Raising Kids With Character Parenting Seminar

    It’s that time of year already! That time when we start considering where and how often we will travel to speak in the spring and summer. We haven’t been traveling as much the past few years as we have been working hard to first of all revise Character...
Our Kids Will Do To and For Other What We Do To and For Them–Reprint

Our Kids Will Do To and For Other What We Do To and For Them–Reprint

“Throughout their lives, your kids will do to and for others what you have done to and for them.”

In our “Character for Tweens and Teens” seminar, we stress the quote above—because we have seen it over and over in our children’s lives during our thirty years of parenting. And it is truly something to consider in the time, effort, money, and teaching that we invest in our children. When I look back at how true this statement has been in our lives, I just want to tell every parent that there are genuine dividends paid for all of that investing!

I could share examples of this with you from every age and stage our seven kids:

*How Joshua, our first born, would sit in the back of the van and tell his sisters what to expect when we got to our destination, how they should behave and how they should treat others—because his mommy and daddy had done that for him since he was a toddler.

*How Kayla, our second daughter, took it upon herself at age fourteen to do all of the cooking for a long period of time during my grief after our stillborn daughter’s birth and my life-threatening ruptured uterus—because her parents had served her, fed her, and taught her everything she needed to know in the kitchen.

*How Cami, our third child, started a ministry for the disabled when she was a senior in high school (that still runs today seven years later and ministers to over a hundred disabled adults every week)—because we taught her to look into people’s hearts to see their deepest needs, and we looked into her heart.

*How the girls planned a special meal for their brothers and even called and invited their grandparents to their “Silly Supper” while Mom and Dad were out of town—because Mom and Dad had always tried to make things special for them.

*How Kara, our fourth child, listened intently night after night to the needs of the teens on the traveling drama team that she led—because her parents had listened to her needs late at night for twenty years.

And on and on and on and on. Our children are far from perfect—as are their parents. But there is one thing that we can be sure they will always do: serve, love, reach out, touch, help, and communicate with others in many of the same ways that they have been served, loved, reached out to, touched, helped, and communicated with by us, their parents.
We have an example of this hot off the press that is so incredibly cute I just had to share it with you. Our almost-eighteen  year-old Josiah (sixth child of seven living)  asked a few weeks ago if he could surprise his younger brother Jacob (our youngest) by taking him to visit their oldest sister near Chicago where she is in grad school at Wheaton College (a four hour drive from us). We discussed it and decided to let him do it, so he set about planning the trip.

He must have talked to me about the “unveiling” of the trip to Jakie no fewer than a dozen times over the three weeks prior to the trip: “Should I drive home with him from my drum teaching and ask him to tell me where the gps says to turn?” “Should I take him to Cami and Joseph’s (our daughter and son-in-law) and make him think we are spending the night there but then take off from there?” “Should I pack all of his stuff while he is at piano then act like we are going to run errands?” On and on. He had a new idea everyday it seemed.

He set aside two hours the night before to go over directions with his dad, talk to us about details, call Kayla (whom they were going to see), and pack/load the car while Jacob was at the YMCA exercising with Kara (our fourth child). He gassed up his vehicle. He packed snacks. He gathered story tapes. He went to the bank and got cash. He packed Jakie’s things and hid them in the trunk.

At one point in Josiah’s preparations, he said, “Don’t you think this is the best surprise that any of the siblings have ever done for another one?” To which we just smiled and nodded. (Our kids have had a sort of unofficial “best sibling EV-ER” contest going on for many years.)

And then they left. His idea to take Jacob to Cami and Joseph’s and go from there, telling him only when Jacob noticed that they were not taking the route that led home, won out. 

And Jacob called us to see if it was really true—“are we really driving to Kayla’s for the weekend?” We could hear Josiah laughing in the background—one happy big brother.

