Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Eight Tips To Save Your Sanity On Family Road Trips

I remember our first road trip with picture-perfect clarity.
Three kids. Eight hours.

Our youngest wanted a snack, so I passed him a bag of grapes. After eating the entire bag, he puked all over the back of our car. We found ourselves in a Whataburger parking lot, unpacking to get spare clothes from a suitcase at the bottom of the pile, and cleaning puke out of a car seat with drive-thru napkins no thicker than the top layer of skin that peels off after a bad sunburn.   
Since then, we’ve had our share of road trips filled with flat tires, detours, rocks in the window, potty breaks on the side of the road, and hysteria from the back seat. The number of times I’ve been asked, “Are we there yet?”

I don’t even know.
But I’ve come to adore road trips with my family. They’re some of the sweetest times we share. It’s nice to be in one place without the distractions of home, and the memory making along the way is priceless. As soon as we hit the highway, our kids begin the jaunt down memory lane, recalling the victories and defeats from prior road trips with joy.

We’ve got this down and will be making our fifth road trip to Colorado this summer to spend time at Sky Ranch Horn Creek and Sky Ranch UteTrail.

But as I visit with other families who have less experience on the road, I hear how intimidated they are to stare a road trip in the face. So today, I’m sharing some tips we’ve learned that make road trips a whole lot of fun!
Have a Plan

Before leaving town, learn your route, identify places to stop, and create a schedule for travel and passing time in the car. Make hotel reservations in advance, and book a hotel with a pool so your kids can burn some energy at the end of the day.
Enjoy the Journey

Build in time on the road to do fun things. Stop at a playground, get a shake from the drive-thru, or visit an attraction along the way. Consider your road trip part of the vacation, not simply the means to get you there.
Pack Backpacks
Pack a backpack for each person. Include the following: a change of clothes, pajamas, swimsuits/goggles, toiletries, sunglasses, raincoats, walking shoes/socks, and items for entertainment. When you get to the hotel, just grab the backpacks instead of unloading the entire car!

Bring Healthy(ish) Snacks

Be relaxed about nutrition on vacation, but maintain some level of healthy eating on the road. Nothing is worse than sugar-amped, thirsty kids in the car! To save money and control sugar and salt intake, consider packing lunches and snacks. Ideas include: sandwiches (pre-made and stored in the bread sack), fruit, veggies, hummus, nuts, string cheese, apple sauce pouches, and popcorn. Always bring baggies for reasonable portions (remember the grapes incident?) and insulated cups to keep beverages cold.
Stop Efficiently

When you stop for gas, require that everyone use the restroom. When you stop for the restroom, top off the tank. If you stop for treats, choose a place to do all three! When you do stop, rotate cleaning trash out of the car.
Plan Activities

Time on the road is a great opportunity to bond, stirring up a stronger sense of family identity. Some ideas include: conversation cards, a family devotional, or listening to books on Audible. I also recommend the National Geographic Kids Road Trip Atlas. Our kids love following our routes, reading about the states we pass through, and doing the activities.
This year, we’re also playing Did You Know? List family members and close friends on individual recipe cards. Draw a card out of the stack, and share a story about that individual your kids wouldn’t otherwise know. It’s a great way to teach heritage and create interesting conversation.

Embrace the Ebbs and Flows
Regardless of planning, you will hit some potholes that wear down patience and ratchet up frustration. Don’t fret! Instead, take a time out. Let the kids plug in, listen to classical guitar or spa music, or turn on a DVD series like Planet Earth. While limits on technology are a good idea, I would never suggest banning them altogether. Let them serve your family well so everyone gets a good measure of community and alone time, and so you can enjoy some adult time too!

Be Prepared
Nothing is worse than being caught off-guard on the road. Packing the following items will help: plastic grocery sacks, baggies, Febreeze, antibacterial, wipes, batteries and car chargers, headphones, a first-aid kit, Dramamine, and small blankets and pillows for each child. In addition, stow flip flops in the pockets behind each seat because someone will lose their shoes!

