“Twelve Daily Habits for 2012”

                                          (reprint [in part] from 2008)

With the upcoming new year, I want to share a series of posts about daily disciplines. I found out that in order for my children to develop good daily habits, I must first develop them. (Shock, shock!)

In 2008, I wrote an article entitled, “Eight Daily Habits for 2008. Now I want to revisit that with “Twelve Daily Habits for 2012”—twelve things that I try to do most days to have good days in my home, personally, in my work, and with my family. And yes, as I develop discipline and self control to carry out the “dailies” that I know I need to do, my children follow my lead and instruction to carry out theirs much better as well—because my kids’ good character begins with my good character.

P.S. If these habits appeal to you but are far from your grasp, consider adopting one habit per month—by the end of the year you will have developed twelve daily habits that will truly affect how smoothly your day, your family, and your home operate.

                                                      Habit #1: Rise With the Lord
When people used to tell me this, I, of course (being the big thinker that I am), envisioned an hour in the early morning hours, in a prayer closet uninterrupted, worshipping, praying, and reading the Word. Because that could never happen in my life (and I can give you eight good reasons why it never did!), I never truly felt like I was ever “rising with the Lord.”

Then, I happened upon some verses that I could really sink my teeth into–meeting God in the night watches (perfect for us insomniacs!); God giving me a song in the night; etc. I might not be up at the crack of dawn, but I was often up throughout the night–those night watches and songs in the night were perfect for me!

Now that I am, well, maturing, I can’t stay up quite as late as I used to, but I still pray at night that God will give me a song in the night and that I will wake up with that song. And when I consistently do this, I do wake up with a song in my heart, a song that God gave me in the night. Many days, before I even open my eyes, my mind will start reciting words to a song: “Lord, you are more precious than silver”; “Be thou my vision”; “Cast me not away from your presence, Oh, Lord”; and much more. I am rising with the Lord! He is giving me a song in the night, and I am waking up with His song on my lips.

What does rising with the Lord mean to you? It could mean waking up and reading the Bible or a devotional before you do anything else. It might mean a prayer time before you start your day. However God leads you to rise with Him, make it a daily habit! Do not make it so elaborate (an hour in the Word and an hour in prayer!) that you cannot continue it your entire life, but do make it meaningful enough to have an effect on your day (which should be the result of any encounter with God).

                             Habit #2: Do Not Go to Sleep Without Making a Place for God

“I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, Until I found out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob” (Psalm 132: 4 & 5).

Many years ago I found myself reciting a certain verse over and over to myself: “I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids, Until I found out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob” (Psalm 132: 4 & 5). I taught it to the children and then made it into a song that my girls and I enjoyed singing for some time (and I still do today!):

“I will not (I will not) close my eyes (close my eyes);

I will not (I will not) slumber (slumber).

Til I’ve made a place (’til I’ve made a place)…

For the God of Jacob (for the God of Jacob)

‘Til I’ve made a place (’til I’ve made a place)

For my Lord (for my Lord).

Til I’ve made a place (’til I’ve made a place)…

For the God of Jacob (for the God of Jacob)

‘Til I’ve made a place (’til I’ve made a place)

For my Lord.”

Jacob was just a toddler at that time, and he, of course, thought we were singing about him–and often asked for the “Jakie song.” However, for me, it became a nightly prayer/song. No matter what my day held; no matter how busy and hectic it was; no matter how I felt about this or that–I was telling the Lord that I would not go to sleep until I had cleared my mind and heart for Him.

I have had different Bible and devotional reading habits through the years, including reading to and with the kids most days, but regardless of my reading routines, this song/verse calms me and reminds me to stop what I am doing and make room for the most important thing—the Lord living within me.

How can you make room for the Lord everyday/every night? Some may feel that they are creating a place for God if they study the Bible before bed. Others might feel that they are clearing a path for him through family prayer or praying with your spouse. Regardless of what you do, do not close your eyes; do not slumber…until you’ve made a place for the Lord.

                           Habit #3: Start Your Family’s Day With God’s Word

When we start the day out with our children and God’s Word, we are telling them that the Bible is the most important book to study and its truths are the most important knowledge to obtain. We decided nearly two dozen years ago that we would not teach academic subjects without teaching the Bible–and that it would be first. If we had time for the other subjects, great. If not, at least we had done the most important subject.

