Tag Archive for parenting

Bad Moms and Being Mom Enough: A Reflection

By now, you have most likely read or heard about the recent arti­cle in Time mag­a­zine titled, “Are you Mom enough?”. The blo­gos­phere (and the media) has been abuzz over this article.

I'm not a bad girl; You're a bad mommy!

Image cour­tesy of http://themotherlode.wordpress.com

Some authors have addressed the title of the arti­cle and all that it implies (com­pe­ti­tion, self-hatred, guilt, mommy wars, sex­ism, iden­tity issues, etc.). Oth­ers have com­mented on the cover image in which a three-year-old boy is suck­ing on his mother’s bare breast while look­ing at the cam­era (how it is going to scar him for­ever, how pub­lic breast­feed­ing is fine, how this goes on in all areas of the world, how this mother is a heli­copter par­ent, etc., etc.). Most dis­cus­sions have addressed the topic of the arti­cle, attach­ment par­ent­ing.

I’ve read many com­men­taries on and responses to this arti­cle. (I par­tic­u­larly liked what my col­lege room­mate had to say about it, as well as another blogger’s provoca­tive post, “Where Is the Mommy War for the Moth­er­less Child?”.

I have my own opin­ions on all of these mat­ters. I obvi­ously do not choose to do attach­ment par­ent­ing. I stopped nurs­ing my chil­dren when they were between 8–10 months old. I do not carry my baby around on me like a papoose; he weighs too much and I would break my back. I do not, under any cir­cum­stance, allow my chil­dren to sleep with me and my hus­band in our bed. I also work out­side the home, which Dr. Sears, the founder of the move­ment, dis­cour­ages women who want to incor­po­rate attach­ment par­ent­ing philoso­phies from doing.

I don’t love my chil­dren any less. I love them a lot, actu­ally. I believe it’s impor­tant help my chil­dren feel loved, safe, con­fi­dent, self-assured, and inde­pen­dent. I let my chil­dren play for long peri­ods of time with­out get­ting involved or inter­ject­ing my own agenda. I let them work out prob­lems. I tell them, “No.” I ask them to be cre­ative. I chal­lenge them.

Most moth­ers do.

What I have learned from being a mother for almost seven years is that there are many dif­fer­ent ways to mother. There are dif­fer­ent ways to be a mother. And there are dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions of moth­ers and moth­er­hood and mothering.

As moms, we have images in our head about the kind of mother we want to be. If you’re like me, you often feel guilty about ways you do not live up to your own expec­ta­tions. Our cul­ture and the media (and some­times reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions and peo­ple) send the mes­sage that we are not good enough, that we are not “Mom enough.” My recent post about Pin­ter­est images attests to the per­va­sive­ness of soci­etal expec­ta­tions and norms.

But who are we to judge other moth­ers? Aren’t we all just try­ing our best to do good our their children?

We are all “Mom enough” to the chil­dren in our lives.

They love us. They know we love them.

We must know that who we are is enough.

 


Inventing a Winning Machine

Ear­lier this week, I was look­ing through my 1st grade daughter’s back­pack and found a piece of paper from school with Elizabeth’s writ­ing. Eliz­a­beth wrote the following:

My inven­tion is the mushen that can make you win evry game. I invented the mushen that can make you win evry game.”

Children Racing Black and White

Image cour­tesy State Library by New South Wales. Flickr’s Cre­ative Com­mons License.

Two sen­tences. Two sen­tences that reveal a lot about my daugh­ter. Eliz­a­beth likes to win. She doesn’t like to lose. When given the oppor­tu­nity to imag­ine a machine to invent that would make life bet­ter, eas­ier, she chose a tech­nol­ogy that would make win­ning at every­thing pos­si­ble. (Of course, there are prob­lems with such a tool, because some­one has to lose, right?)

(Funny note: One of my friends told me that her inven­tion already exists; it’s called “The Bribe.” Ha!)

Eliz­a­beth comes by this desire hon­estly (just like she does her stub­born­ness, inde­pen­dence, and strong-willedness). She gets it from me. I like to win. But if I could invent such a machine, I would want the oppo­site of her; I would want some­thing that would never allow me to lose. Because, yes, I like to win, but even more than that, I don’t like to lose.

When Shane and I first moved to Louisville, Ken­tucky (we had prob­a­bly been mar­ried 4 months), my dad was mak­ing a speech in Indi­anapo­lis and we drove up to see him. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive to the city. We picked him up at the air­port and walked around down­town for a while, vis­it­ing the stat­ues, parks, and other out­door sights. Indi­anapo­lis has such a lovely feel. We ate din­ner and then were head­ing back to the car (after sev­eral hours of walk­ing around).

