Thursday, May 16, 2019

Getting Teens to Talk to You

My friend Peggy, from Washington state, says that when their boys were young teens "They had a habit of bolting down food and then saying, 'C'nibescuzed?'  My husband would always reply,  'No.  You can sit here and entertain us with bright conversation.'"

Can you relate? We had at least one teen in our house during 16 years and we learned a few things during that time. I wish we had put more into practice, but here is some of what we figured out along the way with a little help from my friends.

1. Be available to talk
I recognized how important this was when I was on vacation and sharing a bedroom with one of my daughters. I was exhausted and came into the room for a nap, but she was crying. I really wanted to ignore that and go to sleep, but I pushed past the tiredness and started talking--mostly listening--to her as she told me about her broken heart. Later she told me she felt so loved when I just listened. 

I asked Rachel, the grown daughter of friends of ours who now has five kids of her own, what her parents did to keep communication open as they were a model family for me. She said, "I feel like one or the other parent was home 95% of the time we as kids were home. My memories of communication as a teenager almost always involve me sitting on a stool in the kitchen while my mom made dinner, sharing my problems with her. She was just always available." (Emphasis mine.)

Several of my friends mentioned how doing some activity side-by-side rather than facing each other helped their kids open up. This could be anything from riding in the car to doing dishes. It just seems easier to open up when you don't make eye contact.

2. Listen without Criticism
Okay, so we didn't always do a great job on this, but we tried to bite our tongues. If you get them to express their thoughts, don't jump in and refute or tear down. It's amazing how often they perceive what we say as criticism--whether it is tone of voice or the way we word a question. And who wants to talk to someone who just picks apart their every opinion?

3. Minimize the rules
My favorite book that helped with this was Have a New Teenager by Friday by Kevin Leman (my favorite parenting author). He didn't spend a lot of time making rules, he just expected responsible behavior and, when necessary, brought out consequences when they didn't live up to that. Rachel said, "I don't remember my parents handing down many rules to us from middle school on; they seemed to address things on a situational basis. They made us responsible for our own choices...treating us as the adults we would become...and held us accountable for our actions (like the time I put a hot iron on the carpet, and then had to pay to replace it!)"

4. Be a Student of Your Teen's Interests
Because my husband is interested in airplanes and airlines, our sons developed the same interest. Whenever I flew somewhere alone one of them was sure to ask, "What kind of plane did you fly on?" My answer: "Um, two wings and enough engines to get us there." You can be sure that didn't win points.

Then I discovered that that safety card they always tell you to look at tells you what kind of plane you are on! So I made sure to memorize that and to take a minute to look around at the seat configuration--was it two on the left, three on the right, or a wide-body with two-four-two? 

I also listened more closely when the news had something about airplanes--a crash, a new plane unveiled, an airline merger. Anything thing that they would be interested in. That way I had something to ask them about like, "So what's up with the 737 Max?" 

You can do the same kind of investigation for whatever it is that interests your teen. 

5. Read What They Read (aka Watch What they Watch, Listen to What They Listen To)
You know that novel they have been complaining about having to read for the last two weeks? Have you ever read it? Check it out of the library and read it. Then ask questions about the book. (You might sneak a peak at Spark Notes and get some ideas.) Don't be their teacher, but if you are genuinely interested in what they think about the book, they will probably talk. Check out what they are reading just for fun, too. I'm a reader, so this came naturally to me.

Even if you think the show is inane, watch it with your kids and talk about it. If there are back stories you need to know, ask them for an explanation. After, ask "What is your favorite thing about this show?"

It wasn't so natural for me to listen to the music they listened to. I flat out didn't like some of it and was glad it was on earbuds. I could have done so much better here, finding out the words and listening with them. Kids think about the words more when listening through a parent's ears.

6. Invite Their Friends for Meals
When kids go to other people's houses they rise to the occasion in the politeness area. You can ask the guest a few questions about what they are doing, what's going on at school, the novel they are reading, and they'll answer even if your teen won't. This will give you information about your teen.