Josiah’s idea wasn’t quite as original as he thought—but we didn’t tell him that, of course. For Josiah had just done nearly everything that we had done for him eight years ago when we took him and his siblings on a surprise weekend trip—right down to hiding packed things in the trunk, packing good snacks, sneaking out story tapes and games,  and taking a strange route to confuse them. Because by that time, we knew that  “throughout their lives, our kids will do to and for other whatever has been done to and for them.” Smile…
Never Get Behind on Dishes and Laundry Again!

Never Get Behind on Dishes and Laundry Again!

Image from scoutiegirl.com

Twenty-five years ago when I was a young mother, housewife, and homeschooler, I had trouble getting all of my work done every day–while teaching a young son to read, keeping a curious preschooler out of everything, taking care of a toddler, nursing a baby, etc. Truly the statement “the days are long but the years are short” was never more real to me.

I had problems that many people who are “self employed” have–plus the added “benefits” of having a lot of littles around making messes and needing seemingly-constant attention. (I really do think they are benefits–but when a man is self-employed, he usually doesn’t have to take care of a home, feed a crew, and provide constant care and supervision to little kids! He just, well, works!)

The greatest problem that those of us who are self employed and/or homeschoolers and/or housewives with littles is that of prioritizing. The second greatest is motivation. Why clean this up when it is just going to become a mess again in thirty minutes? Why fix a hot meal….three hours later, I will need to start another hot meal!

I have found many ways to get the motivation needed to make it through those days of many littles and lots of homeschooling needs–but that would take a book to explain, so for today, I would like to address the concept of prioritizing.

When I had little kids, I loved creating systems–toy storage systems, closet organization, bookshelf perfection. These were things, however, that should not have been high on the priority list. The priority list needed to include daily work, like dishes, laundry, meal preps, child cleansing, reading lessons, and unit studies. Not systems!

My husband would come home at the end of the work day, and I would take him by the hand and lead him through the house, making a path through clean laundry, unbathed children in pj’s, and stacks of dishes, to show him the toy shelves with all of the toys sorted into baby wipe containers with picture labels on each shelf so that the kids could put the toys onto the right shelves. It didn’t even dawn on me that I should have done dishes and laundry BEFORE doing those amazing toy shelves.

After he saw my prize-winning shelves, Ray would roll up his sleeves (literally) and dig in to help bail me out from my day of misplaced priorities. We would get the dishes and laundry done; he would call me “closet lady” –and then we would often repeat the cycle again in a few days. 

As we added more children to our home (and more kids in school), it became obvious that I could not continue to put contact paper on every box that came in the house and hand make labels with bright magic markers. Something had to give–and it was then that I came up with the solution to all of our laundry and dish (and trash!) problems:

Treat laundry, dishes, and trash just like brushing my teeth. I brush my teeth at least twice a day (sometimes three or four if I eat something spicy or I am going out in the evening). And I began doing the same with dishes, laundry, and trash. 

We still adhere to the below schedule twenty-five years later–though I have seldom done this daily work once the two oldest children could handle these tasks, about ages ten and seven–the youngest child or two of the family who can handle the work has always done the daily tasks (so that we more, um, accomplished kids and parents can do harder jobs, like cooking, shopping, cleaning out freezers, weekly bathroom cleaning, discipling teens, mentoring young adults, teaching fractions, organizing closets (!), etc.).

                    TWICE A DAY LAUNDRY, DISHES, and TRASH TASKS

Bedtime: (1) Run the dishes from the evening in the dishwasher
 (2) Put laundry from earlier in the dryer (“fold ups” only; we have always done hang ups in the moment, moving it before it spins out and hanging it up when it is nearly dry so that we don’t have to iron)
3) Start another load in the washer before sleeping

Morning: (1) Unload dishwasher and put away any big dishes that were drying on the counter after last night’s dinner
(2) Fold and put away laundry in the dryer
(3) Move washer load from washer to dryer and dry it
(4) Gather trash all over the house in the big bag out of the kitchen trash can and take it all out; replace bag