On the way back to the car, Shane was argu­ing with me about the route we were tak­ing back to the car. He said the car was the other way; I said it was not, that we were headed in the right direc­tion. This was ten years ago, well before GPS and Smart Phones. Shane kept insist­ing that we were going the com­plete wrong way. He decided to ask my dad what he thought.

My dad told him that he thought we were headed in the wrong direc­tion (my way) and that he thought Shane was right and that we had come from the other direction.

Then my dad paused and said, “But I’m going to just keep fol­low­ing her. I learned a long time ago that you don’t argue with Kara. Even when I dis­agree with her about stuff like this, I have learned to go with it. Why? Because Kara is never wrong. Really, she is always right. But, if she IS wrong, then we can give her a hard time.”

We all burst out into laugh­ter. It was a les­son from the father-in-law to the son-in-law. My daughter/your wife is right.

At this point, I started second-guessing myself. I kept walk­ing the way I thought was the way to the car, and, voila, I WAS RIGHT. We found the car, and, whew, I wasn’t wrong.

I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to lose. It comes from lik­ing to play games, just like Eliz­a­beth does. Card games. Board games. Sports games. I’m com­pet­i­tive. I don’t like to lose.

When I win, I don’t gloat. I don’t cel­e­brate. I don’t “rejoice” (this is the term I use for ath­letes when they start gal­li­vant­ing down the court after mak­ing a bas­ket or a touch­down, espe­cially when they’re on the OTHER team, and I don’t want to see such cel­e­bra­tion!). Instead, I act like I’ve been there before.

Because I have. I have won lots of things. Small things. Big things. Things that mat­ter. Things that don’t. Things that had major con­se­quences for me in terms of schol­ar­ships, pres­tige, fame, and recognition.

[L]losing draws on my inse­cu­ri­ties of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Los­ing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

[One side­note: It is inter­est­ing when I play games with other peo­ple, which I love to do, they ALWAYS strive to beat me. They gang up on me so that I will lose. They tar­get me (in Hearts, Double-9 domi­noes, Monop­oly, etc.) so that I will lose first. Then, they make big shows of it when they win. They rub it in. They jump up and down. They cel­e­brate. They “rejoice.” I guess that’s what I get for being com­pet­i­tive and win­ning a lot. I can take it. It’s just a game, right?]

But win­ning isn’t what moti­vates me; what moti­vates me is NOT los­ing. I’m sure there’s a lot of com­plex­i­ties going on in this state­ment, but let me just say that los­ing draws on my inse­cu­ri­ties of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Los­ing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

When an arti­cle I’ve writ­ten gets rejected.

When I don’t get a grant or sab­bat­i­cal for which I’ve applied.

When I don’t get a posi­tion for which I’ve applied.

When I receive a set of neg­a­tive teacher evaluations.

When some­one says some­thing neg­a­tive about me.

When I com­pare myself to other moms. 

When my chil­dren mis­be­have and dis­obey me.

When I fail as a Christian.

My iden­tity is wrapped up in NOT los­ing. And when I do lose, it hurts. So, if Eliz­a­beth could invent that machine, I would buy it. But I don’t think it would be enough to con­front the under­ly­ing inse­cu­ri­ties of losing.

 


Motherhood as Materialism: The Myth They’re Selling

I am a mom to three viva­cious, spunky, inde­pen­dent kids. I like being a mom. It’s dif­fi­cult to define and artic­u­late what moth­er­hood means to me and how much of my iden­tity is wrapped up in my role as a mom. So much of it is a feel­ing, an emo­tion, and words are often not enough to explain my feel­ings about motherhood.

That being said, as I men­tioned in my last post, I don’t like Mother’s Day. I’m extremely uncom­fort­able with this hol­i­day. So many women (and men) expe­ri­ence pain on Mother’s Day.

  • Some­one is think­ing about their own mom (per­haps she has died, she gave him/her up for adop­tion, she was not the mother they had hoped for, or some­thing else that brings them pain).
  • Some­one is think­ing about the loss of a child–through a mis­car­riage, an abor­tion, an adop­tion, a death, a kid­nap­ping, the loss of a young child who has grown up.
  • Some­one is think­ing about not being able to con­ceive or still being sin­gle and not hav­ing a child.
  • Some­one is think­ing about how they do not mea­sure up to the “ideal mother” (see my recent post about guilt for some com­ments on this issue).
  • Some­one who is griev­ing the choices their chil­dren have made.

Mother’s Day is not a happy day for every­one, con­trary to the pre­dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive greet­ing card com­pa­nies, retail stores, busi­nesses, and cor­po­ra­tions are sell­ing us. Many peo­ple have great big holes in their hearts.