7. Volunteer to be the Carpool Mom
Another way to get your kids to talk is to listen to them talk to their friends--you can eavesdrop in a car without guilt!  You learn a lot, especially if you don't butt in with your opinion. This information enables you to ask questions later that might spark a conversation. Were they all complaining about a bad call by the ref at last week's game? At dinner you might ask, "What's everyone saying about that game-losing ref call Friday night?" and possibly follow up with, "What does it take to be a good ref?"

While questions are good, don't become the inquisition either. Ask open ended questions where they can express their opinions and cultivate an environment where they know they are free to express what they really think. 

8. Be supportive
Rachel told me, "Even when we were less communicative, or even when we made choices that they wouldn't have made, they continually showed us verbal and physical affection, and they celebrated our achievements and our personalities."

The daughter I listened to instead of napping called me on Mother's Day this year to say, "Thank you Mom for always being there and for never giving up on me."

Peggy's sons are now grown men who come for dinner every Friday night. Peggy encourages us, "Something must have worked because now, many years later, we enjoy their bright conversation."

For more ideas on this: check out another post with thoughts from other parents about how to talk to your teens, and deal with the information you get, here.

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Monday, May 6, 2019

7 Tips for Feeding LOTS of Teenagers

One day my husband and I were running some of the multitude of errands required when one lives in a third world country. In Bogota no bills could be paid by mail or online, each one required a personal visit to the office where the money was due. No one store carried everything (or nearly everything) you needed to live. Bread came from fragrant bakeries where it was baked several times a day, and was only fresh a few delicious hours. Milk was not pasteurized completely and went sour the second day, so had to be purchased daily. Nails and screws and light tools had to be bought in one part of town, sewing supplies in another. Furniture was downtown. Notebooks, printer paper, pens, and other office type supplies came from only a few stores--if they had them in stock. That particular (and not unusual) day we went out early to accomplish four errands that would take less than an hour in the small city where we live now, and found ourselves running past lunch and starving. We stopped at a restaurant to eat and ended up spending the equivalent of a whole day's food budget for the six of us. And the food wasn't even that good.

That's when we made the decision.

We decided we would bring sandwiches along, or go home for sandwiches, rather than eat out when the only thing we needed was food. That's probably not a typical point of view. But we both have a frugal DNA. I just couldn't see spending $10-15 each for lunch when I just needed a 50c sandwich from things I had at home. Eating out was for special occasions or when home was too far away.

That said, I soon discovered that there is a time to not skimp on food: 

When you feed your teenager's friends. 

Scrimp and save in every way you can, but don't hold back on feeding teens!

Yes, it gets expensive and, no, they probably don't appreciate the fact that it is costing you a lot of money. (I always got upset when they took food on their plates and soda in their glasses and left half of it.) But it's not worth being frugal. The idea is you want those kids in your house and food is a huge enticement. If you can offer lots of food (it doesn't have to be fancy, exotic, or expensive), they will come.

The other draw is being an honest to goodness family. Sadly many of the kids around our kids don't have that. My youngest even went to a small Christian school in the states for high school. One day she came home and told us that of the nine people on the student leadership team, she was the only one living with her biological mother and father! And multiply that by the non-Christian families in your average public school.

So yes, it is expensive, but if you want to be the house where they hang out and you know what they are up to and can have an influence, you need to budget for feeding them.

All hospitality is costly--in food bills, wear and tear on your furniture and house, chipped and broken dishes, and even missing toys, pens, pencils, books, and more valuable items. It can be frustrating and messy and thankless (at the moment) but it is very worth it.