Noontime: (1) Do second load of laundry in dryer (fold and put away)
(2) Start tonight’s first load of laundry in washer
(3) Load dishes from breakfast, lunch, snacks, and cooking and run dishwasher

Evening chores: (1) Unload daytime dishes
(2) Load dinner and dinner prep dishes
(3) Bag kitchen trash again and take it out (we only gather from everywhere else once a day, in the morning)

This assumes chore sessions are in place. Even if you do not have good chore sessions right now, you can start with a five minute session before or after each meal and get laundry and dishes done then (even if it is just you doing them). Four five minute sessions can keep everything up if you have a dishwasher. (Note that we do a load or two of “hang ups” in another chore session in addition to that twice-daily laundry schedule. “Hang up” laundry is a weekly chore, separate from the daily laundry.)

When I didn’t have a dishwasher, I still kept this same routine, but I just kept hot sudsy water in the sink all day (reviving it as needed) and washed dishes and put them in the drying rack as I had them, definitely at least after each meal, but I (or a child) would often run out and wash a sinkful here and there.

Doesn’t TWICE A DAY for each chore (fully done–trash, laundry, and dishes) and twenty total minutes of work a day sound completely doable??? It is! You can do this!

Twice a day–just like brushing your teeth!

Q is for QUIT FIGHTING–Start Out Right With Siblings/Littles With Behavior Absolutes

Q is for QUIT FIGHTING–Start Out Right With Siblings/Littles With Behavior Absolutes

Kara (4.5) and Jonathan (almost 3) doing their sibling Bible verse for a special at church: “How happy it is when brothers dwell together in unity!” 

The next tip after trying to set your toddler’s taste for kindness is the following: Decide ahead of time what your “behavior absolutes” are going to be. 

1. These are the behaviors or negative character that you absolutely will not allow in your home. What you allow now will become the “acceptable behaviors” to your child. These seemingly innocent actions include “fibbing,” hitting, being mean to others, running the other way when called, etc.

2.  For us, these “behavior absolutes” included the following:

a. Talking back (no toddler saying “no” without being punished)
b. Lying or deceit
c. Temper tantrums
d. Striking (hitting, pulling hair, throwing things at someone, etc.). 
e. Being mean

Obviously, we wanted our kids to learn to obey and submit to us and to learn the many character qualities that are crucial to living a Christian life, but these five things were things we never wavered on—and things that we made huge deals out of when they were not adhered to by the toddler/preschooler.

Kara (now 23) and Jonathan (now 21) have been best friends since they were very young.–honest! 😉

One question we frequently get when discussing the idea of behavior absolutes is “How do we make a certain behavior an absolute?”

Before I delve into a couple specific tips for this, I do want to say that keeping sibling fighting to a minimum, helping brothers and sisters love each other, and instituting and enforcing a no striking policy is more a way of life than it is a list of do’s and don’t’s. 

Obviously, we believe that there are some key things that accounted for our children’s very limited fighting and not harming each other, but more than that list of things we did is the idea of being “that family.” Not weird or trying to outdo others with our “uniqueness”–but rather our children knew that though others might fight all the time, we were”that family”–the family that doesn’t allow that. Though other children may raise their hands to harm their sibling, we are “that family”–and we do not permit hurting each other.

A way of life–one that begins with “setting tastes” for kindness and good character and one that has certain expectations always in place. Not expectations that “do this or you’re toast” but expectations that Mom and Dad taught us this way, and this is how we live. 

But on to that list–a few things that we think can help a family develop certain behavior absolutes (including loving and being kind to siblings):

1. Behavior absolutes begin with a mindset. 

This mindset is one with faith in what you are doing. Faith that making behavior absolutes that our children will learn to follow is what is truly best. Faith that these things that we are saying are not allowed in our home are things that God would have us do. Faith that God will bless our family’s consistency, efforts, and desire to please Him. Faith that consistency and godliness in our home really will work.