Mother’s Day became a fed­eral hol­i­day in 1914 when Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son insti­tuted it. I do not know the his­tory of this hol­i­day, but what I do know is that, at some point, Mother’s Day became syn­ony­mous with mate­ri­al­ism, with giv­ing and receiv­ing gifts (just like Christ­mas). This hol­i­day equates love to gift-giving.

It pro­motes moth­er­hood as materialism.

Stores tell us we should buy gifts for our moth­ers. Our moth­ers deserve as much. If we love them, we would buy them something.

I saw this image today while I stopped in to drop off some clothes at my favorite con­sign­ment store.

Selling Mother's Day

Make Mom’s Day! Buy Her an iPad (the new one!)!

This image screams consumerism.

Mate­ri­al­ism.

But it belit­tles moth­ers.

This image, and most other mar­ket­ing that sur­rounds Mother’s Day, equates lov­ing your mom to giv­ing her expen­sive gifts, or, at worse, not giv­ing her expen­sive gifts and thus not lov­ing her.

The con­sumerism of Mother’s Day defines how we are sup­posed to expe­ri­ence Mother’s Day–as one who gives or receives gifts. It’s not about love; it’s about buy­ing and giv­ing and get­ting more stuff. Even if show­ing love through gifts isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, the mar­ket­ing of this hol­i­day takes the focus off hon­or­ing your own mother or (being hon­ored your­self as a mother) to focus­ing on the buy­ing and sell­ing of prod­ucts. It equates love with giv­ing expen­sive gifts.

Cor­po­ra­tions have decided that they can manip­u­late dads and chil­dren and spouses and moth­ers into mak­ing this event–motherhood–all about mate­ri­al­ism. They send the mes­sage that the only thing moth­ers really want is “stuff.”

They dimin­ish moth­er­hood when they equate it to materialism.

If they knew moth­ers at all–sitting from where they are mak­ing a profit off of us, off of OUR role, as moth­ers (or sons or daugh­ters or fathers or husbands)–then they would under­stand that we do not want this. No, moth­er­hood is more than mate­ri­al­ism. Much more. And if these cor­po­rate pow­ers tried to under­stand moth­ers at all, they would real­ize this truth. Instead, they belit­tle and degrade us and treat us like chil­dren in a candy store.

No, moms do not want more “stuff.” We are more com­plex than that. We are deeper than that. We have other val­ues besides gifts. Our hearts are with our chil­dren, not with what they do or not give us.

If cor­po­ra­tions really wanted to show us honor, they wouldn’t mar­ket to our chil­dren on this day. There would be no signs and images and ads and com­mer­cials about “the per­fect gift for mother’s day”.

There would be no profit, no cap­i­tal­iz­ing on mothers.

Honor us by refus­ing to coerce and manip­u­late our hus­bands and sons and daugh­ters and moth­ers and grand­chil­dren. Honor us by leav­ing our fam­i­lies alone, by leav­ing us alone.

Moth­er­hood is much more than their min­i­mal­iza­tion of it.

Dear read­ers: I hope these posts about moth­er­hood and Mother’s Day have not offended you, but I do hope you see my per­spec­tive as hon­est and real, and a lit­tle mad, too.


Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my rou­tine doc­tor appoint­ments last year, preg­nant with Levi. After hear­ing the baby’s heart­beat and fin­ish­ing the exam, my doc­tor, who was now see­ing me through my third (and final) preg­nancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feel­ing about life and moth­er­hood and work and all the other com­mit­ments I have.

She has known me for sev­eral years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doc­tor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doc­tor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emo­tions came gush­ing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my chil­dren: about being a work­ing mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not tak­ing them to or pick­ing them up from school because I have an hour com­mute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my com­puter too much; about work­ing too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or scream­ing or being unforgiving.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my job: about hav­ing a fam­ily; about hav­ing chil­dren that pre­vent me from being as pro­duc­tive as some other of my col­leagues; about liv­ing so far away.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my hus­band: about him hav­ing to fill so many of the typ­i­cal “moth­er­hood” roles, such as doing the laun­dry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or cart­ing the kids to and from school each day, par­tic­u­larly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is won­der­ful!); about every con­ver­sa­tion we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep dur­ing a movie we’re watch­ing together; about him being the go-to par­ent so much of the time; about not hav­ing time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my sis­ters, fam­ily, and friends: about not keep­ing in touch bet­ter; about not being there more when I want to be; about tak­ing for­ever to send thank-you cards, or not even send­ing them at all; about not see­ing them as often as I like; about not notic­ing when they are strug­gling or going through a hard time; about not call­ing to say hi.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cook­ing a home­made meal each week for potluck; about not sign­ing up for nurs­ery duty because my hus­band needs me to be in there lis­ten­ing and sup­port­ing him as he preaches; about not fit­ting the typ­i­cal preacher’s wife role (what­ever that is); about being shy.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my body: about being over­weight; about using food to sti­fle my emo­tions; about not hav­ing time to exer­cise; about my body chang­ing through 3 preg­nan­cies and 2 c-sections.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my rela­tion­ship with God: about not pray­ing or read­ing the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks with­out even talk­ing to God; about won­der­ing who God is; about doubt, doubt­ing cer­tain things I grew up believ­ing but that I now question.