I hope these tips will serve your family well as you hit the road this summer. And I’d love for you to share your own road trips tips in the comments for the benefit of our tribe. My prayer is that, together, we can hack this thing called road trips and turn them into something special that will bless our families!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Do Our Words Speak Life To Our Children?

At the end of the day during his first week of kindergarten, Little Bit threw his arms around my thighs, burying his face in my belly. Through twinkling eyes and a beaming smile, he said, “I have a surprise for you!”

He made me close my eyes, took me by the hand, and led me down the hallway into our bedroom. When he had me perfectly positioned, he told me to open my eyes.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but then I found it, in all its glory. A hand-written note from his teacher, praising him for a job well done, taped right above our bed on the wall. He had shown love to one of his classmates, and his teacher wanted us to know about it.

I reinforced his excitement by praising this character quality he had demonstrated at school, hugged his neck, and didn’t think more about it.

But I began to see a pattern.

Every time his teacher sent a note home telling us something she had seen in his heart, he would tape it to the wall above our bed. Over time, it became known as Little Bit’s “Wall of Fame.” It’s now decorated with streamers and has spilled over to other parts of our room. We all have a love language, and the evidence points to the fact that Little Bit’s love language may be words of affirmation!

Regardless of our love language, however, speaking words of encouragement and life rather than words of condemnation and death is a more fruitful way to communicate.  After all, scripture is chock full of instruction in this regard:
1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

Ephesians 4:29
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Proverbs 12:25

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad."

This isn’t to say we should never offer reproof, but I think we’re wise to consider what characterizes us:
Are we characterized by speaking life or death?

Last week, I wrote about using the extra margin that summer provides to work on things as a family we don’t have time for during the school year. We do this every summer.

We try to do the same thing as it relates to our parenting. We have adopted a philosophy for how we parent that directs our steps upon the path.
But let’s be real.
The chaos of the school year often results in us hiking off trail. The slower pace of summer provides a great opportunity to re-direct ourselves in the good habits we know but don’t always practice.

Parenting requires that we draw boundaries (“no”) and redirect behavior (“don’t do that”) continually. As a result, we can easily fall into the trap of negative speech if we don’t mind our tongues. But we’ve found that when we’re characterized by negative speech, the atmosphere in our home is negative. Conversely, when we speak encouragement and life, the atmosphere in our home is life-giving.

Imagine that!

So this summer, we’re minding our tongues, paying close attention to instruct our children with words of encouragement and life as often as possible, saving language of reproof for times when it’s absolutely necessary.

Here are 5 ways in which we can speak encouragement and life to our children:

1.       Say “yes” as often as possible so that “no” is saved for times it is necessary.

2.       Praise their effort rather than the outcome so we don’t instill in them a fear of failure and so we do encourage them to develop work ethic and grit.    

3.       Affirm character qualities we observe in them such as those identified in Galatians 5:22-23.

4.       When giving instruction, speak in terms of what we hope to see, not what we don’t want to see. (“Don’t spill your cereal” becomes “Let’s try to keep all our cereal in the bowl!”)

5.       When giving reproof, elevate the virtue, not the vice, and call out the behavior, not the person. (“You are rude” becomes “That was not very respectful. In our home, we treat others with respect.”)

These tactics are simple enough. But we live in a culture that’s plagued by negative speech. Just as “we are what eat,” so too is it that “we say what we hear.” As a result, it takes conscious effort and dedicated resolve to re-train our tongues.

That’s why summer is a great time for us to evaluate how we’re doing in this regard and identify areas in which we would be wise to improve.
Here's to using our words to create a life-giving atmosphere in our home! 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Why Our Kids Should Be Put To Work On Summer Break

My sister recently had this conversation with her five-year-old:

“Mom, what's after college?”
“What's life?”
“When you work and maybe get married and have kids.”
“I have to get a job???!”

The poor thing could wrap his mind around “maybe” getting married and having kids. But getting a job? Forget about it!