I have a friend from church who had some very good ideas that she implemented when her now grown children were teens, that I will share with you in future posts, but today I want to give you some tips on how to make having this kind of food possible:
  1.  Put it in the budget -- If you need to, rework your budget to allow for feeding your teens and their friends. The amount depends on your ability. If you can afford to order in great, but if you your budget is more frozen pizza and store brand soda, do that. It's all food and that's what they are looking for.
  2. Make a way to store it -- if you are going the frozen pizza route, you need some freezer space. Cans of soda, pasta, jars of spaghetti sauce...whatever you are serving needs to be available at the moment you need it, so clear out some storage space.
  3. Don't worry about peer pressure -- Our kids' friends had TVs in their room, name brand clothes, and their parents took everyone out to eat at expensive restaurants. Peer pressure never bothered me in high school, but it did when my kids were in high school! Not because I had to live up to the others, but I was concerned about what my kids were thinking was important. (Spoiler alert: my kids have amazed me with their grown up lives!)
  4. Make the meal the activity -- Whether you ask them to pitch in and help or you have a taco bar, DIY sandwich, build your own potato, or top your own pizza, this will work out cheaper than ordering in, make it fun, and give them food they like, because they make it themselves.
  5. Teens don't mind not fancy  -- In fact, most of the time they probably prefer it. Paper plates and cups mean there's less clean up for you and for them and they just want to hang out together and eat.
  6. Make it easy on yourself -- Teens aren't impressed by beautifully displayed gourmet food, don't pressure yourself to serve it they way you might for your friends. Cartons on the table? Sure! Communal knife in the mayo? Why not? Two liter bottles of pop? Okay! Sure, some families can have individual brand name cans of soda and buy store produced food trays, but the teens aren't expecting a classy buffet. As I said, they just want to hang out and fill up.
  7. Offer your food cheerfully -- no need to apologize for quality, quantity or the state of your house. This is important. I have learned that whatever you do with confidence, you can pull off. So just make them feel welcome--like you really want them there--and they will come back.
Not everyone has the personality to be THE hangout place. some people can just make themselves a part of the group and others are more comfortable in the background. Some parents thrive on noise and activity and some like quiet. Some have others who live in the house to consider, a small place, or a personality that needs a certain amount of order. Don't kick yourself for not being like that other Mom. Do things according to your personality, your kids' personalities, your budget, and your abilities. 

I will talk more about specific things you can do in future posts, so come back to get the scoop!

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Noisy, Chaotic, Happy Family Meals

We recently enlarged our dining room.

Well, we opened up the area between our living room and eating area more so that we could fit more people in. You see, our table was made for six, or for eight or ten or even 12 when extended. But that was no longer big enough. 

Our oldest son got a job teaching at a university in our city and his wife and four children moved into town with him. That added six people to our in-town family. Then at Thanksgiving we went around the table each thanking God for one thing. But we stopped and started cheering when our other daughter-in-law said, “Thank you for my three healthy babies.” That meant number three was on the way! Our daughter who lives in Europe called last month to tell us that she and her husband are expecting number two--when they visit that’s four more people. 

So you can understand why we enlarged our “dining room”.

Sundays are family day. This started when my in-laws moved into a retirement community where they get dinner on weekdays, but not on the weekend. We switched from having them over on a weeknight to Sundays. Then we started including our son and daughter-in-law and of course our daughter. That was easy and we could even include others. As our family grew—grandchildren and also my parents moving to our town—the table got full. You know, that fun kind of chaos. So six more made the change we’d been talking about, and saving up for, inevitable. 

It had taken me years to come to the realization that losing a cupboard and four beloved drawers would not affect my ability to prepare meals and store the things I wanted to in the kitchen. I rearranged things and found I don’t really notice less cupboard space.

While we were still awaiting the finishing touches, we didn't have any furniture in place.

The renovations took a while, but it was worth it and we love the look. We love it that the family comes over on Sundays about twice a month for a big dinner. I love it that we all share in bringing the meal so it doesn’t fall on me and people get what they like. On a recent Sunday my seven year old granddaughter contributed for the first time, a very fancy pudding and berry parfait!

We want the family to be together so we changed our house configuration to make family meals more easily possible--noisy, chaotic, happy family meals.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Journaling Together in Family Devotions

I love looking at the creative Bible journaling that some women can do. Beautiful drawings around different passages of scripture illustrate what they have learned as they read these verses. They look lovely.

I have done spiritual journals over forty years. I have two boxes full of notebooks of every shape, size, and color filled with my scribbling of what I learned from the Bible on a given day. They aren’t beautiful to look at. There are crossed out words, words written between lines, writing up the side of the page. Margins are ignored. There are a few charts and graphs that helped me think through things, and on some pages I draw my standard daisy while I think or listen.

But it’s nothing someone would leaf through admiringly. I’m not even sure it’s something someone would want to read or even peruse. Sometimes one can find a story of how God is working or my ranting about some frustration or worry in life. In fact, I tried to read through them last year to save what was worth saving and toss the rest so that my children wouldn’t be burdened with that some day. However, I lost interest and the boxes sit in a closet instead of the attic now.