Guilt.

About every­thing.

Think­ing and talk­ing through many of the ways I was feel­ing guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doc­tor after all). When I was done, she said she under­stood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feel­ing so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feel­ing guilty about not liv­ing up to my own or society’s  expec­ta­tions of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Super­woman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words res­onated with me. I went home from the doc­tor feel­ing bet­ter. I resolved not to feel guilty. My chil­dren love me, my hus­band loves me, my par­ents love me, my friends and fam­ily love me.

I can give up my per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies. I can­not do it all; I am not Super­woman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.


Screens at Bedtime

At our house, we have a bed­time rou­tine (bath, brush teeth, read­ing and sto­ry­time, and prayers).

After all that is done, we also have a “tran­si­tion time.” Tran­si­tion Time began a few years ago after we dis­cov­ered how long it took for Eliz­a­beth to fall asleep once we fin­ished this night­time rou­tine. She couldn’t fall asleep. Noth­ing we told her to try worked. Count­ing sheep. Say­ing a prayer. Shut­ting her eyes. Think­ing about some­thing. No mat­ter what we tried, she couldn’t fall asleep.

And it was a lot of work for her parents!

So, we insti­tuted Tran­si­tion Time, a 30-minute period in which she was allowed to play in her room before we turned the lights out. We hoped this time would allow her to unwind before lights out. This tran­si­tion period has helped her fall asleep faster and sleep bet­ter (she used to wake up in the mid­dle of the night, too) than she used to when we did not do such a thing. She is happy; we are happy.

Last year, we decided to insti­tute a sim­i­lar tran­si­tion period for Pey­ton. His bed­time is 30 min­utes ear­lier than Elizabeth’s (he just turned four; she’s almost seven) and he is required to stay in bed, but oth­er­wise it’s the same as his sister’s. Pey­ton typ­i­cally reads, stands on his bed, makes faces at him­self in the mir­ror, rolls around, talks to him­self (he is ALWAYS talk­ing), plays with his cars, or destroys things.

A few nights ago, Pey­ton asked me if he could play his Leap­ster (a gam­ing sys­tem) in bed. I said yes. He played it for 30 min­utes until I went and turned off his light.

It took him two hours to go to sleep that night.

He rolled around the bed, whined that he couldn’t go to sleep, got in and out of bed, went to the bath­room, played in the sink, played with his toys, looked out the win­dow, talked to us, asked for more hugs and kisses, went to the bath­room (again), and did just about any­thing else avail­able at the time in the dark.

After what seemed like for­ever (!), he finally fell asleep. My hus­band and I breathed a sigh of relief that we could now spend some time together (and then Levi woke up. Ha!).

The next night, Pey­ton wanted to play the Leap­ster again, and I said he could. The same thing hap­pened. The same lit­tle blond-headed boy couldn’t fall asleep.

(I still had not fig­ured out what was going on.)

Sev­eral days later, I read an arti­cle dis­cussing how screens (com­puter, TV, iPhone) should not be used right before bed­time. They stim­u­late you. Duh. That was the rea­son he wasn’t sleep­ing. He was too wired men­tally. The tech­nol­ogy had acti­vated his mind. Instead, of pro­vid­ing the wind­ing down for which this time is meant, Pey­ton was wired.

Now, no more screens dur­ing this tran­si­tion time.No iPhones, Leap­sters, Leap­Pads, com­put­ers, or TVs at bed­time. They pro­vide too much stim­u­la­tion. I don’t know how long we can keep this rule up (our chil­dren are young), but I do think our gen­er­a­tion (as par­ents and chil­dren) has to con­sider this much more than pre­vi­ous ones. Yes, we’ve had TV and com­put­ers for years, but hand­held devices such as mobile phones and gam­ing sys­tems are much more vivid, bright, and col­or­ful than the Game­boy of my generation.

Today, these devices pro­vide even greater stim­u­la­tion, over-stimulation to be exact, than pre­vi­ous devices did. It will be inter­est­ing to see what some of the effects will be–not just on sleep but on matu­rity, devel­op­ment, social­iza­tion, learn­ing, edu­ca­tion, emo­tions, and so many other areas as well.