It is also a mindset that says, “What I am trying to do here is so important that I am going to put the time and energy into it that it takes to accomplish it. I am not going to let things slide that I know will cause us not to meet our goals for our children’s behaviors. I am not going to look the other way when I know something is not right. I am not going to downplay something that we have deemed as important from the beginning.”

That is a tall order. But it is one that can truly be carried out. When we go into this parenting endeavor with an idea of what we truly want our homes to look like–and the determination to follow through on it–it is very possible.

2. Your reaction to behavior absolutes being broken is crucial. 

My husband has an annoying saying (it used to be; now that our kids are mostly grown, I agree with him!): “We are getting the behavior that we want. if we wanted something different, we would do something different.”

While that isn’t one hundred percent accurate, the concept is true. If we want our children to be kind to each other and not strike each other, then those behaviors have to be treated as terrible behaviors. We can’t just say, “Be nice” and hope that their behavior changes. 

We liken behavior absolutes to sitting in a car seat. We can say over and over, “I just can’t get him to quit hitting his sister.” 

However, we somehow (eventually) get our child to quit screaming in the car seat and sit in there until he is five or six! How is that? It is because sitting in the car seat is a behavior absolute.  We would ever consider letting a child have his own way and sit up front between Mom and Dad. It is the law. It is the way it is–and it can’t be changed.

So it is with behavior absolutes. We have to feel so strongly about those behaviors that we will not budge on them. When one of our kids is mean to another one, we will not just say “Be nice” and send him to his room. We will instead respond as though he just did something very, very bad. Because if meanness is one of our behavior absolutes, it is a very, very bad thing.

I have to inject a note here about spanking–because many “modern moms” are either against it or believe that it doesn’t work. Or buy into the philosophy that spanking a child will make him mean or will make him strike others. 

I know that a family of seven children is not a full-blown case study. However, I don’t see how the whole “spanking causes children to be violent” could possibly be true when all of our seven children were spanked (not carelessly; not in anger; not for frivolities or childishness) for the Four D’s –and yet they are seven of the most peaceable adults you will ever meet. As children, they didn’t often fight with each other–and seldom (if ever) struck another child (or bit, pulled hair, pushed, hit, etc.) after age two or so. (I’m sure they probably did as toddlers–but we treated it very seriously and nipped it in the bud.)

So yes, we spanked our children if they were mean or if they hurt others (as well as for other defiant behaviors). But we didn’t have to do it often. Peace with each other and not harming others was a way of life, so it didn’t take a lot of discipline for it. 

Thus, the way we respond to our behavior absolutes will have a huge bearing on how “absolute” these behaviors become. Don’t take them lightly. Don’t put kids in their rooms with video games or televisions because they were unkind. Don’t tell children who hit that they shouldn’t do that–and they should be nice. Respond with the level of unacceptability that you would for something really bad–if you think it is really bad.

3. Don’t make too big of deal out of things that aren’t important.

If we truly want to develop behavior absolutes in our homes, then things that are not that big of deals can’t be made into big deals.

We see this all the time. A parent responds to a child leaving his socks on the living room floor in the same way that she responds to his backtalking or being unkind to his sister. While we recommend that the things you feel are behavior absolutes be given a high priority and level of response, we also believe that in general parents need to “lighten up” when it comes to childish behaviors (being too loud, making a mess, forgetting to pick up his socks, etc.) and focus on behaviors that are truly important (and from the heart)–such as direct disobedience, meanness, disrespect to parents and other authorities, etc. 

When everything our kids do is the same level of “wrongness,” they will not learn the difference between sins and mistakes. When everything our kids do is punished in the same way, they will feel that they can never please us–that no matter what they do, we will find fault in them.