It was a cute exchange. Much less cute, if the conversation had involved a young adult. But culturally, it seems we’ve sent subtle messages to our children that work is a heavy burden, something forced on us in adulthood with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

It’s unfortunate. Because God values work. In fact, in the second chapter of scripture, God put Adam to work:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Genesis 2:15

God could have assigned Adam any role existing under the sun. But he assigned him to be a worker in the garden, the place he also called home. 

It’s important that summer include a respite from the grind of the school year. But it’s also important for summer to include some work for our kids. After all, having them home each day creates more chores around the house, so they should pitch in and help.

This is one of the reasons why our summer should include some normal days. (Remember, we’re not cruise directors)! It’s in the space of normal days where we can work on things with our children that we struggle to conquer during the school year.

We often underestimate the tasks our children can manage. Consequently, we spend a lot of time doing things for our children which they could do themselves. Summer is an exceptional time to teach our children to manage new responsibilities, helping them contribute to the family, develop a servant’s heart, and value the significance of work.

Some examples of what our children will be doing to contribute to our family this summer include:

1.      Laundry: People look at me cross-eyed when I tell them our children have been doing their own laundry since kindergarten. It wasn’t my brilliant idea! For reasons unknown to me, our daughter decided this looked fun and wanted to learn when she was six. But through that experience, I learned kindergartners are quite capable. Sure, we help the younger ones with folding and hanging, but before we know it, they’re doing it all themselves. (Here’s how I taught them.)

2.      Cleaning their bedrooms: Last year, a wise friend encouraged me to lower my standards regarding the condition of our children’s bedrooms. I wanted their rooms cleaned daily, and when they weren’t, it created a source of tension that was too much. We were fighting every day! Now we have an agreement. They clean their rooms once each week to my standards, and I don’t say anything about their rooms the rest of the week. This works much better for our family, and their rooms are cleaner than ever before!

3.      Cleaning the bathrooms: Our daughter has been helping with bathrooms for a while, but now, we’re teaching the boys! I bought each of them a toilet scrubber, a squeegee, and a hand broom/dust pan at Ikea, and we’ve stocked each of the bathrooms with cleaning supplies. Our goal is that they’re self-sufficient when school starts.

4.      Preparing meals: I’ll be honest. When the kids were younger, the idea of having “helpers” in the kitchen made my skin crawl. They were too messy, and I was too meticulous. “Let’s bake cookies!” said no one ever when we had three kids under six. But now, things are different. They are helpful (and I’ve loosened up). There are loads of lessons they can learn by helping prepare meals such as measurements, fractions, and temperatures. I’ve also learned this secret…they’re more likely to eat that which they prepare. So this summer, I’ll pull them into the kitchen one at a time to help prepare meals and set the table. It’s a great way for them to learn a skill and to spend one-on-one time together!

5.      Cleaning the kitchen: If you eat at our table, you help clean up the mess. That’s the rule in our house. It’s especially helpful in the summer because, So. Many. Dishes. In the past, we’ve asked them to bus and wipe the table, sweep the floor, and help put the food away. But lately, we’ve been working on managing the dishwasher. They’re just as capable!

There are a thousand ways to attack this beast. All that matters is that we’re giving our kids opportunities to contribute to the family, develop a servant’s heart, and discover the value of work.
So what will your kids be working on this summer?

P.S. If you haven’t like our Facebook Page, be sure to do so. This week, we will be sharing some resources to help you identify what chores around the house may be age-appropriate for your children!


Friday, June 9, 2017

Bedtime Prayers

Now, I lay me down to sleep…

Bedtime. The time we set aside for chats, prayers and plans.

Bedtime prayers take our focus off self and onto God, our Creator. At the end of the day, we get to talk to Him in prayer and praise Him, thank Him, acknowledge where we've fallen short and make our needs known. It's a time of worship. 