What screen rules have you set? What advice do you have?


Why It’s Important to Mentor Female Graduate Students and Young Professors

Academic Mentor Cartoon

In acad­e­mia, talk abounds about grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion, tenure, get­ting a job, low wages and poor work­ing con­di­tions, and bal­anc­ing per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives. One recent arti­cle in The Chron­i­cle of Higher Edu­ca­tion by Berke­ley Pro­fes­sor Mary Ann Mason is par­tic­u­larly sober­ing. Mason’s arti­cle, “The Future of the Ph.D,” addresses sev­eral inter­est­ing points about the over­abun­dance of PhDs and the lack of tenure-track jobs. She also points out how dif­fi­cult it is to have a fam­ily and a tenure-track job. Here are a few quotes I found provoca­tive (if you are inter­ested, you should also read through the com­ments sec­tion of her arti­cle; so many heart­felt, reveal­ing and per­sonal responses that pro­vide their own form of mentoring):

In a sur­vey we con­ducted of all doc­toral stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, more than 70 per­cent of women and over half of all men said they con­sid­ered a career at a research uni­ver­sity to be too hard-driving and unfriendly to fam­ily life.

A male Ph.D. stu­dent in the sur­vey char­ac­ter­ized the com­mon sen­ti­ment when he wrote that he was ‘fed up with the narrow-mindedness of sup­pos­edly intel­li­gent peo­ple who are largely worka­holic and expect oth­ers to be so as well’.”

A female stu­dent wrote, ‘Since begin­ning my doc­toral work, I have become con­vinced that very few, if any, female pro­fes­sors are able to have sta­ble, ful­fill­ing fam­ily lives of the sort that I wish for (a sta­ble mar­riage and children)’.”

Female grad­u­ate stu­dents who do become moth­ers dur­ing their doctoral-study years are very likely to give up on their dreams.”

“Too few uni­ver­si­ties are pay­ing atten­tion to the needs of graduate-student par­ents, or pro­vid­ing men­tor­ing on how to bal­ance fam­ily and career in a stress­ful pro­fes­sion in which, arguably, the most seri­ous stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs dur­ing the years when women will have children.”

These find­ings do not come as a shock to me as a pro­fes­sor. I have now expe­ri­enced what it’s like to be on the tenure track, which is dif­fi­cult in and of itself. But I also know what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, and a wife in this highly stress­ful job.

But as a grad­u­ate stu­dent work­ing on my master’s and then Ph.D., I never would have guessed it was this way–so dif­fi­cult to “have it all” and find bal­ance between work and home.  I even had won­der­ful men­tors through­out grad­u­ate school, but we never really talked about mar­riage and chil­dren or what it would be like to have a fam­ily and work in academia.

With results and out­comes like these–where women are leav­ing the pro­fes­sion because they have babies, or where they leave because they are denied tenure at such high rates (moth­ers even higher)–we are not left with many options. Even though more than half of grad­u­ate stu­dents are women, if we do not deal with the inter­sec­tion of a woman’s per­sonal life with her career, then we are not going to have a range of women in acad­e­mia. We might still have unmar­ried women or women with­out chil­dren, but we may lose a large per­cent­age of women who can teach and men­tor oth­ers about what it means to have a fam­ily and a career in academia.

In short, we need men­tors. We need moth­ers who are will­ing to share their experiences–the good and the bad; the sac­ri­fices they have/had to make; the joys that have come along the way; and why being a mother in acad­e­mia might still be worth it. We need moth­ers who talk frankly about hav­ing chil­dren in grad­u­ate school, about hav­ing chil­dren on the tenure-track, about not hav­ing chil­dren at all. We need moth­ers to share their sto­ries, for it is their stories–our stories–that will edu­cate oth­ers and bet­ter inform female grad­u­ate stu­dents about the real­i­ties of being a mother in academia.

I hope you will share your story; it may make all the difference.


Anxiety Abatement: 12 Ways to Simplify Your Home

Today is the first post in my 12 series.

I write today about sim­pli­fy­ing your home by clear­ing out the clutter–physical clut­ter, such as toys, books, and decor; envi­ron­men­tal clut­ter that increases anx­i­ety; and emo­tional clut­ter like distraction.

I have my own issues with clut­ter. Last fall, I stayed home with my new baby. I work out­side of the home, but my won­der­ful uni­ver­sity gave me a semester-long mater­nity leave when I had my baby at the begin­ning of the term. Dur­ing this time at home–almost every sin­gle day–I came to real­ize that I did not like being at home. I was shocked by this rev­e­la­tion. I really thought I would like stay­ing at home.