I won’t spend a great deal of time on this as we have several posts about this under the character training label and we teach about it extensively in our parenting seminar, but just examine your parenting and see if you are placing too much emphasis on the wrongness of a behavior that is just a kid being a kid and not enough on something that is coming from a child’s heart.

I will move on to older kids–including punishments that are appropriate for fighting, helping kids learn how their behaviors affect others, and teaching our kids to love and respect each other–very soon. Thanks for joining us!

And here is the sweet sibling pair when they were teens–Jonathan (17) and Kara (19). The cute thing about this pic is that it was taken when they were traveling on a summer drama team together–and they both kept it as their profile pictures on Facebook for several months. Sweet!

Thirty Days of Romance June 2013

Thirty Days of Romance June 2013

“I’m in love, I’m in love…and I don’t care who knows it.” Elf

Today is the beginning of this year’s “Thirty Days of Romance” for me and Ray. 

Several years ago, we celebrated being together for thirty years–thirty years since our first date, and we’ve been together ever since! Anyway, we celebrated those thirty years by having what we called “thirty days of romance.” That is, for those thirty days we focused more on each other than other things. We thought of each other more, made each other feel important, did special things for each other, spent more time alone, and just generally tried to focus more on romance than “stuff”–those things that we always have to do. It was such a success that we decided to make it an annual event.

We have had a few “30 Days of Romance” in the past few years, and we have loved them! In recent years, we have been getting too busy with my writing and editing, Ray’s work, our publishing company, our family speaking ministry, and all seven of our children and their needs. It just seemed like the long talks, special candy bars, frequent rendezvous (!), etc., were slipping away from us. 

Some ideas we have used (and/or hope to use in the future)—some are just simple things that we forget to do in our daily busy-ness. (Feel free to share—we should start a Romantic Revolution!!! )

1. Make favorite meals —I try to make spaghetti a couple of times during this time–Ray’s favorite!; Ray will grab the kids and make me homemade French fries or have one of the boys make brownies, etc., sometimes.

Stir fry! One of Ray’s favorites!

2. Out for dinner in Fort Wayne–since we started dancing, we seldom go to movies and/or dinner because it takes so much to get away to dance—and we do not feel like we can justify another evening away from the kids—during 30 Days of Romance, we take exception to that, even if it means dinner and movie on Tuesday AND dancing on Saturday! 

Date night!

3. Romantic comedies/movies—we have two ballroom dance movies we like to watch. Ray loves romantic movies; I prefer action/legal thrillers/drama, and I’m the one who usually rents movies, so I try to get more movies he likes during this month.

This is one of our favorite romantic movies–as long as we fast forward the part near the beginning where the wife dies in a car accident (too many bad memories from my ruptured uterus fourteen years ago).

4. Just talking—During this time, we try to slow down the pace and not rush when we do have time together. For example, we try to go to our dances early and leave them late! We always barely come into a dance (and one of us is often on the phone to one of the older kids when we first arrive) or have to leave early, etc. etc.,  it seems. During 30 Days, we just want to slow down, dance some, talk some, and just not rush for a little bit! Talking without our kids needing us is a luxury, so we just tried to focus more on that this month.

Okay….talking AND kissing! Smile…

5. More phone calls and emails—and more little signs, words, and phrases that nobody but us knows what they mean in our phone calls and emails (though the kids try to figure them out!! ).

I love this quote that Ray emailed to me today:  

“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very
pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love
grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning
and unquenchable.” – Bruce Lee        


6. More yielding—just taking our own advice (when we counsel people) to be the one who stops an argument or disagreement, to be the one who doesn’t have to be right, to be the one who brings peace in a situation that could become less than peaceful. We teach yielding in our book, curricula, blog, seminar, and workshops, but it is so hard to do in life everyday and to do it ALL THE TIME—just to remind ourselves that the other person’s feelings and that relationship is worth yielding for. 

7. Song finding—this is a new thing we want to do—find songs that we like on the internet and have Jonathan buy them and put them on a cd for us—and decide which dances we would do with each one, etc. 