We have taught the Bible and character dozens of ways. There is no one “right way.” Ray’s favorite way is to open the Bible, read it together, and discuss it. He also enjoys “discipleship teaching”—just teaching while he and the boys are talking. (When the boys were little, they called this “Daddy talks.”) They work together in our print center a lot, so they like to discuss life then—and when he discusses life, it always eventually goes back to living a life for God. He also loves to teach them while we’re driving down the road (what Bible verse does that cloud make you think of?) or while they are doing “driver’s education”—great time to talk about selflessness, attentiveness, etc.!

I personally like using “programs”–reading from creation science books, character based books (like IBLP’s Character Sketches), Bible story books for younger children (like our favorite, Family Bible Library), character booklets and other devotional type booklets, etc. Ray has read through “The Picture Bible” with each child when each little one was between the ages of four and six. I read through the entire Family Bible Library with each child around that same time.

We also enjoy reading devotional materials together: discipleship books, names of God books, Bible handbooks, and other “daily devotionals.” (One of my many fond memories of teaching “Bible” and “character” to the children is twenty years ago when the three oldest kids would eat breakfast at their “little table” every morning, and I would sit at the end of the table and read to them from our devotional as they ate. Oh, sweet, sweet days!)

If this habit has eluded you in the past, just pick up a devotional or other “daily” type book (even if it is just a few paragraphs in length for each entry), and read it at breakfast every morning. That will get the ball rolling. From that will likely spring discussions and applications galore as you build those truths and principles into your children’s lives.

                         Habit #4: Tie Heart Strings With Your Children Each Day

“Our daily input into our three young adult daughters’ lives is like a continual healing balm to them.”

We can get so caught up in work, teaching, outside demands, and physical needs (feeding and clothing) that we overlook one of the most important things that we should do each day–tie heart strings with our children. Most parents have their children’s attention for eighteen years. Those are years that we can invest in them spiritually and build relationships with them.

It is so easy to get to the end of the day and discover that we have not squeezed our special squeeze, winked our special wink, or hugged our special hug. This is especially true as our children get older and no longer cuddle in our chair with us or have “rockies.”

In addition to the physical closeness that our children need, they also need our verbal affirmation and communication. Ray’s and my daily input into our three young adult daughters’ lives (ages seventeen, twenty, and twenty-one at the time of this original article in 2008) is like a continual healing balm to them. Two of them are heavily involved in demanding ministries–to the disabled and to the Spanish community (no English spoken!). One of them is searching for her place and working hard to prepare for her future. They need to connect with us. They need for us to tell them that we are proud of them and that we support their endeavors. They need for us to hurt with them when they are hurting. They need for us to say, “So, tell me about your day,” and “Give me details!”

Tying daily heart strings is more difficult than simply reading a morning devotional or being sure the laundry is done each day. It isn’t usually in the schedule. It is needed at the most inopportune times. The more you give, the more they seem to need. But it is essential. Our children need to have their heart strings tied to ours so that when the storms of life roll, they will have a safe haven of love and understanding—“Jesus” with arms and words of encouragement on this earth.

If you find that each day ends with no heart strings tied, try this little tip: In the corner of each day on your planner, put a little square. At the end of each day, write the initials of the child that you connected with that day in that little square. Purpose not to end a day without being able to write one sweet child’s initials in a daily square. Each week you can look back over your planner and see who missed out that week. (You know, the squeakiest wheel gets the grease!) Then next week, you will know who needs focused on more.

Or try this tip that I did for years and years when our older children were younger: have a “day” for each child. We milked this day for all it was worth. It was the child’s day to help me with dinner (or fix it herself as she got older); it was the child’s day to do extra chores; it was the child’s day to help teach some of the preschooler’s school. But it was also his day to pick two books for story time, sit in the front seat of the van if we went somewhere, and sit closest to Mom during read alouds. Heart-wise (and often unbeknownst to the child), it was his day to get a longer blessing during blessing time, to have a longer time with Dad at bedtime, and to get extra attention from Mom throughout the day. This is especially helpful for families with several children. Each child needs a day! 🙂

If you only do two things off my “twelve habits,” do Bible/character with your kids and tie heart strings every day. You can always get more organized, exercise, and work on projects later—your kids will be grown someday and these two things are not going to be on your “to do” list for forever.

         Habit #5: Get Completely Ready for the Day (Even If You’re Not Going Anywhere!)

Years ago, when my older children were younger, I seldom “fancied up” unless I was going somewhere. I often put on sweats, took my walk, then showered and put another pair of sweats on. I figured that if nobody was going to see me except the kids and Ray, I may as well use that time for something else. I hated spending time getting “fixed up” when I could be getting something done off my list (efficiency expert gone wild here!).