I have a nice home. And I like my stuff. But I dis­liked being at home because of the con­stant mess. I didn’t like look­ing at the junk, and I mostly stayed in one or two rooms so that I didn’t have to see the rest of the house. Too much clutter.

I decided to do some­thing about it.

Today, I present to you 12 ways to sim­plify your home, to de-clutter your home so that you can find the emo­tional san­ity you need and truly live your life in focus. These items are not ranked in order of most impor­tant, but I chose to num­ber them to make it eas­ier to skim the list.

1. Con­sign, sell, or donate at least 2/3s of your toys. Seri­ously, do it. Over the past sev­eral months, I have been clean­ing out the toys. It’s been easy to get rid of the ones my kids have out­grown. If we don’t need it any­more, I’ve got­ten rid of it. I also tried to get rid of toys that limit cre­ativ­ity or orig­i­nal­ity, toys that come in such a pre-form pack­age that they do not allow chil­dren to use their imag­i­na­tion. My daughter’s Bar­bie dolls are the only things that I have yet to throw out in this vein. She has about 10 of them. I told her she can keep 2. She’s decid­ing which ones and then they are gone.

The hard­est part for me has been to dwin­dle down the toys to a very small stack. But I have tried. I only have one more room to do. The results? It’s been free­ing for my chil­dren. Their rooms are neater. Clean­ing up is not quite as big of a task. They don’t seem so stressed out or over­whelmed when I ask them to clean up. I’ve also noticed that they are play­ing more. They aren’t com­ing to me say­ing their bored. They know where their toys are, and they want to play with them and then pick them up. As I was sep­a­rat­ing the toys into con­sign­ment or dona­tion piles, I also added one more pile–a rotat­ing pile. I put the rotat­ing pile into one stor­age bin and moved it to our garage. Even­tu­ally, I will rotate the toys in the bin out with the toys in their room. My kids are enjoy­ing their clutter-free spaces. And I am enjoy­ing their bet­ter atti­tudes and their renewed inter­est in the toys they have.

2. Cook the same meals (or types of meals) each week. I like to cook gourmet meals. I like to eat good food. I like to watch cook­ing shows and dis­cover new recipes. And I must admit, I’m still try­ing to put this one into prac­tice. We have sim­pli­fied our weekly menu by insti­tut­ing Pizza Night, a tra­di­tion going strong for sev­eral years now. The prob­lem here is that I’m the only one who’s known about this weekly event. I cook and plan the menus and hav­ing one weekly meal on my list has made meal-planning and grocery-shopping eas­ier. My kids know that we have pizza a lot (it’s my daughter’s favorite food), but until recently, I didn’t call it Pizza Night. I am learn­ing, how­ever, that chil­dren need to expe­ri­ence antic­i­pa­tion, so I plan on com­mu­ni­cat­ing meals like “Pizza Night” to my chil­dren. Over the sum­mer, I plan to insti­tute “Meat­less Mon­day,” “Pasta Night,” and a “Mys­tery Dinner.”

If you were to take this tip one step fur­ther, you might even des­ig­nate the exact meal: chicken spaghetti, soup, chicken ten­ders, breakfast-for-dinner, lasagna, etc., so that the meals are sim­pli­fied even fur­ther. I don’t think this would work for me because of my own inter­ests as a cook, but if it works for you, great. Go for it. The goal here is to sim­plify meal-planning, cook­ing, and eat­ing and for all to expe­ri­ence joy at the din­ner table.

3. Get rid of all those extra cook­books on the shelf. Admit it, you prob­a­bly don’t use half the cook­books you have on the shelf. I just went and counted my cook­books. I have at least 50 (and I just got rid of about 30–still work­ing on the oth­ers!). I prob­a­bly only use 8 of them. But the oth­ers are spe­cial to me, so I’ve kept them. I still have too many, though. My sign should be that they don’t all fit on the book­shelf I have in my kitchen. Still trying…

4. Play a game. Indoor or out­door. As a fam­ily. With your child. By your­self. Play a pick-up game of bas­ket­ball. Play Horse or Knock-Out (I recently played this with my 7-year-old nephew and my brother-in-law Derek, and it brought back so many mem­o­ries of play­ing these games in mid­dle school and high school. I loved it!). Play a base­ball game where the trees in your back­yard are your bases. Play board games like Candy Land, Chess, Monop­oly, or Check­ers. Play Dou­ble 9 domi­noes, Uno, Spades, or Mem­ory. Any­thing your kid likes. Or, make up your own game, com­plete with mate­ri­als and rules.