My hubby most always tucked our girls in at night when they were young. It was their time. He would always ask them questions about their day including the classic, "Who did you sit by at lunch today?" After prayers, he would sing a hymn. In The Garden was his favorite. (Incidentally, both girls had it played before he walked them down the aisle on their wedding day.)

As our girls grew older, bedtime was a time for us to chat about life and dreams. Many tears were shed when life was hard. Uncontrollable laughs could also be heard throughout the house during bedtime rituals. I never quite knew what to expect...with girls. 
What I do know now is that these routines helped us. Knowing that each night we would spend time in prayer to our Heavenly Father helped us make it through the day and keep us close to Him. 

Prayers, hymns, laughs and tears. The good stuff.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Five Tips To Help Moms Thrive While Kids Are At Camp

I don’t know about you, but dropping kids off at camp stirred up mixed emotions for me. Certainly, I was bursting with excitement. But I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit the twinge of anxiety I felt, kissing them goodbye and placing them in someone else’s care.
This was particularly true as I watched our first-time camper son turn to go. I was impressed with how he held it together. But I knew he was overwhelmed with anxiety. He’s cautious and a mama’s boy and he’d never been away without family. Would he survive the week?

Well, he didn’t just survive. He thrived! And that’s because the Sky Ranch staff is well-trained to care for first-time campers. Our son deepened his relationships, made new friends, tried new things, and conquered fears. When I picked him up, he told me the only bad thing about camp was “that it had to end.”
Since camp opened two weeks ago, I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many moms. But one stands out. She’s a mom to three first-time campers, dropping two of them off on their birthday.

She was struggling about facing the week without them when she showed up at the SkyMoms table. We’ve been exchanging emails since Sunday, and in her last email, she said, “It feels good to know I’m not alone.”
She’s not alone and neither are you. There are women across the country who are worried about the same things, feeling the same feelings, and asking the same questions you are while your kids are at camp. I know because I was one of them.

But we’ve got this! We can cope! Let’s not survive camp. Let’s thrive! Here are five things I did while our kids were at camp that helped me. I hope they’ll help you:
Listen to the Parent Podcast

Did you know we have a Parent Podcast (iTunes or Android)? It includes 8 episodes: one for before camp opening,  one for on the way, and one for each day your kids are gone. The podcast will tell you what your kids are learning and doing each day and how you can pray for them. They’re designed to listen day-by-day, but can be adapted to whatever will work with your schedule. The podcasts helped me connect with my kids and made me feel more like a fly on the wall than a mom a hundred miles away!
Look at the Pictures

Beginning late Monday afternoon of each session, Sky Ranch will send daily email updates. These emails will alert you that new photos from camp are available for viewing. (All photos are uploaded by 6 pm.) I can’t promise you’ll see a photo of your child every day, but you will catch glimpses of them throughout the week. Seeing their smiling faces online will do your heart some good! (Rumor has it that some moms bribe their kids to encourage them to get in pictures. I’ve never actually done this because I live with a bunch of hams, but it might be worth a try!)
Send Care Packages

Whether you’re “all in” with care packages or simply write love notes doesn’t matter. But do bring a few things with you to camp opening so the staff can deliver them to your kids throughout the week. Sure we miss our kids when they’re gone, but I think the hardest thing for us to endure is the wonder of how our kids are doing without us. Care packages create a touch point to home and provide the opportunity to speak encouraging words to our kids to help them thrive while they’re away.
Spend Time in Prayer

Several years ago, when I was going through a trying time, I learned to never wait to take my anxiety to the Lord in prayer. As soon as the feelings would overcome me, I’d start to pray. And as soon as I’d start to pray, the Holy Spirit would overwhelm me with a sense of peace. So each time you begin to worry about your kids at camp, take your worries to the Lord in prayer. (And if you’re listening to our Parent Podcast (iTunes or Android), you can pray more specifically…hint, hint.)
Do Something for Yourself