Then I became good friends with some gals who always seemed “fixed up.” They always looked great no matter whether I dropped in unexpectedly or saw them at the skating rink. And I decided that my family deserved more than ponytails and sweatpants.

Flylady (a self-help, organizing, cleaning guru online who helps thousands of women get control of their daily lives) sends out a daily email reminder early each morning that reads, “Dress down to your shoes.” Her premise is that if you get completely ready for the day (as though you are going somewhere), you will feel more professional and serious about what you do each day. Also, if you do it first thing (or at least right after reading or exercising), you will be more energized to attack the tasks at hand.

Now that Ray and I dance for exercise after work some days, I don’t just have to get ready down to my shoes; I actually have to get “dressed up” (well, somewhat dressed up). The studio where we dance has an unwritten “no jeans and no sweats” policy. But you know what? I like it. I have come to enjoy not being dowdy all the time! I don’t panic if someone pulls in the driveway. If I have to run a quick, unexpected errand, I don’t have to make excuses for my appearance to everyone I see.

Whether you get “fancy” each day or simply get completely ready for your day and presentable, if you are a work-at-home mom, homeschooler, or housewife with littles, I think you will enjoy it too. I feel so much better coming out to teach the kids and manage the home with myself pulled together. Besides my family deserves to have a happy, glowing mommy–and wife! Smile….

                                              Habit #6: Read Aloud to Your Kids

We have read aloud to our kids for years and years. When our older childen were little, they would get read to by me or Ray (through Bible, unit studies, devotions, and story time) three to five hours every day. Now neither of us has time to read aloud that much with the kids (and I admit I use talking books to substitute for me quite often!), but we still enjoy reading to and with the kids every day.

You have heard it all before–if you want to raise readers, you have to read to them. Children who are read to daily are x times more likely to become readers themselves, etc. etc. Guilt trip aside, we have found that reading has built a strong educational foundation–and tied heart strings at the same time. We have so many memories of “Jack, Max, and Axle at the Acme Painting Company” and “Morris learning to count,” as well as inspiring devotional materials and awesome creation science books. And, yes, we have raised several readers. Even the ones who do not read lengthy pieces of literature love to read the Bible and inspirational materials. And we all still love gathering with a stack of Christmas books in December for long evenings of reading aloud.

Again, think baby steps. Just read from a Christian adventure chapter book every night towards the end of dinner. Or read two stories to the littles before naptime. Or stick a book of short stories in the van and read aloud while Dad drives. You don’t have to read three to five hours a day. And you don’t have to read certain books. Just enjoy reading and learning together.

               Habit #7: Do Daily Chores Every Day Even If You Do Not Get to Anything Else

Nearly twenty-five years ago we started the habit of doing the most important chores first thing each day. We might read together; then some will go do devotions while others exercise, but before we “hit the books” for the day, we do the most important daily chores for that day. For us, this means getting something started (or figured out) for the evening meal, doing a load of laundry (and starting another one), unloading and reloading the dishwasher, gathering all of the trash throughout the house and taking it out (and replacing trash bags), being sure the kitchen sink is empty and wiped out, making the beds (okay, well Mom and Dad’s bed anyway—since it is downstairs and doubles as the “den”), putting away anything that is out from the night before, and wiping down the bathrooms/scrubbing toilets.

About twenty years ago, we lived in a home with a full basement, and our schoolroom was downstairs. One morning we went down to do Bible and character reading together, and then I gave everyone assignments to go upstairs and do chores. One of the kids mentioned that it would sure be a lot easier if just did our schoolwork (sessions with Mom) right after Bible then went upstairs and did chores. I almost agreed, but told the kids, “No, we want to come down to do school meetings with a clean upstairs and all of the daily work done.”

Well, when we came upstairs to do our jobs, we smelled something burning–and our attic was on fire. We had just moved into that house, a rental, so we didn’t have smoke detectors up yet, so if we had stayed downstairs, we might not have discovered the fire until it was too late (especially as long as it took me to get through several elementary children’s school meetings every morning!). We called the fire department and got out of the house before any damage was done to anything except the attic. And I was quick to tell the kids that it pays to do chores first thing in the morning!