5. Try to fil­ter out the adult world from your chil­dren. Try this for one week: No fights with your spouse. No neg­a­tive com­ments about other adults (friends, teach­ers, church peo­ple, the pres­i­dent, politi­cians, rel­a­tives, in-laws). No inap­pro­pri­ate con­tent com­ing to your chil­dren through the TV (espe­cially the morn­ing and evening news or cer­tain video games that can desen­si­tize us to vio­lence). Instead, be present with your chil­dren. Talk to them at the din­ner table or when they come inside from the back­yard. Lis­ten to them. Learn about their world, their inter­ests. And let me know how it goes.

6. Donate all those books on your book­shelf to your library. My hus­band and I both went to grad­u­ate school, where we were required to buy hun­dreds of books for our courses and our research. Most of those are at our respec­tive offices, but many have entered our home. If you don’t use it or think you will use it, get rid of it.

But grad­u­ate school books are the least of our wor­ries when it comes to books in the home. Nov­els, Chris­t­ian books, self-help books, biogra­phies, and children’s books are of much greater con­cern. I must admit that I am cheap when it comes to books. I don’t like to spend money on books. I go to the library at least once a week. Any book my local library doesn’t have I can get through my university’s inter­li­brary loan ser­vice (which is awe­some). That being said, I still have a lot of books. Peo­ple give books to me because I am an Eng­lish teacher, and, hey, I like books. But I don’t like books to clut­ter my shelves. I used to think hav­ing books in your home was a sign of intel­li­gence and bril­liance and being smart. Just think of all those movies where smart, rich peo­ple have these amaz­ing libraries with the mov­able lad­der. But now I don’t really care to live up to that stan­dard. Books and book­shelves lead to clut­ter. So, get rid of your books. Get­ting rid of the children’s books has been the hard­est part for me. I put some of them in the rotat­ing pile and got rid of at least three shelves’ worth. I now have three shelves of books–one shelf for each kid. That’s still a lot, I know. But we do read a lot and we read a lot of the same books, so I’ve kept a few.

7. Con­sign or donate your unworn clothes. Seri­ously, do it. It is lib­er­at­ing. Go through your clothes, your spouse’s clothes, your kids clothes. Con­sign clothes that don’t fit or that are out of style. If you have gained or lost a lot of weight recently, get rid of the clothes in the dif­fer­ent size. Even if you lose that weight (or gain it back), those clothes will be out of style. And it will make you feel bet­ter when you are get­ting dressed each day not to be star­ing at those other sizes.

8. Turn off the TV. At least 2 days a week, no TV allowed. Try it. It’s amaz­ing how much more time you have to do things you love to do–and things that will make you feel so much bet­ter about your­self than watch­ing 4 hours of TV every night. Read, write, cook, eat, talk, scrap­book, exer­cise. Find a pas­sion and turn off that screen.

9. When you feel your­self get­ting over­whelmed at the mess, take 15 min­utes to do a quick pick-up of the house. Toys and mess can be over­whelm­ing for adults, too, and set­ting a limit on how much time you spend pick­ing up is good for you, too. Get the kids involved. Make it a game. We did this recently and it was the fastest, most fun clean-up we’ve ever had. I set the timer and pro­vided an incre­men­tal count­down of how much time we had left. The older kids were so excited. They kept com­ing back to ask, “How much more time?!!” Fun will be had by all.

10. Read more. Take the time to read that moun­tain of books on your night­stand. You will have more to con­tribute to dis­cus­sions with your hus­band or your friends. You will learn some­thing. You will feel good about your­self. You will grow as a per­son.

11. Make it a goal to have 2 entire days or evenings of unstruc­tured time at home. Noth­ing planned. Noth­ing sched­uled. Except being with your fam­ily and let­ting your kids run free. They can know you are there and come to you when they need you, but don’t plan an activity–even in the home. If your kids get bored, tell them, “Well, then, some­thing amaz­ing is about to hap­pen.” Just be. Your kids will appre­ci­ate it in the long run. And you will, too.

12. Pray more, and dwell in the pres­ence of the Lord as often as pos­si­ble. In the rush of my busy life, I must admit that per­sonal time with God often gets lost first. I used to have quiet time in the morn­ing. But with young chil­dren, such a goal is ide­al­is­tic rather than real­is­tic, and I won’t beat myself up over not being able to have this peace­ful time the same way I did as a sin­gle woman. Instead, I have learned–through the gen­tle love of some older, wiser women–how to inte­grate prayer and God into my day rather than save a sin­gle time or space for it. I like this idea. I’m still not very good at it, though. I am try­ing, though.

This list is far from com­pre­hen­sive. These changes take time. Change is a process, not a one-time fix. I merely offer some things that have worked for me. They’ve helped make our fam­ily closer. They’ve allowed my kids to open up to me in ways they hadn’t before. They’ve decreased my own anx­i­ety and have helped me deal with the feel­ings I have being in my own home.