In spite of that, I strongly believe in the spiritual discipline of journaling what one is learning from God through His Word, prayer, and life. I love it that Nehemiah seemed to do this. The inspired part of his journal (I can’t help but think this wasn’t the only journal he kept) begins as though he expects someone to read it and be curious about the author. Later he explains his work with the king in Susa, Babylon. But other than that, it appears to be the reminiscences of someone who want to have a record of how God has worked in and through him.

After a bit of introduction to himself, Nehemiah just starts in:
So I was talking to my brother the other day and some of the other men who had come from Judah, and I asked them how things were going for the Jews who went back and are living there now.

It’s such a simple question. It may have been a way of making conversation, but it changed the course of his life and he wrote it down. The people in Judah were not doing well and were basically living in dangerous squalor. Then Nehemiah records how upset this made him. He wept. He fasted. He prayed.

I also love the way he inserts his prayers into the narrative. When I write so often it becomes a prayer, I usually don’t realize when I quit writing to figure things out and when I started talking to God about it. After Nehemiah pleads with God about the situation, he goes back to work, but the king realizes something isn’t right with Nehemiah and he asks him about it. Nehemiah was afraid, because you don’t act upset in front of the king. But he’s brave enough to tell the king what is bothering him. In direct answer to his prayer, the king says, “So what would you like me to do?” Nehemiah records that the first thing he did was shoot up an arrow prayer.

Later in the journal he breaks out into prayer, “Remember me, Oh God...” as he writes about what he has learned, how God has given him the encouragement to carry on, and the good and the difficult results.

Keeping a spiritual journal is a way of remembering how God has worked and how you have grown in your spiritual life. Our children can do this, too. After dinner clear the dishes off and present them each with a notebook you think they will like (or take them shopping and let them pick one out.) After your family devotions have them write (or draw) as many  of the items below as is age appropriate to begin learning this spiritual discipline.

Write about or draw something that happened today that is on your mind.

Write or draw something that affected or touched you from the Bible reading/story.

What is one thing you would like to learn more about from the story?

What from the story/passage reminds you of your own life?

Write down one thing you learned you should do, not do, change, start, or fix as a result of the Bible story/passage.

Tell God about what you thought about as a result of the lesson.

This can be a good way to start your own spiritual journal. Answer some simple questions about life and God’s Word and talk to Him about it.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Oatmeal on a Dusty Stool

My husband and I had our first meal together in almost three weeks. He has been on three other continents for ministry (not including North America) while I have been at home in a house going through renovations. If you have ever had renovations done, you know that there is a complicated mathematical equation required to figure out how long they will take. Something like:

(amount of time they say) x (estimated cost)
(current temperature) + (number of holidays in the year) 

I joke. But it is always longer than you hope. Meanwhile I've been living in a house devoid of all furniture (which has been stashed in all the bedrooms except mine) with one chair, one side table and one ottoman to sit on with my feet up for my quiet time and my evening reading. So I've been standing in the kitchen to eat my meals, which I had hoped to pare down sufficiently to lose four pounds while my husband was away, but that's another story. And, as I told you last week, I have been decluttering and reorganizing. I must have some contractor blood in me because clearing out my kitchen cupboards, bathrooms, dresser, and closet took me over a week. (Of course, in between I got to spend half a day with two of the cutest little boys I know and we had a parade around their family room, spend two days with two of my favorite little girls while their parents celebrated their anniversary, and spend a day with my dad so my mom could have a relaxing day out.) 

Yesterday I drove two hours through snow and ice to meet my husband who had just spent 24 hours traveling by car, two planes, and a bus over two continents to come home. I was so glad to see him and, I believe, the feeling was mutual 😉. We got home at 11:40pm and collapsed into bed. He was even able to trick his body into thinking it was night and sleep. 

So back to our first meal together in nearly three weeks. That would be the oatmeal we had this morning at our kitchen counter, sitting on two stools we dusted off (literally). The flooring men arrived (finally) and we left them to it. He went to work and I'm spending another day with my dad.