One thing about important (i.e. no clothes to wear or dishes to eat on if they are skipped!) “daily” chores that has helped me immensely in raising a large family with several children in homeschool at one time is to think of dishes and laundry the same as brushing my teeth. I never brush my teeth fewer than two times a day…and we never do dishes or laundry fewer than two times a day. Saving dishes for later and accumulating large amounts of laundry always depressed me. I cannot function in school, writing, and other household tasks with undone dishes and undone laundry (that I or someone else will have to face when all of our other work for the day is finished).

If daily chores are keeping you from doing the most important things each day, start with this one: a daily chore time for twenty minutes or so each morning in which each person has a list of tasks in order to conquer those “dailies” that keep getting in your way. If you have two, three, (or in our case, six!) people doing daily chores every morning, those ongoing, never-quite-finished tasks will not seem so big. (Note: If both parents work outside the home and the children go to school, I recommend a “cleaning up dinner chore time” in which everybody pitches in for ten to twenty minutes and does different tasks around the house–some clean the meal; some do laundry; etc.)

                                      Habit #8: Read Something Just for You Every Day

Parents are busy people! And last on the list of “to do’s” in our lives is often anything that is “for us.” However, it might behoove us to look at some of those things that we do “for us” as not being just “for us” after all. Reading for yourself each day could just be one of those things.

I’ve been a big reader all throughout my parenting years—parenting books, homeschooling magazines and catalogs, devotional materials, and discipleship books are staples that I have pored over through the years. However, a few years ago, I realized that I was seldom picking these things up anymore. I would stack them on my headboard or desk, look at them longingly, remember the days of long naps for the kids and my “lunch and reading time,” but not really get to them.

In the past few years, I have gotten better about going back to my own reading. But in 2012, I want to make it even more of a priority. Not just Bible and character in the morning with the kids, not just reading stories to Jakie, not just a chapter book with my guys, not just a family devotional at the dinner table—but my “Trusting God” by Jerry Bridges and my “Grammar Girl Devotional” and my “Writing Handbook” and my “Raising Kids for True Greatness” and on and on. Just for me…because in the long run, reading for me is not really just reading for me.

                                    Habit #9: Exercise a Little Every Day

If you have read Positive Parenting long, you have probably heard me say that I am an “all or nothing type of person.” This mindset can be either really great or absolutely horrible. It is really great when I have the time and energy to put “all” into something and come out with something wonderful because I gave it my all. It’s absolutely horrible when I can’t do “all” of something, so I do nothing. Exercise and I have definitely had that all or nothing relationship through the years.

I either walked 90-120 minutes a day, did “Abs With Denise” every night, and lost eighty pounds. Or I did nothing and gained eighty pounds. Definitely all or nothing.

As I have found with most things in my life, the older I get, the more balance I achieve—and exercise is finally coming into balance for me. No more all or nothing. If I can do ten minutes of arms and stomach a day, I do that. If I can ballroom dance for two hours one day, I do that. If I can take a long walk with one of the kids, I go for it. If we can play basketball in the driveway for thirty minutes, pass me the ball.

With this “new” approach to exercise, I will probably never be a size six again…but I will never be a size twenty-four again either! I am healthier than I have been since my “exercise mania days” (which turned out to be not so healthy when coupled with starvation diets!). And definitely healthier than my size twenty-four days.

So…do you want to join me in the coming year? Exercise a little everyday—ten, twenty, thirty, sixty, or 120 minutes. Because a little bit all the time is better than a lot very infrequently.

                                   Habit #10: Work on a Big Project Every Day

In the last post’s exercise confession, I described how I am an “all or nothing type of person.” This, as I stated earlier, can be a real boon or a real detriment.

I have always believed in the concept of “do a little bit of a big project everyday,” but, as is true with all really good things, it is not enough to believe it, you have to do it. And that’s where I break down a little.

Oh, I’ve had varying degrees of success with it—and have always loved the outcome of that success. Many years ago, I made a commitment to write curriculum a few days each week—a little at a time. And thirty thousand pages later (they are not *all* text; some are student “worktexts” with lines for the kids to fill in), I know that “write most days” really worked.

I learned a dozen years ago that organizing experts say that you can maintain an organizational system in twenty minutes per day of maintenance. We have applied this to most of our home’s organizational systems and kept things flowing despite full time jobs, homeschooling, and starting a business/family ministry. A little every day keeps things moving on bigger projects in the same way that a few “dailies” each day keep things moving on a day-by-day basis.