What tips do you have to make your home a peace­ful place?


Crazy Woman, Part II

In my last post about run­ning around like a crazy woman, I dis­cussed how par­ents tend to over-schedule and over-extend their kids. Between sports, music, dance, and all sorts of other lessons, our chil­dren are not allowed enough time for unstruc­tured play, or free play time. Accord­ing to the author of Sim­plic­ity Par­ent­ing such lack of free time is harm­ful to our kids.

Why? Many rea­sons, but one that res­onated with me had to do with sports. I played team sports as a young child. In sports, rules are already cre­ated. Chil­dren play­ing struc­tured sports (whether team or indi­vid­ual) must adapt to the rules. In unstruc­tured play, how­ever, chil­dren make up their own rules. They use their imag­i­na­tion. They are cre­ative. They work with oth­ers to problem-solve how they can play a pick up game of bas­ket­ball. What will the rules be? What is accept­able behav­ior and play?

Today, I give a brief anec­dote. Sat­ur­day, my old­est two chil­dren had t-ball games. They had team pic­tures hours before their games. My hus­band is coach­ing both teams so he had to be there early for both pic­tures. They came home after the pic­tures to pick me and the baby up.

I woke up around 6:30 that morn­ing. I packed a bag for my baby Levi (food for lunch, 2 bot­tles, dia­pers, wipes, and all the other stuff babies need–except sun­screen, I for­got that). I packed a lunch for both kids to eat before or after their game, depend­ing on which kid it was. I packed drinks and snacks for them and me dur­ing the games. I found my chair and a kid’s chair and set it out to be loaded in the car, along with the stroller for Levi. It was my turn to bring snacks for the girls’ game, so I also packed snacks and drinks for the team. I got the cam­era and the video cam­era and the base­ball and soft­ball bags and on and on and on.

I was busy load­ing and pack­ing and get­ting myself ready for over 2 hours (yes, it didn’t take this long). What I haven’t yet mentioned–and the main point of this story–is that while the kids were tak­ing team pic­tures at the fields with their daddy and I was pack­ing and prepar­ing for the games, 8-month-old Levi–poor Levi– sat on the floor cry­ing uncon­trol­lably. Not just cry­ing, but scream­ing. With his head bent over on the floor. From 6:30–9:15 am, except when he was drink­ing his bot­tle, the lit­tle guy was crying.

You see, what my words up there did not express in the telling of the details of my morn­ing were the emo­tions going on–the feel­ing of my home at that moment. I was tense. I was stressed. I was try­ing hard not to for­get any­thing.

I was run­ning around the house like a crazy woman. I was not set­ting a good tone or rhythm or pace to my life.

And lit­tle Levi was the one telling me how much my schedule–our schedule–was impact­ing his lit­tle life.You see, even though I was hav­ing to do a lot of prepa­ra­tion for the games, Levi was the one most impacted by his sib­lings’ sched­ules. He was the one miss­ing out on mommy-and-me time. Right when he wanted it the most. Levi wanted me to stop what I was doing–to pause for a moment. He was beg­ging me to STOP. To sit on the floor with him. To make faces. To play peek-a-book. To tickle him. To do all those things I love to do but didn’t have the time for that day because of our plan.

Levi wanted his mom, and I was not there.

He also wanted a peace­ful home. A home free of anx­i­ety and ten­sion. A home full of spon­ta­neous moments.

When Eliz­a­beth was 8-months-old, we didn’t have t-ball games. There were no older sib­lings. The same is true for Pey­ton. But Levi, he just wanted some time to play on his own or with me and expe­ri­ence a care­free day, but instead his whole day–even long before the game started–was spent cry­ing because no one was pay­ing atten­tion to him. Because the house he lived in was full of one busy queen bee run­ning around and sting­ing all those who stood in her path.

My mommy heart ached see­ing this child so upset. I wanted more than any­thing to hold him and soothe him (I tried, of course, but he could read my motives, which said, “Please stop cry­ing so that I can fin­ish what I need to get done.”). But I needed to fin­ish my tasks (due to a com­pli­cated sched­ule we cre­ated). So, Levi’s needs were not met. The sched­ules of his older sib­lings deter­mined his day and set the tone for him. And he did not like it.

As they age, younger chil­dren must get more used to being carted around to prac­tices and per­for­mances and games because they do not throw the same type of fit that Levi threw on Sat­ur­day. But Levi’s 8-month-old self was speak­ing to the very depths of my soul when he told me, “Slow down. Hold me. Pay atten­tion to me. The other stuff is not as important.”

I am learn­ing lessons from my babes. What les­son have you learned lately?