly surmise that homeschooling requires intense time management and financial discipline. But you would also see the blessing in that decision, and you would decide it’s worth the struggle.

Notice what goals excite several members of your family, (especially you and your spouse).

I don’t want to say that the kids don’t count in goal setting, but they sort of don’t count. (Well, maybe they get a half vote.) But we’ve noticed that kids naturally adapt to their family environment, and it’s the parents who set that environment. For example, our kids think an afternoon of reading books while wrapped in snuggly blankets is perfectly wonderful. They don’t even hate our jazz.

Our nephews would probably pull their eyeballs from their sockets if they had to live with us. They’d seriously rather die. They’re used to afternoons running through the woods and geocaching and going on adventures.

So ignore the kids and turn to your spouse. Eric and I have each had all sorts of personal goals die a natural death with this test. For example, Eric spent his teenage years running snowmobiles all over their family farm. He might have planned a life like this, teaching our kids to do the same. But it turns out I hate being cold and driving loud equipment through snowy fields, and I wasn’t keen on spending that much money on the hobby. Owning a fleet of snowmobiles is not a Clemence Family goal. (As of this writing.) ((But Eric has a wild look in his eyes today, so we might end up with that fleet by the weekend.))

As for me, I had grown up in an old, white house on a farm. And Eric had gown up in an old, white house on a farm. Of course we’d do the same, right? NO. Turns out old farmhouses are DIY nightmares and we have no interest in mowing that much grass. We function best together in a new house on a quarter acre.

And we lovelovelove to travel as a family. That’s become our new family goal– where can we go next?

set family travel goals
Here we are (with Grandma!) in Ireland last fall. I KNOW it looks like any forest anywhere, but trust me. It’s an Irish forest.

Getting out of debt opens the doors to most of the other goals. Make it a priority.

Seriously. The world opens up when the debt is vanquished. All the best goals for your family hinge on financial freedom, and that requires as little debt as possible. If you need a bigger goal to motivate you through the debt payoff, fine. Dream big and wide. But be relentless about digging your way out of debt first, before you do anything else.

Focus on the short term goals, especially when your kids are young.

I used to plan ahead, and I mean way ahead. Like a decade. But that only exhausted me, because so many things can change in the next six months. It’s nuts to freak out over the next ten years. I think short term goals of a year are the most productive. And even then, I break those year-long goals down into quarters.

Once you have decided your family is complete, once you know you’re done with school and student loans, once you’ve found a community to call home, then the longer term goals begin to make more sense. But trying to plan for retirement or save for a second home makes no sense when you’re trying to decide if you’re having another baby or going back for a masters degree.

Keep yourself sane and stick with goals you can manage with what you know right now. You’ll feel more productive and in control when you’re not trying to manage ten years down the line.

Even after eighteen years of marriage…

Eric and I have still have a constantly evolving conversation about what our next goals are. We never feel like we have it perfectly planned out, and our friends often laugh out loud when we start talking about the future. We tend to bounce from one idea to another, at least verbally. I’m sure we seem like unstable weirdos pretty often.

Our lasting and most important goals, though, have gradually become clear as we’ve communicated, worked together, and been open to reformatting what we thought was the perfect plan. The next goal makes itself obvious, just in time. I bet you’ll probably find the same thing true in your life!

 

The Tightwad Gazette: Timeless Financial Advice for Your Family

What financial advice stands the test of time?

Financial advice must go beyond simple math lessons. The important stuff doesn’t have anything to do with cereal coupons or BOGO sales at the QuickMart. The best financial advice starts in our minds and hearts, giving us the right motivations and perspective on how we’re spending our money.

Years ago I was a fairly hysterical young wife and mother. And I mean hysterical in the “hey, that lady in the library’s budgeting section should be medicated,” not the “ha-ha, she’s funny kind of way.” 

I had a lot of goals for our family and we didn’t have buckets of gold dropping from the clouds. I turned my energy to learning everything I could about frugal living, budgeting, and stretching our income.

The dream that keeps on giving, I tell you

And this is where The Complete Tightwad Gazette  (*affiliate link) came into our lives, for better or worse. I found a copy in our little bitty library, a giant, 959-page tome of light shining into our financial situation. Amy Dacyczyn was a woman not unlike myself– a mother who wanted to raise her family in a certain way, and she was going to require some ninja-level skills to achieve her dreams.

Her dream was to have a big family (six kids!), live in the country in a charming old farmhouse, and not use daycare. This was a tall order, even back in the 80s and 90s.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette is a compilation of all her ninja-level frugal living skills, bound up for us today. But let’s be honest– we’re not living in 1992 anymore. Some of the advice in the book is now a bit laughable. For example, there are several entries on how to save money on stamps and envelopes. I can’t even imagine worrying about envelopes today. There’s also an article on saving money with CD membership programs, and some random advice on powdered milk.


So let’s skip all that and get right to the stuff that still applies to our lives today. Here’s the financial advice from Amy Dacyczyn that changed my life, and my family’s future. I’m confident this still applies for your family, too.

Set your family’s goals, then work relentlessly to meet them.

There’s no point to frugal living or budgeting if you don’t have a goal. Even if your plans are as simple as Save enough to pay off the last doctor’s visit, that’s fine. But the goals and the priorities are the place we all start.

It’s okay to live a counter cultural life to reach those goals.

Listen, it wasn’t normal to have a passel of kids and live in a huge old farmhouse in 1992, either. The Dacyczyns were weirdos even then. But they didn’t care. They were willing to wear garage-sale clothing and become DIY experts to live the life they envisioned. Nothing has changed in that regard.

It takes big and small sacrifices to reach the most important goals.

The most worthwhile goals require more than switching to the cheap toilet paper or using a coupon for coffee. We might have to severely limit our housing costs, our grocery bills, our insurance costs, and then still micromanage the tiny expenses.

It’s worth it in the end.

The Dacyczyns made their choices and lived with them happily. They got their big old farmhouse and raised their big old family there. They drank reconstituted powdered milk and ate produce from their own garden, exactly the way they wanted to live. Your goals might be completely different, but you can revel in your own success when you achieve what’s best for your family.

Those are my favorite bits of the Dacyczyn story. Sure, I benefited from their muffin recipe and giggled at the article on dumpster diving. But really, their life gave me the courage to set our own goals and then to be content with the sacrifices those goals required.

It’s what this entire blog is about, all these years later.

I hope you’ll pick up your own copy of the Tightwad Gazette, and let me know what works for you!


 

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