I even taught my kids to do this. I can remember our third child, who is now a disability ministry director and gets tons done every day, announcing near the beginning of high school, that no matter what her days held, she was going to do ten minutes of each subject every school day. Obviously, most subjects required more than that, but her thinking (and it is great thinking) was that if she got out each subject for ten minutes every day, regardless of whether she was working that day or going on a field trip, etc., she would make her way through everything by the end of the year. And it worked.

Two years ago I set out on a “do a little bit of a big project everyday” as I started Positive Parenting 3*6*5 and committed to write a post every day—365 days in a row, as much as possible. I ended that on December 30th with success—365 parenting blog posts.

I was inspired again to apply this approach to some big projects I am working on right now by the “Git It Done Guy” (https://www.steverrobbins.com/the-book/ and on FB: https://www.facebook.com/GetItDoneGuy?ref=ts&sk=wall ). This internet self-help guru described how he broke down a big project (an upcoming book) into twenty minute increments every day. I am doing the same this year with my outlines and presentation materials, as well as with our parenting blog and our Language Lady blog.

Truly, to “git ‘it done,” you just have to do it….a little bit at a time.

                                            Habit #11: Do Something for Yourself

This habit is definitely a new one for me. However, in the past year, I have lost forty pounds, forty inches, and three sizes—by doing something for myself each day. Exercise, face exercises, skin brushing, moisturizing, “anti-wrinkle” cream application, and more have been added into this busy mamma’s schedule that formerly contained washing my hair, face, and body with the same Suave shampoo that my husband uses. (I’m not a real picky person—with seven children, you either become flexible and don’t freak out over not having everything “just so”—or you make everybody around you miserable—and I have always chosen the former.)

At first, I could barely write the shortened form of my new “something for myself daily habit”—SC—and that doesn’t stand for South Carolina, but rather for “Self Care,” something I decided that I would really try to do over the past several months. It felt so, well, self-focused and self-absorbed. I mean, people are waiting on their new language arts books, my kids need their mom during the fifteen minutes I was standing in front of the mirror attempting to make wrinkles disappear, and I could be writing another book with that time!

However, I succumbed to the SC regiment—and I’m kind of liking it. Oh, I don’t do all of my “Self Care” tasks every day—and some days I fall into bed without even one SC done. But taking the time for these extras is starting to pay off—and I really love the new clothes I am fitting into! 

Habit #12: Kiss Your Spouse for at Least 15 Seconds and Hug for at Least 30 Seconds

“It isn’t, of course, the magic of kissing for fifteen seconds or hugging for thirty seconds that makes this a good daily habit. It is the fact that a fifteen second kiss is more than a peck, and a thirty second hug is more than a passing squeeze. The “time minimums” force us to stick around a little bit, stop what we’re doing, and be close to the one we love.”

This is a new “rule” for us (as of the 2008 original article)! Don’t blush…you know that you function better in all areas when you have kissed and hugged enough! My brother-in-law, a much cooler, younger person than Ray or I, came home (along with my sister and their kids) this summer to visit following a marriage retreat that they had attended. When anything got stressful for my sister, he would say (as only Uncle Leonard can), “Come here, honey. You know we didn’t have our kissing and hugging yet. That’s probably what’s wrong.” What a sweet husband!

Leonard was just stressing something that all of us married parents need to emphasize: romance, including kissing and hugging, can help alleviate stress! Our kids thought our elevator kissing was unbearable already, without enduring it for a full fifteen seconds! But you know what? They secretly like it. 🙂

It isn’t, of course, the magic of kissing for fifteen seconds or hugging for thirty seconds that makes this a good daily habit. It is the fact that a fifteen second kiss is more than a peck, and a thirty second hug is more than a passing squeeze. The “time minimums” force us to stick around a little bit, stop what we’re doing, and be close to the one we love. Maybe there won’t always be time for romance, hearts, flowers, and rainbows, but our marriage is the most important (and longest!) relationship we have on this earth. We need to protect it, nurture it, and shower it with kisses and hugs.

So….there you have it. Twelve daily habits* that make a huge difference in my home, life, and school. I did want to add that “daily habits,” for us, has always meant “more often than not.” We do not beat ourselves up trying to achieve perfection. We have found through the years that if we can do those important things four days a week at least (more often than not), we will succeed over the long haul. Of course, hugging and kissing has to be 365 days a year to make me truly successful in life. Smile…

***Parts of this article were written in 2008 under the title “Eight Daily Habits for ’08” and published in Training for Triumph’s homeschooling newsletter (as opposed to the “Twelve Daily Habits of ‘12” in this blog).

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