Finally, do not sit at home and mope! Intentionally set aside time throughout the week to enjoy yourself. Go on a date with your spouse. Have lunch with a friend. Get a manicure. Do some shopping.  And if you’re like me, do all those things and seize the opportunity to throw away half of your children’s belongings while they aren’t there to argue! Whatever it is that gives you energy and fills you up, do it while your children are away. You need this time away from them as much as they need this time away from you!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

When Silence Makes Us Long For Noise

I remember it with picture-perfect detail. It was almost 13 years ago at 3:30 in the afternoon.
I can see myself standing bare feet in our kitchen, hair amuck, pajamas still on. One hand resting on the bar, the other on my hip as I stared at the clock. I knew it was coming. The time when our newborn baby would lose her mind. It was right around the corner.
It was predictable in the sense that it happened at the same time every day. But it was also unpredictable. I never knew how it would unfold. I just knew it would be hard, uncontrollable, and loud. I also knew it would last for hours.
I remember the pit in my stomach as I wondered, “Can I do this again today?” I also remember wishing the season would pass.
With kids ages 6, 9, and 12, that kind of evening chaos has, indeed, passed. But it’s been replaced with a new kind. The kind that involves 10 hours of activity compressed into 5 hours. It involves homework and extra-curricular events and picky eaters and sibling conflict and the social dilemmas of a pre-teen and so many to-dos on the list, we can’t possibly get to them all. Some days are better than others, but it’s still hard, I still can’t control it, and it’s almost always loud.
In my “older” age, I’m discovering the noise bothers me the most.
It hurts my ears and musters up outrageous feelings of frustration in my gut. Like when I was a kid learning to dress myself and my feet would get stuck inside my pants because I didn’t take off my shoes. Or when I’d pull my shirt over my head and my hands would get stuck in my sleeves because I didn’t unbutton them.
I. Just. Wanted. Out. Of. That. Situation.
Sometimes I lock myself in our bedroom. Honestly, I do. I just need a minute of silence every so often.
But this week, we have the house to ourselves. The two older kids are at Sky Ranch, and Little Bit is on a trip with his grandparents. Silence we have, 24/7.
We’re making the most of it. Dates with friends. Meals fit for royalty. Sleeping in longer than usual. Coffee on the porch. A few projects around the house. All the while, we’re both still doing our jobs and taking care of our responsibilities. It’s amazing what we can get done when we aren’t caring for our kids! 
I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t glorious. I’m enjoying every minute of it, and I hope those of you with kids going to camp this summer will enjoy it as well. You need this time as much as they do.
But this morning, as I nestled into our sofa for some time with the Lord, He showed me a glimpse of the future.
Twelve summers from now, Little Bit will be off to college, and silence, 24/7, will be our new normal.
The thought was like a punch in the gut. I didn’t like it, a lot more than I dislike the noise.
I know the Lord will walk us through the empty-nesting years just as He has walked us through every other season. But I’m not ready for it. And the realization that it’s coming rather quickly was just what I needed to gear up for the noise that awaits me on Saturday.
So mamas in the trenches with me, lean in. I want to tell you something. And know that I tread lightly because I don’t always receive these sentiments well when spoken to me by moms who are living on the  empty-nester side of things. But they’re right.
The trenches are hard. And out of control. And very loud.
There are days when putting on real clothes and brushing our teeth are luxuries. And there are nights when we wonder if we’ll make it to bedtime.
But the trenches are also filled with immeasurable joy.
The kind that comes with laughter and a lot of questions and the word “Mommy” uttered exactly 1,000 times per day. The kind that comes with Disney Junior and bouncing balls in the house and doors that open and slam. The kind that comes with singing in the bathroom and noisy toys and sound effects resulting from imaginative play. And even the kind that comes in the midst of conflict. Because it is in these circumstances where we have the privilege of teaching our children about grace, and forgiveness, and what it means to walk with God.       
I know that you long for a respite. But our days in the trenches are numbered, and the quiet house we once wished for will be a dream come true. Let’s rest on that assurance. Not so that we might wish this season to pass, but so that we might embrace the season we’re in.