You can hear one of our favorite “Night Club Two Step” songs here

8. Look up dancing together online—on rare occasions, we will sit down and look up a certain dance online and try to figure out how they do certain moves, or watch for styling or theory, etc. Listen to/watch “lessons” online. During “30 Days,” we want to do this more. 

Watch this fun West Coast Swing dance! No, it isn’t us, and yes, we wish we could dance like this!

9. Play games—before our kids got so old and needed us so much in the evenings (including our grown children on the phone, etc.), we used to play Scrabble, Guess Who, Blokus, Backgammon, and Cribbage in our room and watch a fun movie, eat snacks, and just enjoy each other and relax. Now it seems like we are always with one of the kids for something (i.e. Ray is at the table with Josiah and his algebra right now; I’m getting ready to call back one of our daughters to talk, etc. etc.)—or if we play games, it is with the kids (which is fun too, but not alone time). We seldom stop early enough in the evening to have our fun game time anymore. During this month, we will “make dates” to do that. 

This is one of our favorites! But we show each other our own tiles & help each other get more points! I love that man!

10. Go out for dessert—when the kids were all younger (but the oldest was twelve), a couple of times a month, we would put them all to bed at eight o’clock and go out for dessert. Again, nowadays, our nine to eleven hours are earmarked for our teens and college kids who live at home–not for dessert or moves. We try to do this some during our 30 Days and use those hours for each other rather than the kids.

During Thirty Days of Romance, we like to go out for dessert, but here is one to make at home–Butterfinger Dessert!

11. Dance lessons—We had put private lessons on hold for the past five years due to the expenses with getting our publishing company off the ground; a wedding; three kids in college, feeding six adults (!),  etc. etc etc. We want to try to take at least two private lessons during this month. 

12. Little surprises—When we didn’t have so many needs to meet, we just thought of little things more—you know, picking up my favorite editing pen at Walmart when Ray is getting groceries or grabbing his favorite pop at the gas station—just the little things that let the other person know he is being thought of. One “30 Days” Ray had a dozen roses (of different colors–beautiful!) delivered in increments of three–during my “CQLA Cottage Class” day. Thus, every couple of hours, the florist would come with three more roses–my students thought it was a hoot–but I just loved it!

An especially special treat since I call Ray “Ray Baby” more than I do Ray! Smile…

13. Not work at night so much—Because of homeschooling during the day (and teaching one hundred kids in Ossian, Fort Wayne, and Leo writing each week), I often work at night while Ray oversees kids’ homework, teaches some of their classes, does driver’s training with whomever happens to be learning to drive at that time, works on meal clean up with the kids, etc etc. I often have trouble stopping my work. (I really love to work…especially writing and editing!) When it is payroll time, student billing time, order filling time, etc. etc. Ray often works after he is done with the kids in the evening too. Anyway, during 30 Days, we designate certain nights for us to stop working at a certain time. 

All work and no play makes a marriage dull! 

14. Planning and dreaming together—We always used to plan and dream together—now it seems like life happens so fast that we hardly have time to plan ahead or dream about what might be. We take more time for that during this month. 

15. Get away—Since this “30 Days” is falling over our anniversary,I hope we can get away and possibly go to a dance (especially at the beautiful “Roof Ballroom” in Indianapolis) and stay overnight a day or two. When we can do this, it makes our “30 Days” even more romantic.

16. “Twalks”—before we started Character Ink and Raising Kids With Character, and I started writing so much, we used to take a “twalk” many days after work. This was a time in which the two of us just took off on a walk to talk. We are trying to incorporate more of these—without cell phones on us!

I recommend “Thirty Days of Romance” to all married couples—whether you’ve been married ten years or forty. It just puts the focus back on each other in marriage—and that focus is so easy to lose with the demands of parenting, work, ministry, and more.

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