What's so special about oatmeal in your floorless kitchen at the counter? Nothing. And everything. The meal and the surroundings were not special, except that it was home. The company and the fact that we sat down together to eat and talk and enjoy our companionship, that was everything. We did it because we plan to, we have a habit of doing it, and we want to.

And that is the key to family meals: planning to, habiting of, and wanting to.

So start making a plan now.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

My Secrets for Decluttering and Organizing

Last August our daughter and family were visiting from Germany. Our son and family from Chicago came for a week to be able to celebrate my dad's 90th birthday and see all the family. While he was here our son heard about an opening teaching at a university in town. They had been doing everything they could to find a way to move here to be closer to family, so he immediately applied. They ended up staying two more days for interviews and two days after he got home (and three more Skype interviews) he was offered the job!

Just two weeks later they moved in with us. We were together for three weeks and then we left on a three week mission trip. When we came back they had made an offer that was accepted on a house, but the condition was that the sellers weren't moving until January. So my husband and I moved into my parents' basement so the family of six, who also homeschool, could have the house to themselves until their place was ready. To help my parents we did lots of odd jobs and I did all the cooking for dinners.

Being out of my house has forced me to live with less of my things. That has gotten me thinking about what I can live without permanently. Besides that, we plan to do some renovations to open up our house a bit more and I am losing four wonderful drawers, a cupboard, and our coffee space in the kitchen. I think it will be worth it because with seventeen family members in town, our Sunday dinners have gotten really crowded. I moved back into my house this week and am in full organize and toss mode. Well, sort of...

After cleaning the shower, this is probably my least favorite task. Actually it may be my absolute least favorite. Decision making is not my forte and it takes me a long time and a lot of energy. I'm depleted after just an hour because I'm so scared I'll get rid of something that I will wish I hadn't. And that I will keep all kinds of things that I have no use for! And then, the organizing in a useful, helpful manner--that is just not part of my DNA.

So I did some researching last week. Here are the most helpful hints I gleaned for decluttering, simplifying, clearing out, and organizing:

  • Get in the mood - I did this by researching how to organize and declutter, by watching shows on how to do it, and, probably the biggest factor, was the life situation we are in. But I was ready to toss, organize, and clear out.
  • Make time - Going through your things, reorganizing, and making decisions takes time. Don't expect to go through a cupboard where you have been stuffing things for five years to get done in 15 minutes. I know that my project is going to take days, but I'm in for the long haul. So be realistic about the time this will take.
  • Limit your time - On some TV shows they get up early and work 15 or 18 hour days to go through their things. (Of course, it requires extreme cases to make a show interesting!) No one has that kind of time. Plus, if you go too long, you won't be making good decisions. But I think sometimes the best thing to do is to estimate how much time clearing out one drawer or one cupboard will take and set a timer for that amount of time. If you want to complete the task when the timer rings, that's fine, but knowing you only have to work for 45 minutes, might get you started. 
  • Buy organizers - When I was setting up my spices, I found an expanding stairstep spice rack that was perfect. I was motivated to put my spices in alphabetical order and get rid of spices that were dated from five years ago!
  • Don't overbuy organizers - If you look, there's an organizer for everything. Sometimes just putting things neatly into drawers and cupboards is enough. You can rack up a big bill if you fall for every organizer available.
  • Ask questions:
    • Do I love this?
    • When was the last time I used this?
    • Does it have only one use?
    • For clothes: 
      • How many other pieces of clothing does it match?
      • Does it fit?
      • Try it on. How does it make you feel?
      • Does it need mending? Can I do it or get it done reasonably?
      • Is it outdated? Faded? Worn?
But my first and most important question is:
  • Why am I keeping this?
When I ask myself this question first, I can evaluate the purpose of the item, whether it has useful or sentimental value worth keeping. This has been a key to me getting rid of things that I don't need to clutter my house and life.

  • Reward yourself - whatever little reward will help motivate you, do that for yourself. Maybe 15 minutes of sitting and sipping a cup of coffee or pop. Maybe watching your favorite program. Maybe getting outside for a short walk. You've worked hard, give yourself a prize!

I wish you a clean, clutter free, and organized house and life this year!

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